The Aftermath of the Flotilla
by Anna Baltzer
with bracketed commentary by Mike Burch
Last night marked one week since Israel's attack in international waters on the Mavi Marmara Turkish humanitarian ship bound for Gaza, killing nine. [The nine people killed were Turkish peace activists; one had dual American citizenship.] One by one, the hundreds of witnesses aboard the vessels have been returning home to tell their stories after being stripped of any and all footage. By confiscating all non-military evidence of the incident, Israel has been able to successfully dominate the narrative, at least in the US where news of the attack had begun to dwindle by the time witnesses were released. One wonders, if Israel is conveying the whole story of what happened that night, why eliminate every single other piece of documentation? What does Israel have to hide?
According to hundreds of eyewitnesses, the Navy shot at the boat and threw tear gas and sound bombs before boarding it, and then hit the ground shooting. The videos released by Israel show those aboard the ship attacking soldiers with sticks. Israel claims that the deaths were an accident, that the soldiers were startled by the sticks and thus forced to shoot people to defend themselves.
Now let's put things into perspective. In 2005, the Israeli Army removed 8,000 ideological settlers from Gaza, many of them kicking and screaming with sticks and rocks in hand. The Army managed not to kill or even shoot a single one of them. Do sticks from Turks hurt more, or is it not about the sticks at all?
As Dr. Norman Finkelstein pointed out, Israeli officials met for an entire week prior to the flotilla to plan precisely what they intended to do. The Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren himself stated that the Mavi Marmara was simply "too large to stop with nonviolent means." It's hard to believe that this was an accident. [Even if there were elements of an "accident," someone who intentionally commits a crime is responsible for the results, and Israel attacked and hijacked the Mavi Marmara in international waters, as it has attacked other vessels in the past, including ones with such interesting names as the Liberty and Spirit of Humanity. When the USS Liberty was attacked by Israel in 1967, 34 United States crewmembers were killed and 170 were wounded. If an Arab nation had attacked the Liberty there would have been hell to pay, but how many Americans have even heard about the Liberty?]
While the world focuses on the flotilla and Gaza, Israel's restrictions on Palestinian rights in the rest of Palestine continue to tighten. On Friday, soldiers surrounded the Old City in Jerusalem to prevent Muslim men from praying at Al-Aqsa mosque. Only those younger than 15 or older than 40 were allowed through. Hundreds of men gathered outside the metal bars installed by the Army around the city gates. Frustrated, many men sat down to wait to pray on the sidewalk, but soldiers on horseback pushed through the crowd, forcing the men to scatter. [What would Americans say if Jews denied us the right to enter our churches? There is a strange disconnect between our stated principles of "equality" and "human rights" and "freedom of religion" where Israel is concerned. It seems many Americans actually believe the rights of Christians and Jews are "more equal" than the rights of Muslims. That elitism and hypocrisy lies at the root of our problems in the Middle East.]
It's important to note that many Palestinians wait for years to receive a permit to visit Jerusalem for just one day. Sometimes the permits are valid only for a few hours. I saw a woman in Beit Sahour whom I'd met in Syracuse last Fall. She said it's easier for her to travel to New York than to go 10 miles away to Jerusalem. She said often permits are sent to the wrong village and families fall over themselves to get the permit to the right person in time, often failing. At the gates, some men argued with the soldiers, close to tears, not knowing if they would ever get another chance to realize a life-long dream of praying at their country's holiest site.
Eventually, hundreds of men began to gather next to the wall of the Old City and across the street. If they could not enter, they would pray as close as they could. As the call to prayer rang out (at least sound can overcome walls), a noticeable calm came over the space as they bowed down in unison. The soldiers stood over the group, some filming with cameras. In the middle of the group were an olive tree and a young child who stood by himself, watching.
When the prayers ended, those who hadn't brought prayer mats wiped the dirt off their foreheads and gathered with others across the street where an imam had started to speak. Lara, a Palestinian delegate in our group translated bits and pieces of what he said.
The sermon was about the importance of compassion and justice in Islam. [The message of the Hebrew prophets and Jesus was the same, but where is there any indication that Jews and Christians who profess to "believe the Bible" are willing to act with compassion and justice when Palestinians are involved?] There they were, being denied their religious freedom, and they were talking about compassion. The imam asked that their prayers be accepted even though they could not be in the house of God. At one point, he raised his finger and called out the following: "Someday, we will live in a place where it doesn't matter what color your skin is, or where you're from." With every sentence the group resounded in a collective "Amen." [The American creed is that all human beings are created equal and have the right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," but that ideal seems to go out the window when Palestinians "get in the way," even completely innocent men, women and children.]
After the prayers, hundreds of women and older men poured out, one of whom told me he'd seen a man beaten by the Army for calling out against Israel's attacks on the flotilla. [Should someone be beaten for protesting crimes and injustices? That's what the Nazis did to the Jews during the Holocaust.] This is likely precisely what the Army wanted to avoid by keeping Muslims from congregating at the mosque, and they had been largely successful, at least so they thought.
Just as I was turning to return to the hotel, I heard a chorus of women's voices coming from inside the city walls. Soon a large group of women emerged carrying a Turkish flag and singing out familiar calls for justice and praising those who gave their lives to free Gaza. The soldiers thought that keeping the men out would be enough, but they had underestimated the women. [It is important to note that Turkey is gaining additional prominence in the Muslim world by supporting Gazans. Iran often does something similar. So the injustices of Israel constantly backfire and empower its bitterest adversaries, while turning less antagonistic nations like Turkey against it.]
Israel has also underestimated the international civilian community, which continues to speak out. Day and night, we watch protests around the world unfold one after another, seemingly stronger and larger by the day: Japan, Paris, India, Oslo, Australia, and beyond. This is being called "Israel's Kent State." [The Kent State massacre helped end the Vietnam War, but the war protestors were right all along, and the US government was wrong. Now the peace activists are clearly right and the government of Israel is clearly wrong, but the US government continues to plow billions of dollars into Israel while preaching sermons on "equal rights" and "justice" to the rest of the world. The hypocrisy of Israel and the US reeks to the highest heavens, but the average American Joe remains convinced that the US is "good" and Israel is "good" and that Palestinian women and children must be collectively punished for the sake of something called "security." But obviously neither Israel nor the US will ever be "secure" as long as they trample on the rights of completely innocent women and children. This evil, unquestioning attitude of smug hypocrisy led to 9-11 and two needless, fruitless, unwinnable wars.]
Far more significant than protests is the fact that worldwide disapproval has been transforming into concrete rejection of normalization with Israel, including major victories for the Palestinian movement for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) on Israel until it complies with international law. [Heaven forbid that Israel should ever have to comply with international law, or the United States! Only their "enemies" are expected to submit to international law. This is why they have so many enemies.]
This past week, the student body at Evergreen College voted to divest from "Israel's illegal occupation." Before she was run over by Israeli soldiers in a US-made Caterpillar bulldozer in Gaza, Rachel Corrie had attended Evergreen. Along with divesting, students have voted for a "Caterpillar free" campus. You can support the students by clicking here.
A week before the flotilla, Italy's largest supermarkets COOP and Nordiconad announced a boycott of the Israeli produce company, Carmel Agrexco. Four days later, Deutsche Bank (Germany's largest bank, worth more than $1 trillion) announced divestment from Elbit Systems, an Israeli firm that supplies technology for Israel's military, settlements, and Wall (as well as the Wall between the US and Mexico). Deutsche Bank was one of the company's largest share-holders. [Anna refers to the "security" Wall built by Israel to contain the Palestinians; in many places it is twice as high as the Berlin Wall. It is obviously not built for defensive purposes, because a defensive wall would be built on the border between Israel and Palestine. But Israel's Wall is a dividing, conquering, killing Wall that snakes through Occupied Palestine, stealing land and water from Palestinians so that Jewish "settlers" can displace them. Everywhere else in the world this system is called "apartheid" and its results are called "ethnic cleansing" and "genocide." This is the same system used by the Nazis against the Jews during the Holocaust. Strangely and ironically, the children of the Holocaust, rather than learning what not to do from the Nazis, have chosen to emulate them.]
The next day, it was announced that Sweden's largest national pension funds were also divesting from Elbit. (Norway did the same more than one year ago.) Going a step further, the Swedish Port Workers Union announced last Wednesday that it would temporarily stop handling Israeli cargo in response to the attacks on the flotilla.
On the same day, Britain's largest union, Unite, passed a unanimous motion "to vigorously promote a policy of divestment from Israeli companies" and to boycott Israeli goods and services as in "the boycott of South African goods during the era of apartheid."
Then yesterday, the Pixies canceled of their upcoming concert in Israel in response to Israel's attack on the flotilla. Musical artists Klaxons and Gorillaz canceled as well. This on the heels of cancelations by Santana, Gil Scott-Heron, Snoop Dog, Sting, and Elvis Costello.
These are but a few of the BDS victories that have happened just in the last month. The movement that officially began in 2005 crossed its first threshold in 2009 (having gained in four years the same momentum it took the BDS movement against South Africa 20 years to achieve), but 2010 has brought it to a new level.
Last month marked 62 years since 80% of the families in Gaza were displaced during Israel's creation, the Palestinian Nakba [“Catastrophe”]. And this week marks 43 years since Israel occupied the Gaza Strip and West Bank. The Occupation has been in place 70% of Israel's life-span so far. It is not temporary. And it is but one part of the problem. Along with Israel's discrimination against Palestinians within Israel's de-facto borders and outside historic Palestine, the Occupation will not be stopped voluntarily by Israel. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said: "Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed." I spoke with a member of Boycott from Within (Israelis supporting the Palestinian call for BDS) who paraphrased a common phrase from the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa: “We will bring them to their senses, or we will bring them to their knees.” For Israel, as was the case for the South African Apartheid government, the former has simply never worked.
[As an editor and publisher of Holocaust poetry, and an American citizen, I cringe when I think of hundreds of billions of American taxpayer dollars being used to fund and support this new Holocaust, the Palestinian Nakba. I had the chance to hear Anna Baltzer speak in Nashville recently, and I was impressed with her passion, sincerity and knowledge and understanding of the true situation of the Palestinians. The truth is quite simple. The Palestinians are in the same predicament as Native Americans who were oppressed by white settlers. They are in the same predicament as black Africans who were oppressed by white slaveowners. They are in the same predicament as Jews and Gypsies who were oppressed by German Nazis. The oppressors always blame their victims, because they can only treat their victims so horribly if they deny their humanity. A terrible infectious disease called "racism" is running rampant through Israel, and Americans who help fund and support the Nakba risk more events like 9-11 and more wars like the ones in Afghanistan and Iraq, unless we learn to say "Never again!" to such atrocities and end them forever.]