By Stan Santos
On Sept. 6, Peace Fresno and the Palestine Freedom Project presented a forum with several speakers including Richard Becker, author of Palestine, Israel and the U.S. Empire.
Becker opened with a question regarding why Zionism arose, calling it both a response to anti-Jewish racism and a colonial settler movement. He chronicled the debate that began in 1897 and ended with the selection of Palestine as “a land without people for a people without a land.”
He also discussed the Balfour Declaration and the Sykes–Picot Agreement, which embodied the plans to divide the land and resources of the Middle East for the European powers while establishing the colonial Jewish state. He presented a chronology of events that allowed Israel to expand its boundaries through terrorist acts and war, with support from the emerging power of the United States.
Becker brought the audience into the current debate around the horrendous bombing of Gaza. He reiterated the current propaganda line that Israel is the “most moral army in the world.” Adding to the irony was the statement made in July by the ambassador of the United States that “Israel deserves the Nobel Peace Prize.”
Becker described how Israel exploited the murders of three Israeli boys to attack Hamas and the Palestinian people and attempt an invasion of Gaza. Referring to the recent unification of the PLO and Hamas, he said, “Once the assault was under way, the objective shifted to breaking the unity around the Palestinian cause and to the crushing altogether of the resistance in Gaza…and to demoralize and damage the population as a whole, because the people are the resistance.”
Becker went on to characterize the attacks as a terrorist campaign and “an act of profound cowardice; the bombing of people…civilian populations, who have no means of defending themselves.” In the middle of the operation, Israel was running out of mortar shells and the United States immediately moved to resupply them. In the end, Israel failed to destroy the resistance and did not want to take any more casualties. Although it was a horrible tragedy for the Palestinians, it was not a victory for Israel.
There was also a response from people around the world to oppose the genocidal assault on Gaza, including the blocking of an Israeli cargo ship at the Port of Oakland. He cited the huge demonstrations and the condemnations from progressive and centrist governments in Latin America. He concluded his talk by saying that “we have witnessed something that provides the basis to escalate the struggle through the boycott and divestment sanctions…And there is nowhere in the world where it is more important to undertake these actions than here in the United States.”
Forum MC Teresa Castillo of Peace Fresno introduced the last speaker, Athena, of the Palestine Freedom Project. Athena, born in Brooklyn, N.Y., lived in Palestine and traveled to the Middle East for more than seven years. She shared her personal story beginning with her parents’ experience living through the Nakba, when Zionist terrorists marauded through Palestinian villages murdering whole families and causing the survivors to flee. Athena’s parents eventually moved to New York.
Athena visited Palestine in 1999, attending school in the West Bank with Christian and Muslim students. That was interrupted by the second Intifada, or uprising, which erupted in response to a grave offense by Ariel Sharon, head of Israel’s ultra-conservative Likud Party. Sharon visited the Dome of the Rock, one of Islam’s most sacred sites.
Sharon was responsible for the massacre that occurred in Lebanon, at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps on Sept. 16, 1982. Sharon, as defense minister, ordered Israeli soldiers to surround the camps while Lebanese militia entered and killed innocent civilians; estimates range from 1,300 to more than 3,000. There were reports of boys who were castrated, scalped and some with the Christian cross carved into their bodies.
Athena recounted how an Israeli soldier singled her out and thrust his assault rifle in her chest because she had a defiant posture during the inspection of a bus full of Palestinian travelers.
Athena’s testimony brought tears to the eyes of some of those present as she related another occasion, when she was walking to the home of a friend to study with other girls and they came under fire from Israeli soldiers. Dozens of schoolchildren scattered but she resisted the urge to run and instead grabbed other children to remove them from harm. She never forgot the look in a little girl’s eyes when she delivered her to her mother’s arms. She witnessed the killing of a 15-year-old Palestinian boy that day.
The Palestine Freedom Project looks forward with plans for more events to inform the public and gain support for the Palestinian people; learn more at Palestine Freedom Project Facebook. Castillo can be contacted through Peace Fresno at www.peacefresno.org.
Tully Partnerships, a 501(c)(3), displayed handcrafted traditional Palestinian embroidery and other items for sale. The proceeds go to support the women who make craftwork and their families and provide English and computer classes.
Stan Santos is an activist in the labor and immigrant community. Contact him at email@example.com.