Thursday, January 15, 2009

What Gaza Asks From Supporters?

We must not stop at the ceasefire. We must turn our sporadic protests into a sustained movement and demand a real ‘change’ in the American foreign policy. Because until America stops its relentless and unconditional support for Israel, massacres like those in Sabra-Chatila, Qana, Beirut, and Gaza will continue to occur. For that movement to develop we need a well-grounded understanding of the politics in the region and a vision for sustained activism in the West. In this connection, below are a few thoughts and observations for your consideration.

Have an informed perspective:

Understand the larger politics behind the Israeli aggression in Gaza. There are at least three objectives.

First, the present aggression is not about "rocket fire" or "border security" per se. The real target is the cause of resistance against the occupation. Israel wants to crush any voice, any force that is in the way of the new status quo (or the 'New Middle East', as Condy Rice would have it) that it wants to establish, together with the US, and with the support of Arab status-quo regimes (Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia). That was the plan behind the elections in January 2006. They wanted Mahmoud Abbas and his corrupt party to win the elections and play as their security officer in the West Bank and Gaza. But to their surprise, Hamas won the elections.

Second, with such an ostentatious display of savagery in Gaza in the last three weeks, Israel wants to tell the rest of the world that for its security and sovereignty it will stop at nothing, and that the perceived defeat in the 2006 Lebanon war should not give any wrong ideas to its neighbors. The goal is to regain its reputation of military invincibility.

Third, for the upcoming elections in Israel on February 10, the current administration wants to tell the Israeli people that it has the will and competence to protect them from any outside attacks, and that they can be as aggressive as their opponent, the notoriously militarist politician, Benjamin Netanyahu, who has accused them of failing to uphold Israel’s security. The current administration wants to create a ‘success story’ out of this conflict.

In view of the above three objectives, the success story that Israel may be hoping for is probably on the following lines. One, they know that they cannot destroy Hamas militarily, but they would like to weaken it domestically against Mahmoud Abbas/Fatah. (Israel would also bolster the latter in the post-war reconstruction of Gaza.) Two, they want to force Hamas into a truce or settlement with conditions of their choosing. Israel will have no problem with lifting the economic blockade of Gaza and giving more freedom to Hamas, like it has given to Fatah, if Hamas would be willing to abandon its popular mandate of resisting the occupation. The least they are hoping is that Hamas would stop firing rockets.

Beware of media twists:

Question not only the facts but also the underlying assumptions in the mainstream media when it reports the conflict in the Middle East.

For example, to frame the whole conflict in terms of “an endless cycle of violence” is a distortion and misrepresentation of the ground reality. Because often the underlying presumption is that both sides are equally responsible for the violence. But the two sides are not equal. One is an occupier, the other is occupied. One has a far more superior war machine (fighter jets, helicopter gunships, nuclear weapons, precision missiles, tanks, you name it), the other has rocks and mostly homemade rockets. One continues to expand its colonial settlements, the other tries to resist that. One continues to ignore over 60 UN resolutions against its colonial policies, the other laments the ineffectiveness of the international community.

There may be some uses of engaging in the discussion of who fired the rocket first and broke the ceasefire. But was there a ceasefire in the first place? Because a basic condition of the agreed upon ceasefire was that Israel would lift off the siege of Gaza. Israel never did. So even if the rockets were fired from the Gaza side first, Israel is still responsible. It is also clear that Israel was actively preparing for the current onslaught right from the beginning of the ceasefire (See Barak Ravid, Ha'aretz, Dec 31, 2008).

But take this argument on another level. What if tomorrow the Islamic resistance in Palestine or Lebanon makes a proactive move (captures Israeli soldiers or attacks some other Israeli interest)? Would it be justified? Well, not, if we are still in that frame of who did it first. But this frame reinforces the current status quo (‘let things be like they are now’), in other words, the Israeli occupation. The resistance in both of these countries is precisely about breaking that status quo. We must emphasize that the root cause of the conflict and bloodshed is the occupation.

We must also emphasize the historical origins and the experience of last sixty years of Israeli occupation in the media. This history is alive in the collective memories of the Palestinians. It is unfortunate that sometimes in the media you hear demands that Palestinian people should forget all that in exchange for their life and whatever remaining land they have. An appreciation of the history in the media and among general public can reframe the whole issue from ‘Israeli security vs. terrorism’ to ‘Israeli occupation vs. Palestinian resistance’.

Also beware of the arguments that truth is relative or truth lies in the middle of two extreme positions. That is certainly not the case in the ongoing tragedy in Gaza. Nothing can justify the starving of a whole population for months and then indiscriminately killing over a thousand people in just 20 days. Nothing can justify targeted attacks on schools, hospitals, markets, mosques, and other civilian places. Nothing can justify the use of depleted uranium or white phosphorous on civilians or otherwise.

Protests do matter:

It is said that Israel fights half of its war in the media, especially in the US media. Why media? Because it shapes public opinion. That is where the real power lies - in knowledge, in public perceptions. Without the support of the policy makers and a general approval (or, lack of understanding) of the masses in the US, Israel would not have dared to commit the kind of atrocities it has over these years. Understand that through protests, vigils, teach-ins, informal conversation with friends, co-workers, and others, you can do your part to counter Israel’s war of information. There is a lot that is needed to be done on this front.

Judge the outcome of your activism not by any immediate political outcomes (like a policy change), but by the number of hearts you may have changed. Before anyone else, you must turn your activism into an opportunity to change yourself. Develop an informed perspective and connect your heart with all the oppressed people of the world.

Engage proactively:

Strategically speaking, Israel does not have much time left in the ongoing conflict. Consider that it chose the timing of the current aggression very carefully, when the administration in the White House is in transition, the potentially most radical segment of the population in America, the students, are away from campuses and could not be mobilized easily, and the general public in America (and elsewhere) are still recovering from the Christmas and New Year celebrations, and are also preoccupied with the economic recession. Still, to the Israeli surprise, regular protests with huge turn outs have been occurring in the US and around the world, stripping off the deceptive cover of being ‘peaceful’, ‘democratic’, and ‘civilized’ from Israel’s face. The protests and alternative media sources deserve much credit in this regard.

What’s important to understand here is that if we are just demanding a ceasefire, it is already part of Israel’s strategy in this conflict. There are good chances that Israel will end its aggression within a week, before the new administration assumes office in the White House, or the latest, by the February 10 elections. Israel also knows that most people come out for protest only in reaction. Once the aggression ends, the protests will subside, and the new White House administration would not be pressed to issue a drastic statement. (And that’s only to the extent of issuing a statement, something on the line that Israel should observe ‘restraint’. The Bush administration did not bother to do even this much. Given the team of pro-Israel, ‘Hawkish-Pragmatists’ that Obama has assembled in his cabinet, if that is any indicator, chances are very slim that we will see a significant policy shift immediately.)

Most likely, Israel will keep itself to the outskirts of Gaza. Because its Merkava tanks cannot enter the narrow alleys of the central Gaza and the Israeli soldiers will be forced out in the open. Considering the upcoming elections, the current administration would not like to place a large number of its soldiers in the firing line. Consider also that anything beyond the goal of creating a ‘success story’ story for the elections will require a permanent military reoccupation of Gaza. That would be a reversal of Israel’s ‘disengagement policy’ since 2005 (and the trend since the Oslo process of the early 1990s). It would require a heavy financial and military commitment. Israel would have to provide welfare to the local population and police the area regularly against activities of the local resistance. That is too much. Israel would rather prefer a Yasser Arafat or Mahmoud Abbas like security officer in Gaza.

The next few days are going to be very crucial. The carnage is likely to continue at the same pace, if not intensify. Israel will try to create conditions that will allow it to declare a ‘victory’. On the other end, the resistance in Gaza would try to stay firm against pressures and resist any ceasefire that comes with humiliating conditions.

Whatever the outcome, the mainstream media in the US will put the blame squarely on the resistance, like it did during and after the 2006 Israeli war in Lebanon.

We must not stop at demanding just a ceasefire when we define the goals and logistics of our activism in the West. The ceasefire should not be the end of our activism. We must go on even after the present carnage is over. Our goal must be to turn these sporadic protests into a sustained movement and demand a real ‘change’ in the American foreign policy. As stated earlier, until America stops its relentless and unconditional support for Israel, massacres like those in Sabra-Chatila, Qana, Beirut, and Gaza will continue to occur.

Connect your hearts with Gaza's:

The plight of the oppressed Palestinians and the cause of resisting the occupation are good enough reasons for people of conscience from different backgrounds to come together. This movement is not about particular individuals or organizations – religious or secular – over in Palestine or in the West. Some of us may not agree with everything that others believe in or have done in the past. But, people can still come together on the basis of their common belief in compassion and justice for humanity.

It’s also important that we do not lose sight of the distinction between the political Zionists and the general Jewish people. Not all Jews are Zionists and not all Zionists are Jews (for example, the right wing Christian supporters of Israel in America). What should distinguish us from the Zionist oppressors are our morals/principles. It would be a shame and a moral defeat if in the process of resisting the oppression we become like the oppressors and start stereotyping and targeting a whole ethnic/religious group.

Consider also that you and I are part of the same society that we complain is so apathetic. Change starts from within, and once we have, it's impossible that we won't affect those around us.

Educate yourself, join the protests, and boycott the companies that are known for supporting the oppressive Israeli state.

Connect your heart with the oppressed people in Gaza and elsewhere in the world. Feel their pain. Hear their voices. Don’t let your busy life make you oblivious to their plight.

Honor the memories of the victims of the Gaza massacre. They were killed because they dared to dream a life of dignity and freedom for themselves and their children. Honor them in your commemorative vigils in years to come.

Honor them by your continued activism. Generate emergency funds in your localities through donation and public service. Establish these funds as part of a regular project (with a target amount to be generated each year) to help victims in Palestine and elsewhere.

Honor them by saving their memories and their cause from getting distorted in media and history writing, especially once the ongoing Israeli aggression is over and things resume to normal. Remain in touch with the latest developments and continue to write those op-ed columns and letters to your local and national newspapers and to your governments and local and international human rights groups.

Keep that spirit of activism alive!

See the bottom of this page for a number of useful links. Photo credits:
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