Joe Catron talks about the meaning and legacies of Cast Lead (21:32)
Date: January 09, 2019
By: Helena Cobban
In this episode, you’ll hear a conversation that Helena Cobban held recently with Joe Catron, Just World Educational's Director of Outreach, about the legacies of Cast Lead. Joe is a veteran social-justice activist who spent three-plus years in Gaza, from March 2011 through Fall 2014.
This is the fifth episode in a special mini-series we’re releasing as part of our “Cast Lead Plus Ten” project, which started on December 27th will run till at least January 17th. This project marks the anniversary of the “Operation Cast Lead” assault that Israel waged against Gaza during these same 22 days, exactly ten years ago. More details are on our website, here.
Speaker 1:0:01Today, this is just world podcast. I'm Helena carbon, the president of just world educational. We work to expand the discourse on vital issues of global peace and justice, especially in the long troubled Middle East. This is the fifth episode in a special mini series we're releasing as part of our cost lead plus 10 project, which started on December 27th and will run until at least January 17th. This project marks the anniversary of the operation cast lead assault that Israel waged against Gaza during these same 22 days exactly 10 years ago. If you're on social media using the Hashtag Hash costs lead plus 10 to draw together all the activities we're running on our twitter and facebook accounts do follow us on both platforms. On twitter. Our handle is at just world ed and on facebook we'll use the whole name just world educational. We also have a great resource page on cast lead on our website, www.justworldeducational.org where you'll find links to all the episodes in this podcast, many miniseries and many other useful materials. So do check back there for regular updates to in this episode of the miniseries, you'll hear a conversation I held recently with Joe [inaudible], our director of outreach about the legacies of costs led. Joe is a veteran social justice activist who spent three plus years in Gaza from March 2011 through fall 2014. Here's how our conversation went.
Speaker 2:1:54Joe, I'm really delighted to have you here to talk to us about the legacies of lead, particularly because you saw them at hand for the three years that you were in Gaza in 2011 through 2014. Um, so perhaps you could tell us in the first instance, what drew you to go to Gaza. And back then in I believe march of 2011. Well, I'd been from kind of a supporter of Palestine and the Palestinians paused for a number of years, mostly passively. I was one of the generation of activists who came of age around the global justice justice protests at the turn of the millennium about around global trade and finance, and then that said very naturally into the anti Iraq war protests and Palestine was always a thread in that of which I was supportive, but I hadn't been terribly active. It hadn't been one of my main issues until operation cast lead, which what really drew me in and then a year and a half after that, after the freedom flotilla massacre in 2010, I became more of an active organizer. Joined the actual group, sewing up the meetings as well as protests, and then in early 2011, I had an opportunity to actually go and see Palestine, which I hadn't done before and thought I should do. This was an effort to basically test the Rafah border. Immediately after the fall of the government in Egypt.
Speaker 2:3:37The army has taken over our direct control of it from the security or the security agency, which had one previously and we wanted to see what kind of approach they were going to take to it. As it turned out, our experience was indicative of nothing moving forward. We got in very easily. You were actually the first group before and show up and I think they had no idea what to do with us. So they laid this through.
Speaker 3:4:05How interesting. How long did you last in Gaza on that occasion?
Speaker 2:4:11Uh, well when I went, my initial plan was to stay with the delegation for two days and as you know, I was still there three and a half years later. It was. I kept stretching it out.
Speaker 3:4:28Wow. So what kinds of things were you doing while you were in those three years?
Speaker 2:4:33It was a mix of experiences depending on what was going on a lot of the time. I focused on journalism, writing about things there for friendly media, mostly like electronic intifada, Middle East, and assisting local organizations, running workshops and things like press releases and talking to Western media. That sort of thing during the offensive, um, many of the four and activists there would focus more on the activism. It was much harder to find a journalistic niche at a time when journalists reporting and the Gaza and frankly every story was being covered multiple times and usually fairly well.
Speaker 3:5:17So during the two Israeli assault of late 2012 and the, the 51 day assault in the summer of 2014, could you kind of just quickly summarize some of what I would like for you to be under those assault and then whether it was different for you than it was for your friends and colleagues?
Speaker 2:5:51Well, I'll say at the outset that after 2014, I hardly remember 2012. Um, I think a lot of other people would say the same. I don't mean to make light of it. Obviously there were many people who suffered and died, but after 2014 at kind of pales in significance. It was over very quickly. And during it, the international solidarity, dirty activists who were there, it passed so quickly. We never really found our legs. We didn't quite figure out the strategy that we needed to take at the time. Um, a number of us spent time in hospitals reporting on what was going on there, but that was kind of a preview of what we would do much more intensely. A couple of years later in 2014 when we spent extensive time in hospitals with were under extensive threat of being bombed by these Railey's. The hospital administrator had an idea that the presence of foreigners might deter this.
Speaker 2:6:57It worked in one pace that I'll shiva. It didn't work in the first place. We tried it at our La, which was ultimately bombed and destroyed. In terms of experiences, how it worked for different kinds of people. I don't know. I think it all just varies. I was always aware of that. Certainly the Israelis weren't trying to kill me personally. They were probably even making some effort to avoid it after their experiences with Cindy Corey, or excuse me, with Rachel Corrie, not her mother, cindy, and also Tom Hernando when they got a bit of heat over there killing of killing of other activists within the international fellow. Dirty movement, which I was also part of that wasn't an experience that they were eager to put themselves through. Again,
Speaker 3:7:52I guess another difference would be that you would be without family members to worry about. Holly must've been constantly. I'm like very, very worried in b.
Speaker 2:8:11that's true. Although I would say that the foreigners in Gaza and also our Palestinian circle of friends, you were kind of like the dysfunctional extended family of sorts. They serve the same function basically in terms of at least those having people to worry about.
Speaker 3:8:27So what are you able to move around when you were there during those assault and during the time between them? How, how did you get around?
Speaker 2:8:39Yeah, I mean I always had complete freedom of movement. There are very few restrictions on traveling around, aside from a few specifically military areas. Um, obviously I did a lot less of that when there were air strikes going on. I wasn't eager to go out and take a long walk as I might have done otherwise when there were active hostilities, I would be much more likely to travel in cars. Um, at one point when we were going from one end of, or not from one end of God, but from one side of God that by the coast to the hospital, which is on the other side by the Israeli barrier, the hospital would send ambulances to transport us because no private drivers or willing to make that particular trip.
Speaker 3:9:35What are some of the things that you saw during the 2014
Speaker 2:9:42assault that really stayed with you? People coming together. That's really the main thing that sticks in my mind. The way all of Palestinian society. Yeah. Pulled it together and persevere being at the hospital, seeing how everyone, whether they were officially on staff or not, would pitch in to make sure that things were taken care of, that food was provided, that trash was taken out. Um, and the feeling of community of being down in the courtyard where the activists and the journalists and the hospital staff would all mix. That's really the one key thing that sticks in my mind aside from all of the obvious more time stuff
Speaker 3:10:35that is so interesting because, you know, I definitely heard from a lot of people who were in Lebanon during the Israeli 2006 or so, that same overwhelming reaction of so many Lebanese have all, you know, sex and religion and politics, political groups coming together under the bombardment. It's actually, it's not so surprising to me because, you know, my family grew up in England with stories of the London blitz and how everybody would just hunker down together and the London Tube station people have social classes that wouldn't normally mix at toll. Um, so that's something that is always interesting to me because of course, one of the main goals of the Israeli inmate assault it is to try to turn the population against the governing authority.
Speaker 2:11:37That's something that they say that's part of their external messaging. I've never been convinced that that's actually true because I'm not that much smarter than them. I'm reasonably sure they know the opposite is what inevitably happens. Like it draws people in the resistance together. That's simply the effect and they must know this
Speaker 3:12:01and yet they continue to do these actions. I mean, do you have an idea of why,
Speaker 2:12:10why they continue to do the military offensives specifically?
Speaker 2:12:16I mean, I think their objective is simply a military one to crush the resistance and the. They had a few political outcomes in mind as well in 2014, as I remember correctly at the outset, they listed three goals, if I'm not mistaken. One was to recover the young settlers who had been abducted in the West Bank and this has to do with both the initial military operation, their operation brother's keeper, and what was really an extension of it in the Gaza Strip. That was the first goal. The second was disrupting the Palestinian unity agreement, which had just been adopted by Fatah and Hamas. And the third was striking a blow at Hamas and the other political and the other resistance groups militarily. Um, they knew at the time that the settlers were already deceased. So we know that that wasn't really at the top of their mind. The other two, I think we're basically correct. They wanted to reduce the military capacities of the resistance groups and obstruct steps towards Palestinian reconciliation.
Speaker 3:13:35Interesting. Interesting. I, I've also thought that maybe they would've liked an outcome similar to what happened with the PLO in Beirut in 1982 were under some kind of um, political agreement. The fight is leave the play and leave the place completely undefended and you know, open to any, any action that Israeli Jews to take. But of course the difference was in Lebanon there was a government and it is,
Speaker 2:14:12and it has been all clear on the case of Gaza. Hamas were to evacuate. It forces what's Israel would do with it. They don't want a complete vacuum there. Certainly it isn't clear that they have any kind of coherent strategy towards it at all other than keeping it contained, which seems to be the rationale behind most of their move there.
Speaker 3:14:37Well, we could talk a long time about this and obviously I want to at some point, but I want to go back and just get into the whole issue of when you came back to this country and I did talking to people about your experiences in Gaza or you know about or in general and the Palestinian issues. What kind of responses have you gotten from people in this country? That's a very good question. I know, but you know this specific as you wanted to in the answer.
Speaker 2:15:11No, it. It changed quite a bit. I think in the time that I was gone, the mood has shifted, I suspect largely as a result of the 2014, a sense of. Although since I wasn't here for this shift, it's hard for me to say exactly. A few weeks after I returned, I went to a kind of a fundraising gala put on by an organization. I've worked for many years before which had a number of New York City Democratic politicians and attendance and I had friends that were mutual friends of ours who told a number of them that I had just returned from Gaza where I had been on the Palestinian side and I stared a number of them down. I was in that kind of a mood and they were quite nervous, but they didn't have anything to say. It wasn't a fight that they were willing to pick and that was something that had certainly changed over a few years and this spring, as you know, I went on a speaking tour organized by the International Solidarity Movement here. I did somewhere around 30 appearances overall across the United States and not one public Diana, not one figure representing the other side, ever showed up at a single event. That's really quite a strip shift in strategy on their part and something that we wouldn't have seen certainly at the time when I left the country in 2011.
Speaker 3:16:46Well, that's fascinating. I mean, I think, you know, one thing that Richard and I were talking about yesterday was the fact that in many ways the sort of the public Zionism that one used to see has been decreased in its visibility and its effectiveness, let's call it liberal Zionism, um, but at the same time you have these kind of very poor service campaign by the ultra Zionist do things like, you know, the answered bbs legislation and to shut down any, any public discourse on Palestine. So things are definitely different than what they were 10 years ago.
Speaker 2:17:32One interesting dynamic. I think we're seeing this, a part of that is what we might call the ultra or the right way is really thrilling. The liberal Zionists under the bus, I mean Netanyahu's coalition, governments in which Netanyahu isn't even the most extreme by far, is really making it impossible for anyone here to maintain the pretense of liberal Zionism with a straight face. It's just becoming really impossible for them to do.
Speaker 3:18:04So. There's probably a lot of openings that we all who care about Palestinian rights and about the ability of the Palestinians to, to enjoy this. There's probably a lot about things that we can pursue in the coming months.
Speaker 2:18:22Oh, absolutely. Um, I think we're seeing a real moment of opportunity here at the fact that we have the first two members of Congress were open supporter of the bds movement or the fact that the debate on Israel and anti DDF laws is now being forced. I'm just reading this in the Washington Post in the Senate. That's something that we wouldn't have seen very recently and is I think indicative of broad shifts at the grass roots. The problem we face frankly, is that we don't have enough of a movement in place. Take advantage of these shifts. Really public opinion is moving more rapidly than political mobilization and that's an issue that needs to be addressed.
Speaker 3:19:14I think so. I think the educational part of this is what we do, um, you know, really make a unique contribution. Well, listen, thank you so much for giving me your time, Joe. I'm hoping to see you've been in New York City. Absolutely.
Speaker 1:19:32So I hope you enjoyed that conversation I had with Joe k Dot John and found it informative. This is the fifth episode in our podcast miniseries on cost plus 10 years. We'll be releasing more episodes next week. The next big event in our cost lead plus 10 campaign will be a facebook live session. Will be conducting this Saturday at noon, New York time, 7:00 PM in Palestine with the great Gaza Palestinian activist. Use UCFL Shemot. If you're on facebook, be sure to tune in and do. Invite your friends to use. It is a writer, editor, translator, and social activist who grew up in a refugee camp in Gaza. He was in Gaza during cost lead, but right now he's doing graduate studies in Turkey. In 2014. He contributed a fine short story to the collection. Gaza writes back, published by just world books. He also toured the United States that, yeah, with two other young guys are writers among his many projects yourself as edited and translated into English.
Speaker 1:20:45A collection of extracts from diaries of Palestinian prisoners. So this Saturday, January 12 at noon, New York time, tune in to the facebook page of just world educational to here and join usis discussion of cost lead and its legacies. By the way, you can find links to the earlier episodes in this podcast miniseries and a lot more resources about cost lead and its legacies on our website, www.justworldeducational.org and we're lining up some more podcast episodes for the miniseries to. So stay tuned. Thanks. Stay well and I hope you can join our facebook live discussion on January twelfth.