September 09, 2009

On the Gaza Freedom March

As you know, the Gaza Freedom March organized by CODEPINK based on Norman Finkelstein's idea ran into some internal disputes. Finkelstein left the campaign with a door slamming. It is worth reading Max Ajl comments, as well as Pulsemedia's summary of the prequel to the latest Now, Finkelstein explains the issue thus:
During the week beginning August 30, 2009 and in a matter of days an entirely new sectarian agenda dubbed "the political context" was foisted on those who originally signed on and worked tirelessly for three months. Because it drags in contentious issues that--however precious to different constituencies--are wholly extraneous to the narrow but critical goal of breaking the siege this new agenda is gratuitously divisive and it is almost certain that it will drastically reduce the potential reach of our original appeal

At the heart of the dispute is the Statement of Context that was recently added to the campaign's call. The statement was the result of negotiations between the campaign's organizing committee and Omar Barghouti and Haidar Eid. After the statement was published both have endorsed the march without reservations and their endorsement paved the way for many more organizations that have had reservations.

Now, the question is, is there anything "sectarian" about Barghouti's and Eid's criticism? To help you make your own judgment, I include at the end of this post the text of the first letter the two wrote to the Gaza Freedom March endorsers. In my opinion it is a model of constructive criticism and engagement.

I jointly wrote a piece on EI that explains the issue in more details. You can read it here:

For reference, here is what the new context document says about the right of return:

An end to the military occupation that began in 1967 is a major condition for establishing a just and lasting peace. For over six decades, the Palestinian people have been denied freedom and rights to self-determination and equality. The hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who were forced out of their homes during Israel's creation in 1947-48 are still denied the rights granted them by UN Resolution 194 (Statement of Context).

And here is the piece about BDS:

Palestinian civil society has followed in the footsteps of Mandela and Gandhi. Just as those two leaders called on international civil society to boycott the goods and institutions of their oppressors, Palestinian associations, trade unions, and mass movements have since 2005 been calling on all people of conscience to support a non-violent campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions until Israel fully complies with its obligations under international law.

As one can easily see, march participants are not required to endorse neither BDS nor the Right of Return. The context document is descriptive, expressing respect for the history of Gaza's refugees and for Palestinian non-violent resistance that includes BDS.

Max Ajl sums up the issue very well

The fracture within the movement was essentially over the degree of partnership we were to have with the people in Palestine--whether the vision would be a shared, compromise vision, or one conceived here, given our judgment of the tactics/framing needed for success in American/Western society. (Jewbonics)

It should me mentioned that many of the people "here" agreed with the people "there," that tactical decisions cannot be made here in ways that undermine the Palestinian liberation struggle there.

These kinds of disputes taste bitter, but the good news is that the march is going forward now with the enthusiastic blessing of Palestinian civil society. So, consider going, or helping.

You missed the civil rights struggle in Mississippi because you were too young (insert alternative struggle for your country)? Here's your second chance. Don't miss it again.

Below is for reference Barghouti and Eid's first letter.

Dear signatories of the Gaza Freedom March statement,

[we are addressing you, all in BCC, upon seeing your name on the list of endorsers of this March]

We think most Palestinians will agree that the intentions behind this call are noble and that there is clear moral courage involved in endorsing this freedom march. We think that this initiative, "inspired by decades of nonviolent Palestinian resistance from the mass popular uprising of the first intifada to the West Bank villagers currently resisting the encroachments of Israel's annexationist wall," is worthy of the widest international support.

We do have a few concerns and constructive suggestions, though, and we want to share them with you:

1) The statement omits -- perhaps inadvertently -- the necessary legal and political context of the illegal siege, Israel 's 42-year-old military occupation and 61-year-old denial of the UN-sanctioned rights of the Palestinian refugees, who constitute more than 75% of the population of the occupied Gaza Strip. This is a substantial oversight, as the siege is not just about suffering and humanitarian needs, but political rights, above all the right to self determination, as stipulated in UN principles. The only mention of the occupation comes towards the very end, without an explicit call to end it: "The truth is that if international law were enforced the occupation would be unsustainable." This is equivalent to issuing a statement in the 1980s calling for action in solidarity with the South African majority without mentioning ending apartheid.

2) From all the available information, this whole idea of a non-violent march in Gaza against the siege was conceived and developed without due consultation with Palestinian civil society representatives (elected parliamentarians, leading academics/intellectuals, experienced activists, trade unionists, women leaders, student leaders, etc.), particularly those in Gaza. While the document talks about "joining ranks with the people of Gaza ," in reality, the Palestinian people in Gaza are the ones being invited here to join ranks with predominantly international figures, going to Gaza in an otherwise deeply appreciated show of solidarity and moral courage. This is not to undermine the idea; it just highlights the fact that the proposal comes from outside without taking into consideration the aspirations, concerns and express needs of the Palestinian people under siege in Gaza .

One obvious example of such needs is for international civil society to apply pressure on the Egyptian authorities to reopen the Rafah Crossing to allow freedom of movement and partially relieve the humanitarian crisis, in such a way that does not help Israel claim that its effective control over, and therefore occupation of, Gaza has ended. The marches, many people in Gaza believe, should aim at breaking the siege in a way that will allow people to move freely out of Gaza . Rafah is currently the only exit Gaza has to the external world; opening the Erez/Beit Hanoun checkpoint would – obviously -- still not allow freedom of movement as Israel alone decides who exits and under what circumstances and conditions, as the case was before the full application of the siege. We, therefore, think that pressure to reopen the Rafah Crossing is crucial and deserves to be highlighted in the statement. The fact that Egypt has managed to open the Crossing so many disparate days already shows that it can and that it is vulnerable to pressure. Accordingly, simultaneous marches should, in our view, be organized to Erez as well as the Rafah Crossing.

3) While over-emphasizing Gandhian non-violence, the statement ignores the most effective, home grown, non-violent form of resistance advocated by most Palestinians today: BDS. This omission is particularly perplexing given that BDS is not only the most prevalent non-violent form of resistance today; it is inspired by a century of Palestinian civil struggle and more recently by the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa . Furthermore, there were no efforts made by the initiators of this proposal to coordinate or consult with the BDS National Committee, BNC, the umbrella group of the most important Palestinian political parties, trade unions, mass movements and NGOs that is guiding and leading the global BDS movement.

4) Palestinians in Gaza are referred to as "the people of Gaza" or the "population of Gaza," inadvertently stripping them of their national identity and, as a result, giving credence to the Israeli division of the Palestinians into THE Palestinians, meaning those in the West Bank, "Israeli Arabs," some abstract refugees, and "the people of Gaza." The people in Gaza are only indirectly referred to as part of the Palestinian people. This could adversely affect their right to self determination as an integral part of the people of Palestine .

5) Some of the most impressive popular resistance actions in Gaza are worth mentioning in the statement as part of the "chain of nonviolent resistance to Israel 's flagrant disregard of international law." Examples include the human chain from Rafah to Erez, the tearing down of the border barrier separating Gaza from Egypt and the marches to the six checkpoints separating the occupied Gaza Strip from Israel .

Best regards,

Haidar Eid ( Gaza ) Omar Barghouti ( Jerusalem )

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