Monday, June 30, 2008

Sey Hersh on US covert war with Iran

Late last year, Congress agreed to a request from President Bush to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran, according to current and former military, intelligence, and congressional sources. These operations, for which the President sought up to four hundred million dollars, were described in a Presidential Finding signed by Bush, and are designed to destabilize the country’s religious leadership. The covert activities involve support of the minority Ahwazi Arab and Baluchi groups and other dissident organizations. They also include gathering intelligence about Iran’s suspected nuclear-weapons program.

I wish I knew how

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Sex and the City

In short, to anyone facing the quandaries of being a working mother, the movie sends a vicious memo: Don’t be a mother. And don’t work. Is this really where we have ended up—with this superannuated fantasy posing as a slice of modern life? On TV, “Sex and the City” was never as insulting as “Desperate Housewives,” which strikes me as catastrophically retrograde, but, almost sixty years after “All About Eve,” which also featured four major female roles, there is a deep sadness in the sight of Carrie and friends defining themselves not as Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, Celeste Holm, and Thelma Ritter did—by their talents, their hats, and the swordplay of their wits—but purely by their ability to snare and keep a man.

For one episode, perhaps the pilot, I enjoyed 'Sex and the city'. But that was mostly because I was able to watch sex scenes on free-to-air television. That enjoyment quickly ran out. The internet may have had something to do with that. Since then, I've consistently despised Sex and the City. Not just because it tells women to define themselves by the man they hook up with (which in itself is sufficient reason, as a man, to despise the show). But because of the way it celebrates the most shallow and destructive tendencies of American society: measuring one's worth through material possession, the neurotic obssession with self-help industry solutions to personal dilemmas that has replaced more meaningful forms of self-awareness, and its hyper-narcissm.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Noam Chomsky on Al Jazeera

Monday, June 23, 2008

RIP George Carlin

Friday, June 20, 2008

Has Israel already broken ceasefire?

The Palestine Information Center, affiliated with Hamas, reported on Thursday that the Israeli army violated the truce three times and that these violations came only a few hours after the ceasefire practically started in the morning.

The Center reported that Israeli navy boats fired four shells at fishermen in the northern part of the Gaza Strip, while soldiers opened fire at farmers east of Khan Younis, in the southern part of the Gaza Strip.

Also, eyewitnesses reported that soldiers fired at farmers in Khuza’a town, near Khan Younis, and fired at a number of houses in AL Qarara town, east of the city; no injuries were reported.
On Thursday, the Al Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, issued a press release stating it is committed to the truce but warned that it will retaliate if Israel resumes its attacks.

Blaming others

The Amnesty International report on human rights for the year 2007 is out. The Muslim world constitutes, as usual, bleakest chapter. Every single country across the Muslim world has been pointed out by the Amnesty International either for executions and torture or discrimination against women and ethnic and religious minorities. Punishments never handed down even during the Stone Age, have been awarded in 21st century Muslim world. In one case, two Saudi nationals were awarded 7,000 lashes. Yes, 7,000. And executions? Well, 335 in Iran, 158 in Saudi Arabia and 135 in Pakistan. Violation of human rights, it seems, is the only thing that unites the otherwise divided Muslim world.

The report is no exception. The Muslim world cuts a sorry figure every time a global watchdog releases its findings. Freedom of expression here remains curtailed, Reporters Sans Frontieres annually reports. Regarding freedom of expression, there is a joke often told in Arab world. At a meeting, a US journalist says: "We have complete freedom of expression in the US. We can criticise the US president as much as we like." The Arab journalist replies. "We also have complete freedom of expression in Arab world. We can also criticise the US president as much as we like."

A nation imprisoned

THIS month marks the 41st year of Israel’s continued occupation of the Palestinian territories. For ordinary Palestinians the occupation has turned Gaza and the West Bank into a giant prison. “[This] occupation put[s] you in a cage, a cage on your life and on your mind so you never feel safe,” says Mahmoud, an activist with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Mustafa Qadri, Dawn Newspaper (Pakistan), 20 June 2006. More of his work available here.

Security Council reform

Saying that it was against the enlargement of the “coterie of the powerful and privileged”, Pakistan has called for a broad agreement on the expansion of the UN Security Council which envisages creation of mostly non-permanent seats and a few extended ones.

Interestingly, most Western and developed countries favour permanent seats for a few privileged states.

Death sentence for blasphemy

SIALKOT, June 18: A district and sessions judge on Wednesday awarded death sentence and rigorous life imprisonment with a fine of Rs500,000 to a man in a case of blasphemy and desecration of Holy Quran.

According to the prosecution, the convict, Shafiq Latif of Kulluwal area of Sialkot tehsil, had committed blasphemy and desecrated copies of Holy Quran on March 17, 2006. The Head Marala police had arrested him after registering a case under the Blasphemy Act.

Strict security arrangements had been made in and around the court.

Sialkot District and Sessions Judge Suhaib Ahmad Roomi told newsmen that the verdict was based on Islamic laws.

Banners and posters welcoming the verdict were displayed at different places in the district.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Israeli intellectuals

People often ask me how Israelis can tolerate the Occupation. The best answer is to just listen to what they have to say. This is a pretty good snapshot of what the average educated Israeli thinks about Palestinian claims to Jerusalem and the region more broadly. The bloke being interviewed is a respected academic in an Israeli university. The casual racism and insensitivity is pretty amazing (and mildly amusing actually). When I was in Israel I met other experts on Islam who said pretty much the same things.

As a side note, if you type in 'Al Jazeera' in You Tube this is the first hit, not a story from the Al Jazeera You Tube site. My guess is young Zionists have been busy clicking on this link so that it comes up first.


What a brilliant way to end the half season finale. The central theme of the show has been trying to find Earth. Well now they've finally found it, but it's a barren post-nuclear holocaust wasteland. I really like the way they've kept the series fresh by constantly recapitulating story lines and character profiles. Love to see how they get themselves out of this one!!

Ceasefire or not?

You have to be alert to spot propaganda. The media reports a ceasefire being reached between Israel and Hamas. Then it breathlessly announces that Israel killed 6 Palestinians in Gaza. Only Israel can get away with reaching a ceasefire and continuing to kill Palestinians. I also heard an Israeli spokesman on TV saying Hamas can't be trusted with a ceasefire. The reporter didn't challenge this, for example, noting that Hamas had maintained a total ceasfire since late 2004 until they were attacked in 2007. It was something former President Carter did not forget (see last 20 seconds of this clip).

Monday, June 16, 2008

Taxi to the Dark Side

Tonight at the Sydney Film Festival I saw 'Taxi to the Dark Side', the Academy Award-winning documentary about the crimes committed at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. I was surprised at how much law was mentioned in the documentary, and how well expressed the legal principles around torture (inhuman and degrading treatment) were canvassed. Well done.

Go see it!!

It's raining in Sydney

Nice remix though courtesy of the Freemasons and a Daft Punk film clip.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Life's a bitch in Gaza

The last year, since Hamas took over, has been a very difficult time for me and my family. Hamas accused my brother of injuring some of their men in a shootout. They surrounded the house, but he escaped and managed to get out to the West Bank. Me, my parents, his wife, and his children haven't seen him since.

The BBC carries a story on life for ordinary Palestinians in Gaza one year after the Hamas take over. On the surface it gives an insight into life for ordinary people. But reportage like this does more harm than good because it totally decontextualises the situation. It basically gives the reader the impression that life is bad in Gaza, but this is just the way things are. There's no real sense of cause and effect, apart from that Hamas is really bad and oppressive. Which in several ways they are. But oppression is usually a product of oppressive conditions. And Gaza is under oppressive conditions because of Israel's blockade, occupation and constant murder of the Palestinian population.

Top 5

If I could meet any 5 people who are now deceased they would be (in no particular order):

1. Malcolm X
2. The Buddha
3. The Prophet Muhammad
4. Any of the first modern humans
5. My deceased grandparents (ok a bit of a cheat, I know!).

What about you? Leave your's in the comment box.

Time to rethink Afghan strategy?

The first step in rethinking Afghan strategy is to think seriously about the lessons of a recent opinion survey of ordinary Taliban fighters commissioned by the Toronto Globe and Mail.* Two results are striking: the widespread lack of any strong expression of allegiance to Mullah Omar and the Taliban leadership; and the reasons given by most for joining the Taliban – namely, the presence of western troops in Afghanistan. The deaths of relatives or neighbours at the hands of those forces was also stated by many as a motive. This raises the question of whether Afghanistan is not becoming a sort of surreal hunting estate, in which the US and Nato breed the very “terrorists” they then track down.

A revealing piece from a respected establishment expert on Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Flight of the Conchords

Settler violence near Susia

An elderly shepherd, his wife and a nephew said they were attacked by four masked men for allowing their animals to graze near the settlement of Susia.

Today BBC carries a report on an attack on some Palestinians by settlers near the village of Susia. It's good to see this kind of story being reported. However there are some glaring omissions. For starters, BBC did not feel the need to follow up the incident with the local police or army. Are either investigating the attack? Judging from the video on the website, and the fact that the Jewish population in the region is small, it ought not to be too difficult to determine who the attackers are. If BBC had done an investigation it would have discovered that settler violence like this is rarely investigated and settlers found to have been involved are almost never charged or prosecuted.

Another matter omitted from the report is the fact that the Palestinians of Susia, whom I visited last month, live in very basic conditions. One of the main reasons for this is that they were actually evicted from their homes in 1986 by settlers. From their camp site you can even see the settlement that rests on the land where they used to live. Israeli military police have frequently destroyed their homes on the land they currently inhabit on numerous occasions over the past 20 years. Try to imagine what you'd feel like if this had happened to you: not only evicted, but routinely having your very humble new dwellings constantly destroyed and exposed to attacks by settlers in the knowledge nothing is going to be done about it.

Rather than reporting the attack as an isolated or decontextualised incident, BBC has a responsibility to report on these wider, more significant crimes.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Rachel Corrie

Rachel Corrie was a young American peace activist killed in Gaza five years ago while trying to stop Israel bulldozing Palestinian homes to create a buffer zone.

Her story has been turned into a play and Dateline's Amos Roberts invites two people with opposing views on Israel to view the production.

An interesting Dateline story here on a play based on the life and death of Rachel Corrie. It's unfortunate, however, that they didn't speak to any Palestinians or visit Gaza itself. Certainly Dateline has a small budget but surely a foreign affairs program ought to bother to speak to the people whom Rachel was trying to defend? In this respect the program reminded me of a recent debate on the Israel Lobby which had six speakers in total. Three were Jewish (although only one was from Israel!) and only one Palestinian. That is basically how Western discourse unfolds. Even when The Other's cause is championed it is for us (in the West) to do the championing.

Collateral Damage

"And they briefed this to the general," Millard said, "and they briefed it gruesome. I mean, they had pictures. They briefed it to him. And this colonel turns around to this full division staff and says, 'If these f---ing hajis learned to drive, this sh-t wouldn't happen.'"

An excellent article by Chris Hedges on US crimes in Iraq and their emotional and moral impact on American troops. It is adapted from his new book Collateral Damage. (Thanks to Jeanie)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Kevin Rudd

Howard accused of war crimes

A legal brief has been sent to the International Criminal Court (ICC) alleging former prime minister John Howard committed a war crime by sending troops to Iraq.

CEO pay

Sol Trujillo's payout when he leaves Telstra will be 93 million dollars and some of us will ask how he earned it. 93 million dollars would keep ten small theatre companies going for a thousand years on the interest alone. 93 million dollars would fund a month of the Iraq War. It's a thousand times the annual wage of a New York fireman. It's three hundred times the annual wage of Kevin Rudd. In a bank earning seven percent interest, it would make him 17,835 dollars a day. 743 dollars an hour. 12 dollars a minute. A dollar every five seconds.

Bob Ellis on CEO pay. While I agree with him I must admit that his article is a good example of why so many people don't trust lefties. He favours rhetoric over analysis when CEO pay is one of the easier areas where you can just let the statistics tell the story. It's a classic example of the myths of the market. For example, there is the argument that CEOs are paid as much as they do because the market is willing to pay them that much. Which is true. But the reason why the market is willing to pay them that much is because the evaluation of CEO salaries based on supply and demand is controlled by CEO and other high level actors in the private sector. A market can be shaped to favour certain products and services by powerful interests. One reason why American IT companies do so well is that the US state can protect their IP rights much better than weaker countries.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Hong Kong

I've spent the past few days in Hong Kong. It was nice to be able to clear immigration in 20 minutes and enter a lively city where no one stares at you, where trains run every few minutes, and there isn't a gun to be seen anywhere. I always enjoy Hong Kong for a few days and have never stayed any longer. If I did I imagine the place would quickly become claustrophobic and frighteningly consumer-capitalist. True I don't speak Cantonese or have family there and this can be a limiting factor. Moreover, I hear the hills and jungle in the new territories makes for some good hiking. So don't get me wrong, it's not that I think that Hong Kong is a bad place.

But there are constant signals that consumerism is king over here. The televisions in the Airport Express hint as much with their unending images of fashion designers and celebrities raving on about their new hand bags, shoes and mobile phones. I have never seen so many different choices for clothes and electronics in the one city. I tried to find a pair of hiking shoes to replace my current, smelly pair and managed to find four eligible options.
There are so many choices for the consumer that it is easy to miss the army of casualised workers, many from neighbouring developing countries, responding to your beck and call in the shops and restaurants you visit. There is such an expectation that money buys you goods and services in Hong Kong that when I tried to put my rubbish in the bin at a local McDonald's a friend told me that here there are people to clean up after you. On Sundays and public holidays you can see thousands of Filipino workers sitting on the ground in open spaces like a giant, CBD picnic. What they represent is an army of wage slaves with no place to be free except the public space you and I walk on.
Surely there has to be more to an Asian tiger economy, the Asian model for development, than this? Perhaps there is. Over the past few years there have been growing demands among Chinese residents for greater democracy and transparency in government. I suspect there is a long road yet to travel.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Last day in Israel/Palestine

"Where once there was a path, now there is a hurdle. An earthen mound of hope and resentment piled into one."
- I.K.

I left Israel/Palestine today. Although the trip from Ramallah to the airport and freedom from the security state was something of a task, I managed to get through fairly easily. I decided to leave from Ramallah, in the West Bank, instead of return to Israel the night before I was meant to leave. Thankfully the flight was at midnight so I had plenty of time to get to Ben Gurion International Airport, and even have lunch with a good friend at his refugee camp just outside Ramallah. From Ramallah I took a bus to Arab East Jerusalem. From there I got a taxi. Although he asked for 250 shekels (around 80 Australian dollars) I bargained him down to 190, which happened to be exactly all the money I had. We drove up towards the airport and, as happened last time, a tall, armed Israeli security guard with an equally large M-16 strapped to his chest stopped our car and told us to park. My driver, himself a Palestinian Israeli (most taxi drivers are) was told to wait in a separate room while both of our IDs were taken. I was asked a range of questions, something I have become rather used to. What are you doing in Israel? Where have you been? Where are you going? And so on. My bags were searched and I got those magic blue stickers on my bags that would ensure they were only searched one more time inside the airport.

On this trip I've developed the ability to stand my ground with an unfailingly polite manner. It seems to have worked really well and developed my self-confidence enormously. But, at the end of the day, it is offensive the way you are treated like a potential terrorist until the bitter end. As much can be garnered from the questioners' body language. They look at you and test your every response with eyes that observe your body language. Even my humble toe nail clipper was mistaken for a knife requiring a pocket in my bag to be given special attention.

Inside the terminal my bag was searched again by a young woman. It turned out she was studying at the Middle East Studies department at the university my friend lectures at. She went through my bag, searched my laptop, even asked to see photos on my camera. When I told her I was a journalist and where I'd travelled to she queried whether I was objective. I told her I wouldn't have a job if I wasn't objective. I report what I see. By the end of the entire process she apologised for 'grilling' me 'so much' and I wished her all the best in her studies. At the end of the day, even the worst regime, which Israel certainly is not, and the harshest interrogator, which she certainly wasn't either, is human. If there is a soluton to the Israel/Palestine conflict it will require both parties to humanise the other more than they have hitherto.

My details were checked again at the third booth I was processed at. I had to wait another ten minutes, presumably for Intelligence to check up on me. And after that I was free. By international standards it was a long and draining process. By Israeli standards it was pretty ok. I know I haven't blogged as much on this trip as on the previous occasion. But I've been far more productive and have been in the region much longer this time around. More than anything I think the trip confirmed that some things, like Israel's occupation of Palestine, have only worsened but have not fundamentally changed. That puts the lie to the media and the 'International Quartet' and their claims that peace may just be around the corner, if only each side was willing to think in new and different ways.

The trip also confirmed my ability to work as a freelancer and has led to some exciting prospects.

Next stop, a brief stay in Hong Kong, followed by a slightly longer one in Australia.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

George Carlin is a legend

My own little minimarket jihad

There's a minimarket at the foot of the apartment building where I stay in Ramallah. It opens early and closes late so it's always busy with customers. There's an old man whom I can only guess is the proprietor perennially at the tills with a long furrowed brow across his face. Usually it's because he's looking at some paper work. What this also means is that customers often have to wait a long time before getting his attention. As a result, there's a bit of a law of the jungle procedure to purchasing your items, not entirely dissimilar to buying a drink at a busy pub. I've routinely been pushed away by intimidating mothers who look like they should be playing rugby. So I've taken to dumping my money on the counter and walking out. I haven't been shouted at yet.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Euro parliamentarian speaks out on Gaza

"The Israeli siege on Gaza continue to punish collectively and illegally civil population, killing them together with their hopes of a dignified life and of a better future: of course rocket launched from Gaza to Sderot are illegal and criminal and must be immediately stopped because they hit Israeli civilians, but the fault of some Palestinian extremists groups cannot be paid as reprisal by one million and a half of non-culpable people.

Today, more examples of collective punishment against Palestinian civilians took place. Special Israeli Forces raided Khaza'a area, east of Khan Younis, and killed Yosra Qzeih Abu Roq, a 70 years-old woman. Amnesty International in its latest report announced that since the beginning of 2008, "frequent air strikes and other attacks by Israeli forces killed more than 370 Palestinians, including some 50 children, and injured thousands more."

Also today, the U.S. Department of State withdrew all Fulbright grants from Palestinian students in Gaza, as Israel refused to grant them permission to leave the Gaza Strip. Seven Palestinian students were added to the long list of victims of the illegal, brutal, and incomprehensible siege. The students were deprived from a chance to better contribute to Palestinian society. As The New York Times reported today, even some Israeli lawmakers expressed their anger of the decision.

"This could be interpreted as collective punishment," Rabbi Michael Melchior, chairman of the Knesset's education committee, stated in a committee hearing. He also expressed his concern that "this policy is not in keeping with international standards or with the moral standards of Jews, who have been subjected to the deprivation of higher education in the past. Even in war, there are rules".

This is the meaning of a widespread and contradictory unbalanced policy carried out by the United States that, instead of asking to Israel to open the border crossings to people, women, men, ill persons and goods, it reinforces the brutality of the closure withdrawing scholarships for students.

Unfortunately this unbalanced and hypocritical policy is also followed by 'a supine Europe', as recently defined Peace Nobel Prize and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter who, together with another Peace Nobel Prize, Archbishop Desmond Tutu -in these last days visiting the Strip and shocked for the deteriorated situation in Gaza- urge both that Gaza siege must end.

Amnesty International also announced that "some 40 Palestinians died after being refused passage out of Gaza for urgent medical treatment not available in local hospitals," which totals143 Palestinian patients. Amnesty International also expressed concern over the situation of the thousands of those seriously ill and are denied permission to leave the Gaza Strip.
In the West Bank, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) denounced the increasing number of checkpoints and other physical limitations on movement. According to OCHA there are 607 new checkpoints and physical limitations added since September 2007. In its report, OCHA also expressed its concern regarding the 3,000 Palestinian homes scheduled for demolition by the Israeli Army, and the confiscation of Palestinian fertile land due to the illegal Wall.

Many UN Agencies, International, Palestinian and Israeli NGOs, are constantly denouncing this evidence, but once again in vain. There are also two resolutions by the European Parliament calling on Israel to end the Gaza siege. Nevertheless people in Gaza continue to dye, justice and rights for Palestinians are always more and more remote after 40 years of Occupation and 60 years of Nakba carried out by Israeli Governments and tolerated by the International Community.

Vice President of the European Parliament

Monday, June 02, 2008

Israel to take more Palestinian land

This is an intriguing way to report a war crime, courtesy of the BBC. It begins with the headline:

The Israeli government has announced plans to build nearly 900 new housing units in a part of East Jerusalem that is considered occupied territory.

Which is a nice way of saying that Palestinians are being evicted to make room for Jews who could be from anywhere in the world. The balance of the report is actually on Israel PM Olmert's trouble over corruption charges the land confiscation story is not mentioned any further. This is the BBC method of propaganda. Frame the story from an Israeli persepective (leader embattled, talks coming up with the Palestinians, etc). Report crimes committed against the Palestinians as though they were something happening in the periphery.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

The little things

The guy I'm sharing a room in Ramallah with always sets his alarm for 8am. Every day he presses snooze instead of turning the alarm off. He usually gets up around 11am, which means he ritually turns it off every 15 minutes or so between 8 and 11am. Surprisingly the sound has become somewhat endearing to me. I think it helps that I'm usually out of bed by 7:30am and sit in the adjoining room.

I think I'm going to find it hard to sleep when I return home without the constant sound of the muezzin calling the Fajir azzan or mosquitoes buzzing over my ears. Having said that, to dispel any romantic fantasies readers may have about travel in exotic destinations, it'll be great to have a bit of peace and quiet and no irritating mosquito bites in wierd locations. Not to mention smelling like Aeroguard in the morning. Which reminds me, I've got a new business proposal. How about a line of aerosol perfumes, eg Calvin Klein 'Deterrance' for men and women? I'm (not very) serious! I don't have any cologne with me, glass bottles are too heavy. So my only real perfume is Aeroguard at the moment.

Ha'aretz putsch

It appears that the Israelis are closing down many if not all of the sources of critical information coming out of Israel. The hypocrisy of it all is that Israel complains that when the British Academic Union proposes a boycott of Israeli academic institutions as a way to pressure Israel and to protest Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians the Israelis start to scream that the proposed boycott is a violation of freedom of speech and a violation of academic freedom. Israeli authorities have been crushing academic freedom and free speech for Palestinians, and even Israeli critics, for decades. Israel does not want its own population and the rest of the world to know what it is doing to the Palestinians.

UPDATE: according to a reliable and well-informed source this report is highly exaggerated. This is what I've been told:

a.. The new German investors own only about 10% of the paper. Their major influence is in forcing general cutbacks (something common to newspapers around the world); they don't care too much about the politics.
b.. Amira Hass is on sabbatical leave at her own request. This comes directly from her.
c.. Gideon Levy's Twilight Zone column has not been scrapped. It appeared two days ago as normal.
d.. Several reporters left/were sacked at the time the new editor, Dov Alfon, took over. This is again fairly normal. My source tends to agree with Dr Naor that the selection was essentially financial rather than political (although in Israel they are much intertwined.)
e.. From My Source's reading of Eldar's work in both English and Hebrew, he says there has been no change in his output.