January 24, 2009

Eight Points on Gaza

1. Who won? In an immediate military sense, Israel. What do you expect? The Israeli Defense Forces made 2,500 plus F-16 and 'copter air sorties against a densely populated urban area where the only opposing armed forces possessed no anti-aircraft guns, no surface to air missiles and no planes. It is estimated that repairing the damage suffered by the already desperate inhabitants of this colossal open air prison, the ones who survived, will run over $2 billion. 80% of the agricultural infrastructure of Gaza is reported to have been been destroyed.

Beyond the horrific destruction visited to the Palestinian people, though, the Israelis appear to have picked up a stone only to drop it on their own feet. They will have an uphill slog in the battle for summation, with direct political consequences in increased isolation as sympathy and even material support from people around the world flow to Gaza.

2. Despite careful timing--to take advantage of reduced attention to news during the Christian holiday season and to finish before administration change in the US--Israeli aggression caught world attention. Some analysts have pointed out that Israel dominated the "war of words," banning foreign journalists from Gaza and working to see that discourse was laced with terms like terrorism, Islamic fundamentalists, security and the like. However, it decisively lost "the war of images" as photos and video provided by the Palestinian news agency Ramattan appeared on al-Jazeera and other news outlets, even CNN. This showed the people of the world the carnage, and the agony of those still living, and it documented IDF attacks on homes, schools, hospitals, mosques and UN facilities.

3. At the level of international government, Israel pretty much got a free ride at first, due in part to splits among Palestinians and between Arab states, and in part to US intransigence in blocking meaningful action in the UN Security Council. But while governments started out largely sitting on their hands, an unprecedented outpouring of mass anger and protest in country after country forced institutions like the news media and the international Red Cross and then governments to speak up in criticism of Israel. (Still, only Venezuela and Bolivia broke ties with Israel over the attack).

Three choice examples of the popular struggle, from Europe alone:
Norway, where over 85 pro-Palestinian protests and broader peace marches took place in 59 towns (in a country of 4.5 million!), saw the most intense rioting in recent memory in central Oslo as police tried to repress militant young protestors. (See the nifty interactive map--in English--from Frontlinjer magazine here.)

In the United Kingdom, even after the truce/ceasefire, students at sixteen (16, count 'em, 16) universities seized campus buildings around a series of anti-Israel and pro-Palestine demands. Most are still on. Students at the London School of Economics and Oxford report victories in negotiations with administrators.

In Greece, a January 9 news story from Reuters sent Greek activists and bloggers into research mode. They were able to identify a contracted shipment of GBU-39 bunker buster bombs scheduled to go from Sunny Point, NC through the port of Astakos en route to Israel. They started organizing for an embargo of US and Israeli shipping including outreach to dockworkers. By the 16th, one week later, the contract was cancelled!

4. In the United States, the astonishing power of the Israel lobby once again gave it unchallenged sway in the media and government. The Senate passed by unanimous voice vote and the House with a total of 5 courageous Nays (Dennis Kucinich, Gwen Moore, Maxine Waters, Nick Rahall and Ron Paul) a resolution hailing the aggression and blaming Hamas for all the Palestinian deaths. Candidate Obama last July signaled his stance, saying, "If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I'm going to do everything in my power to stop that. I would expect Israelis to do the same thing." (No one in the media asked him about whether he had stolen his house at gunpoint and was keeping the former residents and their children in a concentration camp in his back yard.)

Considering the propaganda barrage and the "conventional wisdom" in the very air we breathe here, the fact that Americans generally (according to a Rasmussen poll) "are closely divided over whether the Jewish state should be taking military action against militants in the Gaza Strip" (44-41%, with 15% undecided) and that non-Republicans oppose it solidly is a remarkable development

5. A more advanced pro-justice and anti-imperialist sentiment was reflected in the high tide of demonstrations here in the US. During the fighting there were almost daily protests in NYC, the Bay Area, Boston and other cities. Even more important was the eruption of demonstrations in places that hadn't seen actions on this scale before, or at all--Lexington, KY, Ft. Lauderdale, FL, Charlotte, NC, Fayetteville, AR, Sioux Falls, SD and dozens more. Additionally, progressives made good use of the blogosphere to circulate material exposing the criminal character of Israel's aggression, and explain the background to the crisis in Israel's longstanding violation of international law and humanity.

6. The core of the protests in places like NYC and the Bay Area was young Palestinians, whose rage was tempered by determination and discipline. They turned out day after day and developed powerful organizing and mobilization networks. Importantly, their principle allies were anti-Zionist Jews, full of anguish at the crimes being committed in the name of the Jewish people and at the blind support of Israel by many of their loved ones. I am not talking here about the mediagenic black-hatted Hasidim of the Neturei Karta, but young and middle-aged Americans of Jewish descent, largely pretty secular, who were brought up in the shadow of the Holocaust. Their numbers are now being augmented by a trickle of rabbis and other more religious Jews who find they cannot stomach what they see.

It is also heartening that the anti-war movement, which is at a difficult and critical juncture in the fight to end the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, refocused on Gaza. Especially noteworthy was the role of the big United for Peace and Justice coalition, which has caught flak for downplaying Palestine on occasion. In addition to protest demos and vigils, UFPJ mobilized member groups to call local talk radio shows and write letters to the editor at local papers, a key step in countering the hegemonic position of pro-Israel views in the mass media.

7. There are many problems in building support for the Palestinian cause and ending US backing. The biggest problem, if you ask me, isn't the strong support for Israel by many American Jews and Christian fundamentalists. It's not even the incredibly well-financed and organized Israel lobby. It is the view, held very broadly in this country, that: "All those people are crazy. They're religious maniacs. They've been killing each other for thousands of years and nothing anybody can do is going to stop them." This thinking will take time and effort to uproot.

On the positive side, there is evidence that the Israel lobby is overplaying its hand. When President Obama chose George Mitchell (main US negotiator in the Northern Ireland peace process) as Mideast envoy, Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League expressed concern: "“Sen. Mitchell is fair. He’s been meticulously even-handed, But the fact is, American policy in the Middle East hasn’t been ‘even handed, it has been supportive of Israel when it felt Israel needed critical U.S. support.” Taking a stand against fairness probably isn't the best way to argue your case in the public eye, especially when you are increasingly perceived as an amoral bully.

8. The increased exposure of Israel's crimes, the spread of protest in the US and internationally, and the high level of anger we are seeing may make a big leap in the Palestine solidarity movement possible. It has in recent years been made up of a determined and single-minded crew spread among many small and locally-based organizations, best able to respond and mobilize sympathizers when a real crisis like the attack on Gaza erupts. Now, I think there is a possibility of a leap to the level achieved by, say, the anti-apartheid movement in the '80s, a solidarity movement capable of sustained high-visibility campaigns which can show the reality behind Israel's expensive PR efforts and deal material blows to the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

The Palestinian movement in this country has emphasized the importance of building such a campaign around BDS--boycotts, divestment and sanctions. As with South Africa, the threat of political isolation and economic hardship can put fear in the hearts of even the most brutal oppressors. In working to swing public sentiment to our side, our biggest target is also our one of our strongest arguments--the $4 billion dollars annually the US pumps to Israel in aid, loan guarantees, "joint projects," etc., including financing 20% of Israel's entire military budget. Why should Israel, a relatively prosperous state, get over 20% of the entire US foreign aid budget when it uses the money to maintain the occupation, steal more Palestinian land, and wage war on those it oppresses?


Anonymous said...

Excellent points!
I agree it is vitally important that we keep the pressure on and build a sustained movement, not drop the ball when the bombing stops.

I have also noticed a huge difference in the anti(Iraq)-war movement being willing to take on Israel.

There is an increased willingness to confront the US/Israel alliance (albeit very small) in main stream media. [The Providence [RI] Journal eg! - who'd a thunk it?]
People should write letters to their local papers, they publish them.

I would add to your last point - re the billions given to Israel - we should tie this to the economic collapse here.
How many schools and hospitals would $4 billion build?


Anonymous said...

They've been killing each other for thousands of years and nothing anybody can do is going to stop them.

Bingo. I'm teaching a course on the ME this semester. Few students know much at all about the region, but this sentiment has managed to become entrenched, regardless of how good a student it is. But once you start presenting the specifics of how the ME arrived at the place it is, they are quite receptive. Blessedly, AIPAC does not hold sway in Southern Arkansas.