On occasion I receive e-mails thanking me for my "courage" in speaking on behalf of justice for the Palestinians. Invariably my response is that there's nothing courageous about a tenured, full professor -- who can't be fired for simply excercising my freedom of speech -- taking controversial positions. What would be courageous is if just a few of our elected officials stopped pandering to the Israel lobby. And of course unfathomable courage is being exhibited at this moment by our brothers and sisters in Gaza as they face a total blitzkreig by the 4th most powerful military in the world.
Speaking of politicians, according to the Rasumusson poll, a clear majority of folks who voted for Obama oppose Israeli policy. However, virtually every top level govt. official is, at least publically, on the other side. Just this week the Senate unanimously passed a resolution supporting Israel for "defending itself" against Hamas. The House repeated a similar resolution on Friday. Isn't this an affront to democracy? I'm hard pressed to think of another example where there is such a clear disjunction, such an utter failure of democratic accountability.
Our president-elect has publicly identified his two daughters with Israeli children exposed to danger and death. He says that as a father he'd do anything protect them too. That's all well and good. But Mr. President, aren't the Sashas and Malias of Gaza, with their legs blown off or wrapped in shrounds, also part of humanity? Don't they merit breaking your shameful silence, worth at least a brief expression of compassion and grief?
I could be wrong but it's my sense that if the American people had more knowledge, more exposure to reality, they wouldn't tolerate what's going on. But just as Bush and Cheney learned and practiced in Iraq, Israel has not allowed media access to its operations. The AP reports that Israeli restrictions on the press have been "unprecedented" and the intended result is that the media only experiences the conflict from the Israeli side. By the way, this isn't designed to shield the Israeli public, most of whom have adopted a posture of self-righteous indifference to Palestinian suffering. It's about shielding us, the America public.
As you know, accurate information is especially hard to come by on this issue. For example, Israel, not Hamas broke the ceasefire on November 4, 2008 on explicit orders from Ehud Barak. The Hamas rocket barrage then provided the necessary pretext for the Israeli invasion, an invasion planned at least six months ago. Here's a variation on several headlines from the European press, Ha'aretz (An Israeli Daily) and Amnesty International: "Israeli forces entered Gaza and killed six Palestinian fighters. A barrage of Palestinian rockets FOLLOWED this incursion." (Emphasis added). Of course a ceasefire wasn't sustainable given the two year long Israeli blockade and the Palestinians being left with only one other option: slow starvation.
And what about the claim that Israel is acting in "self=defense," that we would do the same if Mexico lobbed rockets into Texas or California? To me, this is like some thugs appearing at your front door in Allentown, taking your house and tossing you into the street. Then when you try to reclaim it, they shoot at you while screaming "SELF-DEFENSE, SELF-DEFENSE!"
Or let's say Mexico has been occupied by the U.S. for 40 years and elects a govt. that Washington doesn't like. The U.S. then lays siege to Mexico, totally cutting off all food, medicine and water. Our president then says he wants to watch the Mexican lose some weight, "get thinner..." Washington turns Mexico into a massive concentration camp. In response, Mexico launches the military equivalent of bottle rockets into Texas. Would any sane person doubt their right to do so? The arguments are really quite preposterous!
The Israelis named their Gaza operation, "CAST LEAD." Given the facts of the matter I suggest that "Operation Chutzpah" might be more fitting. By the way, you may not know that "Cast Lead" is the english equilvalent for the famous Hebrew Chanaukah song "My uncle made me a dreidl of cast lead." It's hard to escape the message that this war is meant to resononate with goodness and fond memories. To complete the image, the assault was launched on the sixth day of Chanaukah with prayers for its success.
Of course -- and this is very important --the Israeli attack wasn't primarily about rockets, Hamas, terrorism, freedom or anything of the sort. The short-term goals were: First, to refurbish the image of the Israel military that was humiliated in Lebanon. Second, to demoralize the Palestianians and break Hamas, and third, the Feb. 10th elections in Israel. A few Labor Party leaders are trying to improve their "security" credentials. According to recent polls it's working. Labor's election chances have improved by some 5 seats in the Knesset since the the Gaza attack. As of today, that's about 160 dead Palestinians per seat. Of course some Israeli soldiers have also paid with their lives for this crass election ploy.
The overall objective, of which Gaza is only a minor part, hasn't changed in 61 years, since the founding of the Jewish state in 1948: the eventual explusion of the entire native population and seizure of more and more of their land. Unless forced to do so by the U.S., Israel will NEVER allow a viable Palestinian state on its border. Period. Our failure to grasp this elemental truth has sent us on many a fool's errand.
Where does that leave us? It pains me to say this but appealing to Israeli public opinion is a waste of time. No, of course not every Israeli (or Jewish person) has a moral blind spot when it comes to Israel. There are some outspoken Israeli critics of profound moral integrity. I know some of them. But they're far too few in n number and influence. (Noam Chomsky, the most articulate and respected U.S. critic of Israel is Jewish as are many other American truth-tellers on this issue).
As some Israelis themselves have recently acknowledged, even if Israel initiated a massive ethnic cleasing of the territories, killing hundreds of thousands, most Israelis would respond, "Well, they brought this all on themselves didn't they? And now that we've rid of ourselves of these primitive, ignorant, slightly less-than-human Arabs, we can return to enjoying our enlightened and superior culture." Even policies that appear as exceptions prove otherwise: Israeli professor Neve Gordon writes this week in The Nation that humanitarian aid was allowed into Gaza so that a total civilian catastrophe wouldn't cause the world to force Israel's immediate withdrawal. Think of the cynicism here: Some aid is allowed to reach the Palestinians so that more of them may be killed.
I'm hardly the first to note that Israel is only restrained by how much it can get away with before the country is totally isolated by the world. It's also restrained by how many IDF casulties the Israeli public will tolerate. All the historical evidence suggests that Israeli officials have contempt for world opinion. The only opinion they care about is the U.S. political establishment, those who send the blank checks, Apaches, F=16s, and white phosperous bombs.
If that's the case, then allies of the Palestinians and frankly, allies of Israel's real long-run interest, must make it costlier for our "leaders" to remain complicit in Israeli crimes against humanity than to force a fair and just settlement.
Frankly, I'm less optimistic about this issue than any I've followed during my career. The first time I visited Palestine in 1981, I didn't encounter any Hamas types, only members of the secular FATAH and PFLP factions. But to counter Arafat, the U.S., Israel and Saudi Arabia helped nurture the fundamentalists into being in 1992 or so. After Hamas won free and fair elections they ceased to be useful and became expendabe. The parallel with the CIA and Saudi Arabia's initial support for the Taliban in Afghanistan is unmistable and we all know how well that worked out.
Do the American people want to fuel a united Islamic fundamentalism in the region and all that means? Do they want to push beyond Hamas and strengthen Al-Qaeda? That's precisely where this is heading as millions in the Arab world watch Israeli atrocities on Al Jazeera and YouTube. And so-called leaders of the Arab world in places like Eqypt and Jordan are correctly viewed as pathetic collaborators of the Israel and the U.S.
This is what's being sown by Washington's uncritical support for Israel's heinous behavior in Gaza. We have a moral responsibility not to let that continue. I know that's why you're here and I thank you for allowing me to share one day of the struggle with you.