Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Lesley Hughes gets Finkelsteined

Election season is nigh and it’s hard not to get lost in the muzzle and hazing that is typical of the campaigning. Here in North America, we are treated to two elections in the short span of a month, with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper calling for a new government over the “no confidence” and the incumbent youngster Barack Obama taking on the experienced old-timer John McCain, engulfed in the dramatics on who will unseat the ever-more obsolete George W. Bush. You get the mudslinging, the slurs, the jokes, the speeches, and even a fixed vote. It is the time when a nation gets shaken up and we get to hear the elitist-of-the-elite duke it out, using all means necessary in order to embarrass their opponent in defeat by the polls. All etiquette is out the window here; the old adage of “all is fair in love and war” rings true. We had the pinnacle of it earlier this year when Obama was called a Muslim; after all, in these times, being a Muslim is a “smear” when you aren’t one. The odd thing was that this was pushed by members of his party.

The gloves come off and everything and everyone you have ever breached upon is up for scrutiny; well, except if you’re John McCain and his “war-hero” and POW status. Just last week Canada was privy to quite a “nude scandal” when NDP candidate Julian West in British Columbia resigned when it became public that his antics “at an environmental conference in 1996”, which involved “skinny dipping with a group of teenagers”, as well as other reports that had him exposing himself to teenage females. Not exactly the model candidate to run your community taxes, I guess? Naturally, it is just part-and-parcel of the gossip columns that has us steering away from serious issues such as the falling economy and fledgling businesses in Canada. In addition, economist Michael Hudson laid out the nightmare that would befall the Canadian dollar thanks to the casino mortgage crashes down south. These aren’t real issues: what’s really important is if our local candidate was too frivolous in his younger years.

This makes for entertaining viewing/reading about the skeletons in our officials’ past. I mean, who would have guessed that we were close to electing a man with a flair for “nudist” practices. Or even worse, vote for a woman who is so odious that she invokes anti-Semitic notions in relation to the attacks of 9/11. Yes, this is the one Lesley Hughes.

Hughes, to those who aren’t aware or who hasn’t googled her name already, was the Winnipeg-area Liberal candidate forced to step down thanks to Liberal leader and PM candidate Stephane Dion. Rumours are flying abound and the usual canard of “anti-Semitism” is making sparks across Canada, and with Dion being pressured as an unfit “leader”, whatever that means anymore in politics, felt the need to strengthen this attribute to show voters that he has the fortitude to fire someone who is deemed a liability towards the campaign. And with all the configurations about North American politics, it’s hard not to fault that decision by Mr Dion on a realpolitik perspective. But Dion left his fellow party member to the wolves as Hughes, still on the ballot because of the late dismissal, is scraping to keep some sort of dignity amidst all the horror that has her respected image going down the drain.

Not a lot of information has been divulged about Hughes’ career. In fact, it’s a very arduous task to try to find any snippet of it at all online. The fruit of my findings is limited to one article where Hughes herself is the sole figure in exchanging any kind of information about her background, as she

“had written a biography of a leading figure in Winnipeg's Jewish community, had dramatized the Holocaust in a play, and taught the Holocaust for 15 years in her classes at the University of Winnipeg.”

This is by no means ossified as concrete evidence that she is not an anti-Semite. Without further information about her then all we have is her writings, which from the looks of things is pretty clear of anything offensive since she has skimmed through unchecked after all these years. What I mean by this is that anti-Semitism is not a phenomenon that is latent for so long and then manifests itself in some marginal publication somewhere only to dissipate, remaining dormant again for another decade or so. It isn’t like a light switch you can keep off and flick on at a whim. It resembles more like the drunken ranting of Mel Gibson.

Here's where all this controversy is rooted from: her one article written back in 2002 where she hints at prior Israeli knowledge of the 9/11 attacks. Of course, this is nothing to new to anyone. Her precise words as thus:

“German Intelligence (BND) claims to have warned the U.S. [about the terrorist attacks] last June, the Israeli Mossad and Russian Intelligence in August. Israeli businesses, which had offices in the Towers, vacated the premises a week before the attacks, breaking their lease to do it. About 3000 Americans working there were not so lucky.”

Naturally, whenever you connect 9/11 with Israel that has you in cahoots with Robert Faurisson, David Irving and David Duke: the epitome of evil, a peddler of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and a disciple of the Protocols of Elders of Zion. The reaction of much of the bloggers and the press was normally outlandish and from the Canadian Jewish community, it was predictable. The Black Rod, a notorious right-wing blogland for all things Conservative, was not very courteous when they refer to Hughes, calling her a “wacko nut” and Sylvain Abitol, Co-President of the Canadian Jewish Congress asserted, “Ms. Hughes crossed a line which cannot be crossed under any circumstances because there is no place in Canada for 9/11 Jewish conspiracy theories.” Not to be outdone was Bernie Farber who lavished Dion for his decision to dismiss Hughes and stated that “[t]here is no room in Canada or anywhere for these modern-age twists on the age-old anti-Semitic calumnies with these odious and dangerous conspiracy theories." The only thing missing is for Hughes to be given the illustrious skill of being a Holocaust-denier or even a Nazi. To her credit, Hughes has stuck to her guns and there was even an online poll showing dismay at her removal. But it seems like the damage has been done and this will forever be burned on Hughes’ career.

Not that anything I write here will change the recent events nor even halt the blathering that is gathering steam in the blogs and the press. The National Post had an editorial that was filled with glee at Hughes’ misfortune (and defending Tory MP Lee Richardson). There has been scant reaction from the left spectrum, not wanting to touch the issue as if it was a hot potato that they don’t want to be burned with (with few exceptions, the Canadian Dimension, Paul Graham and Henry Makow).

What seems to have been the common denominator in the flawed analysis of Hughes’ comments is the grave deception of what she really represented or embodied. In comments, it is circulating that Hughes wrote that the Mossad knew in advance of the terrorists attacks and selfishly evacuated their own, meaning Jewish, kept the intelligence for “themselves”, the collective that Jews supposedly have over us Westerners, and left the rest to burn. That seems to have been the summary that everyone is focusing on. The more I see the same quoted line, the more I am under the belief that they are just limiting themselves to the highlighted print and not reading the article in its full text, or even in its full paragraph.

Here’s what The Black Rod is shamelessly accusing Hughes of:

“[T]he Israeli government tipped off their co-religionists who sneakily moved without warning those who don’t share their religion and letting them die in a terrorist attack. Yeah, no anti-Semitism there, not if you look at it with one eye closed and squint with the other while turning in circles till you get dizzy.”

Another blog seems to have followed this line of thought, omitting the earlier part of the paragraph that mentioned

“German Intelligence (BND) claims to have warned the U.S. [about the terrorist attacks] last June, the Israeli Mossad and Russian Intelligence in August.”

Similarly Jonathan Kay of the National Post was guilty of this pathetic display of journalism. It seems that in their haste to get to the most offensive nature of Hughes' article they decided to skip one part of the paragraph, possibly thinking that it was irrelevant and decontextualised. (To its credit, The Black Rod quoted it fully but seems to have come to the same conclusion anyway.)

Why am I reporting on this seemingly harmless work of journalism? Because I do not find it harmless at all. Not in the least. If you scroll back up the page to the original quote on Hughes’ article and then hit page down to the flubbered one quoted by the right then you really have two different pictures. The entire paragraph had “German Intelligence” warning “the US” in June, the Israelis and the Russians in August.

Let’s step back here: the Germans informed the Americans in June, two months before the Israelis who were informed in August. The fact that this doesn’t seem abnormal to anyone accusing Hughes of anti-Semitism here is rather preposterous or selfish in their own right to benefit from a Liberal candidate having to step down, no matter the issue; it just so happens that this one is around 9/11 and Israel, ie Jew. This sentence contradicts everything that the right has been stating, that the Israelis were selfish in keeping this information for themselves. This seems to be more of a stinging account of US incompetence since they were informed three months before the attack but it was just ignored. The Israelis seemed to have taken this piece of information as sound and did what they had to do. While we can all speculate as to how much the Israelis knew, and I have dealt with this subject before, it is up to the Americans’ own government to inform their citizens of a danger in their country. Israel, as an ally, may have been obliged to do so. I can never know and neither can anyone else here unless there is a major investigation into the operation (which there never will be until it is too late) to what extent the relationship was, but it has been reported consistently that the Bush Administration had ample evidence that a terrorist attack was imminent and did nothing about it.

What Kay, his National Post cohorts, The Black Rod and others want you to think is that Hughes claimed Israel had foreknowledge of these events and decided to evacuate without informing the US about what was going to happen, even though they were already informed two months prior. What is also telling is the word Jew is not evident in Hughes’ original post; in fact, that is a phenomenon that Kay, etc. are guilty of as they have put it upon themselves that “Israeli businesses” means Jew, and therefore that anything condemning “Israeli businesses” means something of an anti-Semitic slant. You’d be hard-pressed to find any of these sites having the word Jew in quotation marks: that means Hughes never wrote that word at all. All she was guilty of was reporting that “Israeli businesses” did something unusual in breaking their lease before a major attack.

This is a classic defense of all Israel’s apologists. What Israel’s defenders have up their sleeve is a major card: the anti-Semitism card. You need not mention the word Jew, or even refer to a Jew; you can complain about Israel’s policies in the West Bank and Gaza and you’ll end up in the Jimmy Carter end of the dividing line here. Steve Walt and John Mearsheimer, two scholars who have distinguished careers, were not immune to the attacks when they published a best-seller last year. Israel could be guilty of as many war crimes as possible and that will not be enough for anyone to detach the anti-Semite card. It is the classic defense mechanism that has kept Israel and its supporters in a bubble free from criticism. The list of victims is a long one and we can add Leslie Hughes to the growing list.

And the list can only grow longer, not shorter. As we have it, it is in the interests of those who support Israel to equate Israel with Jewishness. It’s hard not to make that distinction since Israel is known as the Jewish state. But this only curries favour with those who are not in the know about Israel and about the inner workings of the Jewish state and its caliphates. For Israel is not just a state with Jews, it has 1.4 million Arab citizens among it, plus a good portion of non-Jews who immigrated from the former Soviet who have no desire to be Jewish. It also has a healthy number of Bedouin; it even has Arab members in the Knesset (though only in single digits). But yes, immediately we tend to think Israelis as Jewish, as it gets clearer by the day that this Jewishness is the one thing that counts when you are a citizen of Israel. (Let's not forget about those Israelis who do not wish to be identified with the policies of its own government, similar to Americans who wish to be detached from the conflation that Bush and his cronies speak them since he is the leader of the US. These courageous Israelis see the folly in blindly supporting everything Israel does in its name, going to lengths as facing assassination.)

It is a perfect ploy to deflect it from the real issues here: it’s difficult to stem the tide when you are painted as an anti-Semite. No one wants to be invoked as a neo-Nazi, a Holocaust denier or a terrorist sympathiser (unless you are one). When you deride critics of Israel as someone with an axe to grind from anachronisms dating back to past centuries, it minimises what they have to say no matter how truthful it might be. For how can you take an anti-Semite seriously? This is what happened to former President Jimmy Carter and apparently for Hughes also. It is eerily similar to those who fear of being depicted as unpatriotic, not supportive of troops, or, dare I say it again, terrorist sympathiser. These are standard practices to neglect the issues and facts that are presented and instead focus on the presenter’s character; analysis of their background and history is all up for grabs, similar to those running for office.

There is also a spectacular omission from the original blog entry. Hughes averred to internet journalism and their findings, therefore relying on the reports of other journalists, which is what we all do here. It reminds me of what Mehrene Larudee said,

“We rely on the truths of others.”

We must do our own research but we depend on the ability of a reporter to tell the truth. That’s what the academics do and that’s what the journalists should be doing. That really seems to be missing by the guys from the National Post or else they would have done their duty and read the blog entry in full.

Here’s what else you would have missed if you perused through the right-wing blogs and press:

“If the work of Internet journalists is correct, then the war [in Afghanistan] is neither a holy war, not a grand clash of civilizations between East and West, and our soldiers were lost to us and to their families to keep drugs and oil profits flowing in the U.S.

Until we know the truth, we should refuse to add one more Canadian body to the pile of dead in Afghanistan.”

Hughes covered her tracks here. The “If” is the operative word here. She did not testify that what she wrote is dogma as she is relying on the research she has done. For if she believed everything that she wrote, would she have written “if”? She even ends with “until we know the truth”, meaning she doesn’t know the truth of the matter just yet, just that there is a lot of evidence showing that what the leaders of the free world are saying was not airtight when analysed by experts who are not on the company payroll. Rather, it seemed more like a position for a further inquiry instead of a belief in an Israeli role in 9/11. As the saying goes, “inquiring minds want to know”. I’m positive Hughes was not the only one curious to the very covert Israeli activity in the US.

Was Hughes right?

Despite the obvious condescension from those who simply want to dismiss this as a pure conspiracy theory, there had been a lot of reports that can lead one to believe that the Israelis had plenty of information about the hijackers of 9/11. What happened was
scores of Israelis being detained after the attacks, and there were some 140 who were taken into custody before that also. They were arrested along with 1,000 Muslims under the rubric of “Special Interest”, as INS officials in Cleveland and St. Louis testified that they were “of special interest”.

Now this may seem harmless but coupled with the great expose by
Christopher Ketcham in Salon, Carl Cameron in Fox News, yes, that’s right, Fox News, about the role of the Israeli art student spy ring, then there are too many hunches not snuffed out just yet. The suspicious disappearance of anything related to these events from Fox and Salon only adds more curiousity about its magnitude. The DEA reported “suspicious activities” by Israeli art students, as there were reports of them “visiting the homes of numerous DEA employees” and attempted “to circumvent the access control systems at DEA offices, and when these individuals began to solicit their paintings at the homes of DEA employees.” These aren’t rantings of some sidelined anti-Semite, these are serious reporters doing their job digging at something that happens in the US all the time: espionage. We can invoke Jonathan Pollard, Larry Franklin and even the USS Liberty here.

As we have it,
even the Jewish publication Forward admits to this fact. This does not seem like that Hughes was very far off from what other journalists were reporting about six years ago. If you follow all of this, you will find out that the Israeli spy students had accommodation in close proximity to four hijackers in Hollywood, Florida and had followed their movements very closely for months, some even as early as January 2001. None of this was made public to the US UNTIL they were caught doing so. As one reporter (who I can’t remember) put it, “how could they have not known?”

On top of all of this,
we get the even more suspicious activity of the trio who were cheering as the Twin Towers burned. As it turned out, these were employees of a mysterious moving company called Urban Moving Systems. It’s funny how we want to forget but they were all photographed “smiling” as the towers collapsed. These incidents seem too much of a coincidence to be ignored.

All of this is missing from the right’s account of Hughes’ blog entry. It’s easier to relegate it to conspiracy theories so you don’t have to do any work in debunking her accusations about the Israeli intelligence. One blog even put on the ridiculous
Anti-Defamation League publication that was meant to finally put the myth to rest. The sad thing about it was that this poster had no clue of the contents of the publication and wanted to keep the faith that Abe Foxman was a man of great fortitude, which he is not. The paper is rife with assertations of “myths” without ever citing a fact against the reported findings about the Israeli spy ring. Their best defense is guilt by association: since the neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers all believe this, then it must be false because they are men for white power and people who don’t think the Holocaust ever happened. They can say that AIPAC is powerful and cite many AIPAC members boasting of its power and even Israeli MK members gloating of its lobby in the US, show the numbers of AIPAC donations, and still call it “myth” because the neo-Nazis believe it is true. Not a good defense. Maybe the guys at The Black Rod should read Walt and Mearsheimer’s book since they sneer at James Petras and “affluent Jews” and “powerful Jewish organizations”. What is ignored, possibly on purpose, is that there are many prominent Jews who hold very powerful seats in the Bush Administration and even in past Administrations. This structure and pattern was so adamant and blatant that the Camp David Accords were featuring heavily on Jewish influence with the lack of an Arab voice. Because of this, Dan Kurtzer dubbed them Jim Baker's "Jewboys" in his latest book. It led to some "embarrassing" moments, as "[t]here was no expert on our team on Islam or Muslim perspectives", not surprising since it was filled mainly with Israel supporters.

It has been seven years since the attack and still we are no closer to the truth about these matters, thanks to a very obedient Administration that wants nothing to be exposed that could incriminate its own people who were asleep at the post. It also wants to guard their greatest ally, the special of special friends, Israel; it has many positions paid for and pushes many bills into Congress. The only attempted response was from The Black Rod on the issue of the Odigo messengers that were sent to two employees on the morning of 9/11. While The Black Rod cites a
story from Ha'aretz (unlinked even though I was able to find it) that

"two of its workers received messages two hours before the Twin Towers attack on September 11 predicting the attack would happen, and the company has been cooperating with Israeli and American law enforcement, including the FBI, in trying to find the original sender of the message predicting the attack."

Further down he recalls the interview with one Alex Diamandis, the Odigo Vice President of Sales and Marketing. Not specifically the head honcho or even one that is related to anything about security issues; he's a marketing man and sales person. But there is a discreptancy here: Diamandis revealed that "something big was going to happen in a certain amount of time, and it did -- almost to the minute". That's funny: the earlier account was TWO HOURS prior to the attacks. Diamandis has it happening instantly. Upon further review, a
book available online has the FBI still investigating the matter two months later, with Diamandis and co. unwilling to provide "more details" as it "would only lead to more conjecture." If it was no secret, then what is the harm in finding out or making it public?

While The Black Rod was correct in pointing out that Odigo's office was not located within the World Trade Center (but close enough from Ground Zero), that does not mean the case is closed that Hughes was incorrect in stating "Israeli businesses" vacating "the premises a week before the attacks". The Black Rod assumed that Odigo was the only Israeli business apparent in the 9/11 conspiracy theory: the folk at The Black Rod were
unaware of the Zim-American Israeli Shipping Co. There was a timeframe where the company moved from the 16th floor of the WTC to Norfolk, Virginia, planned six months earlier. The company is half owned by the Israeli government. All attempts for more information from the company about its move, breaking its year lease, were rebuffed.

This is all available to anyone willing to grant more than five minutes of research. I guess that was too much to ask for the right blognuts. I was even able to locate the
English summaries of the Der Spiegel and Der Zeit articles that were published damning the Israeli intelligentsia role in 9/11 and its subsequent role in being idle in the wake of the most sophisticated terrorist attack we have known. Here’s the evidence written:

“According to research by ZEIT, between December 2000 and April 2001 a whole horde of Israeli counter-terror investigators posing as students were on the trail of Arab terrorists and their cells in the United States," SPIEGEL writes. "In their secret investigations the Israelis came very close to the later perpetrators of Sept. 11. In the town of Hollywood, Florida, they identified the two former Hamburg students and later terror pilots Mohammed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi as suspected terrorists. Agents lived in the vicinity of the apartment of the two seemingly normal flight school students, observing them around the clock.”

Hughes didn’t even state this, but it may have been implied. She also used the German intelligence line but never alluded to anything close to a spy ring syndicate, only that German intelligence “claims” to have done so. This does not mimic the imagery of Hitler to me; more or less Hughes was relying on the integrity of the German authorities and not of some maligned fascist or noted anti-Semite; Hughes was going on the evidence given by the German intelligence agency. Hughes was just inquisitive on certain auspicious reports about Israel’s Mossad according to these claims; the more appropriate and reasonable thing to do was check out these claims and if it was by some anti-Semite planting falsehoods to give Israel a bad name (and Jews automatically), it would be the German intelligence that’s guilty, not Hughes. None of that was ever undertaken and that’s why these “theories” still fly about.

But why would Israel withhold information from its greatest ally?

Exactly the same reason why it does its espionage: to benefit Israel. Jonathan Pollard divulged American secrets to the Soviets in exchange for a massive influx of Soviet Jews; Larry Franklin eavesdrop key American intelligence on Iran to AIPAC in the hope to push for a hard stance on Iran, ie bombs; and
the USS Liberty? Well I’m not quite sure about that one just yet but we still do not have the proper inquiry on that matter. But what we do know is that Israel cannot be exculpated from spy activity in the US even to the detriment of the Americans. So how can 9/11 be any different?

Thanks to hindsight of seven years, we can really put the pieces together. We knew of the strong pro-Israel crowd that pushed for the war in Iraq. There was the co-ordinated paper of the Project for a New American Century called
“The Clean Break”, authored by key members of the Bush Administration written for then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Its prime objection was to restructure the map of the Middle East in order to benefit Israel.

“Israel can shape its strategic environment, in cooperation with Turkey and Jordan, by weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria. This effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq — an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right — as a means of foiling Syria’s regional ambitions.”

Iraq was the first to go. Iran was meant to be next. Revelations?

Without 9/11, all of this would have been incomprehensible. The attacks was the perfect prerequisite in order to implement the doctrine to reshape the Middle East in Israel’s favour: that puts a different light on why those spy students were so jubilant when the attacks happened, which they may have foreknowledge of. How could they have taken that photo without knowing? How about the getaway with the same type of van and the same company name?

Without 9/11, Israel could not justify their beefed up military package with the US. Without the “war on terror”, Israel would not be able to do what it does to the Palestinians, the Lebanese, and the Arab world in general without condemnation from the rest of the world. Because of the “common interests” of both parties involved, an attack on the US would mean a gung-ho revenge mentality that would have its guns aimed at Israel’s enemies: the Islamic world. By letting 9/11 happen, it would benefit immensely by letting America get rid of its problems of hegemony in the region.

9/11 gave both nations carte blanche for their militarism. Every contraversial measure could be justified as a response to 9/11. The Israelis had a great stake in the aftermath. This is the information that they withheld from the slanders of Hughes.

Now it certainly is not anti-Semitic to bring up these charges against Israel even when the Israeli press reported on these findings also. (It’s normal for Israel to be more open about their role than it is in a very compliant press here in North America.) But it’s a new world order and we are nudging closer to a very broad definition of anti-Semitism here. The classical defintion is being thrown out the window; it is being replaced with a new conglomerate, one that lumps in all that is critical of Israel and its policies into one that is part of a conspiracy to destroy the Jews. This is a dangerous sphere we find ourselves in as this only complicates the matter of accepted speech and dialogue and true anti-Semitism.

We have come to expect this sort of pandering to the Jewish community here in North America. Dion celebrated Israel’s anniversary; Harper backed Israel’s decimation of Lebanon two years ago and Canada was the first country to boycott Hamas. Little will change when every candidate who is deemed a danger to the status quo is fired for being an “anti-Semite”.

Anti-immigrants is alright by us

In glaring contrast,
Richardson caused a bit of a furore when he blamed immigrants for the rise in crime. He excoriated the “kid” who did not grow up “next door”, who worshipped “a difficult culture” and “don’t have the same respect for authority”. Richardson “regretted” the remarks but he seems to have a job still. This just shows how easy it is to demean “immigrants”, the scapegoat of all things wrong with the economy and crime, without there being a threat of losing your job.

Harper came to Richardson’s defense, stating that it was "an extreme example of a non-story being blown up," putting the blame on “gotcha journalism that have nothing to do with anything that voters care about in this campaign." For Harper and his Conservative pals, this does not remind them at all of what happened to Hughes. This was an example of a media too involved in minutae, going through every little detail to sensationalise a story and nitpicking over every little thing said or written by a candidate. The difference is the target of the “attack”: for Richardson, the poor immigrant who aren’t the kids we knew, and Hughes at Israel, which was immediately dubbed equated to affluent Jewish power.

I do not advocate the firing of eithern, or is it a defense of the allegation that Israel was “behind” the horror of 9/11; there is no evidence that points to Zionist responsibility in forming the attack or even colluding with the perpetrators; but it seems both were the victim of Harper’s “gotcha journalism”. But this is an example of who the real whipping boy is and what is accepted, even though Richardson recanted in his statements and Hughes has not. And I do not believe that this is a prime example of the work of a powerful Zionist cabal that wants to control every little thing the media says over Israel, even though there is ample evidence that directs us to that conclusion. Dion was pandering to a political base that he knew he could not offend; Farber and his CJC gang are strong and influential. In the past,
Farber has been known to believe that “the Internet must be tamed”, because it is a medium that is dangerous to control, a “wild frontier”. There is no such equivalent for the immigrant lobby. It is painstakingly clear of their absence here, what Steven Plaut would vouch for (a strong Arab and liberal lobby), but yet they are unequipped to take down a candidate who tied crime to immigrants and unable to defend a woman who uses Israel’s supposed past crime as a beneficiary. Fittingly, this would have been the opportune time to “take control” of the talking points.

Whether Hughes was right or not (a matter that was of less importance to everyone), it seems that she will be another victim of the smear campaign by Israel’s supporters. Pressured into stepping down by her party leader, Dion can only be seen as an opportunist and not a loyal party leader. The momentum is stinging and Hughes will be relegated to pariah status.

The lesson learned is if you are in the political running, know who you are criticising; it might cost you your career. Choosing your words carefully so you can be as benign as possible is the ticket. It makes for a very entertaining election campaign. (One that is absent of any foreign policy debate vis-à-vis Israel. And that’s the way we like it.)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Zionist to the Core

On a couple of revered blogs by Jewish progressives there has been a fair bit of commotion, mostly limited to the responses in the comments section, a couple of which would merit a good deal of analysis as the debate rages on in the blogosphere about what to do with the current impasse between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and who is one to fault them? Aren’t we exhausted about the round-a-bouts that lead us back to Square 1 or the “One step forward, two steps back” scenario that only contribute to the deepening separation of the two embattled nationalities that a solution seems even more out of reach? I know I am done with it all and I can put a wager that the Palestinians and the Israelis (and even the Syrians, Lebanese, Egyptians and Jordanians can be lumped in too) caught in the middle between two weak party players attempting to mediate what has been the unmediatable are tired and inured to the hopelessness.

Dan Fleshler, an accomplished insider Jew who has many credentials as well as plenty of insight about the AIPAC lobby, lashed out at the “bloggers from the Israel-can-do-no-right crowd”, whose salient “silence” on
Ethan Bronner’s latest piece in the New York Times gave Fleshler a reason to smile, not just at the positive Bronner article but at the pundits who are like wolves to any negative Israeli press. For Fleshler, the residents of Jenin who are intent on rebuilding after such a tragic episode back in 2002, “[p]roductive cooperation between the occupiers and the occupied, and possible models for cooperation between two states, has no place in the worldview” of those who are in the firm belief that Israel’s “real motive” is “to hide the ongoing colonization”. The example of Gilboa, whom Jews and Arabs “defy skeptics” by setting initiatives that might suture the dividing rifts together, is a true anomaly for anti-Zionists and harsh critics of Israel who find it “discomforting” that Palestinians are “now trying to figure out how to work with, rather than against, their neighbors.”

Unintentionally (since Fleshler and I are not in any capacity linked except via blogging) I am part of Fleshler’s critique. Just perusing through this blog and it is patently obvious who is (majorly) at fault for the situation we are at now in my view. Just over a week ago,
I titled my post “Failure for Expansionism”, a rigorous review of Israel’s successful migration from an occupier by force into an occupier by proxy, a systemic approach to give PR credentials to gain assent by the international bodies to continue its encroachment into occupied land. Without the contextualisations, this could be interpreted as vituperative and written with rancour. Not necessarily a bright light in the “darkness”. (In addition, it demeaned Mahmoud Abbas and the late Yasser Arafat as a “satrap” and an “occupier by proxy”, the Oslo period as a Trojan horse that led to the“abortion of the Palestinian resistance movement”, and that Israel “chose to make its own path” to the delegitimisation of Arafat and Abbas as “nothing more than a puppet of Israel’s doing”. This is all too well represented in Fleshler’s piece on “cranky bloggers” from the “Israel-can-do-no-right crowd”.)

Now I do have little bones to pick at Fleshler’s remarks, and one really needs no defense here as I am under the impression that Fleshler has grown too weary of reports that only exacerbate the tensions rather than corral the differences to mend the hurt. And certainly, Fleshler and I are not at opposite polarities on the issue of the solution here: while there may be nuanced agreements and proposals, the central focus of the struggle for peace is to end the occupation and end the (accelerated)
settlements of the West Bank, engage Hamas in Gaza and (I cannot speak for Fleshler in all of this) dismantle the wall. It really is a no-brainer for all invovled: two states, with an agreed guideline on final borders, whether including the Negev, the Arab Triangle and the settlements near Jerusalem as an exchange. Fleshler has not “given up quite yet” on two states, largely because the alternatives are too simplistic and impractical. Unforunately, Fleshler immediately relegates those who advocate another solution, ie the one-state solution, as one who has “given up” on two states. Very true, but why have they gone that path?

Despite the groundbreakers in Jenin and Gilboa (who must be commended), there are
too many infractions by Israel to actually take notice of it. It’s as if this example was a flashlight in a deserted forest at midnight, with the batteries about dead. Who’s going to recharge the batteries to lead us out from the darkness and the unknown road ahead? We can see safety but what barriers are stopping us from reaching sanctuary?

Personally, I have been on record to support a unitary state, whether binationalism or a “one man, one vote” federalism. Either way, this land has to be shared, and since it is quite tiny, why not attempt to live with each other instead of splitting into a partition that has no spectacular paradigms that are exemplary (India-Pakistan, Ireland, Korea).
We look to the lessons of South Africa as the hope for resolution and restitution, but South Africa today is far from the utopia and things remain largely unchanged there. But because of the idealist notion that a true democracy has to espouse every citizen of this country, whether Jew or Arab, is one that I (and most of us) are endeared to, we must apply it to all nations to avoid discrimination and dehumanisation. As a humanist, the plight of the Palestinian of being nobodies has to cease, and if it’s in the case where all Palestinians have a choice to return to their former lands of Jaffa, Beersheba and Tiberias then that would be justice at its finest.

(Since when do we ever get the justice we seek? Most of us still long for her, others sit in a chair and get a lethal injection, while millions can languish in refugee camps subsisting on close to nothing. Only a minority can ever achieve the restitution they fight for.)

Because of this thinking and support for Palestinian solidarity, many (and Fleshler included) have attributed it to a myopic view of the conflict, one that has only regarded the Palestinian camp of the issue and neglecting the Israelis who must also be taken in the equation here. Fleshler is not incorrect in this analysis but he is also not totally correct either. I believe Fleshler’s real objection is that this neglect will only alienate and marganlise those Israelis who do want to help the Palestinian cause but not at the total expense of the Israelis as to most Zionists and post-Zionists, support for the Palestinians usually is the equivalency of the destruction of the Zionist ideology of Israel, ie that Israel cannot be a Jewish state. Now I cannot speak for the rest who show sympathy for the a unitary state, and I do believe that that’s what most academics and scholars who hold symposiums advocating a one state feel it as, but everyone wants this occupation to end. That is the main thing to document here and that’s what most reporters and journalists write about: the damning nature of making Palestinians submit to the omnipotence of Israel’s power. Think about it: those
scathing pieces about settlements are not (totally) ideological, it’s recording what Israel has approved (again and again). Those reports about Palestinian life under occupation are not because those reporters are anti-Israel or sadists who live in the shadows of evil, it’s because they are unreported in the mainstream media and that it is a determined dig into what is mostly unknown to the rest of the Western world. It is also meant to be a debunker of propaganda, a demystification of the myth that Palestinians are all terrorists. It can even be a pretext for further violence that might erupt by a bulldozer in Jerusalem.

And it has been Israel’s intransigence and belligerency in the face of international bodies that has led to its criticism (in the alternative media), culminating into calls for boycott and sanctions. But most of this is not the fault of Fleshler and the rest who are still Zionists to the core: there must be room to maneuver, and it has to include both Israeli narratives and Palestinian narratives. I don’t know any who attempt to erase Israel’s side of the story, just their myths of how it came into being and its treatment and history of Palestinians.

My major bone to pick is for Fleshler, Zionism is still not at fault here. He has reason to believe that Zionism can co-exist with the Palestinians even though its founding thesis was exclusion of non-Jews itself. What is this meant to mean to Israeli Arabs, normalisation with a state that discriminates them, or forced into expulsion, or better yet, submit to a second-class citizenship that excludes them from land rights? Zionism co-existence already has a pinnacle paradigm: it’s called Nazareth and the Arab Triangle. It has enacted laws that
revoke Israeli citizenship to those married to Palestinians in the occupied territories; it has prevented any effort of a newly built village for the Arabs; and it ceaselessly calls them a “demographic threat”, a “timebomb” and a potential fifth column. While Fleshler can beam in the handshakes in Gilboa, what are residents of Jaffa, which was a predominantly Arab city, to think of when they are told to be nice with Zionism? This has existed for over 60 years, and it has gotten worse, not better during these latter years.

Don’t get me mistaken, all positive elements should be illuminated. Zochrot, Breaking the Silence, Machsom Watch; all are extraordinary organisations working with Palestinians. I am sure there are many more (ICAHD, B’Tselem). Yes, we should all get the appropriate information here and maybe Fleshler is correct that we focus too much on the negative, especially the negative when it comes to the occupier. But that’s the thing here, Israel IS THE OCCUPIER. This is not an attempt to blanket every Israeli as a supporter of expansionism; I doubt they all are. But what do we make of the phenomenon of regimes such as Netanyahu, Sharon, Begin, or even Barak and Olmert: all have just expanded Israel’s potential borders and with the exception of Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza, not one of them dismantled a (major) settlement bloc (Gush Etzion, anyone?). Furthermore, each of these coalitions had been voted in by Israelis themselves. There has been no real peace coalition; everyone just continues to recycle the same statesmen who were military folk heroes in yesteryear. Despite calls for “two states”, there has not been anything remotely close to resembling a Palestinian state. (No, a Bantustan does not count.) Oslo? Camp David? Madrid? Taba? Road Map? Annapolis? Where did that all lead us again? Was it a genuine attempt to give Palestinians the self-determination that they have been struggling for or was it just lip service? Did we witness any concession that would have led to a contiguous Palestinian state? Did we even refer to the refugees, East Jerusalem or water or the wall? I guess if you are really genuine about conceding, you keep the most contentious issues “off the table”. That does make sense to me. But yet Fleshler is adamant that these proposals are of something concrete, that they mark a key consensus that Israel is willing to make peace and withdraw, or well at least some parts of their society is. I don’t really think that is news at all: haven’t we been aware of courageous Israelis condemning the occupation, its annexation of the West Bank and its treatment of Palestinians before? The doves are not silenced; more or less just powerless, marginalised, who are obsolete in the face of
strong people who hold the reigns.

Now I do not want it to come to a “Zero-sum equation” and I do not intend to expose my criticisms as such. There definitely has to be room for those Israelis who aren’t “evil” or support each of its initiative to suffocate Palestinian life, or maybe even those that do. But one thing is certain: there has to be people who are left out of the equation here. All solutions are going to have someone left out in the dark. Two states leave the settlers in a quandary, the Palestinians inside Israel in a conundrum and the Palestinian Diaspora largely ignored and unable to ever realise their “right of return”. The single state eliminates the very ideology that Israel was created by, supported by and even fought by all these years. Its institutions are built upon Zionism and the Jewish Diaspora has been emboldened by Israel’s example of success. It also dismisses the notion of “aliyah” and the missive of a “safe haven” from anti-Semitism. The occupation keeps the Palestinians everywhere disheartened, cold and battered, reaching out to any depth in a (vain) hope to get them out of their purgatory. How can any solution hope to do justice to all those who have a stake in this conflict? Which one do you advocate? What has history taught us so we can learn from it?

Over at Philip Weiss’s blog, it is filled with activity from both liberal Zionists and strong left anti-Zionists. There had been a few calls to “nuance” the narrative here and that Weiss is too abstract in his outlook of Israel. What’s interesting is the fact that most who visit Weiss’s blog are mostly progressive who call for the end of the occupation, just what is the best way is still undetermined. It really is the forefront of a good discussion about where the two sides can go and both blogs are blessed with very inquisitive and insightful commenters who all make good points.

Mostly, the call for “nuance” is to broaden the horizon to house in the Israeli-good side, very similar to Fleshler’s line of thought. (It even has a post about
Fleshler.) What is the central thesis is that this occupation is detrimental to both sides, and it is imperative for the future of both parties to come to an agreement here and that Israel has nothing to gain for its impugnity.

For instance, a couple of commenters call to account for the settlers’ fait accompli. Fleshler attests that “situation coarsens and brutalizes both peoples”. Another commenter insists that Israel is willing to make sacrifices for a Palestinian state. This is all meant to make everything crystal clear; Israel has a stake here too, not just the Palestinians.

What this reminds me of is the Iraq War and what type of story has to come out of it. It also is similar to those who supported the war and still support to this day that disdain the “liberal” media for publishing too many negative stories and how they miss out on the “feelgood” stories about building schools and helping ordinary Iraqis out. What it also reminds me of is the American-centred narrative from those who are for “supporting the troops” as the war debilitates Americans and they come back “brutalised”. What I’m allaying here is that both are occupations, and both were/are created and funded (still) by the occupier when both can just withdraw and be done with it: the ultimate sacrifice. Yet we still hang on to those because of some flimsy pretext here. (Now the analogy is nowhere near close; Americans can go thousands of miles away; Israel can only go so far for a withdrawal of troops. But it does have a powerful army.) Here we have an invasion that was the main culprit of the suffering for both sides but predominantly for the indigenous and yet we’re focused too narrowly on the negatives when there are so many positives to talk about? I’m sorry, when you destroy a nation (or a people, if you want to continue that path) and then you subject them to misery, it’s an oversight that your misery is not deemed important; I was too busy trying to save the “other” from dying or starving.

What about the Iraqis/Palestinians? I’m sure the occupation is not a happy environment but Zionism had been the impetus, if not for the creation, then for the continuation of the occupation. Security? Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon; they’ve all suffered defeats and want to have normal relations with Israel. That leaves the Palestinians to fend for themselves: What army do they have? While it is a sad state of affairs that your troops are coming back with syndromes and broken limbs and missing organs, and it is a shame, it truly is, but they were part of a machine that helped make life miserable for Palestinians.
That was Jeffery Goldberg’s main argument in his latest book Prisoners but which left out a major technicality: that Israelis who serve have a choice not to do those acts that house Palestinians in a checkpoint, beat them down, arrest them and oppress them. That Israelis may feel debased by occupying another people, but they get to go home, watch TV, eat cooked meals, have clean drinking water, be not harassed on their way to work, not have their crops burned, more or less a free person with a country to call their own. Or as Weiss put it

“I think he's [Fleshler] giving too little agency to the Israeli soldier; there are actually things he can do. Too little agency to American Jews, implicitly. And actually equating the victimization level of Palestinian and Israeli. I don't see it. As for the real lives of soldiers, yes, their lives are hurt for three years in Israel, if they're serving the occupation, then they spend another year unwinding in India or Argentina, a wanderjaar, and then they get to have their dreams, without checkpoints. Palestinian hopes are far more limited.”

I know they must suffer; occupations aren’t easy but the suffering is not equivalent here. One has total power with a chance for normalcy afterward; the other has no rights at all and is left to scramble for what little they have on offer. For Palestinians, their hope rests on the whims of another state, what Michael Neumann called Israel as having “soveriegnty” over the Palestinians. Palestinians cannot go to Hebron to Jerusalem without being questioned or even without an identity card. A settler can get on a road and be as free as they choose, and even free to harass Palestinians if they choose. And the IDF is complicit in all of this: they protect the settlers, not the Palestinians. That really does not depict a soldier being “brutalised”, except only by settler’s anger at them for not evicting the Palestinians in the first place.

I do not mean to minimise their suffering, I want to maximise the “other’s” suffering. I mean, what can we make of this report of
confiscating “a herd of cows in the West Bank’s Jordan Valley yesterday under the pretext that that they were near a military camp.” This is what you can best describe as a security measure? Has Zionism truly lost its reason (if it had any)? We are too mired in the centrality of the suffering we relate with, let’s not forget about those who we trampled on.

Truthfully, the life of an Israeli is a polar opposite of the life of a Palestinian in the occupied territories or even in the refugee camps in the surrounding states. In fact,
Eric Alterman’s article shows the different side of Israel, one that is not encased in occupation fervour. I can tell you, the life of a Palestinian does not resemble a place

“with shiny new skyscrapers, shopping malls, pricey boutiques and expensive, decidedly nonkosher gourmet eateries…[g]alleries…everywhere, and the theater and film industries are thriving…hedonistic beaches…”

What the Palestinians have is a pittance of that. We get calls for humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza and the worsening situation in the West Bank. To assume that there is some equivalence of suffering here is to delude oneself into thinking that Israel is also arrested when this peace process fails. And fail it will.

Hindsight might prove disastrous to this piece, and the future can hold many things. Gilboa and Jenin could be a turning point or it could just be what it is for now: an anomaly in the midst of polemics. Even though progressives and liberal Zionists want to believe that Israel is willing to do what it takes to reach a final agreement to end this occupation, sadly it just isn’t the case.
The polls indicate that Israelis want to hold on to these territories; it doesn’t sound like sacrifice to me, or maybe they just want to sacrifice those pesky outposts that do nothing for nobody. Rest assured, Israel has plenty to gain by continuing what they do. Psychologically it may be hurtful but they still remain on the land and they still have no real opponent to stop them from doing so. Who is going to stop them from finishing this wall, from shooting at protestors, from stealing water, from warehousing Palestinians?

(I write this on the anniversary of the massacres of
Sabra and Shatilla. There really is no equivalency here and it was the war in Lebanon in ’82 that begun the movement against aggression by Israel. The main architect was Ariel Sharon, who is lambasted as a “man of peace”.)

I know there are many so-called “experts” who call for one state, but unless I can pry open into their heads, I doubt it is more than just an idle threat to Zionists in Israel to really oppose the occupation, cease settlement activity and get their act together. The thing is, two states can happen, one state can happen, or this occupation can just continue the way it is. It can be more humane, but that could be too oxymoronic to posit. Whatever the practicality of any of it is, all I know is that the current situation is unsustainable in the long run. One side or both is going to implode and time really is running out here.

Is countenance of Israel’s own suffering going to be the platform that sets us on a course for a better chance for resolution? There is no easy way out of this mess. One thing is for certain, Israel benefits greatly from the status quo and the Palestinians get zilch.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Failure for Expansionism

When Annapolis was signed back in November, it was a moment to be revered by most of the international community that saw the two warring bodies of Israeli and Palestinian come together in order to work out a proposal that would finally end the conflict. One thing in common that both pessimists and optimists had was that this proposal was on thin ice and any outbreak of violence would shake up the paper-thin agreement: a Palestinian taking hold of a bulldozer, a weapon of destruction that bears nightmares to Palestinians in the West Bank, and wreaking havoc in Jerusalem; or an Israeli settler savagedly beating Palestinian farmers near Hebron and it will all fall apart. (In the case with the latter, we can make the case that the Palestinians have no upper hand and have no alternative but to continue with the said guidelines to reach the “historic” agreement.) It was meant to be a step back towards conciliation, a major turning point; here we had two leaders in Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas both complying and recognising each other as a partner in peace, a potent recipe for progress. Coupled with the intention of one George W. Bush and his desire to make a mark for tenure as the leader of the Empire and not one who descended the region into conflagration that could spark more bloodshed in Iran, this was supposed to be encouraging.

But the cynics had it right over the optimists. It all fell apart, or is currently falling apart as I type this. Nothing has changed and in fact in certain cases, the situation has worsened (think Gaza). We have both leaders having no political base whatsoever, and regarding Olmert, he is stepping down amidst a maelstrom of corruption charges. Abu Mazen is barely keeping his head above water and unable to stem the tide from further Israeli encroachment upon the West Bank, the territory that Fatah was meant to have sovereignity over but looking more and more like Israeli suzerainty in its place (which it never relinquished). The third leader in this fiasco also seeing the sun set on his time at the helm with two incumbent leaders pledging to do more when Annapolis’ first anniversary nears. So is it so surprising when we read that President Abbas doubting to “to reach full agreement” by “the end of the year”?

The elementary answer is a no. Why is that? Are we to renounce all hope with this conflict and admit to ourselves that Benny Morris was right that there is the Arab-Israeli enmity is too deep and has been ongoing for too long for a deal to be struck? Or we to forget the lessons of post-colonialist struggles such as Algeria, Rhodesia and South Africa and let Israel get a pardon as the sole European colonialist enterprise to still exist in the 21st Century? Do we have no answers to pose for the plight of Palestinians, not only in the occupied territories but also those languishing in destitution in the refugee camps and the Diaspora, numbering millions? Are Israelis meant to continue their existence living in constant “existential” threats against their life in the heart of the Middle East surrounded by hostile states not recognising their “right to exist”? Is this conflict going to perpetuate the divide between the Third World and the West and further hammer in the wedge that separates “us” from “them”?

In earnest, we have no concrete answers for any of these questions. We can go around in circles, do our research, cited as many sources so we can fill an entire book as a bibliography but that will not give any respite to the suffering so far from us. What the cynics had over the optimists was perhaps a deeper understanding of what Annapolis was really all about: nothing. The optimists wanted to believe that this could be that pathbreaker, that coddled helping hand, that nudge in the right direction that could encourage both sides to say that it is time to talk and try to save as many lives as possible; but ultimately it could not do that because Annapolis had no substance and it had no guideline. It barely even had a timeline to be followed. (It gave a shaky timeframe that a final deal will be reached by 2009. Abbas and Olmert’s successor will have less than three months to shake on a deal that has not been sealed by so many other leaders before them.) Or more poignantly, “the devil is in the details”, to quote Jeff Halper. For Annapolis was just the latest of a series that copied past summits, peace proposals, Accords and agreements: it dealt with no serious issue and it was meant to be a PRECURSOR for a final agreement. So in effect, what Annapolis embodied was a negotiation for a negotiation. It was a talk so we can mediate in future. And when you are dealing with two parties that have been at each other’s throat for sixty years and well into its forty-second year of occupation, this is a very hollow deal to begin with.

What we have here is the latest phase of occupation by diplomacy. During the 80s, Israel took a major beating on the PR front; it had negative press during its incursion in Lebanon, it had the first intifada to deal with and it had major rumblings within its own sector on how they should deal with their Palestinian citizenry. The fall of the Soviets boosted immigration but it eliminated one of Israel’s main beneficiary role as the stalwart in the Middle East against communism. Furthermore, its role in supporting the Afrikaaners did it no favours in the human rights avenue, and more human rights organisations were publishing Israeli atrocities against the Palestinians. To combat this, Israel finally accepted the PLO and Arafat which culminated with the Oslo Accords. Although Oslo is seen as the turning point for the Palestinians in their hardline stance against Israel, finally giving up their call for the liberation of historic Palestine and accepting 22 % of it for a state of their own, it was the perfect ploy for an occupier to maintain its authority over its inhabitants, ie the Palestinians.

By signing Oslo, Arafat was given control over the Palestinians but had no security, no control over the borders, no water policy, no authority over Israelis who were in the West Bank, no status on East Jerusalem, no nothing. In fact, Arafat became the main scapegoat for anything that could be blamed on him; terrorism was on the rise, it’s Arafat’s fault because he cannot police his area. The economy is dwindling, it’s Arafat’s fault because he is corrupt and took all the money. They are only partial truths that do not tell the full story of Israel’s culpability in such matters. What was transferred was the “blame” in the eyes of the world for the occupation, for the occupation never truly ended, it was just signed by Arafat and his loyal followers.

I do not mean to pit all the blame on one side or the other: that is beside my point. These “proposals” are just part and parcel of the bigger and stronger party dictating to the weaker one. Force is not something that is tolerated much by the latter, and they have shown that they can endure many hardships in the hope to see a better tomorrow. But unless pushed, the stronger are not willing to give up what they feel is rightfully their’s because someone weaker than them are expressing their desire to have equal rights. Do not be lost in the hyperbole that we are dealing with two equal sides here: Annapolis is not incumbenet on the Palestinians “keeping up their part” of the deal here. The Palestinians have no bargaining cards except for the land they inhabit: that’s the only thing the Israelis want. Security? Sure, that would be nice but “security with your land” is what the desired outcome here. And who is going to stop them? The weaker party? And that is the ultimate disparity between the two here. The Palestininans have compromised over and over in the (vain) hope to accommodate Israel so they can get some alleviation from the brutality of occupation; Israel can just sit idly by and wait it out. They have done so for about forty years. Sure, they get condemned in the UN and by the fringe left-wing elements of the West and the developing nations globally, but since when has that made a difference to them? Just because the UN expresses concern over the strangulation of the Gaza Strip doesn’t immediately mean that it will make it stop. And the approval of Costa Rica and other Latin American states won’t cease Israel from trading the Dow Jones.

The Oslo period saw the systematic abortion of the Palestinian resistance movement. It pre-empted the unified call to resist the occupation by all means in order to gain the rights akin to the ones that benefited the blacks of South Africa and other indigineous movements in decades past: one that liberates them from their oppressor and achieve one man, one vote as well as self-determination. Arafat had little choice but to take Israel’s offer and see himself rise up to the ranks of an official recognised worldwide, fraternising with world leaders and dining with the best of them. But Oslo enabled Israel to undermine Arafat internationally by developing more twice as many settlements that already pockmarked the West Bank (as well as Gaza), expanded the existing ones and constructed “Jewish-only” roads that connected the settlements which created a ergonomic bypass for Israelis to travel from Israel proper into the settlements deep into Palestinian territory without ever encountering a Palestinian village. This is what Arafat and the PLO had to show for themselves by taking on the diplomatic route to end the occupation. (The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin may have rebirthed the primordial feeling that this land is not negotiable but there were plenty of evidence that Rabin was also reluctant to let go of most of the territories.) Despite protestations internally by the Islamic sects, Fatah was all too willing to do Israel’s bidding in policing the Palestinians.

And we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes of Oslo, Camp David and the Road Map. Just looking at the statistics, things do look grimmer: Annapolis did not stem settlement fever, it has increased it. The violence has not dissipated and the case of Gaza, they have been bordering catastrophy. Palestinians have been caged in and many students have been refused to continue their studies abroad. Aid is trickling in but only at the whimsy of Israel and Egypt. The violence by settlers in the West Bank is one to be marveled, and the actions by the IDF during the protests against the wall, is despicable. The water wars will only continue apace and there is no actual soveriengity to speak of when you ask a Palestinian. The only ones who seem to be benefiting are those in Ramallah who are very far from the actual frontlines of the struggle against the occupier. And there is really no sign of any of this getting better.

But this is encased by the peace process. A weak Abbas is wrestling for the crumbs that Israel is willing to spit at them but the longer he is deflected, the more and more Hamas and their stance is legimitated. Abbas has succeeded Arafat in being the satrap, the occupier by proxy, and Annapolis is mimicking Oslo in the legitimisation of the occupation. For like Oslo, Annapolis has seen an increasement in settlements, a reduction in control of East Jerusalem and the squeezing out of Palestinian life, furthering their dismemberment and cantonisation, what many observers are calling “Bantustanisation” of the West Bank. Life is becoming more miserable and unbearable, surrounded by a monolithic wall, ubiquitious IDF presence and an extremist and dangerous settler population that only thirsts for more Palestinian land to be “redeemed” by Jews. The distrust endemic in the Palestinians towards the Israelis (and the Americans) can only grow when another settlement is validated for construction. Thanks to the futility of the PLO to make life easier for the common Palestinian, the equation that saw the uselessness of dealing with the occupier by diplomacy that changed absolutely nothing, it led to the rise of alternate movements. Hamas benefited immensely because of the deterioration of Oslo, Camp David, Taba and the Road Map because inadvertently, Israel justified their position of “no negotiations with Israel”. By insisting that Arafat was no partner, Israel unilaterally chose to make their own path by building deeper and deeper into the West Bank and because of that, Arafat was seen as nothing more than a puppet of Israel’s doing. Abbas is no different: he is reliant on Israeli aid and “concessions” that is meant to “boost” his image amongst his people. This is similar to Arafat; he was also dependent on Israel and their capriciousness. When they saw a benefit to “concede” to Arafat, ie remove an outpost that was erected overnight, then they would comply, even though that same outpost would re-emerge the next week. You can see the same context today when Israel releases prisoners as a “gesture”, even though those same prisoners were nearing the end of their detainment and are members or former members of the Fatah party (Hamas does not get a repreive.). It’s quite ironic now to read Abbas losing faith in the process that was never going off the ground.

Why was Annapolis doomed to fail? As was stated earlier, it was only meant to be a guideline for talks, a prerequisite for a final determination status. Not much detail was given to what Annapolis was really all about; it was quite glossy and spectacular to have to leaders shake hands and smile and pose at the camera and pretend that we’re all friends here and that there is hope that both sides can live with each other and be neighbours. But these pictures did not tell a thousand words; it barely hit the tip of the iceberg. With all of Condolleezza Rice’s attempts to slap Israel on the wrists for “obstacles to peace”, we all know that she is unable to do anything about it, just like all the other officials from years past have been unable to do anything about Israel’s expansion into the West Bank. Peeking at the list of violations of UN Resolutions is enough to give a good background on what Israel has been getting away with and it shows no sign of stopping or even slowing down. The lesson of Annapolis has to be that these summits, negotiations, proposals and agreements between the two are of no use at all when you are dealing with such a disparity of power and support. Do not be deluded that we have two equal sides of equal power: Israel has the total backing of the biggest power today, with 200 nukes in their arsenal and major weaponry which they deal heavily with with the rest of the world. The Palestinians barely have a police unit able to control the small portion of the West Bank which is a fraction of the size of the province of Ontario. Unless there is major pressure on the stronger party, they have no incentive at all to “concede” anything to the weaker party. We’re not talking about altruism here: Israel has attempted to remove every form of Palestinian history, their narrative and even their existance as a people. They certainly see no benefit for themselves in seeing their right for self-determination. Ariel Sharon, the architect of the Sabra and Shatilla massacres, was not going to wake up one day and say to himself “I have to give up the territories because it is not the right thing to do to oppress and subjugate the Palestinians.” He had to have seen the grim alternative of holding on to the settlements in the Gaza Strip. So too does any future Israeli leader: there must be a price to pay that is more costly than holding on to the occupied territories. (For some on the right, they have to hold on to the territories AT ALL COST.)

This is why we have seen failure upon failure upon failure. Israel has acted with impugnity for decades; it continues to hold on to territories that they are bound by law to withdraw; they continue to build settlements that is in clear violation of the Gevena Convention; they continue to construct the wall that puts the Berlin Wall to shame; they continue their belligerency by tightening the embargo on the Gaza Strip; they detain and deport a Jewish scholar trying to visit the West Bank; they harass and torture journalists and their activity in the West Bank gets more gruesome the more we see them being filmed. There are reports now that after B’tselem distributed video cameras to Palestinians to document IDF and settler cruelty, the filmers and their family are being pressured to give up their rights to do so. And these are the results of Mahmoud Abbas under Annapolis. Sadly, Abbas is set to follow in his predecessor’s footsteps in being superfluous and forgotten. Hamas has shown more temerity; although they have little to show on progress as Gaza remains isolated, they managed to get Israel to a (shaky) ceasefire, already making Israel acknowledge the power of Hamas when they refused to do so back in 2006. Hamas have every intention on seeing Abbas go down with the Annapolis ship in order to sweep into power in the West Bank also. Thanks to Israel’s belligerency, Hamas is once again being proven correct.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can see all of this come to an end if the power players are willing to apply the adequate pressure on Israel to stop with the occupation and pull back. Right now, the US is the main backer of Israel and their policies; the ascendency of Barack Obama, a person with a Muslim father, had Likudniks shuddering. Obama, who had Ali Abunimah at his corner a long time back, decided to break ties with a Palestinian who advocates for a one-state solution. That was company that Obama and his cabal saw as a liability if he was to see his aspirations as President be realised. The attention devoted to Obama and his supposed views on the Israel-Palestine conflict saw him being grilled by AIPAC and Jeffrey Goldberg because they were so concerned about losing perhaps the biggest seat of power in Israel’s corner. This “concern” led many in the right to “grab” more “hilltops”, evoking Sharon’s famous words when he saw the threat of Oslo make the dream of an Eretz Israel more precarious. And it turned out that those fears were baseless: Obama pledged his support for Israel, an undivided Jerusalem, and although a less hawkish position than McCain, he does want more sanctions on Iran. It remains to be seen whether Obama has any specific policy on the settlement construction. Additionally, members of AIPAC are quite content with the four choices currently being pushed for the Presidential race: this does not bode well for the Palestinians at all: Obama-Biden, McCain-Palin. Both campaigns are using the “change” platform to get them over the hump, but we all know that there will be no change in Jerusalem and Ramallah.

Sans pressure, we can have all of these proposals, summits, etc. but it won’t make a difference. What matters are those issues that are always “off the table”: Jerusalem, the wall, right of return, settlements, water, sovereignty. Without those, we are left with an Israeli state that has total control of the Palestinians with the blanket image of the PA having some kind of say about what to do about it. We are left to repeat the same failures that we get inured with. For without any pressure from the US, the EU or even the Israelis themselves, the Israeli state will just continue their wanton ways and expand further into the heart of Palestinian territory. They don’t care about a Palestinian state. It’s up to the rest of the world (as well as the Palestinians) to show that there is no benefit to continue their occupation and their violation of international law. Not since the Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai back in 1956 have we seen any pressure applied by the US and it is no coincidence that Israel has just expanded their borders since then. Israel trades heavily with the EU and yet despite their leader’s excoriation of them, nothing seems to change. They even qualify in the European section in the World Cup. Every other Western state has normal relations with Israel. So why would Israel do anything to give up the territories they gained in the Six-Day War when no one seems to be willing to penalise them for their transgression?

Israel has successfully applied the occupation upon the PA themselves but that is not a totality or a finality. Ehud Olmert was prescient when he spoke of the dangers of the failure to apply a two-state solution; he is aware of the growing number who call for a single state to represent both Israelis and Palestinians. That is a big no-no for a Zionist state that has to have a Jewish champion citizen over the Arab Muslim. The demographics are not in Israel’s favour and it will never be; the emigration rate is growing by the year and the immigration rate has petered to a standstill. So many incentives are given to those who hope to make aliyah, and so many of them are sent into the West Bank subsidised by the Israeli state. Without getting into the specifics for or against the one state, it is definitely a solidarity movement that has many members in the Knesset miffed. The ideology of Zionism is losing flavour and is of lesser consequence to those in the Diaspora. These could be the halcyon days of the Jewish state, the last European colonialist enterprise; they have all fallen down, and as history teaches us, this one is on its way down too.

The occupation cannot exist forever even though Israel is more than capable of doing so. Without our words, our deeds, our actions, it may last for another forty years. Some academics are expressing grief that the Palestinians may not have that long to go; others are hopeful that they will because they are able to endure great hardship. Let’s not wait to see if that’s what in their future. If not, then we are stuck in the circle, seeing more of the same scenes, more of the same words, and more of the same debacles lost in the muddle of tax dollars and aid.

Note: This article appeared in The Human Times.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Corrupt Leaders or Just the Way it is?

A couple of days ago I came across David Brumer's blog (on account of South Jerusalem) and assuming it may be just the right fix for me for another Israeli point of view, I took a peek into his post about Khaled Abu Toameh, who is an Israeli Arab journalist. It was very interesting and had many points that many Palestinians had already taken into account for the failures of an effective resistance movement against the occupation. (See Rashid Khalidi.) Brumer, who is a member of The Israel Project, was impressed with Toameh's conclusions that the "Palestinian people are the victims of corrupt leadership in the West Bank and now fanatical radical Islam in Gaza. It didn’t have to be this way." Toameh's status as an Israeli Arab who is residing in East Jerusalem is meant to immediately qualify him of a very non-partisan view, and I have to say that it is very hard to argue against it since this is one voice of a Palestinian, albeit one with an Israeli citizenship (which is second-rank if you are a non-Jew). Brumer is correct in highlighting that aspect of Toameh's, but that doesn't necessarily equate that this point of view is correct altogether because of his background, and I don't believe Brumer does that either.

It has been proven that the Fatah party led by Arafat was corrupt. It saw itself estranged from the fellaheen and decided that it was time to play the politics game and get with it. But we have grown accustomed to what power does to people (and politicians): it corrupts. The Palestinians are not immune to this and neither are any other party that vies for control of a nation-state or province or even some little piece of territory. Arafat aimed to get benefits from the biggest superpower, which incidently his successor is doing right now. I guess the main point being that Arafat was a rather weak entity and grappled for something that he could hold on to so he could have some power. MERIP described it as

"[T]he weakness of the PLO after the Gulf War... The PLO accepted this deeply flawed agreement with Israel because it was weak and had little diplomatic support in the Arab world. Both Islamist radicals and local leaders in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip challenged Arafat's leadership. Yet only Arafat had the prestige and national legitimacy to conclude a negotiated agreement with Israel."

The MERIP synopsis also included that "[T]he Oslo accords contained no mechanism to block these unilateral actions [in violation of the Accords] or Israel's violations of Palestinian human and civil rights in areas under its control." Arafat had no power and his power was only as a puppet of Israel's making. So much so that he was corrupt since he had no authority to rule over the masses. He had no power to stop settlements. He was even quite draconian in his handling of security since his was very discredited by the process itself by the Islamist factions of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Joel Beinin quips that "Arafat's undemocratic practices are considered helpful in controlling opponents of the Oslo process." And could it have been a possibility that Arafat's harsh measures were somehow related to his desire to curbed Palestinian terrorism directed against Israel? As many ordinary Palestinians could attest, signing a peace treaty with Israel did not bring forth any serious discussion about East Jerusalem, refugees or even water rights. Simply put, "Signed agreements were open to endless reinterpretation, always by Israel or by the United States" as iterated by Ali Abunimah.

Toameh regrets that Arafat was unable to build any concrete services during his time and that's why the Palestinians felt the need to back Abbas since he represented some kind of change. I don't believe they elected Abbas because he was capable of bringing more stability, it was just a small changing of the guard. Not long after, we saw how paperthin Abbas' support was as Hamas swept into power, which Toameh agrees that "that any Palestinian child on the street could have told you Hamas would win the elections in January of 2006."

Of course, there's nothing generally wrong with what Toameh's says. In fact, Arafat was only guilty of what every fucking party seems to be guilty of. There is no respite from criticism from the constituents; and not to say that there is no legitimate criticism involved. Here in Ontario the economy is doing very poorly and is on the verge of becoming a "Have-Not Province" qualifying it for Federal subsidies. The McGuinty government has been accused of corruption over and over, stealing taxpayer money. And to paraphrase Jeremiah Haber of The Magnes Zionist:

"[I]f you believe that the Palestinians have been oppressed by their leaders -- I don't -- my question to you will be, so what?

It doesn't make a damn difference.

Because, you see, what the Americans, Israelis, and Palestinians, have in common is that their governments were elected in fair elections. The Palestinian elections were monitored by international observers. In each case, the people should have gotten what they deserved. If they voted the bums in, that's their headache."

Now Toameh does believe it was the Palestinian's headache to bear but I believe that the analogy is rather faulty. Neither Israel or the US is under constant pressure of an occupation. Neither Israel nor the US is under a sanctions regime or a boycott (effectively to undercut its main economy and fuel and electricity). Neither Israel nor the US has their taxes under survellience by an occupied power. While Haber does believe that accountability has to be acknowledged, and it does, the Palestinians have decided that enough was enough and they removed Fatah from power. But Haber notes again,

"the elections results overturned by outside interference. After supporting elections -- elections, I may add, that to a large extent, actually threw the corrupt bums out -- Israel arrested the elected officials that it did not like and imposed a siege on Gaza -- not because it was actually being attacked, but because the Palestinians had elected a group viewed by the US and Israel (and much of Europe), to be a terrorist organization."

Even Toameh recognises this:

"So a year later, when Hamas challenged Fatah’s power, Palestinians said to themselves, let’s give these guys a chance."

But Toameh omits the fact that this result was overturned. And Haber again lucidly points out that

"if you justify Israel's actions in the interest of Israeli security (what about Palestinian security?), you have automatically declared Palestinians territories to be, if not under occupation, than under the thumb of Israel. And therefore you have made the Israelis responsible for the governance of thsoe territories."

And that is outright true. Because of the issue of security, it should only be limited to within the recognised borders of the '67 line but Israel brought it upon itself to control the entirety of the territories, hence they are responsible for those territories. While they have no direct bearing on the attitudes and policies of the PA, the fact that it is still under the umbrella of an occupation makes autonomy a complete impossibility.

Toameh does not allude to this at all and that's where I find the problem as he even states
"again the Palestinian people emerged as the big losers." No one could predict what would have happened if Hamas were able to govern unfettered or the Fatah was not provoked into an attempted coup to remove Hamas from power. Toameh even admits that "Hamas did prove themselves untarnished by corruption"; what could their achievements have been if they did not see an attempt on their lives? He even insists that Hamas has not been able to alleviate the advancement of Palestinian rights, statehood or improve their lives. Perhaps Toameh may have mentioned it in the lecture but Brumer makes no mention of the fact that the embargo that has Gaza starving to death. As it so happens, Israel is been urged to undo this very policy to "avert a humanitarian disaster". A recent poll had Hamas' popularity rising because of the said embargo. And Toameh is meant to conclude that this is (totally) Hamas' fault because they are unable to make life easier for Palestinians?

This would not be so odious if we had not read this reasoning over and over. The Palestinians are solely to blame for their plight because of the leaders they chose. It is the same rhetoric we hear from the powers-that-be that dictate who gets to rule whom. How many people actually know that Marwan Barghouti is possibly the biggest voice that the Palestinians have and he is prevented from ever leaving his prison, let alone run a party or provide talks between the two warring parties. As a matter of fact, we hear the same thing from the US about Iraq: the place is a mess because the Iraqis don't know how to govern and that's why the West has to do it for them. They're just backward, alien and don't know a goddam thing about democracy. All they know is clanism.

I cannot fully fault Brumer and Toameh though; he did declare that

"Nothing is likely to change with the current PA leadership. Abbas is a weak and ineffective leader who cannot leave Ramallah without the permission of an Israeli army officer, let alone rally his own people. He has never visited a refugee camp or ordinary Palestinian village. He's traipsed around Europe and the Middle East, but has done nothing to advance his people’s cause. And the more the Palestinians see America and Israel supporting Abbas, the more he is seen as a puppet and collaborator in their eyes. The West Bank is effectively ruled by gangs, thugs, and rogue militias, Mafia style, says Khaled. If it weren’t for the IDF, Hamas would topple Fatah in a heartbeat, just like they did in Gaza, with barely a struggle."

That is exactly why they are funneling funds into Abbas's pocket. They do not want Hamas to rule as they are the bad guys here. You cannot let the bad guys win: that makes for bad lessons in future. This is a precedent that is not make to see reality. It is typified by what Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy stated in an interview:

"There are conditions [for Hamas to be legitimised]: renounce violence, recognize Israel, and be willing to engage in diplomacy.

[Carter's visit] has told Hamas leaders that perhaps in Washington there are important people who are reconsidering, who are lowering the bar that will let them through the door without them having to pay what they need to pay to get the credibility of engagement with the United States."

What Satloff is incorrect at is that these conditions were met by the PLO before they were spoken to. False. It has been noted in many circles that had these conditions been demanded from the IRA or the ANC then we would still be seeing terrorism and violence in both countries respectively, and perhaps an even harsher treatment to rule over them. We should also take note of Robert Pape's theory that suicide bombers peters out when you negotiate with the resisters and pay attention to their grievances. They're not "animals" who take innocent lives gratuitously: they want to rid their land of foreign combat forces.I guess I am a little too harsh on Toameh but I figured that he needed to properly put all of this into context. It is difficult enough to govern a state, province or a nation without an outside power overlooking your every step and suggesting that this is bad for its security and that you must eliminate every portion of resistance movements that are hostile to the occupier's existence. Think about it: the US is using very repressive measures at any hint of terrorism, torturing them and sending them over to Guatanamo. Ironically, Arafat used the same methods on Hamas. Now Hamas has the tables turned and they doing what Fatah did to them back in the Oslo years when they discredited the accord to a submission to Israel. Were they wrong? Are they wrong now?

What is also missing is that Hamas has tried time and time again to accomodate Israel, urged ceasefires and attempts to give over Shilat for prisoners and even a hudna. All of this has been rebuffed by Israel. You could speculate over Hamas' desire to really make lives easier for Gazans but I didn't see Israel blowing up the wall at Rafah, nor do I see Israel sending out feelers to Hamas. They even demonised an ex-President who did such a measure. This only helps Hamas in the end and only hurts Israel. The longer they hold out, the more Hamas will search for players who will listen to them. That means Iran, Syria and even non-state entities (yes, maybe even Al-Qaeda). Ultimately, this helps Israel's rightliners, as this gives them the proper pretext to fully invade Gaza and depose of Hamas, something that a beefed up Fatah could not do. As we have it, Khaled Meshal has been on record that he will agree on the status outlined from the previous PA agreements and to commit to the borders of the 67 Green Line. Gershom Gorenberg had a very perceptive outlook on Meshal and Hamas and one that should be repeated here:

"Let me be clear: Meshaal is still stating a considerably more hardline position than that of Fatah. This isn’t an offer on which any Israeli leader could just sign. Meshaal’s stated conditions for two states falls far short of the Clinton parameters or the Geneva accords. On the other hand, pay attention: The leader of Hamas is saying that the Charter has no practical relevance. He really wishes Israel would vanish, but that’s not his political program. He’d rather take a couple pills against nausea, and accept reality."

This is possibly the most realistic analysis of the situation: Hamas has to continue its rhetoric and may still hope for the "liberation" of historic Palestine, but most of its statesmen see this as a folly and one that will only deflect them into obscurity. They know that they are under fire for results and they somewhat have to accommodate their enemy and give them de facto recognition. Isn't that just as good for now? Why do more lives have to be at risk here? Jimmy Carter did state that "as long as Hamas is not part of the solution, they are part of the problem".

Nothing will absolve the Palestinian leaders of corruption and failure to unify. But under the conditions of occupation and the scope of outside powers constantly at play with your governance, it is remarkably difficult to do the right thing by your constituents when you are living the easy life or a diplomat or an official. You live in decent dwellings while the poor farmers are being removed from their land and Hebron residents are being terrorised. The Palestinian official is aware of this but they are not under this pressure every day. Scratch that, only those that are not under threat of being imprisoned or liquidated, is not under pressure. Those who speak out are possibly languishing in a prison cell already.

But no amount of Palestinian corruption can totally absolve an occupation that has epitomised a dearth of autonomy for the Palestinians. Toameh's narrative is free of the usual vituperation but coming from his focus it is naturally a little surprising, but it really should not be. Every Palestinian is well aware of the failings of their leadership but they are also very aware that this is a vacant leadership that is propped up by the big powers to rule over them. They know they're corrupted; but do you also know that they are occupied? It is on its forty-first year; how long has Palestinian corruption been around? And here we are still scathing over the corruption while the occupation makes scant relevance. No siree.

There can really be no clear ratio on which is more to blame. The constant neglect to even mention that the Palestinians are under conditions that no other government is under is criminal and disingenuous. What should not be forgotten is that the lifelong effects of being brutalised, tortured, harrassed, displaced, distorted, ignored, and flatly called every demeaning name in the English, Hebrew, Arabic, French, German and any other language has on ordinary Palestinians who only see how bad the occupier can be.