Thursday we got news of the passing of theatre and film legend Alan Rickman, just days after fellow Brit artist David Bowie lost his battle with cancer, Rickman succumbed to the disease at the same age, 69.

The internet was flooded once again with tributes, condolences, anecdotes and information on lesser-known parts of Rickman’s legacy.

Emma Watson, one of his Harry Potter co-stars, tweeted about how sad she was to hear he had passed and how lucky she was to have met and worked with him. She also tweeted some of his quotes, including one on feminism:

That didn’t sit well with some who took to Twitter to argue that Watson was somehow exploiting Rickman’s death to push her own agenda. While these people are clearly trolls, they also don’t know Alan Rickman as much as they may think. He was a very mainstream movie star, but he was also quite vocal about his progressive politics.

Die Hard with a Social Conscience

For most people, Alan Rickman was and will always be Snape in the Harry Potter films. For me, though, he will always be Hans Gruber, the German leader of a group of high-tech thieves masquerading as terrorists in the original Die Hard (not going to say spoiler alert on a movie released in 1988).

This was also Rickman’s introduction to Hollywood film acting. At age 41, he was already an established stage actor and agreed to play Gruber for one main reason, which I first learned about yesterday: the film’s treatment of its black characters:

“Every single black character in that film is positive and highly intelligent. So, 28 years ago, that’s quite revolutionary, and quietly so.”
– Alan Rickman in The Guardian

Playing Gruber turned Rickman into a movie star, but becoming top Hollywood talent didn’t turn off his desire to do things artistically for the right reason, even if it meant not playing it safe career-wise. This became crystal clear in 2005.

My Name is Rachel Corrie

American-born Rachel Corrie travelled to the Gaza Strip in 2003 as part of the International Solidarity Movement. The 23-year-old was there to protest Israel’s illegal demolition of Palestinian houses. An Israeli soldier ran over her with an American-made bulldozer, killing her.

Two years later, Rickman and Katharine Viner, a writer and editor at The Guardian (now its editor-in-chief) compiled writings in Corrie’s diary and emails she sent back home to the states and turned them into a one-woman play, My Name is Rachel Corrie, which Rickman directed. It was a success when it first opened in England at London’s Royal Court Theatre and in other places including Haifa.

The New York Theatre Workshop had planned to stage the US premier of the play Off Broadway, but “postponed” it after pressure from Zionist groups. Rickman didn’t accept that and got quite vocal in the media:

“Calling this production ‘postponed’ does not disguise the fact that it has been cancelled. This is censorship born out of fear, and the New York Theatre Workshop, the Royal Court, New York audiences — all of us are the losers…Rachel Corrie lived in nobody’s pocket but her own. Whether one is sympathetic with her or not, her voice is like a clarion in the fog and should be heard.”
-Alan Rickman

alan rickman rachel corrieRickman and Viner, with support from Rachel’s parents Craig and Cindy Corrie, coordinated a global series of readings called Rachel’s Words. Full disclosure, I was part of the Montreal event which combined readings of Corrie’s emails and diary entries with a verbatim theatre retelling of what happened with the New York production.

My Name is Rachel Corrie did eventually open in New York properly in 2006 at the Minetta Lane Theatre in Greenwich Village. It also ran in Montreal presented by Teesri Duniya in 2007 and the same production moved to Vancouver in 2008. It is still being performed around the world, the most recent staging happening in 2015.

Now think about this for a moment. The whole time that Rickman was busy editing, directing and eventually fighting for a play that he believed in by standing up for both a work of art and Palestinian solidarity, something that could cause him problems with some potential audiences, he was also starring in and doing promo for uber-mainstream Harry Potter blockbusters.

Talk about multitasking. Talk about dedication to a cause no matter what else is going on in your life. Rickman embraced his celebrity status but didn’t let it prevent him from doing the work he knew needed to be done.

While most will remember Snape, Gruber and his other unforgettable roles, it is important to also remember Alan Rickman’s work on My Name is Rachel Corrie and the fact that he was a man of principle who brought his progressive beliefs to his work. That’s what he would want us to remember.

RIP Alan Rickman (1946-2016)

Canada’s stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict disappointing, to say the least. Canadians don’t favour Israel over Palestine. A recent poll showed roughly equal support for Israel and Palestine and more significantly, the poll also showed that the majority of Canadians are neutral towards the conflict.

And yet, when Prime Minister Harper recently spoke in response to Gaza-Israel clashes, he emphasized that unilateral “solidarity with Israel is the best way of stopping the conflict.”

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird also criticized the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for her condemnation of Israel’s air-strikes, again re-iterating the narrative trumpeted by the Conservative Party- that Israel has the right to defend itself against terrorists, and that any collateral damage in the process is ultimately the fault on the part of the terrorists.

No other administration in Canadian history has ever taken such a stance on the conflict. In fact, in comparison to the United States (perceived by many as overwhelmingly pro-Israel) and the European Union, (perceived more as pro-Palestine) Canada had the advantage of being in the middle.

Indeed, starting with Lester B. Peason’s UN peacekeeping mission during the 1956 War, Canada had cultivated a foreign policy outlook that often sided with the United Nations and pursued diplomacy, not ideology.

The Harper government chose to take a different route. The government has repeatedly criticized and gone against the United Nations, including voting against Palestinian statehood in the General Assembly in 2012.

The Prime Minister also visited the region in January of this year, and became the first Canadian Prime Minister to address the Israeli Knesset, where he delivered the memorable line: “Through fire and water, Canada will stand with you.”  Conversely, Harper’s meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas a little while later was much more formal and tense.

But what is the rationale behind the Harper government’s overwhelmingly pro-Israel stance when polls indicate that that position doesn’t represent Canadian views?

Academics think that the answer lies in domestic politics, not foreign. That is, there might be an electoral pay-off for the Conservative Party in adopting such a position. They can both console members of their own base while winning new votes from those who are frustrated by the other parties’ vague support for Israel.

montreal gaza protest

But then three serious problems remain.

First, the Canadian government’s foreign policy is supposed to reflect the opinions of the nation as a whole, and not just the views of a few strategic constituencies. The Harper government’s pro-Israel stance is quite simply unrepresentative of the views of a majority of Canadians.

Secondly, such a one-sided stance eliminates the potential ability of Canada to act as a credible mediator in the conflict. In a situation where the EU and the US are perceived as biased by one side towards the other, a more ‘neutral’ Canada may have been able to lead negotiations in a way that the others could not.  But given the rhetoric used by the PMO, that opportunity is no longer available.

Finally, on an even broader note, the Harper government’s statements on the conflict sustain certain toxic narratives that make this conflict so taboo and difficult to negotiate. Yes, Hamas is a terrorist organization and Israel has the right to defend itself against rocket attacks. But trumpeting this statement alone, without any context or nuance, is simply dangerous. It does not educate about the conflict, and can instead reinforce hostile stereotypes about Palestinians and Muslims as a whole.

Such a stance spurs on hardliners within Israel while simultaneously communicating to groups like Hamas that the Western World is against them- thereby forcing both sides to take on more uncompromising stances, making negotiations more difficult.

Sacrificing such foreign policy considerations in preference of electoral goals is disappointing, to say the least.

 

[soundcloud params=”auto_play=false&show_comments=true&color=0ac4ff”]https://soundcloud.com/forget-the-box/manif-solidarity-with-gaza[/soundcloud]

Once again, casseroles rang through the streets of Montreal this Wednesday as hundreds of protesters gathered in solidarity with Palestine. Organized by Tadamon, a collective that works in solidarity with “struggles for equality and justice in the ‘Middle East’”, the manif converged in front of the Mont-Royal metro station at 5:30pm, and began with speeches from some of Montreal’s powerhouse activists.

The protest aimed to continue the global resistance against Israel’s siege on Gaza, but also put forth Canada’s and the Harper government’s implication in the issue.

Wednesday’s manif is the second in the past week in solidarity with Gaza. Another protest in support will take place this Saturday at 2:00pm at Parc Jarry.

The season of rainbows is here again. A time when everyone’s happy and everyone’s gay. Everyone, that is, save one group whose presence few seem to understand. I’m talking, of course, about Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA).

QuAIA is mostly silent during the year, keeping to themselves and their circle of radical activists. But, once a summer, due to their presence in Toronto’s Pride Parade, they attract a lot of attention with their message of…well…umm…what exactly is their message, and what do queers really have to do with apartheid anyway?

The message of QuAIA, though difficult to discern from its unclear name and heavy use of radical-activist-speak, is, when boiled down, actually quite simple. So simple, in fact, that I’m surprised by their inability to explain it to the public.

For those who don’t know, QuAIA takes issue with the Israeli government’s use of ‘pinkwashing’ to brand their nation as a gay-friendly destination for queer travelers. (Pinkwashing is essentially the act of exploiting one’s tolerance of queers to sell a product—in this case, Israeli tourism.)

In 2005, Israel embarked on a rebranding campaign meant to market the country as a hip place to spend one’s money and, ideally, draw attention away from the oh-so-inconvenient problem of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).

One aspect of the campaign was to tell the world how accepting Israelis are of LGBT people. And it’s true. Even though there remains a strong conservative and religious opposition in the country, the policies of the government are quite queer-friendly. Same-sex marriages are recognized (but not performed), Pride festivals fill the streets, gays are allowed in the military and are able to adopt children, and anti-discrimination laws are even on the books. Compared to the vast majority of countries on this earth, Israel is far ahead in the LGBT rights race.

So what’s the problem then? Simply put, QuAIA takes issue with hard-fought human rights victories of one group being used to hide, and, in effect, legitimize, human rights violations against another.

Advocates of such gay-branding say that advertising a country’s “friendliness” towards a group of people is perfectly legitimate—and they’re right. But they’re also missing the point.

When Israel shows off how gay-friendly it is, and pundits inevitably highlight how gay-unfriendly the rest of the Middle East is, it’s easy to view Israel as a beacon of freedom in a sea of despair. And this is where QuAIA comes in. To them, Israel is no such beacon and should not be seen as one, given their treatment of the people whose land they occupy and blockade.

Before I receive the obligatory hate-mail that comes with writing *anything* on the Israel-Palestine conflict, I should say that I’m not writing this to provide commentary on what’s actually happening there. I’m writing because QuAIA is failing to bring their message to anyone but the converted.

A queer group that labels itself with a contentious term—apartheid—that then can’t explain to the general public why queer people have anything to do with it, is destined to fail. And this is unfortunate, because they do have important ideas—criticizing ‘pinkwashing’ being the most important.

For anyone who thinks that QuAIA is doing a fine job, just look at practically every editorial on them in mainstream media organizations across Canada. Few, if any, engage with QuAIA’s actual issues, instead focusing on how awful the rest of the Middle East is toward gays, making queers against Israel seem silly and out of touch. I’m not saying it’s right, but what else can we expect from lazy commentators who aren’t forced to engage with specifics.

Sure, QuAIA might explain themselves perfectly fine on their website, but when the vast majority of uninformed people don’t read their website, it doesn’t mean much. QuAIA need to realize that if they *actually* want to effect change, they need to have the public on their side. And that’s not going to happen when the mainstream media is given free reign to shape the debate in favour of Israel. The purpose of QuAIA, as I see it, is to force the public to engage with this issue—something they’ve failed to do thus far. And how should they go about this? By dropping the radical-activist-speak and by making an actual effort to explain themselves. If you have a message, it’s your job to get it across, not to sit there and bemoan the obstacles in your way—in this case, the “zionist media”.

As legal rights and support for queers enters the mainstream at a faster and faster pace, pinkwashing is only going to spread. We need to call it out when it happens and tell the businesses and governments engaged in it that we don’t accept their exploitation of our only-recent acceptance in society. And that we especially won’t accept it when used to cleanse the image of controversial products.

We must remember that gay rights haven’t always existed, and that we don’t have them now because they were simply bestowed to us in an act of kindness. No, our brethren fought tooth and nail to wrestle those rights and privileges from the hands of those now trying to profit off of them.

And this, in an awfully roundabout way, is what QuAIA is failing to get across to thousands of queers each summer. Just so you know. Because, it’s not like they were going to tell you.

Photos courtesy of Paul Lowry and Loozrboy via Flickr

On Oct. 18th,  in a deal brokered by Egypt, IDF Sergeant Gilad Shalit  was released by Hamas in the Gaza Strip. At the same time, several hundred Palestinian prisoners were freed from Israeli prisons in the first phase of an agreement that will see the release of more than a thousand Palestinian captives by year end.

This prisoner exchange has been in the works for years, so why the sudden breakthrough? A few reasons might have come into play: the Arab Spring that has all but forced Israel into a corner and Mahmoud Abbas going to the United Nations last month to seek statehood for Palestine. On top of these two major events, there has been social unrest within Israel itself since the start of the summer.

The reasons for the sudden breakthrough aside, was it in Israel’s interest to go through with a deal that saw the first captured Israeli soldier be returned home alive in 26 years? Many hardline and moderate Israelis alike seem to be united in their concern that the release of so many prisoners will jeopardize Israel’s security. Once a terrorist, always a terrorist I guess.

Israelis do have a reason for concern, but I don’t think it has anything to do with the inmates that were recently released. Shortly after the official exchange, Hamas called for further abductions of Israeli soldiers in order to bargain for the freedom of the remaining five or six thousand Palestinian prisoners left in Israeli jails. You can disagree along with me on Hamas’s methods, but they are no different than the tactics of the Mossad and the  IDF who have been arresting, kidnapping and jailing Palestinians without trial for decades.

An elderly man looks at pictures of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails

Between six and seven hundred thousand Palestinians have passed through the Israeli prison system since the war of 1967. That number makes up 20% of all Palestinians and 40% of all men in the occupied territories. Since September 2000, Israel has arrested and imprisoned  more than 7000 Palestinian children under the age of 18, most for doing less than throwing a rock. All Palestinians from the occupied territories regardless of age are subjected to Israeli military tribunals. In addition, a procedure known as “administrative detention” is used to imprison Palestinians without charge or trial for three month stretches.

Israeli has a tendency to not only lock up those few who actually mean to harm innocent people, but also those innocent people who simply strive to be free in their own land. The number of dangerous offenders that have gone through the system actually represents a fraction of a percent. Of course there are always exceptions such as Amana Mona & Mohammed Wael. Mona and Wael were actually convicted of aiding militants and were forced into exile instead of returning to the West Bank.

I do not condone the actions of any group of people kidnaping another human being for personal or political gain, but I do understand why it’s done as a last resort. I have no problem with the one for a thousand exchange no matter how it looks on paper, in fact Israel should have released all the political, non-violent prisoners along with the remaining children.

Israel has to start being seen making sacrifices to the Palestinians, especially in the eyes of the world. Having thousands of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails only adds to the resolve of Hamas and other organizations like it. When Israel and the IDF starts to treat Palestinians properly instead of like second class people, Palestinians would no longer have a use for Hamas.

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The Israeli Government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu seems to be on a one way ticket to oblivion. His right-wing hawkish stances are jeopardizing peace in a region where the Arab Spring is still going strong heading into autumn. To make things worse, hundreds of thousands of Israelis have been protesting Israel’s socio-economic problems.

The  UN recently released its  report into  Israel’s raid of the Gaza-bound ship in which nine Turkish demonstrators were killed last year. The 105-page  report stated that  Israel’s actions were “excessive and unreasonable.” Turkey has since downgraded diplomatic ties with Israel, expelling the Israeli ambassador and suspending military co-operation between the countries because of the lack of an apology from the Netanyahu Government. Turkey has been at peace with Israel since 1948.

On another front, the Arab Spring has so far seen the overthrow of several long time autocracies including that of long time Israeli ally Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. Most Egyptians are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, but still recognize Israel’s right to exist and have no desire for confrontation unless provoked.

Two weeks ago while chasing down Palestinian militants, the IDF accidently killed four Egyptian soldiers and police officers patrolling the border. Egypt recalled their ambassador to Israel in response putting a strain on a peace agreement in effect since 1979’s Camp David peace treaty. The damage could yet be worse if Israel’s perceived aggression plays out in Egypt’s upcoming elections.

Israel’s tangible rapport with Syria will end as soon as President Bashar al-Assad goes down the same road as Mubarak. He has no love for Israel, but he has been a force for stability on Syria and Lebanon’s border with Israel. This leaves only Jordan with a strong peace treaty and even that is a little shaky.

The UN vote on a Palestinian State should take place on Sept 20th

Prime Minister Netanyahu and his right wing coalition is moving closer and closer to bringing the country back decades in foreign policy and all on the heels of a vote on Palestinian Statehood at the United Nations.

Netanyahu is of course vehemently against a UN vote and says that if they dare to take their case to the United Nations he may declare the Oslo agreement of 1993 null and void, meaning they would be enemies once again. People don’t remember the noteworthy aspect of that agreement; Israel had recognized Palestinian rights and the PLO recognized Israel’s right to exist. I can’t help but ponder how many of Israel’s current problems would be helped by a “Yes” vote… of course that’s only if Israel acknowledges it.

The truth is, Netanyahu would rather sacrifice years of progress by maintaining the status quo in order to keep the settlers and religious base happy. His ideology is now starting to weigh in on the domestic side as well; his Tea Party-style economics are driving hundreds of thousands into the streets in protest.

A half-million people took to the streets on Saturday in various Israeli cities to complain about huge housing prices, privatization (Israel’s once heavily state-run economy has been heavily privatized) and government pervaded commercial corruption. The protests are going into their third month with nothing more than a non-binding inquiry into the country’s domestic problems.

It would seem to me that Netanyahu is doing everything in his power to avoid peace when it is clearly in his best interest (and everyone else’s for that matter). Imagine taking all that money in aid and investing it in its own people instead of bombs, fences and illegal settlements. They have yet to truly acknowledge this point, but I wonder how many of those protesters realize it.

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Well, the freedom to speak out, protest and criticize injustice just got a whole lot more complicated in Canada. The Canadian Parliamentary Commission to Combat Antisemitism released its report and to the surprise of almost no one, it opted to pretty much redefine criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic, instead of proposing ways to deal with real instances of antisemitism.

Well, not quite. In fact, it states that criticism of Israel isn’t by definition anti-Semitic, but then goes on to say that “applying double standards by requiring of [Israel] a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation” is. It continues by claiming that “singling Israel out for selective condemnation and opprobrium let alone denying its right to exist or seeking its destruction is discriminatory and hateful, and not saying so is dishonest.”

So basically, if you want to criticize Israeli government policy or practice, you have to criticize some other nation at the same time or else be labelled an anti-Semite.

Well, that can be difficult, particularly for those organizing events specifically dealing with what’s going on in Gaza like Apartheid Week, seemingly the real target of this commission’s findings. But on the other hand, I’m always up for a challenge so I think I’ll give this a shot. Now, I’ve got to remember the rules: I can criticize Israel all I want, I just need to criticize someone else for the same thing or something comparable. Let’s get started:

Okay, so I’m against how the Israeli government cuts off freedom of mobility to Palestinians in Gaza, passes laws effectively creating a second class of citizens who are then discriminated against and labels any attempt to resist a terrorist act. Now, I’ve got to think of another regime guilty of the same thing and speak out against them, too. Got it! Pre-Mandela South Africa, I’m against that regime, too.

No, wait, it’s a dated example. Things have changed in South Africa in the past little while and it’s a bit of a cheat to say I’m protesting something that isn’t happening there anymore along with what’s happening now in the occupied territories. I’ll try again…

I’m against how the Israeli government continues to authorize and even encourage new settlements on occupied land, evicting Palestinians for no good reason, further aggravating a situation that is already pretty damn tense. Okay, so far so good, now for the second part…hmmm…ha. I’m also against the way the Canadian government under Harper (and let’s face it, under previous administrations, too) continues to ignore Native land claims while permitting new encroachments on un-ceded territory like they did for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. I’m also not thrilled with the way they issued a tepid apology for what happened in the Residential School system without acknowledging the extent of what really happened.

Ha. I’m starting to like this game. I’ll try another one:

I’m appalled at how the Israeli Knesset recently passed a law making it illegal to criticize what’s going on in the occupied territories or organize a boycott of products from there or anywhere in Israel. This is a violation of the very principles of freedom of speech and such a law has no place in a free and democratic society.

Now, to cover my ass, the second part:

I am equally appalled at how Canadian parliamentarians from almost all parties (the Bloc opted out of this commission shortly before voters opted out of the Bloc) decided to use the spectre of antisemitism as a weapon to stifle criticism of the actions of a government, not the actions of a country’s citizens or people of a particular religion. It’s an attack on freedom of speech, that much is clear, but it’s also an attack on logic.

It’s a move that makes no sense unless you’re thinking in an Orwellian sense, but it does make for a fun game as I just demonstrated. This game isn’t free, though. To play it, you have to give up your right to protest injustice, a fundamental right in any democracy.

Famine is one of those things that seems to be poorly understood by Westerners. We’ve largely equated the word with a mere desire to eat. We have a wretchedly poor comprehension of what it means to not only have nothing at all to eat, but as to how long an individual can exist on infrequent and woefully small quantities of food. The answer is painfully long, that is, a human can survive for a very long time on extremely small quantities of food and water. They who do and there are a great many on our pathetically retarded planet who do do so with sick, emaciated bodies and gradually atrophying organs. They are the most resourceful people on the planet without a doubt, and the product of their labour is only to prolong the excruciating pain of their existence for there is scarcely any help for these people,

In North Korea,
In the Horn of Africa,
In Gaza…

So a people are starving. They live in ‘homelands’; they must carry identification to travel between them, and do so under the constant watch of a police apparatus designed to hinder the illusion of any personal rights. Working outside the homeland is dangerous but increasingly necessary, for the homeland has no real economy, no real government, none of what is necessary to build a society, a State. Instead, the streets are governed by thugs and religious zealots and the good people are systematically killed off, pushed out or put down   Gaza looks like Mogadishu and operates like Salisbury (known today as Harare) in the late-1970s.

Gaza, like the rest of the Palestinian territories, is effectively the last real justification for maintaining a military the size of the IDF for Israel’s day-to-day defensive requirements. Gone are the days in which Israel was militarily outmatched by all of its neighbours. Lebanon is a wreck, Syria is on the verge, and Egypt and Jordan are Israeli allies (of sorts). In fact, the only local military large-enough to take on the IDF in a war would be Iran. And though there have been murmurs of just such a thing happening and soon there’s still a lot of doubt. After all, when these two nations shared a greater common enemy (Saddam Hussein in the mid-1980s), the Israelis had no problem supporting the Iranian air force with parts and equipment. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

So as a result of lacking just such a threat, and having a massive military to support, the Israelis have set their scopes and sights on the Palestinian Territories. And just like South Africa, Portugal and Rhodesia in the 1970s, they’ll commit this force to an endless series of ‘skirmishes’; never acknowledging a war is going on, never playing by the rules of engagement. It seems as though this is all Israel has been doing for more than a decade anyways. And enemies especially the invisible kind are much easier to create when you have an endless supply of poor hungry people desperate to get out of the hole they’ve been told to lie in for decades upon decades. So the guns are turned inwards.

Freedom Flotilla II the second attempt to run the blockade of Gaza, has been met with acts of sabotage of various kinds, doubtless the work of the Israeli government, the IDF etc. Under the pretence of preventing a re-supply of militants and a recap of last year’s bloodbath in the Eastern Mediterranean, where IDF commandos killed nine unarmed activists, they instead focused on attacking the ships in port, with bombs detonated to cripple the rudders. Hey at least it’s better than using snipers, right? The ships were to carry humanitarian aid to the People of Gaza, but if the Israelis were to allow this, it would be tantamount to acknowledging there was a problem in the first place. And as a new deadline approaches, and the issue of State recognition for the Palestinian people grows stronger while Israel’s former enemies grow weaker, the fascist elements of the current Israeli administration will do whatever they can to demonstrate that the People of Palestine are unfit for self-determination.

Apartheid-era South Africa used the fear of international communism as justification. Today, Israel uses the fear of international terrorism. And time and time again the people of the Decadent West buy it, and fail to act. We are failing to prevent another catastrophe.

And so Israel exists beyond the realm of ‘normal’ nations. Its economy is largely artificial and donation-based. Its diplomatic relations with almost all its neighbours is hopelessly strained, while its behemoth military seeds plans of an attack against Iran to remind the West Israel’s just our toughest ally. They remind the rest of the world of the threat of Islamo-Fascism, and point to the wars they created as justification for their existence. And Israel is so scared of the world discovering the reality of the situation they’ve created in Gaza they’ll go so far as to try and sue any nation that openly boycotts Israel because of its actions in Gaza, in Palestine.

Imagine that?
A sovereign nation can be sued for not financially supporting a warmonger state,
Israel has become a Fascistic state.
The economies collapse,
And the people starve…

* images imemc.org and electronicintifada.net

A year after the first freedom flotilla set sail for the Gaza Strip, resulting in the deaths of nine activists at the hands of the Israeli IDF, the world awaits the departure of Freedom Flotilla II. The flotilla of ten boats includes two cargo ships transporting nearly three thousand tons of aid, and eight other passenger boats with citizens of dozens of different countries. It was supposed to set sail at the end of June.

Over the last week or so, it has been mired in sabotage and Israeli diplomatic efforts to halt it with Greek officials who have their hands full (and tied) with their own domestic problems. The result is that the flotilla has been delayed from setting sail and activist morale has been lowered, but that has not deterred those involved. They remain focused on the flotilla’s overall goal of breaking the Israeli blockade to bring in humanitarian aid, and cheered that Israeli actions have actually helped their goal of bringing the plight of Gaza back into the media spotlight.

The Juliano, owned jointly by the Ship to Gaza organizations in Sweden, Norway and Greece, had its propeller house destroyed and its propeller shaft cut by hostile divers. The consequent damage would have happened gradually as the ship was sailing and would have culminated in a breach in the hull. The Irish-owned ship, the “MV Saoirse” also had its propeller shaft weakened by saboteurs who cut or filed a piece off the shaft. This weakened the integrity of the shaft, causing it to bend badly when it was put into use.

Dr. Lane, who was part of last year’s flotilla, said, “The Freedom Flotilla is a non-violent act of practical and humanitarian solidarity with the people of Gaza, yet Israel continues to use threats and violence to delay its sailing. They attacked us in international waters last year, now they are attacking us in Turkish and Greek ports. There is no line that Israel won’t cross.” One can only speculate  about Israel’s involvement in the sabotage as there is not yet any proof, but given Israel’s unhesitating use of snipers and attack dogs against unarmed civilians, it’s not a stretch to imagine it is their doing.

The Tahrir & The Audacity of Hope

On Friday the U.S. boat named after Barack Obama’s famous book “The Audacity of Hope” attempted to sail from the port of Perama, near Athens, but was thwarted by Greek coast guard speedboats. The 60-year-old captain was arrested and faces charges of trying to leave port without permission and of endangering the lives of the boat’s passengers.

The Canadian ship to  Gaza,  the Tahrir, was boarded before it had a chance to leave (on Canada Day). The Greek authorities attempted to confiscate Tahrir’s transit logs needed for travel, the delegates refused to hand them over, offering photocopies instead, which were in turn refused. This exposed the efforts to stop all ships departing from Greek ports if the intended destination was Gaza. Soon enough all Gaza-bound ships were stranded in Greece because they were “concerned primarily with the protection and safety of human life.” A fact we have since learned is not true.

Israel’s extreme right wing Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman admitted on Sunday that Israel was behind the Greek government’s decision to forbid the flotilla from sailing to the Gaza Strip saying “Things do not just happen on their own. The Quartet, the governments of Greece and Cyprus, object to the flotilla, understands the needs of Israel, and is acting effectively.”

The flotilla, I understand, will try and set sail again on Monday July 4th regardless of Greek and Israeli efforts to stop them. The blockade, now in its fourth year, is illegal under international law. The same goes for last year’s raid in international waters of the first freedom flotilla and for Israel’s forty plus year occupation of Palestine. Any form of peaceful protest should be welcomed by so called freedom loving nations such as our own; we should not be bowing to the will of a single apartheid-like government.

“We’ve received many visits and inspections from Greek authorities; we’ve satisfied all the technical requirements, all the paperwork. Our ship is ready. The Greek government is having its hand forced by the powers of the international community. It’s a shame on the Greek government, a shame on the EU, a shame on the Canadian and American government for cowing to one power dictating where their citizens can travel. This is a citizen to citizen initiative. We’re not going to be stopped by an order coming from the Greek government, when it’s in fact being manipulated by the Israeli government.” – David Heap, associate professor at the University of Western Ontario aboard the Tahrir

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made it abundantly clear last week in his speech to the American Congress that he has no desire to negotiate for peace. Although Bibi’s talk drew several standing ovations in front of American lawmakers, few were smiling back in Palestine or Israel.

In his speech Netanyahu quickly dismissed virtually all key Palestinian demands for peace. He first shunned Obama’s remarks days earlier when he called for the future Palestinian state to be based on the borders of 1967. He then ruled out dividing Jerusalem, saying “Jerusalem must never again be divided. Jerusalem must remain the united capital of Israel.”

Netanyahu went on to say that Palestinian refugees did not have the right to return to Israel and that they had to remain in any Palestinian state. He also ruled out leaving the Jordan Valley and made no mention of halting settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. All this of course leaves the Palestinians with nothing. Bibi makes for a far better dictator than he does a negotiator.

Netanyahu then asked for President Abbas to tear up his pact with Hamas. Hamas of course was democratically elected back in 2006, but apparently democracy does not count when the victor is labeled a terrorist organization.

Hamas’s military wing has consistently used terrorist tactics and called for the destruction of the Jewish State, but you know what? That’s what enemies do, especially the governors of an occupied land. No one can deny that Israel has called for and even tried to bring about the destruction of Hamas. The only difference between the two militaries is that one side can afford uniforms. Whether a car bomb or a gunship missile, both bring terror and death.

A side note: Common definitions of terrorism refer to those violent acts which are intended to create fear and are perpetrated for religious, political or ideological goals, deliberately targeting or disregarding the safety of civilians. Going by this definition Israel has killed 5 times more civilians and ten times more civilians under the age of 18 than Palestinians in the last 25 years.

Hamas’s refusal to recognize the Jewish State should not hamper Israel’s decision to negotiate, but Netanyahu continually uses Hamas as a roadblock to peace. Imagine the world we might be living in if the US refused to talk to the Soviet Union after Khrushchev threatened to bury them.

Israel has the region’s strongest economy and military by far, complete with an arsenal of (not so secret) nuclear weapons, but we are constantly told by Netanyahu that his policies and positions are for Israel’s security, even though they have maintained a stable peace agreement with half their neighbors for decades.

Benjamin Netanyahu has been opposed to a Palestinian state for most of his life, right up until he was elected for a second term. Are we to believe that he has had a sudden change of heart or had some sort of Islamic epiphany? Nothing he has said or done recently would suggest so, and he’s not fooling as many people as he may think (aside from the American Congress).

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Last Thursday, US President Barack Obama gave a stirring speech on the “Arab Spring” and America’s policies toward it. Unfortunately the only part of it that made headlines was his comment calling for any peace deal between Israel and Palestine to be based on the 1967 borders. His annotations angered Zionists, Republicans, right wing Jews and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

What Obama said however was nothing new; negotiations based on the lines of 1967 have been going on since the 1970s, in fact Bill Clinton pushed for such a deal at Camp David eleven years ago. The idea of land swaps also mentioned in Obama’s speech is again nothing new, but it seemed to be lost on everyone.

Land swaps are the key to any deal of course; the West Bank has been dotted with so many Israeli settlements  over the years that Israel has made it virtually impossible for any deal to be made based solely on the 1967 borders.  No Palestinian would agree to exchange a big meaty steak for only the fat in return. That means any deal would not only include the same amount of land, but the same amount of fertile land.

I believe, as do many, that Obama’s comments regarding the Palestinian/Israeli issue had more than one objective. While Obama was trying to restart peace negotiations, he was also trying to dissuade Palestinian officials led by President Mahmoud Abbas from going to the United Nations in September to seek statehood. Statehood was promised to the Palestinians by the UN back in 1947 when the Palestine territory was partitioned to make way for the state of Israel alongside it.

1967 borders and the borders of today

The day after Obama’s Arab Spring speech, Benjamin Netanyahu claimed that “A peace based on illusions will crash upon the rocks of Middle Eastern reality… I think for peace the Palestinians will have to accept some basic realities.” He said that a return to those borders was impossible because the region had seen “demographic changes”. He argued the 1967 borders were “indefensible.”

Netanyahu’s statement completely destroyed Obama’s second intention. The following day, Nabil Shaath, an aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said “Of course we will go to the United Nations, especially after Netanyahu used the old pretext that he needs ‘defensible borders’ to keep stealing our land, control the Jordan Valley and create demographic facts on the ground.”

On Sunday, Speaking to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (America’s largest pro-Israel lobby) Obama said that while U.S. support for Israel remains ironclad, we cannot afford to wait decades to achieve peace. The President gave this speech only hours after Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak had approved the construction of 294 new homes in the occupied West Bank and construction began on two thousand others.

Obama was quick to mention Israel faced the threat of attack from Hamas rockets launched from Gaza and that a recent agreement between Hamas and Fatah “poses an enormous obstacle to peace.” Of course he failed to mention the main reason that peace talks are lifeless in the first place: the continued construction of settlements on occupied land.

I liked Obama’s speeches and was in fair agreement with them, but it remains my opinion that the United States will never be able to successfully broker a peace agreement so long as the President remains under the influence of the Pro-Israeli Lobby. A successful negotiator must be able to talk tough and act tough to both sides otherwise no one listens.

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Sometimes I simply get caught up in the emotion of my ranting and say something stupid, or dangerous, or something I’ll regret later. I also might embellish it here and there for flavour. Rants are rants, and therefore don’t always have to be 100% fact-based when dealing with my own prejudiced opinions. I do, however, realize that the correct facts must be there, and that editing is often needed, especially when information needs to get updated. I also realize that my rants don’t always make sense, and can seem biased. Even I don’t always agree with what I write.

I can sometimes be that irascible punk who can’t be wrong but is constantly at odds with everyone else in the room. Sometimes I have to fight to get my point across. Sometimes I can be just as stubborn and annoyingly repetitive as the next guy. Sometimes, I know my attitudes and opinions will be viewed as just plain wrong. I do my best still to at least get the facts straight as I understand them.

For example, unlike some of my colleagues at Forget The Box – and being part Israeli – I am a proud, hardcore, dyed-in-the-wool Zionist. My definition of Zionism, however, differs completely from that of the vast majority of Anti-Zionists.

I know we’re nowhere near perfect, but then, I’ve never heard of a refugee from Israel, either.

I do very strongly believe that the state of Israel has the right to exist, and if she must defend herself in order to continue existing, then that’s what she must do. Peace is always preferable, but if peace is not a given option, because certain dictators don’t like your tiny democracy being in their proverbial backyards, they will not hesitate to attack and teach their peasants to hate and despise those who are in a democracy, partly because of jealousy. Many a despotic leader has taught his citizens lies, utilizing the school systems as well as propaganda campaigns. Many of these lies find their way back into North American and European university campuses, sometimes as slogans,   and are treated as gospel fact.

I find it very hard not to take it personally when somebody tells me that I should have never been born. When someone tells me that my family or ancestry should have been wiped out many generations ago, but someone screwed up. I find that extremely hurtful.

Maybe that isn’t the best example, but it’s something I feel very strongly about. I believe that terrorism in general and especially suicide terrorism is a truly deplorable practice, and I have been the victim of it.

Having said all of this, I believe that those who wish to exclude themselves have every right to. I believe that those who call themselves “Palestinians” should have their own land and country if they desire it. As Theodore Herzl wrote, “If you will it, it is no dream.” While he was talking about the formation of the state of Israel, it may   still be applied to other people who wish to build countries as well.

In conclusion, I still say, as always, “believe what you want to believe, and I’ll do the same and believe what I want to believe.” Beliefs such as these are not worth losing friendships over.