on the limits of solidarity

last month two comrades in the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement (bds)–omar barghouti and haidar eid–both of whom i respect a great deal–wrote a statement about the gaza freedom march asking them to adopt a statement of context that addressed palestinian needs and demands rather than impose an american idea of those needs and demands on palestinian people (i quoted it and wrote about it here). a few weeks ago haidar and omar released a new statement saying that the gaza freedom march organizers had adopted their statement and they are now requesting people to endorse the march (click here to endorse it):

Dear supporters of just peace and international law,

We are writing to invite you to endorse the Pledge of the Gaza Freedom March, a creative initiative with historic potential organized by the International Coalition to End the Illegal Siege of Gaza. The March is aimed at mobilizing active and effective support from around the world for ending Israel’s illegal and immoral siege on Gaza, currently the most pressing of all Israeli violations of international law and Palestinian rights. To endorse the Pledge, please click here and enter your name — or your organization’s name — in the box provided at the bottom.

Also reproduced at the end of this letter, after the Pledge, is the organizers’ Statement of Context which provides the necessary Palestinian context of the siege, namely Israel’s occupation, its decades-old denial of UN-sanctioned Palestinian rights, and Palestinian civil resistance to that oppression.

The Gaza Freedom March has won the endorsement of a decisive majority in Palestinian civil society. Aside from the Islamic University of Gaza, Al-Aqsa University, and tens of local grassroots organizations, refugee advocacy groups, professional associations and NGOs in Gaza, the March was endorsed by the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Campaign National Committee (BNC)*, a wide coalition of the largest Palestinian mass organizations, trade unions, networks and professional associaitions, including all the major trade union federations, the Palestinian NGO Network (PNGO) and the largest network representing Palestinian refugees. Ittijah, the Union of Arab Community-Based Associations, representing the most prominent Palestinian NGOs inside Israel, has also endorsed.

The March, planned for January 2010, to commemorate Israel’s illegal war of aggression against the 1.5 million Palestinians in occupied Gaza, is expected to draw many prominent figures and massive activist participation from across the world. The organizers have shown exceptional moral courage and a true sense of solidarity in drafting the Pledge and the Statement of Context. We salute them all for their principled and consistent commitment to applying international law and universal human rights to the plight of the Palestinian people, particularly in Gaza. We deeply appreciate their solidarity with our struggle for freedom and our inalienable right to self determination.

Anchored solely in international law and universal human rights, the Gaza Freedom March appeals to international organizations and conscientious citizens with diverse political backgrounds on the basis of their common abhorrence of the immense injustice embodied in the atrocious siege of 1.5 million Palestinians in the occupied Gaza Strip, the overwhelming majority of whom are refugees.

With massive participation of internationals, led by prominent leaders, alongside Palestinians in Gaza the world can no longer ignore its moral duty to end this criminal siege, and Israel can no longer count on its current impunity to last long. We strongly urge you to endorse the Pledge and to help secure more endorsements.

Haidar Eid (Gaza)
Omar Barghouti (Jerusalem)

* The BDS National Committee, BNC, consists of: Council of National and Islamic Forces in Palestine (all major political parties); General Union of Palestinian Workers; Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions; General Union of Palestinian Women; Palestinian NGO Network (PNGO); Federation of Independent Trade Unions; Palestine Right of Return Coalition; Union of Palestinian Farmers; Occupied Palestine and Golan Heights Initiative (OPGAI); Grassroots Palestinian Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign (STW); Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI); National Committee to Commemorate the Nakba; Civic Coalition for the Defense of Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem (CCDPRJ); Coalition for Jerusalem; Union of Palestinian Charitable Organizations; Palestinian Economic Monitor; Union of Youth Activity Centers-Palestine Refugee Camps; among others …

Endorse the Gaza Freedom March! Sign the Pledge Below!

Israel’s blockade of Gaza is a flagrant violation of international law that has led to mass suffering. The U.S., the European Union, and the rest of the international community are complicit.

The law is clear. The conscience of humankind is shocked. Yet, the siege of Gaza continues. It is time for us to take action! On January 1, 2010, we will mark the New Year by marching alongside the Palestinian people of Gaza in a non-violent demonstration that breaches the illegal blockade.

Our purpose in this March is lifting the siege on Gaza. We demand that Israel end the blockade. We also call upon Egypt to open Gaza’s Rafah border. Palestinians must have freedom to travel for study, work, and much-needed medical treatment and to receive visitors from abroad.

As an international coalition we are not in a position to advocate a specific political solution to this conflict. Yet our faith in our common humanity leads us to call on all parties to respect and uphold international law and fundamental human rights to bring an end to the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian territories since 1967 and pursue a just and lasting peace.

The march can only succeed if it arouses the conscience of humanity.

Please join us.

The International Coalition to End the Illegal Siege of Gaza
For more information, please see the Statement of Context
For a list of endorsers, please click here.

STATEMENT OF CONTEXT

Amnesty International has called the Gaza blockade a “form of collective punishment of the entire population of Gaza, a flagrant violation of Israel’s obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention.” Human Rights Watch has called the blockade a “serious violation of international law.” The United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the occupied Palestinian territory, Richard Falk, condemned Israel’s siege of Gaza as amounting to a “crime against humanity.”

Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter has said the Palestinian people trapped in Gaza are being treated “like animals,” and has called for “ending of the siege of Gaza” that is depriving “one and a half million people of the necessities of life.”

One of the world’s leading authorities on Gaza, Sara Roy of Harvard University, has said that the consequence of the siege “is undeniably one of mass suffering, created largely by Israel, but with the active complicity of the international community, especially the U.S. and European Union.”

The law is clear. The conscience of humankind is shocked.

The Palestinians of Gaza have exhorted the international community to move beyond words of condemnation.

Yet, the siege of Gaza continues.

Upholding International Law

The illegal siege of Gaza is not happening in a vacuum. It is one of the many illegal acts committed by Israel in the Palestinian territories it occupied militarily in 1967.

The Wall and the settlements are illegal, according to the International Court of Justice at the Hague.

House demolitions and wanton destruction of farm lands are illegal.

The closures and curfews are illegal.

The roadblocks and checkpoints are illegal.

The detention and torture are illegal.

The occupation itself is illegal.

The truth is that if international law were enforced the occupation would end.

An end to the military occupation that began in 1967 is a major condition for establishing a just and lasting peace. For over six decades, the Palestinian people have been denied freedom and rights to self-determination and equality. The hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who were forced out of their homes during Israel’s creation in 1947-48 are still denied the rights granted them by UN Resolution 194.

Sources of Inspiration

The Gaza Freedom March is inspired by decades of nonviolent Palestinian resistance from the mass popular uprising of the first Intifada to the West Bank villagers currently resisting the land grab of Israel’s annexationist wall.

It draws inspiration from the Gazans themselves, who formed a human chain from Rafah to Erez, tore down the border barrier separating Gaza from Egypt, and marched to the six checkpoints separating the occupied Gaza Strip from Israel.

The Freedom March also draws inspiration from the international volunteers who have stood by Palestinian farmers harvesting their crops, from the crews on the vessels who have challenged the Gaza blockade by sea, and from the drivers of the convoys who have delivered humanitarian aid to Gaza.

And it is inspired by Nelson Mandela who said: “I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. … I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.”

It heeds the words of Mahatma Gandhi, who called his movement Satyagraha-Hold on to the truth, and holds to the truth that Israel’s siege of Gaza is illegal and inhuman.

Gandhi said that the purpose of nonviolent action is to “quicken” the conscience of humankind. Through the Freedom March, humankind will not just deplore Israeli brutality but take action to stop it.

Palestinian civil society has followed in the footsteps of Mandela and Gandhi. Just as those two leaders called on international civil society to boycott the goods and institutions of their oppressors, Palestinian associations, trade unions, and mass movements have since 2005 been calling on all people of conscience to support a non-violent campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions until Israel fully complies with its obligations under international law.

The Freedom March also draws inspiration from the civil rights movement in the United States.

If Israel devalues Palestinian life then internationals must both interpose their bodies to shield Palestinians from Israeli brutality and bear personal witness to the inhumanity that Palestinians daily confront.

If Israel defies international law then people of conscience must send non-violent marshals from around the world to enforce the law of the international community in Gaza. The International Coalition to End the Illegal Siege of Gaza will dispatch contingents from around the world to Gaza to mark the anniversary of Israel’s bloody 22-day assault on Gaza in December 2008 – January 2009.

The Freedom March takes no sides in internal Palestinian politics. It sides only with international law and the primacy of human rights.

The March is yet another link in the chain of non-violent resistance to Israel’s flagrant disregard of international law.

Citizens of the world are called upon to join ranks with Palestinians in the January 1st March to lift the inhumane siege of Gaza.

when the announcement for the march went out i wrote a critique of it, particularly about the racist way in which it seemed to be run (epitomized by the march’s first poster which featured no palestinians and just one white man–norman finkelstein). if you read that earlier post you will not be surprised to learn that with the gaza freedom march’s adoption of a palestinian platform–rather than an american platform pushed on palestinian people–finkelstein withdrew his support. here is what pulse media reported he said in response:

Norman Finkelstein’s withdrawal statement:

The original consensus of the International Coalition to End the Illegal Siege of Gaza was that we would limit our statement to a pair of uncontroversial, basic and complementary principles that would have the broadest possible appeal: the march to break the siege would be nonviolent and anchored in international law.

I agreed with this approach and consequent statement and decided to remove myself from the steering committee in order to invest my full energies in mobilizing for the march. During the week beginning August 30, 2009 and in a matter of days an entirely new sectarian agenda dubbed “the political context” was foisted on those who originally signed on and worked tirelessly for three months.

Because it drags in contentious issues that—however precious to different constituencies—are wholly extraneous to the narrow but critical goal of breaking the siege this new agenda is gratuitously divisive and it is almost certain that it will drastically reduce the potential reach of our original appeal.

It should perhaps be stressed that the point of dispute was not whether one personally supported a particular Palestinian right or strategy to end the occupation. It was whether inclusion in the coalition’s statement of a particular right or strategy was necessary if it was both unrelated to the immediate objective of breaking the siege and dimmed the prospect of a truly mass demonstration.

In addition the tactics by which this new agenda was imposed do not bode well for the future of the coalition’s work and will likely move the coalition in an increasingly sectarian direction. I joined the coalition because I believed that an unprecedented opportunity now exists to mobilize a broad public whereby we could make a substantive and not just symbolic contribution towards breaking the illegal and immoral siege of Gaza and, accordingly, realize a genuine and not just token gesture of solidarity with the people of Gaza.

In its present political configuration I no longer believe the coalition can achieve such a goal. Because I would loathe getting bogged down in a petty and squalid public brawl I will not comment further on this matter unless the sequence of events climaxing in my decision to resign are misrepresented by interested parties.

However I would be remiss in my moral obligations were I not humbly to apologize to those who, either coaxed by me or encouraged by my participation, gave selflessly of themselves to make the march a historic event and now feel aggrieved at the abrupt turn of events. It can only be said in extenuation that I along with many others desperately fought to preserve the ecumenical vision that originally inspired the march but the obstacles thrown in our path ultimately proved insurmountable.

problems still remain with the new statement of context. it is far from perfect. it represents, however, a significant compromise, and, more importantly, acknowledges the necessity of abiding by palestinian civil society’s goals as guided by international law. three activists, gabriel ash, mich levy and sara kershnar, authored a very important critique of this new context in electronic intifada that is worth considering for activists invested in justice for palestinian refugees and for palestine more generally:

Changing course is never easy. It would have been far better had this discussion taken place before the call went out. That, however, is a lesson for the future. The compromise led a few of the organizers to leave in anger and recriminations. Some argued that the new context document is “sectarian” and will severely damage the potential of the march. While disputes are inevitable in every political endeavor, we call on all parties to cast aside differences and arguments, to respect the compromise and unite on our common objective, ending the siege of Gaza. What is important now is getting the best and most effective march possible.

We see the context document as a thoughtful attempt to bring together for this march those of us who support boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) and the full objectives of Palestinian liberation — including the right of return and full and equal rights for Palestinians living in Israel — with those activists whose support for lifting the siege of Gaza is largely humanitarian. Contrary to misrepresentations, the context document does not require marchers to adhere to BDS. But as the march puts nonviolence on its banner and claims inspiration from nonviolent Palestinian resistance, it cannot, without being offensive, ignore the increasing presence and far-reaching international impact of BDS as a Palestinian campaign of nonviolent resistance that is endorsed by all factions, including Fatah and Hamas, as well as more than 100 civil society associations. The growing support for BDS among prominent Western figures and mainstream organizations belies the claim that the mere mention of it is divisive.

Nor does the document commit the marchers to support the Palestinian right of return. It does commit the marchers to recognize the Palestinian Nakba and the historical fact that the refugees’ right of return, recognized by UN resolution 194, has been denied. These refugees make up 75 percent of the population of Gaza and are the recipients of this march’s solidarity. To recognize this history does not compel one to agree to any specific resolution of the conflict. But refusing to recognize it denies the history of the Palestinian people, a denial that is inconsistent with any form of solidarity.

The new document’s only demand is the end of the siege of Gaza. There are no other demands. Nothing in it prevents activists committed to a “two-state solution” and a “Jewish state” from participating. We therefore strongly object to representing the new language as an attempt to limit the scope of the march. We take strong offense at the attempt to label the recognition of the concerns of Palestinian liberation within the context of a solidarity action as “sectarian.” We seriously doubt that the number of individuals willing to fly to Egypt and then march in Gaza, yet who refuse to recognize the history of Gaza, is very large.

We are also heartened by the addition of non-governmental partners in Gaza. As soon as the context statement was added, endorsements came from the University Teachers’ Association in Palestine, Palestinian Student’s Campaign, al-Aqsa University, Arab Cultural Forum-Gaza and al-Quds Bank for Culture and Information-Gaza. We are also encouraged by the addition of the International Solidarity Movement and support from members of the South African Palestine solidarity community. The elected government of Gaza has also endorsed the march and will now hopefully increase its assistance.

In supporting this compromise, we are mindful of the original aim of the organizers for large and “ecumenical” participation. We share that goal. However, our conversation would benefit from honesty about the meaning of “ecumenical.” It never means “everybody.” We don’t just want the maximum number of marchers; we want the maximum number that can be achieved without compromising the visions of the diverse organizers and solidarity groups participating in this particular project.

Where should the line be drawn? This is a difficult decision that haunts every political struggle and always requires deliberation, negotiation and compromise. It is misleading to frame the debate as one between those who want maximum participation and those motivated by ideology, in particular when this framing aims to delegitimize the concerns of Palestinian activists representing significant sections of Palestinian grassroots organizing. We all have political lines that we won’t cross. The lines drawn by those at the very heart of the struggle deserve our particular respect.

We now have a fair and inclusive basis for organizing the march, open to proponents of radically different political visions yet respectful of all, and in particular, respectful of Palestinian history and struggle. We must now all strive to make this march as big and as successful as possible.

but this march and is organizing, as well as the organizing around bds, has made me think a lot about what it means to act in solidarity with palestinians, or any group of people for that matter. i recently received an email from a dear friend who decided, after years of trying to persuade him, to join the academic boycott. he signed the statement, but he is still ambivalent about it as a tactic. why? because noam chomsky has not come out in support of it. and this makes me wonder a lot about why chomsky would be the one to defer to? chomsky, like norman finkelstein, are two scholars whose work i admire a great deal. their thinking and writing has influenced me tremendously over my the course of my life. but in the end there are too many barriers for me to fall in line with their thinking: particularly the fact that neither one has signed on to bds andthat neither one supports the right of return for palestinian refugees. here, for example, is chomsky speaking on the subject of sanctions in an interview with christopher j. lee:

Safundi: So you would apply “apartheid” to that broader situation?

Chomsky: I would call it a Bantustan settlement. It’s very close to that. The actions are taken with U.S. funding, crucially. U.S. diplomatic, military, and economic support are crucial. It cannot be done without that.

Safundi: And that is similar to U.S. support for South Africa during the apartheid period through the 1980s.

Chomsky: Yes. As I’m sure you know, the Reagan Administration-which is basically the current people in power, including people like Colin Powell-found ways to evade Congressional restrictions so that they continued to support the apartheid administration, almost until the end.

Safundi: Connected to that…

Chomsky: In the case of Israel, they don’t have to hide it because there are no sanctions.

Safundi: That’s my question. One of the important tactics against the apartheid government was the eventual use of sanctions. Do you see that as a possibility?

Chomsky: No. In fact I’ve been strongly against it in the case of Israel. For a number of reasons. For one thing, even in the case of South Africa, I think sanctions are a very questionable tactic. In the case of South Africa, I think they were [ultimately] legitimate because it was clear that the large majority of the population of South Africa was in favor of it.

Sanctions hurt the population. You don’t impose them unless the population is asking for them. That’s the moral issue. So, the first point in the case of Israel is that: Is the population asking for it? Well, obviously not.

But there is another point. The sanctions against South Africa were finally imposed after years, decades of organization and activism until it got to the point where people could understand why you would want to do it. So by the time sanctions were imposed, you had international corporations supporting them. You had mayors of cities getting arrested in support of them.

So calling for sanctions here, when the majority of the population doesn’t understand what you are doing, is tactically absurd-even if it were morally correct, which I don’t think it is.

The country against which the sanctions are being imposed is not calling for it.

Safundi: Palestinians aren’t calling for sanctions?

Chomsky: Well, the sanctions wouldn’t be imposed against the Palestinians, they would be imposed against Israel.

Safundi: Right…[And] Israelis aren’t calling for sanctions.

Chomsky: Furthermore, there is no need for it. We ought to call for sanctions against the United States! If the U.S. were to stop its massive support for this, it’s over. So, you don’t have to have sanctions on Israel. It’s like putting sanctions on Poland under the Russians because of what the Poles are doing. It doesn’t make sense. Here, we’re the Russians.

Israel will of course do whatever it can as long as the U.S. authorizes it. As soon as the U.S. tells it no, that’s the end. The power relations are very straight forward. It’s not pretty, but that’s the way the world works.

of course, chomsky has a point: in terms of bds the u.s. should be every bit the target. but not in lieu of the zionist entity, but rather in addition to it. but the fact that paestinians are calling for bds means that those of us who want to work in solidarity with palestinians should support that work. but the fact that some people think we should refer to two american jews on the matter of this is disturbing. would one defer to a slavemaster when abolishing slavery? would one defer to a nazi when fighting against concentration camps? would one defer to white southerners when resisting jim crow segregation in the u.s. south? i find this logic racist and deeply problematic. i’m not at all saying that the work of chomsky and finkstein is not important to read, to listen to, to consider. but i am asking people to consider the logic of looking to them as if they were the leaders of the palestinian people. if we’re looking for leaders we need not look beyond haidar eid and omar barghouti for starters. and there are thousands more where they came from.

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