Saturday, January 31, 2009

Policy recommendation

If you believe in miracles, then the overnight transformation of Jaafari and Maliki into reformers and secular nationalists respectively will present you with no particular difficulties.

On a different scale, if you believe in the redemptive power of America, then the fact that a corrupt two-party political system has produced an administration dedicated to fundamental change will seem the most natural thing in the world.

Or that state-racist belligerence can be neutered by the power of wishing that it were so.

It is the times we live in, and it is a powerful story that has again taken hold of Americans--the story of redemption and the healing power of Western institutions and Western goodwill. Leading to these miraculous transformations.

If you look at the stories propounded by the Western experts, you will see that the story of inexorable American-backed redemption and reform is generally the guiding theme--and the inconsistent details relegated to "sub-plots". Here is International Crisis Group talking about the Iraqi elections:
Subplots abound....Yet, the current experiment in democracy holds promise. A new generation of politicians, born through grassroots support in the electoral process and bred in councils given new prerogatives, may start to graduate to national office – if not as soon as the parliamentary elections that are tentatively scheduled for late 2009, then surely in four years’ time and onward.
Nowhere do they mention the views of AlAkhbar reporter Zaid AlZubaidi and others to the effect that anti-sectarianism is merely "this season's fashion", and the Iraqi system will revert to hardcore sectarianism once the electoral process has been used and manipulated to "shuffle the cards and shuffle off the responsibility for the catastrophic failures"...of the last four years. You'd think it was a hypothesis worth considering, but the problem is that it runs directly counter to the story of American-facilitated progress and reform, and we can't have that. Best to keep the status quo and propound a story of eventual progress.

Then there is the Obama change-we-can-believe-in story, about which the less said the better. Except perhaps to note that although the expert explainers admit that "subplots abound", still the hypothesis that this is merely another manifestation of "this season's fashion" is not allowed, either in the corporate media or among the "progressives".

And of course there is Israel, where already the experts are plunging into the labyrinth of "peace negotiations" between Arab tyrants and collaborators on one side, and a belligerent state that is between apartheit and fascism on the other, and yet the hypothesis of working for the de-Zionization of that state, and the establishment of a single state with equal rights for everyone, is either ignored or roundly rejected. The aim is very simple: Status quo, albeit with many sub-plots.

What a lot of people think they see in all of these cases is change, democratization, a process leading to stable peace. The other hypothesis is that what people think they see is an illusion: The American-instituted sectarian system in Iraq will end up being reinforced; America's prioritization of military force in Afghanistan/Pakistan and elsewhere will also be reinforced, keeping military considerations on the front burner; and American support for the Zionists will continue to ensure that the region remains in turmoil from that side too.

Theoretically one could argue the two sides. But the fact of the matter is that practically all discussions in English leave out the second hypothesis altogether, and deal only what is described above as the "subplots"--subplots on the way to a better world under American leadership. The more you read other languages, the more you will see the other side of the story.

So my recommendation for domestic policy is a much more radical focus on education than is being proposed anywhere. Starting with a recognition of the existing damage and the potential future damage that can be done by a nation with the greatest destructive power in history, coupled with the brains and the narrowness of understanding that come from our ancient myths of self-righteousness.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Israel election issue: Fascism

This op-ed, by Yossi Sarid, appeared on the Haaretz English-language website earlier today. It doesn't seem to be on their main page any more, so here it is in its entirely, in case you missed it.

(Recall, among other things, that Yisrael Beiteinu is proposing a measure to strip "disloyal" Arab citizens of their citizenship, something that has as its model a 1935 Nazi law).

Centrists must unite to block fascist Lieberman's march on J'lem
By Yossi Sarid

Twin demons scuttle within us - the ethnic demon and the nationalist one. In the current elections, the nationalist has the upper hand.

Lieberman's campaign broadcasts convey one message - "we, the patriotic Jews, will beat the Arabs to a pulp" - and it's working. Haaretz's poll Thursday put Yisrael Beiteinu ahead of Labor and in third place among the parties. Haider is dead in Austria and living in Israel.

Who will lie on the road to stop fascism's advance to conquer Jerusalem? Netanyahu? What, is he crazy? Lieberman is his historic, natural ally. The Likud list itself boasts several Liebermans, even if they're called Feiglins.

Will Livni stop it? "We can work with Lieberman," she said Thursday.

Wasn't it Kadima that joined Labor that joined Yisrael Beiteinu in an attempt to bury Israel's Arab citizens' representatives outside democracy's fence?

After the Arabs, it will be the turn of other "undesirables" - a great many of them.

Will Barak stop it? He who is determined to be defense minister in any government, no matter which?

The nationalist-fascist advance can be halted only if all centrist political forces block its path and rip the Judeo-patriotic mask from its face.

If only little Meretz among all the Zionist parties is trying to stop this, then the cause is lost. The day is fast approaching when the country will be painted Fascist brown.

A fixed, familiar prescription has been used to prepare the ground and hearts for this: Take the frustration of chronic persecution, add anxiety from an economic crisis and unemployment, sprinkle it with an aggressive criminal personality, mix well - and there's your poisonous potion.

Despite the yawning and attacks of nausea, please watch the broadcasts Saturday and judge for yourself:

Can any democracy drink this poison and not sell its soul to the devil?


NYT: Early Voting in Iraq is mostly smooth. In a way, that is unquestionably true. Here's an example.

A source in the Iraqi citizenship directorate told AlArab there was fraud in the special elections that were held on Wednesday. The source, who preferred not to have his actual name mentioned, but who is an officer with the rank of Major, said: "We were asked to provide special authentication documents [probably meaning powers of attorney or something like that], both those of us who are members of the general citizenship directorate and those in the subordinate agencies. And after we provided those documents that was the end of it, and we were not asked to go to any polling place to cast our votes. " The source added: "All members of the directorate in Baghdad are frustrated and in turmoil. We notified the director of the general citizenship directorate Yasin al-Yasiri, but he did not budge. Then a group of members undertook to notify some of the international press, but their response was that we should carry out a demonstration in which we repeated these facts. What prevents us from demonstrating is the authority of the director of citizenship, by which he is able to bring any charges, because he belongs to a bloc that has a special weight in the government, and it is the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution, led by Abdulaziz alHakim. [The source] concluded that their votes--and there were about 3000--were sold to that bloc.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Nahr al Barid

The people of Nahr alBarid camp in northern Lebanon near Tripoli, mostly Palestinian refugee families going back to the 1948 nakba, found their houses destroyed when they were finally allowed to return to the camp 40 days after the end of the recent "war" between the Lebanese army and Fatah al-Islam, but the government assured them there would be reconstruction.

On January 16, when they were expecting from the government the issuance of a land-holding map as an initial reconstruction step, what they learned was that instead of that the Lebanese cabinet had approved establishment of a naval base in a location either on the lands of the camp, or right next to it.

On January 23, the people of Nahr alBarid camp wrote a petition* to cabinet complaining about the location of the naval base, and the lack of progress on reconstruction. Following publication of that in the newspapers Al-Akhbar and Al-Safir, the Minister of Dialogue issued a reply that said the naval base was to be sited, not on camp land, but on landfill using rubble removed from the destroyed camp.

He said a naval base was being established in that location as part of the extension of Lebanese sovereignty to all parts of the country, but in particular he added this:
The northern region could be a candidate for oil-drilling in the future, and perhaps it is part of the national thinking that starting now, there should be measures to ensure the protection of facilities or platforms that could exist offshore there.
(He didn't mention anything about proximity to a Syrian port used by the Russian navy; or to the Qleiat airport, subject of recent rumors about conversion to an important NATO airbase).

When, on Jan 16, the government approved the plan for a naval base at Nahr al-Barid, it also issued a statement of solidarity with the people of Gaza, under attack from Israel. The people of Nahr al-Barid mentioned this in their petition, and they said maybe the government is not aware of the fact that the conditions they have imposed on Nahr al-Barid (not in so many words, admittedly) are very similar to the conditions Israel imposes on Gaza.

The camp is surrounded by concrete walls with barbed wire (see map attached to the petition at the above link); there is a burdensome system of permits and one-by-one checkpoint-approval for anyone going in or exiting from the camp; the commercial life of the camp is strangled not only by the difficulty of getting in and out by residents, but also by the even greater difficulty of Lebanese neighbours getting in, something that makes any commercial enterprise in the camp economically impossible; not to mention social isolation; and so on. The petition called attention to the fact that the naval base, would be on or next to the lands of the UNRWA shools and adjoining soccer field, obviously both important social institutions. The petition called for a review of all of the military manifestations in the camp (fences, permit-system, checkpoints, naval-base siting, the whole package), and as is obvious from the Minister's reply, that isn't going to happen.

There was another interesting point in the Minister's reply. He said investigations had shown that some of the smuggling of "weapons and goods" into the camp had been done by sea, so establishing naval control of the coastline at that location was in the security interests of the camp residents and Lebanese citizens generally.

While the Israeli blockade of Gaza is obviously the most extreme case imaginable, it is interesting to note what the people of Nahr al-Barid are saying: that the ramifications of the military-security first principle is very similar in the two cases.
You [Lebanese government authorities] are supporters and you speak out against the siege of Gaza and the mad war that has been launched against it. Why then do you not support this people in Lebanon by permitting them an honorable life without military restrictions, and without laws that prevent activity, and prevent [land] ownership [by Palestinians] and ownerhip-succession to our children?
The petition goes on:
We have believed that we were partners, and we rejected the conspiracy theory that says the destruction of the camp was for the purpose of establishing naval and land military bases. But all we have to go on is what we can read from the overall picture that is now before us, in the difficult and inhuman and degrading reality tht we are living.
Asad abuKhalil will tell you about the existence of Lebanese semi-official racism or sectarianism vis-a-vis Palestinians as a factor behind all of this. What I do not understand is this: Given the predictable results of state-racism policies in a number of places--and Nahr al Barid is surely one of them--although Israel is obviously the leading case in the world today, why is it that American liberals, progressives, center-leftists and what have you are taking such an aggressive position against attacking the problem at its base and at its root cause?


*H/t RoadstoIraq

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A play in less than one act

curtain rises on a bare stage, two individuals, one of them in a harsh, unforgiving light

Can you feel it?

Feel what?

You know

I don't know, what?

Come on

Come on what?

Aren't we all friends?

Of course, and?

Don't just say "and",

What should I say?

What you feel

About what?

You are a doubter

What's that?

He has practically hit a home run, and you feel nothing?


Don't be obstinate

Was there a siege lifted somewhere and the starving people given food and the chance for a secure, normal life?

Don't be sarcastic.

A light in the darkness?

Not exactly.

A possibility? Tyrants threatened with a cutoff of US aid?

Why do you always exaggerate?

Improved relations?

"That data is unaviliable at the present time."

I'm leaving.

You have insufficient feeling for the nuances.

Good bye.

Wait! Can't you just "embrace, nurture, and big-up it"?

I'm leaving

This will be of great assistance to us in the future, when we need to fire hellfire missiles at them

At whom?

You know


Iraqi Electoral Commission: Suck on it. The Americans support us

Advance voting for security personnel, prisoners and people in hospital starts today in the Iraqi provincial-council elections, the main voting scheduled for this coming Saturday January 31. The Iraqi paper AlMashriq says there are a total of 14,431 candidates, representing around 400 different political entities, for a total of 440 seats in the 14 provincial councils (including all provinces except the three in Kurdistan region, and Kirkuk). The paper says there are around 15 million eligible voters.

The electoral commission announced yesterday the arrival of 800 foreigners to assist in the elections, but the paper doesn't offer any details, for instance their nationality or specific tasks. The paper says Iraqi security forces will be participating in screening voters at the voting places, and the "multinational forces" will be assisting in providing security in the country.

Azzaman begins its election reporting this way:
There were increasing warnings from politicians and civic groups yesterday about the possibility of widespread fraud during the elections on Saturday. Candidates said supervision should not be limited to the big cities with lax supervision in the towns and villages, as has happened in the past. Meanwhile, the market (bursa) for the purchase of votes in the provinces intensified, with the religious parties offering each voter one hundred dollars in exchange for his vote for their candidate.

And officials in civic organizations observing the elections said the Electoral Commission has failed to put in place mechanisms to prevent fraud, particularly in the transfer of ballot-boxes to the counting centers. There said there isn't adequate protection against substitution of ballot boxes with fraudulent ones, or the arrangement of ballot boxes where unpopular candidates estimate that there will be a big majority [against them] in order to prevent their victory.
Alazeera quotes a Sadrist spokesman who said the same thing:
We have reliable information about a plan to substitute the original ballot boxes with others that contain ballots in favor of particular entities, during their transfer from secondary polling places to the major centers, and with the assistance of the security agency in some of the provinces.

Ahmed AlMasoudi added: We have information of an intention to bribe officials at polling stations in certain provinces to overlook these breaches. He said there have been recently discovered a number of these fraudulent ballot boxes in the province of Najaf, but this has been kept quiet.

He said the transfer of ballot boxes should be carried out under the direct supervision of the Electoral Commission, the United Nations, and with unpoliticized security protection, "because the security agencies in some of the provinces belong to parties that are participating in the elections". He said he has informed he United Nations of these concerns and asked for their direct supervision of the electoral process.
Here is AlJazeera's summary of the rebuttal by the head of the Electoral Commission:
[He] ruled out the occurrence of fraud operations, and affirmed they have taken all measures to limit fraud, including transferring the ballot boxes under the protection of the security agencies, and the support of the multinational forces, adding that it is the right of party managers to follow the transfer of the ballot boxes one by one.
That settles it! The Electoral Commission is citing support from the American armed forces in the matter of electoral anti-fraud measures. Who needs the United Nations? This is like saying the assignment of a fine American like George Mitchell to talk to regional autocrats and Zionists is a sure sign of progress in that area! Neocon Bush-democracy people and Liberal Zionists living together in Washington in peace and harmony! USA! USA!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Vague Obama statements being used to foment fears of a coup in Baghdad

Iraqi writer Fadhil Al-Rubaie, writing in the Qatari paper AlArab, says there has been a real uproar in the Green Zone ever since Obama said in his speech at his "imperial installation" (Rubaie's phrase) that "We will leave Iraq to its people." This was immediately followed by a statement by the Iraqi minister of defense to the effect that the Iraqi armed forces are 90% ready to deal with an American withdrawal, but that didn't calm things down, because everyone realizes that there are very serious gaps in the independent abilities of the Iraqi armed forces. And the consensus reading of Obama's "responsible withdrawal" mantra is that it means "speedy withdrawal" and the corollary in the minds of many is the idea of a military coup against the Maliki administration.

Rubaie says VP and Islamic Party leader Tareq al-Hashemi went straight to the home of a former-regime Republican Guard official following the Obama speech and asked him point-blank, "are you planning a military coup, or not?"

Rubaie writes:
It appears from a number of indications that the expression "We will leave Iraq to its people" means to a number of Iraqi authorities that the Americans are on the verge of betraying their friends. This generalized fear arising from a single murky expression is practically meaningless, because American officers have said on numerous occasions that the withdrawal will be subject to facts on the ground; and Obama [already] said many times during the campaign that he wants a speedy withdrawal. So whence all of this clamor, and what is it that the denizens of the Green Zone are in fear of?

A lot is being said on this score, and it can be summarized as follows:

(1) The Iraqi armed forces are not really and truly ready to meet the requirements of an American withdrawal...and what is being said [about their readiness] is merely to calm the spirits, the facts on the ground tell the opposite story....

(2) The phrase "responsible withdrawal" can be understood as the American reponse to the decision of the Iraqi parliament to link approval of the security agreement between Iraq and the United States to the holding of a popular referendum in July, something the Americans had reservations about, because they preferred ratification without the link to a referendum. In fact the agreement was approved with the requirement that it pass a referendum, and the meaning of that is that a regional power was able to pressure the government and parliament into linking the agreement with a referendum, in order to emphasize "goodwill". Because if Obama follows through on his commitment for "change", then the referendum would work in the direction of confirming the agreement "popularly", and goodwill here would only mean the commitment not to attack neighboring countries. But if Obama puts off his commitment to change, and returns to the program of his predecessor Bush and continues with a policy of escalation instead of dialogue, then disabling the agreement becomes something plausible and possible. And in this sense, the Americans will continue between now and July to wield the "sword of rapid withdrawal", and the [proposed] bargain is with the concept of a referendum: "You cancel the referendum, and we will cancel the rapid withdrawal".

(3) This expression is being used by the Americans to send a message to Baghdad, and via Baghdad to Tehran, to the effect that Washington will not permit the rise of forces in the South and Center of Iraq inimical to its policies, via the provincial elections, and that serious developments along these lines will not be permitted. Confirmed information from the South indicates the possibility of victory by candidates that are more loyal to Tehran than to their colleagues in Baghdad, and in this context the Americans will continue to promote the "military coup" scenario, in order to prevent the rise of such forces in the South.

Obviously the phrase "leaving Iraq to its people" could mean, as the Army of the Mujahideen has says in its latest communique, that leaving Iraq to the [American] agents, in other words preserving the current policy. But it could also mean accepting other forces including "remnants of the former regime" and armed groups opposed to the occupation. So the discussion really shouldn't be about "responsible withdrawal", but rather about "turning over Iraq to its people", an expression that is susceptible of many meanings, allowing the Americans to manipulate the Iraqis, both those loyal to it and those opposed to it.

Years before the invasion, Secretary Baker said to Tariq Aziz, "Iraq will be returned to the Stone Age," but even he didn't say the country would be put back into the age of military coups.
H/t LB of Roadsto Iraq, who called attention to this article today, and reminds us of the earlier Haroun Mohammed articles that have talked about Obama representatives' meetings with people outside the political process, on topics including re-setting the political process and the shortcomings of the Iraqi military.

The Haroun Mohammed articles are dated Nov 6 and Dec 28 respectively, both on page 19 of AlQuds alArabi. (For more information you could type "Haroun" in the search box at the above left).

More on the theme of not speaking out

My earlier comments on American "progressives" as say-nothing courtiers to the Obama administration only scratch the surface. Here's a summary of criticism by Ali Abunimah of two flagship left media institutions on the same theme. (Posted by Adam Horowitz on, here, including the video link):

Ali Abunimah challenges Mark Green and Katrina vanden Heuvel, saying that progressives haven't spoken out on Gaza. They respond by not speaking out on Gaza.

Mark Green defends the Israeli action and repeats some of Israeli propaganda's greatest hits, including holding up Ariel Sharon (!) of all people as having made sacrifices for peace. To her relative credit, vanden Heuvel just looks uncomfortable and ashamed and tries to change the subject as quickly as possible.

Both Green (Air America) and vanden Heuvel (The Nation) run flagship media outlets on the "left." That neither of them can, or are willing, to speak out against the carnage in Gaza says volumes. As Abunimah rightly points out, Bob Simon's outspokenness on 60 Minutes put both of them to shame. (Though in fairness, vanden Heuvel has run important Gaza pieces by Wallace Shawn, Richard Falk, and Laila Al-Arian).

Abunimah also rightly raises the question of how will progressives relate to the Obama administration: as principled advocates or a simple cheering section? Both Green and vanden Heuvel need to understand that on this issue, the ground is shifting beneath their feet. If they're not willing to speak out there are plenty of others who are. Abunimah is the future, will Air America and The Nation care to join him? (Adam Horowitz)

A Zionist worries about world opinion

From his Herzliya Center bio: "Brig. Gen. (res.) Amos Gilboa, Advisor on Intelligence Affairs to the Israeli Intelligence Community and lecturer on Intelligence Studies at the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy, the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya. A political columnist for Ma’ariv, an Israeli daily newspaper. Held several senior positions in the Intelligence Directorate and the Intelligence Department of the IDF General Staff..." He wrote as follows in the mass circulation paper Maariv yesterday (from the Arab language translation in AlQuds alArabi today, being, as far as I know, the only access to this type of material for anyone who doesn't read Hebrew):
Only a week after the end of "Cast Lead", we are at the beginning of a new type of war, one against the image and the political accomplishments. Hamas was hit hard, but the capacity it still has is to launch a new war (directed at public opinion, Palestinian, Arab, world, and even Israeli), which according to the Center for Intelligence and Terrorism in the Institute of Intelligence Inheritance (?) the struggle that Hamas is currently waging, with the assistance of AlJazeera, the "axis of evil", and various international groups, relies on five elements:

(1) First, in essence, the argument is that it was not Hamas that launched the war, and it is not the guilty party. Incriminating rather Israel which wove a conspiracy to liquidate the Palestinian "problem", by pursuing Hamas, which constitutes the "resistance" to the Israeli occupation, and stands at the head of the fight against the Zionists.

(2) The second element, untrue and weak, presents an image according to which the Israeli army hit civilians and particularly children intentionally. Hamas is trying to present an image that the Israeli army committed continual war-crimes...

(3) The third element, economic and governmental, stresses Hamas' commitment to reconstruction, and to providing limited financial assistance to all families whose houses were destroyed or damaged, and to [families] of the killed and wounded. Moreover, Hamas has begun the struggle on its main interest, which is the opening of all crossings into Gaza under its supervision, and that the responsible party for all finance and assistance sent to the Gaza Strip is not Abu Mazen.

(4) The fourth element, which is also a lie in what it assumes, is the frivolous addition to the story of the heroism of the men of Hamas and of their military abilities...

(5) The fifth element is provocative and a record for the future, and it takes up the beginning of the reconstruction of the tunnels and this is an open announcement that no one is able to prevent us from smuggling weapons and ammunition, because we are a resistance movement, and the essence of our activity is violence against Israel.
Just to interject at this point, it is obvious that Amos Gilboa and his people have little to fear from the American center-left/progressives, because the points he complains about do not even appear in much of that milieu (for instance, if it is any indication, Marc, Spencer, Matt and Helena all remark today on the Palestine issue and the Mitchell mission and not only do they not mention any of these allegedly Hamas-inspired points, they actually don't mention Hamas at all, let alone the concept of resistance. All they do is celebrate the fact that a fine American is being sent to the "region", the assumption being that a fine American will do good, even if his main interlocutors will be the Zionists and the Arab tyrants, avoiding Hamas, and we are supposed to think that the result will be good even if it is not given to us at the moment to understand what that "good" will turn out to be). So in this respect the American center-left/progressive movement does not seem to be something Amos Gilboa needs to worry about. Probably he is thinking more of Europe.

It is true that Israel is preparing to block the pretensions of Hamas and those who support it; but it appears that what our political leaders and first and foremost preparing for is the elections. That is quite understandable. The problem is that our internal political race is permitting a victory to Hamas and its supporters.

In my opinion, there is sometimes the impression that the Israeli government would actually like to grant Hamas a political victory. [This is followed by a discussion of the release of the Israeli soldier Shalit, held by Hamas, and its relationship to the idea of victory or defeat].

Is the current Israeli government really prepared to grant to Hamas this accomplishment, that the world sees them as the victors and us as the defeated? It is hard to believe, unless [the reason is that] political Zionism has lost the use of sound reason on the eve of the elections.
He seems to be implicitly recommending that Israel fight on in order to reverse this impression of defeat. And in fact, in addition to reported regular shelling of the Gaza coast, there are now reports of "clashes" on the border (see the summary by Siun, an honorable exception to my above generalization about the trend in the American progressive milieu.)

Monday, January 26, 2009

Listen to the silence

On January 15, The Jewish Chronicle, oldest Jewish newspaper in Britain, published an attack on three people often interviewed on British TV and critical of Israel: First, Abdel-Bari Atwan, editor in chief of AlQuds alArabi (pro-Palestinian partisan); second, Richard Falk, the American Jew who is UN Rapporteur for Gaza (Israel-hater); and third, Dr Mads Gilbert, the Norwegian surgeon who went to Gaza at the height of the fighting and performed operations at a hospital in Gaza City (leftist). Oddly or not, similar Zionist groups in the United States seem to have had nothing to complain about as far as American television was concerned.

Atwan himself, in an op-ed today, noting with quiet pride his place on that list, says those media did most honorably who let the sounds and images of the slaughter speak for themselves, and obviously here too the situation was different in America, where the "Israeli self-defence" motif was paramount, and AlJazeera apparently isn't widely available.

And now, as Israeli society contemplates its options in the run-up to national elections on February 10--including the possibility of a Nazi-style citizenship-certificate law--and Hamas leaders are reportedly under continued threat of asassination, the American foreign-policy establishment has fallen silent. Everyone from Brookings to CAP to NSN and including the courtiers and court-watchers at Foreign Policy are finding other things to talk about. And the reason is perhaps not surprising: They have not yet been told what to think, so they are waiting.

The tea-leaves suggest that the aim will be to dust off the two-state solution, even though as even the common people were able to see on "60 Minutes" last night that is a possibility that has already been strangled by the Wall, that separates at various places a farmer from his land, and neighbour from neighbour, and the other West Bank strangulation policies, not to mention the recent butchery in Gaza.

Or they will be "given" something. Ackerman talks about the need to "give the Muslim world much of what it wants that is also in our interest, so it can accept, passively or actively, the pain of seeing the application of force in eastern Afghanistan and western Pakistan". That is the Pentagon talking.

This has been a popular form of American Mideast thinking since it was first summarized in a Sept 2006 speech of Rice's assistant Philip Zelikow, the game at that time being Rice's constuction of an "axis of moderates" (Arab regimes like Egypt and Saudi Arabia) ready to confront Iran, and the quid pro quo, or pot at the end of the rainbow for these Arab regimes was supposed to be a "sense"--Zelikow used that word, not "reality" or "implementation", just "a sense"--of progress on the issue of Palestine. This was, in other words, escalation against Iran backed by the fig-leaf of "progress" on Palestine. Moreover, in terms of timing, this was in the wake of the summer 06 Israeli war on Lebanon, and it was hoped the spectre of extremism (Hizbullah), and what that leads to, would stiffen the spine of these autocratic Arab regimes.

And that seems very similar to where we are today. The Americans hope that the recent war (caused by "extremism") will stiffen the spines of the "moderate" (autocratic) Arab regimes, and make them accept the figleaf of "giving the Muslim world much of what it wants that is also in our interest," (an illusory two-state solution in Palestine, or perhaps something else?) in exchange for accepting an American decision to set fire to eastern Afghanistan and western Pakistan.

At the time the original Rice axis-of-moderates plan was rolled out, it was widely dismissed as a figment of the crazed mind of the Bush administration. This time, the former critics are now courtiers, and they are silent.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Ethno-sectarian separation: a bad model

This appeared January 21 in the mass-circulation Israeli paper Yedioth Ahronoth, and in English on the YNetNews site. It is by a member of the public-relations group for the right-wing party Beiteinu, Arik Sinai by name, and it explains to readers why the party condemns the recent High Court decision permitting two Arab parties to contest the coming national elections. In a nutshell, his argument is that the Israeli state should differentiate between those Arabs that can show what he calls absolute loyalty to the state, and those who cannot. Only those who show absolute loyalty should be granted full citizenship; others should be denied either some or all citizenship rights. He writes:
The military campaign in the Gaza Strip helped us better understand the reality we’re living within. The emerging trends of disloyalty among growing sectors of Israel’s Arab community are indeed frightening, and we must not repress them. The opposite is true. We should do everything in order to change them. A democracy must stand up for itself, and in this context the High Court’s ruling in respect to the Arab parties is a mistake we shall be paying a price for.
Some Arabs, for instance, showed solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza during the recent war:
Every day we witness the growing radicalization of Arab community leaders wishing to undermine the pillars of the State of Israel, where they live and are granted rights. During a time of war against a cruel terror organization, whose declared objective is the State of Israel’s extermination, many citizens displayed blatant solidarity with the enemy. We are talking about acts bordering on offering assistance to the enemy during wartime, and as of now nothing has been done to address a problem that threatens to bring us down from within.
On the other hand there are Arabs that are absolutely loyal to the state.

So his argument is that there should be a mechanism to punish the disloyal and reward the loyal.
Today, more than ever, we must not ignore this severe problem. The State of Israel must reinforce those who wish to see coexistence, yet at the same time adopt an iron fist against those who call for its physical and spiritual destruction....

Our supreme goal is to change this direction immediately. Those who are interested in coexistence must feel safe and be granted full rights, while those who do not sympathize with Israel as a Jewish and democratic state apparently do not belong with us here as citizens of the State. ...

When we see rallies of solidarity with Hamas during war, when we hear mayors and Knesset members who are paid by the State congratulating Palestinian martyrs, and when we see Palestinian flags proudly hoisted in central Tel Aviv, we know the time has come to act. The time has come to convey a clear message to the next government: Without loyalty, one shall not be granted citizenship.
It is another stage in the development of a racist state in a multi-ethnic environment. Wars without, now perhaps loyalty oaths within. I think this is additionally worth paying attention to because of the possibility that Iraq could end up with some kind of ethnic and/or sectarian division after all is said and done. I don't think anyone knows how serious this possibility is currently--or who besides the big Kurdish parties and perhaps the SupremeCouncil favors it--but really I think one of the lessons of Israel and Palestine should be: It just doesn't work.

Today's Zionism update

All aboard

AP and AFP report on the visit of Maliki's national security adviser Muwaffak al-Rubaie to Tehran with a mention only of the issue of Iraqi commitment to expel the anti-Iran group MEK from Iraq.

The reporter for the Lebanese paper Al-Akhbar adds a couple of other points: First, the reporter says that Ahmedinejad, after urging the Iraqi government to complete its preparations for the withdrawal of the American forces from Iraq, added:
"It is true that America is headed for uful (word referring to the setting of stars), and that Iraq and the region are stronger than they were seven years ago, but still, we have to remain alert and not be fooled by their statements", referring to statements of the new American president Obama. And he said: "There is a group in America behind the scenes that continues to push for complete American control of the Middle East region".
Rubaie, for his part, said the Iranians support the coming local elections and are neutral with respect to the Iraqi groups and parties. And then the reporter switches to "sources", pretty clearly Iranian sources, writing:
Sources say the main reason for the armed confrontations that occurred last year in Sadr City and in Basra between the Sadr trend and the government forces was that they resulted from American intelligence reports that referred to noticeable progress then being made by the Sadr trend, and that this would consequently have an effect on the results of the provincial elections, which in turn will lay the foundation for the parliamentary elections, and based on that, there was an American recommendation that the Iraqi government move to limit the popular development of the Sadrists.
In other words, it appears Iranian sources are exculpating themselves, and blaming the Americans instead, for the anti-Sadr campaigns of Basra and Sadr City, saying at the same time that these campaigns were in fact political in the sectarian sense. I think if one pairs this with the recent article in the Kuwaiti paper AlWatan, (discussed in the linked post under numbered section 3) that showed signs of American sourcing behind the "Biden demands reconciliation" theme, one can see a pattern, and it is that both the Iranians and the Americans are anxious to get on the "end sectarianism/ promote reconciliation" bandwagon, following in this the clear lead of the Iraqi people, reflected in the proliferation of non-sect-based parties registered for the coming local elections. *

In fact, it now appears that the Sadr trend is a particularly popular target of cross-sect alliance negotiations ahead of the elections, having hosted delegations from Sunni tribal groups, the Islamic Party of Iraq, the Supreme Council, you name it, not to mention Maliki's own group. AlWatan summarizes recent meetings along these lines, noting that the Sadrists have adopted as a principle the old saying: "Better a government that is just if kafir (non-Islamic or "heretical"), than the government of a tyrant".


* It is true that the courtiers in Washington have not yet been handed this file. There could be many reasons for that, but as the poet says: "They also serve who only stand and wait".

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The new neo-cons

Everywhere you look, things are back to normal.

The savvy people of the center-left who read Marc, Spencer, Juan, Helena and the others all know that AlQaeda-affiliated honchos are somewhat impressed with Obama and are urging that he be given four months to decide what to say about the killing and maiming of thousands of Palestinians and the laying waste of Gaza and its blockaded and starving 1.5 million people, after he has already said "our hearts go out..."

They also know that Israeli democracy is back on track, now that the court has ruled out a proposal to ban Arab parties from participating in the coming Israeli election, and "the peace-process" is about to resume.

All's right with the world, as long as the extremists aren't allowed to make a comeback.

Or to put it another way, the racist militarism of the Israeli regime doesn't exist; the devastation of Gaza will soon be forgotten; and as for the jihadi reaction, the fact is that the statement by Abu Yahya al-Libi hasn't been reported anywhere the above-mentioned savvy readers would see it, so it is definitely marginal--certainly not part of the overall drift to normalcy.

So it is that the savvy readers of the center-left have been put on an information diet that somewhat resembles that of the neo-cons during the Bush years: Whatever the American administration and the American president does is to be honored for the good intentions that they represent: Allies like Israel are to be supported; expressions of the "hearts-go-out" type are to be accepted as if they were "overwhelmingly significant" policy statements; "racism" and "militarism" in connection with American policy are expressions that are to be avoided. And so on.

My theory is that what was called the center-left has become the new neo-con movement. It says--by what it collectively trumpets and by what it collectively leaves out--that what has been achieved in our democracy is a sufficient remedy for the major ills of the present, provided that our institutions, and particularly our president, are given sufficient time to proceed in their deliberate fashion. Everything else is overblown rhetoric.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Message to Obama: Wake up

AbdulBari Atwan, noting that Obama has failed to condemn the Israeli atrocities in Gaza, grants that the administration is still in its early days, but says a bad beginning can only lead to a worse result. And he explains.
It is nice that the new president ended his country's war on terror, recognizing that it cannot be won, the extent of the damage that it had done to his country's image, and its financial and economic drain. But it would have been better if he had [spoken about] Israeli terror as well...

Ending the war on "terror" without ending the Israeli terrorism that has been continuing for 60 years--and under the protection of the United States--will lead to the appearance of new Arab and Islamic terror, more serious and more fierce, because those children that have lost their siblings and their mothers and fathers and witnessed the Israeli planes unleash their heat on them--these children will be more fierce in their vengeance, justified and legitimate in all positive and divine law, if they remain helpless and without hope or future.

The slaughter in Gaza was not only destructive of the culture of peace and justice; it also revitalized the culture of resistance and strengthened it throughout the Islamic and Arab world, and it exposed the moral collapse of the West and of America in particular in its ugliest form. And if the new American president and his team fail to recognize this plain fact, then all of the public protestations about improving their country's extremely ugly image in the Islamic world will be in vain.

We still have a glimmer of hope that the new American president will have the ability to effect the necessary changes in his country's policies...
not, he says, because of who he is, but because he should realize that a continuation of the policy of demanding concession after concession from the Palestinians under the pretext of a "peace process" will only be damaging to the interests of the United States, which is in particular need of stability and security in order to bolster its collapsing economy and its declining status in the world.

And the Palestinians, he concludes, don't need donors' conferences, but rather a conference that will re-establish international law and will say to the Israelis: You have become a burden to the West morally, politically, and in the security sense. You have become a threat to the stability of the world with your crimes of terror against innocent people. And these are crimes that if they continue will foster an extremism and extremist groups in the future that will make "AlQaeda" seem moderate by comparison.

"Overwhelming significance"

Abu Yahya al-Libi, an AQ leader and major spokesman, is featured in a 31-minute video tape published on an internet website, urging the AQ membership to focus on attacking the West and Britain in particular in retaliation for the Israeli attacks on Gaza. Be picks Britain in particular because as he puts it:
No child is killed and no calamity occurs in the land of Palestine except as a result of the fact that Britain gave Palestine to the Jews, and therefore it is fitting that her people should expect revenge from the genocidal campaign in Gaza.
And he reminds listeners of the March 7 2005 attack on the London subway that killed 54.

AlHayat also includes in its summary of his remarks the following:
With respect to the demonstrations in Western countries demanding an end to the Israeli attacks on Gaza, [he said]: We are not fooled by policies of beautification. A jackal is still a jackal, even if he wears a sheep's clothing.
And this:
Let the heretical West and the criminal America and the tyrants of the Arab countries have a taste of the bitterness of war, and of the tragedy of expulsion, and of the harshness of terror, since they do not permit our people in Palestine the feeling of security, but terrorize them.
(This might cause some cognitive dissonance for readers of the progressive Firedoglake blog, where Spencer Ackerman today featured a release by an obscure ex-jihadi, Derbala by name, urging an AQ ceasefire vis-a-vis the West. Ackerman says: "Let's be clear about a few things. Derbala has no power to call for or enforce any Al Qaeda ceasefire. But consider how overwhelmingly significant it is that a former terrorist of such obvious credibility would say something like this. And why'd he say it? Because Barack Obama just renounced torture."

Good feelings all around. So much so that the owner of that site, Jane Hamsher, commented:
That is very, very cool.
So, Abu Yahya al-Libi--not cool. And when the blowback starts it will be seen as not only uncool, but also unmotivated, unconnected with the atrocities in Gaza or anything else. Just plain evil. Same as always.


Nowhere is the mystery of the new administration's policy-intentions more mysterious than in Iraq. (Let me re-phrase that, having read the text of Obama's remarks at the State Dept yesterday: There isn't any mystery about Obama policy in Palestine, which will be more of the same, only with more NATO involvement. But there is some mystery about his plans for Iraq).

Even if the mystery itself cannot be solved right away, still it is important to get a grip on the language and concepts in which these policy-issues are going to be expressed, because this is quite different from the language and concepts that have been soaked into Western public opinion over lo these six years or so.

Following up on ideas he has expressed on other occasions recently, Maliki said in a speech to tribal leaders in Najaf on Wednesday that the policy of sectarian and political-party "allocations" (muhasasa) is what has destroyed Iraq, and he repeated his rejection of the idea that the share of responsibility of the state itself is any less than that of the sects and the political parties.

"And he said [continuing the account offered by the Iraqi paper AlDustour] that what will follow the general elections at the end of this year will usher in a new stage for the country, and it will be 'far removed from the formation of a government and a Chamber of Deputies based on sectarian and political-party muhasasa".
He said the elections will draw the picture of a new Iraq that will go beyond the current, temporary stage, and he stressed the need for forming a unitary central government that is strong, explaining that this does not mean ending the formation of regions and of provincial councils. He repeated the need for the parties to work together, so that gaps do not form which could be exploited by enemies to affect the development of the state. And he said the steadfastness of the Iraqi people in preserving the unity of the country is what has protected it from the attacks of terrorists who wanted to tear the country apart and annihilate it.
I think before deciding on the share of political hypocrisy or genuineness in this, first of all it is important to understand where this language is coming from.

(1) Muhasasa as the root of all political evil: This has over the years been a commonplace in the language of the Sunni armed resistance groups, but of course their point was that this sectarian-division principle not only vitiates the whole "political process", but was introduced into Iraq under Bremer for the specific purpose of dividing the country and weakening it. They said Maliki and others are the opportunistic, short-term expoliters of this policy, and anyone who participates in any way in the political process is contaminated by it.

So the first thing to notice is that Maliki is running as an opponent of the system he stands accused of exploiting in betrayal of Iraq's national interests.

(2) A new beginning? Haroun Mohammed reported--and no one else did--on a pair of excursions by people described as by emissaries of Obama to people who stand between participants in the political process on the one hand, and the armed resistance on the other. (Nov 6 and Dec 28 respectively, both on p 19 of AlQuds alArabi). These interlocutors were described in those reports as "former Baathists and others who are outside the political process." And the message--according to HM's reports--was that the Obama administration will be open to the idea of a complete re-start of the Iraqi political system, on the basis that the muhasasa system is so corrupt as to be incapable of patching-up or reform. So far as I am aware, these reports elicited no comment either in Washington or in Iraq. (One of the emisarries in the second round was described as a Democratic former senator--George Mitchell perhaps?)

(3) Et tu, Biden? The plot thickens. In Thursday's edition of the Kuwaiti paper AlWatan, we read that Maliki has ordered the re-formation and re-activation of a set of "national reconciliation" efforts, including bringing into the political process the maximum possible number of people from "outside the political process" and this is described as a response to a message from none other than VP Joseph Biden:
And the sources said that American vice-president Joseph Biden was clear in his meetings with Maliki and other Iraqi leaders, that support by the Obama administration for the political process will depend on the extent of effectiveness of an "Iraqi solution" to the issue of national reconciliation, that would grant legal and political legitimacy to any agreements that can be arrived at between bhe Iraqi government and the Obama administration, which [the Obama administration] will not accept agreements with Iraqi leaders in the absense of clear national reconciliation that brings together all of the opposition in the crucible of agreement about strategic relations between the two countries.
(I am duty-bound to mention, also, that there are parts of this AlWatan account that seem to me to be Arabic expressions of something that was possibly originally written in English. It's mostly just a feeling I get when the phrases drop too easily into the framework of English expressions like "Biden was clear, that..."; and "legal and political legitimacy"; and so on. It is just an observation. Or you could ask yourself, what Iraqi would have told the reporter "Biden was clear, that..." or was it not rather an American?)

In any event, there are many chickens coming home to roost here, among them the question of squaring the circle and making a national-unity government out of a sectarian one and/or the impossibility of doing that. But for now I think it is enough "to get clear" (as we say) on the fact that the Obama administration is making this, for whatever reasons and with whatever chances of success or otherwise, into one of its Iraq-policy themes.

National unity is the major election theme for Maliki, and this is reflected not only in his speeches, and in the above-mentioned resurrecting of the "national reconciliation" processes, but also in other areas, such as the apparent moves to reconcile with the Sadrists. Among the mysteries: How much of this is electioneering, and how much is actually linked to any real or apparent change in US policy under Obama?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Israel at work on war-crimes damage-control

There are a number of Israeli media reports and comments on the war-crimes issue. Here are the main ones available in English:

(1) Haaretz says in an editorial Israel should launch its own investigation in order to preempt international war-crimes proceedings

(2) YNet publishes an article quoting Israeli lawyers who warn that anyone involved in the operation could be prosecuted anywhere in the world. For instance:
Attorney Michael Sefarad, who specialized in international law, said that we must remember that the entire mechanism of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague was put in place after World War II and the Holocaust, at the Jewish people's demand.

Sefarad believes that Israel grossly violated international law during the Gaza campaign, maybe even to the extant of committing war crimes: "The hope is that we will be the ones to seek out those responsible and bring them to justice. If that is not done, then an international organization should do it, otherwise the atrocities will continue."

"The notion that some acts cannot be committed even in a time of war and that war criminals cannot find refuge anywhere is of the utmost importance, and this mechanism can be used against Israel as well."

(3) According to YNet, the Israeli Attorney General said each and every strike was approved by officials of the Judge Advocate General's office in a situation room, based on principles that have all been gone over and settled as far as the Israeli authorities are concerned, so they are ready for the expected "slew of lawsuits".

(4) Haaretz publishes an investigative piece by two reporters on disagreements and institutional issues surrounding "the international law division's permissive positions" and the "relaxing of the rules of engagement."

(5) Also according to YNet, top IDF officers have been advised to get permission from the Judge Advocate General's office if they plan to travel, and some will be advised not to.

(6) Haaretz publishes an op-ed by Gideon Levy that says:
On the morrow of the return of the last Israeli soldier from Gaza, we can determine with certainty that they had all gone out there in vain. This war ended in utter failure for Israel.

This goes beyond the profound moral failure, which is a grave matter in itself, but pertains to its inability to reach its stated goals. In other words, the grief is not complemented by failure. We have gained nothing in this war save hundreds of graves, some of them very small, thousands of maimed people, much destruction and the besmirching of Israel's image....

So what was achieved, after all? As a war waged to satisfy considerations of internal politics, the operation has succeeded beyond all expectations. Likud Chair Benjamin Netanyahu is getting stronger in the polls. And why? Because we could not get enough of the war.
There are a couple of points in an AlHayat article this morning that raise additional points suggesting damage-control efforts are already under way. Here are the Hayat comments (with the additional points italicized):
Israel completed its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, and at the same time it established the importance of protecting officers who participated in the war from court prosecutions expected to be instituted by rights organizations in Europe. In this connection, army leadership prohibited the media from disclosing the names of officers, and required [officers] to obtain military permission before travelling abroad. The army denied the used of depleted uranium, and said it is investigating the possible use by certain reserve units of 20 shells of white phosphorus against residents of a populated area in the northern part of the Gaza Strip.
AlHayat reports on a demo in Brussels against Tzipi Livni's visit there yesterday. And sources said the Palestinian justice minister and rights groups are planning to file a complaint of war crimes and crimes againsts humanity at the International Criminal Court in the Hague today, defendants to include Olmert, Barak and Livni. The paper says initial issues will include: the fact Palestine doesn't have the status of a state; and whether individual citizens can have recourse to the international court.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Racism, in other words

Nonarab Arab links to an AlJazeera website feature that shows pictures and details of whole families that were wiped out in the so-called war. He recites details for 13 of those families, and he concludes:
I wish it weren't true, but even this is only a partial list of the families Israel has murdered the past few weeks, let alone the past 60 years. Let the deaths of these innocent families - not even individuals, entire families targeted by Israel's Zionist death squads - stand as a reminder. That while there must be reconciliation between Arabs and Jews and a united country with equal rights for all, that such reconciliation can only come by standing firm against Zionist Israel just as the world stood firm against Apartheid South Africa. Zionism is racism, period, and it must be confronted just as Jim Crow and Apartheid had to be confronted. May these families rest in peace and may we build a better world of equality so that Israeli racism will no longer be able to take innocent lives.

Israeli Democracy for Idiots

The Israeli Supreme Court rejected a decision of the Knesset barring the two Arab parties from participating in the coming Israeli national elections.

The center-left Ackerman/Yglesias team swap high-fives over this stunning proof of the health of the Israeli democracy. Ackerman:
Correcting an initial Knesset error of judgment, the Israeli Supreme Court has overturned a ban on Israeli Arab parties contesting the upcoming election. Democratic principles reinstated, abyss officially backed-away-from, sanity prevailing. Good things all around.
Israel’s Supreme Court is doing the right thing and re-instate the right of Israel’s Arab parties to contest the forthcoming Knesset elections. Obviously, I lack expertise in the fine points of Israeli law, so it’s possible that this is being wrongly decided, but it certainly looks to me like a triumph of good sense.
Very nice. What they fail to mention is that there is a range of strategies and methods for preserving the racially Jewish character of the Israeli state (Zionism for short), and this was merely an episode in the continuing struggle for maintenance of that.

Here's what a former branch head in Israeli intelligence, by the name of Shlomo Ghazit, wrote in the mass-circulation paper Maariv on Monday January 19 on this issue: He said I count myself a Zionist and I place a high value of preserving the Jewish character of the state.
And I reject absolutely the concept of making Israel a state "for all of its citizens" [his quotes]...
He says there are three basic ways that can be guaranteed, and they are as follows:
One way, and I fear that it is a method that a broad majority of the Jewish masses in Israel have faith in, is to exile [non-Jews], albeit via peaceful, political means that would prevent the majority from giving expression to this view publicly or in front of people. The appropriate solution, according to this method, would be offered by transferring the overwhelming majority of the Arab Palestinians between the river and the sea, if not all of them, to areas outside of the land of Israel (or Eretz Israel).
Those are his remarks on the first method. Note that he says he "fears that a broad majority of the Jewish masses in Israel have faith" in this strategy, suggesting he himself is perhaps not entirely in favor of it, but also that perhaps a majority are in favor of it.

The second method:
The second method is that of breaking up the connections, namely the Israeli connections with most of the areas that it occupied in June 1967. A breakup whose first and main effect would be separation from the big Palestinian bloc in the West Bank, and that in Gaza. This would represent voluntary shrinkage of Israel to within borders that would give it a reasonable chance of retaining the domestic Jewish majority. The first, important, step in this was taken by Ariel Sharon when he separated from the 1.5 million residents of the Gaza Strip.
So the first two methods are: get rid of the Arabs from "the land of Israel", or in the alternative have Israel retreat to a demographically safe size. The writer then moves on to the third alternative:
The third method would be the establishment of an apartheit system or racial separation in the state. This ignores the demographics and what it decides is who has the vote in the state in the face of more and more Palestinian residents, who will lose their citizenship, so that this will not be a state for the Arabs who are within it in legally in terms of location, and they will not have the right to be candidates for our legislative council. And tomorrow, presumably they won't have election rights either.
The recent Knesset decision, on barring the Arab parties from contesting the coming election, he says, was "a major step in this direction."
...and this was a decision that prepares the way and sets up a system of apartheit in Israel.

In all liklihood this will be taken up by the Supreme Court, and they will reject the decision of the Elections Committee. But the damage is already done, and it is the misfortune of a country whose Knesset votes by a big majority voting to institute apartheit, even if the decision itself will not be put into effect at the current stage.
There is enough ambiguity here to go around, but what isn't ambiguous is what he takes to be the consensus of the Jewish majority: namely that Israel has to kept under Jewish control, by one means or another. The question is how you could accomplish that with or without without instituting apartheit; with or without large-scale population-transfers; with or without shrinkage to within demographically defensible borders. To say that a court ruling against disallowing the Arab parties in the coming election constitutes "Democratic principles reinstated, abyss officially backed-away-from, sanity prevailing. Good things all around" is really not that helpful to an overall understanding of Israel and its place in the world.

The above extracts from the Maariv piece are my rendition of what the Arab-language newspaper AlQuds alArabi printed on Tuesday on its "Israeli press" page (page nine). (Pdf; you have to scroll down to page 9). Maariv makes none of its content available in English, as far as I know, and the same goes for other important Israeli publications, nor is there any attempt on the center-left or elsewhere to remedy this in any way. Such is the political climate in America that we know more about the thought patterns of crazies living in caves on the Afghan border than we do about mainstream Israeli political thinking.

They like it that way.

Field of dreams

However you may choose to characterize the three-week program of killing and destruction that rounded out the Bush-Olmert administration of that region, it is at least clear that the war-crimes/excessive-force theme is not something that is having any effect on Israeli public opinion ahead of their national elections on Feb 10, or on American public opinion either. One Israeli example in place of many, is this YNet op-ed piece that asks: "What happened to us?"
How did Israel shift from being the spiritual center of Ehad Ha’am and Ben Gurion’s light unto the nations to the “neighborhood bully?” How did it all happen without us noticing it? ...

There is a direct and problematic line that connects the “death to the Arabs” chants at soccer stadiums, the disqualification of Arab parties from the upcoming Knesset elections, and the indifference of an Israeli woman who interrupted and slammed a Palestinian doctor who lost three of his daughters.

We are all at fault because we remained silent...
And you can search the American op-ed pages and not find even that level of soul-searching.

As a result, the Israeli public debate is mostly on the short-term question who benefits from the war, Netanyahu or the "left"; and the American debate is about a question that is similarly short-term-- and even more absurd--namely how to restart the negotiations between the killer and his victims. Arab writers, by contrast, focus on a couple of longer-term aspirations: First of all, there is an expectation that investigations and preparations for war-crimes proceedings will no doubt be going ahead, in spite of obstacles. Here is Mohammed Krishan, writing in AlQuds alArabi:
The next stage will be the stage of specialized investigative councils that will be sent to Gaza in spite of all the obstacles that will be put in their way, for the gathering of evidence, witness statements and documentation, and the analysis of what evidence remains in the specialized laboratories, in order to have definitive scientific proof that war-crimes were committed. And then the lodging of cases with the International Criminal Court and other Western courts against the Israeli political and military leaders, so as to tighten the noose around them in the whole world, and so that one day they will be compelled to appear before the judge, to put an end to the limitless quarrelsomeness and arrogance of this state that is outside the law and yet enjoys the protection of the United States and the European countries in this screaming case of opportunism.
Also writing in AlQuds alArabi Lebanese lawyer Assam Naaman focuses on another relatively long-term objective: The need to develop political and military coordination and leadership among the resistance factions including Hamas, and the emerging group of Arab/Islamic states that support them and oppose the Zionist attack on them. His piece isn't a cookbook for unity, but mostly just a reminder that in the face of fine-sounding talk about "reconciliation", it should be remembered that there are two clearly-defined sides here, one of them being the resisters of the American/Israeli front, and this resistance should be understood in a region-wise sense.

He says there are five lessons from the Gaza war that can be built on: (1) The steadfastness and survival of Hamas in the face of military superiority; (2) the political achievement of the Doha summit which included Iran and Turkey in addition to Syria and Qatar and a number of other Arab states, and laid out a clear region-wide "resistance" stance; (3) the fact that Saudi and Egypt were compelled to abandon their openly anti-Hamas rhetoric; and (4) the effectiveness of popular pressure, reflected in the demos and so on, in highlighting the ways in which Arab states were being pressured by the West to toe the line, a level of popular awareness that strengthened the resistance.

Maybe you could have toted up those factors on your own, but his fifth point is one you might have missed. He writes:
The fifth lesson of the war is that ideology has a role no less important than interests in determining political positions. In the case of Iran and Turkey, both Islamist, and with them the government of Iraq, there is no doubt that support for the resistance was a factor, along with the religious and cultural factors, in their decision to support the resistance in Gaza. And this is something that throws into disarray the regional lineup ["moderate" Arabs versus Iran and its allies] that Washington has been trying to strengthen in order to protect its own interests and support the security of Israel.
The slow advance of war-crimes accountability; greater unity for the resistance throughout the region as a whole--those are dreams that may well come true.

Then we have the American Dream: "For one day, for one hour, let us take a bow as a country," without any indication before whom--before which grateful and admiring sector of the world?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Jordanian doctors confirm evidence of banned and "non-traditional" weapons

The Iraqi news-site Islammemo:
Jordanian doctors returning from the Gaza Strip say the wounds they witnessed confirm the use by the Zionist occupation, in their attack on Gaza, of non-traditional weapons, and of banned weapons.

They also referred to the fact that a team of Norwegian doctors took samples for study and a report to be presented as evidence in a trial...

The doctors said the clinical examinations of the wounds that they witnessed were ample proof of the use of white phosphorus, referring to the fact "there was white smoke rising from open wounds".

Jordanian surgeon Dr Hamadi abu Al-Adas said the majority of the cases treated by the doctors were evidence of the severing of legs and upper limbs [DIME]; and other wounds that were the result of the use of internationally banned weapons that lead to internal burning, and tearing of internal organs [white phosphorus].

Specialist Dr Abdul Razaq al-Abasi explained: Israel used shells that it is said release splinters for the purpose of severing limbs; and others that release toxic explosives that dissolve within the body that is hit; some that release wedge-shaped splinters; and others concussion-type that cause internal bleeding and bursting of the intestines and other organs.

The journalist notes: The Jordanian medical establishment had tried to send 32 doctors and nurses to Gaza during the fighting, of whom 12--eight doctors and four nurses--were actually able to get in via the Rafah crossing.

(H/t LB of RoadstoIraq)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Doctors see evidence of DIME weapon use, in addition to white phosphorus

Egyptian doctors returned from the Gaza Strip said at a conference held yesterday by the Arab Doctors Union in Cairo that the bodies of the dead and wounded they have seen indicate the use by Israel of a variety of weapons banned internationally, including white phosphorus and so-called DIME (Dense Inert Metal Explosives), and they referred to other cases of distortions and disfigurations that they could not explain, calling the overall conditions of the bodies the ugliest they had seen in their medical careers. They called on the Union of Arab Journalists and international journalist associations to prepare a thorough report gathering together all evidence of the use of banned weapons.

(The report I have seen on this is in the Qatari paper AlArab, (today Monday Jan 19) which was praised by the doctors for a report it published the day before (which I haven't seen) including pictures, witness statements and documents, calling it an important collection of evidence).
Dr Ahmed Abdulaziz, a well-known Egyptian professor of surgery, said: We saw bodies that had been completely blackened. And we received body parts that we did not know who they belonged to; skulls that were empty; bodies whose limbs had been completely severed which is an indication of the use of DIME weapons. He called for a trial of the perpetrators of this in an international court. This was a slaughter by any measure, and the aim was not [just] to kill the people but to disfigure them.

Three questions

(1) How is it that the collective civilian punishment argument is rejected in the case of AQ and similar groups, but accepted when it is propounded by the Zionists?

(2) What happens when and if the physical nature of the resistance changes, and it adopts in turn this collective-punishment strategy in a more thoroughgoing manner than it has up to now?

(3) Has anyone in Israel or in Washington noticed that the supposed demonstration effect of this war in the region is the opposite of what it was supposed to be?


According to Dan Shiftan, head of the National Security Studies Center at the University of Haifa, this was all about rockets. Rockets, he says, have been the weapon of choice for "radicals" ever since Israel successfully stopped suicide attacks with the big separation wall. Rockets, he says, have been chosen because Israel is unable to stop them short of occupying the areas where they are fired from, and Israel does not want to do that. He writes:
The war in Gaza was aimed at preventing the entrenchment of the perception that the rocket resistance in conjunction with Islamic zealotry is the ultimate weapon Israel cannot cope with. Yet we can and should prove that even though Israel has no operative solution for it, it does possess a strategic response to this challenge.

The strategic response is political willingness (in addition to military capabilities) to sow disproportional destruction and hurt the assets that are dear to those who fire rockets at Israeli population centers. The main objective is not to hit the last rocket, but rather, to enforce a fundamental change in the Muqawma's cost-benefit equation by dramatically raising the cost.

This is easily recognizable as the argument for 9/11 and all of the similar attacks against civilian populations: They purpose is "to show the political willingness (in addition to military capabilities) to sow disproportional destruction and hurt the assets that are dear to those who..." [and you can fill in the blank, for instance: "the assets that are dear to those who attack and militarily occupy Arab and Islamic lands"].

In the case of AQ and the other militant Islamic groups that adopt this approach, the argument is seen as an admission of evil--of outlaw status. In the case of Zionist Israel, the argument is seen as--what?

That is my first question: How is it that this kind of bare-faced admission of a strategy of inflicting large-scale civilian casualties is not the object of condemnation among the governments and governing elites of the West?

My second question is this: Suicide attacks brought about the Wall. Rocket attacks have brought about this policy of local collective punishment. Suppose they feel they have successfully established an armed garrison state with a Wall, surrounded by populations seething with anger and the desire for revenge. Fine. Suppose then that the "radicals" adopt to the full the Israeli/AQ "punish those dear to them" strategy and start attacking Jewish communities elsewhere in the world. What then? The Wall has been tried. Local collective punishment has been tried. Will it be a Global War on Terror, Zionist version?

My third question: This man writes:
Responsible regional regimes, which wish to avoid confrontation with Israel, can defend their policy only if they can showcase the intolerable results of such confrontation to the Arab public and its radical elites. Israel's image as helpless may force these regimes, as happened in the past, to lend their hand to provocations that cumulatively tend to escalate into war.
This is the "showcase" argument. What they are showcasing in this case is the horrible scale of the collective punishment that results from local rocket attacks, and this is supposed to constitute an argument for the Egyptian and Saudi authorities for peace and accomodation with Israel.

Mubarak does not seem to be particularly grateful. In fact the result for him is the opposite: it is pressure to "open the gates of jihad" against Israel.

So my third question is this: Given that the Gaza war with its underlying theme of collective punishment has weakened, not strengthened, Israel's allies in the region, one wonders why this effect is not being recognized by the elites in Israel or in Washington.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Send in the clowns

Hosni Mubarak yesterday delivered a fiery televised speech in which, in addition to calling for immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, he also said there will be no foreign presence on Egyptian territory for border surveillance, calling this a "red line". The latter point was spelled out by his Foreign Minister Ahmed Abdul Gheit who said Egypt is not a party to the agreement signed by Rice and Livni on Friday, adding that "Egypt has no commitment to this memo."

A number of Arab journalists have noted that the signing of the US-Israel memo without the involvement or agreement of Egypt was a direct insult to the Mubarak administration, because it implicitly treats Egyptian border territory with Gaza as essentially up for grabs in terms of sovereignty.

And there was a second insult, namely the announcement of a unilateral cease-fire without any consideration for the efforts the Mubarak administration had been making to arrive at an actual agreement of some kind with Hamas, with the support--they thought--of Israel and the United states. And in fact the pressure to keep Arab representatives from attending the Qatar meeting was at least partly based on the need to give Egypt more time to finalize these negotiations before making demands on Israel. But it was all for show.

So it is that Israel ended up declaring a cease-fire based on an agreement--not with Hamas, and not even with the go-between Egypt--but with its own sponsor the United States. And based on an agreement purporting to involve foreign forces in patrolling a border that the supposed host country vehemently rejects!

It was the only way to present a facade of "achievement", and presumably the cost in terms of Egyptian anger was considered an acceptable price to pay.

Just goes to prove a point made by AbdulBari Atwan in a recent column: Those Arab leaders who put their trust in agreements with Israel are inevitably rewarded with "a prominent place in the trash-can of history".

Zionism and militant Islam

I think if would be useful to compare Israeli military-political strategy in the current war, with AlQaeda military-political strategy as reflected in its failure in Iraq and the internal debates surrounding those developments.

By that I mean that the desire for breadth of support from co-religionists--and even more broadly public-opinion in general-- has been in both cases confronted with another trend, namely what you could call military absolutism.

To put it another way: In recent years, Israel had been making slow but noticeable progress in relationships with Arab and Islamic regimes in the neighborhood, with a public handshake here and establishment of a trade office and/or diplomatic recognition there, and then in the last three weeks it has blown that all away in the interests of "teaching a lesson" to the Hamas regime and the people of Gaza, via a military campaign whose rules of engagement seem to have been quite lax in the question of shelling of schools and refugee centers, hospitals, residential areas, and so on. Any real distinction between military defense against military provocations was blown away in a campaign against civilians in which the underlying--perhaps unspoken--justification was the really the biblical-fundamentalist claim to all of Palestine. And all or most of the recent progress in neighborhood relationships went out the window.

To me, what happened in Israeli policy seems to mirror what happened in AlQaeda policy in Iraq, where the carefully laid-out rationale of Bin Laden--striking at those who strike at us--was blown away by a campaign that appears to have reverted to a fundamentalist attack on Shiites as Shiites, delving back into history (in this case stories of Shiite collaboration with the Mongol invasions in the 12th century) just as much as the current Israeli campaign in Gaza delves back into the biblical theme of special entitlement as against non-Jews.

There are perhaps differences of degree, but it seems to me the overall patterns are quite similar. On the one side there is an ideology that has religious conviction as a basic foundation, but that builds on that a rationale and a strategy for broad-based support, both within the ranks of co-religionists and outside it, aiming at political support for its "rightful place" in the world as a whole. (In Judaism you could call this kind of politicized religion "liberal Zionism", while in Islam you have to reverse the terms (for historical reasons) and call this "militant Islam"). On the other side there is an ideology that focuses with such a burning zeal on the religious-findamentalist side that the external-relations and broadly political side of the movement goes by the wayside. It is what happened to AlQaeda in Iraq, and I believe it is what is now happening to Israeli Zionism. The movement becomes entirely inward-looking, and it quickly loses support.

There is of course a third strain of potential monotheistic fanaticism, and it is what you could call evangelical liberalism. Scholars tell us the Christian God had a big part to play in the founding of the American republic, and if you look around you carefully you will see that He still has a lot to say about American policy behind the scenes, and I am not just talking about the obvious whackos. In this case too, there has traditionally been some tension between the militarist fundamentalists of the type that pushed for the recent military invasions of various Muslim countries, while on the other side there are those who purport to lay more stress on the "liberal" side of the ideology than on the "evangelical" side.

If the evolution of what you could call "evangelical liberalism" in America turns out to be anything like the evolution of militant Islam in Iraq, or of Zionism in Israel, then the world is in for a very tough time indeed. A lot of people perhaps think this is needless worry, but they forget that in America, almost half of the people voted to put Sarah Palin in the White House.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Iraq here we come

LB at RoadstoIraq posts a clipping from a Dutch newspaper in which the US army solicits "Iraqis or people who come from other Arabic speaking countries" to try out as actors in a make-believe "Iraqi village" in southern Germany (travel expenses and board will be paid; please bring ID). She notes this confirms the gist of a story in AlQuds alArabi yesterday, that quoted one prospect as having been offered $90 a day for this. Ads are particularly focused on German universities, the story said. The recruiter explained to the prospect that the idea is to train American soldiers being sent from America to Iraq. They sometimes have difficulty shifting from American culture to Iraqi and Islamic culture, so this will be a good opportunity for them to learn about Iraqi and Islamic customs and culture.

LB asks: "Any withdrawal out of Iraq soon?"

An Israeli "foot in the door" with the Obama administration (Updated)

Aluf Benn wrote in Haaretz yesterday (Thursday Jan 15) an important article about the two reports that the Israeli war cabinet will be using to decide whether or not to end the war. (The article has not made it onto the Haaretz English-language website, and in what follows I have relied on the Arabic translation appearing today (Friday Jan 16) on the "Israeli press" page of AlQuds alArabi).

One of the awaited reports is from Amos Gilad on his Thursday discussions in Cairo on details of acceptance or otherwise by Hamas of the terms of the Egyptian proposal. This has been reported widely in US media.

But Benn wrote that there is another report that the Israeli war cabinet is also awaiting, and it is from a mission by a senior official in Tsipi Livni's Foreign Ministry, Aharon Abramowitz, whom Livni sent to Washington to try and get Condi Rice to put her name on behalf of the United States to a written agreement that would commit the United States to specific types of assistance aimed at the prevention of arms-smuggling to Gaza. Benn says it appears Livni's idea here is to give the hard-liner Olmert an additional escape-route from the war, in the form of this additional "accomplishment". He adds that the timing for this is very tight, because Condi will be leaving office in a few days, so the idea is to get her to sign it while she is still in office.

"The question is," Benn wrote, "whether Egypt will provide Olmert with an escape-route; and will the agreement with the Americans be finalized?"

Here is what Benn says about the content of the proposed Israel-US agreement:
At the heart of the document, which has crystallized during the past week, is a political commitment--the first of its kind--by the United States to combat weapons smuggling of all kinds and on all levels to Hamas and the other terrorist groups in Gaza.
And Benn wrote:
Israel sees in this agreement the chance to "get a foot in the door" with the incoming Obama administration which will be called on to honor the heritage of its predecessor. Defence Secretary Bob Gates, who will be staying in office, has also been involved in the communications with respect to this.
Given the fact that the outgoing administration wouldn't sign this without assurance that there will be a real cease-fire, Benn says it is possible to see this as Livni trying to come up with additional PR points for Olmert to convince him to end this war.

The implications of such an agreement for the United States aren't discussed anywhere that I have seen*. There is a reference to the Benn piece on Bloomberg yesterday that didn't elaborate on the implications for US policy. And today AlHayat also refers to the Benn piece. Probably the Arabic translation I have been using is only a summary, because both Bloomberg and Hayat refer to additional details**. For instance AlHayat refers to Abramowitz' discussions with officials in the US foreign, defence and intelligence establishments aiming at finding a way for America to provide "guarantees" with respect to arms smuggling. And Bloomberg had these details:

A senior Israeli diplomat will meet today in Washington with State Department officials to seek a guarantee from the U.S. that it will do more to stop the smuggling of weapons to Hamas from Iran and elsewhere, Haaretz said.

Intelligence Sought

Foreign Ministry Director General Aharon Abramowitz will ask the U.S. for a written agreement that it will share more intelligence information with Israel, spearhead a maritime effort to stop ships suspected of carrying arms for Hamas, and transfer technology to Egypt to aid in the uncovering of smuggling tunnels, the newspaper reported without saying where it got the information. Israeli officials who confirmed the account would not comment further.


* The NYT website say this morning that Livni has been sent to Washington and such an agreement is about to be signed, without giving detail because it says details haven't been finalized yet.

**Actually there was another piece in Haaretz yesterday, not Benn's, that outlined the terms of the agreement in point form. (h/t MoA)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

To be continued

The meaning, in words, that lies behind the televised record of one-sided death and destruction in Gaza is this: Israel has given itself over to atavistic impulses; no power is moving to stop them; and the blowback will last for generations.

Ibrahim Amin, writing in the Lebanese paper Al-Akhbar on Thursday, said one reason the Israeli public is so solidly behind the 2009 Gaza war--compared to the 2006 Lebanon war-- is that the crimes being committed here have somehow been given the aura of Old Testament or Torah heroics, and the thirst is for unequivocal images of victory like lines of enemy soldiers blindfolded holding up the white flag. AbdulBari Atwan likewise, in his Friday column, describes this as an Israeli thirst for blood and destruction that isn't yet satiated. He wonders how many more victims they will demand, and at the same time how long it will take the Arab leaders to take steps "to preserve their honor, or what is left of it, if there is any left". He wishes Ahmedinejad and his allies would take steps to help the Gazans, adding:
We realize that they themselves [Iran and its allies] are targeted, and that the attack on Gaza was a prelude to a future attack on them, and we do not wish for them to fall into the trap of Israeli provocation. Still, there must be cards they hold that they could use effectively to show which side they are on and to demonstrate their adherence to healthy nationalism, in support of the resistance and its many factions in this fateful war.
As for the America and the West, he says they understand only the language of interests, and they have only two, namely their own security and their pocketbooks. And regrettably no Arab or Muslim movement is in a position to affect those interests, neither among the "moderate" states or the others, all of them being equal in their contemptible impotence.

And so on. Again like Ibrahim Amin yeterday, Atwan concludes with an invocation of what the future holds:
Future Palestinian generations born out of the rubble of this destruction will certainly be different, and they will not accept what the present generation accepts. They will have revenge on all those who failed their fathers, and who collaborated in the attack. They will deal with them exactly as they deal with the attackers, if not more so. We should keep in mind the dream and the aspiration of Ytzak Rabin, that he would awake one day from sleep and find that Gaza had sunk into the sea and disappeared.