Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Welcome to Neo-McCarthyism

Thanks to MuzzleWatch, here's another cog in the "orchestrated attacks" against those who are viewed as an enemy of the (Israeli) state:

"Longtime Jewish Week reporter Larry Cohler Esses writes in The Nation about recent orchestrated attacks on Nadia Abu El-Haj and Debbie Almontaser and others:

In case after case, a network of right-wing activists has started an online furor based on a mélange of distorted or provably false charges against someone involved in Middle East studies. They supported these charges with quotes yanked out of context or entirely made up and wielded a broad brush of guilt by association. Right-wing media megaphoned the charges, stoking the furor. And mainstream media ultimately noticed and responded, often focusing their stories on the furor rather than the facts.

Under pressure from these assaults, some academic institutions buckle and a professor’s career is derailed; in other cases it is permanently stained. More insidious, even when tenure puts an academic beyond the reach of his or her assailants, more vulnerable junior faculty and grad students take note. “There certainly is a sense among faculty and grad students that they’re being watched, monitored,” said Zachary Lockman, president of the Middle East Studies Association. “People are always looking over their shoulder, feeling that whatever they say–in accurate or, more likely, distorted form–can end up on a website. It definitely has a chilling effect.”

This is the modus operandi of the New McCarthyism. It targets a new enemy for our era: Muslims, Arabs and others in the Middle East field who are identified as stepping over an unstated line in criticizing Israel, as radical Islamists, as just plain radical or as in some way sympathetic to terrorists. Its purveyors include Campus Watch, run by Arab studies scholar Daniel Pipes; the David Project, supported by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation; and David Horowitz’s FrontPage Magazine (in October Horowitz organized an “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week” on campuses across the nation).

Their efforts often appear to be linked. As first noted by blogger Richard Silverstein, the earliest web attack on El-Haj’s book was posted simultaneously by Campus Watch and FrontPage, in October 2005. Alexander Joffe, identified as a professor at SUNY, Purchase, published a harshly negative review of the book in The Journal of Near Eastern Studies that same month. The prestigious journal did not note–and was not informed–that he was then director of Campus Watch. Soon after, he became research director for the David Project. Less prominent researchers like Stern, the online PipeLine News and writers such as Beila Rabinowitz and William Mayer provide raw material to the more well-known portals, such as Pipes and Horowitz. Pipes’s and Horowitz’s material is, in turn, picked up by key conservative papers like the New York Post and New York Sun."

They certainly know how to play the "smear game", and have used the media tool effectively, knowing that when you cry wolf loud enough, the parrots (aka the mainstream media) will repeat anything that is alleged, despite the fact it is borne out of whole cloth, and its only intention is to silence dissenters and create an atmosphere that will deter future academics to do the same. Remember the lesson of Norman Finkelstein, Joseph Massad, Rashid Khalidi, Juan Cole, Hamid Dabashi, etc., because your reputation is at stake UNLESS you become the next in line for Israel's apologists.

Uncertain Outcomes: The Israeli-Palestine Question

I focus our attention to a brilliant article by Jim Miles, who is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor/columnist of opinion pieces and book reviews to the website, Palestine Chronicle. Miles "interest" in the Israel-Palestine issue originated in environmentalism, "which encompasses the militarization and economic subjugation of the global community and its co-modification by corporate governance and by the American government." The opening paragraph is an epiphany, where his work on "examining the various landscapes", led him towards an "advocacy position of Palestinian rights", a position that is similar to one that I encumbered, although not quite so indirect such as his. It's amazing how this conflict touches upon not just Jews, Arabs, Americans but others not connected personally to the region (like myself), and also manages to ring the bell for others seeking justice of even a different plane altogether. It does make one feel more optimistic that there is a light at the end of the Israeli oppression.

The first section is a great inside look at how central the Israeli-Palestine Question is to most conflicts in the news today. Miles also examines the ethnic cleansing, the continuation of annexation of Palestinian lands, the settlements, a book review of Abuminah's One Country - A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse, as well as the meddling of American foreign policy and its effects, a debate by an advocate of One-State against a Two-Stater, and the plausibility of either solution (which I also examined earlier). In it, the examples of Northern Ireland and South Africa are upheld as a paradigm for future models of the Israel-Palestine conundrum. Are we ready for this long fight for a state for all its citizens? I quote Miles,

"While chances at the moment seem highly improbable, the goal, the vision, the possibility needs to be maintained, for its own end, and also to guard against the bleak view of seeing only a prison landscape. A better world is possible and while it may be well over the horizon at the moment, the hope for it needs to be maintained."

Uncertain Outcomes: The Israeli-Palestine Question

By Jim Miles

After 9/11, 2001, when I first started examining the various landscapes – physical, political, cultural, military – of events relating to that day, I had no real idea that it would lead me into an advocacy position of Palestinian rights, but everything about the American empire at the time pointed towards Israel and Palestine as the then current focal point of the majority of the Middle East, European, and Asian political problems. I had long been familiar with American arrogance and patriotic jingoism, with its various wars of suppression supposedly in the name of protecting the free world from communism, with its corporate mentality as witnessed by the failed Multilateral Agreement on Investments as supported by the World Trade Organization and others in the group of the Washington Consensus, and with its military supremacy, its phoney antagonism to communism, but most notable in its formidable yet essentially unusable nuclear arsenal. I had a lot of the pieces for the puzzle, but had not put them together into a coherent framework. When that framework did materialize and I was able to see the big picture quite distinctly – yet still with puzzle pieces missing – Palestine-Israel appeared to be the central focus. There are many other nuances in different areas of the globe, but the central feature remained Israel and the Middle East.

Now with events in Iraq and Afghanistan becoming predominant within the newscasts, Israel-Palestine has not seemed to be central to the picture. Unfortunately it still is, as the Zionist lobby in America has the ear – and foremost its wallets – of many Americans in its thrall, and those same groups are now clamouring for an attack on Iran because of Iran’s alleged desire to completely destroy Israel and Israel’s self-willed fear of Iranian nuclear power. Regardless of that global centrality, even if it were not there, the question of what will happen in Israel-Palestine remains.

That basic Palestinian-Israeli question relates to what will be the ultimate kind of country that rises from the current conflict. The ‘status quo’ has never held the same within Palestine-Israel except for the one factor of the power dominance of the Israelis in most aspects of life over the Palestinian people. The geographical situation has changed over time: from the initial Jewish immigrants; the rebellions against the British by both the Palestinians and the Jews; through the sudden and swift changes forced by the nakba and twenty years later the Six Day War (or the naksah); to the gradual and seemingly inexorable pace of settlement colonies in the occupied territories. It has seen government structures within Palestine grow and develop, from a relatively unconstituted state of subjection by conquest to an acceptance of the PLO as the Palestinian representatives, the creation of the Palestinian Authority, and finally the democratic victory of Hamas denied and subverted by everyone caught out on the weak limb of their own democratic discourse. Still the question lingers as there have been no political settlements, only vague negotiations for future status, roadmaps that lead nowhere, and ‘horizons’ that do as all horizons do by simply retreating as the searcher advances. The question remains. What will be the outcome of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict?

It is obvious that the current situation will not remain that way for long. Events within and outside the area both provide momentum towards some kind of change towards some kind of settled outcome, of which there are several, some kind, some not.

Ethnic Cleansing

The worst possible scenario, the most repugnant of the choices, is that of genocide/ethnic cleansing. While few actually advocate this, the refrain is still evident in some Israeli voices. And while few actually advocate measures that would apply ethnic cleansing in one grand large gesture, it could be argued that most of the events that have occurred in Palestine-Israel over the past half-century are in essence a prolonged form of ethnic cleansing. The UN “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide” states that genocide “is a crime under international law” which involves various acts “with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group as such.” Of the five acts listed in Article Two the first three are apparent within Palestine-Israel: “(a) Killing members of the group; b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.” Along with genocide, Article Three finds punishable, “(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide; (c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide” [1] Obviously there will be arguments and rationales from the Israelis about defence of their country and the fight against terrorism, but the overall presentation of information coming largely from Jewish revisionist scholarship is that if the above three parameters are applied to Israel, then they are participating in genocide/ethnic cleansing. [2]

Even before the nakba the Zionist plan included settlements placed intermittently within the Palestinian population to prevent and block a contiguous Palestinian geographic area. The nakba provided a focus in which over five hundred Palestinian villages and towns were destroyed quickly and ‘efficiently’, if terror, murder and expulsion can be considered ‘efficient’. After the 1967 Six Day War colonial settlements became the norm again, continuing the earlier Zionist plans to split the Palestinian areas into non-functional territories surrounded by a Jewish state. Certainly there have been incidents of killing, either in groups as with Tantura, Jenin, Sabra, and Shatilla or within the ongoing IDF interventions during either of the intifadas or as basic ongoing crime and punishment within the daily lives of the occupied Palestinian territories.

To date this settlement pattern has been successful for the Jewish state as the majority of Palestinians reside in small non-contiguous areas, many cut off from their former agricultural areas, water sources, cultural centres, and employment, having to communicate on back roads threaded under and around roads preserved for Jews only. The situation within these bantustan style cantonments very deliberately inflicts “conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part,” with the Israeli voice expressing the idea that hopefully conditions will be made so miserable that the Palestinians will “choose” to leave. This ‘status quo’ will not remain; the pressures are much too great. Gaza is essentially an immense outdoor prison camp; the Westbank is divided up into three small areas, none of which have any control over any aspect of what could be considered state-hood, except when acting as proxies for the Israelis.

Guarding a series of prison-based cantonments is not a viable means of achieving peace for the region, nor of establishing a democratic state. While the situation with Iran remains tenuous, the direction that Israel will take is also uncertain, and while I am loathe to enter into conjecture about the future, an Iranian ‘venture’ on the part of Israel or the U.S. could open up the path to more severe and impulsive genocide/ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian population.

While genocide/ethnic cleansing is an illegal and morally repugnant manner to have a final outcome (especially in consideration of the Jewish trauma from their own holocaust), the path to the other two main solutions are also highly problematic, although much more favourably arguable from a moral-legal perspective. Those two aspects, first the “two state” outcome, secondly the “democratic state for all the peoples” outcome, will require enormous efforts by both sides to make them agreeable, and while not everyone can be satisfied, the majority would hopefully improve the lot of both groups such that peace and a healthy social-cultural-political interaction could grow between the parties.

Yankee Go Home

The path would be made much easier if one of the main protagonists would simply ‘butt out’. For while there are two cultures, two identities trying to achieve a peaceful home, it is compounded by a third group that is there only for the fortune of political and geostrategic considerations – the Americans, who really do not care about the Palestinians at all and are only supportive of Israel for their grand strategy towards the Middle East. To a lesser but still influential sector, the American Christian right simply wants the Jews to succeed and fulfill Christian prophecy so that they can come in afterwards and establish their own Christian kingdom. A further complicating factor is the Jewish lobby, most highly recognized under the acronym AIPAC, but extending into many more organizations and operations that influence American politics. Even with full and open ended approval of the Bush administration, the Israelis have not progressed to a Palestinian final settlement as expressed above, perhaps recognizing deep down the complete moral contradiction that would have in light of their own history; or perhaps as they recognize that the moral force behind the situation has turned against the use of more explicit violence and relocation, they hesitate to do so unless conditions become suddenly more catastrophic. One of my favourite refrains, “yankee go home”, would not solve the situation but would facilitate - given other appropriate conditions – a more equal dialogue between the two identities.

The American-Israeli relationship is a tenuous symbiotic one with the Israeli government relying heavily on American military and financial subsidies along with the political support. American aid, mostly in the form of military aid, is generally calculated to be around the three billion dollar mark per year [3], with much of that going into military research that is then exported around the world. This constitutes one third of American foreign aid and makes up about seven per cent of the Israeli annual budget and supports an Israeli per capita income of twenty-six thousand eight hundred dollars [4]. Going the other way, AIPAC exerts great pressure within the U.S. electoral system with its ability to target legislators with financial assistance or conversely with electoral challenges. Arguments swirl around the two as to who has the most significant impact over the other, but regardless of that, the reality for others is of a double-headed monster threatening the countries and cultures of the Middle East.

I realize the likelihood of the duo self-extracting themselves from this relationship is minimal, making the chances of a successful resolution that is acceptable to both sides equally unlikely. It would require a politician/statesman of enormous personal presence – or maybe even enormous skills at subterfuge to get around his or her compatriots – in order to separate the two. However other peoples have resolved their problems, not perfectly, but at least beginnings towards peace and reconciliation have been made and the killings and subjugation of other peoples has been significantly diminished.

Israel, by it sheer military power, could readily prevail in the Middle East without U.S. support. The Arab governments are not united behind Palestine and never have been. Jordan has always played the geostrategic game to its advantage, never being a vociferous voice against Israeli atrocities or occupation, nor challenging or threatening in any way militarily. Saudi Arabia is much closer in its ties to the Americans than it is to the U.S. Egypt pursued and achieved peace with Israel, again with massive U.S. foreign aid ($2 billion per year) under a non-democratic government. Lebanon is so torn apart by its own internal factions that it will never be a threat to Israel other than that Israel seems to want the territory up to the Litani River, a mainly Shiite area mixed up with Palestinian refugees, natural antagonists to Israeli desires. Syria has never seriously threatened Israel and the recent incursion by Israeli jets, while still not fully understood as to its full strategic significance, does indicate an Israeli ability and readiness to intrude freely on their air space. Without the U.S., Israel would be able to defend itself against any regional challengers.

That would lead to the conclusion that Israel derives moral support and perhaps even moral ‘diversion’ for its actions in Palestine, while the world in general foments about the imperial hubris of the U.S. as it attacks various countries for its own strategic interests (control of oil, containment of China and Russia being foremost). The U.S. gains a military protégé that is capable of supporting its strategic efforts under the guise of a ‘war on terror’, provides intelligence information, and may or may not accompany the U.S. on an attack on Iran. The combination is lethal and in the short term makes a peaceful settlement in Israel-Palestine remote at the present, but the effort still needs to be put forward as to what that eventual outcome could be.

Two State or One State?

Regardless of the U.S. role, the two identities involved have several levels of definition for what will eventually become of whatever form of co-existence is imposed or chosen. Ethnic cleansing is still a possibility as discussed above. The remaining solutions concern the central idea of a two state or one state solution, with the two state solution carrying within itself several possibilities. The one state solution is obviously a singularity, but the internal workings of such a state could have many possible permutations.

Canada’s CBC Radio talk show “The Current” recently hosted two authors, Ali Abunimah, a Palestinian refugee and American educated founder of The Electronic Intifada, and Akiva Eldar, a Ha’aretz diplomatic affairs correspondent. [5] The two duelled verbally about their respective ideas, Abunimah favouring the single state, Eldar supporting the two state idea.

Abunimah spoke first, arguing that a government was needed that represented the population of 11 million Arab and Jewish people, to provide “protection for all the communities” with “equal rights”. His view of the current situation is that of a reality “intertwined and inseparable on the ground.”

Eldar started by saying the situation had “nothing to do with religion” but with “national and personal identity” and insisted the one state solution was “not doable”. He continued saying that “most Palestinians I know” support him and “after one hundred years of animosity, we need a good divorce lawyer.” “If we wait any longer,” he said, “we’ll find ourselves in a one state and it’s going to be hell.”

Abunimah, by far the stronger and more eloquent of the two speakers, insisted “We’re already in a one state solution, there’s a fallacy that we have two separate states or entities. The fact that the Israeli government alone decides whether people in Gaza eat or drink, have light or darkness, is a clear indication that there is one government.” He continued his argument along ethnic lines, saying “Right now it is a purely sectarian state, a Jewish sectarian state where just as in Northern Ireland you had a sectarian Protestant state and they’ve found there that total victory of one side or the other was impossible….The only solution was power sharing, and if you think a one state solution in Palestine-Israel is impossible, go to Belfast” where the shared government “between Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party…is the political equivalent of a Hamas-Likud coalition.” Current events, he stated, are “leading to the destruction of both peoples. It’s time for something new.”

Eldar argued that Israeli-Arabs did not want to leave the Israeli state if given the choice to move to the occupied territories, to which Abunimah replied, “Of course Palestinian citizens of Israel don’t want to leave, why should they? It’s their country, they were born there, but what they are agitating for is….converting Israel from an ethnic Jewish state which gives special and better rights to Jews into a democracy of all its citizens.”

When Eldar started to discuss the Jewish settlers in the occupied territories, Abunimah had to interrupt to get him to agree that one had to include the settlers in Jerusalem in the total. Eldar argued that by removing 50-70 000 of the settlers that a two state situation could be accomplished. Abunimah’s counter argument derided both these aspects, “First of all, how can you exclude Jerusalem? Jerusalem is at the centre of this conflict….he is saying only ten to twelve per cent, fifty to seventy thousand, would leave. A Palestinian state with half a million settlers implanted in the middle of it is a bantustan as in the South African model and that’s why the Camp David accords failed, it wasn’t because of this myth that Arafat rejected a generous offer, it was because Palestinians understood that what they were being offered is a South African style Bantustan.” Arguing that while Israel “is increasingly being recognized as an apartheid state…the solution…is not more partition and apartheid, it is to start to bring the people together in a situation where they have equal rights and protections.”

Eldar’s response, “is a one state solution doable? Israel is a democracy…” became entangled in both participants trying to over talk each other, with clarity returning when Eldar argued that the “right of return” was “another non-starter”. Abunimah riposted quite vociferously, “What is a non-starter for you, it seems Akiva, with all due respect, is anything that approaches equality among all human beings regardless.”

The show host, Anna Maria Tremonti, closed off by asking, “What do you do? What happens?” When the two began overtaking each other, Abunimah again grabbed the lead, talking pointedly at Eldar’s phrase that it is “just the bottom line is different.” Abunimah responded, “The bottom line is equality and whether you can live with it and it sounds to me like you’re not ready but what we are talking about is the equality between Israel as a superpower and Gaza which Israel cuts electricity and water off from, that’s not equality."

“That’s wrong,” agreed Eldar.

“That’s a bantustan,” Abunimah added a qualification.

“A one state solution is a non-starter because most of the Israelis will not accept it so we are wasting our time discussing it,” Eldar continued.

“Most Israelis don’t accept a two state solution….”

“No that’s not true…”

…and the bell rang to end the round.

Lords of the Land

From this radio discussion, the weight of common sense argument and clarity of argument would have to ride in Abunimah’s favour, and it prompted me to go buy both author’s most recent books to see how their positions were represented within.

Akiva Eldar’s most recent work, co-authored with Idith Zertal, is Lords of the Land – The War Over Israel’s Settlements in the Occupied Territories, 1967-2007 (Nation Books, New York, 2005, 2007). Eldar takes a very negative view of the settlement process that he examines within the years indicated within the title. He recognizes them as being illegal, with his chapter that discusses the issue “analyzes the legalization [legitimation?] of the basic illegality of the civilian Jewish presence in the occupied territories.” Further, while arguing over the legality perspective he ironically supports Abunimah’s contention that there is already only one state, that by “Imposing Israeli judicial authority on the territories, and in thus expanding the authority of the Israeli courts beyond the boundaries of the State of Israel, the army in effect annexed the territories.” Because the inhabitants had no other recourse, they were “coerced….to recognize, whether they wanted to or not, this legal annexation and the authority of the Israeli judiciary system over them.” In full contradiction to what he tried to say to Abunimah on “The Current” he concludes, “This single act also rendered the state of Israel and the territories a single [emphasis added] judiciary-political entity, blurring the borders of June 4, 1967.” The actions of the courts “eventually afforded the highest legal and moral seal of approval to Israel’s ruthless occupation in the territories.” At least for my way of thinking, he is in agreement with Abunimah, that there currently is only one state, “intertwined and inseparable,” legally, politically, and geographically.

For the most part, the book is an excellent guide to a standard political style history of the development of the settlements. To their credit the authors find the process both legally and morally reprehensible. Their view of the future, should the settlement patterns continue, “will lead Israel along a sure path to more disputes, more hatred, and more bereavement.” Consistent with the interview, Israel is seen as a democratic state. Eldar’s two state solution, whether supported by Zertal or not, supports for the Palestinians the “non-starter” of not recognizing the settlements that are effectively annexing Arab Jerusalem, and another “non-starter” the denial of the right of return to Palestinian refugees and diaspora.

A two state solution has many permutations, from the prison-like to the relatively autonomous. If the current situation were stabilized ‘unilaterally’ there would still be much division and separation, with minimal access to other areas, and minimal control of access and egress. Some voices have considered a Jordanian partner to help ‘govern’ the bantustans, a form of governance that would be fraught with difficulty, and still provide only a nominal autonomy – without independence – and a nominal democracy – the kind imposed by an external controlling power.

The wall, presented as a defence against terrorists, and as a boundary to enclose settlements within Israel, may be presented unilaterally as a new boundary between Palestinians and Israelis. But as best described by Roger Lieberman a graduate student at Rutgers University, a unilateral declaration of the wall as a boundary creates a situation where “The economic havoc wreaked by the Wall and hundreds of checkpoints is seen by many hawkish Zionists as the most “practical” means of carrying out ethnic cleansing.” That perspective is compared to the Golan Heights where “depopulation, colonization, and annexation – is what a substantial and dangerous segment of the Israeli body politic (along with its enablers in America) has long had in mind for the West Bank.” According to Lieberman the Golan Heights serves as a demonstration as to the efficacy of “how Israeli unilateralism effectively erased a substantial Arab community in the Levant without many people in the outside world taking notice and protesting.”[6] The wall, and a two state outcome based on it, would not provide a long-term stable structure. The added complication of the Gaza Strip and how it would fit into the arrangement seriously compromises any two state solution at this level.

The most advanced and probably only truly viable acceptable form of a two state solution would be the withdrawal of the Jewish people to the green line, including the areas of East Jerusalem they have annexed and the diplomatic-legal unification with Gaza Strip. The return of the Jordan Valley to Palestinian control would be a good part of this arrangement. While Israel cries ‘fear’ for its security, Jordan has proven consistently that it has no true aggressive stance towards Israel and has been very accommodating in maintaining a peaceful neutrality with its Jewish neighbour. While all this in itself represents a major concession on the part of the Palestinians in consideration of the land occupied and destroyed in the nakba and its aftermath, it could present a ‘realpolitik’ outcome to the current situation.

When there was a tentative agreement reached in 1993, many Palestinians thought, “that this unprecedented historic compromise, though bitter, was necessary. Those who rejected the creation of a state limited to the Westbank and Gaza Strip…were relegated to the margins of the Palestinian movement.[7]” That the Israeli government was only interested in investing in more time to settle more territory became apparent not too much later.

It is the “enablers in America” combined with the ongoing perception of all options being “non-starters” that makes this argument academic today, yet at the same time essential. For while there are many non-starters, and many negative enablers, possibilities do exist and need to be kept up front where the moral and legal weight of the rest of the world can perhaps impose some form of saner view on the situation.

One Country

Ali Abunimah’s book, One Country – A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse, is consistent with his arguments on “The Current”. Before discussing the one state outcome, he provides a well-written precis of events leading from the nakba to the present. It is readily accessible, combining anecdotal material with a clearly delineated sequence of events. Throughout it all he remains consistent with his message of democratic and human rights principles for all people. There is not really too much force behind his arguments until later in the book: his arguments are rational and academically sound, but seem to be just that, academic in the face of the real situation on the ground. But then he enters his discussion on South African apartheid and quickly demonstrates that this is more than purely an academic argument, that if the situation in South Africa - very similar to the one in Israel, from the warring occupiers fighting against the British and then trying to dominate and exclude the indigenous population – can be changed so dramatically, then there is a very real possibility that the same could happen in Israel-Palestine.

Abunimah begins this section with several recognizable arguments: first that the Africans and Arabs are seen as uncivilized peoples whose resistance to domination is irrational and motivated by hatred (the White Man’s Burden again); secondly, the Zionist and Afrikaners “responded to resistance” by “rhetorically reversing the colonial relationship, claiming that they…were the true indigenous people; and that neither the Afrikaner nor Zionist would have gained control “without the benefit of British power, which crushed and deligitimized indigenous resistance on their behalf.”

Abunimah defines two points of time in which the academic argument could become a viable reality. First is the “hope held out by South Africa…that when Israelis and Palestinians finally do conclude that separation is unachievable, there is an example of an alternative to perpetual conflict.” Similarly, when “Israelis and Palestinians commit themselves to full equality, there is no rationale for separate states.” Abunimah outlines several points as to how the unified government could sort out its binational, democratic, equal rights self. Hamas, much to the consternation of many, receives support as being the best group to lead any Palestinian identity within a unified state partly as they “have shown little inclination to implement far-reaching social changes along religious lines,” and have genuinely acted at the democratic people’s level, “while remaining remarkably open to peaceful coexistence with Israelis.”

The one state solution, while enviable as presented in the manner done by Abunimah, is far from being a timely proposal. As with South Africa, the two combatants would need to arrive at similar positions of recognizing that ongoing violence will do neither side any good. There are obviously huge obstacles, ranging from American involvement to the current insistence on the part of the Israelis that the Palestinians are terrorists, their state is fully democratic, and that their conquest of the land is a god given right. It will take some time, some significant about face in political ideology, to realize any stable outcome within Palestine-Israel.

There is a Way Forward

Current prospects are dim for any actual settled, peaceful outcome in which human rights and democracy are basic to whatever the final arrangement would be. Still in a state of tension, magnified by American threats and occupations elsewhere in the Middle East, no settlement is likely to be found soon. There are three over-riding possible outcomes to the Israeli-Palestine problem: bantustan style cantonments; a two state solution of some kind; or a one state solution of some form.

The status quo may deteriorate further into the unacceptable and repugnant form of prison-like cantonments. There may be an imposed ‘agreement’ based on the current wall outlines and the current settlement patterns in the West Bank and Jerusalem, with Gaza complicating that arrangement. How does one reintegrate a ‘hostile entity’ of ones own creation into a Palestinian ‘autonomous’ territory? A withdrawal to the Green Line would more than likely prove acceptable to the majority of Palestinians, reluctantly, bitterly, perhaps necessary.

The one state solution, from an academic human rights – democratic argument is most strongly and effectively argued by Abunimah and has the examples of Ireland (as in the radio discussion) and South Africa (as well-defined in his book) to work with. Obviously, from the way this presentation is worded, I, at the moment, favour Abunimah’s one state solution as the most significant humanitarian, egalitarian, and democratic manner into which the situation would hopefully evolve. It will not be an easy road to follow for either side as both have their internal factions to deal with as well as having external geopolitical interests imposing themselves upon the area. There are also many, many areas – religion, right of return for both groups, education, social structures and support, national and regional governance to name a few - that would need significant discussion and cooperation to facilitate a one state rapprochement. While chances at the moment seem highly improbable, the goal, the vision, the possibility needs to be maintained, for its own end, and also to guard against the bleak view of seeing only a prison landscape. A better world is possible and while it may be well over the horizon at the moment, the hope for it needs to be maintained.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Gaza suffocating

Ever since declaring Gaza "hostile territory", Israel has upped the ante on its embargo of the tiny area which is home to approximately 1.5 million Palestinians, all under the mercy of Israel's goodwill. Keep in mind that a good portion lives in refugee camps, and the total area of Gaza is 41 kms long by 6 to 12 kms wide, the density of people at a catastrophic point. With Hamas still at the helm, Israel continues its attempt at collective punishment of Gazans. Reports that the last Israeli bank institutions have severed ties with Palestinian banks has the twelve Gaza banks scrambling for currency:

"Gaza's 12 banks are scrambling for ways to keep their operations going... Banks declined to cash large checks and limited withdrawals. Some branches closed or shortened their hours... Gaza is entirely dependent on Israel for trade, and the Israeli shekel is the primary currency... Israel allowed only basic items, such as food and medicine, into the territory.

The banking cutoff affects the two crucial roles Israeli banks play in Gaza's economy — processing Israeli-Gazan business transactions and providing cash to Palestinian banks.

Today, cash is transported in trucks from Palestinian banks in the West Bank through Israel, and picked up by trucks at the Gaza-Israel border."

So there is no money to be had for poor Gazans. What's circulating right now is meant to sustain the crippled situation and make it more dire for making the choice to vote in Hamas. More importantly, all trade is stifled since Gaza is totally dependent on Israel. But that's not enough. Israel has applied their blockade on aid deliveries, goods, as well as electricity and fuel supplies, a position that has been condemned by John Holmes, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs:

"Israel's plan to cut electricity and fuel supplies to the Gaza Strip will worsen an already dire humanitarian situation...

Holmes also said the number of Palestinian patients allowed to cross into Israel for health care had fallen from 40 a day in July to less than five a day in September...

He called on Israel to lift its economic blockade on Gaza and relax its restrictions on humanitarian aid...

Given the conditions inside both Gaza and the West Bank, the population increasingly depends on outside aid to survive..."

Human Rights Watch has stated that the fuel and power cuts are a violation of international law.

"Cutting fuel or electricity to the civilian population violates a basic principle of international humanitarian law, or the laws of war, which prohibit a government that has effective control over a territory from attacking or withholding objects that are essential to the survival of the civilian population. Such an act would also violate Israel’s duty as an occupying power to safeguard the health and welfare of the population under occupation."

Aid is continually creeping in to keep Gaza subsisting on handouts from the UN and other Arab nations. It is part and parcel so they can bypass total denouncement of certain policies that afflict innocent people, maintaining that they are hungry but still alive. Nevermind that they have no semblence of normalcy, with their airspace continually violated, their freedom of movement stripped from them, and their right to education simply denied. Here's the story of Khaled Al-Mudallal, a Gazan who is stuck in Rafah who is studying at the University of Bradford. He has been unable to leave Gaza and finish his studies.

"Mudallal was born in the Rafah refugee camp. He has six other siblings. He went to Bradford six years ago, following in his father's footsteps, who completed his doctorate in history there. "I understood that England was a wonderful place to be, an interesting place where I could develop," he says, explaining his decision to remain abroad even after his father returned to Gaza. "Until then, I had lived in Palestine. It was entirely new for me to live in an area that was not occupied, in a wide open place.

Last June, he came to visit his family in Rafah. He planned to marry his fiancee, Duah, and take her with him on a honeymoon to London. But the timing of the visit turned out to be problematic: In June Hamas took control of Gaza and, in response, Israel tightened its sanctions against the Strip. The Rafah border crossing is closed most of the time and the passage of Gaza's residents into Egypt has virtually come to a standstill. Although Israel has in fact created a system of transportation for the Palestinians, by means of buses that take them from the Erez checkpoint to the border crossing with Egypt at Nitzana, it is not operational at present."

In the article, it is reported that there are currently "6,400 people waiting to leave the Gaza Strip" with "about 670 of them are students who want to go study in Europe, the United States, various Middle Eastern countries and elsewhere." The embargo of Hamas has rounded up all Palestinians. and conflated them in the name of security of Israel, never alluding to the ludicrous notion of Qassam rockets and poor children throwing stones has any form of a threat to Israel's existence. (To support Mudallal, see Let Khaled study.) The dismal irony being that with Israel's security firmly intact, and Palestinian "terror" at a bare minimum, the terrible strangulation not only continues, but sieges upon sieges get worse by the day (along with more settlement construction and house demolitions).

Despite pathetic words from the EU and the UN that "caution" Israel of imposing the Hamas sanctions (the former supporting the US and Israel on the sanctions in the first place), Israel is still on the affront. What a pity that the Reuters article could only report that "[m]akeshift rockets have killed two Israelis this year," even though Israel has added plenty more in their casualty rate of killing Palestinians:

"Three Palestinians, including a forty-four-year-old disabled man, and an Israeli soldier were killed when Israeli forces invaded the Gaza Strip in several places Monday morning. 11 other Palestinians were injured...

Israeli forces occupied the campus of the Agricultural College in Beit Hanoun before clashing with Palestinian activists.Israeli soldiers shot and killed a disabled Palestinian man named Faird Abu Awda. Officials at Ash-Shifa hospital in Gaza City said the soldiers shot him twice in the head inside his Beit Hanoun home.

Israeli forces also invaded the city of Dier Al-Balah, in the central Gaza Strip, seizing five Palestinians over 24 hours. Two Palestinians were injured in the attack, including a woman named Abu Mghesib. The invading forces also bulldozed farms and agricultural land."

A disabled man. An injured woman. And a "peace envoy" that speaks of only "a tightening grip on Palestinian resistance movements" instead of "honest" brokerage. What's left for a Gazan to do except seethe in the regressive elements that is surrounding them?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Jeff Halper - Israeli Apartheid and the Path to Justice

Thanks to Australians for Palestine, I am able to feature an interview of Jeff Halper, the co-ordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, as he talks of Zionism, Israeli Apartheid, and the prospectives of the One-State and Two-State Solutions. Halper also coined the term "Matrix of Control", describing Israel's way of being ubiquitous in every form of Palestinian life.

Click here for the video.

IDF Soldier censured

I found this piece by Richard Silverstein of great interest. It seems that IDF commander Yair Golan "was censured on Thursday for allowing soldiers to use Palestinian civilians as "human shields" during military operations in the West Bank". Amazingly, a punishment has been accorded to an IDF soldier, since "[T]he army said in a statement that Golan would be passed over for promotion for at least the next nine months." Although Silverstein adds his two cents:

"Of course, you know that after nine months he will receive that big promotion he was angling for since the only problem the IDF has with using human shields is when it's caught doing it (not the tactic itself).

The reason why the IDF must look as if it disapproves of human shields is that the Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that they were illegal. For some reason, despite the ruling the IDF essentially ignored it. Several TV camera crews have caught IDF soldiers in flagrante (see second video) over the past few months and perhaps this has raised a yellow flag among the senior staff."

In his post is the two videos mentioned documenting IDF protocol of "human shields", a tactic that is lauded on the Palestinian militants instead of the Israeli Army. Well, here's proof that they do not have the moral high ground.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Zionist panic!

The effervescent Tony Karon (I know, I cite him an awful lot, but if you read his priceless blog, you can see why.) observed more Zionist panic upon reading the Daniel Pipes entry that Zionism is in decline (that was posted here not long ago). Tony also quotes lengthy another favourite of mine, Philip Weiss, who was present at a CAMERA summit. Here's what Tony took out of Weiss' take on the Zionist gathering:

"The CAMERA people are losing and they know it. Near the end Cynthia Ozick was asked how we should go about delegitimizing the delegitimizers of the Jewish state and she sighed and said, “It’s hopeless.” Alvin Rosenfeld, the author of the disgraceful report on Jewish anti-Semitism put out by the American Jewish Committee, was mildly more optimistic. He said exactly what I say: “We are in a furious intellectual struggle. There is a war of ideas going on… it won’t end quickly…. It is steady work.” And it is “serious and worrisome” inasmuch as these ideas may now “enter the mainstream.” Amen.

…The reason It’s hopeless for the other side is that there was, in the basement of the synagogue, little to zero acknowledgement of the three great realities that are feeding Jewish post-Zionism.

1. the end of anti-Semitism. My old friend and I talked about a Jewish Daily News columnist who refused to hire Jews. That was 50 years ago. The injury is fresh. As the memories of anti-Semitism are for my parents. And they are virtually meaningless to young Americans. A panelist very briefly acknowledged this at the end, saying that Jews are so comfortable in America, how do we stir them?

2. the Israeli occupation of Arab lands and Israel’s brutal treatment of Palestinians were at no time acknowledged, but endlessly rationalized. The separate roadway system for settlers and Palestinian Arabs–rationalized. The incursion into Jenin–whitewashed. And so on. This sort of denial went on in South Africa during the campaign against apartheid. Young people don’t feel quite so defiant.

3. Not a word about Iraq. I have this feeling often in conservative Jewish gatherings. Iraq doesn’t touch them. It’s not a big deal to them, they are removed from it, they are for a hawkish policy in the Mideast and so they talk about Darfur/Sudan more than Baghdad..."

Weiss is then continued to be quoted:

"The heart of Levin’s concern was the American discourse. When Haaretz was just published in Israel, CAMERA didn’t care about its statements about the occupation and the destruction of Palestinian hopes and dreams and olive trees. “This all happened in Hebrew… causing little outward impact..”

Outward impact. She means: now Haaretz is affecting U.S. opinion and foreign policy. The most important statement Levin made was that she gets the brushoff from Amos Schocken, the Haaretz publisher, but with the American media, “there is an unwritten contract between them and us.” (Verbatim transcript to come later, when I have a little time…) An unwritten contract: to be fair to Israel, to print CAMERA members’ letters, to pick up the phone.

Isn’t that amazing and scandalous? Levin is explaining why there is a free debate in Israel and not here. Because of the lobby and its “unwritten contract.” Because U.S. support is crucial to Israel’s existence. And so Americans, who supposedly so love the Middle East democracy that they support it out of the goodness of their hearts, must not read the news from Israel."

And the final word is reserved for Tony himself:

"When the Zionist right in America “defends Israel” by going after one of Israel’s most respected newspapers which happens to tell the truth about the occupation and related matters, it’s not hard to see why Pipes & co. have little cause for optimism. The Zionist moment is over, because most Jews around the world (and even many in Israel) are not inclined to a nationalist view of their Jewishness. And remember, Zionism is not much more than 100 years old, arising along with the nationalist currents of late 19th century Europe that accompanied the breakup of the Hapsburg empire. It’s hardly surprising that in a 21st century where we have had a free choice, almost two thirds of us have chosen to live not in a “Jewish State” but wherever in the world we choose to. Many Israelis today are excercising the same choice. And Jews who are not prone to nationalism have no need to rationalize Israel’s abuses against others."

The allure of Zionism is lost to the younger generation, perhaps for the lucid fact that Semites are easily integrated into any society that they are found in. While Herzl argued that Anti-Semitism could not be fought and had to be accepted by the Jew so they could remove the illusion of assimilation into Europe, hence the need for a separate state for Jews, by today's standards this is too foreign to fathom. Most would identify themselves as American, Canadian, Australian, Polish, etc. first rather than Jewish. Entangled with this is the poor PR that Israel is continuely dogged by, and it is a recipe for estrangement from the Jewish State. Or maybe segragation is not the answer anymore to "Anti-Semitic" problems. I leave this from a quote from Sara Roy (who was quoting her mother):

"She told me many times during my life that her decision not to live in Israel was based on a belief, learned and reinforced by her experiences during the war, that tolerance, compassion, and justice cannot be practiced or extended when one lives only among one's own. “I could not live as a Jew among Jews alone,” she said. “For me, it wasn’t possible and it wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted to live as a Jew in a pluralist society, where my group remained important to me but where others were important to me, too."

Monday, October 22, 2007

Beyond any doubt

Stumbling through the Israeli press, I can across this little doosie by Moshe Elad on the Yedioth newspaper, the most popular paper in Israel. In Elad's mind, the assassination attempt on Ehud Olmert re-emphasised his doubt that Abbas is not the "true representative of the Palestinian people." That much should have been obvious to anyone with a remote interest in Middle East politics, considering Abbas' Fatah not only lost an election, but was booted out of Gaza. It is no comfort either that his "emergency government" is totally illegal under Palestinian law, but Fatah is losing its tenuous hold on their safety net the West Bank. Yet Elad had a hope that Abbas had some sort of authority over the Palestinians, even though many in his own party were deeply distressed at Fatah's attempt to oust Hamas and coddle with the colonials, Israel and the US.

Elad insists that the trio of Abbas, Fayyad and Ekrat are responsible, since they are "so weak and has such feeble control over [their] own organization" and this latest plot reaffirms that "Fatah has not changed at all its good old strategy, which views Israel as the bitter enemy."

Fayyad has denied any links, as well as the Al-Aqsa Brigade. Palestinian Authority General Intelligence Tawfiz Al-Tirawi said "that what Israel depicted as an assassination attempt was actually only talk and an exchange of ideas between two Palestinians on attacking Olmert's convoy." Another report has Fayyad stating that the suspects were released for "lack of evidence" (and then rearrested them). It's difficult to decipher, considering the source of "Israeli Intelligence", but even if it is the truth that there was an attempt to take Olmert's life, it really should not be so surprising.

Or perhaps the disgruntled Palestinians had enough of what is going on and took a page out of Israel's book of political liquidations. Understandably, this is a subject that is conveniently missing in Elad's piece: the fact that Israel is a nation that still views political assassinations as valid to their foreign policy. Here it is in plain writing according to B'Tselem:

"Assassinations have been part of Israel’s security policy for many years. Israel is the only democratic country which regards such measures as a legitimate course of action. This policy is patently illegal, according to both Israeli and international law."

Israel continue with fervour their march to destroy as many Hamas members is possible as well as other Palestinians seen as a danger. And yet Elad maintains that it is the Palestinians whose strategy hasn't changed one bit.

Much to Elad's insistence, Fatah's strategy has certainly changed tenfold. Times are definitely different when Fatah is seen as the Washington and Tel Aviv's puplit instead of a group that hijacked planes and took the fight to Israel by sabotage. Abbas is seen more as a collaborator than Arafat did, despite the latter closely resembling Abbas today in his later stages. The armed wing of Fatah has a mind of its own too, and a guy like Abbas could not keep them in check. Let us remember that the Palestinians are the ones who are forced to give up something to show "moderation" and not the Israelis. In fact, the latest peace proposal doesn't seem to deviate from the norm, only with legitimacy from Abbas this time around instead of rebuffing an offer that no Palestinian could accept. Here's a little insight thanks to Tony Karon:

"The Palestinians have very little leverage over Israel, whose military power ranks it among the world’s top five armies, and whose advanced economy and way of life is not substantially impeded by the conflict with the Palestinians. Palestinian suicide bombers managed to disrupt Israeli life for a brief period, and the Kassam rockets fired wildly into Israel from Gaza have made life hell for the residents of a marginal Israeli town in the Negev desert. But even then, by and large, on the current terms of conflict, the Palestinians are unable to muster a strategic threat to Israel. The corollary, of course, is that despite its increasingly vicious collective punishments and its ongoing repression, Israel has not managed to bend the Palestinians to their will."

So they continue to resist in any form at their dispersal, whether it be stone-throwing, Qassam rockets, or even the momentary assassination attempt. This is a desperate time, with the West Bank inching closer to Israel's total control and the permanent "bantustanisation" of the Palestinians [PDF], they remain adamant that what is on offer is not acceptable and they want to act out in ways that show that it is NOT the way to peace if "negotiating" actually meant anything to the Palestinians anymore. Israel still has the high card, and they have not relented in their aggression and annexation. To the Palestinians the question is, negotiating for what? They only get the same outcome all the time.

While Elad has it perfectly correct that Abbas is weak, it is because of Israel's policy of refusing to deal with Hamas that they contrived up a "good guy" to act in the theatre of "negotiations". And now he has the temerity to announce for his removal because of an attempt on Olmert's life, which seems futile anyway because he seems to have little support nowadays and is reliant on pathetic sideshows with his other leading actor Abbas to implement a historic peacetalk between the two sides. In his mind, "Fatah would have won the next elections by an overwhelming majority because only a major terror attack is the key to political success across the territories, rather than an agreement with Israel."

Wrong again. Fatah continued their agreement with Israel and that led them here in their complete futility. What the lesson should be is that revulsion of Israel would win with the common Palestinian who has seen that agreement with Israel leads to hollow power coupled with corruption at the expense of the peasantry that held Palestinian identity through all its turmoil. What I don't get is why Elad sees all of this as such a shock, since Abbas did not have any legitimacy at all. He seems to feel perturbed that such an act was concocted in the first place, despite the fact that it was foiled by Palestinian authorities. Only lately has Rabin's killer come out in the news again; Israel is not immune to this feeling.

"It’s a waste of time," states Elad. It definitely is, but only because Israel refuses to deal with the rightful authority of the Palestinian people: Hamas. Abbas only has the power that Israel gives him, he cannot do much as a quisling of Israel's making. Complaining about his ineffectualism seems rather mute since he is a puppet made in USA.

The best of the rightists

Extreme? Or just another part of Israelis right-wing nutjob?

"A right-wing Jewish extremist has been disseminating calls for the assassination of leftists and Ashkenazim on Internet sites in Israel and abroad.

One film clip posted on YouTube, for instance, declares: "You are about to view a handful of leftist Ashkenazim that Hitler and Eichmann did not manage to incinerate. Before we begin, please remember: 90 percent of the moderate left are Ashkenazim!! 100 percent of the extreme left are Ashkenazim!!"

Getting plenty of support too. It seems that any that are on the fringe could be conflated with the rest to be culled. How classy. And this is what we have to contend with as an opposition? One that calls for the eradication of those who dissent and "finish Hitler's work".

This is a place where one can assassinate a president and become a hero. The liquidator is still adamant that it was the right thing to do to kill Rabin.

"'I decided to kill [former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin] and I do not regret it,' Rabin's assassin Yigal Amir was heard telling police in a tape of his interrogation released for the first time Monday.

Right-wingers have recently embarked on a 'Free Amir' campaign involving the distribution of pamphlets and the release of a film ahead of 12th anniversary of Rabin's assassination.

Also, surveys published last week indicated that large parts of Israeli society believe Amir should be pardoned."

Smooth running politics.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Canadians in Afghanistan part 2

Today I feature David Markland's second part to his White Guys With Guns. See Part 1 here.

White Guys With Guns: Canada's Military in Afghanistan

Civilian interactions

Turning now to the issue of Canadian and allied soldiers and their interaction with civilians, it bears noting (since the media seldom do) that there is often confusion on the part of soldiers as to who is civilian and who is enemy. We have already seen the difficulties troops can have trying to identify unarmed Taliban, a task for which they often employ their mercenary scouts. But there is also the vexing problem that many Taliban are simply local men who have picked up a gun and thus slip easily between their roles of fighter and farmer.

An American army lieutenant who along with his unit was mentoring Canadian Forces soldiers in Panjwaii explains his experiences pursuing the Taliban: "The problem was, that's where they lived. A lot of them, we'd kill them and their house was only 10 metres away." Evidently, some insurgents have even infiltrated the Afghan government and security forces. "The ministry of interior police that we use to secure ourselves in the day become the Taliban at night," explains Stephen Appleton, the leader of a UN road construction project. "We don't know who all the bad guys are, but they have penetrated everything from the government infrastructure to our own organizations who we deal with in the daytime in terms of business. They are easily working against us at night."

So what about local people who don't moonlight as insurgents, how are they regarded by the foreign forces? Well for starters they receive a close-up lesson in peace. "We've warned people they may see soldiers shooting in their villages. I tell them this is the price of peace and freedom," explained an American Lieutenant-Colonel. For their part, Afghan civilians themselves seem less than enthusiastic about the foreign forces. Local people often cannot (or don't care to) distinguish the forces of individual countries of the NATO operation, referring to them all as "white guys with guns," according to one correspondent.

US and NATO forces in turn make their own generalizations concerning Afghans civilians in the form of collective punishment. In Kunar province, where American forces claim to be fighting Al Qaeda, counter-insurgency tactics amount to a direct attack on civilians. According to ABC News, US military units there employed "a new tactic - sanctions" which are aimed at residents of the Korangal Valley, who are open supporters of the insurgency. These locals, mostly subsistence farmers, endured a blockade on essential items such as sugar, tea and cooking oil. But the blockade of the Korangal wasn't limited to staple goods. A Himalayan Times correspondent spoke to one local who explained their predicament: "[W]e cannot even go to the hospital as the forces have blocked the road to the south of the valley. We cannot move our lumber which is our main source of sustenance".

Captain Hansen, commander of the American unit involved, explained the brutal logic of the blockade: "They are going to need all those things that make their lives just a little bit better. We are providing them with the hard decision. Either you work with the government of Afghanistan or you have the effects of not working with them. It's in their court."

The tactic of collective punishment is a part of the Canadian arsenal as well. "Any people that are found to have been helping the Taliban will have their houses seized by the government, their property seized. They will be left with nothing," promised Lieut. Craig Alcock, a Canadian platoon commander. This statement aroused zero commentary. Yet, as numerous reports indicate, civilians "helping the Taliban" are often doing so against their will. And this concern is prior to the question of whether this threat, if carried out, would violate Geneva Convention prohibitions against collective punishment. Article 33 of the Fourth Convention (1949) says, in part: "No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed."

In villages

"Canadian soldiers block exits on either side of a village, while Afghan army soldiers, backed up by Canadians, slowly advance through the community, searching homes and peering down back lanes. Suspects are searched and questioned. If grounds for suspicion are uncovered -- pockets full of batteries and Pakistani rupees, or evidence the suspect has recently fired a gun -- the suspect is arrested and turned over to Afghan authorities." That's how Canadian Press reporter Bob Weber describes one of the Canadian Forces' "squeegee-like manoeuvres" to "cleanse" the Taliban from the Zhari and Panjwaii districts of Kandahar.

In Kandahar City, meanwhile, Canadian troops insisted upon regular searches of a cemetery despite being forbidden from entering the grounds as are all non-Muslims. In any case, the cemetery was used as a staging ground for a botched suicide attack despite (or maybe because of) the periodic military presence.

Other accounts similarly reveal serious public relations problems encountered by the Canadian Forces. "While the Canadians think their relationship with the people of Gumbad is somewhat cordial, villagers are quick to say that they are deeply offended by the use of bomb-sniffing dogs," according to a Vancouver Sun report. The same reporter describes a "show of force patrol" in a different village in the same district. The patrol sought intelligence from locals following an attack on Canadian forces. Evidently the “force” brought some measure of progress: "One village elder was pretty shaken, but they've given us a couple of leads to pursue," explained Major Kirk Gallinger of the Canadian Forces.

It is small wonder that seasoned observers of Afghanistan give NATO a failing grade on the project to win hearts and minds. "What they have failed to do is make allies of Afghans. Instead they have made enemies of ordinary Afghans," says Kathy Gannon, a veteran reporter on Afghanistan, commenting on the Canadian mission. In response to increased insurgent attacks, she observes, troops have "gone from having an idealistic idea of what they want to do, to being terribly frightened."

Infrastructure destroyed

Apart from the direct effects visited upon civilians by NATO/US military operations, there has been untold damage done to civilian infrastructure. The indirect and long term effects of this are no doubt serious, considering that Afghanistan is scarcely developed in the first place and reconstruction has been slow at best.

A journalist from the London Times, accompanying Canadian Forces soldiers for part of Operation Medusa, offers a revealing glimpse of combat in Kandahar province. "Throughout the day soldiers on foot combed the area for rebels. Heavy gates to walled compounds were blown open, a warren of Taleban tunnels and bunkers were destroyed by explosives and grenades were thrown into wells and fired through doors," writes Tim Albone. Similarly, the Toronto Star's correspondent observed Canadian light armored vehicles (LAVs) driving over dikes and destroying them while another dispatch describes a Canadian soldier "who boasts of driving his LAV through walls and shooting down telephone poles with a 25mm chain gun".

Assuming these reports are true then here again, Canadian forces may be in breach of the law. Additional Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions (1977) states: "Parties to the conflict shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives and accordingly shall direct their operations only against military objectives." Unlike the case of the mercenary convention cited above, Canada has ratified the Protocol. (The US, however, has not.)


While more than two million Afghans currently reside in Pakistan and Iran as refugees, often overlooked are the tens of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country. The lack of attention which our media gives to this problem is perhaps explained by the fact that Canada has played a big role in producing those IDPs. Indeed, two and a half months after Operation Medusa, reported to be NATO's largest operation of 2006, Amnesty International was "particularly concerned" that air strikes as part of NATO campaigns had displaced up to 90,000 people. The most serious clashes at that time were in Kandahar and Helmand provinces.

Months later, Canadian and NATO officials, with great fanfare, announced the arrival of a trickle of returnees to the districts where Canadian troops operate. However, few observers suggest that IDPs are returning home in great numbers. By July 2007 the Senlis Council's Edward McCormick was dismissive of the claims of military officials: "The claim that 6,000 families went back to their homes - I think that's false... I can tell you the internally displaced camps are growing rapidly."

Yet the thousands who fled Panjwaii and Zhari during Operation Medusa may have considered themselves lucky, as an unknown number of civilians could not escape to safety. Reporting at the outset of that battle, the Globe and Mail's correspondent wrote that "those who are lingering are either farmers who won't abandon their crops or are too poor to find shelter elsewhere."


In light of such unsavory happenings, it's not surprising that Canadian military officials have tried to paint their role in Afghanistan as one supportive of democracy and development. They are thus quick to boast of the numerous shuras (councils) which Canadian troops initiate in their areas of operation. The supposed purpose of these meetings is to hear what local (male) elders want from NATO forces. (It is also an opportunity for intelligence gathering, as Afghans are well aware.) The military is particularly keen for direction on quick impact development projects, often carried out by the PRT. On assignment in Kandahar over the Christmas holiday, the Toronto Star’s Oakland Ross witnessed a shura. His account is revealing:

"[Non-commissioned officer Frank] Grattan's job [was] to engage the people of Howz-e-Madad in a peaceful dialogue about their future... If things went badly, however, Grattan would be belly-to-the-ground... with the stock of an automatic rifle flush against his shoulder". In the event, however, there were no elders assembled for the shura which these foreign forces had arranged. So Grattan opted to wait for some elders to materialize - until his patience ran out.

"Finally," Ross writes, "Grattan had had enough. Accompanied by a half-dozen soldiers armed with C-7 automatic rifles," he searched the village to scare up some participants for their exercise in democracy. "Eventually, about a dozen bearded envoys filed down to meet the Canadians in their secure position, submitting to body searches without complaint."

Ross' description verges on the absurd as the press-ganged elders "professed to oppose the Taliban, to repudiate its values, and to welcome foreign troops" present in their country. The dubiousness of the scene is obvious to Ross as well as at least one member of the military brass: "'What would you do?' one Canadian officer said later. 'You're a poor guy who just wants to hold his family together. What would you do?' You would probably say whatever you thought the men with the rifles wanted you to say."

A similar concern with democratic form rather than democratic substance is seen in another reporter's account of a shura held a few months after the one Ross witnessed. A soldier with the Kandahar PRT "moves the shura along when it threatens to get bogged down in the wrangling of village interests", writes Rosie DiManno. "If you can't achieve consensus, I will simply look at the district leader and ask him to move forward," explains Sergeant Jason Henry. "For all the consultation," observes DiManno, "ultimately a district elder will cut through the conflicting agendas".

Agricultural policy

One of the more controversial aspects of the Afghanistan mission is the eradication of opium crops. Afghan and US officials are spearheading opium eradication which some expect will involve aerial chemical spraying, as in Plan Colombia. Canadian officials, on the other hand, claim that our forces are not, and will not, be involved in opium eradication.

However, scarcely a word was said by officials or commentators in response to the Canadian military's known involvement in destroying marijuana plants - presumably someone's livelihood - in Afghanistan. A widely-circulated report in the fall of 2006 related a tale of Canadian soldiers struggling to operate in an area where insurgents could take cover in fields of 10-foot cannabis plants. The plantations, some of which were burned, were able to withstand attempts to ignite them using diesel and white phosphorus.

In any case, opium eradication continues apace, with effects that should concern anyone who hopes to see improvements in the lot of the Afghan populace. As Canadian UN official Chris Alexander explained to journalist Jon Lee Anderson, “In Helmand and Uruzgan, eradication has been subject to political manipulation and corruption. It has also proven virtually impossible to conduct in districts where the Taliban are relatively strong, thereby inevitably penalizing farmers in pro-government districts”. Anderson also cites officials who told him that eradication efforts often spare the crops of politically well-connected tribes (such as President Karzai's Populzai tribe) while targeting less-fortunate tribes - thus driving these tribes into armed opposition to the foreign forces.

Anyone who reads the foregoing as a description of impending (or ongoing) humanitarian disaster would not be alone. Indeed, serious and sober international observers of the conflict have offered their own damning assessments of the NATO/US role in Afghanistan. A major report from the United Nations Development Program released in 2005 includes a harsh assessment of the role of foreign military forces in the country. "The privatization of security and the spread of a military mentality,” the authors conclude, “has led to a climate of fear, intimidation, terror and lawlessness in many parts of Afghanistan."Similarly, a report prepared earlier this year by a Canadian Senate standing committee makes a bold assertion about Canada's effect on life in Kandahar province - and one that suggests a simple solution: "Life is clearly more perilous because we are there," the report concludes. Such is Canada's contribution to the new Great Game.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Zionism in crisis

Daniel Pipes, founder of the Middle East Forum and a Zionist himself, wrote that the trend of the "once-tiny haredi", Jewish opponents of Zionism, is on the rise. The telling signs are as follows:

  • Young Israelis are avoiding the military in record numbers, with 26 percent of enlistment-age Jewish males and 43 percent of females not drafted in 2006. An alarmed Israel Defense Forces has requested legislation to deny state-provided benefits to Jewish Israelis who do not serve.

  • Israel's Attorney-General Menachem Mazuz has up-ended the work of the Jewish National Fund, one of the pioneer Zionist institutions (founded in 1901) by determining that its role of acquiring land specifically for Jews cannot continue in the future with state assistance.

  • Prominent Israeli historians focus on showing how Israel was conceived in sin and has been a force for evil.

  • Israel's ministry of education has approved schoolbooks for third-grade Arab students that present the creation of Israel in 1948 as a "catastrophe" (Arabic: nakba).

  • Avraham Burg, scion of a leading Zionist household and himself a prominent Labor Party figure, has published a book comparing Israel with 1930s Germany.

  • A 2004 poll found only 17 percent of American Jews call themselves "Zionist."

Pipes is hopeful for a revival, while Philip Weiss says "history is progressive, go with the flow." While certainly those points do their worth to contribute to the decline of Zionism, that 19th century ideology is something foreign by today's standards, with Israel having all the power and prestige that the Jews did not have back when it was born. And you know that it is in deep crisis when the Middle East Peace Envoy is "shocked" by the West Bank segregation.

"He was shocked by what he was told about conditions in Hebron and diplomats say he was genuinely taken aback by his trip to the West Bank sector of the Jordan Valley – where Palestinians are allowed to dig wells only a third as deep as Israelis – at the exploitation of resources by the rich Jewish agricultural settlements at the expense of closed in Palestinian farmers. And he has been privately dismissive – rather more so perhaps than he was as Prime Minister – of the argument by some Israelis that security comes first, with economics and a political deal well behind it."

It's a pity that Blair only could go so far in his condemnation, but then again, he did piggy-back Bushie to invade Iraq. Too bad he forgets about Gaza, a place that is now compared to "a zoo".

"The comparison to a zoo was made by Dr. Mamdouh al Aker, a doctor who heads the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens' Rights. For another Gazan, a prominent businessman whose food plant is working at about 5 percent of its capacity, the situation is reminiscent of a hospital: Like patients, the inhabitants do not work, but they receive food. They do not work, because for four months Israel has prohibited not only the exit of any Gazan products to market, but also the entry of any raw materials or means of production. If the prices of goods continue to rise and the cash crisis worsens because of the severing of contact between banks in Israel and the banks in Gaza, the international aid organizations will soon increase the quantities of food that they donate, which today account for about 10 percent of the supplies that are brought in. Perhaps the day will come when they will drop food packages from helicopters.

The governments of Israel, the United States and Europe see the hermetic imprisonment of 1.5 million human beings and the final destruction of Gaza's economic infrastructure as a suitable answer to Hamas, at least until it falls. It appears that the Ramallah "government" agrees with them. Indeed, the head of the Gazan "government," Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, has hinted that the exclusive Hamas regime in Gaza is temporary. But, this temporary nature depends on the success of a dialogue between Hamas and Fatah, whereas Israel and the United States are forbidding Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas from carrying on such a dialogue. And Abbas, in any case, is for the moment sticking to the approach that Hamas is a hostile entity."

Forget about Gazans, they deserve what they get, for they are "hostile". But nothing passes by our "peace" envoy.

"He thinks the similarities with Northern Ireland are as great as the differences but since it irritates Israelis for him to say so, he doesn't."

Apartheid is a no-no; so is Northern Ireland. What could one compare Israel's occupation to?

Finally, Ray HaCohen writes about the new initiative coming from the Hard Right, who eschews that

"The settlers' ideology is usually shared by the Israeli military, and the military is the central political agent in Israel, much more important than any short-lived government or prime minister. This is why plans, demands, and suggestions of the Israeli far Right, no matter how lunatic they sound when launched, are often the best prediction for future reality, which usually lags just a few years behind."

This is Zionism at its greatest. They aim to sweep out all Palestinians to Jordan, and annex the entire West Bank, dismantle UNRWA and make the Palestinians a foreign entity, similar to tourists, in their own homes. Perhaps this tactic most of all is why people are so exhausted with peace proposals. How much will Abbas give up for his own whelp of a fragmented nation?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Meanwhile in Afghanistan...

Although I do focus mainly on the Israel/Palestinian conflict, it is by far not the only issue that is prone to scrutiny here and it should not be the sole contention to most people with an interest in the region. For with the call of Anti-Imperialism and opposition to it in all its form, ie American and the West's informal wars in the developing nations, there is certainly many areas that do warrant deep analysis; and with my own time minimised thanks to many personal matters, I felt that the best quandary to figure out and quite likely the most contentious in these times is the one concerning the Holy Land. But that does not mean we should lose focus on the rest of the world. Iraq is getting worse by the day, and it seems that Turkey have played their hand too and done a number on the northern provinces of the decimated Islamic state. Sudan is by far the most glamorous turmoil that is endearing many celebrities to undertake an activist role and lobbying (pathetically) to get their respective governments to intervene on what is a very complex subject that sees both rebels and government henchmen committing grievous war crimes (embarrassing those who advocate a hard military solution). Lebanon is close to another boiling point and Syria was bombed by Israel, unprovoked, in the hope of antagonising the Syrians to retaliate (who have so far resisted the allure). And related to the Israel/Syria bombing is the rhetoric against Iran, who is still the target in the cross-hairs for the White House goons. (I almost forgot Somalia. But then again almost everyone forgot about them.)

But living in Canada, I have been greeted with many distasteful emblems: namely the "Support Our Troops" ribbon that is attached to the rears of vehicles paraded in traffic. (It should be stuck to the rear of something alright!) Juxtaposed with the beautiful recruitment centre that was housed in the middle of the Canada National Exhibition, the colours of the army are becoming more familiar as of late. That leads me to Afghanistan, the "good war" amongst those who felt that the Search and Destroy Mission was a total necessity after the events of 9/11, invading one of the poorest countries in the world and giving them hell to pay for Bin Laden's actions.

Now here we are six years later, the Americans in strife in Iraq, leaving those plucky Canadians to do the nation building. Ahh what indebtedness Canadians felt after shunning the war in Iraq. (Haiti was also another lucky nation to fall in that sentiment.) Gabriel Carlyle refuted point by point all the media spin about Afghanistan's progress. Here's a little preview of it:

"Six years after the war to 'liberate' them ‘[v]iolence against [Afghan] women remains endemic, with few avenues for redress...

US/NATO bombing has killed hundreds – maybe thousands – of civilians since the start of 2006...

British forces have called in hundreds of airstrikes in recent months, killing dozens of civilians."

Not to be outdone is Alberto Cruz, who states that "[t]he US, NATO and the UN are three sorry-looking tigers, losing it in Afghanistan (along with Karzai's tutored semi-colonial government). At the moment, the military capacity of the diverse Afghan resistance organizations has grown four-fold since the September 2001 invasion. The Senlis Council, the organization most worried about the situation in Afghanistan, quite uncritical of the occupiers, has published a report in which the graphic reproduced below appears, showing the expansion of anti-occupation forces and how this has extended to 75% of the country, as pointed out earlier, with varying intensity but significant presence."

Outlook is not so good. Many still hold on to the myth that Afghanistan needed to be invaded, and that it is a society that had to be saved from those backward Islamics who oppressed their women and lived in the 1800s. The casualty rates for Canadians are rising, and the public are at a loss to justify Canadian presence in Afghanistan. Still they remain in the hope that their cause is for the greater good. Michael Neumann argues that the mission is doomed to fail, (as if it isn't already failing now) and that the only logical thing to do is exit the country because Canada lacks the funds, the manpower and the strategy to occupy Afghanistan to quell the violence and start real progress.

"We see our killings of Afghan civilians as a series of mistakes, of setbacks, and so they are. But we we know these mistakes will continue to happen, and we refuse even to estimate their eventual, total cost to the Afghan people . Instead, we go on about our noble sacrifice. That sacrifice includes going thousands of miles to kill others, often as not people who did us no harm. We make like we've done their grieving, often starving, maimed or crippled friends and relatives and neighbours a great big favour. They did not ask for this favour, and the sacrifice we impose on them dwarfs our own. Our blood-drenched dishonesty is nothing if not contemptible...

[A] ruler is responsible for the security and welfare of those ruled. Instead of fulfilling this responsibility, the West brought all the agony of war, and virtually none of the benefits of civil society, to a country that posed no substantial threat...

The Mission, then, is a well-intentioned atrocity, so obviously futile that it shames all who join or support it in any way. They say that ignorance of the law is no excuse: the wilful disregard involved in the creation of a disaster is no excuse either. No rhetoric and no UN or international seal of good housekeeping can ever change this."

Today I feature David Markland, a member of the Vancouver Parecon Collective, organises with StopWar.ca and contributes to their blog chronicling Canada's war in Afghanistan, a site that I have now added to the Pertinent Links. Markland goes beyond the flimsy headlines that we get here in the north, and analyses what role the Canadians really play in occupying Afghanistan and what "supporting" those troops could actually mean instead of the tired slogans that enable support for the occupiers and exonerate themselves from the responsibility of the dubious "benevolent" peacekeeping troops that do more harm than good. They may build schools and hospitals, but at what cost?

White Guys with Guns: Canada's Military in Afghanistan

By David Markland

The current incarnation of the Canadian military mission in Afghanistan began in February of 2006, and followed earlier military commitments beginning in the fall of 2001. Now operating mainly under NATO command as part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the array of Canadian Forces' roles has several notable aspects, some of which overlap: about 1200 troops make up the Canadian battle group headquartered at Kandahar Airfield, along with several hundred support personnel; over 100 soldiers comprise the bulk of the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) based out Camp Nathan Smith in Kandahar City; the Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team (“omelette”), which embeds with and trains Afghan troops; and the Strategic Advisory Team (SAT) which is embedded with various Afghan government ministries in Kabul. In total, some 2500 personnel make up the conventional forces deployed in Afghanistan. Additionally, an unknown number of JTF-2 special forces work alongside special forces from the US and other countries as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. Very little is known about their role.

With a few exceptions, media coverage of the mission has been generally sympathetic to the claims and actions of Canadian military officials. It is the purpose of this essay to shed light on the less-reported aspects of the mission, about which our military and government officials rarely speak.
The spectacle at Kandahar Air Field (KAF) seems reminiscent of the bar scene in Star Wars. An enormous, Russian-built complex, KAF sits on the edge of the vast desert in southern Afghanistan which straddles the border with Pakistan amidst Pashtun territory. Journalists describe a steady of flow of soldiers from several countries, many of whom are off-limits to reporters. American and Canadian special forces, for instance, cannot be interviewed or even mentioned by the press. And those troops may not be the only ones keeping a low profile, as "a senior British officer said there last autumn that he was convinced the Taliban had many spies on the base".

Apart from the multinational tutoring in special ops and media relations, there may be other important skills being disseminated at KAF. A Norwegian newspaper caused a stir early this year when it reported on sworn testimony by several US interrogators who had worked at the base and described some of the goings-on, including the widespread use of torture.

But what about off-base, where the mission actually takes place, among the Afghan population? There, NATO forces are engaged in what military strategists term the "inkspot strategy" of counter-insurgency. Essentially this means that NATO ground troops, with air support, clear a given area of armed insurgents and hand over control of the territory to Afghan National Army (ANA) troops who in turn hand off the area to Afghan National Police (ANP) units. Then, development projects are launched with the intention of strengthening the population's allegiance to the national government.

The mission of the Canadian Forces is of a type which is wholly new to them, and seriously at odds with what many feel is the traditional role of our forces - i.e. peacekeeping. A Globe and Mail editorial marks the shift: the "new era of peacemaking", we are told, demands "pitched battles over a few metres of road". Others are not so quick to put on kid gloves when describing the mission. Scott Taylor, editor of Canadian military magazine Esprit de Corps, skips the linguistic niceties and describes Canadian troops in Afghanistan simply as "occupying forces".

How do soldiers themselves view their task? "Hours of boredom and then an intense moment of adrenaline," says one 25-year-old Canadian Forces gunner. "One fellow compares the subliminally percussive sensation to sex", relates a Toronto Star reporter. Another soldier reports vengeance and geopolitics as his motivator: "I have absolutely no problem killing them," asserts a battle group sergeant. "They started this on September 11. We're just bringing the fight back to them".

Indeed, many soldiers have taken up their tasks with gusto. Others, meanwhile, have been disappointed when the fight wasn't as hot as they expected. Shortly after arrival in Kandahar, members of the Van Doos regiment "étaient un peu frustrés de participer à une mission de reconstruction et auraient préféré combattre à leur arrivée en Afghanistan." ("were a little frustrated to be taking part in a reconstruction mission and would have preferred to fight upon their arrival in Afghanistan").

If all this Rambo-style readiness sounds to some like an echo of American military bravado, there may be good reason for it. Working in close quarters with their US counterparts seems to have caused a certain mindset to rub off on Canadian officers, exemplified by NATO spokesman James Appathurai. "NATO forces have the right and the responsibility to protect their mission," asserts the former employee of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. "That includes the right -- and indeed, if the commander deems it necessary -- the responsibility to take pre-emptive action".

The M777 - 'Take that house out'

One of the key tools in Canada's version of "peacemaking", the British-made M777 Howitzer gun, which can shoot 6 inch-diameter bullets a distance of 30km (22 miles), has reportedly been dubbed the “Desert dragon” by insurgent fighters. Acquired by the Canadian Forces in the fall of 2005, the weapon has gained a devoted fan base among military brass. "When the infantry, for example, come up against a couple of houses where they would suffer casualties going in and clearing that house of the enemy, even though they would win, it's sort of nice to be able to stand back and turn to the tanker and say, 'Take that house out.'" So explained retired Major-General Lewis MacKenzie, who has been doing near full-time public relations for the war. Afghan bystanders, ceaselessly endangered by NATO operations, might disagree with MacKenzie that the experience is "sort of nice".

Getting into the spirit of things, the Globe and Mail's Gloria Galloway extols the benefits of the M777: "They are a good negotiation tool; in trying to persuade Afghans not to help the Taliban, Canadians can demonstrate the consequences of bad behaviour by radioing to a launcher many kilometres away, and suddenly the Afghan farmer is left with a large hole in his field and a new appreciation of NATO firepower". Galloway seems to be using the word "negotiation" in a technical sense; others less skilled in journalism or public relations might use words like "extortion" or "coercion".

Foreign troops mentor from a distance

The use of the long-distance "negotiating tool", combined with "close air support" (CAS), underlines the sometimes cautious, circumspect nature of NATO's presence in southern Afghanistan. Indeed, various media have reported on the hide-and-seek nature of counter-insurgency in Afghanistan. "The U.S. and NATO forces only venture out to conduct special operations. Routine patrolling and intelligence gathering is the responsibility of the nascent Afghan National Army," writes John Cherian. Further, he asserts that "loyalty of the Afghan Security Forces cannot be taken for granted... For instance, General Bismillah Khan, Chief of Staff of the Afghan National Army, is a former warlord".

Writing from Helmand province, the Globe and Mail's Graeme Smith remarks that "British troops were effectively under siege at their patrol base in Sangin [Helmand province] last year". And this fact isn't winning many friends for the foreign forces: "Those foreign [expletive deleted] say there is security - it’s a lie," charged one Afghan army commander. "They don’t risk their asses out here. There are Taleban right in the district centre, but the British and the Americans stay in their holes".

While Canadian soldiers appear to have been spared such disparaging accusations, it is worth noting the disproportionate share of risk alloted to Afghan forces. Afghan army and police officers accompanying NATO troops sustain about 90% of the total combat injuries.


So what is an occupying army, huddled behind the wire, supposed to do? Well, if you are NATO then you go ahead and pay some trustworthy locals to fight for you. That is, you hire mercenaries. Under the headline, "British hire anti-Taliban mercenaries", the Times of London reports on "newly formed tribal police who will be recruited by paying a higher rate than the Taliban."

Canadian forces, too, are getting in on the action. "For five years Col. Toorjan, a turbaned, tough-as-nails, 33-year-old soldier, has been working alongside U.S. and Canadian forces in Afghanistan as a paid mercenary commander," reports Canada's National Post. "Today, his militia force of 60 Afghan fighters guards Camp Nathan Smith, the Canadian provincial reconstruction team site (PRT) in Kandahar, and guides Canadian soldiers on their patrols outside the base." Toorjan and his armed men "wield significant influence in Kandahar's complex security web", making him a treasured ally, though before 9/11 he was "in effect a warlord", said the second-in-command of Canada's Provincial Reconstruction Team.

The use of mercenaries, it should be noted, runs counter to the International Convention on Mercenaries (1989). Canada, however, along with the USA, the UK and many others, is not a signatory to that treaty.

Air strikes

The use of mercenaries isn't the only indication that NATO/US troops are ill-equipped for this war. The reliance on air power, which has been a vital part of this confrontation since the US-led assault began in October of 2001, has brought wide-spread condemnation for the risk to civilians which it entails. Thousands of civilians have perished under US and NATO bombs since 2001, prompting numerous calls by Afghan President Karzai for more caution on the part of western forces.

In the current situation, it is largely American aircraft which carry out air assaults. (The British, French, Germans and others have also committed aircraft, which are largely used in transport or surveillance.) Called "close air support" (CAS), these war planes are routinely called in by ground forces when they locate insurgent fighters. The CAS might deliver bombs, missiles, shells or simply a "show of force" to destroy or deter those fighters. But these attacks are a blunt instrument, and civilian casualties are a frequent consequence. "[P]ushing into insurgent-held territory", writes Terri Judd of the Independent, "increases the danger of civilian casualties, especially when outnumbered troops call in air strikes".

The results of this type of assault have been a humanitarian and public relations disaster for NATO and US forces. “NATO’s tactics are increasingly endangering the civilians that they are supposed to be protecting, and turning the local population against them,” observed Sam Zia-Zarifi, the Afghanistan researcher for Human Rights Watch. Yet the foreign forces appear to have expended little effort to ameliorate the situation, as the rate of air attacks through the summer and into the fall of 2007 demonstrate: Close air support missions have been launched at a remarkably steady rate of about 40 per day.

The sheer danger of these air operations has not been lost on international observers on the ground. Human rights expert and UN official in Afghanistan Javier Leon Diaz, responding to concerns over mounting civilian casualties, expressed his opinion that NATO/US air attacks may constitute a "grave breach" of the Geneva Conventions. Here, Diaz no doubt refers to Article 51 of the 1977 Protocols, which bans "indiscrimate" attacks, defined as attacks which harm civilians and/or civilian objects "which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated."

Engaging (suspected) Taliban

While western military officials repeatedly affirm their desire to protect the Afghan population, at least one account indicates that NATO efforts to avoid causing harm to civilians are less than vigorous. Canadian military historian Sean Maloney, writing in Maclean's magazine, describes a nighttime attack by Canadian Forces in Kandahar province: "Canadian artillery thundered to cut off and destroy the escaping enemy. Little was left to chance: troops knew the enemy had depopulated the area so there was little fear of civilian casualties." Note that if Maloney's account is accurate, Canadian troops relied on Taliban fighters to ensure the battleground was free of civilians.

Armed confrontations aren't the only situations where civilian lives are put at risk, for "sometimes all it takes to be labelled a terrorist is a smart turban and pocketful of Pakistan cash", remarks journalist Richard Foot. Foot writes of witnessing one such incident where a suspect was fruitlessly interrogated and finally let go. "For two hours, Canadians questioned, cursed at and threatened their suspect in search of answers," he writes. "They bound his wrists and turned him over to the small unit of Afghan army troops who had accompanied the Canadians".

Sometimes Canadian troops go beyond curses and threats, according to correspondent Graeme Smith of the Globe and Mail. Smith's April 2007 dispatches, featuring a series of testimonials by Afghan prisoners, sparked what has been called the "torture scandal" by Canadian media; the term denotes torture of suspected Taliban by Afghan security forces, which caused quite a stir. But none of the barrage of commentary which followed from his reports made mention of possible abuse by Canadian soldiers. One of Smith's sources makes precisely that accusation, however faintly: "Tila Mohammed, 18, said Canadians detained him at a farmhouse where he had been living and working as a labourer for a wealthy landowner. He claimed the Canadians kicked him a little as he was being detained, but added that the troops later helped him stay cool in the late summer heat by spraying him with water."

A similar lack of outcry greeted a pair of incidents nearly a year earlier. Following an August 2006 suicide bombing in Kandahar City which killed one Canadian soldier, Afghan journalists "reported being fired upon by the Canadians when they tried to capture video and pictures at the bombing site", according to the Canadian Press. But the attacked journalists were the lucky ones that day, as a young Afghan boy was shot dead by jittery Canadian troops who had recently begun their mission in the country. However, the deputy commander of the Canadian mission assured everyone that the tragic incident was not the result of inexperience: "Initial impressions right now are the soldiers did what they had to do," commented Col. Fred Lewis.