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28 Nov, 2010

Two women activists call on world to heed alternative perspectives on Palestine

Originally Published: 28 November 2010

Two women, one a Jewish-American and the other a Christian-Malaysian, last week provided some deep insights into the Israeli occupation of Palestine and appealed to global activists and media to help the world hear an alternative perspective on the long-standing conflict.

Ms Anna Baltzer, a political activist and a grandchild of Holocaust refugees, and Kuala Lumpur-based human rights activist Mary Shanthi Dairiam, were on the programme to commemmorate the UN International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People organised at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand by the Bangkok arm of the Palestine Solidarity Council on November 25.

Ms Baltzer’s comments were expressed in a VCD presentation while Ms Dairiam’s came in person, extending a visit to Bangkok by two days especially to make herself available for the event. The programme also included a recital of a touching “Poem for Palestine” by Mr Sakariya Amataya, the South-East Asia Write Award 2010 Winner, an English translation of which was read by Mr Marut Mekloy.

Ms Dairiam’s presentation was directly relevant to Thailand. She was one of a three-member panel appointed by Thai Ambassador Singhasak Phuangketkeow after he assumed chairmanship of the UN Human Rights Council in June 2010 to investigate the May 21 attack by Israeli commandoes on the Mavi Marmara, the Turkish aid ship seeking to break the Israeli blockade of the Gaza strip.

Ms Dairiam said that launching the investigation, as mandated by an earlier resolution of the council, had been one of Mr Singhasak’s first actions, and praised his efforts to establish the facts.

Ms Baltzer’s VCD documentary has been produced to ensure maximum distribution, especially at events where she cannot be present. Replete with graphic examples of Israeli checkpoints, Palestinian families victimised by Israeli settlers, destruction of Palestinian farmland and Jewish extremists carrying M-16s, it begins with Ms Baltzer asserting her identity as a Jewish-American who decided to find out for herself whether what she was being spoon-fed by the U.S. media was true. What she discovered after seeing the situation on both sides of the border completely changed her perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

She said her own government could not escape responsibility because it funds Israel to the tune of US$ 3 billion a year, or about 10 million dollars a day. Although there is far more robust discussion about this conflict in the Israeli newspapers, the U.S. media largely spins the Israeli perspective.

The result, Ms Baltzer said, is that American taxpayers, “those who are paying for what is happening don’t know what is happening.”

In turn, Ms Dairiam provided insights into the HR Council investigation panel’s findings. She said that as she was watching Ms Baltzer’s documentary, it occurred to her that the Israelis always seem to have reasons for everything that they do. “We have to fully understand the rationale that Israeli gives and attack that rationale, not just the incidents,” she said.

Although she called herself a pacifist who had never held a gun in her life, she said the accounts of violence she had heard from victims of the Israeli attack on the Mavi Marmara had changed her forever. “I have learnt so much about the violence in this investigation. It is mind boggling. I am not the same person now. I am not proud of the knowledge I have.”

She said the panel had concluded that it had been the Israeli intention all along to cause as much physical injury as possible. She said the Israelis were apparently embarrassed by the numerous maritime efforts to break the blockade and the adverse publicity it was generating. “They were going to stop it once and for all. They were intending to kill,” she said.

This violence was totally unnecessary, she said. The captain of the ship told the investigators that if the Israelis had simply intended to stop the ship from sailing onwards, all they had to do was to blast the propeller, which would have rendered the vessel inoperable.

She said the panel interviewed 112 passengers comprising 20 nationalities. The resulting conclusions painted a grim picture of how heavily-armed Israelis boarded the ship in international waters several nautical miles outside the blockade zone and opened fire on activists defending themselves with broomsticks, mop-handles, kitchen knives and broken-off pieces of the ship’s railings.

Those trying to film or photograph the attack were primary targets, apparently because the Israelis wanted to ensure there was no evidence. One activist was shot in cold blood straight between the eyes. Another’s brain was blown away by a weapon known as a beanbag which sprays pellets and is usually used for crowd control. A third suffered permanent injuries to the colon.

The entire attack took only 45 minutes after which the ship was towed to the Israeli Port of Ashdod. During those eight hours, she said, there was “more wanton violence, torture, breaking of bones, stamping on people, twisting the arm until the fingers were dislocated.” In Ashdod itself, there were “more indignities, stripping, and body-cavity searches.”

She said several Americans and Europeans were on the ship, including Germans, Swiss, Belgians and Britons. None of them were harmed. Even when they reached Israel, they were provided with consular service. All other nationals, including Arabs and Turks, were brutalised with “willful killing, torture, and inhuman treatment, serious injury to body and health, and violations of human rights.”

“There is clear evidence to support of prosecution of individuals in the (Israeli) army of crimes under the Geneva Convention,” she said.

Ms Dairiam also discussed how the Western diplomatic community swung into action to shield the Israelis. She said a number of American diplomats met with the investigative panel and sought to delay issuance of the report on the grounds that it may prejudice the “peace process”. The Europeans issued verbal condemnations of the attack but when the time came to vote on the report, all of them abstained.

The diplomatic divide was more than apparent, she said; the Arab, African, Asian, non-aligned movement and Latin American countries on one side, and the Europeans and Americans on the other.

Even the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon first issued a condemnation of the attack and then set up a parallel commission headed by former New Zealand Prime Minister Duncan Palmer with a different mandate.

She said the situation in the Middle East would not change unless the European activists become more vocal and start lobbying their governments and diplomats to become more even-handed in settling the dispute.

Readers can check all this out for themselves.

See Anna Beltzer’s website “A Witness in Palestine” http://annainthemiddleeast.com/

Download the full Human Rights Council investigation report http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/15session/AnnexI.pdf