GAZA: ONE YEAR ON: ‘Israel resembles a failed state’

One year has passed since the savage Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip, but for the people there time might as well have stood still.

Since Palestinians in Gaza buried their loved ones – more than 1,400 people, almost 400 of them children – there has been little healing and virtually no reconstruction.

According to international aid agencies, only 41 trucks of building supplies have been allowed into Gaza during the year.

Promises of billions made at a donors’ conference in Egypt last March attended by luminaries of the so-called “international community” and the Middle East peace process industry are unfulfilled, and the Israeli siege, supported by the US, the European Union, Arab states, and tacitly by the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah, continues.

Policy of destruction

Amid the endless, horrifying statistics a few stand out: Of Gaza’s 640 schools, 18 were completely destroyed and 280 damaged in Israeli attacks. Two-hundred-and-fifty students and 15 teachers were killed.

Of 122 health facilities assessed by the World Health Organization, 48 per cent were damaged or destroyed.

in depth

Ninety per cent of households in Gaza still experience power cuts for 4 to 8 hours per day due to Israeli attacks on the power grid and degradation caused by the blockade.

Forty-six per cent of Gaza’s once productive agricultural land is out of use due to Israeli damage to farms and Israeli-declared free fire zones. Gaza’s exports of more than 130,000 tonnes per year of tomatoes, flowers, strawberries and other fruit have fallen to zero.

That “much of Gaza still lies in ruins,” a coalition of international aid agencies stated recently, “is not an accident; it is a matter of policy”.

This policy has been clear all along and it has nothing to do with Israeli “security”.

Destroying resistance

From June 19, 2008, to November 4, 2008, calm prevailed between Israel and Gaza, as Hamas adhered strictly – as even Israel has acknowledged – to a negotiated ceasefire.

That ceasefire collapsed when Israel launched a surprise attack on Gaza killing six people, after which Hamas and other resistance factions retaliated.

Even so, Palestinian factions were still willing to renew the ceasefire, but it was Israel that refused, choosing instead to launch a premeditated, systematic attack on the foundations of civilised life in the Gaza Strip.

Author says the war aimed to erode support for Hamas but failed to do so [GALLO/GETTY]

Operation Cast Lead, as Israel dubbed it, was an attempt to destroy once and for all Palestinian resistance in general, and Hamas in particular, which had won the 2006 election and survived the blockade and numerous US-sponsored attempts to undermine and overthrow it in cooperation with US-backed Palestinian militias.

Like the murderous sanctions on Iraq throughout the 1990s, the blockade of Gaza was calculated to deprive civilians of basic necessities, rights and dignity in the hope that their suffering might force their leadership to surrender or collapse.

In many respects things may seem more dire than a year ago.

Barack Obama, the US president, whom many hoped would change the vicious anti-Palestinian policies of his predecessor, George Bush, has instead entrenched them as even the pretense of a serious peace effort has vanished.

According to media reports, the US Army Corps of Engineers is assisting Egypt in building an underground wall on its border with Gaza to block the tunnels which act as a lifeline for the besieged territory [resources and efforts that ought to go into rebuilding still hurricane-devastated New Orleans], and American weapons continue to flow to West Bank militias engaged in a US- and Israeli-sponsored civil war against Hamas and anyone else who might resist Israeli occupation and colonisation.

Shifting public opinion

These facts are inescapable and bleak.

However, to focus on them alone would be to miss a much more dynamic situation that suggests Israel’s power and impunity are not as invulnerable as they appear from this snapshot.

A year after Israel’s attack and after more than two-and-a-half years of blockade, the Palestinian people in Gaza have not surrendered. Instead they have offered the world lessons in steadfastness and dignity, even at an appalling, unimaginable cost.

It is true that the European Union leaders who came to occupied Jerusalem last January to publicly embrace Ehud Olmert, the then Israeli prime minister, – while white phosphorus seared the flesh of Gazan children and bodies lay under the rubble – still cower before their respective Israel lobbies, as do American and Canadian politicians.
But the shift in public opinion is palpable as Israel’s own actions transform it into a pariah whose driving forces are not the liberal democratic values with which it claims to identify, but ultra-nationalism, racism, religious fanaticism, settler-colonialism and a Jewish supremacist order maintained by frequent massacres.

The universalist cause of justice and liberation for Palestinians is gaining adherents and momentum especially among the young.

I witnessed it, for example, among Malaysian students I met at a Palestine solidarity conference held by the Union of NGOs of The Islamic World in Istanbul last May.

And again in November, as hundreds of student organisers from across the US and Canada converged to plan their participation in the global Palestinian-led campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions modeled on the successful struggle against South African apartheid in the 1980s.

‘Bankrupt’ state

This week, thousands of people from dozens of countries are attempting to reach Gaza to break the siege and march alongside Palestinians who have been organising inside the territory.

Each of the individuals traveling with the Gaza Freedom March, Viva Palestina, or other delegations represents perhaps hundreds of others who could not make the journey in person, and who are marking the event with demonstrations and commemorations, visits to their elected officials, and media campaigns.

Against this flowering of activism, Zionism is struggling to rejuvenate its dwindling base of support.

Multi-million dollar programmes aimed at recruiting and Zionising young American Jews are struggling to compete against organisations like the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, which run not on money but principled commitment to human equality.

Increasingly, we see that Israel’s hasbara [propaganda] efforts have no positive message, offer no plausible case for maintaining a status quo of unspeakable repression and violence, and rely instead on racist demonisation and dehumanisation of Arabs and Muslims to justify Israel’s actions and even its very existence.

Faced with growing global recognition and support for the courageous non-violent struggle against continued land theft in the West Bank, Israel is escalating its violence and kidnapping of leaders of the movement in Bil’in and other villages [Muhammad Othman, Jamal Juma and Abdallah Abu Rahmeh are among the leaders of this movement recently arrested].

Travel fears

In acting this way, Israel increasingly resembles a bankrupt failed state, not a regime confident about its legitimacy and longevity.

And despite the failed peace process industry’s efforts to ridicule, suppress and marginalise it, there is a growing debate among Palestinians and even among Israelis about a shared future in Palestine/Israel based on equality and decolonisation, rather than ethno-national segregation and forced repartition.

Last, but certainly not least, in the shadow of the Goldstone report, Israeli leaders travel around the world fearing arrest for their crimes.

For now, they can rely on the impunity that high-level international complicity and their inertial power and influence still afford them.

But the question for the real international community – made up of people and movements – is whether we want to continue to see the still very incomplete system of international law and justice painstakingly built since the horrors of the Second World War and the Nazi holocaust dismantled and corrupted all for the sake of one rogue state.

What we have done in solidarity with the Palestinian people in Gaza and the rest of Palestine is not yet enough. But our movement is growing, it cannot be stopped, and we will reach our destination.

Ref: Al jazeera

Ali Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of One Country, A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. He will be among more than 1,300 people from 42 countries traveling to Gaza with the Gaza Freedom March this week.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

FIGHT ISRAEL: From South Africa to Israel – Time for a New Divestment Campaign

Barack Obama’s inauguration coming as we celebrate of Martin Luther King Day predictably draws linkages between the two. Many use Obama’s election to claim a realization of the “dream.” Others mumble something about a post-racial America. I suspect that King, if alive, would reject such nonsense. Although when asked “who he thought King would support” in the 2008 primary campaign Obama made a good case for answering “Nobody,” it is possible that King may have supported Obama.

King was a politician of sorts, although not so much at the time of his assassination. We love King now, but at the end of his life he wasn’t so popular. Younger activists criticized him and called him names such as “Da Lord” – mocking his once high place in civil rights politics. President Lyndon B. Johnson and a host of government officials, local and national, condemned him when he spoke out against the Vietnam War. King was not universally cheered when he marched, to his death, with the garbage workers in Memphis striking for fair wages and respect. Truth be told, he was jeered, even by some blacks.

Sure, we love King now, but there was a time when people turned their back on him and his message.

It has always been troubling to witness King’s mission and message reduced to “I have a dream” in the popular culture. It’s taught to kids in kindergarten, and they carry it with them all their lives. But all dreams are not equal. They can be interpreted in a number of ways. And some dreams are nightmares, or turn into nightmares for other people.

Before it became a “quagmire” the war in Vietnam was a dream of the American political establishment. Exactly one year before his assassination, King, setting aside the grave danger it brought to him, challenged his government and broke with American imperial policy. At New York City’s Riverside Church on April 4, 1967, King linked the domestic exploitation of African Americans with “the deadly Western arrogance that has poisoned the international atmosphere for so long.”

In his speech, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence”, King said, “A time comes when silence is betrayal..,” And, “I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today – my own government.”

King’s charge is just as true today as it was 40-plus years ago.

America is still the greatest purveyor of violence in the world. Silence is still betrayal. But let’s take it a step beyond silence. Non-action is the other betrayal. Change isn’t just about an election in November and a celebration in January. It’s about doing something measurable to usher in a more peaceful world. Sure it’s good to change one’s perspective and way of looking at things. But the trick is to make your actions match what’s on your mind.

There is an arc. People and events are linked on the arc.

So, this year we should honor King in an active sense. We should commit ourselves to organize against the American policy of violence and empire. The anti-war movement should apply pressure on Obama to withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan. And, just as important, particularly amid the horror that has been visited on the people of Gaza; a broader peace movement must also build real economic and political pressure against Israel’s immoral and criminal acts against the Palestinians. This King Day should mark the beginning of an organized push for American divestment from Israel.

When you think about it, US foreign policy toward Palestine has been a segregationist or apartheid policy. In his 2006 book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, former President Jimmy Carter likened Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land and its repression of Palestinian people, both within Israel and in the occupied territories, to the state of apartheid, which existed in South Africa prior to the early 1990s. Apartheid means ‘separateness.’ And there is little debate that Zionism, the official ideology of Israel, is predicated on religious and ethnic separation or segregation. A self-described Jewish state — that is, a state that operates of, by and on behalf of a single group of people — cannot also be a secular, democratic state where persons of all religious and ethnic backgrounds are treated equally. A Jewish state that has never declared its borders, that has annexed and occupied territories, flouting international law and subjecting the indigenous population to poverty, indignity, theft, torture and death, is not only a colonialist outlaw state; it is also racist. As one Palestinian gentleman remarked to me, “While blacks in America were once considered subhuman, Palestinians are not considered humans at all.”

And Israel could not have pursued any of these policies without the steadfast financial and political support of the United States. It is no secret that Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. aid in the world. It receives more than $15 million every day from the United States, or $30 billion a year by most estimates. The F-16 fighter jets and Apache helicopters that have dropped hundreds of tons of bombs and missiles on Gaza are made in the United States and provided to the Israeli government. Every American taxpayer underwrites Israeli-style apartheid.

Divestment may be at odds with the position of many elected black leaders (the Congressional Black Caucus included), but it’s not at odds with what King spoke of and died for. It is not at odds with those he championed. He championed the locked out and oppressed.

Throughout my life, black politics has lined up with oppressed people in other nations. Malcolm X stood with Fidel Castro and the Cuban people following the 1958 ouster of US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista, and with him the organized crime and American corporatist mobsters who exploited the Cuban people. Harlemites greeted Castro with affection as they gathered to welcome him during his stay at the Hotel Theresa in 1960 because he wanted to be “among the workers.”

Muhammad Ali is a “national treasure” now. But he wasn’t when he dropped the name Cassius Clay and said “Ain’t no Vietnamese ever called me nigger.”

Americans love Nelson Mandela, now. But he was a “terrorist” while he was heading “Spear of the Nation” – the armed wing of the African National Congress. That’s why he was locked up at Robben Island. Mandela’s name was only recently – during the 2nd part of the Bush Administration – removed from the State Department’s “terrorists list.” In the days of Ronald Reagan it was America and Israel that supported South Africa when the rest of the world said “enough.”

But black Americans remembered the hundreds of kids who died in Sharpesville Massacre in the 60s. We were in solidarity with those who took part in the Soweto uprising of 1976. We cried and protested when the South African police killed Steve Biko in 1977.

What’s happening in Palestine is not fundamentally different from what occurred in apartheid South Africa. Kids are being killed. People have been herded into the (more deadly) equivalent of bantustans. Political leaders are targeted for assassination. Most recently Hamas Interior Minister Said Siam was killed along with nine others, when Israeli warplanes bombed a home in the Jabalya refugee camp.

Israel’s behavior demands the same response from the world human rights community as was mustered against South Africa.

The facts are clear. The citizens of Gaza live in a virtual prison. They are surrounded by water, walls, fences and watch/gun towers.

In the latest assault, at least 1,133 Palestinians have been killed, including 346 children and 105 women; at least 5,200 have been injured. People talk about “suffering on both sides,” but there is no proportion in weaponry or force, which is why 100 Palestinians have died for every one Israeli.

The Palestinian people live under Israel’s apartheid blockade where even humanitarian aid is not allowed through – where citizens can get food, medicine and even goats, in addition to guns and weapons, only through tunnels.

Not just in Gaza but throughout all the occupied territories, Palestinian water rights along with their land and human rights have been stolen. Fundamentalist Jewish immigrants from Brooklyn have automatic citizenship and automatic civil and property rights, while the indigenous Palestinians lose and lose some more. Most often, it is Palestinian land that the migrants have settled on, with the blessings of Israel and the financial support of the United States via the Israeli government – in the face of international and United Nations’ resolutions against such settlements. It is Palestinian land, stolen for Israeli settlements, that the Palestinians have been firing mortars onto; Palestinian land that is bisected by Israeli-only roads and a wall that exceeds the Berlin Wall in size and cruelty. (No German had his farm or homestead cut in two by the wall.) They are Palestinian orchards that have been bulldozed; Palestinian homes that have been demolished; and American-made bulldozers that have done the job. A Caterpillar bulldozer crushed 23-year-old American peace activist Rachel Corrie to death when she stood in front of a doctor’s house in Gaza trying to prevent its demolition on March 16, 2003. And the same bulldozers have taken everything from Palestinian families year after year for decades.

Throughout the latest assault on Gaza, those blindly supportive of Israel raise a straw man argument asking, “Who struck the blow?” Or, “Fired the first shot?” Or, “Launched the first mortar.” Their answer to the question is almost always certain to be, “Hamas.” Before the days Hamas came to power, the same straw man was raised and knocked down as the answer back then was sure to be, “Fatah” – led by PLO leader Yasser Arafat.

Supporters of Israel never mention the blockade on Gaza or political assassinations or the wall or the poverty and despair. Instead, they label Hamas or anyone opposing occupation as “terrorists” and lamely apologize for the civilians killed calling them “collateral damage,” or they claim that the women and children killed in the school or hospital or UN facilities were “being used as human shield.” No one calls the Jewish settlers human shields, though their incursions into occupied territory has been both a provocation and an excuse since 1967.

Just take a look at a map of the territory lost by the Palestinian people since 1948 and at an inexorable pace since 1967. Then answer the question, “Who stuck the first blow?”

Throughout the latest attack on the Palestinian people I have heard a few people openly make the bloodthirsty suggestion that “they (the Israelis) should kill them all.” But the most common thing one hears is something similar to what Obama said on a visit to Israel in the summer 2008 that “If somebody shot rockets at my house where my two daughters were sleeping at night, I’d do everything in my power to stop them.” The new president’s comment was one of the first things that came out the mouths of various spokespersons for the Israeli government as the Christmastime onslaught on Gaza began. But what of the Israeli rockets and bombs and bullets and bulldozers that for years have hit the homes where Palestinian children were sleeping?

Now Israel has called a cease fire in Gaza, if only for a moment. Still, we must organize and protest in an effective way beyond the moment. We have our work cut out for us. The Palestinians have few friends in high places. By a vote of 404-1 the House recently signaled its support for Israel’s apartheid regime and literally condemned the Palestinians right of self-defense. The only member of Congress to take a stand with the Palestinians was and is Ohio’s Dennis Kucinich.

On the campaign trail at a conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Obama declared himself a “Zionist,” and upon being elected chose Rahm Emanuel, a dual citizen of the US and Israel, as his chief of staff. The Israeli paper Ha’aretz (6 Nov. 2008) said it all: Obama’s first pick: Israeli Rahm Emanuel as chief of staff. Some say that Emanuel “has a track record on Israel well to the right of George Bush.” This includes signing a 2003 letter justifying Israel’s policy of political assassinations and criticizing George Bush for not supporting Israel enough. Emanuel backed a resolution supporting Israel’s bombing of Lebanon in the summer of 2006 and he called on the US government to cancel a planned speech to Congress by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki because he had condemned Israel’s actions in Lebanon.

As president, where will Obama stand? More important, what is the moral stand, and what must we do to press the government to take it?

First, we must see Israel with the same eyes as we saw South Africa in the apartheid years – as a racist nation deserving of international isolation and sanctions. Second, we must demand that the United States end its $30 billion a year military support to the country. Third, we should organize, confront and demand that public bodies such as universities, local and state governments divest their portfolios from companies that do business in or with Israel. Fourth, we should identify and boycott those companies that do business with and in Israel. Fifth, we should call for a cultural boycott of Israel, and boycott those artists who perform in the country.

As for the new president we should continue to pressure him (1) to establish a fair involvement with the disputing parties, recognizing their equal humanity, not take the one-sided, Israel-first position of his predecessors; (2) to pressure the Israeli government to allow unimpeded access of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip; (3) to call for an investigation into Israel’s misuse of U.S. weapons, to include the use of white phosphorous and urge the UN weapons inspectors to determine if Israel is using depleted uranium-tipped missiles on the Palestinians. This would be a first step toward ending arms transfers to Israel.

All people have a right to exist – Jews and Palestinians. The way to peace is for each side to respect the other’s right to live.

But America must be a fair player in what is now a continual catastrophe with our country on the wrong side of history. We must remember that “where you spend your money is a political act.” Putting pressure on business and government is a means to force change. By “getting in their pockets” we can say no to the violence. We can say, “Not in our names.” That’s what I think Dr. King would say and do at a time like this.

Almost 40 years ago, Martin Luther King warned that “the problem of racism, the problem of economic exploitation, and the problem of war are all tied together. These are the triple evils that are interrelated.” Those “triple evils” of racism, economic injustice and militarism are what we must fight – the dream of King’s was the defeat of the “triple evils.”

As we celebrate his day, let’s do it in solidarity with the dispossessed. As Vice-President Joe Biden was saying his farewell to the Senate he quoted King saying, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” I believe Biden is right as King was right. But there’s a strong magnetic pull that has the needle still pointed on injustice. The injustice of being the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world.” We can help move the needle toward just by insisting that our country sees a Palestinian life having as much value as an Israeli life.

Ref: Counterpunch
Kevin Alexander Gray is a civil rights organizer in South Carolina. His book, Waiting for Lightning to Strike, has just been published by CounterPunch/AK Press. He can be reached at: kagamba@bellsouth.net

Unilever to sell stake in plant based in West Bank settlement

The food and soap manufacturing multinational Unilever has announced that it will divest from an Israeli factory in a Jewish settlement illegally built on land confiscated from Palestinians.

Unilever, which makes household staples such as Sunsilk shampoo, Surf washing powder and Vaseline, said it would sell its 51% stake in the Beigel & Beigel factory in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.

The UK and Dutch-owned multinational has followed Harrods department store – which cleared its shelves of Beigel & Beigel products, such as pretzels, in August – and a campaign by Britain to crack down on Israeli settlement businesses that are allegedly dodging EU import taxes.

Unilever’s announcement also came ahead of a report on its investment in the occupied territories by United Civilians for Peace, a Dutch human rights group.

UCP said the decision of Unilever, which defied the international boycott against South Africa during the apartheid era, showed that the firm was “serious” about international law and social responsibility.

But Unilever Israel, which bought half of Beigel & Beigel in 2001, said the move was strategic, not ethical.

“This decision has been taken with reluctance after a long period of analysis and review,” it said.

“Following the divestment in recent years of a number of non-core businesses … the decision has been reached to divest of its interests in the bakery business and will therefore seek to find a buyer for Unilever’s share in the Beigel & Beigel partnership,” the company said in a statement.

Ariel is one of three large Israeli settlement blocs that penetrate and separate northern and southern parts of the West Bank. It is surrounded by a network of roads that Palestinians are forbidden to use without special permission.

The settlement is built on land that Israel conquered in the 1967 Six Day war. According to UCP, the land for the Beigel & Beigel factory, in Ariel’s Barkan industrial estate, was confiscated from the surrounding Palestinian villages in 1981 by a Israeli military order.

“International law prohibits the confiscation of occupied land not for military purposes,” the UCP report says.

It also claims that Unilever is in effect supporting Ariel because it pays taxes to the Shomron regional council, which provides services such as rubbish disposal to Barkan. In return, Unilever receives, via Beigel & Beigel, some of the “generous” subsidies that Israel pays companies to produce in settlements.

Companies that operate in settlements also benefit from employing cheap Palestinian labour, the report says.

At Beigel & Beigel, 45% of the 140 workers are Palestinians from the surrounding villages whose land was confiscated for the construction. Most of them work on the assembly line operating machines and contrary to Unilever’s own labour standards, they are not paid the Israeli minimum wage, the report claims.

Many workers are paid to work 46.5 hours a week but they often work 50 hours with no compensation. One worker, who must pass through a checkpoint gate to go home after work, told UCP that he is often unable to return to his village.

Ref: Guardian