Friday, January 26, 2007

Invasion Day - lest we forget

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

He's back!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Blinded by obedience

Blinded by their light.
Is it wisdom? Is it tripe?
Or a window of sorts
to choices if not insights?

Yearning can get tiring
When our fears are always near.
Better then, it seems, that
Into the sun we peer.

Perhaps it will burn us.
Worse still, even blind.
Then maybe that's the answer
When we're blind, it's alright.

They can pillage, they can ravage,
Humiliate and digress.
Our resources, they can plunder.
Death and destruction... what success!

They Kept On Walking

By David Rovics

Our taxi dropped us off at the checkpoint outside Nablus, so we could then walk through the checkpoint and take another taxi into the city. With the travel restrictions and hundreds of checkpoints everywhere, this is the way you have to travel, if you're lucky enough to be allowed to travel at all.

There, on the outskirts of this ancient Palestinian city, as with every other city in the West Bank, was a heavily-armed gang of young Israeli men and women in green IDF uniforms. One of the men inspected my passport, and spent a few minutes trying to discourage me from entering Nablus. 'It's crazy in there. There are Arab terrorists. There are bombs every night. It's not safe.' I thanked him for his warning, and thought to myself that he might have an entirely different experience in Nablus if he visited the city in a role other than that of occupation soldier.

We got into another taxi and drove towards the city center, passing one destroyed factory after another, bombed in 2002 when Israel invaded, leaving much of the city in ruins. Several of the factories used to make soap, Nablus was known for them, but no longer.

Inching along in gnarled traffic, we eventually got to the campus of An-Najah National University. I was to do a concert there that evening to a large and appreciative audience. Due to circumstances beyond my control, each organizer on my tour of Palestine had only a few days to put together a concert, and Saed Abu-Hijleh managed to pull it off brilliantly.

Contrary to the warnings of the Israeli soldier, I only met really nice people like Saed during my stay in Nablus. He was my age, in his late thirties, a good-looking man in a sports jacket. He greeted us warmly and together we walked across the campus to his office. As we passed hundreds of students and other people on this extremely crowded, bustling campus, it was obvious that Saed commanded a deep respect and admiration from everyone.

Saed is a professor, and administrator in charge of public relations. Under the current restrictions of the Israeli occupation, the only way he could potentially get out of Nablus would be on foot at great personal danger. He, and his car, are not allowed to leave the city. Before the Al-Aqsa Intifada, when travel was easier for most Palestinians, he had studied for nine years in Iowa City, and remembered his time there fondly.

We got to his small office, and Saed was showing me a lovely booklet one of his students had made with Arabic translations of some of my songs, which was to be handed out to everybody coming to the concert that night. There was a picture of a woman on his desk, and I asked him who she was. He explained to me that she was his mother, and she had recently been killed by Israeli occupation soldiers.

They had pulled up to the house where both of them lived, where he still lives, and opened fire. Saed didn't know whether they meant to kill her or him. Her greatest crime was being involved with a program that distributed food to poor people in Nablus. His crime was being a prominent member of his community, and an eloquent critic of the occupation. Just the sort of voice the Israelis have a habit of silencing.

Later I asked Saed if he had considered trying to leave Palestine after his mother was assassinated. He seemed slightly annoyed at the question, and told me that everybody was a target. He pointed to various students nearby. 'Him, her, him, they're all targets. Why should I be the one to leave? I'm not special. These are my people, this is where I belong. I'm not leaving.' Along with the annoyance, there was a look on his face that I would describe as a sort of fierce compassion.

Events like the assassination of Saed's mother are a daily occurrence under the Israeli occupation. You can read a blow-by-blow account on the website of the International Middle East Media Center from Bethlehem. Woman killed by Army as she tries to save man bleeding to death on her doorstep. Settlers beat girl to death in Hebron. 21 residents of Jenin rounded up and arrested by the Army. Electricity plant bombed by IDF, several towns without electricity or water. Pregnant woman and her baby die in childbirth, prevented by Army from reaching hospital. Helicopter gunship demolishes home, killing Hamas activist and family of seven. Two school girls shot by snipers as they sat at their desks in their classroom.

And for each person like Saed's mother, there is someone like Saed, refusing to be cowed. For every school girl shot by Israeli snipers, there are a hundred more who still go to class the next day.

The daily carnage in Palestine rarely makes it into the corporate news media, but every once in a while developments are dramatic enough to warrant the reluctant attention of the New York Times. During the recent Israeli invasion ('incursion') of Beit Hanoun in Gaza, there was a stand-off at a mosque. Sixty resistance fighters had taken refuge in it, trying to avoid being killed by Israeli tanks. The IDF had surrounded the building.

From the local radio station the call went out for women to come to the mosque and try to protect those inside, in the hopes that the Israelis wouldn't massacre a crowd of unarmed women. Scores of women responded quickly to the call and walked in between the tanks and the mosque. The Israelis then proceeded to start firing with tank-mounted machine guns directly into the crowd of women.

One line in the Times' article particularly caught my eye. Women were falling from the gunfire, many injured and screaming in pain, two dead, and dozens running from the scene in panic. Still other women, though, were doing something else. The Israelis were firing, their compatriots were falling all around them, but they kept on walking towards the mosque.

A few days later, Gaza once again made it into the Times. The Israelis had identified a house in Jabaliya as being inhabited by a resistance fighter. Of course, the house was also occupied by his entire extended family. And of course, his was a legitimate resistance against a brutal, illegal, horribly violent occupation. Nonetheless, the IDF was preparing to do to his house what they had done to thousands of other homes around Palestine - destroy it with missiles fired from an American fighter jet.

This time the IDF telephoned the house first and told everybody to get out, that the house would be destroyed. On countless other occasions, the Israelis have destroyed houses with no warning, or almost immediately after issuing a warning, while people were still in the house, and many people have died that way. Knowing this, the residents of the house refused to leave.

Instead, they called on the community to come join them, which they did. People packed into the house and on the roof, including the Palestinian Prime Minister Ismael Hanieh. Knowing that death was quite likely around the corner, the people stood their ground. This time, the IDF backed down, and left the house intact.

It's in moments like these, and in the faces of people like Saed Abu-Hijleh, that you can get a glimpse of the dignity that pervades the spirit of the Palestinian people. As with the women outside the mosque in Beit Hanoun, as with the boys and girls defiantly returning to school day after day, as with those trying simply to live in their houses, the Palestinian people are increasingly faced with the reality that they have only two real choices. To stand their ground one way or to stand their ground another. To die the death of a martyr or to live the life of a hero.

Before I got to Palestine I was having dinner in Beirut with an older, well-respected Lebanese man who worked for the UN there. I asked him what he thought of Israel. His was a long-term, philosophical outlook, I suppose. 'The Moors occupied Spain for 800 years, but eventually they were kicked out, because they didn't belong there,' he said. 'The Romans occupied Jerusalem for 700 years, but they were eventually kicked out, because they didn't belong there. Israel has been a state for only 50 years.'

Whether it takes eight years or 800 years to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine, there will surely be many more martyrs like Saed's mother. And just as surely, as long as there are Palestinians left alive, there will be many like Saed -- refusing to leave, standing up, there in what remains of Nablus when the occupation is finally defeated.

David Rovics is a singer-songwriter who tours regularly around North America, Europe and occasionally elsewhere. His website is

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The end of youth

Once when time was just a thought,
The Spring and Winter wrapped up.
Like a songster's thoughtful chord.
No rush, no problems, could be stirred.

Instead there was the moment, forever born
Anew, the daisy, fresh, again and again.
Then slowly, it creeped, the scent of Autumn,
The dew of Winter, the heat of Summer.

No longer so trapped in an endless cycle.
Now it 'twas a slow but moving story.
Soon to terminate, soon to end.
Why did it not feel like this before?

Time has slipped, or is slipping.
I am powerless to defend
Against its tide,. no man can wade.
Tomorrow, what is that, but another?

Another day, another evening,
And soon, too soon, our last.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Economist on Israel's occupation of Palestine

It is sometimes hard to fathom the logic of the checkpoint regime. One route from Ramallah, the Palestinian administrative capital, to Jerusalem, involves a careful inspection of documents, while on another the soldiers—if they are at their posts—just glance at cars' occupants to see if they look Arab. Israeli law strictly forbids Israeli citizens from visiting the main Palestinian cities, but they can drive straight into Ramallah and Hebron without being challenged, while other cities, such as Jericho and Nablus, remain impermeable. In many places the barrier that Israel is building through the West Bank for security purposes (though in Palestinian eyes to grab more land) is monitored with all the care of an international border, while around Jerusalem the army turns a blind eye to hundreds of people who slip through cracks in the wall as part of their daily commute.

Read the whole article here.

Monday, January 15, 2007


Sunday, January 14, 2007

Saturday, January 13, 2007

George Galloway on BBC

Friday, January 12, 2007

Panel discussion on the Baker Commission report

Last night I went to a panel discussion at the Frontline Club on the Baker Commission report into the US occupation of Iraq. The panelists were the British Ambassadors from Iraq (Salah Al Shaikhly) and Syria (Sami Al Khaimi), the US Deputy Chief of Mission to the UK (David Johnson) and two British journalists, Patrick Cockburn and Richard Beeston. The panel was moderated by Channel 4's Jon Snow.

The event was noteworthy if only because it brought together an interesting mix of characters. Salah Al Khaimi was the classical Arab high official with his rhetorical fluorishes and dry, fatalist wit. Throughout the lecture he referred to the US as the ruler of the planet and at one point referred to the US representative as 'boss'. Much of the crowd could not contain their meriment at the manner of his speech, but I think most of the time they mistook his meriment for the utterings of an incompetent State crony and ignored his underlying messages. His basic message was that there wasn't very much the Syrians could do when the US has such an antagonistic position towards them.

Salah Al Shaikhly spoke more elegantly, with a mildly cultivated English accent and a rather fine suit. Of the three officials, Al Shaikhly was the smoothest propagandist, assuring the audience that Iraq was not a sectarian society divided along religious affiliations. Not once did he criticise the US, contenting himself with criticisms of Iran and Syria for meddling in Iraq's internal affairs.

The comment of the evening was reserved for David Johnson when he said that no country should meddle in the internal affairs of Iraq. In general Johnson put up a brave face on some foolish American positions and his style was distinctly American - not directly engaging the questions he was asked, and instead opting for robust statements of intended US policies (to 'help' the Iraqis develop democracy) and avoiding any statement on actual US actions.

The Syrian Ambassador was the only member of the panel to mention the recent history of Iraq and Syria, noting that both countries had been created by the British and French resectively after WWI at the expense of different ethnic and religious populations which did not fit neatly within the articial state boundaries created. Unfortunately this aspect was not developed as, I believe, it is central to understanding the current and general situation in the Middle East. You won't have democracy in the region while the states which people live in do not represent their ethnic and cultural identities.

It was left to the two journalists on the panel to inject some realism about the current situation, which was somewhat ironic. The message relayed was clear and stark. The war in Iraq is getting worse, the American presence is exacerbating the violence, and the US must work with Syria and Iran to try and stop the violence. The journalists also stressed that President Bush has effectively torn up the Baker Report. The President has ignored most of the 75 recommendations made by the Report, which did not include increasing US troop numbers in the country.

Meanwhile, on planet Earth, the US storms an Iranian consultate in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Justice from the heavens

Freedom is the freedom to say two plus two make four.
- Winston Smith

Freedom is the right of all sentient beings.
- Optimus Prime

Freedom is the freedom to deprive it from everyone else.
- Dick Cheney to George Bush (attributed)

Hot on the heels of Saddam Hussein's execution, US missiles kill at least one Somali man allegedly an Al Qaeda operative involved in US embassy bombings in the 1990s. This is far from the type of justice that distinguishes nation states from irregular terrorists. Indeed perhaps the only positive thing one can say about American justice is that at least they are consistent. For the message the US has conveyed consistently throughout the so-called "War on Terrorism" is that it will enlist terrorism itself in order to quell the threat of terrorism it believes it faces.

It is worth considering Saddam Hussein's execution in this light. No matter how the details of his hanging may be described, it will rightly be perceived as yet another act of calculated American violence. Saddam's hanging sends out a message to all would-be 'third way' world leaders that they should dare not sway against the breeze when it is the gods of American foreign policy who are doing the blowing.

UPDATE: The US air strikes in Somalia failed to kill any of the three al-Qaeda suspects targeted.

Monday, January 08, 2007

The Conservative Nanny State

How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer by Dean Baker

In his new book, economist Dean Baker debunks the myth that conservatives favor the market over government intervention. In fact, conservatives rely on a range of “nanny state” policies that ensure the rich get richer while leaving most Americans worse off. It’s time for the rules to change. Sound economic policy should harness the market in ways that produce desirable social outcomes – decent wages, good jobs and affordable health care.

Read the book:

Read in HTML | Download as a PDF | Buy the paperback

Or read:

Reviews | Press Release | Policy Recommendations

Target Iran?

And with the new year come new claims that Israel is considering the use of nuclear weapons on Iran. Israeli authorities have been quick to dismiss these reports, but this does not mean these reports are incorrect. Here's why I think that is the case. In the original report carried by The Sunday Times, there is buried in the middle of the report, this revealing statement:

the nuclear-tipped bunker-busters would be used only if a conventional attack was ruled out and if the United States declined to intervene, senior sources said.

This suggests that plans for a conventional attack, likely with American support if not direct involvement, are also being prepared. It is worth noting that even if Israel (or the US for that matter) does not attack Iran, the mere threat will give Iran greater incentive to go nuclear and to generally militarise. To do otherwise would be geopolitical suicide from Iran's perspective. This unmistakable chain of logic is the key element that is completely ignored by American and European Union representatives and the mainstream media too.

As far as I'm aware, condemnation of Iran for allegedly trying to go nuclear, which has culminated recently in the slapping of UN sanctions, have not been balanced by any condemnation of Israel, which has for some time now been openly considering an attack on Iran and which possesses hundreds of nuclear weapons. Such a glaring double-standard may be lost on some, but not all.

What to make of 2006?

I am not a fan of long winded serenades to calander years gone by. It is better to view the world through fixed events rather than artificial things like calander years. Of course, that is not to say 31 December isn't a good excuse to leave the house and stay awake 'til late.

For some time now I've believed that much of what makes the world both a heaven and hell derives from recurring themes. Despite this, every generation seems eager to claim that the latest episode in human development will herald a new age or reflects some major shift. The Bush Presidency is a case in point. The criminal invasion of Iraq is not unprecedented (remember Vietnam... the conquest of the Philippines... and the Spanish-American war which was the United States's very first 'pre-emptive' war). Nor does the slight shift in the Republican balance of power in the American political system (the Democrats now control both houses of the American parliament) represent a major change in American power.

My prism is power, the media that spins this emperor's invisible clothes, and its effects on everyday life. Nothing much within this prism changed during 2006, although yes, it is true, some positive changes did occur. Perhaps the most significant positive development was the increase in popular consciousness of the greenhouse effect, thanks in large part to Al Gore's documentary An inconventient truth. The documentary succeeded where others (such as Fahrenheit 9/11) failed in that it did not insult the audience. Yes An inconvenient truth was a propaganda film. It propagated a certain way of thinking - that we need to radically change our energy consumption lest we end human life on the planet. But it did so basically by informing the viewer, trying to reduce the issues at play, and, in so doing, treated the viewing public as equals. It made us feel like we are a vital ingredient in the recipe for saving the planet. It told us that we are part of the problem and, also, part of the solution. That is a rare message in today's public landscape.

Progressive movements often make the mistake of telling us about injustice or other bad things in a manner that excludes. We are told endless tales of intrigue, greed, fanaticism and outright criminality as though we are but a captive audience who can but only watch and scream and then retire to our sofas or bedrooms. This is far from an inaccurate portrayal, but it is far from totally accurate. Nor is it particularly helpful. Arguably, such messages can do more harm than good. What is needed along with our messages is an emphasis on participation. Every bit does make a difference. Everyone does hold, in their tiny little hand, the seeds of growth and destruction. We, all of us, hold the destiny of humanity in our grasp.

All the best for 2007 one and all! May you meet your challenges with grace and courage and receive your just rewards.