Friday, March 31, 2006

The Danger of Unilateralism

Now the dust has started to settle over the Israeli elections, it's time try and make some sense of what all this will mean for the sputtering Israeli/Palestinian peace process.

One Israeli political commentator summarised the election results as "the right have lost but the left haven't won". Likud's crash-landing, juxtaposed with Kadima's less overwhelming than expected victory makes this a fair comment.

I'll assume for now Kadima will find a political partner(s) to allow them to implement their "unilateral disengagement" plan. Basically this plan implies that if a negotiated settlement cannot be found by 2010, Israel will define its borders unilaterally.

The unilateral solution is of course the most undesirable outcome possible, at least to those who wish a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Not only will non-negotiated borders inevitably mean that the Israeli Government will have to accommodate at least some of the demands of the right, and the settlers in particular, invariably leading to borders that will be unacceptable to the Palestinians. And a non-negotiated definition of borders will always be thorn in the Palestinian side and block the way for future negotiations.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks remains Hamas' reluctance to recognise Israel. On the face of it the Israeli demand for recognition of its right to exist is reasonable and logical: how can they be expected to negotiate with a partner that doesn't recognise their existence?

The main reason, in my opinion, why Hamas isn't willing to recognise Israel, at least not without some concessions from Israel in return, is that they feel recognising Israel also means recognising the Occupation, thereby legitimising it.

The West, as usual, remains squarely behind their Middle East ally but it's easy to forget that this "reasonable demand" on the part of the US and Europe is in fact rather two-faced.

To date, Egypt and Jordan are the only members of the Arab League to recognize Israel as a state. The state-run press in Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Iran still refer to Israel as the Zionist entity.

Some of the West's most loyal Muslim allies like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia do not recognise the State of Israel either.

This refusal to recognise Israel on the part of so many Muslim countries must be seen as a protest against the Occupation. It may be politically expedient to single Hamas out but they are clearly not alone in their position.

Then there is the rhetorical call for "the destruction of Israel". Rhetorical it is because an empty threat that cannot be carried out is not a real threat. Palestinians simply don't have the means to "destroy" Israel. Suicide bombers and Kassam missiles can cause considerable human misery, suffering and terror but they cannot capture any terrain. Nonetheless, the Palestinians should completely renounce armed struggle, for tactical reasons: this "war" cannot be won by military means. It's important to note that a unilaterally declared Palestinian cease-fire has been largely, albeit not completely, observed for about a year now.

It's to be hoped that Ehud Olmert's four years of grace will be used to find a way out of the quagmire by means of small, tentative steps from both sides, in order to avoid the spectre of a "unilateral solution". They'll make awkward dance partners, Olmert and Hamas. The former an experienced political tactician, more or less devoid of ideology, the latter brimming with ideology but inexperienced in the minefield of politics...

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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Likud Just in Front of Old Age Pensioners Party!

Israel's Likud fall from grace (BBC).

Allow me, for once, a good dollop of schadenfreude, regarding Likud's dismal election result: few politicians used to make my blood boil more than arch-conservative, political opportunist Binyamin "Bibi" Netanyahu. If Kadima didn't do quite as overwhelmingly well as expected, then Likud did even worse than anticipated and rolled in in fifth position, four seats ahead of Gil, a single-issue group advocating a better deal for old age pensioners.

For once, the Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu appeared lost for words.

The former Israeli prime minister's eyes darted through the convention centre as he stood in front of supporters and a small army of cameramen and photographers.

The once mighty Likud Party, the dominant force in Israeli politics for almost 30 years, had fallen to its knees.

"We have no doubt the Likud has suffered a tough blow," Mr Netanyahu told the crowd.

Binyamin Netanyahu's future is under question

One elderly woman, dressed in a black trouser suit, stood in the centre of the hall crying and dabbing her eyes with a tissue.

"I'm in a state of shock," said Yoram Eytan, 47, a campaign volunteer standing outside the circular hall drawing on a cigarette, his right hand visibly shaking.

"Right now, Likud supporters are trying to wake up from this bad dream. But from tomorrow, the knives will be out."

In fact, a brutal and unsparing political autopsy was almost immediately under way.

"This election result has sent us back 40 years," said Likud campaign manager Danny Danon, not trying to hide his disappointment.

After leaving the rally, Mr Netanyahu was holed up in the Likud headquarters at the Jabotinsky building in central Tel Aviv until the early hours of the morning.

Ariel Sharon became Likud Party leader in 2001

Between sips of whisky and puffs of his cherished cigars on the building's 14th floor, Mr Netanyahu was telling close associates that he was not going to quit, said one senior Likud official.

But privately, some Likud supporters were already saying he must go.

"He ruined the party," said one party official. Another accused Mr Netanyahu of arrogance.

Throughout this election campaign, Likud posters had featured a slim, younger Mr Netanyahu - a picture of the politician when he was prime minister from 1996 to 1999.

But after coming in fifth place on election day, it seems that Binyamin Netanyahu, like his poster, is a man of the past.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Myth of the Myth of Palestine

In a particularly old-fashioned attempt to justify why the Palestinians as a people and a region (Palestine), firstly don't exist and secondly by (il)logical extension don't have a shred of a right to a Nation of their own, a blogger by the nom de guerre of Alexandra created a post called The Myth of Palestine (Part II).

The arguments presented in meticulous detail, I'll concede that, are as old as the hills and have been used on either side of the Israel/Palestine debate and regard who lived in the region we now somewhat ambiguously call Israel/Palestine, what they were called, where they in turn came from and went to, who their ancestors' ancestors where, etc etc, all carbon-dated back to x thousands of years ago, x depending on how far back the navel-staring amateur "historian" just wants to go, to try and prove points regarding the legitimacy of the State of Israel and the Palestinians right to self-determination.

I said that this kind of historical soul and root searching appears on both sides of the argument but of late it does appear to be a particularly Judeo-Christian pastime.

It's futile and unnecessary to refute the claims and counter-claims regarding land, when these claims go back to times immemorial. Often it's impossible to accurately do so. But the claims are a counter-productive attempt to legitimise the existence of one state (Israel), a legitimacy that is not seriously in doubt, and undermine as yet unfulfilled claims by another party, the Palestinians.

Perhaps there is indeed one simple way of sweeping Alexandra's claims off the table, once and for all. Nation States and their peoples are a very recent phenomenon: Alexandra claims via the "historical route" to be able to prove the Palestinian people don't exist, a highly contentious claim, even by any stretch of historical imagination. But I doubt if anyone will deny the American people only came into existence in 1776, prior to American independence there simply was no such thing as an "American People". This principle can be applied to all modern Nation States at some date or other.

It's a matter of fact that the world's population is largely one of immigrants and emigres: people and entire peoples have migrated from one area to another since time immemorial and land grabs form the basis of most modern Nation States. The latter served mainly as legitimisation of these faits accomplis.

If we somehow were to try and restore the world's land to its "original owners" we'd have our work cut out. Who are we to give the land now called United Kingdom back too? The Swedish (the Viking connection)? The Germans (the Saxon connection)? The Italians (the Roman connection)? Partly to the Scottish? I could just go on...

Perhaps we should simply honour the "Out of Africa" theory and leave these shores in search of our ancient homelands...

Alexandra's "wishing the Palestinians away" on the basis of "historical" "data" is in stark contrast with very strong empirical evidence to the contrary. Where are the Palestinians? Oh, yes, there they are; in the Occupied Territories, in Gaza and in a ton of refugee camps inside and outside Israel/Palestine! Let me try and pinch one in the arm, to see if he does actually exist. No, I don't really need to do that, now do I? They're there alright...

Sadly, Alexandra and people of her ilk are often also proud Islamophobes and accuse anyone who doesn't completely, unconditionally and uncritically support Israel of... anti-Semitism.

Alexandra's views are also largely behind the times and out of sync with the reality on the ground in Israel: Kadima's looming election victory indicates that most Israelis are aware of the fact and accept the fact that the Palestinians aren't simply going to go away and that the issue will have to be dealt with, unilaterally or, hopefully, otherwise. What, in contrast, Alexandra plans to with these people remains unclear but I suspect it might be something altogether more sinister...

Alexandra's blogpost attracted loads of comments but one in particular grabbed my attention for its down-to-earth realism. It's by
Joseph Marshall and it's reprinted here in it's entirety:
This is the usual disingenuous fan dance. The fact of thousands of Arabs living in Gaza, or on the west side of the Jordan River, is just that: a fact. Not only that, it has been a fact far longer than the State of Israel or the Palestine Mandate. Period.
Nobody is "giving" them that land in any way. They have been already there for time out of mind. And, in 1948, they simply abandoned the land within the original boundaries of the State of Israel.

The original Israelis just got lucky that they didn't have to contend with this basic fact before 1967, and within Israel's original borders. So, for twenty years, they were able to make the Jewish state they wanted.

For nearly forty years since the Israelis have deluded themselves that those thousands of Arabs living on the Occupied Territories are going to somehow magically disappear and leave all the land they are living on to be settled by Israelis. And for forty years they have acted toward the territory they occupied in 1967 accordingly.

This hasn't really worked very well for anybody, even the Israelis. And this is because it was a simple defiance of a very plain fact. Defying facts doesn't work.

You still talk and act as if those thousands of Arabs are going to magically disappear. They are not going to magically disappear. The only way in which the fact that thousands of Arabs are already living there can be altered is genocide. Period.

This is the basis for any sensible view of the situation. All the legalisms, all the special pleading from "history", all the "Arabs are evil savages", all the "Mohammed is the scourge of Christian Civilization" will not make that fact go away. Period.

Only genocide will make that fact go away.

A majority of Israelis, starting with Arial Sharon, are finally beginning to deal with that fact, and with a few other facts.

The State of Israel is largely a secular, non-Orthodox, state. Like the secular states of Europe it is not renewing the ethnically Jewish population at nearly the same speed that the Arabs in Gaza, or the West Bank, are expanding the Arab population. Hence to try to "Israelize" those territories is an invitation to suicide by slow poison for the State of Israel.

This is exactly the same dilemma that you are constantly pointing out in secular Europe.

The logical course of action this implies-- since, unlike Europe, Israel actually still does have a choice in the matter--is exactly what Sharon has initiated: "disengagement" and fortification of the boundary.

This means a de facto Palestinian Arab state of one sort or another. It will simply be up to the Arabs already there to choose the kind of state they will make. If it is hostile to Israel, it will never be very effective in acting on that hostility.

In fact, as disengagement and fortification have proceeded, the terrorist organizations have become steadily less and less effective. This will continue.

The Israelis have largely come to their senses and finally faced facts.

It would be nice if their cheerleaders on the sidelines would do the same thing. And not just about Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank, either.

The billions of Muslims worldwide is also a very plain fact. And the millions of Muslims in Europe is as well. And the rest of us do not have the choice the Israelis still have.

The constant, hysterical, whooping up of the "Clash Of Civilizations" is simply another form of defiance of very plain facts.

Or, if it isn't mere unworkable defiance of plain facts, it is the systematic building of a network of excuses leading to deliberate actions of quite well-known 20th Century moral horror with unparalleled 21st Century scope.

So I would say to anyone so glamored by a Muslim/Christian Clash Of Civilizations, be careful what you wish for. It just might come true, and you will eventually have to account for your part in creating it.

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Monday, March 27, 2006

Breaking the Silence

I know that some of my more myopic readers are convinced I'm "anti-Israel", "pro-Palestinian" and even, heaven forbid, anti-Semitic but nothing could be further removed from the truth. Let me state my position clearly: I not only recognise Israel's right to exist, I believe a strong, democratic Israel is an asset to the region.

But I also believe the root cause of Palestinian violence is the continued denial of that people's basic right to exist and the right to live in their own Nation state.

No one seriously questions Israel's right to defend itself against violence and aggression. But it appears to the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) have become increasingly cavalier regarding responding to Palestinians according to the principle of reasonable response.

A group of discharged IDF soldiers is now speaking out on a website aptly named,
Breaking the Silence, kindly brought to my attention by an anonymous commenter.

There are testimonies of IDF soldiers having served in the Occupied Territories, video-clips, a photo gallery, articles and more. A publications section presents testimonies in downloadable *.doc or *.pdf formats. All material is presented in a measured and tasteful manner. Well worth a visit, in my opinion...


One racist nation

By Gideon Levy

Last Update: 26/03/2006 11:03

From Haaretz, courtesy of an anonymous commenter.

Contrary to appearances, the elections this week are important, because they will expose the true face of Israeli society and its hidden ambitions. More than 100 elected candidates will be sent to the Knesset on the basis of one ticket - the racism ticket. If we used to think that every two Israelis have three opinions, now it will be evident that nearly every Israeli has one opinion - racism. Elections 2006 will make this much clearer than ever before. An absolute majority of the MKs in the 17th Knesset will hold a position based on a lie: that Israel does not have a partner for peace. An absolute majority of MKs in the next Knesset do not believe in peace, nor do they even want it - just like their voters - and worse than that, don't regard Palestinians as equal human beings. Racism has never had so many open supporters. It's the real hit of this election campaign.

One does not have to be Avigdor Lieberman to be a racist. The "peace" proposed by Ehud Olmert is no less racist. Lieberman wants to distance them from our borders, Olmert and his ilk want to distance them from out consciousness. Nobody is speaking about peace with them, nobody really wants it. Only one ambition unites everyone - to get rid of them, one way or another. Transfer or wall, "disengagement" or "convergence" - the point is that they should get out of our sight. The only game in town, the 'unilateral arrangement," is not only based on the lie that there is no partner, is not only based exclusively on our "needs" because of a sense of superiority, but also leads to a dangerous pattern of behavior that totally ignores the existence of the other nation.

The problem is that this feeling is based entirely on an illusory assumption. The Palestinians are here, just like us. They will, therefore, be forced to continue to remind us of their existence in the one way they and we both know, through violence and terror.

This gloomy chapter in the history of Israel began at Camp David, when Ehud Barak succeeded in planting the untruth that there is nobody to talk to on the Palestinian side, that we offered them the sky and they responded with violence. Then came the major terror attacks and Israeli society withdrew into a sickness of apathy never before known to it. While it used to demonstrate complete indifference toward Palestinian suffering, that apathy spread and intensified to include weak Israelis - Arabs, the poor, the ailing. From that aspect the current election campaign, more boring than ever, seems almost like an expression of the state of public caring. Nothing can awaken the Israelis from their coma - not the imprisonment of the nation next door, not the killing and destruction that we sow in their society and not the suffering of the weak among us.

Who would have believed that in Israel of 2006, the killing of an 8-year-old girl at short range, as happened last week in Yamoun, would barely be mentioned; that the ruthless attempt to expel an Ethiopian with AIDS who is married to an Israeli, just because he is not Jewish, would not raise hue and cry; and that the results of a poll showing that a majority of Israelis - 68 percent - don't want to live next to an Arab, did not raise a stink. If in 1981, tomatoes were being thrown at Shimon Peres and in 1995, there was incitement against Yitzhak Rabin, now there are no tomatoes, no incitement and not even any election rallies.

Nothing can get the Israelis out to the streets, nothing can enrage them. An election without involvement and interest is more dangerous to democracy than any tomato. It is a demonstration of apathy and indifference, which the regime can exploit to do whatever it wants. The fact that there are no real differences between the three main parties, with this one saying nearly the entire country is mine, and that one saying nearly the entire country is mine, is bad news for democracy. The coming elections have been decided already. A massive majority will cast its vote for the racist arrangement that ignores the Palestinians, as proposed by Kadima, Likud and, to a large extent, Labor. None of them tried to propose a just peace; their leaders never said a word about the war crimes and suffering caused by Israel. They'll be joined by the extreme right and the ultra-Orthodox, and there you have it: a nation in which racism is the real common denominator uniting us all. Nearly everyone will say no to peace, yes to the continuing occupation (even if it is in new camouflage) and yes to the total focusing on ourselves.

Morality has become a dirty work, and the worst corruption in the country's history, the occupation, was never mentioned. Only one-sided maps, similar to one another, all including the humongous "settlement blocs," a withdrawal based on "our needs," with a separation wall and the frightening air of indifference hovering above it all.

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Saturday, March 25, 2006

41% of Israel's Jews favour segregation

The Guardian.

• Poll reveals widespread anti-Arab sentiment
• Academics warn of racism 'becoming mainstream'

Chris McGreal in Jerusalem
Friday March 24, 2006
The Guardian

A poll of attitudes among Israel's Jews towards their country's Arab citizens has exposed widespread racism, with large numbers favouring segregation and policies to encourage Arabs to leave the country.
The poll found that more than two-thirds of Jews would refuse to live in the same building as an Arab. Nearly half would not allow an Arab in their home and 41% want segregation of entertainment facilities.

The survey also found 40% of Israel's Jews believe "the state needs to support the emigration of Arab citizens", a policy advocated by some far-right parties in the run-up to next week's general election.

The poll was conducted by a respected Israeli organisation, Geocartographia, for the Centre for the Struggle Against Racism, founded by Arab-Israeli academics. "Racism is becoming mainstream," said the centre's director, Bachar Ouda. "When people talk about transfer [removal] or about Arabs as a demographic timebomb no one raises their voice against such statements.

"This is a worrisome phenomenon. The time has arrived for the Jewish population, who experienced what racism is on its flesh, to wake up and change its way."

Among the poll's other findings was that 63% of Jewish Israelis consider their country's Arab citizens a "security and demographic threat to the state". Some 18% said they felt hatred when they heard someone speaking Arabic, and 34% agreed with the statement that "Arab culture is inferior to Israeli culture".

An Arab-Israeli member of parliament, Taleb el-Sana, said he was not surprised by the findings.

"This shows we're not talking about a few people, but rather, a worrying phenomenon that places question marks over the Zionist movement," he said.

Mr Sana said polls that show anti-Semitism in other countries are greeted in Israel with a frenzy of denunciations.

"Yet when it happens at their home, they're quiet, and that's why this is a two-fold failure - they are racist, and they're also not attempting to address their own racism," he said.

Some Israelis have explained hostile attitudes toward Arabs not as racism but as stemming from years of conflict and religious differences. But Ahmed Tibi, another Arab member of parliament, said Israeli politics fuels racism.

"Overall, it pays to be racist in Israel because you don't pay a price for it and you can always explain it away by a security need and a self-defence mechanism," he said. "Racists have a long time ago moved from the street to government benches."

Far-right parties running in next week's general election in Israel have built significant support with anti-Arab platforms.

The Yisrael Beiteinu party advocates redrawing the border to place about 500,000 Arab-Israelis inside a Palestinian state. Yisrael Beiteinu is expected to win about 10 seats in the 120-seat parliament, meaning it could hold the balance of power. Another right-wing coalition is expected to take a similar number of seats.

Haaretz newspaper reported this week that the Kadima party, favoured to win the election, decided not to include an Arab in a viable position on its election list because it would cost the party several seats.

Looks to me much of Israeli mainstream is veering dangerously close to fascistoid white supremacism, including matching apartheid...

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Friday, March 24, 2006

Zionism and Israel: Past and Present

By Geoffrey Wheatcroft, the author of The Controversy of Zion: Jewish Nationalism, the Jewish State and the Unresolved Jewish Dilemma, which won an American National Jewish Book Award (THE GUARDIAN, 24/03/06):

With the bizarre, not to say unique, events in Jericho last week - surely the first case of a jailbreak intended to keep the prisoners inside - Israel has again shown an impressive indifference to outside opinion. “The whole world is against us,” says an endlessly popular Israeli song, and many Israelis would add the chant of Millwall fans: “No one likes us, we don’t care.”

There has, indeed, been a dramatic turn in opinion. It’s very hard to recall the esteem and goodwill in which Israel once basked, not least on the broad liberal left, where there is now a received view that Israel has deserved this change in affections: that Israel and Zionism are vicious now, having been virtuous once. The view may be almost universal - but is it true?.

You can hear echoes of the shift in these pages. It might be a columnist recalling the early 1960s, when progressive young friends (mine too) would go from London to spend the summer on a kibbutz in that heroic land. Or it might be Sir Gerald Kaufman bitterly denouncing the present Israeli government by comparison with “the beautiful democratic Israel” that he first knew in the 1950s.

In the age of Jenin, and now Jericho, of “targeted killings” and F-16s blasting refugee camps, that turn in Israel’s reputation might seem natural enough. And yet there is a contrary case to be made, that Israel has in some ways been criticised too harshly over the past 20 years, having been judged too leniently in its first 20.

It is really very hard to explain to anyone under the age of 50 just how popular Israel once was, notably among European social democrats and our own Labour party. In the 50s, newspapers such as the Manchester Guardian and the Observer (for all the trauma of Suez) accepted axiomatically that Zionism was a force for good, and David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founding prime minister, would be profiled in the New Statesman in what were frankly rhapsodic terms.

There were several reasons for this, from traditional liberal philosemitism to horror and shame at the fate of the European Jews. Besides that, in the nearly three decades after 1948, when Israel was run by Labour, it was widely, if myopically, seen as a model social democracy. The change began with the 1967 war, when Israel’s former admirers began to condemn the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and was accelerated when Likud took over as the dominant party.

And yet those admirers missed some salient truths. That beautiful democratic Israel of 50 years ago was founded on ethnic cleansing. The later expansion of Israel was actually less brutal: after 1967 a number of Palestinians were uprooted, but there was nothing to compare with the wholesale expulsion of three-quarters of a million Palestinians in 1948 - an event to which the right-thinking liberal west closed its eyes at the time.

Even the settlements in the occupied territories, which Israel almost light-heartedly (and in the end hubristically) began in the 1970s, were often set up on empty land, a contrast indeed to the settling of Palestine in earlier generations. “Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages,” Moshe Dayan briskly admitted about the creation of his country: “There is not one single place that did not have a former Arab population.”

In Dayan’s words you hear something else, the greater candour more often found among Israelis themselves than among their western supporters - and also the candour of the Israeli right, which was much less given to evasion and denial than the Labour establishment. In those long years of Labour supremacy, the right was not merely out of office, but was anathematised and scorned. Very few people in the west really knew much about Zionism, certainly not about a rightwing revisionist tradition “of greater intellectual distinction” than Labour Zionism; the phrase is Perry Anderson’s in the New Left Review, a tribute from an unlikely source, but perfectly correct.

The revisionist movement was founded in the early 1920s and led, until his death in 1940, by Vladimir Jabotinsky, perhaps the one man of genius to have been produced by Zionism. Not only of greater intellectual distinction, Jabotinsky was marked by his greater intellectual honesty. He argued that if the Zionist project was justifiable at all, then it had to accept that the Palestinian Arabs were not going to surrender their land without a fight - why should they? - and that force would be necessary.

Paradoxically, his honesty may have made it possible for Labour to appear enlightened and moderate by comparison, although there were always some Israelis who saw that claim as an imposture. The late Israel Shahak, an advanced radical and “non-Zionist Israeli”, used to insist not only that he himself had always been treated better by conservatives than by the official left, but also that Labour simply did not enjoy its reputation for comparative decency, and that the state Labour had created was in many ways neither democratic not beautiful.

By now, the older political distinctions have anyway largely been eroded. As the sociologist Uri Ram has said (with a touch of ethnic sarcasm): “The major players in the socio-political drama taking place in Israel today are of the right: the socio-economic liberal right of the capitalist upper classes - called in Israel ‘the left’ - and the ethno-religious fundamentalist right of the labouring lower classes - called in Israel ‘the people’.”

It is the latter right that seems certain to win the election this month, and continue its intransigent policies. One ironical outcome will be to further encourage the historically obtuse view of the conflict that liberals have long nurtured.

Hat tip:

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Some Israelis on the Palestinian State

Last night on BBC 4's current affairs program "The World" a reporter conducted a mini-survey amongst six Israelis, regarding how they felt about the future of Israel/Palestine. The program item should be seen in the light of a looming Kadima election victory and Olmert's intention to draw Israel's borders unilaterally in the absence of a negotiated settlement.

So, our intrepid reporter set about, armed with a wall chart sized map of Israel and a red marker pen and invited six Israelis to draw what they felt should be Israel's unilaterally declared future borders. Six hardly constitutes a proper survey, I'll gladly concede that, but the results where nonetheless interesting:

1. All six wanted Israel to hang onto the Golan Heights, for security reasons.
2. Four agreed that Gaza should remain under Palestinian control, although one proposed chopping off two small buffer zones in the North and South.
3. Three proposed the West Bank should also be under Palestinian control, but all of these agreed the Maale Adumim and Ariel blocks should remain part of Israel.
4. Two didn't want a Palestinian state whatsoever, with one drawing the future borders well into Jordan, Syrian and Egyptian territories.
5. Two, when commenting their choice, used religion as a justification.

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Thursday, March 23, 2006

Afghanistan: this is change?

A Christian is scheduled for execution in Afghanistan. His crime? To have converted from Islam to Christianity: apostasy isn't something Muslims take too lightly it would appear. Under what law? Under Sharia law, which in Afghanistan overrides common law...

So what's changed in Afghanistan? Probably far less than the Coalition anticipated when they invaded the country in search of bin Laden and his band of al-Qaeda guerrillas and pledged to bring democratisation to that part of the world as well.

The president Hamid Karzai is dubbed the mayor of Kabul, as this appears to be the only part of the country where he has control. Feudal warlords, ex-Taliban and new Taliban rule much of the rest of this fledgling democracy.

And this democracy is still largely ruled according to theocratic principles, depite the democratic elections...

Across the border in the Waziristan area of Pakistan, Pakistani Taliban are taking control of areas bordering with the Helmand and Kandahar provinces. Afghanistani/Pakistani relations are at all time low, it would appear.

The West needs once more to ask itself: what is being achieved with this "march of freedom"? The failing project of Iraq and the far from perfect situation in Afghanistan which so far remain the sole divident of two hugely expensive operations, both in terms of cost and human lives... The fact that the Israel/Palestine question remains further away from the agenda than it has been for quite a long time...

Right now what seems to have been achieved is that the West's War on Terror is perceived by many Muslims worldwide as nothing but another Crusade by Christian forces, thereby fuelling further radicalisation and potential Islamic terrorism. A recent offer for a long term truce by bin Laden was flatly rejected by the "freedom spreaders".

These, then, are the dividends from the War on Terror as I see them:

  • A fragmented Iraq, riddled with insurgents, al-Qaeda elements that previously didn't operate there and a sputtering reconstruction effort

  • A similar and worsening situation in Afghanistan

  • Increased Muslim anger at what's perceived as bullying tactics and an assault on Islam

  • Increased probability of terrorist attacks against the West

  • Sacrifices of civil liberties and freedom of expression in the name of National Security

  • Thanks Mr Bush and Mr Blair, but you can stop now, you know... We've had enough...

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    Boston Legal: Closing Arguments

    When the weapons of mass destruction thing turned out "NOT" to be true, I expected the American people to rise up. They didn't.

    Then, when the Abu Ghraib torture thing surfaced and it was revealed that our government participated in rendition, a practice where we kidnap people and turn them over to regimes who specialize in torture, I was sure then the American people would be heard from. We stood mute.

    Then came the news that we jailed thousands of so-called terrorist suspects, locked them up without the right to a trial or even the right to confront their accusers. Certainly, we would never stand for that. We did.

    And now, it's been discovered the executive branch has been conducting massive, illegal, domestic surveillance on its own citizens. You and me. And I at least consoled myself that finally, finally the American people will have had enough. Evidently, we haven't.

    In fact, if the people of this country have spoken, the message is we're okay with it all. Torture, warrantless search and seizure, illegal wiretappings, prison without a fair trial or any trial, war on false pretenses. We, as a citizenry, are apparently not offended.

    There are no demonstrations on college campuses. In fact, there's no clear indication that young people even seem to notice. . . .

    The Secret Service can now declare free speech zones to contain, control and, in effect, criminalize protest. Stop for a second and try to fathom that.

    At a presidential rally, parade or appearance, if you have on a supportive t-shirt, you can be there. If you’re wearing or carrying something in protest, you can be removed.

    What is this text? A speech held at an anti-war rally? Musings of a Democrat senator? The rantings of an irate leftie blogger?

    No, these are the closing arguments of the character Alan Shore in a fictitious legal case, taken from the glossy legal eagle drama series "Boston Legal". Now, I've never had the opportunity to watch this show and probably never will but judging by those few minutes, "Boston Legal" appears an unlikely vehicle for criticism of the Bush Government and its policies. It's a highly glossy production, including cutesy (well, hot, actually), female defendant and well suited and immaculately coiffed male lawyers, prosecutor and judge. I wonder what the American Right think of what they must see as "entertainment pollution"?

    Watch the clip here.

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    Wednesday, March 22, 2006

    Collateral Damage or Civilian Massacre in Haditha?

    Time story on Haditha killings

    What exactly happened in Haditha on Nov. 19? Time has uncovered evidence that the 15 civilians didn't die as a result of a roadside bomb explosion, as the US military originally contended. What happened exactly we might never know, as many of the witnesses are dead victims...

    According to eyewitnesses and local officials interviewed over the past 10 weeks, the civilians who died in Haditha on Nov. 19 were killed not by a roadside bomb but by the Marines themselves, who went on a rampage in the village after the attack, killing 15 unarmed Iraqis in their homes, including seven women and three children. Human-rights activists say that if the accusations are true, the incident ranks as the worst case of deliberate killing of Iraqi civilians by U.S. service members since the war began.

    Because the incident is officially under investigation, members of the Marine unit that was in Haditha on Nov. 19 are not allowed to speak with reporters. But the military's own reconstruction of events and the accounts of town residents interviewed by Time—including six whose family members were killed that day—paint a picture of a devastatingly violent response by a group of U.S. troops who had lost one of their own to a deadly insurgent attack and believed they were under fire. Time obtained a videotape that purports to show the aftermath of the Marines' assault and provides graphic documentation of its human toll. What happened in Haditha is a reminder of the horrors faced by civilians caught in the middle of war—and what war can do to the people who fight it.

    But the military stood by its initial contention—that the Iraqis had been killed by an insurgent bomb—until January when Time gave a copy of the video and witnesses' testimony to Colonel Barry Johnson, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad. After reviewing the evidence, Johnson passed it on to the military command, suggesting that the events of Haditha be given "a full and formal investigation." In February an infantry colonel went to Haditha for a weeklong probe in which he interviewed Marines, survivors and doctors at the morgue, according to military officials close to the investigation. The probe concluded that the civilians were in fact killed by Marines and not by an insurgent's bomb and that no insurgents appeared to be in the first two houses raided by the Marines. The probe found, however, that the deaths were the result of "collateral damage" rather than malicious intent by the Marines, investigators say.

    The U.S. has paid relatives of the victims $2,500 for each of the 15 dead civilians, plus smaller payments for the injured. But nothing can bring back all that was taken from 9-year-old Eman Waleed on that fateful day last November. She still does not comprehend how, when her father went in to pray with the Koran for the family's safety, his prayers were not answered, as they had been so many times in the past. "He always prayed before, and the Americans left us alone," she says. Leaving, she grabs a handful of candy. "It's for my little brother," she says. "I have to take care of my brother. Nobody else is left."
    $2,500... the price of an Iraqi life.

    This investigation comes on the heels of a number of medium to high level British soldiers ringing alarm bells about what they feel is a heavy-handed approach to the insurgents by the US military. One former SAS soldier last night on BBC's Newsnight accused the US military of not respecting the principle of reasonable force and giving its soldiers carte blanche in defending themselves from attack, thereby greatly increasing the potential for collateral damage.

    Some US Iraq veterans are also making noises to that effect (video link in right hand corner of this linked page).

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    Tuesday, March 21, 2006

    Iraq's Missing Billions

    Last night Channel 4 screened its current affairs investigative program Dispatches with a 45 minute long report on Iraq's missing reconstruction billions. I had previously watched a much shorter Newsnight report, but Dispatches beat them to it in terms of depth and variety of material presented.

    The documentary tells the story of how the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), which took over the Iraqi Government's function after the invasion and collapse of the regime, set about funding the reconstruction effort. Under the leadership of Ambassador Paul L. Bremner, Presidential Envoy to Iraq, the CPA obtained $23 billion of Iraq's money from frozen bank accounts, moneys from the oil for food program and other assets, to fund the reconstruction of Iraq. The money transferred to the CPA in the US was turned into $1 million "bricks" of brand-new, crisp $100 bills and now ready to be dispatched to the various contractors, mainly American Companies, to become the beneficiaries of reconstruction contracts.

    By the time the CPA had finished with the money and the power-transfer to the new Iraqi Government was to take place, they had $3 billion of it left, to hand back to Iraq. $20 billion had been spent on reconstruction. Remember, all $23 billion was Iraqi money to start with... So far, so good?

    Then follows a tale of the $1 million money bricks being handed over with a swiftness, lack of transparency or control that's bedazzling.

    A local doctor, Dr Ali Fadhil, took us round a number of medical facilities, where conditions defied belief. It's clear that these must have been fairly state-of-the-art facilities in the seventies and eighties but that the years of Saddam under the sanctions had taken a very heavy toll. The most basic of medical supplies are missing and we're not even talking "big equipment" either. No, basic medical supplies in a hospital north of Baghdad that was supposed to have received a $400 million refit are still completely lacking. Instead the new flooring leaks really badly and wasn't even sealed properly. The Iraqi representative of the Amirican contractor responsible tried to prevent the film crew from filming...

    Outside in the gardens of the same hospital, open sewage runs close to the facilities and the smell was observable throughout most of the facilities. Incubators for premature infants have to be routinely shared by more than one baby. Oxygen levels in the incubators cannot be adjusted and are unknown. Several incubators had to patched up with makeshift tubing and plasters. Breathing masks for the infants were absent or in short supply.

    Predictably, the medical profession was also largely de-Baathified and predictably it's left Iraq with a shortage of health administrators and managers. These people, now unemployed and unemployable could be easy recruiting targets for Saddamist insurgents, when otherwise they could have played a vital role in Iraq's health sector.

    A number of Americans involved at high level with the allocation of funds to reconstruction and security Companies were unequivocal in their condemnation. Moneys had been awarded in a very cavalier, hasty, poorly planned way. Cronyism without any doubt played also a big part. Halliburton admitted at one point to over-billing more than $200 million, yet were ordered to pay back only $3 million. All in all, the money was spent inefficiently and without the required degree of transparency. Predictably when such astronomical amounts of cash are laying around, some of the cash was also simply stolen...

    The story of one of the smaller contractors, Custer and Battles, is symptomatic for the mentality that existed amongst the many soldiers of fortune with regards to Iraq's reconstruction funds.

    But as if things really couldn't get much worse, they did somehow. In the weeks and days leading up to the transfer of power and the dismantling of the CPA, things literally went into overdrive. It appeared that the CPA wanted to spend as much of the remaining money as possibly. At one point a shipment of an estimated $3 billion (3,000,000,000) was shipped out to Iraq for new contracts. Someone else was told to spend $7 million in seven days... And so after that last surge in spend-thrift, only $3 billion were left of Iraq's reconstruction pot. It's with this money that Iraq has now to continue its own efforts. Guess it's always easy to badly spend someone else's money...

    A fellow blogger made some notes about the program:

    US contractors were 'immune' from Iraqi law
    "We played football with the bricks of cash"
    "American law was suspended. Iraqi law was suspended."
    "Where did all the money go? Not on vital medical equipment." Dr Ali Fadhil
    "We went more for big ticket, showy items." Dr Richard Garfield
    'Spend $7million in 7 days' - American-controlled CPA's rush to spend Iraq's money before handing over to the interim government

    More detailed transcripts via this link here.

    War? What is it good for? Absolutely nothing...
    For an absolute racket, that's what it's good for...

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    Monday, March 20, 2006

    Jimmy Carter on Lasting Peace in the Middle East

    Carter sounds an unusually optimistic note about the prospects of achieving a two-state solution for Isarel and Palestine.

    It's not too late for lasting peace in the Middle East

    Israel should withdraw from the occupied territories, and its right to exist must be recognised by all Arabs

    Jimmy Carter
    Monday March 20, 2006
    The Guardian

    For more than a quarter of a century, Israeli policy has been in conflict with that of the US and the international community. Israel's occupation of Palestine has obstructed a comprehensive peace agreement in the Holy Land - regardless of whether Palestinians had no formal government, one headed by Yasser Arafat, or one with Mahmoud Abbas as president and Hamas controlling the parliament and the cabinet.
    The unwavering US position since Dwight Eisenhower's administration has been that Israel's borders coincide with those established in 1949, and, since 1967, the universally adopted UN resolution 242 has mandated Israel's withdrawal from the occupied territories. As part of the Quartet, including Russia, the UN and the EU, George Bush has endorsed a "road map" for peace. But Israel has officially rejected its basic premises.

    With Israel's approval, the Carter Centre has monitored all three Palestinian elections. They have all been honest and peaceful, with the results accepted by winners and losers. Hamas will control the cabinet and prime minister's office, but Abbas retains all authority exercised by Arafat. Abbas still heads the PLO, the only Palestinian entity recognised by Israel. He has unequivocally endorsed the Quartet's road map. Post-election polls show that 80% of Palestinians still want a peace agreement with Israel and nearly 70% support Abbas as president.

    Israel has announced a policy of destabilising the new government (perhaps joined by the US). The elected officials will be denied travel permits, and every effort is being made to block funds to Palestinians. In the short run, the best approach is to give the dust a chance to settle and await the outcome of Israel's election this month. Hamas now wishes to consolidate its political gains, maintain domestic order and stability, and refrain from contacts with Israel. It will be a tragedy if it promotes or condones terrorism.

    The pre-eminent obstacle to peace is Israel's colonisation of Palestine. There were just a few hundred settlers in the West Bank and Gaza when I became president, but the Likud government expanded settlement activity after I left office. Although President Bill Clinton made strong efforts to promote peace, a massive increase of settlers occurred during his administration, to 225,000 [not including East Jerusalem], mostly while Ehud Barak was prime minister. Their best official offer to the Palestinians was to withdraw 20% of them, leaving 180,000 in 209 settlements, covering about 5% of the occupied land.

    The 5% figure is grossly misleading, with surrounding areas earmarked for expansion, roadways joining settlements with each other and to Jerusalem, and wide arterial swaths providing water, sewerage, electricity and communications. This intricate honeycomb divides the West Bank into fragments, often uninhabitable or even unreachable.

    Recently, Israeli leaders have decided on unilateral actions without involving either the US or the Palestinians, with withdrawal from Gaza as the first step. As presently isolated, without access to the air, sea, or the West Bank, Gaza is a non-viable economic and political entity. The future of the West Bank is equally dismal. Especially troublesome is Israel's construction of huge concrete dividing walls in populated areas and high fences in rural areas. The wall is designed to surround a truncated Palestine completely.

    This will never be acceptable either to Palestinians or to the international community, and will inevitably precipitate increased tension within Palestine and stronger resentment from the Arab world against America, which will be held accountable for the plight of the Palestinians.

    The acting prime minister, Ehud Olmert, and others pointed out years ago that Israel's permanent occupation will be increasingly difficult as the relative number of Jewish citizens decreases demographically both within Israel and in Palestine. This is obvious to most Israelis, who also view this dominant role as a distortion of their ancient moral and religious values. Over the years, opinion polls have consistently shown that about 60% of Israelis favour withdrawing from the West Bank in exchange for permanent peace.

    Casualties have increased during the past few years as the occupying forces imposed tighter controls. From September 2000 until March 2006, 3,982 Palestinians and 1,084 Israelis were killed in the conflict, and this includes many children: 708 Palestinian and 123 Israeli.

    There is little doubt that accommodation with Palestinians can bring full Arab recognition of Israel and its right to live in peace. Any rejectionist policies of Hamas or any terrorist group will be overcome by an Arab commitment to restrain further violence and to promote the wellbeing of the Palestinian people.

    Down through the years, I have seen despair evolve into optimism. Even now, we need not give up hope for permanent peace for Israelis and freedom for Palestinians if three basic premises are honoured:

    1. Israel's right to exist - and to live in peace - must be recognised and accepted by Palestinians and all other neighbours.

    2. The killing of innocent people by suicide bombs or other acts of violence cannot be condoned.

    3. Palestinians must live in peace and dignity, and permanent Israeli settlements on their land are a major obstacle to this goal.

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    ID Cards: The Observer Gets it...

    This ID project is even more sinister than we first thought

    The insidious erosion of our civil liberties will accelerate dramatically if the government wins the battle over identity cards
    You may have noticed the vaguely menacing tone of recent government advertising campaigns. Here is a current example: 'If you know a business that isn't registered for tax, call the Revenue or HM Customs - no names needed.' Another says: 'Technology has made it easier to identify benefit cheats.'
    Whether the campaign is about rape, TV licences or filling in your tax form, there is always a we-know-where-you-live edge to the message, a sense that this government is dividing the nation into suspects and informers.

    Reading the Identity Cards Bill, as it pinged between the House of Commons and the Lords last week, I wondered about the type of campaign that will be used to persuade us to comply with the new ID card law. Clearly, it would be orchestrated by some efficient martinet like the Minister of State at the Home Office, Hazel Blears. Her task will be to put the fear of God into the public at the same time as reassuring us that the £90 cost of each card will protect everyone from identity theft, terrorism and benefit fraud.

    The ads might imagine any number of scenarios. Here is one. 'Your elderly mother has fallen ill,' starts the commentary gravely. 'You travel from your home to look after her. She has a chronic condition but this time, it's a bit of a crisis and you need to pick up a prescription at the only late-night chemist in town. Trouble is, she has mislaid her identity card and you never thought to get one. Under the new law, the pharmacist will not be able to give you that medicine without proper ID. So, get your card. It's for your own good - and Mum's.'

    It became clear last week that the government will do anything to get this bill through parliament, including ignoring its own manifesto pledge to make the cards voluntary, a fact that we should remember as each of us entrusts the 49 separate pieces of personal information to a national database. By the end of last year, the government had already spent £32m of taxpayers' money on the scheme and, at the present, the expenditure is edging towards £100,000 a day. No surprise that Home Secretary Charles Clarke dissembles about Labour promises.

    Labour's manifesto said: 'We will introduce ID cards, including biometric data like fingerprints, backed up by a national register and rolling out initially on a voluntary basis as people renew their passports.'

    It turns out that there is nothing voluntary about it. If you renew your passport, you will be compelled to provide all the information the state requires for its sinister data base. The Home Secretary says that the decision to apply for, or renew, a passport is entirely a matter of individual choice; thus he maintains that the decision to commit those personal details to the data base is a matter of individual choice.

    George Orwell would have been pleased to have invented that particular gem. Yet this is not fiction, but the reality of 2006, and we should understand that if the Home Secretary is prepared to mislead on the fundamental issue as to whether something is voluntary or compulsory, we cannot possibly trust his word on the larger issues of personal freedom and the eventual use of the ID card database.

    Clarke has now established himself as a deceiver, even in the eyes of his party. Labour democrats such as Kate Hoey, Diane Abbott, Bob Marshall-Andrews and Mark Fisher all understood that the Lords' amendments of last week simply sought to underline this concept of a voluntary scheme, which complied with the 2005 manifesto. Oddly enough, the compulsory provision of personal information to the government database is not the greatest threat to our freedom, though it is in itself a substantial one. The real menace comes when the ID card scheme begins to track everyone's movements and transactions, the details of which will kept on the database for as long as the Home Office desires.
    (Full article)

    Are the MSM finally awakening from their slumber regarding the ID cards issue?

    No to ID cards Campaign site.

    LibertyCentral: central to your civil liberties.

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    Saturday, March 18, 2006

    Buy a Virtual Peerage (No Loans accepted)!

    Crisis? What crisis? Look at our virtual peerages! Following the Cash for Peerages shocker, over at ElectTheLords (campaign for a democratically elected Second Chamber), they've just had a brilliant fundraising idea. You can now buy a Virtual Peerage over at their site, complete with Certificate of Inauthenticity and "Ye Olde Photoshoppe" coat of arms (but you'll have to bring your own cat fur). Raised funds to be used solely for the campaign, needless to say. And strictly no loans accepted!

    Limited availability of Baronies, Viscountcies, Earldoms, Marquessatecies and Duchies, currently all 25% off for a time-limited offer! Prices start at £7.50 (for life)! Buy now!

    As ElectTheLords put their case:

    Elect the Lords Campaign
    Did you know that 17 of the 22 individuals who have donated £100,000 or more to Labour in the last few years have been given an honour, and that all but one who have donated more than £1m has been given a peerage?

    This has given the Elect the Lords campaign a great fundraising idea - why not sell Virtual Peerages? A Virtual Peerage won't get you a vote in the House of Lords. You won't get any land (on the other hand it also means you won't be expected to open any village fetes!). You will however gain an attractive certificate of inauthenticity and your full title will be listed on this website as a mark of our gratitude.

    Purchase a Marquesset or a Duchy and we will even design you a Coat of Arms using the traditional method of Ye Olde Photoshoppe handed down the generation.

    Back in the real world, your money will be spent on campaigning for a democratic second chamber. The government have promised a free vote on the composition of the upper house in this Parliament - it could be just months away! We urgently need funds to ensure we can put pressure on MPs to respect the opinions of the vast majority of UK citizens who want the second chamber to be at least predominently elected.

    Tony Blair has appointed more than 300 life peers - 50% more than any other Prime Minister in history. We're hoping to beat that record by appointing more than 300 virtual peers in the next MONTH.

    Donating money to us in this way won't "buy" you a democratic second chamber, but you can be sure it will be a great help!

    Friday, March 17, 2006 is up and running!

    What is It's basically an idea floated amongst a broad coalition of British bloggers for a website addressing the continued assault on civil liberties in the name of crime and terror fighting. Over at TalkPolitics they picked up the gauntlet and the site was born recently and is now being beefed up.

    In their own words:
    First and foremost, a meeting place for projects, campaigns and individuals who believe that our essential liberties and freedoms are, today, under threat as never before.

    Liberty Central is not an organisation and it is certainly not a political party. It has no formal membership, no committees, no management, no leaders and no particular structure. The term that has come up most often in discussions about this project has been ‘a coalition of the willing’ and this is perhaps the most apt description that anyone has arrived at as yet – a loose coalition of people who are willing to try to work together in many different way to preserve and secure, in perpetuity, the liberty of the citizens of the United Kingdom.

    The central premise of this project is perhaps best expressed in this quotation from the 28th President of the United States of America, Woodrow Wilson:

    “Liberty has never come from Government. Liberty has always come from the subjects of it... The history of liberty is a history of limitations of governmental power, not the increase of it.”

    This is very much how we see Britain today. (More)

    So, if NeoLabor's continued disregard for Civil Liberties and its obsession with the creation of a cattle-branded database state is also of concern to you, then spread the word. Link to the site and let's start sending it relevant traffic.

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    Thursday, March 16, 2006

    The Israel Lobby

    For the past several decades, and especially since the Six-Day War in 1967, the centrepiece of US Middle Eastern policy has been its relationship with Israel. The combination of unwavering support for Israel and the related effort to spread ‘democracy’ throughout the region has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and jeopardised not only US security but that of much of the rest of the world. This situation has no equal in American political history.

    by: John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt on: 17th Mar, 06

    Why has the US been willing to set aside its own security and that of many of its allies in order to advance the interests of another state? One might assume that the bond between the two countries was based on shared strategic interests or compelling moral imperatives, but neither explanation can account for the remarkable level of material and diplomatic support that the US provides.

    Instead, the thrust of US policy in the region derives almost entirely from domestic politics, and especially the activities of the ‘Israel Lobby’. Other special-interest groups have managed to skew foreign policy, but no lobby has managed to divert it as far from what the national interest would suggest, while simultaneously convincing Americans that US interests and those of the other country – in this case, Israel – are essentially identical.

    Since the October War in 1973, Washington has provided Israel with a level of support dwarfing that given to any other state. It has been the largest annual recipient of direct economic and military assistance since 1976, and is the largest recipient in total since World War Two, to the tune of well over $140 billion (in 2004 dollars). Israel receives about $3 billion in direct assistance each year, roughly one-fifth of the foreign aid budget, and worth about $500 a year for every Israeli. This largesse is especially striking since Israel is now a wealthy industrial state with a per capita income roughly equal to that of South Korea or Spain.

    Other recipients get their money in quarterly installments, but Israel receives its entire appropriation at the beginning of each fiscal year and can thus earn interest on it. Most recipients of aid given for military purposes are required to spend all of it in the US, but Israel is allowed to use roughly 25 per cent of its allocation to subsidise its own defence industry. It is the only recipient that does not have to account for how the aid is spent, which makes it virtually impossible to prevent the money from being used for purposes the US opposes, such as building settlements on the West Bank. Moreover, the US has provided Israel with nearly $3 billion to develop weapons systems, and given it access to such top-drawer weaponry as Blackhawk helicopters and F-16 jets. Finally, the US gives Israel access to intelligence it denies to its Nato allies and has turned a blind eye to Israel’s acquisition of nuclear weapons.

    Washington also provides Israel with consistent diplomatic support. Since 1982, the US has vetoed 32 Security Council resolutions critical of Israel, more than the total number of vetoes cast by all the other Security Council members. It blocks the efforts of Arab states to put Israel’s nuclear arsenal on the IAEA’s agenda. The US comes to the rescue in wartime and takes Israel’s side when negotiating peace. The Nixon administration protected it from the threat of Soviet intervention and resupplied it during the October War. Washington was deeply involved in the negotiations that ended that war, as well as in the lengthy ‘step-by-step’ process that followed, just as it played a key role in the negotiations that preceded and followed the 1993 Oslo Accords. In each case there was occasional friction between US and Israeli officials, but the US consistently supported the Israeli position. One American participant at Camp David in 2000 later said: ‘Far too often, we functioned . . . as Israel’s lawyer.’ Finally, the Bush administration’s ambition to transform the Middle East is at least partly aimed at improving Israel’s strategic situation.
    (Full article)

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    Iraq's missing Reconstruction Dollars

    In last night's Newnight on BBC 2, Peter Marshall investigated how allegedly up to 50 billion USD of Iraq reconstruction funds is unaccounted for or has disappeared. The funds were drawn from Iraq and allocated to American companies involved in reconstruction efforts, companies providing security services etc.

    The Newsnight film, called "Iraq Three Years On" can be seen via this link.

    According to those involved in supervising the procurement process, control and accountability were totally lacking, allowing for no-bid contracts to companies like Halliburton and Bechtel, as well as to new, inexperienced, "tailor made" companies like Custer Battles. The film is worth watching for many reasons but certainly to watch one of the latter's partners, Scott Custer, get philosophical about what a contract actually means to him. Precious little it would appear. For one particular contract regarding airport security, Custer Battles demanded and obtained 2 million USD cash up-front (of the 17 million USD value contract); to start operations in a sector they appeared to have little, if any experience in. They were awarded the contract on the basis they were the only ones willing to take it on...

    Scott Custer, when shown one of Custer Battles' contracts during a hearing:
    "I don't know what the contract thinks it means."
    Come again??

    Custer & Battles have in the mean time been closed down and ordered to pay 10 million USD in damages.

    In another case an American company secured a 15 million USD contract to build a cement factory in Iraq. The company was unable to fulfil its obligations and the factory was eventually built by an Iraqi company for 80,000 USD...

    War profiteering? More like state-condoned grand larceny by the looks of it. To the victor go the spoils...

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    Wednesday, March 15, 2006

    Israeli Prison Raid: some European Condemnation

    Yahoo News: European reaction to Israel's raid.

    STRASBOURG (AFP) - European parliamentarians roundly criticised Israel for an army raid on a West Bank prison which forced Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas to cut short his visit to Europe.

    Deprived of a long-awaited address by Abbas, whose impoverished Palestinian territories receive vast amounts of EU aid, the deputies condemned the attack and the wave of revenge kidnappings it fuelled.

    Party group leaders and even the president of the assembly, Josep Borrell, condemned the action and questioned whether it had really helped Israel or if it was a ploy ahead of the elections on March 28.

    "It was a useless and unfair military operation. How could an operation of this kind, with its humiliating images, reinforce Israel's security?" he said. [my emphasis]

    "The future of this region has been sacrificed," said Greens bloc leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit for a "tactical manouevre" motivated by the general elections.

    "If this is what Israel's domestic political goals are, it will be fatal," said the head of the Socialist group, Martin Schulz.

    Others said that Israel's actions on Tuesday, which netted people wanted for killing a cabinet minister, had undermined the authority of the relatively moderate Abbas as the militant group Hamas tries to form a new government.

    "The fact that he had to return home early illustrates even more the gravity of this new and deliberately humiliating Israeli escalation in Palestine and its sadly predictable consequences, like the unacceptable abductions," the parliament's United Left/Nordic Green Left group said in a statement. [my emphasis]

    "Will the Union once again fail to react to this torpedo on peace which as usual will weaken those Palestinians who seek a peaceful solution the most, starting with Mahmud Abbas himself?" [my emphasis]

    The EU provides around 500 million euros (600 million dollars) each year to the Palestinians. Around half is provided individually by the Union's 25 member states, while the other half comes from the European Commission.

    But the election victory by Hamas, which figures on the EU's list of terrorist groups and refuses to recognise Israel, has left the Union in a dilemma about how to help meet needy Palestinians.

    For the moment, it has released 120 million euros to ensure electricity and water supplies, provide emergency relief and pay the salaries of public servants to help stabilise the finances of the caretaker government.

    However all the money must be spent before the new cabinet takes office.

    European deputies and officials were keen to talk to Abbas, whose outgoing Palestinian Authority has been left virtually bankrupt by Israeli sanctions imposed after the Hamas victory, to hear his recommendations for the future.

    The Israeli army raid in the normally sleepy West Bank town came shortly after British and American monitors posted in Jericho were withdrawn because of what their governments said were safety fears.

    Conservative deputy Elmar Brok said the international community and in particular the Middle East Quartet of the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States, had been compromised by the action.

    "The Palestinians are in danger of losing confidence in the West after the withdrawal of the Americans and the British," he said.

    Other EU officials were more restrained.

    Senior Austrian foreign official Hans Winkler, whose country holds the EU presidency, called on both sides to "show restraint", while EU commission President Jose Manuel Barroso condemned "all forms of violence, whatever its origin."

    Abbas told Borrell that he would try to attend the European Parliament's next session in Strasbourg at the beginning of April.

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    Tuesday, March 14, 2006

    Israelis storm Palestinian prison

    Israeli forces rounded up Palestinian prisoners and guards
    Israeli troops have raided a prison in Jericho in the West Bank, demolishing buildings and killing at least one Palestinian guard.
    A jailed militant leader whom Israel wants to arrest is refusing to give himself up. Israel blames him for killing an Israeli minister in 2001.

    Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has condemned UK and US prison monitors for withdrawing shortly before the raid.

    Once again, the PA is expected to clean up its own house, yet has its infrastructure attacked and destroyed when Israel sees fit. Once again Israeli military supremacy allows the Israelis to do exactly as they please...

    Israeli troops are reported to have threatened to kill the [remaining] prisoners if they do not surrender.

    Conditions at Mr Saadat's jail were unsatisfactory, monitors say
    Reports from the scene said 50 jeeps, three tanks, and an armoured bulldozer pushed into the oasis town in the Jordan valley, as two helicopters hovered overhead.

    Surrendering guards and prisoners were strip-searched by the Israeli troops outside the compound, where they were filmed by TV crews.

    Mr Saadat was arrested in connection with the killing of right-wing Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi by PFLP gunmen in 2001, an attack which itself was to avenge the assassination of Mr Saadat's predecessor by Israel.

    Mr Saadat has been in Palestinian custody since early in 2002 - and was moved to Jericho under international supervision in a deal to lift Israel's siege of Yasser Arafat's Muqataa compound in May of that year.

    The following month the Palestinian High Court ordered his release, saying there was no evidence to link him to the Zeevi assassination.

    Israeli officials said Mr Saadat would be killed if he was freed, and the Palestinian cabinet blocked the release.
    [my emphasis]

    In pictures.

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    Free Speech? Not When It Comes to State of Israel

    By Robert Fisk

    The Independent, March 12, 2006

    You’ve got to fight. It’s the only conclusion I can draw as I see the
    renewed erosion of our freedom to discuss the Middle East. The most
    recent example — and the most shameful — is the cowardly decision of the
    New York Theater Workshop to cancel the Royal Court’s splendid
    production of “My Name Is Rachel Corrie”.

    It’s the story — in her own words and e-mails — of the brave young
    American woman who traveled to Gaza to protect innocent Palestinians and
    who stood in front of an Israeli bulldozer in an attempt to prevent the
    driver from destroying a Palestinian home. The bulldozer drove over her
    and then reversed and crushed her a second time.

    An American heroine, Rachel earned no brownie points from the Bush
    administration which bangs on about courage and freedom from oppression
    every few minutes. Rachel’s was the wrong sort of courage and she was
    defending the freedom of the wrong people. But when I read that James
    Nicola, the New York Theater Workshop’s “artistic director” — his title
    really should be in quotation marks — had decided to “postpone” the play
    “indefinitely” because “in our pre-production planning and our talking
    around and listening in our communities (sic) in New York, what we heard
    was that after Ariel Sharon’s illness and the election of Hamas. ... we
    had a very edgy situation”, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

    So let’s confront this tomfoolery. Down in Australia, my old mate Antony
    Loewenstein, a journalist and academic, is having an equally vile time.
    He has completed a critical book on the Israel/Palestine conflict for
    Melbourne University Publishing and Jewish communities in Australia are
    trying to have it censored out of existence before it appears in August.

    A one-off bit of skulduggery on Israel’s behalf? Alas, no. A letter
    arrived for me last week from Israeli-American Barbara Goldscheider
    whose novel “Naqba: The Catastrophe: The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict”
    has just been published. She has been attacked, she told me, “merely
    because I chose an Arabic title to my novel on the conflict... My
    brother-in-law has broken his relationship with me before he even read
    the book ... From members of my ‘Orthodox’ Jewish congregation in Bangor
    (Maine), I received a phone call from an irate ‘friend’ sputtering ...
    out: ‘Don’t you know the Arabs want to destroy Israel?’”

    What do you do when a publisher — or an “artistic director” — caves in?
    I found out for myself not long ago when the Military History Society of
    Ireland asked permission to reprint a paper I had published some years
    ago on a battle between the Irish Army’s UN battalion in southern
    Lebanon and Israel’s proxy — and brutal — Lebanese militia, the
    so-called “South Lebanon Army”, whose psychotic commander was a
    cashiered Lebanese Army major called Saad Haddad.

    In the paper, I mentioned how an Israeli major called Haim extorted
    money from the inhabitants of the south Lebanese village of Haris and
    gave the code name of an Israeli agent — “Abu Shawki” — who was present
    at the murder of two Irish soldiers.

    I had published these details many times, both in my own newspaper and
    in my previous book on the Lebanon war, “Pity the Nation”. Maj. Haddad
    died of cancer more than 10 years ago. I actually met Haim in the early
    1980s as he emerged from a meeting with the mayor of Haris from whom he
    demanded money to pay Israel’s cruel militiamen — the UN was also
    present and recorded his threats — while “Abu Shawki”, whom the Irish
    police would like to interview, later tried to arrest me in Tyre — and
    immediately freed me — when I told him I knew that he was a witness to
    the murder of the two Irish soldiers.

    So what was I supposed to do when I received the following letter from
    ex-Brig. Gen. Patrick Purcell of the Irish Army? “Unfortunately we have
    been forced to withdraw (your) article in view of a letter from our
    publisher Irish Academic Press. It is clear from our contract that (our)
    society would be responsible in the event of a libel action.” The
    enclosed letter from publisher Frank Cass advised that his lawyer had
    “cautioned” him because I had described Haddad as “psychotic”, named the
    blackmailing Israeli major and named the Israeli agent present at the
    two murders. It’s interesting that Cass’s lawyer believes it is possible
    to libel a man (Haddad) who has been dead for more than a decade. As for
    Maj. Haim, he remains on UN files as the man who tried — and apparently
    succeeded — in forcing the people of southern Lebanon to cough up the
    cash to pay for their own oppressors.

    I better remember what I wrote in my newspaper just over six years ago,
    that “the degree of abuse and outright threats now being directed at
    anyone ... who dares to criticize Israel ... is fast reaching
    McCarthyite proportions. The attempt to force the media to obey Israel’s
    rules is ... international”. And growing, I should now add.

    The Rachel Corrie story.

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