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The Einstein Letter at 65 December 6, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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OpEdNews Op Eds 12/5/2013 at 12:48:38

On Dec. 4, 1948 Albert Einstein, Hannah Arendt and 26 others had a letter published in the New York Times warning about the then new “Herut” Party in Israel that was beginning a major fund raising drive in the United States.  Herut has since morphed into the Likud, which runs the government now and has been the dominant party in Israel for over 35 years.

einstein_1921_by_f_schmutzer_wikicommons-jpg_51895_20131202-196

(image by Wikicommons)

The letter pulled no punches.   It described the party as “a political party closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist  parties.”  Realize this was just 3 years after World War II and you see the power of the accusation.  It explains that the party was based on the former “Irgun Zvai Leumi, a terrorist, right-wing, chauvinist organization in Palestine.”  It warned Americans to avoid the tour of party leader Menachem Begin (and later Israeli prime minister) so as not to support “Fascism” in Israel.  The letter writers warned that the party pretended to stand for freedom and democracy, but “until recently they openly preached the doctrine of the Fascist state.”  The letter explained that the party in its actions was “terrorist” and related its part in the massacre of hundreds that spring in Deir Yassin and its beatings and shooting of Jews in Palestine that stood in its way.

The letter writers had a warning for labor leaders.   “Like other Fascist parties they have been used to break strikes, and have themselves pressed for the destruction of free trade unions.”

It concluded by explaining that the signers felt they had to send the letter because “the top leadership of American Zionism has refused to campaign against Begin’s efforts, or even to expose to its own constituents the dangers to Israel from support to Begin.”

While very progressive on the whole the letter is not above criticism.   In criticizing the followers of Herut the letter says, “They have reclaimed no land, built no settlements, and only detracted from the Jewish defense activity.”   We know full well now about the settlements built by the Zionist “Left” generally built on land taken from Palestinians and almost universally restricted to “Jews only”.

Ten years ago I interviewed Columbia professor and social critic Seymour Melman(pp. 5-7) who then was one of the last surviving signers of the letter.  He said the letter was largely composed by Zelig S. Harris and members of a group of Zionists that supported a “bi-nationalist” country. (At the time it was also called anti-state Zionism.) Einstein was friendly to the group.

I asked Melman about the effect of the letter. He said it “torpedoed much of their PR activity” and led to the cancellation by a major speaker at the Carnegie Hall event, John F. Kennedy.

When asked to talk about the Likud, the successor to the Herut, Melman said it had the “unmistakable stamp of a fascist party”.  He said, “Israel is not fascist, but the Likud is fascist.”

Certainly Israel is not fascist in the old mold with one dictator ruling for life.  It’s closer to the apartheid model of South Africa with the privileged “race” being allowed to vote for a multi-party parliament.  Yet to the victims the racism and violence of modern Zionism the distinctions are hardly important

Some of the newest outrages

Five teenagers face charges of attempted murder for throwing stones at cars and could be imprisoned for life

Israeli forces swept into the home of Muhammad al-Majid seeking to arrest him.  The youth is four years old.  In the same article on the Electronic Intifada it was noted that Muslim Odeh had been arrested 10 times and physically abused by Israeli occupation forces.  Odeh is 12 years old.

The Israelis and the Egyptian regime have been smashing up the tunnels from Egypt that have provided the Gaza Strip with fuel.  The result is the only power plant on the Strip has closed.  The sewage plant closed and in some areas raw sewage water has leaked into streets and paths.  Recently the lack of fuel has caused all the garbage trucks in the Strip to stop running.   A Gaza school teacher said, “Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of rubbish now litter Gaza’s streets,”

On November 28 Nour Afaneh , suffering from pneumonia, died in an ambulance on her way to a hospital in Ramallah.  The ambulance had tried to get through the “Container” checkpoint near Bethlehem, but found it closed.. She was 14 years old.    Israel has several hundred permanent and temporary checkpoints separating one part of Palestinian populated areas from another part of Palestinian area.

There were race riots against black Africans in Tel Aviv in May 2012.  As a result Israel has built a new wall along its Egyptian border to keep out all Africans seeking asylum.  As a result the number of Africans making it into Israel in the start of 2013   has declined 99%  over the number in the same part of 2012.   As of July 1,000 Eritreans were being kept in a detention center in a desert and are being sent back to Eritrea.

Even though they are Israeli citizens some 40,000 to 70,000 will be thrown off their land in the Negev through the Prawer plan now pending in the Israeli parliament.  35 “unrecognized” Arab villages are to be destroyed to be replaced by Jewish-only settlements. (There were wide scale protests in Israel and in other countries the last weekend in November)

In July 2011 the Israeli Knesset made it illegal for an Israeli to call for Israeli goods to be boycotted and gave those supposedly affected easy ways to sue those calling for boycott.

There was a brave column by Gideon Levy in an Israeli paper on November 30th  of this year saying the case of Iran shows that sanctions do work and explaining there was no reason to limit boycotts to settlement products in the West Bank.   He could be sued.

Things were bad enough under the apartheid building Israeli Labour party.  Thirty-five years rule of Israel by a “fascist” party have made the situation for worse and far more naked in the amount of open racism.

Postscript: For those who want to fight the Prawer Plan see the campaign being mounted by J ewish Voice for Peace (jewishvoiceforpeace.org)

Judy Miller Alert! The New York Times is Lying About Iran’s Nuclear Program January 6, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Iran, Nuclear weapons/power, War.
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Published on Friday, January 6, 2012 by CommonDreams.org

It’s deja vu all over again. AIPAC is trying to trick America into another catastrophic war with a Middle Eastern country on behalf of the Likud Party’s colonial ambitions, and the New York Times is lying about allegations that said country is developing “weapons of mass destruction.”

In an article attributed to Steven Erlanger on January 4 (“Europe Takes Bold Step Toward a Ban on Iranian Oil “), this paragraph appeared:

The threats from Iran, aimed both at the West and at Israel, combined with a recent assessment by the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran’s nuclear program has a military objective, is becoming an important issue in the American presidential campaign. [my emphasis]

The claim that there is “a recent assessment by the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran’s nuclear program has a military objective” is a lie.

As Washington Post Ombudsman Patrick Pexton noted on December 9,

But the IAEA report does not say Iran has a bomb, nor does it say it is building one, only that its multiyear effort pursuing nuclear technology is sophisticated and broad enough that it could be consistent with building a bomb.

Indeed, if you try now to find the offending paragraph on the New York Times website, you can’t. They took it down. But there is no note, like there is supposed to be, acknowledging that they changed the article, and that there was something wrong with it before. Sneaky, huh?

But you can still find the original here. Indeed, at this writing, if you go to the New York Times website, and search on the phrase, “military objective,” the article pops right up. But if you open the article, the text is gone. But again, there is no explanatory note saying that they changed the text.

This is not an isolated example in the Times‘ reporting. The very same day – January 4 – the New York Times published another article, attributed to Clifford Krauss (“Oil Price Would Skyrocket if Iran Closed the Strait of Hormuz “), that contained the following paragraph.

Various Iranian officials in recent weeks have said they would blockade the strait, which is only 21 miles wide at its narrowest point, if the United States and Europe imposed a tight oil embargo on their country in an effort to thwart its development of nuclear weapons [my emphasis].

At this writing, that text is still on the New York Times website.

Of course, referring to Iran’s “development of nuclear weapons” without qualification implies that it is a known fact that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. But it is not a known fact. It is an allegation. Indeed, when U.S. officials are speaking publicly for the record, they say the opposite. As Washington Post Ombudsman Patrick Pexton noted on December 9,

This is what the U.S. director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in March: “We continue to assess [that] Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons in part by developing various nuclear capabilities that better position it to produce such weapons, should it choose to do so. We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons.

To demand a correction, you can write to the New York Times here. To write a letter to the editor, you can write to the New York Times here. To complain to the New York Times‘ Public Editor, you write him here.

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Robert Naiman

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy. Naiman has worked as a policy analyst and researcher at the Center for Economic and Policy Research and Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. He has masters degrees in economics and mathematics from the University of Illinois and has studied and worked in the Middle East. You can contact him here.

Freeman Affair Puts Israel Lobby in Spotlight March 13, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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by Daniel Luban and Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON – Although the successful campaign to keep Amb. Charles “Chas” Freeman out of a top intelligence post marked a surface victory for the pro-Israel hardliners who opposed him, the long-term political implications of the Freeman affair appear far more ambiguous.

 

[Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair had said he was standing by the appointment of Charles Freeman to chair the National Intelligence Council.  (AP PHOTO)]Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair had said he was standing by the appointment of Charles Freeman to chair the National Intelligence Council. (AP PHOTO)

Freeman’s withdrawal has provoked growing – if belated – media scrutiny of the operations of the so-called “Israel Lobby”, and aroused protests from a number of prominent mainstream political commentators who allege that he was the target of a dishonest and underhanded smear campaign that, among other things, accused him of shilling for the governments of Saudi Arabia and China. 

For the neo-conservatives who led the charge against Freeman’s appointment, his withdrawal may therefore prove to be both a tactical victory and a strategic defeat.

At the same time, the Freeman affair has highlighted the yawning disconnect between the career professionals in the intelligence and diplomatic communities, from whom Freeman enjoyed strong support, and political leaders in Congress and the White House, none of whom came to his defense publicly.

Freeman, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia who has been a vocal critic of Israeli policies in the occupied territories, withdrew from consideration as chairman of the National Intelligence Council (NIC) on Tuesday. He did not go quietly into the night, however, releasing a statement in which he struck back at his critics.

“I do not believe the National Intelligence Council could function effectively while its chair was under constant attack by unscrupulous people with a passionate attachment to the views of a political faction in a foreign country,” Freeman wrote.

“There is a special irony in having been accused of improper regard for the opinions of foreign governments and societies by a group so clearly intent on enforcing adherence to the policies of a foreign government – in this case, the government of Israel.”

The motives for the anti-Freeman campaign are themselves a matter of debate. Virtually all of his chief attackers were neo-conservatives, whose views generally reflect those of the Israel’s right-wing Likud Party, and other reflexive defenders of Israeli government policies. Many observers viewed it as self-evident that their hostility to him was based on his often bluntly-spoken belief that U.S. and Israel’s interests in the Middle East were not necessarily convergent.

In the media, the campaign against Freeman was waged mainly by neo-conservative organs, such as the Weekly Standard and the National Review, and by The New Republic, a generally liberal weekly that, however, routinely attacks Israel’s critics.

In Congress, it was led by politicians such as Sen. Chuck Schumer, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, and Rep. Mark Kirk, all of whom have strong ties to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a powerful lobby group whose members range from far-right supporters of the militant settlement movement in Israel to more moderate factions sympathetic to the relatively centrist Kadima and Labor Parties.

Freeman’s critics sought to portray their attacks on him as rooted not in his criticisms of Israel but in his allegedly compromising ties to Saudi Arabia and China, including his leadership of a think tank that was partially funded by a member of the Saudi royal family and his service on an advisory board of China’s largest oil company.

In the mainstream media, however, few seemed to buy into these claims. The most widely read U.S. newspapers, which had all but ignored the controversy as it raged in the “blogosphere”, attributed his withdrawal to the unacceptability of his views on Israel policy – in the process going further than ever before in putting the Israel lobby in the national spotlight.

The New York Times headlined its story “Israel Stance Was Undoing of Nominee for Intelligence Post”, while the Washington Post confirmed that AIPAC, which had insisted it had no position on Freeman’s appointment, had indeed quietly provided critical material about him to inquiring reporters.

A Los Angeles Times editorial explicitly referenced “the Israel lobby” as the force behind Freeman’s withdrawal, adding, “We do not believe that Israel should be immune from criticism or that there is room for only one point of view in our government.”

And while the Post’s editorial page, like the neo-conservative Wall Street Journal, had hosted anti-Freeman op-eds early in the campaign against him, its veteran political columnist, David Broder – long viewed as the embodiment of Washington centrism – praised the former ambassador as “an able public servant” and wrote that “[t]he Obama administration has just suffered an embarrassing defeat at the hands of the lobbyists the president vowed to keep in their place.”

Broder was not the only prominent centrist to react harshly to the anti-Freeman campaign. Others included the Broder’s fellow Post columnist, David Ignatius, The Atlantic’s Andrew Sullivan (who called the campaign “repulsive”), Time’s Joe Klein (“assassination”), and Foreign Policy’s David Rothkopf (“lynching-by-blog”). Freeman has also been invited as the guest of Fareed Zakaria, a regular columnist for Newsweek and the Post, on his regular Sunday CNN program on foreign policy, “GPS.”

In the end, the attempts by Freeman’s critics to make the story about anything but Israel may have backfired. Instead, discussion of the role of the Israel lobby in forming U.S. foreign policy appears to have acquired more mainstream legitimacy than ever before.

The long-taboo subject became a matter of public debate in 2006, when two prominent political scientists, the University of Chicago’s John Mearsheimer and Harvard University’s Stephen Walt, published their article “The Israel Lobby”, later expanded into a book. The two argued that a powerful lobby, centered on but not limited to AIPAC, exerts a “stranglehold” on U.S. foreign policy debates and stifles any criticism of Israeli policies, to the detriment of both the U.S. and Israel.

Mearsheimer and Walt’s thesis was instantly controversial. Critics accused them of perpetuating age-old anti-Semitic tropes about the covert Jewish domination of politics. Mainstream critics of Israel have been reluctant to align themselves with the two, even when they have reached some of the same conclusions.

In the wake of the Freeman affair, however, Mearsheimer and Walt appear to be getting a new hearing. The Los Angeles Times went so far as to suggest that the attacks on them may have been overstated.

“[T]he battle over Freeman…seems to have exposed more sympathy for a Walt/Mearsheimer view of U.S.-Israel relations than one might have expected to be out there,” wrote Michael Goldfarb of the Weekly Standard, one of Freeman’s harshest critics. “People like Joe Klein and Andrew Sullivan are now fairly indistinguishable from Stephen Walt.”

Goldfarb intended the comment as an insult, but it may nonetheless have contained a kernel of truth.

While the Freeman affair may have shifted the parameters of debate on Israel policy, it has also exposed fissures and resentments between the national security bureaucracy and the U.S. political leadership.

Some veteran observers, such as the “Nelson Report”, an influential private newsletter, compared Freeman’s treatment to the McCarthy era when long-time government Asia experts were deemed responsible for “losing China” to the Communists and hounded out of the foreign service by the so-called “China Lobby”.

Col. Pat Lang, the former top Middle East analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency who signed a letter of support for Freeman, told IPS that the saga had caused a “tentative feeling of disappointment” about the new administration within the intelligence community.

“It’s very disheartening for people who viewed Freeman’s appointment as the return to some standard of intellectual excellence or integrity”, he said, adding that Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Adm. Dennis Blair, who went to the Senate and strongly defended his appointee, may be the next target for Freeman’s antagonists as they push for alarmist intelligence on Iran.

“I’m concerned about what these characters are going to do about Blair, because Blair really stood up to them, and their general reaction to that is to wage a war of annihilation against people who do that,” Lang said.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at http://www.ips.org/blog/jimlobe/.

Disturbing Idea of Expelling Arabs from Israeli Territory Gains Ground March 4, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Racism.
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By Conn Hallinan, AlterNet. Posted March 4, 2009.

There is a growing consensus among Israelis that it would acceptable to expel its Arab citizens to either a Palestinian state or to Jordan and Egypt.

One of the more disturbing developments in the Middle East is a growing consensus among Israelis that it would acceptable to expel — in the words of advocates “transfer” — its Arab citizens to either a yet as unformed Palestinian state or the neighboring countries of Jordan and Egypt.

Such sentiment is hardly new among Israeli extremists, and it has long been advocated by racist Jewish organizations like Kach, the party of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, as well as groups like the National Union, which doubled its Knesset representation in the last election.

But “transfer” is no longer the exclusive policy of extremists, as it has increasingly become a part of mainstream political dialogue. “My solution for maintaining a Jewish and democratic state of Israel is to have two nation-states with certain concessions and with clear red lines,” Kadima leader and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told a group of Tel Aviv high school students last December, “and among other things, I will be able to approach the Palestinian residents of Israel, those whom we call Israeli Arabs, and tell them, ‘ your national solution lies elsewhere.’”

Such talk has consequences.

According to the Israeli Association for Civil Rights, anti-Arab incidents have risen sharply. “Israeli society is reaching new heights of racism that damages freedom of expression and privacy,” says Sami Michael, the organization’s president. Among the Association’s findings:

* Some 55 percent of Jewish Israelis say that the state should encourage Arab emigration;

* 78 percent of Jewish Israelis oppose including Arab parties in the government;

* 56 percent agree with the statement that “Arabs cannot attain the Jewish level of cultural development”;

* 75 percent agree that Arabs are inclined to be violent. Among Arab-Israelis, 54 percent feel the same way about Jews.

* 75 percent of Israeli Jews say they would not live in the same building as Arabs.

The tension between Israeli democracy and the country’s Jewish character was the centerpiece of Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu Party’s campaign in the recent election. His party increased its Knesset membership from 11 to 15, and is now the third largest party in the parliament.

Lieberman, who lives in a West Bank settlement near Bethlehem, calls for a “loyalty oath” from Arab-Israelis, and for either expelling those who refuse or denying them citizenship rights. During a Knesset debate last March, Lieberman told Arab deputies, “You are only temporarily here. One day we will take care of you.”

Such views are increasing, particularly among young Jewish Israelis, among whom a politicized historical education and growing hopelessness about the future has fueled a strong rightward shift.

In a recent article in Haaretz, Yotam Feldman writes about a journey through Israel’s high schools, where students freely admit to their hatred of Arabs and lack of concern about the erosion of democracy.

“Sergei Liebliyanich, a senior, draws a connection between the preparation for military service in school and student support for the Right” Feldman writes, “‘ It gives us motivation against the Arabs. You want to enlist in the army so you can stick it to themI like Lieberman’s thinking about the Arabs. Bibi [Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the rightwing Likud Party] doesn’t want to go as far.”

Feldman polled 10 high schools and found that Yisrael Beiteinu was the most popular party, followed by Likud. The left-wing Meretz Party came in dead last.

In part, the politicalization of the education system is to blame.

Mariam Darmoni-Sharviot, a former civics teacher who is helping implement the 1995 Kremnitzar Commission’s recommendations on education and democracy, told Feldman, “When I talk to a civics class about the Arab minority, and about its uniqueness in being a majority that became a minority, my students argue and say it’s not true that they [Arabs] were a majority.” She said when she confronted teachers and asked why students didn’t know that Arabs were a majority in 1947, the teachers become “evasive and say it’s not part of the material.”

In part, students reflect the culture that surrounds them.

“Israeli society is speaking in two voices,” says Education Minister Yuli Tamir. “We see ourselves as a democratic society, yet we often neglect things that are very basic to democracy. If the students see the Knesset disqualifying Arab parties, a move that I’ve adamantly opposed, how can we expect them to absorb democratic values?”

All the major Israeli parties voted to remove two Arab parties, United Arab List-Ta’al and Balad, from the ballot because they opposed the Gaza war. Balad also calls for equal rights for all Israelis. Kadima spokesperson Maya Jacobs said, “Balad aims to exterminate Israel as a Jewish state and turn it into a state for all its citizens.” Labor joined in banning Balad, but not Ta’al.

The Israeli Supreme Court overturned the move and both parties ended up electing seven Knesset members in the recent election.

“The ultimate aim here,” says Dominic Moran, INS Security Watch’s senior correspondent in the Middle East, “is to sever the limited ties that bind Jews and Arabs, to the point that the idea of the transfer of the Arab-Israeli population beyond the borders of the state, championed by Yisrael Beiteinu, gains increasing legitimacy.”

This turn toward the Right also reflects an economic crisis, where poverty is on the rise and the cost of maintaining the settlements in the Occupied Territories and Israel’s military is a crushing burden. Peace Now estimates that the occupation costs $1.4 billion a year, not counting the separation wall. Israel’s military budget is just under $10 billion a year. According to Haartez, the Gaza war cost $374 million.

Some 16 percent of the Jewish population fall below the poverty line, a designation that includes 50 percent of Israeli Arabs.

“The Israeli reality can no longer hide what it has kept hidden up to now — that today no sentient mother can honestly say to her child: ‘ Next year things will be better here,’” says philosophy of education professor, Ilan Gur-Ze’ev. “The young people are replacing hope for a better future with a myth of a heroic end. For a heroic end, Lieberman fits the bill.”

Intercommunity tension manifests itself mainly in the Occupied Territories, where the relentless expansion of settlements and constant humiliation of hundreds of Israeli Army roadblocks fuels Palestinian anger.

This past December, settlers in Hebron attacked Palestinians after the Israeli government removed a group of Jewish families occuping an Arab-owned building. In response, the settlers launched “Operation Price Tag” to inflict punishment on Palestinians in the event the Tel Aviv government moves against settlers. Rioters torched cars, desecrated a Muslim cemetery, and gunned down two Arabs.

Settler rampages on the West Bank are nothing new, even though they receive virtually no coverage in the U.S. media. But a disturbing trend is the appearance of extremist settlers in Israel. Late last year Baruch Marzel, a West bank settler and follower of Kahane, threatened to lead a march through Umm al-Fahm, a largely Arab-Israeli town near Haifa.

“We have a cancer in our body capable of destroying the state of Israel,” Marzel told The Forward, “and these people are in the heart of Israel, a force capable of destroying Israel from the inside. I am going to tell these people that the land of Israel is ours.”

Arab-Israelis charge that settlers — some of them extremists re-settled from Gaza three years ago — played a role in last year’s Yom Kippur riots in the mixed city of Acre and forced Arab families our of their houses in the east part of the city. Arabs make up about 14 percent of Acre and 20 percent of Israel.

Rabbi Dov Lior, chair of the West Bank Rabbinical Council, has decreed, “It is completely forbidden to employ [Arabs] and rent houses to them in Israel.”

The Adallah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights is urging Israeli Attorney General Mernachem Mazuz to investigate “Wild incitement to racism against Arabs in general and the [Arab] residents of Acre in particular.”

On Oct. 15, three days after the Acre riots, two Arab apartments in Tel Aviv were attacked with Molotov cocktails. Seven Jewish men were arrested. The Arab residents of Lod and Haifa charge that they too are being pressured to move.

In the case of Lod, municipal authorities are open about their intentions. Municipal spokesman Yoram Ben-Aroch denied that the city discriminates against Arabs, but told The Forward that municipal authorities want Lod, to become “a more Jewish town. We need to strengthen the Jewish character of Lod and religious people and Zionists have a big part to play in this strengthening.”

However, the growing lawlessness of West bank settlers and Jewish nationalists has begun to unsettle the authorities in Tel Aviv. After rightwing extremists tried to assassinate Peace Now activist Professor Zeev Sternhell, Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin said the intelligence organization was “very concerned” about the “extremist right” and its willingness to resort to violence.

Even Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said “We are not willing to live with a significant group of people that has cast off all authority,” and called Operation Price Tag a “pogrom.”

So far, however, the government and Shin Bet have done little to rein in the rising tide of rightwing terror, which is aimed at Jews as well as Arabs.

Ahmad Tibi of the Arab Ta’al Party says that while Arab Israelis feel threatened by what Ben Gurion University political scientist Neve Gordan calls a “move toward xenophobic politics,” Tibi warns that, “It is the Jewish majority that should be afraid of this phenomenon.”

Israel’s war on Gaza shows need for a total uprooting February 25, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Peace, Revolution, War.
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NEWS & LETTERS, February – March 2009

www.newsandletters.org (Marxist Humanist)

 

 

 

by Gerry Emmett

 

The tentative “cease-fire,” already interrupted by grenade, mortar and missle strikes, between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, of Jan. 18 following 22 days of war, was ushered in with a scene of pure modern horror. Palestinian doctor Izz el-Deen Aboul Aish, who works at an Israeli hospital and has reported on Gaza for Israeli television, announced live on the air that his home had just been bombed by Israeli warplanes. Three of his daughters were killed, and two seriously injured. Dr. Aboul Aish said truthfully, “All that was ever fired out of our house was love, hugs and acts of peace, nothing else, ever.”

Shocked viewers caught an unexpected look at the barbarity of the Gaza war as the Israeli news anchor broke down into tears along with the Palestinian doctor. A Gazan described the experience of life under attack this way: “In my home we can’t get basic needs. There is no safe place we can go. We cannot communicate with our relatives or friends–networks are down as missiles rain on our homes, mosques, and even hospitals…”

CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY

As Palestinians began to dig out thousands of destroyed buildings, the horrific toll of innocent life from weeks of air and ground war became even clearer. As of this writing, of 1,259 Palestinians dead, well over half are civilians. Many are children. An estimated 4,100 homes were destroyed, along with 1,500 factories and workshops.

There were also attacks upon buildings housing emergency humanitarian aid, like the UN Relief and Works Agency. “International law unequivocally forbids attacks against personnel, installations, material, units or vehicles involved in a humanitarian assistance mission,” said UNRWA spokesman Malcolm Smart. “Deliberate attacks on humanitarian assistance facilities or personnel may constitute a war crime.”

All this could hardly have been otherwise, fighting in crowded Gaza. It could not have been otherwise considering the cynical effort by Israel’s government to use its battle with Hamas to make some statements.

One statement was directed to Israeli voters by the current ruling Labor-Kadima coalition. Israeli peace protestors were quick to point out the timing of the war in relation to the February national elections, naming it the “6-Seat War,” the number of Knesset seats that the Labor Party expects to pick up. It likely won’t have stopped the right-wing Netanyahu of Likud from being elected Prime Minister.

The other statement was directed to Iran, the biggest regional supporter of Hamas. It was meant to say that Israel had “learned the lessons” of its destructive war in Lebanon in 2006, which was claimed as a “victory” by Iran’s Lebanese client Hezbollah–if hardly by the suffering people of southern Lebanon or Beirut. Thus even greater destruction was visited upon Gaza.

What the Israeli government hasn’t learned, though, is the futility of its attempts to control the Palestinians, or to crush their desire for self-determination. In this, Israel shows itself as one more state-capitalist power wedded to its ignoble imperial ambitions.

The U. S. government has shown nothing but complicity in this regard. This is true of both the outgoing Bush regime and the incoming Obama administration, with his appointment of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Certainly Israel wouldn’t have proceeded without an understanding with the U.S. The careful timing of the war around the U.S. election shows this, with one Israeli government figure claiming that the cease-fire was implemented to avoid embarrassing Barack Obama in his first days in office. Future U.S. policy is unclear–though Obama’s first phone call to a foreign leader went to Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority.

Now, despite the cease-fire, thousands of Israeli troops remain poised to re-enter Gaza, and Hamas retains the ability to launch rocket strikes into Israel if it so chooses. The blockade of Gaza continues.

Much of the situation in Gaza is inexplicable without looking at the various rivalries that involve many parties besides Israel and the Palestinians. This includes the continuing struggle between the fundamentalist Hamas and Fatah, which controls the Palestinian Authority and West Bank. Even while under attack by Israel, Hamas put some of its military effort into attacking Fatah members–they succeeded in killing and maiming many more of them than they did Israeli soldiers, at least 80-100 according to witnesses.

This helps to explain the otherwise incredible fact that in the face of Israel’s largest military incursion in decades there was no military unity among Palestinians. Only the marginal PFLP (General Command), a tool of the Syrian state, launched a single, random rocket from Lebanon that blew up the kitchen of a retirement home in northern Israel.

REGIONAL RIVALRIES

There was no unity among the Arab states, either, owing to regional rivalries between Hamas’ Iranian patrons and the equally reactionary fundamentalist rulers of Saudi Arabia. While there was a lot of rhetoric from Hezbollah, they are constrained by the opposition of the Lebanese people to any new war with Israel.

The conflict between Egypt and Hamas is also significant. Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, and that fundamentalist group is seen as a threat to the Mubarak regime in Egypt. Egypt has aided Israel’s blockade of Gaza, and as much as anyone, it was the Egyptian government that gave Israel the green light to attack.

The Syrian-based leadership of Hamas distinguished itself by opposing any cease-fire and being ready, from the safety of Damascus, to fight to the last Palestinian. Even Hamas’ Gaza leadership couldn’t stomach this. To indicate how deep the lack of principle runs here, it is instructive to note that Hamas’ leader, Khaled Mashaal, accepts the hospitality and support of the same Syrian Baathist government that massacred 2,000 imprisoned Islamists in 1982. It also destroyed the city of Hama killing 20,000 civilians, in the course of repressing its own Muslim Brotherhood.

This should illuminate his callous willingness to sacrifice the people of Gaza. In this Mashaal is certainly within hailing distance of the Sharon of 1982 and the Sabra and Shatila massacres. It is only the other side of Hamas’ reactionary fantasy of destroying Israel which doesn’t shrink from referencing the Protocols of Zion–counter-revolutionary forgeries of the czarist secret police and “Black Hundreds” pogromists.[1]

The devastation wrought by the war should also help lay to rest the myth of Hamas as a “good government” alternative to the undeniable corruption of Fatah and the Palestinian Authority. Their launching of hundreds of rockets into Israel, sometimes killing civilians, which became the stated justification for Israel’s attack, is barbarous and nihilistic. In the end Hamas may have hoped to duplicate Hezbollah’s experience in 2006, but 2009 is not 2006 and they greatly overreached.

Although there have been declarations of “victory” and rallies, in the words of one Gazan: “We can’t talk about real victory because there were thousands of martyrs and we didn’t liberate anything. It’s no time for a parade.”

OPPOSITION TO WAR

As against the horrors of this war, there were also many protests and important efforts at solidarity. The Free Gaza Movement attempted to deliver medical aid by boat, but was prevented from docking and rammed by an Israeli navy vessel. International aid, including ambulances, medicine and food, was also sent from European trade unions to the General Federation of Palestinian Trade Unions, which put out a call for such support. The war-weariness among Gazans was well expressed by one Palestinian woman who confronted a Hamas member passing out leaflets: “Why are you handing out paper instead of bread?”

The Israeli peace movement was in the street from the first hours declaring, “This is not our war!” Adam Keller of The Other Israel wrote, “At record speed, a rendezvous for protest was suggested by the Coalition of Women for Peace and quickly taken up by Hadash, Gush Shalom, the anarchists, Tarabut and also the Meretz grassroots network. The message spread among all by word of mouth and phone and email and Facebook: ‘Stop the War!’” The voices of past refuseniks and the Shministim made their opposition known.

It is vital to hear these voices of opposition (see “Woman as Reason”). Even more, the war’s regional aspect highlights the importance of all the new forces of revolution rising in the Middle East. There are new militant voices, from striking textile workers in Egypt, many of them women, to the new struggles of workers and women in Iraq represented by groups like the Iraqi Freedom Congress, and the simmering discontent among all sectors of the population in Iran with the oppressive theocracy there.

Mired in corruption and scandal, and hard hit by the 80% collapse in oil prices brought on by capitalist crisis, almost the only “legitimacy” the Iranian regime can cling to is its sponsorship of the “resistance” of Hezbollah and Hamas. Lebanon’s Shi’a and the Palestinians of Gaza have paid a high price for this sponsorship, in having their genuine freedom struggles shackled to Iran’s counter-revolution.[2]

PHILOSOPHY OF REVOLUTION

In addition to the cost in human lives, Israel’s war has deflected attention from the brave new struggles in the region. It has the effect of sucking the oxygen from the very air of thought. Not only in the Middle East. This is a moment when every big imperialist power, the U.S., Russia, China, as well as a regional power like Iran, is confronted with the most serious capitalist crisis in decades.

It isn’t a coincidence that the Iranian regime has intensified repression of late, including closing down Shirin Ebadi’s Center for Defenders of Human Rights and fomenting attacks on her office and home, and closing the newspaper Kargozaran for publishing an article critical of Hamas. What Iran’s rulers really fear is that despite their best efforts the Iranian people will eventually rise up and throw them out as they did the Shah.

In this regard, it is also vital that the new forces of revolution become rooted in a philosophy of revolution that can help them avoid the kind of halfway houses and outright disasters that have destroyed past freedom movements. To this end News and Letters Committees published Marxist-Humanist Writings on the Middle East (2003) containing Raya Dunayevskaya’s writings on the dialectics of revolution and counter-revolution across the region, in Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran.

Dunayevskaya addressed this burning question for Middle Eastern revolutionaries in many ways, as in 1976′s “Lebanon: The test not only of the PLO but the whole Left.” Here she criticized revolutionaries who were pulled into the orbit of reactionary state powers, ushering in decades of civil war and occupation in Lebanon: “This does not mean that we give up the struggle for self-determination, Palestinian especially. It is that we do not narrow our vision of the revolutionary struggle for a totally different world, on truly new Humanist foundations, the first necessity of which is the unity of philosophy and revolution.”[3]

Bringing about this unity of philosophy and revolution remains the task. News and Letters Committees has held to this principle since our founding in 1955: “The necessity for a new society is clear from the working people’s opposition to war. That opposition is based upon a vision of a new society in which they, to a man, woman and child, control their own lives. Any opposition to war, which is based on less than this, must end in capitulation to the warmongers.”[4]

The stakes couldn’t be higher. Israel’s war on the people of Gaza is not a local anomaly, it is the expression of the degeneracy of crisis-ridden state-capitalism. The absolute opposite of that is not any narrow nationalism or religion-infused drive for power, but the total uprooting of racist, sexist capitalist society in all countries and the creation of totally new human relations.

NOTES:

1. “What more could [right-wing Zionism] have wished for than that the Israeli opponents of their own rulers–the Israeli Left engaged in class struggles and in fights against their country’s foreign policy, especially to Israel’s non-recognition of the Palestinians as a national entity entitled to self-determination–should suddenly pause in their struggles, with worry over whether at the other end of the spectrum lurks that perennial manifestation of degeneracy, anti-Semitism?” (“The UN resolution on Zionism–and the ideological obfuscation also on the Left,” Raya Dunayevskaya, Weekly Political Letter, Jan. 24, 1976.)

2. The Iranian Marxist Mansoor Hekmat described this relation: “The problem is still fundamentally the Palestinian question. Just as this confrontation strengthens the reactionary religious factions in Israel and gives them much more power–disproportionate to their actual minor weight in people’s culture and beliefs, it also adds to the lifespan of political Islam…” (Porsesh, A Quarterly Journal of Politics, Society and Culture, Number 3, Winter 2001.)

3. “Lebanon: the test not only of the PLO but the whole Left,” Raya Dunayevskaya, Weekly Political Letter, August, 1976 .

4. From the “Preamble” to the News and Letters’ Committees’ Constitution, 1955.

 

A Toxic Force Rises in Israel February 12, 2009

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by Jonathan Freedland

The search for silver linings in the murky cloud of yesterday’s Israeli election requires a great effort of the will. There is not much to go on. You could draw comfort from the fact that Likud’s Bibi Netanyahu, who thought he was such a dead cert to win a matter of weeks ago, was rejected, albeit narrowly, in favour of the woman he so consistently patronised, Tzipi Livni of Kadima.

Or you might take solace in the notion that the near tie between Bibi and Tzipi would most easily be resolved by the pair rotating the premiership between them, each taking a two-year turn, following the precedent set by Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Shamir after they fought each other to a dead heat in 1984. The virtue of such an arrangement could be the exclusion of the ultra-nationalist hardman Avigdor Lieberman, whose Israel Beytenu – Israel our Home – party surged to third place on Tuesday.

Or you might assume that the likeliest coalition will be unambiguously of the right, given that – even though Likud itself fell short – the parties of the self-styled “national camp” won a convincing victory over the centre-left bloc. Bibi’s motivation will be to expose Kadima to the chill of opposition for the first time in its short life, where, Bibi hopes, it will wither and die. The result will be the most rightwing government in Israel’s history. Good, one longtime peace campaigner told me yesterday. “Let the right have power and live with the consequences.” They will soon be on a collision course with Barack Obama’s Washington. Under US pressure, they will unravel, the right’s limitations will have been exposed and the pendulum will swing back leftwards.

Even if that is too hopeful, some on the Israeli left see a value in the country having a full-bloodedly rightist government. “Maybe we’re like the alcoholic who needs to touch bottom before we can start the climb back up,” was how one put it. Perhaps there has to be a crisis before there can be a recovery.

If these sound like heroic attempts at self-consolation, that is because they are. The truth is, the clouds are much clearer to see. The hawkish camp thumped the centre left on Tuesday, and that’s even when you generously count Kadima and Labour – co-authors of operation Cast Lead – as the centre left. But this is about more than a victory for the right. Something else happened and its face belongs to Avigdor Lieberman, the kingmaker whose 15 seats are essential if either Bibi or Livni are to govern without each other.

He does not fit straightforwardly on the Israeli right wing. For one thing, he is avowedly secular. Indeed, much of his appeal was to anti-religious voters who liked his demand for civil unions, thereby breaking the orthodox rabbinate’s current monopoly on state-sanctioned marriage. Talk of liberalising the sale of pork products proved too much for at least one religious party, whose spiritual leader warned that a vote for Lieberman was a vote for Satan. The result is that Bibi may find assembling a coalition that includes both the religious parties and Lieberman impossible.

Even more striking is the kingmaker’s stance on the defining issue of Israeli politics: territorial compromise. The hard right have always opposed the very idea, clinging to the notion of Greater Israel. But Lieberman – who lives in a West Bank settlement – has said he would be prepared to give up even his own home. Unlike some of his fellow settlers, he does not regard the land as sacred soil that can never be conceded.

Make no mistake, this is not because Lieberman is some kind of crypto- ­peacenik. The opposite is true: I saw him give a victory speech on Tuesday in which he declared his refusal to join any government that would allow Hamas to remain in power: “Our first goal is clear, to destroy Hamas, to take it down.”

What separates Lieberman from the traditional Revisionist Zionists that formed Likud is that his goal is not holding on to the maximum amount of land but governing over the minimum number of Arabs. To put it concisely, he would prefer a smaller, ethnically pure Israel to a larger, binational one. To that end, he would give up heavily-populated Palestinian areas of the West Bank and – much more controversially – seeks to redraw the border so that Arab areas of pre-1967 Israel become part of a Palestinian state. In other words, those who are now Palestinian citizens of Israel will find themselves living in their same homes – but under the jurisdiction of another country. Whether their consent will be sought for this move is left vague.

But it’s not this idea which has made Lieberman such a toxic force. For that you have to look to the slogan that drove his campaign: “No loyalty, no citizenship.” He would insist that every Israeli swear an oath of loyalty to Israel as a Jewish state: anyone who loses will lose his citizenship.

Israel Beytenu denies this is racist, insisting that every Israeli will have to swear the oath, Jewish or Arab. It is true that plenty of ultra-orthodox Jews who don’t accept the authority of a godless secular state may also refuse. But the target is clearly Israel’s 1.45 million Arabs. If they will not swear their allegiance, explains Lieberman deputy Uzi Landau, “They will have residency rights but no right to vote or be in the Knesset.”

It is a truly shocking idea. I asked several Israel Beytenu luminaries if they could name a single democracy anywhere that had removed citizenship from those who already had it. I asked what they would make of demanding that, say, British Jews, swear an oath of loyalty to Britain as a Christian country on pain of losing their right to vote. I got no good answers.

There was a time when such a poisonous idea would have been confined to the lunatic extremes of the racist Kach party, led by Meir Kahane (of whose youth wing Lieberman was once a member). Twenty five years ago Kahane was banned from the Knesset. Now his heir is courted by the two main parties, desperate for his support. Kadima is untroubled by the loyalty oath scheme; Bibi says he agrees with it.

Who is to blame for this? Israel Beytenu puts the blame on the Israeli Arab leadership for flaunting their “disloyalty”, especially during January’s Gaza offensive when several prominent Israeli Arabs proclaimed their solidarity with Hamas. They say no democratic society could tolerate such a fifth column, cheering on a mortal enemy.

The Israeli left bear some indirect responsibility here too, at least for the idea of reassigning Palestinian villages inside Israel to Palestine. For years, the left has couched its opposition to the occupation in demographic terms: ruling over millions of Palestinians would eventually imperil Israel’s status as a Jewish state. Lieberman is simply extending that logic beyond the 1967 borders. In this sense Lieberman is the bastard child of the Israeli peace movement.

Above all, it is Israeli society that has to take a hard look at itself. For so long, it has lived inside a bubble in which it can only see its side of the story: they hit us, so we hit back; we are under siege from hostile forces, we are the victim. In this mental landscape, even a Moldovan-born immigrant stripping people born in their own land of their citizenship can come to seem acceptable. What’s needed is not just a change in the electoral system that would allow “strong government” of the kind Lieberman yearns to implement. What’s needed is for Israelis to step outside the bubble, to begin to see the causes of their current predicament, instead of dealing again and again, ever more ineffectively, with the symptoms. Tuesday’s election prompts no confidence that that is about to happen.

Leading Israeli Scholar Avi Shlaim: Israel Committing “State Terror” in Gaza Attack, Preventing Peace January 14, 2009

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Democracynow! January 14, 2009

AMY GOODMAN: The Israeli assault on Gaza is entering its nineteenth day, with no end in sight. Israeli warplanes are continuing their bombardment, launching over sixty air strikes overnight. Meanwhile, Israeli troops have edged closer to the heart of the densely populated Gaza City and are engaged in street fighting with militants.

 

Since Israel’s offensive began on December 27th, nearly 1,000 Palestinians have been killed. More than 4,400 have been injured, and an estimated 90,000 have fled their homes. Thirteen Israelis have died over the same period, ten of them soldiers, including four by so-called “friendly” fire.

 

As the war continues, humanitarian concerns are mounting. The chief UN aid official for Gaza, John Ging, has appealed to the international community to protect Gaza’s civilians, calling it a “test of our humanity”.

 

Meanwhile, a UN watch group has accused Israel of showing a “manifest disrespect” for the protection of children in Gaza. According to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, more than 40 percent of those killed in Gaza are women and children.

 

On Tuesday, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross visited Gaza and said what he saw was shocking. ICRC president Jakob Kellenberger said, “It is unacceptable to see so many wounded people. Their lives must be spared and the security of those who care for them guaranteed.”

 

Despite a UN Security Council ceasefire resolution last week, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the military operation will continue.

 

Our next guest is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading authorities on the Arab-Israel conflict. Avi Shlaim served in the Israeli army in the mid-1960s. He is now a professor of international relations at Oxford University. In an article in The Guardian newspaper of London, he says he has never questioned the legitimacy of the state of Israel within its pre-1967 borders. But he says its merciless assault on Gaza has led him to devastating conclusions. Professor Avi Shlaim is the author of a number of books, most notably The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World. His latest book is Lion of Jordan: King Hussein’s Life in War and Peace. Avi Shlaim joins us today from Oxford University in Britain.

We welcome you to Democracy Now!

AVI SHLAIM: Thank you. I’m happy to be on your program in these very sad times.

AMY GOODMAN: As you look at what’s happening in Gaza from your vantage point, well, many miles away in Britain, can you talk about the kind of trajectory your evaluation has taken, where you started in your thoughts about Israel and where you are now?

AVI SHLAIM: As you mentioned, I did national service in the Israeli army in the mid-1960s. And in those days, Israel was a small state surrounded by enemies, and the nation was united in face of the surrounding Arab states. We all felt total commitment to the state of Israel and to the defense of the state of Israel. The Israeli army is called the Israel Defense Forces, and it was true to its name.

But 1967, the war of June 1967, was a major turning point in the history of Israel and the history of the region. In the course of the war, Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria, the West Bank from Jordan and Sinai from Egypt. After the war, Israel started building civilian territories in the occupied territories in violation of international law. So Israel became a colonial power and an imperial power.

And I, for my part, have never questioned the legitimacy of the Zionist movement. I saw it as the national liberation movement of the Jewish people. Nor did I ever question the legitimacy of the state of Israel within its pre-1967 borders. What I reject, what I reject totally, absolutely and uncompromisingly, is the Zionist colonial project beyond the 1967 borders. So we have to distinguish very clearly between Israel proper, within its pre-1967 borders, and Greater Israel, which began to emerge in the aftermath of the June ‘67 war and has completely derailed the Zionist project.

AMY GOODMAN: And then, specifically talk about Gaza, how it has developed and where it is today, right now under assault by the Israeli military.

AVI SHLAIM: In a long-term historical perspective, I would begin with the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. I wrote a book, which you mentioned in your introduction, called The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World. It is a history of the Arab-Israeli conflict since 1948. It’s a very long book, but I can summarize it for you in one sentence, that throughout its sixty years, Israel has been remarkably reluctant to engage in meaningful negotiations with its Arab opponents to resolve the dispute between them and only too ready to resort to military force in order to impose its will upon them. And the current vicious Israeli onslaught on the people of Gaza is the climax of this longstanding Israeli policy of shunning diplomacy and relying on brute military force.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to Professor Avi Shlaim. He is professor of international relations at Oxford University, served in the Israeli military. His latest book is called Lion of Jordan. He is one of the world’s leading scholars on the Arab-Israel conflict. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: Our guest right now is Oxford University Professor Avi Shlaim. He teaches international relations at Oxford University. He’s speaking to us from Oxford right now, leading authority in the world on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

We’ve had a number of debates here on Democracy Now!, Professor Shlaim, over the past weeks about what’s happening in Gaza and those who support the Israeli military continually say that in 2005, three years ago, Israel pulled out of Gaza entirely. You have a different picture of what happened under Ariel Sharon in August of 2005. Explain how you see the withdrawal of Israeli military at that time.

AVI SHLAIM: President Bush described Ariel Sharon as a man of peace. I’ve done a great deal of archival research on the Arab-Israeli conflict, and I can honestly tell you that I have never come across a single scintilla of evidence to support the view of Ariel Sharon as a man of peace. He was a man of war, a champion of violent solutions, a man who rejected totally any Palestinian right to self-determination. He was a proponent of Greater Israel, and it is in this context that I see his decision to withdraw unilaterally from Gaza in August of 2005.

The withdrawal was officially called the unilateral Israeli disengagement from Gaza. I would like to underline the word “unilateral.” Ariel Sharon was the unilateralist par excellence. The reason he decided to withdraw from Gaza was not out of any concern for the welfare of the people of Gaza or any sympathy for the Palestinians or their national aspirations, but because of the pressure exerted by Hamas, by the Islamic resistance, to the Israeli occupation of Gaza. In the end, Israel couldn’t sustain the political, diplomatic and psychological costs of maintaining its occupation in Gaza.

And let me add in parentheses that Gaza was a classic example of exploitation, of colonial exploitation in the postcolonial era. Gaza is a tiny strip of land with about one-and-a-half million Arabs, most of them—half of them refugees. It’s the most crowded piece of land on God’s earth. There were 8,000 Israeli settlers in Gaza, yet the 8,000 settlers controlled 25 percent of the territory, 40 percent of the arable land, and the largest share of the desperately scarce water resources.

Ariel Sharon decided to withdraw from Gaza unilaterally, not as a contribution, as he claimed, to a two-state solution. The withdrawal from Gaza took place in the context of unilateral Israeli action in what was seen as Israeli national interest. There were no negotiations with the Palestinian Authority on an overall settlement. The withdrawal from Gaza was not a prelude to further withdrawals from the other occupied territories, but a prelude to further expansion, further consolidation of Israel’s control over the West Bank. In the year after the withdrawal from Gaza, 12,000 new settlers went to live on the West Bank. So I see the withdrawal from Gaza in the summer of 2005 as part of a unilateral Israeli attempt to redraw the borders of Greater Israel and to shun any negotiations and compromise with the Palestinian Authority.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Avi Shlaim, Israel says the reason it has attacked Gaza is because of the rocket fire, the rockets that Hamas is firing into southern Israel.

AVI SHLAIM: This is Israeli propaganda, and it is a pack of lies. The important thing to remember is that there was a ceasefire brokered by Egypt in July of last year, and that ceasefire succeeded. So, if Israel wanted to protect its citizens—and it had every right to protect its citizens—the way to go about it was not by launching this vicious military offensive, but by observing the ceasefire.

Now, let me give you some figures, which I think are the most crucial figures in understanding this conflict. Before the ceasefire came into effect in July of 2008, the monthly number of rockets fired—Kassam rockets, homemade Kassam rockets, fired from the Gaza Strip on Israeli settlements and towns in southern Israel was 179. In the first four months of the ceasefire, the number dropped dramatically to three rockets a month, almost zero. I would like to repeat these figures for the benefit of your listeners. Pre-ceasefire, 179 rockets were fired on Israel; post-ceasefire, three rockets a month. This is point number one, and it’s crucial.

And my figures are beyond dispute, because they come from the website of the Israeli Foreign Ministry. But after initiating this war, this particular table, neat table, which showed the success of the ceasefire, was withdrawn and replaced with another table of statistics, which is much more obscure and confusing. Israel—the Foreign Ministry withdrew these figures, because it didn’t suit the new story.

The new story said that Hamas broke the ceasefire. This is a lie. Hamas observed the ceasefire as best as it could and enforced it very effectively. The ceasefire was a stunning success for the first four months. It was broken not by Hamas, but by the IDF. It was broken by the IDF on the 4th of November, when it launched a raid into Gaza and killed six Hamas men.

And there is one other point that I would like to make about the ceasefire. Ever since the election of Hamas in January—I’m sorry, ever since Hamas captured power in Gaza in the summer of 2007, Israel had imposed a blockade of the Strip. Israel stopped food, fuel and medical supplies from reaching the Gaza Strip. One of the terms of the ceasefire was that Israel would lift the blockade of Gaza, yet Israel failed to lift the blockade, and that is one issue that is also overlooked or ignored by official Israeli spokesmen. So Israel was doubly guilty of sabotaging the ceasefire, A, by launching a military attack, and B, by maintaining its very cruel siege of the people of Gaza.

AMY GOODMAN: Israel calls Hamas “terrorist.” What is your definition of “terror”?

AVI SHLAIM: My definition of “terror” is the use of violence against civilians for political purposes. And by this definition, Hamas is a terrorist organization. But by the same token, Israel is practicing state terror, because it is using violence on a massive scale against Palestinian civilians for political purposes. I don’t hold a brief for Hamas. Hamas is not a paragon of virtue. Its leaders are not angels. They harm civilians indiscriminately. Killing civilians is wrong, period. That applies to Hamas, and it applies equally to the state of Israel.

But there are two points I would like to make about Hamas, and that is—the first point is that it was elected in a fair and free election in January 2006. It was an impeccable election, monitored by a number of international observers, including President Jimmy Carter. So it is not just a terrorist organization. It is a democratically elected government of the Palestinian people and the representative of the Palestinian people in Gaza, as well as the West Bank.

And the second point that I would like to make is that since coming to power, Gaza has moderated its political program. Its charter is extreme. Its charter denies the legitimacy of a Jewish state. The charter calls for an Islamic state over the whole of historic Palestine. The charter has not been revived, but since coming to power, the leadership of Hamas has been much more pragmatic and stated that it is willing to negotiate a long-term ceasefire with the state of Israel for twenty, thirty, forty, maybe even fifty years.

Thirdly, Hamas joined with Fatah, the rival group, the mainstream group, on the West Bank in a national unity government in the summer of 2007. That national unity government lasted only three months. Israel, with American support, helped to sabotage and to bring down that national unity government. Israel refused to deal with a Palestinian government which included Hamas within it. And shamefully, both the United States and the European Union joined in Israel in this refusal to recognize a Hamas-dominated government, and Israel withdrew tax revenues, and European Union withdrew foreign aid, in a shameful attempt to bring down a democratically elected government.

So, I do not defend Hamas, but I think that it hasn’t received a fair hearing from the international community, and Israel has done everything to sabotage it all along.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Shlaim, you say it’s done everything to sabotage it, except at the beginning, when you say it supported Hamas to weaken Fatah, which it now supports.

AVI SHLAIM: Indeed. Israel has always played the game of divide and rule. This is a very good tactic in times of war, to divide your enemies and pick them off one by one. No one can complain about that. But divide and rule isn’t a good tactic in times of peace. If your aim is to achieve peace with the Arabs, then you should want unity among the Palestinians and unity in the Arab world. But Israel continued to play this game of divide and rule.

Hamas emerged in the course of the First Intifada in the late 1980s. It is the Islamic resistance movement. The mainstream movement, Fatah, was led by Yasser Arafat. And Israel gave tacit encouragement and support to the Islamic resistance in the hope of weakening the secular nationalists led by Yasser Arafat. It was a dangerous game to play, because the end result of this game was that Hamas emerged as the strongest Palestinian political party.

And Israel helped Hamas inadvertently in another way, because Fatah signed the Oslo Accord with Israel in 1993. It expected the Oslo Accord to lead to a two-state solution. And yet, Israel, after the election of Benjamin Netanyahu in 1996, reneged on the Israeli side of the deal. So, the Oslo Accord, the Oslo peace process wasn’t doomed to failure from the start. It failed because Israel, under the leadership of the Likud, reneged on its side of the deal. So that left the Palestinians with nothing but misery and poverty and frustration and ever-growing Israeli settlements on the land. And it was this context that led to the success of Hamas at the last elections. So Israel has a lot to explain in the rise to power of the Hamas movement.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Avi Shlaim, we only have a minute, but I want to ask you where you see the solution at this point. Barack Obama will be president on Tuesday in just a few days. Hillary Clinton will be Secretary of State.

AVI SHLAIM: The solution—this is a political conflict, and there is no military conflict to—there is no military solution to this conflict. The only solution lies in negotiations between Israel and Hamas about all the issues involved. President-elect Obama is a very impressive man and a very intelligent man and a very fair-minded man. He hasn’t demonstrated any courage in the course of this crisis. He hasn’t taken any position. He hasn’t called for an immediate ceasefire. So the first step is an immediate ceasefire, and the next step would be negotiations between all the sides about restoring the ceasefire and then moving on to stage two, which is a political settlement to this tragic hundred-year-old conflict.

AMY GOODMAN: And Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, who said in her confirmation hearing yesterday she wouldn’t negotiate with Hamas?

AVI SHLAIM: Yes, but there are other signs from the Obama campaign that they would be willing to consider low-level, indirect contacts with Hamas. And one has to be grateful for small mercies, so small, minor, low-level contacts with Hamas could lead to a proper dialog in due course. So I remain optimistic that sanity and rationality would take over in American foreign policy after the dreadful last eight years.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Avi Shlaim, thank you very much for being with us. Professor Avi Shlaim, professor of international relations at Oxford University, served in the Israeli military—among his books, Lion of Jordan: King Hussein’s Life in War and Peace—known as one of the leading authorities in the world on the Israel-Palestine conflict and Arab-Israel conflict. Among his other books, The Iron Wall.

Why it’s hard to beat Hamas January 8, 2009

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From Wednesday’s Globe and Mail

Many analogies are being made between the Israeli attack against Hamas in Gaza and the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Here are the most important ones.

The first is about provenance: Hamas and Hezbollah did not exist before 1982. They are the ideological stepchildren of the Likud party and Ariel Sharon, whose embrace of violence, racism and colonization as the means of dealing with occupied Arab populations ultimately generated a will to resist. The trio carrying on Mr. Sharon’s legacy – Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni – seem blind to the fact that the more force Israel uses, the greater the response in the form of more effective resistance.

The second analogy is about technical proficiency. Hamas and Hezbollah have both increased their ability to use assorted rockets to harass Israel. And they are better able to protect their launchers from pre-emptive Israeli attacks.

The number of Israeli dead in recent years is in the low hundreds, compared with the thousands of Palestinians killed by Israel. But body counts are not the most useful criteria in this analysis. The real measure is the nagging Israeli sense of vulnerability and the Palestinian sense of empowerment and defiance.

It is a gruesome but tangible victory for Hamas simply to be able to keep firing 30 or 40 rockets a day at southern Israel, while Israel destroys much of the security and civilian infrastructure in Gaza.

The frustration in Israel is reflected in its bombing attacks on the Islamic University and the Palestinian parliament building in Gaza – symbols of the sort of modernity and democracy that Israel and the U.S. claim they seek to promote in the Arab world. Palestinians and Lebanese pay a high price for their “victories” – but until someone offers a more cost-effective way of dealing with Israel’s violence, we will see this cycle of warfare continue for some time.

The TV images of dead children in Gaza generate a tremendous will to fight among Palestinians and their supporters in the Arab world. Israelis remain blind to the fact that Arabs respond to brutality the same way they do. A majority of Israelis polled this week supports the continuation of attacks in Gaza. Israelis seem to feel they have the right to respond to attacks by using indiscriminate violence against Palestinians – but Palestinians do not have the right to respond when attacked by Israel. A consequence of this attitude has been the ability of Hamas and Hezbollah to fight with enough proficiency to force Israel to accept a ceasefire.

The third analogy is about the convergence between religion, nationalism, governance and politics. In both Palestine and Lebanon, the secular political systems proved unable to protect society against Israeli aggression or domestic strife and criminality. Movements such as Hamas and Hezbollah developed in large part to fill this vacuum. They have achieved mixed results, with success in some areas but also an intensification of warfare and destruction in others.

Accusing these movements of using terrorism or cozying up to Syria and Iran will not discredit them. This is because of the structural manner in which they fulfill multiple roles that respond to the needs of their constituents in the realms of governance, local security, national defence and basic service delivery – responsibilities their secular national governments failed to fulfill.

The combination of these attributes makes it very hard for Israel to “defeat” Hamas and Hezbollah in their current configuration, regardless of how much destruction Israel rains on their societies. These two Islamist nationalist movements reflect a long list of mostly legitimate grievances that must be addressed if peace and security are ever to reign in this region.

Rami Khouri is editor-at-large of the Beirut-based Daily Star and director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut.

Israeli Voices for Peace January 6, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Peace, War.
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Jan 6, 2009, www.truthdig.com

By Amy Goodman

  Israel’s assault on Gaza, by air, sea and now land, has killed (at the time of this writing) more than 600 Palestinians, with more than 2,700 injured. Ten Israelis have been killed, three of them, Israeli soldiers, killed by friendly fire. Beyond the deaths and injuries, the people of Gaza are suffering a dire humanitarian crisis that is dismissed by the Israeli government. There is, however, Israeli opposition to the military assault.

  Israeli professor Neve Gordon is chair of the Department of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in southern Israel, the region most impacted by the Hamas rockets.

  Speaking over the phone from Beersheba, Gordon said: “We just had a rocket about an hour ago not far from our house. My two children have been sleeping in a bomb shelter for the past week. And yet, I think what Israel is doing is outrageous. … The problem is that most Israelis say Israel left the Gaza Strip three years ago, and Hamas is still shooting rockets at us. They forget the details. The detail is that Israel maintains sovereignty. The detail is that the Palestinians live in a cage. The detail is that they don’t get basic foodstuff, that they don’t get electricity, that they don’t get water. And when you forget those kinds of details, all you say is, ‘Why are they still shooting at us?’ That’s what the media here has been pumping them with, then you think this war is rational. If you look at what’s been going on in the Gaza Strip in the past three years and you see what Israel has been doing to the Palestinians, you would think that the Palestinian resistance is rational. And that’s what’s missing in the mainstream media here.”

  Gordon attended a large peace march last weekend in Tel Aviv with more than 10,000 Israelis. Longtime Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery was there. He called the invasion “a criminal war, because, on top of everything else it is openly and shamelessly part of Ehud Barak’s and Tzipi Livni’s election campaign. I accuse Ehud Barak of exploiting the IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] soldiers in order to get more Knesset seats. I accuse Tzipi Livni of advocating mutual slaughter in order to become prime minister.” Israel’s elections will be in February.

  The assault strengthens right-wing Likud Party leader and former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a foremost hawk and leading candidate for prime minister. While Netanyahu fully supports the attack on Gaza, his nephew, Jonathan Ben-Artzi, is an Israeli conscientious objector who was court-martialed and imprisoned for a year and a half. He spoke to me from Providence, R.I., where he is a student at Brown University.

  “I’m speaking … not as anyone’s nephew but … as an Israeli, trying to speak out to Americans to tell them you don’t have to support Israel blindly. Not everything that Israel does is holy … sometimes you have to speak firmly to Israel and tell us, tell our government, stop doing this.”

  Gideon Levy is a Jewish journalist with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. He told me: “I think that Israel had this legitimacy to protect its citizens in the southern part of Israel … but this doing something does not mean this brutal and violent operation. … I believe we could have got to a new truce without this bloodshed. Immediately to send dozens of jets to bomb a total helpless civilian society with hundreds of bombs—just today, they were burying five sisters. I mean, this is unheard of. This cannot go on like this.”

  But it is. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, in Gaza opened up schools to provide shelter, since Gazans, trapped in this narrow strip of land, have no place to flee. Christopher Gunness of UNRWA told me that they provided the coordinates of the schools to the Israeli military. Nevertheless, at least two schools have been hit by Israeli airstrikes in the past 24 hours. Three people were killed at the Asma Elementary school. More than 30 are reported dead and more than 55 injured at the al-Fakhura school in the Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza.

  While Israeli planes drop pamphlets urging Palestinians to leave, the 1.5 million residents of the Gaza Strip, perhaps the most densely populated place on Earth, have no place to run, no place to hide. Calls for an immediate cease-fire are ignored by Israel and blocked by the U.S. government. It is not clear what the Obama administration will do—but the people of Gaza can’t wait until the inauguration. There must be a cease-fire now. And that’s just the beginning.
 
  Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.
 
  Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 700 stations in North America. She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and received the award in the Swedish Parliament in December.

  © 2009 Amy Goodman

  Distributed by King Features Syndicate

Israeli Government: Learned Its Lesson Well (from the Nazis?) January 2, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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This will be brief.  When I think of the current situation in the Gaza Strip, two images come to mind:

1) Israeli troops poised to invade inovoke the term: BLITZKRIEG.

2) When the Resistance killed a Nazi soldier, the Nazis would retaliate by murdering by ratio: ten, fifteen, fifty, what have you, to the one Nazi killed.  There were times, I believe, when they wiped out entire towns in retaliation for one Nazi soldier kiled.  The Palestinian to Israeli killed ratio in the current “conflict” is somewhere around 200 to 1.  And that is not to mention the deaths caused by the blockade or the thousands seriously wounded.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: “So now the international community has a question, and I turn it back to the—to our critics, and I say you have to take a stand today. You have to tell the terrorists that this is an illegitimate operation. You cannot say both Israel and Hamas are symmetrically to blame. They’re not. One side is to blame, the side that targets civilians and hides behind civilians. That’s Hamas. The other side represents the rest of humanity. Now choose.”

Netanyahu, the head of the Likud Party and favorite to win the Israeli presidency, reminds us that Hamas “targets civilians and hide behind civilians.”  He might add, “but don’t worry, we — the side that represents the rest of  humanity —  have no compunction about killing those civilians behind which they hide.”

One might also wonder how it can be considered “hiding” to reside in your own community.

Please note that I am of Jewish heritage and have been a life-long opponent of anti-Semitism.  I do not support Hamas or their firing rockets into Israeli territory.  All lives have equal value.  I mourn every death.

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