Remarks at Woodstock, NY, Memorial Day parade, May 31, 2010
A reconstruction from memory, somewhat updated
by Joel Kovel
As a member of Veterans for Peace, I've addressed this event perhaps a dozen times over the years. But never has my heart been so heavy as today, when I have to speak of the terrible news we received less than 24 hours ago, that Israeli Commandos had boarded the Freedom Flotilla bearing humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza and killed some 10 ñ 20 activists, wounding perhaps 50 others in the course of preventing the aid from reaching its destination. Although it may not seem so at first glance, I think you will agree when I am finished that what happened off the coast of Gaza yesterday very much needs to be talked about at a Memorial Day parade.
For those of you who may not know, Gaza is a region within Palestine, seized by Israel in 1967 and since administered under military occupation. Currently its 1.5 million people live in confinement, making Gaza the largest prison in the history of the world. To be more exact, they do not fully live, but merely survive under conditions of great privation. Fully ten percent of the population, needless to say mainly small children, are malnourished to the point of having their growth stunted. A few years ago, an Israeli official was quoted as saying that the people of Gaza are ìgoing to be on a diet.î This gives a sense of the cruelty of the occupation, as does the fact that more than a year after Israel pulverized large portions of Gaza in a deadly attack, virtually no construction materials, neither cement, nails, nor bricks, have been let into the country. Hence it continues as a gigantic ruin and a zone of desperation.
All this has precipitated great consternation among people of good will across the world and spurred efforts to bring aid to the Gazans with the larger goal of bringing Israelís blockade and, indeed, occupation, to an end. The Freedom Flotilla is not the first maritime mission to Gaza, but it was by far the largest, with six ships, 700 activists, and ten thousand tons of material aid for the prisoners of Gaza. Here in Woodstock we are proud of our solidarity group, MidEast Crisis Response, from which eight citizens went last December to Egypt as part of a large delegation to bring aid to Gaza. Five of our members are even now in New York City doing what can be done to demonstrate against this awful crime; we send them all our best wishes and hopes.
We are making progress in bringing Israel to justice, but the road is long and the way is hard. If this were a halfway just world, Israelís wanton attack in international waters would be immediately recognized as sheer, murderous piracy. But the problem runs much deeper than that. For whether Israel attacked on the high seas or elsewhere, its aggression would still be illegal. A fully just world would recognize that Israel would has no right to attack the flotilla in any case, for the simple reason that it has no right to be in Gaza, as occupation is itself a crime under international law. Israelís flouting of innumerable resolutions asserting this does not weaken the truth, but rather, has removed every shred of legitimacy from its behavior. An occupier, the world should remember, has no rights.
But the world is not at all a just place and doesnít remember this truth or even understand it. Instead, we face a situation where Israel repeatedly gets away with murder and every other human rights violation. And it is perfectly understandable why this is so. It is because Israel enjoys a de facto authority that overrides mere international law and human right, so that it can do what it pleases, and the consequences be damned. This de facto authority has two components and one enabling cause. The components are:
ï a world-class military machine, so that Israel enjoys the advantage of brute force in its escapades; and
ï a permanent and renewable ìGet-out-of-jail-freeî card, to be played whenever a crime is committed.
Nothing can be done to bring Israel to justice unless this authority is brought down, for the purpose of which it is necessary to face up to its enabling cause. And this, to get right down to the point, is our own United States, with some help from its Western allies and Arab client states. It is the United States that has financed Israel and built it into a military behemoth. And it is from the United States that the commands are issued that exonerate Israel in advance from the consequences of its criminality. This combination of stupendous power and impunity feeds on itself and breeds the monstrosity that is Israel today. Without it, the terrible killings aboard the Freedom Flotilla would not have happenedóindeed, the flotilla would not have been needed because Gaza would have been free.
It would take time we do not have today to dissect this relationship, taking into account the illegal (because it represents a foreign power without registering as such) Israel Lobby that controls United States foreign policy in the Middle East. I want to bring to your attention instead one elementary principle that would enable us to make a difference. It is to find a location in the here and now where the Israeli killing machine is built up by the United States; and to intervene so that the cycle of impunity can start to be interrupted. It happens that there is one such place right here in Woodstock, as there are in many other locales in the United States.
For we have a firm in town, Rotron by name, that enjoys great prestige in Woodstock and the surrounding region. Rotron is the biggest employer in Woodstock, and has made its esteemed product, fans, for over half a century. And yet, how many people in Woodstock knowóor care when they do know--that the fans Rotron makes are for weapon systems ranging from simple rocket launchers all the way up to the world-destroying Minuteman missile with its H-bomb warhead? And how many know that among the contracts that have brought some wealth to the area is one from last October made with, yes, the State of Israel, to produce and deliver directly to the Israeli Air Force some 50 fans for its aircraft, the cost, a mere $27,712.50, with payment to be made directly by the Pentagon?
In other words, the possibility is quite real that the helicopters carrying the Israeli Commandos to their rendezvous with murder off the coast of Gaza were being cooled by fans made in Woodstock.
I am not here to hand out any instant remedy for this situation. All I can say that is relevant to a national holiday as solemn as Memorial Day is this: that unless we come to grips with truths such as these, we have no right associating Woodstock with its self-anointed identity as the town of Peace and Love. Thereís a fine looking Peace Monument right behind me as I speak, with inscriptions on many languages. But it is not worth the wood and metal it is made of unless we face up to our complicity in the war-making system, that machine that ties together the United States and Israel as the destroyers of peace around the world. The shock of Israelís attack on the Freedom Flotilla may finally begin to break up its shield of impunity. This will happen if we join together in sustained and principled agitation. But we must never forget that we will never have a just world unless we also work to bring down the military machine itself.