[News] The day the world became Gaza
news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Jun 3 10:50:34 EDT 2010
The day the world became Gaza
By Ali Abunimah
Since Israel's invasion and massacre of over 1,400 people in Gaza 18
months ago, dubbed Operation Cast Lead, global civil society
movements have stepped up their campaigns for justice and solidarity
Governments, by contrast, carried on with business as usual,
maintaining a complicit silence.
Israel's lethal attack on the Freedom Flotilla to Gaza may change
that, spurring governments to follow the lead of their people and
take unprecedented action to check Israel's growing lawlessness.
One of the bitterest images from Operation Cast Lead was that of
smiling European Union heads of government visiting Jerusalem and
patting Ehud Olmert, the then Israeli prime minister, on the back as
white phosphorus still seared the flesh of Palestinian children a few
Western countries sometimes expressed mild dismay at Israel's
"excessive" use of force, but still justified the Gaza massacre as
"self-defence" - even though Israel could easily have stopped rocket
fire from Gaza, if that was its goal, by returning to the negotiated
June 2008 ceasefire it egregiously violated the following November.
When the UN-commissioned Goldstone Report documented the extensive
evidence of Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity, including
the willful killings of unarmed civilians, few governments paid more
than lip service to seeing justice done.
Even worse, after Cast Lead, EU countries and the US sent their
navies to help Israel enforce a blockade on Gaza which amounts to
collective punishment of the entire population and thus violates the
Fourth Geneva Convention governing Israel's ongoing occupation.
Not one country sent a hospital ship to help treat or evacuate the
thousands of wounded, many with horrific injuries that overwhelmed
Carrot and stick
The blockade has never been - as Israel and its apologists claim - to
stop the smuggling of weapons into Gaza.
Its goal has always been political: to cause the civilian population
as much suffering as possible - while still politically excusable -
in order for the Palestinians in Gaza to reject and rise up against
the Hamas leadership elected in January 2006.
The withholding of food, medicine, schoolbooks, building supplies,
among thousands of other items, as well as the right to enter and
leave Gaza for any purpose became a weapon to terrorize the civilian
At the same time, Western aid was showered on the occupied West Bank
- whose ordinary people are still only barely better off than in Gaza
- in a "carrot and stick" policy calculated to shift support away
from Hamas and toward the Western-backed, unelected Palestinian
Authority leadership affiliated with the rival Fatah faction, who
have repeatedly demonstrated their unconditional willingness to
collaborate with Israel no matter what it does to their people.
"The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them
die of hunger," senior Israeli government advisor Dov Weisglass
notoriously explained in 2006. By this standard the blockade -
supported by several Arab governments and the Quartet (the US, EU, UN
secretary-general, and Russia) has been a great success, as numerous
studies document alarming increases in child malnutrition as the vast
majority of Gaza's population became dependent on UN food handouts.
Hundreds have died for lack of access to proper medical care.
Filling the 'moral void'
While inaction and complicity characterized the official response,
global civil society stepped in to fill the moral and legal void.
In the year and a half since Cast Lead, the global, Palestinian-led
campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions on Israel (BDS) has
been racking up impressive victories.
From the decisions by Norway's pension funds and several European
banks to divest from certain Israeli companies, to university
divestment initiatives, the refusals by international artists to
perform in Israel, or the flashmobs that have brought the consumer
boycott to supermarkets around the world, Israel sees BDS as a
growing "existential threat".
At this point, the effect may be more psychological than economic but
it is exactly the feeling of increasing isolation and pariah status
that helped push South Africa's apartheid rulers to recognize that
their regime was untenable and to seek peaceful change with the very
people they had so long demonized, dehumanized and oppressed.
Indeed, the BDS movement is only likely to gather pace:
world-best-selling Swedish author Henning Mankell who was among the
passengers on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara kidnapped and taken to
Israel, said on being freed: "I think we should use the experience of
South Africa, where we know that the sanctions had a great impact."
The Freedom Flotilla represented the very best, and most courageous
of this civil society spirit and determination not to abandon fellow
human beings to the cruelty, indifference and self-interest of governments.
The immediate response to Israel's attack on the Flotilla may
indicate that governments too are starting to come out of their
slumber and shed the paralyzing fear of criticizing Israel that has
assured its impunity for so long.
Indeed, the global reaction demonstrates the growing gap between the
US and Israel on one side and the rest of the world on the other.
While Israeli officials scrambled to offer justifications from the
ludicrous (elite commandos armed with paint ball guns) to the benign
(the attack was an "inspection"), the US has once again stood behind
its ally unconditionally.
As the Obama administration forced a watered-down presidential
statement in the UN Security Council, Israeli apologists in the
mainstream US media repeatedly attempted to excuse Israel's actions
as lawful and legitimate.
Senior administration officials, including Joe Biden, the vice
president, openly began to echo their Israeli counterparts that
Israel's attack was not only legitimate but justified by its security needs.
Despite the predictable and shameless US reaction, international
condemnation has been unusually robust.
In his speech to the Turkish parliament following the attack, Recep
Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, denounced Israeli "state
terrorism" and demanded that the international community exact a price.
Erdogan vowed that "Turkey will never turn its back on Gaza," and
that it would continue its campaign to lift the blockade and hold
Israel accountable even if it had to do so alone.
There are hopeful signs it may not have to.
European and other countries summoned Israeli ambassadors and several
recalled their envoys from Tel Aviv.
Franco Frattini, the Italian foreign minister and one of Israel's
staunchest apologists in Europe, said his country "absolutely
deplored the slaying of civilians" and demanded that Israel "must
give an explanation to the international community" of killings he
deemed "absolutely unacceptable, whatever the flotilla's aims".
Small countries showed the greatest courage and clarity. Nicaragua
suspended diplomatic ties completely, citing Israel's "illegal
attack". Brian Cowen, Ireland's prime minister, told parliament in
Dublin that his government had "formally requested" of Israel that
the vessel Rachel Corrie still heading toward Gaza, be allowed to
proceed, and warned of the "most serious consequences" should Israel
use violence against it.
The boat - named after the young American peace activist killed by
Israeli occupation forces in Gaza in 2003 - is carrying Malaysian and
Irish activists and politicians including Nobel Peace Prize winner
Crossed a threshold
These are still small actions, but they indicate Israel may have
crossed a threshold where it can no longer take appeasement and
complicity for granted.
It is a cumulative process - each successive outrage has diminished
the reserve of goodwill and forbearance Israel enjoyed.
Even if most governments are not quite ready to go from words to
effective actions, growing public outrage will eventually push them
to impose official sanctions.
Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, may have hastened
that day with his fulsome pride in, and praise for, the slaughter at
sea even after the outpouring of international condemnation.
Despite its intensive efforts to hide and spin what happened aboard
the Mavi Marmara in the early hours of May 31, the world saw Israel
use exactly the sort of indiscriminate brutality documented in the
This time, however, it was not just "expendable" Palestinians or
Lebanese who were Israel's victims - but people from 32 countries and
every continent. It was the day the whole world became Gaza. And like
the people of Gaza, the world is unlikely to take it lying down.
Ali Abunimah is author of One Country, A Bold Proposal to End the
Israeli-Palestinian Impasse and co-founder of The Electronic Intifada
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not
necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.
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