Cutting through the bullshit.

Saturday 31 March 2007

Pots, kettles

‘Olmert a “terrorist”’

A Palestinian source called Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Kadima a "terrorist" and accused him of transferring more than $1 billion to militants to carry out attacks against Lebanon, in an interview with The Bureau of Counterpropaganda released Friday.

Olmert said the statements were "confused and irresponsible".

Palestine has been urging other countries to shun Olmert and the Israeli government, citing Israel’s refusal to recognize Palestine or renounce violence.

"He's a terrorist," added the source. "You have a terrorist who is prime minister of the State of Israel now."

The Bureau learned that the funds came from outside Israel and were transferred to the Israeli armed forces for the "explicit purpose of carrying out terrorist actions." Outside sources also transferred large quantities of sophisticated armaments for terrorist purposes. These included obsolete cluster munitions known to have high failure rate, deliberately strewn throughout southern Lebanon in the last hours of last summer’s war with the specific intention of killing and maiming unsuspecting civilians and UN mine disposal personnel.

He offered no other details about the transfer.

A Palestinian security source said Palestine believes that Olmert was directly involved in the decision to make the transfer, which took place last summer.

"The terrorist is the one who kills children, raids villages and [refugee] camps, builds settlements and confiscates the land. It is not Ismail Haniyeh."

[With apologies to Ha’aretz.]

Friday 30 March 2007

What racism?

The latest Centre against Racism poll, conducted in December 2006, reveals an increase in anti Arab racism among the Israeli Jews surveyed. One interesting attitude that I didn’t notice reported in the media last year is that 55% of Israelis feel that “Arabs and Jews should be separated at entertainment sites”.

So who says Israel isn't racist?

Jimmy Carter, for one, keeps insisting, Israel is a ‘wonderful democracy with equal treatment of all citizens whether Arab or Jew’.

Meanwhile, the proportion who would not live in the same building as an Arab has increased from 68% in 2005 to ‘over 75%’ last year.

Over half of the Jewish population in Israel believes the marriage of a Jewish woman to an Arab man is equal to national treason.

About 40 percent of participants agreed that “Arabs should have their right to vote for Knesset revoked”. The number was 55 percent lower in the previous survey.

As I read it, that means that the proportion has more than doubled since 2005. The proportion who regard Arab culture as inferior has increased from 35% to 38%.

According to Yoav Stern reporting the same poll data in Ha’aretz, when they hear Arabic spoken,

30 percent said they reacted with hatred. In contrast, last year only 17.5 percent said they feel hatred…

Unfortunately, there appears to be a problem with the Center against Racism site, but I have emailed them to see if I can get more detailed results. If so, I may find there is more to say about the data.

Meanwhile, it’s not just the attitudes of Israeli Jews that evidence the apartheid nature of Israeli society. Covering the release of the 2004-2005 Sikkuy Report, Stern writes,

The life expectancy of Jewish citizens in Israel is four years higher than that of Arab citizens, according to the equality index published today by Sikkuy: The Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality in Israel. The data also reveals that the mortality rate for Arab infants under the age of 12 months is double that of their Jewish counterparts.

The data suggests that the Arab minority in Israel suffers worse conditions that those of the Afro-American minority in the U.S. or the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland. This, according to similar indexes published there.

The same report also detailed aspects of discrimination against Palestinian Israeli citizens in employment.

Among the Jewish population aged 15 and above, 57 percent work, compared to only 39 percent among the Arab citizens. One major contributing factor for this discrepancy is the fact that only 17.6 percent of Arab women work, compared to nearly 55 percent of Jewish women.

A closer evaluation also shows that the Arab population is employed at very high rates in less profitable jobs, such as construction. The average wage in construction is NIS 6,287, and the rate of Arabs employed in that field is 4.6 times higher than that of Jews.

On the other hand, in very profitable fields, the numbers of Arab workers is significantly lower than that of Jews. For example, in banking, finance and insurance, in which the average wage is NIS 13,500, there are 3.7 times more Jews than Arabs.

More recent data from the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, in these two tables in the Statistical Abstract of Israel 2006, shows that the Employment/Population Ratio (EPR) for Jews in 2005 was 53.08%, while that for Arabs was 34.26%. What this means in real terms is that according to official Israeli government statistics, over 65% of the Palestinian population aged 15 and over does not have even one hour of paying work per week. In contrast, over 53% of Jews in that age group did have paying work. It is worth pointing out that both professional soldiers and conscripts, all drawn from the Jewish population, are not among those 53% even though they do have paying work of a kind.

The most recent available statistics from the Labour Force Survey, for the quarter ending in December 2006, show an EPR for Jews of 54.17%, even higher than the 2005 average. Unfortunately, it was not possible to disaggregate a comparable EPR for the Palestinian population, but the EPR for non Jews was 37.99%. In December 2006, Arabs comprised 82.08% of the non Jewish population. My guess is that the 18% of the non Jewish population who are not Arabs, that is, ‘population not classified by religion in the Population Registry, and non-Arab Christians’, brought the EPR for the entire non Jewish population up and that the Arab EPR remained at around 34%.

Thursday 29 March 2007

Twice the vitamin G!

Tuesday’s Guardian reported two 14 year old schoolgirls at Auckland’s Pakuranga College found in their 2004 science project that Ribena only contains a trace amount of vitamin C.

Students Anna Devathasan and Jenny Suo tested the blackcurrant cordial against rival brands to test their hypothesis that cheaper brands were less healthy.

…Given Ribena's advertising claims that "the blackcurrants in Ribena have four times the vitamin C of oranges", they were astonished and wrote to the manufacturers, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). When they got no response, they phoned the company, but were given short shrift…

But then the girls' claims were picked up by a TV consumer affairs programme, Fair Go, which suggested they take their findings to the commerce commission, a government watchdog.

GSK said the girls had tested the wrong product, and it was concentrated syrup which had four times the vitamin C of oranges. But when the commerce commission investigated, it found that although blackcurrants have more vitamin C than oranges, the same was not true of Ribena. It also said ready-to-drink Ribena contained no detectable level of vitamin C.

GSK is in court in Auckland today facing 15 charges relating to misleading advertising, risking fines of up to NZ$3m (£1.1m).

Even though Anna Devathasan and Jenny Suo discovered the discrepancy in 2004, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission website reported in a 21 March media release

"It has self-reported the discrepancies to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and provided court enforceable undertakings," ACCC Chairman, Mr Graeme Samuel said today.

They got caught trying to defraud consumers and the ACCC calls it ‘self-reported’. Meanwhile, GSK has made undertakings to the ACCC, among other things, to

* stop making any express or implied representation that Ribena fruit drinks contain four times the Vitamin C of orange juice products

* stop making any express or implied representation that Ribena fruit drinks contain more Vitamin C than orange juice products, unless this claim can be substantiated

* publish notices on Ribena websites advising consumers of the allegedly misleading representations, and

* review, and implement recommended changes to, its trade practices law compliance program.

GSK Australia has also undertaken to publish an article for industry on the importance of being accurate when making representations to consumers. It will express "the importance of companies who become aware of potential false or misleading representations voluntarily approaching the ACCC so that they can work cooperatively to resolve the issue.

However, the GSK website still makes these claims

Ribena has traditionally been a rich source of Vitamin C because weight for weight, blackcurrants contains more than four times the Vitamin C of oranges.

Each recommended serving of either diluted or Ready-To-Drink Ribena provides all the Vitamin C you need each day – 100% of the Recommended Daily Allowance.

while trumpeting the Ribena ‘Brand Values’

Sometimes a brand can be more than a product. It can be a part of life. Ribena is one of those products. It is one of the healthiest options for every child, young and old. The brand also has a unique emotional aura.

The emotional reward that comes from the giving (for mothers) and receiving (for children) of maternal nurturing, care and warmth. After all, if you want the best for your child, you should only give him/her the best.

So, in light of GSK’s willing cooperation with the ACCC, now we’ll see how ‘this is taken into account when determining what further action is appropriate.’

[Thanks to James of apolitical info for drawing this story to my attention.]

Wednesday 28 March 2007

Pour more money

In a Gallup telephone poll of 1007 American adults conducted between 23 and 25 March, only 56%, give or take 3 percentage points, said they thought the war in Iraq was a mistake. This was somewhat lower than the proportion in December.

Among those identifying as Democrats, 82% said it was a mistake, the same proportion of Democrats as said there should be ‘a timetable for withdrawing all U.S. troops from Iraq no later than the fall of 2008’, not a terribly ambitious goal, particularly as they said the war was a mistake. Probably for a Democrat, persisting with a mistake for another eighteen months sounds like a good idea.

Only 48% of Democrats said they supported ‘Denying the funding needed to send any additional U.S. troops to Iraq’, which looks like a clear indication that over half of Democrats are content for Congress to go on funding the mistake.

Overall, only 36% supported withholding funding, and 60% withdrawing troops. Twenty-two percent said they believed ‘the surge’ was ‘making the situation worse’ in Baghdad, while 29% believed it was ‘making the situation better’, whatever that may mean.

Apparently, Gallup forgot to ask the respondents what it was about the war that they thought was a mistake, why they would want to pour more money into a mistake, and whether they thought George W Bush and his cronies ought to stand trial for crimes against humanity.

Judge frees torturers

In case there was any doubt about the relation between courts and justice, it would seem that it’s still that case that the issue is not what you did or whether you’re the one who did it, but who you are. No matter how gruesome and appalling the crime.

The BBC reported the morning that

A US court has dismissed a lawsuit against former US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld over claims prisoners were tortured in Iraq and Afghanistan.

even though

The court accepted that the nine men who sued had been tortured - and detailed the torture in its ruling.

In a ruling stretching to nearly 60 pages, the chief judge of the US district court for the District of Columbia said the allegations of torture were "horrifying".


The nine men suffered abuse including being:

* hung upside-down and slapped until they lost consciousness

* stabbed with knives

* subjected to electric shocks

* deprived of sleep by loud noises and bright lights

* grabbed by aggressive dogs

They also were subjected to sexual humiliation.

None was ever charged with a crime.

All were released after detentions of one month to one year. Some were detained multiple times.

But unfortunately,

But Judge Thomas Hogan ruled the five Iraqis and four Afghans did not have US constitutional rights, and also that Mr Rumsfeld was immune from such suits.

Judge Hogan threw out the claims against retired Lt Gen Ricardo Sanchez, the former commander of US military forces in Iraq, Col Thomas Pappas and former Brig Gen Janis Karpinski, both former commanders at Abu Ghraib prison.

The right of casuistry

If, like me, you thought that NY Times article about the right of return had a strange spin, this will really blow your mind.

Jerome M. Segal, who, according to Ynet, ‘directs the Peace Consultancy Project at the University of Maryland Center for International and Security Studies’ last week penned what I can only charactarise as appalling casuistry.

Writing of UN General Assembly Resolution 194, he makes five numbered claims. His argument, such as it is, also depends on a sixth. For reference, here is the text of the relevant passage of Article 11,

The refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return.

First, he points out that ‘…there is no mention in 194 of "a right of return"’. That’s true enough, but surely the framers of the resolution must have meant something when they wrote, ‘should be permitted’. The implication and the intent couldn’t really be very much clearer. This is actually one of the most embarrassingly stupid and puerile points I’ve ever seen anyone commit to print, although the balance of his ‘argument’ certainly comes close.

‘Second, the resolution, which was enacted in 1948, is clearly referring to the 1948 refugees.’ And so it cannot be taken to apply to their descendants –

there is no explicit statement of that sort. Indeed, since it was envisioned that action on the refugees would be taken promptly, there was no intended reference, one way or the other, to third and forth [sic] generations of the 1948 refugees over a half century later.

The ‘international community’ envisaged prompt implementation. Israel defied the ‘international community’, quite deliberately, as Mr. Abu Ghneim pointed out in Hassan Fattah’s article, ‘the Israelis were betting that the elders would die, and the youth would forget’. And so now they are off the hook, because the ‘international community’ didn’t realise in the days before Israel was even recognised as a state that it was destined to be a rogue state and ignore all customary and explicit norms for the behaviour of states.

In must the same vein,

there may have well been many points at which a return would have been practicable in the past, after 60 years of continued conflict and with the vast growth of the refugee populations, no significant return is practicable now or in the future.

Again, his ‘reasoning’ is that Israel should be rewarded for failing to implement 194 at the time. The cynical delaying tactics in the view of the childish mind that ‘directs the Peace Consultancy Project’ relieve Israel of responsibility.

Furthermore, in yet another version of the same pathetic sophism,

the Resolution speaks of a "return to their homes." The resolution is silent about return to anyplace else, whether to lands near their homes, or more generally, to lands within the 1949 Armistice lines. Moreover, given that in almost all cases the refugees' homes no longer exist or have become the homes of successive generations of Israelis, a return to homes is not practicable at all. In short, the return provision is completely empty only compensation is relevant. [sic]

Fifthly, in a slight twist, he wants to reinterpret ‘live at peace with their neighbors’, as a commitment to do so forever. Since there is no predicting how the returnees would react in a war, no refugee can ever meet that criterion and the framers of the resolution were obviously just wasting their time. How could they have known that 59 years down the track, some numbskull would come along and imagine he could undermine their obvious intentions with his wet noodle sharp logic.

Finally, the icing on the cake

Any one of these interpretations might be challenged by Palestinian negotiators. They might argue that each one of them violates the spirit of the resolution, and they might argue that there are yet other facets of international law to back up their claims.

Indeed they might. But since Jerome M. Segal has called their interpretations into question, it is now just a matter of opinion whose should prevail. His five infantile points have rendered the whole issue an arbitrary decision and the logic of the matter, the intentions of the General Assembly, the demands of just redress, solidarity with the oppressed, even elementary bourgeois property rights, have now become mere irrelevancies.

Seriously, though, there’s a troll over on Mitchell Plitnick’s Third way blog trotting out the old long since utterly discredited Joan Peters From time immemorial crap, and another one (or maybe the same one?) on Richard Silverstein’s Tikun Olam site who reckons that because ‘Hajj Amin el Husseini’ allegedly ‘worked for the Nazi Germany as a propagandist for the Arabs and a recruiter of Muslim volunteers for the German armed forces’, the appropriate response is collective punishment of all Palestinians forever.

So I might just take this opportunity to reiterate that it doesn’t matter where the 1948 refugees were born, how long they lived in Palestine (although we know for sure that at least some families had been there hundreds of years), whether anyone encouraged them to leave (although that myth has been put paid to now, as well), whether they left at gunpoint or of their own free will. They are still entitled to return and resume their property.

Another thing that is completely irrelevant to the question of Palestinian refugees’ right of return is the flight, or expulsion, of Jewish Arabs from Iraq and other places in the Middle East. They, too, are in principle entitled to return, regardless of the reasons they left. It doesn’t matter whether the numbers are similar or different. Each individual refugee has their own right of return.

The real problems with 194 are

  • that it doesn’t envisage compensation for displacement per se, as I pointed out the ‘herring’ post this morning,
  • that the most obvious reading is that return and compensation for lost property are posed as alternatives, when in reality, each refugee should be entitled to both, and

· that as a General Assembly resolution, it has no teeth.

Whatever the wording of the resolution and whatever its formal legal force, the bottom line remains, no justice, no peace!

Tuesday 27 March 2007

Who ordered herring?

In yesterday’s NY Times, Hassan M Fattah reports from Amman, ‘For Many Palestinians, ‘Return’ Is Not a Goal’. After nearly six decades in exile, he discovered that the view that ‘it may be neither possible nor desirable to go back’ is ‘being voiced, especially by younger and wealthier Palestinians’.

“The Israelis were betting that the elders would die, and the youth would forget,” said Mr. Abu Ghneim, the refugee, as he sat flanked by several other Palestinian elders who have campaigned for the right of return. “But we are here and the young haven’t forgotten. Our right to return to our homes and lands can never be replaced, not with money or anything else.”

But maybe the Israelis are right. It’s just a matter of time. Sixty years weren’t quite enough. But maybe a hundred will do. From reading Fattah’s article, you would get the impression that it is just a few surviving diehards who hold out any hope for actual implementation of UN General Assembly Resolution 194, which Fattah quotes from.

Resolution 194 says, “Refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date,” and calls for them to be compensated if they choose not to return.

After all, their descendants are doing just fine.

…Abdallah Zalatimo, 41…returned to Amman in 1976, before attending college in the United States.

In the late 1980s he opened a business making Arabic sweets that has grown to include shops in several Arab countries with several million dollars in revenues. “What right do I have to ask for awda when I am here and content?”…

Fattah acknowledges

Most Palestinians who fled to Jordan were granted citizenship and today account for well over half of the country’s population. Palestinian refugees living elsewhere, however, have survived with few rights and no citizenship.

But he is content to generalise on the basis of interviews with prosperous business owners in Jordan.

Almost no Palestinian questions the demand for Israel’s recognition of the right to return; many, however, now say returning is becoming less and less feasible.

In reality, of course, it was never feasible, if by feasible we mean acceptable to an Israeli government obsessed with maintaining a Jewish majority. Indeed, on 1 December 1948, ten days before passage of Resolution 194, the UN representative of the then provisional state of Israel, Mr Shertok (later to become Moshe Sharett, Israel’s second PM) was already looking for excuses to keep the refugees out when he told the General Assembly

that the problem could be solved satisfactorily only in connexion with the final peace settlement, and that it was not a question of the rights of certain individuals but of the collective interests of groups of people. It was not enough to allow these individuals to return when and where they desired, for the question arose as to who was to assume responsibility for their integration in their new environment. The final solution, which could be worked out only after the peace settlement had been concluded must be one to which all Governments would lend their support and co-operation.

In the latest version, Fattah reports that PM Olmert and FM Livni ‘expressed reservations’ about the right of return.

Israel says that Palestinians should have the right to return to a new Palestine, not to their original homes, especially considering that their numbers have exploded since the original 711,000 people fled in 1948. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees says it has 4.3 million registered Palestinian refugees.

Obviously, Israel could never absorb 4.3 million refugees, but a string of disconnected Palestinian Bantustans with no water, no economy, and no border with any country but Israel can easily do so. After all, Palestine, the country that only exists on the ever receding horizon, as Condi likes to say, will not be a Jewish and demographic state and won’t have a Jewish majority to protect. Anyway, it doesn’t matter, because as everybody knows

In 2003, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in the West Bank city of Ramallah, in one of the most comprehensive surveys conducted on the subject, found that most Palestinians would be unlikely to move if they were granted the right of return.

And here’s where it starts to get interesting. For starters, Fattah has taken a number and reinterpreted it. The PSR survey really did find that only 10% of the some 4500 refugees they surveyed said they would return to live in Israel as Israeli citizens. But like most statistics, it’s easy to misinterpret if you ignore the context and the wording of the question.

That was one of five options. In reality, only 17% said they would stay in their current host country, which must be what Fattah means by ‘unlikely to move’. So his assertion is fundamentally false. The proportion who would move either to Israel, the Palestinian state, or a third country was actually 66%. Thirteen percent said they wouldn’t accept any of the options offered, and it’s easy to understand why.

To put the survey into context,

Based on several previous surveys showing that the overwhelming majority of the refugees (more than 95%) insist on maintaining the "right of return" as a sacred right that can never be given up, PSR surveys sought to find out how refugees would behave once they have obtained that right and how they would react under various likely conditions and circumstances of the permanent settlement.

The question was couched explicitly in terms of the Taba negotiations of January 2000.

The establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and Israeli recognition of UN resolution 194 or the right of return. But the two sides would agree on the return of a small number of refugees to Israel in accordance with a timetable that extends for several years. Each refugee family will be able to choose one of the following options:

1. Return to Israel in accordance with an annual quota and become an Israeli citizen

2. Stay in the Palestinian state that will be established in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and receive a fair compensation for the property taken over by Israel and for other losses and suffering

3. Receive Palestinian citizenship and return to designated areas inside Israel that would be swapped later on with Palestinian areas as part of a territorial exchange and receive compensation

4. Receive fair compensation for the property, losses, and suffering and stay in the host country receiving its citizenship or Palestinian citizenship

5. Receive fair compensation for the property, losses, and suffering and immigrate to a European country or the US, Australia, or Canada and obtain citizenship of that country or Palestinian citizenship.

There are a number of factors that could easily lead to the small proportion saying they would move to Israel. One of these is that only 16% of those surveyed thought that Israel would accept the proposed solution in the first place. It transpires, unsurprisingly, that the 77% who didn’t think so were right. Another is that under the Taba plan, only ‘a small number of refugees’ would get to return to Israel. So respondents might have selected other options on the basis that their need to return was not as great as some other refugees, for example, those who already have family living there. Furthermore, in the context of the Taba plan, which would have established a separate Palestinian state, the prospect of Israeli citizenship may not have seemed very inviting, in light of the treatment existing Palestinian Israeli citizens receive.

None of the options allowed for the possibility of returning to a united Palestine, which I think it is reasonable to speculate would have provided an attractive option. Finally, after sixty years in the wilderness, it seems likely that many have relinquished hope that a just solution is forthcoming and therefore selected an option that seemed a lesser evil.

A more recent qualitative study may shed some light on this. Juliette Abu Iyun and Khalid Nabris, of the Palestinian Center for the Dissemination of Democracy and Community Development (Panorama), in their "Time For Them to Speak and For Us to Listen": The Final Report of a Participatory Research and Education Project with Palestinian Refugees in Jalazon Refugee Camp, based on research undertaken in 2004 and 2005, found that

Most participants were sceptical about the possibility of realizing a just solution through negotiation given Israeli intransigence and unwillingness to offer serious concessions to attain peace,and the current imbalance of power including the United States' unabashed bias in favour of Israel.


In both the first and second rounds of the study [i.e. before and after an educational component], the majority of the participants expressed strict adherence to the Right of Return and rejection of any formula that does not enable them to exercise this right, though younger participants and particularly women were more open to discussing alternatives as long as the Right of Return was not compromised. However, many participants were unsure if Palestinian decision-makers share their resolve. They favored holding a referendum before action over any proposal, and regardless of the outcome, most of the participants insisted on their inalienable individual rights as refugees.

And those were refugees in Ramallah. In the 2003 PSR survey, the proportion who said they’d become Israeli citizens was thirteen percent among refugees in the West Bank and Gaza, but only five percent among the refugees in Jordan, which may shed some light on Fattah’s article, datelined Amman. Among those in Lebanon, the figure was 23%.

Finally, Fattah knows that Resolution 194 provides for the refugees to choose whether or not to return. But he has not thought carefully about what refugee choice actually entails. Others have, like BADIL, the Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights. But I guess NY Times reporters don’t have to be any clueyer than their colleagues over in the editorial writing department. BADIL’s February 2000 Occasional Bulletin No. 04, ‘The Right of Return and the Meaning of Refugee Choice’ points out

Determination of refugee choice cannot be undertaken prior to a peace agreement, which explicitly recognizes the right of refugees to return to their homes and provides guarantees for the voluntary character of return – i.e., refugee choice. Without guarantees for implementation of the right of return as codified in a peace agreement, refugees cannot make an informed, free choice about whether they wish to return. In other words, refugee choice cannot precede recognition of the right of return by the country of origin, and provisions for its implementation.

in particular,

Refugees must be supplied with information about the conditions in their country of origin, provisions for safety and protection from the authorities in the country of origin, and details about the procedures for repatriation.

So it seems a bit premature for anybody to start celebrating the permanent exile of those 4.3 million. The conditions don’t even exist yet for them to make the informed choice required by Resolution 194, if that is to be the criterion. And in truth, 194 does not go far enough. When, in December 1948, it said, ‘at the earliest practicable date’, I don’t think it envisaged fifty-nine years of exile, and counting. Surely, a truly just solution would have to compensate the victims for that, as well as for the property losses 194 expressly provides for.

A lot of people and a lot of organisations claim that they are working for a just peace. What most of them are principally concerned to ensure is that Israel gets to retain its Jewish ‘character’. But that’s not the kind of justice that will ensure any kind of peace. Unless Israel is prepared, as it may be, to carry out its own ‘final solution’, justice for the victims of the 1948 adventure in ethnic cleansing remains an essential component of any peaceful outcome.

[Thanks to Sol Salbe for sending the NY Times article and Juliette Abu Iyun for her prompt response to my request for her report.]

Monday 26 March 2007

Toll dwarfed?

A few days ago, lenin had a piece quoting extensively from Anthony Arnove’s article on Tomdispatch drawing a comparison between the treatment of statistics of the tragedy in Darfur and in Iraq. According to Arnove,

Since 2003, according to UN estimates, some 200,000 have been killed in the Darfur region of Sudan in a brutal ethnic-cleansing campaign and another 2 million have been turned into refugees.

How would you know this? Well, if you lived in New York City, at least, you could hardly take a subway ride without seeing an ad that reads: "400,000 dead. Millions uniting to save Darfur." The New York Times has also regularly featured full-page ads describing the "genocide" in Darfur and calling for intervention there under "a chain of command allowing necessary and timely military action without approval from distant political or civilian personnel."… celebrities on Good Morning America talking about their commitment to stopping "genocide" in Iraq.

The point of this post is not, however to discuss the reasons for the discrepancy between all the noise about Darfur and the silence about Iraq. Apart from those two articles, Arnove cites ‘The Politics of Naming: Genocide, Civil War, Insurgency’ by Mahmood Mamdani in the latest London review of books. In a later piece, lenin returns to the theme, citing Ed Herman’s recent article on the ‘“Worthy-Genocide” Establishment’.

One of the ironies is that the emphasis on the Darfur crisis is not related to its scale. While the latest UN assessment, cited by Arnove, claims ‘More than 200,000 people have been killed and at least 2 million others forced from their homes since 2003’, estimates of Iraqi deaths and displacement are much higher. According to the latest information on their website,

UNHCR estimates there are some 1.9 million Iraqis displaced internally, and up to 2 million in neighbouring states, particularly Syria and 2006 Iraqis had become the leading nationality seeking asylum in Europe…By early 2007, internal displacement was estimated to be continuing at a rate of up to 50,000 a month.

In other words, the US occupation of Iraq has displaced nearly twice as many people as the situation in Darfur, universally condemned as genocide. In another cruel irony that I’ve covered before, the US has only accepted as refugees 466 of the two million Iraqis it drove from their country.

What really prompted this post is that while Arnove and others continue to cite the Johns Hopkins study estimate of 655,000 excess deaths published in the Lancet last October, Information Clearinghouse posted an article entitled ‘Deaths In Iraq Have Reached 1 Million’, dated 22 March. Attributed to an ‘Alan Jones’ but not linked to any source, it starts out by claiming,

THE number of deaths in Iraq since the start of the conflict could be as high as one million, it was claimed yesterday.

On the fourth anniversary of the invasion by Allied troops, an Australian scientist insisted the true death toll dwarfed previous estimates.

Dr Gideon Polya said: "Using the most comprehensive and authoritative literature and UN demographic data yields an estimate of one million post-invasion excess deaths in Iraq."

The article does in fact link to Dr Polya’s Global Avoidable Mortality blog, where the most recent post, dated 16 May 2006, relates to Israeli and Palestinian deaths.

In reality, the ICH article appears to relate not to anything published on 21 March, but to Dr Polya's 1 March editorial on his Media With Conscience site. He actually presents the same analysis in a 7 February Countercurrents article.

In the 7 February article, Polya writes, ‘the post-invasion excess deaths (avoidable deaths, deaths that did not have to happen) total 1.0 million (ONE MILLION)’. This is his reasoning,

Consider the following estimate from the Johns Hopkins medical scientists of "annual death rate per 1,000 of population" of 13.3 (post-invasion Iraq) as compared to (a) 5.5 (for pre-invasion Iraq after 12 years of crippling Sanctions) and (b) 4.0 (for Iraq's resource-poor but peaceful neighbours Syria and Jordan; UN Population Division data:

The "post-invasion excess death rate/1000 of population" was 13.3 - 5.5 = 7.8 (Comparison A) or 13.3 - 4.0 = 9.3 (Comparison B). Assuming an average population of 27 million, the "post-invasion excess deaths" total (over 4 years i.e. as of February 2007) (A) 7.8 x 2,700 x 4 = 842,000 and (B) 9.3 x 2,700 x 4 = 1,004,400 i.e. ONE MILLION.

In other words, the estimate of one million is arrived at by multiplying the difference between the Johns Hopkins study’s estimate of deaths per 1000 in Iraq over the 40 months to July 2006 and the UN estimate of deaths per 1000 population in Syria and Jordan at an unspecified date. Note that the link he provides is to a database that provides population projections. There probably are UN crude mortality rate (CMR) data for Syria and Jordan available, but not at any of the URLs he cites in either the MWC or the Countercurrents articles.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s not really outrageous to compare the post invasion Iraqi crude mortality rate with the rate for a neighbouring country. The rationale is that preinvasion mortality in Iraq was already inflated by the twelve years of sanctions. But by using the Syrian data as the benchmark, Polya is effectively factoring in the sanctions’ effects rather than isolating the effects of the invasion and occupation. Apart from that, there may be any number of other factors that might render the mortality rate in Syria or Jordan not comparable with that in Iraq. Perhaps more importantly, there is no possibility of the mainstream media treating a comparison like this seriously. So the relevant estimate is really his ‘Comparison A’, which, based on the Lancet study’s estimate of crude death rates in Iraq before and after the invasion, arrives at a figure of 842,000 (not 1 million!) for the four years to March 2007.

I’ve made attempts to update the Lancet estimate before, but the Lancet data are now eight months old and we know the slaughter has proceeded, by all accounts at an accelerating pace, we need some new estimates. The report of Polya’s estimate has prompted me to take it a little further. This is not to cast aspersions on Polya’s method, but I have adopted a different approach.

The Lancet estimates published last October cover the period March 2003 through June 2006. The estimated average monthly crude death rate for the fourteen months through April 2004 was 7,017. For the thirteen months from May 2004 to May 2005, the average was 15,115 per month, and for the last thirteen months June 2005 to June 2006, 27,710.

The method I am using is to assume that the Lancet estimates are correct as a starting point and increment them for the eight months since July 2006 based on monthly averages. I have calculated projections using three assumptions. As I am not actually weighting new data, but just projecting from the July 2006 data on the basis of some assumptions about the probable average monthly rate of increase, I will round the figures to the nearest thousand.

First, if we assume that the monthly rate of deaths over the last eight months was equivalent to the average of the forty months from March 2003 to July 2006, 16,373 per month, the current toll would stand at about 786,000. I regard this as highly improbable, as it would mean that the average monthly crude death rate had decreased by 41% from the 2005-2006 average.

Second, if we assume that the monthly rate has remained at the average for the 2005-2006 period, the total would now come to 877,000.

Third, if we assume that the current average monthly crude death rate has increased proportionally by as much over the 2005-2006 average as that average increased over the previous thirteen month period, by about 83%, the monthly average would now be 50,801 and the total to date, 1,061,000.

Bear in mind that these are based on statistical estimates each of which represents the approximate midpoint of a range of values. Principally because the size of the sample in the Johns Hopkins study, the confidence interval is wide. The claim the authors, Gilbert Burnham, Riyadh Lafta, Shannon Doocy, and Les Roberts, made was that they were 95% confident that the true number of excess deaths in July was between 393,000 and 943,000. Using the same confidence interval proportionally, in the first and least likely scenario, where the monthly rate had decreased, we would be talking about a range of 472,000 to 1,131,000. In the second scenario, where the rate had remained constant from last year, it would be between 526,000 and 1,262,000. Finally, if the average monthly crude death rate has increased as much as it did between 2004-05 and 2005-06, the range is 637,000 to 1,528,000.

The following table may clarify the results.


95% Confidence interval



Lancet estimate to 2006 07




Polya’s estimate

Iraq baseline




Syria baseline




My projection assuming increase at:

Per month

A. 2003-2006 average rate





B. 2005-2006 average rate





C. 83% above B.





* The true death toll is almost certainly more than 526,000.

** The probable death toll is 1,061,000.

From all reports, the rate of increase has been increasing itself, so even these highest projections are likely to be on the low side. Conservatively speaking, I think you could claim with nearly 100% confidence that the crude mortality rate over the last eight months has certainly not decreased from the average of the previous thirteen month period and that the US invasion and occupation has cost at least 525,000 Iraqi lives over the last four years. If, as seems probable, the CMR has in fact increased since last July, the figure is very likely to be over a million and could exceed a million and a half.

The central point is that, horrific though the situation is in Darfur, estimates based on similar methods demonstrate that it is in fact much much worse in Iraq, where the US, UK, and Australian governments bear direct responsibility for the catastrophe.

An ancillary point is how we use these statistics. At the top of the daily ICH email and the ICH site it asserts, ‘Number Of Iraqi Civilians Slaughtered In America's War On Iraq - At Least 655,000 + +’. I thought that the Johns Hopkins University team did good work under dangerous conditions and have done the peace movement a big favour by publishing their results in the prestigious and impeccable Lancet journal. Sorry to split hairs, if that’s what it is, but I think it would be fair to treat their findings as if we believed what they said.

What they actually found was that there were 654,965 excess deaths in Iraq over the 40 months to July 2006. Specifically, they were 95% certain that the number of people who had died since the 20 March 2003 invasion who would not have died otherwise, was in the range 392,979 to 942,636. As I have pointed out before, Burnham et al. do not say that at least 655,000 civilians were slaughtered.

For one thing, if there is an ‘at least figure, it is not 654,965, but 392,979. For another, the Johns Hopkins study is absolutely explicit that, ‘Separation of combatant from non-combatant deaths during interviews was not attempted…’ So their research provides no basis for any claim specifically about ‘civilians’. Finally, these estimates are for deaths from all causes. The relevant estimate of specifically violent deaths to July 2006 is 601,027 (i.e. in the range 426,369–793,663). Presumably, that would be the number slaughtered.

It’s not as if the Lancet study’s findings were not sensational enough. There’s no need to distort them as ICH continues to do, much less to headline Polya’s 1 million figure, which explicitly includes sanctions effects with the invasion and occupation.

In my view, the safest, most responsible approach remains to be to cite ‘the July 2006 estimate of about 655,000’. Alternatively, as Eli Stephens of Left I on the news points out, the confidence that the true figure is above 393,979 is nearly 98%, so it would be even more accurate to assert that the invasion and occupation of Iraq killed ‘at least 394,000’ by July 2006. However, I am fairly comfortable that my projections provide a sound basis for asserting that the current death toll definitely exceeds half a million, is probably much higher, and possibly three times that number.

Sunday 18 March 2007

Tanya Reinhart gone

I’ve just received a forwarded email originally from the Linguistics Department at Tel Aviv University saying that Tanya Reinhart had died suddenly in New York yesterday, without providing any further details.

Reinhart was the author of the 2002 Israel/Palestine: how to end the war of 1948 and last year, The roadmap to nowhere: Israel/Palestine since 2003, which I am just about to finish. She has also written many courageous articles in the Israeli press.

She was one of few Israeli academics who supported the academic boycott.

A sad sad loss.

Lawyers take to streets

Lawyers take to streets

Lawyers and others have confronted riot cops and the army on the streets of Islamabad since President General Pervez Musharraf dismissed Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry on 9 March on allegations of misconduct and abuse of authority.

But outrage has built up quickly over what some consider a blatant ploy to get rid of a judge whose rulings had embarrassed the government, and to ensure a quiescent judiciary ahead of elections later this year. There is speculation that the Supreme Court, under Chaudhry, might not look favorably on an attempt by Musharraf to seek reelection while hanging on to his post as army chief.

Chaudhry also had angered Pakistan's powerful intelligence agencies by insisting they answer allegations that they had detained more than 100 people listed as missing.

Although Pakistani leaders have a history of using the judiciary for their own ends, the move to oust Chaudhry prompted lawyers and other activists to take to the streets, here in the capital and in other cities such as Lahore. Protests continued to grow as reports came in of Chaudhry being put under virtual house arrest and denied access to his lawyers.

Analysts say the strength of public opposition to Chaudhry's removal has caught Musharraf by surprise.

On Friday, news media broadcast scenes of police violently dispersing the protesters assembled at the Supreme Court in downtown Islamabad, where Chaudhry had gone to defend himself in a hearing before a judicial panel. Afterward, there were signs that Musharraf was beginning to backpedal.

A Supreme Court panel ordered that restrictions on Chaudhry's movements be lifted. The court also acknowledged his complaint of being manhandled by police and ordered the officers to explain their actions.

"General Musharraf and his legal advisors should have realized that a judge who believed that public interest and public welfare could only be gauged and served through representative institutions would be a serious threat to his version of democracy," columnist Khalid Jawed Khan wrote in a scathing opinion piece in Friday's edition of the Dawn newspaper. "The general has never been so vulnerable."

The Washington Post reports, further,

The protests were broadcast live on the independent television station Geo TV, and riot police stormed the station's Islamabad office during the protests in an attempt to shut it down. Geo TV representatives said the police released tear gas in the office, roughed up the station's journalists and trashed furniture.

Musharraf later apologized in a live interview with Geo.

"It was a very sad incident. It should have not happened, and I condemn it," he said, adding, "The culprits responsible for it must be identified, and action against them must be taken."

It remains to be seen whether the General will arrange for his own arrest.

Witnesses at the scene said that police used tear gas, rubber bullets and baton charges in an attempt to disperse the crowd and that they arrested numerous opposition leaders. Dozens of opposition members, as well as lawyers from across the country, had also been detained overnight in advance of the rally.

Among those arrested were Qazi Hussain Ahmad, a leader of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, which is a coalition of far-right Islamic parties, and Rafiq Tarar, a former president of Pakistan who was detained during a rally in Lahore.

Information Minister Tariq Azim Khan defended the arrests, saying that demonstrators were blocking traffic and clashing with police.

"We have to ensure that nobody is above the law," he said. "It doesn't matter if they're political leaders. Anybody who takes the law into their own hands, they have to face the consequences."

Anyone who’s ever been in Islamabad will know that when it comes to obstructing traffic, some people are most assuredly above the law. When Musharraf’s convoy comes into town from his ‘Camp Office’ the other side of Rawalpindi in Chaklala, nothing much moves.