transform silence into language and action

i just finished watching my dear friend rania on press tv’s “middle east today.” it was tedious to watch because some delusional zionist was on the show. he–with the help of the show’s host i might add–effectively silenced dr. naji shurab the one voice living in gaza who was on the show. it’s so hard to watch–and it is so hard to be on–this program. i honestly don’t understand why they think they need to air both “sides of the story.” you can read rania’s take on why there are not two sides to this story by clicking on the link above. i have also written about it at length here so i will not repeat myself, except to say there are not two sides to this story about palestine, about gaza. but i will say this: why is it that when it is so difficult to get information out about gaza that we have to hear the voice of a man whose words ooze hate and deceit?

but i want to think further about something rania said and relate it to something norman finkelstein said in shatila refugee camp last winter. rania mentioned the words of miguel d’escoto brockmann to the united nations last week, these are words that are worth repeating:

United Nations General Assembly President Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann on Monday likened Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians to South Africa’s treatment of blacks under apartheid.

Israel’s actions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were like “the apartheid of an earlier era,” said Brockmann, of Nicaragua, speaking at the annual debate marking the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.

He added: “We must not be afraid to call something what it is.”

Brockmann stressed that it was important for the United Nations to use the heavily-charged term since it was the institution itself that had passed the International Convention against the crime of apartheid.

okay, brockmann said it. that is significant. it is important. but what does it mean if that language is not transformed into action. the world continues to be silent not only about gaza, but also about palestinians more generally. how can we transform that language now into action? one of the poets who influences my life very deeply is audre lorde (a chapter of my book on breast cancer, which is about lorde, is downloadable on the selected publications tab above). in particular words she spoke at a modern language association meeting, which later became a part of her moving memoir, the cancer journals reads:

Each of us is here now because in one way or another we share a commitment to language and to the power of language, and to the reclaiming of that language which has been made to work against us. In the transformation of silence into language and action, it is vitally necessary for each one of us to establish or examine her function in that transformation and to recognize her role as vital within that transformation.

For those of us who write, it is necessary to scrutinize not only the truth of what we speak, but the truth of that language by which we speak it. For others, it is to share and spread also those words that are meaningful to us. But primarily for us all, it is necessary to teach by living and speaking those truths which we believe and know beyond understanding. Because in this way alone can we survive, by taking part in a process of life that is creative and continuing, that is growth.

language has power. and it has certainly been made to work against palestinians on so many levels. but the converse can be true if we all actively work on it. collectively. finkelstein talked about how zionists have been skilled at using what should be nothing pieces of paper (e.g., the balfour declaration) and turning a meaningless letter into a state on someone else’s land. he asked people in the audience how can palestinians use the myriad united nations resolutions to get their land back. on the level of international law palestinians have won the battle in so many ways. but the world remains silent in the face of these words. these words that are laws. international laws that the world ignores.

so the president of the un general assembly called israel an apartheid state. he stated a fact in a space that represents the international community, international laws. some people are hailing him for making this powerful speech so early on in his tenure as the head of the un general assembly. how can this be turned into momentum for change?

in london some people are christmas caroling for change. kabobfest has a video today from cnn of a jewish woman who is writing christmas carols that play with the traditional lyrics:

“Twelve assassinations, Eleven homes demolished, Ten wells obstructed, Nine sniper towers, Eight gunships firing, Seven checkpoints blocking, Six tanks a-rolling, Five settlement rings, Four falling bombs, Three trench guns, Two trampled doves, And an uprooted olive tree!”

imagine going from house to house singing these lyrics and handing out bethlehem postcards from if americans knew.

these words are powerful. they can be used: but they must be used to a particular effect. to render the zionist state a pariah state. to use these words–especially those words that carry weight–to end this siege on gaza and the siege over the rest of palestine and all palestinian refugee camps in the region more generally. this language must be used to enunciate the increasing devastation in gaza like the flour and electricity shortages:

The 1.6 million civilians of the Gaza Strip are being denied all their rights to freedom of movement, and are confined inside Gaza, where the humanitarian situation is deteriorating amidst chronic fuel shortages, and shortages of goods, including essential food items. The Gaza power plant has been forced to shut down due to lack of fuel, and Gazans are now totally dependent on electricity generated from Israel, and to a lesser extent, Egypt. There are also chronic severe shortages of domestic cooking gas. Regarding essential food items, IOF have not permitted any consignments of flour to enter the Gaza Strip for one week (this does not apply to the UN agency for Palestine refugees, UNRWA, which has its own flour stocks), and current stocks are sufficient for just less than three days. Five of the six flour mills in the Gaza Strip have been forced to close.

language must be used to reveal the psychological trauma palestinians in gaza are experiencing:

Israel’s siege on Gaza, now in its 19th month, has wreaked havoc on all aspects of life and significant attention has been paid in particular to the economic consequences of border closures and blockade. However, an overlooked epidemic threatens the social and familial ties that bond the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza. Living under a constant state of crisis in which their livelihoods have been denied, the people of Gaza’s once exemplary resilience and determination are giving way to an unfathomable sea of depression and psychological illnesses.

According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, as a direct result of Israel’s siege, 65 percent of households in Gaza struggle to obtain basic needs such as food, clothing and medicine. Among those struggling is Fouzan Salah, a 35-year-old father of four. Fouzan, who owned a tailoring factory with his brother, began selling his sewing machines in January of this year in order to feed his family. Since Israel began restricting the entry of goods and raw material into Gaza, an estimated 55 percent of private sector establishments have shut down and 97 percent of industrial establishments ceased their operations. Such was the fate of Fouzan’s factory, which received all of its fabric from Israel. The family now has no income and is in danger of losing its home. They Salahs currently rely on charity and the assistance of others, surviving on one, sometimes two small meals a day.

Consequently, Fouzan suffers from severe depression. Despair, worthlessness, incapacitation and emasculation is how Fouzan described the feelings he carries within him each day to the next. “I wasn’t worried when the siege first began,” he said. “I was just like everyone else and it was absurd to think that Israel would continue to enforce the siege on an entire population. It was unimaginable to even conceive that they would take away the livelihoods of all of us civilians. But I was wrong, we were all wrong. And now I’m still like everyone else, living a nightmare. It didn’t take me that long to reach this realization, and that’s when the depression hit me hard.”

the language must be bold and loud like brockmann’s not muted like un secretary general ban–but it must also be backed up with action not merely muted complaints:

All crossings for goods going into Gaza from Israel remained closed today, with no fuel, humanitarian supplies or commercial commodities reaching the 1.5 million inhabitants, the United Nations reported today.

The Kerem Shalom crossing was last open on 27 November, the Nahal Oz fuel pipelines and Karni conveyer belt last functioned on 26 November, and the crossings at Sufa have been closed since 13 September, the Office of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO) reported.

UN officials, from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on downwards, have repeatedly called on Israel to urgently permit the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza’s civilians. At the same time, Mr. Ban has reiterated his condemnation of rocket attacks by Palestinian militants in Gaza against Israeli civilian targets, which Israel has cited as a reason for the closures.

this language may be written in reports, but it then must be backed up by action. yet again another united nations report, more findings that support palestinians: but what will the un do exactly? what will we pressure them to do?

The UN Human Rights Council must ensure Israel ends “institutionalised racism and discrimination” against Palestinians when it examines the Jewish state’s rights record, Palestinian groups urged Wednesday.

Israel will be examined on its human rights record by the Council on Thursday under the “Universal Periodic Review” process which puts every UN member state under the spotlight.

“Institutionalised racism and discrimination on the grounds of nationality, ethnicity, race and religion are root causes of the ongoing forcible internal displacement and dispossession of the Palestinian people,” seven Palestinian rights groups said in a report submitted to the Council.

“In conjunction with Israel’s self-identification as a Jewish and democratic state, the Palestinian citizens of Israel are afforded no constitutional protection against racial discrimination. By this Israel is failing to comply with its obligations under international human rights law,” the report said.

the word must make states like the zionist regime (and yes other states including the u.s. on the list below) into pariah states with loud language that shames them into dissolution for doing things like refusing to sign the ban on cluster bombs, cluster bombs that continue to maim and kill people in southern lebanon:

Governments from around the world today began signing an international convention banning the production of cluster bombs, millions of which lie unexploded across dozens of countries and have killed and maimed thousands of civilians.

At the Oslo signing ceremony, Norway, which has led the efforts to ban cluster munitions, was the first country to sign. It was followed by Laos, where cluster bombs dropped by US planes more than 30 years ago are still killing civilians; and Lebanon, which was attacked with the weapons by Israel.

By the end of tomorrow, around 100 of the United Nations’ 192 members will have signed up. Once 30 countries have ratified the convention, it will become part of international humanitarian law.

There are a number of notable absentees, including the US, China, Russia, India and Pakistan, as well as Israel, which fired cluster bombs during the 2006 Lebanon war.

there are so many other reasons to speak out, to speak loudly, to shout, to scream, to push for action. and there is momentum building in the united nations. we must put pressure, we must insist that they take action. here is one idea from snorre lindquist and lasse wilhelmson:

The UN should use the word apartheid in connection with Israel and consider sanctions with the former South Africa serving as a model. Miguel dÉscoto Brockman, president of the UN General Assembly, conveyed this message at a meeting on November 24th 2008 with the UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon present.

The 1976 Nobel peace prize laureate, Mairead McGuire from Ireland, recently suggested a popular movement demanding that the UN revoke Israel’s membership. The international community now needs to put tangible pressure on Israel in order to stop its war crimes.

Not once, during the past 60 years, has Israel shown any intention of living up to the requirements stipulated by the UN, in connection with the country’s membership in 1948, namely that the Palestinians who had been evicted from their homes should be allowed to return at the earliest possible opportunity. Moreover, Israel holds the hardly flattering world record of ignoring UN resolutions.

It can be questioned from the aspect of human rights legislation whether Israel is a legitimate state. Established practice between states usually requires borders that are legally maintained and a constitution, neither of which Israel has. These requirements are also named in the UN resolution (181) Partition Plan for Palestine, approved by the General Assembly in November 1947. The plan was accepted by the Zionists Jews in Palestine but rejected for excellent reasons as unjust by the Arab states. Only decisions made by the UN Security Council are mandatory. Later on, Israel unilaterally laid claim to a considerably larger portion of land than that suggested by the UN.

The eviction of eighty per cent of the Palestinians who lived west of the 1947 armistice line, and Israel’s refusal to allow them to return is the human rights argument for expelling Israel from the UN. Not only has Israel played the Partition Plan false but has, by its actions, thwarted the grounds – fragile from the start – for its UN membership.

Israel makes use of various strategies to achieve its goals, the same goals as for over a hundred years ago: As few and as well controlled and weakened Palestinians as possible in areas as small as possible between the Mediterranean and the River Jordan. And to try and get acceptance worldwide for the theft of land that is vital to the “state” that calls itself “Jewish and democratic”. This obviously bears no similarity to a peace process.

Why does nobody ever comment on the fact that Israel’s prime minister never misses an opportunity to harp on about how important it is that the rest of the world and the Palestinians recognise Israel, not as a democratic country for all its citizens, but as a “Jewish state”?

What would we have said if South Africa’s Prime Minister, in a similar way, had demanded recognition of South Africa as a “white and democratic state”, thus de facto accepting the racist apartheid system that allowed non-whites to be classified as lesser human beings?

In the article The end of Zionism, published in the Guardian on September the 15th 2003 the Jewish dissident and former speaker of Knesset, Avraham Burg wrote:

“Diaspora Jews for whom Israel is a central pillar of their identity must pay heed and speak out … We cannot keep a Palestinian majority under an Israeli boot and at the same time think ourselves the only democracy in the Middle East. There cannot be democracy without equal rights for all who live here, Arab as well as Jew … The prime minister should present the choices forthrightly: Jewish racism or democracy.”

No support can be found in The UN recommendation concerning a Jewish and a Palestinian state for unequal rights for the citizens of each country. Neither is there any indication as to how a “Jewish” state could become Jewish. There is support, however, for the intention that demographic conditions should be held intact at partition. Interpreting into the text an intention concerning characteristics of a “Jewish state” tailored to the ideology of Zionism is wholly in contradiction with the text of the resolution.

Even the Balfour Declaration, which entirely lacks human rights status, notes that the Jewish national home in Palestine should in no way encroach upon the rights of the Palestinians. Neither did US President Truman recognise Israel as a Jewish state. On the contrary, he ruled out precisely that formulation before making his decision to recognise Israel.

Thus, the legitimacy of a “Jewish state” so urgently sought by Israel lacks support in international documents that concern the building of the state. Israel’s government is, of course, fully aware of this. Why else would it keep on searching for this recognition?

The UN should now embark on a boycott of the apartheid state of Israel and, with the threat of expulsion from the UN, demand that Israel allows the evicted Palestinian refugees to return in accordance with the UN resolutions 194 and 3236.

With this done, meaningful peace talks can proceed and various solutions be reached for co-habitation with equal rights for all people between the Mediterranean and the River Jordan. No such solution can be compatible with the preservation of a Jewish apartheid state.

now here is some language we can use. yes, let’s work to hold the un accountable to its language, to its words. to boycott the zionist state. to force it to comply with these un resolutions which would force it to cease from being a jewish state once refugees are allowed to return. this is the key to a lasting solution. and we cannot let these words wither away. we must act now.

2 thoughts on “transform silence into language and action

  1. it is analysis such as this – and empowering words and clear strategy such as this – that deserve to be given time on shows.
    we should demand this.
    enough of ridiculous shouting matches that change nothing and move no one.
    secular blessings to you, my rafica

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