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An artist’s pledge to boycott

Dave Lordan, The Electronic Intifada, 27 August 2010
The boycott movement threatens the visage of respectability and normality which the leaders of apartheid Israel so desperately crave. (Oren Ziv/ActiveStills)

I am proud to be among the many Irish and Ireland-based artists from across creative disciplines who have chosen to publicly support the growing campaign of boycott against apartheid Israel. Compared to the imprisoned Palestinian people themselves and to those taking part in flotillas and other perilous anti-apartheid activities in Palestine our contribution and risk may be justly considered small. At most we might lose the chance of lucrative invitations to read, perform or display our works in parts of the US where apartheid Israel’s supporters hold the power of censorship. Departments of foreign affairs and ministries of culture may also not include us among those artists they can rely upon to project a lying image of a harmonious, bon vivant and, above all, harmlessly apolitical intelligentsia. We are sure to be slandered and ridiculed by the hired bullies of the global media empires.

These are tiny punishments indeed compared to the instant annihilation that Israel with its snipers and bombers and jet planes and tanks has visited on a daily basis upon Palestinian men, women and children for the last 62 years. The threat we come under for speaking out at a safe distance is nothing beside the threat apartheid Israel holds constant over every urban civilian in the Middle East with its 200-bomb-strong nuclear arsenal. Besides, to be ostracized and blacklisted by these last remaining friends of apartheid Israel, the gangster governments of west and east and their spies and ideological enablers, is to be reminded of the phrase of that great political artist William Blake, who tells us to “Listen to the fool’s reproach — it is a kingly title.”

The argument that artists should remain aloof from politics does not survive the most cursory of cross examinations. Over the centuries artists have taken every possible political stance both inside and outside their art. They have also performed every possible political action without it having the least negative effect on their own work or on art in general. Indeed, much great art has been produced out of intense engagement with political events and with social movements. One can look up the biographies of the list of Nobel prize winners in literature, or take a stroll around one’s nearest significant gallery if one needs any proof of this.

Artistic aloofness in relation to Israel-Palestine is without doubt a political stance, a signal that one will not stand in the way of the strong as they bear down with all their might upon the weak. But to perform in Israel, or to leave oneself open to performing there, is not simply remaining aloof. It is choosing the side of tyranny. It is a decision to ignore the cry of the oppressed.

Some artists will make this decision out of ignorance, or because they believe in or are confused by apartheid Israel’s untiring propaganda machine, which is so consciously assisted by the western media and politicians. To these artists I say, take a few days to look behind the headlines, give yourself some time to familiarize yourself with the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict in all of its contexts. Inform yourself properly, and then make your decision.

Obviously there are artists, motivated by fame and finance, who will perform in apartheid Israel knowing full well that their actions are an integral part of the war effort against the Palestinians, while of course loudly protesting otherwise. In the long run this may count against them. Their memory will be linked throughout posterity with all those images of rubbled apartment blocks, of old farmers shackled at crossroads, of sad-eyed children dying in makeshift hospitals for lack of basic medicines due to the illegal blockade.

Alongside the financial, political and military support of western rulers, the cultural support of western artists is a crucial link in the chain of oppression that tightens every passing minute around the neck of Palestine. Artists occupy a position of public privilege. What we think and feel as it is expressed through our art is elevated above ordinary discourse and seriously discussed at events, in classrooms, and in all kinds of media. Both individually within our local networks and communities, and collectively at a national and international level, we can and do have a disproportionate effect on opinion. We are, I think, perhaps the last significant body of people to enjoy large-scale public trust in most parts of the globe. Added together, what we say and do publicly in our art and in our lives as citizens is reflected upon by many people in a much more profound way than the utterances of most politicians. Our deeds and words ring louder then, and wider, and longer, then those of many others. But so do our silences, our non-actions. That is why both the tacit and the enthusiastic support of artists have been worth so much to dictators and criminal systems like apartheid over the centuries, and why we have been so brutally persecuted when we have refused to give it.

All an Israeli major has to do to unwind after a day directing the bulldozing of ancestral Palestinian homesteads is to change into her casuals and head out to see a platinum-selling rock group, or to clap along politely like everyone else is doing at the poetry of some prize-glittering western writer. Then she can feel as refined, as hip, and as justified, as any other liberal westerner. The presence of international artists in apartheid Israel normalizes and buttresses the apartheid system, contributing to its self-confidence and smooth functioning.

By performing in Israel, despite the clear call of the Palestinian artists and cultural institutions to boycott Israel, an international artist gives — whether or not they are conscious of it — a signal of approval to the settler-pirates and to the racially brainwashed conscripts who take pleasure in having themselves photographed beaming with national joy in front of blindfolded and humiliated Palestinians. Approval for these and countless other abuses and injustices is exactly how the appearance of international artists in apartheid Israel is interpreted by its politico-military leadership and, crucially, by its rank-and-file soldiers, boosting the morale of those who must implement the bloody practicality of apartheid on the ground.

The boycott, if it gained momentum, could have just the opposite effect. It could remove the visage of respectability and normality which the leaders of apartheid Israel so desperately crave in order that they can continue with the dirty work of oppressing the Palestinians unperturbed by the moral opinion of the rest of the world. It could undermine the confidence of the military rank and file and cause significant numbers to question and refuse the implementation of apartheid policies. Above all, it could help to inspire the continuing anti-apartheid resistance of the Palestinian people, and contribute — similarly to how international solidarity with black South Africans did in their case — to the eventual collapse of the apartheid system. To have played even the tiniest of roles in such an outcome would be a greater honor than any prize, review, or invitation is capable of giving us.

Dave Lordan is an Irish writer. His latest collection of poetry is Invitation to a Sacrifice (Salmon Poetry, Cliffs of Moher, 2010).

August 27, 2010 Posted by | Solidarity and Activism | 1 Comment

Why is Israel Terrified of a Ship Full of Women?

The Stalled Voyage of St. Mariam

By RANNIE AMIRI | August 27, 2010

The bloody wake left by the Mavi Marmara after the May 31 Israeli commando raid has not deterred 50 female activists from trying to break the four-year-old siege of Gaza. To hear Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak speak of their planned relief effort, one would think the very existence of Israel was at stake.

The women plan to set sail aboard the Saint Mariam, a Bolivian-flagged cargo ship named in honor of the Virgin Mary, a figure sacred to both Christians and Muslims. Although they intend to depart from Tripoli, Lebanon, the crew is not only composed of multi-faith Lebanese but foreign nationals as well, including a group of nuns from the United States. So as not to give Israel pretext to attack, Hezbollah deliberately did not sponsor the mission nor were any members allowed to participate.

Its cargo? Books, toys, medical instruments and supplies, and most importantly, anticancer medication.

The ship cannot sail directly from Tripoli to Gaza since Lebanon and Israel remain technically at war (and Israel controls Gaza’s territorial waters) and thus must pass through a third country first. The Mariam was scheduled to leave for Cyprus last Sunday but authorities in Nicosia, capitulating to Israeli pressure, prohibited use of its ports for vessels departing to Gaza. Without the green light from Cyprus, Lebanon’s Transport and Public Works Minister Ghazi Aridi was forced to cancel the voyage until another country with whom Lebanon enjoys maritime relations could be found. Negotiations with Greece are now under way.

Barak, however, was outraged at the very notion that Lebanon would even consider allowing the Mariam to sail, characterizing its mission as “… a provocation intended to aid a terror organization.”

He went on: “The ship that is preparing to sail from Lebanon has nothing to do with humanitarianism … If the ship insists on arriving, in opposition to the current blockade, Israel will be forced to stop it and bring it to the port of Ashdod.”

The Israeli delegation to the United Nations submitted a formal complaint to both the Secretary-General and the Security Council, indicating Israel reserves the right to use “all necessary measures” to prevent the Mariam—and the toys and medications it carriesfrom docking in Gaza.

No rational person believes the all-women crew presents a physical or armed threat to Israel, either by their persons or cargo.

So why is Israel so terrified of the Mariam?

It has nothing to do with the activists, Hezbollah or even Hamas. What it does involve is ensuring the continuation of collective punishment of Gazans, who continue to wither under a four-year material and economic embargo.

It is why innocuous items like wheelchairs, crutches, books, crayons, or even chemotherapy pose such a threat; any relief provided to Palestinians not under the direct jurisdiction of Israel jeopardizes its role as sole arbiter of deciding whether to enforce or relax punishment of civilians. Only the occupying power has this right.

Collective punishment is an illegal and heinous form of warfare, and Gaza’s Palestinians have suffered from it as retribution for overwhelmingly electing Hamas to govern in the January 2006 parliamentary elections.

If the Mariam is allowed to sail and Israel cannot find justification to stop the nuns, doctors, lawyers, journalists, human rights workers and a pop star aboard from landing—if they are permitted to break the siege—then the Gaza shore could soon become inundated with ships, vessels and relief flotillas from the world over. And the myth of Israel as invincible regional superpower would, yet again, be shattered.

This is why Israel is terrified of a ship full of women, and why they are being demonized.

Rannie Amiri is an independent Middle East commentator. He may be reached at: rbamiri@yahoo.com

August 27, 2010 Posted by | Subjugation - Torture, War Crimes | 7 Comments

Rebranding Iraq

By Ramzy Baroud | Palestine Chronicle | August 26, 2010

The soldiers of the US 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division hollered as they made their way into Kuwait. ‘We won,’ they claimed. ‘It’s over.’

But what exactly did they win?

And is the war really over?

It seems we are once again walking into the same trap, the same nonsensical assumptions of wars won, missions accomplished, troops withdrawn, and jolly soldiers carrying cardboard signs of heart-warming messages like “Lindsay & Austin … Dad’s coming home.”

While much of the media is focused on the logistics of the misleading withdrawal of the “last combat brigade” from Iraq on August 19 – some accentuating the fact that the withdrawal is happening two weeks ahead of the August 31 deadline – most of us are guilty of forgetting Iraq and its people. When the economy began to take center stage, we completely dropped the war off our list of grievances.

But this is not about memory, or a way of honoring the dead and feeling compassion for the living. Forgetting wars leads to a complete polarization of discourses, thus allowing the crafters of war to sell the public whatever suits their interests and stratagems.

In an August 22 Washington Post article entitled “Five myths about the Iraq troop withdrawal”, Kenneth M Pollack unravels the first “myth”: “As of this month, the United States no longer has combat troops in Iran.” Pollack claims this idea is “not even close” because “roughly 50,000 American military personnel remain in Iraq, and the majority are still combat troops – they’re just named something else. The major units still in Iraq will no longer be called “brigade combat teams” and instead will be called “advisory and assistance brigades”. But a rose by any other name is still a rose, and the differences in brigade structure and personnel are minimal.

So what if the US army downgrades its military presence in Iraq and re-labels over 50,000 remaining soldiers? Will the US military now stop chasing after perceived terrorist threats? Will it concede an inch of its unchallenged control over Iraqi skies? Will it relinquish power over the country’s self-serving political elite? Will it give up its influence over every relevant aspect of life in the country, from the now autonomous Kurdish region in the north all the way to the border with Kuwait in the south, which the jubilant soldiers crossed while hollering the shrieks of victory?

The Iraq war has been one of the most well-controlled wars the US has ever fought, in terms of its language and discourse. Even those opposed to the war tend to be misguided as to their reasons: “Iraqis need to take charge of their own country”; “Iraq is a sectarian society and America cannot rectify that”; “It is not possible to create a Western-style democracy in Iraq”; “It’s a good thing Saddam Hussein was taken down, but the US should have left straight after”. These ideas might be described as “anti-war”, but they are all based on fallacious assumptions that were fed to us by the same recycled official and media rhetoric.

It’s no wonder that the so-called anti-war movement waned significantly after the election of President Barack Obama. The new president merely shifted military priorities from Iraq to Afghanistan. His government is now re-branding the Iraq war, although maintaining the interventionist spirit behind it. It makes perfect sense that the US State Department is now the one in charge of the future mission in Iraq. The occupation of Iraq, while it promises much violence and blood, is now a political scheme. It requires good public relations.

The State Department will now supervise future violence in Iraq, which is likely to increase in coming months due to the ongoing political standoff and heightened sectarian divisions. An attack blamed on al-Qaeda in an Iraqi army recruitment center on August 17 claimed 61 lives and wounded many. “Iraqi officials say July saw the deaths of more than 500 people, including 396 civilians, making it the deadliest month for more than two years,” reported Robert Tait in Radio Free Europe.

Since the March elections, Iraq has had no government. The political rift in the country, even among the ruling Shi’ite groups, is large and widening. The disaffected Sunnis have been humiliated and collectively abused because of the misguided claim that they were favored by Saddam. Hate is brewing and the country’s internal affairs are being handled jointly by some of the most corrupt politicians the world has ever known.

Washington understands that it needs to deliver on some of Obama’s many campaign promises before the November elections. Thus the re-branding campaign, which could hide the fact that the US has no real intention of removing itself from the Iraq’s military or political milieus. But since the current number of military personnel might not be enough to handle the deepening security chaos in the country, the new caretakers at the State Department are playing with numbers.

“State Department spokesman P J Crowley said [a] plan would bring to some 7,000 the total security contractors employed by the government in Iraq, where since the 2003 US invasion private security firms have often been accused of acting above the law,” according to Reuters.

It’s important that we understand the number game is just a game. Many colonial powers in the past controlled their colonies through the use of local forces and minimal direct involvement. Those of us opposed the Iraq war should do so based on the guiding principle that foreign invasions, occupations and interventions in sovereign countries’ affairs are a direct violation of international law. It is precisely the interventionist mindset that must be confronted, challenged, and rejected.

While it is a good thing that that thousands of American dads are now coming home, we must also remember that hundreds of thousands of Iraqi moms and dads never did. Millions of refugees from the US-led invasion are still circling the country and the Middle East.

War is not about numbers and dates. It’s about people, their rights, their freedom and their future. Re-branding the army and the war will provide none of this for grief-stricken and vulnerable Iraqis.

The fact is, no one has won this war. And the occupation is anything but over.

August 27, 2010 Posted by | Deception, Progressive Hypocrite | Comments Off on Rebranding Iraq

Israeli Military Closes Access to School for Palestinian Children

Maria Chiara Rioli | Alternative Information Center | August 25, 2010

On the same day that Israeli human rights associations Ir Amim and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) released a report denouncing the lack of classrooms in East Jerusalem, the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem announces that children of the kindergarten of Bethany (Shayyah) “can no more reach their school through the small opening in the Separation Wall, adjacent to the school.”

The news came after a meeting between between Apostolic Nunzio, Msgr Antonio Franco, the sisters and the Israeli military authorities of the area.

After construction of the Separation Wall in the East Jerusalem neighbourhoods of Ras al-Amoud and Shayyah, the Israeli army prevented children from the nearby West Bank Azaryah area from reaching their school. During the last academic year, after pressure by the Combonian sisters who run the school, Israeli military authorities allowed the fifty children attending the school to pass through a small door built in the Wall twice a day, to enter in and go out from their classrooms.

The future of the children who will start school in the next few days appears uncertain. If the army doesn’t find or allow another way of access to the school, it will be closed. The children could be forced to make a long 15 km detour by bus, but even this possibility has to be approved by the Israeli army and negotiations are still pending.

Recent events testify how education represents a sensitive issue for the Israeli government and army. A few days ago, Israel’s Ministry of Education ordered kindergarten teachers to not attend a seminar on the topic of introducing the Nakba to curriculum across the country. Today the report “Failed Grade. Palestinian Education System in East Jerusalem 2010” issued by Ir Amim and ACRI states that the education system in East Jerusalem remains short of 1,000 classrooms for Palestinian students. As denounced in the report, “despite promises given in legal proceedings from 2001 to build 644 classrooms by 2011, the construction of classrooms has proceeded very slowly.

An analysis of the construction figures by Ir Amim together with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel from August 2010 shows that the shortage is not going to be reduced in the coming years”. The report continues that “by the end of 2010 the construction of a comprehensive girls’ school in Ras al-Amud is scheduled to be completed with 39 classrooms. In 2011 another 42 classrooms are supposed to be built but completion of their construction by that time is not guaranteed.” The associations highlight that “even if all of the planned classrooms are built, a total of only 338 classrooms will have been built by the end of 2011, which are at most 52% of the classrooms the authorities promised to build. It should also be noted that the classrooms under construction do not meet all of the needs of the system, and this was also stressed by the authorities, who claimed they were unable to build enough classrooms to address the historic classroom shortage.”

August 27, 2010 Posted by | Subjugation - Torture | 1 Comment

Top ten reasons for skepticism on Israeli-Palestinian talks

By Josh Ruebner on August 26, 2010

On August 20, the Obama Administration announced that it will reconvene under its auspices direct Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations beginning on September 2.

While a just and lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace is in everyone’s interest, there are profound reasons to be skeptical about the likelihood of success for the following reasons (not necessarily listed in order of importance):

1. No more photo-ops, please. There is a desperate need for a just, comprehensive and lasting peace in the Middle East. Negotiations can be a key to that. But the last thing Palestinians and Israelis need are phony negotiations. They only breed disillusionment, resentment, and cynicism about the possibility of Israeli-Palestinian peace based on human rights and justice. So rather than enter into negotiations for the sake of negotiations, the Obama Administration should exert real political pressure on Israel by cutting off military aid to once and for all get it to commit to dismantling its regime of occupation and apartheid against Palestinians, and make clear that the framework for all negotiations will be based on international law, human rights, and UN resolutions. As long as it fails to do so, U.S. civil society must keep up the pressure through campaigns of boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) to change these dynamics and by joining up with the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation.

2. The United States is not evenhanded. For decades, the United States has arrogated the role of convening Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. To convince the world that it is suitable to play this role, the United States declares that it is evenhanded, when it in fact arms Israel to the teeth and is aware that Israel will employ these U.S. weapons to conduct its human rights abuses of and apartheid policies toward Palestinians. Under international law, an outside party that provides weapons to a party in an armed conflict violates laws of neutrality. The United States is scheduled to provide Israel with $30 billion in weapons from 2009-2018 (part and parcel of a broader strategy to further militarize the region with an additional $60 billion in weapons sales to Gulf States). The United States cannot credibly broker Israeli-Palestinian peace while bankrolling Israel’s military machine and simultaneously ignoring Israel’s human rights violations.

3. Israeli colonization of Palestinian land continues. In one of its most abject policy failures, the Obama Administration has contented itself with resuming direct negotiations without securing an Israeli freeze on the colonization of Palestinian land, despite spending an initial nine months trying to do so. Israeli colonization of Palestinian land, including the expansion of settlements, the eviction of Palestinians from their homes, the building of the Apartheid Wall, continues apace. Previous failed rounds of negotiations have demonstrated that Israel utilizes negotiations as a fig leaf to actually increase its pace of colonization of Palestinian land, and there is every reason to believe that it will continue to do so. Meanwhile, Israel’s ongoing colonization of Palestinian land creates difficult-to-reverse “facts on the ground” that only make a two-state solution–purportedly the end game of the negotiations–less achievable.

4. Negotiations supersede accountability. The Obama Administration, building on decades of previous U.S. efforts to shield Israel from accountability, has worked actively to scuttle international attempts to hold Israel accountable for its previous violations of international law and human rights, and its commission of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity. Both after the Goldstone Report and Israel’s attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, the United States used its leverage at the United Nations to prevent Israel from being held accountable, arguing that accountability undermines prospects for peace negotiations. On the contrary, for peace negotiations to be successful, Israel must be held accountable for its actions and shown that it will pay a price for its illegal policies. Otherwise, it has no reason to alter its behavior.

5. No terms of reference. In his August 20 press briefing, Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George Mitchell confirmed that the United States is not insisting on any guiding principles for the negotiations, or “terms of references” in diplomatic parlance, and that these terms will be worked out by the parties themselves. In other words, Israel will be free to marshal its overwhelming power to refuse to negotiate on the basis of human rights, international law, and UN resolutions, the only viable basis for a just and lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace. Instead, Israel–backed by the United States–will negotiate based on its own exclusive terms of reference, namely what is in Israel’s “security interests.” As in previous failed rounds of negotiations, Palestinian rights will not enter into the conversation.

6. No timeline. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton believes that negotiations “could” be concluded within a year. Of course, successful Israeli-Palestinian negotiations could be wrapped up within in a year. In contrast to “peace process industry” pundits, there is nothing intrinsically complex or complicated about resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict if Israel were to negotiate in good faith by declaring an end to its policies of occupation and apartheid against Palestinians. After all, South Africa concluded negotiations to end apartheid within a few months once the decision had been made to transition to democracy. However, Israel has given no indication whatsoever that it is prepared to alter its policies toward Palestinians, setting the stage for prolonged and fruitless negotiations.

7. Can a leopard change its spots? A recently-leaked video from 2001 shows current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrogantly bragging that “I actually stopped the Oslo Accord [shorthand for the failed 1993-2000 Israeli-Palestinian “peace process’].” (The Institute for Middle East Understanding has provided a useful translation and transcript of the video here.) His current Foreign Minister, Avigdor Leiberman, lives in an illegal Israeli colony built on stolen Palestinian land and has openly declared his support for ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. With this negotiating team in place, how can Palestinians expect even a bare modicum of fairness and justice to emerge from these negotiations?

8. Increased U.S. military aid to and cooperation with Israel make it less likely to negotiate in good faith. In July, Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro told the Brookings Institution that “I’m proud to say that as a result of this commitment [to Israel’s security], our security relationship with Israel is broader, deeper, and more intense than ever before.” Indeed, it is. President Obama has requested record-breaking levels of military aid to Israel, and stepped up joint U.S.-Israeli military projects, such as the missile defense system “Iron Dome.” This increased level of military aid only makes Israel more reliant on military might in its attempt to subdue Palestinians into submission, and less likely to negotiate with them fairly as equals.

9. All the parties are not at the negotiating table. Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George Mitchell, who previously brokered a peace agreement in Northern Ireland, when discussing its success often referred to the necessity of having all the parties to the conflict around the negotiating table. What held true though for negotiations in Northern Ireland, apparently doesn’t apply to Israel/Palestine since Hamas, which currently governs the Israeli-occupied and -besieged Gaza Strip and legitimately won the 2006 legislative elections held at the behest of the United States, was not invited to participate in the negotiations. If, by some long-shot, an agreement were to emerge from these negotiations, it is difficult to see how it would be implemented without having Hamas as part of the discussions.

10. Negotiations help Israel mitigate its growing international isolation. Last, but certainly not least, images of Israeli and Palestinian political leaders negotiating presents the world with a false sense of normalcy and allows Israel the opportunity to state that it is making a legitimate effort to achieve peace. With Israel as the party pressing for direct negotiations, it is quite transparent that its desire for these talks has more to do with easing its growing international isolation and defusing the energy from the international movement for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS), rather than with genuinely negotiating a just and lasting peace. This point brings the analysis full circle: advocates for changing U.S. policy toward Israel/Palestine to support human rights, international law, and equality should not be lulled into complacency by the resumption of negotiations, but need to keep up the pressure with campaigns of BDS to change the dynamics that will eventually lead to the possibility of a just and lasting peace.

Sign a petition to the Obama Administration, which states that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations must be based on human rights, international law, and UN resolutions to be successful by clicking here.

Josh Ruebner is the National Advocacy Director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, a national coalition of more than 325 organizations working to change U.S. policy to support human rights, international law, and equality.

August 27, 2010 Posted by | Deception | Comments Off on Top ten reasons for skepticism on Israeli-Palestinian talks