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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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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The clocks ticking for Gaza (political and otherwise)

For the most of the 2.3 million Palestinians of Gaza, time has entered a horrifying and quite disorienting warp. How long since they were able to feed their children? How long to remain crammed into an insecure tent as winter’s rains lash? How long till the dysentery takes a loved one? How long since a father, uncle, brother was taken away, stripped nearly naked, and trucked to a distant prison camp? Above all: How much longer now till the crashing of Israeli bombs and bulldozers, the crack of sniper fire, the relentless buzz of drones all finally fall silent?

How long till a ceasefire? How long?

Pres. Joe Biden has, as we know, firmly blocked all the moves the Global Majority has taken to achieve a ceasefire in the Gaza-Israel fighting. Well-connected reporters in Israel have written that the message Biden’s National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan gave during the meeting he held yesterday with Israel’s war cabinet was that Biden could only “allow” Israel a few more weeks before he starts calling for a ceasefire.

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Commentaries on Gaza, on Twitter

Over the weekend, I became intrigued and impressed by some very substantial commentaries on the Gaza crisis that the super-smart Palestinian analyst Mouin Rabbani has been posting on Twitter. Today, he has two more. I invite you all to read them, which even if you’re not on Twitter you can do in these downloadable PDFs:

Each of these threads is very well worth reading.

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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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Yes, Israel’s whole 56-year occupation of Gaza has to end. Now.

As diplomats from the Global Majority start to gather in Beijing (shown above) and prepare to hold a virtual BRICS summit on the Gaza crisis starting tomorrow (November 21), here is a recapitulation of some of my thinking on how this urgently needed crisis-ending diplomacy should proceed…

Many voices worldwide have been talking about what comes after a ceasefire. A loud chorus inside Israel is urging their military to stay in as much of Gaza as possible, and to rebuild there an even stronger presence of the (always quite illegal) colonial settlements that existed prior to 2005… Pres. Joe Biden, who has given Israel unstinting support for its assault on Gaza, has murmured that after the fighting ends it should withdraw back to its side of the 1949 Armistice Line. In the intellectually thin and bombastic WaPo column that he penned yesterday, Biden wrote that after Israel withdraws, the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (PA) should take over in Gaza…. Other Washington voices have suggested that an international force of unspecified origin and authorization be sent in to do that…

But the head of the PA has made quite clear that he and his colleagues reject being parachuted in to Gaza in that role and the heads of the Arab states most often mentioned as part of that elusive “international force” have all likewise refused to be drafted into it.

The quandary of “how to rule over post-ceasefire Gaza” shows that American power in the region is now coming up against unprecedented limits.

Internationally, the call for Israel to withdraw all the ground forces it has had rampaging around inside Gaza will grow louder and louder over the weeks ahead.

But the United States has shown that it cannot on its own cobble together any plausible “coalition of the willing” able to go into Gaza to oversee the massive tasks of relief, reconstruction, and emergency “governance” that the whole Strip requires. In today’s world, it is only the United Nations that can achieve this.

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The United States. Must step aside. From Arab-Israeli ‘peacemaking’.

The United States. Must step aside. From Arab-Israeli ‘peacemaking’. It is that simple.

For 50 years now, Washington has dominated all the efforts that the world’s nations have undertaken in their search for a just and lasting resolution to the many strands of the Israeli-Arab conflict. That U.S. move to dominate the peace diplomacy was launched in late 1973 by Henry Kissinger, who uniquely combined the roles of Secretary of State and National Security Advisor. In the aftermath of the October 1973 war, Kissinger brusquely elbowed aside the Soviet Union, which had hoped to “co-lead” the post-war diplomacy.

From December 1973 until today, the United States has dominated all Arab-Israeli diplomacy, with the level of that U.S. domination rising to a situation of unabashed hegemony after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. And as I’ve written elsewhere, in 2005 Pres. George W. Bush even managed to subordinate the United Nations (and the EU, and a then-very-weak Russia) to Washington’s “leadership” of the diplomacy through an extraordinary arrangement called the “Middle East Quad.”

The results, for citizens of all the Arab states with the possible, partial exception of Egypt, have been disastrous. But the impact on the Palestinians has been particularly dire. They have seen Israeli settlers grabbing huge new areas of Palestinian land in the West Bank. They have seen the lives of all the Palestinians still resident in their historic homeland tightly constrained by Israel. They’ve seen Israeli forces and their allies commit unspeakable atrocities in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. They’ve seen their freedom to worship in their holy places in Jerusalem, Hebron, and elsewhere attacked.

And what has Washington done? Washington has continued to shovel massive sums of money and soaring mountains of arms into Israel. It has protected Israel from any international accountability by using its veto at the U.N. Security Council. It has given formal recognition to Israel’s (quite illegal) annexation of Greater East Jerusalem and of Syria’s Golan. It has demonized all who tried to resist Israel’s continued violence and encroachments by calling them terrorists and wielding tough sanctions against them.

And now, in Gaza City and the surrounding Gaza Strip—and also in the West Bank—we see the culmination of all that fervent, intensely one-sided support that successive U.S. presidents and their officials, and the U.S. Congress, have lavished on Israel over the past 50 years.

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Yes, Joe Biden, you can stop Israel’s genocide on Gaza!

Sec. of State Antony Blinken traveled to Israel over the weekend to urge Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu to allow “humanitarian pauses” in the bombing and ground campaign against Gaza that has now killed > 10,000 people there Netanyahu publicly rebuffed that appeal. Today’s newspapers contain some somewhat anguished accounts about the White House’s “frustration” over Netanyahu’s rebuff.

For example, in the Washington Post, Yasmeen Abutaleb wrote,

U.S. officials had hoped there could eventually be regular bombing pauses so that humanitarian and aid workers could safely operate in Gaza, according to a U.S. official familiar with the discussions. But securing such an arrangement seemed further out of reach after Blinken’s visit…

Pres. Biden might want to take a lesson from his predecessor of 41 years ago, Ronald Reagan?

In June 1982, a previous Israeli PM from the Likud Party, Menachem Begin, sent his military deep into Lebanon and up to Beirut in an attempt to “eliminate” the PLO militias who had operated there for 12 years. By early August the Israelis were encircling the PLO’s last strongholds in West Beirut and bombing the heck out of that portion of the city, which included several large Palestinian refugee camps. Very disturbing images of that destruction were starting to fill the U.S. media…

Michael Deaver was Reagan’s deputy chief of staff at the time. In his 2001 memoir, A Different Drummer, he wrote about his misgivings over Israel’s attacks grew as the weeks progressed:

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Gaza’s agony: Theses 7-10

Last Friday, I set out (with a slight excess of ambition) to compile ten theses that might help guide analysts and policymakers through the uncharted waters of the coming weeks of the Gaza-Israel crisis. As it happened, I was able only to complete the first six of these, which can be read here. I attempted a first draft of Thesis 7, but had to stop midway through. I have now rethought and redrafted Thesis 7 and added in Theses 8-10, as shown below. (You can also read the whole unified list of ten theses, here.)

7. Israel’s decisionmaking is mired in chaos

I wrote some about the crisis of Israel’s leadership decisionmaking early last week (1, 2.) Since then, a lot more evidence has emerged about the depth and many different dimensions of this crisis, including in the NYT, in Haaretz, and elsewhere. What all these accounts point to is the following:

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