Archive for the ‘Mideast Conflict’ Category
Waseem El Sarraj writes in the New Yorker:
Yasser Abu Jamei, the director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program (G.C.M.H.P.), was not with his extended family when, around dinnertime, an air strike leveled their three-story home in the southern Gaza Strip city of Khan Younis. Three stories might sound lavish for a single family, but more than two dozen relatives shared this house. Arrangements like this are typical in Gaza—usually one floor for each adult sibling’s family. A number of members of the extended Abu Jamei family had left for the southern Gaza Strip earlier that day. It was thought to be safer. From the rubble, the bodies of nineteen children and three pregnant women were pulled out. In total, twenty-eight of Yasser’s relatives had been killed, the most in a single air strike in this war so far.
I know Yasser Abu Jamei well because my father, Dr. Eyad Sarraj, was his manager, mentor, fellow-countryman, and friend. My father was the Gaza Strip’s first psychiatrist and the founder of the G.C.M.H.P. He passed away, earlier this year, after living with multiple myeloma for longer than his doctors expected. I worked alongside him between 2009 and 2014. During these years, he was at his worst, physically, but his optimism was irrepressible. Gaza attracts a broad spectrum of visitors, and my father’s reputation as an “independent” and largely accessible interlocutor led many to his home. Whether it was for breaking the siege with a fleet of boats from Cyprus, planting trees to beautify the Strip, organizing a cleanup of the beach, or providing a dinner and neutral zone for dignitaries to eat fish along with Gaza’s sidelined leaders, he was almost certainly on board. Gaza was his home, the beach his back garden. He wanted Gaza to be, well, nice.
Hearing the news about the Abu Jamei family brought me back to the constant dilemma, for families like ours, of whether to stay or go. If my father were alive today, he would stay put. This is in spite of . . .
Accepting as true that Hammas uses human shields and hospitals, it is not required that Israel then shell and bomb and kill those human shields. Is that how Israel deals with hostage-takers? If an Israeli plane is hijacked, does the Israeli air force simply blast the plane from the sky? No? So that human shield is effective—no attack—but the Gazan civilian and child human shields are simply to be blasted to kingdom come? Is that how it works? It fails the test of equity.
Very interesting article on the propaganda guide used to frame those responses—like “Hamas killed those four boys on the beach.” No, an Israeli ship killed those boys on the beach. “Israeli may kill civilians in its own defense.” The four boys were not attacking Israel; they were playing on a beach. Simply children playing, and the Israeli gunboat killed all four. Those are simple facts.
And on the other hand, read this.
Lawrence Weschler writes at TruthDig:
The news out of Israel and Palestine: relentless, remorseless, repetitively compulsive, rabid.
And I am put in mind of a passage from Norman Mailer, in 1972, in which he attempted to plumb the psychopathology behind America’s relentless bombing of Cambodia and Laos and Vietnam during the Nixon years:
… bombing [which] had become an activity as rational as the act of a man who walks across his own home town to defecate each night on the lawn of a stranger—it is the same stranger each night—such a man would not last long even if he had the most powerful body in town. “Stop,” he would scream as they dragged him away. “I need to shit on that lawn. It’s the only way to keep my body in shape, you fools. I’ve been bitten by a bat!”
A species of human rabies, as Mailer had explained earlier in the same book (“St. George and the Godfather,” his account of the McGovern campaign), “and the word was just, for rabies was the disease of every virulence which was excessive to the need for self-protection.”
I know, I know, and I am bone tired of being told it, when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there is plenty of blame to go around, but by this point after coming on almost 50 years of Israeli stemwinding and procrastinatory obfuscation, I’d put the proportionate distribution of blame at about the same level as the mortality figures—which is, where are we today (what with Wednesday morning’s four children killed while out playing on a Gaza beach)? What, 280 to 2?
For the single overriding fact defining the Israeli-Palestinian impasse at this point is that if the Palestinians are quiescent and not engaged in any overt rebellion, the Israelis (and here I am speaking of the vast majority of the population who somehow go along with the antics of their leaders, year after year) manage to tell themselves that things are fine and there’s no urgent need to address the situation; and if, as a result, the endlessly put-upon Palestinians do finally rise up in any sort of armed resistance (rocks to rockets), the same Israelis exasperate, “How are we supposed to negotiate with monsters like this?” A wonderfully convenient formula, since it allows the Israelis to go blithely on, systematically stealing Palestinian land in the West Bank, and continuing to confine 1.8 million Gazans within what might well be described as a concentration camp.
Note, incidentally, I say “concentration camp” and not “death camp.” I am not comparing Gaza to Auschwitz-Birkenau, but one cannot help but liken the conditions today in Gaza to the sorts of conditions once faced by Japanese-Americans during World War II, or the Boers in South Africa during the Anglo-Boer War, or the black South Africans years later in such besieged townships as Soweto, or for that matter Jews and gays and gypsies at Dachau and Theresienstadt in the years before the Nazis themselves settled on their Final Solution.
And it is quite simply massively self-serving delusion that Israelis (and their enablers and abettors here in America, among whom incidentally I count a steadily declining number of American Jews) refuse to recognize that fact. The backbone of Zionist AIPAC-like electoral strength in the U.S. today is rooted among Protestant evangelicals and other instrumentalist neocons, and I suspect that Israel will one day come to rue that fact.
I’m tired, for example, of hearing about how vital and cosmopolitan and democratic are the streets and cafes and nightclubs of Tel Aviv. For the fact is that one simply can’t sustain such cosmopolitan vitality 40 miles from a prison camp containing close to 2 million people: It’s a contradiction in terms. . .
Read this Twitter stream. All Tweets are from Mohammed Suliman @imPalestine
Informed Comment listed these by him:
I look forward to surviving. If I don’t, remember that I wasn’t Hamas or a militant, nor was I used as a human shield. I was at home.
People get massacred in Shijaiyya, I hear knocking on my door. It was survivor of the massacre looking for a shelter to spend the night.
Hani mourns the victims of Al Shijaiyya massacre. He wishes that his friends stay safe. He soon gets killed. His friends mourn his death.
We decide to escape the harrowing reality we’re entrapped in by sleeping. Sleeping however has become an absurd wish. Death is easier.
Electricity is off. Escaping the dark and hot weather, friends gather outside their house. Missile hits them. Nine are dead, three brothers.
Yesterday missiles killed children on the beach. Children avoid the beach. They play on the rooftop. Again, missiles hit. Three are dead.
My friend tells me their neighbor’s house was hit. He had some pigeons. Two have died. The rest flew, and came back to perch on the rubble.
Amir, 12, and Mohammed. 10, want to buy yogurt. Things are calm, they tell their mom. They leave the house. A blast is heard. They’re dead.
Some Israelis wish me death. I might die. But I wish no death unto you. I want us both to live. Live together as equals in this country.
Anas, 17, posts on Facebook, ‘I’m too tired, shell our home so I can get some sleep.’ A while later, his home is shelled. He sleeps forever.
I read that Israel ‘urges’ north Gaza residents to leave their homes. Curiously I Google how many live in northern Gaza. Over 200,000.
25 children killed, 10-year old Maysam sends a message to the world: ‘I’m alive, and I’m not a terrorist.’ ‘Don’t kill me,’ she entreats.
A jet fires two missiles at a civilian house. The house becomes rubble. Five are instantly killed. 18 injured. The only survivor is a cat.
And if the 200,000 leave their homes as Israel urges, where do they go?
This increasingly seems like a Warsaw-Ghetto incident: systematic slaughter of despised civilians by military forces.
Anne Barnard reports in the NY Times on how Palestinians are trapped in a war zone—75% of Palestinians killed so far have been civilians (including children, such as the four who were playing on the beach when they were killed).
As civilian casualties mounted on Monday in the Israeli ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, Israel’s military reminded the world that it had warned people living in targeted areas to leave. The response from Palestinians here was unanimous: Where should we go?
United Nations shelters are already brimming, and some Palestinians fear they are not safe; one shelter was bombed by Israel in a previous conflict. Many Gaza residents have sought refuge with relatives, but with large extended families commonly consisting of dozens of relatives, many homes in the shrinking areas considered safe are already packed.
Perhaps most important, the vast majority of Gazans cannot leave Gaza. They live under restrictions that make this narrow coastal strip, which the United Nations considers occupied by Israel, unlike anywhere else.
Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain in 2010 called Gaza “an open-air prison,” drawing criticism from Israel. But in reality, the vast majority of Gazans are effectively trapped, unable to seek refugee status across an international border. (Most are already refugees, those who fled from what is now Israel and their descendants.)
A 25-mile-long rectangle just a few miles wide, and one of the most densely populated places in the world, Gaza is surrounded by concrete walls and fences along its northern and eastern boundaries with Israel and its southern border with Egypt.
Even in what pass for ordinary times here, Israel permits very few Gazans to enter its territory, citing security concerns because suicide bombers and other militants from Gaza have killed Israeli civilians. The restrictions over the years have cost Palestinians jobs, scholarships and travel.
Egypt has also severely curtailed Gazans’ ability to travel, opening its border crossing with the territory for only 17 days this year. During the current fighting between Israel and the Hamas militants who control Gaza, only those with Egyptian or foreign passports or special permission were allowed to exit.
Even the Mediterranean Sea to the west provides no escape. Israel restricts boats from Gaza to three nautical miles offshore. And Gaza, its airspace controlled by Israel, has no airport.
So while three million Syrians have fled their country during the war there, more and more of Gaza’s 1.7 million people have been moving away from the edges of the strip and crowding into the already-packed center of Gaza City. . .
Continue reading. At the link you’ll find links to more stories about the war; for example, “In Hospitals Across Gaza, Scenes of Chaos and Grief.”
Israel advises citizens to take shelter, but will not allow them to leave the area (and of course is apt to kill them even if they are uninvolved in conflict: the four children playing on the beach). Watch this video (less than 4 minutes) of what it is like in Gaza now. Trigger warning: the video shows an Israeli sniper killing a wounded Palestinian civilian.
The video comes from this article, which notes:
The Israeli military just shot a Gazan man trying to reach his family, during an announced ceasefire. He was with a group of municipality workers and international human rights defenders who were attempting to retrieve injured people in the Shujaiya neighborhood.
“We all just watched a man murdered in front of us. He was trying to reach his family in Shujaiya, he had not heard from them and was worried about them. They shot him, and then continued to fire as he was on the ground. We had no choice but to retreat. We couldn’t reach him due to the artillery fire and then he stopped moving.” Stated Joe Catron, US International Solidarity Movement (ISM) activist in Gaza. “Shajiya is a smoking wasteland. We just passed two bombed out ambulances.”
The Israel military has also shelled Red Crescent ambulances as they attempted to retrieve injured people in the Shujaiya neighbourhood, east of Gaza City. A ceasefire was announced, during which injured and dead people, could be evacuated from the area, in which at least 60 people have been killed today.
“They said we would be able to evacuate the injured from the disaster zone, but they have been shelling ambulances,” stated Dr Khalil Abu Foul of the Palestinian Red Crescent, speaking from Shujaiya.
Now, the international volunteers, including some from the US, the UK, and Sweden, are in a rescue centre on the outskirts of Shujaiya.
There’s more at the link. The text above is a press release from the International Solidarity Movement.
Notice also the wholesale destruction of buildings—Palestine will have to do much rebuilding, but they lack money and have trouble importing building materials. (Israel and Egypt control the borders, and both are hostile to Palestinians, who in effect are trapped in a large prison.)
Glenn Greenwald quotes an interesting comment from Benjamin Netanyahu along with a parallel comment from history:
They want to pile up as many civilian dead as they can. They use telegenically dead Palestinians for their cause. They want the more dead, the better.
The Jews gradually are having to depend more and more on themselves, and have recently found a new trick. They knew the good-natured German Michael in us, always ready to shed sentimental tears for the injustice done to them. One suddenly has the impression that the Berlin Jewish population consists only of little babies whose childish helplessness might move us, or else fragile old ladies. The Jews send out the pitiable. They may confuse some harmless souls for a while, but not us. We know exactly what the situation is.
Rather than lard up the point with numerous defensive caveats about what is and is not being said here (which, in any event, never impede wilful media distorters in their tactics), I’ll simply note three brief points:
(1) To compare aspects of A and B is not to posit that A and B are identical (e.g., to observe that Bermuda and Bosnia are both countries beginning with the letter “B” is not to depict them as the same, just as observing that both the U.S. in 2003 and Germany in 1938 launched aggressive wars in direct violation of what were to become the Nuremberg Principles is not to equate the two countries).
(2) In general, the universality of war rhetoric is a vital fact, necessary to evaluate the merit of contemporary claims used to justify militarism (claims that a war amounts to mere “humanitarian intervention”, for instance, have been invoked over and over to justify even the most blatant aggression). Similarly, the notion that one is barred from ever citing certain historical examples in order to draw lessons for contemporary conflicts is as dangerous as it is anti-intellectual.
(3) Anglo-American law has long recognized that gross recklessness is a form of intent (“Fraudulent intent is shown if a representation is made with reckless indifference to its truth or falsity”). That’s why reckless behavior even if unaccompanied by a desire to kill people – e.g., randomly shooting a gun into a crowd of people – has long been viewed as sufficient to establish criminal intent.
One can say many things about a military operation that results in more than 75% of the dead being civilians, many of them children, aimed at a population trapped in a tiny area with no escape. [It is, however, certainly bigger than the Warsaw Ghetto. - LG] The claim that there is no intent to kill civilians but rather an intent to protect them is most assuredly not among them. Even stalwart-Israel-supporter Thomas Friedman has previously acknowledged that Israeli assaults on Lebanon, and possibly in Gaza, are intended ”to inflict substantial property damage and collateral casualties” because “the only long-term source of deterrence was to exact enough pain on the civilians” (which, to the extent it exists, is the classic definition of “terrorism”). The most generous claim one can make about what Israel is now doing in Gaza is that it is driven by complete recklessness toward the civilian population it is massacring, a form of intent under centuries of well-settled western law. . .
While Israel understandably does not want to be victimized by terrorism, it would be ingenuous to ignore that the Israelis themselves used terrorism in their effort to drive the British out: Menachem Begin, for example, led the Irgun, which was responsible, for example, for the King David Hotel bombing in 1946 (91 killed, 46 injured).
I’m wondering how many suicide bombers are motivated to kill innocent civilians because they themselves lost innocent family members to various attacks and bombings?
The cycle of violence is hard to break.
James Fallows, in a very interesting and informative post on how the Iron Dome works, included a letter from an American rabbi who wrote about how grateful he was for Israel’s Iron Dome defense as he sat in a bomb shelter in Jerusalem and listened to distant explosions:
I have been in Israel since before the Hamas terror offensive began. I was caught outside when the first azaka (Red Alert siren) went off in Jerusalem. And I have also made a run for the miklat (bomb shelter) in the apartment building where I am living when the siren sounded on a Sabbath afternoon.
On one occasion, I was walking to the Shalom Hartman Institute for a meeting when the siren sounded while I was just a few feet from the Institute’s gated entrance. A father walking with his very young son on the street panicked as the siren went off. I called and waved to him to follow me into the Institute. I ran, along with faculty, administrators, and participants in a Hillel Directors program to the bomb shelter located underneath the Institute’s Beit Midrash (study hall where over the years thousands of Rabbis, Jewish educators and lay people from around the world have studied). All the while, I could hear the breath of that father as he ran behind me holding his son in his arms.
Within the bowels of the bomb shelter we could hear the Iron Dome missiles intercepting the Hamas rockets overhead. The scene was reminiscent of what you might recall from motion pictures about life in a WWII U-boat or submarine when depth charges are dropped from a above and the booms of their explosions sound like they could rattle the teeth out of your head. We counted with our lips and fingers . . . One . . Two . . . Three.
In all, five rockets where fired into densely populated Jerusalem. Three were destroyed over our neighborhood and within half a mile of where we were (when we emerged topside we could see the white wisps that remained from the Iron Dome missiles). Two more Hamas rockets were allowed to fall in an empty field adjacent to the neighborhood of Arnona. Had there been no Iron Dome those rockets would have landed in the midst of apartments buildings, houses, schools, and parks.
My religious tradition claims that if you save one life, it is as if you have saved an entire world. So, as one of thousands who are now living with the threat of terror from the skies, I am interested little in the academic/ theoretical musings related to the so-called ineffectiveness of the system. I am very grateful for the Israeli “know how” that created it, the effective AIPAC lobbying that ensured its funding, and the Congressional and Presidential support that made it available to the citizens of Israel.
Best wishes from Jerusalem,
Fallows followed the letter with this note:
The rabbi sent this note before the horrific recent episode of four little boys, ages 9 through 11, being killed by Israeli shelling as they played on a Gaza beach. I have corresponded often enough with this reader over the years to know that he means his “if you save one life” thoughts to be universal rather than sectarian. So I am sure he understands that there are also fathers and mothers in Gaza holding their little children in their arms—and that because of differences in offensive weaponry, defensive systems (including Iron Dome), and other factors, vastly more of those Palestinian families have been killed through the rocket exchanges. (According to the NYT as I write, so far 214 deaths in Gaza during the recent violence, and 1 in Israel.)
Today, Fallows has another post that includes a video of a jaw-dropping exchange between Wolf Blitzer and Israeli Economics Minister Naftali Bennett. The video is at the link and is difficult to watch. Bennett seems to think that it was Hamas who fired on the 4 children and killed them, and believes that Israel has no responsibility for those deaths whatsoever. Fallows comments well on the situation, and then he includes a letter
from Dr. Hillel Ben Sasson of Jerusalem, who has explicitly asked me to identify him. (“I indeed wish to be mentioned by name, as I believe in the veracity of my claims and am willing to defend them.”) He is director of programs for Molad, an Israeli think tank.
His message is personally very critical of the rabbi, which I know will be wounding. But since I have kept his (the American rabbi’s) identity confidential, and since Dr. Sasson is taking responsibility for his critical views by name, and mainly since his statement is so powerfully argued, it seems fair to give him his say.
Here is Dr. Hillel Ben Sasson’s letter:
Reading the words of the anonymous rabbi in recounting his fear in face the warning sirens alerting Jerusalemites of Hamas rockets, I was both enraged and ashamed.
I was enraged by the lack of comprehension he showed to the situation in which we – Israelis and Palestinians – have been living for as long as we remember. I was born in Jerusalem in 1979 and lived here for most of my life. An officer in the IDF still fulfilling my reserve duty, I have lived through three wars (Lebanon I – 1982; Gulf I – 1991; Lebanon II – 2006), two Intifada uprisings of the occupied Palestinians (1987; 2000) and three military operations in Gaza (Cast Lead – 2008; Pillar of Defense – 2012; Protective Edge – 2014). Some of these I experienced in uniform. I am also raising two young children in Jerusalem.
For us living here, the current military operation and the ongoing drizzle of rockets are neither unbearable nor threatening in an existential way. Iron Dome has enabled Israelis to continue with their normal lives neither terrified nor terrorized. While the Gazans are rained with high-precision ton-heavy bombs falling with no sirens or alert system, we in Jerusalem have heard three sirens in the past nine days, and witnessed no rocket falling.
When the siren went off in that Saturday afternoon mentioned by the rabbi, I was sitting with my family in a park right across to the Shalom Hartman Institute, compared in his narrative to an U-Boat under attack. From the park where we were picnicking, as it happened, I could see the rocket being intercepted several miles south to Jerusalem, above Hebron, and in contrast to the rabbi’s Dresdenian depiction.
In a cross check with a senior Haaretz correspondent, it turns out that none of the rockets even got close to central Jerusalem – hits were located only around Hebron and Ramat Raziel (a village miles to the west of the city) probably a result of shrapnel from Iron Dome’s interceptions. This gets nowhere near WWII (the very comparison is preposterous if not offensive to survivors of that terrible war).
I am enraged because the rabbi is presumably a tourist in my city and country, yet in the name of his spiritual and cultural connection to the holy land he feels free to act as its spokesman. By generalizing his personal sense of fear and acting as a spokesman for those who actually carry the burden of living in Israel, the rabbi grossly exaggerated the impact of Hamas terror on Jerusalem and portrayed it with unduly epic dimensions. In so doing, he distorts the actual power imbalance in this tragic situation, in addition to victimizing me and my fellow Israeli citizens.
As a society, we are a (powerful) side in this conflict, not a helpless victim. To avoid any misunderstanding, I would like to clarify that I am far from disregarding the fear and anxiety felt by many Israelis who are in the line of fire day after day. Writing about Jerusalem however – a city that witnessed three sirens and not even one hit of a rocket – in the way that the rabbi adopted is simply absurd. This absurdity might indicate that his experience is influenced less by concrete reality and more by his already existing perception of victimhood. And this brings me to shame.
The blinding victimhood embodied in the rabbi’s comments is shameful because it points at an abject moral, spiritual and leadership failure. In the very same Jerusalem and on the very same days, young religious Jews have burnt alive an innocent Palestinian teenager, in the name of national revenge. In this very city, racist Jewish hooligans are marching every night, seeking Arab scapegoats, cracking down on other Jews who dare answer back to them, shouting slogans such as “death to the Arabs” and “A Jew has a Soul, and Arab is a son of a whore”.
Where is the cry of this anonymous rabbi against these far more worrisome threats to our existence and future? How dare American rabbis who keep silent these days continue and call themselves religious shepherds? As an observant Jew, I am ashamed at how few were the courageous voices who took into heart the words of Rabbi A. J. Heschel who marched at Selma with Martin Luther King Jr.: “Few might be guilty – but all are responsible”.
The rabbi’s anonymity, it turns out, is but a metaphor for his inacceptable silence on the real enemies of the Jewish society in Israel – the extremist hateful enemies from within.
No, rabbi, you got it wrong. The rockets are not really scary nor are they a true existential threat. Racism, radicalism, and religious intoxication from brute power has become an imminent danger to our old and beloved peoplehood. When people are accustomed to hearing that they are perpetual innocent victims of Palestinian aggression, they eventually translate they frustration into rage and start seeking justice in revenge. If you continue looking up to the sky, you will not notice that the house is already burning from within.
An interview with Greenwald on NBC shutting down reporter who witnessed the killing of the four Palestinian children on the beach
Here is some background, which I blogged yesterday:
And Democracy Now! has a video interview (with transcript at the link) with Glenn Greenwald about this incident. Their blurb:
NBC is facing questions over its decision to pull veteran news correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin out of Gaza just after he personally witnessed the Israeli military’s killing of four Palestinian boys on a Gaza beach. Mohyeldin was kicking a soccer ball around with the boys just minutes before they died. He is a longtime reporter in the region. In his coverage, he reports on the Gaza conflict in the context of the Israeli occupation, sparking criticism from some supporters of the Israeli offensive. Back in 2008 and 2009, when he worked for Al Jazeera, Mohyeldin and his colleague Sherine Tadros were the only foreign journalists on the ground in Gaza as Israel killed 1,400 people in what it called “Operation Cast Lead.” We speak to Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept, who has revealed that the decision to pull Mohyeldin from Gaza and remove him from reporting on the situation came from NBC executive David Verdi. Greenwald also comments on the broader picture of the coverage of the Israel/Palestine conflict in the U.S. media.
All three of the articles at the link are worth reading and raise serious questions about Israel’s actual goal in this conflict.
In a NY Times column Nathan Thrall brings up an interesting point that is seldom discussed in American media: why did Hamas launch the (highly ineffective) rocket attacks on Israel.
AS Hamas fires rockets at Israeli cities and Israel follows up its extensive airstrikes with a ground operation in the Gaza Strip, the most immediate cause of this latest war has been ignored: Israel and much of the international community placed a prohibitive set of obstacles in the way of the Palestinian “national consensus” government that was formed in early June.
That government was created largely because of Hamas’s desperation and isolation. The group’s alliance with Syria and Iran was in shambles. Its affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt became a liability after a July 2013 coup replaced an ally, President Mohamed Morsi, with a bitter adversary, Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Hamas’s coffers dried up as General Sisi closed the tunnels that had brought to Gaza the goods and tax revenues on which it depended.
Seeing a region swept by popular protests against leaders who couldn’t provide for their citizens’ basic needs, Hamas opted to give up official control of Gaza rather than risk being overthrown. Despite having won the last elections, in 2006, Hamas decided to transfer formal authority to the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah. That decision led to a reconciliation agreement between Hamas and the Palestine Liberation Organization, on terms set almost entirely by the P.L.O. chairman and Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas.
Israel immediately sought to undermine the reconciliation agreement by preventing Hamas leaders and Gaza residents from obtaining the two most essential benefits of the deal: the payment of salaries to 43,000 civil servants who worked for the Hamas government and continue to administer Gaza under the new one, and the easing of the suffocating border closures imposed by Israel and Egypt that bar most Gazans’ passage to the outside world.
Yet, in many ways, the reconciliation government could have served Israel’s interests. It offered Hamas’s political adversaries a foothold in Gaza; it was formed without a single Hamas member; it retained the same Ramallah-based prime minister, deputy prime ministers, finance minister and foreign minister; and, most important, it pledged to comply with the three conditions for Western aid long demanded by America and its European allies: nonviolence, adherence to past agreements and recognition of Israel.
Israel strongly opposed American recognition of the new government, however, and sought to isolate it internationally, seeing any small step toward Palestinian unity as a threat. Israel’s security establishment objects to the strengthening of West Bank-Gaza ties, lest Hamas raise its head in the West Bank. And Israelis who oppose a two-state solution understand that a unified Palestinian leadership is a prerequisite for any lasting peace. . .
A video report (with transcript) from Democracy Now! Their blurb:
Israel says it is considering a new ceasefire proposal from Egypt that would take effect on Friday. There is no word yet from Hamas, which rejected the last proposal on the grounds its leaders were never consulted and the terms would have allowed for the continued siege of Gaza and for Israeli bombardment at will. The news of a fresh proposal comes just as a five-hour humanitarian pause has ended. The United Nations asked for the break to let Gazans receive supplies and repair damage following 10 days of Israeli bombings. On Wednesday, an Israeli gunboat shelled a beach, killing four boys who were playing. The boys were all between the ages of nine and 11 and from the same extended family. Seven other adults and children were wounded in the strike. The scene was witnessed by several international journalists, including our guest Tyler Hicks, a Pulitzer Prize-winning staff photographer at The New York Times. We are also joined from Gaza City by Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous, who has interviewed family members of the young victims.
Israel disclaims any responsibility, saying “Hamas made us do it!”
That is not an exaggeration. Israel takes no responsibility for the deaths (or the hundreds of other civilian deaths), using a line from Kindergarten: “It’s not my fault! He made me do it! Blame him! Not me!”
UPDATE: I can’t believe it. Obama says he’s heartbroken by this, but then goes right into Israel “has the right to defend itself.” Yes, but those four children were not attacking Israel. Killing those children was not an act of defense in the least.
From later in the interview:
TYLER HICKS: Yeah, I mean, they have a very sophisticated military, and they can see what’s going on, whether it’s from a drone, from a ship. I mean, they know what they’re hitting. And it’s pretty hard—in my opinion, would be—to mistake grown men and, you know, Hamas militants, at that, for children no more than four feet high wearing beach clothes, scattering from this initial explosion. I mean, in my opinion, it would be pretty obvious, especially given the 30-second window between the first explosion and the second that killed three of the four. One was actually killed by that first bomb. But that 30 seconds should be enough to assess whether or not those are children or civilians or actual Hamas militants.
Glenn Greenwald reports in The Intercept:
Ayman Mohyeldin, the NBC News correspondent who personally witnessed yesterday’s killing by Israel of four Palestinian boys on a Gazan beach and who has received widespread praise for his brave and innovative coverage of the conflict, has been told by NBC executives to leave Gaza immediately. According to an NBC source upset at his treatment, the executives claimed the decision was motivated by “security concerns” as Israel prepares a ground invasion, a claim repeated to me by an NBC executive. But late yesterday, NBC sent another correspondent, Richard Engel, along with an American producer who has never been to Gaza and speaks no Arabic, into Gaza to cover the ongoing Israeli assault (both Mohyeldin and Engel speak Arabic).
Mohyeldin is an Egyptian-American with extensive experience reporting on that region. He has covered dozens of major Middle East events in the last decade for CNN, NBC and Al Jazeera English, where his reporting on the 2008 Israeli assault on Gaza made him a star of the network. NBC aggressively pursued him to leave Al Jazeera, paying him far more than the standard salary for its on-air correspondents.
Yesterday, Mohyeldin witnessed and then reported on the brutal killing by Israeli planes of four young boys as they played soccer on a beach in Gaza City. He was instrumental, both in social media and on the air, in conveying to the world the visceral horror of the attack.
Mohyeldin recounted how, moments before their death, he was kicking a soccer ball with the four boys, who were between the ages of 9 and 11 and all from the same family. He posted numerous chilling details on his Twitter and Instagram accounts, including the victims’ names and ages, photographs he took of their anguished parents, and video of one of their mothers as she learned about the death of her young son. He interviewed one of the wounded boys at the hospital shortly before being operated on. He then appeared on MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes, where he dramatically recounted what he saw.
Despite this powerful first-hand reporting – or perhaps because of it – Mohyeldin was nowhere to be seen on last night’s NBC Nightly News broadcast with Brian Williams. Instead, as Media Bistro’s Jordan Chariton noted, NBC curiously had Richard Engel – who was in Tel Aviv, and had just arrived there an hour or so earlier – “report” on the attack. Charlton wrote that “the decision to have Engel report the story for ‘Nightly’ instead of Mohyeldin angered some NBC News staffers.”
Indeed, numerous NBC employees, including some of the network’s highest-profile stars, were at first confused and then indignant over the use of Engel rather than Mohyeldin to report the story. But what they did not know, and what has not been reported until now, is that Mohyeldin was removed completely from reporting on Gaza by a top NBC executive, David Verdi, who ordered Mohyeldin to leave Gaza immediately.
Over the last two weeks, Mohyeldin’s reporting has been far more balanced and even-handed than the standard pro-Israel coverage that dominates establishment American press coverage; his reports have provided context to the conflict that is missing from most American reports and he avoids adopting Israeli government talking points as truth. As a result, . . .
Israel doesn’t seem to care at all about Palestinian civilians. I know that a very few Israeli citizens have been killed, and in reaction Israel kills hundreds of Palestinian civilians as a kind of group punishment (illegal, but beloved of heavy-handed governments—including, oddly, the Germans in WWII, where a similar sort of struggle played out between the occupying Germans and the French Resistance and other resistance groups.
Roberto Savio explains at the Inter Press Service News Agency:
Addressing this column to the younger generations, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, offers ten explanations of how the current mess in which the world finds itself came about.
ROME, Jul 11 2014 (IPS) – While the Third World War has not been formally declared, conflicts throughout the world are reaching levels unseen since 1944.
Of course, for the large majority of people throughout the world, news about these conflicts is just part of our daily news, but another share of our daily news is about the mess in our countries.
This is so complex and confusing that many people have given up the effort to attempt any form of deep understanding, so I thought it would be useful to offer ten explanations of how we succeeded in creating this mess.
1) The world, as it now exists, was largely shaped by the colonial powers, which divided the world among themselves, carving out states without any consideration for existing ethnic, religious or cultural realities. This was especially true of Africa and the Arab world, where the concept of state was imposed on systems of tribes and clans.
Just to give a few examples, none of the present-day Arab countries existed prior to colonialism. Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, the Gulf Countries (including Saudi Arabia) were all parts of the Ottoman Empire. When this disappeared with the First World War (like the Russian, German and Austro-Hungarian empires), the winners – Britain and France – sat down at a table and drafted the boundaries of countries to be run by them, as they had done before with Africa. So, never look at those countries as equivalent to countries with a history of national identity.
2) After the end of the colonial era, it was inevitable that to keep these artificial countries alive, and avoid their disintegration, strongmen would be needed to cover the void left by the colonial powers. The rules of democracy were used only to reach power, with very few exceptions. The Arab Spring did indeed get rid of dictators and autocrats, just to replace them with chaos and warring factions (as in Libya) or with a new autocrat, as in Egypt.
The case of Yugoslavia is instructive. After the Second World War, Marshal Tito dismantled the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and created the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. But we all know that Yugoslavia did not survive the death of its strongman.
The lesson is that without creating a really participatory and unifying process of citizens, with a strong civil society, local identities will always play the most decisive role. So it will take some before many of the new countries will be considered real countries devoid of internal conflicts.
3) Since the Second World War, the meddling of the colonial and super powers in the process of consolidation of new countries has been a very good example of man-made disaster.
Take the case of Iraq. When the United States took over administration of the country in 2003 after its invasion, General Jay Garner was appointed and lasted just a month, because he was considered too open to local views.
Garner was replaced by a diplomat, Jan Bremmer, who took up his post after a two-hour briefing by the then Secretary of State, Condolezza Rice. Bremmer immediately proceeded to dissolve the army (creating 250,000 unemployed) and firing anyone in the administration who was a member of the Ba’ath party, the party of Saddam Hussein. This destabilised the country, and today’s mess is a direct result of this decision.
The current Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, whom Washington is trying to remove as the cause of polarisation between Shiites and Sunnis, was the preferred American candidate. So was the President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, who is now virulently anti-American. This is a tradition that goes back to the first U.S. intervention in Vietnam, where Washington put in place Ngo Dihn Dien, who turned against its views, until he was assassinated.
There is no space here to give example of similar mistakes (albeit less important) by other Western powers. The point is that all leaders installed from outside do not last long and bring instability.
4) . . .
Obviously, Rep. Kathy Castor (R-FL) really doesn’t care all that much that the young son of two of her constituents was brutally beaten by Israeli police. Max Blumenthal reports in AlterNet:
On July 10, Democratic Representative Kathy Castor of Florida’s Tampa Bay area issued an impassioned plea for the protection of endangered manatees. At the same time, she remained conspicuously silent about the brutal beating and ongoing detention of one of her constituents by a foreign government.
Tarek Abu Khdeir, a 15-year-old Palestinian-American high school student from Tampa, was brutally beaten in a videotaped July 3 incident in occupied East Jerusalem by Israeli border police. After being thrown in prison, he is now held under house arrest without charges, unable to receive adequate medical care for the extensive injuries he sustained during the beating. (Video of the alleged beating at the bottom of this article)
Abu Khdeir’s family has beseeched their congressional representative, Castor, to publicly call for his release and immediate return to the United States. Though her staff has met repeatedly with the family, she has said and done nothing of substance to assist them.
“If Tarek [Abu Khdeir] was a Jewish American teen, everybody and their mother would be howling for his release,” Hassan Shibly, chief director of CAIR-Florida and the Abu Khdeir family’s legal representative told me. “What we’re seeing here is a clear double standard.”
While sources close to Abu Khdeir’s family say Castor’s staff has treated the family with respect even as they rebuffed their demands, a distant relative who visited Castor’s field office in Washington D.C. to plead for help said she was “yelled out, intimidated, and insulted” by a staffer.
Despite my repeated requests for an interview, members of Castor’s staff have refused to discuss the case with me.
In a private letter issued to Abu Khdeir’s family, Castor pointedly stated that she had not called for the teen’s release and return to the US. Instead, she assured them that she “requested for Tariq to be provided with the appropriate and needed medical care and for [her] to be kept apprised of any plans of his return to the United States.” In a separate letter to the US consulate in Jerusalem, Castor merely stated that she would “appreciate being kept apprised of any plans for the return of Tariq and his parents to the United States.”
Florida Rep’s Bill Deutsch and Ileana Ros-Lehtenin recently embarked on a junket to Israel where they met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, issued statements of sympathy for the three Jewish Israeli teens kidnapped and killed last month apparently by Palestinian militants, and expressed vehement support for Israel’s ongoing military assault on the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Neither lawmaker has said a word on Abu Khdeir’s beating and detention, however.
While Florida Senator Bill Nelson has kept mum over Abu Khdeir, another Florida Democrat, Representative Dennis Ross, a Republican, sent a letter to a member of the Abu Khdeir family questioning whether Tariq Abu Khdeir was actually innocent. “Though all of the facts surrounding the incident remain somewhat unclear,” Ross wrote, “it is widely reported that Tariq was participating in a protest in Palestine in response to the kidnapping and murder of his cousin, a Palestinian teenager.”
In fact, Abu Khdeir was in Jerusalem for a family wedding and denied any participation in the rioting sparked by the news of his cousin’s murder. “[The police] just kept beating him,” Leen Barghouti, a Georgetown University graduate student from East Jerusalem who witnessed the incident told journalist Alex Kane. “It was pretty much an ambush.”
Barghouti added, “It was really crazy. [Tariq Abu Khdeir] wasn’t anywhere near the main street, that’s the weird part. I know they keep saying he was taking part in the demonstration or clashes, but he wasn’t anywhere near the street.”
In CCTV video footage of the beating aired on international media outlets and disseminated across the internet, Abu Khdeir appeared prostrate, fully immobilized and restrained as two cops gratuitously kicked and pummeled his head and torso. He told reporters that he was beaten so badly he lost consciousness.
After the beating, Abu Khdeir was jailed in the Russian Compound in central Jerusalem, a detention center where Palestinian suspects are occasionally tortured. There, according to his family, he was badly beaten again.
Through their lobbying of the US Embassy in Israel, family members were able to get Abu Khdeir transferred to a nearby hospital, where he was handcuffed to his bed. “I thought I was dead for a second until I woke up in the hospital,” he told reporters. The teen was then taken back to prison.
Only after the State Department called for an investigation into the incident and his parents posted $877 in bail did the Israeli police release Abu Khdeir to his family in Jerusalem, where he remains under house arrest. He has yet to be formally charged for any crime. . .
Obviously, Israel places little value on Palestinian lives (cf. the growing number of civilians killed in airstrikes on civilian areas, including a clinic and a mosque), so it’s unsurprising that such things as this beating happen. But it’s somewhat surprising that the US government cares so little about a US citizen.
So: 3 Israelis brutally murdered. Then 1 Palestinian brutally murdered (burned alive). Then, tit for tat, 54 … wait, Palestinians.
The numbers go up fast. And yet the Palestinians still find it difficult to like the Israelis.
Read this column by Raja Shehadeh in the New Yorker.
And in intel terms, that means stealing the research done by others: much cheaper than doing your own. Story.
What’s interesting is that they do this essentially out in the open: everyone knows it’s being done, everyone knows who’s doing it. But it continues because, I suppose, it’s worth it to avoid war? I guess I would say that it is. Obviously we should use good security and not simply set things out for the taking (in effect). So improving security is important. It would help if NSA were interested in strengthening instead of weakening cybersecurity. As it is, no one trusts NSA, for very good reasons: while past performance is not an indicator of future results, it’s still the best predictor we’ve got, and NSA’s track record is abysmal.
The 16-year-old boy, burned alive by six Israelis; the 15-year-old boy, savagely beaten by Israeli police: Israel’s aggressive and illegal actions are attracting attention, and perhaps this will lead the country to reconsider its stance and its chosen responses to problems. Ruth Eglash, Sufian Taha, and Grif Witte report in the Washington Post. It’s worth reading the article. From it:
On Sunday, Israel reckoned with rising homegrown extremism as it arrested six Jewish suspects who are believed to have burned Mohammad Abu Khieder to death in revenge for the killing of three Israeli teens.
The arrests shocked those on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide — Palestinians because many had assumed Israel would never act against its own, and Israelis because there had been widespread doubt that Jews could have carried out such a heinous crime.
Sunday’s action could help defuse what has been seen as a dangerous swelling of Palestinian anger, with violent protests in East Jerusalem and Arab towns in northern Israel feeding fears of a budding intifada, or uprising. Demonstrators who have called for such a revolt against the Israeli occupation have decried a lack of justice and had bitterly predicted that Abu Khieder’s killers would never face trial.
But by arresting the suspects, the Israeli government must confront extremist elements within its society.
Human rights advocates have long warned of an alarming rise in anti-Arab vandalism and vigilante attacks carried out by Jewish extremists. Such incidents are referred to by their perpetrators as the “price tag” for what they see as Israeli government concessions to the Palestinians.
But Abu Khieder’s killing Wednesday went far beyond most such attacks in its raw brutality. Some Israeli officials had speculated that the slaying was a result of a family dispute amid disbelief that it could have been revenge for the deaths of the three Israelis.
“This a shock for most Israeli Jews, and I think it’s a kind of wake-up call,” Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said in an interview Sunday evening. “This is something that will change the way people think, and it will lead to a better understanding that we need to act when we see even the smallest signs of incitement, whether it is on Internet sites or price-tag attacks.”
Livni said the conflict is “not just between the Israelis and the Palestinians, it is within Israel between different Israeli citizens, and this is what worries me the most.”
Fascinatingly up-close look at what has happened in Iraq and why. This is a long article in the Washington Post by Ali Khedery, chairman and chief executive of the Dubai-based Dragoman Partners. From 2003 to 2009, he was the longest continuously serving American official in Iraq, acting as a special assistant to five U.S. ambassadors and as a senior adviser to three heads of U.S. Central Command. In 2011, as an executive with Exxon Mobil, he negotiated the company’s entry into the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. I encourage you to read the entire article:
To understand why Iraq is imploding, you must understand Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki — and why the United States has supported him since 2006.
I have known Maliki, or Abu Isra, as he is known to people close to him, for more than a decade. I have traveled across three continents with him. I know his family and his inner circle. When Maliki was an obscure member of parliament, I was among the very few Americans in Baghdad who took his phone calls. In 2006, I helped introduce him to the U.S. ambassador, recommending him as a promising option for prime minister. In 2008, I organized his medevac when he fell ill, and I accompanied him for treatment in London, spending 18 hours a day with him at Wellington Hospital. In 2009, I lobbied skeptical regional royals to support Maliki’s government.
By 2010, however, I was urging the vice president of the United States and the White House senior staff to withdraw their support for Maliki. I had come to realize that if he remained in office, he would create a divisive, despotic and sectarian government that would rip the country apart and devastate American interests.
America stuck by Maliki. As a result, we now face strategic defeat in Iraq and perhaps in the broader Middle East.
Finding a leader
Born in Tuwairij, a village outside the Iraqi holy city of Karbala, Abu Isra is the proud grandson of a tribal leader who helped end British colonial rule in the 1920s. Raised in a devout Shiite family, he grew to resent Sunni minority rule in Iraq, especially the secular but repressive Baath Party. Maliki joined the theocratic Dawa party as a young man, believing in its call to create a Shiite state in Iraq by any means necessary. After clashes between the secular Sunni, Shiite and Christian Baathists and Shiite Islamist groups, including Dawa, Saddam Hussein’s government banned the rival movements and made membership a capital offense.
Accused of being extensions of Iranian clerics and intelligence officers, thousands of Dawa party members were arrested, tortured and executed. Many of the mutilated bodies were never returned to their families. Among those killed were some of Maliki’s close relatives, forever shaping the psychology of the future premier.
Over a span of three decades, Maliki moved between Iran and Syria, where he organized covert operations against Hussein’s regime, eventually becoming chief of Iraq’s Dawa branch in Damascus. The party found a patron in Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s Islamic Republic of Iran. During the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, when Iraq used Western-supplied chemical weapons, Tehran retaliated by using Shiite Islamist proxies such as Dawa to punish Hussein’s supporters. With Iran’s assistance, Dawa operatives bombed the Iraqi Embassy in Beirut in 1981 in one of radical Islam’s first suicide attacks. They also bombed the American and French embassies in Kuwait and schemed to kill the emir. Dozens of assassination plots against senior members of Hussein’s government, including the dictator himself, failed miserably, resulting in mass arrests and executions.
During the tumultuous months following America’s invasion of Iraq in 2003, Maliki returned to his home country. He took a job advising future prime minister Ibrahim al-Jafari and later, as a member of parliament, chaired the committee supporting the De-Baathification Commission, an organization privately celebrated by Shiite Islamists as a means of retribution and publicly decried by Sunnis as a tool of repression.
I volunteered to serve in Iraq after watching the tragedy of 9/11 from the Texas governor’s conference room. The son of Iraqi immigrants, I was dispatched to Baghdad by the Office of the Secretary of Defense for a three-month assignment that ultimately lasted almost a decade. As special assistant to Ambassador Patrick Kennedy and the Coalition Provisional Authority’s liaison to the Iraqi Governing Council, and as one of the few American officials there who spoke Arabic, I became the Iraqi leaders’ go-to guy for just about everything — U.S.-furnished weapons, cars, houses or the much-coveted Green Zone access passes.
After the formal U.S. occupation ended in 2004, I stayed in Baghdad to facilitate the transition to a “normalized” American diplomatic presence, and I often shared tea and stale biscuits with my Iraqi friends at the transitional parliament. One of those friends was Maliki. He would quiz me about American designs for the Middle East and cajole me for more Green Zone passes. These early days were exhausting but satisfying as Iraqis and Americans worked together to help the country rise from Hussein’s ashes.
Then disaster struck. . .
An extremely good column in the NY Times by Roger Cohen—good, not hopeful. Worth reading, though.
Kevin Drum has a particularly good post today, which begins:
I’ve been meaning to make note of something about Iraq for a while, and a story today in the LA Times provides the perfect hook:
A group of U.S. diplomats arrived in Libya three years ago to a memorable reception: a throng of cheering men and women who pressed in on the startled group “just to touch us and thank us,” recalled Susan Rice, President Obama’s national security advisor….But in three years Libya has turned into the kind of place U.S. officials most fear: a lawless land that attracts terrorists, pumps out illegal arms and drugs and destabilizes its neighbors.
….Now, as Obama considers a limited military intervention in Iraq, the Libya experience is seen by many as a cautionary tale of the unintended damage big powers can inflict when they aim for a limited involvement in an unpredictable conflict….Though they succeeded in their military effort, the United States and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies fell short in the broader goal of putting Libya on a path toward democracy and stability. Exhausted after a decade of war and mindful of the failures in Iraq, U.S. officials didn’t want to embark on another nation-building effort in an oil-rich country that seemed to pose no threat to Western security.
But by limiting efforts to help the new Libyan government gain control over the country, critics say, the U.S. and its allies have inadvertently helped turn Libya into a higher security threat than it was before the military intervention.
The view of the critics in this piece is pretty predictable: no matter what happens in the world, their answer is “more.” And whenever military intervention fails, it’s always because we didn’t do enough.
But I don’t think Obama believes this anymore. . .
Those who demand a war should be required to fight on the front lines of such wars. If they are unwilling to make any personal sacrifice, then their demands that others sacrifice their lives become suspect.