Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Israel: Colonialism in the 21st Century (Part 1)

Part 1: The nature of Israeli colonialism
August 2005 saw the withdrawal of over 8,000 Israeli colonists from the occupied Palestinian territory of the Gaza Strip, and from four settlements in the West Bank. Protesters barracked the Israeli army as it moved in to eject them and demolish their settlements, under the gaze of the global media. With attention focused briefly on that part of the world, the opportunity arose to review the nature of Israel's colonial record; something that ought to have been of particular interest in the US and the UK, being as they are Israel's principal allies on the world stage. But the media and political classes in both countries failed to grasp that opportunity to any meaningful extent.
Since the Israeli-Palestinian conflict lies at the epicentre of the Middle East's political troubles, and since the US and the UK share responsibility for their allies' role in the conflict, the subject is worth examining in detail. Part 1 of this article will examine the nature of Israeli colonialism. Part 2 will examine the fraud and melodrama of the withdrawal, comparing it with IDF evictions of Palestinians in Gaza during May 2004. Finally, Part 3 will look at the reason these affairs concern us - Britain's complicity in Israel's actions [focusing specifically on the Israel-Hezbollah war of summer 2006]. Since the recent colonist withdrawals were mainly from the Gaza strip, the bulk, though not all, Part 1 of this article will focus on that part of the occupied Palestinian territories.
"A Land without a People for a People without a Land" - early Zionist Slogan
Gaza is a 370 square-kilometre strip of land on the Mediterranean coast. It is one of the two areas of what was British-occupied Palestine, along with the West Bank, that that did not become part of the new state of Israel as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Around 1.2 million Palestinians live there, making it one of the most densely populated parts of the globe. Approximately seventy-eight percent of those Palestinians are refugees, and their descendents, who fled or were ethnically cleansed in 1948 and 1949 from what became the state of Israel.
In 1947, the Arab population of Palestine was around 1.2 million and the Jewish population 600,000. 92 percent to 94 percent of the land was owned by Palestinian Arabs and 6 percent to 8 percent owned by Jewish settlers. In spite of this, and the population ratio of 2:1, the U.N. partition plan of that year called for a Jewish state on 56 percent of historic Palestine and a Palestinian Arab state on the remaining 44 percent. A significant amount of Arab-owned land was therefore to be handed over to the new Jewish settler state. Tension was predictable and, sure enough, war ensued.
Israeli historian Ilan Pappe has researched and written extensively, both on the expulsion of the Arab population during that conflict and on the failure of Israeli society to acknowledge the crime, which Palestinians refer to as the "Nakba"; Arabic for "the catastrophe". In 2002 he reflected that "Because so many of the people who live in Israel lived through 1948, this is not a distant memory. It is not the genocide of the Native Americans in the United States. People know exactly what they did, and they know what others did. Yet they still succeed in erasing it totally from their own memory while struggling rigorously against anyone trying to present the other, unpleasant, story of 1948, in and outside Israel. If you look at Israeli textbooks, curricula, media, and political discourse you see how this chapter in Jewish history - the chapter of expulsion, colonization, massacres, rape, and the burning of villages - is totally absent. It is not there. It is replaced by a chapter of heroism, glorious campaigns and amazing stories of moral courage and superiority unheard of in any other histories of people's liberation in the 20th century. So whenever I speak of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948, we must remember that not just the very terms of "ethnic cleansing" and "expulsion" are totally alien to the community and society from which I come and from where I grew up; the very history of that chapter is either distorted in the recollection of people, or totally absent. We have yet to be told the most horrific stories of 1948, although so many of us have been working as professional historians on that. We haven't talked about the rape. We haven't talked about the more than 30 or 40 massacres which popular historiography mentions. We haven't yet decided how to define the systematic killing of several individuals that took place in each and every village in order to create the panic that should produce the exodus."
Pappe described the Zionist goals as twofold: "the dispossession of the indigenous population from the land and its re-populating with newcomers - i.e. settlement and expulsion...The colonization effort was pushed forward by a movement [which, in its early stages from the late 19th to mid 20th centuries] had to buy land, and create enclaves within the indigenous population. Yet from the very beginning of Zionist strategy, the leaders of Zionism knew that settlement is a very long and measured process, which may not be sufficient if you want to revolutionize the reality on the ground and impose your own interpretation. For that, you needed something more powerful. David Ben-Gurion, the leader of the Jewish community in the 1930s and later the first Prime Minister of Israel, mentioned more than once, that for that [imposing your interpretation on the ground] you need what he called "revolutionary conditions". He meant a situation of war".
In 1938, Ben-Gurion wrote that, "[I am] satisfied with part of the country, but on the basis of the assumption that after we build up a strong force following the establishment of the state -- we will abolish the partition of the country, and we will expand to the whole Land of Israel". War came, first with Palestinian Arabs and then with the Arab armies of Syria, Egypt, Jordan and Iraq. By the end of the conflict, out of 900,000 Palestinians that had been living in the areas allocated to the Jewish state by the UN and additional areas occupied by Israel from the designated Arab states, only 100,000 remained. Israel had acquired by force of arms about 78 percent of the British 'Mandate' Palestine, with Egypt and Jordan taking the remainder. A Palestinian state never emerged.
The Palestinians would continue to pay the cost of the international community's recognition of the new 1949 borders and its failure to insist that the UN partition plan was implemented and the land settlement envisaged in that plan adhered to. The Zionist vision of fluid, expanding borders was in the ascendancy. Or, to paraphrase various condemnations of Yasser Arafat as the US sponsored peace process broke down in the late 1990’s: the Zionists had rejected a “generous offer” from the international community, choosing instead to “embrace terror”. This was entirely consistent with the expressed views of Israel’s founding fathers. In 1936, Ben Gurion had said that "the boundaries of Zionist aspirations are the concern of the Jewish people and no external factor will be able to limit them". Moshe Dayan, famed military commander and later an Israeli government minister told the youth of Israel that expansionism was a continuous enterprise. "You have not started it, and you will not finish it!". Elsewhere, he said that "[Israel] must see the sword as the main, if not the only, instrument with which to keep its morale high and to retain its moral tension. Toward this end it may, no - it must - invent dangers, and to do this it must adopt the method of provocation-and-revenge...And above all - let us hope for a new war with the Arab countries, so that we may finally get rid of our troubles and acquire our space". These views persisted. In the 1990's, Israeli minister for tourism Rehavam Zeevi was a vocal and by no means sole advocate of the "transfer by agreement" of 3.3m Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza to the Arab nations of the region, in order to "cure a demographic ailment". His description of Palestinians, living in what used to be their home country, as "a demographic ailment" was a kind one, by his standards. On another occasion, he described Arabs working illegally in Israel as "lice" and "cancer". Zeevi’s views on the subject of “transfer” have wide support according to a recent poll conducted by Israel's Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies. Almost one-half of Israelis support the expulsion of Palestinians from the occupied territories, and nearly one-third support expulsion of Palestinians from Israel itself. Three-fifths support "encouraging" Israeli Palestinians to leave.
Gaza was seized from Egypt in 1967, during what apologists for Israeli expansionism often describe, as they do the 1948-49 conflict, as a war of self-defence; a version of history that is dubious to say the least. As even former Israeli Prime Minister Menahem Begin, an idol for such apologists, once commented: "In June 1967, we again had a choice. The Egyptian Army concentrations in the Sinai approaches do not prove that [President] Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him." And even if it had been acting in self defence, Israel's occupation and colonisation of Gaza and the West Bank was certainly illegal under international law. So began a fresh, miserable chapter in the lives of Palestinians living in the newly occupied territories.
"We are dealing with soldiers who 'did their military duty and not with criminals"
In his 1989 book "Necessary Illusions", Noam Chomsky described how the failure of the US media to acknowledge the crimes of allied states such as Israel gives those states free reign to continue with their worst excesses. Chomsky noted that, with the US media and political classes virtually silent, Israel was free in the occupied territories "to use its phenomenal U.S. aid to send its military forces to conduct the regular operations described in the Israeli press (but rarely here): To bar supplies from refugee camps where there is "a serious lack of food." .......To break into a home and drag out a seven-year-old boy who had been hiding under his bed, then "beat him up savagely in front of his parents and the family," then to beat his father and brother too because they did not reveal the hiding place of the child, while the other children scream hysterically and "the mother cannot calm them because she is told not to move"; and to mercilessly beat children of age five and up, sometimes three or four soldiers with sticks "until his hands and legs are broken," or to spray gas directly into their eyes......To rake a boy twelve to fifteen years old over barbed wire "in order to injure him" as prisoners arrive at the Dahariya prison, with no reaction by the officer observing, after vicious beatings of prisoners en route with clubs, plastic pipes, and handcuffs while their commanding officer looked on ("Israeli buses have become torture chambers," Knesset member Dedi Zucker reports, citing these and other atrocities). To rampage freely through Jericho, breaking into houses, brutally beating and humiliating residents. To "run amok" through the Amari refugee camp, "knocking down doors, breaking into houses, smashing furniture, and beating residents, including children".
Elsewhere, "an eleven-year-old boy was found throwing a stone and taken to his house, where his father was ordered to beat him. The father slapped him but the officer screamed "Is this a beating? Beat him! Beat him!" The tension mounted and the father "became hysterical," starting to beat the child brutally, knocking him on the floor and kicking him in the ribs as hard as he could.....according to UNRWA relief workers and doctors at clinics, the victims of the sharp increase in brutal beatings were mostly "men [sic] aged 15 to 30," but the clinics had "also treated 24 boys and five girls aged five and younger" in the past weeks, as well as many older children, such as a seven-year-old boy brought to a clinic "with a bleeding kidney, and bearing club marks." Soldiers routinely beat, kick, and club children, according to doctors and relief officials".
Israel often claims that its armed forces adhere to the strictest moral standards and that any wrongdoing is dealt with by due process of the law. The second part of this statement at least is true, after a fashion. Chomsky described one case that was brought to trial, that of a resident of the Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza, beaten to death by the elite Givati Brigade of the IDF (Israel Defence Forces). "After children had thrown stones, twenty soldiers broke into a home and began to beat the father of one of the suspected stonethrowers, Hani al-Shami. He was kicked and beaten with clubs and weapons. Soldiers jumped on him from the bed while he was lying on the floor, his head bleeding from blows with clubs. His wife was also beaten up by soldiers". Al-Shami later died from his injuries. "The courts released the four soldiers charged with the murder while the trial proceeded, as briefly noted without comment in the Jerusalem Post. A soldier testified at the trial that "the humiliation and the beatings were because of the need to pass the time." Another added that al-Shami's protruding belly particularly amused the soldiers and was "a target for the beatings." An officer testified that he had threatened to kill al-Shami because "his groans disturbed me"; "I shouted at him that he should shut up, or I will kill him." He testified further that in the military compound to which al-Shami had been brought after the beatings [rather than a hospital], he had asked a doctor to treat al-Shami, but the doctor had refused, only giving an order to wipe the blood from his face".
"The military court accepted the defense plea, ruling that "there is a basis to the claim that the deceased was beaten up in the military stronghold by soldiers whom to our sorrow the investigation did not succeed in identifying." Furthermore, the fact that the soldiers were detained for eighty-three days brings "a correct balance between the needs of the army and the nature of their innocence and the nature of justice." We are dealing with soldiers who "did their military duty and not with criminals," the court ruled. "Nobody had denied that they had brutally beaten an unarmed Arab inside his own home, that they had broken a club or two over his head in front of his children or jumped on him in their boots," [Israeli journalist] Ziva Yariv commented; but there is no legal liability because these beatings might not have been the actual cause of death "as if there were no law banning the brutal beating of civilians, or the breaking of a club over the body of an innocent man, as if there were no law against vicious attacks or grievous bodily harm."
"The military correspondent of Ha'aretz observed that ......The Givati soldiers, like the members of an elite paratrooper unit tried for rampaging in the Kalandia refugee camp, "did not understand what the fuss is about." They had behaved no differently from soldiers in other units and had been following orders, doing exactly what is expected of them. Brutal beating of prisoners or Arab civilians in their homes or on the streets is simply part of daily life, so they were unjustly tried. Evidently, the Court agreed." In 2005, Givati soldiers were not deployed in the Gaza withdrawal because of the high percentage of religious-nationalist soldiers in its ranks who would sympathise with the settlers, and so could not be trusted with their expulsion.
The brutality of the occupation continued, as did the contempt for Palestinian life shown by the Israeli armed forces. In 1996, Dr Samir Quota, director of research for the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, was quoted in The Journal of Palestine Studies as saying that, "90 percent of children two years old or more have experienced - some many, many times - the [Israeli] army breaking into the home, beating relatives, destroying things. Many were beaten themselves, had bones broken, were shot, tear gassed, or had these things happen to siblings and neighbors".
The brutality rolled on and on inexorably, to the present day, where a 2004 Human Rights Watch report says that in Gaza "IDF positions fire with large caliber machine guns and tanks at civilian areas [shooting which] appears to be largely indiscriminate and in some cases unprovoked. In July 2004, nearly every house on Rafah's southern edge was pockmarked by heavy machine gun, tank, and rocket fire on the side facing the border. Bullet holes were not only clustered around windows or other possible sniper positions, but sprayed over entire sides of buildings. Human Rights Watch researchers also witnessed indiscriminate use of heavy machine gun fire against Palestinian civilian areas in nearby Khan Yunis, without apparent shooting by Palestinians from that area at the time".
Violence against Palestinians has by no means been confined to the soldiers of the IDF. Settlers too have weighed in with their own abuses, actions which have increased sharply since 2000. These include blocking roads in order to disrupt the lives of Palestinians, shooting solar panels on roofs of buildings, torching cars, smashing windowpanes and windshields, destroying crops, uprooting trees and generally abusing the population. Describing these and other exploits of the colonists, Israeli human rights group B'Tselem observed that the intent was often "to force Palestinians to leave their homes and farmland, and thereby enable the settlers to gain control of them".
The idealistic pioneers of the settler movement have been able to conduct themselves in this way safe under the protective wing of the Israeli state. According to B'Tselem, "when Palestinians attack Israelis, the authorities invoke all means at their disposal - including some that are incompatible with international law and constitute gross violations of human rights - to arrest the suspects and bring them to trial. Defendants convicted by military courts can expect harsh sentences. In contrast, when Israeli civilians attack Palestinians, the Israeli authorities employ an undeclared policy of leniency and compromise toward the perpetrators." Furthermore, "by being subject to the Israeli judicial system, settlers enjoy liberties and legal guarantees that are denied Palestinian defendants in the Occupied Territories charged with a similar offense.....different legal systems are applied to two populations residing in the same area, and the nationality of the individual determines the applicable system and court. This situation violates the principle of equality before the law. It is doubtful that any comparable system has existed since the end of apartheid in South Africa".
Amongst the many testimonies of abused Palestinians collected by B'Tselem is that of Raja'a Taysir Muhammad Abu 'Ayesha, age 17, a high school student and resident of Hebron in the West Bank. She describes the experience of growing up under Israeli occupation. "I have no social life. Our house is like a cage. It is completely fenced in, including the entrance. My grandfather set it up that way in 1996 to protect us, after settlers broke all of our windows. Our house looks like an island surrounded by a sea of soldiers, settlers and a violent atmosphere. The settlers have also attacked my school. Almost every day, the settler children block the path for me and my sister, Fida'a, age 14. They throw stones, water and leftover food at us. We try to ignore them as much as possible. I have been injured by stones thrown at me more then once. The last time was when I walked my grandfather's second wife back from the hospital. Two weeks ago during the Jewish holiday of Passover, my uncle Ibrahim, who is six years-old, broke his arm when he fell from a window after settlers threw stones at him."
"The settlers throw stones and leftover food at the house while we are inside, and sometimes at night while we are sleeping. My brothers and I wake up frightened, worried and scared....there is not one family member that hasn't been attacked by settlers - my grandfather, my parents and my siblings. On Friday two weeks ago, they spilled hot tea on my father and my brother Ashraf, on their way back from prayers.....The last time we had a curfew was during Passover while the settlers had a house-warming for the new building. The soldiers entered our house and locked us all in one room from 8 A.M. until 5:30 P.M.. Getting to school is awful as well....on Saturday, 23 April 2005...while leaving the school, dozens of settlers threw stones at us and beat us. More then fifteen students were injured. This was in the presence of many soldiers and cops."
"I feel happiness very rarely. Ashraf won't sleep alone. He only sleeps in my father's bed. Ashraf and the other children in our family do not get to experience the innocence of childhood. We are constantly in the house, looking out of the windows......"
State support remains active and committed. According to Uri Avnery, Israeli author and head of the peace movement Gush Shalom, "In hundreds of demonstrations of peace activists against the establishment of [illegal] settlements, they were faced by soldiers who lobbed tear gas grenades at them and shot rubber-coated bullets, and sometimes live ammunition. When the settlers drove Palestinian villagers from their olive groves, stole their olives and uprooted their trees, the soldiers generally defended the robbers and evicted the robbed".
The "beach paradise" of Gaza
In addition to the broken bones of Palestinian men, women and children, Israeli "closure" policies that date back to the early 1990s, justified on grounds of self defence against Palestinian terrorism, have helped to break the economy of the occupied territories. "The external closure of the Gaza strip effectively cut off what had become since the beginning of the occupation in 1967 a major source of employment for Gazans", according to Human Rights Watch. "The movement of people and goods, as well as access to health care" is severely restricted.
According to the World Bank, "the proximate cause of the Palestinian economic crisis is closure." In Gaza, the poverty rate doubled, whilst unemployment went from seventeen to twenty-nine percent between 1999 and 2003. Nearly half of Palestinians live below the poverty line. In addition, "hospitals suffer regular interruptions in access to clean water, electricity, and basic medical supplies that negatively affect clinical services, sanitation, and the prevalence of infectious disease". In Rafah, 89.6 percent of the population receives some food aid on a regular basis. Many Palestinian families are without running water for several days, whilst the exclusively Jewish settlements enjoy outdoor swimming pools and sprinklers for their lawns.
Meanwhile, an article appears on MSNBC, entitled "Gaza surfers will be forced to find new waves: Pullout means settlers will bid farewell to beach paradise". According to this heartbreaking human interest story "the beach lovers and surfers of Gush Khatif [an exclusive Jewish settlement] are in mourning". It seems that withdrawal will deprive them of the beaches and waves they have grown accustomed to enjoying. One surfer describes the withdrawal as "unbearable, I can’t believe it's happening. I feel let down by my own country, I’m being treated like a stranger suddenly".
Returning to the trivialities of Palestinian living conditions under the occupation that so profited the beach lovers and surfers of Gush Katif: children, as already described, have borne the brunt of the occupation's miseries. Human Rights Watch notes that "according to UNICEF, "the decline in the well-being and quality of life of Palestinian children [in the occupied territories] over the past two years has been rapid and profound...According to CARE, 17.5 percent of children in Gaza are malnourished. Among children between the ages of six months and five years, over thirteen percent in Gaza have moderate to severe acute malnutrition, compared to roughly two percent in a normally nourished population". Opportunities for surfing have also been scarce, not least for the would-be beach lovers of the Rafah refugee camp, whose access to the Mediterranean has been blocked by the Gush Katif settlement bloc that runs along the coast, on top of Gaza’s best water sources.
Human Rights Watch points out that, even after the decolonisation, "The IDF will retain control over Gaza's borders, coastline, and airspace, and will reserve the right to enter Gaza at will.....A World Bank study on the effects of the "disengagement" plan on the Palestinian economy determined that.....If accompanied by a sealing of the borders to labor and trade....the plan "would create worse hardship than is seen today"". In the short term, Palestinian communities living near Jewish settlements in Gaza were to be subject to a month-long Israeli-imposed closure immediately following the withdrawal. "No one should be under the illusion that Gaza will cease to be the world's largest prison camp", warned Paul McCann, former spokesman for the U.N.'s Palestinian refugee agency in Gaza.
Such are the painful sacrifices that both sides must make for peace. For colonisists, the loss of a surfer’s paradise. For the refugees, confinement to “the world's largest prison camp".


Coming up in Part 2: the fraud of Sharon’s “painful sacrifice”, eviction hysteria and the Palestinians’ own experience of an IDF eviction in May 2004.

"Normally we would storm a house killing everyone inside, whereas here we have to storm the house and keep everyone alive," said one [IDF] commander. "It's not an easy job." -
Psychologists on hand for army's nightmare eviction of settlers , Sunday Times, 14 August 2005

Tuesday, August 09, 2005


Two weeks ago, the Telegraph published a list of “10 core values of the British identity” whose adoption, it argued, would help to prevent another terrorist attack. These were not values we might choose to embrace, but “non-negotiable components of our identity”. Among them were “the sovereignty of the crown in parliament” (“the Lords, the Commons and the monarch constitute the supreme authority in the land”), “private property”, “the family”, “history” (“British children inherit … a stupendous series of national achievements”) and “the English-speaking world” (“the atrocities of September 11 2001 were not simply an attack on a foreign nation; they were an attack on the Anglosphere”).

If there is one thing that could make me hate this country, it is the Telegraph and its “non-negotiable components”. I don’t hate Britain, and I am not ashamed of my nationality, but I have no idea why I should love this country more than any other. There are some things I like about it and some things I don’t, and the same goes for everywhere else I’ve visited. To become a patriot is to lie to yourself, to tell yourself that whatever good you might perceive abroad, your own country is, on balance, better than the others. It is impossible to reconcile this with either the evidence of your own eyes or a belief in the equality of humankind.

When confronted with a conflict between the interests of your country and those of another, patriotism, by definition, demands that you choose those of your own. Internationalism, by contrast, means choosing the option that delivers most good or least harm to people, regardless of where they live. It tells us that someone living in Kinshasa is of no less worth than someone living in Kensington, and that a policy which favours the interests of 100 British people at the expense of 101 Congolese is one we should not pursue. Patriotism, if it means anything, tells us we should favour the interests of the 100 British people. How do you reconcile this choice with liberalism? How, for that matter, do you distinguish it from racism?

The world will be a happier and safer place when we stop putting our own countries first.

The New Chauvinism - George Monbiot, 9 August 2005

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Starvation in Niger

More than two million people are facing starvation in Niger. Aid agencies are appealing for donations from the public to head off the disaster. Even before the current emergency, 40% of children were malnourished and the north-west African country had the second highest global mortality rate among children under five. This translates into as many heart-rending individual stories as there are millions of people affected by the crisis.

The BBC's Barnaby Phillips reports: "In one hut we met Saadi, whose two-year-old son Mahaya died last month. Saadi started crying when I asked how it happened. "I knew he was hungry and I had to get him to a clinic," she said. "But we could not find the money for the taxi ride.""

Elsewhere, in The Guardian, we hear that "In the MSF [Médecins Sans Frontières] treatment centre, a three-year-old girl called Aminata is suffering from a grotesque eye condition. Her eyeball is so swollen with fluid that it has popped out of her skull and bulges from her face. The doctors call it a retinal blastoma, the result of an untreated eye infection.

"The thing in her eye started off very small," said Aminata's mother, Nisbou. "I did not have money for hospital, so I treated it with herbs, traditional medicine."

Asked her age, Nisbou, who is probably about 20, replied: "I am 100 years old." She burst out laughing at her own joke, then looked weary again, and tucked her baby's deformed face under a lace shawl.

Oxfam says that families have been feeding their children grass and leaves from trees to keep them alive.

A government official told the BBC: "We have made an appeal since November and told the international community... We did not have any response". United Nations aid official Jan Egeland told the BBC on Wednesday that "Niger is the example of a neglected emergency, where early warnings went unheeded. The world wakes up when we see images on the TV and when we see children dying. We have received more pledges in the past week than we have in six months. But it is too late for some of these children." As of mid-July the UN had received just a third of the $30m it had asked for, Mr Egeland said. "Europeans eat ice cream for $10bn a year and Americans spend $35bn on their pets each year."

By last week, since the initial warnings in November, UK's Department for International Development had committed £3million to the crisis. The International Development Secretary, Hilary Benn contradicted the account UN and Niger government officials had given to the BBC, stating that "It was only really in the middle of May that people really became clear about the scale of the crisis". The £3million committed by the DfID stands in contrast to the £4.9 billion the UK has spent so far on the "war on terror". The U.S. government says it has spent about $13.75 million to help Niger fight hunger this year, 1% of what is estimated to be the eventual cost of constructing the US Embassy in Baghdad. The US spends between $5billion and $8billion per month fighting the war in Iraq; around five hundred times what it has spent on the relief effort for the millions in Niger who continue to face starvation.

But the culpability of the west does not end with the lateness or the woeful inadequacy of its response to the crisis. As The Guardian reported this week, "The starvation in Niger is not the inevitable consequence of poverty, or simply the fault of locusts or drought. It is also the result of a belief that the free market can solve the problems of one of the world's poorest countries." Neo-liberal policies that, as a report from development agency Christian Aid recently revealed, cost sub-Saharan Africa US$272 billion over the past 20 years, were once again bringing the wonders of western capitalism to the backward peoples of the world.
Johanne Sekkenes, the mission head of MSF told The Independent that the current emergency could have been avoided. "This is not a famine, in the Somalian way," she said. "The harvest was bad in 2004 and the millet granaries are empty. Yet there is food on the markets. The trouble is that the price of the food is beyond anyone's reach.
Ms Sekkenes said the International Monetary Fund and the European Union had pressed Niger too hard to implement a structural adjustment programme. "No sooner had the government been re-elected [this year] than it was obliged to introduce 19 per cent VAT on basic foodstuffs. At the same time, as part of the policy, emergency grain reserves were abolished."

According to the Guardian report, "The price of grain has skyrocketed; a 100kg bag of millet, the staple grain, costs around 8,000 to 12,000 West African francs (around £13) last year but now costs more than 22,000 francs (£25). According to Washington-based analysts the Famine Early Warning System Network (Fewsnet), drought and pests have only had a "modest impact" on grain production in Niger.

The last harvest was only 11% below the five-yearly average. Prices have been rising also because traders in Niger have been exporting grain to wealthier neighbouring countries, including Nigeria and Ghana.

Niger, the second-poorest country in the world, relies heavily on donors such as the EU and France, which favour free-market solutions to African poverty. So the Niger government declined to hand out free food to the starving. Instead, it offered millet at subsidised prices. But the poorest could still not afford to buy.

As well as political action to stop western governments forcing disastrous neo-liberal economic policies on the third world, emergency aid is also desperately needed to halt the ongoing crisis. The UK's leading aid agencies have launched a joint appeal to raise millions of pounds for those facing starvation in Niger. The appeal funds will go to relief programmes, including the purchase and distribution of food, animal fodder, seeds and medicines. £10 will buy Rehydration salts for 500 malnourished children. £50 will feed a family of seven for up to two months. £100 will keep 10 milking cows alive for six weeks. Donations to the Disasters Emergency Committee Niger Crisis Appeal can be made at http://www.dec.org.uk/. My understanding is that you can donate here whether or not you are a UK resident. Please do so if you can.

Why do they hate us?

I've posted my article of 22 July, "Ignoring the Intelligence" in a number of forums, and had some interesting exchanges flowing from that. I thought I post one of those here since it covers a recurring theme in political debate: the question of why "they" hate "us". Here's the comment that was posted on my article, and then my response to that comment. The correspondent began by quoting two paragraphs from my original article...


comment at 02 Aug 2005 02:48:04 PM

A recent study of suicide terrorist attacks conducted by Professor Robert Pape and the University of Chicago's Project on Suicide Terrorism came to the same conclusion. According to Pape, "what nearly all suicide terrorist attacks have in common is a specific secular and strategic goal: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists consider to be their homeland. Religion is rarely the root cause, although it is often used as a tool by terrorist organizations in recruiting and in other efforts in service of the broader strategic objective."

”In an article praising the study, Michael Scheuer said that Pape "demolishes the relentlessly repeated assertion ....... that Islamist suicide attacks against America and other counties are launched by .....apocalyptic fanatics who are eager to kill themselves because [we] vote, have civil liberties, and allow women to drive cars. This assertion always has been transparently false....".

The text highlights two contrasting views. However, are they really so contrasting? The following paragraph partially combines the two apparently contrasting views into a synergy:

Pape's conclusion is that "The root cause of suicide terrorism is foreign occupation and the threat that foreign military presence poses to the local community's way of life. Hence, any policy that seeks to conquer Muslim societies in order, deliberately, to transform their culture is folly". Scheuer notes that "this reality, [as] Pape recognizes, will require changes in America's relations with the Persian Gulf states, getting our military out of Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula, and the implementation of an energy policy that makes Arab oil production substantially less important to our economy."

Are these two views really that different?

I am a firm believer in the power of social mores and customs. I believe that Thomas Friedman was onto something in his book “The Lexus and the Olive Tree”. I believe in the concept of a thermidorian reaction whenever a society changes faster than the social mores allow. The liberal 1960’s in the US were followed by 25 years of often conservation, or neo-con, Republican presidents, and 12 years of conservation Democrat presidents. The bizarre situation in Iran in the 1960’s and 1970’s, in which a minority of the population was very European and 20th century and the majority was still in a somewhat different time and place, was naturally followed by the “Islamic Revolution”. Chile’s Allende regime (a president elected with 37% of the vote; the other 2 major parties split the remainder) was naturally followed by Pinochet. [Diarist] contends that the US was involved in this but it seems to have been an, almost, inevitable response to the changes Allende tried to institute.

So, in my above quoted paragraphs, I believe that both schools of thought have elements of the truth. Yes, the terrorists want us out of the holy lands, but it is not because of some simplistic resentment of the US flag or foreign military, it is probably more likely a response to all of the cultural things that those things represent or bring with them. They want us out because they want a return to a society free from the 21st century ideas brought in not just by foreign militaries but also by the UN, NGOs, European customs, global groups for women’s rights, children’s rights, etc.

So, if this idea has some truth to it, the problem will not be solved simply by removal of foreign military from the holy lands. There will remain a whole slew of other instruments imposing beliefs contrary to traditional Moslem society. So there will probably continue to be terrorist attacks in countries associated with the NGOs or UN groups, unless we really want to abandon these countries to Wasabism or sharia, or whatever.

The Blair/Bush doctrine is that we can deal with the reactionary forces now and not condemn a generation or 2 or 3 of Arabs/Moslems to fundamentalism. And that the democratic process can help temper the thermidorian reaction. The democratic process will ease the transition to a seemingly inevitable global society. I disagree with [Diarist]’s notion that we are trying to conquer Muslim societies. But if we are, we are wrong.

And the above 2 paragraphs are probably optimistic. Wouldn’t fundamentalist forces want to move beyond just kicking out European influence? Would not the next step be to transform Europe and elsewhere into a more Moslem oriented society?


my response at 03 Aug 2005 07:30:28 AM

thanks for your comments. In my view your assessment rests on a fundamental misunderstanding of the US role in the Middle East and so extends into a serious misrepresentation of antipathy towards the US in that region.

In the 1950s President Eisenhower asked the US National Security Council to look into what he described as a "campaign of hatred against us" in the Middle East. The question he wanted his highest security and foreign policy experts to answer for him was the same one many people ask today: why is there such opposition to the US within that region of the world? The answer the NSC gave him was that the people of the Middle East regarded the US primarily not as a bringer of modernity but as a hostile power that backed the tyrannies oppressing them and denying them their fundamental rights. They believed that the US did this because it wanted the material wealth of the Middle East to be used for its own interests and those of its client regimes, not for the benefit of the ordinary people of the region. The NSC went on to advise Eisenhower that it would be difficult to counter this view of US policy, mainly because it was accurate.

What is not accurate, by contrast and to say the least, is your representation of US influence within the region as being a natural force of progressive modernity. A bringer of human rights, democracy and so forth to the backward races of the Middle East, who then, in their backwardness, resist a force that we know to be benign and progressive but is to them a threat to the primitive culture they cling to. This view only holds so long as the facts are not allowed to intrude.

One example is the fact that the US has backed and continues to back the most repressive regimes in the region; Egypt and Saudi Arabia for instance, whose vicious, torturing internal security forces receive direct assistance from the US.

Another example is Saddam; backed by the US whilst he committed all his worst atrocities.

Another example is Israel, a nation kept on life support by the US, which continues to kill far more innocent Palestinians than terrorists kill Israelis. A nation which continues to keep the Palestinians in miserable deprivation, which continued to build settlements throughout the life of the Oslo accords and then claimed it had no serious "partner for peace". A nation that has stolen land with impunity, ignoring international law even as Iraq was expelled from Kuwait apparently because "aggression" could not be rewarded.

Placing Iran within the 'Islam versus Modernity' paradigm drags this reading of the situation down to new depths. Some basic facts are worth noting, namely the US and the UK's role fifty years ago in toppling Iran's parliamentary government and installing the dictatorship of the Shah. Tehran had upset the British by nationalising its oil industry, having taken the view that Iran, not the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (later BP) should be the primary beneficiary of its reserves. Winston Churchill's British government continued covert operations begun by the previous Labour administration to organise a coup with the help of the CIA in 1953. The new US/UK friendly administration was savage in the extreme. Amnesty International reported in 1976 that under the Shah, Iran had the "highest rate of death penalties in the world, no valid system of civilian courts and a history of torture" which was "beyond belief". In Iran "the entire population was subjected to a constant, all-pervasive terror".

There is therefore a more accurate reading of the 1979 revolution to the one you put forward. You invoke a confused backward majority, in "a different time and place" to the westernised minority, who, as is natural for such simple beasts, rose up against the onward march of history. What is somewhat more plausible is that Iranians overthrew the Shah because they had been "subjected to a constant, all-pervasive terror" from a regime backed to the hilt by the freedom-loving west. Its was only after a widespread popular uprising against the western backed tyrant who destroyed their democracy that the new Iran fell into the hands of the new clerical tyrants. What's certain is that if the west had never imposed its will on Iran in the first place there's every chance that it might have been a relatively liberal democracy over the last fifty years.

You describe "some simplistic resentment of the US flag or foreign military". Given the US record in the region, of consistent and enthusiastic backing for tyranny, its hard to see what your justification for the use of the word 'simplistic' might be. What's simplistic is the idea that people in the Middle East are reacting against the "cultural things that [the US flag or foreign military] represent or bring with them". Are you referring to the million Iraqis killed by US/UK sanctions; including children under-five who were dying at the rate of 4,000 a month (a 9/11 every three weeks just for Iraqi infants)? Are you referring to the Iraqi deaths in the current war, probably far in excess of the best estimate so far; 100,000? Are you referring to the devastation brought to Iraq by the US invasion, where two years on sewage flows in nearly half the streets? Are you referring to the sexual torture meted out to Iraqi prisoners (most of whom were innocent of any crime) by the US forces? Don't Iraqis, Arabs, Muslims and people throughout the world have far more reason for anger at US interference in their affairs than some vague suspicion of modernity?

You may be right to say that fundamentalists might want to "move beyond just kicking out European influence [were they to succeed, and move to] transform Europe and elsewhere into a more Moslem oriented society..". However, the point is that if they were unable to draw upon the deep well of legitimate grievances against US criminality within the region they would end up simply as lonely extremists like Timothy McVeigh or the UK's David Copeland. One of the principle points of my article, (backed up by the UK's MI5, MI6, GCHQ, the Home and Foreign Offices, CIA veterans and eminent independent experts) is that adding to that list of legitimate grievances only plays into the hands of extremists. Treating the Middle East fairly - and consistently with what you say are our values - would not only be right in itself, but would also isolate the fanatics by denying them propaganda material. Whatever expansionist fantasies they still held would therefore be superfluous.

The NSC's conclusions of fifty years ago still hold true today, in my view. As poll after poll has shown, not just in the Middle East but throughout the world, widespread antipathy towards the US government goes hand in hand with admiration, even love for US popular culture. Billions enjoy Hollywood movies, popular music, US literature, but despise the policies of successive US governments; policies which run in direct contradiction to the stated goals of freedom, democracy etc.

Understanding the realities of what people in the Middle East have suffered at the hands of western governments is now essential, in terms of living up to our own moral responsibilities and of combating the terrorism of others. The phrase "Wasabism or sharia, or whatever" used in your comment (you mean Wahhabism, presumably) doesn't inspire much confidence in your willingness to understand these realities. Superficial assessments based on cultural chauvinism and a caricatured picture of a modern west versus a backward orient only serve to obscure the realities we need to understand in order to break the vicious cycle of western oppression and violence on the one hand, and terrorist violence on the other.