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The Day the World Became Gaza

Ali Abunimah

 by Al-Jazeera English

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

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

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

Lip service  

One of the bitterest images from Operation Cast Lead was that of
smiling European Union heads of government visiting Jerusalem and
patting Ehud Olmert, the then Israeli prime minister, on the back as
white phosphorus still seared the flesh of Palestinian children a few
miles away.

Western countries sometimes expressed mild dismay at
Israel's "excessive" use of force, but still justified the Gaza massacre
as "self-defence" - even though Israel could easily have stopped rocket
fire from Gaza, if that was its goal, by returning to the negotiated
June 2008 ceasefire it egregiously violated the following November.

When
the UN-commissioned Goldstone Report documented the extensive evidence
of Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the willful
killings of unarmed civilians, few governments paid more than lip
service to seeing justice done.   Even worse, after Cast Lead, EU
countries and the US sent their navies to help Israel enforce a blockade
on Gaza which amounts to collective punishment of the entire population
and thus violates the Fourth Geneva Convention governing Israel's
ongoing occupation.

Not one country sent a hospital ship to help
treat or evacuate the thousands of wounded, many with horrific injuries
that overwhelmed Gaza's hospitals.

Carrot and stick

The blockade has never been - as Israel and its apologists claim - to
stop the smuggling of weapons into Gaza.

Its goal has always
been political: to cause the civilian population as much suffering as
possible - while still politically excusable - in order for the
Palestinians in Gaza to reject and rise up against the Hamas leadership
elected in January 2006.

The withholding of food, medicine,
schoolbooks, building supplies, among thousands of other items, as well
as the right to enter and leave Gaza for any purpose became a weapon to
terrorise the civilian population.   At the same time, Western aid
was showered on the occupied West Bank - whose ordinary people are
still only barely better off than in Gaza - in a "carrot and stick"
policy calculated to shift support away from Hamas and toward the
Western-backed, unelected Palestinian Authority leadership affiliated
with the rival Fatah faction, who have repeatedly demonstrated their
unconditional willingness to collaborate with Israel no matter what it
does to their people.   "The idea is to put the Palestinians on a
diet, but not to make them die of hunger," senior Israeli government
advisor Dov Weisglass notoriously explained in 2006. By this standard
the blockade - supported by several Arab governments and the Quartet
(the US, EU, UN secretary-general, and Russia) has been a great success,
as numerous studies document alarming increases in child malnutrition
as the vast majority of Gaza's population became dependent on UN food
handouts. Hundreds have died for lack of access to proper medical care.

Filling
the 'moral void'
 

While inaction and complicity
characterised the official response, global civil society stepped in to
fill the moral and legal void.

In the year and a half since Cast
Lead, the global, Palestinian-led campaign for boycott, divestment and
sanctions on Israel (BDS) has been racking up impressive victories.   From
the decisions by Norway's pension funds and several European banks to
divest from certain Israeli companies, to university divestment
initiatives, the refusals by international artists to perform in Israel,
or the flashmobs that have brought the consumer boycott to supermarkets
around the world, Israel sees BDS as a growing "existential threat".   At
this point, the effect may be more psychological than economic but it
is exactly the feeling of increasing isolation and pariah status that
helped push South Africa's apartheid rulers to recognise that their
regime was untenable and to seek peaceful change with the very people
they had so long demonised, dehumanised and oppressed.

Indeed,
the BDS movement is only likely to gather pace: world-best-selling
Swedish author Henning Mankell who was among the passengers on the
Turkish ship Mavi Marmara kidnapped and taken to Israel, said
on being freed: "I think we should use the experience of South Africa,
where we know that the sanctions had a great impact."   The
Freedom Flotilla represented the very best, and most courageous of this
civil society spirit and determination not to abandon fellow human
beings to the cruelty, indifference and self-interest of governments.

The
immediate response to Israel's attack on the Flotilla may indicate that
governments too are starting to come out of their slumber and shed the
paralysing fear of criticising Israel that has assured its impunity for
so long.

Growing gap

Indeed, the global reaction demonstrates the growing gap between the
US and Israel on one side and the rest of the world on the other.

While
Israeli officials scrambled to offer justifications from the ludicrous
(elite commandos armed with paint ball guns) to the benign (the attack
was an "inspection"), the US has once again stood behind its ally
unconditionally.

As the Obama administration forced a
watered-down presidential statement in the UN Security Council, Israeli
apologists in the mainstream US media repeatedly attempted to excuse
Israel's actions as lawful and legitimate.

Senior administration
officials, including Joe Biden, the vice president, openly began to echo
their Israeli counterparts that Israel's attack was not only legitimate
but justified by its security needs.   Despite the predictable
and shameless US reaction, international condemnation has been unusually
robust. In his speech to the Turkish parliament
following the attack, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister,
denounced Israeli "state terrorism" and demanded that the international
community exact a price.

Erdogan vowed that "Turkey will never
turn its back on Gaza," and that it would continue its campaign to lift
the blockade and hold Israel accountable even if it had to do so alone.

There
are hopeful signs it may not have to.

European and other
countries summoned Israeli ambassadors and several recalled their envoys
from Tel Aviv.

Franco Frattini, the Italian foreign minister and
one of Israel's staunchest apologists in Europe, said his country
"absolutely deplored the slaying of civilians" and demanded that Israel
"must give an explanation to the international community" of killings he
deemed "absolutely unacceptable, whatever the flotilla's aims".   Small
countries showed the greatest courage and clarity. Nicaragua suspended
diplomatic ties completely, citing Israel's "illegal attack". Brian
Cowen, Ireland's prime minister, told parliament in Dublin that his
government had "formally requested" of Israel that the vessel Rachel
Corrie still heading toward Gaza, be allowed to proceed, and warned of
the "most serious consequences" should Israel use violence against it. The
boat - named after the young American peace activist killed by Israeli
occupation forces in Gaza in 2003 - is carrying Malaysian and Irish
activists and politicians including Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead
Maguire.

Crossed a threshold  

These
are still small actions, but they indicate Israel may have crossed a
threshold where it can no longer take appeasement and complicity for
granted.

It is a cumulative process - each successive outrage has
diminished the reserve of goodwill and forbearance Israel enjoyed.

Even
if most governments are not quite ready to go from words to effective
actions, growing public outrage will eventually push them to impose
official sanctions.

Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime
minister, may have hastened that day with his fulsome pride in, and
praise for, the slaughter at sea even after the outpouring of
international condemnation.   Despite its intensive efforts to
hide and spin what happened aboard the Mavi Marmara in the
early hours of May 31, the world saw Israel use exactly the sort of
indiscriminate brutality documented in the Goldstone Report.

This
time, however, it was not just "expendable" Palestinians or Lebanese
who were Israel's victims - but people from 32 countries and every
continent. It was the day the whole world became Gaza. And like the
people of Gaza, the world is unlikely to take it lying down.


© 2021 Al-Jazeera English

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