I personally know over 80 of those kidnapped on the freedom flotilla. It angers us not having any information from all survivors. The only footage received after the vicious attack is brief and released by the Israeli authorities who have otherwise put a complete news blackout. If Israel has nothing to hide, why not allow the kidnapped to talk to the media or at least to lawyers and to their country representatives? In one video, we see three or four recognizable friends escorted by the Israeli pirates; my mind imagines justice prevailing and those Israeli criminals being led in handcuffs to International criminal courts. Our anger increased when Israeli forces attacked unarmed demonstrators near Qalandia yesterday injuring a friend. 22-year-old Emily Henochowicz lost her left eye after being hit with an Israeli gas canister. We met Emily in several events here in Palestine (see story and photos at http://palsolidarity.org/2010/05/12604). She is a visual artist who was documenting popular resistance (her art blog is here http://thirstypixels.blogspot.com/, Facebook http://www.facebook.com/people/Emily-Henochowicz/1223820147). A visual artist losing an eye is beyond words.
Each one of the hundreds abducted is a hero for joining the flotilla. Patriarch Hilarion Capuchhi who was jailed in Israel for many years and lived in Italy was one of the abductees. Sheikh Raed Salah, a Palestinian from the areas occupied in 1948 who is head of a branch of the Islamic movement. Hedy Epstein, a 86 year old Jewish women who lost her family in Nazi concentration camps and subsequently came to Palestine and was shocked to see people claiming to represent Jews mimic some Nazi crimes (and for this the Israelis strip-searched and humiliated this elderly woman). There was Nobel peace laureate Mairead Corrigan-Maguire. There is Joe Meadors, a survivor of the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty (on a US ship in International waters that killed many good Americans in June 1967 but that political considerations buried this Israeli crime – see survivor webpage http://www.usslibertyveterans.org/ ). For Israel to repeat its atrocity against US citizens as the US commemorates Memorial Day is unconscionable (see also http://www.freepalestinemovement.org ). For the Obama administration to continue to shield Israel from International law makes us angry.
Those of us angry enough to get out and demonstrate here in the West Bank have a problem. In Bethlehem, over 50 members of the “Palestinian Preventive Security” (as they are called) and police blocked our path to get to the apartheid wall area. We are told we can demonstrate as long as we do not bother those we are demonstrating against! Over the past few years, Palestinian authority heavily armed forces blocking roads had an amazing psychological impact on Palestinians and Internationals. No popular resistance can survive this. Popular resistance by definition involves increasing the cost to the occupiers and acts of civil resistance including disruptions. Popular resistance is not to be reduced to standing at the sidewalk carrying a flag or a sign. They involve daring and risky actions like the ones taken by the thousands of us who mobilized for the freedom flotilla.
Elite ‘leaders’ in Ramallah and in other Arab cities gave the rhetoric that they support the popular resistance as exemplified by the freedom flotilla. But words are cheap and words spoken in public are not the same as behind closed doors and in corridors of power. Even the rhetoric is not consistent. A key Palestinian leader once stated that such humanitarian boats to Gaza are stunts with no real impact. The Palestinian leadership that promised us no negotiations until there is a settlement freeze has engaged in negotiations while we see continued settlement activities all around us both in East Jerusalem and in other Parts of the West Bank. Instead of closing Israeli embassies in Arab countries, they were heavily protected by Arab security forces from demonstrators. Thus, it is not totally surprising that there was a larger demonstration yesterday in Sweden (7,000 people) than in Ramallah or Amman. But will this attack on the freedom flotilla be the straw that breaks the camel’s back? Will it mobilize actions or deter future actions?
In looking at the geopolitical picture today, one can see trends that give us despair and those that give us hope. The political leadership in the fragmented Arab countries and Palestinian authority have convinced themselves that they have no option but to endlessly try to talk to politicians from Tel Aviv and Washington (the latter also Israeli occupied territory) hoping for some “gestures”. The Israeli thieves who stole a whole country can flaunt international law repeatedly and get away with it. We had a bloody 62 years stretching from over 33 massacres in 1948, to slaughter of “infiltrators” (villagers trying to return home after the ethnic cleansing) in the 1950s, to massacres across borders (1956, 1970s, 1982, 2006), to the slaughter in Gaza last year. Will Israel be held accountable? Will Netenyahu, Barack, Livini and Olmert be brought before International courts to pay for the massacres? Even according to a report from the Zionist Judge Goldstone, the massacre in Gaza violated international law.
The larger atrocity this year is not the attack on these ships in International waters and the kidnap of 750 peace activists. The larger atrocity is the ongoing murderous siege/blockade on Gaza and the methodical destruction of life for Palestinians in the occupied territories. After the slaughter of 1400 in Gaza and thousands of homes destroyed, there was intensification of the siege that prevented rebuilding and other humanitarian supplies from reaching Gaza. Not able to do so, some money destined for Gaza rebuilding was siphoned off for elite Palestinians who claim to work for the people. Slowly Arab Jerusalem is erased off the map. villages around the city are squeezed (some like Al-Walaja and Wadi Rahhal are targeted for complete ethnic cleansing). What prevents its resolution base on justice to achieve a durable peace is not only the Zionist war machine but the countries that enable this. Turkey recalled its ambassador while Egypt and Jordan kept theirs in Tel Aviv and Egypt shamelessly collaborates in blocking Gaza at the order of Israel and the US administration.
For the sake of balance, the counter argument presented is that opening the borders before reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas will strengthen Hamas and deepen the division between the Fatah dominated West Bank and the Hamas dominated Gaza. To answer this I can only say that collective punishment of 1.5 million Palestinians is wrong and unacceptable on all grounds: moral, ethical, and legal. It constitutes a war crime and a crime against humanity. But even on strictly utilitarian grounds for those who do not like Hamas ideology, what is happening is only strengthening Hamas (which also profits from the tunnel trade with the support of Egyptian elites in Sinai). But Hamas and Hizballah and Turkey and others seem far more responsive to the anger felt in the streets at the endless capitulation to murder and ethnic cleansing. We may disagree with their ideologies but I know many of my own family members who are Christian who cheer at the speech of Hassan Nasrallah (Hizballah leader). Fatah and Hamas need to let go of the trap set for them in Oslo and both dissolve their ‘governments’ (the quotes are deserved) and go back to being resistance movements. And that which does so first will be more respected among the Palestinian people. There can never be a government under occupation that is not tied in the service of the occupiers (unlike resistance movements, if they step out of line, they have fixed addresses). I wonder also what would happen if secular or non-democratic leaders like Hosni Mubarak or King Abdullah would get the courage to take positions based on principles and not (mis)calculations of US and Israeli imperial powers as omnipotent. My thought is that the US is finished as a superpower (thanks to it being bled dry by the Israel lobby dragging it into endless wars). I know most politicians like to feel 100% safe (mostly for their position of power) and are afraid of any change. But I wish they would realize that daring politicians make the history books and those who hang around trying to protect their seats will be forgotten. Cowardice is never a virtue.
Palestine brings the best in people who have dignity and self respect and brings the worst in others who have tribalism and greed coursing through their veins. There was more dignity in any minute of the short life by Rachel Corrie who stood in front of the Bulldozer in Rafah and lost her life than is represented in lifetimes of by kings, prime ministers, and presidents. There was more dignity in the bloody T-shirt of Basem Abu Rahma when he was shot and killed with a gas canister in Bil’in than among all the palaces of rulers who gather in an Arab summit. And the dignity of one drop of blood shed in the Mediterranean is more than exhibited at the UN Security Council last night. Citizens of Greece and Turkey joined together in the freedom flotilla ships and in the Israeli detention centers. Zionists were out saying there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza and politicians behind closed doors are trying to limit the damage to their reputation instead of asking themselves questions about their direction in life!
If humanity survives the next 100 years it will have been because of those who act with dignity/self respect instead of cowardice and self-interest. Lessons in dignity from those like Rachel, Basem and the freedom flotilla will be required study in the new people’s history books, which I am sure will be very different than those we have in schools today. It is thus fitting that one of the freedom ships now kidnapped by the pirate navy was named ‘the Rachel Corrie’. As I wrote in a number of articles, I am optimistic despite the challenges. Why: because of Basem, Rachel (the person and the Ship), the thousands of martyrs who sacrificed their lives for freedom and justice, tens of thousands injured, the millions around the world in solidarity, and most of all those Palestinians and other Arabs who have not sold their souls and who maintain the faith in the justice of this cause. In the demonstrations yesterday, a child in Gaza was carrying a sign that says ‘we demand freedom’ and a child in Cairo that says ‘children in Egypt and in Gaza want the siege lifted’. That is our future – not elderly politicians meeting to do media damage control with empty words. Even as we mourn the martyrs, humanity won another victory yesterday.
Professor Mazin Qumsiyeh teaches and does research at Bethlehem and Birzeit Universities in occupied Palestine. He serves as chairman of the board of the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement Between People and coordinator of the Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements in Beit Sahour He is author of “Sharing the Land of Canaan: Human rights and the Israeli/Palestinian Struggle” and the forthcoming book “Popular Resistance in Palestine: A history of Hope and Empowerment”