Archives for June 2011

The power that we have to make change when our governments are silent

Huwaida Arraf, Gaza Freedom Flotilla organizer, interviewed by PalestineStudiesTV:

I’ve talked a lot with the Israeli media and told them that for their viewers/listeners/readers, this should not be perceived as anti-Israel or anti-Jewish. There are Israelis on our action; there are Jews from different countries. Part of our action — a quarter of the American boat are Jewish Americans that are participating, because this is about equality of people — respecting everybody’s human rights irrespective of race, religion or ethnicity, and so we reject Israel’s efforts to make it about “us” or “them” as if we want to attack Israelis in any way. No, they can very much stand with us and it’s for their future as well as it is for Palestinians’ future…

While we are sailing towards Gaza, this action is not just about Gaza. Yes we want to open it, we want to end this prison-like closure of Gaza, but what’s happening in Jerusalem — the ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem, Palestinians being kicked out of their homes so that Jewish families can move in — that’s not any less severe. The continued confiscation of property in the West Bank; the demolition of large areas of land; the building of the apartheid wall — this is illegal, this is also repressive. And the situation of Palestinians inside Israel, inside the 1948 territories where — I also am an Israeli citizen, a Palestinian-Israeli — I am not treated as an equal because I am not Jewish. This is all part of what I call a colonial apartheid regime, and this needs to be dismantled if we are going to ever see peace in the region.

So while we are sailing towards Gaza, this more than just about Gaza. And I’ll go so far as to say this more than just about Palestine — it is about what people can do. Because this is very much a grass-roots, global civil society action. It is the power that we have to make change when our governments are silent. It’s about what we do every single day to create the kind of world that we want to live in. And so I hope that everyone that listens or sees what we are doing can recognize that and can decide in their own way how they can contribute.


Alice Walker on ‘the freedom ride of this generation’

Jesse Rosenfeld interviewed American author, Alice Walker, as she waits to depart as a passenger on The Audacity of Hope heading for Gaza.

Reflecting on her years of activism, it is clear that Walker sees a connection between civil rights in America, liberation from apartheid in South Africa and the Palestinian cause.

“Without the international community coming to the aid of the South African people they may very well still be under apartheid, and [without the support of progressive white people] we might still be under segregation in the United States.”

The comparison doesn’t end there: “settlers are the Klan,” she says definitively, referring to the notorious white supremacist terror organization. “They don’t have their white sheets because I guess they don’t need them.”

I mention to her that the leaders of the Palestine’s Arab Spring are discussing a campaign of attempted freedom rides on settler busses in the West Bank.

“I’m very pleased to hear that,” she says breaking into a big smile.

She then returns to the freedom ride conversation from the previous day. “I think the tactic on the Palestinian side is to draw attention to the Klanishness. It’s been so difficult for the world to understand who the settlers are and the problem with them taking more and more of the land,” she says, arguing that it’s a modus systemically rooted in the way Israel was founded.

“That’s the history of the settlement of Palestine; it started in 1948 and is continuing,” she adds connecting Israel’s creation of 750,000 Palestinian refugees in the founding of the state and current settler evictions of Palestinian families in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Although blunt and unequivocal in her analysis, Walker switches gears, once again displaying her optimism. In a recent article, she details commitments and sacrifices made by white Jewish Americans in the civil rights movement. She says she detailed these to send a message directly to Israelis.

“It’s a way to remind them that their Jewishness can stand for something else, it doesn’t have to stand for beating up people, taking their land and destroying their culture,” she says. “[Israeli’s Jewish identity] could actually be about something very fabulous.’’


Israel cannot thwart Palestinian people-power

Haaretz reports:

As September draws nearer, the Israel Defense Forces has been conducting drills in order to contend with the possibility of a mass civilian uprising in the West Bank in the wake of the Palestinian bid to seek unilateral recognition in the United Nations.

“A non-violent protest of 4,000 people or more, even if they only march to a checkpoint or a settlement, and especially if the Palestinian police does not deter them, will be unstoppable,” one IDF officer claims. “Such a great number of determined people cannot be stopped by tear gas and rubber bullets.”

Another high ranking IDF official serving in the territories claimed that “if we are to face protests similar to those in Egypt or Tunisia, we will not be able to do a thing.”

On Tuesday, the Central Command completed its General Staff workshop which included all company officers and higher-ranking officials in both regular and reserve service who are set to serve in the West Bank by the end of the year. The officers attended lectures on dealing effectively with disorderly conduct and viewed presentations on protest-dispersal methods by both IDF and border police.

“At the end of the day, the decision is in the hands of the political echelon,” claims another commander, “it is fairly obvious that if there will be no progress on peace talks, the Palestinian police with whom we work very closely to prevent infiltrations will lose their patience.”


Costs of war: 225,000 killed, $3.2-4 trillion

On September 14, 2001, when President Bush shouted through a bullhorn to rescue workers at the ruins of the World Trade Center, he said: “I can hear you! I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you! And the people — and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!”

In response the workers shouted: “U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! ”

But suppose Bush had added this: “And for every innocent life lost here, we will kill a hundred more innocent people. And we will get our vengeance — even if it means driving the country into economic ruin.”

Would the crowd have then fallen silent? Would Americans, still in shock, have realized that their government was seeking support for what amounted to a collective act of insanity?

The “Costs of War” report from the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University says:

The President of the United States has told the American people and the rest of the world that even as the U.S. withdraws some troops from Afghanistan and continues to withdraw from Iraq, the wars will continue for some years. The debate over why each war was begun and whether either or both should have been fought continues.

What we do know, without debate, is that the wars begun ten years ago have been tremendously painful for millions of people in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan, and the United States, and economically costly as well. Each additional month and year of war will add to that toll. To date, however, there has been no comprehensive accounting of the costs of the United States’ wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan. The goal of the Costs of War project has been to outline a broad understanding of the domestic and international costs and consequences of those wars. The Eisenhower Research Project based at Brown University assembled a team that includes economists, anthropologists, political scientists, legal experts, and a physician to do this analysis.

We asked:

  • What have been the wars’ costs in human and economic terms?
  • How have these wars changed the social and political landscape of the United States and the countries where the wars have been waged?
  • What will be the long term legacy of these conflicts for veterans?
  • What is the long term economic effect of these wars likely to be?
  • Were and are there alternative less costly and more effective ways to prevent further terror attacks?

Some of the project’s findings:

  • While we know how many US soldiers have died in the wars (just over 6000), what is startling is what we don’t know about the levels of injury and illness in those who have returned from the wars. New disability claims continue to pour into the VA, with 550,000 just through last fall. Many deaths and injuries among US contractors have not been identified.
  • At least 137,000 civilians have died and more will die in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan as a result of the fighting at the hands of all parties to the conflict.
  • The armed conflict in Pakistan, which the U.S. helps the Pakistani military fight by funding, equipping and training them, has taken as many lives as the conflict in neighboring Afghanistan.
  • Putting together the conservative numbers of war dead, in uniform and out, brings the total to 225,000.
  • Millions of people have been displaced indefinitely and are living in grossly inadequate conditions. The current number of war refugees and displaced persons — 7,800,000 — is equivalent to all of the people of Connecticut and Kentucky fleeing their homes.
  • The wars have been accompanied by erosions in civil liberties at home and human rights violations abroad.
  • The human and economic costs of these wars will continue for decades, some costs not peaking until mid-century. Many of the wars’ costs are invisible to Americans, buried in a variety of budgets, and so have not been counted or assessed. For example, while most people think the Pentagon war appropriations are equivalent to the wars’ budgetary costs, the true numbers are twice that, and the full economic cost of the wars much larger yet. Conservatively estimated, the war bills already paid and obligated to be paid are $3.2 trillion in constant dollars. A more reasonable estimate puts the number at nearly $4 trillion.
  • As with former US wars, the costs of paying for veterans’ care into the future will be a sizable portion of the full costs of the war.
  • The ripple effects on the U.S. economy have also been significant, including job loss and interest rate increases, and those effects have been underappreciated.
  • While it was promised that the US invasions would bring democracy to both countries, Afghanistan and Iraq, both continue to rank low in global rankings of political freedom, with warlords continuing to hold power in Afghanistan with US support, and Iraqi communities more segregated today than before by gender and ethnicity as a result of the war.
  • Serious and compelling alternatives to war were scarcely considered in the aftermath of 9/11 or in the discussion about war against Iraq. Some of those alternatives are still available to the U.S.

There are many costs of these wars that we have not yet been able to quantify and assess. With our limited resources, we focused on U.S. spending, U.S. and allied deaths, and the human toll in the major war zones, Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. There is still much more to know and understand about how all those affected by the wars have had their health, economies, and communities altered by the decade of war, and what solutions exist for the problems they face as a result of the wars’ destruction.

The Costs of War Since 2001: Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan” (PDF)


Israel attempts to sink flotilla ship, organizers claim

The Irish Times reports:

An Irish ship, the MV Saoirse , will not take part in the planned freedom flotilla which is preparing to sail to Gaza because it has been sabotaged, according to one of the ship’s intended passengers.

Speaking last night from the Turkish port of Göcek, Fintan Lane, the national co-ordinator of Irish Ship to Gaza organisation, said that the ship would not be able to sail as it had been “dangerously sabotaged”, according to the organising campaign.

He said that the damage to the ship was discovered on Monday night when the captain noticed that there was something wrong. Divers found that a piece was missing from one of the propeller shafts.

“This was the type of sabotage that endangered human life,” Mr Lane said last night. “They put divers under the boat who cut a piece out of the propeller shaft. That means that the damage would have happened gradually and what would have happened eventually is that the propeller would have come up through the bottom of the boat, caused a flood in the engine room and would have caused the boat to sink.”

Ynet adds:

The damage was very similar to that caused to the Juliano in Greece, Lane said, adding that the damage was most certainly intentional and a product of human intervention.

“Israel is the only party likely to have carried out this reckless action and it is important that the Irish government and the executive in Northern Ireland insist that those who ordered this act of international terrorism be brought to justice. This was carried out in a Turkish town and shows no respect for Turkish sovereignty and international law,” said Lane.

He added that the damage would take weeks and around 15,000 euro to fix, effectively preventing the ship from taking part in the flotilla.

Lane, who was on board Challenger 1 in last year’s flotilla, said: “The Freedom Flotilla is a non-violent act of practical and humanitarian solidarity with the people of Gaza, yet Israel continues to use threats and violence to delay its sailing. They attacked us in international waters last year; now they are attacking us in Turkish and Greek ports. There is no line that Israel won’t cross.”


Message from The Audacity of Hope: ‘We’re sulfur-free and ready to sail’

Press release from USTOGAZA:

Passengers on the U.S. Boat to Gaza, The Audacity of Hope, invite Greek and international media to inspect The Audacity of Hope at 3 pm Athens time on Thursday, June 30, in the town of Perama (next to Piraeus), 42 Democratis.

The entire boat will be open for view, photography, and video. The captain, crew, and passengers on the boat will be available for interviews and inspection. The cargo of the ship – 3,000 letters from Americans to the people of Gaza – will also be available for view, photographs, and video. Everything that will be on the boat when it sets sail, including food and passengers’ personal medications for use during their voyage, will be available for inspection.

The Audacity of Hope was inspected by Greek officials on Monday, June 27 after a complaint was lodged by an Israeli group that the vessel was not seaworthy. We have not yet received notification of their findings nor a copy of their report, but we are certain that our boat is up to code. Meanwhile, Israeli officials have made outrageous allegations that passengers on the flotilla will be bringing “sacks of sulfur” to pour on Israeli soldiers. Even Members of Israel’s own security cabinet have dismissed these charges as “media spin” and “public relations hysteria.”* We invite the media onto our boat to conduct a thorough inspection. We are confident that such an inspection will show that our boat is “sulfur-free” and ready to sail.

“On behalf of the 36 passengers and 4 crew on The Audacity of Hope, I invite the media to ask us anything, inspect anything, taste our food, look inside our bags” said Gale Courey Toensing, a passenger on the American boat. “Our voyage is totally transparent and we have nothing to hide. All we want to do is sail to Gaza with our cargo of letters from Americans to the people of Gaza.”


Hysteria, ‘hasbara’ and the flotilla

Larry Derfner writes in the Jerusalem Post:

I just love Israel’s “hasbara” campaign against Freedom Flotilla 2. I mean, butter wouldn’t melt in these people’s mouths.

“There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza,” says Ehud Barak. Gazans are “importing televisions and plasma screens, and exporting agricultural products to the entire Arab world,” says IDF chief Benny Gantz.

Yes, Gaza is economically on the mend – but not because of Israel’s good intentions; rather, despite its bad intentions.

If it were up to the government, Gazans would still be unable to receive terrorist infrastructure equipment such as toys, musical instruments, heaters, newspapers, fishing rods, tractor parts, irrigation pipes and, of course, coriander, on relief trucks coming across the border.

Why did that policy change? What forced Israel to start letting everything through except construction equipment, which it fears Hamas might use to make bunkers? It was Freedom Flotilla 1, remember? It was the killing of nine Turks aboard the Mavi Marmara by Israeli commandos on May 31, 2010, after which Israel was compelled by international outrage to begin allowing all those previously banned weapons of mass destruction – cumin, ginger, dried fruit, industrial margarine, clothing fabric, sewing machines and more – into the Strip.

Likewise, if it were up to the government, Hosni Mubarak would still be ordering Egyptian troops to search out and destroy the tunnels built by Gazans to smuggle in goods. But to the government’s dismay, Mubarak was overthrown and Egypt’s new leadership is less eager to collaborate with our Gaza policy.

The result? “Sacks of cement and piles of gravel… are smuggled through hundreds of tunnels in double shifts, day and night, totaling some 3,000 tons a day… Streets are being paved and buildings constructed,” wrote The New York Times’ Ethan Bronner last weekend.

“Things are better than a year ago,” a leading activist in the Strip told him. “The siege on goods is now 60 to 70 percent over.”

So you see? No need for a flotilla, Gaza’s doing just fine, say Israeli hasbaratists, smiling through gritted teeth.

Incidentally, when Gantz said that Gaza exports agricultural produce, he neglected to mention that that’s all Israel allows Gaza to export – and not much produce, either, or for very long.

“Export from Gaza is prohibited,” wrote Gisha, a Tel Aviv-based NGO, in a pre-flotilla report last week. “Between November 2010 and April 2011, Israel exceptionally allowed export of a minimal amount of strawberries, flowers, peppers and tomatoes from Gaza to European markets. The average rate of export during that time was two truckloads per day… Since May 12, 2011, no trucks carrying goods for export have left the Strip.”

I think Freedom Flotilla 2, even without making much progress toward Gaza, is playing hell with Israel’s image – or, rather, inducing Israel to show off its worst self (much as Freedom Flotilla 1 did.) Once again, Israel has gone hysterical, it’s lost touch with reality.


Senator wants joint U.S.-Israeli special operations forces to attack flotilla reports:

A U.S. senator wants U.S. special operations forces to help Israel halt a Gaza-bound international aid flotilla that includes a vessel carrying a number of American veterans, one of whom is a Sailor who served aboard the USS Liberty, the ship that Israel infamously attacked in 1967.

In a report drafted following a visit to Israel in early June, Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., says the United States should “make available all necessary special operations and naval support to the Israeli Navy to effectively disable flotilla vessels before they can pose a threat to Israeli coastal security or put Israeli lives at risk.”

The U.S.-flagged ship, called “The Audacity of Hope” — the name of President Obama’s 2006 book — is currently docked in Greece and is supposed to set sail by the end of this week along with ships from Ireland, Spain, Italy, Greece and other countries. More than 30 Americans are booked for passage on the Audacity of Hope.

While Kirk is pushing for a direct U.S. military role in halting the flotilla, six Democratic congressmen want assurances from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that she will work with Israel to ensure those aboard the American ship are not harmed.

The lawmakers, including ranking House Veterans Affairs Committee member Rob Filner, D-Calif., say they “wholeheartedly support” Israel’s duty to protect its citizens, but the “measures it uses to do so, as in the case with any other nation, must conform to international humanitarian and human rights law.”

An Open Letter to Illinois Senator Mark Kirk from three constituents responding to his call for U.S. Special Forces to attack a flotilla of ships that will sail to Gaza:

Senator Mark Kirk
524 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington DC, 20510

June 29th, 2011

Dear Senator Kirk,

We are Illinois residents writing to you from Athens, Greece. Just before leaving the United States, we wrote to inform your office about our intent to sail on “The Audacity of Hope,” as part of the U.S. Boat to Gaza project. In our letters, we explained why we were traveling to Gaza. We told you of our previous experiences living among Palestinians who lack access to basic necessities, such as clean water, because of the blockade. Referring to Gaza as the world’s largest open-air prison, we mentioned how hard it has been for people to rebuild after previous lethal assaults, especially the Operation Cast Lead attack which ended, after 23 days, on January 18, 2009. According to B’tselem, the foremost Israeli Human Rights Organization, Operation Cast Lead caused the deaths of 1,389 Palestinians in Gaza. Of those, 344 were children. Of the 13 Israelis who were killed, four were soldiers killed by friendly fire.

Knowing that you and your staff care deeply about the consequences of unemployment, poor education and dangerously limited health care delivery, we pointed out related statistics affecting people in Gaza where 45% of the population is unemployed and hospital administrators are sounding the alarm because they are running out of crucial medicines. Half of Gaza’s 1.6 million people are under age 18.

As you’ve recently noted, a flotilla of ships plans to arrive in Gaza. Our ship will carry 3,000 letters addressed to Gazan children and families. Other boats are carrying humanitarian assistance.

Greek authorities have been checking into various complaints which have stalled the flotilla’s progress. In our case, a complaint was lodged by the Israel Law Center, located in Tel Aviv, suggesting that our boat is not seaworthy. Two of the boats have been sabotaged while docked in the harbor, causing further delays. reports that you said the United States should “make available all necessary special operations and naval support to the Israeli Navy to effectively disable flotilla vessels before they can pose a threat to Israeli coastal security or put Israeli lives at risk.”

You have an unusual opportunity to demonstrate thoughtful reconsideration of your earlier decision. Op-ed pieces have appeared in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, encouraging the Israeli government to let the flotilla pass.

“There is nearly nothing which more effectively delegitimizes Israel — and makes Israel look more like an uncaring blockhead state — than does the siege of Gaza,” wrote Bradley Burston, Senior Editor of Haaretz and a former Israeli Defense Force medic. “The siege benefits Hamas in a thousand ways and Israel in none. But there is one thing that does the work of delegitimization even better: attacking civilians in order to protect the siege. Enter the 21st century. Before it’s too late. You’re not young commandos anymore… Do your nation a favor — act your age. The flotilla is not a terrorist fleet. It is not an arms shipment. The flotilla is, however, a statement about Israel, a judgment of its policies, and, in the end, the verdict will come directly from you.”

Senator Kirk, we are your constituents. It’s not too late for you to acknowledge that your earlier call for military action against us jeopardizes our safety and to reverse your claim which insinuates that we are dangerous people. We write with utmost respect for our collective responsibility to secure a better world, breaking the irrational cycle of military aggression and upholding basic human rights of all people.


Kathy Kelly, Chicago IL
Max Suchan, Chicago IL
Robert Naiman, Champaign-Urbana


Texas governor: Prosecute U.S. flotilla participants

The Jerusalem Post reports:

Americans planning to breach Israel’s blockade of Gaza by participating in the upcoming flotilla should be prosecuted through “all available legal remedies,” Texas Governor Rick Perry said in a letter he sent to US Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday.

Perry stressed in the letter that the “acts of funding, supporting, organizing and engaging in [flotilla] efforts appears to constitute: participation in a naval expedition against a people with whom the United States is at peace; the furnishing of a vessel with the intent that it be employed to commit hostilities against a people with whom the United States is at peace; and the provision of material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization.”

He added that these acts present “a danger to the security of America’s closest ally in the Middle East, bolsters the Hamas terrorist organization and further endangers human life.”

Perry called on the US Justice Department to “take immediate steps to investigate, enjoin and bring to justice all parties found to be in violation of US law by their participation in these efforts.”


Israel ministers slam flotilla threat as ‘spin’

AFP reports:

Several Israeli ministers have accused the army of “spin” over its claims that activists on board a Gaza-bound flotilla plan to harm Israeli soldiers, Maariv newspaper reported on Wednesday.

The paper quoted several unnamed members of Israel’s security cabinet as saying the claims were “media spin” and “public relations hysteria.”

On Monday, Israeli military spokeswoman Lieutenant Colonel Avital Leibovitz said there were “radical elements” among the activists participating in the sea convoy, including some carrying “dangerous incendiary chemicals.”

But security cabinet ministers told Maariv they were given no such information when they were briefed on the flotilla this week, and even accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office of being behind the disinformation.

“Netanyahu decided to change the version about the nature of the flotilla for two reasons that are connected to the international community,” one of the ministers, who were not named, told the newspaper.

“The first is for reasons of covering himself — if, suddenly, in the course of the military operation something goes awry and there are casualties, Israel will be able to say that it warned of that in advance.

“The second reason is to apply pressure on the international community so that governments will prevent the ships from leaving for the flotilla from the outset.”

Meanwhile, Haaretz reports:

Defense Minister Ehud Barak has been trying to turn down the flame on the violent predictions for the Gaza aid flotilla, some of which were fueled this week by the defense establishment itself.

Barak told Channel 2 news on Wednesday night that while he has directed the Israel Defense Forces to stop the flotilla by force, if necessary, he believed that while pockets of resistance were possible the flotilla participants this year would be less violent than last year’s.

But political and military leaders are in fact more worried about the 2010 flotilla than the imminent one.

More precisely, they fear the implications of state comptroller’s report on the raid, the draft of which was recently submitted to the relevant senior officials.

Despite tendentious leaks to the contrary, the main target of State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss is not Barak, although he does come in for criticism (including for his refusal to cooperate with the National Security Council ).

So will former IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, for his absence from the war room during the naval raid.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is directly in Lindenstrauss’ sights, for his insufficient level of involvement in the planning and decision-making stages.


The UN already voted for a Palestinian state — in 1947

Josh Ruebner writes:

Palestinians are now preparing an application for the State of Palestine to become a full member of the UN and engaging in a diplomatic offensive to add to the approximately 120 countries already recognizing Palestinian statehood in advance of this September’s UN General Assembly meeting.

The Obama administration is predictably and unalterably opposed to this initiative. At last month’s American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference, the president pledged that “No vote at the United Nations will ever create an independent Palestinian state…the United States will stand up against efforts to single Israel out at the United Nations…Israel’s legitimacy is not a matter for debate.”

By equating Palestinian efforts to seek their rights at the UN with the “delegitimization” of Israel and by attempting to subvert this initiative, President Obama is historically, morally, and politically wrong.

Although he may win applause from Israel’s supporters by claiming that the UN cannot vote for Palestinian statehood, President Obama is powerless to change the historical record. The UN already voted for the creation of an independent Palestinian state when it passed General Assembly Resolution 181 in 1947, partitioning historic Palestine into a Jewish state (55 percent of the territory) and an Arab State (45 percent), with Jerusalem as an open, international city. Ironically, this resolution would not have passed without the aggressive U.S. lobbying effort that accompanied it.

Ever since the UN voted to partition Palestine, at a time when Palestinians owned 93 percent of the land and Jews 7 percent, Israel’s ceaseless quest to depopulate, colonize, and annex as much Palestinian land as possible has been the primary factor preventing the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

Palestinians have waited 64 years since the partition of Palestine to live in freedom on at least a portion of their homeland. By attempting to force Palestinians back to never-ending negotiations with Israel, President Obama is subjecting Palestinian freedom to Israel’s timetable.


A new Palestinian strategy unfolds

Rami G. Khouri writes:

While the Arab world is experiencing a historic series of citizen revolts against nondemocratic governments, something equally significant is happening among Palestinians in their struggle with Israel and Zionism. Very slowly, almost imperceptibly, Palestinians seem to be making a strategic shift in their mode of confrontation with Israel, from occasional military attacks toward a more nonviolent and political confrontation.

This development seems to be driven by two factors: that various kinds of armed struggle against Israel, by Palestinians or Arab armies, have had little or no impact on changing Israeli policies; and, that nonviolent political protests are more in keeping with the spirit of the moment in the Arab world, where unarmed civilians openly confront their oppressors and in most cases seem to be making headway.

The signs of Palestinian political struggle, as opposed to militarism, are most visible in four dimensions or incidents these days. The first were the two days in May and June when symbolic numbers of Palestinian refugees marched to the borders of Israel to proclaim their right to return to their homes. Israeli as usual replied with gunfire, killing over a dozen Palestinians. The scene at the Qalandia checkpoint in the West Bank north of Jerusalem was especially poignant, as Palestinian young men used slingshots – that great Hebrew Bible symbol – to pester the Israeli soldiers in full battle gear on the rooftops raining tear gas down on them. I suspect this is not the last time we will see unarmed Palestinian civilians march en masse in affirmation of their rights, whether in Israel, in Israeli-occupied Palestinian lands, or around the world.

The second is the flotilla of ships that is expected to set sail this week from nearby Mediterranean ports to break the Israeli siege of Gaza, even though the siege has been eased somewhat in recent months, especially since the new Egyptian government opened the Rafah crossing to a nearly normal flow of trade. The flotilla follows half a dozen others that have made the journey in the last three years with the same purpose: to challenge the Israeli sea blockade and affirm the rights of Palestinians to have normal contacts with the rest of the world.

The third sign is the Palestinian insistence on asking the U.N. General Assembly to vote this September on recognizing a Palestinian state within the borders of the lands occupied by Israel in 1967 (West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem). This move has incensed the Israeli government and its many proxies in the U.S., where a vehement campaign is underway to stop the United Nations vote from taking place.

The intensity of the Israeli and American opposition to the vote strategy is hysterical to the point of irrationality, given that a U.N. General Assembly vote in itself has very little practical value or impact in political or legal terms. Yet the Israeli response is telling of a deeper fear. What frightens the Israelis is the determination of Palestinians to use all available political means to carry on the struggle against Zionism and Israel, until Palestinian rights are achieved and Israelis and Palestinians can live in adjacent states with fully equal rights. Israel has never developed a strategy for countering a serious Arab political offensive against it, and it shows.

The fourth sign is the continued development of the global movement for a campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel, until it complies with its obligations under international law and conventions. Palestinian civil society launched BDS in 2005 as a strategy that allows people of conscience around the world to play an effective role in the Palestinian struggle for justice.


Give Palestine its due

An editorial in The Hindu says:

Palestinians have yet again been denied their due. The recently concluded session of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee rejected the first-ever Palestinian nomination. While it considered proposals from six West Asian countries, it overlooked Palestine’s proposal to include the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, one the oldest functioning churches, in the world heritage list. The proposal was rejected not on merits, but because UNESCO did not consider Palestine a sovereign state. Getting world heritage status has been critical to improving the protection of heritage sites. In 2002, the Israeli forces besieged and damaged parts of the Church of the Nativity, which is more than 1500 years old and a site of importance for Muslims as well. In 2005, experts listed many more instances of wanton destruction. For example, the Israeli Military Command destroyed 22 historic structures in the old city of Hebron, and permanent structures were built atop the archaeological site of Tell Rumeida. As recently as in 2010, instances of illegitimate appropriation of Palestinian monuments were reported. The hope was that a formal international recognition would serve as an additional deterrent and help Palestinians in nation-building.

Realising the urgent need to protect the cultural sites, UNESCO started training Palestinians to identify important heritage structures and implement the World Heritage Convention. In 2005, a list of 17 monuments located in historic cities such as Bethlehem and Nablus was published. Unfortunately, when it came to the critical phase of nomination, UNESCO, which might plead its hands are tied by convention and the limitations of international law, failed to demonstrate the innovativeness and progressive spirit expected of it. It needs to revisit the founding moments of the World Heritage movement. About 50 years ago, the world came together to save Abu Simbel. Collective concern and gravity of the situation compelled the international community to act creatively and boldly. UNESCO demonstrated some of these traits in 1981, when it overruled Israel’s objection and accepted Jordan’s proposal to nominate the old city of Jerusalem and its walls for the world heritage list. The reality is that many of the identified heritage sites are in areas administered by the Palestinian National Authority, which is an internationally accepted representative of the Palestinians, and the formation of Palestine State is inevitable. There is no convincing reason to further deny Palestine heritage sites the protection and recognition they deserve and urgently need.

(H/t Marsha Cohen.)


Freedom for Palestine

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Britain accused of collaborating with Israel over Salah arrest

The Guardian reports:

Arab Israelis and Palestinians have accused the British government of collaborating with Israel in detaining Sheikh Raed Salah, the leader of the Islamic Movement in Israel.

Ibrahim Sarsur, a United Arab List member of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, described the arrest of Salah as “strange”. He said: “Sheikh Salah is one of the leading figures in the Arab Israeli community. He travelled to the UK legitimately, and he had no knowledge of any ban on his entering the UK, so we are surprised and disappointed by this illegitimate procedure.”

Sarsur called on Britain to release Salah immediately. “We know that Israel is not happy with anyone that opposes its policies, but we see Britain as the most democratic place in the world and the birthplace of democracy. Britain should deal with delicate matters of the Middle East with delicacy and not act as a collaborator with the Israeli government.”

Ben White, a writer and activist who was due to speak at an event with Salah on Wednesday, said there was a stark contrast between how Britain treated Palestinian and Israeli leaders. “The same government that sent police to arrest a Palestinian civil society leader from his hotel bedroom is changing UK legislation explicitly to facilitate the entry of accused Israeli war criminals,” he said.


Staying human: a documentary about Vittorio Arrigoni

A documentary about Vittorio Arrigoni, the Italian peace activist whose passion for helping the Palestinian people, lead to his death.

He moved to Gaza in 2008 to work for the International Solidarity Movement. He was kidnapped and killed by a Salafi group in April 2011.


The fight for Libya

Reuters reports:

Muammar Gaddafi’s fearsome security apparatus appears to be weakening in Tripoli, but it is still too powerful to risk an uprising — that is the view of Libyans who say they are part of a burgeoning underground opposition network in the capital.

The handful of activists, who spoke to Reuters journalists on condition that neither their identities nor the location of the meeting be revealed, said Gaddafi was keeping control of the city through informants, mass arrests and killings.

“No single event will bring down the regime here in Tripoli,” said one activist who goes by the name of Niz.

“And it will take time,” he added, saying more NATO bombing, a push by Libyan rebels outside the city and better coordination of the opposition inside the capital would probably be needed.

Yet Niz and others also spoke of a system of repression that was showing signs of strain, with a shortage of places to hold detainees, interrogators who do not know what questions to ask and people arrested and then released apparently at random.

That Reuters foreign journalists staying at a tightly monitored hotel were able to slip away from government minders to meet people who said they represented active opposition cells was itself a sign of disarray in the decades-old security system — a disarray NATO is counting to bring Gaddafi down eventually.

Four activists from two different opposition movements — groups which have maintained contact with foreign media for the past few months — gave an account of what they thought it would take for Gaddafi’s grip on his Tripoli stronghold to be broken.

It was an assessment that will be sobering for those in Western capitals, and in the rebel-held Libyan cities of Benghazi and Misrata, who have been hoping for a swift end to the four-month old conflict.

An uprising in Tripoli is seen by some NATO member states as the best bet for toppling the Libyan ruler after months of coalition air strikes, and rebel attacks outside the capital, failed to produce a decisive outcome.

“The rebels don’t really have a chance of breaking out from the east, making their way to Tripoli,” said Shashank Joshi of the Royal United Services Institute in London. “It will rely on some sort of urban uprising within the city itself.”

Niz said outsiders, and the eastern rebels, should be patient if they were were waiting for Tripolitanians to rise up:

“Four months is a long time for those being shelled,” he said of those under siege in Misrata and elsewhere. “It’s a long time for those being raped or tortured,” he added.

“But, objectively, it’s not a long time when you consider the regime has been in power for 42 years.”

The New York Times reports:

Until a few weeks ago, the rebellious towns in the Nafusah Mountains were struggling to survive on dwindling supplies of barley, water and gas during a long siege by Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s soldiers.

But after an improbable series of military victories over the past three weeks — with fewer than 100 rebel fighters killed, their military leaders say — residents of a broad area in this mountain region are celebrating virtual secession from Colonel Qaddafi’s Libya. While there have been defeats, and the Grad rockets of Colonel Qaddafi’s forces still menace the outskirts of Nalut near the Tunisian border and Yafran to the east, rebels point hopefully to the growing stability of the towns under their control as evidence of how tenuous Colonel Qaddafi’s grip may be.

“This is the new Libya,” said Anwar Fekini, a Sorbonne-educated French-Libyan lawyer, rebel organizer and local tribal leader who returned for a weekend trip to his ancestral home to strategize with local allies. “It feels good.”

He delicately accepted an aging Belgian rifle from two gray-haired rebel fighters, just for safekeeping.

The Nafusah Mountains have emerged as a strategically significant front in the battle for Libya, in part because the rebels there are closest to Colonel Qaddafi’s stronghold in the capital, Tripoli, and in part because they have the potential to cut off vital supply lines from the border. And though barely trained and few in number — one rebel leader estimated that there were about 2,000 armed fighters — they have used their knowledge of the terrain and the sympathies of much of the local population to expand their territory as the fighting around Benghazi to the east and Misurata on the central coast has moved toward a stalemate.

Reuters reports:

France is providing weapons to Libyan rebels in the Western Mountains in an effort to help them push on to Muammar Gaddafi’s stronghold in the Libyan capital Tripoli, Le Figaro newspaper reported on Wednesday.

Citing unidentified sources, Le Figaro said France had parachuted “large amounts” of weapons, including rocket launchers, assault rifles, machine guns and anti-tank missiles into the Jebel Nafusa region.

The decision to send arms without consulting its NATO partners was “because there was no other way to proceed,” a senior source was quoted as saying.


Fire on the Marmara