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June 4, 2010

Column #1,501

“First Successful Use of Non-Violent Strategy In Middle East”

By Mike McManus

                The Turkish flotilla of ships carrying relief aid to embattled Gaza “was the first successful use of a non-violent strategy in the Middle East,” says Frank Anderson, President of the Middle East Policy Council.

                Israel was infuriated and acted as foolishly as did Sheriff Bull Connor to the provocation of Martin Luther King’s non-violent Selma March.  “Non-violence is disarming to power at any time,” quipped Anderson, who spent 27 years in the CIA, finally serving as Director for the Near East and South Asia Division.

                Martin Luther King and Gandhi were both successful. So were the flotilla organizers who wanted to bring world attention to Israel’s unjust blockade of 1.5 million people in Gaza.  For three years, since Hamas won an election, Israel has allowed only meager amounts of food and medicine into the densely crowded strip of land on the Mediterranean.

                “Conditions now are pretty bleak. People are surviving at the subsistence level, with 80 percent living off of food assistance from abroad,” says Bill Corcoran, president of American Near East Refugee Aid (ANERA), which shipped $49 million of relief to Gaza last year. He has made seven trips to Gaza, returning from one two weeks ago.

                “During the Israeli invasion, tanks and bulldozers destroyed dozens of wells. We have tried repeatedly to get spare parts in to fix the wells, but this is not permitted by the Israelis.  Fertilizer is forbidden, and agricultural land is not being farmed because Israel has created a perimeter near the walls, which cuts off agricultural land.

                “Ninety percent of industry was destroyed, such as eight cement factories, metal working shops, carpentry shops.  Ordinary families are suffering the most. They are angry, frustrated and depressed, because they don’t see any way out of this. Between 15,000 to 20,000 households were destroyed,” but Israel will not allow cement or building materials to be shipped that could be used to reconstruct them.

                When I was in Gaza refugee camps 15 years ago, I was shocked to see rancid raw sewage running in partially closed cement gutters, down to stinking cesspools. ANERA has a contract from USAID to build pipelines for water and sewage, but Israel blocks that too.

                Why?  This brutal treatment seems designed to build fierce, angry militants.  Oddly, Israel believes that if Hamas cannot deliver a better life, that people will turn against Hamas. Of course, residents blame Israel, not Hamas. It is a foolish, counterproductive policy.

                On his second day in office Obama asked Israel to lift its blockade of Gaza. “This policy has to stop,” said former British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Wednesday.

                Israel claims it is only trying to prevent arms from being shipped into Gaza. The issue was debated on the PBS Newshour.  Ruth Wedgewood of Johns Hopkins argued, “In an armed conflict, one party has a duty to prevent neutral countries from shipping arms, a duty to inspect cargo to keep arms from infiltrating.”

                Anthony D’Amato of Northwestern countered, “What armed conflict? There is no armed conflict with Israel. Hamas is a conquered country. Israel had no right to go on high seas, beyond its territorial waters, to stop ships.  It had a right to wait on the beaches to see if any contraband was being brought in.”

                Days after Israeli commandos dropped from helicopters, killing nine activists, it has provided no evidence that any arms were aboard the six-boat “Freedom Flotilla.” There were thousands of tons of food, used clothing, toys, wheelchairs, and $10 million of building materials (cement, steel, tiles) which Israel has forbidden because it could be used for “building bunkers.”

                Dr. James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, called Israel’s attack “outrageous, but consistent with the way Israel handles things – with overwhelming force, and damn the consequences. Then they lie about what they did.”

                He called the blockade “an immoral collective punishment against an entire civilian population.  It is racism that rankles me so. Some 45 percent of the children suffer from malnutrition. This is criminal.”

                UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon charges the blockade “punishes innocent civilians.”

                The American response has been excessively muted.  Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has said the blockade is “unsustainable,” and anonymous spokesmen say “There is no question that we need a new approach to Gaza.”

                One would think that the Jews, who have suffered centuries of persecution, would never persecute another people.  But that is what is now happening, with American acquiescence.

                It is outrageous and must be stopped.

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