I really hate to blog about topical events, but this one irks me in particular. I have been totally overlooking the festering wound in Gaza. If you are looking for reliable sources on the Palestinian side, try Juan Cole’s Informed Consent blog and the blog of Ali Abunimah of the always great Electronic Intifada). What follows is just a hodgepodge of things to strike me.
Forget for a moment that Israel is stealing European passports to assassinate people or that it ignores the Goldstone Report which found them responsible for the overwhelming majority of civilian casualties in Gaza. Forget for the moment that (according to Juan Cole) conditions in Gaza as a result of the Israeli blockade are deplorable:
- “In Gaza, Israel’s blockade is debilitating the healthcare system, limiting medical supplies and the training of medical personnel and preventing serious medical cases from travelling outside the Strip for specialized treatment.”
- “Israel’s 2008-2009 military operation damaged 15 of the Strip’s 27 hospitals and damaged or destroyed 43 of its 110 primary health care facilities, none of which have been repaired or rebuilt because of the construction materials ban.”
- “Some 15-20 percent of essential medicines are commonly out of stock and there are shortages of essential spare parts for many items of medical equipment . . . ”
- In Late 2008, nearly 1 in 5 Palestinians lived in “extreme poverty.” Over half lived below the poverty line.
- “In the second half of 2008, one third of West Bank households and 71 percent of Gaza households received food assistance, with food accounting for roughly half total household expenditures – making families highly vulnerable to food price fluctuations.”
- “In May 2008, 56 percent of Gazans and 25 percent of West Bank residents were deemed food insecure by the UN.”
- “Chronic malnutrition has risen in Gaza over the past few years to reach 10.2 percent.” [This is especially true among children in Gaza).
- The entire fishing and agricultural sectors in the Palestinian population are very badly off.This heartbreaking account of Gaza by US physicians doing volunteer medical work there underlines how inadequate the medical facilities are.
Forget for a moment that the aid ship contained not Hamas terrorists but a Nobel Peace Prize winner, a former UN official, several writers, filmmakers and liberal peace activists from around the world. Forget for a moment that US is supplying billions of dollars every year to the Israeli military, turning a blind eye toward Israel’s nuclear ambitions and humoring Israel’s dreams of destroying Iran.
The whole point of the “Gaza flotilla” was to get a reaction out of Israel and call international attention to the problem of the blockade of Gaza. Israeli officials described it as “a provocation” and I’m not sure that was entirely incorrect: like all other acts of civil disobedience it was designed to provoke a response. I’m shocked but not surprised that the Israeli military, which was determined to prevent those ships from reaching the Gaza port, managed to mishandle the situation so badly that, as present report stand, at least 10 flotilla participants were killed and 60 injured. The Israelis claim that the ships had weapons on board and that their commandos were attacked with sticks and knives and had to defend themselves. I don’t think anyone in the world with the least degree of critical rationality is going to take this explanation at face value. It’s been rendered even more fatuous by the extraordinary hyperbole coming out of Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, who claimed that flotilla members were connected not only to Hamas, but to Al Qaeda! Next they will be telling us these were members of the Nazi party. It won’t wash.
Adam Shapiro comments about the provocative nature of the expedition:
…unfortunately, Israel has made humanitarian assistance to Gaza a political issue. So, Israel keeps a list of items that are permitted into Gaza and items that are not permitted into Gaza.
Many medicines, many machines that are needed for medical operations and medical procedures are not allowed into Gaza. Some basic foodstuffs are not allowed into Gaza to the Palestinians. And so Israel has taken a very radical policy through its blockade, and made humanitarian assistance a political issue.
The blockade itself is, of course, political. And, so, we are challenging the blockade itself and, in doing so, trying to deliver the much-needed humanitarian and reconstruction assistance that Gaza needs.
We need to look at one case: that of Emily Henochowicz, a 21 year old Jewish-American artist who was injured by Israeli soldiers for protesting Israel’s assault on the aid shipment. (More). This woman’s crime is of posing a threat to the moral legitimacy of the Israeli regime. (By the way, all the images for this post are from her sketchbook. I think Emily’s drawings certainly have political aspects to them, but it would be naive to say they are only political works of art (not that there’s anything wrong with that). I would describe them as more free-spirited and upbeat than anything else.
We also need to look towards the admittedly humorous case of Noam Chomsky being denied entry into the West Bank to give a lecture . Chomsky poses a threat to nobody except to the overall moral legitimacy of the Israeli government.
This is a government that discriminates against Arabs and allows itself to retaliate against attacks by killing 8 to 10 times the original number.
I have friends who are Israeli or Israeli supporters. As contemptuous as I have been about the policies of the Israel government, I have never questioned Israel’s right to exist as a legitimate government. But:
- Would the Israeli government be able to act so lawlessly if it did not receive US aid and protection?
- Can Israel be really trusted to deal honestly and fairly with the Palestinian government? (No one would accuse Mahmoud Abbas of being a militant or terrorist, although a case could surely made against Sharon or Netanyahu).
- Why does Israel – a free and well-functioning democracy by most outside observers – continue to elect a right-wing governing coalition that is oblivious to world opinion?
- If Israel cannot let the Palestinian Authority rule itself, does that mean a one state solution is the only viable possibility?
Jonathan Schwartz notes that the US is committed to making sure Israel stop its provocative behavior, halt its policy of threats and belligerence toward its neighbors, and take irreversible steps to fulfill its denuclearization commitments, and comply with international law and the US is also committed to holding perpetrators of acts of piracy accountable for their crimes. (ha, ha!). Andrew Sullivan notes that because the aid ship was flying a Turkish flag, it has the right to request NATO help against its aggressors (now, that would be fun!).
for this sketch, Emily Henochowicz writes “Ingredients; One layer of determined activist over a layer of obediently angry army men, and a layer of camera people (to give it that worldly flavor) with a bulldozer on-top!”
In the sketch below, we see a wild flurry of shapes and movement.
Update: Glen Greenwald has been following the legal issues closely. I wouldn’t go so far to say that NYT coverage is “biased,” only that it is very tardy covering some aspects of the developing story (and that shapes people’s perceptions of the story). Why hasn’t NYT provided an ongoing list of the detained people? Why hasn’t NYT covered the international outrage at the Gaza blockade? Finally, why hasn’t the NYT covered just how much military assistance Israel receives from the US? I’m at the point of trusting CNN a lot more on this particular story. But it calls attention to the need to have alternatives to the NYT for coverage.
Update 2: 2 videos by a US born human rights lawyer: her eyewitness account of the incident and her video made a week ago about the aims of the freedom flotilla. She is certainly not “neutral” about the matter and every freedom flotilla passenger knew full well about the dangers and the certainty of confrontation. Isn’t it sad that the only people with the influence to change political opinions are Europeans and Americans (but not Palestinians or Israelis)?