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Home arrow Blog arrow July 2009 arrow July 27, 2009

July 27, 2009
July 27, 2009: "Blessing" Assaults, Aftermath, Resistance and Related Links

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From 1972 to 1999, James M. Wall was Editor and President of the Christian Century Foundation.
On July 26, 2009 he wrote:


Bush Blessed Israel’s Assault on Gaza But the Aftermath Belongs to Obama
by James M. Wall

Raise your hand if  you still believe Israel’s claim that its 23-day assault on Gaza was a necessary retaliation against Hamas for breaking a cease fire. Ok, put your hand down and listen up.

Consider the dates of the assault’s start and abrupt ending. The first Israeli air attack on Gaza came on December 27, 2008. Barack Obama was the president-elect. George Bush would be president until noon, January 20, 2009.

Israel had less than a month left to operate with impunity under the blessing of the out-going U.S. president.

Twenty three days after December 27, Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert, announced that his government would  remove its forces from Gaza “at the greatest possible speed”.

The assault troops were out of Gaza by midnight, January 18. 2009. The Palestinian death toll had reached more than 1300. The injured totaled more than 5100.

Two days later, on January 20, 2009, Barack Obama was inaugurated president of the United States.

Before he entered the White House Obama knew what was happening in Gaza. His transition team remained in touch with the Bush White House. The London Guardian provided a daily death and injury report. Few U.S. papers bothered to even notice.

President-elect Obama insisted he had no control over what was happening in Gaza. That was true. As he put it, “we have only one president at a time”.

Now, six months later, President Obama has everything to do with the aftermath of Gaza, starting with some unfinished grisly and sad business involving the refusal of Israel and Egypt to allow heavy digging equipment to cross into Gaza.

Helene Cobban points to a Ma’an story on bodies still trapped in the Gaza rubble. Ma’an is a Palestinian news agency which reports:

    The United Nations Development Fund (UNDP) officially began implementing its rubble removal operation on 9 July. About 420 tons of debris will be cleared at a cost of 12 million dollars, funded by Canada.

    Gaza Ministry of Public Works vehicles have been used, but Israel’s and Egypt’s refusal to allow reconstruction materials into the area has forced many residents to dig, hoping to find lost loved ones on their own.

    Ibrahim Radwan, undersecretary at the ministry, said that “the delay in finding the missing is due to a lack of necessary funds, estimated by the ministry at 16 million US dollars.” He also cited a lack of machines.

This is what the aftermath of a 23-day military Israeli assault looks like. The side with the machines, the one in absolute military control, determines when bodies may be dug up and given decent religious burials. Ma’an provides the names of the 59 still missing Palestinians. They range in ages from 12 to 79, men, women and children.

Ma’an would not object if you want to print this list of 59 and post it on your church bulletin board.  Their deaths were funded by U.S. tax payers which makes their deaths, and now their burials, partly our responsibility.

This is the aftermath of the Gaza assault which Barack Obama now faces.

The good news is that in this aftermath, he is displaying a toughness, missing among recent U.S. presidents, in dealing with the Israeli government.  Consider these developments.


The Obama administration is making demands Israel is not accustomed to hearing from Washington. Obama is also playing a diplomatic game Israel hasn’t seen for a long time.

Nothing in the past sixteen years has appeared in the Jerusalem media with anything close to this ominous (to Israel) story which ran online July 24:

    The US State Department rebuffed speculation that the administration of President Barack Obama was considering imposing economic sanctions against Israel in order to prevent it from continuing West Bank settlement construction.

    Spokesman Phillip Crowley told reporters on Thursday that remarks made by deputy spokesman Robert Wood earlier this week had been “misinterpreted.”

    Asked at a press briefing on Tuesday whether the US was considering putting financial pressure on Israel to get it to comply with US demands, Wood had said: “It’s premature to talk about that.“ (Jerusalem Post, July 24, 2009).

Blogger Richard Silverstein links to that “premature” denial story in his Tikun Olam blog:


    What is deft about this particular series of statements is that the U.S. both plants the idea that it may be willing to consider sanctions if all else fails; and immediately denies the import of the statement in order to make it appear it was a mistake. But the seed has been planted. Now everyone in the Netanyahu government and the Israel lobby is aware of what the next step could be. They know what’s in store if they continue trying to play hardball regarding the settlement freeze and related issues.


On the same day, July 24,  Ha’aretz ran a story by Aluf Benn with this headline: “U.S. Warns Israel: Don’t Build Up West Bank Corridor”.


Nothing in the story about “unhelpful to the peace process”.  The language has changed. “Unhelpful” has been replaced by “stiff warning”. And this is a White House that actually knows where and what E-1 is and how Israel intends to use it.

    The U.S. administration has issued a stiff warning to Israel not to build in the area known as E-1, which lies between Jerusalem and the West Bank settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim. Any change in the status quo in E-1 would be “extremely damaging,” even “corrosive,” the message said.

    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed in the past to finally build the controversial E-1 housing project – as have several premiers before him, though none has done so due to American pressure. He opened his recent election campaign with a visit to Ma’aleh Adumim in which he declared: “I will link Jerusalem to Ma’aleh Adumim via the Mevasseret Adumim neighborhood, E-1. I want to see one continuous string of built-up Jewish neighborhoods.”

Evidence is also piling up that the Israelis will have some scrambling to do to clean up the damage they left behind in Gaza, in destroyed lives, property, and Israel’s own international reputation. And more than scrambling will be needed to resist “stiff warnings” about “corrosive” behavior from the new American government.

And what about Israeli scholar Avi Shlaim, a loyal Zionist, IDF veteran, and sensitive soul?

He is emerging as my new Israeli hero.  The first ten days of the assault on Gaza, which led to the deaths of many of those Palestinians still trapped in the rubble of their homes, prompted Shlaim to write a column for the London Guardian, with language rarely, if ever, found in print on the American side of the Atlantic.


Here are the opening lines from the column Shlaim wrote January 7, for the Guardian.

    The only way to make sense of Israel’s senseless war in Gaza is through understanding the historical context. Establishing the state of Israel in May 1948 involved a monumental injustice to the Palestinians. British officials bitterly resented American partisanship on behalf of the infant state. On 2 June 1948, Sir John Troutbeck wrote to the foreign secretary, Ernest Bevin, that the Americans were responsible for the creation of a gangster state headed by “an utterly unscrupulous set of leaders”. I used to think that this judgment was too harsh but Israel’s vicious assault on the people of Gaza, and the Bush administration’s complicity in this assault, have reopened the question.

    I write as someone who served loyally in the Israeli army in the mid-1960s and who has never questioned the legitimacy of the state of Israel within its pre-1967 borders. What I utterly reject is the Zionist colonial project beyond the Green Line. The Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the aftermath of the June 1967 war had very little to do with security and everything to do with territorial expansionism. The aim was to establish Greater Israel through permanent political, economic and military control over the Palestinian territories. And the result has been one of the most prolonged and brutal military occupations of modern times.


Shalim’s family immigrated to Israel from Iraq in 1950. He has served in the Israeli army, and is now a professor of international relations at the University of Oxford. He has written two highly-regarded books, The Iron Wall and Lion of Jordan: King Hussein’s Life in War and Peace. Another book, Israel and Palestine, will be published in September.


For more on Shlaim’s story as an Israeli scholar shattered by the Gaza attack, read Robert Fisk’s most recent London Independent column.

It gets better. Shlaim is not alone. There is a growing Israeli and international impatience and anger over what Israel did in Gaza.

UN official Richard Falk, for example, suggests that war crime charges could be involved.

Israeli soldiers, reflecting back on their part in the Gaza assault, have described the “excesses” of the army’s conduct.

Even the U.S. mainstream ’s CNN has suggested that the original excuse Israel gave for launching the attack on Gaza collapses upon closer inspection.

To paraphrase Lyndon Johnson in his comment on the late Walter Cronkite and the war in Vietnam, “If CNN rejects our cover story, then Israel has lost Middle America.”

Surely, Middle America would want President Obama to inform Israel’s Prime Minister that there still 59 bodies lying beneath the rubble Israel left behind after its 23-day assault on Gaza, an assault that was conveniently/deliberately planned to keep it off Obama’s watch.

It is the Aftermath that now rests squarely and heavily on President Obama’s shoulders.

http://wallwritings.wordpress.com/2009/07/26/bush-blessed-israels-assault-on-gaza-but-the-aftermath-belongs-to-obama/



On the Right of Resistance
By Ramzi Kysia

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
- Desmond Tutu

We live in an era defined by its brutality. Our challenge is whether to accept this - or to take the risks necessary to transform our world commons in beloved community.

A year ago this August, forty-four ordinary people from seventeen different countries sailed to Gaza in two, small wooden boats. We did what the world would not do - we broke through the siege of Gaza. Over the last year the Free Gaza Movement has organized seven more voyages, successfully arriving to Gaza on five separate occasions. Ours remain the only international ships to reach the Gaza Strip in over forty-two years.

In the Middle-East, the struggle for justice is an uncertain endeavour in the best of times. On all sides human rights workers are beset with difficulties and distress. The Arab states are tyrannies, their peoples subject to secret police, arbitrary arrest, torture, and oppression. Within their societies, the Arab world is equally fractured by ethnic and class tensions, poverty, and political stagnation. From the outside, from the West, the Middle-East faces both open and covert acts of intimidation, intervention, economic destabilization, and even war, invasion, and mass killings.

Standing astride all these troubles, blocking near every attempt at progress in the region are the twin colossi of big oil and Israel. Seldom have a people been cursed with burdens more bitter, more devastating, and seemingly more intransigent than have the Arabs with oil and Israel.

Nowhere is this truer today than in Gaza. In 1999, British Gas discovered huge natural gas fields, worth billions of dollars, in Palestinian territorial waters off the coast of Gaza. Israel has already built a horizontal pipeline to siphon off gas from at least one of these fields. If there is an unspoken reason for the siege of Gaza - this is it.

Israel maintains effective control of all points of entry and exit to Gaza, as well as de facto control of Gaza’s revenues and economy. As such, and despite the closure of settlements in Gaza in 2005, Israel remains an occupying power in Gaza as in the rest of Palestine. As an occupying power, Israel is responsible for the well-being of the people it occupies and cannot legally impose a blockade, particularly one the collectively punishes the entire population of Gaza. These are clear crimes and the Israeli government and military should be prosecuted for them.

For the last three and a half years the Israeli siege has become increasingly ruthless. Less than twenty percent of normal trade is allowed into Gaza today. The siege has caused the local economy to collapse, leading to steep increases in unemployment, poverty and childhood malnutrition rates.

Because of Israel’s siege there is little fuel to run Gaza’s power plant - so electricity is scarce and intermittent. Without electricity, water and sanitation systems do not function. On March 27, 2008 two elderly women in their 70s, a teenage girl, and two babies were killed by a flood of sewage in Umm Naser. Last year alone, well over 16 billion litres of raw sewage had to be dumped in the sea, turning the Mediterranean into a toilet and creating a public health disaster.

Gaza is a tiny coastal plain, barely twenty-five miles long by four to seven miles wide. It does not have the ability to independently support the one and a half million human beings who live in one of the most densely populated places on the planet. Two-thirds of Gaza’s people are refugees, driven out of historical Palestine during Israel’s founding war in 1948. Over half the population are children.

Israel has a long history of violence against Palestinian children. A few examples: In December 2004, the IDF shot and killed seven-year old Rana Siyam.  Earlier that year, nine-year old Raghda Alassar was shot and killed in her school while she was taking an English test.  Thirteen-year old Iman al-Hams was shot seventeen times by the IDF as she was walking home after class in Gaza. An Israeli captain went up to her corpse and shot her again in the head – "dead-checking" the schoolgirl.  The IDF prosecuted him, but not for murder. He was charged with "illegal use of his weapon," and - despite admitting that he emptied his entire magazine into a little girl - he was found "not guilty."  

Over the summer of 2006, the IDF killed three-year old Bara Habib, three-year old Rajaa Abu Shaban, six-year old Rawan Hajjah, nine-year old Aya Salmeya, and over thirty-five other children just in Gaza alone.  On January 16th, 2007, the IDF killed ten-year old Abir Aramin, the daughter of a Palestinian peace activist, as she was walking home from school.  These are only a handful of cases. The Israeli human rights organization B'tselem estimates that over 900 Palestinian children were killed by the Israeli military between 2000 and 2008.

Israel has already recreated the worst aspects of the Warsaw Ghetto in Gaza - transforming this small strip of land into the world’s largest open-air prison, and the humanitarian condition of the one and a half million men, women, and children illegally incarcerated in Gaza is now at its worst point in the last forty-two years of Israeli occupation.

But there are darker histories waiting to be reborn. The simple and terrifying truth is that Israel is pushing the world on a path towards genocide. We are all en route to the slow-drip destruction of the Palestinian people. This reality must be forcefully confronted and fully overcome before it’s too late.

It's now been more than six months since the end of Israel's latest assault on the Gaza Strip, which led to the killing of over 1,400 Palestinians, and the people of Gaza are still living in rubble. Israel's hermetic closure has created a man-made and deliberately-sustained humanitarian catastrophe. The continuing failure of the international community to enforce its own laws and protect the people of Gaza demands that we as private citizens directly intervene to take action commensurate with the crisis. We must act because our governments refuse to do so.

Regardless of Israeli threats or intimidation, Free Gaza volunteers intend to continue sailing unarmed boats to Gaza. Now more than ever – we need the people of the world to join with us.

The siege of Gaza only serves to strengthen authoritarian structures on all sides of this conflict, entrenching centralized control, rallying people against a common enemy. The isolation of Gaza reinforces a belief that the world has forgotten Palestine, and little cares how Palestinians are forced to live or even whether they live or die.

In contrast, civil resistance and citizens’ action movements are not only aimed against the injustices that we face - they are also strategies for social change. Nonviolent resistance empowers everyone with the knowledge that any among us can reach out, organize, and act to change the entire world. Time and again, history demonstrates that even the greatest of tyrannies can crumble to the ground when confronted with an organized and determined resistance.

Join us, whether in whole or in part. Join the Free Gaza Movement, the International Solidarity Movement, and the BDS Movement. Join us and other campaigns in the struggle for justice for Palestine. We need volunteers to do research and writing, web updates, translation, graphic design, local organizing in their communities, and much more.

Become part of the resistance.

We are often told that resistance is either unwarranted or impossible. Liberal apologists for Israel, such as Thomas Friedman, are constantly demanding that Palestinians lay down their arms, all the while exhorting Israelis to pick them up in ever increasing acts of violence and degradation.

When faced with violence in our world, our elites tell us that we have two - and only two - choices: capitulate to the violence, or go to war. Of course, which of these two choices is the right and proper course of action depends on who you are. Faced with Palestinian violence, Israelis must, rightly and properly, go to war. Faced with Israeli violence, Palestinians must, rightly and properly, capitulate. In Tel Aviv and Washington D.C. this is called “moral clarity:” the supposed necessity of pursuing Israeli security through deliberately creating massive insecurity among Palestinians. This is lunacy.

But even mainstream “peace” movements in the West try to delegitimize resistance by calling on both Palestinians and Israelis to renounce overt acts of violence, equating Palestinians who commit suicide bombings with Israelis who send F-16s, D9 military bulldozers, and Apache attack helicopters to level entire neighborhoods.

The problem is that the usually random and individual acts of violence by Palestinians against Israelis are not equal to the myriad structural oppressions and cruelties imposed on Palestinians through Israeli government policies. No Palestinian fighter jets bomb Israeli cities - because Palestine has no fighter jets. No Palestinian bulldozers demolish Israeli homes - because Palestine has no military bulldozers. No Palestinian soldiers invade Israeli neighbourhoods, terrorizing the populace - because there is no Palestinian army. The conflict in Palestine is a war of Israeli state terror against a largely unarmed and defenceless civilian population.

Even immoral and self-defeating acts of violence against Israeli civilians (such as some suicide bombings are) cannot be equated with the daily humiliations, terror, and death that Israel inflicts on Palestinians by deliberate policy. Contrary to its presentation in the mainstream media, this conflict is neither a righteous war against evil Arab terrorists, nor a religious or ethnic dispute between two opposing and equally self-justified groups of people. The Israeli/Palestinian conflict is the struggle of two irreconcilable and unequal causes: the struggle of an oppressed people for freedom, justice, and self-determination against their oppressors’ struggle to maintain (and even expand) their domination. Under these circumstances resistance is not only a right - it's a moral imperative.

This is not to say that any and all acts of resistance are acceptable. Clearly they are not. But it grows tedious to continually hear well-meaning, but otherwise clueless, Westerners try to equate the two sides of this conflict. I am past tired of hearing white people passively whine, or shrilly demand, “Where is the Palestinian Gandhi?”

With respect, just because some people have chosen to remain ignorant of the long and deep history of Palestinian nonviolent resistance - from the 1936 Boycott to Bil’in today - does not mean that it does not exist. The Free Gaza Movement struggles in solidarity with an already vibrant Palestinian civil resistance.

Similarly, the other criticism of resistance - that it is futile - is equally mistaken. There is a widespread delusion among many that Israel and the Israeli lobby are simply too powerful to be challenged, let alone defeated. This is not the case.

On June 30th 2009 Israeli Occupation Forces forcibly boarded one of our boats, the SPIRIT OF HUMANITY, and kidnapped 21 human rights workers and journalists who were on their way to deliver much needed humanitarian and reconstruction supplies to besieged Gaza, including Nobel peace prize laureate Mairead Maguire and former U.S. Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney. They were held in jail for a week before being deported.

Though we were stopped on this particular voyage, it was not a “failure.” In the month after our boat was hijacked, over 100,000 news stories, essays, blog entries, action alerts, and radio and television segments were made on Israel’s violent response to our mission. It’s true that the ordeal of our 21 volunteers pales in comparison to the 11,000 Palestinian political prisoners held in Israeli prisons. The seizure of our small cargo of 3 tons of medical aid and reconstruction kits is insignificant in light of the $4 billion (USD) of aid promised to Gaza - aid that has not and will not be delivered because of the Israeli blockade.

But that too misses the point. By choosing to violently confront and kidnap unarmed human rights workers on a mission of mercy, Israel publicly demonstrated both the illegality and the absurdity of the Gaza siege. The siege is abjectly not about “security.” No one could possibly have believed that our small boat was a physical threat to Israel,

This public demonstration of the siege’s illegality resulted in record action at the governmental level as well. Both the Irish and Greek governments formally intervened to protect their citizens and property. Despite having no diplomatic relationship and refusing to recognize the legitimacy of Israel's government - the King of Bahrain personally & successfully intervened to force Israel to immediately release the five Bahraini human rights workers kidnapped from the SPIRIT. The British parliament held a formal debate on the issue, and even the U.S. State Department was forced to hold a national conference call on for family and friends of the kidnap victims, as well as for Arab-American civil rights groups.

This was unprecedented, but it’s not enough.

The Free Gaza Movement started our small part in this struggle in 2006. We began on hope alone. Many thought it couldn’t be done, yet we did it. We broke through the Israeli blockade. We will sail again, and we are absolutely determined to reach the Gaza Strip on our next voyage. We intend to non-violently escalate our response. By sending a cargo ship, we will escalate the challenge to the blockade by bringing in significant amounts of banned reconstruction materials. By sending more boats on our next mission, we will significantly escalate the logistical difficulties Israel faces should they decide to violently attack us again. By sending even more parliamentarians, dignitaries, journalists, and human rights workers to accompany the boats, we will significantly escalate the political difficulties Israel faces should they decide to violently attack us again.

The journey to Gaza is dangerous. The Israeli navy rammed our flagship, the Dignity, when we attempted to deliver medical supplies to Gaza during their vicious assault in December/January. In June, they hijacked our small boat and kidnapped everyone on board. Israel has even threatened to open fire on our unarmed ships, rather than allow us to deliver humanitarian and reconstruction supplies to the people of Gaza.

But the risks we take on our voyages are insignificant compared to the risks imposed every day upon the people of Gaza.

The purpose of nonviolent direct action and civil resistance is to take risks - to put ourselves “in the way” of injustice. We take these risks well aware of what the possible consequences may be. We do so because the consequences of doing nothing are so much worse. Any time we allow ourselves to be bullied, every time we pass by an evil and ignore it - we lower our standards and allow our world to be made that much harsher and unjust for us all.

Israel can threaten our boats and passengers - we will keep coming. Israel can illegally disrupt our communications and navigation systems - we will keep coming. Israel can open fire around our boats, or attempt to ram and sink them. Israel can choose to forcibly board and highjack our boats, and abduct our volunteers.

It doesn’t matter. We will keep coming. Armed only with the love of justice, and in the rite of resistance - we will go to Gaza again and again and again, until this siege is forever shattered and the people of Gaza have free access to the rest of the world.


Ramzi Kysia is an Arab-American essayist and an organizer with the Free Gaza Movement. If you would like to support these efforts, please visit www.FreeGaza.org, or email donations[at]freegaza.org. If you would like to volunteer with Free Gaza, please send an email to volunteer[at]freegaza.org


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