My piece on Egypt and Gaza, at ME Channel

… is here.
I rather like the title they put on it, “Tahrir’s journey to Palestine”. In fact, the journey that the “spirit of of the Tahrir uprising” has to make before it gets to Palestine is just about as long and difficult as the journey that anyone needs to make to get from the outside world to the Gaza portion of Palestine. We can see the terrible and in one case at least, potentially lethal) measures that someone (presumably Israel) has been taking to prevent the current “Stay Human” flotilla from reaching Gaza. And we saw the lethal (and very intentionally mendacious/libelous) lengths to which the Israel “Defense” Forces were prepared to go in this regard on May 31, 2010.
If you can’t get to Gaza by sea, then you have to go either via Israel, through the Erez checkpoint, or via Egypt through Rafah. Erez has long been closed to everyone except a small group of humanitarian-aid workers and a very small number of Gaza Palestinians requiring urgent medical care at hospitals inside Israel. (But the medical patients are have very frequently been required to become informers for the Israelis as a “quid pro quo” for being allowed to transit Erez, as PHR-Israel has documented in detail.)
Passage through Rafah is almost equally as difficult, whether for “Gaza residents”– that is, that small portion of the Palestinian people whom Israel graciously “allows” to reside in, or visit Gaza– or for anyone else.
It is quite outrageous that an entire population can be collectively punished with illegal restrictions on their freedom of movement and freedom of association in this way. Bill the spouse and I were only able to respond positively to the invitation we received to visit Gaza because we had high-level backing from the Egyptian government. But if a school or community group in Gaza wants to invite anyone they want from Egypt, other Arab countries, Europe, or the United States, to go and take part in a seminar or to sit on the beach with them enjoy the fine Gaza sunset, they can’t do that! Why?????
Because Israel has long had carte blanche from the U.S. government to kick around the Palestinians in any way it wants, with no accountability required.
Time for a change.
Let’s bring the spirit of Tahrir here, to the United States!

Reactions to Gaza Flotilla 2

Nine boats of siege-busting ‘Freedom Rider’ activists are now gathering in the Mediterranean, preparing to challenge the longrunning siege that is one of the main tools through which Israel continues to stifle the lives and livelihoods of all of Gaza’s 1.6 million people.
An act of collective punishment like this siege is quite illegal under international law. Under international law, Israel has status over Gaza, as over the West Bank, only as a foreign military occupier, a status it has enjoyed for a jaw-dropping 44 years now. (Hey, even the Allied occupation of post-war Germany only lasted 14 years.) It is only that standing as occupying power that “allows” Israel to exercise control over all of Gaza’s land and sea borders, over its airspace, and even over the vital population registry that determines which Palestinians are allowed to enter into or reside in the Palestinian land of Gaza.
It is that long-running military occupation that needs to end; and we should never forget that.
Right now, there is zero movement in the “international community” towards ending Israel’s prolonged occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. There is no prospect of peace and none even of that long-running time-waster, the peace “process.” In the absence of any prospect of peace, actions to end the illegal siege through which Israel seeks to break the will of the civilian population of Gaza are a very valuable way to break the deadlock while also bringing hope to Gaza’s long-besieged civilians that no, the rest of the world has not forgotten about their plight.
I have such admiration for Freedom Riders like the amazingly talented and gutsy African-American writer Alice Walker. The essay in which she explains her reasons for joining the flotilla should be required reading in every class on Middle East politics, all around the world.
… Or Joseph Dana, an American-Israeli journalist who has decided to travel with and document the work of the flotilla, despite numerous attacks against him. Dana is great Twitterer. Follow his realtime updates here.
And then, there are all the sick attacks that Israeli government spokespeople and their fellow travelers in the U.S. State Department (including Hillary Clinton) and in pro-Israel circles in the U.S. and elsewhere make upon these courageous Freedom Riders… Including accusations from the IDF that the Freedom Riders are intent on using violence, from government sources in Israel and the U.S. that “Rafah is now open” and there are no remaining restrictions on the movement of goods or people in and out of Gaza, etc etc.
As I witnessed in Rafah with my own eyes (and suffered a bit with my sun-battered body) two weeks ago, claims that “Rafah is now open” are simply false.
In light of the above, what are we to make of this statement from an organization called “Americans for Peace Now” today? It includes this bit of verbal bullying:

    Let there be no doubt: the organizers of the flotilla are seeking to provoke a confrontation with Israel. In doing so they are playing a dangerous game. None of us knows what the consequences of their actions will be…

Oh, come on. The flotilla organizers are not seeking to “confront” the whole of Israel. They are seeking to confront the specific Israeli policy that maintains a quite illegal siege on all of Gaza’s people. And this “confrontation” is of exactly the same kind used by the Freedom Riders or lunch-counter activists in the days of the civil rights struggle in the United States.
I suppose APN, which is a U.S.-based support branch for the once-magnificent and powerful Israeli organization Peace Now, was trying to establish its pro-Israeli “muscularity” there before they made their core argument which was that Israel should simply let the flotilla make it to Gaza.
Their statement argues that Israel’s blockade of Gaza is a “failed policy.” It does describe it as part of a campaign of collective punishment of the whole population of Gaza, though does not spell out the essential illegitimacy of any such collective punishment.
And nor, crucially, does the statement mention that Israel’s ongoing measures against Gaza are possible only because of Israel’s status as occupying power in Gaza: a status that is only ever intended under international law to be a temporary situation, and one that is always– and hopefully speedily–brought to end by the conclusion of a final-status peace between or among the belligerents.
APN’s statement makes it seem quite possible that Israel could continue to exercise its sway over Gaza for ever! It says:

    We recognize Israel’s right to stop and inspect ships it has genuine reason to believe are seeking to smuggle weapons into Gaza… More effective and defensible measures to prevent arms smuggling into Gaza – both via land and via the sea – must be implemented, in cooperation with Egypt, the United States, and the international community.

But how about calling for a speedy end to the occupation that Israel maintains over Gaza, which would be done in the context of a peace treaty between Israel and the PLO– like the one that the Oslo Accords stipulated should have been completed back in May 1999, but that very tragically, because of intense and often intentional Israeli and U.S. foot-dragging, is nowhere on the horizon even today.
In the context of a peace treaty, arms limitation agreements might (and should) be agreed to by both parties to the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel as such would have no continuing right to inspect or control the movement of goods and people into or out of Gaza or the rest of the Palestinian state, though the Palestinian negotiators would likely agree to some form of trusted third-party monitoring.
But the idea– as seems encapsulated in the APN statement– that Israel has any unending “right to stop and inspect ships it has genuine reason to believe are seeking to smuggle weapons into Gaza”? Where did that come from? I thought APN was dedicated to achieving a fair and sustainable final-status peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Surely, they should have mentioned that?

Eyes Open in Gaza, June 2011

The Gaza Strip is a heavily urbanized sliver of land, some 30 miles long, that nestles against the southeast corner of the Mediterranean and that for many reasons– including the fact that more than 75% of its 1.6 million people are refugees from within what is now Israel– has always been a crucible for the Palestinian movement. In the 1950s, Yasser Arafat and his comrades founded the secular nationalist movement Fateh here. In the 1970s, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, a local preacher, founded the network of Islamist organizations that later became Hamas, right here in Gaza. In 1987, Gaza was where the overwhelmingly nonviolent First Intifada was first ignited…
On a recent Wednesday morning, I sat in the neat, Gaza City office of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights with its deputy director, a grizzled veteran of the rights movement called Jaber Wishah. We were discussing the prospects for the reconciliation agreement that Fateh and Hamas concluded in Cairo on May 3. Wishah said he hoped that the agreement would result in the formation of a ‘national salvation government’ that could end and reverse the many kinds of assault that the Israeli government has sustained against the Palestinians of the occupied territories: primarily, the multi-year siege that suffocates the Gaza Strip’s 1.6 million residents and the continuing land expropriations and regime of deeply abusive control that Israel maintains over the 2.6 million Palestinians of the West Bank.
“We desperately need this salvation government, to halt the deterioration of our situation,” Wishah said.
Like all the politically connected Palestinians I talked with during my three-day visit to Gaza, Wishah stressed that the key factor that was now– however slowly– starting to ease the harsh, five-year rift between Hamas and Fateh was the fall of Hosni Mubarak’s regime in neighboring Egypt.
Gaza’s longest land border is the one lined (by Israel) with high concrete walls, hi-tech sensors, and a series of watchtowers with machine-gun nests that can fire automatically if any Palestinian approaches any closer than 500 meters to the wall. Gaza’s shorter border is the one with Egypt that, since 2006, has been the only way that Gaza’s people– or rather, a carefully screened subset of them– can ever hope to travel outside the tiny Strip, whether for business, studies, or family reunions. So long as Mubarak and his widely loathed intel chief Omar Sulaiman were still in power in Cairo, they used their power over Egypt’s Rafah crossing point with Gaza to maintain tight control over the Strip and they worked with Israel, the United States, and their allies in Fateh to squeeze Gaza’s Hamas rulers as hard as they could. Many Arab governments have long expressed support for intra-Palestinian reconciliation. But they (and the western powers) were always content to let Egypt take the lead in brokering all reconciliation efforts. To no-one’s surprise, so long as Mubarak and Sulaiman were in charge in Cairo, those efforts went nowhere.

Continue reading “Eyes Open in Gaza, June 2011”

In Gaza

From Monday through Thursday, Bill the spouse and I were in Gaza. The time there was really great: We got to talk to some really interesting people. It is so important to be able to hear from them firsthand and see the conditions in which they’re living– not least because of the terrible isolation into which they’ve been forced by the occupying power (Israel) and the quite inhumane restrictions it has maintained on their freedom of movement (and of commerce.)
I haven’t had time to blog about it, but I have done a bit of tweeting about it, and I compiled those tweets into this ‘Chirpstory’, here.
Now, we’re back in Cairo– and it is still really busy, since there are so many great people to see here, too. Anyway, I thought I’d send you to the Chirpstory. Post your comments there or here!

JWN revived; Israel’s wars described

My apologies to loyal JWN readers that I haven’t posted much recently… Indeed, for most of the past three or four months I have been seriously AWOL as a blogger. It happens. I got really busy with Just World Books– and also, over both Thanksgiving and Christmas, with family things. (I’m writing this from San Francisco airport at the end of a fabulous family get-together in the Bay Area and Northern California. Fun to share Christmas festivities with so many Jewish in-laws… )
Anyway, talking of great blogging comebacks, did you see that bernhard of Moon of Alabama has taken up his keyboard again! That, after an 18-month hiatus. Hurrah!
When I’m not blogging, I miss it. This time, I even got to feeling that I almost lost my voice.
No time to lament that, however. This week is the start of the 22-day-long second anniversary of Operation Cast Lead– a.k.a. # 11 in the long, sad caravan of wars of forced regime change that Israel has launched against its neighbors since 1948. I used to describe Cast Lead as #5 in Israel’s wars of forced regime change… Then I realized I should also count a bunch of Israel’s earlier wars, nearly all of which had amongst their key geostrategic goals a forced change in the political regime of one or more neighboring countries.
So here’s my list:

    #1: Israel’s instigation and participation in the Tripartite (Israeli-British-French) assault against Egypt and Gaza in 1956, which had the goal of overthrowing Nasser. It failed in that goal.
    #2: The “Six-Day” war of 1967, which had the goals of seizing the West Bank from Jordan and hopefully also overthrowing the regimes in either Egypt or Syria. The first goal was achieved, the other two not.
    #3: Israel’s involvement in backing Jordan’s King Hussein in his anti-PLO assault of September 1970, which brought into place a very different kind of regime in Jordan– though still one headed, as before, by Hussein.
    #4: The military aid Israel gave to the campaign that the Lebanese Falangists and their Chamounist allies mounted against the PLO in Lebanon in 1976. This one was, essentially a standoff.
    #5: The direct Israeli military assault against Lebanon in 1978. This one aimed at putting pressure on the Lebanese to expel the PLO. It failed at that– but Israel did establish the Insecurity Zone deep inside south Lebanon in which it was to remain for a further 22 years.
    #6: The even bigger Israeli military assault against Lebanon in 1982. This one aimed both at direct elimination of the PLO’s self-defense capabilities in Lebanon and at pressuring the Lebanese to expel what remained of the PLO. It also aimed at installing a dependent, pro-Israeli government in Beirut. It achieved the first two of those goals but its attainment of the third of them was much more fragile and short-lived– lasting only until Pres. Amin Gemayyel made his peace with Syria in February 1984. Meanwhile, of course, Israel’s occupation presence in a huge chunk of south Lebanon fomented the birth of Hizbullah….
    #7: The large Israeli assault against Lebanon in 1993– this time, with the aim of pressuring the Lebanese to repudiate Hizbullah. Didn’t work.
    #8: The large Israeli assault against Lebanon in 1996– once again, with the aim of pressuring the Lebanese to repudiate Hizbullah. Didn’t work.
    #9: The large Israeli assault against all PA institutions in the West Bank and Gaza in 2002. This one aimed at directly destroying the PA’s ability to deliver any services to Palestinians and resulted in the dismantlement of just about all the infrastrcture the PA had built up since Oslo. It left a state of anarchy and hopelessness from which Hamas was to emerge much stronger than before…
    #10: The truly massive Israeli assault against Lebanon in 2006– once again, with the aim of pressuring the Lebanese to repudiate Hizbullah. Didn’t work.
    #11: The truly massive Israeli assault against Gaza in late 2008– with the aim of pressuring the Palestinians to repudiate/overthrow Hamas. Didn’t work.

… Well, I plan to write a bunch more about these wars– and the very evident trend they reveal, wherein Israel’s attainment of ever greater, more capable, and more lethal military capabilities has been matched by a decreasing ability to realize the geostrategic goals it seeks through its wars. Simultaneously, of course, we have seen Israel’s big superpower protector also launching a couple of large wars of forced regime change in the Greater Middle East over the past decade, and neither of those resulted in a geostrategic victory, either.
That’s the good news. The bad news is the continued suffering of Gaza’s people and the rest of the Palestinians both inside and outside the homeland.

Robinson and Brahimi: Wrong on Hamas and women

Mary Robinson and Lakhdar Brahimi have a piece in HuffPo today in which they argue, probably correctly, that it is Gaza’s women and children who are paying the highest price for Israel’s now years-long siege of Gaza.
They write:

    Women in this conservative society find their domestic responsibilities made all the more difficult and time-consuming by the blockade — and they bear the brunt of society’s frustration and anger in such trying times.

But they immediately go on to add this:

    Equally disturbing are the creeping restrictions on women’s freedom imposed by Hamas activists.

Equally disturbing??? That is, they are claiming that Hamas is just as culpable as the Israel of the crime of oppression of women??
Their evidence?
They cite allegedly Hamas-led “initiatives” to harrass schoolgirls not wearing headscarves (and leave the impression that this applies to even the youngest schoolgirls.) They write,

    Women are punished if they smoke in public, while their male compatriots are allowed to do so. And at the beach, Gaza’s main source of fun and entertainment, women and men are strictly segregated.

And then, this amazing untruth:

    The erosion of women’s freedoms is compounded by their lack of participation in politics.

And then they refer to an alleged “absence of women from politics.”
This last claim is simply untrue. Hamas has at least four women MPs on its roster, at least two of whom live in Gaza. One of them is the smart and dedicated Jamila Shanty, whom I interviewed in 2006.
Why do Robinson and Brahimi ignore these and the many other signs there are that Hamas supports the participation of women in public life?
It is true that there are many Islamist activists in Gaza who pursue campaigns to persuade people to live pious lives. Some of them are Hamas members; many others belong to much more fundamentalist Islamist movements. But I would love it if Ms. Robinson and Mr. Brahimi could cite one Hamas party document in which the party claims ownership of the kinds of campaigns of harrassment they describe.
I also really hate the faux “feminist” tenor of their closing line, which strongly implies that Gaza’s women somehow “yearn to be free” even more than their menfolk. What kind of nonsense is that?
… I am disappointed to see these two generally respected members of the generally wise “Elders” group engaging in this imperialistic kind of faux “feminism”… that is, the articulation by people strongly connected with the west (and that now certainly includes my old friend Lakhdar Brahimi) of a “particular” concern for the plight of the women living in non-western societies, based on the divisive argument that their own menfolk (based on their alleged backwardness, etc) repress them just as badly as their western colonial occupiers do.
Certainly the French used to adduce just exactly this same argument to help support the conceit that they were pursuing a mission civilisatrice in Brahimi’s own native Algeria, back in the day. It is really disappointing to see him dragging it out of the attic now, 50 years later.

Powerful rebuke of SA Chief Rabbi over Goldstone

The great, strongly anti-Apartheid South African journo Allister Sparks has penned a powerful rebuke of his country’s Chief Rabbi, Warren Goldstein, over the latter’s strongly expressed criticism of Constitutional Court member Richard Goldstone, and Goldstone’s role in heading the UN’s fact-finding mission for Gaza.
(HT: Dominic.)
Sparks starts by noting that three of the major IDF war crimes reported by the Goldstone commission in Gaza were in fact recently confirmed to have been such by a military investigation undertaken by the IDF high command itself.
He comments, “the real importance of this military investigation is that it vindicates the Goldstone commission,” adding:

    For Judge Richard Goldstone, particularly, this is a personal vindication, for he was excoriated by leading members of the local Jewish community for chairing the commission. He was told his commission’s findings were lies; that he was naive and gullible for accepting the version of events given by terrorists; and that, since he is a Jew, he was a traitor to his people.
    His critics were given support by Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein, who chastised Goldstone for “doing great damage to the state of Israel”. He should have recused himself instead, Goldstein said, and taken no part in the investigating mission.

He then issues this important reproach to Goldstein:

    We secularists need to know what a religious leader in our community means when he seeks to impose such an ethical dictum on a prominent member of his faith — someone who was a founding father of our Constitutional Court and an interpreter of our infinitely important national constitution in this new democracy.
    I am reminded here of the conflict between the Dutch Reformed Church and Beyers Naude over the issue of apartheid.
    I attended the Dutch Reformed Church service in Linden, Johannesburg, at which Naude had to respond to the church leaders’ demand that he choose between the church’s doctrine of support for apartheid and his commitment to the nonracial Christian Institute he had founded.
    In other words, Naude was forced to choose between his moral principles and his loyalty to his own people and their church.
    I heard Naude announce his decision that memorable day before the glitterati of Afrikaner nationalism in the packed pews before him. Smilingly, boldly, he told them simply: “I choose God before man.”
    In other words, principles, truth and justice before ethnic or group loyalty. It was the defining moment of that great man’s life.
    So I ask the chief rabbi that same question today: what is your choice? Then, at the level of plain human decency, don’t you think, Chief Rabbi Goldstein and those members of the Orthodox Jewish community and the South African Zionist Federation whom you lead, that you owe Judge Goldstone an apology? A public, abject apology.
    Leaders of the federation went to the extremes of cruelty when they took their religious war against Judge Goldstone (dare I call it a fatwa?) into the heart of his family by trying to ban him from his grandson’s bar mitzvah. Eventually, but it seemed to me somewhat reluctantly, negotiations enabled the family to celebrate this important event together.
    But I’m sorry, that wasn’t enough. In this land of ubuntu, this land of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, you must stand up, Chief Rabbi Goldstein, and on behalf of the co-religionists you supported in this calumny, bow your head, apologise and, like the man of God I’m sure you are, beg forgiveness of Judge Richard Goldstone.

Great reporting on effects of siege in Gaza

John Lyons of The Australian has a great report in tomorrow’s paper about the nuts and bolts of how Israel’s siege kills the most vulnerable of Gaza’s citizens.
He chronicles the political problems that prevent five-day-old Seraj Abu Jarad from getting the prostaglandin that he needs to survive:

    IT’S hard watching a baby slowly die. He’s only five days old and you can see how hard his little chest is thumping. He seems to be fighting to stay alive.
    It’s 9.24 on Wednesday morning this week and he has only 36 minutes of guaranteed life left.
    After that, he’s on his own. He’s got a heart problem and needs a medication that would be available in any hospital in Australia.
    Gaza doesn’t have any more prostaglandin. It can’t get through Israel’s and Egypt’s blockade of the strip of land…
    Another baby near him is dying too. Her name is Noor Taha and she’s 34 days old. Both her kidneys are failing and doctors need to do a CT scan before they know exactly how to treat her, but a tube has broken on the CT machine and the hospital hasn’t been able to get the tubes into Gaza.
    Unlike Seraj Abu Jarad, Noor Taha’s cloudy little eyes are open as she tries to focus.
    One doctor says her condition is critical, very bad. The hospital cannot send a request for her to enter Israel until it has an accurate diagnosis and it cannot do that without a CT machine. So Noor Taha is dying, too.
    Another girl, aged nine, may die as well. Because of a lack of equipment, her lymphoma was not diagnosed early enough for effective intervention.
    Once it was diagnosed, the hospital tried to get her into Israel for treatment of a disease that is usually manageable.
    It took seven months for Israel and the Palestinian Authority [in Ramallah] to process her paperwork, during which time the tumour grew and spread into her lungs…

Lyons tries to apportion the blame for these children’s suffering, as follows:

Continue reading “Great reporting on effects of siege in Gaza”

Washington abandons Gaza tunnel-blocking system?

Maan had a little story June 8 noting the departure of what were apparently the last of the US army engineers who’ve been trying to install a system along Egypt’s border with Gaza to block the hundreds of tunnels used to get supplies in and out of Gaza.
The story, which is attributed to un-named “Egyptian officials” gave some intriguing systems about how the system was supposed to work. First off, once the work started in early 2009, the Americans tried to bury a steel wall 30 meters (93 feet) underground along the 13.5-kilometer length of the border. However, the Maan report said,

    more than 450 estimated tunnels already [had] cut through the wall. Officials said tunnel owners paid some 10,000 US dollars to have welders spend days in the tunnels and cut through the wall.

So then the Americans turned to a very clunky Plan B:

Continue reading “Washington abandons Gaza tunnel-blocking system?”