Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Jewish Democratic State

The American political scientist Norman Finkelstein, author of this superb book on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has been deported from Israel during a visit there and banned from re-entering for ten years.

Israel does not appear to be making any attempt to justify this, other than some half-heartedly mumbled insinuation that Finkelstein has links with Hezbollah ...er ...or Al-Qaeda ... or something. The fact that those two groups actively hate each other shows how little effort Israel is making to formulate a cover story. And incidentally, Finkelstein is scornful of those few Western lefties who, from a comfortable position thousands of miles away, profess some meaningless "support for the resistance" (you can watch him express that scorn about halfway through this video). All this strongly indicates that Finkelstein was summarily declared persona non grata because of his political views, not an invented allegience with terrorists*. Let us then recall what those views are.

Finkelstein's dangerously radical position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is this: that Israel should comply with international law, giving back the land it has illegally expropriated from the Palestinians and withdrawing to its legal 1967 borders. In other words, his position is identical to that expressed in 2004 by the International Court of Justice (who perhaps are also terrorist-sympathisers, in Israeli eyes). Clearly such extremisim is beyond the pale in "the Middle East's only democracy".

So, a Jewish, democratic state....except for Jews who disagree too strongly with the state.

How fitting that Israel the outlaw state should ban someone - a Jewish son of holocaust survivors, no less! - from entering the country .... because he urges the government to comply with the law. For the Israeli state, criminality is the law, and standing up for the law is a crime. A crime punishable by banishment.

I was lucky enough to spend a few hours one afternoon earlier this year in a seminar on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which was largely led by Norman Finkelstein. Even in the face the current, disgusting treatment of the inhabitants of Gaza, he expressed optimism for the future. He said that the argument against Israeli colonianlism and in favour of Palestinian rights was being won, and that apolgists for the Israeli state were becoming increasingly desperate. I can't help but think that his shabby treatment by the Israelis supports that view very strongly.

In the long run, Israel's rulers will suffer for this far more than Finkelstein. I doubt that the majority of the world's Jews, who currently choose to live outside of Israel, will be remotely impressed by this crude display of authoritarianism. And what of the young Israelis who are emigrating in ever increasing numbers? When they see a fellow Jew expelled for taking a position that is shared by practically the entire international community bar the US and Israeli governments, do they see the sort of thriving liberal democracy that they'd want to return to live in?

"Aliyah" probably doesn't look like such a mystical, beatific experience when some Jews aren't even allowed to visit the land God promised them because they have the wrong political opinions. How does Israel sustain its mythology on that basis? How does the banishment of Finkelstein fit into the Zionist narrative? Some Jews are more Jewish than others?

*Update 1: According to the Jerusalem Post, "Officials said that the decision to deport Finkelstein was connected to his anti-Zionist opinions and fierce public criticism of Israel around the world". It seems plain that, nonsense about "security" aside, the real reason for the deportation was let slip here.

Update 2: In response to these letters, published in the Guardian yesterday, which were basically attempts to defame Finkelstein, I had a letter published in the paper today, along with others. My letter was edited. The full version read as follows:

"Lorna Fitzsimons (Letters, 29 May) says that Israel did not deport Norman Finkelstein, and ban him from returning for ten years, because of his criticism of its government, but on "legitimate security grounds", because he has met members of Hizbullah. However, according to the Jerusalem Post on 25 May, "[o]fficials said that the decision to deport Finkelstein was connected to his anti-Zionist opinions and fierce public criticism of Israel around the world."

Does Fitzsimons realise how ridiculous she sounds when she tries to portray a 54 year old political scientist as a threat to Israel's security? Perhaps her time might be better spent reflecting on the nature of a purportedly "Jewish and democratic state" that banishes the son of holocaust survivors because it dislikes his political opinions."

There's also a very good editorial on this in the Israeli paper Haaretz.

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Monday, May 26, 2008

Naomi Klein: The Shock Doctrine

I'm only a tenth of the way through Naomi Klein's "The Shock Doctrine", but its already looking like a truly great piece of analysis. I may write more about the book after I've finished reading it, but for now, have a look at this short film which seems to capture the essence of her thesis very well.

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"This is the secret history of the free market. It wasn't born in freedom and democracy. It was born in shock."

More info here.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Time for change

With New Labour's latest huge defeat at the hands of David Cameron's Conservatives, it looks like a change is coming in British politics.


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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Video

Due to Blogger apparently malfunctioning, the videos in the posts below are temporarily unavailable. Rest assured that I will be hurling obscenities at my laptop until the problem has been rectified.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

What's 'appeasement'?

Last week George Bush equated US politicians who are prepared to talk to Iran or Hamas with the politicians of the 1930s who appeased Nazi Germany.


Apparently, to be a neo-conservative/liberal interventionist is to see Hitler re-incarnated every second day of the week (which has got to fray the nerves after a while, surely?). Perhaps a few of the middle-aged, post WWII generation lust for the glory of fighting a "Good War" like the one their parents' generation fought. Perhaps they feel they missed out, which is why they never miss potential opportunities to start a new war. Maybe they fell asleep in the bit of history class which pointed out that war brings hell, not glory. But then again, its never the likes of tough-talking, testosterone-junkies like George W. Bush that do the fighting and the dying anyway.

But put aside the amateur psychology, and the playground fantasy that second tier nations like Iran, and ragtag guerrilla outfits like Hamas, which can be vaporised by the US at the push of a button, bear some comparison with the Nazi superpower that came within inches of dominating the Earth in the early 1940s. What do we actually mean by 'appeasement'?

As you can see in this clip, a lot of the people who throw the term around in politics haven't the first idea of what the appeasement analogy refers to. This right wing radio talk show host is asked repeatedly what it was that Neville Chamberlain did in the 1930s that was wrong: ie. what is this 'appeasement' that he comdemns people for engaging in? He hasn't a clue.

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Chris Matthews puts it succinctly. Appeasement wasn't talking to Hitler; it was giving him half of Czechoslovakia. The problem was not negotiations, but the positions taken, and the outcome. Appeasement in the 1930s was a misguided policy because the calculation that Hitler could be bought off was made in error.

"Appeasement" is the attempt to mollify an aggressive and expansionist power by letting it have some of what it wants (even if that is unjust), in the hope that it might then forget about or modify its greater demands. After 9/11 Tony Blair felt that an aggressive US foreign policy was a new reality that the world was simply going to have to live with. Various insider accounts appear to indicate that he felt he was the man to curb Washington's worst excesses in this regard. Well, if you want an example of appeasement, that would be it. But to be honest, I think this gives too much credit to Blair, who was not the cautionary conscience of Bush-Cheney expansionism but its booster and enabler.

Going back to Chamberlain, it is too easily forgotten that only twenty years before the infamous Munich conference, Europe lay in ruins at the end of World War I. Britain and France lost around one in forty of their populations in the "war to end all wars". The fact that the bulk of the casualties came from men of military age meant that a large part of a crucial section of the population was simply lost to both countries. This catastrophe set the scene for another; the mismanaged attempt to re-order the world economy that led to the global depression of the late twenties and early thirties, which in turn facilitated the rise of fascism. It was an age of disaster-upon-disaster, the like of which had never been seen and probably could not even have been imagined when Chamberlain entered politics at the start of the 20th century.

The tragedy is that the efforts of the "appeasers'" to avoid another bloodbath only ended up precipitating the greatest one of all (so far). But it seems to me that to focus on their failed tactics while ignoring their motives is to ignore the relevant history, that the opprobrium flung in their direction by historical illiterates is perhaps not entirely deserved, and that it will take a bigger man than George W Bush to qualify as a credible critic of men who, however misguided, were working desperately to avert a cataclysm. Those who weild the appeasement analogy, believing that it gives them some claim to the moral high ground, should remember that trying to stop wars is a good deal more honourable a pursuit than trying to start them.

Here's Juan Cole on the "Crock of Appeasement".

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Winter Soldier: US atrocities then and now

Winter Soldier, a documentary comprising veteran's accounts of US conduct in the Vietnam war, has just been released in the UK, 33 years after the last American troops were finally driven from Saigon. The film's relevance to our own era of American warfare is stark and direct. From the Guardian:

"His testimony was shocking, yet he still believed in the war. The year was 1971 and Scott Camil, a marine just back from 20 months in Vietnam, wanted to talk about what he had seen and done there: "My testimony involves burning of villages with civilians in them, the cutting off of ears, cutting off of heads, torturing of prisoners, calling in of artillery on villages for games, corpsmen killing wounded prisoners ... ""

"In agonising, often sickening detail, Camil talked about these things for a long time. David Grubin, whose camera was filming the marine, was stunned. Grubin had come to Detroit, Michigan, to film three days of testimony by soldiers, marines and airmen who had recently returned from south-east Asia and were anxious to speak publicly about war crimes and atrocities they had both witnessed and committed."

"The shattering testimony continued: beheadings, heads on pikes, ears traded for beers, disembowelment, mass rapes, the murder of children for throwing stones at troops, of the elderly, of anyone in the so-called "free-fire zones"."

"Such chastening material proved hard to exhibit, even in those molten times. The event itself snagged a total of three minutes' coverage on the three big networks. The movie couldn't find a major distributor, and the networks refused even to show excerpts. "I remember going to CBS to show them the movie," says Grubin. "I was in the room when they said, 'We can never show this.'"

"After a few arthouse showings in 1972, Winter Soldier simply disappeared. When the movie was rereleased in the US in 2005 - partly in response to attempts, in the 2004 election, to smear John Kerry over his war record - a special screening was held, with the crew and the vets. "We didn't realise that the theatre was also filled with Afghanistan and Iraq vets," says Kopple. "The Iraq guys got up and spoke with the Vietnam vets, and their stories were so similar, the cadences of their voices were exactly the same. It was remarkable.""


"In March this year, Winter Soldier: Afghanistan and Iraq was convened in Silver Spring, Maryland. Much of the testimony, from 200 veterans, offered a chilling echo of its Vietnam forerunner. It was filmed by David Zeiger - who directed Sir! No Sir!, an extraordinary history of insubordination, mutinies and troop rebellions in Vietnam - so it should be in good hands. The only mainstream news outlet that bothered to show up was the Washington Post."

Here are a couple of the Winter Soldier 2008 testimonies; one from a former US marine and one from an Iraqi civilian. You can click here to see more.

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Sixty years of dispossession

Today, Israel celebrates the 60th anniversary of its founding, and I can think of no-one better to mark the occassion than the late, great Edward Said; speaking here ten years ago, on the 50th anniversary.

An excerpt
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"In the United States, celebrations of Israel's fifty years as a state have tried to project an image of the country that went out of fashion since the Palestinian Intifada (1987-92): a pioneering state, full of hope and promise for the survivors of the Nazi Holocaust, a haven of enlightened liberalism in a sea of Arab fanaticism and reaction. On 15 April, for instance, CBS broadcast a two hour prime-time program from Hollywood hosted by Michael Douglas and Kevin Costner, featuring movie stars such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kathy Bates (who recited passages from Golda Meir minus, of course, her most celebrated remark that there were no Palestinians) and Winona Ryder. None of these luminaries are particularly known for their Middle Eastern expertise or enthusiasm, although all of them in one way or another praised Israel's greatness and enduring achievements. There was even time for a cameo appearance by President Bill Clinton, who provided perhaps the least edifying, most atavistic note of the evening by complimenting Israel, "a small oasis," for "making a once barren desert bloom," and for " building a thriving democracy in hostile terrain.""

Ironically enough, no such encomia were intoned on Israeli television, which has been broadcasting a 22-part series, Tkuma, on the country's history. This series has a decidedly more complicated content. Episodes on the l948 War, for instance, made use of archival sources unearthed by the new historians (Benny Morris, Ilan Pappe, Avi Schlaim, Tom Segev, et al) to demonstrate that the indigenous Palestinians were forcibly expelled, their villages destroyed, their land taken, their society eradicated. It was as if Israeli audiences had no need of all the palliatives provided for diasporic and international viewers, who still needed to be told that Israel was a cause for uncomplicated rejoicing and not, as it has been for Palestinians, the cause of a protracted, and still continuing dispossession of the country's indigenous people.


That the American celebration simply omitted any mention of the Palestinians indicated also how remorselessly an ideological mind-set can hold on, despite the facts, despite years of news and headlines, despite an extraordinary, if ultimately unsuccessful, effort to keep effacing Palestinians from the picture of Israel's untroubled sublimity. If they're not mentioned, therefore they don't exist. Even after fifty years of living the Palestinian exile I still find myself astonished at the lengths to which official Israel and its supporters will go to suppress the fact that a half century has gone by without Israeli restitution, recognition, or acknowledgment of Palestinian human rights and without, as the facts undoubtedly show, connecting that suspension of rights to Israel's official policies. Even when there is a vague buried awareness of the facts, as is the case with a front page New York Times story on April 23 by one Ethan Bronner, the Palestinian Nakba is characterized as a semi-fictional event (dutiful inverted commas around the word "catastrophe" for instance) caused by no one in particular. When Bronner quotes an uprooted Palestinian who describes his miseries, the man's testimony is qualified by "for most Israelis, the idea of Mr Shikaki staking claim to victimhood is chilling," a reaction made plausible as Bronner blithely leapfrogs over the man's uprooting and systematic deprivations and immediately tells us how his "rage" (for years the approved word for dealing with Palestinian history) has impelled his sons into joining Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Ergo, Palestinians are violent terrorists, whereas Israel can go on being a "vibrant and democratic regional superpower established on the ashes of Nazi genocide." But not on the ashes of Palestine, an obliteration that lingers on in measures taken by Israel to block Palestinian rights, domestically as well as in territories occupied in l967.


Take land and citizenship for instance. Approximately 750,000 Palestinians were expelled in 1948: they are now more than 4 million. Left behind were 120,000 (now one million) who subsequently became Israelis, a minority constituting about 18 per cent of the state's population, but not fully-fledged citizens in anything more than name. In addition there are now some 2.5 million Palestinians without sovereignty on the West Bank and Gaza. Israel is the only state in the world which is not the state of its actual citizens, but of the whole Jewish people who consequently have rights that non-Jews do not. Without a constitution, Israel is governed by Basic Laws of which one in particular, the Law of Return, makes it possible for any Jew anywhere to emigrate to Israel and become a citizen, at the same time that native-born Palestinians do not have the same right. 93 per cent of the land of the state is characterised as Jewish land, meaning that no non-Jew is allowed to lease, sell or buy it. Before 1948, the Jewish community in Palestine owned a little over 6 per cent of the land. A recent case in which a Palestinian Israeli, Adel Kaadan, wished to buy land but was refused because he was a non-Jew has become something of a cause célèbre in Israel, and has even made it to the Supreme Court which is supposed to but would prefer not to rule on it. Kaadan's lawyer has said that "as a Jew in Israel, I think that if a Jew somewhere else in the world was prohibited from buying state land, public land, owned by the federal government, because they're Jews, I believe there would have been an outcry in Israel." (New York Times, 1 March, l998). This anomaly about Israeli democracy, not well known and rarely cited, is compounded by the fact that, as I said above Israel's land in the first place was owned by Palestinians expelled in l948; since their forced exodus their property was legally turned into Jewish land by The Absentees' Property Law, the Law of the State's Property, and the Land Ordinance (the Acquisition of Land for Public Purposes). Now only Jewish citizens have access to that land, a fact that does not corroborate The Economist's extraordinarily sweeping statement on "Israel at 50" (25 April-1 May l998) that since the state's founding Palestinians "have enjoyed full political rights. "
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Read the rest here.

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Suffer little children

In the week that Israel celebrates its 60th anniversary, spare a thought for some people with rather less cause for celebration: the children terrorised and starved by its government.

"Every once in a while Ibrahim Hawash, 42, calls his wife Noha from his nightshift job to make sure that she has followed the treatment course prescribed by their family doctor for the involuntary urination of their four children, who are in primary school. The doctor says that the four children lost their ability to control urination due to the fear they underwent when Israeli army jets bombed a home near theirs in the Jabalya refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip during the "Warm Winter" military campaign three weeks ago. The four children still remember the terrifying night when they woke frightened up to the sound of a thundering explosion in the area and found that the glass of their home's windows had fallen onto their bed. Hawash, who works in one of the Palestinian security agencies, says that his children refuse to sleep alone, insisting on sleeping in the same room as their parents because they are scared of the night. He adds that he exerted great efforts to convince two of his children to go back to school, for they were afraid that they would be killed in an Israeli bombing operation on their way there, or while at school. Thousands of Palestinian children have experienced what Hawash's four children are undergoing."



"Aish Samour, director of the Psychiatric Hospital in Gaza, says that 30 per cent of Palestinian children under 10 years of age suffer from involuntary urination due to deep-seated fear, and mentions other nervous problems such as nail- biting, nightmares, bodily pains of unknown cause, crying and introversion."

"According to a study conducted by the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, each Palestinian child has been exposed to more than nine shocking events. The study says that 95.6 per cent of children have seen images of the wounded and killed, .... a total of 60 per cent of children have undergone moderate psychological shock..., and 33.3 per cent have undergone major psychological shock. The study notes that 15.6 per cent suffer from minor post-traumatic syndrome disorder, while 62.2 per cent suffer moderately and 20 per cent severely."

"Eyad Al-Sarraj, director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, says that Palestinian children have lost the two most important pillars in their lives: a sense of security that has been lost due to raids, bombings and destruction, and a sense of joy and happiness that is a staple of childhood. He says that when a child sees his father, "impotent and incapable of providing security", the child feels immediately "estranged". He adds that according to data gathered in a study his institution undertook, 45 per cent of children studied said that they had seen occupation soldiers beat their fathers and insult them before their eyes."

"Al-Sarraj points out that matters are made more complicated by the fact that due to the Gaza siege, Palestinian children suffer from a chronic state of malnutrition that affects their intellect. This is reflected in the fact that 15 per cent of Gaza's children suffer from impairments in their intellectual abilities due to malnutrition. He adds that repression and violence accumulated within the lives of Palestinian children affect their creative capacities and push them to resort to extreme acts that reflect the pain and frustration they feel."

Read the whole report, "Gaza's suffering children" by Saleh Al-Naami, here, at Al-Ahram Weekly.

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The terrorism its ok to like

The Israeli government and its supporters often tell us that the difference between Israel and the Palestinian groups is Israel doesn't attack civilians. It takes some talent to say this with a straight face. The fact is that the targeting of ordinary Palestinians - the innocent and the defenceless - is an explicit Israeli policy.

The blockade of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, instituted as collective punishment when the people there voted the wrong way in a free election, and stepped up against the inhabitants of Gaza when Hamas had the temerity to fight off a US-backed coup attempt against the elected government, constitutes, by definition, the deliberate targeting of innocent people.

As Dov Weisglass, an senior Israeli government adviser, described the policy aim at the outset, "the idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet". That's his way of saying - in a jokey, off-hand sort of a way - that the idea is to force Palestinian children into a state of malnutrition.

These news reports show some of the other effects of the I-plan "diet": raw sewage flowing in the streets because there's no electricity to work the treatment plants, cancer patients dying because routine treatments are being denied to them; violence to all intents and purposes, and as targeted at defenceless people as any suicide bombing.

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It takes deep intellectual discipline - an assumption of the West's intrinisc benevolence completely impervious to the facts - to pretend that there is any qualitative difference between the Israeli blockade and outright terrorism.

Recall that the major Palestinian factions have offered Israel peace on the legitimate international borders; those it crossed in the 1967 war when it began the illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories. In the more immediate term, it has also been offered a mutual ceasefire to put an end to the current violence. Israel has rejected all of this, so we need not detain ourselves with the nonsense that it acts only in self-defence. What Israel and its British and American suppoters want is not peace but victory, and if Palestinian kids have to stay on their "diet" until victory is achieved, then so be it.

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