Sunday 14 June 2015

Interlude: BDS and PSC

I've been handed the keys to the city Twitter account this week. One of the things I decided early on that I should do is use this power for good - in particular, for supporting the Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions campaign (BDS) which aims to apply pressure on Israel to treat Palestinians fairly, and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. Both of these are very important to me (and, I believe, to general principles of justice)

This blog post is going to be a bit of an essay, and it might just be slightly controversial.

Why the World Needs to do Something about Israel

Israel's government is essentially an extremist right wing one, imposing an Apartheid regime that is based on religion and ethnicity. The Gaza Strip has been turned into a concentration camp. If that is not enough, every two years or so, Israel carries out military operations that can only be described as mass murder.

Unless something is done, every indication is that Israel is gearing up to commit genocide. 


The word genocide is thrown around a lot these days. It's become a rhetoric device, a dramatic turn of phrase used to describe anything from injustice and cultural repression to the Holocaust.

So let me be clear what I mean when I use the phrase: the intentional eradication of a people - in this case, Palestinians. 

So far, this has not happened yet. There have been wars and war crimes, there is continual oppression and there have certainly been crimes against humanity, but there has not (yet) been a genocide. After all, there are still Palestinians in the West Bank and in Gaza.

The evidence, however, is that a genocide is being brewed. Just look at what the politicians who currently make up the Israeli cabinet say and believe:

  • The current Justice Minister, Ayelet Shaked, in 2014 (before being part of government) quoted an essay in full and highlighted her support of its ideas: "The entire Palestinian people is the enemy. (...) in wars the enemy is usually an entire people, including its elderly and its women, its cities and its villages, its property and its infrastructure."
  • The Speaker of the Knesset, Moshe Feiglin, in 2014 (he was Speaker of the Knesset at the time, too): "There are no two states, and there are no two peoples. There is only one state for one people. (...) The tasks: Conquest of the entire Gaza Strip, and annihilation of all fighting forces and their supporters. (...) the strategic goal: To turn Gaza into Jaffa, a flourishing Israeli city (...)  Israel must do the following: a) The IDF [Israeli army] shall designate certain open areas on the Sinai border, adjacent to the sea, in which the civilian population will be concentrated, far from the built-up areas that are used for launches and tunneling. In these areas, tent encampments will be established, until relevant emigration destinations are determined. The supply of electricity and water to the formerly populated areas will be disconnected. (...) d) Israel will start searching for emigration destinations and quotas for the refugees from Gaza. e) Those who insist on staying, if they can be proven to have no affiliation with Hamas, will be required to publicly sign a declaration of loyalty to Israel, and receive a blue ID card similar to that of the Arabs of East Jerusalem"
  • Deputy Defence Minister Ben Dahan, in 2013 (prior to current role): "To me, they (Palestinians) are like animals, they aren’t human."
  • Culture Minister Miri Regev has compared African refugees to cancer. After criticisms, she apologised to cancer victims for comparing their disease to Africans. 
  • Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel openly states that there will never be a Palestinian State. Only Palestinians who learn Hebrew and swear loyalty to Israel would be recognised as citizens under his suggestions. In 2008, he was even more blunt: “We must encourage Arabs to willingly leave, both from the cities and from the state.”

How the Genocide Will Happen

For Gaza, it's easy to see. The Blockade / Siege of Gaza started out by calculating how many calories Gazans would need, and then letting in less than that (about 2/3 of the required amount) in order to inflict non-lethal suffering and weaken people. This policy is no longer current - but it shows the mindset that still very much is.

Now, it's utilities and essentials - electricity, sewage treatement and drinking water - which are largely unavailable. Electricity is available for only a few hours a day. Sewage is largely pumped untreated into the Mediterranean, and drinking water supplies are in crisis. The UN predicts that, five years from now, the Gaza strip will be uninhabitable as a result. Hospitals lack supplies and struggle with the electricity problem: healthcare is in crisis, too.

So, Gaza's genocide will not take the form of gas chambers and mass executions. Gaza will die of cholera, typhoid and disease, of water contamination. It will die of an artificially created, intentional humanitarian catastrophe, inflicted on Gaza by Israeli policies.

As for the West Bank - chances are, Palestinian areas there will eventually experience the same fate as Gaza.
These are not just rebellious backbenchers, or thugs celebrating the killing of children in Gaza - they are now members of the government. (In some cases, their quotes predate their cabinet membership). Some talk of giving Palestinians Israeli statehood on conditions that they know won't be met - thereby rendering them stateless. Others openly talk of Arabs and Palestinians as the enemy, who should be destroyed, women, children and elderly people alike. 

The language has become utterly dehumanising. Palestinians are described as 'snakes' by some (Avelet Shaked), and Gaza is universally referred to as 'Hamastan' - a Bantustan for Hamas (even by Netanyaho himself). Some propose to move any undesirable Palestinian forcibly to Gaza, showing that the Gaza strip is seen as a camp for concentrating the enemies of Israel. 

These conditions are almost identical to Germany in the 1930s. Apartheid segregation, forced ghettoisation, and contempt for a group of people based on their birth / faith. Dehumanisation and violence. Talk of evicting the group of people they don't want - and encouraging emigration - is rampant. (And, just like in the 1930s, it's not as if any other country has open doors...).  

What has it got to do with us (UK/Europe)?

Let's ignore historic responsibility for the moment (I'll go into that later). Let's just focus on the here and now:

Why should we care about what happens in Israel/Palestine?

The answer is simple: our governments are complicit.

  • Israel has preferential trade treaties with the EU, and gets better access to the Common Market than other non-member countries. 
  • Our governments trade arms with Israel, buying Israeli technology (e.g. drones which are 'battle tested' - i.e. which have been used in assaults on Palestinians), and selling Israel weapons. (The US does more selling of big items than we do, but Europe sells plenty of components and buys plenty of weapons from Israel)
  • While the EU agrees with the entire world that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal, products from there are allowed into Europe - and the strongest proposal so far is that they may have to be 'labelled' in future. What other illegally created products can be bought in our local shops? And how does labelling that they were produced illegally make it OK to sell them?
  • Our governments have largely abstained from any vote critical of Israel at the UN. 
In short, unless we as citizens put pressure on our lawmakers and leaders to change their policies, some of the blood being shed is on our hands.

What Can We Do?

Campaigning against Israeli policies is not antisemitism

"Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions is not antisemitism. Do business with Jews, organize with them, love them. But don’t support – militarily, economically or politically – the machinery of an apartheid-state. We can’t do business as normal because conditions in the Holy Land are totally abnormal.

Please tell your government that mere words of concern are insufficient. They don’t change anything. The appropriate response when confronting injustice is to take real steps to confront and eradicate it.
The late Richard von Weizsäcker, former President of Germany and President of the Kirchentag, demanded just this in a letter to the EU signed by many European elder statesmen in 2010.

Beware of anti-semitism, and all other forms of racism, but beware also of being cowed into silence by those who seek to stifle criticism of the oppressive politics of Israel by labeling you anti-Semitic."
 - Desmond Tutu
  • There are, of course, petitions. (Aren't there always?)
  • Lobby your MP, or write them a letter
  • Boycott
    • You can boycott products from illegal settlements. We know that the Israeli government is scared of the boycott - so it works.
    • You can boycott companies that are complicit with human rights violations, such as Hewlett Packard. If you work for a company, you can make sure to only buy devices from other suppliers, and/or you could ask for ethical purchasing policies to be implemented and HP products to be boycotted by your employer.
    • You can boycott Israeli products entirely
    • As Israel spends a lot of money on culture and sport as propaganda tools, to present Israel in a positive light abroad and generate positive news stories (so called 'whitewashing'), you can take part in a cultural boycott and protest against Israeli touring companies and sports teams.
    • When you see PSC campaigners at upcoming Wales matches, say hello, pick up a leaflet, sign petitions, and have a friendly chat with them. 
    • Join the march against Israel's continued UEFA membership in Cardiff in September
  • Share! On Twitter, on Facebook, on any and all networks - don't be afraid to share news stories, retweet links to petitions and campaigns. Don't be silent while Apartheid is in place, and while the risk of a genocide in the future is great.
  • Donate to provide relief to Palestinians:
    • Medical Aid for Palestinians is a highly reputable UK charity which does exactly what it says on the tin. In the aftermath of the 2014 war, even the UK government donated to MAP.
    • Interpal is a UK charity which helps Palestinians. It has faced accusations of supporting terrorism and been cleared of the allegations. It has even won a libel case against another organisation - sadly, slander and libel are very common propaganda tools. If you don't want to donate online, there is an Interpal charity shop on Woodville Road in Cathays 
  • Join the Cardiff Palestinie Solidarity Campaign (or the national PSC if you're not based in Cardiff)
  • Keep up-to-date with news from Palestinian territories. The problems don't go away when the bombs stop falling, and the media in the UK often report about Israel with incredible bias. (Even the BBC). Electronic Intifada is a reputable citizen journalism website based in Palestine and London - but it is intentionally on the Palestinian side. The Middle East Monitor is another reputable source, striving to be unbiased. The journalism of Gideon Levy for Haaretz (an Israeli newspaper) is award winning, reputable and worth reading. It does not take a lot of effort: just follow them on Twitter and only read the articles that catch your attention.
  • Don't look away. The greatest shames of the German people are to have perpetrated the Holocaust, and that the vast majority of Germans intentionally looked the other way and let it happen. Those who claim ignorance were willfully ignorant. We must not repeat those mistakes - it's our moral duty to pay attention to what our governments do, whom our governments support, and hold them to account when they are complicit with atrocities. 
  • Remember: there has not yet been a genocide. It's not too late to prevent one. To make a genocide impossible, the Apartheid regime needs to end. The blockade of Gaza needs to end. And Palestinians must be treated with human rights, must be able to live under decent conditions, with autonomy over their own planning and building, and ability to trade.

Why should we care about what happens to Hamas? What about ISIS / Iran / Saudi Arabia?

Almost inevitably when anyone campaigns for fair treatment / human rights of Palestinians, someone voices these objections. So, here's my answer:

  • Hamas is a political movement with armed brigades. I won't defend them - they have done despicable things. Some solidarity campaigners say that Palestinians have a right to resistance - but Hamas cross the line between resistance to oppression and outright terrorism (against Israel). They are also guilty of oppression (against people in the territories they control)
  • Anyone who interchanges the words 'Palestinians' with 'Hamas' is intentionally dehumanising people in order to justify atrocities. You'll hear Israeli politicians and spokespeople do this a lot. They rarely talk of Palestinians - they talk of Hamas. Whatever their sympathies, most Palestinians are not Hamas members. (Frankly, anyone living under the oppressive conditions, perpetual state bullying and /or siege has every right to be angry. Saying Palestinians deserve no rights because many voted for Hamas is like saying UK citizens don't deserve human rights because UKIP won the European election there.)
  • The difference between Israel and ISIS & Iran is that our governments are not allies of ISIS and Iran. By being allied with Israel, our governments tacitly support what goes on there. Without that support, Israel would not be able to function the way it does - and it is that support we must erode. Israel should be every bit as isolated from the international community as Iran and ISIS: it too is a pariah state.
  • Also, I absolutely believe our governments need to take a different stance on Saudi Arabia. All the oil in the world isn't worth turning a blind eye to the oppression of all women, and the dire and medieval attitude to human life imposed by the regime over there. 

Enough of this what-about-ery. 

History: How did we get into this Mess?

In terms of the post-1945 history, this is probably the most unbiased and clear explanation that can be achieved in about five minutes:

If you look back further in history, Britain has a lot to answer for. 
  • In 1915, Britain promised self-rule to people in the region if they fought / rose up against the Ottomoan empire. The McMahon Agreement basically promised Palestinians self-rule. 
  • In 1917, Britain promised the holy land to Zionists, in return for funding. It promised land that it a) did not yet control and b) had already promised to the local residents - Britain sold the same land twice, once for fighters and once for money,
  • After WW1, Britain controlled Palestine as a Protectorate, until the end of WW2
  • After WW2, the UN (with Britain's consent) created the state of Israel.
  • Zionists moved in. Palestinians fled. This is the Nakba - the catastrophe of the Palestinian people. Some claim they fled because they knew that Arab armies would attack. Some say they fled in fear. Some say they were forcibly driven out. All of these versions are true - the Deir Yassin Massacre (where Zionist brigades under control of a later Israeli Prime Minister massacred Palestinians) was a high profile atrocity which resulted in most Palestinians fleeing. Those who fled were not allowed to return, and their property was taken into Israeli ownership by the new state. 

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