Archive for the ‘Opinion others’ Category
As much of the Middle East sinks deeper into division between competing political camps, the so-called ‘Islamic State’ (‘IS’) continues its unhindered march towards a twisted version of a Muslim caliphate. Many thousands have lost their lives, some in the most torturous ways, so that ‘IS’ may realize its nightmarish dream.Of course, violence meted out by ‘IS’ is hardly an anomaly, considering that the group was spawned in a predominantly violent environment. It is difficult to imagine, for example, that, if the Syrian regime and its opposition had sought a political solution from the early days of the uprising, ‘IS’ would have found a stable foothold for itself in Syria.It was during the emergence of violence by the Syrian regime that ‘IS’, a dark force that neither believes in democracy, civil rights nor co-existence, appeared. The same scenario was repeated in Iraq and a host of other countries. In an article in the Independent newspaper, Patrick Cockburn highlighted seven countries where the influence of ‘IS’ is great or growing: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and north-east Nigeria.The group’s “successes have been possible because it is opposed by feeble, corrupt or non-existent governments and armies,” he wrote.However, very little emphasis has been placed on the root cause of the problem and its resulting violence. Western governments and media are not the only party guilty of discussing the brutality of ‘IS’ outside proper political or socio-economic contexts; Arab governments and media are particularly invested in misconstruing the narrative. Arab countries’ official media often misinterpret each crisis in the region in so convenient a way in order to justify their own foreign policy or military adventures.Yemen, which has undergone several stages of political crises – government corruption and violence, a popular uprising followed by a political stalemate, a civil war and finally a regional war – is a case in point. ‘IS’ bombs targeting mostly houses of worship, are now another staple in Yemen’s bloody conflict.‘IS’ thrives on conflicts and calamities that are rooted in poor, fragmented Arab societies, where youth are disenchanted with their governments and where they have little or no hope for the future due to corruption and the protracted violence. Such embitterment is a perfect recruiting ground for ‘IS’, which enjoys multiple revenue streams and a self-sufficient economy.Of course, more violence is seldom the solution, as the ‘Arab Spring’ amply demonstrated. In fact, the ferocity and ruthlessness of the many conflicts currently under way in the region have achieved little, aside from setting the stage for extreme polarization in political, ideological and sectarian discourses.While sectarianism in the region dates back many years, its current expressions are mostly political, with unambiguous agendas and goals. Initially, sectarianism distracted from the genuine push for reforms and meaningful political changes as sought by various Arab collectives. At a later stage, it served as a space for regional rivalries between Shia-majority Iran, and Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia.Regardless of its ideological or religious claims, it is evident that the violent vision of ‘IS’, if allowed to endure, would constantly translate into greater death tolls from all sides – Sunni, Shia, Christians, and other minority groups.With Turkey entering the fray now by bombing ‘IS’ targets in Syria, in supposed retaliation for the militant group’s attack in the Kilis Province, the landscape of the war is stretching beyond its usual confines and methods, into whole new territories.After resisting pressure to join the US-led coalition against ‘IS’, Turkey has now also agreed to allow the coalition access to its Incirlik Airbase. Meanwhile, Turkish F-16 continued to pound ‘IS’ targets, while Turkish security reportedly rounded up hundreds of suspected militants, not only of ‘IS’ supporters, but also Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and other radical groups.The local dimension in Turkey’s newly started war on ‘IS’ should be of particular interest. While ‘IS’ is a common denominator among various Middle East countries, each country seems to have a local component that serves as a native host for ‘IS’, as was the case in Libya following the NATO-led war, and of course, Syria, Iraq, Somalia, and elsewhere.The Egyptian case is also telling. The chaos that preceded the ‘IS’ entry into Sinai was mostly related to internal Egyptian affairs. The Sinai Peninsula is poor and neglected by the Egyptian Government. For decades, it has been a testament to corruption and unfair distribution of wealth. The Bedouin tribes in Sinai, which were once at the forefront of the fight to liberate the Peninsula from Israel, grew rebellious over time. The desert became rife with drug and human trafficking. The celebrations in Sinai, following the Egyptian revolt in Jan 2011, were short-lived and were quickly replaced by an armed revolt, when hope turned into anger.Until recently, the Sinai violence was largely a local affair. Mauritanian journalist, Sidiahmed Tfeil, argues that Egypt’s militant factions, such as ‘Ansar Beit al-Maqdis’, resisted calls to join al-Qaeda ranks. But their need for alliances and support finally pushed them into the arms of ‘IS’, which now considers the war in Sinai – led by the ‘Sinai Province’ – another extension of its regional fight.Tfeil lists countries where ‘IS’ is moving in full force, flushing out al-Qaeda influence and competing with local actors there. They include Yemen and Libya, but also Algeria, Mali, Somalia and others.Aside from Algeria, the same malaise of internal conflict, external meddling and intervention seems to unite the rest, which have either become – or teeter at the edge of being – failed states.In other words, the success of ‘IS’ has worked in tandem with the failures of regional governments to offer roadmaps out of security chaos, economic crises and chronic corruption. With access to massive funds, ‘IS’ is able to latch on to local militant groups which were formed as a result of real grievances, buying leverage and loyalty, as they have done in Libya, Syria and Sinai.Another weapon in the ‘IS’ arsenal that also proved effective is the fact that the Middle East is split between the Saudi and Iranian camps, and that there is not one single united fight aimed at eliminating or, at least, slowing down the progress of ‘IS’ armies. While ‘IS’ military camps are reportedly targeted in Syria, other regional conflicts, especially in Yemen, are facilitating the expansion of ‘IS’.The war on ‘IS’ and other extremist groups cannot possibly be won if the region remains divided, where corrupt, violent regimes remain the only alternative to radicalization and extremism.It is the lack of political prospects, and the smothering of any attempt at freedom and fair economic opportunity, that lead to extremist violence in the first place. As long as this reality remains intact, ‘IS’ will tragically find new recruits, latch on to local militant groups, and continue to expand into new borders – and even darker horizons.
(Source / 28.07.2015)
In the wake of a renewed Israeli assault on al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, Palestinian Knesset Member Haneen Zoabi visited Jerusalem along with other Palestinian figures who checked the damage and met with the locals.
Zoabi told al-Araby al-Jadeed on the sidelines of a visit she and a number of Arab MKs from the Joint Arab List made to al-Aqsa on Tuesday: “The visit is a genuine expression of the sentiments of nearly two million Palestinians in the Palestinian territories occupied in 1948, who see the assault on their on their holy sites in Jerusalem as a direct assault on them”.
Zoabi said these assaults would not have taken place were it not for the racism in Israel all the way up in its official institutions, government, and Knesset.
Zoabi said these institutions are a fertile ground for Israeli extremists to implement their plans against al-Aqsa and Palestinians in general.
The delegation from the Joint Arab List met with a number of officials from the Islamic Endowments Trust at al-Aqsa.
The head of the Islamic Endowments Abdul-Azim Salhab gave the delegation an update on recent developments at the mosque, which was raided by occupation forces, describing what happened as a very serious development.
Salhab said there has been a fundamental shift in Israel’s policy of intrusions into the mosque, following the participation of Israeli Minister of Agriculture Uri Ariel in one of the raids, leading a group of settlers into the mosque.
He added that the Israeli government is behind everything that is happening, and not some fringe groups as Israel claims.
Salhab stressed that the visit by the Joint Arab List delegation is an extremely important message of solidarity, emphasising the unity of the Palestinian people. The Islamic Endowments official called for more sit-ins at al-Aqsa.
The attack on al-Aqsa mosque is only part of Israel’s expansionist policies in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Defending Islam’s third holiest site
In a speech, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and Palestine Mohammed Hussein called on Palestinian citizens to go to al-Aqsa mosque and remain there, because their presence there provokes the occupation.
The mufti said the Palestinians should go to the mosque every day to defend it against the encroachment by extremist Jewish groups.
The mufti called for Israeli officials to be prosecuted for their role in the crimes committed by settlers against al-Aqsa and the worshippers there.
For his part, Ayman Odeh, head of the Arab List at the Knesset, held the government of Binyamin Netanyahu responsible for what happened at the mosque.
Odeh warned of the repercussions for the assault on Jerusalem and its holy sites by racists who he said are trying to ignite the entire region.
Odeh also warned against attempts to portray the conflict as a religious one. He said the conflict is not between Muslims and Jews, or between one religion and another, stressing that Jerusalem is the heart of Palestine without which it can have no life.
The delegation inspected the damage to al-Aqsa mosque from the incursion by the Israeli forces.
During their visit, they clashed with a number of settlers protected by the Israeli police, who tried to obstruct the delegation.
(Source / 28.07.2015)
Israel is fighting several diplomatic and military battles. However, one war it may be losing is over its treatment of journalists. As Mel Frykberg reports from the West Bank, the pen is often mightier than the sword.
The Israeli foreign ministry released a video recently ridiculing the foreign media as being naive and uninformed prompting the Foreign Press Association (FPA) in Israel to slam the ministry.
The Tel Aviv-based FPA said it was “surprised and alarmed by the foreign ministry’s decision to produce a cartoon mocking the foreign media’s coverage of last year’s war in Gaza.”
“Posting misleading and poorly conceived videos on YouTube is inappropriate, unhelpful and undermines the ministry, which says it respects the foreign press and its freedom to work in Gaza.”
The release of the video coincided with a letter published in the Israeli daily Haaretz by Robert Mahoney, the deputy director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, attacking Israel’s treatment of journalists.
“One year and numerous inquiries later, we still don’t know the whole truth behind the staggering death toll among journalists and media workers during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza,” said Mahoney.
“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may have dismissed the latest United Nations Independent Commission of Inquiry report on the Gaza war as ‘defective and biased’ but that does not mean Israel can move on with a clear conscience as far as the journalists’ deaths are concerned. More media staff members were killed in Gaza during the 50-day conflict than in the rest of the world combined over that period,” said Mahoney.
The International Middle East Media Center says that 17 journalists were killed in Gaza, while Reporters Without Borders gave the figure as 15, most of them Palestinian.
Journalists living dangerously
However, these figures do not include the high number of injured Palestinian journalists who are regularly targeted by Israeli security forces, including being shot at and assaulted.
The FPA has regularly complained about the indiscriminate targeting of foreign and Palestinian journalists by Israeli security forces.
“The Foreign Press Association condemns in the strongest terms the abusive behaviour of Israeli security forces toward photographers covering the weekly protest in Nebi Salah,” said the group in a statement several months ago.
“During the unrest, soldiers pushed, cursed and beat photographers on the scene. In one incident caught on video, a soldier threw a stone at an AFP photographer, chased him and then violently threw him to the ground – all without any signs of provocation. Unfortunately, this is not the first time our members have been subjected to such behaviour,” added the FPA.
DW was present during a number of these incidents and at no time were there any verbal or physical confrontations between the journalists and security forces. The journalists involved were also standing out of the way of the clashes and moved away when ordered to do so by the security forces.
“They’re trying to intimidate us and stop us doing our work. They are particularly harsh with Palestinian journalists because we cover most of the events in the West Bank and Gaza, often when there is no foreign media present,” Jaffer Shtayyeh, a Palestinian photojournalist with AFP for the past 19 years, tells DW.
Shtayyeh, 47, a father of six children, says he was clubbed and beaten up by Israeli soldiers in the village of Kafr Qaddoum in the northern West Bank several years ago, sustaining a broken hand.
Kamal Qaddoumi, 25, a local photographer tells DW that his finger was broken after he too was clubbed by the soldiers in the same village as he covered clashes between Palestinian youths and Israeli security forces.
Photographer Nidal Shtayyeh, who works for the Chinese news agency Xinhau, says he lost 70 percent usage of his left eye after Israeli soldiers shot him in the face with a rubber bullet while he was covering a small protest near Nablus in the northern West Bank.
Nidal applied twice, once through the Red Cross and once through a lawyer, for a permit from the Israeli authorities to enter Jerusalem for specialist treatment at St John’s Eye Hospital in East Jerusalem as there was no specialist in the West Bank. However he was refused permission by Israel’s domestic intelligence agency with no reason given despite inquiries by the media.
Israeli military engagement rules state that teargas canisters have to be shot in an upward arc from a safe distance to avoid serious injuries.
Committed to the cause
Despite the risks, the Palestinian journalists are committed to their work. “We risk physical assault, serious injuries and even our lives are under threat. We feel a sense of danger every time we cover an event,” Shtayyeh tells DW. “However, getting the story out is essential and I love my job.”
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the Israel Defence Forces told DW that “the IDF takes unprecedented measures in order to avoid harming civilians. However, it is incumbent upon reporters to be aware that their presence in a combat area increases the danger to their safety. All unusual incidents are investigated by the Military Police, the findings of which are then transferred to the Military Advocate General for examination.”
(Source / 27.07.2015)
There is no good news about Egypt in the Western media, academic papers and policy briefs. Theorizing about the country is abundant, however. Michael Hanaa of the Century Foundation summarized “Egypt Next Phase” as being “Sustainable Instability.” Eric Trager in Foreign Affairs was less merciful; he wrote about “Egypt’s Durable Misery.” Wander around the Independent or the New York Times, theGuardian or the Washington Post, and you will find an ugly state of affairs in a country that had an autocratic past, a highly repressive present and a failed future — a horrifying picture of violence, endemic poverty, and intolerant culture is prevailing. Gone are the days of the “Arab Spring” and the “Lotus Revolution”; and the replacement is much less than fortunate.
Somehow Egypt is separated from its environment, with almost no relationship between the Muslim Brothers and different brands of terrorism; between ISIS and Ansar Beit Al Maqdis in Sinai. The entire sad saga of violence and terror in Egypt is merely a byproduct of “root causes” of repression and military rule. Terrorists are not called terrorists but rather they are called “Islamic Militant Insurgency” or “Jihadist Insurgency.” The insinuation will go as far as to claim entire episodes of violence as nothing but a reflection of beduins’ wrath over a government that has given them nothing but poverty and marginalization.
But neutrality and objectivity of the media and policy experts are not extended to realities like that. The Sinai terrorism is only centered on less than 20 square km in the northeast of the peninsula of 61,000 square km close to Gaza’s tunnel-infested borders. In Egypt terrorists failed completely to have a territorial base as they succeeded in doing in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Nigeria. In Egypt, fortunately, there is no Ramadi, nor Palmira, which were taken from American trained soldiers and while the fight included an international alliance led by the United States. In fact, while the fight against terrorists in northeastern Sinai was taking place, South and East of Sinai were living in peace with tourist occupancy of 90 percent in Sharm El Shikh as a result of an 7.5 percent increase in tourism in the first half of 2015. Those tourists are served by one third of the Sinai population of 450,000. The other two thirds are dispersed between the north and northwest areas, Middle Sinai and the Suez Canal Zone. Those affected by the fight in Shiekh Zuied and Rafah are no more than 50,000, few of whom were involved in the tunnel smuggling operations and hence cooperating with terrorists. The rest are under the Egyptian forces’ protection.
Of course there is no denial here that Egypt is going through a serious battle with terrorism in Sinai, where about 51 percent of operations are taking place, and in the heartland of the country where terrorists are taking the opportunity of targeting the soft targets of the country from civilian individuals to infrastructure to army and security forces. However, what is missed in the news is that Egypt is taking this fight with a motto: Egypt is going to build itself as if there is no confrontation with terrorism; and it is going to fight terrorism as if there is no need for developing the country and taking it out of the miserable state of affairs that has been produced by revolutions and Muslim Brothers’ rule.
Nothing shows this wisdom as well as the scene of the battle between Egyptian armed forces and terrorists affiliated with Daesh. There, the final touches on the New Suez Canal Branch were almost finished. The Canal will be opened for international trade on August 6, probably while the battle of terror is raging somewhere in the country. What is important about the new Suez Canal is not only that Egypt was changing its geography, probably the world also, in a way, but that Egypt was surging into a new phase of its history. The Suez Canal has been expanded not by Western or even Arab money, but by investment of the Egyptian people who invested EGP64 billion or $8 billion in less than a week.
In fact, contrary to the prevailing views about Egypt, and despite terrorism, Egypt has witnessed economic recovery in the post-June 30th 2013 revolution. The testimonies came from the World Bank, the IMF, and three financial agencies: Moody’s (twice), Fitch, and Standard and Poor’s. None of these will tell you that Egypt has finally overcome about four years of revolutionary upheavals and even is coming back to where it was pre-January 25, 2011. However, they will tell that the course of recovery is there and the news about Egypt’s permanent instability and misery is “highly exaggerated.” Others will indicate that Egypt’s growth rate in the year 2014/2015 has grown by 4.7% compared to 1.6% two years ago. In the first half of the year the growth rate was 5.6% compared with 1.2% a year before.
In 2014, the financial market in Egypt was declared as the fastest growing in the world. Tourism, a sector that has been devastated by revolutions and terror, has come close to the 10 million mark with revenues of $5.5 billion. FDI is also back in the oil and gas sector by BP ($12 billion in five years 2015-2020) and Eni ($5 billion during the same period), Siemens in electricity and infrastructure projects, plus plenty of real state development and infrastructure projects by Arab and international developers. The net FDI to Egypt in 2014/2015 reached $5.7 billion. Egypt’s external debt has declined from $45,288 billion in 2014 to $39,853. What is amazing about the Egyptian economy is that its survival and the start of recovery, contrary to the prevailing view, was not only because of Arab help, but because of Egyptians’ trust and willingness to participate in building their country. In 2012/2013 remittances to Egypt were close to $19 billion, $23.1 billion in 2013/2014, and $16.9 in 2014/2015. During the the same last year, weddings increased in Egypt by 4.9 percent, not a usual practice in a country that is suffering from “Sustainable Instability” or “Durable Misery.”
Again, none of the above should mislead anyone that Egypt is finally getting to economic safety. Public debt still very alarming when it reached in 2014/2015 to more than EGP 2 trillion from EGP 1.7 trillion in 2013/2014. Public debt has reached 93 percent of GDP. Also, the budget deficit is no less alarming at 10.7 percent of GDP in 2014/2015. It is true it is much better than it was at 14 percent during President Mohamed Morsi’s year in office 2012/2013; but it will make the government target of reducing it to less than 9 percent in the coming year more wishful thinking than real.
Yet the good news about Egypt should be noted to at least put into perspective the bad news, which stems from regional and international challenges rather than from the domestic politics of the country. There is no doubt that Egypt is going at a real war with battle-hardened terrorists that are making global alliances. Looking at this serious challenge from the perspective of repression and human rights is actually ignoring the “fascist moment” that the region is going through in the post-Arab spring era. In facing such challenges excessive use of force and trespassing the boundaries of law should be noted and questioned. However, the blame of the victims should not exceed the crimes of the criminals.
At a minimum the truth should be told. The facts should not be missed. The repetition of Human Rights Watch’s claim that 46,000 persons are incarcerated in Egypt ignores the reality that Egypt has no prisons to take that number. Ignoring the fact that Egypt, a country now close to 90 million, has only political prisoners and no criminal ones is an enormous fallacy. Actually, a comparison with the USA, where one of every 100 persons of the adult population is incarcerated, will make the claimed Egyptian number reasonable. But fortunately, that is not the case and the total prison population in Egypt is no more than ten thousand. Similarly is the case with journalists, which is rightly so defended by the Western media. However, deciding that the number of incarcerated journalists on the tens or hundreds is an overblown fallacy, especially when the word “journalist” is not defined. Not every one who has a website or a page on Facebook is a journalist. In Egypt, the definition of a journalist is one who practices journalism and is a member of the press syndicate. And those are slightly less than 7,000. Those among them incarcerated are eight and they are defended by the syndicate and should be released. Others should be judged according to their case, and according to the law. Claiming to be The Head of the Independent Electronic Journalism, as one did, without an address, headquarters, bank account, a record and legal registration will make it impossible to distinguish between the real and the hoax.
Why is it too hard to tell the truth about Egypt?
(Source / 27.07.2015)
Palestinian children play in the village of Susiya, south of the West Bank city of Hebron
Frantz Fanon, the influential Afro-Caribbean postcolonial theorist, would have been 90 years old this month. His prescient critiques of 20th-century colonial society were built primarily upon a close analysis of Algeria’s struggle for independence in the 1960s, but his conclusions about the nature of colonialism are profoundly valuable for understanding the present situation in Israel and Palestine.
If Fanon were alive and writing today he wouldn’t be swayed by the claims that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is predicated on religion or some manner of a clash of civilisations. Rather, he would see the conflict for what it really is about: a struggle over land, resources and, above all, domination.
Take the case of the Palestinian village of Khirbet Susiya. Perched on a ridge in the rolling hills south of the ancient city of Hebron, Susiya is under threat of demolition by Israel. The 300 people that call Susiya home have been living in the area since well before Israel was founded in 1948. Many of its residents were born in nearby caves, which they still retreat to during the hot summer months. Some are refugees from areas that were purged in 1948.
When Israel conquered the West Bank in 1967, Israeli settlers set up a commanding fortress of a settlement next to Susiya, which borrowed its name. The settlement served as a critical military base for the southern reaches of the West Bank and drew extra legitimacy from the Israeli public because one of the oldest synagogues in the West Bank was discovered in the area.
Israel’s settlement project was, of course, a disaster for the Palestinians of Susiya. Fanon wrote that a native town was always a hungry town. Susiya, parched and windswept, is a thirsty one. Israel denies Susiya the right to connect to any water pipeline. It claims that the village lacks the necessary permits to build the infrastructure to connect itself, and thus forces the villagers to buy expensive water tanks from Israel.
Last month, Israel extended this claim of illegality to its logical conclusion and announced that Susiya would be destroyed after Ramadan because its structures – tents, animal pens and water well – lacked the necessary building permits, which had been applied for by Susiya’s residents but were rejected on more than one occasion by the Israeli military government.
The decision to demolish Susiya fits neatly into larger Israeli plans for the West Bank colonisation project. The simple goal is to force Palestinians off their land and into major urban areas like Hebron or the city of Yatta, where they can be easily contained by Israel.
The villages’ land is then swallowed up by ever-growing Israeli settlements. It is a basic application of colonial rule that is entrenched through the threat of demolition, the military turning a blind eye to settler violence and the denial of basic infrastructure such as water and electricity. This strategy has worked well for Israel, and one look at a map of the West Bank reveals several Palestinian urban centres surrounded by rings of Israeli settlements.
Susiya is one of the few villages still fighting this plan in the south West Bank and has, thus, become a symbol. Western diplomats and representatives regularly visit the village to see the reality of Israel’s occupation up close. Many of these representatives have come to admire, above all else, the determined non-violence of Susiya’s residents in the face of the crushing force of Israel’s daily, and often violent, intimidation.
Thanks to this international visibility, Susiya might be spared demolition, at least in the short term. An Israeli defence ministry report, leaked this week, confirmed that the villagers of Susiya are in possession of Ottoman-era land deeds. The existence of the documents, which villagers claim were provided to Israel in 2013, again proves that the land is privately owned.
This time, however, Israel might use the documents to put Susiya on the back burner and leave the threat of demolition looming over the villagers for years to come.
Even if Susiya is spared from this round of threats, Israeli plans for the West Bank will remain fundamentally unchanged and the occupation will continue to entrench itself daily. Susiya will continue to be a thirsty town subject to the full brunt of the Israeli military.
As events outside of Palestine divert attention from the colonial complexion of Israel’s position in the region and its leadership’s fear mongering over regional threats continues on a daily basis, Israel will entrench its footprint on the West Bank.
Settler towns like Israeli Susiya will be reinforced, while the natural resources of the area will be used by Israel for its sole benefit and enrichment.
The only constant feature of this decades-long conflict is the ever-growing Israeli appetite for Palestinian land and resources. Regardless of negative publicity or the high cost of maintaining the occupation, Israel will continue on this path until it is forced to end its colonial escapades. After all, as Fanon noted: “Colonialism is not a thinking machine nor a body endowed with reasoning faculties.”
The plight of Susiya is the embodiment of Fanon’s description of colonialism in action. The village’s saga demonstrates the unavoidable truth at the heart of Israel and Palestine: that the conflict is a colonial one that only borrows the rhetoric of a religious conflict to obscure its true dimensions.
It will be the deployment of colonial theory and anti-colonial tactics, as laid out in the work of Fanon and others, that will ultimately resolve the conflict. The most pressing question now is whether society has advanced to a point at which an anti-colonial struggle can be fought without violence – the jury is still out.
(Source / 26.07.2015)
Noam Chomsky and Ilan Pappe in dialogue
There aren’t many intellectuals who can trigger a debate or a media echo with their comments on the Middle East conflict. Noam Chomsky, a godfather of linguistics and one of the best known contemporary political minds, is certainly not one of them. Nor is Ilan Pappe, called “Israel’s most courageous and incorruptible historian” by the British newspaper “The Independent”. After the last Gaza War, in which more than 2,000 Palestinians were killed, the two academics decided to continue their first printed dialogue, “Gaza in Crisis” (published 2010).
In their recently released book, “On Palestine”, both Chomsky and Pappe make it clear on which points they share the same views on politics and activism, and where their opinions differ.
No ideal solution to the conflict
Although Chomsky and Pappe agree on many issues, the central question of the number of states required for a solution is not one of them. Like many others, Chomsky appeals for the classic two-state solution, citing the fact that there is international consensus on the issue as his reason.
Pappe, on the other hand, is in favour of a strict one-state solution, in which the rights of all citizens must be guaranteed, be they Jews, Christians, Muslims, Israelis or Palestinians. The historian takes his argument a step further, comparing the Israeli state in its present condition to the former apartheid system in South Africa, arguing that it is a state dominated by structural anti-Palestinian racism that has now become part of everyday life.
Pappe feels that this system, which he regards as a pillar of “Zionist ideology”, would remain in place in the event of a two-state solution. What’s more, he points out that such a solution would completely ignore the Palestinians’ right to return, which was resolved by the UN General Assembly as long ago as 1948.
Chomsky only agrees in part, emphasising that it might be possible to solve the dilemma step by step, but not all at once. After all, he points out, neither in the European Union nor in the USA are there currently any powerful voices willing to support a single-state model. Nor does he consider the South Africa comparison appropriate, as the white South African minority was dependent on the black majority and its manpower, whereas forces in Israel appear to want to simply get rid of the Palestinians by permanently confiscating their land or locking them away (e.g. in the Gaza Strip).
Nevertheless, both Pappe and Chomsky come to the conclusion that Israel originated as a colonial settlers’ project. This, according to both authors, is also the reason why above all the USA, Canada and New Zealand – all states founded on colonisation and the expulsion of the indigenous population – are among Israel’s strongest supporters and feel a connection with the state.
Appeal for a classic two-state solution to the Middle East conflict: the American linguistic philosopher and leftist intellectual Noam Chomsky (pictured here) emphasises that there is already international consensus on the issue. Apart from that, he argues, no powerful voices in either the EU or the US are speaking out in favour of a single-state model
The boycott question
Another important point on which the authors’ opinions clearly diverge is the question of boycotting Israel. Their focus in this context is on the BDS campaign, which has meet with approval from many around the world in recent years and is supported by numerous politicians, academics and activists of diverse origins.
BDS stands for “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions”. Activists, including Ilan Pappe, believe that such strict sanctions are the only way to put effective pressure on the Israeli government to end its constantly repeated violations of international law. Here again, the “South African model” serves as an orientation, the old regime having been brought to its knees using similar methods. Chomsky, however, counters that Israel will maintain the status quo for as long as it has the USA’s support – a key factor in the case of apartheid South Africa.
Instead, Chomsky hopes for a radical change in public opinion resulting from alternative media and social networks. This alteration of perceptions could also help reach the point where the USA no longer provides unconditional support to Israel. One problem with this, however, is the fact that both political players, in other words Israelis and Palestinians, are portrayed in the mainstream media as being equally strong and equally responsible.
According to Chomsky, constantly repeated phrases such as “Israel is only defending itself” or “Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East” partly result in a role reversal between victims and perpetrators, giving certain players – like Hamas – the sole blame for the conflict’s escalation and entirely ignoring factors such as the ongoing deprivation of rights for Palestinians living in Israel.
In this context, Pappe emphasises that even terms such as “Israeli–Palestinian conflict” are misplaced, as the imbalance between the two states with regard to the real balance of power could not be more obvious. The alleged complexity of the subject, Pappe argues, is cited only by those who want to continue justifying the Israeli government’s violations.
Only Pappe favours a complete boycott – including on the academic level. Chomsky, for his part, criticises that the BDS campaign has not defined its goals clearly. He says that among other things, the main problem is the fact that the campaign is only aimed against Israel, whereas no pressure is placed on the US government at all. Furthermore, he writes, there is a risk that many people in Europe or the USA, who are scarcely aware of the political realities on the ground, might associate the BDS movement with a kind of “boycott of Jews”. This false perception, he writes, could then also harm the oppressed Palestinians’ case.
Chomsky considers a boycott limited to the occupied territories to be a far more effective and useful tool. As most people are now familiar with Israel’s programme of building illegal settlements, he thinks that many more people would understand such an appeal rather than a complete boycott.
Israeli historian Ilan Pappe emphasises that terms such as “Israeli–Palestinian conflict” are inappropriate, as the imbalance of power between the two states could not be more obvious. He also argues that the alleged complexity of the subject is cited only by those who want to continue justifying the Israeli government’s violations
Lack of Palestinian perspective
This point reveals what is missing in the dialogue: a Palestinian voice. Chomsky, an American of Jewish origins, and Pappe, born and bred in Israel, are certainly aware of the realities in the Middle East and possess outstanding intellectual expertise. Nevertheless, there is no Palestinian perspective in the dialogue, although numerous contributors would be available.
A Palestinian who has lost his or her homeland, been dispossessed of property, whose relatives are possibly harassed on a daily basis in the West Bank or East Jerusalem or have to persevere in the Gaza Strip, could certainly have made this emotional standpoint much clearer.
It is this perspective too that would make it clear that campaigns such as BDS by no means constitute a “boycott of Jews”, but merely point to the roots of the conflict. Ilan Pappe does emphasise this throughout the dialogue, pointing out that Israel did not come about out of thin air, but through the expulsion and ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians through the “Nakba”.
However, a third voice illustrating this fact more clearly would have done the dialogue good. That is certainly not to say that “On Palestine” is not worth reading. Noam Chomsky and Ilan Pappe show that the status quo in the Middle East is no longer tenable and that activism has now become a duty – at international level.
At this point in time in particular, when one of Israel’s most extreme right-wing governments ever has just been elected and the two-state solution has been more or less declared dead in the water, such appeals are more important than ever.
(Source / 26.07.2015)
The core function of the Israeli military is to enforce its illegal occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip
Last week, the UK government announced the outcome of a review of military export licences whose legality had been called into question during Israel’s attacks on the Gaza Strip last summer. The outcome, which came 11 months after the review began, concluded that there is no risk that weapons being shipped from the UK to Israel could be used in violations of international law.
This outcome shows that the UK government consistently fails to implement its own criteria for arms export licensing, criteria supposedly in place to ensure that arms exported from the UK are not used for violations of international law.
The core function of the Israeli military is to enforce its illegal occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip through a system of control that includes: an Apartheid Wall snaking through the West Bank; a network of checkpoints manned by the Israeli military, preventing Palestinians from moving freely; systematic arrest and incarceration, with 5,750 Palestinians held as political prisoners, kidnapped from their homes with military force. All of this on top of Israel’s periodic bombing campaigns on the already occupied and besieged Gaza Strip, the most recent of which in 2014 resulted in 2,205 Palestinians dead, 521 of whom were children.
Some of the weaponry used to commit such massacres is manufactured in the UK.
It doesn’t take a military expert to know what kinds of weapons are used by the Israeli military to carry out this brutal occupation: combat aircraft units, drones for surveillance and bombing, and weapons night sight technology. All of these items, along with many others, were approved by the UK government to be shipped to Israel in the six months prior to last summer’s attack on Gaza. Does the UK government think that Israel was just saving them up for the next war? And even if that were the case, does that justify their export?
Decisions to grant arms export licences are made on a case-by-case basis according to the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria. These criteria dictate that the government should take into account the buyer country’s “respect for international law”. Other criteria were highlighted by the government as specifically relevant to Israel: for example, when there is a clear risk of the equipment being used for internal repression, and where there is a “clear risk that the intended recipient would use the items aggressively…to assert by force a territorial claim”.
The licensing criteria outlining what exports should be prohibited cover what is essentially a laundry list of the Israeli military’s main activities. If the UK export licensing criteria were applied, there would be a de facto arms embargo on Israel. Despite this, in the four months immediately following Israel’s 2014 bombing of Gaza, over £4 million worth of licences for military equipment were approved for export to Israel.
So why won’t the UK apply its own criteria to restrict licences on military equipment bound for Israel?
There is certainly no lack of evidence showing that the Israeli military uses weapons for violations of international law. In fact, only weeks before the review outcome, an independent UN inquiry into the Gaza war found evidence suggestingthat Israel committed multiple violations of international law, including war crimes. The UK government voted to accept the report in the UN Human Rights Council. Surely that is enough evidence to say that there is at least a “clear risk”.
The review that just finished is a good example of how the arms export control process works – or doesn’t – and also holds the key of how we can challenge this system of complicity.
Only days before the export licence review was announced last summer, 150,000 people marched in the streets of London to protest Israel’s war on Gaza, demanding an end to the UK-Israel arms trade. In 2009 there was a similar story, when public pressure compelled the government to respond, and at that time, actually revoke some export licences. But it was too little and too late for the victims of Israel’s massacre to be saved.
There is an absolute correlation between public awareness and pressure and the government taking action on the issues. But it is not only through voting or writing to MPs that we create pressure. It is by taking to the streets and showing that we are not willing to smile and nod at the sham review process or other symbolic gestures.
In August 2014, nine people occupied the roof of the UAV Engines factory in Shenstone, where drone engines bound for Israel are made. The factory is one of several in the UK owned by Israel’s largest weapons manufacturer, Elbit Systems. These protestors shut down operations at the factory for two days before they were arrested. Months later, the charges against them were dropped after the company would not provide details of the arms export licences it had been granted. If the trial had gone ahead, the UK government and/or the company would have had to provide evidence countering the protestors’ claim that these weapons are used in violation of international law.
Later in the year, a small group of protestors gathered at another Elbit-owned factory in the UK, shutting it down for a day, and successfully preventing shipments from arriving to the factory.
These smaller actions reached a crescendo on 6 July 2015 when over a hundred people protested outside the Elbit-owned factory in Shenstone again, as well as two other Elbit-owned factories in the UK. In all, three Elbit-owned factories in the UK were shut down by protests.
These protests went ahead despite attempts by the Shenstone factory to sabotage these efforts. The factory asked the High Court to impose an injunction with a “forbidden area” 250-meters around the factory, an area including public land which would ban anyone associated with protests from entering, including the peace vigil that local Staffordshire campaigners have been holding at the factory since 2009. On the day of the protest, police came out in massively disproportionate force, and 19 people were arrested.
The company manufacturing weapons for export to Israel used draconian measures to silence any dissent over their actions. Luckily, campaigners made sure that the injunction would not go unchallenged, and on 22 July, the High Court lifted the ban from the “forbidden area” around the factory.
The response to the protests show that the UK government, in collusion with Israeli arms companies, is willing to go to great lengths to suppress democratic public debate over the illegality of the UK-Israel arms trade. But the protests themselves show that the Stop Arming Israel campaign continues to grow, regardless of attempts to repress it.
Until the UK government applies its own criteria to the arms trade, and imposes an immediate two-way arms embargo on Israel, we need to keep up our own public review process to hold our government to its word, and push it to put an end to these dirty deals.
(Source / 25.07.2015)