July 2014



The “peace-loving nation” of Israel is yet again at the brink of an existential annihilation due to homemade rocket attacks from Gaza — or so they would have you believe. As the Israel-Palestine conflict rages, we’ve heard the same boilerplate statements about “Israel’s right to defend itself” and “No country would tolerate rocket attacks, so why should Israel?”

But why are rockets being fired into Israel in the first place?  “Because the Palestinians are terrorists and anti-Semites.” Perhaps, or perhaps there are few more plausible explanations for Palestinian armed resistance; consider the following:

1. The Occupation

Israel, with U.S. support, has militarily occupied the Gaza Strip (along with the West Bank and East Jerusalem) since 1967. The belligerent occupation, now in its 47th year, is one of the longest, bloodiest and brutal in human history — over 2,500 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza alone in the last seven years.

Up until 2005, Israel maintained illegal Jewish colonies in the Gaza Strip as well. It has since disbanded these colonies and thus claims it’s no longer occupying the Gaza strip. Israel is alone in holding this deceptive view; theUNUS State Departmentglobal NGO’s and legal scholars all consider Gaza a part of the Occupied Palestinian Territories because Israel exercises complete military control over it.

2. The Siege

Israel, with U.S. backing, has laid a brutal siege in the Gaza Strip since 2007. It has blocked off air, land and water access to the Strip — nothing goes in, nothing comes out. This tiny strip of land is home to some 1.7 million people; due to its cage-like setup, Gaza has aptly been described as the ‘world’s largest open air prison.’

The siege has stifled Gaza’s economy, destroyed its infrastructure and has cut off access to some of the most basic amenities needed to live a dignified life. Today, almost 80 per cent of Gazans are dependent on aid as a result of the blockade. The UN has warned Gaza will be inhospitable by 2020 if the siege continues.

3. The Water Crises

Israel’s discriminatory division of water means that Palestinians get 70 litres a day per person, far below the 100 liters per capita minimum, while the Israeli’s get four times this amount. Limiting the water supply results in Gazan households receiving water for only six-eight hours at a time about every other day. Israel severely damaged the sewage treatment infrastructure in Gaza during its 2009 assault; the blockade means the resources needed for repairs are unavailable.

sewageAs a result, only 25 per cent of Gaza’s waste water is treated; 90 million liters of untreated or partially treated sewage is dumped into the Mediterranean every day. Contamination of the territory’s ground water is serious concern; about 90 per cent of the water supply in the Strip is unfit for human consumption.  Due to over-pumping and sewage contamination Gaza’s only water source, its Coastal Aquifer, is damaged past the point of no return — it will expire in 2016.

4. Scarcity of Fuel and Electricity

Gaza is under a chronic power shortage due to the siege; Israel has severely limited the fuel supply needed to operate the only power plant in the territory. Only 46 per cent of Gaza’s electricity needs are being met currently; this has triggered rolling power outages of 12 hours everyday. Amongst other things, this lack of power means that hundreds of crucial medical devices at hospital are non-functional, including Gaza’s only MRI machine.

5. Leveling of Land and Destruction of Property

The Israeli army conducts weekly incursions into the Gaza Strip to destroy the land it has declared as ‘no-go zone.’ Its tanks, bulldozers and military jeeps, accompanied by helicopters and drones, systematically destroy fruit bearing trees and agricultural land in the Gaza strip. Civilian infrastructure in this area is also demolished; this includes hundreds of houses, wells and chicken farms — mosques and schools are demolished as well.

6. Travel Bans

Israel’s siege has meant that it is virtually impossible for Gazans to leave the occupied territory. They can’t even leave to visit their relatives in the West Bank, let alone in Israel. Gazans with spouses in Israel or the West Bank are forced to live in separation; simple matters such as raising a family are rendered impracticable. Permission to leave even for severe emergencies is rarely given.

By dividing Palestinians, Israel successfully employs the ‘divide and conquer’ strategy like colonial powers of the past. The people of Gaza can’t even seek asylum in other countries due to this restriction on movement. Evenstudents are prohibited from going abroad, or even the West Bank, for higher education; visas of several winners of U.S. Fulbright Scholarships have been revoked in the past.

gaza7. Suppression of Agriculture 

The Israeli army created a ‘no-go zone’ along the Israel-Gaza border that Palestinians cannot enter. This ‘buffer region’ extends up to 1,500 meters at times into the Strip and includes some of its most fertile land. As a result, 35 per cent of the agricultural space in Gaza is off-limits to farmers. This has seriously damaged the food economy and harshly penalized innocent farmers. Palestinians are fired at arbitrarily if they try to enter this region; farmers suffer serious injuries, and at times death, as a result of this indiscriminate firing.

8. Restrictions on Fishing

Israel has announced that access to the sea six nautical miles beyond Gaza’s shore is prohibited for fisherman. This means that 85 per cent of fishing waters granted to Palestinians under the Oslo Accords is now inaccessible; this has severely impacted Gaza’s coastal economy. Similar to the restricted areas on land, Palestinian fishermen are regularly exposed to warning fire by Israeli naval forces, their fishing boats are intercepted and they are detained — all for the harmless act of fishing.

This is a short list of the some of the unspeakable crimes Israel commits on a defenseless population; they are at the root of this conflict. Rocket attacks from Gaza are a desperate response to these injustices – how does our government manage to omit this when brazenly expressing support for Israel ?  In light of the above, let’s try to counter some of the nonsense coming out of the foreign affairs office: No people would ever tolerate an oppressive occupation and an unjust siege, so why should the Palestinians?

An edited version of this piece first appeared at Rabble.ca

. Re-printed at Mondoweiss and MuslimMatters.org


Up until last week, Malcolm X was the most well-known American Muslim leader to have been spied on by the American government. For a man who gave his life fighting for civil liberties, he would be shocked to learn that little has changed for dissenting voices, even perceived ones, fifty years after his assassination. New revelations on government spying in a report by The Intercept revealed five notable Muslim leaders who have been under NSA and FBI surveillance. The report highlights that these individuals were spied despite their civic engagement, public service and lack of a criminal record.

Amongst the most striking revelations is that these Americans were spied under the secretive proceedings of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) courts. FISA is intended to target foreign nationals who are suspected of participating in terrorist activity; the only exception is when the agents can convince the clandestine courts that an American citizen is involved in foreign suspects. The five individuals spied on are US citizens who have not been charged with terrorism and vehemently deny any allegations of involvement.

The high public profiles of those revealed in this report is particularly telling. Most well known amongst them is Nihad Awad, co-founder and executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR). CAIR’s outstanding civil liberties work, especially post 9/11, has made it one of the most trusted and valued institutions in the American Muslim community. CAIR has worked extensively to encourage civil engagement and public service amongst Muslims – if its personnel can be subject to spying as if they were foreign terrorists, what does that say about the rest of us? If CAIR can’t be trusted then who’s left?

It seems that even working closely with the government and running for public office doesn’t get you off-the hook. Faisal Gill joined the Department of Homeland Security as a senior policy adviser for the Bush Administration. He was able to receive some of the highest levels of security clearance where his eyes had access to some of the nation’s most closely held secrets. Gill also secured the Republican nomination for a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates in 2007, the year when the government began spying on him.

The discrimination and racism underlying the spying programs of the US government and affiliated agencies are manifestly evident at this point in time.

These revelations are a new addition to the long list which includes things like the surveillance of MSA’s, infiltration of places of worship by ‘mosque crawlers’ and the fake terror plots of paid informants. The repeated behavior of treating an entire community as potential terrorists and threats to national security is sickening. The spying conducted in this case was for activities that are protected by the First Amendment; they are therefore in flagrant violation of some of the most basic rights of an American citizen.

Particularly eye-opening is the bigoted and hawkish culture of the intelligence community which has been highlighted in the Intercept’s report. John Guandolo, a former counter-terrorism agent, was asked about the five men in question. He responded with uncorroborated accusations and highlighted his belief that these men were part of a Muslim conspiracy to infiltrate and topple the United States from within. Earlier, Guandalo also stated on a radio show that CIA director John Brennan secretly converted to Islam and is an instrument of Saudi intelligence.

Also exposed in the story was NSA’s usage of derogatory terms such as ‘raghead’ to refer to potential targets. In addition, the role of the Islamophobic activists such as Pamela Geller and Daniel Pipes is deeply troubling. It appears that an internet campaign run by one of these repugnant characters is sufficient ground for the FBI to open a file on an individual. The fact that government would take seriously vitriol from these xenophobic groups furthers hints at sympathizers of this thought within the spy agencies.

Muslim political activists and leaders are not the only ones caught up in NSA’s web of surveillance. As outlined by the Washington Post last week, the NSA intercepted and spied on tens of thousand of private emails of users. Innocuous pictures, emails and private conversations were stored as ‘incidental collection’ by the NSA – collateral damage in other words.

Again, it is striking that most examples outlined in the Post’s report are those of Muslim users. For example, they included the deeply private conversations of Muslim girl who was considering for marriage a jihadist wannabe.

Spying on Muslim leaders by the FBI and NSA is a major blow to relations between the government and the Muslim community. It is particularly heart breaking to see individuals who worked hard to foster civic engagement getting back stabbed. The seeds of mistrust planted in the wake of 9/11 have further taken root in the soil of ignorance. Under Bush, and now Obama, we have seen a return to the dark McCarthyism-style fear mongering and suspicion. This represents a major setback for civil liberties and puts a question mark on the progress made in the past several decades.

It will take years, if not decades, to rebuild the trust tarnished by these spying programs. American Muslims deserve an apology for starters; there needs to be more transparency on the secretive operation of the FISA courts and, more importantly, a scaling back of the hokey schemes that violate our sanctified right to privacy.

First published at MuslimMatters