America rejects Arabs even at memorials


RAY HANANIA

Like all Americans this week, I paused to commemorate the tragic violence that took place at the end of the Boston Marathon last year on April 15 killing three and injuring 263 more.

But I was disappointed that the one-year commemoration in Boston of the terrorist killings reflected the same kind of selfish commemoration that has cloaked many past acts of violence. Muslims and Arabs were excluded, as if we were not Americans.

I can tell you upfront that I am an American. I am insulted that people in the US continue to stereotype their anger to direct their hatred against people who are Arab or Muslim. I can tell you that unlike most Americans, I served in the US military active duty during the Vietnam War. I was proud to be able to continue what my brother and father and uncle did, all of whom served in the US military.

My father and uncle served four years through World War II fighting the Nazis in Europe and defending freedom as much as anyone else who wore or did not wear a military uniform. Yet, they and I are constantly disrespected by the undercurrent of revenge hatred that permeates America today.

The Boston terrorists, Tamerian Tsarnaev and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, happened to be Muslims. And in their planning of this vicious attack, they asserted that they were defending Islam, as if Islam had chosen them as the religion’s defenders.

The fact is the two killers just happened to be Muslims and in fact were not true Muslims. They were not Arab. Yet Americans continue to hold Arabs and Muslims responsible for every act of violence by every crackpot who comes from the Middle East or a Muslim country. The Tsarnaevs were from Chechnya, where the Muslim population has been brutalized by the Russians.
They don’t represent Islam. They don’t represent Arabs. And they certainly don’t represent me, or other Arabs, Christian and Muslim, who continue to be persecuted and vilified in the news media and by political opportunists who seek to exploit the growing racism in America to advance their individual political agendas.

I know that I could have sung “America the Beautiful” as powerfully and as meaningfully as anyone. I am as patriotic and more patriotic than any of those who were invited to speak at the commemoration ceremonies.

I was disappointed, but not surprised, that no high profile Muslims or Arabs representing the other victims in this vague and blurring concept of the “War on Terrorism” were invited to speak or participate or to express their own patriotism and demonstrate that they are “Boston Strong,” too.

Just this past week, a white man was arrested and charged with the murder of four innocent civilians at Jewish community centers in Kansas City, yet no one dared to denounce him as a “white terrorist” or as a “Christian terrorist.” The suspect’s Christian religion suddenly had become insignificant, even though it reflects a disturbing far rightwing corner of American militant and fanatic Christians.

He’s “different” from Christians and doesn’t represent the “Christian” religion. Yet somehow, all Muslims and even Arabs, Christian and Muslim – and yes, Christian Arabs do exist America – are represented by the self-proclaimed two Islamic terrorists who murdered innocent Americans so viciously and so cowardly in Boston last year.

I want to know when the real America will return? When will the America that stands up for justice, freedom and fairness return to this country? When will Americans stop pretending to embrace the US Constitution and the “American way” and start living it? Stop talking and start doing. Because what many Americans are doing is not what America stands for.

I’m an American. I’ve done more than most Americans by serving my country when the call to stand up and put my life on the line was made when I was younger. I didn’t hesitate. I was there in uniform ready to fight, doing what I was told.

And I am tired of having to remind people who claim to be American, but are not, that I am more of an American than they could ever be. Because I believe in justice. I believe in fairness. I believe that one man’s insanity does not represent the beauty of an entire race of people. I reject racism. I reject racial hatred. I reject xenophobia. I reject discrimination.

I embrace true American patriotism, which means speaking for and defending every American regardless of their race, religion or their creed. And, added to that, true American patriotism means that we stand together regardless of the race, religion or the creed of the terrorist fanatics who deserve our scorn as a nation.

I happen to be Christian, too. But if you think of me as a Muslim, I am as proud to be thought of that way as I am proud to be a real American.

Ray Hanania is an award-winning Palestinian American columnist. He is the managing editor of The Arab Daily News at www.TheArabDailyNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @RayHanania.

Islam and democracy in the Arab world


Galip Dalay wrote what I thought was a very good explanation of Islam and democracy  and the conflict some people in today’s Arab/Muslim world think exists, entitled  Yet Another Instance of Islamic Exceptionalism, which I wanted to post excerpts of below

 

Tanks rolled down the street, state owned TV channels were taken over, dissenting media outlets tankswere raided and silenced, president’s office was surrounded, the first ever democratically elected president was put under house arrest, the constitution was suspended, and the head of army stood in front of cameras to try to justify these disgraceful deeds. As a citizen of Turkey, a country that has endured four military coups, these scenes were all too familiar; what has been taking place in Egypt was clear and obvious: a coup d’état.

Yet, the leaders of “democratic” countries did not describe the events in Egypt as a coup. The United States, which ostensibly squandered a great deal of finances and shed blood all in the name of “democracy” in greater Middle East and North Africa, failed to use “c” word…

Ashton

EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton

Likewise, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton refrained from using the “c” word in her statement on the overthrow of Morsi. In addition, her statement did not indicate any possible repercussions against the military’s grab of power from elected civilians….

This refusal to call a coup a coup has not been limited to the official circles. A significant part of the international media, pundits, and analysts also followed suit by not labeling the events as coup or condemning them. But why were the pundits so reluctant in defining the new millenium’s first televised coup by its name? Have we not all been applauding the irresistible shift towards democratization world-wide? Was not the Arab Spring a welcome development similar to the ones that had taken place in Central and Eastern Europe in 1989 – 1990?

The excessive emphasis on the identity of the president and the characteristics of the party, in the international media and analysts’ discourse, seems to indicate the real reason for condoning the coup. morsiIIFinding an article that did not attempt to justify the military takeover of the Morsi government by references to his and his party’s Islamist identity and a detailed account of all the mistakes they made, supposedly due to their Islamist politics, has become a mission impossible. For some, this whole affair represented the confirmation of their long-held belief regarding the incompatibility of Islam and democracy. They eagerly spelled out the failure of Political Islam in playing by the rules of an open and democratic political system.

…the perennial debate on incompatibility between Islam and democracy has been a flawed one. This debate adopts an essentialist approach to both democracy and religion. It accounts for the existence of a functioning democracy more through the specific cultural, civilizational and religious codes than through the existence of strong and independent institutions, rules of law, and political experience…democracy was essentially and exclusively European due to its unique mix of cultural, civilizational and religious factors, thus it could not take root anywhere but the European-western world. This stance assumed that other regions, cultures or religions were impervious to democratization due to their exceptional circumstances and religious and cultural values, which were deemed to be incommensurate with democratic values.

vote….the revolutions in the Arab World rendered this latest form of exceptionalism obsolete as well. Thus, these experiences illustrated that Asians, Muslims and Arabs were no different in their demands for representative democracy and dignity than their European and American peers….

…when pundits question the compatibility of Islam and democracy, what they actually mean is whether Islam is compatible with liberalism. Given that Islamist movements are usually the best organized groups at the societal level in the countries they operate and that they share the value systems of the public at large, they have no qualms about electoral democracy–a stance they eagerly proved by seizing every opportunity for free and fair elections. In this respect, it becomes clear that what is meant by this question of compatibility is whether Islamists are ready to accommodate liberal demands and different (secular) life styles….

…it is the secularist elites and establishments that demonstrate incompatibility with democracy in the Middle East and North Africa. This region has not witnessed Islamists’ halting or crushing democratic processes. In fact, one may argue that the only exception might be the Iranian election of 2009 on a minor scale. Yet, the region witnessed many instances of secularist establishment’s and elites’ crushing of democratic processes: four coups by secular military – establishment in Turkey, Algerian army’s crushing of Islamic Salvation Front in 1992 election to prevent them from coming to power through democratic elections, Egyptian army’s present day crushing of a fledgling democratic experiment. conflictLikewise, in Syria, it is again the secularist Baathist regime that stifles peoples’ demands for freedom, democracy, and economic well-being. This raises the question as to why Middle Eastern and North African secularists demonstrate this inability to reconcile with democratic processes?

Renowned scholar Jose Casanova’s following observations are imperative in understanding this dilemma. “One wonders whether democracy does not become an impossible “game” when potential majorities are not allowed to win elections, and when secular civilian politicians ask the military to come to the rescue of democracy by banning these potential majorities, which threaten their secular identity and their power.” This observation does not only aptly capture the crux of challenges to the democratization in the region, it also elucidates why Middle Eastern and North African secularists prove unable to comply with democratic rules and procedures. Thus, the search for Islamist-proof democracy makes democracy itself a mission impossible to accomplish.

The Islamist identity of Morsi and his party seems to be the major reason for the reticence of the international community and media in defining this coup a coup! The future of democracy and upholding of rights and liberties of the citizens in the Middle East and North Africa are significantly contingent upon whether Islamists would be allowed to run in fair elections and rule, if they win. If we do not want Essam el Haddad’s words “…the message will resonate throughout the Muslim world loud and clear: democracy is not for Muslims” to form the mindset of new generation of Islamists in the region, then it is imperative to take a stance against this coup, which has the potential to stifle the emerging democratic experiments of the Arab Spring.

 

 

 

Viva la Tunisia


Tunisia was the birthplace of the Arab spring, and it seems its fervor hasn’t diminished one bit.

Sara Besbes, Tunis and Africa’s fencing champion, Tuesday refused to play against an Israeli player during the 2011 World Fencing Championship in Catania, southern Italy, according to Panorama.It website.

It said Besbes, who comes from a family of great fame in fencing, reached the final round where she had to play against an Israeli player. However, she stood still on the platform, pointing her sword toward the ground and refusing to move as a sign she was boycotting the Israeli athlete but without officially announcing it to avoid punitive measures by the judges.

The Darfur Deception


by Muhammad Idris Ahmed
Darfur ProtestIn Errol Morris’s 2004 film The Fog of War, former US Defense Secretary Robert McNamara recalls General Curtis LeMay, the architect of the fire-bombings of Japan during WWII, saying that “if we’d lost the war, we’d all have been prosecuted as war criminals.” LeMay was merely articulating an unacknowledged truism of international relations: power bestows, among other things, the right to label. So it is that mass slaughter perpetrated by the big powers, from Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan, is normalized through labels such as “counterinsurgency,” “pacification” and “war on terror,” while similar acts carried out by states out of favor result in the severest of charges. It is this politics of naming that is the subject of Mahmood Mamdani’s explosive new book, Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics and the War on Terror.

Like the Middle East, parts of Africa have been engulfed in conflict for much of the post-colonial period. While the media coverage in both cases is perfunctory, in the case of Africa it is also sporadic. To the extent that there is coverage, the emphasis is on the dramatic or the grotesque. When the subject is not war, it is usually famine, disease or poverty — sometimes all together, always free of context. The wars are between “tribes” led by “warlords,” that take place in “failed states” ruled by “corrupt dictators.” Driven by primal motives, they rarely involve discernible issues. The gallery of rogues gives way only to a tableau of victims, inevitably in need of White saviors. A headline like “Can Bono save Africa?” is as illustrative of Western attitudes towards the continent as the comments of Richard Littlejohn, Britain’s highest-paid columnist, who wrote at the peak of the Rwandan genocide “Does anyone really give a monkey’s about what happens in Rwanda? If the Mbongo tribe wants to wipe out the Mbingo tribe then as far as I am concerned that is entirely a matter for them.”

Darfur is the conspicuous exception to this trend, though Rwanda did enter Western vocabulary after the 1994 genocide. This, Mamdani argues, is primarily due to the efforts of one organization — the Save Darfur Coalition (SDC) — whose advocacy has been central to turning this into the biggest mass movement in the United States since the anti-Vietnam mobilization, bigger than the anti-apartheid movement. While the mobilization did have the salutary effect of raising awareness about an issue otherwise unknown to the majority of US citizens, its privileging of acting over knowing renders this less meaningful. Indeed, the campaign’s shunning of complexity, its substituting of moral certainty for knowledge, and its preference for military solutions, precludes the very end that it purports to strive for. Invoking what it claims are lessons of the Nazi Holocaust and the Rwanda genocide, it combines slogans such as “never again” with the battle cries of a new “good war”, such as “boots on the ground”, and “out of Iraq and into Darfur”. Mamdani contends that SDC is not a peace movement, it is a war movement.

The SDC was established in July 2004 through the combined efforts of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and the American Jewish World Service. It has since been joined by a broad spectrum of political and religious organizations, a gaggle of celebrities and prominent intellectuals. It has spawned student chapters all across the country that range from the high school to university levels. Led by an advertising executive, it is the only organization capable of bringing together such unlikely partners as the Reverend Al Sharpton and author Elie Wiesel, actor George Clooney and former US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton. If the signature activity of the anti-Vietnam war movement was the teach-in, for the SDC it is the advertising campaign. The expert has been replaced by the celebrity, the campaigner by the advertising agent. With an annual budget of $14 million the SDC employs the DC-based PR firm M+R Strategic Services (M&R) for its publicity. While M&R boasts a clientele comprising mainly green and humanitarian non-profits, in 2002 it was exposed by PR Watch for using its progressive credentials to greenwash DuPont, one of the world’s leading polluters. The centrality of propaganda to the SDC’s success was underscored by the fact that in the period between Spring 2007 and January 2008, the president of M&R Bill Wasserman also served as Save Darfur’s executive director.

The apparent diversity of the SDC’s affiliates also obscures the fact that its agenda is mainly driven by Zionist organizations and the Christian Right. However, Mamdani pays scant attention to the composition of the SDC even though he devotes a whole chapter to its politics and methods. As The Jerusalem Post reported ahead of the SDC’s rally in Washington on 30 April 2006, it is “[l]ittle known … that the coalition, which has presented itself as ‘an alliance of over 130 diverse faith-based, humanitarian and human rights organizations’ was actually begun exclusively as an initiative of the American Jewish community.” It noted that even in 2006 that coalition was “heavily weighted” with a “diverse collection of local and national Jewish groups.” The Washington Post reported the same day that “[k]eeping the peace within the diverse Save Darfur Coalition has not been easy” due to tensions, in particular, between evangelical Christians and the mostly Muslim Darfuri immigrants. The Sudanese immigrants also objected to the lineup of speakers which, according to the paper, included “eight Western Christians, seven Jews, four politicians and assorted celebrities — but no Muslims and no one from Darfur” (two were eventually added at the last minute). Ned Goldstein has suggested in his investigation of the Zionist interests behind the SDC that Darfur is being deployed as a strategic distraction from Israeli crimes against the Palestinians (most recently at the UN anti-racism conference). The salient feature of the SDC propaganda is to paint the conflict as war between “Arabs” and “Africans” and to label the violence “genocide.”

The genocide debate hinges on two factors: numbers and identity. For mass violence to qualify as genocide the killing has to be on a large enough scale, and the intent to eliminate a discrete racial, ethnic, or religious group has to be established. Mamdani argues that in order to sustain its claim of genocide, the SDC has inflated casualty figures and racialized the conflict.

The mortality figure of 400,000 has become a staple of SDC propaganda even though it has been repeatedly discredited. In 2007, the British Advertising Standards Authority chided the SDC (and the Aegis Trust) for breaching “standards of truthfulness” in its use of the figure for its UK advertising campaign. The number had already been challenged when a panel convened by the US Government Accountability Office in collaboration with the National Academy of Sciences concluded that of the six estimates they studied, the figures presented by the SDC were the least reliable. The most reliable estimate was the study carried out by the World Heath Organization-affiliated Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) that had recorded 131,000 excess deaths at the peak of the conflict of which only 30 percent were due to violence. The violence had dropped sharply after January 2005; this, Mamdani avers, was due mainly to the intervention of African Union peacekeepers. By 2008, the total deaths for the whole year had dropped to 1,500. These numbers are far lower than what constitutes an emergency according to the UN, let alone genocide.

The conflict began as a civil war in 1987-89, driven less by race or ethnic rivalries than by a struggle for land and resources — it pitted the mostly nomadic landless Arabs against the mostly sedentary Fur peasants. Compounded by Khartoum’s botched attempt at land reform during the 1990s, turning it into a party to the civil war, the simmering conflict erupted into a full-scale insurgency in 2003. This eventually led to the government’s brutal counterinsurgency campaign where it turned to nomadic tribes from Darfur and Chad to serve as proxies.

Mamdani identifies three causes as having contributed to the conflict. First, is the history of colonial rule wherein the British went about a project of retribalizing Darfur through a system of native administration which created tribal homelands and introduced a principle of discrimination that privileged “natives” over “settlers.” This led to the dispossession of nomadic tribes, especially the camel nomads of the north. The tribal identities were further solidified through a census that required each registrant to choose a “race”; a written history that presented Arabs as “settlers” from the Middle East; and laws that gave preferential treatment to whoever was deemed a “native”. This narrative also allowed the British colonizers to present themselves as merely following the precedent of an earlier Arab colonization.

Drought and desertification was the second contributing factor. The Sahara’s southern rim expanded by 100 kilometers, forcing nomadic tribes further south and eventually to encroach on the lands of the sedentary Fur tribes.

Finally, the civil war in neighboring Chad where opposition groups armed by Cold War rivals — the US, France and Israel on one side, and Libya and the Soviet Union on the other — had frequently taken refuge in Darfur, leading to a proliferation of weapons and militias. Mamdani explains that the Western powers were involved in the conflict long before the Sudanese government was; and Omar al-Bashir’s Islamist regime wasn’t even in power at the time.

The Arab-versus-African narrative obscures the fact that since at least the British colonial era, Arabs have been Darfur’s most deprived constituency. “If Darfur was marginal in Sudan,” writes Mamdani, “the Arabs of Darfur were marginal in Darfur.” Contrary to the British historiography — whose assumptions have since been reproduced in 20th century nationalist writings — most Arabs arrived in Sudan as refugees fleeing persecution in Mamluk Egypt. Moreover, the diffusion of Arab culture was more a consequence of commerce than of conquest. Mamdani demonstrates that “Arab” is not a racial, ethnic, or cultural identity. It is an assumed political identity that is more a reflection of preference and power than of genealogy. For example, former slaves once freed would become Fur in Darfur, and Arab in Funj, the Sultanate in riverine Sudan where Arabs dominated. To be an Arab in Darfur therefore signifies nothing so much as weakness. The conflict in Darfur today is as much between Arabs (the Abbala camel nomads against the Baggara cattle nomads) as it is against the relatively privileged Fur and Massalit, and the less privileged Zaghawa. The SDC however emphasizes the north-south axis of the conflict that pits Arab against Fur and ignores the south-south Axis which pits Arab against Arab.

The Darfuri rebels likewise defy easy classification. When the insurgency began in 2003, there were two major groups — the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) — they have now split into 26. JEM, which is the largest rebel organization, has an Islamist orientation and draws its inspiration from Hassan al-Turabi, the influential Sudanese Islamist and one time ally of Omar al-Bashir. In contrast, the SLA is secular-Africanist with ties to the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in the South (led by the late John Garang). Before the split between the Islamists in Khartoum, the government had employed Darfuri Islamists led by future JEM founder Khalil Ibrahim for its counterinsurgency in the south. (Ibrahim opposed the power-sharing agreement that ended the war in the south.) However, according to Sudan scholar Alex de Waal, both organizations learned “to characterize their plight in the simplified terms that had proved so effective in winning foreign sympathy for the south: they were the ‘African’ victims of an ‘Arab’ regime.” The government’s response to the insurgency was at first a half-hearted attempt at reconciliation, followed by the arming of a proxy force comprising nomadic militias, many of them from Chad, who have come to be known as the Janjawid. The consequences were devastating, with large-scale bloodletting and the displacement of 2.5 million people.

Khartoum’s use of proxies to quell an insurgency and the resulting death and displacement parallel US policies in Iraq, where ethnic-sectarian militias have been deployed against the mostly-Sunni insurgency. Yet, unlike Iraq, where in excess of a million have died according to the lates ORB poll, and five million displaced, the violence in Darfur has been labeled a genocide. Darfur has also spawned domestic mobilization in the US on a scale for which there is no parallel in the case of Iraq. Mamdani argues that this is due to the fact that Iraq requires Americans to act as citizens, with all the responsibility and complicated political choices it entails, whereas Darfur only requires them to act as humans where they choose to take responsibility out of a sense of philanthropy. He notes that “In Darfur, Americans can feel themselves to be what they know they are not in Iraq: powerful saviors.” As the Nigerian writer Uzodinma Iweala observed, “It seems that these days, wracked by guilt at the humanitarian crisis it has created in the Middle East, the West has turned to Africa for redemption.” In adopting the language of good and evil, Mamdani observes, the SDC has acted as “the great depoliticizer” in precluding political reconciliation in favor of a moral (read military) solution.

In Saviors and Survivors, Mamdani emphasizes regional over international solutions. Western modes of conflict resolution in Africa resemble nothing so much as the International Monetary Fund’s Structural Adjustment Programs: “Those who made decisions did not have to live with their consequences, nor pay for them.” The Western emphasis on the humanitarian crisis in lieu of a political solution merely prolongs the conflict. By contrast, the AU’s approach is both humanitarian and political. The African Union’s (AU) intervention in Darfur had been largely successful in reducing the violence, yet its operation was undermined by Western powers that failed to deliver the support they had pledged when the AU brokered the N’DJamena ceasefire agreement in April 2004. It was also vilified in SDC propaganda. Mamdani asserts that much of the foot-dragging was to discredit the AU so that the notion of an African solution for an African problem could be discredited. The aim was to “blue hat” the AU forces and bring them under Western command. In a Washington Post op-ed pointedly titled “Stop Trying To ‘Save’ Africa,” Iweala asked, “How is it that a former mid-level US diplomat receives more attention for his cowboy antics in Sudan than do the numerous African Union countries that have sent food and troops and spent countless hours trying to negotiate a settlement among all parties in that crisis?”

The recent International Criminal Court case has further entrenched the Khartoum government in its defiant stance. Criminal prosecutions during an ongoing conflict merely exacerbate matters, Mamdani argues. More so when the adjudicating body has a demonstrable record of bias. The model for justice must be the post-Apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission rather than Nuremberg — survivors’ justice rather than victors’ justice. The well-being of surviving multitudes must not be subordinated to the imperative of punishing individual perpetrators. Mamdani offers a trenchant critique of what he calls the “New Humanitarian Order,” which has supplanted traditional colonialism and turned human rights into the new pretext for intervention. The “international community”, which Mamdani argues is nothing more than a “post-Cold War nom de guerre for the Western powers”, has created “a bifurcated system whereby state sovereignty obtains in large parts of the world but is suspended in more and more countries in Africa and the Middle East” reducing citizens to wards in “an open-ended international rescue operation”.

The Obama Administration already appears to be making a break with its predecessor’s approach and has ordered a review of its Sudan policy. Scott Gration, the new envoy, has already visited Khartoum and Darfur, as has John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In the case of the Bush Administration, the SDC was able to mobilize Congress against the State Department that was seeking a political resolution modeled on the power-sharing agreement that ended the longstanding conflict in the south. It remains to be seen how much the Obama Administration is able to resist the formidable lobbying power of the SDC. While Mamdani maintains that the aim of the SDC is to induce the US government to intervene militarily in Sudan, it appears that the real interest of its core organizations is to perpetuate the conflict so as to continue using the image of the Arab as the perpetrator to distract from the regional reality of the Arab as the victim.

Egypt finally has the courage to ‘say the right thing’


Yes, I know they have their own problems, the Egyptians do, with their special brand of democracy and their nose planted firmly in the behind of an American foreign policy which allows for renditions of Muslims from all over the world to their bases to be tortured or disappeared, but it was all in the interest of American interests, right?  But now, they have taken a somewhat independent track by their pronouncement that Israeli nukes are a greater threat to security in the region  than Iranian ones. In my mind that’s not really saying much since at the moment Iran doesn’t have any nuclear weapons whereas Israel does, but it’s the symbolism that counts, and it’s significant for obvious reasons.  A state has taken a critical position against Israel at a time when the Jewish state refuses to accept, acknowledge or even entertain criticism of its actions.  There’s no indication the Egyptian statement will be met with anything other than typical Israeli obfuscation and bluster.Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmo’s flippant ‘unless he produces evidence to support his claims’ statement is an indication of that.  Would that someone said to Palmo the same when he asserts so vividly that Iran has nuclear weapons it has threatened its neighbors with. (Let’s not forget, Iran has inspectors monitoring its nuclear program, Israel doesn’t.  Fancy that.)  And all this comes on the news that Israel had a practice run from its border to Gilbraltar in preparation for a strike against Europe…..err make that Iran.  Coming so soon after warning the European Union that it would not tolerate criticism of the new government, the flight path of Israeli warplanes practicing for a strike against a country 180 degrees in the other direction clearly is meant to send more than a few  signs.  In light of that, Egypt was right to say what it said.  The “evidence” is rather overwhelming; what’s unfortunate is Egypt lacks the moral authority to make that call; it surrendered it as did the US when it gave in to the dark side of US foreign policy and embraced torture as its rule of law.  Unencumbered by such moral indignation, Israel feels free to do whatever it pleases and is taking the world perilously close to another war of death and destruction.  Why we continue to embrace an ally who takes us down that path is anyone’s  guess.

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“This is an action that sowed massive destruction among civilians. It is not certain that it was possible do have done it differently, but ultimately we have emerged from this operation and are not facing real paralysis from the Qassams. It is very possible that we will repeat such an operation on a larger scale in the years to come, because the problem in the Gaza Strip is not simple and it is not at all certain that it has been solved. What we want this evening is to hear from the fighters.”

Aviv: “I am squad commander of a company that is still in training, from the Givati Brigade. We went into a neighborhood in the southern part of Gaza City. Altogether, this is a special experience. In the course of the training, you wait for the day you will go into Gaza, and in the end it isn’t really like they say it is. It’s more like, you come, you take over a house, you kick the tenants out and you move in. We stayed in a house for something like a week.

“Toward the end of the operation there was a plan to go into a very densely populated area inside Gaza City itself. In the briefings they started to talk to us about orders for opening fire inside the city, because as you know they used a huge amount of firepower and killed a huge number of people along the way, so that we wouldn’t get hurt and they wouldn’t fire on us.

“At first the specified action was to go into a house. We were supposed to go in with an armored personnel carrier called an Achzarit [literally, Cruel] to burst through the lower door, to start shooting inside and then … I call this murder … in effect, we were supposed to go up floor by floor, and any person we identified – we were supposed to shoot. I initially asked myself: Where is the logic in this?

“From above they said it was permissible, because anyone who remained in the sector and inside Gaza City was in effect condemned, a terrorist, because they hadn’t fled. I didn’t really understand: On the one hand they don’t really have anywhere to flee to, but on the other hand they’re telling us they hadn’t fled so it’s their fault … This also scared me a bit. I tried to exert some influence, insofar as is possible from within my subordinate position, to change this. In the end the specification involved going into a house, operating megaphones and telling [the tenants]: ‘Come on, everyone get out, you have five minutes, leave the house, anyone who doesn’t get out gets killed.’

“I went to our soldiers and said, ‘The order has changed. We go into the house, they have five minutes to escape, we check each person who goes out individually to see that he has no weapons, and then we start going into the house floor by floor to clean it out … This means going into the house, opening fire at everything that moves , throwing a grenade, all those things. And then there was a very annoying moment. One of my soldiers came to me and asked, ‘Why?’ I said, ‘What isn’t clear? We don’t want to kill innocent civilians.’ He goes, ‘Yeah? Anyone who’s in there is a terrorist, that’s a known fact.’ I said, ‘Do you think the people there will really run away? No one will run away.’ He says, ‘That’s clear,’ and then his buddies join in: ‘We need to murder any person who’s in there. Yeah, any person who’s in Gaza is a terrorist,’ and all the other things that they stuff our heads with, in the media.

“And then I try to explain to the guy that not everyone who is in there is a terrorist, and that after he kills, say, three children and four mothers, we’ll go upstairs and kill another 20 or so people. And in the end it turns out that [there are] eight floors times five apartments on a floor – something like a minimum of 40 or 50 families that you murder. I tried to explain why we had to let them leave, and only then go into the houses. It didn’t really help. This is really frustrating, to see that they understand that inside Gaza you are allowed to do anything you want, to break down doors of houses for no reason other than it’s cool.

“You do not get the impression from the officers that there is any logic to it, but they won’t say anything. To write ‘death to the Arabs’ on the walls, to take family pictures and spit on them, just because you can. I think this is the main thing in understanding how much the IDF has fallen in the realm of ethics, really. It’s what I’ll remember the most.”

“One of our officers, a company commander, saw someone coming on some road, a woman, an old woman. She was walking along pretty far away, but close enough so you could take out someone you saw there. If she were suspicious, not suspicious – I don’t know. In the end, he sent people up to the roof, to take her out with their weapons. From the description of this story, I simply felt it was murder in cold blood.”

Zamir: “I don’t understand. Why did he shoot her?”

Aviv: “That’s what is so nice, supposedly, about Gaza: You see a person on a road, walking along a path. He doesn’t have to be with a weapon, you don’t have to identify him with anything and you can just shoot him. With us it was an old woman, on whom I didn’t see any weapon. The order was to take the person out, that woman, the moment you see her.”

Zvi: “Aviv’s descriptions are accurate, but it’s possible to understand where this is coming from. And that woman, you don’t know whether she’s … She wasn’t supposed to be there, because there were announcements and there were bombings. Logic says she shouldn’t be there. The way you describe it, as murder in cold blood, that isn’t right. It’s known that they have lookouts and that sort of thing.”

Gilad: “Even before we went in, the battalion commander made it clear to everyone that a very important lesson from the Second Lebanon War was the way the IDF goes in – with a lot of fire. The intention was to protect soldiers’ lives by means of firepower. In the operation the IDF’s losses really were light and the price was that a lot of Palestinians got killed.”

Ram: “I serve in an operations company in the Givati Brigade. After we’d gone into the first houses, there was a house with a family inside. Entry was relatively calm. We didn’t open fire, we just yelled at everyone to come down. We put them in a room and then left the house and entered it from a different lot. A few days after we went in, there was an order to release the family. They had set up positions upstairs. There was a sharpshooters’ position on the roof. The platoon commander let the family go and told them to go to the right. One mother and her two children didn’t understand and went to the left, but they forgot to tell the sharpshooter on the roof they had let them go, and it was was okay and he should hold his fire and he … he did what he was supposed to, like he was following his orders.”

Question from the audience: “At what range was this?”

Ram: “Between 100 and 200 meters, something like that. They had also came out of the house that he was on the roof of, they had advanced a bit and suddenly he saw then, people moving around in an area where they were forbidden to move around. I don’t think he felt too bad about it, because after all, as far as he was concerned, he did his job according to the orders he was given. And the atmosphere in general, from what I understood from most of my men who I talked to … I don’t know how to describe it …. The lives of Palestinians, let’s say, is something very, very less important than the lives of our soldiers. So as far as they are concerned they can justify it that way.”

Yuval Friedman (chief instructor at the Rabin program): “Wasn’t there a standing order to request permission to open fire?”

Ram: “No. It exists, beyond a certain line. The idea is that you are afraid that they are going to escape from you. If a terrorist is approaching and he is too close, he could blow up the house or something like that.”

Zamir: “After a killing like that, by mistake, do they do some sort of investigation in the IDF? Do they look into how they could have corrected it?”

Ram: “They haven’t come from the Military Police’s investigative unit yet. There hasn’t been any … For all incidents, there are individual investigations and general examinations, of all of the conduct of the war. But they haven’t focused on this specifically.”

Moshe: “The attitude is very simple: It isn’t pleasant to say so, but no one cares at all. We aren’t investigating this. This is what happens during fighting and this is what happens during routine security.”

Ram: “What I do remember in particular at the beginning is the feeling of almost a religious mission. My sergeant is a student at a hesder yeshiva [a program that combines religious study and military service]. Before we went in, he assembled the whole platoon and led the prayer for those going into battle. A brigade rabbi was there, who afterward came into Gaza and went around patting us on the shoulder and encouraging us, and praying with people. And also when we were inside they sent in those booklets, full of Psalms, a ton of Psalms. I think that at least in the house I was in for a week, we could have filled a room with the Psalms they sent us, and other booklets like that.

“There was a huge gap between what the Education Corps sent out and what the IDF rabbinate sent out. The Education Corps published a pamphlet for commanders – something about the history of Israel’s fighting in Gaza from 1948 to the present. The rabbinate brought in a lot of booklets and articles, and … their message was very clear: We are the Jewish people, we came to this land by a miracle, God brought us back to this land and now we need to fight to expel the gentiles who are interfering with our conquest of this holy land. This was the main message, and the whole sense many soldiers had in this operation was of a religious war. From my position as a commander and ‘explainer,’ I attempted to talk about the politics – the streams in Palestinian society, about how not everyone who is in Gaza is Hamas, and not every inhabitant wants to vanquish us. I wanted to explain to the soldiers that this war is not a war for the sanctification of the holy name, but rather one to stop the Qassams.”

Hat tip.

Lies, damn lies and statistics


wp_gazaThe Israeli war machine has killed over 800 Palestinians and  claims are their genocidal blood lust will be escalated, but finally there are cries, albeit faint, that Israel has committed war crimes.  It’s about time!  All one need do is look at the volume of work on the internet, indisputable pictures and videos which show the use of white phosphorous, the shooting of medical aid workers who were out attending to the wounded as well as hospitals and their facilities, the indiscriminate bombing of shelters for the homeless, and most notably the UN sponsored school where scores of people were killed, all civilians, by the murderous IDF to know that Israel has committed war crimes and should be censured by the international community.

The United Nations has accused Israel of evacuating scores of Palestinians into a house in the suburbs of Gaza City, only to shell the property 24 hours later, killing some 30 people.

In a report published today on what it called “one of the gravest incidents” of the 14-day conflict, the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) complained that the Israeli Defence Force then prevented medical teams from entering the area to evacuate the wounded, including young children.

All of these actions come amidst the incontrovertible fact that Israel is the aggressor in this latest war on Palestinians.

Thus the latest ceasefire ended when Israel first killed Palestinians, and Palestinians then fired rockets into Israel. However, before attempting to glean lessons from this event, we need to know if this case is atypical, or if it reflects a systematic pattern.We defined “conflict pauses” as periods of one or more days when no one is killed on either side, and we asked which side kills first after conflict pauses of different durations. As shown in Figure 2, this analysis shows that it is overwhelmingly Israel that kills first after a pause in the conflict: 79% of all conflict pauses were interrupted when Israel killed a Palestinian, while only 8% were interrupted by Palestinian attacks (the remaining 13% were interrupted by both sides on the same day). In addition, we found that this pattern — in which Israel is more likely than Palestine to kill first after a conflict pause — becomes more pronounced for longer conflict pauses. Indeed, of the 25 periods of nonviolence lasting longer than a week, Israel unilaterally interrupted 24, or 96%, and it unilaterally interrupted 100% of the 14 periods of nonviolence lasting longer than 9 days.

Thus, a systematic pattern does exist: it is overwhelmingly Israel, not Palestine, that kills first following a lull. Indeed, it is virtually always Israel that kills first after a lull lasting more than a week.

The lessons from these data are clear:

First, Hamas can indeed control the rockets, when it is in their interest. The data shows that ceasefires can work, reducing the violence to nearly zero for months at a time.

Second, if Israel wants to reduce rocket fire from Gaza, it should cherish and preserve the peace when it starts to break out, not be the first to kill.

One can conclude that Israel is not interested in peace with its neighbors and that this information alone should be the impetus on which the world community denies Israel the blind eye it has lent the Israeli government for so long and impose the type of punishment reserved and codified for “evil doers” or breakers of international law.

The U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory, former Princeton University law professor Richard Falk, calls what Israel is doing to the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza “a crime against humanity.” Falk, who is Jewish, has condemned the collective punishment of the Palestinians in Gaza as “a flagrant and massive violation of international humanitarian law as laid down in Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.” He has asked for “the International Criminal Court to investigate the situation, and determine whether the Israeli civilian leaders and military commanders responsible for the Gaza siege should be indicted and prosecuted for violations of international criminal law.”

“It is macabre,” Falk said. “I don’t know of anything that exactly fits this situation. People have been referring to the Warsaw ghetto as the nearest analog in modern times.”

“There is no structure of an occupation that endured for decades and involved this kind of oppressive circumstances,” the rapporteur added. “The magnitude, the deliberateness, the violations of international humanitarian law, the impact on the health, lives and survival and the overall conditions warrant the characterization of a crime against humanity. This occupation is the direct intention by the Israeli military and civilian authorities. They are responsible and should be held accountable.”

The above stated view should gain more traction as time goes on.  There is plenty of documentation to make a case for the illegal nature of the Israeli government towards Palestinian Arabs both inside Israel and in the occupied territories.  The longer it takes for America and the rest of the world to act and deny this voracious killer its meal of foreign aide and military hardware, the more likely we are to have these kinds of incursions onto foreign soil by the Israeli government.

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