Who now doubts that strategic nonviolent action can transform the politics of the Israel/Palestine conflict?
Not Hamas parliamentarian Aziz Dweik, the Wall Street Journal reports:
"When we use violence, we help Israel win international support," said Aziz Dweik, a leading Hamas lawmaker in the West Bank. "The Gaza flotilla has done more for Gaza than 10,000 rockets."
A few months ago, the Israeli government's blockade of Gaza was not a prominent issue on the world's agenda. Now, the Israeli government is being politically compelled to "ease" the blockade. Not end it: still, materials for reconstruction are not yet being let in; still, exports from Gaza are not yet being allowed out; still, inputs for Gaza's factories are not yet being allowed in. But even the measures to "ease" the blockade which have now been announced, such as replacing the list of allowed items with a list of prohibited items, are demands which prior to the Gaza Freedom Flotilla the Israeli government summarily rejected.
And this story is far from over: international press are reporting on the blockade as they did not do before, scrutinizing Israeli government claims as they did not do before, citing the counter-claims of Israeli, Palestinian, and international human rights groups as they did not do before. And more boats are on the way.
What else could be accomplished if governments and mass movements that oppose Israeli government policies towards the Palestinians threw their weight behind other strategic and morally irrefutable demands?
What if, for example, governments and mass movements that oppose Israeli government policies toward the Palestinians demanded that the U.S. government stop subsidizing, through abuse of the U.S. tax code by pro-settler groups, Israeli settlements in the West Bank that even the Israeli government says are illegal?
Many groups in the U.S. are using tax-exempt donations to help Israeli settlers establish permanence in the Israeli-occupied territories, effectively obstructing the creation of a Palestinian state, against the stated policy of the U.S. government and even of the Israeli government, the New York Times reports.
The Times notes several remarkable things about this activity:
- some of it appears to run clearly afoul of the U.S. tax code
- some of the Israeli settlements subsidized by this activity are illegal under Israeli law
- the Israeli government does not grant tax-exempt status to groups supporting the settlements which, as U.S. law is currently (not) being enforced, are de facto exempt in the U.S.
- U.S. officials and Israeli military officials are privately complaining about this activity, in part because some of the supported groups are openly defiant of the Israeli government and regularly engage in violence to resist Israeli government policy.
- much of this activity is funded by right-wing Christian "Dispensationalist" groups that actually want to foster conflict between Israel and its neighbors because they believe that war between Israel and its neighbors fulfills biblical prophecy.
What if governments and mass movements that oppose Israeli government policies towards the Palestinians demanded that the U.S. government stop subsidizing Israeli settlements in the West Bank by granting tax-exempt status to groups that are promoting Israeli settlements in the West Bank? In particular, what if they demanded that:
- the U.S. government vigorously enforce its own tax laws against groups that are supporting Israeli settlements in the West Bank
- the U.S. government deny tax-exempt status to any activity that supports Israeli settlements in the West Bank that the Israeli government considers illegal
- the U.S. government deny tax exempt status to any activity in the West Bank in support of Israeli settlements there that is not tax-exempt under Israeli law
How could the U.S. government plausibly explain in public its refusal to accede to these demands? If this issue became an international liability for the U.S. government, wouldn't some Washington think tanks, pundits, peace groups and Members of Congress start to speak up?
The Israeli military attack on the Mavi Marmara brought forth a lot of loose talk in the world about "boycotting Israel." This is an arena where a government like Turkey -- and other governments of "moderate" Muslim-majority countries -- could help change history by providing strategic leadership to this unfocused energy. As Naomi Klein has written, "Boycott is not a dogma; it is a tactic." Boycotts are much more likely to be effective when they are strategic, when they are specifically targeted against extreme behavior which the broad mass of humanity can be united against. It's not the nation, it's the occupation.
Imagine if the government of Turkey -- which has threatened to cut off diplomatic relations with Israel over the Gaza blockade -- were now to announce that it is prepared to lead an international boycott of corporations linked to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. What if Turkey banned the import into Turkey of Caterpillar bulldozers, like the one that killed Rachel Corrie?
What if Turkey and other "moderate" Muslim-majority countries were to introduce a resolution in the Organization of the Islamic Conference in support of boycott of corporations linked to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem? What plausible argument could the government of the United States make publicly against such a move, when by targeting the occupation, these Muslim-majority countries would simply be attempting to implement stated U.S. government policy?
Memo to Hamas and all results-oriented Islamists: if you are looking for strategic companies linked to the Israeli occupation to target, Jewish Voice for Peace has published some key examples here. The sea is behind us and the adversary in front.
Follow Robert Naiman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/naiman