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The crisis in Gaza -- an international tipping point

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If, and as long as between the Jordan and the sea, there is only one political entity, named Israel, it will end up being either non-Jewish or non-democratic... If the Palestinians vote in elections, it is a binational state, and if they don't, it is an apartheid state. - Ehud Barak

This sentiment expressed by Israel's former Prime Minister and current Defence minister Barak provides ammunition to those who refer to Israel's occupation of the West Bank, and the resulting humanitarian crisis in Gaza, as Israeli Apartheid. In 2008, the BBC reported that little more than basic humanitarian aid had been permitted to enter the Gaza Strip by the Israeli government. In recent years the Israeli siege of the Gaza Strip has intensified further, leaving an estimated 1.5 million residents of the coastal territory in a state of abject poverty. The plight of the people of Gaza further deteriorated following the December 2008- January 2009 Gaza war.

The military assault on the Gaza Strip by Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) completely devastated the region, the U.N. World Food program noting "it was precisely the strategic economic areas that Gaza depends on to relieve its dependency on aid that were wiped out." A similar assessment was given by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights which found "it was obvious that IDF intended to erase any civilization features in the Gaza Strip. They deliberately and systematically destroyed the entire vital facilities to make Gaza go decades back."

The Goldstone Report, an independent U.N. investigation into the Gaza conflict, concluded that Israel's military operation was "a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorise a civilian population."

As a direct result of Israeli Apartheid, Gaza remains in a state of ruin, A 2009 Red Cross report concluding Israel's blockade is 'strangling' the economy, and preventing reconstruction efforts, warning "Gaza neighbourhoods particularly hard hit by the Israeli strikes will continue to look like the epicenter of a massive earthquake unless vast quantities of cement, steel and other building materials are allowed into the territory for reconstruction."

As Israel continues to resist international calls to lift the blockade, the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip grows increasingly dire. This is precisely the reason a fleet of ships called dubbed Freedom Flotillas set out to defy the blockade; seeking to deliver tens of thousands of tonnes of food, medicine and reconstruction materials directly to the people of Gaza.

While they expected to meet resistance, no one could have predicted the bloody assault by the IDF on the Turkish flagged ship, the Mavi Marmara. So egregious were the actions of the Israeli government, so disproportionate was the use of force, a major in the IDF reserves felt the need to pen a scathing op-ed, declaring "the events off the shores of Gaza last week, in which Israeli commandos stormed a blockade-busting aid ship and killed nine activists, were a painful reminder that I also belong to a class of Israelis that is deeply concerned about the direction of our country. Increasingly, our conflict with the Palestinians is separating us, not only from our moral faculties, but also from the rest of our senses."

The U.N. Security Council condemned the actions of the IDF and called for "a full investigation into the matter and ... a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to international standards."

The request for an independent investigation was immediately rejected by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who attributes the international condemnation he's facing to rampant anti-semitism, claiming "the State of Israel faces an attack of international hypocrisy."

However, past events reveal that the true hypocrisy rests with Israel.

In his article Echoes of Raid on ‘Exodus' Ship in 1947, Robert Mackey reports on the "parallels between Monday's killing of pro-Palestinian activists by Israel's military in international waters, as commandos intercepted a flotilla of ships trying to break the Israeli naval blockade on Gaza, and a seminal event in the Jewish struggle for an independent homeland." Mackey includes an obituary of the captain of the Exodus 1947, adding "the violent way the British Navy seized that ship and deported the refugees backfired, creating global sympathy for the plight of stateless Jews."

The obituary reads, in part:

"The refugees had no legal authority to enter Palestine, and the British were determined to block the ship. In the battle that ensued, three Jews aboard the Exodus were killed. The ship's passengers - more than 4,500 men, women and children - were ultimately deported to Germany.

The attack and its aftermath, which focused attention on the plight of many European Jews after the war, made headlines worldwide and helped marshal support for an Israeli state. [...]

Captain Ahronovitch was 23 when he took the helm of the Exodus. On July 11, 1947, he picked up the refugees at Sète, in southern France. On July 18, as the ship neared the coast of Palestine, the British Navy intercepted it. Captain Ahronovitch tried to break through, but two British destroyers rammed the ship.

Several hours of fighting followed, with the ship's passengers spraying fuel oil and throwing smoke bombs, life rafts and whatever else came to hand, down on the British sailors trying to board, The Times reported at the time. Soon the British opened fire. Two immigrants and a crewman on the Exodus were killed; scores more were wounded, many seriously. The ship was towed to Haifa, and from there its passengers were deported, first to France and eventually to Germany, where they were placed in camps near Lübeck."

Mackey also cites the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, whose records state "large protests erupted on both sides of the Atlantic. The ensuing public embarrassment for Britain played a significant role in the diplomatic swing of sympathy toward the Jews and the eventual recognition of a Jewish state in 1948."

Israel's self-righteous outrage extends to the massive public relations strategy it undertook following the massacre on the Mavi Marmara. In his article How Israeli propaganda shaped U.S. media coverage of the flotilla attack, Glenn Greenwald notes "it was clear from the moment news of the flotilla attack emerged, that Israel was taking extreme steps to suppress all evidence about what happened" to prevent reports which undoubtedly would contradict it's own version of events.

As passengers and journalists return home and detail their their experiences aboard the IDF raided ship, Israel's account of what happened continues to unravel.

Autopsy reports of nine Turkish men killed by the IDF on the Mavi Marmara conclude the nine men were shot a total of 30 times, five of whom were killed by gunshot wounds to the head. This contradicts Israeli assertions the IDF fired in 'self defence.'

A detailed Guardian account of the autopsy's states "a 60-year-old man, Ibrahim Bilgen, was shot four times in the temple, chest, hip and back. A 19-year-old, named as Fulkan Dogan, who also has US citizenship, was shot five times from less than 45cm, in the face, in the back of the head, twice in the leg and once in the back. Two other men were shot four times, and five of the victims were shot either in the back of the head or in the back."

Award-winning journalist Man Blumenthal has also been hard at work debunking Israel's propaganda, exposing outrageously doctored audio released by IDF, "which purports to show flotilla passengers telling the IDF to 'go back to Auschwitz'." Caught red handed, Blumenthal further reports on the non-clairification clarification made by the IDF, revealing the lengths the Israeli government will go to in an effort to garner international sympathy.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is once again calling for an end to the Israeli blockade, proclaiming "had the Israeli government heeded to international calls and my own strong and urgent and persistent call to lift the blockade of Gaza, this would not have happened." There are also reports that Moon will move forward with an independent investigation of Israel's raid the Gaza bound ship, despite the refusal of Israeli Prime Minister Netenyahu.

It's important that the international community support the actions called for by Moon. Moreover, it's imperative that the United States, Canada, and other enablers of Israeli Apartheid recognize their role in creating the international crisis.

Mark LeVine, a professor of history at UC Irvine, equates the 'friendship' between the United States and Israel to the relationship a drug dealer has with an addict. "We 'defend' Israel from every criticism - 'No! It doesn't have a problem!' 'It's the only democracy in the region!' 'We stand with Israel!' ... The occupation (of Gaza) has been an act of sheer brutality for decades. What has happened in Gaza the US and the world community have allowed to happen."

An editorial in The Nation details the role the international community played in creating the crisis in Gaza:

"The attack on the Freedom Flotilla is the culmination of more than four years of failed policy, in which a siege has been imposed on the entire population of Gaza in an attempt to weaken and isolate Hamas after its victory in the 2006 parliamentary elections. Israel does not bear sole responsibility for an unjust blockade that also undermines its own long-term security; indeed, the policy was jointly crafted and executed with the United States and has enjoyed the collusion of the European Union, Egypt and even the Fatah wing of the Palestinian Authority.

The effects of this policy on the people of Gaza have been devastating. According to various UN agencies, the formal economy has collapsed. More than 60 percent of the people are food insecure, and nearly 80 percent depend on the UN for sustenance, with rising levels of malnutrition. The destruction of Gaza's infrastructure has been comprehensive, with the reduction in electricity supply damaging food production and storage and dangerously limiting access to safe drinking water. The blockade has prevented all but minimal repair of the damage from Israel's 2008-09 military assault; thousands are still displaced from their homes."

One distinguished voice to propose a solution for the stalemate in the Middle East comes from Zbigniew Brzezinski, the United States National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter. Brzezinski, who played a key role in the attainment of the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty, offers an historical comparison followed by a four step plan to achieving stability between Israel and Palestine.

"More than three decades ago, Israeli statesman Moshe Dayan, speaking about an Egyptian town that controlled Israel's only outlet to the Red Sea, declared that he would rather have Sharm el-Sheikh without peace than peace without Sharm el-Sheikh. Had his views prevailed, Israel and Egypt would still be in a state of war. Today, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, with his pronouncements about the eternal and undivided capital of Israel, is conveying an updated version of Dayan's credo -- that he would rather have all of Jerusalem without peace than peace without all of Jerusalem." [...]

"First, a solution to the refugee problem involving compensation and resettlement in the Palestinian state but not in Israel. This is a bitter pill for the Palestinians, but Israel cannot be expected to commit political suicide for the sake of peace.

Second, genuine sharing of Jerusalem as the capital of each state, and some international arrangement for the Old City. This is a bitter pill for the Israelis, for it means accepting that the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem will become the capital of Palestine.

Third, a territorial settlement based on the 1967 borders, with mutual and equal adjustments to allow the incorporation of the largest West Bank settlements into Israel.

And fourth, a demilitarized Palestinian state with U.S. or NATO troops along the Jordan River to provide Israel greater security.

Most of these parameters have been endorsed in the Arab peace plan of 2002 and by the Quartet. And the essential elements have also been embraced by (Ehud) Barak and another former Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert."

A tipping point was reached when the IDF descended on the Mavi Marmara, slaughtering activists who's sole intention was to provide relieve the suffering of those in Gaza living under siege. The international community can no longer look the other way when the Israeli government violates international law. It can no longer allow Israel to operate under a separate set of rules when it comes to Middle East policies.

As Bradley Burston of Haaretz puts it, "We were determined to avoid an honest look at the first Gaza war. Now, in international waters and having opened fire on an international group of humanitarian aid workers and activists, we are fighting and losing the second. For Israel, in the end, this Second Gaza War could be far more costly and painful than the first ... We are no longer defending Israel. We are now defending the siege, which is itself becoming Israel's Vietnam."

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