Then and now

…and tomorrow?

In his recent Independent column, Robert Fisk wrote:

In 1948, our politicians — the Americans and the British — staged an airlift into Berlin. A starving population (our enemies only three years before) were surrounded by a brutal army, the Russians, who had erected a fence around the city. The Berlin airlift was one of the great moments in the Cold War. Our soldiers and our airmen risked and gave their lives for these starving Germans.

Incredible, isn't it? In those days, our politicians took decisions; our leaders took decisions to save lives. Messrs Attlee and Truman knew that Berlin was important in moral and human as well as political terms.

And today? It was people — ordinary people, Europeans, Americans, Holocaust survivors — yes, for heaven's sake, survivors of the Nazis — who took the decision to go to Gaza because their politicians and their statesmen had failed them.


And what does this [attack on the Freedom flotilla] say about Israel? Isn't Turkey a close ally of Israel? Is this what the Turks can expect? Now Israel's only ally in the Muslim world is saying this is a massacre — and Israel doesn't seem to care.

But then Israel didn't care when London and Canberra expelled Israeli diplomats after British and Australian passports were forged and then provided to the assassins of Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. It didn't care when it announced new Jewish settlements on occupied land in East Jerusalem while Joe Biden, the Vice-President of its erstwhile ally, the United States, was in town. Why should Israel care now?

How did we get to this point? Maybe because we all grew used to seeing the Israelis kill Arabs, maybe the Israelis grew used to killing Arabs. Now they kill Turks. Or Europeans. Something has changed in the Middle East these past 24 hours — and the Israelis (given their extraordinarily stupid political response to the slaughter) don't seem to have grasped what has happened. The world is tired of these outrages. Only the politicians are silent [emphasis added].

If something has changed in the Middle East, as Fisk suggests here, this change may be attributable to changes that have already occurred in the world at large, changes reflected in the attempt to break Israel's illegal and immoral blockade, in the willingness of the activists, diplomats, professional politicians and others on the ships who staked their lives in order to put the blockade into history's trash can. The world is no longer merely "tired of these outrages," as Fisk suggests; it appears to me to have produced the makings of a transnational, cross cultural movement which intends to put an end to the Palestinian Genocide, to call the situation by its proper name. In fact, Fisk suggests as much in his article. The international movement already exists; the questions have thus become: Will it grow and ultimately succeed?


Ali Abunimah, a co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, writing for Aljezeera English, states clearly the point I wanted draw from Fisk's article:

Since Israel's invasion and massacre of over 1,400 people in Gaza 18 months ago, dubbed Operation Cast Lead, global civil society movements have stepped up their campaigns for justice and solidarity with Palestinians.

Governments, by contrast, carried on with business as usual, maintaining a complicit silence.

Israel's lethal attack on the Freedom Flotilla to Gaza may change that, spurring governments to follow the lead of their people and take unprecedented action to check Israel's growing lawlessness.

Writing for Haaretz, Anat Lapidot-Firilla adopts a realistic and well-tempered attitude towards Israel's Gaza siege and the blockade it includes:

In its latest, catastrophic attempt to enforce the Gaza siege, Israel has demonstrated that in fact, it is under siege — one it has imposed upon itself. Many Israelis are finding it hard to fathom the results of Monday's failed commando raid on the Turkish aid flotilla, which resulted in the deaths of foreign citizens. Those who believe that the blockade of the Gaza Strip must end, and even those who believe the operation was justified, realize that this is the time to reevaluate some of the anachronistic attitudes of those charged with defending the country.

The first attitude is based on the belief that it is possible to carry out a long-term blockade under the political conditions prevailing today internationally. Instead, the effectiveness of the blockade needs to be reexamined after having been in place for three years. Israel's security chiefs surely recognize that the flotillas to the Gaza Strip will not stop; rather, they will only intensify. The political and military leadership that decided to take over the ships behaved in a way befitting a different era. The struggle today takes place on the media battlefield and requires a corresponding solution.

Moreover, what will Israel do with the next flotilla? Or when the United States ceases to show understanding for Israel's position? Or when the number of casualties is higher? And what will the army do when countries like Turkey begin providing military escorts to such civilian flotillas? The military's response to this week's challenge suggests a lack of understanding of the nature of the conflict, and makes one wonder: Who endangers our security more? The human rights activists and the militants who have linked up with them, or those who determine Israel's defense policy?

Like Fisk, Lapidot-Firilla also recognizes that something has changed. Let us see if Israel's hard-right leaders learn from their blunder.

Last updated on June 4, 2010 at 6:51AM

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