Saturday, January 31, 2009

Blair: Hamas should be part of peace process

(Snippets from Ha'aretz)

A Blair epifany? Not really. More like 'same old, same old', although the old Bliar may be looking for a way to 'gracefully' change his position on Hamas:
Hamas should be part of the Middle East peace process, said Tony Blair, former British prime minister and envoy to the region of the international quartet of powers, in comments published on Friday.

"I do think it is important that we find a way of bringing Hamas into this process, but it can only be done if Hamas are prepared to do it on the right terms," Blair said in an interview with the Times of London newspaper, published on its Web site.

'Ere we go again, Squire: putting some one-sided preconditions on Hamas. Didn't work then, won't work now. Donkeys and toes. How about some Israeli concessions in return for Hamas's?
Blair repeated the Quartet position that there can be no talks, official or unofficial, with Hamas until they renounce violence and recognize Israel. However, he said that his "basic predisposition is that in a situation like this you talk to everybody."

In Gaza, Hamas official Mushir al-Masri said Blair's comments were proof that the West was acknowledging that Hamas could not be dismissed, although he added that the envoy's demands were unacceptable to the Islamist group.

"Blair's statement...repeated the same obstacles set by the West: to reject the recognition of Palestinian democracy, to impose the siege, to provide cover for the Zionist enemy's crimes against our people and to refuse to deal with the legitimate government and parliament," Masri said.

He added that Hamas was a strong and popular political entity and that Blair's repeat of "the same old ideas" would solve nothing.

Even thick-as-two-short-planks here undersigned can see that recognition of Israel and renunciation of violence are two of Hamas's bargaining chips. Why not accept that and take those chips for a few Israeli chips? Make it bilateral, huh? A two way street, in plain English.

In Bliar's mind, allowing Hamas to sit at the table and listen like model children in a model classroom should be sufficient rewards for giving up these chips. But seeing how little past negotiations have actually obtained for the Palestinians, I can't help but understand Hamas' weariness at giving something in return for potentially nothing. Again.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner also recently expressed willingness to engage Hamas "when they accept the peace process, when they agree to start negotiations."

The Emperors Without Clothes still rule. But they don't rock anymore...

Haaretz/Livni/Spain: someone is lying...

Regarding the possible investigation of senior Israeli officials by Spain for alleged war crimes committed in 2002, Ha'aretz has the following:
Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos informed Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Friday of Spain's plan to amend legislation that granted a Spanish judge the authority to launch a much-publicized war crimes investigation against senior Israeli officials.

Judge Fernando Andreu launched an investigation Thursday into seven current or former Israeli officials over a 2002 bombing in Gaza that killed a top Hamas militant, Salah Shehadeh, and 14 other people, including nine children.

The judge acted under a doctrine that allows prosecution in Spain, and other European countries, to reach far beyond national borders in cases of torture or war crimes. The universal jurisdiction ruling sparked outrage in Israel and elsewhere.

Spanish state television TVE quoted government sources as saying the possibility of a legal "adjustment or modification" would not be retroactive and would not affect the case before the courts.

"I just heard from the Spanish Foreign Minister Moratinos, that Spain has decided to change its legislation in connection with universal jurisdiction and this can prevent the abuse of the Spanish legal system," Livni told the Associated Press. "I think this is very important news and I hope that other states in Europe will do the same."

"Legal systems around the world have been exploited by cynics whose sole purpose is to hurt Israel," Livni went on to say. "It's good that Spain decided to put an end to this phenomenon."

But over at JSF, a Spanish commenter clearly begged to differ and linked to his own post which appears to be a clear rebuttal of the Ha'aretz story, which said blogger dismissed as 'propaganda':

From this post (which contains links):
Efe | Madrid / La vicepresidenta primera del Gobierno, María Teresa Fernández de la Vega, ha asegurado que Israel entiende que la Justicia en España actúa con “total independencia” a la hora de tomar decisiones tras conocerse que la Audiencia Nacional investigará a un grupo de militares israelíes por un ataque en la Franja de Gaza en 2002.

En la rueda posterior al Consejo de Ministros, De la Vega ha subrayado que la posición del Gobierno es respetar la acción de los tribunales y no inmiscuirse en el desarrollo del caso abierto por el juez Fernando Andreu contra el ex ministro de Defensa Benjamín Ben-Eliezer y otros seis militares de Israel.

“España es un estado de derecho y la Justicia actúa con total independencia. Eso lo saben todos los países europeos y los países democráticos. En estos momentos, ésa es la posición. Así se lo hemos trasladado al Gobierno de Israel y estamos seguros de que así lo entiende”, ha manifestado la vicepresidenta.

En sus declaraciones ha recordado que el ministro de Asuntos Exteriores, Miguel Ángel Moratinos, expuso ya esta posición a su colega israelí, Tzipi Livni, lo que De la Vega ha considerado un acto que “forma parte de la normalidad democrática”. Según la vicepresidenta, no ha habido más contactos con el Ejecutivo israelí.

“Lo que le incumbe al Gobierno son las relaciones políticas. En un estado de derecho, todo el mundo sabe que el poder judicial es independiente”, ha insistido. [...]” (El Mundo)

To be fair, my Spanish isn't good enough to trust myself with an accurate translation but the whole thing sounds rather like a resounding rebuttal by the Spanish Vice-president of the Livni/Ha'aretz account.

levi9909 from JSF went on to ask for clarification in English and got this (comment section):
Dear levi9909,

Well, I think the “announcement” [by Ha'aretz] was an hoax, a diplomatic pressure on Spain, and propaganda for inside voters. We may be very skeptical, but in Spain there is a more than 30 years experience in fighting terrorism (from ETA, GRAPO; GAL (a terrorism form the State in the eighties and nineties), Al Qaeda) from the democracy without “exceptional mesures”. I mean, Justice in Spain is not a joke.

The declarations of Mª Teresa de la Vega, an official statement shown on the National TV (rtve, La Primera) were diplomatic but quite clear: independence of the Justice, so Israeli terrorist suspects will be judged.

There’ sno doubt on that.

First time As’ad AbuKhalil reported the new, I thought it was a nightmare, but the sources have been only from Israel, as I explained in Spanish.

Thank you very much for your excellent work everyday at Jews sans frontières. You’re very good in the task.

Salam and Shalom.

So it would appear that either Livni or Ha'aretz are lying through their teeth on this. Will the Israeli officials ever be successfully be investigated and possibly prosecuted and convicted? I doubt it very much but assuming fairness on the part of the Spanish investigator(s), the publicity value of such an investigation cannot be underestimated. The drip-drip effect of bad press for Israel must continue.

Friday, January 30, 2009

At a leftwing NY bookstore, a very pan-global vibe for Gaza

Phill Weiss - Mondoweiss

On Monday night, Kathy Kelly, a longtime activist who spent a week in Gaza, came to the Bluestockings bookstore, a center for the next wave of activism on the Lower East Side, and said something I hadn't heard before. As part of the assault, she said, the Israelis had bulldozed orange groves.

The goal, she said, “is to move people off of the land. Get people out of the way. It is analogous to the way this country moved the Indians. If you get in our way we will kill you... The people of Il Tufa [in northeast Gaza] were told to evacuate. Every single house was dynamited. The orange groves were all bulldozed. Every single orange tree was uprooted. That was their livelihood. Later they tried to pull their clothing out from under the rubble... They were trying to salvage some of the oranges, too."

Kelly wanted others in the crowd of 50 to speak. A Palestinian American poet named Fareed Bitar stood up and spoke of his anxieties. He had hardly slept since the assault began. He called his family constantly. He was ashamed to see Senator Schumer and David Paterson at the rally for Israel. He spoke of the issue of human shields. “My uncle is part of the resistance. I want the American audience to actually listen… These Hamas members are part of families. They are heads of families.... We are not hopeless,we are educated people. But we have to have the worst luck in the world.”

His voice was despairing and he seemed to tremble. Soon after that a woman in a pink scarf went to the front of the bookstore and took a microphone. She introduced herself as Sunshine and spoke directly to the poet.

“You have my solidarity as an American and as an Iranian,” she said strongly. "You have my solidarity and I think you have the solidarity of a lot of people.” Sunshine gave the other people in the room advice: not to let a conversation go by without bringing up Gaza. This makes people uncomfortable at times, she said, but it is essential. “We’re in a culture that’s pretty pro-Zionist in New York. “ That only upped the ante for Sunshine.

A word about the vibe in the room. We were in New York, which is of course a Jewish center. You looked around the room and saw a very diverse crowd. Ryan Senser of JATO, who had helped bring Kelly there, is Jewish, but there were also a lot of people of color, mixed race people, people whose ethnic identity you'd be at pains to place, and who would not identify simply, in any case. As Uri Avnery says, this is the way of history. Denis Halliday formerly of the UN was there--bit of a brogue. Marcelle Hopkins, an Al-Jazeera reporter at the UN, too. A Jewish guy named Ted who's worked with International Solidarity Movement. I pushed through the crowd later to talk to Sunshine. I asked her if her encounter-policy in conversation was since Gaza, and she told me, No, she's been doing it for a long time, being of Iranian extraction. Very fair-skinned by the way; I'd never have said, She's Iranian.

CBS: the Israel Maffia strikes back

Remember that 10 minute segment on CBS about Israel's Occupation and the now possibly completely evaporated prospects for a Palestinian state? No? Haven't watched it yet? Here it is again:

Wait! Don't go! Send CBS a Thank you! note for airing this item via the Gaza Justice Action Center. Less than 2 minutes of your time, just fill in the form and press 'send'!

Turns out, rather predictably, that the Israel lobby isn't best pleased with CBS's efforts. Jstreet are on the case and here's their statement:
This past Sunday, 60 Minutes aired a powerful and thoughtful report on the danger that Israeli settlements pose to the chances for Israeli-Palestinian peace. If you haven't watched the segment, it is must-see journalism. Watch it here [see above].

All week long, 60 Minutes' Bob Simon has been under attack for supposed"anti-Israel bias." CAMERA (the Orwellian-named Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) alerted their activist network - flooding the 60 Minutes' offices and their advertisers with angry phone calls charging media bias. [1] Jewish community leader Abe Foxman fired off a letter calling the piece a "hatchet job on Israel." [2]

Journalists - as well as rabbis, professors and elected officials - know that if they raise questions about what Israel does - they'll often get attacked as anti-Israel. It's one way the forces of the status quo constrain debate and discussion on what's really best for Israel and the United States.

It's time for a reporter like Bob Simon to know that those of us with balanced views value balanced reporting - and we know how to write letters too! If he's getting an earful from CAMERA and others, then the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement should be showing him support.

Click here to view the segment and send Bob Simon a note of support for his accurate and thoughtful report on Israeli settlements and the occupation.

We hear plenty from American media about the threats that Israel faces from terrorism, rockets, and a nuclear Iran.

While those threats are real and should be covered, Americans also need to hear about another threat that is just as real: that time is running out for a two-state solution with the Palestinians in part due to Israeli settlements and the occupation of the West Bank. Without a two-state solution soon through assertive American diplomacy, Israel's future as a Jewish, democratic homeland is at risk.

During Sunday's 60 Minutes segment, anchor Bob Simon interviewed pro-settlement activist Daniella Weiss who readily admitted that she thinks "settlements prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state in the land of Israel. This is the goal. And this is the reality."

Simon also restated what Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been saying for years [3] about what would happen if the two-state solution peace process falls apart.

"Demographers predict that within ten years Arabs will outnumber Jews in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. Without a separate Palestinian state the Israelis would have three options, none of them good. They could try ethnic cleansing, drive the Palestinians out of the West Bank, or they could give the Palestinians the vote. That would be the democratic option but it would mean the end of the Jewish state. Or they could try apartheid - have the minority Israelis rule the majority Palestinians, but apartheid regimes don't have a very long life."

Simon also interviewed Israeli Foreign Minister and Israel's chief negotiator with the Palestinians Tzipi Livni who said that evacuating the settlers in the West Bank is "not going to be easy. But this is the only solution."

But groups like CAMERA are opposed to mainstream media reporting that Israeli extremists, in addition to Palestinian extremists, undermine efforts to achieve a two-state solution. CAMERA resorts to claims of anti-Israel bias - when the reality is that Israeli extremists on the West Bank make real peace and security for Israel and the Palestinians more difficult to achieve.

We can't let fringe groups like CAMERA define what it means to be pro-Israel through intimidation and fear tactics.

Bob Simon should receive support from the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement for his accurate and thoughtful assessment of the threat that Israeli settlements pose to the two-state solution peace process. Click here to write a note of support to 60 Minutes' Bob Simon [see above, below embedded video].

Thanks for all you do.
- Isaac
Isaac Luria
Online Director
J Street
January 29, 2009
[1] "CBS's 60 Minutes Scapegoats Israel," Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. January 26, 2009.
[2] "ADL Letter to CBS News' 60 Minutes," Anti-Defamation League. January 26, 2009.
[3] "Olmert to Haaretz: Two-state solution, of Israel is done for," by Aluf Benn, David Landau, Barak Ravid, Shmuel Rosner, Haaretz Correspondents and AP. Haaretz. November 29, 2007.

Aaaahh, what a lovely balanced unhinged bunch this Israel lobby really is. You want balance? Here it comes:

Israel has Occupied the West Bank for 41 years, continually building Jewish settlements on that land, slicing it up in a honeycomb network of non-contiguous Palestinian bantustans, making not only life impossible for Palestinians living there but also deliberately torpedoing any realistic chance of a two state solution and peace. Israel doesn't want peace: it wants Palestinians to leave Palestine altogether and has been working diligently and often very violently towards that goal for all that time. CBS's short but excellent video is another convincing testimony to that.

The world doesn't need 'balance', Israel doesn't need 'balance': what it needs is counter-force and the world may be just about to supply it.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Turkish PM walks off the stage over Gaza

Wow, here's one PM that's not behaving like a zionist glove puppet. Apparently, the Turkish PM had enough after hearing some remarks made by the Israeli President and walked off the Davos stage:

Rabid stuff from the AOF Rabbinate...

From Ha'aretz

H/T A mother from Gaza

During the fighting in the Gaza Strip, the religious media - and on two occasions, the Israel Defense Forces weekly journal Bamahane - were full of praise for the army rabbinate. The substantial role of religious officers and soldiers in the front-line units of the IDF was, for the first time, supported also by the significant presence of rabbis there.

The chief army rabbi, Brigadier General Avichai Rontzki, joined the troops in the field on a number of occasions, as did rabbis under his command.

Officers and soldiers reported that they felt "spiritually elevated" and "morally empowered" by conversations with rabbis who gave them encouragement before the confrontation with the Palestinians.

But what exactly was the content of these conversations and of the plethora of written material disseminated by the IDF rabbinate during the war? A reservist battalion rabbi told the religious newspaper B'Sheva last week that Rontzki explained to his staff that their role was not "to distribute wine and challah for Shabbat to the troops," but "to fill them with yiddishkeit and a fighting spirit."

An overview of some of the army rabbinate's publications made available during the fighting reflects the tone of nationalist propaganda that steps blatantly into politics, sounds racist and can be interpreted as a call to challenge international law when it comes to dealing with enemy civilians.

Haaretz has received some of the publications through Breaking the Silence, a group of former soldiers who collect evidence of unacceptable behavior in the army vis-a-vis Palestinians. Other material was provided by officers and men who received it during Operation Cast Lead. Following are quotations from this material:

"[There is] a biblical ban on surrendering a single millimeter of it [the Land of Israel] to gentiles, though all sorts of impure distortions and foolishness of autonomy, enclaves and other national weaknesses. We will not abandon it to the hands of another nation, not a finger, not a nail of it." This is an excerpt from a publication entitled "Daily Torah studies for the soldier and the commander in Operation Cast Lead," issued by the IDF rabbinate. The text is from "Books of Rabbi Shlomo Aviner," who heads the Ateret Cohanim yeshiva in the Muslim quarter of the Old City in Jerusalem.

The following questions are posed in one publication: "Is it possible to compare today's Palestinians to the Philistines of the past? And if so, is it possible to apply lessons today from the military tactics of Samson and David?" Rabbi Aviner is again quoted as saying: "A comparison is possible because the Philistines of the past were not natives and had invaded from a foreign land ... They invaded the Land of Israel, a land that did not belong to them and claimed political ownership over our country ... Today the problem is the same. The Palestinians claim they deserve a state here, when in reality there was never a Palestinian or Arab state within the borders of our country. Moreover, most of them are new and came here close to the time of the War of Independence."

The IDF rabbinate, also quoting Rabbi Aviner, describes the appropriate code of conduct in the field: "When you show mercy to a cruel enemy, you are being cruel to pure and honest soldiers. This is terribly immoral. These are not games at the amusement park where sportsmanship teaches one to make concessions. This is a war on murderers. 'A la guerre comme a la guerre.'"

This view is also echoed in publications signed by Rabbis Chen Halamish and Yuval Freund on Jewish consciousness. Freund argues that "our enemies took advantage of the broad and merciful Israeli heart" and warns that "we will show no mercy on the cruel."

In addition to the official publications, extreme right-wing groups managed to bring pamphlets with racist messages into IDF bases. One such flyer is attributed to "the pupils of Rabbi Yitzhak Ginsburg" - the former rabbi at Joseph's Tomb and author of the article "Baruch the Man", which praises Baruch Goldstein, who massacred unarmed Palestinians in Hebron. It calls on "soldiers of Israel to spare your lives and the lives of your friends and not to show concern for a population that surrounds us and harms us. We call on you ... to function according to the law 'kill the one who comes to kill you.' As for the population, it is not innocent ... We call on you to ignore any strange doctrines and orders that confuse the logical way of fighting the enemy."

The Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din has called on Defense Minister Ehud Barak to immediately remove Rabbi Rontzki from his post as chief rabbi.

In response, an IDF spokesman said that: "Overall, letters that are sent to the chief of staff [such as the request for Rontzki's dismissal] are reviewed and an answer is sent to those who make the request, not to the media."

More of these good Israelis in favour of a two state solution?

Over at Ynetnews, Yoel Meltzer calls on Israelis to vote for The National Union, the only party that is 100 % certified and guaranteed solidly kosher against a two state solution (as opposed to Netancescu's traitors who only promise to halt construction of further West Bank settlements). I couldn't make up this shit even if I got paid for it:

It should be obvious then that anyone who truly cares about the future of this country should be voting for The National Union on Election Day, since it is the only party that is 100% dedicated to trying to stop the madness [of a two state solution] here. For this reason I am alarmed to hear of many good intentioned right-wing voters who are ready to place their vote with either the Likud or Yisrael Beiteinu, either because they are unaware that both these parties support a two-state solution or because they think that strengthening these parties will somehow “provide the answer.” Please don't be fooled. The future of our country is at stake.

Call for US academic boycott!

Something really is stirring in the USA, see this:

The U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel

Mission Statement:

Responding to the call of Palestinian civil society to join the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement against Israel, we are a U.S. campaign focused specifically on a boycott of Israeli academic and cultural institutions, as delineated by PACBI (Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel):

In Ha'aretz they're crapping themselves:
"The response has been remarkable given the extraordinary hold that lobbying organizations like AIPAC exert over U.S. politics and over the U.S. media, and in particular given the campaign of intimidation that has been leveled at academics who dare to criticize Israel's policies," Lloyd wrote in an e-mail to Haaretz Monday. "Within a short weekend since the posting of the press release, more than 80 academics from all over the country have endorsed the action and the numbers continue to grow."

Gerald Steinberg, the American-educated chair of Bar Ilan University's political studies department puts it down to lack of Hasbara preparation:
"The government and the universities have completely neglected not just the academic boycott but in general this kind of soft war," he said. "The military prepared to go into Gaza for two and half years. But in terms of the boycott movement, both the ministry of education and the foreign ministry - which had pledged support for the existing anti-boycott frameworks - completely failed to prepare their own portfolios for this."

Two images spring to mind: Alan Dershowitz frothing at the mouth and Mad Mel Flips suffering a breakdown, now that some of the last "defenders of the Free World" are succumbing to the barbarians at the gates...

Right now, any publicity is good publicity.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Witness - Journey home (Palestine)

The troubled past of Israel's birth as a nation and the devastating consequences it's had in the region frequently make headlines around the world.

But the reality of what six decades of displacement has meant for the day to day lives of those who have lived there rarely makes the news.

In his moving and deeply personal film Al Jazeera's news editor, Awad Joumaa went on a journey spanning two continents and three countries to take his father back to the place he was born, but has never known: Palestine.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Israel (West Bank) boycott in action

Early reports are coming in about individuals making it clear they will not be buying any more goods from the Occupied Territories (West Bank). In this case protesters drag such goods from a Tesco store in South Wales and render them useless, before being carted off by police:

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The DEC Gaza Crisis Appeal video

The video the Bigoted Broadcast Corporation doesn't want you to see:

The Bigoted Broadcast Corporation?? I used to think the BBC's coverage of the I/P conflict was reasonable and fairly balanced, but that depends on how you look at it. Here's how Craig Murray looked at it, a few days ago:
What is Really Happening

I watched BBC World News for a timed hour yesterday. In that time I saw:
Pro-Israeli (including US government) speakers - 17
Pro-Palestinian speakers - 2
Mentions of Hamas Rockets as reason for war - 37
Mentions of illegal Israeli settlements - 0
Mentions of Palestinians killed by Israel during "ceasefire" - 2
Mentions of Sderot - 12
Mentions Sderot used to be Palestinian - 0
If you don't believe me, try it yourself.

And here's one for the Bwits (you need to know who Jonathan Woss and Mad Mel Flips are):

Over 10 minutes of US airtime spent on the Occupation!

Another crack in the US media wall? In the mainstream program 60 minutes on CBS, Bob Simon, who is Jewish living outside Tel-Aviv and producer Robert G. Anderson, spent just over 10 minutes on the Israeli Occupation of the West Bank. The item was called:

Time Running Out For A Two-State Solution? (Wait for the stop-smoking commercial to pass)

Watch CBS Videos Online

After a bit of ubiquitous hagiographic nonsense about The One, the item hits the spot right away and Reporter Bob Simon looks and sounds positively bemused in parts. Features a Palestinian family in Nablus whose house regularly gets occupied by armed Israeli soldiers (from the inside!), some Palestinian untermenschen building homes for their Jewish Lords and Masters and a Jewish settler determined to maintain the Occupation and settle all of the Palestinian land in the West Bank, by Divine order [cough!]. Bonus: it gets Kafkaesque when Simon finds himself talking to an army commander who can't talk to him. At the end of the item, la Livni reassures us that everything will be hunky dory because "Israel is a state of law and order". You don't say, luv!

Wait! Don't go! Send CBS a Thank you! note for airing this item via the Gaza Justice Action Center. Less than 2 minutes of your time, just fill in the form and press 'send'!

From Warsaw to Gaza: International Holocaust Memorial Day 2009

Mourning & Resistance

From Warsaw to Gaza

How does the city sit solitary, that was full of people! How is she become as a widow!...
She weeps sore into the night, and her tears are on her cheeks:
among all who loved her she has none to comfort her.
(Book of Lamentations)

Last week, after murdering 1400 people – of whom 400 were children – after bombing hospitals and mosques, schools, universities and humanitarian supplies, and tens of thousand of homes, Israel declared a cease-fire. A shameful parade of European leaders immediately went to Jerusalem to embrace the mass murderers and to pledge their support for the continuing siege of Gaza.

The primary purpose of this massacre was to break the spirit of the Palestinian people until they surrender and accept their fate as lesser human beings. As former Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon said in 2002, "The Palestinians must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people." European leaders support this goal, as did previous U.S. administrations, as do the ruling elites of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi-Arabia, despite the fury of their peoples. We wait to see if the freshly inaugurated Obama Administration will break with sixty long years of attack on the Palestinian people armed and financed by the U.S. and Europe.

We grieve with the people of Gaza. We see the faces of the children, of the women and the men; we hear their voices. We also hear the silence of the leaders of Western countries, intermittently broken by evasive platitudes. And we are reminded of the time when the world turned a blind eye while our forebears, our families, were slaughtered.

100,000 Palestinians were made homeless in Gaza this month. Most of them became refugees in 1948 when they were expelled at gunpoint from their towns and villages. Now they are homeless again, even in their land of exile, and at risk of being driven out from Palestine altogether.

Yet on January 27, Holocaust Remembrance Day, the leaders of the U.S. and Europe will be joined in honoring the memory of our dead. Even as we seek to remember and to honor the immensity of that loss, we struggle to find words to convey the hypocrisy of these ceremonies, in which those who are silent today pay homage to the victims of yesterday’s silence.

The radical Jewish writer Walter Benjamin, who died while fleeing the Nazis, wrote, "not even the dead will be safe from the enemy, if he is victorious. And this enemy has not ceased to be victorious." The Third Reich was defeated, and yet, "the enemy has not ceased to be victorious." Racism, mass murder, and genocide continue to be accepted tools of statecraft. Even our dead are not safe. They have been called up, disturbed, dredged from their mass graves and forced to testify against their fellow human beings in pain, to confess a hatred that was alien to them and to offer themselves up as justification for a new cycle of suffering in Palestine. Their ghosts have been enlisted to help displace fellow Jews from Arab homelands, and to bequeath to them that same alien hatred, conscripting those of us descending from Arab lands to become enemies of our own memory and past.

The Jewish British MP Gerald Kaufman spoke in anguish while the massacres in Gaza were taking place: "My grandmother did not die to provide cover for Israeli soldiers murdering Palestinian grandmothers in Gaza." We share and echo that refusal. Let not the memory of Jews murdered by the Nazi regime serve as cover for the attempted destruction of the Palestinian people!

Although the guns are relatively silent, this genocidal assault on the Palestinian people is not over. The siege, the lack of food and fresh water, the disease-threatening broken sewage system, and economic collapse and humanitarian crisis persist in Gaza with the full support of the U.S., Europe and the Egyptian government. As the siege of Gaza continues, so does the slow ethnic cleansing of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the home demolitions, the building of the apartheid wall, the settlement build-up, the economic devastation of the towns and villages strangled by checkpoints, the assault on Palestinian neighborhoods in Jaffa, Akka, Lydda, the Galilee and the Negev, the mass imprisonment of Palestinians (over 11,000), and all the large and small ways by which Israel is seeking to crush the spirit and erase the presence of the Palestinian people in their homeland.

Faced with the threat of annihilation in Europe, Jews resisted. From ghettos to concentration camps and within countries under occupation, Jews led resistance to the Nazi regime. Today, from the ghetto of Gaza to the Bantustans of the West Bank and from the neighborhoods of Jaffa and Akka to cities across the globe, Palestinians resist Israel’s attempt to destroy them as a people. On January 27th, honoring the memory of our dead is for us inseparable from honoring more than sixty years of Palestinian survival and resistance. Only when the Palestinian people regain their freedom will the dead rest safely. Then we will all celebrate another victory for life.

Statement of the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network.

Hat tip: Jews sans Frontieres

Monday, January 26, 2009

Sick Fuck Livni: Turn ME into parking lot

From Ha'aretz

LivniLivni: Obama can use Gaza op success to alter Mideast reality

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said on Monday that United States President Barack Obama could use Israel's success in its recent offensive against Hamas to change the reality in the Middle East.

"The IDF operation in Gaza can and must serve as a turning point, not only restoring calm to the residents of the south, but also strengthening the regional processes which both Israel and the U.S. seek to advance," Livni told James Cunningham, the U.S. ambassador to Israel.

This must be the plan where the US/Israel, with the overwhelming use of force level whatever resistance to the Occupation there might be left, inside or outside of Palestine, deterring neighbouring states into "moderation" (read: 'subjugation to Israel and the Quartet') to prepare for their final assault on Iran, right? Notice also how a new Israulspeak-type euphemism is being rolled out: 'changing reality'...
In the meeting with Cunningham, Livni added: "The operation created a strategic change in the status of Hamas and the extremist forces, and can serve as a stimulus for the new [U.S.] administration and the international community to change the reality."

She said that Israel made it clear that "we will not return to the status quo which prevailed prior to the IDF operation, and that we must take advantage of Hamas's weakness and work together to create opportunities that will strengthen the moderate forces in the region."

Yep, thought so. You really have to wonder what Mitchell, heralded as the new diplomatic hope for the ME, thinks about all this...

What a shame in many respects that "the reality" of the Middle East has already "been changed": when Israel was created, that is...

Tu Quoque, Sky?

BBC staff protest over decision not to show Gaza aid appeal, Sky News follows BBC decision

The Guardian

shoe_protestThe BBC is facing a growing revolt from its own journalists over its decision not to broadcast the Gaza humanitarian aid appeal, with sources reporting "widespread disgust" within its newsrooms.
BBC staff have said they have been told they face the sack if they speak out on the issue and understands that corporation journalists will tomorrow vote on a resolution put forward by the National Union of Journalists condemning the move.

Sources have said there was "fury" at the BBC News morning meeting today about the decision, with news editors saying they had not been consulted on the move to not show the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal, which is to be broadcast tonight on ITV, Channel 4 and Channel Five.

The NUJ and fellow broadcasting union Bectu both passed motions over the weekend condemning the BBC's decision. NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear and his counterpart at Bectu, Gerry Morrissey, will also today send a letter to BBC director general Mark Thompson asking him to review it.

Tomorrow the main NUJ chapel at BBC Television Centre will also meet, with staff expected to condemn the decision.

"Feelings are running extremely high and there is widespread disgust at the BBC's top management," one BBC News source said. "There is widespread anger and frustration at the BBC's refusal to allow people to speak out about it."

An NUJ source added: "It is the BBC's decision and we respect the independence of that, but we think they have got it wrong and should review it."

Thompson has said the corporation will not screen the DEC appeal because it could harm the BBC's impartiality on the Gaza conflict.

BBC management have said they will not change their mind on the issue and were backed by Sky News today when the satellite broadcaster also said it would not air the film.

The two-minute appeal is currently being edited by ITN and will be shown on ITV1 tonight before the main news at about 6.25pm, before being broadcast on the other channels.

Sources within the BBC have questioned whether its internal Balen report into its Middle East coverage, which the corporation has refused to publish, has influenced its decision on the DEC appeal. An appeal to the House of Lords to force the BBC to publish the report is currently ongoing.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Occupation: the elephant in the room

Raising Yousuf and Noor.

PalestineAnd so it's done; the curtain has been draw. After months, and by some estimate, a couple of years, of careful preparation, laying the groundwork, massaging public opinion, crafting a Gulf of Tonkin; immaculate timing; hasbara campaign: its a wrap folks! Just in time to make way for a Historic American inauguration, we are reminded again and again.

Intent on proving his critics wrong, Obama wasted no time in reminding them of America's resolve and tenacity: We will defeat you.

But noticeably missing from the talk was any mention of Israel or Palestine.

Fair enough, it was a big moment on its own, no need to weigh it down with a bloody and distant conflict that you will spend the next 4-8 years getting mired down in anyway -or miring down further.

And so as we are told, Obama hit the ground running. The next day, the newly minted President in his first speech talked about the need to open Gaza's crossings-because as any casual observer might have gleamed from this recent "cycle of violence" it is that in order to have a "lasting ceasefire" we must give Israel security, and open Gaza's crossing (in case you aren't sensing it, I'm being sarcastic here).

But the devil is so often in the detail-not in what was said, but what was not. Notably missing from the call was a need to open the crossing to people as opposed to merely humanitarian aid and commerce, as though the Gaza problem can be vanished by tons of food.

It was this very clause that was negotiated to inclusion in the Agreement on Movement and Access brokered by none other than Condie rice herself shortly after Disengagement: the need to provide Access and Movement for goods AND people, and keep the crossings operating on a continuous basis. Of course, this never materialized: neither in percentage of trucks allowed in or out, nor the promised Palestinian control over Rafah within one year. OCHA keeps a good record of weekly violations of the AMA as a reference.

Obama also said the US "will support a credible anti-smuggling and interdiction regime so that Hamas cannot rearm". See, this had me a little confused - because I thought it was Israel with the Merkava tanks, F 15 and F 16s, white phosphorus, DIME, and nukes.

Regardless, none of this will matter. If Palestinians are not granted their most basic human right of freedom of movement, the tunnels will continue to thrive.

So I'm going to throw something out here that might sound a bit out there- hold your breathe everyone: how about we actually try ending the occupation instead of coming up with a million and one excuses why we shouldn't?

Notice the pattern vis a vis any Palestinian group-whether it was Fateh and the PLO before, or Hamas now: they are and always will be terrorists (the PLO is still on the US terrorist list); once you negotiate, its only a process meant to serve as a cover for continuing settlement expansion and consolidation of the Occupation; if that doesn't work, cry foul and say you have no partner for peace- then bomb their security infrastructure and say they have to have better security before they become a partner. If the people elect someone else, start over.

For real change, why start by saying things like they are: if Israel has the right to defend itself, don't Palestinians have not only the right, but the obligation to both defend themselves and resist against an illegal occupation?

Prima facie evidence of war crimes, almost indisputable, here:

The shell the journalist held up was a 155 mm artillery shell (not a smaller caliber tank shell). I was an artillery gunner, deployed in the same
self-moving, lightly armoured 155 mm Howitzers the AOF use today.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Gaza War Photo Album...

For one of the most comprehensive collections of high quality, date-stamped, authenticated and captioned photographs on the destructive war on Gaza and its aftermath, please consult this Flickr site (11 pages). It is being updated almost on a daily basis.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Israel, scared of Iran, chastised by Hizbullah, that leaves the Palestinians

A biting piece here by Yitzhak Laor in the London Review of Books:

We’ve been here before. It’s a ritual. Every two or three years, our military mounts another bloody expedition. The enemy is always smaller, weaker; our military is always larger, technologically more sophisticated, prepared for full-scale war against a full-scale army. But Iran is too scary, and even the relatively small Hizbullah gave us a hard time. That leaves the Palestinians.

Israel is engaged in a long war of annihilation against Palestinian society. The objective is to destroy the Palestinian nation and drive it back into pre-modern groupings based on the tribe, the clan and the enclave. This is the last phase of the Zionist colonial mission, culminating in inaccessible townships, camps, villages, districts, all of them to be walled or fenced off, and patrolled by a powerful army which, in the absence of a proper military objective, is really an over-equipped police force, with F16s, Apaches, tanks, artillery, commando units and hi-tech surveillance at its disposal.

The extent of the cruelty, the lack of shame and the refusal of self-restraint are striking, both in anthropological terms and historically. The worldwide Jewish support for this vandal offensive makes one wonder if this isn’t the moment Zionism is taking over the Jewish people.

But the real issue is that since 1991, and even more since the Oslo agreements in 1993, Israel has played on the idea that it really is trading land for peace, while the truth is very different. Israel has not given up the territories, but cantonised and blockaded them. The new strategy is to confine the Palestinians: they do not belong in our space, they are to remain out of sight, packed into their townships and camps, or swelling our prisons. This project now has the support of most of the Israeli press and academics.

We are the masters. We work and travel. They can make their living by policing their own people. We drive on the highways. They must live across the hills. The hills are ours. So are the fences. We control the roads, and the checkpoints and the borders. We control their electricity, their water, their milk, their oil, their wheat and their gasoline. If they protest peacefully we fire tear gas at them. If they throw stones, we fire bullets. If they launch a rocket, we destroy a house and its inhabitants. If they launch a missile, we destroy families, neighbourhoods, streets, towns.

Israel doesn’t want a Palestinian state alongside it. It is willing to prove this with hundreds of dead and thousands of disabled, in a single ‘operation’. The message is always the same: leave or remain in subjugation, under our military dictatorship. We are a democracy. We have decided democratically that you will live like dogs.

On 27 December just before the bombs started falling on Gaza, the Zionist parties, from Meretz to Yisrael Beiteinu, were unanimously in favour of the attack. As usual – it’s the ritual again – differences emerged only over the dispatch of blankets and medication to Gaza. Our most fervent pro-war columnist, Ari Shavit, has suggested that Israel should go on with the assault and build a hospital for the victims. The enemy is wounded, bleeding, dying, desperate for help. Nobody is coming unless Obama moves – yes, we are all waiting for Godot. Maybe this time he shows up.

The Truth about DU?

We're hearing increasingly reports of the use of Depleted Uranium (DU) tipped tank shells in the Gaza conflict by the IDF. Although confirmation is still required the use of such armour piercing munitions seems very likely to me. First used by the US army in the Gulf War, they have found increasing use because of their... well, increased armour piercing capability!

And of DU there is tons and tons of it about: it's the inevitable (and otherwise rather useless) by-product of the uranium enrichment process that extracts the fissionable (and thus useful) uranium isotope U235 from natural uranium. The enriched uranium (rich in U235) is used either for civilian nuclear energy production or for the production of weapons (Hiroshima-style A-bombs). The by-product is Depleted Uranium (DU), mainly U238 and other naturally occurring uranium isotopes.

Neither Natural nor Depleted Uranium are highly radioactive, in fact so little radioactive that using small slab (of this extremely dense material) of it as, say, an office paper weight, would not expose one to dangerous levels of radiation. But slightly radioactive it is nonetheless (in fact using a piece of uranium ore as a paper weight for photographic paper lead to the discovery of radioactivity by Henri Becquerel).

But uranium is also a heavy metal and as such chemically toxic in probably more than one way (the element uranium has a rather rich chemistry).

As a chemist I've contemplated making small amounts of (Natural, not enriched) uranium metal in my backyard by magnesiothermic reduction of uranium tetrafluoride (UF4 - aka Green Salt) with magnesium powder. What holds me back (among other things) is that such a reaction would almost inevitable lead to fine airborne particles of uranium. Breathed in, even at low radioactivity (combined also with the chemical toxicity) this has to be a recipe for cancer and possibly other ailments. It's not hard to imagine what happens to the DU in DU tipped tank shells when they hit a hard object: inevitable this must lead to DU aerosols and DU dust being generated...

The teratogenicity of such aerosols is starting to be studied in great detail and a truly excellent study on this subject can be found here. Hat tip to Nevin for this find and for blogging about it.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Who will save the Palestinians?

By Mark LeVine

It was a hot September day in Gaza and I was sitting in the office of a Hamas-affiliated newspaper talking with a senior Hamas intellectual.

As the French news crew that had given me a ride from Jerusalem packed up their camera equipment, I took the opportunity to change the subject from the latest happenings in Gaza to a more fundamental question that had long bothered me.

"Off the record, lets put aside whether or not Palestinians have the moral or legal right to use violence against civilians to resist the occupation. The fact is, it doesn't work," I said.

Suicide bombings and other direct attacks on Israeli civilians, I argued, helped to keep the subject off the occupation and in so doing allowed Israel to build even more settlements while the media focused on the violence.

His response both surprised me with its honesty and troubled me with its implications.

"We know the violence doesn't work, but we don't know how to stop it," he said.

Out of ideas

More than two years into the al-Aqsa intifada, when the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority had demonstrated itself to be incapable either of effectively governing the small parts of the Occupied Territories under its control, or of resisting the ongoing occupation, Hamas was increasingly being seen as the most viable alternative force in Palestinian politics.

Yet on the most basic questions confronting the movement and Palestinian leaders more broadly - how to force Israel to stop expanding the occupation and negotiate a peace agreement that would bring real independence - Hamas's best minds had no clue what to do except continue with a strategy that many in the leadership understood was not working.

Hamas's lack of creativity should not have decisively shaped the broader context of Palestinian politics, as polls rarely showed its popularity exceeding 20 per cent.

However, by 2002, with negotiations nowhere in sight, whole regions of cities such as Nablus and Jenin destroyed, and Israel sewing chaos across the West Bank and in so doing destroying the basic foundations of PA rule, Hamas's power was rising quickly.

Aside from adding crudely made rockets to its arsenal the year before, Hamas was fresh out of ideas.

History of political failures

There were not many viable alternative strategies to violence Hamas or any other Palestinian movement could choose from in 2002, or in the century leading up to it.

Whether it was an Ottoman state turning a blind eye to early Jewish land purchases, landowners (often with few or no local ties) selling peasant-worked land to Zionists for a tidy sum, urban notables refusing to support democracy or better conditions for workers, or much of the Palestinian elite fleeing the country in the months before the British Mandate's end, in its crucial formative phase Palestinian society did not have a political and economic leadership that consistently put national considerations ahead of more narrow political, factional, economic or personal interests.

Britain, which conquered Palestine in 1917, was mandated to support Zionist national goals while merely "safeguarding" the civil and religious rights of Palestine's indigenous inhabitants.

Enabling the development of independent and strong Palestinian political institutions would have undercut the creation of a Jewish national home. And so, in good colonial fashion, Britain encouraged the more conservative and corrupt tendencies of Palestinian society, while systematically frustrating the emergence of a capable and democratically chosen nationalist leadership.

When the inevitable civil war in Palestine erupted in 1948, the social, political and economic weaknesses within Palestinian society (most of its leadership had been exiled by 1939), coupled with the opposition to the establishment of an independent Palestine by the very Arab neighbours supposedly invading to support it, enabled a seemingly improbable Zionist/Israeli victory.

There was little room for independent Palestinian political development after 1948, with Gaza and the West Bank under Egyptian and Jordanian rule, even after the creation of the PLO in 1964.

The first intifada

Israel managed to frustrate the emergence of a PLO base that would threaten its control of the Occupied Territories after their conquest in 1967.

However it could not prevent the development of the sophisticated civil society and social networks that enabled the early successes of the intifada, which erupted in late 1987.

The intifada succeeded in good measure because of its mass social base and focus on largely non-violent protests such as commercial and tax strikes and blocking roads.

However powerful the symbolic violence of stone throwing youths pitted against the 'Goliath' of the Israeli army, Israel's far superior military power and willingness to use indiscriminate force, coupled with the arrest and long-term imprisonment of tens of thousands of Palestinians, wore down Palestinian society, sapping the strength of the intifada by the time the Gulf war started in 1991.

Neither the PLO's renunciation of terrorism in 1988 nor the emergence of Hamas earlier that year could change this dynamic.

Yet Israel clearly took note of the threat posed by local Palestinian activism to its control over the Occupied Territories.

Bypassing civil society

The Oslo back channel was pursued in good measure to bypass Palestinian civil society and the locally rooted negotiators who led the Madrid peace talks in the wake of the Gulf war.

The Palestinian Authority established in the wake of the Oslo accords was run largely by PLO officials from Tunis, who were not rooted in the Territories.

Whatever their original intentions, their interests quickly morphed from securing a full Israeli withdrawal to maintaining their newfound political power, access to wealth and patronage through Israeli-sponsored monopolies, large-scale international aid, and various forms of corruption.

Israel's leverage over the Oslo Palestinian elite helped ensure that the PA functioned as much as Israel's policeman in the Occupied Territories - controlling and when necessary repressing opposition to the ongoing occupation - as it did a partially sovereign government preparing the country for independence.

The Palestinian legislative assembly and judiciary, both of which were more accountable to the citizens of the Territories, were intentionally marginalised.

Reliance on violence

Being one of the few groups entirely outside the process, Hamas was well-positioned to offer an alternative strategy towards independence.

Instead, in the same year that the PA was established, 1994, Hamas turned its focus towards the kind of spectacular violence that characterised the PLO a generation before.

This strategy achieved little besides strengthening Israel's matrix of control over the Territories (most recently by providing the rationale for the construction of the Separation Wall, most of which has been built inside the West Bank).

Aside from the moral and legal problems associated with such attacks - whether by rockets or suicide bombs - Hamas and other militant groups failed to understand that terrorism rarely succeeds unless the insurgency deploying it is already strong enough demographically, militarily and politically to defeat the occupier.

This situation held true in Algeria, Vietnam, and even Lebanon, but it has never existed in Palestine.

With the outbreak of the al-Aqsa intifada, Hamas's reliance on extreme violence - in its rhetoric as well as actions - overshadowed other forms of Palestinian resistance, giving Israel the necessary cover to deploy an even greater intensity of violence across the Territories.

Chaos and anarchy

This dynamic generated a level of chaos that necessitated the coining of the term intafawda (fawda in Arabic means chaos or anarchy) to describe the chaos and anarchy that often characterised life during the al-Aqsa intifada.

Both Hamas and Fatah engaged in kidnappings, torture and murder of opponents of all stripes, leaving little space for Palestinian civil society to shape a viable strategy of resistance against the occupation.

Hamas's reliance on violence as its chief tactic of resistance provided Israel with the opportunity to use its victory in the 2006 legislative elections to split Palestinians geographically and politically.

In the West Bank, where territorial conflict is now centered and settlement construction continues, Israel helped the more cooperative Fatah-led PA to maintain its power (although the Gaza war may now render the PA unsalvageable). Hamas was relegated to the prison of Gaza.

By early 2007 the situation was so bad that Gazans suffered attacks by Israeli helicopter gunships and street battles between Hamas and Fatah on the same day.

As Hamas and Fatah veered increasingly towards civil war, Hamas fulfilled precisely the function Israel hoped it would when it tolerated and even encouraged the movement's early development.

Israel saw it as an alternative to the PLO that would weaken or split the Palestinian national movement politically and territorially; precisely what ultimately happened.

Watershed moment

By early 2008, Israel's siege had made matters so desperate that Gazans broke through the border wall between Gaza and Egypt in order to escape into neighbouring Sinai towns for a few days to buy food, medicine and other necessities in short supply because of the siege.

Yet when a group of NGOs, joined by ordinary citizens, tried to build on the momentum at the southern border by staging a peaceful mass march to the Erez border in order, symbolically at least, to dismantle it, a line of armed Hamas policemen stopped the 5,000 strong marchers half a mile south of the crossing.

Rather than seizing the opportunity to shift the struggle towards a terrain - mass civil disobedience backed by international law - on which Israel's footing would be far less sure, Hamas served Israel's interests by stopping the march.

Later that afternoon, Hamas launched a rocket assault on Sderot, injuring a small Israeli girl, continuing a cycle of violence that ultimately led to the December-January war.

Jihad, but which kind?

Hamas's charter declares that "There is no solution to the Palestinian Question except by Jihad" (Article 13). Perhaps. But what kind?

If "jihad is the path" (Article 8), is violence the only vehicle that can travel upon it?

Martin Luther King engaged in holy war, as did Gandhi before him, and Bishop Tutu after. Palestinians too have waged more than one kind of jihad.

In fact, for most of the last decade - indeed, throughout the 42 year occupation - just going about one's daily life and navigating the innumerable obstacles of the occupation, has for most Palestinians constituted a supreme act of non-violent resistance.
There have also been literally thousands of non-violent protests staged by Palestinians across the Occupied Territories, the majority of them ignored by the media and repressed, often violently, by Israel.

Successful non-violent movements, such as in the US, India or (for the most part) South Africa, succeeded because, in Gandhi's words, they sought "to convert, not to coerce, the wrong-doer".

As Gandhi explained it, the goal of non-violence must be to obtain the cooperation of one's opponent to achieve a just end to a conflict, utilising means that reflect rather than degrade the justice of one's cause.

At the same time, Gandhi also understood that no conversion of the occupier could occur without also transforming oppressive social and economic relations within one's society.

As a socio-religious movement heavily involved in the provision of social welfare services, whose popularity has in good measure been tied to its anti-corruption and social justice rhetoric, Hamas was well positioned to follow this path.

However, instead of learning from the experiences of the first intifada and successful activism in other countries, Hamas looked backwards, to a vision of revolutionary violence whose record of producing real freedom and development in developing societies has been checkered, at best.

De-normalising Israel

According to David Theo Goldberg, a South African scholar, the example of the defeat of apartheid in his country points to the importance of "de-normalising" the Israeli occupation - showing the world that its actions are not normal, and cannot be justified with claims of self-defence or security.

Instead, Palestinian terrorism, first by the PLO and later by Hamas and other groups, helped to normalise the occupation, enabling the Israeli government to transform an occupation that has always been about settlement into one premised on legitimate security needs.

Rhetoric matters too.

When during the past year Hamas leaders talked proudly of making "death an industry of the Palestinian people" and creating "human shields" composed of old people and children, or declared Jewish children everywhere to have become legitimate targets of murder (as did Hamas commander Mahmoud Zahar in a televised broadcast on January 5), the movement helped normalise the intensifying siege on Gaza, playing into deep-seated Western - and particularly American and Israeli - stereotypes of Muslim irrationality and brutality.

Indeed, such statements have long made it easier for the media, and the public, to ignore or even justify similarly racist or bigoted statements by Israeli leaders.

In this context, once the truce agreed to by Israel and Hamas in June 2008 broke down, the relaunching of Qassam rockets - even if they were in response to an Israeli provocation - normalised Israel's massive response in the eyes of its citizens, and a large majority of Americans as well.

In this discourse, any 'normal' country would feel compelled to respond militarily when thousands of rockets are fired into its territory by an adversary who uses its own children as human shields while threatening to kill one's children the world over.

That such a narrative avoids the larger context in which the Qassams were fired does not change the role played by the rockets in normalising the occupation.

An opportunity in Gaza's ashes?

If there is a bright spot for Palestinians in the horrific violence of the last few weeks, it is that Israel's deployment of disproportionate and indiscriminate violence in Gaza has revealed the abnormality of the occupation for millions of people who previously had been unable to perceive it.

This revelation offers Hamas, and the Palestinian leadership more broadly, the chance to change the larger terms of the debate over the future of Israel/Palestine.

It could help move Palestinian society (and with it Israeli society, however reluctantly) away from the paradigm of two nationalist movements engaged in a competition over territory and towards a common future.

This process can only begin with the conversion of Israelis and Palestinians to the idea of sharing sovereignty, territory and even identity in order to achieve the greatest good for the most members of the two societies.

It is worth noting that the far left in Israel has long had such a bi-national programme. For its part, the PLO came close to it with its call for a "secular democratic state" in all of Mandate Palestine in 1969.

However, such an idea has never had a chance of being considered seriously as long as terrorism has been identified as the central strategy for the realisation of Palestinian nationalism.

When the two-state strategy epitomised by the Oslo peace process collapsed at the Camp David talks of July 2000, there was an opportunity for Palestinians again to change the terms of the debate.

Hamas in particular could have offered an alternative discourse to Yasser Arafat's supposed 'No' to a generous Israeli final offer.

But the movement had little new to offer.

Al-Aqsa intifada

Indeed, at this crucial moment a leadership vacuum opened across Palestinian society, which Ariel Sharon, the then Likud leader, ever alert to an opportunity to throw the peace process further off balance, exploited with his infamous visit to the Temple Mount.

Sharon clearly hoped to provoke a violent Palestinian response that would shift attention away from the reality that Israel had not in fact offered Palestinians a viable deal at Camp David.

His highly symbolic but politically meaningless visit became the spark for the al-Aqsa intifada.

What few have considered as the new intifada unfolded was whether Palestinians should have responded to Sharon's visit with violent protests. There were certainly other options.

Mosque officials could have offered him tea, and in front of the media's glare, asked him politely but firmly to explain how he expected Jews and Palestinians to live together peacefully when the occupation had intensified during Oslo.

It is impossible to know for sure what Sharon would have answered, but there is a good chance that this would have thrown him off balance, exposing the abnormality of the peace process-as-occupation for all to see.

Playing their part

Instead, Palestinians played the part assigned to them, and a so far eight year long intifada erupted.

As no less a supporter of Palestinian rights than Norman Finkelstein argues, it has left "Palestinians ... [with] little to show for the violent resistance ... It is at least arguable that the balance-sheet would have been better had Palestinians en masse adopted non-violent civil resistance".

Much of Gaza was turned to rubble in Israel's 23-day offensive [AFP]
Israel offered Hamas another opportunity to change the terms of the conflict when in late November, 2007, Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, warned Israelis that their country "risked being compared to apartheid-era South Africa if it failed to agree an independent state for the Palestinians".

With that remark Olmert was revealing to the world what Haaretz commentator Bradley Burston has called the "ultimate doomsday weapon," - one which senior Israeli commanders "could only pray that Palestinians would never take out and use".

As Burston pointed out, when the opportunity for Palestinians en masse to just "get up and walk" arose with the march to Erez less than two months after Olmert made his remarks, Hamas forced Palestinians to keep their most powerful weapon under lock and key at the moment it could have been used to its greatest effect.

Changing the rules

A year later, much of Gaza has been turned to rubble, at least 1,300 more Gazans are dead, joined by at least 13 Israelis.

The futility of violence as a strategy to achieve either society's core objectives has never been so clearly on display, as has the bankruptcy of a two-state solution that was likely miscarried at the very inception of the peace process a decade and a half ago.

It is not likely that Israel will emerge from this tragedy ready to offer Palestinians a territorially viable Palestinian state.

The newly inaugurated Obama administration could force it to do so, garnering near universal acclaim for salvaging the two-state solution in the process.

However, it seems more likely that the two-state solution will remain as illusive in the near future as it has in the past.

In such a situation Palestinians face a choice: continue to play by Israel's rules and see their dreams of independence disappear for at least another generation, or change the rules by demanding the same rights enjoyed by Israelis over the entirety of historic Palestine.

By taking heed of Olmert's warning, Palestinians can begin the journey towards a future in which Jews and Palestinians can share the land of historical Palestine/Eretz Yisrael for the benefit of both peoples, rather than at the expense of the other.

The road will no doubt be long and painful; but even as the fog of the latest war dissipates it is hard to imagine another path emerging that could lead to an independent, peaceful future for Palestine, or Israel.

Mark LeVine is a professor of Middle East history at the University of California, Irvine, and is the author of Heavy Metal Islam: Rock, Resistance, and the Struggle for the Soul of Islam and the soon to be published An Impossible Peace: Israel/Palestine Since 1989.

Gaza war ended in utter failure for Israel

By Gideon Levy - Ha'aretz

On the morrow of the return of the last Israeli soldier from Gaza, we can determine with certainty that they had all gone out there in vain. This war ended in utter failure for Israel.

This goes beyond the profound moral failure, which is a grave matter in itself, but pertains to its inability to reach its stated goals. In other words, the grief is not complemented by failure. We have gained nothing in this war save hundreds of graves, some of them very small, thousands of maimed people, much destruction and the besmirching of Israel's image.

What seemed like a predestined loss to only a handful of people at the onset of the war will gradually emerge as such to many others, once the victorious trumpeting subsides.

The initial objective of the war was to put an end to the firing of Qassam rockets. This did not cease until the war's last day. It was only achieved after a cease-fire had already been arranged. Defense officials estimate that Hamas still has 1,000 rockets.

The war's second objective, the prevention of smuggling, was not met either. The head of the Shin Bet security service has estimated that smuggling will be renewed within two months.

Most of the smuggling that is going on is meant to provide food for a population under siege, and not to obtain weapons. But even if we accept the scare campaign concerning the smuggling with its exaggerations, this war has served to prove that only poor quality, rudimentary weapons passed through the smuggling tunnels connecting the Gaza Strip to Egypt.

Israel's ability to achieve its third objective is also dubious. Deterrence, my foot. The deterrence we supposedly achieved in the Second Lebanon War has not had the slightest effect on Hamas, and the one supposedly achieved now isn't working any better: The sporadic firing of rockets from the Gaza Strip has continued over the past few days.

The fourth objective, which remained undeclared, was not met either. The IDF has not restored its capability. It couldn't have, not in a quasi-war against a miserable and poorly-equipped organization relying on makeshift weapons, whose combatants barely put up a fight.

The heroic descriptions and victory poems written abut the "military triumph" will not serve to change reality. The pilots were flying on training missions and the ground forces were engaged in exercises that involved joining up and firing weapons.

The describing of the operation as a "military achievement" by the various generals and analysts who offered their take on the operation is plain ridiculous.

We have not weakened Hamas. The vast majority of its combatants were not harmed and popular support for the organization has in fact increased. Their war has intensified the ethos of resistance and determined endurance. A country which has nursed an entire generation on the ethos of a few versus should know to appreciate that by now. There was no doubt as to who was David and who was Goliath in this war.

The population in Gaza, which has sustained such a severe blow, will not become more moderate now. On the contrary, the national sentiment will now turn more than before against the party which inflicted that blow - the State of Israel. Just as public opinion leans to the right in Israel after each attack against us, so it will in Gaza following the mega-attack that we carried out against them.

If anyone was weakened because of this war, it was Fatah, whose fleeing from Gaza and its abandonment have now been given special significance. The succession of failures in this war needs to include, of course, the failure of the siege policy. For a while, we have already come to realize that is ineffective. The world boycotted, Israel besieged and Hamas ruled (and is still ruling).

But this war's balance, as far as Israel is concerned, does not end with the absence of any achievement. It has placed a heavy toll on us, which will continue to burden us for some time. When it comes to assessing Israel's international situation, we must not allow ourselves to be fooled by the support parade by Europe's leaders, who came in for a photo-op with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Israel's actions have dealt a serious blow to public support for the state. While this does not always translate itself into an immediate diplomatic situation, the shockwaves will arrive one day. The whole world saw the images. They shocked every human being who saw them, even if they left most Israelis cold.

The conclusion is that Israel is a violent and dangerous country, devoid of all restraints and blatantly ignoring the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, while not giving a hoot about international law. The investigations are on their way.

Graver still is the damage this will visit upon our moral spine. It will come from difficult questions about what the IDF did in Gaza, which will occur despite the blurring effect of recruited media.

So what was achieved, after all? As a war waged to satisfy considerations of internal politics, the operation has succeeded beyond all expectations. Likud Chair Benjamin Netanyahu is getting stronger in the polls. And why? Because we could not get enough of the war.