During his talk sponsored by the New American Foundation in March 2008, author Parag Khanna addressed the rising challenges facing the US’s global hegemony. According to Khanna, China and the European Union are the new contenders with the battlefield being a global ‘geopolitical marketplace.’
Aside from Khanna’s insight, one statement particularly puzzled me greatly. “Why am I talking about Europe, China, and the United States? What about Russia, what about India, what about Islam ..what about all those other powers?” Initially, I thought it must have been an error. The speaker must surely realize that Islam is a religion, not a political entity with a definable ‘geopolitical marketplace.’ But it was not an error, or more accurately, it was a deliberate error. Khanna went on to explain that Islam doesn’t have ‘that kind of coherence’ that allows it to spread its power and influence, unlike the dominant other powers which he highlighted. According to that odd logic, Islam and Brazil were discussed in a similar context.
Few with any sense of intellectual or historical integrity would still question the bloody massacre that took place in the village of Deir Yassin 65 years ago, claiming the lives of over 100 innocent Palestinians. Attempts at covering up the massacre have been dwarfed by grim details by well-respected historians, including some of Israel’s own.
Even narratives offered by historians such as Benny Morris – an honest researcher who remained committed to Zionism despite the ghastly history he had himself uncovered – presented a harrowing version of the events that unfolded on that day: “Whole families were riddled with bullets… men, women, and children were mowed down as they emerged from houses; individuals were taken aside and shot. Haganah intelligence reported ‘there were piles of dead. Some of the prisoners moved to places of incarceration, including women and children, were murdered viciously by their captors…”
On Sep. 17, 2012, Ismail Haniyeh, Prime Minister of the Hamas government in Gaza, made another appeal to his Egyptian counterpart Hisham Kandil to consider setting up a free trade area between Gaza and Egypt.
The reasonable idea would allow Egypt to support Gaza’s ragged economy while sparing Cairo the political fallout from destroying hundreds of tunnels that provide 1.6 million Palestinians a lifeline under a continued Israeli siege. Palestinians in Gaza rely on goods smuggled through tunnels and to a lesser extent United Nations handouts to survive.
“We explained the concept in detail (..) the idea is to alleviate the economic hardship in Gaza,” Hamas official, Taher al-Nono was then quoted in Reuters. Kandil promised to look into the matter, indicating that it was too early for a response.
‘Confused’ may be an appropriate term to describe Turkey’s current foreign policy in the Middle East and Israel in particular. The source of that confusion – aside from the appalling violence in Syria and earlier in Libya – is Turkey’s own mistakes.
The Turkish government’s inconsistency regarding Israel highlights earlier discrepancy in other political contexts. There was a time when Turkey’s top foreign policy priority included reaching out diplomatically to Arab and Muslim countries. Then, we spoke of a paradigm shift, whereby Ankara was repositioning its political center, reflecting perhaps economic necessity, but also cultural shifts within its own society. It seemed that the East vs. West debate was skillfully being resolved by politicians of the Justice and Development Party (AKP).
At the precise moment US President Barack Obama’s Air Force One touched down at Ben Gurion Airport on March 20, persisting illusions quickly began to shatter. And as he walked on the red carpet, showered with accolades and warm embraces of top Israeli government and military officials, a new/old reality began to sink in: Obama was no different than his predecessors. He never had been.
On the day of Obama’s arrival, Israeli rights group B’Tselem, released a disturbing video. It was of Israeli soldiers carrying out a ‘mass arrest’ of nearly 30 Palestinian children on their way to school in the Palestinian city of al-Khalil (Hebron). The children plead and cried to no avail. Their terrified shrieks echoed throughout the Palestinian neighborhood as they tried to summon the help of passersby. “‘Amo’ – Uncle,” one begged, “for God sake don’t let them take me.” Nonetheless, several military vehicles were filled with crying children and their school bags. But what made the release of the video truly apt is the fact that it was released on the day president Obama was meeting Israeli children at a welcoming ceremony at the home of Israeli President Shimon Peres.
“Hi Papa .. Don’t worry about me too much, right now I am most concerned that we are not being effective. I still don’t feel particularly at risk. Rafah has seemed calmer lately,” Rachel Corrie wrote to her father, Craig, from Rafah, a town located at the southern end of the Gaza Strip.
‘Rachel’s last email’ was not dated on the Rachel Corrie Foundation website. It must have been written soon after her last email to her mother, Cindy, on Feb 28. She was killed by an Israeli bulldozer on March 16, 2003.
Immediately after her painful death, crushed beneath an Israeli army bulldozer, Rafah embraced her legacy as another ‘martyr’ for Palestine. It was a befitting tribute to Rachel, who was born to a progressive family in the town of Olympia, itself a hub for anti-war and social justice activism. But Olympia is also the capital of Washington State. Politicians here can be as callous, morally flexible and pro-Israel as any other seats of government in the US, where sharply dressed men and women jockey for power and influence. Ten years after Rachel’s death, the US government is yet to hold Israel to account. Neither is justice expected anytime soon.
An Israeli-Turkish rapprochement is unmistakably underway, but unlike the heyday of their political alignment of the1990’s, the revamped relationship is likely to be more guarded and will pose a greater challenge to Turkey rather than to Israel.
Israeli media referenced a report by Turkish newspaper Radikal with much interest, regarding secret talks between Turkey and Israel that could yield an Israeli apology for its army’s raid against the Turkish aid flotilla, the Mavi Marmara, which was on its way to Gaza in May 2010. The assault resulted in the death of 9 Turkish activists, including a US citizen.
When one looks at scenes of fleeing refugees from Syria via images of their squalid refugee camps and hears their pleas for solidarity, mercy or for God’s help to end their suffering, one finds eerie similarities between their experiences and those of the Palestinians, Lebanese and Iraqis. However, the worse part of the tragedy occurs when it is so prolonged that video footage, photos and personal accounts meant to delineate an urgent reality, wind up becoming the ever-present state of affairs, a painful and humiliating status quo.
Soon after the joint US-British bombing campaign ‘Operation Desert Fox’ devastated parts of Iraq in Dec 1998, I was complaining to a friend in the lobby of the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad.
I was disappointed with the fact that our busy schedule in Iraq – mostly visiting hospitals packed with injured or Depleted Uranium Victims – left me no time to purchase a few Arabic books for my little daughter back in the states. As I got ready to embark on the long bus journey back to Jordan, an Iraqi man with a thick moustache and a carefully designed beard approached me. “This is for your daughter,” he said with a smile as he handed me a plastic bag. The bag included over a dozen books with colorful images of traditional Iraqi children stories. I had never met that man before, nor did we ever meet again. He was a guest at the hotel and somehow he learned of my dilemma. As I profusely, but hurriedly thanked him before taking my seat on the bus, he insisted that no such words were needed. “We are brothers and your daughter is like my own,” he said.
Despite much saber-rattling by Israel and the US administration and hyped-up expectations by the Palestinian leadership, the recognition of Palestine as a non-member observer state late last year is on its way to becoming yet another footnote in protracted conflict that has endured for 65 years.
Only hours after the announcement, Israel had its own announcement to make: the building of a new illegal settlement (according to international law, all of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are illegal) in Palestinian land. The area is called the E-1 zone by Israel. A couple of European countries responded with greater exasperation than usual, but soon moved on to other seemingly more pressing issues. The US called Israel’s spiteful move “counterproductive”, but soon neglected the matter. Palestinian activists who tried to counter Israel’s illegal activities by pitching tents in areas marked by Israel for construction were violently removed.
If Palestinian leaders only knew how extraneous their endless rounds of “unity” talks have become, they might cease their enthusiastic declarations to world media about yet another scheduled meeting or another. At this point, few Palestinians have hope that their “leadership” has their best interests in mind. Factional interests reign supreme and personal agendas continue to define Palestine’s political landscape.
Fatah and Hamas are the two major Palestinian political factions. Despite Hamas’s election victory in 2006, Fatah is the chief contender. Both parties continue to play the numbers game, flexing their muscles in frivolous rallies where Palestinian flags are overshadowed with green and yellow banners, symbols of Hamas and Fatah respectively.
Reading the text of a bill that was recently signed into law by US President Barack Obama would instill fear in the hearts of ordinary Americans. Apparently, barbarians coming from distant lands are at work. They are gathering at the US-Mexico border, cutting fences and ready to wreak havoc on an otherwise serene American landscape.
Never mind that crazed, armed to the teeth, homegrown American terrorists are killing children and terrorizing whole cities. It is the Iranian menace that we are meant to fear according to the new law. When compounded with the other imagined threats of Hezbollah and Hamas, all with sinister agendas, then the time is right for Americans to return to their homes, bolt their doors and squat in shelters awaiting further instructions, for evidently, “The Iranians are coming.”
It must have been 2007, although I cannot remember the exact date. I do recall getting lost in what seemed like a futile search for the headquarters of the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) in Rome. There was a meeting of NGOs and some General Assembly body, consisting of several UN ambassadors, dedicated to the ‘Question of Palestine’. I was asked to attend on behalf of one NGO. Timidly, I agreed.
Knowing in advance how such meetings often conclude – reiterating old statements, rehashing old text, reaffirming this and reasserting that – I still attended. The subject of the discussion was the Palestinian refugees, who, for most Palestinians, aside from Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority, still represent the core of any just solution to a decades-long Palestinian struggle for freedom and rights. I was compelled by a greater sense of urgency than the need to restate and reconfirm official UN text. A few days earlier in London, I had received a worrying call.
“In a moment of high theatre he dropped to his knees, placed his lips on the ground and kissed the land he has commanded by proxy”. This is how Robert Tait of the British Telegraph worded the moment Khaled Meshaal arrived in Gaza on Dec 07. Tait’s report on what many in Gaza and elsewhere consider a watershed event in the history of the Islamic movement, was mostly consistent with mainstream reporting on any event concerning the impoverished and besieged Strip: often biased, selective and devoid of real understanding or empathy.
Media reporting on Hamas is doubly provocative, controversial and similar to political stances towards Hamas. However, in the eyes of Israel, through the prism of its media and among Israel’s western supporters, Hamas is an unequaled terrorist organization, sworn to destroy Israel and unlike the other ‘moderate’ Palestinians – for example, western-backed Palestinian Authority – it refuses to recognize Israel’s ‘right to exist’. The latter point was faithfully emphasized by Tait. He, like many others, unthinkingly or deliberately fails to question the incredulous condition placed on a relatively small movement as it faces a powerful and habitually brutal military.
Palestine has become a “non-member state” at the United Nations as of Thursday November 29, 2012.The draft of the UN resolution beckoning what many perceive as a historic moment passed with an overwhelming majority of General Assembly members: 138 votes in favor, nine against and 41 abstentions.
It was accompanied by a passionate speech delivered by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. But decades earlier, a more impressive and animated Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat sought international solidarity as well. The occasion then was also termed ‘historic’.
In life, some phenomena cannot be explained by ordinary logic or technical language, let alone official discourses. How did Gaza manage to fight back with such ferocity and undying vigor in quelling the latest Israeli war despite years of a bloody siege and one-sided war in 2008-9? It simply cannot be explained by the outmoded language of today’s media analysts. Notwithstanding, a new reality is about to emerge.
During the 2008-09 ‘Operation Cast Lead,’ Israel killed over 1,400 Palestinians and wounded over 5,000 others. It was like shooting fish in a barrel. Most victims were civilians as is always the case in such wars of ‘self-defense’. A United Nations investigation published in September 2009 concluded there is “evidence indicating serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law were committed by Israel during the Gaza conflict, and that Israel committed actions amounting to war crimes, and possibly crimes against humanity.”
Europe is different, as we are often reminded. The general wisdom is unlike the United States’ unconditional support for Israel. European countries tend to be more balanced in their approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Their politicians are less receptive to being bought and sold by pro-Israeli lobbies. Their media is far more inclusive in their coverage – unlike the staunchly one-sided US mainstream media that, at times, are far more pro-Israel than Israeli media itself. While one must concede that no single country’s foreign policy is an exact carbon copy of another, there is little evidence that set the European Union (EU) apart as a platform of evenhandedness and political sensibility. Unlike the United States however, European bias is far more inconspicuous, and purposely so.
In Malaysia, a small group of community activists are busy at work developing projects that benefit most vulnerable members of Palestinian society in Gaza.
Working under the umbrella of Viva Palestina Malaysia (VPM), the group shows solidarity through empowerment projects: interest free loans for micro projects, providing employment for women, supplying thousands of solar lamps aimed at ending the persistent darkness for many families, and more.
The overall value of the combined efforts of VPM is important, because it is long-lasting. But equally important, the channeled funds are not part of a political scheme nor are aimed to exact concession. This can hardly be said of much of the relationship between Palestinian leadership and society, and outside funds, which began pouring in, with a clear political manual that has been dutifully followed by those who provide the funds and those who receive them.
Apparently, ‘popular resistance’ has suddenly elevated to become a clash of visions or strategies between the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and its rivals in Gaza, underscoring an existing and deepening rift between various factions and leaderships.
Addressing a Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) meeting in Ramallah on July 2011, PA President Mahmoud Abbas sounded as if he had finally reached an earth shattering conclusion, supposedly inspired by the ‘Arab Spring.’ “In this coming period, we want mass action, organized and coordinated in every place .. This is a chance to raise our voices in front of the world and say that we want our rights.” He called on Palestinians to wage “popular resistance”, insisting that it must be “unarmed popular resistance so that nobody misunderstands us,” (Reuters). He made a similar call at the UN General Assembly in September.
US elections are manifestly linked to the Middle East, at least rhetorically. In practical terms, however, US foreign policies in the region are compelled by the Middle East’s own dynamics and the US’ own political climate, economic woes, or ambitions. There is little historic evidence that US foreign policy in the Arab world has been guided by moral compulsion.
When it comes to the Middle East – and much of the world – it is mostly about style. The country’s two leading political parties have proven equally to be interventionists. In the last two decades Democrats seemed to lean more towards unilateralism in foreign policy as in war, while Republicans, as highlighted by the administration of George W. Bush, are much less worried about the mere definitions of their conducts. The US administration of Bill Clinton (1993-2001) maintained a draconian siege on Iraq that caused what former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark described as ‘genocide.’ Two years later, W. Bush chose the direct war path, which simply rebranded the ongoing ‘genocide’. In both cases, hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis died.
It seems that media consensus has been conclusively reached: Turkey has been forced into a Middle Eastern mess not of its own making; the ‘Zero Problems with Neighbors’ notion, once the foreign policy centerpiece of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), is all but a romantic notion of no use in realpolitik.
Turkey’s “policy’s goal – to build strong economic, political, and social ties with the country’s immediate neighbors while decreasing its dependency on the United States – seemed to be within sight,” wrote Sinan Ulgen nearly a year ago. “But the Arab Spring exposed the policy’s vulnerabilities, and Turkey must now seek a new guiding principle for regional engagement.”
Editors representing many Asian newspapers stood in a perfect line. They were nervous and giddy at the prospect of meeting Li Changchun, China’s powerful member of the Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee. Personally, the Great Hall of the People and the fortitude of Chinese society mesmerized me. Despite its challenges and repeated accusations of corruption and power struggles, China appeared composed while an unwavering forward movement was propelling it. As for the country’s foreign policy, it is governed by a cautious slowly churning agenda, which is unambiguously clear in its long-term objectives.
A neighbor of mine, of many years ago from a Gaza refugee camp, was a sacrilegious person par excellence. Unemployed like most inhabitants of the camp, he was extremely poor. His family responsibilities were daunting, yet prolonged Israeli military curfews made it impossible for him to find a job, let alone venture outside his miserable one-bedroom house to puff on cheap brand cigarettes, which he often borrowed from some other neighbor.
When life pushed Ghassan beyond his ability to cope, he would go to his house’ courtyard and begin to shout, shrieking most imaginative profanities against everything sacred. His howls would often end with muffled cries and tears, especially once he realized that he had crossed every sacred line there was to cross, including those pertaining to God, the Prophets (no one in specific) and all the holy books.
~ Quotables ~
Political correctness is a doctrine, fostered by a delusional, illogical minority, and rabidly promoted by an unscrupulous mainstream media, which holds forth the proposition that it is entirely possible to pick up a turd by the clean end. ~ Neal H. Ross