Sanctions for Russia and a Green Light for Israel to Continue War Crimes

The moral duplicity in the U.S. political class is breathtaking. Squeezed in between news stories of the ongoing slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza, U.S.  President Barak Obama announced expanded economic sanctions against Russia for its’ alleged support for what the media calls “pro-Russian separatist forces” in Eastern Ukraine. The U.S. action could not have been a more dramatic illustration of the cognitive dissonance and ethical double standards of the Obama  administration and the U.S political class.

This action comes on the heels of unanimous resolutions from the U.S. Congress that placed the blame for the Israeli attack on Gaza on Hamas and defended Israel’s actions as legitimate acts of defense. The U.S. Congress resolutions stand in stark contrast to the United Nation’s Human Rights Committee vote to conduct an investigation into  war crimes in Gaza, as well as positions by Amnesty International and international law and human rights scholars and activists from around the world who determined that the Israeli military assault on Gaza violated most of the norms of international humanitarian and human rights law.

Members of the U.S. Congress and most of the corporate media missed what is obvious to many around the world—charges of Russian support for anti-government forces in Eastern Ukraine are still at the level of allegations, while the military support for the state of Israel is a matter of public record. And since it is undeniable that war crimes are being committed in Gaza, applying the same logic that the U.S. applied to the Russians, a logic that asserts that the Russians are morally and politically culpable in Eastern Ukraine, also condemns the U.S. as morally culpable for the war crimes being carried out by Israel. However, being morally and politically culpable becomes irrelevant when imperialist power translates into impunity for crimes against humanity.

By consigning Palestinian humanity to a lesser category, Democrats, Republicans and still too large a sector of the U.S. population, have once again demonstrated contempt for international law, human rights and a basic tenant of humanitarian principles – the equal value of all human life.

While people throughout the world are reacting with justifiable revulsion to the inhumane brutality of the Israeli military machine, U.S. politicians, including the new liberal darlings Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren give moral and political support to Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity, positions that further solidify the status of the U.S. as a rogue state.  A status of illegality that is embraced as a badge of honor for most U.S. politicians when it comes to Israel. As Harry Reid, the top democrat in the U.S. Senate asserts – defending Israel is not an partisan issue but an “American principle.”

Therefore, a permanent solution to the conflict will not come from the U.S. or political forces internal to the Israeli colonial state, and with over 80% of Israeli civil society in support of the current military assault on Gaza, nothing of any value toward justice will come from that sector either. This means that a process that can lead to a just solution of the Israel/Palestine issue can only be facilitated by the international community (international meaning beyond the U.S. and Europe).

However, in the short-term ending the carnage in Gaza should be the immediate priority. The Joint declaration by international Law experts on Israeli’s Gaza offensive represents a framework for that. In that statement they call for the international community:

“…to take action in the spirit of the utmost urgency to put an end to the escalation of violence against the civilian population of the Gaza Strip, and to activate procedures to hold accountable all those responsible for violations of international law, including political leaders and military commanders. In particular:

All regional and international actors should support the immediate conclusion of a durable, comprehensive, and mutually agreed ceasefire agreement, which must secure the rapid facilitation and access of humanitarian aid and the opening of borders to and from Gaza.”

Yet, tragically for Palestinians, as long as Israel and the U.S. are not forced to recognize Palestinian humanity and can violate their rights and dignity with impunity there appears to be no end in sight to Palestinian suffering.  After three weeks of air strikes, naval and land bombing, and a barbarous infantry assault, the request from Israel to the U.S. to replenish its depleted munitions, a request granted by the Obama administration, is a grotesque reminder of the criminality that conjoins both counties and condemns more Palestinians to death and destruction.

 

From Victim to Colonial Settler: Shifting the Paradigm on Israel

“… To be committed to justice we must believe that ethics matter, that it is vital to have a system of shared morality.” – Bell Hooks

“Out of nowhere many soldiers jumped out and ambushed Samir. They shot him first in the leg, yet he managed to run away towards the village. But how far can an injured child run? Twenty, maybe 30, meters? They could have easily arrested him, especially when he was injured, but instead they shot him in the back with live ammunition… To me this is premeditated murder.”[i]

Palestinian life is cheap – something Samir already understood from his short 16 years of living under occupation. For the friends and family of Samir and the thousands of other Samirs murdered by the Israeli military and settlers over the last four decades, Palestinian life will still be cheap when the shooting stops, the Israeli military withdraws its ground forces from Gaza, and daily life under occupation returns to the norm of low-intensity systematic state terror.

The killings, breaking of bones, firing of tear gas canisters into enclosed spaces, and the daily humiliation of checkpoints, separate roads and separating walls will continue and will continue to be daily reminders to Palestinians that they are different; lesser; expendable.

From these experiences, Palestinians understand – like many of us on the receiving end of the Western world’s “civilizing mission” – that the West’s claim to moral superiority by championing universal human rights and the rule of law is a grotesque lie.

Over the years, Palestinians have seen how they can be murdered in the hundreds and thousands with impunity and in the full glare of the mass media. And while most of the non-Western world is stunned by the indiscriminate viciousness of the Israeli attack, headlines in Western media outlets proclaim “Hamas lays siege on Israel” and “Hamas terrorizes Israel”—as though the over one thousand lives of murdered Palestinians are completely irrelevant and devoid of value.

The devaluing of Palestinian life is in stark contrast to the concern for the dignity of the remains of the victims of Malaysia Airlines flight M17, recently shot down over Ukraine. It is also reflected in the arguments of the Israeli propagandists, who imply that Western news media should stop covering the deaths of Palestinian civilians because it satisfies the strategic objective of the “Hamas terrorists.”

The scenes of carnage – Palestinian bodies littering the streets of Shujaiya; whole families packed into cars, desperately trying to flee the onslaught of Israeli rockets and naval bombardments; and a vicious scorched-earth ground operation in which whole communities are free-fire zones for Israelis, have still not been enough to generate much empathy  for the lives of Palestinians for many in the U.S. A recent Gallop poll of opinion in the U.S. suggests that 71% of the respondents who claim to follow the Israeli-Palestinian conflict closely say that Israeli actions in Gaza are justified. [ii]

And in Western capitals, the defenders of “universal” human rights proudly proclaim their unwavering support for Israel’s right of “defense” against a captured and largely defenseless people who are supposed to have special protections under international law.

The moral positions taken by many people in the West, especially in the U.S., confirms the existence of an ethical double-standard – one in which the actions of the Israeli state are framed as legitimate, reasonable and deserving of support, and one in which all acts of resistance on the part of the captured and oppressed Palestinians are seen as criminal, immoral and terroristic. [iii]

The ethical double-standards for non-Europeans versus Europeans – or those who are associated with white power and European civilization, like the Israeli state – are grounded in a generalized acceptance of the civilizational superiority of the West and the division of humanity between those “like us” and “others” who have different standards of human behavior.

This division has always been a fundamental component of white supremacist thought that justified the conquest, pillage and exploitation of most of the non-Western world. The violence of slavery, genocide of Native Americans and colonialism found its defenders among liberals and within the contradictory framework of Eurocentric, male-centered liberalism that divided humanity between those eligible for the full enjoyment of human rights – European male, capitalist property owners and eventually most people categorized as “white” irrespective of class and gender – and everyone else.

The “white man’s burden” “manifest destiny,” the “doctrine of discovery,” “American exceptionalism” – and their 21st century expression in humanitarian intervention and the responsibility to protect – these are all expressions of the arrogant pathology of the white supremacist worldview.

It is this sublimated framework that Israeli propagandists skillfully appeal to, in order to generate the continued moral and political support for their policies with large segments of the populations of Europe and especially within the white supremacist settler-state of the U.S.

Constructed as an uncivilized, barbarous, terrorist organization, Hamas has been effectively de-humanized – along with all of the Palestinian people of Gaza, since they voted for Hamas in the elections of 2006.  In contrast, Israel is juxtaposed as innocent, civilized and humane.

Projecting itself as a superior civilization, Israel attempts to immunize itself from human rights charges, since as a “civilized” (read “Western”), humane and rational society, Israel by definition cannot be accused of engaging in massive human rights violations.

Instead it is the actions of the Palestinian resistance fighters that are highlighted, because that resistance provides a convenient weapon in the narrative created by Israel of Palestinian “otherness” where their legitimate resistance is instead twisted into being further evidence of their sub-human status.

According to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Natahuyu, the value of human life is different for Palestinians and their leadership who want more dead Palestinians so that they can use “telegenically dead Palestinians”[iv] for their cause. The logical corollary to this position is that it is perfectly understandable and justifiable that Israel is forced to kill hundreds of “them” in order to ensure Israeli security from these “barbarous” people who have a natural propensity towards violence, if they are not contained and periodically terrorized into submission.

For activists in solidarity with Palestinian desires for national self-determination, undermining the hegemony of the “innocent settler” narrative is imperative in order to counter the propaganda that justifies Israeli state and settler violence. To do so means centering colonialism and white supremacy as the grounding analytical categories and conceptual framework.

This is not necessarily a new argument or one that has not been embraced by some, but for various reasons, including bogus charges of anti-Semitism, many in the U.S. progressive and radical communities have eschewed this approach over the years.

The other challenge is that the “white supremacist” term has been domesticated and reduced to a crude and relatively simple notion of “racism.” In this context, white supremacists and white supremacy is represented by easy targets like Donald Sterling and Tea Party members, while racialized imperialism is overlooked.

In order to re-position Israel in the public imagination, activists must overcome both of these issues if movements for solidarity and justice such as the growing boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement have any chance of being effective solidarity mechanisms.

Liberated from the racist bias of the colonial/imperialist lens that casts Israelis as victims, Israeli state actions and policies in Gaza are then stripped of the obfuscating claims of self-defense and concerns for Palestinian civilians. And ending ethical double standards by applying one standard informed by the principles of human equality and the rejection of all forms of dehumanizing oppression would clearly identify the real victims in the ongoing drama of the Israel/Palestinian conflict – and it would not be the state of Israel.

Ajamu Baraka is a human rights activist, organizer and geo-political analyst.  Baraka is an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) in Washington, D.C. and editor and contributing columnist for the Black Agenda Report. His latest publications include contributions to two recently published books “Imagine: Living in a Socialist USA” and “Claim No Easy Victories: The Legacy of Amilcar Cabral.” He can be reached at info.abaraka@gmail.com and www.AjamuBaraka.com

 

[i]Malek Murrar, 16, interviewed on 20 September 2013 at the site where he had witnessed his friend Samir Awad being murdered by Israeli security forces, see Trigger-Happy: Israel’s use of Excessive force in the West Bank” http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/MDE15/002/2014/en/349188ef-e14a-418f-ac20-6c9e5c8d9f88/mde150022014en.pdf

[ii]http://www.vox.com/2014/7/24/5934837/gallup-israel-gaza-americans

[iii] The analysis here and what follows was greatly influence by the work of Cyra A. Choudhury, see “Comprehending “our” Violence: Reflections on the Liberal Universalist Tradition, National Identity and the War in Iraq,” Muslim World Journal of Human Rights, volume 3,Issue 1, 2006.

[iv]http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/israelgaza-conflict-the-myth-of-hamass-human-shield-9619810.html

 

Witness to an International Crime: Israeli State Terrorism in Gaza

“Protective Edge,” the cartoonish name given to the latest Israeli military offensive against the occupied people of Palestine, is representative of the inverted reality whereby the 1.7 million captive and largely defenseless Palestinians in Gaza are the vicious aggressors against the peace-loving settlers of Israel. Similar to the inverted reality in the U.S., where the myth of the innocent settler was created to justify the systematic slaughter of Indigenous peoples, the genocidal policies of Israel are camouflaged by the transformation of its position from an armed colonial invader to one of victim.

This repositioning is aided and abetted in the U.S. by a corporate media whose world view and angle of reporting is framed by the innocent settler narrative. This narrative simultaneously liquidates and normalizes the colonial relationship between the colonizer and the colonized so that the occupied territories are not occupied but transformed into “disputed” territories and all forms of resistance on the part of Palestinians becomes terroristic.

Informed by this imperial vision, the corporate media not only parrot Israel’s victim narrative but go even further with the creation of the two-equal-sides fiction. Mainstream coverage laments how both sides are locked in battle or a spiral of violence, giving the absurd impression that the violence in the occupied territories is a conflict between two forces with similar power and equal moral standing.

It should be clear that attempting to conceptually equate the force of the state of Israel, one of the most powerful militaries in the world, with a resistance movement of a captive people trapped by land and sea in an open-air concentration camp on one of the most densely populated strips of land on the planet is a position that is fundamentally immoral. Yet for most editors and reporters in the U.S., pro-Zionist liberals and their counterparts in the Christian Zionist movement as well as some elements of the European press and public, the conceptual blinders of white supremacist colonial consciousness makes it impossible to see the immorality inherent in this construction of the so-called conflict.

The position for most of the world is that the latest assault on the Palestinian people is a war crime and an ongoing crime against humanity. That position was affirmed by the international Court of Justice, which ruled that as an occupying military power Israel has an obligation under the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 to protect the rights of civilians under military occupation.

Within this legal framework, the killing of civilians under occupation, indiscriminate shelling of Palestinian communities, collective punishments, house demolitions, arbitrary imprisonment, the theft of water and other natural resources and the building of settlements in occupied territories are all considered war crimes and crimes against humanity.

That is the real story that should be communicated to the general public in the U.S. But instead, the public is being led to believe that the Israeli military assault is a legally and morally justified response to aggression from Hamas. From this perspective there is no special responsibility on the part of the Israeli authorities to protect the rights of Palestinians under military occupation, and the actions of the Israeli government in response to the killings of the three Israeli teenagers is seen as a measured and rational response.

Colonialism and the humanitarian fraud

Only the most naive believe the current military assault has anything to do with “defense” issues related to the symbolic resistance offered from Hamas via the firing of rockets into Israel. Honest commentators on this issue know that Israel provoked the response from the Palestinian resistance with the mass repression it launched in Gaza after the killings of the three Israeli teenagers in order to use the response to justify its attack on Hamas. An attack meant to destroy the newly established unity government of the Palestinians.

The colonialist mentality sees any resistance, no matter the form, as illegitimate, punishable by death and unrelenting terror. That message is clear for Palestinians as their homes are reduced to dust and the people dig out the bodies of their children, spouses, fathers and grandmothers. The other message communicated to Palestinians, once again, and which they understand all too well, is that compared to the lives of the settlers their lives are worthless and there is no “responsibility to protect” for them.

The assault on the people and the institutions of Gaza has as its objective the eradication of the people of Gaza – not necessarily in the physical sense, only because at this stage in global consciousness any such attempt would galvanize universal opposition, but to erase Gaza as a functioning society, to destroy it politically, culturally, spiritually and psychologically. A process that IIan Pappe refers to as “incremental genocide, that whatever the label is terroristic in its’ most naked, brutal and devastating effect.

When genocide or systematic ethnic cleansing is not a viable option, reducing the indigenous population to a weak, terrorized and dependent condition is the next best thing for settler policy. The targeting of the civilian infrastructure and governing institutions by the Israeli military makes it clear that this is the objective of the current attack on Gaza.

The international community has failed to hold the Israeli state accountable for war crimes and other serious violations of international law over the last four decades. Human rights organizations and United Nations special procedures have produced detailed reports on the crimes committed by Israel over the last four decades without the perpetrators being brought to justice. And when it comes to Israel, humanitarian intervention and the responsibility to protect is exposed as the imperialist ideological construct that it is.

Images of Palestinian children being dug out of bombed-out residential buildings have not resulted in calls for humanitarian intervention to save a population that may be the most brutalized on the planet today. Instead weak and pathetic calls are made for “both sides” to show restraint and protect “civilians” as though a distinction can be made or is ever made between combatants and non-combatants when it is the whole people who are seen as the enemy by Israeli authorities.

Richard Falk, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights points out the hypocrisy of the West when it comes to Israel.

“…instead of condemning such recourse to massive violence as “aggression” that violates the UN Charter and fundamental international law principles, the reaction of Western diplomats and mainstream media has perversely sided with Israel. From the UN Secretary-General to the president of the United States, the main insistence has been that Hamas must stop all rocket attacks while Israel is requested ever so politely to show “maximum restraint“.

What is the future for Palestine? Is reconciliation possible within the context of an ongoing colonial relationship? Is a two-state solution still viable with more than 500,000 settlers occupying almost half of the land that was supposed to be the Palestinian state, a land base that is just 22 percent of original Palestine before the establishment of Israel?

Frantz Fanon argues that:

One world, either that of the settler or that of the native, must be destroyed to bring the colonial system to an end. Not simply a military defeat or a political deal – the total destruction of the other mode of living.

As the Israelis continue to steal Palestinian land, murder, degrade and humiliate Palestinian people, and create “facts on the ground” that make it impossible to establish a viable, independent Palestinian state, it is becoming clear that the only solution to the original sin of the Zionist project is authentic decolonization where the presence, humanity and sovereignty of the colonized is restored.

Authentic decolonization is the only solution because the inner logic of the colonial/capitalist process suggests that Fanon’s assertion is correct – that there can be no reconciliation of Palestinian self-determination and independent development with the continuation of the Israeli state as a settler state. Because even within the framework of the so-called two state solution, the material basis of the Israeli colonial project is dependent on the continued expansion and expropriation of Palestinian land and the subordination of Palestinian people.

So while some Palestinians and their supporters still hope for a two-state solution, Israeli rulers also understand Fanon’s position that “only one mode of living will survive” and are moving to destroy Palestinian resistance. This is the real story of Gaza and all of the occupied territories – an ongoing crime that degrades all of us who are forced to witness it.