As a corollary, if you care about reforming US policy towards the Palestinians' quest for self-determination, then you care about Ethan Bronner, because Bronner is the Times' Jerusalem bureau chief.
It was thus with keen interest that, as a passenger waiting in Athens earlier this week to board the US boat to Gaza, "The Audacity of Hope," I read Bronner's July 2 "news analysis" of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, "Setting Sail on Gaza's Sea of Spin."
Bronner's piece is a tragic performance in the gap between the understanding that it grasps and the understanding that it manages to hold. It is one thing to be innocently ignorant. It is quite another to march right up to the Tree of Knowledge, pull down a ripe fruit, chew it thoughtfully and then spit it out because you don't like the taste. But this, sadly, is what Bronner's piece ultimately does.
Some see a parallel with the Exodus, the ship filled with Jewish refugees that tried to break the British blockade of Palestine in 1947 and helped sway world opinion toward Zionism.
In July 1947, when Britain ruled Palestine and the number of Jews allowed in was severely limited, the ship, with 4,500 Jewish refugees from Europe, tried to get through. British forces boarded it, killed three people, wounded dozens and essentially destroyed the ship as it listed in Haifa harbor.
The British ultimately sent the passengers to Hamburg. The sight of thousands of Jewish refugees shipped to Germany soon after the Holocaust sparked international outrage and sympathy for the Zionist cause, a key goal of the trip.
"The Exodus showed that if the British are callous enough to send Jews back to Germany, the only ones who should be in charge of the fate of the Jews are the Jews themselves," observed M.M. Silver, an Israeli historian and the author of "Our Exodus." "Palestinian forces are trying to make the same point through the flotilla, that Israel has no right to control the fate of Palestinians."
Notwithstanding that dispute, it cannot fairly be said that Bronner's piece has not exposed its readers to a more or less accurate portrayal of the motivations behind the flotilla. Yes, absolutely, we are contesting specific Israeli government decisions about who and what can go into and come out of Gaza and by what means. But, as important as this contest is in its own right, it is a corollary to a more fundamental contest: in Silver's formulation, we assert that Israel has no right to control the fate of Palestinians.
Unfortunately, having tasted of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, Bronner's piece spits it out.
"The focus on humanitarian aid by both flotilla organizers and the Israeli government is infuriating and misleading," Gisha, an Israeli human rights group focused on Gaza, said in a statement. "There is no shortage of food in Gaza, but economic recovery is blocked by sweeping restrictions."
The continued ban on export, construction materials, and travel between Gaza and the West Bank contradicts the 2010 Israeli government decision to facilitate economic recovery in Gaza.
At least 83 percent of Gaza's factories are either closed or working at a capacity of 50 percent or less, according to the Palestinian Federation of Industries. The manufacturing sector cannot recover under the present Israeli ban on export; not a single truck has been allowed to leave Gaza since May 12. Even during the winter agricultural season, when Israel allowed the export of agricultural produce, the quantities were economically negligible: an average of two trucks per day, compared to the 400 trucks a day agreed upon in the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access.
Israel has banned completely goods destined for Israel and the West Bank, even though, prior to 2007, 85 percent of the goods leaving Gaza were sold to Israel and the West Bank.
Sari Bashi, executive director of Gisha, says it is infuriating that residents of Gaza are being deliberately reduced to recipients of humanitarian aid. "The problem in Gaza is not a shortage of food but rather a violation of the right to productive, dignified work. There is just one solution that will respect the rights of Gaza residents to freedom of movement and livelihood while protecting Israel's legitimate security interests: Israel must lift the ban on construction materials, exit of goods and travel between Gaza and the West Bank." [emphasis in original.]
I saw people wearing t-shirts that said, "We sail until Palestine is free." I didn't see anyone wearing a t-shirt that said, "We sail until Israel allows more humanitarian aid into Gaza."
However, it may well be the case that correct words are insufficient here. Indeed, Bronner managed to write a "news analysis" that slammed the "focus" of "flotilla organizers" without naming or quoting a single one of them. We go to sleep and we awake, and Bronner is still the Jerusalem bureau chief of The New York Times, so it is logical to ask: Could a future flotilla arrange its symbolism in such a way that even Bronner would be incapable of misunderstanding? What would such a Dream Flotilla look like?
Maybe it would look like this: pushing against every aspect of the Israeli blockade of Gaza at once. Such a flotilla would have some ships going in, and other ships coming out, carrying Palestinian exports. Still other ships would fish 20 nautical miles from Gaza's coast, as promised in the Oslo Accords, rather than the three nautical miles currently allowed by unilateral Israeli restriction. Other "ships" would farm to Gaza's border with Israel, defying the unilateral Israeli "buffer zone." Other "ships" would carry Palestinians from Gaza needing lifesaving medical treatment to Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem, in defiance of Israeli restrictions. Other "ships" would carry Palestinians from Gaza to study at Palestinian universities in the West Bank, in defiance of the restrictions of the Israeli occupation.
Maybe then Bronner would understand. But just to make sure, perhaps this Dream Flotilla should set sail in September, when the Palestinians are pressing their case at the United Nations for recognition of their independent state - a push that has at its core a very simple precept: Israel has no right to control the fate of Palestinians.
Robert Naiman is policy director at Just Foreign Policy and president of Truthout's board of directors.