Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Israel’s Massacre in Gaza

As I write this, the latest reports from Gaza by the AP say that over 350 Gazans, many of them women and children, have now been killed and over 1400 wounded in the latest Israeli assault on the Palestinians trapped in the tiny strip of land named Gaza. More accurate descriptions label Gaza the largest open-air prison in the world, home to 1.5 million Palestinian refugees, all of whom have become civilian targets in Israel’s relentless war again the Palestinian people and its democratically-elected leaders in Hamas.
            Israel, of course, contends that it is only acting in “self-defense,” seeking to end the rocket attacks launched by Hamas militants from Gazan territory. It contends that the people it has killed have been the very terrorists who have been launching the rockets, by implication, soldiers in what has now become an all-out, if one-sided war. But aside from the innocent Gazan civilians who have been slaughtered by bombs and rockets and drones that do not distinguish between active terrorists and unfortunate bystanders, even the so-called “security forces” Israel claims to be killing are in many cases police officers and civil servants who have had the misfortune to be housed or working in government buildings. Even more outrageously, Israel’s Tzipi Livni blames Hamas for not conforming to “the requirements of the international community.”  But if there is a consistent, repeat violator of international rules and regulations, it is Israel. It has thumbed its nose at countless UN resolutions, including 242. It has built an illegal apartheid wall in Palestinian territory. More generally, as an occupying power, Israel is required by international law to care for the people under its 60-year occupation. Instead, it has increasingly tightened its stranglehold on the Palestinians trapped in their shrinking territory, destroying every vestige of livelihood that could allow Palestinians to survive, including food and fuel and even basic medicines like insulin. In this sense, as Ali Abunimah of the Electronic Intifada points out, Israel’s latest assault, said to have been launched in response to the “collapse” of the truce that had been in place for 6 months, is different only in degree from that  “truce,” a word the media never questions:
            “It is very simple. Under an Israeli-style truce, Palestinians have the right to remain silent while Israel starves them, kills them and continues to violently colonize their land. Israel has not only banned food and medicine to sustain Palestinian bodies in Gaza but it is also intent on starving minds: due to the blockade, there is not even ink, paper and glue to print textbooks for schoolchildren.
    As John Ging, the head of operations of the United Nations agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA), told The Electronic Intifada in November : ‘there was five months of a ceasefire in the last couple of months, where the people of Gaza did not benefit; they did not have any restoration of a dignified existence. We in fact at the UN, our supplies were also restricted during the period of the ceasefire, to the point where we were left in a very vulnerable and precarious position and with a few days of closure we ran out of food.’”
            In other words, Israel has been silently killing Gazans for two years by denying its people the most fundamental necessities of life. Its siege has prevented these people from escaping either by land, by sea, or by air. It has prevailed on a quisling Egyptian government to keep the only crossing enabling the transport of precious supplies into Gaza, the Rafah crossing, mostly closed. Its bombs have now destroyed the underground tunnels which Gazans have dug to allow at least some of these supplies to enter. And now it is bombing a terrorized civilian population, including a five-story women’s dormitory at Islamic University, to send them a message: ‘We are your masters here. You have no recourse, no safety, no life to live unless you willingly place yourselves under our heel.’ And it, seconded by the likes of President Bush, expects Gazans to comply. Complying, of course, ultimately means that sooner rather than later, all Palestinians will agree to leave their own lands so that Zionist Israel can finally complete its long-range plan, an Eretz Israel cleansed of its original inhabitants completely.
            What Americans, including the new Obama administration, must decide is whether, and for how long, they can keep sending American treasure, American airplanes, American rockets, American ‘moral’ support to implement such a policy—a policy that is like nothing so much as the one that the Nazis once enforced against their own subject population, the European Jews; a policy which, absent that American aid and support, could not continue for even a single day.
Lawrence DiStasi

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Defining Moment

Our now legacy-conscious president made what should be his final surprise visit to Iraq this weekend, and lo and behold, left us with what I predict will be the defining moment of his presidency. As he was giving a talk side by side with Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki, an Iraqi journalist named Muntazer al-Zaidi threw first one shoe, and then the other at the “leader of the free world.” As he did so, he shouted,
            “It is the farewell kiss, you dog.” 
Though both shoes missed the U.S. president—he ducked the first, and Maliki deflected the second—the report of the double insult rocketed around the world. For the reporter had not only called Iraq’s self-proclaimed liberator a “dog,” itself an insult, but threw his shoes in a culture where such an act is considered the ultimate insult. Or rather, the soles of shoes are the ultimate insult; after Saddam Hussein’s statue was torn down in Baghdad, some Iraqis slapped its severed head with the soles of their shoes.
            President Bush, of course, was quick to dismiss the incident as bizarre and limited, saying “I don’t think you can take one guy throwing shoes and say, this represents a broad movement in Iraq.” But the damage has been done. Bush has taken the reputation of the United States to such abysmal depths that even a common reporter, one from a country we are told should be grateful for the sacrifice of U.S. lives and U.S. treasure, dares to hurl public insults at its most exalted figure.
            In short, though one must worry about what is even now being hurled at this amazingly courageous reporter, it is clear that his act stands as THE defining moment of the Bush presidency. It is more emblematic of what this President has wrought than the Mission Accomplished fiasco, where Bush, in full flight regalia, strutted across the deck of an aircraft carrier after landing in a jet, to assure the assembled sailors and the world that the United States had prevailed in Iraq when, in truth, the most vicious part of the battle was just beginning; more memorable than the “heckuva job Brownie” moment, when Bush praised his head of  FEMA for performing so well in the New Orleans drowning, even as New Orleans residents by the thousands were gasping for help.
            Yes, this moment tops them all. It is more delicious than an assassination attempt, for a Bush attacker could be characterized as a fanatic or a madman. It is more satisfying than an impeachment, for right wing zealots could easily attribute that to “partisan politics.” This attack, by contrast, came from an Iraqi, a journalist who could be expected to know the score. An Iraqi who should have been bowing down in gratitude to his, and the world’s ‘savior,’ the world’s ‘liberator,’ the world’s ‘messenger of freedom and democracy.’ And instead, the man threw his shoe, both shoes. Called the President a “dog.” In full view of the entire world. And while the President may have been right when he said al-Zaidi doesn’t represent a movement, what he did not say, and would be determined not to recognize, is the overarching truth of this moment. For here, for all time, is the historical judgment on Bush’s doomed Iraqi venture, the burial ceremony of his entire Middle Eastern policy, indeed of his entire presidency: Iraqi shoes thrown as a farewell kiss for a “dog;” a dog who has attacked a country without cause, on false pretenses, imposing on its millions of people the kind of suffering that not even a dog should have to endure. 
            Could it be any richer? Any more ironic? Remembering that the torture (called enhanced interrogation) that the Bush Administration sanctioned for its prisoners, featured snarling dogs to exploit the Arab fear they incite. Remembering all the metaphors of America’s imperial footprint, and boots on the ground, and the famous shoes of America’s first Iraqi Proconsul, L. Paul Bremer. Remembering also that instead of being welcomed by the garlands and kisses promised to American “liberators” in the runup to the war, the leader of the world’s most powerful nation can now count on being greeted with a pelting of shoes, or rotten fruit, or god knows what else. All of which poses the humiliating question: can the United States still consider itself the world’s sole superpower, the most admired empire in history? It hardly seems so. Its economy is in a shambles. Its public figures have become clowns. Its foreign policy a disaster. Its reputation a joke.
            And it is all symbolized, perfectly, by this defining moment: Two shoes hurled at the most powerful man in the world, the “farewell kiss to a dog.” How strange is the eruption of truth. How satisfying and unpredictable the eruption of poetic justice. And how accurate was the prediction of Gore Vidal, eight years ago upon Bush’s ascension to, or rather theft of, the presidency. “He will leave in disgrace,” said Vidal. Who could have imagined how thorough, how vivid, how global that disgrace would be?
Lawrence DiStasi