My wife and I were going to bed that night, when one last check on the news reported the Freedom Flotilla massacre. Suddenly, we were wide awake, in shock and horror. Transfixed. We talked, noting that Huffington had a long piece, then a few minutes later only a snippet from the AP. We despaired that this was going to get covered up by the media, blacked out, with only the Israeli military’s accounts of their victimization at the hands of terrorists: “Every [activist] that approached us wanted to kill us … I had to fight against quite a few terrorists who were armed with knives and batons,” says a wounded captain in Haaretz.
I finally went to bed, but my wife spent the rest of the night weeping.
Imagine our surprise next day when we started reading the coverage. The NY Times gave it top front-page billing, as did other press. In the shock of the moment — even with most quotes coming from the IDF — the coverage was damning of Israel. The most wrenching image — at least to me — was from the NY Times, Echoes of Raid on ‘Exodus’ Ship in 1947, with the story of the 1947 Exodus, desperate Jewish refugees trying to break the British blockade to get into Palestine. The connection was relentlessly driven home, the poor and desperate bridging the centuries in pain. What went wrong?
Country after country, including Russia, Turkey, India, China, Brazil, France, Spain and many more, “condemned” Israel’s acts. I read the links. They said condemned, which has a very specific diplomatic meaning. Most of the liberal progressive blogs have had something to say, including Open Left, Daily Kos, Wild Wild Left, FireDogLake, Michael Moore, Juan Cole, Yglesias, Digby, Kevin Drum, Josh Marshall, James Wolcott, Greenwald, Corrente, Huffington, Counterpunch (Cockburn) and AmericaBlog, all weighed in with criticism from mild to scathing. Comment threads were scathing, with Israel’s few defenders sputtering helplessly. Only a few blogs had nothing to say. Haaretz has been livid, with dense coverage ranging from “how embarrassing” to Gideon Levy’s:
Yesterday there was no one on the planet, not a newsman or analyst, except for its conscripted chorus, who could say a good word about the lethal takeover.
As Sic Semper Tyrannis’s Col. Pat Lang stated:
Some of us watched Charlie Rose interview Bashar Assad and Khalid Mishal in Damascus. Both men sounded remarkably rational and willing to compromise. Rose looked shocked. Shocked! He kept trying to get the Hamas leader to show anger and intent for mass murder of Jews. He did not succeed. Rose could have edited all that out. He did not. I am impressed.
We were impressed. Mainstream coverage remains strong, although the main source is still the IDF, echoes the Israeli position that the problem was ineptitude, and implicitly hinges on the legitimacy of the siege of Gaza itself, and the legality of boarding a ship in unanimously admitted international waters to enforce the blockade. Greenwald shreds this foundation:
to recap what seems thus far to be the central claim of Israel apologists: Israel is the official Owner of international waters (which is where the flotilla was when it was attacked). As such, they have the right to issue orders to ships in international waters, and everyone on board those ships is required to obey and submit. Anyone who fails to do so, or anyone in the vicinity of those who fail to do so, can be shot and killed and get what they deserve.
What’s so odd about that is that the U.S. has been spending a fair amount of time recently condemning exactly such acts as “piracy” and demanding “that those who commit acts of piracy are held accountable for their crimes.”
Strikingly missing is ANY critique of the Israeli claim that they would have gladly transferred the flotilla cargo by land to Gaza. The majority of the cargo was cement, iron and other building materials needed to try to make Gaza livable, which Israel explicitly excludes on the grounds that Hamas might use the cement to build bunkers or something.
So why were we both surprised and impressed by the publicity, given the media’s long-standing complicity in protecting Israel? I think the pressure on Israel has been building, especially since the 2008-2009 IDF assault on Gaza, when the IDF killed 1,400 Palestinians at the loss of 13 Israelis. The world was aghast, while Israel was able to brush off criticism and dance away unscathed. But anger smoldered. Israel’s position was “we did it before and we can do it again,” that no one remembers dead Palestinians. But people do remember. If they didn’t remember, Israel brazenly reminded them, with open discussion of how they were planning to win the coming propaganda war, how they would prevent independent broadcasts.
Attempting to maintain a blackout, the IDF raiders smashed cameras, confiscated cell phones, and locked up the peace activists. They have refused to release the names of the dead. They cannot withstand having names and faces attached to the grim statistics. Thus ends Round 1.
For over a day, the fact that the peace activists were being held incommunicado, denied any access to the press, was mentioned in passing at best. The position of Israeli Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch was: “All those who lifted a hand against a soldier will be punished to the full extent of the law.” But yesterday’s UN Security Council resolution calls for the release of the prisoners. Some who are willing to sign Israeli deportation documents are beginning to trickle home. They will begin to tell their stories. One such story quoted by Al Jazeera:
Turkish activist Nilufer Cetin, who had hidden with her baby in her cabin’s bathroom aboard the Mavi Marmara, told reporters she believed there were 11 dead.
“The ship turned into a lake of blood,” Cetin told reporters in Istanbul, having returned after Israeli officials warned that jail would be too harsh for her child.
“We were aware of the possible danger in joining the trip,” she said. “But there are thousands of babies in Gaza. If we had reached Gaza we would have played with them and taken them food.”
She said Israeli vessels harassed the flotilla for two hours starting around 10 p.m. Sunday, and returned at around 4 a.m. Monday, fired warning shots and told the ships to turn back.
When the Mavi Marmara continued on its course the harassment turned into an attack.
“They used smoke bombs followed by gas canisters. They started to descend onto the ship with helicopters,” she said, calling the clashes that then erupted “extremely bad and brutal.”
“I was one of the first victims to be released because I had a child,” she told reporters, “but they confiscated everything, our telephones, laptops are all gone.”
The stories are now coming out, how the Israelis opened fire before boarding, kept firing after the white flag was raised, the beatings with clubs and stun guns, photographers smashed in the head with rifle butts for taking pictures. But you have to look for them, at least if you’re an American. They don’t get the front-page prestige of the IDF’s claims.
What’s a poor blogger to do?
That is always the question. Those who follow my writing know that I am not fond of outrage for the sake of outrage. I have no illusions that mere exposure of injustice will somehow move people to action. I always try to push for what would be effective. Last week there was a piece by Paul Loeb, Stories Of Impact Will Push Us To Fix The Oil Spill, Homelessness, And Other Big Problems which espoused what I call the “politics of exposure,” a close cousin of the “politics of outrage”:
Powerful stories can break us beyond our isolated worlds. “They link teller to listeners,” writes Scott Russell Sanders. “and listeners to one another.” They let us glimpse the lives of those older or younger, richer or poorer, of different races, from places we’ll never even see. Showing us the links between choices and consequences, they train our sight, “give us images for what is truly worth seeking, worth having, worth doing.”
Regarding exposure as a general approach, I stand by my critique articulated in Making a Difference. But let me fine-tune this a little.
Situations change, and with them must change our tactics. Any tactic, if it successful, transforms the situation (the definition of success in my book), and having been successful, tactics must change to the new situation or they grow stale, dead, even counter-productive. But with the Freedom Flotilla Massacre, we face a new situation. At this point, whether the flotilla activists — and the starving children of Gaza, and Israeli progressives — can be heard is in fact the fight that we are in!
In Round 1, the blogosphere came through rather well. The mainstream media did better than one might normally expect. (I think there are international pressures behind this performance, which I will explain later.)
In Round 2, the question is whether we will be able to hear Nilufer Cetin, Michalis Grigoropoulos, Issam Zaatar, Haneen Zubi, Norman Paech, Youssef Benderbal, Dimitris Gielalis, Mutlu Tiryaki, Paul McGeough and Kate Geraghty and 1.5 million Gazans. Stories fade. Many of the freedom folks don’t speak English. Their stories will come through the foreign press. The U.S. MSM is much less likely to pick them up, while the same Israeli accounts have been repeated hour after hour and day after day. It may take a while, but the fix always goes in.
There are signs that Israel may have to bend. Israel is notorious for thumbing its nose at international pressure. But Haaretz now announces:
In the face of mounting world criticism of Monday’s assault, Israeli officials said all 680 activists held would be released, including two dozen Israel had threatened earlier to prosecute charging they had assaulted its troops.
This could be explosive. The dead WILL have names and faces.
Exposing what has happened and what is still happening is not ABOUT the fight. Exposing it IS THE FIGHT!
Are we part of it or not? If we are silent, that would be complicit with the campaign by the Israeli government, the IDF and the Obama administration to bury this story as quickly as possible. Stories fade, and get actively faded when they don’t involve the sex lives of celebrities. We can’t let the IDF accounts be most people’s final memories of the matter. Most people in the U.S., that is. After all, the whole world is watching.
Yes, constant repetition of a tactic loses impact, and constant repetition of the standard Israel / Palestine litany will grow tedious quickly. Some think we shouldn’t get into it even now, as it will just be a rehash of the same-old same-old. It will not.
The perfect storm
The impact has something to do with the total international situation. The economic crisis, the sabre-rattling by the U.S. and Israel against Iran, the emergence of Brazil, Russia, India and China as the century’s answer to the U.S. as the whole superpower, and the approach of “peak oil,” the exhaustion of the world’s oil supplies. People everywhere are nervous at the least, perhaps even outraged. In the world, Israel and its U.S. sponsor are seen at the crux of all this. Israeli threats to nuke Iran are not seen as a joke. (Israel reaps what it sows.) We have seen bigger massacres in the Middle East, and Israel has even been the victim of some of them. But the Flotilla massacre comes at a tipping point, of international unease, economic crisis and strategic re-alignment. It may seem small in absolute terms, but then so was the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand.
At such points, our words and deeds matter. They matter to the Palestinians. They matter to the progressive Israelis who despair that their dream has turned to ashes, the people who cry out in Haaretz and Peace Now.
And what happens when exposure of this particular atrocity grows boring? Paul Loeb’s piece makes inadvertently clear that — when exposure comes as reinforcement of an organized campaign — exposure can be enormously powerful. Thus my critique of the constant BP exposure has to do with there not being an organized drive for it to serve. In this case, the Flotilla has put boots on the ground (or water).
I suspect that the drive to boycott Israel, akin to the international boycotts that finally ended apartheid in South Africa, are going to accelerate rapidly. The stream of international condemnations of Israel stem at least in part from these governments sensing the mood of their people. Divestment resolutions once deemed quixotic may make headway in putting pressure on apartheid in Palestine.
Again I raise method
The question remains of how we talk about this. The topic arouses fierce emotions. In the past couple days I find myself shifting from freezing in rage to shaking in tears. I’ve seen too many flame wars that wallow in assholery on all sides. Apparently, Docudharma has had some unfortunate experience in this regard. So let me be clear. If you have something to say that contributes to a deeper understanding of the situation, on either side, have at it. If you have ideas about how to advance the struggle for a free Palestine, one state or two, you should illuminate us. The tactical merits or demerits of boycotts? Sure. If you have late-breaking news, please.
But I have no patience for the rote “Zionist swine, Imperialist dog/Arab Terrorist anti-Semite” cant, and I’ll pass out zeroes as needed. This dialogue is too important to allow it to be poisoned. Remember the Exodus, the intifadas, the dreams.