What the Pixies think may be catching

A piece in today’s Murdoch Australian highlights the almost unstoppable movement towards isolating Israel until it recognises the error of its occupying ways. Not much evidence that many Israelis do believe that, but give them time:

The piece is by Michael Shaik:

“MICHAEL, she’s dead.”

It was March 16, 2003. The huge anti-war protests of the month before had failed to deflect the Coalition of the Willing from its imminent invasion of Iraq.

In Palestine, Israel was busily breaking the back of the second intifada, as the pitifully armed resistance retaliated with suicide bombings.

In a desperate bid to resurrect the popular non-violent movement that had been smashed in the first weeks of the intifada, Palestinian leaders had requested the assistance of internationals whose presence, it was believed, would limit the amount of force Israel could use against protesters.

While the US university student Rachel Corrie worked to obstruct Israel’s demolition of 1200 houses along Gaza’s border with Egypt, I was working as the media co-ordinator for the International Solidarity Movement in the West Bank village of Beit Sahour.

Rachel had phoned me to report that one of her colleagues had been picked up in a bulldozer blade and thrown into some barbed wire. Then another activist had phoned to tell me that she had been run over. Then that she was in an ambulance and that her skin was turning blue. Then that she was dead.

Beit Sahour is in a valley where the archangel is believed to have announced Christ’s birth to the shepherds.

In 1997, the people of the village had camped in the forest of Abu Ghaneim overlooking the site of the miracle to prevent its seizure by Israel. Today, the settlement of Har Homa towers over Beit Sahour like a monument to the futility of non-violent resistance.

In 2006, I joined a group of peace activists who had been deported from Palestine to discuss ways in which we could help from the outside. At the beginning of the year, the Israeli government had announced that it would “put the Palestinians on a diet” to punish them for voting for Hamas in parliamentary elections and it was quickly decided that our best course was to try to “break the siege of Gaza” by bringing in supplies by sea.

In August 2008, we had our first success when two wooden fishing boats breached the blockade carrying a cargo of hearing aids for children whose eardrums had been damaged by the sonic booms caused by Israeli jets.

Gradually, our successes accumulated, drawing more people into the movement. Yet the turning point came during last year’s assault on Gaza when Israel systematically destroyed its factories, sewerage infrastructure, residential buildings, farmland and tens of thousands of farm animals. According to Amnesty International, the effect of the assault and blockade has been to “push the crisis to catastrophic levels”.

This year, UN Gaza chief John Ging called upon the international community “to shoulder its responsibility on this issue” by “sending ships to break the siege”.

Despite the mission’s failure, outrage over Israel’s attack on an aid convoy in international waters has forced its apologists to work overtime to explain how a blockade that bars tinned meat, cement, shoes and schoolbooks from entering Gaza, that has reduced 61 per cent of Gaza’s households to “food insecurity” and that has caused widespread stunting among its children, is vital to Israel’s security.

This represents a significant embarrassment for Israel, but for people living in refugee camps, non-violence is a means, not an end in itself.

On Saturday, Federal Labor MP Michael Danby announced that he and the leaders of Australia’s Israel lobby had met Kevin Rudd and Foreign Minister Stephen Smith at The Lodge and gained assurances that the government would not be calling for an end to the blockade nor a UN inquiry but would only support an “independent” Israeli inquiry into its attack on the ships.

Yet while Danby and his associates congratulate themselves on their power to shape Australian foreign policy, there may still be grounds for optimism.

With the possible exception of the invasion of Iraq, the West’s acquiescence to the siege of Gaza represents its greatest moral and political blunder of the modern era.

It pauperises Gaza’s population and strengthens Hamas (which taxes goods smuggled through tunnels from Egypt) while forcing Gaza into Iran’s embrace and providing a priceless example of Western duplicity for jihadi propagandists.

Like Guernica in the 1930s, Gaza has captured the world’s imagination as something larger than itself: a grotesque laboratory for experiments in human suffering and a symbol of the international community’s failure to live up to its professed ideals.

Amid the tragedy and media war of the past week, it is easy to overlook the historic significance of what has been achieved.

Seven years after a girl in a red jacket was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer, her memory is being carried forward by a Nobel peace laureate and former UN assistant secretary-general aboard a cargo vessel bearing her name.

Last weekend the Pixies joined Gil Scott-Heron, Carlos Santana and Elvis Costello in cancelling performances in Israel, recalling the cultural boycott of apartheid South Africa.

While none of these events will free Palestine, they certainly represent the coming of age of a global movement that challenges both Israel and an international community whose business-as-usual diplomacy has served to normalise one of the great crimes of the 21st century.

Michael Shaik was a founder of the Free Gaza Movement

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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