The Palestinian protest camps in Gaza are world’s most daring protest

Today is the long-planned climactic day of the Great March of Return, a Palestinian protest on the fenceline of the Gaza Strip. On March 30, Palestinians set up five protest camps a half-kilometer from the Israeli military. These camps are themselves a form of mass protest, reminding the world that two-thirds of Gazans are refugees from towns, villages, and farms within Israeli territory. The protest’s chief demand is the Right of Return, their ability to freely return to their homes and/or to re-establish the communities they have maintained in exile for the past 70 years. Protesters are also demanding an end to the eleven-year blockade of Gaza, imposed in 2007, which has crippled the territory economically. The camps have been the staging grounds for weekly demonstrations, in which ten to thirty thousand protesters rally while at first hundreds, and more recently thousands of protesters have advanced into the unilaterally declared buffer zone along the fence. During these protests, unarmed Palestinians have thrown stones and flaming bottles towards the fence, and used a variety of tools to dismantle part of the wall that keeps them caged and isolated from the rest of the world.

Marchers, journalists, protesters engaged in confrontation and those who have peacefully approached the fence have all been subjected to an unprecedent barrage of violent force on the part of the Israeli military, who are positioned in towers and earthen embankments on their side of the fence. Israeli snipers have shot over 2,500 people and as of today, killed over fifty Palestinians. Yet week after week they keep coming.

The Great Return March in Gaza continues to be the most daring tactical encounter between protesters and security forces on the planet.

If you’ve seen the film Gandhi, you know the scene where people line up and risk beatings to defend their strike. Journalistic coverage of this march on the Dharasana Salt Works was a devastating proof the moral bankruptcy of British Rule in India. I’ve long said this could not be repeated when the opponent has deadly weapons. The Gaza protests have proven me wrong.

The Gaza protesters are unarmed militants, not satyagrahis. They are not arriving empty-handed but with stones in their hands. But they have injured no one on the Israeli side. They are deploying unequal means: inflicting symbolic damage while suffering brutal and deadly violence. And their response to that violence is not to switch to the deadlier means at their disposal (guns and rockets), but to keep coming back.

This is the dynamic of the Soweto Uprising, a turning point in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. Unequal violence proved morally unsustainable for the regime, ultimately isolating it from its support system in the United States and Europe. The dynamic on the side of Israel and its backers remains unknown; will shooting thousands of essentially defenseless civilians provoke a moral reckoning? That choice is up to us.

You probably haven’t seen this protest from the inside. To do so, see the last footage captured by Yaser Murtaja, who was killed by Israeli gunfire in April. It offers a flash of insight into what the ongoing Gaza protests entail. Watch it.

After the break, four things you need to know about the protests…

Read More »

Who was on the Gaza flotilla? An Israeli Jew and the IHH speak in harmony

The two most compelling comments on the flotilla tragedy I’ve read came from very different sources. One is an Israeli Jew, Udi Adoni, writing on the Israeli online news service Ynetnews. The other is from IHH, the Turkish aid group that sponsored the MV Mavi Marmara, the ship that saw at least nine of its passengers shot dead. At a time when the Israeli state is eagerly telling the world that flotilla, and especially IHH, is Hamas, Iran, al-Qaeda and terrorists; and that the passengers who fought back were a terrorist ambush, the coincidence of these two voices is striking, and critical to hear. (everything that follows is their words0

Udi Adoni,A view from the Left”: It is not true that among the participants of the flotilla there are proponents of peace and proponents of war. Its beauty lies in the seemingly impossible coalition of contrasts of men and women, homosexuals and clergymen, Muslims and Jews, Christians and communists, anarchists and Hanin Zoabi and Dror Feiler. They all agreed to unite for an unarmed action. They all decided to act for freedom without a fight.

IHH press conference (I’m fairly sure the speaker is Bülent Yıldırım, its president, but it’s not indicated on the page), June 4: Our group was made up of all sorts of people, including leftists, rightists, liberals, conservatives, atheists, muslims, christians, jews, buddhists…Ours was a civil and pacifist initiative created by conscientious, civilian, unarmed people who carried with them nothing but humanitarian aid.

And we set sail to prove to the people of Gaza, who have been under a siege for years which is not unlike an imprisonment in a castle, that human kindness has not yet died.

Keeping our faith in the spirit of civil power, our Freedom Flotilla did not take any orders or any kind of support from any government during its organization. Our power came solely from the conscience of humanity and the courage of our rightfulness. We wanted to be a source of invigoration for the people of Gaza on whom many states turn a blind eye.

Adoni: But I was afraid to stand on board a ship that carries food and hope to Gaza, and to find myself confronting the men of the corps which I had served loyally 30 years ago. Looking back, it is a pity I did not join. I am asked, “Surely you would not have beaten IDF soldiers?” True. I suppose that I would have tied myself to a post and screamed with fear and faith. However, the question is not at all how I would have behaved but whether one has the right to self-defense against maritime terror applied by a state.

IHH: Ours was self-defense. And self defense is legitimate. It has always been legitimate in all systems of law and throughout history.  I am a lawyer. I should know this better than anyone. However, we did not defend ourselves with firearms against these terrorists that attacked us with firearms, we did not have such means anyway

Adoni: There were no firearms on board the ship. There were no suicide bombers. On the practical level, opposing worlds, united against the occupation and for the people of Gaza, to a struggle which was not supposed to bring death…but life.

IHH: Now some people are asking, “Why did you go there?”

We did, because we are humans. We went out there because we are humans. The conscience of humanity has not yet died, this we wanted to prove to humanity itself. For this, we went out there.

We went and we will go again.

Turkish Journalist Cevdet Kılıçlar apparently murdered on Gaza flotilla

Update, June 5: The International Federation of Journalists is calling for an inquiry into Cevdet Kılıçlar’s killing and the shooting of Indonesian cameraman Sura Fachrizaz. The investigation would also consider the treatment of all journalists on the flotilla and the confiscation of their pictures, cameras, and computers.

Update: IHH (the German acronym is the circulating one) has posted a photo album of Cevdet Kılıçlar (it appears to be pictures of him, rather than by him, but I don’t read Turkish) to its Facebook page. I’ve included his picture below now.

Original post: Onboard the Mavi Marmara, the largest ship of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, at least nine passengers were killed. Witness reports and forensic evidence now suggest that at least one of those killed was documenting the raid and not participating the clashes between Israeli commandos and passengers that came along with it. Turkish journalist Cevdet Kılıçlar was shot in the forehead at close range, the bullet ripping away the back of his skull. Kevin Ovenden, a British activist onboard and eyewitness, has stated that Kılıçlar was filming at the time and has his camera held to his eye.

Kılıçlar worked for the Taraf, and Selam and Milli newspapers in Turkey. For the flotilla, he was employed by boat organizer, the Human Rights and Freedoms (İHH) Humanitarian Help Foundation, as part of its press staff. He was one of sixty journalists on the flotilla.

Relatives mourn over Cevdet's coffin Photo:Bulent Kilic/AFP

Cevdet Kılıçlar was 38. He leaves behind a grieving widow, Derya, and two children. He was also a gifted photographer, as you can see from his flickr page from a recent trip to Baku, Azerbaijan.

I draw three things from this sad news. First, the tragedy in Gaza has crossed the “it could have be me” threshhold, and I am sadder and more angry than before because of it. Second, the manner of this death as described by Ovenden, can be nothing other than murder. Third, the complete Israeli seizure of photographic evidence from those onboard is an even more serious than before; the grounds for a complete, independent, international investigation lie in part in what the Israelis have taken and may choose to destroy.

Cevdet Kılıçlar, c. 1972-2010

Sources for this story: Erol Önderoğlu and Tolga Korkut, “Journalists Returned from Israel – İHH Employee Dead.” Mehmet Nedim Aslan, “Israeli commandos killed journalist as he photographed their crime.”

Free Gaza flotilla: Accusation on bulletproof vests a dangerous distortion

As you probably know, Israel’s May 31 raid on the Free Gaza Movement’s flotilla of aid-bearing ships has occasioned a torrent of justifications, short video clip releases, and arguments. On the Israeli side, this began before the nine to nineteen dead activists bodies were yet cold. The narrative, remarkably, made the unarmed activists aboard the ships into a lynch mob and a terrorist ambush. In short, the Israeli government has been extremely eager to make the story fit a standard narrative in the region, one of treacherous asymmetrical warfare.

Those looking for the other side of the story had to wait out detentions and deportations, but eyewitness accounts are increasingly circulating. Both the anti-blockade activists and third-party journalists have had their ability to tell the story severely crimped by the Israeli seizure of film, memory cards, cameras, computers and other personal effects of those onboard.

The Israeli search has resulted in a remarkable remix of the goods they claim were onboard the ships, most visible in this photoset released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And here is I where I can offer my humble contribution to correcting propaganda. A well-circulated story right now involves this contention:

Israeli officers later displayed slingshots, knives and truncheons they said were found on the ship as evidence of organized resistance. Defense officials also say some activists had military-style gear such as bulletproof vests and night-vision goggles and carried large sums of cash. (AP)

The AP is simply reporting their claim, but is also giving the Israeli government the sole opportunity to create a narrative from various objects onboard. Let’s consider a very serious alternative story. Observe the following Israeli government photo:

Note, by the way, the clean, unruffled, un-shot-at state of the vests. Now read this from the International Committee of the Red Cross in 2002:

No one is more keenly aware of the risks taken by ambulance personnel than Mohammed El Hessi, a 26-year-old Palestine Red Crescent (PRCS) paramedic who was called to the scene of a gunboat attack on a security post north of Gaza City on the night of 7 March. Mohammed, who responded to the call along with three of his colleagues, would be dead today had it not been for the bullet-proof vest he was wearing. Such vests have been supplied to the PRCS by the ICRC, with the knowledge of the Israeli authorities. Mohammed suffered serious shrapnel wounds as his team attempted to retrieve two bodies. A piece of metal was subsequently found embedded in the ceramic back-plate of his vest. A second PRCS ambulance team came to the rescue and managed to evacuate the dead and wounded after more than an hour. Mohammed was rushed to a hospital in Gaza, and his life is now out of danger. During the same rescue operation, a member of an ambulance team from the local medical services was killed.

“Without a doubt, the bullet-proof vest saved his life,” said Dr Fayez Jibril, head of the PRCS’s emergency medical service in Gaza, as he examined Mohammed’s bloodstained vest the following morning. “This is where the shrapnel lodged. If it had pierced his body, it would have gone straight to his heart.”

Who needs bulletproof vests in Gaza? No doubt people like paramedic Mohammed El Hessi. Why should we think that this vest was meant for him? Reading on in the same 2002 story:

Respect for medical personnel, ambulances and medical facilities bearing the protective red cross and red crescent emblems is compulsory under international humanitarian law. Any violation of this rule puts the safety of all medical and humanitarian workers in jeopardy. (Full article from the ICRC)

Oh, you mean these emblems? Compare them to the ones on the vest.

No matter how much the Israeli government might wish it had faced a commando team onboard the Gaza-bound flotilla, it didn’t. But it’s willing to weave a web of lies to make you think that it did. Hopefully, we can be a little less trusting of this kind of propaganda, and a little more concerned for lives like Mohammed El Hessi, the paramedic whose life was saved by a bulletproof vest with a red crescent.

IDF kills 30-year-old nonviolent protester in Bil’in

The weapon used against Tristan Anderson, a high velocity tear gas round, has once again proved deadly on the West Bank. This time, on Friday, occupying Israeli soldiers attacked demonstrators, including Bassem Abu Rahme. According to demonstrators’ reports, “He participated in the weekly protest and was standing in the other side of the wall, and was shouting at the soldiers “we are in a nonviolent protest, there are kids and internationals” he couldn’t continue his scrim and was shot. He was transferred to Ramallah governmental hospital, but he was dead. The funeral will be tomorrow in the village of Bilin at 1:00 pm.”

The relative position of soldiers and protesters is clear from this photo: a recently wounded Bassem is in fluorescent yellow.

April 17, 2009: IDF fatally shoots Palestinian protester. Photo by Lazar Simeonov
April 17, 2009: IDF fatally shoots Palestinian protester. Photo by Lazar Simeonov

This was the predictable consequence of the flagrant repurposing of “less lethal” or “non-lethal” munitions to maim and kill at close range. See reporting by Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.

The Gaza War: Time for Introspection…

The December-January war in Gaza came and went too fast for people in the United States who weren’t already convinced to come to a moral reckoning with what was being done in our name, and with the money and weapons we provided. Unlike the Iraq war, advertised for over a year before, this one took place in the shadow of a U.S. national election campaign that was generally unconcerned with Israel and Palestine.

But there should be no mistake for United States residents that this war was ours. The United States government was nearly unique in providing unqualified support to the Israeli assualt, which left over 1300 people dead. Near-unanimous votes in both houses of the U.S. Congress backed the Israeli position, nearly word for word. The unprecedented demand that the Palestinian side renounce violence per se as a condition of negotiations was included in that endorsement. The new president, Barack Obama, maintained a strategic silence but made clear that “Israel’s security” is “sacrosanct” in the campaign.

The depth of this support cannot be pinned entirely on the pro-Israel lobby, athough its operation is a part of the way Washington works, with clear parallels to the Indonesia lobby that maintained a flow of arms during more than two decades of the occupation of East Timor. But US support is also an issue of popular mentality, of the minds and perspectives in our community. It combines Christianity and Fundamentalist apocalyptic viewpoints with a common self-perception of our societies as divinely blessed cities on a hill in a hostile wilderness. This perspective is the ideology that was needed by our shared histories as a settler colonial states, reinforced over the past forty years by anti-Arab racism. It’s about resonance, a shared politics that makes it possible to endorse one another’s crimes. Smart analyses of these political affinities has come from both right (see Walter Russell Mead writing in Foreign Affairs last summer) and left (see chapter 4 of Retort collectives’ Afflicted Powers).

Somehow these ideological limitations seem to distort American perceptions more than Israeli ones when it comes to Israeli actions. No doubt this combines real and legitimate guilt and remorse over antisemitism (though rarely does that come with a real self-examination about antisemitism in American history) with the World War II-centered story of American nationalism. The fact that defeating Nazi antisemitism is at the center of the last war most Americans can be proud of has made many reluctant to criticize the Jewish state that emerged in the years that followed.

But not keeping our eyes open gets us into big trouble. Fortunately, the Israeli media some times offers an up-close view that is sadly lacking in our own. So too, of course, do the Arab and international media. Right now, the Gaza war is being examined in a big way. Take a look…

Love for Tristan, Solidarity for Ni’lin Against the Wall

This past Friday afternoon, my friend and comrade Tristan Anderson was shot in the forehead by Israeli occupation forces at a demonstration against the wall they are building across the West Bank. The International Solidarity Movement reports,

Another resident from Ni’lin was shot in the leg with live ammunition. Four Ni’lin residents have been killed during demonstrations against the confiscation of their land.

Ahmed Mousa (10) was shot in the forehead with live ammunition on 29th July 2008.  The following day, Yousef Amira (17) was shot twice with rubber-coated steel bullets, leaving him brain dead.  He died a week later on 4 August 2008. Arafat Rateb Khawaje (22), was the third Ni’lin resident to be killed by Israeli forces.  He was shot in the back with live ammunition on 28 December 2008.  That same day, Mohammed Khawaje (20), was shot in the head with live ammunition, leaving him brain dead.  He died three days in a Ramallah hospital.

Residents in the village of Ni’lin have been demonstrating against the construction of the Apartheid Wall, deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004. Ni’lin will lose approximately 2500 dunums of agricultural land when the construction of the Wall is completed. Ni’lin was 57,000 dunums in 1948, reduced to 33,000 dunums in 1967, currently is 10,000 dunums and will be 7,500 dunums after the construction of the Wall.

The campaign against the construction of an apartheid wall across the West Bank is a crucial part of changing the dynamics of occupation in Palestine. The wall is the greatest manifestation of the policies of confiscating land, turning the occupation into annexation, and maintaining a logic of social separation between Jews and non-Jews in the occupied West Bank. It is also the key place where international law, solidarity from around the world, Palestinian civil society cooperation, and nonviolent direct action are being experimented with as tools for liberation. It does not surprise me, but does make me proud that Tristan placed himself in this crucial location.

Gabrielle Silverman, an activist, eyewitness and Tristan’s girlfriend, described the scene:

We were at a demonstration against the wall, against the Israeli apartheid wall in the West Bank village of Ni’lin, which is about twenty-six kilometers west of Ramallah. I was very close to him when he was shot. I was only a few feet away. The demonstration had been going for several hours. It was wrapping up; it was almost over. Most people had already gone home.

We were standing on some grass nearby a village mosque, and Tristan was taking pictures. He likes to take pictures and post them on Indymedia, sometimes under assumed names. And he was taking pictures, and he was shot in the head with the extended range tear gas canister. He fell to—nothing was happening immediately around us, by the way, I should mention. No one was throwing rocks around us. Nothing was happening. We were standing there.

He fell to the ground, and immediately medics from the Palestinian Red Crescent responded, came running over. And more people came running over. It was very clear that he was—that there was a seriously injured person on the ground. The medics are impossible to mistake. They wear neon uniforms. They have bright yellow stretchers. The medics were working on him, were getting him onto the stretcher, and as we’re doing so, the army continues to tear gas all around us. As we’re carrying him off on the stretcher, there’s tear gas falling, tear gas canister after tear gas canister falling at our feet.

Finally, we get him to the ambulance. The ambulance is very good. The Palestinian medics were excellent. And we get into the ambulance. We drive in the ambulance to the checkpoint at the beginning of town, and we are stopped there at the checkpoint for about fifteen minutes. For about fifteen minutes, the army, the Israeli army, refuses to let us through, even though we have a critically injured person in the ambulance. And the reason why is because under no circumstances are Palestinian ambulances ever allowed to enter Israel from the West Bank. And so, with Tristan being critically injured and getting worse and worse and worse and worse and falling deeper into this abyss, the soldiers are holding us up and waiting—we had to wait there for an Israeli ambulance to come from who knows where and then transfer him into that ambulance. All of this is taking precious time.

Finally, we drive to the hospital in Tel Aviv. I should add also, once the Israeli ambulance did finally show up, there was a soldier who stood in the doorway smirking and wouldn’t move and wouldn’t let the ambulance through until finally another international activist grabbed this soldier and we slammed the door shut, and then the ambulance was first able to start moving towards the hospital. When he got to the hospital, they started doing surgeries on him. (Democracy Now!, March 16)

Solidarity demonstrations have been held in London and San Francisco. A demonstration will be held in New York on Friday. It will be at the Israeli consulate, 800 2nd Ave, 4:00pm – 6:00pm. More than 4,000 people have joined “Solidarity with Tristan Anderson” on Facebook.

Tristan has been transferred to intensive care and his condition remains serious.

Tristan is unconscious, anesthetized and artificially respirated, has
sustained life-threatening injuries to his brain (as well as to his
right eye), and is expected to undergo several operations in the
coming days.