April 30, 2011

Contagious flatulence

A.B. Yehoshua, the (racist, judeophobic, blood thirsty ) leading Israeli author, had a brain fart. One admits--by the standards he himself had set, it wasn't even a particularly odorous one. (for these standards, do click on these links, please, because there are few better ways to get a measure of a society than by the bottomless pits scaled by its luminaries).

Yehoshua starts by putting forward a phony question, "Why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict refuses to be resolved"? As if conflicts have mind and agency and can be blamed for not resolving themselves. (Mind you, if only that poor conflict could be subjected to two or three sleepless weeks in a Shabak dungeon, I am sure it would have cried uncle already. But the famous efficiency of Israel's security services only works on flesh and blood subjects.)

With the question thus framed, all matters of (criminal, ideological, historical) responsibility can be summarily executed, and their place filled with metaphysical cant and Hasbara. First comes the Hasbara. "There is no precedent for a nation that lost its sovereignty 2,000 years ago, was scattered among the nations, and later decided for internal and external reasons to return to its ancient homeland and re-establish sovereignty there." Indeed, there is no precedent because it never happened. No nation lost its sovereignty 2,000 years ago because the concept of a sovereign nation didn't exist then. Second, it didn't happen because it can't happen. A nation is a metaphysical concept, not an entity capable of making decision. Herzl, Rupin, Weitzman, Ben Gurion, etc., were not the elected representatives of a trans-historical Jewish polity stretching back in time 2,000 years. They were a tiny organized minority of European Jews who developed a Jewish nationalist ideology drawn on contemporary Eastern European models, based on a reading of the Bible adapted from German Protestantism, and using a concept of the relation of European Jews and the Ancient Hebrews that was first articulated by a the German philosopher Johann Gottfried von Herder. Not that there is anything inherently bad about borrowing ideas from Herder, but he did not live 2,000 years ago.

In addition, the whole argument is a non-sequitur. The story of Zionism is indeed "unprecedented", in the sense that all historical narratives are unique. No country except Australia was forged on the basis of a former penal colony, and no country except Haiti was the first ever state established by liberated African slaves. The unique way each country came to be is of course of great importance, but nothing follows from that uniqueness itself. It is important to distinguish between, on the one hand, the trivial sense in which every history is unique, and, on the other hand, the Zionist claim to uniqueness, which is a preemptive strike against the comparative method of historical inquiry, and therefore completely bogus.

Let's continue with the Hasbara.

"The Jewish people...did not want to expel the Palestinians, and certainly not to destroy them." Surprisingly, that is almost true. "The Jewish people", having neither agency nor will, did not indeed "want to expel the Palestinians". For that very reason, "the Jewish people" did not in fact expel the Palestinians (contrary to what Yehoshua's sly negative construction implies). It was the militaristic Zionist cadres, the Histadrut, the JNF, the Hagana, the Palmach, etc., that indeed wanted, planned and executed the expulsion. It is very chivalrous of the High Priest of the Third Temple Yehoshua to assume responsibility for the Nakba on behalf of "the Jewish people." It's a priestly tradition.

"Moreover, there was no attempt here to impose a colonial regime, since the Jews had no mother country that had sent them on colonial conquests, as in the case of Britain or France." The idea that Zionism isn't colonial would have shocked Herzl, Rupin, Nordau, Jabotinsky, and practically all the Zionists who lived before the area of decolonization, when "colonialism" become a dirty word. The sophistry is breathtaking, not unlike that of the Israeli lawyers who argue with a straight face that the Geneva conventions do not apply to the OPT. For information, here is a classic definition of settler colonies from "key concepts in post-colonial studies":
In settler colonies “the invading Europeans (or their descendants) annihilated, displaced and/or marginalized the indigenes to become a majority non-indigenous population”.
Nowhere is it part of the definition of colonialism that the settlers must be agents of their own metropolitan nation state. The formulation "sent them for colonial conquests" is a trap for the unwary. To take just one example, Britain didn't send the Puritans to "colonial conquests" in North America. It persecuted them. This is typical. Settlers in all settler colonial formations were drawn from the marginal elements of their metropoleis. They were persecuted religious and ethnic minorities, destitute economic refugees, criminals and demi-monde, etc. The case of Zionism is unexceptional. The beauty of the argument that subtracts Israel from colonialism is that, not only it is willfully blind to the self-understanding of early Zionists, who clearly thought of themselves as colonizers, but it also reinvents what colonialism means to suit itself. What makes Zionism colonialist is the relation between European settlers, supported by Western powers, and Southern indigenous people. That Jews didn't come to Palestine from a country called Judonia is irrelevant.

Thus far, I scooped the hors d'œuvre (and left enough hanging Hasbara fruits for others to pick). It is time to get to the pièce de resistance.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a question of territory, as in the case of many historical conflicts between nations, but a battle over the national identity of the entire homeland.
Now, the homeland in question, isn't that presumably that land between the river and the sea? Namely, a territory? And isn't the battle about the future of that land? About the right of people to live there and to determine that future? Yehoshua argues that a battle over the future of a territory, over the rights to be in that territory, is not "about territory." Odd, but let's try to decipher.

There are conflicts that are "about territory" but do not implicate the "national identity of the entire homeland". Examples would be Alsace, the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, etc. Of course, from the perspective of the people who live there, it is hard to argue that their identity and future is not deeply at stake. But who cares about people anyway? Yehoshua's distinction only makes sense from a nationalist perspective that treats land as possession of the abstract nation, not as the lived world of flesh and blood people. Thus the fate of Gibraltar would be purely a "territorial" matter, a property dispute between "Spain" and the "UK" in which the national identity (of the diplomats, not of the residents) is not at stake. Yehoshua cannot apply that framework to Palestine. Perhaps because he really lives there. And as obtuse as he is, he cannot fail to see that the future of that place and the people who live there cannot be reduced to his beloved abstractions.

But he tries nevertheless, tying himself in knots. First, he blames the uniqueness of Jewish history. But surely, the struggle in South Africa, In Northern Ireland, in Algeria, were just as much "not a question of territory" according to this distinction, at least not from the perspective of those in the thick of it. There must be something else.
For both sides, and mainly for the Palestinians, the size of the nation confronting them is not clear - whether it consists only of Israeli Jews or the entire Jewish diaspora. And the Israelis don't know whether they are confronting only the Palestinian people or the entire Arab nation. In other words, the demographic boundaries of the two sides are not clear either. This is therefore a fundamental conflict that constantly creates primal and profound mistrust between the two peoples, preventing a possible solution.
One could point out that there is hardly any party to a conflict that knows exactly the size of what confronts it. What confronts the democratic revolt in Bahrain? The royal family of Bahrain? Sunnis? Saudi Arabia? The GCC? Arab reactionary governments? The US? The world? But lets stay on topic. That Palestinian nationalism has a relationship with Arab nationalism (and also with other identities, for example Islam), and that Israeli national identity is bound with Jewish identity (as well as other identities, for example, Europe), these are trivial observations about both Jews and Palestinians. Identity is fuzzy and relational, with multiple, fluid, opposing components operating at different levels, changing over time and in response to circumstances. First year psychology students get that. What Yehoshua makes of these elementary facts which he imagines world shattering discoveries makes little sense. First, if Israeli Jews are part of the Jewish nation and Palestinians part of an Arab nation, then, according to Yehoshua's own logic of nationalistic abstractions, this should have made the future of Palestine a mere "territorial conflict", with Arabs and Jews fighting over Palestine the way Argentinians and Brits fought overs Las Malvinas. It should have simplified things, not complicated them. Isn't it a staple of Zionist cant that Arabs have already 22 (or 23, or 24) states to choose from? It doesn't work like that because the basic logic is nonsense.

Then there is the issue of "mistrust." This term belongs to the language of the "peace process," of which Yehoshua is a doyen. It lurks there together with "dialogue," "confidence building measures," "mutual understanding" and other such cant designed to create the illusion that the conflict is not a matter of power and dispossession, but a giant misunderstanding. According to Yehoshua, then, the conflict persists because Palestinians and Israelis do not trust each other. They do not trust each other because they cannot be sure of each other identity. And they cannot be sure of each other identity because they are not clear about the boundaries of their own identity.

Let's note that the premise is pure cant. Palestinians have about one thousand reasons to mistrust Israelis apart from the fact that Israeli Jews and diaspora Jews have bonded over Zionism in recent decades. The history of violence, dispossession, deception and bad faith, for example? The elementary political truth that "trust me" is not a solution to powerlessness? On the Israeli side, the main reason Israeli Jews mistrust Palestinians is that they have lived three generations on a diet of an orientalist discourse that portrays Arabs as inherently untrustworthy and violent. I trust that Yehoshua knows that, as he himself made some contributions to that discourse.

But facts aside, one has to grasp the real thrust of this exposition. The next sentence of the essay discloses the goal post:

Is it still possible to resolve the conflict without ending up in the trap of a binational state?

The solution to the conflict, according to Yehoshua, is in the clear demarcation of identities. What does that mean, for Yehoshua, the supporter of withdrawal from the OPT, Jewish secularism, the apartheid wall, and the unrestrained use of military hardware against Palestinians? This is what I understand. If only Palestinians were clear about who they were, if they gave up their complex identities, memories, family ties, and saw themselves as members of an abstract Palestinian nation confined in a clear territory, say, the West Bank and Gaza, minus Ma'ale Edumim. If only Israeli Jews figured out that they alone were the true Jews, that being Jewish is not a question of tradition or religion but merely about holding sovereign power over a well defined Jewish territory, (like a "normal" nation) and therefore cut their umbilical cord to the various diasporas, stopped listening to Arab music, and stopped taking American Jewish political advice... Then everything would be simple. Then both Jews and Palestinians would become "normal" nations. A wall built roughly over the 1967 border, Palestinians over there, Jews over here. Done! Then Israel could be the dream of white European separatist racism that has always inspired Yehoshua, the dream of secular Zionism. And Palestine? Palestine would be that same dream, only upside down.

A coda, and a return to the title. I probably wouldn't have noticed Yehoshua's fart if it weren't for Gilad Atzmon noticing it, and I wouldn't have noticed the latter if it weren't quoted by Philip Weiss on Mondoweiss.

Atzmon is moved by the "interesting insight" such as that "It is also far from being clear where the Israeli ends and the Jew starts." Describing something that has been discussed ad nauseam for the last 60 years in every Jewish Israeli high school, summer camp and youth movement gathering as an "insight" is special. Atzmon, who, tragically enough, cannot let go of his IDF uniform, compliments Yehoshua for being "a proud Israeli Jew," one assumes as opposed to those spineless diaspora "progressive Jews" who offend Atzmon so much. It is as shocking as drought in the Mojave Desert that two who share the same secular Zionist assumptions, the same dislike of the radical left, the same belief in the trans-historical agency of abstractions, and the same colonial/racial/sexual anxieties about the impure and the unformed diaspora Judaism, would find each other insightful. Possibly the only thing to say about sentences like "In the contemporary Jewish world there are no clear dichotomies. We are dealing with a spineless elastic metamorphic identity that shapes itself to fit every possible circumstances," (aside from the sheer falseness), is that by the standards set by these two authors it isn't particularly odorous.

As to why Philip Weiss finds that deep, one should ask him. Weiss confesses that he "generally avoids" Atzmon. But why does he avoid Atzmon? Is there some political consciousness there that is struggling to take shape. Or is it just fear of what those over-sensitive "progressive Jews" might say? I am not sure Weiss himself can tell, but time will tell.

April 29, 2011

Unity until.....?

Guardian editorial on the reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas:

The Arab spring has finally had an impact on the core issue of the region, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It came in the form of a draft agreement between Fatah and Hamas which took everyone by surprise. There are three chief reasons why, after four years of bitter and violent conflict between the rivals, Fatah acceded to all of Hamas's political conditions to form a national unity government.
The first was the publication of the Palestine papers, the secret record of the last fruitless round of talks with Israel. The extent to which Palestinian negotiators were prepared to bend over backwards to accommodate Israel surprised even hardened cynics. The Palestinian Authority found itself haemorrhaging what little authority it had left. The second was the loss to the Palestinian president, Abu Mazen, of his closest allies in Hosni Mubarak and his henchman Omar Suleiman. While they were still around, Gaza's back door was locked. But the third reason had little to do with either of the above: Abu Mazen's faith in Barack Obama finally snapped. For a man who dedicated his career to the creation of a Palestinian state through negotiation, the turning point came when the US vetoed a UN resolution condemning Israel's settlement-building. In doing so, the US vetoed its own policy. To make the point, the resolution was drafted out of the actual words Hillary Clinton used to condemn construction. Fatah's frustration with all this has now taken political form.
Israel's politicians reacted darkly to the news of reconciliation. From right to left, they shared an assumption which is out of date. It is that they retain the ability – and the right – to dictate what sort of state Palestinians will build on their borders. Having spent years fashioning the environment, the penny has yet to drop that a future environment composed of free Egyptians, Jordanians and even possibly Syrians could well fashion Israel's borders. Even after Mubarak fell, the consensus was that Cairo was so preoccupied with internal problems that it lacked the energy to make foreign policy.
Not so. Yesterday foreign minister Nabil al-Arabi announced that Egypt would shortly be lifting the siege of Gaza. These events pose a direct challenge to the status quo that Israel, the US and the EU have fashioned. Do they now subvert the will of the Egyptians they claim to champion? Does the US do what it did the last time Fatah and Hamas reconciled at Mecca, and pull the plug on the unity government? Do the Quartet threaten to withdraw the PA's funds, because, as is very likely, Salam Fayyad will no longer be there to disburse them? The US could twist Fatah's arm, but Fatah might just sign on the dotted line all the same.
Comments are still open. I wouldn't say they're free, but they are still open.

Palestine Film Festival

Karma Nabulsi in The Guardian on the Palestine Film Festival:

The perilous art of choosing a film on Palestine for an international audience may appear fraught with elephant traps. Weighted down by more than 40 years of military occupation and 60 years of dispossession, and comprising the largest refugee population in the world, Palestine is a touchstone for passion and political engagement across the world. Is a film about it inherently too political, too ideologically rigid to enlighten, or indeed entertain? Do the unhappy politics of the place trump any chance of critical engagement on a film's artistic merit, or allow room for happy accident and serendipity in choosing a film?
The long-running London Palestine film festival, established at London University more than 20 years ago and held annually at the Barbican since 2005, arrived at a highly unexpected and bold solution to this challenge. It somehow manages to transcend this traditional dilemma by holding fast to a few simple but radical aims: to constantly push boundaries, disrupt our conventional understandings, make us see it all anew, and open it up for us once more. With each screening, discussion, roundtable, photography exhibit, director's conversation and artist's event, the world of Palestine is seen yet again, as if for the first time.
Under this mandate, a serious but ebullient festival has emerged. In order to keep shaking things up, a key premise was to universalise Palestine. Although we are in the midst of a wave of Palestinian film talent, they forgo the confines of a traditional "national cinema" series for an unmistakably internationalist one. This year's festival showcases 30 works by artists working in 12 different countries, and across genres from video art to biopic, puts up work for UK premieres (16 this year), and shows cutting-edge documentaries such as Mahmoud al Massad's mesmerising This Is My Picture When I Was Dead.
It also regularly celebrates archive gems, this year showing the recently restored Far from Vietnam (1967), on which Chris Marker, Jean-Luc Godard, Agnès Varda, Claude Lelouch, Alain Resnais and Joris Ivens all worked. The result is a carnival of cinematic styles and concerns that transcend and unite the historical, the aesthetic, and the political in film, and that is why it works so well. Each film and event challenges – either obliquely or directly – our thinking around Palestine today.
The festival also plays a major role as the platform for introducing Palestinian films and film-makers to UK audiences. Since its inception in 1998, more than 320 works have been shown, nearly half by Palestinians. The festival's focus on Palestinian work unites established and emerging artists. This year's festival opens with Zindeeq (pictured), a remarkable work of sublime beauty. Bold, dangerous and difficult, it is the latest work of pioneering Palestinian auteur Michel Khleifi. But it also contains a body of work from a new generation of film-makers such as May Odeh, Rima Essa and Abdallah al Ghoul.
This year the programme highlights pressing contemporary issues, as well. Vibeke Løkkeberg's astonishing Tears of Gaza offers a searing account of the human impact of the 2008-09 war in Gaza, while a triple-bill on 7 May focuses on the tunnels that furnish Gaza's precarious lifeline. And this year includes the rare chance to see Heiny Srour's 1984 feminist masterwork, Leila and the Wolves (co-presented with Birds Eye View film festival), as well as the UK premiere of Dahna Abourahme's groundbreaking documentary on the women of Ain el-Hilweh refugee camp in south Lebanon, The Kingdom of Women. Breathtaking, uplifting, heartbreaking, inspiring: welcome to Palestine.
The London Palestine film festival runs from 29 April to 11 May. Details:palestinefilm.org

Comments are open, even at this late hour.

April 27, 2011

Martin Buber, the kibbutz movement and "socialism" in Israel

I was in a chat on a message board recently and I mentioned, in passing, that I doubted the sincerity of Martin Buber's so-called bi-nationalist zionism. I couldn't quite remember why I doubted it but it had to do with a story I heard about how Martin Buber came to occupy the former house of Edward Said's family.  I just googled "Martin Buber" "Edward Said" and I eventually found this little gem, in Peace News, by Uri Davis:

Like Buber, one of my father's relatives (Leon Roth), was a professor of philosophy at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem at the time. He also witnessed the atrocities committed against the Palestinian Arabs in the name of the "Jewish State". Unlike his colleague Buber, however, he resigned his post and returned to Britain. 

Buber, on the other hand, sold out. In 1963 he had this to say: "I have accepted as mine the state of Israel, the form of the new Jewish community that has arisen from the war. I have nothing in common with those Jews who imagine that they may contest the factual shape which Jewish independence has taken." (Martin Buber, "Israel and the Command of the Spirit", Israel and the World, p257.) According to Edward Said, prior to 1948 the Buber family were tenants of the Saids in Jerusalem. They paid their rent for their house in the wealthy mixed Arab-Jewish Talbiyya Quarter to Edward Said's father. Sometime towards 1948, a tenant-landlord dispute erupted between Mr Said and Professor Buber, and the case was taken for adjudication before the British Mandate court. Buber lost the case and had to leave the premises. 

  • At the door, after returning the keys to Edward Said's father, Buber turned round and said: "Mr Said, you just wait. I will be back." 

  • Buber: comeback kid
    The war that began with the Israeli declaration of independence in 1948 ended in 1949 with the expulsion of approximately 75 per cent of the indigenous Palestinian Arab populations from some 400 Arab localities that came under the control of the Israeli army. 

    In the armistice agreements between Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Jerusalem was partitioned and Talbiyya was ceded to Israel. In consequence, the Said family were classified under Israeli law as "absentees", their rights to their properties in Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel were nullified and vested with the Israeli Custodian for Absentees' Property. 

  • Immediately after the war Buber was as good as his word. He returned to take residence in the Saids' house in Talbiyya, now as tenant of the Custodian. He lived there for the rest of his life. (Uri Davis, op cit, p54.) 

  • Against the backdrop of the continuing Israeli denial of the rights of the 1948 Palestine refugees to return, and the occupation since 1967 of the West Bank and teh Gaza Strip, Martin Buber's "Epilogue" in Paths in Utopia makes for an almost surreal reading. 
    Read on for an article exposing the sheer hypocrisy of Martin Buber and the whole of the kibbutz movement for which he was something of an ideologue.

    I should point out for those who go a-googling some more, that as with the Joan Peters hoax there are many zionists outlets trying to make out that the Buber/Said saga never happened. On that matter, here is Edward Said.

    April 25, 2011


    Actually, It isn't nice is the name of the song, written by Malvina Reynolds, and performed as the soundtrack to this video by Barbara Dane.

    April 23, 2011

    Israel studies at SOAS

    I thought I already blogged this. Apparently SOAS has created two posts for a new Israel studies course. A resident zionist at SOAS, Colin Schindler, is a happy bunny. According to The Guardian:
    Colin Shindler, professor of Israeli studies at Soas and future chair of the association, says the decision to expand Israel studies is a response to growing demand from students to know more about the political, cultural, social and economic background to events in the Middle East and is an attempt to offer an academic alternative to what he terms "the megaphone war".
    Antony Lerman is a little perplexed:

    The same emphasis on this development as being purely motivated by a desire to provide information, knowledge and understanding was evident from remarks made by the Director of the Pears Foundation, Charles Keidan:
    [He] stresses that the aim is to meet demand for better scholarship in the area rather than to promote a cause.
    ‘We have been very conscious not to be involved in this as any form of Israel advocacy,’ he says. ‘This is advocacy for Israel studies, not for Israel.’

    ......despite the gloss put on this development by Shindler and Keidan, all is not what it seems. While interest in the subject among students has no doubt increased and Shindler will strongly, and with some justification, claim that he teaches and researches the subject from as academically objective a position as possible, it’s quite obvious that this move is meant to counter, at least partly, the proliferation of Middle East studies funded by Arab sources at various universities up and down the country. The notion that work done at these institutions is politically biased against Israel is common in some Jewish circles in which I am sure that members of the Pears family mix.
    Keidan may well be entirely sincere in saying that the foundation is not involved in this initiative ‘as any form of Israel advocacy’, but it’s impossible to ignore the fact that Pears itself funds Israel advocacy both directly and indirectly. It’s true that Pears’s involvement in advocacy is rather more enlightened than the path followed by those who more or less base what they do on the belief that Israel can do no wrong. The foundation supports the New Israel Fund, for example, which provides grants to Israeli and Israeli-Arab human rights organizations. And it also began a major initiative to raise awareness in the UK Jewish community of the severely disadvantaged position of Israel’s Arab – or Palestinian, as most now call themselves–citizens. However, a book it produced celebrating Israel’s scientific achievements - Israel in the World - was a classic hasbara (propaganda) exercise, based on the view that the problem facing Israel is simply that the country’s good news stories are not being disseminated sufficiently widely and intensively and that negative developments are exaggerated out of all proportion. (A devastating critique of this approach by the IsraeliHaaretz journalist Gideon Levy was published on 10 April.) Just how much money it devotes to Israel advocacy is impossible to know because, contrary to many other grant making foundations that are registered charities, Pears does not itemise all its individual grants in its annual accounts.
    And a letter to The Guardian Education section raises concerns about impartiality:
    Harriet Swain's article "Lessons on Israel" (12 April) carries the lead-in: "A new association aims to fulfil growing demand from students for knowledge about the Middle East". If that is the case, why does it promote Israel studies rather than Middle East studies? And if it is neutral with regard to Israel/Palestine, then why is the European Association of Israel Studies not called the European Association of Israel/Palestine since 1948 studies? The backer of the new Soas Israel studies posts, the Pears Foundation, is said to be rooted in Jewish (not Middle Eastern or Palestinian) values; the foundation's attitude towards Zionism is not mentioned. One can only speculate.

    Sophie Richmond,
    London N8
    I don't think we can only speculate.

    April 21, 2011

    Mordechai Vanunu

    Letter in today's Guardian:

    Today marks seven years since Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli nuclear whistleblower, was released from Ashkelon prison to face the assembled world's media, having served his full sentence of 18 years (11.5 years in solitary confinement) for revealing the truth of Israel's clandestine nuclear weapons programme. Since his release he has faced no further charges regarding any "secrets" he is still supposed to have, yet it is for this reason he is not allowed to leave Israel and suffers daily restrictions on his freedom of movement, speech and association. It is time the British government called for these cruel restrictions to be withdrawn so he can leave Israel immediately, as he wishes.
    Ben Birnberg Trustee, Free Vanunu, Jim Boumelha President, International Federation of Journalists, Jeremy Corbyn MPParliamentary human rights group, Jeremy Dear General secretary, National Union of Journalists, Kate Hudson General secretary CND, Bruce Kent Trustee, Free Vanunu, Jon Sen  Film-maker

    April 20, 2011

    Transcript of the Itamar Investigation

    According to Ynet:

    Shin Bet, IDF and police have arrested two Palestinians, both residents of the village of Awarta, in connection to the Fogel family massacre in Itamar in March. The first suspect is Hakim Mazen Awad, 18, a high school student whose father was active in the Popular Front terror organization. Awad has a prison record. His uncle, who was killed in clashes with IDF forces in 2003, was involved in a June 2002 terror attack in Itamar, which left five dead. The second suspect, Amjad Mahmad Awad, 19, also a student, is affiliated with the Popular Front. (YNET)

    Now, YNET doesn't mention the method of investigation. But, luckily, I have the partial transcript:

    Shin Bet Investigator 1 (David): So, Hakim, I was told that the last week you spent in our four stars hotel convinced you to cooperate with the investigation?

    Hakim: (trying to move his broke arm) yes.

    Shin Bet Investigator 2 (Shlomo): Good! Good! Yalla David, let's finish this. Let's finish it and call it a day.

    David: (taking a file from a pile on his desk, opening it). So, Hakim, do you confess that you were in the room with Hitler when he gave the order to exterminate all the Jews of Europe?

    Hakim: I do. I do.

    David: please describe what happened.

    Hakim: I was sitting in the room. Hitler came in with a briefcase. He had that funny mustache.

    Shlomo: David, David! You took the wrong file out. What's the matter with you? This is the f**ing wrong file!

    Hakim: He open the briefcase and said, "now we're going to kill all the Jews." He then.

    Shlomo: Shut up! Shut up! David, please start again.

    David: (picking up a different file), So, Hakim, do you confess that you infiltrated Itamar and committed a vile murder of a family and their children?

    Hakim: I do. I do. I went to Itamar together with Hitler. He ordered me to slaughter the baby. I then went and cut the throat of the baby. Hitler was very happy and gave me a bar of chocolate.

    Shlomo: (shaking Hakim up) I am going to break every bone in your body if you mention Hitler one more time! Do you understand?

    Hakim: I am sorry. I thought that's what you wanted. I apologize. I will try to do better.

    David: Ok. Hakim. take it easy. How did you get inside Itamar?

    Hakim: we dug a tunnel and crawled into Itamar in the night.

    Shlomo: you mean you climbed over the fence.

    Hakim: Yes! Sorry. That is what I mean. We dug a tunnel and then we took the tunnel with us and we climbed over the fence.

    April 19, 2011

    Justice for Itamar?

    Magnes Zionist explains why there can never be justice in the case of the Fogel family members killed in the Itamar settlement now that two people have been arrested in connection with the case:

     I am puzzled by the silence of the decent folk here. Even if one is convinced that the Itamar murder suspects actually committed the murder – and given the justice system on the West Bank, that is hardly to be taken for granted – the manner of apprehending the suspects clearly involved massive violations of their due process, not to mention collective punishment of innocents.

    Would we tolerate this sort of "investigation" if it were conducted against Palestinians with Israeli citizenship within the Green Line? And if a serial killer was discovered in Tel Aviv, would we tolerate the police going to a neighborhood where the murdered was known to have lived, rounding up people with no criminal record, or with no reasonable tie to the murders, arresting them in the middle of the night, at times, and questioning them, taking from men and women DNA samples forcibly, and damaging their property – so as to apprehend murder suspects? Would we tolerate this in murder cases where settlers are suspects?

    Even if the murder suspects get a fair trial – and knowing West Bank justice, the likelihood is low -- we already know that justice will not be done in the Itamar murder case.
    Mondoweiss has a useful roundup of news of the arrests.

    So it was about oil..or was it?

    The Independent is reporting an exposé of the discussions regarding the sharing of the spoils of the war on Iraq.  Here's the main article:
    Not about oil? what they said before the invasion
    * Foreign Office memorandum, 13 November 2002, following meeting with BP: "Iraq is the big oil prospect. BP are desperate to get in there and anxious that political deals should not deny them the opportunity to compete. The long-term potential is enormous..."
    * Tony Blair, 6 February 2003: "Let me just deal with the oil thing because... the oil conspiracy theory is honestly one of the most absurd when you analyse it. The fact is that, if the oil that Iraq has were our concern, I mean we could probably cut a deal with Saddam tomorrow in relation to the oil. It's not the oil that is the issue, it is the weapons..."
    * BP, 12 March 2003: "We have no strategic interest in Iraq. If whoever comes to power wants Western involvement post the war, if there is a war, all we have ever said is that it should be on a level playing field. We are certainly not pushing for involvement."
    * Lord Browne, the then-BP chief executive, 12 March 2003: "It is not in my or BP's opinion, a war about oil. Iraq is an important producer, but it must decide what to do with its patrimony and oil."
    * Shell, 12 March 2003, said reports that it had discussed oil opportunities with Downing Street were 'highly inaccurate', adding: "We have neither sought nor attended meetings with officials in the UK Government on the subject of Iraq. The subject has only come up during conversations during normal meetings we attend from time to time with officials... We have never asked for 'contracts'."
    So what was happening before these statements were made?
    Five months before the March 2003 invasion, Baroness Symons, then the Trade Minister, told BP that the Government believed British energy firms should be given a share of Iraq's enormous oil and gas reserves as a reward for Tony Blair's military commitment to US plans for regime change.
    The papers show that Lady Symons agreed to lobby the Bush administration on BP's behalf because the oil giant feared it was being "locked out" of deals that Washington was quietly striking with US, French and Russian governments and their energy firms.
    Minutes of a meeting with BP, Shell and BG (formerly British Gas) on 31 October 2002 read: "Baroness Symons agreed that it would be difficult to justify British companies losing out in Iraq in that way if the UK had itself been a conspicuous supporter of the US government throughout the crisis."
    The minister then promised to "report back to the companies before Christmas" on her lobbying efforts.
    The Foreign Office invited BP in on 6 November 2002 to talk about opportunities in Iraq "post regime change". Its minutes state: "Iraq is the big oil prospect. BP is desperate to get in there and anxious that political deals should not deny them the opportunity."
    After another meeting, this one in October 2002, the Foreign Office's Middle East director at the time, Edward Chaplin, noted: "Shell and BP could not afford not to have a stake in [Iraq] for the sake of their long-term future... We were determined to get a fair slice of the action for UK companies in a post-Saddam Iraq."
    Whereas BP was insisting in public that it had "no strategic interest" in Iraq, in private it told the Foreign Office that Iraq was "more important than anything we've seen for a long time".
    BP was concerned that if Washington allowed TotalFinaElf's existing contact with Saddam Hussein to stand after the invasion it would make the French conglomerate the world's leading oil company. BP told the Government it was willing to take "big risks" to get a share of the Iraqi reserves, the second largest in the world.
    Over 1,000 documents were obtained under Freedom of Information over five years by the oil campaigner Greg Muttitt. They reveal that at least five meetings were held between civil servants, ministers and BP and Shell in late 2002.
    The 20-year contracts signed in the wake of the invasion were the largest in the history of the oil industry. They covered half of Iraq's reserves – 60 billion barrels of oil, bought up by companies such as BP and CNPC (China National Petroleum Company), whose joint consortium alone stands to make £403m ($658m) profit per year from the Rumaila field in southern Iraq.
    Last week, Iraq raised its oil output to the highest level for almost decade, 2.7 million barrels a day – seen as especially important at the moment given the regional volatility and loss of Libyan output. Many opponents of the war suspected that one of Washington's main ambitions in invading Iraq was to secure a cheap and plentiful source of oil.
    Mr Muttitt, whose book Fuel on Fire is published next week, said: "Before the war, the Government went to great lengths to insist it had no interest in Iraq's oil. These documents provide the evidence that give the lie to those claims.
    "We see that oil was in fact one of the Government's most important strategic considerations, and it secretly colluded with oil companies to give them access to that huge prize."
    Lady Symons, 59, later took up an advisory post with a UK merchant bank that cashed in on post-war Iraq reconstruction contracts. Last month she severed links as an unpaid adviser to Libya's National Economic Development Board after Colonel Gaddafi started firing on protesters. Last night, BP and Shell declined to comment.
    The Independent's Patrick Cockburn doesn't think it was all about oil:
    It has never seemed likely that the US and Britain invaded Iraq primarily for its oil. Reasserting US self-confidence as a super-power after 9/11 was surely a greater motive. The UK went along with this in order to remain America's chief ally. Both President Bush and Tony Blair thought the war would be easy.

    But would they have gone to war if Iraq had been producing cabbages? Probably not.
    Is any of this disturbing any more? It's certainly not surprising. Anyone who thought the Chilcot Inquiry was going to be a genuine attempt at getting to the truth about why the US and UK invaded Iraq will certainly be disappointed to know that the above mentioned "documents were not offered as evidence in the ongoing Chilcot Inquiry into the UK's involvement in the Iraq war". But did anyone believe that anyway?

    I just checked the Chilcot Inquiry website to see if when they are going to report and if there would be an opportunity to include the new information and "On 02 February 2011, Sir John Chilcot said:
    “We will provide a reliable account of almost nine years of the United Kingdom’s involvement in Iraq. It is a significant task. We believe it's important that we do justice to all the oral and the huge amount of written evidence we have received. My colleagues and I are also aware but completely unsurprised that different people have different perspectives of the same event. We shall also want to reflect on the many submissions we have received. We will reach our conclusions and recommendations on the basis of our analysis of all the evidence, and in the interests of transparency and public understanding, we will, where necessary, seek the de-classification of additional documentary evidence to support and explain our report.
    “It is going to take some months deliver the report itself. I don't want to set an artificial deadline on our work at this stage. What I can say is that my colleagues and I want to finish our report as quickly as possible.”
    The Inquiry will deliver its report to the Prime Minister. Publication will be a matter for the government but the Inquiry expects that the report will be published as a Parliamentary paper and debated in both Houses of Parliament.
    So what are the chances of the oil business being included? I'm guessing they are about as likely as the oil business being excluded from the spoils of the war.

    UPDATE: Following a comment from Gabriel, I'm adding the comment to the post and I've added "or was it?" to the original title, which was "So it was about oil". Now please read on:

    "Many opponents of the war suspected that one of Washington's main ambitions in invading Iraq was to secure a cheap and plentiful source of oil."
    That is false. The US has no interest in cheap oil. Cheap oil mean low profits for oil companies and lower accumulation for the capitalist class. The essence of capitalism is accumulation, and the cartelisation of oil that produces profits in the thousand percents (from a cost of $3 a barrel to a "market price" of $150!) is one of most potent drivers of capitalist accumulation in the world. This is both true of the US, see the stock market capitalization of Exxon-Mobile, and in the world. See Dubai, a city constructed out of oil profits.
    Note that BP didn't push for the war. It pushed for a share of the spoils after the war. That is very different. Of course, oil companies are "national". Each oil company has its own little government. BP has the UK as XOM has the US and Total has France. So once there is war, there is a "national" competition over spoils. But that wasn't the driver of the war.
    "Reasserting US self-confidence as a super-power after 9/11" is a very stupid "motive" for war in Iraq. It is totally circular. The US must fight a war so that it has the confidence to fight wars. But why should it fight wars?
    The War in Iraq is not an isolated event. The war of Iraq was the latest stage in the DESTRUCTION of Iraq by imperialism. This started by the CIA helping Saddam Hussein take power. It followed with the US helping both Iraq and Iran to destroy each other. It then continued with the trap of Kuwait and the first Gulf War (fought with Saudi money), followed by the genocidal sanctions regime. And then there was the second Iraq war and occupation.
    Iraq has been systematically destroyed from the late fifties by US interventions, and the destruction of Iraq has been US policy for over 50 years now. Talking about the causes of the war on Iraq outside this long history is nonsense.
    Now why was there a policy of destroying Iraq for over 50 years? The best hypothesis is that this was done to prevent competition with Saudi Arabia, and in particular to concentrate capital accumulation through oil in the friendly and retrograde regimes of the Gulf, primarily Saudi Arabia. That meant primarily preventing Iraq from producing oil, and then preventing it from profiting from oil. In relation to this policy, BP, shell and Total were not competing. There were all on the same side as they all benefitted from a friendly and US dominated regime of accumulation through oil that centered on Saudi Arabia.

    April 18, 2011

    In praise of.......BDS

    The Guardian usually has three editorial pieces, two on something current and third headed "In praise of...." and then it praises someone or something it deems praiseworthy.  Well today it's the turn of film and theatre director and writer, Mike Leigh.  Here's the piece:
    The big mistake people make with Mike Leigh is to simplify him into caricature; he is much too various for that. He is the man who turned London into his own film set, so that to wander around the capital is to think of Naked, Happy-Go-Lucky, Secrets & Lies – yet he is a Salford boy. And of course his work is so distinctive in both focus and style that almost everybody knows what you mean by a "Mike Leigh film" – yet he famously creates his dramas through extensive improvisation and rehearsal. He is the angry socialist who sets conservative teeth on edge – yet his early and later work focus much more on the personal than the polemical. In short, Mike Leigh is a writer and director who zigs when you expect him to zag, who escapes easy pigeonholing by dint of squirming too much. Those who still think of Leigh as the poet laureate of anti-Thatcherism should catch the revival of his 1979 play Ecstasy, recently transferred to London's West End. Some of the classic Leigh elements are there: set in a bedsit in Kilburn, it features a fascinating argument about immigration and its impact on jobs (some things in Britain don't change). But the real theme of the play is loneliness: how people can be lonely even in others' company – and how they try to dress it up. It is not all bleak: the play studies a marriage seemingly sustained by booze – yet which somehow works. But most of all it is tender, with the central character, Jean, depicted as a gifted, interesting woman afloat on her own regret. It is not classic Leigh – but is another Leigh classic.
    Hmm, wasn't he the chap who didn't realise what a balls-up he was making by agreeing to give a seminar in Tel Aviv? I think he was the man. It kicked up such a stink he withdrew and managed to expose his erstwhile host, Renen Schorr, as, well let's just say it exposed his host, Renen Schorr. Of course, no mention of any of that stuff but then The Guardian doesn't deem BDS praiseworthy.

    April 17, 2011

    A tribute to Avigdor Lieberman

    I know there are others far more worthy of tribute but here's what you might call a "feel good" article in Ha'aretz by Gideon Levy about Israeli Foreign Monster, Avigdor Lieberman:
    Take a good look at the tone of the public debate over the attorney general's decision to indict Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman...

    Forget the suspicions against him, forget that he has been convicted of assaulting a child; we're dealing here with a mediocre, destructive politician who has a very meager record after 20 years of work. It's true he has translated hate-mongering into electoral success, riding the murkiest of waves.... It's even true he terrifies the prime minister and is notorious throughout the world.

    [H]e is surely Israel's worst foreign minister ever. The country's international standing has slumped to an all-time low on his watch. His diplomatic activity has brought down our relationship with Turkey and worsened Latin America's stance on Israel.

    He has been completely useless to his electorate: There is still no civil marriage in Israel, and the civil-union bill ended up as a leftover law, relevant only to a handful of people without religion. He wanted to bring down Hamas, and even insisted on adding a clause on this to the coalition agreement. Two years later, Hamas is stronger than ever, certainly stronger than Lieberman. Some of the dangerous anti-democratic bills he has flaunted have thankfully failed - the investigation of leftist NGOs, for instance.

    His actual involvement in foreign policy is small, his trips abroad are fruitless for the most part, his suggestions for territorial exchanges with the Palestinians have been shelved, like so many other proposals of his.

    Even sophistication, another quality attributed to him, is hard to find. Registering a company making millions to one's daughter? Please. Composure? There is none. Courage? When did he last go against the flow, when did he fight for anything? He can only ride populist waves, incite and foment the passions of the weak against the even weaker. You don't need courage for that. He's an inarticulate politician who has never made an impressive speech, who does not have one achievement to his name, yet all his terms as a minister are seen here as a success story.

    Because this is how we like our politicians: belligerent thugs..
    Ok, that'll do.

    April 15, 2011

    Messengers shoot the self-shot messenger

    Phew, this is getting confusing. First there was the Goldstone Report produced by Judge Goldstone, Hina Jilani, Christine Chinkin and Desmond Travers. Then Goldstone distanced himself from the report but in a way that was so disingenuous, only the most staunch of Israel advocates could take any satisfaction from his re"think". Now his co-reporters have gone on record in The Guardian (and presumably elsewhere) to say that the original report still stands:
    In recent days some articles and comments appearing in the press with respect to the report of the United Nations (UN) fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict of 2008-2009 have misrepresented facts in an attempt to delegitimise the findings of this report and to cast doubts on its credibility. 
    The mission that comprised four members, including Justice Richard Goldstone as its chair, came to an end when it presented its report to the UN human rights council in September 2009. The report of the mission is now an official UN document and all actions taken pursuant to its findings and recommendations fall solely within the purview of the United Nationsgeneral assembly which, along with the human rights council, reviewed and endorsed it at the end of 2009.
    Aspersions cast on the findings of the report, nevertheless, cannot be left unchallenged. Members of the mission, signatories to this statement, find it necessary to dispel any impression that subsequent developments have rendered any part of the mission's report unsubstantiated, erroneous or inaccurate.
    We concur in our view that there is no justification for any demand or expectation for reconsideration of the report as nothing of substance has appeared that would in any way change the context, findings or conclusions of that report with respect to any of the parties to the Gaza conflict.
    So what was Goldstone on about?

    This is how The Guardian is now reporting the statement from Goldstone's co-reporters:
    Though they do not mention Goldstone by name, they shoot down several of the main contentions in his article and imply that he has bowed to intense political pressure.
    So again, what was Goldstone on about?

    April 14, 2011

    Echo and the Bunnymen taking the shilling

    Well, the New Israeli Shekel in this case.

    Apparently Echo and the Bunnymen played for Love Music Hate Racism back in 2007.  What a difference four years makes.  They are now lined up to gig in Tel Aviv in a couple of weeks, 26th April 2011 to be precise.  I'm rushing but here's a blog that sets out the basics:
    Echo and the Bunnymen are scheduled to perform on April 26, 2011 at the Reading 3 club in Tel Aviv. We are asking Echo and the Bunnymen to support the Palestian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions of Israel until it abides by international law, stops its brutal occupation of the Palestinian people and recognises their right to return. We'd like them to follow the principled lead of other artists such as Roger Waters, Pete Seeger, Massive Attack, The Klaxons and Gorillaz Sound System, Carlos Santana, Elvis Costello, Devendra Banhart, Faithless, Gil Scott-Heron, The Pixies, Snoop Dogg
    And here's what you can do:

     Picket Echo & Bunnymen Concert on 16 April in London

    16 April · 18:00 - 22:00

    Union Chapel
    Compton Terrace, N1 2UN
    London, United Kingdom
    So this coming Saturday night.

    April 13, 2011

    Video of Goldstone debate at Stanford University

    This is from Victor Kattan's website:

    You can watch the Goldstone debate at Stanford University, which took place in the Law School on 28 March here. In addition to my participation in the debate, Noura Erakat from Georgetown University, spoke alongside me arguing in favour of the findings of the report. Avi Bell from San Diego University and Peter Berkowitz of the Hoover Institution argued against it. 

    The debate attracted some attention in the press because Goldstone commented on the report before and after the debate. Roger Cohen writing in The New York Times described the debate as 'bruising'. In Foreign Policy, Bell thought that the debate might have had an impact on Goldstone's infamous 'retraction' in the Washington Post. Personally I don't think the debate had any discernable impact on Goldstone's opinion of his report as he defended it well in the face of fierce criticism. 

    But you can judge for yourself by watching the debate here. Continue Reading... 
    So hot a clip it is that it isn't even on youtube yet but watch this space...