Monday, January 28, 2008

Palestinians suffer as the world fails Gaza

Friend and Palestine activist Michael Shaik on the international community and Israel's siege of Gaza:

The collapse of its iron wall in Gaza presents Israel with an embarrassing dilemma. Invading Rafah again to rebuild the wall would belie its claim that it no longer occupies Gaza, and probably prove ineffective unless it leaves behind a permanent garrison. Now it is insisting that the Egyptians close the border, but the Egyptian Government's willingness to abet the collective punishment of Gaza's people is doubtful, to say the least.

Accepting Hamas' offer of a ceasefire to end Palestinian missile attacks on Sderot would seem its most promising alternative, but this is unlikely for a number of reasons.

First, having spent the past two years insisting that Hamas is a terrorist organisation with which it cannot negotiate, Israel's Government would find it difficult to explain the sudden change of policy. Second, the illusion that the intelligent application of punitive measures is the only lasting solution to Arab resistance is so prevalent among both Israel's leadership and public that it is unlikely to be dislodged by the mundane reality of failure.

Finally, diplomatic pressure to moderate its actions in the occupied territories is almost non-existent.

After hesitantly voicing their "concern" over Israel's post-Annapolis decision to expand Jewish settlements throughout East Jerusalem, both the United States and the European Union have lapsed into an embarrassed silence.

All the frontrunners in this year's US presidential campaign — Clinton, Obama, McCain, Giuliani — have expressed their uncritical support for Israel as they compete for Jewish campaign funding.

And Australia? In December 2006, Melbourne mining magnate Rabbi Joe Gutnick declared that members of Australia's Jewish community could not help but support John Howard unless they saw "something amazing from Kevin Rudd".

Over the following months, Rudd ran four pro-Israeli Labor candidates in the federal election, and declared to a private function of Melbourne's Jewish leaders that his support for Israel was "in his DNA".

The full article is available here.

End the siege of Gaza!

On Saturday 26 January I attended a wonderful protest against Israel's siege of Gaza outside Downing Street, London (where the Prime Minister of the UK lives). The protest was larger than expected, probably around 2000 or more people turned up. The atmosphere was happy and positive, giving the protest the atmosphere of a concert or party. No doubt this had something to do with the Hamas-induced break out out of Gaza into Egypt. Unfortunately, despite its size and the positive atmosphere, the protest got no mainstream media coverage. Very telling that.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Protest the siege of Gaza

If you're in London...

International Day of Action - Saturday 26th January
Opposite No10 Downing Street
Whitehall, London

Musharraf on US role in Afghanistan

Associated Press reports:

Musharraf is on a tour of Europe seeking to convince leaders there he is in control of the country and is committed to restoring full democracy eight years after he seized control in a military coup. He gave up his position as army commander in December as part of that transition.

He recalled that Pakistan trained and armed 20,000-30,000 mujahadeen fighters with U.S. support between 1979-89 and sent them to Afghanistan to fight against the Soviet Union.

The result was the departure of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany, he said.

"This is Pakistan's contribution to the free world," he said.

But Musharraf said "we bungled up the end game" because the military victory wasn't transformed into a political victory and "everybody left the scene, including the United States."

For 12 years, until after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S., "Pakistan was alone and Afghanistan was alone" and the militarized mujahadeen who were "armed to the teeth" were left to fend for themselves, he said.

"The mujahadeen coalesced into al-Qaida, and Osama bin Laden is a product of the mujahadeen," Musharraf said.

"The feeling in Pakistan is we were used and we were ditched," he said.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Congo - our collective shame


There was a brief moment when the prospect of a black president with a Muslim father was alluring. That Barack Obama is a powerful orator helped to no end as well. Yet even in that brief honey moon period something was troubling. I always knew that he had very openly supported the US’s ‘special relationship’ with Israel. I was aware that Obama openly canvassed unilaterally bombing Pakistan without seeking that country’s consent. In the end, I realized that Obama is emblematic of the American myth. The myth that America is a land of pluralism and hope, a meritocracy where anyone can be successful and the government represents the pinnacle of freedom and democracy.

Obama lives up to this myth. His vibrancy is a façade which masks a lack of substance and any genuine interest in reforming his decaying society.

There is something terrific about the US; a society so incapable of honest self-appraisal, where even the prominent among the oppressed champion the oppressor instead of their own.

(There's a great piece by John Pilger on Obama and the presidential nominees here).


I've got a new game for you. Count how many times the word "Islamist" precedes references to Hamas in the news.

In other news, while the people of Gaza take matters into their own hands and break out into Egypt, the US demands that Egypt close its border.

BREAKING NEWS: I've been told by a friend that Israel has killed some people along the Egypt/Gaza border. The border has been closed. My friend, who lives in Rafah, Gaza right on the border with Egypt, is currently stuck inside Egypt. My thoughts and prayers are with you my friend.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Obama on Gaza

Barack Obama wants a U.N. Security Council resolution on the Gaza Strip to mention rocket attacks on Israel. The Democratic presidential candidate in a letter sent Tuesday to Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, urged the United States not to allow the resolution to pass unless it notes the rocket salvos.

The Security Council is in emergency session this week considering Israel's blockade of Gaza.

"All of us are concerned about the impact of closed border crossings on Palestinian families," wrote Obama, a U.S. senator from Illinois, in his letter to Khalilzad. "However, we have to understand why Israel is forced to do this. Gaza is governed by Hamas, which is a terrorist organization sworn to Israel's destruction, and Israeli civilians are being bombarded on an almost daily basis."

Source: Jewish and Israel news (

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Happy Birthday!

Rest in peace brother Martin. May you live forever in our hearts and minds.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Humanitarian impact of Israel's blockade of Gaza

PCHR statement on Israel's Gaza siege

Israel is manufacturing a catastrophic humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip that is seriously deteriorating every aspect of civilian life. To date, 45 patients have died as a direct result of Israeli Occupying Force (IOF) closure and siege of the Gaza Strip. According to the Director of al-Shifa Hospital Dr. Hassan Khalaf, patients' lives continue to be at stake, including the lives of 30 premature babies in al-Shifa Hospital, who will die immediately if there is a power cut at the hospital. Gaza's second major hospital, the European Hospital in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, has now suspended all major surgical operations.

Meanwhile, all crossings from Gaza to the outside world remain sealed to Palestinians.

Available in full here.

Fatah murder plot against Hamas leader?

Not something you're going to read in the Western press about the US's 'moderate' Palestinian allies:

GAZA CITY: Hamas claimed yesterday it caught a would-be suicide bomber sent by members of the rival Fatah movement to assassinate Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Chomsky v Foucault

Part 2.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Of pigs and men

I live in Whitechapel, a part of London with a large Muslim population. The other day while walking down the street I noticed a couple looking with shock at an advertisement. I can't remember what the ad was about but it depicted a gentleman with a pig's snout instead of a human nose. The man pointed at the snout and shouted 'pig!' angrily and glared, in unison, with his wife. The episode reminded me of the time a family friend back home got a letter from her parents requesting that she not partake in the school biology class because they were going to dissect a pig's eye.

I understand the socio-economic underpinnings of most cultural sensitivities and the need to be sensitive to them. Nevertheless, I often wonder why some Muslims get so worked up about such trivial matters.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Poor little (dangerous) Israel

As I was plowing through my work today I noticed a reference to Israel in the Wikipedia entry on the UN Human Rights Council. Reading through it I immediately recognized the Zionist imprint: their’s is the common refrain that the Council targets Israel while ignoring other human rights issues. Avid readers may recall my blog from 2007 showcasing a video from a Zionist organization pouring scorn and contempt on Council members at one of its meetings (available here).

Given my regular tendency to wander on tangents (ie, my wanderings tend to be some how related to what I ought to actually be doing, howsoever tangentally), I began remembering one of my class mates during my studies last year. In my International Criminal Law class there was a young Israeli student with something of a precocious interest in ICL, who had served somewhere in Israeli Military intelligence (whether this was Mossad or somewhere else I never gathered), and who had a rather Anglo-Celtic name to boot. This student was also something of a human rights activist: from child soldiers in Africa to sexual slavery in Cambodia and a variety of campaigns against human rights violations in China. Basically, every situation except… Israel.

Her myopia even extended to the United States, of which she was a citizen. When we discussed the issue of whether former US Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld ought to be harangued by German police over torture allegations her response was that this was a mockery of international law. She argued that the US was, overall, a very free and democratic society with a robust, independent judiciary which was more than capable of addressing these allegations. I later discovered that my classmate, while born in Israel, was actually resident in the United States. Indeed, when I first met her I assumed she was American owing to her strong accent.

The closest we ever got to discussing Israel was its response to Hezbollah rocket attacks from southern Lebanon. It suffices to say that her interest was squarely focused on how to bring ‘irregular combatants’ to account under international law, and nothing else.

The most dangerous kind of oppression is the oppression that is invisible to the oppressor. It is the hand that grips the throat of the weak without ever realizing it is there at all. To those who complain that Israel is an exceptional victim of criticism the reasons for this criticism are invisible. At the very least Israel might make a few mistakes in the Occupied Territories or in Lebanon. But most of the time there isn’t even the recognition of this lower threshold of guilt.

Such denial is not unique to Israel or its one-eyed supporters. But what is unique to Israel is the unparalleled power, including unknown hundreds of nuclear weapons, and unqualified support it receives from the United States, the most powerful and dangerous geopolitical entity the world has ever known. This, coupled with the inability of many Israelis and Israel’s supporters to even acknowledge its crimes, makes Israel a particularly dangerous nation.

POSTSCRIPT: Just so you know, I’ve deliberately described my classmate in the impersonal third person to avoid giving a name rather than to dehumanize her.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Ignore that elephant in the room

I've been reviewing commentary in the Western media following Bhutto's assassination. Apart from the wholesale condemnation of her murder, one theme appears to dominate. It is something that should be familiar to those of us who visit countries that are routinely describe as lawless and wonder whether they have missed the party. Of course, this is not to say Pakistan is anything like completely stable. Only that to Western commentators, the only interest in countries like Pakistan seems to be in ensuring it isn't a source of violence or anti-Western sentiment. That there may be more texture to our people, that they may have something other than the destruction of Western civilization on their minds, is generally anathema to this perspective. I think acknowledging this is critical because it is this omission, this inability to humanise countries deemed to be 'the Other', that enables fear mongering to dictate policy making. If we know Pakistan has nukes, and we know it is unstable, but we have no idea that people in Pakistan for the most part are reasonable and seek security of livelihood like the rest of humanity (ie: the good civilised 'West'), then it is easier to conclude that our only rational option is to support dictators who will do our bidding and ignore the demands of the population.

Another aspect of this perspective is the tendency to blot out the role of the West in creating the violence now exhibited in countries like Pakistan. Let me give one overarching example.

It is no secret that there are many militant groups using the banner of Islam operating in Pakistan. The Pakistan Government, or sections of it at the very least, nurtured these groups. Most Western commentators focus on this. Viz, Pakistan is a state sponsor of terrorism. What is omitted is any acknowledgement of the role played by the United States in supporting these militant groups. Pakistan fostered militant Islamic fanaticism as a response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Hitherto, the phenomenon simply did not exist in the country. There were fanatics, but they were not militant, and they hardly had access to millions of funds and the best guerrilla warfare training. But the only reason Pakistan (which really means Pakistan's military elite) followed this course was because the United States wanted to bleed the Soviets in Afghanistan without risking a fatal direct confrontation. Although the US had retreated from Vietnam almost a decade prior to the Soviet invasion in 1979, the sentiment in Washington was that they could not politically countenance a direct military presence in Afghanistan. Moreover, Afghanistan was not unique. US Administrations from Ford to Carter, Reagan and Bush Snr lavishly supported terrorist activities by proxy in Central and South America at the same time that they supported terrorists in Afghanistan. It is only more recently with the remarkable success of the two invasions of Iraq (as opposed to the subsequent occupation with respect to the second invasion of Iraq), that the US has again begun to consider direct military intervention on a large scale.

As recently as the mid-1990s the Clinton Administration was airlifting Chechen militants into Bosnia to fight the Serbs to assist its Bosnian Muslim allies in that particular conflict. In Iraq this decade, the Bush Administration has openly admitted that it has set up the 'Wolf Brigades' modeled on death squads supported by the US in El Salvador some two decades previously. What is more, many of the very same architects of the carnage in El Salvador and other American countries around the same time, people such as current Under-secretary of State John Negroponte, have been party to the latest activities in Iraq.

None of this very important information is ever canvassed in mainstream Western reportage. There is a very simple explanation for this. What the South does may or may not be criminal depending upon their status as ally or foe. But what we do is either always benign or good, or is at the very worst misguided and mistaken. As to the latter category, it is never a crime.

I would therefore humbly suggest to those in the West interested in preventing the malaise of violence in Pakistan to begin by considering how best to constrain the US military machine. This is far from an abstract notion. For example, much time could and should be spent considering how to make US military aid more transparent. Certain key requirements could be written into aid measures so as to require the development of democracy along with Pakistan's military arsenal, to insist that money is invested in schools, in hospitals, in rule of law projects, and so on. I should add that much of the on paper law in the US already fulfills these requirements. What is lacking, and what requires an injection of activity, is the actual administration of these laws.

Instead, we read that Pakistan is complex, lawless, and it is best that we continue to favour the military. We cannot trust the people of Pakistan to keep us, in the West, safe from them. The greatest threat to the West is, all always, not ourselves, but some dreaded foe from abroad.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

More deaths in Gaza

On Thursday morning Israeli tanks backed with helicopters invaded part of Khan Younis town and opened fire at residents' homes. One of those shells hit the house of the Fayyad family, four members of the family were killed and nine others were injured, among them children, Palestinian sources named those killed as; Karima Fayyad, 55, two of her sons Ahmad, 32, and Hamadan 23 in addition to her daughter Asma', 22.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Hulabaloo over Bilawal

The 'central executive committee' of the Pakistan People's Party has made Bilawal and Asif Zardari, the son and husband of Benazir Bhutto respectively, co-chairmen of the Party. There is something somewhat wrong about this process. I thought democracy was more than merely a platform for feudal families to maintain their hold on political power. In fact, there is nothing democratic about the present move and, indeed, it demonstrates the abject lack of imagination and real grassroots involvement in Pakistan's political life.

Pakistan, like most countries in the grip of extreme poverty and corruption, requires democracy more than anything else. But what it needs is real democracy, a platform for its mostly illiterate and desperate population to voice their demands and aspirations.


The United States (backed by the UK) insists that Pakistan hold federal general elections as soon after the proposed 8 January date as possible, despite Bhutto's death. This just demonstrates its remarkable lack of insight into the politics of the countries it seeks to control. Pakistan is at present more politically unstable than it has ever been in at least the last two or three decades. How an election could plausibly be carried out in the current climate is beyond me. No doubt the US hopes to quickly dust off the whole cuffufle over Musharraf being so terribly dictatorial by lauding an election, even a sham one, as a demonstration of his democratic credentials. There is an equal lack of doubt over the mainstream Western press towing this company line.