Busting the siege, American style

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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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