Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Rami Khouri on Israel's attack on the Freedom Flotilla

A superb essay, one that deserves posting in full .  .

From Jewish Ethics to Israeli Free-Fire Zones

by Rami G. KhouriReleased: 2 Jun 2010

BEIRUT -- The events unfolding in the wake of Israel’s attack Monday against the humanitarian aid flotilla heading for Gaza can be assessed on three levels, and it matters very much how one chooses to engage the matter.

The first is the narrow technical level of who used force first -- whether the Israeli attack was the problem, or those on board who defended themselves against the Israelis triggered the fighting that resulted in death and injuries.

The second is the wider political context of the actions of both sides, raising important moral and legal issues -- the long-running Israeli blockade and recent strangulation of the people of Gaza, and the growing Palestinian-international effort to break the Israeli siege and send basic humanitarian supplies to Gaza’s population.

The third level is Israel’s standing among the nations of the world. It is about how the entire modern Zionist movement that successfully created Israel as the homeland of those Jewish people who want to live there has found itself increasingly isolated, because it ascribes to itself prerogatives that seem to place it above the laws that govern the conduct of all other states. This is why many have asked for years whether “Zionism is racism.”

The issues on all three levels are being widely discussed in the international media and political forums. The most important one, in my mind, is the third level -- the hard questions about what Israel and Zionism have become, and how they relate to other people and states, beyond their conflict with the Palestinians and Arabs. Are Israel and Zionism the noble manifestations of the Jewish people’s right to live in peace and security, without being subjected to genocidal pogroms -- as Zionists portray their movement? Or have Zionism and Israel become so narrowly and blindly obsessed with their own needs that they have lost sight of the ethical foundations -- justice, compassion, ethics-based law, and equality for all humankind -- that are widely seen as the core characteristics of Judaism, as of the other Abrahamic faiths also? Has Zionism, and by implication Israel and Judaism, been transformed from a commitment to preserving life to a media-based justification for siege, assault, piracy and murder?

These questions now being asked around the world are the deeper, more complex and often gut-wrenching, ones that Israelis and Jews themselves need to debate and resolve. Israel wants to avoid this discussion, and prefers to keep the focus very narrow and technical. It has used its well-honed propaganda machine to shift the initial discussion in the international media to how a few passengers on one ship used sticks and knives to beat off the attacking Israeli commandos.

Jews were attacked by club- and knife-wielding mobs, the Israeli-Zionist refrain goes these days, and Jews must never again allow themselves to be attacked by mobs. In the wake of several hundred years of inhuman pogroms, racism and genocidal assaults against Jews mostly by white Christian Europeans, the message of Jewish self-defense carries special weight and resonance around the world -- as it should. Yet the modern Jewish right of self-defense increasingly clashes with the modern Zionist and Israeli track record of aggression, ethnic cleansing, massacres, occupation, siege, collective punishment, low-intensity starvation, colonization, and occasional bouts of barbarism against the Palestinians and other Arabs.

The practice of Israeli Zionism increasingly contradicts the ethical and moral foundations of historical Judaism: International law applies to the entire world, but the state of Israel reserves the special right to ignore and transcend that law, and to attack humanitarian convoys on the open seas, in the name of defending the Jewish people and their values. Now, this Israeli-Zionist penchant for taking any measures deemed necessary to protect Jewish people has over-spilled the narrow conflict with Palestinians and Arabs, and has resulted in the death of Turks and a grave affront to the concept of the universality of international law.

Israel wants the world to get tangled up in an endless debate about a few knives and clubs. The world wants Israel to come to grips with the more fundamental issue of whether a Jewish state respects the laws and norms that govern all humankind – or behaves only according to an increasingly hysterical, violent and often murderous sense of its own perpetual victimhood. Israel makes of its historical and permanent victimhood an absolute right to transform any place in the world into a free-fire zone and a killing field where it can run amok – in the name of protecting the Judaism that, in fact, it only increasingly besmirches and demeans. Israel is becoming a new Jewish ghetto, increasingly isolated from and criticized by the world, and doubly tragic because this is largely the consequence of its own handiwork.

Jewish ethics hold human beings accountable to a higher moral code; does this also apply to a Jewish state?

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