war crimes

March 1, 2011

EDITOR: panic stations in Jerusalem

With most of its strategic assets in the Middle East tottering or gone, the west is looking to secure the few left, and especially the Israel/Palestine ‘peace’, which is neither dead nor alive. The warmonger Tony Blair is leading this assault on the Palestinians, trying to get some movement before the Palestinian population joins the other Arab masses in revolt. It is also an attempt to prove to the other Arab nations that the west really cares about Palestine’s future… Fat chance of anything new coming out of this tired kitchen of lies.

Mideast Quartet due in Israel in bid to restart peace talks: Haaretz

Netanyahu refuses to send Israeli representatives to Quartet meeting in Brussels Wednesday, where they will meet with the Palestinians, so Quartet officials to come to Israel in compromise.

Mideast Quartet officials are due to arrive in Israel next week to meet with advisers of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in order to discuss new efforts to restart peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

On Wednesday, representatives of the Quartet of Middle East negotiators – the United States, United Nations, Russia, and European Union – will meet in Brussels in order to discuss possible steps to renew the peace process.

Mideast Quartet envoy Tony Blair with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, February 4, 2011. Photo by: Moshe Milner

Israeli and Palestinian representatives were invited to the meeting, however Netanyahu decided not to cooperate and not send his adviser and peace talks representative Yitzhak Molcho to Brussels.

The Palestinians, however, have sent Saeb Erekat, who recently resigned from his position as chief Palestinian negotiator.

Netanyahu has voiced his reservations to the meeting, fearing that by agreeing he would open the door to international influence on the terms of the renewed talks.

Netanyahu told the Quartet members that he will only send his adviser Molcho if there would be a joint meeting between him and Erekat, but the Palestinians opposed the idea and demanded separate meetings.

Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office indicated that Netanyahu had been in contact with the U.S. administration in an attempt to find out the purpose of the Brussels session, and its purported goals, before making his final decision, but did not receive answers.

Netanyahu was about to announce that he plans to completely boycott the meeting, but at the end the sides arrived at a compromise wherein Quarter officials will arrive in Jerusalem next week and meet with Molcho. “At the moment we understood there will not be direct negotiations, we had no reason to fly there (Brussels),” said a source in the Prime Minister’s Office.

In two weeks, a meeting of foreign ministers of the Quartet will take place in Paris, where potential solutions to the core peace issues would be presented. The Russian foreign minister said Sunday that the purpose of the meeting will be to discuss the borders of a future Palestinian state and the security arrangements that Israel is demanding.

EDITOR: Al Araqib, the little symbol of Palestine, destroyed again

Read aout the 18th destruction of this village, by the combined Axis of Zionist evil: the IDF, the Jewish National Fund, and the God TV Channel. Could there be a more bizarre, more toxic combination? This Israeli answer to the regional uprising promises to deliver more anger and frustration about this colonial hub in the heart of the Arab world, continuing its poisonous work supported by Blair, Obama and Berlusconi.

The Israelis keep bulldozing their village, but still the Bedouin will not give up their land: The Guardian

The tiny village of al-Arakib has been torn down by the Israeli authorities 18 times in seven months, but each time the Bedouin rebuild their homes
Harriet Sherwood
The rutted track to al-Arakib leaves the desert highway at a sharp right angle through an unmarked gap in the roadside barrier. It’s easy to miss, to be swept past with the stream of traffic heading through the sun-hardened and windswept landscape of the Negev.

A Bedouin woman among the ruins of her home in al-Arakib after it was torn down by the Israeli authorities. Photograph: AFP

About a kilometre from the main road, you come first to the village cemetery, where the oldest grave dates from 1914, and a corrugated iron barn that serves as the mosque and now a communal kitchen and shelter. Then, across a trough in the land, you see the remnants of the Bedouin village: four simple wooden frames whose tarpaulin covers are continually thrashed by the relentless wind. This is all that’s left of a once-thriving community after a seven-month war of attrition that has pitted the Bedouin villagers against the Israeli army, the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and a Christian evangelical television channel called God TV. And the struggle is not over.

Since 27 July, the village has been demolished at least 18 times, most recently last Thursday. Each time the bulldozers and soldiers come at dawn to tear down the makeshift structures that have replaced the 40 concrete buildings that used to house the villagers, the men of al-Arakib rebuild them. Each time their footprint gets a little smaller.

Although the villagers say they have deeds to the land proving ownership since 1906, al-Arakib is “unrecognised” – meaning the state of Israel regards its very existence as illegitimate. Israel declared the land state property shortly after the 1948 war, and in recent years has accelerated efforts to drive the Bedouin into designated townships.

The villagers stand in the way of a government-backed JNF project to encourage Jewish settlement in the sparsely populated Negev and create a forest by planting half a million trees paid for by God TV. Launched in the UK in 1995 but now broadcasting globally from Jerusalem, God TV is part of a Christian Zionist movement that believes the Jews must return to the Holy Land as a pre-requisite of the Second Coming of Christ. In videos posted on its website, founder Rory Alec speaks of an “instruction from God” to “prepare the land for return of my Son”. He takes supporters to the Negev to plant saplings and urges others to make donations to fund the trees the TV channel has pledged to supply.

Afforestation has become a tool of the Judaisation of the Negev, says Oren Yiftachel, professor of political geography at the nearby Ben-Gurion University. The authorities have uprooted thousands of olive trees to replace them with “Jewish trees”. It’s only our trees that matter, he says wryly.

The new saplings, struggling to take root in the arid soil, are visible from the tent where Aziz Sayah Abu Mdagem sips sweet tea brewed in a blackened kettle over a kindling fire. This is our land, he says; we will not give it up. He describes the first demolition as a scene from a battlefield: hundreds of soldiers dragging screaming women and children from their homes before the bulldozers crushed the buildings. Special forces troops on horseback and on motorbikes surrounded the area as helicopters clattered overhead.

A shed housing the village’s chickens was flattened, killing all the birds inside. Trees – olive, citrus and almond – were uprooted. He shows us a collection of rubber bullets, tear gas canisters and spent stun grenades collected from successive demolitions.

Some of the traumatised children have been unable to speak since, he says. They wet their beds, they call out in their sleep. He shows a picture from an album of a pile of rubble. This, he says, is the children’s playground now. Later, he points to fresh furrows ploughed in the baked ground in preparation for tree-planting. “Every day they dig the land closer,” he says.

The JNF says its afforestation plan in the Negev is for the benefit of all inhabitants, but Abu Mdagem finds it hard to see how the destruction of their homes is a positive move for the Bedouin villagers. The JNF acknowledges the donation of trees from God TV but is reluctant to discuss the partnership.

God TV did not respond to a request for comment, but recently posted a message on its website, saying that claims that the evangelical channel is responsible for the displacement of the Bedouin people are false. It says its tree-planting endeavours, which are an “apostolic, prophetic act”, are simply part of “an effort to restore the desert places to the lush green land it once was, preparing the Holy Land for the return of the King of Kings”.

The struggle to save the village has won support from Jewish activists and intellectuals, including the celebrated Israeli novelist Amos Oz. Al-Arakib was, he said, a ticking time-bomb.

In the now near-deserted village, Abu Mdagem shows us the mosque, where mattresses are piled against one wall and cooking utensils line another. This is where the women and children of the village sleep at night, he says. He weaves through the stone-covered mounds in the adjacent cemetery to take us to the oldest grave, which, he says, proves their connection with the land.

During demolitions, the villagers seek refuge among the dead, believing the soldiers will not pursue them on to sacred ground. But recently even that has not proved safe, with shots and tear gas being fired into the cemetery.

“This is our life now,” Abu Mdagem says, threading prayer beads through his fingers. “We live together with the dead people in the cemetery.”

Israeli settlers hit back after army demolishes their West Bank homes: The Guardian

Call for a ‘day of rage’ as hardliners attack Palestinian villages and block roads in Jerusalem
Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem
A Palestinian woman displays a burnt mattress and other damage allegedly caused by Jewish settlers after a petrol bomb was thrown into her house in the West Bank village of Hiwwara near Nablus. Photograph: Abed Omar Qusini/Reuters
Hardline Israeli settlers have called for a “day of rage” on Thursday in protest at the army’s demolition of an outpost in the West Bank. Settlers also launched attacks on Palestinian villages and blocked main roads in Jerusalem.

Havat Gilad, a hilltop settlement near Nablus built without government authorisation, was destroyed early on Monday, sparking clashes between activists and soldiers, in which the army fired rubber bullets and teargas canisters. The outpost’s occupants vowed to rebuild the settlement.

Later, hardline settlers burned tyres and blocked roads in Jerusalem and smashed the windscreens of Palestinian cars in the West Bank. Homes and cars in two Palestinian villages were attacked on Tuesday in what settlers described as “price tag” action in retaliation for Israeli government measures against settlements.

Flyers calling for further action on Thursday were distributed. They urged a “day of rage following the pogrom on Havat Gilad and the ongoing destruction on the hilltops … no more silence”.

Demolition of the outpost follows international pressure on the Israeli government to curb settlement building, to encourage a resumption of peace talks with the Palestinians. A UN security council resolution condemning settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem won the support of 14 out of 15 countries, including the UK. The US used its veto for the first time under President Barack Obama to block the resolution.

The Israeli government decided this week to dismantle all unauthorised outposts built on privately-owned Palestinian land, in a move which is likely to spark further clashes. However, it will simultaneously begin moves to make official unauthorised outposts built on West Bank land under Israeli control. All settlements in occupied territory are illegal under international law.

An Israeli soldier who lives at the Havat Gilad outpost held a press conference in Jerusalem to say that he would not return to military duty. “The [Israeli Defence Forces] sent troops to destroy my home and to shoot at my friends,” he said. “I do not intend to return to the army until I finish rebuilding the ruins.” The IDF said it viewed his actions as grave.

In whose name does Dutch FM Rosenthal speak?: The Electronic Intifada

Rifat Odeh Kassis, 1 March 2011

In recent months, a number of Latin American countries have publicly expressed their recognition of Palestinian statehood. Given that a Palestinian state doesn’t yet exist, this recognition also amounts to supporting the Palestinian right to statehood. For Israel and defenders of its policies around the world, the “snowball effect” of nations recognizing this right is, unsurprisingly, unnerving.

One such defender is Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal. In an 8 February interview with The Jerusalem Post, Rosenthal argued why he believes international support for a Palestinian declaration of statehood “does no good” (“Dutch FM: Recognition of Palestinian state does no good”).

But what strikes me most about the interview is not the straightforwardness of his opposition. Rather, I am struck by what his opposition barely manages to mask: the hypocrisy of his rhetoric on “negotiations” and “democratic values;” a repressive attitude toward what he characterizes as “inflammatory language regarding Israel” within the EU; a betrayal both of the Netherlands’ strong record of commitment to international law and of his responsibilities as the representative of that commitment; and, ultimately, a glimpse of the hypocritical and increasingly repressive policies seen in the EU toward victims and critics of the State of Israel.

Part of what Rosenthal clearly opposes is a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood. Dutch policy is also changing along these lines: the Dutch parliament recently passed a resolution that calls for the government to oppose EU recognition of a Palestinian state. But Rosenthal doesn’t utter a word of objection to the unilateral steps taken by Israel.

Israel has illegally annexed East Jerusalem, demolished Palestinian homes there and elsewhere (and even entire towns — the military recently destroyed the Bedouin village of al-Araqib for the 18th time). It has confiscated vast amounts of Palestinian land to build its apartheid wall — the route of which was illegal in 2004 by the International Court of Justice in The Hague — and to protect terrain for illegal settlements. In violation of international law, it encourages its civilian population to inhabit those settlements (which have eaten away at more than 40 percent of the West Bank), practiced brutal detention policies, restricted freedom of movement and other fundamental liberties, tried children in military courts, put the Gaza Strip under a state of permanent siege and killed more than 1,400 Palestinians in Gaza (including 352 children) during its winter 2008-09 bombardment.

The list of unilateral acts — the list of crimes — goes on and on. Rosenthal claims to oppose decisions taken by governments without balanced, negotiated political processes. But if this were really true, he would understand the need to bring Israeli officials and military officers responsible for such crimes to the International Criminal Court in The Hague instead of defending
Israel’s actions in The Jerusalem Post.

Yet Rosenthal not only defends Israel in the Israeli press; he is also doing so under the auspices of, and with the responsibilities endowed to him by, his own parliament. Indeed, as The Jerusalem Post states, “Rosenthal, who is Jewish and married to an Israeli, was characterized recently by Czech Foreign Minister Karl Schwartzenberg as one of the two most active supporters of Israel among EU foreign ministers.” And he defines himself as “among the ones” in the EU who “regularly try to warn against unnecessary inflammatory language” and its “disproportionate” application to Israel. He recommends a “restrained attitude” to his EU partners when it comes to potential initiatives regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict; he staunchly disagrees with the suggestion that Israel’s image within the EU is “the lowest it has been in decades,” saying that there are many “balanced conclusions vis-a-vis the Middle East peace process.”

Such “restraint” not only condones policies that flagrantly violate international law and human rights, then, but also seeks to prohibit other EU countries from engaging in positive, proactive initiatives that might bring the conflict closer to an end. He is an influential proponent of the increasingly hypocritical EU stance on the Israeli occupation. This stance praises the meaningless concessions wrung out of diplomatic efforts (as Rosenthal praises Israel for becoming more “lenient” with respect to goods from Gaza, at the urging of the Dutch government) without recognizing that these band-aids only serve to prolong our occupation and subjugation.

Moreover, by defending Israel’s injustices through public office, Rosenthal thus makes his own country a partner in their perpetuation. The Dutch people are well-admired throughout the world as prioritizing human rights and international law; they, then, are being damaged and degraded by Rosenthal’s audacity. The Dutch people must know that their foreign minister is sacrificing the image of The Netherlands for the sake of Israel — that he is working hard to represent Israel’s interests while tarnishing those of his own country — and they should reject this insult, this injury.

While Rosenthal describes part of his work as to “warn” against “unnecessary inflammatory language” toward the Israeli state, this actually amounts to a justification of the government’s right to censor, repress criticism and create political blacklists. Rosenthal’s rhetoric and policies go hand-in-hand with those of Zionist lobbies like NGO Monitor and CIDI (The Center for Information and Documentation on Israel), which bully, harass and defame civil society groups exposing the truth about the Israeli occupation and human rights abuses. (It is worth mentioning that a CIDI board member, Doron Livnat, is the director of Riwal, a European company that produces access equipment and rents large-scale cranes for construction sites, and which has assisted in building the wall and illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank. Riwal’s headquarters in Dordrecht, Netherlands, was raided and searched by the Dutch National Crime Squad after Al-Haq, a Palestinian human rights group, levied criminal complaints against its activities.)

For instance, NGO Monitor recently slammed ICCO, a Dutch international development organization, for financing The Electronic Intifada. (ICCO is also under fire from CIDI for supporting the Olive Tree Campaign “Keep Hope Alive,” realized by the YMCA/YWCA Joint Advocacy Initiative. NGO Monitor vilified The Electronic Intifada and condemned ICCO by association. Rosenthal’s response? “I will look into the matter personally,” he said. If ICCO’s funding proves to be true, “it will have a serious problem with me,” he warned.

Is this the level that Rosenthal — not to mention the lobbies who share his tactics of finger-pointing, threats and repression — has stooped to? Persecuting organizations and publications that support human rights and social justice for Palestinians as “delegitimizing” and “anti-Semitic,” publicly smearing them and seeking to sabotage not only their work but also their rights to free speech and free press? This is an appalling position for a democratic representative to have, ostensibly part of an apparatus designed to uphold those rights in the first place.

These targeted campaigns led by European lobbies against Palestinian and Israeli nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), publications and advocacy groups are particularly chilling in light of similar campaigns being initiated in the Israeli Knesset: specifically, its moves to establish a committee for investigating the funding sources of certain (politically targeted) NGOs. In his interview with The Jerusalem Post, Rosenthal declined to comment on whether this initiative was “undemocratic,” saying “There is no reason to hide anything. I am in favor of transparency,” and “a vivid and lively civil society, where NGOs are a part of it, is very important.”

Rosenthal’s ongoing contradictions, and their echo within the policies of European governments, are astonishing. He claims to support transparency, not to mention the vividness and liveliness of civil society, while only acting repressively against groups and individuals he disagrees with. He says, free of irony, that the presence of NGOs in civil society is “very important,” when he supports a smear campaign against NGOs in his own civil society. And he praises the ideals of civil society itself while simultaneously practicing another campaign — silence — when it comes to Israel’s repression of the NGOs whose existence he finds so valuable in abstract.

Foreign Minister Rosenthal’s pronouncements on the Israeli government are so blind, so brazen, so hypocritical and so unjust that I am sometimes surprised he can utter them comfortably in his own name. But when we consider his vocal and prominent role in the parliament of his own country, and in the political arena of others’, it is especially important for all communities and individuals he attempts to represent (Jewish, Israeli, Dutch, European, etc.) to say loud and clear: “Not in our name.”

Rifat Kassis is International President of Defence for Children International (DCI) and General Director of its section in Palestine. He is also Coordinator and Spokesperson of Kairos Palestine – A Moment of Truth.

EDITOR: Israel is joining the regional wave of delusional leaders

The last few weeks have proven beyond any doubt that most of the rulers in the Middle East are not just brutal tyrants, but are also not connected to the real world, living in a separate, delusional layer of their own projections. Below is proof that Israel is part of this trend.

Deputy FM warns Islamist regimes could take over Arab world: Haaretz

Danny Ayalon warns that the anti-government uprisings in Arab countries could follow model of ‘Hamas in Gaza’ and ‘Hezbollah in Lebanon.’

Democratic uprisings that have already unseated long-standing autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt and are threatening to topple Moammar Gadhafi in Libya may be taken over by Islamist groups, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said Tuesday.

“The fear is that they will be hijacked, (following the) the model of Iran, the model of Hamas in Gaza, the model of Hezbollah in Lebanon,” Ayalon said during a visit to Brussels.

To stave off an Iran-like scenario, Ayalon urged the European Union and other international players to reach out to “genuine” pro- democracy groups, such as the January 25 movement that organized protests in Egypt.

Egypt’s largest opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, described his comments as “a blatant and clear event of interference in foreign affairs.”

Ayalon suggests “Israel would object to the Muslim Brotherhood being part of a future government and would work on banning the group from standing in any upcoming elections.”

In a statement on their website, the group also said it had “long renounced violence.”

The deputy FM said Israel would have no qualms with dealing with an Egyptian government supported by the Muslim Brotherhood, as long as the party renounced its radicalism.

“For us it is not a matter of titles, it is a matter of policies, and if the policies are peaceful policies, I think that we will welcome any Egyptian representative,” Ayalon said.

Ayalon, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States and foreign policy advisor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said the uprisings proved that the Arab-Israeli conflict was not the most serious issue for the region.

“The real major problem of the Middle East, which is now so glaringly evident, is the dysfunctionality of the Arab societies,” he said, pointing to unemployment, illiteracy, poverty, lack of female empowerment and “rights of any kind.”

Rebels form military council in Libya’s Benghazi: Ahram online

Anti-Gaddafi forces form military council in the East and defend city in the West. Int’l pressure steps up as Gaddafi plans more attacks, using elite squad

Defected Libyan soldiers stand guard with their weapons outside an army base in the eastern town of Ajdabiya, Libya, (AP).
Anti-regime leaders in Benghazi said Tuesday they have formed a military council in the eastern Libyan city which has become the hub of efforts to topple Moammar Gaddafi.

The council, comprising officers who joined protesters against Gaddafi’s rule, will liaise with similar groups in other freed cities in the east but it was not immediately clear if there were plans for a regional command.

“A military council was formed last night,” said Salwa Bughaighi, a member of a coalition of organisers who earlier this week set up a civilian council to run the city’s municipal affairs.

She said the list of members of the military committee had not yet been finalised but it did not include General Abdel Fatah Yunis, a former interior minister who sided with protesters in Benghazi.

The former minister gained respect among any protesters after he defected to their side during the fighting in Benghazi.

The council would liaise with similar organisations in other freed cities in the east, Bughaighi said.
Fathi Terbeel, a prominent lawyer who is also a member of the coalition, said there were still disputes over the membership of the council and added it was still unclear when a regional command would be established.

“There are still reservations over the names. The people are favouring officers who joined the revolution from the start and did not hesitate,” he said.

Gaddafi faces growing pressure both at home and from the West following a show of defiance by the veteran leader the US dubbed “delusional.”

Pro-Gaddafi loyalists tried to retake a key city near the capital overnight.

Government opponents in rebel-held Zawiya repelled an attempt by forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi to retake the city closest to the capital in six hours of fighting overnight, witnesses said Tuesday.

The rebels, who include mutinous army forces, are armed with tanks, machine guns and anti-aircraft guns. They fought back pro-Gaddafi troops, armed with the same weapons, who attacked from six directions. There was no word on casualties in Zawiya, 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of Tripoli.

A similar attempt was made by pro-Gadhafi forces Monday night to retake the city of Misrata, Libya’s third-largest city 125 miles (200 kilometers) east of Tripoli. Rebel forces there repelled the attackers.

“We will not give up Zawiya at any price,” said one witness. “We know it is significant strategically. They will fight to get it, but we will not give up. We managed to defeat them because our spirits are high and their spirits are zero.”

Gaddafi, Libya’s ruler of 41 years, has already lost control of the eastern half of the country since protests demanding his ouster began two weeks ago. He still holds the capital Tripoli and nearby cities.

The witnesses said youths from Zawiya were stationed on the rooftops of high-rise buildings in the city to monitor the movements of the pro-Gaddafi forces and sound the warning if they though an attack was imminent. They also spoke about generous offers of cash by the regime for the rebels to hand control of the city back to authorities.

Gaddafi has launched the most brutal crackdown of any Arab regime facing a wave of anti-government uprisings spreading quickly around the Middle East. International pressure to end the crackdown has escalated dramatically in the past few days.

The US moved naval and air forces closer to Libya on Monday and said all options were open, including patrols of the North African nation’s skies to protect its citizens from their ruler.

France said it would fly aid to the opposition-controlled eastern half of the country. The European Union imposed an arms embargo and other sanctions, following the lead of the US and the UN. The EU was also considering the creation of a no-fly zone over Libya. And the US and Europe were freezing billions in Libya’s foreign assets.

“Gaddafi has lost the legitimacy to govern, and it is time for him to go without further violence or delay,” US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said. “No option is off the table. That of course includes a no-fly zone,” she added. British Prime Minister David Cameron told lawmakers: “We do not in any way rule out the use of military assets” to deal with Gaddafi’s regime.

Gaddafi laughed off a question from ABC News about whether he would step down, as the Obama administration is demanding.

“My people love me. They would die for me,” he said. ABC reported that Gaddafi invited the United Nations or any other organisation to Libya on a fact-finding mission.

Gaddafi’s remarks were met with derision in Washington.

“It sounds, just frankly, delusional,” said US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice. She added that Gaddafi’s behavior, including laughing on camera in TV interviews amid the chaos, “underscores how unfit he is to lead and how disconnected he is from reality.”

On Monday night, an Associated Press reporter saw a large, pro-Gaddafi force massed on the western edge of Zawiya, with about a dozen armored vehicles along with tanks and jeeps mounted with anti-aircraft guns.

An officer said they were from the elite Khamis Brigade, named after one of Gaddafi’s sons who commands it. US diplomats have said the brigade is the best-equipped force in Libya.

“We were able to repulse the attack. We damaged a tank with an RPG. The mercenaries fled after that,” said a resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of government reprisals.

He said Gaddafi called Zawiya’s influential tribal leader Mohammed al-Maktouf and warned him that if the rebels don’t leave the city’s main square by early Tuesday, they will be hit by warplanes. “We are expecting a major battle,” the resident said, adding that the rebels killed eight soldiers and mercenaries Monday.

Another resident of Zawiya said he heard gunfire well into the night on the outskirts of town.

In Misrata, pro-Gadhafi troops who control part of an air base on the city’s outskirts tried to advance Monday. But they were repulsed by opposition forces, who included residents with automatic weapons and defected army units allied with them, one of the opposition fighters said.

No casualties were reported and the fighter claimed that his side had captured eight soldiers, including a senior officer.

The opposition controls most of the air base, and the fighter said dozens of anti-Gaddafi gunmen have arrived from farther east in recent days as reinforcements.

An Empire of Lies: Counterpunch

Why Our Media Betray Us
By JONATHAN COOK, February 28, 2011
Last week the Guardian, Britain’s main liberal newspaper, ran an exclusive report on the belated confessions of an Iraqi exile, Rafeed al-Janabi, codenamed “Curveball” by the CIA. Eight years ago, Janabi played a key behind-the-scenes role — if an inadvertent one — in making possible the US invasion of Iraq. His testimony bolstered claims by the Bush administration that Iraq’s president, Saddam Hussein, had developed an advanced programme producing weapons of mass destruction.

Curveball’s account included the details of mobile biological weapons trucks presented by Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, to the United Nations in early 2003. Powell’s apparently compelling case on WMD was used to justify the US attack on Iraq a few weeks later.

Eight years on, Curveball revealed to the Guardian that he had fabricated the story of Saddam’s WMD back in 2000, shortly after his arrival in Germany seeking asylum. He told the paper he had lied to German intelligence in the hope his testimony might help topple Saddam, though it seems more likely he simply wanted to ensure his asylum case was taken more seriously.

For the careful reader — and I stress the word careful — several disturbing facts emerged from the report.

One was that the German authorities had quickly proven his account of Iraq’s WMD to be false. Both German and British intelligence had travelled to Dubai to meet Bassil Latif, his former boss at Iraq’s Military Industries Commission. Dr Latif had proven that Curveball’s claims could not be true. The German authorities quickly lost interest in Janabi and he was not interviewed again until late 2002, when it became more pressing for the US to make a convincing case for an attack on Iraq.

Another interesting disclosure was that, despite the vital need to get straight all the facts about Curveball’s testimony — given the stakes involved in launching a pre-emptive strike against another sovereign state — the Americans never bothered to interview Curveball themselves.

A third revelation was that the CIA’s head of operations in Europe, Tyler Drumheller, passed on warnings from German intelligence that they considered Curveball’s testimony to be highly dubious. The head of the CIA, George Tenet, simply ignored the advice.

With Curveball’s admission in mind, as well as these other facts from the story, we can draw some obvious conclusions — conclusions confirmed by subsequent developments.

Lacking both grounds in international law and the backing of major allies, the Bush administration desperately needed Janabi’s story about WMD, however discredited it was, to justify its military plans for Iraq. The White House did not interview Curveball because they knew his account of Saddam’s WMD programme was made up. His story would unravel under scrutiny; better to leave Washington with the option of “plausible deniability”.

Nonetheless, Janabi’s falsified account was vitally useful: for much of the American public, it added a veneer of credibility to the implausible case that Saddam was a danger to the world; it helped fortify wavering allies facing their own doubting publics; and it brought on board Colin Powell, a former general seen as the main voice of reason in the administration.

In other words, Bush’s White House used Curveball to breathe life into its mythological story about Saddam’s threat to world peace.

So how did the Guardian, a bastion of liberal journalism, present its exclusive on the most controversial episode in recent American foreign policy?

Here is its headline: “How US was duped by Iraqi fantasist looking to topple Saddam”.

Did the headline-writer misunderstand the story as written by the paper’s reporters? No, the headline neatly encapsulated its message. In the text, we are told Powell’s presentation to the UN “revealed that the Bush administration’s hawkish decisionmakers had swallowed” Curveball’s account. At another point, we are told Janabi “pulled off one of the greatest confidence tricks in the history of modern intelligence”. And that: “His critics — who are many and powerful — say the cost of his deception is too difficult to estimate.”

In other words, the Guardian assumed, despite all the evidence uncovered in its own research, that Curveball misled the Bush administration into making a disastrous miscalculation. On this view, the White House was the real victim of Curveball’s lies, not the Iraqi people — more than a million of whom are dead as a result of the invasion, according to the best available figures, and four million of whom have been forced into exile.

There is nothing exceptional about this example. I chose it because it relates to an event of continuing and momentous significance.

Unfortunately, there is something depressingly familiar about this kind of reporting, even in the West’s main liberal publications. Contrary to its avowed aim, mainstream journalism invariably diminishes the impact of new events when they threaten powerful elites.

We will examine why in a minute. But first let us consider what, or who, constitutes “empire” today? Certainly, in its most symbolic form, it can be identified as the US government and its army, comprising the world’s sole superpower.

Traditionally, empires have been defined narrowly, in terms of a strong nation-state that successfully expands its sphere of influence and power to other territories. Empire’s aim is to make those territories dependent, and then either exploit their resources in the case of poorly developed countries, or, with more developed countries, turn them into new markets for its surplus goods. It is in this latter sense that the American empire has often been able to claim that it is a force for global good, helping to spread freedom and the benefits of consumer culture.

Empire achieves its aims in different ways: through force, such as conquest, when dealing with populations resistant to the theft of their resources; and more subtly through political and economic interference, persuasion and mind-control when it wants to create new markets. However it works, the aim is to create a sense in the dependent territories that their interests and fates are bound to those of empire.

In our globalised world, the question of who is at the centre of empire is much less clear than it once was. The US government is today less the heart of empire than its enabler. What were until recently the arms of empire, especially the financial and military industries, have become a transnational imperial elite whose interests are not bound by borders and whose powers largely evade legislative and moral controls.

Israel’s leadership, we should note, as well its elite supporters around the world — including the Zionist lobbies, the arms manufacturers and Western militaries, and to a degree even the crumbling Arab tyrannies of the Middle East — are an integral element in that transnational elite.

The imperial elites’ success depends to a large extent on a shared belief among the western public both that “we” need them to secure our livelihoods and security and that at the same time we are really their masters. Some of the necessary illusions perpetuated by the transnational elites include:

— That we elect governments whose job is to restrain the corporations;
— That we, in particular, and the global workforce in general are the chief beneficiaries of the corporations’ wealth creation;
— That the corporations and the ideology that underpins them, global capitalism, are the only hope for freedom;
— That consumption is not only an expression of our freedom but also a major source of our happiness;
— That economic growth can be maintained indefinitely and at no long-term cost to the health of the planet;
— And that there are groups, called terrorists, who want to destroy this benevolent system of wealth creation and personal improvement.

These assumptions, however fanciful they may appear when subjected to scrutiny, are the ideological bedrock on which the narratives of our societies in the West are constructed and from which ultimately our sense of identity derives. This ideological system appears to us — and I am using “we” and “us” to refer to western publics only — to describe the natural order.

The job of sanctifying these assumptions — and ensuring they are not scrutinised — falls to our mainstream media. Western corporations own the media, and their advertising makes the industry profitable. In this sense, the media cannot fulfil the function of watchdog of power, because in fact it is power. It is the power of the globalised elite to control and limit the ideological and imaginative horizons of the media’s readers and viewers. It does so to ensure that imperial interests, which are synonymous with those of the corporations, are not threatened.

The Curveball story neatly illustrates the media’s role.

His confession has come too late — eight years too late, to be precise — to have any impact on the events that matter. As happens so often with important stories that challenge elite interests, the facts vitally needed to allow western publics to reach informed conclusions were not available when they were needed. In this case, Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld are gone, as are their neoconservative advisers. Curveball’s story is now chiefly of interest to historians.

That last point is quite literally true. The Guardian’s revelations were of almost no concern to the US media, the supposed watchdog at the heart of the US empire. A search of the Lexis Nexis media database shows that Curveball’s admissions featured only in the New York Times, in a brief report on page 7, as well as in a news round-up in the Washington Times. The dozens of other major US newspapers, including the Washington Post, made no mention of it at all.

Instead, the main audience for the story outside the UK was the readers of India’s Hindu newspaper and the Khaleej Times.

But even the Guardian, often regarded as fearless in taking on powerful interests, packaged its report in such a way as to deprive Curveball’s confession of its true value. The facts were bled of their real significance. The presentation ensured that only the most aware readers would have understood that the US had not been duped by Curveball, but rather that the White House had exploited a “fantasist” — or desperate exile from a brutal regime, depending on how one looks at it — for its own illegal and immoral ends.

Why did the Guardian miss the main point in its own exclusive? The reason is that all our mainstream media, however liberal, take as their starting point the idea both that the West’s political culture is inherently benevolent and that it is morally superior to all existing, or conceivable, alternative systems.

In reporting and commentary, this is demonstrated most clearly in the idea that “our” leaders always act in good faith, whereas “their” leaders — those opposed to empire or its interests — are driven by base or evil motives.

It is in this way that official enemies, such as Saddam Hussein or Slobodan Milosevic, can be singled out as personifying the crazed or evil dictator — while other equally rogue regimes such as Saudi Arabia’s are described as “moderate” — opening the way for their countries to become targets of our own imperial strategies.

States selected for the “embrace” of empire are left with a stark choice: accept our terms of surrender and become an ally; or defy empire and face our wrath.

When the corporate elites trample on other peoples and states to advance their own selfish interests, such as in the invasion of Iraq to control its resources, our dominant media cannot allow its reporting to frame the events honestly. The continuing assumption in liberal commentary about the US attack on Iraq, for example, is that, once no WMD were found, the Bush administration remained to pursue a misguided effort to root out the terrorists, restore law and order, and spread democracy.

For the western media, our leaders make mistakes, they are naïve or even stupid, but they are never bad or evil. Our media do not call for Bush or Blair to be tried at the Hague as war criminals.

This, of course, does not mean that the western media is Pravda, the propaganda mouthpiece of the old Soviet empire. There are differences. Dissent is possible, though it must remain within the relatively narrow confines of “reasonable” debate, a spectrum of possible thought that accepts unreservedly the presumption that we are better, more moral, than them.

Similarly, journalists are rarely told — at least, not directly — what to write. The media have developed careful selection processes and hierarchies among their editorial staff — termed “filters” by media critics Ed Herman and Noam Chomsky — to ensure that dissenting or truly independent journalists do not reach positions of real influence.

There is, in other words, no simple party line. There are competing elites and corporations, and their voices are reflected in the narrow range of what we term commentary and opinion. Rather than being dictated to by party officials, as happened under the Soviet system, our journalists scramble for access, to be admitted into the ante-chambers of power. These privileges make careers but they come at a huge cost to the reporters’ independence.

Nonetheless, the range of what is permissible is slowly expanding — over the opposition of the elites and our mainstream TV and press. The reason is to be found in the new media, which is gradually eroding the monopoly long enjoyed by the corporate media to control the spread of information and popular ideas. Wikileaks is so far the most obvious, and impressive, outcome of that trend.

The consequences are already tangible across the Middle East, which has suffered disproportionately under the oppressive rule of empire. The upheavals as Arab publics struggle to shake off their tyrants are also stripping bare some of the illusions the western media have peddled to us. Empire, we have been told, wants democracy and freedom around the globe. And yet it is caught mute and impassive as the henchmen of empire unleash US-made weapons against their peoples who are demanding western-style freedoms.

An important question is: how will our media respond to this exposure, not just of our politicians’ hypocrisy but also of their own? They are already trying to co-opt the new media, including Wikileaks, but without real success. They are also starting to allow a wider range of debate, though still heavily constrained, than had been possible before.

The West’s version of glasnost is particularly obvious in the coverage of the problem closest to our hearts here in Palestine. What Israel terms a delegitimisation campaign is really the opening up — slightly — of the media landscape, to allow a little light where until recently darkness reigned.

This is an opportunity and one that we must nurture. We must demand of the corporate media more honesty; we must shame them by being better-informed than the hacks who recycle official press releases and clamour for access; and we must desert them, as is already happening, for better sources of information.

We have a window. And we must force it open before the elites of empire try to slam it shut.

This is the text of a talk entitled “Media as a Tool of Empire” delivered to Sabeel, the Ecumenical Liberation Theology Centre, at its eighth international conference in Bethlehem on Friday February 25.

Rebel-held city near Tripoli celebrates battle win: The Independent

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Residents of the rebel-held city closest to Libya’s capital passed out sweets and cold drinks to fighters today and celebrated with a victory march after they managed to repel an overnight attack by pro-Gaddafi forces.

“Allahu Akbar (God is Great) for our victory,” residents of Zawiya chanted as they paraded through the city’s main square. Some carried on their shoulders an air force colonel they said had just defected to the rebels’ side.

Witnesses said pro-Gaddafi forces battled rebels for six hours overnight but could not retake control of the city 30 miles west of Tripoli. They said there the last of several assaults by the Gaddafi loyalists came at around 3am.

“We were worried about air raids but that did not happen,” said one resident.

The Zawiya rebels, who include mutinous army forces, are armed with tanks, machine guns and anti-aircraft guns. They fought back pro-Gaddafi troops, armed with the same weapons, who attacked from six directions. There was no word on casualties.

“We will not give up Zawiya at any price,” said one witness. “We know it is significant strategically. They will fight to get it, but we will not give up. We managed to defeat them because our spirits are high and their spirits are zero.”

The witnesses in Zawiya said youths from the city were stationed on the rooftops of high-rise buildings in the city to monitor the movements of the pro-Gaddafi forces and sound the warning if they though an attack was imminent. They also spoke about generous offers of cash by the regime for the rebels to hand control of the city back to authorities.

Since the revolt against Gaddafi’s 41-year-old rule began two weeks ago, his regime has launched the harshest crackdown in the Arab world where authoritarian rulers are facing an unprecedented wave of uprisings. Gaddafi has already lost control of the eastern half of the country and at least two cities close to the capital — Zawiya and Misrata. He still holds the capital Tripoli and other nearby cities.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR says more than 110,000 people, mainly foreign migrants, have fled Libya to neighbouring countries and thousands more are arriving at the borders.

International pressure to end the crackdown has escalated dramatically in the past few days. The US moved naval and air forces closer to Libya on Monday and said all options were open, including patrols of the North African nation’s skies to protect its citizens from their ruler. The Obama administration is demanding that Gaddafi relinquish power immediately.

France said it would fly aid to the opposition-controlled eastern half of the country. The European Union imposed an arms embargo and other sanctions, following the lead of the US and the UN The EU was also considering the creation of a no-fly zone over Libya. And the US and Europe were freezing billions in Libya’s foreign assets.

Pro-Gaddafi forces also tried on Monday night to retake opposition-held Misrata, Libya’s third-largest city 125 miles east of Tripoli. Rebel forces there also repelled the attackers.

In Misrata, pro-Gaddafi troops who control part of an air base on the city’s outskirts tried to advance on Monday. But they were repulsed by opposition forces, who included residents with automatic weapons and defected army units allied with them, one of the opposition fighters said.

No casualties were reported and the fighter claimed that his side had captured eight soldiers, including a senior officer.

The opposition controls most of the air base, and the fighter said dozens of anti-Gaddafi gunmen have arrived from farther east in recent days as reinforcements.

In Zawiya, an Associated Press reporter saw a large, pro-Gaddafi force massed on the western edge of the city on Monday night, with about a dozen armoured vehicles along with tanks and jeeps mounted with anti-aircraft guns.

An officer said they were from the elite Khamis Brigade, named after one of Gadhafi’s sons who commands it. US diplomats have said the brigade is the best-equipped force in Libya.

“We were able to repulse the attack. We damaged a tank with an RPG. The mercenaries fled after that,” said a resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of government reprisals.

He said Gaddafi called Zawiya’s influential tribal leader Mohammed al-Maktouf and had warned him that if the rebels don’t leave the city’s main square by early today, they will be hit by warplanes.

Residents of Tripoli said the city was calm today but that some residents were anxious over what is seen there as a growing chance of foreign intervention.

“People are worried about foreign intervention,” said one resident. “Many Libyans see this as a conspiracy that will lead into dividing Libya to an eastern and western sectors. There will be massacres.”

Today, Gaddafi’s regime sought to show that it was the country’s only legitimate authority and that it continued to feel compassion for areas in the east that fell under the control of its opponents.

A total of 18 trucks loaded with rice, wheat-flour, sugar and eggs left Tripoli for Benghazi, the country’s second largest city 620 miles east of the capital. Also in the convoy were two refrigerated cars carrying medical supplies.

The convoy was met with a small pro-Gaddafi demonstration as it made its way out of Tripoli. “God, Gaddafi, Libya and that’s it,” chanted the demonstrators.

“The state is very generous with the people,” said 22-year-old Ahmed Mahmoud as he watched the convoy.

In Benghazi, the epicentre of the opposition-controlled east, activists said they had no objection to the imposition of a no-fly zone over eastern Libya, but were divided whether to accept relief from the Gaddafi regime.

“Gaddafi’s air force is a serious threat to us,” said lawyer Nasser Bin Nour. “We will welcome a no-fly zone on Gaddafi’s warplanes over the whole of Libya. The only thing we object to is foreign troops on Libyan soil.” said Bin Nour, who said many in the city would not oppose shelling the positions of pro-Gaddafi forces by foreign warships or planes.

Another Benghazi activist, Najlaa al-Manqoush, echoed Bin Nour’s comments on foreign aid, but pointed out that accept the relief supplies sent today by the regime would help Gaddafi’s propaganda machine.

“We reject any attempt by the regime to beautify its image in the media,” she said. “We are much smarter than that. We accept all the aid they send us from friendly nations, but not from Gaddafi.”

 

Permalink Print

February 27, 2011

EDITOR: How much longer for the Butcher of Tripoli?

 

All around Gaddafi, his trusted henchmen are deserting him, despite having worked for him for long decades. While one may well question their sudden democratic zeal, it is clear they know a sinking ship when they see one… His days must now be numbered, but the danger he poses to his countrymen is all the more potent, as he now knows that he is finished, with nothing much to lose but his head.

Gaddafi’s defectors denounce ‘government of Mussolini and Hitler': BBC

Some of the former Libyan ministers and diplomats who have turned on the regime of Muammar Gaddafi

Libya's envoy to the United Nations, Abdel Rahman Shalgam, is embraced by his deputy after denouncing Gaddafi. Photograph: Jason Szenes/EPA

Abdurrahman Shalgham, Libyan ambassador to the United Nations

Previously a Gaddafi loyalist and a long-standing friend of the dictator, Shalgham pleaded with the security council to “save Libya” from its leader.

He said he “could not believe” Muammar Gaddafi’s troops were firing on the protesters, and backed sanctions against him. In an impassioned speech, he said the protesters were asking for their rights. “They did not throw a single stone and they were killed. I tell my brother Gaddafi: leave the Libyans alone.” When Shalgham finished addressing the security council, he was embraced by his weeping deputy, Ibrahim Dabbashi, another former Gadaffi loyalist, who had defected days earlier. Dabbashi described Gadaffi as a “madman” who would never resign.

General Abdel Fattah Younes al-Abidi, former interior minister

Al-Abidi was sent to Benghazi to ensure the suppression of the protests. Instead, he rang Gaddafi and persuaded him not to use warplanes to crush the rebels. Since al-Abidi had responsibility for training the regime’s elite forces, his announcement was a severe blow to Gaddafi.

An apparent assassination attempt persuaded the general to join the uprising, saying: “I hereby announce that I have abandoned all my duties to respond to the 17 February revolution.”

Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, former justice minister

Resigned last week and said he expected Gaddafi to make good on his pledge to die on Libyan soil. “Gaddafi’s days are numbered,” he said. “He will do what Hitler did – he will take his own life.” He also told a Swedish newspaper that he knew that Gaddafi was employing foreign mercenaries. “I knew that the regime had mercenaries before the uprising,” he said. “The government decided in several meetings to grant citizenship to the [mercenaries] from Chad and Niger. That was something that I objected to.”

Abdel-Jalil claims he has proof that Gaddafi personally ordered Abdelbaset al-Megrahi to carry out the Lockerbie attack in 1988. Libyan efforts to get al-Megrahi home in 2009 were motivated primarily by Gaddafi’s desire to “hide” the truth ahead of the bomber’s appeal against his sentence, he said.

Suleiman Aujali, Libyan ambassador to the United States

Resigned last Tuesday, saying: “I am resigning from serving the regime I am serving, but not resigning from serving our people. They need me to be around to get the international community to raise their voice, to stop this massacre.” Aujali was made ambassador to the US on 6 January 2009. In September 2009, he defended the transfer of al-Megrahi from Scotland to Libya, arguing that most Libyans thought he was falsely convicted.

Two other Libyans have also resigned from the Washington DC mission, according to al-Jazeera. Saleh Ali al-Majbari and Jumaa Faris denounced Gaddafi, saying he “bears responsibility for genocide against the Libyan people in which he has used mercenaries”.

Mohamed Salaheddine Zarem, Libya’s ambassador to France, and Abdulsalam el-Qallali, the ambassador to Unesco

Both have also resigned. El-Qallali said: “We condemn the repression taking place in Libya and the extreme violence carried out by militia security forces against peaceful protesters who only demand freedom and dignity. We confirm our support for the revolution.”

Ali al-Essawi, Libyan ambassador to India

Resigned after condemning the use of foreign mercenaries to quell protests.

Abdel Moneim al-Huny, Libya’s permanent representative in the Arab League

Announced resignation last Sunday. Al-Huny said Gaddafi, his commanders and aides should be put on trial for “the mass killings in Libya”. He said: “Gaddafi’s regime is now in the dustbin of history because he betrayed his nation and his people.”

Hussein el-Sadek el-Mesrati, senior Libyan diplomat in Beijing

Told Al-Jazeera: “I resigned from representing the government of Mussolini and Hitler.”

Air force pilots

Two Libyan pilots defected to Malta by landing their Mirage F1 fighter jets on the island after disobeying orders to attack protesters in Benghazi.

Interim Libyan govt wins support: Al Jazeera online

“Caretaker administration” led by former justice minister gains the endorsement of the Libyan envoys to the UN and US.

27 Feb 2011

Ali Aujali, Libya’s ambassador to the United States, has said that he supports the interim government being formed in Benghazi by the country’s former minister of justice.

Aujali said on Saturday the caretaker administration, which announced it would lead the country for three months to prepare for elections, was “the government for the whole of Libya”.

“We want to support this government as the caretaker government until the liberation of all of Libya, which I hope will happen very soon,” he said.

Libya’s deputy UN ambassador, Ibrahim Dabbashi, also said on Saturday that his delegation supported “in principle” Abud Ajleil’s caretaker government.

“In principle we support this government,” Dabbashi, one of the first Libyan diplomats to denounce Gaddafi, told Reuters. “We are seeking more information about it, but yes, I think we support it.”

Former Libyan justice minister Mustafa Mohamed Abdel Jalil – who resigned from Gaddafi’s cabinet on Monday in protest at the killing of protesters – earlier told Al Jazeera he had led the formation of an interim government based in Benghazi, Libya’s second city, in the eastern part of the country now largely free of Gaddafi’s control.

He said the transitional government “has military and civilian personalities”.

“It will lead for no more than three months – and then there will be fair elections and the people will choose their leader,” he said.

Aujali, a veteran Libyan diplomat, praised Abdel Jalil.

“He is a very honest man. He was in charge of the justice issue in the eastern part of Libya when the regime asked him to hang an innocent Libyan citizen and he refused,” Aujali said.

“I am sure he will gain support of all Libyans and of the international community,” he added.

The Guardian, February 26 2011, by Martin Rowson

Libya: UN Security Council votes sanctions on Gaddafi: BBC

The UN Security Council has voted unanimously to impose sanctions on Muammar Gaddafi’s Libyan regime for its attempts to put down an uprising.

They backed an arms embargo and asset freeze while referring Col Gaddafi to the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity.

US President Barack Obama has said the Libyan leader should step down and leave the country immediately.

He still controls Tripoli, but eastern Libya has fallen to the uprising.

Discussions on forming an anti-Gaddafi transitional government are reportedly under way.

Sanctions
Mustafa Abdel-Jalil – who resigned as justice minister in protest against the excessive use of force against demonstrators – said a body comprising military and civilian figures would prepare for elections within three months, Libya’s privately-owned Quryna newspaper reported.

Libya’s ambassadors to the United States and UN have both reportedly voiced their support for the plan, which was being discussed in the rebel-controlled eastern town of Benghazi.

The UN estimates more than 1,000 people have died as Col Gadddafi’s regime attempted to quell the 10-day-old revolt.

Saturday night’s vote was only the second time the Security Council has referred a country to the ICC, and the first time such a vote has been unanimous.

The most controversial debate over the Libya resolution was whether to refer the government crackdown to the ICC for an investigation.

This is a very sensitive issue: some Council members view the ICC as a threat to national sovereignty, and worry that referrals may set a precedent which could be used against them.

A day of intense negotiations saw three positions emerge: Strong opponents (China), strong advocates (UK, France and Germany) and those in between (almost everyone else).

The middle ground eventually swung behind the proposal, leaving China the only holdout. In the end Beijing joined the consensus.

The Council has only referred one other country to the ICC (Sudan in 2005) and that vote was not unanimous. Analysts said the speed and strength of Saturday’s decision was due to reports of excessive regime brutality in Libya.

Strong condemnations by the Arab League and African Union also had influence, as did clear support for the ICC referral from Libya’s UN Mission.

Afterwards, Libya’s deputy UN envoy said the sanctions would give “moral support” to the anti-Gaddafi protesters.

“[The sanctions] will help put an end to this fascist regime which is still in existence in Tripoli,” said Ibrahim Dabbashi, who declared his opposition to Col Gaddafi at the start of the week.

The Libyan delegation at the UN had sent a letter to the Council backing measures to hold to account those responsible for armed attacks on Libyan civilians, including action through the International Criminal Court – which had been one of the main points of contention in the resolution.

The US has already imposed sanctions against Libya, and closed its embassy in Tripoli.

Australia says it will place sanctions on 22 individuals in Col Gaddafi’s inner circle. barring financial transactions and their entry to Australia.

Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said the move was a “concrete demonstration of Australia’s support for the people of Libya”.

Struggle for control
On Saturday, one of Col Gaddafi’s sons, Saif al-Islam, insisted that normal life was continuing in three-quarters of Libya. By contrast, anti-Gaddafi forces say they control 80% of the country.

The claims are difficult to verify but it is known that anti-Gaddafi forces control Benghazi, Libya’s second city, while the long-time leader still controls most of the capital, Tripoli, home to two million of the country’s 6.5 million population.

Tripoli was calm on Saturday, with shops open and people on the streets. Supporters of Col Gaddafi reportedly occupied central Green Square in a public show of support for the beleaguered leader.

However, in the working-class area of Tajoura, scene of protests in previous days, residents set up makeshift roadblocks composed of rocks, concrete blocks and even chopped-down palm trees in an effort to stop vehicles carrying armed Gaddafi loyalists from entering the neighbourhood.

Outside the capital, anti-Gaddafi protesters were consolidating their power in Benghazi, with leaders of the uprising establishing committees to run the city and deliver basic services.

Rebels were reportedly fighting units of the regular army in the western cities of Misrata and Zawiya.

Evacuation
Thousands of foreign nationals – many of them employed in the oil industry – continue to be evacuated from the country by air, sea and land.

On Saturday, two British military transport aircraft picked up about 150 foreign nationals in the desert south of Benghazi and flew them to the Mediterranean island of Malta.

Britain also announced it had temporarily closed its embassy in Tripoli and pulled out its staff on the last UK government-chartered aircraft because of the deteriorating security situation.

Some 10,000 people remain outside Tripoli airport’s terminal building and several thousand more are inside, says BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen, who saw piles of discarded luggage abandoned by people desperate to flee the country.

Most of those trying to leave were Egyptians, many of whom had been waiting at the airport for several days.

Thousands of Egyptians have also been streaming out of Libya over the western border to Tunisia.

The BBC’s Jim Muir, on the Tunisian side of the border, says the workers face an appalling situation, with no resources to move on and no sanitary facilities.

He says the Tunisian army aims to relocate the workers to camps but this could take weeks.

And the Tunisian government installed after Presiden Zine Abidine Ben Ali was deposed in January is preoccupied with its own affairs, our correspondent says. There were renewed anti-government protests in Tunis on Saturday in which three people were killed.

Click here to continue reading “February 27, 2011″ »

Permalink Print

February 24, 2011

EDITOR: When will Palestine arise?

The turbulence in the Arab world has so far hardly touched Palestine, despite some marches in support of the Egyptian revolution, which were brutally suppressed by the PA. When thinking about those parts which need urgent change, Palestine comes high on the list, and its people have proven many times capable of disturbing the plans of their oppressors. The open democratic structures of the first Intifada were unique for their time, and stand behind much which has taken place over recent weeks. Why then has change evaded Palestine?

In an article full on political insight and careful analysis, Ali Abunimah confronts the need for change in Palestine, and the serious obstacles on the way. What is suggested here may well be anathema for many in Palestine, but is presenting the depth of the problem, and the need to deal with it rather than tamper at the edges with makeup. This is a bold attempt at new thinking, and it should be dealt with by proper discussion of the options available to the Palestinian people in regaining their land and autonomy.

Toward Palestine’s ‘Mubarak moment’: Al Jazeera online

The Palestinian Authority should dissolve itself, as it is acting in Israel’s interest, writer says.
Ali Abunimah  24 Feb 2011

”]
The slow collapse of Palestinian collective leadership institutions in recent years has reached a crisis amid the ongoing Arab revolutions, the revelations in the Palestine Papers, and the absence of any credible peace process.

 

The Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (PA) controlled by Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah faction has attempted to respond to this crisis by calling elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) and the PA presidency.

Abbas hopes that elections could restore legitimacy to his leadership. Hamas has rejected such elections in the absence of a reconciliation agreement ending the division that resulted from Fatah’s refusal (along with Israel and the PA’s western sponsors, especially the United States) to accept the result of the last election in 2006, which Hamas decisively won.

But even if such an election were held in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, it does not resolve the crisis of collective leadership faced by the entire Palestinian people, some ten million distributed between those living in the occupied Gaza Strip and West Bank, inside Israel, and the worldwide diaspora.

A house divided

There are numerous reasons to oppose new PA elections, even if Hamas and Fatah were to sort out their differences. The experience since 2006 demonstrates that democracy, governance and normal politics are impossible under Israel’s brutal military occupation.

The Palestinian body politic was divided not into two broad political streams offering competing visions, as in other electoral democracies, but one stream that is aligned with, supported by and dependent on the occupation and its foreign sponsors, and another that remains committed, at least nominally, to resistance. These are contradictions that cannot be resolved through elections.

The Ramallah PA under Abbas today functions as an arm of the Israeli occupation, while Hamas, its cadres jailed, tortured and repressed in the West Bank by Israel and Abbas’ forces, is besieged in Gaza where it tries to govern. Meanwhile, Hamas has offered no coherent political vision to get Palestinians out of their impasse and its rule in Gaza has increasingly begun to resemble that of its Fatah counterparts in the West Bank.

The PA was created by agreement between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel under the Oslo Accords. The September 13, 1993 “Declaration of Principles” signed by the parties states that:

“The aim of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations within the current Middle East peace process is, among other things, to establish a Palestinian Interim Self-Government Authority, the elected Council (the “Council”), for the Palestinian people in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, for a transitional period not exceeding five years, leading to a permanent settlement based on Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.”

Under the agreement, PA elections would “constitute a significant interim preparatory step toward the realization of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and their just requirements”.

Small mandate

Thus, the PA was only ever intended to be temporary, transitional, and its mandate limited to a mere fraction of the Palestinian people, those in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Oslo Accords specifically limited the PA’s powers to functions delegated to it by Israel under the agreement.

Therefore, elections for the PLC will not resolve the issue of representation, for the Palestinian people as a whole. Most would not have a vote. As in previous elections, Israel would likely intervene, particularly in East Jerusalem to attempt to prevent even some Palestinians under occupation from voting.

Given all these conditions, a newly elected PLC would only serve to further entrench divisions among Palestinians while also creating the illusion that Palestinian self-governance exists — and can thrive — under Israeli occupation.

A decade and a half after its creation, the Palestinian Authority has proved not to be a step toward the “legitimate rights of the Palestinian people,” but rather a significant obstacle in the way of achieving them.

The PA offers no genuine self-government or protection for Palestinians under occupation, who continue to be victimized, killed, maimed and besieged by Israel with impunity while Israel confiscates and colonizes their land.

The PA never was and cannot be a stand-in for real collective leadership for the Palestinian people as a whole, and PA elections are not a substitute for self-determination.

Dissolving the PA

With the complete collapse of the “peace process” — the final push given by the Palestine Papers — it is time for the PA to have its Mubarak moment. When the Egyptian tyrant finally left office on February 11, he handed power over to the armed forces.

The PA should dissolve itself in a similar manner by announcing that the responsibilities delegated to it by Israel are being handed back to the occupying power, which must fulfill its duties under the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949.

This would not be a surrender. Rather, it would be a recognition of reality and an act of resistance on the part of Palestinians who would collectively refuse to continue to assist the occupier in occupying them. By removing the fig leaf of “self-governance” masking and protecting from scrutiny Israel’s colonial and military tyranny, the end of the PA would expose Israeli apartheid for all the world to see.

The same message would also go to the European Union and the United States who have been directly subsidizing Israel’s occupation and colonization through the ruse of “aid” to the Palestinians and training for security forces that act as Israeli proxies. If the European Union wishes to continue funding Israel’s occupation, it ought to have the integrity to do it openly and not use Palestinians or the peace process as a front.

Dissolving the PA may cause some hardship and uncertainty for the tens of thousands of Palestinians and their dependents, who rely on salaries paid by the European Union via the PA. But the Palestinian people as a whole — the millions who have been victimised and marginalised by Oslo — would stand to benefit much more.

Handing the PA’s delegated powers back to the occupier would free Palestinians to focus on reconstituting their collective body politic and implementing strategies to really liberate themselves from Israeli colonial rule.

New leadership

What can a real collective Palestinian leadership look like? Undoubtedly this is a tough challenge. Many older Palestinians recall fondly the heyday of the PLO. The PLO still exists, of course, but its organs have long since lost any legitimacy or representative function. They are now mere rubber stamps in the hands of Abbas and his narrow circle.

Could the PLO be reconstituted as a truly representative body by, say, electing a new Palestine National Council (PNC) — the PLO’s “parliament in exile”? Although the PNC was supposed to be elected by the Palestinian people, in reality that has never happened — in part due to the practical difficulty of actually holding elections across the Palestinian diaspora. Members were always appointed through negotiations among the various political factions and the PNC included seats for independents and representatives from student, women’s and other organizations affiliated with the PLO.

One of the key points of disagreement between Fatah and Hamas has been reform of the PLO in which Hamas would become a member and receive a proportional number of seats on the organization’s various governing bodies. But even if this happened, it would not be the same as having Palestinians choose their representatives directly.

Yet if Arab countries which host large Palestinian refugee populations undergo democratic transformations, new possibilities for Palestinian politics will open up.

In recent years, “out of country voting” facilities were provided for large Iraqi and Afghan refugee and exile populations for elections sponsored by the powers occupying those countries. In theory, it would be possible to hold elections for all Palestinians, perhaps under UN auspices — including the huge Palestinian diaspora in the Americas and Europe.

The trouble is that any such elections would probably need to rely on the goodwill and cooperation of an “international community” (the US and its allies), which has been implacably opposed to allowing Palestinians to choose their own leaders.

Would the energy and expense of running a transnational Palestinian bureaucracy be worth it? Would these new bodies be vulnerable to the sorts of subversion, cooptation, and corruption that turned the original PLO from a national liberation movement into its current sad status where it has been hijacked by a collaborationist clique?

I do not have definitive answers to these questions, but they strike me as the ones Palestinians ought now to be debating.

Inspirational boycott

In light of the Arab revolutions that were leaderless, another intriguing possibility is that at this stage Palestinians should not worry about creating representative bodies.

Instead, they should focus on powerful, decentralized resistance, particularly boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) internationally, and the popular struggle within historic Palestine.

The BDS movement does have a collective leadership in the form of the Boycott National Committee (BNC). However, this is not a leadership that issues orders and instructions Palestinians or solidarity organisations around the world. Rather, it sets an agenda reflecting a broad Palestinian consensus, and campaigns for others to work according to this agenda, largely through moral suasion.

The agenda encompasses the needs and rights of all Palestinians: ending the occupation and colonisation of all Arab territories occupied in 1967; ending all forms of discrimination against Palestinian citizens in Israel; and respecting, promoting and implementing the rights of Palestinian refugees.

The BDS campaign is powerful and growing because it is decentralized and those around the world working for the boycott of Israel — following the precedent of apartheid South Africa — are doing so independently. There is no central body for Israel and its allies to sabotage and attack.

This might be the model to follow: let us continue to build up our strength through campaigning, civil resistance and activism. Two months ago, few could have imagined that the decades old regimes of Tunisia’s Zine el Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak would fall — but fall they did under the weight of massive, broad-based popular protests. Indeed, such movements hold much greater promise to end Israel’s apartheid regime and produce a genuine, representative and democratic Palestinian leadership than the kinds of cumbersome institutions created by the Oslo Accords. The end of the peace process is only the beginning.

Ali Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, a policy advisor with the Palestinian Policy Network, and author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse.

The Courageous people of Libya, by Carlos Latuff

 

EDITOR: They have forgotten nothing, and have learnt nothing, from decades of the conflict

Israel has only one modus operandi, it seems. They know how to bomb, kill and burn, and this they do with numbing regularity. The fact that it never change anything long term is neither here nor there; they continue to do this, as if it is the only option open to them. In the end, this inability to see further than than the gunsight will bring about the fall of the Zionist empire.

IDF targets Hamas in Gaza after rocket strike on Be’er Sheva: Haaretz

Air strike reportedly targeted car belonging to Hamas in Rafah; strike comes after long-range Grad missile hit Be’er Sheva on Wednesday.

The Israeli Air Force targeted a car belonging to Hamas in the southern Gaza Strip on Thursday, one day after the town of Be’er Sheva was hit by long-range Grad rockets fired from the Strip.

Hamas officials said Israeli aircraft fired missiles at a vehicle in the Al Salaam area of Rafah, killing one person and wounding several others.

The Israeli military confirmed the airstrike and said the targets were terror operatives.

Two Grad rockets were fired at Be’er Sheva on Wednesday evening, with one of the rockets hitting a house in a residential neighborhood. This marked the first time Be’er Sheva was hit since the Gaza war in 2009.

The IDF released a statement after the retaliatory airstrike on Thursday, saying they “will not tolerate any attempt to harm Israeli civilians or IDF soldiers, and will continue to respond harshly to terror.” The statement reiterated that they hold Hamas responsible for any terrorist activity emanating from the strip.

An Israeli airstrike was also carried out on Wednesday in response to the rockets fired on Be’er Sheva. Palestinian sources reported that the airstrike in eastern Gaza City wounded three Islamic Jihad militants.

According to an IDF spokesman, the extensive overnight strike was part of the army’s aim to “determinately and forcefully defend against those who attempt to harm Israeli citizens.”

Click here to continue reading “February 24, 2011″ »

Permalink Print

February 22, 2011

EDITOR: The Butcher of Tripoli goes on the rampage

It has become crystal clear that Gaddafi, apart from being the longest surviving tyrant in the world, is also criminally insane, and capable of the most terrible atrocities if left to his own devices. He now has nothing to lose, as no government is likely to give him refuge, not even Saudi Arabia. In that situation, he will fight the whole Libyan people to the bitter end.

It may be certain that he will lose this battle, but at what cost? Isn’t the responsibility of the UN to step in and stop the massacre? This inane organisation seems unable to act on every single issue it touches, and its arcane regulations, such as those governing the Security Council, are of another age, and represent a skewed value system of the old empires. Never has there been a more urgent case to intervene in recently, but this seems totally out of the question, sadly. While Gaddafi is murdering his people, the UN is talking about sanctions.

A delirious sideshow to the mass protest in the Arab world, has been the Arms Sales Circus, headed by the trapeze artist David Cameron, and appearing in various capitals offering more armaments to all and sundry, and especially to the tyrants still left. And they will need the arms, of course, if they are to resist the people’s struggle to topple their bizarre regime. Excellent performance by Cameron and Co., all devoted to the task of selling death and destruction. Not to be missed!

The Guardian Feb 22, 2011, by Steve Bell

Defiant Gaddafi vows to fight on: Al Jazeera online

In televised speech, Libyan leader blames youths inspired by regional events for uprising and vows to die a “martyr”.
22 Feb 2011
Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, has vowed to fight on and die a “martyr”, calling on his supporters to take back the streets from protesters demanding his ouster, shouting and pounding his fist in a furious speech on state TV.

Gaddafi, clad in brown robes and turban, spoke on Tuesday from a podium set up in the entrance of a bombed-out building that appeared to be his Tripoli residence hit by US air raids in the 1980s and left unrepaired as a monument of defiance.

“I am a fighter, a revolutionary from tents … I will die as a martyr at the end,” he said.

“Muammar Gaddafi is the leader of the revolution, I am not a president to step down … This is my country. Muammar is not a president to leave his post.”

“I have not yet ordered the use of force, not yet ordered one bullet to be fired … when I do, everything will burn.”

He called on supporters to take to the streets to attack protesters. “You men and women who love Gaddafi …get out of your homes and fill the streets,” he said. “Leave your homes and attack them in their lairs … Starting tomorrow the cordons will be lifted, go out and fight them.”

Gaddafi said “peaceful protests is one thing, but armed rebellion is another”.

“From tonight to tomorrow, all the young men should form local committees for popular security,” he said, telling them to wear a green armband to identify themselves. “The Libyan people and the popular revolution will control Libya.”

The speech, which appeared to have been taped earlier, was aired on a screen to hundreds of supporters massed in Tripoli’s central Green Square.

At times the camera panned out to show a towering gold-coloured monument in front of the building, showing a fist crushing a fighter jet with an American flag on it – a view that also gave the strange image of Gaddafi speaking alone from behind a podium in the building’s dilapidated lobby, with no audience in front of him.

Speech highlights

Shouting in the rambling speech, Gaddafi declared himself “a warrior” and proclaimed: “Libya wants glory, Libya wants to be at the pinnacle, at the pinnacle of the world”.

Among the other points made by Gaddafi in his speech:

He called on the people to catch what he called drugged young people and bring them to justice.

He called on the people to “cleanse Libya house by house” unless protesters on the streets surrendered.

He warned that instability in Libya “will give al-Qaeda a base”.

He cited the examples of attack on Russian parliament and China’s crushing of the 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising, saying that the international community did not interfere.

He said he could do the same in Derna and Bayda.

He offered a new constitution starting from Wednesday, but this would come with dialogue, not by collaboration with the enemy.

He blamed the uprising on Islamists who wanted to create another Afghanistan, and warned that those in Bayda and Derna had already set up an Islamic Emirate that would reach Benghazi.

He said that the country’s youth was drugged and did not know anything; they were following the Islamists’ leader and their leaders would be punished with death in accordance with the Libyan law.

Just hours after Gaddafi’s speech, Libya’s interior minister, General Abdul-Fatah Younis, announced his defection and support for what he called the “February 17 revolution”.

In a video obtained by Al Jazeera, he was seen sitting on a his desk and reading a statement that also urged the Libyan army to join the people and their “legitimate demands”.

Gaddafis’ hidden billions: Dubai banks, plush London pads and Italian water: The Guardian

Libya’s oil wealth has been siphoned out of the country by a powerful elite – including Gaddafi and his nine children

An oil well in Shahara, Libya, 2004. Libya is Africa's fourth-largest oil producer, but analysts say much of the wealth from its reserves has been stolen. Photograph: Benjamin Lowy/Corbis

The Gaddafi family could have billions of dollars of funds hidden away in secret bank accounts in Dubai, south-east Asia and the Persian Gulf, much of it likely to have come from Libya’s vast oil revenues, according to analysis by leading Middle East experts.

Professor Tim Niblock, a specialist in Middle Eastern politics at the University of Exeter, has identified a “gap” of several billion dollars a year between the amount Libya makes from its oil reserves and government spending – a shortfall he expects has contributed greatly to the wealth of Muammar Gaddafi and his nine children.

“It is very, very difficult to work out with any degree of certainty just how much they have because the ruling elite hides it in all sorts of places,” said Niblock, who is also vice president of the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies (BRISMES). “But at the very least it would be several billion dollars, in whatever form and it could potentially be a lot higher although I wouldn’t want to predict just how much it might be.”

Alistair Newton, senior political analyst at Nomura, the Japanese bank and president of BRISMES, agreed that it was difficult to establish the extent of the Gaddafis’ wealth but said he “would be surprised if it didn’t run into billions”.

Where the Gaddafis have hidden their vast funds is anybody’s guess, although Niblock expects that most of it is “in bank accounts and liquid assets in Dubai, the Gulf and south east Asia” rather than in relatively transparent countries such as the UK, where the Libyan state has invested in London properties and in companies such as Pearson Group, owner of the Financial Times.

In addition to squirrelling away much of their income, the Gaddafis have spent fortunes over the years “propping up” various African regimes, with Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, widely acknowledged to be among the biggest recipients, Niblock said.

In the 1990s Gaddafi is thought to have given money to the Zaghawan tribe in Darfur, “and I suspect some of them are among the African mercenaries fighting the civilians in Libya,” Niblock added.

Libya’s breakneck growth has enabled the country to build up myriad investments overseas. In addition to the Gaddafis’ private holdings, the state is thought to have invested close to £61.8bn in assets across the globe.

Their investments in the UK include an eight-bedroom home in Hampstead, north London, with a swimming pool and suede-lined cinema room. Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the Libyan leader’s second son, bought it in 2009 for £10m.

Most of the state’s investments are made by the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA), a so-called sovereign wealth fund set up in 2006 to spend the country’s oil money, which has an estimated $70bn of assets. LIA bought 3% of Pearson last year for £224m, making it one of the group’s biggest shareholders, and had a 0.02% stake in RBS, although this has been sold in the past few months.

The fund’s UK property investments include Portman House, a 146,550 sq ft retail complex in Oxford Street, London, which houses retailers such as Boots and New Look, and an office at 14 Cornhill, opposite the Bank of England in the City.

Aside from the Hampstead home, which is not primarily an investment, the only two direct investment projects that the Gaddafi family are known to be involved with both involve water.

In 2009, when Silvio Berlusconi hosted the summit of G8 leading economies, he invited the Libyan leader as a special guest. Speeding towards the earthquake-stricken city of L’Aquila, which Berlusconi had chosen as the venue, Gaddafi’s motor cavalcade stopped in a remote town by a river at the bottom of a deep gorge.

Not many people find their way to Antrodoco, let alone a “Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution”. Such was the welcome he received that shortly afterwards a Libyan delegation returned to the town to announce that the colonel wanted to plough money into it.

Agreement was reached on a complex involving a luxury spa hotel and water bottling plant. Last September, Antrodocoís mayor, Maurizio Faina, said the €15m (£12.7m) scheme was “firming up”.

Whether it survives the current turmoil in Libya, however, remains to be seen. A similar question mark hangs over the established, if struggling, spa town of Fiuggi, south of Rome where pope Boniface VIII, among others, took the waters. In January, the Corriere della Sera reported that Gaddafi’s family had formalised a proposal to sink €250m (£211m) into a conference centre with an airstrip and a complex that, once again, involved a spa and a water bottling plant.

The paper said the deal was being brokered, not through Libyan channels, but by the Italo-Iraqi chamber of commerce. Fiuggi’s mayor, along with his counterpart from Antrodoco, was a guest at a party thrown by Silvio Berlusconi in honour of the Libyan leader when he visited Rome last September.

Gaddafi and Berlusconi have a famously warm personal relationship. Less well-known, however, is the fact that Berlusconi is in business with one of the Libyan state’s investment vehicles.

In June 2009, a Dutch-registered firm controlled by the Libyan Arab Foreign Investment Company, took a 10% stake in Quinta Communications, a Paris-based film production and distribution company. Quinta Communications was founded back in 1990 by Berlusconi in partnership with Tarak Ben Ammar, the nephew of the late Tunisian leader, Habib Bourguiba.

The Italian prime minister has a 22% interest in the company through a Luxembourg-registered subsidiary of Fininvest, the firm at the heart of his sprawling business empire. Last September, the Libyans put a director on the board of Quinta Communications to sit alongside Berlusconiís representatives.

Libyan investors already hold significant interests in several strategic Italian enterprises. They reportedly own around one per cent of Italy’s biggest oil company, Eni; the LIA has an acknowledged 2% interest in the aerospace and defence group, Finmeccanica; Lafico is thought to retain more than 2% of Fiat and almost 15% of a quoted telecommunications company, Retelit.

The Libyans also own 22% of the capital of a textile firm, Olcese. Perhaps their best-known investment is a 7.5% stake in the Serie A side Juventus. But undoubtedly the most controversial is another 7.5 per cent interest in Italyís largest bank, Unicredit.

Last September, the bank’s chief executive, Alessandro Profumo, walked out after a row over his willingness to let the Libyans build up that stake. The Northern League, Berlusconi’s key allies in Italy’s rightwing government, was known to be particularly queasy about the emergence of such a powerful Libyan presence.

Experts say if Gaddafi is overthrown, the investments made by Libya’s various state funds would probably be unaffected, since any new government would have far more pressing matters to attend to, and any sudden movements could damage their reputation for the future.

However, it is thought likely that a new regime in Libya could look to freeze the assets of the Gaddafi family, as the new government in Egypt did with the assets of Hosni Mubarak and his family. Since most of these are held in liquid form – and in country’s outside Europe and the US – this would have no significant ramifications for business, they argue.

UK interests

About 150 British companies have established a presence in Libya since the US and Europe lifted economic sanctions in 2004, after the country renounced terrorism, ceased its nuclear weapons programme and handed over two suspects in the Lockerbie bombing case.

The most high profile have been the oil companies, keen to tap Libya’s vast reserves of fossil fuels. In a deal brokered in 2007 by Tony Blair, BP signed a £560m exploration agreement allowing it to search for oil and gas, offshore and onshore, in a joint venture with the Libya Investment Corporation. Shell is also exploring for oil in Libya as western companies seek to capitalise on a country with the largest oil reserves in Africa and substantial supplies of gas.

High street retailers such as Marks & Spencer, Next, Monsoon and Accessorize have also set up in the country to serve the growing middle-class population, as oil revenues have “trickled down” into the broader Libyan population.

Companies such as AMEC, an engineering firm, and Biwater, a waste treatment company, have supplied services to Libya, which is using its oil revenues to reshape the country through an infrastructure spending spree that will cost about £310bn over the next decade.

British exports to Libya have soared to about £930m in recent years, while the business momentum in post-sanctions Libya is so great that the economy managed to grow by about 5% last year, while much of the rest of the world struggled.

Many British and foreign companies – including M&S, BP and Shell – are evacuating staff from Libya and it could be some time before they return.

by Carlos Latuff

Bahrain protesters back in action: Al Jazeera online

Tens of thousands march in the first organised demonstration since unrest broke out in the Gulf Arab nation.
22 Feb 2011

”]
Tens of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in Bahrain in the possibly biggest demonstration since unrest began last week.
Demonstrators circled the Bahrain Mall and the financial district of Manama, the capital, in a march to the heart of the protest at Pearl Square.

“We want the fall of the government” was the most common chant among the mainly Shia Muslim protesters who accuse the Sunni rulers of discriminating against the island’s Shia majority.

Led by opposition groups such as Wefaq and Waad, it was the first organised demonstration and followed spontaneous protests by a rising youth movement relying on social media.

Helicopters hovered overhead but security forces offered no resistance after opening fire on protesters last week.

“Some want the [ruling] family out but most [want] only the prime minister [to quit],” Abbas al-Fardan, a protester, said.

“We want a new government, the people need to rule the country.”

Opposition demands

The widow of one of the seven people killed in a crackdown on protesters read a statement outlining the opposition’s demands, which centre on the current government’s resignation and the replacement of the ruling Sunni al-Khalifa dynasty with a constitutional monarchy.

The statement also demanded an immediate, “impartial” probe to identify and try those behind the killings and reiterated opposition calls for the formation of a “national salvation” government.

“We don’t have a problem if elections bring a Sunni or a Shia ruler,” Saeed, a protester, said.

“The most important thing is to have egalitarian distribution of wealth among both communities.”

Shias account for about 70 per cent of the population but are a minority in Bahrain’s 40-seat parliament.

The al-Khalifa dynasty has ruled Bahrain for 200 years, and the family dominates a cabinet led by the king’s uncle, who has been prime minister since independence in 1971.

Hassan Mushaimaa, leader of the opposition Haq movement, had vowed to return to Bahrain on Tuesday from London where he is based.

He is one of 25 people on trial since last year over an alleged coup plot but a statement by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa on Monday hinted that the trial would be shelved, allowing Mushaimaa an unhindered return.

But a friend of Mushaimaa said the opposition leader had been unable to board his flight to Bahrain from Beirut where he had landed earlier for a planned stopover.

State media said the king had ordered the release of convicted prisoners whose names would be released on Wednesday and a stop to ongoing court cases.

The US praised Bahrain’s leadership on Tuesday for having announced steps towards opening a national dialogue, releasing political prisoners and permitting peaceful demonstrations.

“We commend the steps taken by King Hamad as well as Crown Prince Salman and others to restore calm to Bahrain, to allow peaceful demonstrations to take place,” PJ Crowley, the state department spokesman, said.

“We view recent announcements to launch a national dialogue and the release of political prisoners as positive steps towards addressing the concerns of Bahraini citizens.”

Click here to continue reading “February 22, 2011″ »

Permalink Print

February 21, 2011

EDITOR: The Arab Intifada marches on across the region: Endgame in Libya is intensifying

Despite the initial victories in Tunisia and Egypt, the western front continues to support all tyrants until they are toppled 0 a recipe for continued hatred towards those countries without which the tyrants would never have lasted as long as they have. One wonders how many of those dictators must disappear brfore Washington, London and Paris might start thinking logically, not to say morally.

We are told that important financial calculation are directing this abysmal behaviour; if so, they are directing it into a crash, for sure. The new democratic governments which will start working soon in all the countries now under the sway of protesters, will not easily forget and forgive this behaviour of the west. In that sense, the west is not just acting, as it has all along, against democracy and human rights in these countries, but also against iots own interests.

The uprising in Libya is meeting the full might of the mad ruler, who is prepared to kill any number to continue his rule. Despite the barbarous attacks by the criminal ‘security forces’, and by numerous mercenaries from other African countries, shooting to kill, it seems that the end of this could only be the decapitating of this murderous regime, and sooner rather than later. Once the great fear of the regime has dissipated, as happened elsewhere, the bravery and anger will bring about welcome change.

Some time ago, William Hague, the UK foreign Secretary, has claimed he heard that Gadaffi is on his way to Venezuela, a rumour quickly scotched by the Venezuelans. One hopes that Chavez is not mad enough for such a move, offering the Butcher of Libya what the Saudi king has offered the deposed Tunisian leader… This could lead to protest close to home, in Caracas itself, for a change!

The only prpoer place for the Butcher is in the Court, where he will be dealt the justice he denied his own citizens for 42 years.

This may well concern the US and UK, whose many commercial and defense deals with sultans and Emirs across the region, once presented as great successes, now look decidedly dubious and rickety. One waits with some enjoyment for the changed tune in the western capitals…

It seems Obama, the Nobel Peace Laureate, has gone underground, on Friday, and since then has had nothing to say about Libya or Bahrain. He really should get out more… Until now, he has manged to make Dubya like a real peace activist! It is also apparent that Gaddafi himself has gone somewhere, as he has disappeared at the same time as Obama, so maybe they are somewhere together?

Support of the Israeli Peace Camp for the Autocratic Palestinian Regime

Tikva Honig-Parnass
The Zionist left has always supported US imperialism and its autocratic Arab allies, claiming that US policy seeks to enforce peace and democracy in the Middle East. This claim has likewise been the pretext for their support of the PA police state in the
making. However, Uri Avnery’s embrace of Abu Mazen and Salam Fayyad’s oppressive regime lays bare an appalling fact: the genuine Palestinian national movement has no partner, even within the most radical wing of Israel’s so-called “peace camp.”
Introduction
Academics and publicists from the Zionist left have persistently distorted the notion of democracy when insisting on applying it to the political regime in Israel. Despite the fact that some admit the “stains in Israel’s democracy,” they support the definition of Israel as a “Jewish state,” which implies the structural discrimination and marginalization of the indigenous Palestinian population. They usually cling to the misleading argument that the preference of Jews does not violate the equality of individual citizenship rights held by the Palestinians in Israel. This hypocritical stance of the self-proclaimed “liberals” has been largely sustained by the prevailing political culture, which they themselves actively helped create: namely, the state-centered culture portrayed by the late sociologist Baruch Kimmerling as “semi-fascist”. Accordingly, the values of individual human rights, the essence of democracy, are perceived as subservient to state security.
Shlomo Avineri, professor of political science has well represented the role of the intellectual on the Zionist left in granting “scientific” confirmation to the definition of the Zionist settler state as “democracy.” For example, he depicts the Law of Return – which is central to the Apartheid nature of the Israeli legal infrastructure as just an “immigration law,” no different from immigration laws in other democratic states such as the US and Norway’ 1.
Now, in wake of the popular uprising in Egypt that threatens the other dictatorial regimes across the Middle East, Shlomo Avinery has come up with a new insight on the imperative commitment of democrats to fight against an autocratic regime. He expressly argues that a peace treaty – which ensures the “security” of Israel – is a top “moral” value that justifies the past support of Mubarak’s totalitarian “internal” regime:
“Recently, we here were presented with a rather problematic choice: Do we support democracy, or do we support the Israeli interest in maintaining security and stability? When a moral value (democracy ) is thus posited against realpolitik (stability and
security), it is easy to lapse into the argument that Peace is not only a political, military and security arrangement; it is also a moral value. The fact that for 30 years not a single Israeli or Egyptian soldier was killed in hostile activities on our common
border, […] is not only a strategic achievement, but a moral achievement of the highest order, credit for which goes to political leaders on both sides.”
In his effort to justify the alliance with Mubarak and belittle his brutal oppression of the Egyptian people, Avineri makes a most bizarre comparison: [..]”Just as it is permissible to praise former Prime Minister Menachem Begin for achieving peace with Egypt, without agreeing with many of his views it is permissible to praise former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak for his determination, sometimes under great pressure, to preserve the peace initiated by his predecessor Anwar Sadat. That is not support for a despot; it’s support for the moral content of peace.”
The lip service paid to “Israel’s interest in democracy in Egypt” is soon wiped out by the summary of his main message to Israelis – and, indirectly, to Egyptians as well: “But Egypt’s internal regime is the business of its own citizens, and we would do well not to try to advise them whom to elect and whom not to elect. In any event, the moral aspect of peace, which is based on the principle of preserving human life and its quality of life, must be a guide to us, as to Egyptian society that has now embarked on a new path”.
Avineri’s indifference toward Mubarak’s despotic regime (and any regime that would replace his) because of Israel’s interests in peace with Egypt, is merely the expression of US imperial strategy in the Middle East (and elsewhere), to which Israel is a lesser partner. This strategy consists of supporting even the most brutal oppressive regimes as long as they sustain their submission to US interests. A recent article by Noam Chomsky deals with, among other things, US concerns about the “shock wave throughout the region set in motion by the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt that drove out western-backed dictators.” He reminds us of
what he has been emphasizing for a long time: “Washington and its allies keep to the well established principle that democracy is acceptable only insofar as it conforms to strategic and economic objectives [..]The nature of any regime it backs in the Arab world is secondary to control. Subjects are ignored until they break their chains.” 2
This is the true meaning of the “morality” that Prof. Avineri attributes to “maintaining security and stability” through peace with Egypt. He should know better the role of this “peace” in sustaining US and Israeli interests by fortifying the “moderate block” of the despotic Arab states. Their joint aim is to eliminate “secular nationalism,” including the national rights of the Palestinian people. Mubarak’s Egypt fully complied with Israel and the US in blocking a peace agreement that would recognize these rights, as has long since been known.
Shlomo Avineri’s doctrine of privileging Israel’s “security” over “internal” democracy, in the case of Egypt, has usually been adopted by leftist Zionists in regard to the Palestinian Authority, albeit without admitting it explicitly. It was Labor PM Ytzhak Rabin who justified Israeli “concessions” in the Oslo Accords on the grounds that the Accords would bring about a collaborative Palestinian Authority that would repress resistance “without [the shackles] of [Israel’s] Supreme Court and [the human rights organization] B’tselem.” And indeed, the Zionist left has embraced the autocratic regime that has developed under the PA, which thus granted the PA recognition as an “appropriate” partner for peace. This support for the oppressive and collaborationist PA has been shared by even the most militant wing of the Israeli peace camp. The release of the Al Jazeera documents, and Uri Avineri’s response to them, have contributed the ultimate proof of this shameful support. These documents revealed the full compliance of the Palestinian leadership with US-Israeli demands, as well as their collaboration with the latter’s schemes to do away with the national Palestinian movement. 3
Gush Shalom, founded and led by Uri Avnery, responded to the Al Jazeera papers in its weekly statement in Haaretz of January 28, 2011, saying: “The Al Jazeera Disclosures prove: The Palestinians have no partner for peace.” Indeed, the “Palestine Papers” confirm in every detail that, during the last decade, Israeli governments have objected to any potential plan for peace settlement, while simultaneously entrenching the occupation regime in the ’67 conquered territories. The papers disclose what was known to anyone who refused to take part in welcoming the charade of the peace process or to believe that it would lead to a peace settlement that would fulfill the Palestinians’ national aspirations. Uri Avney has played a significant role in creating and sustaining this
baseless belief, which he shared with the intellectual elite and activists among the Zionist left.
However, Avnery’s positions have had a significant influence on genuine peace-seekers in Israel and abroad, due to his determined and persistent struggle against the ’67 occupation and the atrocities committed in the occupied territories by Israeli authorities.
Avnery’s optimistic message has relied on what he calls the “realism” of Arafat and the Palestinian leadership that ascended to power after his death; namely, their readiness for partial concessions to Israeli demands in the framework of the two-state solution which, however, don’t violate the basic national rights of the Palestinian people. Moreover, Avnery has constantly assured the public, both in Israel and abroad, that the concessions made by Abu Mazen are accepted by the majority of the Palestinians who recognize the Oslo-created Palestinian Authority as their representative. He never challenged the legitimacy of the PA leadership even after the victory of Hamas in the 2006 democratic elections, which the PA ignored and which brought about the separation from the Gaza Strip.

To read the whole article, use the link above

Gadaffi, by Carlos Latuff

Fisk on Bahrain: Al Jazeera online

Libya protests spread and intensify: Al Jazeera online

Security forces open fire on anti-government demonstrators in Tripoli, as protests escalate across the country.
21 Feb 2011

”]At least 61 people were killed in clashes in the city on Monday, witnesses told Al Jazeera. The protests appeared to be gathering momentum, with demonstrators saying they have taken control of several important towns and the city of Benghazi, to the east of Tripoli.

A huge anti-government march in Tripoli on Monday afternoon came under attack by security forces using fighter jets and live ammunition, witnesses told Al Jazeera.

Libyan authorities have cut all landline and wireless communication in the country, making it impossible to verify the report.

As violence flared, the Reuters news agency quoted William Hague, the British foreign secretary, as saying he had seen some information to suggest that Gaddafi had fled Libya and was on his way to Venezuela.

But Al Jazeera’s Dima Khatib, reporting from the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, said government officials there denied that Gaddafi was on his way to the South American country.

The Libyan deputy foreign minister also denied that Gaddafi had fled the country.

With reports of large-scale military operations under way in Tripoli, a spokesperson for Ban Ki-moon said the UN chief held extensive discussions with Gaddafi on Monday, condemned the escalating violence in Libya and told him that it “must stop immediately”.

” … The secretary-general underlined the need to ensure the protection of the civilian population under any circumstances. He urged all parties to exercise restraint and called upon the authorities to engage in broad-based dialogue to address legitimate concerns of the population,” Ban’s spokesperson said.

For this part, several Libyan diplomats at the country’s UN mission called on Gaddafi to step down.

Ibrahim Dabbashi, the deputy ambassador, said that if Gaddafi did not relinquish power, “the Libyan people [would] get rid of him”.

“We don’t agree with anything the regime is doing … we are here to serve the Libyan people,” he told Al Jazeera.

Plea for no-fly zone

Dabbashi urged the international community to impose a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent mercenaries, weapons and other supplies from reaching Gaddafi and his security forces.

He said the Libyan diplomats were urging the International Criminal Court, the Netherlands-based body, to investigate possible crimes against humanity in the Libyan context.

Dabbashi’s comments came just hours after Ahmed Elgazir, a human-rights researcher at the Libyan News Centre (LNC) in Geneva, Switzerland, told Al Jazeera that security forces were “massacring” protesters in Tripoli.

Elgazir said the LNC received a call for help from a woman “witnessing the massacre in progress who called on a satellite phone”.

Earlier, a privately run local newspaper reported that the Libyan justice minister had resigned over the use of deadly force against protesters.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Ahmad Jibreel, a Libyan diplomat, confirmed that the justice minister, Mustapha Abdul Jalil, had sided with the protesters.

“I was speaking to the minister of justice just a few minutes ago … he told me personally, he told me he had joined the supporters. He is trying to organise good things in all cities,” he said.

In protesters’ hands

Jibreel further said that key cities near Libya’s border with Egypt were now in the hands of protesters, which he said would enable the foreign media to enter the country.

“Gaddafi’s guards started shooting people in the second day and they shot two people only,” he said.

“We had on that day in Al Bayda city only 300 protesters. When they killed two people, we had more than 5,000 at their funeral, and when they killed 15 people the next day, we had more than 50,000 the following day.

“This means that the more Gaddafi kills people, the more people go into the streets.”

In another development on Monday, two Libyan air force jets landed in Malta and their pilots asked for political asylum, according to a military source.

The pilots, who made an unauthorised landing in Malta, claimed to have defected after failing to follow orders to attack civilians protesting in Benghazi in Libya, Karl Stagno-Navarra, an Al Jazeera contributor, said from Valletta.

The  pilots, who claimed to be colonels in the Libyan air force, were being questioned by authorities in an attempt to verify their identities.

The two Mirage jets landed at Malta’s international airport shortly after two civilian helicopters landed carrying seven people who said they were French. Only one of the passengers had a passport.

Against this backdrop of escalating violence, Libyan state television reported that Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, a son of the Libyan leader, was forming a committee to investigate the incidents taking place in the country

Earlier in the day, Saif al-Islam warned of a civil war if anti-government protests continued to spread in the country.

Speaking on state television, he blamed thugs, foreigners and Islamists for the unrest.

He promised a conference on constitutional reforms within two days and said Libyans should “forget oil and petrol” and prepare themselves for occupation by “the West” if they failed to agree.

The younger Gaddafi contrasted the situation in Libya with revolts earlier this year in Egypt and Tunisia, where longtime rulers were forced step down or fled in the face of mass popular discontent.

Protesters in Libya have similarly called for Muammar Gaddafi’s overthrow, but his son warned against this, saying “Libya is different, if there is disturbance it will split into several states”.

Following Saif al-Islam Gaddafi’s speech, witnesses in Tripoli reported an escalation of violence, as supporters of his father flooded into the city’s central square and confronted anti-government protesters.

Armed men in uniform fired into the crowds, witnesses said, and continuous gunfire could be heard in the background of recorded phone calls from the capital released to journalists by Libyans living abroad.

Click here to continue reading “February 21, 2011″ »

Permalink Print

February 20, 2011

EDITOR: The great orator proves he is rotten to the core

After weeks of supporting the dictator of Egypt against his people, and chopping and changing daily, the equivocation goes on at the UN, with the US voting against its own policy, supporting Israeli settlements under the most extreme Israeli government. In an act of hypocrisy fitting Ian McEwan, the State Department claimed it is strongly against the settlements, and the veto is vote for peace…

How much longer are the Palestinians going to hope for change from Washington, ot treat it like an honest broker? One hopes that the self-delusion of the PA will not be matched in the new, developing democracies which are now blooming in the Arab capitals, where servility to the US was the standard approach. If there was a need for proof that the American leopard will not change its sickly spots, this immoral, irrational veto has provided it. If after this amazing month of change in the Middle East, Washington sticks to its long-held support of Israeli illegal aggression, then only the deluded will expect for anything positive to come from that corner.

Obama has stamped his presidency with the Dubya firebrand. This will not leave him until he bows out.

PA to call urgent UN session over settlement resolution veto: Haaretz

The U.S. veto, which contradicted America’s expressed policy on the settlements, and the Arab world’s response to it are expected to further deepen the crisis in the peace talks.
The United States used its UN Security Council veto on Friday, for the first time since President Barack Obama took office, to stop passage of a resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction. The resolution was supported by the Security Council’s other 14 members.

The veto, which contradicted America’s expressed policy on the settlements, and the Arab world’s response to it are expected to further deepen the crisis in the peace talks.

Protesters in the West Bank town of Bil’in on Friday, opposing the U.S. veto of an anti-settlement resolution by the UN Security Council. Photo by: Reuters

Following the veto, the Palestinian Authority is to call this week for an emergency session of the UN General Assembly to condemn Israel. That resolution is expected to pass easily.

Meanwhile, at the request of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres on Saturday called PA President Mahmoud Abbas to urge him to return to negotiations. But Abbas rejected the request and subsequently issued a statement saying that while the Palestinians were committed to a two-state solution, construction in the settlements and in East Jerusalem would have to stop before talks could resume.

Sources in the Foreign Ministry said the Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, is looking into the possibility of invoking General Assembly resolution 377 from 1950. That resolution states that an emergency General Assembly session can be called within 24 hours to circumvent the veto of a Security Council resolution.

Obama spoke with Abbas for 50 minutes on Thursday to urge the Palestinian president not to bring the resolution to a vote. According to the Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam, Obama told Abbas that the resolution could damage U.S. interests in the Middle East and could induce the U.S. Congress to halt aid to the PA.

Obama reportedly suggested that in lieu of bringing the resolution to a vote, Abbas accept an alternative package of benefits, including a presidential statement on the settlements by the Security Council. Such a statement would be nonbinding, but could be couched in harsher terms. The package would also have included a Security Council visit to Ramallah to express support for the PA and denounce the settlements, and a statement by the Quartet of Middle East peacemakers that, for the first time, would call for the boundaries of the Palestinian state to be based on the 1967 lines.

On Friday afternoon, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton phoned Abbas with an even more sharply worded message.

But Abbas told both Obama and Clinton that settlements were the reason for the breakdown in the peace talks, and the Palestinian people would not back down on this matter.

After the phone calls, Abbas called a joint meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee and the leadership of his Fatah party. Mansour told the participants by phone that Arab missions to the UN wanted the resolution to move forward no matter what. They then voted unanimously to bring the resolution to a vote.

Following the vote, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice gave a speech in which she attempted to explain the contradiction between the veto and the U.S. administration’s clear opposition to construction in the settlements.

“While we agree with our fellow Council members and indeed, with the wider world about the folly and illegitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity, we think it unwise for this Council to attempt to resolve the core issues that divide Israelis and Palestinians,” Rice said. “We therefore regrettably have opposed this draft resolution.”

The British ambassador read a joint statement by Britain, France and Germany that said that construction in the settlements, including in East Jerusalem, contravened international law.

Netanyahu released a statement immediately after the Security Council meeting expressing Israel’s appreciation for the American veto.

In contrast, anti-American rallies were held yesterday in Bethlehem, Tul Karm and Jenin. Fatah Central Committee member Tawfik Tirawi called for a “day of rage” against the U.S. veto, and Abbas’ spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, said the veto encouraged Israeli construction in the settlements.

The veto garnered praise from pro-Israeli American lawmakers and numerous Jewish groups that had been working energetically over the past few weeks to secure it.

But the Obama administration is reportedly worried that the veto will degrade America’s status in the Arab world.

And an Israeli official in New York warned that “the Palestinian initiative was thwarted, but it increased Israel’s isolation.” Israel’s claim that the Palestinians are responsible for the stalled talks falls on deaf ears at the UN, he added.

Abbas’ rejection of Obama’s request will help him politically, as the Palestinian public will not be able to accuse him of buckling under U.S. pressure, as it did in 2009 when American reservations led the PA to postpone a UN Human Rights Council vote on the Goldstone report on Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza earlier that year. Moreover, given the anti-government protests now sweeping the Arab world, Abbas apparently wanted to demonstrate that it is not afraid of a showdown with the White House.

EDITOR: Yes We Can! (be for and against settlements)

In a about face worthy of the great Houdini, the US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, ‘explains’ how the US opposition to settlements has driven Obama to support settlements! It is really sickening to watch

Women against dictatorships, By Carols Latuff

Two-state solution: A postmortem: Al Jazeera online

In the wake of the Palestine Papers and the Egyptian uprising the ‘peace process’ as we know it is dead.
Sandy Tolan, 18 Feb 2011

”]
Among the time-honoured myths in the long tragedy of Israel and Palestine is “the deal that almost was”. The latest entry, what we might call the “near deal of 2008,” comes from Ehud Olmert, the former Israeli prime minister, chronicled in excerpts from his forthcoming memoir and feverishly promoted in The New York Times as “the Israel peace plan that almost was and still could be”.

Clearly, the dwindling number of promoters of the two-state solution are in a post-Cairo, post-Palestine Papers attempt to keep afloat what is, in the end, a sinking ship: A bad deal that even the weak Palestinian negotiating team would not accept. “Israel has an overwhelming interest in going the extra mile,” a nervous Thomas Friedman wrote as protestors filled Tahrir Square, warning: “There is a huge storm coming, Israel. Get out of the way.”

At the heart of the effort to salvage the busted remnants of Oslo is the “near deal of 2008″.  “We were very close, more than ever before,” Olmert writes in his memoirs.

But as they say in a famous TV ad in the US: “Not exactly.”

Old myths die hard

Like other such fictions – chief among them “Israel’s generous offer” at Camp David in 2000 – this one is not entirely without substance. As the Palestine Papers show, the two sides did agree on various security arrangements, land swaps and some principles of the right of return, much to the alarm of many Palestinians. Just as significantly, Palestinian negotiators agreed to allow Israel to annex major settlement blocs in East Jerusalem – a fact that, in the wake of the document dump, is eroding what is left of Abbas’ credibility among his own people. (As if to underscore that point, chief negotiator Saeb Erekat resigned last week in disgrace, after revelations that the Palestine Papers were leaked from his very own office.)

Yet despite the 2008 concessions, the documents also show that the negotiations did not bring the sides close to a deal. Rather, they revealed red lines that signal the end of the peace process as we know it, and – especially after Cairo – the death of the two-state solution. Nowhere is this more clear than in the discussions over two huge settlement blocs, where Israel, backed by an arm-twisting US, undermined its last chance for a two-state deal.

In 1993, at the beginning of the Oslo “peace process,” 109,000 Israeli settlers lived on West Bank Palestinian land, not including East Jerusalem. That number has now nearly tripled. One of the settlements, Ariel, juts well into the West Bank, nearly half the way to Jordan from the Mediterranean coast, and is protected by Israel’s separation barrier. Ariel, with nearly 20,000 people, promotes itself as the aspiring “capital of Samaria” with its own industrial park and even a university.

“There is no Israeli leader who will sign an agreement that does not include Ariel,” Tzipi Livni, Olmert’s foreign minister, told Palestinian negotiators in April 2008.

“And there is no Palestinian leader who will sign an agreement that includes Ariel,” negotiator Ahmad Qurei replied. Qurei was not just posturing. Ariel bifurcates the Palestinian district of Salfit and helps make a mockery of US diplomats’ stated goal of a “viable and contiguous” Palestinian state.

Another red line is Ma’ale Adumim. Despite the significant concessions in East Jerusalem – which Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said amounted to “the biggest Yerushalayim in Jewish history” – the Palestinians see Ma’ale Adumim as a wedge between East Jerusalem and the West Bank. For them, the settlement is another barrier to a contiguous land base on which to build their state. For Israelis, Ma’ale Adumim, founded with the support of then defence minister Shimon Peres in 1975 and now a “city” of more than 34,000 settlers, is untouchable.

In theory, the self-described “honest broker,” the US, could have tried to bridge the differences. But that is not what Condoleezza Rice, the then US secretary of state, had in mind when she leaned on the weak Palestinian delegation in a July 2008 meeting in Jerusalem:

“I don’t think that any Israeli leader is going to cede Ma’ale Adumim,” she told Qurei.

“Or any Palestinian leader,” Qurei replied.

“Then you won’t have a state!” Rice declared.

On the wrong side of history

The US has long been hypersensitive to Israeli domestic political considerations while ignoring those of the Palestinians and the broader Arab and Muslim worlds. In 2000, Yasser Arafat turned down Israel’s “generous offer,” refusing to agree to a “sovereign presidential compound” in the Old City – essentially, a golden cage near the Muslim holy sites. Arafat understood that neither Palestinians nor Muslims worldwide would agree to such limited Palestinian sovereignty over the Haram Al Sharif, considered the third holiest site in Islam. “If anyone imagines that I might sign away Jerusalem, he is mistaken,” Arafat told Bill Clinton, the then US president, at Camp David. “You have lost many chances,” Clinton responded. “You won’t have a Palestinian state …. You will be alone in the region.”

The US’ tone-deaf approach to Palestinian realities is a central reason for the failure of the “peace process”. Rice suggested in a June 2008 meeting that one way to help solve the entrenched and emotional issue of right of return would be to ship refugees to South America. Barack Obama’s team has not fared much better. In 2009, the US pressured the Palestinians to stall the release of the UN’s Goldstone Report calling for an investigation into Israeli war crimes in Gaza. This was precisely the opposite of what the Palestinian public fervently wanted. The US carrot: More favourable negotiating terms for the Palestinian Authority (PA).

But the US, so accustomed to dealing with Arab strongmen like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, seems to have forgotten that the weak Palestinian negotiators were in no position to ignore, much less dictate to, their people. Any peace deal would have been put to a referendum among politically-aware Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. A deal as unfavourable as that the US and Israel promoted in 2008 would have been far from a sure thing. Olmert recalls telling Abbas: “Take the pen and sign now. You’ll never get an offer that is more fair or more just.” But it was the Israelis, and the US, who missed their chance.

In the days just before Egyptians liberated themselves, Obama tried to shore up some of the US credibility squandered since his 2009 Cairo speech by supporting the calls for democracy. But for many Palestinians, US or PA credibility is no longer relevant. In the West Bank, people regard US pronouncements with sharply declining interest. And it was the PA, in the midst of the euphoric struggle of its neighbours, that placed itself firmly on the wrong side of history by banning demonstrations in solidarity with the Egyptian and Tunisian people. “The policy,” said a PA security spokesman “is non-interference in the internal affairs of Arab or foreign countries.”

You could not find a more apt symbol of a corroded and irrelevant Palestinian regime, shockingly out of touch with its people and the jubilation in Tahrir Square, and structurally unable to seize the moment. Now, with the PA’s negotiations team in disarray, it is hard to imagine Palestinians in the West Bank again putting their trust in the “authority,” or in the wreckage of an Oslo process tied to a Middle Eastern order that no longer exists.

Even in their last-ditch attempts to forge a two-state deal, beleaguered Palestinian negotiators seemed aware that it was slipping away. “In light of these circumstances and these unrealistic propositions,” Qurei told Livni in frustration in April 2008, “I see that the only solution is a bi-national state where Muslims, Christians and Jews live together”.

Sandy Tolan is an associate professor at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at USC, and the author of The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East.

Click here to continue reading “February 20, 2011″ »

Permalink Print

February 14, 2011

The Greatest Knockout of All, by the great Carlos Latuff

EDITOR: The Boycott is biting, and Israel is fighting back with undemocratic legislation

It has taken a few years to build the BDS movement, and much remains to be done in the different countries around the globe. nonetheless, its effects are now clear, and Israel is fighting back with another undemocratic and unconstitutional law, badly worded and without any basis in law, either Israeli or international. The attempt here is to frighten and punish anyone who criticises the Israeli occupation and its ravages.

Calls grow for free Egypt media: Al Jazeera online

Pressure is mounting to rid state media of loyalists of Hosni Mubarak, the ousted president.

Pressure is mounting for Hosni Mubarak’s appointees to be removed from Egypt’s state media.

During the recent pro-democracy protests state television broadcast propaganda for the government and now some fear it may not be impartial during the country’s transition to democracy.

Al Jazeera’s Andrew Simmons reports from Cairo.

Protecting Israel from its citizens: Haaretz

The parliamentary investigative panel to examine organizations’ funding sources actually have no interest in questions of legality and constitutionality. All they want is to delegitimize protest and political opinions, and to scare us.
By Avirama Golan
On Tuesday, a Knesset committee is due to approve on second and third readings the bill combating boycotts against Israel – another hysterical proposal by the right wing and Kadima MK Dalia Itzik designed to protect our weak and tiny country, which is being attacked from within and without.

“This law,” explain the architects of the proposal, “is designed to protect the State of Israel in general and its citizens in particular from academic, economic and other boycotts that are imposed on the country, its citizens and corporations, due to their connection to the State of Israel.” The law is designed to protect “the area under Israeli control, including Judea and Samaria.” According to the bill, “It is forbidden to initiate a boycott against the State of Israel, to encourage participation in it or to provide assistance or information in order to promote it.”

There is no problem, therefore, with a boycott by ultra-Orthodox consumers against supermarkets that open on Shabbat, or against a merchant whose sons serve in the Israel Defense Forces, even if it leads to their economic collapse. There might also not be a problem in boycotting fur exporters, for example. The only offense is “a boycott against the State of Israel,” and in effect against the settlements, whose products are the object of most boycotts in Israel and the world over.

That being the case, the bill – which is certainly not constitutional (we can make an endless list of freedoms that it undermines ) – opposes even international agreements that Israel has signed. First among them is the agreement to join the OECD and the agreement with the European Union. These require that products be marked, distinguishing the Israeli economy from that of the territories.

But even someone who believes that a consumer boycott is legitimate while an academic boycott is a despicable tool that harms Israeli education’s soft underbelly – someone who doesn’t move a single stone from the wall of the occupation – can’t support legislation that involves a consumer boycott directed only at the settlements, or silences anyone who demonstrates or speaks against them.

This is what will happen if the bill passes – and its chances are considerable despite the protest of many organizations, headed by the Coalition of Women for Peace and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. A “talkbacker” on the Internet who complains, for example, about the economic burden caused by the settlements can expect a lawsuit from a settler who can claim that the comment promoted a boycott of his products. The writer will be fined at least NIS 30,000 and the plaintiff won’t have to prove the link between what is written and the damage. Not to mention writers of articles and people who express opinions on radio and television.

Bizarre? Not compared to the next article: “If the interior minister sees someone who is not a citizen or a resident of Israel acting in contradiction to Article 2, or if the cabinet has decided by a majority of its members that such a person is imposing a boycott against the State of Israel, the interior minister is allowed to request the district court to deny that person the right to enter Israel for a period of at least 10 years.” So what? Will Ken Loach beg to be allowed to attend the Haifa Film Festival and be denied entry?

In other times we could depend on the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee to reject such embarrassing texts out of hand. Not now. Questions of legality and constitutionality, freedom of expression and human rights are now dwarfed in light of the goal, whose distorted definition “protection of the State of Israel” justifies the means.

Behind this declared objective hides a more problematic one. The initiators of the glorious legislation of recent years – the Nakba law, the loyalty law, the community-admission-committee law, the denial of citizenship law (“the Bishara Law” ), the parliamentary investigative panel to examine organizations’ funding sources – actually have no interest in questions of legality and constitutionality. All they want is to delegitimize protest and political opinions, and to scare us.

Although Israelis find it hard to see the connection among the laws, which ostensibly refer to different issues and communities, the violent rape of the law book caused by this legislation has destructive results. And these results – which are collapsing the foundations of Israeli democracy – will harm everyone in the end, without distinction.

EDITOR: Connections are made

The Tahrir Square victory has become a rousing symbol for Arabs everywhere, including inside Israel’s Green Line borders. Below a young Palestinian student is voicing his clear criticism of western and Israeli voices which through a deeply Orientalist view, have argued for the denial of freedom to the Egyptians and Arabs elsewhere.

The resurrection of pan-Arabism: Al Jazeera online

The Egyptian revolution has resurrected a new type of pan-Arabism, based on social justice not empty slogans.

The Egyptian revolution has resurrected pan-Arabism but this is not the pan-Arabism of previous generations [GALLO/GETTY]
The Egyptian revolution, itself influenced by the Tunisian uprising, has resurrected a new sense of pan-Arabism based on the struggle for social justice and freedom. The overwhelming support for the Egyptian revolutionaries across the Arab world reflects a sense of unity in the rejection of tyrannical, or at least authoritarian, leaders, corruption and the rule of a small financial and political elite.

Arab protests in solidarity with the Egyptian people also suggest that there is a strong yearning for the revival of Egypt as a pan-Arab unifier and leader. Photographs of Gamal Abdel Nasser, the former Egyptian president, have been raised in Cairo and across Arab capitals by people who were not even alive when Nasser died in 1970. The scenes are reminiscent of those that swept Arab streets in the 1950s and 1960s.

But this is not an exact replica of the pan-Arab nationalism of those days. Then, pan-Arabism was a direct response to Western domination and the 1948 establishment of the state of Israel. Today, it is a reaction to the absence of democratic freedoms and the inequitable distribution of wealth across the Arab world.

We are now witnessing the emergence of a movement for democracy that transcends narrow nationalism or even pan-Arab nationalism and which embraces universal human values that echo from north to south and east to west.

This is not to say that there is no anti-imperialist element within the current movement. But the protests in Egypt and elsewhere promote a deeper understanding of human emancipation, which forms the real basis for freedom from both repression and foreign domination.

Unlike the pan-Arabism of the past, the new movement represents an intrinsic belief that it is freedom from fear and human dignity that enables people to build better societies and to create a future of hope and prosperity. The old “wisdom” of past revolutionaries that liberation from foreign domination precedes the struggle for democracy has fallen.

The revolutionaries of Egypt, and before them Tunisia, have exposed through deeds – not merely words – the leaders who are tyrants towards their own people, while humiliatingly subservient to foreign powers. They have shown the impotence of empty slogans that manipulate animosity towards Israel to justify a fake Arab unity, which in turn serves only to mask sustained oppression and the betrayal of Arab societies and the aspirations of the Palestinian people.

The Palestinian pretext

The era of using the Palestinian cause as a pretext for maintaining martial laws and silencing dissent is over. The Palestinians have been betrayed, not helped, by leaders who practice repression against their own people. It is no longer sufficient for regimes in Syria and Iran to claim support for Palestinian resistance in order to stifle freedom of expression and to shamelessly tread on human rights in their own countries.

Equally, it is no longer acceptable for the Palestinian Fatah and Hamas to cite their record in resisting Israel when justifying their suppression of each other and the rest of the Palestinian people. Young Palestinians are responding to the message of the movement and embracing the idea that combatting internal injustice – whether practised by Fatah or Hamas – is a prerequisite for the struggle to end Israeli occupation and not something to be endured for the sake of that struggle.

Events in Egypt and Tunisia have revealed that Arab unity against internal repression is stronger than that against a foreign threat – neither the American occupation of Iraq nor the Israeli occupation galvanised the Arab people in the way that a single act by a young Tunisian who chose to set himself alight rather than live in humiliation and poverty has.

This does not mean that Arabs do not care about the occupied people of Iraq or Palestine – tens, sometimes hundreds, of thousands have taken to the streets across Arab countries at various times to show solidarity with Iraqis and Palestinians – but it does reflect the realisation that the absence of democratic freedoms has contributed to the continued occupation of those countries.

The Arab failure to defend Iraq or liberate Palestine has come to symbolise an Arab impotence that has been perpetuated by the state of fear and paralysis in which the ordinary Arab citizen, marginalised by social injustice and crushed by security apparatus oppression, has existed.

When they were allowed to rally in support of Iraqis or Palestinians it was mainly so that their anger might be deflected from their own governments and towards a foreign threat. For so long, they put their own socio-economic grievances aside to voice their support for the occupied, only to wake up the next day shackled by the same chains of repression.

All the while, both pro-Western and anti-Western governments continued with business as usual – the first camp relying on US support to consolidate their authoritarian rule and the second on anti-Israel slogans to give legitimacy to their repression of their people.

But now people across the region – not only in Egypt and Tunisia – have lost faith in their governments. For make no mistake, when protesters have gathered in Amman or Damascus to express their solidarity with the Egyptian revolutionaries in Tahrir Square, they are actually objecting to their own rulers.

In Ramallah, the protesters repeated a slogan calling for the end of internal Palestinian divisions (which, in Arabic, rhymes with the Egyptian call for the end to the regime), as well as demanding an end to negotiations with Israel – sending a clear message that there will be no room left for the Palestinian Authority if it continues to rely on such negotiations.

In the 1950s and 1960s, millions of Arabs poured onto the streets determined to continue the liberation of the Arab world from the remnants of colonial domination and the creeping American hegemony. In 2011, millions have poured onto the streets determined not only to ensure their freedom but also to ensure that the mistakes of previous generations are not repeated. Slogans against a foreign enemy – no matter how legitimate – ring hollow if the struggle for democratic freedoms is set aside.

The protesters in Cairo and beyond may raise photographs of Gamal Abdel Nasser, because they see him as a symbol of Arab dignity. But, unlike Nasser, the demonstrators are invoking a sense of pan-Arab nationalism that understands that national liberation cannot go hand-in-hand with the suppression of political dissent. For this is a genuine Arab unity galvanised by the common yearning for democratic freedoms.

Lamis Andoni is an analyst and commentator on Middle Eastern and Palestinian affairs.

Click here to continue reading “February 14, 2011″ »

Permalink Print

February 13, 2011

EDITOR: Now comes the real struggle, and the real dangers

One feels like apologising for including here so much material on Egypt, instead of Palestine, but this is an incorrect and limited viewing of the context of the Palestine context. Egypt always was, and will continue to be a crucial regional context of the Palestine conflict. This is why Israel is now somewhat worried about its ability to continue the stranglehold over Gaza – without Mubarak’s willing cooperaion and his own blockade, this will be impractical. The wider context of the Arab world, and its willing coopration, until now, with the colonial project of Israel is also going to be affected by the changes now under way in Egypt. This means that one must carefully monitor those developments, also for their effects on the Palestine situation. One sign is the unexpected, almost panicky calling of PA elections by Abbas – a move that would be impossible without the Egyptian developments – Abbas is as frightened of the future as all the other potentates around him.

The tyrant has fallen after 18 days of herculean struggle by the people of Egypt, but his system of control and oppression stands intact, its leaders part of the Mubarak regime, direct beneficiaries of its illegal and immoral excesses. They did not just protect him during this long struggle, but their own illicit interests, and for those they will be prepared to continue oppressing the people. The coming period will be of a very dangerous and fractious nature, without any doubt.

Below are some articles which examine this theme, both in terms of news and analysis. Not only the people of Egypt, or the whole Arab world, but also the rest of us elsewhere, will be watching the situation as it develops for signs of the old regime protecting its privileges and fighting against the modernising and democratising of the country. The enemies are a legion – apart from the whole raft of inner beneficiaries of the corrupt regime, there are the other tyrants in the Arab world, Israel, the US and its many lackeys in the west, the large companies and conglomerates which flourished under Mubarak for 30 years – the list goes on, and we are speaking here of the strongest forces in the region and the world. To defeat those, as opposed to just defeating its figurehead, will take enormous courage and vision, and will be much more complex.

Despite this grave difficulty, the struggle is not hopeless. The people of Egypt have seen the fate of revolution elsewhere which were co-opted and corrupted by the ancien regimes which have preceded them. The East European current regimes, all a corruption of the anti-Stalinist uprisings, are a great warning sign for the Egyptians and the Arab world elsewhere. Difficult as it was to defeat Mubarak, it was still the easy part, involved limited violence and was all done in the light of the world media and enormous surging of support. The next stage will be fought in the dark corners of the social structures, will lack the clarity and courage of a whole people fighting for freedom, and will require the hawk-eye of continuous and tenacious protection of what was achieved. We should all watch out for the inevitable betrayal, and hope and work for the continued struggle to defeat the system of oppression, now that its symbolic snake-head was cut of. It will not be easy or straight forward. A revolution is either a continuous and organic process, fed and developed, or it dies and deteriorates and dies.

Egypt in transition – Sunday 13 February: The Guardian

After the euphoria of Hosni Mubarak’s exit Egypt is beginning a new era but already there are reports of skirmishes between protesters and the army

Egyptian protesters stage a sit-in in Tahrir Square, rejecting army's appeal to leave. Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images

11.53am: Police officers, some in uniform, are marching through Tahrir Square chanting that the people and the police are one.
It was the police, of course, who were used to crackdown on the protesters in the first week of the demonstrations.

11.45am: The UK government is under pressure to freeze any assets of Mubarak held in the UK, the Press Association reports.

The former president is reported to have amassed a family fortune worth billions of dollars held in British and Swiss banks and tied up in property in London, New York and Los Angeles. The Swiss authorities have already announced that they are freezing his assets held in their country, and former foreign office minister Lord Malloch-Brown urged the UK to follow suit.
“I think it would be a very prudent thing to do to freeze suspicious accounts here because it will take a new government quite a while to mount some kind of legal claim on them,” he told BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show. “It would be a real pity if when they did the money had gone. I think it would be great for the reputation for the City of London if those accounts were frozen now.”
Business secretary Vince Cable suggested that there was a need for an international approach, rather than the UK acting alone. “I wasn’t aware that he had enormous assets here but there clearly needs to be concerted international action on this,” he told The Andrew Marr Show.
“There is no point in one government acting in isolation but certainly we need to look at it. It depends also whether his funds were illegally obtained or improperly obtained.”
He said that the government would take action against any British bank which was found to have acted improperly helping Mubarak to move funds during his final days in office in order to shield them from any claim by the new administration.
“I would be concerned if the banks had been engaged in anything improper,” he said.
“One of the things we have done since this government got in is actually stopping the banks engaging in large-scale tax avoidance on behalf of their corporate and private customers. So the logic of that is the we would be concerned and would act if there was anything improper that had occurred.”
The director of the Serious Fraud Office, Richard Alderman, indicated that they were already tracking the assets of Mubarak and the deposed Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
“The public would expect us to be looking for some of this money if we became aware of it, and to try to repatriate it for the benefit of the people of those countries,” he told The Sunday Times.

To read the rest of this blog, use link above

The tyrant has gone. Now the real struggle begins for Egypt: The Guardian

The protesters have stripped Mubarak and his foreign backers of their authority. But the roots of despotism run deep

Before the fall … anti-Mubarak protesters wave Egyptian flags at Cairo’s Tahrir Square on 10 February 2011. Photograph: Pedro Ugarte/AFP/Getty Images
For the last two weeks I have, like innumerable others, careened from the television news to internet updates and back, longing for the moment that came last night, when the tyrant finally yielded to a brave and spirited people. History has been made; celebrations are in order. But it is not too early to ask: what next?

The so-called Higher Military Council inspires no confidence. Does another military strongman lurk in the regime’s entrails? I wonder if western leaders, shamed into moral bluster after being caught in flagrante with Mubarak, will, when we relax our vigils, tip the balance towards “stability” and against real change.

I grow a bit apprehensive too, recalling the words of an extraordinarily perceptive observer of Egypt’s struggles in the past: “The edifice of despotic government totters to its fall. Strive so far as you can to destroy the foundations of this despotism, not to pluck up and cast out its individual agents.”

This was the deathbed exhortation-cum-warning of the itinerant Muslim Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (1838-97) who pursued a long career in political activism and trenchant journalism. Travelling through Afghanistan, Iran, Egypt and Turkey in the last half of the 19th century, al-Afghani saw at first hand how unshakeable the “foundations of despotism” in Muslim countries had become.

That they were reinforced in the next century, even though many of the “individual agents” of despotism were plucked up and cast out, would not have surprised him.

He spent eight years in Egypt at a crucial time (1871-79), when the country, though nominally sovereign, was stumbling into a long and abject relationship with western powers. Invaded by Napoleon in 1798, Egypt had become the first non-western country to try to catch up with western economic and military power. Building a modern army and bureaucracy required capital, and Egypt’s rulers began large-scale plantations of a cash crop highly valued in Europe: cotton.

This led, in the short term, to great private fortunes. But, having bound its formerly self-sufficient economy to a single crop and the vagaries of the international capitalist system, Egypt was badly in debt to European bankers by the late 1870s. Unable to generate sufficient capital on its own, Egypt became heavily dependent on huge high-interest loans from European banks.

For British and French bankers, the state’s treasury was, as the economic historian David S Landes wrote, “simply a grab-bag”. Egypt’s nascent manufacturing industry stood no chance in an international economic regime whose rules were rigged in favour of free-trading Britain. At the same time, early modernisation in Egypt had also unleashed new classes with social and political aspirations that could not be fulfilled by a despotic regime beholden to foreigners.

In the late 1870s and early 80s, Egyptian resentment finally erupted in what were the first nationalist upsurges against colonial rule anywhere in Asia and Africa. Predictably, the British invaded and occupied Egypt in 1882 in order to protect their interests, most important of which was the sea route to India through the Suez canal.

In Ottoman Turkey, al-Afghani observed a similar advance of western economic and strategic interests backed by gunboats. In his native Persia, he participated in mass protests against the then shah’s sale of national land and resources to European businessmen.

Al-Afghani came to realise that the threat posed to the traditionally agrarian countries of the east by Europe’s modern and industrialised nation-states was much more insidious than territorial expansion. Imposing, for instance, the urgencies of internal modernisation and the conditionalities of “free trade” on Asian societies, European businessmen and diplomats got native elites to do their bidding. In turn, local rulers were only too happy to use western techniques to modernise their armies, set up efficient police and spy networks and reinforce their own autocratic power.

This was why, al-Afghani explained presciently in the 1890s, Muslims moved from despising despots coddled and propped up by the west to despising the west itself. Al-Afghani saw, too, the proliferation of the now-ubiquitous binaries (western liberalism versus religious fanaticism, stability versus Islamism), which ideologically justified to Europeans at home their complicity with brutal tyranny abroad. In 1891 he attacked the British press for presenting Iranian protesters against the Shah as Islamic fanatics when, in fact, they articulated a profound longing for reform.

Al-Afghani wouldn’t have been surprised to see that even national sovereignty and electoral democracy were no defence against such materially and intellectually resourceful western power. The secular nationalist Wafd party won Egypt’s first elections in 1924; and they kept up their winning streak over the next decade. But, acting in concert with the Egyptian monarch, the British made it impossible for the Wafd party to exercise any real sovereignty. (This was when, feeding on widespread frustration with conventional democratic politics, Egyptian Islamists first came to the fore – the Muslim Brotherhood was founded in 1928.)

As the Indian anti-imperialist leader Jawaharlal Nehru, who followed the slow strangling of Egyptian democracy from a British prison, caustically commented in 1935, “democracy for an Eastern country seems to mean only one thing: to carry out the behests of the imperialist ruling power”.

This dismal truth was to be more widely felt among Arabs as the United States replaced Britain and France as the paramount power in the Middle East; and securing Israel and the supply of oil joined the expanding list of western strategic interests in the region.

The rest of this story would have been as familiar to al-Afghani as it is to us. Gamal Abdel Nasser presided over a relatively brief and ecstatic interlude of Egyptian freedom. But his socialistic reforms did not rescue Egypt from the perennially losing side in the international economy; and Nasser’s successors, all military strongmen, worked on reinforcing the foundations of their despotism: they struck military alliances with western governments, opened the national economy to foreign investors, creating a small but powerful local elite committed to the status quo, while a fully modernised police state bullied the steadily pauperised majority into passivity.

The edifice of this despotism was always bound to totter in the age of instant communications. Cursing the Muslim despots of his time, al-Afghani lamented on his deathbed: “Would that I had sown all the seed of my ideas in the receptive ground of the people’s thoughts.” Al-Jazeera and the internet have now helped accomplish what al-Afghani only dreamed of doing: rousing and emboldening the politicised masses, shattering the cosy consensus of transnational elites.

The protests grow bigger every day, swelled by new social classes, beneficiaries as well as victims of the ancien regime. Even the stalwart propagandists on state TV have found their inner voices. Assisted by YouTube, the demonstrators praying unflinchingly on Kasr al-Nil as they are assaulted by water cannons have swiftly accumulated even more moral-spiritual power than the resolute satyagrahis of Mahatma Gandhi did in their own media-deprived time. Amazingly, in less than two weeks, the protesters in Midan Tahrir have stripped the local despot and his foreign enablers of their moral authority and intellectual certainties.

The essential revolution in the mind has already been accomplished. A radical transformation of political and economic structures would be an even more extraordinary event. But achieving it won’t be easy, as Tunisia’s example already reveals; and Egypt’s own history warns us that the foundations of despotism are deep and wide. It is now clear that our virtual vigils will have to continue long after the western media’s very recent fascination with Egypt trails off, and assorted neocons and “liberal” hawks emerge from the woodwork to relaunch their bogey of “Islamism”. We may also have to steel ourselves, as victory appears in sight, for some more bitter setbacks in the long Egyptian battle for self-determination.

Click here to continue reading “February 13, 2011″ »

Permalink Print