Sunday, January 11, 2009

Dissident voices everywhere

In addition to containing information and analysis about the war in Gaza, the following pieces feature dissident voices – voices that offer a very significant challenge to any myth that Americans or Israelis uniformly support the carnage taking place. The first piece below reports and analyzes a remarkable undertow of US opinion that is hostile to the war, a report that reveals a striking disconnect between (particularly Democratic) voters and our representatives. The second piece below is a letter from Naamika Zion, a member of Kol Aher, a peace group in Sderot, who makes a strong and eloquent argument / plea: "Not in my name and not for me you went to war. The current bloodbath in Gaza is not in my name and not for my security." The last dissident voice is George Bisherat, a law professor, whose lucid, critical analysis appeared in the Wall Street Journal, of all places. Racheli Gai writes: It's important that people take the time to write to the Wall Street Journal and thank
them for publishing such a fine piece - (not a common thing on their part)... Email your letter to the editor to: Please limit your letters to 200 or fewer words ... shorter letters have a better chance of being selected for publication.

According to Blumenthal (in the piece immediately below), a growing numbers of Americans don't buy into the myths disseminated by mainstream media about the war on Gaza. He conjectures that - in addition to the presence on line of alternative sources of information - the reason is that after people got sold a bill of goods in regards to why the US went to a war against Iraq, they are a lot more skeptical about the veracity of what they hear and see on most mainstream media outlets.

Racheli Gai.
Unprecedented Numbers of Americans Question Israel's Actions in Gaza
By Max Blumenthal, Huffington Post. Posted January 6, 2009.

Could it be the rise of online progressive media telling the truth about Israel, or that the public rejects the same pundits who sold us Iraq?

Almost as soon as the first Israeli missile struck the Gaza Strip, a veteran cheering squad suited up to support the home team. "Israel is so scrupulous about civilian life," Charles Krauthammer claimed in the Washington Post. Echoing Krauthammer, Alan Dershowitz called the Israeli attack on Gaza, "Perfectly 'Proportionate.'" And in the New York Times, Israeli historian Benny Morris described his country's airstrikes as "highly efficient."

While the cheerleaders testified to the superior moral fiber of their team, the Palestinian civilian death toll mounted. Israeli missiles tore at least fifteen Palestinian police cadets to shreds at a graduation ceremony, blew twelve worshipers to pieces (including six children) while they left evening prayers at a mosque, flattened the elite American International School, killed five sisters while they slept in their beds, and liquidated 9 women and children in order to kill a single Hamas leader. So far, Israeli forces have killed at least 500 Gazans and wounded some two thousand, including hundreds of children. Yesterday, the IDF blanketed parts of Gaza with white phosphorus, a chemical weapon Saddam Hussein once deployed against Kurdish rebels.

"It was Israel at its best," Yossi Klein Halevi declared in the New Republic.

By New Year's Day, Israel's cheering squad had turned the opinion pages of major American newspapers into their own personal romper room. Of all the editorial contributions published by the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times since the Israel's war on Gaza began, to my knowledge only one offered a skeptical view of the assault. But that editorial, by Israeli novelist David Grossman, contained not a single word about the Palestinian casualties of IDF attacks. Even while calling for a cease fire, Grossman promised, "We can always start shooting again."

Israeli public relations agents fanned out to broadcast studios from the US to Europe, fulfilling an aggressive strategy conceived after the country's catastrophic 2006 attack on Lebanon. An analysis by Israel's foreign ministry of eight hours of coverage across international broadcast media concluded that Israeli representatives received a whopping 58 minutes of airtime compared to only 19 minutes for Palestinians. "Quite a few outlets are very favorable to Israel, namely by showing [its] suffering. I am sure it is a result of the new co-ordination," said Major Avital Leibovich, an IDF spokesperson who has become a fixture on cable news in the past weeks.

But while Israel's PR machine cranked its Mighty Wurlitzer to full blast, drowning out all opposing voices with its droning sound, a surprisingly substantial portion of the American public decided to dance to its own tune. According to a December 31 Rasmussen poll (so far the only measure of US opinion on the Gaza assault), while Americans remained overwhelmingly supportive of Israel, they were split almost evenly on the question of whether Israel should attack Gaza -- 44% in favor of the assault and 41% against it. The internals are even more remarkable.

While Republicans supported the assault on Gaza by a large margin, a predictable finding, only 31% of Democrats did. Members of the Democratic base thus stood in sharp contrast to most of their elected representatives (freshman Rep. Donna Edwards is a notable exception), who backed the latest Israeli assault in lockstep, and seem to support Israel no matter what it does. The rift between the progressive base and the party played out on Barack Obama's site, which was deluged in recent days with demands for a statement condemning Israel's assault on Gaza.

So what accounts for the surprising trend in American opinion on Gaza? The proliferation of progressive online media and social networking sites could be a factor, but I have another theory: The same pundits who are cheerleading Israel's assault on Gaza once sold the occupation of Iraq to America, and with a nearly identical set of arguments. In their voices and those of the grim Israeli PR agents carted out for cable news, many Americans hear echoes of the Bush administration's most fantastical lies. When they see images of Gazans under withering bombardment, they flash back to Fallujah and the assorted horrors of Iraq. When they look at Israel, they see themselves during the darkest days of the Bush era.

Now, an increasing share of Americans know what Israel is doing to Gaza. And they reject it, even when Israel is "at its best."

Max Blumenthal is a Puffin Foundation writing fellow at the Nation Institute based in Washington, DC. Read his blog at

By Assaf Oron

Sderot is a little Israeli town that has been bearing the brunt of rocket fire from Gaza for over 7 years now. Its population is mostly Middle Eastern Jews and new immigrants from the former USSR - both are groups whose worldview tilts right, especially with regards to Israel-Arab relations. Its mayor Eli Moyal has been extremely vocal in demanding heavy-handed IDF attacks on Gaza.

Yet, Sderot is not monolithic. Here is what I received a couple of hours ago from Israel, written (in Hebrew) by a member of Kol Aher (another voice - a Sderot-based peace group. As the tranlation is mine and this is the first place it appears, it is posted in its entirety.

Sderot War Diary
Naamika Zion, Sderot, 8.1.09

"I talk with Sderot people and everyone's cheeks are rosy again", boasted Fuad on the war's second day [Fuad is Benjamin Ben Eliezer, a long-time centrist Labor minister - Assaf]. "The heavier the blow we deliver - the wider the hearts get".

Hey Fuad, not everyone. Even if I was the only one around Sderot feeling differently - and I am not - my voice should be heard.

Not in my name and not for me you went to war. The current bloodbath in Gaza is not in my name and not for my security. Destroyed homes, bombed schools, thousands of new refugees - are not in my name and not for my security. In Gaza there is no time for burial ceremonies now, the dead are put in refrigerators in twos, because there is no room. Here their bodies lay, policemen, children, and our nimble reporters play acrobatically with Hasbara strategies in view of "the images that speak for themselves". Pray tell me, what is there to "explain"? [Hasbara literally means "explanation" - Assaf] What is there to explain?

I got myself neither security nor quiet from this war. After such an essential calm, that helped all of us heal emotionally and mentally and experience some sanity again [Naamika is referring here to the first 5 months of cease-fire, which were observed by both sides - Assaf] - our leaders have brought us back to the same wounded, anxiety-ridden place. To the same humiliating, terrified sprinting to shelter.

Don't mistake me. Hamas is an evil, terrible terror organization. Not just for us. First and foremost to its own citizens. But beyond that wretched leadership there are human beings. With hard labor, ordinary people on both sides build small bridges of human gestures. This is what the Kol Aher, a group of people from Sderot and elsewhere on the Gaza border of which I am a member, has been doing. We have tried to lay down a human route to the hearts of our neighbors. While we have won a five-month calm, they continued to suffer under the siege. A young man told us he does not wish to marry and have kids, because in Gaza there is no future for children. A single airplane bomb drowns these human gestures in depths of blood and despair.

Qassams scare me. Since the war started, I almost didn't dare cross the street. But even more frightening is the monolithic tone in our public sphere and our media, the unbreachable wall of jingoism. It scares me when my Kol Aher colleague is assaulted by other Sderotis, as he is interviewed and criticizes the war - and later receives anonymous phone threats and is afraid to return to his car. It scares me how little room there is for another voice, and how difficult it is to express it here. I am willing to pay the price of social isolation, but not the price of fear.

It scares me to see my city light up, celebrate and put up flags, and cheerleader squads hand out flowers on the streets, and people honk in glee at every one-ton bomb dropped on our neighbors. It scares me to hear the resident who happily admits that he has never been to a concert, but IDF's bombing of Gaza is the best music he has ever heard. I am scared by the smug reporter interviewing him, who doesn't challenge him even one bit.

It scares me that under the screen of Orwellian words, and the children's corpses blurred on TV as a public service to us, we are losing the human ability to see the other side, to feel, to be shocked, to feel empathy. Under the codename 'Hamas', the media has created for us a huge dark demon with no face, no body and no voice. A million and a half people with no name.

A deep, dark stream of violence flows into the veins of Israeli society like a deadly disease, and it gets stronger from war to war. It has no smell and no shape, but we feel it very clearly here. It is a type of euphoria and trigger-happiness and joy of revenge and power-drunkenness and love of Mars, and the burial of the noble Jewish commandment: "when your enemy falls - do not celebrate". Our morality is so polluted, so soiled now that it seems no washing will be able to remove the stains. Our democracy is so fragile, that you have to weigh every word in order to safeguard yourself.

The first time I felt the state is really protecting me, was when they got the ceasefire. I am not responsible for Hamas, and therefore I ask our own leaders: have you turned every stone in order to continue the calm? To extend the ceasefire? To use it to get a long-term agreement? To resolve the border-crossing and siege issues before they blow the whole thing up? Have you gone to the ends of the world looking for the right mediators? And why did you wave away, unblinkingly, the French ceasefire initiative after the war started? And why do you keep rejecting, to this very moment, every possible offer of negotiations? Do you think we have not reached our maximum Qassam quota here, that we can stand some more? That we have not yet reached the quota of killed Palestinian children that the world can stomach?

And who guarantees that Hamas can be toppled? Haven't we tried this trick elsewhere? And who will come in its place? Global fundamentalist organizations? Al Qaeda? And how, from the heaps of rubble and hunger and cold and dead bodies, will moderate voices of peace grow? Where are you leading us? What future are you promising us here in Sderot?

And how much longer will you hang on our backs the tired old "backpack of lies" [cultural reference to a well-known book of 1948 war anecdotes - Assaf]: "there's no one to talk with", "it is a no-choice war", "let the IDF finish the 'job'", "one good blow and we finish them", "let's topple the Hamas" and "who doesn't want peace?". The lies of brute force and the idiocy of even more brute force - your only guide for resolving the region's problems.

And how come every hasty interview with a Kol Aher member, always begins and ends with the disdainful punch line by the reporter: "Don't you think you are being naive?" How come the option of dialogue and negotiation and agreements and understandings, even with the worst of our enemies, has become a synonym for naivete, while the option of brute-force and war is always a wise, rational, ultimate one? Eight year of senseless cycle of bloodshed haven't taught us anything about the futility of brute force? The IDF has slammed and shot and assassinated and razed and hit and missed and bombed - and what have we gotten in return? A rhetorical question, ain't it.

It is extremely hard to live in Sderot nowadays. At night, the IDF pounds infrastructure and human beings, and our home walls shudder. By morning, we get Qassams - more sophisticated ones each time. A person going to work in the morning, does not know whether their home will be found standing by evening. At midday, we bury the best of our sons, who have paid with their lives for yet another "just" war. In the evening, after many difficulties, we manage to make contact with our desperate friends in Gaza. They have no electricity, no water, no gas, no food, nowhere to hide. And only the words of N., the 14-year-old whose school was bombed and whose classmate was killed, don't leave my head. She writes us in perfect English, an email that her mom somehow managed to send:

"Help us, we are human beings after all"

No, Fuad, my cheeks are not rosy, they are not. A ton of Cast Lead is weighing on my heart, and my heart cannot contain it.

(translated from Hebrew by Assaf Oron)

Israel Is Committing War Crimes Hamas's violations are no justification for Israel's actions.

Israel's current assault on the Gaza Strip cannot be justified by self-defense. Rather, it involves serious violations of international law, including war crimes. Senior Israeli political and military leaders may bear personal liability for their offenses, and they could be prosecuted by an international tribunal, or by nations practicing universal jurisdiction over grave international crimes. Hamas fighters have also violated the laws of warfare, but their misdeeds do not justify Israel's acts.

The United Nations charter preserved the customary right of a state to retaliate against an "armed attack" from another state. The right has evolved to cover nonstate actors operating beyond the borders of the state claiming self-defense, and arguably would apply to Hamas. However, an armed attack involves serious violations of the peace. Minor border skirmishes are common, and if all were considered armed attacks, states could easily exploit them -- as surrounding facts are often murky and unverifiable -- to launch wars of aggression. That is exactly what Israel seems to be currently attempting.

Israel had not suffered an "armed attack" immediately prior to its bombardment of the Gaza Strip. Since firing the first Kassam rocket into Israel in 2002, Hamas and other Palestinian groups have loosed thousands of rockets and mortar shells into Israel, causing about two dozen Israeli deaths and widespread fear. As indiscriminate attacks on civilians, these were war crimes. During roughly the same period, Israeli forces killed about 2,700 Palestinians in Gaza by targeted killings, aerial bombings, in raids, etc., according to the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem.

But on June 19, 2008, Hamas and Israel commenced a six-month truce. Neither side complied perfectly. Israel refused to substantially ease the suffocating siege of Gaza imposed in June 2007. Hamas permitted sporadic rocket fire -- typically after Israel killed or seized Hamas members in the West Bank, where the truce did not apply. Either one or no Israelis were killed (reports differ) by rockets in the half year leading up to the current attack.

Israel then broke the truce on Nov. 4, raiding the Gaza Strip and killing a Palestinian. Hamas retaliated with rocket fire; Israel then killed five more Palestinians. In the following days, Hamas continued rocket fire -- yet still no Israelis died. Israel cannot claim self-defense against this escalation, because it was provoked by Israel's own violation.

An armed attack that is not justified by self-defense is a war of aggression. Under the Nuremberg Principles affirmed by U.N. Resolution 95, aggression is a crime against peace.

Israel has also failed to adequately discriminate between military and nonmilitary targets. Israel's American-made F-16s and Apache helicopters have destroyed mosques, the education and justice ministries, a university, prisons, courts and police stations. These institutions were part of Gaza's civilian infrastructure. And when nonmilitary institutions are targeted, civilians die. Many killed in the last week were young police recruits with no military roles. Civilian employees in the Hamas-led government deserve the protections of international law like all others. Hamas's ideology -- which employees may or may not share -- is abhorrent, but civilized nations do not kill people merely for what they think.

Deliberate attacks on civilians that lack strict military necessity are war crimes. Israel's current violations of international law extend a long pattern of abuse of the rights of Gaza Palestinians. Eighty percent of Gaza's 1.5 million residents are Palestinian refugees who were forced from their homes or fled in fear of Jewish terrorist attacks in 1948. For 60 years, Israel has denied the internationally recognized rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes -- because they are not Jews.

Although Israel withdrew its settlers and soldiers from Gaza in 2005, it continues to tightly regulate Gaza's coast, airspace and borders. Thus, Israel remains an occupying power with a legal duty to protect Gaza's civilian population. But Israel's 18-month siege of the Gaza Strip preceding the current crisis violated this obligation egregiously. It brought economic activity to a near standstill, left children hungry and malnourished, and denied Palestinian students opportunities to study abroad.

Israel should be held accountable for its crimes, and the U.S. should stop abetting it with unconditional military and diplomatic support.

Mr. Bisharat is a professor at Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco.

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