Category Archives: Activism, etc.

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.


Israelis, Palestinians, and “feelings”

I have just published a “Chirpstory”– that is, a compilation of tweets– about the event I went to today at the New America Foundation, a Washington DC policy research institution (think tank), at which five panelists and a slightly out-of-her-depth moderator were trying to discuss the situation in Gaza. If you’re interested, you can see the archived video of the whole event, and the bios of all the participants, here. It was pretty interesting.

Here, I just want to add one additional comment, in reaction to some things NAF’s own Lisa Goldman said there about the heartfelt and apparently intractable feelings of “fear” that Israeli people have. (In the context, it was very clear she was speaking about Jewish Israelis.) She acknowledged that the Gaza Palestinians were in currently living in a situation of real danger; but she said people should not forget that Israelis live in a constant state of fear. “Any Israeli you talk to, they will tell you about how terrible it was in 2002 and they could not go and enjoy a pizza because of the fear of suicide bombers,” was one of the things she said.

I found this argument interesting, for a number of reasons. Firstly, she seemed to be equating the fear the Israelis feel with the danger the Palestinians are experiencing. In other words, the “feelings” of 6 million Jewish Israelis are just as important (or more important?) than the actual danger of imminent death that currently stalks 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza. Secondly, she neglected to mention that (gasp!) Palestinians have feelings, too! And one thing all Palestinians in Gaza feel right now– along with many of their close family members and other fellow Palestinians in the West Bank, Israel, and around the world– is very intense fear. Thirdly, she seemed completely stymied by the phenomenon of the Jewish Israelis’ fear. She seemed to be saying– though I need to check the video for the exact quote– something like, “Well, because of those Israeli fears, that means there is nothing we can do.” Finally, making this argument to an audience primarily made up of US Americans, she seemed to consider that her invocation of the “fact” of the apparently intractable fears of the Israelis, on its own, constituted some kind of a reasonable and convincing argument. Very bizarre.

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HRW improves position on Gaza/Israel, calls for suspension of some US arms to Israel

The NYC-based, private, non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch today issued a new statement on the Gaza crisis that goes a good distance toward correcting the serious errors they made in the statement they issued July 9, as I had noted here. Furthermore, today’s report explicitly calls for an end to the supply of all weaponry “to Israel, to Hamas, or to armed groups in the Gaza Strip… that has been documented or credibly alleged to have been used in violation of international humanitarian law, as well as funding or support for such material.” The report notes explicitly that “The US supplies Israel with rotary and fixed wing military aircraft, Hellfire missiles, and other munitions that have been used in illegal airstrikes in Gaza.”

Too bad that HRW, a US-based organization that, as we know, enjoys good ties (and frequently also a revolving door) with the Obama administration, buried that call for the suspension of some US arms supplies to Israel so very, very low. But still, far better to include it in this report, than not. (More details, below.)

The headline/subhead of today’s HRW statement is: “Israel/Palestine: Unlawful Israeli Airstrikes Kill Civilians/ Bombings of Civilian Structures Suggest Illegal Policy.” The headline/subhead of last week’s statement was: “Palestine/Israel: Indiscriminate Palestinian Rocket Attacks/ Israeli Airstrikes on Homes Appear to be Collective Punishment.”

HRW issued the July 9 statement less than 48 hours after Israel launched its current large-scale military assault against Gaza– under the name “Operation Solid Rock”, in Hebrew, or “Protective Edge”, in English. The statement thus constituted, as I had noted, a kneejerk rush to judgment on the rights and wrongs of the way the two sides were fighting, one that did not present any actual evidence to back up the claims it made, but that appeared to emanate much more from the political (i.e., pro-Israeli) predilections or positioning of HRW leaders, and possibly some of its analysts. Even more seriously, the legal analysis in that earlier statement was deeply flawed, since its authors seemed to endorse the arguments made by Israeli leaders that targeting commanders and fighters in Hamas or other Gaza-based resistance groups even while they were hors de combat, for example while eating, resting, or praying with their families at home, was quite okay.

Today’s statement, thankfully, corrects many or most of those dangerous errors that HRW committed last week. It is notable that today’s statement bases its analysis on actual, on-the-ground research in the form of case studies that focused on four of the civilian buildings targeted by the IDF between July 9 and July 11. Of the four, only in one case (the bombing of the Fun Time Cafe on July 11 that killed nine civilians) did the IDF allege that there was “a terrorist” located there. But, as the HRW statement noted, the Israeli military:

presented no evidence that any of those at the café, who had gathered to watch a World Cup match, were participating in military operations, or that the killing of one alleged “terrorist” in a crowded café would justify the expected civilian casualties.

In one of the other cases presented (Bureij refugee camp, July 11, two municipal workers killed), the HRW report said its researchers, “found no evidence of a military objective in the vehicle or in the area at the time.” In another (an unlocated attack on July 9 that killed a pregnant woman and her daughter), the report said that the family lived across the street from an apartment building that apparently was the prime target of the strike, but the surviving family members said they knew of none of the “warnings” that the Israelis said they had issued, or, they did not have time to flee before the attack.

In the fourth case studied, a July 10 strike on a crowded family home in the Khan Younis refugee camp that killed eight people, HRW reports that neighbors told the HRW researcher that one of those killed “was a low-ranking member of the Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas.” However, the HRW report says nothing about whether this young man had been engaged in any way in combat when he was killed. The report thus makes the serious error of seeming to endorse the Israeli government’s claim that it is “okay” to target fighters in Palestinian resistance organizations even when they are hors de combat. Here is what the report said about this incident:

The Israeli military said the attack was being investigated. Even if the son was the intended target, the nature of the attack appears indiscriminate and would in any case be disproportionate.

This is actually a very troubling statement. HRW’s own judgment, expressed here, seems to be that if the son was the intended target, then “targeting” him [even though that was not what the Israeli military said they were doing… ] even when he was hors de combat, e.g., home with his family marking Ramadan, would in itself be quite okay: The only problem was that the attack did not do enough to “discriminate” between this valid target and the “civilian” family members all around him, and caused harm to civilians that was “disproportionate” to the military advantage the attack gave to Israel.

This is wrong, wrong, wrong, and woefully misguided. How many times do we have to spell this out? The essential distinction in international law is not between “fighters” and “civilians”– which are the categories used throughout this HRW report– but between “combatants” and “noncombatants”. A fighter who is not currently engaged in either the conduct, the command, or the planning of military operations is not a combatant. He (or she) is hors de combat and is a noncombatant. It is quite illegal to target such an individual.

Now it is true that the Israeli military and the serried ranks of paid hasbaristas (propagandists) who have been trying to justify and defend its actions have tried to claim that the homes targeted by the Israelis contained secret “operations rooms” or “weapons stores” and thus constituted valid targets. But they have presented zero actual evidence of this. (Bystanders and eyewitnesses have also noted that they saw no sign of the kinds of secondary explosions that would have been seen if these homes had had any significant amount of weapons stored in them.)

The lower portion of the HRW report also usefully cites (and links to; in Hebrew) an Israeli news report that “An Israeli military official stated on July 12 that the military has targeted ‘more than 100 homes of commanders of different ranks’ in Gaza.” The HRW report comments on this, quite correctly, that, “Civilian structures such as residential homes become lawful targets only when they are being used for military purposes.” Of course, this strongly contradicts the judgment expressed earlier the Khan Younis case, that “Even if the son was the intended target,” then the main problems with the attack were merely that it “appeared” indiscriminate and was anyway disproportionate. No, HRW, the attack itself was illegal because there was no evidence provided– or even apparently sought by HRW– that the (putative) target was engaged in military activities at the time of the attack.

Down at the bottom of the statement, the four case studies are presented in much more detail. (Good work, HRW. Thanks for doing this.) Regarding the Khan Younis case, the report states baldly that, “Human Rights Watch found no evidence that any of the victims used the Hajj family home to perpetrate attacks.” Therefore, HRW, targeting it was quite illegal. Period. Getting into your arguments about “discrimination” or “proportionality” regarding that attack was extremely misleading.

The “action items” in this HRW report are strong and useful. They are considerably stronger than the action items in the rush-to-judgment report of last week. Here are the actions that today’s report calls for:

The Palestine Liberation Organization should direct President Mahmoud Abbas to seek the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court to investigate and prosecute serious international crimes committed by all parties on Palestinian territory.

Governments that are providing weapons to Israel, to Hamas, or to armed groups in the Gaza Strip should suspend transfers of any materiel that has been documented or credibly alleged to have been used in violation of international humanitarian law, as well as funding or support for such material, Human Rights Watch said. The US supplies Israel with rotary and fixed wing military aircraft, Hellfire missiles, and other munitions that have been used in illegal airstrikes in Gaza.

But I wonder why HRW did not lead the report with this call? Let’s hope they get a lot more active, very soon, in urging a suspension of the supply to Israel of the kinds of US arms that have been used in these truly horrific, inhumane, and quite illegal  acts.

Crunch time for funding G. Porter’s book on Iran!

Hi, everyone! We have just six days to go in our online fundraiser for Gareth Porter’s very important planned book Manufactured Crisis: The Secret History of the Iranian Nuclear Scare. We’ve just topped getting pledges for 2/3 of the $10,000 we need for this.
Can you do anything to help us get the remaining (as of now) $3,303?
As I explained on the main Kickstarter fundraising page there, we need the money because Gareth needs to take 4-5 months out from his (excellent!) daily journalism in order to write the book– and yes, he has bills he needs to continue paying during that time. My publishing house, Just World Books, is run on a shoestring. We simply can’t afford to pay the kind of “advance” that big publishers dole out (or, used to– not so much these days, anyway.) And we don’t have the time it would take to get foundation funding… even if there were any foundations prepared to invest in this hard-hitting, myth-smashing work of Gareth’s.
Our BIG thanks to all JWN readers who’ve contributed so far! (Including those of you who’ve recently increased your pledges at the site, which was very much appreciated.)
If any of you have been sitting on the fence, or saying– “Oh, that looks worthwhile. I must get around to sending them a pledge sometime… “– Well, the time is now. Please do it!
If we don’t reach our $10,000 goal by 8 am EST on December 12, then according to the rules that Kickstarter uses, we don’t get ANYTHING at all. That is, we don’t get any of the $6,697 pledged so far– and we don’t even get the contact details for the 103 fabulous people who’ve made those pledges. So we’d be starting, essentially, back at Square One in our quest for funding for this project, which would set it back by many months.
Our current plan is to have Gareth start his work on the book about now and spend 4-5 months writing it. (He HAS so much material that he’s amassed for it. Now, he just needs to pull it all together into book chapters.) Then, JWB will do our usual excellent and speedy edit and layout on the manuscript… and we’d hope to have the final PDF’s ready by next September; printed copies by October.
We are so ready to get this project rolling.
Please do everything you can to urge your friends and colleagues to chip in, too. Here is a short URL you can use for the fundraising page on Twitter, Facebook, listservs, etc: And here is the PDF of a flier (leaflet) that you can print out at home and hand out to family, friends, or colleagues.
You can tell them about the super rewards that are offered there at various levels of support. (Hey, no-one has yet signed up for the “Dinner for you and three friends with Gareth, where he’ll talk about his book” option yet!) But in a very real sense, the biggest reward is knowing that by getting this vitally needed project on the road, you’ll be helping to prevent the warmongers and disinformation experts from jerking us all into yet another catastrophic– but oh, so easily avoidable– war.
Thanks for all the help you can give us in getting this fundraiser successfully over the finish line.

Powerful, intimate memoir from Israeli peace activist Miko Peled

The countdown clock is now ticking fast, toward the publication of Miko Peled’s amazing and powerful memoir, The General’s Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine. The book traces Miko’s journey from being born, in 1961, into a family that was at the core of the Jewish-Israeli elite to, now, being a visionary and gutsy activist in the cause of equal rights for all in Israel/Palestine, and a rights-based solution to the deadly conflict between the two peoples.
I am so happy that my company, Just World Books, has been able to work with Miko to make this long-planned book a reality. Our editors have been doing a fabulous job, and we should have the first copies in hand in the early days of March. And did I mention that Alice Walker has contributed a wonderful Foreword to it?
As we’ve all been working on the book, I’ve increasingly been reminded of an earlier book that some 20 years ago captured my attention both by the quality of its writing and by the morally gripping content of the tale it told. That was My Traitor’s Heart, by the South African writer Rian Malan. You see Malan, too, like Miko Peled, had grown up in the bosom of the tightknit elite that ruled his country… And in both cases, that government, feeling itself embattled, was committing major rights abuses against large, disenfranchised swathes of the population under its control… And Malan, too, like Miko Peled, spent some time outside the oppressive hothouse/coccoon of the land of his birth and came to the realization that the only future for his country and the national group of which his family was a part was for the ciuntry’s ruling group to learn to share power and to start to deal with all the people whose lives they had been controlling on a basis of equality and mutual respect, rather than continuing an oppressive and increasingly morally deadening reliance on mechanisms of force and control…
If you haven’t read Malan’s amazing book, I urge you to do so. But the tale he tells is now a part of history. The tale that Miko Peled tells, by contrast, has a burning urgency to it! In Israel/Palestine, the oppression continues, on a daily basis; and the unresolved conflict between the two peoples continues to blight the lives of both of them (though very asymmetrically so.)
There are several books out now in the west, in which Jewish citizens of western countries wrestle publicly with some of the anguish they feel over the fact that the Zionist project in which an earlier generation of western Jews invested so many of their– often politically liberal– hopes and dreams has now spawned a government and system that has turned increasingly to the right, and has aligned itself increasingly with the most rightwing and oppressive forces in western society.
There are also a number of works of great scholarship by Jewish-Israeli historians and geographers in which they document the past practices of the Zionist leaders and planners in an unflinching and unvarnished way, laying bare for all to see the ethnic cleansings and other, often still continuing, acts of administrative violence that lie at the heart of all the ‘success’ the Zionist project has claimed until today.
But Miko Peled’s book is the first book I know of that combines the features of being a reflective and very intimate memoir, by an Israeli, of what it felt like for him to grow up in the bosom of the Jewish-Israeli elite in Jerusalem– one grandfather was a signer of Israel’s Declaration of Independence in 1948; his father was a revered general during the 1967 war; his older sister used when young to frolic at the local poo alongside Benjamin Netanyahu and other children of the world Zionist elite– with having acquired enough perspective from his time outside his country to be able to see its conflicts and dysfunctionalities with new eyes.
Hence, the comparison I make with Rian Malan. Malan’s family, too, had been part of the innermost core of the elite that ruled his country. He had a great-uncle who was the prime minister who wrote the country’s infamous apartheid laws. He had an uncle who was defense minister in the 1980s. And yet, he rebelled… In his case, it was his involvement in the country’s anti-conscription campaign that led him into pro-democratic and pro-rights engagement.
Miko Peled’s story is a not entirely the same, of course. In his case, it was the killing of his beloved niece Smadar, at the hands of a suicide bomber in Jerusalem in 1997 that first propelled his activism. (His activism was nurtured by way of the Bereaved Families Forum, and involvement in a local Israeli-Palestinian dialogue group in Southern California.) Miko came to his activism when he was already significantly more mature than Malan– and therefore, perhaps, the commitment that his activism has required has necessarily had to be deeper. And Miko Peled has been able to draw on considerably more support, in his quest for justice and meaning, from members of his family than, as I recall, Rian Malan was ever able to find…
Miko’s dad, I should add, was indeed a much-decorated in the Israeli military; and in the run-up to the 1967 war he part of a hawkish claque of generals that urged– some say, virtually forced– the country’s civilian government to launch a “pre-emptive” war. But Miko’s dad, Matti Peled, was also, from almost the very moment that that war ended, also himself a peace activist. Indeed, from then until his death in 1995, Matti Peled ran many very real risks for peace, being one of the Jewish-Israeli pioneers of the campaign to open up negotiations with the PLO…
Well obviously, I urge you all to buy Miko’s book— and to tell all your friends about it! You can place your orders here. I honestly think that this book, even more than Rian Malan’s, will be one that can transform the political calculus, and therefore the world.

Quick notes from Penn BDS conference

The conference was an outstanding success! Everyone involved in organizing it– and most of us who spoke at it– have all been extremely busy; so I’m really sorry that we don’t have much more, and richer, reporting on the events out already. But expect more great reporting of the conference to come out over the coming days.
You can see the video of Ali Abunimah’s fabulous keynote address, Saturday night, here. That and Susan Abulhawa’s extremely moving and scrupulously well-documented introductory address were really the two high points of the conference. And just getting together with so many dedicated activists from around the country– many of whom I was able to meet for the first time, after hearing about and admiring their work for years– was the other amazing facet of the gathering.
I had the huge honor to participate in two great panel discussions: one on Saturday on on South Africa and Palestine with David Wildman and Bill Fletcher, Jr.; and one yesterday afternoon, on the media, with Phil Weiss and Max Blumenthal. I also got to sit in on a few of the other sessions– all of them fabulous!– including a great discussion/analysis of the anti-Ahava and anti-Sabra/Tribe campaigns given by key organizers of those campaigns.
One of my main goals in being there was to sell and get more visibility for my company’s books; and that definitely happened to a gratifying extent. It was great to be able to establish those kind of connections for the Just World Books and to tell people both about our existing titles and our upcoming ones!
My sense was that the conference marked an important turning-point for the Palestinian-rights movement here in the United States. As I said at the beginning of yesterday’s panel discussion, I think this was the kind of event that will be remembered 15-20 years into the future, when people will still be saying, “Hey, do you remember the Penn conference back in 2012… ?” Or, too many other people will be forced to reply, “Yes, I was so bummed, I couldn’t get in: They were sold out already!” (And that happened to large numbers of people, I heard.)
Which is why the organizers now need to go the extra mile and get their record of the many amazing discussions at the conference up onto the web and widely available as a resource for everyone around the world, asap.
Hey, and my big thanks to the people from the ADL and the other discourse-suppression organizations for drawing such broad attention to our little conference and helping to make it into such a fabulous, rock-star event!
There was at least one little team from the discourse-suppressors and discourse-twisters that was present at portions of the conference itself in an organized way. That was, as noted by Alex Kane on Mondoweiss, here, an extremely ideological, apparently Canadian-Israeli discourse-twister Martin Himel, who turned up with a camera crew of two younger women claiming to “represent” the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Honestly, I am not sure that anyone from the all-volunteer, all-student conference staff did enough to check the “credentials” presented by the two young women… (Working with the CBC? Really?) Mr. Himel himself apparently did not present any media credentials at all when he registered. But on the Saturday, he tried to trap Ali Abunimah into a sleazy ‘gotcha’ kind of interview, which Ali wrote about here.
After that, the conference organizers told Himel he could participate only like a regular participant but not as media, since he was not credentialed as such; and he could not perform any media functions while there.
But yesterday, first of all his two crew members were trying to haul their camera into one of the closed organizing sessions in the morning… And then there was Himel himself, in the after-lunch session with Sarah Schulman and Max Blumenthal, which was an open session; but there was Himel, working hard to direct the work of his two crew members. At which point he and they were, quite appropriately, told to leave.
As Kane wrote at Mondoweiss, Himel has a substantial history of using and twisting footage of pro-Palestinian-rights events to make it look as if all the participants are anti-Semites, “self-hating Jews”, crazy hate-filled extremists, etc etc.
For my part, I believe the rights movement can only benefit from full and fair disclosure of the truth both about what’s going on in Palestine and about the nature of the movement here in the United States (and also, about the nature of its opponents– some of whom, tragically enough, really are hate-filled crazies.)
On the other hand, I donated the intellectual property embodied in my presentations at the conference, to the conference organizers themselves; and I certainly did not donate it to be used and abused by a discourse twister like Martin Himel. So honestly, I was glad that he and his crew members had been banned from the conference before the panel discussion we held yesterday afternoon.
If Himel or Alan Dershowitz or Daniel Pipes or any of those other discourse twisters would like to sit down with me and debate the substance of the Palestinian-Israeli issue in a fair forum, I would be happy to do that. (Just as Susan Abul-Hawa did a great and calm job interacting with the Dersh at the Boston Book Festival in October 2010.)
So I am certainly not arguing for curtailing anyone’s free-speech rights. But speech has to be honest, grounded in facts, and should aspire always to be truthful. Mr. Himel– just like the sleazy rightwing ‘gotcha’ film-maker James O’Keefe here in the United States– is not interested in honest reporting, an examination of the facts, or a search for truth. That’s why having him lurking around the conference directing his two female subordinates in their filming made that portion of the conference feel so unsafe.
…Anyway, the Himel saga was all a minor, but distasteful, main things that were happening at the conference. I am sure that we’ll get a lot more great reporting of and from the conference available very soon. probably the best places to look for that will be on Mondoweiss, on Electronic Intifada, and via the #pennbds hashtag at Twitter.

Pro-Israeli discourse suppressors desperately try to rebuild their Bar-Lev Line!

It is almost amusing to see the lengths to which the pro-Israeli discourse suppressors here in the United States have been going to try to rebuild the long-crumbled “Bar-Lev Line” with which, over decades past, they sought to protect Israel from being the subject of any free, fair, and fact-based discussion.
The ADL–yes, folks, that is supposed to be the Anti Defamation League– recently described me on their website as “an anti-Israel writer, publisher and the former executive director of the Council for the National Interest, an organization that regularly sends delegations of its supporters to meet with Hamas and Hezbollah representatives in the Middle East… ” How’s that again?
Never mind that in a career spanning 38 years, I spent precisely four months working for CNI… or that, on the one CNI trip I helped organize we spent a lot of time with Israelis of a variety of viewpoints, and even made a special visit to the Knesset… Or that in the course of my career I have extensively interviewed Israeli government ministers, military leaders, and analysts (as the folks from the ‘Anti’-Defamation League might know if they ever, er, actually read any of the many books and articles I have written… )
No, instead of doing any research that might involve, you know, actual facts, they just jumped on this rather seedy (but no doubt well-funded) little defamation bandwagon that a bunch of scared “Israel-right-or-wrong” types have been gunning up…
And they recycle an extremely tired (and fallacious) little piece of defamation that appeared somewhere else not long ago, which completely mischaracterized some thing I said at Georgetown University in late January 2009.
Actually, my own contemporaneous (or very near to contemporaneous) account of that incident can be read on this JWN post, that I published on January 25, 2009.
Here is just the beginning of that blog post:

    One notable thing that happened at our panel discussion on Gaza, at Georgetown University Thursday night, was that a young Israeli student directed a question at me asking why I had said that “all Israelis are stupid”– and also asserting that her country had had “no choice” but to launch the war on Gaza.
    I replied that I had never said “all Israelis” are stupid– though I had certainly pointed out the counter-productive nature, from every point of view, of the decision her country’s government had made to launch the most recent war; and I’d pointed out too, with some sadness, that that decision seemed to have received high levels of support from Jewish Israelis.
    But certainly not from all of them– as I had also pointed out in my main presentation.
    What I’d referred to specifically was this extremely insightful (and courageous) article, published on December 31 in the WaPo by a Jewish Israeli social-work lecturer called Julia Chaitin. Chaitin, by the way, lives in southern Israel so has a deep understanding of the concerns and fears of the people who live there…

So now, this accusation that I had “said that all Israelis are stupid” seems to have gotten a second and third life. With zero evidence being presented by those who make this accusation… Because there is none. Because I never said what they claimed I said! But evidently, that young Israeli woman in question (the original mischaracterizer) must have rushed around spreading her version of what happened… and now, with zero evidence at all, the ‘Anti’-Defamation League and others like these folks (PDF) at “Jewish Philly”, or this “stevebronfman”, have just been echo-chambering this nasty smear all around.
They are truly pathetic. People: You don’t control the discourse any more because in the era of the intertubes you can’t control the discourse any more! Deal with it. Palestinians– like Iraqis, Lebanese people, Syrians, Egyptians, Israelis and everyone on God’s earth, today get to speak about truth of their situations without the heavy hand of the Zionist discourse-suppression organizations (‘Camera’, ‘Flame’, ‘Stand With Us’, etc) being able to suffocate us.
You know, for six years after the Israeli military swept into and occupied the whole of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula in 1967, the generals (okay, most of them, but not Gen Matti Peled, as his son Miko reminds us in his great upcoming memoir) thought their control of Sinai was assured by the defensive line of forts, ramparts, and fortifications they had thrown up along the Suez Canal… That was the “Bar-Lev Line”… And imagining themselves quite secure behind it they started building (quite illegally, as always) settlements in different spots in the large Sinai Peninsula…
But in October 1973, it took the Egyptian military just a few hours to fatally breach the Bar-Lev Line in a number of places. This, from Wikipedia today:

    Within the first hour of the war, the Egyptian engineering corps tackled the sand barrier. Seventy engineer groups, each one responsible for opening a single passage, worked from wooden boats. With hoses attached to water pumps, they began attacking the sand obstacle. Many breaches occurred within two to three hours of the onset of operations — according to schedule; engineers at several places, however, experienced unexpected problems… The Third Army, in particular, had difficulty in its sector. There, the clay proved resistant to high-water pressure and, consequently, the engineers experienced delays in their breaching. Engineers in the Second Army completed the erection of their bridges and ferries within nine hours, whereas Third Army needed more than sixteen hours…

So maybe the big BDS conference that I’m participating in, in Philadelphia this weekend, won’t be quite as dramatic as the 1973 war… In many respects, the ramparts of the Zionist discourse-suppression machine have all been weakened and breached repeatedly over the past 10-15 years. Thanks to the intertubes…
And here’s a big shoutout to MuzzleWatch, Mondoweiss, Max Blumenthal, and everyone else who’s made a big difference in all of this!
But over there at the ‘Anti’-Defamation League and in those other discourse suppression networks, I guess leaders and staffers have their own (highly inflated) salaries they need to justify, and fundraising appeals they need to crank up… So there they go, desperately trying to heap more sand into the breaches and recreate the Maginot Line Bar Lev Line of their imagined security.
As I said, the sight would almost be amusing… if it did not also involve a prolongation of this illegally lengthy Israeli occupation of Palestine with all the desperate human suffering that involves.

The use of web-based disinformation by the ‘west’

Patrick Cockburn has an extremely important piece at the Independent today, in which he takes to task the major organs of the ‘western’ media– including, crucially, today’s Al-Jazeera– for the extremely uncritical and often openly inflammatory use they make of unsubstantiated or highly exaggerated “news reports” coming out of, in particular, Syria and Iran.
He writes,

    Governments that exclude foreign journalists at times of crisis such as Iran and (until the last week) Syria, create a vacuum of information easily filled by their enemies. These are far better equipped to provide their own version of events than they used to be before the development of mobile phones, satellite television and the internet. State monopolies of information can no longer be maintained. But simply because the opposition to the Syrian and Iranian governments have taken over the news agenda does not mean that what they say is true.
    Early last year I met some Iranian stringers for Western publications in Tehran whose press credentials had been temporarily suspended by the authorities. I said this must be frustrating them, but they replied that even if they could file stories – saying nothing much was happening – they would not be believed by their editors. These had been convinced by exile groups, using blogs and carefully selected YouTube footage, that Tehran was visibly seething with discontent. If the local reporters said that this was a gross exaggeration, their employers would suspect that had been intimidated or bought off by Iranian security.
    … [T]echnical advances have made it more difficult for governments to hide repression. But these developments have also made the work of the propagandist easier. Of course, people who run newspapers and radio and television stations are not fools. They know the dubious nature of much of the information they are conveying. The political elite in Washington and Europe was divided for and against the US invasion of Iraq, making it easier for individual journalists to dissent. But today there is an overwhelming consensus in the foreign media that the rebels are right and existing governments wrong. For institutions such as the BBC, highly unbalanced coverage becomes acceptable.
    Sadly, al-Jazeera, which has done so much to shatter state control of information in the Middle East since it was set up in 1996, has become the uncritical propaganda arm of the Libyan and Syrian rebels.

Then he comes to the nub of why all this is important

    The Syrian opposition needs to give the impression that its insurrection is closer to success than it really is. The Syrian government has failed to crush the protesters, but they, in turn, are a long way from overthrowing it. The exiled leadership wants Western military intervention in its favour as happened in Libya, although conditions are very different.
    The purpose of manipulating the media coverage is to persuade the West and its Arab allies that conditions in Syria are approaching the point when they can repeat their success in Libya. Hence the fog of disinformation pumped out through the internet.

I completely agree with Patrick’s analysis on this point. As I agree, too, with As’ad Abou Khalil’s broad view of events in Syria that, though the government is highly repressive and often criminally stupid, in the ranks of the opposition there are also many very anti-democratic and violence-loving elements and others who are working hard to trigger a western intervention in the country. (Hence my judgment that if you want to follow what’s happening in and toward Syria, Asad’s Angry Arab blog is one of the very best, and best-informed, sources to do that.)
In my view, the Syrian opposition consists of a number of elements, some of them extremely contradictory with each other. There is a genuine, in-country network of activists who seek real democratic reform and who’re working for it using mass nonviolent organizing. But there are also all kinds of opportunistic networks piggybacking on that movement, most of them based in or directed from outside the country… Among them are the openly violence-using people of the Free Syria Army. And though some people in the exile-based Syrian National Council claim that the role of the FSA is merely to “station armed people around mass demonstrations in order to protect the demonstrations”, that has never been a tactic endorsed by any genuine nonviolent mass movement. Indeed it is tactic that’s almost guaranteed to escalate the situation and cause far more casualties among the unarmed than if only nonviolent moral suasion/reproach is brought to bear on the regime’s forces.
We should not kid ourselves by imagining that there is no opportunistic exploitation of the Syrian situation underway, being undertaken by a whole range of anti-Damascus forces– some sectarian (as in the case of Qatar or Saudi Arabia; also, quite possibly, Turkey), and some pro-Zionist, or anyway easily exploited by Syria’s longterm opponents in the Zionist movement in Israel and in the ‘west’.
So how do those many western ‘liberals’ who seem to be so deeply invested in supporting the Syrian ‘revolutionaries’ fit into this scheme? To me, this is another key part of the puzzle, along with the enlistment by the ‘revolutionaries’ of so much of the western media, as documented by Patrick Cockburn.
Okay, I understand that the Syrian government has a really lousy human rights record. I have worked long enough (38 years) in and on the affairs of the mashreq to understand that better than probably 95% of the people in the human rights movement who currently present themselves as “experts” on Syria. But is getting out there to advocate a “Libya-style” overthrow of the regime (i.e. with the aid of outside forces) really a good way to bring rights abuses to an end?
No it is not! Wars and civil conflicts everywhere and always involve a mass-scale assault on the rights of civilian residents of the war-zones, with the most vulnerable residents being the ones whose rights (including the right to life) get abused the worst.
That is everywhere and always the case. No exceptions. That is why I am always really dismayed and upset when I see rights activists who claim to understand what they are talking about taking actions that escalate the tensions toward outright civil conflict and war… Remember that in the case of most rights activists who live in comfortable, secure western countries: These people have never had direct experience of living in a war zone. They are bombarded (by the military-industrial complex) with arguments that modern warfare can be a “precision”, “surgical” business… and most recently, in Libya, we saw the emergence of the keffiyah-ed warrior racing through the sand as a figure of popular heroism and adulation. (Lawrence of Arabia, anyone?).
I have lived in a war zone. I lived in Lebanon from 1974 through 1981. In six of those years the country was plagued by civil war. I lived within Lebanese society, being married to a Lebanese citizen. I was not a “visiting fireman”, as many western journos were– parachuting in to stay a few days or weeks in a relatively comfortable hotel from time to time. Everyone involved in fighting the Lebanese civil war, from all the multiple “sides” that were engaged in it, was convinced of the justice of his (or sometimes her) cause. Each one was fighting what he knew to be a “just” war… But the war and its associated atrocities ground on and on and on.
Another thing the western rights activists too often forget: Mass-scale atrocities– as opposed to a rampage by a lone, psychotic gunman– are nearly always, or always, committed only in the context of an ongoing civil conflict or war. Conflicts provide the heightened degree of threat and the dehumanization of the opponent that are essential ingredients in the organized commission of atrocities. They also, in the past, provided plenty of the “fog of war” in which those acts can be shrouded.
Thus, if you want to avoid the commission of atrocities: avoid war! Do everything you can to explore and enlarge the space for de-escalation and the negotiated resolution of grievances!
It is true that modern communications technology makes the shrouding of atrocities much harder (though not impossible) to achieve. That is, obviously, a very good thing! But this same technology also enables the fighting parties of all sides to do much more than they could previously, to frame and disseminate their own “stories” of what’s happening… Rights activists in other countries need to be very aware that this is not only a possibility– it is actually happening. And in the case of Syria, in particular, these reports are being used to whip up western (and worldwide) support for a ‘western’-led military campaign aimed at bringing forced regime change to Syria.
Colonialists have, throughout history, always tried to cloak their campaigns of military intervention, domination, and control in the lingo of “rights”, “progress”, and liberalism. Even the Belgians and their supporters, when they entered Congo in the late 1800s to initiate an era of control that was marked throughout by mass killings, mass enslavement, and outright genocide that within 23 years took the lives of some ten million persons indigenous to the area… did so in the name of a campaign sold tothe European publics as being one aimed at “liberating” the people of Congo from other (in truth, much less maleficent) Arab slave-traders.
We liberals need to be very careful indeed that we do not have our admirable sentiments of human solidarity abused by today’s architects of ‘western’ colonial invasion, control, and domination.
The situation that Syria’s people are living through today is extremely difficult. There are no easy answers. Both the regime and the opposition have demonstrated their resilience, and neither looks as though it is about to “win” the current contest any time soon. Given the degree of tension that now exists in Syrian society (due to the actions of the regime, of some portions of the opposition, and of several outside actors), it is hard to see how to simply ramp those tensions down and open up the space for the inter-Syrian dialogue and reform process that the people of Syria so desperately need…
But what kind of future do those of us who are westerners or other kinds of non-Syrians want to see for our friends in Syria? A future like that of today’s Libya– or even, heaven forfend, another “result” of western military action: today’s Iraq? Or would we want them to follow a negotiated-transition path like that taken by the people of South Africa, 1990-94… or the negotiated-transition path that the people of Myanmar/Burma now seem to be taking? Few of those western liberals and rights activists who are baying for “no-fly zones” or other forms of foreign military intervention seem to have ever thought about this question, so convinced are they of their own righteousness and the infallibility of their own judgments, however scantily informed these judgments may be in an era of instant You-Tube uploads of videos of, as Patrick Cockburn noted, often extremely sketchy provenance or representativity.

2012: A good year to boycott Sabra (& Shatila) Hummus

I’ve been thinking a lot, recently, about the upcoming 30th anniversary of the September 1982 massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut. As some of you may know, my company, Just World Books, will soon be publishing a reissued version of former WaPo journo Jon Randal’s classic 1983 study of the Israeli-backed Maronite-extremist militias that, with the full backing and encouragement of Israeli defense minister Ariel Sharon, committed those massacres. More details on that, soon…
(Jon is also working on another book, which will be a study of the massacres themselves. In the meantime, he has written a fab new preface to the 1983 book, explaining to a new generation of peace-and-justice activists the significance of all those events… )
These days, “Sabra” is also the trade-name of one of the two brands of Israeli-related hummus that BDS activists are boycotting. In the case of Sabra hummus, the boycott is based primarily on the fact that the Strauss Group, an Israeli-owned company that owns half of the brand, has had a long history of giving material support to the Golani Brigade, an Israeli military formation associated with numerous grave rights abuses.
I’m thinking that maybe this year in particular, the BDS folks might start calling the hummus brand “Sabra and Shatila hummus”, to make even clearer the connection between the hummus brand and the excesses/atrocities committed by, or under the close supervision of, the Israeli military….
I’ve also been thinking about the meanings, connotations, and expropriations of the term “Sabra” in general. In Arabic, the most common understanding of the triliteral root S-b-r relates to being patient and long-suffering. The root is also used in the common name that many Arabs, including Palestinians, give to the prickly pear/ “Indian fig”, and its fruit. It has also been thus used in modern Hebrew. (I don’t know about ancient Hebrew.)
And then, in modern-day Israel, the term “Sabra” was introduced to refer to those Jewish Israelis who had actually been born in the country– as opposed to that proportion of them, originally very large, who arrived from elsewhere as colonial settlers inside the land. Indeed, the use of the term “Sabra” in that context merely underlined the fact that for so many Jewish Israelis, being born in the country was not the norm.
For Palestinians, meanwhile, the hardy prickly-pear (Subar) hedges that once ringed or demarcated properties in many traditional villages in historic Palestine over time became, in many cases, the only trace left of where once had stood those villages that in 1947-48 were ethnically cleansed by the advancing Jewish/Israeli armies that pushed the boundaries of the state of Israel far beyond what even the very generous U.N. Partition Plan had allotted to it. You can still drive around many parts of Israel today and see, on a small rise here or in the fold of valley there, a neglected and ragged line of prickly pear hedges; and you’ll know that that was where one of the ethnically cleansed villages stood.
Patient, indeed.
But the word “Sabra” in one form or another has also been used as a family name in many Arab families, as has the family name “Shatila”. In Beirut, the Chatilas/Shatilas have long been one of the big Sunni trading families… So I imagine the names of the two refugee camps established in southwest Beirut in 1948-50 came from the names of the owners of the lands on which the U.N. and the Lebanese government agreed to locate those camps.
The refugees housed in those camps, as in the three dozen other large refugee camps that ringed the area of the State of Israel, then and now, were some of those same Palestinians who’d been ethnically cleansed from those now destroyed but still “Subar”-hedged villages inside the area of Mandate Palestine.
The massacres at Sabra and Shatila were committed, as noted above, by extremist-Maronite militia formations who were acting under the close supervision of, and with much logistical support from, the Israeli military. (This coordination was well represented in the haunting 2008 film from Israeli director Ari Folman, “Waltz with Bashir.”) The key architect of the whole episode, as of the extremely lethal, all-out military assault on Lebanon that preceded it, from June through early August of 1982, was Ariel Sharon. Israel’s own investigation into the massacres, conducted by former Supreme Court Justice Yitzhak Kahan, found that Sharon bore personal responsibility for the massacres, and recommended that he not be permitted to hold high office again.
Well, we know how that went, don’t we…
So now, here we are, 30 years after the Israeli assault on Lebanon, 30 years after the massacres at Sabra and Shatila, and the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and elsewhere are still no closer to having their rights restored. Their communities were expelled from their ancestral homes and lands through the use of violence and force, and were subsequently prevented from returning to those lands by the same force. They have been subject to repeated assaults by the arrogant Israeli military (with the Golani Brigade as one of the most violent and aggressive units in it.) And they’ve have been forced to continue living as stateless refugees for 64 years now, though numerous United Nations resolutions assure them of the right to “return or compensation” (in UNGA resolution 194, and reaffirmed in numerous U.N. resolutions since then), or, more simply, as per the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the “right to … return to his [or her] country.”
So maybe if we start calling “Sabra” hummus “Sabra and Shatila” hummus, it might remind American shoppers of some of this history?
(What I would not want to do, however, is stigmatize the use of the term “Shatila” in a brand name. The Dearborn, Michigan-based Shatila Food Products bakery produces the very best baklava there is in the whole of North America… )