Monday, July 11, was a historic day for the movement to abolish the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. The right-wing dominated Israeli Knesset gave the campaign to boycott the Israeli occupation a Good Housekeeping seal of approval - a hechsher, if you will - by passing legislation to punish it.
Of course, the effect of this legislation will be to rejuvenate the Israeli peace movement ["Israeli Left launches public campaign against new law banning boycotts," Haaretz reports] and promote the boycott. It is a sign of the political bankruptcy of the Israeli Right that it is now condemned to take actions which promote the agenda of its opponents.
This month, the right-wing Israeli government shone a spotlight on its illegal blockade of Gaza when it made giving free publicity to the Gaza Freedom Flotilla the top Israeli government priority. Every day, it seemed, there was a new Israeli government statement calling attention to the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, more outrageous than the last: 67-year-old Alice Walker was going to pour sacks of sulfur on Israeli soldiers and light them on fire; journalists who reported on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla were going to be banned from Israel for ten years.
If you share in the project of reforming U.S. foreign policy so that it reflects the values and interests of the majority of Americans, then you care about the New York Times. Because of its role in influencing the coverage of other corporate media, the Times is a key gatekeeper shaping not only what the broad majority of the American public know about what our government is doing in the world, but also in determining to what perspectives about these policies the broad American public is exposed.
As a corollary, if you care about reforming U.S. policy towards the Palestinians' quest for self-determination, then you care about Ethan Bronner, because Bronner is the Times' Jerusalem bureau chief.
It was thus with keen interest that, as a passenger waiting in Athens earlier this week to board the U.S. boat to Gaza, The Audacity of Hope, I read Ethan Bronner's "news analysis" Sunday of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, "Setting Sail on Gaza's Sea of Spin."
Following my post about my plans to participate in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla in opposition to the blockade of Gaza, "Why We Must Sail to Gaza," David Harris, the executive director of the American Jewish Committee, responded by challenging me to answer his concerns about Hamas and Israeli security.
Of course, I welcome the opportunity to respond to David's concerns, and I thank David for giving me the opportunity to do so. Moving the focus of attention from the arena of violence to the arena of engagement and dialogue -- that's a key component of what nonviolent resistance is all about.
The overall thrust of David's piece appears to be that Hamas is a monster, and therefore whatever the Israeli government does -- including the blockade of Gaza -- which is claimed to be "in defense against Hamas," is justified.
The logic of the argument that the blockade of Gaza is automatically justified by the threat of violence to Israel from Hamas should be familiar to Americans. It's essentially the same logic that the Bush-Cheney Administration used in justifying its decisions to torture detainees -- ignore the Geneva Conventions and the right of habeas corpus, and invade Iraq after 9/11: your concerns about human rights and international law are very pretty. But now we are facing a terrible enemy, so your pretty concerns about human rights and international law are no longer relevant.
With all the ballyhoo about the alleged "existential" conflict between Israel and Iran, you might think that the news that Iran is trying to send an aid boat to Gaza, in the wake of the Israeli military attack on the Turkish aid boat that killed eight Turks and an American, would occasion a great wailing and gnashing of teeth in the American media. But the American reaction so far seems rather muted, and Iranian government officials, who in the past have at times seemed followers of the Saddam Hussein school of propaganda ("you will be buried in the sand while your wives sleep with rich Arabs,") now seem more loyal to the Maz Jobrani school ("I am Persian, like the cat. Meow!")
Iran's Fars news agency also reported that top Iranian officials will allow two other ships to leave, but its navy will not escort them.
"Maj. Gen. Salami, deputy commander IRGC (Islamic Revolution Guard Corps), discussing the humanitarian aid ships to Gaza, said that protecting these ships is not on the agenda of the IRGC," Fars said.
You may have heard that the IRGC has a force called the "Qods Brigade." It's a provocative name - Qods is the Arabic name of Jerusalem. Imagine if, during the struggle against apartheid, the government of Angola had an elite fighting force called the "Johannesburg Brigade." Presumably some white South Africans might have regarded that as provocative.
Brave words. And yet: now that the Iranian aid ship could clearly use a bit of protection - if it truly intends to sail to Gaza, as opposed to just claiming that it will do so - the bravely-named "Qods Brigade" apparently has other business to attend to.
In the past few weeks, Turkey and Brazil have elbowed their way to the Big Table of international diplomacy: first by negotiating a nuclear fuel swap agreement to try to push the US back towards diplomatic efforts to resolve its conflict with Iran, and then - in the case of Turkey - by its support of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla's efforts to break the Israeli-Egyptian-US siege of Gaza's civilian population - efforts that continue today as the Irish-flagged Rachel Corrie proceeds towards Gaza, amid silence - not enough protest, apparently - from the Obama Administration.
But it appears that if Turkey and Brazil want to have effective input at the Big Table, they are going to have to play hardball effectively with the United States: they have to continue to show the U.S. that they have the power to obstruct the U.S. from getting what it wants if the US continues to ignore their concerns.
Former UN Assistant Secretary General Denis Halliday said it was imperative that the Obama administration supported Ireland's call on the Israeli authorities to ensure safe passage for the Irish-flagged Rachel Corrie to carry humanitarian aid to Gaza, the Irish Times reports. Speaking by satellite phone from on board the Rachel Corrie, Halliday called on Irish-Americans to lobby the Obama Administration: "We also feel there is a role for the Irish diaspora here, in the US and elsewhere to lobby politicians over this continued illegal blockade of Gaza, which is causing such hardship to the Palestinian people."
Halliday has some experience with this issue, having resigned from his position as UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq in 1998 over the impact of UN/US sanctions on Iraqi civilians.
The issue of the Gaza blockade has tremendous resonance in Ireland, partly because of Ireland's high degree of engagement in international humanitarian causes - John Ging, head of the UN Relief and Works Agency in Gaza, who had called on the international community to break the siege by sending ships loaded with aid, is also Irish - but also, of course, because the Irish people have some experience with the consequences for civilians of a colonial blockade.
How do you know when someone is serious about pursuing a strategy of nonviolent resistance until victory for justice is achieved?
When they refuse to turn back in the face of state violence. Damn the commandos. Full speed ahead.
The Irish Times reports:
The MV Rachel Corrie is ploughing ahead with its attempt to deliver aid to Gaza despite yesterday's attack by the Israeli navy on Gaza-bound ship the Mavi Marmara.
The cargo ship, which has four Irish nationals and five Malaysians aboard, is due to arrive in Gazan waters tomorrow, a spokeswoman for the Irish Palestine Solidarity Campaign said.
The vessel became separated from the main aid flotilla after being delayed for 48 hours in Cyprus due to logistical reasons.
Nobel laureate Maireád Corrigan-Maguire, former UN assistant secretary general Denis Halliday, and husband and wife Derek and Jenny Graham are the Irish nationals on board.
Speaking from the ship today, Mr Graham said the vessel was carrying educational materials, construction materials and some toys. "Everything aboard has been inspected in Ireland," he said. "We would hope to have safe passage through."
Might the Israeli military attack the Rachel Corrie, as the Israeli military attacked the Mavi Marmara? Would the Obama Administration permit such an Israeli attack on the Rachel Corrie, as the Obama Administration permitted the Israeli attack on the Mavi Marmara?
Note that in particular, under international law, an Israeli military attack on the Rachel Corrie in international waters would be an attack on the government and people of Ireland, because the Rachel Corrie is an Irish-flagged vessel. As former British Ambassador Craig Murray recently wrote: