Cutting through the bullshit.

Saturday 27 January 2007

A special kind of denial

In rather a good article on The Electronic Intifada, today, 'Taken for a Ride by the Israeli Left', Steven Friedman and Virginia Tilley take on the Uri Avnery article I mentioned in 'Three little syllables' the other day.

Here's an extract:

The result of this conundrum is moral chaos. While bald ravings about ethnic cleansing by racists like Avigdor Lieberman are considered repellent, the earlier ethnic cleansing that gave birth to Israel is considered acceptable -- a convulsion of war violence that has (it is never explained how) been morally transcended. The solution, in this view, is not to redress that founding sin but simply to stabilize Jewish statehood, which is understood mostly as relieving Jewish-Israeli fear of attack or annihilation. Recognizing that some modicum of justice is required to achieve this "peace", the liberal-Zionist goal is to create a Palestinian state next door (safely demilitarized, of course, and not necessarily within the 1948 green line).

It takes a special kind of denial to hold onto this worldview, especially in light of fresh histories like Ilan Pappe's The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, which demolish the soothing fantasy that Israel's history of ethnic cleansing was an accident of war. This isn't surprising in itself: nationalist myths everywhere dismantle slowly. But Mr. Avnery does not fall into the classic category. He exposed Zionist crimes before anyone else. Yet he has never lost his affection for Jewish statehood or his dedication to preserving Israel's Jewish majority in Israel. He knows that, in 1948, Zionist troops ruthlessly terrorized and expelled hundreds of thousands of defenceless Palestinians from their villages and threw them out of the country. But he believes that the agenda of preserving the Jewish-Israeli society that he treasures not only mandates but grants moral authority to not allowing them back.

And here’s a link to Jonathan Cook’s latest, ‘Turmoil in Tel-Aviv’.

The danger is that Olmert may hope to find a way out of his loss of credibility in other ways, not least by encouraging ever greater Israeli and US belligerence towards Iran.

Friday 26 January 2007

A twisted mind

A couple of weeks ago, I criticised Human Rights Watch for adopting a ‘balanced’ approach to the violence of the coloniser and the violence of the resistance to colonisation. Well, Former CIA Director James Woolsey, in an interview with IsraelNationalRadio's Alex Traiman, has done them one better.

"An Arab Muslim living in Jaffa," Woolsey said, "enjoys freedom of speech, religion, and expression, and can vote for his representatives in the Knesset, and doesn't go to sleep worrying that some government element might come and kill him. I think that once the Palestinians start treating Jewish settlers with that same degree of humanity - and they're very, very far from doing that now - at that point I think we have to seriously consider how they could have some degree of self-governing. I won't get into the question of borders, but what I think is that the Palestinians must be held to the same standards as Israel regarding how they treat the other. I am sure this will be many decades from now, though, because their children are taught the Wahhabi doctrine of being suicide bombers and the like."

Now that’s a twisted mind! Colonists and usurpers who have invaded their land, encroach further and further into it, demolish their homes, orchards, and infrastructure, prevent them from accessing their agricultural land, their schools, hospitals, and jobs, take their precious water, and kill and injure them at will with complete impunity are somehow entitled to the same rights as an indigenous minority living quietly in a colonists’ city? No settler, no Israeli government, nor, I daresay, Woolsey himself, has ever suggested that the colonists should have some kind of political rights in the PA. They are all universally considered part of Israel. In fact, the whole idea of building that vast network of settlements and roads was precisely to create ‘facts on the ground’ that would prejudice any future discussion of Israel’s border. And I wouldn’t be so sure that Palestinians in Jaffa sleep as peacefully as he reckons, either.

Meanwhile, in the very same issue, Arutz 7, reports that according to WorldNetDaily (WND),

Negotiations have been quietly proceeding apace for the past two or three weeks, according to sources quoted by WND reporter Aaron Klein, after PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas suggested to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert late last month that the two men switch to “back channel talks” in order to avoid media coverage.

According to Egyptian and EU sources, one of the plans currently under consideration involves handing over control of central and southern Yesha [Hebrew acronym for ‘Judea and Samaraia’, i.e the West Bank – HF] to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’s security forces. In northern Yesha, the transfer of responsibility to Abbas’ security forces over the area would be monitored by Jordan and EU observers.

But it looks a lot like an article to scare their readers, who, according to a recent post from Sol Salbe, would be principally settlers themselves.

The next Holocaust

Last Thursday, Benny Morris published his essay ‘This Holocaust will be different’ in the Jerusalem Post. I found out about it from the interesting post on Lenin’s tomb. Now that I’ve read it, I thought I’d try and draw out a few points.

If the name is unfamiliar, Benny Morris is widely regarded as the first of Israel’s ‘New’ or ‘Revisionist’ historians. His 1988 Birth of the Palestinian refugee problem opened discussion of the ethnic cleansing that made a Jewish majority possible in the new Jewish state. Another of the New historians, Ilan Pappé, criticizes Morris for relying too heavily on Israeli military archives. Also in 1988, he did time for refusing to serve in the occupation forces in Nablus. So it came as a bit of a surprise when in a 2004 interview with Ari Shavit in Ha’aretz, he articulated sentiments like,

There are circumstances in history that justify ethnic cleansing. I know that this term is completely negative in the discourse of the 21st century, but when the choice is between ethnic cleansing and genocide—the annihilation of your people—I prefer ethnic cleansing.

That was the situation. That is what Zionism faced. A Jewish state would not have come into being without the uprooting of 700,000 Palestinians. Therefore it was necessary to uproot them. There was no choice but to expel that population. It was necessary to cleanse the hinterland and cleanse the border areas and cleanse the main roads. It was necessary to cleanse the villages from which our convoys and our settlements were fired on.

…If Ben-Gurion had carried out a large expulsion and cleansed the whole country -- the whole Land of Israel, as far as the Jordan River. If he had carried out a full expulsion -- rather than a partial one -- he would have stabilized the State of Israel for generations.

After that, it’s not a big shock that he has now let his fevered imagination run rampant.

One bright morning, in five or 10 years, perhaps during a regional crisis, perhaps out of the blue, a day or a year or five years after Iran’s acquisition of the Bomb, the mullahs in Qom will convene in secret session, under a portrait of the steely-eyed Ayatollah Khomeini, and give President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, by then in his second or third term, the go-ahead.

The orders will go out and the Shihab III and IV missiles will take off for Tel Aviv, Beersheba, Haifa and Jerusalem, and probably some military sites, including Israel’s half dozen air and (reported) nuclear missile bases.

He studiously avoids the word genocide throughout his piece, but it is clear that he equates the destruction of Israel as equivalent to the destruction of the Jews even while acknowledging that as many non Jews as Jews would die in the attack,

Some of the dead will inevitably be Arab - 1.3 million of Israel’s citizens are Arab and another 3.5 million Arabs live in the semi- occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

He writes of Ahmedinejad as ‘a man obsessed’, and that’s as may be, but perhaps it takes one to know one. He attributes to Ahmedinejad a willingness

to gamble the future of Iran or even of the whole Muslim Middle East in exchange for Israel’s destruction...

Or he may well take into account a counterstrike and simply, irrationally (to our way of thinking), be willing to pay the price…

For these worshipers at the cult of death, even the sacrifice of the homeland is acceptable if the outcome is the demise of Israel.

Morris doesn’t mention how he comes by these profound insights into the innermost depths of the Iranian President’s mind, but I think it is clear it all arises from Iran radio’s mistranslation of his ‘page of time’ remark.

Morris is far from alone in his paranoia, although he appears to have a more vivid imagination than some of his mates. Certainly in his keynote address at the Herzliya conference yesterday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert left no doubt how he came by his information, or what he planned to do about it,

When the leader of a country announces, officially and publicly, his country’s intention to wipe off the map another country, and creates those tools which will allow them to realize their stated threat, no nation has the right to weigh its position on the matter. This is an obligation of the highest order, to act with all force against this plot.

A little later,

The Iran of today, whose leadership is motivated by religious fanaticism and ideological extremism, has chosen a policy of confrontation with us and threatens to wipe Israel off the map of nations. It supports terror and undermines stability in the region. The Iranian regime, in its aspiration to regional hegemony, bears responsibility for the riots perpetrated by the Hizbullah today to bring down the Lebanese government.

Not to be outdone by Morris in the fevered imagination department,

Threats, hostility and fighting are not our way. Our aspiration was, and will always be, to live in peace with our neighbors, near and far. We will never reject a hand, offered in all sincerity, towards genuine peace, by any nation. For this we yearn.

Moreover, he is prepared to take action,

To turn a blind eye now, while ignoring reality, dragging one’s feet, and attempting to reach dangerous compromises while avoiding taking clear steps, those of us who wish to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power will, down the road, not be left with any choice but to take much more severe steps in the future.

And he is much more explicit than Morris that

The Jewish people, on whom the scars of the Holocaust are deeply etched, cannot allow itself to again face a threat against its very existence. In the past, the world remained silent and the results are known. Our role is to prevent the world from repeating this mistake.

Prof. Bernard Lewis, of Princeton University, is also quite certain that

Ahmedinejad truly believes in the apocalyptic message he is bringing. This makes him very dangerous. The “Mutual Assured Destruction” is not a deterrent, but an inducement to him.

Richard Perle of the American Enterprise Institute agrees.

Current policy will not lead the Iranians to abandon their program. If we continue doing what we are doing, Iran will be a nuclear state. Iran with nuclear weapons will not be so easily deterred and detained… If the Israeli government comes to the conclusion that it has no choice but to take action, the reaction of the U.S. will be the belief in the vitality that this action must succeed, even if the U.S. needs to act with Israel in the current American administration.

Prof. Israel (Robert) J. Aumann, Nobel Prize Laureate; Center for the Study of Rationality, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, begs to differ.

One danger known to all of us stems from Iran's nuclear armament program, which threatens to erase the State of Israel from the map. We cannot underestimate the importance of this danger. However, in my humble opinion, it is less threatening than it appears at first glance…unfortunately, there is a different danger in Iran's nuclear armament—more tangible and more threatening, although more indirect. This danger is hidden in the possibility that nuclear technology will be transferred from Iran to terrorist groups such as Al Qa'ida or others

Presumably, this is where the study of rationality gets you.

It might be worth reiterating a little context at this point. All the speakers I’ve quoted represent countries that actually have nuclear weapons and, as some of those quotes evidence, have actually threatened to use them against Iran. Israel is not party to the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty and the US has violated its commitments to reduce its arsenal and so forth under the NNP since it signed. Iran is party to and in full compliance with the NNPT. Its uranium enrichment program is in the very earliest stages and the IAEA and the CIA have reported no evidence of a weapons development program. And the only threat Iran has made turned out to be just a bad translation. Ahmedinejad has not made repeated threats to wipe Israel off the map. The media have just grabbed hold of that one mistranslation and repeated it so often that it seems to be a repetition. But it’s just an echo, not a repetition. Finally, note that amid all the ructions over Iran, which does not have a nuclear capability, or probably a program to develop one, there are two other non NNPT countries that do have nukes, but somehow do not inspire the dread that Iran does.

At the moment demographers are at loggerheads over conflicting reports of the number of Jews in the US. According to the American Jewish Committee press release,

A new American Jewish Year Book survey estimates that there are 6.4 million Jews in the United States. The survey, published by the American Jewish Committee and conducted by Professor Ira Sheskin of the University of Miami and Professor Arnold Dashefsky of the University of Connecticut, is based on a tally of individual Jewish communities across the country.

Significantly higher than the figure of 5.2 million provided by the 2000–01 National Jewish Population Survey, this estimate also indicates that American Jewry remains the largest Jewish community in the world, surpassing the Jewish population of Israel.

This is incredibly important to know, because if the higher estimate is correct, then the plurality of the world’s some 13 million Jews still resides in the US. If the lower figure is correct, then the largest Jewish population in the world may be in Israel. I haven’t managed to work out why that matters, apart from the long term objective of the Zionist project – to segregate all the world’s Jews in the promised land. If there really are people with the kind of animosity to Jews that these maniacs ascribe to Ahmedinejad, of course, having us all in the one place would be a gift. It would save them having to track us down in all the far flung corners of the globe that we get to. Fortunately, there’s not much chance of that happening. Everyone who’s paying attention knows that Israel is already the most dangerous place in the world to be a Jew. Including the Iranian Jews, as I wrote the other day, as well as tens of thousands of yordim, Jews who emigrate from Israel for greener, and safer, pastures.

In any case, whether there are more Jews in Israel or the US, there is nothing like an actual majority of Jews in Israel. So even if Ahmedinejad really and truly did intend to nuke Israel regardless of the consequences, there is just no way that it would constitute a threat to our ‘very existence’ as an ethnic group. It would probably pose a greater threat to the Palestinians. Indeed, according to my calculations, a nuclear attack on Israel would probably wipe out in the vicinity of up to 35% of the world’s Jewish population and almost 85% of the Palestinian population, assuming it killed those in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, or some 48% if it only killed those in Israel and the occupied territories.

The real point, however, is that Olmert, Morris, and many, many others have so internalized the utterly racist and anti-Semitic assumption that identifies all Jews with Israel and Israel with all Jews, that to them the destruction of the Jewish state is identical to the destruction of the Jewish people.

Welcome to the blood bank

The headline says, ‘Blood banks to accept donations from Ethiopian immigrants’. But it wasn’t true, as the very first sentence of the article makes abundantly clear.

The health ministry announced on Wednesday that blood donations would be accepted from anyone born in Israel, including Israeli-born Ethiopians.


Last November, young Ethiopian activists staged a demonstration across from the Prime Minister's Office protesting the policy that dictated the disposal of Ethiopian blood donations.

Until now, blood donated by Ethiopians was discarded …Health Minister Yaacov Ben Izri (Pensioners) [said] ‘As a minister, I am troubled by the negative and erroneous stigma with which Israel's Ethiopian Jews have been labeled, as a result of publications taken out of proportion and present a reality which does not reflect the truth’.

Like many realities in Israel that do not reflect the truth, there is apparently no retreat from racism. Even if you’re Jewish, if you’re black, only the blood of the Israeli born is good enough, in the words of Gadi Yavarkan, the chairman of the Ethiopian rights advocacy group, ‘to save a Jewish soul.’

According to the Meir Panim charity, 670,000 Israeli children go to bed hungry. So that’s how the safe haven for the world’s Jews treats its own Jewish minorities and its most vulnerable. You wouldn’t want to be a Goy!

The conference up in Herzliya had a session on Monday morning entitled, ‘Israeli Arabs and the Jewish State’. The website provides summaries of most of the papers in shall we say not entirely idiomatic English. According to the summary, Hagai Meirom, Treasurer, Jewish Agency for Israel, acknowledged discrimination against the Palestinain minority,

It is my view that we do not need to forgo the essence of the state of Israel; there is still a possibility to create joint lives. We need to provide them with the minimal conditions for them to be able to live here in equality. We discriminate the Arabs in terms of resources and investments…

Predictably, in the context of a Conference on the Balance of Israel’s National Security, he saw

This is another threat this state is facing. This threat is not the Arab minority itself, but rather the fragile relationship between Arabs and Jews in this land.

At the same session, Dr. Dan Schueftan, Deputy Director, National Security Studies Center, University of Haifa, asserted,

…in the short term we are facing a dead end. The source of the basic view of the Arab minority in Israel is that equality is not the main issue. As far as they are concerned, nothing short of the destruction of the Jewish enterprise will be enough…Therefore, even if Israel continues to close the gap between both social statuses, Israel will still be illegitimate. This is why equality is not the core issue.

As far as the Arabs are concerned we have reached a dead-end…That is why we are making a fundamental mistake when trying to create symmetry on the basis of justice…

As far as the Jews are concerned, they also consider this situation to be a dead-end because they have no intention of doing what the Arab minority demands.

There is even a structural problem in the socio-economic field. The per-capita income of the Muslim population is substantially smaller than the income of non-ultra religious Jewish families.

even when there is an attempt to have a dialog, the dialog fails.

Here is where I am supposed to reassure you and tell you that everything will work out, however I claim the opposite: it will not work out. There is a consensus on the Palestinian side that has adopted the Palestinian ethos while well aware of its price. On the Jewish side there is a belief that there is no solution for this problem and accepts that as reality.

On a national level the situation is getting worse. Both sides are not content, but when facing the alternative the status quo will remain.

Anyway, that’s some of what they’re saying in public.

As Jonathan Cook (this is the same article I linked to in the comment on ‘the page of time’ on 20 January) wrote recently, to nullify the threat of accusations of apartheid, Israel

…could say that all Palestinians who identified themselves as such -- whether in the occupied territories or inside Israel -- must now exercise their rights in the Palestinian state and renounce any claim on the Jewish state.

It could achieve this

*by redrawing borders, using the wall, so that an area densely populated with Palestinian citizens of Israel known as the "Little Triangle", which hugs the northern West Bank, would be sealed into the new pseudo-state;

* by continuing the process of corralling the Negev's Bedouin farmers into urban reservations and then treating them as guest workers;

* by forcing Palestinian citizens living in the Galilee to pledge an oath of loyalty to Israel as a "Jewish and democratic state" or have their citizenship revoked;

* and by stripping Arab Knesset members of their right to stand for election.

If Jonathan is right, and he’s taking justifiable pride in the accuracy of some of his predictions, ‘the status quo’ is a pretty rosy outlook.

For a Palestinian Israeli view, you can check out the two Dam video clips Mark posted on Jews sans frontieres today, and the Dam site, with three tracks you can play from the top page.

Thursday 25 January 2007

Hijacked by the conservatives

With Invasion Day looming, today’s Canberra Times reports,

The director of the National Australia Day Council, Warren Pearson, said he was pleased that ordinary people had rejected the flag being used as a symbol of bigotry.

Phil Cleary reckoned,

John Howard needed to grasp that the flag had been discredited in Cronulla. "I don't want to see some fascist wrapping himself in an Aussie flag and then making out grubby patriotism and using it against people. The flag has been hijacked by the conservatives who are straight out of the McCarthy era."

I always thought the flag and the grubby patriotism, bigotry and racism it symbolises belonged to the conservatives. In a profound insight,

American Michael Platow, a social psychologist at the ANU, says different countries express their nationalism in different ways.

It has never made me proud of the colonial settler state where I was born that their national day commemorates an important date in the struggle for independence from colonialism. But at least it’s not explicitly a celebration of beginning of the genocide the country was built on!

Wednesday 24 January 2007

Three little syllables

Former US President Jimmy Carter goes from strength to strength. With just three syllables, the godfather of the Contras in Nicaragua and the Muhjahideen in Afghanistan has redeemed himself and become a hero of the left. His book’s Amazon sales rank has recovered to #11 after a temporary drop from its high at #6. A petition circulated demanding the removal of Jeffrey Goldberg’s unflattering Washington Post review from’s page for the book. Instead, they have inserted an interview they did with Carter. And he had an article of his own in Thursday’s Post. Clearly, if his critics really do want to silence him, they’re not doing a terribly good job.

There’s now a virtual industry defending Carter. I haven’t read all 482 Amazon customer reviews, but they give him an average of three and a half stars. In comparison, Ali Abunimah’s One country has eight customer reviews. I’ve discussed Finkelstein’s three articles in defense of Carter already elsewhere, as well as the supportive reviews that have pointed out his error in refusing to recognize what’s going on inside ‘Israel proper’. Now Alexander Cockburn has another defense on his Counterpunch site. Tony Karon has addressed te issue a couple of times on his Rootless cosmopolitan site, most recently yesterday. Also yesterday, Alternet’s Joshua Holland had quite a silly one entitled, ‘The assassination of Jimmy Carter continues …’

In his Amazon interview, Carter enunciates this bizarre view:

The book is about Palestine, the occupied territories, and not about Israel. Forced segregation in the West Bank and terrible oppression of the Palestinians create a situation accurately described by the word. I made it plain in the text that this abuse is not based on racism, but on the desire of a minority of Israelis to confiscate and colonize Palestinian land. This violates the basic humanitarian premises on which the nation of Israel was founded.

So, ‘Israel’ is not geographically part of Palestine, which comprises only the occupied territories. The book is about the occupied territories, but not about Israel, in other words, Israel’s occupation has nothing to do with the occupied territories? The word ‘apartheid’ accurately describes a situation where there is not only forced separation and terrible oppression, but also no freedom of movement, no work, and other features different from, and inmost cases, worse than, actual apartheid as practiced in South Africa. Racism is not a motivating factor, notwithstanding the systematic racism in Israeli law and in the concept of an ethnocratic state, as well as the attitudes betrayed in opinion polls. The desire to confiscate Palestinian land is not one of the principles on which the nation of Israel was founded – it was founded on wholly humanitarian principles.

It’s hard to imagine any Zionist objecting to Carter’s characterization of Israel unless they actually believe that the Palestinians deserve to suffer for being on the land that the Zionists covet. He agrees that there ought to be a Jewish state and argues that it is democratic and not racist, much less apartheid, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding.

Carter had declined an appearance at Brandeis University near Boston because he didn’t want to debate Alan Dershowitz. At the time, I criticized his decision as cowardly, particularly in light of his assertion that Dershowitz ‘knows nothing about the situation in Palestine’. Now, as if to underscore my point, Carter has agreed to speak at Brandeis, after all. As the Forward reports,

At the upcoming forum — which is not being run by the university’s administration but by a committee comprised of four faculty members and one student — Carter will speak for 15 minutes and then spend 45 minutes answering 15 pre-chosen questions, culled from queries submitted by students in advance via the Internet.

Returning to the apartheid analogy, Uri Avnery had a piece in today’s CounterPunch elucidating some of the similarities and differences. Two of these differences are not contentious,

In SA, a White minority (about 10 percent) ruled over a huge majority of Blacks (78 percent), people of mixed race (7 percent) and Asians (3 percent). Here, between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, there are now 5.5 million Jewish-Israelis and an equal number of Palestinian-Arabs (including the 1.4 million Palestinians who are citizens of Israel).

The SA economy was based on Black labor and could not possibly have existed without it. Here, the Israeli government has succeeded in excluding the non-Israeli Palestinians almost completely from the Israeli labor market and replacing them with foreign workers.

The other side of the coin that Avnery misses is that Israeli settler colonialism, like Australian and American settler colonialism, does not rely on indigenous labour and consequently regards the indigenous population as dispensible at best. This, as Moshe Machover has pointed out, is the fundamental difference with apartheid and it places the Palestinians in a particularly vulnerable position. ‘Transfer’ has always been at the centre of the Zionist project and Israeli society is now becoming more and more tolerant of discussing it openly.

But he also argues that there were another two differences,

In SA there was a conflict between Blacks and Whites, but both agreed that the state of South Africa must remain intact – the question was only who would rule it. Almost nobody proposed to partition the country between the Blacks and the Whites.

This simply isn’t the case. The existence of the Bantustans testifies that separation, at least political separation, was not only proposed, but implemented.

Our conflict is between two different nations with different national identities, each of which places the highest value on a national state of its own…

Here, the huge majority of the Palestinians want to be separated from Israel in order to establish a state of their own. The huge majority of Israelis, too, want to be separated from the Palestinians. Separation is the aspiration of the majority on both sides…

It’s apparent from what he writes here that when he says ‘both sides’, he means Israeli Jews and Palestinians resident in the West Bank and Gaza, or at least the leadership of those Palestinians. The Israeli Arabs, who he mentions in the same paragraph have disappeared. There is no question that the Israeli Arabs do not want to be separated from their kin in the occupied territories and do not want to be separated from their Israeli citizenship, either, as documented extensively in Joanthan Cook’s Blood and religion.

The other group he doesn’t appear to have taken into consideration in his analysis is the 1948 refugees. Of course nobody ever considers what they want. The ‘refugee issue’ has always been relegated to the back burner for ‘final status negotiations’ – negotiations in which they themselves of course are to have no part. If I had been languishing in a camp for the last sixty years, I’m pretty sure I’d consider resolution of the refugee issue a priority. And I’m pretty sure the resolution I’d favour didn’t include further separation between me and my homeland. But that’s just me. I’m sure Uri Avnery knows better.

Meanwhile, in a potentially encouraging development, Dershowitz himself, ‘speaking via satellite to the 7th Herzliya Conference of The Institute for Policy and Strategy (IPS)’, identifies four new factors pointing to the need to ‘be strong and be prepared to go it alone.’ Pride of place among the four is…the publication of Palestine: peace not apartheid!. Apparently, ‘it legitimizes certain negative stereotypes’.

And if that’s not bizarre enough, he alleges ‘the rise of anti-Israel discussions in academic circles’, as if criticism of Zionism were at all commonplace on US campuses and weren’t ruthlessly suppressed by Dershowitz, Horowitz, ‘Campus Watch’, and their loyal minions. To top off the irony, the Harvard law professor whose claim to fame is his advocacy of needles under the fingernails, and who has been thoroughly outed as a plagiarist and a hack in Norman Finkelstein’s Beyond Chutzpah, derides the increasing prevalence of ‘trash academics’ which ‘could threaten the education of future American leaders.’ Just as well nothing like that threatened the education of America’s current leader.

The third factor is ‘the Media War being fought by Hizbullah & Hamas against Israel’ with the leering visages of Khalid Mashal and Hassan Nasrallah filling our tv screens night after night and endless coverage of the Israeli atrocities in Gaza.

The last threat to the cosy relationship between Israel and the US is that General Wesley Clark recently said, ‘New York money people are pushing the U.S. into war with Iran’. That sure would clinch it.

In any case, this is one time I sincerely hope Dershowitz is right. Nothing could contribute more to a just resolution of the ‘conflict in the Middle East’ than for the US to stop bankrolling it.

Also in Herzliya, Former CIA director James Woolsey asserted, ‘The destruction of Israel is not the policy of Iran, but its essence.’ He also said that the worst scenario would be to allow a nuclear Iran and ‘Israel should have made a move against Syria during the last war and that the U.S. should have supported such a move’. He may be a wingnut, but you couldn’t say he doesn’t know his audience.

Tuesday 23 January 2007

Stunts and action

In a post about Benny Morris’s latest rantings last night, Lenin reminded me of the curious fact that the Jewish community in Iran has neglected to respond to the call from the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), Israeli officials and American Jewish communal leaders to leave. After all, Ahmedinejad is a notorious anti-Semite and wants to slaughter us all. So why hasn’t he carried out the dire threats everyone accuses him of on the Jews closest to hand? And perhaps more important, why aren’t they afraid he will?

According to the statistics compiled by HIAS, 152 out of 25,000 Jews left Iran between October 2005 and September 2006 — down from 297 during the same period the previous year, and 183 the year before. Sources said that the majority of those who have left in recent years cited economic and family reasons as their main incentive for leaving, rather than political concerns.

According to the 12 January report in the Forward,

“Iranian Jews have a comfortable Jewish life,” said Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-born Middle East analyst now living in Israel.

… the 25,000 Jews of Tehran, Shiraz and Yazd attend packed synagogues, send their children to Jewish schools, buy their meat in kosher butchers and are even exempt from prohibitions on alcohol.

Clearly there must be some ulterior motive. The Forward reports that according to

Amir Cyrus Razzaghi, a Tehran-based commentator who is not Jewish. “There is a genuine interest to keep the Jewish community in Iran to demonstrate to the world that the government is anti-Israel and not anti-Jewish. This is especially important to a government that strives to be not only the leader in the Islamic world, but also a key regional and global player.”

A propaganda stunt. Like Venezuela’s subsidized Citgo heating oil for poor Americans. Except those Americans actually are warmed by the propaganda and the Iranian Jews are apparently content to live as Jews in Iran.

It would be good to see Israel pull a propaganda stunt like that. For example, according to Ynet,

the human development index of the Arab public in Israel ranks in 66th place out of 177 countries, 44 slots below the general ranking of the State of Israel…very similar to Libya. For Israel overall, the HDI is 0.9…

Moreover, in comparison with the rest of the world, Israel is ranked 22 out of 177 countries. However, when looking at only the Arab population, the ranking plummeted to 66.

This was also the case for health. The overall level of health in Israel was calculated at 0.9, while health amongst the Arab population was rated at 0.85, which is lower than countries like Costa Rica and Cuba.

It would be a great propaganda stunt if Former US President Jimmy Carter’s description were actually true, Israel is a wonderful democracy with equal treatment of all citizens whether Arab or Jew’? What if some of the billions the US plows into expanding the settlements every year went into education and services for the Israeli Arabs? What if, instead of just claiming an intention to dismantle some roadbloacks in the West Bank, and pretending to do so, they actually made life easier for the occupied Palestinians? Why they could even let the Palestinians drive on their Aryan only ‘bypass roads’! That would be a terrific propaganda stunt. Cut some of the ground right out from under those antisemites accusing them of apartheid.

When the chair of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial council, Holocaust survivor Yosef Lapid can say,

"I was afraid to go to school, because of the little anti-Semites who used to lay in ambush on the way and beat us up. How is that different from a Palestinian child in Hebron?"

I’d say a propaganda stunt is in order. Amira Hass has itemized a long list of prohibitions:

* Palestinians from the Gaza Strip are forbidden to stay in the West Bank.

* Palestinians are forbidden to enter East Jerusalem.

* West Bank Palestinians are forbidden to enter the Gaza Strip through the Erez crossing.

* Palestinians are forbidden to enter the Jordan Valley.

* Palestinians are forbidden to enter villages, lands, towns and neighborhoods along the "seam line" between the separation fence and the Green Line (some 10 percent of the West Bank).

What if Palestinians were permitted to do those things and the other fourteen she lists? What if they didn’t need all those permits she enumerates? Good press.

Left I found a study reported in the NY Times to the effect that attitudes to the US in 25 countries suggest that the US has a bit of PR to attend to.

In 18 countries polled previously, an average of 29 percent of those surveyed saw the United States as having a mainly positive influence, down from 36 percent last year.

Imagine how it would affect those nasty ratings if the US were to do something nice for a change, like help its own citizens to heat their homes? Or maybe reprieve a few death row prisoners? Or flood Darfur with food and doctors? Or even pull their troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan? They wouldn’t have to actually mean anything by it. Just a propaganda stunt, after all

Monday 22 January 2007

Move to the back

On Friday, Left I on the news reported on an article in Ha’aretz about a woman savagely beaten on the Egged No 2 bus in Jerusalem. According to Wikipedia, it transpires that

Some lines, mainly running in and/or between major Haredi Jewish population centers, are classified as 'Mehadrin' buses. These buses, while identical to others, can be used by anyone whether Haredi or not, but travellers should note that men and women (with the exception of husband and wife, or parents with children) are not supposed to sit next to each other, and women may be expected to sit in the back of the bus, while the men are supposed to sit in front. For women, a modest style of dress would also be recommended (meaning, no miniskirts or bare shoulders). These are guidelines that most of the riders of these specific lines insist on. These rules on these mehadrin buses are not 'law', and anyone can ignore them, but it is seen as disrespecting the local population.

Apparently anyone can ignore them, but at their own peril. I couldn’t find any corroboration on the Egged site, but it says that information on local bus routes is only in Hebrew.

So the days of ‘move to the back of the bus’ are not over yet in Israel, the ‘only democracy in the Middle East’. Even Jews haven’t achieved full civil rights, if they’re women. I wonder if that’s why observant Jewish men thank a supernatural being every morning she lo asani ishah ‘who didn’t make me a woman’?

Meanwhile, Jonathan Cook reports that Israeli security guards both in Israel and at overseas airports are racially profiling Arabs.

"The countries in which these [Israeli security] investigations take place do not supervise them, and prefer to ignore their discriminatory nature and the human rights violations committed on their own soil," the report [by lawyer, Tarek Ibrahim, on behalf of the Arab Association for Human Rights and the Centre Against Racism] states.

Israeli security staff identifies most Arab passengers through clothing, appearance or accent, or through questions about their name or where they live. If there is doubt, passengers are asked to show their Israeli ID card, which is believed to reveal their ethnicity in coding.

Once identified, Arab passengers' luggage and passports are marked with specially colour-coded labels.

And it’s not just their luggage that gets special treatment. The report includes accounts from several victims.

Ibtisam Maranah, a film director who represented Israel at an international film festival in the Netherlands in 2005 along with several Jewish colleagues, reports that Israeli staff took her off alone to an underground section of the Dutch airport, away from the rest of her group and local airport staff, where she was made to undress.

As Jimmy Carter says, ‘Israel is a wonderful democracy with equal treatment of all citizens whether Arab or Jew’, or indeed, woman.

A mighty effort

Writing about US Secretary of State Rice’s Middle East junket the other day, I quoted the NY Times quoting her on ‘how quickly we can accelerate the road map and how we begin to talk about the political horizon that everybody is interested in.’

Well it seems Thom Shanker has twigged what she’s really on about. In his news analysis yesterday, ‘Perhaps Thinking of Legacy, Bush Has Rice on the Move’, he writes parenthetically,

(Ms. Rice, a scholar of Soviet affairs, is no doubt aware of the Brezhnev-era joke in which a Kremlin party leader intones, “Comrades, global Communism is on the horizon,” to which a reply is whispered from the back of the hall, “Doesn’t the horizon always move away exactly as fast as you move toward it?”)

Obviously, there’s no need to be a scholar of Soviet affairs to note this peculiar phenomenon of the infinitely receding horizon, but it’s refreshing that the newspaper of record notes it in this context, for the horizon is really quite an apt metaphor for the ‘Middle East Peace Proccess’. Notwithstanding this useful insight, however, it wouldn’t do to be too hasty to judge Mr Shanker’s clueyness. A couple of paragraphs earlier, he wrote,

The Palestinian president and the Israeli prime minister promised to join her for three-way talks within a month, with a meeting in Washington in advance by the so-called quartet — the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations — that has been trying to promote Middle East peace.

So we have a situation where a country of some 7 million, occupies territory with a population of some 3-4 million over a period of four decades in defiance of binding UN Security Council resolutions, underwritten with billions of dollars per year from the US, and yet the US itself, in league with Europe, Russia, and the entire ‘international community’, has failed, although exerting its best efforts since the promulgation of the Road Map in 2003, to secure the cooperation of its client?

This Quartet is a funny mob. Since all the member of the EU and the US and Russia are all members of the UN, you’d kind of think the UN alone could carry the ball on this one. But of course the UN has no power to compel a member state to do or not to do anything unless it meets two conditions. It needs a Security Council resolution under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, and it needs member states to contribute troops. Meeting the first condition is usually a problem when it comes to Israel because the US routinely deploys its veto to preclude it.

But there was at least one occasion when it failed, or forgot, to do so. UNSC Resolution 242 was adopted unanimously on 22 November 1967, some five months after the June 1967 war in which Israel occupied Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Sinai Peninsula, and the Golan Heights. Almost everybody reads the operative clause, ‘Affirms that the fulfillment of Charter principles requires …Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict’, as intending that the Israeli military was to withdraw from all those territories. The usual interpretation for the wording ‘from territories’ rather than ‘from the territories’ or ‘from all territories’, is that the Security Council members wanted to allow for minor adjustments to the 1949 ceasefire lines, the Green Line, in establishing final borders. And that is the explanation that Lord Caradon, one of the drafters, gives. Furthermore, in the discussion, the Indian representative was quite explicit that the intention was for the Israeli troops with withdraw from all of the territories, and nine other members explicitly supported this position, with only Israel itself, then represented on the Council, objecting. You might think that the prefatory clause, ‘Emphasizing the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war’ would clinch the matter. But there are those who disagree.

According to Ted Lapkin, the Director of Policy Analysis at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC), for example, ‘By withdrawing from the Sinai in 1979 – which constituted 90% of the 1967 occupied territories, Israel complied with the stipulated requirements of 242.’

Anyway, that was a fluke. According to Carter’s new book, ‘The United States has used its U.N. Security Council veto more than forty times to block resolutions critical of Israel.’ Among those vetoes that ‘have brought international discredit on the United States’ was his own veto of draft resolution S/13911 on 30 April 1980.

The point is that the UN can’t enforce ‘international law’, ‘human rights’, or anything, even with a Security Council resolution, without the US’s full cooperation. Indeed, even without the specific institution of the Security Council, which alone can make binding resolutions, with its five veto wielding permanent nuclear powers, the UN would be a far cry from the kind of unifying force for peace that liberal mythology makes it out to be. It is not a warm and cuddly meeting of human beings from all corners of the globe. It does not represent the people all over the world, but the very states that govern them. In plainer language, that preside over their exploitation and oppression on behalf of each country’s ruling minority. So it would be foolish to expect too much.

Even at its most earnest, the UN fails to rise above its fundamental cynicism. Take the Millennium Development Goals, ‘Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than $1 a day’. I won’t be the first to point out that 2015 is a long time to go hungry – longer still when they first said it in 2000. Or to ask why the baseline is set at 1990 for a project that begins in 2000? And what about the other half? How long is it ok for them to live on such a paltry sum and ‘suffer from hunger’? On Thursday, Reuters reported, ‘The steadily rising Iraq war price tag will reach about $8.4 billion a month this year’. Per month. Just for Iraq. That would feed a lot of people. One could go on about the incompetence, inefficiency, waste, empire building, and featherbedding that goes on in UN agencies alongside some dedicated and profoundly frustrated people.

Sometimes you read about ‘the international community’. I find it easy to fall into assuming that this means something more substantive than just what the UN decides. For example, a couple of years ago, prominent Australian ‘public intellectual’ Robert Manne broke his silence on the Palestine issue to assert, among other things, ‘In 1947 the international community decided to establish a Jewish state in a part of the British mandatory territory, Palestine. That decision seems to me to have been both just and, as important, irrevocable.’

By ‘the international community’ here he is of course referring specifically to UN General Assembly’s partition Resolution 181 of 29 November 1947, whose substance was to create not only a Jewish state but also an Arab state within the area of Mandatory Palestine. So the creation of the state of Israel, in the absence of an independent Palestinian state in the area stipulated by the UN General Assembly, was not in accord with the decision of ‘the international community’.

Another aspect of 1947’s ‘international community, is that the states comprising the international community that voted in favour of this decision included such beacons of democracy as Somoza’s Nicaragua, Morinigo’s military dictatorship in Paraguay, and the Stalinist regimes of the USSR and Eastern Europe. It is worth noting that the states represented at the UN in 1947 included just 57 countries, mainly European and Western Hemisphere countries. Not one country of Sub-Saharan Africa, other than the Union of South Africa, which was on the verge of formalising apartheid as state policy, even existed at the time. Among this peculiarly skewed collection of nation states, 13 voted against Resolution 181, 10 abstained and one, Siam, was absent for the vote. That means that some 58% of ‘the international community’ as constituted at the time actually supported partition.

It is also worth noting that there was an alternative proposal on the table at the same time that would have created a ‘federal independent state of Palestine’ with proportional representation of all ‘elements’ of the population and safeguarding ‘the rights of religious establishments of all nationalities in Palestine’. Consideration of this proposal was quashed, somewhat cynically in my view, by rulings from the chair, one Dr Aranha.

At the time of this resolution, we did not have the wealth of experience we now enjoy of the effects of partition, although the horrors surrounding the partition of India some three months earlier might have provided some insight. While the rejected proposal leaves much to be desired, it seems clear that it would have been infinitely preferable to partition and might, if enforced rigorously, have precluded some of the excesses carried out by the Jewish state.

A year and a half later, after the ethnic cleansing of nearly 800,000 indigenous Palestinians and the capture of considerably more territory than Resolution 181 had awarded, United Nations General Assembly Resolution 273 ‘Decides to admit Israel to membership in the United Nations’.

In doing so, it expressly recalled, ‘its resolutions of 29 November 1947 [the partition resolution 181] and 11 December 1948 [Resolution 194 on the return of the refugees] and taking note of the declarations and explanations made by the representatives of the Government of Israel before the Ad Hoc Political Committee in respect of the implementation of the said resolutions’. It’s going to require some more research to uncover those ‘declarations and explanations’, but by the end of 1952, Israeli Ambassador to the UN Abba Eban was arguing, ‘If we are to be faithful craftsmen in the greatest of all arts - construction of world peace - we must continually perfect our instruments and sometimes not hesitate to change them.’ The refugees, he argued, were a result of the war, so it wasn’t Israel’s fault or responsibility, and anyway, they had absorbed so many refugees from other countries, and blah blah blah.

So obviously the UN is not going to do anything to achieve peace in Palestine, rhetoric to the contrary notwithstanding, for the reasons I mentioned – it can’t.

As for the EU, a lot of people have held out great hopes. Some imagine that the EU can serve as a force to counterbalance the sole superpower. Well, when they jumped on the bandwagon and cut off the PA after the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza voted wrong last January, consigning hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to even deeper poverty, they surely put paid to any such residual illusions. Still with Britain and France on board the Road Map, along with Russia and the US, only China could veto a Security Council resolution. I’ve never heard a suggestion that this was any kind of possibility. So the Quartet was actually in a position to place the nearest thing the UN has to compulsive power into motion. There could have been a resolution under Chapter 7 calling on the Israelis to get out forthwith or else. It won’t have surprised anyone that this is not what transpired.

As a matter of fact, considering the level of the US subsidy to the Israeli occupation, you’d think that all it would take to end the occupation would be a threat to withhold that money.

In reality, Israel started out by expressing its reservations about the Road Map, which effectively reduced it to a meaningless scrap, and nobody objected. It insisted that it would take no action whatsoever until ‘the Palestinians held up their end’. The Israelis insisted that the powerless quisling Palestine Authority not only achieve a ceasefire with the armed groups that were not under their control, but fully disarm them. In other words, the Israelis would not move one ‘illegal outpost’ caravan until after the Palestinian civil war. So the Quartet is yet to reach the first milestone along the Road Map they were due to complete two years ago.

All things considered, I think we’d have to conclude that The Quartet has not really been exercising much effort to ‘promote Middle East peace’.

But then, this all assumes that the key to ‘Middle East peace’ is partition. That’s a funny kind of assumption that I intend to address another time.

Saturday 20 January 2007

Off the map

A reader emailed me with some thoughts on the ‘Page of time’ piece I wrote yesterday:

It seems to me that Ahmadinejad *did* mean "wipe off the map" - in the same sense as the USSR has been wiped off the map.

The problem is that there are only two forces which can do that:

(a) One or more Arab States, with the support or acquiescence of the US; or

(b) The Jewish & Palestinian workers of Israel/Palestine.

One of those will require a whole lot of bloodshed. The other one won't.

To which I replied, in part (with a correction or two):

I'm not sure what Ahmedinejad actually meant, nor does it much matter. As the linked article makes clear, the damage is done. That mistranslation, apparently attributable to Iran radio in the first place, has become one of the justifications for the buildup against Iran. But I doubt he meant for it to break up into lots of smaller successor states as did the erstwhile USSR?

I totally disagree with you about the forces. Of course any country or countries backed up by the US could probably defeat Israel militarily once the US withdraws its military support for Israel. But that wouldn't necessarily erase it from the map. Lots of countries have suffered military defeat and lived to fight another day.

As for the workers of historic Palestine uniting, well, that would do the trick, but I regard it profoundly implausible, bearing in mind the history of Jewish workers' organization, and the Histadrut in particular, all along, and the level of racism that persists among Jewish Israelis to this day if poll results are any indication.

Far more likely is a pan Arab revolt that will sweep aside all the US client regimes in the region, although I'm not 100% confident that could overcome the Jewish state without literally driving the Jews into the sea. In any case, I regard it as a scenario no more likely than the global anticapitalist revolution, which is what I think is really the only force that can solve the 'MidEast crisis', and as I say, is no less realistic than the alternatives.

That said, the scenario I expect to play out over the near term is the completion of the wall, leading to the Gazafication of the WB, and support for Abu Mazen's militia's, unless they get too strong, in which case, there may be support for Hamas, whatever it takes to keep the pressure cooking. I can certainly imagine a systematic attempt at genocide, or driving all the Palestinians into Jordan. But I think they'll want to shed the Israeli Arabs first, a la Lieberman. Or maybe they have a better idea.


When I wrote that, I hadn’t yet read this article by Jonathan Cook, which outlines some scary scenarios were Palestinian Israeli citizens can be stripped of their citizenship for visiting relatives on the West Back or calling for a state of all its citizens. In case you missed it, you should definitely check out that Flashpoints interview I linked to on leftwrites yesterday morning, Cook sounded very pessimistic, as did the rappers form Dam. They are all anticipating a lot more bloodshed.

Friday 19 January 2007

'The page of time'

Although Juan Cole debunked the myth last May, here is a new analysis of why ‘Iran's President Did Not Say "Israel must be wiped off the map"’ by Arash Norouzi.

Word by word translation:

Imam (Khomeini) ghoft (said) een (this) rezhim-e (regime) ishghalgar-e (occupying) qods (Jerusalem) bayad (must) az safheh-ye ruzgar (from page of time) mahv shavad (vanish from).

Here is the full transcript of the speech in farsi, archived on Ahmadinejad's web site:

Norouzi also places the quote into context:

Khomeini predicted, other seemingly invincible empires have disappeared and now only exist in history books. He then proceeds to list three such regimes that have collapsed, crumbled or vanished, all within the last 30 years…He concludes by referring to Khomeini's unfulfilled wish: "The Imam said this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time. This statement is very wise". This is the passage that has been isolated, twisted and distorted so famously.

I don’t know about vanishing form the page of time. It’s probably some cryptic Persian expression, but it sounds to me a lot like ‘rewrite history’, ‘down the memory hole’ sort of thing. And I sure wouldn’t want to see that happen. There are a lot of lessons we and future generations have to learn from the sorry saga of Zionism. So let it remain on the page of time.

On the other hand, since I am dubious that the democratic, secular Palestine throughout the Mandatory area – the only plausible scenario that approaches delivering a just outcome and peace – would retain the name ‘Israel’, as far as I’m concerned, the word Israel must indeed be wiped off the literal map. So what’s all the fuss about?

Wednesday 17 January 2007

More damed lies?

Yesterday, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) released its human rights report for November-December 2006. It claimed,

For 2006, the total number of civilians violently killed is 34,452: 16,867 from the Medical Legal Institute in Baghdad (unidentified bodies) and 17,585 from hospitals (operation centres) throughout Iraq. The yearly average is 94 civilians killed every day.

Estimates of the numbers of victims of the US led invasion and occupation of Iraq have always aroused controversy, and this one promises to be no different. In fact, Dr. Hakem al-Zamili, Iraq's deputy health minister,

told The Associated Press the United Nations may be using unreliable sources for its casualty count. "They might be taking the figures from people who are opposed to the government or to the Americans," he said. "They are not accurate." He said he would provide Iraqi government figures later this week.

In early January, a compilation of Iraqi government figures put last year's civilian deaths at just 12,357.

Meanwhile, Iraq Body Count claims a total of civilian deaths for 2006 of between 19,535 and 21,036, half again as high as the Iraqi ‘government’ figures, but much lower than the UN claim. The Lancet study published on 11 October only estimated deaths through the study enumeration period between May and July last year, so there is no estimate for either the November-December 2006 period, or for 2006 as a whole.

To complicate matters, the UN does not appear to have published a total of all deaths since the invasion. For the purpose of comparison, assuming Iraqis have died at a constant rate over the period since March 2003, that would come to a total of about 132,000. As the rate has been accelerating, this total is necessarily high.

It is worth looking at the methodologies used to calculate each figure to achieve a better idea of which might provide a closer representation of the actual scale of destruction.

The UNAMI report does not discuss methodology. The only relevant information is the footnote on page 4,

Figures of civilians violently killed and wounded are based on the number of casualties compiled by the Ministry of Health from hospitals throughout the country and the Medico-Legal Institute in Baghdad. It should be noted that for the month of December, figures from some Governorates were not yet included in the total provided.

So this report is presenting not a statistical estimate, but an actual count based on reports from two Iraqi government sources. It is widely understood that the Iraqi government is constrained by the fact that the country it is supposed to govern is actually occupied by scores of thousands of foreign troops armed to the teeth. If that didn’t complicate the collection of administrative data of this kind enough, the insurgency that has arisen in response to the occupation largely regards the government and those cooperating with it as tools of the occupation, making collection of government data even more difficult and dangerous. It is curious that the Ministry of Health itself, one of UNAMI’s two sources, disputes UNAMI’s figures.

Last month, Ashraf Qazi, the senior United Nations envoy to Iraq, ‘cited statistics illustrating the stark problems facing Iraq, where more than 5,000 people die violent deaths each month’. Magazzeni reports, ‘According to information made available to UNAMI, 6,376 civilians were violently killed in November and December 2006’ [my emphasis]. So Qazi’s claim is nearly 40% higher than the more recent count. A possible source of the discrepancy is that Qazi is counting all persons, while Magazzeni is only counting specifically civilians specifically killed in sectarian violence. My inclination is to doubt that this distinction truly accounts for the discrepancy, because it is very common for reports of this kind to use undefined terms loosely. I suspect that on the one hand, Qazi was pulling a number out of a hat rather than relying on specific sources and calculations, and that Magazzeni’s sources can not reliably distinguish either civilians from combatants or victims of sectarian violence from, say, criminal violence.

Iraq Body Count, in contrast, is very explicit about exactly what they count. According to their methodology page, IBC provides a count of

media-reported civilian deaths in Iraq that have resulted from the 2003 military intervention by the USA and its allies. The count includes civilian deaths caused by coalition military action and by military or paramilitary responses to the coalition presence (e.g. insurgent and terrorist attacks).

It also includes excess civilian deaths caused by criminal action resulting from the breakdown in law and order which followed the coalition invasion.

It is simply a count of deaths reported in at least two independent media sources:

For a source to be considered acceptable to this project it must comply with the following standards: (1) site updated at least daily; (2) all stories separately archived on the site, with a unique url; (3) source widely cited or referenced by other sources; (4) English Language site; (5) fully public (preferably free) web-access.

The project relies on the professional rigour of the approved reporting agencies. It is assumed that any agency that has attained a respected international status operates its own rigorous checks before publishing items (including, where possible, eye-witness and confidential sources). By requiring that two independent agencies publish a report before we are willing to add it to the count, we are premising our own count on the self-correcting nature of the increasingly inter-connected international media network.

The site lists 38 sources identified as ‘some core sources’. It is not at all clear whether this list is comprehensive or indicative, and if not exhaustive, what proportion of all core sources it comprises. Nor do we know whether non core sources are being used, which ones, when, or on what basis. Anyway, among the ‘core sources’ they mention are such beacons of truth as Fox news, the London Telegraph, the Toronto Star (but not the slightly more reputable Globe and mail), and of course the NYT.

When IBC write of ‘two independent agencies’, they can only mean that the reports come from completely independent sources. So if the NYT reports what AFP said, that should not count as a second report. Ultimately, it seems to mean that at least two different reporters have to have interviewed witnesses or seen documentation of a death before it adds to the IBC count. We know that the vast majority of reporters in Iraq are either holed up in the Emerald City far from the action or embedded with the occupation forces. Some reports may exist that are never published for editorial reasons. Under the circumstances, it is hardly surprising that only a fraction of the total number of deaths that actually occur are reported, and an even smaller fraction independently reported by two separate agencies.

IBC rely on the ‘professional rigour’ of the mainstream media not only for numbers but, like the UN sources, to determine whether a corpse was in life a civilian or a combatant. It is notoriously difficult to make this distinction in the kind of counterinsurgency that’s going on in Iraq and I think it must be particularly difficult in a society where nearly everyone is armed.

The Lancet study has its drawbacks. As a survey rather than a count like the administrative data the UN rely on or the media reports IBC uses, the number arrived at is inherently fuzzy. Because of the necessarily small sample, in this case, the authors are 95% confident that the actual number of violent deaths lies somewhere between 426 369 and 793 663. That’s not very accurate, and the authors are honest about it. It’s important to remember that a statistical 'estimate' is not just a guess - it is calculated by multiplying the number of actual observations by the weights, i.e. the proportion of the population represented in the sample.

Furthermore, the cluster sampling method adopted is unlikely to provide the level of accuracy we’d expect from an ordinary sample survey. For logistical reasons, however, this is the universally accepted method of sampling in studies of this kind in areas that present dangers to the collectors. The definition of a household the researchers used is not awfully satisfactory, but is very unlikely to have impacted on estimates. The total population of Iraq is not known with great accuracy and this does impact on the calculation of the weights by which the actual observations are multiplied, but this is the case wherever robust systems for recording births and deaths are absent, which means most of the world, and statistics from, for example, Pakistan, are not treated as controversial. Unlike the UN, Iraqi government, and IBC counts, the Lancet study does not pretend to distinguish combatants from non combatants.

There are two important things to note. First of all, the lowest probable number of estimated deaths is much higher than the deliberately high extrapolations I calculated from the UN data, which come to some 127,500 on the basis of the Magazzeni report and 200,000 on the basis of Qazi’s figure for the forty months to July, and nearly ten times the IBC figure of 43714/48556 for July 2006. (Note that the IBC minimum and maximum figures do not represent the extremes of a statistical confidence interval, but are separate counts arrived at where sources are inconsistent.)

The second thing to bear in mind is that the probability that the actual number dying from violent causes over the relevant period is exactly as likely to be 793,663 as it is to be 426,369. There is no reason to consider the lower estimate more plausible. That said, based in part on the reasoning presented by Eli Stephens, of the Left i on the news blog, if we are 95% certain the true figure is in the range 426 369 - 793 663, then we are more than 95% certain that it is at least 426 369.

In summary, then, we are more than 95% confident that, as of July, well over 400,000 Iraqis fell pray to the violence deliberately unleashed by the US led invasion. In contrast, we are 100% certain that the quisling Iraqi government’s own figures are likely to be undercounts, even in the implausible eventuality that they are not being cynically tampered with. These in turn form the basis for the UNAMI figures, which are therefore suspect. We are also 100% confident that the media can not possibly know of all Iraqi deaths and IBC’s extremely cautious methodology ensures that the number will in any case be minimized.

Even if the government and media sources could really reliably distinguish a civilian body from a combatant body and did so, it would not account for the discrepancy between their counts and the Lancet study estimates. It’s also worth pointing out that most of the ‘combatants’ killed in the counterinsurgency – those who really are combatants – are only in combat because of the invasion and occupation that they are quite legitimately resisting. So attempting to exclude them from the war toll is deeply cynical.

Speaking from Kuwait, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in an uncharacteristically honest moment, said,

"Violent people will always be able to kill innocent people," she said.…"But whatever the number of civilians who have died in Iraq - and there obviously are competing numbers - but whatever the number is, it's too many," she said.

If only she and her violent mates would stop killing innocent people.