Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Talk about a rogue state

But of course, no one will speak out against Israel. Israel - the state with immunity.

This makes me sick. Nothing about what Israel does can be justified, at all:

"What We Did Was Insane and Monstrous"
Israel's Cluster Bomb War


Of all the statistics to emerge from Israel's recent war on Lebanon, the most shocking concerns the number of cluster bombs that Israel dropped on or fired into Lebanon.

A cluster bomb is made up of a canister that opens and releases hundreds of individual bomblets, which are dispersed and explode over a wide area, showering it with molten metal and lethal fragments.

About 40 percent of the bomblets dropped by Israel (many of which were American-made) did not explode in the air or on impact with the ground. They now detonate when someone disturbs them--a soldier, a farmer, a shepherd, a child attracted by the lure of a shiny metal object.

Cluster bombs are, by definition, inaccurate weapons that are designed to affect a very wide area unpredictably. If they do not discriminate between civilian and military targets when they are dropped, they certainly do not discriminate in the months and years after the end of hostilities, when they go on killing and maiming anyone who happens upon them.

When the count of unexploded cluster bomblets passed 100,000, the United Nation's undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, Jan Egeland, expressed his disbelief at the scale of the problem.

"What's shocking and, I would say to me, completely immoral," he said, "is that 90% of the cluster-bomb strikes occurred in the last 72 hours of the conflict, when we knew there would be a resolution, when we really knew there would be an end of this."

That was on Aug. 30, by which time U.N. teams had identified 359 separate cluster-bomb sites.

Since then, the true dimensions of the problem have become even clearer: 770 cluster-bomb sites have now been identified. And the current U.N. estimate is that Israel dropped between 2 million and 3 million bomblets on Lebanon, of which up to a million have yet to explode.

In fact, it is estimated that there are more unexploded bomblets in southern Lebanon than there are people. They lurk in tobacco fields, olive groves, on rooftops, in farms, mixed in with rubble. They are injuring two or three people every day, according to the United Nations, and have killed 20 people since the cease-fire in August.

"What we did was insane and monstrous," one Israeli commander admitted to the newspaper Haaretz. "We covered entire towns in cluster bombs."

As Egeland noted, the majority of these bombs were dropped in the last three days of the war--a time when the U.N. resolution to end the fighting had been agreed on, when the war was virtually over, when it was clear that Israel had failed to accomplish its declared objectives in launching this campaign.

Dropped so late in the war, it's hard to imagine what specific military objective these bombs could possibly have been meant to accomplish. Instead, they seem to have been dropped as a final, gratuitous act of violence in a war waged against an entire population. The vast majority of the 1,200 Lebanese killed by Israeli bombardments were civilians; one in three was a child.

With 100,000 innocent people trapped in the south because they could not, or dared not, flee on roads that Israel was indiscriminately bombing every day, Israel's justice minister declared that they were all--men, women and children--"terrorists who are related in some way to Hezbollah."

Nor was this his view alone. The Israelis dropped leaflets warning that "any vehicle of any kind traveling south of the Litani River will be bombed, on suspicion of transporting rockets, military equipment and terrorists." The Israeli chief of staff was especially clear. "Nothing is safe" in Lebanon, he said. "As simple as that."

Israel carried out 7,000 air raids and fired 160,000 artillery projectiles into Lebanon, a tiny country. That's about two air raids and 40 projectiles per square mile.

But the punishment was not evenly distributed. Israel's war was aimed specifically at Lebanon's Shiite population. Shiite neighborhoods in Beirut were destroyed, but other neighborhoods remained untouched. Shiite villages in the south were obliterated--literally wiped from the surface of the Earth--while nearby Christian villages escaped unscathed, mercifully able to shelter their Shiite neighbors.

Israeli officials said this was a war against Hezbollah, that Hezbollah was hiding in the midst of the population. But this wasn't a war against Hezbollah. It was a war to punish the entire population for its support of the guerrillas.

Not only was Hezbollah not hiding behind civilians, it ought to be obvious that the violence was directed in the first instance at the civilians themselves. To direct such violence at one community, one religious group, one minority--and to deny them the ability to return safely home--was what this war was all about.

To drop two or three bomblets for every man, woman and child in southern Lebanon--after having wiped out their homes, smashed their communities, destroyed their livelihoods--is to wage war against them all.

And we supplied the weapons.

Monday, October 16, 2006

A Fable About Palestine

How to Critique Israel Injustices - counterpunch.org

A Fable About Palestine


Let's start with a story. Imagine that Africa has become rich and powerful, and that Euroope has become poor, divided and without real independence. Imagine next that, tired of being repeatedly massacred, the Tutsis decide to found a national home elsewhere. Certain of their leaders designate Wallonia, in Belgium, as that new home. Other Africans, to solve what some call the "Tutsi problem", approve of the project. Thus a flood of Tutsis pack up, weapons and all, and begin to settle in that region, while proclaiming that the people already living there have to go somewhere else. With their wealth, their determination and their weapons, the Tutsis rapidly manage to take possession of the farms, forests and towns and chase away most of the natives, either by legal means or by intimidation. A large part of Wallonia becomes a new Tutsi State, which boasts of being particularly well governed and democratic. All of Africa looks on in admiration.

However, to the surprise of the Africans, most of the Walloons are against that arrangement. Bewildered, sometimes supported by other Europeans who are nevertheless divided and whose leaders are weak and indecisive, they engage in several last ditch fights which only allow the Tutsi State to expand. The Africans can't understand why the Belgians and other Europeans are unable to appreciate the superiority of the system introduced onto their continent by the Tutsis. While Tutsis from all over the world are invited to come and settle, it is explained to the inhabitants who are being pushed out that there are other French-speaking States where they can go. All those who, in Europe or elsewhere, denounce that situation risk being called "anti-Tutsi" racists. When, parked on various scraps of ex-Wallonia, completely surrounded by the Tutsi army, a certain number of natives throw themselves into violent and desperate acts, commentators vie with each other to come up with theories on the peculiarities of Walloon culture that push them to such fanaticism.

It is doubtful that our principal concern, if we found ourselves in such a situation, would be to "put an end to the violence" of the original inhabitants of Wallonia, or to be fair to both sides, or to convince all the Belgians, as well as the other Europeans, to guarantee first and foremost the security of the Tutsi State within "safe and recognized borders". And yet, the responsibility of Belgium in the misfortune of Tutsis, through its colonial policy, is incomparably greater than that, non-existent, of the Palestinians in the persecution of the Jews in Europe.

The aim of this fable is not at all to compare or to pretend to establish any equivalence between two tragic histories, that of the Jews or that of the Tutsis, but solely to illustrate the fact that the attitude of the Arabs toward Israel is not necessarily due to a strange and violent culture or religion, but is no different from the attitude anyone might have if put in a situation similar to theirs . It is above all the situation that is strange. Recognizing it doesn't mean that one can or should undo what has been done in the past . But if one wants to arrive at a genuine peace, not only between Arabs and Israelis, but also between the West and the Arab-Muslim world, then one must begin by understanding why the others see the world as they do, and by honestly distinguishing the aggressor from the aggressed.

This fable is also also meant to illustrate the fact that, so long as one sees the conflict in terms of the war against terrorism, of conflicts between States, or even of human rights violations, an essential element is being left out, that is, the fact that the State of Israel is a continuation of European colonialism. It is that aspect (often invisible in Europe) that makes it unbearable to so many people in the Arab-Muslim world, and in the rest of the Third World. Any child in Rabat knows that if the State of Israel could be created in the way and place where it was done, it was because the local population that paid the price of the operation was made up of Arabs (like himself) and not of Europeans organized in powerful States who considered themselves superior. And that is difficult to accept.

One can argue as to whether Zionism is a form of racism, but what is certain is that that project owes its triumph both to the determination of the European powers (and subsequently of the United States) to control a region of great strategic importance and to the racist prejudices shared by almost all Europeans at the time. As the Palestinian writer Edward Said observed, "if one thinks of Churchill, Weizmann, Einstein, Freud, Reinhold Niebuhr, Eleanor Roosevelt, Truman, Chagall, the great conductors Otto Klemperer and Arturo Toscanini, plus dozens and dozens of other like them in Britain, the United States, France, and elsewhere in Europe, and then tries to produce a list of Palestinian supporters at the time who might have balanced this tremendous array of influence and prestige, one finds next to nothing" . And the situation has not radically changed since then. Leaving aside any demographic data, if a book asserted, among other niceties, that Jews, or Blacks, or Asians "breed like rats", it would not be received like Oriana Fallaci's The Rage and the Pride, which says exactly that of the "sons of Allah". Anti-Muslim racism is the only racism that it is still possible to display openly without fear of disgrace.

To illustrate the injustice inflicted by the West on Arab countries and the rest of the world, one can also compare real events. What would happen if one applied to the American invasion of Iraq the same principles that the Americans invoked against the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait? It would be necessary to bomb the United States extensively, destroy their industrial potential, impose an embargo costing countless lives, until the Americans got rid of every trace of their weapons of mass destruction. Or else, imagine that, out of concern for the Palestinians, Israeli leaders are summoned to a palace in Saudi Arabia, ordered to immediately accept the deployment of Arab troops in Israel itself, and then, following their foreseeable refusal, bombed until they give up the occupied territories. It is not cetain that such a procedure would arouse the enthusiasm of all those who, in 1999, applauded when the West acted in a similar fashion toward Yugoslavia.

The conflict also needs to be seen in a broader context. The expulsion of the Palestinians was a catastrophe not only for them, but also for the neighboring countries. Which European country would accept on its soil tens of thousands of armed foreigners living in camps? What destabilizing effects did that situation have on fragile societies such as Lebanon and Jordan? It is all very well to say that the Arab countries should have integrated them, but how do we treat refugees who are our political allies, like the Albano-Kosovars, the Iraqi Kurds or the Afghans? We try to get rid of them as soon as possible. It goes without saying that the rich countries have the right to refuse to "take in all the world's misery", but that right is impossible to enforce in many poor countries. And what about Israel's actions in the rest of the world? In numerous countries from South Africa to Guatemala, Israel has supported hateful regimes more openly than the United States was able to do. Note that, parallel to that Israeli policy, many of Israel's defenders tend to support the United States against the Third World, even outside the Middle East, in Venezuela against Chavez for example. Finally, there is the matter of the arms race. The most responsible are the front runners, as their advance incites others to keep trying (rightly or wrongly) to catch up. That was the case of the United States vis-à-vis the Soviet Union in the past, and today vis-à-vis the rest of the world. On the regional level, in the Middle East, it is the case of Israel in regard to the Arab countries and Iran. That dynamic, which contributed to the militarization of less developed countries, barely emerging from colonial rule, like Egypt, Syria or Iraq, has no doubt strengthened there the hold of dictatorships whose misdeeds then cause our Western humanists to shed crocodile tears.

All of that is perfectly obvious, but not easy to say. When Jews like Norman Finkelstein or Noam Chomsky dare to criticize the policy of the Zionist movement, one attempts to silence them by accusing them of a strange psychological disorder, "self-hatred". And as for non-Jews, a single word does the trick: anti-Semitism. All such "explanations", offered without evidence, only serve to avoid rational argument. Even if Finkelstein and Chomsky did hate themselves, that would in no way prove that what they say is wrong.

There is however an argument frequently used by Zionists, linked to the accusation of anti-Semitism or self-hatred, which deserves to be taken seriously. That is the argument of selective indignation. How do Europeans dare criticize Israel, when they are responsible for the misfortunes of the Jews? As for the Americans, it is enough to see what they are doing in Afghanistan and in Iraq, or what they did previously in Vietnam . Unlike many others, I don't think that Europeans or Americans can simply reply that they are not responsible for the past or for what their governments do. We have built our high living standards and our stable institutions on the basis of a bloody past. We cannot simply forget what our development costs, and continues to cost, to others. Moreover, we are primarily responsible for the actions of our governments; because they are the ones we can in principle influence most easily. Consequently, the criticism concerning selective indignation is valid when it is addressed to those who focus on the State of Israel alone, while forgetting all the other American and Western interventions in the world, which do far more damage than Israel is able to do. The correct response is to adopt an overall anti-imperialist attitude, in which, however, the criticism of Israel finds a central place, both for factual and for symbolic reasons.

A 2nd wave of...

McCarthyism, Big Brother, Fascism - what goes around, comes around, doesn't it?

Universities urged to spy on Muslims
Vikram Dodd
Monday October 16, 2006
The Guardian

Lecturers and university staff across Britain are to be asked to spy on "Asian-looking" and Muslim students they suspect of involvement in Islamic extremism and supporting terrorist violence, the Guardian has learned.
They will be told to inform on students to special branch because the government believes campuses have become "fertile recruiting grounds" for extremists.

The Department for Education has drawn up a series of proposals which are to be sent to universities and other centres of higher education before the end of the year. The 18-page document acknowledges that universities will be anxious about passing information to special branch, for fear it amounts to "collaborating with the 'secret police'". It says there will be "concerns about police targeting certain sections of the student population (eg Muslims)".

The proposals are likely to cause anxiety among academics, and provoke anger from British Muslim groups at a time when ministers are at the focus of rows over issues such as the wearing of the veil and forcing Islamic schools to accept pupils from other faiths.
Wakkas Khan, president of the Federation of Student Islamic Societies, said: "It sounds to me to be potentially the widest infringement of the rights of Muslim students that there ever has been in this country. It is clearly targeting Muslim students and treating them to a higher level of suspicion and scrutiny. It sounds like you're guilty until you're proven innocent."

Gemma Tumelty, president of the National Union of Students, said: "They are going to treat everyone Muslim with suspicion on the basis of their faith. It's bearing on the side of McCarthyism."

The document, which has been obtained by the Guardian, was sent within the last month to selected official bodies for consultation and reveals the full extent of what the authorities fear is happening in universities.

It claims that Islamic societies at universities have become increasingly political in recent years and discusses monitoring their leaflets and speakers. The document warns of talent-spotting by terrorists on campuses and of students being "groomed" for extremism.

In a section on factors that can radicalise students, the document identifies Muslims from "segregated" backgrounds as more likely to hold radical views than those who have "integrated into wider society". It also claims that students who study in their home towns could act as a link between extremism on campuses and in their local communities.

The government wants universities to crack down on extremism, and the document says campus staff should volunteer information to special branch and not wait to be contacted by detectives.

It says: "Special branch are aware that many HEIs [higher education institutions] will have a number of concerns about working closely with special branch. Some common concerns are that institutions will be seen to be collaborating with the 'secret police'.

"HEIs may also worry about what special branch will do with any information supplied by an HEI and what action the police may subsequently take ... Special branch are not the 'secret police' and are accountable."

The document says radicalisation on campus is unlikely to be overt: "While radicalisation may not be widespread, there is some evidence to suggest that students at further and higher educational establishments have been involved in terrorist- related activity, which could include actively radicalising fellow students on campus." The document adds: "Perhaps most importantly, universities and colleges provide a fertile recruiting ground for students.

"There are different categories of students who may be 'sucked in' to an Islamist extremist ideology ... There are those who may be new to a university or college environment and vulnerable to 'grooming' by individuals with their own agenda as they search for friends and social groups; there are those who may be actively looking for extremist individuals with whom to associate. Campuses provide an opportunity for individuals who are already radicalised to form new networks, and extend existing ones."

The document urges close attention be paid to university Islamic societies and - under the heading "inspiring radical speakers" - says: "Islamic societies have tended to invite more radical speakers or preachers on to campuses ... They can be forceful, persuasive and eloquent. They are able to fill a vacuum created by young Muslims' feelings of alienation from their parents' generation by providing greater 'clarity' from an Islamic point of view on a range of issues, and potentially a greater sense of purpose about how Muslim students can respond."

It suggests checks should be made on external speakers at Islamic society events: "The control of university or college Islamic societies by certain extremist individuals can play a significant role in the extent of Islamist extremism on campus."

The document says potential extremists can be talent-spotted at campus meetings then channelled to events off campus.

The document gives five real-life examples of extremism in universities. The first talks of suspicious computer use by "Asian" students, which was reported by library staff. In language some may balk at, it talks of students of "Asian appearance" being suspected extremists.

A senior education department source told the Guardian: "There's loads of anecdotal evidence of radicalisation. At the same time there are people who pushing this who have their own agendas, and the government has to strike the right balance."

Thursday, October 12, 2006

One Year On

May God help these people.

South Asia earthquake: One year on
On 8 October 2005, at 0350 GMT, a magnitude 7.6 earthquake occurred in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India, leaving about 75,000 dead and hundreds of thousands homeless.
Much of the worst damage was in the disputed territory of Kashmir.
The epicentre was located 80km (50 miles) north-east of Islamabad but was felt in the Pakistani capital and across South Asia, from Afghanistan to western Bangladesh.
By 27 October, more than 1,000 aftershocks had been recorded. The World Bank described the 2005 earthquake as arguably the most debilitating natural disaster in Pakistan's history.

Pakistan side: 73,338 dead
India side: 1,360 dead
Affected population: 3.5m
Health facilities destroyed: 80%
Area affected: 30,000 sq km
Still in tent camps: 35,000

Overview: Quake aftermath

The worst-hit areas were Pakistan-administered Kashmir and the eastern districts of the North-West Frontier Province. As well as the loss of human life, the earthquake destroyed homes, public building, infrastructure, commerce and communications.

Relief agencies mobilised and pledges of $5.4bn were made by the international community - all the more urgent as survivors faced the imminent onset of the Himalayan winter.

By 11 November, the government had distributed 350,000 tents, 3.2m blankets and 3,000 tonnes of medicine and set up dozens of tent villages for those affected.

Aid agencies and NGOs from around the world were deployed to the region immediately after the earthquake and some have remained, training local people in construction, helping to rebuild homes and schools.


Tents: 951,790
Blankets: 6,361,090
Rations: 256,376 tonnes
Medicines 2053.76 tonnes
Miscellaneous: 131,041.23 tonnes
Source: Erra

One year on, about 400,000 people face a second winter without permanent shelter in the mountains and valleys of northern Pakistan, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

The UN says there are about 35,000 people still living in 45 tent camps and agencies are expecting at least another 20,000 to come down from the hills in the next couple of months before winter, when temperatures can drop to -15C or -20C in the highest villages.

The Pakistani government's Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (Erra) says major roads have been re-opened and that four bridges washed away in recent floods have been replaced. The government says most of the power supply has been restored to affected areas.

One of the worst-hit areas was the town of Balakot - which was reduced to rubble by the earthquake.

The town is on a major geological fault-line and was close to the epicentre of the quake. The government has decided that more than 40,000 Balakot residents will be relocated to a new town some 30km (18 miles) away at Bakryal.

Thousands of families have already left the area, but some have stayed to rebuild their homes. Most of the rubble has been removed, but there are still no permanent buildings - only re-inforced shelters.

But Balakot remains an economic centre, markets are functioning and people are able to buy food and building materials.

The Swiss government agency Swiss Humanitarian Aid (SHA) has been part of the international aid effort, working with local people in Balakot and Batagram. The head of the reconstruction team, Thomas Fisler, says the next big challenge is to prepare for the winter.

He says most people have not been able to rebuild their houses entirely so they are making semi-permanent structures to see them through the harsh weather.

They are using timber from their damaged homes, dry mud walls and the tarpaulins and corrugated iron sheets from their temporary shelters.

"In my opinion the majority of shelters are barely... sufficient for the winter," he said. "There is a concern that if the winter is very harsh, there will be an immediate need for relief again."

Almost one million tents have been distributed since the earthquake to provide shelter for homeless families. Millions of sheets of tarpaulin and plastic have also been provided to insulate the tents from the rain and snow.

The authorities are encouraging people to make their new homes more resistant to earthquakes

The UN says its agencies have helped 76,000 people return from temporary camps to their place of origin.

The Pakistani government has already distributed $44m to 379,660 people to help them to rebuild their homes. Most people received $441 to cover basic shelter needs.

People whose homes were destroyed are receiving about $2,485 in instalments as well as technical training and advice. Those whose homes were damaged receive about $1,242.

Twelve housing reconstruction centres have been set up around the region to help train people. More than 75,000 people have been given basic training. Erra has a selection of basic designs - which incorporate earthquake-resistant features.

The UN agencies have allocated $95.6m for 26 livelihood programmes involving seed distribution, fertilisers, livestock, skill development and agriculture implants. Different NGOs are also working on similar projects.

The UN says no cases of malnutrition were reported despite six out of the nine districts affected by the earthquake being areas where food is traditionally in short supply.

More than 200,000 tonnes of food were distributed to 2.3m people, including 745,000 people in inaccessible remote mountainous locations.

Rehabilitation centres: 2
New health outlets: 20
Prefab health facilities: 100
Ambulances: 10
Source: UN
The UN says the emergency created the opportunity to set up new and temporary health facilities and restock existing ones. More than 1.25m children in the region who were not vaccinated before were given shots against polio, meningitis and measles and of Vitamin A.

More than 69,000 people were severely injured in the earthquake, and an estimated 10,000 children left disabled.

Aid efforts have enabled the setting up of a spinal cord injury rehabilitation facility in Islamabad for women and children, treating over 100 quadriplegic and paraplegic patients. Two medical rehabilitation centres have also been set up in Muzaffarabad and Abbottabad.

The UN says more than 1,000 community health workers, 2,300 lady health workers have been trained to work in communities.

Nine mobile service units deployed in the region have helped deliver some 4,500 babies.

More than 6,000 schools and colleges were destroyed in the earthquake. The Pakistani authorities plan to rebuild 1,574 of them during 2006 and 2007, including 1,202 primary schools, 126 secondary schools, 13 colleges and two universities.

The UN says the relief efforts enabled the enrolment of school-age girls who had previously never joined a school.

Children are encouraged to study and play in designated safe play areas. More than 4,300 schools were immediately re-established in tents allowing almost 400,000 children to enrol, of which 38% were girls, the majority of whom had not been enrolled before the earthquake.

Save the Children says that after the disaster it was important to get children back to school as soon as possible as education plays a vital role in protection, providing children with a safe environment and giving parents time to rebuild their lives.

"The things children learn in school can help them cope with the emergency - teaching children how to be prepared for an earthquake and what to do if it happens again can reduce their fear," a spokeswoman said.

Among its aid programme, Save the Children distributed 522 school kits containing teaching materials, notebooks, pencils, games and toys to schools and provided 80,000 text books.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Abbas, there's nothing to smile about

A re-run of the Lebanon war in Palestine?
Hasan Abu Nimah & Ali Abunimah, The Electronic Intifada, 11 October 2006

While Gaza starves, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as they attend a joint press conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah, 4 October 2006. (MaanImages/Fadi Arouri)

There are ominous signs that the long-contemplated plan to overthrow the democratically-elected Hamas-led Palestinian Authority cabinet is about to enter its most dangerous phase: a political coup, supported by local militias, with foreign and regional backing. This could ignite serious intra-Palestinian violence. With Iraq providing a dreadful warning of how foreign occupation can foster civil bloodshed, everything must be done to expose and thwart this dangerous conspiracy.

The head of Palestinian Authority intelligence, and Fatah militia leader, Tawfiq Tirawi, said in an interview with the Sunday Times on 8 October, "We are already at the beginning of a civil war, no doubt about it. They (Hamas) are accumulating weapons and a full-scale civil war can break out at any moment." The paper cited Palestinian sources saying that Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas "has notified the US, Jordan and Egypt that he is preparing to take action against Hamas." And, asserting that Hamas "are preparing for a war against us," Tirawi "forecasts that the violence would begin in Gaza and spread to the West Bank." Hamas leaders, including prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, have issued strenuous reassurances that they will never allow civil war, even as a Fatah-affiliated militia recently released a statement explicitly threatening to assassinate them.

Let us recall that in last January's legislative council elections the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, resoundingly defeated Fatah, the nominally nationalist and secular faction founded by Yasir Arafat and which has dominated the institutionalized Palestinian movement since the 1960s. Fatah, led now by Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas, was widely rejected for its corruption and mismanagement of the Palestinian Authority which was founded under the Oslo Accords in 1994.

Coming a week after more than a dozen Palestinians were killed in fighting between Hamas and Fatah followers, Tirawi's latest comments could be seen as laying the groundwork for a full-scale and premeditated confrontation. A senior Fatah "security source," probably also Tirawi, had already told the same Sunday Times journalist last May that "[c]ivil war is inevitable" and that "Time is running out for Hamas." He warned that "We'll choose the right time and place for the military showdown. But after that there will be no more of Hamas's militias."

Is that time approaching? Abbas is being encouraged by his sponsors outside the country to take on Hamas. Tirawi's warnings followed US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice's visit to the region which included a warm public embrace of Abbas. On October 5, Reuters reported that militias loyal to Abbas are receiving arms and training from the United States. "Expanding the size of the presidential guard," Abbas' personal militia, "by up to 70 percent under a U.S. plan," the report stated, "has become a central part of American policy since [Hamas] beat Abbas's Fatah in elections and took over the government." This apparent encouragement to resort to the bullet when use of the ballot failed to produce the desired results is a direct contradiction of the simplest principles of democracy, apart from its sheer immorality. This sounds bad enough, but it also looks like a repeat of the strategy in Lebanon where western powers apparently thought that Israel, as a local client state, could be used to strike a lethal blow at Hizbullah. The human and political results of that adventure, last summer's systematic Israeli destruction of Lebanon, speak for themselves. This time, Abbas and his forces would fill the role of local US client, and Hamas would be cast as Hizbullah.

The only outcome of such a confrontation will be another orgy of bloody violence. And almost certainly, support for Hamas would be strengthened, but among the Palestinian people there would be only losers.

There is good reason to fear that the moment is coming when this conspiracy will turn to the naked use of armed force, as the campaign to overthrow Hamas has escalated in stages. Just weeks after the January election, The New York Times reported that US and Israeli officials met at the "highest level" to plot the downfall of Hamas by "starving" the Palestinian Authority. It started with the US-EU aid cutoff, ostensibly to force Hamas to "recognize Israel" and "abandon violence." (When it was elected Hamas had already observed a year-long unilateral suspension of attacks on Israel, and its leaders strongly indicated a willingness to reach a "long-term agreement"). Israel escalated its military attacks on Gaza, killing and maiming thousands of civilians, and destroying civilian infrastructure including the only power station. Most Palestinians now face difficulties feeding their families. Israel kidnapped eight Hamas cabinet ministers and a quarter of the elected members of the legislative council, while Fatah leaders have continually agitated against Hamas, including organizing strikes and protests by Fatah loyalists among Palestinian Authority civil servants who have been deprived of salaries by the very international siege that Fatah leaders have winked at and even encouraged.

Efforts to bridge the political impasse by forming a "national unity government" have also failed because the Fatah election losers, backed by foreign powers, are demanding that Hamas, the election winners, abandon their policies and principles and endorse those of the defeated party. But none of this has worked. Despite the punishment, Palestinians under occupation are no more willing than ever to submit to Israeli tyranny: 67 percent "do not believe Hamas should recognize the state of Israel in order to meet international donor demands" even though "63 percent would support a Palestinian recognition of Israel as a state for the Jewish people after a peace agreement is reached and a Palestinian state is established," a September poll by the Palestinian Center for Survey Research found.

As violent incidents and provocations by followers of both factions mount, Abbas is considering other coercive means amounting to a coup: dismissing the Hamas cabinet, forming an "emergency" administration, and dissolving the Hamas-dominated legislative council to make way for new general elections which can be postponed indefinitely or at least until a Fatah victory can be engineered.

The danger facing Palestinians is acute. But let us be clear: it is not a threat of civil war. Among millions of ordinary Palestinians, whether under Israel's brutal occupation, living as second class citizens within the "Jewish state," or in forced exile, there is no disagreement remotely great enough that could get them to turn brother against brother and family against family in a civil war. On the contrary, Palestinians are united in their understanding of what afflicts them -- Israeli colonialism armed, backed and bankrolled by western powers. The danger is of an armed coup staged on behalf of these powers by a small minority, but which could drag more Palestinians into internecine fighting whose consequences are awful to contemplate.

Perhaps the most serious miscalculation Hamas has made is to underestimate the determination with which the results of democratic elections will be undermined and opposed if they do not suit the interests of Israel and other world powers. The reality is that the Palestinian Authority is not and has never been a government for the Palestinian people. The Palestinian Authority receives western backing only to the extent that it directly and exclusively serves their own and Israeli interests. It was designed to protect the Israeli occupation against its victims; no one will be permitted to turn it into a representative body that fights for the rights and interests of Palestinians. To avoid the lethal trap that is being set for them and the Palestinian people, Hamas will either have to sell out or get out.

Hamas has done the right thing by abandoning its campaign of suicide attacks on Israeli civilians, observing an ongoing voluntary truce and embracing politics. It should now abandon the effort to hold on to the wreckage of the powerless and discredited Oslo institutions. Instead, it should turn its considerable popularity, organizational skills and increased legitimacy into a full fledged campaign of civil resistance, mobilizing together with other sectors of Palestinian and global civil society against every aspect of Israeli colonialism and racism. This is the only thing it has not yet tried, and it holds out the best hope for a way out of the dark tunnel.

Fisk article

October 9, 2006

Double Standards of Morality

The Age of Terror


A few days after Lebanon's latest war came to an end, I went through many of the reporter's notebooks I have used in my last 30 years in the Middle East. Some contained the names of dead colleagues, others the individual stories of the suffering of Arabs and Kurds and Christians and Jews. One, dated 1991, is even splashed with a dark and viscous substance, the oil that came raining down on us from the skies over the Kuwaiti desert after Saddam blew up the wells of the Emirate. It was only after a few minutes that I realised what I was looking for: some hint, back in the days of dangerous innocence, of what was going to happen on 11 September 2001.

And sure enough, in one notebook, part of a transcript of an interview I gave in Toronto in the late 1990s, I see myself trying to discourage the Middle East optimism of my host. "There is an explosion coming in the Middle East," I tell him. What was this explosion I was talking about? I find myself writing almost the same thing a couple of years later in The Independent--I refer to "the explosion to come" without locating it in the Middle East at all. What was I talking about? And then, most disturbingly, I re-run parts of a film series I made with the late Michael Dutfield for Channel 4 and Discovery in 1993. Called From Beirut to Bosnia, it was billed as an attempt to record "Muslims growing anger towards the West."

In one sequence, I walk into a destroyed mosque in a Bosnian village called Cela. And I hear my voice on the soundtrack, saying: "When I see things like this, I think of the place I work, the Middle East... I wonder what the Muslim world has in store for us... Maybe I should end each of my reports with the words: 'Watch out!' " And when I checked back to my post-production notes, I find the dates of all our film sequences listed. I had walked into that Bosnian mosque, watched by Serb policemen, on 11 September 1993. My warning was exactly eight years too early.

I don't like journalists who, in middle age, start to pontificate morbidly about the wickedness of a world that should be full of love, or who rummage through old notebooks in search of pessimism. So I own up at once. Surely we don't have to be weighed down by the baggage of history, always looking backwards and holding up billboards with the "The End of the World is Nigh" written in black for readers too bored to look at the fine print. Yet when I sit on my seafront balcony today, I am waiting for the next explosion to come.

Beirut is a good place to reflect on the tragedy through which the Middle East is now inexorably moving. After all, the city has suffered so many horrors these past 31 years, it seems haunted by the mass graves that lie across the region, from Afghanistan to Iraq to "Palestine" and to Lebanon itself. And I look across the waters and see a German warship cruising past my home, part of Nato's contribution to stop gun-running into Lebanon under UN Security Council Resolution 1701. And then, I ask myself what the Germans could possibly be doing when no guns have ever been run to the Hizbollah guerrilla army from the sea. The weapons came through Syria, and Syria has a land frontier with the country and is to the north and east of Lebanon, not on the other side of the Mediterranean.

And then when I call on my landlord to discuss this latest, hopeless demonstration of Western power, he turns to me in some anger and says, "Yes, why is the German navy cruising off my home?" And I see his point. For we Westerners are now spreading ourselves across the entire Muslim world. In one form or another, "we"--"us", the West--are now in Khazakstan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Egypt, Algeria, Yemen, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Lebanon. We are now trapped across this vast area of suffering, fiercely angry people, militarily far more deeply entrenched and entrapped than the 12th-century crusaders who faced defeat at the battle of Hittin, our massive forces fighting armies of Islamists, suicide bombers, warlords, drug barons, and militias. And losing. The latest UN army in Lebanon, with its French and Italian troops, is moving in ever greater numbers to the south, young men and women who have already been threaten! ed by al-Qa'ida and who will, in three of four months, be hit by al-Qa'ida. Which is one reason why the French have been pallisading themselves into their barracks in southern Lebanon. There is no shortage of suicide bombers here, although it will be the Sunni -- not the Hizbollah-Shiite variety -- which will strike at the UN.

When will the bombers arrive? After further massacres in Iraq? After the Israelis cross the border again? After Israel--or the US--bombs Iran's nuclear facilities in the coming months? After someone in the northern city of Tripoli, perhaps, or in the Palestinian camps outside Sidon, decides he has seen too many Western soldiers trampling the lands of southern Lebanon, too many German warships off the coast, or heard too many mendacious statements of optimism from George W Bush or Tony Blair or Condoleezza Rice. "There will be no 'new' Middle East, Miss Rice," a new Hizbollah poster says south of Sidon. And the Hizbollah is right. The entire region is sinking deeper into bloodshed and all the time, over and over again, Bush and Blair tell us it is all getting much better, that we can all be heartened by the spread of non-existent democracies, that the dawn is rising on Condi's "new" Middle East. Are they really hoping that they can distort! the mirror of the world's reality with their words? There is a kind of new dawn rising in the lands from the old Indian empire to the tides of the Mediterranean. The only trouble is that it is blood red.

It is as if the Bushes and Blairs do not live on this planet any more. As my colleague Patrick Cockburn wrote recently, the enraging thing about Blair's constant optimism is that, to prove it all a pack of lies, a journalist has to have his throat cut amid the anarchy which Blair says does not exist. The Americans cannot protect themselves in Iraq, let alone the Iraqis, and the British have twice nearly been defeated in battles with the Taliban, and the Israeli army--counting it as part of the "West" for a moment -- were soundly thrashed when they crossed the border to fight the Hizbollah, losing 40 men in 36 hours. Yet still Blair delayed a ceasefire in Lebanon. And still--be certain of this--when the fire strikes us again, in London or New York or wherever, Blair and Bush will say that the attack has nothing to do with the Middle East, that Britain's enemies hate "our values" or our "way of life".

I once mourned the lack of titans in the modern world, the Roosevelts and the Churchills, blood-drenched though their century was. Blair and Bush, posing as wartime leaders, threatening the midget Hitlers around them, appear to have gone through a kind of "stasis", a psychological inability to grasp what they do not want to hear or what they do not want to be true. And they have lost the thread of history.

In the past, we--the "West"--could have post-war adventures abroad and feel safe at home. No North Korean tried to blow himself up on the London Tube in the 1950s. No Viet Cong ever arrived in Washington to assault the United States. We fought in Kenya and Malaya and Palestine and Suez and Yemen, but we felt safe in Gloucestershire. Perhaps the change came with the Algerian War of Independence when the bombers attacked in Paris and Lyons, or perhaps it came later when the IRA arrived to bomb London.

But it is a fact that "we" cannot take our armies and warships and tanks and helicopter gunships and para battalions for foreign wars and expect to be unhurt at home. This is the inescapable logic of history that Bush and Blair will not face, will not acknowledge, will not believe--will not even let us believe. All across the Middle East, we are locked in battle in our preposterous "war on terror" because "the world changed forever" on 11 September, even though I have said many times that we should not allow 19 murderers to change our world. So we live in a darker world of phone-taps and "terror plots" and underground CIA prisoners whose interrogators set about victims in secret, tearing to pieces the Geneva Conventions so painfully constructed after the Second World War.

And in a world betrayed. Remember all those promises we made to the Arabs about creating a wonderful new functioning democracy in Iraq whose example would be followed by other Middle East states? And remember our promise to honour the fledgling democracy of Lebanon, the famous "Cedars Revolution"--a title invented by the US State Department, so the Lebanese should have been suspicious--which brought the retreat of the Syrian army. Lebanon was then held up to be a future model for the Arab world. But once the Hizbollah crossed the frontier and seized two Israeli soldiers, killing three others on 12 July, we stood back and watched the Lebanese suffer. "If there is one thing this last war has convinced me of," a young Lebanese woman put it to me this month, "it is that the Lebanese are on their own. I can never trust a foreign promise again."

And this is true. For the direct result of the disastrous Israeli campaign has been to turn the Hizbollah into heroes of the Arab--indeed the Muslim--world, to break apart the fragile political stability established by the Lebanese prime minister, Fouad Siniora, and to have Hizbollah's leader, Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, declare a "divine victory" and demand a "national unity" government which, if it comes about, will be pro-Syrian. The language now being used in Lebanon by the country's political leaders is approaching the incendiary, lethal grammar of pre-civil war Lebanon.

Samir Geagea, the Christian ex-militia commander, brought out tens of thousands of supporters to jeer at Nasrallah. "They demand a strong state but how can a strong state be built with a statelet in its midst?" Geagea demanded to know after the Hizbollah suddenly announced that it has no intention of handing over its weapons. Indeed, Nasrallah is now boasting that he still has 20,000 missiles in southern Lebanon, a claim which led the Druze leader, Walid Jumblatt, to abuse Nasrallah as a creature of Syria--there is speculation over the depth of his relationship with Damascus but his arms certainly come from Iran--and to say to him: "Sayed Nasrallah, rest your mind, I will not reach an agreement with you. When you separate yourself from the Syrian leadership, I will possibly hold a dialogue with you." Thus two more paper-thin links--between Lebanon's Druze community and the Christians and the larger population of Shiite Muslims--have bee! n broken. And that is how civil wars start.

Had Bush--indeed Blair -- denounced Israel's claim that it held the Lebanese government responsible for the kidnapping and killing of its soldiers, and demanded an immediate ceasefire, then the disaster that is destroying Lebanon's democracy would not have happened. But no, Bush and Blair let the bloodshed go on and postponed hopes of a ceasefire for the Lebanese upon whom they had lavished so much praise a year ago. Just last week, the Lebanese recovered the bodies of five more children under the rubble of the Sidon Vocational Training Centre in Tyre. Ali Alawiah identified his children Aya, Zeinab and Hussein and his nephews Battoul and Abbas. All would have been alive if even Blair and Margaret Beckett had demanded a ceasefire. But they are dead. And Blair and Beckett and Bush should have this on their conscience.

The fact they don't speaks sorrowfully of our double standard of morality. Almost all Lebanon's 1,300 dead--which comes close to half the total of the World Trade Centre murders--were civilians. But we don't care for them as we do our own "kith and kin". This is the same sickness that pervades our policies in Iraq where we never counted the number of civilians killed, only the tally of our precious soldiers who died there.

How did we come to be infected by this virus of negligence and betrayal? Does it really go back to the Crusades or the ramblings of Spanish Christians of the 15th century--whose portrayals of the Prophet Mohamed were infinitely more obscene than Denmark's third-rate cartoonist--or to the vicious anti-Muslim ravings of long-forgotten Popes who seem to obsess the present incumbent of the Vatican? I am still uncertain what Benedict meant by his quotation of the old man of Byzantium--while I am equally suspicious of his almost equally insulting remarks at Auschwitz where he blamed Nazi Germany's cruelty on a mere "gang of criminals". But then again, this is a Pope--anti-divorce, anti-homosexual and, once, anti-aircraft--who has signally failed to follow John Paul II's devotions on the need for the seed of Abraham to acknowledge the love they should show to each other.

This failure to see the Other as the same as "us" is now evident across the Middle East. Some months ago, I received letters originally written to his family by a young Marine officer in Iraq who was trying--eloquently, I have to add--to explain how frustrating his work with Iraqis had become. "There is something culturally childish in their understanding of Western governance and management that will require immeasurable education and probably several generations to overcome if they find it of any interest," he wrote. "Our understanding of their tribal governance and its relationship to formal civil management is equally naÔve and charges our frustration... The reality is that they cannot, culturally, comprehend our altruism or believe our stated intentions... Liberation will compete with invasion as our legacy but locally we are ideologically irrelevant... I share the American fascination with action and it has consistently betrayed us ! in our foreign policy."

The reality in Iraq is summed up by the same American Marine officer's description of the building of the Ramadi glass factory, a story that shows just how vacuous all the stories of our "success" there are. "The Division has poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into a glass factory. It does not work. It will take millions of dollars to rehabilitate and modernise. There are supposed to be 2,500 Iraqis employed there but they have nothing to do and no more than 100 arrive on any given day to sit in their offices as new computers and furniture are delivered with our compliments... It is like walking through a fictional business that physically exists. It may be Kafka's revenge. Most rooms are empty but are still preserved as they had been under a layer of dust. Some areas hold a man at a desk in a stark room too large for him. It is like Pompeii being slowly reoccupied, as if nothing had happened. I stood on a tall mound of broken glass ou! tside. Shards of window panes shattered in the process of manufacturing them. The windows of the city were poured and cut here once... This glass was made from sand, desert made invisible until exposed by reflection. The bright sunlight makes little impression on the pile due to a dull coating of dust but the fragments fracture further and slide beneath my feet with the sound of ruin. Walking on windows and unable to see the ground." Could there be a more Conradian description of the failure of the American empire in Iraq?

And does it not echo a remark that TE Lawrence--Lawrence of Arabia--made of Iraq in the 1920s: "Do not try to do too much with your own hands. Better the Arabs do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly... Actually, also, under the very odd conditions of Arabia, your practical work may not be as good as, perhaps, you think."

A different kind of alienation, of course, is reflected in our dispute with Iran. "We" think that its government wants to make nuclear weapons--in six months, according to the Israelis; in 10 years, according to some nuclear analysts. But no one asks if "we" didn't help to cause this "nuclear" crisis. For it was the Shah who commenced Iran's nuclear power programme in 1973 and Western companies were shoulder-hopping each other in their desire to sell him nuclear reactors and enrichment technology. Siemens, for example, started to build the Bushehr reactor. And the Shah was regularly interviewed on Western television stations where he said that he didn't see why Iran shouldn't have nuclear weapons when America and the Soviets had them. And we had no objection to the ambitions of "our" Policeman of the Gulf.

And when Ayatollah Khomeini's Islamic revolution engulfed Iran, what did he do? He called the nuclear programme "the work of the devil" and closed it down. It was only when Saddam Hussein invaded Iran the following year and began showering Iran with missiles and chemical weapons--an invasion supported by "us"--that the clerical regime decided they may have to use nuclear weapons against Iraq and reopened the complex. In other words, it was the West which supported Iran's original nuclear programme and it was closed by the chief divine of George Bush's "axis of evil" and then reopened when the West stood behind Saddam (in the days when he was "our strongman" rather than our caged prisoner in a dying state).

The greater irony, of course, is that if we were really concerned about the spread of nuclear technology among Muslim states, we would be condemning Pakistan, most of whose cities are in a state of almost Iraqi anarchy and whose jolly dictator now says he was threatened with being "bombed back to the Stone Age" by the Americans if he didn't sign up to the "war on terror". Now it happens that Pakistan is infinitely more violent than Iran and it also happens that it was a close Pakistani friend of the Pakistani President- General Pervez Musharraf--a certain scientist called Abdul Qadeer Khan--who actually gave solid centrifuge components to Iran. But all that has been taken out of the story. And so they will remain out of the narrative because Pakistan already has a bomb and may use it if someone decided to create a new Stone Age in that former corner of the British empire.

But all this raises a more complex question. Are we really going to carry on arguing for years--for generation after generation of crisis--over who has or doesn't have nuclear technology or the capacity to build a bomb? Are "we" forever going to decide who may have a bomb on the basis of his obedience to us--Mr Musharraf now being a loyal Pakistani shah--or his religion or how many turbans are worn by ministers in the government. Are we still going to be doing this in 2007 or 2107 or 3006?

What I suspect lies behind much of our hypocrisy in the Middle East is that Muslims have not lost their faith and we have. It's not just that religion governs their lives, it is the fact that they have kept the faith--and that is why we try to hide that we have lost it by talking about Islam's "difficulty with secularism". We are the good liberals who wish to bestow the pleasures of our Enlightenment upon the rest of the world, although, to the Muslim nations, this sounds more like our desire to invade them with different cultures and traditions and--in some cases--different religions.

And Muslims have learnt to remember. I still recall an Iraqi friend, shaking his head at my naivety when I asked if there was not any cup of generosity to be bestowed on the West for ridding Iraqis of Saddam's presence. "You supported him," he replied. "You supported him when he invaded Iran and we died in our tens of thousands. Then, after the invasion of Kuwait, you imposed sanctions that killed tens of thousands of our children. And now you reduce Iraq to anarchy. And you want us to be grateful?"

And I recalled seeing a train load of gassed Iranian soldiers on the way to Tehran, coughing up mucus and blood into stained handkerchiefs and coughing up the gas too because I suddenly smelled a kind of dirty perfume and walked down the train opening all the windows. I saw their vast wobbling blisters upon which ever-smaller blisters would form, one on top of the other. And where did this filthy stuff come from, this real weapon of mass destruction Saddam was using? Components came from Germany and from the US. No wonder US Lieutenant Rick Francona noted indifferently in a report to the Pentagon that the Iraqis had drenched Fao in gas when he visited the battlefield during the war. So do we expect the Iranians to be grateful that we eventually toppled Saddam?

Needless to say, the division between Shias and Sunnis--especially in Iraq--can reach stages of cruelty not seen since the European Protestant-Catholic wars; nor, in this context, should we forget the conflict we are still trying to control in Northern Ireland. Islam as a society, rather than a religion, does have to face the "West"; it must find, in the words of that fine former Iranian president Mohamad Khatami, a "civil society". And it is outrageous that Muslims have not condemned the slaughter in Darfur or, indeed, in Iraq and, one might add, on the battlefields of the Iran-Iraq war where one and a half million Muslims killed each other over almost eight years. Self-criticism is not in great supply across the Muslim world where, of course, our spirited Western political conflicts and elections sometimes look like self-flagellation.

As for our desire to award the Muslim Middle East with "our" democratic systems, it's not just in Lebanon that we have proved to be much less enthusiastic about its existence in the Arab world. The former US ambassador to Iraq--once he realised the Shiites would join the Sunni resistance if they did not have elections, for democracy was originally not going to be America's gift there--accepted a dominant role for Muslim clerics in the government, thus ensuring discrimination against women in marriage, divorce and inheritance.

When Daniel Fried, the US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs visited Paris last year, he lectured European and Arab diplomats on what he called "the US-European imperative to support democratic reform and democratic reformers in the Middle East"--forgetting, it seems, that just such a man, Khatami, existed in Iran but had been snubbed by the US. His failure as a genuinely elected president produced his somewhat cracked successor. Fried, however, insisted that bringing democracy to the Middle East "is not for us a question of political theory, but of central strategic importance", something that clearly didn't matter less than a year later in Lebanon and certainly not when the Palestinians participated in genuine elections, of which more later.

Fried took the risky step of quoting the French historian Alexis de Tocqueville to back his claim that democracy, far from being a fragile flower, was "robust, and its applicability is potentially universal". The former French foreign minister, Hubert VÈdrine, was invited to reply to respond to Fried's words and he cynically spoke of "people who have historical experience, who have seen how past experiences turned out", the subtext of which was: "You Americans have no sense of history." VÈdrine spoke of meeting with Madeleine Albright when she was the US Foreign Secretary. "I told her we had no problem regarding the objective of democracy, but I asked whether it was a process, or a religious conversion, like Saint Paul on the road to Damascus." And he quoted the Mexican writer, Octavio Pas: "Democracy is not like NescafÈ, you don't just add water." For historical reasons, VÈdrine told Fried, "Beca! use of colonialism, the Middle East is the region of the world where external intervention is most at risk of being rejected."

And when it is imposed, as America says it would like to do in Damascus, what will happen? A nice, flourishing electoral process to put Syrians in power or another descent into Iraqi-style horrors with a Sunni-Muslim regime in place in Damascus?

And so to "Palestine"--the inverted commas are more important than ever today--and its own act of democracy. Of course, the Palestinians elected the wrong people, Hamas, and had to suffer for it. Democratic Israel would not accept the results of Palestine's democratic elections and the Europeans joined with America in placing sanctions against the newly elected government unless it recognised Israel and all agreements signed with Israel since the Camp David accords of the 1970s. Even when Ariel Sharon was staging his withdrawal of 8,500 settlers from Gaza last year, he was shifting 12,000 more settlers into the West Bank, and George W Bush had effectively accepted this illegality by talking of the "realities" of the Jewish settlements still being enlarged there. And that was the end of UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 upon which the "peace process" was supposed to be based--Israeli w! ithdrawal from territories occupied in the 1967 Middle East war, in return for the security of all states in the area.

One of the few honourable American statesmen to grasp what this portends is ex-President Jimmy Carter, who wrote after the Palestinian elections in May this year that "innocent Palestinian people are being treated like animals, with the presumption that they are guilty of some crime. Because they voted for candidates who are members of Hamas, the US government has become the driving force behind an apparently effective scheme of depriving the general public of income, access to the outside world and the necessities of life... The additional restraints imposed on the new government are a planned and deliberate catastrophe for the citizens of the occupied territories, in hopes that Hamas will yield to the economic pressure." Oh, for the years of the Carter administration...

And now we have the wall--or the "fence" as too many journalists gutlessly call it. The Palestinians went to the International Court in the Hague to have it declared illegal because much of its course runs through their land. The court said it was illegal. And Israel ignored the court's decision and, once more, the US supported Israel. Here was another lesson for the Palestinians. They went peacefully--without violence or "terrorism"--to our Western institutions to get justice. And we were powerless to help them because Israel rejected this symbol of Western freedoms.

Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister whose Lebanese bombardment was such a catastrophe, still says that the wall is only temporary, as if it might be shifted back to the original frontiers of Israel. But if it is only temporary, it can also be moved forward to take in more Jewish settlements on Arab land, colonies which, it must be noted, are illegal under international law. Olmert says he wants to draw "permanent borders" unilaterally--which is against the spirit of Camp David which Hamas is now supposed to abide by.

And how does US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice respond to this? Well, try this for wriggle room. "I wouldn't on the face of it just say absolutely we don't think there's any value in what the Israelis are talking about." And if the US does recognise--which it will--unilaterally fixed borders of the kind proposed by Olmert, it will sanction the permanent annexation of up to 10 per cent of the Arab territory seized in 1967, contrary to all previous US policy and to the International Court. All this, of course, is part of the new flouting of international laws which the US--and increasingly Israel--now regards as its right since the world "changed forever" on 11 September, 2001.

Remarkably, however, the US still believes that it is increasingly loathed in the Arab world not because of its policies but because its policies are not being presented fairly. It's not a political problem, it's a public-relations problem. Curiously, that is what Israel thought when accused of killing too many Lebanese during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. What we do is right. We're just not selling it right. Hence, the appointment of Karen Hughes as US "Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy". Her line is straight to the point. "I try to portray the facts in the best light for our country," she said after her appointment. "Because I believe we're a wonderful country and that we are doing things across the world."

The columnist Roger Cohen placed her problem in a nutshell. The problem are the facts. And they include the fact that, in the 65-year period between 1941 and 2006, the US has been at war in some form or another for all but 14 of them. And people around the world have got tired of this. They got tired of America's insatiable need for an enemy--and suspicious of all the talk of democracy, freedom and morality in which every war was cast. They stopped buying the US narrative. Hughes says that the vision followed by bin Laden's followers "is a mission of destruction and death; ours a message of life and opportunity." Well, yes. "If only it were that simple," Cohen wrote.

At that Paris meeting with Fried, VÈdrine won almost all the arguments, not that Fried realised it. VÈdrine pleaded with the Americans to exercise caution in the Middle East. "We don't know how things are going to turn out in Afghanistan, Iraq or Egypt," he said presciently. "This is a high-risk process, like transporting nitroglycerine. You talk about an alliance; if there is an alliance, it must not be an ideological alliance, but an alliance of surgeons, of professionals, of chemists specialised in explosive substances. If we set out to do this, it will take 20 or 30 years, far longer than the second Bush administration."

But the US Marines and the 82 Airborne are not surgeons or chemists. They are losing control of lands they thought they had conquered or "liberated". Iraq is already out of control. So is much of Afghanistan. Palestine looks set to go the same way and Lebanon is in danger of freefall. A series of letters in The New York Times in April this year suggested that ordinary US citizens grasp the "democratic" argument better than their leaders. "Democracy cannot be easily imposed on people who are not prepared to accept it," one wrote. "Democracy cannot be exported," wrote another. "Changing a political culture happens only if the people embrace it. Iraqi society is too traumatised by the history of Saddam Hussein and the war to do more than survive both at this point." Spot on.

It may well be that journalists in the "West" should feel a burden of guilt for much that has happened because they have, with their gullibility, helped to sell US actions much more effectively than Karen Hughes. Their constant references to a "fence" instead of a wall, to "settlements" or "neighbourhoods" instead of colonies, their description of the West Bank as "disputed" rather than occupied, has bred a kind of slackness in reporting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Just as it did in Iraq when so many reporters from the great Western newspapers and TV stations used US ambassador Bremer's laughable description of the ferocious insurgents as "dead-enders" or "remnants"--the same phrase still being used by our colleagues in Kabul in reference to a distinctly resurgent Taliban which is being helped--despite General Musharraf's denials--by the Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI.

Much worse, however, is the failure to enquire into the real policies of governments. Why, for example, was there no front-page treatment of this year's Herzliya conference, Israel's most important policy-making jamboree? Most of the important figures in the Israeli government--they had yet to be elected--were in attendance. The conference was the place where Ehud Olmert first suggested handing over slices of the West Bank: "The choice between allowing Jews to live in all parts of the land of Israel"--the "land of Israel" in this context included the West Bank--"and living in a state with a Jewish majority mandate giving up part of the land of Israel. We cannot continue to control parts of the territories where most of the Palestinians live."

However, most speakers agreed that the Palestinians would be given a state on whatever is left after the huge settlements had been included behind the wall. Benjamin Netanyahu even suggested the wall should be moved deeper into the West Bank. But the implications were obvious. A Palestinian state will be allowed, but it will not have a capital in east Jerusalem nor any connection between Gaza and the bits of the West Bank that are handed over. So there will be no peace, and the words "Palestinian" and "terrorist" will, again, be inextricably linked by Israel and the US.

There were articles in the Israeli press about Herzliya, including one by Sergio Della Pergola in which he warned of the "menace" to Israel of Palestinian birth rates and advised that "if the demographic tie doesn't come in 2010, it will come in 2020." Earlier conferences have discussed the possible need for the revoking of the citizenship rights of some Israeli Arabs. Already this year, Haaretz has reported an opinion poll in which 68 per cent of Israeli Jews said they would refuse to live in the same building as an Arab--26 per cent would agree to do so--and 46 per cent of Israeli Jews said they would refuse to allow an Arab to visit their home. The inclination toward segregation rose as the income level of the respondents dropped--as might be expected--and there was no poll of Palestinian opinion, though the Palestinians might be able to point out that tens of thousands of Israelis already ! do live on their land in the huge colonies across the West Bank, most of which will remain, illegally, in Israeli hands.

All these details are available in the Arab press--and of course, the Israeli press, but are largely absent from our own. Why? Even when Norman Finkelstein wrote a damning academic report on the way Israel's High Court of Justice "proved" the wall--deemed illegal by the Hague -- was legal, it was virtually ignored in the West. So, for that matter, was the US academics' report on the power of the Israeli lobby, until the usual taunts of "anti-Semitism" forced the American mainstream to write about it, albeit in a shifty, frightened way.

There are so many other examples of our fear of Middle Eastern truth. Our soft handling of Hosni Mubarak's increasingly autocratic regime in Egypt is typical. So is reporting of Algeria now that British governments are prepared to deport refugees home on the grounds that they no longer face arrest and torture. But arrest and torture continue in Algeria. Its recent amnesty poll effectively immunises all members of the security services involved in torture and makes it a crime to oppose the amnesty.

Is this really the best that we journalists can do? Save for the indefatigable Seymour Hersh, there are still no truly investigative correspondents in the US press. But challenging authority should not be that difficult. No one is being asked to end the straightforward reporting of Arab tyrannies. We are still invited to ask--and should ask--why the Muslim world has produced so many dictatorships, most of them supported by "us". But there are too many dark corners into which we will not look. Where, for example, are the CIA's secret torture prisons? I know two reporters who are aware of the locations. But they are silent, no doubt in the interests of "national security".

This reluctance to confront unpleasant truths diminishes the reader or viewer for whom Middle East reporting in the US media is almost incomprehensible to anyone who does not know the region. It also has its trickle-down effects even in theatres, universities and schools in America. The case of the play about Rachel Corrie--the young US activist twice run over by an Israeli bulldozer while trying to prevent the demolition of Palestinian homes--taken off the New York stage was one of the more deplorable of these. I was also surprised in the Bronx to find that Fieldston, a private school in Riverdale--was forced to cancel a college meeting with two Palestinian lecturers when parents objected to the absence of an Israeli on the panel. The fact that Israeli speakers were to be invited later made no difference. The school's principal later announced that the meeting would "not be appropriate given t! he sensitivity and complexity of the issue". Complex problems are supposed to be explained. But this could not be explained because, well, it was too complex and--the truth--would upset the usual Israeli lobbyists.

So there we go again. Freedom of speech is a precious commodity but just how precious I found out for myself when I addressed the American University of Beirut after receiving an honorary degree there this summer. I made my usual points about the Bush administration and the growing dangers of the Middle East only to find that a US diplomat in Beirut was condemning me in front of Lebanese friends for being allowed to criticise the Bush administration in a college which receives US government money.

And so on we go with the Middle East tragedy, telling the world that things are getting better when they are getting worse, that democracy is flourishing when it is swamped in blood, that freedom is not without "birth pangs" when the midwife is killing the baby.

It's always been my view that the people of this part of the Earth would like some of our democracy. They would like a few packets of human rights off our supermarket shelves. They want freedom. But they want another kind of freedom--freedom from us. And this we do not intend to give them. Which is why our Middle East presence is heading into further darkness. Which is why I sit on my balcony and wonder where the next explosion is going to be. For, be sure, it will happen. Bin Laden doesn't matter any more, alive or dead. Because, like nuclear scientists, he has invented the bomb. You can arrest all of the world's nuclear scientists but the bomb has been made. Bin Laden created al-Qa'ida amid the matchwood of the Middle East. It exists. His presence is no longer necessary.

And all around these lands are a legion of young men preparing to strike again, at us, at our symbols, at our history. And yes, maybe I should end all my reports with the words: Watch out!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

"7.6" film

Last term I was involved with earthquake relief and awareness on my campus. Praise to God, we did quite well. We raised funds, had a really successful awareness dinner, and did various things throughout second semester. It was also good because we worked with other groups as well.
I think next time, if I'm going to do something like that again, I'm going to work on getting a core group of people to help me. Also, I should have focused on doing only 2 or 3 big events. Instead we had about 5 or 6. I learned to concentrate my efforts. Nevertheless it was overwhelmingly a good and positive experience.

I basically didn't blog while I was in NYC. Well, through amusing circumstances, I got involved with a bunch of people who formed an NGO called Foundation of Young Intellectuals. Basically their film "7.6" is about the impact the earthquake that happened in South Asia, exactly a year ago, affected children. They filmed kids painting about their experiences. I really liked the idea of the film, and so I signed on. As an intern, of course.

They are premiering it today at the South Asian International Film Festival. Of course I couldn't be there. I wish these guys all the best on this project and future ones. Honestly they were a really good bunch of people to work with and get to know; I was only with them for a few weeks but it was really great. I got to experience what real independent New York filmmaking is like, and how much these guys had to work - literally around the clock.

Thank God for Alison Weir

From counterpunch.org:

October 6, 2006

Gunning Down Itemad Ismail Abu Mo'ammar

Just Another Mother Murdered


Almost no one bothered to report it. A search of the nation's largest newspapers turned up nothing in USA Today, the Boston Globe, Boston Herald, Chicago Sun-Times, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, San Francisco Chronicle, Seattle Times, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Houston Chronicle, Tampa Tribune, etc.

There was nothing on CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, PBS, NPR, Fox News. Nothing.

The LA Times, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and Associated Press each had one sentence, at most, telling about her. All three left out the details, the LA Times had her age significantly off, and the Washington Post reported that she had been killed by an Israeli tank shell.

It hadn't been a tank shell that had killer her, according to witnesses. It had been bullets, multiple ones, fired up close.

Neighbors report that Israeli soldiers had been beating her husband because he wasn't answering their questions. Foolishly or valiantly, how is one to say, the 35-year-old woman had interfered. She tried to explain that her husband was deaf, screamed at the soldiers that her husband couldn't hear them and attempted to stop them from hitting him. So they shot her. Several times.

Her name was Itemad Ismail Abu Mo'ammar.

She didn't die, though. That took longer. It required her life to flow out of her in the form of blood for several hours, as Israeli soldiers refused to allow an ambulance to transport her to help. Her husband and children could do nothing to save her.

Finally, after approximately five hours, an ambulance was allowed to take her to a hospital, where physicians were able to render one service: pronounce her dead, a few days before the commencement of Ramadan, a season of family gatherings much like the Christmas season for Americans. She left 11 children. None of this was in the Washington Post story, which had reported her death in one half of one sentence.

Her husband's brother, who lived in the same house, was also killed. He was a 28-year-old farmer.

Why did this all happen? The family lived behind a resistance fighter wanted by Israel. They were simply "collateral damage" in a failed Israeli assassination/kidnapping operation.

All together, five Palestinians were killed that day. The other three were young shepherds killed in another area, two 15 years old and one 14, who seem to have simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Gaza.

None of this was reported in most of America's news media, and so the American public never learned about a mother bleeding to death in front of her children, or young shepherds being blown to pieces. Apparently, it just wasn't newsworthy.

A Case Study of "Good" News Coverage

The Washington Post at least mentioned these deaths, so perhaps those who care about journalistic standards should laud the Post for its coverage.

And yet, the Post in its short report got so much so wrong.

In addition to misreporting Itemad's cause of death and omitting critical facts, the Post's story portrayed the entire context incorrectly, telling readers that these five deaths had broken a period of "relative calm."

The fact is that while it was true that in the previous six months not a single Israeli child had been killed by Palestinians, during this period Israelis had killed 75 Palestinian young people, including an 8-month-old and several three-year-olds.

I phoned the Post and spoke to a foreign editor about the need to run a correction, providing information on Itemad's murder. The editor said that she would pass this on to their correspondent (who is based in Israel), but explained that it was "impossible for him to go to Gaza." When I disagreed, she amended the "impossible" to "very difficult." She neglected to mention that the Post has access to stringers in Gaza available to check out any incident the editors deem important.

Next, I wrote a letter to the paper containing the above information. Happily, the Post letters department apparently checked it out and decided it was a good letter. They sent an email informing me that they were considering my letter for publication and needed to confirm that I was the one who had written it, and that I had not sent the information elsewhere.

I replied in the affirmative, we exchanged a few more messages, and everything appeared on target. Normally, when publications contact you in this way, your letter is published shortly thereafter. I waited in anticipation. And waited.

It is now almost two weeks after their report, and I have just been informed that the paper has decided not to print my letter. The Post has apparently determined that there is no need to run a correction.

I think I understand.

Although the Washington Post's statement of principles proclaims, "This newspaper is pledged to minimize the number of errors we make and to correct those that occur... Accuracy is our goal; candor is our defense," the American Society of Newspaper Editors clarifies these ethical requirements: corrections need only be printed when the error of commission or omission is "significant."

And, after all, these were only Palestinians, and it was just another mother dead.

Alison Weir is Executive Editor of If Americans Knew, which has produced in-depth studies and illustrative videos on American news coverage of Israel-Palestine.