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Friday, June 11, 2010

Cracks Showing in American Support for Israel

This is what the "debate" over the blockade of Gaza looks like in Israel. It's not pretty. A day after the Israeli Defense Force attacked a relief ship in the Mediterranean, Israelis gathered in the port city of Ashdod to express their support for the IDF. Spoiler alert; they aren't very nice people.


Israel should be a warning to us. This is what happens when the farthest rightwing "patriots" are dominant in your government and in your society. The right is always about authoritarianism in the end, with all the talk of liberty and freedom meaning the liberty and freedom to do what you're allowed to do, to say what you're allowed to say, to believe what you're allowed to believe. It's impossible to disagree with the right's position, it's only possible to commit treasonous political heresy -- I am right, you are wrong, automatically and without question. It should surprise no one that many of the political tactics of the Israeli right -- the "us versus them" moral absolutism, the questioning of people's patriotism, the institutional paranoia --  found their way into Bush-era neoconservatism. For rightwing Israelis, all Palestinians are terrorists and no terrorist is a human being. Therefore, no Palestinian is human. They're a disease to be quarantined.

In American politics, Israel has traditionally enjoyed unquestioning support. No matter how bad things get, it's never the Israelis' fault. Even as the international community condemns the raid on the aid flotilla, American politicians seem to be in some sort of competition to see who can support Israel more. The debate in American politics is nearly as one-sided as what we'll laughingly call "the discussion" represented by the video above. If you're pro-Israel, good for you. If you're critical, you get to shut up about it -- if you know what's good for you.

But cracks in the kneejerk "yay for Israel!" mindset are appearing the the American media. NBC News recently ran a segment calling the Gaza Strip a "120 square mile prison," where an entire population is held responsible for the actions of a few. And McClatchy Newspapers is reporting that Israeli arguments of a self-defensive blockade of Gaza are false.

As Israel ordered a slight easing of its blockade of the Gaza Strip Wednesday, McClatchy obtained an Israeli government document that describes the blockade not as a security measure but as "economic warfare" against the Islamist group Hamas , which rules the Palestinian territory.

Israel imposed severe restrictions on Gaza in June 2007 , after Hamas won elections and took control of the coastal enclave after winning elections there the previous year, and the government has long said that the aim of the blockade is to stem the flow of weapons to militants in Gaza . response to a lawsuit by Gisha, an Israeli human rights group, the Israeli government explained the blockade as an exercise of the right of economic warfare.

"A country has the right to decide that it chooses not to engage in economic relations or to give economic assistance to the other party to the conflict, or that it wishes to operate using 'economic warfare,'" the Israeli government said.

But do they?

In another instance of Israel's weakening grip on American media, the Christian Science Monitor asked whether the blockade was legal. The answer was complex, but probably not what Israel-backers wanted to hear.

"There is a clear link between conditions in Gaza and international law that is relevant this week," Mark Ellis, executive director of the International Bar Association in London, told CSM. "At the heart of humanitarian law, the laws of war, and human rights law is a need to ensure that civilians are protected and do not disproportionately suffer from the actions of a state... Right now, every objective assessment is that Gazans are suffering. The elephant in the room in flotilla-attack legal debates is the blockade. The real need is a focus on the legality of the conditions of people in Gaza."

As things are now, Gazans are entirely dependent on secret tunnels to meet their needs. Voice of America reports that Gazan have a "tunnel economy for basic supplies and income," according to a report by the International Labor Organization. Israel argues that the tunnels exist almost solely to smuggle in weapons, but the facts show that they're used mostly to smuggle in necessities. According to the ILO, "75 percent of the population is food dependant and 70 percent of the population lives under the poverty line of $1 a day."

Dov Weisglass, an adviser to the prime minister Ehud Olmert, explained the real reason for the blockade in 2006. "The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger," he said. The blockade exists to use hunger as a weapon, to get Palestinians to turn against Hamas. The legality of this is extremely questionable, especially in light of Israel's claim of being in a state of war.

"Hamas is not a state," Marcelo Kohen, a law professor at Geneva’s Graduate Institute of International Studies, told Christian Science Monitor. "There is also at present a cease-fire on Gaza." Given these conditions, it's hard to see what wouldn't qualify as "war."

"Under [Israel's] logic one could maintain a maritime blockade unendingly," Kohen said. "It only requires one party to consider itself as being in a 'state of war.'"

So when are American politicians going to catch up with reality? You've got me. For his part, President Barack Obama has called the humanitarian situation in Gaza "unsustainable" and has pledged $400 million in aid. But with the other hand, his 2011 budget calls for $3 billion in military aid to Israel. Four million steps forward, three billion steps back.

The kneejerk pro-Israel mindset is starting to weaken in America. We're getting there, slowly but surely. But you wonder how long the people of Gaza can wait.


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