Friday, February 26, 2010

Two pieces on El-Baradei

Two articles, one from Egypt's Socialist movement (in Arabic at the bottom) criticizing the rapid adoption by the opposition of a vague Baradei rather than actually building up more grassroots action, and criticizing Baradei's policy similarities to Mubarak (especially with regards to wealth disparities in Egypt and support for Egyptian participation in crimes against the Palestinians). And the second (in English above) with a quite different take from Baheyya, one of my favorite Egyptian bloggers. She doesn't seem to see Baradei as vague at all but rather as supportive of many of the opposition's long-standing policy aims and a potentially very strong force for at least opening up the system and forcing Mubarak and the NDP cronies into a tough, embarrassing spot. Dunno, hard to say where this all lands. I have no doubt Mubarak and cronies will ensure he can't be President through combinations of smears, violence, and twisting of the law. And I agree with the Socialist critiques of Baradei's cowardice vis a vis the Israelis and US, and that the opposition is just grabbing onto a personality and that they're still neglecting grass-roots action despite the fact that the increasing dis-satisfaction of many sectors with life in Egypt has proven that it is possible (the numerous strikes over the past few years and even the seemingly impossible success in setting up a union truly independent from the regime). But on the other hand, somehow the various disparate opposition movements keep surviving and each event (Kifaya, pro-Palestinian marches, worker strikes, 2005 elections, judicial independence movements, etc.) seems to revive the apparently dead corpse and breathe some life into it. Perhaps in this sense, for all Baradei's many shortcomings, there's enough going for him as a political actor and symbol to accomplish some real good. It will be interesting to watch. And of course, through it all the US will keep the guns and money flowing to Mubarak as reward for helping to starve the Palestinians in Gaza, so don't expect any real help from Washington on this front. Though I would expect at some point Clinton will feel the pressure to provide some rhetorical postive words for Baradei. Words that will probably be clumsy, easily and accurately dismissed as insincere, and probably used by Mubarak to smear the opposition with.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

All 3 Monotheisms Have Had "Conversion by the Sword", Including Judaism

Anti-Islamic xenophobia has once again brought into vogue the accusations that Islam is spread by the sword and inherently violent and blah blah blah. The quick rejoinder from Muslims is "hey boys, Christianity has plenty of experience in spreading by the sword too". From Middle Age Crusaders eating the flesh of Muslims in Syria and Palestine, to Reconquista baptism-death-or-exile choices (or sometimes a combination) in Iberia, to the only slightly more subtle attempts to weld modern colonialism and mostly Protestant evangelizing in the 19th and 20th centuries, Christianity ain't free from the charge either. Truth is, one can point to episodes of both violent and peaceful spread of Islam and Christianity over the centuries, and in speaking in the broadest possible definitions of those religions, neither has a clean record. Both have examples of people of the most vile persuasions and other people of the purest hearts spreading their faiths.

Largely left out of this discussion however is Judaism. The assumption most have is that Judaism is not and never has been a proselytizing faith therefore any discussion of whether it is/was spread by the sword is moot. I'll admit, this was always my back of the mind assumption as well. However, I've been back to reading and finding all sorts of juicy tidbits as books often do. This time, a friend has persuaded me to read Shlomo Sand's "The Invention of the Jewish People". A book I had heard about but frankly somewhat dismissed and never intended to read because the hypothesis inherent in its title struck me as over the top even if the author was an Israeli and not some non-Jewish anti-Jewish racist. I'm a bit over halfway through right now and the book has its strong and weak points, but fundamentally it does what a good book should: it makes the reader really think.

So, I'm not doing a full book review here, but I want to address this question of spreading religion "by the sword", which Sand shows actually has happened in Judaism as well. One might argue that with the secular religion of nationalism (in Israel's case Zionism, but one might apply similar arguments to any virulently nationalistic society) having in many ways replaced traditional religion, perhaps Israel is still engaged in this with its wars aimed at getting neighboring countries/societies to accept ethnic nationalism (with all its inherent racism) as an acceptable basis for regional states despite the fact that the era of such has long since passed in most even moderately successful and stable countries of the world. However, that's far too esoteric and problematic a debate to get into here, and instead what Sand shows is that there are direct examples of spreading Judaism by the sword in the "traditional" manner. Nor are we speaking of the Biblical accounts of Joshua's destruction and occupation of Canaan by the Hebrews (which Sand in any case doubts ever happened based on his reading of the archaeological and textual history). That would perhaps be something more comparable to the Crusades and less to the Reconquista. Rather, we're speaking of the era of the Hasmonean Judean kingdom.

Sand goes into a discussion of the mixture of Hellenistic and monotheistic influences in the era, arguing that the two were much more symbiotic and not nearly as antagonistic towards each other as Zionist historiography has since tried to claim. That in turn leads him to a discussion of (1) how the era marked a major growth in the numbers of Jewish converts throughout the eastern mediterranean, far outnumbering the inhabitants of Judea and any diaspora communities of Judeans, and (2) how spreading the size of the Hasmonean realm involved conquering and forcibly converting neighboring kingdoms to their beliefs.

From here, I'll let a few pages of Sand's book speak for itself, and just close with this reminder: when people start arguing that this or that religion is inherently more or less violent than another, you can know they are standing on thin ice. Virtually every religious or cultural group that gains a position of power, has had experiences of abuse of that power, as well as the peaceful spread of influence and ideas. Certainly that is the case for Islam, Christianity, and Judaism (if I knew more about the eastern religions I'm sure we could start adding lengthy examples there as well). It is *not* the religion - its doctrines or culture - that creates problems or solutions, it is what people choose to do with it. The Bible is full of ideas which - even if one believes they are divine in origin - if carried out today would be nothing short of murderous. If a Christian wants to accuse the Qur'an of having such, then that Christian needs to stare the Bible full in the face and acknowledge it as well. And the same goes for Judaism obviously with the shared Torah/Old Testament heritage as Christianity, and as shall be shown below, a historical period - in Sand's argument, the most important historical period in all of Judaism in terms of ensuring that the number of Jews in the world to this day numbers in the millions and not the mere hundreds or thousands such as the few remaining Samaritans - in which spreading the religion by the Hasmonean sword was considered ordinary and acceptable alongside the more peaceful spread of the religion in places like Egypt and Syria.

Anyhow, I blabber on yet again, here's the text from Sand (pp. 157 - 160). Apologies for the lack of footnotes which in many cases actually add some very good corroborating evidence, sources, quotes, and anecdotes, for that you'll have to read the book yourself:


In 125 BCD Yohanan Hyrcanus conquered Edom, the country that spread south of Beth-zur and Ein Gedi as far as Beersheba, and Judaized its inhabitants by force. Josephus described it in Antiquities of the Jews:
  • Hyrcanus took also Dora and Marissa, cities of Idumea, and subdued all the Idumeans; and permitted them to stay in that country, if they would circumcise their genitals, and make use of the laws of the Jews; and they were so desirous of living in the country of their forefathers, that they submitted to the use of circumcision, and of the rest of the Jewish ways of living, at which time therefore this befell them, that they were hereafter no other than the Jews.
Thus did the ruling Hasmonean high priest annex an entire people not only to his kingdom but also to his Jewish religion. Henceforth, the Edomite people would be seen as an integral part of the Jewish people. At that time, joining the religion of another group was regarded as joining its people--its cult community. But it was only the progress of monotheism that made attachment to the faith as important as the traditional association with origin. This was the beginning of the slide from what we might call Judeanity--a cultural-linguistic-geographic entity--towards Judaism, a term denoting a broader kind of religion-civilization. This process would evolve till it reached its height in the second century CE.

Who were the Edomites? There are several sources. The important Greek geographer Strabo, who lived at the time of Augustus, erroneously stated, "The Idumaeans are Nabataeans. When driven from their country by sedition, they passed over to the Jews, and adopted their customs." Ptolemaeus, an obscure historian from Ascalon, was probably more accurate when he stated, "The Idumaeans, on the other hand, were not originally Jews, but Phoenicians and Syrians; having been subjugated by the Jews and having been forced to undergo circumcision, so as to be counted among the Jewish nation, and to keep the same customs, they were called Jews." Their number is not known, but it could not have been insignificant, since their territory was about half the size of the kingdom of Judea. Needless to say, the Edomite peasants and shepherds probably did not all become good monotheists overnight. Nor, presumably, did all the Judean farmers. But it is almost certain that the higher and middle strata adopted the Mosaic religion and became an organic part of Judea. The converted Jews of Edomite origin intermarried with the Judeans and gave Hebrew names to their children, some of whom would play important roles in the history of the Judean kingdom. Not only Herod came from among them; some of the disciples of the strict Rabbi Shammai and the most extreme Zealots in the great revolt were also of Edomite descent.

Jewish historiography has always been ill at ease about the forced conversion and assimilation practiced by the Hasmoneans. Graetz condemned the acts of Hyrcanus, asserting that they were catastrophic for the Jewish people. Dubnow, in his gentle way, sought to soften the history and depicted the Edomites as "tending to cultural assimilation with the Jews," and Baron remained laconic in his treatment of the "problematic" issue. Zionist and Israeli historiography was divided. Klausner, the proud nationalist, saw the conquest of Edom and the conversion of its inhabitants as righting an old injustice, since the Negev had been part of the kingdom of Judah during the First Temple period. One of the later historians of the Hasmonean kingdom, Aryeh Kasher, went out of his way to show that the mass conversion of the Edomites was voluntary, not imposed by force. He argued that the Edomites had been circumcised before the conversion--and that everyone knows Jewish tradition has always opposed forced conversion.

Urban Edomites had long been under Hellenistic influence and were probably uncircumcised. Moreover, though the rabbinical tradition did in fact renounce any attempt to force people to change religion, it only did so much later--after the Zealot uprising in the first century CE, when forced conversions to Judaism were no longer feasible. Under the Hasmonean rulers of the late first century BCE, it was a regular feature of Jewish policy, and Hyrcanus was not the only one who implemented it. In 104-103 BCE his son Judas Aristobulus annexed the Galilee to Judea and forced its Iturean inhabitants, who populated the northern region, to convert to Judaism. According to Josephus, "He was called a lover of the Grecians; and had conferred many benefits on his own country, and made war against Iturea, and added a great part of it to Judea, and compelled the inhabitants, if they would continue in that country, to be circumcised, and to live according to the Jewish laws." In support, he quotes Strabo, who wrote, "This man was a person of candor, and very serviceable to the Jews, for he added a country to them, and obtained a part of the nation of the Itureans for them, and bound them to them by the bond of the circumcision of the genitals."

Judeans probably lived in the Galilee earlier, but it was populated and governed predominantly by the Itureans, the center of whose kingdom was in Chalcis in Lebanon. Their origin is obscure--probably Phoenician and possibly tribal Arab. The territory annexed by Aristobulus stretched from Bet She'an (Scythopolis) in the south to beyond Giscala in the north--that is, most of today's Galilee minus the coast. Masses of Itureans, the original inhabitants of the Galilee, assimilated into the expanding Judean population, and many became devout Jews. One of Herod's associates was Sohemus the Iturean. It is not known if John (Yohanan) of Giscala, a Zealot leader in the great revolt, was of convert origin like his comrade and rival, Simon Bar Giora.

Aristobulus's brother and successor, Alexander Jannaeus, also sought to convert the people he conquered, but he conducted wars mainly against the Hellenistic trading coastal along the borders of Judea, and was less successful in converting their inhabitants. The Hellenists, who were proud of tehir culture, might have been willing to convert to Judaism of their own free will, as indeed some of them did in the countries around the Mediterranean. But it appears that they were not willing to accept the forced Hasmonean conversion, which would have meant losing the political and economic privileges granted to them by the poleis--the city-states. According to Josephus, Alexander destroyed the city of Pella in Transjordan "because its inhabitants would not bear to change their religious rites for those peculiar to the Jews." We know that he totally destroyed other Hellenistic cities: Samaria, Gaza, Gederah and many more.

Judas Aristobulus's father, Hyrcanus, had to deal with a complicated problem of conversion. When he conquered the region of Samara in 111 (or 108) BCE, he could not forcibly convert the Samaritans, who were in part descendants of the ancient Israelites. They were already monomtheists--they avoided pagan customs, observed the Sabbath and practiced circumcision. Unfortunately, it was forbidden to marry them, their liturgy was slightly different, and, moreover, they insisted on holding their ceremonies in their own temple. Hyrcanus therefore destroyed Shechem (Nablus), the main Samaritan city, and obliterated the temple on Mount Gerizim.

A long Jewish tradition marks the twenty-first day of the month of Kislev, the day when the Samaritan temple was destroyed, as a propitious day in the Hebrew calendar, on which it is forbidden to fast or mourn the dead (see the Tractate Ta'anith). The national memory, too, honors the figure of Yohanan Hyrcanus, the Jewish Titus, destroyer of the Samaritan temple. Today in Israel, many streets proudly bear the name of this victorious Hasmonean priest.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Middle Eastern Misogyny's Western Roots

Anyone who knows me or who has been reading my blog knows I have little (read no) tolerance for simplistic arguments pinning blame for the world's ills on religion and belief systems.   Yes, religion is a player in the complex systems of life and society and can have positive and negative impacts, but it is one player among many and in most cases where people try to pin the blame on religion I see little more than brainless reductionism.  That's why I put Bill Maher Religulous-type ranting in the same category as Salafist and Puritan and Kach-type extremism.  It's a reflection of blindness to complexity, an unwillingness to even try to understand difficult issues in favor of dumbing things down.  Yes, sometimes we need to cut through the fog and call a spade a spade, but it turns out that most of the world really is grey and we are far too eager to declare things black and white than reality would dictate.

So, along those lines, I get sick of hearing people blame the misogyny and oppression of women in the Middle East on religion.  I could go into how almost identical modes of oppression can be found in many non-Muslim societies in the Mediterranean (Egyptian Coptic Christian or Serbian Christian "honor" killings of women for example).  But without going into all the modalities of the present, I've been reading a very good book about early Christianity that has a section discussing the role of women in the ancient Mediterranean that is very enlightening.  While right-wing kooks who rage against "Islamofascists" (without knowing pretty much anything about either Islam or fascism) talk about Islam supposedly being the source of many of the misogynistic problems they rail against (only among Muslims of course, they are pretty much blind to the presence of the severe violence against women that still exists in their own societies), the author of this book shows quite clearly how many of these practices really have their roots in ancient antiquity.  And not even in ancient Middle Eastern societies like Persia or Mesopotamia, but in traditional Greco-Roman western societies of antiquity and in Mediterranean Jewish society (which lets remember had an extensive presence throughout the Roman world and not just in the lands of ancient Israel).

Enough of my rantings, now for the extensive quotations.  The book is called "Introducing Early Christianity: A Topical Survey of Its Life, Beliefs & Practices" by Laurie Guy who is a "lecturer in church history at Carey Baptist College, Auckland, New Zealand, and he is lecturer with the School of Theology at the University of Auckland."  The parts I am quoting are only in regards to this topic of the ancient western and Judaic roots of misogyny, but if you are interested in the broader topic of the first centuries of Christianity, I heartily recommend the book as a good introduction.  He clearly takes an apologist's view towards his version of Christianity, but his scholarship is honest, making frequent reference to primary sources and he makes it easy enough to distinguish his interpretory (is that a word?) conclusions from his good attempts to review and present the broad topic.

Read on and note the many misogynistic practices which long pre-date Islam.  And for anyone who wants to say "oh but we wonderful westerners have overcome all that unlike those backwards Middle Easterners", I'll invite you to [1] go look up the statistics on domestic violence and murder of women in your own countries, or count the ratio of male to female political and business leaders in your countries, and [2] start reading up on Middle Eastern feminist thought and history and compare the pace at which those trends have been developing compared to the pace it took them to develop in your own countries.  In any case, I think you'll find the following discussion all the more fascinating in that it shows practices that sound familiar today in parts of the world, but were issues in Muhammad's time, Christ's time, and Julius Caesar's time.  Regardless of religion - pagan, Christian, or Muslim.  The source of the problems lie elsewhere beyond religion (even if religion does then often jump into the mix and become part of it), as do most of the solutions.


[From Pages 166-169]

Women in Greco-Roman society.  Marked diversity appears within this category.  One legacy of classical Greece largely kept Eastern women veiled and in the home, without formal education.  The tendency for women to remain in the home had become much more relaxed, however, by the time of the early church.  Many women remained veiled, but many others, especially from the upper class, were starting to go about unveiled.  In some ways, rural and lower class women were freer in their movements than urban and upper class women, for example, in drawing water and trading in the marketplace.  On the other hand, high-status women, Greek and Roman alike, might sometimes transcend gender in determination of social role.  So occasionally, women owned brick factories, became philosophers and acted as barristers.  A few achieved public prominence, but they seldom filled roles that would require their speaking in public.

The Roman world restricted women's movements within the wider society less than did Hellenistic society, and wealthier women had access to education up to age twelve or so.  At the same time, women might sometimes hold public office in the East, Cleopatra being an obvious example.  This was not so in the Roman West, where they could not vote or hold public office; at most they could act as the power behind the throne.

Though variations existed, the overall structure of society was patriarchal.  Men dominated.  Apart from exceptions such as the Vestal virgins and Sibylline prophetesses, women basically had no leadership roles in Greco-Roman religion.  A sharp distinction between the public and the private spheres of life enforced the separate roles: the man's sphere was the public space, the woman's the private place.  Women were created for domesticity.

With regard to marriage, until recently historians agreed that women in the Mediterranean would normally enter marriage somewhere around ages twelve to fifteen.  More recently B. D. Shaw has persuasively argued that this conclusion comes from faulty interpretation of the data and that women in both halves of the empire typically married in their late teens.  Shaw's perspective still indicates, however, that women married at a young age, a factor that would encourage submission to their older husbands.  Moreover, even if a majority of women married in their late teens, quite a number married earlier.  In the Christian community, Melania the Elder was married at fourteen, Melania the Younger at twelve, and Macrina was engaged at age eleven.

Roman culture (though not Greek culture) viewed women as under the tutelage of men.  The father held unlimited power over his household, even that of life and death.  At marriage the daughter usually passed from the hand (manus) of her father to that of her husband.  This practice reinforced a sense of women's inferior nature.  Devaluing of women can also be seen in the common practice of infanticide, which typically meant the exposure of female infants.  This was justified on the basis of an alleged law stemming from Romulus, requiring a father to raise all male children, but only the first-born daughter.  This resulted in a great gender imbalance, with perhaps one-third more men than women.  A study of 600 families based on inscriptions at Delphi has shown that only six of these families had raised more than one daughter.

The hierarchical nature of Roman society and the low status it gave to women is likely evident in Trajan's food distribution programs for children in Italy in the early second century.  According to inscriptions at Veleia (Elea), a town in southern Italy, the monthly allowance was sixteen sesterces for boys, twelve for girls, twelve for illegitimate boys and ten for illegitimate girls.  Of the 300 recipients only 36 were girls.  This sort of data points to a perception of women as inferior, of less value, subject to a dominant man, and with no public role in life.  Exceptions occasionally occurred--through wealth, through connections, through outstanding strength of personality--but they were exceptions.  It was fundamentally a man's world.

Women in Judaism.  Though details differed, the lot of Jewish women overall was not unlike that of their Gentile neighbors.  They had no public role.  As the first-century Jewish writer Philo explained:

  • Market places, and council chambers, and courts of justice, and large companies and assemblies of numerous crowds, and a life in the open air of actions relating to war and peace, are suited to men; but taking care of the house and remaining at home are the proper duties of women; the virgins having their apartments in the centre of the house within the innermost doors, and the full-grown women not going beyond the vestibule and outer courts; for there are two kinds of states, the greater and the smaller.  And the larger ones are really called cities; but the smaller ones are called houses.  And the superintendence and the management of these is allotted to the two sexes separately; the men having the government of the greater, which government is called a polity; and the women that of the smaller, which is called oeconomy [household management].

Along with the rest of the Mediterranean world, Jewish girls married in their teenage years.  Marriage may have had greater honor among Jews, but divorce was not uncommon.  In addition, in contrast to Roman law, Jewish law vested the right of divorce in men only.

Women had no significant role in public worship.  While women were subject to the negative commands of the law (the "thou shalt nots" in the Torah), they were not subject to its positive commands (keeping the festivals, reciting the Shema, prayers at meals, etc.).  Most pronouncements on the matter asserted that women were not to be taught the Torah (though other statements indicated that it did happen--rhetoric and reality often differed in relation to women).  About A.D. 90, Rabbi Eliezer asserted, "If a man gives his daughter a knowledge of the law, it is as though he taught her obscenity."  In praising God for the opportunity to learn the law, a male pray-er in Rabbinic Judaism expressed the sorry plight of women: "Praised be God that he has not made me a gentile; praised be God that he has not made me a woman; praised be God that he has not created me an ignorant man."

Regulations concerning access to the great temple at Jerusalem limited women to the Gentiles' court and the women's court.  Their insignificance in worship is indicated in the fact that they could not be counted as part of the quorum of ten necessary to form a worshipping synagogue congregation.

Pervasive negativity toward women can also be seen in the way Jewish sources regularly viewed the birth of a daughter as a disappointment.  Several Talmudic sayings mark this perspective: "It is well for those whose children are male, but ill for those whose children are female"; "at the birth of a boy all are joyful, but at the birth of a girl all are sad"; "when a boy comes into the world, peace comes into the world; when a girl comes, nothing comes."  The diminished value of women stands out starkly in the fact that they were commonly not acceptable witnesses in court proceedings.  Josephus urged, "Let not the testimony of women be admitted because of the levity and boldness of their sex."  Jewish women shared the low status of women generally in the pervasively patriarchal Mediterranean world.  Within such a world Christianity began.

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Sunday, February 01, 2009

More Israeli "Democracy" - Banning Memorials of Dead Politicians

Yet another example of how it is a lie to call Israel a democracy.  Israel is only a "democracy" in the sense that Apartheid South Africa was a "democracy" - i.e., if you are of the ruling class' race, you have full rights, if you are not, your rights can and will be curtailed at any time depending on the degree of "danger" the ruling race sees in your actions.  Here we see how even a memorial to a dead secular politician is considered "dangerous" enough to ban.  If I haven't used enough scare quotes, just let me know, I have plenty more available :)

Just keep this in mind, Israel's problem has never been about "security" or "terrorism", it is and always has been from the core about denying the notion that Palestinians are human beings with the same rights to freedom and resistance to oppression that every other person on earth has.  If they have to ban free speech or throw people in jail or exile them or outright murder them, they will use whatever measure of force necessary in order to shut them up and deny them their rights.  This is just another minor example.  Once again I repeat: the only just, equitable, and durable solution is the South African model.  One state for all citizens of the country regardless of religion or ethnicity, the right of return for those previously ethnically cleansed, and equality for all under the law with full democracy and civil rights for all.  If a much smaller Afrikaner minority could do it, Israeli Jews can do it too.

My rough, quick translation of a news item posted below in its original Arabic (Tarboush-tip: KABOBfest's Delicious feed) about Israeli police banning their own Arab citizens from memorializing George Habash's death a year ago:


30 Jan 2009: The [Israeli] Police Publish an Order Closing the Midan Theater Tomorrow with the Goal of Preventing the Tribute to Doctor George Habash

The [Israeli] police in the northern brigade announce just recently that the leader of the police Dudi Cohen had published an order banning any action that could be interpreted to actually mean support for an organization accused of being terrorist, and therefore published an order ordering the closure of the Midan Theater tomorrow, Saturday, and threatened to close any theater or any place that in which such an action might happen.

In addition our correspondent learned that it had been decided to hold a festival in the Midan Theater in which Dr. George Habash would be memorialized.

In a conversation with Muhammad Canaan, Secretary General of the Sons of the Country Movement, he said: We have not been formally informed of this matter, one of our cadres has only learned of it and he was asked to be present at the police headquarters.  Canaan added: This is a normal thing from the Israeli Police and doing anything else wouldn't be the Police which we know, as Israel's Police are known for their barbarian undemocratic methods, and there's no doubt that this decision is contrary to the right to organize which is among the foundations of democracy.

Canaan added: The decision of the police will not prevent us from memorializing and remembering the leader George Habash, even if we don't memorialize him in a festival he will remain in our hearts and minds.  On the contrary, we are more insistent today on memorializing him.

30/1/2009: الشرطة تصدر امر بإغلاق مسرح الميدان غداًبهدف منع تأبين د.جورج حبش 

علنت الشرطة في لواء الشمال قبل قليل ان قائد الشرطة دودي كوهين كان قد اصدر امرا بمنع اي فعالية من الممكن ان يستدل منها انها فعلية دعم لمنظمة إرهابية وعلية فقد أصدر أمر بإغلاق مسرح الميدان يوم غد، السبت، والتهديد بإغلاق اي مسرح او اي مكان من الممكن ان تكون فيه مثل هذه الفعالية.

هذا ووعلم مراسلنا ان كان من المقرر ان يتم مهرجان في مسرح الميدان يتم من خلاله إحياء ذكرى د. جورج حبش. 

هذا وفي حديث مع محمد كنعان، أمين عام حركة أبناء البلد، قال: نحن لم نبلغ رسميا في هذا الامر، وفقط أعلم أحد الكوادر به وطلب منه ان يتواجد في مقر الشرطة. واضاف كناعنة: هذا شيء معتاد من شرطة اسرائيل وغير ذلك فهي ليست الشرطة التي نعرفها، فشرطة إسرائيل معروفة بأساليبها البربرية غير الديموقراطية، فلا شك هذا قرار هو ينافي حق التنظيم وهو من أسس الديموقراطية. 

وأضاف كناعنة: قرار الشرطة هذا لن يمنعنا من أن نحي ونستذكر القائد جورج حبش حتى ولو لم نحيه في مهرجان فهو باقي في قلوبنا وعقولنا، على العكس نحن أكثر اصرار اليوم على إحياء الذكرى.

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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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