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June 4, 2010

A massacre is not a massacre

Occupation is not occupation (Anne Paq/ActiveStills)

Ghassan Hage

June 3, 2010

I don’t write poems but, in any case, poems are not poems.

Long ago, I was made to understand that Palestine was not Palestine;
I was also informed that Palestinians were not Palestinians;
They also explained to me that ethnic cleansing was not ethnic cleansing.
And when naive old me saw freedom fighters they patiently showed me that they were not freedom fighters, and that resistance was not resistance.
And when, stupidly, I noticed arrogance, oppression and humiliation they benevolently enlightened me so I can see that arrogance was not arrogance, oppression was not oppression, and humiliation was not humiliation.

I saw misery, racism, inhumanity and a concentration camp.
But they told me that they were experts in misery, racism, inhumanity and concentration camps and I have to take their word for it: this was not misery, racism, inhumanity and a concentration camp.
Over the years they’ve taught me so many things: invasion was not invasion, occupation was not occupation, colonialism was not colonialism and apartheid was not apartheid.

They opened my simple mind to even more complex truths that my poor brain could not on its own compute like: “having nuclear weapons” was not “having nuclear weapons,” “not having weapons of mass destruction” was “having weapons of mass destruction.”

And, democracy (in the Gaza Strip) was not democracy.
Having second class citizens (in Israel) was democracy.
So you’ll excuse me if I am not surprised to learn today that there were more things that I thought were evident that are not: peace activists are not peace activists, piracy is not piracy, the massacre of unarmed people is not the massacre of unarmed people.

I have such a limited brain and my ignorance is unlimited.
And they’re so fucking intelligent. Really.

Ghassan Hage is professor of anthropology and social theory at the University of Melbourne.

Gilad Atzmon on Israeli collective madness (RT)

GAZA: Yet another ship, named after slain activist, attempts to break Israel blockade [Updated]

Another ship full of humanitarian aid — this one named after an American activist killed by an Israeli bulldozer — is sailing toward the Gaza Strip even as the furor over a deadly confrontation between Israeli soldiers and another group of activists has yet to subside.

The Cambodian-flagged MV Rachel Corrie, named after the Evergreen State College student killed while protesting Palestinian house demolitions in the Gaza Strip, is carrying 11 passengers, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Corrigan, who was honored for pressing for peace between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, and former United Nations Assistant Secretary General Denis Halliday.

Another activist aboard the Rachel Corrie said they would not fight back if confronted by Israelis.

“If the Israeli army attacks us and tries to board our ship, we will not attempt any resistance,” Shamsul Akmar told Al Jazeera International. “We will take our boat as far as possible and if they do come on board forcefully, we will not resist.”

Any confrontation between ship and Israeli forces could spread anger over the ongoing Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the Gaza Strip beyond the Arab world to Muslims worldwide.

[Updated, 5:50 a.m., PDT: The latest dispatch from the organizers says the 1,200-ton cargo ship is 150 miles away from Gaza in international waters. “Communication is difficult and sometimes impossible and there are many rumors out there started by Israeli authorities,” said a statement attributed to those on board. “But there is no way we are going to Ashdod,” the Israeli port of entry for most humanitarian aid to Gaza. “We are, for sure, on our way to Gaza.”]

The government of Malaysia, a rising Asian power home to a majority Muslim population of 28 million, has called on Israelis to exercise restraint.

“Any Israeli military action on an unarmed vessel transporting civilians and humanitarian assistance will deepen the international community’s negative perception of Israel,” Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman said Thursday night, according to the news website Bernama. “It will demonstrate Israel’s total indifference to its international obligations in defiance of world opinion. Every single item on board the vessel such as educational materials, toys and construction materials have been inspected in Ireland.”

The prime minister of Ireland, which opposes the blockade, has also warned Israelis to back off. Five Irish nationals are aboard the ship.

“We are in constant contact with the Israeli government on this matter, advising absolute restraint in relation to the vessel as it goes about its humanitarian purpose,” premier Brian Cowen was quoted as saying by the Irish Times. “Cement on board the vessel is not regarded by the Israelis as a product that is simply humanitarian. We await what emerges from the definition Israel has put forward.”

The ship is being funded by a non-profit group linked to former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, according to a report by The Star of Malaysia.

— Borzou Daragahi in Beirut

Huwaida’s account of Flotilla takeover

Huwaida Arraf, 34, is the Palestinian-American co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement and Chair of the Free Gaza Movement, which organised the aid flotilla that came under attack by the Israeli military on Monday.

Arraf was aboard a small boat – the Challenger I – with 16 other American, British, Australian and Irish passengers which was boarded by Israeli commandos. This is her eyewitness account of what happened, as told to Saeed Taji Farouky.

“I was at sea for about five days total before the attack by the Israelis.
At approximately midnight from Sunday to Monday, the Israelis started radioing all the vessels and asking questions.

They started telling us the area that we were navigating into was a blockaded area. They demanded that we turn around, and they told us if we did not turn around, they would be willing to use all necessary force in order to enforce the blockade.

We responded we were unarmed civilians, we were carrying only humanitarian aid and we didn’t constitute any kind of threat to Israel, therefore they were not justified in using any kind of force against us.

Some time between 4:00 and 4:30 (on Monday), we saw that their naval vessels were starting to approach our vessels so we knew there was going to be some kind of takeover. On my boat, we all put our life jackets on and went outside the boat because we were fully intent on trying to defend our boat using our bodies, by preventing the soldiers from getting on, if possible.

Our ship took off and tried to outrun the Israeli navy who had started coming after us. We were only able to keep outrunning them for about ten minutes before they were able to take over our boat.

They did not open fire on us but they were pretty rough. One girl’s face was bloodied. They grabbed me, wrestled me to the ground, and at one point smashed my head against the deck of the boat and one soldier had his boot on my head.

They were trying to cuff my hands behind my back and at one point they dragged me to the front of the boat and put a bag over my head. We weren’t shot at but we were being roughed up, and in 15 minutes maximum they took over the boat. They had guns. I know they’re trying to say they didn’t, but they had M16s.

I think three or four hours later, we made it to the port of Ashdod.

I was the last one pulled off the boat and I didn’t see any of my friends after that. I also hold Israeli citizenship so I can’t be deported like the others. [The Israelis’] choice was either to prosecute me or release me and they decided not to prosecute me, presumably because they didn’t want to draw more attention to their actions.

They used violence to push me into a police van, literally pulling my hair, punching me, elbowing me in the face in order to subdue me, and then they drove outside the port and at some point stopped the van and pushed me out of it.

When they opened the car to push me out I fell onto the ground.”
Huwaida woke up in hospital where she was kept for several hours and given medical checks.

“At most I’m bruised, but compared to what I later learned happened to our friends on the other boat it’s nothing to complain about. I’m pretty happy and lucky to be alive and not seriously injured.

I am devastated about the loss of lives…But at the same time, I am heartened to see that there has been an international response and an outcry in many circles. That is very promising and we hope to build upon that. So despite the violent attack on our last flotilla, we’re already planning the next steps.”

Another aid ship, the MV Rachel Corrie is currently docked somewhere in the Mediterranean. The Free Gaza movement still intends for it to reach Gaza, but is investigating ways to ensure its safety before it is allowed to set sail.

Eyewitness Kevin Ovenden from the Freedom Flotilla: ‘I saw people shot’

Kevin Ovenden

Kevin Ovenden, a representative of Viva Palestina, was on the main ship of the Freedom Flotilla when Israeli soldiers descended onto the deck – he spoke from Turkey to Siân Ruddick

“We knew the Israelis were going to attack, or intercept us in some way. At 11pm we had the first contact. A visual warning was that two Israeli warships were approaching us, followed by a third.

“We were 90 miles north of the Israeli coast, and 22 miles away from the buffer zone that Israel has set from its shores.

“We had tight organisation procedures in place and people were prepared.

“The captain and the most experienced activists on board said that people should rest. Many people did while others stayed on the look out.

“At 4.25am the attack began. The warship had neared and commandoes were lowering themselves onto the deck from helicopters. There were two motorised dinghies, carrying 14-20 commandoes, on either side of the boat.

“It was clear they were armed – it was the equivalent to an SAS raid. They were all wearing paramilitary style balaclavas.

“The first soldiers landed on the roof of the ship, people responded instinctively with their bare hands and things you would find on a ship – pieces of wood and piping and so on. No sharp objects were used.

Two soldiers were overpowered and pushed below deck. They were disarmed to prevent further injury or death.

“The attack opened with percussion grenades.

“These don’t just make a noise but send shockwaves of heavy vibration. They were trying to create terror and panic.

“They also used rubber coated bullets in the earlier stage. But very quickly they turned to live rounds and we were taking heavy casualties.

“Niki Enchmarch was on the top deck standing next to a Turkish man who was holding a camera. An Israeli soldier shot him in the middle of the forehead. It blew off the back of his skull and he died.

“I was on the second deck. A man standing a metre in front of me was shot in the leg, the man to the right of me in the abdomen. There was pandemonium and terror.

“The youngest person on the ship was not yet a year old, the eldest 88. The crew included German and Egyptian parliamentarians, NGO workers and representatives from various charities. This is who Israel was targeting.

“While they opened fire we struggled in our defence and to limit the massacre.

“They attacked with lethal force to terrorise the movement for the end of the siege of Gaza and the wider movement of solidarity with Palestine. They used violence to instill terror for political ends. This is the definition of terrorism.

“But they failed. The people aboard, their families and the people who donated to the €20 million aid, are not afraid – neither are those in the wider movement.

“This must become a turning point in the lifting of the siege and an end to the policies pursued by governments in relation to Israel.

“Israel has completely isolated itself. Around the world we must redouble our efforts and commit to action to end the siege. This is a political opportunity in which big advances can be made.

“The statements of condemnation by David Cameron and William Hague betray how isolated Israel is. These are leaders of a pro-Israeli party, and yet these statements have been more damning than anything Gordon Brown said when Israel was bombing Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009.

“Governments claim to recognize the siege is unsustainable. We have to force the UN, the EU and all the other governments to turn their words of condemnation into action.”


In law Israel has a case to answer

An embargo on adequate food and medical aid can never be lawful, so those on board had the right to defend themselves

Sir, The attack by Israeli forces on the Turkish-registered vessel Mavi Marmara in international waters was clearly unlawful.

By virtue of the decision by the Permanent Court of International Justice in the Lotus case (1927), the basic principle under customary international law, is that “…vessels on the high seas are subject to no authority except that of the State whose flag they fly”; in this case, Turkey. Indeed, a 1988 treaty, to which Israel is a party, criminalises the unlawful and intentional seizure or exercise of control over a ship by force and all connected injuries, deaths and/or detentions.

Israel claims that it was lawfully enforcing a legal blockade. Even if the blockade is legal, in order to rely on this legal justification, Israel is required to liaise with the flag state, Turkey, before trying to board the vessel. It did not.

In any event, this blockade is not lawful. An embargo on adequate food and medical aid can never be lawful. As the boarding of the Mavi Marmara by Israeli forces was unlawful, those on board had the right to defend themselves, subject to the constraints of Turkish criminal law. Any force used by Israeli commandos may be judged as unlawful, let alone the use of lethal force.

Turkey must now be assisted by all UN member states to gain access to all of the evidence relating to this incident so that it may conduct a comprehensive criminal investigation, at the conclusion of which the Israeli personnel involved may need to defend their actions before a criminal court. UN sanctions should be imposed against Israel if it refuses to co-operate with such an investigation. Finally, the unlawful blockade of Gaza must now end.

Daniel Machover
Chair of Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights
Roy Amlot, QC

Signatories to the Times letter

1. Daniel Machover, Chair of Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights
2. Louise Christian, Christian Khan Solicitors
3. Phil Shiner, Public Interest Lawyers
4. Roy Amlot QC
5. Kate Maynard, Hickman & Rose Solicitors
6. Raj Chada, Hodge Jones Allen
7. Sam McIntosh, Solicitor, University of Reading
8. Dr Mandy Turner, Department of Peace Studies, University of Bradford
9. Mary Nazzal-Batayneh, Barrister, Chair of Human Rights Legal Aid Fund
10. Haroon Shah, Christian Khan Solicitors
11. Jim Nichol, Solicitor
12. Amer Ahmad, Solicitor
13. Katherine Craig, Solicitor
14. Lisa Davis, Solicitor
15. Margaret Gordon, Solicitor
16. Sarah McSherry, Solicitor
17. Rachael Wellby, Solicitor
18. Anna Mazzola, Solicitor
19. Sophie Naftalin
20. Niall Sookoo
21. Salma Karmi-Ayyoub
22. Dan Carey, Public Interest Lawyers
23. Tessa Gregory, Public Interest lawyers
24. Jim Duffy, Public Interest lawyers
25. Sam Jacobs, Public Interest Lawyers
26. Andrew Post, Barrister
27. Andrew Sanger
28. Blinne Ni Ghralaigh, barrister
29. Smita Shah, Garden Court Chambers
30. Hattie Miall
31. Rachel Bowles
32. Liz Davies barrister and Chair Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers.
33. Livio Zilli Garden Court Chambers
34. Peter Rowlands barrister
35. Mark George Q.C.
36. Rachael Rowley-fox barrister
37. Keir Monteith barrister
38. Shiraz Aziz barrister
39. Hossein Zahir barrister
40. Nerida Harford-Bell barrister
41. Stephen Marsh barrister
42. John Beckley, Barrister
43. Kirsten Heaven, Garden Court Chambers
44. Jonathan Wilkinson barrister
45. Chris McWatters barrister
46. Richard J. Harvey Garden Court Chambers
47. Lionel Blackman Chair SIHRG Solicitors’ International Human Rights Group
Maya Sikand Garden Court Chambers
48. Martin Huseyin Tooks chambers
49. Pete Weatherby Garden Court North
50. Allison Bailey Garden Court Chambers
51. Stephen Cavalier CEO Thompsons
52. Karen Mitchell Partner Thompsons
53. David Thompson Partner Thompsons.
54. Henry Blaxland Q.C.
55. Anna Morris Garden Court Chambers
56. Anya Lewis Garden Court Chambers
57. Helen Foot barrister
58. Omar Shibli Garden Court Chambers
59. Sean Horstead Garden Court Chambers
60. Jo Wilding Garden Court Chambers
61. James Scobie Garden Court Chambers
62. Rajiv Menon Garden Court Chambers
63. Sharon L Garden Court Chambers
64. Bansi Soni Garden Court Chambers
65. Maya Naidoo Garden Court Chambers
66. Kate Aubrey-Johnson, barrister, Garden Court Chambers
67. Birinder Kang Garden Court Chambers
68. Sarah Hemingway Garden Court Chambers
69. Sarah Hibbin SOAS

Richard Falk intervieuw

Dennis Bernstein: We don’t have a lot of detail, but Israel itself is clearly admitting they carried out this raid. … Based on what you know and what you’ve seen, what can we say about what happened here in terms of human rights violations and international law?

Richard Falk: I think the fundamental reality is fairly clear at this point, namely that these were ships that were carrying humanitarian supplies for blockaded Gaza, that the passengers were unarmed and were situated at the time of the Israeli attacks on the high seas, that these attacks, therefore, were unlawful and by most interpretations would be regarded as criminal.

The statement of the Turkish Prime Minister, that the attacks constituted state terrorism, seem to me at least to correspond with the tragic reality that we’ve been witnessing over the past twenty-four hours.

DB: The Israelis say that these commandos who they say were armed with hand guns and paint guns were only defending themselves from armed and dangerous attacks by people on the boat. Your response to that?

RF: There are two lines of response, and this is an area where the facts are contested and difficult to disentangle at this stage. The witnesses on the boats themselves, particularly the Turkish boats where most of the violence took place, claim that the commandos landed shooting, and that it was only after the initiation of that violence that there was some attempt at defense on the basis of very contrived and primitive weapons, as opposed to the kind of weaponry that the Israeli commandos were carrying.

Beyond that, it’s fairly clear if unlawful attack of a vessel on the high seas is occurring, the passengers on that ship have some sort of right to self defense. So that’s one aspect of it. The second aspect is that even if there was some kind of defensive violence on the ship, that’s no excuse for an unprovoked attack carried out in this manner.

If Israel didn’t want the ships to go to Gaza, they could have diverted them, and if they did what the other boats did in the Freedom Flotilla, except for the larger Turkish one, it seems pretty clear that this was a deliberate attack designed, I suppose, to punish the effort to carry out this humanitarian mission, which would obviously have disclosed the brutality of the blockade of the Gaza Strip, which has gone on now for almost three years.

The Israeli arguments are not really seriously plausible. Given the overall circumstances it’s very difficult to give them any kind of serious credibility, and this seems to me to be as clear a violation of international humanitarian law, international law of the seas, and international criminal law, as we’re likely to see in the early part of the twenty-first century. …

DB: In terms of the responsibility, you are the UN Special Rapporteur for the Palestinian territories. What is your responsibility now? What is the United Nations responsibility? What should happen in terms of an investigation?

RF: My responsibility is to report to the Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly on the Israeli violations of the human rights of the occupied Palestinian people. This incident is sort of at the edge of my responsibility because it didn’t occur within the occupied territories, but it so directly affects the people within that I treat it as part of my responsibilities.

In my judgment, the Security Council, if one takes the UN Charter seriously and avoids double standards, should really do three things: One, it should condemn the attack as a violation of international law; secondly, it should demand a lifting immediately of the blockade, of the people of the Gaza Strip, allowing food, medicine, reconstruction materials and fuel to enter freely; and thirdly it should refer the allegations of criminality associated with the attack to the International Criminal Court for investigation and action.

Given the geopolitics that exist within the Security Council, it is highly unlikely that this appropriate course of action will actually be followed. Technically the General Assembly could try and do these kinds of things if the Security Council fails to act, and it remains to be seen whether there’s the political will in the General Assembly to do this.

If the UN is stymied in this way, it does shift the responsibility and, in a way, the opportunity to civil society to augment the ongoing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, that in any event has been gaining momentum, and presumably this latest incident will create a great deal more strength for that campaign, which has been so effective in opposing the Apartheid regime in South Africa in the early 1990s and late 1980s.

DB: Is there any kind of special protection for the people who risked their lives—and now we see that they really did risk their lives—going into a situation where the world knows that there are terrible things happening, that people are being treated in terrible ways, that they are dying because of that treatment, and because they are being warred against and having bombs dropped on them where they cannot even flee. Is there some sort of role for legal action within the constraints of international law?

RF: Yes, there is, as you very well expressed. There is a great opportunity to provide protection to people who are courageous and morally motivated, and at the same time are vulnerable to this kind of violence and brutal treatment, but the political will is lacking at the governmental level and at the international institutional level to provide that kind of protection.

One has the norms, has the responsibility to protect concept which has been endorsed by the Security Council and has the support of international lawyers, but it can’t be implemented without the requisite political will, and that’s what’s missing.

Of course our government is the lynch-pin of what makes effective or futile international initiatives of this sort. If we had indicated a firm desire to establish some kind of protective capability for missions of this sort, individuals like this would be protected.

I thought that however little Israel respects international law, they wouldn’t do something as crudely violent and alienating as what they did do with these commando attacks on the freedom flotilla.

It was not in my political imagination that they would seek by such means to prevent the delivery of these humanitarian necessities that pose no security threat whatsoever to Israel — it only posed a public relations threat in the sense that it would have revealed the inability of governments to break the blockade and place pressure on them to do something in the future, and at the same time would have added to the willingness of activists around the world to push harder against the Israeli occupation policy so that what was at stake from Israel’s point of view was the de-legitimation of their policies, and they apparently, and I think wrongly, calculated that they would lose less from this kind of violent disruption of this humanitarian mission that it would have by allowing it to quietly deliver the humanitarian materials that the ships were carrying.

DB: They certainly could have surprised a lot of people and gained a lot of supporters if they had shifted their policy and let the aid arrive.

A final question: Just before you got on the air we spoke with Shakeed Saed, he’s the Executive Director of the Islamic Shura Council in Southern California, there’s a thousand people gathering in front of the Israeli consulate in LA and there are protests around the world; but he was saying that it’s not only a spiritual thing, but a legal matter because the United States is supplying a good deal of the equipment that Israel uses and that these commandos may have been using.

Does that make the US responsible?

RF: We are certainly morally and politically implicit and responsible in these kinds of Israeli tactics and undertakings. Whether we are legally responsible is a trickier question. There are American laws that forbid the equipment that we do provide from being used except in defensive roles.

We’ve never taken that legislative restriction seriously in the context of Israel, but it is a definite legal concern, and it could be pursued by those that were eager to test the degree of legal responsibility that the United States government possesses.

I personally believe such a test would be beneficial for the American people because it would allow the public to express more of its changing view of the conflict, and send a message to Washington that it has yet to hear that the American people would rather see our government pursue a genuinely balanced law-oriented approach to the conflict than this unconditional partisanship with the kind of criminal tactics that Israel has just employed against the Freedom Flotilla.

Dennis Bernstein and Jesse Strauss produced this interview for Flashpoints on the Pacifica network, which was broadcast on May 31 from the KPFA studio in Berkeley, California. You can access the audio archive of that entire show on their website, From our website you can also sign up to the Flashpoints mailing list, and also follow Flashpoints on twitter at

Paul Larudee

‘Huffpo’ reflects staggering shift in liberal American discourse

‘Huffpo’ reflects staggering shift in liberal American discourse

by Philip Weiss on June 3, 2010 · 33 comments

Take a look at the Huffington Post headlines right now. One activist was American, shot four times in the head… Blockade has failed… Obama administration believes blockade is “untenable,” per NYT.

I believe (yes, I want to believe; but that never stops me) the special relationship is over.The Israelis will put in a new government to try and stop the damage to its principal source of support, the lobby. But the Democratic Party base is now lost.


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