Thursday, December 31, 2009

Lift the Seige of Gaza

The following speech was made at a December 30th rally in Juneau supporting the Gaza Freedom March.

We are here today to recognize the rights of the people of Gaza to mobilize in mass for a peaceful demonstration against the crippling siege imposed by Israel – and supported by the United States and European Union. The plans tomorrow are for as many as 50,000 people to gather in Gaza, march one mile to the border with Israel, and demand they open the borders now and forever.

We pray that the people live up to this call and refrain from violence. We pray Israel restrains from using violence to stop the march and they let the people cross the border. We pray that world will watch and relearn the lessons of Gandhi, King and Mandela.

This march was planned to commemorate the first anniversary of Israel’s military invasion of Gaza. 1400 Palestinians, over 1,000 civilians, 300 children among them, were killed. 13 Israeli’s were also killed, including three civilians.

We can’t erase those tragic three weeks. But we can look to tomorrow as an appeal to the world to intervene – to help end the siege of Gaza. It’s a necessary step to finding real peace in the Middle East.

I was in Gaza when this march was first proposed by Norman Finkelstein. He envisioned it as a powerful way to evoke Gandhi’s historic Salt March in India. And he believed the people of Gaza should be supported by a large contingent of international peace activists to bear witness and bring the story into the world.

Today though, 1400 people from 42 countries are stuck in Egypt. The Egyptian government has denied them entry through the one border into Gaza that is not guarded by Israel. And our nation’s leaders, and the mainstream media, are silent co-conspirators in this oppressive act.

Why is that? This could be the most visible single non violent demonstration ever in the occupied territories. It is by no means the first. Palestinians have been resisting with many forms of civil disobedience and non violence since before Israel declared itself a nation. But if this march occurs, it could undermine the reputation that our government and media have unjustly created – that the vast majority of the Palestinian people, by their very nature, embrace violence.

We’re led to believe that’s why they elected Hamas in 2006 as the majority party in their legislature – that they were voting for terrorists. It’s this kind of stereotyping that permits the siege of Gaza to continue.

Let me say here that we do not, in any way, support the violent resistance by Hamas or any other organization in Palestine. But to believe the people elected Hamas for that reason alone is a form of blindness. Fatah, their ruling party till 2006, was widely known for being corrupt. And Hamas had a proven record of social success as the elected head of many municipalities.

The Palestinians voted for Hamas in a free and democratic election that we encouraged. And when we didn’t like the results, we turned our back on the meaning of freedom and began supporting Israel’s lockdown on the tiny strip of land. We’ve let Israel make a prison out of Gaza.

What does the siege look like? I could try to describe what I saw in Gaza last June. It was a shock to the senses. Visual images can’t describe the despair in people’s eyes. Nor can I.

So imagine it this way. Gaza is about 25 miles long and 4 to 8 miles wide. That’s somewhat similar to Juneau and Douglas Island, from Thane to Echo Cove.

Now imagine the economic crisis last year was so severe that the barges stopped coming here from Seattle. The ferries are down too. Imagine it’s been like this for 3 years. Imagine the FAA closed our airport for safety reasons because we couldn’t make repairs. Imagine our sewer plant stopped functioning and we were pouring raw sewerage into the Mendenhall delta. Imagine our power is down half the day, even in the middle of winter. Now put one and half million people here.

Would we be suffering?

Imagine too our fishing fleet was restricted to Gastineau Channel and Auke Bay. And that our hospitals had a shortage of medicine, that their equipment broke down, and you needed permission from the state to take a private flight to Seattle for vital medial care.

Would we feel oppressed?

That’s a siege. And it’s got to end. NOW.

President Obama spoke in Cairo the day I left Gaza. He said, and I quote you Mr. President, “if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth.” Mr. President, you acknowledged, and I quote you again “it is undeniable that the Palestinian people -- Muslims and Christians -- have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than 60 years they've endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations -- large and small -- that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: The situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable.”

Those were your words Mr. President. So I ask, why haven’t you demanded an end to this siege which has turned the intolerable into a severe human tragedy?

Mr. President, you also said it was part of your “responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.”

Yes, it’s wrong to label Islam a violent religion. But to permit the collective punishment of an entire population by sealing the borders of Gaza is far worse than spewing hateful language.

Mr. President, you also called upon the Palestinians to abandon violence. You said, “violence is a dead end”… that “it is surrendering moral authority.” But are we an example of a non violent people when we use our powerful military in response to our fears?

And now – while the people of Gaza plan to mobilize in great numbers and peacefully march to the border to protest the siege, you turn your back on them by not demanding Egypt open the borders to peace activists from around the world. You could speak for peace, for non violent resistance. All you had to do was tell President Mubarak that you’ll suspend the two billion dollars in military aid that we give to Egypt unless he opens the border to Gaza.

Many Americans, and sadly most, believe this is not our fight. Or they have bought the stereotype sold by our profit motivated media and think we must always, always, support Israel.

And really, it’s not our fight. It’s our moral obligation to end the violence that we support by funding Israel’s war machine – we give Israel $3 -$4 billion dollars in military aid ever year. For what? To defend themselves against a people without a state, without any military at all, a people with legitimate grievances but no court to turn to.

But it’s also imperative we understand the effects of all these double standards that the Muslim world sees too clearly.

Michael Scheuer was the chief of the bin Laden unit in the CIA from 1996-99, and was a special advisor to the chief of that group from just after 911 until 2004. In his book “Marching Toward Hell’ he writes that the dangers America faces today are enabled by our government’s blind attachment to Israel. Quote “And what better definition of the double standard that our Islamist foes cite than the constant US veto of any UN resolution condemning Israeli actions?” End Quote

America is not and never has been an honest broker of peace in the Middle East. Just like we arm one side against the other, the historical record of incredible contradictions in the UN is indisputable. There has been the equivalent of one veto for every year of Israel’s 40 year occupation. And when the general assembly votes on any similar type of resolution, America votes against the judgment of 150 nations or more to stand almost alone defending Israel.

And likewise, we ignored the 2004 advisory ruling by the International Court of Justice, a unanimous ruling in which the US Judge concurred, that the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories and east Jerusalem are in violation of international law.

And the siege violates international law too. According to the Geneva Conventions, which is the law of our land too, Israel has a legal responsibility to the people of Gaza to ensure their lives are not adversely impacted by its military control. This applies to all people who do not participate in hostilities against Israel, which constitutes the vast majority of Gaza’s 1.5 million. Instead, the siege that America backs collectively punishes the entire population.

Mr. President, you have the tools to end the siege. Stand up and restore the audacity of hope you gave the Palestinian people when you spoke in Cairo. Tell Israel that until they comply with the rule of law, the tap to the American taxpayer purse is locked down.

Without American opposition to violence by all sides, and without American support for the rulings in the international courts and the UN, some in Gaza will see violence as their only choice. That’s how the head of the Hamas political bureau, Khaled Meshaal, responded to the President’s speech in Cairo. He said - quote "Peaceful resistance works for a civil rights struggle, not in front of an occupation armed to the teeth."

Tomorrow’s march can be proof that he is wrong. But only if America pays attention and changes the way our elected leaders act.

If we want Hamas and others to abandon violence, we must too. If America wants to claim any moral authority at all, we must learn that non violence is not just a tool for the weaker and oppressed peoples, it can be a mightier tool when the mighty embrace these principals.

The people of Gaza want to march to the border. Tomorrow they will be a model for the world. Let the people march. Let them help us learn how to end the cycle of violence. End the Siege of Gaza now.

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by Rich in Juneau