Friday, June 18, 2004

 

Remember Afghanistan?

Yeah, that was our success story. Well, in that there was actually probably a reason we went to war there. Now, though, things aren't going so well. Latest from the New York Time: "Rebels Capture Afghan Provincial Capital." Bottom line is that the central government has very little control, the rest of the country is divided up between war lords who maintain personal armies and fight each other when it suits their interests. And as for upcoming September elections, the groundwork for that hasn't been perfectly laid either.
The United Nations said it had pulled election workers out of Chagcharan during Thursday's fighting in another setback to its attempts to register voters.

Farther south, U.N. registration teams have yet to venture into many remote areas for fear of Taliban attacks.
Is this the plan for Iraq after they get their sovereignty? I'm not sure - a large part of the reason this Afghanistan stuff goes unnoticed in the US is precisely because of the war in Iraq. Still, it seems the only time Afghanistan gets any airtime in the news is when a professional football player dies there. And if there were a CNN poll today, probably 70% of the people would say he died in Iraq.

 

Chaos in the Caucasus

Nick Paton Walsh of the Guardian writes about the growing violence in Ingushetia, including the disappearance of Rashid Ozdoyev, a senior aide to the state prosecutor of Ingushetia who was charged with investigating abuses by Russian forces. And who is responsible for the disappearance (and much of the violence)? Why, purportedly, the Russian federal security service (FSB). One has to feel sympathy for Ozdoyev's father, who believes so strongly that justice rules at the highest levels of Russian government. "If Putin or even someone near him heard about this then they would definitely get my son back to me," he says. "I think he is alive. At least, I wish that to be so." If Vladimir Putin's record is consistent on one thing, it's that power trumps justice on his priorities list. This has been clear in the case of Chechnya and now it's spilling over the border.
Ingushetia was the safe haven to which Chechen refugees fled during a decade of violence. Yet in the last few months at least 40 people have been abducted, mostly taken from their homes by "masked men in camouflage", a description reminiscent of the brutal conduct of Russian troops in Chechnya.

The human rights group Memorial calculates that the rate of abductions here, relative to the population, is higher than its troubled neighbour's.
And how is this justified? Stop me if you've heard this one before:
Russian hardliners say terrorists are operating freely in Ingushetia. Yet some analysts say these claims are fuelled by their need to justify maintaining troop numbers there.

A law enforcement official said: "The military want to merge Ingushetia and Chechnya into one region. This is easier for them, and will create further instability. War means money to these people."
And so the world reaps the harvest of Bush's "war on terrorism." As long as Putin can pull a few of these out of his hat when it counts, Bush & co. will allow him a free hand in the Caucasus.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

 

The nuances of Israeli politics

For all it's problems, in some ways I really love Israel. Evidence from the Guardian's Israeli Press Review:
The very identity of Israel was under threat this week, argued Michael Freund in the Jerusalem Post, though not from Mr Sharon. Monday's high court ruling that the sale of pork should be allowed in Israel was "assaulting one of the most emotive symbols of Jewish faith and martyrdom. Don't be fooled by assertions that this is all about individual rights and personal freedoms. That is just a convenient cover for what is really at stake here, which is nothing less than an all-out assault on the Jewish character of the state."
It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "opponents of government pork".

 

Paintball Jihad

Sentences came down yesterday for three of the men involved in the "Virginia jihad network" - life in prison for one, 85 years for another, and 8 years for the third. Man, if these guys had actually fought with the Taliban against the US they'd be better off; John Walker Lindh only got 20 years. Oh wait, he was white and his name was John Walker (not Masoud Khan, Seifullah Chapman, or Hammad Abdur-Raheem).
U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema said the sentences were "draconian," but she had no choice but to impose them under federal law.

"We have murderers who get far less time," she said. "I've sent al-Qaeda members planning attacks on these shores to less time. This is sticking in my craw. Law and justice at times need to be in tune."

Chapman's attorney, John Zwerling, called the sentence "the greatest miscarriage of justice of any case I've been involved in" in 34 years of practice.
Honestly, to me the craziest part is that Abdur-Raheem got 8 years though he "never traveled to Pakistan but was convicted for his role training other conspirators in military tactics in 2000 and 2001 in paintball games." I'm sorry, but this is too weird for me.

On a more positive note, I saw the documentary film "Control Room" last night, which was absolutely fantastic. From the Washington Post:
The unlikely stars of Noujaim's film are now adapting to life with celebrity. Ibrahim has been recognized in a restaurant in Manhattan. Khader, when told that his remarks have been singled out by critics as among the movie's high points, responds in kind: "When somebody tells you that you are famous in the Arab world, you say, 'Where do I cash it?' " And Rushing has been silenced by the Marine Corps, which says he has been reassigned and won't be allowed to take questions about his role in "Control Room."

His wife, Paige Rushing, says that he is angry and disappointed and that after 14 years in the corps, he is now planning to leave. Of all the characters in Noujaim's film, he was the one who evolved and grew most, never wavering in his basic views but willing to listen.

"He feels he has something of consequence to say," says Paige Rushing. "This was a personal experience for him, and he feels that his opinion is relevant. He would love to share it." The Marine Corps says only that he is no longer working for CentCom and will not be allowed to speak.

Rushing's candor in the film led him to say things that may be deemed controversial, including a comparison of Fox News and al-Jazeera as simply two viewpoints at opposite ends of the same spectrum. What he does after the Marines is open, but, in the film, he said he might look into another controversial subject, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

"I don't think Americans are getting good information about it," he said. "I really don't."
As you can see, it's not shocking that Rushing was silenced by the Marine Corps, just disappointing.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

 

Barghouti vs. bin Laden

Marwan Bishara compares Marwan Barghouti and Osama bin Laden, illustrating just how the "war on terrorism" (as waged by the Bush and Sharon governments in the US and Israel) is self-defeating if it cannot determine the difference between the Barghoutis and the bin Ladens. On understanding this difference Bishara writes:
This is particularly important in a region of turmoil where a true opposition to fanaticism and tyranny will not come from local idealists or pacifist businessmen residing in Western capitals, but from courageous and active Arab leaders like Barghouti with a track record of sacrifice in the defense of human and national rights.
Disempowering Barghouti and his ilk effectively empowers the bin Ladens of the world. When Barghouti is imprisoned and bin Laden roams free, the message is simple: crime pays (to put it in simple American language).
Squeezed between the dictatorship of the regimes that govern them and the aggressive interference of foreign powers, a new generation is polarized between Barghouti's struggle for freedom and bin Laden's suicidal jihad of destruction. But today, while bin Laden inflames the Arab world's impoverished and unemployed youth with hatred, Israel has decided to quell Barghouti's cry for freedom.

The Middle East - and the rest of the world - would be a much better place if Barghouti's dream of justice could overcome the bin Laden nightmare. Barghouti's vision of Palestinian-Jewish coexistence and his secular agenda for building democracy could undermine the violent fanaticism in the region.
This seems to be a more pragmatic plan for fostering democracy in the Middle East than invading and occupying Iraq (and could hardly be less successful).

 

Prison Tactics

An excellent article in the Washington Post (how often do you get to say that, eh?) about Israeli interrogation techniques. Plenty of annecdotes (some pretty brutal stuff) of Palestinian prisoners being abused, but those aren't the parallels that frighten me the most. The scariest parallels are the societal standards - like the US, Israel officially rejects torture as an interrogation method. A September 1999 Israeli Supreme Court ruling banned all forms of physical abuse. But that doesn't mean that it doesn't happen:
"The latest report by the committee against torture, covering the period from September 2001 to April 2003, alleged that detainees faced a new regime of sleep deprivation, shackling, slapping, hitting and kicking; exposure to extreme cold and heat; threats, curses and insults; and prolonged detention in subhuman conditions.

"Torture in Israel has once more become routine, carried out in an orderly and institutional fashion," concluded the report, which was based on 80 affidavits and court cases.
The court ruling is sidelined by the government - given lip service but essentially ignored. And the government lapse is ignored by the Israeli citizens (A 1996 poll commissioned by the human rights group Btselem found that 73 percent of Israelis condoned the use of force, and given the violence of the second intifada that number probably has not declined).
What is most striking, the [government] lawyer added, is how united the Israeli public is on the subject. "For most people it's not the central story here," he said. "It's not even one of the top ten questions I get asked about the Supreme Court."
This really is a bottom up issue. There is strong evidence that much of the US population feels that some coercive methods of interrogation are reasonable (especially in the "ticking bomb" situation). The more terrorism is seen as a real threat to the US (or US citizens in Iraq or elsewhere), the more the US public's acceptance of torture will approach Israel's. How and when torture is used is not determined by the law (especially given the flexible interpretation of it by certain administration figures), but by how the public reacts.
[Anan] Labadeh [a handicapped Palestinian abused by Israeli interrogators] said abuses like those that took place in Abu Ghraib or in Hawara were inevitable when people were subjected to military occupation. That is why the photos from Abu Ghraib did not shock or surprise him.

"In the end, when you put a person in jail because of political reasons and you give someone power over him, you can expect to see such films," he said. "The camera is always rolling."
Yes, the camera is always rolling, the question is whether the public (US or otherwise) will react, how much they will accept, or whether they even care to see the film.

 

Moron

Apparently Rush Limbaugh doesn't think that AIDS has "made that jump to the heterosexual community" - except in Africa where promiscuity is the issue. What a complete and utter moron. How utterly ignorant (not to mention homophobic and racist). Argh, my blood is boiling.

 

The occupier is not convinced

A bleak view of things as they are and things to come in the West Bank from Amira Hass.
The geographic, physical and economic isolation will exacerbate the process whereby each Palestinian unit - each family, each village, each region - is compelled to cope alone with immediate existential challenges: food and other necessities, caring for the children and the elderly, medicine and education, whose quality has deteriorated because of the isolation. The increasingly narrow horizons of the space that people inhabit will reduce their expectations of life. Anyone who can - members of the middle class - will leave. The majority will remain, but the basic necessities of existence will steal all their time and energy. Emotionally, people will rebel. In practice, they will behave as if they have adjusted. And there is no sign of any national Palestinian leadership on the horizon that will be capable, under conditions of internal isolation, of doing what it could not do under less difficult circumstances.
Furthermore, Hass underscores the impotence of non-violent protest under the current circumstances. To all those who ask why the Palestinians don't take a page from Martin Luther King, Jr. or Gandhi (don't they realize that the suicide bombings are hurting their cause?), Hass's analysis gives a chilling understanding of the situation.
Before the Palestinians turned to the use of firearms, in the current round of bloodshed, they tried the weapon of mass protest. From time to time, they try to return to this weapon - primarily along the separation fence. But the Israel Defense Forces prove to them time and time again that mass protests will result in deaths, injuries and arrests. And most of the Israeli public proves that the mass protest message does not reach them.
The damage that the occupation has done to Palestinian society and community cannot be underappreciated. Like I said, bleak.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

 

a Zionist's loving heart

I've been meaning to write on Jeffrey Goldberg's New Yorker article Among the Settlers for several weeks now, and finally, given two op-eds regarding the Goldberg article that I've come across in the past two days, I now have the impetus to do so. Let me first say that Goldberg's article was at the same time satisfying and unsatisfying to read. It really exposed the mania and extremism of some of the Israeli settlers in a way that I have never seen in a widely read mainstream publication like The New Yorker. On the other hand, it also manages to maintain an undeniable pro-Israel bias. Even in an article about the settlers, much time is spent profiling Hamas leaders, blaming Yasser Arafat for the end of the peace process, and criticizing Palestinian society as a culture which breeds terrorists. This must be what Richard Cohen means when he writes in his Washington Post op-ed today, "Goldberg has written a good article about some ugly facts -- and done so with a reporter's keen eye, but also with a Zionist's loving heart." Cohen, at least, openly states his pro-Israel position. "But the issue for me is not what is good for the Palestinians -- I wish them a state of their own and also all the happiness in the world -- but what is good for Israel," Cohen writes, and then goes on to play down the extremism that Goldberg was honest enough to expose in his article. Of the settlers, Cohen writes:
Some of what the Jewish settlers told Goldberg is disturbing. Many of them have a contemptuous, virtually racist, view of their Arab neighbors. They are wedded to the literal word of the Bible while much of Judaism is not, and while they by no means share the Islamic radicals' yen for martyrdom -- and they do not approve of the killing of innocents -- they are quite willing to die for their beliefs. Okay.
First of all, many of them do not have a virtually racist view of their Arab neighbors. There is nothing virtual about it. They have racist views. Second of all, some of them definitely approve of the killing of innocents (not innocents in their world view, where standing in the way of Jewish reclamation of Biblical lands precludes the Palestinians from innocence, but innocents in the rest of the world's eyes). Allow me to quote some passages from Goldberg's article that Cohen maybe skimmed over.
Across from Hadassah House is a school for Arab girls, called Córdoba, after the once-Muslim Spanish city. On one of its doors someone had drawn a blue Star of David. On another door a yellowing bumper sticker read, “Dr. Goldstein Cures the Ills of Israel.” The reference is to Baruch Goldstein, a physician from Brooklyn, who, in 1994, killed twenty-nine Muslims when they were praying in the Tomb of the Patriarchs, just down the road. Across the closed door of a Palestinian shop someone had written, in English, “Arabs Are Sand Niggers.”
...
The Cohen house is cramped and dark, and there are few toys. On one wall hangs a framed photograph of Meir Kahane, the zealot rabbi from Brooklyn, who advocated the expulsion of all Arabs from Israel. Behind a stone pillar hangs a photograph of Baruch Goldstein, with the inscription “The Saint Dr. Goldstein.”
...
I told him [Rabbi Moshe Levinger] that the police seemed uneasy about his presence in the tomb, and I asked whether they were worried that he would lash out at the Palestinians.

“The Arabs know to behave like good boys around us,” he said.
...
In 1988, Levinger killed a Palestinian shoe-store owner in Hebron. Levinger told the police that he was defending himself from a group of stone throwers. He served thirteen weeks in an Israeli jail for the killing. He told me once, “I’m not happy when any living creature dies—an Arab, a fly, a donkey.”
...
Moshe Feiglin, a Likud activist who lives in a West Bank settlement and heads the Jewish Leadership bloc within the Party—he controls nearly a hundred and fifty of the Likud central committee’s three thousand members—believes that the Bible, interpreted literally, should form the basis of Israel’s legal system. “Why should non-Jews have a say in the policy of a Jewish state?” Feiglin said to me. “For two thousand years, Jews dreamed of a Jewish state, not a democratic state. Democracy should serve the values of the state, not destroy them.” In any case, Feiglin said, “You can’t teach a monkey to speak and you can’t teach an Arab to be democratic. You’re dealing with a culture of thieves and robbers. Muhammad, their prophet, was a robber and a killer and a liar. The Arab destroys everything he touches.”
...
I asked who was destroying the olive trees. The destruction of fruit-giving trees, even those belonging to an enemy, is considered a grave sin in Judaism. But the only subject that concerned [Yehuda] Liebman was Joseph’s Tomb.

“What is an olive tree compared to the burial place of Joseph, the son of Jacob?” he said.

To the farmer who supports his family with the tree, I said, the tree is important.

“But the farmer is an Arab,” Liebman replied. “He shouldn’t be here at all. All this land is Jewish land. It is meant for the Jews by God Himself.”
...
As we drove, [Moshe] Saperstein pointed to the spot on the road where the attack had taken place. “Here’s where I tried to run over the peace-loving Muslim,” he said. Sometimes, he told me, he gets the feeling that “Ahmed is trying to kill me.” Saperstein refers to Arabs generically as “Ahmed.”

Just before we reached the fortified entrance to the Gush Katif bloc, we passed the ramshackle Bedouin village of Muwassi. “They like to live like pigs in shit,” Saperstein said. I disagreed, vehemently, and he said, “I’m sorry, that’s politically incorrect. ‘They have a different cultural aesthetic.’ Is that what I’m supposed to say?”
Virtually racist? Virtually? Are you kidding me? And not approving of the killing of innocents? Only the veneration of Baruch Goldstein, who killed 29 praying Muslims. Fortunately, Goldberg is a much better journalist than Cohen. Still, that doesn't mean that I find his arguments all that persuasive. Despite his concern over the settlements, Goldberg fundamentally blames the Palestinians for their own situation, holds Arafat responsible for the lack of peace, and derides the efforts of the pro-peace Israeli left. Some parts of these arguments are deconstructed effectively by Zachary Wales in an op-ed on electronicintifada.net. Wales writes:
But the critical failures of Goldberg’s work stem from two areas: His attempts to legitimize Zionism, an ethnically exclusive colonial project, as a liberal idea; and his omission of the Palestinian right of return, which, according to the vast majority of Palestinians, is the reason there is no peace.
Wales points to the expulsion of nearly 800,000 Palestinians during the 1948 war, and to documented massacres of Palestinian villagers. "Unless population transfer and genocide are the building blocks of liberal society," Wales writes, "Goldberg’s historical premise for sanctifying Zionism is existential at best." A bit dramatic, but the point remains. He goes on:
This rhetorical blunder could not stand on its own without the help of selective fact-checking. Throughout the piece, Goldberg frequently refers to Israel as a Jewish democracy, and states that “Arabs and Jews living inside Israel’s borders are judged by the same set of laws in the same courtrooms.” Goldberg’s careful semantics may be accurate, but his case for liberal democracy is promiscuous.
Wales goes on to enumerate the many discriminatory measures taken against Arabs within Israel, eloquently concluding, "By eliminating the legitimate and empirical arguments against Zionism, Goldberg leaves his readers with few moral conclusions." Indeed, despite inserting himself in the role of defender of the Palestinians against the Jewish zealots of the settlements, a closer reading of Goldberg's article shows evidence of a certain lack of sympathy for the suffering of Palestinians. Before quoting Michael Tarazi's assertion that the settlements highlight the apartheid nature of Israel's occupation, Goldberg writes, "The most farsighted among the Palestinians now understand that settlements are good for their cause." A useful example of discriminatory policy and disregard for international law? Yes. "Good for their cause"? Maybe not "good" in so simple a way as that, seeing as how they directly, and negatively, impact the ability of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza to go about their daily lives.
Near the end of the piece, Goldberg interviews Menachem Froman, a rabbi who lives in Tekoa, one of the illegal settlements in the West Bank. Froman believes that the West Bank should become Palestine, and that he would gladly become a Palestinian citizen if it did. He says: "I’m a realist. I accept reality. I’m not talking about utopia. I accept what I see. There is a Tekoa and a Tuqua." And Goldberg’s editorialized rebuttal: “Froman is naïve to believe that the Palestinians would accept [him].”
In doing so Goldberg not only damns the pro-peace Israeli left as "naive", but also the entire Palestinian population as intolerant Jew-haters (reinforced by his interviews with Sheik Ahmed Yassin and Dr. Abdel Aziz Rantisi of Hamas). Nowhere in the article does Goldberg give a Palestinian peacenik even the short shrift he gives Menachem Froman. For me, even as the article succeeds in exposing the settlements for what they are (a menace II society, whether Israeli or Palestinian), it fails in forcing the settlement issue into Goldberg's rigid framework of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

(My apologies for such a long post, I hope a few people made it all the way through.)

Monday, June 14, 2004

 

Lakhdar Brahimi Resigns

How is the resignation of Lakhdar Brahimi from his position of UN special envoy to Iraq not getting more play in the media? I've not found even a mention in the Washington Post, New York Times, Guardian, or anywhere else. Hmmm....

 

Slow but Steady

Many thanks to The Mushroom Treatment for linking to this article in Ha'aretz, which otherwise I would not have found. In it, Gadi Algazi and Azmi Bdeir of the Ta'ayush Arab Jewish Partnership movement describe the abandonment of Khirbet Yanun, an Arab village in the West Bank. As the conditions imposed by the Israeli occupation forces and the neighboring settlers become unbearable, villagers and families are leaving Khirbet Yanun. Algazi and Bdeir write:
[T]ransfer isn't necessarily a dramatic moment, a moment when people are expelled and flee their towns or villages. It is not necessarily a planned and well-organized move with buses and trucks loaded with people, such as happened in Qalqilyah in 1967. Transfer is a deeper process, a creeping process that is hidden from view. It is not captured on film, is hardly documented, and it is going on right in front of our eyes. Anyone who is waiting for a dramatic moment is liable to miss it as it happens.
And, as if to drive home the point, also in Ha'aretz, "Despite U.S. deal, Israel starts Ariel fence." Israel has begun preparations for construction the segment of its separation wall east of the Ariel settlement in the West Bank. "This land appropriation move is at variance with the U.S. government's understanding that such steps would not be taken in the foreseeable future, and that the separation fence project in these West Bank areas would be deferred." Once again, of course, the US may issue a statement, but will take no action. They wouldn't want to undermine Sharon's position while the Gaza withdrawal is on the agenda. Indeed, "the move upholds a promise given by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu which clinched the latter's support for the disengagement plan: Sharon indicated to Netanyahu that the separation fence in the Ariel area would be completed before the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip is finished." This affirms that the Gaza withdrawal has been negotiated (between Bush, Sharon, and Netanyahu, and excluding the Palestinians) as a land swap - Gaza for the West Bank (or parts of it at least). Presented as an historic step forward, the Gaza withdrawal is becoming one step forward, two steps back. And, worst of all, the step forward is conditional on (but not guaranteed upon) the steps back.

And just to prove that I'm not an eternal pessimist, here's some good news: IDF removing 40 West Bank obstacles; Al-Aqsa leader 'ready to down arms'

 

Above the Law

An article by Edward Cody in today's Washington Post exposes US pressure on Ayad Allawi to give US contractors immunity from Iraqi rule of law. "If accepted by Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, it would put the highly visible U.S. foreign contractors into a special legal category, not subject to military justice and beyond the reach of Iraq's justice system." Great! It's bad enough that US troops are outside the bounds of Iraqi law, but at least they are accountable to the US military (and, really, it's to be expected). But civilian contractors - this is ridiculous. And to think, the Iraqis aren't welcoming this, especially given recent events:
The question of the contractors' status also has arisen because of two U.S. contract employees at Abu Ghraib prison who were accused in a Pentagon report of participating in illegal abuse of Iraqi prisoners. The two -- Steven Stephanowicz of CACI International, an Arlington-based defense firm, and John B. Israel of the Titan Corp. of San Diego -- have not been charged with any crimes in Iraq or the United States, although some of their Army colleagues face military tribunals.
Of course, it's not really an issue as long as the US military stays in Iraq. As one civilian official in the US occupation authority is quoted: "Are some Iraqi security people going to move in and arrest our cooks and bottle washers?" he said. "I don't think so." I can't even begin to describe how angry I get reading that. First off, the arrogance simply drips off the page (or computer screen, I suppose). Who would guess that this kind of attitude breeds resentment among Iraqis? Second, to pretend that US contractors are simply cooks and bottle washers is misleading. CACI International, Titan Corp., and Blackwater are not providing cooks and bottle washers. They are providing "security" personnel to do what are essentially military jobs. The US should be encouraging, not undermining, accountability, law and order, and the legitimacy and power of the Iraqi government.

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