Antony Loewenstein (antonyloewenstein.com) is a writer and journalist based in Sydney, Australia and a founder of Independent Australian Jewish Voices. His first book, My Israel Question, was an Australian best-seller and was short-listed for the 2007 New South Wales Premier’s Literary Award; an updated third edition was published in 2009. His second book, The Blogging Revolution, about the Internet in repressive regimes, was released in 2008 and an updated second edition will be out later this year.
Loewenstein has written widely about the recent furor over the vote by Marrickville Council in Sydney to observe a full boycott, divestment & sanctions (BDS) strategy on Israeli products. After vitriolic attacks in the Australian press, especially Murdoch-owned newspapers such as The Australian, and hostile statements by federal and state-level politicians, a second council vote rescinded the BDS motion, while affirming the council’s support for the aims of the BDS movement. The Green Party mayor of Marrickville, Fiona Byrne, who had backed BDS, lost the ensuing state election to Australian Labor Party candidate Carmel Tebbutt, although she did achieve a large swing to the Greens.
In articles for Australian publications such as New Matilda and Crikey, Loewenstein has accused the mainstream press of “misrepresentations and outright falsehoods” in its reporting of the Marrickville affair, noting that “there have been dozens of articles in the Australian recently calling the Greens ‘extremists,’ implying the party is anti-Semitic, claiming BDS is akin to genocide, extensively quoting the Labor and Liberal parties (who unsurprisingly both condemn BDS) and the Zionist lobby (who again oppose it) (“Where are the Arab voices in Aussie BDS debate?,” 15 April 2011).
Sarah Irving interviewed Antony Loewenstein for The Electronic Intifada.
Sarah Irving: One of the odd things about the Marrickville episode is that there was very little media coverage of the actual decision by the council to observe the BDS call. The press storm suddenly erupted about six weeks later, when the campaign for the New South Wales state elections really kicked off. Although the focus was on the boycott of Israel, was this really an Australian political issue?
Antony Loewenstein: I think that analysis is probably pretty true. When the BDS motion was announced in December it almost went unnoticed. I think what changed was three things. First, a state election was coming in March. Second, the Green Party in Australia in the last nine months or so has gone from being an important third player to very important third player.
They partly assist in the federal balance of power — there are independents as well — and there was, predictably, from the Australian Labor Party, the [right-wing] Liberal Party and from the Murdoch press, a sense that the Greens need to be “cut down to size.” A federal Labor minister, Anthony Albanese, got involved, saying that the Greens were being extreme and so on. His wife, Carmel Tebbutt, was running against Fiona Byrne, the Green mayor of Marrickville, for the state legislature. Albanese didn’t mention this rather important detail when the press covered the issue, that his wife was running, which almost smacks of dishonesty, and the fact that the Murdoch press didn’t mention it either shows how dishonest they are.
So it was almost like there was a federal intervention in the debate and it was seen as a perfect way to try and divide and conquer the Greens. You had senior federal ministers, Kevin Rudd, the former prime minister and now foreign minister, and Barry O’Farrell, then the state opposition leader and now Liberal state premier, former Prime Minister Bob Hawke — this litany of hacks who had spent most of their professional lives demonizing Arabs and who were now asked to speak on the Arab-Palestinian question. Arabs and Palestinians were largely ignored.
I suppose it was seen as a potentially effective way to divide and conquer the Greens and to show anybody who seriously thought about speaking up for Palestinians that this is what happens to you. You will be punished and attacked and defamed and often given no right of reply. That’s the message, and a lot of people I’ve spoken to in the last few months who might once have spoken out now won’t, or didn’t, because they’ve been scared off. That includes trade unions who supported BDS. Many of the unions in the country last year came out in support of BDS — it was partial BDS, more often the settlement boycott, but it’s a start. There were attempts to get them to say something, to speak out in support of Marrickville Council. But there was deadly silence. Not least, in my guess, because of their connections to the Labor Party.
Sarah Irving: Was the rabid reaction to the Marrickville boycott vote by much of the mainstream press, whether Rupert Murdoch-owned or not, in keeping with their usual stance on Israel and the Palestinians?
Antony Loewenstein: The Murdoch press is obviously known in Britain and America — it’s not confined to Australia — for being pretty antagonistic towards Arabs and Muslims. It’s very much signed up to the whole “War on Terror” rhetoric and all which that means. The “War on Terror” has been wonderful for the Murdoch empire’s business, as we’ve seen most recently with Bin Laden’s death.
We also have a situation in Australia which is not unique to us, where the vast majority of politicians and an awful lot of journalists and editors are sent on trips by the Zionist lobby to Israel. They go there semi-regularly, they spend five or six days there, they will spend maybe five minutes in Ramallah [in the occupied West Bank] if they’re lucky. But most of their time will be in Israel hearing about the great threat from the Arabs, the Iranian threat, peace is a long way off — blah blah blah.
They’ll then come back and talk about a two-state solution and the glories of peace. It reflects badly on the hundreds of journalists and editors who’ve been flown to Israel by the lobby and who have not said, “can I do my own thing?”
The idea of simply having your hand held like that is incomprehensible to me. You are a sycophant. They are often people who have critical faculties on other issues, but they go to Israel and they are almost guaranteed to be publishing propaganda when they return. The last trip went late last year, about ten people went, including some good journalists from the Sydney Morning Herald, and before they went I said on my website that we can guarantee one thing: when they get back, they’ll be talking about Iran, [that] Iran’s a threat. And that’s what they wrote. They admit that “sure, there’s an issue with Palestine, but Iran is the problem.” It’s almost like there is an unspoken obligation to your host for having wined and dined you for a week.
So most of the media has “form” in one way or another. I wouldn’t say that the reaction to Marrickville was more extreme than usual but I would say that there was little or no context about why BDS is not an idea put forward by neo-Nazis, which is the impression you’d have got by reading the press, and that it has growing support. But the latter is in some ways the Achilles’ heel — that the boycott is getting international support, which is exactly why there was this attempt to crush it here. The people who follow this issue know what’s happening in parts of Europe and Britain and even some parts of the US. This was a perfect opportunity, so they thought, to crush it here before it really took off. A local Sydney council was a perfect way to do it, and the fact that there was a Green mayor, even better.
SI: The extreme press response is being widely seen amongst Australian activists as having been a tactic to scare other public bodies, such as universities or councils, away from considering BDS policies. Has it worked for the moment?
AL: Put it this way: those unions which signed up last year have not rescinded their BDS motions. But they haven’t said much about it publicly either. I did notice, though, that the Maritime Union of Australia put out a statement supporting partial BDS, which is the first one I’ve seen for a while. Essentially it was saying that “Palestine’s got a problem, we support BDS, bring it on.” It didn’t mention Marrickville specifically. And while the Maritime Union is not one of the top unions in the country it does have a sizable membership. The other unions have been conspicuous by their silence, and I think that’s probably because they want to remain a bit quiet because of the Australian Labor Party, which goes to show how morally bankrupt the ALP has become.
SI: Was the mainstream press and political reaction to the Marrickville vote part of a wider systemic attitude towards BDS in Australia?
AL: Yes. I don’t necessarily see it as part of a coordinated campaign against BDS. By that I mean I don’t think there was a meeting in a room between the Israel lobby, the Murdoch press and and Labor Party. They don’t even need to do that. It doesn’t need to happen that way.
There’s a sense that the Palestine debate in Australia is one that’s largely about excluding the voice of Palestinians. There are recent exceptions, not least because of a handful of pro-Palestinian groups who’ve been pro-active in lobbying the mainstream media to get some representation. But there is an ingrained racism in the corporate press in Australia. Very few non-Anglo figures appear in the papers or on TV regularly. You hear very few Arab voices in general; it’s not just about Palestinians. I think there is a deliberate exclusion. As in many countries, the media is largely run by old white men.
In some ways what happened in the Arab revolutions should have given them, you would think, unique opportunities to have people speaking in their own voice from Tunisia and Libya. There have been Tunisians and dissident Libyans and Egyptians in our media, but largely it is still white journalists going to country X to write about it. When was the last time the Australian media had a major Egyptian, Libyan or Tunisian activist or nongovernmental organization writing in our papers, in their words? It’s happened, but very rarely.
The Palestinian issue is very similar. The idea of even suggesting that journalists should include Arab voices within the Marrickville story barely occurred. Sure it was about local politics as well, but the idea that you’d write about Palestine and not even think, “Gee, what does an Arab think?” It’s almost like the worst example of what happens in the New York Post or on FOX — and it wasn’t all in the Murdoch media, I might add.
The Palestinian question here is also about US foreign policy and Australian policy, which is that we are essentially a client state of the US and proud of being so. The Australian government talks about being independent but is quite the opposite. Australia has framed its world-view around receiving protection from America. There’s an unspoken idea that if we get invaded by Indonesia or China or some other other “Asian” country, who’s gonna protect us? America, allegedly.
So in order to stay in line with US policy, the Palestinian question here seems to be based around deliberately ignoring what Israel is doing in Palestine. So when you have pro-BDS types, whether Palestinians or Jews, saying BDS is necessary because of how Israel behaves, because there is a lack of legality, because there is impunity for occupation crimes, a lot of people in the media often say “that’s just ridiculous.” They’ll come out with the usual lines about Israel being a democracy. There is a line of ignoring what occupation means; it’s barely used as a word. It’s a “territorial dispute” and we’re engaged in a “peace process” and Abbas is “talking to the Americans” and so on.
SI: Even in the left-of-center, “alternative” media — online publications such as New Matilda and Crikey — there was only some coverage of Marrickville, BDS and the press response, and much of it was coming from you, Antony. Would they have covered the story if you hadn’t pitched it to them?
AL: There’s really a couple of issues here. Within many activist groups it seems like there’s an element of either naivete or of defeatism — they think “well they wouldn’t publish this anyway, so why bother?”
I’m not saying everyone thinks like that, but I’m not the only person who could be writing about this. I’m not Arab or Palestinian. Obviously I’m Jewish and I’m engaged because of that issue, feeling that “my people” are committing crimes in “my name,” which is a pretty awful feeling. But I do know a number of cases where Palestinians tried to get in those publications and didn’t succeed. I don’t know about the facts behind that. I can’t speak for those publications. I also think that even in some “alternative” publications here there is a degree of wariness about the issue. It’s seen as two rabid sides and that we need some “moderation.”
I would also like some other Jewish voices, younger Jewish voices, to be speaking out. There are some, but so few. You don’t hear in Australia, as you do in the UK and America, those Jewish dissident voices. I think it reflects badly on how unimportant real human rights are for the majority of Jewish people in Australia. Some of them might campaign about refugees or indigenous issues, which are important, but for me the real test of someone’s conscience is how they deal with issues that are close to home. I’m not saying that other issues don’t matter, but it’s how you deal with an issue which affects you, which is close to your family. That’s the real test of someone’s personality and sadly the majority of Jews here are failing by ignoring the issue, or campaigning against it, or staying silent. It’s disappointing and frustrating.
Sarah Irving is a freelance writer. She worked with the International Solidarity Movement in the occupied West Bank in 2001-02 and with Olive Co-op, promoting fair trade Palestinian products and solidarity visits, in 2004-06. Her first book, Gaza: Beneath the Bombs, co-authored with Sharyn Lock, was published in January 2010. Her new edition of the Bradt Guide to Palestine is out in November 2011, and her biography of Leila Khaled in spring 2012.
Antony Loewenstein’s website can be found at antonyloewenstein.com.
In recent years it has become popular among liberal commentators in the US to celebrate Salam Fayyad and his plan for Palestine. Despite evidence of widespread human rights abuses under his watch, or more accurately at his and US Lieutenant General Keith Dayton’s command, Fayyad’s state building plan has been lauded, mainly because it prioritizes building the Palestinian economy over securing Palestinian rights. In the words of the New York Times‘ Roger Cohen “he’s getting things done, improving people’s lives, and Palestinians are tired of going nowhere.”
This perspective has been best summarized by none other than Thomas Friedman, who has dubbed the phenomena “Fayyadism.” Here Friedman describes Fayyadism as only he can:
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to the wider Middle East what off-Broadway is to Broadway. It is where all good and bad ideas get tested out first. Well, the Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, a former I.M.F. economist, is testing out the most exciting new idea in Arab governance ever. I call it “Fayyadism.”
Fayyadism is based on the simple but all-too-rare notion that an Arab leader’s legitimacy should be based not on slogans or rejectionism or personality cults or security services, but on delivering transparent, accountable administration and services.
Fayyad, a former finance minister who became prime minister after Hamas seized power in Gaza in June 2007, is unlike any Arab leader today. He is an ardent Palestinian nationalist, but his whole strategy is to say: the more we build our state with quality institutions — finance, police, social services — the sooner we will secure our right to independence. I see this as a challenge to “Arafatism,” which focused on Palestinian rights first, state institutions later, if ever, and produced neither.
Things are truly getting better in the West Bank, thanks to a combination of Fayyadism, improved Palestinian security and a lifting of checkpoints by Israel. In all of 2008, about 1,200 new companies registered for licenses here. In the first six months of this year, almost 900 have registered. According to the I.M.F., the West Bank economy should grow by 7 percent this year.
The last point is the most common one raised by Fayyad’s supporters. This economic growth is supposed to prove Palestinians worthiness for a state in international eyes, and was even been seized upon by Benjamin Netanyahu in his recent address to Congress as a sign that the occupation is not a hinderance to Palestinian aspirations. After giving Fayyad props for leading the charge, Netanyahu also took credit for the Palestinian’s economic growth
We’ve helped, on our side, we’ve helped the Palestinian economic growth by removing hundreds of barriers and roadblocks to the free flow of goods and people, and the results have been nothing short of remarkable. The Palestinian economy is booming. It’s growing by more than 10 percent a year. And Palestinian cities — they look very different today than what they looked just few — a few years ago. They have shopping malls, movie theaters, restaurants, banks. They even have e-businesses, but you can’t see that when you visit them.
It all sounds wonderful, but it isn’t true.
I’m not saying that there aren’t restaurants or banks, and it is even possible that the Palestinian economy grew 7% by some measure in the West Bank during the last year, but a new UN report released today reveals the truth behind the sloganeering. The report issued by UNRWA shows that unemployment in the West Bank stands near 24%, and is even higher for refugees, while the “West Bank miracle” is based almost entirely on international aid. From Reuters:
The report by the agency UNRWA shows that unemployment in the second half of 2010 grew much faster than employment, and average purchasing power continued to decline.
Of six major private sector activities, only two recorded employment gains during the second half of last year. Overall, one in four Palestinians in the workforce was unemployed.
“While there was modest employment growth, such growth was on the wane in 2010 while the number of unemployed accelerated in the second half of the year,” said author Salem Ajluni.
The report’s findings challenge assertions that the Palestinian economy is growing, helped by the removal of Israeli roadblocks and other movement restrictions. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a speech to the U.S. Congress last month that the Palestinian economy was booming.
Palestinian policymakers have projected growth of 7 percent in 2011 for both the West Bank and Gaza, though they point out that high growth rates in recent years have largely been dependent on international aid for the Palestinians.
The UNRWA report said: “The average broad refugee unemployment rate rose by more than a percentage point to 27.9 percent relative to first-half 2009 as compared to 24.1 per cent rate for non-refugees.”
A UNRWA spokesman goes on to say, “The occupation and its related infrastructure such as settlements and settler-only roads that encroach on and divide Palestinian land, settler violence and the West Bank barrier have diminished prospects for Palestinians in general and especially for refugees.”
This really shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Last year around this time Save the Children UK released a report saying that poverty was worse in parts of the West Bank than in Gaza. Still, I imagine it might come as a shock to some on the Times editorial page. Although international aid has made some enclaves in the occupied territories, especially parts of Ramallah, feel as though they’re booming, this money has flowed mostly through the Palestinian Authority patronage system and enriched a few. This story would have been more obvious if reporters had traveled a bit off the beaten path, but I guess that’s a bit too far off Broadway.
ASMARA, Eritrea—In early February of this year, a six-man squad of British mercenaries were caught red-handed in the midst of preparing an attempt to assassinate the top leadership of the Eritrean government in the port city of Massawa on the Red Sea.
Of the six, four were apprehended and two managed to escape, abandoning their mates while blazing out of Massawa Bay into the Red Sea in an inflatable speedboat, never to be seen again by Eritrean eyes.
A search of the vessel they arrived on uncovered a cache of tools of the assassins’ trade. Included was a small arsenal of automatic weapons, a sophisticated satellite communications system, state of the art electronic target range finders, and most damning, several sniper rifles.
All of those arrested have since been confirmed as employees of a British “security” firm akin to the notorious US company Blackwater/Xe. At least two of the four are former British Special Forces. As in the case of Richard Davis, the CIA killer caught in the act in Pakistan, the British Foreign Office has been claiming Vienna Convention protections for these gun thugs all but confirming their being on an official mission for the British Government.
Their arrest took place just a few hundred yards from our Red Sea home in Massawa, and happened while we were there. In the weeks and months that followed, each time I have driven by that spot I have felt a sick feeling in my stomach for the salt embankment they were hiding behind has an unobstructed view of the site where just a few days later all the top leadership of the Eritrean government would be gathering for the annual outdoor celebration of the 1990 capture of the Port of Massawa by Eritrean liberation fighters.
These professional killers were discovered almost by accident by a woman, taking a short cut home through an adjacent out of service salt flat, who noticed, as all good Eritreans should, that sa’ada, white people, were taking photos (with telephoto lenses) somewhere they were not allowed. These Brit “diplomats” took their sweet time scoping out their firing points and parameters of their potential killing field for their discoverer had to walk almost a mile to the nearest police station to report this and then the police had to drive the roundabout route to the spot in question.
But for the vigilance of one Eritrean woman Eritrea might have experienced an unthinkable disaster, the loss of Eritrea’s president and only god knows how many of Eritrea’s top leaders.
This is not the first time I have written about an attempt to assassinate Eritrea’s leadership. In 2002 and 2003, I wrote of how during the Western backed Ethiopian invasion of Eritrea in 2000 a series of long range artillery attacks destroyed Eritrean front line command centers within minutes of President/Commander-in-Chief Issias Aferworki departure. In one case, there is strong evidence that a missile caused the destruction, and if this is true, it is almost certain to have been launched by a US fighter aircraft at high altitude.
Again, the question must be asked, why would the West want to kill Eritrea’s leaders?
Maybe its because Eritrea’s economy is once again about to don the mantle of the fastest growing economy in Africa, and this without significant Western aid projects or predatory loans from the IMF and World Bank.
More likely it’s the fact Eritrea has long been a thorn in the side of Western attempts to dominate the Horn of Africa, one of the most strategically important regions in the world. With some 40 percent of the world maritime traffic passing Eritrean shores everyday, including much of the world’s oil and the entire trade between China, Japan and India with the EU, the Horn of Africa may not be of concern to the average Westerner, but those in power in Western capitals know better.
The policy of the USA and its Western allies is one of “crisis management” here in Africa. The West creates a crisis and then manages, or exploits the war and chaos that follows, to divide and conquer, the better to loot and plunder the natural and human resources of a region.
Eritrea has been the main obstacle to the Western implementation of this policy in the Horn of Africa, and this explains this desperate attempt to assassinate Eritrea’s leadership.
The saying is “that all roads to peace in the Horn of Africa run through Asmara [Eritrea]” and I have witnessed firsthand its truth. Peace in Sudan was born and nurtured here in Asmara, first in Eastern Sudan, then with the South and now the ongoing Darfur peace efforts.
A grand attempt was made here in Asmara to reconstitute a new government in Somalia, though this was sabotaged by the West and its Ethiopian enforcers.
The denizens of the intelligence offices in the West responsible for Africa remember all too well how a short two decades ago it was a rag-tag, Afro coiffed army of Eritrean guerilla fighters driving captured Ethiopian tanks that smashed their way across northern Ethiopia, drove the dictator Mengistu from power and brought peace to Ethiopia for the first time in 30 years.
This past year I have witnessed a disparate collection of leaders of far-flung ethnic-based Ethiopian guerilla fighters gathering here in Asmara, beginning to build a consensus on how to construct a new, national unity government to help keep the peace in Ethiopia once the Meles Zenawi regime is driven from power.
All of this is the main threat to the West’s implementing its policy of “crisis management” in the Horn of Africa.
With its empire in decline, suffering defeat after defeat, unable even to drive Muammar Gaddafi from power, despite the combined airpower of most of NATO’s European members, one would be wise to expect ever more desperate measures from the Western regimes.
The Western elite may loudly preach about the rule of law but reality is that international law is the law of the jungle where only the strong survive. Eritrea is not only surviving but ever so slowly growing stronger and more influential every day, which should help explain why British mercenaries brought their assassins’ tools to Eritrean shores.
Note; Some of the information in this article comes from the independent.co.uk, including the employment confirmation of the British mercenaries, their background and the British Foreign Office claims of Vienna Convention protections for them. Firsthand interviews with Eritreans directly involved are the basis for the rest of the story.
Thomas C. Mountain is the only independent Western journalist in the Horn of Africa, living and reporting from Eritrea since 2006.
44 years after attack, US Politicians still cover for Israel
Salem-News, Ed Hunt – A year after the bloody Israeli attack on the Mavi Marmara, the Turkish humanitarian aid ship bound for Gaza, I am reminded of an earlier Israeli attack on another ship that took place several decades ago.
The 8th of June marks a little noticed anniversary date that should live in infamy in the annals of modern US history. It was the day, during the 1967 war, that the Israel attacked the US spy ship, the USS Liberty, off the coast of Egypt. Thirty four US servicemen were killed and one hundred seventy two were wounded in this well documented, unprovoked attack.
“Accidental” is what Israel, and her defenders proclaim. It was an Egyptian ship, they “mistakenly” thought. Specifically, an out-of-service Egyptian horse carrier, the Israeli government later explained, with the most ‘heartfelt regret.’ It’s their story and they’re sticking to it. How many Egyptian vessels were flying an oversized US flag (riddled with bullet holes from Israeli weapons fire) the Israelis are at a loss for words.
According to the ‘Independent Commission of Inquiry into the Attack on the USS Liberty’, this accidental air and naval attack lasted two hours “during which time unmarked Israeli aircraft dropped napalm canisters on the Liberty’s bridge, and fired 30mm cannons and rockets, causing 821 holes, more than 100 of which were rocket size; survivors estimate 30 or more sorties were flown over the ship by a minimum of 12 attacking Israeli planes which were jamming all five American emergency radio channels.”
Amazingly, the response of the US government to this attack has been unprecedented. The Johnson White House recalled a Sixth Fleet military rescue en route toward the scene while the attack was still in progress. The victims, the survivors and their families were betrayed by their government. Surviving crew members were threatened with “court-martial, imprisonment or worse” if they revealed the truth, and the USS Liberty “incident” was the subject of an official cover-up by the Johnson administration. Every US administration since has given Israel a free pass on the attack and no standing administration, including the Obama administration, has even uttered a word publicly about it.
The truth about this attack and cover-up continues to be officially concealed from the American people, although many of those who have since retired from political, military and diplomatic circles have acknowledged it. However, to no ones surprise, the mainstream media to this day have largely maintained an unofficial blackout policy on the subject. [See American Media Miss the Boat]
Now is the time for speaking truth to power. It is a very opportune moment to revive the issue. Over the years there have been numerous attempts to press the US government to come clean and to hold the Israeli government accountable.
Due to the influence of the pro-Israel lobby, the White House and/or the Congress, no matter which party is in charge, have continued to shield Israel, from any measure of accountability. Perhaps it’s time to turn up the volume, and turn on the spotlight, in a very public way.
We’ve armed Israel, provided billions of dollars in aid and shielded them diplomatically for decades. US taxpayers have been subsidizing the occupation of the Palestinian Territories since the beginning.
President Barack Obama’s statements about returning to the 1967 borders were dismissed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the recent AIPAC (American Israeli Public Action Committee) Convention. It seemed clear as always, that no voice in the US with the capability of speaking out will ever find the task of helping Palestine to be a simple one. In the meanwhile, Jerusalem continues to be the scene of ever expanding settlement construction.
I suspect that there is far greater diversity of opinion on the Israel-Palestine conflict among the US public than is tolerated in the US Congress. I would venture to predict that if the details of the USS Liberty case were be placed before the US public, we might see a drastic rise in opposition to the billions in US aid that Israel rakes in every year. It might be just what the Congress needs to find its backbone and the courage to snub the powerful pro-Israel interests that continue dictate US Middle East policy.
On this occasion of the 44rd Anniversary of the Israeli attack on the Liberty, I will be contacting my US Senators and my Congressperson. I will bring them up to speed on the Liberty case, so that they cannot claim lack of knowledge of this atrocity.
Materials to distribute about Liberty
I will make clear that their failure to support the re-opening of the Liberty case will be an affront to the memory of the victims of Israel’s murderous assault. Politicians love to posture as to how much they love the troops. With your help, we can break down what has seemed like an insurmountable obstacle: Israel’s untouchable status in US politics. In the process, perhaps we can get a little recognition and justice for the crew and families of the Liberty, as well as justice for the Palestinians, who have been denied a homeland for far too long.
BETHLEHEM — The first monitoring boat in Gaza waters crewed by international citizens will set sail on Wednesday morning, activists said.
The vessel, named Oliva, will leave from Gaza City fishing port with crew from Spain, the US, Sweden and the UK, and accompany Gaza fisherman in the waters, organizers said in a statement released Tuesday.
“Violations of international law will be monitored, documented, and disseminated,” the release from the Civil Peace Service said.
The organization said the initiative is in cooperation with local groups including the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, the Popular Struggle Coordination Committees, the Union of Agriculture Committees and Fishing and Marine Sports Association.
Israeli military vessels monitor the Gaza coast and enforcing a fishing limit of three nautical miles and blockade of the Gaza Strip, with fishermen reporting fire, boat confiscations and detentions by the navy.
Last Wednesday, fishermen said one skiff was hit by an Israeli ship and sunk, injuring a fisherman, off the southern Gaza coast.
Anger was my first reaction after listening to Obama’s two speeches, one to the world and another to AIPAC – the powerful Israeli lobby in the US. I went around to my friends with phrases like ‘who does he think he is, presuming to tell Palestinians how they may or may not achieve freedom?’, or ‘what makes him think his vision for Palestinian dignity actually trumps the vision of Palestinians themselves?’ or ‘how dare he talk to us like a parent chastising a small child?’ or ‘when will we have a president who can and will tell the truth?’ or ‘I think AIPAC wrote his speech for him.’
My friends are used to hearing impassioned political commentary from me. The ones close to me always advise me to let the anger dissipate before I write anything so that what I put into words is coming from a clear head. That’s where I am now – no anger, calm, and clear headed. And here is my reaction:
Who does Obama think he is, presuming to tell Palestinians how they may or may not achieve freedom? What makes Obama think his vision for the future of Palestine, indeed vision for the Arab world on the whole, trumps the vision of Palestinians or Arabs for themselves? How dare he talk to Palestinians like we’re his bad little children in need of (his) parental direction? And will we in the US ever have a president capable of speaking frankly and truthfully? Because he just put Israeli propaganda in his own voice for the world.
After paying lip service to the Arab Spring, he outlined how he plans to help – read: manipulate – new governments, then he launched into the “cornerstone” of his vision, which pertains to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, although he referred to it as “the conflict between Israelis and Arabs.” That wording is important. It’s obfuscation verbiage that Israel has employed for years in order to lump Palestinians into miscellaneous Arabs, instead of a distinct people native to the Holy Land, being wiped away, swept into other Arab lands. The president dutifully spewed Israeli hasbara. And that was just the first sentence on the subject!
In the second sentence, he managed to present Israelis as poor victims living in constant fear for the lives of their children and in pain because, according to Obama, Palestinians teach their children to hate them. Again, here the President is regurgitating the racist Israeli hasbara that contradict the most basic facts of this conflict. In fact, over 100 Palestinian children have been killed for every Israeli child. Thousands of Palestinian children have been maimed for a single injured Israeli. Prisons in that land have been filled with Palestinian children, not Israelis. The thousands of school children cut off from their schools and teachers are Palestinian children, not Israeli. The bombed, destroyed homes and schools belonged to Palestinians, not Israelis. The ones who have to watch their mothers, fathers, grandparents and siblings humiliated, beaten, and systematically terrorized are Palestinian children, not Israeli. In more than sixty years, it has been Palestinians who have not known a single day of security or peace. And yet, Obama’s sympathy is with Israelis because a few Palestinians have committed acts to make Israelis pay a price for their colonial project that steals the Palestinian people’s heritage, inheritance, and history.
That wretched sentence was followed by a condescending attempt to describe what it has meant to us Palestinians to have our hearts wrenched from our bodies. Obama said it has been “humiliating” for us. Really? Tell that to my grandmother (and thousands like her) who died in a bug-infested shack so more Jews from Brooklyn could come and take her home and destroy the graves of her ancestors. And even in that reluctant reference to our humanity, Obama manages to insert another bit of Israeli hasbara by adding that our humiliation also stems from “never living in a nation of [our] own”. Despite my initial reaction, I have to smile at this statement, because no one can say or do anything to alter the fact that Palestinian families, including my own, are rooted in that land for centuries and millennia. That’s a claim that no Jewish man or woman from Eastern Europe, like Netanyahu, Tzipi Levni and other Israeli leaders can ever make. Those Israelis came to Palestine, changed their names and said they had returned home, then proceeded to destroy and expel the indigenous population. They have not only stolen our land, but they have also stolen our story, for it is Palestinians who are the natural inhabitants of that land who have descended from its various tribes throughout time, including the Hebrew tribes. But maybe Obama’s sympathies stem from America’s own history, since early settlers did the same to Native Americans. But that’s as shameful a history as slavery. Or maybe Obama is just a politician who doesn’t have what it takes to be a leader and cannot speak beyond the limits of his own narrow self-interest, even if it means upholding the shameful logic of inherent entitlement that underpins the State of Israel.
No matter. He managed to write himself out of history in that speech, of which I’ve only touched on three sentences so far. The next sentence was pure hypocrisy. He said, “We support a set of universal rights. Those rights include free speech; the freedom of peaceful assembly; freedom of religion; equality for men and women under the rule of law.” For the record, every one of those rights is denied to Palestinians by Israel. Palestinian Muslims and Christians in Ramallah, for example, cannot travel the 15 minutes it would take to get to Jerusalem to pray. I also note that Obama said nothing of equality between Jews and non-Jews, the opposite of which is the very foundation of the State of Israel.
That’s barely a paragraph from Obama’s abominable speech. It’s hasbara and pandering quotients only got worse in the version he delivered to AIPAC.
Telling Our Own Story
But we need not despair, and we need not fear. It might not be so obvious right now, but Israel is a sinking ship, because as history has taught us over and over, regimes that seek to create a “pure race” – with whatever the twisted ideas of purity mean for each – do not last. Oppression has a short shelf life, as brave Arab men and women are demonstrating to the world, one Arab nation at a time.
When David Grun and Gold Mabovitch came from Poland and the Russian Empire, they changed their names (David Ben Gurion and Gold Meir), committed massacres, and drove out the native people. Ben Gurion predicted that Palestinians, now refugees, would disappear as “the old will die and the young will forget”. They told a story of “a land without a people for a people without a land.” Meir tried to convince the world that we weren’t real when she declared to the world that “Palestinians do not exist”. And when we finally fought back, they spoke for us, and told a story of a depraved, violent, and irrational people. They controlled the dominant narrative, presumed to not only speak for us, but also for God. Golda Meir once said that Israel “exists as the fulfillment of a promise made by God Himself. It would be ridiculous to ask it to account for its legitimacy.” In this narrative, God became a real estate agent and the Bible a property deed. It was an alluring, albeit absurd, narrative and the world bought it. But amongst themselves, Israelis understood its miscalculation, which came in a candid admission from Judah Magnes years later when he said “we seem to have thought of everything… except the Arabs”.
Today, in the halls of power in both the US and Israel, many people are ironically echoing those words, decades after they were uttered by Magnes because the Orientalist assessment (if any at all) of the native populations does not encompass aspirations for freedom or their willingness to fight for elemental human dignities. The mistake of the United States, of Israel, and their client Arab rulers was to believe that we are backward, unrefined, uncivilized, fearful and easily controlled by brute force.
In truth, the greatest and most successful weapon used against Palestinians has not been Israeli tanks, airplanes, guns and soldier; it has not been their checkpoints, walls, fences, or settlements; it has not even been their powerful propaganda machine that suffuses nearly all mainstream western media outlets; Nor has it been their near complete control of US Congress or successive administrations.
The greatest weapon Israel has used against us has been our own minds. They succeeded, for a while at least, in making us believe ourselves small and powerless; that they are bigger than we are. Their greatest weapon has been their ability to make us believe that we need their permission to live with dignity; that we need their blessing and the blessing of the US to achieve freedom; that our lives depend on currying favor with them; that we must negotiate for the right to live in our own homes, inherit our own heritage, and live with the human rights that are accorded to the rest of humanity. Their great weapon has been to make us believe that we must give everything we have, everything dear to us, so they will stop oppressing us and leave us a pittance and crumbs of what is already rightfully ours to begin with.
Perhaps, in their despair and shock, our parents and grandparents bought into this; but no more. Ben Gurion could not have been more wrong. The young have not forgotten, and they are tearing away at this nonsense that has kept us chained.
First Tunisians, ordinary citizens, together took down their ruthless leader, followed by Egyptians, who managed to dismantle a regime that seemed unmovable and all-powerful. And in doing so, they destroyed the façade of power. They broke the greatest weapons against us and helped restore our belief in ourselves. Our brothers and sisters in Syria, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya and beyond are now waging their lives en mass to confront and dismantle long standing injustices, as Palestinians have been doing for decades.
The politics and issues might differ from one country to the next, but a common narrative runs through them all. It is simply that we are ancient societies with splendid histories and cultures. We are also a people who have been so maligned, so dehumanized and oppressed by various mechanisms. A people whose voice has been muted and whose story has mostly been told by others. A people who are finally demanding to speak in their own voices, to tell their own story, to define themselves for the world, and to hold the reigns of their own destiny.
And in that context, it doesn’t matter what Obama says to AIPAC or to the world. His vision does not matter. Nor does Netanyahu’s. Egyptians did not need America’s permission to do that. They didn’t need Israel’s either. They needed only their own resolve and fortitude; and they also needed the eyes and solidarity of ordinary people of the world. That’s all we as Palestinians need to demand and claim our place among humanity, as a people deserving of human rights that are afforded to the rest of the world. We do not need the US or Israel to give us these rights. We were born with them. We don’t need to negotiate for them, because they’re non-negotiable.
We are a people who stand firmly on moral ground, demanding basic human rights and freedom. Let them say or do what they will. Ours is a demand for inclusion, while theirs is for exclusion. Ours is for the diverse, multi-religious society that Palestine had always been. Theirs is for a Jewish-only country. Ours involves equality under the law regardless of religion, while theirs is a demand for privilege and entitlement only for those belonging to the Jewish religion. Ours is a claim based on history, heritage, law, and personal lineage; theirs is a claim based on an omnipotent landlord. Ours is for justice. Theirs is for power.
But Israel’s power exists only at the narrow corrupted top where the Obamas and Mubaraks of the world dwell. It’s the power of weapons and brute force. Our power is on the wide expansive ground, where the call for justice swells all over the world. It’s the space of human solidarity and moral conscience that fight the good fight for freedom and dignity, regardless of religion or race. That’s where we are, and here, the Emperor’s speeches are irrelevant.
Palestinians have not forgotten, nor will we. We carry our homes, our stories and our wounds in our skin and give birth to them all over again with every new generation. Just as Jews cannot forget the Shoah, so Palestinians cannot forget the Naqba, the Naksa, and the ongoing ethnic cleansing taking place. More importantly, we know who we are and where we come from. That is where we’re headed and we will make it home, thanks to our resolve and thanks to the solidarity of individuals and organizations all over the world. And when we are finally home, we will, as Dr. Edward Said urged us, remember the solidarity shown to Palestine here and everywhere.
Israel should not see this as a threat and they should not fear true democracy. Israel has a chance to heed the calls of their brave young people who refuse to be the brutalizers it wants them to be. The ones who refuse to serve and the ones breaking the silence or the ones boycotting their own illegal settlements. They are the conscience of Israel. And the conscience of the Jewish people is reflected in the woman who courageously interrupted Netanyahu’s speech before Congress. These young people are Israel’s redemption. Because the day will come when their racist system that measures human worth by religion will crumble. The day will come when military force is not enough to stop people from pouring into the streets to march for justice; and a critical mass all over the world will say enough.
Israel exists amidst a great body of Arabs. Amidst very old civilizations where historically Jews thrived. Whether in the Middle East, North Africa, or Spain, Jews found strength, protection, home and opportunity under Muslim rule before Israel was established. Israel’s best hope is to work to restore that solidarity. To find their way to the understanding that we are not children of a lesser God whom they can destroy and oppress at will.
- Susan Abulhawa is the author of Mornings in Jenin (Bloomsbury 2010) and the founder of Playgrounds for Palestine (www.playgroundsforpalestine.org).
Spree coincides with the 44th anniversary of the Israeli occupation
Aqsa guards said that the settlers broke into the holy site through the Maghareba gate under police protection and started feasting, which included opening and breaking liquor bottles.
Worshipers inside the mosque rushed to the plaza while chanting Allahu Akbar (God is great), but the policemen kept them away and threatened to arrest them. Tension ran high after the incident.
Leaders of Jewish fanatic groups had called for storming the Aqsa on the occasion of “Alhvuaot Albwakir” feast, which coincides with the forty-fourth anniversary of occupying eastern Jerusalem.