Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Free Gaza Now!

My Word: Free thinking
Jerusalem Post

It's not Israel that is curtailing freedom in Gaza.

I have decided to join the Free Gaza movement. My first goal is to make sure that every last Israeli soldier leaves Gaza. Well, admittedly there is only one IDF soldier there, but it has been proving very hard to get Gilad Schalit out. If we can persuade Hamas to release Schalit four years after it abducted him, Gaza will be free of an Israeli military presence. This won't be easy, especially because even the human rights activists willing to risk their lives to reach Gaza weren't prepared to ask that Schalit be allowed to meet with Red Cross officials or receive a care package from his family.
Next, I want the women of Gaza to feel free. I'm not known for either my feminism or my dress sense but I can see that a state in which Hamas heavies are forcing schoolgirls to cover up cannot be healthy.
Again, I might be fighting a losing battle: Almost lost among the media coverage of the May 31 flotilla affair – with its nine fatalities – was an item on the five brave women journalists who quit Al Jazeera rather than give in to the Qatar-based network's demands that they wear head scarves and forgo makeup.
Also, it is clear to me (although not apparently to the flotilla's participants) that parents should be free to choose which summer camp their kids attend. Last month, masked gunmen torched the premises of a UN-run summer camp in Gaza and left behind three bullets and a note threatening to kill top UN aid officials unless they cancel activities for some 250,000 Gaza children. Hamas runs its own summer camps, which seem to stress militancy for boys and modesty for girls but are a little lacking in the arts and crafts department.
I used to have contacts in Gaza, but they were associated with Fatah rather than Hamas and they've disappeared: At least one escaped to the West Bank when Hamas took over; those who remain are wary of being openly in touch with Israeli journalists (modestly dressed female or otherwise). That could be because Hamas has a history of executing people it suspects of links with the Zionists. OK, on a good day, they might settle for "kneecapping."
IN FACT it strikes me that while the nearly 700 participants of the now-famous flotilla were struggling to get into Gaza – unwilling to accept Israel's offer to pass on their humanitarian aid instead of them delivering it personally – thousands of Gazans would do almost anything to get out. And it's not because of the Israeli-Egyptian blockade: It's because Hamastan does not give a damn about human rights and is not a nice place to live.
Although it might be all right if you're not a woman and belong to the right family. Ahead of the flotilla's departure, the Israel Government Press Office released details of the other side of life in the Strip. Like many journalists, I found the tone patronizing but couldn't help but be intrigued by the information that Gaza recently opened an Olympic-size swimming pool.
Since I'm involved in the struggle to keep open Jerusalem's only Olympic-size pool (under threat by real-estate developers), I'm wondering if I can pick up some tips on nonviolent ways to handle the campaign. When I say "nonviolent," that means I rule out the use of guns, knives, baseball bats and Molotov cocktails – which I admit is a little limiting in view of the methods used by the "peace lovers" aboard the Mavi Marmara.
I actually feel sorry for some of the flotilla's participants. The pure-hearted, naive pro-peace camp was taken for a ride by the Islamic anti-Israel organizers and ended up in the same boat, as it were, or at least the same flotilla. But the growing red-green alliance (in which the far Left has joined with the Islamists) is a strange one, and I'm not surprised the result is a dirty brown.
Incidentally, Hamas is now keeping the "humanitarian aid" from entering Gaza from Israel – so much for the desperate Gazans.
I DON'T BLAME the navy for what Post editor-in-chief David Horovitz summed up as the "flotilla fiasco." There is something extraordinarily pathetic in the way the naval commandos – trained for war but told they'd be facing peaceniks – boarded the ships armed with paint guns. The government – led by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak – ordered an operation which Israel could not win. Undoubtedly they were influenced by the famous (and successful) operations of their younger days: liberating the hijacked Sabena plane, for example. But not all real war is fought on the ground, at sea or in the skies any more. It's waged in cyberspace and the world media.
When I mentioned to friends and colleagues my "think roses not guns" idea regarding the ships, it raised a smile, but, with more vessels on the way, I still think it's worth considering. I suggested Israel physically block the boats so that it would be the so-called peace seekers who'd have to ram Israeli ships rather than the Israelis "attacking" them. And then, instead of sending soldiers rappelling down onto the decks – where it was clear that they would not be met with hugs – I proposed that Israel bombard them with pamphlets informing them about Hamas-dominated life in Gaza, the missile attacks on Sderot and the South and the fate of Gilad Schalit. And I suggested we should drop quantities of roses on the participants. Bloodshed would be limited to the occasional prick (you can interpret that any way you like) while the cameras would have a decent image to spread around the world – not more warlike Israeli soldiers. Roses – the sweet smell of non-defeat.
I doubt it would have persuaded many on the ships to change their opinions of Israelis, but it would have prevented the sickening waves of international condemnation screened on Israeli TV alongside the footage of soldiers being beaten, stabbed and in at least one case thrown from the deck of the Mavi Marmara by the ostensibly nonviolent protesters.
On a visit to Dublin a few years ago, I participated in a literary pub crawl. Irish peace supporters on the next boats might be warned that they can't drink alcohol in public in Gaza.
During a visit to Istanbul in 2004, a year after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan came
to power, life seemed easygoing: Turkey had just won the Eurovision Song Contest, the nightclubs were pulsating, the cultural life was thriving.
Turks – and the rest of the world – might wonder about the implications of Erdogan choosing to ally himself firmly with the likes of Hamas, Syria and Iran. When the country goes to the polls again next year, voters should consider whether they want the sort of freedom they were enjoying when Erdogan first came to power or the type of Islamist restrictions and repression the prime minister's allies prefer.
Meanwhile in Israel, a free people is making the most of life – albeit under a high security alert. Tel Aviv is holding a beer festival; Jerusalem is celebrating the 49th Israel Festival; Sderot (missiles notwithstanding) is the venue of its annual international film festival; and Hebrew Book Week events are taking place across the country. So it's not all bad news.
And at least Israel has united the global village like nothing else, with perhaps the exception of the World Cup. Too bad we know what it's like to be the ball.

The writer is the editor of The International Jerusalem Post.

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