UPDATE: Today brings reports of at least another 52 demonstrators in Gaza killed by the IDF and over 2,000 injured.]
Today the Trump administration moves the US embassy to Jerusalem, one more step in dispossessing the Palestinian people and solidifying Israel’s apartheid rule over them, aided by the US. Charles Glass writes about a new book by Norman Finkelstein titled Gaza: An Inquest Into Its Martyrdom that takes a critical look at the crimes that Israel has committed using its Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), focusing on the people who are the worst affected, those living in Gaza.
During the battle over the land between 1947 and 1949, the IDF expelled three-quarters of the indigenous population. Of the 750,000 Palestinian Arabs who fled, 250,000 took shelter in Gaza, a tiny pocket of southwest Palestine then occupied by the Egyptian army. The destitute and traumatized refugees were three times more numerous than the 80,000 Gazans who took them in.
The United Nations passed but did not enforce annual resolutions calling for the refugees’ return. Israel invaded the territory in 1956, withdrew under American pressure in 1957, and invaded again in 1967. As its population grew to nearly 2 million souls packed into a pocket five miles wide and 40 miles long, Gaza has become a byword for misery. Former British Prime Minister David Cameron, no advocate of the Palestinian cause, called it “an open-air prison.”
[Finkelstein] dissects three major Israeli military actions against Gaza – Operation Cast Lead in December 2008, Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012, and Operation Protective Edge in July 2014 – as well as the Israeli commando raid on a Turkish aid flotilla in May 2010. His blistering critique encompasses the international response to those events and the prolonged siege of Gaza by Israel and Egypt. The book makes for harrowing reading, replete with exhaustive research and detailed analysis to explain Israeli objectives in Gaza. Summarizing the IDF’s use of Gaza, Israeli journalist Gideon Levy in the New York Times last April called it Israel’s “training field, a giant lab — for gauging the reactions of the nearly two million people it keeps under siege there, and for testing its innovating weapons, as well as the limits of what the world will let it get away with.”
Recent history indicates that Israel can “get away with” a great deal. It long ago closed Gaza’s port, airport and land border. The Palestinians’ traditional supporters in the Arab world, especially Saudi Arabia and Egypt, ignore them. Russia and China express sympathy while doing nothing. Nominal aid comes from Iran in the form of mostly ineffectual weapons for Hamas, a rare instance of the Shiite theocrats arming Sunni fundamentalists. Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin spoke for most of his countrymen when he said of Gaza, “If only it would just sink into the sea.”
Finkelstein lists Cast Lead’s toll of sites destroyed or badly damaged: 58,000 homes; 28 schools and kindergartens; 1,500 factories and workshops; 190 greenhouses; 30 mosques; media centers (killing six journalists); and 80 percent of the agricultural crop. The ratio of Palestinian to Israeli civilians killed was 400 to 1. More than 300 of the 1,400 Palestinian dead were children. The onslaught included the deployment of white phosphorus, an illegal chemical agent that burns skin at temperatures up to 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit (816 degrees Celsius).
The horrors inflicted on the people of Gaza by Israel have steadily escalated. During the most recent demonstrations by Gazans, the IDF has as usual reacted with disproportionate force, using live ammunition and killing many people. This has been too much even for some who had been loyal supporters of Israel when they committed earlier atrocities. The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement has been gaining strength and several high profile performers have withdrawn from events in Israel. A notable case has been actress Natalie Portman, an Israeli-American born in Israel, who cancelled an event in Israel at which she was scheduled to receive a major award, saying that she ‘”cannot in good conscience” attend. Jonathan Ofir writes that Portman seemed to have realized that she and the prize were being used as part of a propaganda campaign to improve Israel’s ‘brand’ and counter the negative publicity. Her action sent shock waves through Israel, with one member of the parliament even calling for her Israeli citizenship to be revoked.
Portman is just the latest to cancel, joining another major performer Lorde. It is clear that any performer thinking of going to Israel can no longer consider it an apolitical act. James North and Philip Weiss write that the usual loud defenders of Israel in the US media have been silent about Portman’s actions. The situation has reached a tipping point, mainly because so many of the leading political figures in the Israeli government speak in openly racist terms that are indefensible.
This is not to say that defenders of Israel in the US are completely silent. The Israel lobby still has major clout and putative Democratic contenders for the presidency, like California senator Kamal Harris, dutifully make the pilgrimage to the annual AIPAC conference and pander to Israel. (AIPAC is the main arm of the Israel lobby.) But while the lobby could formerly depend on pressure to silence critics, that seems to be no longer working and now they are seeking to put in place legal and administrative sanctions against proponents of BDS, especially on college campuses where the criticisms have been strongest, what the Center for Constitutional Rights calls ‘the Palestinian exception to free speech’.
This report, released by the Center for Constitutional Rights and Palestine Legal in September 2015, documents for the first time the widespread and growing suppression of Palestinian human rights advocacy in the United States. Between January 2014 and June 2015, Palestine Legal responded to nearly 300 incidents of suppression; 85% of those incidents targeted students and professors, on a total of more than 65 US college campuses. This trend has significant implications for both the First Amendment and democratic principles like academic freedom, not to mention the mission of higher education to help develop critical thinking. The report outlines the tactics – including event cancellations, baseless legal complaints, administrative disciplinary actions, firings, and false and inflammatory accusations of terrorism and antisemitism – that Israel advocacy organizations, universities, government actors, and other institutions have used against activists. It also contains testimony from advocates who have been targeted for their speech or expression, and includes an appendix documenting more than 50 campus-related case studies.
CCR has put out a video about these attempts at suppressing advocacy on behalf of Palestinians, especially against the campus branches of the group Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).
You can read the CCR report here