Cutting through the bullshit.

Sunday 28 October 2007

Mercedeses and Jaguars

Not content with the extra protection offered by AIG and their deluxe fire retardant service, the rich decamped without a thought for their disposable workers.

“There were Mercedeses and Jaguars pulling out, people evacuating, and the migrants were still working,” said Enrique Morones, who takes food and blankets to the immigrants’ camps. “It’s outrageous.”

The NY Times reports,

with the discovery of four charred bodies in an area of heavy illegal immigration, concern is growing that others may not have survived.

Terri Trujillo, who helps the immigrants, checked on those in the canyons, urging them to leave, too, when she left her house in Rancho Peñasquitos ahead of the fires.

Ms. Trujillo and others who help the immigrants said they saw several out in the fields as the fires approached and ash fell on them. She said many were afraid to lose their jobs.

The affected area’s economy depends on the so called ‘illegal immigrants’.

Immigrants from south of the border, many illegal, provide the backbone of menial labor in San Diego, picking fruit, cleaning hotel rooms, sweeping walks and mowing lawns.

The survivors found succour from the firefighters.

“Their hands were burned, and they were clearly tired and grateful,” Capt. Mike Parkes of the State Department of Forestry and Fire Protection reported on what his firefighting team saw.

Others did not fare as well.

Some of the illegal workers who sought help from the authorities were arrested and deported. Opponents of illegal immigration, including civilian border watch groups, seized on news that immigrants had been detained at the Qualcomm Stadium evacuation center as evidence of trouble that illegal immigrants cause.

The Border Patrol also arrested scores of illegal immigrants made visible by the fires. Agent Fisher of the Border Patrol said 100 had been arrested since the fires started Sunday.

Agent Fisher’s superiors know what their priorities are.

He said that the agency never abandoned enforcing the border…“We were very conscious in making sure our border security mission was met.”

After all, the fires are all their fault anyway.

Some people have speculated, including on the Web, that immigrants might have set some of the fires, as has occurred with campfires lighted in fields.

But every cloud has a silver lining.

For the immigrants, the fires may have dried up some work. But some speculate on strong work prospects like cleanups. By early afternoon near a heavily damaged neighborhood in the Rancho Bernardo area, four men stood on a corner, waiting for work offers.

“It is a shame what happened,” said a man who gave just his first name, Miguelito. “But we think there will be jobs to clean or build.”

Saturday 27 October 2007

The prettiest sight

As Jimmy Stewart observed in Philadelphia story, ‘The prettiest sight in this fine pretty world is the privileged class enjoying its privileges.’

The best that medical science has to offer, tax breaks, government handouts and bailouts, first class travel…are all luxuries we know the rich enjoy. But surely a natural disaster sinks all boats? Apparently not, writes Kimi Yoshino in the LA Times. While ‘Firefighters across the region have complained this week that they simply did not have enough trucks, helicopters and airplanes.’

AIG's [American International Group Inc.] Wildfire Protection Unit, part of its Private Client Group, is offered only to homeowners in California's most affluent ZIP Codes -- including Malibu, Beverly Hills, Newport Beach and Menlo Park -- and a dozen Colorado resort communities. It covers about 2,000 policyholders, who pay premiums of at least $10,000 a year and own homes with a value of at least $1 million.

[Certified firefighter, Bryce] Carrier and his 15 crew mates sprayed retardant on and around more than 160 homes in Malibu, Lake Arrowhead and the hardest-hit areas of Orange and San Diego counties this week.

Yoshino quotes Naomi Klein,

"What we have is a dangerous confluence of events: underfunded states, increasingly inefficient disaster response, a loss of faith in the public sphere . . . and a growing part of the economy that sees disaster as a promising new market," said Naomi Klein, whose new book, "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism," looks at, among other things, the response to Hurricane Katrina.

Klein said AIG offers a glimpse into the future of what she calls "disaster apartheid," in which the affluent are better equipped for emergencies.

Nor is it just from such ‘natural’ disasters as the bushfires raging through Southern California that the rich are better protected. In this week’s Forward, Rebecca Spence celebrates the enterprise of 31 year old Beverly Hills born oleh Aaron Cohen, founder of IMS (Israeli Military Specialists) Security.

Hiring Israelis culled exclusively from the Jewish state’s top four special operations units, Cohen oversees the only private security firm specializing in bringing Israeli-style protection to the upper reaches of stardom. Guarding the likes of Brad Pitt, Jackie Chan and Eva Longoria, to name but a few, Cohen — with a minimum retainer fee in the range of $20,000 and a day’s work costing up to $1,000 — has applied the principles he learned detaining terrorists to keeping aggressive paparazzi and the occasional celebrity stalker at bay.

Cohen earned his spurs in ‘an elite Israeli commando unit responsible for capturing, and sometimes killing, Palestinian militants in the West Bank’.

His story, soon to be told in a forthcoming memoir co-authored by Douglas Century (a former contributor to the Forward), is one that would warm any Zionist heart. At 18, Cohen made aliyah and subsequently became the only American to finagle his way into the ranks of an elite military unit — a feat, even for those born in Israel. As a member of Duvdevan, created in the wake of the first intifada, Cohen was among those who disguised themselves as Arabs to infiltrate the West Bank. In 1999, after returning to Los Angeles, Cohen was hired as a bodyguard and administered security at the home of A-lister Pitt, who was fending off a stalker.

The following year, sensing a demand for his expertise, Cohen founded IMS Security. In order to recruit his employees, he returned to Israel, where he still owns a condominium in the affluent Tel Aviv suburb Herzliya. Cohen tacked up a note in the lunchroom of his unit, offering high-paying jobs in L.A. to anyone who had finished his service. Cohen now employs a staff of 22, and he rotates in new Israelis every one-and-a-half to two years. It is, he said, a way of returning the favor to those who took him in as one of their own and gave him the experience of being a top Israeli fighter.

In the years since the attacks of September 11, 2001, Cohen has also built a business training American law-enforcement and military units in Israeli counter-terrorism techniques. His client roster includes the Houston Metro SWAT team, the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services and the Department of Homeland Security’s Los Angeles office. He has also become a pundit, dispensing security acumen on Fox News and Court TV, among other networks.

Wealthy celebrities need the best protection money can buy, because after all, Cohen explains, ‘Stalking is a form of terror’.

Veterans of Duvdevan and other elite forces may find lucrative employment with Cohen’s outfit, but for the ordinary reservist grunts like Yariv Oppenheimer detaining, harassing, and humiliating Palestinians at West Bank checkpoints, General Secretary of Peace Now is good enough.

Two Machsom Watch activists report seeing Oppenheimer doing his military reserve duty at a checkpoint inside the occupied territories, in an area that is slowly being ethnically cleansed of its indigenous population, mainly through the use of checkpoints, which forbid almost any type of transportation or access between the main Palestinian cities of the West Bank and the Jordan Valley.

Oppenheimer, together with the other soldiers at the checkpoint, also refused a Palestinian family with seven children who were traveling to see their relatives in a nearby village to go through the checkpoint. The fact that this was the Muslim holiday Eid al-Fiter that ends the month of Ramadan, didn’t seem to soften the Peace Now soldier.

[Hat tip to Hulkegaard, in a comment on Jews sans frontières.]

Wednesday 24 October 2007

Race to the horizon

The 8 November issue of the NY Review of books sports a letter

sent by its signers on October 10 to President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The statement is a joint initiative of the US/Middle East Project, Inc. (General Brent Scowcroft, chairman, International Board, and Henry Siegman, president), the International Crisis Group (Gareth Evans, president), and the New America Foundation/American Strategy Program (Steven Clemons, director).

The signatories - 'Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Adviser to President Jimmy Carter, Lee H. Hamilton, former Congressman and Co-chair of the Iraq Study Group, Carla Hills, former US Trade Representative under President George H.W. Bush, Nancy Kassebaum-Baker, former Senator, Thomas R. Pickering, former Under-Secretary of State under President Bill Clinton, Brent Scowcroft, former National Security Adviser to President Gerald Ford and President George H.W. Bush, Theodore C. Sorensen, former Special Counsel and Adviser to President John F. Kennedy', and 'Paul Volcker, former Chairman of the Board of Governors of the US Federal Reserve System' - have spent all or part of their careers close to the centre of power.

They are concerned to ensure that President Bush's November Middle East peace conference succeed. But they themselves are best placed to know why that is out of the question. If it were so easy, how did it come to pass that they never managed to persuade the US administrations they worked for to extract the slightest concession from Israel when they had the President's ear?

Of course what they mean by 'succeed' and what justice demands are entirely different things. For one thing, they labour under the misappprehension that the protagonists are 'Israeli and Palestinian leaders', or hope that their readers will do so. The unnamed leaders they refer to are the thoroughly discredited Israeli PM, Ehud Olmert, the man who dreams of approval ratings as high as Dubya's and the terminally corrupt and ineffectual quisling Abu Mazen. One question that it does not occur to them to ask, or that they don't want readers to think about, is who will represent the Israeli Arabs? Presumably, since they are Israeli, Olmert represents their interests. But since they are not Jews, how likely is that? And since they are Palestinian, Abu Mazen must represent them. But they never even got to vote in the Palestinian elections, so that's hardly plausible either. As for the Palestinian diaspora, and the refugees in particular, they've never required representation before, so why should they get a seat at the table now? As a matter of fact, even though the right of return is an individual right that nobody can negotiate on the refugees' behalf, the US and the Quartet are happy to negotiate it away with anyone offering enough other humiliating concessions.

If the parties they identify fail to reach an agreement, the Quartet 'should put forward its own outline, based on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, the Clinton parameters of 2000, the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, and the 2003 Road Map.' They naively or cynically insist on 'A solution to the refugee problem that is consistent with the two-state solution', as if justice for the refugees weren't a direct contradiction of the persistence of a Jewish ethnocracy – necessarily one of the two states. But then all these illuminati need to address is 'the Palestinian refugees' deep sense of injustice'. They understand that they must never allow that an actual injustice occurred – ‘Don’t mention the Nakba’. To hammer home the point, they further insist the solution 'provides them with meaningful financial compensation and resettlement assistance'. That is, meaningful, as opposed to adequate or appropriate, compensation and help to resettle outside of Israel, unless Israel decides it can afford to allow a few to return 'to their homes', in the immortal words of UN General Assembly resolution 194.

The signatories are actually more generous than Clinton intended. Where Clinton suggested that Israel relinquish 'between 94-96%' of the West Bank for the Palestinian state. The 4-6% Israel would annex 'should be compensated by a land swap of 1-3%'. In contrast, this proposal countenances a 1:1 land swap. I assume that the ratio pertains strictly to area, rather than, say, population, infrastructure development, productivity, or some other factor that might be relevant. Since 1967, Israel has been assiduously establishing 'facts on the ground' – permanent settlements strategically sited to control the best land, the aquifers, and the Palestinian population – with the explicit intention of retaining the West Bank in perpetuity. Well meaning advocates of a two state outcome often lose sight of this elementary function of the whole settlement enterprise – to integrate the settlement network inextricably into Israel. It may be technically feasible to uproot and relocate nearly half a million settlers, some of whom have lived in 'Judea and Samaria' for over a generation and many of whom are motivated by a strong secular or religious ideological commitment to annexing the entire West Bank and are armed to the teeth. But even if it failed to result in an outright civil war, it would certainly rend bloody great holes in Israel's social fabric. Not that the fabric of a society where one third of all children go to bed hungry is all that robust to begin with. The main idea of the land swap is to ensure that Israel retains the 'large settlement blocs'. In other words, Israel is to be rewarded for forty years' cavalier flouting of the Fourth Geneva Convention. And in his April 2004 letter to then Israeli PM Sharon, the decider has given this his imprimatur.

As far as I know there are only two basic proposals for what parts of the area of Palestine euphemistically known as 'Israel proper' the future Palestinian state would score in the land swap. One of these is to unload some barren area in the Negev Desert in return for water resources and olive groves. The other is to trade off areas of northern Israel with high concentrations of Palestinian population, like the Little Triangle. This latter approach, reminiscent of, if not quite identical with, the execrable Avigdor Lieberman's plan, conveniently rids the Jewish state of a significant proportion of its unwelcome non Jewish population, appreciably slowing the tick of the dreaded ‘demographic time bomb’. Lurking beneath the innocent sounding 1:1 land swap, then, we discover retrospective sanction of clear, blatant, and overt violations of the laws of war. At best, it is a cynical exercise in 'the acquisition of territory by war', precisely what UN Security Council Resolution 242 emphasised was 'inadmissable'. At worst, it is also another round of ethnic cleansing.

On Jerusalem, the Brzezinski group shows themselves quite out of touch. They want 'Jerusalem as home to two capitals, with Jewish neighborhoods falling under Israeli sovereignty and Arab neighborhoods under Palestinian sovereignty'. It’s important to note that ‘Jewish neighborhoods’ is a euphemism for the settlements in and near Jerusalem. It’s impossible to be sure what they might have in mind here, but it’s certainly possible that they mean to exclude the Jewish ‘neighborhoods’ that surround and penetrate Arab East Jerusalem from the land swap equation. The Jewish ‘neighborhoods’ may even include the notorious E1 corridor that divides the West Bank in two.

In any case, Arutz 7's Hillel Fendel reports that 'An unprecedented coalition of American Jewish groups has formed on short notice to ensure that united Jerusalem remains Jewish...Jewish leaders around the world are coalescing around a simple bottom-line position: World Jewry opposes Israeli negotiations which would include any discussion of ceding sovereignty over part or all of Jerusalem.' If world Jewry rejects sharing Jerusalem, it can only mean that people like these who demand its partition must be antisemites.

Brzezinski et al. also show themselves to be on the outer fringes of acceptable discourse by advocating participation in the 'peace' conference not only of Syria, but even Hamas. Clearly only a lunatic would even consider inviting the party elected to 'govern' the PA to such an event. Like many, they are keen to see 'results relevant to the daily lives of Israelis and Palestinians'. They want 'concrete steps to improve living conditions and security, including...prevention of weapons smuggling, cracking down on militias, greater Palestinian freedom of movement, the removal of unjustified checkpoints, dismantling of Israeli outposts, and other tangible measures to accelerate the process of ending the occupation.'

Nothing could be more obvious than that weapons smuggling is a bad thing. But whose living conditions and security improve if it is effectively prevented? Israel, of course, has never found any need to smuggle weapons. It has a steady flow coming from the US and a world class arms industry of its own. Since Israel tries to control everything and everyone moving in or out of the occupied territories, the occupied population can only arm itself surreptitiously. Similarly, there is little enthusiasm for cracking down on settler militias, much less on the formidable Israeli military. It's just those engaging in legitimate, albeit counterproductive, forms of armed resistance to the occupation who concern the foreign policy nabobs. They demand the removal of those checkpoints deemed unjustified. But if history is any guide, Israel will insist that the checkpoints are a justified measure to safeguard the security of Israeli citizens. Those whose principal worry is Israeli security will accept that rationale. And Palestinians are to enjoy 'greater freedom of movement' than they have under curfew, but actual freedom of movement – even around the West Bank, much less between the WB and Gaza, in or out of 'Israel proper', or between the occupied territories and Jordan or Egypt - is not on the agenda.

They further demand dismantling of Israeli 'outposts' - the settlements that have not yet received the endorsement of the Israeli government. It must be a big step to ask that Israel dismantle settlements that are illegal even by their own lights. Especially since this demand has been made and ignored so many times before. They want 'to accelerate the process of ending the occupation'. As there has never actually been a process of that kind, its acceleration need not result in a burst of speed. But then, since the objective is Condi's 'political horizon' – the destination that can never be reached - the pace of progress is irrelevant.

Saturday 13 October 2007

A bullet to the head

Back in April, I posted a link to an article revealing aspects of the prospect of economic viability for the fabled independent Palestinian state – hundreds queueing for hours every morning to compete for the opportunity to risk life and limb in unsafe Israeli owned factories along the Wall for below subsistence wages. Doubtless in future, some will have the privilege of queueing to work in Palestinian owned sweatshops.

The NY Times’s Steven Erlanger reports on another aspect of the Palestinian economy – scavenging the settlers’ rubbish tips.

On a good day, working here from 5 a.m. until dusk, the boys make about $4.75.

NY Times photo

While Erlanger is clearly sympathetic to the scavengers’ plight, he appears to have a not so well hidden agenda, writing

For all the agonizing about nearby Hebron — how far Israel should go to resolve competing Jewish and Palestinian claims to the city — this desolate spot is a symbol of the impact of Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank and of the dire economic state of the Palestinian territories, where about a third of adults are without work.

Now you can imagine all the flashing lights and alarms going off when I spot an assertion like, ‘about a third of adults are without work’. My first suspicion was that, in the tradition of mainstream, and, if truth be told, alternative, journalism, he was mistaking the unemployment rate for the proportion of the adult population without remunerative employment. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics’s (PCBS) Labour Force Survey: Annual Report: 2006, the Unemployment rate is actually 23.6% for the territories as a whole, using the standard definition of unemployment.

…those individuals 15 years and over who did not work at all during the reference week, who were not absent from a job and were available for work and actively seeking a job during the reference week.

The PCBS also reports unemployment using what they call a ‘relaxed’ definition, which incorporates those who are not looking for work because there is no work, ‘discouraged jobseekers’, as they’re sometimes known, as well as those identified by the standard definition. But even that only brings the rate to 29.6%.

Unless Erlanger has access to more recent data and the situation has changed dramatically this year – and I wouldn’t rule that out – what he appears to have done is to add the Unemployment and Underemployment rates. In the Palestine Labour Force Survey, the underemployed population comprises those working less than standard hours (generally 35) and those who ‘want to change their jobs because of an insufficiency of income, or because they are working in an occupation which does not correspond to their qualification’. Adding the Unemployment rate of 23.6% and the Underemployment rate of 7.9%, he could have arrived at 31.5% - ‘about a third’. But some of them are not ‘without work’.

In reality, both the Unemployment rate and the Underemployment rate are proportions of the Labour force – the employed plus the unemployed, as defined – and not of the total adult population. The proportion of the total population who are technically unemployed – available and looking for work – is actually 9.8%. In Palestine, the Labour Force Participation Rate – the proportion of the adult population actually working or technically unemployed – is only 41.3%. That means 58.7% are Outside the labour force – either retired, full time students or homemakers, disabled, or discouraged jobseekers, etc. The proportion actually ‘without work’, therefore, comes to 71.7%. Not ‘about a third’, but damn near three quarters.

Erlanger comes perilously close to attributing ‘the dire economic state of the Palestinian territories’ to ‘the impact of Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank’. He certainly makes a link. But is Hebron actually a symbol of that impact? Or is it rather a concrete instantiation of it?

But what’s really strange is the insinuation that Israel can resolve conflicting claims to the city, as if it were not in fact one of the parties to the dispute. In Erlanger’s imagination, Israel agonises over its role as a dispassionate arbiter in reconciling this thorny dispute between a handful of fanatics moving in and terrorising schoolchildren and the indigenous people cowering under nets in a vain attempt to shield themselves from the shower of garbage rained on them from the settlement above. Garbage that is unlikely to benefit the scavengers.

In the same vein, Erlanger commiserates with ‘Many of the adults working the site’ who ‘have been unable to get jobs in Israel since 2000 and the second intifada, when Israel instituted stronger security measures to try to prevent suicide bombings.’ He could have ended the sentence after ‘security measures’. The context freeness would have been bad enough. But he prefers to attribute a motive – ‘to try to prevent suicide bombings’. Certainly that is the advertised pretext for the ‘security measures’. But it could hardly be more obvious than that their principal objective is to corral the Palestinians into isolated enclaves, besieged on all sides by settlements, Jew only roads, roadblocks, checkpoints, and of course the wall. Doubtless one of the aims was to strangle the Palestinians economically. But as Bashir Abu-Manneh points out, another may well have been to preclude mass participation in nonviolent action against the occupation, channeling resistance into the familiar suicide bombs and rockets that at the same time marginalise the vast majority from the movement and provide the pretext for more stringent ‘security measures’.

There are those who reckon more stringent security measures, sacrificing fingers and hands in bodgy maquilas, and scavenging among the settlers’ dirty nappies and broken bottles is too good for the Palestinians. Arnon Soffer, the notorious Haifa University demographer and head of research at Israel’s National Defense College, is among them.

In an interview with Ruthie Blum published in the Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, he complained that he had been misrepresented. In her previous interview with him three years ago, he had said,

When 2.5 million people live in a closed-off Gaza, it's going to be a human catastrophe. Those people will become even bigger animals than they are today, with the aid of an insane fundamentalist Islam. The pressure at the border will be awful. It's going to be a terrible war. So, if we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day.

Apparently, some had accused him of suggesting a murderous rampage. But that’s a gross distortion of what he said.

That statement caused a huge stir at the time, and it's amazing to see how many dozens of angry, ignorant responses I continue to receive from leftists in Israel and anti-Semites abroad, who took my words out of context. I didn't recommend that we kill Palestinians. I said we'll have to kill them. [emphasis in the original]

It’s not that Israel should turn Gaza into Sabra and Shatila, it’s that it must. And he surely doesn’t resile from that position.

We are living in a 100-year period of terrorism, and we have another 100 years of terrorism ahead of us. We will forever be forced to live by the sword. We are not wanted in the Middle East, which is why we will have to continue to fight.

…The Kassams do not constitute a strategic threat, and the Palestinians will get the blow they deserve - though we do have to be cautious, because the situation is complex.

…This is why we have to fortify ourselves with a fence. Then, whoever tries to cross it gets a bullet to the head.

The alternative, ‘Well, then, we'll cease to exist.’

He has changed his spots, though. In the previous interview he had advocated withdrawal from the Jordan Valley. Now he realises that Israel should keep it.

Asked about a return ‘to the ’67 borders’, he replied,

That's not necessary. Thanks to this completely crazy security fence [here he points to another map, and runs his finger along the jagged line delineating it], we have succeeded in reducing the suicide bombings to zero. This by itself is a huge accomplishment. But [former prime minister Ariel] Sharon's real achievement, which the public doesn't appreciate, is having included Modi'in, Betar Illit and Ma'aleh Adumim in Israel. In other words, 180,000 Jews remain within greater Jerusalem with American support.

Today there are 270,000 settlers in the territories, and their numbers are increasing, through natural growth and due to Bnei Akiva members moving there. Through Sharon's cleverness, Jerusalem remains in Israel and 210,000 settlers are within the fence. Only 60,000 remain outside. In other words, 86% of the settlers are at home. This is an unbelievable victory.

If 86% of the settlers are ‘at home’, he can only mean he advocates withdrawal as far as the apartheid wall, if that.

When confronted with the view that Israel remains responsible for what happens in Gaza, he retorted,

…Our government has woken up. The only ones making noise are leftists and so-called human rights lawyers who only care about the well-being of cats, dogs and Palestinians, but never about Jews.


...The purpose of disengagement was not to put an end to terrorism or Kassam fire. Its purpose was to stop being responsible for a million and a half Arabs who continue to multiply in conditions of poverty and madness. I am thrilled that we are out of there.

As a demographer, this is his main concern, to annex as much land as possible while maintaining a comfortable Jewish majority.

Echoing Soffer’s sentiment, Leonard Fein writes in this week’s Forward,

Ehud Barak, Israel’s defense minister, has said that within a relatively short time, Israel will have an impenetrable missile defense system. There is, however, reason to doubt that there’s a program to defend against Abu Arar’s homemade missile, which utilizes the oldest delivery system known to man.

Abu Arar’s missile, it transpires, dangles between his legs.

“Who?” you will ask. And I will answer: Abu Arar is an Israeli Arab who has fathered (gulp) 67 children, as confirmed by Israel’s Interior Ministry. He is from the village of Burgata — or, perhaps, he and his eight wives and children are the village of Burgata. He is 58 years old, may he live until 120, albeit perhaps a tad less fruitfully.

Unfortunately, there is a well developed program to counter the like of Abu Arar. They call it ‘transfer’.

[Hat tip to Sam Bahour.]

A little help from your friends

Anticipating a US or US-UK attack on Iran, the Guardian’s Seamas Milne observes,

What is becoming clearer is that the likely pretext for aggression against Iran has shifted from the possibility that Tehran might develop nuclear weapons to its role in supporting and allegedly arming the resistance in neighbouring Iraq and Afghanistan. The administration is increasingly convinced that it will be far easier to convince the American public of the case for war on Iran if it's seen as being about the protection of US troops rather than nuclear scaremongering from the people who brought you Saddam Hussein's WMD.

In recent times, the doctors of spin have enjoyed some stunning triumphs, including the remarkable feat of erecting the downright silly straw man that Israel’s critics single Israel out for criticism, and keeping it standing. And now, it would seem, they have another up their sleeve.

Milne is probably right that allegations of Iranian support for the Iraqi resistance will form at least one of the pretexts for any attack on Iran. I hasten to interject that I am not predicting an attack anymore, although I do consider bombing a plausible scenario. But sometimes they just beat the drums of war because they like the way people react to the noise. And people like Kolko, and Milne, have pointed out plenty of good reasons why it would be a bad idea.

Accusations of Iranian interference have formed a part of the propaganda surrounding the US adventure in Iraq all along and came to a head with the advent of Explosively Formed Projectiles. These were obviously Iranian imports, since, the media told us, the Iraqis are too stupid to develop such a fiendishly clever device. That was actually after Iraqi workshops manufacturing EFPs were discovered by US troops, if memory serves. And there was the abduction of several Iranian diplomatic staff in January.

So, what if the Iranians really were supporting Iraqi resistance to US occupation? Is that a casus belli? The standard spin on the occupation these days is that the poor old US going to extraordinary lengths to help the struggling fledgling democratic government of Iraq overcome Iraq’s deepseated millennia of communal strife even though the government seems unwilling to rise to the challenge of running a democracy under American tutelage. As the toddling government is beleaguered by deadenders, Ba’athists, foreign fighters, jihadis, and of course al Qa’ida, the US provides not only munitions, but many tens of thousands of its finest young people. It’s an expression of the generous spirit of the American people that their government has invested so much in supporting its Iraqi friends.

By the same token, if it’s ok for the US to offer military support to its friends in Iraq, what principle would preclude the Iranian people from offering military support to its friends in Iraq? They might think, with some reason, that the Americans invaded and occupied Iraq with a view to gaining control over the world’s second largest proven reserves of oil and establishing a military presence in the heart of the principal oil producing region in pursuit of their stated objective of full spectrum dominance. They could be forgiven for believing that the US has been cavalier in its respect for Iraqi life, slaughtering over a million, displacing a further four million, and thoroughly immiserating the rest. They could even entertain a reasonably well founded apprehension that the US has its eye on their own third largest proven oil reserves and harbours designs on Iranian sovereignty. That would justify supporting the resistance, wouldn’t it?

But if Iran is supplying copper plates for EFPs, that’s a blatant violation of International law – the law that says, ‘Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists’.

Oslo violence process

Apologists for Israel frequently accuse the Palestinians of resorting to violence against Israeli civilians as a matter of preference. 'If they would only learn from Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi, they'd have achieved everything they could possibly want by now. But as long as they insist on terrorising innocent heavily armed Israeli civilians, the Jewish state must of course deploy maximum force to protect its helpless citizens. The only possible alternative is to allow the bloodthiursty Arabs carry out the second Holocaust they have always longed for.' You know the kind of thing.

There is a number of responses to these accusations. The most obvious is that Israel could, in accordance with its fabled 'purity of arms', practice a little less ultraviolence itself. Then perhaps the Palestinian retaliation would take different forms. Jonathan Cook points out that in reality, Palestinian acts of nonviolent resistance, large and small, public and private, are going on all the time. Every week at the Apartheid Wall in Bil'in and every time a child evades a checkpoint to get to school, what we are witnessing is nothing other than nonviolent resistance. But these actions somehow don't attract the international media. So they can engage in nonviolent resistance and nobody even notices, or they can engage in violence and earn the opprobrium of the civilised world. Heads Israel wins, tails the Palestinians lose.

In his article in The Socialist Register 2008: Global Flashpoints: Reactions to imperialism and neoliberalism, that appeared on Znet last week, Bashir Abu-Manneh, citing Cheryl Rubenberg, makes a point that frankly hadn't occurred to me.

The nature of the second Intifada was very different than the first, however. One of Oslo’s practical consequences was that the Israeli army had redeployed outside major population concentrations, making it extremely difficult for enclaved Palestinians to get at or confront the occupation forces, unlike in the first Intifada. Being fragmented by checkpoints and confined to their locales ‘rendered mass action virtually impossible’. Reflecting the effects of the siege regime through the 1990s, there has thus been a systematic weakening of the capacity of Palestinian society to act and organize as a national collective. As Rema Hammami and Salim Tamari argue, Oslo destroyed all resources for civil rebellion:

Save for massive candlelight marches and funeral processions within the cities, the population at large has been left with virtually no active role in the uprising. This is clearly not by choice, but as a consequence of the fact that the kinds of political structures that made grass-roots organizing the main thrust of the first intifada, at least in the early years, no longer exist. Popular and neighborhood committees as well as mass organizations (and most of the political movements that sustained them) began to collapse at the end of the first intifada under the cumulative weight of Israeli anti-insurgency methods. Their recovery was preempted by the Gulf War and, even more profoundly, by Oslo and the state formation process it set in motion. The demobilization of the population and their deepening alienation from political action (until the current uprising) has been one of the most salient outcomes of PA rule.

Friday 12 October 2007

Let sanity prevail

The 8 October marked two years since the Richter 7.6 earthquake that ravaged Pakistani occupied Kashmir and adjacent areas of Indian ‘held’ Kashmir and the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). Official estimates put the immediate death toll at over 70,000, but I have heard no less (and no more) credible estimates ranging as high as 200,000. The quake also left some 3 million to face the bitter Himalayan winter without shelter. There was an inspiring surge of individuals and small groups collecting and delivering clothing, food, blankets, tents, etc. Unfortunately, much of the clothing was inappropriate to both the climate and the cultural sensitivities of the victims and was seen strewn over the side of the road. A donors conference in Islamabad garnered about US$6 billion, most of it in the form of hard loans, the balance in ‘soft loans’. I have seen nothing indicating how much of this eventuated. Of particular note were the Turkish Red Crescent (Kızılay), which provided some 90 medical personnel, and Cuba, which sent 1400 doctors and hundreds of other health workers. Despite their generosity and that of the tent manufacturers (Pakistan is the world's foremost exporter of tents), NGOs, overseas groups, and the best efforts of the UN and the Pakistani military, many thousands spent weeks before seeing the first sign of relief. Roads into the Kaghan and adjacent valleys, subject to closure by landslides at the best of times, took a long time to clear. This MapAction map dated 22 October 2005 shows at least 15 impassable blockages on the Kaghan Valley road between Balakot and Naran.

Last week, Lt-Gen Nadeem Ahmed, deputy chairman of Erra, the Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority, told Dawn 'that the reconstruction and rehabilitation programme of the earthquake-affected areas is on track', boasting that

92,000 quake-resistant houses had been completed and another 250,000 were in various stages of completion. He said every family in the affected areas would have a house in six months.

Mr Ahmed said master plans for reconstruction of four severely destroyed cities -- Muzaffarabad, Bagh and Rawalakot in the AJK and Balakot in the NWFP -- had been prepared and were in initial stages of implementation.

Two full years after the disaster, initial stages is good enough for the hundreds of thousands who couldn't manage to squeeze into those 92,000 houses. But not everyopne is as complacent as Lt-Gen Ahmed. In the very same issue of Dawn, Raja Asghar reports,

problems abounded about the reconstruction of the region’s two most devastated towns – the Azad Kashmir’s capital of Muzaffarabad and Balakot in the NWFP.

...Many people in the region blame both military and civilian authorities for their housing problems, such as delays in the disbursement of even a paltry compensation of a maximum of Rs175,000 for a totally destroyed house and complained of widespread corruption such as bribes allegedly received by officials of joint teams for approving construction of homes of approved designs.

Such complaints were more widespread in the quake-ravaged villages but were heard on Sunday also in Muzaffarabad town, where some quake sufferers spoke of bribes ranging from Rs5,000 to Rs10,000 taken by petty officials such as patwaris or other members of local overseeing joint teams to approve payment of compensation.

.. former [Muzaffarabad] mayor Chaudhry Manzoor Ahmed...said: “Corruption permeates through their blood. There is no sphere left where these is no corruption.”

Nor are the problems restricted to Muzaffarabad and Balakot. Khaleeq Kiani reports from Bagh in the Jhelum Valley

People in the urban areas of Bagh – a district of Azad Kashmir that ranked third in terms of devastation after Muzaffarabad and Balakot – are struggling to survive. The official slogan of “build, back better” seems to be a far cry in this district headquarters of Bagh, named so because its scenic beauty.

...A major portion of the town has now been declared a ‘red zone’, but in the absence of a master plan no construction could take place.

The National Engineering Services of Pakistan, which had been awarded the contract about 18 months ago to prepare the master plan, is yet to open its office in Bagh...

Bagh has been divided into four zones -- highly hazardous, hazardous, highly dangerous and moderately dangerous. No part of it falls in the low-danger or safe categories...“The situation remains as it was a year ago,” Dr Atiq [Zahid, a former medical superintendent of the district headquarters hospital] told Dawn on Sunday.

Khwaja Javed Iqbal, chairman of the Anjuman-i-Shehryan, says that residents of Bagh want President Pervez Musharraf to visit Bagh again to see for himself what happened to the promises he had made to the people on his first visit soon after the earthquake. The president had announced that he would convert this challenge into opportunity and said that a new Bagh would emerge from the ashes. “Bagh continues to be in ashes and has in fact turned into filthy debris,” says Mr Iqbal.

The president, General Pervez Musharraf, does not appear to be embarrassed about his complete failure to meet the challenge, exploit the opportunity, or provide desperately needed relief any more than he is about the poverty most of Pakistanis endure or the humiliating bombings his great benefactor, the decider, has been carrying out in Waziristan at a cost of at least 100 madrassa students. Nor is he embarrassed about his attempt to dismiss Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, which aroused a storm of protest and was ultimately reversed by the court itself. Nor about his inability to rein in his acid wielding, DVD burning allies or his hamfisted and murderous handling of the Lal Masjid crisis. And now, after much of the parliamentary opposition had conveniently resigned, and his new mate, Benazir Bhutto's, Pakistan People's Party abstaining, he is not embarrassed to exult in his stunning electoral success.

I bow my head in front of God Almighty for having given me such a great victory.

To put it in perspective, what the media have reported by and large is that he won '252 of 257 votes cast' in the National Assembly and the Senate, seemingly an astounding 98% majority. In reality, those 252 votes comprise just 57% of the sum of 342 members of the Assembly and the 100 Senators. In total, 1,170 national and provincial legislators were entitled to vote, of whom 685, about 59%, voted for Musharraf. Some media are also reporting that he 'ended up with a total of 384 electoral college votes out of 702'. The discrepancy arises because the way the electoral system works is that each Provincial Assembly has 65 electoral votes in the the presidential election, even though only the Balochistan Assembly actually has 65 members. So a vote by a member of the Punjab Assembly, with 371 members, would only be worth about one sixth as much as Balochi member.

When I first got to Pakistan, the received wisdom as I understood it was that this was precisely what Musharraf had in mind - to have himself reelected for another five year term by legislatures controlled by his party before the looming general election, due in a few weeks' time. I confess I was dubious that even Musharraf would be quite so shameless as to resort to such a transparently underhanded subterfuge. Even Turkey's soft Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) didn't manage to pull that one off when they had the opportunity a few months back. Even after Dubya's August pronouncement that his 'focus' was on a 'free and fair election', the General is not embarrassed to claim reelection.

I have appealed to the nation towards a conciliatory approach, and I have appealed to the -- first of all, the nation, the people of Pakistan, not to join or reject any calls for strikes and agitational activity. I have appealed to the lawyers to have -- let sanity prevail. They are all educated people, and I hope, in the -- for justice and for peace, they adopt an approach of Pakistan comes first. On the media, I have asked the media to give the positives, to adopt a balanced approach. I’m the greatest supporter of their independence and give a confidence -- a feeling of confidence, a feeling of feeling good attitude to be developed, mindset to be developed, within the people of Pakistan. And I’ve also extended a conciliatory approach to all the opposition parties. This is what I’ve done. Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.

After all, it would be insane to protest a military dictator pretending to have won a presidential election, again. In the absence of sanity, however, he refuses to eschew declaring a state of emergency should the Supreme Court rule when it convenes next week that he is ineligible to stand - Article 63 of the Constitution prohibits state employees from standing for office. This is, by the way, the same President General Pervez Musharraf, the same great supporter of media independence, who issued an edict not so many months ago banning live reports of demonstrations, among other things. The same guy who had the studios of Geo TV ransacked. Credit where credit's due - the guy's got balls.

Of course, the General is not alone in his immunity to embarrassment. The only reason the election could take place at all was the deal that he reached with Bhutto. Apparently as a quid pro quo for dropping the well evidenced corruption charges against her, she had agreed that the PPP's members in the National Assembly would abstain, but attend the election session, rendering it quorate. Tariq Ali told Democracy Now! presenter Amy Goodman Wednesday

the second time she came to power, her government was incredibly corrupt, and the military then, when Musharraf came to power, charged her with corruption. The evidence is there; it’s irrefutable. And as part of the deal now, this corruption is being ignored, which is making people incredibly cynical.

Without a thought for W's August demand for a free and fair election, White House National Security Council spokesperson Gordon Johndroe sent felicitations.

"Pakistan is an important partner and ally to the United States and we congratulate them for today's election. We look forward to the electoral commission's announcement and to working with all of Pakistan's leaders on important bilateral, regional and counterterrorism issues,"

As I always say, ‘embarrassing a politician with accusations of hypocrisy is like embarrassing a dog with accusations he licks his own balls’.

Monday 1 October 2007

Far profounder import

Next month marks the 90th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. It’s only short, so here it is for reference.

Foreign Office,

November 2nd, 1917.

Dear Lord Rothschild,

I have much pleasure in conveying to you, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, the following declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations which has been submitted to, and approved by, the Cabinet:

"His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country".

I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation.

Yours sincerely

Arthur James Balfour

The new statesman commemorates the occasion by reprinting Peter Mansfield’s essay, ‘Did we double-cross the Arabs?’ from their 3 November 1967 issue. [Hat tip to Moshe Machover] Among the interesting revelations in the article is that,

Edwin Montagu, Secretary of State for India [no less! –EH] and the only Jew in the Cabinet, regarded the Declaration as an anti-Semitic act because it would jeopardise the position of Jews throughout the world. He also believed that it broke promises made to the Arabs and violated the principle of self-determination. These opponents were easily overwhelmed by the confidence of the Declaration's three champions - Balfour, Cecil and Lloyd George himself.

Lord Montague’s ‘A Dissenting Note on the Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917 – On the Anti-Semitism of the Present Government’ was reprinted on Counterpunch last November. I hasten to add that Montague explicitly had no ‘…desire to deny that anti-Semitism can be held by rational men… In his view,

Zionism has always seemed to me to be a mischievous political creed, untenable by any patriotic citizen of the United Kingdom. If a Jewish Englishman sets his eyes on the Mount of Olives…, he has always seemed to me to have acknowledged aims inconsistent with British citizenship and to have admitted that he is unfit for a share in public life in Great Britain, or to be treated as an Englishman.

Mansfield goes on to quote Balfour himself.

being a philosopher more than a politician, Balfour could be unusually candid. In August 1919 he wrote a memorandum on Syria, Palestine and Mesopotamia in which he said:

The contradiction between the letter of the Covenant and the policy of the Allies is even more flagrant in the case of the independent nation of Palestine than in that of the independent nation of Syria.

For in Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country, though the American Commission [the 1919 King-Crane Commission] has been through the form of asking what they are. The four great powers are committed to Zionism, and Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long tradition, in present needs, in future hopes of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices [sic] of 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land.

He went on to say that in his opinion this was quite right but that he did not see how this policy could be harmonised with all the other declarations and pledges that had been made by the Allies. 'In fact, so far as Palestine is concerned, the powers have made no statement of fact that is not admittedly wrong, and no declaration of policy which, at least in the letter, they have not always intended to violate.'

Plus ça change, n’est-ce pas?

Bloodstained notebooks

Ha’aretz’s Gideon Levy reports in a moving article ‘The children of 5767’ [hat tip to Sam Bahour], that he has spent much of the last year investigating some of the 92 Palestinian children killed by the Israeli Occupation forces in the West Bank and Gaza. On Rosh Hashanah last year, the IOF blew Mahmoud al-Zakh to smithereens.

The next day, when the Israel Defense Forces "successfully" completed Operation Locked Kindergarten, as it was called, leaving behind 22 dead and a razed neighborhood, and left Sajiyeh in Gaza, the bereaved father found the remaining parts of the body and brought them for a belated burial.

Among the other incidents Levy describes,

Bushra Bargis hadn't even left her home. In late April she was studying for a big test, notebooks in hand, pacing around her room in the Jenin refugee camp in the early evening, when a sniper shot her in the forehead from quite far away. Her bloodstained notebooks bore witness to her final moments.

It’s definitely worth reading the whole article to get a taste of what would be described as a murderous rampage, were it not the work of the most moral army on the planet.