How Fatah tried - and failed - to get high voter turnout
Wednesday, January 12, 2005, 21:20I mentioned on Monday how Palestinian voter turnout figures were being kept quiet, but that around 45% was the accepted number. When the 7 PM closing time was delayed for a couple of hours on Sunday, we all knew what this meant: it meant the 30% turnout recorded around midday by most Arab media had not really risen significantly, and the time had come for Fatah, the PLO and the PA (all of which are evolving increasingly into an amorphous entity) needed to start bringing more people.
Amira Hass writes about this in Haaretz today, recounting the organized transports we all imagined would happen, and the circumventions of electoral laws that Fatah did not hesitate to make.
“Shortly before the time balloting was originally to be concluded and two hours before the newly scheduled time, masses of people began to arrive. Most were transported in pickup trucks and taxis, and none bothered to hide the fact that the hurried drivers were Fatah activists.
It was difficult to hide the fact that the election commission was operating under pressure from Fatah and that the ruling party had reasons to feel pressured. Its main rival, Hamas, which had called for an election boycott, would be able to make political hay out of a low turnout, claiming that those who did not vote were obeying its orders, that it has a large following in the public and that Fatah's policies under Abu Mazen do not represent the majority. But the way that was chosen - to circumvent and violate the rules as laid down by the Palestinian Legislative Council in the law - harmed Fatah, stained the election commission and strengthened Hamas' old claims that its political opponent would never allow fair elections that accurately reflect the public's loyalties.
Absurdly, the ruckus of the last two hours did not dramatically increase the number of voters.”
Hass’s acute observation on Palestinians’ political perceptions is the key point of her article:
“Palestinian society is supremely political. So the abstention was also very political. It proves that the Palestinian public is not suffering from the illusion about who really rules over its life. It is not Abu Mazen, or Fatah, but the Israeli government and its emissary, the army. At no point on election day was it possible to forget that.”
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Allawi is now openly bribing journalists
Wednesday, January 12, 2005, 21:04How can one possibly make fun of a story that is so ridiculous to begin with? For those who haven’t heard yet, maybe just reporting the fact is enough. Yesterday, according to the Financial Times and other media that picked up on the story, Allawi’s campaign alliance distributed money to journalists - $100 a piece – to ensure coverage of its press conferences.
The media may not be free in Iraq, but at least the current Iraqi regime is taking care of journalists’ livelihood. Al Jazeera couldn’t benefit from this of course, having been banned from Iraq since August for not supporting the American occupation enough. (I thought it had brought itself back into favor, however, when Al Jazeera’s presenters started referring to the American occupation force as “multinational forces.” Not enough, apparently.)
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Veni, but not vidi any WMDs (and definitely not vici)
Wednesday, January 12, 2005, 12:33When big projects are completed, celebrations are usually in order. Not this project through; it died quietly, its instigator waiting for the opportunity to declare it finished while no-one was looking. That’s because it was a failed project, and the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is officially over.
Could someone please tell Tony Blair? Nearly two years after Bush and his shoulder-to-shoulder buddy invaded Iraq, no biological, chemical or nuclear weapons were found. That was very disappointing to Bush, but the White House had until now been reluctant to call off the hunt, holding out the possibility that weapons were moved out of Iraq before the war or are well hidden somewhere inside the country. Too bad the “intelligence” finds that possibility very small, but hey, there’s always a chance that Saddam (who we all know enjoyed excellent relations with all his neighbors) could have moved his WMDs of mythical proportions to any country on Iraq’s border, without anyone or even a satellite noticing. Keep tuned, the Anglo-American project may yet spread wings and fly across the borders.
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The Rapture Index
Wednesday, January 12, 2005, 01:52A dear (American) friend of mine insisted I read (sending it twice, lest I forget) the fascinating and truly astonishing speech Bill Moyers gave in December on receiving the Harvard Medical School’s Global Environment Citizen Award.
Bill Moyers is a veteran and highly respected journalist who retired in December, aged 70, saying: "I'm going out telling the story that I think is the biggest story of our time: how the right-wing media has become a partisan propaganda arm of the Republican National Committee. We have an ideological press that's interested in the election of Republicans, and a mainstream press that's interested in the bottom line. Therefore, we don't have a vigilant, independent press whose interest is the American people."
(More of Moyers' excellent observations on the state of journalism can be read in the speech he gave in September 2004 to the Society of Professional Journalists conference, where he also mentions the rapture index.)
You must read his December speech in full to understand how belief in the rapture index influences the thought process of millions of Americans, and how it molds their views on Israel, the confrontation with Islam and even the catastrophes unleashed by Mother Nature – all of which makes perfect sense to them and which fulfill a biblical prophecy.
In the meantime, here is a very informative extract.
“In this past election several million good and decent citizens went to the polls believing in the rapture index. That's right - the rapture index. Google it and you will find that the best-selling books in America today are the twelve volumes of the left-behind series written by the Christian fundamentalist and religious right warrior, Timothy LaHaye. These true believers subscribe to a fantastical theology concocted in the 19th century by a couple of immigrant preachers who took disparate passages from the Bible and wove them into a narrative that has captivated the imagination of millions of Americans.
Its outline is rather simple, if bizarre (the British writer George Monbiot recently did a brilliant dissection of it and I am indebted to him for adding to my own understanding): once Israel has occupied the rest of its 'biblical lands,' legions of the anti-Christ will attack it, triggering a final showdown in the valley of Armageddon. As the Jews who have not been converted are burned, the messiah will return for the rapture. True believers will be lifted out of their clothes and transported to heaven, where, seated next to the right hand of God, they will watch their political and religious opponents suffer plagues of boils, sores, locusts, and frogs during the several years of tribulation that follow.
I'm not making this up. Like Monbiot, I've read the literature. I've reported on these people, following some of them from Texas to the West Bank. They are sincere, serious, and polite as they tell you they feel called to help bring the rapture on as fulfillment of biblical prophecy. That's why they have declared solidarity with Israel and the Jewish settlements and backed up their support with money and volunteers. It's why the invasion of Iraq for them was a warm-up act, predicted in the Book of Revelation where four angels 'which are bound in the great river Euphrates will be released to slay the third part of man.' A war with Islam in the Middle East is not something to be feared but welcomed - an essential conflagration on the road to redemption. The last time I Googled it, the rapture index stood at 144-just one point below the critical threshold when the whole thing will blow, the son of God will return, the righteous will enter heaven, and sinners will be condemned to eternal hellfire.”
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Abu Ghraib prisoners were treated like “cheerleaders”
Wednesday, January 12, 2005, 01:13The Daily Telegraph reports that Charles Graner, who with his pregnant partner Lynndie England formed the infamous, smiling American couple who held Iraqi prisoners on leashes and heaped them, naked, in a human pyramid while they held their thumbs up for the photographer, is on trial in Texas this week. Judging by the defense his lawyer, Guy Womack, offered on the opening day of the court martial, it’s a fair bet that remorse and regret are not on the agenda.
The human pyramid of naked Iraqi prisoners was no more harmful than the choreography displays by American high-school cheerleaders, according to Womack, who asked: “Don’t cheerleaders all over America form pyramids six to eight times a year? Is that torture?”
Perish the thought. As for the tethers used to bind the prisoners, Womack explained that they were a legitimate method of control. After all, he said, “a tether is a valid control to be used in corrections. You’ve probably been at a mall or airport and seen children on tethers – they’re not being abused.”
Well now that you put it that way, of course, it’s a wonder Iraqis were incensed by the photographs taken in Abu Ghraib. How over-sensitive of them.
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Where are the fundraisers for the Iraqi dead?
Tuesday, January 11, 2005, 23:57That’s what Terry Jones (of Monty Python fame) would like to know, and he does have a point. His op-ed in The Guardian today certainly does not make light of the human tragedy caused by the tsunami, but he wonders about the inconsistency in public generosity, asking why “nobody is making this sort of fuss about all the people killed in Iraq, and yet it’s a human catastrophe of comparable dimensions.”
Of course, the Lancet journal’s findings (reported, as well as The Economist’s endorsement of the method used, in this blog in October) that 100,000 Iraqis had been killed were ridiculed by the White House and Downing Street, who accused them of using an extrapolation method rather than a detailed body count. Jones reminds us that a detailed body count “is the one thing the US military will not allow anyone to do.”
Even if the number of deaths is discounted, surely neither Bush nor Blair can deny the appalling conditions in Iraq today, where hundreds of thousands of people (not to say millions) are without proper food, clean water, electricity … or even gasoline!
Jones blames most of the media - rightly - for having fallen into line, and asks frustratingly:
“Why aren't our TV companies and newspapers running fundraisers to help Iraqis whose lives have been wrecked by the invasion? Why aren't they screaming with outrage at the man-made tsunami that we have created in the Middle East?”
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Fallujah, City of Ghosts
Tuesday, January 11, 2005, 23:16Iraqi doctor Ali Fadhil had been in Fallujah just before the US launched an assault on the city in November 2004. He came back to find that Fallujah had become a city of ghosts, writing chillingly in The Guardian today about what he saw, to accompany the disturbing documentary he filmed and which was shown tonight on Britain’s Channel 4. (You can watch an extract of the film on the link on the article's page.)
I have just watched the shocking footage, most of which is described quite faithfully in the article. While the writing cannot begin to project the horror of what has happened, Fadhil summarizes the alarming consequences very well:
“It is clear that by completely destroying this Sunni city, with the help of a mostly Shia National Guard, the US military has fanned the seeds of a civil war that is definitely coming. If there are elections now and the Shia win, that war is certain. The people I spoke to had no plans to vote. No one I met in those five days had a ballot paper.”
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Change, hope and peace in Palestine?
Tuesday, January 11, 2005, 00:57The new buzzwords in the media are change, hope and peace, all of which the Palestinians apparently voted for yesterday. Did they really?
In fact, those who voted (a minority if we consider that only about 45% bothered to cast their ballots, although figures about voter turnout have been mostly kept from the media) voted for more of the same, and voted for the institutions of Fatah, the PLO and the Palestinian Authority. Basically, this means more of the same.
In the best case scenario, Abbas will stick by international law (at the very least) and not relinquish any Palestinian rights – which means the self-congratulatory comments in the US, Europe, Israel and their allies are hasty, as they will quickly turn on him. In the worst case scenario, Abbas will be tempted to slip into a Geneva Accord-style agreement, giving concessions on issues such as the right of return or settlements in the West Bank – something the majority of Palestinians have not given him a mandate to do.
Call it what you like, but this election was neither historic nor did it bring anything new. Rather, it was a mere, poorer copy of 1996, with a candidate who has none of Arafat’s genuine popularity (at the time) or perceived credentials as a fighter for his nation. The only similarities to Arafat that Abbas can truly claim are not in his favor - namely corruption, cronyism, and blatant incompetence, which he shares with all the Fatah and PLO leaders today. Add to that Abbas’ eagerness to achieve what Arafat couldn’t – possibly at any cost, in spite of his recent “patriotic” statements.
The “pragmatist” and “moderate” so courted by the media is careful (like his predecessor) to adopt different tones depending on his audience, and unfortunately also adopted the ridiculous habit his boss had of repeating sentences – something he couldn’t wait to demonstrate in his hasty victory speech.
This doesn’t bother Bush at all, who quickly invited Abbas to the White House. High-profile visitors, including John Kerry, also rushed to congratulate their new friend and praise the “free and fair election.” Free and fair? Well, up to a certain extent, and nearly as free as the 1996 election had been, but only as far as free and fair elections can be held under a brutal military occupation.
We should be very wary about the buzz around the election of Abbas, and the multitude of (well-meaning?) pieces in the media about the new hopes for peace. This presupposes that the only impediment to peace had been Yasser Arafat, and completely ignores the actions and statements of Israel’s extremist government. Even worse, if this buzz takes the latter into account, it means that the only hope allowed for Palestinians is the hope for a remote semblance of normalcy, under an Israeli occupation of varying degrees, in tidbits of land too small to even form a mini-state.
As for the millions of refugees spread around the globe, hope springs eternal.
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A tragedy that concerns us all
Monday, December 27, 2004, 00:53Wringing our hands and sighing as we watch the images of devastation from Indonesia to the Maldives brings no comfort to anyone, least of all those who need it most. Action, not speeches and promises, is urgently needed, and nobody has phrased it better than The Daily Star of Lebanon.
In its editorial on Monday, the paper declares that we cannot be detached spectators, and that it is our moral and historical obligation to assist South and Southeast Asia. While this would be the normal thing to do anyway, to help fellow human beings, The Daily Star reminds us that the Middle East (particularly the Gulf, might I add) owes much of its development to the hard work and dedication of the millions of Indians, Sri Lankans, Indonesians, Malaysians, Bangladeshis, Thais and others from that region.
With the current high oil prices and revenues, oil-producing countries could easily disburse billions in aid without making a dent in their budgets. Let's hope that they, and the richest industrialized countries, are quick to act.
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Money talks, and freedom walks (away)
Saturday, December 25, 2004, 12:04The irony of this incident is so great that making analogies seems futile, and so pathetic that merely calling it shameful sounds lame. In fact, it is such an obviously flawed decision that the culprits didn't even bother denying it or pretending it was a misunderstanding.
After having quoted (ad nauseam) from the UNDP's Arab Human Development reports to pretend it was concerned with the lack of democracy in the region, and after an absurdly vain effort in Morocco two weeks ago to feign interest in the liberalization process, the US has successfully blackmailed the United Nations, once again, into ignoring the sorry state of Arab governance.
For daring to criticize the US and Israel, the authors of this third and last report have been forced to relinquish their association with UNDP and to publish (three months late) the report through their own means. (If they knew what freedom of speech really meant, they would have immediately posted it - and the pressure they were subject to - on the Internet.) Had the UNDP dared to displease the mighty Bush, the US would have withdrawn $100 million from the humanitarian organization.
The report, titled "Towards Consolidating Freedom in the Arab World," should have been welcomed with open arms by a government that has gone so far (read waged a war) to spread "freedom and democracy" in the region, and that has used the UNDP's findings to launch the very short-lived Greater Middle East Initiative.
One can understand why Egypt and other Arab countries would feel queasy about subjects such as the inheritance of power. Obviously, there was never going to be a real report on freedom in the Arab world that would have satisfied a single ruler. Ever obligingly, Amr Moussa, the Secretary General of the Arab League (and a former Egyptian Foreign Minister) had the nerve to declare that the report "includes serious elements and others that need correcting."
Some things certainly do need correcting, beginning with an Arab League that should work for its people, and not its rulers, and a superpower that should practice what it preaches, and stand by its own supposed values. The UNDP's report, I'm sure, will have already been as meek as those already "critical" of Arab regimes have been, but even that was too much if it included criticism of Israel.
In the end, one major conclusion can be reached: if the US allows Arab rulers to continue with their blatant abuses, it is mainly (and inexplicably) for the sake of Israel and oil.
That's a far cry from God and country, and all the values for which Bush was supposedly elected.
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Christmas in the land of conviviality
Saturday, December 25, 2004, 11:31Sometimes, it seems that the more happens in the Middle East, the less there is a point in drawing attention to it. There has been more violence, more ridiculous statements, more futile demonstrations of power (or weakness), and more helplessness, but not much is new.
The hiatus on the blog, however, was more due to travel (and a vicious virus), and it is from one of the oldest cities in the world that I have been following the events of the last ten days. Like their compatriots and neighbors, Damascenes are worried about events in the region, but seem momentarily more concerned with how they will spend the holidays and where they will welcome the New Year.
Sights, sounds and smells of conviviality abound, and it is simply a delight to observe the fusion of people of all religions and backgrounds hustling and bustling in the streets, the only indication of their faith being the occasional veils or crucifixes (or what French law would call ostentatious signs) that catch one's eye during a stroll through the old streets of Damascus, passing churches and mosques while humming along to "Jingle Bells", "White Christmas" or "Petit Papa Noel" blaring from cheerfully decorated shops and cafes.
After an extended taste of this relaxed atmosphere, turning on the news is a cruel reminder of the realities of life around us; for most people in the region, 'tis perhaps not really the season to be jolly.
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Iraqi trials are the first act of the election show
Wednesday, December 15, 2004, 16:57When even dodgy Iraqis are complaining that Iyad Allawi might be rushing the trials of the former members of Saddam Hussein’s regime, how much confidence can anyone have in their validity? Salem Chalabi, Ahmad’s nephew (and Ahmad’s “partner in crime”), was once the director of that special tribunal, before being ousted spectacularly by Allawi’s buddies in an open grab for influence. No big loss, and there are no saints here, but the man does have a (self-serving) point.
How convenient to get the trials going just as the “election” campaign is starting, and (coincidentally) one year after the capture of Saddam, when things are much, much worse in Iraq. It is a perfect way, or so Allawi’s circle believes, to get Iraqis all riled up again and to try to get their attention away from the violence and the miserable futility of this election. But no matter how riveting these trials may become, it is difficult to forget about the real situation surrounding most people in Iraq. In addition to all the misery, believe it or not, Iraqis are now queuing for gasoline!
Of course, Allawi will not be including himself with the defendants; his days as an instrument of Saddam’s brutality for many years, when he used his base in London to snoop and intimidate fellow countrymen, have been all forgotten by the American patrons.
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Israel responds to Syrian peace overtures with car bomb
Tuesday, December 14, 2004, 00:58One doesn’t need to wait for confirmation (from Israel or others) that today’s car bomb in Syria’s capital was an Israeli action; Israel has a long history of assassinating (or attempting to assassinate) Palestinians all over the world, and did so again in September, in the Yarmouk refugee camp outside Damascus.
Israel is constantly condemning Palestinian militants for either targeting civilians directly, or for carrying actions within civilian areas – making it sound as if the roughly 3,500 Palestinians who died in the last four years alone were all armed militants, even though most independent observers confirm that the overwhelming majority were civilians.
Still, how does Israel explain the car bomb that went off this afternoon in the midst of Damascus, in the Sheikh Saad neighborhood of Mezzeh which is bursting with people, shops and offices? In such a busy area, it is astounding that nobody got killed or hurt badly. The Palestinian militant who was apparently targeted escaped, with his wife and children who could have also been killed.
How can anyone believe Israel’s claims that it is serious about peace? With every Syrian peace overture, offering even more concessions than most people think possible (or want), Israel has reacted with disdain, questioning Syria’s sincerity in requesting that peace negotiations started in 1991 resume.
This latest assassination attempt demonstrates once more that Israel is not interested in a real peace – neither with the Palestinians, nor with Syria. Maybe it’s time to stop conceding and start demanding the application of international law; UNSC Resolution 242 is crystal-clear and would be the logical first step.
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From mere “collateral damage” to teenager “mercy killings”
Monday, December 13, 2004, 03:06This is not about euthanasia, nor about the mercy killings of suffering animals. Mercy killing is now the new excuse given by US soldiers who have cold-bloodedly murdered wounded people, claiming they are “putting them out of their misery,” and playing God with people’s lives.
In the first case to be tried, a 16-year old boy was shot dead in August after he survived an attack by US troops in Sadr City in Baghdad. His killer, the US soldier in question, has been sentenced to 3 years in jail for this crime.
Having practically unanimously adopted the term “mercy killings,” some in American media are even reporting this as “questionable killings.”
How far will the US possibly go?
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Mission accomplished: Barghouti is bullied out of Palestinian election
Monday, December 13, 2004, 00:55On Tuesday, I spoke on a panel here in London at Westminster (House of Commons) to an audience of MPs and various people involved with them, to talk about the situation in Palestine after Arafat. I meant to post some of my comments, but in view of today’s news about Marwan Barghouti’s withdrawal from the presidential race, I will quote only this: "does the talk about new opportunities after Arafat’s death mean that under a new leader, Palestinians will become more flexible than international law itself, and agree to concede more rights? If this is how it is meant, then the obsession with getting Mahmoud Abbas in power makes sense."
The harassment of Barghouti by the PLO and the various international endorsements of Abbas (from Mubarak to Powell) have given fruit, although one wonders what kind of “pressure” was put on Marwan Barghouti to withdraw from what was supposed to be a free and fair presidential election.
The US (and obviously Israel) must be delighted that Abbas now looks nearly certain to win the election – unless a majority of Palestinians realize that the other Barghouthi, Mustafa, is the more honest, dedicated and competent one of the two top remaining candidates.
Even before grabbing the presidency, Abbas is already carrying out demands that befit a man of his “moderation.” In Kuwait, Abbas officially apologized for the PLO’s moral support of Saddam Hussein when he invaded the country.
That’s admirable. Hopefully, the Kuwaitis will also now apologize to the whole Palestinian nation as well, for having so shamefully treated them since 1991, expelling nearly half a million blameless Palestinians with nowhere else to go.
Far from that; some Kuwaitis are not even pleased with this apology, saying Abbas only gave it to get political and financial support. The editor-in-chief of Al Watan has new concerns: “My fear and the fear of many Kuwaitis is that Palestinians would return to settle in Kuwait. Palestinians bring with them their political illnesses and they come to stay.”
Not if they had their own state, they wouldn’t – which is all the more reason for Kuwait and other countries to help them achieve that dream. But is Abbas the one who can fulfill that dream?
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Iraq’s problems are all Syria and Iran’s fault, apparently
Sunday, December 12, 2004, 02:48One advantage of puppets is that one can take them out at a moment’s notice and put them away when they are not needed or become cumbersome, only to be taken out again when needed. With such a spectacularly mismanaged occupation in Iraq, the US and the Iraqi “government” are desperately relying on more of them to tell the world that it’s not even partly their fault that Iraq has become a hellhole.
Feeling they hadn’t made enough unsubstantiated accusations against Syria in the last 18 months, and quite annoyed by Syria’s agreement with most of the deliberations of the Sharm El Sheikh conference, when no spectacular disagreement could by marketed by the US as “proof” of its malice, they have had to rummage and find someone old or someone new (and quite possibly someone borrowed) to start the intimidation again.
Re-enter a suddenly resuscitated puppet, who had been just as suddenly sidelined. Mowaffaq “now-you-see-him-now-you-don’t” Al Rubaie, who used to be Iraq’s National Security Adviser before he was fired, only to be apparently re-appointed (are you with me so far?) to rant about foreign interference. This is what he said to explain that it would be “impossible” to guarantee security for the elections, alluding to “evidence” found in Fallujah:
“There is no shadow of a doubt that the Syrian government can do a lot if it wishes to stop terrorism in Iraq. It is very difficult to convince me that the Syrian government does not know about these activities.”
No word by Rubaie about foreign interference from US allies Jordan (from where arch-terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi hails) or from Saudi Arabia (from where 15 of the 9/11 terrorists came).
Not to be outdone, Interim President Ghazi Yawar told CNN that “Syria, we think, is offering them a safe haven” (referring to Saddam supporters).
Other spokesmen for the US (as there are clearly different folks for different strokes) were used to blame Iran, and Jordan’s King Abdullah took the lead, claiming to the Washington Post that more than 1 million Iranians have crossed the border into Iraq, many to vote in the elections, with the encouragement of the Iranian government.
Wow, a whole million, talk about unusual gerrymandering. Abdullah (who has heavily English-accented Arabic) also complained (don’t laugh now) that Ayatollah Sistani speaks Arabic with an Iranian accent, and that he and Chalabi were under Tehran’s influence. He then explained the danger:
“If it was a Shia-led Iraq that had a special relationship with Iran, and you look at the relationship (among) Syria, Hezbollah (and) Lebanon, then we have this new crescent that appears that would be very destabilizing for the gulf countries and actually for the whole region.”
So Syria is now Shi’a? Abdullah really doesn’t know the Middle East, but still feels confident enough to fuel the sectarianism, irresponsibly spreading fear:
"Even Saudi Arabia is not immune from this. It would be a major problem. And then that would propel the possibility of a Shiite-Sunni conflict even more, as you're taking it out of the borders of Iraq."
So let’s sum up the cacophony. If there is terrorism in Iraq, it’s (Shi’a) Syria’s fault. If the Iraqi “elections” bring in a Shi’a government, it’s Iran’s fault. If the Shia' rule Iraq (because the Sunnis didn't or couldn't participate in the elections), they will destabilize the entire region (which, you will remember, has all the oil) and create a Shi’a crescent from Iran to Lebanon! And America in all this? No fault at all.
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The continuing farce of Israeli “help” in Palestinian elections
Friday, December 10, 2004, 20:12On Monday, I mentioned in this blog how Israel was tampering with Palestinian elections, by preventing independent candidate Mustafa Barghouthi from entering Hebron. On Wednesday, Barghouthi was beaten by Israeli soldiers near Jenin, as were people in his group (some of whom were hit with rifle butts and made to lie motionless on the floor for an hour). Thankfully, he was not hurt seriously, but was taken to hospital for check up. Or, as most Western media reported, he “claimed” he was beaten, adding insult to injury by instilling doubt on his account.
Not a single influential voice from the international community was raised to defend democratic principles and blast Israel for its actions. Of course, criticism of Israel is rarely heard for much graver incidents (from regular murders to home demolitions to dispossession), so is expecting pressure on Israel at this point naïve?
No it isn’t, not when the Bush administration and the British government, to name but two, have made such a big deal about the need for Palestinians to “democratize” (thus implying they weren’t already), and about the importance of the January 9 elections in the aftermath of Yasser Arafat’s death. Having put so much blame on the Palestinians for their miserable predicament, and having put the spotlight on their supposed challenge, they should be intervening.
And they have intervened, indeed. Not by pressing upon Israel its need to practice what it preaches, and its obligation to allow free movement for Palestinians – or at the very least the free movement of candidates. No. Their intervention has been limited to the practically public endorsement of their favorite “moderate” candidate for the job, and their criticism of other candidates for their candidacy; in fact, Marwan Barghouti is now being single-handedly held responsible for splitting up Fatah and the whole Palestinian society. As if democracy implied a foregone conclusion and a pre-determined consensus on the outcome – but the bullying goes on.
Today, clearly encouraged by the utter lack of interest from the outside world, which will probably only pay attention again on January 8 when the Occupied Territories will once more welcome the media circus, Israel has continued to mistreat the candidates.
Bassam Al Salhi, shown above, was detained at a checkpoint near Jerusalem after a “scuffle” because he did not have a permit (as a Palestinian!) to enter Jerusalem. Mahmoud Abbas, Bush’s chosen one, of course, faces no restrictions whatsoever and can travel wherever he likes.
The EU has declared it will send 260 observers to monitor the Palestinian elections. It is now that they are needed, not only on January 9, not to monitor Palestinians, but to monitor Israelis.
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CIA finally discovers that Iraq is “deteriorating”
Wednesday, December 8, 2004, 02:40What we do without the CIA? Had it not been for their report (a confidential report that was “leaked,” mind you), would anyone in the US have known that the situation in Iraq was “deteriorating and may not rebound anytime soon?”
The CIA has finally got something right about Iraq, and it’s about time. They just didn’t know how to break it to Bush of course, in case he was tempted to re-shoot the messenger, which explains why all these reports are classified. Apparently, nobody in the Bush administration watches television or reads the papers, believing that what happens within the Green Zone is a reflection of everything else in Iraq. As if.
The CIA’s Baghdad station chief has 300 people working for him, which the New York Times says makes Baghdad the largest CIA station since the wartime post in Saigon, Vietnam. (Their parallel, not mine, but not a very good omen for the US.)
But there’s even more breaking news: “A separate, more formal National Intelligence Estimate prepared in July and sent to the White House in August by U.S. intelligence agencies also presented a dark forecast for Iraq's future through the end of 2005. Among three possible developments described in that document, the best case was tenuous stability and the worst case included a chain of events leading to civil war.”
Civil war? You don’t say! Of course, we at Chatham House had already announced this on September 1.
(The link to the full online report is in PDF format at the bottom of that page.)
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Putting a value on life in the West Bank
Wednesday, December 8, 2004, 01:21This story is worth mentioning because it poses an interesting question: is there a difference in the worth of different people’s lives? In the occupied West Bank, definitely.
Marwan Barghouti is currently serving 5 consecutive life sentences – one for each Israeli person for whose death he was supposedly responsible. The trial was a sham, the “proofs” shaky to say the least, but the Israeli court still deemed he belonged to a “terrorist” organization.
Yesterday, Shahar Dvir-Zeliger, an extreme right Jewish settler, was convicted for being part of an organization that killed 8 Palestinian civilians, with arms stolen from the Israeli army. The defendant’s direct involvement was also not proved, although he indicated to Israeli police the massive arms cache that his group, Bat Ayin, used to target Palestinian schools, amongst others, and to kill at least one baby.
The judge in this case stated that "the phenomenon of Jewish citizens of Israel belonging to a terrorist organization aiming to harm Arab residents needs to be eradicated by severe punishment." So he sent him to jail for 8 years!
You do the math: 5 consecutive life terms for 5 Israelis, 8 years for 8 Palestinians.
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Israelis don’t like the truth about checkpoints
Wednesday, December 8, 2004, 00:54There is not much more one can add to this commentary by Yithak Laor in Haaretz (where else?) explaining the simple realities of life under occupation, and what those damn checkpoints are really like.
For one thing, they were not a result of the intifada, for those who still didn’t know that:
“They were born in 1991, two years before the Oslo Accords, and were greatly reinforced after these agreements were signed. Only complete blindness on the part of Israelis - who know more about the chic restaurants in New York than they do about the checkpoints in the West Bank, the checkpoints that divide and slice it, turning its citizens into the victims of good or sadistic soldiers - only this blindness could have begotten the "surprise" of Autumn 2000: What did they want? After all, everything was already OK.”
Laor says that for someone who has been waiting long hours in line, “it does not matter whether the soldiers standing facing you is a sadist or a nice guy” – facing the former is merely adding insult to injury. The checkpoints were set up for a clear reason: ensuring Israeli control over the lives of the Palestinians – which is why they were strengthened after the signing of the Oslo Accords, according to the author.
“From this perspective, the settlements are not the reason for the checkpoints. The "isolated" settlements and the settlement blocs - part of the "new" consensus of the Oslo era - are the pretext for the checkpoints, but they reveal their real function: We are present everywhere, we will split the Palestinian territory in every way, we will control them.
Anyone who knows the West Bank since the Oslo Accords knows how much humiliation tens of thousands of people have experienced at the checkpoints. Anyone who knows the Oslo Accords from the Palestinian side knows how they looked there: Besides the expropriations, the bypass roads and the expansion of settlements, the checkpoints were their nightmare, a nightmare we knew nothing about.”
Food for thought for those who still don’t understand the concept of occupation.
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1 in 5 Israeli soldiers abuse their positions at roadblocks
Tuesday, December 7, 2004, 03:41“Some 20 percent of IDF soldiers join the army with the preconception that Arab lives are worth less than Jewish lives - and subsequently behave improperly at roadblocks.”
If Palestinians had said this, they would be accused of spreading anti-Israeli propaganda (or, as is usually claimed, “anti-Semitism”). But when the head of the Israel Defense Forces personnel branch, Major General Elazar Stern, makes such statements, we can at least be sure that the figure is, at the very least, a conservative estimate.
Also speaking at this meeting of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee was Professor Mordechai Kremnitzer of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who attacked the policy of demolishing the houses of Palestinians whose family members have been involved in acts of terror.
"The destruction of houses is a callous violation of international law that is impossible to defend under principled examination. I am certain that in another 20 years, there will not be a single person in Israeli society who does not say home demolitions are barbaric and shameful, [acts] that people in a democratic society cannot allow themselves [to carry out]."
Kremnitzer blamed the High Court of Justice for allowing this, saying that the Court "to our shame, has contributed to the destruction of homes. Its decision in this matter is a grave mistake, a cause for generations to cry."
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“I didn't want 'Died Deluded in Iraq' over my gravestone”
Tuesday, December 7, 2004, 03:20CBS’s 60 Minutes program will present a very interesting and rarely discussed subject on Wednesday: desertion, which is an offense punishable by death during wartime, has been committed by 5,500 soldiers since the invasion of Iraq.
The program will show interviews with several deserters, including Spc. Jeremy Hinzman who applied for a non-combat job as a conscientious objector status, only to be told he didn’t qualify. He knew he had to desert when he heard his unit yelling “Train to kill, kill we kill” over and over again. Hinzman states that his contract with the military was “to defend the Constitution of the United States, not take part in offensive, preemptive wars.”
Hinzman adds: "I was told in basic training that if I'm given an illegal or immoral order, it is my duty to disobey it, and I feel that invading and occupying Iraq is an illegal and immoral thing to do."
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Big brother will be watching in Fallujah
Tuesday, December 7, 2004, 03:03The Boston Globe has a detailed story about the measures that will make Fallujah look more like a police state than the democracy they have been promised.
“Under the plans, troops would funnel Fallujans to so-called citizen processing centers on the outskirts of the city to compile a database of their identities through DNA testing and retina scans. Residents would receive badges displaying their home addresses that they must wear at all times. Buses would ferry them into the city, where cars, the deadliest tool of suicide bombers, would be banned.”
The coercive measures US troops will be using are all completely legal, of course, because of the martial law imposed by Allawi in November. As if that really made a difference.
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Israel tampers with Palestinian election campaign
Monday, December 6, 2004, 23:52So much for Sharon’s newly-found moderation, and for his promise to help Palestinians carry out fair elections - in their own land, one must remember - on January 9.
This photo today shows Israeli soldiers surrounding independent candidate Mustafa Barghouthi – about whom not enough people are speaking, although they should be – as they prevent him from entering Hebron’s old city during a campaign stop today. Could Israel be worried about his potential appeal to voters?
Barghouthi only has minimal support so far and is unlikely to affect results significantly, which I think is a pity. Nevertheless, even with only 6%, he is still the most popular candidate after Mahmoud Abbas and Marwan Barghouti, receiving 40% and 38% respectively in the poll disclosed today by the respected Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research. The percentages refer to intentions to vote if the elections were held at the time of the poll, which also gives interesting information on the popularity of Islamic groups.
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More apartheid on Palestine’s roads
Sunday, December 5, 2004, 18:25In some “democracies,” some roads are reserved for … name your preferred ueber caste here. But as the only country which gets away with this - in this day and age - is Israel, it is naturally Jews for whom roads would be – and are - reserved.
The Observer today reports that for all the statements made by Israel about the Roadmap’s essential role in solving the conflict, government papers suggest that Israel intends to bypass the peace plan, creating a Palestinian state of enclaves, surrounded by walls and linked by 16 tunnels and special roads, thus creating an “apartheid” road network for Palestinians in the West Bank.
The funding would come from the taxpayers in the US, Europe and Japan, who are asked to provide the £110 million for it. How’s that for justice?
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More photos of abuse in Iraq
Sunday, December 5, 2004, 00:59Now that new photos of abuse of Iraq prisoners have emerged, "they might be used by some people to tarnish the image of America's military," according to Gen. Mark Kimmitt. But they do not accurately reflect the good work done by the thousands of American soldiers in Iraq, apparently.
The photos, some dating back to May 2003 and showing US Navy SEALs in action with hooded detainees, are among hundreds posted on a website by a woman who said her husband brought them from Iraq after his tour of duty. But not to worry: the US military has launched a criminal investigation, and the culprits will surely be punished.
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Klein gives US embassy in London the facts on Iraq
Sunday, December 5, 2004, 00:45“Mr Ambassador, I believe that your government and its Iraqi surrogates are waging two wars in Iraq. One war is against the Iraqi people, and it has claimed an estimated 100,000 lives. The other is a war on witnesses.”
That’s what Naomi Klein has to say in response to the American embassy in London after its objections to an earlier article she had written, asking The Guardian to either retract, or to provide evidence. So she responds by reminding readers that “last month, US troops once again laid siege to Falluja – but this time the attack included a new tactic: eliminating, journalists and clerics who focused public attention on civilian casualties last around.” And she details the evidence. A good read, like most of Klein’s work.
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Sharon and Abbas bask in Mubarak's support
Friday, December 3, 2004, 04:22It’s been quite some time since it came out, but most people – even those who tend to favor the Israeli point of view – still haven’t really swallowed George Bush’s depiction of Ariel Sharon as a “man of peace.” No matter how much time passes, it still sounds as outrageous as when it was first said.
Hosni Mubarak has gone even further now: he has just declared that
Sharon is the Palestinians’ best hope to achieve peace and that they should curb violence. In his own words, “Israel’s prime minister said he was ready to do what the Palestinians want, to facilitate the elections, and help in removing the checkpoints. He asks only for one thing: the end to the explosions, so they can work together on a solid basis.” Indeed.
One can’t speak for the entire Egyptian population, but the Egyptians I do know, not to mention Palestinians and many others around the world, will surely be appalled by Mubarak's strange assessment of Sharon's "peaceful nature."
But Mubarak didn’t stop there; after all, if one is peddling an American-Israeli agenda, one might as well go all the way. Therefore, Mubarak has now officially endorsed Mahmoud Abbas for the Palestinian presidency and predicted his victory. As if that weren’t enough, he criticized Marwan Barghouti’s candidacy, saying “we urge the Palestinians to have one voice, and there is no need for differences at a time when we want to avoid differences.”
Then again, Mubarak, like every other Arab “president,” does not quite believe in the concept of multiple candidates for elections, obviously preferring the referendums that give them nearly 100% of “votes.” This is apparently the only type of democracy that the US is willing to bestow upon Arab people, lest they actually vote for someone who will really have their best interests at heart.
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The Violinist, the Medic and others: incitement or reporting?
Friday, December 3, 2004, 02:54In one of his first decisions since the death of Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas has very thoughtfully agreed with Sharon that Palestinian media is the real cause of Palestinian violence (and thus of the conflict?) and that the media (and not the actions of the Israeli army) is guilty of incitement against Israel.
Therefore, a few days ago, after Sharon made it clear that anti-Israeli propaganda in Palestinian media and schools was as dangerous as Palestinian weapons, Abbas has obligingly ordered Palestinian media to stop “incitement” against Israel.
Nobody should think of reporting killings, house demolitions or any humiliations done by the Israelis. Palestinian national songs are also off limits, as they might give Palestinians the idea that they actually have a right to their own state.
Under this new directive, does the following photo of Samir Hijazi’s funeral in Gaza count as reporting or incitement? This young doctor was killed by an Israeli tank shell after he had been playing cards with his friends in the Rafah refugee camp. Do Palestinians (and others) have the right to follow these news? Or would that be troubling Sharon too much?
What about this photograph of a Palestinian musician who was forced to play his violin at an Israeli roadblock near Nablus, in the West Bank, before Israeli soldiers would let him pass, as hundreds of other Palestinians waited behind him? It outraged an Israeli rights group activist, who thought of the infamous Nazi abuse of pianists, and who took the photo and sent it to the media. Is that incitement, or should we all be told about such incidents?
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Doing justice to the legacy of a violent racist
Monday, November 29, 2004, 23:30"When we have settled the land, all the Arabs will be able to do about it will be to scurry around like drugged cockroaches in a bottle."
Since the man who infamously said these words died last week, Israeli journalists and politicians have been competing to give the most flowery obituary and the most moving homage to him. But Rafael Eitan, a former Defense Minister and the chief of staff of the most criminal war in Israel’s history should have been remembered by the above quote, and by his sizeable contributions to the dehumanization of Arabs. It’s one thing to speak well of the dead, and quite another to distort the legacy of a public figure, and Gideon Levy dares to correct the record in Haaretz.
Levy reminds us that Eitan suggested bombing a packed stadium in Beirut, and recalls the Kahan Commission’s ruling on his responsibility (with Ariel Sharon) for the massacre of Sabra and Chatila, which should have been his disgrace.
“This person, who in word and deed educated to racism and hatred of Arabs, is now being described as an educational paragon. As in the case of Rehavam Ze'evi, the assassinated tourism minister, here, too, memory is being refurbished, to the point where the portrait of the man becomes a blur. Only Asaf Harel, the host of a late-night talk show on Channel 10, dared: "There are hundreds of soldiers who wanted to attend Raful's funeral," he said, "but they were stuck at Kiryat Shaul" (a military cemetery).”
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