Rami Khouri
The Jordan Times
June 25, 2010 - 12:00am

The Israeli decision to ease the three-year-old siege of Gaza is being mildly welcomed in many quarters, and deep scepticism in others.

The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, has pleaded with the world via the Quartet to pressure Israel to fully lift its siege, while Lebanese and Iranian groups are planning to send more humanitarian aid ships to Gaza to challenge and break the Israeli blockade.

These two approaches reflect differing positions on the bigger question of how one reacts to Israeli power, and what one does to change conditions when power is applied unfairly, brutally or illegally. Does one negotiate with Israel and ask Western powers to pressure it to obey international law and stop behaving criminally? Or does one confront and challenge Israel, at the risk of being arrested, injured or killed?

The experience of the Free Gaza Movement over the past few years, which sent half a dozen boat expeditions to deliver humanitarian aid to Gazans, suggests to many that in-your-face confrontation is the most effective way to challenge Israel and force it to change its policies.

Israel’s reduced siege of Gaza is the fourth example of its changing a policy under pressure. The three other cases were the withdrawals from south Lebanon and Gaza’s heartland in the face of Hizbollah- and Hamas-led resistance, and the partial suspension of some settlements for ten months last year in response to American government pressure.

So the question now is: How will people and states in the Arab region and nearby lands, like Iran and Turkey, react to the latest lesson in challenging Israel with forceful action, rather than making only meek pleas?

Israel is already initiating two new aggressive acts that will quickly test the mettle of both its friends and foes. It will destroy several dozen Palestinian Arab homes in occupied East Jerusalem to build an Israeli tourism facility, and it will initiate work on the ground to build another 600 houses for settler-colonial Zionists in the Jerusalem area.

The fascinating issue today is not whether Israel is making any major changes in its policies. It is not. It is only making cosmetic changes to ward off foreign pressures. The really important new development is the growing Arab and international realisation that the criminal and inhuman excesses of Zionism - colonialism, discrimination, collective punishment, racism, siege and starvation, murder on the high seas, mass incarcerations and many others - can best be confronted using the same tactics that finally brought down the two major examples of racism and inequity in modern times: the civil rights movement that broke the back of official racism in the United States, and the anti-apartheid movement that forced the South African white minority government to throw in the towel and accept a fully democratic system.

I suspect that the Free Gaza Movement’s siege-breaking ships will go down in modern history as critical elements in the struggle for justice in Palestine, aiming for conditions that allow Jews, Christians and Muslims, and all other residents or visitors, to live in this land with equal rights.

Israel is perfectly willing to keep attacking aid convoys and killing innocent humanitarian activists. But what happens when the next ship sails with a crew of Christian priests chanting verses about God’s love of justice and mercy and the divine dictate to assist those in need, right from the book of Isaiah and the book of John? What will Israel do when a convoy of ships sails for Gaza carrying only schoolteachers and bags of marshmallows for the children of Gaza? How about when a convoy of ships approach?s Gaza with only nurses and diapers for the babies of Gaza?

An important corner has been turned in the strip, as the relationship between the coloniser and the colonised is reversed. When the colonised is no longer afraid of being hurt, or killed, the power of the coloniser to intimidate vanishes.

Lebanese and Iranians understand this because in their own ways, many of them have already experienced liberating episodes that reflect their determination to live in freedom and dignity. Palestinians have been trying to do this for decades, with limited success.

In every struggle for liberation against colonialism, oppression or racism, a moment occurs when the barrier of fear is broken in a very public manner. Ultimately, this forces a renegotiation of the power equation in a manner that restores the human rights and collective security and dignity of all concerned.

Jews, Christians and Muslims may well remember the challenge and collapse of the Israeli siege of Gaza as that pivotal moment in the struggle between Zionism and Arabism in Palestine. The ships to come will clarify this in due course, because they do not challenge Israel’s existence or security, but only its inhumanity towards the Palestinians.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017