The most heroic Jew: Gideon Levy

Is Gideon Levy the most hated man in Israel or just the most heroic?

-

For three decades, the writer and journalist Gideon Levy has been a lone voice, telling his readers the truth about what goes on in the Occupied Territories.

The story of Gideon Levy – and the attempt to deride, suppress or deny his words – is the story of Israel distilled. If he loses, Israel itself is lost.

I meet him in a hotel bar in Scotland, as part of his European tour to promote his new book, ‘The Punishment of Gaza’. The 57 year-old looks like an Eastern European intellectual on a day off – tall and broad and dressed in black, speaking accented English in a lyrical baritone. He seems so at home in the world of book festivals and black coffee that it is hard, at first, to picture him on the last occasion he was in Gaza – in November, 2006, before the Israeli government changed the law to stop him going.

He reported that day on a killing, another of the hundreds he has documented over the years. As twenty little children pulled up in their school bus at the Indira Gandhi kindergarten, their 20 year-old teacher, Najawa Khalif, waved to them – and an Israel shell hit her and she was blasted to pieces in front of them. He arrived a day later, to find the shaking children drawing pictures of the chunks of her corpse. The children were “astonished to see a Jew without weapons. All they had ever seen were soldiers and settlers.”

“My biggest struggle,” he says, “is to rehumanize the Palestinians. There’s a whole machinery of brainwashing in Israel which really accompanies each of us from early childhood, and I’m a product of this machinery as much as anyone else. [We are taught] a few narratives that it’s very hard to break. That we Israelis are the ultimate and only victims. That the Palestinians are born to kill, and their hatred is irrational. That the Palestinians are not human beings like us… So you get a society without any moral doubts, without any questions marks, with hardly public debate. To raise your voice against all this is very hard.”

So he describes the lives of ordinary Palestinians like Najawa and her pupils in the pages of Ha’aretz, Israel’s establishment newspaper. The tales read like Chekovian short stories of trapped people, in which nothing happens, and everything happens, and the only escape is death. One article was entitled “The last meal of the Wahbas family.” He wrote: “They’d all sat down to have lunch at home: the mother Fatma, three months pregnant; her daughter Farah, two; her son Khaled, one; Fatma’s brother, Dr Zakariya Ahmed; his daughter in law Shayma, nine months pregnant; and the seventy-eight year old grandmother. A Wahba family gathering in Khan Yunis in honour of Dr Ahmed, who’d arrived home six days earlier from Saudi Arabia. A big boom is heard outside. Fatma hurriedly scoops up the littlest one and tries to escape to an inner room, but another boom follows immediately. This time is a direct hit.”

In small biographical details, he recovers their humanity from the blankness of an ever-growing death toll. The Wahbas had tried for years to have a child before she finally became pregnant at the age of 36. The grandmother tried to lift little Khaled off the floor: that’s when she realised her son and daughter were dead.

Levy uses a simple technique. He asks his fellow Israelis: how would we feel, if this was done to us by a vastly superior military power? Once, in Jenin, his car was stuck behind an ambulance at a checkpoint for an hour. He saw there was a sick woman in the back and asked the driver what was going on, and he was told the ambulances were always made to wait this long. Furious, he asked the Israeli soldiers how they would feel if it was their mother in the ambulance – and they looked bemused at first, then angry, pointing their guns at him and telling him to shut up.

“I am amazed again and again at how little Israelis know of what’s going on fifteen minutes away from their homes,” he says. “The brainwashing machinery is so efficient that trying [to undo it is] almost like trying to turn an omelette back to an egg. It makes people so full of ignorance and cruelty.” He gives an example. During Operation Cast Lead, the Israel bombing of blockaded Gaza in 2008-9, “a dog – an Israeli dog – was killed by a Qassam rocket and it on the front page of the most popular newspaper in Israel. On the very same day, there were tens of Palestinians killed, they were on page 16, in two lines.”

At times, the occupation seems to him less tragic than absurd. In 2009, Spain’s most famous clown, Ivan Prado, agreed to attend a clowning festival on Ramallah in the West Bank. He was detained at the airport in Israel, and then deported “for security reasons.” Levy leans forward and asks: “Was the clown considering transferring Spain’s vast stockpiles of laughter to hostile elements? Joke bombs to the jihadists? A devastating punch line to Hamas?”

Yet the absurdity nearly killed him. In the summer of 2003, he was travelling in a clearly marked Israeli taxi on the West Bank. He explains: “At a certain stage the army stopped us and asked what we were doing there. We showed them our papers, which were all in order. They sent us up a road – and when we went onto this road, they shot us. They directed their fire to the centre of the front window. Straight at the head. No shooting in the air, no megaphone calling to stop, no shooting at the wheels. Shoot to kill immediately. If it hadn’t been bullet-proof, I wouldn’t be here now. I don’t think they knew who we were. They shot us like they would shoot anyone else. They were trigger-happy, as they always are. It was like having a cigarette. They didn’t shoot just one bullet. The whole car was full of bullets. Do they know who they are going to kill? No. They don’t know and don’t care.”

He shakes his head with a hardened bewilderment. “They shoot at the Palestinians like this on a daily basis. You have only heard about this because, for once, they shot at an Israeli.”



I “Who lived in this house? Where is he now?”


How did Gideon Levy become so different to his countrymen? Why does he offer empathy to the Palestinians while so many others offer only bullets and bombs? At first, he was just like them: his argument with other Israelis is an argument with his younger self. He was born in 1953 in Tel Aviv and as a young man “I was totally nationalistic, like everyone else. I thought – we are the best, and the Arabs just want to kill. I didn’t question.”

He was fourteen during the Six Day War, and soon after his parents took him to see the newly conquered Occupied Territories. “We were so proud going to see Rachel’s Tomb [in Bethlehem] and we just didn’t see the Palestinians. We looked right through them, like they were invisible,” he says. “It had always been like that. We were passing as children so many ruins [of Palestinian villages that had been ethnically cleansed in 1948]. We never asked: ‘Who lived in this house? Where is he now? He must be alive. He must be somewhere.’ It was part of the landscape, like a tree, like a river.” Long into his twenties, “I would see settlers cutting down olive trees and soldiers mistreating Palestinian women at the checkpoints, and I would think, ‘These are exceptions, not part of government policy.’”

Levy says he became different due to “an accident.” He carried out his military service with Israeli Army Radio and then continued working as a journalist, “so I started going to the Occupied Territories a lot, which most Israelis don’t do. And after a while, gradually, I came to see them as they really are.”

But can that be all? Plenty of Israelis go to the territories – not least the occupying troops and settlers – without recoiling. “I think it was also – you see, my parents were refugees. I saw what it had done to them. So I suppose... I saw these people and thought of my parents.” Levy’s father was a German Jewish lawyer from the Sudetenland. At the age of 26 – in 1939, as it was becoming inescapably clear the Nazis were determined to stage a genocide in Europe – he went with his parents to the railway station in Prague, and they waved him goodbye. “He never saw them or heard from them again,” Levy says. “He never found out what happened to them. If he had not left, he would not have lived.” For six months he lived on a boat filled with refugees, being turned away from port after port, until finally they made it to British Mandate Palestine, as it then was.

“My father was traumatised for his whole life,” he says. “He never really settled in Israel. He never really learned to speak anything but broken Hebrew. He came to Israel with his PhD and he had to make his living, so he started to work in a bakery and to sell cakes from door to door on his bicycle. It must have been a terrible humiliation to be a PhD in law and be knocking on doors offering cakes. He refused to learn to be a lawyer again. He became a minor clerk. I think this is what smashed him, y’know? He lived here sixty years, he had his family, had his happiness but he was really a stranger. A foreigner, in his own country… He was always outraged by things, small things. He couldn’t understand how people would dare to phone between two and four in the afternoon. It horrified him. He never understood what is the concept of overdraft in the bank. Every Israeli has an overdraft, but if he heard somebody was one pound overdrawn, he was horrified.”

His father “never” talked about home. “Any time I tried to encourage him to talk about it, he would close down. He never went back. There was nothing [to go back to], the whole village was destroyed. He left a whole life there. He left a fiancé, a career, everything. I am very sorry I didn’t push him harder to talk because I was young, so I didn’t have much interest. That’s the problem. When we are curious about our parents, they are gone.”

Levy’s father never saw any parallels between the fact he was turned into a refugee, and the 800,000 Palestinians who were turned into refugees by the creation of the state of Israel. “Never! People didn’t think like that. We never discussed it, ever.” Yet in the territories, Levy began to see flickers of his father everywhere – in the broken men and women never able to settle, dreaming forever of going home.

Then, slowly, Levy began to realise their tragedy seeped deeper still into his own life – into the ground beneath his feet and the very bricks of the Israeli town where he lives, Sheikh Munis. It is built on the wreckage of “one of the 416 Palestinian villages Israel wiped off the face of the earth in 1948,” he says. “The swimming pool where I swim every morning was the irrigation grove they used to water the village’s groves. My house stands on one of the groves. The land was ‘redeemed’ by force, its 2,230 inhabitants were surrounded and threatened. They fled, never to return. Somewhere, perhaps in a refugee camp in terrible poverty, lives the family of the farmer who plowed the land where my house now stands.” He adds that it is “stupid and wrong” to compare it to the Holocaust, but says that man is a traumatized refugee just as surely as Levy’s father – and even now, if he ended up in the territories, he and his children and grandchildren live under blockade, or violent military occupation.

The historian Isaac Deutscher once offered an analogy for the creation of the state of Israel. A Jewish man jumps from a burning building, and he lands on a Palestinian, horribly injuring him. Can the jumping man be blamed? Levy’s father really was running for his life: it was Palestine, or a concentration camp. Yet Levy says that the analogy is imperfect – because now the jumping man is still, sixty years later, smashing the head of the man he landed on against the ground, and beating up his children and grandchildren too. “1948 is still here. 1948 is still in the refugee camps. 1948 is still calling for a solution,” he says. “Israel is doing the very same thing now... dehumanising the Palestinians where it can, and ethnic cleansing wherever it’s possible. 1948 is not over. Not by a long way.”


II The scam of “peace talks”


Levy looks out across the hotel bar where we are sitting and across the Middle East, as if the dry sands of the Negev desert were washing towards us. Any conversation about the region is now dominated by a string of propaganda myths, he says, and perhaps the most basic is the belief that Israel is a democracy. “Today we have three kinds of people living under Israeli rule,” he explains. “We have Jewish Israelis, who have full democracy and have full civil rights. We have the Israeli Arabs, who have Israeli citizenship but are severely discriminated against. And we have the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, who live without any civil rights, and without any human rights. Is that a democracy?”

He sits back and asks in a low tone, as if talking about a terminally ill friend: “How can you say it is a democracy when, in 62 years, there was not one single Arab village established? I don’t have to tell you how many Jewish towns and villages were established. Not one Arab village. How can you say it’s a democracy when research has shown repeatedly that Jews and Arabs get different punishments for the same crime? How can you say it’s a democracy when a Palestinian student can hardly rent an apartment in Tel Aviv, because when they hear his accent or his name almost nobody will rent to him? How can you say Israel is a democracy when… Jerusalem invests 577 shekels a year in a pupil in [Palestinian] East Jerusalem and 2372 shekels a year in a pupil from [Jewish] West Jerusalem. Four times less, only because of the child’s ethnicity! Every part of our society is racist.”

“I want to be proud of my country,” he says. “I am an Israeli patriot. I want us to do the right thing.” So this requires him to point out that Palestinian violence is – in truth – much more limited than Israeli violence, and usually a reaction to it. “The first twenty years of the occupation passed quietly, and we did not lift a finger to end it. Instead, under cover of the quiet, we built the enormous, criminal settlement enterprise,” where Palestinian land is seized by Jewish religious fundamentalists who claim it was given to them by God. Only then – after a long period of theft, and after their attempts at peaceful resistance were met with brutal violence - did the Palestinians become violent themselves. “What would happen if the Palestinians had not fired Qassams [the rockets shot at Southern Israel, including civilian towns]? Would Israel have lifted the economic siege? Nonsense. If the Gazans were sitting quietly, as Israel expects them to do, their case would disappear from the agenda. Nobody would give any thought to the fate of the people of Gaza if they had not behaved violently.”

He unequivocally condemns the firing of rockets at Israeli civilians, but adds: “The Qassams have a context. They are almost always fired after an IDF assassination operation, and there have been many of these.” Yet the Israeli attitude is that “we are allowed to bomb anything we want but they are not allowed to launch Qassams.” It is a view summarised by Haim Ramon, the justice minister at time of Second Lebanon War: “We are allowed to destroy everything.”

Even the terms we use to discuss Operation Cast Lead are wrong, Levy argues. “That wasn’t a war. It was a brutal assault on a helpless, imprisoned population. You can call a match between Mike Tyson and a 5 year old child boxing, but the proportions, oh, the proportions.” Israel “frequently targeted medical crews, [and] shelled a UN-run school that served as a shelter for residents, who bled to death over days as the IDF prevented their evacuation by shooting and shelling... A state that takes such steps is no longer distinguishable from a terror organisation. They say as a justification that Hamas hides among the civilian population. As if the Defence Ministry in Tel Aviv is not located in the heart of a civilian population! As if there are places in Gaza that are not in the heart of a civilian population!”

He appeals to anybody who is sincerely concerned about Israel’s safety and security to join him in telling Israelis the truth in plain language. “A real friend does not pick up the bill for an addict’s drugs: he packs the friend off to rehab instead. Today, only those who speak up against Israel’s policies – who denounce the occupation, the blockade, and the war – are the nation’s true friends.” The people who defend Israel’s current course are “betraying the country” by encouraging it on “the path to disaster. A child who has seen his house destroyed, his brother killed, and his father humiliated will not easily forgive.”

These supposed ‘friends of Israel’ are in practice friends of Islamic fundamentalism, he believes. “Why do they have to give the fundamentalists more excuses, more fury, more opportunities, more recruits? Look at Gaza. Gaza was totally secular not long ago. Now you can hardly get alcohol today in Gaza, after all the brutality. Religious fundamentalism is always the language people turn to in despair, if everything else fails. If Gaza had been a free society it would not have become like this. We gave them recruits.”

Levy believes the greatest myth – the one hanging over the Middle East like perfume sprayed onto a corpse – is the idea of the current ‘peace talks’ led by the United States. There was a time when he too believed in them. At the height of the Oslo talks in the 1990s, when Yitzhak Rabin negotiated with Yassir Arafat, “at the end of a visit I turned and, in a gesture straight out of the movies, waved Gaza farewell. Goodbye occupied Gaza, farewell! We are never to meet again, at least not in your occupied state. How foolish!”

Now, he says, he is convinced it was “a scam” from the start, doomed to fail. How does he know? “There is a very simple litmus test for any peace talks. A necessity for peace is for Israel to dismantle settlements in the West Bank. So if you are going to dismantle settlements soon, you’d stop building more now, right? They carried on building them all through Oslo. And today, Netanyahu is refusing to freeze construction, the barest of the bare minimum. It tells you all you need.”

He says Netanyahu has – like the supposedly more left-wing alternatives, Ehud Barak and Tzipip Livni – always opposed real peace talks, and even privately bragged about destroying the Oslo process. In 1997, during his first term as Israeli leader, he insisted he would only continue with the talks if a clause was added saying Israel would not have to withdraw from undefined “military locations” – and he was later caught on tape boasting: “Why is that important? Because from that moment on I stopped the Oslo accords.” If he bragged about “stopping” the last peace process, why would he want this one to succeed? Levy adds: “And how can you make peace with only half the Palestinian population? How can you leave out Hamas and Gaza?”

These fake peace talks are worse than no talks at all, Levy believes. “If there are negotiations, there won’t be international pressure. Quiet, we’re in discussions, settlement can go on uninterrupted. That is why futile negotiations are dangerous negotiations. Under the cover of such talks, the chances for peace will grow even dimmer... The clear subtext is Netanyahu’s desire to get American support for bombing Iran. To do that, he thinks he needs to at least pay lip-service to Obama’s requests for talks. That’s why he’s doing this.”

After saying this, he falls silent, and we stare at each other for a while. Then he says, in a quieter voice: “The facts are clear. Israel has no real intention of quitting the territories or allowing the Palestinian people to exercise their rights. No change will come to pass in the complacent, belligerent, and condescending Israel of today. This is the time to come up with a rehabilitation programme for Israel.”


III Waving Israeli flags made in China


According to the opinion polls, most Israelis support a two-state solution – yet they elect governments that expand the settlements and so make a two-state solution impossible. “You would need a psychiatrist to explain this contradiction,” Levy says. “Do they expect two states to fall from the sky? Today, the Israelis have no reason to make any changes,” he continues. “Life in Israel is wonderful. You can sit in Tel Aviv and have a great life. Nobody talks about the occupation. So why would they bother [to change]? The majority of Israelis think about the next vacation and the next jeep and all the rest doesn’t interest them any more.” They are drenched in history, and yet oblivious to it.

In Israel, the nation’s “town square has been empty for years. If there were no significant protests during Operation Cast Lead, then there is no left to speak of. The only group campaigning for anything other than their personal whims are the settlers, who are very active.” So how can change happen? He says he is “very pessimistic”, and the most likely future is a society turning to ever-more naked “apartheid.” With a shake of the head, he says: “We had now two wars, the flotilla – it doesn’t seem that Israel has learned any lesson, and it doesn’t seem that Israel is paying any price. The Israelis don’t pay any price for the injustice of the occupation, so the occupation will never end. It will not end a moment before Israelis understand the connection between the occupation and the price they will be forced to pay. They will never shake it off on their own initiative.”

It sounds like he is making the case for boycotting Israel, but his position is more complex. “Firstly, the Israeli opposition to the boycott is incredibly hypocritical. Israel itself is one of the world’s most prolific boycotters. Not only does it boycott, it preaches to others, at times even forces others, to follow in tow. Israel has imposed a cultural, academic, political, economic and military boycott on the territories. The most brutal, naked boycott is, of course, the siege on Gaza and the boycott of Hamas. At Israel's behest, nearly all Western countries signed onto the boycott with inexplicable alacrity. This is not just a siege that has left Gaza in a state of shortage for three years. It's a series of cultural, academic, humanitarian and economic boycotts. Israel is also urging the world to boycott Iran. So Israelis cannot complain if this is used against them.”

He shifts in his seat. “But I do not boycott Israel. I could have done it, I could have left Israel. But I don’t intend to leave Israel. Never. I can’t call on others to do what I will not do... There is also the question of whether it will work. I am not sure Israelis would make the connection. Look at the terror that happened in 2002 and 2003: life in Israel was really horrifying, the exploding buses, the suicide-bombers. But no Israeli made the connection between the occupation and the terror. For them, the terror was just the ‘proof’ that the Palestinians are monsters, that they were born to kill, that they are not human beings and that’s it. And if you just dare to make the connection, people will tell you ‘you justify terror ’ and you are a traitor. I suspect it would be the same with sanctions. The condemnation after Cast Lead and the flotilla only made Israel more nationalistic. If [a boycott was] seen as the judgement of the world they would be effective. But Israelis are more likely to take them as ‘proof’ the world is anti-Semitic and will always hate us.”

He believes only one kind of pressure would bring Israel back to sanity and safety: “The day the president of the United States decides to put an end to the occupation, it will cease. Because Israel was never so dependent on the United States as it is now. Never. Not only economically, not only militarily but above all politically. Israel is totally isolated today, except for America.” He was initially hopeful that Barack Obama would do this – he recalls having tears in his eyes as he delivered his victory speech in Grant Park – but he says he has only promoted “tiny steps, almost nothing, when big steps are needed.” It isn’t only bad for Israel – it is bad for America. “The occupation is the best excuse for many worldwide terror organisations. It’s not always genuine but they use it. Why do you let them use it? Why give them this fury? Why not you solve it once and for all when the, when the solution is so simple?”

For progress, “the right-wing American Jews who become orgiastic whenever Israel kills and destroys” would have to be exposed as “Israel’s enemies”, condemning the country they supposedly love to eternal war. “It is the right-wing American Jews who write the most disgusting letters. They say I am Hitler’s grandson, that they pray my children get cancer… It is because I touch a nerve with them. There is something there.” These right-wingers claim to be opposed to Iran, but Levy points out they vehemently oppose the two available steps that would immediately isolate Iran and strip Mahmoud Ahmadinejadh of his best propaganda-excuses: “peace with Syria and peace with the Palestinians, both of which are on offer, and both of which are rejected by Israel. They are the best way to undermine Iran.”

He refuses to cede Israel to people “who wave their Israeli flags made in China and dream of a Knesset cleansed of Arabs and an Israel with no [human rights organisation] B’Tselem.” He looks angry, indignant. “I will never leave. It’s my place on earth. It’s my language, it’s my culture. Even the criticism that I carry and the shame that I carry come from my deep belonging to the place. I will leave only if I be forced to leave. They would have to tear me out.”


IV A whistle in the dark


Does he think this is a real possibility – that his freedom could be taken from him, in Israel itself? “Oh, very easily,” he says. “It’s already taken from me by banning me from going to Gaza, and this is just a start. I have great freedom to write and to appear on television in Israel, and I have a very good life, but I don’t take my freedom for granted, not at all. If this current extreme nationalist atmosphere continues in Israel in one, two, three years time…” He sighs. “There may be new restrictions, Ha’aretz may close down – God forbid – I don’t take anything for granted. I will not be surprised if Israeli Palestinian parties are criminalized at the next election, for example. Already they are going after the NGOs [Non-Government Organizations that campaign for Palestinian rights]. There is already a majority in the opinion polls who want to punish people who expose wrong-doing by the military and want to restrict the human rights groups.”

There is also the danger of a freelance attack. Last year, a man with a large dog strutted up to Levy near his home and announced: “I have wanted to beat you to a pulp for a long time.” Levy only narrowly escaped, and the man was never caught. He says now: “I am scared but I don’t live on the fear. But to tell you that my night sleep is as yours... I’m not sure. Any noise, my first association is ‘maybe now, it’s coming’. But there was never any concrete case in which I really thought ‘here it comes’. But I know it might come.”

Has he ever considered not speaking the truth, and diluting his statements? He laughs – and for the only time in our interview, his eloquent torrents of words begin to sputter. “I wish I could! No way I could. I mean, this is not an option at all. Really, I can’t. How can I? No way. I feel lonely but my private, er, surrounding is supportive, part of it at least. And there are still Israelis who appreciate what I do. If you walk with me in the streets of Tel Aviv you will see all kinds of reactions but also very positive reactions. It is hard but I mean it’s…it’s…what other choice do I have?”

He says his private life is supportive “in part”. What’s the part that isn’t? For the past few years, he says, he has dated non-Israeli women – “I couldn’t be with a nationalistic person who said those things about the Palestinians” – but his two sons don’t read anything he writes, “and they have different politics from me. I think it was difficult for them, quite difficult.” Are they right-wingers? “No, no, no, nothing like that. As they get older, they are coming to my views more. But they don’t read my work. No,” he says, looking down, “they don’t read it.”

The long history of the Jewish people has a recurring beat – every few centuries, a brave Jewish figure stands up to warn his people they are have ended up on an immoral or foolish path that can only end in catastrophe, and implores them to change course. The first prophet, Amos, warned that the Kingdom of Israel would be destroyed because the Jewish people had forgotten the need for justice and generosity – and he was shunned for it. Baruch Spinoza saw beyond the Jewish fundamentalism of his day to a materialist universe that could be explained scientifically – and he was excommunicated, even as he cleared the path for the great Jewish geniuses to come. Could Levy, in time, be seen as a Jewish prophet in the unlikely wilderness of a Jewish state, calling his people back to a moral path?

He nods faintly, and smiles. “Noam Chomsky once wrote to me that I was like the early Jewish prophets. It was the greatest compliment anyone has ever paid me. But... well... My opponents would say it’s a long tradition of self-hating Jews. But I don’t take that seriously. For sure, I feel that I belong to a tradition of self-criticism. I deeply believe in self-criticism.” But it leaves him in bewildering situations: “Many times I am standing among Palestinian demonstrators, my back to the Palestinians, my face to the Israeli soldiers, and they were shooting in our direction. They are my people, and they are my army. The people I’m standing among are supposed to be the enemy. It is...” He shakes his head. There must be times, I say, when you ask: what’s a nice Jewish boy doing in a state like this?

But then, as if it has been nagging at him, he returns abruptly to an earlier question. “I am very pessimistic, sure. Outside pressure can be effective if it’s an American one but I don’t see it happening. Other pressure from other parts of the world might be not effective. The Israeli society will not change on its own, and the Palestinians are too weak to change it. But having said this, I must say, if we had been sitting here in the late 1980s and you had told me that the Berlin wall will fall within months, that the Soviet Union will fall within months, that parts of the regime in South Africa will fall within months, I would have laughed at you. Perhaps the only hope I have is that this occupation regime hopefully is already so rotten that maybe it will fall by itself one day. You have to be realistic enough to believe in miracles.”

In the meantime, Gideon Levy will carry on patiently documenting his country’s crimes, and trying to call his people back to a righteous path. He frowns a little – as if he is picturing Najawa Khalif blown to pieces in front of her school bus, or his own broken father – and says to me: “A whistle in the dark is still a whistle."

Interview by: JOHANN HARI    - 24 SEPTEMBER 2010

Gideon Levy’s book ‘The Punishment of Gaza’ is available from Verso Books. You can buy it HERE.

You can watch Johann’s speech to the Protest the Pope rally HERE.

You can follow Johann Hari’s updates on Israel and other issues HERE.

-
Separate lives: An Israeli soldier carries out a patrol


-----------

My heart is still in Gaza

Woman forced to leave family behind: My heart is still in Gaza
By Ghada Ageel, Special to CNN
November 21, 2012

A Palestinian man walks amidst debris at the destroyed compound of the the internal security ministry in Gaza


Editor's note: Ghada Ageel is an independent scholar and a member of Faculty for Palestine, Alberta.

(CNN) -- One week after leaving, my mom's words still echo in my ears: "Leave Gaza now, please. Don't think about us. I have many things to worry about."

I entered Gaza on November 5 to help an American delegation there until the morning of November 11. My intention was to help the delegation and then have two full days with my family after the delegates left. But with tensions ratcheting up, my family in Gaza was fearful the Rafah crossing with Egypt would be closed and I would be stuck. To leave my extended family in such dangerous circumstances and return to my husband and three children in Canada was heartrending. But now it is worse. To see American-made Israeli fighter jets pounding Gaza just days after my departure is agony.

I lost the argument for an extra two days with my family the moment I said I "planned" to spend those extra days with them. My sister-in-law, Wafa, pounced on the words: "Nothing can be planned here. Gaza is not Canada. Everything is in the Israeli military's hands."

She was right. The Israeli government can undo plans and dreams in an instant.

Looking into my mom's eyes, I felt cowardly to desert them. I hugged her and told her to stay safe. But deep in my heart I knew that there is no safety in Gaza. That was evident on Sunday when the Israeli military bombed the Dalou household and instantly decimated three generations of the family.

The terrifying power of the Israeli military was already made clear at the beginning of the latest onslaught with the haunting photograph of a young BBC journalist grieving his dead infant. Israel claims to operate with pinpoint accuracy, but consistently kills a high proportion of civilians. In fact, the American delegation spoke to the grief-stricken father and mother of Ahmed Abu Daqqa, a young boy killed on November 8 while playing soccer outside his home. These Americans are important witnesses against the claim that Palestinians bear full culpability for this escalation. In fact, it was our children being killed, not the Israelis children.

As I joined the American delegation for the long trip back to Cairo, I was riven with emotion. Usually, the American delegates would greet me with cheers, claps and smiles. This time there was silence, grim faces, tears and no words. Everyone was waiting to hear from me. "I have been ordered to leave," I said, "and I am frustrated and angry." I burst into tears.

Will I see my family again? I don't know.

War is unpredictable as Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister of Defense Ehud Barak seem to have forgotten from their safe vantage points. What is unleashed today in the new Middle East is not the same as the wars Israel unleashed in the years since 1948.

The Arab Spring means that the governments and people of the region are in much greater accord. The weak governments that looked the other way as Israel and the United States subjugated Palestinians have been replaced by governments that may yet assert Palestinian rights in ways that are not merely symbolic. West Bank Palestinians are now starting to confront the Israeli military in ways that the weak Palestinian Authority cannot stop as readily as it did four years ago during Operation Cast Lead.

As the situation deteriorates, it is vital to note that this war need not have occurred. A fragile truce had taken hold for 48 hours, notwithstanding Palestinian frustration over two separate incidents in the previous week when Palestinian youth were killed playing soccer.

In the opinion of many Palestinians, Netanyahu planned this aggression. He wanted to be seen by the electorate as the man with the iron fist protecting Israelis in the south of Israel. Palestinians were in his way. Self-inflated analysts talk of "mowing the grass" to rein in Hamas and other groups. But that mowing is terrifying civilians and destroying their neighborhoods.

What do they think will become of the traumatized children who endure such brutal attacks from the sky and sea? They will be no friends of Israel. No, Israel is proving once again that it has no interest in becoming part of the region.

But Israel's actions have been largely the same for 64 years. The one period of brief hope in the 1990s proved fleeting because Israel failed to stop its illegal settlement activity and made clear to Palestinians its intent was not a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem but a series of disconnected cantons.

The inhumane blockade -- with approximately 80% of Palestinians reduced to receiving food aid as Israel counts our calories to allow for anemia and stunting but not outright starvation -- leads me to conclude that bleak days remain our lot.Barak has pledged continued military action against Gaza and Netanyahu has stated he hopes Hamas and others "got the message." There is no doubt that his message of widespread death and destruction has been widely received by all Palestinians. I doubt, however, that the message will have the intended effect. Instead, the fury of having one's neighborhood battered by F-16s and shells will likely unite Palestinians against an outside power that has besieged Gaza since 2007 and controlled it since 1967.

Yet there is one factor Netanyahu fails to grasp: The spirit and will of Palestinians -- from Rafah to Hebron to Jenin and the Palestinian refugee camps scattered throughout the Middle East -- to achieve our freedom and rights. We will not relinquish our legitimate rights any more than African Americans or black South Africans in the 1950s. We will be bombed and bullied by Israel and the U.S. Congress, but in the end we will still demand our rights.

As long as my family walks the planet, we retain the right to one day walk back to our village of Beit Daras, a scant few miles from Gaza, and to live there with rights equal to our new neighbors. My grandmother, who is enduring this terrible onslaught, has an inalienable right, property deed in hand, to return to the village of her childhood -- as do her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.


Israel prepares for ground assault



Gazans mourn children killed in attacks


----


Washington unleashes its dogs on Syria

Stephen Lendman  - 28 July 2012
Members of a foreign-backed terrorist group in Syria 

Western media misreport what's happening in Syria and why. Propaganda substitutes for truth and full disclosure.

Syrians are struggling to prevent Western conquest, exploitation, and control. They're fighting for their lives to stay free.

At issue isn't whether Assad's government is democratic, despotic or anything in between. Its sovereign independence made it vulnerable.

Washington tolerates no governments it doesn't control. Replacing them with puppet regimes is policy. Whether Assad can hold out and prevail isn't known. Most Syrians depend on him.
The longer conflict persists, the greater his support. Who else can Syrians turn to for help? They want no part of becoming another pro-Western vassal state. They know the daily horrors Afghans, Iraqis and Libyans face.

Syria was calm and peaceful until Washington unleashed its dogs last year. Daily violence, mass killing and destruction followed. It's the American way. Media scoundrels support it.

Syria's conflict isn't an uprising, revolution or civil war. These characterizations distort reality. There's nothing civil about what's ongoing. Washington orchestrated everything. Its bloodstained hands control the conflict.

At issue is naked Washington-led Western aggression. Key NATO allies and regional partners are involved. Insurgents are Washington proxies. Protracted violence and bloodshed persist.
Imperial wars are called liberating ones. Western end game strategy calls for total war if other methods fail. Washington wages them two ways. In Afghanistan and Iraq, US forces are involved.

In Libya, a combination of air assets and ground proxies were used. Protracted conflict persists. Daily violence ravages the country. Media scoundrels ignore it.

They report little about Iraq and Afghanistan. They let nightmarish conditions pass beneath their radar. Only wealth, privilege and dominance matter. Charnel house conditions go unacknowledged.

So far, Western proxies alone battle Syrian forces. Despite heavy weapons, training and direction, military regulars outmatch them. Expect eventual direct Western intervention. Electoral politics dictates timing.
Voltaire Network's Thierry Meyssan is right. Reagan's Contra war 2.0 ravages Syria. Death squads employed are today's Contras. In the 1980s, they battled Nicaragua's Sandinista government. Washington enlisted, armed, trained, funded and directed them.

Anastasio Somoza ruled Nicaragua despotically. He ran it like a US colony. In 1979, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) ousted his regime after years of conflict.

In 1981, Reagan authorized covert CIA intervention. Sandinistas were falsely called Moscow puppets. Contrarevolucionarios (Contras) were recruited. Many were former cutthroat Somoza National Guard regulars. They became Washington proxy death squads. Contra wars raged throughout the decade. From Honduran bases they conducted cross-border terrorist raids. Nicaraguans suffered greatly. Many thousands died.

Managua's economy was devastated. Resources needed for defense left little for domestic needs. In 1988, A New York Times op-ed headlined "Wrong From the Start; Reagan's Contra War, Reagan's Failure," saying: Reagan's "seven-year record in Nicaragua is a chronicle of deceit and incompetence in pursuit of an unwinnable war."

Expect nothing comparable today about Obama's war on Syria. Times correspondents, commentators and editorial writers march in lockstep. They supported Reagan throughout the decade. Perhaps Iran-Contra caused the above change of heart.

Washington prevailed when Violeta Chamorro defeated Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega electoraly in 1990.
The FSLN remained one of Nicaragua's two main parties. Washington manipulated electoral politics until Daniel Ortega was re-elected president in 2006. He and FSLN parliamentarians prevailed again in November 2011.

They're a shadow of their former selves. They're more right of center than left. Ortega sought alliances with the conservative Catholic Church and Nicaraguan business interests. FSLN governance became more bourgeois than progressive.

Washington Consensus interventionism replaced counterinsurgency belligerence. Neoliberalism is America's regional weapon. Finance is a new form of warfare. End results resemble military conquest without the death and destruction.

Modern-day Contras are jihadi extremists. They replicate Al Qaeda-linked Libya Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) insurgents. In December 2004, the US Treasury designation LIFG a Foreign Terrorist Organization, saying it:

"Threatens global safety and stability through the use of violence and its ideological alliance with (Al Qaeda) and other brutal terrorist organizations."

Washington strategically uses Al Qaeda fighters as allies and enemies. They're assailed publicly while used against US enemies. They helped ravage Libya. They're waging bloody war in Syria. They're used as long as needed. They're allies of convenience. They're returned to enemy status when services rendered no longer are needed.

After Syrian officials were killed at Damascus National Security headquarters, they launched Operation Damascus Volcano. Instead of "liberating" Damascus as planned, they were routed.
Official reports, media scoundrels, pro-Western observers, and hangers on proclaimed a conflict turning point. Syrian forces, in fact, have things well in hand.

Mostly calm returned to Damascus. Fighting shifted to Aleppo. It's Syria's largest city and commercial hub. Battles persist. Expect a similar outcome as Damascus. Western misinformation distorts what's happening and why it matters.
Claims about Syria destabilized and Assad fleeing the country were falsified. Propaganda wars try to offset military failures. In confrontations against insurgents, Syrian forces consistently prevail.

Daily State Department press briefings combine imperial arrogance and misinformation. On July 24, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland claimed Assad "is increasingly losing control of swaths of territory, and clearly the opposition is trying to consolidate so it can have a base from which to operate."
Washington is "committed to helping" them, she added. She left unaddressed in what ways, and that so far what's been tried failed. What's ahead remains to be seen.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta urges more "aggressive" international action. On July 24, Foreign Policy contributor Josh Rogin headlined "Conservatives call on Obama to establish 'safe zones' in Syria," saying: A Foreign Policy Initiative/Foundation for the Defense of Democracies letter said:

"We believe it is clear that multilateral diplomacy and non-military pressure, by themselves, will neither compel Assad to step down nor ensure that America's national security interests in Syria and the wider region are protected."

"America's national security interests are intertwined with the fate of the Syrian people and the wider region."

"The longer we wait to act, the more others with interests contrary to ours will fill the void, limiting America's ability to ensure a multi-sectarian pluralistic Syria."

"We therefore believe it is long past due for the United States to adopt a strategy that will help the Syrian people to quickly end the Assad regime and actively promote order and stability after the regime's fall."

A rogue's gallery of co-signers included Karl Rove, Elliot Abrams, Douglas Feith, Paul Bremer, and Robert Kagan, among others.

They support war and imperial conquest. Their letter also said inaction means "complicity in oppression."

Mitt Romney made similar accusations, saying:

"While Russia and Iran have rushed to support Bashar al-Assad and thousands have been slaughtered, President Obama has abdicated leadership and subcontracted US policy to Kofi Annan and the United Nations."

"Under this president, American influence and respect for our position around the world is at a low ebb."

Safe zones are ground-based no-fly replicas. Both are acts of war. They're belligerent and lawless. They assure full-scale intervention.

Co-signer hawks said "multilateral diplomacy and non-military pressure (won't) compel Assad to step down nor ensure (US) national security interests in Syria and the wider region...."

They want war. So does Obama. Only their timetables differ. Post-election, expect the worst.

Perhaps Russia foresees it. On the one hand, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was clear and unequivocal. He condemned US support for terrorism.

He referred to Washington's failure to denounce insurgents attacking Syria's National Security headquarters, saying:

"This is quite an awful position, I cannot even find the words to make clear how we feel. This is directly justifying terrorism. How can this be understood?"

"In other words, to say it in plain Russian, this means 'we (the United States) will continue to support such terrorist acts for as long as the UN Security Council has not done what we want.' "

Lavrov also criticized UN envoy Susan Rice's hostile comments and Arab League leaders for pressuring Assad to step down.

Russia's Ministry of Defense said warships entered the Mediterranean. Three vessels carry marines. They'll rendezvous with other Russian ships off Syria's coast.

Perhaps they'll be positioned at Tartus. Moscow maintains its only Mediterranean base there. It's strategic importance may be used. What's planned remains unknown.
Russia has vital regional interests. So does China. Hopefully both countries will go all out to protect them and make their intentions known. Perhaps doing so can prevent war. There may be no other way.



Noam Chomsky and others challenge world's media


Who is doing the killing in Gaza? Noam Chomsky and others challenge world's media


The degree of terror felt by ordinary Palestinian civilians in Gaza is barely noticed in the media, in stark contrast to the world's awareness of terrorised and shock-treated Israeli citizens.
By Noam Chomsky and others
WHILE COUNTRIES across Europe and North America commemorated military casualties of past and present wars on November 11, Israel was targeting civilians.
On November 12, waking up to a new week, readers at breakfast were flooded with heart rending accounts of past and current military casualties.
There was, however, no or little mention of the fact that the majority of casualties of modern day wars are civilians.
There was also hardly any mention on the morning of November 12 of military attacks on Gaza that continued throughout the weekend.
A cursory scan confirms this for Canada's CBC, Globe and Mail, Montreal's Gazette, and the Toronto Star. Equally, for the New York Times and for the BBC.
According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) report on Sunday November 11, five Palestinian civilians including three children had been killed in the Gaza strip in the previous 72 hours, in addition to two Palestinian security personnel.
Four of the deaths occurred as a result of Israeli military firing artillery shells on youngsters playing soccer. Moreover, 52 civilians had been wounded, of which six were women and 12 were children. (Since we began composing this text, the Palestinian death toll has risen, and continues to rise.)
Articles that do report on the killings overwhelmingly focus on the killing of Palestinian security personnel. For example, anAssociated Press article published in the CBC world news on November 13, entitled 'Israel mulls resuming targeted killings of Gaza militants,' mentions absolutely nothing of civilian deaths and injuries. It portrays the killings as 'targeted assassinations.' The fact that casualties have overwhelmingly been civilians indicates that Israel is not so much engaged in "targeted" killings, as in "collective" killings, thus once again committing the crime of collective punishment.
Another AP item on CBC news from November 12 reads 'Gaza rocket fire raises pressure on Israel government.' It features a photo of an Israeli woman gazing on a hole in her living room ceiling. Again, no images, nor mention of the numerous bleeding casualties or corpses in Gaza. Along the same lines, a BBC headline on November 12 reads 'Israel hit by fresh volley of rockets from Gaza.' Similar trends can be illustrated for European mainstream papers.
News items overwhelmingly focus on the rockets that have been fired from Gaza, none of which have caused human casualties. What is not in focus are the shellings and bombardments on Gaza, which have resulted in numerous severe and fatal casualties. It doesn't take an expert in media science to understand that what we are facing is at best shoddy and skewed reporting, and at worst willfully dishonest manipulation of the readership.
Furthermore, articles that do mention the Palestinian casualties in Gaza consistently report that Israeli operations are in response to rockets from Gaza and to the injuring of Israeli soldiers. However, the chronology of events of the recent flare-up began on November 5, when an innocent, apparently mentally unfit, 20-year old man, Ahmad al-Nabaheen, was shot when he wandered close to the border. Medics had to wait for six hours to be permitted to pick him up and they suspect that he may have died because of that delay.
Then, on November 8, a 13-year-old boy playing football in front of his house was killed by fire from the IOF that had moved into Gazan territory with tanks as well as helicopters. The wounding of four Israeli soldiers at the border on November 10 was therefore already part of a chain of events where Gazan civilians had been killed, and not the triggering event. 
We, the signatories, have recently returned from a visit to the Gaza strip. Some among us are now connected to Palestinians living in Gaza through social media. For two nights in a row Palestinians in Gaza were prevented from sleeping through continued engagement of drones, F16s, and indiscriminate bombings of various targets inside the densely populated Gaza strip.
The intent of this is clearly to terrorise the population, successfully so, as we can ascertain from our friends' reports. If it was not for Facebook postings, we would not be aware of the degree of terror felt by ordinary Palestinian civilians in Gaza. This stands in stark contrast to the world's awareness of terrorised and shock-treated Israeli citizens.
An extract of a report sent by a Canadian medic who happened to be in Gaza and helped out in Shifa hospital ER over the weekend says: "the wounded were all civilians with multiple puncture wounds from shrapnel: brain injuries, neck injuries, hemo-pneumo thorax, pericardial tamponade, splenic rupture, intestinal perforations, slatted limbs, traumatic amputations. All of this with no monitors, few stethoscopes, one ultrasound machine. …. Many people with serious but non life threatening injuries were sent home to be re-assessed in the morning due to the sheer volume of casualties. The penetrating shrapnel injuries were spooky. Tiny wounds with massive internal injuries. … There was very little morphine for analgesia." 
Apparently such scenes are not newsworthy for the New York Times, the CBC, or the BBC. 
Bias and dishonesty with respect to the oppression of Palestinians is nothing new in Western media and has been widely documented. Nevertheless, Israel continues its crimes against humanity with full acquiescence and financial, military and moral support from our governments, the U.S., Canada and the EU.
Netanyahu is currently garnering Western diplomatic support for additional operations in Gaza, which makes us worry that another Cast Lead may be on the horizon. In fact, the very recent events are confirming such an escalation has already begun, as today's death-count climbs. The lack of widespread public outrage at these crimes is a direct consequence of the systematic way in which the facts are withheld and/or of the skewed way these crimes are portrayed. 
We wish to express our outrage at the reprehensible media coverage of these acts in the mainstream (corporate) media.
We call on journalists around the world working for corporate media outlets to refuse to be instruments of this systematic policy of disguise. We call on citizens to inform themselves through independent media, and to voice their conscience by whichever means is accessible to them.  
Hagit Borer, U.K.
Antoine Bustros, Canada
Noam Chomsky, U.S.
David Heap, Canada
Stephanie Kelly, Canada
Máire Noonan, Canada
Philippe Prévost, France
Verena Stresing, France
Laurie Tuller, France
--
Source: [http://stopwar.org.uk/index.php/who-is-doing-the-killing-in-gaza-noam-chomsky-and-others-challenge-worlds-media]

Noam Chomsky: Impressions of Gaza



Noam Chomsky 
chomsky.info, November 4, 2012 

Even a single night in jail is enough to give a taste of what it means to be under the total control of some external force. And it hardly takes more than a day in Gaza to begin to appreciate what it must be like to try to survive in the world’s largest open-air prison, where a million and a half people, in the most densely populated area of the world, are constantly subject to random and often savage terror and arbitrary punishment, with no purpose other than to humiliate and degrade, and with the further goal of ensuring that Palestinian hopes for a decent future will be crushed and that the overwhelming global support for a diplomatic settlement that will grant these rights will be nullified.

The intensity of this commitment on the part of the Israeli political leadership has been dramatically illustrated just in the past few days, as they warn that they will “go crazy” if Palestinian rights are given limited recognition at the UN. That is not a new departure. The threat to “go crazy” (“nishtagea”) is deeply rooted, back to the Labor governments of the 1950s, along with the related “Samson Complex”: we will bring down the Temple walls if crossed. It was an idle threat then; not today.

The purposeful humiliation is also not new, though it constantly takes new forms. Thirty years ago political leaders, including some of the most noted hawks, submitted to Prime Minister Begin a shocking and detailed account of how settlers regularly abuse Palestinians in the most depraved manner and with total impunity. The prominent military-political analyst Yoram Peri wrote with disgust that the army’s task is not to defend the state, but “to demolish the rights of innocent people just because they are Araboushim (“niggers,” “kikes”) living in territories that God promised to us.”

Gazans have been selected for particularly cruel punishment. It is almost miraculous that people can sustain such an existence. How they do so was described thirty years ago in an eloquent memoir by Raja Shehadeh (The Third Way), based on his work as a lawyer engaged in the hopeless task of trying to protect elementary rights within a legal system designed to ensure failure, and his personal experience as a Samid, “a steadfast one,” who watches his home turned into a prison by brutal occupiers and can do nothing but somehow “endure.”

Since Shehadeh wrote, the situation has become much worse. The Oslo agreements, celebrated with much pomp in 1993, determined that Gaza and the West Bank are a single territorial entity. By then the US and Israel had already initiated their program of separating them fully from one another, so as to block a diplomatic settlement and punish the Araboushim in both territories.

Punishment of Gazans became still more severe in January 2006, when they committed a major crime: they voted the “wrong way” in the first free election in the Arab world, electing Hamas. Demonstrating their passionate “yearning for democracy,” the US and Israel, backed by the timid European Union, at once imposed a brutal siege, along with intensive military attacks. The US also turned at once to standard operating procedure when some disobedient population elects the wrong government: prepare a military coup to restore order.

Gazans committed a still greater crime a year later by blocking the coup attempt, leading to a sharp escalation of the siege and military attacks. These culminated in winter 2008-9, with Operation Cast Lead, one of the most cowardly and vicious exercises of military force in recent memory, as a defenseless civilian population, trapped with no way to escape, was subjected to relentless attack by one of the world’s most advanced military systems relying on US arms and protected by US diplomacy. An unforgettable eyewitness account of the slaughter — “infanticide” in their words — is given by the two courageous Norwegian doctors who worked at Gaza’s main hospital during the merciless assault, Mads Gilbert and Erik Fosse, in their remarkable book Eyes in Gaza.

President-elect Obama was unable to say a word, apart from reiterating his heartfelt sympathy for children under attack — in the Israeli town Sderot. The carefully planned assault was brought to an end right before his inauguration, so that he could then say that now is the time to look forward, not backward, the standard refuge of criminals.

Of course, there were pretexts — there always are. The usual one, trotted out when needed, is “security”: in this case, home-made rockets from Gaza. As is commonly the case, the pretext lacked any credibility. In 2008 a truce was established between Israel and Hamas. The Israeli government formally recognizes that Hamas observed it fully. Not a single Hamas rocket was fired until Israel broke the truce under cover of the US election on November 4 2008, invading Gaza on ludicrous grounds and killing half a dozen Hamas members. The Israeli government was advised by its highest intelligence officials that the truce could be renewed by easing the criminal blockade and ending military attacks. But the government of Ehud Olmert, reputedly a dove, chose to reject these options, preferring to resort to its huge comparative advantage in violence: Operation Cast Lead. The basic facts are reviewed once again by foreign policy analyst Jerome Slater in the current issue of the Harvard-MIT journal International Security.

The pattern of bombing under Cast Lead was carefully analyzed by the highly informed and internationally respected Gazan human rights advocate Raji Sourani. He points out that the bombing was concentrated in the north, targeting defenseless civilians in the most densely populated areas, with no possible military pretext. The goal, he suggests, may have been to drive the intimidated population to the south, near the Egyptian border. But the Samidin stayed put, despite the avalanche of US-Israeli terror.

A further goal might have been to drive them beyond. Back to the earliest days of the Zionist colonization it was argued across much of the spectrum that Arabs have no real reason to be in Palestine; they can be just as happy somewhere else, and should leave — politely “transferred,” the doves suggested. This is surely no small concern in Egypt, and perhaps a reason why Egypt does not open the border freely to civilians or even to desperately needed materials

Sourani and other knowledgeable sources observe that the discipline of the Samidin conceals a powder keg, which might explode any time, unexpectedly, as the first Intifada did in Gaza in 1989 after years of miserable repression that elicited no notice or concern,

Merely to mention one of innumerable cases, shortly before the outbreak of the Intifada a Palestinian girl, Intissar al-Atar, was shot and killed in a schoolyard by a resident of a nearby Jewish settlement. He was one of the several thousand Israelis settlers brought to Gaza in violation of international law and protected by a huge army presence, taking over much of the land and scarce water of the Strip and living “lavishly in twenty-two settlements in the midst of 1.4 million destitute Palestinians,” as the crime is described by Israeli scholar Avi Raz. The murderer of the schoolgirl, Shimon Yifrah, was arrested, but quickly released on bail when the Court determined that “the offense is not severe enough” to warrant detention. The judge commented that Yifrah only intended to shock the girl by firing his gun at her in a schoolyard, not to kill her, so “this is not a case of a criminal person who has to be punished, deterred, and taught a lesson by imprisoning him.” Yifrah was given a 7-month suspended sentence, while settlers in the courtroom broke out in song and dance. And the usual silence reigned. After all, it is routine.

And so it is. As Yifrah was freed, the Israeli press reported that an army patrol fired into the yard of a school for boys aged 6 to 12 in a West Bank refugee camp, wounding five children, allegedly intending only “to shock them.” There were no charges, and the event again attracted no attention. It was just another episode in the program of “illiteracy as punishment,” the Israeli press reported, including the closing of schools, use of gas bombs, beating of students with rifle butts, barring of medical aid for victims; and beyond the schools a reign of more severe brutality, becoming even more savage during the Intifada, under the orders of Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, another admired dove.

My initial impression, after a visit of several days, was amazement, not only at the ability to go on with life, but also at the vibrancy and vitality among young people, particularly at the university, where I spent much of my time at an international conference. But there too one can detect signs that the pressure may become too hard to bear. Reports indicate that among young men there is simmering frustration, recognition that under the US-Israeli occupation the future holds nothing for them. There is only so much that caged animals can endure, and there may be an eruption, perhaps taking ugly forms — offering an opportunity for Israeli and western apologists to self-righteously condemn the people who are culturally backward, as Mitt Romney insightfully explained.

Gaza has the look of a typical third world society, with pockets of wealth surrounded by hideous poverty. It is not, however, “undeveloped.” Rather it is “de-developed,” and very systematically so, to borrow the terms of Sara Roy, the leading academic specialist on Gaza. The Gaza Strip could have become a prosperous Mediterranean region, with rich agriculture and a flourishing fishing industry, marvelous beaches and, as discovered a decade ago, good prospects for extensive natural gas supplies within its territorial waters. 

By coincidence or not, that is when Israel intensified its naval blockade, driving fishing boats toward shore, by now to 3 miles or less.

The favorable prospects were aborted in 1948, when the Strip had to absorb a flood of Palestinian refugees who fled in terror or were forcefully expelled from what became Israel, in some cases expelled months after the formal cease-fire.

In fact, they were being expelled even four years later, as reported in Ha’aretz (25.12.2008), in a thoughtful study by Beni Tziper on the history of Israeli Ashkelon back to the Canaanites. In 1953, he reports, there was a “cool calculation that it was necessary to cleanse the region of Arabs.” The original name, Majdal, had already been “Judaized” to today’s Ashkelon, regular practice.

That was in 1953, when there was no hint of military necessity. Tziper himself was born in 1953, and while walking in the remnants of the old Arab sector, he reflects that “it is really difficult for me, really difficult, to realize that while my parents were celebrating my birth, other people were being loaded on trucks and expelled from their homes.”

Israel’s 1967 conquests and their aftermath administered further blows. Then came the terrible crimes already mentioned, continuing to the present day.

The signs are easy to see, even on a brief visit. Sitting in a hotel near the shore, one can hear the machine gun fire of Israeli gunboats driving fishermen out of Gaza’s territorial waters and towards shore, so they are compelled to fish in waters that are heavily polluted because of US-Israeli refusal to allow reconstruction of the sewage and power systems that they destroyed.

The Oslo Accords laid plans for two desalination plants, a necessity in this arid region. One, an advanced facility, was built: in Israel. The second one is in Khan Yunis, in the south of Gaza. The engineer in charge of trying to obtain potable water for the population explained that this plant was designed so that it cannot use sea water, but must rely on underground water, a cheaper process, which further degrades the meager aquifer, guaranteeing severe problems in the future. Even with that, water is severely limited. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which cares for refugees (but not other Gazans), recently released a report warning that damage to the aquifer may soon become “irreversible,” and that without remedial action quickly, by 2020 Gaza may not be a “liveable place.”

Israel permits concrete to enter for UNRWA projects, but not for Gazans engaged in the huge reconstruction needs. The limited heavy equipment mostly lies idle, since Israel does not permit materials for repair. All of this is part of the general program described by Israeli official Dov Weisglass, an adviser to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, after Palestinians failed to follow orders in the 2006 elections: “The idea,” he said, “is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.” That would not look good.

And the plan is being scrupulously followed. Sara Roy has provided extensive evidence in her scholarly studies. Recently, after several years of effort, the Israeli human rights organization Gisha succeeded to obtain a court order for the government to release its records detailing plans for the diet, and how they are executed. Israel-based journalist Jonathan Cook summarizes them: “Health officials provided calculations of the minimum number of calories needed by Gaza’s 1.5 million inhabitants to avoid malnutrition. Those figures were then translated into truckloads of food Israel was supposed to allow in each day ... an average of only 67 trucks — much less than half of the minimum requirement — entered Gaza daily. This compared to more than 400 trucks before the blockade began.” And even this estimate is overly generous, UN relief officials report.

The result of imposing the diet, Mideast scholar Juan Cole observes, is that “[a]bout ten percent of Palestinian children in Gaza under 5 have had their growth stunted by malnutrition ... in addition, anemia is widespread, affecting over two-thirds of infants, 58.6 percent of schoolchildren, and over a third of pregnant mothers.” The US and Israel want to ensure that nothing more than bare survival is possible.

“What has to be kept in mind,” observes Raji Sourani, “is that the occupation and the absolute closure is an ongoing attack on the human dignity of the people in Gaza in particular and all Palestinians generally. It is systematic degradation, humiliation, isolation and fragmentation of the Palestinian people.” The conclusion is confirmed by many other sources. In one of the world’s leading medical journals, The Lancet, a visiting Stanford physician, appalled by what he witnessed, describes Gaza as “something of a laboratory for observing an absence of dignity,” a condition that has “devastating” effects on physical, mental, and social wellbeing. “The constant surveillance from the sky, collective punishment through blockade and isolation, the intrusion into homes and communications, and restrictions on those trying to travel, or marry, or work make it difficult to live a dignified life in Gaza.” The Araboushim must be taught not to raise their heads.

There were hopes that the new Morsi government in Egypt, less in thrall to Israel than the western-backed Mubarak dictatorship, might open the Rafah crossing, the sole access to the outside for trapped Gazans that is not subject to direct Israeli control. There has been slight opening, but not much. Journalist Laila el-Haddad writes that the re-opening under Morsi, “is simply a return to status quo of years past: only Palestinians carrying an Israeli-approved Gaza ID card can use Rafah Crossing,” excluding a great many Palestinians, including el-Haddad’s family, where only one spouse has a card.

Furthermore, she continues, “the crossing does not lead to the West Bank, nor does it allow for the passage of goods, which are restricted to the Israeli-controlled crossings and subject to prohibitions on construction materials and export.” The restricted Rafah crossing does not change the fact that “Gaza remains under tight maritime and aerial siege, and continues to be closed off to the Palestinians’ cultural, economic, and academic capitals in the rest of the [occupied territories], in violation of US-Israeli obligations under the Oslo Accords.”

The effects are painfully evident. In the Khan Yunis hospital, the director, who is also chief of surgery, describes with anger and passion how even medicines are lacking for relief of suffering patients, as well as simple surgical equipment, leaving doctors helpless and patients in agony. Personal stories add vivid texture to the general disgust one feels at the obscenity of the harsh occupation. One example is the testimony of a young woman who despaired that her father, who would have been proud that she was the first woman in the refugee camp to gain an advanced degree, had “passed away after 6 months of fighting cancer aged 60 years. Israeli occupation denied him a permit to go to Israeli hospitals for treatment. I had to suspend my study, work and life and go to set next to his bed. We all sat including my brother the physician and my sister the pharmacist, all powerless and hopeless watching his suffering. He died during the inhumane blockade of Gaza in summer 2006 with very little access to health service. I think feeling powerless and hopeless is the most killing feeling that human can ever have. It kills the spirit and breaks the heart. You can fight occupation but you cannot fight your feeling of being powerless. You can't even dissolve that feeling.”

Disgust at the obscenity, compounded with guilt: it is within our power to bring the suffering to an end and allow the Samidin to enjoy the lives of peace and dignity that they deserve.

Noam Chomsky visited the Gaza Strip on October 25-30, 2012.

--- 

Source: [ http://chomsky.info/articles/20121104.htm ] 

Who's the Terrorist? A Song from the Heart of Gaza





Who's the terrorist?
I'm the terrorist?!
How am I the terrorist when you've taken my land?
Who's the terrorist?
You're the terrorist!
You've taken everything I own while I'm living in my homeland



You're killing us like you've killed our ancestors
You want me to go to the law?
What for?
You're the Witness, the Lawyer, and the Judge!
If you are my Judge
I'll be sentenced to death
You want us to be the minority?
To end up the majority in the cemetery?
In your dreams!
You're a Democracy?
Actually it's more like the Nazis
Your countless raping of the Arab's soul
Finally impregnated it
Gave birth to your child
His name: Suicide Bomber
And then you call him the terrorist?


You attack me but still you cry out
When i remind you it was you who attacked me
You silence me and shout:
"Don't they have parents to keep them at home?"
"But you let small children throw stones!"
WHAT?!
You must have forgotten you buried our parents under the rubble of our homes
And now while my agony is so immense
You call me the terrorist?



Who's the terrorist?
I'm the terrorist?
How am I the terrorist
When you've taken my land?!
Who's the terrorist?
You're the terrorist!
You've taken everything I own
while I'm living in my homeland



Why terrorist?! Because my blood is not calm
It's boiling!
Because I hold my head for my homeland
You've killed my loved ones
Now I'm all alone
My parents driven out
But I will remain to shout out
I'm not against peace
Peace is against me
It's going to destroy me
You don't listen to our voices
You silence us and degrade us
And who are you?!
And when did you become ruler?
Look how many you've killed
and how many orphans you've created



Our mothers are crying
Our fathers are in anguish
Our land is disappearing
And I'll tell you who you are!
You grew up sported
We grew up in poverty
Who grew up with freedom?
And who grew up in continument?
We fight for Our freedom
But you've made that a crime
And you, the terrorist call me the terrorist!



Who's the terrorist?
I'm the terrorist?
How am I the terrorist
When you've taken my land?!
Who's the terrorist?
You're the terrorist!
You've taken everything I own
while I'm living in my homeland



So, when will I stop being a terrorist?!
When you hit me and I turn the other cheek
How do you expect me to thank
the one who harmed me?!
I tell you what!
You tell me how you want me to be!
Down on my knees with my hands tied up
My eyes to the ground
Surrounded by bodies
Houses destroyed
Families driven out
Our children orphaned
Our freedom chained up



You oppress
You kill
We bury
We'll remain patient
We'll suppress our pain
Most importantly you feel secure
Just relax and leave us all the pain
You see our blood is like that of dogs
NOT EVEN
When dogs die they receive sympathy
So our blood is not as valuable as a dog's
No - My blood is valuable
And I will continue defending myself Even if you call me a terrorist





Published
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 15, 2009
Source: http://thewestandothers.blogspot.com.au/2009/02/whos-terrorist-song-from-heart-of-gaza.html