Links for January 31st

Links from my del.icio.us account for January 31st:

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It had to happen

Well, I have held out forever, but this morning I finally did it...I joined Facebook. I had to, after reading yet another article (in the New York Times Magazine) about the way social networking software is sweeping across the Middle East.  The story focuses on the April 6 Facebook group that was established last year to plan a general anti-government strike, and currently has about 70,000 members. While this is clearly an interesting development, the article's title--"Revolution: Facebook Style"--promises more than it can deliver: last April, despite the Facebook mobilization, there was no strike to speak of. (Meanwhile, like almost all US media coverage, the piece barely discusses the numerous labour protests that have been going on in the country for years, and that did culminate, on that day, in anti-government rioting in the city of Mahalla.) I enjoyed the article because of the lively portraits of the online activists and of "Facebook Girl" Esraa Rashid, and some of the details about their relationships and disagreements.  That said, I wonder why they don't send someone who speaks and reads Arabic to do a story of this kind, since the #1 thing it requires is hours and hours of reading posts and comments online, getting a sense of the tone and scope of discussions. I for one would have liked it if the piece had quoted the online-discussions more.
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Links for January 29th

Links from my del.icio.us account for January 29th:

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Links for January 28th

Links from my del.icio.us account for January 28th:

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CBS' 60 Minutes on Palestine

This has been much talked about in the last few days, and I have just caught up with it and watched it. The incredible, unprecedented thing about this documentary is that it takes the time to examine the living conditions of Palestinians, the nasty mindedness of the settler movement and Israel's policy of supporting it. All of this is public knowledge for those who care to look for it, the big deal here is that for those who don't care, just turned on the TV, are ill-informed, a US broadcaster has just shown a straight-up account of the occupation of Palestine that is not automatically followed by a "Israel says this, Palestinians say that" idiocy or a reaffirmation of "Israel's right to defend itself." So yes, it's a big deal. Watch on the CBS website (can be difficult with low-speed internet), or YouTube (part 1, part 2) and then take the time to thanks CBS for having given the settlement issue a fair hearing.
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Links for January 28th

Links from my del.icio.us account for January 28th:

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Obama's TV appearance

A very few quick notes on Obama's appearance on Arabiya TV: - Very good on the Obama team to have made this move, which was necessary, so quickly. - It repairs some, but only some, of the damage caused by his silence on Gaza. - The choice of Arabiya was most probably a decision to appeal to the Saudis, have Obama underline the importance of their Arab Initiative which has been snubbed by Israel and the US under Bush. - Nonetheless Arabiya is problematic - this is the channel dubbed Hibriya (The Hebrew One) because of its coverage of the Gaza crisis and that generally defends the views of Riyadh, Cairo and other problematic US allies. This confirms that Obama will not, like Bush since 2006, go against Egypt and Saudi on domestic issues and there won't be a rethink of the US relationship with these. But if you thought that would happen, you're stupid. - Should Obama have gone to Jazeera instead? Perhaps not, for both domestic reasons (the criticism he would expose himself to, even if unwarranted) and because there are genuine US complaints about Jazeera. But at some later point, he should go to Jazeera - especially if it is to pitch a major conflict resolution initiative in the region. At the end of the day, despite its bias, Arabiya is the number two pan-Arab stations. (In many countries, like the rest of the world, Arabs actually watch their national TV stations most.) - Obama's next move should be to disband al-Hurra. It's a useless waste of money. - Obama's line that the US should "start by listening" will be taken (along with the phone calls) with enormous pleasure by Egyptian diplomats, among others, who felt that the advice of Arab allies was ignored under Bush. - I am also disturbed at why an American president would say Israel's security is "paramount" - as in more important than anything? Why should it be? Why not say it's a "red line" in the grand old style of Arab leaders? - What this says (as much as this kind of interview can say anything deep) is that the Obama approach compared to Bush, for now, is more active and tough on Iran, same on Israel but more involved on peace process, Forward Agenda for Freedom is dropped because conflict resolution and managing Iran is more important, and greater attention to communication issues. The professional analysis is of course at Marc Lynch's blog, here and here. Juan Cole has the interview and transcript. Update: Another take here. Regarding the issue of Hillary Clinton's "Israel's right to defend itself" comment, I think the US should stop using this formulation. Why not instead say, "did Hamas expect Israel to do nothing as it launched rockets?" Obviously I'd like to see some serious concern, repeatedly voiced, for the IDF's behavior in Gaza and the disproportionality of the conflict.
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Links January 26th to January 27th

Links from my del.icio.us account for January 26th through January 27th:

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L'Humanite account of cold-blooded murder of children in Gaza

We are seeing more testimonies like this one (but of course mostly in the left-wing press, in this case the Communist newspaper L'Humanité in France):
En mars dernier lors d’une énième incursion dans la bande de Gaza, l’armée israélienne avait fouillé les maisons puis avait continuer son chemin, vers Jabaliya. La famille Abed Rabbo (d’où le nom du lieu), occupait l’ensemble des petits immeubles qui se trouvaient là. Quand l’offensive a commencé, les Abed Rabbo étaient sur leurs gardes, mais pas plus inquiets que ça. Ce qui peut sembler étrange pour qui ne vit pas le quotidien de ces Palestiniens, soumis au bon vouloir des Israéliens. En mars dernier, par exemple, ils avaient fait une incursion dans la bande de Gaza en passant par le hameau. Ils s’étaient contentés d’une fouille des habitations et avaient passé leur chemin. « C’est pourquoi tout le monde pensait que ça allait être la même chose cette fois-ci », explique Khaled, 30 ans. Lui se trouvait avec sa famille au rez-de-chaussée d’un immeuble dans lequel vivaient 27 personnes. Le 7 janvier, en milieu de matinée, les Israéliens sont arrivés. Ils ont installés un poste militaire. Les chars se sont mis en position derrière des buttes de sable alors que par hauts-parleurs ils intimaient l’ordre aux gens de sortir. « Comme nous habitions au rez-de-chaussée, nous sommes sortis les premiers », raconte Khaled, la voix tremblante. « J’étais avec ma femme, nos trois filles et ma mère. J’avais un drapeau blanc. Sur le char, il y avait deux soldats. L’un mangeait des chips, l’autre du chocolat. On est resté comme ça pendant plus de 5 minutes, alignés. Personne ne nous disait rien. On ne savait pas quoi faire. Soudain un soldat est sorti du char. Il était roux et portait les papillotes des religieux. Il a tiré sur ma petite fille de 2 ans, Amal. Ses intestins sont sortis de son ventre. Puis il a visé en rafale celle de 7 ans, Sohad. Ma femme s’est évanouie. Il a tiré sur ma mère ». Summum du vice chez ce soldat, il n’a pas tué Khaled. Une ambulance se trouvait à proximité. « Ils ont fait descendre le chauffeur puis ont écrasé le véhicule avec un char », soutient Khaled Abed Rabbo. Les deux petites filles, Amal et Sohad, sont mortes. La troisième est grièvement blessée. Avec son frère et sa femme, Khaled les emmène, ainsi que la mère. Ils prennent la route non sans essuyer les tirs de snipers embusqués dans les maisons qui jouaient à leur faire peur en visant à côté. « Au rond-point, un homme a voulu nous aider avec sa carriole. Il s’appelait Hadnan Mekbel. Les Israéliens l’ont tué ainsi que son cheval. » Khaled sort son portable et montre ses filles dans un linceul. La troisième est dans un hôpital en Belgique. Elle est tétraplégique. Sa femme est dans un état de choc psychologique permanent Khaled ne peut pas oublier. Il revient tous les jours devant sa maison détruite. « C’est toute ma vie, mes souvenirs. Je vois mes enfants jouer autour de moi », dit-il. « C’était la maison du bonheur ».
Quick summary if you don't speak French: Abed Rabbo's family had dealt with Israeli soldiers before, in March 2008 during a brief Israeli incursion. Nothing had happened then, and they just expected a search of their house this time around. The Israelis made him and his family line up and wait as tanks lined up across them. Then a red-haired soldier sporting Haredim long locks came out of a tank, shot his 2-year old daughter Amal ("her guts spilled out of her stomach") and then his 7-year-old daughter Sohad. They then destroyed a nearby ambulance, and when they found a man with a horse cart to help them, the man and his horse was shot. According to Rabbo, he and his wife (who is still under shock) were left alive and their daughters targeted and kept from medical care on purpose, to teach them a lesson. His third daughter was also shot (and will probably be disabled for life) and is receiving medical care in Belgium. For a decade now there has been rising concern in Israel in the growing strength of the religious right among the armed forces, especially the transition from para-military youth movements to the IDF some young religious Israelis make, especially if they are from lower-income groups. From the comments, more testimonies here.
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Links January 25th to January 26th

Links from my del.icio.us account for January 25th through January 26th:

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Links for January 25th

Links from my del.icio.us account for January 25th:

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Waltz with Bashir

I went to see "Waltz with Bashir," the Israeli, Oscar-nominated animated film about the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, with very mixed feelings. I've been curious to see the film since I first heard of it. Yet especially after the events of the last month I didn't feel particularly inclined to give $12 to an Israeli project. And I feared the film would be an offensively self-centered view of the war, in which we are meant to sympathize with Israeli soldiers for the inhumanity they were forced to exercise and witness. But I told myself I should investigate. So first of all, as a work of art, it's stunning. There's something dreamy yet realistic about the style, as if reality has just been "covered" with a drawing, filtered through an imagination. It allows for seamless transitions between battlefields, dreams, memories, visions. I at least have never seen animation work of this kind. There are many images that linger long afterwards, which is appropriate, since one of the themes of the work is how we remember (or forget), how the mind processes trauma.  As for the content. It's well-plotted, well-edited, smart, sometimes funny. Yet it is one-sided, of course. Much as in any American film about the Vietnam War, in "Waltz with Bashir" it is only the Israelis who are the protagonists of the story--Palestinians and Lebanese figure as victims, villains or distant threats. The film's framing device--which I found a bit artificial--is that the protagonist can't remember where he was or what he did in Beirut on the day of the massacres of Sabra and Shatila. He has several meetings with old friends and his shrink, who tells him that his interest in the massacre at the Palestinian refugee camps is also about his obsession with those "other" camps his parents were in. (I wasn't sure what to make of this reference--on the one hand, it seems a provocative comparison between what was done to Palestinians and done to Jews; on the other hand, must everything in Israeli discourse always be understood in terms of the Holocaust?) The massacre at Sabra and Shatila is the culmination of the film, and it is rendered clearly and precisely. In fact, the end of the film is emotionally wrenching. And, as if out of a desire to emphasize the reality of what happened, the film concludes with documentary footage (although some reviewers have viewed this switch as a shortcoming).  Yet there is obfuscation over the Israeli role in the massacre. We are told that Ariel Sharon was called by a journalist that night and told that a massacre was taking place; he replied "thank you for bringing this to my attention."  Israeli soldiers surrounded the camp while Christian Lebanese Phalangists killed Palestinian civilians inside, and Israelis even shot flares that night to provide better visibility inside the camps. Yet the protagonist says to his friend "The penny never dropped. We never realized they were carrying out a genocide."  All viciousness is ascribed to the Phalangists. The Israelis, like the protagonist, are distant, disconnected, confused--they don't know what they're doing there. None of the Israeli soldiers seem to have any ideological convictions, or any animosity towards the Palestinians. And a montage that shows the violence of the war set to rock music is again very reminiscent of American Vietnam movies--even as we are meant to condemn war, our military might and the youthful recklessness of "our boys" are portrayed in a thrilling way.  We've all had the experience of enjoying a work of art and then having someone nit-pick at its political positions. I'm sorry to be that spoil-sport today. Artists aren't obliged to make political statements. Yet to do a semi-documentary film about an invasion and a civilian masscre (and reap the artistic accolades and financial rewards for doing such "serious" work) demands that one ask--and answer--serious questions. "Waltz with Bashir" has good intentions (one witness compares the surviving Palestinians emerging from Sabra and Shatila to Jews coming out of the Warsaw ghetto), but it doesn't follow through. It wants credit for acknowledging (in the film, it's presented as a discovery of sorts) Israeli complicity in the massacre, something that has long been part of the historical record. And yet it leaves questions of causality and responsibility in the war and the massacre hazy, thus making sure it doesn't alienate any part of its potential audience.  If I knew nothing about about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or if I was less heartsick over the events in Gaza in the last month, I might have thought "Waltz with Bashir" was a great movie. But it just seems a bit rich that Israelis should invade their neighbors, kill civilians, and then win Oscars when a quarter-century later they produce art about their flashbacks and moral self-questioning (which never ends in outright self-condemnation). It makes me particularly heartsick that none of the lessons of Lebanon seem to have been learned. In fact, we can probably look forward to a film, 25 years from now, in which a former Israeli soldier will ask his friends and shrink: "Were all the 1300 Palestinians we killed really "terrorists" or "human shields"? Where was I and what did I do during the bombing of Gaza?"
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Links for January 24th

Links from my del.icio.us account for January 24th:

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Links for January 24th

Links from my del.icio.us account for January 24th:

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Egyptian art divide

The divide between the official (state-sponsored) and "independent" (mostly foreign grant-sponsored) cultural circles in Cairo is a common trope for analyzing the art scene in the city. But Kaelen Wilson-Goldie writes on the subject with her usual thoughtfulness and eye for detail in a just-out article  in The Review comparing PhotoCairo 4 to the Cairo Biennale.
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Links for January 22nd

Links from my del.icio.us account for January 22nd:

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Oxford students occupy Bodleian Library in solidarity with Palestinians

A group of around 80 Oxford students occupied the historic Bodleian Library at Oxford University today in support of Palestinians and to protest the university's policies towards Israel, notably calling for divestment from Oxford's stake in the British arms manufacturer BAE Systems, a statement of support from the university in reaction to Israel's bombing of the Islamic University in Gaza, and the cancellation of a series of lectures inaugurated by Israeli President Shimon Peres (which the students had earlier staged a protest against). They are also asking for scholarships to be created for Palestinian students and support for Palestinian academia. Their full statement is after the jump. The students have a blog, Occupied Oxford, a Twitter feed and a YouTube page with videos of the occupation of the library. The question of an academic boycott of Israel and universities' divestment from companies that sell weapons to Israel has a long history in Britain, and this kind of smart initiative is good news. Eight other universities are staging similar protests and occupations: Birmingham, Essex, King's College London, London School of Economics, School of Oriental and African Studies, Sussex and Warwick. OXFORD UNIVERSITY STUDENTS OCCUPY BUILDING IN SOLIDARITY WITH GAZA In the first week of term, over 80 Oxford University students have occupied the historic Bodleian building to demand that the university releases a statement condemning the attack on Gaza and cancel the lecture series at Balliol College inaugurated by Shimon Peres. Students organised the sit in after attending an emergency meeting in Oxford organised to discuss the war on Gaza and the precarious ceasefire. Members of the University entered the Clarendon building and sat down at 1200, British time, on Thursday 22nd January. Their demands were presented to University officials. The group represents a broad spectrum of concerned students and has the support of peace campaigners here in Oxford. They want the University Proctor to express solidarity with Palestinian academic community and condemning the attack on the educational infrastructure. “Palestinians have the same rights as we do, including the right to education as enshrined in the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights. We are proud to be students at Oxford University and do not want the University to contribute in any way to the undermining of the right to education. It is not a matter of politics, it is a matter of humanity,” a spokesperson said. Students demand that the Master of Balliol College cancel the lecture series inaugurated by Shimon Peres. The group are also demanding that Oxford University divests from arms firm BAE Systems, an arms company who supply the Israeli military. “The fact that Oxford University invests in BAE Systems means that it is directly profiting from the collective punishment of the Palestinian people. Our University cannot be funded by unlawful military aggression. Oxford University must divest from BAE and other arms companies immediately. Students have also issued several demands related to providing material support for Palestinian students including providing 5 fully paid scholarships for Palestinian students and resources for education in Gaza. Numerous Oxford academics as well as the Oxford University Islamic Society, the Oxford Palestine Society, the Oxford Indian and the Oxford Pakistan societies have already signed petitions condemning the Israeli attack on Gaza. DEMANDS IN FULL 1) Statement Oxford University should release a statement in support of the right of Palestinians to education and its support to the Palestinian Academic community. The University should condemn in particular the attack on the Islamic University in Gaza. 2) Divestment Oxford University currently holds investments in BAE Systems, a firm that the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (caat.org.uk) states provides weapons and ammunition for the Israeli military. This means that our university is being directly funded by the Israeli war on Gaza. Oxford University must divest from BAE and other companies which supply arms to Israel. 3) 5 fully paid scholarships for Palestinian students. Particularly after the attack on Gaza and the ongoing hardships suffered by Palestinians, Oxford University should offer 5 fully-funded scholarships to Palestinian students as a way to contribute to greater access to education for those affected by the conflict. 4) A cancellation lecture series inaugurated by Shimon Peres The group demands that the Master of Balliol College cancel the lecture series that was inaugurated by the Israeli President Shimon Peres. It is not appropriate to have such a lecture series in light of the attack on Gaza and the ongoing siege. 5) Resources for Education. The Oxford University should donate resources to, and support, the University and educational infrastructure that have been bombed in Gaza. 6) Right to Peaceful Protest Oxford University has a proud history of student activism. Students united to campaign against apartheid, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. All students have a democratic right to peaceful protest and students should not be prevented from expressing their opinions by fear of reprisals. MEDIA CONTACTS FOR THE STUDENT GROUP Juliette Harkin 07740818376 Omar al-Shehabi 07966570155 (for Arabic media) NOTES TO EDITORS: 1) Oxford University is the 8th University to go into occupation and joins SOAS, LSE, Warwick, Essex, Kings College London, Birmingham and Sussex universities. 2) The Oxford University occupation follows on from emergency meetings about Gaza and a well orchestrated protest in October 2007 against the decision of Balliol College, Oxford University, to inaugurate a lecture series in the name of Shimon Peres, president of Israel and responsible for atrocities against the Palestinian people.
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