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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Slams Pro-Palestinian Activists

June 23, 2011

[Note: if you don’t want to read a criticism of the State Dept. then just ignore this post but as people who frequent this site know, I am very interested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and I happen to disagree with our government’s posture towards the Palestinians and those who engage in activism on their behalf. ]

I guess civil disobedience is only an acceptable means of nonviolent protest when the target of the civil disobedience isn’t Israel? That seems to be a bit of a double standard.

Throughout history human rights activists have used a multitude of methods to draw attention to various injustices including even breaking the law to draw attention to segregation, having sit-ins during the Vietnam War and more recently, gay/lesbian members of the military chaining themselves to the White House fence this year to draw attention to DADT. All of those things were deemed illegal and provocative but in a democracy we generally accept the provocation because it usually is geared towards drawing attention to government actions and we prefer nonviolence to violence.

Were the Egyptian protesters engaging in civil disobedience when they ignored the regimes’ Emergency Law and stayed to protest around the clock in Tahrir Square? Yes, they were. Was it provocative? Yes. Did the Secretary of State denounce them? No, she did not.

Until the siege on Gaza- a form of collective punishment illegal under international law– is lifted, human rights activists have a right to draw attention to what they see as a monumental injustice.

Excerpt:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is criticizing activists planning to challenge Israel’s sea blockade of the Gaza Strip, saying their efforts are neither “necessary or useful” in helping the Palestinian people of Gaza.

A day after the State Department warned Americans against participating in the planned flotilla, Clinton said Thursday that the effort, which Israel has said it will thwart, was not helpful. She said the aim of the organizers appeared to be to merely provoke Israel into taking action that it has every right to do to defend itself.

It sounds like we are setting up a situation where Israel has a green light to use disproportionate force against the people on board the Flotilla and we’ll respond by saying “we warned you.” Also, trying to make the activists sound like some sort of violent threat to Israel’s security strikes me as a bit overkill. The Israeli military has multiple means at its disposal (prop foulers/physically blocking their entrance to the port in Gaza) to stop the flotilla once it is in Israeli waters- using a full scale military attack with special forces commandos strikes me as a tad provocative too, particularly when, as was the case last time, activists are killed and the death toll is completely one-sided.

Also, with respect to self defense, Israel doesn’t let in certain types of food or medicines into Gaza- how does that help them defend themselves? It doesn’t, it just slowly strangles the populace and adds to their suffering.

Here is an example of something that seems to have nothing to do with Israel’s security or self defense:

As soon as Israel imposed its ongoing siege, the health sector became a priority target. The vast majority of patients have been prevented from leaving Gaza for so-called reasons of Israeli security. Medicines, medical spare parts and machines have been denied entry into Gaza. Hospitals have not been renovated due to lack of construction materials. The siege on Gaza has claimed the lives of more than 500 patients under these conditions, many of them women and children.

From Amnesty International:

The blockade of the Gaza Strip, in force since June 2007, suffocated the economy and drove people there further into poverty. Amid continuing health and sanitation problems, poverty and malnutrition, some 80 per cent of Gazans were forced to depend on international humanitarian aid, the flow of which was impeded by the blockade. Severe shortages fuelled high prices. Most UN reconstruction projects to provide clinics and schools had to be delayed; as a result, some 40,000 Palestinian children eligible to enrol in UN schools in September had to be turned away.

Virtually all Gazans were effectively trapped in the small enclave, including seriously ill patients who needed treatment elsewhere and many students and workers wishing to study or take up jobs abroad. Only relatively few were allowed to exit Gaza.

[snip]

Following international criticism of the [flotilla] attack, the government announced a partial easing of the blockade, although insufficient to markedly improve conditions in Gaza. Israel continued to ban all export of goods from Gaza until 8 December, and the announced easing of restrictions on exports had not been implemented by the end of the year. Amnesty International considered the blockade to constitute collective punishment in breach of international humanitarian law and called repeatedly for it to be lifted.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories today repeated the call for an immediate end to the blockade on Gaza. Despite Israel easing some of the restrictions on the flow of goods into Gaza, the situation is still dire:

Referring to the recent media reports of widespread health problems in Gaza, Falk said the situation of health care there is “as nothing short of catastrophic.” He said Gaza’s health ministry has reported that the Strip’s medical supplies and equipment have reached emergency levels. Of the 480 medications on the essential drug list, 178 (37 per cent) are reported to be at zero stock levels and more than 190 types of medicine in stock are either expired or close to their expiry date, Falk said.

Citing reports from the World Health Organization (WHO), he said a severe shortage of vital drugs is having a critical impact on the continued delivery of health care.
“Israel, as the occupying power, has the obligation under international humanitarian law to restore and maintain public order and civil life, including public welfare for the civilian population,” he said.

“This encompasses, among other things, the provision and maintenance of infrastructure, health and the material conditions of life.”

“Israel’s absolute closure of Gaza, however, not only denies the whole of Gaza’s civilian population the possibility of a normal life, but also collectively punishes them for acts for which they bear no responsibility.” Israel imposed the blockade after Hamas ousted the Fatah movement in the Strip in 2007.

Here’s an article discussing how Israel’s easing of the blockade has had a limited effect.

You or I or Secretary Clinton or the random guy next door may not agree with the wisdom of the flotilla that will be setting sail shortly but the level of animosity that the government displays towards any type of pro-Palestinian protests or human rights activities reveals a blatant double standard and troubling inability to see the Palestinians as human beings. In addition, pro-Palestinian human rights activists are just like other human rights activists- there is no reason to treat them any differently just because Israel is involved.

UPDATE:Israeli journalist and activist Joseph Dana has a good article up about the way in which the international community punishes the Palestinians for using nonviolence and he points out exactly what I said above- that nonviolent civil disobedience has a long and respected history in drawing attention to injustice. Here is an excerpt:

Mainstream Israeli and international media argued endlessly, as though in a state of reverie, about whether Palestinian demonstrators who threw rocks should be considered unarmed, non-violent or violent. Absent from the conversation was the fact that Israel is rapidly increasing a programme of military repression against demonstrations in a last-ditch effort to dominate the narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Portraying unarmed Palestinians as violent rioters enabled the press to downplay Israel’s heavy-handed reaction to the demonstrations. This response was largely based on unsubstantiated accounts of demonstrators’ behaviour, most of which came directly from the Israeli military and were completely false.

‘Striving for peace’
The entire Israeli-Palestinian peace process — predicated on the fact that both sides are striving for peace — has allowed Israel to portray any Palestinian attempts to challenge the status quo through unarmed resistance as antithetical to equitable settlement between the two sides.

This approach ignores the Israeli intransigence of endless settlement construction and the military infrastructure required to control Palestinian life. Night raids, mass arrests and lack of freedom of movement are all too often ignored when the international community envisions the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. In fact, the word “occupation” seldom enters mainstream discourse at all.

Palestinians are now coalescing around unarmed resistance as a way of highlighting what occupation means for them. Although peace is clearly desired among Palestinians, their immediate concern is one of human rights.

[snip]

It would seem that Israel’s only course of action in explaining its heavy-handed military response to unarmed demonstrators is to describe the demonstrators as violent rioters. In practice, unarmed resistance to the status quo of occupation meets extreme violence from the Israeli army.

Historic episodes of human-rights struggles, such as the American civil-rights movement and the anti-apartheid struggle, underwent similar narrative reformulations. Unarmed demonstrations went from “violent rioters” to respected displays of people power in the face of repression. The Palestinian struggle for human rights will be no different when the history of the conflict is written.
[emphasis added]

12 Comments leave one →
  1. seamus6 permalink
    June 23, 2011 8:12 pm

    Frustrating. The govt is in full spin mode because of upcoming elections, no? Maybe she could have just said the state dept. released a travel warning about traveling to Gaza via sea because they did do that.

    I believe Stacy said at one point not long ago that this really shouldn’t even be an issue involving the US. A group of ships made up of people from different countries is leaving from Greece to Gaza. What part of that involves the US? Why was she even asked about it? The US has no right to interfere with the flotilla but as usual the US is acting as protector of Israel when its really Israel’s issue to deal with and as a result your reputation and credibility in the region goes down the crapper. Whenever Israel wants someone to run interference they run whining to the US. So tedious and yet so predictable.

    Maybe if Israel lifted the siege and only barred weapons from coming through they wouldn’t have to worry about Flotillas.

  2. tovah8 permalink
    June 23, 2011 9:28 pm

    I agree with Seamus- this shouldn’t even involve the US.

    Congress never misses an opportunity to pander to the Lobby.

    Doesn’t Clinton have enough to do w/o constantly having to cover for Israel? Is there any issue which Israel can deal with on it’s own?

    If Hillary had to say something she should have made clear violence was to be avoided at all costs by BOTH sides. But to paint the protesters as some evil, violent group just trying to bait poor, helpless weak Israel, is a really strange thing to do given the imbalance of power between Israel and the Palestinians.

    Well, just remember the worst may be yet to come. If this is what they are saying now just imagine what they’ll be saying if G-d forbid people are killed! We might as well prepare for that eventuality right now.

    • June 23, 2011 9:40 pm

      BTW I know Hilary is speaking on behalf of the Obama administration and that this isn’t just her. But as the SOS she could have registered the admins disapproval of the flotilla in a more even-handed way and not just totally maligned their intentions.

      The US shouldn’t have anything to do with the Flotilla controversy- it doesn’t involve us . But if we insist on speaking out we should make clear both sides should refrain from violence. But she didn’t and now I worry about the safety of the passengers. I know someone on one of the ships- he’s a journalist and he’s there to cover it but he’s concerned Israel and the US have greenlighted harming the activists AND journalists. He said that the US and Israel are trying to demonize the Flotilla participants to justify the use of force against them.

  3. HIllaryFan permalink
    June 24, 2011 9:57 am

    Thanks for posting this Stacy. I know it’s not easy to criticize the State Dept. but it would be hypocritical of you to just ignore it given how often you’ve discussed this issue on this blog. You are right that this isn’t a policy of Hillary’s but a policy of the whole Obama administration but at the same time, I do wish she had phrased their disagreement with the Flotilla differently. That she didn’t call on restraint on both sides sort of leaves the door open for Israel to attack them rather than simply prevent their entry into Gaza.

    That article by Joseph Dana you linked to at the end is very interesting in that it helps explain why Israel and the U.S. are so intent on presenting Palestinian rights activists as different than other rights activists. We seem to gloss over the fact that Palestinians have no military, very few rights and very few ways to get their message out. Yet this government treats them like terrorists.

    • June 24, 2011 10:26 am

      HF: Thanks for your input.

      I think that reasonable people can disagree about this issue. I do think it’s strange that some people are using the fact that the flotilla is a) political b) provocative and c) not just geared towards getting some goods into Gaza, as a reason to attack the participants of the Flotilla. Of course this is a form of political activism and it’s probably more important than bringing the goods in because Israel can always take the entire shipment and toss it away. But this is the nature of political activism. Can you imagine if activists only did what governments wanted them to do and if they were never provocative or political? That’s just silly.

      Here’s my main issue with this- I wish this administration and others would stop creating special rules for Israel. If protests are ok in Egypt then they are ok in the occupied territories. If killing unarmed protesters, no matter how provocative they are, is generally considered disproportionate force, that view should be across the board and not just depend on whether we like the country that is the recipient of the protests. But we insist on holding Israel out as the exception to every rule. Hillary and Obama have lauded nonviolence – except when it’s Palestinians or prop-Palestinian activists. Then it’s called “delegitimization” and treated as tantamount to terrorism. I’m sorry, but no matter how much I love/respect Hillary I simply will not sign onto that view because I see it as biased and hypocritical. I have no idea what Hillary personally thinks about these things- obviously when she makes statements she is doing so in her role as SOS. But I can’t help but think if she believed that Palestinian nonviolent protests were acceptable, she would have at least moderated her remarks yesterday rather than simply lashing out at the people involved in the Flotilla.

      I’m sure people disagree with me, but that’s how I feel.

  4. thainjacobs permalink
    June 24, 2011 10:43 am

    I just saw on twitter that american government officials (state dept?) met with the Americans who will be on the flotilla – the mtg took place in Greece because that’s where the flotilla is departing from. An American-Israeli journalist who was in on the mtg said that the govt officials treated the Americans with “smug contempt” and were totally condescending.

    I have a question- whose side is the State Dept. on? They seem to be constantly taking the side of Israel over our very own citizens. Unbelievable! Who cares if they don’t agree with the Flotilla, they are supposed to give a sh*t about Americans abroad.

    Is there any other country but Israel where American govt officials would treat their fellow citizens this way?

    I’m sorry but this admin. has totally given the green light for Israel to do whatever the hell it wants. When an American citizen was killed on the last Flotilla Hillary never said his name outloud. Telling.

  5. thainjacobs permalink
    June 24, 2011 10:50 am

    Here’s something else he just tweeted:

    Passengers of the US boat simply pleaded with the US officials in Greece today; “please let us go” “just let us exercise our rights”

    I think I’m about done with this admin. I love Hillary but some things I just can’t forgive. I think these American officials are from the US embassy in Greece which means they work for the State Dept.

    I honestly don’t know if I”m going to hang at this blog anymore. I can’t support this administration anymore. The whole attitude of the State Dept. regarding this flotilla issue is deplorable.

    They could have handled it in a way that didn’t send the message to israel that they could kill Americans in the name of “self defense” and they could have been more even-handed and stood up for the Americans. The State Dept advocates for the interests of US citizens abroad and they USUALLY call on other governments to not be heavy-handed and to show restraint in situations like this. But no, not with Israel. No, the State Dept. has sided with Israel against these Americans. As stacy said in her post it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks about the political message of the flotilla organizers- even if the State Dept. disagrees they shouldn’t green light a possible violent attack on boats that carry unarmed Americans.

    Goodbye- Stacy, I’ll see you over at FoPo- I’ll hang there from now on.

  6. June 24, 2011 11:22 am

    Oh, so now the State Dept is strongly hinting that the people on the Flotilla are giving “material support” to Hamas. That is total bullshit and they know it. Here’s the statement just released by the State Dept”

    Gaza “Anniversary” Flotilla

    Last month marked the one-year anniversary of the confrontation between Israeli forces and activists when a flotilla attempted to break Israel’s maritime blockade of Gaza on May 31, 2010. The United States deeply regrets the tragic loss of life and injuries suffered among those involved in that incident aboard the Gaza bound ships.

    We are concerned that a number of groups are organizing a one year “anniversary” flotilla to commemorate the incident by sailing from various European ports to Gaza in the near future. Groups that seek to break Israel’s maritime blockade of Gaza are taking irresponsible and provocative actions that risk the safety of their passengers. Established and efficient mechanisms exist to transfer humanitarian assistance to Gaza. For example, humanitarian assistance can be delivered at the Israeli port of Ashdod, where cargo can be offloaded, inspected, and transported to Gaza. We urge all those seeking to provide such assistance to the people of Gaza to use these mechanisms, and not to participate in actions like the planned flotilla.

    Recent seizures by Israel and Egypt of advanced military systems, weapons, and ammunition bound for terrorist groups in Gaza, as well as periodic rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza against Israeli civilians, highlight the continuing problem of illicit arms smuggling to Gaza. These seizures underscore the vital importance to Israel’s security of ensuring that all cargo bound for Gaza is appropriately screened for illegal arms and dual-use materials.

    The United States remains concerned by conditions in Gaza, but notes that the humanitarian situation has significantly improved over the last year, including a marked increase in the range and scope of goods and materials moving into Gaza, an increase in international project activity, and the gradual expansion of exports. The United States will continue to work with Israel, the Palestinian Authority, donors, and the international community to do more and ensure that the needs of the people of Gaza are being met.

    We also continue to call on Hamas to play a constructive role by renouncing violence, recognizing Israel’s right to exist, and accepting past agreements. We underscore that delivering or attempting or conspiring to deliver material support or other resources to or for the benefit of a designated foreign terrorist organization, such as Hamas, could violate U.S. civil and criminal statutes and could lead to fines and incarceration.

    Maybe Israel should hire the State Dept. to do their PR?

  7. June 24, 2011 1:05 pm

    The State Dept. should read this. This kid sure doesn’t sound like someone giving material aid to terrorists:

    http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/a-moment-before-boarding-the-next-flotilla-1.369336?localLinksEnabled=false

  8. June 26, 2011 6:21 am

    The American State Department warning and Hillary Clinton are very vicious.
    Obama and his administration are responsible for the hopeless situation In Gaza by blocking all the UN resolutions critical of Israel…
    On November 15, 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama praised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for urging his cabinet to accept a U.S. proposal to extend a freeze on West Bank settlement building for 90 days. Under the plan, Washington would block UN resolutions critical of Israel, and supply Israel with fighter jets worth $3 billion. The US government also promised Israel that after the 90-day moratorium, they would not seek an extension, and settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem (all of which is illegal under international law) could continue unabated.
    In February 2011, more than 100 nations voted for a U.N. resolution that would have condemned illegal Israeli settlements and halted any new construction. The United States vetoed it.
    On February 19, 2011, Israel said it was deeply grateful to the United States after it vetoed a United Nations resolution put forward by the Palestinian leadership condemning Israeli settlement activity.

  9. June 26, 2011 6:33 am

    The warning of the State Department is a result of the ‘golden deal’ and the continuing cooperation of the U.S. government with Israel. The warning is a good example of political hypocrisy.

    The State Department warning said:
    ‘The security environment within Gaza, including its border with Egypt and its seacoast, is dangerous and volatile. U.S. citizens are advised against traveling to Gaza by any means, including via sea. Previous attempts to enter Gaza by sea have been stopped by Israeli naval vessels and resulted in the injury, death, arrest, and deportation of U.S. citizens. U.S. citizens participating in any effort to reach Gaza by sea should understand that they may face arrest, prosecution, and deportation by the Government of Israel. […] On May 31, 2010, nine people were killed, including one U.S. citizen, in such an attempt.’

  10. June 26, 2011 6:50 am

    I made a little interesting study on the role of American State Department in the flotillas with aid supplies for Gaza…

    1) The American State Department… On 4 July 2010, an aid group in Egypt unloaded aid supplies from the Libyan ship Amalthea. The Tripoli-based Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation had wanted the ship to take the supplies directly to Gaza. Israeli missile ships had been shadowing the Amalthea since Wednesday morning to ensure that it would not reach Gaza. U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley urged Libya to avoid confrontation and allow the Israelis to inspect the vessel with 2,000 tons of aid supplies.

    2) The American State Department… On May 31, 2010, Israeli forces attacked a convoy bringing humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, killing at least ten people in international waters.
    Statement by Philip J. Crowley, assistent secretary of State for Public Affairs: ‘The United States deeply regrets the tragic loss of life and injuries suffered among those involved in the incident today aboard the Gaza-bound ships. We are working to ascertain the facts, and expect that the Israeli government will conduct a full and credible investigation. The United States remains deeply concerned by the suffering of civilians in Gaza. We will continue to engage the Israelis on a daily basis to expand the scope and type of goods allowed into Gaza to address the full range of the population’s humanitarian and recovery needs. We will continue to work closely with the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, along with international NGOs and the UN, to provide adequate access for humanitarian goods, including reconstruction materials, through the border crossings, while bearing in mind the Government of Israel’s legitimate security concerns. However, Hamas’ interference with international assistance shipments and work of nongovernmental organizations, and its use and endorsement of violence, complicates efforts in Gaza. Mechanisms exist for the transfer of humanitarian assistance to Gaza by governments and groups that wish to do so. These mechanisms should be used for the benefit of all those in Gaza.’

    3) The American State Department… On June 8, 2011, Sderot resident and Canadian citizen Cherna Rosenberg has filed a million dollar law suit against two Canadian organizations raising money to sponsor a ship – The Canadian Boat to Gaza – to join the international flotilla to Gaza. The suit was presented by Toronto barrister and law professor Ed Morgan and New York attorney Neal Sher. From 1994-1996, Sher was Executive Director of the American Israel lobby group AIPAC where he worked on a bi-partisan basis with members of Congress, the State Department and other agencies responsible for formulating and overseeing U.S. policies in the Middle East.

    4) The American State Department… On June 14, 2010, the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York held a press event in Times Square. A half-dozen elected Democrats called on the State Department to ban every flotilla participant from entering the United States. The Liberal Democrats Charlie Rangel, Anthony Weiner and Jerry Nadler demanded flotilla “terrorists” be denied entry into U.S.
    http://www.salon.com/news/politics/war_room/2010/06/14/times_square_flotilla

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