Gaza and the moment of truth
is a resident of Gaza City, a professor of English and a leader in the new Palestinian campaign to boycott, sanction and divest from Israel. The following article is based on a speech he gave via video link at a panel called "Promoting a Culture of Resistance" at the Fourth Bil'in International Conference on Grassroots Popular Resistance.
GAZA HAS returned to its pre-massacre state of siege, confronted with the usual, conspiratorial, "international" indifference after 22 long days and dark nights, during which its brave people were left alone to face one of the strongest armies in the world--an army that has hundreds of nuclear warheads, and thousands of trigger-happy soldiers, armed with Merkava tanks, F-16s, Apache helicopters, naval gunships and phosphorous bombs.
Gaza now does not make the news. Its people die slowly, its children malnourished, its water contaminated, its nights dark. And yet it is deprived even a word of sympathy from the likes of Ban Ki-moon and the president of "Change--Yes We Can."
Israel could not have carried out its genocidal war--preceded and followed by a medieval, hermetic siege--without a green light from the international community. During the massacre, one Israeli soldier commented: "That's what is so nice, supposedly, about Gaza: You see a person on a road, walking along a path. He doesn't have to be with a weapon, you don't have to identify him with anything, and you can just shoot him."
When apartheid Israel decided to attack the northern part of the Gaza Strip in late February and early March of 2008, we were threatened with a greater "shoah" (the Hebrew word for Holocaust) by Matan Vilnai, who was then the deputy minister of war.
Around 164 Palestinians, including 64 children were killed. What was the reaction of the international community? Absolutely nothing. In fact, the European Union (EU) decided to reward the oppressor by issuing declarations of intentions to upgrade their trade agreements with Israel, which, needless to say, served as a green light for the current atrocities. On Sunday, January 18, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, a war criminal by any standard, expressed his pleasure to six European leaders for their "extraordinary support for the state of Israel and their concern about its security."
In retrospect, the upgrading of relations between the EU and Israel in December 2008 was a green light for the larger Gaza massacre of 2009. In spite of the war crimes committed by the Israel Occupation Force [or IOF, as the Israel Defense Force is known to supporters of Palestinian self-determination] and in spite of the obvious fascist make-up of the current government, the EU will continue to strengthen bilateral relations with Tel Aviv.
Within this context, Ronnie Kasrils--who is Jewish, has been a member of the African National Congress since the 1960s, and played a leading role in the South African anti-apartheid struggle in the decades leading up to the dismantling of apartheid--said:
What [Hendrik] Verwoerd [the architect of South African apartheid] admired too was the impunity with which Israel exercised state violence and terror to get its way, without hindrance from its Western allies, increasingly key among them the USA. What Verwoerd and his ilk came to admire in Israel...was the way the Western powers permitted an imperialist Israel to use its unbridled military with impunity in expanding its territory and holding back the rising tide of Arab nationalism in its neighborhood.
MARCH 2008 was, then, a rehearsal for Gaza 2009. Israel knew that it could go on committing war crimes fully equipped with an international conspiracy of silence. The international community did not react in March 2008: why would it do otherwise in 2009? That was the Israeli logic, and so it remains. Mind you, Israel's fascist foreign minister is of the opinion that Gaza should've been nuked. No wonder Adolf Hitler once said: "What luck for rulers that men do not think!"
For those who accuse us of subscribing to conspiracy theories, we have this reminder: in 2004, Israeli Professor Arnon Soffer, head of the IOF's National Defense College and an adviser to Ariel Sharon, spelled out the desired results of Israel's unilateral disengagement from Gaza in an interview with the Jerusalem Post:
[W]hen 1.5 million people live in a closed-off Gaza, it's going to be a human catastrophe. Those people will become even bigger animals than they are today...The pressure at the border will be awful. It's going to be a terrible war. So if we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day...If we don't kill, we will cease to exist...Unilateral separation doesn't guarantee "peace"--it guarantees a Zionist-Jewish state with an overwhelming majority of Jews...
Then, there is the view bluntly expressed in 2002 by Israel's then-chief of staff, Gen. Moshe Yaalon, and which I think sums up the objective of the hermetic medieval siege and the massacre: "The Palestinians must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people."
Now, this is a total dehumanization of the Palestinians of Gaza. And West Bankers, here is the message for you: you'd better accept your fate as cockroaches, ready to be crushed willingly under the boot of a zealot Israeli soldier, or else.
The resemblance of Israel's campaign of tribalistic racist hate both to that of apartheid South Africa and to Hitler's murderous regime has recently been articulated by Comrade Kasrils:
Certainly we South Africans can identify the pathological cause fuelling the hate of Israel's political-military elite and public in general. Neither is this difficult for anyone acquainted with colonial history to understand the way in which deliberately cultivated race hate inculcates a justification for the most atrocious and inhumane actions against even defenseless civilians--women, children, the elderly amongst them.
In fact, was this not the pathological racist ideology that fuelled Hitler's war lust and implementation of the Holocaust?
In actual fact, if there is something to learn from Gaza 2009, it is that the world was absolutely wrong to think that Nazism was defeated in 1945. Nazism has won because it has finally managed to Nazify the consciousness of its own victims! Just think about the soldiers' T-shirts episode. The courageous Israeli journalist Gideon Levy has written that Israel today looks very much like Germany in 1933.
BUT NOW the urgent question is how to hold Israel accountable to international law and basic principles of human rights in order to forestall the imminent escalation. The most immediate and pressing questions within this context are: What should be the nature of international solidarity, and how it can best support the Palestinian struggle for self-determination?
The South African apartheid regime came under repeated pressure from the international community and multilateral organizations such as the United Nations Security Council, which passed countless resolutions against it because of its inhumane treatment of Blacks. This gave much-needed succor to the oppressed, while we today are bereft of even this tiny comfort, because the United States continues to use its veto to ensure that Israel escapes censure from this world body.
Grassroots opposition to a brutal apartheid finally forced the U.S. and UK and other governments around the world to isolate apartheid South Africa. They would not have done so without the pressure exerted on them by their own people. Israel needs to be isolated in exactly the same way as apartheid South Africa.
Today, there is a growing mass-based struggle inside Palestine, as well as other forms of struggle, exactly as there was inside apartheid South Africa. An intensified international solidarity movement with a common agenda can make the struggle for Palestine resonate in every country in the world, thus closing off the world to Israelis until they open the world to Palestinians.
Our goal now, as civil society organizations, is to lift the deadly hermetic siege imposed on Gaza causing slow-motion genocide. Marching towards the six gates of the Gaza prison has been tried and must intensify. This is what many activists, Palestinian and international, are planning to do.
Our boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign modeled on the South African anti-apartheid global campaign is gaining momentum as a democratic movement based on the struggle for human rights and implementation of international law. Our struggle is not religious, nor ethnic, nor racial, but rather universalistic: one that guarantees the rehumanization of our people in the face of a genocidal machine run by what Israeli military leader Moshe Dayan would have called " a mad dog."
The Palestinians of Gaza have lost faith in the failed "peace process" and the two-state solution. Hence, the desperate need for a new national program that can mobilize the masses; a program that is necessarily democratic in its nature; one that respects resistance in its different forms and, ultimately, guarantees peace with justice.
This new program, however, must make the necessary link between all Palestinian struggles: the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, Israel's ethnically-based discrimination and rights violations of more than 1 million Palestinian citizens, as well as the 1948 externally displaced refugees.
WHAT WE are constantly told is to either accept Israeli occupation in its ugliest form--i.e., the ongoing presence of the apartheid wall, colonies, checkpoints, zigzag roads, color-coded number plates, house demolitions and security coordination supervised by a retired American general--or have a hermetic medieval siege imposed on us, but still die with dignity.
But the lesson we learned from Gaza 2009, exactly like Sharpeville 1960, is to harness all efforts to fight the outcome of the Oslo Accords and to form a united front on a platform of resistance and reforms. This cannot be achieved without realizing that ministries, premierships and presidencies in Gaza and Ramallah are a façade, not unlike those inauthentic structures in the South African Independent Homelands (known as Bantustans).
In a short story by South African writer Najbuolu Ndebel, a young Black woman comments on the generous offer given by the racist white government: "That's how it is planned. That we be given a little of everything, and so prize the little we have that we forget about freedom."
This is exactly what Steve Biko, the hero of anti-apartheid struggle--who paid his life for the freedom of all South Africans--meant when he said:
Not only have the whites been guilty of being on the offensive, but by some skilful maneuvers, they have managed to control the responses of the blacks to the provocation. Not only have they kicked the black, but they have also told him how to react to the kick. For a long time, the Black has been listening with patience to the advice he has been receiving on how best to respond to the kick. With painful slowness, he is now beginning to show signs that it is his right and duty to respond to the kick in the way he sees fit.
And we Palestinians have decided to respond to the Zionist kick in the way we see fit. In Ndebel's story quoted earlier, a Black intellectual makes it clear that "[he'd] rather be a hungry dog that runs freely in the streets, than a fat, chained dog burdened with itself and the weight of the chain."
These examples, used again and again in anti-apartheid literature, sum up the lessons we learned from Gaza 2009. In a word, it is resilience.
Archbishop Desmund Tutu of South Africa once said, "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor." And as I pointed out in an earlier article, as the IOF was bombing my neighborhood, the UN, EU, Arab League and the international community by and large have remained silent in the face of atrocities committed by apartheid Israel. They are therefore on the side of Israel. Hundreds of dead corpses of children and women have failed to convince them to intervene.
We are, therefore, left with one option, an option that does not wait for the United Nations Security Council or Arab summits: the option of people's power. This remains the only power capable of counteracting the massive power imbalance in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The horror of the racist apartheid regime in South Africa was challenged with a sustained BDS campaign initiated in 1958 and given new urgency in 1960 after the Sharpeville Massacre. This campaign led ultimately to the collapse of white rule in 1994 and the establishment of a multiracial, democratic state.
Similarly, the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions has been gathering momentum since 2005. Gaza 2009, like Sharpeville 1960, cannot be ignored: it demands a response from all who believe in a common humanity.
Now is the time to boycott the apartheid Israeli state, to divest and to impose sanctions against it. This is the only way to ensure the creation of a secular, democratic state for all in historic Palestine regardless of race, sect and ethnicity. The Australian journalist John Pilger has this to say:
What happens in Gaza is the defining moment of our time, which either grants the impunity of war criminals the immunity of our silence, while we contort our own intellect and morality, or gives us the power to speak out.
Gaza 2009, with mass mobilization and international solidarity, is, therefore, becoming the guiding torch, not only for the Palestinian people, but also for the Arab world, towards a new Middle East, one that is, unlike Condoleezza Rice's vision of the Middle East, characterized by democracy and freedom. This is the least our resistance to religious exclusivism, xenophobia, and a tribalistic world view should lead to.