Sunday, July 31, 2011

From Selma to Gaza

Alice Walker reminds me of the grandmotherly "Oracle" in The Matrix series. You wait in her living room, foggy and frustrated by a world whose signs and symbols you can't decipher. She appears, sage and soft, with a warm plate of cookies and a down-home wisdom weathered by the years. She smiles, in earnest: "I think Israel is the greatest terrorist in that part of the world."

Walker is selling her involvement in Freedom Flotilla 2, the new, supernumerary mission to bring "aid" to the people of Gaza. While the humanitarian situation in Gaza remains dismal, things have improved since the Egyptian Revolution. The aid the new Flotilla intends to deliver is political, not practical.

There's a lot to behold in a human rights narrative that leads from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to the Free Gaza Movement. The moral transposition of Jews from victim to victor, the decay of authentic politics into gestural mimicries, the apparent inability of an icon to retire herself with the passing of her political moment -- there are many vectors of approach. Suffice it for now to say that running the Israeli sea blockade of Gaza is not your mother's political protest.

Actually, maybe it is: the anti-Zionist catechism was written in Soviet Moscow, and '68 revolutionaries helped pioneer anti-Jewish violent direct action on behalf of Palestine. The terrorist baton has passed from Marxist-Leninists to religious fanatics, but a Leftish rump survives to give aid and comfort to Muslim millenarians -- Hamas, Hezbollah and others they join in the solidarity of a broad "global Left".

The Free Gaza Movement, largely an accretion of Leftists, lunatics and Islamists, is the organ of this tendency behind the flotillas. One of its key constituents is the International Solidarity Movement, a "non-violent" groupuscule whose mission is to send young, idealistic Westerners to the Palestinian Territories to face life-threatening situations. Their injury or death can be laid at the feet of Israel; the holy grail is the death of a fresh-faced US citizen, which in addition to landing a body blow to Israel's image might sour relations between the Jewish state and its American benefactor.

The nucleus and driving force of the ISM is a married couple: Adam Shapiro, an apostate Jew from Brooklyn, and his wife Huwaida "Heidi" Arraf, a Palestinian-American. Arraf is striking: her individual features are beautiful -- big, blue-beryl eyes, a cupid's bow mouth, ropey, black-licorice hair -- but in a weird echo of her garbled peace activism, they crash together into a face that's just wrong. The eyes seem unmoored, parting from one another in a slow drift, as if into piscine placement. You can't engage the face.

Arraf emerged from the Detroit area's Arab community, where she cut her teeth shilling for Saddam in his struggle to evade UN sanctions, and moved on to Jerusalem, to join and then abandon a pro-Palestinian NGO for putting "too much emphasis on conflict resolution and peace". Things had moved too slowly for Heidi and her comrades during the Oslo era. These were somnolent years, trundling to a truncated Palestine. Then the suicide bombs of the Second Intifada hurried the human rights vanguard in a new direction. The focus on peaceful coexistence was replaced by Right of Return and implacable opposition to an increasingly elastic notion of "occupation". The ISM was founded. It was time to help shake things up, and faster, please.

What Howard Jacobson recently wrote of Walker and the flotilla describes the strategem hatched by the ISM: they began to recruit activists "... to blunder into where it isn't safe, clothed in the make-believe garments of the unworldly, speaking of children and speaking like children, half inviting a violence which can then be presented as a slaughter of the innocents." Rachel Corrie was crushed, Tom Hurndall was shot in the head, Brian Avery had his jaw shot in half. Others were maimed and killed. Heidi, now Huwaida in public, was responsible for recruiting the activists, and in the wake of the inevitable violence against them, she was like a fish-eyed angel of death, appearing for interviews, haunting the news, harvesting propaganda.

It's key to distinguish the ISM from the peace groups and humanitarian activists it mimics and cooperates with. Non-violent resistance has a hallowed history, enshrined in the Indian independence and American Civil Rights movements. The ISM traduces it by using the principle to shroud the practice of luring kids into a war zone to exploit their inevitable deaths. The median age of the eight ISM activists seriously injured or killed since 2002 is 24.* None had rank within the organization.

Another distinction worth making is the ISM is fundamentally different from, say, a group like B'Tselem. B'Tselem is a well-known Israeli NGO that monitors human rights in the territories occupied by Israel. It documents and publicizes abuses, mostly Israeli, because it is concerned about the moral hygiene of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. Ultimately it wishes to see Israel disencumber itself of corrosive occupation so it can thrive among the community of nations.

By contrast, the background of the key founders of the ISM informs its nature. Arraf is a radical Arab-American who "came to see," as Martin Luther King wrote of Black Power ideologues in Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, "that in spite of progress... conditions were still insufferable" and despaired of "positive nonviolent power". Adam Shapiro is a Jew who trumpets his apostasy when it isn't convenient to lend his activism the imprimatur of his Jewishness.

I don’t identify as Jewish. I see it as a religion rather than an ethnicity and, as I have no religious feelings, I don’t regard myself as Jewish.

The ISM is uninterested in a settlement with a Jewish state. Rather, while they cloak it in balmy rhetoric about human rights, the ISM wishes to see Israel dismantled and reformed into a binational, Arab-majority state. This is made clear in the Points of Unity of the Free Gaza Movement. To join the Movement, one must accept the Points, which conclude with an affirmation of the Right of Return:

We recognize the right of all Palestinian refugees and exiles and their heirs to return without delay to their homes in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, to recover their properties, and to receive compensation for damage, dispossession and unlawful use of such property, in accordance with international law. This is in the first instance an individual and not a collective right, and cannot be negotiated except by the individual.

Implemented like this, Israel would be deleted, unless it could negotiate non-residency and compensation with over 4.75 million individual Palestinians. The intention is clear and it aligns with the end goal of Hamas, with which the ISM happily coexists in Gaza. That the ISM wishes to reach the goal "non-violently" is no redemption. They actively partner with the IHH, which uses violence, and passively partner with Hamas. In the real world, Velvet Genocide is genocide.

The ISM is not a "peace" group. If Alice Walker makes it to Gaza, she will have left the legacy of Martin Luther King back in Selma.

* Two other ISM activists, including Vittorio Arrigoni, have also been killed, but by Palestinians outside of the context of protest or combat.

Written between 6/26/11 and 7/8/11.

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