Monday, June 27, 2011

Freedom Flotilla II, testing Israel’s legitimacy

The hour is imminent when Israel’s right to exist will be tested once more. Some time this week or perhaps into the next, the second self-anointed “Freedom Flotilla” – consisting of ten boats from across Europe and North America – will set sail in convoy from the failing state of Greece to the Gaza Strip. Their aim is clear: it is to break the blockade which surrounds the Hamas-controlled territory as to force the hand of the Israeli government into preventing them from doing so by any means necessary.

What is clear from this method of protest (if you can call it that) is that their desire to see the establishment of some kind of Palestinian state has been superseded by a want to undermine the legitimacy of the one and only Jewish state. After all, if their aim was genuinely to relieve the people of Gaza, then there are various legal avenues solidarity campaigners might use.

Since June 2010, the State of Israel has liberalised the laws surrounding the import of goods into Gaza, allowing for the passage of civilian goods whilst preventing certain weapons and dual-use items from entering the enclave. Not only this, but in the wake of the revolution in Egypt, the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and the Sinai has been reopened, with a much larger number of Palestinians crossing back and forth between the two territories on a daily basis.

The flotilla, by contrast, is choosing to set sail directly for the port of Gaza with the sole aim of violating the sovereignty of the State of Israel. Moreover, they aim to provoke a forceful response from the Israel Defense Forces as a means to delegitimising them as an institution and the Israeli government as an authority. This rabble would appear to be another case of a group or organisation speaking for the Palestinians as a cover for promoting their own unhelpful, damaging causes.

Freedom Flotilla II, as with the original failed endeavour, is being sponsored by a coalition of shady figures who amount to nothing more than the Western arm of the Friends of Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad. The umbrella group heading the whole thing is again IHH, a charity with links to international terrorism that masquerades as a humanitarian organisation. IHH boasts a history of involvement in Islamic extremism, having been connected with a failed plot to bomb Los Angeles International Airport.

Also involved are the Free Gaza Movement, who count amongst their patrons Lauren Booth, who far from being a journalist is a mouth-piece and propagandist for Ayatollah Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a face of Press TV. Iran’s Western media outlet, this network plays host to such bums and lowlifes as Yvonne Ridley and George Galloway, dear friend of, amongst others, Bashar al-Assad and the late Saddam Hussein.

Israel does not have to tolerate such tests of legitimacy from these sorts of thugs and slugs. If their aim truly is some kind of glorious martyrdom, then the IDF can be as sure as hell that those at sea will do whatever is possible to bring on such a fiery end. On the part of the Israeli authorities, three things ought to be requested. The first is obvious: any use of force must occur as a measure of last resort, applied proportionally only after it is certain that the convoy will not halt and have defied repeated warnings of what might occur should they continue onto Gaza. Moreover, the aim of such force must be to navigate the boats towards an Israeli port and detain the so-called activists there.

Second, the Israelis need to adopt a more lenient attitude towards journalists than they are at present. CNN, CBS and the New York Times are all dispatching hacks to board the flotilla, and the government needs to respect that their role is to report with neutrality and accuracy on the events at hand. Talk of barring journalists from Israel for up to ten years merely for being on the boats is not helpful to the State’s image.

Third, after the progress of the first flotilla was halted, the IDF released audio evidence which demonstrated that the Mavi Marmara was indeed warned several times of the risk of breaking the blockade. Even with the presence of journalists aboard this time around, such steps will need to be taken again. The responsibility of the Israelis, then, is to be as fair, open and transparent as possible with regard to whatever action they take after the Freedom Flotilla passes the point of no return.


Monday, November 22, 2010

There’s just something about Israel: a Reply

Student movements have always displayed their most noble side when organised against injustices beyond our shores. In the 1960s, protest was directed against racial segregation and the incursion into Indochina. Forward to the 1980s, and note the worthy work London students undertook in the campaign against apartheid in South Africa. Contrast this to the glitter finale at Millbank – where the middle classes and some astroturf anarchists defiled private property, with the aim of protecting privilege – and we see how far we have fallen.

Writing in London Student, James Haywood advances such a notion in going after the NUS for turning a blind eye to the plight of the Palestinians, demanding that “Palestinian human rights [should] be upheld like everyone else’s.” Indeed, students should be more active in championing for a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, which must include the formation of a Palestinian state. To put it simply, solving one injustice, in the creation of the State of Israel, does not in turn justify another. That the Palestinian and indeed Kurdish peoples continue to lead a stateless existence in this century should be an embarrassment to the world’s free nations.

On the other hand, Mr. Haywood’s article fails to recognise that while the principle of a Palestinian state is a simple, black and white proposition, the picture of the entire Arab-Israeli conflict is painted with a thousand shades of grey. It would be entirely improper for the NUS to mount the sort of ‘boycott, divestment and sanctions’ crusade against Israel he is advocating. In doing so, we would be indulging in bigotry and ahistoricism, labelling the State of Israel as bad as apartheid South Africa, whilst applying a narrow, good against evil paradigm to a situation beset by the most complex political issues of our time.

The piece itself paints a rather distorted picture of the conflict, failing to concede at all that the Palestinians might be deciders in their own destiny. On the Separation Fence and checkpoints, they are indeed an unfortunate blight on the beautiful hills of Jerusalem and points beyond: walls between peoples are never sought. But, we must bear in mind that they were constructed as a direct response to the campaign of indiscriminate (or, one could argue, very discriminate) terror that residents of the Territories waged against Israel, in particular during the Al-Aqsa Intifada.

Blame too must rest with the Palestinian leadership, in particular Yasser Arafat. Not only did he run the nascent Authority on the West Bank into the ground through corruption and lackadaisical leadership, but he walked away from talks at Camp David which offered both sides the best chance at peace since Yitzbak Rabin extended his hand on the lawn of the White House in 1993. “[Ehud Barak] had taken great risks to win a more secure future for Israel”, President Clinton wrote in his memoir, “Arafat’s rejection of my proposal after Barak accepted it was an error of historical proportions.”

On Israel, I do not care one iota for the tone in which the State has been demonised by Mr. Haywood. He never goes as far as to directly question its legitimacy, but the kinds of questions he raises of it can’t help but invite suspicion. In particular, he brings up the “murder of aid volunteers on international waters”, or rather as it was in reality a direct act of confrontation against Israel’s sovereignty masquerading as a peace mission. Aboard the flotilla were such shady individuals as Amin Abu-Rashid, Hamas’ chief fundraiser in Western Europe, and Yasser Muhammad Sabag, an agent of Syria who had been active in the Abu Nidal terrorist organisation. The benefactors behind the flotilla, IHH, boast a history of involvement in Islamic extremism, having been linked with a failed plot to bomb Los Angeles International Airport.

On the whole, James Haywood makes an excellent point, namely that students should be involved in more selfless rather than selfish campaigns of international solidarity. We should, for example, be standing with our brothers and sisters in Tehran, as a civil society begins to emerge in a nation ruined by three decades of rule by clerical diktat. So too should we turn our gaze toward Burma, especially in the wake of the release of the unfaltering democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi.

But yes, there is just something about Palestine, in the same way that for some as his article demonstrates there is something about Israel too. Students should not be involving themselves, as Mr. Haywood suggests, in a campaign of persecution against Israel. Rather, we all, including cadres in ULU and the NUS, should be active in pursuing a just and fair resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, one which acknowledges a history of wrongdoing on both sides of the divide. We must seek a concord free from ideological dogmatism, where two states for two peoples co-exist in one land, in a condition of perpetual peace. We can but hope.

An edited version was published in London Student, November 22 2010. Written in reply to “There’s just something about Palestine”, by James Haywood, London Student, November 8 2010.