New chapters are being added to the Arun Gandhi story.
It’s mostly Gandhi’s critics who are writing these chapters; the defense has mostly fallen silent. But I believe Gandhi has once again shot himself in the foot, to use an expression quite alien to his philosophy of nonviolence. I think he has failed to clarify sufficiently the views that resulted in so many guns trained on him. (See my comments in a blogpost below.) Still, he did not deserve to be forced into resigning from the institute he founded and led – and certainly it’s a shame his work as a true man of peace will be hobbled, at a minimum.
It’s also shameful that local media are looking the other way regarding certain things his critics have said - things that go way beyond the bounds of “misstatement,” over-generalization, and other venial sins Gandhi was guilty of. These critics are purveying myths and factoids that lend a false legitimacy to Israeli/US government military policies, thus almost ensuring that Israel, with indispensable US support, will commit further war crimes against Palestinians (civilians and combatants) in Gaza, vastly out of proportion to the rocket attacks launched against Israeli communities by some Palestinian fighters. (For up-to-date information on casualties and atrocities on both sides, and thus for an understanding of the huge asymmetry of suffering, consult the preeminent Israeli human rights monitoring group B’tselem, www.btselem.org.)
Foolish critic number one: the Democrat and Chronicle. In a critique of Arun Gandhi that read like a parody of satygraha, the D&C editors claimed Israel has been driven historically by “desires… not unlike those of Mahatma Gandhi.” I’m accustomed to whoppers and knee-slappers from the D&C, but this one takes the prize. I doubt any serious Israeli journalist would attempt such a rhetorical high-jump. Indeed, the serious Israeli press is full of pieces deploring the nation’s militarism and regular resort to violence instead of diplomacy. See, for example, the excellent work of writers Gideon Levy and Amira Hass in Ha’aretz.
The D&C poses as centrist in the Gandhi affair, but some liberals, too, have perhaps unwittingly provided cover for IDF atrocities in Gaza. Take a letter that appeared - without comment or rebuttal - in City Newspaper late last month. The letter, from a noteworthy local activist, did raise some good points about Arun Gandhi’s missteps and flubs. But one paragraph credited the Israeli government with “one of the largest acts of nonviolence in military history.”
If you understand the history not just of Israel but of any nation-state, you may now be rubbing your eyes and asking yourself just what this nonviolent act might have been. Well, the writer was talking about former Israeli PM Ariel Sharon’s so-called unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip. But Sharon’s maneuver – it was surely no more than this – wasn’t remotely nonviolent in execution or intent.
One leading analyst, Phyllis Bennis of the Insitute for Policy Studies, has offered an analysis that debunks the conservative-liberal US elite consensus on Gaza, a consensus which accommodates the Sharon-as-peacemaker fallacy and similar dreck. Consider the following from Bennis, who begins with obvious foundational facts that almost never are mentioned in American media:
By Phyllis Bennis, July 27, 2005 (via Znet)
“Israel has a unilateral obligation to withdraw its troops and settlers and end its occupation of Gaza as well as of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. But the Gaza ‘disengagement’ is not designed to, and will not result in an end to occupation.
“The ‘disengagement’ will leave Gazans worse off economically, socially and politically than they are now, isolating the 1.2 million Palestinians in a besieged prison surrounded and controlled on all sides by Israel.
“Sharon's goal is to maximize the chaos and televised scenes of Israeli pain and division, so he can refuse any U.S. or international demands that he withdraw from the West Bank and Jerusalem, claiming that the price Israel is paying is too high to go further. ‘Gaza first’ will become Gaza last.
“The construction of Israel's Wall continues despite the rulings of the International Court of Justice finding it illegal; it will soon be completed, locking West Bank Palestinians into tiny cantons separated from each other and from their own land.
“All Israeli settlements - from tiny ‘outposts’ to the largest settlement cities such as Ma'ale Adumim and Ariel - are illegal, violating the Fourth Geneva Convention's prohibition against moving any population from the occupying country into the occupied territory.
“There is no question that Israel, as the illegal occupying power, bears full responsibility under international law to end its occupation of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. But Sharon's planned "disengagement" from Gaza is not a step towards ending occupation; it is designed to change the character of Gaza’s occupation from direct troops-in-the-streets and settlers-on-the-land occupation to a kind of occupation-by-siege, in which Gaza will be completely encircled by an Israeli fence, as well as Israeli troops and military force. All entry and exit to and from Gaza will be controlled by Israel. The Israeli military will control all crossing points, Israel will control Gaza's skies and seas, the building and operation of any future port or airport will be under Israeli permission (or denied permission), and the people of Gaza will have no ability to move in and out of their land, to ship agricultural products out or bring crucial medicines in, except under intrusive Israeli control.
“Although the "disengagement" may well result in the withdrawal of all settlers out of Gaza, and the redeployment of all Israeli soldiers to the Gazan borders (though not completely out of Palestinian territory), Gaza will be far from independent. Israel has announced that it retains what it calls the "right" to reoccupy Gaza at any time it sees fit. Further, Gaza is an inseparable part of the Occupied Palestinian Territories; withdrawing from one sector of that land, while the military occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem remains, does not constitute an end to occupation.
“Sharon has announced that once the settlers and soldiers are out of Gaza (a process which may take months, because of soldiers remaining throughout the process of demolishing settler houses) Israel will no longer have any responsibility towards the people of Gaza. This is a false claim. Under international law, a besieging power has exactly the same obligations as any other occupying power - to provide for the humanitarian needs of the occupied population, including provision of food, health care, education, etc. Whatever Sharon may claim, "disengaging" from Gaza does not constitute an end to occupation. The end of occupation was defined by the post-World War II Nuremberg Tribunal: "The test for application of the legal regime of occupation is not whether the occupying power fails to exercise effective control over the territory, but whether it has the ability to exercise such power." As long as Israel surrounds Gaza, controlling its borders, skies and seas, it "has the ability" to control the territory. Israel's plan for Gaza will turn the Strip into a big prison, surrounded by guards, in which the 1.2 million Palestinian inmates may be allowed to move on their own within the walls but will remain imprisoned…”