* What Now? *
As Israel's invasion of the Gaza strip continues its third week with roughly 900 Palestinians killed and thousands more wounded, it is more important than ever to understand the context behind the current escalation, and then to move beyond our understanding into action.
At the bottom of this email is a piece including analysis inspired by the recent writings and research of Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi (Security General of the Palestinian National Initiative) and Phyllis Bennis (Director of the New Internationalism Project). But first you'll find-—as always, crucially—-a way to take action: WRITE!
* WRITE Now! *
In the first week of the attack on Gaza, the Washington Post ran 7-1 hawkish op-ed/editorials, the Washington Times ran 5-0 hawkish op-ed/editorials, and the Wall Street Journal ran 4-0 hawkish op-ed/editorials.
Many of us are upset by this, but we don't feel empowered to change it. But biases in mainstream media do not come out of nowhere; they are largely (though not entirely by any means) the result of active media-monitoring by media watch-dog groups that inundate media who stray from the Zionist party line.
Why can't we be as dedicated as those groups? Why aren't media being inundated by people like us who want to see the truth that is reported to the rest of the world every day? We need to be the change that we seek. We need to write media--not here and there, a couple of us, but consistently, all of us, a collective voice, demanding fair coverage.
I recently discovered the WRITE! Project (www.writetruth.org), which has a team monitoring US media and sending out alerts to peace and justice activists write in response to specific pro-Zionist articles and editorials. They provide the email address to write to, the original piece to respond to, and talking points to use. It doesn't take more than 5 minutes.
I don't personally have the time to monitor mainstream US media, but every time I get an alert I send a quick email to let the relevant media know what I think. What if all 5,000 people on this list were to do that? We could be the influence that we wish we had!
Contact the WRITE! Team to get alerts at firstname.lastname@example.org
Take a minute to write after each alert.
It only works if we do it together.
* Why Now? *
Contrary to popular belief, plans for Israel's bombing and invasion of Gaza didn't begin when Hamas started firing rockets at the end of last year's ceasefire. According to the Israeli mainstream newspaper Haaretz, plans for a massive attack on the strip began more than six months ago as Israel and Hamas were negotiating the ceasefire (see "IAF strike followed months of planning" - www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1050448.html). Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak reasoned that the ceasefire would give Israel time to prepare for a "showdown" as soon as it was over.
At the end of the ceasefire, Hamas put forth diplomatic initiatives aimed at extending the agreement (based on an end to both cross-border attacks and blockade of the strip), but these efforts were actually dismissed by Israel. With an end to diplomatic possibilities and the continuation of a debilitating blockade, Hamas's returning again to rocket attacks was, albeit lamentable, certainly predictable. Renewed violence, far from coming as a surprise, was presumably precisely what Israel was expecting.
So if the decision to strike Gaza in late December was calculated far in advance, why now? The timing coincided precisely with three things: elected officials' holidays in the US, a transitional period for the US administration (a lame duck president and a president-elect hesitant to say anything prematurely) , and most importantly: a tight race in Israel for the next prime minister. In fact Israeli Foreign Minister Tsipi Livni, who rejected Hamas's efforts to negotiate an extension of the ceasefire, is running a tight race with the hawkish Likud party. The latter is campaigning on the claim that Livni's political party, Kadima, is too "soft" on the Palestinians, something Livni is working hard to disprove.
Official Israeli explanations mention nothing about US or Israeli political factors, focusing squarely on eradicating Palestinian violence. But if nonviolence and cooperation are Israel's conditions for returning freedom to Palestinians, why weren't those conditions enough in the past? By the end of the year 2008, more than six months since a single fatal attack on an Israeli and following long-term cooperation between the West Bank Fatah leadership and the Israeli government, settlement expansion had heavily increased in the West Bank, about 5,000 Palestinians had been newly captured and imprisoned by Israel (most of them from the West Bank), and the number of West Bank checkpoints had risen from 521 to 699. If Israel wanted to stop a rise in Hamas, why not show that it is willing to make peace with the more peaceful Palestinian leaders?
During my two weeks in the West Bank, coinciding with a time of calm in Israel, I listened to countless stories of immobility, settler attacks, torture, and humiliation. During my first night at the IWPS house, nearby settlers stoned passing cars. I visited a close friend in the nearby `Azzoun village, where settlers invade several times a week carrying large American-made semi-automatic weapons. The army's response is to declare curfew on Azzoun, forbidding villagers from leaving their home. School and work have been cancelled three times a week for the past month on orders of the army, wanting to "protect Palestinians. " One wonders why the army prefers to shut down a Palestinian village rather than standing up to the Israeli settlers themselves (my colleague Hannah wrote an excellent article addressing this question: http://www.counterpunch.org/mermelstein12252008.html).
I visited the Bethlehem area where settlers routinely visit and spray-paint stars of David and anti-Arab racist slurs (which locals then paint over, until the settlers return the next time). Water and electricity in the city are consistently shut off by the Israeli army (Bethlehem has just one functioning traffic light), and enrollment at Bethlehem University hovers at 70% female given the high proportion of local men spending their youth in prison (similar to figures of African American males in the United States).
The one concession I witnessed was Israel's release of more than 200 Palestinian prisoners as a gift for the Muslim "Eid Al-Adha" holiday last month. Israel continues to hold more than 7,500 Palestinians prisoner, more than 10% of them without charge. Hundreds more are arrested every month. Then, occasionally, Israel lets out a couple hundred as an act of goodwill and generosity, but somehow Palestinians don't seem to find the habit terribly generous.
I traveled to Nablus where I learned one of my friends had been killed while another, a major organizer of nonviolent civil disobedience during Israel's invasion in early 2007, was in prison. On my way, I passed a group of eleven cement factory workers who had been stopped by the army on their way to the factory and I hopped out of my cab to document the situation. After holding the group for more than two hours, the Israeli soldiers decided to let the eleven grown men go to work. Other breadwinners cannot even access the road to work anymore, like a Bethlehem family whose home I found surrounded on three sides by the Wall, their main road cut off.
Given the West Bank Fatah leadership's cooperation with Israel, one might have expected a change in the situation in the West Bank, but everywhere I visited the occupation continued as usual, sometimes enhanced. There is no reason for Palestinians—-or us—-to believe that an end to rocket attacks and suicide bombs would bring real change to Israel's continued occupation since neither has in the past. Rather, Hamas's violence provides a convenient, and unfortunate, excuse for Israel to continue what it has been doing all along: expanding and expanding, destroying any obstacle—-be it a home, an olive tree, or a boy with a rock-—in its way.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
* What Now? *