Palestinians document the violence of occupation

July 31, 2008

Few things can get across a visceral sense of the reality of the occupation better than the images captured by Palestinians themselves documenting their experience.  In this short film (5 mins.) and article by Peter Beaumont on the Guardian website’s front page, there is a compilation of precisely that — using cameras provided to Palestinians by B’Tselem, the great Israeli human rights group.


In Memoriam: Youssef Chahine

July 30, 2008

The great, probably greatest, Egyptian film director Youssef Chahine died two days ago in Egypt.  He made his first film in 1950 and was known for launching the film career of another Egyptian film great, Omar Sharif.

You can read coverage of his work and his death at AFP, Time Magazine, BBC, The Guardian, Al-Jazeera English.

–L.L. Wynn

ICC Decision to Indict Sudan’s al-Bashir Puzzling

July 29, 2008

I thought that with the continuing conjecture about the decision to indict the Sudanese President I should say a few words. What I have written here will probably lead to accusations that I am an apologist for Khartoum, but nothing could be further from the truth. Anyone, who has heard me speak or read my opinions on Darfur and Sudan will know that for four years I have been arguing that the Sudanese government is responsible for the violence. I have made a case for viewing the janjaweed as merely an unfortunate and brutal distraction from the main game, which is insurgency and counter-insurgency in Darfur. Despite, the position I have taken in the past I believe the ICC decision is a grave danger to the security of the entire region, and should be rethought by the UN.

The decision of the International Criminal Court to seek the indictment of the Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is puzzling to say the least. He may well be the head of a government responsible for a horrendous counter-insurgency strategy which has turned the western Sudan into a humanitarian catastrophe but the cost of destabilising Bashir may be far more than the ICC imagines. The result may well be the collapse of the Sudan into mass civil conflict between the Islamist radicals from the west, the conservatives who currently hold power and the southerners who will see the removal of al-Bashir and the collapse of the state as time for their independence, which will be opposed by the northerners.

Recent Arab League and African Union appeals to the ICC and the UN to reconsider their decision is a response to the fear that the Sudan implodes without al-Bashir. Since 2000, al-Bashir has gradually rebuilt Sudan’s regional and international reputation despite the ongoing crisis in Darfur. The signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement which ended the decades of conflict between north and south Sudan was universally acclaimed. The Sudanese government’s assistance in the “war on terror” has also been welcome amongst its neighbours and by the US, and other western governments. The days of the Sudan as host country for the likes of Carlos “the jackal” and Osama bin Laden are now over and this has done much to rebuild the credibility of al-Bashir with his Arab and African neighbours.

To many in the region, the crisis in Darfur is an unfortunate side-effect of the struggle against radical Islam with many viewing the former Islamist power-broker in Sudan Hasan al-Turabi as responsible for the insurgency that intensified the violence in Darfur. Sudan is now a frontline state in the war on terror in North and East Africa and for the regional and international actors the decision of the ICC threatens what has been the most stable period in North Africa in recent times. While al-Bashir and his cronies deserve to be indicted for decades of human rights abuses, not only in Darfur, but also for atrocities committed against the Beja, Nuba, Dinka and many other groups in Sudan, removing al-Bashir may cause an Iraq like power vacuum and a regional meltdown not seen since the blackest days of the Cold War. I applaud the ICC for its moral stance but consideration of the stability of Sudan and its neighbours, on this occasion requires a different approach to bringing the violence in Darfur to an end.

 Noah Bassil

Palestine coverage through 25 July 08

July 25, 2008

Today’s coverage continues the media frenzy over Barack Obama’s visit to the region. The selection begins with a review of Obama’s statements of commitment to Israel and ends with an editorial from Haaretz, somewhat in line with the Walt-Mearsheimer argument (concerning the Israel Lobby) insofar as it admonishes Obama to be a friend to Israel rather than a hostage to AIPAC. Another piece by an Arab analyst suggests Obama learn to talk less and listen more when visiting the region. The remainder of the coverage concerns Israel’s ongoing overt and covert war against the Palestinians on all its fronts: new settlements, water expropriation and theft, smashing of Palestinian villages, incursions into Palestinians cities and abductions of Palestinians (including civilians and elected officials), and the siege on the Palestinian economy. Mahmoud Abbas is protesting ongoing Israeli incursions in the West Bank by threatening to stand down his security forces (unwittingly confirming that such a threat is mainly a disservice to Israel, since those forces do little more than police Palestinian society on Israel’s behalf). There is also a piece covering Olmert’s fragile hold on the governing coalition in Israel. Read the rest of this entry »

Palestine coverage through 23 July 08

July 23, 2008

The news of the beginning of the week has been dominated by Obama’s visit to the region and the coverage of an IDF soldier shooting at the leg of a blindfolded, handcuffed and bound Palestinian non-violent protester in Nilin. Though the Israelis initially detained the soldier in question when footage of the incident emerged, he has since been sent back to his unit. Moreover, at the time of the incident, no one in the unit took notice or intervened, suggesting that contrary to the Israeli government’s assertions, such actions are entirely part of the IDF protocol when dealing with unarmed Palestinians.

Also included is coverage of British PM Gordon Brown’s call for Israel to halt settlements during his visit to Israel, ongoing Israeli abductions and detentions of Palestinians from the West Bank — this time including an elected woman legislator — and leaked information suggesting that Israel is contemplating a prisoner swap of Marwan Barghouti (they have long been seeking a basis to release him) for Gilad Shalit. Mahmoud Abbas reportedly has complained of Israel’s departure from the Annapolis commitments, and on a similar note Haaretz reports that Israel is worried that even the Bush administration will give it poor marks for its West Bank policies. Read the rest of this entry »

Palestine coverage through 21 July 08

July 21, 2008

This selection is of the coverage from the end of the week (mainly Friday) and covers a range from today’s news of the British Prime Minister’s trip to Israel, to feature stories about the struggle for survival in Palestinian towns, to the International Crisis Group’s evaluation of the Palestinian Authority’s record in the West Bank. There are also articles covering new talk of “peace talks” sponsored by the US and an analysis of the possibility of momentum being built on the Israeli-Lebanese front, following the prisoner exchange, through a breakthrough on the Shebaa Farms territorial dispute.

But perhaps of greatest interest is the astonishingly vicious op-ed published by Benny Morris in yesterday’s New York Times. Morris goes so far as to justify an Israeli preemptive nuclear strike on Iran. The op-ed concedes Israel’s own possession of a nuclear arsenal but treats Iran’s alleged pursuit of the same as an intolerable threat to all humanity. He then goes on to build an argument on the assumption that so long as Israel initiates, the obliteration of a nation and a people in the Middle East by nuclear holocaust is justifiable and potentially legitimate. Read the rest of this entry »

“World Politics and the Making of the Tradegy of the Middle East”

July 18, 2008

 Robert Fisk’s mammoth journey through his last thirty years of experience in the Middle East is titled The Great War for Civilization. Fisk attempts to draw a line from the British/French betrayal of the Middle East with the Sykes-Picot agreement in 1916 and the Balfour Declaration in 1917, and the events of 9/11; from the Great War to the supposed Clash of Civilizations. Hence, the title of the book. Fisk’s account allows the reader to wade through a litany of lies, misrepresentations and double-standards by both the US and the UK towards the Middle East.  Fisk doesn’t spare the other villians of the Middle East tragedy. The military dictatorships, monarchies and authoritarian regimes are all recipients of Fisk’s rage. And, it must be said rightly so. Fisk’s book is really an eye witness acount of the human cost of the betrayal and destruction of the Middle East by morally bankrupt governments in close collaboration with the “west”. Fisk’s challenge to his readers is to accept the burden of the US and UK government’s role in creating, and sustaining, a region that is wracked by violence, authoritarianism and intolerance.

Despite the fluent and engaging style of the author the book was a difficult read. The 1200 pages read more like a very-long crime novel about a serial killer (US politcal and military leaders, Israeli poliitcal and military leaders, and Middle Eastern dictators, guerillas and terrorists) perpetrating one murder after another on a panicked and defenceless society (Middle Eastern civilians, including Israeli civilians, especially women and children). Throughout the pages of the book Fisk describes one muder after another (Gulf War, Algerian civil war, Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Desert Storm, Israeli attacks in Lebanon and against Palestinians, and the violence in Afghanistan). Robert Fisk argues that to explain 9/11 some understanding of the serial offences by the “west” (and the Soviet Union) against the people of the Middle East is necessary. He argues this understanding doesn’t legitimate the attacks, it doesn’t condone the attacks and in no way absolves those involved, but only provides a larger optic from which 9/11 should be viewed.

Enough time may have passed since the events of 9/11 for further analysis of the causes of the attacks on that fateful day in 2001. It is certainly time to move beyond the banal rhetoric of a discredited US adminstration that has relied on that tragic event to launch the Middle East into another cycle of violence that only repeats the errors of the past. Fisk reminds us through this detailed journey into the appalling repercussions of war, that violence begets violence and until the US learns this lesson, the Middle East will continue to threaten the stability of the world. Fisk asks us to always remember that war and violence creates victims and that victims sometimes become killers.

I encourage anyone who seeks an understanding of the impact of war on the people of the Middle East to read Fisk’s Great War for Civilization. Fisk makes every effort to do justice to the millions of people who have died by recounting the suffering, and retelling the stories, of as many people as possible. Maybe this book should be subtitled the human cost of war in the Middle East. 

Fisk also explores the role of language in obscuring the reality of the horrors committed in the name of “liberation”, “democracy”, “freedom” and “security” by the US, and its allies, in the countless wars they have eitehr fought or financed in the Middle East. The words death and killing for example, Fisk tells us, have been removed from the language that the “west” uses to describe the wars they wage. The dehumanisation of war has been one of the most unfortunate aspects of the violence committed in the Middle East, including the Israeli violence in Lebanon and Palestine. Reporters everywhere have much to answer for in teh way they have become uncritical mouthpieces of government propaganda. Such as occurred in the lead up to the US invasion of Iraq in 2002 when numerous opportunities were presented to the press to really question the motives and legtimacy of the Bush adminstrations war plans. That the press did not take any of these opporunties is also a real tragedy as is the lack of awareness of the failure of the fourth estate as the seekers of truth.

Robert Fisk is one of the few in the international press that did not bow to the rhetoric of false nationalism and fearmongering of the Bush and Blair governments in the lead up to war. In this, Fisk’s integrity is intact. But more than anything else, the strength and impact of Fisk’s work is the humanisation of the wars of the Middle East and the voice provided for the victims that is the most important contribution of Fisk’s Great War for Civilization

Noah Bassil