Blockade of ‘Mavi Marmara’ continues, stateside

Posted: 15 Jun 2010

We all say that things are moving in a good direction. Well, in power politics, here’s a disastrous story: The Daily News reports on three New York politicians joining a campaign to investigate Gaza flotilla activists who are coming here to speak. And not just any New York pols, but Christine Quinn, who we thought was good on the issue, and Congress people Charlie Rangel and Carolyn Maloney, who ought to know better. Grim news. A real bow to extremists, and reminiscent of the 1950s. Imagine them trying this with the civil rights movement…

Local officials are demanding that the State Department investigate the visa applications of Gaza flotilla activists before two of them speak at a Brooklyn church.

“We have an obligation to protect our borders against Hamas,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan/Queens) said at a Times Square press conference Monday that included City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Chelsea) and Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-Harlem). “Use extra caution. Take this threat seriously.”

She and other members of New York‘s congressional delegation pledged to deliver a petition with more than 23,000 signatures demanding the State Department do visa checks of Mavi Marmara ship passengers planning a speaking tour that includes a stop at the House of the Lord Church in Boerum Hill on Thursday.

When will ‘NYT’ get around to printing Emily Henochowicz’s name?

Posted: 15 Jun 2010

Today’s print edition of the Times has an article by Isabel Kershner about violence in the Palestinian West Bank.  An Israeli police vehicle was shot at near Hebron, and one officer, Yehoshua Sofer, was killed.  He was named. 

But the Times print edition has still never mentioned  — not once — Emily Henochowicz, the brave young art student at Cooper Union in New York who lost an eye on May 31 to an Israeli tear gas canister. She has appeared in Robert Mackey’s blog, and in a couple of comments from readers, but the paper’s reporters and editors have still not found room to even name her.

Three American girls are left fatherless by Jerusalem killing

Posted: 15 Jun 2010


These are the three American daughters of Ziad al-Jilani, who was killed Friday night in Jerusalem after praying, when he came too close to a “flying checkpoint” maintained by the Israelis, who shot him. The al-Jilani family has said that he lost control of his car amid rock-throwing; they have called for a full investigation of his killing.

Iman al-Jilani, the girls’ aunt, writes: “Hannah is on the left and she is 17, Mirage on the right and she is 15, and the youngest is Yasmeen and she is 7 years old.” They are all American citizens, as is their mother, Moira, who is now a widow. They have Jerusalem residency but are not citizens of Israel. 

The Israelis have characterized Ziad al-Jilani as a terrorist.

The family says that Ziad al-Jilani, 40, was planning to take his girls to dinner after he prayed. I wonder how many American politicians will speak up for these young constituents, and demand answers…

Oh and al-Jilani’s sister just sent me this photo of father and daughters riding. I wonder: What will it take to wake Americans to the anti-Arab racism of our policies in the Middle East? A wholesome family? There are countless families of that description in the occupied territories. Some of them just don’t look like the kids next door…riding

Israeli investigation on flotilla will be biased (and Netanyahu leaked the results already)

Posted: 15 Jun 2010

Israel has announced the creation of a committee of inquiry to look into the Israeli naval raid on a flotilla trying to break the blockade of Gaza that ended in the deaths of nine people.

But the make-up of the committee makes clear that this investigation will not be “impartial, credible and transparent,” as the UN Security Council called for in the aftermath of the flotilla raid. Although the United States has applauded the Israeli announcement, the UN is reportedly skeptical and is keeping the option of an international probe “on the table.”

This announcement is just the latest middle finger to the world from Israel.

There a number of problems with the panel tasked to investigate the Israeli actions aboard the flotilla, but the most glaring is the people who will sit on it. The chairman of the panel, former Supreme Court Justice Yaakov Tirkel, told Army Radio that “he opposed bringing in foreign observers and made clear that he is not a devotee of drawing conclusions about individuals and dismissing those responsible for failures,” according to a Haaretz editorial.

Two foreign observers–who won’t have the right to vote on anything related to the commission–will indeed be on the panel, but one them is David Trimble, who, as Richard Silverstein points out, “is a co-founder of the newly launched Israel advocacy group, Friends of Israel, joining John Bolton, Dore Gold, and Spain’s former right-wing prime minister, Jose Aznar.” Is there better company than John Bolton and Dore Gold to be close with when joining an “credible” inquiry investigating Israel’s deadly use of force against unarmed activists trying to break the siege of Gaza?

Other participants of the “impartial” committee include a former Israeli general. No Israeli soldiers will be questioned.

The results of the investigation have already been leaked to the press by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Haaretz reports:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the start of Monday’s cabinet meeting that the main goal of the Gaza flotilla probe is to prove to the world that the Israel Navy operation on the Gaza-bound aid ship was appropriate and met international standards.

“The government decision will make it clear to the world that Israel is acting legally, responsibly, and with complete transparency,” said Netanyahu.

The anticipation of what the panel will say is killing me.

Bloomberg, and Carnegie expert too, say Obama’s changed nothing re Israel

Posted: 15 Jun 2010

Bloomberg says that the flotilla incident demonstrates that Obama’s relationship with Israel is no different from Bush and Clinton’s.”Obama’s Israel Policy Showing No Difference With Clinton-Bush.”

Oh, and an important data point: the other day at Carnegie, Christopher Heffelfinger, who I believe is a genuine scholar of Islam at West Point, said the same thing:

“[Since Cairo] in reality none of the policies have changed. So I think it’s not difficult for them [extremists] to make an argument that, hey, whoever you elect, there’s no difference, you know? And the situation in Gaza, with Israel and the Palestinian question, is no closer to being resolved. It doesn’t seem any – look any closer during this administration.”

Heffelfinger also referred to “atrocities” in Gaza, and the panel was moderated by Chris Boucek, who struck me as fairminded. Carnegie seems to have stirred from its thuggery during the Anatol Lieven days.

Don’t forget the two-day detention of the flotilla members

Posted: 15 Jun 2010

Right after the flotilla incident, I passed along a friend’s wise point that people who undertake acts of Palestinian solidarity will have Palestinian experiences. People who try to break blockades will be shot at. Journalists who stand up for Palestinian freedom will get marginalized.

Well here is a video about events on the Mavi Marmara told by Farooq Burney of, (an international campaign that aims to secure the freedom to learn for Palestinian students in Gaza and the West Bank). Burney was one of three Canadians aboard the boat; he was carrying 65 computers to students in Gaza.

What is noteworthy about his story is a, his description of a friend dying in front of him at a time when bullets were flying around and hitting many passengers, and b, his description of two days of detention in Israel, without contact with his embassy or a lawyer or his family. The two days of detention seem to have been the most degrading experience that Burney had. He was humiliated and frightened, he says, and his family was worried sick the whole time. Of course they thought he was dead.

The experience was capped by a visit from a bunch of Israeli teenagers, apparently trainees in the prison, who gaped at the internationals. “Basically in a way laughing at us.” Burney says that episode is engraved in his mind forever.

I pass this along with the reminder that there are about 10,000 Palestinians in Israeli jails. Some of them are detained without being charged. Some are young teenagers accused of throwing rocks. Burney got a taste of their experience, and it was embittering. 

During the World Cup, I saw a report on Mandela’s prison notebooks, and the humiliations that never broke him, and of his triumphant release. When will we ever learn…

(Oh and I wonder what has happened to those computers…)

Who knew that the Israeli blockade is ‘economic warfare’?

Posted: 14 Jun 2010

When the corporate media explain the logic behind Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip, they turn to what Israel says officially and publicly. For example, today’s New York Times, in an article on an Israeli government–backed investigation into the deadly Israeli raid on a flotilla heading to Gaza, states:

Israel argues that the blockade is necessary to prevent Hamas from smuggling in weapons or materials needed to make them, and to weaken Hamas control.

This sounds similar to a statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who recently justified the siege by saying that “Gaza is a terror state funded by the Iranians, and therefore we must try to prevent any weapons from being brought into Gaza by air, sea and land.” (David Samel noted the propagation of the weapons rationale here the other day.)

But the Israelis must know that the blockade has not accomplished this, as materials for weapons are reportedly smuggled in to Gaza via underground tunnels that go from Egypt to Gaza.

So if the blockade isn’t working, why does it still exist? A June 9 article that appeared in McClatchy Newspapers puts the Israeli logic behind blockading Gaza this way:

In response to a lawsuit by Gisha, an Israeli human rights group, the Israeli government explained the blockade as an exercise of the right of economic warfare.

“A country has the right to decide that it chooses not to engage in economic relations or to give economic assistance to the other party to the conflict, or that it wishes to operate using ‘economic warfare,'” the government said.

McClatchy obtained the government’s written statement from Gisha, the Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, which sued the government for information about the blockade. The Israeli high court upheld the suit, and the government delivered its statement earlier this year.

Sari Bashi, the director of Gisha, said the documents prove that Israel isn’t imposing its blockade for its stated reasons, but rather as collective punishment for the Palestinian population of Gaza.

The revelation that Israel’s blockade is not about security and actually about punishing the Palestinians for putting Hamas in power isn’t new, though. Dov Weisglass, an adviser to former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, infamously said that the purpose of the economic sanctions against Gaza is to “put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.” Israel has also characterized the purpose behind the siege as one that promotes “no prosperity, no development, no humanitarian crisis” in Gaza.

These frank admissions that the blockade of Gaza is designed to punish its civilian population, however, are missing from the majority of our media outlets. A Nexis search only turns up mentions of the Israeli government document about “economic warfare” in publications associated with McClatchy. And before the document was revealed, the Weisglass comment was rarely mentioned in the U.S. media. Perhaps U.S. media outlets think that reporting that Israel is engaged in collective punishment is too harsh for American ears.

This article originally appeared at the national media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting’s blog.

North American Jews meet to ‘confront racism and Israeli apartheid’

Posted: 14 Jun 2010

USAoJ poster FOR WEB

You can learn about this historic gathering at And here’s more from the Electronic Intifada article “Jewish challenges to Zionism on the rise in the US“:

Accountability of Israeli, US government and international Zionist support for Israel will not come from a shift in US policy but through shifting American public opinion and debate, fomenting popular movement, using international and US legal sanctions and supporting the Palestinian call for BDS. The 2010 US Assembly of Jews seeks to contribute to these efforts and reflects a significant departure from Zionism that has been building since the second Palestinian intifada broke the stranglehold of the Oslo accords.

It has continuity with a long history of Jewish participation in struggles for human emancipation. Ours are among the growing voices of Jews who seek a departure from the course that Zionism has been and continues down — a course that is a betrayal of our humanity as it simultaneously denies that of Palestinians.

Muslim Student Union threatened with suspension for disrupting Israeli Ambassador

Posted: 14 Jun 2010

More on the suppression of Muslim and Arab-American speech. From the LA Times:

The Muslim Student Union at UC Irvine should be suspended for one year for its involvement in repeated disruptions of a February speech by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, according to a disciplinary report released by the university.

The Muslim Student Union has appealed the recommendation.

The speech about U.S.-Israeli relations was interrupted 10 times by students who got up and yelled out things like, “Michael Oren, propagating murder is not an expression of free speech.”

From birthright to boycott

Posted: 14 Jun 2010

A recent post by Adam Horowitz asked what it will take for liberal Zionists to come around and support a boycott. My mind was changed by going to Israel on a Birthright trip and seeing firsthand the effects of the wall and checkpoints. However, I doubt that a full scale boycott of Israel will catch on in the American Jewish community. My recent project, the Boycott Toolkit, enables an open discussion of what exactly a boycott of the occupation should involve, lets users choose their own level of involvement, and lists concrete steps for action.

I was brought up in a religiously conservative but politically liberal Jewish community. While I was aware of and interested in politics, I didn’t consider myself an activist. Like most American Jews, I was aware of the ongoing peace process and lamented the inability of both sides to resolve their differences. A trip to Israel and the West Bank shattered my preconception of the two parties as equal antagonists, and convinced me to become more politically active and outspoken.

I joined a Taglit-Birthright trip in the summer of 2007 after graduating from college. Along with a group of twenty other young American Jews, I went to Israel for the first time and we did all the things that are supposed to connect us to our cultural and religious heritage. We met soldiers, visited Yad Vashem and cried at the Wailing Wall. We climbed Masada at dawn and surveyed the beautiful land that was once promised to our people, and was now ours.

However, while walking through the Old City of Jerusalem, or driving along highways to the Dead Sea, I could see that not all was well in this beautiful land. From a vantage point atop the ancient stone walls, a new concrete wall snakes across the landscape, and settlements stand out starkly on hilltops. Our bus was protected by an armed guard at all times, and he warned us sternly not to venture into Palestinian territory. Danger awaited there, kidnapping or lynching was possible, hatred and discrimination a certainty. He could not have been more wrong.

After the planned activities of the trip were over, we were released from the protection of the tour guides and guards. I returned to Jerusalem with two friends and took a bus to the Bethlehem checkpoint. We approached the monstrous concrete and steel gates with trepidation and entered the maw of the security zone. With our American passports, we were waved through by bored looking young women, really girls no older than I was, but who were surrounded by thick glass and armed with automatic weapons.

The Palestinians were subject to more stringent checking, including a biometric scan of the veins in their hands. When I put my hand in the scanner, the guard gave me a withering look, as if it should be clear that I wasn’t subject to the same rules as everyone else in line. This sort of racial profiling may be effective, but it made my stomach churn.

Leaving the checkpoint, we entered a different world. While the Jerusalem side has a proper bus turnaround, in Bethlehem the road dead-ends into the wall and a throng of taxi drivers stand waiting for business. We were approached by a man with a yellow Mercedes, a baseball cap, and large weary eyes.

 Communicating through his broken English and our worse Arabic we negotiated a tour of the town, learning about its millennia of history and how it had changed since the wall cut it off from Jerusalem. We passed dozens of shuttered businesses and were taken to a dusty souvenir store that opened just for us. I bought ornaments I didn’t need to show my gratitude.

We only spent a few hours in Bethlehem that first time, and were relieved when we crossed the checkpoint back to Jerusalem. We would never see the city the same way again, knowing that an entirely different world lay on the other side of the wall. I have since returned to Israel and the West Bank many times, but crossing checkpoints still gives me the sense that I am crossing a land divided against itself, and that a great injustice is being done in my name.

Returning to the United States, I began graduate study at the MIT Media Lab with the Center for Future Civic Media. Research here is focused on building online tools for organizing real-world communities, and I set out to apply this knowledge to my community of interest: American Jews. I have released three projects that speak to this audience, which grew progressively more action-oriented.

In January 2009 I created VirtualGaza, a space for Gazans to break the information blockade by telling their own stories without a media filter. I spent the following summer meeting with Israeli and Palestinian activists in the West Bank. GroundTruth aggregates geographic information, the path of the wall and the green line, the location of Palestinian neighborhoods and Israeli settlements, the hundreds of checkpoints that disrupt traffic, and displays it in an interface familiar to users of Google Maps.

 Most of this information is published there for the first time in a reusable and open format. This project provides a local geographic context that is crucial to understanding the reality on the ground.

For my masters thesis, I am building an application to organize collective economic action, inspired by the BDS movement and the concept of smart sanctions. While a wholesale boycott of Israel can engender hostile feelings in even liberal American Jews, the Boycott Toolkit provides detailed information on specific companies and their relationship to the conflict. It asks users to take either positive or negative action by buying or boycotting products, and is open for community contributions.

Building upon work by WhoProfits and Gush Shalom, the Boycott Toolkit already includes information on companies that are based in the settlements and industrial zones, vineyards in the occupied Golan Heights, and Palestinian products that support peaceful development. Stores that sell these products are listed and mapped, so consumers can alter their economic behavior to match their politics.

If you see products you recognize, please add stores in your area that sell them, so that we can track our impact in our own local communities. If you have other information about corporate complicity in the occupation, please add it so we can all benefit from your research. I know that these projects by themselves will not resolve the conflict. But if we can change the minds of other Jews like myself, who are vaguely aware of the issues but feel powerless to do anything about it, all our small actions taken together can bring us closer to peace.

Josh Levinger is a graduate student and researcher at the Center for Future Civic Media at MIT, where his work lies at the intersection of technology and politics.


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