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Archive for the ‘Mideast Conflict’ Category

One Family, Two Doors, Nowhere to Run

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During the Israeli attacks on Gaza this past summer, U.S. officials were unusually vocal.  After shelling killed four young Palestinians on a beach, for example, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki called it “horrifying.”  “The tragic event makes clear that Israel must take every possible step to meet its standards for protecting civilians from being killed,” she said.  Asked whether Israel was doing enough on that count, Psaki replied: “We believe that certainly there’s more that can be done.”  White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest called it “totally unacceptable and totally indefensible” when Israeli shelling of a United Nations school in Gaza killed 16 civilians.  Israel, he said, “can and should do more to protect the lives of innocent civilians.”

“We feel profound anguish upon seeing the images of suffering from Gaza, including the deaths and injuries of innocent Palestinian civilians, including young children, and the displacement of thousands of people,” said Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power.  On July 22nd, she offered this running tally of the misery:

“In Gaza, the toll of the violence has been devastating. More than 600 Palestinians have been killed, the large majority civilians, including at least 59 women and more than 121 children. More than 3,700 more have been injured. Thousands of homes have been damaged, many totally destroyed. And more than 100,000 people have been displaced. As the destruction mounts, some 35,000 Palestinians who need food have not yet been reached. 1.2 million people have little or no access to water or sanitation. And behind every number is a real person, perhaps even a child. The suffering is immense.”

By the time of the late August ceasefire, six Israeli civilians and a Thai national had been killed by rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza, while 1,462 Palestinian civilians had died as a result of Israel’s war, according to the United Nations.

But while the administration and State Department were rebuking Israel (albeit mildly), and the president himself was expressing “serious concern” about the growing number of Palestinian civilian casualties in Gaza, the Pentagon was replenishing the Jewish state’s dwindling ammunition stockpile without the approval of either the White House or the State Department.  “We were blindsided,” one U.S. diplomat told the Wall Street Journal.

Since then, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey (who has recently seemed to ignore, if not defy, his commander-in-chief when it comes to Iraq War policy) has offered his own dissenting assessment of Israeli conduct during the most recent campaign in Gaza.  Instead of using terms like unacceptable, indefensible, or horrifying, Dempsey claimed that Israel had gone to “extraordinary lengths” to limit civilian casualties.  “I can say to you with confidence that I think that they acted responsibly,” he told the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs.  In fact, Dempsey suggested that the U.S. military could learn a thing or two from the Israelis, noting that the Pentagon dispatched a “lessons learned team” of senior commissioned and noncommissioned officers to study the methods the Israel Defense Forces employed in Gaza.

In her latest piece for TomDispatchfilmmaker Jen Marlowe suggests that Israel’s 2014 Gaza campaign, like the 2008-2009 campaign before it, might not be the optimal model for the U.S. (or any other) military.  In a striking piece of reportage, she offers a counter-narrative to the one advanced by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Chronicling one family through a night of terror and more than five years of loss, she walked streets on which Dempsey has never set foot and surveyed the rubble he’ll never see to shed light on what life in Gaza is like for civilians caught in the path of war. Nick Turse 

No Exit in Gaza
Broken Homes and Broken Lives
By Jen Marlowe

Rubble. That’s been the one constant for the Awajah family for as long as I’ve known them.

Four months ago, their home was demolished by the Israeli military — and it wasn’t the first time that Kamal, Wafaa, and their children had been through this.  For the last six years, the family has found itself trapped in a cycle of destruction and reconstruction; their home either a tangle of shattered concrete and twisted rebar or about to become one.

I first met the Awajah family in August 2009, in the tent where they were living. I filmed them as they told me what had happened to them eight months earlier during the military invasion that Israel called Operation Cast Lead and said was a response to rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.

I had no intention of making a film when I went to Gaza, but after hearing the family’s story, I knew I had to.  I returned again in 2012 and have continued to stay in touch in the years since, realizing that the plight of the Awajahs opened a window onto what an entire society was facing, onto what it’s like to live with an interminable war and constant fear.  The Awajahs’ story shines a spotlight on what Palestinians in Gaza have endured for years on end.

What stuck with me most, however, was the demand of the Awajah children regarding the reconstruction of their new home in 2012: they insisted that the house have two doors.

What The Awajahs Saw

In separate interviews in 2009, Wafaa and Kamal Awajah told me the same story, each breaking down in tears as they offered me their memories of the traumatic events that had taken place eight months earlier — a night when they lost far more than a home.  The next day, a still grief-stricken Wafaa walked me through her recollections of that night, pointing out the spot where each incident had taken place.

On January 4th, as Operation Cast Lead’s ground campaign began, the Awajah family was at home.  Wafaa’s eldest daughter, 12-year-old Omsiyat, woke her up at around 2 am.  “Mom,” said Omsiyat, “soldiers are at the door.”  Wafaa jumped out of bed to look. “There are no soldiers at the door, honey,” she reassured her daughter. When Omsiyat insisted, Wafaa looked again, and this time she spotted the soldiers and tanks. She lit candles in the window so that the Israeli troops would know that a family was inside.

Suddenly, the ceiling began to crumble.  Wafaa, Kamal, and their six children fled, as an Israeli military bulldozer razed their home. No sooner had they made it outside than the roof collapsed.  As tank after tank rolled by, the family huddled under an olive tree next to the house. When dawn finally broke, they could examine the ruins of their house.

Just as the Awajahs were trying to absorb their loss, Wafaa heard nine-year-old Ibrahim scream. He had been shot in the side.  As more gunfire rang out, Kamal scooped up the injured boy and ran for cover with the rest of the family. Wafaa was hit in both hips, but she and five of the children managed to take shelter behind a mud-brick wall. From there, she saw Kamal, also wounded, lying in the middle of the road, Ibrahim still in his arms.

Israeli soldiers approached her husband and son on foot, while Wafaa watched, and — according to what she and Kamal both told me — without warning, one of them shot Ibrahim at close range, killing him. He may have assumed that Kamal was already dead. Despite Wafaa and Kamal’s wounds, the family managed to get back to their wrecked home, where they hid under the collapsed roof for four days with no food or clean water, until a passing family with a donkey cart took them and Ibrahim’s body to a hospital in Gaza city.

As far as I know, the Israeli military never investigated the incident.  In fact, only a handful of possible war crimes during Operation Cast Lead were ever investigated by Israel.  Instead of an official inquiry, the Awajahs were left with a dead son, grievous physical wounds that eventually healed, psychological ones that never will, and a home reduced to pile of rubble. . .

Continue reading.


If you continue reading the column, you will get the story of what happened afterward, which this video also addresses:

Written by LeisureGuy

7 December 2014 at 3:33 pm

Posted in Mideast Conflict

Maybe bombings are not the only form of aid the US should consider

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The US is very quick to offer military aid—arms, training, bombings, drone attacks, and the like—but that’s a rather limited range and is focused on killing people (a US specialty). Maybe we should offer more constructive aid. Murtaza Hussain reports in The Intercept:

Does the objective of international intervention in Syria have anything at all to do with helping Syrians? While an international coalition of countries has rushed to coordinate airstrikes against the country in the name of humanitarianism, it seems that these acts of aerially-conducted benevolence are failing to forestall a much bigger crisis facing the Syrian people. Namely, the fact that Syrian refugees are running out of food:

“A funding crisis has forced the World Food Program to suspend assistance to 1.7 million Syrian refugees, the U.N. agency announced Monday, warning that “many families will go hungry” without the aid.”

“The suspension of WFP food assistance will be disastrous for many already suffering families,” Ertharin Cousin, the agency’s executive director, said in a statement.

The shortfall has been attributed to “unfulfilled donor commitments,” and means that millions of Syrians could potentially be facing the winter months without even the most basic sustenance. 

But what, precisely, constitutes this catastrophic funding crisis which has now resulted in the suspension of food aid to displaced Syrians this winter? The miserly sum of $64 million dollars. 

To put this into context, the United States and its allies are spending millions and perhaps tens of millions dollars every day on bombing Islamic State fighters in Syria and Iraq. A Pentagon estimate concluded as early as October that the campaign against the group had already cost upwards of $1 billion dollars, including an estimated $10 million per day starting August 8. 

Ignoring the staggering logistical costs of such an operation, the cost of the ammunition use on the first night of bombing the country would have been almost enough to cover food aid to Syrians:

“On the first night of the strikes in Syria, the United States also fired 47 Tomahawk missiles, which cost more than $1 million each, higher for more advanced models.”

A recent New Yorker piece also mentioned the incredible sums which are at this very moment being expended on simply flying jets over the country: 

“…operating a B-1 bomber costs fifty-eight thousand dollars an hour. F-15E fighter bombers exceed thirty-nine thousand dollars an hour. And the new F-22 Raptor, used for the first time in combat against ISIS in Syria, costs three hundred and fifty million dollars—plus sixty-eight thousand dollars an hour in the air.”

In other words, the cost of flying over the country for a single day and bombing it – actions which are already believed to have killed many Syrian civilians – would have been enough to provide continuing food aid to millions of refugees for the country. 

“Humanitarian intervention” in this context has come to be nothing more than a crude euphemism for the act of bombing. A far more impactful, less morally ambiguous, and incredibly cheaper form of “intervening” would be to provide desperately needed aid to a displaced civilian population facing a true humanitarian emergency.

Instead, political and military figures continue to expend huge sums on munitions and military logistics based on the disingenuous claim that they are “helping” the population which is being bombed. Needless to say, if this intervention had anything to do with helping Syrians its overwhelming priority would be providing aid to refugees, and most crucially providing them asylum as well. But on both these counts, the United States and its coalition have been doing poorly. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2014 at 11:19 am

Palestinian women face down daily settler home invasions

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Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in general—not the terrorists, just the average citizens—is unconscionable. Alex Shams and Salam Muharam’s report is reprinted at Informed Comment:

The alleyways of the Old City of Hebron leading away from the famed Ibrahimi mosque — where the biblical patriarch Abraham and his family are buried — are almost always eerily quiet.

In some directions the covered alleys are blocked off by tin barriers covered in Hebrew curses and Star of David graffiti.

But the barriers are not only horizontal; it doesn’t take long to spot through the gaps in the alleyway ceilings the Israeli settlers build atop Palestinian homes, with wire placed strategically by Palestinians to protect the street from the trash and urine thrown down from above.

For local Palestinians, however, the attacks from settlers and Israeli soldiers — who are widely seen as complicit in the violence — do not only come on the street. Because of the Old City’s dense urban fabric, settlers and soldiers often conduct home raids by hopping across roofs and entering through the traditional courtyards at the center of area homes.

For the many Hebron women who spend most of their days working at home, the nightmarish scenario of armed militants dropping into their homes unannounced has become the terrifying reality of daily life.

Jihad al-Atrash has lived in the area for nearly a decade, having moved into a home in the Old City after a local organization refurbished a property that had been vacated by a family forced to flee. A mother of 12 children, al-Atrash spends most of her time caring for the children at home.

“The Israeli soldiers raid the house from the rooftops, as if nobody lives in this house,” she told Ma’an during an interview in her family room. Although for years she had to put up with a few raids a month by soldiers who wanted to inspect the property — and intimidate the family into leaving, she suspects — since January, the raids have started occurring on a twice-daily basis.

While a Ma’an reporter was sitting in her home, two Jewish settlers with New York accents carrying automatic assault rifles accompanied by armed Israeli soldiers walked across the roof and climbed into the family courtyard. They entered the room where the interview was taking place and gesticulated at different parts of the home, discussing how to re-arrange the dwelling after they forced the al-Atrash family out.

None of the four intruders seemed at all perturbed by the presence of the family matriarch, her three children, or even the Ma’an journalists on the scene.

“Imagine yourself sleeping at night, and at 2 or 3 a.m. the Israeli soldiers knock on the doors to raid the house and inspect it,” al-Atrash told Ma’an as the soldiers stood nearby. “You feel like there is an earthquake happening. They always raid the house this away and order me to bring all my kids in one room. They know all the names of my sons and daughters and order me to bring their IDs.”

Looking warily up at the soldiers now standing in the courtyard of her home, she added: “I am not scared of them, but my kids are.”

Al-Atrash shows the room where she says Jewish settlers enter.

One of Jihad’s children shows a picture of soldiers in the house he took
during a home raid. The family was given a camera to document the invasions,
but Jihad says soldiers have targeted the children when they use them.

The children’s fear is not without warrant. In addition to the casual way the soldiers and settlers brutalize the family members during home raids, the violence often takes more bloody forms. Jihad told Ma’an that on Aug. 11 a Jewish settler threw her four-year-old son off the family’s balcony during a dispute, leaving him with a head concussion and unable to walk properly.

The raids became more frequent beginning in January, when al-Atrash rehabilitated two previously empty rooms attached to the home. She accomplished the work with the help of the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee, a local center that works to revitalize the Old City.

Located just a few meters up the road, members of the committee are well aware that when settlers notice empty buildings they begin to snatch them up, and have thus invested tens of thousands of dollars in making those homes abandoned by previous residents livable for new Palestinian tenants.

The committee refurbished the two rooms beside al-Atrash’s home and offered them to her last year. But there was a problem: during the work, settlers noticed the empty rooms and drilled a hole into the building, planning to attach them to a Jewish-only settlement next door.

Once the rooms were connected to al-Atrash’s home, the settlers began carrying out daily, and then twice-daily, raids, entering the rooms and continuing into the house itself to force the family out. . .

Continue reading.

It’s a bad sign that the mainstream media report none of this. The press is falling down on the job, presumably due to pressure from various sources.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 December 2014 at 7:49 am

Posted in Mideast Conflict

The ISIS videos seem to be the next step after the Abu Ghraib photos

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US troops working at Abu Ghraib (and elsewhere) took many photos of themselves gleefully abusing and torturing prisoners, threatening them with dogs, and so on. We saw some of the photos and Obama promised to release the lot so we could see what our military was up to, but Obama quite often promises things and then fails to deliver. In this case, it seems likely that the national-security state simply did not allow him to release more of the photos.

But what was released was quite disturbing and apparently people in those parts paid attention. Many of those swept up into Abu Ghraib had done nothing wrong, as we know: they were simply captured and imprisoned to be tortured and interrogated (much like a junior-varsity Guantánamo, which also had quite a few prisoners who were innocent of nothing).

I think we should view the ISIS videos in the context of how the US military has treated prisoners.

Similarly, the next step after confrontations like the stand-off in Ferguson MO, between protesters and  militarized police forces, is for the police to fire upon the protesters, a step already taken in Israel, where police fired upon a group of protesters, leaving one Dutch journalist critically wounded.

Of course, in the US we have also had a militarized response to a protest in May of 1970: in the Kent State shootings, the Ohio National Guard fired on protesters, killing four and wounding nine, one of whom suffered paralysis. That should show us that it is quite possible for US authorities to respond to protests by shooting down protesters—in that case, it was college students protesting the illegal military campaign in Cambodia during the Vietnam War.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 November 2014 at 5:05 am

Posted in Mideast Conflict

Israel approach to protesters: Like Ferguson, only in Israel they go ahead and fire on protestors

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Israel takes a hard-line approach to civil protests, shooting protestors down in the street. When other countries have done that, the US has reacted strongly, but Israel is our friend, so it’s okay for them to do it, apparently. From Informed Comment:

An Italian was critically injured along with 11 Palestinians on Friday afternoon after Israeli forces opened live fire on a protest march in the village of Kafr Qaddum west of Nablus.

Palestinian Minister of Health Jawad Awwad told Ma’an that Italian solidarity activist Patrick Corsi, 30, was injured after Israeli forces fired several bullets at him in the stomach and chest.

The minister said that Corsi was in “critical” condition as a result of the shooting, which took place during a protest march against the Israeli occupation.

Awwad said that “shooting live fire at the upper part of the bodies of protesters is directly targeting them and is a deliberate attempt at murder.”

“Israel does not differentiate between foreign solidarity activists, Palestinians, or even journalists,” he added. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 November 2014 at 10:25 am

Posted in Media, Mideast Conflict

Top Five Washington Assumptions on Mideast that Are not True

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Andrew Bacevich writes at Informed Comment:

“Iraq no longer exists.” My young friend M, sipping a cappuccino, is deadly serious. We are sitting in a scruffy restaurant across the street from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.  It’s been years since we’ve last seen each another. It may be years before our paths cross again. As if to drive his point home, M repeats himself: “Iraq just doesn’t exist.”

His is an opinion grounded in experience.  As an enlisted soldier, he completed two Iraq tours, serving as a member of a rifle company, before and during the famous Petraeus “surge.”  After separating from the Army, he went on to graduate school where he is now writing a dissertation on insurgencies.  Choosing the American war in Iraq as one of his cases, M has returned there to continue his research.  Indeed, he was heading back again that very evening.  As a researcher, his perch provides him with an excellent vantage point for taking stock of the ongoing crisis, now that the Islamic State, or IS, has made it impossible for Americans to sustain the pretense that the Iraq War ever ended.

Few in Washington would endorse M’s assertion, of course.  Inside the Beltway, policymakers, politicians, and pundits take Iraq’s existence for granted.  Many can even locate it on a map.  They also take for granted the proposition that it is incumbent upon the United States to preserve that existence.  To paraphrase Chris Hedges, for a certain group of Americans, Iraq is the cause that gives life meaning. For the military-industrial complex, it’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Considered from this perspective, the “Iraqi government” actually governs, the “Iraqi army” is a nationally representative fighting force, and the “Iraqi people” genuinely see themselves as constituting a community with a shared past and an imaginable future.

Arguably, each of these propositions once contained a modicum of truth.  But when the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 and, as then-Secretary of State Colin Powell predicted, broke the place, any merit they previously possessed quickly dissipated.  Years of effort by American occupiers intent on creating a new Iraq out of the ruins of the old produced little of value and next to nothing that has lasted.  Yet even today, in Washington the conviction persists that trying harder might somehow turn things around.  Certainly, that conviction informs the renewed U.S. military intervention prompted by the rise of IS.

So when David Ignatius, a well-informed and normally sober columnist for the Washington Post, reflects on what the United States must do to get Iraq War 3.0 right, he offers this “mental checklist”: in Baghdad, the U.S. should foster a “cleaner, less sectarian government”; to ensure security, we will have to “rebuild the military”; and to end internal factionalism, we’re going to have to find ways to “win Kurdish support” and “rebuild trust with Sunnis.”  Ignatius does not pretend that any of this will be easy.  He merely argues that it must be — and by implication can be — done.  Unlike my friend M, Ignatius clings to the fantasy that “Iraq” is or ought to be politically viable, militarily capable, and socially cohesive.  But surely this qualifies as wishful thinking.

The value of M’s insight — of, that is, otherwise intelligent people purporting to believe in things that don’t exist — can be applied well beyond American assumptions about Iraq.  A similar inclination to fanaticize permeates, and thereby warps, U.S. policies throughout much of the Greater Middle East.  Consider the following claims, each of which in Washington circles has attained quasi-canonical status.

* The presence of U.S. forces in the Islamic world contributes to regional stability and enhances American influence.

* The Persian Gulf constitutes a vital U.S. national security interest.

* Egypt and Saudi Arabia are valued and valuable American allies.

* The interests of the United States and Israel align.

* Terrorism poses an existential threat that the United States must defeat.

For decades now, the first four of these assertions have formed the foundation of U.S. policy in the Middle East. The events of 9/11 added the fifth, without in any way prompting a reconsideration of the first four. On each of these matters, no senior U.S. official (or anyone aspiring to a position of influence) will dare say otherwise, at least not on the record.

Yet subjected to even casual scrutiny, none of the five will stand up.  To take them at face value is the equivalent of believing in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy — or that John Boehner and Mitch McConnell really, really hope that the Obama administration and the upcoming Republican-controlled Congress can find grounds to cooperate.

Let’s examine all five, one at a time. . .

Continue reading. He effectively demolishes each of the claims as a pernicious pipe dream.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 November 2014 at 3:06 pm

Wow! Great column carefully explaining what’s going on (and why) in Saudi Arabia

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You seldom see such a good summary. And it comes from a good source:

Toby Matthiesen is a research fellow in Islamic and Middle Eastern studies at Pembroke College, University of Cambridge. He is the author of The Other Saudis: Shiism, Dissent and Sectarianism, which outlines the history of political movements among the Shiites of Saudi Arabia and their relationship with the Saudi state. It will be published by Cambridge University Press in January 2015.

He writes in the Washington Post:

On Oct. 15, Nimr al-Nimr, a Saudi Arabian Shiite cleric, was sentenced to death by the Special Criminal Court in Riyadh. Since 2011, Nimr has become the figurehead of a protest movement centered in eastern Saudi Arabia that has been largely denied coverage by mainstream media. The sentencing has implications far beyond Nimr’s personal fate. The Saudi crackdown is important because it has set a precedent for how the kingdom deals with political dissent and not just because it is another example of Saudi anti-Shiism.

The timing of the sentence is puzzling. Saudi decision-making works in myriad ways. Some observers feel that Nimr’s death sentence is intended to show the Sunni population that alongside a number of long prison sentences issued against Sunnis who had supported Islamic State militants or al-Qaeda, the government is also being tough on Shiites. But this sectarian logic only further entrenches divisions and hostilities that have fueled the rise of extremist Islamic groups and the regional sectarian war.

The Saudi-sponsored doctrinal and strategic anti-Shiism has recently backfired at home, too. On Nov. 3, one day before Ashura, one of the holiest days in the Shiite Muslim calendar, Sunni militants opened fire on a crowd leaving a Shiite prayer hall in the al-Ahsa oasis in eastern Saudi Arabia. Several Shiites were killed, including a number of minors, and scores wounded. While the Shiites in Saudi Arabia experience institutional and religious discrimination, the state’s security forces had hitherto protected them against attacks by Sunni militants. Al-Qaeda and its various offshoots had for years planned attacks on Shiites in the Eastern Province, aiming to increase sectarian tensions in the kingdom and possibly provoke armed retaliation from the Shiites. Several such plots, including one believed to have been targeting senior Shiite cleric Hassan al-Saffar, were foiled in the past.

All official organs of the state, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 November 2014 at 4:59 pm

Posted in Mideast Conflict


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