Friday, February 18, 2005


On Home Demolitions, Disengagement, and the Wall: The Israeli PR Machine Clicks On All Cylinders

Yesterday Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz declared that the IDF would stop demolishing homes belonging to suicide bombers and other attackers. Based on the findings of a committee, it was determined that the demolitions did little to deter violence against Israel and, indeed, served only to inflame anger and hostility against it. Furthermore, this does not mean an end to all home demolitions, nor even most of them. Home demolitions justified by the IDF to destroy homes that provide cover for militants, or in efforts to find smuggling tunnels, or to create "security zones" -- none of these were deemed unnecessary or counterproductive.

I think it should have been obvious to anybody with half a brain that the home demolitions never served as a deterent but rather as a form of collective punishment. In the United States, it is never suggested that demolishing the home belonging to the family of a criminal be demolished to deter crime. The mere idea is ludicrous. But to avoid admitting that it used the demolitions as a form of collective punishment, the IDF has now had a committee tell it that it's in its own best interests to halt some of the demolitions. However, places like the LA Times are coming out and hailing the measure as "the latest on a growing list of goodwill gestures by Israel." And so the IDF has it's cake and eats it, too. The demolitions were never collective punishment, they had just outlived their usefulness (according to their own reasoning, which is, of course, what gets reported in the US press). At the same time, though, halting them is reported as a "goodwill gesture."

It speaks to the ability of the Israeli PR machine. Because I think that's what lies at the heart of this announcement. Given that there is a declared "end of hostilities" between the two parties as announced at Sharm al-Sheikh, there should be no need for any home demolitions in the near future. But guess what is coming up on Sunday. A Knesset vote on two things: first is Sharon's Gaza disengagement plan. The second is the route of the wall through the West Bank. The route that is being voted on would incorporate the vast Gush Etzion settlement bloc 12 miles south of Jerusalem and deep within occupied Palestinian territory (to borrow language from the Graham Usher article I'll link to below). As Ha'aretz reported, and I wrote about earlier, Sharon is using the disengagement vote, and its passage in the Knesset, as a means of heading off any criticism (or even attention) regarding the route of the wall. The announcement of the altered demolition policy gives the Israelis a bit of positive momentum heading into the Sunday Knesset vote also.

However, as Graham Usher writes in al-Ahram, Abu Mazin may be able to maintain a relative cease-fire for the moment, but the decision on the route of the wall is going to make his job a whole hell of a lot harder. After detailing the difficulty Abu Mazin faced in trying to hold a relative cease-fire together, the opposition not just from Hamas but from several Palestinian factions and their supporting constituencies in Palestinian society, Usher writes that there is nothing Abu Mazin will be able to do to contend with the sentiment that will arise from the de facto incorporation of large parts of the West Bank into Israel by means of the wall.
The truce may survive these violations. But it is unlikely to survive the cabinet decision. If executed, the wall will not only integrate Gush Etzion into Israeli proper but also six villages with 19,000 Palestinians and large swathes of land belonging to Palestinians in Bethlehem. This is combined with policies that aim to "assert an Israeli hegemony over East Jerusalem in ways that no Israeli government has dared to do in the past", says Israeli lawyer Daniel Seiderman, who represents Palestinian landowners in Bethlehem and East Jerusalem.

These include not only the ongoing construction of the wall at East Jerusalem's northern and southern entrances and of settlements to buttress them but also "unprecedented rates of house demolitions, restrictive zoning plans for Palestinian neighbourhoods and a new permit system" that will deny East Jerusalem Palestinians access to their kin, businesses and lands in Ramallah. The sum effect, says Seiderman, will be to "extricate Palestinian East Jerusalem from its West Bank hinterland".

If this is the future, it is not going to work says the mayor of Qalqiliya, Marouf Zahran, who has seen 83 per cent of the municipality's land become lost or isolated by the wall. It would also sound the death knell for Abbas's leadership, which, as a Fatah member, he supports.

"Abu Mazen's strategy is plain," he says. "In exchange for giving Israel security he expects the US, the European Union and Arab states like Egypt and Jordan to oblige Israel to stop building the wall and withdraw from our land. But it is up to them, and especially America, to deliver that trade. Anything less will be unacceptable to the Palestinians -- and I don't mean only Hamas".
And so Sunday, despite the "goodwill gestures," despite the cease-fire, despite the planned prisoner release (supposedly to get sorted out on Monday, but who knows), despite Abu Mazin, and despite Sharm al-Sheikh, the newfound "peace process" may find itself dead in the water. And, knowing this, the Israeli PR machine has prepared the ground to put the blame squarely and surely once again on the shoulders of the Palestinians.

Thursday, February 17, 2005


Broken Bench, New York, 1962. (Andre Bertesz)

Yesterday I took the day off work to go with my parents to the National Gallery of Art to view the Andre Kertesz exhibit. It was fantastic; if you have the opportunity, it will be on display through May 15. Here and below are four of my favorite pieces from the exhibit.


Fork, Paris, 1928. (Andre Kertesz)


Feeding the Ducks in the Late Afternoon, Tisza Szalka, 1924. (Andre Kertesz)


Meudon, Paris, 1928. (Andre Kertesz)


Robert Fisk on the Harir Assassination

For an English-language audience, there are few people I would trust for information and analysis of the assassination of Rafik Hariri more than Robert Fisk. Here is his most recent article for the Independent and here is a transcript of an interview with him on Democracy Now.


Robbing Peter to Pay Paul

An article in the Financial Times indicates that there will be no barriers in place to prevent settlers being evacuated from Gaza (with financial compensation, I might add, that comes to a total of about 920 million dollars) from moving into settlements in the West Bank.
"I cannot prevent an individual who wants to use his compensation to buy a house in Gush Etzion [a southern West Bank settlement bloc] from doing so," Labour's Isaac Herzog, housing minister in Mr Sharon's coalition, said. "This would be totally within his rights."
Rights? Give me a break. In what way is it within his rights to move to Gush Etzion but not within his rights to stay in the Gaza strip? There is a certain logic to the "Greater Israel" ideology, and a certain logic to international law, but the gray area between in which the law of Israel tries to find its path is not quite so logical (not that logic has anything to do with law and policy, of course). So how does Herzog justify this twist of policy?
A statement issued by Mr Herzog's office said he had not discussed any plans to expand construction within the settlement during a recent visit there. "The Housing and Construction Ministry is not promoting such a plan even though Minister Herzog notes that Gush Etzion is considered a settlement bloc that is recognised as part of the State of Israel, according to the December 2000 Clinton outline," it said.
Well, pardon me, but who the hell died and made Clinton the authoritative voice on Israel's borders? If Israel wants to say that it plans to continue to violate international law, it should stand up and say that it's going to do that. Don't try to pull Bill Clinton (or George W. Bush, or anybody else) into it to try to deflect responsibility.

On a related note, I think this shows the continued failure of the Israeli government (especially the Labor party that Herzog belongs to) to grow a backbone when it comes to the settlements. Why should the GOI allow settlers from Gaza to resettle in the West Bank? Because they see this as a compromise with the settlers. As I read somewhere very recently (I think it was the Uri Avnery article I linked to from here a couple days ago), you can't cross an abyss in two bounds. The Israeli government needs to stop coddling the settlers and other right wing extremists and say hey, if you want that compensation money, you can't go to the West Bank (at the very least; I personally don't think they should be allowed in the West Bank even if they turn down the compensation). If that's a violation of the settlers' "rights," as Herzog would have it, that's too damn bad. Who thought they had a "right" to compensation in the first place?

Tuesday, February 15, 2005


Sharon to use pullout vote to neutralize criticism of fence

From a very good overview of the current Israeli political situation in Haaretz:
The cabinet is slated to approve two major decisions on Sunday: the evacuation of settlements in the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan, and the route of the separation fence around Gush Etzion and the South Hebron Hills. The two decisions are being brought at the same time in an effort to neutralize international criticism of the fence route by coupling it with the decision to evacuate settlements....

The fence route, whose approval Sharon has repeatedly postponed due to its diplomatic sensitivity, is effectively a "package deal" meant to satisfy both hawks and doves: The fence will penetrate deeply into the West Bank to encompass the Gush Etzion settlements, but will follow the Green Line around the South Hebron Hills.
The article, by Aluf Benn, Amos Harel, and Arnon Regular, also goes in depth with the proposed handing over of certain Palestinian cities to Palestinian control and other IDF upcoming plans including disengagement, coordinating with Palestinian security forces, and the arrival of U.S. security coordinator Lieutenant General William Ward.


Looting in Iraq

Le Monde Diplomatique has an article about the looting of historical artifacts, especially in war zones. It reaffirms one of the failures of the American-led invasion of Iraq, namely the failure to do anything to sufficiently protect antiquities and historical artifacts from being looted in Iraq.
Since 1991 4,000 objects of archaeological interest have been stolen from museums in Iraq. In 2001 a large number of bas-reliefs from the Sennacherib palace were taken down: John Russell, an archaeologist at the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston, called this "the final sack of Nineveh". But as Iraqi archaeologist Donny Georges warned in 2003: "If the Americans attack, the looting of historic sites will be infinitely worse than in 1991 . . . The looters have had time to organise their trade network and build up an international clientele. They are powerful and armed."

By July 2003 archaeologist and journalist Joanne Farchakh confirmed these fears: "Jokha, where the prestigious Sumerian city of Umma was unearthed just four years ago, looks like a battlefield." According to American archaeologist McGuire Gibson, most sites in southern Iraq are still being looted. In the north, United States soldiers now protect the sites (officially at least), but they did not bother to do this until after the looters had helped themselves to the bas-reliefs of Hatra and Nimrud and destroyed those of Nineveh.

There is some suspicion that the American Council for Cultural Policy (ACCP), an association of major collectors in the US, may have had a hand in ensuring the failure of careless US troops to protect these treasures. Some of its members met high-ranking officials from the Pentagon and the state department on 24 January 2003, just a few days before the invasion of Iraq. It is possible that they may have obtained some relaxation in the laws on exporting ancient artefacts from Iraq. Fortunately, any such manoeuvrings will have been thwarted by the special resolution that the United Nations security council adopted on 22 May 2003, which obliges all countries to return to Iraq any artefacts that were stolen after 1990 and forbids all trade in them. This was the first time that the international community had successfully come together to combat the illegal trade in cultural goods.

Since 1954 Unesco has had one weapon against the trade, the Hague convention for the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict. But this applies only to war zones. An additional protocol forbids the export of cultural goods from an occupied territory, and requires that any goods that are exported be returned. So far, 105 states have ratified these documents; the US and Britain are not among them.
The US administration has tried to paint the looting as the act of Iraqis or other Arab vandals and hooligans. However, this ignores the fact that the markets for these valuables are primarily among the wealthy elites of the West, including the United States (as the implications against the ACCP illustrates).

Monday, February 14, 2005


Uri Avnery on Sharm al-Sheikh

I've been pretty resolutely negative here on this blog about the chances that the Sharm al-Sheikh summit is going to lead to a lasting peace between Israel and Palestine. However, because it's Valentine's Day and because nobody likes somebody who is negative all the time. So, here's an article by Uri Avnery that opens the possibility up for some optimism. It's certainly not naively optimistic, but as Avnery points out:
Nobody called it the “Ophira Conference”. Not even the papers of the extreme right. Who today even remembers the name Ophira, which was given to Sharm-al-Sheikh during the Israeli occupation, as a first step to its annexation?...

I was there in 1956. A beautiful gulf ... a few small houses and a distinctive mosque. Before our army withdrew, a few months later, it blew up the mosque in a fit of pique.

Now, 22 years after leaving Ophira for the last time ... all of us are treating the place as an Egyptian resort, as Egyptian as Cairo and Alexandria. The past has been erased. The occupation has been wiped from our collective memory.

That is the first optimistic lesson from the conference. One can withdraw. One can put an end to occupation. One can even forget that it ever took place.
So peace is possible. This is not an "impossible," "unsolvable," or "unending" conflict. Given a just resolution and time, the conflict can even be forgotten. Peace is possible. Is this summit likely to bring it? Well, I don't know about "likely." But it's not impossible either (of course, changes need to take place). Avnery writes:
Pessimists will say: Nothing came from of the conference. The cease-fire is fragile. In the best case, Sharon will fulfil his promise of withdrawing from the Gaza Strip and dismantling a few settlements. Then the trouble will start anew.

Optimists will say: This is a good beginning. The cessation of “Palestinian terrorism” will create a new atmosphere in Israel. The dismantling of the first settlements will create a crucial confrontation. The settlers and the nationalist-messianic Right will be defeated. People will realize that life can be different. The dynamics of the process will carry Sharon along and he will not be able to stop it, even if he wants to.

Who is right?

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