Thursday, January 29, 2009

Notes from Obama's New State Department

Spoke with a contact at the State Departments Near Eastern Affairs division just recently.  He is someone I deeply respect, has long experience, is an uber-realist, and has no illusions about anyone Palestinian, Israeli, Lebanese, American, Syrian, Jordanian, Egyptian or whatever.  Which also means his upward career path is ultimately limited because he won't pay blind obeisance to the Israelis, insisting on (how novel) representing what he believes is best for American and broader human interests.  Still his work is of such high quality analytically and managerially that nobody can (thankfully) get rid of him.  Nothing in-depth, but a few notes from our conversation as I tried to get a sense of how things are looking at State in these first days of the Obama Administration:
  • He felt it was a mistake to send George Mitchell straight to the region before any policy had been formulated just for a "listening tour" as the Palestinians and Arabs generally hate this kind of lip-service which to them is just more of "listening" while the Israelis go ahead establishing facts on the ground.  He felt like a policy should have been formulated first and then you get moving, that this will actually be harmful to building diplomatic momentum.
  • So far he doesn't sense any real change from the old standard Washington everything-Israel-wants-it-gets line.  He pointed specifically to Obama's speech when announcing Mitchell as Mideast envoy saying it could have been written by the Bush Administration, with all the key language and buzzwords everyone knows means blind right-wing support for Israel.
  • That said, he was cautiously...I wouldn't say optimistic, but perhaps distantly hopeful that at least this Administration aren't raw ideologues like the Bushies were and might actually be capable of learning.  And that at least Mitchell as a Mideast envoy choice is more independent, and in his view established some credibility in his 2001 report on the causes of the Intifada.  In that report, despite everyone telling him that he couldn't say that so-called "natural growth" in settlements had to stop, he did.  In real terms stating that may not amount to a hill of beans that the Israelis would do anything about, but in Washington terms it showed a willingness to cross a Zionist redline and showed a bit of spine.  So my friend hopes that between perhaps Mitchell being more independent and the Obama team being less ideological, that perhaps they'll actually learn lessons for the better instead of just entrenching themselves deeper in failure like the Bushies did.  But he said he feared even if that does happen (far from certain, he pointed to Powell whom everyone there thought would understand that the Palestinian point of view was different and firm from his experiences in Vietnam dealing with the North Vietnamese, but ended up disappointing with his unwillingness to see the other side), it's going to take a good chunk of time.
  • He expressed worries about the new generation of Foreign Service Officers who have now spent the better part of their young careers entirely under the Bush Administration and don't understand how abnormal that whole period was.  The Israel-is-always-right mentality he says is more than ever almost wall-to-wall at State as elsewhere in the US government and the new FSOs are a key part of that.  The few realists who've been around longer are more easily than ever dismissed as "Arab lovers" and not taken seriously.
  • Dennis Ross shot himself in the foot pre-announcing his supposed new role as Obama's Mideast envoy and now it's not clear if he'll get any major position at all.  My friend did not think Rob Satloff was the one advertising Ross to try and undermine him, he thinks he did it himself.  Still, even if he looks down now, he had a great description of him that made me laugh, calling Ross the "Teflon a**hole." :)  For the record, I've never met anyone at State who thought Ross was anything other than useless at best and usually far less charitable descriptions (see prior sentence).
  • My friend also thought that if Ross gets appointed to anything remotely responsible for Iran policy, that would be a clear sign of the Obama Admin taking a "lots of stick, and maybe a few tiny carrots way off in the distance" approach to Iran.  In other words, not a healthy approach.
Despite the general pessimism that any realist has to have about US Mideast policy though, my friend's final take was to try and put on a smiley face and say that at least the tone is somewhat different from the Obama team so far (somewhat...see earlier comments about his speech announcing Mitchell), and that's gotta count for something.  We'll see if it does, far from clear.  Obama himself in his writings is the first to say he's not the Messiah and that he's a new enough face on the scene that people often graft their own beliefs onto his image and set themselves up for disappointment.  Given the structural bias in favor of Israeli racism that is built into the US system, it shouldn't be too surprising that Obama is more showing simply a different slightly softer version of it rather than repudiating it.  We'll see if he can make the necessary leap, but I and my friend certainly have our skeptical eyes open.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

"Occupation 101" - Essential Viewing

I always struggle to know where to point people who just want a basic background on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.  I have reams and reams of books, websites, articles and such I can point them to, but they're either too complex, too over-simplified, too specialized, too de-personalized, assume too much knowledge, or otherwise don't really do the "101" job of explaining things with the right balance of providing sufficient information while not overwhelming.

Well, I think I finally found a good one.  An hour-and-a-half documentary, apparently around a year old, called Occupation 101.  Click that link for the film's website and if you want to order DVDs (I'm going to have to order one).  But somebody (for now at least) has also put it up on YouTube, broken up into 11 roughly 8 minute chunks.

It is not an attempt to split the baby between Israelis and Palestinians.  It is a film that puts the facts together more or less correctly to identify what the real problems are.  It has a point of view, and a basically correct one with the facts to back it up.  It's got a wealth of basic key facts, interviews a good variety of Palestinian, Israeli, Arab, American, and other personalities (including at least one person I spent a bit of time with on the ground a decade ago).  I have little criticisms of it here and there (they should have interviewed more Palestinian academics/politicians, they should have spent more time showing how deeply engrained racism and ethnic cleansing is in mainstream Israeli society/education/government/politics/etc., they should have spent more time focusing on the 4+ million Palestinian refugees outside of Palestine, they should have showed more of the very very large number of Israeli deliberate massacres of civilians from 1948 to the present, they should have shown how almost every terrorist tactic used in the conflict was first introduced by Zionist terrorist gangs, etc.), but overwhelmingly it's a great film that I highly recommend for both those who need a 101 starting point, and for those who know the topic better but want a single film that can put together a bunch of the key history, facts, imagery, and context.  I am going to post it here, hopefully it stays up on YouTube.  Either way, support these folks and order a DVD from them as well:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

Part 5:

Part 6:

Part 7:

Part 8:

Part 9:

Part 10:

Part 11:

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Family-cide, the true face of Israel

One of the things that has been inescapable has been the manner in which Palestinians are referring to the victims murdered by Israel in Gaza not just as statistics or individual names (though they are doing that too), but by families.  Israel was not just content to murder a person here or a person there, but in the process of carrying out Israeli researcher Arnon Sofer's claims that Israel "will have to kill and kill and kill.  All day, every day" in Gaza, they have been wiping out entire families in one fell swoop.

Al-Jazeera's website has put together a page with pictures and stories of Palestinian families who were either entirely murdered by Israel or had large numbers of their family murdered by Israel.  A warning, there are many graphic images of murdered and wounded children.  It is in Arabic, but even if you don't read the language, you can click through the Arabic numbers at the bottom of the text boxes (remember, right to left in Arabic):
I'm not sure if all the pictures match precisely to each family/incident or not, though they are certainly representative.  And, so as to put names to them for those of you who don't read Arabic, here is a brief synopsis of each of these murdered families which I made based on the info on the Jazeera page (this is my own synopsis and language, not a trasnslation).  The families in order from 1 to 13 are:
  1. The al-Daya family: The 65 year-old family Patriarch al-Hajj Fayiz Masabih al-Daya fearing for his family's safety - who as is often the case in extended Arab families lived in a single building built for them to live together - gathered them all onto the ground floor of the family building during Israel's rampage in Hayy al-Zaytoun. But the Israelis bombed the entire building and flattened it on top of them, killing 25 members of the family together in one swoop, ranging from the elderly family patriarch to 16 grandchildren, the youngest of whom was a six-month old baby.
  2. The Ba'alusha family: Sleeping one night in the Jabalya refugee camp - one of the most densely populated pieces of land on earth - Israel decided that it wanted to bomb the neighborhood and specifically target the house of worship right next door to the Ba'alusha's. The father Anwar survived after the house collapsed on top of them, only to discover the murdered bodies of 5 of his daughters in the rubble as neighbors helped him dig to find them.
  3. The al-Abasi family: Father Ziyad al-Abasi reports they were sleeping in their house in the Yabna refugee camp in Rafah when a missile hit their single-level house.  The house and its asbestos roof collapsed on them.  Israel murdered three of his children.  Sidq (4 years old), Ahmad (12), and Mohammad (14).  His three other children, his wife, and himself were wounded.  He insisted on getting out of the hospital early despite his wounds in order to attend his children's funeral where he cried out asking what they had done to deserve Israel taking this revenge on them?
  4. The Kashku family: The Israeli military targeted their home in Hayy al-Zaytoun in Eastern Gaza city, wounding 13 members of the family and murdering the daughter of family patriarch Abdullah Kashku, 8 year old Ibtihal.  Also murdered was the wife of one of his sons, Miysa' aged 22.
  5. The al-Samuni family: One of the most visible deliberate murders of civilians befell the al-Samuni family and was reported on widely even in the western press.  Here Na'ib al-Samuni who survived tells how Israeli forces gathered the entire extended family into a single 2000 square foot house, and then proceeded to shell them for 10 minutes non-stop, turning the house into in his words "a well of blood", and then deliberately block Red Crescent ambulances from reaching them for 24 hours during which several family members struggled to hang on and finally bled to death.  The numbers of dead and wounded in various reports have varied amidst the chaos, here Al-Jazeera reports that at least one 7-member branch of the family was entirely wiped out.  Na'ib's wife Hanan was murdered by Israeli executioners along with his daughter Hoda, his 60 year old mother Rizqa, and most of his brothers, cousins, and cousins' children.
  6. The Rayan family: Hamas leader Nizar Rayyan lived in the middle of the Jabalya refugee camp.  Not content with just killing him, Israel decided to drop massive munitions on the entire neighborhood, murdering Rayyan's 4 wives and 15 of his children and destroying 10 other homes in the process.
  7. The Abed Rabbo family: 8 family members including a toddler girl found with only her head peaking above the rubble murdered by Israel which bombed their home from US-supplied fighter jets.
  8. The Abu Aisha family: Father, mother, and 7 children murdered by Israel via missiles and bombs fired from US-supplied fighter jets onto their home.
  9. The al-Kahlut family: Father Khalid al-Kahlut needed to get some bread to feed his starving family.  He made the mistake of believing Israeli lies that there was a 3-hour ceasefire for humanitarian purposes and took 3 of his children (15-year old Mohammad, 12-year old Habib, and 10-year old Tawfiq) and his 20-year old cousin Hasan Khalil al-Kahlut in the car to get some food.  As they got back close to home in Beit Lahiya with the supposed 3-hour ceasefire still supposedly in effect, a US-supplied Israeli fighter jet fired a missile at them and murdered them all before they could get the food back to their family.
  10. The Abed Rabbo family: A different Abed Rabbo family, this time US-supplied Israeli planes fired missiles on their home in Jabalya, murdering three sisters (Amal age 2, Su'aad age 4, and Samar age 6 ).  It took neighbors and rescue crews hours just to pull their bodies out of the rubble the Israeli terrorist executioners left behind.
  11. The Ulaywa family: Salim Ulaywa says he wishes he had never left his house that day.  He had gone out to try to get his family some food, but when he came back and turned onto his street he found his house had disappeared into a pile of rubble with neighbors desperately trying to rescue his family.  But it was no use, they were all found dead covered in dust and blood and he was left alone in the world as the piece says, his wife and 5 children murdered by having their house blown up on top of them with no warning (an old Zionist favorite tactic going back to the days of the Sa'sa massacre in Galilee in 1948 at least.)
  12. The Deeb family: 25 minutes before the end of the supposed 3-hour humanitarian ceasefire, Israeli tanks and US-supplied fighter jets sent 4 missiles and rounds into the Jabalya refugee camp, one of which landed in the courtyard of the house of 43-year old Samir Shafiq Deeb who was instantly murdered.  His 70 year old mother and three of his children (12 year old Esam, 23 year old Mohammad, and 20 year old Fatima) were murdred as well, plus 5 of the children of his brother including 2 year old Noor, 19 year old Ala, and two other women in the family (34 year old Amal Matar Deeb and 41 year old Khudra Abdulaziz Deeb).  Another family virtually wiped out in an Israeli mass murder.
  13. The Saliha family: 6 members of the family murdered in their home by Israeli executioners in Beit Lahiya.
I wish it weren't true, but even this is only a partial list of the families Israel has murdered the past few weeks, let alone the past 60 years.  Let the deaths of these innocent families - not even individuals, entire families targeted by Israel's Zionist death squads - stand as a reminder.  That while there must be reconciliation between Arabs and Jews and a united country with equal rights for all, that such reconciliation can only come by standing firm against Zionist Israel just as the world stood firm against Apartheid South Africa.  Zionism is racism, period, and it must be confronted just as Jim Crow and Apartheid had to be confronted.  May these families rest in peace and may we build a better world of equality so that Israeli racism will no longer be able to take innocent lives.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

A Few Righteous Among the Israelis

Jews around the world often refer to the Righteous Among the Nations, those good people who stood up for humanity and saved the lives of many Jews during the Holocaust. I count at least one of my European relatives among them, a man who in my childhood I remember proudly displaying the items he'd stolen from Nazi soldiers (a helmet, a radio, a boot - he didn't have it anymore, but even a motorcycle) and telling how he had helped Jewish citizens of his country escape to safety during the occupation years. These righteous may have been relatively few in a time of sheer madness, but their goodness and their sacrifice is worthily remembered today.

Palestinians and Arabs often realize as well that while their numbers may be few, there are Israeli and other Jews around the world who acknowledge the crimes of 1948 and subsequent ethnic cleansing by Israel, and who are working very hard as well for acknowledgement of the past and justice and reconciliation for the future including the Right of Return.  Now, I think we need to be clear who we're talking about.  I'm not talking about the Israelis who mindlessly participate in their massacres and then wake up feeling a twinge of remorse 20 years later and spend most of their time worrying about how slaughtering innocent people is bad for their own feelings.  These folks I'm sure help shrinks grow their practices a lot, but frankly such attitudes are all too little too late and if anything simply are another tool to perpetuate Zionist ethnic cleansing by spreading the false myth that somehow Zionism has a humanitarian angle in its roots.  It doesn't, and a handful of people engaged in what Israeli historian Ilan Pappe calls "shoot and cry" doesn't change that fact.  No, the people we are talking about are people who go much deeper, who realize that the founding sin of Israel is its open declaration that one group of people has rights based on ethnicity and all others have none, which is then enforced on pain of death or exile.  These people acknowledge this reality and are willing to say so even in the midst of the brainwashed, unnaturally-militarized Sparta society that Israel is.  These people get the root of the problem, and not just its latest manifestations in the headlines, and they are working to overcome it.

Of course, there is deep deep anger in the Arab world at Israel's decades of crimes and these few righteous often are forgotten in the heat of the moment (a heat that Israel's ongoing crimes ensures stays high most of the time), but just yesterday as Israel's latest Gaza massacres of civilians continue, Al-Jazeera was running a documentary featuring several of these Israeli Jews of conscience dissecting the anatomy of the occupation fact by fact.  Palestinian authors have for decades included in their writings characters of nuance and conscience among Israelis, and it fairly common for non-Zionist Jews (ranging from the Orthodox Neturei Karta folks to secular academics such as Ilan Pappe to crusading journalists and activists such as Meron Benvinisti) to be pointed to in Arab media and discourse as examples of conscience that show that Zionism and Judaism are not the same thing. It is these bridges that give hope for the future of a united country (call it what you want, Israel-Palestine, Canaan, Holy-Landistan, Kiryat Hummus, whatever) where people of all ethnicities will be able to live under a common set of laws and where people will be (to get MLKish heading into the long holiday weekend) judged according to the content of their character and not their creed.

Anyhow, I'm rambling on about this because I came across via the Palestine Remembered website an organization in Israel I hadn't been aware of called Zochrot that falls firmly in this category of Righteous Among the Israelis. They work hard to raise awareness of the Nakba among an overwhelmingly Nakba-denying Israeli populace, and to call for the Right of Return of all Palestinian refugees as a necessary requirement of peace. Zochrot's website is here:

Here is a brief two minute video of some of the great work Zochrot does, leading a tour of Israelis and Palestinians of the ethnically cleansed village of al-Malha to raise awareness of what really happened (including a brief encounter with an Israeli who tries to deny to the face of a survivor of the Nakba that the local Jewish school was built on top of the Arab cemetery):

Good stuff, you can find more videos on their website.  Keep it up Zochrot and all people of conscience.

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Let's talk about Sderot...or is it Najd?

So let's talk about Sderot, that town in Israel that the Israelis claim as the main symbol justifying starving 1.5 million dirt-poor civilian refugees in Gaza, murdering almost 1000 now (by the time I'm done typing maybe we'll be over that number) and wounding thousands more innocents while flattening entire neighborhoods and massacring entire families.  Sderot is a symbol for the Israelis, the poor innocent town getting rocketed for supposedly no reason.  But here's the thing: Israel wants us to believe that its cities and towns have no history before they supposedly showed up and made the desert bloom.  Well, allow me to disabuse that notion.

You see, Sderot isn't really Sderot.  Sderot is Najd (نجد), a village of Palestinian farmers.  In 1948, it was a farming village of 719 people.  The village and its agricultural lands occupied 3355 acres, 93.3% Arab owned, 3.6% Jewish owned (there were several Zionist collective farms in the area that were said to be on friendly terms with Najd and other area villages, though there was no one Jewish in Najd), and 3% public land.  Walid Khalidi in his seminal book "All That Remains" gives some historical background on page 128:

"The village stood on an elevated spot on the southern coastal plain, and overlooked the agricultural lands aroud it. Several secondary roads linked it to the coastal highway at points between al-Majdal and Gaza, as well as to the villages in the vicinity. Its name meant "elevated ground" in Arabic. In 1596, Najd was a village in the nahiya of Gaza (liwa' of Gaza), with a population of 215. It paid taxes on a number of crops, including wheat, barley, and fruit, as well as on other types of produce and property such as goats, beehives, and vineyards. [Hut. and Abd.:144]

Edward Robinson, an American biblical scholar who travelled in the area in 1838, noted that Najd lay south of a wadi. He observed the villagers winnowing barley by throwing it into the air against the wind with wooden forks. [Robinson (1841) II:371] In the late nineteenth century, Najd was a small village with a well and a pond [NAA Note: see the remains of the irrigation pool here and here]. [SWP (1881) III:260] As its population grew during the mandate period, it expanded northwestward. The village population was Muslim, and children attended school in the village of Simsim (see Simsim, Gaza District), 2 km to the northeast. The residents of Najd worked primarily in agriculture and animal husbandry. Fields of grain and fruit trees surrounded Najd on all sides. Fruit trees were concentrated on the north and northeastern sides--where irrigation water was available from wells--and in the beds of the wadis that crossed the lands. In 1944/45 a total of 10 dunums was devoted to citrus and bananas and 11,916 dunums were allocated to cereals; 511 dunums were irrigated or used for orchards. Khirbat Najd was located south of the village and contained rough, stone foundations of ancient buildings, vaults, and cisterns.

So Najd was a thriving little agricultural village that had been around for hundreds of years, even if its education for the kids was sub-standard, but then that was a direct effect of the British authorities conscious decision to keep the native Palestinians poorly educated by under-funding their school system (read Ilan Pappe's "A History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples" for more on that).  So what happened to Najd, why does no one hear of Najd in the headlines today, where did Sderot come from?  Let's turn to Khalidi (referencing the infamously racist advocate of more ethnic cleansing, but still meticulous, Benny Morris) and Israeli historian Ilan Pappe who describe the ethnic cleansing of Najd and the surrounding areas.  First Khalidi, again page 128:

The villagers of Najd were expelled on 13 May 1948, just before the establishment of the state of Israel. Israeli historian Benny Morris writes that the inhabitants of nearby Simsim were expelled at the same time by the Palmach's Negev Brigade.

And Pappe on page 146-7 of his "The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine":

By the beginning of June, the list of villages obliterated included many that had until then been protected by nearby kibbutzim. This was the fate of several villages in the Gaza district: Najd [NAA's emphasis] Burayr, Simsim, Kawfakha, Muharraqa and Huj. Their destruction appeared to have come as a genuine shock to nearby kibbutzim when they learned how these friendly villages had been savagely assaulted, their houses destroyed and all their people expelled.  On the land of Huj, Ariel Sharon built his private residence, Havat Hashikmim, a ranch that covers 5000 dunams of the village's fields.

Despite the ongoing negotiations by the UN mediator, Count Folke Bernadotte [NAA Note: later assassinated - because he insisted on trying to return Palestine's innocent refugees to their stolen lands - by Zionist 'Lehi' terrorists with the explicit approval of future Israeli terrorist Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir], to broker a truce, the ethnic cleansing moved on unhindered.  With obvious satisfaction Ben-Gurion wrote in his diary on 5 June 1948, 'We occupied today Yibneh (there was no serious resistance) and Qaqun. Here the cleansing [tihur] operation continues; have not heard from the other fronts.' Indeed, by the end of May his diary had reflected a renewed interest in ethnic cleansing. With the help of Yossef Weitz, he compiled a list of the names of the villages taken, the size of their lands and the number of people expelled, which he meticulously entered in his diary. The language is no longer guarded: 'This is the list of the occupied and evicted [mefunim] villages.' Two days later, he convened a meeting in his own house to assess how much money had meanwhile been looted from the banks of the 'Arabs', and how many citrus groves and other assets had been confiscated. Eliezer Kaplan, his minister of finance, persuaded him to authorise the confiscation of all Palestinian properties already taken in order to prevent the frenzied wrangling that was already threatening to break out between the predators who were waiting to swoop down on the spoils.

And so it went, ethnically cleansed villages, lands, and properties were being divided up by the mafia don and arch-terrorist David Ben Gurion.  Among which were the lands of Najd.  Back to Khalidi telling the fate of Najd, page 128 again:

Two settlements were established on village lands: Sderot (110103), founded in 1951 to the south of the site; and Or ha-Ner (112107), founded in  1957 closer to the site, to the northeast...The surrounding lands are cultivated by Israeli farmers.

And so it was, Najd was ethnically cleansed, its lands stolen by other farmers, the Israeli kibbutzim who were so sympathetic doing nothing to demand their former neighbors be allowed back, instead the Israelis divvied up the stolen property for themselves like the thieves they were.

But you say it was so long ago, its ancient history, we have enough problems now, why bring this up on top of it all?  Because friend, the Israelis may have tried to erase Najd with Sderot, they may have tried to pretend it never existed and get on enjoying their stolen property pretending it wasn't stolen, see the people of Najd didn't cease to exist. Those 719 villagers from 1948 had had children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren and as of 1998 they numbered an estimated 4400.  And in fact, the people of Najd are closer than you think to today's headlines.  The village elder (or Mukhtar in Arabic meaning "chosen") was Hajj Muhammad Ahmad Mahmud Jasir (you can see his picture here) and he was pushed out at gunpoint with his family by the Palmach terrorist gangs to the Gaza Strip, where impoverished and penniless they settled in the Jabalya refugee camp.  Jabalya, does that sound familiar?  It should, Jabalya refugee camp, a dirt-poor pit of Zionist-created misery in northern Gaza is now under non-stop Israeli bombardment and was the site of the latest infamous Israeli massacre of dozens of civilians at UN school that had been designated a safe site (after the Israelis dropped leaflets everywhere saying they intended to flatten these people's neighborhoods and refugee camps) and which the Israelis had specifically been given the coordinates of:

This is not just an irony of history, that the Israeli/Zionist terrorists first ethnically cleansed these people, stole their lands for themselves, pushed these people into squalid refugee camps just a few miles away, and now have begun to bombard these same poor people with the most advanced weapons on earth for the crime of resisting their oppressors.  It is not mere irony.  It is the key to the solution.  The Israelis you see feel stuck too.  They don't have a problem shedding the blood of Palestinians over and over and over.  And they don't have a problem ethnically cleansing people.  But the problem is, they've now pushed 1.5 million innocent people (including the few thousand of Najd) into a tiny little box, from which they don't know what to do with them.  They can't push them into Egypt because they have a Quisling collaborator there (Mubarak) whose rule they don't want to de-stabilize, and in any case they know the Egyptians who have a real military (even if pitiful compared to Israel's) would really fight back if they tried to do that.  No one else in the world will take these people in and in any case these Palestinians keep up with this stubborn notion that they want to stay in Palestine, even Gaza!

So they can't ethnically cleanse them again from the last little corner of Palestine they've held onto, and they don't quite feel up to the task of simply slaughtering all 1.5 million in one swoop because it wouldn't allow them to maintain (either to themselves or to others) the myth of their moral purity.  So instead, what do they do?  They just keep provoking the people in Gaza.  They cut them off from the sea and fishing livelihood, they cut off their fuel and electricity, they cut off their food, they cut off their medicine.  And then, facing starvation at the hands of Zionism and with the full acquiescence of the world who aids the Zionists, the Palestinians desperately fight back.  Which the Zionists then use as their excuse to kill more Palestinians.  If they can't kill them all at once, they can at least kill more than they used to.  And maybe just maybe the Israelis hope, they'll magically disappear.  They don't care how, die under US-supplied missiles or emigrate or just...somehow disappear.  For now, just kill as many as you can and claim the moral high ground of Sderot.  Which was never Najd you see.  And the people of Najd don't live in Jabalya you see, almost within eyesight of Najd.  Where the people of Sderot who stole their lands live claiming victimhood.

Madness isn't it?  Zionist lunacy to live in such a violent, hate-filled world of stealing from the poor and killing them because they aren't of your religion.  It's insane.

But I said in the name of the village of Najd and Sderot built on top of it there is the solution.  And there is.  An insanely simple one.  Easy to do.  If one simple mental barrier is broken down.  A mental barrier.  Let the people of Najd...walk home.  It'll probably take a couple of hours granted.  And the people who call the place Sderot today, well they'll have to learn to share.  And accept that they live in a place that for hundreds of years was called Najd, and that its people today still call Najd.  And once they do that, the solution is there.  The rockets stop.  The people of Najd don't want to launch rockets at their own home town.  Nor do they want to kill anyone.  They just want to live.  They don't want to starve, they don't want to be bombed, they want to live, in the only homes they have.  In Najd.

You see, the solution is simple.  Treat everyone as an equal human being, and share.  It's a simple lesson I try to teach my kids every day.  Yo Israel, think you can teach your people that?  Or would you rather just go on murdering and starving innocent people and watching rockets fall on your people who now live in Najd?

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Frustrated Musicians for Gaza (and against Quislings)

As in most rounds of Israeli massacres of Palestinians, Arab musicians are coming out singing for the victims and decrying the brutality, and - crucially - the impotence and acquiescence of the Arab rulers. There is a long tradition of Arab musicians decrying their leaders betrayal of the Palestinian people. Um Kalthoum (probably the single most famous Arab singer of all time for those not familiar with her) famously hosted some of the Egyptian officers that the British stooge King Farouk had sent into Palestine with broken rusty rifles and insufficient numbers, as a deliberate show of disdain for the rulers.

One can read this artistic impulse in a number of ways. On the one hand, the musicians tend to be far more reflective of popular sentiment. They show the disdain of their rulers, their anger at Israeli brutality, and above all their tears for the innocent victims of Palestine and sympathy with their struggle for freedom. They reflect the people far more than anything any Arab ruler or government does. On the other hand, they also reflect the impotence of the Arab people in their desires to help the Palestinians and stop the massacres and ethnic cleansing. The Quisling rulers often tolerate this sort of expression seeing it as a harmless relief valve that doesn't directly threaten their rule. Sort of like King Abdullah or Hosni Mubarak is saying "let them pour all their energy into making songs and banging their head against the walls, let them tire themselves out with that while we suppress with our secret police any real manifestations of dissent that threaten our own dictatorial powers". So you get these huge outpourings of public sympathy that artists reflect, but no ability to channel that sympathy into real action.

Here is one recent example, Egyptian singer Tamer Hosny sings for Gaza with a clip showing scenes from the latest events. The song and video clips are full of scenes not just of Israel's barbarous actions and Gaza's scores of innocent victims, but also of Arab leaders meeting and doing nothing, protestors around the Arab world saying "we have only ourselves" (i.e., why aren't we helping our brethren?), and a heart-rending cry from a man in Gaza shouting out in desperation "wayn al-'arab?!" ("Where are the Arabs?!"). Indeed, the title of the song itself (I believe it's the title of the song, it's at least an oft-repeated phrase in it) tells of this popular frustration in the inability to actually help - "ana mish a'arif a'amal Haaga" - "I don't know what to do". Worth watching for the imagery and emotion even if you don't speak Arabic:

One other clip I found via Laila Al-Haddad's "A Mother From Gaza" blog actually comes from our side of the blog. A guy named Michael Heart who looks like your typical struggling young musician in California, made a song and video for the people of Gaza called "We will not go down". The song artistically I think is forced lyrically, but the imagery and heart strike as genuine. I point it out because I think it is emblematic of something that US opinion polls consistently show: that despite politicians and media who are stacked up entirely on Zionism's side in the US, there actually is far more understanding out there than you'd think. I am reminded of some old friends of mine, a Mormon couple who I ran into a few years after our initial friendship again by chance. They were as conservative as Mormons come, old Iowa farmer types, super-conservative, and real just wonderful salt-of-the-earth people who anyone would want for grandparents. The second Intifada had broken out, they were watching headlines with that sort of vague notion that something tragic and scary was happening halfway around the world, but they knew I was interested and knew a lot about this stuff, so they asked me what I thought about what was going on. The wife, who was a young lady at the time of WW2 and so remembered it as a real event and not just the stereotyped "Greatest Generation" Tom Brokaw image we've since adopted (don't get me wrong, totally agree it was a necessary war and that right was on the Allies' side, but even a just war is full of ugliness), when I commented about how Israeli troops were not the lily-clean "most moral army in the world" they claimed, piped in about how disappointed she and others had been in WW2 about the sexual escapades of US soldiers abroad. The husband's response (the one this run-on paragraph is really about) I think reflected an attitude that many more Americans on the right than is commonly acknowledged feel but doesn't really get air time - he said he sympathized with the Palestinians because "if somebody parked a tank in my living room, you better believe I'd shoot back!" Now, there may be massive numbers of Americans who think the Bible means Israel can do no wrong, but this conservative man's attitude, the one that is reflected in the New Hampshire state motto "Live Free or Die!" and which he essentially called upon in saying he could understand Palestinian motivations, is also widespread if little publicized in the media in the US. Seeing Michael Heart's video is very much a reflection of this view. Those widespread feelings may not be enough to overcome AIPAC and the Christian right if they can't be translated into lobbying, grassroots action, and campaign fund-raising in the US system, but they are real feelings which remain far more widespread than I think many realize or acknowledge. Here's Michael Heart's video for Gaza:

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Saturday, January 03, 2009

Live Blogging Al-Jazeera (Arabic) Coverage of Israel's Land Massacres/Invasion of Gaza

My  attempt to give some sense of what the Arabic Al-Jazeera coverage of Israel's brutal massacres/invasion of Gaza.  All times using US eastern time basis:

10:17pm) Been watching for 15 minutes or so, they had Abdul Lateef al-Qanoo3 on the phone, Hamas' spokesman in northern Gaza.  He was spending a lot of time talking in general terms about how heavy and brutal the invasion was and making a call to recognize that viewers and especially Arab governments were now either for or against the Palestinian people.  He claimed there were heavy losses in the Hayy al-Zaytoon area among the Israelis.  He claimed there were many wounded Palestinians in houses who were not able to reach medical help.

Now they've cut to one of Al-Jazeera's correspondents on the ground, he's running through the various locations in Gaza and talking about sites that Israel has been hitting.  Sorry, was busy typing and missed most of them.  The channel has been showing heavy black smoke and fire in the middle of a densely populated residential district.  I think the correspondent was saying that was a fuel depot attached to Voice of al-Aqsa Radio.

Correspondent saying as of 2 hours ago, saying at least 2 dead at Shifa Hospital from eastern Gaza recently, and latest totals are 477 dead and 2300 wounded at least.  Saying lots of fresh wounded and numbers rising quickly.  Catching bits and pieces as I try to type here, generally sounds like a chaotic situation and really no idea at this point how many really murdered and wounded by Israel.  At least 3 medical workers killed as they tried to rescue people in Jabalya refugee camp.

They've got a constant live camera feed panning around Gaza City and there's lots of explosions going off now.  Correspondent saying several of these are Apache missile hits (my note: if I were an Apache Indian, I would be suing the US and Israeli governments for defaming the honor of my tribe for naming a tool of so much murder after them).

Talking about Voice of Al-Aqsa Radio now, saying the fuel depot that was blown up for them was held their because the lack of electricity Israel has caused meant they had to store fuel to keep power to the station.  Says it is a Hamas-affiliated radio station Israel has accused of broadcasting terrorism, hate, etc.  Says the fuel depot fairly small.  Reiterates everyone has had to try and store fuel because of the lack of electricity.

Correspondent talking about how Israel's target list as steadily expanded from government sites to civilian sites.  He was far more detailed than that, but having to summarize here.

Showing an ambulance now, anchor asking correspondent about it, correspondent saying it appears to be heading from one of the heavily targeted areas towards al-Shifa Hospital.  Saying something about how hospital needed to get out 100 patients to Egypt and get in medical supplies, but I missed if he was saying they managed to actually do so or needed to and haven't been able to.

They just showed an Apache missile as it arced across the sky and hit somewhere in Gaza City.  There's another one from an Apache.  Saying more than 6 now from an Apache towards northern Gaza.

10:34pm) Now going to Beirut and interviewing Abbas Zaki, PLO representative there.  He's starting out encouraging everyone working in Gaza including the Jazeera and media correspondents and condemning Israel's crimes in Gaza.  Condemning the attacks on civilians and failure of Arab governments to provide arms.  But encouraging the citizens of Gaza to stand firm.  Saying if this was a fight between two equal armies would be one thing, but saying this is a wide-ranging attack by Israel on a civilian area.

Zaki asked by anchor what he thinks of the deterioration of the military and humanitarian situation.  Zaki says its not normal the way the Arab nations are reacting.  Now he's rambling on about Sarkozy and how the Israelis call their army a "Defense" force even as it attacks.  Really incoherent.  (Though he's not taking the standard Fatah Quisling line, the Fatah guys must really be feeling the heat and realizing they have to talk tough now as their grassroots aren't happy with them for supporting Israel's barbarity in Gaza.)

Ok, Zaki really rambling.  Jazeera cameras continue to pan over Gaza, missiles falling and bombs going off all over the place, fires and smoke everywhere.  Apocalyptic scene.  Anchor finally cut off Zaki, thank goodness.

Back to correspond Tamir something or other.  Asking if any updates/developments.  Saying more explosions in northern Gaza, more explosions heard eastern Gaza as he turns the panorama cameras that way.

Headline on bottom of screen (been up several times now) saying Washington refuses the Arab ceasefire proposal at the Security Council.

Geez, you keep seeing these bombs and missiles the Israelis are firing and they're going straight into what look like densely built up areas.

Correspondent saying Israeli tanks entered via the agricultural area near where Israeli settlement of Dugit (sp?) used to be and progressing slowly from there.

Saying it's almost morning, 6:45 am, toughest night yet for the Palestinians.  Saying worst incident so far worst incident was Israelis bombing a mosque (I think in Beit Lahiya) that killed 13 people.  Saying the resistance is fighting the Israeli tanks with missiles.  Saying Gaza from the far north to far south facing non-stop bombardment (the pictures and sounds of explosions on the screen certainly back that up).

10:49pm) Dawn breaking it looks like, light on the horizon.  Safwat Ziyad (sp?) on the phone now, a military expert, anchor asking his view of what's happening.  Safwat saying Israeli forces may have made some progress on the ground overnight it appears, but doesn't appear they've been able to stop the resistance from launching Qassam missiles yet, 5 of which went into the Negev overnight.  Anchor asking Safwat (who from dialect is clearly Egyptian) what the destructive power of Qassam's is.  He says they're small, 5-15 kilograms of explosives, goal is to basically show Israelis can't stop them.

Headline on bottom now saying Security Council ended an emergency meeting on Gaza without reaching any agreement or official announcement.

Safwat still speaking, keeps talking about how resistance keeps sending message their capabilities still intact as they continue to launch missiles and Israelis haven't achieved their ability to stop it.  This guy's boring, keeps saying the same thing over and over.  Now he's drifting into politics of ceasefire terms.

Anchor cuts him off (thank you!) and asking correspondent Tamir for any updates on the ground.  Tamir not responding, silence.  Oh, here he is.  Saying bombardment getting more violent now.  Says seeing morning light now and appears to be corresponding with an escalation.  Saying Israeli forces in northern, eastern, and southern Gaza.  Saying slow progress by Israeli tanks.  They appear to be taking firmer control of agricultural areas and stepping up their bombing of residential areas from there.  Heavy machine gun fire being opened up by Israelis to try to cover their tanks advance.

Argh, back to Safwat az-Zayad in Cairo (mis-spelled name first time).  Talking about how Israel doesn't have any system against Palestinian missiles.  He's talking about Israel's "Iron Dome" anti-missile system and how it hasn't worked to date.  Did he just say "lil-asif ash-shadeed" (unfortunately) about that?  Ok, he remains boring, not sure if he's whining about the poor Israelis or if I just misunderstood.

No going to New York and correspondent Khalid Dawoud to ask about the Security Council meeting.  Boom, another explosion in background.  Saying very simple statement out of Security Council asking everyone to stop shooting and minor request to Israel to respect humanitarian law.  Saying US rep specifically didn't want any formal council statement to come out, that they don't want "a return to the situation before things got worse" and that they want the PA (my note: i.e., the Palestinian traitors and American/Israeli puppets) to be back in charge of the border crossings in Gaza again.  Says as usual US is key player and they ended after a 4 hour meeting with nothing.

Says the Arab ambassadors exited meeting very clearly showing disappointment on their faces.  Saying US is ultimately the last word at the UN Security Council and that lack of any statement shows lack of effectiveness of it.  Dawoud spending some time talking about how security council works, how permanent members and US in particular really have last word and any hope of getting international law and international humanitarian law basically impossible there.  He put it in less charged terms than that, more technical, but that's what I got out of it with half of my attention on it.

Ok, need to go to bed soon, but hopefully this gives some sense of how the coverage goes.  It's comprehensive, wall-to-wall coverage.  Correspondents in all the key locations.  Pictures of what's happening on the ground along with people on the ground describing.  Interviews with spokesman from the combatants (no Israelis on in the past hour or so I've been typing, but they've had a lot of them on in general past few days, so both sides putting out their messages).  Good night.

UPDATE: Oooh, just add this one juicy final tidbit.  Khalid Dawoud in NY continuing to talk about efforts at UN, talking about disarray of Arab ambassadors, their failure to achieve anything, but juiciest bit is besides for talking about their divisions, mentions that some of them "probably don't want an immediate ceasefire".  Oh, and talking about how it took 4, 5 days for them to even meet using excuse of New Year holidays, but appears it may well have been a deliberate green light from the Security Council members and the PA to allow the attacks to go forward and have time.  Making comparisons to 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon on that.

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Friday, January 02, 2009

Al-Jazeera report miscellani

I was just listening to Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak on Al-Jazeera trying to justify his inhumane participation in the Israeli siege of Gaza by refusing to allow the opening of the Rafah border crossing. His words translated (going from memory about a half hour ago here, but this is about right): 'stuff in, stuff out, but its occupied so the occupier controls the crossing'. He's claiming that the other side of the Rafah border crossing is "occupied" because Palestine is occupied. Basically Mubarak hates Hamas because they have close ties to Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood who in turn are the key (most popular) opposition to his dictatorial regime. So he wants to see Hamas smashed to protect his own rear, even though the vast majority of Egyptians are united in supporting the opening of the crossings for humanitarian aid and defensive arms to the Palestinians. As usual, a tinpot Arab dictator with US support is standing against his people.

At the same time, Egyptians are coming out in increasing numbers to protest the government's actions and demand the border crossings be opened. Mubarak's stooges are teargassing them, beating them, arresting them, and blocking them from reaching protest sites. Nor is this limited to Egypt. Al-Jazeera's correspondent in Jordan reported on what he called possibly the largest demonstrations in Jordanian history as political factions from the Muslim Brotherhood to the Communists to the Trade Unions all are united in condemning Israel and Egypt. As protestors approached the Egyptian and Israeli embassies in Amman, they were fired on by tear gas and beaten.

But the worst suppression of protests was by the Israelis in the West Bank (if we leave Gaza out of it anyways), where at at least 3 demonstration sites at Qalandiya, Jayyous, and Hussan (near Bethlehem), Israeli forces opened fire with *live ammunition* on *unarmed* protestors. One shouldn't be shocked at this though, it has become standard Israeli procedure and unarmed demonstrators are regularly shot dead by Israeli troops. Today at least one AFP reporter was hit and sent to hospital.

In Pakistan Al-Jazeera's Islamabad correspondent reported not just the anger among extremist Salafi types, but the Pakistani Senate also explicitly condemned the hypocritical double-standard of western governments in saying that Pakistan had to fight terrorism while they support Israeli terrorism. Unmentioned, but what US observers (especially in Washington) should take note of is that if they want the Pakistanis to fight the Taliban for them, the fact that the Pakistani Senate is raising formal protests saying that the US is selective in its choice of what terrorism it condemns, then their willingness to commit Pakistani resources and lives to fight US enemies is going to shrink.

Jazeera also reported on widespread protests around the world including ones they showed in Turkey, Sudan, the Philippines, Kenya, Australia, and India (past days have shown protests in many other spots around the world). Most of these protests condemned Arab leaders' complicity in the massacres just as strongly as the Israelis committing them.

All this on top of the reporting directly from Gaza where several more children were reported killed today, the bombing continues non-stop, flour/bread which people already had to wait hours in line for (give great credit to the brave and patient Gazans who are always shown waiting patiently and neighborly in line despite the chaos being visited on them) has now reportedly begun to run out, the funerals are growing, and the firmness of the people is clearly holding strong.

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Thursday, January 01, 2009

By the numbers

So I have compiled some statistics, (entirely from Israeli sources by the way – from the right info on rocket/mortar fire from The Intelligence & Terrorism Information Center, and from the left info on Israeli and Palestinian casualties from B’Tselem). A claim has been made that the rocket attacks never stopped, therefore Israelis can’t trust Hamas. Of course that narrative simply assumes that Palestinians started things, that Palestinians are apparently occupying the Israelis and not vice versa, that Palestinians have a starvation siege on over a million Israelis and not vice versa. Whatever, that blatantly erroneous assumption aside, let’s look at some numbers.

Ok, see the chart and table below. I’ve excluded the deaths from December on both sides from the first chart, but the second below it shows them with scales adjusted to keep proportionality the same (those deaths skew the chart and hide the story of the end of the ceasefire because Israel has murdered so many people in such a short timeframe). Notice a few key points:

  • Israeli deaths are miniscule, they barely even show on the chart. Forget traffic accidents, more Israelis probably die in knitting accidents. Which is not to say every life isn't precious (every life *is* precious), but Palestinian deaths overwhelm the chart and Israelis and Americans treat them as nothing but sheep to be slaughtered and ignored, their hundreds of deaths simply don't count when put up against a single Israeli death. There is not any proportionality, even before accounting for the starvation siege of 1.5 million Palestinian civilians.
  • Regarding the claim that rocketfire never stopped: Given the densely populated chaos that is Gaza, statistically speaking they were all but zero and the chart clearly shows it. As the chart clearly shows once Hamas said it would enforce the ceasefire, it did. One also needs to remember that of the tiny handful that were fired, virtually all were either launched by non-Hamas factions (whom Hamas still managed to work into a near total ceasefire by persuasion and coercion) and/or in response to an Israeli murder of a Palestinian first. The result: Israeli deaths went to zero for four straight months (and only 1 in all 6 months of the ceasefire). But critically, from July onwards the Israelis murdered 27 Palestinians. And that is *only* counting those directly killed by Israeli weaponry, it ignores those who died because of the starvation siege, preventing medical care, blocking medicines, etc which would take that number of Palestinians murdered by Israel up during the ceasefire substantially. So it is very clear: Hamas overwhelmingly lived up to its terms of the ceasefire, exercising all its powers to enforce no rocket/mortar fire, they were (by the numbers) 98% effective in doing so, if we compare total rocket/mortar launches in 3Q 2008 to those in 1Q 2008. Israeli killings of Palestinians went down 97% as well, while Palestinian killings of Israelis went down 100%. But there were 2 sets of terms to the ceasefire – stopping the fire from both sides which through October largely occurred, and Israel stopping the starvation siege. Israel *deliberately* broke that stipulation. Both sides mostly lived up to their military obligations, but then Israel went on and purposely starved and denied medical care and fuel to 1.5 million civilians. In such a situation, it is quite clear, Israel broke the ceasefire by targeting civilians, even Hamas lived up to their end of it in spite of that broken pledge.
  • Regarding the end of the ceasefire: the November numbers are key. Yes Gaza rocketfire went up, but *only* in response to Israeli ratcheting up of murders of Palestinians. The timing is not coincidental, the Israelis were publicly announcing in the press that they were preparing for a fight and they deliberately began assaulting Palestinians again. Each time they claimed it was “only a limited operation” basically claiming they had a right to unilaterally break the ceasefire and the Palestinians had no right to respond. Hamas insisted the terms applied both ways (even though they continued to largely let Israel get away with the starvation siege still at that point), and only increased rocketfire in November in response to Israel’s killings. Then in December as the ceasefire expired and Israel continued its starvation siege, Hamas made it clear they remained open to a ceasefire, but only on terms of ending the starvation of 1.5 million civilians. Israel refused, and Hamas declared the ceasefire over. Israel had (and still has) the choice to renew the ceasefire, but they refuse to accept the terms of stopping the starvation of 1.5 million civilians, and are instead deliberately, willfully, and with full control of the power imbalance are choosing to kill and bomb instead of accept the fair Palestinian terms for a ceasefire. Israel is the overwhelmingly responsible party.

Those are the numbers and the story behind them.

[UPDATE: Raphael in the comments section mentioned he'd like to see the source of these stats linked to directly, so I added those at the start of the post.]

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