NEW YORK — On the evening of June 1 the Revolution Bookstore in NYC organized an emergency forum that would help people understand what was behind the brutal attack only hours before on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla that was carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza. The speakers would not only denounce the crime but make clear why it happened, as well as the responsibility of the peace and justice community to oppose it.
The bookstore was filled to capacity and there were people listening in the street through loudspeakers. Andy Zee opened the meeting speaking of the brutal murder of people on the high seas who were bringing humanitarian aid, basic essentials, to people living in the largest prison in the world. When people on the West Bank protested the attack on the flotilla the Israeli military fired a teargas canister into the face of a young American solidarity worker, an art student at Cooper Union, causing many broken facial bones and the loss of an eye. This aggression will not stop the Free Gaza Movement. In fact, another flotilla is being organized now in Italy. Several ships are already in the water.
The first speaker was Adam Shapiro, human rights activist and co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement. He began by asking for a moment of silence for the victims of the flotilla attack and for the 6 people that were killed in Gaza that day. He explained that his wife was on one of the boats in the flotilla and she called him as the ships were being attacked. She could see the commandos landing on the Turkish ship, the Mavi Marmara, she heard weapons being fired, saw flashes of bright light, and shortly after that the IDF landed on her boat. All we know so far is that all the ships were taken. We don’t know who was killed or wounded. No facts are coming from Israel. Governments all over the world are reacting strongly, diplomatic maneuvers are going on, and there has been fast and harsh condemnation from all over. We have read that Netanyahu has cancelled his planned trip to Washington to speak to Obama. Reliable sources told Shapiro that Obama asked Netanyahu not to come. We, as activists, have to keep focus on the blockade and we believe that “the blockade is teetering.” A flotilla is being organized in Italy but it isn’t ready to go yet. We are looking for a delegation of interfaith leaders. All of the media outlets have asked to be on board the boats. “Israel has dealt itself a defeat,” he said, it has exposed itself to the world. People power will overcome the blockade. If Israel stops ships again they lose. Israel is in a lose-lose position.
Israel is showing itself more and more willing to use brute force. The attack in international waters was premeditated. Israel announced that they would stop the ships using any means necessary. Orders for the commandos to shoot had to have been given in advance. During the massacre in Gaza Israel asked rabbis to talk to their troops and tell them to try to kill Palestinian babies – it would be considered a “mitzvah.” Israel is now using force against not only it’s Arab citizens but against it’s Jewish citizens as well who are part of the human rights movement.
Israel claims that there is no crisis in Gaza, yet Obama said, in his Cairo speech, that there is a crisis there. The subject is not up for debate.
“We will sail again to Gaza.” The ships are a tactic to achieve Palestinian rights and end the blockade. But other tactics will be tried to achieve our goals. More boats will go and Israel may use force again. They will help bring about their own defeat. The flotilla paid a very high price but, in a way, this is a victory. We will use this opportunity to change the world. Always remember the Palestinian people – they are the ones we are working for.
Author and former NY Times journalist, Chris Hedges spoke next. He said that since the first intifada Israel has refused to use non-lethal methods of crowd control against unarmed people, including children. Then they flagrantly manipulate the truth to mask their use of lethal force. What happened on the Turkish boat was premeditated lethal force that was initiated to send a message to future people who might challenge them. Israel has changed. There is now a complete disregard for the diplomacy that the US needs to provide cover for their compliance. They are no longer pretending to work for a 2 state solution. There is no show of rapprochement with the Palestinians. Apartheid is blatant. The 8 ghettos on the West Bank replicate the vast ghetto of Gaza. 40% of the land on the West Bank has already been confiscated, including most of the aquifers. There is no concern for international law. Obama is unable to stop the colonization. The blockade of Gaza has been tightened. Privileged Jews orchestrate misery and poverty in the Palestinian territories. The Palestinian middle class is gone. Most live in poverty. There are constant raids using helicopters. Gazans are allowed only a bare subsistence lifestyle to make them feel defeated and end any resistance. But quite the opposite has happened.
Negotiations between Hamas and Israel had been denounced by Al Qaeda. And Al Qaeda will replace Hamas if Hamas leaves or is defeated. Over the past 20 years the racism that was once spread by the marginalized Meir Kahane has become rampant and extreme. Avigdor Lieberman, a major player in the government, expresses the need to eradicate the Arab population in Israel. The democratic facade is gone. Hedges ended by predicting that the establishment of a Palestinian state will most likely come from a force outside the Israeli government, such as the U.N.
Alan Goodman, a writer for Revolution newspaper, spoke next. He explained that he had spent the previous day in front of the Holocaust Museum in NYC carrying a sign that had a quote from Bob Avakian, “After the holocaust the worst thing to happen to Jews is the state of Israel.” Jewish people who were entering or leaving the museum spoke to him. Some thought Israel had flaws. Others asked, didn’t the people on the boats know that Israel would be angry about the flotilla?
He continued, in 1975 Apartheid South Africa was an international pariah. Conditions in the Bantustans were terrible. No world power, including the US, wanted to ally themselves with South Africa. Israel armed the South African regime offering weapons and toxic chemicals in the service of US strategic interests. Change the site to Central America in the 80′s. In Guatemala left guerillas and indigenous peoples were struggling against a US covertly supported reactionary regime. The guerillas and indigenous people were brutally tortured and murdered in great numbers. The most horrific things were done to them. Israel provided planes, boats, and weapons to the regime there. Acting like a US proxy they allowed the US government to look like their hands were clean. Goodman asked, is this what the “shared values” are and the “special relationship” is based on? Israel does the US’s dirtiest work. Jewish people don’t understand that. Knowing the truth can play a legitimate role in undermining Israel’s influence.
Joel Kovel, author of “Overcoming Zionism: Creating a single Democratic State in Israel/Palestine”, began by saying that he disagreed with what Hedges said. “Israel hasn’t changed”, it emerged as a “deformed Jewish state.” Can there be a non-deformed Jewish state? No. A state formed around a religion is toxic and out of control. The Jewish people were never a unified nation, the only thing uniting them is religion and a shared sense of land over millennia. The Jewish religion has a central idea – dispossession and repossession. Driving the Palestinians out of Palestine is an integral part of the religion. Israel is a product of Jewish suffering in the holocaust and the religious idea that the Palestinian land belongs to the Jews. Zionism is the state instrument of force. It was essential to the formation of a Zionist state. Israel was not founded by high-minded people creating a new state. The creation of Israel always, from the beginning, implied ethnic cleansing. Kovel called Israel the “Macbeth of nations” – it craves more and more power and has to keep committing crimes to get and maintain the power. It achieves impunity by sucking up to power and by doing their dirty work. By doing that they can get away with anything, for example the 6-8-67 attack on the USS Liberty. But impunity cannot last – people rise up and say, “no more”. The racist unity is splitting in the Israeli population. The 2 state solution is impossible now and that is good because the 2 state solution would preserve a Jewish state. The proper path would be to build a genuine, universal, democratic society.
The final speaker was Abdeen Jabara, past president of the American-Arab Anti-discrimination Committee and human rights activist. He began by asking if the current US economic crisis was due to political contributions to congress? And is the BP crisis due to the oil companies contributing to congress? What about AIPAC, is US support for Israel based on cash flowing into congress from Zionist support groups? Most people answered yes to all 3 questions. US support for Israel, he said, creates a symbiotic relationship. But young Jews are alienated by what Israelis are doing and by AIPAC funding politicians so that they will vote the way Israel wants them to. The US is in a position of dominance in the world and it supports Israel. Israel is under US protection and is fed billions of dollars when the money is needed here in the US.
Israel’s strategy has been to show such force that no one will challenge the state. But Americans have to challenge Israel and US support for Israel. Since being embarrassed on his trip to Israel, and his subsequent criticism of Israel, Vice President Biden has met with Elie Weisel and with 37 Jewish members of congress to smooth ruffled feathers. This is the situation we are currently dealing with.
When the speakers finished their talks Andy Zee spoke to those assembled about the revolutionary mission of the bookstore and their mission in our society. Then he opened to floor to questions and comments. One person noted that while Blacks in the US financially support the Democrats the US supported South Africa because of contention between the US and the USSR. Another noted that Israel was the US representative in the Middle East but Israel is a major nuclear power. If it looked like there would be no more Jewish state, would they use those weapons to destroy the Middle East? Another person said that Seymour Hersh discussed Israel’s nuclear weapons in “The Sampson Option.” One commented on the strained relations between Turkey, an important member of NATO, and Israel. The Turkish people have been increasingly upset by Zionist policies and now 9 Turkish citizens in the Freedom Flotilla have been murdered. Where to from here? Turkey has a very strong and reactionary military – should we be watching for a possible coup? A questioner asked, since Israel serves US imperial needs, why do American Zionists keep giving congress money? Wouldn’t the US protect Israel without the financial contributions? Kovel disagreed. He said there was no unified approach. The neocons are all Zionists but other imperialists are beginning to see that Israel is no longer serving their needs. There is a split in the ruling class. Because Israel has been the US attack dog doesn’t mean that they will always remain so.
The Revolution Bookstore did a very important service in arranging this forum only hours after the Israeli assault on the humanitarian aid flotilla. All speakers made an important contribution – the evening was full of nuggets of real insight that increased the understanding of the listeners, gave ideas on where to go from here (another flotilla is forming!), and, not unimportantly, lifted some spirits. The Revolution Bookstore has come through, as they have on other issues, and filled a void.