On Sunday night Israeli forces attacked a convoy of human rights activists heading towards Gaza. While details are still emerging, various reports are claiming that at least 10 people have died and many more have been wounded in the attack. Usually I am not surprised by stories of Israel's atrocities: Israel violates human rights frequently, usually those of the occupied Palestinian population. But I was truly shocked to hear that Israel had the gall to deliberately murder international human rights activists. There can be no excuse for this action; no claims of "security" or "terrorism" can brush it aside. What Israel did on Sunday was barbaric, a shameful act that only further solidifies Israel's growing reputation as a pariah state.
The Free Gaza Movement activists (including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Maguire and former US Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney) are carrying various essentials that are very much needed in Gaza, which is one half of the physically divided Palestinian state. The impetus for the aid mission is the fact that Gazans are deprived of even the most basic necessities -- Israel's brutal blockade of Gaza ensures that the population lives in sheer misery. When the former United Nations High Commissioner for Human rights visited Gaza, she described the situation in stark terms: "Their whole civilization has been destroyed, I’m not exaggerating. It is almost unbelievable that the world does not care while this is happening." And keep in mind that quote came during a ceasefire period, when Israel was not rampaging through the region wantonly murdering civilians as they were during the Gaza massacre of 2008-9.
But one would not know that there is anything wrong in Gaza from listening to the Israeli leadership. Foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman commented that "There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza." Presumably Lieberman missed the UN report "Locked in: The humanitarian Impact of two years of blockade on the Gaza Strip" which noted the 41.5 percent unemployment rate in Gaza. The same report notes that in May 2008, 70 percent of Gazan families were living on an income of less than one dollar a day per person. John Holmes, UN undersecretary-general for Humanitarian Affairs, called the blockade a form of collective punishment.
Lieberman also shared his thoughts on the Free Gaza Flotilla, saying "The flotilla is an attempt at violent propaganda against Israel." Such delusional spin was appropriately ridiculed by Israeli columnist Gideon Levy, who wrote in Haaretz, "The Israeli propaganda machine has reached new highs its hopeless frenzy... It embarrassed itself by entering a futile public relations battle, which it might have been better off never starting. They want to maintain the ineffective, illegal and unethical siege on Gaza and not let the "peace flotilla" dock off the Gaza coast? There is nothing to explain, certainly not to a world that will never buy the web of explanations, lies and tactics."
As much as these events reflect poorly on Israel, as Americans we must also reflect on what Israel's violent acts mean for us. Some Americans believe that the United States is simply an impartial observer, and occasional honest broker, in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But nothing could be further from the truth. Israel receives the largest amount of US foreign aid of any country in the world. America also provides Israel diplomatic support: Amnesty International recently criticized the US in its annual report that the US helped obstruct international justice by using their veto power in the UN security council to prevent war crimes accountability for the Gaza Massacre. Another Amnesty International report showed the US was responsible for the manufacture of all white phosphorus shells used during the Gaza Massacre. This is only a small sample of a consistent pattern of unquestioning US support for Israeli militarism. As President Obama put it, America's "bond with Israel is unbreakable."
How much longer will the United States countenance the Israelis' atrocities? That largely depends upon the ability of the outrage of the citizenry to overcome the political inertia of the Israeli lobby, which is surely attempting to concoct an excuse to explain away the flotilla attack. But the facts are plain to anyone that cares to read them: the Israeli military killed and wounded peaceful activists looking to mitigate some of the anguish of the abhorrent Israeli blockade of Gaza. Americans that are truly concerned with human rights can only hope that the United States will conjure the courage necessary to actually advocate for the oppressed people in Gaza who are currently enduring a miserable existence. But at the very least we should demand that our government does not look the other way when Israel savagely kills international aid workers.
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