My co-passengers and I of the U.S. Boat to Gaza have now gone from “High-Seas Hippies,” according to the right-wing Washington Times, to participants in a flotilla full of “fools, knaves, hypocrites, bigots, and supporters of terrorism,” says Alan Dershowitz in his usual measured prose.
Poor Alan, he seems upset at our audacity not only to hope for humane treatment of the 1.6 million Gazans, who currently live under a cruel blockade, but to force the issue. To stop our boat before it could leave Greek waters, Israel’s Likud government gave itself a self-inflicted black eye and again brought the oppression of Gazans to worldwide attention.
This time, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government did not even have to kill people to add to Israel’s growing “delegitimization” before the civilized world. Facing growing international condemnation, Netanyahu and his allies have reason to worry.
In recognition of our modest accomplishments, we U.S. boaters have now made it onto Dershowitz’s “Dishonor Roll!” At first reading of his intended insults, my laughter was uncontrollable. I’ve been called a lot of things before, but I cannot remember being labeled a “knave.”
Anyone know what a knave is? Does it have something to do with what Damon Runyon used to call “the Harvards,” among whom Dershowitz has long toiled as a law professor?
Dershowitz also lashes out at the American Jews onboard, including 86-year-old Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein, with the shopworn epithet for Jews who dare to criticize Israel’s government as “self-hating.”
I suppose if I had criticized some of the ugly extremism in Ireland a few decades back, I would be a “self-hating Irishman.”
But the bottom line is this: Dershowitz’s Likud friends and their neocon chums in the Obama administration realize they have suffered a stinging – and unnecessary – PR defeat. They could easily have let our peaceful boat carrying passengers, media and letters of goodwill reach the isolated people of Gaza.
What we boaters appear to have accomplished is to provoke the mighty diplomats of Israel and the United States into a full-court press that brought renewed attention to the plight of the Gazans.
Instead, Greek authorities, already tied up in knots over their national financial crisis, had their arms twisted to thwart a group of humanitarians and peace activists – including poet Alice Walker, retired Army Col. Ann Wright and Code Pink’s Medea Benjamin – from sailing a boat to Gaza.
By putting the issue of Israel’s blockade front and center, we also managed to force discomforted U.S. State Department spokespersons to dissemble about the legality of Israel’s illegal blockade. They ducked declaring something so clearly illegal legal, knowing that otherwise they would have invited international ridicule.
But caution. The injured-animal syndrome among the Likudniks poses distinct dangers for the people of the Middle East – the more so, as we watch President Barack Obama continue to let Netanyahu walk all over him.
Official Washington’s appeasement of the Likud Lobby seems to encourage Israeli leaders to believe that not only the U.S. Congress but also America’s lusting-for-a-second-term President will condone just about any action Tel Aviv might undertake. That makes the situation very volatile.
In my view, there is more danger, in present circumstances, that the extreme right in Israel will flail out in a very misguided way than there has been in several years. The Netanyahu regime is in a very defensive, reactive posture.
It certainly appears that the Likudniks, the U.S. neocons and some of the “Harvards” are running scared as Israel’s growing extremism and anti-Muslim bigotry becomes harder to perfume over with every passing day.
Beyond expanding settlements on Palestinian lands and resisting serious peace talks, Netanyahu’s government has taken to segregating not only Arabs from Jews but secular Jews from ultra-Orthodox Jews.
Plus, over the past two years, Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition has lost its co-opted ally Hosni Mubarak in Egypt as well as the once-friendly Turks and bit-by-bit its legitimacy. This reality is finally sinking in. Tel Aviv, Washington and Cambridge see a significantly weakening of Israel’s worldwide standing.
And, as for “delegitimizing” Israel, no one could do that job better than the Likudniks themselves – the more so, given their penchant for knee-jerk overreactions and risible rhetoric.
The likely “legitimization” of a Palestinian state by the U.N. in September is being seen in some Israeli right-wing quarters as the last straw.
But Netanyahu’s thuggish regime still can count on influential apologists like Dershowitz to excuse whatever it does. Dershowitz and other neocon voices pipe up whenever Israel’s drift toward an unconscionable apartheid system is noted.
As part of that propaganda, we are now hearing, again and again, bizarre accounts about how wonderful life is for the Gazans. In his pro-blockade diatribe, Dershowitz depicted a fun-and-sun existence for these Palestinians, who are, in reality, trapped in what amounts to a squalid open-air prison.
Besides cutting the Gazans off from the world, Israel has strangled their economy by tightly restricting construction material needed to rebuild homes, businesses and schools damaged in Israel’s 2008-09 invasion, which killed an estimated 1,400 Palestinians, compared to 13 Israeli deaths.
However, to gloss over the ugly reality, Dershowitz selectively cites a recent New York Times article, which noted that construction material smuggled in from Egypt in the aftermath of Mubarak’s ouster is fueling a mini-construction boom in Hamas-ruled Gaza and slightly lessening the jobless crisis.
Here’s Dershowitz’s slanted version: “According to reporting by The New York Times, Gaza has been thriving recently. Luxury hotels are being built; stores are stocked with food; beaches are filled with children; and life is far better than in neighboring Al Arish, which is across the border in Egypt.”
Yet, the few positives were only part of what the Times’ Jerusalem bureau chief Ethan Bronner reported. In the same article, he wrote, “So is that the news from Gaza in mid-2011? Yes, but so is this: Thousands of homes that were destroyed in the Israeli antirocket invasion two and a half years ago have not been rebuilt.
“Hospitals have canceled elective surgery for lack of supplies. Electricity remains maddeningly irregular. The much-publicized opening of the Egyptian border has fizzled, so people remain trapped here. The number of residents living on less than $1.60 a day has tripled in four years. Three-quarters of the population rely on food aid.”
The Israeli human rights group Gisha, which has campaigned against the closure of Gaza, notes that while Gaza now has adequate food supplies, “economic recovery is blocked by sweeping restrictions.”
Gisha noted that “The continued ban on export, construction materials, and travel between Gaza and the West Bank contradicts the 2010 Israeli government decision to facilitate economic recovery in Gaza.
“At least 83% of Gaza’s factories are either closed or working at a capacity of 50% or less, according to the Palestinian Federation of Industries. The manufacturing sector cannot recover under the present Israeli ban on export. …
“Even during the winter agricultural season, when Israel allowed the export of agricultural produce, the quantities were economically negligible: an average of two trucks per day, compared to the 400 trucks a day agreed upon in the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access.
“Israel has banned completely goods destined for Israel and the West Bank, even though prior to 2007, 85% of the goods leaving Gaza were sold to Israel and the West Bank.” [Emphasis in original.]
In other words, the situation for Gazans remains horribly bleak, although perhaps slightly less bleak now that Egypt is looking the other way on the smuggling of concrete, steel beams and other construction material.
Under international pressure – brought about partly by earlier challenges to the four-year-old sea blockade – Israel also has lightened up somewhat on the land transport of some goods.
But Dershowitz’s slanted argument is offensive for other reasons. Arguing that some people in the Middle East might be worse off than the Gazans is reminiscent of the claims by white South Africans that “their” blacks were better off than some blacks living in poorer parts of Africa, thus justifying apartheid.
Or the neocon musings in the United States some years back that slavery wasn’t so bad because Africans who were captured by European slavers and forcibly shipped to the New World had a chance for a better life – more so than Africans who weren’t lucky enough to be put in chains, crowded into foul slave ships (where many died), sold to plantation owners in a strange land, and then be subjected to whippings, rapes, endless humiliations and lynching. Yes, the “upside” of slavery.
To tout a couple of “luxury hotels” being built in Gaza, some children at the beach and the possibility that some other Arabs might be more miserable than the Gazans – as an excuse for the entrapment and collective punishment of 1.6 million people – is the same kind of rationalizing on behalf of injustice.
As for Dershowitz’s insults toward me and the other passengers on our Boat to Gaza, the old saying surely applies: “Names can never harm you.” But we would all be well advised to keep a keen eye peeled for future sticks and stones.
We U.S. boaters have just begun; we will get to Gaza. But watch out for Israeli-sponsored provocations, which could become the prelude to even more violence in the months ahead.
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. A veteran Army officer and CIA analyst, he was one of the passengers on the U.S. Boat to Gaza, which was ready to sail in late June but was stopped by Greek authorities under intense pressure from Washington and Tel Aviv. Our boat, “The Audacity of Hope,” remains impounded at a military dock