Friday, July 29, 2011


Dear Friends,

PIAG's Dispatch for August is devoted to a message that was
meticulously stenciled in large letters on three kilometers of the
"separation wall" between Israel and the West Bank. The "open
letter," written and read aloud on YouTube by South African
theologian Farid Esack, is a beautiful statement of solidarity
between South Africans who lived through apartheid and the
Palestinian people today.

Esack speaks of the similarities between Palestinians and black South Africans during the South African struggle for independence, but points out that the oppression of Palestinians is worse:

White South Africa did of course seek to control Blacks. However it never tried to deny Black people their very existences or to wish them away completely as we see here. We have not experienced military occupation without any rights for the occupied. We were spared the barbaric and diverse forms of collective punishment in the forms of house demolitions, the destruction of orchards belonging to relatives of suspected freedom fighters, or the physical transfer of these relatives themselves. South Africa's apartheid courts never legitimized torture. White South Africans were never given a carte blanche to humiliate Black South Africans as the Settlers here seem to have. The craziest Apartheid zealots would never have dreamt of something as macabre as this Wall. The Apartheid police never used kids as shields in any of their operations. Nor did the apartheid army ever use gunships and bombs against largely civilian targets. In South Africa the Whites were a stable community and after centuries simply had to come to terms with Black people. (Even if it were only because of their economic dependence on Black people.) The Zionist idea of Israel as the place for the ingathering for all the Jews – old and new, converts, reverts and reborn is a deeply problematic one. In such a case there is no sense of compulsion to reach out to your neighbour. The idea seems to be to get rid of the old neighbours – ethnic cleansing - and to bring in new ones all the time.

Esack's letter also touches on profound general questions such as
the nature of morality, the limits to objectivity in situations of
oppression, the irony of resisting evil when it is considered
unfashionable, and why Palestinian liberation represents the
"unfinished business" of South Africa's struggle for a moral society.

If you would like to read or keep the text, it can be found here, on
the site of Jewish Peace News:

Speak out,
Helen Fox
Convener, Palestine Israel Action Group (PIAG)
Ann Arbor Friends Meeting
Ann Arbor, Michigan

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Flotilla II

PIAG’s dispatch for July follows the fate of the second Freedom Flotilla to Gaza that is (today, July 5) languishing in the port of Athens, prohibited from sailing out of the harbor by Greek authorities on the dubious premise that the eight ships carrying humanitarian cargo and well-wishes from friends around the world, are “not seaworthy.”

One of the 320 activists from 22 countries who have booked passage on the flotilla is the novelist and poet, Alice Walker. She writes: “Our boat, The Audacity of Hope, will be carrying letters to the people of Gaza. Letters expressing solidarity and love. That is all its cargo will consist of.

If the Israeli military attacks us, it will be as if they attacked the mailman. This should go down hilariously in the annals of history. But if they insist on attacking us, wounding us, even murdering us, as they did some of the activists in the last flotilla, Freedom Flotilla I, what is to be done?”

Alice Walker’s solidarity with the Palestinian people arises from her conviction that Palestinians are facing the same kinds of racist violence that her grandparents suffered in the U.S South two generations ago. In sailing on the Audacity of Hope, she is “paying off a debt to the Jewish civil rights activists who faced death to come to the side of black people in the South in our time of need.”

Israel's right wing government has gone to great lengths to stop the flotilla and to convince ordinary Israelis that the ships pose a grave danger to the state. Israeli news has been filled with fear mongering and lies: that the flotilla is a serious threat to Israel’s security; that the ships are full of terrorists; that the Palestinians are doing splendidly without humanitarian assistance, and so on. Writing in Ha’aretz, columnist Gideon Levy – one of the few voices of calm – reflects that Israel has become “a society of force and violence,” both in its actions and its rhetoric. Simply describing the flotilla passengers as “social activists and fighters for peace and justice” is difficult, Levy writes, “since they have already been described as thugs.” The media and government have employed “all the buzzwords: danger, chemical substances, hand-to-hand combat, Muslims, Turks, Arabs, terrorists and maybe some suicide bombers.” This is a recurring pattern, Levy says, “first demonization, then legitimization (to act violently).”

In addition to its disinformation campaign, Israel seems to have sabotaged at least one of the ships in the flotilla. Apparently, divers cut a piece out of the propeller shaft of the Irish vessel, an act that would have caused the ship to sink, had it not been discovered in time.

In a message sent to news editors around the world, Israel’s Government Press Office warned international journalists to stay away from the flotilla, lest they be banned from entering Israel for up to ten years, a threat that even Israel’s Foreign Press Association called “a chilling message to the international media,” that raises “serious questions about Israel’s commitment to freedom of the press.”

The U.S. government, too, has spoken out against the flotilla, calling the nonviolent action “unhelpful,” “unnecessary,” and a “provocation” to the Israeli military, despite the fact that Israel’s blockade of Gaza is illegal according to international law.

Most recently, the Greek government, which is in no position to defy powerful countries that might help save its floundering economy, has refused to let any of the ships docked at the port of Athens to leave the harbor.

Why does such an innocuous mission so disturb the Israeli government and its allies in the Obama administration? Is nonviolent resistance so powerful that it can strike fear into two nuclear armed nations? Apparently so.

In “Waiting for Godot on the Gaza Flotilla,” Mark Levine writes that the political and strategic implications of the unarmed flotilla are quite real. “They symbolize that Palestinians and their international supporters are refusing to play by Israel's rules, and are forcing the Israeli state to reveal the basic, ugly immorality of an occupation that has always presented itself as a necessary if unfortunate act of self-defense. In short, the flotilla constitutes a provocation, a declaration to Israel that it does not own every aspect of Palestinian existence and that Palestinians too have their international supporters who, if not as militarily and financially powerful as the U.S. government and the various arms of the Israel lobby, are coming into their own as a force to be reckoned with. . . And for Israel, losing power over Palestinians would mean not merely the end of the occupation, but the end of Israel as an ethnocentric Jewish state . . .”

All this drama reminds me of the outrage that George Fox incurred with his simple act of refusal to take off his hat in the 17th century courtroom to the judge -- or in fact, “to any, high or low.” “Oh, the rage and scorn, the heat and fury that arose!” he writes. “Oh the blows, punchings, beatings, and imprisonments that we underwent for not putting off our hats to men!” Jessamyn West explains in her preface to The Quaker Reader: “The dangerous principle [a judge] sees – and fears – is . . . that of the individual who dares question the authority of the state over the person.”

As Alice Walker waits in Athens for the outcome of this small, yet weighty challenge to the violence of the state, she writes to the people of Gaza – and to us:

The whole world
is watching
& it is
wondering how
turn out.

They are making
it hard
for us to move
& sometimes
we are
in despair
but I remind
that you
of all people

They know this place
we are in, I say,

of not
being able to move.
They know it
This place of stalemate
& stagnation, so unbearable
to any heart
that’s free
is where they

They will forgive
if we do not
on time.

© Alice Walker, from “Sailing the Hot Streets of Athens, Greece.”