Power To Speak
Israel has gone too far
By Cindy Piester 06/10/2010
Israel’s collective punishment of the 1.5 million people of the Gaza strip has turned it into the world’s largest open-air prison, even more egregious than the treatment of South African blacks during apartheid. Tanks and armed soldiers enforce the occupation as the people struggle to survive without adequate water, food or medicine. They survive amidst the rubble of Israel’s 2008 attacks that left more than 1,400 dead, mostly women and children.
Shamefully, it took the killing of nine human rights activists and the wounding of scores of others by Israeli commandos who stormed the Gaza-bound humanitarian aid ship, the Mavi Marmara, in international waters to finally bring home the message that Israel’s illegal siege of Gaza must be lifted. Journalists on board the Mavi Marmara were only able to communicate with the outside world for the first few minutes, reporting live by satellite that the ship was being overrun by masked commandos who had killed passengers. Then the satellites went dead and all cell phones, computers and cameras were immediately and permanently confiscated.
While it was the Israel Defense Force (IDF) murderous attack on a humanitarian flotilla carrying concrete that got international attention, Israel was in the process of launching a flotilla of its own: three German-made, nuclear-armed submarines headed toward Iran.
The IDF’s 4 a.m. raid surrounded the Mavi Marmara, in international waters, with a dozen gunboats, and armed Israeli commandos rappelled from three U.S.-made Blackhawk helicopters. While Israel has blamed the deaths on the activists themselves, Israeli Navy officers issued a statement calling for an international investigation that stated: “First and foremost, we protest the fact that responsibility for the tragic results was immediately thrust onto the organizers of the flotilla. This demonstrates contempt for the responsibility that belongs principally to the hierarchy of commanders and those who approved the mission.”
Richard Falk, U.N. special rapporteur to the occupied territories responded to this on the TV/radio news program Democracy Now, saying: “This was a shocking incident that involved a complete disregard of international law, in several respects. It was an act of naked aggression. It was done on the high seas. It was done in defiance of elementary humanitarian standards. It was known that this flotilla had no weapons. It was not a security issue by the remotest stretch of the imagination. If there was a right of self-defense, it belonged to the people onboard these ships. Israel, as the aggressing state and political actor, had no claim whatsoever of self-defense. It’s an absurdity.”
There are indications that decisions about the raid were taken in consultation with Washington. Rahm Emmanuel was in Israel on a private visit the week before the raid, but had a high-level meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu on May 26. The IDF confirmed launching a military operation directed at the Gaza flotilla that same day. The IDF also made clear its intentions to use force with a news article that was sub-headed: “On the way to violence; one of the boats is on its way.”
The international community was outraged, and responded with shock and a growing list of recalled ambassadors, demands for investigations, condemnations of Israel, a refusal to unload Israel’s cargo, calls for boycotts, divestment and sanctions, refusals to participate in games and canceled concerts. But with decades of reliable U.S. backing, Israel needn’t be overly concerned.
Israel comes first. Despite this country’s economic hardships that have left even our own veterans neglected, lavish military funding for Israel remains sacrosanct to Obama and Congress. For example, voting 410-4 last month, Congress immediately approved Obama’s request to give Israel another $205 million, in addition to the $3 billion in military aid that we allot annually. This was for the purchase of a missile defense system that the IDF had declined to include in its own budget, explaining that “offensive readiness was a higher priority.”
Are we turning a blind eye to Israel’s unsavory actions to our own detriment and the detriment of others? Maybe so. Congress, last November, approved Resolution 867, condemning the Goldstone Report, the eye-opening official U.N. 500-page report on flagrant human rights violations in the area.
In January, Gen. David Petraeus called attention to the building anger toward the U.S. resulting from our continuing support of Israel, despite its treatment of Palestinians. U.S.-Israeli relations have been strained and uncertain in recent months, but with the U.S. blocking U.N. investigations into the deadly flotilla raid, we remain their primary enabler. Until the siege on Gaza is lifted, we can expect our reputation around the world to continue eroding. In the meantime, as more aid boats are on their way to Gaza, what about those nuclear subs?
Horrified by the Holocaust and Hiroshima, Cindy Piester vowed, as a child, to devote her life to working for peace and justice. She is also a member of Venturans for a Just Palestine.firstname.lastname@example.org