A hierarchy of suffering
Monday, September 20, 2004, 23:46
Israel did it first of course, reserving for itself alone the position of Victim Number One and launching systematic propaganda campaigns against anyone daring to point out to its more obvious position as a top aggressor. Still, many (myself included, for example in this article) have dared to point out that Israelis do not hold the monopoly on suffering, in spite of all their efforts to portray themselves as victims of mythical proportions.

Now, as Gary Younge argues powerfully in The Guardian today, America is demanding that same right since 9/11, using victimhood as “the moral basis for redress, retaliation and even revenge in order to right any given wrong - real or imagined.”

It is time to re-examine the systematic abuses that the Bush administration, successive Israeli governments and other bullies have been allowed to get away with for so long. In the meantime, most of the world’s real victims remain nameless, and voiceless.

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Roadmap to hell
Friday, September 17, 2004, 18:10
Ariel Sharon’s declaration on Wednesday that Israel will not follow the roadmap and continue to occupy the West Bank cannot be news for any serious observer of the region. Nor can, for that matter, Kofi Annan’s desperately futile (and late) statement on the illegality of the invasion of Iraq. But whereas the UN Secretary General has long been apprehensive about making his public verdicts unambiguous, fearing America’s wrath despite having being elected and paid precisely to preserve international law, the Israeli Prime Minister has never shied from shouting his foul plans over the rooftops.

You would not know this reading most Anglo-Saxon media, of course, but Israeli media has, as always, been much more forward in covering and analyzing its own government’s schemes.

Sharon, like his predecessors, never intended to abide by any international legislation and rulings on Palestine. UNSC resolutions 242 and 338, to mention only two amongst dozens of binding laws decreed by the international community, have been blatantly flouted by every successive Israeli government since their passage (1967 and 1973 respectively).

The most recent ruling by the International Court of Justice, regarding the construction of the despicable separation wall – a creeping, steady and illegal annexation of Palestinian land – has been openly defied as Israel as continues to expand its territory unlawfully, sending thousands more Palestinians into the hell of occupation and dispossession.

So where exactly are the breaking news? Spare us the surprised reactions to the latest admissions of Bush’s “man of peace.”

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Picture of an illegal land appropriation in Palestine
Tuesday, September 14, 2004, 22:34
Would you allow your family’s olive groves to be uprooted by Israeli bulldozers, your land to be annexed so that a huge Israeli wall can rise on your fertile soil, and your people to be attacked with tear gas and sound bombs as they tried to protect it?

This old man from Deir Samit (West Bank) is being forcibly robbed of his land, his livelihood and his dignity by Israeli soldiers, but nobody will come to his aid. Would you have remained silent if it had been your grandfather?

(Photo from Associated Press.)

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Israel to begin Gaza compensation payments
Tuesday, September 14, 2004, 18:16
Don’t be fooled by the title: the compensation payments are for the settlers, not the wretched Palestinians.

11 years after Oslo, which provided for Palestinian autonomy in “Gaza and Jericho first,” and for which three very undeserving figures received the Nobel Peace Prize, the Israeli government has just approved a settlement package to coax (or bribe) Israelis living in Gaza into leaving their illegal settlements – which had been championed by Ariel Sharon in the first place.

8,000 armed Israelis have lived in lavish settlements while Palestinians watched from afar, behind the barbed wires protecting settler-only roads – the Israeli equivalent of Apartheid’s “whites only.” 8,000 armed Israelis have defied international law for 37 years, openly flouting resolutions and conventions and building suburban-style homes with lush gardens, while Palestinians are mostly reduced to drinking dirty water from burst pipes on the ground. 8,000 armed Israelis have been sheltered by over 20,000 Israeli soldiers who stopped all other traffic when the settlers felt like going for a drive.

The families of these 8,000 armed Israelis will each get between $200,000 and $500,000 just for moving out of a place they should have never occupied … and possibly for moving into other lands (the West Bank, East Jerusalem or even the Golan Heights) they should never occupy.

The comfortable settlements, too good for mere Palestinians, will be razed to the ground by Israeli bulldozers.

The Palestinians, dispossessed and homeless for decades, will get nothing. Except for a small part of the land that was theirs to begin with.

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Let freedom reign!
Tuesday, September 14, 2004, 16:06
This was possibly the most pathetic, corny and phony statement ever made by George W. Bush (even more than the idiotically provocative “bring’em on”), at least with reference to Iraq. On June 28, the US “handed over” (as if) “sovereignty” to an “interim government” appointed entirely by the CPA, triggering this far from impulsive note from Dubya: let freedom reign. Indeed. Paul Bremer had already hastily fled Baghdad, much like a thief afraid to be caught before the news spread beyond the Green Zone – the only part of Iraq really controlled by the present quasi-rulers, who are only able to witness the chaos in Iraq via their television screens.

This American-Iraqi partnership made of very strange bedfellows (including neocons, ex-Baathists and clergy sympathizers) has certainly allowed some sort of freedom to reign, to be fair: the freedom to bomb civilian centers indiscriminately, borrowing Israeli tactics and effecting "surgical strikes" on homes, crowds, ambulances and reporters; the freedom to lay siege on entire cities (like Fallujah and Najaf) while shelling them from the safety of helicopters, thus ensuring that helpless civilians are at the mercy of not only their missiles but also of a variety of common thugs, hardened religious extremists or terrorists roaming the streets and imposing their own laws within makeshift city-states spreading around Iraq like wildfire; the freedom to spread “democracy” in a rather selective manner, deciding who gets to remain armed (e.g. the Peshmerga and the Badr Army), and who doesn’t (e.g. the Mahdi Army), who gets to vote (the Green Zone?) and who doesn’t (“anti-Iraq areas”), and who gets to broadcast (Al Hurra) and who doesn’t (Al Jazeera … from which the government gets most of its news from the comfort of the Green Zone).

It is getting impossible to understand what exactly the Americans are thinking. Explaining why a helicopter fired on a burning Bradley on Sunday, killing scores of people, Major Phil Smith of the 1st Cavalry Division explained that “it was for the safety of the people around it.” They are certainly safe from further danger now.

This heart-wrenching account of Sunday’s events by Ghaith Abdul-Ahad in The Guardian today shoud be read, simply to begin imagining the magnitude of the situation. Then imagine similar scenes in other cities in Iraq, Afghanistan, Gaza and the West Bank. Then imagine the despair.

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Hurricane Ariel, man-made disaster, forecasts civil war
Monday, September 13, 2004, 00:56
The kettle is calling the pot black, and vice versa. Ariel Sharon, commonly known as The Bulldozer (although Hurricane seems a more comprehensive nickname, given his wide-ranging capacity to obliterate anything or anyone he chooses) is now warning the “hard-liners” that their rhetoric could lead to civil war in Israel.

One would normally deduce from such an admonition that a lenient, law-abiding and peaceful Sharon was struggling with radicals in order to do the right thing and withdraw all Israeli troops and settlements from Gaza. How inspirational!

Of course, this whole supposed debate about an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza is far from being one. The majority of Israeli citizens are only too willing to leave Gaza. Some want to leave because they recognize that it was occupied illegally and that settlers have no right to live in luxurious, lush conditions in the midst of the world’s biggest ghetto. Others have far less altruistic reasons, believing that Israel cannot sustain this occupation on both “territories” and that it should therefore concentrate on the West Bank. The only people who disagree are the hard-liners who outrageously claim Gaza – and the West Bank, and a lot more land they call Eretz Israel - as their birthright.

Sharon has not asked all Israeli citizens about his Gaza plans, and the uproar from Likudniks (and other extremists) plays perfectly to the international media, showing Sharon struggling to make the “painful concessions” which are demanded by international law. How he must be enjoying this farce.

If a national referendum were to be held in Israel, Sharon and his groupies would have little else to say about the matter, and the withdrawal from Gaza would finally happen 37 years after the world demanded it. As for any unrest, the civil war Sharon really wants to see is in Palestine - a gift he will hopefully never receive.

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The father, the son, and the poster
Saturday, September 11, 2004, 00:40
Propaganda by poster, and reform by succession. Sounds familiar? It should, if you are familiar with the Arab world. Not to be outdone by other countries, Egypt is increasingly abuzz with rumors that the Egyptian president’s 41-year old investment banker son, Gamal Mubarak, is poised to take the relay from his father. As can be expected, this is strenuously denied by all sides, but some people seem to be getting used to the idea, according to the BBC.

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Likud’s war doctrine travels to Russia, after settling in the US
Friday, September 10, 2004, 18:30
In today's Guardian, Naomi Klein eloquently explains the Likudization of the world after September 11, and tears apart Israeli and American (and now Russian) claims that they are fighting the global Islamic terror threat – rather than Palestinians seeking to retrieve their homeland, or Chechens demanding independence.

Bush had turned to Sharon’s doctrine right after 9/11, adapting Likudnik political philosophy to an American situation. Now, Putin is seeking to jump on the bandwagon as well. This extract does not do justice to the whole piece, well worth reading, but poses an essential argument:

“There has indeed been a dramatic rise in religious fundamentalism in the Muslim world. The problem is that under the Likud doctrine there is no space to ask why this is happening. We are not allowed to point out that fundamentalism breeds in failed states, where warfare has systematically targeted civilian infrastructure, allowing the mosques to start taking responsibility for everything from education to garbage collection. It has happened in Gaza, Grozny and Sadr City.”

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Disobedient Israeli soldiers: from traitors to saviors
Friday, September 10, 2004, 02:38
When a number of brave Israeli soldiers and pilots refused to serve in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967, objecting to the brutality demanded of them and considering incursions outside Israel to be immoral and illegal (which they are according to international law), some Israelis – in particular Likudniks and right-wingers - went ballistic, calling them traitors and reminding them that carrying out orders was not an option for them. These courageous refuseniks were trashed and prosecuted, but more joined them; to date, 626 Israeli soldiers of conscience have joined the Courage to Refuse campaign.

When Sharon started hinting that he might eventually withdraw from Gaza, making it sound as if it were a generous concession when it is only a small part of what international law has been demanding of Israel for 37 years, the same people who maligned disobedient soldiers now beg them to do exactly that: disobey orders and refuse to dismantle Jewish settlements.

Calling the pullout a “crime against humanity,” the protesters (including Netanyahu’s father and his bureau chief) described it as the “ethnic cleansing of Jews from their homeland.”

One would snicker if the situation weren’t so tragic. In the last five weeks, 69 Palestinians have been killed by Israel, figures you would never know from watching ordinary news. Today, an Israeli army jeep ran over a 17-year old Palestinian – killing him for having thrown stones at that very jeep. Are such murders not eligible for the charge of crimes against humanity? The refuseniks would probably agree.

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Iraqi people are being iradicated, says government official
Thursday, September 9, 2004, 11:05
It’s hard to believe it, but a member of the interim Iraqi government has finally deigned to mention the staggering number of Iraqi victims since the American-led invasion last March. Dr Amer al-Khuzaie, an Iraqi deputy health minister, despairs that many are buried without notification and deaths never registered, which makes it impossible to know the true figure of forgotten Iraqi casualties. (Most estimates are between 10,000 and 30,000 Iraqis killed, according to AP.)

"The Iraqi people are being eradicated. We must stop this haemorrhage, this bleeding," he told The Independent, reacting to news that 1,000 American soldiers had now died.

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Poisoned by Putin for telling the truth on Chechnya
Thursday, September 9, 2004, 10:45
Thankfully, Anna Politkovskaya has recovered after being poisoned by the Russian secret service (a story I mention in my blog on Tuesday). She has not lost her resolve to report the truth, nor could her ordeal weaken her integrity and make her cower in submission. As usual, her article is a must-read if one wants to understand more about the mess resulting from the Russian government’s criminal involvement in Chechnya.

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Botched Zawahiri jihad, and botched Kepel analysis
Thursday, September 9, 2004, 03:29
In his op-ed “Jihadists Failing to Win Muslim Minds,” an initially reassuring title, Gilles Kepel argues that Ayman Zawahiri, Al Qaeda’s top ideologue, “came up with the idea of using spectacular terrorism to shock the enemy and make the Muslim masses see the jihadists as knights.” He has failed miserably, says Kepel, stating the obvious, and explaining that this was a catastrophe for Islamic scholars (apparently without exception) as the jihad “backfired” and led to a “fitna.”

This is a gross simplification of Al Qaeda’s aims, which clearly go far beyond impressing the Muslim masses; their conversion is not a Qaeda priority, and Islamic movements have always known their appeal was limited. As for the implication that all Islamic scholars supported Zawahiri’s global jihad, it is baseless.

Kepel’s claim that the “U.S.-led coalition troops have pursued the war on terror to Iraq” greatly weakens his arguments (as does his absurd insinuation that the Palestinian issue is only one of jihad). America’s validations for invading Iraq have changed repeatedly, and Kepel seems to accept the least plausible (fighting terror) at face value.

Striving to categorize the latest terrorist atrocity, Kepel goes on to say that the jihadists “are looking desperately for new slogans and modes of action to trigger mass mobilization. This is the context for the North Ossetia massacre and the abduction of the French journalists in Iraq.”

Portraying the Beslan slaughter as a public relations exercise to win over Muslims is one of the most discreditable analyses to have emerged over the last few days. It shows a very limited understanding of the issues these terrorists have taken to extremes, and reduces their elaborate criminal planning to a gullible reading of Muslims’ propensity to toe the line.

Over the years, Kepel has made many insightful comments about Islamic groups; this was certainly not one of them. However, his account of the very great gap separating jihadists and the overwhelming majority of Muslims is spot on.

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Bush and war psychology
Thursday, September 9, 2004, 00:54
“When war psychology takes hold, the public believes, temporarily, in a ‘mythic reality’ in which our nation is purely good, our enemies are purely evil, and anyone who isn't our ally is our enemy”. That’s how an essay by Chris Hedges explains the psychology of war, as brought to us by Paul Krugman. If it makes sense in America’s case, is it so difficult to understand that other nations might relate equally strongly to such notions?

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Chechnya's tragic situation ... and the neocons' interest
Wednesday, September 8, 2004, 12:42
The Guardian has an interesting op-ed today on the neocons who are The Chechens' American friends, which may be news to many, and a piece by Ahmed Zakaev yesterday reminds us of the issues at stake in this ravaged country.

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Comical Allawi’s ban on Al Jazeera is déjà vu
Tuesday, September 7, 2004, 12:58
The interim Iraqi government (the one installed by the CPA to establish democracy, including freedom of speech, in Iraq) had initially banned Al Jazeera for one month, claiming it incited violence and instigated attacks against authorities. Lo and behold, one month later, the violence had not ceased, even though Al Jazeera’s office was still closed.

Therefore, Prime Minister Allawi (not as funny as Saddam’s Information Minister Sahaf, but just as ridiculous) has now extended the ban "indefinitely," complaining that Al Jazeera had not responded to his charges One has to wonder how long it will take the terrorists, insurgents, dissidents and simple opponents of the government to completely stop whatever it is Al Jazeera was motivating them to do. In the meantime, no news is still not good news in Iraq.

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Are Democrats getting back on track?
Tuesday, September 7, 2004, 12:41
John Kerry finally seems to be listening to a message that Clinton repeated until he was hoarse over a decade ago: it's the economy, stupid. Famed Clinton advisers (including the inimitable James Carville) have been brought in to rescue the Democrats’ disastrous campaign, steering it away from a self-destructive focus on Kerry’s Vietnam record, and ridiculous wavering on Iraq. Faced with two highly inapt candidates, Americans might only be choosing between bad and worse, but at least they can start having an option.

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Russia’s brave journalists silenced – and poisoned
Tuesday, September 7, 2004, 02:22
The great Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya was poisoned on her way to Beslan from Moscow, after two unsuccessful attempts to board previous flights. Her courageous and honest reporting from Chechnya has for years rubbed the Russian government the wrong way. While she recovers in hospital, many believe that she (and several of her colleagues) have been deliberately “prevented” from reaching Beslan and from reporting what they saw.

In October 2002, the Chechen rebels who had stormed a Moscow theater (an event which also ended tragically after the Russian forces launched an assault) requested her presence during negotiations with the government. She immediately left Los Angeles, where she was about to receive a Courage in Journalism Award from the International Women’s Media Foundation. She later wrote this very poignant article about her experience in the theater. Her reporting on Russia’s involvement in Chechnya is incomparable; may she still tell the world much more.

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After the massacre in Beslan
Tuesday, September 7, 2004, 01:16
In the past few days, several news organizations asked me to comment on the awful hostage situation in Beslan, even before reports surfaced that some of the terrorists were Arab. The calls came from people knowing my area of expertise full well, who yet instinctively turned to people like me to analyze an area that is - geographically - far from the Middle East.

No matter where it happens, terrorism automatically conjures the Middle East and Islam, a notion that gets all too often substantiated by the revelation of the perpetrators’ origins, or the causes they claim to defend. I have found myself countless times in the seemingly impossible position of explaining my aversion to such acts of violence (especially suicide bombings) against unarmed Israeli civilians, while supporting the Palestinian cause full-heartedly. At the other end of the spectrum, it is frustrating to attempt explaining the context in which such attacks happen without being accused, ludicrously, of justifying terrorism.

This evening, a television report from Grozny, Chechnya’s demolished capital, showed gloomy residents who were simply at a loss for words, horrified by what happened in Beslan, and apprehensive about the consequences they might face from a Russian government and army whose brutality they have been enduring for over a decade. In front of a Moscow mosque, a few Muslim men hovered quietly, equally afraid; one of them angrily faced the camera and damned the terrorists, unable to comprehend how they could have attacked women and children.

The outrage in the Muslim world has been immense, but it is not the first time Muslims have reacted like this to terrorism. This time, however, Muslim condemnations were heard in the West.

In spite of the horror which fills us at the thought and sight of such actions, and leaving aside media and government propaganda of all sorts, we still must face the facts: terrorist acts are all despicable, and the fanatics who commit many of them are lost cases which can only be fought with every means available. But – and it is an important but – there are also those terrorists who consider themselves to be retaliating for similar acts of violence committed against their people, or who believe that this is the only option they have to coerce foreign governments into leaving them alone and taking them out of their misery. In such a state of affairs, something can still be done to stop the horror. Many governments (including the Russian and the Israeli) must be held accountable for the suffering they have inflicted on two sets of people: those who they govern lawfully, and those who they rule illegally and whose lives they have violated.

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Chalabi's back
Monday, September 6, 2004, 00:07
Ahmad Chalabi gave an interview on Al Arabiya on Thursday, managing to sound like every Arab regime - and even the Bush administration - by blaming everyone for whatever has gone wrong – in this particular case, the attempt on his life which killed two of his bodyguards. It could be terrorists, Saddam loyalists, other parties, and foreign forces, he said. (Who else is left, especially when considering that members of the government could fall under any of these categories, depending on the source you ask?)

More importantly, the once very secular Chalabi gave another sign of his increasing proximity to Shi'a circles, by lamenting in detail the despicable living conditions in Sadr City, the slum of Baghdad formerly known as Saddam City inhabited mostly by poor Shi'a Iraqis.

In October 2003, Chalabi showed his sudden religiosity by siding with Sistani over the inclusion of Shari’a law in TAL (the Transitional Administrative Law). Now, he is championing the cause of Muqtada Sadr’s followers, having realized the considerable potential of their support.

Somehow, he seems to be getting stronger and has thwarted every American and Iraqi government attempt to sideline him. Watch out for more prophetic statements from Chalabi; remember, after the raid on his house, he asked the US to “let my people go.”

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Questions on terrorism
Monday, September 6, 2004, 00:04
No suicide bombers had attacked Israel for six months, Israeli officials said repeatedly on Tuesday as they tried to justify the wall cutting off the West Bank (and eating into Palestinian territory) from Israel. The way to stop terror, they argued ad nauseam, is to extend the wall (declared illegal by the International Court of Justice). It brings Israel security, they said. Only suicide bombers are breaking the peace and quiet, most media reported unquestioningly.

In the same six-month period, however, 436 Palestinians were killed by Israel, but who would know? No breaking news ever announce these horrific deaths by bullets, bombs, missiles, and makeshift houses crumbling over helpless innocents. No international outcry ever ensues following countless Israeli attacks on people (3.5 million of them) caged in bits of territory their grandparents called home.

All human and legal conventions, including the Geneva Conventions, have been violated repeatedly by Israel, but the only terrorism that brings outrage to the world is that committed by Palestinians. Don’t both qualify as terrorism?

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