Nine boats of siege-busting ‘Freedom Rider’ activists are now gathering in the Mediterranean, preparing to challenge the longrunning siege that is one of the main tools through which Israel continues to stifle the lives and livelihoods of all of Gaza’s 1.6 million people.
An act of collective punishment like this siege is quite illegal under international law. Under international law, Israel has status over Gaza, as over the West Bank, only as a foreign military occupier, a status it has enjoyed for a jaw-dropping 44 years now. (Hey, even the Allied occupation of post-war Germany only lasted 14 years.) It is only that standing as occupying power that “allows” Israel to exercise control over all of Gaza’s land and sea borders, over its airspace, and even over the vital population registry that determines which Palestinians are allowed to enter into or reside in the Palestinian land of Gaza.
It is that long-running military occupation that needs to end; and we should never forget that.
Right now, there is zero movement in the “international community” towards ending Israel’s prolonged occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. There is no prospect of peace and none even of that long-running time-waster, the peace “process.” In the absence of any prospect of peace, actions to end the illegal siege through which Israel seeks to break the will of the civilian population of Gaza are a very valuable way to break the deadlock while also bringing hope to Gaza’s long-besieged civilians that no, the rest of the world has not forgotten about their plight.
I have such admiration for Freedom Riders like the amazingly talented and gutsy African-American writer Alice Walker. The essay in which she explains her reasons for joining the flotilla should be required reading in every class on Middle East politics, all around the world.
… Or Joseph Dana, an American-Israeli journalist who has decided to travel with and document the work of the flotilla, despite numerous attacks against him. Dana is great Twitterer. Follow his realtime updates here.
And then, there are all the sick attacks that Israeli government spokespeople and their fellow travelers in the U.S. State Department (including Hillary Clinton) and in pro-Israel circles in the U.S. and elsewhere make upon these courageous Freedom Riders… Including accusations from the IDF that the Freedom Riders are intent on using violence, from government sources in Israel and the U.S. that “Rafah is now open” and there are no remaining restrictions on the movement of goods or people in and out of Gaza, etc etc.
As I witnessed in Rafah with my own eyes (and suffered a bit with my sun-battered body) two weeks ago, claims that “Rafah is now open” are simply false.
In light of the above, what are we to make of this statement from an organization called “Americans for Peace Now” today? It includes this bit of verbal bullying:
- Let there be no doubt: the organizers of the flotilla are seeking to provoke a confrontation with Israel. In doing so they are playing a dangerous game. None of us knows what the consequences of their actions will be…
Oh, come on. The flotilla organizers are not seeking to “confront” the whole of Israel. They are seeking to confront the specific Israeli policy that maintains a quite illegal siege on all of Gaza’s people. And this “confrontation” is of exactly the same kind used by the Freedom Riders or lunch-counter activists in the days of the civil rights struggle in the United States.
I suppose APN, which is a U.S.-based support branch for the once-magnificent and powerful Israeli organization Peace Now, was trying to establish its pro-Israeli “muscularity” there before they made their core argument which was that Israel should simply let the flotilla make it to Gaza.
Their statement argues that Israel’s blockade of Gaza is a “failed policy.” It does describe it as part of a campaign of collective punishment of the whole population of Gaza, though does not spell out the essential illegitimacy of any such collective punishment.
And nor, crucially, does the statement mention that Israel’s ongoing measures against Gaza are possible only because of Israel’s status as occupying power in Gaza: a status that is only ever intended under international law to be a temporary situation, and one that is always– and hopefully speedily–brought to end by the conclusion of a final-status peace between or among the belligerents.
APN’s statement makes it seem quite possible that Israel could continue to exercise its sway over Gaza for ever! It says:
- We recognize Israel’s right to stop and inspect ships it has genuine reason to believe are seeking to smuggle weapons into Gaza… More effective and defensible measures to prevent arms smuggling into Gaza – both via land and via the sea – must be implemented, in cooperation with Egypt, the United States, and the international community.
But how about calling for a speedy end to the occupation that Israel maintains over Gaza, which would be done in the context of a peace treaty between Israel and the PLO– like the one that the Oslo Accords stipulated should have been completed back in May 1999, but that very tragically, because of intense and often intentional Israeli and U.S. foot-dragging, is nowhere on the horizon even today.
In the context of a peace treaty, arms limitation agreements might (and should) be agreed to by both parties to the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel as such would have no continuing right to inspect or control the movement of goods and people into or out of Gaza or the rest of the Palestinian state, though the Palestinian negotiators would likely agree to some form of trusted third-party monitoring.
But the idea– as seems encapsulated in the APN statement– that Israel has any unending “right to stop and inspect ships it has genuine reason to believe are seeking to smuggle weapons into Gaza”? Where did that come from? I thought APN was dedicated to achieving a fair and sustainable final-status peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Surely, they should have mentioned that?