Saturday, December 29, 2007

Celebrities and the Palestinians

These are interesting times: Christmas rolls on by along with Eid and Hannukah, as well as other denominational holidays too that doesn't want to be left off the dialogue here. The spirit of giving, goodwill and cheer as the new year nears and it is time to start afresh and make new bridges and leave the past behind us, except in the city of Christ's birth, as Christmas was canceled thanks to the continuing encroachment of Israel's land confiscation. It's amazing that a city so famed throughout the West, as well as a story that I grew up "worshipping", is turned into a spectacular ghetto, with people caged in and a wall that splits the ancient Bethlehem into smithereens. This is the place of Jesus, the celebration that Christmas is meant to be about, and his birthplace is destroyed.

So where are all those bastions of human rights, ie those celebrities who do nothing but good in the name of humanity? I mean, we all know the US is silent when it comes to these pertinent issues, but where's that famed "do-gooder" Angelina Jolie who has topped a celebrity Reuters poll for top humanitarian? Sure, the suffering in Africa is a good cause, no? Where did all that LiveAfrica aid go to, I wonder? Is Bono listening? Or too busy praising that war criminal Tony Blair, who's the Middle East peace envoy? Where's George Clooney and his comrades when you need them? Yes, the Save Darfur campaign is gaining strides, even though it's a conflict more complex than they dare to imagine, or even investigate. They claim that they are confronting hotly contested issues (ie Iraq) but stop short when it comes to the Holy Land. Here Clooney accuses his opponents of attempting to "destroy his career"; last I checked the Iraq war is not very popular, and if you want destroyed careers, check out Norman Finkelstein.

And it's not for lack of evidence either. There are scores of human rights reports by Amnesty International, B'Tselem, Human Rights Watch and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights. A review of all these concludes that Israel is in direction violation of international law and the Geneva Conventions. So why all the silence here?

I think we know why. Perhaps touching this issue would be career-icide for any who oppose it. Have a gander at one Susan Sarandon. Here we have an outspoken opponent of the Iraq War (No surprise there. Who isn't nowadays?), and "likes to speak out when she sees an injustice", but it all is torn to shreds when she wines and dines at Lev Leviev's jewellery store. The focus of some controversy, apparently Sarandon's advocacy for justice is limited to those which really aren't very politicised, or aren't romanticised by Hollywood (think of Blood Diamonds) thanks to the newfound affinity for Africa's plight. As far as the occupied territories goes, all rules, or more appropriately, all human rights are thrown out the window.

Silverstien describes Leviev as a man who "has become wealthy in his chosen profession by trafficking in Angolan diamonds." Also adding that he participates with the Land Redemption Fund, "which purchases land under false pretenses from Palestinian owners in order to transfer them to settlement ownership". No human rights violations there, correct?

Sarandon has been targeted by the Jewish Voice for Peace, Adalah-NY and Jayyous’ Land Defense Committee. In addition, two Palestinian villages have joined the call for Sarandon to join their campaign against the settlement intensification. Despite her explanation that she has no "ties", her act has her on the side of a certain Alan Dershowitz who had to show his unified support for settlement activity and its proponents.

How interesting considering that the Arab League has recently denounced that settlements are the main blockade towards peace, and many have (correctly) labelled that it is Israel's expansionism that is effectively destroying the possibilities of a two-state solution.

"It is now clear that the settlements issue will destroy any hope of peace and will break the course of Annapolis."

And both Sarandon confesses to be an advocate of justice as well as Dershowitz who has been noted on many occasions (thanks largely to himself trying to convince himself) that he is in support of a two-state solution. The evidence is damning: settlements means no Palestinian state. It has been Israeli policy since the aftermath of the 1967 war. All the Palestinians have left is a Bantustan, Israeli-style. It's is all the more magnified when you get the attitudes of the Orthodoxy who squat on Palestinian land.

"In my view, Israel from the Mediterranean to the Jordan Valley is a Jewish state," said Goldstein, 48, a mechanical engineer and air force veteran who is mayor of a group of settlements that form the Gush Etzion Regional Council. "Its lands are earmarked first and foremost for Jewish citizens."

Meaning there is no place for the Arabs, both within the occupied territories and in Israel proper. Why do you think that the Israeli Arabs continue to be vilified and "they only draw a meager 1% of media coverage – most of it negative in nature", despite the fact that they make up 20% of Israel's population? With no voice at all, it's easier to turn them into something less human or into caricatures, or "demographic bombs". Hanan Ashrawi lays it out for all to see:

"To me, the demographic argument is by definition racist. I think Palestinians have the right to independence, statehood and self-determination as a legal and political imperative. It is not an issue that has to become a threat or that we formulate in response to somebody else's position."

So now we have a state that wants to remove Palestinians, and is making them into second-to-ninth grade citizens, all with the inherent racist ideology that Israel wants the occupied to recognise as legitimate, something that gives Israel the stamp of approval that what they do to the Palestinians is okay because Zionism says so? Sarandon is in bed with all of them when she is silent amongst the picketers at New York, doing business with a known funder of settlements. So much for all her "justice" talk. It's easy to denounce slaughters when the atmosphere is so chic, but the Palestinians are still negatives in the celebrity quo. Sometimes even Adolf Hitler gets a repreive from them.

Sure, "evil" is interpreted within the eye of the beholder. I'm positive those settlers who make life a living hell for the Palestinians are doing "good" in their eyes, or those IDF soldiers are doing what's good for their racist state when they slay an innocent civilian. But what is one meant to say when they get "giddy about killing"?

"In fact, most people must be trained to disregard the humanity of others in order to be capable of killing them."

I guess it's a "good" thing to see yourself as superior to your fellow man. With all that hubris, it's harder and harder to testify that what they are doing is not a deliberate act of aggression with a goal to scare and terrorise. Or when a soldier pens a song about the celebration of killing Iraqis, does he know he's doing the wrong thing? Let's not get lost that Hitler was the only one capable of "evil". Would Will Smith have been forced to apologise if he directed those comments against the IDF and the US soldier? Would he be wrong to say it? Or do we just get backpatting from our celebrities who want to "bring our soldiers home" and save them from the mess they created? Perhaps we'll just make a terrible movie about it.

What would be remarkable is if these "heroes" of ours actually made themselves effectual and did something of character. This is not meant to minimise the terrible conditions that the African continent is in; in fact, aid is not enough to help them. If Jolie and her gang truly wanted to stop the bleeding, they would speak out against the policies that cripple their economy, and the corporations that help benefit from their destitution and robbery. Conflicts diamonds, war for oil, AIDS, and corruption are only part of the problem. Do not give a get out of jail free card to those G-8 nations who only want to keep Africa in its current state of disaster. They bankrupt the system that has the profits channeling into the fatcat's pockets.

Or what if they made an issue out of Israel's settlements? Now that would be true courage. Think of the examples the residents of Bil'in are setting; these are people who are left with nothing and who are up against a state that is backed by the biggest superpower today. They stand up to Goliath.

And not to be forgotten are those members of Adalah-NY. Their persistence is creating a stir that is more than welcome. And their chants are quite a thing of genius. Let's show our solidarity. (To the tune of "Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel".)

“Apartments for Jews only, Discrimination, sure! He thinks Palestine's the problem, and Apartheid is the cure!
Oh boycott boycott boycott, Don't buy Leviev today Funds crime with all that profit, Who needs diamonds anyway?
Then one cold November eve, Leviev came to town He put a store here in New York, But we will shut him down!
Leviev your crimes are showing, Your deeds are getting hard to hide No matter what you call it, We say NO to apartheid!”

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Ultimate Disparity

Henry Seigman, director of the US/Middle East Project, and a man who served as a senior fellow on the Middle East at the Council on Foreign Relations from 1994 to 2006, penned quite an eye-opening editorial about Annapolis and its all too lucid disparity between the occupier and occupied. Seigman lifts the veil that is shielding what the (common) onlooker might have missed: that the Palestinians have nothing to concede to the Israelis, and it's the Israelis who hold all the cards. Israel is the superpower in the region, holding the monopoly on nuclear weapons, as well as a highly sophisticated army that arguably unmatched in the Middle East. Here Seigman makes the point that a peace process that "depends on Palestinian willingness to match Israeli 'concessions'" is inconceivable given the "imbalances between the two."

"This demand is stunningly insensitive to the fact that Palestinians are a people under occupation. As such, they have little to offer Israel by way of concessions, other than their continued subjugation and dispossession."

It is true that Palestinians have little to give, and barely anything to bring to the table. The insistence that Abbas curtails violence is rather duplicitous, considering how little power he has over the Palestinians, and besides the extreme outcome of a major police state that would resemble what Israelis do to the occupied Palestinians, this is sheer nonsense, and a total impossibility. Seigman again:

"That demand constituted the mother of all oxymorons, since no Palestinian leader could end violent resistance to the occupation in the face of Israel's refusal to reveal how much Palestinian territory it intended to retain."

All too reminiscent of the US demand that Iraqis prevent other Iraqis from inciting violence, all the while being occupied and having their rights infringed upon day-in, day-out. And there really is no blueprint laid out by either party on how they choose to meet this "demand", especially since the separation barrier is destroying Palestinian livelihood, making agriculture a thing of the past, and as well as boxing in the Gazans, making life there quite unbearable. Unemployment is rapidly increasing, and that's expected when most of the jobs have been terminated thanks to the border enclosures. So what do the young do? Easy recruitment against the occupier, who they perceive to be the the major (or sole) body responsible for their unfortunate circumstance which has been labelled a "catastrophe" in some humanitarian reports. It's important to underline the fact that Palestinians are occupied. Putting the onus on the victims to put an end to the atrocities is simply illogical and imbalanced. The Palestinians have no control over their lives; it's the Israeli occupation that dictates their behaviour and how their day will turn out, especially in Gaza. Here's how Uri Avnery has described the situation:

"He [Ariel Sharon] did not leave the inhabitants of the Strip any possibility of leading a normal life, but turned the territory into a giant prison. All connections with the outside world were cut - the Israeli navy cut the sea lanes, the border with Egypt was effectively sealed, the airport remained destroyed, the building of a harbor was prevented by force. The promised "safe passage" between the Strip and the West Bank was hermetically sealed, all crossings in and out of the Strip remained under total Israeli control, to be opened and closed arbitrarily. The employment of tens of thousands of Gazan workers in Israel, on which the livelihood of almost the entire Strip depended, was terminated."

And this lesson is repeated in the West Bank, where Palestinians are meant to hold some form of autonomy over their lives. Here's a report from B'Tselem:

"A survey conducted by the Israeli military and published by leading Israeli daily, Yedioth Ahronoth, found that a quarter of soldiers serving at checkpoints in the West Bank perpetrated or witnessed abuse of Palestinians. In response, B’Tselem, said that the numbers are shocking, but not surprising. The organization commends the military for initiating the survey, but states that physical and verbal abuse of Palestinians by soldiers, particularly at checkpoints, has long become routine. In spite of official condemnations, the military does not do enough to ensure accountability and to deter soldiers from engaging in such behavior. According to B’Tselem, most soldiers who harm Palestinians are never held accountable. Law enforcement authorities place numerous obstacles on Palestinians who try to complain against security forces personnel and only a small minority of complaints result in charges against those responsible for abuse."

Everything is subjected to Israeli control. If Israel truly wanted some true form of security, it is easily within reach, as has been mapped out time and again by withdrawal and negotiation back to the pre-67 lines as a final border. But this is a state that wants to have its cake and eat it too. It's a two-state solution without consultation from the Palestinians, or what Akiva Eldar has said to be "a two-state solution the way I want it." As Seigman has clearly shown, it's a situation that has been all too favourable for the bully, rather than the beaten, as "one would be hard put to identify a single concession Israel has made to the Palestinians."

The case of Har Homa is the epitome of this intransigence. Even though Israel is required to cease new settlements, the plans for Har Homa continue apace, with just an askance slap on the wrist from the US, with Condoleezza Rice saying the construction "doesn't help build confidence" in Annapolis. Totally unbeknownst to Rice and co., not alot of people had confidence in the summit in the first place. Here's from the latest Settlement Report from the Foundation for Middle East Peace, written by Geoffrey Aronson:

"The renewed attention to the continuing construction at Har Homa, an East Jerusalem settlement begun in the heyday of the Oslo period, illustrates Israel’s continuing refusal to surrender its settlement ethos, even as Prime Minister Olmert laments the price Israel will pay as a result."

Philips Weiss digs in the case of Har Homa and is still aghast at the silence from the international community over the expansion of "Greater Jerusalem", a place that is never to be relinquished by the Israelis:

"Israel considers this [Har Homa, a suburban hilltop landgrand by Israel] part of East Jerusalem. That's nuts. Here is B'tselem's map of the separation fence showing that Har Homa is south of Jerusalem, near Rachel's Tomb, which is of course cordoned by high concrete walls."

East Jerusalem is the intended capital of an impending Palestinian state: without it, there is no contiguity, no sovereignty, no autonomy, no economy; hence, no state, only a figment of one, or what many have been calling a Bantustan. Yes, the dreaded apartheid comparison rears its ugly head. But in some cases, this is much worse, since the Israelis do not depend on the exploitation of Arab labour; slowly but surely they are encouraging "voluntary transfer", a newspeak term that would put George Orwell to shame.

The story of Hani Amer, a Palestinian farmer in the West Bank, (seen here on a documentary called Walls of Shame)is quite remarkable. Amer's house is surrounded on all four sides by the separation barrier and the "fence", as well as a settlement, and has him in complete mercy of the Israelis. Despite incentives for him to leave which did not persuade him to, threats inevitably continued. And yet Amer resists just by existing in his tiny home. Amer's and his farming colleague's plight are immaterial to the Israelis and the Americans but his is an apropos symbol of the ultimate disparity between the two dialectics here that Seigman has spoken of.

Olmert has not indicated that he is willing to take on the settlers, and there has been no real gestures of condemnation from Rice or the US media. But who is to stop this? Weiss rants on:

"This is an American issue. There will be no Palestinian moderation, and no peace in the Middle East, till these insults are sanctioned by us. Nothing will change until the U.S. government does more than lip service in opposition. Nothing will change till Democratic politicians turn their backs on the religious left and condemn the colonies. Nothing will change till the media make these crimes an issue as they made Saddam's crimes an issue. Nothing will change till the self-styled "secular" American Jewish community separates itself from the macho religio-militarist nutbags on whom they have projected their Warsaw-ghetto injuries."

I would have to reluctantly agree, and I have stated it in numerous posts in the past: it is up to the Americans, and to a very lesser extent, the Western intellectuals and commoners of today's society. Yes, that includes Canada, Australia, and Europe. But the be-all end-all equation lies with my neighbours to the south. It really is the Americans that can stem the tide of Israeli aggression. By its human rights record, Israel is not a party to be counted on to do the right thing. Settlements, barriers, checkpoints, torture, collective punishment and annexation: it's been forty years going on forty one, when is this occupation going to end?

Former weapons inspector Scott Ritter published a provoking piece insisting that the US re-evaluates its relationship with the Israelis. He states:

"Israel's current policies, rooted in ethnic and religious hatred, are the antithesis of tolerance...

Driven by xenophobic paranoia and historical grievances, Israel is embarked on a path that can only lead to death and destruction. This is a path the United States should not tread. I have always taken the position that Israel is a friend of the United States, and that friends should always stand up for one another, even in difficult times. I have also noted that, to quote a phrase well known in America, friends don't let friends drive drunk, and that for some time now Israel has been drunk on arrogance and power. As a friend, I have believed the best course of action for the United States to take would be that which helped remove the keys from the ignition of the policy vehicle Israel is steering toward the edge of the abyss. Now it seems our old friend is holding a pistol to our head, demanding that we stop interfering with the vehicle's operation and preventing us from getting out of the car. This is not the action of a friend, and it can no longer be tolerated...

Israel has grown accustomed to American largess, to the point that it is addicted to an American aid package that is largely responsible for keeping the Israeli economy afloat. This aid must be reconsidered in its entirety. The day of the free ride must come to an end. The United States must redefine its national security priorities in the Middle East and position Israel accordingly. At the very least, American aid must be linked to Israeli behavior modification. The standards America applies to other nations around the world when it comes to receiving aid must likewise apply to Israel."

Only when the US punishes (by withholding aid) the Israelis could this stagnating dilemma by moved to something that progresses towards justice for the Palestinians and a lasting peace for the Israelis. The Sinai example is one that many supporters of the "re-evalutation" cite as an effective policy that could deter Israel from acting like a drunk "friend holding a pistol to our head".

Yes, the barriers are immense, but they are not impossible to break down. We can all take part and write to our respective representatives as well as being vocal in our community. Miracles won't happen overnight. Gaza is suffocating. The Palestinians are seeing less than half of the 22% that was proposed back in 1967, which is almost a third of what they were given during the Partition agreement sixty years ago. Surely this disproportion is one that is hard to accept but yet the Palestinians are willing to live with it but ONLY with sovereignty.

True, there are many complexities with the two-state solution, but nothing that can't be resolved through discussion and negotiation (that includes Hamas). But with the things the way they are, there is little hope left for two states and a battle for one will arise from its ashes. Without an increased pressure on Israel, things will get much worse before it can get better. For Amer and the rest of the Palestinians, how much worse can they take?

Monday, December 10, 2007

After Annapolis

So the Summit has come and gone, and with it plenty of conclusions, most of them very negative (from the reporters and scholars who matter). Although many have been too quick to denounce the outcome of Annapolis, especially considering it wasn't really a discourse that was meant to have any finality, more resembling a precursor towards negotiations: a negotiation to negotiate in the future, there really is still time that Annapolis could amount to something positive rather than the typical failed processes that we have experienced time and time again.

Yes, Jerusalem was off the table; correct, the separation wall wasn't discussed; and in fact, nothing about the dismantlement of settlements was even on the minds of Bush and Olmert, but the reaction of Olmert has been quite earth shattering. How about the Israeli Prime Minister? I have to hand it to him: even with all the pressure that is amounting against him, the debacle of the 2006 Lebanese War, and now the paralysis of stalemate that has the Knesset calling for his head, he has the audacity to evoke the apartheid analogy, the exact same one that Jimmy Carter et al has been vilified for. This is Israel's PM; who would be bold enough to label him an "anti-Semite"? Here are those famous quotes:

"If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights, then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished."

That was a quote from a Ha'aretz article back in '03. Clearly Olmert is not a stranger to the happenings of Israel's separation policy.

"He warned of a "South African-style struggle" which Israel would lose if a Palestinian state was not established."

This is what many of Israel's best dissidents have been saying for years: that Israel's path is only contributing to its own destruction. Just as South Africa refused to see the truth and confronted their "terrorists" with only more aggression and repression, Israel has stepped up its own form of censorship and regression against Palestinians who resist, and Israel's more famed detractors. The many violations of human rights, numerous UN resolutions ignored, and behaviour that borders on impugnity, backed by the biggest superpower today, only give credence that Israel is a pariah state. Omar Barghouti insensatively reacts at Israel's sustained mentality of impugnity:

"Israel realises that its vast influence over Congress automatically translates into substantial, albeit indirect, influence over Europe. Israelis, therefore, do not particularly care about European public opinion."

It has the US in its "back pocket". The biggest bully is your protection, so the brains can do what he wants, wiggle his nose at his enemies, and get spoiled in the process. They will claim the entire land, and leave the trash to the Palestinians, literally.

And what of Gaza? Were they not part of the original Palestinian state? I guess with Hamas around, no one is part of this process from Gaza. Israel just continues their assaults, and even threatens to escalate the conflict into a full-scale invasion of Gaza, to stop those pesky Qassam rockets. Any chance of a ceasefire despite the fact that Hamas wants to collaborate in the sham? What if

"It is time for Israel to try something new. Something that requires more courage than long-distance assassination and the obsessive use of the word no.

As we have seen with our once-arch enemy Egypt, and our longtime enemy Syria, if you can kill them, you can talk with them...

Either way, they can forget it...The Qassams will continue unless and until we engage Hamas in talks over a cease-fire, the first step in a process that may take generations - mutual recognition of Israel and Palestine."

Maybe not? More invasions occur. Hamas continues to be isolated, making people forget that they were once the elected party to represent the Palestinians, not Mahmoud Abbas.

So the theatre of handshakes took place. Why not say it for what it was? It was a process that wasn't meant to succeed. It was something that was fluff, pure dribble that would amount to nothing, only speculation and nothingness. Daniel Levy said the "expectations were very low". Keep them low and you won't be disappointed. Everyone was disappointed that this process took place anyway. Phyllis Bennis put it best:

"Myth #12) Annapolis was a failure.

If we understand Annapolis for what it really was, it may prove to be a great success. The Arab regimes can go home with transcripts of their own speeches, whether bluster or statesmanlike, and show their people how they stood up to Israel and the U.S., and how they helped the Palestinians. They can then show more willingness the next time Bush asks them for fly-over rights, for base rights, for political support. And Condoleezza Rice got her photo-ops. Her legacy, too early to say.

But based on its real, however unacknowledged, goals, Annapolis may turn out to be a great success."

And so is Annapolis: it's too early to say. The deadline is for the end of 2008. That's a long, long time. Failure is the in cards, but from the looks of things, a turn around could be at hand. Since when could we actually listen to an Israeli PM resort to the apartheid analogy, a comparison so odious in the right that it has took the respect away from President Jimmy Carter? Phillip Weiss recently blogged about his experience at an Israel Policy Forum leadership meeting.

"There was throughout the evening the strong feeling, and what a testament to the IPF this is, that Yes there is an Israel lobby, and it is many of the people in this room, and the time has come to take your foot off the breathing tube of the Palestinians. It was a wonderful evening because here was a strongly Jewish and Zionist audience but it was willing to hear from Arabs and Arabists. There was no noxious whiff of stinking neoconservatism the whole night. God bless. There was also the strong sense that without the American Jewish community allowing Washington to become more independent, this moment will be lost. Israelis and the Palestinians cannot do this on their own, they require muscling intervention."

Discussion is opening up. Zionism is on the decline. And the Knesset is being confronted with racism reports that embarass the members. Annapolis could still amount to something if more of this is welcomed.

Monday, December 3, 2007

More on fake Archeology

A good piece was featured on Counterpunch, written by Eric Walberg, as he stifles through many reputable scholars of theology. In it, he shows the damning failure of Israel's archeologists of "unearthing" new breakthroughs that an ancient empire of Israel existed and hence laying claim to today's Jews that Palestine is solely their's because of the roots to this remnant of a mythical history. This claim has so much resonance that it ignores the centuries that Jews chose another place for a home and vast heritage of "Mohammedans" and Arabs that called Palestine their home.

"Biblical archaeology has expanded rapidly in the past half-century as a new academic field in search of both justification and funding...But it is now clear to the most respected Christian, Jewish, Muslim and/or secular archaeologists that this supposedly scholarly, rigorous and objective discipline, with its methodology of taking biblical passages and digging and poking away in likely places, looking for proof of what they say, has been a big failure, if not a hoax. While the financial benefits of tying the Bible to archaeology have increased, historical and intellectual benefits have just as rapidly diminished.

Two egregious flaws lie behind this. Firstly, it is somehow overlooked that both the Old and New Testaments were first written down only in the fourth c BC (mostly from the third c BC) to the first c AD by Hellenised Jews, i.e., over a relatively short historical period of approximately four centuries, the culmination of Hellenism as it flourished in the Middle East up to and including its manifestation under the Roman empire. The references to "old Israel" of the distant past are directed at the enlightenment of people living at that time, and have much more to do with events at that time than some distant, mythical history which was never recorded in stone, so to speak, but was rather passed down from generation to generation much like other peoples have passed down the legends of their origins -- orally, embellished by talented composers and poets. Furthermore, the OT and NT are closely integrated in structure, themes, and underlying philosophy, and to reject one part as heretical (as the Jews do the NT) or another part as a mere harmless introduction to the real text (as do the Christians concerning the OT) is not only unprofessional, but foolish and even subversive.

Secondly, the worldview of those recording the Biblical legends, stories, poems, philosophical essays, etc differs radically from ours. It was a product of Hellenism, where true reality is a Platonic ideal, recognising the ineffable quality of life, our overwhelming ignorance, and the fractured, shadowy nature of daily life as experienced by our senses. Our Aristotelian, materialist outlook, sees reality in hard, cold facts which we directly perceive and duly record, where the only truths are what can be physically demonstrated and/or refuted. This is quite alien to the mindset of the Biblical composers, writers and scribes. Taking the Bible literally, as a materialist recounting of "history" is a classic example of misplaced concreteness. To its credit, there is no word for history in ancient Hebrew, reflecting its origins in the pre- Aristotelian worldview.

To go a step further and assume that this bogus history is the "real" history of mankind, with the history of the thousands of other peoples taking a back seat, is just not on. The reality of the Bible is transcendent, universal, traditional, intuitive and emotional. To profit from it, we must rediscover this worldview, where myth is the "reality" and very essence of our lives, and the dunya is a lame, pale version of the sacred myths guiding us. Karen Armstrong, who has written widely on the monotheisms and the loss of myth as a vital part of our worldview, argues in The Bible: a biography (2007) that fundamentalist religion, be it Islamic, Christian or Jewish, is a response to and product of modern materialist culture, which undermines the role of myth as a vital element in the social matrix. Myth is reduced to its literal meaning, i.e., Jerusalem is a physical location at a fixed point in time, not a metaphor for the City of God, transcending the limitations of the physical world...

Whatever the true origin of the Jews, the Bible talks of an "old Israel" -- a United Monarchy which supposedly flourished from 1000-600 BC in present-day Palestine, with Saul, David and Solomon as great kings of a magnificent empire, and a spectacular temple, built by Solomon, as the centre of worship of the Jewish god Yahweh. What do archaeologists tell us? A century of sifting, scrubbing, sorting and debate has produced no evidence of Jerusalem as a large city, let alone the centre of an empire. It was at most a minor trading and olive growing town. No doubt a small state existed in the ninth c BC, one of several -- Moab, Edom, Ammon, even one we could call Israel, with Samaria as a likely "capital", and with the revival of Phoenician shipping, Palestine indeed began to flourish for the first time, but on a modest scale, as an inter-empire outpost, the home of many Semitic and non-Semitic tribes...

The flourishing of Palestine supposedly ended with God's punishment of Israel and the destruction of Samaria. The goodness of the Judean kings, Hezekiah and Josiah, delayed Yahweh's anger and Jerusalem's destruction. But the day of wrath, so it goes, brought the Babylonian army to destroy Jerusalem, marking the end of old Israel in the sixth c BC. What do archaeologists tell us? Again, there is no historical evidence for this lovely story -- Palestine was all the time just a backwater, subject to division between Assyria, Mesopotamia and Egypt as their empires ebbed and flowed...

Never was there an ethnically coherent Israel, and according to Thomson, neither Jerusalem nor Judah ever shared an identity with Israel before the rule of the Hasmoneans in the Hellenistic period of the 3rd-1st cc BC, coincidentally, when the legends were first written down. Ironically, the Samaritans, scorned by Ezra's (and today's) Jews, are the most likely Semitic ancestors of the historical Israel."

Sunday, December 2, 2007

No Commitment to Annapolis

A good indication at who is really the driving force of blockading peace is indicated in this little slip-up by both Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

"An effort will be made to hold accelerated negotiations in the hope that it will be possible to conclude them in 2008... However, there is no commitment to a specific timetable regarding these negotiations."

This kind of elusion is best reminiscent of the American procrastination of setting some guideline for troop withdrawal, using the "when Iraqis stand up, we'll stand down" round-a-bout that always seems to keep US occupation a permanent fact. And as temporary as Israelis wanted the occupation to be back forty years ago, I doubt people will buy that line now after four decades of oppression and second-class status for Palestinians (especially Gaza since the "disengagement", which only gets worse and worse).

But what would be necessary for the Israelis to set up a timetable or a deadline for this "peace"? You guessed it: Palestinian concessions.

"Both Livni and Olmert said that from Israel's point of view, the most important aspect of the understanding was that any future agreement would only be implemented after the Palestinians fulfilled their security requirements under the road map."

And what are those requirements? Tony Karon laid it out in his blog:

"The Roadmap, of course, requires Mahmoud Abbas to dismantle Hamas. Fat chance. And the Israelis know it better than anyone — Olmert reassured Israelis straight after the conference that Abbas is weak and ineffective. In other words, this whole process is hypothetical.

Taking down Hamas and uniting “moderates” against “extremists” is the purpose of the Annapolis process, not moving the Israelis and Palestinians, and the wider region, closer to peace."

The Palestinians are meant to bend over backwards to help fulfill Israel's security requirements and then Jerusalem must not be negotiated over, as well as settlements have to remain, as even compensation efforts to evacuate these nationalist lunatics is being opposed in the Knesset. The fate of the West Bank is under Israeli control, and no sovereignty is conceded to a Palestinian authority. What you see in the West Bank now is what we're going to see as a potential Palestinian state under Annapolis. This is an area that has been split up by settlements, barriers and road blocks, pockmarked with soldiers and checkpoints and dissected by Jewish highways and a separation wall, leaving the proposed area for a Palestinian state to almost nothing. Here's what Sonka Karkar has said of the usurpation of the land that is going to be legitimised thanks to the US backing:

"Certainly, any Palestinian state proposed today would not be the state envisaged by the architects of Oslo. Israel’s Wall, the settlements and the Israeli-only roads have made sure that any Palestinian state will be forever compromised by the Israeli colonial settlement enterprise...

The way Israel has set it all up now with settlements, restricted roads, military reserves and no-go zones on 93 percent of the Palestinian West Bank seems much more like a settler state where Palestinians will only have semi authority in the enclaves allotted to them than the sovereign Palestinian state everyone is talking about.

Should the Palestinians acquiesce to some semblance of a state on the fragments of land remaining in these latest talks, they would find themselves in an impossible situation – completely subject to Israel’s whims and utterly and indefinitely dependent on humanitarian aid from the international community."

That is what is required for Israel's security: the total dismemberment of Palestine, their identity, their history and their future; the annihilation of their nationalism and their rights to humanity. In order for Israel to be recognised to "exist as a Jewish state" is to propogate the Palestinian's total deletion from today's society. They must accept that they will forever be ruled by their colonial aggressors and give up their fight for equality.

Will the international community be fooled by all of this? Will Abbas continue his path to becoming the Palestinian satrap for the Empire? We will all sit tight for this to pan out.

Annapolis and Iran

Gary Sick was a guest columnist at Rootless Cosmopolitan and revealed that the Annapolis summit is a way to schmooze back the Arab regimes into the peace process and getting their influence to counter the Shi'ites of Iran. Hence why the need for Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia to all agree on the Palestinian question and be on good terms with Israel and more importantly Washington, and create a good alliance against the evil of today, Iran.

Also important was the shift in gears, more or less towards diplomacy rather than hubris against Iran.

"Over the past several weeks, there has been a quiet process of apparent concessions and small gestures of approval between the United States and Iran in Iraq. General Petraeus told the Wall Street Journal that Iran “made promises at the highest levels of the Iranian government to the highest levels of the Iraqi government. These were unequivocal pledges to stop the funding, training, arming and directing of militia extremists in Iraq. It will be hugely significant to see if that’s the case.” Only a few weeks earlier, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had noted that the discovery and use of improvised explosive devices (IED) of suspected Iranian origin in Iraq had declined, along with the general decline of violence associated with the U.S. military surge and new counter-insurgency tactics.

In between these two announcements, the U.S. military released nine Iranians who had been arrested and held for many months. Even more unusual was the fact that the release of these men, now officially labeled of “no continued intelligence value,” had been reviewed only a few months earlier and rejected. Stranger still, they were identified as members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and its special intelligence division, the Qods Brigade, which had just been officially designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. government. Shortly thereafter, the Iraqi government announced that a fourth round of direct talks between the United States and Iran would take place in the near future.

So, what is going on here? Obviously it is still very early to draw any hard conclusions. A U.S. military spokesman recently linked Iran to a bombing in Baghdad by a splinter sect of the Mahdi Army, so perhaps this episode of good will was only a tiny deviation in an otherwise consistent policy of hostility. Or perhaps this was a goodwill gesture not to the Iranians but to the Iraqis who had been insisting that the Americans release their Iranian hostages and proceed with the Iraqi-sponsored talks. Or perhaps this was merely an odd concatenation of events, purely a coincidence."

Yes, it is the work of one Condoleezza Rice,

"who is showing herself to be a consummate realist, particularly as the neo-conservative ideologues increasingly find themselves without government employ and quarantined from the policy process, and as the Office of the Vice President watches its policy influence evaporating almost by the day. I am particularly intrigued by the fact that administration policy toward North Korea and the Palestinian issue have effectively reversed in the past year (regardless of pro-forma administration claims that the policies remain steady and unchanging)."

Annapolis is still doomed.

"Debasing" Facts in the air

Despite the fact that Nadia Abu El-Haj has been granted tenure at Columbia University, the attacks still come in, even from the 'liberal' Ha'aretz. Bari Weiss has once again disputed El-Haj's ability to qualify for tenure because "the only book upon which she was granted tenure" was her groundbreaking study Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society, which was a winner in the 2002 Albert Hourani Book Award, "which recognizes outstanding publishing in Middle East studies".

Weiss accuses El-Haj of totally discrediting science as a non-partisan study but subjected to the biases of the people who make it.

"To argue that people, rather than evidence, create archaeological fact, El-Haj is forced to abandon the methodology of science altogether."

And not content with El-Haj, Weiss brazenly applies her criticism to the late Edward Said.

"El-Haj is hardly the first to employ this approach. Perhaps its most powerful trailblazer was Edward Said, who argued in his landmark 1978 book "Orientalism," that when dealing with Asia, the West was necessarily politicized. Said alleged that even the most well-intentioned scholars, if they were Western, were Orientalists, actively constructing a mythical "Orient" out of their own political motivations as the exotic, feminized, other. For Said, there is no such thing as objectivity in scholarship, and those who claim to strive for it may well be the ones with the most to hide."

Is it not accepted that there are biases all around? People can profess to be absolutely non-partisan but we are a product of our society, whether negatively or positively. Israel is so polemic that nationalism permeates to the very last bum. How else can it be explained that such nationalist fervour is a pinnacle of the settlement structure and violence we forsee today and yesterday? Or how archeologists are in such a hurry to prove that ancient Israel does exist that it is justified to plow more Palestinian homes and heritage sites in order for evidence to be shown? Certainly El-Haj's book has been vilified and praised (but what book on the Holy Land ever is free of politicisation nowadays?) and it is up to the reader to conclude for themselves whether the book is sound or not. Weiss cannot accuse the usual anti-Semitic line since El-Haj has been free of any form of it.

Weiss does let it slip:

"Let's be clear: Is it in the interest of today's Zionists to find evidence of an ancient Israelite kingdom in the Land of Israel? Of course. But recognizing such interest does not preclude the possibility of the application of fair, professional standards, and the ability of archaeologists, regardless of their ethnic group, to uphold them in good faith."

But during the tenure controversy, El-Haj had plenty of support, "particularly in her field, who say her book is solid, even brilliant, and part of an innovative trend of looking at how disciplines function." Yes there are opponents, such as Alan F. Segal, a professor of religion and Jewish studies at Barnard, who was quoted as saying "her work is not good enough".

“She completely misunderstands what the biblical tradition is saying... She is not even close. She is so bizarrely off.”

And we all know how much claim biblical tradition has. Michael Dietler, an anthropology professor at University of Chicago said,

"She is a scholar of the highest quality and integrity who is being persecuted because she has the courage to focus an analytical lens on subjects that others wish to shield from scrutiny."

Basically El-Haj has done the unthinkable and that is to challenge Israel's sole claim to the land of Palestine. By attempting to showcase that their facts are more contrived that evidence would suggest, then it's best to derail her studies, however praised it really can be. Weiss concludes:

"El-Haj's work does not remind readers of the need to be skeptical of the influence nationalism can have on the interpretation of archaeological facts. Instead, she has written a book condemning the notion of facts themselves. It is for this reason that those who care about the future of the veracity of facts - and not just the future of Israel - should take serious notice of her promotion."

Or more to the notice that her promotion is a step backward for the academic police of Campus Watchers.