Thursday, August 18, 2005


Secrets of the Morgue

Robert Fisk has written on his experiences at the Baghdad morgue. He writes:
While Saddam's regime visited death by official execution upon its opponents, the scale of anarchy now existing in Baghdad, Mosul, Basra and other cities is unprecedented. "The July figures are the largest ever recorded in the history of the Baghdad Medical Institute," a senior member of the management told The Independent.

It is clear that death squads are roaming the streets of a city which is supposed to be under the control of the US military and the American-supported, elected government of Ibrahim al-Jaafari. Never in recent history has such anarchy been let loose on the civilians of this city - yet the Western and Iraqi authorities show no interest in disclosing the details. The writing of the new constitution - or the failure to complete it - now occupies the time of Western diplomats and journalists. The dead, it seems, do not count.

But they should. Most are between 15 and 44 - the youth of Iraq - and, if extrapolated across the country, Baghdad's 1,100 dead of last month must bring Iraq's minimum monthly casualty toll in July alone to 3,000 - perhaps 4,000. Over a year, this must reach a minimum of 36,000, a figure which puts the supposedly controversial statistic of 100,000 dead since the invasion into a much more realistic perspective.

There is no way of distinguishing the reasons for these thousands of violent deaths. Some men and women were shot at US checkpoints, others murdered, no doubt, by insurgents or thieves. A few listed as killed by "blunt instruments" might have been the dead of traffic accidents. Some of the women were probably the victims of "honour" killings - because male relatives suspected them of having illicit relations with the wrong man. Still others may have been murdered as collaborators. Doctors have been told that bodies brought to the mortuary by US forces should not be given post-mortem examinations (on the odd ground that the Americans will have already performed this function).


The Voice of a Gazan

I must give credit to Yedi'ot Aharanot and to Ali Waked, who give us an opportunity to read what one Palestinian (given, it's only one voice, but it's better than none) from Gaza has to say about the ongoing disengagement process. Hashem al-Ara, 51, was from a family that owned 70 dunams (17.5 acres) of land that was taken and used to build the settlement of Neve Dekalim.
You stand for 20 years, looking at the land you had slowly disappearing while things are built upon it, but not for us. It’s a sight I don’t wish on anybody. So I understand that it is painful for the settlers that they are forced to leave. Particularly those that were born here. Not their parents who came and stole our land. But thanks to Allah, land always returns to its owners.

I remember that most of the land was covered with apple orchards. There were many palm trees as well, dates, and all sorts of species. Palm trees as high as 20 meters, some of them 70 years and older, that my father planted. There were some vegetables and also some guava. But mostly apples, amazing apples. Green American apples that were slightly tart and delicious. I remember the size of the apples. I can still feel and taste them in my mouth. A simple life that in an instant was destroyed.

Until today, when I look in the direction of Neve Dekalim and see the gate I remember the apples that are buried there underneath it.

If you go to the western gate of Neve Dekalim, before the square there’s a large water well there. Right next to it is the trunk of a tree. That tree is about 70 years old. My father’s cousin planted that tree.
Actually, I happen to be of the opinion that land hardly ever returns to its owners (thanks or no thanks to Allah) -- and of course, then you get into the whole sticky business of land ownership itself. But I suppose that's a different matter altogether.


Sadr City

On Electronic Iraq there is a photo essay and a brief report from Peggy Gish on the conditions in Sadr City, the Baghdad slum. I honestly think that it's impossible for a good many Americans to even imagine, much less comprehend, conditions like this.


The Media and the Disengagement

There is an article in Ha'aretz by Ehud Asheri on Israeli media coverage of the disengagement in which he claims that "the settlers are losing on the ground, but they're winning on television." Asheri writes:
[T]he real battle being waged in the Gaza Strip [is] the battle over the disengagement narrative.

So what's the story with the disengagement? Is it a story about disaster and destruction or about rehabilitation and recovery? A story about the triumph of the settler spirit or its defeat? The impression from the first three days of the broadcast is that the settlers' disaster narrative of destruction and victimization is the winner. They are few against many, weak against strong, idealists against "followers of orders," determination versus ambivalence.

Obviously their spirit grabs the screen. The images they have to offer are far more attractive. Viewers watch and weep. The quest for the human drama leads the cameras over and over again to the wailing evacuees and to the soldiers, especially women soldiers, who join in their tears. They document the children as they come out of their homes in Kerem Atzmona with their hands up, crying and wearing orange Stars of David (sure it's "in poor taste," but that only proves how much they hurt). They stay focused on the man dangling a helpless baby out a second-story window (sure it's dangerous, but what can you do, he's desperate). They caress the groups of worshipers and reciters of Psalms. The pain, the anguish and the prayers makes for terrific footage.
It's interesting that the Palestinian narrative doesn't even get a mention in the battle of narratives. It's the Israeli military versus the Israeli settlers. Really, I wonder if there even is a battle of narratives going on here. Aren't both these stories really part of the same narrative? I think that's certainly the case here in the United States, where any nuance separating the stoic soldier from the pained settler is completely blurred. Both figures fit into the "painful concessions" narrative of sacrifice on the part of Israel, on Israel's perpetual victimhood.

Update [1:00 pm]:
Jennifer Loewenstein has a commentary on Counterpunch in which she expresses her outrage at the coverage in the United States of the Gaza disengagement. She writes:
On ABC's Nightline Monday night, a reporter interviewed a young, sympathetic Israeli woman from the largest Gaza settlement, Neve Dekalim - a girl with sincerity in her voice, holding back tears. She doesn't view the soldiers as her enemy, she says, and doesn't want violence. She will leave even though to do so is causing her great pain. She talked about the tree she planted in front of her home with her brother when she was three; about growing up in the house they were now leaving, the memories, and knowing she could never return; that even if she did, everything she knew would be gone from the scene. The camera then panned to her elderly parents sitting somberly amid boxed-up goods, surveying the scene, looking forlorn and resigned. Her mother was a kindergarten teacher, we are told. She knew just about all of the children who grew up here near the sea.

In the 5 years of Israel's brutal suppression of the Palestinian uprising against the occupation, I never once saw or heard a segment as long and with as much sentimental, human detail as I did here; never once remember a reporter allowing a sympathetic young Palestinian woman, whose home was just bulldozed and who lost everything she owned, tell of her pain and sorrow, of her memories and her family's memories; never got to listen to her reflect on where she would go now and how she would live. And yet in Gaza alone more than 23,000 people have lost their homes to Israeli bulldozers and bombs since September 2000 -- often at a moment's notice ­ on the grounds that they "threatened Israel's security." . . .

On Tuesday, 16 August, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported that more than 900 journalists from Israel and around the world are covering the events in Gaza, and that hundreds of others are in cities and towns in Israel to cover local reactions. Were there ever that many journalists in one place during the past 5 years to cover the Palestinian Intifada?
And so on.


Sir Ian Blair

The Guardian reports that Sir Ian Blair, Scotland Yard commissioner, "attempted to stop an independent external investigation into the shooting of a young Brazilian mistaken for a suicide bomber, it emerged yesterday." One way or another this man should be looking for new work tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005


UK cover-up in shooting of Brazilian starts to fall apart

This story just turned from bad to worse. Or from awful to horrifying maybe. The poor Brazilian guy who got shot on the London tube turns out not only to have been completely innocent of any wrongdoing (as seemed to be well known from the start), but now even the stories about "suspicious" (if explainable) behavior (running from the police, wearing a padded coat, he had a large bag/backpack, etc.) turn out to have been completely fabricated. In two stories from the Guardian, the truth emerges and the bereaved family's representation asks exactly what role the police had in promulgating these false stories. From the first story, regarding leaked information from the investigation of the shooting:
It has now emerged that Mr de Menezes:

· was never properly identified because a police officer was relieving himself at the very moment he was leaving his home;

· was unaware he was being followed;

· was not wearing a heavy padded jacket or belt as reports at the time suggested;

· never ran from the police;

· and did not jump the ticket barrier.

But the revelation that will prove most uncomfortable for Scotland Yard was that the 27-year-old electrician had already been restrained by a surveillance officer before being shot seven times in the head and once in the shoulder.
So if all this was the case, where, then, did the "alternate" story -- the one we all heard from the time of the shooting and came to be accepted as true in the news media -- come from? Why is it that, when much of this would have been clarified by looking at the CCTV tapes from the tube station, the family of de Menezes was told that the CCTV cameras in that station weren't working?
His family's solicitor, Harriet Wistrich, claimed the police must be "partly responsible" for the accounts.

Asked by the BBC about the Metropolitan police commissioner Sir Ian Blair's position over the initial version of events, she said: "There are certainly questions arising about how this false and misleading information was released in the first place.

"The police must have been partly responsible for that because it was the information that was given to the pathologist who performed the postmortem examination."
Apparently there's word that Sir Ian Blair is considering resigning. I would say that's the least he could do.

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