Refugees From Assad’s Campaign of Murder

The level of ambivalence found in the West towards the mass death of Syrian civilians is truly grotesque.

In March 2014 it will be the three year anniversary of the conflict, which started with peaceful protests and continues with the Syrian government dropping barrel bombs.

Nearly three whole years of slaughter. A point to ponder.

This map shows only one aspect of the conflict, mass refugees.

HIU_syria1

We need to be under no illusion that the cause of suffering in Syria is placed squarely at the feet of the Assad government and their allies, Russia, China and Iran. The latter countries have fuelled the conflict from the outset and propped up Syria’s murderous dictatorship.

What I find most galling in the West is the denial of basic facts about the Assad regime. Westerners seem to have an infinite amount of concern about the Middle East until it affects real people.

Hussein Ibish, one of the most intelligent Middle East commentators, re-enforces that point by asking “Palestinian refugees in Yarmouk are being starved to death by the Syrian regime. Does anyone care?”

Please do read it:

“There isn’t much the Palestinian people haven’t suffered. But the use of enforced starvation against them by the Syrian dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad at the Yarmouk refugee camp breaks new ground in cruelty. Hundreds are said to be facing imminent death by starvation, lack of water and medical care, and the loss, for almost a year now, of all heat and electricity.

The crucial thing is not simply that Assad and his allies – Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia – must be held fully and completely responsible for this outrage. It must also be noted that the international community and the Arab world are not doing enough to respond to it, practically or politically. They have done virtually nothing as Yarmouk’s pre-war population of 250,000 has shrunk in the past three years to 18,000 famished, cowering, and shivering souls.

Those who still worship at the altar of the false idol of “resistance” and see Assad, Iran, Hezbollah, and their allies as the embodiment of the Arab cause are not simply disingenuous or delusional propagandists. Their thinking – not even, but especially, if it is sincere – is profoundly sick.”

I have covered Syria elsewhere.

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The “Israel Apartheid Week” And “Don’t buy from the Jews week”

Over at Engage, David Hirsh’s acid wit skewers the Palestine Solidarity Campaign with, “Israel Apartheid Week” – Don’t Buy from the Jews Week.

syria_week1

I looked in at the PSC’s site, to see if they had covered the recent death of Palestinians in Syria, but alas couldn’t find anything. Conceivably, just possibly, something is hidden beneath the mountain of vitriol aimed at Israelis, but I doubt it.

I couldn’t see any genuine concern for Palestinians, outside of the West Bank and Gaza. Even Google couldn’t draw out any articles on the on-going slaughter in Syria from the PSC.

The PSC’s feed on Twitter was barren and bereft of any mention of Syria over the past month.

As Reuters reported a few weeks ago, some 10,000 Syrians have been killed since the start of 2013.

Still, the PSC were probably more interested in organising “Don’t buy from the Jews week” and must have missed what has been going on in Syria.

I think we know where the PSC’s priorities lie, all in all, David Hirsh was too kind to them.

Update 1: Liberal Conspiracy has surprisingly given Matt Hall the chance to put a persuasive argument, Pro-Palestinian activists are wrong to shut down debates by pro-Israelis.

Support The Palestinian Quest For Statehood

The quest for Palestinian statehood has been a long and unglamorous one.

Over the years various leaders have been undecided on the best tactics to take. The infamous Yasser Arafat was forever putting off the question of full statehood, trying to maximise his political capital accordingly, but the status quo is not tenable.

The Palestinians deserve a state, as much as the British do, the Americans, the French, the Australians and a whole host of other countries.

The lingering, waiting and statelessness amongst Palestinians must stop. They are consigned by the UN and regional states to numerous refugee camps or as diaspora throughout the Middle East, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, etc.

They are often treated as second and third class citizens by Arab states with limited rights and lesser prospects all around.

They deserve so much more, more from the UN, more from the leading nations and moreover from their leaders.

A Palestinian state, along with the move towards non-member observer state, could change the dynamic in the Middle East and make the necessary final status negotiations more, not less likely.

That is something everyone should welcome!

Update 1: Meir Javedanfar makes some excellent points:

“To weaken the extremists we have to strengthen the moderates. Tomorrow’s act will strengthen the moderates in Palestine, who are the PLO and its associated candidates. We in Israel should have been doing this over the last few years, but instead Netanyahu and Co. have done the opposite. They have weakened and discredited Abbas with continued settlement building.

I believe that tomorrow will give hope to a people who have been stateless for 64 years. They missed an opportunity in 1948 when Palestine, which was divided by the UN (48% Palestine, 48% Israel, 4% international territory), as well as all Arab states rejected recognition of Israel, and instead attacked her in order to drive the Jews into the sea. But that was in 1948. I can’t make yesterday a better day. We have moved on. We have a peace partner in Ramallah, his name is Mahmoud Abbas. We never had anyone like him in 1948.

I believe that we have to talk to the Palestinians and bring them to the table. Building settlements on their land is not going to bring them to the table to talk about peace. If the Palestinians were building illegally in Tel Aviv I would not want to talk peace with them.

I am not alone in Israel, quite a few people believe that talking with Palestinians is a crucial matter for the future of Israel.

Giving a stateless people hope and strengthening the moderates who want to work with Israel will be the opposite of losing, for us and for the Palestinian people.”

Cheerleaders Abroad, Gaza And Israel

I was composing, in my head, some reflections on Gaza’s past eight or so days, but Jonathan Freedland seems to have beat me to it.

I think the cheerleaders abroad sentiment, is something we should dwell on.

How is it that many in the West take up the pose of football supporters?

Cheering on their team irrespective of the murders, the rockets and the crippling inhumanity of prolonged low-level warfare. It is a form of intellectual hooliganism, desensitizing, brutalizing and demeaning.

You might not unreasonably expect that some of these cheerleaders would show a degree of sensitivity or reflection, once in a while. However, that doesn’t happen and having encountered both sides in the West I find their entrenched attitudes revolting, almost incomprehensible.

Anyone that has genuinely studied the Middle East would know there is no military solution to the conflicts in Israel, in Gaza and the West Bank, and those that cheer on from the sidelines have either lost their humanity or common sense, but Jonathan Freedland expresses it far better than I ever could:

“And through it all is the weariness: of those living – and dying – in the conflict most of all, but also of those drawn into it somehow. I feel it myself, a deep fatigue with this struggle, with the actions of both sides and, sometimes especially, with their cheerleaders abroad.

So yes, I’m weary of those who get so much more exercised, so much more excited, by deaths in Gaza than they do by deaths in, say, Syria. An estimated 800 died under Assad during the same eight days of what Israel called Operation Pillar of Defence. But, for some reason, the loss of those lives failed to touch the activists who so rapidly organised the demos and student sit-ins against Israel. You might have heard me make this point before, and you might be weary of it. Well, so am I. I’m tired, too, of the argument that “We hold western nations like Israel to a higher standard”, because I see only a fraction of the outrage that’s directed at Israel turned on the US – a western nation – for its drone war in Pakistan which has cost an estimated 3,000 lives, nearly 900 of them civilians, since 2004.

I’m tired of those who like to pretend that Israel attacked unprovoked, as if there had been no rockets fired from Gaza, as if Hamas was peacefully minding its own business, a Mediterranean Sweden, until Israel randomly lashed out. I’m tired of having to ask whether any government anywhere would really let one million of its citizens be confined to bomb shelters while missiles rained down. I’m weary of having to point out that, yes, occupied peoples do have a right to resist, but that right does not extend to taking deliberate aim at civilian targets – schools and villages – which is where all but a handful of Gaza’s rockets were directed.

And I’m especially tired that so many otherwise smart, sophisticated people apparently struggle to talk about Israel-Palestine without reaching, even unwittingly, for the dog-eared lexicon of anti-Jewish cliche, casting Israeli leaders as supremacists driven by a (misunderstood) notion of Jews as “chosen people” or, hoarier still, as international puppet-masters. It pains me that too many fail to realise that while, of course, there is a clear line that separates hostility to Israel and hostility to Jews, that border is porous. Traffic moves across it both ways. Witness the Lazio thugs who bombarded Spurs fans with anti-Jewish chants – “Juden Tottenham” among them – during their match on Thursday night, but also brandished a Free Palestine banner, deployed not to declare solidarity with Gaza but to taunt a club with large Jewish support. “

Operation Pillar of Defense Rolling Thread

I imagine that Operation Pillar of Defense will go on for a while so I am having a rolling thread with anything I read, hear or think relevant.

Firstly, John Cook at Gawker puts his foot in it with Israel Names Its New War After Biblical Story About God Terrorizing Egyptians.

The Tablet takes him down a peg or two:

“But don’t tell that to John Cook. Writing at Gawker in a post subtly titled “Israel Names Its New War After Biblical Story About God Terrorizing Egyptians,” Cook—who admits he does not know Hebrew (let alone, one can safely assume, midrash)—lists a few Googled biblical verses in which the pillar of cloud appears…”

Over at Foreign Policy the depressing, Israel Defense Forces live blogs Gaza offensive.

Aluf Benn has a piece entitled, Israel killed its subcontractor in Gaza, which even I found to be incredibly cynical, but on reflection I think he might have a point.

This is a backgrounder by B’Tselem on Gaza.

Reuters explains what it sees:

Hussien Ibish presents a different perspective:

“During most of the period since Cast Lead, the Hamas rulers in Gaza have refrained from attacks against Israel and tried to prevent other militant groups from launching attacks as well. But as 2012 has progressed, that policy has changed — largely due to internal transformations within the group itself.

The internal dynamic of Hamas has traditionally been that leaders in its Politburo, which is based almost entirely in neighboring Arab countries, were more militant than their compatriots inside Gaza. It was the leaders in exile who maintained close relations with the radical regimes in Iran and Syria, while the Hamas government in Gaza was more restrained because it had more to lose from violence with Israel.

That calculation has been inverted in recent months as Hamas’s foreign alliances have undergone a dramatic transformation and its domestic wing has made a bold attempt to assert its primacy. Hamas’s relationship with Damascus completely collapsed when the group came out in opposition to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. The Politburo had to abandon its Damascus headquarters, and is now scattered in capitals throughout the Arab world. This has also created enormous strains with Iran, which is apparently supplying much less funding and material to Hamas than before.

Hamas leaders in Gaza, meanwhile, have increasingly been making the case that the Politburo does not represent the organization’s paramount leadership — but rather its diplomatic wing, whose main role is to secure aid and support from foreign governments. It is the Hamas government and paramilitary force in Gaza, they argue, that are in the driver’s seat, because they are actually involved in fighting Israel. “

Emily L. Hauser’s contribution, I have one question about Israel and Gaza.

One noticeable characteristic of this conflict is how it has ignited passions not seen in the past 18 months. By that I mean, the likes of the Stop the War Coalition are organising a demonstration outside the Israeli Embassy in London, yet for the last 18 months they have been almost silent concerning Assad’s slaughter of Syrian civilians.

That’s worthwhile comparing and contrasting when it comes to Western attitudes to people in the Middle East.

Simon Tisdall in the Guardian touches upon a real danger, the longer term consequences of this conflict:

“Ironically, Netanyahu’s uncontrollable new Gaza war could also tip the scales in an internal power struggle within Hamas, strengthening the faction gathered around Gaza political chief Ismail Haniyeh at the expense of those Hamas leaders in exile who hope to succeed Khaled Meshaal. Netanyahu’s war may actually end up bolstering Hamas in Gaza, or alternatively cause it to splinter and lose ground to more violently confrontationalist jihadi groups. Neither outcome would serve the all but forgotten cause of peaceful co-existence. “

Brent E. Sasley is astute:

“Given the emphasis on short-term tactical goals, it’s more likely the military operation won’t end neatly, which will in turn cause considerable electoral problems for Netanyahu and Likud-Beiteinu—who are otherwise persistently polling at less seats than they currently have. If this happens, perhaps Kadima—whose otherwise tired image doesn’t bode well for it in January—will have been proven prescient after all: that Bibi really is bad for Israel. In this case, the bad decision-making will become the politics. “

The Daily Kos (which is excellent for US election coverage) has a speculative report, which is based on the word of one individual, Israeli newspaper: Israel attacked Gaza knowing truce was in the works.

According to an informed journalist, Hamas have access to some serious hardware including the Fajr-5 rocket. It is over six metres in length and has a potential destructive distance of about 70 kilometres. What a terrible waste of human resources, building armaments the fire at Israeli civilians.
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Hamas And Likud Meant For Each Other

As Palestinians hide in their homes and Israelis stay in their bomb shelters we could almost be forgiven for thinking that these sorry and terrible events were unforeseeable.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Hamas since taking power in a coup d’etat have slowly built up their military capacity and spent $10,000s on equipping their internal security services.

Across the border Likud presides over a motley coalition of rightwing politicians and those far more interested in lining their pockets than finding peace in the Middle East.

In many respects, Hamas and Likud are meant for each other.

Neither of them really wants to go the extra mile, to recognize the reality of the necessary coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians. Both are prisoners of their own rhetoric and incapable of moving beyond their own limited mindsets.

The current terrible events, where hundreds of rockets and projectiles had deliberately been targeted at Israeli civilians in the past week, was entirely predictable.

Hamas know that they don’t have the military force to defeat the IDF, so allow Islamic Jihad or their own members to let off steam by targeting Israeli civilians. They do it partly to prove their radicalism and stay in power, and knowing how the Israeli government will respond they garner international support as the IDF’s actions kill Palestinian civilians.

It is a convenient and dismal game that Hamas and Likud play. Hamas provokes the Israeli government, who in turn must be seen to be protecting Israeli civilians, even though this and past incursions into Gaza have not actually stop the rockets and missiles.

Hamas and Likud are more concerned with staying in power and short-term goals than any long-term solution to this conflict.

And that is the problem.

Until the leaders are capable and willing to take the bold steps towards final status negotiations then rockets will rain down on Israelis and the IAF will bomb Gaza every few months.

My analysis might seem cynical, but years of watching the respective parties do little but stay in power or enhance their own prestige makes me pessimistic about the future.

As an antidote to my cynicism I recommend readers follow Hussein Ibish on Twitter. He’s smart, clear headed and attacked from both sides, which is not a bad sign!

This is one of his latest columns (written prior to the current conflict), MB and Salafists: the Closest of Frienemies is worth a read.

Ibish’s Hamas Rising? from October 2012 was prescient.

Booze In The Middle East?

You can study a region for the years, think that you know something about it and then be very surprised.

I hadn’t realised that there was an Oktoberfest in the West Bank, but DW Akademie has more:

“Lederhosen and dirndls are rare, but everything else Oktoberfest is found in Taybeh, near Ramallah, in the West Bank. The German festival, celebrated here with home-brewed beer, is a little protest against Israel.

In the unlikely place of Palestinian West Bank, the Schuhplattler dance by the Bavarian brass band dressed in traditional Lederhosen appears rather exotic.

Those singing along to the song “Ein Prosit auf die Gemütlichkeit” (“A toast to coziness”) also stumble across the words at times. But that doesn’t put a damper on the great atmosphere at the “Palestinian Wiesn” in the village of Taybeh, where many visitors – Palestinians and foreigners alike – have traveled to the annual Oktoberfest. “

The Guardian covered this some two years ago:

“There was meat grilling on barbecues, children with painted faces, stalls selling crafts and cakes, a stage for live music and even the odd priest wandering about. And everywhere people were clutching glasses of beer in the afternoon sun.

Welcome to the annual beer festival in the rocky landscape of the West Bank, specifically the village of Taybeh, home to the only brewery in the Palestinian territories.

Around 10,000 people were expected to attend the weekend’s Oktoberfest, which would make it the biggest since the event began in the Christian-dominated village. It is a mark of the festival’s success that the small area around the municipality building was crammed with food stalls doing a lively trade to Palestinian families (both Muslim and Christian), diplomats, aid workers and tourists.

But it was the Taybeh beer itself, briskly selling at 10 shekels (£1.74) for a half-litre glass, that was the star of the show. Made without additives or preservatives and using water from the nearby spring of Ein Samia, Taybeh – which means “delicious” in Arabic – was slipping easily down the throats of thirsty visitors.

Business, according to the brewery’s owner, Nadim Khoury, is booming despite the obvious difficulties of operating in an overwhelmingly abstinent Muslim environment. The brewery faces “many obstacles – religion, culture, occupation, closures” plus a prohibition on advertising alcohol, said Khoury. “I’m on my feet 16 hours a day to promote the beer, going door-to-door, bar-to-bar, hotel-to-hotel. It’s not easy in this part of the world.”

(H/T: Glyn)

Why Occupation Is Wrong

“Corruption is authority plus monopoly minus transparency.” Anon

Corruption and abuse of power are fairly commonplace in the world. Some examples we hear of, whilst others are conveniently brushed under the carpet.

From the Vatican to Burma and brown paper envelopes corruption goes much further, even the work of Transparency International only scratches the surface.

We can see this particularly when armies and occupation is involved.

Within living memory who can forget the slaughter at Tiananmen Square? Or how the US army acted in Vietnam? In Northern Ireland human rights abuses by the British Army and the RUC are well documented, but they only tell part of the story.

We have yet to hear testimonies from those soldiers involved in the slaughter of civilians in Sri Lanka or the abuses conducted by Syrian forces during the occupation of Lebanon, which ended around 2005.

So it is beneficial to hear the testimonies of Israeli soldiers, however, distressing they are.

They demonstrate, if that point needed reiterating, how destructive an occupation is, to the societies who conduct them and those that suffer under subjugation.

Many sources have noted how corrosive the occupation of the West Bank has been on Israeli society. Israelis themselves debate these issues on a daily basis, something that you don’t see much of in other societies. British brutality, castration and torture during its rule of Kenya is kept tidily within law courts.

Israeli society is divided, but the fact that so many Israelis are involved in pointing out abuses by the IDF and the Israeli government is a healthy one. This type of activity came very late to British society and only then when pressurised by the citizens of Northern Ireland.

It is worthwhile reading these accounts and remembering the longer lasting effects:

“For the past eight years, Breaking the Silence has been taking testimonies from former soldiers who witnessed or participated in human rights abuses in the occupied territories. Most of these accounts deal with “rough justice” administered to minors by soldiers on the ground, often without specific authorisation and without recourse to the military courts. Reading them, however, it’s hard not to recall the Sedley report’s shocked reference to the “belief, which was advanced to us by a military prosecutor, that every Palestinian child is a ‘potential terrorist'”.

The soldier puts it differently: “We were sort of indifferent. It becomes a kind of habit. Patrols with beatings happened on a daily basis. We were really going at it. It was enough for you to give us a look that we didn’t like, straight in the eye, and you’d be hit on the spot. We got to such a state and were so sick of being there.”

Some time ago, after he had testified to Breaking the Silence, we had interviewed this soldier. As he sat nervously one morning in a quiet Israeli beauty spot, an incongruous location he had chosen to ensure no one knew he was talking, he went through his recollections about the incident – and several others – once again. His account does not match the Palestinian’s in every detail. (Hafez remembers a gun being pressed to his temple, for example, while the soldier recalls that the commander “actually stuck the gun barrel in the kid’s mouth. Literally”.)

Breaking the silence: soldiers’ testimonies

First Sergeant, Kfir Brigade

Salfit 2009

“We took over a school and had to arrest anyone in the village who was between the ages of 17 and 50. When these detainees asked to go to the bathroom, and the soldiers took them there, they beat them to a pulp and cursed them for no reason, and there was nothing that would legitimise hitting them. An Arab was taken to the bathroom to piss, and a soldier slapped him, took him down to the ground while he was shackled and blindfolded. The guy wasn’t rude and did nothing to provoke any hatred or nerves. Just like that, because he is an Arab. He was about 15, hadn’t done a thing.

“In general people at the school were sitting for hours in the sun. They could get water once in a while, but let’s say someone asked for water five times, a soldier could come to him and slap him just like that. I saw many soldiers using their knees to hit them, just out of boredom. Because you’re standing around for 10 hours doing nothing, you’re bored, so you hit them. I know that at the bathroom, there was this ‘demons’ dance’ as it was called. Anyone who brought a Palestinian there – it was catastrophic. Not bleeding beatings – they stayed dry – but still beatings.”
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Free Mahmoud Sarsak

The plight of Mahmoud Sarsak should make us think about what we mean by justice.

Is it right that young Palestinians are locked up, as prisoners, without a trial?

Internment, unlawful combatants, administrative detention or lettre de cachet.

Many countries do it, the UK, the US, Ireland and even France.

Whatever you call it, locking people up without trial has many names and it is wrong.

France 24 explains Mahmoud Sarsak’s difficulties:

“AFP – In 2009, Mahmud Sarsak set out from Gaza to sign on with a West Bank football team, but what he thought was the start of a dream career quickly spiralled into a nightmare.

Three years later, the young athlete is lying in a bed in an Israeli prison clinic after spending more than 80 days without eating in protest at his being held without charge.

With his case drawing more and more attention, the Israel Prison Authority on Monday told AFP that Sarsak had ended his strike.

But the Ramallah-based Palestinian Prisoners’ Club denied the claim, as did his family, although his lawyer Mohammed Jabarin admitted Sarsak was “drinking milk” in a move which he said did not amount to breaking the strike.

Sarsak, 25, was born in Gaza and dreamed of becoming a professional footballer. As a teenager, he played several times for the Palestinian national team in Europe and the Middle East, attracting favourable attention from coaches.

So when he set out for the West Bank on July 22, 2009, he felt he had a promising career ahead of him.

But he never even got there.

As he tried to pass the Erez crossing into Israel, Sarsak was arrested and has been held ever since under Israel’s so-called unlawful combatants law, which allows suspects to be held without charge under a procedure similar to administrative detention.

Israeli officials have called Sarsak an “Islamic Jihad terrorist who planned attacks and bombings,” but have not made public any charges or evidence against him.

“They want to kill my Mahmud,” says his mother Umm al-Abed, sitting outside a solidarity tent by International Committee of the Red Cross headquarters in Gaza City. “Why isn’t the world doing anything?”

FIFA on Tuesday called on the Israeli Football Association to make contact with the relevant Israeli authorities to secure the release of Sarsak and other players it said were being held.

“In a letter to the Israel Football Association, FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter expressed today grave concern and worry about the alleged illegal detention of Palestine football players,” a FIFA statement said.

Sarsak began his hunger strike on March 23 as a wave of similar protests swept through the population of Palestinians being held in Israeli jails. “

Habeas Corpus should apply to young Palestinians, Israelis or those locked up by Kings and despots across the Middle East.

B’Tselem Statistics on Administrative Detention.

How Bahrain held its opponents without habeas corpus for weeks and months.

The Habima Theatre Of Israel, For Want Of Rational Discussion

At the moment I am not much of a theatre goer but I thought this guest post at False Dichotomies asked relevant questions of those who support BDS:

“I tried to talk to the group making their brave stand next to me. I pointed some of the above out, by way of introduction. The women to my immediate left stared vacantly past me, possessed of her own righteousness. “What of the 5 million Palestinians who don’t have a voice”, she said to herself, as I attempted to find out what she knew of the siege of Nahr El-Bared by the Lebanese army in 2007 as compared with the Battle of Jenin in 2002 – whether, as people often wonder, Palestinian suffering counts when it is inflicted by the Lebanese, or Syrians, or Jordanians, or themselves – by anyone, in fact, but the Jews.

No reply.

Perhaps the best one of the night – and this is not saying much – came when a man stood up and pompously intoned “do the Palestinians not have eyes” and “if you prick us, do we not bleed” as he was taken out. Someone told him to piss off, to gales of laughter. As Shylock hesitated on stage, a voice cried out for him to carry on, “we’re all with you”. And, bar a lone woman shouting out that Israel was an apartheid state built on stolen Palestinian land in the street outside, that was it. To her, and all the others I saw in action tonight, I would ask the following questions.

Why are you unable, for the most part, to engage in rational discussion with people about the issues you protest? Why does the BDS movement appear to reject a solution that reflects the aspirations of both peoples for independence and self-determination?

Why is your “justice” so partial, so one-sided?

Why are you so palpably consumed by hatred?

Why do you never, ever, address the appalling treatment of the Palestinians by the countries in which they are left to rot in refugee camps? Why do you not recognise that it is impossible to turn the clock back to 1948? Why are you so obsessed with the need to self-aggrandize yourself in actions which merely make you look foolish and ignorant and do nothing to contribute to a better future for the people you purport to represent? ” [my emphasis.]