Thursday, January 15, 2009

Free Gaza

I actually met Angela Godfrey-Goldstein a few years ago in Big Canoe. We talked about the conditions in Gaza and like every one else, I kept asking her, “What can we do?” About all I do is talk. But Angela has devoted much of her life to helping the world to understand the plight of the Palestinian people. Today, she is part of FREE GAZA, a volunteer group of concerned humanitarian leaders who began last August chartering unarmed ships to take medicines and food to Gaza. So far, they have made six such trips. These were the first international ships allowed into Gaza by Israel since 1967. Until December 30th, their efforts went without incident.
However, suddenly, at five a.m., 90 miles off the coast of Gaza and well within international waters, Angela said, Israeli gunboats rammed their boat three times and fired machine guns into the water stopping them from providing badly needed relief to the wounded in Gaza. On board the DIGNITY were 16 passengers, including surgeons with three tons of medical supplies, journalists, my friend Angela, and Cynthia McKinney, former congresswoman from Georgia. The attack left the DIGNITY taking on water and struggling to make its way to a port in Lebanon.

Israeli officials claimed that the attack was an accident. Very little of this incident was reported in the U.S. press. In fact, the only comment I remember hearing was, “Cynthia McKinney never misses an opportunity to make herself the center of controversy.” But I was thinking that McKinney was risking her life to bring relief to suffering people. I don’t care what you think about her politics, you have to admire her courage and compassion.

Today, as I write, another Free Gaza ship, the SPIRIT OF HUMANITY is making its way toward Gaza. The government of Israel has been notified of the route, schedule, and passenger list. The government of Israel knows that the SPIRIT OF HUMANITY's declared mission is to bring doctors, medicines and diplomats to the destitute citizens of Gaza.

Angela sent me a press report this week which included:

Fouad Ahidar, a Belgian parliamentarian sailing to Gaza aboard SPIRIT OF HUMANITY, responded to concerns Israel may attack the unarmed mercy ship: “I have five children very worried about me, but I told them, you can sit on your sofa and watch these atrocities on TV, or you can choose to take action to make them stop.’”

Mr. Ahidar’s children have reason to be concerned. Perhaps they remember another “accident,” when Israel attacked the USS LIBERTY, an unarmed intelligence gathering ship sailing in international waters. On June 5, 1967, at 2:00 pm, Israeli jets hit the LIBERTY with rockets, dropped napalm on the bridge and for 20 minutes strafed its decks with machine gun fire. When Captain McGonagal ordered, “Abandon ship, Israeli torpedo boats moved in and fired upon the life boats. All in all, the LIBERTY sustained 821 holes in her side, including a 40 foot hole in the hull, 34 sailors killed and 174 wounded. Israeli officials said that it was an “accident.”

Admiral Thomas Moorer, retired Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, said the attack was “absolutely deliberate.” Then he added, “The American people would be goddamn mad if they knew what goes on.” Twenty years later he still charged a cover-up. When asked why the attack? He said, “Well, I think the motive seems to be very apparent, namely the Israelis were preparing to attack in the Golan Heights and they did not want the United States Government to know that this attack was pending.”[1] When asked about the reason for the cover-up, Moorer was blunt, “President Johnson was worried about the reaction of Jewish voters.”

For the sake of those wounded in Gaza and those on board the SPIRIT OF HUMANITY who seek to help them, we can only hope that they do not become victims of another Israeli "accident.”

Thomas Are
January 15, 2009

[1] Paul Findley, They Dare to Speak Out. (Lawrence Hill Books, New York, 1989.) p.76, and Thomas Moorer, Interviewed at the Twentieth Anniversary Memorial Service and Reunion, Washington, D.C. Video, U.S.S. Liberty Survivors: Our Story, (Sligo Productions, 1991).

Monday, January 12, 2009

Israel's Right to Exist

It seems so simple, doesn’t it? All Hamas has to do is recognize Israel’s right to exist. After all, Israel is here and is not going anywhere. Why not accept it?

But it is not quite so simple. John V. Whitbeck, writing for the Christian Science Monitor explains:

“There is an enormous difference between ‘recognizing Israel’s existence’ and ‘recognizing Israel’s right to exist.’ The difference is in the same league as the difference between asking a Jew to acknowledge that the Holocaust happened and asking him to concede that the Holocaust was morally justified.”[1]

Sounds simple, but for a people who have been treated as subhuman contaminators of God’s holy land, it’s like saying that they have no right to exist, that the 750,000 Palestinians forcefully driven out of their homes had no moral right to have been there, that the destruction of approximately 450 Palestinian villages and the massacre of many of its citizens was the moral thing to do, that Golda Meir was right when she said, “It was not as though there was a Palestinian people and we came in and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist.”[2]

Even so, back in 1988, Yasser Arafat in a famous and very public statement in Stockholm accepted “Israel’s right to exist in peace and security.” But that was not good enough for the Zionist. This simply acknowledged the conditions of Israel’s existence, not its moral righteousness. So the expansions into West Bank and Gaza intensified.

Another question left unaddressed is: Which Israel? Israel has never declared its borders, so are we talking about the Israel given to the Jews by the United Nations in 1947, which took 55 percent of historical Palestine, or the 78 percent controlled by Israel after the “War of Independence” in 1948? That is quite a difference. Or are we talking about the 100 percent occupied and controlled by Israel since 1967?

The Zionist goals have been clear from the beginning:

In 1940, Joseph Weitz, head of Jewish Agency’s Colonization Department said:

Between ourselves, it must be clear that there is no room for both people together in this country. We shall not achieve our goal if the Arabs are in this small country. There is no other way than to transfer the Arabs from here to neighboring countries --- all of them. Not one village, not one tribe should be left.”[3]

The Koenig Report of 1976 sounds like the playbook for Israel’s current policies toward the occupied territories.

We must use terror, assassination, intimidation, land confiscation, and the cutting of all social services to rid the Galilee of its Arab population.[4]

David Ben Gurion, who became Israel’s first Prime Minister, announced Israel’s strategy in uncertain terms. “After we become strong as the results of the state, we shall abolish partition and expand to the whole of Palestine.”[5]

Immediately following the Six Day War, Israel’s Prime Minister, Manachem Begin referred to the West Bank only by its ancient Biblical names, Samaria and Judaea, giving a “God endorsement” to Israel’s goal of expansion.

Hamas has declared that it will recognize Israel within its 67 borders, but as long as Israel refuses to define borders, given Israel’s stated goals and track record, undefined recognition would leave nothing for the Palestinians. No people have ever been morally required to commit suicide.

Of course, our government says that if Hamas would just be like Mahmoud Abbas and cooperate with Israel, everything would be better for all Palestinians. But, under Abbas’s U.S. supported leadership, Israel has increased the building of settlements and the construction of a wall which separates Palestinians from their fields, schools, hospitals and water. Life in the West Bank has not improved by cooperating with Israel’s demands.

It seems that Israel’s right to exist means Israel’s right to sovereignty over the lives of all Palestinians. The one thing Israel has never acknowledged is the Palestinian’s sovereign right to exist in peace and security.

Thomas Are
January 12, 2009
[1] John V. Whitbeck, What Israel’s ‘Right to exist’ Means for Palestinians, Christian Science Monitor, February 2, 2007.
[2] David Hirst, The Gun and the Olive Branch: the Roots of Violence in the Middle East. (Thunders Mouth Press/Nations Books, New York, 2003) p.39.
[3] Ralph Schoenman, The Hidden History of Zionism, (Veritas Press, Santa Barbara, California, 1988) p.31.
[4] Yisrael Koenig, The Koenig Report, a 1976 confidential and internal government document outlining strategies for reducing the number of Arab citizens in the Galilee. Cited in Schoenman, p.35.
[5] Ben Gurion in a 1938 speech . Cited in Ralph Schoenman, The Hidden History of Zionism, (Veritas Press, Santa Barbara, California, 1988) p.33.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Rockets, Rockets, Rockets

“Rockets, rockets, rockets, and don’t forget those Palestinian rockets.” That’s about all you can hear from the news media and political leaders and pundits. If those stupid Palestinians would not have chosen to fire rockets at Israel they would now be living high and happy. After all, Israel left them with factories, farms and freedom to have everything they ever wanted and look what they did. Fired rockets. Listen to the evening news and you would think rockets were the first chapter. No consideration of history.

But, rockets were not the first chapter. Long before rockets or suicide bombers, Palestinians were abused, tormented, gunned down and starved by Israeli soldiers and settlers. Back in August 2002, the late Edward Said, Columbia University Professor and Jerusalem born Christian, wrote of life in Gaza:

“Every Palestinian has become a prisoner. Gaza is surrounded by an electrified fence on three sides: imprisoned like animals, Gazans are unable to work, unable to sell their vegetables or fruit, unable to go to school. They are exposed from the air to Israeli planes and helicopters and are gunned down like turkeys on the ground by tanks and machine guns. Impoverished and starved, Gaza is a human nightmare. Hope has been eliminated from the Palestinian vocabulary so that only raw defiance remains. Palestinians must die a slow death so that Israel can have security, which is just around the corner but cannot be realized because of special Israeli “insecurity.” The whole world must sympathize, while the cries of Palestinian orphans, sick old women, bereaved communities, and tortured prisoners simply go unheard and unrecorded.”*

Before rockets, Palestinians had endured among other things:

Zionist terrorism, such as the Hagannah, Stern gang and Palmach. Palestinians can remember the King David Hotel, Deir Yassin and Count Bernadette.
1948 Nakba and the ethnic cleansing of 1947-49 and Plan Dalet
Almost 800,000 Palestinians driven out of their homes and from their land and water, sixty years ago, many of them to live in Gaza behind cement barrels and barbed wire for the rest of their lives, many are still there.
1967 Six Day War with more occupation of Palestine and more refugees driven onto West Bank and Gaza.
Confiscation of Palestinian lands, warrentless arrests and torture, with 9,000 still in Israeli prisons.
Suppression of Palestinian industry to create a cheap labor pool for Israel.
Sabra and Shatila.
West Bank with 450,000 settlers with guns and Jewish only roads and over 600 check points, accompanied by closures and curfews and a wall shutting out Palestinians from their aquifers, farms, schools and hospitals.

Gaza has become an open air prison with Israel cutting off access to food, electricity and medicine.

Israel controls most of the US media, but we can still Google any of these subjects and find much that explains, not excuses, but helps us to understand the frustration behind rockets. But do it soon. Israel has declared the blogosphere an enemy. You can start by Googling anything by, or Jennifer Loewanstine, IF HAMAS DID NOT EXIST. She says it better than I ever could and with much more authority.

Thomas Are
January 7, 2009

* Edward Said, The Politics of Anti-Semitism, Cited in Dignity, Solidarity and the Penal Colony, Counterpunch, Sept. 25, 2003

Thursday, January 1, 2009

What Else Could Israel Do?

I mean, after all, Israel pulled out of Gaza and look what happened. Hamas began launching rockets against innocent Israeli citizens living in Sderot. They must be crazy. Israel has a right to defend itself. Listen to the evening news and it’s pretty clear who is to blame for this “all out war,” against Hamas in Gaza. (Of course, only one of the sides has planes and tanks or a standing army. On the other side, until Israel’s attack this week, all the Hamas rockets launched during the truce had not killed anyone.) Even President- elect Barack Obama has been shown over and over on television saying, “ If someone fires a rocket onto my house where my daughters sleep at night, I am going to everything in my power to stop them.” So, go, Israel, go. Bomb those Palestinians who don’t want you to control their land, labor and resources. Just like you killed hundreds in Lebanon, and displaced thousands more two summers ago. You have enough congress people in the pocket of AIPAC, enough God approval from the “Christian right,” and you have an American public ignorant of your actions in the Middle East, so you can do anything you wish and our taxpayers will foot the bill. No criticism of Israel allowed. Under the present circumstances, it’s guaranteed.

Of course, rockets, even those rudimentary home made types, though not causing much damage, certainly disrupted everyday life, cannot be tolerated. But could you not find a better way to deal with Gaza’s frustration? Americans think that when you pulled your illegal settlers out of Gaza in 2005, that you were concerned for the Palestinians whose land you had been occupying for 38 years. They are unaware that as soon as you had your people out that you encircled Gaza with a blockade. Although the truce deal required you to open up border terminals, you locked them down, and cut humanitarian aid trucks entering Gaza from 400 a day to about 40 per day, leaving impoverished Palestinians starving for food, fuel, and medicines. Americans do not know that there are actually Palestinian families forced to eat grass in order to survive.[1] Americans do not know that you, Israel, were the first to violate the truce agreement and that during the “truce” the Israeli army killed 22 Palestinians, including many children, wounded 62 and kidnapped 38 residents in the Gaza Strip,” that prior to the latest bombing, you had in fact bombed the supply tunnels into Egypt which were used mainly to smuggle in food and medicine to a sick and hungry people. According to Saed Bannoura, of the International Middle East Media Center, you, Israel, carried out 193 violations before December 18th. But, what else could Israel do?

Well, there are some who wonder why Israel could not consider one of the many plans and offers of peace. “At least ten times since 2006, Hamas has offered peace with Israel in exchange for Israel’s withdrawal to its 1967 borders.” In fact, shortly after being elected Prime Minister of Hamas in 2006, Ismail Haniyah wrote George W. Bush offering a truce and recognition of Israel. Bush did not reply.[2]

Some wonder why Israel barred news reporters from entering Gaza if Israel was so righteous and had nothing to hide. The Palestinians have been begging for international observers for years.

President-elect Obama says that he would do what he could to stop a rocket launcher from threatening his home where his children sleep. Some wonder what he would do if a powerful neighbor built a fence around his house and caused his children to go hungry. Would he seek relief or would he just tell his children to eat grass?

Thomas Are
January 1, 2009
[1] Marie Colvin, Gaza Families eat grass as Israel Locks Border., The Sunday Times, December 14, 2008,
[2] Rachelle Marshall, Middle East Leaders Hold Open Door to Peace. (Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, January 2009) p.7.