Two quotes from the Free Gaza movement

Many of you probably know that the passengers aboard the latest Free Gaza ship, the “Spirit of Humanity,” were kidnapped in international waters and sent to an Israeli jail to await deportation. During an interview from her cell, Adie Mormech gave this very salient quote:

Have you had access to a lawyer yet?

We have, and at the moment we’re discussing what to do about our deportation. They’ve taken our personal items – laptops, cameras, phones and many other valuables, and we want to find out where these are. They obviously want to deport us as quickly as possible, but some of us are thinking about fighting the deportation. Firstly on the basis that if we get deported we won’t be allowed into the occupied West Bank or Israel for another 10 years, but also, because we didn’t intend to come here to Israel – we intended to go to Gaza, and went directly from international waters into Palestinian waters. There is nothing legal about what Israel has done to us grabbing us like this. We’re considering fighting the deportation on the grounds that we shouldn’t accept and legitimize this barbaric military blockade of Gaza. (Emphasis mine.)

The only way to end the occupation and blockade is to strip it of its perceived legitimacy – and in that, I think Free Gaza is doing an admirable job. The Israeli administration is trying to juggle two contradictory narratives at once: 1) that the occupation of Gaza is over and Gazans are free to do what they like, and 2) only the Israeli military has the right to decide who or what enters and exits Gaza. Activists’ best strategy is to push against these narratives until one, and then the other, collapses.

But then a couple of days ago, I received an email from Free Gaza, linking to a video detailing conditions in Gaza, that included this line:

Israel outdoes the U.S. in torture, imprisonment and brutality. Where do you think the U.S. learned how to torture?

Reading this, I finally decided to unsubscribe myself from their updates.

As I and others have written numerous times before, claiming that the U.S. – the world’s most powerful nation with the world’s most powerful military – is taking orders from or being controlled by a small (albeit belligerent) nation like Israel is nothing but the current incarnation of the myth of Jewish domination. Shifting blame for the U.S.’s crimes (torture, imprisonment, brutality) onto Jews, or claiming that whatever white Americans do, Jews do it worse, is nothing but the current incarnation of the myth of Jewish evil. (If you have no idea what I’m talking about, then please go away and come back after you’ve educated yourself.) What stopped the author of this email from simply writing, “Israel is engaging in torture, unjustifiable imprisonment*, and brutality?” Why the need to compare? Which is worse: the imprisonment of civilians in Gaza, or the imprisonment of immigrant families and nonviolent drug offenders in the U.S.? Which is worse: Israeli assaults on Palestinians or American assaults on Iraqis? Which is worse? Which is worse? We need to decide which one’s worse – and fast! Your cause or my cause? Your country’s oppressor class or my country’s oppressor class? Why does it matter!? What in the world is gained by such a comparison, besides excusing that which is familiar in order to highlight that which is alien?

I suspect that it’s precisely anti-Semitic – yes, this is anti-Semitic – statements like these, made over and over again and never challenged, that turn many Jewish activists off from Palestinian liberation movements and make us decide to focus our energies elsewhere**. It’s the difference between building an inclusive movement that awakens in us a sense of responsibility for what’s being done ostensibly in our name, and working to alienate us by strengthening our preexisting internalized shame and self-hatred (shame not for what Jews in another country are doing at this moment in history, but rather for one’s own irrevocable Jewishness). It leads to very real physical consequences – although it’s pathetic that so many people think mental and cultural consequences don’t matter.

And for those of you who might be thinking, “who cares about some line that offended you when there’s genocide going on?” Well, first off, that kind of reasoning is often used as an excuse to avoid acknowledging problematic behavior. Will we only be allowed to call out anti-Semitism after Israel has fully retreated from the occupied territories and granted all Palestinian refugees their right of return to pre-1948 land? Assuming that that’s never going to happen, are Jews simply never allowed to call out anti-Semitism again? (And how do you feel when you hear that your ethnic/religious group is required to accept its oppression because some of its members have committed crimes?) Secondly, if one line isn’t that big a deal, then it must not be a big deal to refrain from saying it, right? To tell someone else not to say it? How much energy does it take to just say, “Hey, cool it, that’s not helpful?” If you feel uncomfortable saying that, then examine why. Are you afraid of getting in the way? Well, getting in the way of what, exactly? Sympathizing with “the enemy?” Who is the enemy, and who is being affected by such a statement? Benjamin Netanyahu? The U.S. and AIPAC? Boeing and Caterpillar? Or that woman in the yarmulke over there whom everyone is suddenly staring at?

Acting in solidarity with Jews, Israeli or Diaspora, is no more difficult than acting in solidarity with Palestinians. So where are our allies? Where are you?

_______
* I hope readers who are prison abolitionists know what I mean here.

** Which isn’t to say that we don’t have plenty of reasons to focus our energies elsewhere. Diaspora Jews are not obligated to center Israel over other issues simply because we share a religion or ethnicity with Israelis.

L.A. Events

From PJA:

Jewltide & Festival of Rights;
The Troubadour
Saturday Dec. 20, 2008 @ 8 pm

Light a candle for Hanukah and Human Rights! The Progressive Jewish Alliance is ready once again to welcome the Festival of Lights with our 8th Annual Festival of Rights Candle Lighting Ceremony. Festival of Rights is the only Hanukah party in Los Angeles that combines, music, social justice and local activists to bring the sprit of the season to hundreds of people with sold-out crowds.

Hanukah commemorates a great battle the Jewish people fought against tyranny and repression. PJA celebrates the spirit of the season by highlighting individuals who uphold this tradition by fighting for peace, justice, and equality today. The ceremony will feature local activists from different social movements lighting a candle for their causes (past participants have included Assemblymember Karen Bass and LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa).

The party will continue with the Jewltide celebration organized by JDub Records. Performances by JDub artists DeLeon and The Sway Machinery will follow the multi-media candle lighting ceremony.

Click here to purchase tickets through Ticketmaster.

Come on out and enjoy good music, good times, and a unique and meaningful multi-media menorah lighting in prayer for a better tomorrow.

What: Festival of Rights & Jewltide Celebration
When: Saturday December 20, 2008 – doors open at 8:00 p.m.
Where: The Troubadour
9081 Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90069

Tickets: $12 – click here.

* Valet Parking / All Ages / FREE dreydles, gelt & latkes (until they run out!)

And (via Facebook):

Channukah Carwash Protest

PJA’s latest protest of egregious violations of labor laws and common decency at Vermont Hand Wash. Come celebrate the arrival of Channukah with a protest for freedom. Join us afterwards for a trip up Vermont Ave to the fabled House of Pies!

Sunday, December 21, 2008
Time: 11:00am – 2:00pm
Location: Vermont Handwash, Los Feliz
Street: 1666 North Vermont Avenue
City/Town: Los Angeles, CA

Support the Carwash Boycott!

Stand in Solidarity with Organizing Carwash Workers

Management at Vermont Hand Wash has fired three worker leaders who support efforts to organize a union with the United Steel Workers.

The carwash has also failed to remedy past unjust practices such as paying workers less than minimum wage, failing to provide basic safety equipment like gloves and masks for workers exposed to chemicals, and refusing to provide clean drinking water for workers.

Please show your support of organizing workers by coming out to a boycott picket line.

What: Boycott Pickets

When: Saturday, December 6

Locations:

Vermont Hand Wash, 1666 N. Vermont, LA
(corner of Hollywood and Vermont)
11:00am – 3:00 pm

Hollywood Car Wash, 6200 Sunset Blvd., LA
(corner of Sunset and El Centro Ave.)
12noon – 2pm

For more information call: Nelson Motto at 323-243-7565 or email enmotto@yahoo.com.

What We’re Giving Thanks For

I know this is ridiculously late, but I was visiting relatives in the Bay Area this weekend, and didn’t have much time to blog. Plus, traffic was so bad that each trip took over 9 hours. (Usually it’s around 7. A slog, sure, but doable.) For some reason, my husband and I thought we’d be the only ones zany enough to start the journey after work on Wednesday, but no, actually, everyone south of the damn Grapevine had that shitty idea. Who knew? It took us four hours just to get out of L.A. County. After midnight, when we finally decided to get a motel room south of Buttonwillow, we had to wait in line at the most crowded Motel 6 I’ve ever seen.

Anyway.

Plain(s)feminist and Nezua both wrote about the true origins of Thanksgiving, which I’d never heard before. (I’d always known that the Pilgrims-and-Indians-sitting-at-picnic-table version was more myth than fact, but I hadn’t known the extent of it.)

According to John Two-Hawks,

‘Thanksgiving’ did not begin as a great loving relationship between the pilgrims and the Wampanoag, Pequot and Narragansett people. In fact, in October of 1621 when the pilgrim survivors of their first winter in Turtle Island sat down to share the first unofficial ‘Thanksgiving’ meal, the Indians who were there were not even invited! There was no turkey, squash, cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie. A few days before this alleged feast took place, a company of ‘pilgrims’ led by Miles Standish actively sought the head of a local Indian chief, and an 11 foot high wall was erected around the entire Plymouth settlement for the very purpose of keeping Indians out! Officially, the holiday we know as ‘Thanksgiving’ actually came into existence in the year 1637. Governor Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony proclaimed this first official day of Thanksgiving and feasting to celebrate the return of the colony’s men who had arrived safely from what is now Mystic, Connecticut. They had gone there to participate in the massacre of over 700 Pequot men, women and children, and Mr. Winthrop decided to dedicate an official day of thanksgiving complete with a feast to ‘give thanks’ for their great ‘victory’.

However, this is one of a few versions of the story (and none of them involve the damn picnic table). According to the LA Times (via Rye Drinker),

Although there were sporadic local Thanksgiving days in Colonial and early America, it was not until the middle of the Civil War — 1863 — that President Lincoln issued a proclamation making the last Thursday in November a national holiday of Thanksgiving. Lincoln’s statement suggested that thanks were being given as much for “the advancing armies and navies of the Union” as for a bountiful harvest, and the president urged special prayers for “all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged.”

I’m all for a harvest festival that allows me the time to see friends and family living 400 miles away, but why do we have to perpetuate such a pernicious falsehood? What justification is there for this?

(Cross-posted at Alas, A Blog.)

Vigil/Protest for a CLEAN Carwash

EDIT: The address is 1666 North Vermont, not 1666 Sunset.

If you’re free on Thursday afternoon from 4 to 5:30 and happen to be in Los Angeles, head on over to the Vermont Handwash at 1666 North Vermont for an interfaith protest against employee abuse in the L.A. and Orange County carwash industry, courtesy of PJA, the UCLA Labor Center, CHIRLA, CLUE, and the CLEAN Carwash Campaign.

From CLEAN’s website:

Workers Charge LA Carwashes with Dangerous Health and Safety Violations

Health and Safety Experts Warn of Serious Risks of Heat Illness and Toxics Exposure

Los Angeles–Carwash workers who are part of the Carwash Workers Organizing Committee of the United Steelworkers (CWOC-USW) filed complaints today with the California Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Occupational Safety and Health alleging serious health and safety violations at two Los Angeles carwashes owned by members of the Pirian family. The Community-Labor-Environmental Action Network (CLEAN), a coalition of community, labor, and faith-based organizations, called for a boycott of six Pirian family-owned carwashes in April because of a history of serious employment, health and safety, and environmental law violations at some Pirian family-owned carwashes.

“The complaints filed today against Vermont Hand Wash and Hollywood Car Wash reveal shocking violations of our state’s health and safety regulations,” said Eden Flynn, a health and safety expert who heads the Southern California Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (SoCal COSH). “Among other serious violations, management has not provided shade and rest breaks for all workers, despite record high temperatures in Los Angeles. These workers are subject to the same risks of heat illness as farm workers in the Central Valley,” said Flynn.

Bosbely Reyna, one of the workers who filed the complaint against Vermont Hand Wash, said “We work in the hot sun drying cars, and when it’s busy we have to go without any break to drink water or cool off in the shade. But we’ve heard about the farm workers who died, we know we have the right to protect ourselves at work, and we know what the boss is doing is illegal.”

Workers in the carwash industry are regularly exposed to toxic chemicals in car cleaning products that are known by the state to cause cancer. Prolonged exposure to some of the chemicals found in LA carwashes can cause liver, kidney and heart, and central nervous system damage.

“None of the carwash workers we spoke to had received any training whatsoever on the handling of these highly toxic chemicals,” said Flynn, “and many are forced to work without protective equipment such as gloves or masks.”

The complaint also describes faulty equipment that causes chemical spills, such as a leaking hose that transports acid for wheel cleaning. When workers have used the hose to clean wheels, acid leaked onto their skin.

“When the acid touches your skin, it burns and makes your hands peel and crack. We never received any training on what the chemicals are or how to use them, so sometimes the workers mix up window cleaner with the acid and when they spray it onto the windshields it gets in their eyes. Some of the guys have problems seeing for months after that,” said Reyna.

Carwash workers described bathrooms shared by more than 30 people with no soap or toilet paper, and toilets clogged for as long as a week at a time.

The complaint also details broken machinery at Hollywood Car Wash that has injured workers, such as a dryer that workers must stick their arms into to stop manually. Due to the dryer’s excessive heat and constant spinning, at least one employee has been burned while attempting to retrieve a towel from the dryer.

The CLEAN Carwash Campaign welcomed yesterday’s announcement that the Labor Commissioner’s office had conducted sweeps of dozens of Southern California carwashes. “CLEAN welcomes the state’s efforts to clean up the carwash industry,” said Lilia Garcia, a leader of the CLEAN coalition and the head of the Maintenance Cooperation Trust Fund. “The violations uncovered in the sweeps confirm that this is a dirty industry and violations by carwash owners are rampant. Just one sweep exposed carwash owners who were violating child labor law, failing to pay minimum wage, and failing to insure for workers’ compensation.”

More than half of the L.A. and Orange County carwashes inspected in the sweeps were cited for violations of employment laws. “We look forward to working with Labor Commissioner Angela Bradstreet to ensure consistent and aggressive enforcement of employment laws in the carwash industry. We know that real enforcement of our laws, combined with workers organizing for their rights, is the only way to create sustainable compliance with the law by owners,” said Garcia.

See you there!

(Cross-posted at Alas, A Blog.)

Privilege in Action

Earlier this week, Fatemeh of Muslimah Media Watch wrote an open letter to white non-Muslim Western feminists on Muslimista. Some highlights:

There are those of us who suffer. But don’t speak of us as victims if we are not dead. Don’t deny the agency with which we become survivors and active shapers of our lives. Don’t ignore the fighting we do for ourselves.

We can—and do—speak for ourselves. So stop speaking for us.

I notice a lot of condescension and arrogance when you talk to us or about us. Let me be clear: you do not know more about us than we know about ourselves, our religion, our cultures, our families, or the forces that shape our lives. You do not know what’s best for us more than we do.

If we want help, and ask for it, then do only what you’re asked.

When I read this, I thought back to a post on Feministe about the headscarf ban in Turkey. The focus of the post was on Fatma Benli, a Muslim feminist fighting against the classism, sexism, and Islamophobia behind the ban. Many commenters, though, weren’t interested in solidarity – instead, all they could focus on were the poor backwards Muslim women who were so brainwashed by Islam that they couldn’t cast off their oppressive head coverings and be like us.

You can’t get much clearer than Fatemeh’s words – “You do not know what’s best for us more than we do” – and yet, in the comment thread at Muslimista, two Western men swoop in with the same old tropes. To be clear, they may not be feminists, but rather right-wing trolls. But their sentiments very closely echo things I’ve heard self-identified feminists say. You have the Sweeping Generalization of the World’s Second Largest Religion:

While I understand some of the sentiment in this letter, the position of women in Islam, and Islam itself, is a sorry state of affairs.

Islam as it is currently practiced is so far from its original intention, as to make it almost unrecognizable.

You got your That Thing I Heard About on the News is the Only Thing That Matters:

I hate to break it to you, but we’re going to be continuing to use our freedom of speech given to us by our constitution whether you like it or not. Personally, as someone who stands for basic human rights I have no choice but to speak out against the most extreme, vile, and offensive aspects of (radical?) Islam. I will continue to oppose public stonings as backward and barbaric which they are. I will continue to oppose honor murders, which happen every day and not only in muslim nations but in the USA as well. I will continue to raise awareness for the victims of jihad, both historically and today. And if you don’t like it thats just tough for you.

And in case we didn’t hear him the first time:

I will be offering help to cure the backwardness and evil of radical Islam whether you want to help or not. The most important step is to ban public stonings FOREVER.

(Later in the comments, Krista points out that stonings actually aren’t that common, and this commenter doesn’t have any response to that.)

Finally, throw in a little You’re Just in Denial:

While I understand that there is misplaced criticism and help, whether due to lack of knowledge or organizational agendas, to throw up the “your not Muslim,” and “there are colonial overtones” cards is a really poor excuse. It is just a veil for Islam not wanting to recognize it is no different from the other world religions, and get off its arse and reform itself.

See the pattern here? The actual needs and concerns of real Muslim women are beside the point. The REALLY pressing issue is that I totally heard somewhere that Islam is like bad and stuff, and there’s no way I could possibly be wrong about that! Because I’m white! And (often) male! Tremble before my superior culture! Watch, as I set your agenda for you without ever learning anything about you! Why would I degrade myself by taking orders from a brown woman – can you imagine? – when I could take a token action to save you from yourself? After all, white people are never the problem – brown people are! We’re the saviors, silly!

Another commenter points out that she does listen to the needs of Muslim women, and asks that Fatemeh not lump her in with “cultural imperialist feminists.” I’ll grant that this is a little more complicated. I still remember the sting the first time I heard harsh criticism directed at “white people” – as if we were a hive mind, and none of us were making any attempt to be good allies. So I get that it sucks (and Fatemeh responds very eloquently and effectively).

But there are bigger issues here than our feelings. We’re the ones with the power – locally and globally. If a POC lumps all white people together, a few white people get irritated. If a white person lumps all POC together, POC die. (Obviously there are exceptions to this, but I’m talking about the overall power structure.)

Also, it gets harder and harder to take it personally the more you see the shit they’re up against.

(Cross-posted at Alas, A Blog.)

Update on the Free Gaza Movement

I’m hoping they don’t mind if I reprint this from an email update I received this morning:

SS Free Gaza and SS Liberty Arrive in Chania, Crete, Saturday, 9 August at 21:00 p.m.

For further information, contact: 6932 766496 for directions, or Greta Berlin, 00375 99 08 17 67

Nicosia/Lefkosia, Cyprus, August 7. The Free Gaza Movement announced today that their boats, destined to break the Israelis’ siege of Gaza, will arrive in Chania, Crete, on Saturday, August 9, at 9 p.m. and that a press conference will be held to welcome their arrival. “Internationals are gathering across the world – in Beijing and Cyprus – with the common dream of peace and justice for everyone.”

Human rights activists Lauren Booth, journalist, (sister in law of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair), Huwaida Arraf (a Palestinian-American residing in Ramallah, Palestine), and Jeff Halper (an Israeli Jew who was nominated for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for opposing demolitions of Palestinian homes) will be available at the press conference for interviews.

“This will be the first time that our two boats will be publicly displayed and photographers are welcome to come, take photos and post their images.” said Paul Larudee, on board the boats sailing toward Chania.
The Free Gaza Movement is endorsed by an impressive array of international groups and personalities including South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Former Prime Minister of Lebanon Dr. Salim Al-Hoss. For additional information, www.freegaza.org

And here’s a piece from the L.A. Independent Media Center:

LA Jews for Peace support upcoming ‘Free Gaza’ sailing from Cyprus

Bethlehem – Ma’an – A small shipping vessel will set sail for Gaza from
Cyprus on 5 August expecting to be illegally detained as it enters Gazan
waters.

The waters off the Gaza Strip are patrolled by Israeli naval vessels, and
Israel enforces a “Fishing Limit” that is 6 nautical miles (11.1 km) from
the Gaza shore. These restrictions on access and borders are enforced
despite the 2005 Israeli “disengagement” from the Gaza Strip.

Legally, the group says there should be no problem passing each of these
lines since Israel disengaged from the Gaza strip in 2005 and should no
longer its control airspace and territorial waters.

The initiative hopes to draw attention to the continued de facto occupation
of Gaza. In an interview with Ma’an on Saturday, a spokesperson for the
group in Israel said that the crew expects to be stopped by the Israeli navy
shortly after they cross from international waters into Gazan territorial
waters, which according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the
Sea, extend 12 nautical miles (22.2 km) from an area’s shoreline.

The trip organizers think one of four things will happen to the ship: it may
be stopped as it crosses or approaches the barrier marking the international
waters boundary, in which case the crew is prepared to stay on board for at
least two weeks in protest of the illegal halt of passage. The second
possibility envisioned by the organizers is that the ship will be allowed to
pass into the area, and will be stopped in the territorial waters. In this
eventuality the crew expects to be arrested, and the ship dragged to shore.

A third possibility is that the ship will be sunk by the navy.

The final option is that the ship actually makes it through to the Gaza port
near Gaza City in the north of the Strip.

Opening a port in Gaza would allow residents to export agricultural
products, and gain control over the goods and material brought into the
region. Currently, all crossing points are controlled by Israel and Egypt.
The truce between Hamas and Israel was supposed to see the blockade and
restriction on essential goods lifted, but food, medical supplies, cement
and fuel are still only trickling in.

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