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Gaza: The Cries of the Dead Get Louder

October 25, 2009

Nine months after the fact, Israel is engaged in an international high profile`charm campaign’ to deflect world public opinion from the Goldstone Report and the unabated criticism of its December 2008-January 2009 Gaza invasion. The campaign has even reached Denver where in short order, two Israeli political personalities will soon be coming our way. They seem to a part of a larger public relations effort to bolster support for Israel and divert attention from the growing criticism over Israel’s recent Gaza incursion by focusing on `the Iranian Threat’.

Landau, Barkat…Remember Hanan Ashrawi.

This coming Wednesday, October 28, Uzi Landau, Israel’s Minister of Infrastructure will speak at Metropolitan State College of Denver. Next week, on the evening of Nov 3, Jerusalem’s Mayor Nir Barkat will be the featured speaker at the University of Denver’s Korbel Institute of International Affairs. Landau comes from the far right of the Israeli political spectrum

Barkat will speak on Jerusalem. A high profile event, it is sponsored by none other than Colorado’s Governor Bill Ritter and University of Denver Chancellor Robert Coombe. I am not opposed to Barkat speaking in Colorado, but one has to wonder – at a time when the policy of the Obama Administration is to push for serious Israeli-Palestinian negotiations including a freeze on Israeli settlements – why the governor of Colorado and one of the most important academic figures in the state would sponsor such a one sided event? The answer to this `why’ by the way is probably not difficult to discern although we’ll leave it in the air for the moment. Will Ritter and Coombe co-sponsor a talk by an eminent Palestinian personality like Hanan Ashrawi or the Palestinian UN Representative in the near future?

The university’s advertisement for Barkat’s talk is a bit heady: “Mayor Barkat has inspired thousands of Jerusalemites with his vision to turn Israel’s poorest city into one rich in culture, youth, education, lasting economic development, and tourism, as well as his message of respect and pluralism for all residents of Jerusalem. He has joined together the left and right, the secular and the religious, in order to move Jerusalem forward, allowing him to spend the entirety of his time working on the needs of Jerusalem, rather than the politics.”

Nothing here about the difficulties East Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents daily face, their never-ending problemss getting building permits, the degree to which they are being squeezed out one way or another, nor about the daily harassment they suffer at the hands of the city’s right wing religious Jewish elements. Perhaps the good mayor will address these less complimentary – and internationally well known – aspects of Jerusalem life?

Then there is Landau’s talk in a few days at Metro. He will be talking at St. Cajetan’s Church, this coming Wednesday at 1:30. Colored posters, some quite large, are plastered all over the Auraria Campus annoucing the event which is sponsored by the American-Israel Student Affairs Committee. It has a sound like `AIPAC’ but the only reference I could find to this group was in an organizing manuel put out by Institute of Public Affairs of the Union of Orthodox Congregations of America. Regardless, the effort seems well funded.

Landau: Two Tokes Over The Line

Landau is so far to the right in Israeli politics that it is fair to say that he’s even over the cliff. He shares his first name with the famous Israeli machine gun which also nicely defines his politics. Last November, even Israel’s ruling right wing Likud Party proved to liberal for him. He joined Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu, a party heavily dominated by Russian-Jewish immigrants that can be fairly described as rabidly right wing. Indeed, there is nothing to the right of this party in Israeli politics. He represents the extreme right wing in Netanyahu’s government, several notches to the right of the prime minister himself – something hard to achieve. Landau, like so many Israeli politicians, is a former military man, having served in the Paratroopers’ Brigade where he reached the rank of major. He has held high government postions; Landau served as Israel’s Minister of Internal Security under Ariel Sharon but resigned his post because he opposed the Gaza Disengagement Plan, or any Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories. Interior minister at the time of Rachel Corrie’s untimely death and thus involved in the coverup that followed, he has a phd from MIT. His politics do not suggest that he took many courses there with Noam Chomsky.

But what is the Israeli Minister of Infrastructure doing, giving a talk on `The Iranian Threat’ at Metro State? Maybe someone should ask the infrastructure minister how he feels about Israel destroying civilian infrastructure of Gaza?

Probably more or less what Ehud Olmert and other Israeli high-profile figures are doing: criss-crossing the United States, trying to divert public opinion from the Goldstone Report with its damning conclusions of Israeli war crimes in Gaza in an effort to re-direct attention back onto Iran’s nuclear weapons program … or lack there of.

Olmert too is touring the country trying to build support for the `anti-Iranian front’ and prop up Israel’s sagging image after Gaza. The ex prime minister is having a hard time of it though. Both at the University of Chicago and a World Affairs Conference in San Francisco, he was virtually booed off the stage by angry protestors (for video, click here). Olmert, before leaving the prime minister’s office issued a pathetic (in my view) plea for a two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. Unfortunately it came long after his word carried any clout. It was too little, too late, rich in symbolism, empty of any meaningful content.

Landau, Olmert and (probably) Barkat are following Benjamin Netanyahu’s lead. The Israeli government’s strategy is simple, yet clever: take the world’s focus off of its West Bank settlement building and the growing international `concern’ – perhaps `outrage’ would be a more apt term – over Israel’s Dec, 2008-Jan 2009 assault on Gaza. Netanyahu knew that world public opinion would protest Israel’s Gaza assault, but figured – logically given recent events – that the furor would die down in a few months, much as it was after Israel’s 2002 cruel assault on Jenin where inspectors were not allowed to investigate and a UN report made little impact.

Does one denote a note of `panic’ on the part of the Israeli leadership?

Maybe.

Afterall, the Goldstone Report could go to the UN Security Council and then back to Geneva. It could wind up at the International Court at the Hague and result in the international indiction of Israeli leaders – some of whom have already been warned not to travel to foreign countries for fear of arrest – for war crimes. Besides the `bad publicity’ which comes from slaughtering civilians, on occasion there are more far-reaching consequences – and who knows, rather than Iran, it might be Israel that will face economic and political sanctions! We are far from that, and we know the role that the US and its allies will take to block such an eventuality, but this is probably why Israel has launched its full court press, why Netanyahu made such a pathetic speech before the UN about `Israel’s survival’, and why Olmert, Vardi, Barkat and who knows whom else (but very few generals who might get arrested) are stomping the backwoods and urban centers of America.

When Obama and Netanyahu met in Washington this past May, the former wanted to talk about Israel freezing settlements, the latter hope to divert the discussion to rebuilding the `anti-Iran’ front. Obama did not get Netanyahu to freeze West Bank settlement building nor end the punishing seige of Gaza. Neither did Netanyahu succeed in slowing Obama’s momentum to enter into serious talks with Iran. The `Five-Plus-One’ talks (talks of the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany in discussions with Iran) seem to be baring some modest fruit – at least not breaking down.

Likewise, they expected, incorrectly, that the inquiries into the death of a young US peace activist Rachel Corrie run over – or to put it less politely – `murdered’ by a Caterpillar-manufactured Israeli military bulldozer driver would die down. The inquiries continue, led by no less than Corrie’s indomitable parents, Cindy and Craig Corrie. Now plays have been written and produced all over the world focusing on Corrie’s last days and death; several folks songs written. Six years after her death defending a Palestinian home in Gaza from a bulldozer, Rachel lives.

And now Gaza haunts Israel at virtually every turn. Israel usually, and correctly, counts on the public opinion’s short memory to weaken anti-Israeli sentiment. Not this time. The attempts to deflect attention from Gaza – as Israel did after the probable Israeli massacres in Jenin in 2002 – are falling short. The likelihood of a serious Israeli investigation of the events or of Israel considering the results of the Goldstone Report are rather dim at this moment, although international pressure might come into play to change this situation. Although Israelis in the great majority oppose any suggestion of Israeli military misdeeds, nine months after the bombs stopped dropping, to Netanyahu’s dismay, the world’s attention remains riveted on Gaza

It is misleading to call Gaza `a war’.

It was neither a war nor a defensive action of any kind.. It was a massacre pure and simple, with echoes of Sand Creek, of Oradour, the Warsaw Ghetto and Sabre and Chatilla ringing in our ears. On the one hand there was the full weight of the Israeli military bombing day and night from the air, sea and land, invading the strip and destroying everything and everyone in its path. On the other hand, a guerilla force with little more than light arms. The whole world saw one of the cruelest uses of military power against a largely defenseless people in modern history. Nor in invading Gaza did Israel achieve its goal of destroying Hamas’ influence and bolstering Fateh’s. If anything, Abbas was discredited, Hamas emerged politically stronger having withstood the terrible blow.

Let us have no illusions, the Bush Administration encouraged the Gaza Massacre and Obama did not lift a finger (although he was not yet in power) to protest it; Obama might have given a Nobel Prize-winning speech in Cairo, but the word `Gaza’ never left his lips. Worse, Obama helped the Israelis try to squelch world public opinion, to limit the moral outrage for the slaughter to the Middle East. And for a while it looked as if it would work, and it nearly did. But not everywhere. And in many places, something snapped.

And now Israel finds itself in a growing international diplomatic tizzy – more serious than anything it has experienced since the end of the first intifada in the early 1990s. It’s international prestige is plummeting, its attempt to portray itself as a kind of innocent victim of `terrorists’ has almost completely collapsed. More and more it is viewed as the aggressor – just the image it has worked so hard to dispel. The cries of the Gaza dead have not been silenced this time. To the contrary, their collective voice grows louder.

While the US and Israel find themselves unable to get the UN Security Council to tighten sanctions against Iran, despite efforts that might be described as nothing short of furious, they have not been able to snuff out the growing international condemnation of Israel’s Gaza incursion. If the criticism of the Goldstone Report has been typically muted and under-reported in the US media, everywhere else, support for the report’s damning conclusions continues to grow:

+ Russia and China have voted in favor of the endorsement of the Goldstone report by the UN.
+ The UK and France did not take part in the UN vote, but did demand that Israel conduct a real investigation.
+ In Turkey, the national anger was so deep and pervasive that the country’s prime minister had to make extremely sharp and public criticisms of Israel, threatening a strategic alliance the US has worked hard to craft between Turkey and Israel
+ Gaza has provoked deep tensions with Sweden and Norway among others.
+ Israel’s refusal to prevent the French Foreign Minister from crossing into the Gaza Strip provoked great anger in Paris
+ Relations with Egypt and Jordan, not particularly good, have soured even more.
+ Boycotts against Israeli academics, companies doing business with Israel are growing and worse – many of the countries senior army officers are afraid to travel abroad for fear of arrest.
+ Here in the United States, the protest was more muted, but even so, the winds of change are blowing. Among many Jews who had privately expressed `concern’ over Israel’s Palestinian policy, Gaza was a kind of straw that broke the camel’s back and has deepened the rift, not far below the surface, within the nation’s Jewish community on Israel’s conduct.

I have been hearing things in Denver’s Jewish Community, its mainstream long strongly Zionist, that I have not heard in my 40 years in Colorado. Young Jews openly joined protest demonstrations; more established figures began to make more serious inquiries about new national Jewish formations such as Tikkun, B’rit Tzedek, J-Street. Meanwhile, with Netanyahu not budging on freezing or better, dismantling settlements, nor willing to even consider the emergence of a viable independent state and Obama not pushing the Israeli leadership to do so, Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are back to where they were just after Oslo – talking about talking about negotiating, just where Netanyahu wants them.

Landau and Barkat have their work cut out for them.

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