Gaza flotilla, “flytilla” and the prospect for civil society action


By Gilad Atzmon | 12 July 2011 |   Redress

Gilad Atzmon argues that this year’s Gaza flotilla has succeeded even without reaching Gaza, in that it has highlighted the true nature of Israel. But he says that pro-Palestinian activists must now turn their focus closer to home “to locate [Israel’s] mercenaries around us, in our media, political institutions, think tanks, academia and economy”.

It might be argued that the passing week was not very easy on the Palestinian solidarity movement. Firstly, an international peaceful flotilla aiming to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza did not manage to leave Greek ports. The Greek government had surrendered submissively to Israeli pressure and American Jewish organizations, and blocked the naval enterprise.

Secondly, an international attempt to fly hundreds of activists from all over the world to the West Bank also partially failed, as the Israeli government had managed to mount just enough pressure to make sure that the project fell apart before it became airborne. (Those activists that did make it to Israel were very quickly detained and given deportation orders.)

“… try to imagine the potential impact of hundred of thousands of Palestinian refugees marching to their homes in Jaffa , Acre, Lod , Ramle, Haifa, Beersheba and Jerusalem.”

Though it may seem as if the Palestinian solidarity movement suffered a blow, it is actually Israel that was harshly beaten here, for Israel has managed to expose its level of hysteria: it seems that eight old yachts and a few hundred easyJet passengers have managed to shake the entire Israeli society. Now try to imagine the potential impact of hundred of thousands of Palestinian refugees marching to their homes in Jaffa , Acre, Lod , Ramle, Haifa, Beersheba and Jerusalem.

I guess that the picture is more clear than ever – Israel doesn’t stand a chance. Its fate is doomed. It is just a question of time. It is not a matter of “if” but a question of “when”.

But the truth of the matter goes slightly deeper. Both the flotilla and the flytilla are exemplary cases of civil society campaigns – they were intended to mobilize international public support using peaceful and democratic means.

Neither campaign was aimed at harming Israel’s security in any way. Rather, the purpose of both campaigns was to draw the world’s attention to the situation in Gaza and the West Bank. Their immediate goal, i.e. reaching Palestine, was not fulfilled, but they have  achieved a clear and significant victory because they have proved once again what Israel is: a Jewish state and a closed society, a morbid collective driven by “Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder”, fuelled by vivid imaginary fantasies of destruction. Most importantly, the Israeli government’s desperate measures against the peaceful “flytilla” proved to the world that the West Bank is also under siege, and Palestine is closed to visitors.

The leaders of the two civil society campaigns had done their homework: they had planned it all for months, orchestrating and coordinating an airlift of different international groups. They had raised the funds, and they operated as you would expect civil society campaigners to operate.

But they had failed to see one thing. They did not grasp the most obvious fact about the Jewish state and its supportive powers around the world. As much as they wanted to put into action the most civilized peaceful strategy, they seem to have failed to grasp that the Jewish state is not a civilized place, and it is also totally foreign to the notion of civilization. Once again, the Israeli government provided its critics around the world with a clear lesson about the unique traits of the Jewish state.

Israel versus civilization

The word “civilization” comes originally from the Latin word civilis, related to the Latin words civis, meaning citizen, and civitas, meaning city or city-state.

“Civilization”, then, is traditionally understood as a society that acknowledges and respects notions of civil law and citizenship. Israel is not such a society, unfortunately. Most of the people whose homes are on Israeli-controlled land lack basic civil rights just for failing to be Jewish.

“The obvious question here … is whether civil society action, as we have seen in recent weeks from international solidarity activists, can have any effect at all on a society [Israel] that so clearly defies the notions of civil law and civilisation?”

It is possible that Israel’s deficiency in that regard is rooted in orthodox Judaism’s defiance of the notions of civil law and civilization. For  Rabbinic Judaism, it is the  Halacha law that strictly sets the legal rights and duties of the Jew. (It may be argued that Islam also defies the notion of civil law. However, unlike Judaism, Islam is a universal precept. It clearly defined respectful measures and approaches towards ethnic and religious minorities.)

Interestingly, early Zionism was an attempt to remedy the situation. It promised to “civilize Jewish life”. It vowed to build a Jewish society that respected principles of citizenship and secular civil law. But Zionism was doomed to fail. Already, at its moment of inception, the Jewish state preferred to ethnically cleanse the vast majority of the Palestinian population instead of exercising the theoretical possibility of “Jewish civilization”.

The truth of the matter is that the Jewish state has battled with Halacha laws since its moment of birth. On the one hand, secular Israelis, hasbara agents and Zionists disseminate the deceptive image of a Jewish “democratic”, “civilized and open society”, but on the other hand, the religious institutions in Israel challenge that fictitious, deceptive agenda: they clearly argue that if Israel defines itself as the “Jewish state”, it should give Jewishness some real meaning. They are basically referring to Halacha laws

The outcome of this struggle is clear. By now, Israel has very little respect for the notion of “civilization” or “civil law”. At the most, it mimics some liberal Western symptoms. The Israeli Arab member of the Knesset,  Azmi Bishara, who suggested a few years ago that Israel should become a state of all its citizens ( i.e. a civilization), had to run for his life and has lived in exile ever since. It is not a secret that Israeli Arabs (Palestinians with Israeli citizenship) are second class citizens, and the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank lack any meaningful civil status. They are dwelling in open-air prisons. They are subject to Israeli brutality and different forms of racially discriminative laws. Not only that, foreign labour communities in Israel are also totally marginalized, living a life of complete insecurity, with few rights.

The obvious question here, then, is whether civil society action, as we have seen in recent weeks from international solidarity activists, can have any effect at all on a society that so clearly defies the notions of civil law and civilization?

Jewish diaspora and civilization

“The Israeli government and its supporting lobbies understood a while back that it is much cheaper to buy a Western politician than it is to buy a tank.”

Israel itself is obviously just part of the problem: the Jewish state is supported by some relentless Jewish lobbies all over the world. These lobbies do manage to push Western governments and political institutions into some very dark corners. In Britain, for instance, Sheikh Raed Salah, aka the “Gandhi of Palestine” has been detained for more than a week following the shameful British government surrender to right-wing Jewish lobby pressure. Also, the Israeli press was proud to report recently about the incentives offered by Jewish organizations to the struggling Greek government ahead of the flotilla.

The Israeli government and its supporting lobbies understood a while back that it is much cheaper to buy a Western politician than it is to buy a tank.

So, the moral for the rest of us should be clear: though Israel itself defies the notion of civilization, the above incidents prove that its lobbies around the world still manage to interfere with our respective nations’ civilizations.

Civil society action versus the non-civilized

Palestinian solidarity leaders will have to draw the necessary lessons from the recent events. Civil society campaigns do mobilize public support around the world and this is indeed very important. However, such campaigns may be just too weak to bring about a change of consciousness in Israel.

In order to defeat Israel and Zionism, we must first admit to ourselves what Israel is all about: we are combating a unique, racially-oriented, expansionist tribal project that has no precedent in history, and this project extends beyond its natural geographical boundaries. Israel is not just a territorial quest; it is actually an ideology, and its modus operandi is driven by radical forms of racial supremacy – Jewish chosenness. But we should also acknowledge that the Jewish state is not alone: it is supported institutionally by world Jewry.

If we care about Palestine, world peace and the state of our world in general, our task is to stand up openly and identify the kinds of ideology, politics and culture that serve the Jewish state and its interests, both globally and locally. We do not necessarily have to travel to Palestine to combat the Israeli soldiers: it may be better to locate its mercenaries around us, in our media, political institutions, think tanks, academia and economy.

These people and organizations actually interfere with our civilization, with our most sacred Western values of ethics, pluralism, harmony and tolerance

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