Sunday, February 24, 2008

Breaching the other border: on non-violent resistance and mass mobilizing in Gaza

As gas ran out over the weekend in Gaza again, Haaretz reported "fears" amongst the Israeli military establishment of a mass civil protest, this towards Gaza's border with Israel.

The Army apparently "beefed up troops along the border with Gaza, fearing thousands of Palestinians may march on the border in protest Israel's economic sanctions."

Many people have been calling for such a mass march, seeing it as the most effective way to break the blockade and draw global attention to the plight of Gaza.

Apparently, so does Hamas now.

Some 40,000 Palestinians are expected to march along the Gaza Strip's border beginning at 10 A.M. on Monday, including women and children.

The felling of the Rafah wall was powerful, but just a temporary respite and ultimately a distraction from the underlying issue; Gaza cannot continue to hover just above the brink of disaster, surviving from truckload to truckload of aid, from trickle to trickle of fuel; and even if it does, it does not change the fact that the occupation is still in place; that the "status quo" of "accepting a harmless slavery, in fullest liberty!" to quote Mahmoud Darwish, is no longer acceptable.

And unless it can be followed through with international action and a change in government policies of major powers, so too will a mass march towards Erez. However I still feel such a march has enormous symbolic power. I think perhaps the Israeli army would fear such an act of massive civil resistance more than anything, because it is not something they can easily "retaliate" against without drawing global criticism (though the world has largely been ok with the genocide Gaza is being subject to so far).

I often get asked why there is not more "non-violent resistance" in Gaza. Its a tricky question to answer-but essentially, I think the thinking has been that the world isn't necessarily listening-or reacting-anyway, so fight "fire with flowers" when you can fight "fire with fire". At least I think this was the common notion when the second Intifada started where Israel was utilizing far more militarized and deadly force

Another perspective on this is that I don't think one can necessarily place the burden of what kind of resistance to choose on a population that is being subject to the military force of the world's fourth largest army (meaning, strategy and effectiveness aside, it comes across as almost self-rightouss to dictate what and how an occupied people should resist).

This is not to say that non-violent resistance has been wholly absent from the Palestinian struggle. The first Intafada is a prime example, but so too was the second Intifada-despite the fact that it was notably much more militarized.

An excerpt from an October 2007 article by Ben White in the electronic Intifada notes that

"It is not just contentment (for the few) or sheer fatigue (for the many) that makes mass mobilization a challenge. Palestinians also fear that two critical elements for the success of nonviolent popular struggle are missing in their case: international coverage and limited repression on the part of the oppressor. As previously mentioned, "popular struggle" has always been a part of Palestinian resistance to occupation and colonization -- but receives only a fraction of the press coverage afforded to violent resistance."

I have noticed that the tide's a changing though. Hamas seems to be making a more concerted effort at such mass mobilization in Gaza, while making it clear that they shall not relinquish their "legal right to other forms of resistance" (quote from an interview with Khaled Meshal that I will post soon).

A prime example was the felling of the Rafah wall-initiated by a group of women and children. So to was the effort of dozens of unarmed women of the Islamic movement (including MP Jamila Shanty) to shield and help rescue several fighters under siege in a Beit Lahiya mosque a year and a half ago.

Two of the women were killed by Israel.

And notably-Hamas was the first Palestinian group to initiate a "no arms" policy in their public protests.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Rafah Border "Breach" and the media

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to comment on the felling of the Rafah Wall and the media's coverage of it for Aljazeera's Listening Post, one of my favorite programs by the way (which I contribute to on a semi-regular basis). You can watch the video below (also watch for the brilliant piece of Burmese media activism following the Rafah Wall segment!).

In short, my point was that the Western media tended to view the felling of the wall as something of a "jail break", and the Palestinians filing across as swarming insects, and at best, a deprived people out on a shopping spree. The tone of coverage tended to shift more towards the negative as days progressed. I even received a series of interview questions from an Italian journalist in which she said many journalists were commenting on how the “poor and hungry” Palestinians were returning from Egypt “charged of Televisions and Computers and Mobile Phones” .

Suddenly, attention shifted from the event's proper historical and political context...of decades of isolation and occupation; of continued Israeli control over Gaza and its borders; of a deliberate and sustained siege, ongoing for not one year, but over a decade now in varying degrees... to Palestinian shopping habits and auditing their degree of need. Of course, underlying all this is the fact that you cannot resolve a situation by simply providing Gaza's population with humanitarian supplies, enough to sustain them for a few weeks at at time, enough to prevent and international outcry, enough to prevent death and starvation without addressing the continued occupation.

The same way you cannot resolve Israel's security dilemma's by simply demanding an end to rocket attacks, and keeping the borders closed, and occupation ongoing at the same time; as though that status quo-of simply not attacking Gaza in response but continuing the siege and the occupation- is acceptable to Palestinians.

And of course while the "border breach" brought temporary respite, it certainly did not resolve the deeper seeded Gaza crisis. Beyond the dramatic images of the border pilgrimage, the mass media is no longer interested in this issue. As far as they are concerned now, the situation has been resolved-Gaza's found a way out, so why the fuss?

Talk at Columbia University

On Thursday, for anyone in the NYC area, I am participating in a panel as part of a teach-in on Gaza at Columbia University. So much for Maternity Leave (Noor, incidentally, is coming with me)! Here is the pertinent information:

"GAZA: The Biggest Prison in the World?"
A Panel Discussion

THURSDAY FEBRUARY 14th 5:30-7:30pm
Location: 702 Hamilton, Columbia University

The Gaza Strip has been consistently described as the biggest prison in the world, with approximately 1.5 million people living in 139 square miles enclosed entirely within security barriers, where all movement in and out of Gaza, whether of people or of essential goods, can be cut off at any time byblockades.

Please join the Arab Student Association for a panel discussion that will explore the ongoing crisis on the ground, bringing together academic, journalistic and humanitarian perspectives.

Panel members:

Rashid KHALIDI: Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies in the Department of History and Director of the Middle East Institute at Columbia University

Idith ZERTAL: Professor of Contemporary History, Institute of Jewish Studies, The University of Basel, Switzerland

Andrew WHITLEY: Director of the Representative Office of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in New York

Laila El-HADDAD: Laila El-HADDAD: Palestinian journalist, filmmaker and photographer based between Gaza and the U.S. and writes principally for the al-Jazeera English website and the Guardian Unlimited. Frequently contributes to the BBC World Service, her work has also been published in the New Statesman, the International Herald Tribune, and and Le Monde Diplomatique. She recently co-directed the short film "Tunnel Trade" and maintains her own widely read blog.

MODERATOR: Nadia ABU EL-HAJ, Associate Professor, Department of
Anthropology, Barnard College, Columbia University

Monday, February 11, 2008

Should I be worried?

Acupuncture or torture? I'm not sure! But I found Yousuf's teddy bear pierced with toothpicks!

Friday, February 08, 2008

Pictures of Noor

I know these are late in coming...but I suppose a few sleepless weeks can do that to you ! That and having to update all the various sites...facebook, skype, etc. etc. !

More posts to come.

Yousuf shows Noor how to make the Spiderman sign with her hands!

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Gaza: From Prison to Zoo

Excellent article by good friend Darryl Li following his most recent visit to Gaza. In it, he describes the inhumane new Israeli policy of "essential humanitarianism":

In place of any legal framework the state has proposed – and the court has now endorsed – a seemingly simple standard for policy: once “essential humanitarian needs” are met, all other deprivation is permissible. If it is possible to ration fuel for hospitals and the sewage network, then Gaza’s economy need not play a role: “We do not accept the petitioners’ argument that ‘market forces’ should be allowed to play their role in Gaza with regard to fuel consumption.”

This logic reflects the radical transformation of Israel’s policy of blockade since the summer of 2007: from frequent and crippling closure to indefinite blockage of all but “essential humanitarian items.” Israel has shifted from trying to punish the Gazan economy to deciding that the economy is a dispensable luxury.

The policy shift is akin to treating Gazans not as prisoners but rather as animals; the Occupier as zoo-keeper, rather than prison warden.

The metaphor of the Gaza Strip as the world’s largest prison is unfortunately outdated. Israel now treats the Strip more like a zoo. For running a prison is about constraining or repressing freedom; in a zoo, the question is rather how to keep those held inside alive, with an eye to how outsiders might see them. The question of freedom is never raised.

The ongoing electricity crisis helps to illuminate this shift, so to speak.

In 2006, Israel decided that the best way to punish Gazans for the capture of one of its soldiers was a one-off, spectacular act of violence that would lead to widespread deprivation. Now it seeks similar results – the loss of electricity and the resulting disruption of everyday life – through more calibrated, long-term means. This shift in approach is akin to the difference between clubbing an unruly prisoner over the head to subdue him and taming an animal through careful regulation of leash and diet.

The Israeli court is complicit in all of this, acting more, he says, "as administrator than as adjudicator, a partner in the calibration of how much pain Gazans are to be made to feel."

Read the rest here.