Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Let Gaza Live!

Just thought I'd share a discussion thread that went through recently on the listserv for my department. It started with a student sending out the announcement below regarding a protest in support of the people of Gaza and calling for an end to the invasion.

I should note that my department, Ethnic Studies at UCSD is currently in the process of coming up with an official statement regarding the crisis in Gaza.

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The Massacre is Continuing and So Should Our Response!
The energy and scale of these recent protests have been fruitful
internationally. Please come and show you support again at this Emergency
Mobilization Event!

For 16 days Israel has been committing massacres and war crimes against
the Palestinian People in the Gaza Strip. The death toll so far exceeds
900 killed and more than 4300 injured, many very seriously. With many
bodies still buried under the rubble of schools, mosques, hospitals,
markets, police stations, apartments and other civilian buildings, the
death toll is expected to rise much higher.

Please Join the Demonstration tomorrow in another improtant day of
mobilization, action, and solidarity for Palestinians!

Tuesday 1/13/09 @ 4:30 PM

Federal Building in Downtown San Diego (Front and Broadway)

LET GAZA LIVE!

STOP THE GROUND INVASION OF GAZA!
STOP THE BOMBARDMENT OF GAZA!
STOP THE MASSACRES!
BREAK THE SIEGE OF GAZA NOW!
NO RETURN = NO JUSTICE = NO PEACE!

Sponsored By (list in formation): Al-Awda San Diego, The Free Palestine
Alliance (FPA), The National Council of Arab Americans (NCA), The Middle
East Cultural And Information Center (MECIC), ANSWER Coalition, San Diego
International Action Center, Activist San Diego, and Muslim
American Society (MAS) Freedom Foundation San Diego Chapter.


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This notice was elicited a response by a student from another department (who is somehow on our email list), who chastised the initial student for the one-sidedness of the protest. His email is below:

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While I have a great amount of respect for you and your opinions, I findthe one-sided nature of your focus upsetting. Israel did not start thiswar, it was in response to rockets being directed at civilians.

Additionally, the tactics being employed by Hamas directly contradictmilitary rules of engagement: Military troops are not wearing uniforms,civilians are purposefully being placed in harms way by Hamas, civiliansare being used as troop shields, civilians are being used to lure Israelitroops, booby traps are being placed in situations where humanitarian aidis warranted, troops are massing in civilian aid structures, and weaponsare being stored in schools, homes and hospitals; this list is notexhaustive.

Let Hamas (and the PLO and Hizbullah) recognize Israel's right to existand stop targeting civilians. Only then can both sides live in peace.


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I read recently that the progressive movement in the United States is most divisive over this particular issue, the Israel/Palestine "problem." It is one of the most explosive things which can transform a room full of usually amicable and happly friendly liberals or progressives, into an angry, kung fu fighting room full of mortal enemies.

Being in Ethnic Studies, this issue is even more complex and irritating, as it becomes wrapped up in issues of whiteness, religion and empire. That much of America's support for Israel is due to its identity as a "white" nation, its identity as a sort of "Christian" nation and lastly its function as America's "Samson" in the den of America's oil rich evil Arab enemies.

This being said, there is always plenty to critique, but defenders of Israel tend to be so engulfed in dogma and emotion that they refuse to recognize any of it. This dogma and refusal to present even the appearance of a balanced perspective is so clear in American politics and in the American media.

The first student to respond mentioned this

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To be fair, your position is thoroughly represented in all major news circuits. This email list is one of the few venues where an alternative view to Israel's brutal onslaught of the Palestinians may be voiced. The emails are only advocating what many countries and the UN have called for: an immediate ceasefire that, as we all know, is down played in the US media or ignored altogether. While you are entitled to your opinion, please do not send me your defense of Israel's brutal military attacks, as I already hear similar defenses (frustratingly so) constantly.

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Later in the day another student, Jose who has a number of blogs, chimed in with a very elaborate response to the points that the student had made in defense of Israel. Jose's response was sprawling and very researched and in truth informed me on a number of things relating to the conflict.

I have to echo the above student in saying that it was very frustrating, finding in my inbox this morning, that student's almost clueless defense of Israel. At different crisis moments, I too have often thought of my department as a sort of safe haven, where my own ideas which the majority of America vehemently disagree with, can be discussed and shared. After Katrina in 2005 and during the 2007 fires in San Diego, the email list was an important place where we each send back ideas, critiques, suggestions and sometimes support, looking for a way to bring an "ethnic studies lens" to the world around us. Because at those sorts of crisis moments, that's when a critical eye is most important, because it is so easy when a crisis is invoked to forget everything, to go with the flow, to let the powers that be take care of everything. But as Naomi Klein covered in her text The Shock Doctrine, it is in truth when disasters take place that the powerful and the greedy move in to take over.

For more you can go to Jose's blogs are Marooning Thinking and The Gaza War. But in the meantime, I'll end with his response below.

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Although I don’t’ know you (I’m sure you’re also worthy of respect), I felt compelled to interject since you chose to use this email list to respectfully attack one of my colleagues who clearly happens to know more about this conflict than you. So in the common interest of setting the record straight, here are some responses to your email:

Your words: “Israel did not start this war, it was in response to rockets being directed at civilians.”

Actually, Israel did start this war when they broke the ceasefire with Hamas in November. Israel bombed a tunnel and killed several Hamas militants in the process. The barrage of rocket attacks that Israel is responding to came after that. If you don’t believe me, check out the following article from Israel’s main newspaper, Haaretz:

http://www.haaretz.co.il/hasen/spages/1037571.html

Even if you disagree, at least we should agree on one basic thing: that the root cause of this conflict is the siege that Israel has imposed on Gaza and the territory’s occupation, which Israel refuses to end. The notion that this is all caused simply by angry, anti-semitic arabs is ridiculous and frankly extremely racist. I’m not saying you’re making this clam but I’m tired of hearing this gross simplification. For decades it has been the main pillar of Israel’s foundational narrative: that they came to Palestine to share the holy land in peace with arabs but the arabs were as anti anti-semitic as the Nazis and they decided to wipe out the jews from the middle east. If you actually believe this story, I have a bridge I want to sell you.

The fact is that in August 2005 (before Hamas came to power), Israel withdrew its army from Gaza yet maintained control over air and sea space as well as most of its borders. They also control the movement of goods into Gaza.

For more in what preceded the current conflict, go to:
http://middleeast.about.com/od/israelandpalestine/a/me080618b.htm

Israel’s excuse for preserving these dracionian limitations on the sovereignty of Gaza is that they are defensive measures to stop militants from arming themselves. The problem is though that it has taken an enormous toll over the civilian population there. People in Gaza are economically destitute and it’s all because the occupation. This incidentally plays straight into the hands of Hamas. It legitimizes their militancy in the eyes of Palestinian voters. In terms of the occupation, it’s curious that Gaza’s population came mostly from the towns they are firing upon with rockets. I actually lived in Ashkelon for two summers. I used to excavate (in my previous life as a middle eastern archaeologist in-trainging). You wouldn’t know this but during the era of the great Islamic caliphates, Ashkelon (Ascalon) was basically the second most important Islamic city in that region (after Jerusalem-Al Quds). All that Arab population got “ethnically cleansed” and forced into what is now the Gaza strip in 1948.

For more on this, see:

http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/fisk/robert-fisk-why-bombing-ashkelon-is-the-most-tragic-irony-1216228.html

Today, Ashkelon is a beautiful seaside city, pretty calm and full of jewish Israelis, especially recent immigrants from Russia, Ukraine, and even places like Ethiopia, Argentina, and Cuba. In 1999 or 2000, the only Palestinians you saw there were laborers that lived in the Gaza strip 10 kilometers down the road. You could tell they were Gazans not by their physical appearance but by their clothes and their nervous demeanor. You could also notice how everybody else treated them linke Pariahs. (Trust me, I’be been to many messed up places in the world. I have never seen so much outright, insane, blatant racism as the anti-arab prejudice that I witnessed in the many months I spent in Israel). You will not believe the contrast between Gaza and Ashkelon. Even though they are not that far apart, they are like heaven and purgatory. Today, Gazans can’t even travel into Israel to find work as they did then. The bottom line is that Gazans have been the victims of an enormous injustice. Although I disagree with Hamas’ tactics, they are never going to stop fighting until they perceive that the injustices that Israel has historically committed against them have been corrected. No justice, no peace. If Israel wants to have peace in Ashkelon and Beersheva, they need to lift the siege and get their act together in terms of negotiating for peace in good faith. Once that happens, the moderates in Hamas and the PLO will recognize Israel’s right to exist and find a settlement. Even though Hamas has forever vowed to destroy Israel, they are not stupid. They are willing to settle with Israel, just as Arafat was during Oslo. Remember in the 80s when Arafat and his Fatah party used to be Israel’s big bad wolf? What happened? Rabin’s good faith attempts to negotiate led them to recognize Israel’s self-proclaimed right to exist. In one year, he turned from terrorist extraordinaire to Nobel peace prize recipient).

Your words: “Additionally, the tactics being employed by Hamas directly contradict military rules of engagement: Military troops are not wearing uniforms, civilians are purposefully being placed in harms way by Hamas, civilians are being used as troop shields, civilians are being used to lure Israeli troops, booby traps are being placed in situations where humanitarian aid is warranted, troops are massing in civilian aid structures, and weapons are being stored in schools, homes and hospitals; this list is not exhaustive.”

There is no denying that Palestinian militants sometimes use civilian buildings to take cover. This does not mean that Israel’s disproportionate killing of civilians is due to that. The UN has manifested with 100% certainty that there were no militants firing from the school which Israel bombed killing 43 civilians. BTW, this school was clearly marked with the UN flag and painted blue. The IDF had its coordinates. This is how "precise" Israel's attacks are. The 30 people from the Samouni family that also got killed recently were inside a house into which they had been evacuated by Israel. Survirors say that no one was firing from that house. Do you know what killed them? It was tank shelling. Akrem al-Ghoul, the father of Palestinian journalist Fares Akram, was killed by a bomb that dropped on his farm house in a field outside the urban areas. He was a former PA judge who quit his position when Hamas came to power because he was in favor of appeasement and disagreed with them. His family denies there were any militants in or near the house (the house is right next to the Norther Gaza border, in plain sight of Israel's right of defense. The closest advance for rocket launchers is reportedly 6km south of the farm).

In their newly created youtube and twitter pages, the IDF keeps pretending that they are only striking at Gaza with precision guided wepons. There, you can see videos of these (even though the press has discovered that some of these are from two years ago). This is a distortion of the truth. Every day, the IDF is firing upon the Gaza strip with artillery fire and tank shells. Pictures of these tanks and guns firing can be found all over the web. There is no such thing as a “smart shell.” What do you think is going to happen when you point a cannon that sits five kilometers away at the most densely populated place in the world (approx. 1,500 inhabitants per square kilometer)? It’s a no brainer: civilians are going to be hit, in massive numbers, regardless of whether or not Hamas uses them as human shields. The argument you claim here utterly ridiculous. Imagine that in the US, a man decides to rob a bank full of hostages. He ties them up and is even standing behind one of them, using her/him as a human shield. The police then decides to respond by bombing the bank with an F-16. Aftweards, when the relatives of all the people who died in the bank express their outrage, the police claim that it was all the bank robber’s fault because he took refuge behind them.

Now think about this. Israel is firing thousands of tank and artillery shells into Gaza every day (probably much more than they are firing smart bombs). They are also using white phosphorous and cluster munitions which have been banned by miltiple countries? Why? Because of the enormous civilian casualties and injuries they cause.

See: http://www.csmonitor.com/2009/0114/p07s01-wome.html
http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1052331.html

Even when they use “smart bombs” they kill civilians. This happened this week when an Israeli airstrike killed a family of innocent civilan Palestinians who were loading oxygen tanks into a truck.

http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=a4d_1231013479

Even if you send leaflets, text messages, phone calls, etc., you are SHELLING and BOMBING the most densely populated place in the world.

What you claim here is straight out of the Israeli government’s talking points. The Israeli government is waging a media war, trying to sterilize what they are doing as civilized versus what Hamas does. The truth though is that this is not so. Look at what the UNRWA staff working inside Gaza say. Look at what B’Tselem (Israel’s main human rights watchdog says).

http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/LD195131.htm
http://www.btselem.org/English/index.asp

Israel’s generals know that the tactics they use will have a civilian casualty rate. They know that when they fire upon a house or a moving vehicle with an Apache helicopter to kill a Hamas militant, they will kill all the civilians around that person. That militant is not shielding himself with civilians. He is simply surrounded by them, whether they are his family, neighbors, or passerbys. Israel has been using this controversial tactic of “targeted assassinations” for years. In response to critics, they say that civilians who die in these are “collateral damage.” In every armed conflict that they get involved, there is always the same elevated civilian death ratio.

Knowingly using war tactics that will inflict heavy civilian casualties is no different than a suicide bombing or a quassam rocket. In my book, it’s equally condemnable. Israeli generals and coronels know they will kill civilians. The only difference is that Israel has a sophisticated PR apparatus that is able to whitewash their actions as either accidental “collateral damage” or somehow the doing of Hamas.

Your words: “Let Hamas (and the PLO and Hizbullah) recognize Israel's right to exist and stop targeting civilians. Only then can both sides live in peace.”

Israel will never live in peace until they change their war tactics in a way that truly minimizes civilian casualties and ends the occupation. Collectively punishing 1.5 million people does not lead to peace. Killing 100 Palestinians for every dead Israeli does not lead to peace. Displacing millions of people into ghettos, refugee camps, and villages surrounded by wealthy settlements and partition walls does not lead to peace. It leads to resistance. I would prefer that resistance to be peaceful but after a while, when peaceful resistance is met with state violence, it never does. History shows us this. Look at what happened in South Africa. At first, Mandela and the ANC were committed to nonviolent resistance yet the Apartheid State responded with violence, arrests, torture, and an attempt to disarticulate any resistance. Ultimately, they started bombing apartheid structures (albeit in a way that avoided civilian casualties, something Palestinian freedom fighters have never done). I wish Hamas were the ANC but I can’t blame them for not being so nice. Violence begets violence. The only thing is that you don’t have two states firing upon each other. You have a jailer and you have a jailed population, an occupier and an occupied. In that situation, the responsibility to stop the cycle of violence rests with the jailer. They have the means of causing more destruction. The have the ability of rectifying the root injustice that causes some to feel so depressed, so utterly dehumanized and hopeless that they would rather strap on a bomb belt and blowe themselves up in public than have to face life.

Unfortunately, I would be a naïve person if I though this were an easy thing. The game of Israeli politics is very complex. There are more than dozen political parties represented in the Israeli parliament, and dozens more who are campaigning to be part of it. They even have a “Mens Rights in the Family” party (I kid you not). Israel is a parliamentary republic meaning that any prime minister needs majority rule. Many of these parties are as devoted to the permanent displacement of Palestinians from their “ancestral” Israel as there are Hamas militants bent on removing all jews from their “ancestral” Palestine. They are the ones that sabotaged Ehud Barak’s genuine attempts at peace in Tabah. Take it from me. I was in Israel at the time. Ariel Sharon was one of the main opponents to peace. When he decided to walk onto the muslim controlled Temple Mount with 1,000 body guards to declare that Jerusalem would forever remain the undivided capital of the Jews (as the Taba talks were underway), we knew well that this would derail the peace process. As a matter of fact, it not only did, it was the media image that provoked the Second Intifada. This is coming from a man who was prosecuted in the Hague for anti-Palestinian war crimes. Ultimately, he beat Barak, became prime minister, and founded that party that is in power now: Kadima. Bibi Netanyahu (the likeliest candidate to be the next prime minister of Israel) was another one whose campaing was premised on a strong refusal to make any major concessions to the Palestinians. When this changes (or rather when the world’s powers force Israel to change this), there will be peace. In the meantime, making war and killing civilians will remain a means for Israeli politicians to seek votes during election time.

Let me also remind you that the Arab League, the Palestinian Authority, and even Hamas have publicly embraced the possibility of a two-state settlement on the June 1967 border. Israel has always refused to agree at least in theory to that.

Here’s a quick quote from historian Norman Finkelstein:

“Every year, the United Nations General Assembly votes on a resolution entitled “Peaceful Settlement of the Palestine Question.” And every year the vote is the same: it’s the whole world on one side; Israel, the United States and some South Sea atolls and Australia on the other side. The vote this past year was 164-to-7. Every year since 1989—in 1989, the vote was 151-to-3, the whole world on one side, the United States, Israel and the island state of Dominica on the other side. ….The record shows for the past twenty or more years, the entire international community has sought to settle the conflict in the June 1967 border with a just resolution of the refugee question. Are all 164 nations of the United Nations the rejectionists? And are the only people in favor of peace the United States, Israel, Nauru, Palau, Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Australia? Who are the rejectionists? Who’s opposing a peace?”

So __, the bottom line is this: you are an academic. Please show some intelligence about this issue. Don’t lecture people with rehashed talking points that are straight out of Israel’s propaganda machinery. Also, don’t make simple minded suggestions such as: “let Hamas (and the PLO and Hizbullah) recognize Israel's right to exist and stop targeting civilians. Only then can both sides live in peace.” Leave those to the simple minded people. The world is more complex than that. Let's have an intelligent, nuanced conversation about this and let's not find ridiculous excuses to legitimize the killing of an enormous amount of people (on either side).

Sorry for the length of this response but I really hate talking points so I avoid responding in them. More than 4,000 have been injured and are being treaded in hospitals that lack medial supplies, staff, and sometimes electricity.

BTW, as of today, Israel has killed 971 Palestinians, including more than 400 women and children. In the same period, 13 Israelis have been killed, including three civilians hit by rocket fire and ten soldiers. Four of those soldiers died in friendly fire incidents. Before the current "Operation Cast lead" started and after the ceasefire was nullified by both sides, although Hamas did fire a barrage of rockets into Israel, I believe only one Israeli died. The facts speak for themselves. Do you still want to defend this killing of human beings? Seriously?

peace,

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