Israel’s Talking Points, the Media, and the Cement Missile Threat

middle eastIn recent months, said the June 3 story on the front page of the New York Times, Israel “has permitted increased — although still quite limited — movement of goods and people into and out of Gaza. One Israeli official said that under Mr. Netanyahu there had been a 20 percent increase in goods, including some limited building materials under third-party supervision so that Hamas would not get hold of them.

“But Israel remains adamant, saying that if cement and steel were allowed to pass in any serious amount, they would end up in Hamas missiles and other weapons that would be aimed at Israel.”

Unable to get the image out of my mind and being totally ignorant on such matters, I called a couple of people who know about this stuff, inquiring as to how one makes a missile out of cement. Not easy was the response, and one person suggested that the kind of structural steel needed to repair the bridges Israel destroyed in the terrible 2006 onslaught wouldn’t be much help either. A couple of days later the Israeli government sought to clear up the confusion by saying the Palestinian government in Gaza uses cement as ballast for its crude rockets. Could be. But one has only to picture again the tremendous devastation in Gaza to realize that unless the residents have access to more than a “serious amount” of concrete and steel they are never going to rebuild their cities and villages.

But then the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and its far-flung propaganda operation, can be counted on to have an answer – or excuse — for everything.

The purpose in this case is to underscore the contention that the cruel blockade of Gaza is to prevent the smuggling of arms and weapons-making material into the enclave. It is not and never has been. The aim of the blockade is to make life miserable for the 1.4 million Palestinians there in the hope of undermining the Hamas government, which was duly elected four years ago. Gaza is being held for ransom. That’s collective punishment and it’s against international law.

The assertion that the only reason for the blockade is to prevent arms or munitions building materials from entering Gaza is a bold face lie. That is unless you consider food and medicine to be weapons because they might be fed to military personnel.

“Preventing the importing of arms is an element in the blockade,” writes Esther Kaplan in The Nation, “but the blockade also bars the importation of many basics of life, such as fuel to power hospital generators and building materials, including iron and cement, necessary for rebuilding after the devastation of Operation Cast Lead. It bans pesticides and spare parts for farming equipment, which has debilitated the agricultural sector.

According to the Israeli human rights group B’tselem, some 4,000 goods were allowed into Gaza before the siege, and only 150 are allowed in now. (And the guidelines for what may join the list of acceptable items is a tightly guarded secret.) The blockade has severely limited access to electricity, leaving the vast majority of Gazans facing blackouts for eight to ten hours a day. It has cut off students from their university educations and severed family ties. It has left a stunning 70 percent of the population dependent on international food aid just to survive.”

Reflecting Netanyahu’s original line of propaganda attack, Gal Beckerman writing in The Forward, says that on June 2 the Jewish Federations of North America distributed talking points, which read: “When Israeli commandos boarded the ships, they were met with violence from a supposedly nonviolent group, including gunfire from automatic weapons and attacks with knives and axes. Several Israelis were wounded. As a result of the clash triggered by the pro-Hamas group, a number of them were killed or wounded in the confrontation.”

However, on June 1 Caroline Glick, rightwing deputy managing editor of the Jerusalem Post and one-time advisor to Netanyahu, sharply took the Israeli government to task for deficiencies in waging the propaganda surrounding the flotilla. The “information strategy” she wrote in her paper “was ill-conceived.” It should have attacked Turkey for “facilitation of terrorism,” she wrote, it should have prepared “charge sheets against the flotilla’s organizers, crew and passengers for their facilitation of terrorism.” Israeli leaders “stammer,” she wrote, and engage in arguments that are “worse than worthless.”

The following day, the Reut Institute, a Tel Aviv-based think tank that – in the words of the Wall Street Journal – “provides strategic-thinking support to the Israeli government,” and with which Glick is associated, criticized the government for having “no coherent conceptual response” to push back against global critics. Then, on June 3, Netanyahu went before the media to say there was a danger of arms smuggling involved. By that afternoon–U.S. time–U.S. Vice-President Joseph Biden was making the same claim.

As the days have worn on since the bloody events aboard the Mavi Marmara, the arms smuggling message has sharpened. On Saturday Netanyahu said Israel would “not allow the establishment of an Iranian port in Gaza.” Then rightwing columnist Charles Krauthammer got in on the act, claiming that the purpose of the blockade of Gaza is to “prevent Hamas from arming itself with still more rockets.” One of CNN’s resident foreign policy experts, Jill Dougherty, went on the air to explain the purpose of Israel’s Gaza blockade as: “Essentially to stop weapons from being taken into Gaza, and to be used against Israel.”

Of course, there were no weapons making their way to Gaza aboard the Mavi Marmara, hence the steel and cement tale passed on to us by the Times’ Ethan Bronner. And the idea that if the ship reached port in Gaza it would open up a sea smuggling route is sheer fantasy.

Another taking point that has gotten a lot of play over the past two weeks is the notion that the aid ships were not really on a humanitarian mission but rather were aiming for a conflict or “provocation.” This is a smokescreen designed to cover what really happened. The African American students that sat in at lunch counters in North Carolina in 1960 expected a confrontation (little likelihood the owners were going to do the decent thing and make them hamburgers). But they didn’t expect the Tactical Squad to suddenly arrive en mass and start shooting them in the head with assault rifles.

One thing that has emerged from Israel’s piracy on the high seas, and the resulting tragic deaths and injuries, is that a bright light is being shown on something that has usually been ignored by the Western media: the reality and effect of the blockade. Herein lies the test for the international community, and the Obama Administration in particular. Only the Netanyahu government and its supporters at home and abroad would argue that the crippling siege of Gaza is justified and should continue. Peace loving and progressive people should demand that it be lifted. It would mean a lot for the suffering Palestinian community to have access to steel and cement.

This, of course, must be a prelude to the urgent task of ending the occupation and the birth of a new Palestine.

Following the May31 Israeli military assault on an international flotilla trying to bring humanitarian supplies to besieged Gaza, the Israeli propaganda machine went into overdrive. It wasn’t always well-coordinated but it was unrelenting and it had one big advantage: the reluctance or refusal of the Western media – particularly in the U.S., to ask hard questions and its willingness go along with the Netanyahu government’s framing of the issues. Robert Fisk wrote in The Independent (UK) last Saturday, “The amazing thing in all this is that so many Western journalists – and I’m including the BBC’s pusillanimous coverage of the Gaza aid ships – are writing like Israeli journalists, while many Israeli journalists are writing about the killings with the courage that Western journalists should demonstrate.”

Carl Bloice

Crossposted with permission from The Black Commentator.

Published by the LA Progressive on June 12, 2010
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About Carl Bloice

Carl Bloice is a writer in San Francisco, a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism and formerly worked for a healthcare union.