For the past couple of nights I’ve noticed a new commercial on English language television in India. It seems that Israel is currently promoting tourism on occupied land while hiding their reality of their almost 70-year long colonisation of the land. It seems that now that Indians no longer have a stamp in their passport preventing them from travelling to the world’s 2 apartheid states–South Africa and Israel–they’re pushing tourism, making it appear as if it were any European country. It was shocking to see such a commercial, knowing how many Indians will fall for it, travel there, and never even have a glimpse of what life is like for Palestinians in historic Palestine or the West Bank and Gaza Strip. (Here is my response to a similar piece in The Hindu acouple of years ago).
What bothers me about false reporting on water in India is that so many Indians–Indians who I expect to know better–will repeat this fib about Israel being some agricultural, water genius nation that India should look to as a model. And the Indian government is indeed stepping up its work in that area with collaborative ventures in the agricultural sector.
Israel’s water lies go far back to their early colonisation in the 1940s, but after they accelerated the colonisation of the West Bank, the theft quickened, as Charlotte Silver explains:
In Gaza, because of the ongoing siege of the world’s largest open air prison, the water situation is even worse than in the West Bank, which is why the Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) has been actively involved in helping to create solutions to the lack of drinking water:
In the West Bank and Gaza, the Israeli Occupation systematically denies Palestinian adequate quality and quantities of water. Palestinian communities inside the state of Israel have less access to water than their Jewish counterparts, as well. Water is diverted from Palestinian resources the West Bank (and previously in Gaza) to illegal Israeli settlements and into Israel. Israel denies materials, fuel, and permits to sustain and expand water systems. Military attacks predictably—and often deliberately—destroy wells, water tanks, pipes, treatment plants, and sewage systems. Widespread poverty prevents people from purchasing clean water or repairing their wells and plumbing. The health and well being of virtually every Palestinian child and adult is affected by the shortage of clean, safe water.
The water crisis in Gaza is extreme. When the state of Israel was established in 1948, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were driven from their homes in what is now southern Israel to the small and arid Gaza Strip. At the same time, Israel cut off access to water sources around Gaza. The only source available, the Gaza Aquifer, could not support the huge and sudden rise in population, and the water it generates has been steadily deteriorating for more than sixty years. It is currently estimated that 95% of water from the Gaza Aquifer is unfit for human consumption.
What will it take for Indians to understand the truth, the reality of what really goes on with water in Palestine? Perhaps a trip, but not to Israel; one to the occupied territories where tourists also get first-hand experiences with inequity and water as well as all the other visible and less visible forms of apartheid.
As soon as I finished yesterday’s blog post, I returned home to unwind while reading the Sunday newspaper with a cup of tea. I turned to the culture pages first where I found an interview with Israeli filmmaker Amos Gitai who was apparently in India for the Kolkata International Film Festival. Apparently, the folks in Kolkata are not aware that there is a cultural boycott of Israel in India. This interview, by Anuj Kumar, as with all other articles about Israeli “culture,” treats Gitai as if he were a normal filmmaker from a normal country. Although Kumar gestures towards the Israeli colonization of Palestine by asking Gitai about hiring Palestinian actors, he seems to be completely oblivious to the conditions that Palestinians endure whether in the film industry or life.
Here are some reminders why the cultural boycott is necessary, first from Ben White:
Culture does not operate in some special, apolitical space – just like academic institutions in Israel are also not removed from complicity in systematic human rights abuses. As the Habima general manager put it, the invitation by The Globe is an “honourable accomplishment for the State of Israel in general”.
Furthermore, the Israeli government and advocacy groups are deliberately seeking to use culture as a means of ‘rebranding’ a country increasingly linked in the pubic imagination to its crimes against the Palestinians.
First of all you are a citizen, a human being. When you are confronted by such crimes you have to respond as a human being, regardless of if you are an artist, a VIP or whatever. First of all you have to respond and do what you can to bring this to people’s attention. A boycott is a tactic. It is effective against Israel because Israel presents itself as a cultural beacon. It is therefore very susceptible to cultural boycott. We should not have anything to do with projects that are supported by the State of Israel. Individuals are not concerned; we have to concentrate on the actions of the Israeli State. That is what we have to target. We target it because you cannot just stand by and watch people live their lives in refugee camps forever.
Some artists argue that, instead of boycotting, they prefer to visit Israel and use the performance opportunity to express their views against Israeli injustices. This ostensibly noble idea is not only — unfortunately — too rare to be viewed as significant; it is ill conceived. Such a hypothetically courageous stance cannot possibly outdo or neutralize the far more substantial harm done due to these performances taking place, as Israel, with its formidable influence in mainstream Western media, cynically uses them to project a false image of normalcy that enables it to maintain its occupation and apartheid. Ultimately, a conscientious artist is expected to heed the appeals of the oppressed as to what they really need from them in the struggle to end injustice and colonial oppression. This was true in the South African anti-apartheid struggle, too.
Today I entered the halls of city hall in Los Angeles, I think, for the first time. It is entirely possible I was there when I was young and cannot recall the memory. It’s funny to me because although I am a Los Angeleno, I came of age in Ohio and my activism really began there. I often go to protests and demonstrations when I’m home, but I’ve never gone to speak before city council here as I used to do in Cincinnati, for instance, when I was actively fighting against the homophobic Issue 3.
It felt a bit daunting, perhaps, because I know that this space where I signed up to speak was a place where my grandmother, Marian Gibbons, founder of Hollywood Heritage, spoke so many times before. In fact, as I sat there in the transportation committee’s meeting space, thinking about what I would say when I addressed them, I noticed a man whose face, and eventually, name I began to recognize. He spoke at my grandmother’s funeral. Tom LaBonge has been working in Los Angeles city politics for ages and he worked with my grandmother at some point, but I cannot recall exactly what they did together.
I decided that I’d try to speak to this relationship somehow instead of addressing the same old points about boycotting Veolia, the transportation company that Los Angeles is working to renew a contract with. Everyone else (there were 33 speakers asking to dump this contract and 5 speakers seeking to maintain it) addressed the usual points. I talked about my grandmother’s history as an activist preserving and resuscitating Hollywood, which inevitably provided me with an model for how to be an activist, albeit in a different context. But while my grandma saved and renovated historic landmarks, I fight for human rights–for Palestinians to not be exiled from their lands, for Palestinian homes to not be demolished, for Palestinians to be able to return to their land. At the end of the day just like my grandma fought destruction of something that was valuable to her, I support Palestinians in their effort to preserve their life, livelihood, and homes. Veolia, the French company I spoke against today, profits off the destruction of Palestinian homes and livelihoods by creating and maintaining a Jewish-only transportation system connecting Jewish-only colonies.
I may not have been the most persuasive speaker, but at least LaBonge addressed me in his closing remarks, indicating that perhaps he heard what I had to say. In general, it was quite a disappointing meeting. Most of the council members there were either flipping through paperwork (which may or may not be related to what were addressing today) or played on their cell phones. The one who acted like he was listening, Paul Koretz, although this Jon Lovitz lookalike appeared constipated most of the time, made it expressly clear that he supports Israel. Although he stated this to the room, it was evident a bit before then because when 4 of the 5 Veolia supporters spoke (a team of people from the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles) he let all of them go over the 1 minute time limit without reminding them that they had gone over. Everyone else was interrupted and reminded of that fact.
The speakers (see Uprising radio above video for another example) who addressed the main arguments made some excellent points, especially about this city where I grew up. I’ve been a bit harsh and frustrated with my hometown of late because of the fascist policies the state and the city have been passing. But as a city, I was reminded today, that Los Angeles has often done the right thing. And this was a point that many people drove home today:
* In 1984 Los Angeles was one of the first major cities in the U.S. to divest from South Africa during the apartheid regime
* In 2008 and 2009 Los Angeles’ fire and police commissions terminated relationships with a program run by the Boy Scouts of America because of its explicit discriminatory policies against LGBTQ people
* In 2010 Los Angeles city council voted to boycott Arizona and any companies based there because of Arizona’s draconian anti-immigrant law SB 1070
But it seems that Los Angeles would want to uphold its moral stance and be consistent. When the question today came up about whether or not it is illegal for the state of California or the city of Los Angeles to boycott Israel, a couple of important response came up (not the least of which is the fact that Veolia is a French, not an Israeli company):
* Nothing in U.S. law or California law prohibits the city of Los Angeles from refusing to do business with Veolia because of its human rights violations in occupied Palestine. A boycott even against Israel or an Israeli company would only be prohibited under the Export Administration Act (EAA) if the specific boycott is initiated by foreign countries, specifically, the official government of a foreign country.
In the end, we lost. They voted unanimously to continue its contract with Veolia. Unlike Stockholm, Melbourne, Bourdeaux, Dublin, Swansea and the Hague, Los Angeles seems to want to continue its relationship with Veolia in spite of its human rights violations. My grandma, although she had her battles with city hall to be sure, never had to face the seemingly insurmountable Zionist hold on American politics. It’s significantly easier to get Americans, especially in Los Angeles, to be sympathetic about preserving its recent cinematic past.
The last time I was in Palestine, in 2009, I took photographs in al Quds (Jerusalem) of the Veolia light rail project that was being built by dividing and destroying various aspects of Palestinian neighborhoods for the sake of the colonial transportation system. Here are some of those photographs:
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 …
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.
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.
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:
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.
there are a lot of people who are very pleased with jimmy carter’s trip to gaza this week. certainly, his trip to gaza helped put gaza back in the news, which is important. but carter’s insistence that there should be a two-state solution with no right of return for palestinian refugees makes me extremely frustrated and unwilling to get behind carter’s political campaigning. he’s right on many issues, such as hamas is a legitimate political party as well as resistance organization, which should be included in any discussion about the future of palestine. and he surprised me by meeting with palestinian families in gaza who have relatives in zionist prisons (11,000+ palestinian political prisoners compared to the 1 zionist pow who gets far too much media attention). still, his refusal to admit that apartheid exists in the entirety of palestine and his refusal to promote the right of return and the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement shows that he is not altogether different from most american political leaders. here are his remarks that he made in gaza as posted on the palestine chronicle website:
I first visited Gaza 36 years ago and returned during the 1980s and later for the very successful Palestinian elections. Although under occupation, this community was relatively peaceful and prosperous. Now, the aftermath of bombs, missiles, tanks, bulldozers and the continuing economic siege have brought death, destruction, pain, and suffering to the people here. Tragically, the international community largely ignores the cries for help, while the citizens of Gaza are being treated more like animals than human beings.
Last week, a group of Israelis and Americans tried to cross into Gaza through Erez, bringing toys and children’s playground equipment – slides, swings, kites, and magic castles for your children. They were stopped at the gate and prevented from coming. I understand even paper and crayons are treated as “security hazards” and not permitted to enter Gaza. I sought an explanation for this policy in Israel, but did not receive a satisfactory answer – because there is none.
The responsibility for this terrible human rights crime lies in Jerusalem, Cairo, Washington, and throughout the international community. This abuse must cease; the crimes must be investigated; the walls must be brought down, and the basic right of freedom must come to you.
Almost one-half of Gaza’s 1.5 million people are children, whose lives are being shaped by poverty, hunger, violence, and despair. More than 50,000 families had their homes destroyed or damaged in January, and parents are in mourning for the 313 innocent children who were killed.
The situation in Gaza is grim, but all hope is not lost. Amidst adversity, you continue to possess both dignity and determination to work towards a brighter tomorrow. That is why educating children is so important.
I have come to Gaza to help the world know what important work you are doing. UNRWA is here to ensure that the 200,000 children in its schools can develop their talent, express their dynamism, and help create the path to a better future.
The human rights curriculum is teaching children about their rights and also about their responsibilities. UNRWA is teaching about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the struggle for these rights all over the world, Gaza’s children are learning that as you seek justice for yourselves, you must be sure that your behavior provides justice for others.
They are learning that it is wrong to fire rockets that may kill Israeli children. They are learning that arbitrary detention and the summary execution of political opponents is not acceptable. They are learning that the rule of law must be honored here in Gaza.
I would like to congratulate both UNRWA and the children who have completed the human rights curriculum with distinction. They are tomorrow’s leaders.
In addition to the tragedy of occupation, the lack of unity among Palestinians is causing a deteriorating atmosphere here in Gaza, in Ramallah, and throughout the West Bank.
Palestinians want more than just to survive. They hope to lead the Arab world, to be a bridge between modern political life and traditions that date back to the Biblical era. The nation you will create must be pluralistic and democratic – the new Palestine that your intellectuals have dreamt about. Palestine must combine the best of the East and the West. The Palestinian state, like the land, must be blessed for all people. Jerusalem must be shared with everyone who loves it – Christians, Jews, and Muslims.
With our new leaders in Washington, my country will move into the forefront of this birth of a new Palestine. We were all reminded of this renewed hope and commitment by President Obama’s recent speech in Cairo.
President Obama’s resolve to resume the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic process based on the principle of two states for two peoples must be welcomed. This vision of two sovereign nations living as neighbors is not a mere convenient phrase. It is the basis for a lasting peace for this entire region, including Syria and Lebanon.
We all know that a necessary step is the ending of the siege of Gaza – the starving of 1 ½ million people of the necessities of life. Never before in history has a large community been savaged by bombs and missiles and then deprived of the means to repair itself. The issue of who controls Gaza is not an obstacle. As the World Bank has pointed out, funds can be channeled through a number of independent mechanisms and effective implementing agencies.
Although funds are available, not a sack of cement nor a piece of lumber has been permitted to enter the closed gates from Israel and Egypt. I have seen with my own eyes that progress is negligible.
My country and our friends in Europe must do all that is necessary to persuade Israel and Egypt to allow basic materials into Gaza. At the same time, there must be no more rockets and mortar shells falling on Israeli citizens.
I met this week with the parents of Corporal Gilad Shalit, and have with me a letter that I hope can be delivered to their son. I have also met with many Palestinians who plead for the freedom of their 11,700 loved ones imprisoned by the Israelis, including 400 women and children. Many of them have been imprisoned for many years, held without trial, with no access to their families or to legal counsel. Rational negotiations and a comprehensive peace can end this suffering on both sides.
I know it is difficult now, surrounded by terrible destruction, to see a future of independence and dignity in a Palestinian state, but this goal can and must be achieved. I know too that it is hard for you to accept Israel and live in peace with those who have caused your suffering. However, Palestinian statehood cannot come at the expense of Israel’s security, just as Israel’s security can not come at the expense of Palestinian statehood.
In his speech in Cairo, President Obama said that Hamas has support among Palestinians, but they also have responsibilities. To play a full role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, accept existing peace agreements, and recognize Israel’s right to exist.
I have urged Hamas leaders to accept these conditions, and they have made statements and taken actions that suggest they are ready to join the peace process and move toward the creation of an independent and just Palestinian state.
Khaled Mashaal has assured me that Hamas will accept a final status agreement negotiated by the Palestinian Authority and Israel if the Palestinian people approve it in a referendum. Hamas has offered a reciprocal ceasefire with Israel throughout the West Bank and Gaza. Unfortunately, neither the Israeli leaders nor Hamas accept the terms of the Oslo Agreement of 1993, but the Arab Peace Initiative is being considered now by all sides.
I have personally witnessed free and fair elections in Palestine when Yasir Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas were elected president and when legislative members were chosen for your parliament. I hope to return next January for a similar event that will unite all Palestinians as you seek a proud and peaceful future.
Ladies and gentlemen, children of Gaza, thank you for inviting me and for sharing this happy occasion with me. Congratulations for your achievements.
for now these are just words. it remains to be seen if carter’s words can translate into action even on a small scale. for his part ismail haniyya, who spoke with carter the other day, vowed to work towards a two-state solution:
The statements of Haniyya came in a press conference with the former US President, Jimmy Carter, who is visiting the region.
“I will push for this aim, I will cooperate with all factions to achieve a parallel and extended ceasefire with Israel”, Haniyya said, “But this ceasefire requires Israel to lift the siege on Gaza and to open the border terminals”.
but seriously: what does that mean exactly? let’s say that all palestinian refugees had the right of return and there were those who returned to their villages in 1948 palestine to live under a regime that only allows jews to have full citizenship and rights and the rest returned to gaza and the west bank. how is it that palestinians are supposed to live a life as a people when the zionist entity has laws forbidding palestinians in 1948 palestine to marry palestinians in gaza and the west bank? how are the supposed to travel around their land with zionists controlling all the borders? and how is it that a so-called state can exist when gaza and the west bank are separated by at best an hour’s drive from one “border” to the other? here is a typical issue facing palestinians that i suspect would not change even if a so-called two-state solution were imposed on palestinians:
According to the new regulation, which was presented by the Israeli state to the High Court of Justice in response to several petitions, no Palestinian living in Gaza is allowed to apply for residency in the West Bank except under exceptional circumstances, according to the Jerusalem Post newspaper.
Only Gazans who have close family registered as living in the West Bank will even be considered for a permit to move there, the paper said.
“Israel is systematically taking action to further isolate the Gaza Strip, while increasing the geographic and political separation between Gaza and the West Bank,” said rights groups Gisha and Hamoked.
“The new procedure contradicts a long list of Israeli undertakings to conduct negotiations for the establishment of an independent, viable Palestinian state, including an explicit commitment in the Oslo Accords to preserve the status of the West Bank and Gaza Strip as ‘a single territorial unit,'” the groups said.
According to the regulation, there are three criteria for allowing movement from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank, but only if the applicant does not have a “security impediment.”
In order to be considered, a Palestinian living in Gaza must fulfill one of the following criteria, as quoted by the Jerusalem Post:
• Someone who suffers from a chronic medical condition and who has no other family member (not necessarily of the first degree) in Gaza to provide care.
• A minor under the age of 16 living with one parent in Gaza who dies and another living in the West Bank, on condition that there is no relative in Gaza to look after the minor. Even if she does have such relatives, Israel may allow her or her to move, depending on the nature of her relationship with the living parent.
• A person over the age of 65 who is in a “needy situation” and has a “first-degree relative” in the West Bank who can help him, conditional, in part, on not having relatives in the West Bank.
According to the regulation, anyone who meets one of these criteria and is allowed to move, will receive a temporary permit, renewable each year, for seven years. After seven years, if he or she has proven he is not deemed a “security threat,” he or she may be entered in the West Bank population registry.
this week al mezan published a statistical report on the savaging of gaza which reveals the following data:
The introduction to the report provides an overview of the Israeli offensive against the Gaza Strip which was conducted by the IOF during the period 27 January 2008 – 18 January 2009. The report demonstrates that during this invasion, the IOF perpetrated grave and systematic violations of the rules of international law. The report further emphasizes that field investigations clearly indicate that the IOF perpetrated war crimes and crimes against humanity, deliberately targeting civilians, forcibly displacing hundreds of thousands and attacking displaced persons who had fled to temporary shelters flying the United Nations flag.
The report highlights the timing of first attacks launched and their surprise nature which indicates an intention on the part of the IOF to cause the highest possible number of civilian casualties and injuries. In particular, the first wave of attacks coincided with school arrival and departure times placing school children at great risk. (Gazan schools operate a ‘shift’ system with some children attending morning sessions and others afternoon sessions). The report also presents the field investigation methodology.
The report provides the numbers of persons killed and extent of property destroyed by the IOF. During the offensive, the IOF killed or fatally wounded a total of 1410 persons of which 355 were under the age of 18, 110 were women and 240 were resistance fighters. The IOF also partially or fully destroyed 11,135 homes, 209 industrial premises, 724 commercial establishments, 650 vehicles and 6271 (1000 meters) of agricultural land.
The report presents 16 tables addressing the details of persons killed, including socio-economic information, in addition to information related to the incident. Details of damage caused to property are also presented. The numbers of persons killed by unmanned surveillance aircraft (drones) hints that the State of Israel was trying to market its surveillance aircraft, with which hundreds were killed during the Offensive.
The report concludes that Al Mezan investigations, in addition to investigations by other national (Palestinian) and international organizations, present compelling evidence of the perpetration of a large number of grave and systematic violations of international humanitarian law which amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity according to the Statute of the International Criminal Court and the Fourth Geneva Convention. These crimes include: willful killing, including the targeting of houses while the residents were inside without apparent military necessity; shooting civilians waving white flags; indiscriminate use of excessive forces in civilian areas; targeting civilians and civilian objects without distinction, proportionality or military necessity; using civilians as human shields; targeting medical teams; preventing medical access to the injured; refraining from taking any steps to assist and save the lives of the injured; and targeting United Nations premises and teams. These practices resulted in the killing of large number of civilians.
The report also address the consequences of IOF practices against Gaza residents such as the destruction of water and electricity networks and the blocking and destruction of roads connecting the Gaza Strip, the demolition of large areas of cultivated land and a high number of industrial facilities. These policies caused immense suffering by heavily restricting access to food and medicines, especially after years of siege and closure, which represents collective punishment of the entire population. The report also points at the psychological impact of intensive attacks on residential areas, killing and destruction, as well as the indiscriminate use of warnings to civilians across the Gaza Strip in a context where there was no safe place for civilians to go. The warning announcements were dropped in the centres of towns as well as in the shelters set up by the UN to house the displaced.
The report also addresses the internal Israeli investigation into allegations of war crimes during Operation Cast Lead. This investigation was declared closed on Wednesday 22 April 2009 by the Israeli military Attorney General 11 days after it commenced. It concluded that the IOF had operated in accordance with international law and did not perpetrate war crimes during Operation Cast Lead. The nature of this investigation is a continuation of Israeli practices which offer immunity to its soldiers and leaders. This requires the doubling of efforts to hold the perpetrators of war crimes, or those who ordered them, accountable through channels afforded by international law.
Al Mezan asserts that this practice of offering immunity confirms the firm conviction of observers of the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territories that the State of Israel does not have the will to investigate crimes perpetrated by its forces. Instead, through statements made by its continued leadership, it deliberately encourages them to perpetrate these crimes and assures them that the political leadership will provide full protection to its forces.
Al Mezan further asserts that the State of Israel’s refusal to conduct an investigation in accordance with relevant international standards, and its provision of protection and immunity to members of its armed forces and government who have perpetrated or ordered war crimes, places the moral responsibility on the shoulders of the international community. Al Mezan stresses that the international community holds both moral and legal responsibility to prosecute the perpetrators of war crimes in accordance with international legal obligations relevant to the prosecution of war criminals.
Al Mezan condemns in the strongest possible terms the perpetration by the IOF of war crimes in the Gaza Strip. These crimes continue today through collective punishment, and the siege imposed by Israel against the Gaza Strip. Further, Al Mezan condemns the State of Israel’s encouragement of the further perpetration of these crimes by offering protection and immunity to their perpetrators.
Al Mezan calls on the international community to:
· Assume its moral and legal responsibility to end the siege on the Gaza Strip in order to pave the way for reconstruction
· Investigate violations of international humanitarian law and human rights perpetrated by the IOF in the Gaza Strip in preparation for perpetrators to be prosecuted and held to account
and for someone with much stronger, more factual, historical language who doesn’t only give speeches, but who actually puts his body where his mouth is by doing things like actively supporting boycott, divestment, and sanctions compare this recent piece, posted by pulse media, by ilan pappe to carter. quite a different sort of politics and a point of view that i find it much easier to get behind:
If there is anything new in the never ending sad story of Palestine it is the clear shift in public opinion in this country. I remember coming to these isles in 1980 when supporting the Palestinian cause was confined to the left and in it to a very particular section and ideological stream. The post-holocaust trauma and guilt complex, military and economic interests and the charade of Israel as the only democracy in the Middle East all played a role in providing immunity for the state of Israel. Very few were moved, so it seems, by a state that had dispossessed half of Palestine’s native population, demolished half of their villages and towns, discriminated against the minority among them who lived within its borders through an apartheid system and enclaved two million and a half of them in a harsh and oppressive military occupation.
Almost thirty years later and it seems that all these filters and cataracts have been removed. The magnitude of the ethnic cleansing of 1948 is well known, the suffering of the people in the occupied territories recorded and described even by the American president as unbearable and inhuman. In a similar way, the destruction and depopulation of the greater Jerusalem area is noted daily and the racist nature of the policies towards the Palestinians in Israel are frequently rebuked and condemned.
The reality today in 2009 is described by the UN as ‘a human catastrophe’. The conscious and conscientious sections of the British society know very well who caused and who produced this catastrophe. This is not related any more to elusive circumstances, or to the ‘conflict’ – it is seen clearly as the outcome of Israeli policies throughout the years. When Desmond Tutu was asked for his reaction to what he saw in the occupied territories he noted sadly that it was worse than Apartheid. He should know.
As in the case of South Africa these decent people, either as individuals or as members of organizations, voice their outrage against the continued oppression, colonization, ethnic cleansing and starvation in Palestine. They are looking for ways of showing their protest and some even hope to impact their government into changing its old policy of indifference and inaction in the face of the continued destruction of Palestine and the Palestinians. Many among them are Jews, as these atrocities are done in their name according to the logic of the Zionist ideology, and quite a few among them are veterans of previous civil struggles in this country for similar causes all over the world. They are not confined any more to one political party and they come from all walks of life.
So far the British government is not moved. It was also passive when the anti-Apartheid movement in this country demanded of it to impose sanctions on South Africa. It took several decades for that activism from below to reach the political top. It takes longer in the case of Palestine: guilt about the Holocaust, distorted historical narratives and contemporary misrepresentation of Israel as a democracy seeking peace and the Palestinians as eternal Islamic terrorists blocked the flow of the popular impulse. But it is beginning to find its way and presence, despite the continued accusation of any such demand as being anti-Semitic and the demonization of Islam and Arabs. The third sector, that important link between civilians and government agencies, has shown us the way. One trade union after the other, one professional group after the other, have all sent recently a clear message: enough is enough. It is done in the name of decency, human morality and basic civil commitment not to remain idle in the face of atrocities of the kind Israel has and still is committing against the Palestinian people.
In the last eight years the Israeli criminal policy escalated, and the Palestinian activists were seeking new means to confront it. They have tried it all, armed struggle, guerrilla warfare, terrorism and diplomacy: nothing worked. And yet they are not giving up and now they are proposing a non violent strategy that of boycott, sanctions and divestment. With these means they wish to persuade the Western government to save not only them, but ironically also the Jews in Israel from an imminent catastrophe and bloodshed. This strategy bred the call for cultural boycott on Israel. This demand is voiced by every part of the Palestinian existence: by the civil society under occupation and by Palestinians in Israel. It is supported by the Palestinian refugees and is led by members of the Palestinian exile communities. It came in the right moment and gave individuals and organizations in this country a way to express their disgust at the Israeli policies and at the same time an avenue for participating in the overall pressure on the government to change its policy of providing immunity for the impunity on the ground.
It is bewildering that this shift of public opinion has no impact so far on policy; but again we are reminded of the tortuous way the campaign against apartheid had to go before it became a policy. It is also worth remembering that two brave women in Dublin, toiling on the cashiers in a local supermarket were the ones who began a huge movement of change by refusing to sell South African goods. Twenty nine years later, Britain joined others in imposing sanctions on Apartheid. So while governments hesitate for cynical reasons, out of fear of being accused of anti-Semitism or maybe due to Islamophobic inhibitions, citizens and activists do their utmost, symbolically and physically, to inform, protest and demand. They have a more organised campaign, that of the cultural boycott, or they can join their unions in the coordinated policy of pressure. They can also use their name or fame for indicating to us all that decent people in this world cannot support what Israel does and what it stands for. They do not know whether their action will make an immediate change or they would be so lucky as to see change in their life time. But in their own personal book of who they are and what they did in life and in the more general harsh eye of historical assessment they would be counted in with all those who did not remain indifferent when inhumanity raged under the guise of democracy in their own countries or elsewhere.
On the other hand, citizens in this country, especially famous ones, who continue to broadcast, quite often out of ignorance or out of more sinister reasons, the fable of Israel as a cultured Western society or as the ‘only democracy in the Middle East’ are not only wrong factually. They provide immunity for one of the greatest atrocities in our time. Some of them demand we should leave culture out of our political actions. This approach to Israeli culture and academia as separate entities from the army, the occupation and the destruction is morally corrupt and logically defunct. Eventually, one day the outrage from below, including in Israel itself, will produce a new policy – the present American administration is already showing early signs of it. History did not look kindly at those film makers who collaborated with McCarthy or endorsed Apartheid. It would adopt a similar attitude to those who are silent about Palestine now.
A good case in point unfolded last month in Edinburgh. Ken Loach led a campaign against the official and financial connections the city’s film festival had with the Israeli embassy. Such a stance was meant to send a message that this embassy represents not only the film makers of Israel but also its generals who massacred the people of Gaza, its tormentors who torture Palestinians in jails, its judges who sent 10,000 Palestinians – half of them children – without trial to prison, its racist mayors who want to expel Arabs from their cities, its architects who built walls and fences to enclave people and prevent them from reaching their fields, schools, cinemas and offices and its politicians who strategise yet again how to complete the ethnic cleansing of Palestine they began in 1948. Ken Loach felt that only a call for boycotting the festival as whole would bring its directors into a moral sense and perspective. He was right; it did, because the case is so clear cut and the action so simple and pure.
It is not surprising that a counter voice was heard. This is an ongoing struggle and would not be won easily. As I write these words, we commemorate the 42nd year of the Israeli occupation, the longest, and one of the cruellest in modern time. But time has also produced the lucidity needed for such decisions. This is why Ken’s action was immediately effective; next time even this would not be necessary. One of his critics tried to point to the fact that people in Israel like Ken’s films, so this was a kind of ingratitude. I can assure this critic that those of us in Israel who watch Ken’s movies are also those who salute him for his bravery and unlike this critic we do not think of this an act similar to a call for Israel’s destruction, but rather the only way of saving Jews and Arabs living there. But it is difficult anyway to take such criticism seriously when it is accompanied by description of the Palestinians as a terrorist entity and Israel as a democracy like Britain. Most of us in this country have moved far away from this propagandist silliness and are ready for change. We are now waiting for the government of these isles to follow suit.