Adapted from Phil Ochs, Love me I’m a Liberal
Oh, I cried at Sabra and Shatila,
The tears ran down my spine,
And I cried when Rabin was gunned down,
As though I’d lost a father of mine.
Continue reading →
A Bilingual Blog by Élise Hendrick
Adapted from Phil Ochs, Love me I’m a Liberal
Oh, I cried at Sabra and Shatila,
The tears ran down my spine,
And I cried when Rabin was gunned down,
As though I’d lost a father of mine.
Continue reading →
Recently, following a discussion about a particularly annoying Facebook meme circling in left-liberal circles of late, C. Derick Varn of The Loyal Opposition to Modernity asked if I would be interested in being interviewed on the subject. I was, and the result was a wide-ranging discussion on the causes and remedies of left malaise in the US, entryism, misogyny, conspiracism, The entire interview, which can be found on the Loyal Opposition blog, is reproduced by permission below. I have added a few links to articles and pages referenced in the discussion, and corrected a few annoying typos that I had overlooked.
I would like to thank Derick for this opportunity. This interview allowed me to articulate quite a few thoughts that had been circling around my mind for a long time, but that I had not previously been able to set down in a cohesive manner. I would also like to thank Emma Rosenthal of Café Intifada, Jinjirrie of Kadaitcha, and Karen MacRae – discussing and working together with them has been a major help in formulating and refining the thoughts you will find below.
In the last two parts of this series, published in this past fall, we met Jon „Yani“ Haigh, who injected himself into the Greta Berlin debacle by signing an open letter along with multiple virulent racists and several sockpuppet accounts, that claimed that there was nothing racist going on in the racist troll groups where Greta Berlin found the holocaust denial video that she posted on the Free Gaza Movement (FGM) Twitter account.
Haigh, who lives in Brisbane, Queensland, works with a politically connected Republican lawyer by the name of Kamal Nawash. As discussed in greater detail in the first two parts of the series, Nawash, following a failed run for the Virginia State Assembly, decided to found a group called Free Muslims Coalition Against Terror, an astroturf operation that serves to root out „extremist Muslims“ and generally provides an Arab/Muslim fig leaf for repressive US government policies.
These are, to be sure, strange bedfellows for anyone who, like Haigh, claims to be a Palestinian solidarity activist. As we will see in the following, however, they are not the only ones.
In the course of my research for this series, I was made aware that Haigh, with Kamal Nawash and one Rafi Gassel, had cowritten a roughly US$1 million USAID grant application for a project called „The Path to a Shared Future“. The project, we discover in the Background section, builds on a previous effort known as „Best Plans“.
Best Plans: US Government-Affiliated Normalisation
„Best Plans“ is a „glimmer of hope in a sea of hate„, according to a Jerusalem Post article by fellow „Free Muslims“ board member Ray Hanania, which also describes an effort called the „Israel-Palestine Confederation“, headed up by Nawash associate Josef Avesar.
Held at the University Centre of Samaria, an institution located in the illegal settlement of Ariel, the group brought together a group of mostly right-wing Israeli Jewish students with a „smattering“ of Palestinian citizens of Israel and „some two dozen“ Palestinians from the West Bank for open-ended brainstorming on „peace plans“, ranging from Israeli Jewish participants‘ plans to culturally assimilate Palestinians into the colonial society of Israel or to extend apartheid from the river to the sea, with citizenship „after an unspecified period of time“ for Palestinians who profess loyalty to a state that is explicitly not theirs, to Kamal Nawash’s plan for an „Israeli-Palestinian Confederation“.
It seems to have been a good strategic choice to hold the Best Plans conference in the segregated colony of Ariel, where Palestinians are banned from entering without special dispensation from the authorities, rather than occupied East Jerusalem, where Avesar decided to hold his „Israeli-Palestinian Confederation“ mock elections. Avesar’s conference had to find new accommodations after Palestinian anti-apartheid activists became aware of it.
Protesters gathered outside the hotel to condemn the process of normalization of the occupation promoted by the conference, amidst the collapse of the peace process, continuing settlement construction and the confiscation of Palestinian land.
Conference events taking place in Beit Jalah and Haifa over the next few days have promoted a false illusion of Palestine already being liberated and contributed to the normalization of the Israeli occupation. One demonstrator commented that “how would such a confederation even be possible under the occupation?”
The management of the Ambassador Hotel announced their decision to cancel the conference events in a printed statement posted at the hotel’s entrance. A hotel manager stated that “we have been manipulated by the conference organizers, who did not reveal to us its real purposes. We refuse to take part in their attempts to veil the reality of Palestinian suffering.”
The criticisms raised by the Palestinian activists concerning the Avesar event apply in equal measure to the Nawash „Best Plans“ conference: Both violate the Palestinian call to boycott „normalisation“ events, i.e., events that bring Israeli Jews and Palestinians together to „sort out differences“ without acknowledging the real context of inequality and oppression. Under the anti-normalisation prong of the Palestinian-led Boycott/Divestiture/Sanctions campaign, collaborative activities between Israeli Jews and Palestinians must explicitly state their opposition and resistance to the oppression of the indigenous Palestinian population.
One can imagine how well that plan would have gone over with the right-wing Israeli Jewish participants of the Nawash conference.
Towards a Normalised Future
The programme discussed in the USAID application turns out to be an expansion on the „Best Plans“ normalisation conferences. In the words of the application:
This proposal involves the selection of two teams of Palestinians and Israelis who are representative of the various ideologies, views and schools of thought that are found in Palestinian and Israeli societies. The two teams, made up of approximately six individuals each, will be required to attend organized workshops and seminars throughout Palestine and Israel to engage Israelis and Palestinians who are representative of the general populations about the minimum contacts, rights and access that they would require to accept a political solution. The seminars will not presume a particular solution such as two-state or one-state solution. The actual proposed solution or solutions will be attempted at the end of the process after the Israeli and Palestinian teams become exposed to the wishes of population and share their findings in the structured reporting process.
This is the definition of astroturfing. Some unspecified persons – one assumes it will be Nawash and his „Free Muslims“ mob – will select two teams of Palestinians and Israelis (Jewish Israelis, one assumes) who they deem „representative“ of the spectrum of thought found in Palestinian and Israeli-Jewish society. Those teams will carry out what amount to glorified focus groups throughout Israel and the territories occupied since 1967 to engage Israeli Jews and Palestinians who are „representative“ about their bare minimum requirements for a political solution. After the focus groups, the two teams will develop the „actual proposed solution“ based on their understanding of the wishes of the „representative“ people who came to their focus groups.
In addition to being „representative“ in the opinion of the „Free Muslims“, these team members must also be „articulate speakers and writers with academic credentials who are able to report without adding, subtracting or reframing discussion content.“ In other words, they must come from the more privileged sectors of the society, particularly given the severely limited access to education (especially higher education) for Palestinians.
No information is provided on how the „representative“ focus group participants will be selected, or by whom. Crucially, there is no provision for participation by the communities themselves in defining the conditions and manner of their participation, nor any indication that the communities themselves would have any say in deciding who is „representative“ and who is not. Every bit of the process is top-down, with the US government-linked „Free Muslims“ deciding who participates, whom to listen to, and how to describe the wishes of their hand-picked participants.
„Importantly“, the proposal adds, „the teams will be ‘locked down’ together in a conducive environment (like the Dead Sea Resort) for a period of no less than 5 days before any conferences for a series of workshops on using technology, deal [sic] with objections, managing public discourse and workshop the conference process and the content.“ „Dealing with objections“ is sales-speak for wheedling a customer into saying yes to something they don’t actually want to buy. „Managing public discourse“ once again emphasises that it is the „Free Muslims“ team members who are managing the process, not the local communities. Their „discourse“ must be managed, rather than simply being listened to.
After the initial conferences are complete, the two teams will be required to submit individual or joint proposals for peaceful solutions based on the feedback that was learned from the conferences.
Each team will be asked to try to reach an agreement on a proposed solution for the Palestinian Israel conflict. However, individual group members may submit their own proposal if they do not agree with a proposal by one or more group members.
The teams will then be required to submit their various proposals to representative audiences in Israel and Palestine. The proposal envisions six additional conferences with three in Israel and three in Palestine to test the proposals on representative audiences. The audiences will be encouraged to give their feedback on the respective proposals. Following the conferences and the feedback from the audiences, the teams will be required to reevaluate their proposals and determine whether the proposals may require amendments or improvements.
In other words, after the handpicked teams work out amongst themselves what proposals they can agree on based on what they were able to glean from the „managed discourse“ of the „representative“ community members who participated in the focus groups, the teams then go before more „representative audiences“ (it is unclear whether these are the same „representative“ audiences as the initial focus groups). These „representative“ audiences will then provide „feedback“, which will be reevaluated in order to determine whether the teams‘ proposals will require amendments.
Just to hammer home the importance of being „representative“, the working language will not be the native languages of the communities in question:
The experience gained in The Best Plans Project indicate that people are capable of using English as the working language with translations to Hebrew and Arabic.
So, in addition to whatever criteria the „Free Muslims“ will use to determine whether a focus group participant is „representative“, the „representatives“ must also have at least a working knowledge of English – which is the native language of many Jewish Israelis (including the current PM), but much less accessible to Palestinians with their limited educational opportunities – thus further restricting the field. It is not entirely clear whether „translations“ means that there will be interpreters present (yet another layer of mediation between the communities and „their“ plans), or whether only the written documents produced by the teams will be translated.
One can be excused for thinking at this point that this is remarkably similar to the US occupation régime’s plan for „caucuses“ as a substitute for actual elections in Iraq. However, that plan may actually have involved fewer levels of mediation by „representatives“ selected by outsiders.
But wait, there’s more…
After the proposals are tested before representative audiences, the two teams will then meet for face to face peace negotiations to write a peace agreement. If no united peace agreement is reached by consensus, then the two groups will be required to attempt to reach a proposal by majority vote, where as the preferred method is consensus.
If an agreement is reached the solution will be distributed to the populations via newspaper advertisements, electronic media and other written and multimedia dissemination processes. The website will be updated and adapted to allow people to read the final proposal, comment on it and cast a vote for or against the proposal.
So, after „representative“ team members selected by outsiders conduct focus groups with „representatives“ selected by outsiders and decide amongst themselves what they think the handpicked focus group participants want, and then focus group that proposal with even more „representatives“ selected by outsiders, the two initial groups of „representatives“ selected by outsiders will come together to decide on a „united peace agreement“ amongst themselves. If, and only if, the „representatives“ are able to reach a consensus will the public as a whole be let in on the proposals, and given an unmediated opportunity to comment on them and vote for or against them.
Essentially, then, the idea is to do a community theatre production of the bogus „peace process“ with limited public participation only at the fag end of the process.
The authors of this application – Nawash, Haigh, and Gassel – are not unaware of the Palestinian movement against „normalisation“ with the apartheid system, discussed above. Indeed, they expressly acknowledge its existence, and state that „The two teams must work independently (…) to avoid the anti-normalization concerns in which Palestinians are discouraged from working closely with Israelis.“ Which is to say that, rather than honour the anti-normalisation campaign, they seek to circumvent it by claiming that Israeli Jews and Palestinians working on this normalisation project are not really normalising because they aren’t working on the same project in the same place at the same time.
However, it would be unfair to say that the Towards a Shared Future project doesn’t include any innovative elements. It does, chief amongst them the element of surreptitious electronic surveillance. The USAID application includes funding for the purchase of fifteen pairs of „ZionEyez“ (now Zeyez) sunglasses „built-in HD camera, microphone, recording media and interface live to mobile phones“.
„These glasses“, it is noted in a footnote, „are high quality and very difficult to pick as being other than normal Raybans. They provide an ability to record events without creating a sense of ‘cameras are watching me everywhere’.“
The USAID: An Odd Partner for Social Justice Activists
Perhaps more significant than the content of the application itself is the source of the funding sought: the US Agency for International Development.
Whilst it presents itself publicly as a humanitarian aid agency helping benighted populations out of poverty, in reality, the agency is an instrument of US foreign policy, often working in tandem with another, better known, Agency. Recently, the Venezuelan-led ALBA (Alternativa Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América – Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our America) states voted to expel USAID from their territory, following the „parliamentary coup“ that ousted centre-left Paraguayan president Fernando Lugo, replacing him with a politician more willing to make deals with foreign mining corporations.
This is just the most recent in a long series of coups supported in one way or another by USAID activities. In the 1960s and 1970s, USAID provided torture training and equipment to Uruguayan „security“ forces, as was revealed when USAID torture instructor Dan Mitrione was captured by the Tupamaro guerrilla organisation. Similarly, USAID provided support for the military dictatorship in Brazil, the murderous „Baby Doc“ Duvalier dictatorship in Haiti, and, more recently, was implicated in US-instigated 2002 coup against Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez according to the documents unearthed by lawyer and researcher Eva Golinger. USAID’s role in the current murderous coup/occupation regime in Haiti is also a matter of record.
When first confronted with the USAID connection, Yani Haigh defended the agency, stating that it is merely an agency that „distributes money based on criteria“.
This is undeniably true:
Where there is a subservient dictatorship, USAID helps prop it up. Where there is a disobedient government, USAID works with other CIA associates like the „National Endowment for Democracy“ and the „International Republican Institute“ to „enhance civil society“, i.e., to finance and provide propaganda for right-wing groups willing to overthrow the miscreants.
In short, USAID is about as likely an instrument of justice for the Palestinians as, well, the „Free Muslims against Terror“.
The USAID application includes a somewhat detailed bio/CV of Jon „Yani“ Haigh, revealing that the „Free Muslims“ and the USAID application discussed above are by far not the end of the story. Haigh’s other dubious connections will be discussed in the next instalment.
In a comment below, Haigh writes:
Anyone on that list will tell you that I never buckle to Zionists, sexists, homophobes, abuse or liars.
Fortunately, Haigh has a track record on this subject, which allows us to see exactly how strong a stance he takes against sexist abuse, in particular:
Part II of the Series:
A Who’s Who of the „Free Muslims Board
In Part I of this series, we examined the activities of Jon „Yani“ Haigh, a longtime Queensland resident who operates and monitors a network of racist troll groups on Facebook, and Kamal Nawash (for whom Haigh provides a range of web design and programming services) of the „Free Muslim Coalition Against Terror“ , a group that advocates the political repression and surveillance of the US Arab and Muslim communities (related to the Facebook group „Free Muslims“). This, the second part of the series, examines some of the other shady characters who make up the „Free“ Muslims Coalition.
The board of the Free Muslims are exactly what you’d expect of a group with the stated purpose of putting a Muslim face on the plethora of repressive measures, human rights violations, and outright war crimes that make up the „war on terror“.
Particularly fitting is the presence on the Board of Ray Hanania, who began his career as a journo in Chicago, covering local and regional politics for the Sun-Times and other print, radio, and TV outlets. During this period, he also hosted call-in radio chatshows on WLS, and appeared regularly on Dick Kay’s City Desk on WMAQ-TV. In 1990, he served as a panellist at the Chicago mayoral debate, which resulted in yet another electoral victory for the Daley clan. Two years later, he delved headfirst into the world of Chicago machine politics, founding the Urban Strategies Group, a full-service PR agency whose clients include Mayor-For-Life Daley himself, various city agencies, aldermen, Democratic committeemen, and „three successful candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives“.
Hanania boasts particular expertise in „crisis management“ for „those with serious public relation [sic] challenges“. One imagines that such expertise was quite useful during his stint providing „basic media training“ to the propaganda agency of Israel’s „Palestinian Authority“. Nor could it have hurt when he was called upon by the U.S. State Department and U.S. „Information“ Agency to „provide media training sessions, meetings and presentations…to foreign media and government officials.“ Continue reading →
Part I of a Series on Racism and Infiltration
In the aftermath of the racist tweet and multiple, contradictory „explanations“ by Greta Berlin, much attention has been focussed on the letter published as an appendix to Larry Derfner’s second article on the subject, in which a number of purported members of the „secret group“ corroborate Berlin’s claim that nothing untoward or anti-Semitic was going on in the group in question. Benjamin Doherty revealed, in successive articles on Electronic Intifada, that a number of the signatories were in fact sockpuppets controlled by one Ofer Engel. Another central figure, however, has largely avoided the spotlight.
Before we proceed, however, it is important to keep in mind that the following is not about any one individual, though a number of individuals will be given their time to shine. No, this is about the Palestinian solidarity movement as a whole: What we are and seek to do as a movement, and those who would hijack us for their own purposes.
Yani Haigh and The Trollpen
The final signatory on the „nothing to see here“ letter is a Queensland web designer and photographer by the name of Jon „Yani“ Haigh. He is, in Facebook terminology, the „owner“ of the „secret group“ Any Topic NOT Israel (and a regular in a number of related groups), and operates a number of anonymous and aesthetically nondescript websites, including thebestplans.org and peacearchitects.org.
This article, the first in a series dealing with the activities and associates of Jon „Yani“ Haigh, will seek to provide a brief introduction to Haigh himself, and his close associate Kamal Nawash of the Free Muslim Coalition Against Terrorism. In future articles, we will look at other figures on the „Free Muslims“ Board, including the inimitable Ray Hanania, and other organisations and agencies with which Haigh and his associates collaborate.
A recurring theme in his posts is that „Jews suck“, and can only redeem themselves by being baptised Christian, and by boycotting Jewish community institutions and events (along the lines of Herskowitz‘ schul picket). Alternatively, repentant Jews may simply send money to peacearchitects.org. Conflict, unsurprisingly, follows Haigh like the CIA follows Julian Assange.
The same can be said of other regulars of the „secret group“ and affiliated groups, such as fellow signatory Kyle O’Laughlin, who divides his time in Any Topic NOT Israel fairly evenly between complaining that African-American pride is welcomed whilst „White Pride“ is – shockingly enough – considered racist and posting links together with his comrade James Linden Rose on how the KKK and other white supremacist groups are in fact Jewish front groups designed to make white people look bad and thwart Ron Paul’s perennial presidential run.
Whilst the groups Any Topic NOT Israel, Our Land, and Free Muslims all have anodyne descriptions about getting to know each other and coming up with plans for peace, etc., and mission statements banning racism and flaming, the groups themselves bear little resemblance to these noble sentiments. In point of fact, the groups operate as a breeding and training ground for trolls, particularly those (like O’Laughlin, Linden Rose, and Haigh) of the white supremacist variety, mixed together with a few of the more vocal Zionist trolls. There, they engage in their preferred versions of racism, and hurl accusations back and forth about collaboration, snitching, and participation in world conspiracies of one sort or another, with little to no moderation in sight. One does have to wonder what the purpose of creating and administering a network of racist trollpens would be.
Greta Berlin, as luck would have it, is a member in several of these groups, though the exact
circumstances of her joining them will likely remain unclear, given the fog of bullshit that surrounds her and her cohorts‘ descriptions of the groups.
The Company He Keeps
Yani Haigh, it must be said, is a rather embarrassing person to have vouch for one’s anti-racist credentials. Indeed, were it not for his signature on the „nothing to see here“ letter and the creepily detailed set of mindmaps with which, by his own account, he monitors over 200 Facebook groups „to track troublemakers“, he would be an annoying boor of little consequence; he would merely be someone to avoid sitting in front of at the Gabba when the footie’s on, but would not merit much attention beyond that.
However, over the course of the past week, facts have emerged to place Haigh’s combination of racist boorishness and meticulous surveillance into a broader context. One of the websites Haigh designed and operates, thebestplans.org, is that of an organisation founded by one Kamal Nawash, Esq., Haigh’s employer and fellow member of the groups in question.
Kamal Nawash is a Palestinian-American lawyer, with an LL.M. from American University’s Washington College of Law.
After a stint as counsel for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), in 2003, apparently with the support of hard-right Republican activist Grover Norquist, Nawash stood for election to a seat in the Virginia state Senate. His Senate run was ultimately unsuccessful due to the general climate of scapegoating and criminalisation of Muslim and Arab life in the US.
Some might be led by such an experience to campaign against racism and bigotry. Not Kamal Nawash. Shortly after his electoral defeat, Nawash founded the Free Muslim Coalition Against Terror (and later, its Facebook counterpart, the group „Free Muslims“), an organisation largely dedicated to providing public relations cover to US government repression of the Arab and Muslim community. One view one finds repeated throughout the autobiographies of the Free Muslims Board members is that it is Muslim ideology – and not, say, decades of murderous US and US-sponsored violence against them and their countries – that is at fault for any problems in the Muslim community and the Middle East.
In 2004, the Free Muslims organised a March Against Terror, which was endorsed by a diverse cross-section of people and organisations dedicated to bigotry against Arabs and Muslims (such as Daniel Pipes), to organisations and people dedicated to more general bigotry (RIGHTALK.com), to fellow alibi Muslims such as Zuhdi Jasser of the „American Islamic Forum for Democracy“, to a wide assortment of right-wing organisations that no one had ever heard of and/or offer no proof that they actually exist (such as the „Government of Free Vietnam“, made up of former officials from the US puppet dictatorship who claim to be the legitimate government on account of having been elected fair and square to the position by four US presidents in a row).
Apparently, Nawash’s March Against Terror (and explicitly in support of Bush) caught a few eyes in Washington, because, in 2005, he was rewarded by the Bush White House with an appointment as US envoy to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Around the same time (2003-2007), Nawash began contributing to FrontPagemag.com, the far-right blog run by Stalinist-turned-fascist David Horowitz, who also operates the neo-McCarthyite campus group CampusWatch and the right-wing private intelligence organisation Discover The Networks. Nawash’s articles include titles such as We Are So Sorry for 9-11, French Riots: A Gift from the Open Borders Lobby, and the KCNA-esque Free Muslims Congratulate President George Bush.
This period in the life of Kamal Nawash has been very helpfully chronicled by none other than Daniel Pipes himself. As of 11 September 2003, Nawash earned a strong blast of scorn from the Pipes for suggesting that the Bush administration’s „anti-terrorism“ (i.e., pro-repression) plan raised concerns about „basic Constitutional rights“:
Of particular interest (given that several 9/11 hijackers used a student cover), is Nawash’s objection to the U.S. government tracking foreign students, protesting (nonsensically) that this step would indicate „a willingness to restrict scientific knowledge and scholarship to certain classes of people and to flout, basically, principles of academic freedom.“ Sounds like this man opposes the war on terrorism; in any case, he sure makes for a strange Republican candidate.
Throughout 2003, Pipes had nothing but contempt for Nawash, who was raising objections to the Clinton-era Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which allows the executive branch unilaterally to ban organisations as „terrorist organisations“, and criminalises anyone associated with them, criticising the designation of Palestinian groups disfavoured by the US regime as „terrorist“, and generally raising fairly mild questions about the human rights implications of the „war on terror“. Of US Senator John Warner (R-VA), who had endorsed Nawash’s candidacy for the Virginia state Senate, Pipes wrote: „Virginians might wish to inform their senior senator that he is, to put it mildly, going out on a limb on this one.“
By 2004, however, another tune began to be blown on the Pipes. In noting Nawash’s formation of the Free Muslims group, Pipes writes:
It sounds good and it has been getting lots of good publicity, but given Nawash’s record on terrorism, as established here (his dismissing the concept, his close ties to a person alleged to fund terrorism), I need to be convinced that this leopard has changed his spots.
By 2005, we find Pipes explicitly endorsing the Free Muslims March Against Terror, particularly chuffed that one Khaleel Mohammed „denounc[ed] CAIR“.
Whilst Pipes begins expressing sceptical endorsement (and Pipes has no other kind of endorsement on offer for Arabs and Muslims), by 2006, some within the exceedingly mild-mannered antidiscrimination group CAIR were expressing concern with Nawash and the way in which his remarks were eagerly snapped up by the likes of Daniel Pipes.
In two short years, Kamal Nawash went, in the mind of racist „smearcaster“ Daniel Pipes, from something akin to the 20th hijacker to one of the Good Muslims. A remarkable transformation, to say the least.
Pipes‘ timeline ends in 2008, but one can imagine that he would see no reason to reconsider his assessment in the light of subsequent events. In 2011, Nawash endorsed the neo-McCarthyite hearings chaired by Rep. Peter King on the „radicalisation of American Muslims“, and condemned the Muslim and Arab-American antidiscrimination organisations for their opposition to King’s efforts to further scapegoat and criminalise the Muslim community. When it was revealed this year that the NYPD had, for years, been carrying out a massive, illegal programme of spying on virtually the entire Muslim community of the Five Boroughs, Nawash, along with representatives of other Muslim astroturf groups organised a joint rally in support of the NYPD spying effort with none other than Rep. King himself.
Looking at this trajectory, one might be excused for speculating that Nawash’s conversion from moderate Republican and defender of Muslim and Arab-American rights to Pipes pet was not entirely free of opportunism.
Opportunism, as we will see as this series progresses, is something of an overarching theme.
* * * * * * *
UPDATE: In the twelve hours since this post went live, someone temporarily shut down my Facebook account, and there was an attempt to hack this blog. It appears someone might have succeeded in changing my blog password, thus preventing me getting in. All appears well now, but it does seem that someone is not exactly chuffed to bits that this article was published. They will be positively unecstatic about the subsequent parts of this series.
Meanwhile, Ali Abunimah has published his „final word“ on the debacle that gave rise to this series:
Should I have been more explicit about what I saw? Perhaps, but I had my reasons to take a more restrained approach. I had hoped that by sounding the alarm, and signaling that Berlin’s explanations were not credible, Berlin herself would begin to take the issue seriously, and that the new Free Gaza board would do the same. Sadly that did not happen.
The most dispiriting spectacle over the past two weeks was seeing Berlin disseminating, and a small group of people embellishing, outlandish stories intended to distract and shift the blame on to those who were asking for accountability.
Almost every day, I’ve received emails alleging, among other things, that I am a “Zionist agent,” that I’ve been “conned” by Israel into attacking Berlin so that Israel can steal Gaza’s natural gas, that I am engaged in a “vendetta” because Berlin endorsed a book I didn’t like, and so on. A few of these messages came from people I had previously believed to be reasonable and sensible, which added to the disappointment.
Read the full article here.
Bekah Wolf of Mondoweiss has also come out with a piece very germane to the topic of this series, documenting what some of us had been saying since this began: This wasn’t just one accidental tweet. Alas, Greta Berlin has form.
Some people have come to Greta’s defense, accepting her assertion that this was a technical mistake, that she did not support the content of the video, and that those who have criticized her response to the “mistake” are on a witch hunt. I’d like to acknowledge that the Free Gaza Movement was not synonymous with Greta Berlin; some of my good friends and people I deeply respect were leaders of that movement and their work and commitment should in no way be minimized by this.
Setting aside Greta’s woefully inadequate explanations for the tweet (of which there were several), the fact remains: Greta is an active administrator of a Facebook group that is full of unabashedly anti-Semitic rhetoric and has been called out before by activists for it but has never done anything to challenge or stop it. Since the controversy broke, the “Our Land” group has attempted to cover some of its tracks. The fact that Greta remains an active administrator of a Facebook group that accommodates this kind of bigotry raises serious issues about her commitment to building an anti-racist movement committed to justice and equality. Moreover, her unprincipled, vicious andIslamophobic attacks on the Palestinians who have called her to task for her behavior should alarm all of us who are committed to Palestine solidarity work.
The full article can be found here.
CAMERA’s Latest Scam:
The San Remo Irrelevancy and the Occupied Palestinian Territory
Sometimes the much-maligned Facebook ads have their merits. Last night, I happened upon a Facebook ad offering a course approved by the State Bar of California for credit towards the Bar’s minimum continuing legal education (MCLE) requirements entitled “Who owns Jerusalem?“.
It turned out to be an advertisement for a “course”, sponsored by the “pro”-Israeli PR organisation CAMERA and held by an obscure Canadian lawyer by the name of Jacques Gauthier, claiming that an even more obscure document from 1920 known as the “San Remo Resolution” had vested full legal title to the entirety of Palestine to Israel.
Before we turn to the content of the San Remo document, let us recall what the International Court of Justice, the supreme judicial body in the international system, concluded about the legal status of the territories occupied in 1967 (including East Jerusalem) after exhaustive analysis of the matter:
78. The Court would observe that, under customary international law as reflected (see paragraph 89 below) in Article 42 of the Regulations Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land annexed to the Fourth Hague Convention of 18 October 1907 (hereinafter „the Hague Regulations of 1907“), territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army, and the occupation extends only to the territory where such authority has been established and can be exercised.
The territories situated between the Green Line (see paragraph 72 above) and the former eastern boundary of Palestine under the Mandate were occupied by Israel in 1967 during the armed conflict between Israel and Jordan. Under customary international law, these were therefore occupied territories in which Israel had the status of occupying Power. Subsequent events in these territories, as described in paragraphs 75 to 77 above, have done nothing to alter this situation. All these territories (including East Jerusalem) remain occupied territories and Israel has continued to have the status of occupying Power.
Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, paragraph 78 (emphasis added).
Put briefly, under the basic international legal principle of the “inadmissibility of territorial acquisition by war”, Israel has no claim to sovereignty over any of the territories occupied in the 1967 war. Those territories – the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem – are and remain “occupied territories”. The Court based this conclusion on an exhaustive study of the relevant legal framework, including foundational documents of international humanitarian law such as the Hague Regulations of 1907, the General Assembly’s Partition Resolution (on the strength of which the State of Israel was founded), and various Security Council resolutions calling for the withdrawal from the occupied territories (UNSC 242) and declaring “totally invalid”
„all legislative and administrative actions taken by Israel to change the status of the: City of Jerusalem, including expropriation of land and properties, transfer of populations and legislation aimed at the incorporation of the occupied section […]”
CAMERA and Gauthier claim that the San Remo document negates all this, and gives Israel full title not only to the territory within Israel’s recognised (pre-June 1967) borders, but to the territory occupied in the 1967 war. If this is true, then the entire international legal consensus on the status of the Occupied Palestinian Territory is dead wrong.
This, of course, raises the question: Is it true? In order to answer this question, two fairly obvious requirements must be met:
(a) The San Remo document must actually grant sovereignty to Israel (or, given that Israel would not exist for another 28 years, to a „Jewish state“ to be created on the entire territory of Mandatory Palestine); and
(b) It must continue to be valid and applicable, meaning that any and all subsequent enactments must either not concern the subject matter of the San Remo document, or, if related, not conflict with it (the “last-in-time” principle – lex posterior derogat priori).
Note that (b) is a subsidiary question. If the San Remo document does not actually grant sovereignty over the territory in question to Israel or a future “Jewish state”, then its continuing vitality is of no relevance to whether Israel has any claim to the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Thus, we must first turn to the relevant provisions of the San Remo document:
(a) To accept the terms of the Mandates Article as given below with reference to Palestine, on the understanding that there was inserted in the proces-verbal an undertaking by the Mandatory Power that this would not involve the surrender of the rights hitherto enjoyed by the non-Jewish communities in Palestine; this undertaking not to refer to the question of the religious protectorate of France, which had been settled earlier in the previous afternoon by the undertaking given by the French Government that they recognized this protectorate as being at an end.
(b) that the terms of the Mandates Article should be as follows:
The High Contracting Parties agree to entrust, by application of the provisions of Article 22, the administration of Palestine, within such boundaries as may be determined by the Principal Allied Powers, to a Mandatory, to be selected by the said Powers. The Mandatory will be responsible for putting into effect the declaration originally made on November 8, 1917, by the British Government, and adopted by the other Allied Powers, in favour of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.
In other words, the San Remo document calls for the implementation of the Balfour Declaration, which called for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine, and twice provides that the “rights hitherto enjoyed”/”civil and religious rights” shall in no way be impaired by the establishment of this “national home”. There is no reference to a “Jewish state”, nor any transfer of sovereignty to “the Jewish people” or to anyone else, merely a “national home” for Jews “in Palestine”. Even more fatally to Gauthier’s claims, the San Remo document makes no determination whatsoever as to boundaries, only noting that boundaries are to be determined on some later date by the Principal Allied Powers.
When I raised these fairly obvious issues on the Facebook event page set up by CAMERA Regional Coordinator, attorney Talia Shulman Gold, she claimed that “national home” and “state” were the same thing: “Just what do you think establishing a „national home“ meant anyway, Elise?“
While this assertion may have some superficial appeal owing to the peculiarity of the phrase “national home”, there remains an obvious problem. The term “state” was in common use at the time that the San Remo document was signed. The drafters of the document can be reasonably assumed to have been aware of the term “state” and of its meaning. And yet, they did not use the term “state” to describe what they were creating for “the Jewish people” in Palestine, preferring the term “national home”. If they had intended to establish a legal basis for the creation of a “Jewish state”, they could quite simply have referred to “the establishment in Palestine of a state for the Jewish people”. Instead, they specifically chose to use a different term. To claim, as Shulman Gold has (and Gauthier must), that the drafters actually meant “state” is to claim that they did not really mean what they wrote.
Even if we were to accept, for the sake of argument, that it is permissible to read “state” where “national home” is written, the central claim – that the San Remo document gives Israel full sovereignty over the entirety of Mandatory Palestine, including the Occupied Palestinian Territory – runs into an even more serious problem: The San Remo document makes no determination at all with regard to boundaries, except to provide that “the administration of Palestine, within such boundaries as may be determined by the Principal Allied Powers, [is entrusted] to a Mandatory” (emphasis added). The Principal Allied Powers left the determination of the boundaries of Palestine for a later date.
In other words, the Gauthier-CAMERA claim that the San Remo Resolution made a final and irrevocable determination that the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem should be contained within the boundaries of the State of Israel is a cynical fraud. Israel’s lawful boundaries are the internationally recognised, pre-June 1967 boundaries, and the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem are – as was authoritatively reaffirmed by the International Court of Justice – Occupied Palestinian Territory.
A Hoax Worthy of Joan Peters
It is worth noting that this blatant misrepresentation of the content and legal status of the San Remo Resolution is not the only fraud promoted by the „Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America”. CAMERA’s “suggested book list” includes such lowlights of American intellectual life as Joan Peters’ discredited From Time Immemorial, which grossly falsified archival documents in an effort to claim that Palestine was uninhabited on the eve of Zionist colonisation, and Alan Dershowitz‘ The Case for Israel, which plagiarises numerous passages from From Time Immemorial, and embellishes on it with further absurdities.
Why would an organisation ostensibly dedicated to “accuracy” in media reporting promote a long-since-exposed hoax like From Time Immemorial (absurdly claiming that “Joan Peters dispels the myth of Zionist dispossession of „native“ arabs [sic] in Palestine, drawing on rarely examined archives and statistics. She makes a credible case for Jewish indigenous habitation lasting thousands of years; a groundbreaking study necessary to any discussion of the current conflict in the region.”) and a phantasmagorical distortion of the San Remo Resolution and the legal status of the Occupied Palestinian Territory?
Obviously, these stories aren’t being promoted for their “accuracy”, so there must be some other motive. What goal could CAMERA be pursuing by promoting a work that falsely claims that Palestine was uninhabited prior to Zionist colonisation, and that an obscure 1920 document grants Israel full title to the Occupied Palestinian Territory? Simple: Promoting works such as these provides a pretext under which moral and legal objections to the constant violations of Palestinian rights by the US and Israel – from the ethnic cleansing (“Nakba”) of 1948 to the 1967 occupation and the displacement of Palestinians through state-subsidised illegal settlements – can be dismissed. It provides rhetorical cover for some of Israel’s most severe crimes.
They Give CLE Credit for This?
It is not particularly shocking that CAMERA is promoting a hoax that provides fraudulent reasons for ignoring Palestinian human rights. This is what they do, and they make no bones about it (even Dershowitz at least tried to camouflage his reliance on the Peters hoax). However, it should be the slightest bit alarming that the State Bar of California has seen fit to give attorneys continuing education credits for listening to a lecture that promotes it.
The California State Bar’s standards for approving MCLE activities are set forth in Rule 3.501 of the Rules of the State Bar, which requires that the activity “relate to legal subjects directly relevant to members of the State Bar and have significant current professional and practical content” (Rule 3.501(A)) and that the provider “have significant professional or academic experience related to its content” (Rule 3.501 (B). Unless California is a hotbed of litigation on the legal status of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, it is hard to see how even an accurate lecture on “Who Owns Jerusalem?” could be considered “directly relevant” or to have “significant current professional and practical content”.
Moreover, it seems a bit of a stretch to claim that Gauthier, who, based on a Google search for ‘“Jacques Gauthier” Israel’ (the latter term added to narrow down the vast multitude of people called ‘Jacques Gauthier’ in the world), has never held an academic post, has never published in a peer-reviewed journal of international law, and whose “academic or professional experience” appears to be limited to giving lectures like this to various right-wing Israeli PR organisations, qualifies as having had “significant academic or professional experience” on the subject.
There is no explicit requirement in the rules on approval of MCLE activities that an activity provide an accurate portrayal of applicable law; however, it seems fairly reasonable to assume that the California State Bar would not grant MCLE approval to, say, the hucksters who claim that there is no obligation to pay income taxes, or the right-wing “common law” militias who claim that the Fourteenth Amendment is invalid and that the only competent courts in the US are the “common law courts” they have created. Lest these seem like somewhat extreme examples, it is worthwhile to recall at this point that we are talking about a lecturer who claims that the entire international legal consensus on the status of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem is wrong, and bases this on a blatant distortion of an obscure 1920 document that has long since been superseded, in an effort to deny the Palestinians any right to self-determination or even protection under the Fourth Geneva Convention. This is a serious fraud.
The State Bar of California needs to answer a few questions in this matter:
(a) Is the “Who Owns Jerusalem” lecture in fact approved as an MCLE activity, as is claimed on its Facebook event page?
(b) What representations were made in the request for approval?
(c) Was the request signed by a member of the State Bar of California?
(d) On what basis was the lecture found to have “direct relevance” and “significant current professional or practical content”?
(e) How in-depth is the Bar’s review of proposed MCLE activities?
(f) What safeguards, if any, are in place to prevent the approval of fraudulent providers?
In the wake of the killings of several settlers in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), there has been much handwringing from on high. A case in point is David Samel’s post Are the settlers civilians? On MondoWeiss.
Others, particularly Max Ajl, have already pointed out the immorality of condemning the acts of people who live under the heel of a criminal occupation in which we are all complicit. Indeed, one need only imagine the torrent of outrage that would ensue even today if Germans were to condemn the European antifascist resistance for their attacks on civilians under German occupation. The media in Nazi Germany in fact did carry such condemnations of the “barbaric” acts of the resistance. Would anyone today dream of citing these condemnations as proof of anything other than the revolting cynicism and hypocrisy of their authors?
In the following remarks, I would like to deal with an equally egregious defect in Samel’s piece – the way in which it deals with – or, perhaps, fails to deal with – international humanitarian law.
Samel’s post goes awry before he’s even done writing the title, which misstates the issue by conflating the different types of settlers in the OPT – commonly known as “lifestyle settlers” and “ideological settlers” (though he does touch on the distinction in the text of the piece, in a manner to which we will return) – and creates the impression in those unfamiliar with the applicable legal principles that the discussion is taking place on uncharted territory.
Even though the applicable legal framework – the 1949 Geneva Conventions and their Protocols Additional – sets clear and mandatory standards for determining who is a civilian, and reams of doctrinal literature exist interpreting those and other related provisions, Samel does not even attempt to engage the legal definitions of the terms “civilian” and “combatant” – indeed, he never even cites the relevant provisions. Instead, he prefers to cloud the issue with red herrings about the upbringing of settlers (“They have been taught since birth that they are entitled to live on this land“) and absurd strawman arguments such as his question about “allowances for those who are retarded or autistic”. To make matters worse, he creates an express functional equivalency between those resisting a brutal, criminal occupation and those actively participating in one.
It only goes downhill from there.
International Humanitarian Law and Armed Illegal Settlers
International humanitarian law – the law of armed conflict – recognises exactly two kinds of people: civilians – who are entitled to the protections of the Fourth Geneva Convention (including, crucially, the right not to be shot at if they are not directly participating in hostilities) – and combatants – who enjoy the privileges and protections enshrined in the Third Geneva Convention (but can be shot at with impunity as long as they don’t surrender or become physically incapacitated). Combatants are members of military and paramilitary organisations, with the exception of the members of the medical services of those organisations, who bear arms openly, make themselves recognisable by affixing badges or other distinctive marks to their persons, and are subject to a fixed chain of command. Civilians are, basically, everyone else. Under international humanitarian law, they may not be targeted for attack except to the extent that they actively participate in hostilities, and even then, only for the duration of their participation in the hostilities (the latter restriction, it is worth noting, is expressly rejected by the Israeli government). The relevant definitions can be found in Art. 4 of the Third Geneva Convention, as well as Art. 43(1) and Art. 50 of the 1977 Protocol Additional.
How, then, do these definitions apply to the illegal settlers in the OPT?
The “lifestyle settlers” are Israelis who have moved to the illegal Israeli settlements (generally) in close proximity to the Green Line, so called because their decision to become settlers is based on the tax incentives and other subsidies that allow them to enjoy a living standard unavailable to them within Israel. While their presence is totally illegal and serves to render the robbery of Palestinian land a fait accompli, the “lifestyle settlers”, by and large, do not participate actively in hostilities (except, of course, for those who are active members or reservists of the Israeli military). As such, they clearly fall within the definition of “civilian” within the meaning of international humanitarian law (subject to the aforementioned qualifications).
There is, however, another type of settler: the paramilitary “ideological settler”. These are far-right, fanatical nationalists, who go out of their way to encroach on Palestinian territory. They are also armed to the teeth. With regard to this group, Samel writes:
Armed – Some have questioned whether the victims were armed, and suggested that if they were, they deserved their fate. This makes little sense to me. If they were armed, it seems it was purely for defensive purposes, as they were not engaged in any aggressive operation themselves. Considering what happened to them, their fears were not imaginary. True, if they and their fellow settlers were not living this illegal, immoral lifestyle that was choking the lives of their fellow human beings, they would have no need for armed defense, but here, their possession of weapons to use defensively in the case of hostility does not make them kill-worthy. There’s no reason to believe that the Palestinian gunmen even knew whether they were armed. (emphasis added)
There are two possibilities here: Either Samel is being extremely disingenuous, or he is almost impressively ignorant of the relevant facts. Either way, this paragraph alone should suffice to make clear that his comments are not to be taken seriously.
Samel’s claim here is that, assuming the settlers who were killed were indeed armed, it was “purely for defensive purposes”, because “they were not engaged in any aggressive operation themselves.” This is loopy. The fact that they were not involved in any aggressive operation at the time they were killed does not mean that they were never involved in such actions. Even John Wayne Gacy and Jürgen Stroop took some down time every now and then. However, even leaving aside this rather curious logic, there is ample evidence of the way in which these settlers use their weapons (for an extensive, but hardly exhaustive, list see Seham’s post on MondoWeiss).
The fanatical “ideological settlers” routinely and systematically engage in violent, sadistic attacks against defenceless Palestinians, including young children. These attacks range from harassment of Palestinian villagers, crop destruction, house occupations, and rock throwing to wanton murder. They knowingly and voluntarily take up positions in a war zone. They routinely kill and maim defenceless people (the only kind they are willing to confront), and have done for decades. Their weapons – which allow them to engage in their regular pogroms without fear of retaliation – are military-grade automatic assault rifles and the like.
These settlers make no secret of their violence. Indeed, they celebrate it as openly as they bear their arms, to the extent of building a shrine to Baruch Goldstein, who earned their undying adoration by massacring Palestinians as they worshipped in a Hebron mosque. They are part of an organised movement that has the specific objective of ethnically cleansing and settling every last bit of Greater Israel.
Paramilitary Settlers as State Organs
They commit their crimes with the knowledge of the Israeli government. Given that they conduct their terrorist operations in an area under complete occupation by Israeli military and police forces, and that their general objectives (at a minimum, the settlement and ethnic cleansing of Palestine) are entirely consistent with official Israeli objectives, it seems reasonable to say that they are operating not only with the knowledge of the Israeli government, but with its more or less active approval, as the government makes no effort to punish their crimes, disarm them, remove them from the OPT (as required by international law), or otherwise meet its duty to ensure that the occupied Palestinian population is safe from their depredations. Indeed, to the extent that Israel’s military get involved at all, it is to protect these settlers from any kind of retaliation from their victims.
As such, it is at least arguable that these paramilitary settlers meet the dependency and control test established by the International Law Commission’s Draft Articles on State Responsibility and the jurisprudence of the International Court of Justice. In essence, this doctrine holds that a person or group can be considered a de facto organ of a State – and its unlawful acts thus can be attributed to that State – where that person or group operates under conditions of complete control and dependency on that State. While it is not necessary to prove that the paramilitary settlers are de facto State organs in order to hold that they are not civilians under international law, it is useful to examine this question in order to fully understand their legal status.
The degree of control required in order for a person or group’s crimes to be attributed to a State as a de facto organ is a matter of some debate. In Bosnia and Herzegovina v. Serbia and Montenegro (ICJ 2007), the International Court of Justice held that various Bosnian Serb paramilitaries operating within Bosnia could not be considered de facto agents of Serbia and Montenegro in the context of the massacre committed by them at Srebrenica. There, the Court found that the paramilitaries, which (at the time) were operating in territory not controlled by Serbia and Montenegro, and which answered not to the government of that State but to the quasi-state Republika Srpska established in Bosnia, were organisationally and operationally too independent of Serbia and Montenegro to be deemed de facto agents at the time of the Srebrenica massacre.
The situation of the paramilitary settlers in the Occupied Palestinian Territory is fundamentally different in ways that suggest that they could validly be deemed de facto organs of the Israeli State. For one thing, they operate in territory that is under the complete and exclusive control of the State of Israel, which exercises that control through extensive occupying military and police forces. As Marko Milanović has noted, the ICJ in the Srebrenica case “all but hinted at the possibility that its demanding complete control test would indeed have been met for events taking place in 1992,” when Yugoslavia’s regular army was operating in Bosnia. This would seem to hold particularly true in the case of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, given that the Israeli government, which exercises civilian and military jurisdiction, as well as complete military control, over the OPT, has not made the slightest effort to disarm the paramilitary settlers or to remove them (along with the other illegal settlers) from the territory, as required by international law. Indeed, Israel protects the paramilitary settlers from any form of reprisal (or even protest) for their actions by the Palestinian civilian population.
In short, the Israeli government, through its military and police organs, not only refuses to take any action to curtail the activities of these settlers, but in fact takes decisive action to ensure that they can operate with impunity.
It is not saying too much to argue that, in these circumstances, the combination of deliberate actions and omissions of the Israeli armed forces, are what make the terrorist operations of the paramilitary settlers – which are entirely consistent with the overall Israeli policy of settling and ethnically cleansing every useful bit of the Occupied Palestinian Territory – possible in the first place. Without the cover provided by the Israeli military, these notorious cowards would not even be in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, let alone engage in systematic attacks on the Palestinian population. They are only tough when there’s no risk.
Put briefly, given their open bearing of arms and organised, systematic violent conduct, crucially enabled by the full military force of the Israeli government, these “ideological settlers” look less like private individuals and a lot more like a semi-official paramilitary wing of the Israeli government on the model of the South Lebanon Army or the US death squads in Latin America, Afghanistan, and Iraq. This description seems particularly apt in the light of the fact that they direct their military efforts against the same occupied population as the government of the state to which they profess allegiance. As such, there is at least a strong case to be made that they constitute part of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict within the meaning of Art. 43(1) of the First Protocol Additional to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which provides that“[t]he armed forces of a Party to a conflict consist of all organized armed forces, groups and units which are under a command responsible to that Party for the conduct or its subordinates, even if that Party is represented by a government or an authority not recognized by an adverse Party”.
Indeed, the only open question that arises in determining whether the paramilitary settlers are combatants within the meaning of Art. 43(1) is whether there is any accountability for their actions at all, and that question only remains open because of the culture of impunity enforced by the Israeli government. However, even in the absence of serious efforts to hold the paramilitary settlers accountable, it seems reasonable to assume that the Party to the conflict in whose interest they act (Israel) would likely hold them accountable if they were ever to do something to which that Party seriously objected (though, given Israel’s standards, this could forever remain a theoretical question). Furthermore, the existence of a system of accountability is merely a prerequisite for POW status; it need not be met in order to establish that a person is a lawful military target. As such, it seems fair to assume that the paramilitary settlers are not entitled to the protections afforded civilians by the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Samel makes much of his assumption that the Palestinians who killed the settlers could not know whether they were lifestyle settlers or (paramilitary) ideological settlers:
This was most probably all the gunmen knew about their victims – that they were settlers. Maybe they were indeed armed and fanatic members of the most racist strain of the settler movement. But they were anonymous settlers when killed. In my view, they were civilians, not engaged in any immediately threatening behavior, and therefore not subject to a death sentence.
That’s assuming a lot. First of all, the killings occurred near Hebron, a hotbed of paramilitary settler activity. Second of all, Palestinians would hardly have access to lifestyle settlers, who live a highly sheltered existence in gated enclaves and use the bypass roads to avoid any actual contact with Palestinians in the OPT. Third of all, the paramilitary settlers do not, as a rule, make any attempt to conceal their identities when they carry out their pogroms. Given the regularity of these attacks, and the fact that the attackers do not go far from home to commit their crimes, it does not seem particularly “out there” to suggest that the Palestinians would recognise at least their most frequent attackers on sight.
This is, unlike much of the rest of Samel’s assertions, a question of legal significance. Art. 50(1) of the 1977 Protocol Additional provides that “[i]n case of doubt whether a person is a civilian, that person shall be considered to be a civilian.” However, Samel has not provided any actual facts in support of his claim that “all the gunmen knew about their victims” was “that they were settlers”. The fact that neither Samel nor I can say what they knew at the time does not mean that there was actual doubt.
It is worth recalling at this point that Samel is a lawyer. As such, he can be expected to have at least some rudimentary understanding of legal analysis and research. Yet he makes no attempt to apply – or even cite – the legal provisions that are dispositive of the question his article is ostensibly supposed to answer.
Not only does he fail to analyse the question based on the controlling legal provisions, he blatantly mischaracterises the standard when he accuses those who doubt that the paramilitary settlers are entitled to the protections afforded to civilians of applying a standard that is “[obviously similar] to Alan Dershowitz’s ‘continuum of civilianality, one of his most morally reprehensible concepts” (which is also a blatant mischaracterisation of Dershowitz’s bogus continuum). By Samel’s reckoning, denying civilian protections to members of heavily armed paramilitary groups working closely together with a Party to the conflict – as the Geneva Conventions and Protocols Additional themselves do – is morally equivalent to a “continuum” that allows for the wilful killing of persons who never even remotely participated in hostilities. One gets the distinct impression from Samel that the Geneva Conventions allow the crucial question of who is entitled to civilian protections to hinge on the signature on a person’s paycheque.
One might object at this point that Samel’s article was published on a political blog frequented by the lay public looking for a brief, informative article and not a treatise, rather than a specialised journal of international humanitarian law. This is no excuse for two reasons. First of all, the Geneva Conventions and other international legal instruments are no stranger to MondoWeiss, as they come up frequently in discussions of Israeli crimes. Second of all, discussing the Geneva Conventions does not require a confusing foray into the world of fertile octogenarians and unborn widows. These are well-known legal instruments, written in fairly straightforward language, and, as noted above, this would hardly be the first time that the readers of MondoWeiss were confronted an analysis of the Geneva conventions. Samel’s failure to engage the legal standards contained in the Conventions and Protocols is at best intellectually lazy, and at worst a disingenuous attempt to shed darkness on a well-lit corner of the law.
Opportunism makes strange bedfellows. How else can Jeff Blankfort’s prominence in what is supposedly a Palestinian solidarity movement be explained?
The Lobby Hypothesis
Blankfort’s basic claim is that a Jewish Lobby has absolute control over US policy in the Middle East. This is hardly a novel claim – it’s been advanced by various congressional Republicans and mainstream hawks like Walt and Mearsheimer, who claim that The Lobby is the reason that the US deviate from their general foreign policy of support for “democracy” when it comes to the Middle East, and that the Lobby is harming “national interests”.
There are, however, some obvious problems with this theory, which I will outline only briefly, as they have been discussed in great detail elsewhere. If we are to assume that The Lobby is the driving force behind US Mid-East policy, in particular of US support for the occupation and ethnic cleansing of Palestine, it is useful to ask a few basic questions:
One might further ask how one defines “national interests”, and whether a discourse of “national interests” is necessarily a good thing for Palestinian rights.
The answer to the first question is a resounding NO. The essentials of US Middle East policy – supporting murderous dictators, racist regimes, illegal military occupations, rampant violations of human rights and international law, and acts of aggression and genocide – characterise not only US policy in the Middle East, but US policy virtually everywhere else. The US installed and decisively supported the genocidal Suharto regime in Indonesia, which celebrated its inauguration by slaughtering between half a million and a million Indonesian peasants (often based on US-supplied hit lists), and went on to invade and occupy East Timor, carrying out a decades-long bloodbath (politely ignored in the US corporate media) that killed as much as one fifth of the population of that small, defenceless country. US support for genocidal regimes includes decisive support for Saddam Hussein’s slaughter of Iraqi Kurds in the 1980s, Turkey’s ethnic cleansing of Kurds in the 1980s and 1990s, the mass slaughter of the indigenous people of Guatemala (lasting almost half a century), and its own genocidal warfare against Indochina, from which that region has yet to recover. Clearly, then, US policy towards Israel and Palestine is best characterised as highly consistent with US policy elsewhere. It is hard to sustain the idea that the dark machinations of an all-powerful lobby are the driving force behind a policy of doing basically the same thing everywhere in the world.
The answer to the second question is an obvious YES. Certainly, the US has an interest – going beyond the obvious commercial benefits – in controlling the Middle East’s oil reserves, which have been deemed by US planners to be the key to world domination going back to the end of the Second World War. Obviously, US oil corporations aren’t exactly hurting from this arrangement, either. Additionally, US military aid to Israel – 75% of which ends up in the pockets of US arms manufacturers – helps spur on a regional arms race, ensuring constant demand, and thus constant profits. Moreover, Israel is virtually the only state in the region that has little to no danger of being “infected” by “radical [i.e., independent] Arab nationalism”. Mubbarak & Co. might be overthrown tomorrow, but there’s no chance of Israel being a base for resurgent Nasserism.
As for the third question, when US interests conflict with Israeli policies, US interests consistently prevail. It is first important to remember that US interests do not include “ideological slogans about human rights”, as George Kennan put it half a century ago. From a strategic standpoint, the US couldn’t really care less what happens to the Palestinians. However, the US does care – to name just one example – about whether the Chinese government get their hands on classified US technology, and when Israel tried to make a deal to do just that, the US put a stop to it with a few phone calls and a well-timed snubbing. A deal like this is not a small matter for Israel. Israeli strategists have long been ambivalent about the exclusivity of the US-Israeli “special relationship”, and Israel certainly has a long-term interest in reducing its dependency on US armaments in order to ensure maximum manoeuvring room on policy. Losing the China deal, thus, was a real blow. One might have expected The Lobby to attack the US government for doing such harm to Israeli interests. One would have been wrong.
If The Lobby is truly the driving force behind US support for the oppression and dispossession of Palestinians, the answer to the fourth question – whether the US would truly support Palestinian human rights if it weren’t for The Lobby – would have to be YES. This does not rise to the level of a bad joke, as even a cursory glance at US policy elsewhere demonstrates. The US has enthusiastically supported and engaged in genocide and ethnic cleansing all over the world, from the Kurds in Turkey and Iraq, to the Timorese, to the Mayas of Guatemala, to the indigenous peoples of Paraguay, to the people of Indochina, and, last but not least, the genocide by which ‘The West [not to mention the East, South, North, and Midwest] Was Won’. Proponents of the Lobby Hypothesis do not even attempt to explain why the US would care more about Palestinians than about the millions of others whose slaughter they have supported.
As for “national interests”, the first problem is conceptual. Can we really claim, with any validity, that all people within “the nation” have the same interests, that unemployed auto workers have the same interests as the owners of auto companies, that the working class base of the US military has the same interests as the CEO of Halliburton? Of course not. “National interests” is a meaningless, obfuscatory concept. However, even if it were not, a discourse of “national interests” would be of little help to the Palestinians. What benefit do they confer on “the nation”? Moreover, if we accept “national interests” as the basis of the Palestinian solidarity movement, the movement would, by definition, have to end if it were ever conclusively proven that “national interests” are harmed by enforcing the human rights of Palestinians. Clearly, the Palestinians cannot hope to find reliable friends amongst those who base their advocacy on imagined “national interests”.
In other words, in order to sustain the Lobby Hypothesis, we must essentially forget all we know about US history and foreign policy. This sort of willful ignorance, while not particularly helpful to the Palestinians, is quite useful for those who simply want to improve the effectiveness of US imperialism. By placing all of the blame on an all-powerful lobby, they give US planners a ready-made alibi for their crimes against the Palestinian people: “The lobby made me do it!” Moreover, this hypothesis ensures that activism will miss one of the most important targets: the US government, and focus instead narrowly on Israel. This would be a serious tactical error – if activism is aimed solely at increasing the cost of the occupation for Israel, the US can easily find ways of counteracting those costs through extensive aid. Only by targeting not only Israel, but also the US government – without which none of these crimes would be possible – and US institutions that profit directly from the oppression of Palestinians can we hope to be effective in our work for Palestinian rights.
And yet, Blankfort is given a forum by blogs that otherwise seem to have some degree of quality control. MondoWeiss, for example, which often publishes quality material on the Israel-Palestine conflict (apart from Weiss’ obsession with “dual loyalty” and the Lobby Hypothesis) even went so far as to suggest that an interview between Ali Abunimah and Blankfort signified “a sense of a torch being passed here, or of the older left not being suited for the new conversation about Israel/Palestine.”
It is perhaps worthwhile to ask to whom this metaphorical torch is being passed.
Blankfort has made attacking Chomsky his life’s work. By this, I do not mean criticising Chomsky’s views, but actively, consistently, and knowingly misrepresenting them. In the torch-passing interview, for example, Blankfort claimed that Chomsky had never written about the role of US trade unions in calling for US support for Israeli militarism. This claim, as anyone who has read up to page 30 of The Fateful Triangle will know, is patently false. In that 1983 book, Chomsky discusses the role of trade unions at some length, and points out the flaws in the Lobby Hypothesis, which Blankfort also claimed Chomsky hasn’t written about. In other words, there are only two possibilities: Either Blankfort makes claims despite being ignorant of the facts, or he makes claims knowing full well that they contradict the facts.
Since this was my first encounter with Blankfort, I became curious, and discovered that his misrepresentations in the Abunimah interview were not isolated. Jeremy Hammond – whose masochism in delving into the Blankfort Bog greatly outstrips my own – has documented extensive distortions of Chomsky’s actual record that Blankfort demonstrably knows to be false. For example, that Blankfort has distorted Chomsky’s statements about Salam Fayyad’s pursuit of “sound and sensible policies” that seek to lay the groundwork for a de facto Palestinian state (something Chomsky describes, using a popular Zionist expression, as “creating facts on the ground”) to claim that Fayyad is “a favorite of both Washington and Israel and, it would appear, Chomsky”.
What is the proof that Blankfort knew that he was misrepresenting Chomsky’s statement in the interview? ‚Blankfort himself participated [in the interview in question] as well, having called in to the live program.‘
In order to support his claims that Chomsky is involved in ‚damage control‘ for Israel, Blankfort has quoted that statement by Chomsky in an interview on Israeli TV that ‚I don’t regard myself as a critic of Israel. I regard myself as a supporter of Israel.‘ When Hammond noted in comments to a piece defending Blankfort on Dissident Voice that “Chomsky means he is opposed to Israeli crimes against Palestinians when he says he is “a supporter of Israel”, Blankfort’s terse response, in its entirety, was:
“DON’T AGREE. HE DID NOT QUALIFY HIS STATEMENT TO THE ISRAELI INTERVIWER [sic] BY SAYING THAT WHEN HE COULD HAVE.”
The problem is that Chomsky did qualify it, in the very next sentence:
“The people who are harming Israel, in my opinion, it’s what I’ve said many times, are those who claim to be supporting it. They are helping [to] drive Israel towards moral degeneration and possible ultimate destruction. I think support for Israel should be support for policies which are for its benefit.”
This distinction, of which Blankfort must certainly be aware if he is as familiar with Chomsky’s work as he claims to be, dates back at least to a passage in the first chapter of The Fateful Triangle (p. 4 of the 1999 updated edition), which merits quoting in full:
These remarks will be critical of Israel’s policies: its consistent rejection of any political settlement that accommodates the national rights of the indigenous population; its repression and state terrorism over many years; its propaganda efforts, which have been remarkably successful – much to Israel’s detriment in my view – in the United States. But this presentation may be misleading, in two respects. In the first place, this is not an attempt at a general history; the focus is on what I think is and has been wrong and what should be changed, not on what I think has been right. Secondly, the focus on Israeli actions and initiatives may obscure the fact that my real concern is the policies that have been pursued by the U.S. government and our responsibility in shaping or tolerating these policies. To a remarkable extent, articulate opinion and attitudes in the U.S. have been dominated by people who describe themselves as “supporters of Israel,” a term that I will also adopt, though with much reluctance, since I think they should more properly be called “supporters of the moral degeneration and ultimate destruction of Israel,” and not Israel alone. Given this ideological climate and the concrete U.S. actions that it has helped to engender, it is natural enough that Israeli policies have evolved in their predictable way. Perpetuation of these tendencies within the U.S. and in U.S.-Israel relations portends a rather gloomy future, in my view, for reasons that I hope will become clearer as we proceed. If so, a large measure of responsibility lies right here, as in the recent past.
(emphasis supplied, footnote omitted).
In other words, Chomsky’s distinction between what he considers real supporters of Israel (i.e., critics of criminal Israeli policies) and those who “should more properly be called ‘supporters of the moral degeneration and ultimate destruction of Israel’ is not a new point. Just to hammer this home, Chomsky puts the phrases ‘support for/supporters of Israel’ in inverted commas throughout the book.
Now, it is certainly possible that Blankfort is simply not as familiar with Chomsky’s writings as he holds himself out to be, and that he was just unaware of Chomsky’s deconstruction of the notion of ‘support for Israel’ at the very beginning of his best-known book on the subject, but the fact remains that Chomsky made the very same point, albeit more briefly, in the very next sentence in the very interview that Blankfort quotes. Thus, Blankfort’s claim that Chomsky “DID NOT QUALIFY HIS STATEMENT” can only be characterised as a lie.
Why, then, to return to the initial question, do people who otherwise show some discernment in their editorial decisions, associate themselves with the likes of Blankfort? Blankfort’s writings contain nothing novel, original, unique, or even intellectually honest. He has an irrational vendetta against Chomsky for reasons unknown, and is willing to lie outright in order to discredit him. One of Blankfort’s most common responses to criticism is to make insinuations about his critics’ ancestry, deflecting, for example, from Jeremy Hammond’s questions about obvious contradictions in Blankfort’s claims with the following remarks:
You know how it is with names. Hammond could be Protestant, Quaker, Methodist, Catholic, or, in this case, I suspect Jewish. And why? It seems that only Jews, thus far, have become hysterical over my critique of Chomsky which will come back to haunt them when they wish people to take them seriously.
Blankfort is, to be blunt, an asshole, and arguably a racist one at that. The only explanation why an unoriginal, dishonest, racist asshole like Blankfort is allowed to bring discredit on the Palestinian solidarity movement is that the movement (or at least some segments of it) has developed something of a habit of embracing assholes. When you’re already embracing imperialists like Walt and Mearsheimer, as well as racists like Pat Buchanan (who regularly excoriated opponents of original-flavour apartheid), Gilad Atzmon, and Paul Craig Roberts, what’s one more addition to the list? The response one invariably gets when this issue is raised is that “We may not agree on everything, but [whoever it is] opposes the occupation, and that’s all that matters”.
No, it bloody well isn’t. It’s one thing to encourage a healthy pluralism within a movement; it’s quite another to align oneself with people whose goals and ideologies (one hopes, anyway!) are diametrically opposed to one’s own, just because of an agreement-in-principle on one part of an overall issue. While this is quite beneficial to people like Blankfort and Buchanan, who would much prefer to be thought of as supporters of human rights than as proto-fascist reactionaries, it is toxic to a movement that is based on human rights and opposition to racism. While Buchanan, Roberts, Blankfort et al. get a reputation upgrade by association with the movement for Palestinian human rights, the movement itself can only be harmed by association with people like Buchanan, Blankfort, and Roberts. Assholes get legitimised, the movement gets delegitimised, everybody – especially the Palestinians – loses. That is the danger of opportunism.
And where a drop of our blood should fall,
Our fierceness and our bravery shall bloom.
In writing The Tacitus Principle, I deliberately refrained from addressing the issue of resistance on board the Mavi Marmara, save to point out the questionable reliability of the videos disseminated by the Israeli military and to discuss – in the abstract – the legal rights of those on board and of the state whose flag the ship was flying. This I did because there was, at the time, no direct testimony from the Mavi Marmara passengers on the subject. As such, I declined to accept an Israeli narrative that I – amongst many others – have shown to be hopelessly full of holes, internal contradictions, and outright lies.
We now know – and have known for some time – that the passengers on the upper deck of the Mavi Marmara did indeed use the paltry means at their hands to resist an armed onslaught against a ship full of sleeping, defenceless people. Believing – not unreasonably – that the objective of the Israeli attack, which, in its violence, far exceeded any prior response to an attempt to break the blockade of the Gaza Strip, was to kill everyone on board the Marmara, they succeeded in disarming two soldiers and in putting up fierce resistance against those who followed. In the course of the attack, at least nine and as many as twenty of their comrades were murdered.
Some have seen fit to condemn those who decided – having seen one comrade killed before the Marmara was boarded – to echo Malcolm X’ view that “I don’t call it violence when it’s self-defence; I call it intelligence”. Typical of this view is Matthew Taylor’s piece on MondoWeiss, in which he bemoans the lack of “discipline” of those who decided to defend themselves. “Had the soldiers been firing live ammunition?” he asks, quoting Prof. Michael Nagler, “The point is that even if they were – while terribly difficult – the passengers could have resisted nonviolently by refusing to comply with the soldiers’ demands without making any attempt to injure them.”
To this perspective, Taylor adds a complete misrepresentation of the events of the 1999 Seattle WTO protests, and the following remark:
On a deeper level, the true power of nonviolence to persuade the oppressor is unleashed with a commitment to pursue acts of courageous love (not just "not being violent"). For example, the Civil Rights Movement activists who sat in at the lunch counters, rode the buses, and registered voters never backed down, and nonviolently resisted the oppressors without demonization or rancor, but with a desire to win over those afflicted with racist views.
This quote handily sums up the problem inherent in the views of Taylor et al. Nonviolent action aims at persuading the oppressor or the onlookers. It is a tactic that seeks to change "hearts and minds" by "melting the hearts" (Gandhi) of those who would seek to tread on us with their boots. To apply a technique for winning hearts and minds to a situation in which the aggressor is already spilling blood and brains is, to say the least, questionable. To sit in front of a computer in the safety of an air-conditioned room and scold others for doing otherwise, however, is nothing short of contemptuous. To demand, further, that people make that decision not only for themselves, but for others who have no input into it, is, in a word, criminal.
Taylor tacitly acknowledges the preposterousness of his remarks when he describes them as “Monday-morning armchair Quarterbacking". But even in this acknowledgement, he manages to miss the point: This wasn’t a fucking game. When an Israeli soldier kills you, you die for real.
Consider the feasibility of those options on the Mavi Marmara. Could the passengers rely on appealing to the conscience of Israeli commandoes while they were firing bullets at the activists? Taylor thinks so: “the true power of nonviolence to persuade the oppressor is unleashed with a commitment to pursue acts of courageous love.” This seems wooly to me. […] “The point is that even if they were – while terribly difficult – the passengers could have resisted nonviolently by refusing to comply with the soldiers’ demands without making any attempt to injure them,” is ridiculous. When someone is shooting at you and your friends, you must disarm them, and probably use violence to do so. If you can’t disarm them, you must use violence to stop them from shooting, one way or another. The demand a bullet entering your skull makes on you is for you to die, and if there is a way to “refuse to comply” with that demand, Taylor and Nagler should fess up quick. (emphasis added)
The persuasion stage ended the minute the soldiers killed the first passenger (before they even boarded). From that moment on, the few people on the Mavi Marmara who were awake and in a position to act were faced with a stark choice: Do we hope that they will go easy on us, and run the risk that they’ll kill us all given the opportunity, or do we do everything in our power to show them it’s not worth trying? In insisting that they choose option A, Taylor and his ilk are demanding that they put their would-be murderers’ lives above their own and those of the hundreds of defenceless people on board.
As I discussed in detail in The Tacitus Principle, there is no question that the passengers of the Mavi Marmara had the legal right to resist the Israeli attack using proportionate force. This, however, does not tell us whether it is the right decision. It is, technically, true that the Seattle demonstrators had the legal right to self-defence against the police officers who bloodied them without legal justification. From a legal standpoint, they would be using proportionate force against an immediate, unlawful danger to their lives and physical integrity and those of others.
However, the real question is tactical in nature: What would the likely consequences have been had the demonstrators used force in self-defence? Most likely, they would have been even further demonised by a press that was happy to reverse the chonology in order to blame them for the violent acts of the police, and the matter would have escalated, leaving demonstrators dead and dying, rather than wounded and unlawfully arrested. Their legal arguments, valid though they would have been, would never have been heard in court.
In these circumstances, the likely consequences of violent self-defence made it an immoral choice quite independently of the legalities.
Moving to the other extreme of the spectrum, let us look at a situation in which those involved were confronted with the near-certainty of death: the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. It is important to remember that the goal of the Uprising was not to hold off the Nazis and their Trawniki henchmen; the organisers of the uprising recognised from the start that they would eventually be killed either by bullets and grenades or by gas. There was no use trying to “melt the hearts” of heavily armed killers, whose only mission was to ensure that not a single one of them was left alive. Persuasion was not an option. For them, the only question was whether to give their lives away for free, or to exact the highest possible cost from their murderers. They chose option B, and held the Waffen-SS at bay for weeks. Their fierce, violent resistance, as Max Ajl notes in his piece, is celebrated even today.
When someone asserts, as Taylor and Nagle have done here, that there is something fundamentally wrong with responding to deadly force with non-lethal force, the burden is squarely on them to explain what, exactly, the alternative was. While he does not address the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising case in his piece, it seems clear that Taylor does not draw any bright line between being potentially beaten up and arrested (Seattle) and being, in all probability, killed (Mavi Marmara, Warsaw Ghetto Uprising).
If he would agree that violent resistance in self-defence is appropriate in a case like the Warsaw Ghetto, the burden is on him to explain how he distinguishes the level of deadly force the ŻOB was facing from the degree of deadly force the passengers and crew of the Mavi Marmara were facing. Why, in other words, was a violent response warranted in the Warsaw Ghetto, but not on the Mavi Marmara? There is no fundamental, qualitative difference here. In both cases, people were facing at least probable death at the hands of trained killers. If he accepts violence in the one case, but not in the other, then, his only principled basis is the probability of death. At what level of probability can deadly force be met with force? Does it have to be virtually 100%, as in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising? Or is a greater-than-50% probability sufficient? At what point, in Taylor’s eyes, does the reasonable fear of being killed justify doing something to prevent it?
Let us now suppose that Taylor (et al.) is as quick to condemn a violent response in Warsaw Ghetto as he was to condemn the violent, but non-lethal response to the deadly Israeli attack on the Mavi Marmara. In this case, if he wishes to project even a faint modicum of seriousness, Taylor must provide an alternative. What could the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto do? What response would, to Taylor, be appropriately nonviolent, while maximising their chances of surviving?
As happy as he is to lecture, Taylor has no more answers to this question than he does to the question at hand: What should the people on board the Mavi Marmara have done in response to a murderous attack that had already killed one of their fellows? To the extent that he answers this – painfully obvious – question at all, it is with platitudes about “nonviolently [resisting] the oppressors without demonization or rancor, but with a desire to win [them] over”, “refusing to comply" with the demands of soldiers who were firing live ammunition at them, and the frankly bile-curdling admonition to practice “courageous love", and vaguenesses about how “the resisters’ actions are not dictated by the oppressors’ actions.”
If someone is trying to kill you, your reaction will almost certainly be dictated by that fact, assuming that you have the normal human instinct of self-preservation. If someone is trying to kill your comrades (especially if they are defenceless), your reaction will just as certainly be dictated by that fact, if you have even the slightest sense of solidarity. Your action will be to do what seems necessary and suitable to preserve your own life and those of your comrades. If you can get the gun out of the would-be murderer’s hand, you do it. If you can get your comrades out of harm’s way, you do it. If you can run and hide, you will run and hide. If there’s a reasonable chance that calling for help could save you, you call for help.
The people on board the Mavi Marmara had nowhere to run.
They had nothing but hundreds of miles of sea, blocked on all sides by Israeli warships. They were cornered.
They had no way to call for help. The Israeli military was jamming their communications equipment. They were helpless and alone, and surrounded by people who were shooting to kill.
In the last verse of his song זאָג ניט קיינמאָל, Zog nit keynmol ("Never say…"), which became the anthem of the Jewish partisans, Hirsch Glick writes:
דאָס ליד געשריבן איז מיט בלוט און ניט מיט בלײַ,
ס´איז ניט קיין ליד פֿון אַ פֿויגל אויף דער פֿרייַ.
דאָס האָט אַ פֿאָלק צווישן פֿאַלנדיקע ווענט,
דאָס ליד געזונגען מיט נאַגאַנעס אין די הענט.
Dos Lied geschriebn is mit Blut un nit mit Blei.
S’ is nit keyn Lied fun a Foigl oif der frei;
Dos hot a Folk zvischn falendike Vent,
Dos Lied gezungen mit Naganes in die Hent.
This song was written with blood, not with lead;
It isn’t the song of a bird flying free.
It was people with weapons in their hands
Who sang this song as the walls came crashing in.
Glick’s point is as elementary as it is beautifully expressed. The sentiments of Zog nit keynmol were not written at leisure, in a time of calm contemplation, by a foigl oif der frei (a bird flying free). They were written in a time of extreme and imminent danger, when the only options available ranged from bad to intolerable. Things rarely look the same to a foigl oif der frei like Taylor as they do to people facing the real prospect of death.
Taylor, and the others who would presume to utter platitudes in the face of murder, would do well to keep this in mind.
In criminal law, a defendant who admits having done something that is generally a crime has two basic types of defences (“affirmative defences”) available. The first is what is known as an excuse. It does not deny that the act was wrongful, but offers reasons why the defendant should not be punished in this case. The second is known as justification. It argues that the act was not wrong at all, that it was instead entirely appropriate and acceptable under the circumstances.
There is no need to linger on a defence of excuse. It not only does a disservice to the Marmara resisters and the cause they risked their lives for – it insults the intelligence of anyone reading to suggest that there was anything at all wrong with what they did.
In The Tacitus Principle, I explained that any violent resistance by the passengers of the Mavi Marmara would fall within self-defence, a justification. While this is the legal category their actions fall into, I am not content to argue that the Marmara resisters were blameless. This is obvious. Instead, I would go far as to say that their actions are worthy of praise. Indeed, the way the people on board the Mavi Marmara responded to the Israeli attack should go down in history as an example of how one can resist murderous violence without losing one’s humanity.
If they had merely risked their lives to protect their comrades and to help the besieged people of the Gaza Strip, dayenu. If they had merely taken whatever they could find in order to defend their ship and its sleeping passengers against a midnight onslaught, dayenu.
If they had done only those things, they would be deserving of the highest praise.
However, we know that they did more. From eyewitness testimony, corroborated by the footage that Iara Lee and her camera crew were able to smuggle off of the Mavi Marmara, we know that they not only protected the two disarmed commandos from the cameras of the press; they even used their extremely limited resources to give these people who came to harm them basic medical care.
They did this even as they were sending out a distress call by loudspeaker to the Israeli Navy, announcing their surrender and pleading with the Israelis to provide medical assistance to several people who were bleeding to death. They did this even though the Israelis opted to let their comrades die when they had nothing to lose from saving their lives.
There is no reason to be evasive, or to qualify our defence of the people who tried to protect their ship and comrades from the fourth most deadly army in the world with sticks and stones. There is no need to concede when we are told that they betrayed what some people misguidedly believe to be an absolute principle of nonviolence. The Mavi Marmara resisters did the right thing, and some of them died doing it. In so doing, they forced the suffering of the Gaza Strip, long ignored by articulate opinion, onto the front pages. When the NBC Nightly News calls Gaza a “prison”, when ambassadors are withdrawn from Israel, when country after country announces its intention to send more ships to Gaza, when Turkey commits its navy to protect them, we should remember who we have to thank for it. If the Mavi Marmara had gone quietly and not responded to Israel’s live fire, none of this would have happened. This batch of ships would have been ignored just as surely as the previous ones were.
The resisters of the Mavi Marmara do not need us to defend them. They deserve our unwavering praise.
Juni 14th, 2010 — Israel-Palästina
Wir sind ein Friedensschiff, Herr Barak,
kämpfen nur gegen Elend und Not,
doch glaub ja nicht, daß wir deshalb
friedlich gehen in den Tod!
Na, schaun Sie sich doch mal um, Herr Barak!
Es sind keine Waffen an Bord,
doch merkt euch eins, Banditenpack:
Wir dulden keinen Mord!
Wir sind zum Frieden fest entschlossen,
haben hier kein gegossenes Blei,
doch wird unser Blut vergossen,
dann ist der Spaß schnell vorbei!
Es mahnt euch unsere weiße Fahn’:
Ein Feigling, wer auf uns hier schießt!
Ein Zadik aber ist der der Mann,
der nicht sinnlos Blut vergießt!
He, schaut euch doch diesen alten Herrn hier an:
‚S liegt nur an euch, ob er verreckt,
und schaut ihr weg, ist eure Hand
auf ewig blutbefleckt!
Verschmäht ihr den, der hier zu Boden fällt
als Söldner und als Terrorist –
die Welt erfährt noch, wer hier Held
und wer Verbrecher ist!
Ja, deckt sie doch lustig mit Orden zu
die Spuren deiner schandhaften Tat –
wer wissen ebenso wie du,
wer Grund zum Stolze hat!