This episode of the "Story/Backstory" series is related to the column "Beating Israel's 'But Khamas!' ploy" that was released on the Mondoweiss website on March 20. In this episode, JWE president Helena Cobban tries something a little new. Instead of starting off by reading the text of the column, she briefly summarizes it, and then dives right into the deeper backstory, providing her take on what's needed to prevent this commonly used Israeli ploy from succeeding.
In the second half of this episode, she introduces some excerpts from the audio of a fascinating presentation that Ahmed Abu Artema, the Gaza-Palestinian poet who was the originator of the whole idea of the Great March of Return, gave on March 18 at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington DC.
Today, on Just World Podcasts: Beating Israel's 'But Khamas!' ploy. Hi, I'm Helena Cobban, the president of Just World Educational. This week's podcast is the fifth in our series story backstory, which explores Washington's current policies in the Middle East and the Middle East itself within a broader historical perspective. Each week in this project, I'm writing an opinion column that gets published on the Wednesday. Then a few days later I follow that up with an expanded audio version and this week I'm trying to do something very different in the audio: That is, instead of starting off this podcast by reading the written column, I'm going to assume you've already read it online and in case you haven't, I'll provide a quick digest of what it said. Then I'll just dive on over to my exploration of the even deeper backstory. Do let me know if you don't like this new format.:
Also, let me urge you to visit our website, www.justworldeducational.org where you can learn a lot more about Just World Educational, you can sample the great educational resources we make available there and you'll find links to our social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter. Oh, and you'll find a handy tab on the website that tells you how you can donate to support our timely educational work. As always, please note that the opinions and judgements I express in this project are my own. They do not represent the views of Just World Educational or any other organization. So now "Beating Israel's 'But Khamas!' ploy". What I was trying to do in the written article was point out how every time people outside Israel express grave concern about the Israeli government's gross violations of human rights and international law in Gaza. One of the first reactions of the Israeli government, and it's well paid armies of propagandists is to screen something like, 'But Khamas', well, they very often apparently intentionally mispronounce the organization's name in that very scary way too.Helena Cobban:
Their goal, it seems to me, is to try to shut down any actual discussion of their many misdeeds in Gaza by invoking the name of Hamas, a name that they're betting is one that's very scary to many people in the west and elsewhere. So this is precisely what Israel and its propagandists have done in response to the heroic mass action the Gaza Palestinians have been undertaking every week for the past year under the rubric of the Great March of Return. An amounting chorus of complaints there have been including from the United Nations about the atrocious, extremely deadly nature of Israel's response. They've been trying to portray the March as nothing but a scheme concocted by Khamas in order to provide a human-shield-type cover, for Hamas is continuing and of course in there telling very scary and threatening military activities. So my article went into some detail to refute both the claim that the Great March of Return is just a tool of Hamas and the claim that it's only role is as a massive human shield for Hamas is ongoing and terrifying military pursuits. Of course I urge you to read the article and its entirety. It was published on March 20th on Mondoweiss.net. So now, I want to do two things. I want to develop my argument about how we can all counter Israel's "But Khamas!" ploy a bit further than I did in the article and then I want to provide a little more information about the Great March of Return itself. Information that I learned by watching the video of an event held recently in Washington DC where Ahmed Abu Artema, the Gaza Palestinian who actually originated the idea of the mass nonviolent Great March of Return was discussing the march with a great audience at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. That part of the podcast will also include some soundbites from Ahmed Abu Artema's very inspiring presentation there. So first, how can we develop an effective counter to Israel's use of the 'But Khamas' ploy? I think we need to do three things. Firstly, we have to recognize that Israeli screams of "But Khamas!" in whatever form they come are only a ploy and that their intent is to distract the attention of international actors in governments or civil society from the very serious matter of Israel's own numerous and long sustained violations of human rights in and concerning Gaza. We need to keep our eyes on the ball, which is Israel's violations and how to end them. And yes, those violations certainly include the inhumane blockade Israel has maintained around Gaza for 13 years now, which constitutes collective punishment of all of Gaza's two million plus residents that is completely illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention. So, whether it's Hamas or Fatah or Barney the purple dinosaur who currently administers affairs inside Gaza, the blockade Israel maintains around Gaza and its many other violations there simply have to end under international law. Israel is still the overall occupying power in Gaza and as such, under international law, it has complete responsibility for the wellbeing of the area's residents. Let's keep our focus on that. Secondly, I think we need to understand that a real solution to the continued suffering of Gaza's people will come only through decisive international political action to end the siege and to assure Gaza's people that all their legitimate rights will be respected and implemented. Well meaning people have been carrying out humanitarian projects in Gaza for all the past 71 years, but all those many decades of humanitarian action, much of it extremely well meaning and dedicated has not helped Gaza's people to escape the misery of the displacement of so many of them from their families' homes in 1948 and the compounding miseries of a 52-year-long military occupation and a 13-year-long-siege that have also been heaped upon them. Thirdly, this international political action must be one that includes the resistance movement known as Hamas along with all the other politically significant movements in Palestinian political life. Rather than seeking to exclude Hamas forever from any role in politics or worse yet to crush it. God knows, in the past 13 years, the Israelis with the full backing of Washington have done everything in their power to crush Hamas, but nothing they have tried has worked. And for this reason, Hamas is by no means a perfect movement. But in the 32 years since its founding, it has shown that it enjoys very substantial backing from Palestinians both inside and outside the homeland. Indeed, in the fairest election ever held by Palestinians living in the Israeli occupied West Bank and Gaza, the parliamentary election held there in January 2006, Hamas came out the winner. So, people in the West or elsewhere who want to see a successful political resolution of the lengthy Palestinian-Israeli conflict, will need to understand Hamas a lot better than most of them have bothered to do to date. Of course, it is just this kind of understanding that the scary memes of the Israeli propagandists 'But Khamas' Campaigns' all seek to sidestep. I should note that at our Just World Educational website, you can find lots of great resources that provide background on Gaza, on the Great March of Return and on Hamas. I warmly invite you to go there and explore them and let's continue a discussion of what needs to happen to bring about the end of Israel's siege of Gaza and the realization finally of the rights of all the Palestinians in Gaza and elsewhere. A discussion that is not hobbled by people still being captive to the many years of Israel's cartoonishly hostile portrayals of this Palestinian resistance movement, Hamas. So now, over to Ahmed Abu Artema and the great presentation he gave earlier this week at Washington's Carnegie Endowment. I was really sorry to have missed that gathering as I was in London. Abu Artema's event, which was titled 'Marking A Year of Protest in Gaza' was cosponsored by the Institute for Palestine Studies and the American Friends Service Committee in addition to the Carnegie Endowment itself. And the Carnegie Endowment helpfully video-taped the whole thing and has posted the video on their website, which is Carnegieendowment.org. Ahmed Abu Artema is both a poet and a refugee. In his presentation, he spoke very movingly about the travails of life in the Gaza Strip and about his dream of living in a place that is not surrounded by walls and subject to the caprice of a hostile occupier. Bearing in mind that more than 75% of Gaza's people come as he does from families that were expelled from their homes in historic Palestine back in 1948-49, he talked about the motivations that brought people to the first day of the planned marches back on March 30th last year, and then about their motivation in continuing the Great March of Return ever since.Ahmed Artema:
Why did the people decide to join the Great March of Return? Men and women, old and the young, all participated in these peaceful marches because their dream of return still remains. Even after 70 years, our people still hold onto the keys and deeds to the homes we were forced to flee from. We pass them on, from generation to generation, and they prove our ownership of our lands and homes. People joined the peaceful Great March of Return because they love life and because Gaza is no longer a place where human beings can live. We want human rights like the rest of all people and nations of the world. On March 30 last year, the Gaza Great March of Return was launched. Tens of thousands of Palestinians peacefully protested near the fence. On that day, woman, men, the elderly and children participated in the March together and raised the keys of their homes in Israel. Today, nearly one year later, Palestinians in Gaza still protest every Friday.Speaker 1:
He talked too about how happy he was to see the breadth of support, his proposal for the sustained mass nonviolent action that became the Great March of Return met with from broad swathes of Gaza's society, including both its civil society organizations and the political factions there that also have an armed wing alongside their political wing.Ahmed Artema:
Even those who are part of Palestinian factions who engage in armed resistance began to understand how effective peaceful struggle can be. The idea of the Great March of Return became a perfect opportunity to encourage the Palestinian people to fully embrace the concept of peaceful resistance in word and deed, in arts and education. It made me so happy to see how accepting people had become of this concept, considering I had been writing about this for more than 10 yearsHelena Cobban:
After Abu Artema gave his main presentation in English, there was a discussion moderated by the Carnegie Endowment's Zaha Hassan. In one of the questions she asked, she started out by summarizing a recent piece in the Wall Street Journal by the Jewish Israeli commentator Yossi Klein Halevi in which he argued that the goal of the Great March of Return was to erase Israel. "Is the goal of the Great March to erase Israel?" she asked Abu Artema. In his answer, he focused on the continuing centrality of the right of return of the Palestinian families expelled from their homes in 1948 Israel to the whole of the Palestinian cause. Here is part of the sophisticated argument he made in response to Miss Hassan's question. With his words in Arabic being translated into English by Jehad Abu Saleem, a Gaza Palestinian who works with the American Friends Service Committee in Chicago.Ahmed Artema:
it's only possible to surpass the right of return only in one case, if millions of Palestinians, their descendants and their grandsons and daughters vanished from existence, but they will never vanish. So, the only step that makes sense is to consider their right and to consider their desire to return to their homes and towns and villages. We're looking for a formula where everybody will be winning and a formula that is not based on a side winning and another side losing, but Israelis and Palestinians live on the basis of their humanity and not on the basis of a dynamic where one side is an oppressor and an occupier and other side is oppressed and deprived of their rights. Our struggle is about liberating Palestinians of course, but it's also about liberating Israelis from fear and from living behind walls forever. Is that possible? Yes, for example, we look here in the u s US, many cultures and ethnicities and religions coexist together on the basis of citizenship on the basis of human rights. And there are Jewish people and Palestinians in the US who also live close to each other, and it's working here. This isn't only a proposed solution, this is actually the only solution that will guarantee justice and fairness for everyone. What could the other solution be? A two state solution? Okay, but what about millions of refugees who want to go back and seek to go back to their lands, villages and towns from which they were expelled. We can keep postponing the problem without addressing it, but postponing the problem will not solve it, but actually it will increase the complexity of it.Helena Cobban:
Abu Artema's argument was a powerful one. I urge all of you who are interested in finding a just sustainable and rights-based resolution to the Palestinian Israeli conflict to look at the whole video of that discussion at the Carnegie Endowment. In fact, we'll be putting it onto our website too. There is so much for us all to learn there. That's it for this week. As I noted before, you can find a wealth of information about the Great March of Return, about Gaza and other parts of the Palestine question, and about Hamas and other Palestinian movements at our website, www.justworldeducational.org you can also find the growing archive of this story, Backstory Project there, and if you'd like to support our work by making a donation, that would help us too even more than we have been doing. You'll find details for how to do that on our website too. For Just World podcasts, this is me, Helena Cobban signing off. Thanks for listening and have a great week.