Cutting through the bullshit.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Change we can believe in

I was planning to post excerpts from Mark Steele’s column in Wednesday’s Independent. But when I went to retrieve the URL, guess what

Sorry but we haven't been able to serve the page you requested - please try again

Well, I have tried again, and again. As there’s no problem loading other content on the site, I surmise this column has been removed, probably for reasons that won’t be hard to fathom. So here it is in full for your delectation.

Mark Steel: Now we've all seen through the Israeli government's excuses

If the Hamas rockets are so lethal, why doesn't Israel swap an F-16 for some?

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

The worrying part about whether the ceasefire in Gaza can hold together will be whether the international community can stop the flow of arms to the terrorists. Because Israel's getting their planes and tanks and missiles from somewhere and until this supply is cut off there's every chance it could start up again.

The disregard for life from these terrorists and their supporters is shocking. For example Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist, wrote that the purpose of the Israeli attack must be to "inflict a heavy death toll and heavy pain on the Gaza population".

Replace "Gaza" with "western", and that could have been written by al-Qa'ida. Maybe this is the problem: the Israelis are writing their policies by downloading statements from an Islamic Jihad website and just changing the place names. Also, if the Israelis think the Hamas rockets are as lethal as they say, why don't they swap their F-16 fighters and Apache helicopters for a few of them?

These things are capable of terrorising a whole nation for years apparently, yet the Israelis have neglected to buy any, wasting their money on gunboats and stuff. Given that their annual arms budget is $7.2bn plus $2.2 bn in "aid", they'd save enough to buy a selection of banks in every country in the world.

The military advantages would be enormous because the Israelis' complaint about Hamas is the use of tunnels to smuggle arms. But if Israel gave Hamas a few planes and tanks and helicopters, they could probably be persuaded to shut down those tunnels that seem to be the cause of such bad feeling.

Whatever you say about Israel, at least it moves its weapons about legally – except for when it secretly built a nuclear arsenal against an array of international agreements. But they did it above ground and not in a tunnel and that's the main thing. [Note: I’m not sure most of the Dimona nuclear facility is in fact above ground. Part of it is. EH]

Watching the reports from Gaza, another reason why the ceasefire may break down becomes apparent. The Israelis might claim that their satellite pictures now show Palestinians in possession of huge mounds of rubble – lethal if thrown over the border. Luckily these weapons are easy to spot. Most of them are next to women howling, "Look what they've done to my house," but perhaps the airforce should bomb them again – just in case. The Israelis say they fear Hamas will once again break the ceasefire by sending over those rockets. But the whole point of the operation was to make that impossible. Because they must have asked themselves the question, "If we slaughter 1,300 people, including 300 children, is that likely to make people: A. less cross or B. more cross?" And presumably they concluded it will make them much less likely to grow up full of hatred and determination to retaliate. Perhaps they saw medical research that shows when someone is suffering from anxiety and bouts of irascible ill-tempered behaviour, the best treatment is to pen them in with no food or medicine and then kill some of them, and that calms them down a treat.

Another way to allay their worries about Hamas breaking the ceasefire is to read the report from their government's own Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre. This states that during the ceasefire "Hamas did not take part in any rocket fire and sometimes prevented other organisations from attacking." Still, with all that's been going on I suppose they haven't had time for reading.

Despite all this there might be one cheery sign, which is that never before have so many people seen through the Israeli government's excuses for handing out mass destruction. The demonstrations in support of Palestinians have been bigger than ever before, and even the United Nations and the Wall Street Journal have suggested Israel has committed war crimes. One poll in America suggested that 60 per cent of people opposed the bombardment, and the change of opinion reached the point that an Israeli diplomat has admitted that "The harm to civilians in Gaza is causing us huge damage."

Maybe, best of all, was genetics expert Steven Rose who appeared on Radio 4's Today programme to talk about a new study that's located "morality spots", the part of the brain that deals with our morality. [Gary Olson on the ‘mirror neuron system’ alleged to hardwire human beings for empathy. EH] Asked how we could know whether this was true, he said in a marvellously posh academic Radio 4 voice "Well we could test the brains of the Israeli cabinet and see if they've got no morality spots whatsoever."

And the most immoral part of all is the perfectly cynical timing, as if three weeks ago Bush shouted: "Last orders please. Any last bombing, before time's up? Come along now, haven't you got homes to demolish?"

Back in the States, President Obama has wasted no time clarifying his position on the slaughter in Gaza. Over at Jews sans frontiers, Gabriel has already deconstructed Obama’s remarks.

Let me be clear: America is committed to Israel's security. And we will always support Israel's right to defend itself against legitimate threats…Hamas must meet clear conditions: recognize Israel's right to exist; renounce violence; and abide by past agreements…the United States and our partners will support a credible anti-smuggling and interdiction regime, so that Hamas cannot rearm…

Or, as Joseph Massad put it on Electronic Intifada on Tuesday,

…while Israel has the right to defend itself, its victims have no similar right to defend themselves. In fact, the logic is even more sinister than this and can be elucidated as follows: Israel has the right to oppress the Palestinians and does so to defend itself, but were the Palestinians to defend themselves against Israel's oppression, which they do not have a right to do, Israel will then have the right to defend itself against their illegitimate defense of themselves against its legitimate oppression of them, which it carries out anyway in order to defend itself legitimately.

Obama continued,

Now is the time for Arab states to act on the initiative's promise by supporting the Palestinian government under President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad, taking steps towards normalizing relations with Israel, and by standing up to extremism that threatens us all.

That would be the same President Abbas whose term expired a fortnight ago, and the same Salam Fayyad who abu Mazen himself appointed to the position after Israel abducted and incarcerated many of the elected Palestinian Legislative Council members and Abbas dissolved the ‘unity government’ that Hamas had agreed to form in spite of winning the January 2006 election outright.

That election, by the way, is often described as ‘free and fair’. I beg to differ. There is no such thing as a fair election under military occupation – voters are always conscious of and sensitive to the Damoclean sword of looming unspoken but well understood consequences of electing the wrong candidates. Even if it were possible, the restrictions placed on the movement of candidates, the harassment many of them suffered, the influx of US funds for Abbas to distribute to his supporters…ensured that in this case, the election was anything but fair, even if observers detected no widespread fraud on the day. What surprised me, and I think just about everyone, was that with the deck stacked so comprehensively against them, Hamas still managed to secure a decisive majority of seats. Aside from the fact that there is no Palestinian state and therefore no ‘Palestinian government’, by identifying the Presidential overstayer who usurped the elected Council and his illegally appointed PM as the ‘government’, President Obama signals his attitude to democracy, even to the democratic trappings of elections and terms of office.

The United States will fully support an international donor's conference to seek short-term humanitarian assistance and long-term reconstruction for the Palestinian economy. This assistance will be provided to and guided by the Palestinian Authority.

As many have written, one of the expected outcomes of Israel’s slaughter and demolition of Gaza is to transform Gaza from a political to a humanitarian issue, reducing the Palestinians to objects of pity and recipients of charity, at Israel’s pleasure, of course. An ancillary objective may well have been to ensure that Hamas is to have no role in reconstruction. Since much of Hamas’s popularity and street cred arises specifically from its provision of services that the Fatah led PA was too corrupt to manage, that could be a comparatively effective tactic for undermining Hamas. But short of keeping troops within Gaza, it’s hard to imagine how they intend to exclude Hamas.

The BBC’s refusal to broadcast, in accordance with an arrangement in place for over four decades, an appeal for donations from the Disasters Emergency Committee, a consortium of 13 British charities, is despicable. Far be it from me to discourage individuals and organisations from making donations, but it does seem a bit rich that after all the destruction Israel has perpetrated against the people and infrastructure of Gaza, infrastructure largely built with donations from The International Community in the first place, it’s back down to us to pay for the damage Israel quite deliberately carried out. But then, it’s typically the losers who end up forced to pay war reparations, and since Israel killed 100 times as many Palestinians, and 300 times as many civilians, as Palestinians killed Israelis, I suppose Israel must be the winner. So we have to clean up after them.

Some actually perceive this as a loss for Israel. In conflicts between adversaries of such unequal capacity for destruction, for the underdog, survival is victory. Furthermore, Hamas’s steadfastness in the face of Israel’s onslaught is likely to buy them a lot of support in Gaza and beyond.

The outpouring of rage around the world in response to Israel’s most recent spate of atrocities, the occupation of eight British universities, the demonstrations against the BBC, and now the occupation of the BBC’s Glasgow office, are all encouraging signs. Venezuela and Bolivia have expelled their Israeli ambassadors; Israel is girding its loins for the anticipated spate of war crimes prosecutions; NATO member Turkey’s PM, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has called for Israel’s expulsion from the UN, notwithstanding Turkey’s military ties with the Jewish state since the Fifties; calls for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions are gaining more traction than ever; cogent comparisons to the Warsaw Ghetto are becoming commonplace. Even the bourgeois media have displayed some of the carnage.

And yet, in my little backwater here, the Palestine solidarity group decided to cancel the rally we had planned and announced for last Friday, on the grounds that Israel had declared a ‘unilateral ceasefire’. In yesterday’s New York Times, Ethan Bronner, writing of the first day back at

Jabaliya refugee camp’s middle school, couldn’t resist slipping in, ‘…Israel’s 23-day war aimed at stopping Hamas’s rockets’. An AFP report yesterday insists on making the same point, ‘The Israeli offensive, aimed at stemming rocket and mortar fire from the territory…’ In other words, they are still casting the whole adventure as a case of Israel exercising its ‘right to self defense’ and must assume that they can divert their audiences from understanding that Israel is the aggressor.

Despite Obama’s embarrassing genuflection to Aipac, his support for Israel’s attack, and his current insistence on excluding Hamas, Uri Avnery is optimistic. He perceives ‘between Israel and the United States a gap has opened this week, a narrow gap, almost invisible – but it may widen into an abyss…While the US has made a giant jump to the left, Israel is about to jump even further to the right.’

I’m optimistic, too. Literally millions of Americans decided to ignore Obama’s record and explicit policies, and placing their own interpretation on his promise of hope and change, poured heart and soul into getting him into the White House. Their expectations are high, and utterly unrealistic. Since at least last August, he has proclaimed his intention to attack Pakistan, ‘If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will.’ True to his word,and wasting no time, on Friday, US drones struck two targets in Pakistan, slaughtering twenty. True to his word, he has announced the closure of the Guantánamo Bay torture centre, although it’s not due to happen for another year, and even then, the inmates are just to be incarcerated elsewhere. As Eli Stephens points out, he has not undertaken to withdraw US forces who have been occupying that part of Cuba since 1903.

Obama’s most ardent supporters believe he was serious about the hope and change – the reactionary policies were just part of his remarkably successful marketing campaign. Sooner or later, they are going to realise that he meant everything he said about policy and the hope and change were the window dressing. There is a real danger that their disappointment will lead to despair and demoralization. But my hope is that they’ll get good and pissed off. Then we may really see some change we can believe in.

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