Monday, 7 June 2010

Moral propriety and the law: does Israel care?

Israel's attack on the Mavi Marmara and other Gaza aid flotilla boats has prompted a quite remarkable level of protest across the world. Mass demonstrations, including rallies in London and Edinburgh - barely noted by the BBC and other compliant media - offer uplifting proof that international opinion is now moving decisively against Israel's arrogant, murderous behaviour.

Alongside the public outrage, the legal position and implications of Israel's attack on the flotilla are categorically clear. There is no viable defence of this criminal act that could be presented in a court of law. And, despite the whitewashing and verbal contortions of Israel's propaganda unit, Netanyahu and his cohorts know this. In short, they don't have a legal or moral leg to stand on.

The flotilla and its humanitarian endeavours have played a crucial part in raising the Palestinian cause to global consciousness. On the back of Cast Lead and the 2008/9 annihilation of Gaza, the determined spectre of aid ships trying to break the blockade is now helping to pressurise governments into serious action.

We might call it part of the gathering sea change in global opinion. And the crucial reason for that is the abhorrence people feel towards an aggressor state shooting not just Palestinian civilians but also those trying to lift a desperate population out of its misery.

One of the Scottish flotilla activists,Theresa McDermott, has talked of her harrowing treatment, including being thrown around by soldiers and a pistol held threateningly to her head. Observing from the nearby Challenger 1 at the time the Mavi Marmara was attacked, Theresa recounts what happened when the commandos then boarded her boat:

"Our only resistance was to stand by the rail of the boat with our hands out, so they could see clearly we had no weapons, and try to block them from coming on board. We had no intention of fighting back.
One of the bombs hit the face of a Belgian woman, bursting her nose before exploding on the boat. She was in a bad way and started bleeding heavily.
At least 20 soldiers came on board and each had a number on the shoulder of his uniform. In charge was number 20, while a lower rank had the number one on his shoulder. They were all wearing ski masks and had on body armour and were fully armed and very aggressive. On seeing the female journalist on board, theyTasered her. I saw the electrical discharge shoot up her arm and she collapsed, vomiting, on the deck.
At least three of the soldiers had Australian accents.
Two of the women on board, Huweida Arraf, a Palestinian with joint US nationality, and a Dutch woman, Anna, who tried to block the stairs to the deck, were thrown to the ground, their hands cuffed with plastic ties that cut into their wrists and their faces pushed on to the deck that was full of broken glass.
They were also blindfolded and hooded. We shouted at them: “Are you proud of this, is this what your army teaches you, beating up women?”
At one point when I was shouting and wouldn’t sit down and trying to get to the girls they were beating, one soldier cocked his automatic pistol and put the gun to my head and said he would shoot me if Ididn’t do as I was told."

This and other such testimonies, such as that of prize-winning Swedish author Henning Mankell, are helping to highlight Israel's naked actions and the need for a comprehensive international response.

Of course, there's always those more selfishly engaged. In a statement of crass insensitivity to suffering Palestinians, and Britain's complicit role in Israel's occupation, Matthew Parris declared on Question Time that "we [the UK] have no great interest in Israel or Palestine", adding that he's personally "bored with the Middle East". Where to start on that one...

But, public responses to the flotilla attacks, including the subsequent seizure of the Irish-flagged Rachel Corrie vessel, strongly suggest that an increasing number of people do care.

There's been widespread disbelief over Israel being allowed to act with such impunity, coupled with anger over the killings, abductions and denial of aid - a concern and empathy expressed by the many visitors to our Glasgow Palestine Human Rights stall.

At their core, most people, I believe, don't subscribe to bullying, occupation and persecution. It's part of an evolutionary process, a mutual social contract, where, beyond the gaze of materialism and encouragement to selfish desire, we seek to live in a spirit of relative regard for others - even where that humanitarian intuition is subject to militarist propaganda from politicians and the media.

Bereft of reasoned argument, the Zionist 'answer' has been a rearguard defence of Israel's actions: the killings and taking of the flotilla, they cry, was a 'necessary response ' to the 'Hamas threat'.

It's an increasingly hollow and rejected claim.

Most Zionists won't, of course, entertain any serious analysis of Hamas and the nuanced reality of its developing political positions. This is not just confined to the standard dismissal of Hamas's democratic mandate. It's part of the deeper denial which uses Hamas as a psychological screen to Israel's original crimes.

Which all helps to shun the essential root of the conflict: Israel's ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians and over six decades of illegal occupation. Such is the cocooned nature of Israeli society from the harsh degradations of Palestinian life.

The eminent Israeli academic Ilan Pappe recognises, all too well, the disturbing nature of that entrenched psyche, which he regards as rooted in falsely imbued notions of persecution, land rights and social militarism.

Pappe's own journey through and beyond this mindset offers a valuable illustration of the national neurosis he sees and the need to neutralise it if there's ever to be a true and just peace:

"My quest for an authentic history of events in the Middle East required a personal de-militarisation of the mind. Even now, in 2010, Israel is in many ways a settler Prussian state: a combination of colonialist policies with a high level of militarisation in all aspects of life. This is the third feature of the Jewish state that has to be understood if one wants to comprehend the Israeli response. It is manifested in the dominance of the army over political, cultural and economic life within Israel. Defence ministerEhud Barak was the commanding officer of Benjamin Netanyahu , the prime minister, in a military unit similar to the one that assaulted the flotilla. That background was profoundly significant in terms of the state’s Zionist response to what they and all the commando officers perceived as the most formidable and dangerous enemy.

You probably have to be born in Israel, as I was, and go through the whole process of socialisation and education – including serving in the army – to grasp the power of this militarist mentality and its dire consequences. And you need such a background to understand why the whole premise on which the international community’s approach to the Middle East is based, is utterly and disastrously wrong.

The international response is based on the assumption that more forthcoming Palestinian concessions and a continued dialogue with the Israeli political elite will produce a new reality on the ground. The official discourse in the West is that a very reasonable and attainable solution – the two states solution – is just around the corner if all sides would make one final effort. Such optimism is hopelessly misguided."

As Pappe suggests, Israel, playing its Western allies along, has a vested interest in maintaining this fictitious narrative, allowing it to pursue its true course: further Zionist expansion.

It's also a narrative that keeps us focused on the symptoms rather than the cause of all this conflict.

One of the symptoms, inevitably, includes Palestinian resistance. Rockets, makeshift and sporadic, have, of course, caused human losses and damage, though, a tiny fraction when compared to the deaths and carnage visited on Gaza and the West Bank.

Hamas have also, as any serious observer knows, been the main instigator of ceasefires and have, at many points, attempted to rein-in rocket fire from other groups.

In any case, is such resistance so hard to comprehend? Whether from Hamas or other Palestinian factions, what should one reasonably expect from a people subjected to decades of unrestrained occupation and violence? Gratitude? Subservience? Penitence?

The demand from within Israel seems to be this: nothing less than utter submission.

And this view is openly reflected in Israeli public opinion. The explicit approval inside Israel for the Mavi Marmara executions and brutal treatment of those abducted from the flotilla tells us much about the violence-conditioned state of Israeli society.

Another disturbing symptom has been the Facebook campaign calling for the execution of Haneen Zuabi, an Arab Knesset member and passenger on the Mavi Marmara. The Knesset has also voted to punish her for going on the flotilla, by removing her privileges. So much for Israeli democracy.

Such calls to vigilante violence and parliamentary malice are symptomatic of a society blind to the root causes of its own oppressions. Trying to break through this mindset is, as Pappe believes, the most intractable problem facing those interested in a genuine state of peace for all.

Encouragingly, there's still some healthy rejection of Israel''s terror agenda inside the country. Thus, we see the principled
Shministim and other military refuseniks who, alongside UK groups like Jews for a Just Peace, say that Israel's killing state does not speak in their name.

The Free Gaza Movement and many other humanitarian groups around the world, including a group of German Jews, are now preparing the next big aid flotilla to Gaza. The momentum is growing to break the blockade, serving, in the process, to expose Israel's wider apartheid practices.

We can also expect this rise in global consciousness to include more critical pressure on Israel's complicit allies. How much more violence and intimidation, many will now ask, can Israel be allowed to get away with?

As with the shift towards a serious sanctions-based response to apartheid South Africa, this collective call will not only be concerned to end the violent siege of Gaza, but to address the core cause of that violence: Zionism and Israel's land-grab occupation.


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