The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged flotilla
Ahmet Dogan

You absolutely must read Roger Cohen's op-ed taking the US media to task for almost completely ignoring that Israel murdered an American citizen during the flotilla raid.

I'll just quote his conclusion to the question raised by Dogan's father: whether, had his son been Christian living in America, he would have faced the same silence.

It’s different, however, when an American Muslim male gets stuck in a hail of Israeli gunfire.

Khouri on the flotilla
I am quoting from most of this Rami Khouri column, because it is so on the money:

The experience of the Free Gaza Movement over the past few years, which sent half a dozen boat expeditions to deliver humanitarian aid to Gazans, suggests to many that in-your-face confrontation is the most effective way to challenge Israel and force it to change its policies. Israel’s reduced siege of Gaza is the fourth example of its changing a policy under pressure. The three other cases were the withdrawals from south Lebanon and Gaza’s heartland in the face of Hizbullah- and Hamas-led resistance, and the partial suspension of some settlements for 10 months last year in response to American government pressure.

So the question now is: How will people and states in the Arab world and nearby lands, like Iran and Turkey, react to the latest lesson in challenging Israel with forceful action, over making only meek pleas? 

Israel is already initiating two new aggressive acts that will quickly test the mettle of both its friends and foes. It will destroy several dozen Palestinian Arab homes in occupied East Jerusalem to build an Israeli tourism facility, and it will initiate work on the ground to build another 600 homes for settler-colonial Zionists in the Jerusalem area.

The fascinating issue today is not whether Israel is making any major changes in its policies: it is not. Its changes are only cosmetic, to ward off foreign pressures. The really important new development is the growing Arab and international realization that the criminal and inhuman excesses of Zionism – colonialism, discrimination, collective punishment, racism, siege and starvation, murder on the high seas, mass incarcerations, and more – can best be confronted using the same tactics that finally brought down the two major examples of racism and inequity in modern times: the civil rights movement that broke the back of official racism in the United States, and the anti-Apartheid movement that forced the white minority government in South Africa to accept a fully democratic system.

I suspect that the Free Gaza Movement’s siege-breaking ships will go down in modern history as critical elements in the struggle for justice in Palestine, aiming for conditions that allow Jews, Christians and Muslims, and all other residents or visitors, to live in this land with equal rights. Israel is perfectly willing to keep attacking aid convoys and killing innocent humanitarian activists. But what happens when the next ship sails with a crew of Christian priests, chanting verses about God’s love of justice and mercy and the divine dictate to assist those in need, right from the Book of Isaiah and the Book of John?

What will Israel do when a convoy of ships sails for Gaza carrying only schoolteachers and bags of marshmallows for the children of Gaza? How about when a convoy of ships approaches with only nurses and diapers for babies of Gaza? 

An important corner has been turned in Gaza, as the relationship between the colonizer and the colonized is reversed. When the colonized is no longer afraid of being hurt, or killed, the power of the colonizer to intimidate vanishes. Lebanese and Iranians understand this because in their own ways many of them have already experienced liberating episodes that reflect their self-assertive determination to live in freedom and dignity. Palestinians have been trying to do this for decades, with limited success.

In every struggle for liberation against colonialism, oppression or racism, a moment occurs when the barrier of fear is broken in a very public manner. Ultimately, this forces a renegotiation of the power equation in a manner that restores the human rights and collective security and dignity of all concerned. Jews, Christians and Muslims may well remember the challenge and collapse of the Israeli siege of Gaza as that pivotal moment in the struggle between Zionism and Arabism in Palestine.

The ships to come will clarify this in due course, because they do not challenge Israel’s existence or security, but only its inhumanity toward the Palestinians.


The heart-wrenching psychological trauma of Israeli soldiers — how could the activists trying to break the Gaza blockade be so cruel?

The difficult images of Israeli commandos tied up and bloody on the deck of the Marmara that were published by Turkish newspapers have had significant effects on soldiers who have been away from the battlefield for more than a year.

Ynet learned that at least four Navy combat soldiers have recently contacted the Defense Ministry to report that the media images of the injured soldiers have instigated a worsening in their mental and psychiatric conditions.

One of the soldiers, who was released from the military just last summer after serving in one of the Navy's secret units, recently contacted the Defense Ministry rehabilitation department with a request that the depositions on his condition be updated after the images of the clashes on the Marmara flooded him once again with the difficult images he was confronted with during his service.

This same young man enlisted to the IDF with no medical or psychological conditions. However, due to the nature of his service, he was persistently exposed to threat. In the deposition on his condition, he reported that he did not receive any training on how to deal with such situations and their repercussions, one of which is that he has a hard time falling asleep at night.

His condition then worsened, and he suffered from nightmares, prompting his mental health officer to hospitalize him in a psychiatric ward.

I had wondered what psychological trauma was endured by the families of the nine people who died on that boat. But thank you Yediot Ahronot for pointing me to the real tragedy.

Fleeting flotilla thoughts and links for June 6-10 2010

I was away in Beirut for the last few days and kept pretty busy by a conference and enjoying all the delicious food (I think I could win a manaqeesh eating competition), so I have not kept up with last week's blogging on the flotilla. As the issue has started to dissipate, one can only note with horror and consternation the direction debate has taken in the US, where the whole approach to Israel/Palestine is so lop-sided that you'd think Helen Thomas' insensitive comments are a greater offense then an illegal assault that resulted in the death of nine civilians, some of whom may have been killed execution-style.

So here are a few notes on the remains of the flotilla story, especially Egyptian angles:

Interesting letter from the Egyptian Consult to the NYT:

Egypt has not enforced a blockade on Gaza since 2007. Instead, Egypt has operated its border crossing with Gaza in a transparent manner to avoid a chaotic situation that could have resulted after the hasty, unilateral withdrawal of the Israeli forces. The Israeli border authorities did not even consult with their Egyptian counterparts on the future operation of the Rafah crossing.

After the European Union suspension of its participation in staffing the Rafah crossing, and being aware of the possible ensuing blame game, Egypt restricted the movement of goods across Rafah to humanitarian needs. During the Gaza war, more than 80 percent of the humanitarian aid to Gaza entered through the Rafah crossing, which was initially intended for the crossing of people and not goods.

Hussein Mubarak
Consul General of Egypt
New York, June 7, 2010

A lot of this is a lie, of course. It is true that the Israelis (specifically, Ariel Sharon) distrusted the Egyptians so much that when they withdrew from the Rafah border in 2005 they didn't bother to let them know exactly when they were doing. The result was chaos as the border was under-manned. This is an Egyptian-Israeli matter, of course. 

I love the reference to a "blame game", and the rest is simply not true: Egypt has allowed occasional humanitarian aid in, but generally has routed it through Israel and is doing so again right now. This deserves more coverage. By the way, does anybody know if Mr. Mubarak is one of those Mubaraks?

Hamas on reconciliation talks in their latest visit to Cairo:

PLC Vice-Chariman Ahmad Bahr said that Hamas was not against a reconciliation agreement. He added, however, that, "We want a reconciliation agreement that gives the Palestinians their dignity back, which rules out the Quartet conditions and those stipulated by the US."

They also appease the Egyptians by stressing "there is no alternative to Egyptian mediation". Reconciliation should really be everyone's top priority, without preconditions. It's better to have a suspended peace process and Palestinian reconciliation that could lead to a credible interlocutor later on than the current situation, which is a simulation of a peace process intended to prevent reconciliation. Just don't tell that to the Egyptians.

✩ As I predicted in my recent FP piece on Egypt's approach to the Gaza blockade, the Egyptians are endorsing lifting the blockade but shifting all the attention back to Israel, not their own role. We see this in some of the recent news stories:



Also take a look at Biden's statement which focuses on keeping Israel-Palestinian talks alive, calls the current situation in Gaza unsustainable (but with no details) and does make a mention of Egyptian domestic issues.

Mouin Rabbani:

The likelihood of current diplomatic initiatives resulting in a meaningful two-state settlement is for all intents and purposes non-existent, argues Al-Shabaka Policy Advisor Mouin Rabbani, due to Israel’s determination to permanently control East Jerusalem and large swaths of the West Bank, and the lack of political will in the U.S. and Europe to reverse Israel’s expansionist momentum. He foresees an unwelcome future of further ghettoization and fragmentation of Palestinians in the occupied territories and within Israel, greater marginalization and atomization of the Diaspora, and an increasingly regionalized and existential conflict in which the initiative will lie with non-state actors operating beyond the confines of Israel/Palestine. Thus, rather than relying on continued diplomacy and alternative peace scenarios in the forlorn hope that the dominant American-Israeli framework will be modified, advocates of Palestinian self-determination should focus their efforts on arresting and where possible reversing realities on the ground, and undertake global campaigns to challenge Israeli impunity and promote the concept of Israeli accountability for its actions toward the Palestinian people. This, Rabbani concludes, presents the only realistic option for preserving Palestinian rights and, perhaps in the longer run, establishing meaningful diplomatic options.

 Read the whole thing.

Paul Woodward has a nice take on the Helen Thomas affair. It's sad to see her end her career in this way, especially considering the hypocrisy over her admittedly insensitive statement. Plenty of people in America have advocated moving the Palestinians out of Palestine and never get rebuked, even a dovish/progressive blogger/journalist like Matt Yglesias (not a position he holds now, at least, but more here). The whole episode shows how deeply ingrained the Zionist narrative is: you can't contest that it wasn't Jewish land to start with, that the Jewish historical claim to the land is pretty weak, or that most of the Israelis are either born elsewhere or descendants of people who were born elsewhere only a few generations ago. I call this acknowledging the "original sin" of Israel: that it was a settler project no different than the French one in Algeria. This doesn't mean — for me anyway — that Israelis need to pack up and "go home", but it means that either you have to give the same rights to both peoples who live there now or you have reach a solution whereby Israel's borders are fixed, the state stop expanding, and the settlements are dismantled. Along with Mouin Rabbani's argument above, it shows that either you need to roll back much of the settlement expansion of the past two decades and impose a two-state solution, or that solution dies and you're talking about either major conflict and ethnic cleansing or, eventually, a one-state solution. The first option, as difficult as it seems, still seems the best one to me.

More blogging to come tomorrow, I hope. For now, here are recent links:

More Israeli propaganda failures

Max Blumenthal shows that the IDF is quietly redacting its own press releases to remove allegations of links between the IHH members of the flotilla and al-Qaeda:

Not content to believe that night vision goggles signal membership in Al Qaeda, Israel-based freelance reporter Lia Tarachansky and I called the IDF press office to ask for more conclusive evidence. Tarachansky reached the IDF’s Israel desk, interviewing a spokesperson in Hebrew; I spoke with the North America desk, using English. We both received the same reply from Army spokespeople: “We don’t have any evidence. The press release was based on information from the [Israeli] National Security Council.” (The Israeli National Security Council is Netanyahu’s kitchen cabinet of advisors).

Today, the Israeli Army’s press office changed the headline of its press release (see below), basically retracting its claim about the flotilla’s Al Qaeda links.

We debunked the basis of previous al-Qaeda links here.