Now They’re Just Engaging in a Polemic: Pirates, Blockades, & the Rulers Who Back Them

This week Palestine was admitted as a member state into UNESCO by a overwhelming majority of 107 to 14. Among the states voting against Palestine’s admission into this international body was the United States, a systematic violator of international law and the staunchest ally of the state of Israel. Moments after this decision a press conference was held with Department of State spokesperson Victoria Nuland. In this conference, which exemplified the State Department’s callous disregard for human rights, Nuland made clear the nature of US policy in the Middle East.

In contrast to the normally deferential tone of “journalists” who enjoy rubbing shoulders with the powerful, AP reporter Matthew Lee asked Nuland why 107 states “would possibly do something…so horrible and detrimental to [the peace] process” and “how [admitting Palestine to UNESCO] undermines the peace process, other than the fact that it upsets Israel.” Visibly bothered by this rare display of genuine journalism, Nuland dismissively responded that Lee was “engaging in  a polemic”, essentially saying that such concerns were beyond discussion.
Nuland’s distaste for this brand of “polemic” was likely refreshed the next day when a group of peace activists from Ireland, Canada, and the US boarded a ship in Turkey to set sail for the Gaza Strip . This new ship set sail under the name Tahrir. This action, dubbed by one of the travelers as the “second wave” of opposition to the Israeli blockade, stands as a testament to the persistence of hope in the face of one of the most grievous human rights crises of the 21st century. This criminal blockade, which has been condemned by several independent sources from the Center for Constitutional Rights who called the it “unlawful under international law” to the International Committee of the Red Cross who stated “the whole of Gaza’s civilian population is being punished for acts for which they bear no responsibility”, has received decisive, if not unilateral, support from the United States, contributing to the colonization of an entire nation of people.

Much like the Mavi Marmara from 2010 and the Audacity of Hope from this summer, the Tahrir was intercepted in international waters by the Israeli navy and blasted into submission with water cannons. It will be instructive to observe how the Obama administration reacts to this illegal act of piracy against a humanitarian ship that poses no credible threat to any civilian population or military force. This observation is even conceded in internal documents released by the US State Department which describe the attempt to break the blockade as a “deliberately provocative” and “political” statement but nothing more. These courageous people were simply attempting to shed light on the oppressive conditions that the Palestinian people have had to endure under this blockade, conditions which include the fact that 40,000 Palestinian children were unable to attend school simply because the Israeli authorities prohibited any construction materials from entering the occupied territories. In addition to this, thousands of Palestinians are deprived of adequate medical care, a detail that the Tahrir travelers were well aware of as reflected in their decision to bring boxes of medical supplies with them on this journey. Many of these facts are consistent with February 16, 2010 Wikileaks cable authored by the US ambassador to Israel. In this document, Israeli General, Amos Gilad, responds to the intensifying protests in the occupied territories by saying “we don’t do Gandhi very well.” Gilad’s uncharacteristically honest statement was accompanied by the ambitions of Major General Avi Mizrachi who “warned that he will start sending his trucks with ‘dirty water’ to break up [Palestinian] protests, even if they are nonviolent.” Attacks of this kind against democratic expression is so deeply ingrained that its been encoded into the legal code. For example, Order 101 of legal system “prohibits almost completely the holdings of demonstrations in the West Bank.”

These endorsements of brute force are coupled with equally alarming details about what’s unfolding on the ground in the occupied territories. Take for example facts published by the Foundation for Middle East Peace that settlement building in the West Bank, a practice in flagrant violation of UN Resolution 242, “witnessed a whopping 500% increase” in 2011. It’s important to note that all of this has been going on in the same year that Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu designated Israel as the only country where Arabs can enjoy the fruits of democracy. These words, when paired with concrete facts are not only false but reflective of the gross immorality of the Likud Party and it’s diplomatic backers in Washington.

As a result of Palestine’s admission into UNESCO the US has decided to withdraw a $60 million payment which was due in November. Basically, the Obama administration has consciously chosen to economically punish a nation that is burdened by “widespread malnutrition and starvation, an inability to maintain functioning health and education systems and [a] lack of supplies needed to rebuild homes destroyed by Israeli forces.” Moreover, current figures released by Defense for Children International show that “each year approximately 700 Palestinian children (12-17 years) from the West Bank are prosecuted in Israeli military courts” with the majority of detainees charged with throwing stones. More importantly, the report goes on to note that “the overwhelming majority of Palestinian children in Israeli detention are held in prisons inside Israel, in violation of Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention which prohibits the transfer of prisoners out of occupied territory. ” Perhaps, these draconian law enforcement policies are designed to protect the people of Neve Ya’acov who have lamented the fact that Arab residents of Beit Hanina would be attending a high school near them, as this would “bring Arab students onto their streets and disturb their daughters.”

When examining this vast record, these deprivations could be emblematic of the assertion that, using President Obama’s words, “peace is hard work.” Indeed, peace is “hard work” especially when its primary violators are the same individuals who feel entitled to speak about it so liberally. It is for this reason that people, like those aboard the Tahrir, form the only barrier to complete moral and ideological hegemony by the war-makers and their apologists in the mainstream press. These crimes are precisely why its so crucial that we in America have an independent press that accurately reports on the horrors that the US is committing on a daily basis. As I write this article, Democracy Now! has published an action alert notifying viewers that their correspondent, Jihan Hafiz, has been detained in international waters simply for doing her job in covering this protest. Hafiz, like the other travelers aboard the Tahrir, constituted a threat to all those who aim to violate the most elementary of laws with impunity. A live report from the site of the crime revealed that when the travelers aboard the Tahrir confronted the water canons of the Israeli Navy they were asked “What is Tahrir’s final destination?” to which they responded, “The betterment of mankind.” Only with the support and resilience of ordinary people around the world can this end, in some measure, be met.

Torres, Juan Gonzalez & Joseph. “Action Alert: Israel Detains Democracy Now! Correspondent Jihan Hafiz Aboard Gaza Flotilla .” A daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 900 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the United States.. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Nov. 2011. <
“Human Rights Group Condemns Israel’s Seizure of Flotilla to Gaza | Center for Constitutional Rights.” Center for Constitutional Rights. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Nov. 2011. <;.
“Urgent Appeal – (UA – 5/11) – Prisoner exchange – Release of Palestinian children | Defence for Children International – Palestine Section.” Defence for Children International – Palestine Section. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Nov. 2011. <;.
“FMEP Reports — FMEP.” FMEP. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Nov. 2011. <;.


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