Busting the siege, American style

Israel/Palestine
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A fabulous party Tuesday night in Brooklyn was the latest in a series of nation-wide fundraisers to send an American boat to break the siege of Gaza. The Siege Busters’ Ball featured hours of eclectic performances, connections, conversations, and shoulder-shaking Arabic dance music into the small hours of the morning.

Overall it was a thrilling evening that brought together people from all over New York and brought the total money raised for the US Boat to Gaza to more than $243,000 of the $370,000 necessary to launch the boat.

An event the following night at Brooklyn Law School underscored the importance of our mission to bring a US boat to Gaza. Fatima Mohammadi, a lawyer, activist, and Mavi Marmara survivor, narrated a smuggled fifteen-minute film of the attack on the Mavi Marmara by Cultures of Resistance. It was one of the precious few recordings of that event not confiscated, destroyed, or used selectively for propaganda purposes by Israel.

I had seen the heartbreaking, shocking film before, but seeing it on the big screen narrated by an eyewitness made for a much more gut-wrenching experience. Audience members gasped, cringed, and in some cases cried while she narrated the terrifying attack and brutal murders of a cameraman, a jujitsu champion, a teenager with American citizenship, and many others, and the severe injuries of Malaysian doctors, an Australian with his knee shot out, and a soldier who pointed his gun at a one-year-old child.

She said it brought home, in the most visceral way possible, what Palestinians go through on a daily basis, and the fact that people of conscience have no choice but to put their bodies on the line to end these horrors, or at least support the people who choose to. An American boat to Gaza, she said, would be the ultimate symbol of our rejection of these policies, which are going on in our name, with our tax dollars and under our government’s political cover.

Glenn Greenwald, a Constitutional lawyer and contributing writer at Salon with frequent TV appearances, spoke next about the incredible fact that Israel gunned down nine unarmed people in international waters and virtually the entire world condemned the act. Many leaders were, in fact, so shocked by it that some dispensed with the usual diplomatic-speak and dared to express raw human disgust and horror. Yet the story in the US media is that the ship was full of terrorists who had it coming to them.

There was no significant coverage of the worldwide condemnation. The heavily-edited video of commandos descending onto the ship and being attacked with clubs that Israel released—after confiscating, and presumably destroying, virtually all other documentary evidence of the event—was repeated on endless loops, as if it was the only portion of the entire fiasco that mattered. No one asked, “What happened before the commandos descended?”

The Cultures of Resistance video clearly shows what happened: Dozens of Zodiac rafts surrounded the ship in international waters and shot live ammunition along with pellet guns, sound bombs, and tear gas, at the people on deck. There was already blood on the walls of the ship, and several fatal injuries, before a single commando descended.

As Greenwald said, for the US media to take Israel’s video and story at face value after it had killed nine people, kidnapped over 600, stolen or destroyed their personal belongings and (nearly) all documentary evidence, and then released only a heavily-edited slice of video of its own choosing was almost comically unreasonable.

Imagine if there was a traffic accident and one of the people involved, who had filmed the accident from his perspective, offered only a small slice of his footage and also admitted to going into the other person’s car while he was unconscious and stealing all documentary evidence from the other driver’s perspective and refusing to show it to anyone. Any court in the world that would take his story and slice of video at face value would be violating the most basic tenets of common sense that evolution was kind enough to bestow upon us. Yet this is precisely what the American media did.

Professor Rashid Khalidi spoke next as to why this might be the case. Israel’s stranglehold on public relations and propaganda is nothing new. An early example of a major win was the publication of Leon Uris’s novel Exodus, a wildly successful mash-up of history, propaganda, Biblical prophecy, and gripping melodrama that was turned into a movie starring Paul Newman. A huge percentage of Americans have either read the book or seen the movie, with its sense of Jewish Manifest Destiny that resonates strongly with Americans. This has shaped their views of righteous, plucky Jewish victims overcoming dastardly, backwards interlopers in the Land of Israel. (The 1900 years of history prior to 1948 don’t enter into it.)

This was no accident. Leon Uris was financially supported and sent to Israel by Edward Gottlieb, an eminent American public relations consultant, to write the novel. It solidified the American image of heroic pale-skinned Israelis vs. brutal, squabbling Arabs that persists to this day. Since then, the hits have kept on coming. By the time Israel’s army murdered nine innocent people on a humanitarian aid ship in international waters, admitting such a thing was even possible was tantamount to dismantling sixty years of a carefully-constructed image painstakingly built by multitudinous layers of established institutions.

Yet, Khalidi said, this carefully-constructed image is finally beginning to unravel. It first began to fray in 1982 when Israel bombed and besieged Lebanon for months in full view of worldwide television audiences and killed 17,000 people, overwhelmingly mostly civilians, a sweep of carnage that reached its grisly peak with the Sabra and Chatila massacres.

Their brutal crack-down on the mostly non-violent first Intifada gave more people pause. The assaults on Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009 shocked even more people into rethinking their entire concept of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle. The attack on the Mavi Marmara, and its kindergarten-level cover-up (more embarrassing chicanery here, here, and here), only makes things worse. The right-wing American Jewish establishment is increasingly out of step with younger, more liberal American Jews. Even Israel’s Mossad chief, in the aftermath of the Mavi Marmara debacle, stated before the Knesset that “Israel is gradually turning from an asset to the United States to a burden.”

(In fact, I just Googled ‘Mossad Israel,’ intending for the next word I typed to be ‘burden’ in order to get this quote right. Before I could type it, Google suggested this word on its own! Apparently, even Google can read the writing on the wall.)

But there’s much more work to do. We need to write books and plays and poems, we need to make films, we need to visit the Middle East if it’s within our means or bring a speaker to our church or synagogue or high school or college who has been there. We need to continue the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. We need to organize around and fund the US boat to Gaza. Be a part of history: Host a house party fundraiser, put a pickle jar next to your cash register, send a bucket around at your next event, and send the proceeds to the US Boat to Gaza campaign.

I find it heartening that it took so much work for Israel’s PR masters to construct a false narrative of always-righteous victimhood—that they even stooped to playing on genuine worldwide sympathy for the victims of the Nazi Holocaust, an event that rightly shocked the conscience of mankind.

Because deep down, they know that no decent human being, if they fully knew the truth, would countenance Israel’s overtly racist policies and brutal methods of enforcement for a second. People engaged in indecency have to construct the most elaborate stories, the thickest intellectual blinders, to do what they do, and to convince others to support what they do. Because human nature instinctively abhors injustice.

This, along with the truth, is our greatest weapon.

About Pamela Olson

Pamela Olson is the author of Fast Times in Palestine. She blogs here.

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  1. Richard Witty
    September 23, 2010, 6:56 am

    Witness, and only witness (not polemic), is the only answer to solving these and other problems.

    Human nature abhors injustice.

    The Exodus story was more informative than misrepresentative. Read it. You will find irritations, but you will also find fictional representations. (All novels over-simplify and Uris’ are not particularly deep.)

    The remedy to over-simplification is completing a full story, NOT a flip to rejection only.

    • sherbrsi
      September 23, 2010, 12:41 pm

      Human nature abhors injustice.

      Thus Zionism is abhorred.

      • eljay
        September 23, 2010, 2:39 pm

        >> RW: Human nature abhors injustice.

        Then you are either devoid of human nature or your are inhuman, because you seem very comfortable with – and with justifying – injustice.

    • Sumud
      September 23, 2010, 1:24 pm

      The Exodus story was…

      …commissioned propaganda. Nothing more, nothing less.

      The Exodus story was more informative than misrepresentative.

      The heart of the matter. When we speak of the Nakba, you counsel us to focus on the present and future. Now you advise reading propaganda for the purpose of being historically informed.

      Isn’t it time you addressed Israel as it is and not some dreamy gooey false ideal. Isn’t it time you took your own advice and returned to Israel to bear *witness*. A lot has happened since 1986. Have you been to the Occupied Palestinian Territories, ever?

      • eljay
        September 23, 2010, 4:30 pm

        >> The heart of the matter. When we speak of the Nakba, you counsel us to focus on the present and future. Now you advise reading propaganda for the purpose of being historically informed.

        His hypocrisy knows no bounds:
        - Focus on the present…unless you’re Israel.
        - “Origination based rights” are not valid…unless you’re Israel.
        - Oppression, violence and theft are wrong…unless you’re a Israel.
        - Make “better wheels” and “humanize ‘the Other’”…unless you’re Israel.
        - Democracy is grand…unless you’re Israel, in which case only a “Jewish democracy” is acceptable.

        Et cetera, ad nauseam.

        He is a fraudulent “humanist”, an overt supremacist and a bigot.

      • Richard Witty
        September 23, 2010, 8:52 pm

        The Exodus story does not supercede genuine research or study.

        Its just not as horrid a representation as is presented here.

        You don’t like that the Zionists are regarded favorably in any way, and call that propaganda.

        I see the Zionist pioneers and cadre favorably for standing up for their people, as asserting the sentiment of “Never Again”, and establishing Jewish self-governance in Israel.

        I don’t see it as innocent, or that that is the end of the story. I believe that there remains a debt to the Palestinian people, a debt of apology and a debt of due process in courts of law -color blind, and debt of money.

      • Chaos4700
        September 23, 2010, 10:19 pm

        I see the Zionist pioneers and cadre favorably for standing up for their people, as asserting the sentiment of “Never Again”, and establishing Jewish self-governance in Israel.

        Have you read Plan Dalet, Witty? So you’re proud of “your” people for setting land mines in homes and executing survivors who dared to return after colonial terrorists and militants drove them out of their villages?

    • Shingo
      September 23, 2010, 2:47 pm

      “Human nature abhors injustice.”

      And yet you abhor justice, or at least Zionism does.

    • Psychopathic god
      September 24, 2010, 8:03 am

      The Exodus story was more informative than misrepresentative. Read it. You will find irritations, but you will also find fictional representations.

      ARI: How can we ask the UN for a just decision…
      …when we keep blowing up things like a bunch of anarchists?

      UNCLE AKIVA: You have just used the words “a just decision.”
      May I tell you something?
      Firstly…
      …justice itself is an abstraction…
      …completely devoid of reality.
      Second, to speak of justice and Jews in the same breath…
      …is a logical uncertainty.
      Thirdly…
      …one can argue the justice of Arab claims on Palestine…
      …just as one can argue the justice of Jewish claims.
      Fourthly…
      …no one can say the Jews have not had…
      …more than their share of injustice these past years.
      I therefore say, fifthly…
      …Let the next injustice work against somebody else for a change.

      ARI: You just changed the subject on me.
      UNCLE: You noticed.
      ARI: I suppose that means more bombings and more killings?
      UNCLE: I’ll put it this way.
      Let the National Committee keep on trying to talk the British out of Palestine.
      We have no objections. We will continue to bomb them out.

      see my comment earlier today that reports on a conversation at a J Street meeting recently; Leon Uris’s Uncle Akiva lives in the hearts of at least this roomful of American Jews.
      “Never again” is the real fiction in this scenario, as is the “misrepresentation” perpetuated in fiction that Jews have been perpetual victims and “experienced more than their share of injustice.”

  2. justicewillprevail
    September 23, 2010, 7:29 am

    Great final paragraph. Couldn’t agree more. Truth about the situation is the biggest threat to Israeli supremacist thinking and their apartheid state.

  3. seafoid
    September 23, 2010, 8:11 am

    Anyone who goes to the OT can see the injustice straight up. If Zionism were decent, there would be no need for a DC lobby. There would be no need for hasbara. Zionism is most vulnerable to the truth. All of the Arabs know this and the West is slowly getting the message. Keep up the good work, Pamela.

  4. Citizen
    September 23, 2010, 8:40 am

    Let’s try this template test on the I-P situation; it’s a jolly, er, I mean trolley good way to ferret out where one stands:
    link to wired.com

    • Citizen
      September 23, 2010, 10:52 am

      Looks like Israel knows which side it’s on in the trolley test–Obama told the UN today that the Palestinians and Arab leaders need to recognize Israel and quit trying to delegitimize it. He forgot to tell us that the Israelis are also keen to grease the wheels of peace on the homefront by
      getting the release of one IDF soldier and–our favorite American boy, Jonathan Pollard: link to mycatbirdseat.com

      • potsherd
        September 23, 2010, 11:57 am

        That would be the same UN speech that the Israeli delegation walked out on? There is no appeasing these people, but Obama will never learn this lesson. He has appeasement where real leaders keep a spine.

  5. Amar
    September 23, 2010, 10:52 am

    Re the Gaza flotilla, this story out today is bad news for Israel. But seems theres a widespread blackout of it in the MSM.

    link to guardian.co.uk

    • lysias
      September 23, 2010, 11:55 am

      The Washington Post has a brief report buried deep inside the first section of today’s print paper. Bottom of Page A12, one paragraph based on the AP report that appears on line at much greater length at link to washingtonpost.com.

    • potsherd
      September 23, 2010, 11:59 am

      There was a thorough report on this at the Daily Kos, which was met immediately by the usual smear campaign against the UN as biased against Israel.

      • Amar
        September 23, 2010, 12:27 pm

        GIYUS in action.
        link to giyus.org

      • Pamela Olson
        September 23, 2010, 3:17 pm

        Is it possible for us to download their megaphone software and use it against them? To receive the same alerts they get and blast pro-justice opinions and information at the same time they’re blasting their propaganda? Seems like it’d be an easy way to shut them up (or at least make their site password-protected), but maybe I’m missing something?

      • Andre
        September 23, 2010, 3:37 pm

        Yes, you can, Pamela. But I recommend to install it on a separate computer and not your main system.

      • annie
        September 23, 2010, 5:57 pm

        i doubt it pamela. i think the software allows them to track you and comments made thru the system. i also read a few years ago when the first reports came thru the software is used to impact online polling and for that there’s only one option when they alert you to the polls. it ‘votes’ for you.

        also i don’t know if you recall the story of the alleged white supremist leader (i can’t recall who) who donated to ron paul’s campaign and there was a real shitstorm about his accepting the money. i can’t recall what the exact image was but the supremist posted a screenshot on his website, something he captured from his computer. it was only up for a little while before it was captured and he was outted. it had a giyus icon in the bottom of the screen. that hit like a lead brick. my point? i think they also perform as raving anti semites to deligitimize certain sites. big duh. i have to run out but it’s not hard to find w/a little googling of paul/giyus/ white supremist.

      • Chaos4700
        September 23, 2010, 10:13 pm

        There are rumors that there is spyware / malware in it. I wouldn’t know… I was tempted to install the software in order to observe and exploit the warnings too, but the software does auto-vote for you in polls, and even without everyone else’s rumors my intuition told me that it was more con than pro.

    • lysias
      September 23, 2010, 12:03 pm

      The usual suspects on Daily Kos deal with this report by attacking the UN Human Rights Commission: link to dailykos.com .

    • tree
      September 23, 2010, 1:28 pm

      The UN Report can be read in its entirety here:

      link to www2.ohchr.org

      The descriptions of what happened and shocking, and yet they are not. There is nothing that happened about the Mavi Marmara, and later in custody in Israel, that has not happened to countless Palestinians in the Occupied Territory.

      From the report on 3 of those killed:

      Deaths occurring on the Top Deck (roof)
      Furkan Doğan
      Furkan Doğan, a nineteen-year old with dual Turkish and United States citizenship, was on
      the central area of the top deck filming with a small video camera when he was first hit
      with live fire. It appears that he was lying on the deck in a conscious, or semi-conscious,
      state for some time. It (sic) total Furkan received five bullet wounds, to the face, head, back
      thorax, left leg and foot. All of the entry wounds were on the back of his body, except for
      the face wound which entered to the right of his nose. According to forensic analysis,
      tattooing around the wound in his face indicates that the shot was delivered at point blank
      range. Furthermore, the trajectory of the wound, from bottom to top, together with a vital
      abrasion to the left shoulder that could be consistent with the bullet exit point, is compatible
      with the shot being received while he was lying on the ground on his back. The other
      wounds were not the result of firing in contact, near contact or close range, but it is not
      otherwise possible to determine the exact firing range. The wounds to the leg and foot were
      most likely received in a standing position.

      İbrahim Bilgen
      İbrahim Bilgen, a 60 year old Turkish citizen, from Siirt in Turkey, was on the top deck and
      was one of the first passengers to be shot. He received a bullet wound to the chest, the
      trajectory of which was from above and not at close range. He had a further two bullet
      wounds to the right side of the back and right buttock, both back to front. These wounds
      would not have caused instant death, but he would have bled to death within a short time
      without medical attention. Forensic evidence shows that he was shot in the side of the head
      with a soft baton round at such close proximity and that an entire bean bag and its wadding
      penetrated the skull and lodged in the brain. He had a further bruise on the right flank
      consistent with another beanbag wound. The wounds are consistent with the deceased
      initially being shot from soldiers on board the helicopter above and receiving a further
      wound to the head while lying on the ground, already wounded.

      ….

      Ali Heyder Bengi
      According to the pathology report, Ali Heyder Bengi, a 38 year old Turkish citizen from
      Diyarbakir, received six bullet wounds (one in the chest, one in the abdomen, one in the
      right arm, one in the right thigh and two in the left hand). One bullet lodged in the chest
      area. None of the wounds would have been instantly fatal, but damage to the liver caused
      bleeding which would have been fatal if not stemmed. There are several witness accounts
      which suggest that Israeli soldiers shot the deceased in the back and chest at close range
      while he was lying on the deck as a consequence of initial bullet wounds.

      These killings sound consistent with the IDF practice of “confirming the kill”, in which an already wounded and otherwise incapacitated person is executed at close range.

      Also from the report:

      170. The circumstances of the killing of at least six of the passengers were in a manner
      consistent with an extra-legal, arbitrary and summary execution. Furkan Doğan and İbrahim
      Bilgen were shot at near range while the victims were lying injured on the top deck. Cevdet
      Kiliçlar, Cengiz Akyüz, Cengiz Songür and Çetin Topçuoğlu were shot on the bridge deck
      while not participating in activities that represented a threat to any Israeli soldier. In these
      instances and possibly other killings on the Mavi Marmara, Israeli forces carried out extralegal,
      arbitrary and summary executions prohibited by international human rights law,
      specifically article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.80

      • tree
        September 23, 2010, 1:31 pm

        Oops, messed up my formatting again. This,

        “These killings sound consistent with the IDF practice of “confirming the kill”, in which an already wounded and otherwise incapacitated person is executed at close range.

        Also from the report:”

        is my writing and not from the UN report. All other italicized writing from the above post is quoted from the report.

      • potsherd
        September 23, 2010, 9:12 pm

        It would appear that the killing of Dogan was captured on video – the description of his wounds is most consistent with the video evidence. I wonder how many members of the US Congress have watched this video, the murder of a US citizen that they praised in a resolution supporting the murderers.

    • potsherd
      September 23, 2010, 2:41 pm

      Israeli spin to discredit the truth already underway

    • eljay
      September 23, 2010, 10:03 pm

      >> link to guardian.co.uk
      >> “Israel is a democratic and law-abiding country that carefully observes international law and, when need be, knows how to investigate itself,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

      Foreign Ministry forgot to add “Jewish homeland”, “beacon unto the nations”, “most moral army” and “only democracy in the Middle East”. Without those, Israel is just another country that “carefully observes international law”. (That phrase is hilarious!)

      • seafoid
        September 24, 2010, 7:38 am

        International law is being dismantled in the case of Gaza, bomb by bomb

  6. annie
    September 23, 2010, 5:43 pm

    thanks for the excellent report pamela. i appreciate it and your activism.

  7. yourstruly
    September 23, 2010, 11:32 pm

    No surprise that the Israelis are so desperate now, what with an American boat that’s out to break the siege, BDS, particularly the type of cultural boycotts that proved to be so effective in wearing down the morale of apartheid South Africa, not to mention the decline in support for the settler-state among Americans, young Jewish-Americans in particular. The settler state and its U.S. supporters know that there’s a tipping point in popular support for the settler-state, beyond which it’ll be almost impossible for the U.S. to continue to ignore the call for justice for the Palestinian people.

    • Psychopathic god
      September 24, 2010, 7:38 am

      At a J Street discussion group a few days ago, someone made the very interesting comment that “Who cares about Palestinians? Nobody’s paying attention to Palestinians, they have no representation. . . . Ass the Saudis get more worried about Iran, the Saudis get more weapons to defend against Iran, which means Israel gets more stealth weapons to counter Saudi weapons, and the Palestinians gradually disappear.”

      That speaker was asked, later: “What is the endgame — will Israel feel more secure with new and better weapons? Israel is already the most sophisticated military in the region and its profoundly insecure. So what will more weapons achieve for Israel?”

      That person answered: “There are two strategies playing out: The Palestinian strategy is population growth; Israel’s strategy is to continue to hold on as the Middle East runs out of oil and becomes irrelevant.”

      draw your own conclusions.

      This meeting was held in one of the oldest and grandest synagogues — presumably a Jewish holy place — in town and participants were rank and file members of the Jewish community.

      • occupyresist
        October 1, 2010, 8:39 am

        That person answered: “There are two strategies playing out: The Palestinian strategy is population growth; Israel’s strategy is to continue to hold on as the Middle East runs out of oil and becomes irrelevant.”

        Saudi Aramco has 50-60 more years by some estimates till it runs out, but they pump the highest number of b/d amongst NOCs and IOCs. Qatar by far has the longest reserve life-span, but they don’t pump as much. Really, how long is this conflict going to last in its present form, another 60 years?

      • Psychopathic god
        October 1, 2010, 9:22 am

        I’m just the messenger, occupyresist.

        looks like you’ve got the message, tho.

        wonder how long AIPACJ-Street intend to retain US as their bully-in-chief to backstop Israel in its strategy — til US taxpayer money runs out?

      • occupyresist
        October 1, 2010, 10:18 am

        Someone asked me why there isn’t a Saudi Lobby in the US? I presume that he was asking why the Saudis won’t use this massive oil wealth to counter the influence of the Israeli Lobby.

        Leaving aside the fact that the US should at least curb those mechanisms in place that abuse the system to influence policy, which in effects leads to decisions that run counter to its national interests….do you think that having a Saudi Lobby would be as effective in countering the influence of the Israel Lobby, most notably regarding the promotion of the Palestinian cause and honest coverage of what goes on in the Middle East?

        For example, only watching Jon Stewart’s pieces on the “Ground Zero Mosque” did I learn that, outside of the Murdoch family, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal is the second largest shareholder, and owns over 7% of News Corp……but watching Fox News, you would not even begin to have an inkling that a Saudi has even a slight say in the way it covers the Middle East…..

    • potsherd
      October 1, 2010, 9:32 am

      beyond which it’ll be almost impossible for the U.S. to continue to ignore the call for justice for the Palestinian people.

      This gives far too much credit to the US, which is capable of ignoring any number of evils at the same time, all while slumped in front of the bigscreen TV. As long as it doesn’t cause them any material distress, the US populace will shrug off injustice everywhere else.

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