Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Watch Seth Tobocman - Serpent of State

Watch Seth Tobocman - Serpent of State on BlipTV.

Friday, July 24, 2009

First-ever indigenous youth delegation to Palestine

August 1-15, 2009

Melissa Franklin, Jodi Voice, and Marei Spaola will travel with the first-ever indigenous delegation to Palestine, August 1-15, 2009. All three are members of Seventh Generation Indigenous Visionaries, an independent youth organization whose founding members met while attending Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence. The student group seeks „to share the experience from this trip with our own tribal communities,‰ as well as Kansas City public audiences.

Citizens for Justice in the Middle East hosted a <>fundraiser dinner in May, and calls on individuals to donate more to offset the students‚ travel costs. The students are seeking your financial support, which will go a long way to connect with Palestinians. They each have $2500 travel costs, including $1500 for air travel and $1000 for food, lodging, and ground transportation. Read <>student letter.

This delegation is an amazing chance to see the Palestinian struggle in a completely new perspective.
Members of the group, also known as 7thGIV, are emerging leaders in their communities, but also guides for those seeking a meaningful connection with Indian groups. On separate occasions they shared their reasons for joining the delegation and outlined their community work.

On July 31, all three will join the Indigenous Youth Delegation to Palestine in order to „build solidarity and bridge gaps with tribes/nations in the U.S. and other Indigenous people around the world.‰ They acknowledge a responsibility to their past and the preservation of their culture by telling stories, such as the Haskell school history and their tribes‚ traditions.

· Melissa Franklin is president of the American Indian Studies club at Haskell, works at the Jim Thorpe Recreation Center on campus, and served as a mentor with an Upward Bound summer program at Haskell. Melissa gave a report of her background and the delegation at the May 31 fundraiser dinner. Melissa is Comanche, Wichita, and Sac & Fox of Oklahoma.

· Jodi Voice has an Associates of Social Work and is pursuing a Bachelor‚s in Indigenous American Indian Studies at Haskell. Her father is a graduate of Haskell. She seeks to „speak for the voiceless and stand up for others that face oppression.‰ Jodi belongs to the Tsalagi (Cherokee) Nation of Oklahoma, the Mvskoke (Creek) nation of Oklahoma, and the Oglala Lakota Nation of South Dakota.

· Marei, a member of the Oglala Lakota Tribe of South Dakota, traveled to the Southwest and South Dakota this summer to work on a documentary film. Marei sent greetings from his tribe and spoke about the indigenous youth delegation at the Viva Palestina event on July 2. He is a Haskell student and reporter with Haskell News.

During the delegation they will be learning about the experience of Palestinians, as well as sharing their own stories.

They have already connected with youth in the Balata refugee camp near Nablus in the West Bank by sharing a presentation about Indian history and culture (see photo). Palestinian youth at Balata, in turn, shared their solidarity through poetry: "Despite our suffering, there is no difference between us / In likeness, color or gender / You walk on the same earth that we walk on."

Will you make a generous contribution to this unique delegation? This group holds the promise of building a bridge across peoples struggling for self-determination. A struggle that promises to enlighten all peoples to the possibility of liberation and a just peace.

The Indigenous Youth Delegation to Palestine is working with the Middle East Children‚s Alliance (MECA), which is a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit organization founded in 1988 working for the rights and the well-being of children in the Middle East.

Please consider making a donation to 7thGIV expenses by sending a check to MECA c/o 7thGIV, 1101 8th Street, Suite 100, Berkeley, CA 94710. You can <>make an online contribution on the MECA web site.

7th Generation Indigenous Visionaries (7thGIV), an independent youth organization whose founding members met while attending Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas. They will join a delegation to Palestine for two weeks, August 1-15, 2009. The delegation is comprised of grassroots youth groups throughout the U.S. and Palestine. The organizing group is connecting Native and immigrant youth in the U.S with youth in Palestine „through the use of print media, traditional music, hip hop, photography, poetry, video, and other forms of arts media, we share our stories and involve our local communities in building a national and international movement against colonization and for self-determination.‰

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- WEB -

Rattling the Cage: Provoking anti-Semitism

Feb. 26, 2009 Larry Derfner

First we left the Gaza Strip in bloodied ruins. Then we raised up a politician who, with his appeal to racism, militarism, fear of alien "subversives" and the yearning for a strong leader, fits the classic, textbook definition of a fascist.

And now, what is the talking point for our hasbara (spin) campaign? The surge in global anti-Semitism.

It's hard to avoid the impression that for the champions of Israel Right or Wrong, the surge in global anti-Semitism - which is real enough - came as a godsend. Finally, Israel and its lobbyists could get off the defensive about civilian casualties, white phosphorous and Avigdor Lieberman, and go on the offensive against synagogue firebombings, chanting mobs and boycotts.

I'm not saying Israel and its cheerleaders are happy that Jews are coming under increasing attack in Europe and elsewhere. Environmentalists aren't happy about oil spills - but oil spills are a godsend for their cause. I'm saying that the chorus of condemnations of anti-Semitism from Israelis and pro-Israel nationalists has a dual purpose - to fight anti-Semitism, which is good, and to neutralize criticism of Operation Cast Lead and the spread of Israeli fascism, which is cynical and morally deadening.

THE CLAIM we hear is that anti-Semitism today is worse than it's been since the 1930s. That may be true, but it overlooks one little thing that's different about the Jews of today compared to those of the 1930s: power. The Jews back then had none, or at least none that could protect them, while Israel, the focus of today's rise in anti-Semitism, has awesome power. Incomparably more power than its enemies have, including the anti-Semites, who are legion.

In the 1930s, Jews didn't do anything to provoke anti-Semitism. They were weak while their persecutors were strong. But today? Today's surge in anti-Semitism began with a war in which the Jewish state killed its enemies at a ratio of 100-to-1, then made a political giant out of a former bouncer whose campaign slogan was "Only Lieberman understands Arabic."

To compare Israel's predicament today with that of the Jews of the 1930s is disingenuous in the extreme. Today's rise in anti-Semitism was provoked not by Israel's weakness, but by its abuses of power, first against the Gazans, then against Israeli Arabs. The difference is night and day.

It's also disingenuous to imply, as hasbara does, that the entire wave of anti-Israel sentiment in the world is tainted by anti-Semitism. (To pro-Israel lobbyists, it's fair and acceptable to acknowledge that Israel is not perfect. Anything beyond that is suspect.) There's a great deal of moral outrage at Israel, some of it fair, some of it not. On the far side of the unfair is the anti-Semitic.

In the 1930s, only anti-Semites were incensed at Jews. Today, while there are certainly masses of anti-Semites who are incensed at Israel, they're not alone. Today the world is filled with people who are not anti-Semites yet who are incensed at the things this country has been doing. Lots of them, myself included, are Jews.

I UNDERSTAND very well that Israel is by no means to blame for most of the anti-Semitism in the world. We are not to blame for Islamic fundamentalism, or the irrational Third World Left, or the age-old anti-Jewish instincts of much of Europe and Latin America. No matter how good, how fair we are to the Arabs, the reservoirs of anti-Semitism in the world are not going to dry up.

But since this country's actions were responsible for the recent surge in the level of those reservoirs, I think there's a way of at least bringing that level down, a way that might work as well if not better than stepping up the hasbara: Let's stop fighting immoral wars. Let's stop laying siege to a tiny, destitute country. (That might stop Gazans from firing rockets at us, too.) Let's stop holding 10,000 Palestinian prisoners. (That might also help us get Gilad Schalit back.)

And finally, let's stop electing fascists to the Knesset. And if this is too much to ask of ourselves, let's at least have the decency not to bring them into the government. And if even that's beyond us, if we're going to have fascists as cabinet ministers, if we go so far as to have one for finance minister or foreign minister, then let's not complain about the next surge in global anti-Semitism, because we will have provoked that one, too.

This is not the 1930s. We, the nation of Israel, are far from being powerless, and we are far from being innocent.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Art Of Palestinian Refugee Children

Art Of Palestinian Refugee Children

July 2009
printer friendly version Mullenneaux's ZSpace page

A children's program at Al-Jana, The Arab Resource Center for the Popular Arts in Beirut—photo from

How do Palestinians in Lebanon counteract the trauma of war and displacement? Mirene Ghossein discovered one of the ways when she visited Al-Jana, the Arab Resource Center for Popular Arts ( in West Beirut last year. "Their flower paintings are tiny miracles," says Ghossein, "because there are no flowers at the refugee camps I visited.

Ghossein, who was born in Beirut and came to the U.S. as a 22-year-old bride, returned to her Westchester, New York home with 26 paintings created at Al-Jana. Ghossein's collaboration with Al-Jana is her most recent effort on behalf of Palestinian refugees. She works mainly with two New York organizations—WESPAC Foundation and Adalah-NY—and insists her political advocacy comes naturally to the daughter of a judge. "You can't turn your back on suffering," she says, "if you've heard about the need for justice from childhood on."

Amy Trabka, who teaches at Al-Jana, introduced Ghossein to the children's art. She relocated to Beirut seven years ago from the U.S. when her husband took a job at the American University of Beirut. She was invited to conduct workshops at Al-Jana in drawing and design with children from refugee camps and low-income neighborhoods.

Pictures of the children's artwork were taken by Andrew Courtney. All 26 of the children's paintings are available to view and purchase at They are touring the country until November 2009 when they will be sold at an online auction
Trabka had previously held adult workshops at Tamar Institute, another community arts NGO in Ramallah, on the West Bank. "My workshops were part of a larger project called From Oak Trees to the Stars, which aimed to encourage reading and creative expression, build libraries, train staff, and publish children's writing. It is a Middle Eastern tradition to read beneath an oak tree," she explains.

For Trabka's first art classes in 2002, children came from Burj Al-Barajneh, Shatila, and Mar Elias camps in and near Beirut and communities near Ain Al-Helwaeh, Sidon, and Tyre in South Lebanon. As violence increased and transportation became more difficult, children from the Kola, the Beirut neighborhood where Al Jana offices are located, filled empty seats. Most workshop participants are grandchildren of refugees expelled from Palestine in 1948.

They have grown up under military occupation, but these exiled children have heard stories about another life in another land from their grandparents, some of whom have keys to houses in villages that no longer exist. The dream of returning to Palestine as free citizens survives in the children—and in their art—which allows them a measure of personal if not political, freedom.

The wars of 1948 and 1967 were catastrophes for the indigenous Palestinians, displacing their population into refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. Since their right of return has been denied by Israel, there are now four generations living in these camps. "Ask any of the refugees of any age," says Ghossein, "'where do you come from?' and the answer will always be a town or village in historic Palestine, now Israel."

The political and economic future for this new generation of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon is bleaker than that which confronted their parents and grandparents. Unlike their elders, they lack traditional social and cultural resources to draw upon to make sense of their displacement and harsh treatment by Israel. Elder community members have been repositories of folklore, transmitters of collective memory, and links to the Palestinian past—but as they die, an inheritance is lost.

Al-Jana, founded in 1990, is one of a handful of institutions organized to cope with this deepening human crisis. At the core of the center's classes and workshops in film, plays, journalism, and graphic design is an appreciation of the unique cultural and historical circumstances these children share.

In their book Art Therapy and Political Violence (Routledge, 2005), Debra Kalmanowitz and Bobby Lloyd argue that artistic expression can nurture dignity and self-respect when individuals feel powerless to control their political circumstances. The art practiced at Al-Jana and other nonprofit communities creates a kind of safe haven in a dangerous, unpredictable world.

In the world of creative freedom at Al-Jana, Trabka describes the teaching experience as communal. "We learn together as a group, through seeing and doing, and invent as we go," she explains. "Because there are so many obstacles these children will face in their lives—exercising their civil rights, getting an education and employment—we try to focus on what they cando as artists and individuals: express their feelings and tell their stories."

The children love to tell their stories and have produced puppet shows, exhibits, postcards, newspaper and magazine articles, and a book, Drawing and Design: Friday Mornings at Al-Jana. Many of them have worked with Trabka at Al-Jana for five or six years. Judging from their autobiographies, they like what most children like—ice cream, cartoons, swimming, and going to the mall on Sundays with their families. The boys love football, basketball, and wrestling. Mona wants to be a doctor, even though being a medical doctor is one of many skilled professions that Palestinians in Lebanon cannot practice.

Asked to describe himself, Abeer Aidi writes that he has "big, black eyes. When you see them, you will drown in them." And a big heart, "so big people can live in it." Aidi likes to sing, to write poetry "especially to my country, Palestine, that I wish to see."

Underlying the children's self portraits is the loss of their country, the suffering of their parents and grandparents. Mahmoud Zaher writes: "I'm 15 years old. I'm a Palestinian, but I live here. Here in Lebanon. Palestine is the important thing I care about because it is my country. I feel it. And I will give my eyes to the one who will help me to go to Palestine."


Lisa Mullenneaux is a journalist whose work has appeared in major U.S. and Canadian newspapers and magazines for over 20 years.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Report of Gaza Delegation

Date: Sun, 12 Jul 2009 11:41:34 -0400
Subject: Report of Gaza Delegation -- Please forward to all
From: Felice Gelman

Dear friend,

I am sending you a summary report of our end of May delegation to Gaza, asking you to forward it to your friends, clergy, elected representatives, and anyone else you think might have an interest or influence. I am sorry to say that, since we left on June 1, things have gotten worse. This week a 17 year old girl was killed while sleeping when an Israeli artillery shell hit her family home more than a kilometer inside Gaza's eastern border. The fishing captain who gave us some of the information for Ceil Lavan's report below was kidnapped by the Israeli Navy, held prisoner, and his boat was disabled. Every week but one since we left Gaza, at least one child has been wounded or killed by Israeli weapons fire.

Please ask your elected representatives to go to Gaza to see for themselves how US military aid is being used. (Representative Brian Bard (D-WA) is organizing such a delegation). And please send them this report. Ask your friends to do the same.

Thank you,

Felice Gelman

for videos, documentation, and photos


On May 24, 2009, an ad hoc group of 13 Americans gathered in Cairo in preparation for a trip to Gaza that they had good reason to believe would not take place. In the past two years and certainly in the past several months since the December-January assault on Gaza by Israel, it has been extremely difficult to enter the Rafah border between Egypt and Gaza, and nearly impossible through the Erez border between Israel and Gaza. The uncertainty of their trip did not deter these remarkable people because just trying to get to Gaza would be an action of defiance of what is now known as the siege of Gaza.

By an unusual combination of luck and pluck, the group did manage to get in and spent several days in Gaza, leaving on May 31, 2009. Nine members of the group are women, four are men. Their ages range from 22 to 67. Some are retired; others currently work in a variety of occupations that include writer, violinist, web technician, community organizer and office worker. They are Jewish and Muslim and Christian.

What follows are brief reports by 11 of the 13 participants and brief glimpses of what they saw and what they heard. And what they felt. I would have been among them but I got sick. My heart was with them nevertheless.

-- Dorothy M. Zellner

1 Felice Gelman
How easy is it to get to Gaza?

How easy is it to get to Gaza? It’s hard to understand the meaning of “blockade” unless you have actually experienced it. As Americans, we got just a taste of what is served up every day to Palestinians. When you get to the Rafah border, you will inevitably find a crowd of people who have been unable to cross – sometimes for weeks.

Our own delegation’s effort to get to Gaza required contacts and meetings with the UN, Egypt, and parts of the US government. We began with an invitation from UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency), which provides services to the 1 million Gazans who are refugees. Such an invitation, even from the UN, is insufficient. So we trudged off to Washington, DC to meet with Egypt’s Deputy Ambassador to the United States, and to ask his help. He wished us well. Then we swung by a few Congressional offices to ask our elected representatives to provide us with a letter of support for our trip to Gaza. I will leave it to your imagination as to how helpful they were! That was followed by negotiations with the Bureau of Consular Affairs at the State Department. They said Egypt (and, curiously, Israel) require us to sign an affidavit waiving our consular rights in Gaza. This can only be done at the U.S. embassy in Cairo, in person, for a mere $30 per. “Why?” we asked. “Because the State Department does not want to make it easy for you to go to Gaza,” was the reply.

In Cairo, we learned that the bus company we had booked with had been visited by the police and told they were not allowed to take anyone to the border.

Alarm bells! Surprisingly, we found a little help at the US embassy from a well-connected diplomat who agreed to check out our problem and to inform the Egyptian police that the U.S. embassy had no opposition to our trip. He called back to say the problem was the Egyptian secret police.

The ever resourceful CODEPINK did what the US embassy would not --- tracked down the Egyptian Foreign Ministry liaison with the secret police and sent him the names of all 130 people to be cleared to go through the border. A sigh of relief…. But, when we arrived in Al Arish, right behind us three big tour buses pulled in carrying the first two CODEPINK groups returning from a day of protest at the border! They had not been allowed to cross.

In the middle of that night, the real fun began. Around two a.m., I was "invited" to come downstairs to meet the Egyptian secret police. Thereon followed a Kafkaesque conversation indeed. Three unnamed Egyptians, who claimed they were police, said we had no clearance to cross the border. They were extraordinarily reluctant to identify themselves. One told me it was forbidden for him to identify himself because he was the secret police! The gumshoes invented one story after another about why we could not cross to Gaza – our embassy, the Foreign Ministry, the national intelligence service, etc. But their bottom line: don’t go to the border and don’t stage a protest.

We decided it was all a bad dream, loaded up the buses and headed for the border. Outside Arish, we came to a checkpoint where three truckloads of riot police waited, along with an assortment of other uniformed types. The road to the border was closed for “military exercises”. Once we turned back, all the uniforms packed up and left. I guess the “military exercise” was “how to close a border.”

After our CODEPINK friends back in Cairo made yet another visit to the Foreign Ministry, we were told we were cleared for the border. Back down into the buses. Our 2 a.m. secret police pals showed up to wave goodbye, all smiles and giggles.

It was hard to believe there wouldn’t be another snag along the way. When we got to the Egyptian border’s gate, there was one. The police asked for the nationalities of all the people in the groups. When they learned we had one Palestinian with us, they said, “Let us see the passport.” It was Aysha Al Ghoul’s, whose papers were “not in order.” Aysha had been studying in Tunisia, came to Cairo to go home at last year’s end, was not able to go home because of Israel’s attack on Gaza, and lost her passport. The Palestinian Authority issued her a new one but it did not include the Egyptian visa stamp that had been lost with her old passport. Several visits to the Egyptian authorities did not produce a new visa stamp. Because she is Palestinian, it is always a problem. (The Border Police paid absolutely no attention to the expired Egyptian visa of an American). Sadly, Aysha went back to Cairo while we went on to Gaza – her home country that she is not allowed to enter.

That is how Americans go to Gaza. Palestinians, Egyptians, and many others don't get to laugh off the secret police, and work the bureaucracy until it caves in. They usually just don't get to go to Gaza at all.

2 Joyce Ravitz
The Destruction from the Attacks of Dec 2008 - Jan 2009

[note: for relevant photos, please see Jane Adas, Come to Gaza, below]

I knew before our May 2009 trip to Gaza that there had been terrible damage there from the 23-day Israeli assault on Gaza. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights estimates that 2,500 tons of explosives were dropped on the Gaza Strip, an area about twice the size of Washington DC. I would like to relate some of the destruction I saw and how it made me feel.

In our travels, we visited not just piles but whole areas of rubble which men, women and children had called home before the end of 2009. One man told us that he was afraid to excavate his former home because he had found several live bombs around the pile of wreckage where he had once lived. His home had housed an extended family of 30 people who were now living in tents. We saw what life was like for people who had been bombed out of their homes. The tents were bare, with little inside them -- no beds, no clothes. “Home” had been reduced to a clean space protected from the sun.

We saw the first target of the December bombing: the police academy where a new graduating class had been receiving diplomas. The entire class was killed, although police are considered civilians under the Oslo Agreement. We were told that the Israelis bombed almost every police station in Gaza. They also bombed the fire stations. I saw fire engines parked on the streets. The sewer system was destroyed as well, and we saw the filthy black water going into the beautiful Mediterranean Sea.

Fields, too, and with them significant parts of the food supply and the livelihood of farmers, have been destroyed. White phosphorous dropped by Israeli bombers burned wheat and other crops. We were taken out to fields that had been burnt and shown fragments of white phosphorus that farmers are still finding in the ground. This substance makes it dangerous to plant more crops. When the fragment is exposed to oxygen it starts to burn again.

Of the bombed schools we saw, my most vivid memory was of the International American School, which was completely destroyed. Only the sign in English told us what the wreckage had been.

Our guides told us that hospitals, too, had white phosphorus bombs dropped on them.

Israel has destroyed so much in Gaza, and continues to block its reconstruction. Gaza once produced many tons of cement, but cannot do that any longer. Cement factories were among the ruins of an industrial area we drove through. Today, Gazans are building their houses with mud because cement is not legally allowed across the borders.

Seeing this massive destruction and the bare, difficult lives of the survivors, I felt horrible. I first visited Israel 50 years ago as a young teenager and saw an exciting new country founded by people in search of freedom and justice. Whatever idealism fueled early Zionism is long gone, replaced by brutality and destruction. And I, as a Jewish American, had been silent for too long. I decided that when I returned home I would tell people what I saw and felt during my short time in Gaza. I would not be silent, never again!

3 Philip Weiss
The Tunnels of Gaza

Twice I visited the tunnels that connect to Egypt from Rafah, at the southern end of Gaza.
The first impression is that while the entire area is bombed out, and most buildings are either erased or are dangerous shells, the tunnels are a thriving industry. You see scores of tents jammed in between piles of sand and rubble. Inside each tent are generators, cable winches and big spools of cable for pulling heavy loads up from the bottom of the 75 foot shafts. The tunnels work day and night, with crews of four or five men. One day we saw a Caterpillar tractor toiling in the sand to dig out a new tunnel. Later I heard that the tunnel-men were trying to make a tunnel big enough for cars to come through. So far all they can accommodate are motorcycles.

You see the motorcycles all over Gaza, new gleaming motorcycles. Driven by young men, with flashy outfits on, too. Thus the tunnels contribute to the corruption in Palestinian society. Everyone knows that contraband is coming through the tunnels, and that the commerce is enriching gangsters; the cement my driver bought one day costs $20 a bag, 10 times what it ought to cost. The tunnels are big, illicit business. A tunnel is said to cost $100,000 to build. Capitalists are involved on both sides of the border.

The Israelis are obviously in on the whole deal. It is a simple matter to spot the tunnels. (There are hundreds, according to some reports.) It would be a simple matter to destroy them. But allowing them to flourish serves two purposes for Israel, I concluded. One, if Gazans did not get the vital goods they get through the tunnels (including even cheese, says Taghreed El-Khodary, the Times correspondent there), the humanitarian crisis would be even more severe. Thus the tunnels serve as a safety valve on the inhumane blockade, lessening its effects in the eyes of the world. And secondly, the tunnels serve to corrupt Palestinian society. They undermine the rule of law, and undermine the presence of a civic culture. For who can feel good about the time and money devoted to a physically-dangerous activity that would be rendered instantly pointless if Gaza were treated like a normal place, and the siege were lifted? Who in their right mind can see all this effort as productive, when civilized human beings would never choose to live this way, only prisoners, forced to do so?

So while the industry is impressive--and might even be seen as a sign of Gaza's vitality--the whole thing struck me as desperate, cruel and inhuman.

4 Sammer Aboelala
The Siege, from Tunnels to Generators

To a visitor from the outside, the impact of the siege on the lives of everyday Gazans is obscured somewhat by the success of the tunnels especially for those, like our American delegation, who can afford to pay blackmarket prices for everyday goods. On either side of the tunnels, profit is being made - how much, it's difficult to say - which adds tremendously to the cost of goods and puts what should be humanitarian aid well out of financial reach of unemployed or otherwise poor Gazans.

As far as electricity, I saw small generators running every evening outside of anyplace doing business... I remember being surprised when I stopped to buy water midday on one of our last days there to find a generator running outside of a little grocery store - seemed to be an odd time for the power to be out. I have a vivid memory of a generator running nightly right outside of our favorite falafel shop as well (we ate there nearly every night).

One afternoon we tried to eat lunch at a little beach stand ordering off of the standard menu, but our simple meals couldn't be assembled in time as they were unable to maintain inventory for the place on-site. Our orders started a flurry of activity that sent runners all over town to gather the chicken, rice, and other basics needed to assemble the meals. If not for the delay, we might not have noticed the strain imposed by a siege economy in this instance, not to mention the endless determination and resourcefulness of Palestinians to adapt and maintain a functioning society in the face of such cruelty.

But I'm sure the real siege experience can be had in the Rafah border area and in the other devastated locales (especially after dark) where things like indoor plumbing and electricity have been transformed from everyday conveniences to unimaginable luxuries. I don't know how many hundreds or thousands are living in tents or in partially destroyed homes who remain unable to obtain decent temporary housing, much less rebuild, thanks to the siege.

5 Gloria Bletter
Effects of the Gaza Blockade

The years-long blockade of Gaza by the Israeli government and its occupation forces affects ALL aspects of life in Gaza, and all ages and conditions of its residents. It makes Israel, with the complicity of Egypt and the US, the sole arbiter of who and what comes in or out of Gaza.

Although its siege intensified after the election of Hamas as the democratically-elected party in January 2006, economic sanctions had begun even as Israel recalled its army and evicted Israeli settlements in 2005, claiming that it was “no longer occupying Gaza.” But Israel never relinquished control over ground access to Gaza (and had bombed its one airport), including, by proxy, Gaza's border with Egypt through Rafah City. This was the way our delegation entered Gaza.

Like the construction of the Separation or 'Apartheid' Wall, the siege is an example of collective punishment,* and like the Wall, should be found illegal under international law, as was the Wall (by the International Court of Justice). Meanwhile, people continue to die, and infrastructure continues to deteriorate, for lack of access to basic and emergency medical care, necessary foods and medicines, fuel, and materials for maintaining water pipes, sewage, and road systems, as well as for rebuilding after the recent massive Israeli attacks.

It must be remembered that the majority of Gazan residents are from refugee families, who fled there in 1948. The UN, through its Relief Works Agency [UNRWA] delivers health, education, and other humanitarian services to these families and their descendants. The Director of UNRWA, John Ging, who spoke to us and to other visiting groups, implied that even UN staff must make use of the approximate 900 tunnels to obtain non-work-related items; for instance, all gasoline for cars and buses comes through the tunnels via a pipeline, except for fuel for UN vehicles and its power plant. King recognized that that few essential supplies are getting in, and that the restrictions are “prolonging the [general] misery.”

Even just prior to the Christmas invasion in December 2008, a coalition of humanitarian and human rights organizations stated that the blockade was destroying public service infrastructure, and had effectively dismantled the economy and further impoverished the population of Gaza. So, in addition to the denial of emergency ambulance and hospital treatment during the attacks, and the bombing of hospitals, sick and injured Gazans of all ages are still not able to get oxygen or use lifesaving equipment which requires fuel and electricity.

The actual restrictions are administered by the Israeli military through its Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories [COGAT]. Its daily decisions are varied and inconsistent: for months, pumpkins and carrots were allowed in, then abruptly reversed two months ago; food items considered 'delicacies' are prohibited, such as cherries, pomegranates, halvah, chocolate, avocados, and green almonds, while persimmons, apples, and bananas are considered vital for basic sustenance, and allowed but in insufficient amounts. Sometimes, produce from Israeli farms are given special dispensation for admission, such as recently, for melons and onions. Seedlings and calves are denied, as are clothes, shoes, toys, school books and supplies, musical instruments and lightbulbs.

Those who have asked for a written list have been refused. What is essential now, after all the willful destruction, is not allowed: building materials, steel pipes, spare parts for cars and machines, and fertilizer. These items were mentioned by nearly every person and official we spoke with. It is well-known by now that Gaza's own farm produce is even less available as farmers are shot at when they go to harvest their fields in farming communities near the so-called green line [the border proclaimed by Israel after the 1967 attacks].

As for allowing people in or out of Gaza, freedom of movement being an international human right, there are clear instances as to how this right is being denied, primarily by Israel, but also with the enforcement aid of Egypt. We witnessed the denial of a Gazan student, who had been away, from entering along with the student delegation, from visiting her family. [See Felice Gelman's report above for more details.] We saw the protesting remnants--four physicians--from a larger group of doctors and medical personnel who had been denied entry and were in the "Travel House" at the Rafah border; we heard about that or another group of cardiac specialists with their equipment who had been turned away; and read about Israel's refusal to allow UN officials in [Special Rapporteur Richard Falk, for one] to view the situation after the attacks.

The daily denial of Gazans' right to travel is ongoing; sick and injured Gazans are routinely not permitted to travel to Egypt for treatment, and several have died while waiting for documents granting them 'permission' to reach hospitals.

What is clear is that Israel misrepresents the basis for the continued blockade and obfuscates its necessity. It appears that it intends to dismantle Palestinian society and institutions. For Gazans, the deficit is not only in tangible goods, but in truth and justice, and the loss of hope for a sustainable life.

6 Susan Johnson
The War and the Children

On the first day of Operation Cast Lead Israel began bombing Gaza just as schools were changing from morning to afternoon sessions. It’s estimated 500,000 children were out in the open, walking on streets when the first bombs began to fall. NO, the bombs did not fall; they were intentionally dropped on Gaza’s most vulnerable people at the time of day when they were most vulnerable.

Panic and fear must have gripped each child. What should they do? Run? Hide? Try to reach home? Why is this happening? With 500,000 children involved there must have been millions of questions asked; but few answers.

The assault on Gaza was just beginning, it continued for 23 days. Bombs and missiles rained down. Bombs of white phosphorous lit the sky with red and white streams. Soldiers, tanks, helicopters, airplanes, bulldozers, landmines, weapons of all sizes & power; all were active in Gaza for 23 days.

Our delegation met with the Gaza Community Mental Health Agency to discuss the impact of the war on Gaza’s children. Depression was at the top of the list. Aggression, clinging to parents, lack of concentration, anger, fear, crying, bed wetting were among the symptoms being observed. Some children remain so fearful they had yet to return to school; it had been five months. They do not suffer from post traumatic stress. There is no “post” in Gaza, just traumatic stress.

Let the children tell their stories through art. These pictures were drawn or painted at the Qattan Center for the Child as part of their art therapy program. Each picture speaks of violence. But please, look at them carefully for signs of hope.

7 Terry Rogers
Palestine Agricultural Relief Committees

As we travelled up and down the Gaza Strip, I was amazed to see how much of the land was actually rural. When we visited PARC (Palestine Agricultural Relief Committees) we were told by their spokesperson, Ahmed Sourani, that one third of the total area of the strip should be available for agricultural use. However, 25% of this land is in the so-called buffer zone, along Gaza's eastern border with Israel. In this area, about 300 meters wide, Israel has already uprooted the orchards and continues to shoot at Palestinians attempting to plant and harvest vegetable crops. Mr. Sourani described this practice as de facto annexation.

Because the importation of food into Gaza is limited and expensive, PARC has emphasized improving local food production. PARC's local committees work on the rehabilitation of agricultural capacity - land, roads, and water resources. Because 25% of Gazan households have gardens, PARC encourages their use for food production and income-generating activities. To this end PARC has a micro-enterprise saving and lending program - targeting women - for crafts, agriculture, raising animals, and producing prepared food.

Another PARC project concerns water and environmental protection. Because the quality and quantity of Gazan water is severely compromised, families are taught how to harvest rainwater and to re-use grey water.

The Israeli siege has made it difficult to import pesticides and fertilizers, so PARC is developing a compost-producing unit. Farmers are recalling traditional indigenous knowledge about how to farm without chemicals - rediscovering organic gardening. The agricultural committees are helping people establish seed banks as well. The NGO Grassroots International has partnered with PARC in many of these projects.

Four years ago, PARC began another initiative, called Poor Farmers for Poor Families. The goal is for relief agencies to purchase fresh food from local producers as much as possible, thus supporting the Gazan economy. They plan to target 15,000 families to receive fresh food baskets regularly, and almost half of this goal has been reached.

When we left the PARC office we saw many plastic-roofed greenhouses nearby. They underscored the insistence of the PARC representatives that assistance for Gaza needs to focus less on relief and more on development. The creativity and resourcefulness of Gazans in such oppressive circumstances can be an example for the rest of the world.

8 Ceil Lavan
IDF still shooting at Gazans

We visited a farming community in Gaza, where just days before Israeli planes dropped leaflets announcing that Palestinians were not to enter within 300 meters of the Israeli green line. This buffer zone, the entire western and northern perimeter of Gaza, includes 30% of Gaza’s agricultural land. Palestinian homes, schools and farms are within the buffer zone. The leaflets warned the Palestinians that they’d be shot if they entered that section of their land.

Palestinians were already being shot at as they tried to farm their land or harvest a crop near the green line. From the porch of the home we visited, which was 500 meters from the green line, we could see where the tanks patrolled back and forth in Israel, shooting randomly at the Palestinian farmers. Nestled in the field across from the home was an innocent looking tower. We were told that Israel has many towers armed to shoot at Palestinian farmers. This particular tower had a bulb-like top, which opened like a flower to automatically fire at the farmers. The firing is remotely controlled from Israel!

How are Palestinian farmers to make a living, and how are Gazans to feed themselves with a blockade and farmers not allowed to farm?

The beautiful Mediterranean Sea hugs the entire eastern shore of the Gaza Strip. The area is presently receiving international attention since June 30th, when the FreeGaza boat, the Spirit of Humanity, was captured at gunpoint and towed to Israel by the Israeli navy, while attempting to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza. This naval blockade is part of the Israeli effort to seal off the coastal Gaza Strip, and is devastating one of Gaza’s key industries, fishing.

The Oslo Accord gave Palestinians the right to fish within 20 nautical miles of their shores, which Israel never observed. At first Israel limited the fishing area to 10 nautical miles, then 6 and now 3. Fishermen who go farther out risk being arrested, shot, killed, or having their boats destroyed or confiscated. However, even those fishing within the 3 mile limit have the same risks.

We could see Israeli speed boats patrolling back and forth on the sea, and we heard their gunfire in the distance. Before the massacre, the Israeli boats would shoot around the fishermen to intimidate them, or Israeli ships would sail round and round a fishing boat and then leave it not looking back to see if it was capsized. Water cannons, as well as guns, are used to damage fishing boats and threaten and /or hurt fishermen.

Since the massacre, Israeli naval vessels fire directly at the fishermen, and several have been hit. They routinely confiscate Palestinian fishermen and their boats. When the fishing boats are returned they are damaged and stripped, and because of the blockade there are no parts to repair them.

Fishermen have seen their catch drop by two-thirds since 2007. And to make matters worse, because no fuel is allowed through the blockade, fishermen are forced to pay excessive black market prices for fuel that comes through the tunnels from Egypt.

Cut off from the heavily populated shoals of fish beyond the 3 nautical mile limit, paying more for fuel to go to sea, and facing attack every time they go out to fish, it is not hard to see that the once thriving fishing industry in Gaza is being destroyed. An industry that once employed 45,000 Gazans, not only cannot sustain the fishing industry workers, it can no longer provide the needed fish for a people with a critically deficient diet due to the blockade as well as the IDF bulldozing of the citrus and olive groves, the shooting at the farmers, and the burning of wheat ready for harvest.

This unbearable treatment of the already suffering Palestinian people is greeted with a resilience beyond my imagination. We met some of the fishermen at the sea the morning we left Gaza. The face of the fisherman who addressed us was actually joyful, as were the faces of the people we met in the farming community.

I asked Jenny (International Solidarity Movement) why she thought the fishermen were joyful in such dire circumstances. Jenny told us, “Palestinians have a great sense of humor.” She described being on a Palestinian fishing boat as Israeli boats were speeding toward them. The unarmed Palestinian fishermen started heckling the Israelis singing out comments like,”Come and get us.” One of the fishermen started dancing, and soon all the men on his boat joined him; then those on a nearby boat started dancing too, and then those on another boat... as they waited to be attacked by the Israeli vessels!

One of the fishermen told Jenny that he’d rather risk his life fishing to feed his family than stay home and not be able to feed them.

While the resilience of the Palestinian people is inspiring, not allowing Gazans to farm or fish to feed themselves or make a living is one more Crime Against Humanity that Israel needs to be held accountable for.

9 Ayla Jay Schoenwald
The “Big Dreams” of the Palestine Youth Committee

Hazem, a 24 year old Palestinian college-graduate and a member of the Palestine Youth Committee (PYC), has tried to leave Gaza four times in order to continue his education abroad. Three of these times involved scholarships. Each time, however, he was turned back, told his papers weren’t in order or that he should try another crossing or simply that the borders weren’t open and he had to go home. When he tried to explain the situation to various universities, they refused to cooperate. It was too late; he had lost his scholarship. When he told one of the universities that he couldn’t get through the border, they asked him why he didn’t just leave from the airport instead. He had to explain that there isn’t an airport in Gaza- not anymore. Hazem wants to acquire his PhD by the time he’s 30. He also wants to be a pilot, but he’s given up on this goal. No one will let a Palestinian go to school to be a pilot, especially not after September 11th.

Perhaps this is why, when we asked Summer (another student from the PYC) what we could do to support their organization she responded “tell people how we are, how we live, who we are; we are not terrorists, we are just ordinary civilians.” Except, they are more extraordinary than ordinary. The Palestine Youth Committee is made up of students and youth in Gaza, many of whom, like Hazem & Summer, have lost scholarships due to the siege and Israeli-imposed, internationally enforced travel restrictions placed on Palestinians. As a result of these restrictions, the students have decided to use videoconferences, websites, and other technological tools to connect with other students and young people around the world. When we met with them in Gaza City, the students kept talking about their “big dreams” of what they want to build, the networks they want to create, the actions they want to take. We talked about connecting them with student organizations doing Divestment work on their campuses as well as other student organizations that work on other, relevant issues, such as immigrant rights (also, of course, about borders & freedom of movement). The “big dreams” kept getting bigger, for all of us, young and old, and everywhere in between.

I could go on and on, listing examples of how these students have been denied access to the education they deserve. However, they told us they don’t want to be seen as victims; they want to be seen as people with something to offer the world. I respect that. I also don’t want to make them into symbols of “hope” and “the future,” because while this is positive, it still distracts from their humanity. They are activists. They are young. They are empowered. And they are inspiring. Sitting with them at the Marna House, drinking tea and coffee, I could imagine meeting up with them again 30 years from now. By that time, some of us (“us” being the young people in the room) would be published authors, professors, non-profit executive directors, lawyers, mothers, fathers…etc. “Real grown ups.” “Successful.” But will we be successful? Will we have the opportunity to sit together one day in a free Palestine? Will other movements look to us the way we look to South Africa now, to learn how they dismantled Apartheid?

Husni - another one of the extraordinary students from the PYC - told us that despite the siege, the war, and the occupation, he is still free: “I am free,” he said, “I have the right to think, I have the right to speak.” He’s right. The Israeli Apartheid State can restrict the freedom of movement, but they cannot restrict the building of movements. No border, no wall, no army, and no war is big enough to stop “big dreams” from getting bigger.

10 Tom Suarez

Upon crossing the Egyptian border into Gaza, we entered a territory whose government the US has declared a terrorist organization, one so terrible that US anti-terrorism laws could lock us away merely for aiding a charity whose funds indirectly found their way to its public assistance programs. Presidents of the US and esteemed universities have spoken of Israel and Gaza in apocalyptic terms, an ancient battle between Good and Evil. One’s mere presence is complicity: when in 2008 I was among a group whom Israel refused entry to Gaza, a spokesperson publicly charged that we were “cooperating with terror organizations”.

Words often control, rather than represent, human thought. Invoke the word “terrorist,” and critical thought is rendered not just impotent, but even treasonous. “You voted for Hamas,” decreed graffiti we saw left by IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) soldiers on the walls of their victims’ homes in northern Gaza, in way of justification for their mass slaughter.

Actually, that family hadn’t; but why the West's hatred for Hamas? Hamas has much to criticize, yes, but what, in truth, does the West fear from Hamas?

In a word, representation.

The Palestinian struggle for liberation differs from all others in that their “representatives,” going back to the fall of the Ottoman empire, have served only at the pleasure of those with whom are they supposedly negotiating. In January of 2006, Palestinians were presented with two choices: Fatah, an organization that had become synonymous with corruption, that had done little to help Palestinians in their day-to-day struggles, and that had sold them to the glue factory at Oslo; or Hamas, which had a proven record of social assistance, had earned a reputation for scrupulousness, and was not in the pay of their adversaries.

Yet the West was taken by surprise when, though it had invested heavily to assure Fatah’s victory, Palestinians elected Hamas to be the representative of all Palestine — Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank. Immediately, US weapons and cash were redirected to squelching the democracy, and the legitimate government is now confined to Gaza which, in the West's Orwellian language warp, it “took over.”

"You voted for Hamas"

What did we find in this “enemy entity,” as Israel declared Gaza? Despite the enormous disadvantages under which Hamas must govern, including blockade, siege, bombardments, denial of rightful funds, vast Western capital put to sabotage it from within, and the violent denial of autonomy over its borders, airspace, coastal waters, and aquifers, our experience in Gaza was of an orderly, civil society making the best of a catastrophic situation.

Hamas is not a monolithic institution, and conservative elements flourish under societal duress. Yet we saw little evidence that Hamas, however objectionable some of its religious-inspired policies, was interested in a sharia-style state. Few women wear the niqab (face covering), kite flying is a happy diversion, children sing and dance, and the new music school in Gaza City, teaching both Western and Arabic instruments, has already been restarted from its destruction by the IDF in January. Nor did Hamas’ feud with Fatah make anyone afraid to flaunt the image of Arafat, who lives on as a symbol independent of his problematic legacy.

We visited a community center in Khan Younis where the women who ran it described how newly-elected Hamas had removed some of their furniture and equipment, but how the women pestered Hamas until the items were returned — the imagery of women challenging men of Hamas, and winning, worth noting.

Western media are unable to enunciate the two syllables "Hamas" without reminding us that it refuses to recognize Israel, refuses to renounce violence, and that it fires rockets (some media substitute the inaccurate word “missiles”).

— Doesn't recognize Israel?
● How could a people under siege "recognize" their attackers, who refuse to recognize them?
● Israel refuses to state where its borders lie and daily expropriates more and more Palestinian land. Which Israel would Hamas be recognizing?
● The U.N.'s own recognition of Israel was contingent on its abiding by international law under Resolution 194 (December 11, 1948), which it not only has never done, but indeed has further and dramatically violated for six decades.
● Hamas has long offered to make peace with Israel in exchange for all parties abiding by international law — such a "permanent peace" being the same relationship the US has with Taiwan (which the US refuses to recognize).

— Refuses to renounce violence?
How can those being attacked renounce violence when their attackers will not?

— Fires rockets?
Yes, in response to Israel's incursions, siege, and other violence. The rockets may be strategically foolish, but they are a reaction, a flea attempting to bite the claw of an attacking behemoth.

In Gaza, we heard a range of opinions about the primitive rockets (Qassams), being any variation of defensive (though they are unguided and cannot be directed to military targets), idiotic (because they play into Israel’s “defense” excuse), or symbolic flares of desperation to signal the world’s attention.

What was universal, however, was the bewilderment at the West’s seizing upon the rockets, and Hamas, to blame Gaza’s woes on Gazans. “At night we would listen to the news and hear that it's our fault,” one women living near the Green Line lamented about the brutal attacks of Dec-Jan.

Grafitti of a Qassam being fired

The siege predated Hamas’ election; and the cease-fire of last year, never honored by Israel because it tightened, rather than eased, the siege, was broken not by any Gazan rocket, but by unprovoked Israeli infantry incursions and air strikes, timed for US election day to be doubly sure nothing would reach the Western media. Several Palestinians were killed, several injured, Palestinian homes were occupied, and land was levelled.

The ineffective mortar and rockets fired in response then gave Israel its excuse for the twenty-two days of terror whose aftermath had bought even the more stoic among us to tears.

Hamas' charter, a convoluted and deeply objectionable document, has little relevance to its day-to-day governance; it should be discarded and written anew. Although the claim that the charter calls for the extermination of Jews is a fabrication, an attempt to frame the issue in Holocaust language, the charter does ignorantly jumble together "Jews" and "Zionists." Ironically, in doing so it is merely following Zionism's own inescapably anti-Semitic logic, making an intrinsic, metaphysical link between Judaism and a modern nation-state.

Contrast the charter to the letter that Hamas prepared, while we were in Gaza, for Code Pink cofounder Medea Benjamin to deliver to US President Obama, stating that they “are prepared to engage all parties on the basis of mutual respect and without preconditions,” stressing the importance of international law and United Nations resolutions.

But therein lies the West’s quagmire: the rule of law and justice would expose its six decades of lies, its neo-colonial enterprise, and its staggering hypocrisy.

In the West, commentators discuss whether or not Israel's attacks of Dec-Jan were an "overreaction" to Hamas and its rockets, but this is a false, manipulative framing of the issue, because by way of pretending to criticize Israel for "excess," it safeguards the essential fiction upon which Israeli aggression depends: that Israel is defending itself. And it is this inversion of reality, not relative body counts, that is the core of these six decades of injustice.

In Gaza we found a society determined to hold on to its humanity no matter how it is pushed to imitate its tormentors. We were in the only part of Palestine that has not been taken over by a Western-backed coup.

11 Jane Adas
Come to Gaza

Come to Gaza. See for yourselves the direct results of your government’s Middle East policy, paid for with your tax dollars. This is the message that a Palestinian taxi driver and the Irish head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Gaza asked our New York delegation to convey to Americans.

Majd Abdullah Al-Atannah, holding an unexploded land mine

Majd Abdullah Al-Atannah and his sons lost their homes twice. The first time was during Israel’s Operation Autumn Clouds in November 2006, when Israel invaded Beit Hanun on the northern Gaza border using air strikes, tanks, and helicopter gunships. One Israeli soldier and 53 – 82 (reports vary) Palestinians were killed, among them 18 of Al-Atannah’s relatives. After the U.S. vetoed an already watered-down Security Council resolution, the General Assembly in emergency session passed a resolution 156 to 7 deploring Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip.

Al-Atannah and his five sons moved to the outskirts of Beit Hanun, in the Ezbat Abbed Rabbo neighborhood of Jabalia, and rebuilt their lives, a big house for Al-Atannah and five smaller ones for his sons and their families, in all 57 people supported by their taxi business. Their neighborhood, however, was the first area taken over during the ground invasion phase of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead. Al-Atannah described how Israeli soldiers forced families out, firing at them with machine guns as they walked the two kilometers to Beit Hanun, taking nothing with them but the clothes they were wearing. Soldiers also arrested one of his sons, the father of seven children.

When the families returned after the ceasefire on 18 January, they found their homes and cars destroyed, including all three of Al-Atannah’s big Mercedes taxis. As though the Israeli army was using the neighborhood as a laboratory to experiment with different means of demolishing homes, they blew up Al-Atannah’s house with land mines, brought down his sons’ houses with bulldozers, and others by aerial bombardment (see photos at end). Many of the land mines failed to detonate, making the rubble dangerous, so most families had the Hamas government remove them. Al-Atannah, however, reached into the debris of his house and pulled out a live land mine with writing in English: “ARMED / DANGER” (see photo, above). Asked why he didn’t have it defused, Al-Atannah responded, “What’s the difference? I’m 60 years old. Do I have time to rebuild … again?”

Al-Atannah and his family are now living in tents and he no longer has taxis to drive, but he is an astute political observer: “Where are the Western countries that speak of democracy and human rights? Israel influences the U.S. so much. In your country, you think Palestinians are terrorists. Do you accept the terrorist act of destroying the homes of others? We were hit with American rockets. Is there no conscience in America? You will not speak out because Israelis will not allow it. Bush should go before the ICC (International Criminal Court). He has two daughters who should come see what their father did.”

John Ging

John Ging, whom the Code Pink delegations met later that same day, has been head of UNRWA in Gaza since 2006. He too believes Gaza needs many witnesses. “Those who make decisions in far away offices should come to see and have to answer. They might then see the detachment of their rhetoric from reality and the results of a deficit of truth and an absence of justice in policy making.” The rule of law, Ging said, should be the starting point, even if it is an inconvenience for politics.

After Operation Cast Lead and for the first time in years, senior political figures have been coming to Gaza to see the consequences of their decisions – UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, European leaders, American congressmen. Ging said that all, without exception, were shocked and humbled by the ordinary people they met who, though having every reason to lose their minds and turn violent, were civilized and dignified. The visiting dignitaries had been told that the aim of Operation Cast Lead was “to destroy the infrastructure of terror,” but when they see the bombed American International School, the willfully destroyed factories and businesses, the demolished ministries, presidential compound and legislative council, they see that what was destroyed was the infrastructure of education,
the economy, and democracy.

The basis of hope for change, Ging concluded, is people from the outside willing to come, seek to be better informed, and influence those back home. So, come to Gaza. And the West Bank. And Israel. See for yourselves.

Destruction by land mines

Destruction by aerial bombardment

Destruction by bulldozer

Demolished factory

The American School


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Friday, July 10, 2009

Turning Point?


Turning Point?

Analyzing the Obama-Netanyahu-Abbas meetings in May 2009

Chomsky's ZSpace page

The Obama-Netanyahu-Abbas meetings in May, followed by Obama's speech in Cairo, have been widely interpreted as a turning point in U.S. Middle East policy, leading to consternation in some quarters, exuberance in others. Fairly typical is Middle East analyst Dan Fromkin of the Washington Post, who sees "signs Obama will promote a new regional peace initiative for the Middle East, much like the one championed by Jordan's King Abdullah...[and also] the first distinct signs that Obama is willing to play hardball with Israel" (WP, May 29). A closer look, however, suggests considerable caution.

King Abdullah insists that, "There is no change to the Arab Peace Initiative and there is no need to amend it. Any talk about amending it, is baseless" (AFP, May 16). Abbas, regularly described as the president of the Palestinian Authority (his term expired in January), firmly agrees. The Arab Peace Initiative reiterates the long-standing international consensus that Israel must withdraw to the international border, perhaps with "minor and mutual adjustments," to adopt official U.S. terminology before it departed sharply from world opinion in 1971, endorsing Israel's rejection of peace with Egypt in favor of settlement expansion (in the northeast Sinai). Furthermore, the consensus calls for a Palestinian state to be established in Gaza and the West Bank after Israel's withdrawal. The Arab Initiative adds that the Arab states should then normalize relations with Israel. The Initiative was later adopted by the Organization of Islamic States, including Iran (Akiva Eldar, Ha'aretz, June 1).

Obama has praised the Initiative and called on the Arab states to proceed to normalize relations with Israel. But he has so far scrupulously evaded the core of the proposal, thus implicitly maintaining the U.S. rejectionist stand that has blocked a diplomatic settlement since the 1970s, along with its Israeli client, in virtual isolation. There are no signs that Obama is willing even to consider the Arab Initiative, let alone "promote" it. That was underscored in Obama's much heralded address to the Muslim world in Cairo on June 4.

Palestinian State: A State Or "Fried Chicken?"

The U.S.-Israel confrontation—with Abbas on the sidelines—turns on two phrases: "Palestinian state" and "natural growth of settlements." Let's consider these in turn.

Obama has indeed pronounced the words "Palestinian state," echoing Bush. In contrast, the (unrevised) 1999 platform of Israel's governing party, Netanyahu's Likud, "flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river." Nevertheless, it was Netanyahu's 1996 government that was the first to use the phrase. It agreed that Palestinians can call whatever fragments of Palestine are left to them "a state" if they like—or they can call them "fried chicken" (David Bar-Illan, director of Communications and Policy Planning in the office of the Prime Minister; Interview, Palestine-Israel Journal, Summer/Autumn 1996).

The 1996 Netanyahu government's contemptuous reference to Palestinian aspirations was a shift towards accommodation in U.S.-Israeli policy. As he left office shortly before, Shimon Peres forcefully declared that there will never be a Palestinian state (Amnon Barzilai, Ha'aretz, October 24, 1995). Peres was reaffirming the official 1989 position of the U.S. (Bush-Baker) and the Israeli coalition government (Shamir-Peres) that there can be no "additional Palestinian state" between Israel and Jordan—the latter declared to be a Palestinian state by U.S.-Israeli fiat. In the Peres-Shamir-Baker plan, barely reported (if at all) in the U.S., the fate of the occupied territories was to be settled in terms of the guidelines established by the government of Israel, and Palestinians were permitted to take part in negotiations only if they accepted these guidelines, which rule out Palestinian national rights.

Contrary to much misunderstanding, the Oslo agreements of September 1993—the "Day of Awe," as the press described it—changed little in this regard. The Declaration of Principles accepted by all participants established that the end point of the process would be realization of the goals of UN 242, which accords no rights to Palestinians. And by then, the U.S. had withdrawn its earlier interpretation of 242 as requiring Israeli withdrawal from the territories conquered in 1967, leaving the matter open.

The Peres-Shamir-Baker declarations of 1989 were in response to the official Palestinian acceptance of the international consensus on a two-state solution in 1988. That proposal was first formally enunciated in 1976 in a Security Council resolution introduced by the major Arab states with the tacit support of the PLO, vetoed by the U.S. (again in 1980). Since then, U.S.-Israeli rejectionism has persisted unchanged, with one brief but significant exception, in President Clinton's final month in office.

Clinton recognized that the terms he had offered at the failed 2000 Camp David meetings were not acceptable to any Palestinians and, in December, proposed his "parameters," inexplicit but more forthcoming. He then announced that both sides had accepted the parameters, though both had reservations. Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met in Taba Egypt to iron out the differences and made considerable progress. A full resolution could have been reached in a few more days, they announced in their final joint press conference. But Israel called off the negotiations prematurely and they have not been formally resumed.

The single exception suggests that if an American president were willing to tolerate a meaningful diplomatic settlement, it might very well be reached.

The facts are well documented in Hebrew and English sources (see Chomsky, Failed States). But like much of the relevant history, they are regularly reshaped to suit doctrinal needs; for example by Jeffrey Goldberg, who writes that, "By December of 2000, Israel had accepted President Bill Clinton's 'parameters,' offering the Palestinians all of the Gaza Strip, 94 percent to 96 percent of the West Bank and sovereignty over Arab areas of East Jerusalem. Arafat again rejected the deal" (NYT, May 24). That is a convenient tale, false or seriously misleading in all particulars, and another useful contribution to U.S.-Israeli rejectionism.

International Consensus or "Fried Chicken?"

Returning to the phrase "Palestinian state," the crucial question on the U.S. side is whether Obama means the international consensus or "fried chicken." So far, that remains unanswered, except by studious omission, and—crucially—by Washington's steady funding of Israel's programs of settlement and development in the West Bank. All of these programs violate international law, as Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan conceded in 1967 and as has been reaffirmed by the Security Council and the World Court. Probably Netanyahu would still accept his 1996 position.

The contours of "fried chicken" are being carved into the landscape daily by U.S.-backed Israeli programs. The general goals were outlined by Prime Minister Olmert in May 2006 in his "Convergence program," later expanded to "Convergence-plus." Under "Convergence," Israel was to take over the territory within the illegal "separation wall" along with the Jordan Valley, thus imprisoning what is left, which is broken into cantons by several salients extending to the East. Israel also takes over Greater Jerusalem, the site of most of its current construction projects, driving out many Arabs. These Jerusalem projects not only violate international law, as do all the others, but also Security Council resolutions (at the time, still backed by the U.S.).

The plans being executed right now are designed to leave Israel in control of the most valuable land in the West Bank, with Palestinians confined to unviable fragments, all separated from Jerusalem, the traditional center of Palestinian life. The "separation wall" also establishes Israeli control of the West Bank aquifer. Hence Israel will be able to continue to ensure that Palestinians receive one-fourth as much water as Israelis, as the World Bank reported in April, in some cases below minimum recommended levels. In the other part of Palestine, Gaza, regular Israeli bombardment and the cruel siege reduce consumption far below minimum standards.

Obama continues to support all of these programs, and has even called for substantially increasing military aid to Israel for an unprecedented ten years (Stephen Zunes, Foreign Policy in Focus, March 4). It appears, then, that Palestinians may be offered fried chicken, but nothing more. Israel's forced separation of Gaza from the West Bank since 1991, intensified with U.S. support after a free election in January 2006 came out "the wrong way," has also been studiously ignored in Obama's "new initiative," thus further undermining prospects for any viable Palestinian state.

Gaza's forced separation from Palestine, and its miserable condition, have been almost entirely consigned to oblivion, an atrocity to which we should not contribute by tacit consent. Israeli journalist Amira Hass, one of the leading specialists on Gaza, writes that, "The restrictions on Palestinian movement that Israel introduced in January 1991 reversed a process that had been initiated in June 1967. Back then, and for the first time since 1948, a large portion of the Palestinian people again lived in the open territory of a single country—to be sure, one that was occupied, but was nevertheless whole.... The total separation of the Gaza Strip from the West Bank is one of the greatest achievements of Israeli politics, whose overarching objective is to prevent a solution based on international decisions and understandings and instead dictate an arrangement based on Israel's military superiority.... Since January 1991, Israel has bureaucratically and logistically merely perfected the split and the separation: not only between Palestinians in the occupied territories and their brothers in Israel, but also between the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and those in the rest of the territories and between Gazans and West Bankers/Jerusalemites. Jews live in this same piece of land within a superior and separate system of privileges, laws, services, physical infrastructure and freedom of movement" (April 24,

The leading academic specialist on Gaza, Sara Roy, adds that, "Gaza is an example of a society that has been deliberately reduced to a state of abject destitution, its once productive population transformed into one of aid-dependent paupers.... Gaza's subjection began long before Israel's recent war against it. The Israeli occupation—now largely forgotten or denied by the international community—has devastated Gaza's economy and people, especially since 2006.... After Israel's December [2008] assault, Gaza's already compromised conditions have become virtually unlivable. Livelihoods, homes, and public infrastructure have been damaged or destroyed on a scale that even the Israel Defense Forces admitted was indefensible. In Gaza today, there is no private sector to speak of and no industry. 80 percent of Gaza's agricultural crops were destroyed and Israel continues to snipe at farmers attempting to plant and tend fields near the well-fenced and patrolled border. Most productive activity has been extinguished.... Today, 96 percent of Gaza's population of 1.4 million is dependent on humanitarian aid for basic needs. According to the World Food Programme, the Gaza Strip requires a minimum of 400 trucks of food every day just to meet the basic nutritional needs of the population. Yet, despite a 22 March decision by the Israeli cabinet to lift all restrictions on foodstuffs entering Gaza, only 653 trucks of food and other supplies were allowed entry during the week of May 10, at best meeting 23 percent of required need. Israel now allows only 30 to 40 commercial items to enter Gaza compared to 4,000 approved products prior to June 2006" (Harvard Crimson, June 2, 2009).

"Exterminate All the Brutes"

It cannot be too often stressed that Israel had no credible pretext for its December attack on Gaza, with full U.S. support and illegally use of U.S. weapons. Near-universal opinion asserts the contrary, claiming that Israel was acting in self-defense. That is utterly unsustainable, in light of Israel's flat rejection of peaceful means that were readily available (see "Exterminate all the Brutes" at That aside, Israel's siege of Gaza is itself an act of war, as Israel of all countries certainly recognizes, having repeatedly justified launching major wars on grounds of partial restrictions on its access to the outside world.

One crucial element of Israel's siege, little reported, is the naval blockade. Peter Beaumont reports from Gaza that, "On its coastal littoral, Gaza's limitations are marked by a different fence where the bars are Israeli gunboats with their huge wakes, scurrying beyond the Palestinian fishing boats and preventing them from going outside a zone imposed by the warships" (Guardian, May 27). According to reports from the scene, the naval siege has been tightened steadily since 2000. Fishing boats have been driven steadily out of Gaza's territorial waters and towards the shore by Israeli gunboats, often violently without warning and with many casualties. As a result of these naval actions, Gaza's fishing industry has virtually collapsed; fishing is impossible near shore because of the contamination caused by Israel's regular attacks, including the destruction of power plants and sewage facilities.

These Israeli naval attacks began shortly after the discovery by the British Gas group of what appear to be quite sizeable natural gas fields in Gaza's territorial waters. Industry journals report that Israel is already appropriating these Gazan resources for its own use, part of its commitment to shift its economy to natural gas. The standard source, Platt's Commodity News, reports (February 3, 16) that, "Israel's finance ministry has given the Israel Electric Corp. approval to purchase larger quantities of natural gas from BG than originally agreed upon, according to Israeli government sources [which] said the state-owned utility would be able to negotiate for as much as 1.5 billion cubic meters of natural gas from the Marine field located off the Mediterranean coast of the Palestinian controlled Gaza Strip. Last year the Israeli government approved the purchase of 800 million cubic meters of gas from the field by the IEC.... Recently the Israeli government changed its policy and decided the state-owned utility could buy the entire quantity of gas from the Gaza Marine field. Previously the government had said the IEC could buy half the total amount and the remainder would be bought by private power producers."

The pillage of what could become a major source of income for Palestine is surely known to U.S. authorities. It is only reasonable to suppose that the intention to steal Palestine's limited resources is the motive for preventing Gaza fishing boats to enter Gaza's territorial waters. It would also not be a great surprise if we were to discover some day that the same intention was in the background of the criminal U.S.-Israeli attack on Gaza in December 2008.

The restrictions on movement used to destroy Gaza have long been in force in the West Bank as well, with grim effects on life and the economy. The World Bank has just reported that Israel has established "a complex closure regime that restricts Palestinian access to large areas of the West Bank.... The Palestinian economy has remained stagnant, largely because of the sharp downturn in Gaza and Israel's continued restrictions on Palestinian trade and movement in the West Bank." The World Bank "cited Israeli roadblocks and checkpoints hindering trade and travel, as well as restrictions on Palestinian building in the West Bank, where the Western-backed government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas holds sway" (AP; Avi Issacharoff, Ha'aretz; May 6).

All of this constitutes what Israeli activist Jeff Halper calls a "matrix of control" to subdue the colonized population, in pursuit of Defense Minister Moshe Dayan's recommendation to his colleagues shortly after the 1967 conquests that we must tell the Palestinians in the territories that "we have no solution, you shall continue to live like dogs, and whoever wishes may leave, and we will see where this process leads" (Yossi Beilin, Mehiro shel Ihud).

"Natural Growth of Settlements"

Turning to the second bone of contention, settlements, there is indeed a confrontation, but it may again be less dramatic than portrayed. Washington's position was presented most strongly in Hilary Clinton's much-quoted statement rejecting "natural growth exceptions" to the policy opposing new settlements. Netanyahu, along with President Peres and, in fact, virtually the whole Israeli political spectrum, insists on permitting "natural growth" within the areas that Israel intends to annex, complaining that the U.S. is backing down on Bush's authorization of such expansion within his "vision" of a Palestinian state.

Senior Netanyahu cabinet members have gone further. Minister Yisrael Katz announced that "the current Israeli government will not accept in any way the freezing of legal settlement activity in Judea and Samaria" (Ha'aretz, May 31). The term "legal" in U.S.-Israeli parlance means "illegal, but authorized by the government of Israel." In this usage, unauthorized outposts are termed "illegal," though apart from the dictates of the powerful, they are no more illegal than the settlements granted to Israel under Bush's "vision."

The harsh Obama-Clinton formulation is not new. It repeats the wording of the 2003 Road Map, which stipulates that in Phase I, "Israel freezes all settlement activity (including natural growth of settlements)." All sides formally accept the Road Map—consistently overlooking the fact that Israel, with U.S. support, at once added 14 "reservations" that render it inoperable.

If Obama were serious about opposing settlement expansion, he could easily proceed with concrete measures, for example, by reducing U.S. aid by the amount devoted to this purpose. That would hardly be a radical or courageous move. The Bush I administration did so (reducing loan guarantees). But after the Oslo accord in 1993, President Clinton left calculations to the government of Israel. Unsurprisingly, there was "no change in the expenditures flowing to the settlements," the Israeli press reported, "[Prime Minister] Rabin will continue not to dry out the settlements," the report concludes. "And the Americans? They will understand" (Hadashot, October 8; Yair Fidel, Hadashot Supplement, October 29, 1993).

Obama administration officials informed the press that the Bush I measures are "not under discussion," and that pressures will be "largely symbolic" (Helene Cooper, NYT, June 1). In short, Obama "understands."

The U.S. press reports that, "A partial freeze has been in place for several years, but settlers have found ways around the in the settlements has slowed but never stopped, continuing at an annual rate of about 1,500 to 2,000 units over the past three years. If building continues at the 2008 rate, the 46,500 units already approved will be completed in about 20 years.... If Israel built all the housing units already approved in the nation's overall master plan for settlements, it would almost double the number of settler homes in the West Bank" (Isabel Kirshner, NYT, June 2). The probable source, Peace Now, which monitors settlement activities, estimates further that the two largest settlements would double in size: Ariel and Ma'aleh Adumim, built mainly during the Oslo years in the salients that subdivide the West Bank into cantons.

"Natural population growth" is largely a myth, Israel's leading diplomatic correspondent, Akiva Eldar, points out, citing demographic studies by Col (Ret.) Shaul Arieli, Deputy Military Secretary to Former Prime Minister and incumbent Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Settlement growth consists largely of Israeli immigrants in violation of the Geneva Conventions, assisted with generous subsidies. Much of it is in direct violation of formal government decisions, but carried out with the authorization of the government, specifically Barak, considered a dove in the Israeli spectrum (Eldar, Ha'aretz, June 2).

Some deride the "long-dormant Palestinian fantasy," revived by Abbas, "that the United States will simply force Israel to make critical concessions, whether or not its democratic government agrees" (Jackson Diehl, WP, May 29). He does not explain whether refusal to participate in Israel's illegal expansion—which, if serious, would "force Israel to make critical concessions"—would be improper interference in Israel's democracy.

Diehl also refers to a recent Olmert peace plan of unprecedented generosity offered to Abbas, which he turned down, though it yielded just about everything to which Palestinians might reasonably aspire. Others have also confidently referred to this mysterious plan and its rejection by Abbas. Efforts to unearth the plan have so far been unavailing. The only sources detected in an assiduous search by David Peterson are comments by Palestinians in the Arab media that appear to be part of internal conflict about power sharing, not the usual source for Western commentators. Eliot Abrams dates the plan to January 2009 (WP, April 8, citing unspecified press reports, while also falsifying earlier plans for which records exist; June 3 response to query about his sources).

If there were any truth to this tale, one can be confident that it would be trumpeted by Israeli propaganda and its enthusiasts here as a welcome demonstration that Palestinians simply will not accept peace, even the most moderate of them. It is highly dubious on other grounds. For one thing, Olmert was in no position to offer any credible proposal, having announced his resignation as he was facing indictment for serious corruption charges. The alleged plan is also hard to reconcile with the steady ongoing expansion of settlements under Olmert, vitiating even far less forthcoming offers.

Returning to reality, all of these discussions about settlement expansion evade the most crucial issue about settlements: what Israel has already established in the West Bank. The evasion tacitly concedes that the illegal settlement programs already in place are somehow acceptable (putting aside the Golan Heights, annexed in violation of Security Council orders)—though the Bush "vision," apparently accepted by Obama, moves from tacit to explicit. What is in place already suffices to ensure that there can be no viable Palestinian self-determination. Hence there is every indication that even on the unlikely assumption that "natural growth" will be ended, U.S.-Israeli rejectionism will persist, blocking the international consensus as before.

It might be different if a legitimate "land swap" were under consideration, a solution approached at Taba and spelled out more fully in the Geneva Accord reached in informal high-level Israel-Palestine negotiations. The Accord was presented in October 2003, welcomed by much of the world, rejected by Israel, and ignored by the U.S.

There is a "land swap" under consideration, but a radically different one. The ultra-right Israeli leader Avigdor Lieberman, now foreign minister, proposed to reduce the non-Jewish population of Israel by transferring concentrations of Israeli Arabs (specifically, Wadi Ara in the Galilee) to a derisory "Palestinian state"—over the overwhelming opposition of the victims, to be sure. When first advanced, these ideas were denounced as virtually neo-Nazi—which is a little odd. They were first proposed by Democratic Socialist political philosopher Michael Walzer, who wrote 30 years before Lieberman that those who are "marginal to the nation" (Palestinians) should be "helped to leave" in the interests of peace and justice. These ideas have now shifted to the political center in Israel, and are praised by New York Times Israel correspondent Ethan Bronner, who writes that the left likes Lieberman's "willingness to create two states, one Jewish, one Palestinian, which would involve yielding areas that are now part of Israel" in a land swap (NYT, February 12)—a polite way of saying that Israeli citizens of the wrong ethnicity will be transferred by force from a rich first world country to "fried chicken."

The Cairo Speech

Obama's June 4 Cairo address to the Muslim world kept pretty much to his well-honed "blank slate" style—saying very little of substance, but in a personable manner that allows listeners to write on the slate what they want to hear. CNN captured its spirit in headlining a report "Obama looks to reach the soul of the Muslim world." Obama had announced the goals of his address in an interview with NYT columnist Thomas Friedman (June 3): "'We have a joke around the White House,' the president said. 'We're just going to keep on telling the truth until it stops working—and nowhere is truth-telling more important than the Middle East'." The White House commitment is most welcome, but it is useful to see how it translates into practice.

Obama admonished his audience that it is easy to "point fingers.... But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: the only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security."

Turning to truth, there is a third side, with a decisive role throughout: the U.S. But that participant in the conflict is unmentioned. The omission is understood to be normal and appropriate, hence unmentioned. Friedman's column is headlined "Obama speech aimed at both Arabs and Israelis"; the front-page Wall Street Journal report on Obama's speech appears under the heading "Obama Chides Israel, Arabs In His Overture to Muslims." Other reports are the same. The convention is understandable on the doctrinal principle that though the U.S. government sometimes makes "mistakes," its intentions are by definition benign. Washington has always sought desperately to be an honest broker, only yearning to advance peace and justice. The doctrine trumps truth, of which there is no hint in the speech or the mainstream coverage.

Obama once again echoed Bush's advocacy of two states, without saying what he means by the phrase "Palestinian state." His intentions are clarified not only by crucial omission, but also by his one explicit criticism of Israel: "The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop." That is, Israel should live up to Phase I of the 2003 Road Map, though the truth is that Obama has ruled out even steps of the Bush I variety to withdraw from participation in these crimes.

The operative words are "legitimacy" and "continued." By omission, Obama indicates that he accepts Bush's "vision": the vast existing settlement project and infrastructure is "legitimate," thus ensuring that the phrase "Palestinian state" means "fried chicken."

Even-handed, Obama also had an admonition for the Arab States: they "must recognize that the Arab Peace Initiative was an important beginning, but not the end of their responsibilities." Plainly, it cannot be a meaningful "beginning" if Obama continues to reject its core principles: implementation of the international consensus. But to do so is evidently not Washington's "responsibility" in Obama's vision, presumably because the U.S. has no responsibilities other than to persist in its traditional vocation of doing good.

On democracy, Obama said that "we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election"—as in January 2006, when Washington turned at once to severe punishment of the Palestinians because it did not like the outcome of the peaceful election. Obama politely refrained from comments about his host, President Mubarak, one of the most brutal dictators in the region, though elsewhere he has had some illuminating words about him. As he was about to board the plane to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the two "moderate" Arab states, "Mr. Obama signaled that while he would mention American concerns about human rights in Egypt, he would not challenge Mr. Mubarak too sharply, calling him a 'force for stability and good' in the Middle East.... Mr. Obama said he did not regard Mr. Mubarak as an authoritarian leader. 'No, I tend not to use labels for folks,' Mr. Obama said. The president noted that there had been criticism 'of the manner in which politics operates in Egypt,' but he also said that Mr. Mubarak had been 'a stalwart ally, in many respects, to the United States'" (Jeff Zeleyna and Michael Slackman, NYT, June 4).

Obama also had observations on nuclear weapons, a matter of no slight significance in the light of his focus on Iran. Obama repeated his hope for their general abolition and called on all signers of the Non-Proliferation Treaty to abide by the responsibilities it imposes. His comments pointedly excluded Israel, which is not a signer of the NPT, along with India and Pakistan, all of them supported by the U.S. in their development of nuclear weapons—Pakistan particularly under Reagan, India under Bush II. India and Pakistan are now escalating their nuclear weapons programs to a level that is highly threatening (e.g., Jeffrey Smith and Joby Warrick, "Nuclear Aims By Pakistan, India Prompt U.S. Concern," WP, May 28, 2009). But our significant role in this confrontation confers no "responsibility."

Some who are placing their hopes in Obama have cited remarks of Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller: "Universal adherence to the NPT itself—including by India, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea—also remains a fundamental objective of the United States." But the threat that her comment might mean something was quickly allayed by the report of a senior Israeli diplomat that Israel had received assurances that Obama "will not force Israel to state publicly whether it has nuclear weapons...[but will] stick to a decades-old U.S. policy of 'don't ask, don't tell'." And as the Institute for Public Accuracy was quick to remind us, the Bush administration had also adopted Gottemoeller's stand, calling for "universal adherence to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (Julian Borger, Guardian, May 6; Reuters, May 21,;

It appears, then, that "universality" applies to Iran's alleged programs, but not to the actual ones of U.S. allies and clients—not to speak of Washington's own obligations under the NPT.

With regard to Iran's nuclear programs, Obama chose his words carefully. He said that "any nation—including Iran—should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty." His words again reiterate the Bush administration's position: it too held that Iran could "access peaceful nuclear power." But the contentious issue has been whether Iran has the rights guaranteed to signers of the NPT under Article IV: "Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with Articles I and II of this Treaty," which refer to nuclear weapons. There is a considerable difference between research and production, as Article IV permits, and "access," which Bush and Obama are willing to permit, meaning access from the outside. That has been the heart of the dispute, and remains so. The Non-aligned Movement, most of the world's states, has forcefully affirmed Iran's position (which is also supported by the majority of Americans). The "international community"—a technical term referring to Washington and whoever happens to agree with it—opposes allowing Iran the rights guaranteed to NPT signers, and Obama, by careful choice of misleading words, indicates his continued adherence to this stand.

There is a sensible approach to the threat of nuclear weapons in the region: to join in the overwhelming international support (including a large majority of Americans) for a nuclear-weapons-free zone including Iran, Israel, and U.S. forces deployed there. Adequate verification is by no means impossible. That should mitigate, if not terminate, the regional nuclear weapons threat. But it is not on the agenda.

It is too easily forgotten that the U.S. is officially committed to establishing a NWFZ in the region, in accord with Security Council Resolution 687 in 1991. This Resolution assumes special significance for the U.S. and UK, because they appealed to it in their half-hearted attempt to provide at least some thin legal basis for their invasion of Iraq. The Resolution calls for elimination of Iraqi WMD and delivery systems, as a step towards "the goal of establishing in the Middle East a zone free from weapons of mass destruction and all missiles for their delivery and the objective of a global ban on chemical weapons" (Article 14). Since that includes Israel, it was never intended seriously by the U.S. and UK, and it was quickly dispatched to the memory hole along with other inconvenient truths that escape the commitment to "keep on telling the truth until it stops working."

It should perhaps be added that despite much fevered rhetoric, rational souls understand that the Iranian threat is not the threat of attack, which would be suicidal. Wayne White, former deputy director of the Near East and South Asia office of State Department intelligence (INR), quite plausibly estimates the likelihood that the Iranian leaders would carry out "some quixotic attack against Israel with a nuclear weapon," thus instantly destroying Iran and themselves, as "down there with that 1 percent possibility." Also timely is his confirmation, from direct knowledge as the INR Iraq intelligence analyst at the time, that Israel's 1981 attack on Iraq's nuclear reactor did not end Saddam's nuclear weapons program, but initiated it.

No one wants Iran—or anyone—to develop nuclear weapons, but it should be recognized that the perceived threat is not that they will be used in a suicide mission, but rather the threat of deterrence of U.S.-Israeli actions to extend their domination of the region. And to repeat, if the concern were Iranian nuclear weapons, there would be sensible ways to proceed—to which, furthermore, the U.S. is officially committed.

Obama's New Initiative: Suspending Rationality

Obama's "new initiative" is spelled out more fully by John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, now chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in an important speech at the Brookings Institute on March 9 ( In interpreting Kerry's words, we have to suspend normal rationality, and agree that the actual facts of history are completely irrelevant. What is important is not the contrived picture of past and present, but the plans outlined.

Kerry urges that we acknowledge that our honorable efforts to bring about a political settlement have failed, primarily because of the unwillingness of the Arab states to make peace. Furthermore, all of our efforts "to give the Israelis a legitimate partner for peace" have foundered on Palestinian intransigence. Now, however, there is a welcome change. With the Arab Initiative of 2006, the Arab states have finally signaled their willingness to accept Israel's presence in the region. Even more promising is the "unprecedented willingness among moderate Arab nations to work with Israel" against our common enemy Iran. "Moderate" here is used in its technical meaning: "willing to conform to U.S. demands," irrespective of the nature of the regime. "This re-alignment can help to lay the groundwork for progress towards peace," Kerry said, as we "re-conceptualize" the problem, focusing on the Iranian threat.

Kerry goes on to explain that there is also at last some hope that a "legitimate partner" can be found for our peace-loving Israeli ally: Abbas and the Palestinian Authority. How then do we proceed to support Israel's new legitimate Palestinian partner? "Most importantly, this means strengthening General [Keith] Dayton's efforts to train Palestinian security forces that can keep order and fight terror.... Recent developments have been extremely encouraging: During the invasion of Gaza, Palestinian Security Forces largely succeeded in maintaining calm in the West Bank amidst widespread expectations of civil unrest. Obviously, more remains to be done, but we can help do it. "

Routinely, Kerry describes the attack on Gaza as entirely right and just: by definition, since the U.S. crucially participated in it. It doesn't matter, then, that the pretext lacks any credibility, under principles that we all accept—with regard to others.

General Dayton's forces, armed and trained in Jordan with Israeli participation and supervision, are the soft side of population control. The tougher and more brutal forces are those trained by the CIA: General Intelligence and Preventive Security.

Kerry is right that we can do more to ensure that West Bank Palestinians are so effectively controlled that they cannot even protest the slaughter in Gaza—let alone move towards meaningful self-determination. For this task, the U.S. can draw on a long history of colonial practice, developed in exquisite detail during the U.S. occupation of the Philippines after the murderous conquest a century ago, then widely applied elsewhere. This sophisticated refinement of traditional imperial practice has been highly successful in U.S. dependencies, while also providing means of population control at home. These matters are spelled out in groundbreaking work by historian Alfred McCoy (Policing America's Empire, forthcoming). Kerry should be familiar with these techniques from his service in South Vietnam. Applying these measures to Palestine, collaborationist paramilitary forces can be employed to subdue the domestic population with the cooperation of privileged elites, granting the U.S. and Israel free rein to carry forward Bush's "vision" and Olmert's Convergence-plus. Gaza can meanwhile be kept under a strangling siege as a prison and occasional shooting gallery.

Washington's new initiative for Middle East peace, so it is hoped, will integrate Israel among the "moderate" Arab states as a bulwark for U.S. domination of the vital energy-producing regions. It fits well into Obama's broader programs for Afghanistan and Pakistan, where military operations are escalating and huge "embassies" are being constructed on the model of the city-within-a-city in Baghdad, clearly signaling Obama's intentions (Saeed Shah and Warren Strobel, McClatchy Newspapers, May 27).

The "re-conceptualization" is evidently satisfactory to U.S. high tech industry, which continues to enhance its intimate relations with Israel. One striking illustration is a gigantic installation that Intel is constructing in Israel to implement a revolutionary reduction in size of chips, expecting to set a new industry standard and to supply much of the world with parts from its Kiryat Gat facility. Relations between the U.S. and Israeli military industry remain particularly close. Israel continues to provide the U.S. with a strategically located overseas military base for prepositioning weapons and other functions. Intelligence cooperation goes back half a century.

These are among the unparalleled services that Israel provides for U.S. militarism and global dominance. They afford Israel a certain leeway to defy Washington's orders—though it is skating on thin ice if it tries to push its luck too far, as history has repeatedly shown. So far the jingoist extremism of the current government has been constrained by more sober elements: for example, the shelving of the proposals to require a loyalty oath and to prevent citizens from commemorating the Nakba—the disaster for Palestinians in 1948. But if Israel goes too far, there might indeed erupt a confrontation of the kind that many commentators perceive today, so far, with little basis.


Noam Chomsky is a linguist and social critic. He is the author of numerous articles and books including Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance (2003) and Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy (2006).

From: Z Magazine - The Spirit Of Resistance Lives