Just two days before Palestinians commemorate the 65th anniversary of the Nakba, the names of two Palestinian cameramen targeted and killed by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza last November were dropped from a dedication ceremony held to honor “reporters, photographers and broadcasters who have died reporting the news” over the past year. The move followed an Israel lobby pressure campaign led by anti-Palestinian organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and the American Jewish Committee, efforts that were openly supported by the Israeli government.
The Atlantic Wire’s J.K. Trotter summarizes:
Two days after Washington, D.C.’s Newseum announced its intent to honor Hussam Salama and Mahmoud al-Kumi, who were killed in November while working as cameramen for the Middle East-based Al-Aqsa TV, the well-known temple of journalism has decided — for now — not to recognize Salama and al-Kumi, citing their employer’s deep ties to Hamas, a Palestinian organization currently designated by the United States as a terrorist group.
The Newseum, which honored 82 journalists on May 13, 2013, stated that it had “decided to re-evaluate their inclusion as journalists on our memorial wall pending further investigation,” even though just last week, in response to the hysterical reaction to Salama’s and al-Kumi’s initial inclusion, the museum had affirmed and defended their decision, noting that “the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers all consider these men journalists killed in the line of duty.”
Indeed, as Joe Catron notes, Reporters Without Borders has pointed out, “Even if the targeted media support Hamas, this does not in any way legitimize the attacks,” while the Committee to Protect Journalists “found that the Israeli military’s official justifications for its attacks on journalists…’did not specifically address CPJ’s central question: how did Israel determine that those targeted did not deserve the civilian protections afforded to all journalists, no matter their perspective, under international law?’”
The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers includes both Salama and al-Kumi on its list of “69 Media Employees Killed in 2012,” as does the International Federation of Journalists in tis report, “In the Grip of Violence: Journalists and Media staff Killed in 2012.”
Human Rights Watch, in its December 20, 2012 report on “Unlawful Israeli Attacks on Palestinian Media,” concluded,
Four Israeli attacks on journalists and media facilities in Gaza during the November 2012 fighting violated the laws of war by targeting civilians and civilian objects that were making no apparent contribution to Palestinian military operations.
The attacks killed two Palestinian cameramen, wounded at least 10 media workers, and badly damaged four media offices, as well as the offices of four private companies. One of the attacks killed a two-year-old boy who lived across the street from a targeted building.
The Israeli government asserted that each of the four attacks was on a legitimate military target but provided no specific information to support its claims. After examining the attack sites and interviewing witnesses, Human Rights Watch found no indications that these targets were valid military objectives.
“Just because Israel says a journalist was a fighter or a TV station was a command center does not make it so,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Journalists who praise Hamas and TV stations that applaud attacks on Israel may be propagandists, but that does not make them legitimate targets under the laws of war.”
HRW added, “The two men’s families, interviewed separately, said the men were neither participating in the fighting nor members of any armed group. Human Rights Watch found no evidence, including during visits to the men’s homes, to contradict that claim. Hamas’s armed wing, al-Qassam Brigades, has not put either man on its official list of killed fighters – an unlikely omission if the men had been playing a military role.”
For the Newseum to be bullied into omitting Salama and al-Kumi from its rededication ceremony by avowedly Zionist groups and right-wing media outlets demonstrates that the institution itself is no less a propaganda outfit than Al-Aqsa TV. This shameful last minute decision effectively grants the U.S. and Israeli governments the ability to decide who is and who is not a journalist and who should and who should not be honored for their work.
But the decision also reeks of hypocrisy and Manichean double standards.
The Newseum is essentially suggesting that sycophantic journalists parroting government propaganda may be legitimate targets in military operations and should be labeled combatants, rather than civilians who enjoy press freedoms and are subject to protection.
Yet this only extends as far as the U.S. State Department says it does.
The ADL’s Abe Foxman called Salama and al-Kumi “members of a terrorist organization advancing their agenda through murderous violence” and “terrorist operatives” who “were working for a propaganda outlet, not a legitimate news organization.” The AJC’s David Harris echoed these sentiments, labeling Salama and al-Kumi as “brazen terrorists” and “two individuals who were integral to the propaganda machine of the Hamas terrorist organization,” that could not be considered “a legitimate media operation.”
Such terms as “terrorism” and “terrorist” are perhaps the most loaded, politicized, exploited and, consequently, meaningless words in our current lexicon, employed as a bludgeon against critical thinking in order to reinforce “us vs. them” narratives.
Apparently, the Newseum has determined that our propaganda deserves respect and admiration, while their propaganda (in this case, documenting on camera the effects Israeli bombs and missiles have on the human flesh of Palestinian people at Gaza’s al-Shifa Hospital) should be condemned, targeted and investigated.
By this measure, plenty of alleged propagandists grace the memorial wall of the Newseum already, with more added during today’s ceremony.
Mohamed Al-Massalma, a freelance reporter for Al Jazeera, was killed by a sniper while covering the Syrian civil war in Busra Al-Harir in late January 2013. The Syrian journalist, working under the pseudonym Mohamed Al-Horani, was “an activist in the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad,” before joining Al Jazeera.
In January 2012, Mukarram Khan Aatif was gunned down in the Pakistani town of Shabqadar by members of the Pakistani Taliban. Aatif was a journalist working for Deewa Radio, the U.S. government’s Voice of America Pasto-language service. He was among those honored by the Newseum this year.
The taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) and its affiliated services have been legally banned from broadcasting or distribution here in the United States for the past 65 years because of a Congressional act prohibiting the government from propagandizing to its own citizens. Only last year was this law reversed; the ban will be officially lifted this coming July 2013. VOA is literally U.S. government propaganda, yet its reporters are accorded due protection from violence, as they should be.
Another VOA journalist, Mohammed Ali Nuxurkey, was killed in an al-Shabab bombing in Mogadishu, Somalia, this past March There is no doubt he will be added the Newseum’s wall next year.
If any distinctions are to be made among different categories of journalists caught in the line of fire or deliberately targeted for murder, international law does not, in fact, favor the Foxman’s and Harris’ of the world.
While war journalists who are not embedded with troops or themselves soldiers taking direct part in hostilities are legally protected by the law of armed conflict, embedded reporters are not necessarily similarly protected.
According to international law professor Sandesh Sivakumaran, writing for the Oxford University Press, embedded journalists, while civilians, may be “casualties of lawful attacks” as “[t]he law allows for the targeting of troops and that targeting may result in bystanders or embedded reporters becoming casualties.”
Still, embedded journalists who were killed while accompanying American occupation forces in Iraq and Afghanistan – a policy promoted by the U.S. military in order to ensure positive reporting on American actions (some might call that propaganda) – have also rightly been accorded a place in the Newseum’s memorial. Journalists like Spanish reporter Julio Anguita Parrado and German correspondent Christian Liebig, killed by Iraqi missiles in an April 7, 2003 attack on the U.S. Army’s 3rd Division headquarters in Baghdad, are honored by the Newseum as is NBC News soundman Jeremy Little, killed in Fallujah in July 2003 while embedded with the Army’s 3rd Infantry.
Sivakumaran also explains that “[j]ournalists who work for media outlets or information services of the armed forces” are legally considered “members of the armed forces,” and therefore “don’t benefit from the protections afforded to civilians and their deaths don’t constitute a violation of the law.”
As such, the Newseum’s glaring duplicity is all the more evident when considering the case of James P. Hunter. A staff sergeant, reporter and photographer with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, Hunter was killed on June 18, 2010 by an IED while covering the massive U.S. offensive taking place in Kandahar, Afghanistan, for The Fort Campbell Courier, an Army newspaper in Kentucky. He was an active duty soldier and the first Army journalist to die in combat since 9/11. Still, the Newseum saw fit to honor Hunter on its memorial wall.
Yet in the case of Salama and al-Kumi, “Israeli officials sought to justify attacks on Palestinian media by saying the military had targeted individuals or facilities that ‘had relevance to’ or were ‘linked with’ a Palestinian armed group, or had ‘encouraged and lauded acts of terror against Israeli civilians,’” according to Human Rights Watch. “These justifications, suggesting that it is permissible to attack media because of their associations or opinions, however repugnant, rather than their direct participation in hostilities, violate the laws of war and place journalists at grave risk.”
If repellant statements, including the justification of and praise for acts of violence against civilians, are the benchmark of propaganda and thereby constitute legitimate targeting for death by those opposed to such statements, then countless American journalists and commentators from across the political spectrum would be subject to the same fate as Salama and al-Kumi.
Warmongering and incitement abound in the editorial pages of The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal. Liberal commentators like Joe Klein and former White House spokesman Robert Gibbs exhalt the extrajudicial executions by flying robot of countless civilians, including a 16-year-old American citizen in Yemen and hundreds of children in Pakistan. Right-wing pundits like Jennifer Rubin and her friends at Commentary and The Weekly Standard openly advocate for the murder of Iranian and Palestinian civilians, endlessly call for permanent war and occupation, support torture and indefinite detention, advocate for the assassination of whistleblowers, scientists and foreign officials, and justify the war crimes of their preferred military forces and governments.
Just days before the car in which Salama and al-Kumi were traveling, marked clearly as a press vehicle, was blown up by an Israeli bomb, Rubin published a post praising the IDF assault on Gaza. Hardly able to contain her glee, Rubin anonymously quoted “an old Middle East hand” declaring that, after weeks of sporadic Israeli airstrikes (“a form of messaging to Hamas”), “the Israelis escalated. But still they are avoiding infrastructure, hitting pinpoint high-level Hamas target.”
A recent B’Tselem report on Israel’s actions last November, however, “challenges the common perception in the Israeli public and media that the operation was ‘surgical’ and caused practically no fatalities among uninvolved Palestinian civilians,” noting that, “in some cases at least, the [Israeli] military violated IHL [international humanitarian law] and in other cases there are substantial reasons to believe IHL was violated.” Israeli airstrikes killed 167 Palestinians in Gaza, at least 87 of whom were noncombatants, including 31 minors.
Two days after cheering Israeli war crimes, Rubin set her sights on a bigger target. “Israel can keep swatting down Hamas, using air power or, if need be, going into Gaza on land,” she wrote. “It has a solemn obligation to defend itself against what was a deliberate escalation by Hamas in the number and quality of weapons launched against Israel’s civilian population. But even with the most robust U.S. support this is not a long-term solution. That will only come when Iran is dealt with, either militarily or via regime change.”
Anyone arguing that Rubin could be targeted with violence for writing her opinions would be labeled sociopathic and lambasted for incitement, and for good reason. And there is no doubt that if correspondents from Israeli Army Radio or employees of the state-run Israel Broadcasting Authority were killed, they would be honored by the Newseum, without so much as a whiff of dissent, let alone outrage.
It is evident that, as always, Palestinians are subject to unparalleled scrutiny and suspicion due to the tireless defamation and lobbying efforts of big-moneyed Zionist organizations and ideological zealots.
But is it surprising that the Newseum should jump on this bias bandwagon?
In the late 1940′s, Bugsy Siegel’s former publicist Hank Greenspun was recruited by Jewish militias in Palestine to help them fight against both the occupying British and indigenous Palestinians. He hijacked a yacht and laundered $1.3 million through Mexico in order to smuggle machine guns stolen from the U.S. Navy in Hawaii to the prolific terrorist group Irgun, which had blown up Jerusalem’s King David Hotel the year before and would massacre the residents of Deir Yassin a year later. Soon thereafter, Greenspun was apprehended by the FBI while attempting to illegally ship surplus combat airplane engines to Haganah.
In 1950, he was convicted of violating the U.S. Neutrality Act and fined $10,000 for his arms deals. The same year, he purchased the Las Vegas Review-Journal and renamed it the Las Vegas Sun, serving as publisher for the next four decades.
Upon his death in 1989, former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres called Greenspun “a hero of our country and a fighter for freedom – a man of great spirit who fought with his mind and his soul; a man of great conviction and commitment.” In 1993, a one-acre plaza in the Jerusalem Botanical Garden of Hebrew University was dedicated to him.
- Jewish groups slam ‘Newseum’ for honoring Palestinian journalists killed by Israelis (alethonews.wordpress.com)
I’ve been coming to Gaza for a long time. My first was in 1985 and this is now my seventh trip to the region. In the 80’s, there were no substantial physical barriers between Gaza and Israel. Many Gazans worked as day laborers in Israel and many spoke Hebrew. Group taxis traveled freely between East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and directly into Gaza City. The society here in Gaza was much more Westernized and secular than it is today. Women wore blue jeans and ponytails; the hijab and the naqab were not nearly as ubiquitous as they are today. It was hardly a perfect relationship between Israelis and Palestinians; more of a privileged class and servant class based on the birthright of whether or not one was born Jewish. But there was abundant interaction between the two societies back then.
Then came the first intifada and then the Oslo “Peace Process” which was really a “Piece Process.” This culminated in the division of the two societies and the isolation of Gaza from the rest of the world. There was false hope then and a second intifada. Gaza was locked down as a consequence and became the world’s largest prison.
When I re-entered Gaza some 18 years later in 2003, it was a much different world. Dr. Haidar Abdul Shafi, a respected physician and civic leader here in Gaza, explained to me why he had walked out of the Madrid Peace negotiations in 1991. “I concluded that the Israelis were negotiating in bad faith,” he said. It took me a while to fully understand what he was talking about, but slowly it became clear. Gaza was now surrounded by a hideous “Berlin Wall”. Rachel Corrie had just been mowed down by a giant bulldozer. Houses and apartment blocks were being systematically destroyed under the orders of Ariel Sharon “to look for tunnels” which are used to smuggle goods from Egypt. Many tunnels were found and destroyed, but even more tunnels were built in their place and remain today. Over 2000 people in Rafah were made homeless as a direct result of Israel’s pursuit of the tunnels.
In 2006 I entered Gaza during a time of assault. The streets of Beit Hanoun were ripped apart after a Qassam missile had killed an Israeli woman in Sderot. Over 85 Palestinians were killed in Beit Hanoun and then an additional 19 members of the Al Athamna family were massacred as they slept in their beds. I interviewed some of the grief stricken survivors a few days after their onslaught. Apache attack helicopters reigned death and destruction from the skies directly above us; we rushed to the Kamal Adwan Hospital to assist local doctors as 5 young men in their 20s died right in front of us. It was a time of palpable fear for me, as I shared for the first time, the fear that local Gazans feel routinely.
In 2008, I entered Gaza by boat. I was part of the maiden voyage of the Free Gaza Movement; we were the first boats to arrive from international waters in 41 years. Gaza had been under a tightening siege. There were 40,000 people on the shores of the Gaza Marina waiting to greet us. It was a time of euphoria as we demonstrated to the people of Gaza that there are many of us around the world who have not forgotten them; many around the world who do care about them after all. There were several more boat trips and then flotillas. Then there was the massacre on the Mavi Marmara. My Italian friend Vittorio Arrigoni was martyred two years ago, and he is still remembered by the people of Gaza today.
Then there was the horror of Cast Lead. I last entered Gaza again in October 2009 in its aftermath. The streets were filled with entire blocks of rubble; entire neighborhoods had been leveled; the siege had been tightened still and there were no resources like concrete to rebuild. Dr. Marwan Assalya, the general surgeon at Al Awda Hospital where we were assigned, shared horrific photographs of people he had cared for during the previous winter. There were pictures or victims of white phosphorus attacks with second, third and fourth degree burns all over their bodies. There were recipients of DIME weaponry who had had their arms completely sheared off by vaporized micro-shrapnel. Patients who survived lingered, only to succumb later to sepsis; or if they survived that, to cancer, as a direct result of the tungsten heavy metal vapor supplied by the US arms industry. And there were pictures of drone victims who had had both legs blown off; These were the survivors; there were no pictures of the ones blown completely to smithereens.
So now it is April 2013 and I enter Gaza again. We enter through Erez and we are forced this time to sit through a one hour PowerPoint presentation by the Israeli military outlining how benevolent Israel tries to help, and how these ungrateful Palestinians respond with rockets and are their own worst enemy. I try not to grimace; I try not to hurt myself biting my lip. I try not to vomit or show any indication of what I am thinking. We just want to get through this, so we can enter Gaza and be with our friends.
So now we are here in Gaza. Our medical team disperses to various assignments. Dr. Bob Haynes and I are teaching elements of Advanced Cardiac Life Support at Shifa and Public Aid hospitals. We are giving lectures to very bright young medical and nursing students at Al Azhar and Islamic Universities.
We are being greeted by smiling and attentive students who still show hope and amazing resiliency for their future. In Gaza, hope springs eternal, Phoenix keeps rising miraculously from the ashes, especially among the youth.
Now the tunnel economy has flourished. There are now donkey carts hauling around Egyptian cement everywhere, and there are shiny new cars I haven’t seen before which have been brought in through the tunnels in the south. The nicer parts of Gaza City are showing new shops and new businesses. But while some are prospering, many others among the many poor are languishing and lost in time. The refugee camps we visit seem even more soiled and overcrowded than before, and there is trash everywhere. The UN is running out of money to maintain its food assistance program and people are revolting. The Hamas government is getting more forceful in their enforcement of traditional Islamic law. In spite of this, the people in these camps remain courteous, curious to see us and friendly. Gaza is a pressure cooker. The UN predicts that Gaza may become inhabitable after 2020.
But we will keep coming back as long as we can. Our conscience demands this of us.
- Dr. Bill Dienst is a rural family and emergency room physician from Omak, Washington. He is a graduate of the UW School of Medicine and Tacoma Family Medicine Family Practice Residency Program.
It is fitting that on the same day as this headline appeared, “Pro-Israeli US lawmakers urge bombing Syria air bases, arming militants, invasion” I delivered the following remarks to the United Nations International Meeting on the Question of Palestine:
From Cynthia McKinney: Remarks at the UN International Meeting on Palestine in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
My name is Cynthia McKinney and I served as a Member of the U.S. Congress for 12 years. During my time in Congress, I strove to make respect for human rights a central feature in the formulation of U.S. foreign policy. Amid minor successes, I have to say that my efforts while, broadly appreciated by many, failed miserably. That failure stems in part from the peculiarities of U.S. politics that allow policy formulation to deviate from and in many cases become diametrically opposed to the values of the people of the U.S. Sadly, what we in the U.S. call “special interests” are able to buy public policy by way of campaign contributions and misleading media campaigns. These “special interests” are aided and abetted in the U.S. by a concentrated media that has no obligation according to U.S. court decisions to tell the public the truth. In other words, U.S. media have won in U.S. court the right to knowingly lie to the people they ostensibly serve. I will briefly delve into this unusual and anti-”democratic” state of affairs now controlling in the U.S. once again before I conclude my remarks.
After my tenure in Congress, I became involved in international human rights activism. During Israel’s Operation Cast Lead (which was its war against Hamas and others), I joined with a group of human rights activists who tried to deliver medical supplies to the people of Gaza; the Israeli Military stopped us. While in international waters, an Israeli Defense Forces warship rammed the pleasure boat that I was on with the other volunteers, and totally destroyed our boat. Neither the medical supplies nor us volunteers reached Gaza.
Approximately six months later, we, the volunteers from the first thwarted effort, reassembled in order to make another attempt to reach Gaza by sea, traveling through international waters, with the hopes of entering into Palestine by way of Gaza’s territorial waters. By this time, Operation Cast Lead had ended, President Barack Obama had been sworn in, and he had appealed publicly for an easing of the Israeli blockade of Gaza. Gazans had made an appeal for school supplies for the children still reeling from the trauma of three weeks of what the United Nations called “one of the most violent episodes in the recent history of the Palestinian territory.” So, some of us answered that call with school supplies for the children and building supplies for the adults so that Gaza could rebuild from the devastation after Operation Cast Lead. On this effort to answer a humanitarian call for help, I, along with 20 other volunteers, was kidnapped by the Israeli military while in international waters, our boat was seized, we were taken by an extremely circuitous route to Israel where we never intended to go, and I was incarcerated in an Israeli prison for 7 days. Sadly, what I witnessed while in Israeli prison pointed to Israel as an apartheid state and the gross mistreatment of, particularly, Ethiopian women who had been lured to the “Holy Land” for job opportunities that vaporized because they were not of the correct religion. In addition to that, my observation at the time was that Ethiopian Jews are used as an important pillar–even enforcer, ironically, of Israeli apartheid. I can expand on this aspect of my observations later if there are specific questions or requests for more information from this body or from individuals in attendance at this Conference.
Needless to say, for a second time, I was prevented from entering Gaza. Upon hearing of my ordeal, Member of Parliament George Galloway who was in Cairo leading “Viva Palestina USA,” contacted me and invited me to come to Cairo and enter Gaza by land, which I did. Upon entering Gaza, I was able to see the destruction inflicted on the people by Israel’s Operation Cast Lead. I scooped up a bit of the soil and put it in this container. Sadly, as noted in the Goldstone Report and admitted by the Israeli Defense Forces, this Gaza soil is probably contaminated with whatever remains of the chemicals that were used by the Israelis against the people of Gaza: chemicals ranging from white phosphorus to inert metals. And while I unsuccessfully tried to pass legislation in Congress to end the use of depleted uranium in U.S. munitions because of the health effects, the Goldstone Report mentions that allegations were made that Israel used depleted uranium during Operation Cast Lead, which also might be in this soil. The United Nations Division for Palestinian Rights is also aware that civilian targets were bombed and totally destroyed. I visited a few of those targets.
One stop on my private tour of the destruction in Gaza was the American International School and amid the rubble I spotted a bright yellow something that I couldn’t quite make out what it was. So, I climbed through the jutted shards of concrete and exposed rebar to retrieve the object. This is that object: an English language children’s art book stamped with the initials of the American International School in Gaza, “AISG.” I was standing in what was left of the School’s library.
Another stop on my tour of the effects of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead was a neighborhood school, not nearly as big and grand as the American School. There, I could see the path of one missile that blew a hole clear through several walls of the school. There were markings on the chalkboard, including the Star of David. I saw several cans of peanuts on the floor. This is one of them. It is written in Hebrew. The Israeli soldiers blew up the school and then sat down in its ruins and enjoyed peanuts and drew religious and political markings on the chalkboard.
Both boats that I was on were seized by the Israelis and destroyed by them. The humanitarian aid on the boats did not reach Gaza and only token aid was delivered by the land convoy to the Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza, the bulk of it stranded in Egypt, not allowed into Gaza by the Egyptians or the Israelis.
What is amazing is not only that this happens over and over again, but that Israeli leaders who commit war crimes and crimes against humanity, leave office, and are never held accountable for their policies, as was done by victims of Augusto Pinochet, and as is being done currently by the International Criminal Court. Another aspect of this impunity is that Israel continues to receive U.S. weapons and technology which it uses against civilians in contravention of U.S. law. As these weapons are used or become outdated, the U.S. replenishes Israel’s weapons stock every year.
One measure of this impunity is brought to bear by the pro-Israel Lobby that operates in the political sphere of the U.S. I am a former Member of Congress because pro-Israel sympathizers known as the “pro-Israel Lobby” ensured my ouster from Congress and that of many other Members of Congress who dared to try and draw attention to U.S. law, Israel’s human rights violations, Israel’s misuse of U.S. weapons, or any other inconvenient facts that were better buried and left unknown.
What many of you might not know, because these things just aren’t discussed as widely as they should be, is that many of those Members of Congress who were put out of office by the pro-Israel Lobby were the stolen children of Africa, descendants of Africans trafficked in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. I will call the names of a few and tell you where you can find information about them as they tell their own stories:
· Gus Savage, Member of Congress from Chicago, Illinois was targeted for defeat by the pro-Israel Lobby because he dared to engage in foreign relations within the purview of a Member of Congress on the African Continent, in Egypt among other places. He recounted his ordeal on the Floor of the House of Representatives and revealed the secrets of the pro-Israel Lobby on the Congressional Record where students and others interested in this topic can find his words today.
· Earl Hilliard, Member of Congress from Birmingham, Alabama was the first Black Member of Congress to serve the people of Alabama since the U.S. Civil War’s Reconstruction Era. He was ejected from the Congress by the pro-Israel Lobby because he, like Gus Savage, traveled to Africa, and in particular to Libya. He also traveled to Lebanon and learned of new weapons for that time, that had been used there by Israel. For this transgression, Earl Hilliard had to go. He is interviewed in a Dutch documentary that is available on youtube where he describes the vicious campaign that was run against him by the pro-Israel Lobby.
· And then, there’s me. Just this month, I published a book entitled Ain’t Nothing Like Freedom, in which I describe just a few of the tactics that were used against me by the pro-Israel Lobby to destroy my career in Congress.
· These three political “take-downs” were very publicly done in order to send a message to others who might also be inclined to speak up out of moral conviction, as Savage, Hilliard, and I did.
· This weeding out also occurs on the local level with state and local elected officials like my father and others targeted for defeat because of the potential threat to the interests of the pro-Israel Lobby that they pose.
· In addition, on a public and private level, targeted individuals have to endure soft repression that makes life difficult. All of this needs to be put on the record if one is to fully understand the power of the pro-Israel Lobby and the pall that it casts on the political process in the U.S. and from what I have been told, also in Europe.
· Finally, the political landscape for Blacks in the U.S. is negatively affected by this weeding out process, because their strongest and most outspoken authentic leaders are vulnerable to the challenges from candidates that are well funded by outside “special interests.”
In light of this, I would like to put this thought to you: can you even imagine what U.S. policy would be like at the United Nations if the will of the people were carried out without the interference of the pro-Israel Lobby? The Durban World Conference Against Racism was a watershed that could be revisited time and time again with U.S. support and participation, except that powerful Lobbies want otherwise. I know, it’s hard to imagine things differently. But it is not hard for me and that is one vision that keeps me going: U.S. policy made in the image of the values of the people of the U.S. At a Conference whose theme is African solidarity with the Palestinian people, I thought it was important to mention not only how the pro-Israel Lobby skews politics in the U.S. against the Palestinians, but also against African-descendants inside the U.S.
I focus on this important aspect of policy-making by focusing on who gets to make the policy because I believe that this is one key reason why Palestinians are forced to suffer while, at best platitudes and delay, serve as the effective policies of the US and European countries.
The short version of this tragic story is that pro-Israel forces inside the U.S. are willing to use their money to buy political influence and protection for Israel across the political spectrum while the same cannot be said of pro-peace, pro-justice forces. I liken the situation to game day when one team shows up in beautiful new uniforms with all of the latest and best equipment, primed and ready to execute its strategy in the game of play, while the other team doesn’t even show up on the pitch. I believe that one remaining untested justice frontier is the political battleground in U.S. and European capitals. It is inside these essential capitals that pro-Israel Lobbies have become comfortable operating with very little opposition from the other side.
I am tired of losing when, I believe, we really do not have to lose. I fundamentally believe that the people of this world are good and want peace. I have spoken to Afghanis and Pakistanis, to Yemenis and to Somalis, Palestinians and Americans, and I find them to be peace-loving peoples.
So, how do we move from where we are to where we need to be? That is the fundamental question. I focus on the political because the political creates the legal. And the political creates impunity.
Just in my personal experiences, I have outlined breaches of international humanitarian law, international human rights law, international law, and U.S. law by the occupying power: Israel.
I served as a juror on the Bertrand Russell Tribunal on Palestine that recently concluded its Sessions with a finding that both the U.S. and Europe are guilty of contributing to the atmosphere of impunity with which apartheid Israel carries out its policies against Palestinians and anyone who stands in its way.
I also recently served as an Official Observer as the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission received testimony from Palestinians on their treatment inside Israel as well as in the Occupied Territories.
Through my service with both of these organizations, I have met too many courageous Palestinians and Israelis who want to live peacefully with each other and who put their lives and their livelihoods on the line every day for peace and the rule of law. I do believe that much of the suffering could be alleviated if we would put sufficient energy and resources behind putting out in public view how the pro-Israel Lobby misdirects U.S. and European policies and prevents pro-peace and justice politicians from ever having the opportunity to put those values, along with our basic human dignity, permanently on the table for public debate.
Finally, I am not Palestinian. I am not Arab. I am not Muslim. But I am human. And that is enough for me to acknowledge the dignity of others who are oppressed and to epitomize what this Conference is all about: African Solidarity with the Palestinian People for the Achievement of its inalienable rights, including the sovereignty and independence of the State of Palestine.
Produced by SBS/Dateline – June 2003
Tom Hurndall was shot through the head by the Israeli army. We follow his grieving family who came to Gaza to see what their son was doing. Five-year-old Salamah was one of three children Tom was attempting to rescue when he was shot. He had frozen in fear when soldiers began firing at him. Another young peace campaigner, Brian Avery, is lucky to be alive after a burst of machine gun fire ripped off half his face. He now lies in hospital with horrific scars barely able to talk. The Israelis are cracking down on foreigners entering the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli army were invading the city of Rafah, in the Gaza Strip when Tom and other ISM volunteers saw a group of children in a street where snipers were firing. Witnesses say that bullets were shot around the children, who were paralysed by fear and unable to move – Tom pulled one child to safety, but as he was returning for a second, he was shot in the head by a sniper.
He went into a coma and died nine months later on 13th January 2004. He was 22 years old. Today, on the day he was shot, we pay tribute to Tom’s bravery. Our thoughts are with his family and friends. We continue to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people, as we think Tom would have wished.
“What do I want from this life? What makes you happy is not enough. All the things that satisfy our instincts only satisfy the animal in us. I want to be proud of myself. I want more. I want to look up to myself and when I die, I want to smile because of the things I have done, not cry for the things I haven’t done.” – Tom Hurndall
Representatives of IHH, the international humanitarian organization that organized the passengers on the Mavi Marmara in the 2010 Gaza Freedom Flotilla, have told the author that families of the nine murdered by Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) commandos on May 31, 2010, consider the “apology” of the Israeli government to the Turkish government as meaning very little until the Israeli government lifts the blockade on Gaza.
Their family members were killed on a non-violent mission to challenge the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza and the families do not consider either an Israeli government apology or the offer of compensation for the death of their loved one as any form of fulfillment of their mission—only the lifting of the blockade on Gaza will assuage their deaths.
The IHH representatives also said that a prosecutor’s indictment filed in the Istanbul High Criminal Court on May 29, 2012 against four senior Israeli government military and intelligence officials will continue. Witnesses have provided sworn testimony in court hearings in November, 2012 and February, 2013. A third hearing for testimony from remaining witnesses is scheduled for May, 2013.
The four defendants, the former Israeli Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces, the Israeli Naval Forces Commander, the Israeli Air Force Intelligence Director, the head of the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate, are charged with willful killing, attempted willful killing, intentional causing serious injury to body or health, plundering, hijacking or seizing maritime vessels, intentionally causing damage to property and instigating violent crime.
A political apology by the Israeli government to the Turkish government cannot stop a legal process underway in the Turkish courts, the IHH representatives said. The President of Turkey cannot order the Turkish courts to drop the case and to do so would be a violation of Turkish law, they said.
The first criminal complaint concerning the Israeli attack was filed on October 14, 2010 at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Eight Turkish citizens and one American citizen were murdered by Israeli commandos. While President Obama recently cajoled Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to apologize to the Turkish government for the deaths of their citizens, he apparently did not ask for a public apology for the death of the American citizen, 19 year old Furkan Dogan.
Nor did President Obama authorize a U.S. government investigation into the death of Furkan; instead, the Obama administration in 2010 said that it had confidence in the investigation conducted by the Israeli government, an investigation that almost three years later has now been revealed by the Israeli Prime Minister himself to have discovered “operational mistakes” in the conduct of the raid on the six ships of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla.
President Obama apparently knew full well that American citizen Furkan Dogan had been executed at close range by Israeli commandos when Turkish President Erdogan, shortly after the Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla, showed him photos taken in the Istanbul morgue of Furkan’s body with fatal wounds to his head. Israeli commandos shot Furkan five times at close range. Obama reportedly quickly turned away from Furkan’s photo that showed the bullet wound to his face.
In the months following the attack in 2010, President Erdogan apparently showed the photos of some of the murdered passengers to several heads of state, including Italian President Berlusconi, to leave no doubt that Israeli commandos executed the passengers at close range.
Now, almost three years later, we know from U.S. government documents obtained by the Center for Constitutional Rights through a Freedom of Information Action (FOIA) request, that the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv were in frequent contact with the Israeli government concerning the flotilla before, during and after the Israeli attack on the ships of the flotilla.
“Upon learning that American citizens (“Amcits”) would participate in the May 2010 flotilla, several State Department officials expressed concerns that the Americans may be harmed or at least detained by Israeli forces. However, no records have been released reflecting any high level discussions that may have occurred on the need to protect the lives of participants or encouraging opening the flow of aid and commerce into Gaza . To the contrary, despite having been informed by organizers of the non-violent humanitarian purpose of their mission, released records point to a pattern of U.S. officials blaming flotilla participants for “putting themselves in danger” rather than working to reduce the risk of such danger from an Israeli attack.”
IHH representatives also mentioned that the Israeli offer of compensation is to the families of those killed, not to those who were wounded by Israeli commandos. One passenger has been in a coma for almost three years and many passengers who were also seriously wounded are still suffering from their bullet wounds. Some of those wounded are from countries other than Turkey and no Israeli apology has been made to them or their governments.
To some, an Israeli “apology” is remarkable as Israel has virtually never “apologized” for any of its actions. And they would say that an “apology” and an acknowledgement of “operational mistakes” are better than silence from the Israeli government.
However, passengers on the Gaza flotilla did not go on the voyage to Gaza for their own self-gratification. They went to bring attention to the plight of Palestinians. When Palestinians are routinely killed in the West Bank and Gaza by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), when Palestinians are subjected to inhumane checkpoints and apartheid walls, when the blockade of Gaza continues and when Israel attacks Gaza with impunity as it did in 2009 killing 1400 Palestinians and in 2012 killing over 300 Palestinians, then allowing Israel to escape criminal liability with an “apology” for the nine murders on the Mavi Marmara is essentially giving the Israeli government a “green light” to continue its policies of oppression, occupation, imprisonment, and blockade of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem and the murder of Palestinians.
If it were any other country in the world that had committed any of these acts, the United States would have withdrawn military and economic aid, but instead, almost three years later, the Israeli government walks away with a mere “apology.”
That’s not right, and virtually everyone in the world, except the United States government, knows it.
Hand in hand with Palestinians, international citizen activists will continue to challenge the inhuman Israeli actions toward Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem.
The next challenge of the naval blockade of Gaza will be Gaza’s Ark which will attempt to break the Israeli quarantine by carrying export products from Gaza out by boat (www.gazaark.org).
Ann Wright spent 29 years in the US Army/Army Reserves and retired as a Colonel. She was a US diplomat for 16 years and resigned in 2003 in opposition to the Iraq war. She travelled to Gaza three times in 2009, helped organize the 2009 Gaza Freedom March and was a passenger on the 2010 and 2011 Gaza Freedom Flotillas. She was an organizer for the US Boat to Gaza, the Audacity of Hope and is an organizer for the US campaign for Gaza’s Ark. She was a witness in the November, 2012, Istanbul Criminal Court hearing, in which passengers provided sworn testimony describing the 2010 IDF attack on the Mavi Marmara and the Challenger 1.
- Now Gaza’s Ark Prepares to Dare Israel (ipsnews.net)
- Obama Doesn’t Seek Israeli Apology American Youth’s Killing (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Gaza fighters fired retaliatory strikes on Tuesday, hours after the death in custody of a Palestinian who was denied appropriate cancer treatment, witnesses and the Israeli military said.
Witnesses told AFP that militants in Gaza City had fired three mortar rounds, but the army said only one projectile had landed, without causing any casualties.
Meanwhile, over 40 Palestinians angered by the death of Maisara Abu Hamdiyeh, 64, were injured in clashes with Israeli police and prison guards. Riots are believed to have swept through Israeli prisons, while guards used live fire and tear gas against the protesters.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told AFP that the faction was watching the developments with “the greatest concern” and that Israel would “regret its continuing crimes”.
The last time Gaza fighters launched rocket fire was on March 21 during a visit by US President Barack Obama, when two rockets landed causing some damage but no injuries.
Maysara Abu Hamdiyeh’s death threatened to raise tensions in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza, after reports surfaced that Israeli authorities had denied care to the prisoner. Palestinian Prisoner Affairs Minister Issa Qaraqe likened Israel’s handling of Abu Hamdiyeh’s condition to a “slow death penalty.”
Israeli authorities claim they informed Abu Hamdiyeh, 64, of his illness in February, however, prisoner’s rights groups say the diagnosis occurred in August 2012. His lawyers and relatives report that Israeli doctors ran biopsies on him after he repeatedly complained of throat pains.
Palestinians have held several protests in recent weeks in support of more than 7,000 prisoners in Israeli jails, including over 300 children.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Israel had ignored long-standing pleas to free Abu Hamdiyeh, 64, sentenced to life in prison in 2002 for recruiting a bomber who planted explosives in a Jerusalem cafe. The bomb did not detonate.
“The Israeli government in its intransigence and arrogance refused to respond to Palestinian efforts to save the life of the prisoner,” Abbas told members of his Fatah party in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
Abu Hamdiyeh is the second Palestinian to die in Israeli custody this year. Arafat Jaradat, 30, died after an interrogation session in February. Palestinian officials said he had been tortured, an allegation Israel denied.
News of Abu Hamdiyeh’s death touched off protests by Palestinian inmates in several Israeli prisons. At Ramon jail, in southern Israel, inmates threw objects at guards, who fired tear gas at them, the Prisons Service spokeswoman said.
Three prisoners and six guards were treated at the jail for tear gas inhalation, she said.
In Abu Hamdiyeh’s West Bank home city of Hebron, masked stone-throwers confronted Israeli soldiers. No serious injuries were reported.
Israel holds 178 Palestinians in administrative detention, who have been jailed without trial as suspected militants for renewable three- to six-month terms based on classified evidence.
Hundreds of sick Palestinians are perishing in Israeli jails, according to the Palestinian Prisoner Affairs Minister and activists. The Palestinian Prisoners Club says some 25 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel are suffering from cancer.
Palestinians are expected to hold strikes across the West Bank and Gaza, and Palestinian members of the Israeli Knesset have issued strongly worded condemnations of the Israeli government over Abu Hamdiyeh’s deah.
Rights groups, as well as Qaraqe, described Abu Hamdiyeh’s eight-hour trips to and from the hospital as hellish. He was transported in a corrugated metal van with no windows or seats.
The Palestinian Authority said they expected him to be released on Monday. Israel’s refusal to free Abu Hamdiyeh had sparked protests in several Israeli prisons, where 17 detainees have begun a hunger strike.
In recent weeks, Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad made intense efforts to secure Abu Hamdiyeh’s release in the light of his deteriorating health.
(Al-Akhbar, Reuters, AFP)
‘Why is this lying bastard lying to me?’ is a remark about interviewing politicians commonly attributed to Newsnight’s Jeremy Paxman (actually originally made by Louis Heren of The Times). For those of us who watch Newsnight and its like the question we need to ask is not only ‘why’, but also ‘how’ these lying bastards are lying to us. You may well get the feeling that what you are watching is skewed, but given the speed of TV reports it can be difficult to recognise exactly just how we are being manipulated.
There is little doubt that we are being manipulated. For example, the Glasgow University Media Group (GUMG) – in a study of BBC and ITV news bulletins – found that the Israeli perspective was used to structure news reports (see *Philo and Berry, 2011). There was also very little context given of the history of how the occupation developed and how it has been prosecuted by the Israelis. Reporters tended to use ‘loaded’ vocabulary, so only Palestinians were described as ‘militants’ or ‘gunmen’. In addition, the USA was unrealistically presented as being even-handed and trying to broker a fair peace. Many or perhaps all of these findings also appear to apply to Newsnight.
This article is based on research I carried out for my MA dissertation (the full text of which is available online). Here I’m going to analyse one Newsnight report on Israel/Palestine using a method called Critical Discourse Analysis. The full version of this uses a three-level analysis – the social context (government policy on the Middle East), the institutional context (how the BBC operates to construct news programmes on the Middle East in the context of its relationship with the state) and the text (the reports). For reasons of space I’m just going to concentrate on one programme here. This report was broadcast on 19 November 2012 amidst speculation that Israel was going to invade Gaza once again (the report can be watched online. A full transcript is also available).
CDA is a flexible approach which can analyse a number of aspects of a text – grammar, vocabulary, discourses (such as metaphors), genres and so on, with the aim of revealing the underlying presuppositions and discovering what has been left out. The results can help to illuminate the ideology of the producer. In this case, I’m going to look at the report stage by stage and point out some of the sleight of hand involved.
The first stage is the introduction to the programme which highlights the report on Gaza. The presenter Kirsty Wark begins by saying `who can stop Gaza and Israel descending into a ground war’ (line 1 of the transcript). Why does Wark set up Gaza and Israel as equal subjects of the process `descending into war’? This spuriously implies that there are two more or less equal sides with equal responsibility for the situation. A more honest introduction could be `who can stop Israel attacking Gaza and the Palestinians responding’. Wark’s verbal manipulation establishes the tone of the report which completely avoids discussing Israel’s motivation for starting the conflict.
The second stage is the studio introduction to the report itself, which concentrates on updating the viewer on the most recent events. Here we see a privileging of the Israeli point of view. In particular, Wark claims that `Israeli jets pound the Strip in retaliation for rocket attacks’ (l.11-12). The GUMG has shown that it is very common for TV news to claim that Israeli attacks on the Palestinians are `retaliation’, whether this is true or not. However, the Palestinians claim that Israel started this conflict when they killed a child in Gaza on 8 November. Why does the BBC completely ignore this (reported in The Guardian 18 November) and take the Israeli account as unproblematic?
Wark then asks one question to Diplomatic Editor Mark Urban who goes into an analysis of what has been happening. This format – which is frequent on TV news programmes – allows Urban to state his views unchallenged: a good way to establish his presuppositions as `the truth’. For example, he refers to the 2009 Israeli invasion of Gaza as a `limited conflict’ (l.33-35, from which we can guess that he wasn’t living there at the time). And although he refers to the Israeli attack on a building in Gaza which housed news organisations (l.50-52), this reference is `backgrounded’ as if it was accidental. In fact, Israel has a record (as does the USA) of attacking independent journalists, but Urban ignores this.
In the third stage we get an edited `package’ which starts to include other voices – where reporters select and incorporate the comments of interviewees into a chain with a linking voiceover. This may make it seem as if it is just telling a story in a natural way, but of course it is constructed to tell the story that the reporter wants – in other words it is ideological. The voices here are those of the Israeli and Egyptian governments, and Hamas. However, they are not treated equally. Individuals close to the governments are interviewed to give a semi-official point of view, but only a brief clip of a Hamas press conference is included – no direct interview. Why is this? Is the BBC denying a voice to Hamas, which is after all the elected representative of the people of Gaza, because the UK government will not recognise it? The BBC is funded by licence-fee payers, you and me, not the Foreign Office. But for Newsnight the importance of properly informing the viewer of events is secondary to toeing the government line. In practice, the BBC’s independence from government may be real to some degree but it is strictly limited (see my discussion of the reasons why in my original research).
Urban also discusses what will happen if Israel invades Gaza. However, this is done in a very matter-of-fact way, as if discussing military exercises. We are shown maps of Gaza with arrows and tanks, and mention of `2009’s ground push’, `severing communications’, and only additionally `producing hundreds of civilian deaths’ (l.98-101). Would the tone be the same if the US/UK security services’ lunatic fantasy of Iran attacking Israel ever happened? Would Urban calmly be discussing severing communications in Tel Aviv while we looked at graphics of tanks on maps? It hardly seems likely. The screen would be filled with voices denouncing this monstrous attack. Why aren’t we seeing this about the war crime of killing civilians in Gaza? Instead, the only external voice brought in to comment on this is Tony Blair. Newsnight chooses Britain’s major war criminal to sanitise Israel’s assault on Gaza, for that is effectively what Blair tries to do in the final stage of the programme.
Wark now asks Blair five questions. If we examine them we can see quite clearly the presuppositions that inform this report. Two of them are about Hamas receiving weapons via Egypt (l.141-143 and l.159-165) and clearly assume that there is something wrong with this. Why is this assumed? Palestine has been under occupation since 1948, and since 1967 the United Nations has called on Israel to pull back to its pre-1967 borders, which it refuses to do. Instead it uses violence to repress the Palestinians, which includes the use of weapons supplied by the USA and UK. Why should the Palestinians not have weapons to defend themselves? What about Israel’s weapons? These questions are completely suppressed by Newsnight.
It is particularly telling that Wark asks Blair `is there no pressure we can put on that this weaponry does not come through from Egypt’? Who is this `we’ exactly? Neither the UK nor the BBC is involved in the conflict, so why is Wark including the viewer in taking sides? The assumption throughout is that the Palestinians have no right to defend themselves. Even when Wark presses Blair to agree that the Israeli response has been disproportionate her question includes the ridiculous assumption that the Palestinians have been `harassing’ Israel (l.180-185). Blair’s response is a very good example of a politician trying to wriggle out of admitting the truth, which Wark fails to follow up on.
There are numerous other examples from this report which demonstrate how the BBC manipulates its reporting on this topic to favour Israel which lack of space prevents me from recounting (but you can read a fuller analysis in my original research). However, it is clear that the report is framed to privilege the Israeli viewpoint. The question remains – why? Is it the individual bias of particular journalists? That is hardly likely as the approach is consistent across a wide range of reporters. The reason lies in the relationship between the BBC and the state (see my discussion of this here). The BBC is allowed a certain amount of independence as long as certain boundaries are not crossed. One of those major boundaries is Israel’s repression of the Palestinians. We can – and should – pressurise the BBC to be more truthful. But don’t hold your breath for a positive response – we are in for a very long wait.
* Greg Philo and Mike Berry (2011) More Bad News From Israel Pluto Press
Peter Allen can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
The tears shed by assorted media at the news of David Miliband’s departure from British politics for a new life in New York had me reaching once again for the sick-bag.
“British politics will be a poorer place without David,” said brother Ed, leader of the Labour Party.
Will it? I’m pleased to see Peter Oborne’s straight-talking piece in The Telegraph putting Miliband D in his place.
“We are, after all, talking about someone who was at best a minor politician, no towering colossus,” writes Oborne. “After Labour’s 1997 election victory he was the poster boy of a new ruling elite which seized control of the commanding heights of British politics. Anti-democratic, financially greedy and morally corrupt, this new political class has done the most enormous damage. Since David Miliband was its standard-bearer, his political career explains a great deal about what has gone wrong with British public life, about why politicians are no longer liked or trusted, and about how political parties have come to be viewed with contempt.”
Oborne makes the point that Miliband set the pattern so many others, including his brother Ed, have followed. “Obsessed by politics at university, he has never had even the faintest connection with the real world. From life in think tanks he became a Labour Party researcher and special adviser, before being parachuted into the north-eastern constituency of South Shields as an MP.”
Miliband wrote Labour’s vacuous 1997 and 2001 election manifestos and was at the heart of the Labour machine when it generated the now notorious falsehoods over Iraq. Oborne also notes the irony of Miliband’s new job heading a humanitarian organisation “when the government of which he was such a loyal member created so many of the world’s disasters”.
We are reminded that Miliband was inexperienced and had no idea how the world worked, so was out of his depth when promoted to the Foreign Office. “During his short, undistinguished career, Mr Miliband has done grave damage to British politics. He is part of the new governing élite which is sucking the heart out of our representative democracy while enriching itself in the process… David Miliband has belittled our politics and he will not be missed.”
And having gone, many will be praying the Miliband brat won’t be back.
He will be forever remembered as the British foreign secretary who shamelessly apologized to Israel’s gangsters for the risk they ran of being arrested if they set foot in London. Back in 2009 Ehud Barak, Tzipi Livni and retired general Doron Almog, cancelled engagements in London for fear of ‘having their collar felt’. Israel complained bitterly and Miliband promised Lieberman that UK laws relating to ‘universal jurisdiction’ would be changed. He asked Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Justice Minister Jack Straw for urgent action.
When the general election ousted him from the Foreign Office, Miliband’s groveling promise was eagerly taken up by his replacement, William Hague, another fanatical ‘friend of Israel’, who declared that a situation where politicians like Mrs Livni could be threatened with arrest in the UK was “completely unacceptable… We have agreed in the coalition about putting it right, we will put it right through legislation… and I phoned Mrs Livni amongst others to tell her about that and received a very warm welcome for our proposals.”
Never mind that the arrest warrants were issued to answer well-founded criminal charges. Never mind that under ‘universal jurisdiction’ all states that are party to the Geneva Conventions are under a binding obligation to seek out those suspected of having committed grave breaches of the Conventions and bring them, regardless of nationality, to justice. And never mind that there should be no hiding place for those suspected of crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Human rights activists resorted to private arrest warrants because the government was in the habit of shirking its duty under the Fourth 1949 Geneva Convention and dragged its feet until the birds had flown.
Bringing a private prosecution for a criminal offence is an ancient right in common law and, in the words of Lord Wilberforce, “a valuable constitutional safeguard against inertia or partiality on the part of the authority.” Lord Diplock, another respected Lord of Appeal, called it “a useful safeguard against capricious, corrupt or biased failure or refusal of those authorities to prosecute offenders against the criminal law”.
And the beauty of the private warrant was that it could be issued speedily.
The servile Miliband’s action disgusted those who will never forget that Tzipi Livni, Israel’s former foreign minister, was largely responsible for the terror that brought death and destruction to Gaza’s civilians during the blitzkrieg known as Operation Cast Lead. Showing no remorse, and with the blood of 1,400 dead Gazans (including 320 children and 109 women) on her hands and thousands more horribly maimed, Livni’s office issued a statement saying she was proud of it. Speaking later at a conference at Tel Aviv’s Institute for Security Studies, she said: “I would today take the same decisions.”
Any British government minister who brings this degree of obsequiousness to his job and is prepared to undermine our justice system in order to make the UK a safe haven for the likes of her, deserves to be judged harshly.
Miliband is also remembered for not having the guts to visit Gaza, or even Iran, while in office. Yet he managed to reach Gaza in 2011 with Save the Children. “I had not been able to visit while in government for security reasons,” he said in an article in The Guardian. What nonsense. The only danger would have been from an air-strike by his psychopathic friends in Tel Aviv or a Mossad assassin. Those risks go with the job. You can’t be an effective foreign secretary wrapped in cotton wool.
He said the purpose of his eventual trip to Gaza was “to get a sense of life… to get a glimpse, albeit brief, of life for the people”. A pity he didn’t do that earlier instead of wielding his ministerial power in ignorance
While David Miliband headed up foreign policy it was frankly embarrassing to be British. What magical transformation has this pipsqueak recently undergone to make him the ideal candidate to run an organization like the International Rescue Committee? With the likes of Madeleine Albright, Condoleeza Rice, Colin Powell, and Henry Kissinger on board, you might wonder about the IRC’s presence in vulnerable countries like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
No-one is about to forget Albright’s infamous remark about the human misery caused by the intervention and mayhem in Iraq, that “the price is worth it”.
- Stuart Littlewood’s book Radio Free Palestine, with Foreword by Jeff Halper, can now be read on the internet by visiting http://www.radiofreepalestine.org.uk.
‘Hi Papa .. Don’t worry about me too much, right now I am most concerned that we are not being effective. I still don’t feel particularly at risk. Rafah has seemed calmer lately,’ Rachel Corrie wrote to her father, Craig, from Rafah, a town located at the southern end of the Gaza Strip.
‘Rachel’s last email’ was not dated on the Rachel Corrie Foundation website. It must have been written soon after her last email to her mother, Cindy, on Feb 28. She was killed by an Israeli bulldozer on March 16, 2003.
Immediately after her painful death, crushed beneath an Israeli army bulldozer, Rafah embraced her legacy as another ‘martyr’ for Palestine. It was a befitting tribute to Rachel, who was born to a progressive family in the town of Olympia, itself a hub for anti-war and social justice activism. But Olympia is also the capital of Washington State. Politicians here can be as callous, morally flexible and pro-Israel as any other seats of government in the US, where sharply dressed men and women jockey for power and influence. Ten years after Rachel’s death, the US government is yet to hold Israel to account. Neither is justice expected anytime soon.
Bordering Egyptian and Israeli fences, and ringed by some of the poorest refugee camps anywhere, Rafah has never ceased being a news topic in years. The town’s gallantry of the First Palestinian Uprising (Intifada) in 1987 was the stuff of legends among other resisting towns, villages and refugee camps in Gaza and the rest of Palestine. The Israeli army used Rafah as a testing ground for a lesson to be taught to the rest of Palestinians. Thus, its list of ‘martyrs’ is one of the longest, and it is unlikely to stop growing anytime soon. Many of Rafah’s finest perished digging tunnels into Egypt to break the Israeli economic blockade that followed Palestine’s democratic elections in 2006. Buried under heaps of mud, drowning in Egyptian sewage water, or pulverized by Israeli missiles, some of Rafah’s men are yet to be located for proper burial.
Rafah agonized for many years, not least because it was partially encircled by a cluster of illegal Jewish settlements – Slav, Atzmona, Pe’at Sadeh, Gan Or and others. The residents of Rafah were deprived of security, freedom, and even for extended periods of time, access to the adjacent sea, so that the illegal colonies could enjoy security, freedom and private beaches. Even when the settlements were dismantled in 2005, Rafah became largely entrapped between the Israeli military border, incursions, Egyptian restrictions and an unforgiving siege. True to form, Rafah continues to resist.
Rachel and her International Solidarity Movement (ISM) friends must have appreciated the challenge at hand and the brutality by which the Israeli army conducted its business. Reporting for the British Independent newspaper from Rafah, Justin Huggler wrote on Dec. 23, 2003: “Stories of civilians being killed pour out of Rafah, turning up on the news wires in Jerusalem almost every week. The latest, an 11-year-old girl shot as she walked home from school on Saturday.” His article was entitled: “In Rafah, the children have grown so used to the sound of gunfire they can’t sleep without it.” He too “fell asleep to the sound of the guns.”
Rafah was affiliated with other ominous realities, one being house demolitions. In its report, Razing Rafah, published Oct 18, 2004, Human Rights Watch mentioned some very disturbing numbers. Of the 2,500 houses demolished by Israel in Gaza between 2000-04, “nearly two-thirds of these homes were in Rafah… Sixteen thousand people, more than ten percent of Rafah’s population, have lost their homes, most of them refugees, many of whom were dispossessed for a second or third time.” Much of the destruction occurred so that alleyways could be widened to secure Israeli army operations. Israel’s weapon of choice was the Caterpillar D9 bulldozer, which often arrived late at night.
Rachel Corrie was also crushed by the same type of US manufactured and supplied bulldozer that terrorized Rafah for years. It is no wonder that Rachel’s photos and various graffiti paintings adorn many walls of Rafah streets. Commemorating Rachel’s death anniversary for the tenth time, activists in Rafah gathered on March 16. They spoke passionately of the American girl who challenged an Israeli bulldozer so that a Rafah home could remain standing. A 12-year-old girl thanked Rachel for her courage and asked the US government to stop supplying Israel with weapons that are often used against civilians.
While Rafah carried much of the occupation brunt and the vengeance of the Israeli army, its story and that of Rachel’s was merely symbolic of the greater tragedy which has been unfolding in Palestine for many years. Here is a quick summary of the house demolition practice of recent years, according to the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions, also published in Al Jazeera August 2012:
The Israeli government destroyed 22 homes in East Jerusalem and 222 homes in West Bank in 2011, leaving nearly 1,200 people homeless. During the war on Gaza (Dec 2008 – Jan 2009), it destroyed 4,455 homes, leaving 20,000 Palestinians displaced and unable to rebuild due to the restrictions imposed by the siege. (Other reports give much higher estimates.) Since 1967, the Israeli government destroyed 25,000 homes in the occupied territories, rendered 160,000 Palestinians homeless. Numbers can be even grimmer if one is to take into account those who were killed and wounded during clashes linked to the destruction of these homes.
So, when Rachel Corrie stood with a megaphone and an orange high-visibility jacket trying to dissuade an Israeli bulldozer driver from demolishing yet another Palestinian home, the stakes were already high. And despite the inhumane caricaturing of her act by pro-Israeli US and other western media, and the expected Israeli court ruling last August, Rachel’s brave act and her subsequent murder stand at the heart of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It highlighted the ruthlessness of the Israeli army, put to shame Tel Aviv’s judicial system, confronted the international community with its utter failure to provide protection for Palestinian civilians and raised the bar even higher for the international solidarity movement.
The Israel court verdict last August was particularly sobering and should bring to an end any wishful thinking that Israel’s self-tailored judicial system is capable of achieving justice, neither for a Palestinian, nor an American. “I reached the conclusion that there was no negligence on the part of the bulldozer driver,” Judge Oded Gershon said as he read out his verdict in a Haifa District Court in northern Israel. Rachel’s parents had filed a law suit, requesting a symbolic $1 in damages and legal expenses. Gershon rejected the suit, delineated that Rachel was not a ‘reasonable person’ and, once more blamed the victim, as has been the case with thousands of Palestinians for many years. “Her death is the result of an accident she brought upon herself,” he said. It all sounded as though demolishing homes as a form of collective punishment was just another ‘reasonable’ act, deserving of legal protection. In fact, per Israeli occupation rules, it is.
Rachel’s legacy will survive even Gershon’s charade court proceeding and much more. Her sacrifice is now etched into a much larger landscape of Palestinian heroism and pain.
“I think freedom for Palestine could be an incredible source of hope to people struggling all over the world,” she wrote to her mother nearly two weeks before her death. “I think it could also be an incredible inspiration to Arab people in the Middle East, who are struggling under undemocratic regimes which the US supports.”
- Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is: My Father was A Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press).
“Parents can be awakened by their children”
–Cindy Corrie, 2003 Commencement address
Ten years have now passed since we received the terrible phone call telling us our young friend Rachel Corrie was dead. We had gone to see her off the drizzly winter day she left Olympia to work in Gaza with the International Solidarity Movement. We couldn’t know that we were seeing her for the last time, nor foresee the legacy she would leave as she said goodbye to her hometown, and stepped into history.
Rachel would be killed on March 16, 2003, crushed beneath an armored Israeli bulldozer as she tried to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian home in the Gazan border town of Rafah.
It seems likely that Rachel’s story would by now have faded from memory as just one more among the thousands of deaths in Gaza over the past decade, but for the efforts of her parents, Craig and Cindy. Having no prior involvement in the Israel-Palestine issue, they immersed themselves in a process of self-education and public activism so relentless and untiring that even now it leaves their friends slack-jawed in amazement.
Rachel’s family has witnessed an eventful decade—in the Middle East and at home. They’ve pursued legal struggles, led public campaigns, traveled the world, and kept Rachel’s story alive through books, plays, films and media outreach.
We sat down with them recently to talk about the changes they’ve seen.
Working Inside the System
As we detailed in an article five years ago, much of the Corries’ initial efforts focused on moving the three branches of the American government to deliver justice after Rachel’s killing. They pressed the Executive branch, through the State and Justice departments, for an investigation, they used the court system for a civil trial against the Caterpillar Corporation, and they sought a Congressional resolution calling for a U.S.-led investigation. As hardly needs saying, these efforts failed spectacularly in their primary goals. The Corries challenged—and for many newcomers, exposed–a powerful and deeply entrenched foreign policy apparatus that grants virtual impunity to Israel, even for the killing of an American peace activist.
But the Corries take a long view, and try to see the good. Cindy says, “Many people in government, particularly in the diplomatic corps, are there for good reasons– there are people with good hearts. I think their willingness to meet with us is partly because they know that Rachel’s story does have significance, around the world, and in the Arab world particularly. And certainly they know it has resonance in Gaza and with Palestinians.”
Craig and Cindy know that they carry an authority that few others can claim, and although it was unsought, they use it conscientiously.
“It’s been ten years for us now, and for our family,” added Craig. “That includes extended family like sisters and brother in laws, and it’s amazing how many people who are high up in government we’ve talked to. Either them or their assistants… all these people now have some understanding of the situation, and I think they have some respect, they can’t just write us off as crazy.”
“In the last attack on Gaza, in November, we were there. Israel started to drop bombs, and we woke up to a flash of light, then the concussion–it was that close to us. When we came back, we went to the State Dept. We spent about an hour talking to the head of the Israel-Palestine desk. They’ve never been to Gaza, none of these people knew anything about Gaza.” In a sense, the Corries have become civil society’s ambassadors to Gaza, a region abandoned by U.S. (and European) diplomatic isolation since the rise of the democratically elected Hamas government there.
Cindy said, “The State Department doesn’t have anybody in Gaza. I think many of them know that’s maybe not the most productive policy for them, it’s difficult when they don’t have people in places. We shared with them that we went to the funeral of a young boy killed playing soccer in front of his house in Khan Younis by the Israeli military. I went with his mother, and we talked to his friends who showed us where they had been playing soccer. You realize that for these children, that’s an experience they may carry with them forever. If you want to make progress, you have to stop these kinds of situations that have to fill people with so much hurt and rage. It shouldn’t happen.”
The Civil Trial in Israel
The Corries, at their own expense, have spent the last eight years pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit in Israeli courts, charging the State of Israel and its Defense Ministry with the intentional and unlawful killing of their daughter. If the effort to move the U.S. government was Herculean, the task of moving the Israeli government would prove Sisyphean. Personally attending all of the courtroom proceedings, the family logged some nine months in Israel for the trial. Seeking accountability, not money, they asked for $1 in symbolic damages.
Craig explained, “The courts are the way that we have agreed as a society to settle our disagreements nonviolently. That’s the official way to do it. And so I feel very strongly that you have to demand that they work. And so we did.”
They encountered double standards from the outset. Cindy told us,
”They didn’t want to hear anything about home demolitions. In some ways, Rachel’s lost in the trial. She’s just a dead person. And the reasons for why she was there, the home demolitions and all that was happening, oh they bristled so. When B’tselem gets brought up, the Israeli human rights organization that’s reporting what’s happening in the Occupied Territories, they just brush it away: ‘What’s B’tselem? We don’t trust their data!’ It’s so shocking because this is the Israeli state. That’s what we were seeing, the Israeli state, in the courtroom. And it’s very shocking, the lengths to which they will go to prevail.”
“They had a woman who testified as an ‘expert’ on the International Solidarity Movement—she had never done any research on ISM. She was the military spokesperson when Rachel was killed and so that made her an expert on ISM. She submitted to the court a 100-page report demonizing ISM, demonizing Rachel.”
Craig broke in: “She submitted that two weeks before she was coming to testify, so it’s all in Hebrew. We said, ‘How are we going to get this translated? ….What are we gonna do with it?’” (The Corries had to pay for the English translation of thousands of pages of documents). “Then we learn that she just picked it up off the internet. She has no expertise on this. And it all goes in, and it’s just made-up garbage. When we have witnesses, it can’t be about what Israel is doing in Gaza, but when they have witnesses, it can be about what the ISM is doing in Jenin. “
They were struck early on by the casual trial preparation by the military, signaling its confidence in a friendly judge’s courtroom. Craig recalled with exasperation the testimony of the former Gaza Division’s Southern Brigade Commander, Colonel Pinhas (Pinky) Zuaretz, who was in charge when Rachel died. The colonel had testified in a sworn affidavit that an injury he had received had occurred in the area Rachel where was working, known as the Philadelphi Corridor, which was untrue. “So our attorney says, ‘So you’re telling me, you’re injured near the Philadelphi Corridor?’ And he said ‘No, I never said that’. ‘Well, here, you want to read this (affidavit)? ‘Oh, well, it’s wrong.’ ‘Wrong? Why is it wrong?’ He said it’s wrong because of ‘inattention’!”
“Then he said his troops had been fired at with rockets from the Nasrallah’s home (the family Rachel was defending). They’re putting in a public document that anybody can read, that the family are terrorists. He then says, well it was after the family had been forced to move out. So it was when the house was controlled by the Israeli military! And it completely escapes them that they were safer with the family living in the house than when it was under their control. These are experienced, good attorneys turning out this sort of (Expletive Deleted), and it’s an important trial, but they know going in that they’ve got it won, and they don’t have to do any better than that. “
Last August the Corries finally received a verdict in the trial. While not unexpected, it was stunning in the scope of its implications.
The judge, Oded Gershon, ruled that the military was blameless in Rachel’s death. He said that the military’s own investigation (which had exonerated itself) had been “properly conducted.” Even the U.S. government rejects that finding; the Bush State Dept. told the Corries in writing that Israel had never conducted the “thorough, credible and transparent” investigation it promised in 2003.
But the judge didn’t stop there. He went on to condemn the Gandhian tactics of the ISM as “de facto violence,” and– in words indistinguishable from a military press release–said that ISM protected Palestinian families “involved in terrorism;” specialized in “disrupting operational activities of the IDF”; and shielded “terror activists wanted by the Israeli security forces.” The group also provided “financial, logistic and moral support to the Palestinians, including terrorists and their families,” and was involved in “disrupting the demolition or sealing of homes of terrorists who carried out suicide attacks that caused many casualties.”
The notion that home demolitions were defensive actions taken in response to suicide bombings is ludicrous on its face: over 1,600 homes were demolished in Rafah alone, between 2000 and 2004. This was a policy of mass collective punishment, and deliberate destruction of civilian infrastructure, a war crime. But more galling than this is the sheer hypocrisy. To Palestinians and their supporters accustomed to decades of Israeli demands that Palestinians use only non-violent tactics of resistance, Judge Gershon’s opinion could have come from the pen of Kafka.
Moreover, the real locus of “terrorism” had indeed been available from court testimony.
The Southern Brigade Commander, Colonel Zuaretz, had testified that the rules of engagement were to “shoot to kill any adult person on the [Philadelphi] route.” Another Israeli colonel had testified, “There are no civilians in a war zone.” Even the judge himself said, “She consciously put herself in harm’s way.”
As the Corries’ attorney Hussein Abu Hussein put it, “By accepting the testimony of Zuaretz and others, Judge Gershon essentially accepted that the ‘shoot to kill’ order was acceptable, which violates the fundamental tenets of international humanitarian law, mandating that soldiers distinguish between combatants and civilians.”
Indeed. And in addition, there is the unbounded irony of an Israeli judge dismissing the Fourth Geneva Convention. That convention, which mandates protection of civilians in wartime, was adopted by the U.N. in 1949 in response to the Nazi atrocities. In 1993, the Convention became a part of “Customary International Law,” binding even on non-signatory nations.
Following the verdict, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter of the Carter Center joined other distinguished critics in condemnation, saying that the “Court’s decision confirms a climate of impunity, which facilitates Israeli human rights violations against Palestinian civilians in the Occupied Territory.”
Changes over 10 years: Getting the story right
When Carter, a former U.S. president, can title a book Palestine: Peace or Apartheid, an undeniable shift has occurred in the public discourse on this issue. Countless activists working for decades have contributed to this slow change in perceptions. Palestinian civil society, religious activists, organizations such as ISM and the U.S. Campaign to end the Occupation, and prominent figures like Carter have all contributed.
Cindy particularly emphasizes “the Palestinian voices that have become so strong in this decade” and the importance of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement: “It was courageous of those who first stepped out to support BDS, but now more and more people understand that BDS developed because other things have not worked, that there’s injustice to address, and this is a way that people are doing it.” She further highlights groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace and Young, Jewish & Proud who confront Israeli political figures and lobbyists and pointedly challenge the Occupation. She gives special note to “the remarkable courage of human rights organizations in Palestine and Israel” for helping to change public attitudes.
And, we believe, some of this shift can be attributed to Rachel’s inspiring stand for justice, the global impact of her story, and her family’s unrelenting work.
Ten years ago, Rachel was an early international witness to the mounting human catastrophe in Gaza that continues to this day. She wrote of Israel’s demolition of water wells, greenhouse cooperatives, and family homes, describing “the systematic destruction of people’s ability to survive.” Today her father contrasts this to the vast Israeli construction in the occupied West Bank, of settlements, roads, the Separation Wall. “You see the construction and you think ‘maybe this is better,’” as there is at least some employment. “But the people living there see the last parts of apartheid being set up–maybe it does matter if you have a little bit better standard of living under apartheid, but apartheid is what they are seeing there.”
In recent years, the mainstream media has come closer to getting the story right. The Corries pointed out the novelty of a major U.S. network reporting live from Gaza, during Israel’s November 2012 attack (a.k.a. “Operation Pillar of Defense”). Anderson Cooper’s coverage for CNN was “a huge sea change,” Cindy said. “It’s a bellweather…people may not know much about the issue, but they now know there’s something wrong with what Israel is doing there.” But, Craig added, “The part you don’t see in the paper is the siege of Gaza, which is always there—the basic injustice. “
Yet Israel’s attempt to isolate Gaza from the world, and the unprecedented destruction of its 2008 attack (“Operation Cast Lead”, which killed over 1400 Palestinians), has only brought more attention to Gaza’s plight. The Corries found themselves at the center of public response. In March 2009, they joined a Code Pink delegation, which included such public figures as Alice Walker and Medea Benjamin, to bear witness to Gaza’s destruction. Cindy also recounts how Rachel’s own congressman, Brian Baird, visited Gaza in the wake of Cast Lead, then “stood on the floor of Congress with a photo of three dead Palestinian children… and tried to speak to his colleagues about why there was something very wrong with all of this. I don’t know if this ever happened before. . .” Baird’s shift in position grew from his relationship with the Corries and his own eye-witness encounter with the sordid realities of daily life in Gaza. As Cindy explains, “When he first started talking to us, he started almost every sentence with ‘I’m supportive of Israel, but . . . ‘ and I said to him at one point, ‘I’m tired of hearing that. Can’t you just be pro-people?’”
The growing violence also spurred international activism to new levels of commitment. The Gaza Freedom Flotillas (2010-11) sought to break the siege of Gaza by delivering much-needed humanitarian supplies to the coastal strip, using unarmed civilian ships reaching Gaza from its Mediterranean coast. Israel’s military assault on the relief ship Mavi Marmara, killing eight Turkish activists and one Turkish American, drew widespread condemnation and further contributed to Israel’s pariah status. Another aid ship, christened MV Rachel Corrie, was intercepted in international waters by Israeli commandos in May, 2010. The Corries would tour the Mavi Marmara on a visit to Turkey in 2011, giving their condolences to the families who had lost loved ones in circumstances so similar to their own daughter’s.
Craig believes such actions have only backfired. He points out, “When you look at who voted for recognition of Palestine at the United Nations (last year), “it’s the U.S. that’s being isolated. You got the U.S., Canada, Israel and a couple of islands in the Pacific–and the rest of the world either voted Yes or abstained.”
The award-winning play, My Name is Rachel Corrie (2006), produced by Alan Rickman and Kathryn Viner, has reached audiences in more than 20 countries and over a dozen languages—a fact that Craig thinks is “fairly astounding.” In addition, Rachel’s collected journal writings in Let Me Stand Alone (2008), published by WW Norton, convey Rachel’s gift as a young writer and poet, with an intense awareness and creatively quirky self-expression. Craig describes Rachel as a flawed, joyous, much more humorous person than the iconic figure of Rachel that has emerged, but he is glad that some of her humor comes through in both the play and the book. He explains, “When she went to Palestine, her voice changed and her writing changed dramatically.” Cindy, however, sees continuity in Rachel’s writing and her empathetic way of looking at the world: “She wrote a poem when she about 12 years old about lost souls. I think more than about anybody I know she made a conscious effort never to look away from somebody. And I think going to Gaza is a rational extension of that.”
Here in Olympia, the impact of Rachel’s story is manifest on the walls of our city and in the collective efforts that made the Olympia Food Coop the first grocery in the U.S. to successfully boycott Israeli products. In 2007 the Olympia City Council voted against official recognition of the Olympia-Rafah Sister City relationship initiated by Rachel, despite over 70% support in public testimony. Shortly thereafter, plans for the world’s largest Palestine solidarity mural emerged under the direction of Susan Greene, a Jewish American mural artist from San Francisco, whose work also appears on the Separation Wall in Palestine, as well as in the Palestinian refugee camps Sabra and Shatilla. Olympia’s mural, in the heart of downtown, can be viewed at (http://olympiarafahmural.org/).
Local BDS activists also won a significant victory when the Olympia Food Co-Op board passed a boycott in July 2010. They compounded that victory when they defeated a lawsuit brought by plaintiffs backed by the pro-Israel group Stand with Us. The lawsuit was struck down in February, 2012 as an illegal attempt to make it prohibitively expensive for the Co-Op to exercise its right to free speech. Under the provisions of a new Washington State law, the plaintiffs were ordered to pay attorneys’ fees plus $160,000 in damages to the Co-0p board members. This victory establishes a precedent for other groups to embrace the boycott strategy free from legal harassment.
In their travels across the country and around the world, Cindy and Craig encounter young people who have been inspired to act by Rachel’s story. “That happens over and over again,” Cindy said. “People say that her example resonates with them, and makes them feel they have to do something more with their lives.” She told us of a young man who approached them at a recent talk in Washington, D.C. and said that Rachel was the reason he had become politically involved. Craig recalled an actress who had done two long runs of the play in Australia, then went and volunteered in Africa. “And she told us, ‘I didn’t do that, Rachel did that, that’s not anything that was in me before I played Rachel.’”
Cindy spoke of being approached by Palestinians from the beginning. At first, she said, she didn’t understand why it was so important for Palestinians, young and old, to come meet them. Many would cry. “It took me awhile to understand it, and all that they were carrying, and have been carrying for over sixty years. I think it’s that there was this American kid–and as they struggled to get their message out and struggled to challenge what’s happened to them—she came, and she did that. I know, because they tell me how much that means, and it’s very personal.”
In the weeks approaching this 10th anniversary, the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice has been coordinating with activists in Australia, Scotland, Israel and Palestine, as well as in the U.S. In the past week alone, Craig and Cindy have traveled to Edmonton, Calgary, San Diego and Portland, and will be home in Olympia for a March 16 commemoration titled Rachel Corrie, 10 Years: The Person and the Continuing Struggle.
Cindy and Craig couldn’t throw out even a wild guess as to how many places they’ve traveled to in the past decade. “Continents,” Craig said. “I could tell you how many continents. All but Australia and Antarctica.” Recalling one event in Mobile, Alabama, Cindy said, “To me it’s heartening that no matter where you go, the smallest places, there are people—it may not be Palestine exactly—but they’re really a part of the movement, they know that it needs to be changed, and they’re finding a way to respond to that. It’s really inspiring, it keeps us going.”
Tom Wright directed the 1997 documentary, Checkpoint: The Palestinians After Oslo.
Therese Saliba is on the faculty of International Feminism and Middle East Studies at The Evergreen State College, Olympia. Mail can be sent to email@example.com.
Outside of Venezuela and Latin America, there was no greater outpouring of support and sympathy for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez than in the Arab world.
Comparisons to the great Egyptian president Gamal Abdul-Nasser began immediately. Many even declared Chavez himself an Arab based on his anti-imperialist policies and support for Palestinian liberation. Political commentators, at least those not on the Saudi and Qatari payrolls, emphasized his public support for Palestinian rights and Iran’s right to pursue a peaceful nuclear program, as well as his opposition to the wars on Iraq, Libya, and most recently the proxy war on Syria.
It’s not difficult to understand why Chavez enjoyed such support and admiration among the Arab public. Chavez stood in stark contrast to the politically impotent, petty tyrants that rule the Arab world. He spent 14 years as president of Venezuela and consistently won clear majorities of the vote in free and fair elections.
During this period Arabs watched him defy the American empire as semi-literate oil-Sheikhs and brutal dictators groveled in front of the latest US secretary of state. They heard Chavez condemn the war on Iraq as Gulf Cooperation Council royals did sword dances with George W. Bush.
Arabs remembered Chavez’s condemnations of Israel’s 2006 onslaught of Lebanon, when Arab regimes were quietly, and some not so quietly, supporting Israel’s bid to destroy the resistance in Lebanon. Arabs watched Chavez’s famous speech on Gaza when Hosni Mubarak, along with Israel, was enforcing a siege on 1.5 million Palestinians. They also remember that it was Chavez who expelled the Israeli Ambassador to Venezuela in protest of Israel’s 2008 massacre in Gaza.
But it wasn’t only Chavez’s impact on the world stage and his support for Arab causes that earned him popular respect and admiration. The Arab public also admired Chavez’s achievements in Venezuela and Latin America, which also stood in sharp contrast to the failures, incompetence, and corruption of Arab regimes. Chavez succeeded in achieving greater economic and political integration in Latin America while pursuing progressive social and economic policies at home.
Arabs watched Chavez nationalize Venezuelan oil and use the increased revenues to help improve the lives of the most marginalized Venezuelans. Arabs watched their own oil profits squandered on the lavish lifestyles of indulgent sheikhs while Chavez cut poverty in half. Arabs also watched the rise of obscene skyscrapers and the construction of artificial islands as Chavez was investing in social programs to end illiteracy, expand education, and provide healthcare to the most impoverished areas of Venezuela.
Chavez and Nasser had much in common both on a personal and political level. Both came from a humble background, began their careers in the military, and then lead popular revolutions that changed their society. As with Nasser, Arab support and sympathy for Chavez was not emotional nor was it driven solely by a charismatic personality. Although both leaders were highly charismatic, enjoyed an emotional connection with their people, and brought them a greater degree of dignity, their support derived mainly from tangible accomplishments at home and abroad.
Chavez and Nasser were able to improve the quality of life for the neediest in their societies, and both men understood the struggle for freedom and social justice at home was intrinsically linked to the struggle against imperialism and foreign domination. For this, Chavez, like Nasser and all leaders that insist on full sovereignty and the right to pursue independent domestic and foreign policies, was also vilified by Western governments and media.
We often hear that Arab Nationalism is dead and that Arabs do not share any common concerns beyond the borders. US client regimes in the region and their hired propagandists have insisted Arabs no longer consider the liberation of Palestine the central cause of the Arab people and that anti-imperialist discourse is something of the past. Yet the passing of Chavez and the invocation of Nasser’s memory in the wake of his death show the exact opposite.
The overwhelming support for Chavez leaves no doubt that his vision for Venezuela represents many Arabs’ vision for their own future, and that must be very troubling for many people.