Paul McGeough on Hamas

February 12, 2009

The Sydney Morning Herald’s Middle East correspondent, Paul McGeough, is interviewed by Katia Bachko in the latest issue of Columbia Journalism Review.  McGeough is working on a book that explores Hamas’ 20-year history, and so in this interview he reflects on what it means to represent key players in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in the face of the kinds of gross simplifications that often circulate in the media, but he also looks at what Hamas is, what the organization means to Palestinians, and what it means to Israelis.  Here’s an excerpt:

To simply state that somebody is a moderate or somebody is a militant, and expect the reader to use that as the sole description or descriptor of an individual or an organization, doesn’t deliver all that could be delivered. You’re talking about Hamas? Hamas are militants, yes, they are militants who appealed to Palestinians at an election that was supervised by Western observers and deemed to be fair, and Palestinians chose the militants not necessarily because of their militancy, but because of their belief in them on a whole range of issues. And then you have to ask, “if they’re militants, if they are terrorists, how did they get to be allowed to contest an election? Who let them contest an election?” Israelis allowed them to contest the election, Americans allowed them to contest the election, Fatah allowed them to contest the election.Right up until that first election that Hamas contested in 2006, Hamas had been saying, “We represent about fifty percent of Palestinian public opinion, therefore we should be accorded that level of representation in various Palestinian forums.” And everyone laughed, and said no, that’s not true, that’s not right, and so they allowed them to contest the election. Even though they had refused to renounce violence. There’s not too many militant or nationalist or liberation groups that have been allowed to contest elections without renouncing violence. They were allowed to do so, and they won the election. That has to count for something in your assessment in where Hamas stands in Palestinian affairs, and in the region.

He also asks: what is Fatah, that Hamas could beat them in this election?  He does a good job of showing us the complexities behind easy words like “moderate” and “terrorist,” what makes Hamas as an organization that uses terror different from a terrorist organization like al-Qaeda, and how deeply hated corrupt Fatah had become by the time it was elected out of power.

–L.L. Wynn


Two reviews of “Waltz with Bashir”

February 10, 2009

There are a couple of good reviews of the film “Waltz with Bashir” which recently won the Golden Globe for best foreign film.  The New York Times calls it “a work of astonishing aesthetic integrity and searing moral power,” while Salon.com’s Gary Kamiya writes about the parallels between Israel’s war with Lebanon in 1982 and the recent massacre in Gaza:

Folman’s film is not political. It does not preach or pass judgment. Yet in its artistic integrity, it unintentionally reveals the grim parallels between Israel’s invasion of Lebanon and its complicity with the Sabra and Shatilla massacre and its current onslaught — parallels that, if Israel and the U.S. heeded them, would lead them to understand that the Gaza campaign is both morally appalling and politically self-destructive. Israelis justifiably regard their leaders’ role in enabling the Sabra and Shatilla massacre as one of Israel’s darkest moments, a permanent stain on its character. Of course, Israel’s moral culpability for the 1982 massacre is not the same as its moral responsibility for the civilians killed in the current war. But there are painful similarities. …

Then as now, Israel went to war in the deluded belief that it could defeat a nationalist movement by smashing it into submission. Then as now, America signed off on this wrongheaded tactic. Then as now, Israel won a short-term tactical military victory that ultimately weakened its security and severely damaged America’s interests. And then as now, both Israel and America justified massive civilian casualties by incessantly invoking “terrorism” and dehumanizing the Palestinians.

One thing that strikes me in reviews of this film (I haven’t seen the film itself) is the focus on the psychological and moral impact of war on Israelis, an important topic which gets neatly elided by jingoistic celebrations of war as “defense.”  Would anyone who has seen the film like to comment?

–L.L. Wynn


Humanitarian aid for Gaza.

February 6, 2009

As if the blockade against Gaza and the war against Gaza were not bad enough ……

Israeli Navy intercepts aid boat bound for desperate Gaza

BEIRUT: A Lebanese aid ship bound for Gaza was fired upon and boarded by the Israeli Navy on Thursday, the trip’s organizers and journalists onboard have said. Israeli officials initially refused to verify the reports, but Defense Minister Ehud Barak then confirmed that the ship had been boarded and was being escorted to the Israeli coastal town of Ashdod.
….
The Togolese-flagged Tali was trying to deliver about 60 tons of aid, including medical supplies, food and children’s toys, to the besieged Gaza Strip, still in the midst of a humanitarian crisis after Israel’s three week bombardment on the impoverished territory in December and January that left over 1,300 dead and thousands homeless.
….
Al-Jazeera journalist Salam Khoder, who was aboard, said the ship had been boarded and that crewmembers were being assaulted. “There are Israeli soldiers who actually have boarded the vessel … They are … beating and kicking us,” he said before, according to Al-Jazeera, the line went dead.


Australian Academic Boycott.

February 4, 2009

While the call for a boycott of Israeli academics in Australia is not a new one the following statement is an indication of the renewed vigour for such action in the wake of the Gaza attack. Ali Abunimah explains, in a recent article, that the time is ripe to pressure Israel to end the brutality of its occupation. In this Mission Statement  Australia joins other countries in an “unprecedented expression of support for boycott, divestment and sanctions from major trade unions in Italy, Canada and New Zealand”.

Mission statement: Australian Academic Boycott of Israel

We are an Australian campaign focused specifically on a boycott of Israeli academic and cultural institutions.

We do so because we support the call made by Palestinian civil society to join the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. This was delineated by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI http://www.pacbi.org/campaign_statement.htm) in the following statement:

Read the rest of this entry »


George Mitchell and the ‘peace process’.

February 3, 2009

The appointment of Mitchell by the Obama administration as Middle East envoy brings renewed hope of an even-handed approach with regards to a peace settlement. There are, however, several substantial obstacles to overcome.

Like Irish nationalists, Palestinians will never recognize the “right” of another group to discriminate against them. Like Protestant unionists did, Israeli Jews insist on their own state. Israel’s “solution” is to cage Palestinians into ghettos –- like Gaza –- and periodically bomb them into submission just so Israeli Jews, their relative numbers dwindling, can artificially maintain a Jewish state.

If Mitchell is allowed to apply Northern Ireland’s lessons, then there may be a way out. But he goes to Jerusalem with few of the advantages he brought to Belfast. The Obama administration remains committed for now to the failed partition formula of “a Jewish state” and a “Palestinian state” and maintains the Bush administration’s misguided boycott of Hamas, which overwhelmingly won Palestinian elections in 2006. And the Israel lobby — much more powerful than its Irish American counterpart — warps US policy to favor the stronger side, an intransigent Israel committing war crimes. If these policies don’t change, Mitchell’s efforts will be wasted and escalating violence will fill the political vacuum.

Read the rest of Ali Abunimah’s article here.


Hamas still standing …..

February 2, 2009

One of Israel’s war aims was to clear Hamas leaders and ministers out of Gaza. But it seems that Israel failed to achieve its main objective as Hamas has emerged defiant from the war. As Mustafa Abu Sway explains in The Daily Star

beyond causing total destruction, killing more than 1,300 Palestinians and wounding more than 5,000 others, many maimed for life, Israel has failed to achieve any political goals. This is not the first time Israeli political leaders time their attacks to coincide with Israeli general elections. This is not the first time this scheme fails. Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni, the supposed political beneficiaries of these atrocities, are still trailing behind Benjamin Netanyahu just a couple of weeks before the elections. As for Ehud Olmert, he could not wipe out his failure in Lebanon with a “victory” in Gaza; he has instead ensured that he enters the hall of shame because of the war crimes for which he is responsible. The world should make sure that he enters the appropriate halls at The Hague.


A silence that speaks volumes about the injustice

February 2, 2009

Even Israeli jurists have nothing to say:

The 41,000 attorneys in the State of Israel are entrusted with protecting its image as a lawful state, and this large and grand army has once again strayed from its function. There is a deep suspicion throughout the world that Israel carried out a series of war crimes, and the jurists of our country are holding their peace.
….
Do they not know that disproportionately harming a civilian population, supply convoys and medical crews, the use of white phosphorus in the midst of population centers and indiscriminate bombings are considered war crimes? What is their response to their enraged colleagues around the world? Are they convinced that Israel carried out these crimes or not? In both instances, their voice is vital and their silence is abominable.