Commentary

Gaza Freedom March: What We Accomplished

Cairo - Some of us reached Gaza and participated in the Gaza Freedom March as planned. Some of us traveled via Israel to the Israeli border with Gaza and protested the blockade on Gaza alongside Israelis. All of us significantly raised the profile of dissent - particularly, American dissent - against the blockade of the people of Gaza imposed by Israel and Egypt, with the backing of the United States and the acquiescence of Europe. The groundwork is being laid for future campaigning in the U.S. for "citizen sanctions" against the Israeli government that could help change the balance of forces influencing U.S. policy, so that U.S. policy becomes a force for peace, rather than continuing to perpetuate the Israel/Palestine conflict as the U.S. is doing today.

The New York Times (yes, the New York Times had two articles on the march) reported:

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered on both sides of the Israeli-Gazan border on Thursday to mark a year since Israel's three-week war in Gaza, and to call for an end to the blockade of the area imposed by Israel and Egypt. About 85 of the several hundred demonstrators inside Gaza were foreigners, part of a group of more than 1,000 who arrived in Cairo in hopes of entering the territory but who were stopped by the Egyptian authorities. After days of negotiation, Egypt permitted a small delegation to cross the normally closed border at the southern Gazan city of Rafah.

Hundreds of us - confined to Cairo - protested against the Israeli/Egyptian blockade where we were. Our protests in Cairo were front-page news in the Egyptian press - and were reported in the U.S. as well.

The Christian Science Monitor reported:

Under International Pressure, Egypt Yields Ground to Gaza Freedom March

Cairo - Twelve hours before this writing, it appeared that 50,000 Palestinians in Gaza planning to march to the Erez border crossing with Israel on Thursday in protest of the continuing blockade on Gaza might not be accompanied by any of the 1400 internationals who had come to Egypt planning to join the Gaza Freedom March.

But on Tuesday Egypt agreed to let 100 of the 1400 marchers depart for Gaza Wednesday morning. This came as just the story of the Egyptian government crackdown on largely Western peace activists was starting to spill from the Arab media and European media into the US press.

Egypt's partial concession means that 50,000 Palestinian marchers will have 100 companions representing some 40 countries to act as a deterrent against Israeli government violence - and to help get the story out about Gazans nonviolently protesting the blockade.

Egypt's concession leaves 1300 of us here in Cairo to continue to press the case on the Egyptian government - together with many sympathetic Egyptians - that Egypt should cease supporting the U.S.-Israeli blockade on Gaza.

Egypt Blocks Americans from Gaza March, Stops Aid Convoy

Cairo - The government of Egypt is taking a spectacularly hard line against international solidarity efforts in support of civilians in Gaza on the one-year anniversary of the Israeli invasion, blocking peace marchers from the U.S., Canada, and Europe from even approaching the Egyptian border with Gaza and blocking an aid convoy that has the support of the Turkish government from entering Egypt at Nuweiba. Even a peaceful protest at UN offices in Cairo was largely walled off from public view by Egyptian police.

It seems that any pretense of Egyptian government concern for the suffering of Palestinian civilians has been dropped, along with the pretense that there is anything less than 100% cooperation from Egypt and its US and European patrons with Israel's program of punishing Gaza's population for the political crime of having provided majority support to the Hamas movement in a legislative election.

Meanwhile there is largely a U.S. press blackout of these striking developments. A search of the New York Times and the Washington Post only turns up a tiny AP story on the websites of the Times and the Post.

As has frequently been the case, Agence France-Presse [AFP] pays more attention to these developments. On Monday, AFP reports that Hedy Epstein and other members of the Gaza Freedom March have begun a hunger strike to press the Egyptian government to allow them to enter Gaza:

Rep. Waters Voices Concern Over Exclusions from Haiti Election

Congresswoman Maxine Waters sent a letter to Haitian President Rene Preval today - copied to Secretary of State Clinton - to express her concerns about the the arbitrary exclusion of political parties from the upcoming elections in Haiti. The text of the letter is below; the PDF is here.

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December 23, 2009

His Excellency René Préval
President of Haiti
c/o Embassy of Haiti
2311 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20008

Your Excellency:

I am writing to express my concerns about the decision of Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) to exclude more than a dozen political parties from the Parliamentary elections scheduled for February and March 2010. I am concerned that these exclusions would violate the right of Haitian citizens to vote in free and fair elections and that it would be a significant setback to Haiti’s democratic development.

As you know, I have a longstanding commitment to supporting democracy and development in Haiti. I led efforts in the United States Congress to obtain debt cancellation for Haiti. These efforts culminated in the World Bank’s announcement last June that Haiti reached the “completion point” for the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative and would receive complete cancellation of its multilateral debts. I am also working to increase United States bilateral assistance to Haiti.

It is imperative that Haiti’s next elections be free and fair and that they be perceived as free and fair. Political parties should not be excluded from an election without a legally compelling reason, determined through a transparent, impartial process.

Egypt Says It Will Block International Gaza Freedom Marchers

On December 31, together with more than 1000 peace advocates from around the world, I'm planning to join tens of thousands of Palestinians in a march in Gaza to the Erez border crossing to protest the Israeli blockade of Gaza, and to demand international action to relieve Gaza's humanitarian crisis.

Unfortunately, it appears that the Egyptian government has just announced that it will not allow the internationals to enter Gaza as planned. If so, that would be a shame.

But this apparent decision could be reversed with sufficient public pressure, in Egypt and around the world. Concerned individuals can write to the Egyptian Embassy in Washington and to the Foreign Ministry in Cairo. There is also contact information for the Egyptian consulates in Chicago, Houston, New York, and San Francisco here.

The aim of the march is to call on Israel and the international community to lift the siege, and to respond to Gaza's humanitarian crisis. The international participants will also take in badly needed medical aid, as well as school supplies and winter jackets for the children of Gaza. Dec. 27 will mark the first anniversary of the Israeli invasion, from which Gaza has not recovered, in large measure because of the ongoing Israeli blockade, which has prevented Gaza from rebuilding.

Of course, if the Egyptian government decision stands, and the international participants are not allowed to enter Gaza, then much less international attention will be drawn to the ongoing blockade, and that would be an unfortunate setback for peace efforts, because the need for international attention is great.

WaPo Changes "AfPak" News Header

In November, members of Just Foreign Policy wrote to the Washington Post, asking it to change its "AfPak" news header: stories about the US war in Afghanistan were preceded by the news header:

"The AfPak War: Combating Extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan"

Just Foreign Policy noted that this news header editorialized in news stories, promoting the claims that 1) the US is "combating extremism" in Afghanistan and Pakistan and 2) Afghanistan and Pakistan are "one theater" of conflict.

The Washington Post has now changed its news header, taking on board the second criticism but not the first. It now reads:

"Obama's War: Combating Extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan"

See, for example, the news story on Matthew Hoh's resignation, which is now preceded by this header.

U.S. official resigns over Afghan war
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/10/26/AR200910...

Of course, one consequence of Hoh's critique of the war is that the United States is not, in fact, "combating extremism," but rather promoting it.

Two Candles in Congress Against the Siege of Gaza

Many Americans don't realize that although it might be true that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee can get seventy Senators to sign a napkin, that doesn't mean AIPAC can stop Members of Congress from taking actions to improve U.S. policy towards the Palestinians - actions that could have a real impact in improving living conditions for Palestinians on the ground. This week two such measures are being considered by Members of the House.

Representatives Jim McDermott [D-WA-7] and Keith Ellison [D-MN-5] are circulating a letter that calls on President Obama to press for an easing in the Israeli blockade of Gaza by making it easier for Palestinians, aid workers, and journalists to enter and leave Gaza and by improving the access of Palestinian civilians to necessities such as clean water, food, fuel and medicine.

The McDermott-Ellison letter asks for "immediate improvement" in the following areas:

- Movement of people, especially students, the ill, aid workers, journalists, and those with family concerns, into and out of Gaza;
- Access to clean water, including water infrastructure materials,
- Access to plentiful and varied food and agricultural materials;
- Access to medicine and health care products and suppliers;
- Access to sanitation supplies, including sanitation infrastructure materials;
- Access to construction materials for repairs and rebuilding;
- Access to fuel;
- Access to spare parts;
- Prompt passage into and out of Gaza for commercial and agricultural goods; and
- Publication and review of the list of items prohibited to the people of Gaza.

Can Arlen Specter End the War in Afghanistan?

Who knew Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter would emerge as one of the most vocal opponents in the Senate of the President's military escalation in Afghanistan?

But so it is. In an op-ed this week in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Specter not only challenges the "surge"; he also challenges fundamental premises of the war. Specter writes:

I'm opposed to sending 30,000 more American troops to Afghanistan because I don't believe they are indispensable in our fight against al Qaeda.
[...]
But if al Qaeda can organize and operate out of Yemen, Somalia or elsewhere, then why fight in Afghanistan, which has made a history of resisting would-be conquerors - from Alexander the Great in the 3rd century BC, to Great Britain in the 19th and early 20th centuries, to the former Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s?

What can one Senator do? Well, one Senator can introduce legislation, for starters. At this writing, there isn't a single piece of legislation before the Senate that expresses opposition to continuing the war indefinitely. This is in marked contrast to the House, where Representative McGovern's bill requiring the Pentagon to present Congress with an exit strategy from Afghanistan has more than 100 co-sponsors. That's like having 23 Senators.

But Arlen Specter is in a unique position to do much more than introduce legislation. He could turn his Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary into a referendum on the Afghanistan war, because his primary opponent, Joe Sestak, supports the war and supports the escalation:

Obama Invokes "Just War," But Is the War in Afghanistan "Just"?

"Accepting Peace Prize, Obama Evokes 'Just War,'" notes the headline in the New York Times, referring to President Obama's speech accepting the Nobel Peace Prize. President Obama did indeed invoke the concept of a "just war." But tellingly, he did not try to argue that the U.S. war in Afghanistan meets the criteria to be judged as a "just war."

A plausible explanation for the President's failure to argue that the war in Afghanistan is a "just war" is that he recognizes that such an argument would not be convincing.

As President Obama noted in his speech, there are criteria involved in the "just war" concept. It isn't just a matter of proclaiming that a war is justified. There are tests.

This matters, because a substantial part of the U.S. and world population subscribes to the theory of "just war." In particular, more than a fifth of the U.S. population are estimated to identify as Catholics. The concept of "just war" - that wars can be considered "just" only if they meet certain criteria - is an official doctrine of the Catholic Church.

Here's part of what the official Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say about this:

Avoiding war

2307 The fifth commandment forbids the intentional destruction of human life. Because of the evils and injustices that accompany all war, the Church insistently urges everyone to prayer and to action so that the divine Goodness may free us from the ancient bondage of war.

2308 All citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war.

We Need a Clean Vote Now on Afghanistan Escalation

Under our constitutional democracy, Congress has the power and the responsibility to establish a policy on President Obama's plans to send 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, and, if Congress opposes sending more troops, to try to block or alter this policy. The question now is whether Congress will act before the policy is implemented, and whether it will do so in a "clean" vote - an up or down vote solely on the question of sending more troops, unentangled with unrelated issues like flood relief for farmers or extending unemployment benefits.

If Congress does not act quickly, the President's proposal may become an accomplished fact. Already, President Obama has ordered Marine units to be deployed later this month. If Congress waits for months to debate the issue, most of the new troops may already be in place.

Anti-war Representatives are pressing for an early vote on funding for more troops so President Obama's policy will be judged by Congress before thousands of additional troops are sent into combat, the Politico reports. "Let us have this debate before he moves forward," Rep. Jim McGovern [D-MA] said. "I'd like it to be before we escalate one single American troop over there."