Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Civil disobedients strike a blow against Israeli occupation

The Israeli establishment glides the surface of things, and currently devotes a lot of discussion to “pr.” If only the “pr” were different, they speculate, somehow the occupation of or large open air concentration camp for Palestinians in Gaza would be okay. The possibility of a second “transfer,” this one of the Palestinians yet again from the occupied territories in which Israeli settlements continue to be constructed, a larger and larger population of Israelis encroaching, continues steadily, a project of “greater Israel.” Imitating Israeli government vacuity, the Bush administration for a while appointed Karen Hughes to put the right “spin” on the US occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan in the Middle East. There is no such spin. This week’s murderous attack on the relief ship, the Mavi Marmara, in international waters – engaged in an act of civil disobedience – revealed to the world and perhaps to history the emptiness of “pr.” What is stressed in the United States is the murder by Israeli soldiers of 8 Turkish citizens and one Turkish American (whose death has not been protested, at least according to the American media, by the US government). The murders are widely thought in Israel, for example, in Haaretz, and even among many fervent supporters of the Israeli government in the United States, to be a disaster. Israel had a closer relationship with Turkey than with any other Muslim society. It did some 2.5 billion dollars of trade with the latter every year. But Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish, Prime Minister, has denounced the IDF “raid” as unlawful and called for an international, criminal investigation under the supervision of the UN.

The full force of what has happened is hard to take in. Sometimes, in death and for the fortunate, in a life afterwards, those who risked their lives, bring down oppression. That is the secret of civil disobedience. It “wrongfoots” (in the jargon of British intelligence about the Iraq war – see the “Downing Street memos”) the oppressors, not just immediately, but historically.

The Israeli attack on the Mavi Marmara has made the cause a personal one, as well as one of justice, to millions of people who had previously sympathized with the Palestinians – anyone who notices that Palestinians are human sympathizes with them, see here and here – but now added the cause of their own countrymen and women, bringing supplies to people who, by UN accounts, do not get food enough to survive.

My friend and former student Syed Rifaat Hussain – we used to work together on fighting racism in the United States*; he is now a leading teacher on strategy at Islamabad University in Pakistan, wrote to me vividly about his younger brother Talat, who was on the ship, and saw two of the murders, as he reports, “very close.” Talat Hussein, one of 3 Pakistanis on the boat, was detained by Israeli government and prevented from talking to the Press, to control “the pr.”

But two of these Pakistanis work for the television station AAF. “Live with Talat” is the morning show that goes out to very many Pakistani homes and public places (the show is in Urdu with occasional bits of and comments below in English; you can google it). Talat is an authoritative news “anchor,” engaging in debate on public issues, and interviewing, for instance, Hilary Clinton. Like his brother, Talat was also a great Pakistani cricket player. Talat planned to go to Gaza and report on the Palestinian misery and resistance from there. He joined others who brought food. In an act of great courage, he took part in an international act of civil disobedience.

But Talat risked his life to be on that boat. Rifaat sent me a story from the Pakistan papers about Talat’s arrest and arbitrary detention. His flight home, via Jordan (due to the intervention of the US-dependent king of Jordan, revealing in a small detail, the devastating effect of the shootings on the Israeli government). Though his plane was diverted, Talat received a well deserved hero’s welcome in Lahore.

When he arrived in Islamabad, journalists rushed out to meet him. He is now devoting a series of shows to his story and that of the Turkish relief workers. Even from prison he heard of the flailing Israeli “pr" machine – trying out one lie after another (for 24 hours, that somehow Al-Qaida is taking to civil disobedience – that would certainly be a massive improvement in that criminal and murderous organization – and that’s why the Israel government had to murder these protestors…)

As I have indicated previously – see here and here - my childhood friend Andrew Goodman went with SNCC to Philadelphia, Mississiippi. When he and James Cheney and Michael Schwerner were murdered by the sheriff and a mob of leading citizens there, it brought home unforgettably what the deep South was to every American. Not quickly enough but over time, their sacrifice (and the sacrifice of so many others, who were killed and dumped in the Mississippi River or hung or hidden – it was the “life” of the rural South) became a great symbol of decency, of people who responded, nonviolently, to the greatest crimes against others and themselves.

For the country, the discovery of their bodies six weeks later in the dam, marked a turning point toward civil rights. It gave new force to the deep sense of what liberty must mean in the United States of America. It was a “pr” disaster, irremediable, for segregation. It made Sheriff Rainey and Deputy Cecil Price American household names, second only to Bull Connor of Birmingham, who sicced police dogs on high school students, and Governor Orval Faubus of Arkansas (Charlie Mingus’s “Fables of Faubus” will recall Faubus forever).

In 50 years, those who were on the Mavi Marmara will still travel around, telling the story in high schools and colleges, as this year, participants commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) or remembered the Little Rock 9 (to speak of only two kinds of events on the civil rights movement in city after city). Netanyahu and Lieberman had already achieved some status in infamy, remediable only in the unlikely event that they change. This incident and the names of those who ordered it will live in history, long after the relationship of Israel with Palestine finally changes – and this is still only a hope - into something decent.

Obama says an investigation of the events is necessary (some who invaded the boat illegally – in international waters - had guns and killed others who had no guns and were bringing food, but there is a “mystery”), but has spoken of making a new start on a two state solution. Once again, he has a chance to save Israel from itself (a solution, the pre-1967 state of Israel; the end of occupation and a new Palestine). Pakistanis already hate the United States, justifiably, for firing off drone missiles and blowing up civilians (60 for every Pakistani Taliban, according to official Pakistani – an ally of the US – sources – see here). The US government does not listen to Pakistani protests against drones. The US government has tied itself to Israel. It truckles to Israeli occupation rather than using its influence ($3 billion in military aid each year; every helicopter – an Apache – murdering people in the occupied territories was sent from America). Recently even General David Petraeus has spoken about how Israeli policy makes American occupiers less safe in other parts of the Middle East (Israel has become “a strategic liability” in the new, rather modest jargon). Injustice makes those who tolerate it unsafe. The ground just shifted under Israel’s and our feet…We Americans might take in – Talat is just an ordinary person fighting injustice as any of us might be – what this story means.

Rifaat writes of taking heart from the wonderful response of the Pakistani people to Talat and the cause of justice. He is right. If you believe that justice is not important, think again. If you think that people won’t all over the world, stand up and take enormous risks to fight injustice, think again. If you think civil disobedience is not strong enough to answer injustice, look at the flailing of Netanyahu.

Talat Hussain, a 96 year old concentration camp survivor – we jews, also take our part in fighting against injustice - and Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Prize winner from Ireland, took action for all of us. The first story from a Pakistani newspaper lists the numbers of prisoners from each country. They are each a Talat, returning with the truth about the Mavi Marmara. There is now a tornado, blowing from justice, against the occupation. “pr” is a withered leaf in that storm.

Dear Rifaat,

What a lovely story. What channel is "Live with Talat" on - perhaps I could google it and get some sort of version on the youtube. Perhaps I will put up a post on him, since also, the story personalizes what it means for individuals to have made this heroic voyage. Some sense of the Turks who were killed and the Turkish-American - Obama seems not have noticed him; people have no sense yet of the magnitude of what the Israeli government has now done...

Best wishes,
Alan

----- Original Message -----
From: Rifaat Hussain
Date: Sunday, June 6, 2010 6:19 am
Subject: Re: Talat is my younger brother
To: Alan Gilbert

My dear Alan: thank you for your kind concern about Talat's safety. He
returned home day before yesterday to a rousing welcome by the people
of Pakistan. It was most gratifying to see the spontaneous outpouring of
public sympathy and affection for him. Due to bad weather, his flight
was diverted to Lahore. Upon learning this hundreds of people drove to
Lahore airport to welcome him there. When he arrived back in Islamabad
after a few hours he was given a hero's welcome by the journalistic
community. Scenes of his arrival were shown by all TV networks. When
he did his live show - Live with Talat - on Friday, thousands of calls
clogged the telephone lines to express solidarity with him. This
episode has only reinforced my faith in the power of the people and
their good nature to rebel against injustice and tyranny. Talat's
reinvention in Pakistani popular imagination as a symbol of human
courage, grit and integrity is indeed most amazing. He is planning a
series of live shows on AAJ TV challenging the Israeli official
narrative of "self-defense" in this tragic episode. I will convey your
message to him. with warm regards. Rifaat

--- On Sun, 6/6/10, Alan Gilbert wrote:

From: Alan Gilbert
Subject: Re: Talat is my younger brother
To: "Rifaat Hussain"
Date: Sunday, June 6, 2010, 5:00 PM
Dear Rifaat,

I see that the great family spirit of
fighting injustice is alive and well in Talat. I would
very much like to meet him. May he get home now safely
since, as with many movements of nonviolent resistance (my
friend Andy Goodman in Philadelphia, Mississippi in 1964),
the angel of death passes over...

Thank you very much.

Best wishes,
Alan

----- Ursprüngliche Nachricht -----
Von: Rifaat Hussain
Datum: Sonntag, Juni 6, 2010 10:38 am
Betreff: Talat is my younger brother
An: Alan Gilbert

FYI. best rifaat

Pakistanis held by Israelis return today
By Masood Haider

Wednesday, 02 Jun, 2010
According to a message received here on
Tuesday from New York, the Permanent Mission of
Pakistan to the UN has been informed that Talat Hussain,
Raza Mehmood Agha and Nadeem Ahmed Khan are
being sent to Jordan. —File Photo Sci-Tech

Flotilla raid footage goes viral as Israel
floods YouTube

UNITED NATIONS: Three Pakistanis detained by Israeli
commandos who stormed a
Gaza aid flotilla on Monday have been sent to Jordan for onward travel
to Pakistan, the UN Secretary-General’s office
informed the Pakistan mission in New York on Tuesday.
A press statement by the Pakistan mission to the
United Nations said that the three, Mr Talat Hussain, Mr Raza
Mehmood Agha and Mr Nadeem Ahmed Khan, had been
recovered and sent to Jordan. They were detained
in Israel’s Beersheba prison.

The Pakistanis were on board a Gaza-bound relief
ship which came under the deadly Israeli attack in international
waters.

In New York, Pakistan’s acting Ambassador to
the UN Amjad Hussain Sial had sought help from
Secretary-General’s Chef de Cabinet Vijay
Nambiar for recovering the three from Israelis.

Our Staff Reporter in Islamabad adds: “The
three Pakistanis will fly to Islamabad from Amman on Wednesday,”
a spokesman for the interior ministry said.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik told journalists
that Aaj TV channel’s executive news director Talat Hussain, Raza Mehmood
and Nadeem Khan, chief of the local chapter of an NGO, Khubaib
Foundation, had reached Jordan safely after remaining in Israeli detention for
almost 48 hours.

“The process of identification and confirmation of passports has been
completed,” the minister said.

According to Pakistan’s embassy in Washington,
the US State Department had confirmed that the three men were held
in the Ella detention facility in Beersheba.

Palestinian Ambassador to Pakistan Hazem Hussain
Abu Shanab visited the National Press Club in Islamabad to express
solidarity with journalists.

He promised complete cooperation for safely
bringing home the three Pakistanis.

The ambassador said the international community
should take action against Israeli aggression.

“The Security Council of the UN should have
taken more effective measures to stop aggression of Israel and ensure
complete independence and freedom of the state of Palestine,” he said.

He termed Monday night’s emergency meeting of
the UNSC ‘unsatisfactory’ as it put no pressure on Israel.

The ambassador said Palestine should be accepted
as an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital.

Activists Deported

Israel detained or deported hundreds of
activists who were aboard the
Turkish-backed aid ships it had seized en route to
Gaza, Reuters adds.

Some 700 activists were processed in and around
Israel’s port of Ashdod where the six ships of the blockade-running
convoy had been
escorted. Among the activists were many Turks, but
they included Israelis and Palestinians as well as Americans and
Europeans.

The Israeli interior ministry said 682 activists
were ordered deported and 45 of them left the country on Tuesday,
while others were jailed as they challenged the orders, or were in
hospital being treated for injuries.

Israel gave the following breakdown of countries
and number of their activists ordered expelled, excluding those killed or
seriously wounded in Monday’s raid: Australia 3; Azerbaijan 2;
Italy 6; Indonesia 12; Ireland 9; Algeria 28; United States 11;
Bulgaria 2; Bosnia 1; Bahrain 4; Belgium 5; Germany 11; South Africa 1;
Holland 2; United Kingdom 31; Greece 38; Jordan 30; Kuwait 15;
Lebanon 3; Mauritania 3; Malaysia 11; Egypt 3; Macedonia 3;
Morocco 7; Norway 3; New Zealand 1; Syria 3; Serbia 1; Oman 1; Pakistan 3;
Czech Republic 4; France 9; Kosovo 1; Canada 1; Sweden 11; Turkey
380; and Yemen 4."

For the impact in Israel, consider the following Haaretz editorial:

"Breaking out of the siege
If Israel is to break out of the international siege and strategic catastrophe it now faces, it urgently needs a different policy.
Haaretz Editorial

The intelligence failure and faulty planning in last week's operation to board the Mavi Marmara led to a crisis in Israel's foreign relations in the blink of an eye and a low in its standing in world public opinion. The international community is demanding an investigation into the incident and is roundly criticizing the siege Israel continues to impose on the Gaza Strip's 1.5 million residents. Friendly countries such as the United States and France are demanding that the Israeli government lift restrictions on the passage into Gaza of goods and raw materials for civilian use.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in his usual manner, rushed to raise the specter of the Iranian threat along with the adage that "the whole world is against us." Instead of locating the source of the fire scorching the diplomatic relations we built up with such effort, Netanyahu is following in the footsteps of his ostracized foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, accusing the world of hypocritical treatment of Israel.

In an effort to evade responsibility for the crisis and escape his obligation to fundamentally change his policy, the prime minister is distorting the nature of the criticism against his government and has plied it as hatred of the Jews.

Netanyahu and Lieberman are imposing a siege on a Jewish and democratic state that has professed to be a light unto the nations, but is becoming anathema among nations. The disagreement over halting construction in West Bank settlements and East Jerusalem sorely eroded the goodwill Israel had garnered in the wake of Netanyahu's declared support for a two-state solution. Last month's nuclear nonproliferation conference diverted attention from the Iranian nuclear program to Israel's nuclear capabilities. The summit of countries bordering the Mediterranean, which had been due to open today in Barcelona, was scrapped following Arab leaders' refusal to be in the company of the Israeli foreign minister. And finally, the proximity talks with the Palestinians are being portrayed as a recipe for perpetuating the deadlock in the peace process.

Reasonable governments of democratic countries act in accordance with the interests of their citizens. Even if the world is "hypocritical," as Netanyahu claims, he must fundamentally change his government's aggressive and inward-looking approach; it is not within his power to change the nature of the rest of the world."

*At the time, I taught courses, inter alia, on explanations of Nazism and the resistance to it in World War II, centered on the role of eugenics and IQ testing in the United States and Germany.

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