Norman Finkelstein the scholar has turned into Norman Finkelstein the activist – and a good one. They threw him out of Israel last year but he went to Gaza with CodePink and is now organizing something big. Dershowitz will regret the day he got him fired and freed up all his time and energy. Some dark clouds do have a silver lining.
Commentary by Chippy Dee, Photos by Bud Korotzer
Earlier this week 200 people crowded into a very warm room to hear eyewitness accounts and analysis from members of delegations who went to Gaza as part of the international campaign to break the Israeli blockade.The event was hosted by the Brecht Forum. The speakers were Sammer Aboelela, organizer of the N.Y. Community of Muslim Progressives, Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CodePink, Norman Finkelstein, author, political scientist specializing in Mideast studies, Felice Gelman, leader of the N.Y. delegation to Gaza and member of WESPAC and Phil Weiss, journalist and author of the Mondoweiss Blog.
Some speakers described the terribly difficult living conditions in Gaza and others spoke of the remarkable spirit of the people there despite the daily hardships. We were told that there is no cease-fire in Gaza. Israelis are still shooting at farmers and fishermen who risk death just by going to work. They are shooting at fishermen who are only 300 yards off shore, clearly where they are entitled to be. In these acts of piracy they are kidnapped, taken to prison, and their boats are confiscated. If and when they are returned they are returned damaged. Tunnels are used to bring essentials in from Egypt. They are not hidden, they are on main walkways and are privately owned and operated. When Israel pressures Egypt about the tunnels the Egyptians pump methane gas into them.
The ongoing persecution from Israel is having an extremely detrimental psychological affect on the children. Some try to act like tough guys, as they see Israelis to be. Some look to their fathers for protection but the fathers, unemployed and powerless against Israeli abuse, can do nothing. We saw slides of the children’s art showing their view of the military attack against them.
Norman Finkelstein spoke of the current perception most of the world has of Israel. He said that Israel is seen as a satanic state. Many organizations, the Red Cross, the United Nations, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International documented Israeli human rights abuses. Amnesty International issued two reports on the subject. In effect, they agreed that Israel was guilty of crimes against humanity, another way of saying ‘war crimes’.
Medea Benjamin described walks through the halls of congress that she and other CodePink members made trying to talk to representatives and senators about what Israel is doing. With very few exceptions their words fell on deaf ears.
Norman Finkelstein and Medea Benjamin proposed a very big, and long walk to Gaza. In order for it to work there would have to be many participants. People would gather in Egypt near the Rafah crossing, walk through into Gaza, walk through part of Gaza to the Erez crossing, cross into Israel where they would be met by a contingent of Israeli peace activists. The logistics would have to be worked out. There was great enthusiasm for the plan and many people in the room volunteered to participate. For those who could not go there would be a series of marches in the U.S. at the same time. One person in the audience suggested that the event should start in Washington with many people visiting their congress members to talk to them about cutting the billions of dollars given to Israel each year.
Andy Pollack spoke after the panelists did. He reported that the Viva Palestina-US delegation had reached an agreement with Egypt and that all the medical aid would be delivered to the people in Gaza very shortly. There were some conditions; convoy participants could only stay for 24 hours, and the ambulances could be donated but the trucks could not. The audience reacted to the news with joy.
There was a question and answer period and one young Palestinian woman spoke about the 11,700 Palestinians, serving indeterminate sentences, that are now undergoing daily torture in Israeli prisons.
Other questions and comments dealt with the importance of working together despite differences of opinion on some issues. One area of work was the divestment, boycott and sanctions campaign. Several people spoke on activities in that area with Motorola (see boycottisraelnyc.org for further information) and with Ahava cosmetics which are produced in an illegal Israeli settlement in the occupied Palestinian West Bank (for more information on this campaign go to stolenbeauty.org)
When the meeting ended there was a general sense that there was a lot of work ahead but there was also optimism because important changes were occurring. Minds and perceptions were changing in a positive direction both inside and outside the Jewish community.
Photos © by Bud Korotzer
THE PANEL FROM YOUR LEFT TO RIGHT : NORMAN FINKELSTEIN , PHIL WEISS , SAMMER ABOELELA , FELICE GELMAN & MEDEA BENJAMIN