5 steps to stop Trump from blowing up the world by the end of May

You have to believe the world is in trouble when a Defense Secretary hailed by Pres. Trump (and many others) as “Mad Dog Mattis” now looks as if he will be the most moderate high-level person in Washington’s national-security team.

By the decisions he’s made over the past two weeks, to replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with Mike Pompeo, and National Security Council advisor H.R. McMaster with John Bolton, Trump is now veering into full “Dr. Strangelove” mode.

Pompeo, who was merely a very hawkish Member of Congress until Trump named him CIA Director last March, still needs to be confirmed as Secretary of State– though Tillerson has already left. Pompeo’s confirmation hearings are expected to be held in April.

John Bolton’s appointment as NSC advisor doesn’t require any Senate confirmation, so he’ll be taking up the job on April 9. He has reportedly already started making plans for deep changes in the staffing of the NSC. Just as well for him that his new job doesn’t require confirmation: His views are so extremely hawkish that back in 2006, even a Republican-controlled Senate refused to confirm him as Ambassador to the UN!

The coming two months may well be pivotal ones for the whole global system, in which the integrity of the system of political institutions and power dynamics that has existed since 1945 could see its deepest challenge and its deepest upsets yet. Between them, Trump, Bolton, Mattis, and Pompeo will be controlling by far the world’s greatest nuclear arsenal and by far its largest and most capable array of non-nuclear forces.

And two key deadlines in Washington’s relations with presumed adversaries are fast approaching:

  • On Iran, on or around May 12, Pres. Trump is required (as a result of prior constraining legislation from Congress) to “re-certify” that Tehran has been complying with the terms of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran. He has said that before he re-certifies, he wants Congress to pass some specified, yet-more-restrictive legislation on Iran. Regardless whether that happens or not, if he fails to provide re-certification and announces a decision to exit the JCPOA, that will cause a major world crisis. The JCPOA, remember, has six other signatories in addition to the U.S. and Iran: Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia, and the EU.
  • On North Korea, Trump recently informed the government of South Korea that he would accept the invitation from North Korean President Kim Jong-Un to meet with him in person, “by the end of May.” Any backing away from that decision, or the taking of any other moves to escalate tensions with North Korea, could at that point precipitate a deep political crisis in Washington’s relations with South Korea, China, and numerous othr East Asian countries.

John Bolton has a long and rich history of pushing for aggressive policies against both Iran and North Korea. Regarding Iran, just two months ago he wrote that Washington’s goal should be, “ending Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution before its fortieth anniversary,” which comes up next February. (Hat-tip on this to Robin Wright‘s excellent recent piece on Bolton.)

Bolton’s hostility to the Islamic Republic of Iran goes back a long way. During the George W. Bush presidency, when he was Under-Secretary of State for Arms Control, he systematically skewed the evidence he had about Iran’s nuclear program, in an attempt to win fiercer presidential policies against Tehran, as Gareth Porter has shown. He was also, in that position, a major provider to his boss, Sec. of State Colin Powell, and others of the fabricated evidence that helped jerk Pres. Bush into the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Bolton, lest we forget, was a major figure pushing (along with Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld) for the invasion of Iraq. And he is one of the few original advocates for that war who is still vociferous in saying that he still thinks it was a good idea.

In a podcast I conducted with veteran UN-watcher Ian Williams last Saturday, Williams noted that Bolton is a true paleo-conservative. Unlike the neocons who married their desire to invade other countries with professions of an intent to build “democracies” there, Williams said, Bolton and his ilk just want to “go in there, overthrow things, then move on.” These are the kind of policies we can expect him to argue for, regarding Iran, North Korea, or other countries. And he will be the person constantly whispering in Pres. Trump’s ear, and totally controlling all the information that reaches the president on any foreign-affairs issue.

This, at a time when Trump clearly seems to be feeling under great threat from  the Mueller investigation, the growing chorus of women who accuse him of gross sexual improprieties, and the many other accusations of electoral irregularities and influence-peddling coming his way. A “Wag the Dog” foreign military adventure may seem attractive to him in the weeks ahead.

So what can those of us US citizens who want to prevent any such disaster do? Here’s my list:

  1. Swiftly (re-)build in your home town a broad-based antiwar movement of the kind that existed all over America prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. As I wrote recently, the pre-2003 antiwar movement kind of collapsed once the invasion started. But veterans of that movement would know how to restart it– and could probably do so in coalition with the “Women’s March” organizers and pro-gun-control organizers who have emerged in the past 15 months. Hometown organizing is the key both to building grassroots pressure on legislators and to building a strong national movement.
  2. Build the broadest possible (even if temporary) domestic alliances in this phase of rebuilding the antiwar movement. Sen. Bernie Sanders got speedily out of the gate on Friday with a terrific 4-minute video listing the top reasons Bolton should not be NSC advisor that was published on Twitter. But antiwar people should not hitch their wagon to Sen. Sanders or any other single political leader or party at this time. (Even many Republicans can be expected to be appalled by the threats that Bolton and Pompeo pose… )
  3. Remain vigilant in demanding solid evidence of any claims of infractions or provocations by Iran, North Korea, Syria, or other presumed Trump/Bolton targets, and in demanding only the most highly qualified experts to analyze that evidence. We all know the way in which, under G.W. Bush, the evidence against Iraq was twisted and misrepresented. We should not allow anyone to be similarly fooled again.
  4. Build the broadest possible (even if temporary) international coalitions to expose and rein in the imperial aggressivity of the Trump/Bolton White House. Such coalitions should of course include members of antiwar movements from all round the world. But they might, in the present phase, include other political forces whose positions on a range of other issues we might disagree with– including pro-government movements in countries directly on the Trump/Bolton target list, or in other significant countries in the international system. US citizens who stand up to announce respect for the rights of Iran’s, or Syria’s, or North Korea’s people to be free of the threat of US regime change and able to determine their own future may be fearful of being labeled “sympathizers” of those country’s current governments. No! As during earlier eras of US aggressivity against Cuba or Vietnam, we would merely by standing by our respect for the self-determination of all the world’s peoples.
  5. Use the Pompeo confirmation hearings and every other political opportunity possible to demand support from our legislators for international norms including the inviolability of existing treaties (like the JCPOA on Iran) and the non-use of force in international affairs.

Why does Washington’s imperialist warmaking continue?

(This is v.2 of this blog post. I edited it to try to give a better picture of the casualty tolls in Iraq from the 2003 decision to invade. But those numbers are still really hard to capture. ~HC.)

In the months leading up to March 19, 2003, when Pres. George W. Bush launched an unprovoked and completely optional war of “total regime change” against Iraq, I was proud to take part in several of the broad and spirited antiwar demonstrations and other actions that took place all around the United States and the world.

But we failed to stop Bush from launching his illegal war.

It was 15  years ago this week, on March 19, 2003, that Bush unleashed the war. The negative consequences of that decision– primarily on Iraq and its people, but also on the United States and the integrity of the global order– were massive, and continue to this day. They include (but are not limited to) the following:

  1. The number of those who died directly or indirectly as a result of the invasion of Iraq or the numerous secondary conflicts sparked by the invasion has been estimated at around half a million. Around 4,500 U.S. service-members lost their lives. The numbers of those Iraqi residents wounded or displaced during the 15 years of conflict has been considerably higher. All these casualty figures continue to rise.
  2. The physical infrastructure of Iraq, a country of some 33 million souls, whose schools, hospitals, universities, road system, artistic infrastructure, etc, had already been very badly damaged by 13 years of extremely punitive, US-led sanctions, received considerable additional blows, leading to numerous public-health crises and de-development.
  3. Continue reading “Why does Washington’s imperialist warmaking continue?”

70th anniversary of Sétif massacre

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the massacre that the “Free” French forces committed against Algerians in the wilaya of Sétif in May 1945.  This was at the very same time that the victorious Allies in Europe were celebrating their victory over Nazism. During World War II, many Algerians had fought alongside the “Free” French, believing the propaganda they used about “liberty, equality, and brotherhood”. So once it was clear that the “Free” French and their other anti-Nazi allies would be winning in Europe, many of the former Algerian fighters from Sétif, holding their own victory parade in their hometown, held up banners demanding what they had been promised… The French response? A prolonged and very punitive massacre…

My dear friend Landrum Bolling was an American newsman in North Africa at the time. Hearing rumors of the massacre, he went to Sétif to find out what had happened, carving right through all the French attempts to cover it up. You can read a report (in French) of Landrum’s account what he saw, in El Watan today.

I’m very pleased that an interview with him that I blogged ten years ago helped bring his testimony back to public notice… But really angry that my blog archives here have become so corrupted that I can’t find that blog post any more. Darn it.


Human Rights Watch, taking Israel’s side (again)

HRW's pro-Israel partisanship on 'Protective Edge'

The NYC-based organization Human Rights Watch, which has grown increasingly closer to the US government over the years, has sunk to a new low in the kneejerk response it published July 9, to Israel's deadly 'Operation Protective Edge'. See how.
WhereWhatHC comment
HeadingPalestine/Israel: Indiscriminate Palestinian Rocket AttacksA definitive and damning statement here, about the nature of all Palestinian rocket attacks
SubheadIsraeli Airstrikes on Homes Appear to be Collective Punishment This statement, in much smaller type, is far less definitive.
LedePalestinian rocket attacks on Israel appear to be indiscriminate or targeted at civilian population centers, which are war crimes, while Israeli attacks targeting homes may amount to prohibited collective punishment.Now, we have a hint of caveat regarding the nature of Palestinian rocket attacks-- that they "appear to be indiscriminate or... "-- but we also have a definitive judgment that all such attacks "are war crimes", which is true. But where is HRW's evidentiary basis for the claim that all Palestinian rocket attacks "appear to be indiscriminate"? It's a known fact that the impacts of rockets that land in Israeli military areas are subject to military censorship. The general public (and HRW) only ever hear about the ones that land near civilian areas... Then, those rocket attacks are deemed to be "war crimes", while regarding Israeli attacks that specifically target the private residences of accused Hamas leaders/commanders, HRW says only that they "may amount to prohibited collective punishment". Baloney. Targeting a private home that is not being used as a military command center is a war crime just as much as is indiscriminately targeting civilian areas. If Hamas commanders are alleged to live in those homes in Gaza, then how about the large number of serving IDF officers and soldiers who live in those Israeli cities? Why are Israel's targets in Gaza in any way more allowable than the the Palestinian rocketeers' targets in Israel?
Para 2, topPalestinian armed groups in Gaza have launched scores of rockets into Israel since June 13, 2014. When fired indiscriminately or targeted at Israeli population centers – as these attacks seem to be – they are serious violations of the law of armed conflicts. Look at the second sentence here. No qualification at all regarding "some of" these rockets having been thus fired. HRW is here to tell us (while presenting no evidence) that *all of them* "seem to be", or have been, thus targeted. Again, no mention of the effects of Israel's censorship.
Para 2, bottom[Israeli] Attacks on the homes of fighters that do not serve an immediate military purpose – as, again, some of these seem to be – are acts of collective punishment, which the laws of war prohibit.No, HRW, such attacks are not *just* acts of collective punishment. They are clear violations of the principle of discrimination, which in the laws of war requires military commanders to discriminate between valid military targets and civilian objects or infrastructure. Israeli targeting of Palestinian homes is a *war crime*, just as much as is any Palestinian targeting of Israeli homes. Both are violations of the principle of discrimination.
Para 3“Regardless of who started this latest round, attacks targeting civilians violate basic humanitarian norms,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director. “All attacks, including reprisal attacks, that target or indiscriminately harm civilians are prohibited under the laws of war, period.”So sad to see that my old friend Joe Stork, once a stalwart defender of Palestinian rights, has become so seduced by the glamor (and lovely salaries!) of HRW that he now playing this role of shill.
Para 5 Israeli officials claimed that Palestinian fighters lived in the targeted homes. In two cases, Israeli forces reportedly warned residents of houses in the southern Rafah and Khan Yunis governorates to leave minutes before attacking the buildings. Since any fighters in the house presumably leave after such warnings, the attacks appear intended to destroy the houses themselves, which shelter family members who have nothing to do with an armed group. The military spokesperson stated on July 8 that the military had targeted four homes of “Hamas activists who are involved in terrorist activities.”Note, that the Israeli officials are *not* quoted as saying that the alleged "Palestinian fighters" were using these homes as command centers, just that they were their homes. This is a clear violation of the principle of discrimination (see above.)
Para 11 A warning, which can help avoid civilian casualties, does not absolve the attacking party from targeting only military objectives or from the duty to refrain from any attack if anticipated civilian casualties and damage to civilian property in the circumstances of the actual attack are disproportionate to the expected military advantage, Human Rights Watch said.They get this right.
Para 12 Palestinian fighters engaged in armed conflict with Israel, and homes that armed groups use to store arms or for other military purposes, could be considered combatants and military objectives, although attacks directed at military objectives need to be proportionate and discriminate. There have been no reports of secondary explosions after Israeli airstrikes on the homes, which would have indicated that armed groups had stored explosives or rockets there. Israel has not explained what military advantage it gained by attacking the homes.They get this right. But the conclusion-- that the IDF has been targeting Palestinian homes that are not valid military objectives-- should have been embedded in HRW's summary judgment. I.e., Israel's acts were not just "collective punishment", they were clear violations of the principle of discrimination (and that of proportionality), and thus were war crimes.
Para 14 The unguided rockets launched by Gaza armed groups are inherently indiscriminate and incapable of being targeted at possible military targets in or near Israeli population centers, Human Rights Watch said. The laws of armed conflict prohibit indiscriminate as well as deliberate attacks on civilians.Were, actually, all the Palestinian rockets "unguided"? Would we conclude from HRW's analysis here that it would be better if the Palestinian rockets had better guidance systems?
Para 16-21 Years of punitive Israeli restrictions on imports of fuel, electricity, and equipment needed to repair Gaza’s electrical grid, in addition to Egypt’s refusal to open its border to increased shipments of goods to Gaza, have left Gaza’s medical facilities and personnel ill-equipped to cope with large numbers of casualties.It is only here, down at the bottom of HRW's statement that they make any reference at all to the deeper, ongoing situation of crisis that Gaza's 1.8 million people have been living through for many years. But Joe Stork andhis colleagues at HRW do nothing to declare these terrible conditions, imposed by Israel on the Palestinians of Gaza, as an ongoing and quite illegal act of collective punishment.

WaPo and its rookie Jerusalem reporter Ruth Eglash, assessed

The waPo's apparently very rookie stringer Ruth Eglash has been doing a terrible job covering the tensions in Israel/Palestine. Let's take a look at her latest offering...
 Eglash/WaPoHC comments
Headline"Clashes in Jerusalem as Arab teen is buried, rocket fire continues"Ok, strictly speaking the headline is not the journo's fault. But here, why is the murdered teen referred to as "Arab" not "Palestinian"-- only space reasons? Also, regarding violence elsewhere why is only the (presumably Palestinian) rocket fire against Israel mentioned but not Israel's many continuing acts of violence against Gaza, Hebron, etc
Byline/dateline By Ruth Eglash and Griff Witte July 4 at 12:14 PM

... but at the bottom we are told: "Witte reported from London. Sufian Taha in Jerusalem, Islam Abdul-Kareem in Gaza City and Daniela Deane in London contributed to this report./ Griff Witte is The Post’s London bureau chief." Very strange. Clearly he or someone else in the WaPo bureaucracy realized Eglash's earlier reporting was weak in the extreme, so he stepped in -- from London-- and did a rewrite major enough for him to get a co-byline, though the dateline is still Jerusalem. But what about "Sufian Taha in Jerusalem, Islam Abdul-Kareem in Gaza City"? They still are relegated to the "native informants" footnote.
Lede"Israeli security forces clashed with Palestinian demonstrators in east Jerusalem on Friday after the burial of an Arab teenager who was killed in a suspected revenge attack following the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli students."Here, as in many of RE's earlier pieces, we have intense Palestinian/Arab confusion for an unsuspecting reader...
Para 2"Young Palestinian protesters threw rocks at Israeli police and were met with stun grenades after the body of Mohammed Abu Khieder was borne through the streets and buried in the Shuafat neighborhood of east Jerusalem."Yet again, Ms. Eglash has mis-spelled the young man's name. Do she and her editors have no respect for his family? This is even more bizarre because the caption for the WePo's own photo, shown above, spells/transliterates his family name much more accurately, as "Abu Khadeir"-- and RE's name is on that caption! Why is her/their attitude so ignorant and uncaring?
Paras 6/7"The clash came hours after militants in the Gaza Strip fired four rockets and two mortars into southern Israel and a day after Israel mobilized troops to border areas near Gaza. Israeli officials said the deployments were ordered as a defensive measure after dozens of rockets were fired from Gaza, which is ruled by the Islamist militant group Hamas./ The Israeli military did not immediately retaliate for Friday’s attacks but said that it responded Wednesday and Thursday with airstrikes on 16 Hamas targets in the strip, including rocket-launching sites and weapons warehouses."Here, as so often in the MSM, Israel's acts of violence are all referred to as "responding to" some antecedent act by the Palestinians. But Palestinian acts of violence are never referred to as "responding to" anything-- heaven forbid they should be described as a response to Israel's many acts of far, far more lethal physical violence, or to 47 straight years of foreign military occupation, many decades of national dispossession, uprooting, family separation, mass incarceration, military rule, etc etc... Oh no, in the Western MSM, violence in Palestine/Israel is always portrayed as as originating with the Palestinians, because, you know, well they just *are* violent by nature... (Or something.)
Paras 9/10"The BBC quoted an unnamed Hamas official Friday saying that a new cease-fire could go into effect shortly, but there was no immediate confirmation./An Israeli military spokesman, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, said the troop mobilization did not signal an intent by Israel... " So right, they have a sub-stringer or native informant or whatever who is identified as being located in Gaza. Why couldn't "Islam Abdul-Kareem in Gaza City" get a quote from Hamas-- heck, why couldn't Ruth Eglash herself pick up the phone from Al-Quds and call a Hamas spokesman in Gaza? I suppose that "no immediate confirmation" could mean they tried to? But evidently not hard enough...
Para 12"Abu Ubaida, a spokesman for Hamas’s armed wing, the Izze­dine al-Qassam Brigades, accused Israel of breaching the cease-fire and said Hamas was prepared to fight if Israel launched a military assault on Gaza.Well, at least they got and used a quote from a spox for the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades (i.e., not the political wing of Hamas.)
Para 15"The cross-border fire and blame came as the family of the slain 16-year-old Khieder were preparing for his funeral... "So ignorant and uncaring! The family name is Abu Khadeir (or Abu Khudair). Here, they not only mangle the Khadeir part, they also quite incorrectly drop the Abu part.
Para 19"... residents of Shuafat — the neighborhood in east Jerusalem where the Arab teen lived and where he was abducted — insisted that Jewish settlers were behind the grisly killing.... "Continuing Palestinian/Arab confusion here-- and no particular space constraints to excuse it. This may well be because Ms. Eglash herself, like many longtime sympathizers of Israel-- or is she actually Israeli?-- is confused about the status of Jerusalem. Israelis like to claim that all of Jerusalem is theirs-- indeed, their government (quite illegally) annexed the occupied Eastern part of the city in 1968. So from a mainstream Israeli point of view, the ethnically Arab residents of occupied East Jerusalem would be judged to have a status sort of like the Palestinian citizens of Israel, whom Israelis love to refer to as "Arab Israelis or Israeli Arabs"-- no P-word for them! Of course, there are many Israelis on the right who reject the use of the P-word completely, including for residents of the rest of the occupied West Bank, and Gaza. But Ms. Eglash and her editors get themselves tied up into knots on this issue. Repeatedly. One handy and respectful rule-of-thumb in such naming dilemmas: Ask the people themselves how they like to be identified!
Para 23"Israel blames Hamas for the killings, and Netanyahu has vowed that it will “pay.” The Sunni Islamist group, which Israel, the United States and the European Union have labeled a terrorist organization, has denied involvement in the deaths of the Israeli teenagers."Not worth mentioning that Netanyahu has not presented a single shred of evidence to back up his accusation, Ms. Eglash?
Para 25"With tempers running at fever pitch, incitement and racism have been rampant on Israeli social media. In response, Israeli police said they were launching an investigation into Israeli calls for revenge against Arabs, Israel Radio reported."Oh my goodness. This was in yesterday's paper, and is being endlessly recycled at the WaPo. In the meantime, many other media including even the NYT have reported that four members of an IDF Nahal Unit have actually already been disciplined because of the inciteful nature of their facebook postings. But Ms. Eglash doesn't want to do any reporting at all of her own on this matter-- surely she could just spend a bit of time on Hebrew-language social media or have one of her many helpers do that-- and do her own reporting on it? Instead of which, she and her editors just cite, in very vague terms, an already vague, days-old report from Israel Radio. Lazy or ignorant-- or trying to cover up the extent of the racist/genocidal incitement in Israeli society these days? You choose...

Cast Lead Plus Five

On December 27, 2008, the Israeli government launched the might of its U.S.-supplied military against the 1.6 million people of Gaza and the leadership that they– along with their compatriots in the West Bank– had elected to power back in January 2006. The Israeli war aim was to inflict such pain on the residents of Gaza that they would rise up against the quasi-government that Hamas had been running in Gaza since 2006/7. (In June 2007, Israel and the U.S. had tried to use their allies in Mohamed Dahlan’s wing of the Palestinian movement to overthrow Hamas via a coup; but that coup attempt was aborted.)

The Israeli attack of December 2008 was given the stunningly accurate name ‘Operation Cast Lead’. By the time it ended 23 days later– and with Hamas still in power in Gaza– Israel had killed more than 1,400 Gaza residents and left many thousands more maimed or wounded. It had destroyed tens of thousands of homes, just about all of Gaza’s previously bustling network of small manufacturing and ag-processing businesses, and numerous schools, bridges, and other items of vital civilian infrastructure.

International law clearly defines as terrorism any attempt to use force or violence against civilians in order to try to prod them into effecting political change. But in 2008, 2009, as in all of the past 40-plus years, Israel has enjoyed the special protection of the United States. Thus, the Israeli leaders of the time (PM Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and the rest) were never called to account for the quintessentially terrorist attack of 2008-09.

Earlier this month, two rightwing Israeli strategic “experts”, Efraim Inbar and Eitan Shamir, published in Hebrew a study describing Cast Lead as just one example of what they say now constitutes a large part of Israel’s security doctrine: A strategy obscenely called “Mowing the Grass”, which they say, is designed to:

destroy the capabilities of [Israel’s] foes, hoping that occasional large-scale operations have a temporary deterrent effect in order to create periods of quiet along its borders.

I actually believe that Inbar and Shamir are painting too “rosy” a picture (from Israel’s POV) of Israel’s achievements in Cast Lead and the other examples they give of its “grass-mowing” military actions. Certainly, in both Cast Lead and in the prolonged assault against Lebanon that  preceded it in 2006, the prime war goal articulated at the time by Israeli leaders was regime change within the country/territory targeted. And by that metric, on both those occasions they failed miserably. It was only around a year ago, in November 2012, when yet another Israeli PM (Netanyahu) launched yet another completed unwarranted military operation against Gaza– just because he could!– that the “goal” of all such operations since Defensive Shield in 2002 became ex-post-facto redefined as “merely a bit of grass-mowing”, not actual regime change as such.

Be that as it may… The whole idea of launching mega-lethal, anti-humane “grass-mowing” attacks against one’s far less powerful neighbors is quite obscene– as is the tolerance with which most of the bought-and-paid-for U.S. political elite has responded to these uses (abuses) of the military support that the U.S. has continued unwaveringly to supply to Israel. These military assaults are particularly obscene, and indeed actually criminal under international law, when they are launched against communities like those in the West Bank or Gaza Strip that are under Israeli military occupation and that are are therefore supposed to enjoy special protection from the occupying power.

* * *

The deliberate and cruel way in which Israel employed its military force against Gaza’s people in 2008 constituted an important turning point in the way many traditionally pro-Israel people in the United States and other western countries came to view Israel. For many westerners who had previously been politically “progressive” on every topic except Israel, after Cast Lead, they shed that exception and determined that the government of Israel should be held to the same standards of international behavior as every other government in the world. They became transformed from being “progressive, except on Israel” to being “progressives, including on Israel,” or as the shorthand goes: from PEP’s to PIP’s. Over the five years since the launching of Cast Lead, the numbers of PIP’s in the United States have, blessedly, been multiplying.

As for the people of Gaza, the vast majority of them did survive the horrors of Cast Lead in one way or another; and most importantly, the integrity of their society survived it. They were not broken. I have had the good fortune to visit Gaza twice since January 2009 (building on the numerous previous visits I made to the Strip over the preceding twenty-plus years.) On both the most recent visits I found the key institutions in the Strip functioning fairly well. The Strip’s (elected) Hamas leadership continued to field some military forces within the Strip– the same ones that had managed to repulse the Israeli ground forces’ repeated attempts to seize control of Gaza City and other key locations during the latter stages of Cast Lead. But as I drove around the Strip in November 2009 and again in June 2011, there were very few signs indeed of a general militarization of society… and no sign at all of the kind of heavy-handed security presence that the rival (U.S.-backed) branch of the PA sees fit to deploy in the Swiss-cheese areas of the West Bank that they are allowed to police.

Over the past year, I have been working with Refaat Alareer, an inspiring and committed lecturer in the English Department of the Gaza Islamic University, to publish a collection of short stories written in English by young writers from Gaza. Our goal was to bring this book out to mark the fifth anniversary of Cast Lead– and we have succeeded! The formal publication date for Gaza Writes Back, Short Stories from Young Writers in Gaza, Palestine, edited by Refaat Alareer, is January 15, 2014– three days before the fifth anniversary of the end of Cast Lead. But we started shipping copies of the book out to interested readers about ten days ago, and many readers now have copies in their hands.

The book contains 23 stories. So starting tomorrow, December 27, Refaat and I want to ask everyone who can get hold of a copy of the book to read (and reflect upon) one story each day… which will take us all to the end of this somber, five-year anniversary.

Here on the U.S. east coast, we’re still on December 26th, so I’m going to start by re-reading the Introduction that Refaat wrote to the book.

On pp.16 and 17, he wrote this:

During the offensive, Palestinians in Gaza realized more than ever before that no one, no matter who and no matter where, is immune from Israel’s fire. Israel cast lead indiscriminately hither and thither, aiming to melt not just our bodies, which it did, but also our allegiance and our hope and our memories, which it could not do. Twenty-three days later, the people of Gaza rose to dust themselves off and to start an arduous journey of rebuilding houses and infrastructure, and reconstructing what the missiles had dispersed and scattered. Twenty-three days of nonstop Israeli hate and hostility—and Gaza rose from it like a phoenix.

The people who queued at the morgues and bade farewell to their loved ones days later queued at bakeries that did not raise their prices, and went out to the grocery stores that also did not raise their prices. And they came back home to distribute what little they bought to the people who were unable to buy because they did not have the money. The people of Gaza were never this close before. Gaza was now more deeply rooted not only in the hearts of every Palestinian, but also in the hearts of every free soul around the globe… But this is not to romanticize war. War is by all means ugly. “There was too much pain in those twenty-three days, and some of us who wrote about Cast Lead, did so to heal some of the pain caused by the horrendous memories. And no matter how beautiful the spirit of resistance that overwhelmed us, this beauty should never override the ugliness of pure injustice,” as [book contributor] Sameeha Elwan put it.

The social psychology of what Refaat was describing there would be quite familiar to, for example, any British people like my father who survived the Blitzkrieg that Nazi Germany launched against London in 1940…

So now, over the next 23 days, we’re going to be posting a short excerpt from each of the stories, every day, on the Gaza Writes Back Facebook page. I’d like to invite all readers of Just World News to buy a copy of the book (which you can do here, if you haven’t done so already: Note that we’re offering free shipping worldwide if you place your order before December 31!) And also, to join the conversations about the stories as we post the excerpts from them on the Facebook page… and of course, to recommend this amazing and important book to all your friends!

At the Paris International Cookbook Fair

Gaza Kitchen at the Paris International Cookbook Fair, 2013

Today is the second day of the Paris International Cookbook Fair, which is taking place all around me in the Salles du Carousel, at the Louvre. It’s been pretty exciting to be here representing the team that put together the fabulous Gaza Kitchen cookbook. This morning I went to a talk given by the main Fair organizer, Edouard Cointreau of Gourmand International magazine. He made the very important point that producing a cookbook is ALWAYS a team effort– and that has very much been the case with Gaza Kitchen!

I wish that Maggie Schmitt and Laila el-Haddad, the co-authors– or at least, one of them– could have been here too! But sadly, both of them have smallish babies at home to look after. (Last year, in addition to birthing the book, each of them also had a new baby. Wonderful babies! Fabulously talented and capable women!) Laila, Maggie, Juan Alarcon the graphic designer, and I as publisher formed the core of the Gaza Kitchen team,

Gaza Kitchen at the Paris Cookbook Fair
Gaza Kitchen at the Cookbook Fair

But all of us (especially I) have had a lot of other people we’ve needed to draw on throughout the project. When Ed was talking about teamwork this morning, he said that some cookbook projects have 30 or even 50 photographers working on them! That made me even more admiring of Laila and Maggie, who between the two of them produced ALL the content in Gaza Kitchen… the recipes, the photographs, and the info-boxes. And the quality of their photographs certainly holds up to the best of what I’ve been seeing here. In fact,because the photos have not been extensively “styled”, to me that makes them even better.

Talk business at the Paris Cookbook Fair
Talking business at the Paris Cookbook Fair

There have been two main benefits to being here. One has been that I have learned a LOT here! I wish, actually, that I had come last year, or two years ago, when we were still planning the project. There is a huge display on the upper level, showing many hundreds of cookbooks that have been published around the world in the past year or so: An invaluable learning tool. Then, there are all the displays on the floor of the exhibition hall… and the talks that are scheduled throughout the day in two or three different venues. Finally, many of the presenters and other attendees whom I’ve met here have been generous with their advice and their interest.

The other big advantage of being here is that I’ve been able to make some fabulous contacts… I’ve had two fairly solid expressions of interest from people who are considering buying foreign-language rights to the book; and a couple of good leads to other possible rights deals.

Some other big points from Ed Cointreau’s talk this morning on ‘Trends in Global Cookbook Publishing’, in brief, were as follows:

  1. Continue reading “At the Paris International Cookbook Fair”

United Airlines mag in contortions over Palestinian food…

I’m in Paris. I brought Laila el-Haddad and Maggie Schmitt’s fabulous book The Gaza Kitchen: A Palestinian Culinary Journey here, to the Paris International Cookbook Fair. So what do I discover in the seatback pocket on my flight over from Washington? A multi-page series in the United Airlines seatback mag that’s about the “wonderful” food scene in Jerusalem.

Hilariously (or not, depending on your POV), it says this

what’s long been considered Israeli food– hummus, falafel, mixed grilled meats, fresh chopped salads– is in fact cuisine borrowed from the local Levantines.

These dishes have “long” been considered Israeli food… By whom? And for how long? Longer than, say, 65 years?

And then are those mysterious “local Levantines”. There are a number of references to these strange creatures throughout the article, which was written by someone called Wendell Steavenson. But zero references to Palestinians or even “Arabs”… just denatured, completely de-cultured “Levantines”.

I could understand, maybe, an Israeli magazine publishing something parochial and silly like this. But the seatback mag of a major American airline? And one that flies to large numbers of destinations around the world– including, more than a dozen in Arab countries? Really, United Airlines, this is pathetic.

Changed travel plans

By the way, I know I’d blogged earlier that I would be in Cairo and Beirut around now. I’ve postponed those visits. My (somewhat childish, let’s face it) journalistic impulses urge me to go– at least to Cairo, right now! But I have a business to run here: some great book projects underway. Also, some good, important things happening in the family.
I shall be continuing to write about Egypt (and everything else) as I have time to… but from here in the U.S.
For the best on-the-ground reporting in English from Egypt, follow Issandr El-Amrani, or Jonathan Wright.