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Monday, March 16, 2009


Harassment at sea, real and surreal

In January, 2008, a few tiny Iranian speedboats (preposterously described by the Navy commander in the area as a "fleet") sailed near three large American warships including two destroyers. The U.S. government proceeded to make this into a major international incident, made to sound even more dangerous because of some clown on shore broadcasting "we're coming to get you" in an ominous voice (as if a real attack would be so accompanied). It was a manufactured incident filled with false outrage (and clumsily-edited video) from start to finish.

Then last week we had another incident of manufactured outrage, this one in China, as a giant U.S. Navy ship (albeit an allegedly unarmed one in this case) sailed in Chinese waters hunting for Chinese subs, and was "harassed" by some much smaller ships who "dropped wood in the path" of the Navy ship. Horrors. Another international incident which occupied the media for days.

But there is very real harassment occurring at sea, every single day, as I had the opportunity to learn about the other night. Darlene and Donna Wallach are two local activists who sailed into Gaza on the SS Free Gaza and the SS Liberty last August, breaking the Israeli blockade of Gaza. Donna and Darlene remained in Gaza until shortly before the Israeli invasion in December doing solidarity work, getting shot at, and, in Darlene's case, getting arrested by Israel and deported for the "crime" of accompanying Palestinian fishermen on their boats.

And why didn't Israel want Darlene and other internationals on those boats? Because by being there, they witnessed one of the great unreported cases of harassment (and worse) at sea which goes on, as noted above, every single day. The first thing to understand is the "law," for what that's worth (very little, obviously). A 1993 accord between Israel and the PLO gave Gaza a "fishing zone" extending 20 miles out to sea from the borders of Gaza. In 2002, Israel unilaterally abrogated that treaty, but signed an agreement with the U.N. committing themselves to allowing Gaza fishing rights out to 12 miles. Since then, subsequent unilateral declarations by Israel have moved that limit in to six miles and then to three miles.

And what is actually happening on the ground (or "on the water," in this case)? As witnessed by Darlene and the other internationals, you can see for yourself what happens in YouTube videos here, here, here, and elsewhere as well. What you'll see is Israeli gunboats firing at Palestinian fisherman, dropping grenades in the water, and firing water cannon at the boats. The firing in the videos is harassment fire into the water, but 14 Palestinian fisherman have been killed in the last four years. You'll also see no windows on the boats, all the glass having been blown out by the water cannons. And then of course there is the occasional boat-ramming, something famously experienced by Cynthia McKinney a few months ago (video here).

And how well known are these incidents? If you go to Google News, and type in "Gaza fishermen," as I just did, you'll get just 44 hits (compared to 617 for "extraterrestrial"). Not a single one is from a "mainstream" Western source. If you type "Cynthia McKinney Gaza" you'll get a whopping 8 hits, none from corporate media. "Darlene Wallach"? Just 4, all of them from local papers about their current speaking tour; none of them actual news articles.

Fake harassment? Big news. Real harassment? Not so much. Scratch that. Not at all.

I would be remiss, on this sixth anniversary of the Israeli murder of Rachel Corrie, not to note that "harassment" (and, clearly, much worse) of peaceful Palestinians and their international supporters occurs not only at sea, but on land as well. In Ni'lin, where solidarity activist Tristan Anderson was seriously wounded on Friday, four Palestinians have been killed since last July while protesting against the confiscation of their land for building the Israeli apartheid wall. Two other internationals were seriously wounded in nearby Bil'in, also while peacefully protesting the construction of the wall. Of Tristan Anderson, Israeli apologists will no doubt say that there were people throwing stones (as if that should be a death penalty offense); indeed, the local TV coverage of the assault on Anderson was accompanied by just such stock footage. But eyewitnesses report that the demonstration was wrapping up and that most people had already gone home. No one was throwing stones and Anderson was just taking some pictures. There's video here which not only shows the sparseness of the crowd at the time of the shooting, but also that Israeli forces continued to fire tear gas even as Red Crescent teams were engaged in administering care to the fallen Anderson.

The U.S. response? They're waiting for the Israeli investigation. Why can't they conduct their own? Because, says the U.S. Consul General in Tel Aviv, the West Bank is "outside of our consular district." Needless to say it's outside everyone's "consular district," and even if it weren't, there would be some other excuse not to conduct an independent investigation. Do you suppose if an American citizen were killed in Iran or North Korea or Venezuela or Cuba the U.S. would say they were waiting for the investigation by the government of that country? Hell, they would have declared war by now.

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