Archive for the ‘Gaza’ Category

Lawrence Wright boldly challenges NY audience with Israelcentric view of Gaza

Monday, March 22nd, 2010


( First published at Mondoweiss.net)

If you want to know anything about what is really going on between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza or elsewhere, do not go to Lawrence Wright’s new play, “The Human Scale.” Like Wright’s New Yorker pieces, it is bookended by the plight of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held by Hamas—as if somehow that explains the violence of Israel’s December 2008 assault on Gaza, Operation Cast Lead. Wright also uses Shalit’s detention to more less blame Hamas for the blockade. But, as the Goldstone report states, “maintaining the blockade of the Gaza strip until the release of Gilad Shalit…would constitute collective punishment of the civilian population of the Gaza strip.” I don’t see how collective punishment can be blamed on its victims. Wright also says or leaves the firm impression that the blockade was in response to the capture of Shalit. But, in fact, severe economic and political measures began in February 2006 with the Hamas victory in the legislative elections—almost four months before Shalit’s capture.

Wright, speaking from the stage, opens with some BS about Jewish Nobel prize winners vs. Muslim winners. I have been receiving that email for years from those who are anti-Muslim. What point he was trying to make was lost on me—something about the possible trade of 1400 Palestinians for one Israeli. Does the number of Nobel prize winners make it a good trade or a bad trade? The play is Israel-centric and paints Israelis as somehow caring more about life then Palestinians. It equates the occupied with the occupier when they are utterly unequal. It practically blames Operation Cast Lead on the claimed intransigence of the Palestinians. Wright reads from the Hamas charter, but does not give us all of the similar if not worse statements by the Israelis. In videos Wright shows us some of the destruction in Gaza. After we see some of that devastating footage, he talks about the response of a Palestinian woman who now says words to the effect that perhaps “we Palestinians have learned from this.” In other words, the assault worked to teach the Gazans a lesson. He briefly reads some of the conclusions of the Goldstone report giving roughly equal time to the condemnation of the Israel and Hamas, essentially equating the actions of the two parties. And as I recall he does not read the strongest conclusions of Goldstone regarding Israel’s assault.

I would love to see a play like this done from the Palestinian perspective. This play may work in NY with a brainwashed audience, but take it outside the US and it will be booed off the stage.

 

Ma’ale Adummin: Annexation and the Architecture of Apartheid

Sunday, January 3rd, 2010

Today we came away stunned, shocked and almost numb from our trip toEast Jerusalem with Jeff Halper of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. And when I say we, I mean my family—my wife and two children, 19 and 21. We have spent the last 10 days trying to get into Gaza from Egypt; demonstrating against the Gaza siege and joining demonstrations in Israel at the Erez crossing and protesting the evictions in the Sheikh-Jarrah area of

East Jerusalem.  But nothing and I mean nothing prepared me for today and our trip through

East Jerusalem and to Ma’ale Adummin, a city a few kilometers away. It was not the Palestinians we met although each had heart breaking stories. Rather it was our seeing first hand the deliberateness of the Israeli annexation project and its seeming inevibility. If you want to be made almost speechless stand at the edge of

East Jerusalem and look out at a vast construction project on someone else’s land. Look out at the commission of a monstrous crime, open and notorious. As one of my children asked, “Why have the countries of the world done nothing to stop this?”  I said, “It’s worse, the

U.S. and others have aided and abetted this crime.”

Today we traveled with Jeff through East Jerusalem and to what some, at least in the media in the U.S,. refer to as the settlement of Ma’ale Adummin. It is not a settlement, but a

new city of 50,000 Israeli Jews, soon to be expanded to 70,000. Ma’ale Adummin, built on a hilltop, will ultimately be, or is already,  part of the expansion of East Jerusalem into a wider municipality that is called by some the “

Jerusalem envelope.”   Before we drove through the valley to get to Ma’ale Adummin, Jeff showed us a bit of

East Jerusalem. He pointed out the Israeli Ministry of Interior, the police headquarters and the courts, all now in East Jerusalem; all a means of asserting Israeli control over the area and its Palestinian inhabitants.  Then we went close to the 25 foot high concrete separation wall which will ultimately lock out Palestinians from Israel,

Jerusalem and many cities, towns and settlements in the occupied territories.  On a knoll above that particular piece of wall we saw a prison and an interrogation center for Shabak, the Israeli internal security agency.

Jeff then drove us to a viewing site at the edge of East Jerusalem where we overlooked what is called by Israel area E1. It was a valley with roads criss-crossing it, a few houses and trees and on the distant other side, there it was, Ma’ale Adummin. While I had heard of area E1, I never understood what was meant. I think I understand it now. It is, at least the valley area I was looking at, the road system and land that will link Ma’ale Adummin to

East Jerusalem and other settlements. Area E1 will also cut off Palestinians traveling north and south; they will be forced to make circuitous routes from one Palestinian area to another. And remember all of this land is in occupied territory including all of

East Jerusalem.

Israel’s actions are in flagrant violation of the Geneva Conventions.

As we drove toward Ma’ale Adummin Jeff took us to what are known as Areas A, B and C.  Area A is where there is full Palestinian control; B is where there is joint Palestinian and Israeli control; and C is where there is full Israeli control. It is in the C area of East Jerusalem where many of the house demolitions are occurring—another story for later. We also went to the Shuafat refugee camp in

East Jerusalem where some 35,000 Palestinians live in poverty with no municipal services. We drove past small sheet metal shacks of Jumalat Bedouins who, like many Palestinians, are facing eviction. We saw field after field of olive tree stumps, 100 year old trees that once belonged to the Bedouins that had been cut down by the Israelis—insuring that Bedouins could not stay in or near East Jerusalem. We passed an almost completed road with a high metal wall separating two concrete strips; one side was for Palestinians and the other Israelis. Finally, we began our drive up to the city on the hill, Ma’ale Adummin.

What first strikes one is the color. The city is green and lush. There is grass everywhere and palm trees lining cleanly paved concrete roads. This is all in an area where water is almost non-existent and many Palestinians have no water. In the center of each of the roundabouts on the way up is an olive tree, but not just an ordinary olive tree, but a wide squat one that is perhaps 400 or even 500 years old, likely an olive tree likely taken from a Palestinian farm. At the entrance to the city is one of the more incongruous and Orwellian monuments to erect in this stolen city:  a huge white metal sculpture of two doves with wings unfolded sheltering a globe and inscribed on its base with the word—and it seems like a nasty joke—“Peace.” Peace, apparently defined, as the dismembering of the Palestinian people. As we continued our ride up we pass a suburban shopping mall with some big box stores, stores that are part of international chains that hopefully will become targets of the BDS movement.

We finally stop at the end of a street that could come out of any middle class suburb in America: neat houses and apartments with small yards. Ma’ale Adummin is called a dormitory community or as we would say, a bedroom community. Its residents work in Tel Aviv. They live here rather than in Jerusalem because of price (half that of

Jerusalem) and lower taxes, not because of religious ideology. It is a secular community that can shop at the mall and will be able to drive to work in a few minutes on segregated roads. We went to a lookout over the E1 area and toward

Jerusalem. As we looked down the hill we saw a construction site for a huge swimming pool—a swimming pool in this parched land where only the select have water. Across the valley we saw the building of the architecture of apartheid: the segregated roads and separation walls. I could have been standing in a white only town in

South Africa, but I was standing in an Israeli Jewish only town in the occupied territories.

Why I Am Going To Gaza for New Years: Actions Need to Follow Words

Monday, December 14th, 2009


Almost a year ago, on the celebration of Martin Luther King’s birth and just as the Israeli military assault on Gaza was coming to a close, I wrote a piece titled, Israel in Gaza: A Time Comes When Silence is Betrayal.[1]   In that piece I spoke of the role of American Jews and of Americans in remaining silent in the face of horrendous human rights violations perpetrated on Palestinians.  I acknowledged that:  “ For too long, and I do not exempt myself, most of us have stood silently by or made only a marginal protests about the massive violations of Palestinian rights carried out by Israel.” I pointed out that for “as long as this silence continues so will the U.S. billions in aid and arms that facilitates the killings of Palestinians.”

Since that time, I and many others, Jews and non-Jews alike, have come some distance toward breaking the silence. We knew while the assault was continuing that we were witnessing massive crimes. We watched as most of the world stood by. Gaza, I think for many of us, demanded that we no longer stand on the sidelines. 

I must admit to my shock at reading the Goldstone Report, the report of the UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict.[2]  Fact by fact it documented violations of the laws of war and human rights law that were chilling. The report put the assault in the context of the responsibilities under law of an occupying power which Israel is in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. It addressed the annexation of East Jerusalem, the building of the wall, 85% of which is illegally located in occupied territory, the pass laws and the settlements. It addressed the blockade of Gaza which began years before the December 2008 assault and the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.  As to the war, the Report concluded that the “military operations were directed by Israel at the people of Gaza as a whole” to “punish them” and “in a deliberate policy of disproportionate force aimed at the civilian population.”  Each example was more disturbing than the one before and the cumulative effect was horrifying: deliberate targeting of civilians, the intentional destruction of the infrastructure of Gaza including fuel supplies, the sewer system, the only flour mill and the Palestinian legislative building.

The killing statistics tell us almost all we need to know: over a thousand Palestinians were killed (estimates run from 1,166 to 1,444), most of them civilians; 13 Israelis lost their lives of which three were civilians. Imagine Gaza as an overcrowded prison, for that is what it is, with no ability for people to hide, escape or defend themselves. Then imagine an assault with impunity from the air, the sea and the land. Gaza was no accident. It was not a mistake. Israeli leaders justified the destruction of civilian objects: “destroy 100 homes for every rocket fired.”  The Israeli government claimed that “there is really no distinction to be made between military and civilian objectives as far as government and public administration in Gaza are concerned.” [3] 

After the Goldstone report there cannot be, if there ever was, any doubt about the need for investigation and prosecution of the criminality of the military assault on Gaza. Judge Goldstone is one of the most preeminent jurists in the world—he would be in my top 3—and I am not sure who the other two are. His credentials are impeccable. A South African courageously opposed to apartheid, a justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa and the chief prosecutor of the special UN tribunals for Rwanda and the Former Yugoslavia—and a Jew as well. Yet, attack him and his report is exactly what Israel and the United States have done.  The U.S. State Department called it “deeply flawed,” but did not elaborate. Israel, which had refused to cooperate in the investigation, said it was appalled and disappointed by the Report claiming it effectively ignored Israel’s right of self-defense, makes unsubstantiated claims about its intent and challenges Israel’s democratic values and rule of law. Even if Israel was acting in self-defense, although many would dispute this, that right does not grant permission to commit war crimes. And yes, the Report challenges Israel’s commitment to the rule of law: it does not seem to have a commitment when it comes to Palestinians.  Despite these protestations, as Shakespeare wrote:  “truth will come to light; murder cannot be hid long….but at the length truth will out.” Well it has, but truth still needs a push—a push into action.

That is why I am going to Gaza with the Code Pink Freedom March:[4] because truth needs a push.  It’s straightforward. I want to break the blockade. I want to see for myself the damage caused the weapons bought with my tax dollars. I want it understood that Israel does not kill in my name. I want to follow words with actions.

12/14/2009




[1] http://www.michaelratner.com/blog/?p=40

[2] http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/specialsession/9/FactFindingMission.htm

[3] Goldstone at para. 379.

[4] http://www.gazafreedommarch.org/article.php?list=type&type=416

Congress Should Not Reject the Goldstone Report

Monday, November 2nd, 2009


On Tuesday, November 3, Congress is poised to vote on H.Res.867, which calls on the “President and the Secretary of State to oppose unequivocally any endorsement or further consideration of the `Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict’ in multilateral fora.’ ”

The Resolution instructs the Obama Administration to prevent further consideration of the Goldstone Report (as it is informally known) in any international body.  For Congress to do so, without a hearing where Judge Goldstone can testify and based upon a Resolution rife with factual errors, makes a mockery of assertions by the United States that fundamental protections of human rights laws law apply equally to all. It leaves the United States, and especially Congress, without a thread of moral authority.

This Resolution is a rush to judgment. It is a rush to judgment made on the basis of serious factual errors and mischaracterizations of the Goldstone Report. The Goldstone Report documents in a dispassionate and even-handed manner “violations of international human rights and humanitarian law and possible war crimes and crimes against humanity” committed by all parties prior to, during, and after Israel’s assault on the occupied Gaza Strip in December 2008-January 2009.

The text of the Resolution is directly at odds with the actual mandate of the Fact-Finding Mission and its report. The Resolution asserts that the mandate of the Fact Finding Mission was aimed only at Israeli violations of the laws of war. This is a blatant lie.  In a letter to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Judge Goldstone states that the mandate  he “demanded and received clearly included rocket and mortar attacks on Israel and as the report makes clear was so interpreted and implemented.”

The Resolution claims that the Goldstone Report “repeatedly downplayed or cast doubt upon” allegations of Hamas committing war crimes.  In fact, however, it examined Palestinian militants rocket and mortar fire into Israel and concluded that “these attacks constitute indiscriminate attacks upon the civilian population of southern Israel and that where there is no intended military target and the rockets and mortars are launched into a civilian population, they constitute a deliberate attack against a civilian population. These acts would constitute war crimes and may amount to crimes against humanity.”

It is likewise with the spurious claim in the Resolution that the report “denied Israel the right to self-defense.” The Goldstone report examined the conduct of the party’s conduct of the war and not the right of Israel to use military force.  As Judge Goldstone said, “Israel’s right to use military force was not questioned.”

The United States provides $3 billion for weapons and military equipment every year to Israel. The Goldstone Report concluded  that “ grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention were committed by Israeli forces in Gaza: willful killing, torture or inhuman treatment, willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, and extensive destruction of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly. ”   In these circumstances the United States has a special responsibility to insure that serious investigations are undertaken of the use of the weapons it supplies. Congress should not be blocking such an investigation.

Michael Ratner, an attorney, is President of the Center for Constitutional Rights.(Identification Only)

On the Celebration of King’s Birth: Israel in Gaza: “A Time Comes When Silence is Betrayal”

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009


On the celebration of King’s birth I often read or listen to the anti-war speech that he gave at Riverside Church on April 4, 1967—A Time to Break the Silence. It was a powerful statement of his opposition to the Vietnam War. He spoke of how he was told to not oppose the war because his opposition would anger President Johnson and harm the civil rights movement. He was warned that “Peace and Civil rights don’t mix.”  King admitted he held back because of this possible consequence for too long and failed to speak out earlier.

I bring this up today when I think about Israel’s recent invasion of Gaza. While we are celebrating King’s birth and the inauguration of Barack Obama, Israel invaded Gaza killing over 1200 people, men women and children, and injured thousands. It targeted UN buildings, homes, mosques, police stations, universities and media outlets.  Thirteen Israeli soldiers were killed—a ratio of one hundred Palestinians for each Israeli. The international law violations have been well documented: disproportionate military force, attacks on civilian targets, collective punishment. The killings of the three daughters of a Palestinian doctor gave a face to those killed in way that numbers could not. Members of my broader family knew the doctor, had visited him in Gaza and heard from during the Israeli onslaught.  He was terrified for his family, but had no way out. 

When I heard the news of the murders of the doctor’s children I was at the Sundance film festival and had just viewed an amazing and moving film about radical lawyer Bill Kunstler called Disturbing the Universe.  The film shows Bill in Chicago during the 1969 Chicago 8 trial. During the time of the trial Black Panther leader Fred Hampton was murdered by the Chicago police. Bill was appalled by the murder, but he did not just blame the Chicago police. He blamed himself and all white Americans. For it was white Americans that for too long had remained silent and accepted the pervasive racism and the murder of Blacks in our society.

This brings me to Gaza and role of American Jews and, in fact, of almost all Americans. For too long, and I do not exempt myself, most of us have stood silently by or made only a marginal protests about the massive violations of Palestinian rights carried out by Israel.  I recall a conversation I had some years ago with the political artist Leon Golub, famous for his outsized oil paintings of torture carried out by American mercenaries in Central America. Leon told me that he had been invited to attend a panel to address what it meant to be a Jewish political artist. He said he had never thought of himself as a “Jewish political artist” but only as a “political artist.”  Then he thought some more. Of the works of art he had made, none concerned Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. And then he knew, at least for himself and probably many others: to be a “Jewish political artist” was to be an artist who avoided depicting the horrors inflicted on Palestinians. Of course, that is true for more than just artists. Many Jews who are very involved in human rights, ending poverty and war, and fighting for the underdog avoid criticism of Israel. They wrongly think that human rights are divisible; or that like ostriches they can hide their heads and pretend not to see what is clearly staring them in the face and makes them uncomfortable: the inhuman treatment of Palestinians.

 

Some of our willful blindness and refusal to act is a result of our ambivalence about condemning the actions of a people that have experienced pervasive antisemitism and the holocaust. Some of our hesitation to act results from the condemnation and opprobrium anyone, but especially Jews, encounter with even mild criticisms of Israel. Organizations that take a position against Israeli actions subject themselves to a loss of funding from foundations and individuals. Few can afford to do so.  As long as this silence continues, so will the U.S. billions in aid and arms that facilitates the killings of Palestinians. As long as this silence continues, more and more settlements will be built. As long as this silence continues, there will be more and more Gazas and more and more children murdered.

 

The lesson here is simple, but difficult to act on. We are, each of us, responsible for the murders in Gaza. Our silence is betrayal. Each time we hesitate to speak out; each time we moderate our condemnation we become accomplices in killing. The time, if there ever was one, to show courage is now.  Yes it will be difficult for many. As King said about the reluctance of some to oppose the Vietnam War:  

 

“Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover when the issues at hand seem as perplexed as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainly; but we must move on.

 

We must take King’s words to heart.  We, each of us, “must move on.” We must begin somewhere even if it just means saying the issue is not off our agenda. Begin the discussion; begin to act; show that you care. And remember, “A Time Comes When Silence is Betrayal.”  That time has come.