Jan. 5, 2008, Issue #141 (SUPPLEMENT)
HUDSON VALLEY ACTIVIST NEWSLETTER/CALENDAR
This newsletter/calendar, published in New Paltz, N.Y., appears once a month, supplemented by additional listings of new activist events, usually sent to Valley readers only. Editor, Jack A. Smith (who writes all the articles that appear without a byline or credit to other publications). Copy Editor, Donna Goodman. Calendar Editor, Rocco Rizzo. If you know someone who may benefit from this newsletter, ask them to subscribe at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you no longer wish to receive the newsletter, unsubscribe at the same address. Please send event listings to the above email address. The current and back issues of the newsletter/calendar are available at http://activistnewsletter.blogspot.com.
This supplement to the Activist Newsletter is entirely devoted to the strife in Gaza because it is almost impossible to get a true picture of the causes of the invasion of Gaza from the U.S. corporate media alone.
Following a brief introduction, we will discuss the U.S. antiwar movement's reaction to Israel's invasion of Gaza. In addition, we list a couple of extremely important demonstrations set for Jan. 10 calling for an immediate cease fire — one is a national demonstration in Washington, the other is in the Hudson Valley in New Paltz, NY. We normally we would consider organizing buses to take local residents to Washington but I am in the midst of a bout of pneumonia and can't do it on such sort notice. But we will help organize for both actions via our computer.
Following this will be texts of two important articles that explain the real facts behind the conflict between the Palestinian organization Hamas, which rules Gaza as a result of a democratic election, and the Israeli state. Articles include "The True Story Behind the War" and "Understanding the Gaza Catastrophe." Last, we publish the web addresses for several key articles that are necessary to obtain balanced information about Israel's bombing and invasion of Gaza, including three from the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
1. INTRODUCTION TO ANOTHER GAZA TRAGEDY
About 1.5 million Palestinian refugees reside in the Gaza Strip, a 139-square mile sliver of land surrounded mainly by Israel, and also by Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea. It's quite small. Los Angeles County is over three times bigger.
Gaza is a locked-down prison. Both Israel and Egypt (an Arab country that largely takes orders from the U.S.) have sealed the borders. And the Mediterranean is blocked by the Israeli Navy. Gaza is absolutely vulnerable to military attack, without armed forces or weapons systems of significance. In an effort to force the population to turn against Hamas, which it will not do, food, medicine and essential supplies repeatedly have been stopped at the border for 18 months. Inadequate supplies eventually get through, but most of the population is hungry and lacking in basic necessities.
Israel claims that it is retaliating for the fact that Hamas has been firing rockets into Israel. Rockets have been launched and are continuing. But as the articles below point out, the actual events have been taking place in far broader context, which Washington and Tel Aviv prefer to ignore. The rockets are hardly the main reason for the current onslaught. A prominent real reason is the Israeli election that was set for next month, but is now delayed. The ruling Kadima Party, and its main coalition partner, the Labor Party, fear they will lose the election to the far right Likud, not least because of Israel's humiliation in the summer of 2006 when its airplanes, bombs and invading tanks were unable to crush Lebanon and Gaza. Destroying Hamas, even it means practically destroying Gaza, may win Kadima/Labor another term in office.
Israel launched massive air strikes on Gaza Dec. 27, nearly two weeks after Hamas announced it would not renew a six-month-old truce with Israel, increasing its rocket attacks across the border in the process. Since Dec. 27, over 500 Palestinians have been killed, as have four Israelis, a disproportion reminiscent of Israel's 2006 wars. Tel Aviv claims that nearly all those it killed have been Hamas combatants. However, the dead include at least 100 Gaza police officers who do not perform combat duties. In addition at least 87 Palestinian children have been killed as of Jan. 3. It has been estimated that up to 200 adult civilians, mostly women, have been killed as well. The Tel Aviv government also maintains "there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza" — a city under sanctions and siege for a year and a half, now being drawn and quartered by Israel's Army and Air Force.
Most of the world has either criticized the Israeli attack on defenseless Gaza or, at the least, has refrained from giving its support. The Bush Administration, of course, completely supports Israel and instructed its UN delegation to block an effort to bring the issue of Israel's onslaught before the Security Council. During the campaign, President-Elect Barack Obama and Secretary of State to be Hillary Clinton competed to demonstrate who was the more loyal to Israel. It is highly doubtful the incoming Democratic Administration will deviate from existing policy.
Most of the world's humanitarian organizations have been critical of Israel's actions, including the two principal U.S. groups, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Other groups expressing deep anxiety about the plight of civilians in Gaza include the UN's UNICEF, World Health Organization, and the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East; Britain's Oxfam, and the international Red Cross, among many others.
THE PEACE MOVEMENT''S RESPONSE
Antiwar organizations around the world have been demonstrating against Israel's invasion of Gaza.
In the U.S., all the major peace coalitions, from ANSWER to UFPJ, deplore the war and seek an immediate halt to the invasion and bombings. Virtually all U.S. left organizations have denounced Israel's war. American groups have staged over 100 demonstrations and many more are scheduled. What was described as the biggest U.S. rally calling for peace in Gaza took place in New York City Jan. 3, organized by a huge ad hoc coalition. We could not attend but were told that over 20,000 took part.
ANSWER, backed by many other groups, is organizing a major series of protests set for Saturday, Jan. 10 — mainly in Washington, San Francisco, Los Angeles and many other cities and towns. The Washington march and rally begins at 1 p.m. on the north side of the White House. For information about the Washington event: http://answercoalition.org, email@example.com, and (202) 544-3389. It is important to have a large turnout at the D.C. event because Congress will be in session and all eyes will be on the nation's capital in the days before the Inauguration.
As part of the Jan. 10 actions there will be a demonstration in the Mid-Hudson town of New Paltz, N.Y., from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. outside New Paltz Plaza on Main St. (Rt. 299), a short distance west of Thruway exit 18. From the access road past the toll booths turn left at Rt. 299. The rally is about an eighth of a mile distant on your right, just in front of the large plaza. The event is sponsored by Middle East Crisis Response and is strongly endorsed by this newsletter. Information, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Israel's peace movement has been extremely active in opposition to the war, as have Israeli Arab organizations and the country's political left. Gush Shalom and some 20 other groups mounted an important peace march and rally in Tel Aviv Jan. 3 that drew 10,000. The action took place behind a huge banner in Hebrew, Arabic and English, reading: "Stop Killing! Stop the Siege! Stop the Occupation!" Among the chants was "Don't Build an Election Campaign Over the Dead Bodies of Children." For an account of the march and the text of a brief speech of Gush Shalom leader Uri Avnery: http://zope.gush-shalom.org/home/en/events/1231029668.
Perhaps the largest demonstration so far took place in London Jan. 3 when 60,000 people attended a rally at Trafalgar Square and a march, principally organized by the Stop the War Coalition. At least 18 rallies the same day were staged throughout the UK. For an account of the London event: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jan/04/israel-gaza-protest-london/print.
THE TRUE STORY BEHIND THIS WAR
IS NOT THE STORY ISRAEL IS TELLING
By Johann Hari
The Independent (UK), December 29, 2008
The world isn't just watching the Israeli government commit a crime in Gaza; we are watching it self-harm. This morning, and tomorrow morning, and every morning until this punishment beating ends, the young people of the Gaza Strip are going to be more filled with hate, and more determined to fight back, with stones or suicide vests or rockets. Israeli leaders have convinced themselves that the harder you beat the Palestinians, the softer they will become. But when this is over, the rage against Israelis will have hardened, and the same old compromises will still be waiting by the roadside of history, untended and unmade.
To understand how frightening it is to be a Gazan this morning, you need to have stood in that small slab of concrete by the Mediterranean and smelled the claustrophobia. The Gaza Strip is smaller than the Isle of Wight but it is crammed with 1.5 million people who can never leave. They live out their lives on top of each other, jobless and hungry, in vast, sagging tower blocks. From the top floor, you can often see the borders of their world: the Mediterranean, and Israeli barbed wire. When bombs begin to fall – as they are doing now with more deadly force than at any time since 1967 – there is nowhere to hide.
There will now be a war over the story of this war. The Israeli government says, "We withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and in return we got Hamas and Qassam rockets being rained on our cities. Sixteen civilians have been murdered. How many more are we supposed to sacrifice?" It is a plausible narrative, and there are shards of truth in it, but it is also filled with holes. If we want to understand the reality and really stop the rockets, we need to rewind a few years and view the run-up to this war dispassionately.
The Israeli government did indeed withdraw from the Gaza Strip in 2005 – in order to be able to intensify control of the West Bank. Ariel Sharon's senior adviser, Dov Weisglass, was unequivocal about this, explaining: "The disengagement [from Gaza] is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians... this whole package that is called the Palestinian state has been removed from our agenda indefinitely."
Ordinary Palestinians were horrified by this, and by the fetid corruption of their own Fatah leaders, so they voted for Hamas. It certainly wouldn't have been my choice — an Islamist party is antithetical to all my convictions — but we have to be honest. It was a free and democratic election, and it was not a rejection of a two-state solution. The most detailed polling of Palestinians, by the University of Maryland, found that 72 per cent want a two-state solution on the 1967 borders, while fewer than 20 per cent want to reclaim the whole of historic Palestine. So, partly in response to this pressure, Hamas offered Israel a long, long ceasefire and a de facto acceptance of two states, if only Israel would return to its legal borders.
Rather than seize this opportunity and test Hamas's sincerity, the Israeli government reacted by punishing the entire civilian population. It announced that it was blockading the Gaza Strip in order to "pressure" its people to reverse the democratic process. The Israelis surrounded the Strip and refused to let anyone or anything out. They let in a small trickle of food, fuel and medicine – but not enough for survival. Weisglass quipped that the Gazans were being "put on a diet". According to Oxfam, only 137 trucks of food were allowed into Gaza last month to feed 1.5 million people. The United Nations says poverty has reached an "unprecedented level." When I was last in besieged Gaza, I saw hospitals turning away the sick because their machinery and medicine was running out. I met hungry children stumbling around the streets, scavenging for food.
It was in this context – under a collective punishment designed to topple a democracy – that some forces within Gaza did something immoral: they fired Qassam rockets indiscriminately at Israeli cities. These rockets have killed 16 Israeli citizens. This is abhorrent: targeting civilians is always murder. But it is hypocritical for the Israeli government to claim now to speak out for the safety of civilians when it has been terrorizing civilians as a matter of state policy.
The American and European governments are responding with a lop-sidedness that ignores these realities. They say that Israel cannot be expected to negotiate while under rocket fire, but they demand that the Palestinians do so under siege in Gaza and violent military occupation in the West Bank.
Before it falls down the memory hole, we should remember that last week, Hamas offered a ceasefire in return for basic and achievable compromises. Don't take my word for it. According to the Israeli press, Yuval Diskin, the current head of the Israeli security service Shin Bet, "told the Israeli cabinet [on 23 December] that Hamas is interested in continuing the truce, but wants to improve its terms." Diskin explained that Hamas was requesting two things: an end to the blockade, and an Israeli ceasefire on the West Bank. The cabinet – high with election fever and eager to appear tough – rejected these terms.
The core of the situation has been starkly laid out by Ephraim Halevy, the former head of Mossad. He says that while Hamas militants – like much of the Israeli right-wing – dream of driving their opponents away, "they have recognised this ideological goal is not attainable and will not be in the foreseeable future." Instead, "they are ready and willing to see the establishment of a Palestinian state in the temporary borders of 1967." They are aware that this means they "will have to adopt a path that could lead them far from their original goals" – and towards a long-term peace based on compromise.
The rejectionists on both sides – from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran to Bibi Netanyahu of Israel – would then be marginalised. It is the only path that could yet end in peace but it is the Israeli government that refuses to choose it. Halevy explains: "Israel, for reasons of its own, did not want to turn the ceasefire into the start of a diplomatic process with Hamas."
Why would Israel act this way? The Israeli government wants peace, but only one imposed on its own terms, based on the acceptance of defeat by the Palestinians. It means the Israelis can keep the slabs of the West Bank on "their" side of the wall. It means they keep the largest settlements and control the water supply. And it means a divided Palestine, with responsibility for Gaza hived off to Egypt, and the broken-up West Bank standing alone. Negotiations threaten this vision: they would require Israel to give up more than it wants to. But an imposed peace will be no peace at all: it will not stop the rockets or the rage. For real safety, Israel will have to talk to the people it is blockading and bombing today, and compromise with them.
The sound of Gaza burning should be drowned out by the words of the Israeli writer Larry Derfner. He says: "Israel's war with Gaza has to be the most one-sided on earth... If the point is to end it, or at least begin to end it, the ball is not in Hamas's court – it is in ours."
[Editor's Note: The author of this article, which was posted Jan. 2, is the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories.]
UNDERSTANDING THE GAZA CATASTROPHE
By Richard Falk
For eighteen months the entire 1.5 million people of Gaza experienced a punishing blockade imposed by Israel, and a variety of traumatizing challenges to the normalcy of daily life. A flicker of hope emerged some six months ago when an Egyptian-arranged truce produced an effective ceasefire that cut Israeli casualties to zero despite the cross-border periodic firing of homemade rockets that fell harmlessly on nearby Israeli territory, and undoubtedly caused anxiety in the border town of Sderot. During the ceasefire the Hamas leadership in Gaza repeatedly offered to extend the truce, even proposing a ten-year period and claimed a receptivity to a political solution based on acceptance of Israel's 1967 borders. Israel ignored these diplomatic initiatives, and failed to carry out its side of the ceasefire agreement that involved some easing of the blockade that had been restricting the entry to Gaza of food, medicine, and fuel to a trickle.
Israel also refused exit permits to students with foreign fellowship awards and to Gazan journalists and respected NGO representatives. At the same time, it made it increasingly difficult for journalists to enter, and I was myself expelled from Israel a couple of weeks ago when I tried to enter to carry out my UN job of monitoring respect for human rights in occupied Palestine, that is, in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as Gaza. Clearly, prior to the current crisis, Israel used its authority to prevent credible observers from giving accurate and truthful accounts of the dire humanitarian situation that had been already documented as producing severe declines in the physical condition and mental health of the Gazan population, especially noting malnutrition among children and the absence of treatment facilities for those suffering from a variety of diseases. The Israeli attacks were directed against a society already in grave condition after a blockade maintained during the prior 18 months.
As always in relation to the underlying conflict, some facts bearing on this latest crisis are murky and contested, although the American public in particular gets 99% of its information filtered through an exceedingly pro-Israeli media lens. Hamas is blamed for the breakdown of the truce by its supposed unwillingness to renew it, and by the alleged increased incidence of rocket attacks. But the reality is more clouded. There was no substantial rocket fire from Gaza during the ceasefire until Israel launched an attack last November 4th directed at what it claimed were Palestinian militants in Gaza, killing several Palestinians. It was at this point that rocket fire from Gaza intensified. Also, it was Hamas that on numerous public occasions called for extending the truce, with its calls never acknowledged, much less acted upon, by Israeli officialdom. Beyond this, attributing all the rockets to Hamas is not convincing either. A variety of independent militia groups operate in Gaza, some such as the Fatah-backed al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade are anti-Hamas, and may even be sending rockets to provoke or justify Israeli retaliation. It is well confirmed that when US-supported Fatah controlled Gaza's governing structure it was unable to stop rocket attacks despite a concerted effort to do so.
What this background suggests strongly is that Israel launched its devastating attacks, starting on December 27, not simply to stop the rockets or in retaliation, but also for a series of unacknowledged reasons. It was evident for several weeks prior to the Israeli attacks that the Israeli military and political leaders were preparing the public for large-scale military operations against the Hamas. The timing of the attacks seemed prompted by a series of considerations: most of all, the interest of political contenders, the Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, in demonstrating their toughness prior to national elections scheduled for February, but now possibly postponed until military operations cease. Such Israeli shows of force have been a feature of past Israeli election campaigns, and on this occasion especially, the current government was being successfully challenged by Israel's notoriously militarist politician, Benjamin Netanyahu, for its supposed failures to uphold security. Reinforcing these electoral motivations was the little concealed pressure from the Israeli military commanders to seize the opportunity in Gaza to erase the memories of their failure to destroy Hezbollah in the devastating Lebanon War of 2006 that both tarnished Israel's reputation as a military power and led to widespread international condemnation of Israel for the heavy bombardment of undefended Lebanese villages, disproportionate force, and extensive use of cluster bombs against heavily populated areas.
Respected and conservative Israeli commentators go further. For instance, the prominent historian, Benny Morris writing in the New York Times a few days ago, relates the campaign in Gaza to a deeper set of forebodings in Israel that he compares to the dark mood of the public that preceded the 1967 War when Israelis felt deeply threatened by Arab mobilizations on their borders. Morris insists that despite Israeli prosperity of recent years, and relative security, several factors have led Israel to act boldly in Gaza: the perceived continuing refusal of the Arab world to accept the existence of Israel as an established reality; the inflammatory threats voiced by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad together with Iran's supposed push to acquire nuclear weapons, the fading memory of the Holocaust combined with growing sympathy in the West with the Palestinian plight, and the radicalization of political movements on Israel's borders in the form of Hezbollah and Hamas. In effect, Morris argues that Israel is trying via the crushing of Hamas in Gaza to send a wider message to the region that it will stop at nothing to uphold its claims of sovereignty and security.
There are two conclusions that emerge: the people of Gaza are being severely victimized for reasons remote from the rockets and border security concerns, but seemingly to improve election prospects of current leaders now facing defeat, and to warn others in the region that Israel will use overwhelming force whenever its interests are at stake.
That such a human catastrophe can happen with minimal outside interference also shows the weakness of international law and the United Nations, as well as the geopolitical priorities of the important players. The passive support of the United States government for whatever Israel does is again the critical factor, as it was in 2006 when it launched its aggressive war against Lebanon. What is less evident is that the main Arab neighbors, Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, with their extreme hostility toward Hamas that is viewed as backed by Iran, their main regional rival, were also willing to stand aside while Gaza was being so brutally attacked, with some Arab diplomats even blaming the attacks on Palestinian disunity or on the refusal of Hamas to accept the leadership of Mamoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority.
The people of Gaza are victims of geopolitics at its inhumane worst: producing what Israel itself calls a 'total war' against an essentially defenseless society that lacks any defensive military capability whatsoever and is completely vulnerable to Israeli attacks mounted by F-16 bombers and Apache helicopters. What this also means is that the flagrant violation of international humanitarian law, as set forth in the Geneva Conventions, is quietly set aside while the carnage continues and the bodies pile up. It additionally means that the UN is once more revealed to be impotent when its main members deprive it of the political will to protect a people subject to unlawful uses of force on a large scale. Finally, this means that the public can shriek and march all over the world, but that the killing will go on as if nothing is happening. The picture being painted day by day in Gaza is one that begs for renewed commitment to international law and the authority of the UN Charter, starting here in the United States, especially with a new leadership that promised its citizens change, including a less militarist approach to diplomatic leadership.
OTHER ARTICLES OF NOTE:
"Amnesty Calls on Rice to Drop 'Lopsided' Gaza Stance," Jan. 3. by Jim Lobe, Inter Press Service.
"U.S. quashes Arab-backed Gaza cease-fire resolution in UN Security Council meet,"
by Shlomo Shamir and Barak Ravid, Jan. 4, Haaretz (Israeli daily).
"And there lie the bodies," by Gideon Levy, Haaretz.
"The IAF, bullies of the clear blue skies," by Gideon Levy, Dec. 31, Haaretz.
"Why Israel went to war in Gaza," by Chris McGreal, The Observer (UK), Jan. 4.