Tuesday, January 14, 2014 

Small mercies.

This septic isle can at times seem exactly that.  Whether it's politicians competing as to who can be the meanest to newcomers over a non-existent problem, documentary makers trying their hardest to portray benefit claimants in the least flattering light possible, the succession of aged celebrities currently standing trial on sexual assault charges, chief police officers (allegedly) threatening to use the Official Secrets Act against whistleblowers, or newspapers only able to discuss "difficult" topics if a fucking soap opera tackles one, things can get a bit grim.

We don't however live in a country where this passes as authoritative, informed comment: a place where black, despite looking really quite dark from whichever angle you look at it, is in fact white; and where you don't just mourn the passing of one war criminal at a time but also defend the honour of another, George W. Bush having been so cruelly misunderstood, only now regarded more favourably in comparison to the treacherous Obama.  Thank heavens for small mercies, eh?

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Monday, January 13, 2014 

The anti-Mandela.

Ariel Sharon was, in many ways, the anti-Mandela.  Whereas Mandela took up the gun relatively briefly and then spent the rest of his life pursuing a peaceful end to apartheid, Sharon never let a rifle or more accurately later, a Hellfire missile, slip from his grasp.  Not that you would necessarily know this from some of the obituaries on the man or from the state funeral he was given, attended by both the US vice president and our very own Tony Blair.  Never has a politician who was simply complying with international law when he ordered the evacuation of settlers from the Gaza strip, the one act in a long life of war that can be even vaguely described as peaceful, been so fêted and eulogised.

You could perhaps understand the coverage or the tributes if Sharon's disregard for civilian life or breaches of international law were one-offs in a career that spanned 60 years.  "Arik" however started as he meant to go on: he led the attack on the village of Qibya in the West Bank in 1953 in which at least 69 of the residents, two-thirds women and children, were killed.  Not that he was particularly concerned with the lives of his own men, either: always knowing better, in the 1956 Sinai campaign he ignored orders and drove his paratroop into the Mitla pass, where Egyptian forces were lying in wait.  38 under his command died.

The architect of the war in Lebanon, a war which failed in every single one of its aims, Sharon is most notorious for having been in command when the Phalangist militia carried out the massacres in Sabira and Shatila in retaliation for the assassination of Bachir Gemayel, wrongly believing Palestinian militants to have been responsible.  Around 2,000 are believed to have been killed in what was later regarded as an act of genocide, the aftermath filmed and reported on by numerous journalists.  Sharon was found "indirectly responsible" by the Kahan commission, yet still refused to resign as defence minister, eventually compromising by becoming minister without portfolio.

Sharon was also one of the biggest supporters of the settler movement, being completely open in his justification for the grabbing of land in the occupied territories: whatever they took he believed would stay theirs forever.  After helping to spark the second intifada with his deliberately provocative visit to the Temple Mount, declaring that the site would always remain under Israeli control, he became prime minister six months later, tying the "disengagement" from Gaza with the construction of the West Bank barrier, a policy he had previously opposed.  For all the surmising from some that the abandonment of Gaza, or rather what has become the perpetual siege of the territory would lead to dismantlement of settlements in the West Bank, the building of the wall, far from the 1967 border, was designed to become the de facto border for any eventual Palestinian state.  Not that this would be a state we would recognise: Sharon's vision was of a completely demilitarised series of statelets, the settlements that split and divide the West Bank remaining in place.

For all his failings however, Sharon the politician was a pioneer.  The evacuation of Gaza was a masterstroke, as the tributes have proved.  At the cost of a minuscule number of settlements, Sharon was reinvented as a mythical man of peace.  He was never anything of the kind.  Ever since his incapacitation the settlements in the West Bank have gone on growing, the Palestinians left with an ever dwindling amount of land that is barely even connected.  Israeli politicians, when they've so much as bothered to go through the motions, have rejected even the most generous offers from the negotiators of the Palestinian Authority, knowing full well that the longer they delay and prevaricate the lesser the chance that a Palestinian state will ever be established.

What better a sign of his creation of this new reality than Tony Blair's tribute?  Easy as it is to forget, Blair is the head of the Quartet of states and organisations meant to be pushing the two sides towards a settlement.  Palestinians watching today will see the envoy of pretty much the rest of the world eulogising a man who, as Blair himself said, often left "considerable debris in his wake".  Those who express warranted distaste when Palestinian prisoners released under goodwill gestures are welcomed home as heroes regardless of their crimes should bear today in mind: a state founded on terrorism giving a war criminal the very highest honour it can bestow.  And we wonder why the Arab street remains suspicious of the West and its double standards.

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Monday, December 03, 2012 

Ah, consistency.

Is there even the slightest logic to the coalition's policy on Israel-Palestine?  Last week William Hague, his mojo restored, stood up in the Commons and outlined how we would be abstaining on the recognition vote at the UN unless the Palestinians provided us with "assurances".  Requested "assurances" were duly not provided, and so we abstained while a mere 138 voted in favour, including some of our major European allies.

Israel has since responded in the only way she knows how, by declaring that a further 3,000 new homes will be built, illegally, on the occupied West Bank.  As a result, Foreign Office minister Alastair Burt summoned the Israeli ambassador to let him know our deep displeasure.  Here's a thought: considering that one of the assurances we required from the Palestinians was that they drop preconditions to talks, their only one being that the Israelis declare a halt to all settlement building in the occupied territories, wouldn't it have made sense to vote in favour of their first step towards statehood when the threatened Israeli response was to, err, accelerate settlement building even further?  Just who is it here that's in breach of international law?  When are we finally going to recognise that there isn't going to be a negotiated peace when Israel has no intention of evacuating the West Bank settlements, the presence of which make a Palestinian state unviable?  When, in short, are we going to start treating Israel as the rogue state it is?

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012 

I'd like to give William Hague a few assurances as well.

How times change.  In Tony Blair's dog days, his refusal to push for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hizbullah-Lebanon war was in contrast to the stance of David Cameron's newly detoxified Conservative party, with William Hague denouncing the destruction of much of southern Lebanon as "disproportionate".  To begin with, it looked as though the Conservatives allied with the Liberal Democrats would continue with this more critical stance on Israel now they were in power: Cameron, visiting Turkey in the aftermath of the raid on the Gaza flotilla, described the impoverished and cut-off territory as a "prison camp".

It couldn't last.  After Hague decided that Hamas had "principal responsibility" for the week long slaughter fest in Gaza, ignoring entirely the timeline of events leading up to the assassination of Ahmed al-Jabar, and how this was by no means the first time Israel has launched an attack on the Palestinians with an election fact approaching, we now have the truly pitiful decision to abstain on the application for non-member observer status at the UN.  In the first place, to demand assurances from the Palestinian Authority in itself shows the disparity between what we ask of Israel, whom we merely chastise when they steal the identities of British citizens to kill a minor Hamas figure, and the recognised representatives of a people we helped put in this mess.

It's also that at least the first of the "assurances" demanded is so outrageous.  Just what exactly is the point of requiring the PA to return to peace talks without conditions when it's so abundantly clear that Israel is not prepared to make even the slightest of concessions, even as a gesture of goodwill?  If there is ever going to be a negotiated peace and a two-state solution, then the building of settlements in the occupied West Bank has to end.  It really is that simple.  Requesting that the PA set aside this most basic of requirements, one which it has to be remembered the Obama administration also demanded from the Israelis and was ignored over is ridiculous.

Indeed, this refusal by the Israelis to put even a temporary halt to settlement building is exactly what led to the process at the UN from the PA in the first place: they recognised, sadly, that the talks were going nowhere due to consistent Israeli intransigence, often backed by the US.  The Palestine papers revealed that Condoleezza Rice told them they would never have a state if they didn't accept that the settlements of Ariel and Ma'ale Adumim would remain Israeli territory, regardless of the illegality of both under international law.  The PA by contrast offered what even Tzipi Livni recognised was the "biggest Jerusalem in history", and yet was still rebuffed.

Easier to understand is Hague's second required "assurance", that should the PA gain non-member observer status they won't attempt to pursue Israel at the International Criminal Court.  Just as we were embarrassed by the attempt to have Livni arrested when she visited the UK, so we would be forever in the US's bad books should their true foremost ally find itself in trouble at the ICC.  The US of course refused to join lest its own overseas adventures come under scrutiny, leading Israel to make the same decision despite initially signing the Rome statute, most "moral military" on the planet or otherwise.

Hague's claim then that the PA's attempt to gain recognition could set back the peace process is a nonsense.  There is no peace process to be set back, for the reason that the situation on the ground has changed, both in Israel and Palestine.  Never has it been so clear that Israel's aim is to make the establishment of a viable Palestinian state impossible, such is the continued colonisation of the West Bank and the near to completion construction of the wall separating the occupied territory from Israel.  Anything less than something approaching the 1967 borders will be unacceptable to the Palestinian people, and Israel has no intention of repeating the evacuation of Gaza, even if it were to lead to peace.  At the same time, the PA has become almost an irrelevance, weakened both by Israel's emasculation of the West Bank and the rise of Hamas.  Rightly or not, the Palestinian and the Arab street see the resistance of Hamas as achieving results, while the PA's recognition of Israel has led to 20 years of unrelenting occupation.

If anything, the reluctance of some western states to support the Palestinian bid is likely to further weaken the PA and so the merest chance of a return to negotiations than it being the other way around.  They have after all tried renouncing violence, recognising Israel, face-to-face talks under successive American administrations, and applying for full recognition from the UN Security Council, all so far for nowt.  Non-member observer status would provide a moment of respite.  By not supporting even this slight move towards statehood for Palestine, it just further highlights the utter hypocrisy of our support for some liberation movements while stymieing the baby steps of others.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012 

Already looking forward to the next.

The news coming through this evening that a ceasefire has been agreed between Israel and Hamas is undoubtedly welcome.  Any halt to the violence, however short-lived, is to be applauded.  In practice however, the agreement brokered by Egypt has done little more than return us to the situation prior to the assassination of Ahmed al-Jabari last Wednesday.  While in theory the deal calls for the opening of the crossings into Gaza, the implementation of the lifting of the economic blockade of the strip is only to be discussed after 24 hours of "de-escalation", more than suggesting that as has happened before, further progress is highly unlikely.  Dubious as it always was that Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak would have countenanced any loosening of the blockade when the whole point of "Operation Pillar of Defense" was to show themselves as strong, decisive military leaders before a waiting electorate, the deal seems to have merely set up the next assault on a terrorised territory and its imprisoned people.

The deal seems to have achieved little for Hamas either.  Once again, their infrastructure in Gaza has been either destroyed or substantially damaged, and the people that both support and oppose them have suffered terribly in the process.  They may have shown they've acquired longer range missiles, yet the ability to fire rockets at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem serves little purpose when they either fail to hit their targets (if there is one in the first place) or are intercepted by the Iron Dome defence system.  The initial sounding of raid alarms in those cities might have a psychological effect in the short term and lead a few Israelis to wonder whether they really are being wisely led by their politicians, especially seeing as it was only after the assault on Gaza began that the Fajr-5s were fired, but it's liable to be fleeting in the extreme.

Also overstated has been the impact of the Arab spring.  Apart from visits to Gaza by the Egyptian prime minister, the Turkish foreign minister and a slight increase in the number of (newly elected) politicians denouncing Israel in no uncertain terms, hardly anything has really changed.  Indeed, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt have picked up where Mubarak left off, acting as intermediaries for ceasefire deals while refusing to open the crossing into Gaza that would have let some of the population escape the bombing.  When the far-right Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman praises Mohamed Morsi for his role, then it's clear that while the faces have changed the same old alliances remain.

Nor have our leaders altered their tune one iota.  Who knows whether behind the scenes pressure was put on Netanyahu not to launch a ground offensive as his predecessors did; what we do know is that there's been barely a word of public criticism for how the offensive was conducted.  Israel has once again got away with targeting ambulances, journalists, and targets that simply can't be in any way construed as connected with Hamas, while the deaths of innocents alongside alleged militants are no longer even "collateral damage", rather "operational failures".  


Look at the difference when it comes to an attack within Israel: the explosion on the bus in Tel Aviv happened directly outside the building where the IDF has been conducting its media operations from.  For all we know, the person who apparently threw the bomb onto the bus may well have been specifically targeting someone who works there and had just left the building.  Instantly however, both the wider media and politicians referred to it as a terrorist attack.  If that's a terrorist attack, and it's a description I wouldn't demur from, then what was the extra-judicial killing of Ahmed al-Jabari, a man who Israel had long worked with to contain the situation in Gaza, an attack that also killed innocent bystanders?

As so often in the past, this difference in approach is then reinforced by reporting that at worst actively dehumanises the Palestinians.  Jodi Rudoren's report for the New York Times of the Dalu family's funerals seemed determined to emphasise these apparent differences: they don't so much mourn as accept their fate, such is the "culture of martyrdom that pervades this place", nor are they "overcome with emotion nor fed up, perhaps because the current casualty count pales in comparison to the 1,400 lost four years ago".  Rudoren's inference seems clear: only when so many are killed does their numbness and anger get overwhelmed by sadness.  In posts on her Facebook page, Rudoren went further, saying the reaction from some of those who had lost relatives was "ho-hum".  Even the usually excellent Jeremy Bowen made similar references on his 10 O'Clock News broadcast last night.

It's true that some of the most hardline figures in Gaza do put martyrdom and resistance above everything else, and this is always going to be most evident when the international media are around.  That this is anything approaching universal however is utter nonsense, as countless photographs from Gaza show.  Whether it's the death of family members or the loss of their home, Palestinians, amazingly, do have emotions.  Cut them and they bleed.  


Remarkably, it's also the case as was shown during Operation Cast Lead that a minority of Israelis positively delight in the bombing of Gaza, when hundreds travelled to a hill overlooking the territory to get a better view of the assault.  We don't though tend to hear about how Israel has a militaristic culture, and that Arabs are too often treated as second-class citizens, as the former would be a generalisation much too far which would only ever feature, if at all, in a comment piece.  Rudoren it should be noted later clarified her comments after she was criticised by the Mondoweiss blog, but her piece in the Times has not been altered to reflect that.  Where she was right is this is a conflict that no one in the world actually wants to seem to solve, and today's events have not taken us closer to any sort of resolution.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012 

Neither one thing nor the other.

I realise it's a motif I've been over-dependent on recently, but such has been the scale of bullshit of late that it's been difficult not to feel like we've been mysteriously plunged into a parallel universe.  A couple of months back David Cameron appeared before the UN general assembly, and reaching for the most emotive imagery he could muster, he said the UN had been stained by the blood of children killed in Syria.  Not, you'll note, that China and Russia had the deaths of protesters on their consciences through their blocking of security council resolutions, but that the UN itself was in some way responsible for the impasse.  As for our own role, we naturally couldn't be blamed for having abused the doctrine of the responsibility to protect in Libya, overthrowing Gaddafi when the UN resolution which authorised the no-fly zone called for a ceasefire between the two sides, and so setting Russia and China dead against any repeat.

The use of language similar to Cameron's could of course never be countenanced in relation to Israel.  It doesn't matter how many minors are accidentally killed, or even deliberately targeted, of which there have been 1,338 since September 2000 in both the West Bank and Gaza, their blood simply isn't worth as much.  The closest our politicians have ever come to denouncing Israeli tactics is debating whether or not reducing much of Lebanon and Gaza to rubble is "disproportionate".  Those with exceptional memories might recall that during the Israel-Lebanon-Hizbullah war William Hague went so far as to use the D word, much to the outrage of Stephen Pollard.  Once in power, the Tories have returned to type, with Hague declaring Hamas "bears principal responsibility" for the latest murderous assault on an tiny, impoverished, cut-off territory.

Imagine my lack of surprise then when Hague stood up in the Commons today and announced that we would recognise the newly formed National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces as the "sole legitimate representative" of the Syrian people.  This is a group formed out of the ashes of the Syrian National Council, the previous attempt by exiles to rally support for the Syrian opposition, and one which had next to no support from within Syria itself, reminiscent of the exile groups which had a major hand in pushing for the invasion of Iraq.  Despite claims that this new formation is more representative and appealing to those actually fighting Assad's forces, rebels in Aleppo have already rejected its imposition on them.

Our vote of confidence in the national coalition is also in spite of how its leader, described almost universally as a moderate in our press, has some views that would doubtless sit comfortably with the more fundamentalist fighters.  Angry Arab notes that Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, in a series of posts on his blog, variously describes one of Saddam Hussein's positives as he "terrified the Jews" (amongst other anti-Semitic remarks), Shiites as "rejectionists" and Facebook as a possible US-Israeli intelligence ploy.  He also believes masturbation causes TB, and praises Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Egyptian cleric the Tories took such a disliking to when Ken Livingstone brought him to London.

Isn't this almost irrelevant when the most important thing is to get rid of Assad?  Well yes, but clearly we have different standards when it comes to the Palestinians.  By any measure Hamas has far more popular support than this latest Syrian concoction, and yet we refuse to recognise it and its right to defend the people of Gaza against Israeli aggression.  Leaving aside Hamas, William Hague also made clear today that the government is yet to make its mind up as to whether support the move by the Palestinian Authority to apply for recognition at the UN general assembly.  If we won't even support the move by the Fatah leadership when we supposedly still want two states, why pursue such similarly futile gestures when it comes to Syria?

It's fairly apparent that despite the whisperings in the ear of Nick Robinson we have little to no intention of arming the Syrian opposition, let alone going further and actively intervening.  The most we seem willing to provide is communications equipment, and frankly, that's one thing the Syrian fighters on the ground seem to have plenty of.  I'm incidentally all for the arming of the Syrian opposition if the anti-aircraft missiles the rebels are desperate for head straight afterwards to Gaza to be used in self-defence against fighter jets, but not if they're soon being used to target passenger planes, something al-Qaida has previous in.

Our position is ultimately neither one thing nor the other.  We support the Saudis in wanting to maintain the Sunni domination of the Middle East while weakening Iran, not so much as mentioning the unpleasantness in Qatif, Bahrain or indeed in Jordan, and yet we leave the actual arming of those pursuing what has turned into a sectarian war in Syria to other people.  This peeves the Saudis and Qataris, and also peeves those like me who see the hypocrisy in our position of wanting a free Middle East except in those places where we always have and always will support despots.  Meanwhile, we ignore those who've yearned for their own state for over 60 years, while recognising a group which was created last Tuesday and has no real support whatsoever as the "sole legitimate representative" of the Syrian people.  Once upon a time, we were colonalists.  Now we simply act as though we still are.

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Monday, November 19, 2012 

The cynicism of a terrorist state, exacerbated by the uselessness of the media.


There seems to be only one constant when it comes to Israel and Palestine: media coverage becomes more and more unbalanced.  Every separate assault by the Israelis on Gaza is treated as though it occurs in a vacuum, and is only launched with great reluctance in response to rocket fire from the territory Israel so bravely disengaged from.  At the end of last week the BBC news website made it look as though it was Hamas attacking Israel, and not the other way round.  There is very little, if any examination of the difference between the missiles launched from Gaza by resistance groups, often home-made, antiquated and weak, and the finest weaponry money can buy as used by the Israelis, and yet these attacks are reported as though they are all but identical.

Away from the accounts provided by sites such as Electronic Intifada, which notes this latest outbreak of violence effectively began when a 13-year-old Palestinian boy was killed by the IDF while he was playing football, sparking a wave of retaliatory rocket attacks, the most honest piece to feature in a British newspaper was in the Graun, written by the deputy head of Hamas's political bureau.  This is how skewed reporting on Gaza has become: while the IDF tweets incessantly and Israeli politicians and spokesmen use almost the exact same formulations as they did four years previous, all of which is lapped up by the mainstream media and barely questioned, those associated with Hamas, a supposed terrorist organisation dedicated to the destruction of Israel, are the ones telling the closest to the truth.

We shouldn't be in the slightest bit surprised then at the specific targeting of buildings used by Hamas's TV station (as well as foreign journalists) to try and get their side of the story across.  One such strike today killed three members of Islamic Jihad, with the IDF tweeting soon after that the men were hiding there and "not to be interviewed".  How they knew all of this is anyone's guess; what's clear is that their intelligence isn't always so good, as shown by yesterday's strike on the home of the Dalou family.  Believing that a Hamas target was inside the house, the IDF apparently wasn't aware or more likely didn't care that a strike on him would also kill innocents.  As it was, 10 members of the Dalou family were massacred, including 4 children.  The target wasn't among them.

Then again, in the eyes of Israeli politicians, the IDF and indeed much of the media, there is no such thing as an innocent Gazan citizen.  Anyone and anything can be targeted as long as they can be linked with Hamas, however tenuously.  Buildings struck are Hamas buildings; schools are Hamas-run, as are hospitals.  During Operation Cast Lead, the wholesale murder of police officers was justified on the basis they were Hamas police officers, and the argument has since been taken to its logical conclusion.  Israel is of course perfectly prepared to make long-standing agreements with Hamas, whereby Hamas pledges to do the best it can to keep rocket fire from other militant groups to a minimum in return for a cessation of air strikes, but when it's election time and there are votes to be won from an ever more hardline public, Hamas once again becomes the implacable genocidal foe that must be put out of commission once and for all.

It's this murderous cynicism that sickens more than anything.  It's not just Palestinians whose lives are put in the balance by this most vile form of electioneering, although they are overwhelming those most at risk; it's the Israelis in the path of the rockets who face uncertainty too.  As pathetic as the rockets fired from Gaza mostly are, 3 Israelis were killed directly as a consequence of the policies pursued by Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, believing that they can succeed where Kadima failed before.  They are backed to the hilt by our own leaders, who while condemning the bloodshed in Syria and say something must be done about Assad wring their hands over the carnage in Gaza, putting the blame almost wholly on Hamas.  In the US, one of the senators urging the arming of the Syrian rebels threatened Egypt with the cutting off of aid if they "kept inciting violence between the Israelis and Palestinians".   This same man would like the Islamists in Syria to get their hands on modern anti-air missiles, weapons which would almost inevitably find their way straight afterwards to Gaza.

As little as possible then is explained, lest it alter the narrative that Israel is the victim rather than the aggressor.  Electoral cynicism is skirted over, as is the blockade of Gaza that prevents civilians from escaping from what is effectively a free fire zone.  At least in Syria those in the firing line between rebels and the regime can for the most part escape should they choose; those in Gaza have no such option, unless they have a medical complaint so urgent that even the Israelis can't refuse them access to hospitals outside of the Strip.  The history of the occupation, the Oslo accords, the setting up of the Palestinian authority and the lack of progress ever since, overwhelmingly the result of Israeli intransigence, goes by unmentioned.  That the settlements in the West Bank continue to be expanded, with ever more Palestinian land seized and cut off isn't relevant.  Palestinian resistance is condemned, whether it's through rockets or stone throwing, while the attempt to gain statehood through the UN is blocked.  Despite all this injustice, the Palestinian cause only grows stronger, and the strength and belief of the people remains undimmed.  They will one day have a state, and one day Israel's crimes will be brought to account.  That day cannot come soon enough.

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Thursday, November 15, 2012 

Meanwhile, in bizarro world...

The UK is considering whether to officially recognise the Palestinian opposition, sources say.

Foreign Secretary William Hague is to meet leaders of Hamas and Fatah in London on Friday to discuss the "grave and worsening" situation in Gaza.

Although high profile US figures such as John McCain have long been calling for the arming of the Palestinians, up until now Britain has only offered "non-military" aid to the opposition.  According to BBC political editor Nick Robinson, David Cameron believes the bloody conflict in Gaza is reaching what one of his advisers calls "the something must be done stage" - the moment when the public will demand action to save the lives of ordinary Gazans unable to escape from the blockaded strip.

This new tone was reflected in a statement from William Hague:

"Israel bears principal responsibility for the current crisis.  It is crystal clear this is merely the latest shamefully cynical move by politicians desperate to show themselves as the toughest on the Palestinians ahead of an election, just as Operation Cast Lead was four years ago.  The extra-judicial killing of Ahmed al-Jabari shows the depths to which Israel is prepared to sink - killing a man who had long worked with them towards keeping the peace, and then posting a video of the attack on the internet.

"As has happened before, Israel broke a truce it signed up to, only to then claim to the world at large that rocket fire from Gaza had forced their hand.  Whilst we condemn the launching of missiles from Gaza that are impossible to aim accurately, we recognise that the bombing of the territory makes an already difficult life there intolerable.  Palestinians have the right to live without fear of attack from Israel.  The deaths of innocent children are especially difficult to take - as the father of 11-month old Omar al-Masharawi asked, what had his son possibly done to deserve his fate?

"We have long supported a two-state solution, but it is becoming increasingly clear that Israel is not prepared to be a partner for peace.  Ignoring international law, it continues to build settlements in the West Bank, and has made life ever more difficult for ordinary Palestinians.  Much as we support an urgent resumption of negotiations, we have little faith they would be successful.  As such, we are considering whether the time has come to arm the Palestinian opposition so they can adequately defend themselves."

Asked for a response, the Israeli government gave the exact same statement as it has after past attacks on Gaza:

"Terrorists human shields Hamas terrorists rocket fire terrorists deliberately target terrorists other side will have to pay intolerable nothing to do with election terrorists Hamas human shields escalation that will exact a price terrorists."

Bashar al-Assad is understandably delighted at all this.

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Monday, January 24, 2011 

The brutal clarity of the Palestine papers.

When nations have standard, open diplomatic relations with each other, there may be the occasional bust-up or misunderstanding, but for the most part seemingly cordial exchanges of views are maintained at all costs. It's only, as the Wikileaks cables have shown, when those in charge go and report back to their paymasters that honesty begins to come into play. The written record can often be brutal in its contempt for those being summarily dismissed, especially when there's no one to fight their corner: the inhabitants of the Chagos islands were witheringly referred to as their home was about to be turned over to the United States as "a few Tarzans and Man Fridays whose origins are obscure". Much the same was in evidence in a more recent cable, when the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Colin Roberts stated baldly that it was thanks to the Chagossians no longer being around that the surrounding islands and seawaters were in such "pristine condition". He would presumably describe the US military base which now sits on Diego Garcia as greatly improving the archipelago's ecology on the same basis.

You can't help but be reminded of such hostility, open contempt and even outright imperial arrogance when you take a glance at the Palestine papers. The difference is that views such as the one expressed by Condoleezza Rice, apparently referring to the nakba, that "bad things happen to people all around the world all the time" were made to the faces of those she was supposedly meant to be negotiating or cooperating with. Rice, a specialist on the Soviet Union, may well have been thinking of the Ukranian famine or dekulakisation and the devastating effects of both; the difference surely is that the Palestinians have now been waiting for a state for over 60 years when one could be established in a matter of months if the likes of Rice were prepared to put the necessary pressure on Israel to accept a deal.

Instead, as the logs of the negotiations between the representatives of Fatah, Israel and the US show, the connivance between the two nations is almost total. Neither it seems is even approaching serious when it comes to continuing to regard the two state solution as a viable option, despite so many fine words being expressed on so many occasions. Rice couldn't have been much more blunt than when she told Saab Erekat that the Palestinians simply wouldn't have a state if they objected to the settlements of Ariel and Ma'ale Adumim, both in the West Bank and both illegal under international law remaining Israeli. Tzipi Livni, for her part, was completely honest about the policy Israel has been pursuing, while claiming personally that her party was not:

At a west Jerusalem meeting in November 2007, she told Qureia that she believed Palestinians saw settlement building as meaning "Israel takes more land [so] that the Palestinian state will be impossible"; that "the Israel policy is to take more and more land day after day and that at the end of the day we'll say that is impossible, we already have the land and we cannot create the state". She conceded that it had been "the policy of the government for a really long time".

At the end of 2007, though, "it is still the policy of some of the parties but not the government".


Like someone desperately trying to win over the favour of a prospective partner, the Fatah negotiators are shown to be willing to debase themselves and engage in the most pathetic of flattery, all to no avail. Abu Ala told Livni that he would vote for her, Mahmoud Abbas considered Ariel Sharon to be a friend, and said that "every bullet that is aimed in the direction of Israel is a bullet aimed at the Palestinians as well", while Condoleezza Rice was vomit-inducingly told that she brought "life to the region" every time she came. The only sign of anything even resembling a reciprocation in kind was from Livni, whom on being offered the best terms the Palestinians had ever put across the negotiating table, including the "biggest Yerushalayim in history", said she "appreciate[d] it" even as she rejected them out of hand.

Livni and the Bush administration were simply going through the necessary motions. With Likud and other smaller right-wing parties now in power, even the motions have been abandoned. As Saab Erekat put it so elegantly, the Palestinians are no longer even being offered a fig leaf, and this from the president so risibly described as "completely committed to achieving the objective you want". The Israelis have the equivalent of the entire pack of cards in their hands: it simply isn't in their interests to accept a peace settlement when they are able to create reality on the ground. Despite all their protestations, they can quite happily put up with the irritant of Gaza and the occasional home-made missile landing on surrounding towns and cities if it means they can annex ever more land in the West Bank and carry on building up the settlements as they are at an alarming pace. They also know that the longer they stall and the longer the US continues to fail to force the issue, the more support Hamas gains, ever increasing the chances of a coup in the West Bank to follow the earlier one in Gaza, and therefore forever removing the "partner for peace" it currently doesn't have in Fatah.

Either way, the end result is the same: an entire people effectively impoverished and imprisoned, their demands for justice denied while the Arab world either actively colludes with Israel or watches from afar powerless. And all the while, the festering grievance which motivates so many Islamists and puts so many others on the path towards radicalisation only continues to grow.

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Friday, March 07, 2008 

There will be no peace while Israeli lives are worth far more than Palestinian lives.

Reading and watching some of the coverage of the attack on the seminary in Jerusalem, you'd be forgiven if you hadn't been around last weekend for mistaking it for a completely unprovoked, entirely out-of-blue assault which directly threatened the peace process. The Israeli government spokesman, Mark Rejev, called it a "defining moment", while our own David Miliband said it was "an arrow aimed at the heart of the peace process so recently revived."

What peace process would that be then? The one where the Israelis sit down with Mahmoud Abbas, and talk about having talks towards a settlement at some point in the future, while all the while the checkpoints and occupation of the West Bank grip ever tighter, and as Gaza has its power dwindled? The one where as a direct result of the Israeli blockade the situation in Gaza is described as being the worst since 1967?

Let's be clear here. There's something that's long been apparent about the Israel/Palestine conflict, and that's the both sides' political representatives don't generally have any interest in genuinely seeking a just solution that would stand the test of time. The closest the talks came was in 2000, when despite common belief, it was Israeli intransigence which stopped Yasser Arafat from accepting the "deal" that was then on the table, a deal that would have never been accepted by the people, let alone the extremists. Mahmoud Abbas probably would deal if he was offered an acceptable settlement; the immediate establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza; the dismantlement of 99% of the settlements which have riven the West Bank into a series of statelets that without their removal would never constitute a viable state; and compensation for the refugees uprooted and dispersed by Israel's creation in 1948. Israel though, despite all the advantages that would come from such a deal, refuses to remove all of the settlements, even though they themselves are illegal under international law.

The massacre at the seminary did not occur in a vacuum. While it was an act of savagery and terrorism targeted against the innocent that cannot be justified under any circumstances, one that was more planned and premeditated than the deaths of 60 or more civilians last weekend in Gaza who were killed by Israeli shells, Hellfire missiles and troop actions ostensibly directed at militants, they are both examples of the use of force to make a wider political point. Just as no one is safe in Gaza when Israel is assassinating militants or taking revenge for the firing of Qassam rockets, the message from the attacker, whichever group or none he was from, is that no one in Israel is safe either while civilians continued to die in their dozens in disproportionate military strikes.

No one can of course even begin to defend the vile comments from both Hamas and Islamic Jihad that praised the assault, and it's true to a certain extent that they show both groups' true colours (as if the colours especially of the latter needed to be nailed yet again to the mast). Hamas's attitude does nothing to help its own people's dire situation, just as the firing of the pathetic home-made rockets by the militants only endangers their own people far more than it does the town of Sderot and city of Ashkelon. How can it possibly hope to be taken seriously when it urges a universal ceasefire while it praises and celebrates the actions of a murderer? As self-serving and meaningless as Israeli "apologies" for killing civilians are, they have never directly delighted in the blood of the innocent being spilled. Even when we acknowledge the inflammatory and disgusting comments from an Israeli minister that warned of a "shoah", the Hebrew word for the Holocaust, if Qassams continued to be fired, words that may well have been taken out of context, it still doesn't come close to the inhumanity of welcoming an attack that takes the innocent lives of anyone.

The sad fact however is that Israeli lives are clearly worth more than Palestinian lives. During the height of the intifada, the casualty rate ran at around 3 Palestinians for 1 Israeli. Since the militant groups have turned increasingly away from suicide bombings, both because they were counter-productive and that the West Bank barrier has to some extent made the journey of bombers into Israel more difficult, the numbers of Palestinian dead as compared to Israelis has sky-rocketed. 2006's excursion into Gaza, which may well have triggered Hizbullah's assault which sparked the Israel-Lebanon war, meant the casualty rate rose to 678 Palestinians to 25 Israelis. Since 2005, 1290 Palestinians have been killed, with 86 Israelis dying in militant action. While we might on occasion see Palestinian funeral processions briefly on our screens, hardly ever do they receive the coverage which today's funerals in Jerusalem have, nor has the grief and anger of those left behind been voiced directly in the lines of the cameras, or in English, which of course makes all the difference.

While no one has formally claimed responsibility, the suspicion has immediately fell on Hamas, who at one point today appeared to have done just that, only for it to be retracted. More intriguing was the claim from al-Manar TV in Lebanon, Hizbullah's station, that a new group calling itself the Martyrs of Imad Mughniyeh and Gaza. While it seems unlikely to be accurate, it points towards this being just another part of the inevitable blow-back from the assassination of Hizbullah's most notorious jihadi. The cycle of violence continues to inexorably turn, and while neither side listens to their own public who are crying out for peace, with 64% of Israelis even urging their government to talk to Hamas to reach a ceasefire, the blood will only continue to flow.

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