Stuffing my backpack before setting out to board "The Audacity of Hope," the U.S. boat to Gaza, I got a familiar-sounding call from yet another puzzled friend, who said as gently as the words allow, "You know you can get killed, don't you?"
I recognize this caution as an expression of genuine concern from friends. From some others - who don't much care about Gaza's plight and/or who do not wish us well - the words are phrased somewhat differently: "Aren't you just asking for it?"
That was the obligatory question/accusation at the end of a recent interview of me that was taped for a BBC-TV special scheduled to air this coming week as we try to break- or at least draw attention to - Israel's illegal blockade of Gaza and the suffering it inflicts on the people there.
I also have been cautioned by a source with access to very senior staffers at the National Security Council that not only does the White House plan to do absolutely nothing to protect our boat from Israeli attack or illegal boarding, but that White House officials"would be happy if something happened to us." They are, I am reliably told, "perfectly willing to have the cold corpses of activists shown on American TV."
I mention this informal warning for the benefit of anyone who may have harbored hope that the U.S. government would do something to protect us American citizens from the kind of violence used by the Israelis against last year's flotilla. It seems best to be up front and realistic about what to expect.
Two millennia ago, "Civus Romanus Sum" automatically won lawful treatment and free passage for Roman citizens in trouble. It was a matter of pride and a benefit of being part of a powerful empire. Today, the contrast could hardly be starker. It is sad fact that"Civus Americanus Sum" would engender ridicule, rather than respect, if invoked in an attempt to secure basic rights for those of us working for justice for the Palestinians.
Americans also face the reality that they are put in harm's way by the view held by millions around the world - and especially in the Middle East - that the United States is partly responsible for the injustices and the humiliations that Palestinians face daily.
So I want to turn around the question/warning to me about safety and direct it to fellow citizens who will not be aboard "The Audacity of Hope":
"You know you can get killed, don't you?" - if the U.S. government continues to enable Israel in keeping a million and a half Gazans in a densely populated open-air prison with few prospects for a normal life.
It is a no-brainer. The longer that goes on the more likely it becomes that many more Americans will become the target of terrorists seeking to inflict some pain on the great power that stands behind Israel whatever it does.
Oppression of Gazans: Catalyst for Violence
We already know of two suicide bombs famously targeted against Americans that can be traced to outrage at U.S. support for Israeli oppression in Gaza.
The 290 people aboard Northwest flight 253 were spared on Christmas Day 2009 when the "underwear bomber" was prevented from setting off an explosive over Detroit. A week later, seven CIA officials were not as lucky. They were killed by a suicide bomber in eastern Afghanistan. More about these two incidents later.
In recent interviews about Gaza and about my reasons for going on "The Audacity of Hope," I have avoided focusing on pragmatic/utilitarian considerations like exposing injustice, inducing change, and thereby making Americans more secure. Rather, I have called attention to what is more bedrock for me- the oft-repeated biblical admonition to show special concern for the widow, the orphan, the refugee.
All too often, I have watched eyes glaze over and overheard muted comments regarding what planet I might be coming from. For most folks, such concern or compassion, if any, seems to stop at the water's edge. After all, the widow, the orphan, the refugee might be a "terrorist."
Bedrock American virtues like honesty and honor seem in very short supply these days, having been pretty much sacrificed on the altar of fear and overweening concern for"security." Americans have been so desensitized by years of multi-colored "terror" warnings and politician demagoguery that nothing is now more important than the safety of the American people. Most citizens utter not a murmur as they watch their tax dollars enable the worst kinds of brutality abroad.
Or they train themselves NOT to watch, preferring the diversion of late-breaking news on Congressman Anthony Wiener's photogenic "junk."
It is mostly to such folks that I include the facts that follow, acknowledging that many of you readers are likely to be quite familiar with some or all of them. It is for the nonreaders, like perhaps some in your own family or your neighbors, that I feel a need to make one more effort to expose this reality: By turning a blind eye to Israeli brutality in Gaza, our government and our media make Americans a great deal LESS safe and secure.
Can Self-Interest Prompt More Common Sense?
I am guessing that only a direct, fact-based appeal has much chance of prompting many Americans to push - if only out of self-interest - for a more utilitarian and, incidentally, a more moral approach to the festering wound of Gaza.
The Fawning Corporate Media (FCM) will not array the facts as they should be arrayed (if they mention them at all). And, of course, that goes in spades for TV"news." Yet, it is not difficult to connect the dots, once you know what they are.
What follows is intended for people like the fellow who recently flipped an obscene gesture at me after reading my bumper sticker, which says simply,"God Bless the Rest of the World Too." It is for those who choose to express their exclusive concern for just one segment of humanity by chanting "U.S.A., U.S.A." It is for those who have never heard of, or blithely reject, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s wise admonition that "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
What You Won't Hear on the Evening News
-Israel itself helped to create Hamas in 1987 as a Muslim fundamentalist, divide-and-conquer counterweight to the secular Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
-The bulk of Hamas's popular appeal - like that enjoyed by Hezbollah in Lebanon - stems not from the crude rockets fired toward Israel, but rather from the tangible help they give to oppressed Palestinians.
And don't take my word for it. Here's what James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, included as a sort of afterthought at the end of his 34-page "Worldwide Threat Assessment" before the House Intelligence Committee on Feb. 10. It was completely missed, for some reason, by the FCM:
"We see a growing proliferation of state and non-state actors providing medical assistance to reduce foreign disease threats to their own populations, garner influence with affected local populations, and project power regionally.... In some cases, countries use health to overtly counter Western influence, presenting challenges to allies and our policy interests abroad over the long run.
"In last year's threat assessment, the Intelligence Community noted that extremists may take advantage of a government's inability to meet the health needs of its population, highlighting that HAMAS's and Hizballah's provision of health and social services in the Palestinian Territories and Lebanon helped to legitimize those organizations as a political force. This also has been the case with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt."
I hope, readers, that you were not shocked by the diabolically clever way these "terrorist" movements garner public support by providing people life-saving medical care.
--It was on that record of public service (and also on the PLO's richly deserved reputation for corruption) that Hamas won a key parliamentary election in January 2006, defeating the PLO-affiliated Fatah party. While the election results were not disputed, they were not what the U.S., Israel, and Europe wanted. So the U.S. and the EU cut off financial assistance to Gaza.
-Confidential documents, corroborated by former U.S. officials, show that thereupon the White House ordered CIA operatives in 2007 to try, with the help of Fatah strongman Muhammad Dahlan, to defeat Hamas in a bloody civil war. That, too, did not go as expected. Hamas won handily, leaving it stronger than ever. (See"The Gaza Bombshell" by David Rose, in Vanity Fair, April 2008, for the entire sad story.)
-Israel and Egypt then imposed an economic blockade on Gaza eventually reducing Gazans to bare subsistence levels and 45 percent unemployment.
-From Dec. 27, 2008, to Jan. 18, 2009, while President George W. Bush was a lame duck, Israel launched air and ground attacks on Gaza, killing about 1,400 Gazans compared to an Israeli death toll of 13. Israel's stated aim was to stop rocket fire into Israel and block any arms deliveries to Gaza. Right. President-elect Barack Obama said nothing.
Guilt by Association
The United States is widely seen as responsible for Israel's aggressive behavior, which is hardly surprising. It is no secret that Israel enjoys financial ($3 billion per year), military and virtually unquestioned political support from Washington.
What is surprising, in the words of widely respected Salon.com commentator Glenn Greenwald, is "how our blind, endless enabling of Israeli actions fuels terrorism directed at the U.S.," and how it is taboo to point this out.
Take for example former CIA specialist on al-Qaeda, Michael Scheuer, who had the audacity to state on C-SPAN: "For anyone to say that our support for Israel doesn't hurt us in the Muslim world ... is to just defy reality."
The Likud Lobby had already succeeded in getting Scheuer fired from his job at the Jamestown Foundation think tank for his forthrightness, and the Israeli media condemned his C-SPAN remarks as"blatantly anti-Semitic." There can be a high price to pay for candor on this neuralgic issue.
Yet, perhaps the most flagrant and egregious example of this syndrome is the unprecedentedly brief career - six hours - of former Ambassador Chas Freeman as chair of the National Intelligence Council.
On the morning of March 10, 2009, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair welcomed Freeman to the job overseeing all U.S. intelligence analysis and praised his"long experience and inventive mind." That afternoon, the White House succumbed to pressure from the Likud Lobby and told Blair that Freeman had to go.
Foreign policy analyst Chris Nelson described the imbroglio as a reflection of the "deadly power game on what level of support for controversial Israeli government policies is a 'requirement' for U.S. public office."
Freeman's credentials were impeccable. He is not only widely regarded as one of the brightest foreign policy specialists around, but also had this weird addiction to speaking truth to power. No way was he going to trim intelligence analysis to the desires of the Likud Lobby. That was simply unacceptable. After all, Freeman might have braced the President with the reality of how Washington's blind support for Israeli behavior is risking American lives - not to mention the U.S. equities in the entire Middle East.
Let's move at this point from the general to the specific, and show how Israeli attacks on Gaza and oppression of its inhabitants, have already inspired a number of anti-American terrorist acts- with more and bigger to follow, as the night the day.
Christmas Day Bomber: From Yemen to Detroit
Remember Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab who almost downed Northwest flight 253 over Detroit on Dec. 25, 2009? What was his motive and how was this 23-year-old Nigerian of privilege persuaded to do the bidding- however amateurishly - of al-Qaeda in the Persian Gulf?
An Associated Press report quoted Abdulmutallab's Yemeni friends to the effect that he was actually "not overtly extremist." They pointed out, however, that he was angry over Israel's wanton slaughter of more 1,400 Gazans a year before. It was a brutal offensive, by any reasonable standard, but one that was defended in Washington as justifiable self-defense.
Nor was Abdulmutallab the only terrorist motivated by the carnage in Gaza. When the Saudi and Yemeni branches of al-Qaeda announced that they were uniting into"al-Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula," their combined rhetoric railed against the Israeli attack on Gaza.
Meanwhile, in Eastern Afghanistan
How does a 32-year old Jordanian medical doctor, Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi, from a family of Palestinian origin get radicalized to the point where he decides to blow himself up in order to kill seven American CIA operatives and a Jordanian intelligence officer? Al-Balawi's suicide bombing, near Khost, Afghanistan, occurred on Dec. 30, 2009, just five days after Abdulmutallab's attempt fizzled.
Though most U.S. media stories treated al-Balawi as a fanatical double agent driven by irrational hatreds, other motivations can be gleaned by looking at his personal history. Al-Balawi's mother told Agence France Presse that her son had never been an "extremist." Al-Balawi's widow, Defne Bayrak, made a similar statement to Newsweek. In a New York Times article, al-Balawi's brother was quoted as describing him as a "brilliant doctor."
So what led Dr. al-Balawi to take his own life in order to kill U.S. and Jordanian intelligence operatives? His brother said al-Balawi"changed" during the three-week-long Israeli attack on Gaza in 2008-2009. Al-Balawi actually volunteered with a medical organization to treat injured Palestinians in Gaza, but was promptly arrested by Jordanian authorities, his brother said.
Adding insult to injury, the Jordanian intelligence service coerced al-Balawi into becoming a spy to penetrate al-Qaeda's hierarchy and provide actionable intelligence to the CIA. We know the rest of the story. Taking full advantage of amateurish tradecraft by his CIA and Jordanian handlers, al-Balawi exacted his revenge.
"My husband was anti-American; so am I," his widow said later, adding that although her two little girls would grow up fatherless, she had no regrets.
So, what does all this have to do with Gaza? Readers, please take out a piece of paper. You will have five minutes to answer that question in three sentences or less. (Those who get their information only from the New York Times and Washington Post will be given an additional five minutes because of that handicap.)
Moribund Fourth Estate
I continue to be amazed at how many otherwise well-informed Americans express total surprise when I refer them to 9/11 "mastermind" Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's explanation regarding his motivation for attacking the United States, as cited on page 147 of the 9/11 Commission Report:
"By his own account, KSM's animus toward the United States stemmed not from his experience there as a student, but rather from his violent disagreement with U.S. foreign policy favoring Israel."
One can understand how even those who make an honest effort to follow such key issues closely can get confused. Five years after the 9/11 Commission Report, on Aug. 30, 2009, readers of the neoconservative Washington Post were given a diametrically different view, based on what the Post called an unidentified "intelligence summary":
"KSM's limited and negative experience in the United States - which included a brief jail stay because of unpaid bills - almost certainly helped propel him on his path to becoming a terrorist ... He stated that his contact with Americans, while minimal, confirmed his view that the United States was a debauched and racist country."
Apparently, the Post found this revisionist version politically more convenient, in that it obscured Mohammed's actual explanation implicating "U.S. foreign policy favoring Israel." It is much more comforting, if a bit of a stretch, to view KSM as a disgruntled visitor who nursed his personal grievances into justification for mass murder.
An unusually candid view of the dangers accruing from the U.S. identification with Israel's policies appeared several years ago in an unclassified study published by the Pentagon-appointed U.S. Defense Science Board on Sept. 23, 2004. Contradicting President George W. Bush, the board stated:
"Muslims do not 'hate our freedom,' but rather, they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights."
Are we starting to get the picture of what the United States is up against in the Muslim world - and, more important, why? An enhanced PR effort is not going to do the trick. And yet it seems as though the U.S. political/media establishment is incapable of confronting this reality and/or taking meaningful action to alleviate the underlying causes of the violence.
Eye For An Eye
Revenge has not always worked out very well in the past -and particularly not in spirals of violence beginning in Gaza.
Does anyone remember the brutal killing of four Blackwater contractors on March 31, 2004, when they took a wrong turn and ended up in the Iraqi city of Fallujah- and how U.S. forces virtually leveled that large city in retribution after George W. Bush won his second term the following November?
How many know of the epidemic of horribly disfigured babies born there since, believed to be the result of depleted uranium and other U.S. weaponry?
If you read only the Fawning Corporate Media, you would blissfully think that the killing of the four Blackwater operatives was the initial step in this particular cycle of violence; that it was started by fanatics who- along with their neighbors - got the pummeling they deserved from U.S. forces. You wouldn't know that the killings represented the second turn in that specific cycle.
In Gaza on March 22, 2004, nine days before the Blackwater incident, Israeli forces assassinated Sheikh Yassin, a founder of Hamas and its spiritual leader- by then a withering old man, blind and confined to a wheelchair. That murder, plus sloppy navigation by the Blackwater travelers, set the stage for the next set of brutalities in Fallujah.
The Blackwater operatives were killed by a group that described itself as the "Sheikh Yassin Revenge Brigade." Pamphlets and posters were all over the scene of the attack; one of the trucks that pulled around body parts of the mercenaries had a poster of Yassin in its window, as did store fronts all over Fallujah.
But Blackwater contractors are American, you may be thinking. Why would the "bad guys" in Fallujah blame the Americans for Israel's assassination of Sheikh Yassin in Gaza? If you have read down this far and cannot figure that out, you may wish to go back to reading the New York Times.
Et Tu Petraeus?
Even the sainted Gen. David Petraeus, in a rare moment of candor in March 2010, admitted in written testimony to Congress that Israeli behavior endangers U.S. troops. His testimony included the following:
"The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests in the Middle East. Israeli-Palestinian tensions often flare into violence and large-scale armed confrontations. The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel.... Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support."
Petraeus's statement is obviously true, but he quickly came to regret his truth telling, desperate to retract it out of fear that he had offended America's influential neocons and the Likud Lobby - and that he might end up like Ambassador Chas Freeman.
Many neocons regard any suggestion that Israeli intransigence on Palestine contributes to the dangers faced by American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan- or by the U.S. public from acts of terrorism at home - as a "blood libel" against Israel.
So, when Petraeus's testimony began getting traction on the Internet, the general quickly e-mailed Max Boot, a neocon writer based at the high-powered Council on Foreign Relations, and began backtracking on the testimony. The groveling was stomach turning but informative:
"As you know, I didn't say that," Petraeus said, in a March 18, 2010, e-mail to Boot. "It's in a written submission for the record." (No doubt the general, who is soon to take the helm at the CIA, will be more careful in the future not to let his underlings slip hard truths into his written testimony.)
The "horse's mouth" e-mail exchange was made public by James Morris, who runs a Web site called "Neocon Zionist Threat to America." He said he acquired them by chance, after he sent an e-mail congratulating Petraeus for his testimony. In responding, Petraeus forgot to delete the trail of e-mails with Boot in which they collaborated to find ways to knock down the story of the general's implicit criticism of Israel. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com's "Neocons, Likud Conquer DC, Again."]
Back to the Flotilla
As we embark on "The Audacity of Hope" and its humanitarian mission to Gaza, we can expect no help from the likes of Petraeus, senior NSC officials, or, for that matter, President Barack Obama, who last year maintained a studied silence when Israeli forces killed nine passengers and wounded fifty in stopping a similar international flotilla.
One of those killed, 19-year old Furkan Dogan, was a U.S. citizen as well as a citizen of Turkey. Did he have time to tell the Israeli attackers, Civus Americanus Sum? Would it have done him any good?
In trying to piece together my own motivation in going joining other Americans on "The Audacity of Hope," I was reminded of Daniel Berrigan's autobiography, To Dwell in Peace. Dan is reflecting on his own motives in joining eight others burning draft cards with homemade napalm on May 17, 1968, in Catonsville, Maryland:
"It was only after the Catonsville action that I came on a precious insight. ... Something like this: presupposing integrity and discipline, one is justified in entering a large risk; not indeed because the outcome is assured, but because the integrity and value of the act have spoken aloud.
"When such has occurred, matters of success or efficiency are placed where they belong: in the background. They are not irrelevant, but they are far from central....
"There was a history of such acts of ours. In such biblical acts, results, outcome, benefits are unknown, totally obscure. The acts are at variance with good manners and behavior....
"More yet: everything of prudence and good sense points to the uselessness, ineffectiveness of such acts. And, finally, immediate and perhaps plenary punishment is bound to follow. [Yet] one was free to concentrate on the act itself, without regard to its reception in the world. Free also to concentrate on moral preparation, consistency, conscience.
"One had very little to go on; and went ahead nonetheless. Looked at in this light, the 'little' appeared irreducible, a treasure."
Thanks, Dan. I certainly could not have said it better. And you would be proud to know the company I shall be keeping on "The Audacity of Hope."
My thanks, also, to those intrepid readers who many have made it down this far.