Sunday, July 26, 2009

Imagine Gaza showing the world the power of non-violence

Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one
.... John Lennon

About 45 minutes into a meeting at the Nuseirat Women’s Programme Center, Gael Murphy began to explain Norman Finkelstein’s proposal to challenge the siege of Gaza with a half million people march to the Israeli border. As soon as Mazen Naim finished the translation, the entire room erupted in applause.

Finkelstein had proposed the idea during a May 31 meeting with Ahmed Bahar, a member of Hamas and the acting Speaker of the Legislative Council. He suggested it might even be led by Jimmy Carter and Reverend Desmond Tutu and supported by thousands of international peace activists. But it would have to include a massive display by the people of Gaza. The women’s response seemed to suggest it was a real possibility.

Here in America the planning has begun. The first meeting was held in New York two weeks ago. The dryness of practical thinking are reflected in the meeting minutes as simple questions and recollection of harsh realities.

“How are we going to get the Egyptians to let us in?”

“We need to learn from the historical experience: About six months after the siege began, a demonstration of school children – 7-10 years old – went to Erez. 7 children were shot. Need to have people of importance at the head of the march and have the media present to prevent Israel from responding with violence.”

Both Israel and the U.S. have a lot invested in preventing Gaza from appealing to the world with mass peaceful protests. It would undermine the violent stereotype of the Palestinians they’ve written into their biographic fiction. The Israeli reputation could crumble much further than it did after the attacks on Gaza last winter. People might even begin to see that the double standard we apply to the Palestinians is a true root to the terrorism that horrified Americans on 911.

Of course, I’m imagining all this from the other side of the world. I wasn’t at the meeting in NY. And Gaza isn’t the center of the universe. It's “truly one of the most miserable places on Earth… Even back in the 1980s, it had the feeling of a human rat cage”.

That's how Washington Post Columnist David Ignatius described Gaza in an article published in Foreign Policy magazine. Despite his seemingly sincere intention to reveal a human side of the Palestinian people elsewhere in the story, he failed miserably to question either the legality of the siege or Israel’s settlement policies in the West Bank. This is the typical politically convenient narrative that has to change.

Could a mass march to the border in Gaza do anything to reframe the discussion? Who in this country will even know if it happens? In June a Code Pink delegation was denied entry to Gaza through it's border with Israel. The Free Gaza Boat that sailed from Cypress never made it. Neither story was told by the American media.

What makes Finkelstein’s idea so powerful is the possibility that the American people could witness the march is real time just as the country followed the Iranian people's protest of their presidential election results. Whatever happens in Gaza and to international activists trying to get into Gaza could be news that twitters its way across the globe. But for the story to reach beyond the peace activist base in America there will need to be coordinated demonstrations organized all over the country. Is there enough support here?

Consider another piece of Ignatius’ thinking. Near the end of the article he concedes that “military power will not break the resolve of America’s adversaries. The Israeli’s have tried that strategy against radical Palestinians for decades, without much success. It turns out that even the most wretched, desperately poor resident of Gaza will sacrifice his home, his job, his security, his life – before he will give up his dignity.”

If not by force, then what? “Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding” Albert Einstein once said. Understanding begins with negotiations. Ignatius suggests it’s time for the U.S to meet with moderate elements of Hamas such a Khaled Mashaal. But Mashaal doesn’t sound like he’s interested in talks. He responded to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s recent proposals by saying dialogue “serves only to hide the true face of occupation" and "peaceful resistance works for a civil rights struggle, not in front of an occupation armed to the teeth."

So what will it take for both sides to seriously negotiate? Finkelstein says the key is to focus on international law. It’s where the Palestinians have the upper hand. It’s not a matter of framing the debate as much as ensuring the people’s popular dialogue is based on the something that resembles the full truth.

It’s the Israeli leadership, our government, and our media that chooses framing tactics to distort the truth. Just like Ignatius never questions Israeli government policies, a recent NY Times article deceitfully referred to East Jerusalem as simply a disputed city. The article gives Netanyahu an uncontested claim that “united Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people and of the State of Israel. Our sovereignty over it cannot be challenged.” But it never offers the opposing viewpoint of the Palestinian’s as to why they believe East Jerusalem is their rightful capital.

The fact is Israel is defying several UN Security Resolutions regarding its claim on East Jerusalem. Resolution 476 in 1980 declared Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem was "null and void" and is "a flagrant violation of the Geneva Convention" that the acquisition of territory by force is inadmissible. The vote was 14-0. The U.S. abstained. That America ignores these resolutions doesn’t change the fact that rest of the world sides with the Palestinian people.

Israel may disagree with the international community’s judgment, but in a world where law and order matter, they must suspend their objections. Instead, they are constantly enabled to illegally expand their borders because the United States government and our nation’s media frame the debate as if international law doesn’t exist.

Hamas knows they have the world on their side. In their letter to Obama last month letter they lay out all these facts and calmly ask for a “policy of evenhandedness based on the very international law and norms we are prodded into adhering to” by our country’s past and present leaders. They are appealing to Obama as “a distinguished professor of law” and not just to his power as President of the United States.

The letter wasn’t published by the media in our country, and that is the green light for Obama to ignore it. Or is it that the media needs permission to publicize the full story? Either way, it’s the people’s duty to get the true story out whenever governments and news sources fail. We are the last estate, the final check and balance in our democracy.

Can Finkelstein’s dream of a people’s movement to free Gaza from the Israeli siege open this larger, truthful dialogue? Would Americans be any more inclined to listen to the other side of the story enough to realize that our government is complicit in Israel’s defiance of international law?

It could be about more than just Gaza. Imagine not only Hamas learning that non violence can work, the world could be stunned into a new paradigm if the “most wretched, desperately poor” residents of Gaza give new meaning to the words “the meek will inherit the earth.”

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by Rich in Juneau