Aaron Bushnell’s courageous activism for a Gaza ceasefire

On Sunday (Feb.25), Aaron Bushnell, a serving member of the US Air Force, undertook a stunningly focused and courageous act of self-immolation at the gates of the Israeli Embassy here in Washington DC, protesting Israel’s attacks against Gaza and calling for a ceasefire.

Bushnell had set up a camera and livestreamed himself on “Twitch” as he delivered a statement expressing his strong opposition to Israel’s genocide in Gaza and declaring that he no longer wanted to be complicit in it. He then doused himself with kerosene and set fire to his body, while continuing to shout for a “Free Palestine”.

Still from Bushnell’s video

I did not watch the whole video. Those who did describe Bushnell’s demeanor as composed, serious, and very focused. Accounts in the corporate media have tried to imply that he was deranged… or a member of a Christian “cult”… or even (gasp!) an anarchist. News that has come out from his friends and colleagues indicates, by contrast, that he was a good participant in a mutual-aid project in Ohio that offered food for unhoused and indigent people there, and also that he was due to leave the Air Force in May after serving for four years.

There were some reports that he had worked in intelligence in the Air Force, in which case he may have known more than most of us about the volume of the intel and targeting help that the U.S. Air Force has been giving to Israel as part of Biden’s support for Israel’s genocide in Gaza.

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Israel’s latest shameful attacks on UNRWA

Above, an UNRWA school in Gaza serving as a shelter for thousands of Palestinians displaced by Israel’s assault

Let us be clear. Israel—a country whose entire existence is the result of the Partition Plan for Palestine that the United Nations adopted in 1947—has a long and serious record of defying U.N. resolutions. Then suddenly, on Friday, Israeli government spokesmen surfaced their accusation that 12 staff members of the UN’s relief agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, had been involved in some way in the Hamas-led breakout into Israel on October 7.

Think about it:

  • The existence those accusations was publicized on the exact same day the International Court of Justice was scheduled to announce its interim ruling on South Africa’s accusation that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza. Quelle coincidence! Hey, to the governments and government lackeys of the world: Don’t look over there at The Hague; Look over here! (Presumably, though, whatever “evidence” the Israeli authorities had been basing their accusations on must have been gathered many weeks ago and may also have been shared with the UNRWA head a while ago, too.)
  • The nature of the accusations has never been revealed. All that we have been told is that they involved 12 members of an UNRWA workforce in Gaza that totals 13,000 people (of whom, by the way, more than 150 have already been killed in Israel’s bombardment.) But neither Israel nor UNRWA head Philippe Lazzarini, with whom the accusations were earlier shared, has ever revealed any of the relevant details such as: what acts those staff members were accused of; what level of staff members they were; and whether they were given any chance to refute the accusations.
  • Instead, according to both Israeli officials and Lazzarini, Israel had shared the accusations—at some undisclosed earlier date—with him and his staff; and at some later date he fired the 12 accused staff members. We have heard no information from UNRWA, which is an international public body, regarding: when all that happened; what kind of an internal investigative process Lazzarini pursued, and how long it took; and what were the results of any such investigation. Hey, for all we know, the Israelis may have initially accused many more than those 12 people who lost their jobs, and UNRWA was able to refute many of those accusations? We don’t know. But doesn’t the global public that pays Lazzarini’s salary deserve to know all this?
  • So on January 26, immediately upon the Israelis revealing the existence of its accusations and of UNRWA’s firing of the 12 individuals, the U.S. government and half a dozen other “White”-country governments all decided to withhold their contributions to all of UNRWA, with immediate effect. This was kowtowing to the government of Israel of the very first order! One can only assume that all these governments were just delighted to have some Gaza-related news to react to (and to contribute to) that was not the ICJ’s very clear, anti-Israel ruling…
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To the people of Gaza: Empathy and admiration, not ‘pity’

The photo above, by Maureen Clare Murphy, shows a kite displayed at a memorial gathering held in Chicago for my friend the assassinated Gaza writer Refaat Alareer

I haven’t written much here recently. In the past two months I’ve been really busy with the book-publishing business, from which I’d earlier hoped I could start to retire. But my publishing company, Just World Books, has long had a strong list of titles on Gaza, and by Gaza-Palestinian authors, so there’s been a huge run on our books… Plus, on December 6, our wonderful author/editor Refaat Alareer, a professor of literature at the Islamic University of Gaza, was assassinated by Israel; and I’ve been doing what I could to defend his legacy and ensure that the works he edited (and contributed to) get as wide a distribution as possible.

I have also been working on a longer essay for a national publication about the clearly massive impact the Gaza crisis has already had, and will continue to have, on the dynamics of global power. Stay tuned for that… Oh, and with my dear Gaza-Palestinian colleague Dr. Yousef Aljamal and a talented new Irish pal called Tony Groves we’ve gotten our new Palestine-focused podcast, the PalCast, up and running. Hey, we’ve now released eighteen episodes of it! (Catch it at Apple, Spotify, or other good podcast platforms.)

So of course this means I’ve continued to follow all the developments unfolding in (and swirling very broadly around) the Gaza crisis pretty closely. I’ve also been networking with numerous other individuals and organizations that are pushing for a speedy ceasefire there and the launching of a serious, U.N.-led project to end Israel’s occupation of Gaza, the West Bank (including E. Jerusalem), and Golan, once and for all.

In these contacts, I’ve encountered quite a few people outside Gaza who admit to feeling “hopeless” to effect change there; and many of those people, and others, frequently express pity for the situation of the 2.3 million people of Gaza. I’ve thought quite a lot about that stance, and my general reaction is as follows: #1, Hopelessness/despair cannot be an option, especially for those of us who are outside Gaza. #2, I’m increasingly of the view that “pity” is a patronizing, othering, and somewhat self-paralyzing kind of response to the situation Gaza’s people are facing, under Israel’s truly outrageous genocidal assault.

What I would urge is that those of us outside Gaza should instead view the situation of the people there with a radical and empowering form of empathy for all of them, and with admiration for the steadfastness and resilience they and their society have shown in the face of Israel’s almost unfathomable cruelty.

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The politics of ending Gaza’s misery

(The above charts are taken from UN-OCHA’s summary report of December 29, on the casualties in the Gaza-Israel crisis. The following essay was first distributed in my newsletter series for Just World Ed.)

The humanitarian crisis in Gaza of course should stay top of mind, but I’ve always been very wary of attempts to divorce intense humanitarian crises from the very real political factors that so often, as in this case, underlie them. The intense crisis that Gaza’s 2.3 million people are suffering is absolutely not the result of a “natural” disaster, but the result of very deliberate policies– political projects– pursued by the leaders on both the Israeli and Palestinian (Hamas-led) sides, as well as those pursued by influential allies including, on the Israeli side, primarily the United States.

Hence, the ending/resolution of the crisis requires political decisions, not just “humanitarian” action. (And as has been clear all along even the attainment of humanitarian goals in this crisis, such as the release of hostages/prisoners or the delivery of aid, requires clear political decisionmaking by many of the involved parties.)

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U.N. Security Council resolution on Gaza: text

At noon ET today, the Security Council finally adopted a (notably watered-down) resolution on the Gaza crisis, resolution 2720. Unlike the resolution passed by the General Assembly earlier this month, it did not call for a ceasefire in Gaza, or even (as an earlier draft of the UNSC resolution had) for a “suspension” of hostilities in Gaza. Instead, it called only on all parties to “create the conditions for a sustainable cessation of hostilities.”

Even with this highly watered-down version, the U.S. ambassador would not vote FOR the resolution. She abstained, citing as her main criticism the fact that it made no mention of “condemning” the actions that Hamas and its partners engaged in in Israel on October 7.

Thirteen of the SC’s 15 members voted for the resolution. Only two abstained: the United States and Russia. Russia had wanted a much stronger resolution.

You can read the UN news center’s account of the day’s events, and find the whole text of resolution 2720, here.

Here are the operational parts of the resolution (after all the preamble, that is):

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On the Houthi shipping threats

The above image shows a Yemeni Coast Guard vessel guarding the hijacked Israeli-owned vessel Galaxy Leader

This is a Twitter thread I posted Wednesday, about the (economic!) effectiveness of the attacks and threats that Yemen’s Houthis have been making against Israel-related shipping trying to transit the Bab el-Mandeb straits.

Just in case it’s not accessible there I have uploaded the PDF of that thread here. And below, you’ll find (non-clickable) screengrabs of those pages. If you want clickable, go to the first link I put above.

(Just an update Friday afternoon: Reuters reported that France, Italy, and Spain– all of which SecDef Lloyd Austin had earlier announced would be members of the counter-Houthi ‘Operation Prosperity Guardian’ coalition– had all declared that they would not be; but their navies would continue coordinating with the U.S. Navy under previously existing arrangements. France and Norway also seemed to be pulling back from Austin’s OPG bravura…)

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On the Gaza crossings monitoring mechanism

Yesterday, I wrote a fairly substantial Twitter thread on the freight-crossings monitoring mechanism that’s a critical point of contention as the UN Security Council this week attempts to pass a meaningful resolution on a ceasefire (or even just a “suspension of hostilities”) in Gaza.

It’s a bit of a wonkish, insidery issue but since it has acquired such importance at the SC, I took that deep dive into it yesterday. You can read the whole thread here. That’s where you’ll need to access it if you want clickable links.

By the way if you’re interested in Israeli controls of *people* needing or wanting to cross into or out of Gaza, go read this excellent thread that the currently exiled Gazan Sarah Ali posted yesterday.

Anyway, here’s the content of my thread from yesterday, non-clickably (with two typos corrected):

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On claims of rape during Hamas’s October 7 breakout from Gaza

The high-profile former Meta exec Sheryl Sandberg headlined an event on this issue for the Israeli Mission to the U.N., December 4

Suddenly, a few days ago, and just as the Israeli military was resuming and indeed intensifying its operations in Gaza, Israel’s worldwide PR machine leapt into life with a large-scale campaign asserting as proven “fact” unproven claims that during the October 7 breakout from Gaza, the Hamas operatives had engaged in a broad campaign of rape and other forms of sexual violence against Israeli women.

What a coincidence. “Hey folks, don’t look at what’s happening to the civilians inside Gaza. Look over here instead!” (And a worrying proportion of Western media outlets did just that. Sigh.)

As a sometimes adventurous professional woman I’ve had to fend off a number of unwanted sexual advances over the years, on occasion a little forcefully. And I’ve done enough interviewing of survivors of rape and sexual violence in Rwanda and elsewhere that I well understand the grave harm that such acts cause. Obviously I would hate it intensely if my children or grandchildren were subjected to such harm.

But you know what? I’d hate it even more if they were killed. Murder is, I think, a very much graver harm than rape.

So first, a few facts. Al-Jazeera is now reporting that Israel has killed more than 17,000 people in Gaza since October 7. Most UN bodies estimate that about 70% of those killed are women and children. That would be ~ 11,900. Conservatively, let’s say that Israel has killed 3,000 to 4,000 women in Gaza. And those who are still alive are barely surviving amid the most God-awful circumstances imaginable.

Let’s think of each of those women’s lives lost or gravely harmed as being just as valuable as the lives of Israeli women?

And here are some facts and figure about the people killed in Israel during the Hamas-led breakout of October 7—which is what we can know about, with much more certainty than we can know about women (or men) who may have been subjected to sexual assault.

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The record of Gaza’s ‘humanitarian pauses’

We are nearing the end of the sixth day (in West Asia) of the daily ‘humanitarian pauses’ that have been painstakingly negotiated between the Hamas military/political leadership and their Israeli counterparts, via a trail that goes through Qatar and Egypt, with the Biden administration also eager to take a lot of credit. The first of those pauses was agreed to be four days long, then there was a two-day extension. Right now there are reports that Hamas is offering a further extension of two or even more days, on basically similar terms.

These arrangements have four well-known components: a strong bilateral restriction on conducting hostilities; Hamas’s release of an agreed daily number woman, children, and non-Israeli captives; Israel’s release of an agreed daily number of Palestinians women and children captives, on a basis of 3-to-1; and Israel’s “permission” to aid organizations to send an agreed number of aid trucks into Gaza, in a greed manner, each day.

The fact that these terms have been largely met by both sides for six days is very significant. Primarily, it shows that Hamas’s command-and-control apparatus in Gaza remained fundamentally intact even after the extreme pounding (bombing from land, sea, and air, use of large tank and other ground-force formations, etc) that Israel inflicted on Gaza for seven weeks prior to the start of the ‘pauses’. Hamas showed it was able to abide by the ceasefire provisions and impose discipline on other Gaza groups that might have sought not to. Hamas showed it was able to organize at least one release of hostages from within the (northern) environs of Gaza City, which the IDF had previously encircled and on which it had inflicted a terrible, Dresden/Stalingrad degree of damage.

I also want to give a strong and awed shoutout to the resilience, dignity, and commitment of the people of Gaza. They have suffered almost unimaginable harm over the past 54 days. The Government Media Office there reports that “more than 15,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, including about 6,150 children and 4,000 women.” Untold thousands have been injured. 1.7 million Gaza Palestinians have been displaced. Most of the Strip’s hospitals and many other public-use buildings have been destroyed. Schools have been turned into refugee camps (and several of them also destroyed.) The ‘pauses’ allowed many Gazans to go out and about and to see the extent and degree of the physical damage, and also to see the remains of unburied corpses on the streets and in pancaked buildings. Despite all this, there have been very few mass melees around arriving aid trucks. On the day that cooking gas was delivered to a station in central Gaza, Gazans arranged their families’ gas canisters in an orderly line that reportedly stretched for two kilometres.

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Elements of an effective, UN-supervised ceasefire in Gaza

There is a broad and growing global campaign for a ceasefire in Gaza. (U.S. Pres. Biden has countered it by calling for one or more much briefer “pauses” to allow for humanitarian operations. But still the pro-ceasefire campaign continues to grow.) The Israeli government and military and their supporters worldwide have argued very strongly against a ceasefire, saying it would “reward Hamas”, or would be “a surrender to Hamas.”

Many supporters of Israel also use arguments like, “How can we have trust in a ceasefire? After what Hamas did October 7, how can we ever trust them to abide by a ceasefire?” This argument, unlike the two recited above, is worth examining. Its proponents usually refer to the series of ceasefires that Israeli governments concluded with Hamas (through third parties) that brought to an end the previous rounds of fighting between the two parties—for example, in 2009, in 2014, and 2021. One first observation is, of course, that each of those ceasefires did lead to a halt in the active fighting for a number of years. So they were not worthless. However, none of them led to any indication that the suffocating military occupation that Israel has maintained over Gaza since 1967 was on its way to coming to an end. Hence, the tight, concentration-camp-like pressure cooker of Gaza’s 2.3. million rights-deprived people was just put back on to the stove to boil.

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