8-14 NYC Gaza Forum Part 1: Intro, Marlowe, & Kuttab
I entered the Great Hall of Cooper Union in New York City last Thursday night for yet another consciousness-raising forum sponsored and organized by World Can’t Wait under the leadership of its national coordinator, Debra Sweet. This one was focused on Israeli war crimes in Gaza.
I was relieved to see that a huge crowd had turned out.
As I slipped into one of the few available center seats, I suddenly realized how emotionally unprepared I was for the likelihood I very shortly would be exposed to horrific accounts of the present slaughter war by Israel against Gaza. Stories that would be enraging and also heartbreaking.
I breathed in through my nose a lungful of air and then expelled it slowly and deliberately through my mouth to try to steady and ready myself.
Debra Sweet, at the podium moderating, had certainly assembled an eclectic and interesting-sounding group of speakers I noted glimpsing down at the program flyer I had been handed as I had rushed through the door. It’s title read: “Stop Israel’s Ongoing War Crimes & Crimes Against Humanity on the People of Gaza -- August 14, 2014.” A note across the bottom of that first title page read: “Terrible crimes against humanity are being committed in front of our eyes. Nobody of conscience can remain silent.”
There was a brief written commentary that preceded the list of speakers on the next page. It explained that more than 1,900 Gazans had been killed in the last month, most of them non-combatants. How nearly 2 million Gazans were essentially defenseless and “locked down in an outdoor prison.” They were traumatized. They and their loved ones and neighbors were vulnerable to being killed at any moment from the air. They were without drinkable tap water or electricity. They were being subjected to horrific and sustained collective punishment from Israel, ongoing war criminality. Israel brazenly and willfully was committing crimes against humanity.
The flyer also asserted that since the United States government was enabling Israel’s crimes against humanity “with political, financial, military and moral support” we Americans had “a particular responsibility to resist and make clear these crimes are not being done in our name.” The forum was an opportunity to communicate and consciousness raise along with intensifying a collective commitment among its participants in the hall that night and globally (the webcast link is here) to call forth expanding waves of protest to STOP ISRAELI WAR CRIMES AGAINST THE PEOPLE OF GAZA.
I have decided to divide up my commentary on the event into a series of blogs. I will begin with a focus on two powerful speakers, Jen Marlowe and Jonathan Kuttab.
Jen Marlowe was listed in the program as a filmmaker of a documentary entitled “One Family in Gaza.” Debra Sweet introduced her as an author, a human rights activist and an award-winning filmmaker. Marlowe is currently working on a book entitled “I am Troy Davis.”
Ms. Marlowe advised us she would be sharing the last part of her documentary about a family she had stayed with, sharing their tent, in Gaza after Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s assault on Gaza beginning at the end of 2008. She confessed that she had had no intention of making this film but after meeting the family and hearing of their heartbreaking experiences she felt compelled to.
She explained that on January 4th, 2009, a ground invasion of Gaza by Israel was unexpectedly launched and her profiled family’s home was suddenly being bulldozed with the family still in it. The mother and father collected their children and hustled them out of the house. The father carried his nine-year old son, Ibrahim, in his arms. As they attempted to escape, the mother was shot, then the father and the son in his arms, though none of them fatally. The mother and the other children managed to seek temporary refuge behind a mud brick wall but the father had fallen with his son in his arms in full view of some IDF soldiers.
A soldier approached him and his son and to the father's, Kamal’s, horror the soldier shot his son full in the face, killing him. The atrocity occurred in view of the rest of the family, as well,
Later throughout the night the huddled and traumatized family was aware that little Ibrahim’s body was being used by the IDF soldiers for target practice.
The first part of the film by Marlowe is of the family relating their stories during that experience. The film excerpt Marlowe showed us was of the family dealing with the aftermath, its quest for recovery.
In the subtitled film, the father expressed his concern about his children’s physical and psychological health. His wish was to help the remaining family members recover from that horrifying initial trauma and the ongoing anxiety-provoking and physical challenges life in Gaza presented.
He related this his wife had had a dream about little Ibrahim appearing to her in a beautiful garden. The family members have cultivated a garden as a memorial to Ibrahim. It brings them comfort and spiritually connects them to him.
The father was particularly concerned with another young son who he says is very rough in relating to others and in responding to tenderness. He strikes out automatically and pushes people away. Even when the child hugs or kisses, he does it with an alarming degree of roughness. Kamal explained how he wants to instill the values of non-aggression in his children, but he is witnessing them struggling with the powerful effects of trauma. The children, for example, seem to become emotionally paralyzed at the sight of a bulldozer.
The father confessed he himself was dealing with a heart filled with bitterness, anger, anguish and frustration. When asked by Marlowe if he could send a message to an Israeli what would it be, he took what looked like an emotionally conflicted moment and then responded, “I hope that he never has his own child executed in his arms.”
Marlowe revealed to us that during Operation Cast Lead 1,390 Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed. Of those, 318 were children. Also during that “operation” 3,540 Palestinian homes were destroyed.
As an update, Marlowe informed us that after three years of existing in a tent, Kamal’s family had two years ago gotten the foundation of a new home laid down. A year ago they reported to her windows had been installed.
Marlowe then related that just two weeks ago that new home had been completely destroyed by Operation Protective Edge.
Jonathan Kuttab was introduced by Debra Sweet as a Palestinian-American human rights attorney who works out of Washington, D.C. as well as Jerusalem.
Kuttab explained that there are basic rules of war that Israel has been defying and must, via international law, be held accountable for. For example, civilians and civilian infrastructure must not be destroyed during war. That fact that Israel, which it proudly confirms, has cut off water, gas, and electricity for Gazans constitutes a war crime.
The types of weapons used during a war can also constitute a war crime. One horrifically maiming weapon, “DIME” is once again being used against Gazans. [Dense Inert Metal Explosive - developed by US Air Force and used experimentally in 2008 and 2009 by Israel against Gaza. It causes a horrendous shattering and ripping apart of body parts, as well as exposing the body to cancer inducing elements]. The use of such a weapon constitutes a war crime according to Kuttab.
Kuttab also explained that “proportionality” is a factor in measuring war criminality. “Proportionality” is even a factor when an army is acting directly against military targets. Israel has shown no respect for the principle of proportionality.
Kuttab asserted that there is no statute of limitations on war criminality.
He also pointed out that Israel is very concerned about the ICC, The International Criminal Court that was established by the Treaty of Rome. Israel, the US and a small number of other countries have refused to sign on with this treaty. Israel has pressured the Palestinians from acceding to it, as well.
Israel, Kuttab explained, wants to set up its own Israeli-run investigative tribunal over the present charges against it of war criminality with an Israeli judge to exonerate Israel from such charges. It wants immunity and impunity.
Kuttab mourns that the New York Times and other powerful media sources would be happy to support Israel in escaping prosecution for war criminality.
He described how the demonization of Hamas is a tactic being used by Israel and its apologists to try to escape accountability. Kuttab confessed that he was no fan of Hamas, did not respect its ideology or tactics, but he emphasized that how one feels about Hamas is irrelevant to the war crimes Israel is committing and has committed. This slaughter war is not being waged against Hamas he reminded us. This slaughter war is aimed directly and inclusively at all the Palestinians of Gaza. They are being ethnically cleansed.
There are two good and important things he urged us to keep in mind. One was that though Israel obviously controls the top of the great media communications pyramid it did not control the bottom. The top may serve up Israeli propaganda talking points, say from CNN and the New York Times, but it does not control the bottom portion, for example, the communications of Facebook and Twitter!
Secondly, Kuttab stressed his gratitude and celebration of courageous Jewish voices protesting Israeli war crimes. Voices speaking from integrity and conscience and helping also to push back against anti-semitism purveyors willing to take maximum advantage of the present global outrage over Israel’s war crimes on Gaza.
TO BE CONTINUED
[cross-posted on open salon]