The experience of the Free Gaza Movement over the past few years, which sent half a dozen boat expeditions to deliver humanitarian aid to Gazans, suggests to many that in-your-face confrontation is the most effective way to challenge Israel and force it to change its policies. Israel’s reduced siege of Gaza is the fourth example of its changing a policy under pressure. The three other cases were the withdrawals from south Lebanon and Gaza’s heartland in the face of Hizbullah- and Hamas-led resistance, and the partial suspension of some settlements for 10 months last year in response to American government pressure.
So the question now is: How will people and states in the Arab world and nearby lands, like Iran and Turkey, react to the latest lesson in challenging Israel with forceful action, over making only meek pleas?
Israel is already initiating two new aggressive acts that will quickly test the mettle of both its friends and foes. It will destroy several dozen Palestinian Arab homes in occupied East Jerusalem to build an Israeli tourism facility, and it will initiate work on the ground to build another 600 homes for settler-colonial Zionists in the Jerusalem area.
The fascinating issue today is not whether Israel is making any major changes in its policies: it is not. Its changes are only cosmetic, to ward off foreign pressures. The really important new development is the growing Arab and international realization that the criminal and inhuman excesses of Zionism – colonialism, discrimination, collective punishment, racism, siege and starvation, murder on the high seas, mass incarcerations, and more – can best be confronted using the same tactics that finally brought down the two major examples of racism and inequity in modern times: the civil rights movement that broke the back of official racism in the United States, and the anti-Apartheid movement that forced the white minority government in South Africa to accept a fully democratic system.
I suspect that the Free Gaza Movement’s siege-breaking ships will go down in modern history as critical elements in the struggle for justice in Palestine, aiming for conditions that allow Jews, Christians and Muslims, and all other residents or visitors, to live in this land with equal rights. Israel is perfectly willing to keep attacking aid convoys and killing innocent humanitarian activists. But what happens when the next ship sails with a crew of Christian priests, chanting verses about God’s love of justice and mercy and the divine dictate to assist those in need, right from the Book of Isaiah and the Book of John?
What will Israel do when a convoy of ships sails for Gaza carrying only schoolteachers and bags of marshmallows for the children of Gaza? How about when a convoy of ships approaches with only nurses and diapers for babies of Gaza?
An important corner has been turned in Gaza, as the relationship between the colonizer and the colonized is reversed. When the colonized is no longer afraid of being hurt, or killed, the power of the colonizer to intimidate vanishes. Lebanese and Iranians understand this because in their own ways many of them have already experienced liberating episodes that reflect their self-assertive determination to live in freedom and dignity. Palestinians have been trying to do this for decades, with limited success.
In every struggle for liberation against colonialism, oppression or racism, a moment occurs when the barrier of fear is broken in a very public manner. Ultimately, this forces a renegotiation of the power equation in a manner that restores the human rights and collective security and dignity of all concerned. Jews, Christians and Muslims may well remember the challenge and collapse of the Israeli siege of Gaza as that pivotal moment in the struggle between Zionism and Arabism in Palestine.
The ships to come will clarify this in due course, because they do not challenge Israel’s existence or security, but only its inhumanity toward the Palestinians.