Rome, Italy: Boycott Action Condemning the Use of Culture to Cover Israeli Crimes
On Sunday, March 18, 2012, at the Cortoons Festival of Rome, a group of 20 activists of the movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel requested, and were granted by the organizers, the possibility to speak prior to the presentation by Hanan Kaminski, director of the school of animation of the Bezalel Academy of Jerusalem.
The festival took place just meters away from the monument commemorating Rachel Corrie, a US activist killed in Gaza on March 16, 2003 by an Israeli bulldozer while attempting to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian home.
The BDS activists informed the audience that the participation of Bezalel, with the sponsorship and financial support of the Israeli Embassy in Italy, represents one of many attempts by Israel to use culture to rebrand its image and divert attention from policies of occupation, colonialism and apartheid.
In 2005, Nissim Ben-Sheetrit of Israel’s Foreign Ministry stated: “We see culture as a propaganda tool of the first rank, and we do not differentiate between propaganda and culture.”
Artists who accept funding from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs are required to sign a contract which states that the artist “is aware that the purpose of ordering services from him is to promote the policy interests of the State of Israel via culture and art, including contributing to creating a positive image for Israel.” (http://www.haaretz.com/putting-out-a-contract-on-art-1.250388)
The activists condemned the use of art to cover the crimes of Israel, reminding the audience that the Israeli Embassy, representing the Government of Israel, also “sponsored” the recent Israeli airstrikes in Gaza that killed 28 Palestinians and wounded 80, the demolition of 24,000 Palestinian homes, the detention without charge of more than 300 Palestinian political prisoners, the Apartheid Wall and illegal settlements, the confiscation of Palestinian land and the over 1400 civilians killed in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, including 500 children.
The words of the activists were greeted with warm applause from the audience and several people left the theatre along with the activists.
The Palestinian appeal for BDS calls for a boycott of Israeli businesses as well as its cultural and academic institutions until Israel complies with international law and human rights.
In solidarity with the Palestinian people. Without their freedom we will never be free.
Samah Sabawi spoke at the Israeli Apartheid Week in Sydney – here’s her full paper on normalisation. “We have said it loud and clear: We will not co-exist with you in your world of inequality. If you want to co-exist with us, you are welcome to join us in our struggle for freedom, because right now, this is the only place where we exist!”
Lesley Stahl on U.S. sanctions against Iraq: We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: I think this is a very hard choice, but the price–we think the price is worth it.
–60 Minutes (5/12/96)
The disgraceful US sanctions and its successive wars of plunder and aggression against Iraq have been highlighted through Wikileaks’ publication of the relevant cable chronicling April Glaspie’s duplicitous ‘Green Light’ to Saddam. A year after the deranged Albright made her appalling statement, she was confirmed by the US Senate as Clinton’s Secretary of State.
Albright has just published her memoirs, Madam Secretary, in which she clarifies her statement. Here’s what she writes:
I must have been crazy; I should have answered the question by reframing it and pointing out the inherent flaws in the premise behind it. Saddam Hussein could have prevented any child from suffering simply by meeting his obligations…. As soon as I had spoken, I wished for the power to freeze time and take back those words. My reply had been a terrible mistake, hasty, clumsy and wrong. Nothing matters more than the lives of innocent people. I had fallen into the trap and said something I simply did not mean. That was no one’s fault but my own. (p. 275)
In the paragraph before this one she complains about the 60 Minutes report because “little effort was made to explain Saddam’s culpability, his misuse of Iraqi resources, or the fact that we were not embargoing medicine or food.”
When one reviews the facts, it is clear that Albright’s explanation is woefully inadequate. First, it contains an apparent contradiction. She says food and medicine were not embargoed, but then she says Saddam Hussein could have avoided the suffering “simply by meeting his obligations.” Does that mean more food would have been available had Hussein done what the U.S. government wanted? If so, weren’t American officials at least partly responsible for the harm done to the Iraqi people? Hussein certainly did not let his people starve. The New York Times and Washington Post have reported that in answer to the sanctions, Saddam Hussein maintained an elaborate food-rationing program for rich and poor, presumably to hold the loyalty of the Iraqi people, which the sanctions were supposedly intended to dissolve. Iraqis are reported to be reluctant to give up the program even though Hussein is gone and the sanctions are over.
Albright is being disingenuous. Although food wasn’t formally embargoed when the sanctions began in 1990, Iraq was hampered in importing it because initially Iraqi oil couldn’t be exported. No exports, no imports. The UN’s “oil for food” program, started six years later, after Hussein dropped his opposition, was supposed to remedy that. But it didn’t entirely. Counterpunch.org reported in 1999, “Proceeds from such oil sales are banked in New York…. Thirty-four percent is skimmed off for disbursement to outside parties with claims on Iraq, such as the Kuwaitis, as well as to meet the costs of the UN effort in Iraq. A further thirteen percent goes to meet the needs of the Kurdish autonomous area in the north.” With the remaining limited amount of money, the Iraqi government could order “food, medicine, medical equipment, infrastructure equipment to repair water and sanitation” and other things. But — and here’s the rub — the U.S. government could veto or delay any items ordered. And it did.
As Joy Gordon reported in the November 2001 Harper’s,
The United States has fought aggressively throughout the last decade to purposefully minimize the humanitarian goods that enter the country…. Since August 1991 the United States has blocked most purchases of materials necessary for Iraq to generate electricity, as well as equipment for radio, telephone, and other communications. Often restrictions have hinged on the withholding of a single essential element, rendering many approved items useless. For example, Iraq was allowed to purchase a sewage-treatment plant but was blocked from buying the generator necessary to run it; this in a country that has been pouring 300,000 tons of raw sewage daily into its rivers.
For Albright to say that food and medicine were not embargoed is to evade the fact that critical public-health needs could not be addressed because of the sanctions. Preventing a society from purifying its water and treating its sewage is a particularly brutal way to inflict harm, especially on its children. Disease was rampant, and infant mortality rose because of the sanctions. Let’s not forget that destruction of Iraq’s infrastructure was a deliberate aim of the U.S. bombing during the 1991 Gulf War.
No wonder two UN humanitarian coordinators quit over the sanctions. As one of them, Denis Halliday, said when he left in 1998, “I’ve been using the word ‘genocide’ because this is a deliberate policy to destroy the people of Iraq. I’m afraid I have no other view.”
Albright now writes that her answer to Stahl was “crazy” and that she regretted it “as soon as [she] had spoken.” Yet she did not take back her words between 1996 and Sept. 11, 2001. According to journalist Matt Welch, after being plagued by student protesters she “quietly” expressed regret for her statement in a speech at the University Southern California shortly after 9/11. But neither her office nor the Clinton administration issued a prominent clarification to the American people or the world. Could that be because her initial answer was sincere and that her belated apology was issued with her legacy in mind? We can be sure of one thing: word of her response spread throughout the Arab world. Maybe even among some of the 9/11 terrorists.
‘JONATHAN HOLMES: The Soviet Union was the main enemy in the ’70s and early ’80s. But there were others too. In 1979, a certain Saddam Hussein became dictator in Baghdad. That year in the Pentagon, Paul Wolfowitz was studying America’s war plans for the Persian Gulf. He and his assistant Dennis Ross warned that the new Iraqi leader could soon become a threat to the oil-rich Gulf States.
DENNIS ROSS, FORMER US MIDDLE EAST NEGOTIATOR: At that point, the Arab neighbours were looking at Iraq as a kind of bulwark against the Iranians. We were looking beyond that, saying, “Look, we’re not so sure that Iraq has such benign intentions towards its neighbours. And if it becomes very powerful, we’re going to find that it may use its power either directly or coercively.”
JONATHAN HOLMES: You actually recommended effectively setting up what became Central Command, didn’t you?
DENNIS ROSS: Absolutely. Much of what we subsequently did in the Gulf and the basis for what we even do today was drawn from that study which Paul directed.
JONATHAN HOLMES: But within a year, a much more dangerous challenge had appeared in the Gulf. The Iranian Revolution replaced America’s closest friend, the Shah, with a charismatic and implacable enemy, the Ayatollah Khomeini. As Saddam Hussein fought a bloody eight-year war against Iran, the Reagan Administration overcame its moral distaste for tyrants. He was treated as a favoured American ally.
PHYLLIS BENNIS, INSTITUTE FOR POLICY STUDIES: Throughout the1980s, it was United States resources from a…particularly from a country right here outside of Washington, DC, a small company called the American Type Culture Collection, that sold Iraq the seed stock for biological weapons, the seed stock for E. coli, for anthrax, for botulism, for a host of horrific diseases. And even at that time, it was known that Iraq had used chemical weapons against Iranian troops and against Kurdish civilians. And yet, Donald Rumsfeld, who was then a special envoy of President Reagan, went to Baghdad simply to shake hands with Saddam Hussein and urge the reopening of full diplomatic relations.’
RICE: And tonight, we gather to acknowledge this remarkable truth: The future belongs to liberty, fueled by markets in trade, protected by the rule of law and propelled by the fundamental rights of the individual. Information and knowledge can no longer be bottled up by the state. Prosperity flows to those who can tap the genius of their people.
George W. Bush will never allow America and our allies to be blackmailed. And make no mistake about it, blackmail is what the outlaw states seeking long-range ballistic missiles have in mind.