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Flaherty Responds

 In response to your article "New Orleans to Palestine" by Frank Etheridge (Aug. 12):

A New Orleans resident was shot at by a foreign army. He was part of a delegation of human rights activists from New Orleans visiting Palestine to support peace and justice in the Middle East. While there, the group observed and documented daily, brutal violations of international law -- and violations of the U.S.-led "road map" -- committed by the Israeli military.

All of this would make a great story. Unfortunately, Gambit missed this opportunity, instead running an article filled with half-truths and lazy reporting. As one of the New Orleans residents mentioned in the piece, I feel the need to respond.

Instead of writing a compelling story on first-hand perspectives on the Middle East conflict, your writer chose to spend almost half his story profiling anti-Palestinian activists and printing their misleading statements.

1. Etheridge writes: "In dispute is whether the wall (Israeli's "Apartheid Wall") follows the 'the green line.'" Etheridge doesn't back up his claim that there is a dispute on this subject -- indeed, that would be hard. Virtually no one claims that Israel's Wall follows any kind of internationally recognized border. George W. Bush, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice have all made widely publicized statements acknowledging this fact. The Wall, according to Israel's own projections, will confiscate up to 50 percent of the West Bank.

2. International Solidarity Movement (ISM) activists are "being human shields to people." Etheridge repeats this claim by pro-Israeli extremist Adam Bronstone without challenge. In fact, he follows this quote with an uncritical profile of two New Orleans residents, Vivian Kahn and Yaakova Mize, who have actually volunteered to assist the Israeli military -- the fourth largest military in the world -- during its current campaign of violence and intimidation against the people of Palestine.

3. "Israel defends the razings (of Palestinian homes) as an effort to curb suicide bombings." This is Bronstone's central argument -- that ISM activists are defending terrorists. Your writer even furthers this with the potentially libelous implication that Rachel Corrie was killed while protecting the home of a suicide bomber. To my knowledge, Gambit is the first newspaper anywhere in the world to make this claim. She was staying in the home of a doctor. This doctor lived on land close to a military base, and Israel was seeking to demolish all the homes in this area to expand its military base. Israel's practice of home demolitions began with its founding, in 1948, when more than 500 Palestinian villages were demolished, leaving more than 800,000 refugees. The practice continues to this day. It is about the theft of the land and the ethnic cleansing of a people, nothing more and nothing less. It is this reality that I witnessed on the ground in Palestine.

--Jordan Flaherty

While the wall has created diplomatic tensions -- President George W. Bush has called it a "problem" -- Flaherty correctly notes that the route's relationship to the "green line" has not been the center of dispute. In our reporting of activist Rachel Corrie's death, we did not intend to suggest that Corrie specifically was protecting the home of a suicide bomber. Rather, critics of International Solidarity Movement have claimed that the group, as a whole, shields the homes of bombers. ISM workers, including Flaherty, deny that charge.


"Guilt Through Association"

In the article "New Orleans to Palestine" (Aug. 12), it is important to note the sincerity of the people who have traveled from this city to the Middle East and their interest in peace. Thomas Bacon is indicative of this sincerity when he clearly states at the end of the article that he hopes for peace for everyone -- Israeli and Palestinian alike.

However, the reader should not and cannot lose focus of the organization -- International Solidarity Movement (ISM) -- that these people joined. While Yaakova Mize was helping in an emergency room and North American Jews and non-Jews were donating funds for a summer camp for Israeli children who have lost parents to suicide bombers, ISM volunteers were standing in front of and with the families of suicide bombers.

Bacon claims that these bombers are simply making "stupid decisions." The truth is different. Suicide bombings are planned, funded and calculated from the very top of terrorist organizations like Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, by former leaders such as Saddam Hussein, and by American "allies" like the Saudi Arabian government. There is no stupidity in these decisions, only planned hatred and inhumanity; for this reason family members of bombers must take some responsibility for the actions of their sons and daughters.

Like Thomas Bacon, I want peace for both Israelis and Palestinians. However, aligning oneself with an organization like ISM that clearly agrees with violence is not just a matter of guilt by association. It is guilt through association.

Peace in the Middle East will come when organizations like ISM begin to stand against violence and suicide bombings, rather than in front of and with those who are associated with such acts of inhumanity. I ask: why were Thomas Bacon, Adam Wilson and Jordan Flaherty standing with violence, rather than against it, if what they seek is peace?

--Roselle M. Ungar


Recognizing Southern Art

I wanted to write a note of thanks to Constance Adler for a wonderful article on the Ogden Museum ("The Making of a Museum," Aug. 19). It was a beautifully written, comprehensive piece on a museum that will finally bring national attention to the many talented artists of the South.

My husband is Richard Johnson, and we both had to laugh at the "paint still drying" comment. He has worked on the painting for seven and a half months and it has most definitely been a work in progress the entire time.

I have often thought how Southern writers and Southern food have risen to national visibility but Southern artists have remained more regionalized. Thanks to Roger's vision this museum will change that restriction.

Again, kudos for a terrific article.

--Babs Johnson


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