Monday, June 14, 2010

Unconscionable. Offensive. Hurtful. Bigoted. Terrible. Hateful.,0,3488415.story?track=rss

Unconscionable. Offensive. Hurtful. Bigoted. Terrible. Hateful.

These are the words being used to describe Helen Thomas' recent comment about Israel and Palestine. Editorialists across the country have condemned her statement that Jews should "get the hell out of Palestine" and "go back" to Europe.

Let's agree that she should not have said those things, and that a just and lasting peace in the Middle East fundamentally requires reconciliation between Palestinians and Israeli Jews. We need also to agree on a formula that allows them both to be at home in the same land (I have long advocated the idea of a single democratic and secular state for both peoples; a state that treats all citizens as equals). Insisting that either people does not belong is not merely counterproductive; it lies at the very root of the conflict.

If, however, it is unacceptable to say that Israeli Jews don't belong in Palestine, it is also unacceptable to say that the Palestinians don't belong on their own land.

Yet that is said all the time in the United States, without sparking the kind of moral outrage generated by Thomas' remark. And while the nation's editorialists worry about the offense she may have caused to Jews, no one seems particularly bothered by the offense felt every day by Palestinians when people — including those with far more power than Thomas — dismiss their rights, degrade their humanity and reject their claims to the most elementary forms of decency.

Are we seriously to accept the idea that some people have more rights than others? Or that some people's sensibilities should be respected while others' are trampled with total indifference, if not outright contempt?

One does not have to agree with Thomas to note that her remark spoke to the ugly history of colonialism, racism, usurpation and denial that are at the heart of the question of Palestine. Part of that history involves vicious European anti-Semitism and the monumental crime of the Holocaust. But the other part is that Palestinians were forcibly removed from their homeland in 1948 to clear space for the creation of a state with a Jewish identity.

Europeans and Americans were, at the time, willing to ignore or simply dismiss the injustice inflicted on the Palestinians, who, by being forced from their land, were made to pay the price for a crime they did not commit.

But this callous carelessness, this dismissal of — and refusal even to acknowledge in human terms — the calamity that befell the Palestinians, and of course the attendant refusal to acknowledge their fundamental rights, did not end in the 1940s. It continues to this very day.

Mainstream politicians, civic leaders, university presidents and others in this country routinely express their support for Israel as a Jewish state, despite the fact that such a state only could have been created in a multicultural land by ethnically cleansing it of as many non-Jews as possible. Today, Israel is only able to maintain its Jewish identity because it has established an apartheid regime, both in the occupied territories and within its own borders, and because it continues to reject the Palestinian right of return.

Where is the outrage about that?

Where was the outrage in 1983 when Israeli Gen. Rafael Eitan looked forward to the day that Jews had fully settled the land, because then "all the Arabs will be able to do about it is scurry around like drugged cockroaches in a bottle"? Or when Alan Dershowitz suggested in 2002 that Israel summarily empty and then bulldoze an entire Palestinian village as a punitive measure each time it was attacked? Or when New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman claimed in 2006 to have discovered a "pathology" that caused some Arabs to "hate others more than they love their own kids"? Or when Avigdor Lieberman (who now serves as Israel's foreign minister) said in 2004 that Palestinian citizens of Israel should "take their bundles and get lost"? Or when Israeli professor Arnon Sofer, one of the country's leading demographic alarmists, said that to preserve the Jewish state, Israel should pull out of Gaza, though that would require Israel to remain at the border and "kill, and kill, and kill, all day, every day"?

An endless deluge of statements of support for the actual, calculated, methodical dehumanization of Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular goes without comment; whereas a single offhand comment by an 89-year-old journalist, whose long and distinguished record of principled commitment and challenges to state power entitles her to respect — and the benefit of the doubt — causes her to be publicly pilloried.

To accept this appalling hypocrisy is to be complicit in the racism of our age.

Saree Makdisi is a professor of English and comparative literature at UCLA. He is the author of, among other books, "Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation."

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A nightmarish experiment,2.225,2.227

A nightmarish experiment

By Sefi Rachlevsky

Israel gave itself a nice present to celebrate the 43rd anniversary of losing its borders. The raid on the Gaza flotilla in international waters is like the first Lebanon War - as if in a nightmarish experiment, we seem to be examining the question: What happens when a country has no borders?

Israel's maritime attack did not happen by chance. A border is one of the fundamental factors that defines a country. Decades without one have distorted Israel's thinking.

It is self-evident that, just as a person cannot build in an area that he does not own, a country cannot build settlements outside of its borders. And yet Israel has settled hundreds of thousands of its citizens in areas that, according to its laws, are not part of the State of Israel.

It is self-evident that any couple can marry "without regard to religion, race or gender." And yet in Israel a Jewish man and a non-Jewish woman cannot legally marry. It's self-evident that there is no arbitrary discrimination, and yet it's enough to use the magic words "I'm a religious woman" or "I'm an ultra-Orthodox man" and the obligation to serve in the military evaporates.

It's self-evident that the education provided to children be based on democracy and equality. And yet in Israel, 52 percent of first-graders defined as Jews study in various religious school systems that teach students things like "You are considered a human being and the other nations of the world are not considered human beings."

They are taught that a non-Jew is not a human being, and that anyone who kills a non-Jew is not supposed to be killed by human hands; that women are inferior, and it is an obligation that males and females be separated; and that secular people, or anyone with secular family members, cannot enter these schools.

It is self-evident that racist education cannot be funded by the government and is illegal. And yet most of the country's first-graders receive such "compulsory education" from their government.

The results of this nightmarish experiment are self-evident. In the most recent elections, 35 percent of voters defined as Jews cast their ballots for avowedly racist parties - Yisrael Beitenu, Shas, National Union and their friends.

Critics in the Israeli media wake up only when mistakes are made. That is why - after initially cheering the declaration that "the flotilla will not pass" - they changed their tune following the imbroglio, turning into advocates of the twisted logic "be smart, not right." But what justice is there in an attack on civilians by soldiers on the open seas?

Like the territories, international waters are not Israel; they are outside its borders. A Turkish ship on the open sea is, in effect, a floating Turkish island. An Israeli attack on such an island is not all that different from sending the Israel Defense Forces to take on demonstrators at the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris. There, too, unpleasant people who are not friends of Israel can sometimes be found.

Turkey, which is a member of NATO, was not in a state of war with Israel before the attack. Attacking its citizens on territory that is by definition Turkish is another expression of the Israeli lunacy that lacks any kind of boundaries.

An attack beyond the border must be reserved for extreme cases involving a military target that represents an entity fighting against the country and when citizens are in danger. But civilian ships, that are not carrying weapons, but are bringing civilian aid to a population that is denied chocolate, toys and notebooks, are not nuclear reactors in Iraq, Syria or Iran.

A person who grows up without external borders tends to create distorted internal borders. That is the reason for the attack on Arab MK Hanin Zuabi and her colleagues. While there were certain Arab public figures who went too far in their statements, joining a civilian aid flotilla is one of those legitimate acts which are supposed to be self-evident.

And yet, what was self-evident became betrayal. And citizenship, one of the unconditional foundations of existence, has turned into something that can be revoked - in this case on the basis of ethnicity, a tactic used in fascist regimes. The street has returned to the atmosphere that prevailed under "responsible" opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu and led to the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin - and the next murder is in the air.

The Israeli deed at sea is liable to reach The Hague. The problem is that Israel has genuine enemies who want to destroy it. A country that does not do everything in its power to accumulate legitimacy, along with turning Iran into an entity that is losing legitimacy and can therefore become a target of activities to undermine it, is a country losing its basic survival instinct. Without borders, it turns out, you lose even that.

Young Israelis who have grown up without borders are now dancing and singing "In blood and fire we will expel Turkey" and "Mohammed is dead." If this keeps up, Israel will not make it to The Hague. The entity gradually replacing the State of Israel is liable not to exist long enough to get there.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Remarks at Woodstock, NY, Memorial Day parade

Remarks at Woodstock, NY, Memorial Day parade, May 31, 2010
A reconstruction from memory, somewhat updated
by Joel Kovel 

As a member of Veterans for Peace, I've addressed this event perhaps a dozen times over the years. But never has my heart been so heavy as today, when I have to speak of the terrible news we received less than 24 hours ago, that Israeli Commandos had boarded the Freedom Flotilla bearing humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza and killed some 10 ñ 20 activists, wounding perhaps 50 others in the course of preventing the aid from reaching its destination. Although it may not seem so at first glance, I think you will agree when I am finished that what happened off the coast of Gaza yesterday very much needs to be talked about at a Memorial Day parade. 

For those of you who may not know, Gaza is a region within Palestine, seized by Israel in 1967 and since administered under military occupation. Currently its 1.5 million people live in confinement, making Gaza the largest prison in the history of the world. To be more exact, they do not fully live, but merely survive under conditions of great privation. Fully ten percent of the population, needless to say mainly small children, are malnourished to the point of having their growth stunted. A few years ago, an Israeli official was quoted as saying that the people of Gaza are ìgoing to be on a diet.î This gives a sense of the cruelty of the occupation, as does the fact that more than a year after Israel pulverized large portions of Gaza in a deadly attack, virtually no construction materials, neither cement, nails, nor bricks, have been let into the country. Hence it continues as a gigantic ruin and a zone of desperation.

All this has precipitated great consternation among people of good will across the world and spurred efforts to bring aid to the Gazans with the larger goal of bringing Israelís blockade and, indeed, occupation, to an end. The Freedom Flotilla is not the first maritime mission to Gaza, but it was by far the largest, with six ships, 700 activists, and ten thousand tons of material aid for the prisoners of Gaza. Here in Woodstock we are proud of our solidarity group, MidEast Crisis Response, from which eight citizens went last December to Egypt as part of a large delegation to bring aid to Gaza. Five of our members are even now in New York City doing what can be done to demonstrate against this awful crime; we send them all our best wishes and hopes.

We are making progress in bringing Israel to justice, but the road is long and the way is hard. If this were a halfway just world, Israelís wanton attack in international waters would be immediately recognized as sheer, murderous piracy. But the problem runs much deeper than that. For whether Israel attacked on the high seas or elsewhere, its aggression would still be illegal. A fully just world would recognize that Israel would has no right to attack the flotilla in any case, for the simple reason that it has no right to be in Gaza, as occupation is itself a crime under international law. Israelís flouting of innumerable resolutions asserting this does not weaken the truth, but rather, has removed every shred of legitimacy from its behavior. An occupier, the world should remember, has no rights.

But the world is not at all a just place and doesnít remember this truth or even understand it. Instead, we face a situation where Israel repeatedly gets away with murder and every other human rights violation. And it is perfectly understandable why this is so. It is because Israel enjoys a de facto authority that overrides mere international law and human right, so that it can do what it pleases, and the consequences be damned. This de facto authority has two components and one enabling cause. The components are:

ï a world-class military machine, so that Israel enjoys the advantage of brute force in its escapades; and

ï a permanent and renewable ìGet-out-of-jail-freeî card, to be played whenever a crime is committed.

Nothing can be done to bring Israel to justice unless this authority is brought down, for the purpose of which it is necessary to face up to its enabling cause. And this, to get right down to the point, is our own United States, with some help from its Western allies and Arab client states. It is the United States that has financed Israel and built it into a military behemoth. And it is from the United States that the commands are issued that exonerate Israel in advance from the consequences of its criminality. This combination of stupendous power and impunity feeds on itself and breeds the monstrosity that is Israel today. Without it, the terrible killings aboard the Freedom Flotilla would not have happenedóindeed, the flotilla would not have been needed because Gaza would have been free.

It would take time we do not have today to dissect this relationship, taking into account the illegal (because it represents a foreign power without registering as such) Israel Lobby that controls United States foreign policy in the Middle East. I want to bring to your attention instead one elementary principle that would enable us to make a difference. It is to find a location in the here and now where the Israeli killing machine is built up by the United States; and to intervene so that the cycle of impunity can start to be interrupted. It happens that there is one such place right here in Woodstock, as there are in many other locales in the United States. 

For we have a firm in town, Rotron by name, that enjoys great prestige in Woodstock and the surrounding region. Rotron is the biggest employer in Woodstock, and has made its esteemed product, fans, for over half a century. And yet, how many people in Woodstock knowóor care when they do know--that the fans Rotron makes are for weapon systems ranging from simple rocket launchers all the way up to the world-destroying Minuteman missile with its H-bomb warhead? And how many know that among the contracts that have brought some wealth to the area is one from last October made with, yes, the State of Israel, to produce and deliver directly to the Israeli Air Force some 50 fans for its aircraft, the cost, a mere $27,712.50, with payment to be made directly by the Pentagon?

In other words, the possibility is quite real that the helicopters carrying the Israeli Commandos to their rendezvous with murder off the coast of Gaza were being cooled by fans made in Woodstock.

I am not here to hand out any instant remedy for this situation. All I can say that is relevant to a national holiday as solemn as Memorial Day is this: that unless we come to grips with truths such as these, we have no right associating Woodstock with its self-anointed identity as the town of Peace and Love. Thereís a fine looking Peace Monument right behind me as I speak, with inscriptions on many languages. But it is not worth the wood and metal it is made of unless we face up to our complicity in the war-making system, that machine that ties together the United States and Israel as the destroyers of peace around the world. The shock of Israelís attack on the Freedom Flotilla may finally begin to break up its shield of impunity. This will happen if we join together in sustained and principled agitation. But we must never forget that we will never have a just world unless we also work to bring down the military machine itself.