The lobby and American racism

This long response to the "Israeli lobby" article previously discussed makes some interesting points about how the lobby can be used as a convenient excuse to facilitate, rather than shape, policies that have their roots in racism:
American perceptions of and policy toward the Middle East are characterized by an easy and reflexive anti-Arab racism with roots in our history and repudiation of slavery (a denigration of dark skin coupled, ironically, with an American cultural imaginary in which Arabs—whether in Sudan or in the Gulf–are still inveterate slavers, both evil and historically backward); in our frontier ideology of settlement and rugged self-reliance (so consonant with the Zionist myth); and in the longstanding literary and media depictions of Orientalism, which help us to write off the concerns of Arabs and Muslims. Unlike Jews since the middle of the twentieth century, and Italians, Poles, and Irish before them, Arabs and Muslims have not been accorded the status of “white people” in the United States, and are left vulnerable to sometimes open and socially approved discrimination, insult, vandalism, harassment, and threat of violence. Internationally, these predispositions help us attribute Middle Eastern poverty or political repression to personality flaws endemic to the region (corruption, zealotry, tribalism, sexism) rather than to structural or historical factors.
I think it's a two-way street: the "lobby," in its manifest forms, encourages and promotes such thinking, and there are reasons to be weary of it that have to do with the corruption of American politics (also carried out by other lobbies.) But, if you've taken the time to read the whole lobby article, you might want to read this long piece about it -- it has a lot of interesting thoughts.
Read More

The League of Geriatric Gentlemen

Saudi Arabia asked Egypt to hold the 2007 Arab summit at the end of the predictably lame Khartoum summit, to which eight Arab leaders failed to show up. (Mubarak had more important things to do: he opened the region's biggest sugar factory in Kafr Al Sheikh.) Since the Saudis didn't give a reason for why they didn't want to host the next summit as planned, one has to wonder whether King Abdullah has any intention of ever attending an Arab League meeting. And with all the talk about the need for a Gulf security organization, within a few years the Arab League may very well be consigned to the dustbin of history. Michael Young has thoughts of a chronicle of Arab death foretold.
Read More

A Mubarak for Iraq?

Thus begins Joe Klein's latest Time column:
A few weeks before the war in iraq began three years ago, I checked in with an Israeli friend, an intelligence expert who in 1991 had uncannily laid out for me the course of the first Gulf War on the night before it happened. "It'll be easier than 1991 this time," he said. "A three- or four-week campaign. But I have a question: You're not actually thinking of occupying that country, are you?" I asked if he had an alternative. "You decapitate the government—Saddam, his family and friends, the Special Republican Guard—but leave the rest of the army intact, and then find yourself a nice Mubarak," he said, referring to Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak.
He then goes on to describe the options available for the mess in Iraq. But it's interesting that this notion -- advanced just after the war, I remember, by Daniel Pipes -- is making a comeback.
Read More

The Iraq the librulmedia doesn't want you to see

Reallybaghdad The picture was posted on the website of a San Diego politician running for Congress with the following caption:
We took this photo of dowtown Baghdad while we were in Iraq. Iraq (including Baghdad) is much more calm and stable than what many people believe it to be. But, each day the news media finds any violence occurring in the country and screams and shouts about it - in part because many journalists are opposed to the U.S. effort to fight terrorism.
That's right. Because the Iraq the librulmedia doesn't want you to see is actually... Turkey. More details here.
Read More

Careful what you wish for (8)

March 28, 2006

I came back from my latest break in Cairo and then spent an entire week cooped inside the Baghdad hotel where the office is.

Outside Iraqis wondered whether full blown civil war had broken out as the tide of tortured corpses mounts, while inside I was wondering why I always had to ask for the damn Nescafe at the breakfast buffet.

Just as I was going completely stir crazy, I had to get out of there. And then I had one of those careful-what-you-wish-for moments, or in more apocalyptic terms, I wanted a mission and for my sins they gave me one.
Read More

Diehl on Kassem

Jackson Diehl uses his latest WaPo column on Egypt, his favorite topic, to do a mini-profile of Hisham Kassem, the publisher of Al Masri Al Youm:
How did this space for press freedom open? Kassem doesn't hedge: "U.S. pressure on the Mubarak regime has been the catalyst for most of the change we have seen," he said. He traces the turning point to an April 2004 summit between Mubarak and President Bush in Crawford, Tex., at which the aging Egyptian strongman heard for the first time from an American president that political liberalization would be necessary to maintain good relations. After stalling a few months in the hope that Bush would lose the 2004 election, Mubarak reluctantly concluded that he must take some visible steps, Kassem says. One was the allowance of greater press freedom; another was the conversion of his reelection from a referendum into a multi-candidate competition. The problem, Kassem says, is that once his reelection was secured and accepted by Washington, Mubarak froze the reforms. Though he promised a long list of political and economic liberalizations before the election, not one has been implemented in the six months since. Instead, Mubarak has imprisoned his chief liberal opponent, Ayman Nour, on bogus criminal charges; postponed scheduled municipal elections; and refused to legalize the centrist political parties that might provide an alternative to his regime and the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood. Kassem says he fears the 77-year-old president plans to die in office without leaving either a successor or a democratic mechanism for choosing one. Ask him for a remedy, and once again he doesn't hedge. "The United States has to continue pressuring," he says. "We're all willing to accept a controlled process of reform under Mubarak. But leave him alone and he won't do it."
Kassem was rather savagely attacked by a local paper last week (can't remember which one, Rose Al Youssef I think). He's a vice-president of Al Ghad, the president of the Egyptian Organization of Human Rights and a favorite source of punditry for foreign journalists, researchers and diplomats -- he has a newsman's talent for the soundbite. But his neocon-ish views on the need for a shake-up in the region, his support for the war on Iraq and his urging for more pressure on the Mubarak regime have made him unpopular with both pro-regime and opposition figures in Cairo. In many ways, Kassem is the archetype of the Arab liberal who is isolated by his generally pro-American orientation. Even if you don't agree with his views, he deserves recognition for the real change in the media scene he brought with Al Masri Al Youm.
Read More

Rice, Iraq, 9/11

Condoleeza Rice did the Sunday talk shows in the US yesterday. I read the transcripts and her line on Iraq's relationship to 9/11 stood out: With Wolf Blitzer on CNN:
QUESTION: Did Saddam Hussein and his regime have anything to do with 9/11? SECRETARY RICE: Saddam Hussein, and we have said this many times, as far as we know, did not order September 11, may not have even known of September 11. But that's a very narrow definition of what caused September 11. If you think that what caused September 11 was that the people who flew airplanes in caused September 11 then, no, Iraq has no relationship. But if you think that this was a broader problem of an ideology of hatred, of terrorism becoming an acceptable means in places where there was a freedom deficit and there was no possibility for legitimate political discourse, then you realize that you have to have a different kind of Middle East. And a different kind of Middle East with Saddam Hussein at the middle of it is unthinkable.
With Tim Russert on NBC:
QUESTION: Let me turn back to Iraq. The war now in its fourth year and these are the grim statistics: U.S. troops killed, 2,316; wounded, injured, 17,271; Iraqis killed, an estimated number of 30,000; 130,000 American troops on the ground. When you were planning the war, some three and a half years ago, did you have any idea that three years into the war, those are the numbers that you would be confronting? SECRETARY RICE: Well, I certainly thought that it would be difficult. I don't think anyone knew precisely what we would be facing in terms of numbers. And, look, everyone of those deaths is mourned by people in the Administration because these are families that have lost husbands and wives and daughters and sons. But we also know that nothing of value is ever won without sacrifices. We're in Iraq because the United States of America faces a different kind of enemy and a different kind of war and we have to have a different kind of Middle East if we're ever going to resolve the problems of an ideology of hatred that was so great that people flew airplanes into buildings. Iraq was -- Saddam Hussein's Iraq was a threat. Now that -- QUESTION: But Saddam was not related to flying airplanes into buildings. SECRETARY RICE: No. And we have never said that Saddam -- Saddam was not related to the events of September 11th. But if you really believe that the only thing that happened on September 11th was people flew airplanes into buildings, I think you have a very narrow view of what we faced on September 11th. We faced the outcome of an ideology of hatred throughout the Middle East that had to be dealt with. Saddam Hussein was a part of that old Middle East. The new Iraq will be a part of a new Middle East and we will all be safer.
Of course no mention of this during her Fox News interview. I don't agree with the popular line that 9/11 was the result of a lack of democracy in the region, as much as it would be comforting to think that was the case. I think it was a lot more about the specificities of the Afghan Arabs and the support they received from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. My question: new security precautions aside, is another 9/11 more or less unthinkable after the invasion of Iraq? I sincerely don't know.
Read More

Fleming on Kuwait?

In an Atlantic article on Ian Fleming, Christopher Hitchens writes:
[The University of Indiana in] Bloomington, of all places, is the repository of the bulk of Fleming's books and papers. These, according to an excellent biography by Andrew Lycett, include State of Excitement, Fleming's only unpublished work—disappointingly enough, an account of a trip he made to Kuwait in 1960. (The book failed to meet with the approval of the Kuwait Oil Company, which had commissioned it but did not care for its tone. So it is not the case that Fleming invariably romanticized British post-colonialism.)
I love Fleming's Bond books, and I'm sure his take of Kuwait in 1960 would be hilarious. And I'd love a subscription to the Atlantic to read the full Hitchens piece, but won't give them any money since James Fallows' positively evil attack piece on the Mohammed Al Dura shooting, which was full of Israeli disinformation and had not one iota of Palestinian sourcing. Update: Hitchens also has a piece on the great Flashman books in Vanity Fair. Update 2: Having been sent the full article on Fleming by several kind readers, I think this passage is the most brilliant thing I've read all week: was Fleming who first conjured it and who reached beyond the KGB into our world of the Colombian cartel, the Russian mafia, and other "non-state actors" like al-Qaeda. "SPECTRE," I noticed recently, is an anagram of "Respect," the name of a small British party led by a power-drunk micro-megalomaniac called George Galloway, a man with a friendly connection to Saddam Hussein.
So vindictive...
Read More

Mauritania's trendsetting politics

The Head Heeb ponders on how coup d'etats have become more fashionable since last August's velvet coup in Mauritania. Surely the example of other types of regime change is also having an impact on how coups are viewed. It reminded me of an article I published at the time in the late, lamented Middle East International. It never went online (it was only accessible by subscription in PDF format or in the paper version), so I thought I'd make it available here.
Read More

Nazif on Hardtalk MP3

Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif was on BBC's Hardtalk a few days.ago. I've made an audio-only MP3 recording of the show here for those who'd rather not watch it streaming in RealPlayer. The interview covered a range of democracy-related issues and is interesting for the vapid answers Nazif gave on issues such as the Muslim Brotherhood, the secular opposition, the use of torture and political prisoners.
Read More

About that lobby

Unsurprisingly, the study published a few days ago on the influence of the Jewish/pro-Israeli lobby on US policy in the Middle East has caused quite a stir. Most of the response seems to have been criticism. I finally got around to reading the full-length version and am pretty non-plussed. It does not contain anything very new, but I do think it's important that it is published by mainstream academics in a mainstream publication because, even if the details are not always right, the general point is. I think it is obvious and indisputable that the pro-Israel lobby is powerful and that its influence has been negative on Middle East policy, particularly when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where the US has tacitly collaborated with the colonization of the West Bank, among other crimes. I've highlighted a few of the more interesting factoids one might pick up from the study (some have been disputed in the articles cited below):
  • Total direct U.S. aid to Israel amounts to well over $140 billion in 2003 dollars. Israel receives about $3 billion in direct foreign assistance each year, which is roughly one-fifth of America’s foreign aid budget. In per capita terms, the United States gives each Israeli a direct subsidy worth about $500 per year. This largesse is especially striking when one realizes that Israel is now a wealthy industrial state with a per capita income roughly equal to South Korea or Spain.
  • Most recipients of American military assistance are required to spend all of it in the United States, but Israel can use roughly twenty-five percent of its aid allotment to subsidize its own defense industry. Israel is the only recipient that does not have to account for how the aid is spent, an exemption that makes it virtually impossible to prevent the money from being used for purposes the United States opposes, like building settlements in the West Bank.
  • Moreover, the United States has provided Israel with nearly $3 billion to develop weapons systems like the Lavi aircraft that the Pentagon did not want or need, while giving Israel access to top-drawer U.S. weaponry like Blackhawk helicopters and F-16 jets. Finally, the United States gives Israel access to intelligence that it denies its NATO allies and has turned a blind eye towards Israel’s acquisition of nuclear weapons.
  • Since 1982, the United States has vetoed 32 United Nations Security Council resolutions that were critical of Israel, a number greater than the combined total of vetoes cast by all the other Security Council members. It also blocks Arab states’ efforts to put Israel’s nuclear arsenal on the International Atomic Energy Agency’s agenda.
  • U.S. support for Israel is not the only source of anti- American terrorism, but it is an important one, and it makes winning the war on terror more difficult. There is no question, for example, that many al Qaeda leaders, including bin Laden, are motivated by Israel’s presence in Jerusalem and the plight of the Palestinians. According to the U.S. 9/11 Commission, bin Laden explicitly sought to punish the United States for its policies in the Middle East, including its support for Israel, and he even tried to time the attacks to highlight this issue.
  • But not all Jewish-Americans are part of the Lobby, because Israel is not a salient issue for many of them. In a 2004 survey, for example, roughly 36 percent of Jewish?Americans said they were either “not very” or “not at all” emotionally attached to Israel.
Most of these come from the first half of the study. The last-two thirds, while interesting, establish how powerful the lobby is (unfortunately without much detail and omitting electoral tactics) and make the problematic argument that the Iraq war was waged on behalf of Israel (on behalf of the lobby would be one thing, Israel another.) It also does not emphasize enough that lobby members are often more right-wing and nationalist than mainstream Israeli politicians. There are problems with some arguments, even if in general the main point -- pro-Israeli institutions and individuals wield considerable power in Washington -- is certainly valid. I think the study, as a policy advocacy piece, would have been much more effective if it had more narrowly focused on the power accumulated by the pro-Israeli lobby (notably in think tanks) and the need to declare AIPAC a foreign agent. It could have also highlighted the fact that American politicians and policymakers have at numerous occasions said they put Israel interests ahead of American ones (e.g. Dick Armey), the recent cheerleading for dangerous policies such as a war with Iran by top officials we saw at AIPAC's latest conference, and the fact that these organizations defend people who have committed treason, such as Jonathan Pollard, not to mention the recent FBI-AIPAC case. In other words, that we should be as suspicious of pro-Israel lobbies as we are of pro-China lobbies (indeed, there are striking similarities in the way the two countries carry out industrial espionage in the US.) But it also needs to look at how Israel's pariah status in the region (from an Arab perspective) serves wider American interests that have to do with dividing Arab states, sustaining docile authoritarian regimes, guaranteeing the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf and expanding US military control over the region. Still, the study is seeing a reaction we would not be seeing, I suspect, if it was about Arab influence in Congress. The Crimson, the Harvard student newspaper, reports that the university has removed its logo from the paper. The New York Sun reports that the university is facing pressure. Perhaps most troubling, the Forward is using the anti-Semitism slur to tarnish Walt and Mearsheimer's reputation. In its editorial, In Dark Times, Blame the Jews, it criticizes at length the tone and factuality of the report (fair enough) to finally conclude:
Mearsheimer and Walt join a long line of critics who dislike Israel so deeply that they cannot fathom the support it enjoys in America, and so they search for some malign power capable of perverting America's good sense. They find it, as others have before, in the Jews.
Elsewhere in the magazine, the Forward highlights in an insinuation-filled report that Mearsheimer had been turned down by an American publisher. It also reports that US Jewish organizations have decided not to respond to the report to avoid generating publicity for critics of Israel. The noted Israel "New Historian" Tom Segev, titled "The protocols of Harvard and Chicago," is a rather strange take. The title makes you think it's an attempt to call the study anti-Semitic, but while very critical -- he calls it "very arrogant" -- he says:
Now there is great excitement there in America on account of this essay, but maybe not really. Israel's influence is based on an ancient anti-Semitic myth about the Jews who rule the world. This is a myth that is self-fulfilling as long as the world believes in it: If you shatter it, you have eliminated Israel's influence. From that point of view, Walt and Mearsheimer are doing the Israel lobby a good service.
I'm not sure what to make of that. So pro-Israel it hurts, by former Barak aide David Levy in Haaretz, makes the argument that Walt and Mearsheimer get one thing fundamentally right: that the US pro-Israel lobby is bad for Israel. The Angry Arab provides a critique of the piece from a pro-Palestinian perspective. He writes:
I guess I am in the minority in the pro-Palestinian camp on this one; I am not thrilled to read the piece. Not that I do not subscribe to criticisms of US foreign policy, but that is not what the authors do. The authors seem intent on blaming all the ills in US foreign policy on the Israeli lobby. There are obvious problems with that approach: it seems to ignore or deny the ills of US foreign policy in regions outside the Middle East. It also absolves the US administration, any US administration, from any responsibility because they (the administrations) become portrayed as helpless victims of an all-powerful lobby. Thirdly, the approach does not take into consideration the interests that certain elements of the US establishment see in maintaining US foreign policy toward Israel. Fourthly, the approach does not situate US foreign policy in the Middle East into the context of the global role of the US, especially in the ear of Bush--and Clinton. And the piece, while significant because it comes from two mainstream academics, does not offer anything new or original. But for enthusiasts it is important to read those words in mainstream publications.
There is a lot more there (reprinted in this Daily Kos post in a more easy-to-read format, as well as Martin Kramer's take), and it fits rather nicely with an argument Joseph Massad makes in this column in Al Ahram Weekly that the US hasn't exactly been a supporter of national self-determination elsewhere, so why should it be in the Middle East? He concludes:
What then would have been different in US policy in the Middle East absent Israel and its powerful lobby? The answer in short is: the details and intensity but not the direction, content, or impact of such policies. Is the pro- Israel lobby extremely powerful in the United States? As someone who has been facing the full brunt of their power for the last three years through their formidable influence on my own university and their attempts to get me fired, I answer with a resounding yes. Are they primarily responsible for US policies towards the Palestinians and the Arab world? Absolutely not. The United States is opposed in the Arab world as elsewhere because it has pursued and continues to pursue policies that are inimical to the interests of most people in these countries and are only beneficial to its own interests and to the minority regimes in the region that serve those interests, including Israel.
Finally, the Christian Science Monitor has an overview of the debate, with many more links.
Read More

Want $2000?

Write on essay on civil rights:
This essay contest takes its title from a 1951 poem by Langston Hughes: What Happens to a Dream Deferred?. The poem helped propel the civil rights movement in the United States. Today, it will hopefully inspire you to describe your dream deferred for the Middle East, which the United Nations calls the world’s least free region. The “Dream Deferred” essay contest has two parts: one for Middle Eastern youth (25 and younger) and one for American youth (25 and younger). To participate, all you have to do is write a brief essay (600-2,000 words) addressing one of the questions below. Winners - selected by a panel of celebrity judges - will receive a $2,000 prize, with other prizes for top essays.
Full info here.
Read More

Reform? What reform?

Last summer, Cairo felt a bit like a pressure cooker. There seemed to be demonstrations every other day, and there was a sense that something had to change. But after the elections and the violence and the fraud, Egypt seems to be “back to square one,� as one analyst told me. For more on the way reform has stalled, and the efforts of some groups (judges, activists) to fight back, you can listen to this story I did recently for The World.
Read More

Who's your daddy?

I did a couple stories on the Hind Al Hinnawy/Ahmed Al Fishawy paternity case last year. So I was dismayed when I heard that the court had ruled against her a few months back, and unsurprised when I heard she was appealing. Fishawy refused to take a DNA test. Now committees in Parliament are discussing a new law that would make it mandatory for defendants in paternity cases to take DNA tests. The law is being sponsored by MP Mohammed Khalil Kuwaita, of the NDP. He says the law is needed to help the hundreds of thousands of illegitimate children who currently have no legal recourse (many can’t even obtain an ID), and are often abandoned and ostracized. The law has been sanctioned by the ever-moderate Mufti, Ali Gomaa, but many religious figures say it’s unacceptable because Islam does not allow bastards to be recognized by their fathers. They also argue that permitting women who are unmarried (or more often, married in an orfi marriage, which is a “customary� or “secret� marriage that is only semi-legitimate) to sue for paternity will increase promiscuity (it’s kind of like the US Christian argument that giving out contraception or sex education will encourage kids to have sex). The whole thing is very complicated, involving several different legal and religious rules and arguments, but it seems to me that it has an enormous amount to do with the rise of Orfi marriages and whether society can accommodate these new types of relationships. It also of course has to do with the persistence of sexual double standards—the woman and her child are “punished� for having had extra-marital sex by being denied any paternity rights. The man gets away scot free.
Read More

Wise on Khaled

Check out the guest post by Lindsay Wise on Abu Aardvark on the Amr Khaled goes to Denmark controversy. It's been a big item in the Egyptian press for the past week, with some papers saying the controversy heralds "the end of Amr Khaled" while even is erstwhile supporters are critical of his initiative. I was with Lindsay at the press conference where he launched the intiative, there were people there from Al Azhar who were very supportive. So what's changed? Was it Qaradawi by himself who created this? Is he that influential? Unlike many people, including the Aarvdark himself, I don't think Qaradawi is a moderate in any sense of the word -- in fact I think he has moral responsibility for a lot of the conservative trends we saw in the Muslim world in the past two decades, as well as political ones such as in Algeria, where he was quite influential in the 1980s. While I do think that Amr Khaled is much more conservative than many people think, I think that this initiative is not a bad idea -- it's certainly a lot better than the moronic grumbling we hear from the likes of Qaradawi over the Danish affair. That the influence of establishment sheikhs is dwindling is most probably a good thing -- and I hope it also affects the Qaradawis of this world. Update: The Angry Arab says:
Religious demagogues reconcile. So the two religious demagogues--who never met an Arab oil royal that they did not admire--Yusuf Al-Qardawi and `Amr Khalid finally met and reconciled. One account said that Khaled kissed the forehead of Qardawi. Religious demagogues of the world, unite! And Qardawi thinks that he has now come up with a brilliant idea to solve the problems of the Arab and Islamic worlds. After holding a special--oh, ya, special--conference to support Muhammad, Qardawi launched a new special website to support Muhammad. The website, it is widely believed, will go a long way to solve the problems of poverty and oppression that are suffered by Muslims.
Read More

New Syrian veep is a dame

Syrian President Bashar Al Assad appointed a new vice-president today -- Najah Al Attar, the Arab world's first woman to hold the position.
"Attar will be responsible for following culture policy according to the directions of the president," SANA said. Attar, part of the old guard in the ruling Baath Party, was culture minister for more than two decades under late President Hafez al-Assad, who ruled Syria for 30 years and was succeeded by his son Bashar in 2000.
But is she internet-savvy? I don't know, but her brother Issam Al Attar is a leader of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood in exile. Meanwhile, Prince Walid bin Talal vows to invest more in Syria after opening the country's first Four Seasons Hotel with Bashar Al Assad and a Syrian court has summoned Abdel Halim Khaddam and 24 members of his family to stand trial for corruption. Update: Via Syria Comment, Syrian analyst Sami Moubayed says:
Speculations are mounting in Damascus on: why now? And: why Najah al-Attar? One reason, according to observers, is a symbolic message aimed at the Muslim Brotherhood, because her brother is Issam al-Attar, the former leader of the Brotherhood who is currently in exile in Europe. It comes as the Brotherhood, currently headed by Ali Sadr al-Din al-Baynouni, teams up with former Vice-President Abdul Halim Khaddam in Europe, creating a united front to oppose and bring down the Syrian regime. Drawing a relation between Attar’s appointment and the Syrian regime's feud with the Muslim Brotherhood is a grand misconception. After all, Attar has been with the government since the 1970s, at a time when her brother was actively fighting the Baathists. Her appointment as minister of culture in the 1970s was a political message aimed at the Brotherhood but today, her brother Issam is old and politically inactive. Her appointment as vice-president means nothing to ongoing war between the Baathist and Brotherhood. What it means is that the Syrian regime has started to single out talented people—many being independents, and bring them to positions of authority with the hope of curbing the rising discontent in the Syrian street.
He has tons of biographical info about Al Attar, which seems to be at odds with the bit quoted above.
Read More


Either John Sawers himself, or someone in his office, is getting rather fond of leaking confidential policy documents to the British press. Remember the British embassy memos on the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood? Or last week's revelation, in another leak, that Sawers had told Tony Blair that Iraq was an "unbelievable mess"? Well now it's a strategy for dealing with the Iran problem at the UN that's been leaked to the Times. I wonder whether this is strategic leaking to help policy efforts, leaking by someone unhappy with policy (presumably someone who wants a more muscular policy on Iran and, separately, no recognition of the MB), or just an attempt to raise Sawers' profile and dissociate him from some of the more disastrous policies followed by Blair. Perhaps he has political ambitions... Update: A thought just occurred to me. They wouldn't happen to have a memo about that Al Jazeera conversation they could leak, by any chance. I mean, while they're at it...
Read More

The starvation of Gaza

Yet another important article by the great Amira Hass. Here is all of it:
In the elections, Israelis will not be voting just for themselves. Not only will they choose parties that affect their own lives for four years, but also those of 3.5 million occupied Palestinians - as they have done for 39 years now. The winners in Israel will form a government that will determine the most minute details of every Palestinian's life. This is the essence of occupation. One people casts its votes and thereby authorizes its democratic government to be a dictator in a place that it rules by military hegemony. In that place there lives a separate nation that is entirely excluded from any rights in this democratic game. For the past two months the dictator democratically elected by the Israeli public has determined that Gaza's residents should go on a "diet," as Attorney Dov Weissglas advised the cabinet, immediately after Hamas' election victory. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz decided that Gaza's residents should eat less and less fresh produce and dairy produce, then less and less rice and then no bread. By closing the Karni crossing to merchandise for prolonged periods, Mofaz intervened (as a cabinet representative) not only in the Palestinians' eating habits. He also sent tens of thousands of Gazan Palestinians on unpaid leave. Drivers, merchants, porters, sewing workshop workers, farmers, construction workers and contractors, whose materials are not arriving, are all out of work. The already large number of people dependent on charity in Gaza will grow. The chain reaction will affect every family's life and choices: the children's education, medical treatment, visiting relatives, building an additional room to alleviate the crowded conditions at home. No elected Palestinian government, headed by Hamas or Fatah, has ever intervened in everyday life to such an extent, or had such an influence on it. At Israel's order, the Palestinian security branches dug four tunnels with a total length of 1.5 kilometers, but did not find the suspected tunnel that served as the rationale for closing the merchandise terminal. On the day five kilos of explosive was found on Road No. 1 in a car carrying Palestinians - security explanations are all Israelis want to hear. Since the disengagement Israel has claimed that "Gaza is no longer occupied territory," so whatever happens there is not its responsibility. This version is more palatable to Israelis than hearing that Israel's control over the Palestinians' life in Gaza has ended; that Gaza is only one part of the Palestinian territory and that its population, economy and health and education institutions are tied to those in the West Bank; and that the international community has decided that the Palestinian state would be established on both parts, Gaza and the West Bank. But the Israeli voter scorns the international community's choices. It has decided that Gaza would be "returned" to Egypt. That is the logical meaning of closing the Karni crossing for a long time - after the number of Palestinians passing through the Erez crossing has already dwindled. Even if international pressure enables bringing "humanitarian" aid through the Karni crossing here and there - as though Gaza had been struck by natural disaster - Israel's leaders will probably close it again for "security reasons." All this is intended to accustom Gaza residents and the international community to think that perhaps it is logical to direct Gaza's products, business and plans southward, to Egypt, which will not be able to remain idle while almost 1.5 million Arabs are being strangled under the Israeli siege. Thus Israelis will not be voting only on the Palestinians' fate, but will also intervene in the lives of Egypt's citizens.
The trouble is on the Egyptian side there has been so little discussion of the long-term impact of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict people are barely aware (outside of Al Arish and other Sinai cities that "mainland" Egyptians seem to consider a periphery) of the consequences. We already saw that after the border opened, the movement of Palestinians between Rafah and Al Arish significantly affected the local economy -- and not to everyone's liking. In the short term, even more importantly, Gazans are being starved. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights says:
PCHR follows with utmost concern the deterioration in the economic and social conditions resulting from the total closure imposed by IOF on the OPT, especially the Gaza Strip. PCHR is concerned for the deterioration in food and health conditions of the Palestinian civilian population as bread and flour have almost run out in the markets of the Gaza Strip, where most bakeries have stopped working due to the lack of flour. Hundreds of Palestinians have been seen standing in long queues in front of some bakeries, which have continued to work but with minimum capacity, to buy bread for their families. This scene is unprecedented in the Gaza Strip. According to information available to PCHR, since 14 January 2006, IOF have closed al-Mentar (Karni) crossing for 47 separate days completely and for 4 days partially. During partial closures, IOF allowed the importation of basic foodstuffs only into the Gaza Strip. Importation of construction raw materials, medicines and others goods through the crossing has been banned. As a result of the closure of the crossing, the local markets have run out of some foodstuffs, especially milk, flour, sugar, dairy products and fruits. Exportation of agricultural and industrial products from the Gaza Strip has been banned. Palestinian farmers and traders have sustained large losses due to the blockade of their products at the Palestinian side of the crossing, as the closure coincides with the season of exportation of strawberries, flowers, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers. Construction projects in the Gaza Strip have also stopped due to the lack of construction raw materials. In addition, IOF have continued to close Sofa crossing, northeast of Rafah, which is designated for the importation of construction raw materials into the Gaza Strip, since 14 February 2006. They have also prevented Palestinian workers from reaching their work places inside Israel through Beit Hanoun (Erez) crossing. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip, including newly elected members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, and especially those from the Change and Reform list of Hamas, have been prevented from traveling through this crossing.
The World Food Program adds:
As a result of the blockade, flour mills have been unable to provide 8,000 metric tons of wheat contracted earlier by WFP. Wheat flour makes up 80 percent of the basic diet in Gaza. Other commodities, including sugar, baby formula and dairy products, are also in short supply, leading to food prices soaring by more than 30 percent since January.
Meanwhile, the fanatically Zionist AP State Department correspondent, Barry Schweid, writes of a Bahraini prince urging Hamas to recognize Israel. Of course no mention that Israel still does not recognize Palestine. (That Schweid has occupied this position for years is a minor scandal, considering his bias on the issue, well-known by anyone who's worked near the State Dept.) On a related note, here is a fine essay by Jeff Halper of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions on why Palestinians really voted for Hamas: not because of corruption, not because of the economy, but because they were the only group that was still fighting for their rights.
Read More