Bearing Witness

End Australian Support for the Illegal Blockade of Gaza

Dear Prime Minister,

In early November 2011, we wrote to your Government demanding
immediate action, to:
1. Pressure the Israeli government to unconditionally release and
facilitate the safe return of Michael Coleman and all political
prisoners.
2. Demand the release of the Tahrir and Saoirse along with all
personal property, as well as compensation for damages incurred by the
act of piracy that the Israeli government committed on the high seas.
3. Ensure that Israel ends its illegal blockade of Gaza to enable
freedom of movement for people and goods.”

Five days after the Tahrir was attacked in international waters and
Michael, all other passengers and crew were abducted, he was released
and ‘deported’ to Australia via Bangkok and Melbourne.

On 28 November 2011 we received a woefully inadequate response from
Samuel Allen (Acting Director, Levant and Iran Section) of the
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in which no answers were
provided to our principal demands for action.

The Australian Government’s response to the act of piracy committed by
the Israeli Government against the unarmed flotilla that Michael
Coleman was aboard has been pitiful.

Your regurgitated comments about practical support and partnership
agreements are mealy-mouthed apologies, which are grossly inadequate
and disproportionate for the Palestinian people whose land has been
stolen from them by the actions of the ever-expanding Apartheid
Israeli ‘state’.

Providing drip feed of ‘aid’ is not the solution to the plight of the
Palestinians and the injustices they experience in Palestine and in
forced exile. Your ‘travel advice’ that Australians should not attempt
to travel to Gaza by sea is cowardly. The Australian Government should
be working with other countries to aid the people of Gaza who demand
an end to the blockade and with it their ability move and trade
freely.

All governments, including yours, must hold Israel accountable for its
defiance of international law with regards to the ongoing collective
punishment of more than 1,600,000 Palestinians in Gaza, half of whom
are under the age of 16 in what is effectively the world’s largest
open air prison.

Instead you persist in platitudes to the Israeli Government and
business interests who continue to make their money from the theft of
Palestinian lands. Indeed we found your recent attendance at and
speech to the Australia Israel Chamber of Commerce extremely offensive
when Palestinian people are denied freedom of movement and trade.

We contrast your Government’s actions with the visit to Gaza last
month by Deputy Prime Minister Eamon Gilmore from the Irish Republic
and his statement demanding an end to the blockade.

It is because of the continuing inaction of governments, including the
Australian Government that ordinary people feel compelled to act.

When our delegate sailed to Gaza, he did so in the firm belief that
the blockade of Gaza by the Israeli Government is illegal and inhumane
and should end without delay. In this appraisal we believe that we
have the support of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the
UN Human Rights Council, the International Committee of the Red Cross,
and numerous other human rights organisations.
We consider that our assets – the Tahrir, of which we hold a one-tenth
share, medical aid we were transporting to give to the people of Gaza
and our personal belongings including a satellite telephone have been
confiscated illegally by the Israeli Government.

We urge you to actively support our demand that the Israeli Government
reloads our medical supplies and our personal belongings and other
assets onto our boat and allow us to sail it to Gaza without delay.

We look forward to hearing back from you soon with a considered,
positive reply that repositions Australia on the right side of history
and international law, and alongside the overwhelming majority of
countries in the world who will not support the systematic abuse of
Palestinian people and their human rights.

Yours sincerely,

James Godfrey
for
Free Gaza Australia

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February 16, 2012 Posted by | Media | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Co-existence vs. Co-resistance: A case against normalization

This article by Omar Rahman makes one of the best cases against normalizing relations between Palestinians and Israeli’s under current circumstances I have ever read. It was first published on Tuesday, January 3 2012 in +972 Magazine

In his recent post on “normalization,” my colleague Aziz Abu Sarah was right about one thing, the topic is reaching a fever pitch within Palestinian society. What Aziz gets wrong is the logic of anti-normalization as he attempts to paint it as some form of unjustifiable reactionism, ignoring its most cogent and compelling arguments. In truth, projects that constitute “normalization” promote a false image of parity between the conflicting sides and foster a dangerous psychology within the minds of the oppressor that stifles progress towards a just resolution of the conflict.

Although the “anti-normalization” debate has been around a long time, its resurgence in public discourse can likely be attributed to two things: the rise of the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement and the beginning of a transitional period in internal Palestinian politics.

Due to the very nature of the BDS movement, everything pertaining to Israel is put under the microscope and scrutinized. Subsequently, any relationship between Palestinians and Israelis is done so in spades. BDS encourages its adherents to look critically at everything they do and everything that is happening around them. It is important to distinguish what works in the service of achieving Palestinian rights and what does not, or even works against it. This is why the BDS movement has produced strict and coherent guidelines for what can be considered worthy of boycott and what constitutes normalization.

Secondly, the era in which Palestinians and Israelis engaged in dialogue under the wider auspices and example of governmental-led negotiations is coming to an end—at least for the time being. We are now at the cusp of a transitional period in Palestinian politics where the lack of a clear strategy and path forward on the diplomatic and resistance fronts is forcing Palestinians to look internally at the state of their own society and political situation. Reconciliation and reform within their fractured political system are desperately needed in order to move cohesively in a new direction. Thus many Palestinians have started to re-examine the logic of their relationships with Israelis and criticize those Palestinians who have benefited immensely from it over the years while others around them have suffered.

When we consider the resurgence of anti-normalization, we must also remember that the post-Oslo period witnessed an explosion in normalization programs and projects between Israelis and Palestinians. Any organization, group or program that had “joint” or “co-existence” in reference to Israelis and Palestinians was instantly given credibility and financing on the world stage. Such programs became extremely lucrative and many people profited with little regard to the actual state of the conflict and its overall deterioration. Even prior to the breakout of the Second Intifada, but largely afterwards, normalization programs lost their relevance. We were no longer in the post-conflict transitional period we thought Oslo had ushered in, and things got worse, not better.

FEELING COMFORTABLE WITH OPPRESSION

It has become senseless for Israelis and Palestinians to act like nothing is wrong with the status quo and carry-on with such projects. Normalization may be fine for those bridging the gaps between people in India and Pakistan or Venezuela and Colombia—where the two sides are on equal footing—but not in Israel/Palestine where one side lives under the yoke and chain of the other. When we seek to normalize this relationship by giving each other equal standing and equal voice, we project an image of symmetry. Joint sports teams and theatre groups, hosting an Israeli orchestra in Ramallah or Nablus, all these things create a false sense of normality, like the issue is only a problem of recognizing each other as human beings. This, however, ignores the ongoing oppression, colonization, and denial of rights, committed by one side against the other.

Moreover, normalization creates a false sense in the mind of Israelis that they are working for peace, while in actuality, though maybe unwittingly, they are contributing to the calcification of the status quo. Their energy is misdirected away from root causes and channeled into making the current situation more tolerable—largely for themselves—by helping them to cope with wider injustices occurring in their name. Many Israelis who participate in normalization projects believe that they are detached, that they are not part of the problem, because they have some Palestinian friends or colleagues, even if they are doing nothing to rectify the actual injustices that have been committed by their society daily for over half a century. In the words of Israeli architectural theorist Eyal Weizman in his monumental work on the architecture of occupation, Hollow Land: “The history of the occupation is full of liberal ‘men of peace’ who are responsible for, or who at least sweeten, the injustice committed by the occupation. The occupation would not have been possible without them.”

Likewise, these normalization projects are put on display for all the world to see, so that they may all feel comfortable and say: look, the moderates are resolving the differences in a civilized manner. This is probably why the largest contributors to normalization projects are not Israelis and Palestinians themselves, but rather the international community. These programs work in much the same way as endless negotiations, offering a semblance of progress so that the world may deceive itself without having to take real action.

I do not discount the authenticity of Israelis who desire to see a just peace. Nor do I overlook the importance of meeting your enemy on a human level, of the power of these efforts in defusing tension, mistrust, and misunderstanding. But we can’t ignore the negative impact of normalization given the ongoing occupation and colonial enterprise. We must ask ourselves, what did all the normalizing get Palestinians after Oslo except for deterioration in their circumstance? For all the money pumped into these programs why are there no statistics or data showing they work? Why does no one think to question the effectiveness of normalization, including its proponents, in the case of Mr. Abu Sarah’s article? We can sit back and comfort each other that we are not fanatics or extremists, and that may be all well and good, but the fanatics are determining the reality on the ground while liberals and moderates provide a veneer of normality and progress.

The truth is when we “normalize” relations with Israel and Israelis without bearing to the political situation, we legitimize Israel despite its continued oppression of Palestinians and its colonial policies on Palestinian land. We must remember that the greatest boon in Israeli history came after the Oslo Accords were signed. Many countries around the world that had refused to have “normal” relations with Israel reversed their policies. This false peace opened Israel up to the wider international community, spurring unprecedented growth and trade. By reversing the normalization trend, we strip the conflict of many illusions and niceties in favor of exposing the raw truth.

Mr. Abu Sarah portrays anti-normalization like it is based purely on hate for the “other.” In order to do this he ignores the strongest arguments against normalization in exchange for obscure notions that take anti-normalization to the extreme; such as any instance in which a Palestinian and an Israeli come together constitutes normalization. In my own experience meeting people who are against normalization, I came to understand that Israelis are valued and encouraged to take part in the resistance movement to occupation. As long as an Israeli is working for Palestinian rights and the end to occupation, the cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians is perfectly legitimate and justified. This is the concept of “co-resistance” as opposed to “co-existence,” and should hardly be described as radical.

Yet, Mr. Abu Sarah’s article chooses to harp on these extreme cases at the expense of a serious argument over the topic. In what constituted an extensive blog post, there is little argument discussing why normalization activities are valid and beneficial; rather the entire piece is devoted to portraying anti-normalization as irrational. Some of his claims are true, such as those who use “normalization” as a character attack for dubious ends. But none of that still gets to the heart of the matter. I simply want to know, are we better off today because of normalization projects?

THE KIDS RETURN HOME

I wish to conclude this piece with an example of normalization from my own history. When I was fifteen years old, I was a participant in the Seeds of Peace program, which brings young teenagers from conflict zones together to a summer camp in the northeastern United States. Although originally set up for Israelis and Arabs, the program expanded over the years to include Greek and Turkish Cypriots, Indians and Pakistanis, and others. In each session there was also a delegation of American teenagers, of which I was a part. This was still prior to the breakdown of the Oslo Accords and the outbreak of the Second Intifada and most believed we were on the path to peace. Teenagers, who for the most part had never met someone from the other side before, would tell stories from their own experience in the hope of making their enemy understand them. Yet, I can still remember feeling at the time that the effort would be somehow wasted when these kids returned home because even I knew that, despite pretenses, there was no real peace on the ground. During my trips to the West Bank to visit my extended family, I would see and feel the military presence that continued to persist in the still-occupied territories. And in the “co-existence” sessions at Seeds of Peace, I would hear from those Palestinians what life still held for them.

The most poignant moment for me, however, was when a Palestinian teenager near the end of the program asked an Israeli teenager if he would still join the army and serve in the occupied territories, to which the answer was “yes”. To me, this said it all. What did this whole program mean if in a few years that Israeli teenager would be sitting at a checkpoint in the West Bank and shoving his M-16 in the face of a Palestinian while asking for his ID? Would it make him a more compassionate soldier serving in an inherently unjust system? When all the fun and games were over, we each returned to our respective societies and things stayed the same.

If these teenagers had returned to a cold peace, it may have been different. They could continue to work to establish more friendly relations between their respective peoples. But for Palestinians and Israelis, they live everyday in a system of imbalance and injustice where one side is oppressing the other through an engineered structure of superiority and subjugation. That is it. Normalization can try to make you forget that fact, but the next time a gun barrel is pointed in your direction, or a cousin is arrested and thrown in prison, or the home of a neighbor is bulldozed, or your relatives in Gaza fall under the bombs, you will be hard pressed to do so.

February 7, 2012 Posted by | Media | , , , , | Leave a comment

Palmer/Uribe Report Whitewashes Israeli Crimes

Sadly the Palmer/Uribe Report on the May 31, 2010 Flotilla Incident, leaked to the New York Times on 1 September, is an expected whitewash of Israeli crimes. While it blames Israeli forces for using excessive force when they raided our Gaza-bound civilian ships, it erroneously justifies Israel’s blockade of Gaza, casts doubts on the intentions of the flotilla organizers, and does not seek accountability for perpetrators of human rights abuses.

The Palmer/Uribe Panel was flawed from its inception. The appointment of ex-Colombian President Alvaro Uribe as the Panel’s vice-chair casts serious doubt on the integrity and impartiality of the Panel. Uribe’s intimate association with the military and paramilitary practice of murdering civilians in Colombia and notorious disdain for human rights defenders makes his appointment to a Panel dealing with human rights issues problematic. Furthermore, Uribe’s government is on record as advocating closer military cooperation with Israel. [1]

In addition to the problems in the composition of the Panel, its goal was not to arrive at the truth of what happened or to seek justice for victims, but rather to reach political compromise in order to repair relations between Israel and Turkey. The mandate of the Panel was limited to reviewing the reports of the national investigations by Turkey and Israel, and it did not interview witnesses or otherwise conduct an in-depth objective investigation. This is a political attempt to overshadow the only independent and impartial investigation and report on the flotilla raid, which was commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council (A/HRC/15/21) and conducted by three internationally renowned human rights experts. The findings and recommendations of this report, released on 23 September 2010 have yet to be acted on by the United Nations.

One of the most outrageous findings of this Panel is that Israel had a right to impose the naval blockade on Gaza as a “legitimate security measure.” This finding completely ignores the fact that the naval blockade is part of an overall closure regime that numerous human rights bodies, including various UN agencies, have declared illegal. Furthermore, it ignores incontrovertible evidence that the naval blockade and overall closure are not about security, but rather about putting pressure on the people of Gaza. Israeli leaders are on record noting that the purpose of the blockade is economic warfare – to keep the Gaza economy on the brink of collapse in order to pressure the civilians to rise up against the Hamas government. [2]

Using civilians as a means of pressuring a government violates international humanitarian law, which prohibits intentionally harming civilians, and constitutes collective punishment, forbidden under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

The Palmer/Uribe Report mistakenly identifies IHH as the “leading group involved in the planning of the flotilla,” accuses us (the Freedom Flotilla organizers) of acting recklessly, and casts doubt on the humanitarian nature of our action (pages 46-48). Six non-governmental, international civil society organizations, all having equal say and responsibility, planned Freedom Flotilla I. Our action was a legitimate form of nonviolent direct action. We reject the Panel’s finding that Israeli soldiers faced “organized violence.” What the heavily armed commandos faced while they tried to forcefully take over the Mavi Marmara on the high seas was legitimate acts of non-armed self-defense by a handful of passengers, acting against unwarranted aggression.

Although our ships carried 10,000 tons of much needed cargo for the people of Gaza, we have repeatedly stated that our goal is to break the illegal blockade of Gaza, not simply to deliver aid. The humanitarian crisis that exists in Gaza is a result of a deliberate, illegal and immoral policy. To challenge that policy in order to bring an end to the cause of people’s suffering is humanitarian.

While the Report correctly faults Israel for using excessive force on unarmed civilians, it does not call for accountability. The Report notes that Israel has not accounted for the forensic evidence showing that most of the nine volunteers killed were shot multiple times, including in the back, or at close range, or for the consistent accounts of abuse suffered by other volunteers at the hands of Israeli forces. The Report’s recommendation that Israel simply express regret over the incident is insulting to the victims and their families, and seriously undermines international human rights and humanitarian law.

Finally the report fails to address the issue of the remaining four ships of Freedom Flotilla I still held by Israel as well as its refusal to return to the passengers over $1 million in money and equipment including cameras and videos which are of evidential value.

We welcome Turkey’s decision to downgrade relations with Israel, expelling the Israeli ambassador, and cancelling military ties, as well as its statement that it will take legal action against those Israelis responsible for the attack on the flotilla. Such sanctions are needed in order to put an end to the impunity with which Israel has been violating Palestinian human rights and disregarding international law.

[1] See “Colombia seeks to broaden Israel ties,” Apr 28, 2010, Jerusalem Post at: http://www.jpost.com/International/Article.aspx?ID=174179

[2] See e.g. “Wikileaks: Israel aimed to keep Gaza economy on brink of collapse,” Jan 5, 2011, Haaretz, reporting on a leaked Cable from the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv saying Israeli officials wanted Gaza’s economy ‘functioning at the lowest level possible consistent with avoiding a humanitarian crisis’ at: http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/wikileaks-israel-aimed-to-keep-gaza-economy-on-brink-of-collapse-1.335354

* a press release from the Canadian Boat to Gaza [CBG]

September 14, 2011 Posted by | Freedom Flotilla Two, Media | , , | Leave a comment

Instilled Memory by Uri Avnery

 For several weeks now, our army and navy have been in a state of high alert, bravely facing a deadly threat to our very existence: ten little boats trying to reach Gaza. These vessels are carrying a dangerous gang of vicious terrorists, in the form of elderly veterans of peace campaigns. Binyamin Netanyahu has affirmed our unshakable determination to defend our country: We shall not let anyone break the blockade to smuggle rockets to the terrorists in Gaza, who will then launch them to kill our innocent children. This is a kind of record even for Netanyahu: not a single word is true.

The flotilla is not carrying any weapons – the representatives of respected international media in the boats provide assurance of this. Also, I think we can rely on the Mossad to plant at least one agent in every boat. (After all, what am I paying my taxes for?) Hamas has not launched rockets for a long time – it has very good reasons of its own to keep the unofficial “Tahdiyeh” (“Quiet”) agreement. If the flotilla had been allowed to reach Gaza, it would have been news for a few hours, and that would have been that. Israel’s total mobilization, the training of the naval commandos for capturing the boats, the acts of sabotage carried out in Greek ports, the immense political pressure exerted by Israel and the US on the poor, bankrupt Greek government – all this has kept this minor initiative in the news for weeks now, drawing attention to the blockade of the Gaza Strip.

What is this blockade for? There is no ascertainable reason for it now, if there ever was one. To terrorize the Gaza people into overthrowing the Hamas government, the victor in democratic elections? Well, it didn’t work, did it? To compel Hamas to change its terms for a prisoner exchange which would release Gilad Shalit? That didn’t either. To prevent the smuggling of arms into the Strip? The arms are flowing freely through a hundred tunnels from Egypt, if we are to believe what our army tells us.

So what purpose does the blockade serve? Nobody seems to know. But it is the rock of our existence. That much is clear. As a result of world pressure following last year’s flotilla, the blockade was eased considerably. But Gaza manufacturers are still prevented from getting their products out of the Gaza Strip – thus condemning most of the population to unemployment and abject poverty. The same goes for the disgusting trade in human remains. Netanyahu promised to turn over the remains of 84 “terrorists” (both Fatah and Hamas) to Mahmoud Abbas as a gift. At the last moment, he reneged. His people make believe that these remains, by now hardly identifiable, may serve as bargaining chips in the game for releasing Gilad Shalit.

The same goes for the actions against yesterday’s fly-in of international peace activists though Ben-Gurion airport. All they wanted was to go to Bethlehem and Gaza, which can only be reached by crossing Israeli territory. Almost a thousand police officers were mobilized to meet that threat. All of these unthinking knee-jerk reactions: We must be strong. Everywhere there lurk mortal dangers. Israel must defend itself. Otherwise there will be a second Holocaust. THIS IS an interesting phenomenon: people see innocent-looking elderly human-rights activists on their TV screens and believe they are seeing dangerous provocateurs, because the government and most of the media tell them so. Sinister “Arab and Muslim” individuals are hiding in the boats. An Arab American on one boat has been unmasked as somebody who has collected money for a Hamas social institution. A dangerous terrorist! How absolutely awful!

 The phenomenon of people seeing something and thinking they are seeing something else has always intrigued me. How can people not believe their own eyes but believe the eyes of others? This week I got an e-mail message from a man who remembered something from the time he was a pupil of my late wife, Rachel, in first grade. Rachel asked him to raise his right hand. When the boy did so, Rachel said: “No, no. That is your left hand!” She turned to the other children and asked them, which hand it was. Following their teacher, they shouted in unison: “The left! The left!” Seeing this, the first boy started to waver. In the end he conceded: “Yes. It is the left hand.” “No, you were right in the first place,” Rachel assured him. “Let this be a lesson to all of you: if you are sure that you are right, insist on it. Never change your view because other people say the opposite.” Quite by chance, straight after reading this testimony, I saw on TV the results of a scientific investigation by Israeli researchers into “instilled memory”. Their experiments show that people who have seen something with their own eyes, but are told by everybody else that they have seen something else, start to suppress their own memory and “remember” that they saw what the others had allegedly seen. Neurological research then showed that this is can actually be seen happening in the brain: the imagined memory replaces the real. Social pressure has done its work: the instilled memory has become real memory.

I believe that this is even truer for an entire nation, which is, of course, composed of individuals. I have seen this many times. For example, for 11 months before Lebanon War I, not a single shot was fired from Lebanon into Israel. Against all expectation, Yasser Arafat had succeeded in enforcing a total cease-fire even on his Palestinian opponents. Yet after Ariel Sharon started the war, practically all Israelis clearly “remembered” that the Palestinians had shot across the border every single day, turning life in Israel into hell. I call this “Parkinson in reverse” – while advanced Parkinson patients do not remember things that happened, these patients do remember things which never happened.

There is a mental disorder called “paranoia vera”. Patients adopt a crazy assumption – e.g. “everybody hates me” – and then build an elaborate structure around it. Every bit of information which seems to support it is eagerly absorbed, every item that contradicts it is suppressed. Everything is interpreted so as to reinforce the initial assumption. The pattern is strictly logical – indeed, the more complete and the more logical the structure, the more serious is the disease. Among the accompanying symptoms are belligerent behavior, recurrent suspicions, disconnection from the real world, conspiracy theories and narcissism. It seems that whole nations can fall victim to this illness. Ours certainly appears to have.

The whole world is against us. Everybody is out to destroy us. Every move is a threat to our very existence. Everyone critical of Israeli policy is an anti-Semite or self-hating Jew. Indeed, even when we do a good thing, it is turned against us. Witness: We left the Gaza Strip and even dismantled our settlements there, and what did we get in return? Qassam rockets!” (Never mind that Sharon refused to turn the Strip over to any Palestinian body, leaving a void. He cut it off from the world and turned it into one big prison camp.) Witness: “After Oslo we armed Arafat’s security forces, and they turned their arms against us!” (Never mind that we never quite fulfilled our commitments under the Oslo agreements, that the occupation got more oppressive and that the settlements on Palestinian land increased by leaps and bounds. Also, the Palestinian security services never actually acted against Israel.) Witness: “We withdrew from South Lebanon and what did we get? Hizbollah and Lebanon War II!” (Never mind that Hizbollah was born in reaction to our 18-year occupation there, and that we ourselves chose to launch the second Lebanon War after a minor border incident.)

It has been said that paranoiacs also have real-life enemies. The trouble is that the paranoid by their offensive and distrustful behavior, create more and more real-life enemies. The slogan “All the world is against us” may easily function as a self- fulfilling prophesy. Israel is not the only country to suffer from this affliction. At some time, the Germans have been afflicted. So have the Serbs. So, to some extent, has the US and many others. Unfortunately, the costs of paranoia are very high. So let us start to behave like sane people. Let the little boats go to Gaza. Let arrivals at Ben-Gurion airport go to the Palestinian territories and pick olives, if that’s what they want. Even if we do behave like a normal nation, Israel will continue to exist. Really!

Article by Uri Avnery July 9, 2011.

July 10, 2011 Posted by | Freedom Flotilla Two, Media | , , , | Leave a comment

Australians determined to join Freedom Flotilla 2 despite Eygpt partially opening Raffah Crossing

On the eve of first anniversary of the deadly Israeli attack on the 2010 international Flotilla to break the siege of Gaza, Australian participants reiterated their determination to join the second Flotilla, which will set sail for Gaza at the end of June.

“We welcome Egyptian moves to partially lift the siege by opening the Raffah crossing,” said former Greens MLC Sylvia Hale, “but in itself this will not substantially alleviate the suffering of the people of Gaza.

“Despite the easing of the siege, men under 40 are not permitted to cross, making it impossible for them to find jobs outside Gaza. The refusal to permit raw materials to enter Gaza or exports to leave it, means widespread unemployment will continue.

“Gaza will not be free  so long as the Israeli siege destroys the territory’s economy,” said Ms Hale.

“The Australian delegation is determined to join the second international Flotilla to break the siege,” said Vivienne Porzsolt of Jews Against the Occupation.

“The world witnessed the brutality of the Israeli attack on the Mavi Marmara 12 months ago, when nine activists were killed and many others injured and illegally detained,” Ms Porzsolt said.

“Such aggression must not go unchallenged. By participating in the Flotilla, we are opposing Israel’s acts of piracy in international waters and its illegal blockade of Gaza..

“We are committed to peace and non-violence and will offer no provocation or resistance to any action by the Israeli forces. Should any of us be injured, it will be the responsibility of the Israeli Government,” said Ms Porzsolt.

May 30, 2011 Posted by | Freedom Flotilla Two, Media | , , , , | Leave a comment

ISRAELI PM THREATENS NEXT GAZA FREEDOM FLOTILLA

 

Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu threatened to “act firmly” using “force” against the Freedom Flotilla from 22 countries due to set sail for Gaza next month. It will be joined by an Australian contingent in partnership with Canadians and others.

Organisers are extremely concerned considering Israel’s use of lethal force against civilians on last year’s Freedom Flotilla.

Netanyahu has also asked UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to help stop the Freedom Flotilla. The Secretary General has responded saying that Israel should end the blockade of Gaza.

“Netanyahu’s statement is tantamount to a death threat against participants in the Flotilla. In spite of this, all intending participants from Australia have declared that they will not be deterred. The siege of Gaza must be broken and the Freedom Flotilla will sail ahead as planned.” said Rihab Charida of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla Working Group in Sydney.

In June 2007, Israel and the so-called Quartet, the US, the UN, Russia and the EU, imposed a siege on the people of Gaza after all Palestinians had democratically elected Hamas to form Government. Since then the 1.5 million people of Gaza have been shut off from the outside world, trapped within the world’s largest open-air prison in an act of collective punishment.

Essential food, medical, building and other supplies have been prevented from entering the tiny coastal strip, impoverishing its people and destroying its economy. The easing of the siege in response to the last Freedom Flotilla has been cosmetic only with no materials for manufacture permitted, nor exports, nor free passage of people.
“In the face of the shameful failure of governments to defend international law, the people of the world will break the unlawful siege of Gaza,” said Ms Charida.

The Freedom Flotilla sets sail for Gaza in the second half of May 2011. †It consists of more than 11 boats from over 22 countries including Canada, Spain, Switzerland, Italy, Ireland, USA, Britain, Greece, Turkey, Australia and France.

Article by James Godfrey.

For more information on the activities of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla Working Group Sydney check out: http://www.facebook.com/#!/group.php?gid=127042173984253

April 22, 2011 Posted by | Freedom Flotilla Two, Media | , , , | 2 Comments

The Second Battle of Gaza

Israel’s Undermining of International Law by Jeff Halper

The Israeli attack on Gaza in December 2008/January 2009 was not merely a military assault on a primarily civilian population, impoverished and the victim of occupation and besiegement these past 42 years. It was also part of an ongoing assault on international humanitarian law by a highly coordinated team of Israeli lawyers, military officers, PR people, and politicians, led by (no less) a philosopher of ethics. It is an effort coordinated as well with other governments whose political and military leaders are looking for ways to pursue “asymmetrical warfare” against peoples resisting domination and the plundering of their resources and labor without the encumbrances of human rights and current international law. It is a campaign that is making progress and had better be taken seriously by us all.

Since Ariel Sharon was indicted by a Belgian court in 2001 over his involvement in the Sabra and Chatila massacres and Israel faced accusations of war crimes in the wake of its 2002 invasion of the cities of the West Bank, with its high toll in civilian casualties (some 500 people killed, 1,500 wounded, more than 4,000 arrested), hundreds of homes demolished and the urban infrastructure utterly destroyed, Israel has adopted a bold and aggressive strategy: alter international law so that non-state actors caught in a conflict with states and deemed by the states as “non-legitimate actors” (“terrorists,” “insurgents” and “non-state actors,” as well as the civilian population that supports them) can no longer claim protection from invading armies. The urgency of this campaign has been underscored by a series of notable setbacks Israel subsequently incurred at the hands of the UN. In 2004, at the request of the General Assembly, the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled that Israel’s construction of wall inside Palestinian territory is “contrary to international law” and must be dismantled — a ruling adopted almost unanimously by the General Assembly, with only Israel, the US, Australia, and a few Pacific atolls dissenting. In 2006 the UN Commission of Inquiry concluded that “asignificant pattern of excessive, indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force by the IDF against Lebanese civilians and civilian objects, failing to distinguish civilians from combatants and civilian objects from military targets.” The harsh criticism of the UN’s Goldstone report on Gaza accusing the Israeli government and military again of targeting Palestinian civilians and causing disproportionate destruction has made this campaign even more urgent.

Fortunately, it is an uphill battle. The thrust of just war theory, from which international humanitarian law (IHL) draws, is to limit warfare, and in particular to regulate its conduct and scope. Wars between states should never be total wars between nations or peoples. Whatever happens to the two armies involved, whichever one wins or loses, whatever the nature of the battles or the extent of the casualties, the two nations, the two peoples, must be functioning communities at the war’s end. The war cannot be a war of extermination or ethnic cleansing. And what is true for states is also true for state-like political bodies such as Hamas and Hezbollah, whether they practice terrorism or not. The people they represent or claim to represent are a people like any other. (Margalit and Walzer 2009)

Protecting the lives, property, and human rights of civilians caught up on warfare from the power and impunity of states is especially relevant in our age when, as British General Rupert Smith (2005) tells us, modern warfare is rapidly moving away from the traditional inter-state model to what he calls a “new paradigm” — “war amongst the people” — in which “We fight amongst the people, not on the battlefield.” A more popular term used by military people, “asymmetrical warfare,” is perhaps more honest and revealing, since it highlights the vast power differential that exists between states and their militaries and the relative weakness of the non-state forces confronting them.

Now the issue of adapting laws and ethical approaches coming out of traditional inter-state warfare to new forms of “asymmetrical warfare” is a legitimate and vital endeavor. As Judge Richard Goldstone indicated in the report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict (2009:5), “The Mission interpreted [its] mandate as requiring it to place the civilian population of the region at the centre of its concerns regarding the violations of international law.” Two prime issues of concern arise here: protecting all non-combatants finding themselves caught up in armed conflict, whether from state or non-state adversaries, and the degree to which non-state actors must be held accountable under IHL, no matter how just their cause may be. Thus the Goldstone Report, recognizing the limitations under which non-state actors operate, specified as well the obligation of Palestinian armed groups “to exercise care and take feasible precautions to protect the civilian population in Gaza from the inherent dangers of the military operations.”

Common sense and justice argue against a symmetry of responsibility between heavily armed and coordinated state-sponsored armies able to exert enormous force in order to exercise effective control over a territory and its people (Israel over the Occupied Palestinian Territories, in this case) and the military weakness, financial constraints, and fundamental difficulties of non-state actors resisting oppression in either protecting their people or creating a neutral “battleground” separate from its civilian populations (as in the case of the Palestinians). Nonetheless, even a certain implied symmetry introduced by the Goldstone committee in which non-state actors possess legitimacy as “a side” is unacceptable to Israeli political and military leaders. This, despite the fact that, in 1960, the UN General Assembly’s Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples endorsed the right of peoples to self-determination and, by extension, their right to resist “alien subjugation, domination and exploitation” — again, with the obligations set out by the Goldstone Report. Nor is the notion that states and their armies should be significantly constrained in their military actions by IHL acceptable to Israeli decision-makers, political and military. They seek, therefore, to alter international law in ways that enable them — and by extension other states involved in “wars on terror” — to effectively pursue warfare amongst the people while eliminating both the legitimacy and protections enjoyed by their non-state foes.

This campaign is led by two Israeli figures: Asa Kasher, a professor of philosophy and “practical ethics” at Tel Aviv University, the author of the Israeli army’s Code of Conduct, and Major General Amos Yadlin, former head of the IDF’s National Defense College, under whose auspices Kasher and his “team” formulated the Code of Conduct, and today the head of Military Intelligence. And, Kasher vigorously asserts, it is completely appropriate and understandable that Israeli should be leading it. “The decisive question,” he says, is how enlightened countries conduct themselves. We in Israel are in a key position in the development of law in this field because we are on the front lines in the fight against terrorism. This is gradually being recognized both in the Israeli legal system and abroad. After the debate before the High Court of Justice on the issue of targeted killings there was no need to revise the document [on the ethics of fighting terrorism] that Yadlin and I drafted even by one comma. What we are doing is becoming the law. These are concepts that are not purely legal, but also contain strong ethical elements.

The Geneva Conventions are based on hundreds of years of tradition of the fair rules of combat. They were appropriate for classic warfare, where one army fought another. But in our time the whole business of rules of fair combat has been pushed aside. There are international efforts underway to revise the rules to accommodate the war against terrorism. According to the new provisions, there is still a distinction between who can and cannot be hit, but not in the blatant approach which existed in the past. The concept of proportionality has also changed. (emphasis added, qtd. in Ha’aretz, Feb. 6, 2009)

Customary international law accrues through an historic process. If states are involved in a certain type of military activity against other states, militias, and the like, and if all of them act quite similarly to each other, then there is a chance that it will become customary international law. . . . I am not optimistic enough to assume that the world will soon acknowledge Israel’s lead in developing customary international law. My hope is that our doctrine, give or take some amendments, will in this fashion be incorporated into customary international law in order to regulate warfare and limit its calamities. (Kasher 2009:7)

In their assault on protections afforded to non-state actors and the populations that support them by IHL, Kasher and Yadlin go after two of the most fundamental principles of IHL: the Principle of Distinction and the Principle of Proportionality.

The Principle of Distinction, embodied in the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their two Additional Protocols of 1977, lays down a hard-and-fast rule: civilians cannot be targeted by armies and, on the contrary, must be protected. Article 3 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states: “Persons taking no active part in the hostilities . . . shall in all circumstances be treated humanely. . . . To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons: violence to life and person . . . and outrages upon personal dignity.”

The Principle of Proportionality, embodied in the 1977 Protocols to the Fourth Geneva Conventions (to which neither the US nor Israel is a signatory, but which nevertheless, as customary law, binds them), considers it a war crime to intentionally attack a military objective in the knowledge that the incidental civilian injuries would be clearly excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage. “The presence within the civilian population of individuals who do not come within the definition of civilians,” says Protocol I, Article 50 (3), “does not deprive the population of its civilian character.”

Undermining these principles is therefore a key to what Kasher and Yadlin (2005) put forward as their “new doctrine of military ethics.” It is based on privileging states in their conflicts with non-state actors and on giving them the authority to deem an adversary “terrorist,” a term lacking any agreed-upon definition in IHL and one which obviously removes any legitimacy a non-state actors so labeled might otherwise have. Indeed, Kasher and Yadlin’s “Just War Doctrine of Fighting Terror” is grounded on a tendentious definition of “terrorism” custom-tailored to legitimize state policies and actions. We define an “act of terror,” they (2005:2) write, as an act, carried out by individuals or organizations, not on behalf of any state, for the purpose of killing or otherwise injuring persons, insofar as they are members of a particular population, in order to instill fear among the members of that population (‘terrorize’ them), so as to cause them to change the nature of the related regime or of the related government or of policies implemented by related institutions, whether for political or ideological (including religious) reasons.

By defining terrorism is as “an act” carried out by an individual or organization, Kasher and Yadlin both de-contextualize and de-politicize the protracted struggles of non-state actors, including those of all peoples oppressed by state (and corporate) regimes. Although they admit a certain legitimacy to “guerilla warfare,” by reducing a popular struggle to a series of discrete acts they make it possible to label an entire resistance movement “terrorist” purely on the basis of one or more particular acts, with no regard to its situation or the justness of its cause. Once this is done, it is easy to criminalize non-state resistance, since terrorism is, in Kasher’s words, “utterly immoral.” When, for example, Palestinians or the Hizbollah attack Israeli soldiers on active duty, Kasher refers to these acts as “kidnapping” rather than “capturing” them.

This very language and approach also has the effect of privileging state actors, since it implies that state actions are by definition legitimate and not “utterly immoral.” Even when a country is accused of war crimes, it is often able to justify its actions by “military necessity.” It is extremely difficult to actually sanction or punish a country for war crimes even when they are deemed to have occurred, and even when all this takes place, “war crimes” possess a different meaning than the type of criminalization applied to non-state actors. States may be sanctioned, but their existential legitimacy is not removed. Germany was judged as having committed horrendous war crimes during the Nazi era, and paid certain penalties, but that did not prevent it from rejoining the international community immediate after the war. Thus Kasher and Yadlin define an act as terror by its “purpose” of terrorizing a particular population without the slightest thought of applying that principle to Israel’s own policies and actions over its occupation of 42 years, despite exhaustive documentation of that terrorization.

Just how self-serving the tendentious use of the concept “terror” can be is evident in Israel’s own attempts to have the Iranian Revolutionary Guards declared a “terror organization,” even though, being an agent of a state, it would not fit into Kasher and Yadlin’s own state/non-state dichotomy. What, then, should prevent the international community from naming the IDF and various covert Israeli agencies such as the Mossad or the Shin Bet (the General Security Services) as “terror organizations”? The Goldstone Report itself concluded that Israel’s offensive against Gaza during Operation Cast Lead was “a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population.” Cognizant of this contradiction, Kasher and Yadlin are careful to add a caveat: they define an act of terror as one carried out “not on behalf of any state.”

Having de-legitimized state-defined “acts of terrorism,” Kasher and Yadlin then go on to further legitimize state actions such as those taken by Israel against Hizbollah, Hamas, or, indeed, all Palestinian resistance by invoking “self-defense” — again, a claim which, according to Just War Theory and Article 51 of the UN Charter, only a state can make. In order to do so they begin the narrative of events leading up to the attack on Gaza with what the “terrorist” organization alone had done, launching rockets on the town of Sderot and its vicinity. Nothing of the fact that the vast majority of Gazans are refugees from 1948, denied their right of return and deprived of all their properties and assets. Nothing of the occupation since 1967 and the deliberate de-development of the Gazan economy; nothing of the exclusion since 1989 of Gazan workers from the Israeli job market upon which they had been made dependent, and thus their subsequent impoverishment; nothing of the years of settlement in which 7,000 Israelis lorded it over a million and a half Palestinians at a cost to the Palestinians of much in terms of their lives and livelihoods; nothing of the siege illegally imposed since 2006, or of the transformation of Gaza into the world’s largest open-air prison; nothing of the fact that until today much of the land of Gaza — and the sea — are off-limits to Palestinian farmers and fishermen; nothing of the fact that Gazans live in mud and sewage created by Israel’s wholesale destruction of their infrastructure; nothing of the wasted lives of the young people; nothing of the fact that Hamas observed an 18-month ceasefire and was willing to extend it, until Israel broke it on Nov. 4, 2008, setting off the rocket attacks. Nothing, in short, which would call into question whether the assault on Gaza was genuinely an act of self-defense.

Indeed, the process of de-contextualization is a prerequisite to the ethics Kasher offers as the basis of international morality, law, political practice, and warfare. Rather than taking into account Israel’s four decades and more of occupation over Gaza and the West Bank, in which the Occupying Power may be said to have at least a modicum of responsibility for what transpires, Kasher instead bases his entire moral justification of what Israel has done over the years on a disembodied “double effect” principle, according to which, “when we are seeking a goal that is morally justified in and of itself, then it is also morally justified to achieve it, even if this may lead to undesirable consequences — on the condition that the undesirable consequences are unavoidable and unintentional, and that an effort was made to minimize their negative effects.” As if maintaining a belligerent occupation for almost a half century is unavoidable and unintentional, and Israel actually took steps to minimize its negative effects.

This, then, sets up a hierarchy of priorities — indeed, “obligations” on states — that turn IHL on its head. The Principle of Distinction cannot be honored, Kasher and Yadlin argue, because “terrorists do not play by the rules.” Nothing less is required than a fundamental “updating the concept of war.” “As we sought to try and formulate how to fight terror,” Yadlin (2004) writes, we understood that we were in a different kind of war, where the laws and ethics of conventional war did not apply. It involves not only the asymmetry of tanks. . . . The main asymmetry is in the values of the two societies involved in the conflict — in the rules they obey. . . . A new model of warfare — the counter-terrorism war — requires a new set of rules on how to fight it. The other side is fighting outside the rules and we have to create new ethical rules for the international law of armed conflict. The duty of the state is to defend its citizens. Any time a terrorist gets away because of concerns about collateral damage, we may be violating our main duty to protect our citizens. We look for alternatives so as not to cause collateral damage, or to cause the minimum amount of collateral damage, but the main obligation is to defend our citizens. . . .

Thus, says Kasher, in an area such as the Gaza Strip in which the IDF does not have effective control, “the responsibility for distinguishing between terrorists and noncombatants is not placed upon [Israel’s] shoulders, since it is not the effective ruler.” Military commanders must thus place prime importance on achieving their military objectives, since this is what self-defense depends upon. Next in priority is protecting soldiers’ lives — indeed, Kasher and Yadlin define soldiers as “civilians in uniforms,” thereby eliding the principle of a state’s duty to protect its citizens with its deployment of trained and armed combatants sworn to pursue its military aims. Only then does the army have to worry about avoiding injury to civilian non-combatants. “Sending a soldier [to Gaza] to fight terrorists is justified,” writes Kasher, “but why should I force him to endanger himself much more than that so that the terrorist’s neighbor isn’t killed?” asks Kasher. “From the standpoint of the state of Israel, the neighbor is much less important. I owe the soldier more. If it’s between the soldier and the terrorist’s neighbor, the priority is the soldier. Any country would do the same.”

Kasher introduces a radically new principle of distinction — that in territories where it does not exercise effective control a country does not bear the moral responsibility for properly separating between dangerous individuals and harmless ones (Kasher 2010) — as if simply asserting it lends it the necessary authority. And this is, in fact, the point. “If you do something for long enough,” says Colonel (res.) Daniel Reisner, former head of the IDF’s Legal Department, “the world will accept it. The whole of international law is now based on the notion that an act that is forbidden today becomes permissible if executed by enough countries. . . . International law progresses through violations. We invented the targeted assassinations thesis [that extra-judicial killings are permitted when it is necessary to stop a certain operation against the citizens of Israel and when the role played by the target is crucial to the operation] and we had to push it. Eight years later it is in the center of the bounds of legality” (quoted in Kearney 2010:29). Or, as Kasher (2010) puts it, “The more often Western states apply principles that originated in Israel to their own non-traditional conflicts in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, then the greater the chance these principles have of becoming a valuable part of international law.”

Even the attempt to distinguish civilians from combatants was abandoned in the assault on Gaza. According to another report in Ha’aretz (3.2.10), “The Israel Defense Forces chose to risk civilians in Gaza in order to protect its soldiers during Operation Cast Lead, a high-ranking Israeli military officer told the British daily The Independent on Wednesday. The IDF officer claimed the traditional ‘means and intentions’ engagement principle — stating that a suspect must have both a weapon and a visible intent to use it before being fired at — was discarded during Israel’s Gaza incursion in late 2008 and early 2009.”

Does that mean that states cannot engage in terrorism? This is a pretty bold claim. In fact, the non-state “terrorism from below” which so concerns Kasher and Yadlin pales in its horror when compared to “terrorism from above,” State Terrorism. In his book Death by Government (1994:13), R.J. Rummel points out that over the course of the 20th century about 170,000 innocent civilians were killed by non-state actors, a significant figure to be sure. But, he adds, during the first eighty-eight years of this [20th] century, almost 170 million men, women and children have been shot, beaten, tortured, knifed, burned, starved, frozen, crushed or worked to death; buried alive, drowned, hung, bombed or killed in any other of the myriad ways governments have inflicted death on unarmed, helpless citizens and foreigners. The dead could conceivably be nearly 360 million people.

And that doesn’t include Zaire, Bosnia, Somalia, Sudan, Rwanda, Saddam Hussein’s reign, the impact of UN sanctions on the Iraqi civilian population, and other state-sponsored murders that occurred after Rummel compiled his figures. It also does not account for all the forms of State Terrorism that do not result in death: torture, imprisonment, repression, house demolitions, induced starvation, intimidation, and all the rest.

“We do not deny,” Kasher (2009) concedes, that a state can act for the purpose of killing persons in order to terrorize a population with the goal of achieving some political or ideological goal.” He then adds another crucial caveat: However, when such acts are performed on behalf of a state, or by some of its overt or covert agencies or proxies, we apply to the ensuing conflict moral, ethical and legal principles that are commonly held to pertain to ordinary international conflicts between states or similar political entities. In such a context, a state that killed numerous citizens of another state in order to terrorize its citizenry would be guilty of what is commonly regarded as a war crime. (emhpasis added)

Kasher’s caveat — “a state that killed numerous citizens of another state in order to terrorize its citizenry” — apparently means that states can neither be accused of terrorism nor held accountable for war crimes arising out of killing or terrorizing civilian populations such as the people of Gaza, since the latter are not citizens of another state.

As for the Principle of Proportionality, that, too, is a casualty of Kasher and Yadlin’s assault on IHL. Their alternative is what is known by the IDF as its Dahiya Doctrine. Coming out of the second Lebanon war of 2006, in which Israel destroyed the Hizbollah stronghold of Dahiya in Beirut, the Dahiya Doctrine states attacks against Israel will be deterred by “harming the civilian population to such an extent that it will bring pressure to bear on the enemy combatants [. . .] through the damage and destruction of civilian and military infrastructures which necessitate long and expensive reconstruction actions which would crush the will of those who wish to act against Israel” (PCATI 2009). According to the Goldstone Report (2009:48),

The tactics used by Israeli military armed forces in the Gaza offensive are consistent with previous practices, most recently during the Lebanon war in 2006. A concept known as the Dahiya doctrine emerged then, involving the application of disproportionate force and the causing of great damage and destruction to civilian property and infrastructure, and suffering to civilian populations. The Mission concludes from a review of the facts on the ground that it witnessed for itself that what was prescribed as the best strategy appears to have been precisely what was put into practice.

It then goes on to quote the head of Israel’s Northern Command, Gen. Gadi Eisenkott: “What happened in the Dahiya quarter of Beirut in 2006 will happen in every village from which Israel is fired on. [. . .] We will apply disproportionate force on it and cause great damage and destruction there. From our standpoint, these are not civilian villages, they are military bases. [. . .] This is not a recommendation. This is a plan. And it has been approved.” But here again, it is the assertion of a new version of the principle that is important. Thus, declares Kasher, the Principle of Proportionality does not have to do with inflicting civilian injuries clearly excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage, as the international community now thinks, but the exact opposite: “Proportionality is justifiability of the collateral damage on grounds of the military advantage gained” (Kasher 2010).

The upshot of Kasher and Yadlin’s “updating the concept of war” was clearly evident in the attack on Gaza. “When senior Israel Defense Forces officers are asked about the killing of hundreds of Palestinian civilians during the fighting in the Gaza Strip,” Ha’aretz (Feb.6, 2009) reported, they almost all give the same answer: The use of massive force was designed to protect the lives of the soldiers, and when faced with a choice between protecting the lives of Israeli soldiers and those of enemy civilians under whose protection the Hamas terrorists are operating, the soldiers take precedence. The IDF’s response to criticism does not sound improvised or argumentative. . . . And it operated there not only with the backing of the legal opinion of the office of the Military Advocate General, but also on the basis of ethical theory, developed several years ago, that justifies its actions.

Prof. Asa Kasher of Tel Aviv University, an Israel Prize laureate in philosophy, is the philosopher who told the IDF that it was possible. In a recent interview with Ha’aretz, Kasher said the army operated in accordance with a code of conduct developed about five years ago for fighting terrorism. “The norms followed by the commanders in Gaza were generally appropriate,” Kasher said. In Kasher’s opinion there is no justification for endangering the lives of soldiers to avoid the killing of civilians who live in the vicinity of terrorists. According to Kasher, IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi “has been very familiar with our principles from the time the first document was drafted in 2003 to the present.”

Kasher’s argument is that in an area such as the Gaza Strip in which the IDF does not have effective control the overriding principle guiding the commanders is achieving their military objectives. Next in priority is protecting soldiers’ lives, followed by avoiding injury to enemy civilians. . . . Prof. Kasher has strong, long-standing ties with the army. He drafted the IDF ethical code of conduct in the mid-1990’s. In 2003 he and Maj. Gen Amos Yadlin, now the head of Military Intelligence, published an article entitled “The Ethical Fight Against Terror.” It justified the targeted assassination of terrorists, even at the price of hitting nearby Palestinian civilians. Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon, who was the IDF Chief of Staff at the time, did not make the document binding, but Kasher says the ideas in the document were adopted in principle by Ya’alon and his successors. Kasher has presented them to IDF and Shin Bet security service personnel dozens of times.

Such arguments are also being taken up by “pro-Israeli” critics of IHL. Amichai Cohen (2010), for example, writing in the Global Law Forum of the neo-con Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, sums up Kasher and Yadlin’s argument succinctly (though marshalling numerous legal citations just as Kasher mobilizes ethical arguments): “The concept of proportionality permits military personnel to kill innocent civilians, provided that the intended targets of the operation are enemy forces and not civilians.”

And yet, when challenged, the philosophy, ethics, and principled argumentation of Kasher and Yadlin dissipate, and one is found in the same kind of emotional and half-baked discourse that typifies shouting matches in bars or on the street. When, for example, Uri Avnery (2009) challenges Kasher’s reduction of the Gaza operation as merely a justified defensive reaction to “continued rocket attacks on Israel by the terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip,” Kasher (2009) retreats from his philosophical argumentation into personal attacks: “Nor is it a surprise,” he writes, “that Avnery does not want us to use the term ‘terrorists’ to describe the Palestinians — with whom he identifies — because of these negative moral connotations. He himself does not wish to be morally tainted as someone who identifies with terrorists.”

From here Kasher abandons intellectual analysis completely and descends into mere personal opinion and unsupportable suppositions. “Some people claim that a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians would provide Israeli citizens with the best protection against rockets and missiles, suicide attacks, and other horrors of terrorism,” he begins. It is true that a democratic state is required to seek peace agreements with neighboring states and peoples. However, the idea that it is possible to reach a political settlement with the Palestinians that would be upheld by Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other terrorist organizations is quite doubtful. Even if we accepted the plausibility of such a claim, it is all but certain that rocket attacks on Israel would continue throughout the negotiations. In fact, they would likely increase. Leaving a state’s citizens vulnerable to persistent threat is not morally justified by the mere fact of ongoing negotiations. Nor can the fact that negotiations are taking place justify avoiding the last-resort option after all alternative courses of action have failed. . . . There are those who call on Israel to engage in direct negotiations with Hamas, in order to rid its citizens of the threats posed to them by rocket attacks and other kinds of terrorist activity. This argument warrants a similar response. From a moral standpoint, demanding that Israel engage in direct negotiations with a terrorist organization that does not recognize its right to exist cannot be justified. (emphasis added, Kasher 2009)

Apparently this method is common when Israelis attempt to alter IHL in order to justify unjustifiable practices. A few years ago the Up Front weekend magazine of The Jerusalem Post (April 15, 2005, p. 34) published an interview with an Israeli “expert in international law” who, tellingly, chose to remain anonymous. This what s/he said: International law is the language of the world and it’s more or less the yardstick by which we measure ourselves today. It’s the lingua franca of international organizations. So you have to play the game if you want to be a member of the world community. And the game works like this. As long as you claim you are working within international law and you come up with a reasonable argument as to why what you are doing is within the context of international law, you’re fine. That’s how it goes. This is a very cynical view of how the world works. So, even if you’re being inventive, or even if you’re being a bit radical, as long as you can explain it in that context, most countries will not say you’re a war criminal.

This is a serious stuff. We are in the midst of the second battle of Gaza, a campaign not only to refute and defame the UN’s Goldstone Report and sanitize Israel’s actions there but to change international humanitarian law in a way that protects the powerful states and their armies while removing the fundamental rights of the world’s poor and downtrodden to resist. The stakes are high. What will happen to the Palestinians — or oppressed peoples everywhere — if Kasher & Co. succeed in striking the Principles of Distinction and Proportionality from international law? Imagine an entire world unprotected against occupation, invasions, exploitation, and warehousing, a global Gaza. It would be a world that reflects current reality: everyone would be either an Israeli Jew, part of a privileged global minority whose main ethical responsibility is towards defending itself against “terrorists,” or a Palestinian, part of an impoverished, occupied majority with no control over its resources or its future, which nevertheless carries responsibility for the well-being and security of its violent “zero-tolerant” masters.

Standing on the ramparts of international law to guarantee its integrity should be an integral part of the struggle against oppression everywhere. If the people of Gaza can become fair game, so can any of us. In terms of vulnerability as well as solidarity, we are all, indeed, Palestinians. If IHL needs to be altered to take into account the rise of non-state actors in international conflicts — and here we should note the increased use of “outsourced” private military contractors by states and corporations, the emergence of “failed states,” many of which combine state apparatus with criminal activity, and even the role played by NGOs — then it must be done in a way that continues to protect civilians and oppressed peoples against states, often their own. Kasher and Yadlin’s assault on IHL, sponsored and legitimized by the Israel government “in the name of” other states engaged in so-called wars of terrorism, threatens to give powerful governments, their militaries, and allied corporations a free hand in bringing about a global “order” friendly to their interests at the expense of the world’s peoples.

Given what Michael Klare calls “the new landscape of global conflict” — state-initiated resource wars (initiated or fueled, it must be noted, primarily by the powerful democratic states which control the global economic system and account for more than 80 percent of the world’s arms trade, whose revenues reached $1.46 trillion in 2008) — the prospect of states free of the constraints of IHL should give us all pause. For, as it turns out, the sites of future wars are largely in the very areas where people — framed as “terrorists” — are resisting the plundering of their resources, neo-colonialism, and their own permanent warehousing. These sites, Klare (2001) tells us, will be places that harbor particularly abundant supplies of vital materials — oil, water, diamonds, minerals, old-growth timber — along with supply routes that connect these areas to major markets around the world. These regions will command attention from the media, dominate the deliberations of international policy makers, and invite the heaviest concentrations of military power. . . . [They comprise] a wide band of territory straddling the equator.

Israel’s attempt to globalize its legal, moral, political, and military justifications for what it did — and continues to do — in Gaza, the West Bank, and Lebanon should concern us all. Just as Israel used Gaza as a laboratory for tactics and weapons of “counterinsurgency” and urban warfare, so, too, is it attempting to export its “new doctrines” in a way that fundamentally compromises the well-being of people caught in conflicts worldwide. As Kasher and Yadlin (2005:4) write explicitly, the proposed principles are meant to be justified and practically applicable under any parallel circumstances. Moreover, those principles are intended to be universal in an additional crucial sense. . . . The different defense agencies of a democratic state that faces terror should follow principles that rest on universal moral grounds and on the professional and organizational ethical grounds related to each of those state agencies on its own, be it military, regular police, combat police or preventive intelligence.

In this sense, everyone resisting oppression is a Palestinian. The stakes involved in losing this second battle of Gaza are high indeed. Israel’s attempt to “globalize” Gaza imperils us all.

March 15, 2010 Posted by | Media | , , , | Leave a comment

Breaking the Australian Silence

 John Pilger’s inspirational Sydney Peace Prize Lecture

Thank you all for coming tonight, and my thanks to the City of Sydney and especially to the Sydney Peace Foundation for awarding me the Peace Prize. It’s an honour I cherish, because it comes from where I come from.

I am a seventh generation Australian. My great-great grandfather landed not far from here, on November 8th, 1821. He wore leg irons, each weighing four pounds. His name was Francis McCarty. He was an Irishman, convicted of the crime of insurrection and “uttering unlawful oaths”.  In October of the same year, an 18 year old girl called Mary Palmer stood in the dock at Middlesex Gaol and was sentenced to be transported to New South Wales for the term of her natural life. Her crime was stealing in order to live. Only the fact that she was pregnant saved her from the gallows. She was my great-great grandmother. She was sent from the ship to the Female Factory at Parramatta, a notorious prison where every third Monday, male convicts were brought for a “courting day” — a rather desperate measure of social engineering. Mary and Francis met that way and were married on October 21st, 1823. 

Growing up in Sydney, I knew nothing about this. My mother’s eight siblings used the word “stock” a great deal. You either came from “good stock” or “bad stock”. It was unmentionable that we came from bad stock – that we had what was called “the stain”.

One Christmas Day, with all of her family assembled, my mother broached the subject of our criminal origins, and one of my aunts almost swallowed her teeth. “Leave them dead and buried, Elsie!” she said. And we did – until many years later and my own research in Dublin and London led to a television film that revealed the full horror of our “bad stock”.  There was outrage. “Your son,” my aunt Vera wrote to Elsie, “is no better than a damn communist”. She promised never to speak to us again.

The Australian silence has unique features. 

Growing up, I would make illicit trips to La Perouse and stand on the sandhills and look at people who were said to have died off.  I would gape at the children of my age, who were said to be dirty, and feckless.  At high school, I read a text book by the celebrated historian, Russel Ward, who wrote:  “We are civilized today and they are not.” “They”, of course, were the Aboriginal people.

My real Australian education began at the end of the 1960s when Charlie Perkins and his mother, Hetti, took me to the Aboriginal compound at Jay Creek in the Northern Territory. We had to smash down the gate to get in.

The shock at what I saw is unforgettable. The poverty. The sickness. The despair. The quiet anger. I began to recognise and understand the Australian silence.

Tonight, I would like to talk about this silence: about how it affects our national life, the way we see the world, and the way we are manipulated by great power which speaks through an invisible government of propaganda that subdues and limits our political imagination and ensures we are always at war – against our own first people and those seeking refuge, or in someone else’s country. 

Last July, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said this, and I quote: “It’s important for us all to remember here in Australia that Afghanistan has been a training ground for terrorists worldwide, a training ground also for terrorists in South-East-Asia, reminding us of the reasons that we are in the field of combat and reaffirming our resolve to remain committed to that cause.”

There is no truth in this statement. It is the equivalent of his predecessor John Howard’s lie that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

Shortly before Kevin Rudd made that statement, American planes bombed a wedding party in Afghanistan. At least sixty people were blown to bits, including the bride and groom and many children. That’s the fifth wedding party attacked, in our name.

The prime minister was standing outside a church on a Sunday morning when he made his statement. No reporter challenged him. No one said the war was a fraud: that it began as an American vendetta following 9/11, in which not a single Afghan was involved.  No one put it to Kevin Rudd that our perceived enemy in Afghanistan were introverted tribesmen who had no quarrel with Australia and didn’t give a damn about south-east Asia and just wanted the foreign soldiers out of their country. Above all, no one said: “Prime Minister, There is no war on terror. It’s a hoax. But there is a war of terror waged by governments, including the Australian government, in our name.” That wedding party, Prime Minister, was blown to bits by one the latest smart weapons, such as the Hellfire bomb that sucks the air out of the lungs. In our name.

During the first world war, the British prime minister David Lloyd George confided to the editor of the Manchester Guardian: “If people really knew [the truth], the war would be stopped tomorrow. But of course they don’t know and they can’t know.”

What has changed? Quite a lot actually. As people have become more aware, propaganda has become more sophisticated.

One of the founders of modern propaganda was Edward Bernays, an American  who believed that people in free societies could be lied to and regimented without them realising. He invented a euphemism for propaganda — “public relations”, or PR. “What matters,” he said, “is the illusion.”  Like Kevin Rudd’s stage-managed press conferences outside his church, what matters is the illusion.  The symbols of Anzac are constantly manipulated in this way. Marches. Medals. Flags. The pain of a fallen soldier’s family.  Serving in the military, says the prime minister, is Australia’s highest calling.  The squalor of war, the killing of civilians has no reference. What matters is the illusion.

The aim is to ensure our silent complicity in a war of terror and in a massive increase in Australia’s military arsenal. Long range cruise missiles are to be targeted at our neighbours. The Rudd government and the Pentagon have launched a competition to build military robots which, it is said, will do the “army’s dirty work” in “urban combat zones”. What urban combat zones? What dirty work?

Silence.

 “I confess,” wrote Lord Curzon, viceroy of India, over a century ago, “that countries are pieces on a chessboard upon which is being played out a great game for the domination of the world.”  We Australians have been in the service of the Great Game for a very long time. Do the young people who wrap themselves in the flag at Gallipoli every April understand that only the lies have changed – that sanctifying blood sacrifice in colonial invasions is meant to prepare us for the next one??

When Prime Minister Robert Menzies sent Australian soldiers to Vietnam in the 1960s, he described them as a ‘training team’, requested by a beleaguered government in Saigon. It was a lie. A senior official of the Department of External affairs wrote this secret truth: “Although we have stressed the fact publicly that our assistance was given in response to an invitation by the government of South Vietnam, our offer was in fact made following a request from the United States government.”

Two versions. One for us, one for them. 

Menzies spoke incessantly about “the downward thrust of Chinese communism”. What has changed? Outside the church, Kevin Rudd said we were in Afghanistan to stop  another downward thrust. Both were lies.

During the Vietnam war, the Department of Foreign Affairs made a rare complaint to Washington. They complained that the British knew more about America’s objectives than its committed Australian ally. An assistant secretary of state replied.  “We have to inform the British to keep them on side,” he said. “You are with us, come what may.”

How many more wars are we to be suckered into before we break our silence?

How many more distractions must we, as a people, endure before we begin the job of righting the wrongs in our own country?

 “It’s time we sang from the world’s rooftops,” said Kevin Rudd in opposition, “[that] despite Iraq, America is an overwhelming force for good in the world [and] I look forward to working with the great American democracy, the arsenal of freedom …”.

Since the second world war, the arsenal of freedom has overthrown 50 governments, including democracies, and crushed some 30 liberation movements. Millions of people all over the world have been driven out of their homes and subjected to crippling embargos. Bombing is as American as apple pie.

In his acceptance of the 2005 Nobel Prize for Literature, Harold Pinter asked this question: “Why is the systematic brutality, the widespread atrocities, the ruthless suppression of independent thought of Stalinist Russia well known in the West while American criminal actions never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it never happened. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest.”

In Australia, we are trained to respect this censorship by omission. An invasion is not an invasion if “we” do it. Terror is not terror if “we” do it.    A crime is not a crime if “we” commit it.  It didn’t happen. Even while it was happening it didn’t happen. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest.

In the arsenal of freedom we have two categories of victims. The innocent people killed in the Twin Towers were worthy victims. The innocent people killed by Nato bombers in Afghanistan are unworthy victims. Israelis are worthy. Palestinians are unworthy.  It gets complicated. Kurds who rose against Saddam Hussein were worthy. But Kurds who rise against the Turkish regime are unworthy.  Turkey is a member of Nato. They’re in the arsenal of freedom.

The Rudd government justifies its proposals to spend billions on weapons by referring to what the Pentagon calls an “arc of instability” that stretches across the world. Our enemies are apparently everywhere — from China to the Horn of Africa.  In fact, an arc of instability does indeed stretch across the world and is maintained by the United States. The US Air Force calls this “full spectrum dominance”. More than 800 American bases are ready for war.

These bases protect a system that allows one per cent of humanity to control 40 per cent of wealth: a system that bails out just one bank with $180 billion – that’s enough to eliminate malnutrition in the world, and provide education for every child, and water and sanitation for all, and to reverse the spread of malaria. On September 11th, 2001, the United Nations reported that on that day 36,615 children had died from poverty. But that was not news.

Journalists and politicians like to say the world changed as a result of the September 11th attacks. In fact, for those countries under attack by the arsenal of freedom, nothing has changed. What has changed is not news.

According to the great whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, a military coup has taken place in the United States, with the Pentagon now ascendant in every aspect of foreign policy.

It doesn’t matter who is president – George Bush or Barack Obama. Indeed, Obama has stepped up Bush’s wars and started his own war in Pakistan. Like Bush, he is threatening Iran, a country Hillary Clinton said she was prepared to “annihilate”.  Iran’s crime is its independence. Having thrown out America’s favourite dictator, the Shah, Iran is the only resource-rich Muslim country beyond American control. It doesn’t occupy anyone else’s land and hasn’t attacked any country — unlike Israel, which is nuclear-armed and dominates and divides the Middle East on America’s behalf.

In Australia, we are not told this. It’s taboo. Instead, we dutifully celebrate the illusion of Obama, the global celebrity, the marketing dream. Like Calvin Klein, brand Obama offers the thrill of a new image attractive to liberal sensibilities, if not to the Afghan children he bombs.

This is modern propaganda in action, using a kind of reverse racism – the same way it deploys gender and class as seductive tools. In Barack Obama’s case, what matters is not his race or his fine words, but the power he serves.

In an essay for The Monthly entitled Faith in Politics, Kevin Rudd wrote this about refugees: “The biblical injunction to care for the stranger in our midst is clear. The parable of the Good Samaritan is but one of many which deal with the matter of how we should respond to a vulnerable stranger in our midst …. We should never forget that the reason we have a UN convention on the protection of refugees is in large part because of the horror of the Holocaust when the West (including Australia) turned its back on the Jewish people of occupied Europe who sought asylum.”

Compare that with Rudd’s words the other day. “I make absolutely no apology whatsoever,” he said, “for taking a hard line on illegal immigration to Australia … a tough line on asylum seekers.”

Are we not fed up with this kind of hypocrisy? The use of the term “illegal immigrants” is both false and cowardly. The few people struggling to reach our shores are not illegal. International law is clear – they are legal. And yet Rudd, like Howard, sends the navy against them and runs what is effectively a concentration camp on Christmas Island. How shaming. Imagine a shipload of white people fleeing a catastrophe being treated like this.

The people in those leaking boats demonstrate the kind of guts Australians are said to admire.  But that’s not enough for the Good Samaritan in Canberra, as he plays to the same bigotry which, as he wrote in his essay, “turned its back on the Jewish people of occupied Europe”. .

Why isn’t this spelt out? Why have weasel words like “border protection” become the currency of a media crusade against fellow human beings we are told to fear, mostly Muslim people?  Why have journalists, whose job is to keep the record straight, become complicit in this campaign?

After all, Australia has had some of the most outspoken and courageous newspapers in the world. Their editors were agents of people, not power. The Sydney Monitor under Edward Smith Hall exposed the dictatorial rule of Governor Darling and helped bring freedom of speech to the colony. Today, most of the Australian media speaks for power, not people.  Turn the pages of the major newspapers; look at the news on TV.  Like border protection, we have mind protection. There’s a consensus on what we read, see and hear: on how we should define our politics and view the rest of the world. Invisible boundaries keep out facts and opinion that are unacceptable.

This is actually a brilliant system, requiring no instructions, no self-censorship. Journalists know not what to do. Of course, now and then the censorship is direct and crude.  SBS has banned its journalists from using the phrase “Palestinian land” to describe illegally occupied Palestine. They must describe these territories as “the subject of negotiation”. That is the equivalent of somebody taking over your home at the point of a gun and the SBS newsreader describing it as “the subject of negotiation”.

In no other democratic country is public discussion of the brutal occupation of Palestine as limited as in Australia.  Are we aware of the sheer scale of the crime against humanity in Gaza? Twenty-nine members of one family — babies, grannies – are gunned down, blown up, buried alive, their home bulldozed. Read the United Nations report, written by an eminent Jewish judge, Richard Goldstone. 

Those who speak for the arsenal of freedom are working hard to bury the UN report. For only one nation, Israel, has a “right to exist” in the Middle East: only one nation has a right to attack others. Only one nation has the impunity to run a racist apartheid regime with the approval of the western world, and with the prime minister and the deputy prime minister ofb Australia fawning over its leaders.

In Australia, any diversion from this unspoken impunity attracts a campaign of craven personal abuse and intimidation usually associated with dictatorships. But we are not a dictatorship. We are a democracy.

Are we? Or are we a murdochracy.

Rupert Murdoch set the media war agenda shortly before the invasion of Iraq when he said, “There’s going to be collateral damage. And if you really want to be brutal about it, better get it done now.”

More than a million people have been killed in Iraq as a result of that invasion — “an episode”, according to one study, “more deadly than the Rwandan genocide”. In our name. Are we aware of this in Australia?

I once walked along Mutanabi Street in Baghdad. The atmosphere was wonderful. People sat in cafes, reading. Musicians played. Poets recited. Painters painted. This was the cultural heart of Mesopotania, the great civilisation to which we in the West owe a great deal, including the written word. The people I spoke to were both Sunni and Shia, but they called themselves Iraqis. They were cultured and proud.

Today, they are fled or dead. Mutanabi Street has been blown to bits. In Baghdad, the great museums and libraries are looted. The universities are sacked. And people who once took coffee with each other, and married each other, have been turned into enemies. “Building democracy”, said Howard and Bush and Blair.

One of my favourite Harold Pinter plays is Party Time. It’s set in an apartment in a city like Sydney. A party is in progress. People are drinking good wine and eating canapés. They seem happy. They are chatting and  affirming and smiling. They are stylish and very self aware.

But something is happening outside in the street, something terrible and oppressive and unjust, for which the people at the party share responsibility.

There’s a fleeting sense of discomfort, a silence, before the chatting and laughing resumes.

How many of us live in that apartment?

Let me put it another way. I know a very fine Israeli journalist called Amira Hass. She went to live in and report from Gaza.  I asked her why she did that. She explained how her mother, Hannah, was being marched from a cattle train to the Nazi concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen when she saw a group of German women looking at the prisoners, just looking, saying nothing, silent. Her mother never forgot what she called this despicable “looking from the side”.

I believe that if we apply justice and courage to human affairs, we begin to make sense of our world. Then, and only then, can we make progress. 

However, if we apply justice in Australia, it’s tricky, isn’t it?  — because we are then obliged to break our greatest silence – to no longer “look from the side” in our own country.

In the 1960s, when I first went to South Africa to report apartheid, I was welcomed by decent, liberal people whose complicit silence was the underpinning of that tyranny. They told me that Australians and white South Africans had much in common, and they were right. The good people of Johannesburg could live within a few kilometres of a community called Alexandra, which lacked the most basic services, the children stricken with disease. But they looked from the side and did nothing. 

In Australia, our indifference is different. We have become highly competent at divide and rule: at promoting those black Australians who tell us what we want to hear. At professional conferences their keynote speeches are applauded, especially when they blame their own people and provide the excuses we need.  We create boards and commissions on which sit nice, decent liberal people like the prime minister’s wife. And nothing changes.

We certainly don’t like comparisons with apartheid South Africa. That breaks the Australian silence.

Near the end of apartheid, black South Africans were being jailed at the rate of 851 per 100,000 of population.  Today, black Australians are being jailed at a national rate that is more than  five times higher.  Western Australia jails Aboriginal men at eight times the apartheid figure.

In 1983, Eddie Murray was killed in a police cell in Wee Waa in New South Wales by “a person or persons unknown”. That’s how the coroner described it.  Eddie was a rising rugby league star. But he was black and had to be cut down to size. Eddie’s parents, Arthur and Leila Murray, launched one of the most tenacious and courageous campaigns for justice I’ve known anywhere. They  stood up to authority. They showed grace and patience and knowledge. And they never gave in. 

When Leila died in 2003, I wrote a tribute for her funeral. I described her as an Australian hero. Arthur is still fighting for justice. He’s in his sixties. He’s a respected elder, a hero. A few months ago, the police in Narrabri offered Arthur a lift home and instead took him for a violent ride in their bullwagon. He ended up in hospital, bruised and battered. That is how Australian heroes are treated.

In the same week the police did this — as they do to black Australians, almost every day – Kevin Rudd said that his government, and I quote,  “doesn’t have a clear idea of what’s happening on the ground” in Aboriginal Australia.

How much information does the prime minister need? How many ideas? How many reports? How many royal commissions? How many inquests?  How many funerals? Is he not aware that Australia appears on an international “shame list” for having failed to eradicate trachoma, a preventable disease of poverty that blinds Aboriginal children?

In August this year, the United Nations once again distinguished Australia with the kind of shaming once associated with South Africa. We discriminate on the basis of race. That’s it in a nutshell.  This time the UN blew a whistle on the so-called “intervention”, which began with the Howard government smearing Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory with allegations of sex slavery and paedophile rings in “unthinkable numbers”, according to the minister for indigenous affairs.

In May last year, official figures were released and barely reported.

Out of 7433 Aboriginal children examined by doctors, 39 had been referred to the authorities for suspected abuse. Of those, a maximum of four possible cases were identified. So much for the “unthinkable numbers”. Of course, child abuse does exist, in black Australia and white Australia. The difference is that no soldiers invaded the North Shore; no white parents were swept aside; no white welfare has been “quarantined”. What the doctors found they already knew: that Aboriginal children are at risk — from the effects of extreme poverty and the denial of resources in one of the world’s richest countries.

Billions of dollars have been spent – not on paving roads and building houses, but on a war of legal attrition waged against black communities. I interviewed an Aboriginal leader called Puggy Hunter. He carried a bulging brief case and he sat in the West Australian heat with his head in his hands.

I said, “You’re exhausted.”

He replied, “Look, I spend most of my life in meetings, fighting lawyers, pleading for our birthright. I’m just tired to death, mate.”     He died soon afterwards, in his forties.

Kevin Rudd has made a formal apology to the First Australians. He spoke fine words. For many Aboriginal people, who value healing, the apology was very important. However, the Sydney Morning Herald published a remarkably honest editorial. It described the apology as “a piece of political wreckage” that “the Rudd government has moved quickly to clear away … in a way that responds to some of its supporters’ emotional needs”.

Since the apology, Aboriginal poverty has got worse. The promised housing programme is a grim joke. No gap has even begun to be bridged. Instead, the federal government has threatened communities in the Northern Territory that if they don’t hand over their precious freehold leases, they will be denied the basic services that we, in white Australia, take for granted.

In the 1970s, Aboriginal communities were granted comprehensive land rights in the Northern Territory, and John Howard set about clawing back these rights with bribery and bullying. The Labour government is doing the same.  You see, there are deals to be done. The Territory contains extraordinary mineral wealth, especially uranium. And Aboriginal land is wanted as a radioactive waste dump. This is very big business, and foreign companies want a piece of the action.

It is a continuation of the darkest side of our colonial history: a land grab

Where are the influential voices raised against this?  Where are the peak legal bodies?  Where are those in the media who tell us endlessly how fair-minded we are?       Silence.

But let us not listen to their silence. Let us pay tribute to those Australians who are not silent, who don’t look from the side – those like Barbara Shaw and Larissa Behrendt, and the Mutitjulu community leaders and their tenacious lawyer George Newhouse, and Chris Graham, the fearless editor of the National Indigenous Times. And Michael Mansell, Lyle Munro, Gary Foley, Vince Forrester and Pat Dodson, and Arthur Murray.

And let us celebrate Australia’s historian of courage and truth, Henry Reynolds, who stood against white supremacists posing as academics and journalists. And the young people who closed down Woomera detention camp, then stood up to the political thugs who took over Sydney during Apec two years ago. And good for Ian Thorpe, the great swimmer, whose voice raised against the intervention has yet to find an echo among the pampered sporting heroes in a country where the gap between white and black sporting facilities and opportunity has closed hardly at all.

Silences can be broken, if we will it.   In one of the greatest poems of the English language, Percy Shelley wrote this:

Rise like lions after slumber

In unvanquishable number.

Shake your chains to earth like dew.

Which in sleep has fallen on you.

Ye are many – they are few.

But we need to make haste. An historic shift is taking place. The major western democracies are moving towards a corporatism.  Democracy has become a business plan, with a bottom line for every human activity, every dream, every decency, every hope. The main parliamentary parties are now devoted to the same economic policies — socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor — and the same foreign policy of servility to endless war.

This is not democracy. It is to politics what McDonalds is to food.

How do we change this? We start by looking beyond the stereotypes and clichés that are fed to us as news.  Tom Paine warned long ago that if we were denied critical knowledge, we should storm what he called the Bastille of words. Tom Paine did not have the internet, but the internet on its own is not enough.

We need an Australian glasnost, the Russian word from the Gorbachev era, which broadly means awakening, transparency, diversity, justice, disobedience. It was Edmund Burke who spoke of the press as a Fourth Estate. I propose a people’s Fifth Estate that monitors, deconstructs and counters the official news. In every news room, in every media college, teachers of journalism and journalists themselves need to be challenged about the part they play in the bloodshed, inequity and silence that is so often presented as normal.

The public are not the problem. It’s true some people don’t give a damn – but millions do, as I know from the responses to my own films. What people want is to be engaged – a sense that things matter, that nothing is immutable, that unemployment among the young and poverty among the old are both uncivilised and wrong. What terrifies the agents of power is the awakening of people: of public consciousness.

This is already happening in countries in Latin America where ordinary people have discovered a confidence in themselves they did not know existed. We should join them before our own freedom of speech is quietly withdrawn and real dissent is outlawed as the powers of the police are expanded. 

 “The struggle of people against power, “wrote Milan Kundera, “is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”

In Australia, we have much to be proud of – if only we knew about it and celebrated it. Since Francis McCarty and Mary Palmer landed here, we’ve progressed only because people have spoken out, only because the suffragettes stood up, only because the miners of Broken Hill won the world’s first 35-hour week, only because pensions and a basic wage and child endowment were pioneered in New South Wales.

In my lifetime, we have become one of the most culturally diverse places on earth, and it has happened peacefully, by and large. That is a remarkable achievement – until we look for those whose Australian civilisation has seldom been acknowledged, whose genius for survival and generosity and forgiving have rarely been a source of pride. And yet, they remain, as Henry Reynolds wrote, the whispering in our hearts. For they are what is unique about us.

I believe the key to our self respect — and our legacy to the next generation — is the inclusion and reparation of the First Australians. In other words, justice. There’s no mystery about what has to be done. The first step is a treaty that guarantees universal land rights and a proper share of the resources of this country.

Only then can we solve, together, issues of health, poverty, housing, education, employment. Only then can we feel a pride that comes not from flags and war. Only then can we become a truly independent nation able to speak out for sanity and justice in the world, and be heard.

November 20, 2009 Posted by | Media | , | Leave a comment

A Line in the Sand

MAHMOUD ABBAS is fed up. The day before yesterday he withdrew his candidacy for the coming presidential election in the Palestinian Authority.

I understand him.

He feels betrayed. And the traitor is Barack Obama.

A YEAR ago, when Obama was elected, he aroused high hopes in the Muslim world, among the Palestinian people as well as in the Israeli peace camp.

At long last an American president who understood that he had to put an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not only for the sake of the two peoples, but mainly for the US national interests. This conflict is largely responsible for the tidal waves of anti-American hatred that sweep the Muslim masses from ocean to ocean.

Everybody believed that a new era had begun. Instead of the Clash of Civilizations, the Axis of Evil and all the other idiotic but fateful slogans of the Bush era, a new approach of understanding and reconciliation, mutual respect and practical solutions.

Nobody expected Obama to exchange the unconditional pro-Israeli line for a one-sided pro-Palestinian attitude. But everybody thought that the US would henceforth adopt a more even-handed approach and push the two sides towards the Two-State Solution. And, no less important, that the continuous stream of hypocritical and sanctimonious blabbering would be displaced by a determined, vigorous, non-provocative but purposeful policy.

As high as the hopes were then, so deep is the disappointment now. Nothing of all these has come about. Worse: the Obama administration has shown by its actions and omissions that it is not really different from the administration of George W. Bush.

FROM THE first moment it was clear that the decisive test would come in the battle of the settlements.

It may seem that this is a marginal matter. If peace is to be achieved within two years, as Obama’s people assure us, why worry about another few houses in the settlements that will be dismantled anyway? So there will be a few thousand settlers more to resettle. Big deal.

But the freezing of the settlements has an importance far beyond its practical effect. To return to the metaphor of the Palestinian lawyer: “We are negotiating the division of a pizza, and in the meantime, Israel is eating the pizza.”

The American insistence on freezing the settlements in the entire West Bank and East Jerusalem was the flag of Obama’s new policy. As in a Western movie, Obama drew a line in the sand and declared: up to here and no further! A real cowboy cannot withdraw from such a line without being seen as yellow.

That is precisely what has now happened. Obama has erased the line he himself drew in the sand. He has given up the clear demand for a total freeze. Binyamin Netanyahu and his people announced proudly – and loudly – that a compromise had been reached, not, God forbid, with the Palestinians (who are they?) but with the Americans. They have allowed Netanyahu to build here and build there, for the sake of “Normal Life”, “Natural Increase”, “Completing Unfinished Projects” and other transparent pretexts of this kind. There will not be, of course, any restrictions in Jerusalem, the Undivided Eternal Capital of Israel. In short, the settlement activity will continue in full swing.

To add insult to injury, Hillary Clinton troubled herself to come to Jerusalem in person in order to shower Netanyahu with unctuous flattery. There is no precedent to the sacrifices he is making for peace, she fawned.

That was too much even for Abbas, whose patience and self-restraint are legendary. He has drawn the consequences.

“TO UNDERSTAND all is to forgive all,” the French say. But in this case, some things are hard to forgive.

Certainly, one can understand Obama. He is engaged in a fight for his political life on the social front, the battle for health insurance. Unemployment continues to rise. The news from Iraq is bad, Afghanistan is quickly turning into a second Vietnam. Even before the award ceremony, the Nobel Peace Prize looks like a joke.

Perhaps he feels that the time is not ripe for provoking the almighty pro-Israel lobby. He is a politician, and politics is the art of the possible. It would be possible to forgive him for this, if he admitted frankly that he is unable to realize his good intentions in this area for the time being.

But it is impossible to forgive what is actually happening. Not the scandalous American treatment of the Goldstone report. Not the loathsome behavior of Hillary in Jerusalem. Not the mendacious talk about the “restraint” of the settlement activities. The more so as all this goes on with total disregard of the Palestinians, as if they were merely extras in a musical.

Not only has Obama given up his claim to a complete change in US policy, but he is actually continuing the policy of Bush. And since Obama pretends to be the opposite of Bush, this is double treachery.

Abbas reacted with the only weapon he has at his command: the announcement that he will leave public life.

THE AMERICAN policy in the “Wider Middle East” can be compared to a recipe in a cookbook: “Take five eggs, mix with flour and sugar…

In real life: Take a local notable, give him the paraphernalia of government, conduct “free elections”, train his security forces, turn him into a subcontractor.

This is not an original recipe. Many colonial and occupation regimes have used it in the past. What is so special about its use by the Americans is the “democratic” props for the play. Even if a cynical world does not believe a word of it, there is the audience back home to think about.

That is how it was done in the past in Vietnam. How Hamid Karzai was chosen in Afghanistan and Nouri Maliki in Iraq. How Fouad Siniora has been kept in Lebanon. How Muhammad Dahlan was to be installed in the Gaza Strip (but was at the decisive moment forestalled by Hamas.)  In most of the Arab countries, there is no need for this recipe, since the established regimes already satisfy the requirements.

Abbas was supposed to fill this role. He bears the title of President, he was elected fairly, an American general is training his security forces. True, in the following parliamentary elections his party was soundly beaten, but the Americans just ignored the results and the Israelis imprisoned the undesirable Parliamentarians. The show must go on.

BUT ABBAS is not satisfied with being the egg in the American recipe.

I first met him 26 years ago. After the first Lebanon War, when we (Matti Peled, Ya’acov Arnon and I) went to Tunis to meet Yasser Arafat, we saw Abbas first. That was the case every time we came to Tunis after that. Peace with Israel was the “desk” of Abbas.

Conversations with him were always to the point. We did not become friends, as with Arafat. The two were of very different temperament. Arafat was an extrovert, a warm person who liked personal gestures and physical contact with the people he talked with. Abbas is a self-contained introvert who prefers to keep people at a distance.

From the political point of view, there is no real difference. Abbas is continuing the line laid down by Arafat in 1974: a Palestinian state within the pre-1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. The difference is in the method. Arafat believed in his ability to influence Israeli public opinion. Abbas limits himself to dealings with rulers. Arafat believed that he had to keep in his arsenal all possible means of struggle: negotiations, diplomatic activity, armed struggle, public relations, devious maneuvers. Abbas puts everything in one basket: peace negotiations.

Abbas does not want to become a Palestinian Marshal Petain. He does not want to head a local Vichy regime. He knows that he is on a slippery slope and has decided to stop before it is too late.

I think, therefore, that his intention to leave the stage is serious. I believe his assertion that it is not just a bargaining ploy. He may change his decision, but only if he is convinced that the rules of the game have changed.  

OBAMA WAS completely surprised. That has never happened before: an American client, totally dependent on Washington, suddenly rebels and poses conditions. That is exactly what Abbas has done now, when he recognized that Obama is unwilling  to fulfill the most basic condition: to freeze the settlements.

From the American point of view, there is no replacement. There are certainly some capable people in the Palestinian leadership, as well as corrupt ones and collaborators. But there is no one who is capable of rallying around him all the West Bank population. The first name that comes up is always Marwan Barghouti, but he is in prison and the Israeli government has already announced that he will not be released even if elected. Also, it is not clear whether he is willing to play that role in the present conditions. Without Abbas, the entire American recipe comes apart.

Netanyahu, too, was utterly surprised. He wants phony negotiations, devoid of substance, as a camouflage for the deepening of the occupation and enlarging of the settlements. A “Peace process” as a substitute for peace. Without a recognized Palestinian leader, with whom can he “negotiate”?

In Jerusalem, there is still hope that Abbas’ announcement is merely a ploy, that it would be enough to throw him some crumbs in order to change his mind. It seems that they do not really know the man. His self-respect will not allow him to go back, unless Obama awards him a serious political achievement. 

* This article was written by Uri Avnery on the 07.11.09.

November 10, 2009 Posted by | Media | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Do You Ever Feel Like The Walls Are Closing In?

* Article written by Jake Lynch

In a further restriction on political debate, journalists at SBS have been directed not to use the term “Palestinian land” when describing the occupied territories.

So narrow has political debate become here in Australia over the Israel/Palestine conflict that attempts to remind Australians of basic facts, well accepted in the global community, are falling foul of censorship — silenced by the swish of a bureaucrat’s pen.

Journalists at public broadcaster SBS have been told, in a missive from their head of news, that the station’s Ombudsman has ruled out the use of the phrase “Palestinian land” to describe the occupied territories of East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The status of these territories “remains the subject of negotiation”, the memo says, and should be described solely with reference to their geographical location, for instance: “Israeli settlements on the West Bank”.

This shows the chilling effect of the selective deafness practised by frontbench politicians in Canberra, which has, as I have pointed out before, put Australia further into Israel’s camp than any other country, including the United States. Labor’s Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard found some rare common ground with former Liberal treasurer Peter Costello when both were part of a senior bipartisan delegation to Israel. When a delegation of that kind fails to mention, even once, the attack on Gaza at the turn of the year or questions over its legality, it has the effect of placing huge pieces of reality outside the bounds of the legitimately controversial. They fall into the “don’t-mention-the-war” category, or what media scholar Daniel Hallin called the “zone of deviancy”.

In fact, it is the Australian Parliament that is somewhat deviant on this issue, compared to parliaments elsewhere. And things are not improving. Julia Irwin, who earlier this year was almost alone among Australian MPs to join with the rest of the world in criticising Israel’s attack on Gaza, last night announced her intention not to run in the next federal election. The disappearance from the Parliament of a voice prepared to say what many people know on this issue is bad news for the state of this debate in Australia.

At the University of Sydney, where I work, the Students for Palestine group have been told by their Student Union that they are not entitled to form a club, and benefit from the facilities, for reasons no one is allowed to disclose. All those present at the meeting that imposed this ban have been sworn to secrecy. So the Students for Palestine called a protest rally later this month, which is also being advertised by students from other universities: universities like Macquarie, also in Sydney, whose head of security reportedly frog-marched several of them off the campus for leafleting outside the library, occasioning complaints of “offensive behaviour”.

Talking of which, the steady trickle of emails I receive from supporters of Israel has grown lately, their writers now apparently feeling emboldened to make more abusive and, in some cases, openly racist comments. Then there’s the latest stoush between the pro-Israel lobby and the Sydney Peace Foundation, over the decision to award this year’s Sydney Peace Prize to the journalist and filmmaker, John Pilger.

Pilger is famous for many things, including his reports raising the alarm over Pol Pot’s killing fields in Cambodia during the 1970s, and his courage in smuggling himself into East Timor under Suharto, and Burma, where he brought out unforgettable pictures of slave labour being used to build roads by the Burmese military junta.

His film, Palestine Is Still The Issue, is valuable precisely because it opens by situating the conflict in the context of international law and the well established view of the international community. The reason why the Occupied Palestinian Territories are so called is because there is an important difference between their claims over them and those of Israel: the Palestinians are their lawful owners. As Pilger points out, the reason why there have been countless UN resolutions condemning Israel’s occupation is because the inadmissibility of territory acquired by force is a cornerstone of international law.

As the SBS absurdity shows, these basic facts are now regarded as “controversial” in the context of Australian public discourse. It represents a triumph for Israel and its apologists here, who are thinking aloud about how best to take on the peace prize and its new laureate. “Strategist” Ernie Schwartz told the Australian Jewish News that, if professionally consulted — as some suspect he has been — he would advise critics of the award to face down allegations that they, in attacking a journalist for his journalism, are enemies of open debate. “Be realistic about the fact that we’ll always come across as myopic,” he said. “That’s just the way we’re going to be cast.”

Pilger-bashing over his reporting from the Middle East has already spread to academia. First into the breach, after the announcement of the honour, was a blog, The Sensible Jew, which declared him “odious” and “a joke among the serious-minded”. It featured a post from Philip Mendes, a social work lecturer at Melbourne’s Monash University, drawing attention to his scholarly article on Pilger in the Australian Journal of Jewish Studies. It’s unusual for an academic journal — especially one enjoying the highest “A*” rating, as this one does — to publish a contribution by a researcher outside his or her own field.

In it, Mendes criticises Pilger for declaring that it is his “duty to rectify” an imbalance in Western news coverage. But unfortunately for Mendes that is actually what Pilger is supposed to be doing: Pilger makes documentaries for Independent Television in the UK, which is obliged to follow the requirement that TV licensees “ensure that justice is done to a full range of significant views and perspectives”, as stipulated by the UK’s industry regulator, the Office of Communication. In short, they need Pilger to make up for shortcomings elsewhere.

Mendes treats the question of bias in reporting of the Palestine/Israel conflict as if scholarly opinion on the subject is equally divided, when in fact the vast majority of research finds that frames, definitions and versions of events favoured by Israel predominate in the news. Among the evidence he adduces to back up this claim, representative of the overall weakness of his argument, is the unpublished study by BBC News management of their own output, which he uses without setting it in the appropriate context, which was a dispute with the BBC’s governors at the time of the study.

Attempts like these to restrict debate or to delegitimise certain voices are of deep concern not just in relation to the Palestine/Israel issue, but to all of the issues that we rely on the media to cover.

September 22, 2009 Posted by | Media | , , , , | Leave a comment