For the record, I posted this over at my other blog too, so I am not saying anything here that I wouldn’t say over there. And I know some of the Hillary fans will be none too pleased with me for criticizing Secretary Clinton for her statements today. But I am not going to champion a policy I don’t agree with nor am I going to pretend I don’t care about this issue simply because I like/respect Secretary Clinton.
During Secretary Clinton’s testimony on the Hill today she dutifully threw the pro-Palestinian activists taking part in the Flotilla II under the bus. I guess civil disobedience is only an acceptable means of nonviolent protest when the target of the civil disobedience isn’t Israel? That seems to be a bit of a double standard. And I have a problem with that.
Throughout history human rights activists have used a multitude of methods to draw attention to various injustices including even breaking the law to draw attention to segregation, having sit-ins during the Vietnam War and more recently, gay/lesbian members of the military chaining themselves to the White House fence this year to draw attention to DADT. All of those things were deemed illegal and provocative but in a democracy we generally accept the provocation because it usually is geared towards drawing attention to government actions and we prefer nonviolence to violence.
Were the Egyptian protesters engaging in civil disobedience when they ignored the regimes’ Emergency Law and stayed to protest around the clock in Tahrir Square? Yes, they were. Was it provocative? Yes. Did the Secretary of State denounce them? No, she did not.
Until the siege on Gaza- a form of collective punishment illegal under international law– is lifted, human rights activists have a right to draw attention to what they see as a monumental injustice.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is criticizing activists planning to challenge Israel’s sea blockade of the Gaza Strip, saying their efforts are neither “necessary or useful” in helping the Palestinian people of Gaza.
A day after the State Department warned Americans against participating in the planned flotilla, Clinton said Thursday that the effort, which Israel has said it will thwart, was not helpful. She said the aim of the organizers appeared to be to merely provoke Israel into taking action that it has every right to do to defend itself.
It sounds like we are setting up a situation where Israel has a green light to use disproportionate force against the people on board the Flotilla and we’ll respond by saying “we warned you.” Also, trying to make the activists sound like some sort of violent threat to Israel’s security strikes me as a bit overkill. The Israeli military has multiple means at its disposal (prop foulers/physically blocking their entrance to the port in Gaza) to stop the flotilla once it is in Israeli waters- using a full scale military attack with special forces commandos strikes me as a tad provocative too, particularly when, as was the case last time, activists are killed and the death toll is completely one-sided.
Also, with respect to self defense, Israel doesn’t let in certain types of food or medicines into Gaza- how does that help them defend themselves? It doesn’t, it just slowly strangles the populace and adds to their suffering.
Here is an example of something that seems to have nothing to do with Israel’s security or self defense:
As soon as Israel imposed its ongoing siege, the health sector became a priority target. The vast majority of patients have been prevented from leaving Gaza for so-called reasons of Israeli security. Medicines, medical spare parts and machines have been denied entry into Gaza. Hospitals have not been renovated due to lack of construction materials. The siege on Gaza has claimed the lives of more than 500 patients under these conditions, many of them women and children.
From Amnesty International:
The blockade of the Gaza Strip, in force since June 2007, suffocated the economy and drove people there further into poverty. Amid continuing health and sanitation problems, poverty and malnutrition, some 80 per cent of Gazans were forced to depend on international humanitarian aid, the flow of which was impeded by the blockade. Severe shortages fuelled high prices. Most UN reconstruction projects to provide clinics and schools had to be delayed; as a result, some 40,000 Palestinian children eligible to enrol in UN schools in September had to be turned away.
Virtually all Gazans were effectively trapped in the small enclave, including seriously ill patients who needed treatment elsewhere and many students and workers wishing to study or take up jobs abroad. Only relatively few were allowed to exit Gaza.
Following international criticism of the [flotilla] attack, the government announced a partial easing of the blockade, although insufficient to markedly improve conditions in Gaza. Israel continued to ban all export of goods from Gaza until 8 December, and the announced easing of restrictions on exports had not been implemented by the end of the year. Amnesty International considered the blockade to constitute collective punishment in breach of international humanitarian law and called repeatedly for it to be lifted.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories today repeated the call for an immediate end to the blockade on Gaza. Despite Israel easing some of the restrictions on the flow of goods into Gaza, the situation is still dire:
Referring to the recent media reports of widespread health problems in Gaza, Falk said the situation of health care there is “as nothing short of catastrophic.” He said Gaza’s health ministry has reported that the Strip’s medical supplies and equipment have reached emergency levels. Of the 480 medications on the essential drug list, 178 (37 per cent) are reported to be at zero stock levels and more than 190 types of medicine in stock are either expired or close to their expiry date, Falk said.
Citing reports from the World Health Organization (WHO), he said a severe shortage of vital drugs is having a critical impact on the continued delivery of health care.
“Israel, as the occupying power, has the obligation under international humanitarian law to restore and maintain public order and civil life, including public welfare for the civilian population,” he said.
“This encompasses, among other things, the provision and maintenance of infrastructure, health and the material conditions of life.”
“Israel’s absolute closure of Gaza, however, not only denies the whole of Gaza’s civilian population the possibility of a normal life, but also collectively punishes them for acts for which they bear no responsibility.” Israel imposed the blockade after Hamas ousted the Fatah movement in the Strip in 2007.
Here’s an article discussing how Israel’s easing of the blockade has had a limited effect.
You or I or Secretary Clinton or the random guy next door may not agree with the wisdom of the flotilla that will be setting sail shortly but the level of animosity that the government displays towards any type of pro-Palestinian protests or human rights activities reveals a blatant double standard and troubling inability to see the Palestinians as human beings. In addition, pro-Palestinian human rights activists are just like other human rights activists- there is no reason to treat them any differently just because Israel is involved.
UPDATE:Israeli journalist and activist Joseph Dana has a good article up about the way in which the international community punishes the Palestinians for using nonviolence and he points out exactly what I said above- that nonviolent civil disobedience has a long and respected history in drawing attention to injustice. Here is an excerpt:
Mainstream Israeli and international media argued endlessly, as though in a state of reverie, about whether Palestinian demonstrators who threw rocks should be considered unarmed, non-violent or violent. Absent from the conversation was the fact that Israel is rapidly increasing a programme of military repression against demonstrations in a last-ditch effort to dominate the narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Portraying unarmed Palestinians as violent rioters enabled the press to downplay Israel’s heavy-handed reaction to the demonstrations. This response was largely based on unsubstantiated accounts of demonstrators’ behaviour, most of which came directly from the Israeli military and were completely false.
‘Striving for peace’
The entire Israeli-Palestinian peace process — predicated on the fact that both sides are striving for peace — has allowed Israel to portray any Palestinian attempts to challenge the status quo through unarmed resistance as antithetical to equitable settlement between the two sides.
This approach ignores the Israeli intransigence of endless settlement construction and the military infrastructure required to control Palestinian life. Night raids, mass arrests and lack of freedom of movement are all too often ignored when the international community envisions the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. In fact, the word “occupation” seldom enters mainstream discourse at all.
Palestinians are now coalescing around unarmed resistance as a way of highlighting what occupation means for them. Although peace is clearly desired among Palestinians, their immediate concern is one of human rights.
It would seem that Israel’s only course of action in explaining its heavy-handed military response to unarmed demonstrators is to describe the demonstrators as violent rioters. In practice, unarmed resistance to the status quo of occupation meets extreme violence from the Israeli army.
Historic episodes of human-rights struggles, such as the American civil-rights movement and the anti-apartheid struggle, underwent similar narrative reformulations. Unarmed demonstrations went from “violent rioters” to respected displays of people power in the face of repression. The Palestinian struggle for human rights will be no different when the history of the conflict is written.