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Picture this: 20 military vehicles, including an armoured personnel carrier, surround an office in broad daylight. Dozens of soldiers and police proceed to raid and loot the office, breaking equipment, stealing computers, and kidnapping the workers in the office-three unarmed women, one of whom has since been released.
But it was the Israeli army and police who did it, to the office of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM, see www.palsolidarity.org), so there's a good chance it won't covered at all in the corporate media, or if it is, it will likely be whitewashed one way or another, with those who commit the crimes portrayed as the victims. Indeed, the story may be 'disappeared', along with so many other daily indignities, raids, and killings that Palestinians suffer.
Whitewash and disappearance have been the pattern in the mainstream media against the ISM's desperate attempts to defend itself politically from Israel's increasingly murderous assault on it and on independent observers and witnesses in the territories. Rachel Corrie, the 23 year-old American citizen who was murdered on March 16 by a bulldozer as she tried to prevent it from demolishing a house, was the first victim of the current campaign. The media responded by repeating the Israeli army's assertion that Israel was not responsible, and that the ISM was irresponsible.
The shooting in the face of US citizen Brian Avery on April 7 in Jenin followed, as did the shooting in Gaza of UK citizen Tom Hurndall, 21 years old, now braindead, whose parents recently had the honour of being fired upon themselves as they went to visit the site of their child's shooting. ISM volunteers are not the only witnesses to be killed in the past few weeks. British cameraman James Miller was murdered days ago in Gaza, while waving a white flag and screaming, along with others, that he was a journalist.
Rather than apologizing for these murderous attacks against journalists and nonviolent activists, Israel, remarkably, has managed to use them for political gain by banning the ISM altogether. Quoting the ISM's press release, "On April 16, Army Chief of Staff, Lt. General Moshe Yaalon announced that he had given the order to 'take the ISM out', claiming that we 'injure [the] freedom of action' of his troops. The Israeli military 'freedom of action' includes military invasions and sieges of Palestinian civilian areas and flagrant abuses of basic rights and humanitarian law. It includes continuing to fire on innocent Palestinian men, women and children and continuing to hold a civilian population hostage to military terror."
After journalist James Miller's murder, Israeli spokespeople provided the same line that the US military gave after its own murder of journalist Tariq Ayoub in Baghdad weeks ago-that these are dangerous zones and people shouldn't be there. The mainstream media, rather than acting to protect its own journalists, went along. Canada's 'Globe and Mail' reporter Doug Saunders went so far as to completely fabricate a story about ISM activists meeting with suicide bombers (see http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=22&ItemID=3573 for a full refutation of this vicious lie)
Under this sort of non-existent media scrutiny, it's no surprise that the Israeli response to the current situation has been to use the murders it itself committed as a pretext for moving to ban non-violent activists from Gaza. As of May 8, Israel was making all foreign nationals entering Gaza sign a statement saying: 'Iâ€¦ declare that I have no association with the organization known as ISM (International Solidarity Movement) nor any other organization whose aim is to disrupt IDF operations.' For a state that is illegally occupying a territory, engaging in ethnic cleansing of its population, and systematically murdering witnesses and reporters on that ethnic cleansing, such a statement is a powerful declaration of impunity.
The work of international accompaniment has always been based on the belief that killing or persecuting foreigners is a bigger scandal than killing or persecuting local people, making it possible for internationals to use their presence to help protect others. As it steps up its attack on internationals and journalists, Israel is calling the activists' bluff. So far, the hoped-for scandal has not emerged. Instead, the media that might have supported its own journalists has instead chosen complicity. The states that might have supported their citizens by taking up the matter of their murder with Israel at the diplomatic level, have not done so. And so, impunity flourishes.
When all the witnesses are murdered or driven out, what will go on in the Occupied Territories? How will anyone know whether things have gone from mere checkpoints, house demolitions, massacres, destruction of crops, theft of land, denial of food, water, medicine, and assassination, to something worse? How will anyone know if stepped up killings, or mass starvation, or mass expulsions, or mass denial of medical care is taking place? What will happen to the Palestinians then?
Will North Americans and Israelis really believe that this is an anti-terrorist strategy? In December of 2002, before the ISM was banned, one of its founding members, Neta Golan, said the following:
'I'm often in Balata refugee camp, and I want to believe that Israel believes that its actions are going to stop resistance but they have to know that they are making the situation so intolerable that non-resistance is a non-option. There were no suicide bombers from Balata until May of this year. In May there were assassinations of two young men who were Palestinian fighters, members of the armed resistance. For the people in these camps, these fighters were heroes who were defending their people. It was 4 days after these assassinations that a wave of 7 suicide bombers came from Balata.
The oldest of these bombers was eighteen.
The operations were poorly organized. Many of them blew up on the way, failed in their missions. They were obviously acts of pure desperation. The Israeli Army knows they can't stop attacks like these. Arafat certainly can't stop them.
But there is one thing that can stop them. Hope.
In the first intifada, tens of thousands of Palestinians marched for an end to occupation. There were some bombings-but Palestinians stopped them. When Prime Minister Barak wanted to have elections in an atmosphere of quiet, he got his quiet by lifting the siege and opening up a few roadblocks. That was all it took. There were no bombings because there was hope.
By your joining us, you can help bring back hope.'
It seems that Israel and the United States want to take that hope away, with all that that implies.
Can they succeed? In an excellent recent article, Joel Kovel compared Israel and South Africa, reminding readers that if apartheid could be defeated in South Africa, it could also be defeated in Israel:
'There are of course important differences between Israel and apartheid South Africa. The latter was only a secondary (though not insignificant) client of the United States, inasmuch as it lacked strong domestic constituencies in America, and more importantly, was not a factor in controlling an area so strategic as the Middle East. Because South Africa is a wealthy and largely self-sufficient powerhouse, while Israel would collapse like a house of cards without the support of its patron, a much greater role would be given to organizing within the United States in the struggle against Zionism compared to the struggle against Apartheid. At the same time, the depth of the American-Israeli tie makes that organizing much more arduous, even as the present state of war and looming expulsion of the Palestinian people (ethnic cleansing was not significant for South Africa) gives it an immediate urgency.'
Neither governments nor the media have done what they could have to stop the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. Citizens began to travel to Palestine to accompany Palestinians when it became clear that the 'international community' (in the form of governments) was not going to help. But foreign citizens offer no additional deterrent if the threat of a political scandal after an atrocity remains an empty threat. So far there is plenty of atrocity, but not enough scandal.
On June 5, 2003, there will be an international day of action for justice in Palestine. (http://www.peacejusticestudies.org/palestine.php) It is the world's chance to tell the Palestinians that they are not alone. That hope will not be killed so casually. The ISM is not planning to fold up and go away, either, and could use help.