baroness ilse von freytag-loringhovn (rozele) wrote,
baroness ilse von freytag-loringhovn

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gaza? cairo. march? street demo. freedom? hmmn.

just a quick link-drop, of becky thompson & dianne harriford's diary of their participation in the Gaza Freedom March.

the piece is an interesting account of their time as part of the Code Pink-led u.s. contingent in the 1,400 person international delegation that attempted to break the israeli blockade of the gaza strip. the delegation was held in cairo by the egyptian government (a major enforcement subcontractor of the israeli Occupation, especially in gaza), and attempted to work in conjunction with egyptian movements against the mubarak military dictatorship (which are generally supportive of palestinian liberation).

i was struck, however, by a few things about the diary which seem worth pointing out in a critical way.


one of the strengths of the piece is a critique of the hierarchical, lily-white leadership of the u.s. delegation, headed by Code Pink's medea benjamin and ann wright.

thompson and harriford, however, are either deeply naïve for their level of political experience, or deeply disingenuous in their account. they write:

At that moment [3 days into the stay in cairo] we understood that we were part of a hierarchical organization and that despite Ann Wright's calm and conviction, her military training was still being put into practice as she skillfully side stepped our critique and reasserted her leadership.
it was often unclear when and if the Gazan Freedom Movement leadership was consulted by Code Pink. [...]
it wasn't until after the hundred people were on the bus that Ann Wright placed a call to Gaza, putting the conversation on speakerphone so that everyone could hear their clear position that the two busloads should not come. The Egyptians had already twisted this decision into portraying the hundred people as the "good activists" while those remaining would be considered the hooligans and extremists.
It was particularly difficult to see that the New York contingent was so white given the enormous range of African American, African, Caribbean, Middle Eastern people living in New York.

anyone who has worked with medea benjamin knows that she absolutely refuses not to be the person in charge. and that she has a decade-long history of actively collaborating in police 'good activist'/'bad activist' divide & conquer strategies. this is, after all, the person whose first press comment about the seattle WTO action in 1999 was devoted to asking why the cops hadn't arrested more anarchists, faster.

and anyone who's worked alongside Code Pink knows that it has little if any interest in recruiting outside of white, largely middle-class circles. any group of new yorkers it assembles is not going to reflect the multi-racial, class-mixed face of palestine solidarity work in new york. it's not going to include folks from the network of anti-imperialist grassroots people of color organizations that have strong positions in solidarity with palestine (and whose members have participated in past delegations to the israeli-occupied parts of palestine). it's not going to include folks from the palestinian and other arab-american communities in new york. and neither of these facts is news, or surprising. at all.

so if thompson and harriford genuinely 'discovered' these things for the first time in cairo, i have to ask where they've been for the past decade. or longer, maybe, given that they imply that it was news to them that

Bill Ayers [...] was being short-sighted. For Diane, his argument sells out the process in order to get a certain product. The process needs to include transparent and democratic decision making, attention to the hierarchy that is created when the “talented tenth” are chosen, and, most importantly, attention to the Gaza leadership’s position (that has its own enduring process).

i mean, really? bill ayers selling out the process? not focused on transparent, democratic decisionmaking? tending towards hierarchy? ignoring the leadership of the most directly affected communities? who would ever have seen that coming?

but leaving aside these either patronizingly disingenuous or scarily disconnected moments, the critiques are solid and seem very appropriate. i'll be interested to talk with some of my friends who were also there and get their takes on it all.


more problematic, i think, is thompson & harriford's take on violence and non-violence. while making the absolutely correct point that the delegation should not have been going into confrontational face-offs with the egyptian police without some level of non-violent action training as a group, they in passing define what they mean by violence:

violence (including screaming, divisiveness, hostility).

now, i'm entirely sympathetic to the argument that hierarchical organizing is in a certain sense violent. and it sounds like benjamin & wright's authoritarianism was in full pseudo-democratic flower through all of this, deploying both the tyranny of structurelessness and the tyranny of tyranny by turns.

and i'm entirely of the opinion that screaming is not a useful part of any worthwhile decisionmaking process (excepting screams of joy that the meeting's over at last).

but when "divisiveness" and "hostility" are counted as "violence", there's something terribly wrong.

partly it's a WASP thing - enforcing a low-affect, emotionally disengaged or emotion-disavowing style of communication, usually as a way of shutting down women and queers deemed "too much" (and typically targeting folks from cultures which value passionate debate: jews, arabs, latinas, italians, african americans...).

partly it's a liberal thing - strongly felt disagreement, passionate discussion, heated argument as threats to a smooth facade of unity, which must be prioritized above all else, including actual deep differences which preclude certain kinds of collaboration and lead to disasters when ignored.

partly it's a religious thing - mild-mannered christianity at its worst; the reason that you can instantly tell the difference between the 'religious left' and the theology of liberation.

partly it's a privilege thing - not merely preemptively giving up a range of strategies and tactics that do involve injury to human beings (the commonsense and OED definition of 'violence'), but putting a fence so far around that ideological choice that it can only be intended to erase the very possibility of considering those strategies and tactics. this is a move that only makes sense from a position of extreme privilege. or, perhaps more accurately here, from a bone-deep identification with extreme privilege. it's certainly not a move that palestinian communities and movements are interested in making. tactical non-violence, sure, every day. ideological non-violence, not so much. and ideological non-violence extended to the level of one's own emotions? i could laugh, but it'd be hostile. and i wouldn't want to be seen as violent.

the question, to me, is: can someone so ideologically committed to pacifism that they're willing to define "hostility" as violence be in any way genuinely in solidarity with a movement or community that insists on its right to self-defence? i have my doubts. and i'd be interested to hear your thoughts about it...

at heart, though, i think that if rachel corrie could get past the u.s. white passivist ideology of non-violence in the face of genocide, surely we can expect thompson and harriford to as well.

and perhaps that's a decent way to end this. with corrie's reminder that the symbolic tactics that the Gaza Freedom March used, while noble and more-or-less responsive to the requests from the communities of gaza, are limited. and do little to change the 'facts on the ground' in gaza. which are orders of magnitude more murderous now, in 2010, than they were when she wrote in 2003 that

If any of us had our lives and welfare completely strangled, lived with children in a shrinking place where we knew, because of previous experience, that soldiers and tanks and bulldozers could come for us at any moment and destroy all the greenhouses that we had been cultivating for however long, and did this while some of us were beaten and held captive with 149 other people for several hours - do you think we might try to use somewhat violent means to protect whatever fragments remained?

I think about this especially when I see orchards and greenhouses and fruit trees destroyed - just years of care and cultivation. I think about you and how long it takes to make things grow and what a labour of love it is. I really think, in a similar situation, most people would defend themselves as best they could. I think Uncle Craig would. I think probably Grandma would. I think I would.

You asked me about non-violent resistance.


All of the situation that I tried to enumerate above - and a lot of other things - constitutes a somewhat gradual - often hidden, but nevertheless massive - removal and destruction of the ability of a particular group of people to survive. This is what I am seeing here.

The assassinations, rocket attacks and shooting of children are atrocities - but in focusing on them I'm terrified of missing their context.

The vast majority of people here - even if they had the economic means to escape, even if they actually wanted to give up resisting on their land and just leave (which appears to be maybe the less nefarious of Sharon's possible goals), can't leave. Because they can't even get into Israel to apply for visas, and because their destination countries won't let them in (both our country and Arab countries).

So I think when all means of survival is cut off in a pen (Gaza) which people can't get out of, I think that qualifies as genocide. Even if they could get out, I think it would still qualify as genocide. Maybe you could look up the definition of genocide according to international law. I don't remember it right now.

here it is, according to the geneva convention:

Article II: In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

four out of five isn't a bad score, if you're trying to win. or maybe bibi and tzipi are just working their way down the list and haven't gotten to (e) yet.
Tags: gaza, liberals, non-violence, palestine, zionism
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