THE AFTERMATH OF THE FLOTILLA
By Anna Baltzer
Last night marked one week since Israel’s attack in international waters on the Mavi Marmara Turkish humanitarian ship bound for Gaza, killing nine. One by one, the hundreds of witnesses aboard the vessels have been returning home to tell their stories after being stripped of any and all footage. By confiscating all non-military evidence of the incident, Israel has been able to successfully dominate the narrative, at least in the US where news of the attack had begun to dwindle by the time witnesses were released. One wonders, if Israel is conveying the whole story of what happened that night, why eliminate every single other piece of documentation? What does Israel have to hide?
According to hundreds of eyewitnesses, the Navy shot at the boat and threw tear gas and sound bombs before boarding the ship, and then hit the ground shooting. The videos released by Israel show those aboard the ship attacking soldiers with sticks. Israel claims that the deaths were an accident, that the soldiers were startled by the sticks and thus forced to shoot people to defend themselves.
Now let’s put things into perspective. In 2005, the Israeli Army removed 8,000 ideological settlers from Gaza, many of them kicking and screaming with sticks and rocks in hand. The Army managed not to kill or even shoot a single one of them. Do sticks from Turks hurt more, or is it not about the sticks at all?
As Dr. Norman Finkelstein pointed out, Israeli officials met for an entire week prior to the flotilla to plan precisely what they intended to do. The Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren himself stated that the Mavi Marmara was simply “too large to stop with nonviolent means.” It’s hard to believe that this was an accident.
While the world focuses on the flotilla and Gaza, Israel’s restrictions on Palestinian rights in the rest of Palestine continue to tighten. On Friday, soldiers surrounded the Old City in Jerusalem to prevent Muslim men from praying at Al-Aqsa mosque. Only those younger than 15 or older than 40 were allowed through. Hundreds of men gathered outside the metal bars installed by the Army around the city gates. Frustrated, many men sat down to wait to pray on the sidewalk, but soldiers on horseback pushed through the crowd, forcing the men to scatter.
It’s important to note that many Palestinians wait for years to receive a permit to visit Jerusalem for just one day. Sometimes the permits are valid only for a few hours. I saw a woman in Beit Sahour whom I’d met in Syracuse last Fall. She said it’s easier for her to travel to New York than to go 10 miles away to Jerusalem. She said often permits are sent to the wrong village and families fall over themselves to get the permit to the right person in time, often failing. At the gates, some men argued with the soldiers, close to tears, not knowing if they would ever get another chance to realize a life-long dream of praying at their country’s holiest site.
Eventually, hundreds of men began to gather next to the wall of the Old City and across the street. If they could not enter, they would pray as close as they could. As the call to prayer rang out (at least sound can overcome walls), a noticeable calm came over the space as they bowed down in unison. The soldiers stood over the group, some filming with cameras. In the middle of the group were an olive tree and a young child who stood by himself, watching.
When the prayers ended, those who hadn’t brought prayer mats wiped the dirt off their foreheads and gathered with others across the street where an imam had started to speak. Lara, a Palestinian delegate in our group translated bits and pieces of what he said.
The sermon was about the importance of compassion and justice in Islam. There they were, being denied their religious freedom, and they were talking about compassion. The imam asked that their prayers be accepted even though they could not be in the house of God. At one point, he raised his finger and called out the following: “Someday, we will live in a place where it doesn’t matter what color your skin is, or where you’re from.” With every sentence the group resounded in a collective “Amen.”
After the prayers, hundreds of women and older men poured out, one of whom told me he’d seen a man beaten by the Army for calling out against Israel’s attacks on the flotilla. This is likely precisely what the Army wanted to avoid by keeping Muslims from congregating at the mosque, and they had been largely successful, at least so they thought.
Just as I was turning to return to the hotel, I heard a chorus of women’s voices coming from inside the city walls. Soon a large group of women emerged carrying a Turkish flag and singing out familiar calls for justice and praising those who gave their lives to free Gaza. The soldiers thought that keeping the men out would be enough, but they had underestimated the women.
Israel has also underestimated the international civilian community, which continues to speak out. Day and night, we watch protests around the world unfold one after another, seemingly stronger and larger by the day: Japan, Paris, India, Oslo, Australia, and beyond. This is being called “Israel’s Kent State.”
Far more significant than protests is the fact that worldwide disapproval has been transforming into concrete rejection of normalization with Israel, including major victories for the Palestinian movement for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) on Israel until it complies with international law.
This past week, the student body at Evergreen College voted to divest from “Israel’s illegal occupation.” Before she was run over by Israeli soldiers in a US-made Caterpillar bulldozer in Gaza, Rachel Corrie had attended Evergreen. Along with divesting, students have voted for a “Caterpillar free” campus. You can support the students by clicking here.
A week before the flotilla, Italy’s largest supermarkets COOP and Nordiconad announced a boycott of the Israeli produce company, Carmel Agrexco. Four days later, Deutsche Bank (Germany’s largest bank, worth more than $1 trillion) announced divestment from Elbit Systems, an Israeli firm that supplies technology for Israel’s military, settlements, and Wall (as well as the Wall between the US and Mexico). Deutsche Bank was one of the company’s largest share-holders.
The next day, it was announced that Sweden’s largest national pension funds were also divesting from Elbit. (Norway did the same more than one year ago.) Going a step further, the Swedish Port Workers Union announced last Wednesday that it would temporarily stop handling Israeli cargo in response to the attacks on the flotilla.
On the same day, Britain’s largest union, Unite, passed a unanimous motion “to vigorously promote a policy of divestment from Israeli companies” and to boycott Israeli goods and services as in “the boycott of South African goods during the era of apartheid.”
Then yesterday, the Pixies canceled of their upcoming concert in Israel in response to Israel’s attack on the flotilla. Musical artists Klaxons and Gorillaz canceled as well. This on the heels of cancellations by Santana, Gil Scott-Heron, Snoop Dog, Sting, and Elvis Costello.
These are but a few of the BDS victories that have happened just in the last month. The movement that officially began in 2005 crossed its first threshold in 2009 (having gained in four years the same momentum it took the BDS movement against South Africa 20 years to achieve), but 2010 has brought it to a new level.
Last month marked 62 years since 80% of the families in Gaza were displaced during Israel’s creation, the Palestinian Nakba. And this week marks 43 years since Israel occupied the Gaza Strip and West Bank. The Occupation has been in place 70% of Israel’s life-span so far. It is not temporary. And it is but one part of the problem. Along with Israel’s discrimination against Palestinians within Israel’s de-facto borders and outside historic Palestine, the Occupation will not be stopped voluntarily by Israel. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” I spoke with a member of Boycott from Within (Israelis supporting the Palestinian BDS Call) paraphrased a common phrase during the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa: We will bring them to their senses, or we will bring them to their knees. For Israel, as was the case for the South African Apartheid government, the former has simply never worked.
This was orginally published at Anna’s Eyewitness Reports from Palestine on Monday, June 7, 2010.
Anna Baltzer is a Jewish American who has been documenting human rights abuses and supporting nonviolent direct action in the West Bank with the Int’l Women’s Peace Service. Witness In Palestine is the title of her book detailing her experiences