Friday, 30 November 2012

The suffering of Sderot

Robert Fisk                  Independent/UK                  26 November 2012

I think I found the village of Huj this weekend – but the road sign said “Sederot”. The world knows it as Sderot, the Israeli city where the Hamas rockets fall. Even Obama has been there. But Huj has a lot to do with this little story.

By my map calculations, it lies, long destroyed, across the fields from a scruffy recreation centre near the entrance to Sderot, a series of shabby villas on a little ring road where Israeli children were playing on the Shabat afternoon.

The inhabitants of Huj were all Palestinian Arab Muslims and they got on well with the Jews of Palestine. We have to thank the Israeli historian Benny Morris for uncovering their story, which is as grim as it is filled with sorrow.

Huj’s day of destiny came on 31 May 1948, when the Israeli Negev Brigade’s 7th Battalion, facing an advancing Egyptian army, arrived in the village. In Morris’s words, “the brigade expelled the villagers of Huj … to the Gaza Strip”. Morris elaborates: “Huj had traditionally been friendly; in 1946, its inhabitants had hidden Haganah men from a British dragnet. In mid-December 1947, while on a visit to Gaza, the mukhtar (mayor) and his brother were shot dead by a mob that accused them of ‘collaboration’. But in May, given the proximity of the advancing Egyptian column, the Negev Brigade decided to expel the inhabitants – and then looted and blew up their houses.”

So the people of Huj had helped the Jewish Haganah army escape the British – and the thanks they got was to be sent into Gaza as refugees. The following month, they pleaded to go back. The Department of Minority Affairs noted that they deserved special treatment since they had been “loyal”, but the Israeli army decided they should not go back. So the Palestinians of Huj festered on in the Gaza strip where their descendants still live as refugees.

But the present day Sderot, writes the Palestinian historian Walid Khalidi, was built on farmland belonging to another Palestinian Arab village called Najd, its 422 Muslim inhabitants living in 82 homes, growing citrus, bananas and cereals. They shared the same fate as the people of Huj. On 12 and 13 May 1948, the Negev Brigade of the Israeli army – again, according to Morris – drove them out. They, too, were sent into exile in Gaza. Thus did the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, as another Israeli historian, Illan Pappé, calls it bluntly, wipe from history the people who farmed the land on which Sderot would be built.

Irony. You can see Huj and Najd on Munther Khaled Abu Khader’s reproduced map of Mandate Palestine. Sderot was founded in 1951 but Asraf Simi, who arrived there in 1962 and later worked in the local library, knows nothing of this. She shrugged her shoulders when I asked about them. “We didn’t hear anything about Arabs around here. My uncle came near the beginning, around 1955, and was living in a tent here – and we all thought this would be one of the most modern cities in Israel! I’m not frightened – but I’m not happy about the ceasefire. I think we should have gone in to finish it all forever.”

Another irony. Asraf Simi was born in Morocco and learned Moroccan-accented Arabic before she left for Israel at the age of 17. And she does not know that today, in the squalor of Gaza, live well over 6,000 descendants of the people of Huj. Thus does the tragedy of the Palestinian Nakba – the “catastrophe” – connect directly with the Israelis of Sderot. That is why they cannot “finish it all forever”. Because the thousands of rockets that have fallen around them over the past 12 years come from the very place where now live the families that lived on this land. Thus does Sderot have an intimate connection with a date that President Obama may have forgotten about when he came visiting: 1948, the year that will never go away. [Abbrev.]

Fate and Destiny

by Ian Harris                   Otago Daily Times               Nov.  23, 2012

How come that you are here, living in this time and place? Previously I suggested that the answer lies in chance upon chance over scores of millennia, producing the mystery that is you. Others, however, would put their existence down to fate or its grander cousin, destiny.

Such a view once belonged naturally within a religious view of life, flowing from the conviction in ancient times that the gods, later supplanted by an all-wise and all-seeing God, must have a purpose for each of his creatures and tribes. Our human role was to accept whatever life served up as the gods’ (or God’s) will.  Success or failure in an enterprise, health or disability, death or survival after an accident, your life partner – there are still people who assume that fate or destiny lie behind each of these.

Our language reflects that. We may say of a marriage that it was “meant to be”. Faced with an incurable disease, most people will “accept their fate”, usually because they have no option. They can then either live as positively as they know how for as long as they are able, or grow bitter at the unfairness of their fate.

Before a sick or an old person dies we may say their life is “hanging by a thread”. That taps into a fate-laden image in Greek mythology of three crones, or “Fates”, who controlled everyone’s destiny from birth to death. Clotho spun the thread of each person’s life on to her spindle, Lachesis allotted length of life by measuring the thread, and Atropos chose the manner of death, cutting the thread when life had run its course.

Soldiers in battle face the prospect of “their number being up”, or a bullet “having their name on it”. Behind those phrases lies the notion, here tipping over into fatalism, that events are beyond our control and nothing we can do will change the outcome – which sometimes will be true. Literature is laden with fate. Romeo and Juliet are “a pair of star-cross’d lovers”. In Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Hardy’s “President of the Immortals” sports cruelly with Tess.
Fatalism gains religious force when people believe God has both a plan for each person’s life and the means to ensure it happens. Every event, good or bad, is then seen as God’s will, and the role of his creatures is to submit in obedience and humility. The more a life or event is thought to be pre-destined, however, the more helpless each of us will feel, and the less responsible for the way events turn out.

On a larger scale, does anyone think that wars and their outcomes are pre-determined by God? Or that the position of the stars influenced the wheelers and dealers whose machinations triggered the global financial crisis in 2008?
Hardly. Men in high places took the decisions that culminated in war and meltdown, and it was totally within their power to choose otherwise. In this secular age nothing, but nothing, is bound to happen because the stars or a divine puppeteer ordain it.

Humans now realise they control their own destiny to an extent unknown before. We cannot plead diminished responsibility by reason of fate, destiny or divine will. Responsibility for human affairs, and even for the future of the planet, lies squarely in human hands.

All these modulations of fate and destiny are evidence of the basic human impulse to find meaning in our experience, and all flow from a pre-secular way of seeing the world. They point to a hidden power and purpose, positive or sinister, behind every event. Fate and fatalism have a negative bias, while destiny is usually more positive: you suffer fate passively, but you participate actively in your destiny. We may say it was Abraham Lincoln’s destiny to save the union of American states, but it was his fate to be assassinated after the civil war was won.

Since ideas of fate and destiny depend on belief in supernatural forces and beings, it is difficult for anyone fully at home in our secular world to take them seriously – though zodiac charts, horoscopes, tarot cards and crystal balls show that some people still do.

Embracing any of these implies a belief or practice for which there is no longer any rational basis, however credible they must have seemed according to the lore of former times. Today they have shriveled into superstition. People grounded in this secular century will happily let them go, and accept the responsibility which is properly their own.

The Key Role of the US Government in Israel

by Glenn Greenwald                          Guardian/UK                                   November 21, 2012

Everything about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict follows the same pattern over and over, including the reaction of Americans. In the first couple of days after a new round of violence breaks out.  Intense interest is quickly replaced by weariness, irritation, and even anger that one has to be bothered by this never-ending and seemingly irresolvable conflict. The crux: "I would like to have an opinion on this continual bloodletting that didn't sound banal but I am thoroughly sick of both sides here."

This temptation is genuinely understandable. The carnage and mutual hatred seem infinite. The arguments are so repetitive. As is true in all wars, including those depicted in pleasing good-vs-evil terms, atrocities end up being committed by all sides, leading one to want to disassociate oneself from all parties involved. It is just as untenable to defend the indiscriminate launching by Hamas of projectiles into Israeli neighborhoods as it is to defend the massive air bombing by Israel of what they have turned into an open-air prison that is designed to collectively punish hundreds of thousands of human beings.

But for two independent reasons, this reasoning is invalid. The first reason, which I will mention only briefly, is that there is not equality between the two sides. The overarching fact of this conflict is that the Palestinians, for decades now, have been brutally occupied, blockaded, humiliated, deprived of the most basic human rights of statehood and autonomy though the continuous application of brute, lawless force.
But the second reason, to me, is even clearer. The government which Americans fund and elect is anything but neutral in this conflict. That government - certainly including the Democratic Party - is categorically, uncritically, and unfailingly on the side of Israel in every respect when it comes to violence and oppression against the Palestinians. For years now, US financial, military and diplomatic support of Israel has been the central enabling force driving this endless conflict. The bombs Israel drops on Gazans, and the planes they use to drop them, and the weapons they use to occupy the West Bank and protect settlements are paid for, in substantial part, by the US taxpayer.: So this "both-sides-are-hideous" mentality is not what drives the actions of the US government. Quite the contrary: the US government is as partisan and loyal a supporter of one side of this conflict as one can possibly be
Pierce does say that "I wish American arms and American dollars weren't being used to demolish entire neighborhoods," but in the next breath asks: "People are waiting for the president to do something, but what is to be done?" But he answered his own question: the US need not be, and should not be, such an active, one-sided participant in this aggression. The US government is fueling and feeding the Israeli war machine, and, with its own militaristic conduct, is legitimizing the premises of Israeli aggression.

This is exactly what I was referencing when I wrote on Saturday that one must stop pretending that the US is some sort of helpless, uninvolved party in this war between two distant, foreign entities. That is complete fiction. If an American citizen really wants to advocate for neutrality on the ground that both sides are equally horrible and they're sick of the whole conflict and wish it would all just go away, then the place to begin with that advocacy is US government policy which, as unpleasant as it might be to face, has long been, and remains more than ever, a key force that drives the bloodshed.  [Abridged]

Glenn Greenwald is a columnist on civil liberties and US national security issues for the Guardian.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

What was it all for?

The murder of Palestinians and Israelis is just a prelude to the next Gaza war

Robert Fisk                            Independent/UK                            22 November 2012

Netanyahu’s campaign for the January elections began the moment he ordered the assassination of Ahmed al-Jabari. He's improved Hamas's election chances too. So what was it all for? The  11-month old Palestinian baby killed with its entire family by an Israeli pilot, the 150-odd Palestinian dead – two thirds of them civilians – the six Israeli dead, 1,500 air raids on Gaza, 1,500 rockets on Israel. What fearful symmetry! But was all this done – and let us forget the billions of dollars of weapons spent by Israel – for a ceasefire? Not a peace treaty, not even a treaty, just a truce. Before the next Gaza war.

Cynics abound in Israel, and not without reason. “End of a military operation, beginning of an election campaign,” ran a headline in The Jerusalem Post yesterday – albeit in a newspaper that has given its usual support to war in Gaza.
But surely Netanyahu’s campaign for the January elections began the moment he ordered the assassin-ation of Ahmed al-Jabari, the Hamas leader, just over a week ago. Indeed, the bombing of Gaza moved seamlessly into the Netanyahu election project: if Israelis want security, they know who to vote for. Or do they? It was evident after the ceasefire began on Wednesday night that Mr Netanyahu was worried.
“I know that there are citizens who expect an even harsher military action…” he began, but “Israel’s challenges” had become more complicated down the years. “Under these conditions, we need to steer the ship of state responsibly and with wisdom.” An interesting choice of words, but Churchillian it was not.
For years now, Mr Netanyahu has been pressing ahead with Jewish colonies on West Bank land stolen from Arabs, effectively denying any future Palestinian statehood – and steering his own “ship of state” into a future tempest. If the Palestinians can have no state, Israel will have no peace, and Hamas rockets will in time look like an inconvenience in comparison to what is to come.
Netanyahu has certainly improved Hamas’s election chances, and more or less doomed the political future of Mahmoud Abbas – Israel’s and America’s chosen Palestinian “interlocuteur valable” – who has frittered his time away in his Ramallah palace, growing ever more irrelevant with each Israeli air raid.
Scrabbling for non-state recognition at the UN – if he still intends to go ahead with this plan – doesn’t equal Hamas’s new popularity, nor the importance which we now have to attach to Mohamed Morsi of Egypt. The statesmen of Egypt, Turkey and the Gulf – if statesmen they can ever be called – travelled to Gaza to give their moral support to Palestinians, not to Ramallah.
Oddly, the self-delusional policies which Israel has often fed upon – in its second Lebanon war in 1982, for example – returned this month. In Washington, the Israeli ambassador, Michael Oren, has been arguing that the Gaza war began in 1948, “the day Arab forces moved to destroy the newly declared state of Israel.” But this is untrue.
The Gaza war began when Israel drove 750,000 Palestinians from their homes in that same year, many tens of thousands of them herded into the refugee camps of – yes, Gaza. It is their children and grandchildren who have been firing rockets into Israel – in some cases on to the very lands which their families once owned.
But Michael Oren follows up with some strange “history”. He seems to believe that the Arabs of 1948 were “inflamed by religious extremism”, and that the 1956 Suez crisis – plotted in advance by Israel, Britain and France after Nasser nationalised the canal – was an Arab attempt to destroy Israel.
Yesterday, Ophir Falk of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at Herzliya managed to write that the Israeli military had “constrained itself to targeting combatants and their facilities, whereas Hamas primarily and premeditatedly targets civilians and their homes”. But if Israeli pilots only targeted combatants, how come two-thirds of the 140 Palestinian dead were non-combatant men, women and children? Are Israeli pilots that ill-trained?      

But now, I suppose, for the election.                         

Friday, 23 November 2012

It's Palestinians who have the right to defend themselves

Justice requires a change in the balance of forces on the ground 

Seumas Milne                      Guardian/UK                           20 November 2012

The way western politicians and media have pontificated about Israel's onslaught on Gaza, you'd think it was facing an unprovoked attack from a well-armed foreign power. Israel had every "right to defend itself",Obama declared. "No country on earth would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders."
He was echoed by Britain's foreign secretary, William Hague, who declared that the Palestinian Islamists of Hamas bore "principal responsibility" for Israel's bombardment of the open-air prison that is the Gaza Strip.
In fact, an examination of the events over the last month shows that Israel played the decisive role in the military escalation: from its attack on a Khartoum arms factory reportedly supplying arms to Hamas and the killing of 15 Palestinian fighters in late October, to the killing of a 13 year-old in an Israeli incursion and, crucially,the assassination of the Hamas commander Ahmed Jabari last Wednesday during negotiations over a temporary truce.

Israel's PM Netanyahu, had plenty of motivation to unleash a new round of bloodletting. There was the imminence of Israeli elections (military attacks are par for the course before Israeli polls); the need to test Egypt's new president, Mohamed Morsi, and pressure Hamas to bring other Palestinian guerrilla groups to heel. So after six days of sustained assault by the world's fourth largest military power on one of its most wretched and overcrowded territories, at least 130 Palestinians had been killed, an estimated half of them civilians, along with five Israelis.
Despite Israel's withdrawal of settlements and bases in 2005, the Gaza Strip remains occupied, both effectively and legally – and is recognised as such by the UN. Israel is in control of Gaza's land and sea borders, territorial waters and natural resources, airspace, power supply and telecommunications. It has blockaded the strip since Hamas took over in 2006-7, preventing the movement of people, materials, and food supplies in and out of the territory. So Gazans are an occupied people and have the right to resist, including by armed force (though not to target civilians), while Israel is an occupying power that has an obligation to withdraw – not a right to defend territories it controls or is colonising by dint of military power.

Even if Israel had genuinely ended its occupation in 2005, Gaza's people are Palestinians, and their territory part of the 22% of historic Palestine earmarked for a Palestinian state that depends on Israeli withdrawal from the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem. Across their land, Palestinians have the right to defend and arm themselves, whether they choose to exercise it or not. But instead the US, Britain and other European powers finance, arm and back to the hilt Israel's occupation, including the siege of Gaza – precisely to prevent Palestinians obtaining the arms that would allow them to protect themselves against Israeli military might.
It's hardly surprising of course that powers which have themselves invaded, occupied and intervened across the Arab and Muslim world over the last decade should throw their weight behind Israel doing the same thing on its own doorstep. But it isn't Palestinian rockets that stop Israel lifting the blockade, dismantling its illegal settlements or withdrawing from the West Bank and Gaza – it's US and western support that gives Israel impunity.
Emboldened by the wave of change and growing support across the region, Hamas has also regained credibility as a resistance force, and strengthened its hand against an increasingly discredited Palestinian Authority leadership in Ramallah. The deployment of longer-range rockets that have now been shown to reach Tel Aviv and Jerusalem is also beginning to shift what has been an overwhelmingly one-sided balance of deterrence.
The truce being negotiated on Tuesday would reportedly enforce Hamas responsibility for policing the strip and crucially break the blockade, opening the Rafah crossing with Egypt for goods as well as people. It doesn't, however, look like the long-term security deal with Hamas Israel was looking for, which would risk deepening the disastrous Palestinian split between Gaza and the West Bank.
Any relief from the bombardment, death and suffering of the past week has got to be welcome. But no ceasefire is going to prevent another eruption of violence. Whatever is finally agreed won't end Israel's occupation and colonisation of Palestinian land or halt its war of dispossession against the Palestinian people. That demands unrelenting pressure on the western powers that underwrite it to change course. But most of all, it needs a change in the balance of forces on the ground.             [Abridged]

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Fight Against Climate Change Blocked by Luddites at Big Oil

Linda McQuaig                           Toronto Star                               November 21, 2012

In the interest of fighting climate change, most of us avoid buying SUVs —vehicles that aren’t necessary unless one intends to take the whole family for a spin through downtown Baghdad. Most of us also recycle and keep the thermostat low. However, these gestures are doing almost nothing to stop the warming of the planet.
Yet climate change has disappeared from the political agenda. While the media diligently scrutinize the security risk posed by a hot relationship between a general and his biographer, there’s little airtime to consider the security risk posed by something even hotter: the planet. (A Pentagon-commissioned study in 2003 concluded that global warming would lead to brutal storms, flooding, drought and widespread human strife. “)

The news on the climate front is devastating. In a report earlier this month, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), one of the world’s largest accounting firms, states the world has “passed the critical threshold” and that current carbon reductions amount to “a fraction of what is required against the international commitment to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius.” In order to keep within that limit by 2050, the accounting firm says the world will have to dramatically accelerate its annual pace of carbon reduction — to a rate never before achieved, and then continue at that rate “for 39 consecutive years.” No problem! That’s if we want to keep warming to just 2 degrees Celsius — which may be too high. So far, we’ve warmed the planet by only 0.8 degrees Celsius — and yet that little bit of warming packs quite a punch, as the U.S. east coast learned last month.
In a brilliant article in Rolling Stone, Bill McKibben sets out exactly why Big Oil and the rest of the fossil fuel industry so fiercely resist action to tackle climate change. The companies currently have proven reserves of oil, gas and coal worth $27 trillion. If the world were to reduce carbon emissions enough to keep the temperature increase below 2 degrees Celsius, 80 per cent of those reserves would have to stay in the ground! McKibben notes that this means the fossil fuel industry would “be writing off $20 trillion in assets” — not something corporate moguls do, especially when it involves their core business.
One proposed solution is a “fee-and-dividend” scheme, which would heavily tax fossil fuels and then return the revenue to the entire population by monthly check, encouraging everyone to save money by switching to cleaner energy. This would help the public transition to a greener economy. But it wouldn’t help Big Oil, whose executives would remain hell-bent on stopping the march of progress — just as 19th-century textile workers fiercely resisted being replaced by spinning machines. While those workers angrily smashed the machines, the world moved on to a prosperous new era of large-scale factory production, enabling the public to enjoy brightly colored cotton calicoes.
The workers, dubbed Luddites, paid a heavy price for their resistance. They were executed for destroying the machines, and have been ridiculed throughout history. By contrast, the Luddites running Big Oil are enjoying the biggest bonanza in history, even as they block the saving of the planet — a more grievous offense, by any reckoning, than denying the world the benefits of the spinning machine or even the calico ball.        [Abbrev.]
© 2012 Toronto Star

Israel demands our support because it fights its ‘war against ‘terrorists’ in our name

We westerners set the precedent when it comes to "collateral damage", now the Israelis are reeling out the same tired excuses

By Robert Fisk                Independent/UK                   20 November 2012

Enough is enough. Now we have even “National Infrastructure” Minister Uzi Landau – one of my favourite dogsbodies in the Israeli government – talking about “collateral damage” and the justification for bombing Hamas’s broadcasting station. It could be used for transmitting military instructions, he said. But wasn’t that exactly what our own beloved Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara – now, I suppose, Lord Blair of the Holy Land – said after Nato bombed the Serb television station in Belgrade, when Nato, too, was blathering on about “collateral damage”?
We Westerners set the precedents in the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq – trains, bridges, TV stations, wedding parties, blocks of civilian apartments, you name it – and now the Israelis can trot along behind and produce, whenever necessary, the same tired list of excuses we invented for Nato.
It’s odd, the way they all get away with it. Lord Blair, whose 92 Business Class trips to the Holy Land have produced a peace beyond all peace, is now talking about how it’s in everybody’s interest to have a truce – is his face getting a bit skeletal, or is that my imagination? – and a truce, I suppose, we shall have, well over 100 Palestinian and three Israeli dead too late. But is it all worth it? Was the murder by Israel of Hamas’s military leader Ahmed al-Jabari in fact not staged to provide an excuse to bomb all those new missiles that Hamas has acquired?
That wise old Israeli owl Uri Avneri – he is 89 years old – thinks this is just the trap that Hamas fell into by launching its preposterous “Gates of Hell” rocket attacks in revenge for Jabari’s death. The whole Operation “Pillar of Defence” was about destroying Hamas’s weapons – not about the largely ineffective missiles themselves.
Isn’t this why Israel gave its operation the name it did? For, despite our constant repetition of “Operation Pillar of Defence”, Israeli friends tell me that the correct Hebrew translation of this sick war is Operation Pillar of Cloud. Which makes a lot more sense. For this comes from the Book of Exodus (13:21) – “And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud, to lead them the way.” I wonder, indeed, if the ridiculous William Hague realised he was doing God’s work when he gave his support to this bloodletting?
But this leads me to another little matter. One of the new Israeli lines on the war runs like this. Israel kills “terrorists” by the score along with a handful of “collateral damage” innocents – and the world rages against Israel. Yet isn’t the Syrian regime killing Syrian innocents by the thousand every month? Where are the mass protests, the venting of wrath at Bashar al-Assad? What hypocrisy! But of course, this is in itself a hypocrisy. We know the old “Hama rules” of Syria; no one asks us to support them. And comparing Israel’s brutality to that of the Assad regime is playing the old Lord Blair game: we weren’t perfect in Iraq – but we weren’t as bad as Saddam.
No. Israel claims to hold the same values as the supposedly moral West. It says that it is fighting “terrorism” in our name as well as its own. It says it is fighting like us. It is playing by our Western rules. We are all Israelis now; that is what we are meant to say. Hamas is our enemy, as well as Israel’s. And so – for this is the effect – we too must be contaminated by the war crimes of Israel’s pilots. That, I believe, is why we protest against Israel. Operation Pillar of Cloud must not be committed in our name.

Journalistic Cliches Cannot Conceal Reality

by Robert Fisk                         Independent/UK                                     November 19, 2012

Terror, terror, terror, terror, terror. Here we go again. Israel is going to “root out Palestinian terror” – which it has been claiming to do, unsuccessfully, for 64 years – while Hamas, the latest in “Palestine’s” morbid militias, announces that Israel has “opened the gates of hell” by murdering its military leader, Ahmed al-Jabari.
Hezbollah several times announced that Israel had “opened the gates of hell” for attacking Lebanon. Yasser Arafat, who was a super-terrorist, then a super-statesman – after capitulating on the White House lawn – and then became a super-terrorist again when he realized he’d been conned by Camp David; he, too waffled on about the “gates of hell” in 1982.
And we journos are writing like performing bears, repeating all the clichés we’ve used for the past 40 years. The killing of Mr Jabari was a “targeted attack”, it was a “surgical air strike” – like the Israeli “surgical air strikes” which killed almost 17,000 civilians in Lebanon in 1982, the 1,200 Lebanese, most of them civilians, in 2006, or the 1,300 Palestinians, most of them civilians, in Gaza in 2008-9, or the pregnant woman and the baby who were killed by the “surgical air strikes” in Gaza last week – and the 11 civilians killed in one Gaza house yesterday. At least Hamas, with their Godzilla rockets, don’t claim anything “surgical” about them. They are meant to murder Israelis – any Israelis, man woman or child.
As, in truth, are the Israeli attacks on Gaza. But don’t say that or you’ll be an anti-Semitic Nazi; almost as evil, wicked, unspeakable, devilish and murderous as the Hamas movement with which – again, please don’t mention this – Israel happily negotiated in the Eighties when they encouraged this bunch of mobsters to take power in Gaza and thus decapitate the exiled super-terrorist Arafat. The new exchange rate in Gaza for Palestinian and Israeli deaths has reached 16:1. It will rise, of course. The exchange rate in 2008-9 was 100:1.
Mr Jabari was the “No 1 shadowy leader” of Hamas, according to the Associated Press. But how on earth can he be shadowy when we know his date of birth, family details, his years of imprisonment by Israel during which he changed allegiance from Fatah to Hamas? So while I’m on it, those years of Israeli imprisonment didn’t exactly convert Mr Jabari to pacifism, did they? Well, no tears then; he was a man who lived by the sword and died by the sword, a fate which, of course, will not afflict Israel’s warriors of the air as they kill civilians in Gaza.
Washington supports Israel’s “right to defend itself” then claims a spurious neutrality – as if Israel’s bombs on Gaza didn’t come from the United States as assuredly as the Fajr-5 rockets come from Iran. But is there nothing to stop this nonsense, this garbage war? Hundreds of rockets fall on Israel. True. Thousands of acres of land are stolen from Arabs by Israel –for Jews and Jews only – on the West Bank. There isn’t even enough land left there now for a Palestinian state.  The problem, oddly, is that Israel’s actions in the West Bank and its siege of Gaza are bringing closer the very event which Israeli trumpets it fears every day: that Israel faces destruction.
In the battle of rockets – not least Iran’s Fajr-5s and Hezbollah’s drones – a new warpath is being trodden by both sides. It’s no longer about Israeli tanks crossing the Lebanese border or the Gaza border. It’s about rockets and hi-tech drones and computer attacks – or “cyber-terrorism”, of course, if committed by Muslims – and the human dross ripped apart by the wayside will be even less relevant than it has been over the past three days.
If Benjamin Netanyahu believes that the arrival of the first Iranian Fajr rockets necessitates the Israeli big bang on Iran, and then Iran fires back – and perhaps at the Americans, too– and brings in Hezbollah – and Obama gets swallowed up in another Western-Muslim war, what happens then? Well, Israel will ask for a ceasefire, as it routinely does in wars against Hezbollah. It will plead yet again for the undying support of the West in its struggle against world evil, Iran included.
And why not praise the killing of Mr Jabari? Please forget that the Israelis negotiated via the German secret service with Mr Jabari himself, less than 12 months ago. You can’t negotiate with “terrorists”, right? Israel calls this latest bloodbath Operation Pillar of Defense. Pillar of Hypocrisy, more like.     © 2012 Independent/UK           [Abridged]
Robert Fisk is Middle East correspondent for The Independent

Surely the Bloodshed Has to End

Izzeldin Abuelaish                     Guardian/UK                          November 18, 2012

I was shocked to read of it. Another massacre. How many more massacres can Palestinians stand? How many can onlookers tolerate? Surely, now it's time to face reality: military means and violence will never put an end to this conflict. The notion of occupied and occupier must finish. The Israelis cannot claim self-defence. It is invasion, using all means from all directions –air, ground and sea.  Rather than self-defence, it is escaping responsibility. By contrast, is it not the right of the occupied to fight and free themselves from occupation and the continuous invasion and humiliations? . It's time for political leaders to be courageous. What are they going to say to their children when they watch other children killed. Where's an international system built on justice and human values?

This action endangers the life and future not only of Palestinians but also of Israelis. For this act is suicidal as well as destructive. The ultimate enemies are ignorance, arrogance, fear and greed. And the real courage would be to implement the peace treaties and plans. As I write, 39 Palestinians and three Israelis have been killed and more than 300 people severely wounded. The killed include eight children, three women, including one pregnant, and four elderly. Of the severely wounded there are 102 children. It is, again, a human tragedy.
The political and military leadership – including all Israeli generals – know that military means will never put an end to this violence. We also know that occupations end and this one will eventually finish too. So, let's call a halt now to this craziness. Instead of using force against civilians, why not invest energy in moving forward in the peace treaties? The wound cannot heal while all the time there is a great commitment to deepening it and to add salt to it. My family in Gaza are not safe; and the same can be said for all those innocent people in Israel.
"No government would tolerate a situation where nearly a fifth of its people live under a constant barrage of rockets and missile fire," argues the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who faces an election in January. What about the Palestinian people who have suffered for decades?
The military was ordered to conduct "surgical strikes" in Gaza, said Netanyahu, but Israel would take "whatever action is necessary to defend our people." There were also reports of rocket fire on Gaza overnight.  It's news to me that Netanyahu is a surgeon.. We, as doctors, practise constructive and curative surgery, not the destructive and traumatising sort. That is the kind of surgery he needs to learn and practice.
In the midst of the escalation in violence, to be courageous would be to create, to build and construct; and to save lives. There's no courage in using power against innocent, unarmed civilians – or civilians armed just with their faith and their will to live independent lives. Nor is there courage – on either side – in manipulating the situation for limited political and individual interest.

The doctor's role is to help, to minimize the suffering and to deliver safely the children of the future. It's time for the international community to help and support Palestinians in this beautiful project. The world is plagued by violence and conflict. We need to move forward and emphasize the dignity that each human being deserves regardless of gender or race. The freedom should not stop at Palestine borders, and we can endure through truth and justice.  Let us hope this is a turning point, and a way towards Palestinian freedom.  ©                [Abridged]
Dr Izzeldin Abuelaish is a Palestinian doctor and infertility specialist. In 2009 three of his daughters were killed by Israeli shells. He now campaigns for peace and teaches at the University of Toronto

The New Evangelical Agenda

Jim Wallis              Sojourners            17 Nov. 2012

The day after the election, Southern Baptist Seminary President Albert Mohler said, "I think this was an evangelical disaster."  Not really. But it was a disaster for the religious right, which had again tied its faith to the partisan political agenda of the Republican Party -- which did lose the election. But Nov. 6 was an even deeper disaster for the religious right's leaders, because they will no longer be able to control or easily co-opt the meaning of the term "evangelical."   Just as the 2012 electoral results finally revealed the demographic transformation of America .  It also dramatically demonstrated how the meaning of the word "evangelical" is being transformed.  Evangelical can no longer be accurately used to mean "white evangelical."

Of the 71 percent (Pew, CNN) of America's Hispanics who voted for President Barack Obama, the vast majority are either Catholic or evangelical/Pentecostal. Obama lost the white Catholic vote, but he won "the Catholic vote" because of Hispanic Catholics. Similarly, Obama lost the white evangelical vote, but he won the majority of Hispanics who call themselves evangelical or Pentecostal. Likewise, Obama won 93 percent of the African-American vote, the majority of whom are members of black churches whose theology is quite evangelical. And 75 percent of the Asian-American vote, whose churchgoing members are also mostly evangelical, went for Obama.

So what does all that tell us? Very simply, the majority of the white evangelicals went for Gov. Romney, and the majority of the non-white evangelicals voted for President Obama. Obama also won 60 percent of younger voters (ages 18-29).  If demographics changed this election, they have also changed the meaning of the term "evangelical."

Religious right leaders like Franklin Graham did everything they could to turn evangelicals to Romney, especially in the final run-up to the election. Their efforts to turn concerns about abortion and gay marriage into partisan arguments for a Republican victory -- and to threaten dangerous consequences of a Democratic win -- were, by their own estimates, the most extensive ever. But they failed and didn't change the outcome of the election.

While most evangelicals are still "pro-life," abortion is not their only concern. Not all are convinced that Republicans have the best answers to all the life issues. While most evangelicals are strongly committed to strengthening family life, not all think equal rights for gay and lesbian people are a threat to the family. Poverty reduction, immigration reform, a consistent life ethic, the creation care of environmental protection, a less militaristic foreign policy, and a deep commitment to racial and economic justice are all issues of concern.
It's time to tell the media to change its terminology, and take account of all the "evangelicals." And it's time to describe the broader list of "moral" and "biblical" issues that evangelicals care about. This is a new, diverse coalition for a new America -- and a changing evangelical demographic is a central part of that. The narrow conservatism of the religious right's white evangelicals is simply not a faith to and for that new evangelical world.

Evangelical is a theological commitment, not a political one. It's about the centrality of Christ and the authority of the Bible. It's following Jesus and our obedience to the Scriptures that leads us to defend the poor, protect the most vulnerable, welcome the stranger, seek racial reconciliation and justice, and be good stewards of the environment and peacemakers in a world of war.  Those commitments will always challenge politics, but they should never be partisan. Democrats should not make the same mistake that Republicans did in believing they have any permanent voting bloc. The policies and priorities of political parties and leaders should be and will be examined by the faith agenda of the community we call the body of Christ.         [Abridged]

Jim Wallis is CEO of Sojourners

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Chance and Mystery

by Ian Harris                          Otago Daily Times                             Nov. 9, 2012 

If you were ever able to stand on another planet and reflect on your life from that perspective, you could hardly escape two quite contradictory conclusions. One would be a sobering realisation of your total insignificance in the universe. The other, how amazing it is that you are here at all – and therefore how unimaginably significant you are. That’s because each of us is the highly improbable result of 3.5 billion years of evolving life on Earth, and 200,000 years of the existence of homo sapiens. Behind you lie aeons of the human struggle to survive – by hunting and gathering, migration and settlement, the endless flow of people across continents. 

Our ancestors survived hunger, danger, disease, and disaster to bear offspring. Who they mated with through thousands of generations depended on who was around at the time, the social structure they were part of, and whom they encountered in forays into the surrounding regions to hunt, barter or wage war. Latterly, many crossed oceans to settle in places such as faraway New Zealand, and married others who had done the same. That’s how most of us come to be here today. Chance, chance and chance. 

But that’s not the half of it. In the normal pattern your mother, who was born with her whole life’s quota of 300 to 400 ova already present in her body, released one egg each month from her early teens till menopause, probably in her forties. It took only one spermatozoon from your father to fertilise one of those eggs – but he was capable of releasing 100 million or more spermatozoa in every millilitre of fluid. Of that total at least 75 million would still have been alive, with 25 million vigorous enough to have a good chance of fertilising the egg. 

The process has been likened to “a marathon run in a maze filled with mucus followed by an obstacle course” (the extra spurt required to penetrate the ovum wall). Be that as it may, any one of the spare 24,999,999 sperm could have produced someone who was not you. 

One spermatozoon did make the breakthrough, however, and you are here because of it. In all likelihood, there would have been similar sperm tsunamis in previous months that led nowhere. Mood, stress, timing, drugs, diet could all have made a difference. Chance – and mystery, the mystery that is you. So it is not inevitable that you exist. It is rather one of those everyday miracles built into the working of the natural world. You owe your being to a biological flick in time. It could so easily have turned out otherwise. 

Still there is more. As a child growing up, you owe your language, diet, schooling, religious attitudes and social opportunities to the happenstance of family, geography, culture and the era you were born. Change any one of those, and you would not be the person you are today. Chance again, and mystery. 

Now place those personal particularities within the grander sweep of space and time. Then you might register that for 13.7 billion years after the Big Bang you were not, and for 4.6 billion years of Earth’s existence you were not, and for 3.5 billion years of life on Earth you were not, and for 2.5 million years of hominid development you were not, and for 200,000 years during which homo sapiens emerged you were not. But today, for the briefest flicker of time in the story of the universe, you are. 

As a secular Christian, I find genuine mystery in all this, along with awe, wonder, and awareness of the responsibility that comes with the gift of life and consciousness. A person suffering from an incurable disease might wonder: Why me? Anyone who calculates the odds of existing at all might ask the same question: Why me? Here is mystery anchored in the midst of ordinary life. It assumes no supernatural reality, yet reflecting on it opens a window on to the vastness, the unity and the interconnectedness of all that has been, is, and will be. 

Many people, religious and irreligious alike, have experiences of heightened awareness and sensitivity they might describe as mystery. Such moments bring a sense of enhanced being, a welling-up of peace, trust, hope, gratitude, love, and affirmation of life. Yet this quickening of the imagination occurs within the framework of our very secular human minds and bodies. These have always been the crucible of mystery, and always will be.

As US states Legalize Marijuana, Is This the End of the War on Drugs?

by Eugene Jarecki                  Guardian/UK                 November 11, 2012

Last week was a momentous week, the beginning of the end, perhaps, of a national depravity – the "war on drugs". The voters of Colorado and Washington passed measures to legalize marijuana. We shouldn't delude ourselves that the country will be transformed overnight, but the public thinking, the public spirit is being transformed. Finally, there is a growing realization that this "war" has produced nothing but a legacy of failure.

Not in question is the ravaging impact drugs can have on individuals. But we need to see addiction for what it is – not a criminal matter but a public health issue, and a huge social issue, especially for the young. In fact, instead of a "war on drugs", better to call it a war on children. In many parts of our country, a child strays a little at 14; tries a drug, can't think of any way to pay for it, and then sinks into the underground economy. Before long, he has a strike on his record, a strike that will be with him for the rest of his life. So you have a cycle of degradation, starting at 13, 14, and he never gets out of it.

There is a new consensus on drugs. What's happening is complicated – economic calculations meeting up with humanitarian concerns.. All see a failed approach. When I set off to make my film, I wanted to speak to people all over the country touched by drugs. The users and dealers and family members; but also judges and police and wardens. I expected to be a sort of court reporter, capturing an argument between these two camps.

In fact, everybody sounded like a victim. The people who work in the penal system want those jobs like they want a hole in the head; they are doing work they take no pride in. Ultimately, there are very few people who want to work in a system whose success relies on a churn of your fellow humans to lock up. And, of course – in class terms – there's far more commonality. Prison guards would tell me that they had relatives in prison, high school friends. And, hauntingly, everyone had a story about how broken the system was.

But there's a shocking fatalism in play. What I found was lots of people saying: "Eugene, I know the system is broken and I wish you well. But dream on, it is so vast and has so much bureaucratic thrust you're deluding yourself if you think it can be fixed." But these wardens would then say: "But until you do, I have to do my job, and by God, I'm an American and I'm going to do it better than the next guy."

Admirable in one sense, but it greases the wheels for the continuing operation of the machine. So a judge will quite sincerely tell you how he has no choice but to imprison a non-violent person for 20 years because of mandatory sentencing – and he's right – but then, over lunch, he'll tell you how much he regrets doing so. For a country founded in revolution, we have become spectacularly unmoored from the notion of revolutionary behavior. Instead, we keep the bodies moving through the system.

I'm not going to pretend that the collapse of the "war on drugs" would transform life chances overnight for those born poorest in America. But, if you were to stop kneecapping many communities, you would free them to at least get their feet on the ground in normal ways. You could also save such a tremendous amount of money. What could I do in the neighborhoods that would actually foster the values that built civilization and would help young people find pathways other than those that end up in addiction?

What will bring about change is public demand. The public has to boo and hiss politicians who pander in this way – who say they are being tough on crime when they are destroying communities. We need to tell them that we won't let them vilify our neighbor to keep the penal system running. We will do that if we recognize that drug-mongering is no more substantial than WMD-mongering. And we know how that turned out. Americans have been an impressionable lot, but we're becoming less so. Bit by bit, we're realizing that the "war on drugs" makes no sense. And, if we let politicians know this, they have no choice but to become smarter and answer our demands.

Eugene Jarecki's The House I Live In, won the grand jury prize at the 2012 Sundance film festival.


The Real Scandal: Crimes of War, Not Passion

by Randall Amster               Common Dreams              November 13, 2012

The media blitz is fully engaged around the latest Washington sex scandals, and with it come nascent cheers from some anti-war sectors over the public unraveling of the top brass who have helped to orchestrate the longest war in U.S. history. On email threads and in the blogosphere, one is likely to view celebratory remarks laced with words like “comeuppance,” “karma,” and “justice.” Yet while it may be true that there’s a certain element of ironic remuneration in all of this, it’s also the case that such episodes can serve to draw our focus toward the wrong issues and the wrong scandals.The real transgressions here are not crimes of passion, but crimes of war.

It isn’t the sexual dalliances of the power elite that merit our critical gaze, but rather the sadistic destruction of their everyday actions as architects of institutionalized, taxpayer-funded brutality. The real transgressions here are not crimes of passion, but crimes of war: massive civilian casualties, destruction of nations, bankrupting the domestic economy, torture and rendition, drones raining extrajudicial death from above. These are the reasons to bring down a demagogue; doing so under other pretenses threatens to cloud the issues, while a successor is hastily named to continue the war effort. It would be a worse scandal if we allow this to happen.

Only in America could such rabid sexual Puritanism combine with uncritical genocidal complicity. We seem to have a unique capacity to condemn more mundane forms of human lust even as we thoroughly exercise our collective bloodlust without much reflection or remorse. Does it really matter much if a general has a love affair or betrays his family, when the war policies he has helped to design and implement have destroyed countless families and fractured the bonds of love among people half a world away? Maybe we should care a bit less about who they’re screwing than how we’re all being screwed all the time.

In this light, we can surmise that politics surely plays a role in all of this. Perhaps this signals an effort to slowly downsize the military and hasten an end to the war without end. Maybe it’s part of a larger foreign policy shakeup that will become evident in the near future. Possibly there’s a strategic shift afoot to deemphasize hardware and prioritize software in the next generation of conflict. It could also be the case that such revelations are a way of reducing in rank those whose policies have failed to produce the promised results. But we should be having those substantive discussions rather than merely the salacious ones.

Granted, there’s a certain degree of delightful irony in all of this, as “war on terror” stalwarts get bitten by the very same post-9/11 surveillance apparatuses that were imposed on all of us under the pretext of catching terrorists. The ease by which electronic communications of all sorts are delivered to law enforcement by internet providers should give us great pause in a free society. Progressives and civil libertarians have long complained about the intrusiveness of such practices, and how they broach the leading edge of punishing people for “thought crimes” right out of authoritarian dystopias. In a perverse twist, we might even consider whether we should be defending the defrocked generals’ right to privacy.

In fact, by arguing against the Patriot Act and its progeny, at least we would move the dialogue closer to the actual issues at hand. The entire post-9/11 paradigm -- preemptive action, perpetual warfare, unilateralism, secrecy and surveillance, unbridled executive authority, manipulation of fear -- should be under close scrutiny more so than the titillating details of anyone’s personal indiscretions. Perhaps we could argue that the two are related, i.e., as concrete expressions of cavalier hubris and moral turpitude. But if so, that point needs to be put forth more incisively than is taking place in the gossip mill right now.

I don’t want to put a damper on the chortles of an anti-war contingent in desperate need of even a small victory after more than a decade (longer, really) under the dark clouds of escalating militarism. I get why a story like this resonates and even appears as a form of rough justice to many. Still, it seems to me that larger issues yet pervade, and that we would do well not to lose sight of them -- lest we find ourselves winning the battle but losing the war.

Randall Amster, JD, PhD, teaches Peace Studies and chairs the Master’s program in Humanities at Prescott College in Arizona. He is the Executive Director of the Peace & Justice Studies Association.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

The Gulf protection racket is corrupt and dangerous folly

Seumas Milne                       Guardian/UK                           6 November 2012
On the nauseating political doublespeak scale, David Cameron's claim to "support the Arab spring" on a trip to sell weapons to Gulf dictators this week hit a new low. No stern demands for free elections from the autocrats of Arabia – or calls for respect for human rights routinely dished out even to major powers like Russia and China.
As the kings and emirs crack down on democratic protest, the prime minister assured them of his "respect and friendship". Different countries, he explained soothingly in Abu Dhabi, needed "different paths, different timetables" on the road to reform: countries that were western allies, spent billions on British arms and sat on some of the world's largest oil reserves in particular, he might have added by way of explanation.
Cameron went to the Gulf as a salesman for BAE Systems – the private arms corporation that makes Typhoon jets – drumming up business from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Oman, as well as smoothing ruffled feathers over British and European parliamentary criticism of their human rights records on behalf of BP and other companies. No wonder the prime minister restricted media coverage of the jaunt. But, following hard on the heels of a similar trip by the French president, the western message to the monarchies was clear enough: Arab revolution or not, it's business as usual with Gulf despots.
But popular unrest has now reached the shores of the Gulf. In Kuwait, tens of thousands of demonstrators, including Islamists, liberals and nationalists, have faced barrages of teargas and stun grenades as they protest against a rigged election law. After 18 months of violent suppression of the opposition in Bahrain, armed by Britain and America, the regime has outlawed all anti-government demonstrations. In western-embraced Saudi Arabia, protests have been brutally repressed, as thousands are held without charge or proper trial.
Meanwhile, scores have been jailed in the UAE for campaigning for democratic reform, and in Britain's favourite Arab police state of Jordan, protests have mushroomed against a Kuwaiti-style electoral stitchup. London, Paris and Washington all express concern – but arm and back the autocrats.
This is effectively a mafia-style protection racket, in which Gulf regimes use oil wealth their families have commandeered to buy equipment from western firms they will never use. The companies pay huge kickbacks to the relevant princelings, while a revolving door of political corruption provides lucrative employment for former defence ministers, officials and generals with the arms corporations they secured contracts for in office.
Naturally, western leaders and Arab autocrats claim the Gulf states are threatened by Iran. In reality, that would only be a risk if the US or Israel attacked Iran – and in that case, it would be the US and its allies, not the regimes' forces, that would be defending them. Hypocrisy doesn't begin to describe this relationship, which has long embedded corruption in a web of political, commercial and intelli gence links at the heart of British public life.
The danger now is of escalating military buildup against Iran and intervention in the popular upheavals that have been unleashed across the region. Both the US and Britain have sent troops to Jordan in recent months to bolster the tottering regime and increase leverage in the Syrian civil war. Cameron held talks with emirates leaders this week about setting up a permanent British military airbase in the UAE.
The prime minister defended arms sales to dictators on the basis of 300,000 jobs in Britain's "defence industries". Those numbers are inflated and in any case heavily reliant on government subsidy. But there's also no doubt that British manufacturing is over-dependent on the arms industry and some of that support could usefully be diverted to, say, renewable technologies.
Sooner or later, these autocrats will fall.  Without western support, they would have certainly been toppled already. When that happens, the western world risks a new backlash from its leaders' corrupt folly.   [Abridged]
Twitter: @SeumasMilne