Jan 22, 2009

A Nation of Laws or Men?

It is very good to see the listing of executive orders and memorandum that have begun to accumulate after the first two days in office for the new President.The deadline to close Guantanamo, the lobbyist regulations, FOIA access, halt to Bush's last-minute EPA actions, and most especially, the reversal of Executive order 13233 of November 1, 2001, which essentially reinstates the National Archives regulations regarding Presidential Papers passed by Reagan. This should mean, I hope, that further information about Iran-Contra may come to light, even though the key criminals in that slimy scheme were pardoned by Bush 41 immediately upon taking office. Of note is that Obama's executive order specifically includes the Vice Presidential papers (something left out of Reagan's original orders.) Of course, the original law provides a wait of 12 years after any President leaves office.

Here's the White House web site with all the orders and memoranda.

Eric Holder's nomination is apparently being held up over the question of torture--apparently in a last-ditch effort by the Republicans (John Cornyn and Arlen Spector)--to get him to back off on proceeding with investigation of war crimes. I don't think they have to worry. I will be very surprised, despite Harry Reid saying that he is funding an investigation by Carl Levin into torture, if the investigation gets off the ground. I know there is sentiment here for 'moving on" but I truly feel that this is a watershed moment for whether or not we are "a nation of laws not men."

Some commentator--I can't remember who--pointed the night before the Inauguration, that President Obama's credibility would be weakened in his future trips abroad when he asserts that we were back to being a nation of laws, if we had failed to carry out our obligations under treaties fully approved by the Senate and one domestic law. These clearly impose on us the obligation to investigate, prosecute, and punish those who order and/or perform torture.

Jan 18, 2009

Going, Going, Almost Gone

I understand that the White House has been vacated by the Bushes, who have gone to Camp David until the Inauguration. On that morning they, along with the Obamas, will be hosted at a tea in the White House by Senator Diane Feinstein, one of the pains in "Obama's Achilles Heel" and also the person in charge of the Inauguration ceremonies.

I would imagine that the only thing left to damage the outgoing chief executive's reputation is the stuff of the pardons he will sign between now and Tuesday morning. A Friday--especially on a holiday weekend--has always been the usual time for the announcement of skullduggery during the last eight years, but mum's the word so far. Anyone want to take bets on when he will release the pardons? Maybe he is using the tranquility of Camp David to finally make up his mind. Maybe he will sleep the whole weekend and forget to do it? Maybe he is so proud and ensconced in his self-congratulatory bubble that he thinks pardons will not be needed?

In a great post on his No Comment blog at Harper's online, entitled "An epitaph for the Bush years," Scott Horton uses as his starting point a passage from St. Augustine, which I remember reading back in my Catholic High School in Parkersburg, WV. It was a "civics" class. Remember those?

If it does not do justice, what is the government but a great criminal enterprise? For what are gangs of criminals but petty little governments? The pack is a group which follows the orders of its leader according to a social compact of sorts, sharing the spoils along the rules upon which they agree. Through a process of gradual accretion, the gang may acquire bodies and territory, establish itself in some place, and soon be possessed of all the attributes of statehood—then it may be known as a state, acquiring this title not by being any less avaricious but rather by having achieved impunity. Alexander the Great’s conversation with a pirate he had captured reflects this well. The king asked what possessed him to infest the sea as he did, and the pirate replied: “No differently from you when you pursue your crimes in the world. I act with a small ship, so I am called a pirate. You command a fleet and are called emperor.” –Augustine of Hippo, De civitate dei contra paganos lib iv, capp iii- iv (ca. 410)(S.H. transl.) in vol. 2 of the Loeb Classical Library edition, pp. 12, 16.

"Having achieved impunity" so far, I wonder what this manchild's fate in the near term will be?

Jan 16, 2009

An 18 Minute Education

If you want a solid, well-informed review of American foreign policy at this transitional point, listen to this interview with Eric Margolis, the American journalist who remembers more about foreign affairs than any pundits in the MSM or Beltway Village. His description of western policy in the Middle East: “Incredibly arrogant, incredibly ignorant.” His take on Egypt, on Obama’s dilemma in Afghanistan, and on the current Middle East crisis are neutral and clear.

Margolis has an intellect of high order, knows his history, speaks several languages, has traveled and reported widely, and is very articulate. 18 minutes listening to him will do everyone well. At the end of the interview he suggests where to get good information about US foreign policy.

Margolis’ website is: http://www.ericmargolis.com/

Cut and paste to the interview in case the hyperlink above does not work at

(http://www.antiwar.com/blog/2009/01/14/lew-rockwell-interviews-eric-margolis/) .

At Last, A Real Discussion

A big hat tip to Glenn Greenwald at Salon for posting in two parts (about 16.5 minutes total) a frank and rational discussion about the Middle East crisis on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” (without Joe Scarborough). In addition to the MSNBC moderators and Pat Buchanan, the other participants are Richard Haas of the Council on Foreign Relations and Queen Noor of Jordan (the California-born widow of King Hussein and step-mother of King Abdullah).

Quote from the Queen: “These people [the Palestinians] are not free and that is why there is radical resistance and not peaceful resistance.”

In addition to solid fact-based discussion, we have an admission from MSNBC that the Palestinian side of the story is never told on mainstream television, and the clear concensus that the American President will be the catalyst in bringing both sides to a peace agreement. Please watch it and pass the link on to your friends. For peace, in peace.

Jan 14, 2009

Jeff Halper on reframing the Israeli talking Points--Part 2

Here is the last portion of Halper's points. Some of them are long, but make crucial observations on the issue of Israeli forces "philosophy" of warfare which makes the question of Hamas shielding itself with civilians a moot point.

  • Israeli PR: Only Hamas violated the cease-fire, and thus it carries full responsibility. An alternative framing: Israel and Hamas agreed to a truce (through Egypt) by which Israel would allow the opening of the Gazan border crossings (at least partially) in return for a end to rocket fire on Israel. Hamas largely, though not entirely, kept its part of the bargain; Israel almost never did. Killings of Palestinians from the air continued, and on the American election day in early November it attacked the tunnels (which functioned as alternative means of supplying Gaza in the absence of open borders, which would have allowed control over the movement of arms), killing a number of Hamas people. In response Hamas launched rockets and….the truce began breaking down.
  • Israeli PR: There is no humanitarian crisis; Israel is only attacking the "infrastructure of terror."
    Alternative View: Being the elected government, all the infrastructure, from traffic cops (non-combatants under international law) to schools to military installations, "belong" to Hamas. It is clear that Israeli attacks go beyond "the infrastructure of terror." Gazan sources claim that some 5000 homes have been demolished and the Islamic University has been severely damaged. According to the UN OCHA report of January. 5, the tenth day of the war: #1)More than a million Gazans still have no electricity or water, and thousands of people have fled their homes for safe shelter; #2) Gaza's water and sewage system is on the verge of collapse, 75% of Gaza's electricity has been cut off; #3) The sewage situation is highly dangerous, posing serious risks of the spread of water-borne disease; #4)Hospitals are unable to provide adequate intensive care to the high number of casualties. There is also an urgent need for more neuro-, vascular-, orthopedic- and open heart surgeons.
  • Israeli PR: Israel only targets Hamas fighters. An alternative framing: Who's a "Hamas fighter?" The graduating class of traffic cops that was slaughtered in the first aerial attack on Gaza? Professors and students who attend the "Hamas" Islamic University? Family members of Hamas military figures? People who voted for Hamas? Attacking a grassroots political-religious-social movement engaged in military resistance to occupation in densely crowded urban settings makes it either impossible or inconvenient for an invading army to distinguish between civilians and fighters.
  • Israeli PR: Civilians may die, but it's because Hamas hides its fighters and weapons factories among ordinary people. An alternative framing: Gaza being such a barren, exposed and tiny area (360 sq.km./223 sq. miles, half the size of London), separating civilian from military areas, though desirable, is impossible, especially since, in concept, Hamas is a people's militia. It's worth noting, however, that Israel's military headquarters are located in the center of Tel Aviv, the military headquarters over the West Bank are in the densely populated Neveh Ya'akov neighborhood of Jerusalem, Israel's center for biological and chemical warfare is located in the town of Ness Tziona, close to Tel Aviv, its main weapons development centers or in Haifa, and most settlements in the West Bank have military camps embedded within them – or vice versa.

    • Hamas, of course, as both a government and a military organization, carries responsibility for protecting the civilian population and keeping the fighting away from them. In a situation where this is impossible, as in Gaza, an invading force like Israel should avoid engagement, or engage only when legitimate military and political aims (such as defense) are genuinely endangered – which is not the case here. Israel has political and negotiating options that can end both the immediate threat of rockets and the longer-term conflict, but it chooses not to use them.

    • A terrifying development: According to the Israeli press, Israel has decided to ignore the distinction between civilians and combatants which lies at the root of international laws of warfare. Citing what the IDF calls the "Georgia rules," the two military correspondents of Ha'aretz (Jan. 6 and 7) explain:

    [IDF Chief of Staff Gabi] Ashkenazi had said in earlier discussions that use of major fire power would be inevitable even in the most densely populated areas. The Israeli solution was thus to be very aggressive to protect the lives of the soldiers as much as possible. These are 'Georgia rules,' which are not so far from the methods Russia used in its conflict last summer. The result is the killing of dozens of non-combatant Palestinians. The Gaza medical teams might not have reached all of them yet. When an Israeli force gets into an entanglement, as in Sajaiyeh last night, massive fire into built-up areas is initiated to cover the extraction. In other cases, a chain of explosions is initiated from a distance to set off Hamas booby-traps. It is a method that leaves a swath of destruction taking in entire streets, and does not distinguish military targets from the homes of civilians….

      • The incident in which some 40 Palestinian civilians were killed when Israel Defense Forces mortar shells hit an UNRWA school in the Jabalya refugee camp Tuesday surprised no one who has been following events in Gaza in recent days. Senior officers admit that the IDF has been using enormous firepower. "For us, being cautious means being aggressive," explained one. "From the minute we entered, we've acted like we're at war. That creates enormous damage on the ground ... I just hope those who have fled the area of Gaza City in which we are operating will describe the shock. Maybe someone there will sober up before it continues."
      • What the officer did not say explicitly was that this is deliberate policy. Following the trauma of the war in Lebanon in 2006, the army realized that heavy IDF casualties would erode public (and especially political) support for the war and limit its ability to achieve its goals. Therefore, it is using aggressive tactics to save soldiers' lives. And the cabinet took this into account when it approved the ground operation last Friday, so it has no reason to change its mind now.
      • Nor is it likely that Tuesday's incident, with its large number of civilian deaths, will result in an immediate cease-fire…. Until Tuesday's incident, the world appeared relatively indifferent to Palestinian civilian casualties. On Monday, 31 members of the Samouny family were killed when a shell hit their house in Gaza City; that same day, 13 members of the Al-Daiya family where killed by another Israeli bomb. Yet international media coverage of these incidents was comparatively restrained.
      • This is an absolutely unacceptable development in modern warfare – particularly urban warfare which involves and entraps large populations of civilians – and must be condemned and rejected by the international community. If the Israeli-Georgian "rules" become a de facto norm of warfare, the entire edifice of human rights and international which has been constructed over the past 60 years will collapse and we will enter into a new age of barbarism. Again, All attacks on civilians must be opposed, whether sanctioned or not by military doctrine.

  • Israeli PR: Hamas is a global problem, part of Islamist fundamentalism together with Iran and Hezbollah. An alternative framing: Hamas was allowed by Israel to develop as a political force in Occupied Palestine in the late 1980s in order to counterbalance the secular PLO, which Israel regarded then as its real enemy but today considers a "moderate" force which should be supported in order to counterbalance Hamas(!). It has roots in the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt, but is a particularly Palestinian phenomenon that arose in response to increasing Israeli repression, the loss of Palestinian land, rights and honor, and the corruption and high-handedness of the ruling Fatah party. It cannot be conflated with the Shi'ite Hizbollah (which emerged in Lebanon only in the wake of threw 1982 war), al-Qaida (which has a completely different global agenda and ideology) or Iran (in which the theocrats were an organized but quite small political force until the U.S. overthrew Iran's democracy in 1954 and installed the repressive regime of the Shah – for whom Israel trained his dreaded SAVAK security police, noted for their widespread torture of "dissidents"). Painting Hamas as part of a global conspiracy when it's a product of the Occupation itself is disingenuous and a gross distortion of history. Indeed, as the history of Hamas, Hizbollah and the Iranian clerics shows, Israel itself had played a significant role in the rise of political Islam.
An alternative framing: have to get beyond such simplistic and self-serving terms as "terrorists" and "terrorism" – especially since the Western politicians that use them refuse to apply them to themselves, as in the case of Israel in Gaza. It will do no good to dismiss Hamas as a "terrorist organization." The issues, grievances and demands upon which it arose must be addressed. From the point of view of its voters, who include many who do not share Hamas's religious or political agenda, Hamas is a quintessential liberation movement, a Palestinian liberation movement. Attempts by Israel to delegitimize Hamas and disassociate it from the Palestinian people, even to have the gall to suggest that the carnage created by Israel in Gaza will benefit the people by "releasing them from Hamas's grip," only serve – as they are intended to do – to neutralize Hamas as an effective source of resistance to Israel's Occupation.
  • Israeli PR: In attacking Hamas in Gaza, Israel is only doing its part in the West's War on Terror.
    An alternative framing: This brings us to why Israel actually attacked Gaza and why the slaughter has gone on far beyond Israel's declared goal of ending the rocket fire through negotiations. Immediate causes played their role, to be sure. Public pressure to end the rocket fire, especially in an election period, could not be ignored, nor the need to assert national pride. But this does not explain the immense scale of the operation; the rocket firings were the immediate trigger (and Hamas may have erred in its brinksmanship), but not the true reasons, which were several.

    First, the invasion of Gaza was an exercise in pacification. On one level, it is an attempt to destroy Hamas as a political force, the only effective Palestinian resistance to Israel's ability, through the Annapolis Process, of imposing an apartheid regime on Palestine. On another level it seeks to pacify the Palestinian people by delivering "a message:" If you keep resisting, this is what is waiting for you. You have no hope to force Israel to withdraw from its settlements and expanded borders. Second, it is an attempt to resuscitate Israel's image as an effective ally in the War on Terror after the humiliation of the Second Lebanon War in 2006. This is crucial for Israel's security politics, especially vis-à-vis the US, and the Palestinians are paying the price for Hizbollah's success. Third, it is an exercise in urban warfare, an opportunity to field-test new weaponry and tactics of counterinsurgency in dense urban environments that can be exported – both as part of Israel's security politics (earning its place with the Big Boys at the table of the War Against Terror) and as part of its economic export strategy (60% of Israeli export firms deal in security). "Tested in Gaza" (or Nablus or Fluja) is one of Israel's most effective marketing pitches.

    Gaza demonstrates in microcosm the shift in Israeli priorities and policies as its long-standing commitment to hold onto the Occupied Territories for both nationalist and security reasons comes into conflict with its broader regional and global agendas, centered today around its campaign to neutralize Iran's nuclear potential. The Saudi Initiative, endorsed by the Arab League, holds out the tantalizing offer of Israeli integration into the Middle East – meaning that Israel, whose foreign policy interests match those of the "moderate" Arab states, could assume a regional role. But because of public opinion in the Arab and Muslims worlds, this offer is good only if Israel relinquishes enough of the Occupied Territories that the Palestinian leadership could sign off on an agreement. Hence Israel's courting of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Mubarak and even Assad of Syria and the Saudis. And hence Israel's readiness to offer Abbas yet another "generous offer – short, however, of dismantling its major settlement blocs, relinquishing control over "greater" Jerusalem or giving up control of the border with Jordan, for which no Israeli government has a mandate. Caught between the necessity of maintaining its settlements – a position Netanyahu still endorses – and its desire to assume a role as one of regional hegemons, Israel is trying to find a way to finesse its way through. This explains Olmert's sudden readiness to change direction and talk of the necessity for a two-state solution, as well as the hasty Annapolis Process. Hence Abbas and Mubarak's support for Israel's action in Gaza (with mild, perfunctory criticism of its excesses). Their virtual collaboration with Israel raises even further in the eyes by many Palestinians and other Arabs the standing of Hamas as the only genuine source of resistance.

    So there are high stakes involved in the Israeli-Hamas war, which diminish the seemingly decisive role the firing of rockets into Israel had. We do not believe that Israel can either impose an apartheid regime on the Palestinian people nor sustain its Occupation. If anything, as is becoming obvious, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, emblematic as it is throughout the entire Muslim world and beyond (among, for example, progressives civil society on every continent), will impact negatively on European and especially American efforts to stabilize the global system, and in particular the volatile Middle East where the US remains bogged down. It is our role as proponents of human rights, international law, decolonization, the integrity of cultures and a just peace in Israel/Palestine and elsewhere to highlight the injustice and unsustainability of Israel's Occupation both on the ground and globally, the quicker to bring it to an end. May the suffering of the both peoples in this war on Gaza, one oppressed and the other held hostage to an image of the Palestinians as "permanent enemies," be the last straw. A just peace in Palestine will relieve a major obstacle towards global justice.

Jan 13, 2009

A Reframing Message from Jeff Halper of ICAHD

Jeff Halper is Minnesota born, an Israeli citizen for the past three decades, and the founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), an Israeli peace group that concentrates on helping to rebuild Palestinian houses that have been destroyed by the Israeli government over the past twenty years either arbitrarily or in retaliation. It is one of the more egregious sins of the Israeli government. (Information about ICAHD can be obtained by clicking on the ICAHD widget on the right of this blog or by clicking on the hyperlink above.) The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions is based in Jerusalem and has chapters in the United Kingdom and the United States.

Halper is an outspoken critic of the right wing government of Israel, and he, along with other members of the Israeli Peace Movement, has been attempting to counter the propaganda machine of the government in the latest continuing atrocity against Gaza. Halper is a great proponent of the work of George Lakoff, whose work on "framing" and diction has been so useful in arguing against the Republican and Neo-C0nservative elements in the US. thought I would post his complete commentary taking on the Israeli public relations distortions and manipulations.

I will give Halper's ten important reframings in two installments. The second will be posted tomorrow. Here is his introduction, the first four Israeli Government talking points and Halper's commentary for reframing:

Israel's core messages, listed below, argue for the justice of its invasion of Gaza in late December, 2008, cast Israel as the victim and endeavor that its "war on Hamas" not be seen against the background of prolonged occupation, closure and sanctions, but of the broader Western "War on Terror." The alternative view presented below argues otherwise.
As Israelis committed to human rights, international law and a just peace as the only way out of our interminable and bloody conflict with the Palestinians, we contend that security cannot be achieved unilaterally, especially as Israel shows no signs of fully relinquishing its 41 year Occupation so that a truly sovereign and viable Palestinian may emerge. In that context, Israel's attack on Gaza can be considered merely another attempt to render its Occupation permanent by destroying any source of effective resistance.

The immediate pretext of Israel's attack, rocket fire from Gaza into Israel, does not explain the disproportionality of its attack, especially given the unrelenting sanctions, attacks and assassinations carried out by Israel throughout the cease-fire. Indeed, we argue that Israel could have avoided all attacks upon it over the last twenty years, as well as the rise of Hamas to power, if it had accepted the PLO's offer of a two-state solution proffered already in 1988 and has entered into negotiations in good faith. Instead, Israel, the strong party in the conflict and the sole Occupying Power, chose to dramatically increase its settler population, construct a permanent infrastructure of separation and control, remove "Greater Jerusalem" from Palestine and encircle the West Bank with its expanded borders: that of the Separation Barrier incorporating Israel's major settlement blocs and the "security border" of the Jordan River.

Israel is not a victim; it is the active perpetrator of a permanent apartheid regime over all of Israel/Palestine. It is toward that goal that Gaza is being violently pacified today, Israel's killing with impunity scores of Palestinian civilians constituting nothing less than State Terrorism.

The following pages present the essential elements of the Israeli government's framing of its assault on Gaza, followed by a critical re-framing that introduces context, policies and aims which the government's version purposely omits.

  • Israeli PR : Like all countries, it has a right and duty to defend its citizens. An alternative framing: To pursue offensive policies of prolonged occupation as well as sanctions, boycotts and closures which rob another people of its rights, aspirations and very livelihood, and to then refuse to truly engage with that people's elected leaders (a policy preceding Hamas's rise to power), is what puts your own people at risk. To expect your citizens to live in security while a million and a half subjugated people just a few kilometers away live in misery is both unrealistic and presumptive. Israel will only be able to defend its citizens – which is indeed its duty – if it addresses the causes of their insecurity, which is a 41 year-old occupation which the oppressed will resist, by "legitimate" means or not.
  • Israeli PR: Israel had no choice but to attack in response to the barrage of 8,500 Hamas rockets fired from Gaza into Israel over the past eight years that have killed 20 Israeli civilians. An alternative framing: Israel had a choice. In the past three years alone Israel – together with the US, Europe and Japan – imposed an inhumane siege of Gaza while conducting a campaign of targeted assassinations and attacks throughout the cease-fire that left 1,700 Palestinians dead. This war is no "response:" it is merely a more deadly round of the tit-for-tat arising out of a political vacuum. Hamas firings on Israel were for the most part, if not exclusively, responses to Israeli actions either not reported in the press or discounted as legitimate unilateral action – such as assassinating leaders of Hamas and other Palestinian organizations, often with a high toll in civilian casualties. To present the "barrage" as an independent variable disassociated from wider Israeli policies that led to them is disingenuous. Indeed, had there been a genuine political process which offered the Palestinians hope for self-determination, the rocket firings could have been avoided altogether.
  • Israeli PR: Hamas is a terrorist organization that refuses to recognize Israel or enter into a political process. An alternative framing: "Terrorist" is a problematic term. States always use it to delegitimize and demonize non-state actors who resist their oppressive policies, as apartheid South Africa did, for example, with the ANC. The term assumes that states, bad as they may be, have the right to employ military force as they see fit. If, however, we take "terrorism" to mean the killing, harming or intimidation of non-combatant civilian populations, then states are far more terroristic, kill far more innocent civilians, than do non-state groups. In the eight years since the second Intifada broke out (September 2000), almost 500 Israeli civilians have been killed by Palestinians while almost 5000 Palestinians have died at the hands of Israelis. All attacks on civilians are unacceptable, no matter how just the cause. Yet it is only the Palestinians to whom the term "terrorist" is applied.

    An alternative framing: Presenting Hamas as merely a "terrorist organization" removes the political element from their struggle and presents them as a criminal organization. This not only distorts reality in a fundamental way but, by preventing negotiations, it ensures the perpetuation of mutual suffering. Hamas has its military wing – though nothing compared to the Israeli army – but it is essentially a grassroots religious-political movement that democratically won the Palestinian elections in 2006 and earned the right to establish a government – which was denied it by Israel, the US…and the Fatah part of the Palestinian Authority. It does deny Israel's legitimacy, as any colonized people would, and there is no reason why it should accept the loss of 78% (or more) of its historic homeland. But Hamas has agreed, as a signatory to the "Prisoners' Document" and in repeated public pronouncements, to respect the outcome of negotiations of other Palestinian parties (like Fatah) with Israel, if they result in a complete withdrawal from the Occupied Territories. So despite its militant and scary image, despite the fact that it will not legitimize what it considers another people's colonization of its homeland, Hamas does accept, as a practical political matter, a two-state solution. Given the fact that negotiations with Israel since the Madrid Conference of 1991 have yielded nothing – indeed, Israel's massive settlement enterprise has perhaps eliminated the possibility of a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel – Hamas's resort to armed resistance is understandable. All attacks on civilians are prohibited in international law. In this regard both Hamas and Israel engage in terrorism, with the later taking by far the greatest of civilian dead, injured and traumatized.
  • Israeli PR: There is no occupation – in general, but specifically in Gaza. Israel ended its occupation of Gaza in 2005 with the "disengagement." Gaza could have flourished as the basis of a Palestinian state, but its inhabitants chose conflict. An alternative framing: Israel claims there has never been an occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza; instead, these are "disputed" territories with no clear claimant – and certainly not the Palestinians who, in Israel's view, do not constitute a people with rights of self-determination in the Land of Israel and who never exercised sovereignty over any part of Palestine. This position is rejected utterly by the international community. Indeed, the Road Map initiative uses the term "occupation" explicitly. Neither does it accept Israel's claim that the occupation of Gaza really ended with "disengagement" in 2005, since occupation is defined in international law as exercising effective control of a foreign territory, which Israel obviously does over Gaza.

    To then argue that Gaza could have developed under these conditions is unfair and unreasonable. Neither Israeli control exerted over Gaza since 1967 nor the economic closure imposed upon it in 1989 ever ceased, even if Israel removed its settlers and army. Gazans were never allowed to open their sea or air ports, nor were any conditions conducive to economic development allowed to develop. And then, in early 2006, less than six months after "disengagement," Gaza was sanctioned and hermetically isolated by Israel and the international community as punishment for voting the wrong way. John Dugard, the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, wrote that this was the first time in history the oppressed was sanctioned and the Occupying Power freed of any responsibility. Economic development, not to mention a political process which might have prevented the violence on both sides, was actively prevented by both Israel and its international supporters, which share responsibility for the present tragedy in Gaza.

    Let us also remember Israel's special responsibility towards the people of Gaza. These "civilians" are, for the most part, refugees driven from their homes in Israel in 1948 and their descendants, people dying and suffering at the hands of Israel for the past 41, if not 60, years. This adds a particular poignancy to the assault – yet another assault.

Remainder follows tomorrow.

Jan 12, 2009

Israel’s bombardment of Gaza is not self-defence – it’s a war crime

I post this letter in its entirely from the Times of London. The letter is signed by lawyers and academics, and the signatures can be seen appended here.

ISRAEL has sought to justify its military attacks on Gaza by stating that it amounts to an act of “self-defence” as recognised by Article 51, United Nations Charter. We categorically reject this contention.

The rocket attacks on Israel by Hamas deplorable as they are, do not, in terms of scale and effect amount to an armed attack entitling Israel to rely on self-defence. Under international law self-defence is an act of last resort and is subject to the customary rules of proportionality and necessity.

The killing of almost 800 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and more than 3,000 injuries, accompanied by the destruction of schools, mosques, houses, UN compounds and government buildings, which Israel has a responsibility to protect under the Fourth Geneva Convention, is not commensurate to the deaths caused by Hamas rocket fire.

For 18 months Israel had imposed an unlawful blockade on the coastal strip that brought Gazan society to the brink of collapse. In the three years after Israel’s redeployment from Gaza, 11 Israelis were killed by rocket fire. And yet in 2005-8, according to the UN, the Israeli army killed about 1,250 Palestinians in Gaza, including 222 children. Throughout this time the Gaza Strip remained occupied territory under international law because Israel maintained effective control over it.

Israel’s actions amount to aggression, not self-defence, not least because its assault on Gaza was unnecessary. Israel could have agreed to renew the truce with Hamas. Instead it killed 225 Palestinians on the first day of its attack. As things stand, its invasion and bombardment of Gaza amounts to collective punishment of Gaza’s 1.5m inhabitants contrary to international humanitarian and human rights law. In addition, the blockade of humanitarian relief, the destruction of civilian infrastructure, and preventing access to basic necessities such as food and fuel, are prima facie war crimes.

We condemn the firing of rockets by Hamas into Israel and suicide bombings which are also contrary to international humanitarian law and are war crimes. Israel has a right to take reasonable and proportionate means to protect its civilian population from such attacks. However, the manner and scale of its operations in Gaza amount to an act of aggression and is contrary to international law, notwithstanding the rocket attacks by Hamas.

As I write, the death toll nears 1,000 and the injured 4,300. Let us call for an immediate ceasefire and negotiations for peace and a just settlement for the Palestinian people.

The Right to Defend

I am not trying to convince anyone that Israel has no right to defend itself against attack. It does. All countries do. That is why we are in trouble in Iraq and Afghanistan, though we have refused to admit it (and continue to do so). Nor am I particularly defending Hamas, but I am defending the Palestinians' rights to defend themselves against aggression. After all, if Israel has a right, doesn't the Palestinian state, as politically inchoate as it is, also have a right?

Someone took it a step further and mentioned Israel's right to "total war." And what exactly does that mean? Bomb them back into the stone age? Annihilate them all? I mean, genocide? Isn't that in fact getting a bit too close to Rwanda, say, or (dare I bring it up?) the final solution?

I mean, we do have International laws about occupying the other country's land, and I don't think that "total war" is one of the allowable actions. For sixty years now, documented Israeli aggression has been the case. The facts don't lie. Be assigned a major portion of a country and move the inhabitants under the auspices of a world governing body; do it violently and with well-planned ethnic cleaning and population transfer, then occupy the rest and continue to get a pass on violations of Geneva Conventions, and whenever you are put at the point of really serious negotiations, start a war . . . well, no wonder Israel continues to get bitten.

Knowing what I do about that history from both sides I am more and more impressed with the persistence of most of the Palestinians to keep on demanding justice apart from any violence that their more radical groups have committed. They protest like hell non-violently all the time. Moderate Israel's problem is that they keep hoping the Palestinians will pack up and leave. Radical Israel's problem is they can't finish the ethnic cleansing, population transfer, and total takeover neatly and without really pissing off the rest of the Middle East. You would think that 60 years would have taught them.

Any one of us Americans, if we were Palestinians, would have gone over the deep end by now if we found ourselves getting reamed with the settlements, olive tree uprootings, house demolitions, arrests without charges, destruction of farmland, checkpoints, military violence or military inaction when violence takes place, a separate set of laws applied, appropriations of land, the illegal blockades, the collective punishments and that's off the top of my head and excludes extreme military actions, assassinations, and violence that never gets justice.

As an exercise in empathy, anyone who wants to educate himself should watch this short movie called "Ex-Communicated: Enclosure Landscapes in Palestine," produced by a Professor of Communications down at UC San Diego, Gary Fields. It is not a screamer, just a well-documented report. Fields is calm and careful and unemotional and presents facts you can see for yourself. And believe me, most Israelis and almost all Americans don't know about this. Walk a mile in their shoes. Imagine trying to live as if you were a Palestinian. Empathize, please.

I can guarantee that if you empathize at all with any folks who get screwed by all kinds of powerful people, you will be as pissed as anyone can be about oil prices. I seriously think you will not find an Israeli documentary trying to justify the settlements, the ecological damage, the settlers' violent behavior, the midnight digs to cover a third rate road or the "flying check points." Try to carry on a business or send your kids to school under those conditions. We are trained through repetition and severe omission to empathize with the Israelis, but very little empathy for Palestinians is expressed in the mainstream media.

As the death toll nears 1,000 from this stupid violence from Israel, peace be with you. I devoutly wish for a ceasefire and peace, but I think Israel has unleashed the dogs of war and will not, in the long run, win.

Jan 7, 2009

Well-Meaning Peace Proposals, alas . . .

In a well-intentioned but in the end, historically deficient article, "Obama and Gaza: Exiting the Vortex of Violence," Bernard Weiner proposes that the incoming Obama Administration act as an interlocutor and "honest broker" then admits to skepticism on that account. He then proceeds to offer a peace program led by "a respected outside force"--the EU? the Obama Administration? And despite his skepticism, appears to settle on President-elect Obama, for he ends his proposal with the statement that "The candidate of 'change' and 'hope,' and love of children, simply cannot let that happen."

I laud any efforts and arguments for peace, but the actual practicalities of the matter and the history should be telling Mr. Weiner that he needs to rethink his position. Otherwise, his proposal falls into the same bucket as the hopeful dreams of some Obama supporters as early as a year ago that their candidate would be a champion for solving the essence of all of our problems in the Middle East. In other words, his hope triumphs over experience and is sadly another example of muddle-headed thinking.

The article was originally presented on Mr. Weiner's website, The Crisis Papers and was reprinted, where I found it, on OpEd News. Some laudable refinements were offered by a commentator, William H. White. I urge my readers to go to the the OpEd site so they can read the comments by Mr. White.

For me, it is a frustrating example of good intentions nullified by acceptance of many of the assertions of the Israeli and AIPAC-dominated US Government position. So while I appreciated the sentiments and the desire for a solution and a relatively fair solution at that, I could not let the article go without attempting to point to the overwhelming evidence. The obstacle to peace and justice is not the intransigence or insanity of "both sides" but clearly the Israeli government. I commented on the article with the following post: "Obama and Gaza: a Reply."

The sincerity of your proposal is touching and there is little wrong with it--or with Mr. White's excellent refinements including the plebiscite. But unfortunately you have bought into the notion that both sides are equal here.

You are forgetting, for example, that a proposal to recognize Israel and provide for security and economic consideration has been on the table from the surrounding Arab states since 2002. One of its central points--in addition to that regarding Jerusalem--is that Israel retreat to the 1967 line (note, NOT the 1948 Green Line). Israel has rejected that Arab states' proposal. You forget that Israel is the occupying and asymmetrically much stronger military and technological power of the two.

You also buy into the Israeli version of the Palestinians' government, forgetting that the PLO is not the Democratically elected government: Hamas is. The dissolution of the Hamas dominated government by Mr. Abbas was in violation of the rules of procedure of the government. You fail to mention that Israel agreed, under this recently expired ceasefire, to stop the embargo and blockade, which it failed to do. In addition Israel took advantage of our US elections to attack within Gaza on November 4th, 2008. So if Hamas violated the ceasefire, the facts clearly indicate that Israel violated it as well, and arguably even more severely. You also forget that Hamas has in fact accepted--though they do not like it--the fact that the legitimate representatives of the Palestinians did accept the existence of the state of Israel, and in fact proposed long term (10, 25, 100 year) ceasefires provided that Israel withdraw to the 67 borders, remove the settlements, and open the borders of Gaza for free commerce. Further, while the firing of the rockets from Hamas or rebel elements is in fact a crime, it is also a fact that even international law says that a country under occupation can in fact fight back against the occupier. And make no mistake about it, since 1948, Israel has been the occupier and has considerably expanded its occupation and aggrandizement of Palestinian territory and resources.

Finally, you must understand that most of what you are proposing here reinvents the wheel, so to speak, and reinvents it In FAVOR OF PALESTINIAN POSITIONS. If Israel has consistently rejected these or ignored them in the past, what naïvété suggests to you that they will accept yours now, no matter how sane, moderate, logical, or just? What makes you think that some outside force--the bald eagle of justice, perhaps--can assist both sides into seeing the logic and justice of your proposals? Or that this outside agency will keep Israel from continuing and expanding its brutal, demeaning, violent occupation and stranglehold, and now murder of residents of occupied territory?

All of these things you propose are in fact tending to a just settlement, but the problem is that: 1)Israel refuses to recognize the Palestinian state or the injustice of their occupation of the severely diminished territory of that Palestinian state; 2) has slowly and surely occupied much of the valued land and water rights belonging to another people; 3) will extend a "right of return" to anyone in the world who claims and proves Jewish descent, while refusing to accept the "right of return" of the Palestinian people or their descendants who lived there to begin with. With the final bit of irony, this includes the nearly 1 million ethnically cleansed Palestinians (or their descendants) in the Gaza strip, now being murdered and wounded, those who originally inhabited towns now re-named Ashkalon and Sderot after the purges of 1948 and 1967.

After 60 years of this occupation and state violence, one can only assume that Israel does not want anything for the Palestinian people except what they accuse the Palestinians of wanting: to force the other people off the land.

Only the United States, by denying its foreign aid to Israel and acting in concert with the common will of the community of nations, can bring the slightest leverage on this problem. Given that it will veto security council resolutions calling for a ceasefire, we are at an impasse. The United States government--and I fear its next administration as well as its outgoing--has no wisdom in this matter. If it did, it would communicate at the very least to Israel that the current violent murder of Palestinian citizens will do nothing but perpetuate the hatred of and threats to Israel for many years to come.

I praise the points of your proposals, but have to bring you face to face with reality: the rejection of similar proposals over the past two decades and intransigence of the overwhelmingly stronger party in the conflict. That party is Israel, which insists on defending itself by claiming victim hood. It is understandable that the Israeli government might live under that delusion, though I think that its motives are cynical and aggrandizing, not defensive or delusional. If we Americans are truly for peace and justice, we should not live under that propagandist delusion ourselves. Boycotting Israel, and threatening to stop foreign aid and arms shipments is the only way to make Israel realize that it must take some enormous first steps to ensure its peace and security.

Upcoming information on the National Debt

Though the attention to the accelerating (not just accumulating) national debt is not misplaced, non-partisan attention might be useful. My own problem with the attention is that Medicare and Social Security--as the despicable Lawrence Summers insists on doing--become the targets of the concern. That means that the real drivers of the deficit are ignored: the bloated, unaudited, pork-barrel military/security/industrial budget, the decline in corporate income taxes particularly for the largest corporations, and the movement away from producing real wealth and into a casino economy, just to name ones that come immediately to mind.

So I suggest you take time to watch "I.O.U.S.A" this weekend. Information from the email announcement follows: CNN/U.S. will air the broadcast premiere of the acclaimed documentary I.O.U.S.A. on on Saturday, January 10 at 2:00 p.m. EST and on Sunday, January 11 at 3:00 p.m. EST. Accompanying the documentary will be an unscripted panel discussion with policy leaders about various economic solutions currently under consideration. Panelists are: Pete Peterson, Chairman of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation and former U.S. Commerce Secretary; Dave Walker, President and CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation and former U.S. Comptroller General; Alice Rivlin, noted economist and former Director of the Office of Management and Budget; and Bill Bradley, a Managing Director of Allen & Company and former U.S. Senator and Democratic presidential candidate, in discussions about issues raised in the film and their ties to current economic events. You can watch a 30 second version of the movie at IOUSAthe Movie.com and get further information about the creators.

Jan 5, 2009

Some Back Story on Recent Palestinian History

I have been beset with some very annoying nerve and eye problems over the past week--probably eyestrain—that have limited my time severely on the computer and in my library.

Tonight I am trying a foray onto the computer once again. So I apologize that I have been unable to post some more in the debate on Best of Bloggers that has apparently been touched off by my first post. I am also sorry about some of the virulence that has appeared. Unfortunately, in this political climate, the virulence will out. I am for peace above all, and will continue writing letters to my foolish representatives and continuing to demonstrate here in the area, probably tomorrow and certainly Wednesday as part of a silent candle light vigil in front of the Israeli consulate.

Let me try to refer you to some interesting pieces of background and commentary.

First, let me recall Josh's original entry which I responded to in my first post. In that, Josh suggested that Israel was acting by using the tail-end of George Bush's presidency to cover their actions. With the recent revelations in Ha'aretz that UN Ambassador Khalilzad has been explicitly instructed by the State Department to "torpedo" any Arab bloc resolutions calling for a cease fire, it appears not only that Israel is using Bush, but that the Bush administration in its last days is allowing Israel to continue its aggression. It is the same pattern shown in Lebanon in 2007; the world cries out for a cease fire and the US and the UK did nothing for days but buy time for Israel to strike all over Lebanon, not just in the south.

Josh also suggested that Israel wanted to "clean the slate" and that Obama might well respond negatively to actions carried out by Israel after he takes office. I still hold to that bet with Josh. I don't think the Obama policy will bring the "Change We Can Believe In" to the Middle east. Obama has commented on the Mumbai attacks and on other domestic issues, but he has been hiding behind the catchphrase that there is only one President. His silence, I am afraid, is becoming, in a classic way, complicity.

You may find Gareth Porter's post on the history of the PLO and Hamas since the 2006 election to be of interest. I post it here because we need to keep the background in mind as we are witnessing this continuing onslaught of the Israeli Army into Gaza.

Briefly, Porter reminds us, that Hamas' victory in the Palestinian elections in January of 2006 was met immediately with resistance by the United States, and that rather than trying to work with the government we got, regime change was our tactic. The article is especially interesting because it brings up once again a hot potato of news (that broke in Vanity Fair) that Hamas took over the Gaza strip after it discovered US, Israeli (and probably Egyptian) support for a coup against Hamas. Discovery of that led to Hamas' violent takeover of the Gaza strip and also for Mahmoud Abbas's unconstitutional dissolution of the government.

But that is just history. I have been rereading Gandhi recently, and think of his famous saying, "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind." If in fact you agree with the forces for peace, ceasefire, and negotiation at this point, you will find Norman Solomon's take on this Gandhian saying logical and laudable: "What about a hundred eyes for an eye?" Solomon's piece starts with a reference back to one of my heroes, I.F. Stone, at the time of the 1967 war:

Israelis and Arabs "feel that only force can assure justice," I. F. Stone noted soon after the Six-Day War in 1967. And he wrote: "A certain moral imbecility marks all ethnocentric movements. The Others are always either less than human, and thus their interests may be ignored, or more than human and therefore so dangerous that it is right to destroy them."

In this regard, you may find the analysis of Paul Woodward at War in Context also relevant and stimulating:

Once this is over, will the residents of Sderot be able to slumber peacefully knowing that they live on the doorstep of anarchy?

And when Hamas has finished counting its dead, will those in its ranks who until recently were voices of pragmatism, favoring political engagement, be capable of or even willing to try and make themselves heard?

Let us wish very hard and work very hard for the patience to convince our new American leaders to step in for once, as peacemakers, demand an end to the violence, insist on real negotiations, and begin by insisting that both Hamas and Israel take seriously the Arab State's proposal that has been on the table since 2002, and spurned by Israel and Hamas both.