Saturday, May 3, 2008

Corrupt Leaders or Just the Way it is?

A couple of days ago I came across David Brumer's blog (on account of South Jerusalem) and assuming it may be just the right fix for me for another Israeli point of view, I took a peek into his post about Khaled Abu Toameh, who is an Israeli Arab journalist. It was very interesting and had many points that many Palestinians had already taken into account for the failures of an effective resistance movement against the occupation. (See Rashid Khalidi.) Brumer, who is a member of The Israel Project, was impressed with Toameh's conclusions that the "Palestinian people are the victims of corrupt leadership in the West Bank and now fanatical radical Islam in Gaza. It didn’t have to be this way." Toameh's status as an Israeli Arab who is residing in East Jerusalem is meant to immediately qualify him of a very non-partisan view, and I have to say that it is very hard to argue against it since this is one voice of a Palestinian, albeit one with an Israeli citizenship (which is second-rank if you are a non-Jew). Brumer is correct in highlighting that aspect of Toameh's, but that doesn't necessarily equate that this point of view is correct altogether because of his background, and I don't believe Brumer does that either.
It has been proven that the Fatah party led by Arafat was corrupt. It saw itself estranged from the fellaheen and decided that it was time to play the politics game and get with it. But we have grown accustomed to what power does to people (and politicians): it corrupts. The Palestinians are not immune to this and neither are any other party that vies for control of a nation-state or province or even some little piece of territory. Arafat aimed to get benefits from the biggest superpower, which incidently his successor is doing right now. I guess the main point being that Arafat was a rather weak entity and grappled for something that he could hold on to so he could have some power. MERIP described it as
"[T]he weakness of the PLO after the Gulf War... The PLO accepted this deeply flawed agreement with Israel because it was weak and had little diplomatic support in the Arab world. Both Islamist radicals and local leaders in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip challenged Arafat's leadership. Yet only Arafat had the prestige and national legitimacy to conclude a negotiated agreement with Israel."
The MERIP synopsis also included that "[T]he Oslo accords contained no mechanism to block these unilateral actions [in violation of the Accords] or Israel's violations of Palestinian human and civil rights in areas under its control." Arafat had no power and his power was only as a puppet of Israel's making. So much so that he was corrupt since he had no authority to rule over the masses. He had no power to stop settlements. He was even quite draconian in his handling of security since his was very discredited by the process itself by the Islamist factions of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Joel Beinin quips that "Arafat's undemocratic practices are considered helpful in controlling opponents of the Oslo process." And could it have been a possibility that Arafat's harsh measures were somehow related to his desire to curbed Palestinian terrorism directed against Israel? As many ordinary Palestinians could attest, signing a peace treaty with Israel did not bring forth any serious discussion about East Jerusalem, refugees or even water rights. Simply put, "Signed agreements were open to endless reinterpretation, always by Israel or by the United States" as iterated by Ali Abunimah.
Toameh regrets that Arafat was unable to build any concrete services during his time and that's why the Palestinians felt the need to back Abbas since he represented some kind of change. I don't believe they elected Abbas because he was capable of bringing more stability, it was just a small changing of the guard. Not long after, we saw how paperthin Abbas' support was as Hamas swept into power, which Toameh agrees that "that any Palestinian child on the street could have told you Hamas would win the elections in January of 2006."
Of course, there's nothing generally wrong with what Toameh's says. In fact, Arafat was only guilty of what every fucking party seems to be guilty of. There is no respite from criticism from the constituents; and not to say that there is no legitimate criticism involved. Here in Ontario the economy is doing very poorly and is on the verge of becoming a "Have-Not Province" qualifying it for Federal subsidies. The McGuinty government has been accused of corruption over and over, stealing taxpayer money. And to paraphrase Jeremiah Haber of The Magnes Zionist:
"[I]f you believe that the Palestinians have been oppressed by their leaders -- I don't -- my question to you will be, so what?
It doesn't make a damn difference.
Because, you see, what the Americans, Israelis, and Palestinians, have in common is that their governments were elected in fair elections. The Palestinian elections were monitored by international observers. In each case, the people should have gotten what they deserved. If they voted the bums in, that's their headache."
Now Toameh does believe it was the Palestinian's headache to bear but I believe that the analogy is rather faulty. Neither Israel or the US is under constant pressure of an occupation. Neither Israel nor the US is under a sanctions regime or a boycott (effectively to undercut its main economy and fuel and electricity). Neither Israel nor the US has their taxes under survellience by an occupied power. While Haber does believe that accountability has to be acknowledged, and it does, the Palestinians have decided that enough was enough and they removed Fatah from power. But Haber notes again,
"the elections results overturned by outside interference. After supporting elections -- elections, I may add, that to a large extent, actually threw the corrupt bums out -- Israel arrested the elected officials that it did not like and imposed a siege on Gaza -- not because it was actually being attacked, but because the Palestinians had elected a group viewed by the US and Israel (and much of Europe), to be a terrorist organization."
Even Toameh recognises this:
"So a year later, when Hamas challenged Fatah’s power, Palestinians said to themselves, let’s give these guys a chance."
But Toameh omits the fact that this result was overturned. And Haber again lucidly points out that
"if you justify Israel's actions in the interest of Israeli security (what about Palestinian security?), you have automatically declared Palestinians territories to be, if not under occupation, than under the thumb of Israel. And therefore you have made the Israelis responsible for the governance of thsoe territories."
And that is outright true. Because of the issue of security, it should only be limited to within the recognised borders of the '67 line but Israel brought it upon itself to control the entirety of the territories, hence they are responsible for those territories. While they have no direct bearing on the attitudes and policies of the PA, the fact that it is still under the umbrella of an occupation makes autonomy a complete impossibility.
Toameh does not allude to this at all and that's where I find the problem. "And again the Palestinian people emerged as the big losers." No one could predict what would have happened if Hamas were able to govern unfettered or the Fatah was not provoked into an attempted coup to remove Hamas from power. Toameh even admits that "Hamas did prove themselves untarnished by corruption"; what could their achievements have been if they did not see an attempt on their lives? He even insists that Hamas has not been able to alleviate the advancement of Palestinian rights, statehood or improve their lives. Perhaps Toameh may have mentioned it in the lecture but Brumer makes no mention of the fact that the embargo that has Gaza starving to death. As it so happens, Israel is been urged to undo this very policy to "avert a humanitarian disaster". A recent poll had Hamas' popularity rising because of the said embargo. And Toameh is meant to conclude that this is (totally) Hamas' fault because they are unable to make life easier for Palestinians?
This would not be so odious if we had not read this reasoning over and over. The Palestinians are solely to blame for their plight because of the leaders they chose. It is the same rhetoric we hear from the powers-that-be that dictate who gets to rule whom. How many people actually know that Marwan Barghouti is possibly the biggest voice that the Palestinians have and he is prevented from ever leaving his prison, let alone run a party or provide talks between the two warring parties. As a matter of fact, we hear the same thing from the US about Iraq: the place is a mess because the Iraqis don't know how to govern and that's why the West has to do it for them. They're just backward, alien and don't know a goddam thing about democracy. All they know is clanism.
I cannot fully fault Brumer and Toameh though; he did declare that
"Nothing is likely to change with the current PA leadership. Abbas is a weak and ineffective leader who cannot leave Ramallah without the permission of an Israeli army officer, let alone rally his own people. He has never visited a refugee camp or ordinary Palestinian village. He's traipsed around Europe and the Middle East, but has done nothing to advance his people’s cause. And the more the Palestinians see America and Israel supporting Abbas, the more he is seen as a puppet and collaborator in their eyes. The West Bank is effectively ruled by gangs, thugs, and rogue militias, Mafia style, says Khaled. If it weren’t for the IDF, Hamas would topple Fatah in a heartbeat, just like they did in Gaza, with barely a struggle."
That is exactly why they are funneling funds into Abbas's pocket. They do not want Hamas to rule as they are the bad guys here. You cannot let the bad guys win: that makes for bad lessons in future. This is a precedent that is not make to see reality. It is typified by what Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy stated in an interview:
"There are conditions [for Hamas to be legitimised]: renounce violence, recognize Israel, and be willing to engage in diplomacy.
[Carter's visit] has told Hamas leaders that perhaps in Washington there are important people who are reconsidering, who are lowering the bar that will let them through the door without them having to pay what they need to pay to get the credibility of engagement with the United States."
What Satloff is incorrect at is that these conditions were met by the PLO before they were spoken to. False. It has been noted in many circles that had these conditions been demanded from the IRA or the ANC then we would still be seeing terrorism and violence in both countries respectively, and perhaps an even harsher treatment to rule over them. We should also take note of Robert Pape's theory that suicide bombers peters out when you negotiate with the resisters and pay attention to their grievances. They're not "animals" who take innocent lives gratuitously: they want to rid their land of foreign combat forces.I guess I am a little too harsh on Toameh but I figured that he needed to properly put all of this into context. It is difficult enough to govern a state, province or a nation without an outside power overlooking your every step and suggesting that this is bad for its security and that you must eliminate every portion of resistance movements that are hostile to the occupier's existence. Think about it: the US is using very repressive measures at any hint of terrorism, torturing them and sending them over to Guatanamo. Ironically, Arafat used the same methods on Hamas. Now Hamas has the tables turned and they doing what Fatah did to them back in the Oslo years when they discredited the accord to a submission to Israel. Were they wrong? Are they wrong now?
What is also missing is that Hamas has tried time and time again to accomodate Israel, urged ceasefires and attempts to give over Shilat for prisoners and even a hudna. All of this has been rebuffed by Israel. You could speculate over Hamas' desire to really make lives easier for Gazans but I didn't see Israel blowing up the wall at Rafah, nor do I see Israel sending out feelers to Hamas. They even demonised an ex-President who did such a measure. This only helps Hamas in the end and only hurts Israel. The longer they hold out, the more Hamas will search for players who will listen to them. That means Iran, Syria and even non-state entities (yes, maybe even Al-Qaeda). Ultimately, this helps Israel's rightliners, as this gives them the proper pretext to fully invade Gaza and depose of Hamas, something that a beefed up Fatah could not do. As we have it, Khaled Meshal has been on record that he will agree on the status outlined from the previous PA agreements and to commit to the borders of the 67 Green Line. Gershom Gorenberg had a very perceptive outlook on Meshal and Hamas and one that should be repeated here:
"Let me be clear: Meshaal is still stating a considerably more hardline position than that of Fatah. This isn’t an offer on which any Israeli leader could just sign. Meshaal’s stated conditions for two states falls far short of the Clinton parameters or the Geneva accords. On the other hand, pay attention: The leader of Hamas is saying that the Charter has no practical relevance. He really wishes Israel would vanish, but that’s not his political program. He’d rather take a couple pills against nausea, and accept reality."
This is possibly the most realistic analysis of the situation: Hamas has to continue its rhetoric and may still hope for the "liberation" of historic Palestine, but most of its statesmen see this as a folly and one that will only deflect them into obscurity. They know that they are under fire for results and they somewhat have to accommodate their enemy and give them de facto recognition. Isn't that just as good for now? Why do more lives have to be at risk here? Jimmy Carter did state that "as long as Hamas is not part of the solution, they are part of the problem".
Nothing will absolve the Palestinian leaders of corruption and failure to unify. But under the conditions of occupation and the scope of outside powers constantly at play with your governance, it is remarkably difficult to do the right thing by your constituents when you are living the easy life or a diplomat or an official. You live in decent dwellings while the poor farmers are being removed from their land and Hebron residents are being terrorised. The Palestinian official is aware of this but they are not under this pressure every day. Scratch that, only those that are not under threat of being imprisoned or liquidated, is not under pressure. Those who speak out are possibly languishing in a prison cell already.
But no amount of Palestinian corruption can totally absolve an occupation that has epitomised a dearth of autonomy for the Palestinians. Toameh's narrative is free of the usual vituperation but coming from his focus it is naturally a little surprising, but it really should not be. Every Palestinian is well aware of the failings of their leadership but they are also very aware that this is a vacant leadership that is propped up by the big powers to rule over them. They know they're corrupted; but do you also know that they are occupied? It is on its forty-first year; how long has Palestinian corruption been around? And here we are still scathing over the corruption while the occupation makes scant relevance. No siree.
There can really be no clear ratio on which is more to blame. The constant neglect to even mention that the Palestinians are under conditions that no other government is under is criminal and disingenuous. What should not be forgotten is that the lifelong effects of being brutalised, tortured, harrassed, displaced, distorted, ignored, and flatly called every demeaning name in the English, Hebrew, Arabic, French, German and any other language has on ordinary Palestinians who only see how bad the occupier can be.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


This past week has seen a few major dints into the Israel armory that the Jewish State has attempted (successfully) to be immune from and that is criticism of its policies vis-a-vis the United States. We need no refreshments over the "strategic" alliance between the two states: Israel is the major force that upholds US values and it is the paradigm of democracy and culture in a region of backwardness and barbarism. Concurrently, arming Israel is of great value since all its neighbours are more than willing to destroy democracy because, as Samuel Huntingon famously wrote, it is the "clash of civilisations" and Israel is the only nation that the US (and the West) can identify with, what with all its advanced technology and its superb order of governance and its sublime human rights record (err, scratch that last one.). Because the US is stuck on an ideological battle, the "evil" of Islamic fundamentalism and the terrorism tactic with which they equip themselves with, has to be dislodged, or obliterated, with Israel being the key ally to do the US bidding in that part of the world. It goes without saying that you have to omit the glaring fact that it is Israel's intransigence that is the motivating factor for much of this enmity between the Muslim world and the West.

But we have known that this alliance is rather tenuous, mainly because Israel is under the belief that its treasured seat next to the emperor is under scrutiny, not only because of the high price they pay (in tax dollars and also in weaponry and even with the higher threat of terrorism on the home shores) but because Israel feels that it can be deposed for another key player in the area (ie Iran) to do the job. Also, because of said high price, it leads many of the citizens to question said alliance and whether it would be better to distance themselves from the core factor that generates so much hostility towards the US (and the West), hence making Israel's dream of a greater expansion and a state to their liking all the more bleak. As we have also seen, Israel is not compromising on such a thing.

So what do we get? Espionage. Good old-fashioned espionage. Former CIA official Philip Giraldi blogged that Israel has leaked information about spies in the US. Yes, we recall Jonathan Pollard and as of two years ago, the famed Larry Franklin who was found guilty of spying and leaking classified information to the strategic ally. Now Giraldi comes out with a nugget:

"Now it is investigating a number of US citizens, including an individual who held very senior security positions in the Clinton and Bush White Houses."

A senior security position in both regimes? That is hardcore, juicy stuff. How many people can say that they held a high position in both governments in the past eight to nine years? Now I cannot narrow this down and I will have to rely on other sources to do so for me since I do not have the faculties to do such an exhaustive research but we will have to sit tight on whether this latest investigated will amount to another embarrassing moment for the US and its supposed ally.

What is also important to note in Giraldi's post is the fact that certain "doves" in Olmert's government leaked the information in order to thwart a possible war scenario with Syria and Iran. This is in contrast to what Eitan Haber, who was a Defense Minister's aide (under Yitzhak Rabin) claiming that the leak was to prevent Jonathan Pollard from ever getting a pardon. Now I definitely do not believe that Pollard should get by easily here, especially considering that many do believe that espionage is one of the high crimes anyone can commit (look at Scooter Libby); and consider the fact that this is meant to be a relationship "premised on true friendship". Friends don't spy on friends. That is a relationship premised on distrust. You cannot make a person believe that when you go around, sneaking at classified documents and leaking them to an official who it is not meant for because of security purposes, that this is a "true friendship". Snooping around on your significant other is frowned upon; what do call it when you do it concerning national security?

I is also for Impunity

The Washington Post carried an article related to the approval by Bush for Israel to continue their settlement expansion. Not that they needed approval in the first place but since they did have it they aim to give it a legitimacy that no one in the world has given it. It is condemned by every state (even the United States) and no nation in the world recognises Israel's annexation of the West Bank and Jerusalem. It makes you wonder how they even get away with it all even when the official US position is that Israel has to give these territories up and go back behind that '67 border, if you can even call it that.

Although the piece is littered with US denial, there can be absolutely no doubt that President Bush was the first US President to acknowledge said settlements. In fact, it even quotes Bush as to saying

"In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949."

In effect, the settlement policy has thus been declared a success. In today's world, you do not need UN approval for anything so long as you have US approval (re: Kosovo). If you are backed (continually) by the biggest superpower today, as well as the rest of the EU and Canada and Australia (which usually is in line with whatever the US scuttles), then international law is of less importance. Think about it: you can occupy a people, you can destroy their history and claim that they never existed, you can demolish their homes for pleasure, you can torture their young and their women, you can imprison them without trial, you can bomb them until they want to be bombed again, you can threaten to inflict a bigger "holocaust", you can erect a wall that destroys the farming community and usurp the best land and water for your own illegal zealots backed by the army, and you can do it all with the approval of the purveyor of democracy and human rights in this world.

Of course it is not surprising that we were given the denials. It's more or less a speak-easy: you give tacit approval but say you are against it. The rhetoric is strong but the mettle is spineless. Why haven't we even got one concession (I do not count the removal of 50 pathetic roadblocks as a concession) when the US is meant to be applying pressure to both sides in accordance with the Annapolis agreement? In Henry Siegman's latest piece, he implies what is known by many objective analysts throughout:

"As long as Israel knows that by delaying the peace process it buys time to create facts on the ground that will prove irreversible, and that the international community will continue to indulge Israel's pretense that its desire for a two-state solution is being frustrated by the Palestinians, no new peace initiative can succeed, and the dispossession of the Palestinian people will indeed become irreversible."

Simply put, these peace processes in just another ploy to grab more land and head for the hills (to expel Palestinians). Think about it: do any of them get anywhere? Have we seen any progress since the PLO recognised Israel's right to exist back in 88? Did Oslo change a thing (in the Palestinian narrative)? Did Madrid do anything to alleviate Palestinian purgatory? What about Camp David? The only thing that seems to have changed is the fact that we now have the green light by the Bush administration to continue the belligerency. Referring back to the Post article, it quotes former Secretary of State Colin Powell and his words are an echo to many in this administration as well as previous ones and for others in the future:

"I consistently spoke against settlement growth, but as you know all I could do is talk against it," Powell said. "There would be no consequences and there still aren't."

That's right: all we can do is talk against it. Well, what good is being a representative of the US government if you aren't going to do something about it but talk? Trust me, we've all grown very tired of this talking. We seem to talk and talk about it that it gets so tedious that it becomes another exercise that we succumb to, sort of like the peace processes. What? Israel-Palestine? We revisit every issue. Balfour. Partition. Right of return. Zionism. Six-Day War. Ugh. Haven't you heard enough? Haven't you had enough? Haven't you grown weary when Israel says they will do one thing and then do the exact opposite the next week? How much construction can they approve of at the behest of Rice and Bush? Who is the superpower here?

Over at Philip Weiss's blog, he gives a few reasons that there is "light coming into our lives". I do wish that I could share his optimism but I do have to remind myself that (1) I am not as experienced in these matters as he and (2) I am also not as privileged as he is to have the cornucopia of information that he has encumbered with. In summary, Phil quotes Joel Kovel where he lays out that the "chipping away" is starting to make the Establishment crumble, and the hold they have over the discourse of the issue. The Nakba is getting more and more press (thankfully) and the book written by Walt and Mearsheimer was a major event (as well as Carter's book). Coupled with the charge that the Iraq war is attributed to many Zionists, the atmosphere gives one reason for hope.

And I do not aim to dispel this as all of this is very welcome news. After all, here in Canada, we have the first union to impose a boycott of Israel and that is BIG BIG news. The wording even says "apartheid state" and you can speculate whether that such an accusation would even have taken place were it not for Carter's infamous book.

But you have to be careful and be battle-tested. A great expose by Electronic Intifada has the pro-Israel lobby group CAMERA attempting to thwart Wikipedia from its unbiased stance and even undergoing a very calculated policy that aims to have many pro-Israel moderators managing the website's Israel-Palestine webpages. This is just another part of the Battle for the Internet that I have commented previously on. What is also revealed is a plethora of emails suggesting such an endevour. The propaganda machine is working labouriously to prevent the truth from ever coming out and they want things to go back to the way they were when Israel could do such things and have the world take it with a smile on their face because they suffered the Holocaust. It does not work in today's world of citizen's journalism where anyone with a camera phone can expose crimes. Times are tough when the web works against you and this is Israel's way of evening the playing field.

And while all this positivism is all well and good for those of us who do not bear the brunt of the occupation, people like the Hamdan family will have to find a new house to live in since their's was demolished at the hands of Israel with the IDF looking on (and arresting Jeff Halper). It is good to talk and have open discussions about all of this but what about the people of B'ilin who witnessed a historic Supreme Court decision to re-route the separation wall, only for it to be unmoved eight months later. Akiva Eldar's article also noted that "three other places in the West Bank where the High Court of Justice has ordered" a re-routing has not been altered at all: in the Alfei Menashe region, in Tzofin (Azoun), and Hashmonaim (Na'alin). I'm not even touching the subject of Gaza.

Without the adequate pressure, this is the perfect staging for Israel to continue its spying and its settlement expansion and its impunity. Colin Powell may feel that its enough to speak out against it; but is that really sufficient when there is so much at stake here? All of this talking is too narrow and pathetically hollow. It's no wonder that so many are disheartened by this when all they see is the same old thing.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Way to J Street

Because of the way the system has been imposed, and for what seems like an eternity, we have been tied down to the same old tired and strung out "peace processes" that has many who are seeking a just solution to perhaps the biggest conflict in contemporary society today, left feeling jaded about the whole discord of Israelis and Palestinians. We have heard it from the most weary (by that I mean the passive normal citizen) that there is no peaceful solution to this friction and that the only way to ever get some rest is to nuke it or just kill off one group (mostly the belligerent Arabs who don't know their place in this world). I distinctly remember a co-worker of mine, when he caught a glimpse of the title of a book I was reading, called Middle East Illusions: Including Peace in the Middle East? Reflections on Justice and Nationhood (by Noam Chomsky), objected that there will never be any peace in that tumultuous region and that they have been fighting for centuries and they will continue that path until they all wind up killing each other (Note: he only caught the subtitle, not the header.). Of course not one to back down, I contended that that attitude was rather defeatist and also a little misguided since history is filled with conflagrations that is not solely within the Middle East and that he omitted the glaring fact that the Orient (in the region in question) has been under the aegis of one empire to another that egged on civil wars. The point was over his (non scholar) head as he attested that it is a lost cause and that we should not expend any more energy on a people that is only going to implode.

Is he right? As of this point in time, he is not but who knows what the future holds. But we are only able to shape what we see before us today and we have to try to avoid such cataclysms that has dire consequences for the entire world's population. While my co-worker can direct our attention to the back-and-forth bombings in Gaza as proof of this, he is only simplifying a narrative that is too complex to be fit into a sound byte or a two-minute news blurb on television. Right now, we barely have any coverage on the Israel-Palestine conflict, and I barely even noticed anything on the Canadian news hub about an ex-President's visit with a leader of Hamas. Now it may not seem to be big news to Canadians but this is a major step towards a comprehensive dialogue that might bridge the gap between the occupier and the occupied. But how is my co-worker meant to demur on this latest act without even knowing that it occurred?

It comes as no surprise that this step by Jimmy Carter is being brandished a no-no by many who claim to be supportive of peace between the two parties in the conflict. As a matter of fact, Barack Obama lambasted President Carter for meeting with Khaled Meshaal, inculcating us that Hamas is "not a state" and that it is a "terrorist organisation". To double it up, Obama emphatically stated (yet again) that he would never meet with Hamas unless it recognises Israel, blah blah blah. The same old tired rhetoric that we have been imbibed with for decades now. Terrorists this, Israel's security that. Not a damned thing has changed (except for those pretty settlements in the West Bank), no matter how many times Obama stresses that he is for it.

So what of it? What are we to do now since this power disparity has been so entrenched that we have been unable to move the boot of Israel from the Palestinians' necks? The (true) left has been applying their voice but they are largely ignored because, as Norman Finkelstein calmly stated it (when Tony Judt labeled him as such), it is the "loonie left" that advocates the position that Israel should give up its territories and its annexations for the purpose of achieving peace and normalisation with its neighbours. And because the media has been couched with the bigwigs of philanthropy that finds their "donations" into the favoured candidates who confess to be "pro-Israel", we have been moved rightward and that the only effective opposition that they afford the time to is one that is "centrist" or even slightly right-of-centre. The right-wing has so demonised the left as being supporters of communism that the dissidence is largely deflected onto the alternative media. What counts for skeptical journalism these days? After all, we have had over three months after Annapolis and the West Bank is in a shambles (for the Palestinians); Hebron is under siege by more and more settlers; the wall has not moved an inch; the checkpoints remain intact and normal Palestinian life is rather abysmal compared to their Israeli counterparts IN THE WEST BANK. Mats Svensson describes the disconnect:

"Ma'ale Adumim [a settlement with 28 000 settlers], which previously did not exist in our modern history, is soon completed. People live there with access to water, swimming pools, olive groves outside the window, schools, clinics and perhaps most importantly--access to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv just 60 minutes away. Many live in Ma'ale Adumim and work in Tel Aviv. It is cheaper that way, because the land is free."

These illegal usurpers are living the high life on bulldozed Palestinian land and what is a pro-Israel supporter to do? Compare this leisure to the horror stories of Palestinian life where they are held at checkpoints for hours and hours and sometimes are not even let through. Is this the life that they have to look forward to? Where is the sense of outrage that this is no acceptable as applicable to human rights, something that we have been drunk on ever since the Tibetan outrage and the urge to boycott the Beijing Olympics? You would think that occupations would be the du jour of today but I guess if you're a Palestinian, you do not deserve the recognition that Tibetans are warranted.

As we talk and talk, Israel just continues to approve more housing, effectively shutting off any peace proposal for a two-state solution. Many will say that this was the point all along and who can say that they are wrong here? Having been an espoused anti-Zionist, it has always been affirmed within me that Israel's leaders are not content with what they have, hence the refusal for a constitution or even final borders, and are willing to sacrifice anything to get what they want (as much land as possible). This only evokes David Ben-Gurion's words back when European Jews were being slaughtered at a massive scale by the rise of the Nazi party:

"If I knew that it was possible to save all the children in Germany by transporting them to England, but only half of them by transporting them to Palestine, I would choose the second - because we face not only the reckoning of those children, but the historical reckoning of the Jewish people." [One Palestine, Complete pg 394]

That was the price they were willing to pay for their "Jewish homeland"; they were willing to tolerate the most odious of statesmen just to achieve their goal. It is no different today: why we have an ex-Prime Minister and current leader of the Likud party boasting that Israel has benefited greatly from the 9/11 attacks. This puts the Christopher Ketcham story into greater perspective.

Again, where is the outrage? Where is the anger? Or more importantly, where is the coverage? (Incidentally, it cannot be ignored that a PNAC paper, called the "Clean Break" Plan, authored by the biggest neoconservatives we have grown to know and love was written for Netanyahu when he was in office.)

Well some people have had enough of the monopoly that the likes of AIPAC have had over foreign policy (and if you doubt that just glimpse at Walt and Mearsheimer's best-seller). The campaign of smears and kowtowing and bribery, along with the backing of every failed initiative that only prolongs the agony for Israel's citizens and its neighbours, is getting too tiresome and it is getting old. The lynching of Carter has not worked and his book is still regarded very highly. Walt and Mearsheimer have been blacklisted but they still receive an audience and the apartheid analogy is gaining credence and even getting into a tuffle at the University of Toronto (over freedom of speech and so forth). Zionism, as has been revealed, is on the wane and Israel is of less importance to the younger Jews in the Diaspora and some do see their hardline stance in the negative.

Capitalising on this is the new lobby, named J Street. Now this new organisation is getting coverage; from Mother Jones, to the Washington Post, to Jim Lobe at IPS, and its making headway in the blogosphere, mainly from the Jewish circles such as Philip Weiss, Richard Silverstein, Dan Fleshler and of course the co-founder of the group Daniel Levy. This is exciting but you do have to try to reserve yourself. This new group aims to be a counterpoint to the disastrous legacy that has conflated Jewish into one pool that to be pro-Israel is to be supportive of every aggressive action that testifies to Israel's staunch stance on democracy. Not only that, it also will do what other liberal Jewish groups have been unable to do and that is back candidates in office or attempt to delegitamise a candidate that is seen as having a deleterious record on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Here is J Street:

"Neoconservative, right-wing Jewish leaders and radical Christian Zionists have turned their definition of “pro-Israel” into a driving force in the American political process... These voices do not…represent the mainstream of American Jews or the broader community that cares about Israel or American interests in the Middle East. Their efforts have skewed American policy, undermined Israeli and American interests, and constrained the domestic political and public debate about American foreign policy.

It is time for the mainstream of Americans–Jews and others–to establish a bold, political voice that advocates for the best interests of the U.S. and Israel, including a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on the 1967 borders with agreed reciprocal land swaps, and for American policy that will lead to real security for Israelis, Americans and the entire Middle East."

Is there a call for rejoice? I would call for one. It is well past time that another group would rise up and challenge the narrative here. J Street may be just the group to do that and you would have to agree that this is probably the best timing possible. The AIPAC hold is getting shaky and J Street might just be able to swoop where AIPAC is weakening. In addition, AIPAC has made plenty of fodder in past campaigns and J Street has a member by the name of Howard Dean, who has felt the wrath of AIPAC when he called for a more "balanced" approach to the I-P conflict which got him in the doghouse. Others who are tired of AIPAC's hegemony might lean towards J Street and take on the power of the lobby. In fact, the members are rather presitigous:
"There are of course leaders of the main American Jewish peace groups. There are rabbis and academics. But most important there are heavy hitter political donors (Alan Solomont), policy wonks (Rob Malley), U.S. ambassadors to Israel (Samuel Lewis), high level political operatives (Eli Pariser of Moveon), Hollywood liberals (Robert Greenwald), business leaders, George Soros’ top aide (Morton Halperin), and even a former Republican senator (Lincoln Chafee) and former Congressman (Tom Downey). The major political donors and business leaders are critical to provide the funding necessary to have an impact on political campaigns." [Quoted from Richard Silverstein's blog]

The other founding member Jeremy Ben-Ami stated that

"American voices... from the far Right... have claimed that the only way to be pro-Israel is to support military responses to political problems, to refuse to engage one's adversaries in dialogue and to put off the day of reckoning when hard compromises will be required to achieve a peaceful and secure future for Israel and the entire Middle East.

These are not the kind of smart, tough views that serve the long-term interests of the state of Israel, of the United States – or frankly, the American Jewish community.

Voices of reason need to reclaim what it means to be pro-Israel and to establish in American political discourse that Israel's core security interest is to achieve a negotiated two-state solution and to define once and for all permanent, internationally recognized borders."

In the end it really is a matter of who can best fit the pro-Israel mark. Is it going to be the doves or the hawks? As of today, we are seeing each Presidential candidate (and primary candidate) effectively out-hawking each other on the Israel question in order to fit the "pro-Israel" description. Gershom Gorenberg analysed this back in January:

"Being pro-Israel does not require backing the most bellicose possible Israeli position, anymore than being "pro-American" requires backing the war in Iraq.

To be pro-Israel certainly doesn't mean basing foreign policy on the alleged conflict of civilizations; the whole West locked in combat with the Islamic world.

Being pro-Israel certainly doesn't mean standing in the way of peace negotiations with Syria... support for Israel does not mean support for West Bank settlement, for the Whole Land of Israel, for endless occupation. The sane, mainstream Zionist vision was and is of a democratic state with a Jewish majority, with full rights for all citizens, a country living at peace with its neighbors. (That's what the country's declaration of independence says.) Rule over the disenfranchised Palestinians of the West Bank undermines democracy. Every additional settler makes withdrawal more difficult." {Emphasis mine]

Those who see that there is a price to pay for Israel's bellicose rule of Palestinians are trying to take back the reigns and make those who really support a Jewish state to take a step back and have a long hard look at where all of this is headed. Ehud Olmert famously said that unless there is a two-state solution that the Jewish state is in danger. Apparently others who do want Israel to continue to exist see it this way too because the longer we accept Israel's accelerating expropriation, the closer we get to facing a one-state battle (which I don't mind at all but could spark alarms for Zionists and post-Zionists out there).

The most common analogy I have encountered is the "drunk driver" analogy: you do not let friends drive drunk, so you cannot let Israel do something harmful that might end up killing not only those around it, but also itself. You do not urge them on or give them the keys. This is how many Jewish liberals are depicting this fight. AIPAC and other Christian Zionists are fueling the fire that is only making things worse for the world (remember that all roads lead to Jerusalem, which is occupied). J Street is hoping to be that guidance that would take the keys away from Israel and start telling them that this is not the way to get home. What is J Street's position?

"J Street calls for territorial compromises with the Palestinians based largely on the 1967 borders with reciprocal land swaps and the division of Jerusalem. The group also favors strong U.S. support for Israeli-Syrian peace negotiations and direct, high-level U.S. talks with Iran to address all issues of mutual concern, including ending Iranian opposition to Arab-Israeli peace efforts and its support for armed anti-Israel groups in Palestine and Lebanon."

Even though J Street is not going to be the saviour, it can be a major cog in the machine that ends up driving Israel back behind the Green Line. It is possible to apply pressure to Israel and see rewards. Eisenhower was successful and even President Carter was able to sign a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt (who both ironically starve the Gazans). Israel's elite still does not want a repeat of those two episodes but many in the US (and in Israel) are starting to see that the current policy is bankrupt and it is a failure, so it's time to start something new (or start actually listening to the Palestinians).

I wholly support this initiave and I urge others to back it. Support it, send out the word, email others about it and even donate. You do not have to be Jewish to do so despite the fact that it is a Jewish group. It is they who have so much at stake at losing support for Israel's security and peace. Although I am a strong supporter of Palestinian rights and am rather ambivalent about the whole project considering it is a lobby that is meant to strengthen ties to Israel (yet again), it is also one lobby that is openly stating the word "occupation" and (genuine) support for a Palestinian state. Daniel Levy is no slouch and he honest about his intentions of a two-state solution. And with all the support from so many Jewish liberals, it is tough not to support the cause.

My only hope is that the Palestinian voice is not lost in all of this. But J Street seems to be the only major campaigner who has a strong enough voice to voice it for them in the forum of the US.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Calling a Spade a Spade

We have to be honest with ourselves here and let go of all the hyperbole that seems to be enmeshed when we talk about the Israel-Palestine conflict. It's difficult to separate our emotional ties to the region whether you are Jewish or an Arab because we have been told over and over that the bitter battle between Israel and Palestine is what drives many of enmities towards the Western nations and the attitudes that fuels the terrorism and "fundamentalism" that get bracketed into the absurd "clash of civilisations" that we find ourselves struggling with in our post-Soviet Union stateground. But in order for us to try to move ahead into anything meaningful, sometimes we do have to detach what we feel is so important because it may hinder what is so appallingly obvious to one who is less tied to the two parties to the conflict. We have so many casting a huge role in the US who have very strong affiliations with the Israeli front that it is very hard to picture them ever having a pragmatic approach as relates to what could benefit both the Israelis and the Palestinians: because if we believe that we can finally put an end to this, both sides have to feel that justice has prevailed in any negotiated solution, and that also means talking about the topics that matter to the Palestinians (East Jerusalem, settlements, the wall, checkpoints, water, etc.) because whether Israelis and its supporters like it or not, their security is intertwined with the security of the Palestinians.

Now where we are at, we are currently a third of a year of post-Annapolis, and still we are not only stuck at another impasse, we are seeing two steps backwards every time we think that we are going forward. It's a terrible affliction that we are inured with as we have come to expect this sort of backdrop of failed solutions and talks when these two parties come to the table to speak to one another (with the US as the mediator). And unfortunately, each time we rerun this episode, more violence and more deaths are inevitable, and the aftermath could prove more disastrous than the last intifada that saw Sharon take an iron fist approach to the security situation. Only over a month ago, we saw some horrific images coming from the Gaza Strip as Israel attempted to strong-arm their way to finally put an end to rockets being fired into Israeli proper, only to see more fatalities and more Israelis dead. During the same week of escalation, we witnessed a shooting spree from a Palestinian who was a citizen of Israel. The reprisal from the fanatics have been very elementary as they raided the offender's family's house and took their rage out on them. We have read reports in Bethlehem that took out four Palestinians in "execution style" can be viewed as symptoms that lead to a bigger backlash against each other, with more and more dead proving even more catastrophic for the Palestinians considering the disparity we have seen in the numbers over the decades.

But what I'd like to revert back to is that this is all nothing new. We have been through this road before and we have had warnings from the intellectuals, the negotiators and the academics that this is the path that we are taking when we do not pressure the bigger party to concede something tangible so they can show they are serious about their security and peace. Yes, I'm talking about pressuring Israel, and to be frank, we all know that if they wanted a concrete peace proposal to work out that they would have done so already. They have all the power here and it is they who needs to show that they are willing to work with the weaker opposition who have been trying to show the world that they have the right to self-determination also. Autonomy has been dealt around rather passively with total disregard for international law and yet we are still at the same stumbling bloc when it comes to the Palestinians affirmation for their right to determine their own fate. Naturally I will hear the typical response that the PA has done little to nothing to curb terrorism from the West Bank and Gaza. But let's not be myopic here: it is quite difficult to effectively curtail every terrorist attack. Washington and Tel Aviv, will all their might and intelligence at their disposal are still struggling with it. Iraq is a haven of terrorism; Afghanistan is run by warlords and yet the US can not "pacify" the insurgencies. Colombia is equipped with an exorbitant military to fight the FARC and yet they do not make any ground in silencing the guerrillas. Now, you have these nations who trade mightily with their beefed up military budget and they are unable to quell terrorism in Iraq, the West Bank and Colombia; you expect the Palestinians who have little to nothing in their police force to police their own people and tell them that they have no reason to fight back and stop this nonsense of martyrdom because it only digs a deeper hole for the Palestinians? I highly doubt that. Let's be sensible about this: Jimmy Carter stated it in his book Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid that you can never guarantee total security. Crimes will happen and under an occupation, it is practically mandatory that a resistance will occur. What haven't we learned from the past in places like Algeria, India, Northern Ireland and Iraq?

Right now, Israel has no incentive to strive for a peace with the Palestinians. We know that they do not want to give up any part of Jerusalem, so why cave in and lose East Jerusalem so more Palestinians can inhabit the capital? Ehud Olmert has not changed his spots today from when he was the mayor of Jerusalem: he continues to approve more and more construction around the settlements in "Greater Jerusalem" and plans to never negotiate over the ancient city. We also know that they do not want to give up any part of the West Bank that they deem worthy, hence why they continue to litter it with more Israeli settlers and surround Hebron with more zealouts to crowd out the Palestinians. There is no reason why they should concede anything when they can just populate the hills with more Jews and don't give a shit about international law or UN Resolutions. They are seeing a maximalist dream here that not even Ben-Gurion was willing to undertake when Israel won the Six-Day War: they are realising the Eretz Israel on Judea and Sumaria. There is no West Bank for these people. There is no Palestinian for these people. There is no Palestine. As far as they are concerned, it is only meant for the Jews and without any state to oppose this, what is going to stop them from doing what they feel is God's plan?

It's tough to separate what you feel is your rightful duty to your religion and to what the law says you must obey: there is no separation for most of these believers and they have no desire to ever give up the Golan and Judea and Sumaria. They already comprised on Jordan and the Gaza Strip (well, some of them about Gaza anyways) so they have already comprised on their part, why aren't the Palestinians doing their part by just going to Jordan which is their "Palestinian" state? What could make them see it this way? Sure, they were the indigenous people but why can't they just leave for the greater good of the cosmpolitan state in the Middle East? They had no ties to the land and were only savages and nomads; Israelites cultivated the desert and made it into the paradise we now see.

Of course it is preposterous to make a Palestinian believe that they have no right to the land and the only future they have to look forward to is the only that sees them removed from their homes for a Jew to live in. We go back and forth on this and there are many books that have dealt with these issues about who has the right to live here and which truth trumps the other: but that misses the point entirely as both have seen themselves are the rightful owner of this historic piece of land. Both will have to live with each other or else face oblivion as they will surely attempt to destroy one another in order to gain total control of the land. Tony Karon said it earlier that the Israelis "ignored the elephant in the room: the Palestinians." And yes, the Palestinians to lesser extent ignore the Israelis' desire to live on their biblical land. Both were very guilty of ignoring the case of the other and now we are stuck on rivaling nationalisms. It's important for everyone to realise that we have come sixty years since the birth of Israel, and since then there has been a rise in Palestinian nationalism. Calling them a non-entity only figures in colonialism and ignorance of pragmatism. Whether or not Arabs called themselves Palestinian previous to Israel's existence is a non-starter: they call themselves that now just as Israelis are now Israelis and not Sephardic or Ashkenazi Jews. It's time to accept that they want to live in this part of the world and not a neighbouring state or in a refugee camp.

But why haven't they accepted it? Some simply choose to believe that they are the chosen ones and it is hard to remove the ideology that motors so many in the region. But luckily they are on the fringes; most do want to see some kind of peace and settlement over the whole land issue. So why still nothing after Annapolis?

Because Israel has no real consequence for doing what they do best: disregard international law and rule with impugnity. The occupation may be costly, but it is a cost they are willing to pay for their constituents who want the whole of the land. Israel has no constitution for the sole purpose of discriminating against non-Jews in their country. It has no final borders so which Israel is Hamas or the Palestinians meant to recognise? It is unwilling to do anything under the Road Map or Annapolis or Oslo in the past or Camp David or any of these bogus peace talks that have an industry of their own. There's alot of money to be had over all of this and there is plenty of time for Israel to sit tight and do nothing over Condoleezza's minor threats over their "roadblocks" and "checkpoints". We get 50 roadblocks removed when there is over 550 checkpoints in the West Bank: some concession. We get more approved housing in occupied land that is owned by Palestinians and this is how you act when you are serious about having a peace with your neighbour? You bulldoze their houses and build your own over its ruins and steal their water for your swimming pools. That's great relations between two parties negotiating a peace, no? You release prisoners who were at the end of their term and yet you continue to imprison 11000 Palestinians who go without trial and who have been documented to have been tortured. Wow, some concession. What else can you show that you are serious about peace? Bomb them? Shoot them in the back of their heads? Arrest your own citizens when they protest against your violations of the Geneva Convention? You do all of this for the love of the land, correct?

Now you do not want to get cynical but nothing motivates Israel to ever concede anything that they do not want to. Militarism is a good lark these days and without an occupation to take care of, what else would you spend all those tax dollars at (American tax dollars)? It would be hard to find a reason for existence when your whole bane of existence has been aggression and deterrence against your neighbours attacking you. It would be hard to justify that nuclear arsenal and that hearty budget of your's when all you do is police your own citizens (which might be needed if you read Bernard Avishai's warning of an internal intifada).

Without a strong nation to stop Israel, they will only do what they have done in their sixty years of existence: whatever they want. They know they have strong backing in the US. What is that joke again:

"Why doesn't Israel want to be the 51st state of the US? Then it will only have 2 senators to speak for them."

The senate is stuffed with money from the Lobby and they know who pays their salaries. You might think it is our citizens but they know who has the power to fund their campaign. Obama knows how badly it can feel when you say things that they do not agree with. And the list of those who have fallen because they said something of a nature that might not be so pro-Israel is long, one that even took the scalp of Bush's father. The EU has the power to turn the tide but two of their leaders have expressed so much concern for Israel's security that it is hard to see where this leverage for the Palestinians will be. Costa Rica? Ecuador? Not exactly the powerhouses that can shape foreign policy. Israel can do what it pleases: thumb its nose over the UN, abuse US aid whenever it feels the need to do so and act like a rogue state. What country can bomb a US ship and get away with it? What country can have supporters of the 9/11 attack and have no investigation over it? What country can have two high profile AIPAC members be indicted over espionage against an ally and be buried in the back pages of the press and independent websites? What country can continue to occupy a people, subjugate it with walls, checkpoints, barriers, blockades, separate road systems, torture them, kill their children, demonise them as terrorists and gets international sanction for it?

You betcha: it's Israel. And who is going to try to stop them from doing all of this to the Palestinians, to the Syrians, to the Lebanese? Right now we are still unready for any change because no Western nation is going to stand up against Israel who has very powerful supporters in most Western states. In Canada, the investigation over the death of a Canadian military personnel during the Lebanon War in 06 is still inconclusive. Yet the Prime Minister still does not want anything to do with it and even asks why Major Paeta Hess-von Kruedener was even in the area when he was there for UNIFIL, part of a peacekeeper unit. Harper had no concern for his own citizen and wanted to exonerate Israel from the blame of Hess-von Kruedener's death. How backward do we have it when Israel kills your own citizens and you want to askew the truth into something that would avoid Israel being a bad guy?

Tony Blair has been quoted that 70 percent of the violence towards the West can be attributed to the roots of the Israel-Palestine conflict. With such a huge stake in the matter, you would think that most Western nations have a genuine reason to back a proposal that would be acceptable to all parties (as close as we can get to one anyway) but yet we do not have that. You would think that they have no desire for a safer world at all. We know that that is not true: they just want a world where they can have their cake and eat it too. Most statesman are like that, no? Israel is no different. They want what they believe is rightfully their's and they want it with security too. They are willing to compromise the latter in order to achieve the former and they have seen no real price to pay for such an ideology. The Palestinians have their resistance movements that aims to make Israel pay for the occupation but that is merely a nuisance that they just can't put down. It's been forty one years of occupation, they can wait another forty one until the world realises that this policy is bankrupt and it's detrimental to Israel's democracy and security.

We do learn from history and this occupation will not last. It would be better for everyone to remove their ties to the region and take a look at the bigger picture here and say that enough is enough and make both parties sit down and be serious about a solution. That means bringing Israel in and making them concede something as well as making the Palestinians concede something too. If not then the bloodening will widen and we may see more horrific episodes that sees not only Israelis and Palestinians dying but other internationals who want to see peace happen within their lifetime. But this can only happen if Israel is being made to pay a price for their continued oppression. Without it, they will be free to obtain a maximalist view of the conflict.

Note: I cited an article by Henry Siegman published in the London Review of Books. It is a very informative piece that is based on three books regarding the strive for settlements and making fait accompli on the West Bank. Siegman has no qualms about who to blame on the accelerating drive for settlements even if both the books he reviews seem to exculpate Israel's elite from the policy of colonising Palestinian land. Siegman writes:

"These books give the lie to the carefully cultivated narrative that has sustained the occupation. According to that narrative, the government of Israel offered peace to the Palestinians and to its Arab neighbours in the aftermath of the war of 1967 if they would agree to recognise the Jewish state... the Arab world responded with ‘the three “no”s of Khartoum’... Israel no choice but to continue to occupy Palestinian lands [for security reasons (JA)].

The story is a lie. Israel’s military and political leaders never had any intention of returning the West Bank and Gaza to their Arab residents. The cabinet’s offer to withdraw from Arab land was addressed specifically to Egypt and Syria, not to Jordan or the Palestinians in the territories. The cabinet’s formal resolution to return the Sinai and the Golan in June 1967 said nothing about the West Bank, and referred to Gaza as ‘fully within the territory of the state of Israel’.

The decision to retain control of the territories was taken days after the end of the 1967 war, and was not a response to Palestinian terrorism, or even to Palestinian rejection of Israel’s legitimacy. Zertal and Eldar cite a report by Mossad officials, prepared at the request of the IDF’s intelligence division and presented to the IDF on 14 June 1967, which found that ‘the vast majority of West Bank leaders, including the most extreme among them, are prepared at this time to reach a permanent peace agreement’ on the basis of ‘an independent existence of Palestine’ without an army. The report was marked top secret, and buried."

I do not wish to see the great work of Gorenberg and Eldar to be diminished as they have been priceless in their journalism about Israel's settlement program but I have read Gorenberg's book and found that it did little to blame the policy on Israel's leaders and basically said it was an anarchist movement that moved these settlers into doing what they do. That is preposterous as they have had state approval since the beginning and even some of Gorenberg's writing state it so. Siegman also sees this and writes it as straightforward as he sees it, calling a spade a spade.

There is no security reason for the settlements:

"[The] overwhelming majority of them actually created new security problems, if only because vast military and intelligence resources had to be diverted to their defence. The settlements have also enraged the Palestinians, whose land has been stolen to make room for them – this, too, has done nothing to increase Israel’s security."

In fact, coupled with a nice post by Dan Fleshler at his blog, that even checkpoints are unnecessary from a security point of view. As Fleshler says,

"the VAST MAJORITY OF [checkpoints] WHICH ARE THERE TO MAKE LIFE EASIER FOR ISRAELI SETTLERS, and have nothing to do with protecting anyone in Israel proper."

This is how worthy these settlements are to Israel: they want to pay the price to keep this enterprise alive and kicking and even screaming and killing. Siegman quotes a member of Ta'ayush from his book Dark Hope: Working for Peace in Israel and Palestine David Shulman, who wrote:

"many destructive individuals have found a haven, complete with ideological legitimation, within the settlement enterprise. Here, in places like Chavat Maon, Itamar, Tapuach and Hebron, they have, in effect, unfettered freedom to terrorise the local Palestinian population; to attack, shoot, injure, sometimes kill – all in the name of the alleged sanctity of the land and of the Jews’ exclusive right to it."

Without any pressure from its main backer the US, or even any economic consequence from its main trader the EU, we are left with this cycle of non-starters and more land theft by these "hilltop youths" that steal more Palestinian land. They want to be seen as pioneers when they are really helping erase another people from this world.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Battle for the Internet

In today's age of the world wide web, information can be exchanged at the speed of light. We are filled with plenty of mediums for journalism and now that the internet has exploded into phenomenon that we now take for granted, it's getting more and more difficult for the truth to be suppressed. Back in the days of newspapers and television broadcasts, you had editors and CEOs to answer to and with the way the mutlinationals are currently falling under the rubric of capitalist cronyism, we only get the pathetic middle-of-the-road-offend-no-one (or more to the point, offend none of your advertisers and funders) that aims to pass as hard-nosed journalism. Although the days of Bob Woodward and Seymour Hersh exposing fiascos, atrocities and corruption are dwindling away being taken over by James Gannon-nites and sleazy spin stories of how the "surge is working", the internet is a great platform for many of today's truthseekers to find an audience with the alternative media. While you still get the odd piece in the paper that might reveal a nugget of truth, lately we have been bombarded (no pun intended with the Iraq war) with propaganda that pleases the good men in the seats of power and prestige. The internet is alot harder to police because it is open to anyone who has a computer and an internet connection. Even with that handicap where we cannot speak to those too poor to voice their struggle on the web, you have many brave journalists covering their story because it is in the world's interest to know of how other people are being treated. And the Israel-Palestine conflict is of vast importance, with all the implications and degrees that relate to many in the West and the Diaspora of Jews and Palestinians together. Sitting in front of the TV won't get you to know what life is like in the Occupied Territories and that's the beauty of the internet. We are connected to those who are too desperate to even speak out. (But thankfully, a few do make it with their blogs: namely Philip Rizk, Bernard Avishai, Anna Baltzer, Laila El-Haddad and even the groundbreaking blog of Gaza and Sderot friends.)

Now the coverage is getting too troubling for little old Israel. I say old because it is nearing its sixtieth anniversary and what a historic achievement it is. To this day, I don't think many are aware of how Israel camw to being and that's a real shame. Americans are well aware of the birth of their nation: on the ruins of Natives and their corpses. Israel are still unwilling to let the nugget of truth that they cleansed Palestine and made refugees out of the indigenous people. But the iron wall is starting to crack in some societies: in Australia, there is a split in Labour over the celebration of Israel's birth sixty years on. Antony Loewenstein covers it extensively. Here's the precise:

"A bipartisan motion congratulating Israel on 60 years of statehood has provoked division in federal Labor, with one government MP threatening to boycott the vote and union heavyweights accusing the Jewish state of racism and ethnic cleansing.

The parliamentary motion is due to be passed by MPs today, commemorating 60 years of friendship between Australia and Israel.

The motion provoked a clash between Kevin Rudd and Labor MP Julia Irwin yesterday after Ms Irwin questioned why the Government was supporting the gesture, given Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians."

All applauds go to Ms Irwin, who even identified that there is such a thing as the "Nakba".

"We, as informed and concerned Australians, choose to disassociate ourselves from a celebration of the triumph of racism and the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians since the al-Nakba (Catastrophe) of 1948."

These are truths that Israel has been trying to suppress, along with their heinous violations of human rights. What really irks the apologists for Israel's crimes is the daily Ha'aretz, which is Israel's most liberal publication. It is home to dissidents such as Gideon Levy and Amira Hass and along with Akiva Eldar, we have a very left voice of Israel criticising the state when Americans won't even touch the subject of Israel doing anything wrong. They've decided that enough is enough and instead of ending the occupation which is what a logical person would do, they go on the offensive (since when DON'T they do that?) and attack on the stage that seems to hurt them the most: the internet.

Because of the Ha'aretz English feature, more and more people who are curious about to what really makes Israel click can see the inner workings of the Knesset members (banishment of Israeli Arabs) and what they support (more settlement construction, no Palestinian state and no Hamas). It's hard to put a positive spin on this no matter how many times you invoke the "demographic bomb" that Netanyahu reiterates ad nauseum. So Israel takes the backlash effect and tests their mettle on the rotunda of the world wide web. Richard Silverstein highlighted the tactics of Israel back in early February:

"They are wreaking vengeance against Israel's enemies by blogging about the worst, most scandalous news about their home countries. I kid you not. Hate those baddies at the Guardian? Tell the world about England's violent drunk teens. L.A. Times got you down dissing Israel? Tell the world about the latest drive by killing. The idea seems to be if you want to smear Israel I'll smear you back. If this isn't the most lame-brained idea I've heard in ages I don't know what is. Instead of damaging the reputations of the countries portrayed, it damages the reputation of Israel that its defenders behave in such a fashion. If you wanted to think of the wackiest pro-Israel propaganda venture could you have thought of this one in a million years?"

The source of his astonishment is the Ha'aretz article that has bloggers trying to counter bad press about Israel on the net. Talk about some sour grapes: you cannot handle the truth so what do you do? You go and smear who's smearing you. Perfect logic here. No, those Palestinians have no grievance at all. It's all fabricated. What? There's good things about Israel? Of course there is. But you could forgive a Palestinian for not sharing that sentiment with you. Here's more of the examples:

"Over the past months, seven activists from Israel and elsewhere have been exposing online readers to scandalous yet accurate reports from media in Britain (violent drunk teens), France (high homeless mortality), Norway (serial child molesters), Finland (sexual harassment in parliament), Sweden (soaring suicide rates), The Netherlands (menacing Muslim unrest), Mexico (rampaging flood victims) and Los Angeles (drive-by killings)."

I love how "menacing Muslim unrest" is a smear. Aren't the Dutch responsible for reprinting that terrible cartoon of the prophet Mohammed that offended millions of Muslims worldwide? I guess that "smear" works for Israel too considering they have "menacing Muslim unrest" being fueled there. What is rather hypocritical is that most states are guilty of these misdemeanors that the bloggers are pinpointing. Which Western nation doesn't have high homeless mortality? Aren't there serial child molesters in Canada too? What about the US who is the country with the most people in prison per capita? What is missing from all of these are how many UN Resolutions they are in violation of, and that NONE of these nations (except for the US) are currently occupying another people. Well Britain and France with NATO involvement but that is a little too technical. The point is, Israel is committing egregious crimes that do not even compare with these petty crimes of the other states.

If all of this is not absurb enough for you, the battle has found its place on Facebook, a social site that lets people interact with "friends" which is more or less a popularity contest. Now I kid you not: the Israel-Palestine conflict is being waged on Facebook of all places. Facebook!

It all began when settlers in the West Bank who are members complained that they are not living in Palestine and that they are Israeli citizens, hence that their country of origin should read "Israel". They claimed that the Facebook creators had bias. Now these citizens of Israel living in illegal settlements of "Maale Adumim, Ariel and other large Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank" are not currently living in Israel, perhaps making that the reason why the country of origin was automatically labeled Palestine since this is the area where there is a proposed Palestinian state. What is sad is that these settlers put up a stink about it because they don't recognise that what they are living on is Palestinian land: THAT'S WHY IT DID NOT SAY ISRAEL. How much can we stress that for it to sink it? This land is not your's and was never your's to begin with. You moved here with the belligerence of Israel's leaders and made peace impossible because you refuse to admit that your presence is in direct violation of international law which is adhered by ALL STATES of the world, including the US.

This offensive is just following Shimon Peres' orders that the battle be taken up in Facebook.

"You can fight anti-Semitism using social networks, like Facebook."

Calling the occupied territories Palestine is not anti-Semitism no matter how much you scream it is. Peres sees no folly in this and he is spearheaded the backlash against Palestinian solidarity which gains more strength whenever Israel bombs and kills civilians. We cannot make this stuff up people and because the root causes of the conflict are being covered more and more and getting more debate on networks such as Facebook, Israel cannot police these thoughts from permeating other non-suspecting citizens who might be molded into thinking that Israel isn't all its cracked up to be. The real shame is the campaign to silence these debates and these criticisms when Israel should be learning from their mistakes and taking into account every dissident voice who claims that Israel is on a path of self-destruction when they refuse to deal with reality.

There can be no real security when such a power disparity is in effect between two opposing nationalist movements. Israel needs to find out that only equality will quell the hatred that is brewing between the two populations and an open debate about it needs to happen if understanding can be met during our lifetime. The battle of the internet is only going to get uglier but the truth in the end shall prevail. If you encounter these zealouts, be not afraid to call them out and take them on for you have the truth on your side. I know I am itching for an encounter.

PS: the Shin Bet has created their own blog. As Norman Finkelstein put it: "Read how Israel tortures and murders Palestinians in real time."