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    The parameters of peace

    Here are excerpts of my latest piece in the Hill’s pundits blog, which asked me to respond to the question:
    Can the Obama administration forge a peace agreement, and what steps should it be taking in Mideast policy?

    I’ll be honest. From my vantage point here in Gaza, where I’ve been for the past two months, it’s really, really difficult to approach this question seriously. Besieged and prevented from developing or prospering, with no exports and few people being allowed out and minimal raw materials being allowed in, Palestinians here are wondering what exactly we are negotiating over and who exactly Mahmoud Abbas is representing. (As one astute observer on Twitter noted, “himself, of course, who else”.) A peace agreement with no broad representation, head by a president with no legal authority or credibility, generally speaking, is not a good way to kick things off.

    This is leaving aside the question of what exactly these direct talks will be about.

    Palestinians have tired of piecemeal agreement with empty promises, a showcase of handshakes and ceremonies. They have become desensitized to the word “negotiations” — offended, even, by the mere notion of negotiations and their implications in their current context. For them, negotiations have meant nothing but concessions, emboldening Israeli security, and further strangulation.

    Take the last much-publicized “back on track” attempt: Annapolis. Then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reportedly went so far as to promise not to build new settlements or expropriate land! Well, by that measure (which, needless to say, didn’t pan out according to promise), we’ve gone backwards, granting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu his wish of “talks without preconditions” (we’ve gone backwards in any case, but you get my drift). . .

    Even if there was a commitment to freeze settlements, there will inevitably be a way around it. More Palestinian land will be expropriated and current settlements expanded to account for their “natural growth”, until they resemble towns, not colonies, and have them legitimized by a U.S. administration looking for some way to save face. And then there will be promises to raze outposts.

    Oslo has been around for 17 years now. Almost two decades. It’s really mind-boggling when I say it out loud like that. Simply because if you take a good, hard look at the reality on the ground for Palestinians and what has happened in those 17 years, you would be hard-pressed to believe that any new negotiations will bear any fruit without a fundamental shift in the underlying process.

    During that period, Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise doubled while Palestinian poverty and unemployment rates reached historic heights, due in no small part to Israel’s closure regime and policy of de-development. More than 300,000 illegal Jewish settlers now live on 42 percent of the West Bank land where the Palestinians want to establish their future country, according to a July report by the Israeli human rights group BTselem. Meanwhile, the prospect of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state has been rendered next to impossible, leading many Palestinians to consider new options.

    There is increasingly talk amongst Palestinians now of a desire for a strategic shift of their own vis-a-vis their political aspirations: from a two-state solution toward a call for one democratic country, with equal rights for all. This is the only sustainable, viable, and just option for both peoples.

    Gaza has been cast aside for the moment, but in thought and in words. Yet if any new negotiations stand any chance of succeeding, they must include Gaza — and its government — in the debate. Never mind talk of dedication to Israel’s destruction. The charter of Netanyahu’s Likud Party flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian state. Yet miraculously, America not only negotiates with Israel but allows Israel to push it around, by many an Israeli prime minister’s own admission…

    As one prominent Palestinian-American tweeter put it Thursday night, “Now that Israel got its wish of talks ‘without preconditions’ I expect [Hamas leader] Khaled Meshal will soon get his invitation to Washington.”

    If the Obama administration is indeed serious about peace, the parameters are clear, and have been for decades. The Israeli government must explicitly endorse a viable, contiguous, sovereign Palestinian state, something they have not yet done. Israel must suffer consequences for non-compliance.


    Brilliant billboard activism

    No comment needed!! ! بدون تعليق

    Billboard activism for Palestine around California and New Mexico in the United States.


    US Navy being sent to Israel

    I’m not in the habit of reporting hearsay, but this one comes from the source itself. A confidential source just told me that a US Naval Officer he spoke with told him they just received sudden word today that they (the US Navy or contingents thereof) are being deployed to Israel next week. The timing obviously suggests the deployment is related to the flotilla debacle, but what purpose their deployment serves is anyone’s guess (well certainly not mine, since I’m not a maritime expert). Perhaps deploying off Iran’s coast along with the Israeli nuclear missile subs under the cover of worldwide protest over and distraction by the flotilla?

    A colleague offers another possibility:

    “Obama has made a deal with Netanyahu that Israel will “ease” its blockade of Gaza on condition that the US monitor Gaza’s coastline and inspect all cargo ships. The object of the exercise here for the US and Israel is to keep Gaza under tight control but defuse the humanitarian issue. Normalize conditions just enough so that they can quiet the international ruckus. It might “work” — from their point of view. Cynical bastards.”


    I am Palestine

    Last Sunday, we attended an evening commemorating Palestinian Land Day. I went someone hesitantly since the event was co-sponsored by the PLO mission in Washington. But Yassine convinced it was worth the trip since we were really going to see Ahmed Tibi-the keynote speaker; and a fantastic Dabke troupe; and a oud player.

    The evening started out with the usual declarations and rhetoric by the PLO Mission. Sensing the crowd’s impatience, the Palestinian ambassador pleaded that as Palestinians we should not import our differences from back home. As though a perfectly timed punchline, a picture of Mahmoud Abbas who looked like he was gagging appeared on the screen behind him.

    One of the Mission staff then introduced Tibi as a “proponent of Palestinian rights in the Israeli Knesset” as though it were some secondary issue he is passionate about. The introduction sounded aloof, like an outsider who was introducing Tibi to a foreign crowd, not a Palestinian (the crowd was overwhelmingly Arabic speaking Palestinians, and the speech itself was in Arabic).

    Tibi then took the stage: “I just want to say something here. I was introduced as a mere ‘proponent’ of Palestinian rights. I don’t think you understand, so let me explain. I am not simply a proponent. I dont’ defend or talk about Palestinian rights because I feel like it. I AM Palestinian rights; I EMBODY Palestine. I AM the Palestinian struggle. So please do not insult me.”


    Tibi went on to talk about what he called the “Triangle” of the Palestinian struggle: The Palestinians inside the Armistice line (OPT/WB, Gaza and East Jerusalem), the Palestinians on the outside in the diaspora and refugee camps; and the 1948 Palestinians.

    In fact, the entire evening the Mission engaged in a pathetic to promote the Fayyad government, to demonstrate how they are making the occupied, divided, strangulated territories bloom with their new economic and institution building initiatives in the West Bank. I nearly gagged when they talked about how impressive the economic growth he has led has been.

    Curiously, Gaza was not mentioned once the entire evening. But then, this is the point. To isolate Gaza; to disappear it from the discourse, subtract it form the equation, out of sight and mind. It was a depressing little facade, where, as in reality, the sideshow attempts to distract from the rottenness lurking beneath and the bitterness simmering just below that. The squashing of any and all dissent and use of torture by CIA-trained Abbas forces in the name of keeping “order” (a friend of mine here in Maryland shares with me daily stories of the torture her brother is enduring at the hands of such forces, who are attempting to “convince” him which way to vote in July’s municipal elections and discourage opposition rallies). Really, a small-scale do-over of Oslo.

    For more on the perils of the so-called Netanyahu-Fayyad Initiative (“West Bank first” and “Economic Peace”) see this excellent article by Ziyaad Lunat on EI.

    “Economic peace,” coupled with the “West Bank First” policy of economic development serves too as warning to Palestinians. They either conform to a political program approved by Israel and Western donors or risk sharing the dire fate of Gaza, under a crippling siege since June 2007.

    Each ribbon cutting ceremony Fayyad attends reinforces the normalcy discourse propagated by the PA and Fatah-affiliated media that contrast it to the destruction and despair of Israeli-blockaded, Hamas-controlled Gaza.

    A year on, the cost of the Netanyahu-Fayyad plan is becoming clear. Low-income Palestinian families and small business are being encouraged to borrow to fuel a high-risk economy. Israel has proven time again that it won’t hesitate to strike a blow against Palestinian infrastructure should they dissent from the current consensus in its favor.

    The economic peace model comes with a dose of cultural imperialism. Palestinians do not have basic freedoms but they are being told that they can enjoy the mundane and superfluous in cinemas and shopping centers.


    NPR, Settlements, and Objective American Journalism

    OK I need to get this off my chest. So I’m listening to NPR the other day on my way back from Yousuf’s school (note to self: don’t listen to NPR’s coverage of the Middle East, even when there is nothing else on).

    They had a piece on on the “settlement row” in Occupied East Jerusalem, as though this were suddenly some new issue that is threatening to “derail efforts to get back on track” (what track? and where is it headed? the train analogies never cease).

    Their reporter in Jerusalem, Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, then proceeds to take us with her on a journey to the settlement colony in question, and describes it as a “tranquil” place on a lovely hilltop, the settlers as simply facing a “housing crunch”. She then goes on to speak to a calm, American-accented settler who says he is oblivious to all that’s going on around him, that it really doesn’t matter, they just want to be able to accommodate the increasing numbers of Orthodox Jews in their “neighborhood”. By contrast, she says, in the West Bank there is “violence” again as “angry” protesters take to the streets hurling stones. We aren’t told why. We don’t get a chance to hear from any of them. The next day, the NPR anchor sums up the developments in one sentence: “more violence in the Middle East”.

    I was seething listening to this piece, more than usual, and immediately Joe Sacco’s words about “objectivity as practiced in American journalism” being unhelpful, non-educational, unfair came to mind. If I was an “average Joe” (what happened to him?) my take-away from this piece would be: Those angry violent Palestinians, always up in arms about something. So violent. Those poor calm settlers who just want to live in peace and expand out of their cramped quarters.

    I would not learn that in fact the settlements are illegal by international law and they they will create an uninterrupted stretch of Jewish-only housing and amenities between the eastern sector of the city and two West Bank settlement blocs.

    I would be given no context as to why the settlements are strategically located on hilltops nor of the assaulted lives of occupied Palestinians ghettoized around them.

    That the Palestinians in East Jerusalem have extreme difficulty obtaining building permits from Israeli authorities; that after a few years of being away from the city-for studying for example abroad, their residency permits are yanked and they are no longer considered city residents; have no rights to live there.

    That up to 25% of housing units in Israeli settlements are actually empty.

    That the unlawful appropriation of Palestinian land for Israeli settlements and “bypass” roads connecting the settlements, and of crucial resources such as water, has had a devastating impact on the local Palestinian population.

    That the settlements are funded by the Israeli government, and by American taxpayers; that colonists who choose to live there are given housing subsidies.

    But what does it matter to NPR? After all, we got a supposedly “objective” report, and that’s the important thing. Hmm.


    The radical babes of Gaza

    I want another baby. I really do. Yassine-not so much.

    But he may not have to worry-at least not if Martin Kramer has his way. The current fellow at Harvard’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs has suggested I -and other Palestinian women from Gaza- should deliberately be stopped from having babies because chances are, they will be grow up to be radicals.

    According to the Electronic Intifada, who first broke the story last week, Kramer offered this fasinating piece of solicited advice in the annual Herzliyah Conference in Israel earlier this month in which he called on “the West” to take measures to limit the births of Muslim Palestinians of Gaza and consider them a form of terrorism, or, as Kramer puts it, “extreme demographic armament”. He also praised the unconscionable Israeli siege for getting the ball rolling already and reducing the numbers of Palestinian babies there (see: infanticide; Gaza Diet). If your skin didn’t curl watching the audience clap at the end of that video, well, save your soul somehow.

    Family Planning, the Martin Kramer way

    Kramer’s argument: Gaza is a cauldron of crazy; there is already an excess of aimless young Muslim men loitering around and many most all of them will be extremists! Solution: they shouldn’t be born to start with. Like I said: brilliant!

    How does he suggest they implement this ground-breaking plan? Stop providing “pro-natal subsidies” that encourage these births. Pro-natal subsidies, you might ask? Is that like pre-natal vitamins? Close, but spinal bifida or not, a baby is still a baby. Kramer is referring to food and humanitarian assistance for “Palestinians with refugee status”, who make up 70% of the Gaza Strip ( and of whom, I might add, 40% are already malnourished, and 80% rely on food hand-outs for survival).

    Yes, you read that correctly. “In other words”, says MJ Rosenberg, Kramer seems to be saying “starve the Palestinians so they don’t have babies and…starving the babies so they don’t grow up.”

    Lest an outraged public be all up in arms about…plagiarism, Kramer himself notes the idea is “not at all original”. Got THAT right…let’s see, where HAVE we heard this kind of chilling drivel before? Hmmm. Oh wait- the Nazis beat you to it! Except back then they called it Eugenics. Juan Cole contends it is a recycled form of Malthusianism.

    Nice company you keep, Kramer. Way to hog the limelight.

    One would think such unapologetic racism need not even warrant discussion. Ever the flag bearer of academic iniquity freedoms, Harvard disagrees.

    This, despite the fact that Kramer’s ideas appears to meet the international legal definition of a call for genocide according to the Geneva Convention (which includes measures “intended to prevent births within” a specific “national, ethnic, racial or religious group.”).

    Electronic Intifada founder Ali Abunimah spread the word about it, trying to force Harvard to take a stand, but instead they rushed to his defense.

    I wonder how long Mr. Kramer’s views would be tolerated if — all other things being equal — he were an Arab scholar who had called for Jews to be placed in a giant, sealed enclosure which virtually no one is allowed to leave and enter, and deprived of food and schooling for their children in order to reduce their birthrate?” Abunimah asked.

    The ghastliness of it all was best summed up by an exchange between the mock Dan Halutz and Doron Almog to the real Martin Kramer on Twitter:

    danhalutz RT @doronalmog: @DanHalutz Remember that time u, me, & @Martin_Kramer debated @Harvard over drinks on how to get rid of those superfluous Gazans? Good times

    danhalutz @DoronAlmog Of course! @Martin_Kramer was all about the “pro-natal subsidies” and you just wanted to bulldoze those Gazans. Me, I like F16s

    danhalutz @Martin_Kramer Dear Sir: I admire your brilliant ideas but fear ending pronatal subsidies will not eliminate superfluous Arabs fast enough.

    danhalutz @Martin_Kramer: I say replace ‘pronatal’ subsidies with ‘pro-morbid’ ones: cluster bombs, white phosphorus, napalm. Let’s co-author a paper!


    Our Last Port is Freedom: Gaza Calling

    A press release from the Free Gaza Movement among other solidarity and pro-justice activists in Turkey and elsewhere. As many may recall, the activists sailed two boats to Gaza in August 2008 (my Aunt and Uncle were on one of the boats, met by my parents in Gaza City’s harbor on the other side. It was a euphoric-if fleeting-moment). These were the first international boats to land in the port in 41 years. Since then, seven more voyages boarded Parliamentarians, human rights workers, and other dignitaries to witness the effects of Israel’s draconian policies on the civilians of Gaza. The last three voyages were illegally stopped by the Israeli navy when, in December, 2008, they rammed the DIGNITY in international water, turned back the SPIRIT OF HUMANITY by threatening to shoot all on board, then hijacking the SPIRIT on July 1, 2009, kidnapping the passengers and throwing them into prison for a week.

    Friday, January 29, 2010

    Contact: IHH, Ahmet Emin +90 530 341 19 34
    Free Gaza Movement, Eliza Ernshire +44 754 011 22 94

    [Istanbul, Turkey] Yesterday, the Free Gaza Movement and the Turkish Relief Foundation (IHH), announced a joint venture, sending 10 boats in the spring of 2010 to the besieged Gaza strip. Organizations from Greece, Ireland and Sweden have also promised to send boats to join the flotilla with the Free Gaza movement and Turkey.

    Mr. Bulent Yildirim, chairman of the IHH said, “We sail in the spring to Gaza, and our last port is freedom; freedom for the 1.5 million Palestinians denied the right to rebuild their society. We will never stop sailing until Israel’s siege is lifted.”

    Two cargo ships will be part of the flotilla, one donated by the Malaysia-based Perdana Foundation and one from IHH. Both will be laden with building supplies, generators and educational materials that Israel prohibits from entering Gaza since their brutal attack on the civilian population a year ago.

    The many passenger boats accompanying the cargo ships will carry members of Parliament from countries around the world as well as high-profile journalists and human rights workers.

    According to the chair of the Free Gaza Movement, Huwaida Arraf, “The illegal blockade on Gaza and Israel’s continued intransigence make a mockery of international law. If our governments will not take a stance to stop Israel’s abuse of the Palestinian people, global civil society is showing that we will.”


    The inebriants of Israel’s war

    During a radio program yesterday, I was asked “what next”?

    In the course of my answer, I said something about how I don’t know that the Israeli government has thought that through; that they are so drunk with self-conviction, absolute power and military might, racism and nationalism and perceived “success” all while a media blackout, a well-planned hasbara campaign and a public hungry for “action” fuel the war-terror machine with their blessings and support, that they will blaze ahead, losing sight of why-ever the hell they think they started this and whatever the hell it was supposed to achieve (the latest line is “increasing their deterrent force”).

    The herd mentality at its best.

    Barak’s popularity is through the roof: street parades for the war hero who makes the public feel “safe” and “secure”.

    To quote Gideon Levy, it is “war as child’s play“:

    “…pilots bombing unimpeded as if on practice runs, tank and artillery soldiers shelling houses and civilians from their armored vehicles, combat engineering troops destroying entire streets in their ominous protected vehicles without facing serious
    opposition. A large, broad army is fighting against a helpless population and a weak, ragged organization that has fled the conflict zones and is barely putting up a fight. All this must be said openly, before we begin exulting in our heroism and victory.”

    Even the name of the “operation” (Cast Lead), which is lost on many, exudes innocence and excitement and joy.

    According to my friend Mushon, who talks of the polarized rendering of events in the Israeli blog-o-sphere in his excellent post:

    The blogs in Israel are divided between covering the terror of life in Sderot and the rest of the Israeli south under the Hamas rocket fire, and the excited coverage of the “glorious” operation titled ‘Cast Lead’ – quoting a Hanuka song where a child sings about playing with a Dreidel of cast lead – a holiday present from an uncle.

    Mushon goes on to say that as a result, the coverage we are getting is confused and erratic, a reflection of the aimless war itself:

    But overall, through out the whole operation there is no “bigger picture”, no objective report, no clue of what this operation aims to achieve or when will it end.

    Also evident is an incipient racism gradually becoming acceptable in Israeli public discourse, as well as a “occupier as enlightener” mentality: Jewish women don’t cry like Arab women; Palestinians don’t exist as a nation anyway; they are violent; they are inhumane; we gave them the only good things they have; we just want to liberate them-we are on their side; and so on.

    I have noticed this in Israeli media *and new media* accounts of the attacks against Gaza, accounts confirmed in conversations Israeli friends against the war have had with their friends- who have been quoting right wing European politicians in describing Gaza and Palestinians (yeah, those guys definitely on your side…) …hello.

    In article entitled “Is Israel Losing the Media War in Gaza“, TIME talks of Israel’s “extensively planned hasbara campaign” ahead of the war o Gaza, and the bluntness with which Israeli officers speak to their domestic audiences (“We are very violent,” the commander of the Israeli army’s Élite combat engineering unit, Yahalom, told the Israeli press, “We do not balk at any means to protect the lives of our soldiers.”.)

    These factors taken together might also explain the numerous accounts being heard of Palestinians being used as human shields by Israeli soldiers and being shot at (and in many cases, killed) as they raised white flags-after being ordered to leave their houses by those same soldiers: when there is no accountability, and an ingrained lethal ambiguity in “operating procedures”, why NOT be “very violent”; why NOT shoot at “any moving thing” to quote another young Israeli soldier in yesterday’s Haaretz?

    Now Olmert is avoiding meeting with his security cabinet so that a “timeline” can be avoided; and Livni is asking the international community for “more time” to “achieve their goals” (again: what exactly is the goal here? Human suffering? destruction of infrastructure so that Abbas can rebuild it? Sowing more anger and destroying hope? all of the above?);

    Not that the Israeli government gives a damn about the international community; Olmert made that very clear yesterday when he boasted to a press conference about how he had Bush pulled aside from a speech he was giving about education policy to order Rice to abstain from a UN Security Resolution she helped draft. Rice says his rendering of events is “fiction” (perhaps he was drunk with the inebriants of his war…).

    As I conclude typing this post, as Livni lobbies for more time and Olmert does his song and dance, another night of terror and confusion has passed on Gaza, another weary dawn has risen.

    I was unable to speak with my parents all day, and so I rang him just after midnight my time. He sounded wrecked and suffocated, not his usual collected self. “I’m so tired… I’m just so tired. I didn’t sleep all night, the bombs are tearing through my head. I really have no idea what’s going on outside, nobody has any idea what’s going on…Aljazeera in Qatar called to ask me if I knew what was going on…and what this is about anymore. I can’t even here anything on the radio anymore, everyone is just praying. I really just want to go now dear, I’m sorry. Goodbye.” he ended abruptly.

    “Seedo?” piped in Yousuf. “Just remember- the only one who has the power to stop this is God.”