A coalition of nearly twenty American human rights and peace groups has joined the global justice community and numerous foreign governments in vowing to send more humanitarian aid ships to break the illegal Israeli blockade of Gaza this coming Fall. The coalition, united under the mantle US To Gaza, includes activist organizations such as CodePink, Jews Say No, Veterans For Peace, Voices for Creative Non-Violence, and Jewish Voice For Peace.
In the wake of the deadly Israeli raid on an international flotilla carrying over 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid and hundreds of civilian passengers, during which nine activists were murdered (if not outright executed) by Israeli commandos in international waters, the global call to end the US-backed Israeli siege has grown even more forceful.
Later this year, boats from Europe, Canada, South Africa, India, and the Middle East are expected to set sail for Gaza once again. US To Gaza, which states on its website that “America pays for the blockade with our tax dollars; Americans must join together to end this collective punishment of 1.5 million Palestinians,” aims to add a vital American element to this new Freedom Flotilla.
The U.S. boat, which will be named The Audacity of Hope (irony intended), is expected to carry an American peace delegation of forty to sixty passengers and will join its international flotilla partners en route. But purchasing a suitable ship, securing a sailing crew, obtaining the needed licenses and registration, gathering tons of humanitarian aid, and sailing for Gaza is a costly endeavor. It is estimated that at least $370,000 needs to be raised from private donors in the next month for the U.S. ship to become, not merely hopeful audacity, but a necessary reality.
All in all, $370,000 isn’t that much money. For instance, South Carolina Republican Congressman Joe Wilson raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from individual donors giving less than $200 just because he called Barack Obama a liar. If a jackass like Wilson can raise that kind of money for shouting a disingenuous falsehood, raising funds for a just cause like breaking the illegal Gaza blockade shouldn’t be that hard.
Sure, the fund-raising goal can be hit with 3,700 people each pledging $100 or a mere 370 donations of $1,000 each. But why is the bar for funding justice and fighting illegal collective punishment so low? Where are the big donors who could single-handedly buy a boat and subsidize the entire delegation? Why does it seem like such a stretch for American supporters of human rights and international law to send an armada of siege-breaking ships to Gaza?
Perhaps, in order to open borders and ship a little bit of hope to suffering Palestinians in the Middle East, US to Gaza organizers should be looking for a lot of financial support from open wallets on the West Coast.
Hollywood has no shortage of outspoken Zionists, ethnic cleansing enthusiasts, and racist, right-wing nutjobs. There are those who condemn the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement and promote Israeli hasbara like Jerry Seinfeld, Sacha Baron Cohen, Minnie Driver, and Natalie Portman (who was also a proud research assistant of Alan Dershowitz and is thanked in his appalling book The Case for Israel); there are those who oppose resistance to Israeli aggression and expansion and laud Israeli assaults that take the lives of thousands of Palestinian and Lebanese civilians like actors Michael Douglas, Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Danny De Vito, Don Johnson, James Woods, Kelly Preston, Patricia Heaton, Doug Liman, Gary Sinise, Kristen Chenowith, Michael Chiklis, Vivica A. Fox, Nicole Kidman, Pat Sajak, Bernie Mac and William Hurt, along with filmmakers like Ridley Scott, Tony Scott, Michael Mann, William Friedkin, Richard Donner and Sam Raimi; there are Zionist zealots like John Malkovich and Richard Dreyfuss; there’s also Jon Voigt.
There are celebrities like Jason Alexander, who, despite his work with the two-state promoting OneVoice/Imagine Peace project, was an honored guest at last year’s Friends of the IDF Fundraising Gala and shill for Jewish television programming that endorses violent, fanatical Zionist settler ideologies. There are fashion designers like Elie Tahari, who donated a whopping $100,000 at this year’s IDF love-fest in March.
With friends like these, it’s no wonder that the IDF, a foreign military that oppresses and occupies an indigenous population, raised over $20 million in one night at the Waldorf-Astoria in Manhattan. But American donors don’t only fund the Occupation, they also fund illegal Jewish settlements – to the tune of tax-free hundreds of millions over the past decade – that have now aggressively stolen and colonized over 42% of the West Bank.
So where are their anti-occupation, pro-international law counterparts, especially the ones with equally deep pockets? The truth is they’re everywhere.
From Alice Walker to Vanessa Redgrave, Harry Belafonte to Viggo Mortensen, Julie Christie, Wallace Shawn, Alan Rickman, Jonathan Demme, Stephen King, Ralph Fiennes, Bill Irwin, Tilda Swinton, Wim Wenders, Uma Thurman, Debra Winger, Tony Kushner, Roger Ebert, Richard Gere, John Cusack, Sally Kirkland, Terry Gilliam, Michael Palin, Danny Glover, Oliver Stone, Ed Asner, Sophie Fiennes, Casey Kasem, and Jeremy Pikser, celebrity support for Palestinian freedom and an end to the Israeli occupation and blockade is widespread in Tinseltown.
Actresses Salma Hayek, Halle Berry, Drew Barrymore, Brooke Shields, Andie MacDowell, Lucy Liu, Whitney Houston and Sharon Stone all had their pictures removed from the website of blood diamond dealer Lev Leviev after being alerted to Leviev’s criminal funding of illegal West Bank settlements.
Musicians like Mos Def, Laurie Anderson, Boots Riley, Steve Earle, David Byrne, Neil Young, Santana, and Roger Waters all publicly oppose Israel’s systematic oppression and land theft and Annie Lennox protested against the 2008-9 Israel slaughter of over 1,400 Palestinians in Gaza.
Megastars Dustin Hoffman and Meg Ryan canceled their attendance at this year’s annual Jerusalem Film Festival the day after Israel’s bloody raid on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and recent performances by The Pixies, Elvis Costello, Gorillaz, Devendra Banhart, and Snoop Dogg were also canceled for similar – if not identical – reasons.
All of these well-heeled celebrities should take their courageous boycott of Israeli apartheid and aggression even further by funding more humanitarian aid ships. With their help, supplementing the support of small donors, the illegal blockade can indeed be broken.
The Israeli policy of brutal blockade is clear. In 2006, after Palestinians democratically elected Hamas to the shock and chagrin of both Israel and the US (who had insisted on the elections in the first place), an economic and commercial siege was put into place by Israel as a punishment for Palestinian self-determination. As Dov Weisglass, adviser to then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, jokingly declared, “It’s like an appointment with a dietitian. The Palestinians in Gaza will get a lot thinner, but won’t die.”
Collective punishment, via forced deprivation and near-starvation, is unequivocally illegal. International law is quite clear in this regard. Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which has governed Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza since 1967 (and has been repeatedly affirmed by both the UN Security Council and General Assembly), states plainly:
“No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.”
Still, Israeli officials such as former-Prime Minster, now Defense Minister, Ehud Barak and Director-General of the Foreign Ministry, Yossi Gal, continue to claim that “there is no shortage in humanitarian aid to Gaza, as food, fuel and supplies are regularly transferred into Gaza by international organizations.”
No mention is made of the fact that all building material, such as cement, plaster and dry wall, is banned from entering Gaza, in addition to the absurd prohibition of so-called “dual use” medicines, rope, wood, razors, light bulbs, textiles and fabrics, sewing and hypodermic needles, sewing machines, candles, matches, mattresses, bedsheets, pillowcases, blankets, cutlery, books, newspapers, coffee, tea, cigarettes, clothing, shoes, pencils and paper, fresh meat, seeds, nuts, cilantro, sage, cardamom, nutmeg, ginger, cumin, vinegar, biscuits, candy, potato chips, jam, chocolate, french fries, canned or dried fruit, notebooks, empty flowerpots, fishing rods or line, livestock, musical instruments, and children’s toys.
Obviously, Israeli officials take no note of the findings of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN which has reported that 61% of Gazans are “food insecure,” of which “65% are children under 18 years;” the level of anemia in infants is as high as 65.5%, about 70% of Gazans live on less than $1 a day, 75% rely on food aid, and 60% have no daily access to water.
As Rebecca Sargent of the Peace and Collaborative Development Network notes, “Much of the population remains unemployed and thus have no money to buy supplies for themselves. The UN resolution 1860 calls for the unfettered access of aid and commercial goods to Gaza, although it would appear this call has been mostly ignored by the Israeli government’s blockade.”
Also, as of the end of 2009, a U.N. report found that “insufficient food and medicine is reaching Gazans, producing a further deterioration of the mental and physical health of the entire civilian population since Israel launched Operation Cast Lead against the territory,” and also “blamed the blockade for continued breakdowns of the electricity and sanitation systems due to the Israeli refusal to let spare parts needed for repair get through the crossings.” Since June 2007, “the number of Palestine refugees unable to access food and lacking the means to purchase even the most basic items, such as soap, school stationery and safe drinking water, has tripled” and over 80 UN and aid agencies agree that “the formal economy in Gaza has collapsed.”
On May 31, the six-ship Gaza Freedom Flotilla was lethally attacked in international waters (the ships had no intention of sailing through Israeli territory) about 80 miles (130 kilometers) off the Gaza coast in an early morning raid by elite Israeli commandos. The attack was conducted after Israel cut off all communications from the ships and surrounded the flotilla with over 20 naval vessels and warships, along with multiple helicopters. In addition to the 45 highly-trained and heavily-armed commandos who rappelled onto the largest ship, the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara, murdering at least 9 civilians and wounding about 60 more, about 650 other Israeli troops, including surveillance and support troops alongside those who actually boarded the ships, took part in the illegal assault on the flotilla.
The Mavi Marmara carried 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid on board including 6,000 tons of cement, more than 2,000 tons of iron, 100 prefabricated houses, 500 wheelchairs, crutches, medical equipment, wood and glass for building, electric generators, water purifiers, a mobile dental care facility, and food and had even been confirmed not to be transporting any weaponry by authorities before its departure.
Another aid ship, the MV Rachel Corrie, carrying 550 tons of cement, 20 tons of paper for printing school books, 25 tons of school supplies, 12 tons of sports equipment and 150 tons of medical supplies, was also illegally seized by the Israeli Navy a few days later.
On June 24, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced an “easing” of the four-year-long Gaza siege, declaring, “Today, after we lifted the civilian blockade of Gaza there is no reason or justification for further flotillas.”
Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz reports that “The highlight of the new policy is to be the creation and distribution of a detailed ‘black list’ of goods that will not be permitted into the Gaza Strip,” continuing that, now, “Only weapons or ‘dual-use’ materials that could be used to manufacture weapons will be on the list. Any item not on the list will be permitted into Gaza.”
As a result of this new policy, items such as car parts, agricultural and fishing tools, cosmetics, perfumes, soda, juice, jam, spices, shaving cream, potato chips, cookies and candy are now being imported into Gaza.
Nevertheless, the siege has not ended. Even though coriander, chocolate, and Coca-Cola are now allowed through Israel’s military checkpoints, goods such as cement, steel, iron, fertilizers, gas tanks, drilling equipment and water disinfectant are still prohibited. In fact, The Los Angeles Times reveals that “the new list of banned and restricted items, which fills several hundred pages, still includes goods and supplies vital to Gaza’s economic recovery.”
Consequently, Karin Laub of Associated Press reports that “because Israel will continue to ban most travel and exports and restrict the import of desperately needed construction materials, the new rules are unlikely to restore the territory’s devastated economy or allow rebuilding of all that was destroyed in last year’s war [sic].”
In short, Israel’s ongoing crime against humanity in Gaza continues. As long as Israel maintains its military control of Gaza’s economy, land and sea borders, airspace, restricts (or outright denies) the freedom of movement of its 1.5 million imprisoned inhabitants, and continues murdering Palestinians with Apache helicopters, F-15 and F-16 bombers, unmanned drones and remote-controlled machine guns, Gaza will not be free.
If the negative international attention Israel received after the Mavi Marmara massacre led to the so-called “easing” of the Gaza siege, there’s no telling what a constant barrage of boats might do. Therefore, until this collective punishment of innocent civilians ceases completely and Israel is held accountable for its crimes, more boats must continue to sail to Gaza. Among those boats should be a massive American contingent, funded by bold and steadfast believers in self-determination, human rights, and international law. We have paid for the Israeli oppression of Palestine for so long with our tax dollars, it’s now time to fight for Palestinian freedom with our tax-exempt donations.
And so, to all you stars of summer blockbusters and sold-out stadiums, start giving generously so that a fleet of blockade-busting boats can start their engines.