Archive for the ‘Palestinian’ tag
The Shministim are Israeli high school students who have been imprisoned for refusing to serve in an army that occupies the Palestinian Territories. December 18 marks the launch date of a global campaign to release them from jail. Join over 20,000 people including American conscientious objectors,Ronnie Gilbert, Adrienne Rich, Robert Meeropol, Adam Hochschild, Rabbi Lynn Gottleib, Howard Zinn, Rela Mazali, Debra Chasnoff, Ed Asner and Aurora Levins-Morales and show your support by contacting the Israeli Minister of Defense using the form below.
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JERUSALEM — Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups in Gaza announced an immediate, week-long cease-fire in the conflict with Israel on Sunday, about 12 hours after an Israeli unilateral cease-fire went into effect.
The Palestinian groups said in a statement that they would give Israeli troops a week to leave Gaza. Hamas leaders outside Gaza had previously said the group would continue fighting so long as Israeli troops remained on the ground.
The cease-fire announcement, coming after 22 days of war that killed more than 1,200 Palestinians and 13 Israelis, was confirmed by the Palestinian groups’ exiled leaders meeting in Damascus.
It came after Egypt held talks with Hamas representatives, and as European and Arab leaders gathered in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm El Sheik for a summit meeting designed to turn the fragile truce into a more durable arrangement. Egypt has been trying to broker a longer-term deal between Israel and Hamas.
Hamas demands the opening of the crossings on Gaza’s borders, while Israel is seeking an end to weapons smuggling into Gaza across the Egyptian border, and an halt to Hamas rocket fire.
Palestinian militants in Gaza fired about 13 rockets at southern Israel on Sunday morning in the hours after the unilateral cease-fire declared by Israel went into effect. One struck a house in the port city of Ashdod, lightly wounding one Israeli. The Israeli military said it carried out two airstrikes against rocket-launching squads. There were conflicting news reports of casualties in Gaza, with either one man or one girl said to have been killed.
Early Sunday, a Hamas gunman clashed with Israeli troops inside Gaza, but otherwise the situation inside the Palestinian enclave seemed relatively calm, according to residents and health officials.
The breaches were predictable: Israeli officials had said that a flurry of rocket launches, to prove that Hamas is neither cowed nor defeated, was likely for at least a short time. Schools in Israeli cities within rocket range of Gaza were ordered closed for the day.
And while Israel has called off its major offensive against Hamas, political leaders and the military have emphasized that Israel will respond to any attacks.
Israel declared late Saturday that its unilateral cease-fire would begin at 2 a.m. on Sunday, but said its troops would stay in place for now. Some tanks and infantry could be seen leaving Gaza on Sunday morning, but more remained inside.
In announcing that Israeli forces would halt their advance, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert insisted that “we have reached all the goals of the war, and beyond.” Speaking to the nation late Saturday night, he said that Hamas had “suffered a major blow.”
Heavy Israeli bombardment continued in the hours before the cease-fire. And in an attack early Saturday that brought scathing criticism from the United Nations, Israeli tank fire killed two young brothers taking shelter at a United Nations school in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya.
About 1,600 displaced Gazans have taken shelter at the school, run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, or Unrwa, which cares for Palestinian refugees from the 1948-49 war and their descendants.
John Ging, the Gaza director of the agency, said that the brothers, ages 5 and 7, were killed about 7 a.m. by Israeli fire at the school. Their mother, who was among 14 others wounded, had her legs blown off.
“These two little boys are as innocent, indisputably, as they are dead,” Mr. Ging said. “The question now being asked is: is this and the killing of all other innocent civilians in Gaza a war crime?”
The strike was the fourth time Israel has hit an Unrwa school during the war on Hamas. On Jan. 6, Mr. Ging said, 43 people died when an Israeli shell hit the compound of a school in Jabaliya. Israel has disputed the death toll and said it had been returning mortar fire from within the school compound.
The Israeli Army said that it was investigating the reports at the highest level, but that initial inquiries indicated that troops were returning fire from near or within the school.
As President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France were hosting the summit meeting in Sharm el Sheik on Sunday, the immediate topics were to be the interdiction of smuggling and the reconstruction of Gaza after the Israeli air and land attack, which has left large areas of the crowded territory in ruins and without basic services like potable water and electricity.
But the shape of any lasting peace was far from clear.
The length of Israel’s occupation of Gaza has now been put in the hands of Hamas. The Israeli government says it will not sign any deal with the group, which is committed to Israel’s destruction and whose rule over Gaza the Israelis do not want to recognize. But Hamas is seen as likely to reassert political control over Gaza.
And Israel and Egypt will be under considerable pressure to reopen its crossings into Gaza for goods, given the size of the reconstruction required, and the crossings for people.
Particularly concerned about limiting smuggling into Gaza, the United States and Israel signed a “memorandum of understanding” on Friday in Washington that calls for expanded cooperation to prevent Hamas from rearming through Egypt. The agreement, which is vague, promises increased American technical assistance and international monitors, presumably to be based in Egypt, to crack down on the smuggling.
As important, the United States agreed to work with NATO partners to interdict arms smuggling into Gaza by land and sea from Syria and Iran, and in a letter, Britain, France and Germany also offered to help.
The summit meeting in Egypt on Sunday will also include Italy; Spain; Turkey; Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general; and a representative of the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank. The United States was to be represented by Margaret Scobey, the ambassador to Egypt.
Although Mr. Sarkozy began the diplomatic process toward a cease-fire with Mr. Mubarak, it has been a deal shaped by Egypt and Israel.
Mr. Mubarak’s foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, said that his country would not be bound by the memorandum of understanding agreed to by the United States and Israel and would not accept foreign troops on its soil. But officials of both Israel and the United States say Egypt has been showing a new seriousness about stopping the smuggling.
The Arab and Muslim world again appeared to be split into two camps. Egypt and Saudi Arabia have been openly critical of Hamas, pressing it to agree to a cease-fire. Qatar, meanwhile, which has close ties to both the United States and Iran, held a meeting with Syria, Iran, Mauritania and Hamas’s exiled political leader, Khaled Meshal, as the Palestinian representative. Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority who is supported by the United States and Egypt, had refused to go to Qatar.
Four Israeli soldiers, two of them officers, were seriously hurt by mortar fire in fighting on Saturday morning, the army said, suggesting that they were victims of friendly fire. Five others were also wounded by an antitank missile. While the details are debated and the dead are counted, a critical long-term issue is whether the Gaza operation restores Israel’s deterrent. Israel wants Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran and the Arab world to view it as too strong and powerful to seriously threaten or attack. That motivation is one reason, Israeli officials say, for going into Gaza so hard, using such firepower, and fighting Hamas as an enemy army.
The answer will not be known for many months, but the key to the Muslim world’s reaction is actually that of the Israeli public, said Yossi Klein Halevi, of the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies in Jerusalem. “The Arabs take their cue from Israeli responses,” he said. “Deterrence is about how Israelis feel, whether they feel they’ve won or lost.”
Mr. Halevi cited the 1973 war — which Egyptians celebrate and Israelis mourn, though it ended with a spectacular Israel counterattack — and the 2006 war against Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, apologized for the 2006 war on television, “but he quickly reversed himself to declare a wonderful victory when he saw the Israeli public declaring defeat,” Mr. Halevi said.
Even more important, perhaps, this war is a test case for any potential Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. If Israelis feel that the West Bank will turn into another kind of chaotic, Hamas-run Gaza, they will be unwilling to withdraw — especially if they believe that if they withdrew and were then attacked from the West Bank, they would not be allowed to respond with force.
“Gaza is an important test of whether we can defend ourselves within the 1967 boundaries,” Mr. Halevi said, noting that Hamas had been attacking Israel proper, not settlements. “Will we be able to defend ourselves if we need to from the West Bank? Will the international community let us?”
The Israeli public has stayed united behind the war as a necessary battle, despite serious misgivings about the death toll of Palestinian civilians and international condemnation. Even Meretz, a party of the Israeli left, supported the air war.
Hamas has modeled itself on Hezbollah, calling on Iranian support. Mr. Nasrallah once spoke of Israeli power as a spider web — impressive from afar, but easily brushed aside. This war against Hamas, Mr. Halevi said, “is the revenge of the spider.”
Terrorism on the New York Times Op-Ed Page
Friedman supports civilian suffering as “education”
New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman endorsed terrorism in a January 14 column defending Israel’s attacks on the Gaza Strip.
To answer his own question about Israel’s plan–”What is the goal?”–Friedman referred back to the 2006 attacks on Lebanon, which killed about 1,000 Lebanese civilians. To Friedman, this was the “education” of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah:
The “logical” plan, as Friedman explained it, is to punish civilians in the hopes that this will force the political change you prefer. This is precisely the “logic” of terrorists.
According to Friedman, this “education” worked on Hezbollah, and he hopes it will work in the current conflict: “In Gaza, I still can’t tell if Israel is trying to eradicate Hamas or trying to ‘educate’ Hamas, by inflicting a heavy death toll on Hamas militants and heavy pain on the Gaza population.” Friedman’s preference is for the terrorism “education.”
This pro-terrorism argument has been made before by Friedman, who advocated the same sort of terror against Serbs, writing (4/6/99) that “people tend to change their minds and adjust their goals as they see the price they are paying mount. Twelve days of surgical bombing was never going to turn Serbia around. Let’s see what 12 weeks of less than surgical bombing does. Give war a chance.”
The New York Times has developed certain rules and guidelines for its opinion columnists over the years–they are not permitted to endorse political candidates, and they are generally expected to refrain from criticizing one another by name in print. Other policies have been made clear in the past–as when liberal columnist Paul Krugman was instructed not to refer to George W. Bush as “lying” during the 2000 campaign (Washington Post, 1/22/03).
Does the Times have a similar standard for columnists who endorse inflicting suffering on civilians? Or does the acceptability of advocating terrorism depend on who is being terrorized?
ACTION: Ask the Times if Thomas Friedman’s column advocating terrorism against civilians in Gaza meets the paper’s standards for its opinion columns.
New York Times
Editorial Page Editor
You can post copies of your letters to the New York Times on FAIR’s blog here. Please remember that letters that maintain a civil tone are most effective.
Tom Friedman offers a perfect definition of “terrorism”
Tom Friedman, one of the nation’s leading propagandists for the Iraq War and a vigorous supporter of all of Israel’s wars, has a column today in The New York Times explaining and praising the Israeli attack on Gaza. For the sake of robust and diverse debate (for which our Liberal Media is so well known), Friedman’s column today appears alongside an Op-Ed from The Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg, one of the nation’s leading (and most deceitful) propagandists for the Iraq War and a vigorous supporter of all of Israel’s wars, who explains that Hamas is incorrigibly hateful and radical and cannot be negotiated with. One can hardly imagine a more compelling exhibit demonstrating the complete lack of accountability in the “journalism” profession — at least for those who are loyal establishment spokespeople who reflexively cheer on wars – than a leading Op-Ed page presenting these twowar advocates, of all people, as experts, of all things, on the joys and glories of the latest Middle East war.
In any event, Friedman’s column today is uncharacteristically and refreshingly honest. He explains that the 2006 Israeli invasion and bombing of Lebanon was, contrary to conventional wisdom, a great success. To make this case, Friedman acknowledges that the deaths of innocent Lebanese civilians was not an unfortunate and undesirable by-product of that war, but rather, was a vital aspect of the Israeli strategy – the centerpiece, actually, of teaching Lebanese civilians a lesson they would not soon forget:
Israel’s counterstrategy was to use its Air Force to pummel Hezbollah and, while not directly targeting the Lebanese civilians with whom Hezbollah was intertwined, to inflict substantial property damage and collateral casualties on Lebanon at large. It was not pretty, but it was logical. Israel basically said that when dealing with a nonstate actor, Hezbollah, nested among civilians, the only long-term source of deterrence was to exact enough pain on the civilians — the families and employers of the militants — to restrain Hezbollah in the future.
Israel’s military was not focused on the morning after the war in Lebanon — when Hezbollah declared victory and the Israeli press declared defeat. It was focused on the morning after the morning after, when all the real business happens in the Middle East. That’s when Lebanese civilians, in anguish, said to Hezbollah: “What were you thinking? Look what destruction you have visited on your own community! For what? For whom?”
Friedman says that he is “unsure” whether the current Israeli attack on Gaza is similiarly designed to teach Palestinians the same lesson by inflicting “heavy pain” on civilians, but he hopes it is:
In Gaza, I still can’t tell if Israel is trying to eradicate Hamas or trying to “educate” Hamas, by inflicting a heavy death toll on Hamas militants and heavy pain on the Gaza population. If it is out to destroy Hamas, casualties will be horrific and the aftermath could be Somalia-like chaos. If it is out to educate Hamas, Israel may have achieved its aims.
The war strategy which Friedman is heralding — what he explicitly describes with euphemism-free candor as “exacting enough pain on civilians” in order to teach them a lesson — is about as definitive of a war crime as it gets. It also happens to be the classic, textbook definition of “terrorism.” Here is how the U.S. Department of State defined ”terrorism” in its 2001 publication, Patterns of Global Terrorism:
No one definition of terrorism has gained universal acceptance. For the purposes of this report, however, we have chosen the definition of terrorism contained in Title 22 of the United States Code, Section 2656f(d). That statute contains the following definitions:
The term “terrorism” means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant (1) targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience. . . .
(1) For purposes of this definition, the term “noncombatant” is interpreted to include, in addition to civilians, military personnel who at the time of the incident are unarmed and/or not on duty.
Other than the fact that Friedman is advocating these actions for an actual state rather than a “subnational group,” can anyone identify any differences between (a) what Friedman approvingly claims was done to the Lebanese and what he advocates be done to Palestinians and (b) what the State Department formally defines as “terrorism”? I doubt anyone can. Isn’t Friedman’s “logic” exactly the rationale used by Al Qaeda: we’re going to inflict “civilian pain” on Americans so that they stop supporting their government’s domination of our land and so their government thinks twice about bombing more Muslim countries? It’s also exactly the same “logic” that fuels the rockets from Hezbollah and Hamas into Israel.
It should be emphasized that the mere fact that Tom Friedman claims that this is Israel’s motivation isn’t proof that it is. The sociopathic lust of a single war cheerleader can’t fairly be projected onto those who are actually prosecuting the war. But one can’t help noticing that this “teach-them-a-lesson” justification for civilian deaths in Gaza appears with some frequency among its advocates, at least among a certain strain of super-warrior, Israel-centric Americans –e.g.: Marty “do not fuck with the Jews” Peretz and Michael “to wipe out a man’s entire family, it’s hard to imagine that doesn’t give his colleagues at least a moment’s pause” Goldfarb — who love to cheer on Middle East wars from a safe and sheltered distance.
Some opponents of the Israeli war actually agree with Friedman about the likely goals of the attack on Gaza. Writing last week in The New York Times, Columbia Professor Rashid Khalidi noted:
This war on the people of Gaza isn’t really about rockets. Nor is it about “restoring Israel’s deterrence,” as the Israeli press might have you believe. Far more revealing are the words of Moshe Yaalon, then the Israeli Defense Forces chief of staff, in 2002: “The Palestinians must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people.”
This AP article yesterday described how “terrified residents ran for cover Tuesday in a densely populated neighborhood of Gaza City as Israeli troops backed by tanks thrust deeper into the city.” It reported that “an Israeli warplane fired a missile at the former Gaza city hall, used as a court building in recent years . . . . The 1910 structure was destroyed and many stores in the market around it were badly damaged.” And it quoted an Israeli military officer as follows: ”Soldiers shoot at anything suspicious, use lots of firepower, and blast holes through walls to move around.”
The efficacy of Friedman’s desired strategy of inflicting pain on Palestinian civilians in order to change their thinking and behavior is unclear. The lack of clarity is due principally to the fact that Israel is still blocking journalists from entering Gaza. But this Sunday’s New York Times article – reporting on unconfirmed claims that Israel was using white phosphorus on the civilian population (a claim the IDF expressly refused to deny) – contains this anecdotal evidence that The Friedman Strategy is actually quite counter-productive:
Still, white phosphorus can cause injury, and a growing number of Gazans report being hurt by it, including in Beit Lahiya, Khan Yunis, and in eastern and southwestern Gaza City. When exposed to air, it ignites, experts say, and if packed into an artillery shell, it can rain down flaming chemicals that cling to anything they touch.
Luay Suboh, 10, from Beit Lahiya, lost his eyesight and some skin on his face Saturday when, his mother said, a fiery substance clung to him as he darted home from a shelter where his family was staying to pick up clothes.
The substance smelled like burned trash, said Ms. Jaawanah, the mother who fled her home in Zeitoun, who had experienced it too. She had no affection for Hamas, but her sufferings were changing that. “Do you think I’m against them firing rockets now?” she asked, referring to Hamas. “No. I was against it before. Not anymore.”
It’s far easier to imagine a population subjected to this treatment becoming increasingly radicalized and belligerent rather than submissive and compliant, as Friedman intends. But while the efficacy of The Friedman Strategy is unclear, the fact that it is a perfect distillation of a “war crime” and “terrorism” is not unclear at all.
One might ordinarily find it surprising that our elite opinion-makers are so openly and explicitly advocating war crimes and terrorism (“inflict substantial property damage and collateral casualties on Lebanon at large” and “‘educate’ Hamas by inflicting heavy pain on the Gaza population”). But when one considers that most of this, in the U.S., is coming from the very people who applied the same “suck-on-this” reasoning to justify the destruction of Iraq, and even more so, when one considers that our highest political officials are now so openly – even proudly – acknowledging their own war crimes, while our political and media elites desperately (and almost unanimously) engage in every possible maneuver to protect them from any consequences from that, Friedman’s explicit advocacy of these sorts of things is a perfectly natural thing to see.
UPDATE: In comments, casual_observer — with ample citations — objects to my characterization of white phosphorus reports in Gaza as “unconfirmed,” and argues that while the substance does have permissible and legitimate uses under the laws of war, this particular usage in urban areas can be used to sow terror in the civilian population – i.e., is an ideal instrument for advancing The Friedman Strategy.
Quite relatedly, Iraq War veteran Brandon Friedman chronicles the truly disturbed warrior fantasies that are becoming increasingly common (and increasingly disturbed) on the war-cheerleading Right. The relationship between that pathology and people like Friedman is too obvious to require any elaboration.
UPDATE II: In response to multiple comments protesting that Israel does not seek to kill civilians, permit me to make clear, again, that the criticism here is directed towards Tom Friedman’s claims about what Israel’s motives are and should be in bombing and invading Lebanon and Gaza. I’m not assuming that those are actually Israel’s motives and stressed that point as clearly as the English language permits:
It should be emphasized that the mere fact that Tom Friedman claims that this is Israel’s motivation isn’t proof that it is. The sociopathic lust of a single war cheerleader can’t fairly be projected onto those who are actually prosecuting the war.
The other point worth noting is that for an American citizen to criticize Israel’s wars without criticizing every similar or worse act of aggression is not to “hold Israel to a higher or different standard.” The U.S. Government funds Israel’s actions, specifically provides the arms for their various bombing campaigns and invasions, and continuously uses its U.N. veto power to protect what Israel does. American citizens therefore bear a responsibility for Israel’s actions that is not the case for actions which the U.S. Government does not fund and otherwise enable.
This objection (“why are you complaining about Israel but not the rebels in Sri Lanka?”) rests on the same fallacy as the accusation that American citizens are being “anti-American” when they criticize the actions of their own government more than the actions of other governments (“Why are you complaining that Bush waterboards when North Korea starves its citizens to death and Iran stones gay people?”). Citizens bear a particular responsibility to object to unjust actions which their own Government engages in or enables. It shouldn’t be the case — but it is — that Americans fund, arm and enable Israel’s wars. Those are American weapons which, at least in part, are being used to destroy Gaza, and Americans therefore bear a special responsibility for condemning Israel’s unjust actions to a far greater extent than the actions of any other country except for the U.S.
One final note: the fact that all sorts of prior wars, including ones waged by Western powers, contain events that could comfortably fit the definition of “terrorism” isn’t a refutation of the point I’m making. If anything, it bolsters the point. “Terrorism” is probably the single most elastic and easily manipulated term in our political lexicon. Who the perpetrators and victims are of “terrorism” is almost always a function of who is wielding the term rather than some objective assessment. Aimlessly shooting rockets towards civilians (as Hamas and Hezbollah do) and dropping bombs from 35,000 feet that you know will slaughter many civilians while viewing that slaughter as a strategic benefit (as Friedman advocates) are acts that have far more in common with each other than differences.
Nine Israeli human rights groups called on Wednesday for an investigation into whether Israeli officials had committed war crimes in Gaza since tens of thousands of civilians there have nowhere to flee, the health system has collapsed, many are without electricity and running water, and some are beyond the reach of rescue teams. . . .
The group included the Israel section of Amnesty International, B’Tselem, Gisha and Physicians for Human Rights — Israel.
It really ought to be too obvious to require pointing out: to oppose the Israeli war in Gaza and to be horrified by what they are doing to Palestinian civilians no more makes someone “anti-Israel” or “pro-Hamas” than opposing and condemning the Iraq War and being horrified by what we did to that country makes someone “anti-American” or “pro-Saddam.”
On a different note, another new poll – this one from Pew – shows Americans, and especially Democrats, deeply divided on what U.S. policy towards Israel should be in this case. While a plurality of Americans sympathize more with Israel than the Palestinians and blame Hamas more than Israel for the outbreak of violence, Democrats overwhelmingly disapprove of the Israeli action in Gaza (29-45%), and a majority of Democrats believe either (a) “the U.S. should say or do nothing” (40%) or (b) “the U.S. should criticize Israel” (12%). Only 34% of Democrats believe that the U.S. “should publicly support Israel” (34%). Despite that, their representatives in Congressvoted almost unanimously to adopt a one-sided Resolution publicly declaring America’s support for Israel’s attack on Gaza.
Meanwhile, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting — in an item entitled ”Terrorism on the New York Times Op-Ed Page” – examines Friedman’s history of making similar statements, and raises this question: is it even possible to imagine an Op-Ed or column being published by a major newspaper that enthusiastically trumpeted all of the great strategic benefits that would accrue to Muslims from the violent deaths of large numbers of Israeli civilians, the way Friedman today did with regard to the deaths of Palestinian and Lebanese civilians?
We highly recommend you pick up a copy of Remi’s excellent book, Poets For Palestine. It includes wonderful poetry and Palestinian art. Proceeds go to charity.
Born in Western Massachusetts, Remi Kanazi is a Palestinian American poet and writer living in New York City. Much of his writing and poetry focuses on Palestinian life and politics. Remi is the co-founder and primary writer for the political website www.PoeticInjustice.net.
Remi spoke with Drunken Politics about the situation in Gaza. He’s smart AND funny…wow!
The Central Elections Committee (CEC) yesterday banned the Arab parties United Arab List-Ta’al and Balad from running in next month’s parliamentary elections amid accusations of racism from Arab MKs. Both parties intend to challenge the decision in the Supreme Court.
Members of the CEC conceded yesterday that the chance of the Supreme Court’s upholding the ban on both parties was slim.
Arab faction delegates in the CEC walked out of the hall before the vote, shouting, “this is a fascist, racist state.” As they walked out, CEC deputy chairman MK David Tal (Kadima) and the Arab delegates pushed each other and a Knesset guard had to intervene and separate them.
The CEC voted overwhelmingly in favor of the motions, accusing the country’s Arab parties of incitement, supporting terrorist groups and refusing to recognize Israel’s right to exist.
The requests to ban the Arab parties were filed by two ultra right parties Yisrael Beiteinu and National Union-National Religious Party.
Senior Labor Party figures lashed out at the party’s CEC representative, Eitan Cabel, who voted in favor of banning the two Arab parties.
“[MK] Shelly Yachimovich and I thought we must object to the move to ban the Arab lists for reasons of freedom of expression,” said Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog. “The minority’s right to be heard must be preserved,” he said.
MK Ophir Pines (Labor) said from overseas that he strongly objected to Labor’s stance in the vote and that it was not the position that had been agreed on.
Labor chairman Ehud Barak, however, did not comment on the vote and his aides said he would not deal with political issues these days.
Cabel tried to explain his support of the ban, despite Labor’s decision to vote against it.
“It’s true we said we wouldn’t ban, but [Balad leader MK Jamal] Zahalka’s statement that he was in touch with Bishara led me to think that we must draw the line somewhere,” he said. “I’m making no apologies because I fight more than most in the Knesset for equal rights for Arabs. I know it won’t stand up in the Supreme Court, and rightly so, because there is no evidentiary basis for the [committee's] decision.”
Members of the the new Meretz alignment reacted angrily to the decision.
“Labor and Kadima’s position is a declaration of war on Israel’s Arab citizens,” a party member said. “Do Barak and Livni really prefer blocking Israel’s Arabs’ right to parliamentary activity and driving them to street demonstrations?”
“Every time a clear statement to ensure basic civil rights of the Arab minority is required, Labor and Kadima choose to side with the radical right wing for populist motives, to deprive the Arabs of their fundamental democratic rights,” party chairman Haim Oron said.
Arab lawmakers Ahmed Tibi and Zahalka, political rivals who head the two Arab blocs in the Knesset, joined together in condemning yesterday’s decision.
“It was a political trial led by a group of fascists and racists who are willing to see the Knesset without Arabs and want to see the country without Arabs,” said Tibi.
Last June, Al Jazeera English produced a report from Gaza about a young couple who were preparing to marry during the relative calm of the cease-fire between Hamas and the Israeli government, a time when they could finally shop for furniture and, as the reporter put it, let themselves “dream that a happy life together is within reach.”
Now that reporter, Ayman Mohyeldin, a former CNN producer, can be seen with a helmet and flak jacket answering questions from an anchor back in the studio in Doha, Qatar, describing the Israeli bombing and ground campaign in Gaza intended to stop Hamas missiles from being fired into Israel.
In a conflict where the Western news media have been largely prevented from reporting from Gaza because of restrictions imposed by the Israeli military, Al Jazeera has had a distinct advantage. It was already there.
There are six reporters in Gaza, two working for Al Jazeera English and four working for the much larger and more popular Arabic version of the network, which was created in 1996 with a $150 million grant from the emir of Qatar, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. Al Jazeera describes itself on the air as “the only international broadcaster with a presence there.”
While getting to the story has not been an insurmountable problem for Al Jazeera English’s journalists — they are, in effect, surrounded by it — getting their reports to the English-speaking public has been a bit trickier. The network is largely unavailable in the United States, carried only by cable providers in Burlington, Vt.; Toledo, Ohio; and Washington, D.C. (In Burlington, the local government last summer rejected public calls for the city-owned cable provider, Burlington Telecom, to drop the channel.)
By contrast, Al Jazeera’s English-language service can be seen in over 100 countries via cable and satellite, according to Molly Conroy, a spokeswoman for the network in Washington.
Recognizing that its material from Gaza will have influence in the United States only if it is highly accessible online, Al Jazeera has aggressively experimented with using the Internet to distribute the information it has gathered.
For example, Mohamed Nanabhay, the 29-year-old executive who established Al Jazeera’s new-media group, beginning in late 2006, said that Al Jazeera planned to announce this week that all its video material of the war in Gaza would become available under the most lenient Creative Commons license, which basically means it can be used by anyone — rival broadcaster, documentary maker or individual blogger, for example — as long as Al Jazeera is credited.
Also, it currently streams its broadcasts in a variety of formats and has a dedicated channel on YouTube with more than 6,800 videos.
Al Jazeera said that since the war started the number of people watching its broadcasts via the Livestation service has increased by over 500 percent, and the views of videos on its YouTube channel have increased by more than 150 percent.
Also, Al Jazeera has created a Twitter feed on the “war on Gaza,” which provides frequent short messages that refer the public to new material that can be viewed online. During the weekend, there were more than 4,600 followers, not including the many more who view those short messages, called “tweets,” online. The Twitter feeds are also streamed onto Al Jazeera’s English Web site.
And unlike purely commercial broadcasters, Al Jazeera does not have to accompany its new-media strategies with revised new-media business models.
“Part of our mission, our mandate, is to get our news out,” Mr. Nanabhay said. “We don’t have the direct commercial pressures that others have. If we can make some money that is great.”
The near-total blackout in the United States is no doubt related to the sharp criticism Al Jazeera received from the United States government during the initial stages of the war in Iraq for its coverage of the American invasion. Officials like Vice President Dick Cheney and the defense secretary at the time, Donald Rumsfeld, said the network’s reporting was inflammatory, irresponsible and frequently misleading.
And in Israel, where news media commonly quote from material on Al Jazeera, the network is frequently criticized for inflaming the Arab public by running unfiltered and out-of-context videotape showing blood and gore in battle zones.
Al Jazeera officials respond that they are being blamed for accurately reporting what is going on in the world from an Arab perspective.
Al Jazeera’s coverage of the Israeli military campaign from Gaza includes reports on civilians killed and made homeless by the attacks as well as on clashes between Hamas fighters and Israeli troops. In a recent segment, Mr. Mohyeldin played exclusive videotape of what appeared to be a Hamas sniper’s killing of an Israeli tank commander; the reporter repeatedly cautioned that what was being shown could not be independently confirmed.
Nonetheless, the dearth of distribution in the United States means that the dispatches from Mr. Mohyeldin and others reach America almost exclusively via the Internet.
The report on the couple shopping for furniture in Gaza City, for example, had been viewed nearly 6,000 times on YouTube, generating more than 100 comments in the six months it had been available; the report on the videotape of Hamas militants in action has been viewed nearly 150,000 times in less than three days, with more than 700 comments.
The network has begun its first ad campaign in the United States to publicize its Web site, since reaching Americans would seem to be at the heart of Al Jazeera’s mission.
“It is something on our minds, we think about the U.S. market,” said Mr. Nanabhay, who is now the co-chairman of a “digital leap committee” for Al Jazeera English. But he said, “even if the U.S. market were completely open, we would still be innovating.”
According to Mr. Nanabhay, and another new-media evangelist within Al Jazeera, Riyaad Minty, a 24-year-old South African who is a senior analyst at the network, the Gaza crisis is helping to convince their superiors of the power of the Internet to tell a sprawling story that unfolds over weeks or perhaps months.
Thus far, however, Al Jazeera has largely stayed away from the blogging that is common on news sites, though that is being reconsidered, Mr. Nanabhay said.
“Especially during these crises, they present a lot of opportunity to use these tools, and the value becomes apparent very quickly,” Mr. Nanabhay said.
Mr. Minty has been focusing on the introduction of a platform at aljazeera.net to allow the public to contribute opinion or “citizen journalism,” ideas that he said were still new to the Arab world.
He said the site gets many contributions, particularly video comments and other content, from people in the West.
During Monday’s State Department press briefing, Associated Press State Department Correspondent Matthew Lee posed the most pointed question about the conflict in Gaza and the Bush administration’s position: “What’s wrong with an immediate cease-fire that doesn’t have to be sustainable and durable if, during the pause that you get from an immediate cease-fire, something longer-term can be negotiated?” Lee didn’t tread lightly either when Deputy Secretary of State Sean McCormack failed to provide a sufficient answer and continued to challenge McCormack on the same point in Tuesday’s press briefing.
Yet a funny thing happened on the way to print: the substance of these exchanges never made it into Lee’s corresponding articles.
First, here’s the main exchange between Lee and McCormack on Monday:
LEE: If it’s true, as you say, and I think that you agree because you do say this humanitarian situation is dire, that lives are at stake, that there have been civilian casualties despite the efforts to minimize them.
LEE: What’s wrong with an immediate cease-fire that doesn’t have to be sustainable and durable if, during the pause that you get from an immediate cease-fire, something longer-term can be negotiated?
MCCORMACK: Well –
LEE: I don’t understand the calculus. If you say you want to save lives and protect people, why not accept something that is less –
LEE: — than perfect if you can get to that point?
LEE: If you can use that to get to a point that is (inaudible)?
MCCORMACK: I guess the calculation is, Matt, fundamentally that you’re not going to get to that point under those circumstances.
LEE: How do you – how do you figure? How do you –
MCCORMACK: Well, you know, we’ve gone through circumstances like this before, and it – look, it’s – well, there are no sureties in these things. You know, you take a look at the facts, you take a look at history, and you make your best set of calculations and you do what you think is right in order to achieve the objectives that you have laid out. And it doesn’t – it perhaps helps the situation in the immediate term –
LEE: Well, if this is something that can perhaps do that, what’s wrong with that?
MCCORMACK: That’s exactly my point, Matt. Are you trading off against lives in the future that will be lost if you don’t go for a durable, sustainable cease-fire? We’re not willing to do that. Now, this may – of course, we have seen various protests, you know – capitals in the region as well. We’re aware of that. And we’re aware of the fact that lives have been lost, innocent life has been lost. In none of this are there any easy decisions. But you have to take the set of decisions that you believe will ultimately best benefit the people of the region, whether it’s the Palestinians or the Israelis. And people may disagree with our approach, our –
LEE: But isn’t the best benefit keeping people alive?
MCCORMACK: It is, Matt, but I – you know, I –
LEE: If there’s a chance that you can save some lives by going for an immediate cease-fire rather than one that is going to be – you know, that you know is going to be long-term and that meets your conditions, I don’t understand what’s wrong with that.
MCCORMACK: Well, again, Matt, there are people who are advocating that position. I understand that. But ultimately, we don’t think that you address the underlying issues if you don’t try to get a sustainable, durable, non-time-limited cease-fire. And if you don’t get that, you’re going to be right back here again, whether it’s – and you’re going to have somebody else up here three months from now, four months from now, five months from now, talking about the same kind of tragedy. Again, nobody wants to see the sort of humanitarian suffering that you’re seeing in Gaza. We’re not blind to that. We’re trying to address the immediate circumstances, as well as to try to address something that is more durable, so those people in Gaza and the people on the other side of the border can maybe perhaps have some more semblance of a normal life.
Lee also has some other fine moments in this press briefing, including this follow-up to another State Department correspondent’s question about what signals the administration gave Israel regarding the military action in Gaza and if it approved of the newer ground incursion. McCormick answers the other correspondent and then Lee jumps in with a dose of reality regarding US foreign policy.
MCCORMACK: Well, this is – you know, this is a question that always comes up. We don’t give green lights, red lights, yellow lights. I think you heard from the Vice President they’re – they didn’t seek our permission or advice, and we didn’t seek to offer any of that. As I – as I said –
LEE: You know, that’s not – that’s just manifestly not true.
MCCORMACK: As I – yes, it is.
LEE: No, no – maybe in – maybe in this, but all over the world you are involved in giving green lights, red lights and yellow lights. I remember when –
MCCORMACK: Am I talking –
LEE: — when Musharraf –
MCCORMACK: Am I talking about anywhere else in the world, Matt? Am I talking about a specific circumstance? Look –
According to a LexisNexis and Google News search, Lee didn’t publish a report after this briefing on Monday.
Lee returns to his original question in Tuesday’s press briefing:
LEE: The point is, though, Sean, that if it – if what is proposed has a time limit or you don’t think it’s durable or sustainable, you’re not going to support that; correct?
MCCORMACK: That’s correct.
LEE: That – so while you want one immediately –
LEE: — you will not accept one that is just a short or a temporary pause?
MCCORMACK: Again, we have deep concern for the humanitarian situation in Gaza and for the innocent lives on both sides –
LEE: Well, if you do –
MCCORMACK: — both sides of –
LEE: If you do –
LEE: Sean, can I go back to the question I asked yesterday?
LEE: I don’t – I still am not sure I understand your reasoning as to why, if innocent life can be saved –
LEE: — even one innocent life can be saved by a temporary pause –
LEE: — ceasefire, what’s wrong with that? Why –
MCCORMACK: There’s – look, I know that that is a point of view that is supported by many. And we value every single life, absolutely. But you also don’t want to get into a situation where you are trading off – you know, trading off saving even one life now, against losing 30, 40, 50 or more in the future and being right back in the same situation.
LEE: But you don’t know that you’re going to –
MCCORMACK: I know, Matt. Look, there’s no cookie-cutter approach to trying to solve these problems, absolutely not. And I would be the first one to acknowledge that these are tough, sometimes gut-wrenching decisions when you see some of the humanitarian suffering on the ground there. I fully acknowledge that. But we have to stand back from that and try to make what we believe are the best decisions possible that will improve the situation in the region for Israelis, Palestinians, and others who have an interest in seeing a different kind of Middle East. And I know there are different points of view on this matter, and I fully respect those points of view. But we are pursuing the course that we believe is in the best interests of the United States, as well as the people in the region.
LEE: But do you understand the impression that that gives or the – that that gives? I mean, that position that you take appears to many people to be a – the proverbial green light for the Israelis to go ahead and do whatever they want until they think that they’re done.
MCCORMACK: Look, you know, I can – all I can do is try to disabuse people of those impressions and those perceptions. Whether or not they listen to what I have to say or the reasoning behind it, I can’t control that. Look, we have seen this – you know, we have been in – the United States has been in similar circumstances — you can cite many throughout history – of making very, very tough decisions. We had to make similarly tough decisions, for example, back in 2006 when there was a war between Israel and Hezbollah, one provoked by Hezbollah. At the end of that process, as difficult as it was, we believed that the status – you know, the status quo is much preferable and better than the status quo ante. As difficult as that was, and as great as the costs that were incurred in terms of human life and other ways–
LEE: And you’re saying that – so you’re saying that you have the same – that the calculus is the same in this case? That the status quo – what is happening on the ground right now is preferable to what it was before?
MCCORMACK: No, that’s not what I’m saying, Matt. Listen to what I’m saying. What I’m saying – the situation at the end of the conflict between — you know, between Hezbollah and Israel, and currently, is better and preferable. It’s better for the people of Lebanon. It’s better for the people of Israel. It’s better for the region than the status quo ante.
LEE: So at that –
MCCORMACK: That’s not to say – that’s not to say there weren’t great costs that were incurred in that and that there weren’t difficult decisions that were taken in that regard. But what we can do, and what we have to do as stewards of our national interest as well as doing what we think is best for the interests of the people in the region, is the course that we are currently on.
LEE: So if we take that – this situation, you believe that once Israel is finished with what it’s doing, whatever it’s going to do, the situation in Gaza is going to be better than it was before?
MCCORMACK: You know, again, you’re viewing it through a particular – you know, the particular prism of somehow the United States is offering some sort of counsel about Israeli military operations. We are not.
LEE: No, no, no.
MCCORMACK: Our interest is in bringing about a durable, sustainable ceasefire so that the – what you have after conflict has ended is better than what you had before conflict began. Yeah.
After this Tuesday briefing, Lee wrote up and filed his story. With the misleadingly hopeful headline “Rice Traveling to UN to Push Gaza Cease-Fire” (please note: traditionally speaking, reporters don’t write their own headlines), the article opens:
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will travel to New York and the United Nations on Tuesday in a bid to broker a sustainable cease-fire as soon as possible to end the crisis in Gaza.
Lee knows there’s a stark difference between a “ceasefire” and the administration’s “sustainable” or “durable” ceasefire. Most of his back and forth with McCormack for two days pivoted on these semantic but very consequential points of distinction. AP editors surely know this as well.
Yet the AP — America’s leading newswire service — either carelessly or willfully misled its readers and all the news providers it supplied with this headline, many of which, as is often the case, then use it to frame this unfolding story. A headline much closer to the truth would’ve read “Rice Traveling to UN to Push Conditional Gaza Cease-Fire.” Omit “conditional” or some such synonym and the headline gives the false impression that Rice is coming to the Palestinians’ rescue. Lee and his editors at the AP realize as well that Rice is coming to the Palestinians’ rescue like she came to the Lebanese civilians’ rescue in 2006.
The piece continues:
Rice plans to hold several separate meetings with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Arab and European foreign ministers to lobby for a three-tiered U.S. truce proposal and will then attend a U.N. Security Council meeting on Gaza, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.
The talks are intended “to further her efforts to bring about a cease-fire that is sustainable and durable concerning Gaza,” he told reporters. The U.S. wants to see three key elements in any agreement: an end to rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza and securing border crossings between Gaza and Israel and between Gaza and Egypt.
McCormack said it was not clear if the council would adopt any resolution on Tuesday and said the United States could only support an immediate cease-fire if it is not time-limited and addresses the three U.S. points.
“We would like to see the violence end today,” he said. “But we also want to see it end in a way that is sustainable and durable.”
At the White House, press secretary Dana Perino repeated that position.
“We want to get to a durable cease-fire as soon as possible,” Perino said. “And if that is immediate, then we would certainly welcome that.” [...]
Lee pressed McCormack on this administration position for two days, pinpointing and questioning the transparency of its illogic and brutal disregard to what is now a full-blown humanitarian crisis. But none of Lee’s related questions, or McCormack’s answers framed by those questions, ever appear in this article. Nor do they appear in Lee’s article published the next day, “Rice Extends UN Visit Amid Gaza Truce Debate,” which opens:
The Bush administration held off Wednesday from backing an Egyptian-French ceasefire proposal in Gaza, but urged a lasting agreement that would end ongoing violence between Israeli and Hamas forces that have killed more than 670 people.
If you watch or read what Lee said during the corresponding press briefings, it’s hard to believe he decided to scrub those exchanges with McCormick. Of course it’s possible. But the only thing that’s certain is somewhere between Lee’s exemplary work in those two prior press briefings and the AP’s editorial process, someone decided to censor the pertinent truth about the reckless stupidity and grisly inhumanity of the administration’s current Gaza stance.
It’s time. Long past time. The best strategy to end the increasingly bloody occupation is for Israel to become the target of the kind of global movement that put an end to apartheid in South Africa.
In July 2005 a huge coalition of Palestinian groups laid out plans to do just that. They called on “people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era.” The campaign Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions—BDS for short—was born.
Every day that Israel pounds Gaza brings more converts to the BDS cause, and talk of cease-fires is doing little to slow the momentum. Support is even emerging among Israeli Jews. In the midst of the assault roughly 500 Israelis, dozens of them well-known artists and scholars, sent a letter to foreign ambassadors stationed in Israel. It calls for “the adoption of immediate restrictive measures and sanctions” and draws a clear parallel with the antiapartheid struggle. “The boycott on South Africa was effective, but Israel is handled with kid gloves.… This international backing must stop.”
Yet even in the face of these clear calls, many of us still can’t go there. The reasons are complex, emotional and understandable. And they simply aren’t good enough. Economic sanctions are the most effective tools in the nonviolent arsenal. Surrendering them verges on active complicity. Here are the top four objections to the BDS strategy, followed by counterarguments.
1. Punitive measures will alienate rather than persuade Israelis. The world has tried what used to be called “constructive engagement.” It has failed utterly. Since 2006 Israel has been steadily escalating its criminality: expanding settlements, launching an outrageous war against Lebanon and imposing collective punishment on Gaza through the brutal blockade. Despite this escalation, Israel has not faced punitive measures—quite the opposite. The weapons and $3 billion in annual aid that the US sends to Israel is only the beginning. Throughout this key period, Israel has enjoyed a dramatic improvement in its diplomatic, cultural and trade relations with a variety of other allies. For instance, in 2007 Israel became the first non–Latin American country to sign a free-trade deal with Mercosur. In the first nine months of 2008, Israeli exports to Canada went up 45 percent. A new trade deal with the European Union is set to double Israel’s exports of processed food. And on December 8, European ministers “upgraded” the EU-Israel Association Agreement, a reward long sought by Jerusalem.
It is in this context that Israeli leaders started their latest war: confident they would face no meaningful costs. It is remarkable that over seven days of wartime trading, the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange’s flagship index actually went up 10.7 percent. When carrots don’t work, sticks are needed.
2. Israel is not South Africa. Of course it isn’t. The relevance of the South African model is that it proves that BDS tactics can be effective when weaker measures (protests, petitions, back-room lobbying) have failed. And there are indeed deeply distressing echoes of South African apartheid in the occupied territories: the color-coded IDs and travel permits, the bulldozed homes and forced displacement, the settler-only roads. Ronnie Kasrils, a prominent South African politician, said that the architecture of segregation that he saw in the West Bank and Gaza was “infinitely worse than apartheid.”That was in 2007, before Israel began its full-scale war against the open-air prison that is Gaza.
3. Why single out Israel when the United States, Britain and other Western countries do the same things in Iraq and Afghanistan? Boycott is not a dogma; it is a tactic. The reason the BDS strategy should be tried against Israel is practical: in a country so small and trade-dependent, it could actually work.
4. Boycotts sever communication; we need more dialogue, not less. This one I’ll answer with a personal story. For eight years, my books have been published in Israel by a commercial house called Babel. But when I published The Shock Doctrine, I wanted to respect the boycott. On the advice of BDS activists, including the wonderful writer John Berger, I contacted a small publisher called Andalus. Andalus is an activist press, deeply involved in the anti-occupation movement and the only Israeli publisher devoted exclusively to translating Arabic writing into Hebrew. We drafted a contract that guarantees that all proceeds go to Andalus’s work, and none to me. In other words, I am boycotting the Israeli economy but not Israelis.
Coming up with our modest publishing plan required dozens of phone calls, e-mails and instant messages, stretching from Tel Aviv to Ramallah to Paris to Toronto to Gaza City. My point is this: as soon as you start implementing a boycott strategy, dialogue increases dramatically. And why wouldn’t it? Building a movement requires endless communicating, as many in the antiapartheid struggle well recall. The argument that supporting boycotts will cut us off from one another is particularly specious given the array of cheap information technologies at our fingertips. We are drowning in ways to rant at one another across national boundaries. No boycott can stop us.
Just about now, many a proud Zionist is gearing up for major point-scoring: don’t I know that many of those very high-tech toys come from Israeli research parks, world leaders in infotech? True enough, but not all of them. Several days into Israel’s Gaza assault, Richard Ramsey, the managing director of a British telecom specializing in voice-over-internet services, sent an email to the Israeli tech firm MobileMax. “As a result of the Israeli government action in the last few days we will no longer be in a position to consider doing business with yourself or any other Israeli company.”
Ramsey says that his decision wasn’t political; he just didn’t want to lose customers. “We can’t afford to lose any of our clients,” he explains, “so it was purely commercially defensive.”
It was this kind of cold business calculation that led many companies to pull out of South Africa two decades ago. And it’s precisely the kind of calculation that is our most realistic hope of bringing justice, so long denied, to Palestine.
This column was first published in The Nation
The only international news network covering every aspect of the war on Gaza is Al Jazeera English. The station isn’t available in North America but you can watch it live in high-quality through www.livestation.com (player download is required).
Thanks to the Daily Show, the only show on any network to make an attempt at defending the Palestinian position.No offense to Jon, or the excellent staff/writers over at the Daily Show, but it’s a sad inditement that they are the only show that didn’t parrot the “Israel has the right to protect herself” argument.
The Daily Show is also the only show I have seen on American television that correctly points out that Gaza is under a cruel blockade, and Israel is still essentially occupying the territory because it has sealed off the Gaza territory from receiving needed supplies and food.
Stephen Zunes, Alternet.org
Editor’s note: In the U.S., the claim that the actions of Hamas forcedIsrael to launch a massive assault on the impoverished population of Gaza is almost universally accepted. But, as scholar Stephen Zunes explains below, the picture of Hamas as an organization of wide-eyed radicalism without electoral legitimacy or the support of a significant portion of the Palestinian population is simplistic. In this important piece, Zunes examines the ways in which Israeli and American policy-makers encouraged the rise of the conservative religious group Hamas in an effort to marginalize secular and leftist elements within the Occupied Territories.
The United States bears much of the blame for the ongoing bloodshed in the Gaza Strip and nearby parts of Israel. Indeed, were it not for misguided Israeli and American policies, Hamas would not be in control of the territory in the first place.
Israel initially encouraged the rise of the Palestinian Islamist movement as a counter to the Palestine Liberation Organization, the secular coalition composed of Fatah and various leftist and other nationalist movements. Beginning in the early 1980s, with generous funding from the U.S.-backed family dictatorship in Saudi Arabia, the antecedents of Hamas began to emerge through the establishment of schools, health care clinics, social service organizations and other entities that stressed an ultraconservative interpretation of Islam, which up to that point had not been very common among the Palestinian population. The hope was that if people spent more time praying in mosques, they would be less prone to enlist in left-wing nationalist movements challenging the Israeli occupation.
While supporters of the secular PLO were denied their own media or right to hold political gatherings, the Israeli occupation authorities allowed radical Islamic groups to hold rallies, publish uncensored newspapers and even have their own radio station. For example, in the occupied Palestinian city of Gaza in 1981, Israeli soldiers — who had shown no hesitation in brutally suppressing peaceful pro-PLO demonstrations — stood by when a group of Islamic extremists attacked and burned a PLO-affiliated health clinic in Gaza for offering family-planning services for women.
Hamas, an acronym for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya (Islamic Resistance Movement), was founded in 1987 by Sheik Ahmed Yassin, who had been freed from prison when Israel conquered the Gaza Strip 20 years earlier. Israel’s priorities in suppressing Palestinian dissent during this period were revealing: In 1988, Israel forcibly exiled Palestinian activist Mubarak Awad, a Christian pacifist who advocated the use of Gandhian-style resistance to the Israeli occupation and Israeli-Palestinian peace, while allowing Yassin to circulate anti-Jewish hate literature and publicly call for the destruction of Israel by force of arms.
American policy was not much different: Up until 1993, U.S. officials in the consular office in Jerusalem met periodically with Hamas leaders, while they were barred from meeting with anyone from the PLO, including leading moderates within the coalition. This policy continued despite the fact that the PLO had renounced terrorism and unilaterally recognized Israel as far back as 1988.
One of the early major boosts for Hamas came when the Israeli government expelled more than 400 Palestinian Muslims in late 1992. While most of the exiles were associated with Hamas-affiliated social service agencies, very few had been accused of any violent crimes. Since such expulsions are a direct contravention to international law, the U.N. Security Council unanimously condemned the action and called for their immediate return. The incoming Clinton administration, however, blocked the United Nations from enforcing its resolution and falsely claimed that an Israeli offer to eventually allow some of exiles back constituted a fulfillment of the U.N. mandate. The result of the Israeli and American actions was that the exiles became heroes and martyrs, and the credibility of Hamas in the eyes of the Palestinians grew enormously — and so did its political strength.=
Still, at the time of the Oslo Agreement between Israel and the PLO in 1993, polls showed that Hamas had the support of only 15 percent of the Palestinian community. Support for Hamas grew, however, as promises of a viable Palestinian state faded as Israel continued to expand its colonization drive on the West Bank without apparent U.S. objections, doubling the amount of settlers over the next dozen years. The rule of Fatah leader and Palestinian Authority President Yassir Arafat and his cronies proved to be corrupt and inept, while Hamas leaders were seen to be more honest and in keeping with the needs of ordinary Palestinians. In early 2001, Israel cut off all substantive negotiations with the Palestinians, and a devastating U.S.-backed Israeli offensive the following year destroyed much of the Palestinian Authority’s infrastructure, making prospects for peace and statehood even more remote. Israeli closures and blockades sank the Palestinian economy into a serious depression, and Hamas-run social services became all the more important for ordinary Palestinians.
Seeing how Fatah’s 1993 decision to end the armed struggle and rely on a U.S.-led peace process had resulted in increased suffering, Hamas’ popularity grew well beyond its hard-line fundamentalist base and its use of terrorism against Israel — despite being immoral, illegal and counterproductive — seemed to express the sense of anger and impotence of wide segments of the Palestinian population. Meanwhile — in a policy defended by the Bush administration and Democratic leaders in Congress — Israel’s use of death squads resulted in the deaths of Yassin and scores of other Hamas leaders, turning them into martyrs in the eyes of many Palestinians and increasing Hamas’ support still further.
Hamas Comes to Power
With the Bush administration insisting that the Palestinians stage free and fair elections after the death of Arafat in 2004, Fatah leaders hoped that coaxing Hamas into the electoral process would help weaken its more radical elements. Despite U.S. objections, the Palestinian parliamentary elections went ahead in January 2006 with Hamas’ participation. They were monitored closely by international observers and were universally recognized as free and fair. With reformist and leftist parties divided into a half-dozen competing slates, Hamas was seen by many Palestinians disgusted with the status quo as the only viable alternative to the corrupt Fatah incumbents, and with Israel refusing to engage in substantive peace negotiations with Abbas’ Fatah-led government, they figured there was little to lose in electing Hamas. In addition, factionalism within the ruling party led a number of districts to have competing Fatah candidates. As a result, even though Hamas only received 44 percent of the vote, it captured a majority of parliament and the right to select the prime minister and form a new government.
Ironically, the position of prime minister did not exist under the original constitution of the Palestinian Authority, but was added in March 2003 at the insistence of the United States, which desired a counterweight to President Arafat. As a result, while the elections allowed Abbas to remain as president, he was forced to share power with Ismail Haniya, the Hamas prime minister.
Despite claiming support for free elections, the United States tried from the outset to undermine the Hamas government. It was largely due to U.S. pressure that Abbas refused Hamas’ initial invitation to form a national unity government that would include Fatah and from which some of the more hard-line Hamas leaders would have presumably been marginalized. The Bush administration pressured the Canadians, Europeans and others in the international community to impose stiff sanctions on the Palestine Authority, although a limited amount of aid continued to flow to government offices controlled by Abbas.
Once one of the more-prosperous regions in the Arab world, decades of Israeli occupation had resulted in the destruction of much of the indigenous Palestinian economy, making the Palestinian Authority dependent on foreign aid to provide basic functions for its people. The impact of these sanctions, therefore, was devastating. The Iranian regime rushed in to partially fulfill the void, providing millions of dollars to run basic services and giving the Islamic republic — which until then had not been allied with Hamas and had not been a major player in Palestinian politics — unprecedented leverage.
Meanwhile, record unemployment led angry and hungry young men to become easy recruits for Hamas militants. One leading Fatah official noted how, “For many people, this was the only way to make money.” Some Palestinian police, unpaid by their bankrupt government, clandestinely joined the Hamas militia as a second job, creating a dual loyalty.
The demands imposed at the insistence of the Bush administration and Congress on the Palestinian Authority in order to lift the sanctions appeared to have been designed to be rejected and were widely interpreted as a pretext for punishing the Palestinian population for voting the wrong way. For example, the United States demanded that the Hamas-led government unilaterally recognize the right of the state of Israel to exist, even though Israel has never recognized the right of the Palestinians to have a viable state on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, or anywhere else. Other demands included an end of attacks on civilians in Israel while not demanding that Israel likewise end its attacks on civilian areas in the Gaza Strip. They also demanded that the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority accept all previously negotiated agreements, even as Israel continued to violate key components of the Wye River Agreement and other negotiated deals with the Palestinians.
While Hamas honored a unilateral cease-fire regarding suicide bombings in Israel, border clashes and rocket attacks into Israel continued. Israel, meanwhile, with the support of the Bush administration, engaged in devastating air strikes against crowded urban neighborhoods, resulting in hundreds of civilian casualties. Congress also went on record defending the Israeli assaults — which were widely condemned in the international community as excessive and in violation of international humanitarian law — as legitimate acts of self-defense.
A Siege, Not a Withdrawal
The myth perpetuated by both the Bush administration and congressional leaders of both parties was that Israel’s 2005 dismantling of its illegal settlements in the Gaza Strip and the withdrawal of military units that supported them constituted effective freedom for the Palestinians of the territory. American political leaders from President George W. Bush to House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., have repeatedly praised Israel for its belated compliance with a series of U.N. Security Council resolutions calling for its withdrawal of these illegal settlements (despite Israel’s ongoing violations of these same resolutions by maintaining and expanding illegal settlements in the West Bank and Golan Heights).
In reality, however, the Gaza Strip has remained effectively under siege. Even prior to the Hamas victory in the Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006, the Israeli government not only severely restricted — as is its right — entry from the Gaza Strip into Israel, but also controlled passage through the border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, as well. Israel also refused to allow the Palestinians to open their airport or seaport. This not only led to periodic shortages of basic necessities imported through Egypt, but resulted in the widespread wasting of perishable exports — such as fruits, vegetables and cut flowers — vital to the territory’s economy. Furthermore, Gaza residents were cut off from family members and compatriots in the West Bank and elsewhere in what many have referred to as the world’s largest open-air prison.
In retaliation, Hamas and allied militias began launching rocket attacks into civilian areas of Israel. Israel responded by bombing, shelling and periodic incursions in civilian areas in the Gaza Strip, which, by the time of the 2006 cease-fire, had killed over 200 civilians, including scores of children. Bush administration officials, echoed by congressional leaders of both parties, justifiably condemned the rocket attacks by Hamas-allied units into civilian areas of Israel (which at that time had resulted in scores of injuries but only one death), but defended Israel’s far more devastating attacks against civilian targets in the Gaza Strip. This created a reaction that strengthened Hamas’ support in the territory even more.
The Gaza Strip’s population consists primarily of refugees from Israel’s ethnic cleansing of most of Palestine almost 60 years ago and their descendents, most of whom have had no gainful employment since Israel sealed the border from most day laborers in the late 1980s. Crowded into only 140 square miles and subjected to extreme violence and poverty, it is not surprising that many would become susceptible to extremist politics, such as those of the Islamist Hamas movement. Nor is it surprising that under such conditions, people with guns would turn on each other.
Undermining the Unity Government
When factional fighting between armed Fatah and Hamas groups broke out in early 2007, Saudi officials negotiated a power-sharing agreement between the two leading Palestinian political movements. U.S. officials, however, unsuccessfully encouraged Abbas to renounce the agreement and dismiss the entire government. Indeed, ever since the election of a Hamas parliamentary majority, the Bush administration began pressuring Fatah to stage a coup and abolish parliament.
The national unity government put key ministries in the hands of Fatah members and independent technocrats and removed some of the more hard-line Hamas leaders and, while falling well short of Western demands, Hamas did indicate an unprecedented willingness to engage with Israel, accept a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and negotiate a long-term cease-fire with Israel. For the first time, this could have allowed Israel and the United States the opportunity to bring into peace talks a national unity government representing virtually all the factions and parties active in Palestinian politics on the basis of the Arab League peace initiative for a two-state solution and U.N. Security Council Resolution 242. However, both the Israeli and American governments refused.
Instead, the Bush administration decided to escalate the conflict by ordering Israel to ship large quantities or weapons to armed Fatah groups to enable them to fight Hamas and stage a coup. Israeli military leaders initially resisted the idea, fearing that much of these arms would end up in the hands of Hamas, but — as Israeli journalist Uri Avnery put it – “our government obeyed American orders, as usual.” That Fatah was being supplied with weapons from Israel while Hamas was fighting the Israelis led many Palestinians — even those who don’t share Hamas’ extremist ideology — to see Fatah as collaborators and Hamas as liberation fighters. This was a major factor leading Hamas to launch what it saw as a preventive war or a countercoup by overrunning the offices of the Fatah militias in June 2007 and, just as the Israelis feared, many of these newly supplied weapons have indeed ended up in the hands of Hamas militants. Hamas has ruled the Gaza Strip ever since.
The United States also threw its support to Mohammed Dahlan, the notorious Fatah security chief in Gaza, who — despite being labeled by American officials as “moderate” and “pragmatic” — oversaw the detention, torture and execution of Hamas activists and others, leading to widespread popular outrage against Fatah and its supporters.
Alvaro de Soto, former U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, stated in his confidential final report leaked to the press a few weeks before the Hamas takeover that “the Americans clearly encouraged a confrontation between Fatah and Hamas” and “worked to isolate and damage Hamas and build up Fatah with recognition and weaponry.” De Soto also recalled how in the midst of Egyptian efforts to arrange a cease-fire following a flare-up in factional fighting earlier this year, a U.S. official told him that “I like this violence … it means that other Palestinians are resisting Hamas.”
Weakening Palestinian Moderates
For moderate forces to overcome extremist forces, the moderates must be able to provide their population with what they most need: in this case, the end of Israel’s siege of the Gaza Strip and its occupation and colonizing of the remaining Palestinian territories. However, Israeli policies — backed by the Bush administration and Congress — seem calculated to make this impossible. The noted Israeli policy analyst Gershon Baskin observed, in an article in theJerusalem Post just prior to Hamas’ electoral victory, how “Israel ‘s unilateralism and determination not to negotiate and engage President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority has strengthened the claims of Hamas and weakened Abbas and his authority, which was already severely crippled by … Israeli actions that demolished the infrastructures of Palestinian Authority governing bodies and institutions.”
Bush and an overwhelming bipartisan majority in Congress have also thrown their support to the Israeli government’s unilateral disengagement policy that, while withdrawing Israeli settlements from the Gaza Strip, has expanded them in the occupied West Bank as part of an effort to illegally annex large swaths of Palestinian territory. In addition, neither Congress nor the Bush administration has pushed the Israelis to engage in serious peace negotiations with the Palestinians, which have been suspended for over six years, despite calls by Abbas and the international community that they resume. Given that Fatah’s emphasis on negotiations has failed to stop Israel’s occupation and colonization of large parts of the West Bank, it’s not surprising that Hamas’ claim that the U.S.-managed peace process is working against Palestinian interests has resonance, even among Palestinians who recognize that terrorism by Hamas’ armed wing is both morally reprehensible and has hurt the nationalist cause.
Following Hamas’ armed takeover of Gaza, the highly respected Israeli journalist Roni Shaked, writing in the June 15 issue of Yediot Ahronoth, noted that “The U.S. and Israel had a decisive contribution to this failure.” Despite claims by Israel and the United States that they wanted to strengthen Abbas, “in practice, zero was done for this to happen. The meetings with him turned into an Israeli political tool, and Olmert’s kisses and backslapping turned Abbas into a collaborator and a source of jokes on the Palestinian street.”
De Soto’s report to the U.N. Secretary-General, in which he referred to Hamas’ stance toward Israel as “abominable,” also noted that “Israeli policies seemed perversely designed to encourage the continued action by Palestinian militants.” Regarding the U.S.-instigated international sanctions against the Palestinian Authority, the former Peruvian diplomat also observed that “the steps taken by the international community with the presumed purpose of bringing about a Palestinian entity that will live in peace with its neighbor Israel have had precisely the opposite effect.”
Some Israeli commentators saw this strategy as deliberate. Avnery noted, “Our government has worked for year to destroy Fatah, in order to avoid the need to negotiate an agreement that would inevitably lead to the withdrawal form the occupied territories and the settlements there.” Similarly, M.J. Rosenberg of the Israel Policy Center observed, “the fact is that Israeli (and American) right-wingers are rooting for the Palestinian extremists” since “supplanting … Fatah with Islamic fundamentalists would prevent a situation under which Israel would be forced to negotiate with moderates.” The problem, Avnery wrote at that time, is that “now, when it seems that this aim has been achieved, they have no idea what to do about the Hamas victory.”
Since then, the Israeli strategy has been to increase the blockade on the Gaza Strip, regardless of the disastrous humanitarian consequences, and more recently to launch devastating attacks that have killed hundreds of people, as many as one-quarter of whom have been civilians. The Bush administration and leaders of both parties in Congress have defended Israeli policies on the grounds that the extremist Hamas governs the territory.
Yet no one seems willing to acknowledge the role the United States had in making it possible for Hamas to come to power in Gaza in the first place.