Monthly Archives: February 2015

Eyewitnesses In Gaza

When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu comes to Washington to address Congress about the threat from a nuclearized Iran, last summer’s military offensive on Gaza will be conspicuously absent from his speech. The real threat to Israel is an unceasing cycle of violence much closer to its borders than the Iranian nuclear program.

It was just past 1:45 in the morning in Tel Aviv when the event at New America NYC, entitled “No Safe Place,” began last week, on the evening of Feb. 19, discussing that overshadowed war, the third between Israel and Gaza in the last five years. Objectively speaking, it was not a war between Israel and Gaza but a war on Gaza, although there was armed resistance from Hamas, which launched thousands of rockets into Israel. Yet attempting such even-handedness would betray the basic fact that it was a one-sided slaughter. The new report by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel meticulously documents the civilian toll, and PHR-IL executive director Ran Goldstein and one of the authors of the report, Karen Kelly, were there to talk about their findings. The reality on the ground is even worse than the pictures that flooded world news media.

From left to right, Karen Kelly, Ran Goldstein, and Lisa Goldman. (c. Sharon Goldtzvik)

From left to right, Karen Kelly, Ran Goldstein, and Lisa Goldman. (c. Sharon Goldtzvik)

Gaza is the geographical size of Detroit and has one of the highest population densities on Earth. Since 2007, its 1.8 million people have been put under “closure” by Israel, meaning that there is no movement of people or goods in the territory, eighty percent of whose inhabitants are refugees. “Israel controls the sea and border,” Goldman added. She is the director of the Israel-Palestine Initiative at New America NYC, which hosted the event Thursday evening under the auspices of the Open Society Foundation, peppered Goldstein and Kelly with myriad questions about what they saw there and about their methodology, an area that is frequently subjected to withering scrutiny if not outright dismissal by officials in the Israel Defense Forces and the Israeli government. One of the most fantastic claims, Goldstein said, made by the Israeli authorities was that they had not even read the PHR-IL report but had rejected the methods by which the report was created.

The case of Khuza’a, a village in the southeast of the territory near Khan Younis, merited an especially close look. It was bombed on July 20, 2014. There was no road to escape, no safe place indeed. Goldstein related the testimony of a doctor there who did not get a permit to leave from the IDF, so he along with his patients marched waving white flags to another clinic, which was bombed soon afterward. “The IDF came with bulldozers and took out the women and children,” Goldstein said. “Soldiers told the women and children and the old people to go out.” For the remaining men inside, “they took off their clothes and used them as human shields for eight hours.” This was at least one instance of Israelis using human shields, a charge that was often attributed to the Palestinians, for the crime of living in an open-air prison where it is impossible to eliminate militants in “pinpoint” airstrikes.

Entire extended clans of families, huddled 20 to 50 to a house, were obliterated. Kelly was deeply shaken by this. For the report, Kelly and her team visited 68 people. One young man, she said, was burned in over 90 percent of his body. “Nearly everyone had at least one limb amputated,” she said, recalling that the level of amputations was unbelievably immense. “It was devastation,” Kelly told me in an interview after the event ended, agreeing that what took place was “a massacre.” (Goldstein quickly mentioned that it is not the position of PHR-IL that a massacre befell Gaza.) This was Karen Kelly’s first time not only in the Gaza Strip, where she spent four days talking with anyone who would talk to her and her team, but her first experience in working with people abroad in a wartime situation.

It is not in dispute that a humanitarian crisis exists in Gaza, whose inhabitants were subjected to a campaign of aerial bombardment that leveled entire neighborhoods and killed more than 2,000 people. The overwhelming majority of them were not combatants or participants in the fighting or firing of rockets which killed 70 Israelis. The situation there is not, however, what it appears to be in the media: it is far worse. Shifa Hospital has only one X-ray machine, Kelly, the forensic expert, and associate professor of forensic pathology at Eastern Carolina University, said, adding, “A lot of evidence was lost and couldn’t be collected.”

Children comprise the majority of Gazans, who have grown up with three wars in the last six years. Yes, the children of Sderot and other border towns within Israel are shell-shocked; the youth of Gaza are all the more traumatized. 350,000 children in Gaza have post-traumatic stress disorder, Goldman pointed out. “The Palestinians and the Israelis need to know what’s going on in their own environment,” Goldstein said. “It’s a circle of violence.” Someone affiliated with J Street asked a question afterward on how Israel can avoid this level of civilian deaths in the next war. “We should prevent the next war,” Goldstein shot back afterward, “not how to make it better.”

All were agreed that another round of fighting appears to be inevitable. “The next war is really close,” Goldstein said.

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Revisiting Black Power

Malcolm X was assassinated exactly 50 years ago today. Ilyasah Shabazz, the daughter of Malcolm X, wrote an op-ed for the New York Times today in which she laid out, in her opinion, what he would think after surveying the current state of race relations in the United States:

“In a sense,” Shabazz writes, “his ability to boil down hard truths into strong statements and catchy phrases” — e.g. by any means necessary, the bullet or the ballot — “presaged our era of hashtag activism.” She “imagine[s] he would applaud the ‘Hands Up’ gesture for its sheer dramatic effect, but also critique it as rank capitulation that ironically accommodates the very goal of police brutality — to intimidate and immobilize black citizens, forcing them into a defenseless posture if they hope to survive.”

Shabazz continues, “As it is, today’s protesters often act like they are starting from square one. This disconnect cannot be dismissed as the hubris of youth; it is a symptom of our failure to teach this generation about black history and the way our economic and social systems actually function.” Emphasis is mine. She concludes that activists would be counseled by her father, were he alive today (he would be 89 years old), to not “take the path of least resistance”: “Grass-roots work is not flashy, and rarely celebrated on the national media level, but that is where change begins.”

Two years after the death of Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael and Charles Hamilton published a book titled Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America (Random House, Vintage paperback). The book is all about how the socio-political system functions and, aside from obvious racial progress, holds up very well. Carmichael and Hamilton call out the existence of “institutional racism,” still under-acknowledged to this day. Those who have perpetrated the canard that theirs is an anti-white tract are under a delusion which would have been easily dispelled had they only read this book. They are crystal-clear: American “society does nothing meaningful about institutional racism … because the black community has been the creation of, and dominated by, a combination of oppressive forces and special interests in the white community. … This is not to say that every single white American consciously oppresses black people.” They add, “He does not need to.”

Institutional racism has been maintained deliberately by the power structure and through indifference, inertia and lack [of] concern on the part of white masses as well as petty officials. Whenever black demands for change become loud and strong, indifference is replaced by active opposition based on fear and self-interest. (p. 22)

Note that they are talking about group interest, not condemning white people qua white people. Answering the “deliberate and absurd lie” that black power is reverse racism, they say: “Racism is not merely exclusion on the basis of race but exclusion for the purpose of subjugating or maintaining subjugation.” (p. 47, my italics) Indeed, “It is a commentary on the fundamentally racist nature of this society that the concept of group strength for black people must be articulated—not to mention defended. No other group would submit to being led by others. Italians do not run the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith. Irish do not chair Christopher Columbus Societies.” (p. 49) What follows, two pages later, is critical to make this point.

The black community was told time and again how other immigrants finally won acceptance: that is, by following the Protestant Ethic of Work and Achievement. They worked hard; therefore, they achieved. We were not told that it was by building Irish Power, Italian Power, Polish Power or Jewish Power that these groups got themselves together and operated from positions of strength. We were not told that ‘the American dream’ wasn’t designed for black people. (Emphases in the original.)

“Politics results from a conflict of interests,” Carmichael and Hamilton wrote, “not of consciences.” (p. 75) In a pluralistic society like the United States, change happens when groups coalesce around their shared group interest to fight for policies that affect them as a group. It may not sound nice, but given American history it is not at all racist. Some things have not really changed in the near half-century that has elapsed since Black Power was first published. For example, “The core problem within the ghetto is the vicious circle created by the lack of decent housing, decent jobs and adequate education,” they write later on. “The failure of these three institutions to work has led to alienation of the ghetto from the rest of the urban area as well as to deep political rifts between the two communities.” (p. 155) Both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King referred to the urban ghettoes as America’s “internal colonies.” It is worth remembering that.

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Adventures In Funemployment

Since the start of the year, maybe it was sometime in January when walking across the two-mile span of the Golden Gate Bridge, dodging flocks of tourists wielding camera-attached narcissticks, and noting the signs telling me that jumping off would be not only fatal but tragic, I have not been “working” at a “job.” The purpose of the quote-marks is to show that I am no longer bound to an office or to a boss, and although I need income because this city is like a money hoover connected to your pocket, for the most part I am now a free agent. Since sometime in January, many applications have been sent out to various employers, so far amounting to nil — apparently it never gets easier to write a cover letter, especially for a job you really want. There have been a few interviews, and as far as projects go I have been working on more book reviews, the latest two (not yet out) have to do with revolution. One deals on the American Revolution, and the other calls for a sexual revolution in the Middle East and North Africa, an entire swath of the globe acronymized as MENA.

One of the things I do is follow the news. Here is an item that just came in: the Senate has confirmed the first Native American woman to be a federal judge. Change happens very slowly on a national scale. Trying to get into journalism school, at CUNY; the other week at the interview one question was, Where do you get your news? Difficult to answer that, since sources are now so various, like pluripotent cells that keep on subdividing. At this moment, near 20 tabs are vying for my attention. A backlog of reading continually piles up. A friend of mine tells me to enjoy the freedom of not being tied to a desk every weekday, staring at a screen. True, but then the issue of money comes back. Not exactly living large these days, but living is not cheap. Anyway, enough of that. The late David Carr — rest in peace, good sir — once said that the cure for writer’s block to start typing, and that’s true as far as it goes. Start clacking and no slacking. Rhyming is not going to be my talent but damn it, why not?

Looking forward — how I despise that phrase, particularly because it is also so useful — to the new version of the New York Times magazine, which has been completely overhauled. How long will it be until nothing gets printed? (Were our eyes meant to absorb pixels? Were human beings meant to sit in cubicles, to borrow a question from a certain cult film classic?) Tangents do not bother me, folks. But it is time to check for the track from which this departed, and loop back to where it was going… yes, adventures in funemployment, which was the first headline that came to mind. Even though the ever-present temptation is to sink into a posture of cynicism and snark, often remind myself to count the blessings, especially everything you take for granted. Otherwise there goes the path to obliviousness, the defensive crouch of a wandering soul who is not aware of how good things are even if there is no “career prospect” waiting around the corner. Not yet.

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