Flotilla Passengers Today’s Freedom Riders

July 7, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Truthout Staff / Editorial

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An activist gestures on board the boat “Juliano”, part of a Gaza-bound flotilla, as it departs from Perama port near Athens for a town on the southern Greek coast July 6, 2011. Activists, whose flotilla to challenge an Israeli blockade on Gaza has been confined to Greek ports, vowed on Tuesday to complete their mission but accused Athens of being deaf to appeals to let their ships go. The Juliano will make another attempt to leave Greece on Wednesday, according to activists.

REUTERS/John Kolesidis

It has been widely reported that 25 percent of the activists on the US boat that was to sail in the Gaza flotilla are Jewish. Six of those 35 activists are Truthout friends, many of long date: Chairman of the Truthout Board Robert Naiman and contributing authors Medea Benjamin, Kathy Kelly, Ray McGovern, Gabriel Schivone and boat leader Ann Wright. Knowing that these friends are putting their lives on the line for what they believe in fills us with pride and anxiety. Our hearts are locked up with their boldly christened boat, The Audacity of Hope.

Some progressives – as well as the Obama State Department see their principled action as a provocation, and Israeli hasbara (propaganda) has pulled out all the stops to portray the flotilla members as friends of terrorists or useful idiots. We know our friends well enough to have complete confidence in their ethos of nonviolence and their acute and worldly intelligence, which would never allow itself to be exploited for ends they did not endorse. Their action is provocative, just as were those of the freedom riders in the 1960’s, designed to show the world that the law is not being enforced – in the present case, international law, which gives Israel neither the right to police Gazan waters nor to prevent that territory – at present arguably the world’s largest prison – from exporting its produce and importing essential supplies.

As of this writing, French ships from the flotilla were in international waters heading for Gaza, The Audacity of Hope is locked up in a boat jail, paralleling the situation of the people of Gaza, and other boats are stuck in Greek port or sabotaged. Some of our friends were detained Sunday for conducting a hunger strike in front of the American embassy in Athens, and again yesterday for sitting on a bench opposite the American ambassador’s residence. The captain of the boat – after having been detained in squalor and charged with endangering the safety of the passengers – has been released on his own recognizance. Everyone is reportedly exhausted, but safe, with some planning to return to the United States in the next two days and others later.

While Israel and the United States may have successfully sabotaged and thwarted the flotilla from reaching its intended destination without a public relations disaster as catastrophic as last year’s armed boarding of the Mavi Marmara and the murder of passengers, including 19-year-old American citizen Furkan Dogan, Israel can “win” this confrontation only by lifting its illegal and inhumane blockade of Gaza. For, as Matthew Fox wrote in “Original Blessing,”

Political movements for justice are part of the fuller development of the cosmos, and nature is the matrix in which humans come to their self-awareness and their awareness of their power to transform. Liberation movements are a fuller development of the cosmos’ sense of harmony, balance, justice and celebration. This is why true spiritual liberation demands rituals of cosmic celebration and healing, which will in turn culminate in personal transformation and liberation.

With extraordinary grace and courage, our friends have participated in such a ritual, and whatever the fate of The Audacity of Hope and the other boats of this year’s Gaza flotilla, they – and those who hear their stories – will return transformed and liberated, will have bent that long arc of the universe just a little bit tighter towards justice for the people of Gaza – and us all.

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Egypt Opens Rafah Crossing: This Is What Democracy Looks Like

June 2, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Robert Naiman, Truthout

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Hasna el Ryes, a Gaza resident waiting to cross into Egypt, leaves the border terminal after getting an entry stamp in her passport on the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing in Egypt, May 28, 2011. Hundreds of Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip arrived by the busload to pass through the reopened border into Egypt, taking the first tangible steps out of an Israeli blockade after years of deadlocked peace talks. (Photo: Holly Pickett / The New York Times)

There was a slogan on the streets of Seattle: “This is what democracy looks like.” You can’t love democracy and denigrate protest, because protest is part of democracy. It’s a package deal.

Likewise, you can’t claim solidarity with Egyptian protesters when they take down a dictator, but act horrified that the resulting government in Egypt, more accountable to Egyptian public opinion, is more engaged in supporting Palestinian rights. It’s a package deal.

On Saturday, at long last, the Egyptian government “permanently opened [3]” the Egypt-Gaza passenger crossing at Rafah. A big part of the credit for this long-awaited development belongs to Tahrir. It was the Tahrir uprising that brought about an Egyptian government more accountable to public opinion and it was inevitable that an Egyptian government more accountable to public opinion would open Rafah, because public opinion in Egypt bitterly opposed Egyptian participation in the blockade on Gaza.

In addition, opening Rafah was a provision of the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation accord brokered by the Egyptian government – an achievement facilitated by the fact that the post-Tahrir Egyptian government was more flexible in the negotiations with Hamas that led to the accord.

Mubarak had a deal with the US government: I obey all your commands on the Israel-Palestine issue and in exchange, you shut your mouth about human rights and democracy. Tahrir destroyed this bargain, because it forced the US to open its mouth about human rights and democracy in Egypt, regardless of Egypt’s stance on Israel-Palestine. When it became clear to Egypt’s rulers that subservience to the US on Israel-Palestine would no longer purchase carte blanche on human rights and democracy, there was no reason to slavishly toe the US line on Israel-Palestine anymore.

The Mubarak regime also had a domestic motivation for enforcing the blockade: it saw Hamas as a sister organization of Egypt’s then semi-illegal opposition Muslim Brotherhood and it saw enforcing the blockade as a means of denying Hamas “legitimacy,” figuring that more “legitimacy” for Hamas would mean more “legitimacy” for Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, thereby threatening Mubarak’s iron grip on Egypt’s politics.

But, of course, post-Tahrir developments in Egypt threw that calculation out the window: the post-Mubarak government in Egypt has reconciled with the Muslim Brotherhood, which is a de facto partner in the present interim government and is expected to do well in September’s parliamentary elections. It would be absurd for the Egyptian government to try to isolate the Muslim Brotherhood by trying to isolate its sister Hamas, when the Muslim Brotherhood is a de facto part of the Egyptian government and the role of the Brotherhood in running Egypt is likely to increase.

There are other considerations. Egypt’s government has seen how Turkey’s influence in the region has grown dramatically as a result of its “no problems with neighbors” policy. Now Egypt is saying: “I’ll have what she’s having,” and moving to normalize relationships in the region, just as Turkey has done.

The opening of the Rafah passenger crossing will mean that women, children and the elderly from Gaza will be able to travel freely to Egypt and, through Egypt, almost anywhere else in the Arab world. Adult men will have to get Egyptian visas, a process that currently can take months.

But – although it is virtually certain that some will try to claim otherwise – the opening of Rafah does not mean that the siege of Gaza is over.

Rafah is a passenger crossing, not a cargo crossing, as The Associated Press noted in reporting on the opening of Rafah. Gaza’s cargo crossings are still controlled by the Israeli government.

The Israeli human rights group Gisha reports that, since 2005, “goods have not been permitted to pass via Rafah, except for humanitarian assistance which Egypt occasionally permits through Rafah.”

In general, the Israeli government does not allow construction materials (cement, steel and gravel) into Gaza. Since January, about 7 percent of what entered monthly prior to June 2007 has been allowed in for specific projects.

The Israeli government prevents regular travel for Palestinians between Gaza and the West Bank, even though according to the two-state solution, which is the official policy of the US, Gaza and the West Bank are supposed to be one entity.

Exports from Gaza are generally prohibited by the Israeli authorities.

Palestinians in Gaza cannot farm their lands in Israel’s self-declared “buffer zone” along the northern and eastern borders with Israel, estimated to contain nearly a third of Gaza’s arable land.

The Israeli government does not allow Palestinian fishermen to fish beyond three nautical miles  from Gaza, although under the Oslo Accord, they are supposed to be able to fish for 20 nautical miles from Gaza.

Thus, more pressure is needed on the Israeli government – and the US government, which enables Israeli policies in Gaza – to lift the blockade.

And that’s why it’s so important that another international flotilla is sailing to Gaza in the third week of June, to protest the blockade. It’s time to open all the crossings, not just Rafah.

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Gaza Defiant

February 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Sacramento–Several weeks ago I reported on (former) Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney’s rousing description, which she delivered here at the Salim Center in California’s capital city, on how she successfully — after two previous attempts – “ran” the Israeli blockade into Gaza.  Equally, as inspiring was the Senior Lecturer from the University of California, the Palestinian-American firebrand Hatem Bazian, on the history of the struggle and the aftermath now a year later on the smaller Palestinian country sandwiched between (West) Jerusalem and Cairo.

Just today as your reporter writes it is being relayed that Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) had submitted their rejoinder to the U.N. (United Nations’) Report of “alleged” atrocities.  The Hamas government in Gaza City itself said it did not commit any War crimes because of the overriding preponderance of their casualties (over 1400 and a decimated infrastructure) in comparison which attested to the violation of the International Law of Proportionality governing the conduct of Warfare; therefore, they have not submitted their justification defense for their self-defense.

With such a morbidity rate it is clear that Tel Aviv meant to kill and maim innocent civilian lives.  Any rockets that the Arabs shot up were infused into the battlefield as a feeble attempt at self-defense, and not to destroy human life (which, in fact, rarely hit Jewish citizens).

The lead author of the 575-page Report of the United Nations’ Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, Judge Richard Goldstone — who gained fame for his fairness and courage as a Constitutional Judge in his native South Africa helping to end Apartheid and to set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission during Nelson Mandela’s Presidency in the multi-racial government of his native South Africa, and, of recent — in this his later career — he has served in executive judicial capacities on several of the more high-profile War Crime International Tribunals, and his latest service, on the circumstances of Gaza of which Report is commonly referred to under his name, the Judge stated the root of the violence in Gaza “…is [the Israeli] occupation.” 

Mr. Bazian illustrated the extent of occupation in his talk:  U.N. Resolution 242 (November 22, 1967) instructed Israel to withdraw from the territory they had gained in the 1967 War.  The infamous Jewish Settlements in the (Israeli) Occupied (Palestinian) Territories are immensely illegal under International Law, but they have only increased since the Oslo Accords (of 1993) which agreement was meant to end the Hebrew expansion into Arab land.  In fact, Settler Colonialism has expanded their presence on Palestinian soil since then.  Palestinian borders and the sea lanes are controlled by the Hebrews.  The citizens of Gaza are in a penitentiary!   Further, the Israel Defense Force (IDF) claims the right of “hot pursuit” under their interpretations of its necessity.  (That is, they claim an extra-legal prerogative in the determination for its implementation.)

(George W.) Bush demanded the 2006 elections which Hamas won evenhandedly according to the international observers – including (former U.S.) President Jimmy Carter!

The culpability and corruption of Fatah, the Palestinian-controlled party in the West Bank cannot be denied either.  Egypt would not sell the occupation Army cement, but Ramallah smoothed it over, and the Apartheid walls have resulted; stealing the Palestinian natural resources and driving the indigenous Arabs — mainly Islamic but, also, Christian – from their lands. 

Palestine is not permitted to have an abiding militia but merely a police force.  Also, irregular guerillas operated outside International approbation protect and resist the oppressors.  On the other hand, the Hebrew forces are the fifth largest in the world with a nuclear arsenal to match.

While Washington has gifted Tel Aviv our most sophisticated weaponry, the homespun Qassam rockets possessed by the Palestinians are most primitive.  The military balance is ridiculous!  Yet, “We are blamed for [our] resistance!”

The fact is that Israel broke the ceasefire (as your correspondent has documented previously on these pages).  “We [Americans] have to change our frame of reference!”  The Jewish State is a criminal in the context of global edicts.  According to Dr. Bazian, irregular soldiers are not considered in the same framework under International norms.  (This is a debatable legal point, and that is why Goldstone accused the Gazan Administration of War criminality which, in turn, their officials denied based on the proportionality employed against them.)  “The IDF didn’t make distinctions between combatant and non-combatant.”  Thus, under conflict directive the counterattack can only be relative to the primary aggression, (and this absolved the Gazan Palestinian Arabs, for their counter-offensive upon Sderot and Ashkelon for Israel violated the Law of Proportionality against the citizenship on the Strip). 

Succinctly, Hamas and the Gazan people they represented did not constitute a security threat at all.  The Hebrew government assaulted this miniscule State because they did not wish an Islamist-dominated country on their Southern border, and, again, in Hatem’s view, the Jewish Labor Party-led government had to make up face for their very real lose to Hezbollah in 2006 north in the Galilee.

A majority of military observers agree that the Gazan War was a defeat for the Israeli Defense Forces; for they failed to create the “regime change” they had hoped to do because the native stakeholders in this ancient land of the Philistines did not rise up against their democratically elected representatives. 

We as a nation have to take responsibility for our part in the carnage!  

Now, 92% of the surviving children are suffering post-traumatic stress syndrome.  The medical infrastructure has further, been destroyed! 

Up on the West Bank, the Hebrew State has set up 462 checkpoints.   

As Americans, we must see that all Israel’s weaponry came with the stamp of “Made in America.” 

While back in Gaza itself; there is 44% unemployment a 96% of the foreign consulates that were there have had to close.  External aid that has already been pledged has been denied delivery by the blockade enforced by Israel and Egypt.

The Goldstone Report conservatively attests to War and, possibly, Crimes against Humanity instigated by the Israeli Army.  It has been referred to the General Assembly for further discussion and hopefully action.  

There will be an educational Conference on Palestine in San Anselmo (Calif.) in Marin County just north of San Francisco on March 5th-6th at the First Presbyterian Church there (415) 456-3713 where Dr. Hatem Bazian is scheduled to give one of the workshops.  Also, there will be two Conferences in Honolulu and Seattle this month.  Information on those gatherings can be gathered directly from Sabeel North America at (503) 653-6625.

Professor Bazian concluded his Sacramento speech by exclaiming “Palestine wants to be free… [America] needs to speak out!”

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US Cutting Gaza Lifeline

December 27, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Ann Wright

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December 10, 2009 – No doubt at the instigation of the Israeli government, the Obama administration has authorized the United States Army Corps of Engineers to design a vertical underground wall under the border between Egypt and Gaza.

In March, 2009 the United States provided the government of Egypt with $32 million in March, 2009 for electronic surveillance and other security devices to prevent the movement of food, merchandise and weapons into Gaza. Now details are emerging about an underground steel wall that will be 6-7 miles long and extend 55 feet straight down into the desert sand.

The steel wall will be made of super-strength steel put together in a jigsaw puzzle fashion. It will be bomb proof and can not be cut or melted. It will be “impenetrable,” and reportedly will take 18 months to construct.

(http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8405020.stm)

The steel wall is intended to cut the tunnels that go between Gaza and Egypt.

The tunnels are the lifelines for Gaza since the international community agreed to a blockade of Gaza to collectively punish the citizens of Gaza for their having elected in Parliamentary elections in 2006 sufficient Hamas Parliamentarians that Hamas became the government of Gaza. The United States and other western countries have placed Hamas on the list of terrorist organizations.

The underground steel wall is intended to strengthen international governmental efforts to imprison and starve the people of Gaza into submission so they will throw out the Hamas government.

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A member of Hamas security forces stands guard near the border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip December 21, 2009. Egyptian officials confirmed on Monday that Egypt is building an underground steel barrier next to its border with Gaza, where Palestinians have built tunnels to smuggle in goods to beat an Israeli blockade.                

REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

Just as the steel walls of the US Army Corps of Engineers at the base of the levees of New Orleans were unable to contain Hurricane Katrina, the US Army Corps of Engineers’ underground steel walls that will attempt to build an underground cage of Gaza will not be able to contain the survival spirit of the people of Gaza.

America’s super technology will again be laughed at by the world, as young men dedicated to the survival of their people, will again outwit technology by digging deeper, and most likely penetrating the “impenetrable” in some novel, simple, low-tech way.

I have been to Gaza 3 times this year following the 22-day Israeli military attack on Gaza that killed 1,440, wounded 5,000, left 50,000 homeless and destroyed much of the infrastructure of Gaza. The disproportionate use of force and targeting of the civilian population by the Israeli military is considered by international law and human rights experts as as violations of the Geneva conventions.

When our governments participate in illegal actions, it is up to the citizens of the world to take action. On December 31, 2009, 1,400 international citizens from 42 countries will march in Gaza with 50,000 Gazans in the Gaza Freedom March to end the siege of Gaza. They will take back to their countries the stories of spirit and survival of the people of Gaza and will return home committed to force their governments to stop these inhuman actions against the people of Gaza.

Just as American smart bombs in Afghanistan and Iraq have not conquered the spirit of Aghans and Iraqis, America’s underground walls in Gaza will never conquer the courage of those who are fighting for the survival of their families.

One more time, the American government and the Obama administration has been an active participant in the continued inhumane treatment of the people of Gaza and should be held accountable, along with Israel and Egypt for violations of human rights of the people of Gaza.

Ann Wright is a retired US Army Reserve Colonel and a former U.S. diplomat who resigned in March, 2003 in opposition to the war on Iraq. She served in as a US diplomat in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia. She is the co-author of “Dissent: Voices of Conscience.”

Her March 19, 2003 letter of resignation can be read at http://www.govexec.com/ dailyfed/0303/032103wright.htm.

http://intifada-palestine.com/2009/12/11/us-cutting-gaza-lifeline/

See 2.:21 min video at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NzhUcShtkSk&feature=player_embedded which accompanies this article.

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“Sailing to Byzantium”

November 20, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

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International activists depart for Gaza from Larnaca November 7, 2008. Eleven European politicians sailed to Gaza from Cyprus on Friday after saying attempts to get into the impoverished enclave via Egypt failed. 

REUTERS/ Andreas Manolis

Paul Laudree’s Report on running the Israeli Blockade into Gaza with Relief Packets.

Sunnyvale, California–November 13th–The UN had to end its food distribution due to the lack of security since Hamas (Gaza’s ruling Party) broke their fragile cease-fire with Tel Aviv by shooting their longest-range missiles towards the far Jewish Settlements.  The New York/Geneva Organization found it impossible to ensue with their impossible assignment delivering their humanitarian duty under such anarchistic conditions.  As I wind down my Gazan story on Monday night, the missiles are still raining on Israeli territory (17th) while the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) respond with precision strikes against the Palestinian Republic with the most technically advanced American fighter-plane technology!

Given that I had told the story of a small town on the West Bank last week, I intended to hold this piece for at least a week, but circumstances have overtaken this journalist!

I usually do not follow a strict interview format within my articles, but I had an opportunity to do so with Laudree.  Initially, I asked him about the current crisis, and how it may resolve itself.  He replied that when the Israelis blockade Gaza by land, they typically back down over a realistic period of time, and he expects this will be the case over this confrontation.  It is happening now because “Israel desires to utilize collective punishment” — an action that violates the Geneva Conventions.  Dr. Laudree continued that “The Israelis fail[ed] to weaken Hamas.  [What they have accomplished] is to marginalize the Palestinians [there], and to make them wretched.”

“The Question becomes what shall We do about it?”

He felt that his project (of relief boats) had little practical affect, but produced an enormous sociological re-enforcement to the citizens of the enclave, or in Paul Laudree own words, “It was more symbolic than substantive, but we intend to extend [our efforts more into practicable significant assistance.]…” The Doctor Laudree did berate the traditional assistance agencies for their failure to offer respite to the inhabitants (that gets us back to the U.N.’s recent decision).

In his venture in which he was one of the primary founders and strategists, he was able to put together good-sized ships that sailed from Cyprus to dock at the very difficult man-made harbor in Gaza that was primarily created for fishing ships.  Paul’s three crafts — plus now one leased vessel (i.e., four in all at the moment) – are the size of large trawlers.  The pilot has to make careful maneuvers into the harbor to docket it.  The depth of the harbor is three and one half to four meters, but it can be dredged to a full eight meters.  During the first voyage two boats were able to make it through to landing!  Subsequently, two more aid voyages of one liner each were able to race Israel’s Navy to provide much sought for supplies to this beleaguered enslaved nation!

Laudree clarified that Israel “threaten to stop – not sink – their cruisers.”  Yet, leaders within the endeavor personally received anonymous intimidation.  Paul Laudee himself received a publicly pronounced threat by a pseudo-blog-scribe.

“We need to change the lives of the Palestinian public – especially in transport!  Palestinians have the right to move about their own land, and to travel abroad which is enshrined in the U.N. Charter!” Yet, “Israel not only controls their own borders, but those of the Palestinians as well!”  Gaza is different because it borders both Egypt and Israel.  “We wish to take advantage of that fact.”  So far Tel Aviv has permitted us to employ the sea lanes since the commodities we deliver are not perceived as a security threat.

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