Below is a comment piece I read yesterday in Haaretz. I came across it via Facebook, and was moved by its power and lyricism so I contacted the writer, Marilyn Garson, to tell her so. Writers on difficult topics need support, and those of us in whose bones and organs this issue is lodged need whatever scraps of hope and fellow-feeling and beauty we can find. Marilyn responded quickly, and very kindly invited me to share her piece on my blog.

Marilyn is Jewish Canadian who lived in Gaza four years, including throughout the 51 day Israeli siege in 2014; she left a year later. Here are some comments about life in Gaza:

“For four years, I led teams of young Gazan parents. They were all bilingual, with graduate degrees. We employed dozens of recent university graduates. We worked with aspiring, professional Gaza: businesses, job-seekers, artists, freelancers and start-ups. The walls of Gaza do not confine a single, undifferentiated enemy object. They conceal a life-loving, complex society that treasures education and family.”

“Resistance is Gaza’s unifying civic virtue, and under pressure, Gaza coheres like contact cement. But those walls press many forms of resistance into absurd proximity; those who sacrifice everything today, and those who protest by living each day meaningfully in inhuman conditions. The walls empower the violent factions, who monopolize force in a closed space.”

For more of Marilyn’s lovely writing visit her blog, Contrapuntal: Transforming Gaza. Meantime, here’s her piece from Haaretz.

“Netanyahu seals the gates of the West Bank and Gaza, confining millions of Palestinians, to enjoy the Sukkot festival. If anywhere or anyone else demanded a Jew-free holiday, would we shrug that off?”

My team in Gaza were especially fond of one brand of Israeli honey cookies. We gorged whenever we spotted them, a Hebrew label among the Arabic. I dawdled over that label one morning, imagining Hebron settlers sipping coffee with Gaza strawberries.

My colleague misunderstood my reverie, and helpfully reminded me, “It’s just a cookie. It’s not politics.” The settlers with the red-stained fingers vanished.

Living in Gaza, the rest of the world could look absurd.

Newt Gingrich, an American politician, disparaged Palestinians as “an invented people”. A Gazan colleague flounced into my office. Hands on hips, she demanded, “Isn’t everybody invented?”

Israelis and Gazans had such basic, human things in common. At funeral after funeral, they both said, “Those boys were everyone’s boys. I have lost one more son.”

Some people preferred the safe distance of binary distinctions. One Tel Aviv taxi driver insisted, “We can’t live together because we’re human beings and they’re not.”

When we cannot even imagine living together, we underestimate all the creativity, the money, the technology and infrastructure, and the hard work that has gone into keeping us apart.

We slip down the self-referential slope: it’s all about us. We see only our suffering and our reasons, and we brandish the license of our losses. History becomes a litany of gestures made to straw men, who inexplicably rejected each one because they only understand violence. How could we live with straw men like that?

So the leaders of two nations with long memories wait for the other to forget, or be punished enough, or just go away.

Israel insists on its good motives but cannot ascribe the same to Palestinians. Palestinians are judged by their actions, overlaid with malevolent intentions.

Israelis at home are civilians; Palestinians in their homes are human shields. Dead Israeli civilians are victims of terror, while dead Gazans can only be collateral damage, because the IDF has its purity of arms. An IDF poster from the 2014 war made it simple: Israel uses weapons to protect civilians, while Hamas uses civilians to protect its weapons. There’s no living with people like that.

These are not the first belligerents to lie, or to wilfully refuse to see the humanity of the other side. As a witness in Gaza from 2011 to 2015, I was outraged by the asymmetry and the tactics of this conflict, and the failure of imagination – but I’m not Israeli. And I’m hardly the first Jew who has waded through the fission-fusion-fission reaction of recognizing Israel as a state rather than as a religion.

I was left with the dismay I might feel if my sister erupted in repeated, violent road rage. I didn’t do it. However, she is a part of me. The name on the warrant is also mine.

So it is, when Israel’s elected government attaches Judaism to its apparently inalienable right to dominate. In the name of religion, they withhold from others precisely the human rights that we Jews claim for ourselves. Their religious appropriation makes us more than witnesses.

Netanyahu seals the gates of the West Bank and Gaza for eleven days, to enjoy Sukkot. How flagrant, to confine millions of people in the name of a holiday that celebrates the flimsy, temporary nature of our walls.

If Jews were herded behind concrete walls and locked away for eleven days, so that someone else might enjoy a Jew-free holiday, would we shrug that off?

We tolerate a nationalism which withholds from others precisely the political rights that we claim for ourselves. Have we forgotten that statelessness was the problem statement of Zionism? Jews felt vulnerable and voiceless in a world comprised of states – yet we avert our eyes from the stateless peril of others.

We accept the straw men they show us. If Jewish nationalism requires this domination, we assume that Palestinian aspirations must be as lopsided. Their rights would necessarily be realized at our expense, wouldn’t they? We leave every better possibility unexamined, because we have already decided that we cannot live together. We’ve been primed.

Naturally, Netanyahu is preventatively foreclosing on Palestinian reconciliation.

We’ve seen this. In 2014, this was one of the last way-stations before a calamitous and (according to Israel’s State Comptroller) avoidable war. First there was no Palestinian interlocutor who could deliver all of Palestine. Then, overnight, at the prospect of reconciliation, there was no acceptable Palestinian interlocutor because someone might represent all of Palestine. The risks of war are more tolerable than the risks of compromise.

Why do we permit it? Netanyahu invokes the spectre – they all want to kill us. They always, only, want to kill us. That’s why we can’t live together, because Israel’s strength is the only Jewish safety. Be very afraid. Build walls. Then build more walls.

The Global Militarization Index ranks Israel as the most militarized country on earth, a distinction it has held for 17 of the past 25 years (Israel was ranked second from 1999 – 2006). Israel has imprisoned itself, and still finds it necessary to spend another $800 million, on yet more walls, to hide itself from immiserated Gaza.

So, um, are we safe yet?

No. There is no separate safety in our entropic time. Jews, and everyone else, will become safe in a tolerant world, when Jews enjoy the same rights as those human beings behind the walls.

Call all this brick-laying ‘Israeli’, if that is what you want ‘Israeli’ to mean. But do not call it Jewish, because oppression is not the content of Judaism. Value life, and resist its waste. Seek justice – that is the content I understand. We are failing at it.

Marilyn Garson lived and worked in Gaza from 2011 – 2015, as the Economic Director of Mercy Corps and the Business and Livelihoods Consultant to UNRWA. She is a co-founder of the Gaza Gateway social enterprise. She now writes from New Zealand. Her blog is Transforming Gaza.

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As regular readers might recall, I volunteered for some time with a project called We Are Not Numbers. WANN pairs young Palestinians in Gaza and the dismal refugee camps of Lebanon with writers abroad who act as mentors, helping give voice to the experiences of these Palestinian youth and developing their skill as storytellers. I was in good company at WANN: other volunteers include the poet and novelist Nancy Kricorian, the Martha Gellhorn Special Award winner Jonathan Cook, and Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss.

WANN is a project of the Geneva-based EuroMed Human Rights Monitor, which observes and reports on human rights abuses and breaches of international law across the Mediterranean region. The tireless American writer and social entrepreneur Pam Bailey runs the WANN program with commitment, diligence, and fierce love.

A few weeks ago, I was shocked – naively perhaps – to receive an email from WANN letting me know that Pam had been denied entry into Israel, and hence Gaza, on her last visit there in August. What’s more, Pam was prohibited from returning for ten years.

This had occurred while I was on holiday, so I didn’t hear the news till several weeks after it happened. Since then, I’ve been in touch with Pam who gave me permission to republish her account of this heartbreaking episode, which was first published on Medium; you’ll find it below. Among many other things, Pam’s experience is a further reminder, if one were needed, of the arbitrary and relentless brutality to which Palestinians and anyone who dares to defend their humanity are systematically subjected.

But before you read Pam’s story, let me share a serendipitous discovery I made just today. You’ll see that she references the debut novel Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by the Sri Lankan writer Sunil Yapa. Coincidentally, as I told Pam, on the wall just outside my study I have a framed print of the original quote which reads ‘Your Heart is a Weapon the Size of your Fist. Keep fighting. Keep loving’ by the London graffiti artist Pure Evil. I had spotted the print on a visit to the V&A with my mother, and bought it online a couple of days later when I noticed how its moving characterisation of love as a political act had become lodged in the part of my gut where some poetry resides.

I’ve often wondered about the origins of that quote, so this morning I spent some time on Google. I learned from an evangelical Lutheran church group in Chicago that the quote and an image of a fist clutching a heart appear as graffiti on Israel’s monstrous and illegal ‘separation wall’, which is more than four times longer than the Berlin Wall and close to three times its height, and the majority of which sits on Palestinian land in the West Bank. I’ve emailed Pam to ask if she knew about this connection, and I’m curious to see her reply. Regardless, I’m struck by its unexpected aptness, and the mysterious energy that transports us to the ideas that keep us going.

your heart is a weapon

The occupation of the mind

When we think of “occupation” in the Palestinian context, we most often conjure images of the wall, barbed wire, gates and soldiers. But occupation is at its most insidious when it seeps into your mind.

On Sunday, August 21, I flew into Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, on my way to Gaza. Let me be clear: I do not like entering Israel, and I detest Ben Gurion Airport. But Gaza is my second home — it is my place of respite and familial warmth. And since Egyptian strongman Sisi has made a U.S. embassy letter a condition of Gaza entry (which my country will not give), Israel is my only way in. So I sucked it up and got on the plane.

Safe in the knowledge that my Swedish funder already had obtained a permit for me to enter Gaza (typically the hardest part), my guard was down when I approached airport passport control. The only thought that crossed my mind was that the inspector in my line seemed to be unusually thorough and perhaps I should switch…

But then there, I was, standing before her. She asked why I was entering, for what purpose, where was I going? And as instructed by my Swedish facilitators, I told the truth: “I am going into Gaza to work on a women’s project. I have a permit. Here’s my letter of invitation.” Bang. If I had listened closely, perhaps I would have heard the drawbridge going up — perhaps forever separating me from the place and the people I love so much.

When I was promptly walked into the “special room,” however, I only expected a bit of harassment — after all, that’s what Israel does. And I had a permit to enter Gaza. I even smiled amiably at the odd mix of others in the room, merrily greeting them as my fellow special guests. I didn’t suspect that the bright green tag affixed to my backpack made me even more “special” than most of the others.

I quickly made friends with those around me who would talk (some studiously avoided eye contact, as if our varying degrees of specialness were infectious). I found Adam, a tall, gangly, Arab-looking kid from Florida, particularly engaging. This was his first trip ever out of the United States and he’d been detained. “Is this normal?” he asked. I looked at him in amusement. “Why did you come here?” I asked back. “I wanted a good beach, that’s all,” he said. “Ummm… and you picked Israel?” I responded in disbelief.

Adam, however, eventually left and was released to go look for that beach of his. I was not.

After an hour stretched into two, I finally was ushered into the office of the oldest of the young women who always seem to run Israel’s border gates. The Palestinian NGO who’d be hosting me inside Gaza is “illegal in Israel,” I was informed. My response that I had a permit, that the NGO didn’t work in Israel, that I didn’t intend to stay in Israel, was brushed aside. No questions were asked, no comments or questions accepted. I was finger printed, then told I would not be able to return for 10 years.

Ten YEARS? Those words would echo through my head for the next 11 hours.

In the following days, people asked me if I had been scared, assuming I was. After all, I was transported in a literal prison van — bars and all — to what amounted to a jail. Forced to surrender all of my belongings and then confined to a stifling, hot, concrete-box room with barely more than an excruciatingly uncomfortable bunk bed (I have a bad back) for what seemed to be hours upon end. No company (except for a few girls who spoke only Russian for the first several hours), no distraction of any kind. Except the chatter in my brain.

I wasn’t scared. All I really heard or understood was TEN YEARS. The words felt like a heavy weight on my chest, squeezing out all the air.

I had many hours to turn those words over in my head. I know it is but a pale comparison to what a prisoner must endure, but so many hours with only my fevered brain to keep me company was a hellish kind of experience. Reliving the previous hours. Imagining choosing another passport line. Making up a story about wanting to see the “holy sights” in Jerusalem. Why had I told the truth? Since when did I expect Israel to be predictable or reasonable? The way the scenario could have gone, should have gone — just as it had in April when I had last come — reverberated in my head, over and over and over.

My only other thought was a deep regret at not being able to contact my friends and colleagues in Gaza, who were waiting for me at the Erez crossing. I couldn’t get a phone signal when I was first pulled aside at the airport, and after that, my technology was taken away. (I chuckle now at my first comment upon pulling up to the jail-barracks: “I want an electrical outlet with a U.S. plug adapter. If you are really going to do this to me, I want to get some work done.”)

Finally, sometime in the night, my guards came and got me, drove me right up the tarmac to my return plane home and escorted me on. I might as well have worn cuffs, given the cloak-and-dagger feel of it all. The United Airlines (!!) crew even held onto my passport until we were preparing to land. Why? “If we had to divert the plane due to some emergency, before you reach home, you might try to escape,” I was told. If I had not been so strung out by that point, I would have laughed in their faces. Mata Hari I am not. But it was a little flattering.

Once home, it wasn’t too long before I was ready to fight. Calling lawyers. Threatening to sue. Considering whether I should legally change my last name. Planning a group sit-in at the State Department (after all, we give Israel $3 billion a year, and this is how they treat U.S. citizens?) I am an American and this is what we do. [Note: last month the US jacked up American taxpayers’ charitable donation to the Israeli military to $3.8-billion.]

I knew any legal challenge would cost money, which I’d have to raise, and because I consider my writers from We Are Not Numbers my family and partners, I polled them. Should I raise the money and challenge Israel with the law? Or resign myself to my fate and forever work with them from outside? I was shocked when the results came in: 23–8 in favor of just accepting the verdict.

“We have been suing Israel for years! Unfortunately, it doesn’t work,” stated one writer.

“I don’t think you will succeed if you fight Israel legally; you are not the only one who is banned for 10 years. You will lose money and lose the case as well,” wrote another. “Honestly, it sounds like a hopeless case, particularly when it comes to standing against Israel.”

I am not naïve. I am thoroughly disillusioned with international law, and with governments in general. And yet… I still have a belief that I can fight and maybe even win. Some passages from a novel I recently read come to mind. It’s called “Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist,” by a Sri Lankan named Sunil Yapa, and it’s about the protests against the heartlessness of globalization at the World Trade Association meeting in Seattle in 1999.

There are two passages that come to mind. In the first, a delegate from Sri Lanka is observing the masses of determined protesters, and he thinks, “There is something distinctly American about it all, a fundamental difference in perspective and place — in how they see themselves in the world. This is what makes it so American — not that they feel compassion for mistreated workers three continents away, workers they have never seen or known, whose world they cannot even begin to understand, not that they feel guilty about their privilege, no, not that either, but that they feel the need to do something about it. They feel that they have the power to do something about it. That is what makes it so American. That they feel they have the power to do something — they assume they have that power. They have been born with it — the ability to change the world — and have never questioned its existence, an assumption so massive as to remain completely unseen.” But then the delegate felt a sudden queasy sadness. “What if they knew what a real revolutionary was? How bloody is a real revolution.”

Several pages later, the focus is on Victor, a young black kid who had somewhat reluctantly joined the mostly white protesters. The chant rising up was “WHOSE COPS? OUR COPS!!! WHOSE COPS? OUR COPS!!!” And Victor thought, “Do they really believe that? The police protect money and power. They protect the few from the violence of the many. Do you have to be black or brown to know that? Shit, our cops? The police, they pickle the world, preserve it the way it is. They are guard dogs keeping us afraid and obedient.” (Spoiler alert: Those cops ended up charging the crowd of protesters, attacking them with tear gas and batons. And the WTO meeting was shut down.)

I am one of those protesters. Well, I am slightly different. I have lived in Gaza; I know the people there, the conditions on the ground. I have seen the brutality of the Israelis up close. And yet I still, instinctively, believe I can fight. Believe I can use the law. Believe I can make a difference.

It is not important for me to be in Gaza from a macro point of view. My deep, bottomless feeling of loss, which still consumes me today, is because I love the place and the people. The thought of not seeing it and them again, of no longer feeling my toes in the sea and the sand, of never again hugging and laughing with my writers, brings the same heartbreak I’d feel if I’d lost a home or family member. It’s personal.

But Israel’s increasing efforts to isolate Palestinians in the occupied territories, particularly Gaza, including depriving them of the ability to receive and welcome visitors, is worth fighting in every way possible. And if I can use my American idealism as a battering ram, I will do so.

PART ONE: MAKING MUSIC IN GAZA

Early this year Dan Cohen, an Arizona-born independent journalist who works in Palestine, posted a tweet about an Indiegogo campaign. Cohen is one of a handful of young activist journalists I follow who put themselves in the line of fire, literally and figuratively, by spurning putative objectivity on Israel/Palestine in order to report what they see with their eyes and feel in their hearts. Here’s a widely retweeted selfie Cohen posted in January:

These days my Twitter timeline seems to consist mostly of links to petitions and crowdfunding pitches, but the campaign Cohen tweeted caught my eye because it had been launched by a young English teacher in Gaza named Alaa Radwan, who was determined to learn the violin, and was looking for funds to buy an instrument.

Regular readers of this blog will know about my commitment to Palestinian rights and Israeli accountability (re-cast by hasbara trolls as terrorist sympathies and anti-Semitism respectively, of course). But they might not know that my stepfather was a Czech-born violin maker, and my mother continues to run the business they founded together which produces accessories for violins and violas. Having worked for this family business on and off for close to 20 years, I enthusiastically donated to Alaa’s campaign and sent the link to my mother who did the same.

SITTING IT OUT TILL FRANKFURT

In the course of a brief Twitter exchange with Alaa, I mentioned our business. A few weeks later she contacted me to say that she’d miraculously raised the money she needed but now she had no idea how she was going to find an instrument. Could I help? I said yes and began thinking about UK-based contacts I could approach. The next day, I had an idea: in April, I would be attending the Frankfurt Musikmesse, the world’s biggest musical instruments fair. I proposed that if Alaa could wait that long, I was sure I could find her a far better instrument through a violin maker or one of our wholesale clients at the fair than we would find in a shop. She ok’d my plan, saying it might then be possible to send the violin by post, for a friend had successfully sent her Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns in the mail. I suppressed my doubts, and we agreed to sit it out till April.

This is how I found myself on a sunny Tuesday morning two months later at Western Union on north London’s Caledonian Road accepting receipt of a wire transfer for the purchase of a violin in Frankfurt, Germany, from a young woman I’d never met who had just lived through Israel’s third siege of Gaza in six years, along with its ongoing eight-year blockade of goods from pasta to chocolate, lightbulbs, medicine and crayons. In that moment I became keenly aware that whatever passion, anger or despair the words ‘Gaza’ and ‘Palestine’ had aroused in me over two decades of protest, debate and sleepless nights, those places had in fact remained stubbornly abstract to me. However noble my intentions, I had unconsciously made Alaa an emblem instead of the person she was: an ordinary young woman imagining the talents she might discover and the self she might become. Gaza was the place where Alaa lived, where her emails were carefully composed and sent, and where her fantasy of playing the violin had taken hold. Unbound suddenly from the embarrassing constraints of my own imagination, I discovered that there is room to dream in Gaza of something other than peace.

Indulging in adrenaline fuelled chatter with the friendly young guy at Western Union, I mentioned what the money was for. His face broke into a warm, approving smile before he indulged a whistle-stop critique of UK foreign policy from Iraq to Palestine. And then he gave me Alaa’s cash.

A SALE WAS A SALE

The next day, I awoke to the dawn chorus and jumped into the car I’d booked for London’s City Airport. By mid-day I’d checked into my hotel and my fair pass had been scanned. Since I was last there, before my children were born, the sprawling fairgrounds had grown to include a shopping mall, although a Spring heatwave meant the outdoor stalls hawking beer and wurst boasted snaking queues against a soundtrack of thumping bass from the sponsored performance tents.

I breached the wall of cacophonous sound to enter Hall 3.1. Although I’d compiled a mental list of prospects, I began by having a look around the neighbourhood where the stringed instruments were concentrated. I said hello to a few people I knew and explained my mission to find a violin for a young woman in Gaza. In return, I got a couple of blank stares, a few throats in urgent need of clearing, and several pairs of eyes seeking embarrassed refuge as far from mine as their extraocular muscles could travel.

But for some, a sale was a sale. One nervy Brit insisted all I could get for Alaa’s money was a basic Chinese outfit before grudgingly offering a discount off the retail price when his colleague, who’d been eavesdropping, gave him a quizzical look. Our Romanian friends, who’d successfully navigated the post-communist landscape to build a thriving violin-making enterprise, showed me their wares with a kindly smile and a shrug; I said I’d think about it.

And then I approached the Germans, a formidable wholesale and manufacturing company we’d been dealing with for many years. Like his predecessor, Mr H, their head of strings, is an innocuous looking fellow but anyone paying attention will quickly spot the shrewd twinkle in his eye. I explained what I needed and how much I could spend. He leapt into action, showing me a good, ‘antiqued’ German-made student instrument that was on display. Judging by a YouTube video Alaa had sent with an exhortation to please find an instrument ‘that sounds like this’, I sensed that her view of the violin was rather romantic so she wouldn’t want an instrument that looked new. ‘Yes!’ I said, nodding happily.

‘THIS VIOLIN IS GOING TO GAZA

Mr H offered to include a good German bow and some rosin, and to swap the standard Thomastik strings for Larsen, his preferred brand. With a flourish, he announced he’d throw in the case for free et voila: a high-quality student ‘outfit’ at about one-third the retail cost. ‘I’ll take it,’ I said, thinking I’d sort out how to get it to Gaza when I was back in London. ‘Well, I can’t sell it to you here,’ said Mr H. ‘We don’t have enough instruments to sell at the fair, and anyway we’re not permitted to sell here,’ he reminded me. ‘We will see if we can send it to Mr A,’ he said, naming an Israeli company that’s a mutual client of ours. My heart sank. ‘Um, I don’t think that will work, Mr H,’ I stammered as politely as I could. ‘The violin is going to Gaza,’ I emphasised. ‘I doubt Mr A will want to be involved in this.’ Silence. ‘Let me ask Alaa what she thinks, and I’ll get back to you.’

Early that evening, I emailed Alaa from my hotel room telling her about the violin, and the proposal to get it to Gaza. She didn’t reply till the next morning, apologetically explaining that there had been no electricity in Gaza the night before. ‘Sure,’ she replied to my tentative query about delivery to Tel Aviv. ‘A friend might be able to collect it for me.’ And that was that: later that morning, shortly before I left for the airport, I happened upon Mr H in a corridor at the fair. Money changed hands, a handwritten receipt was scribbled on a bent knee, and I returned to London. The following Monday I heard back from the Germans that our Israeli client was happy to help, and suddenly the fate of Alaa’s violin was out of my hands.

Needless to say there were customs delays and a few administrative headaches, which gave me the opportunity to be in touch with Mr A, without whom I’m not sure any of this could have been possible. Although we’d met several times, I hadn’t seen him for years, but I recalled a brief exchange in which he mentioned that he was on the Israeli left. From what I saw last summer, I didn’t think there were any leftists remaining in Israel, save the besieged staff of Haaretz and a few NGOs, but it seems I was wrong.

Then I read on Twitter that a rocket had been launched from Gaza into Israel and although ISIS had claimed responsibility, Israel began bombing again. When I didn’t hear from Alaa for a few days, I began to worry so I emailed her. A couple of days later she replied: she was fine, she said, but still no violin.

This morning Alaa told me that her instrument arrived. Now she can retire the pencil she’s been using to practice her bow hold, instead carefully placing each finger on the ebony frog while she keeps her wrist still and flat, but always relaxed. What’s more, she’s already got an audience: four and five year-old nephews Mahmoud and Omer, begging her to make music.

PART TWO: SILENCING DISSENT ON ISRAEL/PALESTINE

I know that my blogs are often bleak and despairing, and I was pleased to have some good news to share today. But it’s a tepid palliative for the deteriorating situation on the ground in Palestine, from the energetic expansion of settlements to the appointment of the most hawkish cabinet in Israeli history. Outside the region, those of us engaged in this issue are witnessing an unprecedented – yes, singular and extraordinary – campaign to shut down and even criminalise non-violent protest against Israel’s colonialist project and the apartheid mechanics that enable it.

Just a few weeks ago, Haaretz reported on a planned anti-BDS summit convened by Sheldon Adelson, the American casino magnate who poured $85-million (read that again) into Republican coffers during the 2012 US presidential election campaign, and attended by a who’s who of the pro-Israeli super-rich including Haim Saban who’s bankrolling Hillary Clinton’s White House bid, and Heather Reisman, who owns most of Canada’s bookstores. Call it a pro-Israel Bilderberg Group.

Around the same time, the Illinois legislature passed a law forcing state pensions to divest funds from companies that boycott businesses operating in Israel’s illegal settlements. In other words, Illinois has outlawed non-violent civil protest against a campaign of military occupation and state terror. Here’s how Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunimah put it,

DECLARING WAR ON ARGUMENT

These moves are galling but unexceptional. From a New York Times campaign to smear BDS activists, to the indefinite ‘postponement’ of a University of Southampton conference on Israel and International law with the help of Eric Pickles, the former UK Communities Secretary who’s now Chair of Conservative Friends of Israel, from Canadian government moves to equate a defence of Palestinian rights with ‘hate speech’ to US legislators making an EU trade pact conditional on European silence about Israeli settlements, debate and dissent are under sustained siege. As Saree Makdisi put it in a Los Angeles Times op-ed about attacks on campus protest movements,

the defenders of Israel…are in deep trouble, not because student well-being is at risk but because the rickety assemblage of distortions and myths used to justify support for Israeli policies can’t withstand scholarly scrutiny. Having lost the actual arguments, Israel’s defenders have now declared war on argument itself.

The campaign to outlaw dissent is attracting a motley crew of mercenaries. As Richard Silverstein tells us on his blog Tikun Olam, The Jerusalem Post has gleefully reported support for the anti-BDS movement from the likes of Jose Maria Aznar, Spain’s Francoist ex-President who founded Friends of Israel in 2010, and has lobbied to have the Jewish state admitted unconditionally into the European Union.

According to Aznar, the goal of BDS activists is to ’empty the country of Jews’, a wild and ironic claim from a man who posthumously awarded Spain’s medal of civil merit to the late Meliton Manzanas, a high-ranking cop under Franco who helped the Gestapo arrest Jews trying to escape Occupied France. (Aznar also allegedly used state funds to pay American lobbyists pushing to award him the US’s Congressional Gold Medal. They failed.)

THE IDF STANDS IDLY BY

The Nobel prize winner F.W. de Klerk has also weighed in. Calling comparisons between Israel and South Africa ‘odious’ de Klerk claims that it was negotiation and not international pressure including boycotts that toppled apartheid. I confess that I’m only mildly curious to know who is persuaded by the preposterous contention that if the Palestinians would just ask nicely, Israeli settlers would stop running over their children, uprooting their olive trees and forcibly evicting them from their homes while the IDF stands idly by.

No, what strikes me more forcefully is the burgeoning club of Nobel laureates eager to swap their moral capital for Israeli favour. This group includes Barack Obama, no friend of Bibi’s to be sure, but a peace prize-winning supplicant nonetheless, who perversely claimed a ‘direct line’ between the behaviour of the Israeli state and the black civil rights movement just a few weeks ago.

What’s more alarming still is that several of these moves came just days after the group Breaking the Silence released ‘This is How We Fought in Gaza’, a 240-page report comprising testimony from dozens of IDF soldiers. According to The Washington Post,

The soldiers described reducing Gaza neighborhoods to sand, firing artillery at random houses to avenge fallen comrades, shooting at innocent civilians because they were bored and watching armed drones attack a pair of women talking on cellphones because they were assumed to be Hamas scouts.

Strenuous efforts are being made to silence those dissenters too, from claims that their testimony was treasonous to the allegation that some soldiers’ anonymity meant the whole thing was a fabrication aimed at smearing the IDF. Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister failed to shut down an exhibition in Switzerland based on the organisation’s report, but worked with its embassy in Germany to secure cancellation of the same exhibition in Cologne as part of an event marking Israeli-German relations. In fact, that victory produced a grand slam week for Israeli hasbara when the Germans also agreed to postpone discussions on peace groups in Israel and Palestine, and on Palestinian Christians, that were part of the same event. Meantime, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon elected to exclude the country from a list of children’s rights violators despite its record in 2014 being the third worst in the world.

WAR CRIMES

Today, a report from the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights concluded that both Israel and Hamas had committed possible war crimes in last summer’s Gaza siege. Hamas’s consisted primarily of executing collaborators and firing rockets indiscriminately. Israel was guilty of much else including deliberately targeting hospitals and ambulances, attacking residential buildings when it was likely that most family members would be home, stopping medical personnel from reaching the wounded, and deliberately killing unarmed civilians waving white flags.

The incidents are often chilling, especially those that took place in Khuza’a. The wheelchair bound 70 year-old who was shot in the head from a distance of two metres because she hadn’t heeded IDF warnings to leave. The mentally disabled boy who was beaten by IDF soldiers as his father stood by unable to intervene. This is the second time I’ve read about the Palestinian men who were stripped naked, handcuffed and blindfolded before being forced to stand in windows to act as human shields, and it wasn’t any easier than when I first heard this testimony in a Russell Tribunal video.

Naturally, Israel had pre-empted publication of the report a few days ago by clearing itself of the murder of four young boys playing football on a beach in Gaza, a judgment strengthened by its decision not to seek the testimony of any of the journalists who witnessed the event.

EXCRUCIATING ATTEMPTS AT BALANCE

Unlike Hamas, Israel had refused to co-operate with UN investigators despite its success in hectoring William Schabas, a Canadian academic of Ashkenazi Jewish origin who sat on the editorial board of the Israel Law Review, into stepping down as head of the commission. According to the Israeli government, Schabas – who was described by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum as ‘the world expert on the law of genocide and international law’ – was incapable of leading a fair enquiry.

At 183 pages, the document is too long to summarise here, and in the event I’ve seen that the usual suspects have been prolifically tweeting its ‘highlights.’ What struck me most about it was its most obvious theme: the Israeli occupation of most of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, alongside its eight year-long blockade of Gaza. Indeed, notwithstanding its often excruciating attempts at ‘balance’ and its explicit repudiation of the notion that war crimes can ever be justified, the report repeatedly contextualises the unprecedented devastation wrought by last summer’s 51-day siege within the crippling impact of the blockade. Here’s a quote from paragraphs 589 and 590:

“The impact of the 2014 hostilities on the Gaza strip cannot be assessed separately from the blockade imposed by Israel. In particular, the destruction and damage brought about by the escalation of violence last summer pose significant challenges to the enjoyment of the rights to an adequate standard of living, housing, food, water, sanitation, health and education of the population of Gaza. The damage to electricity infrastructure, critical for power supply and a whole range of services, including health services, water and sanitation has been devastating for the enjoyment of human rights in the short, medium and long-term…

In that context, while fully aware of the need for Israel to address its security concerns, the commission believes that the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism, put in place with the assistance of the United Nations to accelerate efforts to rebuild destroyed houses and infrastructure, is not a substitute for lifting the blockade.”

Ah yes, ‘lifting the blockade’: another dream from Gaza that will have to wait. But for now Alaa Radwan got her violin, and so today was a good day (relatively speaking).