Dec 31, 2008

Israel Attacks Gaza, Demonstrations in Los Angeles

This week I was invited to blog over at The Best of the Blogs, and put up my first post there after returning yesterday from the protest demonstrations in Los Angeles at the Federal Building in Westwood and on Wilshire Boulevard across from the Israeli Consulate. The piece is entitled "Los Angeles Protests Against Israel's Attacks on Gaza." I will also add Best of Blogs to the sidebar. Check out the site. In future I will cross link when I put up a post there, but for today, here's the essay:

Los Angeles Protests Against Israel's Attacks on Gaza

I just returned from two demonstrations this afternoon and evening down in Los Angeles, the first, at the site of the 17 story Federal Building a few blocks from the UCLA campus brought out about 150-200 protesters at one of the country's busiest intersections, received some media coverage from local stations, and, since Mike Farrell was there, an on-site interview. Thousands of cars pass the corner every rush hour. I was disappointed that more horns weren't sounded. Some people looked absolutely dumbfounded.

The second demonstration, near the edge of Beverly Hills, on the south side of Wilshire Blvd. across from the Israeli Consulate, was loud, raucous, full of energy and chanting, Palestinian flags waving, a few lighted votive candles in plastic cups, red and black kafiyehs (almost as many worn as scarves by non-Muslim women as by the men) and women with head covering--I would estimate at least two thousand protesters. Many teenagers and small kids, families, grandfathers and grandmothers.

On the north side of Wilshire about a hundred counter protesters waved Israeli flags and--to their credit, also held some signs calling for Peace Now and a Ceasefire. Los Angeles police had closed off this extremely long block of Wilshire and were out in full force. (Beverly Hills cops had a contingent stationed on their border about a quarter of a mile away, night sticks at the ready, no doubt anticipating some violence. They were disappointed and joking with each other when I walked back to my car after nearly three hours of protest--and the protest was still going on.)

I want to make sure that the contrast between the two is held in mind, because it says something very important about the our perception, here in the US and especially here in California, of the Palestinian-Israeli situation. At the end of this post, I will return to this matter.

In full disclosure, I have connections with both Jews and Palestinians. I have old friends who are strong believers in Israel's right to exist and who will reject out of hand any criticism of its actions. Their adherence to Israel has a dark underside, however, as I have discovered over the years. I also know and am good friends with Jews who are strongly against and critical of the policies and actions of the Israeli government. They are also set firmly against the US's unblinking, uncritical, and unwavering support for all Israeli actions. My Palestinian friends are mostly Christian Palestinians, which I have found gives me some interesting insight into the situation.

Yesterday, when Jerry and Josh extended their invitation to me to post on Best of the Blogs, I was attempting to prepare--unsuccessfully, as it turned out--a sign for today's protests. Had all gone well, I would have transferred to a large Styrofoam poster board images from Picasso's "Guernica" and the slogan "No More Guernicas." Since the Israeli attacks on Gaza, Picasso's image of that devastated Basque village has been haunting more people than I.

The Picasso images are etched into our collective consciousness. The Palestinian images will not be unless you take the time to search for them. They won't appear in the mainstream media. Check out Al Jazeera English if you want to be "fair and balanced." I know a little bit about the circumstances of Picasso's protest, and I feel quite sure that for Picasso the monumental painting probably flowed from similar outrage I had been feeling over the past few days. (As it turned out, I couldn't finish the poster, but there was a fellow about my age sitting at the first protest who carried a sign, "Guernica, SrebeniƧa, now Gaza! When will it End?" So the point was made at least verbally.)

I was stewing in my anger and glad for the opportunity to join in some public protest when I checked out Josh's post, "Is Israel Using Bush for Cover This Time?" and so the rest of my comments respond to his post--with more information about today's protest actions:

Josh's post inspired a few thoughts while I was contemplating Picasso's "Guernica":

The Gaza=Guernica analogy is not an original comparison--the Guernica air massacre as well as the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto-- comes from Ali Abunimeh on the Monday, December 29, 2008 Democracy Now! broadcast. I encourage you to listen to the eye-witness accounts and Abunimeh's and Gideon Levy's comments. I myself haven't felt rage like this since the first images of civilian casualties came across the internet after the first "shock and awe" attacks on Iraq in March of 2003. I feel the intrinsic truth of Abunimeh's analogies and find it hard to fault the reasoning:

--Guernica for the bombing of civilians with the partial intention of testing munitions and techniques (the Israelis are using the latest US ordinance including mini-bunker busters).

--Warsaw for the compression of the resistance into a small space, the starving and the closing of escape routes and then the systematic invasion and house to house massacres. For unless there is a cease-fire, I suspect that tanks and armored foot soldiers from the IDF will follow through the fences. Of course, the implicit analogy with the perpetrators of both mid twentieth century catastrophes leaves the completion of the IDF=Luftwaffe/SS equation unstated, but in this case, I think it's well-deserved. Such extensive killings have not been done by Israel since 1967, perhaps 1948.

It is clear, if you follow the actual historical events since the start of the ceasefire, that Israel has been successfully goading Hamas through its embargoes, restrictions, closures, collective punishment and actual attacks, hoping for the rockets to come in response. The cease-fire was always fragile, but Israel of course, was the first to violate the cease-fire with the November 4th attack on a tunnel, killing six (and using the US Elections as a partial press cover). And of course, along with the continuing humanitarian crimes from the border closure and refusal to let food and medicine into Gaza, the Kassams come in retaliation.

The Palestinian people have not been well-served by their officials, though indeed enough betrayals and concessions by their leaders have been made over two decades that I now truly believe that Israel has not received these concession in good faith. The Israeli leaders and conservative political parties have other aims in mind, going back to the late thirties: how to gain possession of all of Palestine. The departing moral coward Ehud Olmert made a revealing speech to that effect last month when he referred to the actions as a "pogrom." If Israel had acted in good faith twenty years ago, thirty years ago, today we might be celebrating the third decade of a wary or an uneasy economic relationship in a two-state solution, rather than despairing at the cruelty of the Israeli government, the bankrupt morality of the United States foreign policy, the collusion of Egypt, and the absolutely knee-jerk predictability of the most radical and violent factions of Palestinian resistance.

Josh, your comments on the situation in Gaza are perceptive (though I would argue that your use of the word "stunt" is perhaps too lightly chosen given what's going on) and is probably an accurate read, but as Gideon Levy has said to Amy Goodman, the calculations in terms of the Israeli domestic politics are a pretty complicated part of the equation that we know little about.

I do think you give Obama and his foreign policy team too much leeway. I am willing to bet you a good bottle of California wine that after he takes office his public position will be in line with the Bushites' of yesterday and today. That is, it will be just as dilatory and morally reprehensible a response as was the Bushites' and the Brits' response to Lebanon II in 2007, failing to condemn and call for a cessation of violence on both sides and failing even to comment on Israel's overwhelmingly disproportional aggression. As of Tuesday afternoon over three hundred Palestinians have been killed, over 600 wounded.

I will gladly lose the bet on the wine; but I think I will not. My reasoning? Obama set a little noted pattern in his response to the Georgian invasion of South Ossetia this past August. He at first called for both sides to cool down and to get the UN involved. Very statesmanlike, I thought. Then he backtracked and eventually fell in line with John McCain and the US State Department, in condemning Russia and completely ignoring the facts, which were that Georgia had miscalculated, started the war, and then got their ass kicked. The REAL sequence of events has been conclusively documented by now, but anyone who watched the foreign press knew immediately that Sakashvili was the culprit, probably goaded on by Randy Scheuneman, McCain's Senior foreign policy adviser and lobbyist for the Georgian Government itself. With Hillary Clinton as Obama's appointment to the State department (and if she is confirmed, can the blinkered and morally crippled Dennis Ross and Martin Indyk be far behind?) and Rahm Emanuel (Israeli and American citizen both) as the chief of staff, I will be very surprised if Obama exhibits any of his earlier sympathies for the Palestinian friends he had in Chicago before he started running for office.

It would be nice to think that he consults at least once a year with his old friend Rashid Khalidi, but I wouldn't hold my breath. (If only someone consulted with Khalidi once a decade!)

Yet, as we all know, these politicians who blindly support Israel, no matter how horrific the action, really know what's going on. They know what Israel is doing to both the Hamas members and the grandmas and babies and young teenagers. They know how out of proportion it is. "Speaking truth to power" as the misty-eyed liberals pride themselves on doing, is not something to be proud of. The powerful ones know what the truth is. They don't care, or if they care they just don't have the political guts or the moral courage even to let on that they know or that there is another side to the argument.

You would search for a long time to find any mention in the American press of these initial recent Israeli attacks as being made when children were coming home from the first shift at school, or that since then the University, mosques, hospitals and markets have been targets as well (the rubric is to call them all "Hamas targets" or "terrorist targets," and the robotic American Press dances to the rubric). In the mean time, if you want to see the truth, check out the International Press, or Al Jazeera English, or go on You-Tube and look at some videos.

That ain't lipstick on a pig, folks, that's real blood coming from the head of the little boy (see the original picture on the Democracy Now! link). And back to the videos, that little 8 year old girl looks gray because she lost a lot of blood. The baby's shrapnel wound is real and bleeding into the tiny shirt. Of course, according to Tzipi Livni's and Ehud Barak's and Bibi Netanyahu's logic just prior to becoming collateral damage these little terrorist brats set off Kassam rockets, didn't they? Need a little Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now here, do we? The horror, the horror!

My favorite from today is that Bibi observed how at least a million Israelis were threatened by the Kassams, without the slightest nod to the truth that 1.5 million Palestinians are crammed into a 139 square miles, the densest population on the earth, and are being hit pretty viciously with rockets and shells hundreds of times more accurate than Kassams. Those of you from gun-toting backgrounds will probably know the phrase about shooting fish in a barrel. It's applicable here. It's also wonderful to know that we citizens of the US are paying a good bit of cash for those weapons and helicopters and jets.

There was a tiny demonstration in Anaheim on Sunday to protest the Israeli aggression (Anaheim is about 40 miles away in Orange County which has a very large Muslim and Arabic population). I didn't check emails until late Sunday evening and missed the information and couldn't drive down. Word was it was a feeble demonstration. So I am glad I got to both demonstrations in Los Angeles. They weren't feeble.

An interesting observation--local Muslim and Palestinian groups (also ANSWER and the Campaign to End Israeli Apartheid-Los Angeles--radical Israeli citizens and Jewish American Anti-Zionists, in favor, as am I, of boycotts against Israel), demonstrate in front of the Israeli consulate at 4:30 and asked for signs and flags in solidarity, while the LA Jews for Peace and ICAHD folks demonstrate out in Westwood at the Federal Building at 3:30 and specifically ask for "NO FLAGS please since our message is internationalism and humanism, not nationalism." Unfortunately, the Palestinian flags showed up, one of them waved by a new acquaintance--a Nigerian woman who was just made an American Citizen last Friday. She was so mad that she hadn't able to vote, so after I congratulated her, I told her she'd have a real choice in four years.

The two demonstrations show a major split in the protest. My heart is with the anti-Zionists and the boycott and the loud and impassioned demonstration across from the Consulate, where I spent most of my protest time--though I knew more people at the humanism rally out near the monolith of the Federal building, the stone side wall windowless and towering 17 stories high, the perfect image for this blank-faced government that won't acknowledge, not to mention respond to, the case for the overwhelming majority of the Palestinians who suffer the indignities and violence of subjugated life under the Occupation. My heart used to be with the humanists and internationalists, but I have spent too long watching the news and reading the history.

Many of the humanist people--Jewish and non-Jewish alike--but less so this past year, still cling to the idea of a "two state solution." The more one despairs of Israel ever accepting the proposals that have been made, the more one watches the settlements expand and replicate with no disapproval from our government, the more one sees the appropriations of territory in Jerusalem, the house demolition, the settler on Palestinian violence, the less one believes in a two-state solution. Of course, that is the problem--some members of the Jewish groups asking for partisan politics are justifiably afraid to be branded as being "pro-Palestinian"or "anti-Semitic" if they criticize Israel and lose what they hope is their "leverage" on the majority (and quite silent) Jewish community in the US. The pro-Zionist community in Los Angeles is very strong and probably duplicates the AIPAC-dominated climate in Washington, DC or New York City. Or perhaps the advocates of the non-political stance hope to "make a point" with this corrupt and cynical outgoing government as if it gave a good goddamn.

On the Palestinian side of the boulevard, as far back from the curb and the waving Palestinian flags as he could get, stood a thin and slight fellow wearing a yarmulke and holding a sign with this message: "Here is one Jew who supports justice for the Palestinians against a murderous Zionist State." And as I found out earlier in the day, on the other side of Wilshire Boulevard, though I could not identify him in the darkness, was one of my oldest and dearest friends, former mentor and colleague, at whose house my family attended Seder, and who told me on the phone he didn't have time to see me at his office this afternoon. He was headed out to an appointment, he said, to counter-demonstrate in front of the Israeli Consulate. He hoped I would be safe and not get hurt. I hope he was the one holding the sign calling for a ceasefire.

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