Thursday, December 30, 2010


BETHESDAJay Solomon and Subhadip Sircar reported yesterday that officials at the Reserve Bank of India have “instructed the country’s lenders ... to stop processing current-account transactions with Iran using the ACU,” the Asian Clearing Union, which was “originally set up by the United Nations in 1974 to help facilitate trade in South Asia and headquartered in Tehran.”

US officials believe that the Iranians are using the ACU, based in their country, in order to help finance the Revolutionary Guard, a sprawling paramilitary/social services organization that is increasingly dominant in its economy, according to a 2009 study by the Rand Corp.

As Solomon and Sircar report further, “Major Indian energy companies, including Oil & Natural Gas Corp., have been exploring how to jointly develop energy resources with Iranian partners. India’s Reliance Industries Ltd. was a major supplier of gasoline to Iran, which lacks sufficient refining capabilities, before the international sanctions caused the company to pull back last year.”

Sunday, December 19, 2010


BROOKLYNIndia is heavily involved in nation-building efforts in Afghanistan, with the decisive nod of now recently-deceased diplomat Richard Holbrooke, according to a confidential cable sent to the State Department from New Delhi nearly 11 months ago.

The cable, transmitted in January 2010 and signed by Timothy J. Roemer, the top American diplomat in India, suggested that Pakistan’s fears of Indian influence in Afghanistan may be substantiated to some degree, as news of the departure of the top CIA station chief in Pakistan reverberates between Islamabad and Washington.

Holbrooke’s interlocutor, Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, emphasized that her government’s activities in Afghanistan were wholly “transparent” and not cause for alarm by the Pakistanis, who claim that its arch-rival is meddling in Afghan affairs.

The cable added, “Rao said that Afghanistan has the potential to prosper as a hub or transit point for energy, agriculture and trade if it could be connected to its natural market in India. She said it was unfortunate that Pakistan does not allow this to happen.”

Further, the Indian Foreign Secretary said that Iran could also have a “positive” role in taking part in Afghan efforts to rebuild their war-torn country, a prospect that Washington may be very loath to countenance.

However, one day after that cable was sent, Bruce Riedel, a South Asia expert with background in the CIA, Pentagon and the National Security Council, disclosed that Indian involvement is no secret, nor is their work with the Iranians.

In an interview with Council on Foreign Relations official Bernard Gwertzman, Riedel said, “India announced completion of a $1 billion project to build a road connecting Afghanistan’s main highway to a main highway in Iran, giving Afghanistan access to the Indian Ocean without having to go through Pakistan.”

Riedel added that as far as New Delhi was concerned this was a good development, but as the situation is seen in Islamabad, which is “obsessed with the threat from India,” the infrastructure project and other work “looks like encirclement.”

In another cable, marked secret and dated June 29, 2009, Indian Army Chief of Staff A.K. Antony informed National Security Advisor James Jones, “India has a stake in Afghanistan, reminding him that India’s borders before partition extended to Afghanistan.

“The Indian military is concerned by the situation in Afghanistan, Antony admitted, and stressed that the international community’s operations there must succeed because the India cannot imagine for a moment a Taliban takeover of its ’extended neighbor.’”

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Roger Cohen is on top again: You are not real Jews! And now, a debate.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

John Nichols eulogizes an American patriot, Chalmers Johnson, who has died at 79. R.I.P.
Lanky, bespectacled and wearing cross-trainer shoes, Noam Sheizaf sat on a bench at Cooper Triangle as he was leafing through George W. Bush’s memoir, Decision Points. Sheizaf is not a stranger to decision points of his own. He is now 35, even though he doesn’t look it. And in that time he has built up enough connections to be a free agent at last.

Fiddling with the cardboard piece holstering a small cup of coffee and braving the autumn cold one night late last week, Sheizaf was somewhat fatigued. He ran the New York City Marathon five days earlier and in the slow cadence of his words explored the long run that brought him from Ramat Gan, a suburb of Tel Aviv, to New York City — and back again.

The one point he cannot recall is where he decided to be a journalist. “I’m not sure that’s how things work,” he said. “Otherwise, how would you have all these people working in a McDonald’s or an insurance company? You don’t know any kids who say, ‘I want to work in an insurance company.’”

Sheizaf is now a political observer who writes with an ear to the mainstream. Yet he started out copy-editing sports stories while he attended university after his army service, mandatory for Israelis. “I started studying at the same time,” he said, majoring in political science and French. “It was easy to look at it as one of these odd jobs that students take.”

“Odd jobs” is a phrase he often employed to describe what he had to do to pay the bills while chasing after something better. Journalism become a bona-fide career for him by the time he reached his late 20s. “Things have their own flow,” he said.

After 10 months in Paris, Sheizaf returned to the promised land to make the idea of creating a career into a reality. How to do it was not so simple, he said. Friends of his connected him to interviews with papers like Yediot Achranot, Israel’s largest mass-circulation daily, and Ha’aretz, the country’s equivalent to the New York Times, but after meeting with them they took a pass. Instead, he began working at an evening paper called Ma’ariv (which means “evening,” incidentally), the 2nd-largest. For better and worse, he stayed on for six years.

Sheizaf started working there as a sports editor, from 2001 to 2005, and then moved to their weekend magazine — after he got sick of editing sports stories.

He mentioned that in his last three years there he had four editors, and he was recognized as the most senior editor there. “That is no way an organization is supposed to run,” he remembers thinking.

Even before the market crash in 2008, Maariv was bleeding cash. Management turnover was high and morale was low. “People were telling me, You’re in a dead-end job, you’re making good money but you’re not going to get anywhere.”

“I was too scared to move on,” Sheizaf added. The fire at his feet sparked to life when he finally realized that in a professional sense he was mired in a dead-end job in a failing media company, running the paper’s weekend magazine while CEOs were in and out. “There was nothing else to do,” he said, and then pointed out that many friends of his said he should have made a move much earlier.

Noam Sheizaf the professional journalist became Noam Sheizaf the professional blogger. “The Promised Land” was launched in 2008. Written in English, with an eye to a larger readership, it combined his strong interest in politics with a keen journalistic sense of fairness. Through this project, he discovered a group of like-minded bloggers, Israelis of different stripes but common passion who were also writing in English, and helped corral them into an online venture called +972 magazine.

Named after the long-distance country code, the collaborative webzine featured writers like former Haaretz editor Ami Kaufman and Didi Remez, who authored the Web site Coteret (“headline”), which translates the Hebrew press. With this platform, Sheizaf is free to opine in a newsy way, although he doesn’t “like to shout stuff.”

“The choice of subjects is ultimately more important,” he said. “I don’t try to throw it in their face. I’m a firm believer in the fact that opinion pieces are only reaffirming positions we already had.”

The most persuasive he thinks he’s ever been is when he tried to make a position seem like one the reader reached on his or her own. “I think one of the most effective stories I was involved in was a piece I wrote for Haaretz about right-wing people in Israel who support the one-state solution, who support annexing the West Bank and ultimately making the Palestinians Israeli citizens.

“I didn’t criticize that,” Sheizaf added. “I don’t have a clear position on whether the one-state or two-state solution is desirable but I oppose the status quo. If a reader reads this piece, and he’s against the one-state solution, he might think, ‘Well, we need to get out of the West Bank or else this is going to happen.’”

“There’s no such thing as an unpolitical reality,” he said. “I don’t like the fact that journalists will say, ‘I’m neutral, I’m only reporting the facts.’ I don’t believe them.”

For Sheizaf, it has been a long haul. He expects as much for anyone aspiring to follow in his footsteps. “It’s a funny moment in time,” he said. “Go with the flow.”

Friday, November 12, 2010

After a rocky courtship, Newsweek and the Daily Beast have wed. This seems to be more of a victory for Tina Brown than for print media, which is on its way out. The very fact of this merger strongly suggests that the end is very near.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The phantom prospect of peace walks along a threadbare tightrope. About a decade has now passed since the breakout of the ruinous second Intifada, and the latest news is that the US is desperately cajoling the Arab League to keep the delegations on their respirators.

Saeb Erekat, the top negotiator for Team Abbas, declared after League practice ended, “If Israel continues to build settlements then there will be no negotiations,” according to Isabel Kershner in the Times. After the Sept. 26 expiry for the settlements passed, the very idea of direct (or proximity) talks threw itself completely into question—if not oblivion.

Team Netanyahu has yet another opportunity to declare that there is no partner for peace. If they themselves were Palestinian, doubtless they would, and in fairness should, terminate the talks without any hesitation. Any agreement with a coalition as extreme and rejectionist as Bibi’s would totally ruin any credibility Abu Mazen still may have.

On the other side, any settlement on the question of settlements that does not allow the further absorption of the land that rightward Israeli opinion sees as Judea and Samaria is worthless, and any negation of the right to continue to settle the land is anathema to the coalition around which Bibi is surrounded. A man in an ideological straitjacket and a man with no power sit at the bargaining table pretending to be equals.

Abbas, although powerless, has a Plan B: appeal directly to Team Netanyahu’s sometimes reluctant patron and paymaster. Erekat confirmed that his players would ask the United States for recognition of an independent Palestinian state (somehow) built “on the 1967 borders,” according to a Reuters dispatch. Those borders no longer exist—like the homes of the refugees, or like most of the Israeli left.

What would become Palestine is, at present, an archipelago of quasi-autonomous “bantustans,” in the words of Jeff Halper, a veteran Israeli activist. Netanyahu, in last summer’s official approval of a Palestinian state, said it would be “demilitarized”—i.e., defenseless. In the prevailing circumstances, no Palestine can come into being worthy of anyone’s self-respect. Imagine if the Brits, instead of ending their mandatory rule, self-servingly approved a state of Israel under the condition that it be demilitarized and riddled with UK-sanctioned colonies and military checkpoints, for the Jews’ protection from the extremists living among them causing all the trouble.

Speaking of the refugees, whose descendants now number in the millions, Ha’aretz editorialist Akiva Eldar wrote that Bibi “does not want to create a crisis over the freeze.” Eldar asks the reader, “Why should he have a crisis over the demand of Jewish migrants to settle in Hebron if he can focus it on the demand of Palestinian refugees to return to Haifa?” He quotes Dan Meridor, pointman for the Netanyahu crew, saying that he is “not too optimistic” that the Palestinian Authority, set up in the wake of the Oslo agreements in 1993, will give up the right of return for their refugees. “That would mean conceding the rationale for the [PLO],” Meridor added, correctly. Some Israeli settlers, in a very underreported instance, indicated that they see no harm in Palestinians returning to their homes in Jaffa if they can return to their homes in East Jerusalem.

I want Israel to act honorably. Given the regional balance of power, there is an enormous responsibility to compromise. Yet its leadership refuses to act in good faith, and is therefore abusing that responsibility. I want the Palestinians to recognize how high the deck is stacked against them, and how hopeless talking is when the core issues are off the table in order to keep the talks alive. With Monday’s news that Israel has demanded the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state in order to extend the freeze (and the predictable reply), further progress is cemented.

Nabil Abu Rdainah, an Abbas spokesman, is quoted to have said, “The issue of the Jewishness of the state has nothing to do with the matter.” He’s incorrect; it has a lot to with the matter. For the religious-nationalists in Bibi’s corner, the settlements are not dry cartography: they symbolize the redemption of the land. If that land is going to be divided by the two national entities that live on it, as justice would suggest, and there is to be a freeze in perpetuity of any more settling, as politics would require, the other side has to accept the mythos. It refused, giving a gift to the Israeli right: there is no negotiating partner, they’re irrational, etc.

In all of the intricacies of this 60-year-old blood feud, let us make clear that Netanyahu is not Rabin, Abbas is not Arafat, and Obama is not Carter. No one is on the same page—not even close. The talks, however hard we should pray for them, as there may be no alternative, are doomed to failure. The faster the plug is pulled, perhaps the better. Until tomorrow’s choices arrive.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

NoteCurrently a resident of Bedford-Stuyvesant, once known as the Little Harlem of Brooklyn and now undergoing gentrification. Case in point: a hip coffeehouse. To the newcomer, the native, whomever, there is a place.

Sept. 27: On a gray, mordant raining damp chilled day, many would need to recharge. Sometimes this leads to a place to chill, even in a place most would not expect to be the home of a bohemian, people-centric café as quirky and affable as Bread Stuy [photo below, by Michael Agins (NYT)]. In the heart of historic Stuyvesant Heights, the brainchild of San Francisco-born actor Lloyd Porter is said to serve as a caffeinated, confectionary hub for the middle-class strivers and artsy folk of the neighborhood as well as the yuppies and hipsters that continue to stream in.

Three hipster-ish twentysomethings walk in while a serious man dressed in a camo jacket and striped cap checks email. His name is Shawn Peters, who hails from Mt. Vernon. Peters cautioned that his account of the place would be slanted. After all, he is a good friend of the owner. He’s on the phone talking about a script and a budget, and mentions that Porter, the owner, is an actor on the side.

“Nine times out of ten I’ll know someone who comes in personally,” says Peters. “Total strangers that come here, and hang out here, they become best friends.”

Old-school hip hop plays loudly over speakers perched below several board games, with names like Scrabble, Go, and Skillz. Orange-toned décor, with thin fibrous orange curtains surrounds you, with only the neonish orange in the front. The rest is brick with a tile-impressioned floor. A miniature disco ball and bell are atop the first door you see walking up Lewis Avenue from Fulton Avenue.

Lights from white orbs hung in placid suspension, while two fans spaced evenly apart whir silently. Framed large photos of happy children and other locals pepper the walls toward the far end, a space that used to be a barbershop until Porter and his wife Hillary bought the property in July 2004. At the other far wall a sounding board stands with ads for art galleries and community gardens, the provinces of a block that has weathered the storms of the last three decades and is now, fraily and slowly, showing the rest of Bed-Stuy a friendly face.

Yet the whole project almost failed—until the community that Bread Stuy had ginned up rushed in to save it. In February of this year, the Daily News reported that the establishment owed “over $20,000 in back taxes.” A padlock bolted the doors. The neighborhood scraped up the needed funds to keep Bread Stuy alive.

In the midst of the crisis a headline in the Gothamist asked, “Is Bed-Stuy Gentrification Dead?”

Peters does not seem to think so.

“At the end of the day, gentrification in black neighborhoods always starts with class gentrification,” he explains: first the wealth, then the whites. “Most stores here are Black-owned,” he adds—except, of course, for the Italians who own the nearby wood-oven pizza parlor Saraghina. “The races become more comfortable [with each other] because there’s a middle class.”

“In the 1970s,” Peters adds, “the UPS refused to deliver mail to Bed-Stuy,” dropping it at the nearest depot instead. The area around Bread-Stuy, Stuyvesant Heights, was always a middle-class enclave. Yet the recent change of the neighborhood “pushes the poor people out.”

“It changes the complexion of the neighborhood, in more ways than one,” Peters says, tapping away at his laptop.

Lloyd Porter has arrived at last. “My man!” Shawn Peters exclaims to get my attention. Quickly asked if my purpose was to pursue “another gentrification story,” Porter tells me, reclining in the leather couch-cum-bench at the front that journalism students up and down the city come over as often as “twice a year” to write about the place, perhaps attesting to its popularity and novelty.

Hope McGrath owns the local Brooklynite Gallery. Originally from Long Island, she has brought along her four-year-old daughter Ruby, who she lovingly calls her “Bread Stuy baby.” Ruby was just a newborn when the place opened. “It’s not just a café,” McGrath says. “It’s a community environment. It’s where you bump into your neighbors.”

“This is one of the most friendliest neighborhoods I’ve moved to,” she adds.

Amid all the changes, the surrounding area has not become “Disneyland,” Porter says. “It ain’t all peaches and cream, but it ain’t all cigarette butts and glass either.”

About half of his coffee is fairly traded—or “direct trade,” he explains. One, the Tanzanian blend, is produced there at Sweet Unity Farms, which is owned by Jackie Robinson’s son David. I ask about the elephant in the room, stalking all local coffeehouses: Starbucks. “You can’t fight City Hall,” Porter replies. “I don’t want to hate on them.”

Amin Husain, 35, is sitting on the counter where people used to get haircuts, with a shaved-head, yellow T-shirt and thick headphones slung around his neck. He is a newcomer to the ‘hood. “I’ve lived on the Upper East Side for five or six years,” he says, now just “two blocks” away after he moved a few months ago. “This whole block is very artsy,” Husain says approvingly. “There’s probably a cultural pulse, but I don’t know.”

“We’re trying to give a little joy to the people,” Porter says while his friend laughs, nodding. “We’re making our magic.”

Monday, September 20, 2010

Normal programming will resume momentarily.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Matt Sledge, at HuffPo, issued this much-needed corrective about the Cordoba House project two blocks from where the WTC stood, knocked down not by the kind of Sufi (Ahmadiyya) Muslims who are putting it up, but at the bloody hands of their fanatical enemies—one and the same according to what now passes for mainstream discourse.

(A source has it that HuffPo is a sweatshop: “The only thing missing is the sneakers,” he says.)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Pulitzer-winner Dana Priest and William Arkin have set off a sprawling, impressive series (the reports of the death of journalism appear premature) detailing the scope of what they dub “Top Secret America.” Glenn Greenwald takes them to task for burying the lede: the problem is not that it is bloated, but that it has been allowed to take shape and function.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Jeff Halper, an Israeli oleh for most of his life, sat across a table, his thick white beard belying the tempered rage beneath at the injustice of living in a state that privileges him simply for being a Jew.

“It’s assymmetrical warfare,” he says, describing the difference between dispatching a kid to blow up a bus versus blitzing it with an Apache. For him, zero difference.

JH: Obama, too, is falling into this [language trap]. Wait a minute: how can it be warfare if one side doesn’t have an army? I mean, doesn’t warfare assume two armies? So it’s trying to justify a state attacking a civilian population under occupation and siege.… If it’s warfare now you’ve got the principle of distinction which we don’t like because we can’t shoot who we want to shoot.… The thing gets very dicey.

AC: The human rights issue obviously has to go both ways. You have human rights, we do too—

JH: But human rights doesn’t ignore the issue of power. What happens in a situation where you have a state that’s oppressing another people?

“We reject the ‘both sides’ discourse,” he declared. “It creates a false symmetry. There’s no symmetry here.” “The Palestinians aren’t occupying Tel Aviv,” he added.

A piece of conventional wisdom, according to the information to which I have always been accustomed as well as fed, is that the purpose of the wall/fence, which now snakes around big chunks of the West Bank, is to prevent terror. “No,” says Jeff.

JH: It [the idea for a barrier] was suggested by Ehud Barak, Haim Ramon and Shlomo Ben-Ami in 1999.… Barak said to Arafat [during the Camp David talks], If you’re not more forthcoming with us, we’re going to do things unilaterally. The official name of the wall, do you know the official name? Separation barrier. Security was a way they tried to sell it to the Israeli public.

My next question addressed the claim that it kept out waves of bombers from Israel. Jeff was emphatic. “There’s no way to isolate—today, only about 60 percent of the wall was built,” he said. “It was decided to not even finish the wall.

“The whole point of the wall,” he continued, “was to demarcate a border. To create these cantons. You have enough of that done,” motioning over pages of maps, “you don’t have to build anymore. There’s big parts of this you and I could walk through freely—the wall doesn’t seal anything.”

As for the factors that stopped the piguim (to use the Hebrew parlance), Jeff adduced a number of them unrelated to the concrete slabs and watchtowers: “There haven’t been attacks for years, because of a wall? Is that because the Palestinian Authority now has a militia, an American-trained militia that’s keeping law and order? Is it because the Israeli Army is active? Is it because you have a de facto ceasefire with Fatah all these years?”

“You’d have the same situation today if there was no wall,” he declaimed. “The wall is what’s generating a lot of the hatred.” He drew attention to one map in which were depicted “the fingers,” sections that were built with the express purpose of annexing settlement blocs. The barrier closely hews to the Green Line (’67 border) in the north, until you get to Umm al-Fahm, incidentally the most populated Arab city in Israel. There’s a suspicion, Jeff said, that in the final border settlement Israel would adjust the border so places like that would become part of Palestine.

AC: It would make sense if you support the boycott movement.

JH: We’re one of the leaders of the boycott movement. We were the first Israeli organization to come out with a statement… we started with a selective boycott. The idea was to boycott companies that were profitting from the occupation.… [Israel] doesn’t label settlement products as settlement products, it labels them as “Made in Israel,” which is illegal. For example, it will take Ahava [skin] cream from the West Bank and it’ll package it inside Israel.

…Why separate occupation from Israel? In other words, if you’re going to boycott Sudan, there’s an international boycott of Sudan. You don’t boycott companies doing business in Darfur. You boycott Sudan, [they are] responsible for what’s going on in Darfur.

AC: …Hasn’t the Sudanese government done far worse things? They massacred 400,000 people.

JH: It’s hard to compare oppressions. … We deal with our country, and other people deal with theirs.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

SDEROT — A small community of about 20,000 souls is lacquered in concrete, sitting about a mile away from a densely populated open-air prison, which seen from afar — sitting on a couch perched atop a lookout point/dune — does not show what may be happening inside it. (Binoculars were not available.) Founded in 1951 as a development town for recent immigrants from Arabic countries and North Africa — who are called Mizrachim — Sderot has suffered and endured thousands of rocket attacks from the prison, whose wardens wish the inhabitants of Sderot (and all of the Hebrew republic) a speedy farewell into oblivion.

A playground with no children playing; a town center with no town life; business barely staying above water. These are just instances that illuminate the legacy of a psychological trauma that has now raised an entire generation under red alert. You have fifteen seconds; run for your life. There is suffering on both sides of this tragic, absurd conflict. No more to say right now.

Friday, June 04, 2010

The following is the second part of my interview with Jeff Halper (part one is back here), co-chair of ICAHD (Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions). The third will follow soon.

AC: Wouldn’t a two-state settlement mean that one side would be homogenously Jewish and one side would be homogenously Arab?

JH: No, because the Palestinian citizens of Israel, twenty percent of the population, wouldn’t leave. You have 20 percent that are Arab inside Israel, plus you’ve got here at least another five percent of the population that’s Russian that isn’t Jewish—

AC: According to the Rabbinate, about 300,000 of them or so.

JH: They’re not Jewish. So you’ve got 25, maybe up to 30 percent, of the population of Israel that isn’t Jewish.

AC: Including the territories?

JH: No, without the territories. With the territories you’ve got 50 percent.… If you take the 20 percent who are Arab citizens of Israel, add another five percent who are Russians and… about 30,000 Ethiopians who aren’t really Jewish.

AC: They’re a lost tribe.…

JH: A lot of them are going back to the churches now. Plus the children of these foreign workers. And what isn’t figured is emigration… between 800,000 and a million Israelis have left permanently.

AC: At least 700,000.

JH: So, that’s not figured in… let’s say that, conservatively, 25 percent of Israelis are not Jewish. So what does that mean, a Jewish state? You have a flag [with] the Star of David, so you exclude a quarter of the population? The African-Americans are only 20 percent of the population. So it’s like saying, America is a county for White people; now you Black people can stay and have citizenship—

AC: …It’s a nation for the White people.… I would agree but white people haven’t faced centuries of persecution and hatred.

JH: Yeah, but most Jews never became Zionists. Zionism represented a tiny fraction of the Jewish public.

AC: Until World War II.

JH: No, even after World War II. Even today, 70 to 75 percent of Jews don’t live in Israel.

AC: Seventy percent?

JH: …Five and a half million Jews in Israel.

AC: And worldwide it’s about 13 million… could be sixty percent. I don’t know if it’s as high as seventy-five.

Laughing, I said, “I don’t want to quibble over a few percentages.” “But the majority don’t live here,” Jeff said, adding, “they could!” My reply was, “Isn’t that because of the security situation?”

JH: What’s your commitment to the country if you’re not here when it’s dangerous…? My parents, and my brother and sister, are Americans. One percent of American Jews came to Israel [to live permanently]. There are 60,000 American Jews here, the vast majority of whom are Haredim.

AC: Who, by the way, are historically very anti-Zionist.

JH: Who are anti-Zionist. So let’s say the majority of that one percent are anti-Zionist! Meaning that, let’s say ninety-nine point five percent of normal American Jews never came here. They never came here.

AC: Well I’m not a fan of what are called ‘armchair Zionists,’ you know, Alan Dershowitz.

JH: He’s not a Zionist at all. What makes him ‘Zionist’?

AC: They claim to be, that’s it.

After some rambling here was allowed to go on, this reporter tried to get to the point. “Is there any justice to—not in the sense of an exclusivist kind of state, where you exclude anyone who isn’t Jewish—but some sort of homeland where the Jewish people have a country of their own?” He smelled racism in this, and pointed to a republican example. Take France, he said.

JH: The French people have a right to self-determination but to be French you could be an immigrant, you could be Jamiacan, from Martinique, all over the world. In other words, French self-determination could mean white people who’ve lived in France all these years… whoever has an Israeli passport, this is one of the few countries where your passport doesn’t match your—

AC: There’s no Israeli nationality, you’re Jewish.

JH: You’re Jewish or you’re not Jewish.… Yes, there is a place here for Jews. I mean, I came here. And it’s meaningful. But the only sustainable form of nationalism for Jews here is what’s been called cultural Zionism. Cultural Zionism has a very long history—

AC: Ahad Ha’am—

JH: Ben-Yehuda, Henrietta Zol, Buber.… That’s the idea, that you can speak Hebrew, I mean even if this becomes a binational state, or a state of all its inhabitants or its citizens which is has to be… it doesn’t mean that we stop speaking Hebrew. It doesn’t mean that you close the Hebrew University. It’s not an either-or—when South Africa went to Black-majority rule, Afrikaners stayed.

AC: They didn’t get wiped out.

JH: There’s Afrikaner universities, Afrikaner newspapers.

AC: There is a fear among Israelis [that] if it becomes ‘binational’ or whatever that They—the evil Arabs—are going to destroy us. Is that an irrational fear?

JH: Of course. It’s the same thing in South Africa. They said, ‘There’s going to be bloodshed, the Blacks will never accept’ [and] part of it is because of what we’ve done to them. For Israeli Jews, they know what we’ve done to the Palestinians. Their idea that we can massacre them, that we can expel them, occupy them and somehow they’ll live with us?

AC: I can’t help but notice that you’re excluding suicide bombing, things they did to us.

JH: Yeah, but I see that as resistance. See, what’s missing in the Israeli framing of this is occupation. The word is never used, it’s like these people are mugging us. You’re walking down the street, and Boom! there’s a suicide bombing, well wait a minute. Why are there suicide bombers? The Palestinians aren’t famous in history for being assassins and terrorists. Why are there suicide bombers? Well, you go back to occupation. And part of it is that we refuse to take responsibility, we try to blame them all the time.

AC: So, I’m trying to understand what—

JH: If you end the occupation, you end the sources of suffering.

AC: I want to understand what you’re saying. Thankfully this hasn’t happened in a while, but when a bomber would get on a bus and blow innocent civilians to smithereens, that’s a legitimate form of resisting occupation—

JH: No, I don’t say it’s legitimate. It’s attacking civilians, which is not legitimate. But it’s resistance. There’s a reason, there’s a rationale for it. There’s a logic to it, there’s a political context to it that you can’t ignore. Why is that important? Because if Arabs are just killers, and that’s the way they are, which is the way Israelis look at it, they’ll continue to kill us. If you say, Wait a minute, no, suicide bombing is coming out of political oppression, then once you end that political oppression, you’ll end suicide bombing. That’s a whole different scenario.

… You can’t say to people, You can’t resist occupation, oppression. People have a right to oppose, even violently, oppression.

AC: So if they kept to the tactics of the first Intifada, where they were throwing stones at tanks and things like that.

JH: Or shooting a soldier. See, we still call that terrorism. What happened to Gilad Schalit… was a legitimate act of capturing a soldier.

AC: It’s called a kidnapping.

JH: And we call it kidnapping. We use criminal language because it decontextualizes.

AC: I thought the reason was because the military and civilian life is so intertwined here.

JH: There’s a guy named Asa Kasher… he’s writing very dangerous stuff. He’s the ethicist for the Israeli Army. He’s trying to say, There isn’t any such thing as a soldier, [because] a soldier is just a civilian in uniform. In that way then, that’s the way of avoiding the military, and then he goes one step further: they, our enemies, aren’t soldiers.… Israel is trying to eliminate in international law the principle of distinction.

“A fundamental principle of warfare,” Jeff continued, “is that you distinguish between civilians and combatants.”

JH: Israel is trying to eliminate that [distinction]. First of all, our combatants are really civilians and what you call your civilians are really combatants. That’s where ‘terrorism’ is a slippery slope.

AC: …One anticipated counter-argument is that Israelis wouldn’t detonate themselves and that’s the difference—

“We don’t have to,” he quipped, chuckling. “We have an army.”

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

One year has passed marking the Goldstone report’s release into the public, arriving on the bloodied heels of the flotilla incident, the NPT review’s demand (backed by the US to some extent) to inspect Israeli reactors and a string of economic and cultural boycotts representing a growing, alarmingly mainstreaming movement. Every time there is a new diplomatic crisis, which seems to come every other week, a set of talking points materialize, even before any facts which may be inconvenient to the party line surface, to serve the function of damage control, depending on the type of situation.

Goldstone? Unbalanced: international law is designed to make us look bad. What the NPT people, led in its current rotation by the Egyptians, are doing to an NPT non-signatory? Unfair: inspect Iran’s stockpiles to uncover their hidden weapons. The boycotts? Unreasonable: no one seemed to like Elvis Costello anyway. The flotilla melee? Unconscionable: what legal right did that convoy have to break into our sovereign waters and launch RPGs at our soldiers? Israel can simultaneously be the bad child of the world and do no wrong.

Professional nudnik Gidon Levy wrote that his country is “quickly becoming completely isolated. This is a place that turns away intellectuals, shoots peace activists, cuts off Gaza and now finds itself in an international blockade. Once more yesterday it seemed, and not for the first time, that Israel is increasingly breaking away from the mother ship, and losing touch with the world — which does not accept its actions and does not understand its motives.”

Or as Ari Shavit wrote, “The Turkish ship Mavi Marmara was no Exodus. It carried not Holocaust survivors but provocateurs, many of them extremists.”

[Ironically, one of the people who planned to take part was in fact a survivor, an 85-year-old woman named Hedy Epstein; according to the AP, she decided not to go and remains in Cyprus.]

Shavit, a sharp and combative interviewer, added that “a series of baseless decisions on the part of the prime minister and the ministers of defense and of strategic affairs turned the Marmara into a Palestinian Exodus. With a single foolish move, the Israeli cabinet cast the Muslim Brotherhood in the role of the victim and the Israel Navy as the villain and simultaneously opened European, Turkish, Arab, Palestinian and internal Israeli fronts. In so doing, Israel is serving Hamas’ interests better than Hamas itself has ever done.”

It ought to be noted that internal Israeli front is a euphemism for the Arab minority, of which its leadership, according to a report filed by Khaled Abu Toameh, is warning of a new uprising. “Protests erupted in various places, including Umm el-Fahm, Nazareth and Sakhnin, where demonstrators burned tires and chanted slogans condemning the IDF operation,” Toameh wrote.

There does not appear to be any consensus even within Israel except for the perception that the civilian leadership and military commanders seriously fucked up and, as a corollary, Israel is now in more hot water than ever before. Another theme is that the real perpetrators were the terrorist Jew-haters who wanted to give food and something called medicine to the pampered denizens of free Gaza.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

JERUSALEM—On May 23, a windy Sunday afternoon, I visited Jeff Halper, co-founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, at his office (14 King George). He only apologizes for his nagging cough caught from a passing bout with pneumonia. Born in 1946 and an oleh from the early 1970s, he is a prominent activist who now has an Israeli family into its third generation (a granddaughter lives here).

The talk, mostly his and also including many of my interjections, ranged from the sort of abstract to the more practical. In short, he is a dangerous man. The fact that he has escaped arrest from the current aggressively reactionary leadership is almost miraculous.

Presenting part one, below.

JH: A lot of young people here. The whole Sheikh Jarrah protests come out of this office… B’Tselem is more of a human rights organization, we’re more of a political organization. B’Tselem doesn’t go on demonstrations; they monitor and document human rights abuses.

AC: The overlap is the human rights focus, obviously.

JH: Yeah… but we’re dedicated to ending the occupation. I mean that’s our goal.

A few people milled around to say hey to Jeff, including a British woman around his age who complained that her MP is an “arch-Zionist.” It was apparent that Jeff makes visits to their parliament. Awards and citations hung around the walls; one was an embossed plaque from the Palestinian National Assembly that certified his commitment to the welfare of the people. He does not much care for their leadership. Behind him hung a framed cartoon by Carlos Latuff, a rabidly anti-Israel artist, which depicted a strangely contorted Israeli soldier with “BLOCKADE” written across his ass watching in mute horror as ships delivering medicine arrived at the shores of Gaza.

Jeff handed me a slew of material, including a pamplet titled “Counter-rhetoric: challenging the conventional wisdom & reframing the conflict.” One of its authors was Emily Schaeffer, who was recently featured in Haaretz magazine. Like Jeff, Emily was originally American and has become a thorn in the side of the establishment. In another way, like Emily, Jeff and his cohorts have become an establishment of their own, spearheading the efforts of Israel’s civil rights community.

JH: She [Emily] says her first home was ICAHD.

AC: Your hometown is Hibbing, Minnesota, same hometown as Bob Dylan [b. Robert Zimmerman]. Any personal relation?

JH: I knew him. There weren’t that many Jewish kids in our little town. But he’s five years older than I am… his brother’s my age. I knew his mother.

AC: He clearly avoided a lot of political activism… and then in the 80s he released a famous song, “Neighborhood Bully,” which never mentions Israel but it’s obvious what it’s about.

(Neighborhood bully, he’s just one man/his enemies say, He’s on their land/they got him outnumbered, about a million to one/he’s got no place to escape to, no place to run)

At that point we began talking about the ongoing “cultural boycott” of Israel, with Elvis Costello and others being a case in point.

JH: Leonard Cohen was half-successful… he said he’d come and then he offered to perform in Ramallah as well; and the Palestinians said, No, if you want to perform in Ramallah you’re welcome but not as a tail-end to Israel.

AC: What about performing in Ramallah and performing in Israel as a tail-end, would that have been okay?

JH: Well, it was a tack-on kind of thing… But what he did is he donated the proceeds from the concert to Israeli peace organizations.

AC: This one?

JH: No, unfortunately we weren’t one of them. Do you know how much money he made?

AC: No idea.

JH: Six million dollars. So he gave $6 million to Israeli peace groups, more mainstream… although Breaking the Silence [anti-occupation organization started by Israeli reservists] got a part of it.

AC: But even the mainstream human rights groups are under serious attack... are you guys weathering the storm?

[Over the past several months, a climate of McCarthyite repression has been sweeping over the country, condemning dissidents as traitorous agents of foreign governments who want to destroy the state. This campaign has appeared to have peaked with a Knesset proposal to deny NGOs the ability to do their work because they are thought to be subversive.]

JH: It’s not going to succeed... they can’t do because right-wing organizations get much more money from abroad than we do.

Israel is “losing it,” he added. I asked if meant in the sense of going crazy. He means losing everything.

JH: You can be militarily strong, but when you lose the war of legitimacy—it’s over. South Africa could beat the ANC [African National Congress] any day of the week, the Soviet Union had thousands of nuclear weapons, the Shah of Iran had a big army. Once your lose your legitimacy, it’s just a countdown until it collapses… Israel has lost its legitimacy. All the arguments and all the bullshit about, you know, ‘terrorism’ and ‘Israel is under attack’ and this and that, and ‘there is no occupation’…

AC: ‘There is no Palestine.’

JH: Right, all that stuff is just worn out. It’s gone. Especially after Gaza. Israel is now trying to fight all these rearguard actions, but I think it’s in desperation.

AC: So you’re living in an illegitimate country.

JH: I don’t think Israel is illegitimate, the occupation is illegitimate.

AC: You suggest that that reflects on the country as a whole.

JH: Israel cannot be a Jewish country. It’s not sustainable—to have in the 21st century a country based on privileging one particular group… that’s racism, that’s colonialism. It just doesn’t work anymore; it was an idea, sixty seventy 100 years ago, you’re living in a different era. You just can’t do it, especially because half the population of this country is Palestinian, if you include the occupied territories… In other words, the country that Israel is claiming, the Land of Israel, for itself—it’s incorporated the occupied territories, they’re not gonna be let go—it means that Israel has incorporated another four million Palestinians.

“Which means that you have a binational reality that’s partly what’s here and partly created by Israel, because if it had agreed to the two-state solution it wouldn’t have happened,” he added, while I was finishing off the last of the orange-flavored Belgian chocolates he had lying on the table.

JH: Israel is a country whose ideology—its time has passed.… What it’s going to become is an interesting question: a democratic country of all its citizens next to a Palestinian state… a one-state, democratic state like South Africa… a ‘binational’ state, which is more plausible; maybe a Middle East confederation, like the EU was thirty years ago. I don’t know what’s going to happen.

Halper consistently made clear that he and his group do not back any particular “solution” to the conflict; end the occupation—as one of the posters styled like an eye chart reads—and the rest will follow.

AC: What do you think is the most possible?

JH: The most possible is some kind of binational state. Well actually none of them is possible in Israeli terms. Israel won’t agree to any of them. The only option Israel has, from its own point of view, is apartheid.

AC: [Defense Minister] Ehud Barak suggested as much in January.

JH: That’s right, [former PM Ehud] Olmert also said that. That’s what Israel is looking for. They’re looking for a Palestinian Authority weak enough that will sign off on a Bantustan… in which Israel expands from 78 percent of the country to 85 percent, completely encircles the so-called Palestinian state. That’s the kind of two-state solution that’s really apartheid.

He flipped through one of his books, showing several maps depicting what he has called “the matrix of control”: the apparatus of settlements, for him a euphemism for colonies, the settler-only highways and roads, checkpoints, and the separation barrier. The maps in his possession show a Palestinian archipelago, basically three cantons visibly cut off from each other. A word he insisted on using was “confined,” evoking the image of an animal pen.

AC: The main focus of your work is the problem of house demolitions.

JH: We’re what I call a big picture organization. Our vehicle is through the issue of house demolitions because that helps you get a handle—the way Israel frames things, the Israeli way of framing things is, Everything we do is for security.… It’s not true with house demolitions. Israel has demolished more than 24,000 Palestinian homes in the occupied territories since ’67. That doesn’t include thousands of more inside Israel.… Israel doesn’t grant building permits to Palestinians.

He mentioned the usage of the “victim” card. “We’re the victims,” he says, and they’re bad, so it all happens within that logic.

AC: You mentioned Gaza. Just the other day Hamas, which is a terrorist organization, demolished—

JH: —well I don’t accept that—

AC: You don’t?

JH: ‘Terrorist’ is a loaded word… Israel has killed many more Palestinians than Hamas has, why isn’t Israel a terrorist organization? Because we’re a state… We use human rights language. It is prohibited to kill or harm innocent civilians; I don’t care who you are.

He added that ICAHD wrote a piece condemning Hamas’s demolition of Gazan homes.

JH: A rights-based approach covers the entire board.… It allows you to condemn whoever is violating international law.

AC: It’s universal.

JH: If you use a ‘terrorist’ language, it’s selective. It’s whoever you decide is a terrorist.

AC: There’s no ‘intentionality’ in the law?

JH: No, no—

AC: What matters is what happens?

JH: This whole thing of intention is shaky, because what does that mean? What was Israel’s intention in Gaza?

AC: It had a stated aim… to stop the rocketing.

JH: …You can talk about attacks on Israel, we can talk about resistance. The Palestinian is living in a cage, besieged. There are Israeli military people counting the number of calories going into Gaza. Johns Hopkins University did a study, 30 percent of Palestinian kids are malnourished in Gaza; they have no homes, 7-8,000 homes have never been rebuilt, the last almost year-and-a-half now. If you begin to call all resistance ‘terrorism,’ you take all the poor people of the world, the millions the billions of poor people that are trying to resist the capitalist states coming in and taking their resources and exploiting them… they become the ‘bad guys,’ because that’s the language. Our intent isn’t to kill them, it’s to develop them, help them—

AC: Give them a better life.

JH: They’re just attacking because they’re terrorists. That whole language completely distorts, it’s very self-serving.

AC: You’re saying that the entire situation is very ill-served by how we even talk about it.

JH: The language that we use leads us to certain conclusions.

Jerusalem itself is a sticking point for the world and took up its respective space between us.

JH: In 1950, actually in 1948, Israel and Jordan went into the war together. Palestinians didn’t attack Israel—

AC: No, the Jordanian Army.

JH: Israel and Jordan went into the war as allies. The division of the country that came out of ’48, which is pretty much the division today, was agreed upon before the war began. There were only two places where they didn’t agree: Jerusalem and Latrun. Those were the only two places were there was fighting between the armies and in both cases Israel lost.

AC: In Jerusalem?

JH: In Jerusalem they lost. They were thrown out of the Old City.

AC: …Well in ’67 Israel was able to recapture—

JH: It was never ‘ours’ to begin with. The Old City wasn’t Israeli.… There was a population transfer in ’48, where less than 2,000 Jews from the Old City, the Jewish Quarter, mainly… Ultra-Orthodox were transferred into Israel by Jordan. And 30,000 Palestinians, who had homes in West Jerusalem, were transferred to Jordan. They lost everything. Forty percent of West Jerusalem was owned by Palestinians in 1948. It wasn’t like, We were here plus the Jewish Quarter… on the western side almost half was Palestinian.

AC: I never knew that.

JH: …We took all the neighborhoods. So the problem with Sheikh Jarrah is that the Jews are now coming back to reclaim all the areas that they had in East Jerusalem, but Palestinians aren’t allowed to go the other way. What about all their properties? Half of Ben Yehuda St and a good part of Jaffa [St] was owned mainly by Palestinians.

AC: So when Elie Wiesel wrote in a public letter that Palestinians are free to buy property in West Jerusalem it’s not true?

JH: Of course. They could never do that. My neighborhood? They wouldn’t be allowed to set foot [in it].

AC: He just doesn’t know?

JH: Shimon Peres… said on Jerusalem Day, ‘All Palestinians have the right of freedom of worship.’ It’s simply not true! A Christian of Bethlehem can’t go pray in the Holy Sephulcre and a Muslim in Ramallah can’t go pray in Al-Aqsa… [Whether] he doesn’t know or he’s just bullshitting, it’s just a spin. I don’t know about Elie Wiesel… it’s a simple lie. The fact that you don’t have Arabs living in West Jerusalem, it’s not just by chance.

On June 4, part two will be published.
Peter Beinart hit the nail on the head with this. (“Rationalizing and minimizing Palestinian suffering has become a kind of game.”)

Up next: an interview with veteran Israeli activist Jeff Halper — somewhat abridged, for sake of space.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Update on Shahzad, via Patrick Cockburn (with my emphases):

The Pakistan Taliban had been saying that it would seek revenge for the drone attacks by striking directly at the US but nobody took them seriously. Their first claim that they were behind the Times Square bomb was disbelieved as being beyond their capabilities. It is difficult to see why the idea of their involvement should have been treated with derision since suicide bombers from the Pakistan Taliban are blowing themselves up every few days along the north-west frontier.

Shahzad told his interrogators that he received training in Waziristan, though it cannot have been very serious given the amateurism of his subsequent efforts. But a high degree of technical expertise is not necessary since even the most botched and ineffective bomb attack has a powerful political impact so long as it happens in the US, as was demonstrated by the Nigerian student who tried and failed to blow up a plane over Detroit at Christmas by detonating explosives in his underpants.

One outcome of the abortive Times Square attack is that it has drawn the attention of the world to the seriousness of the fighting in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan which stretch along the Afghan border. Last year the violence there and in other parts of the North West frontier Province was enough to send 3.1 million refugees running for their lives. Many of these, particularly from the Swat valley, have now gone home, but hundreds of thousands of others are now taking flight because of army assaults on Pakistan Taliban strongholds elsewhere in FATA. These mass movements of people in obscure places like Orakzai or Kurram are hardly noticed even within Pakistan where they are reported without much detail on the inside pages of the newspapers.

Who has even heard of Orakzai and Kurram?

Sunday, May 09, 2010

News from stateside: Aside from quotations and paraphrases from anonymous government officials—including “a Pakistani security official”—and the inevitable two cents from Bruce Hoffman, the latest report on the catalyst(s) behind the thankfully failed car bomb is built around ten known facts on the incident (1-4) and what it all means (5-10):

(1) “In a video Sunday [May 2], the Pakistan Taliban”—which we are told calls itself Tehrik-i-Taliban—“took responsibility for the attempted bombing.”

(2) “Besides the Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda, groups operating in the tribal areas [Federally Administered Tribal Areas] include the Haqqani Network and the Kashmiri groups Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad.”

(3) The suspect, Faisal Shahzad, “is the [30 y.o.] son of a retired senior Pakistani Air Force officer. As his interrogation [described in the second ¶ as ‘days of intense questioning’ according to the officials’ account] continued in New York, he waived his right to a speedy arraignment…”—from here Mark Mazzetti & Scott Shane speculate that this could be “a possible sign of continuing cooperation with investigators.”

(4) Reactions: the “failed attack has produced a flurry of proposals” (my italics) “to tighten security procedures, including calls by members of Congress to more closely scrutinize passengers who buy tickets with cash, as Mr. Shahzad did.” NYC mayor Bloomberg “asked Congress to block the sale of firearms and explosives to those on terrorist watch lists.” [Comment is superfluous.]

5) DHS “directed airlines to speed up their checks of new names added to the no-fly list”—which is reported or at least rumored to have something like a million names, many of which are redundant or lacking context; another quasi editorial comment, “might have prevented” Shahzad from boarding a jet back to Dubai.

6) Sens. Lieberman & Scott Brown “proposed stripping citizenship from terrorism suspects who are U.S. citizens.” Jean Spencer reports that a “bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers” are aiming for “stripping U.S. citizenship from Americans who have supported foreign terrorist groups or engaged in hostilities against the U.S. or its allies.” The proposal is dubbed the Terrorist Expatriation Act (TEA), which would give the State Dept power to revoke citizenship from anyone “found…to be engaged in…providing material support or resources to a Foreign Terrorist Organization.”

7) “One issue that investigators are vigorously pursuing is who provided Mr. Shahzad cash to buy the sport utility vehicle and his plane ticket to Dubai.” Follow the money.

8) “There is no doubt among intelligence officials that the barrage of attacks by C.I.A. drones over the past year has made Pakistan’s Taliban … increasingly determined to seek revenge by finding any way possible to strike at the United States.” Presumably, and this is to try to clarify, these intel guys are sitting at CIA HQ, which routinely conducts the drone strikes that are thought by the intel guys to be fueling our enemy’s resolve.

9) Baitullah Mehsud, who was finally killed on 5 August 2009, “boasted” in March of that year that “his group was planning an attack on Washington that would ‘amaze everyone in the world’”—doubtless reminiscent of our own “shock and awe” idea; this threat was “dismissed…as empty bravado.”

10) Tehrik-i-Taliban “has used a relentless campaign of violence to under Pakistan’s government” (which one?) and “has been blamed for the assassination of…Benazir Bhutto, as well as bombings in Islamabad [civilian gov’t capital], Lahore and elsewhere.” The connection to Kashmiris is not explored at all, even though by now it should seem at least a little transparent (note fact no. 2) and “elsewhere” which includes Kashmir.
The Jerusalem Post authoritatively reported today,

A new security-related affair is causing a firestorm within the Israeli Arab community and has reignited a furious debate on secrecy and national security. … Some of the details from the latest investigation have been reported on a growing number of blogs and Internet sites based abroad, but cannot be reported inside Israel.

Well. Leave it to Moshe Yaroni, the pseudonymous writer for Zeek, to sort out what he calls a case of “KGB tactics”:

Ameer Makhoul, the director of Ittijah — The Union of Arab Community-Based Associations — has been arrested in the dead of night, while he and his family slept in their home in Haifa. Let us be clear—Makhoul is an Israeli citizen. Yet the arrest of this high-profile activist has been again placed under a gag order. You’re reading about it here, but Israeli reporters, news outlets and even blogs are forbidden from writing about it.

With the news blackout, any serious charge against Makhoul is unknown. A Petah Tikvah court extended his detention for six days and he is barred from consulting an attorney for at least two days. Makhoul had been barred from leaving the country in late April, by order of Interior Minister Eli Yishai.

No doubt, Makhoul is a figure the Israeli government would love to keep quiet. He has been an outspoken critic of Israel, and he supports the international movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against the state. A year ago, he was interrogated by the Shin Bet for a day, and released, but he has never, as far as I can determine, been convicted of any crime or been demonstrated to have ties to any sort of terrorism. (My emphasis.)

In other news, MJ Rosenberg thinks the (Jewish American) kids are all right.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Gil-Scott Heron has boycotted Tel Aviv, Israel’s “bubble” in which I’m currently living. Moshe Yaroni writes,

Tel Aviv and its suburbs are arranged with their face towards the West and a wall separating their back from all the turmoil in the East: the settlers in the territories, the Ultra-Orthodox in Jerusalem, and also these Palestinians. ... Tel Aviv behaves as if it were a Mediterranean suburb of London while in a spitting distance from it eastward and southward lies an immense jail holding millions of people without rights for over half a century.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

After a brief sojourn into Wadi al-Mousa and Petra the other day, just 10 hours in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, plus an interesting moment at the Yitzhak Rabin border crossing on the way back involving an expired visa, there has not been much time to quote-unquote report. Time is always of the essence and it is a limited commodity.

Anat Kamm has disappeared again, this time from virtually all media accounts; the lens moved onto things like Icelandic disruptions of European travel plans, much more significant for geological and economical reasons; or onto the crisis in relations between Bibi and Bama—more precisely, the ideological crisis within Israel and its uber-Zionistic counterparts in the States. And the overwhelming silence of the moderates.

Take Ms. Kamm (below) as a case study. Since April 8 until the end of the month, the soldier/espionage case/cause celebre was a nonperson due to a gag order that would be lifted after enormous criticism and is now under house arrest awaiting trial. Let us get the facts in order before we can look at the broader implications. First we must seek out the hitna’alut, the way things were managed.

Uri Blau is (was?) a reporter for Ha’aretz, the premier Israeli daily. While traveling abroad, he received a reported 2,000 documents from a 23-year-old in the Zahal (IDF) named Anat Kamm. They are digital files of secret military reports on goings on in the West Bank. Kamm believed they document law-breaking in the officer ranks surrounding the controversial practice of targeted assassinations. The matter is found out and she’s under arrest. News media are told there had been a security breach; the GOC issued an order that nothing be said about it. (Shepherd Smith was shocked.) It is not known if Blau can return to his country.

The Forward weighed in on April 18, writing in its lead editorial (“Behind the Kamm Affair”), “Tempting as it is to turn Kamm and Blau into martyrs, their stories are not fully known, and what is known in complicated.” They ask why she copied (transferred to a flash drive probably, as Joel Katz speculated in a personal communication with this reporter) “so many documents, some of which allegedly contain sensitive information that could put at risk future military operations?” Those very documents were in Blau’s possession, and when his newspaper published them it had passed muster with the military censor. The allegation is not possible. Looking at the media analysis part of the equation, the Forward editorial dichotomizes reality: if you’re “on the left,” the Kamm-Blau affair “is but the most recent example of Israel’s dangerous march toward suppression of civil liberties and dissent in the name of security” and, if you’re “on the right,” these two “are grievously at fault for flouting the rule of law and abusing freedom of the press”—none of this was helped by the gag order, they write.

Richard Silverstein, a blogger, first broke the story for the Anglosphere in late March. He reported that “Anat Kam herself and others on the Israeli left have urged those who have published to remove their material” on her arrest, information the Shin Bet had blacked out. Further, “an Israeli peace activist told me that Kam was negotiating with the Shin Bet and hoped if little was made of this affair that she might get off with no jail time.” Silverstein concluded with a bit of equivocation: “I would hope her actions were based on a citizen’s disgust with the army’s brazen disregard for the rule of law. But it occurs to me, and I freely concede and even hope I am wrong, that the leak may’ve been motivated by an aspiring journalist who found herself in a position to advance her career by making such material public through Israel’s leading daily newspaper, Haaretz, and a respected investigative journalist, Uri Blau.” He did not know more at that time.

Yet by April 1, Silverstein noted that the story had reached the British press. He wrote, “The next time someone tells you journalism is all about the scoop, tell ‘em they’re wrong. For some reason, some scoops are too hot to handle.” In the London Times (April 3), James Hider reported that even the tabloid Ma’ariv sardonically commented, “Due to a gag order we cannot tell you what we know. Due to laziness, apathy and blind faith in the defence establishment we know nothing at all.”

Hider quotes from a 2008 report that surfaced which showed how “in March 2007 Major-General Yair Naveh…the senior Israeli commander in the West Bank at the time, allowed his men to shoot three leading Palestinian militants even though they did not pose a clear threat. The order was judged to be illegal by experts interviewed by the Haaretz journalist Uri Blau.” Kamm was working in Naveh’s office; she passed the allegedly incriminating evidence to Blau. “She faces up to 14 years in jail” if not a heavier sentence.

Looking at the media analysis part of the equation, the Forward editorial dichotomizes reality: if you’re “on the left,” the Kamm-Blau affair “is but the most recent example of Israel’s dangerous march toward suppression of civil liberties and dissent in the name of security” and, if you’re “on the right,” these two “are grievously at fault for flouting the rule of law and abusing freedom of the press”—none of this was helped by the gag order, they add.

Investigative reporter Max Blumenthal pointed out (“The Strange Disappearance of Anat Kam,” April 7) the dissonance of a democratic state doing something so blatantly anti-democratic. Yet first he also lays out the facts. The exact documents in question, which Kamm had swiped and sent off on CDs, “revealed that in 2007, [IDF] forces assassinated a Palestinian Islamic Jihad member in direct contravention of a Supreme Court order that banned the killing of wanted militants if there was a reasonable chance to arrest them first.” Blumenthal also points to Maj. Gen. Yavneh as one of the key culprits. He also mentions that the articles published under Blau’s byline about the story were approved by the military censor. “According to multiple sources, Blau is terrified to return to Israel.” It is also revealed that the gag order was “issued in January,” which means it lasted for about two months.

Blumenthal also wrote that “some Israeli bloggers have taken down their posts, fearing that they could harm Kam’s defense — and possibly place themselves in danger — by provoking the Shin Bet and reactionary political elements.”

In the London Guardian on April 8, the day the order was finally lifted, Rory McCarthy observed that 700 of the alleged “2,000” documents were classified as state secrets. The same day Yossi Melman, in Tablet, reminded readers that Kamm is “by no means a member of the anti-Zionist left.” Melman continues,

Kamm, who admired Blau’s writing, told him she had stolen copies of secret documents during her military service at the office of the head of the IDF’s Central Command. Sometime later she gave Blau some of the documents, which she had been holding for 18 months. (A first attempt to hand off documents to Yossi Yehoshu, a reporter for Yediot Aharonot, failed.) Haaretz published articles based on a few of them not long after, in November 2008.

…Blau revealed that in March and April 2007, while Kamm was working at the office of the IDF’s head of Central Command, the army’s highest ranking officers knowingly planned to violate a 2006 Supreme Court ruling that forbade the assassination of Palestinian militants when their arrest was possible. In April 2007, the IDF’s Central Command received permission to assassinate an Islamic Jihad leader named Ziad Malaisha. The assassination, Kamm’s documents reveal, was planned and approved in meetings with the head of the IDF’s Operations Directorate, Brig. Gen. Sami Turjeman, and the IDF’s Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi.

Summaries of the meetings reveal that the officers were aware of the Supreme Court ruling they would soon violate. The assassination, which was postponed because of the April 2007 visit of U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, took place in June 2007, the month Kamm left the army. Israel’s military censors approved Blau’s article, finding that its publication would not damage Israel’s national security.

That leaves Uri Blau, who explained himself by saying, “The Kafkaesque situation I found myself in forces me to return to basics. I am a journalist and my aim is to provide the reader as much information as possible and in the best way, with maximum objectivity. It’s not a personal agenda, or a matter of Left or Right.”

“Every journalist knows that exposes cannot be released without evidence — but no Israeli journalist has known until now that such exposes could have him declared an enemy of the state and find himself in jail,” he concluded.

Notices appeared in the April 7 and 14 issues of Ha’aretz that bear worth mentioning: first, former High Court justice Dalia Dorner “lashed out” against the gag order, saying it was “baseless” to do so given that “Israeli blogs and Web sites, along with foreign media outlets…have been discussing the affair in detail over the past several weeks” (Gili Izikovich).

A week later several other “prominent journalists” rallied to Blau’s defense, including Channel 1 newscaster Geula Even and Army Radio’s Razi Barkai, as well as “Israel Radio military correspondent Carmela Menashe, Yedioth Ahronoth researcher Ronen Bergman, and Channel 10 political correspondent Chico Menashe” (Ofra Edelman). The day before the blackout was lifted, Ze’ev Segal commented that the ruling “makes a mockery of Israeli democracy” (“The case we’re not allowed to report on”). All the while, the entire world knew what had happened.

In the December 1982 issue of Mother Jones Eric Nadler, writing about the growing influence of Kahanism, quoted Yossi Dayan, “Kach’s No. 3 man,” as saying, “you will soon see that our positions, which some call extremist or fanaticist, will be taken over—adopted by groups which consider themselves to be more mainstream than us. Wait and see.”

Amos Elon, writing in Life magazine (6 February 1970): “Israel was, after all, predicated upon a radiant dream of tranquility, of peace and justice for all men. It now finds itself in the morally disturbing position of a conqueror suppressing an alien population. Under present circumstances it cannot withdraw from the occupied areas without jeopardizing its basic security. But the spiraling effect of terror and repression, if the occupation continues, is bound to affect the moral fiber of society.”

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Coming soon (lot of busy-ness being dealt with): comment and updates on the Anat Kam case; some gems from back issues of Life; thoughts from the pseudonymous Magnes Zionist; and some stuff Akiva Orr wrote.

Not a lot of time these days for original reporting. But my two cents is good enough, probably.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

KFAR SABA — Goldstone and the ever-growing ripples of dissent fighting are refusing to dissipate. This past week Isabel Kershner reported,

Sari Bashi, the director of Gisha, an advocacy group that focuses on freedom of movement for Palestinians, said her organization was harassed last year by the Israeli tax authorities. She said they questioned why Gisha should be tax exempt when that status was meant for organizations that promoted the public good. Eventually, she said, the authorities backed down.

Then an ultra-Zionist nongovernmental organization called Im Tirtzu...attacked a major organization, the New Israel Fund, which channeled about $29 million to Israeli groups in 2009, including some Arab-run, non-Zionist groups. The fund describes itself as pro-Israel and says it does not agree with all the positions of the groups it helps, but it supports their right to be heard.

Im Tirtzu published a report in January asserting that 92 percent of the quotes from unofficial Israeli bodies supporting claims against Israel in the Goldstone report were provided by 16 nongovernmental organizations financed by the New Israel Fund.

The New Israel Fund dismissed Im Tirtzu's findings as a fabrication, saying most of the references it cited had nothing to do with Gaza during the Israeli offensive.

Interestingly, Keshev put out a small report not mentioned by Kershner, although it easily debunks Im Tirtzu’s claims, without having to resort to the familiar he-said, he-said story: the group “analyzed the information sources of the Goldstone report based on references cited in the report, while ignoring many other sources ... including cabinet members, IDF generals, government institutions, and major Israeli media, Maariv included”—a right-wing tabloid. Further, as an example of the paucity of the claim that the New Israel Fund, which bankrolls Israel’s civil society organizations, created the Goldstone demon, “the B’Tselem [Israeli group that monitors human rights violations in the West Bank] materials to which the Goldstone report refers are actually debriefings that were previously submitted to the attorney general and the military advocate general, which were followed by Military Police investigations.” Keshev adds that Im Tirtzu’s “financial sources are kept secret from the public.”

In the same article, Kershner does not name a source, a figure in the current Netanyahu coalition government who “affirmed” that last year it was decided to aggressively go after Israeli watchdogs, that is named by Jpost reporter Herb Keinon: Ron Dermer, who helped influence Bush’s messianic view on foreign policy and is now a “right-hand man on policy” for Bibi, according to Didi Remez at the indispensable Coteret.

Tomorrow is Holocaust Memorial Day; today’s top headline in Haaretz reads, simply, “IDF order will enable mass deportation from West Bank” — a move which is “aimed at preventing infiltration,” defined radically broadly to mean “Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, citizens of countries with which Israel has friendly ties (such as the United States) and Israeli citizens, whether Arab or Jewish. ... The new guidelines are expected to clamp down on protests in the West Bank,” as part of the increasingly obvious war on dissent within Israel. Alas, it appears we have really learned nothing.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Heads up, Bibi: this is where American Jewry seems to stand. The pollsters did not make breakdowns by age, which would have been more interesting.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Finally, something light: Sacha Baron Cohen plays an Israeli tour guide named Jacob (funny, not Yaacov) and Homer pretends to be the Messiah, incurring the wrath of a united mass of Jews, Muslims and Christians. Sounds like a peace plan that could work.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Nir Hasson and Avi Issacharoff report in Ha’aretz:

Israel’s decision to approve new East Jerusalem houses effectively prevents any peace negotiations from taking place, the Palestinian Authority said on Tuesday, following an Interior Ministry statement released earlier authorizing 1,600 new housing units.

This arrives on the heels of Barak’s decision to approve 112 new Jewish homes (referred to as “apartment units” in one of the reports) in the West Bank, which came exactly one day after the PA finally agreed to “indirect” talks on the eve of V.P. Joe Biden’s visit, in which he made pains to assure a nervous Israeli public of his credentials as some kind of born-again Zionist.

Barak also declared that, for now, Iran does not pose “an existential threat” to Israel; during the vaunted Herzliya conference last month, he made some waves when he spoke of Israel’s possible future as “an apartheid state” if no peace can be made with the Palestinians.

Rumors of war by the end of spring are flying around. Yoel Marcus does not want to keep the military option—aerial attack—off the table; meanwhile, Iran has test-fired a new missile from a destroyer. Step by step both nations seem to be walking toward the abyss, but hopefully that is not the case.

UPDATES (Mar. 11): According to Ir Amim, plans are underway to create as many as 50,000 new units in E J’lem; at TAU, Biden declared current state of affairs “not sustainable,” which should be obvious to all reasonable people.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Michael Ratner, of the Center for Constitutional Rights, writes a moving tribute to the lessons he and his family learned from Yad Vashem this past January.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Tony Judt explains human society at the edges. Choice quote:

The thin veneer of civilization rests upon what may well be an illusory faith in our common humanity. But illusory or not, we would do well to cling to it. Certainly, it is that faith—and the constraints it places upon human misbehavior—that is the first to go in times of war or civil unrest.

Friday, February 19, 2010

SDE BOKER—Visiting a real Bedouin home is a mind-altering experience, in the sense that it utterly eviscerates the romanticized, tourist vision of nomads living off the land in dignity and serenity. The reality is that these are very oppressed people who live in poverty, at the sufferance of the state, which demands proper permits for them to roam or even grow their own food. The contrast between the Jewish-owned agricultural areas and these miserable “unrecognized” villages is quite stark. No pictures here, out of my own perhaps misguided sense of respect. One could make the comparison with the condition of the American Indians, although Bedouins make up a higher percentage of the population (about two percent) than our indigenous peoples. So there are of course differences.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

JAFFA—Usually it is one of those redundant cliches to say how old—and mixed—this place is, four thousand years of volatile history. There is a lot of construction going on, indeed “gentrification.” Hebrew graffiti all over, a lot of Arabic posters shredded or defaced. Today it seemed to be a relatively quiet type of powderkeg. It was very stark to observe the built-up, commercial areas from the concrete neighborhoods, some of which were crumbling. The beauty of this ancient place is somewhat belied by the painful fact that its demographic character (read, Arabic population) is gradually being pushed out, although this correspondent did not see anything to confirm this. A few cranes dot the landscape, and bulldozers roll down a thoroughfare; however, it is difficult to tell what is going on.

According to Nazareth-based British journalist Jonathan Cook, one of the neighborhoods here, Ajami, is undergoing a serious influx of fundamentalist settler-types moving in, which is antagonizing the locals, mostly because a realty company at the center of it will only sell homes to Jews. Ajami was not visited today because, on top of it being hard to find — plus my lack of knowledge of Arabic aside from as-salaam aleikum, which is a good way to convey good will to the decent people who live there) — as well as something heard to the effect of “it’s a bad neighborhood.” You can read about a documentary film concerning the same here.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The head of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel reports that former Knesset speaker Avraham Burg has joined in the demonstrations at Sheikh Jarrah, quite possibly one of the most contested areas of East Jerusalem.

What appears to be going on behind the ongoing protests, according to Ir Amim.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

TEL AVIV—This correspondent is sick of ideologues and absolutist thinking, completely disgusted with a mindset that sees nothing wrong with making massive generalizations; with attitudes that in most circumstances would be seen and recognized as hateful. Are there circumstances in which it is justifiable to ignore human morality for the sake of survival? Are we under constant existential threat, or are we the dominant peerless military power in the region? These are not trivial questions.

My thinking, at this point, is that it is oxymoronic to believe that the reality is just a matter of different definitions and-or perspectives while also demanding that there is an ultimate truth, that this is real and that is not real. It is simultaneously contradictory to hold a view in which The Other is a fundamentally dangerous, murderous Enemy which only understands the language of force, and giving ourselves the image of a virtuous light unto nations, with the highest moral code. Or that, and this is quite an oddity, it is both the case that some things really are black-and-white but, when push comes to shove, Hey, it is quite complicated and it is irrelevant to talk about right or wrong. Applying the moral code we see in ourselves in our mirrors, even in a judicious way, may put us in a bad light. Hence we become extremely defensive and disbelieving. No, we cannot do things like that, it’s not what you see or hear, they are agents of evil, etc. I believe that Israel faces real security problems, there are people not too far away who want to do Israelis lethal harm, and self-defense is good and right. That is not moral confusion.

I’m feeling passionate right now because I’m tired of feeling like I’m being deceived, that I cannot know anything because I’m not Israeli but just a Jew who happens to be living here (for the next five months; expect occasional reports). Ironically, this is my state in essence, it is legally defined as the state of my people, by my very ancestry and heritage. Therein lies another contradiction, a very absurd one at that: my word on what Israel does is totally null, but this place is supposed to belong to me, my birthright. And, perhaps it is needless to say, by the fact of being American it is also my client. I do not intend to show any disrespect; quite the contrary. I love this place and the people, wonderful, intelligent, full of life and determined to just go on.

Here’s a question to ask myself, and of course toward others: when it is a genuine reflection of what is really happening (or what was happened) and when is it actually defamation and propaganda? Why is it that every serious, legitimate criticism of Israeli policy and actions is completely dismissed as a manifestation of antisemitism, another arrow to the heart of the Jewish people? Take the infamous Goldstone report and the incredible responses it has elicited as an instructive case-in-point, but just one aspect of a larger war on dissent that appears to be going on.

Israeli democracy is being threatened, according to credible reports that have appeared in the press, a serious threat to the health and future of the Hebrew commonwealth. Fundamentalist thinking is increasing, war drums are being beaten over the Iranian dilemma, and a flood of hasbara information desperately attempts to tell us, with all requisite seriousness, that we are not only under threat, real enough, but the notion of our own wrongdoing, no matter how big or well-corroborated and not inspired by ideological preconceptions, is outrageous and defamatory. More as things develop.

(Above: Bethlehem from a vantage point in Gilo. Most say the general purpose of that gray structure there is for security; others, silly radicals and dangerous types, claim it is meant for annexation or even apartheid, not necessarily my claim on balance. So who knows?)

Monday, February 01, 2010

The last remaining American veteran of the First World War has turned 109.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

With the passing of Howard Zinn and J.D. Salinger, America has lost two very important voices. One was an outspoken activist who was unafraid to challenge power, and the other was an iconoclast who drifted into a hermit-like existence. Perhaps drift is the wrong way to put it; perhaps it was his conscious choice to do so, to seclude himself into the nether-regions of New Hampshire. Whatever the case, both men despised phony people, for different reasons. Despise is a word that requires a note of elaboration. At first glance it appears to denote hatred but, in fact, it literally refers to the act of looking down upon. Zinn and Salinger, quite literally, looked down upon phonies, inauthentic people, cogs in machines, because such people chose to become, or had no choice but to be, automatons, serving a higher purpose over which they had no real control.

Much is said about a famous address Zinn made in the Boston Common in 1971, addressing the plainclothes tools of state power interspersed among the listening crowd. He, along with Daniel Ellsberg and others, were beaten the next day, by interlocutors of law and order, although on an individual level the agents wielding heavy batons were at the very least reluctant to carry out their orders and, according to the account Ellsberg has given, expressed their sympathies for the cause.

As for the creator of Holden Caulfield, an ennui-obsessed teenage lost soul who despairs of the world, the impulse to change the world retreats to a desire to escape. It is certainly understandable; the world can be a demented, dangerous place, filled with mercenary, unfeeling people. But that is far from all that it is. Perhaps it was the hope that there are decent people everywhere you go, doing what they can to improve things, even in the smallest ways, that kept people like Zinn going, up to the very end.