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’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.

Levy: “we could not get enough of the war”

January 22, 2009

Gideon Levy, an Israeli journalist writing in Haaretz, offers this confronting conclusion to his fellow citizens in the aftermath of the war:

The conclusion [from the international community regarding the war in Gaza] 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.

Read the rest of the article here.

The intentional humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

January 21, 2009

There has been a lot of discussion in the press, not to mention on this board, about the Israel’s motivations in Operation Cast Lead. Many will claim that Olmert, Barak and Livini’s main aim was to stop Hamas from firing rockets into Israel and threatening its population. “Security for Israel” and “Israel has a right to defend itself” are the most often repeated mantras from Israeli officials, their sympathisers and allies. Others on this blog, including myself, have made a case that this war was not about the rockets given that the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas had worked effectively and put an end to hostile fire across the border. Other secondary Israeli motivations include its upcoming elections in February, the outgoing US President Bush and the need for the IDF to restore its reputation after it failed to defeat Hezbollah in 2006.

This 22 day war produced a staggering number of dead civilians – over 1300 – and scores more wounded (estimates range between 4000-5000). Just like the thousand-plus Lebanese civilians who died in 2006, Gaza’s dead have also been reduced to a sad consequence of the war. Casualties are to be expected during such periods of hostility and if they are not intentional then it is somewhat excusable. Following this logic means Israel is, yet again, immune from condemnation and, worse still, from being held to account for its war crimes. Again I have elsewhere argued, following Mirko Bagaric, that the only thing that matters in war are the consequences. This includes the dead civilians even if they are accidently caught in the cross-fire.

Israel and its supporters would like the world to believe that the 1300 dead Gazans are the unavoidable costs of the war. This, however, is not the case. It seems, as Ben White writes in The Guardian, that Israel did deliberately target civilians as part of its war strategy. He writes:

There is . . . no shortage of evidence available that points to rather different Israeli aims [for the war other than Palestinian rockets, Israeli elections, and deterrence] . . . Politicians, diplomats and journalists are by and large shying away from the obvious, namely that Israel has been deliberately targeting Palestinian civilians and the very infrastructure of normal life, in order to – in the best colonial style – teach the natives a lesson.

White goes on list “three alternative purposes” behind the operation in Gaza which move beyond the generic explanations. His three findings are summarised below:

1. The first aim is to humiliate and weaken Hamas. On the one hand, this seems obvious, but contrary to how the goal is often understood, this is not primarily to protect the Israeli public – as pointed out previously, ceasefires and negotiations are far more likely to deliver security for Israeli citizens – but rather it is a political goal. Hamas had withstood isolation, a siege, mass arrests, and an attempted western-backed coup. Moreover, cracks were appearing in the international community’s resolve to parrot Israel’s line on Hamas. The group, with its resilience and ability to deliver on negotiated ceasefires, was threatening the chance to make a deal with the Ramallah “moderates” [i.e. Abbas and the PA].

Read the rest of this entry »

Food fights

October 9, 2008

Food is dear to my heart.  Not only do I eat it, I also teach in a course called “Food Across Cultures” in the Macquarie Anthropology Department.  So I was delighted to receive this morsel (bad pun, I know) from Raffe: a Time Magazine blog reporting that some Lebanese man wants to sue Israel for stealing its cuisine: hummus, falafel, and tabbouleh.  So the reporter goes to eat hummus at a shop in Jerusalem and asks the owner if hummus is Lebanese or Palestinian.  “Who cares?” replied Zahdeh with a shrug. “Everybody makes good hummus around here –-except the Egyptians.”  As someone who just came back from a stint of fieldwork in Egypt, I can say amen to that!

(For those of you who are interested in the politics and anthropology of food in the Middle East, I urge you to check out Sami Zubaida and Richard Tapper’s excellent edited volume, “A Taste of Thyme: Culinary Cultures of the Middle East.”)

–L.L. Wynn

Blogging and Facebook politics on Arab Media & Society

October 2, 2008

Arab Media & Society, for those of you who aren’t familiar with it, is a really exciting publication that is a kind of hybrid breed, combining the reader-friendly layout, graphics, and images of a magazine with in-depth academic analysis.  The current Fall 2008 issue has a lot of interest, from an analysis of the rhetoric and media techniques of Beshir Gemayal, featuring video and English translations of his speeches, to three articles on cyberpolitics in the Egyptian world: two analysing the Egyptian blogosphere, and one on Facebook politics.  There’s also an analysis of what the rise in private media outlets means for Indonesia, and a look at the reception of Deutsche Welle in the Arab world.

–L.L. Wynn

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 »

“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

Under the Bombs playing at Sydney Film Festival

June 17, 2008

The Sydney Film Festival is screening Under the Bombs on 18 and 20 June 2008.

18 June 2008 |   9.00PM |   GU George Street
20 June 2008 |   6.15PM |   GU George Street

Director – Philippe Aractingi; Country – France, United Kingdom

Filmmaker Aractingi was in Beirut during the 2006 Israeli rocket attacks. He shot footage of resulting chaos and following the ceasefire miraculously secured funding to make a feature. Filming on the ruined streets, both improvised and scripted scenes, Aractingi tells the story of a Shi’ite woman searching for her missing son and sister. She finds a Christian taxi driver willing to take her to the far south. As they journey, we see destruction all around, as well as the community’s trauma. Despite the context this is not a political diatribe, but rather an emotional cry against the pain and displacement of a society.

Palestinian refugees in Lebanon

March 31, 2008

This campaign may be of interest to readers of Khaldoun, and please also forward to anyone you think might be willing to contribute to ANERA’s campaign to address the dire circumstances of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

For those who don’t know, over 30,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon remain displaced after last summer’s siege of the Nahr al-Bared camp and there seems little reason to think that camp will ever be rebuilt for the use of refugees, further exacerbating conditions at the camps (principally Shatila, Burj al-Barajneh and Baddawi) to which the displaced
were forced. Given the already incredibly cramped conditions at all of the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, the influx of the destitute Nahr al-Bared population into the remaining camps has strained limited infrastructure beyond the breaking point. Read the rest of this entry »