Author Archives: Helena

Palestine: The Return of “Return” (and Jerusalem)

In the lead-up to May 15, a key date in the history of the Palestinians’ ongoing “Nakba” (catastrophe) and the date– 70 years ago, in 1948– of the establishment of the State of Israel, grassroots organizations in Gaza and other parts of Palestine have been engaging in a six-week-long action called “The Great March of Return.” The aim of the action– as described in The Nation by one of its originators, Ahmad Abu Rtemah– has been “to reclaim our right to live in freedom and justice.”

The Great March seems to be being organized in a way similar to the weekly nonviolent mass actions that have been maintained in Bil’in, Nabi Saleh, and some other threatened West Bank villages for many years now. In those villages, each Friday after noon-time prayers, the population gathers to undertake some kind of a nonviolent mass activity– often, with very creative themes, and always designed  to encourage the participation of families and, where possible, sympathetic visitors. In Gaza, the Great March was launched on Friday, March 30, which was the 42nd anniversary of the original “Land Day” protest in the north of what is currently Israel, on March 30, 1976. On that day, Palestinian citizens of Israel held a nonviolent gathering to protest the expropriation by the state of some of their ancestral lands–and six of them were shot dead by the Israeli security forces.

As Palestinians note, the “Nakba” of 1948– that is, the catastrophe inflicted on them by Zionist/Israeli forces’ campaign to seize as much of the Palestinians’ land as they can while expelling Palestinians from it– still continues.

The Great March aims to end and reverse that process and to put firmly back onto the international agenda the Palestinians’ far-too-long-ignored right to return to their ancestral homes inside what is currently Israel.

Already, the Great March has been met with a wildly disproportionate and brutal Israeli response. Prior to its March 30 launch, the Israeli authorities announced they were deploying units of snipers to the already fortified frontier-line with Gaza, and giving them orders to shoot to prevent any Palestinians coming anywhere close to the frontier. That first day, the Israeli snipers shot dead 15 unarmed Palestinian demonstrators and shot 758 other unarmed Palestinians in a way that inflicted serious injury– at least six of whom later died from their wounds. (Figures from the World Health Organization.) On Friday, April 5, the Israelis shot to death eight unarmed demonstrators (including one child and one journalist), and wounded 489.

Today, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Israel’s public radio that “there are no innocent people in Gaza.”

As Abu Rtemah and other Great March leaders point out, ever since the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 194 on the conflict in Palestine, on December 11, 1948, the UN has been committed to the proposition (stated in Article 11) that,

…the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.

Resolution 194 was adopted, moreover, just one day after the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which clearly states in Article 13(2) that “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.” Under customary international law, any individual’s civil status– and thus, also this right of return– is unequivocally heritable from one generation to the next: A child born to a refugee from any conflict anywhere around the world carries the same civil status and fundamental rights as her or his parents.

It is not surprising that Gaza’s extremely hard-pressed population of around two million souls is spearheading this new campaign for the Right of Return. The confined space of the Israel-besieged Gaza Strip contains the largest concentration of Palestinian refugees of any part of the world: around 70% of Gaza’s people are refugees from the lands that Israel seized control of in 1948-49, or the descendants of such refugees.

Additionally– and partly because of this high proportion of refugees in Gaza’s population– Gaza has always since 1948 been a key crucible for Palestinian nationalist organizing. It was there, in the 1950s, that the refugees Yasser Arafat (Abu Ammar), Salah Khalaf (Abu Iyad), and more youthful Khalil al-Wazir (Abu Jihad) started building the networks that at the end of that decade became the largely secular, pan-Palestinian Fateh movement, which took over the PLO in 1968-69. (And the key demand around which they organized their movement? It was the Return of the refugees of 1948.)

It was also in Gaza that, in the late 1970s and 1980s, the refugee cleric Sheikh Ahmed Yassin started building the networks that in late 1987 became the pan-Palestinian “Islamic Resistance Movement”, Hamas.

It remains to be seen how far the current Great March of Return movement will spread beyond Gaza, though certainly its central tactic of organizing large-scale, public, civilian mass actions has also been seen numerous time in recent years in the West Bank (including in occupied East Jerusalem), among Palestinian citizens inside Israel– and among Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan.

What is already clear, though, is the simplicity of the demonstrators’ call that the Palestinians’ long-neglected Right of Return needs to be addressed, though whatever means possible. This reassertion of the importance of the Right of Return is particularly notable since the entire international diplomacy of the post-1967 era was designed to ignore and sweep aside (wherever possible) this issue, or should that prove impossible, then to minimize as much as possible the extent and impact of its implementation. The same has been true since 1967, when Israel occupied East Jerusalem (which includes the historic heart of the city), of the  whole Jerusalem issue.

For 24 years after the Israeli-Arab war of 1967, the international diplomacy on this conflict– which came to be increasingly tightly monopolized by Washington– focused primarily on state-to-state issues between Israel and its neighboring states. The Palestinians didn’t have a state, so their claims and issues were always shunted off into an ever-receding future. It was not until the Israeli-Arab Peace Conference at Madrid in October 1991, that was jointly hosted by the United States and then (then-on-life-support) Soviet Union, that the Palestinians’ claims ever started to be put properly onto the peacemaking agenda. The powers gathered in Madrid agreed that (a) Palestinian claims against Israel would be handled by a joint Jordanian-Palestinian negotiating team, led by Jordan, and (b) the refugee issue would anyway be shunted off to a cumbersome “multilateral” negotiation in which the Palestinian claims to return to their homeland, per Resolution 194, would be diluted by being considered alongside other options like resettlement in place or international relocation for the refugees.

In early 1993, the Israeli government led by Labour Party head Yitzhak Rabin started to negotiate directly with the PLO, culminating in the two sides’ signing in September 1993 of the Oslo Declaration. In Oslo, Israel and the PLO agreed that negotiations over the  refugee issue should be negotiated as part of the promised “final peace treaty” between them; and they committed to concluding the negotiations for that treaty by early 1999. But in 1995 Rabin was assassinated by an Israeli hardliner; and his Labour successor, Shimon Peres, was such an inept leader that he was defeated at the polls the next year by Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud.

The 1999 deadline for completing the final peace treaty negotiations came and went with no treaty in sight.

Later in 1999, Likud was beaten at the polls by Labour, and Labour leader Ehud Barak became Prime Minister. He declared he wanted to conclude the final peace with the PLO as soon as possible, but he was a very arrogant man who badly mishandled his relations with other political forces inside Israel– as well as his attempts at diplomacy with the PLO and with Syria.

In early January 2001, as Barak’s governing coalition was near collapse and hurtling toward a general election, he made an ill-prepared, “last-gasp” attempt to nail down the final peace with the PLO, during talks in the Egyptian resort of Taba. (Pres. Bill Clinton, who just the previous month had made his own proposal on the “final status” issues, was in the very last days of his presidency, and sent officials to Taba.) Taba was a fiasco. The following month, Labour lost the general election to Likud, now led by Ariel Sharon. He promptly ended the peace negotiations– and he and Barak agreed that Israel was not bound by any of the commitments that Barak’s negotiators had proposed or accepted in Taba.

At Taba, the Israeli negotiators had reportedly agreed to a return to Israel of some 100,000 older Palestinian refugees— out of a worldwide population of registered Palestinian refugees that then stood at over four million (now, over five million.) They also agreed to allow some Palestinian jurisdiction over some areas of East Jerusalem. With Sharon’s disavowal of Taba, both those commitments were off the table.

Now, 17 years after Taba, the situation of the Palestinian residents of occupied East Jerusalem (many of whom are also refugees) has become yet more dire, as has that of the Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Syria, and elsewhere.

During those years, the 1.4 million Palestinian refugees of Gaza have– along with their non-refugee neighbors in the Strip– been subjected to a sickeningly tight siege, continual “small-scale” Israeli attacks, and no fewer than three all-out Israeli military assaults against the small, completely enclosed terrain of the Gaza Strip, in 2008-09, 2012, and 2014.

Between them, those three assaults killed over 3,500 Gaza residents, the vast majority of whom were civilians. In those conflicts, the Palestinian resistance forces in Gaza meanwhile killed 78 Israeli soldiers and 13 Israeli civilians.

Regarding Jerusalem, Pres. Trump’s decisions– taken in clear contravention of both international law and 70 years of U.S. government practice– to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on or before May 15 have firmly put the issue of Jerusalem back onto the international agenda.

And there is no “peace process” at all right now, of the kind that from October 1991 until last year kept so many Palestinian political leaders busy. (Or “occupied”, as you might say.)

So the momentum is now firmly with the grassroots organizers of the Great March of Return movement, and with all the grassroots and political organizations that have decided to work with it. In Gaza, this includes all the existing political forces, including Hamas, Fateh, the Popular Front, and others. In other areas, the lineup of support for the Great March has not yet been made clear, but it will probably become clearer over the weeks ahead.

Given the Israeli government’s intransigence and the massive support it seems to enjoy from Jewish Israelis and from Pres. Trump’s Washington, and on the other side the determination, courage, discipline, and creativity of the supporters of the Great March of Return, the casualty toll can be expected to rise.

I’m hoping for more signs of conscience from inside the Jewish Israeli community, of the kind shown by the courageous human-rights organization B’tselem, which has called on Israeli soldiers to refuse to obey the blatantly illegal order to fire on unarmed demonstrators. I’m hoping for strong and effective solidarity actions from all around the world– including decisive actions by the world’s governments to start to hold Israel acountable for these war crimes.

But already, the organizers of the Great March have started to remind the world that the issues of Return and Jerusalem remain firmly on the international agenda, and cannot be wiped off it through any unilateral action by Israel, however brutal.

 

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.
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The less-mentioned lives of Mrs. Krim

This week, US media have contained many glowing obituaries of a 91-year-old medical researcher called Mathilde Krim, who in the early 1980s played an apparently huge role in publicizing and destigmatizing the then-new disease of HIV/AIDS and in mobilizing funding for NGOs and research centers working to understand the disease and treat its many victims. Dr. Krim died on January 15.

The New York Times, for example, carried this obituary, covering more than half a page, that devoted nearly all its column inches to the many contributions Dr. Krim had made to AIDS research.

What that obit referred to only in passing was the role she had played in immediate post-1945 Europe as a gun-runner for the Irgun– described there only as part of the “Zionist underground” rather than (as would have been more accurate) an already well-known terror group.

Mathilde and JohnsonBut neither the NYT nor any other Western MSM outlet I have seen/heard has made any mention of the role Mrs. Krim played as a very close confidante to Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson during the crucial days leading up to and during Israel’s “Six Day War” of 1967 again its Arab neighbors.

In those days, Mrs. Krim’s husband (her second) was Arthur B. Krim, a prominent Hollywood lawyer who was Chair of the Democratic National Finance Committee. Conveniently, the Krims had a ranch in Texas right next to Pres. Johnson’s; and it was a barely hidden secret in leading government circles in Israel and the United States at the time that Mrs. Krim was extremely close to Lyndon Johnson.

In the days leading up to the war, the many forms of “signaling” conducted between Washington and Tel Aviv were extremely important. Israel’s Labor Party PM, Levi Eshkol, needed to win support from Washington for the strategy he pursued in the lead-up to this war, which he and his generals were planning in exquisite detail in those days. And he needed reassurances from Washington that Pres. Johnson would back him, before he and his generals finally launched the “blitz” against the Arab armies that destroyed nearly all their capabilities in the first hours of the war. Mrs. Krim was almost certainly one key channel for those messages. She and Johnson were at their ranches together in the days leading up to the war (with several in-person visits and phone calls recorded between them); and then she went to Washington DC when he did, once the war broke out.

Mrs. Johnson, meanwhile, was suffering from what was described as a massive headache, and stayed in Texas.

More details about Mathilde Krim’s relationship with Johnson in that crucial period can be found in Donald Neff’s 1985 book Warriors for Jerusalem: The Six Days that Changed the Middle East. I don’t have a copy to hand but shall look for one shortly.

The huge role that Mrs. Krim played in 1967 is well-known to everyone who has seriously studied US-Israeli relations at that time. After all, she was an integral part of a well-oiled pro-Israeli influence movement at the heart of the US political system, and the DC-Tel Aviv signaling process that she was part of worked strongly in Israel’s favor to transform not just the Middle East but the whole shape of global politics. (It also led to the misery of the people of the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem; Gaza, and the Golan Heights: all of whom continue until today to live under the military occupation rule initiated by that war.)

So surely, that role Mrs. Krim played in the events of May-June 1967 should have received some mention in the news media this week? That it has not, thus far, probably tells us a lot about the extreme skittishness with which the Western MSM continues to address any topics related to the deep entanglement of so much of the US political elite– especially the Democratic Party– with their counterparts in Israel.

Syria, the Western “left”, and the Palestinian-rights movement

I’m sorry that I’ve been absent from the blogosphere for so long. There has been a lot to ponder in international affairs. But I’ve been busy for the past 7-plus years publishing other people’s work. I feel very good about what my publishing company, Just World Books, has achieved. But I regret that because I’ve poured so much of my time and attention into the publishing, I’ve had so little time left to do my own writing.

Crucial among my concerns has been the question of how and why so much of the western “left”– a force that played such a strong role in the antiwar and broadly anti-imperialism movement in the lead-up to the Iraq war in 2003– has become so deeply co-opted into the allegedly “liberal/humanitarian” wing of the imperialist movement over the past 14 years.

There is much that I hope to write about this over the coming months. My thinking on the topic still evolves. But it already seems clear to me that a number of processes have been at work:

  1. The erosion of the whole memory/immediacy of the question of imperialism and the need to counter it, as I understood it back when I was young in the UK, in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Many younger people in the west today think that imperialism/anti-imperialism is “tired old dogma” or whatever. Or, they talk glibly, in re Syria, about “dual imperialisms”– that is, Russian along with US/Western– without any appreciation of the relevance of the history of western imperialism in the M.E. region or the significance of the fact that Russia is in Syria as the invited ally of the legitimate government of Syria wile the US/Saudi/western forces are there to disrupt, hobble, or topple the country’s entire governing system, in the continuation of plans that the Zionists and Americans have pursued for many decades now.

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2017: A crucial year for the Palestine Question

Several people have been noting that next year, 2017, will mark the 50th anniversary of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), Gaza, and Golan. But the imminent arrival of this somber– and truly mind-boggling– anniversary reminds me that 2017 will mark important anniversaries of three other crucial developments in the Palestine Question, too. These are:

  • The centennial (100-year anniversary, no less!) of the Balfour Declaration, the diktat from the British Foreign Secretary that imperial London would support the creation of a “Jewish national home” in Palestine– whatever that meant… but would do so only provided that the “civil and political rights” of the non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine would not be adversely affected. (Fat chance!)
  • The 70th anniversary of the UN Partition Plan for Palestine– which gave Israel (along with its conjoined twin, the never-born Palestinian Arab state) the only “birth certificate” it has ever had in international law; and
  • The 30th anniversary of the launching of the First Intifada, which started in Gaza on December 9, 1987, spreading rapidly through the whole of the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Make no mistake about it: 50 years of rule by a foreign military is already a terrible travesty, and a crime against the whole Lockean concept that government can only legitimately be exercised “through the consent of the governed.” When the international community most recently codified and regulated the whole concept of rule by “military occupation”, in the Geneva Conventions of 1949 (especially the 4th one), it was only ever envisaged that military occupation by a foreign military power would be a temporary, or short-term situation, pending the conclusion of a conflict-resolving final peace treaty.

But for Palestinians and the legitimate indigenous residents of occupied Golan? No. For them, occupation has hardened into a 50-year-old force that because of Israel’s massive (and completely illegal)  policy of moving of large numbers of its own civilians into the West Bank and Syria’s Golan region now looks harder than ever to reverse or displace.

I remember back in early 1987, when pro-peace (or pro-peace-ish) Israelis first started facing up to idea that their occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and Golan was about to hit the 20-year mark. They were nonplussed! “How did this happen!” some of them exclaimed. That was back then, when there was still a fairly large “Peace Now” movement in Israel…

Six months after June 1987, the first intifada broke out. What heady (and painful) days those were for Palestinians. It may be hard to remember now, but traveling among all the cities of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and between those cities and Gaza was still relatively easy to do. Jerusalem was the organizing hub for the whole intifada. Throughout the six years that followed, the occupied territories were abuzz with numerous, very creative forms of nonviolent resistance…

Oslo, and the “return” soon thereafter to the OPT’s of the PLO leadership apparatus, put an end to all of that. Oslo ushered in, in quick order, the severing of Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank by an Israeli ring of steel; and then the progressive quadrillement of the whole of the West Bank– its dividing-up into tiny, mutually impenetrable cantons– by the new Israeli road system that had been specifically allowed by the PLO leadership as part of the Oslo arrangements; and the cutting-off of Gaza which later allowed Israel’s imposition on it of a debilitating, total siege…

At this point, nearly 30 years after 1987, I think the most constructive and realistic way to view “the occupation” is not as a singular step that started in 1967 that was somehow a “deviation” from what “should” have been Israel’s rightful path, but rather as a continuation of the settler-colonial process that started to gain international political traction with Lord Balfour’s declaration of 1917… and then won a serious (and troublingly “colonial”) international imprimatur from the infant United Nations in 1947…and has certainly continued since 1967 with Israel’s increasingly blatant colonization of the West Bank (and Golan.)

So let’s not just look at 1967. Let’s look at 1947, too– the year just 20 years earlier than 1967 when (a) the United Nations voted to give half of Palestine, lock-stock-and-barrel, to its overwhelmingly recently arrived population of Jewish settlers– this, in an era when everywhere else in the world de-colonization was already underway; and (b) the leaders of the Zionist yishuv in Palestine took the Partition Plan as their carte blanche (as Ilan Pappe has so rightly documented) to start launching their program of anti-Palestinian ethnic cleansing in–and soon enough also beyond– the areas the Partition Plan had allotted them. Yes, as Pappe has shown in his work, the Nakba started in November 1947.

And yes, the period of time that Israel has controlled the West Bank, Gaza, and Golan is far, far longer than the earlier period during which it controlled “only” the area within its pre-1967 boundaries (which were already, as we know, considerably broader than what the UN gave to the “Jewish state” in the Partition Plan.)

… And let’s look, too, at 1917, the year that Chaim Weizmann, Lord Rothschild, and other Zionist leaders managed to persuade British Foreign Secretary Lord Balfour to issue his infamous declaration, which was later incorporated into all the post-WWI peace agreements– as part of which, by amazing happenstance, Britain emerged with a neo-imperial “Mandate” from the League of Nations to rule over Palestine (and Jordan and Iraq)… just until these countries’ own inhabitants should be “ready” to exercise self-rule, you understand.

1917 came 32 years after the infamous Conference of Berlin,  in which the European powers sat round and solemnly carved up the whole of the African continent amongst themselves, to let each participating power engage in settler colonialism, looting, and rapine within its designated zone, exactly as it wished. But still, by 1917, the tide of global opinion was already starting to turn against settler colonialism and the “rights” of all the world’s peoples were much on the lips of diplomats.

Zionists have often tried to portray their movement as one of “national liberation” from foreign (including British) rule. In truth, though, they have always relied on the patronage of other, much larger, globally powerful states in order to realize their settler-colonial objectives in historic Palestine. That was the case in 1917. It was the case in 1947. It was the case in 1967. And it remains the case, today. Without the support that Washington has lavished on Israel– within its current, expansionist borders– for several decades now, there is no way that Israel could have defied all the norms by which the whole of the rest of the world community has to abide… and could have done so, continuously, for the whole of the past 50 years.

The publishing company that I founded in 2010, Just World Books, has published numerous great books on the Palestine Question. You can see the whole list of our publications here. Now, we are  working on our plans for the books we’ll be publishing later this year, and in 2017. (Stay tuned!) And we’re also, along with our friends, allies, and partners, planning to organize a great series of events around the whole United States in 2017, so that communities everywhere around the country can better understand what is happening in Palestine/Israel. More people in the United States than ever before are now hungry for good information about what’s happening in Palestine, and eager to understand both how the situation got to be where it is today, and what our own country’s role in that has been.

There’s no doubt that 2017 will be a crucial year for broadening the discussion of what’s happening in Palestine/Israel. But we shouldn’t just be looking at 50 years of occupation. We need to look, too, at 100 years of Western-supported Zionist settler-colonialism in Palestine, the 70-year anniversary of the Partition Plan and the Nakba that it sparked, and the 30-year anniversary of the First Intifada. When we look at all these anniversaries and put them into perspective alongside each other, then we can much better understand the state of the Palestine Question today.

 

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.

 

NYT’s lazy, content-free reporting on Algeria

Today’s New York Times carried an article reported from the Algerian capital, Algiers, by staff reporter Aida Alami. What a waste of a reporting opportunity! This was the first time an NYT correspondent had been writing from inside this important North African country for a long time. Previous NYT pieces about Algeria were one on March 1 on some serious antifracking protests in the south, reported by Carlotta Gall from who knows where (no dateline given, and no sourcing for what she wrote, either); and an AP story from last December 20 about Algeria feeling the effects of the oil price collapse… So clearly, for Ms. Alami to get into Algeria was a major opportunity for some good, well-informed, on-the-ground reporting.

She flubbed it.

Her article is headlined “In Algeria, Entrepreneurs Hope Falling Oil Prices Will Spur Innovation”. It consists almost entirely of interviews with two Algerian guys aged 30 and 38 who founded a PR company in the capital, Algiers, and recently (last February) organized a conference on “innovation” and “success”, under the rubric “Fikra” (Thought). The other named source is someone described as a senior analyst at the political-risk research firm Eurasia; but his location is not disclosed, so it’s likely that Alami spoke to him outside Algeria.

Does Ms. Alami provide us with any flavor of what life is like in today’s Algiers? None at all! As it happens, I was in the country for most of this past week, and in Algiers itself for most of that period. I could tell you about the bustling downtown pedestrian zones, the busy port operations, the stifling traffic jams, the tens of thousands of students at the capital city’s three massive universities, the construction zones (often completely Chinese-staffed and -run) all around the city, the bookstores and restaurants, the well-cleaned streets often with beautiful streetside plantings, etc etc. You get no sense of the city or the lives of its people whatsoever from Ms. Alami’s thin and ill-reported piece.

But the piece is far worse than actually ill-reported. It is massively misreported, including in the following ways:

(1) Ms. Alami writes:

Since [the] French colonial era ended in the early 1960s after a bloody war, Algeria has been relatively closed to the world culturally, politically and economically.

This is absolute nonsense– and is belied by the little bios she provides for the two entrepreneurs she talked to. Of one, she says he “travels between Nice, in France, where he has another company” (though she doesn’t name the other place where he travels between, I assume it’s Algiers.) Of the other, she says he was educated at King’s College, London…

One of the the things I did in Algeria this past week was attend an international conference of librarians, who came to the east-Algerian city of Constantine from many parts of the world. Now, it is true that a handful of foreign participants in our conference– as Ms. Alami also reported of February’s Fikra conference– did not get their visas in time to attend. But organizers of my conference said that at least one participant had been refused permission to come to Algeria by her employer, a major research institute in France… Go figure.

Culturally, Algeria has produced numerous fine writers renowned throughout (mainly) the French-speaking world; a unique, indigenous form of hip-hop-fusion music called rai that resounds throughout the whole Mediterranean, and further afield; and numerous world-class soccer players…

The Algerian economy is, as Ms. Alami notes, fueled in a major way by exports of hydrocarbons. This is not at all a country that is “closed to the world economically”!

Plus, the way she writes that sentence makes it seem as if, under French colonial rule, everyone in the country had full and wonderful access to the world outside. Totally not true. French colonial rule, like colonial rule everywhere in the world, involved the maintenance of heavy restrictions on the ability of the indigenous people to maintain relations with the rest of the world– or even, under France’s notorious system of “quadrillage“, with compatriots in other districts.

Now, it is true that the rulers of the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria have had no incentive or desire to embrace integration with the neoliberal, US-led wing of the world economy. But that doesn’t mean it is isolated from the rest of it, at all. (And actually, I believe a lot of Algeria’s natural-gas exports are shipped to the U.S.; plus, a lot of U.S. firms are involved in various hydrocarbon exploration and extraction operations throughout the country– including Halliburton, which was doing the highly contested fracking there.)

(2) Since Ms. Alami’s visit to Algeria is/was such a rarity in the NYT’s reporting, she also definitely owes it to readers to try to describe the country’s tough geostrategic and geopolitical position more fully.

She writes:

The political system has been dominated since independence by one party, the National Liberation Front, while the economy has been choked by cronyism, insider dealing and anticompetitive regulations.

Algeria had its version of the Arab Spring in the 1980s amid another collapse in oil prices. In 1991, the army canceled elections after an initial round was won by Islamists, sparking a decade of civil war and terrorism that killed tens of thousands. Then, military leaders imposed a state of emergency that was lifted only in 2011.

What she does not write is that Algeria, population nearly 40 million, has two deeply troubled neighbors with whom it shares very long, hard-to-police borders. These are Libya and Mali. (A map should have been provided, to show this.) Given the proliferation of terrifyingly well-armed, extreme-Islamist militias in both those countries, today’s Algeria is in a very tough position indeed.

Add to that the fact that the country’s ageing, military-backed President, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, is apparently in a very vulnerable (and not clearly known) health situation with no clear mechanism in sight for organizing a succession… and the country’s politics actually seem much, much more important than the issue Ms. Alami chose to write about: whether two young-ish Algerian entrepreneurs are able to make a go of their PR company or not.

Back in early 2011, Algeria was just one of the many African Union countries that argued strongly against NATO’s use of any force against Libya. In the days leading up to the highly ill-advised NATO bombing of Libya, an African Union mission was actually in Libya, trying desperately to mediate a ceasefire between Col. Qadhafi and the Libyan opposition forces. But France, Britain, and their friends in the Obama White House were determined to go ahead with their bombing of Qadhafi’s forces, which they carried out under the (oh-so-mendaciously misapplied) excuse of a “humanitarian” intervention… And we have all seen what has become of Libya since then.

So nobody in the “west” listened to the anti-war arguments being made by the African Union governments, back in 2011. Today, now that Algeria is de facto and in practice a strong bulwark against any further spread of Al Qaeda and its affiliates in the region, people in the “west” should certainly be eager to learn a lot more about the country’s situation. This, they won’t do by reading silly, inconsequential, and unthinkingly orientialist reporting like that of Ms. Alami.

Algiers bookstore  Algiers Bay

Jodi does Jerusalem (NYT Sept 17, 2014)

The NYT’s Jodi Rudoren was writing about East Jerusalem on Sept. 17th. There was some interesting and useful information buried down deep in the article. In particular, she described the Israelis’ use of “skunk water” against civilian areas in E. Jerusalem for her readers and included snippets from a couple of interesting interviews with community leaders from E. Jerusalem’s seriously embattled– and extremely vulnerable– Palestinian community.

But the value of the piece was very badly marred by the whole frame she gave it, particularly in its top half. Here are the details:

 LocationMs. Rudoren writesHC comments
1Headline and framing"Unrest by Palestinians Surges in a Jerusalem Neighborhood"OK, the headline is chosen by the editors, not the reporter. Still, it reflects the general framing of the piece which is focused on the "unrest", rather than its causes.
2Para 4 (the casualty count), pt. 1" Some 727 people have been arrested, 260 of them under 18, for throwing rocks and other actions in near-daily demonstrations that were met with increased force."727 "people", nationality unidentified, have been arrested for "throwing rocks and other actions" (also unidentified.) I suspect that many of these "other actions" were nonviolent ones. Also, of course, many people are arrested on the basis of no infraction of the law. But no, Jodi R just goes with the police claims that, if someone was arrested, then he or she must have been doing something wrong. Tarek Abu Khdeir, anyone? Also of note: during the 1st Intifada, the Israeli hasbarists made a point of always describing the geological fragments as "rocks" rather than "stones". Why does she follow this?
3Para 4 (the casualty count), pt. 2"More than 100 police officers have been injured and 15-year-old Mohamed Sinokrot was killed by what a Palestinian doctor determined in an autopsy was a sponge-covered police bullet that hit his head."Here, we have "more than 100" police officers having been injured-- seriousness of injury not defined-- apparently being placed there to "balance" the 15-year-old Palestinian who was killed by the police. But how about the numbers of Palestinians injured-- why no mention of them? Also, let's hear how seriously these 100 Israeli police were "injured"... Finally, what on earth is a "sponge-covered police bullet"? Tell us, please, *what is the material in the bullet that is covered by the "sponge"*? Frankly, I've never heard of a sponge-covered bullet before. I've heard many times of the "rubber-coated metal bullets" that the Israeli military use, as reported by all the human-rights organizations.
4Para 5 (political explanations begin)"“I see the third intifada started already,” said Jawad Siyam, director of the Wadi Eilweh Information Center, which tracks demonstrations and arrests, using the Arabic shorthand for the waves of violence that plagued Israel in the late 1980s and early 2000s. “We said from the very beginning: It will stop in Gaza but it will continue in East Jerusalem.”"Where to start with this? "Intifada" is not some sinister "Arabic shorthand for... waves of violence". Intifada is the Arabic word for an uprising (or, more literally, a "shaking-off".) The 1st intifada (1987-93) was almost wholly nonviolent from the Palestinian side-- and the 2nd intifada (2000-2002) started off that way. No, Ms. Rudoren, "intifada" is not "shorthand" for anything-- and certainly for "waves of violence."
5Para 6 (more politics)"East Jerusalem is as much a concept as it is a specific location. Palestinians claim it as their future capital. Israel captured it from Jordan, along with the West Bank, in 1967, and later annexed some 27 square miles that include about a dozen hilly Palestinian enclaves, and a similar number of Jewish areas that most of the world regards as illegal settlements."That first sentence is a classic evasion! It is also, quite simply, untrue. East Jerusalem is definitely recognizable as a specific location: It is the whole part of Jerusalem that came under Israel's military occupation in June 1967 and has been under occupation ever since. Of course, Ms. R hates to use the "O" word! Hence, when describing how E.Jerusalem came under Israeli control in 1967, she does not say-- as would be absolutely the case-- that the IDF "occupied" it in the course of the hostilities, but rather that the IDF "captured" it. (American children have a game called "capture the flag" that is energetic and a lot of good fun. I imagine her use of "capture" in this context is intended to convey the same kinds of feelings.)

No word from her, of course, that Israel's unilateral act of Anschluss of an expanded area of E. Jerusalem in 1968 was *completely illegal* under international law. The verbal contortions she uses to describe "hilly Palestinian enclaves" and "Jewish areas that most of the world [but not, apparently Ms. Rudoren or her bosses?] regards as illegal settlements" are amazing and notable...
6Para 7, meet the Jerusalem Palestinians..."More than 300,000 of Jerusalem’s 830,000 residents are Palestinians. They are not citizens, but get social-welfare benefits from Israel and travel fairly freely... "Oh, they are so lucky to "get" social-welfare benefits. (Irony alert.) Nothing about how they also have to pay into the social-welfare funds and pay extremely high Israeli taxes, including the arnona, in return for which the municipal services they receive are derisory.
7Para 7, more about those whiny Palestinians"they have complained for years about shortchanged services, including a severe lack of classrooms and slow garbage pickup."Come on, Jodi Don't just tell us that the whiny Jerusalem Palestinians *complain* about the disproportionately poor level of services they receive in return for their tax payments. Tell us the *facts*, as well documented by numerous Israeli and other organizations about the deeply institutionalized discrimination in terms of classroom size, spending per pupil, per-capita spending on trash services etc that exists as between Jerusalem's Palestinian and Jewish residents...
8Para 9"Yossi Klein Halevi, a skullcap-wearing Jew who lives in the area called French Hill, which overlooks Issawiya, said he noticed a woman in a Muslim head scarf eyeing him nervously during a recent evening walk. Then he realized that he himself tensed up as a car filled with young Palestinian men passed... "First of all, French Hill is not just "an area". It is an illegal settlement-- one of the first to be built in occupied E. Jerusalem. Please tell us this, Ms. Rudoren. Secondly, Yossi Klein Halevi is not just "a skullcap wearing Jew" who happens to live in French Hill. He is one of the numerous Israeli settlers in the occupied territories who was born in the United States and made a deliberate decision to become a settler. And he happens to be a Contributing Editor for The New Republic, a largely neocon American publication. It is the height of laziness for a journo to write about another journo (and another American journo, at that), as though said individual is just a random vox pop...