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Changing the Conversation on Israel, Terrorism, and the Occupation

By Elsadig Elsheikh, Race-Talk contributor Before dawn of Monday May 31st the Israeli Naval Commandos of the Israel Defense Force (IDF), dropped from a helicopter in the middle of the international waters, stormed the one of the “Free Gaza” six-ship flotilla. The Israeli commandos shot dead nine, injured tens, and arrested hundreds of the 650 peace activists from 45 countries were on the flotilla. The flotilla was carrying 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid -- mainly medicine, construction materials and educational supplies -- to the people of Gaza who have been living under the Israeli blockade since 2007. Motivated by the miserable conditions that the population of Gaza is facing due to the blockade, the flotilla sailed from Cyprus toward Gaza. Amnesty International described the blockade, combined with the military offensive of last December in 2009, as having “brought conditions in Gaza to the brink of human catastrophe.”  The human rights organization reported that “the continuing Israeli military blockade of the Gaza Strip exacerbated an already dire humanitarian situation, health and sanitation problems, poverty and malnutrition for the 1.5 million residents.” The latest assault on the ‘Free Gaza’ flotilla that took place in international waters has created wide global waves of protest and condemnation of Israel’s indefensible action. In a press conference, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu supported the assault, claiming that IDF commandos “acted in self-defense and [that] he was proud of their action”, adding that the flotilla was “not a peace flotilla, but a boat of hatred, full of terrorists’ supporters.” Similarly, the Israeli ambassador to United States Michael Oren insists that the attack on the flotilla was “an attack against terrorists not peace activists.” The truth of the matter is that Israel violated all the norms in the international treaties by implementing the blockade on Gaza.  And its attack on the flotilla is an act of aggression and arrogance towards the international community.  Nonetheless, the real conversation that we should have is simple and plain: can Israel continue to occupy Palestinian territories, keeping the Palestinian population hostage under siege in the name of self-defense?  Is that possible? Israel’s occupation of Palestine is illegal, inhumane, and should be abolished. The world cannot afford to continue ignoring the legitimacy of the Palestinian’s rights to their independent state. The devastation that violent occupation brings to the livelihood, psychological, cultural, and economic state of the occupied can only imply similar reactions to undo the harm. That is what history has taught us.  Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories cannot be justified under any logic, law, or desire. When footage of Monday’s attack circulated on media outlets around the world, people of conscience felt overwhelmed and paralyzed asking, “how do we react?”; however, tens of thousands of ordinary people, inspired by the pursuit of social justice and human rights, took to the streets to express their outrage and anger. Israel cannot continue its occupation of the Palestinian territories without now being depicted as the last colonial power of the 21st century, equipped with a nuclear arsenal, and supported by the most powerful nation in our planet. Israel cannot be considered a thriving democracy, as Nichols Kristof claims, because truly democratic countries do not occupy other people’s lands in the name of self-defense. Social justice advocates, human rights and peace activists can no longer shy-away from calling Israel for what it is: an occupying force continuing its brutal acts, keeping the civilian Palestinian population under illegitimate siege.  Israel is carrying out collective punishment through the blockade. This behavior can no longer be justified under any circumstance or excuse.  We must call our governments and the international community to act by applying the necessary level of pressure on Israel once and for all: to stop building settlements in Palestinian territories, to end the illegal blockade of Gaza; to end construction of the wall that reminds us of the hideous past of the apartheid South Africa. The governments and political establishments of the United States, EU, and the international community (United Nations, International Criminal Courts, etc.) should act without delay regarding the legitimate demands of the Palestinian people for their right to statehood, the right of return for their refugees, and to free all political prisoners from Israeli jails. If our common humanity calls upon us to extend our true solidarity to the enduring pain of the Palestinian people by urging our governments to do what the “Free Gaza” flotilla was intended to do last Monday, we must recognize that Israel can no longer play the role of perpetual victim.  The world can no longer ignore the right of the Palestinian people to live a dignified life, in a state of their own choice. The elegant speeches delivered by political establishments – on human dignity, universality of human rights, and our humanistic solidarity against violence, genocide, and aggression on innocent civilians – can no longer be applied to all other countries of our planet with the exception of Israel. Let us be frank with ourselves and about history: there is nothing exceptional about the Israeli occupation – its hostility, violation of international law and human rights, and impunity. Thus, words of condemnation are not what the Palestinian people want to hear from us, but rather deeds that will set them free from the cruelty of occupation. ### Elsadig ElsheikhElsadig is a research associate for the international program to lead the development of specific focus and thinking about medium and long term research and projects to leverage our understanding in looking at various societies in terms of racially, ethnically, economically, and socially excluded groups and communities for the Kirwan Institute. Before coming to the Institute, Elsadig worked with various grassroots and advocacy organizations in fields of Internal Displaced Persons, Indigenous population, human rights, immigration, anti-racism, and social mobilizations in Sudan, Greece, Colombia, and the United States. Elsadig was a fellow in the 2009 Human Rights Advocates Program (HRAP) at Columbia University. He received his MA in social justice & sustainable development and a graduate diploma in conflict transformation across cultures both from the SIT Graduate Institute in 2008. In 2005, he received a B.A. in political science & international studies from the Ohio State University, and prior to that he studied international relations at the Panteion University in Athens, Greece.