The Guardian's Israel correspondent, Chris McGreal, has produced some of the best reporting from the region. His latest reports (part one and part two) discuss the long-standing relationship between South Africa and the Jewish state and the similarities between apartheid South Africa and present day Israel. This series is some of the finest journalism I've read in months.
"While the international community busied itself with the disengagement from the Gaza Strip last summer, Israel completed another cut-off process, which went unnoticed: in 2005, Israel completed a process of cutting off the eastern sector of the West Bank, including the Jordan Rift Valley, from the remainder of the West Bank.
"Some 2,000,000 Palestinians, residents of the West Bank, are prohibited from entering the area, which constitutes around one-third of the West Bank, and includes the Jordan Rift, the area of the Dead Sea shoreline and the eastern slopes of the West Bank mountains."
- Craig Murray - the UK's former ambassador to Uzbekistan and now critic of the "war on terror - is facing hurdles in publishing his forthcoming book. The letter from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office is a shameless attempt at censorship and intimidation.
"Although no single act or set of acts can be said to have constituted genocide, per se, and although the required intent cannot be as readily inferred as it was in the cases of the Holocaust or the Rwandan genocide, there can be little doubt that the Indonesian government has engaged in a systematic pattern of acts that has resulted in harm to-and indeed the destruction of-a substantial part of the indigenous population of West Papua."
UPDATE: A leading Chinese blogger explains the ways in which Microsoft is censoring material in China.
John Pike, a military analyst at GlobalSecurity.Org, argues that the Bush administration should rename its ideological struggle, The Forever War.
"'We're in the 17th year of The Long War,' he says, arguing the U.S. has been in perpetual combat since it intervened in Panama to remove Manuel Noriega from power in 1989.
"'Since then, we have been blowing somebody up, or getting ready to blow somebody up or coming back from blowing somebody up. It is so normal, people don't even notice any more.
"It's not about bin Laden any more. People aren't scared of him any more.
"My fear is that it is really the inauguration of the second Republic here because if you look closely at where this president is claiming his legal powers, it completely redefines the powers of the American government."
"Israel's separation wall and its network of checkpoints and roadblocks across the occupied West Bank have led to a 'de-development' of the Palestinian economy, a report by the Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator (UNSCO) said on Thursday, February 9.
"Francine Pickup, author of the report, said poverty and unemployment in the West Bank were expected to increase because of denying Palestinian workers access into Israeli markets."
As the Israeli state continues to demolish Palestinian homes in the name of upholding the law, the director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al-Quds University in Ramallah writes about the fall-out of the Hamas win:
"Palestinians are watching the post-election discussions rather calmly. For the time being, liberal Palestinians are dealing with the victory of the conservative Hamas with little more than jokes. Behind this jokes is an expectation, or hope, that Hamas politicians will be shaped by a stark reality they did not have to face in the past. This, along with Hamas's fear of being voted out in the next elections, is reassuring Palestinians that whatever happens will be an improvement.
"As many people are saying, it can't get much worse."
China's insatiable appetite for natural resources is taking the growing superpower to predictable places in Africa. For example, Sudan and China are increasingly close on military issues. Such behaviour is familiar to Western governments, fond of arming and supporting dictatorships throughout the continent. Black Looks blog, a Nigerian living in Spain, explains:
"I see no difference between the actions of the Chinese government and those of other Western governments and their multinationals except to say the Chinese seem to be far more open about the way they operate than Western governments and corporations."
"It was the late Edward Said who thought differently. He argued convincingly that recognizing the Holocaust for what it was (a genocide of the Jewish people) would increase the moral validity and legitimacy to demand recognition of the (very different) Palestinian Nakba (catastrophe of 1948), and that such recognition would make it easier to understand some features of Israeli society that genuinely reflect consequences of trauma and cannot be reduced to effects of political instrumentalization.
"Iran's Jews have sharply criticized President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for denying the Holocaust, saying his remarks have sparked fears in their ancient but dwindling community.
"Haroun Yashayaei, the head of Iran's Jewish community, sent a letter of complaint to Ahmadinejad two weeks ago.
"'How is it possible to ignore all of the undeniable evidence existing for the exile and massacre of the Jews in Europe during World War Two?' said a copy of Yashayaei's letter faxed to Reuters on Sunday.
"'Challenging one of the most obvious and saddening events of 20th-century humanity has created astonishment among the people of the world and spread fear and anxiety among the small Jewish community of Iran,' the letter added.
"A Jewish community leader said he preferred not to comment on whether Ahmadinejad had sent a reply to the letter, penned on behalf on the entire Jewish community.
"Jews occupy an awkward position in Israel's arch-foe Iran, often speaking out against Israeli treatment of Palestinians."
While reports suggest that the US is planning military strikes against Tehran, the international community should be rallying around individuals or groups expressing dissent from the official government line, such as Iranian Jews.
"...There can be no doubt that the Hamas charter is not only xenophobic, sectarian, and racist, but also ill-conceived, inaccurate, retrograde, and intellectually vacuous. Nevertheless, the obsessive attention being paid to this document in the US in recent weeks forces one to ask not merely what purposes such an obsession serves, but also what equally (or even more) important issues it elides or covers up.
"First, one has to marvel at the interest being paid to the racism of the Hamas charter, given the extraordinary lack of interest here in Israel's own racism, which is executed not merely on paper and in theory but actually, practically, materially.
"Israel's Basic Laws, for example, discriminate between Jews and non-Jews in ways that many of those Americans who object most loudly to the mixture of religion and politics strangely don't seem to find objectionable. And Israel's unique existence as a country that expressly claims to be not the state of its actual citizens but rather of a globally dispersed people manifestly privileges the (non-Israeli) Jews of New York and Chicago over Israel's actually existing non-Jewish citizens. Although they amount to some twenty percent of the state's population, the latter are literally written into second class status by virtue of their non-Jewishness in what loudly proclaims itself to be the Jewish state."
Italian footballer Paolo Di Canio - "a fascist but not a racist" - has been given some appropriate punishment:
"Paolo Di Canio, the Lazio forward who has become the darling of the neo-fascist right with his repeated straight-arm salutes, has been summoned by the mayor of Rome to listen to fellow Italians who survived the Nazi death camps.
"The move is part of an initiative by the mayor that has already brought AS Roma players and officials face to face with Holocaust survivors in the city hall. For almost two hours on Thursday, Francesco Totti and the other members of the Serie A side listened in silence as former concentration-camp inmates appealed to them to stop playing as soon as they saw Nazi symbols in the crowd."
Di Canio may be ignorant but Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi caused outrage in 2003 by suggesting Mussolini "never killed anyone" and merely "sent people on holiday to confine them."
"Here's a puzzle, a small piece of a much larger set of nagging issues that bubbles just beneath the surface of our ordinary lives: On December 23, 2005, Lawrence Kaplan, a senior editor of The New Republic, asserted in The Wall Street Journal that 'Israeli officials were lukewarm about the war [in Iraq] from the outset, being far more concerned with the threat from Iran.'
"Yet now we have a book by James Risen, national security correspondent for The New York Times, titled 'State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration,' that argues the exact opposite.
"In a section on the prewar jockeying in Washington, Risen describes the role of Paul Wolfowitz, then undersecretary of defense. Wolfowitz, he writes, found the CIA 'insufficiently hawkish,' believed it 'an arrogant, rogue institution...unwilling to support administration policymakers.' Specifically, Wolfowitz insisted on examining 'the possibility that Saddam Hussein was behind the [September 11] attacks on the United States,' a possibility that the CIA discounted.
"Now comes the kicker: 'Israeli intelligence played a hidden role in convincing Wolfowitz that he couldn't trust the CIA... Israeli intelligence officials frequently travelled to Washington to brief top American officials, but CIA analysts were often sceptical of Israeli intelligence reports, knowing that Mossad had very strong - even transparent - biases about the Arab world.' Wolfowitz, who 'had begun meeting personally with top Israeli intelligence officials,' preferred the Mossad's analysis to the CIA's.
"Now it cannot be that Israeli officials were at one and the same time 'lukewarm about the war' yet busy shuttling back and forth to encourage Wolfowitz's evident eagerness for that same war. From all that we know regarding Wolfowitz and his ideological associates - Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Douglas Feith, Richard Perle and others - the Risen version seems to me the more plausible."
The full truth of the Iraq war is yet to emerge, though Israel's key involvement is a given. Now that the Jewish state's head of domestic security says he misses Saddam, one can be assured that the gross failure of the Iraq war is starting to bite.
After a group of British academics decided to boycott Israel in 2005 (though later overturned), the inevitable second stage is upon us:
"A group including some of Britain's most prominent architects is considering calling for an economic boycott of Israel's construction industry in protest at the building of Israeli settlements and the separation barrier in the Occupied Territories.
"The group said that architects, planners and engineers working on Israeli projects in the occupied territories were 'complicit in social, political and economic oppression', and 'in violation of their professional code of ethics'.
"It said that: 'Planning, architecture and other construction disciplines are being used to promote an apartheid system of environmental control.'"
While the chairman of the Israel Architects' Association may claim that the boycott is inappropriate because "the Government of Israel, which evacuated the Gaza Strip, is currently showing goodwill and trying to reach an agreement", the co-ordinator of the proposed boycott argues that, "since nothing seems to deter Israel, and western governments remain silent, civil society has to pressure Israel and those creating the physical reality of these injustices that are the cause of such instability in the Middle East."
"More than half of the terror suspects being held at Guantanamo Bay have not been accused of committing hostile acts against the United States or its allies, two of the detainees' lawyers said in a report released Tuesday.
"Compiled from declassified Defense Department evaluations of the more than 500 detainees at the Cuba facility, the report says just 8 percent are listed as fighters for a terrorist group, while 30 percent are considered members of a terrorist group and the remaining 60 percent were just 'associated with' terrorists.
"The evaluations were completed as part of the Combatant Status Review Tribunals conducted during 2004 to determine if the prisoners were being correctly held as enemy combatants. So far just 10 of the detainees have been formally charged with crimes and are headed for military tribunals.
"According to the report, 55 percent of the detainees are informally accused of committing a hostile act. But the descriptions of their actions ranged from a high-ranking Taliban member who tortured and killed Afghan natives to people who possessed rifles, used a guest house or wore olive drab clothing."
Remind me to watch people in "olive drab clothing." One wonders where Australian captive David Hicks fits into the picture. His father, Terry, yesterday accused the US of holding his son as the "token white fella."
In further Guantanamo revelations, a recent article in the National Journal provides "powerful evidence confirming what many of us have suspected for years":
- A high percentage, perhaps the majority, of the 500-odd men now held at Guantanamo were not captured on any battlefield, let alone on 'the battlefield in Afghanistan' (as Bush asserted) while 'trying to kill American forces' (as McClellan claimed).
- Fewer than 20% of the Guantanamo detainees, the best available evidence suggests, have ever been al-Qaeda members.
- Many scores, and perhaps hundreds, of the detainees were not even Taliban foot soldiers, let alone al-Qaeda terrorists. They were innocent, wrongly seized noncombatants with no intention of joining the al-Qaeda campaign to murder Americans.
- The majority were not captured by U.S. forces but rather handed over by reward-seeking Pakistanis and Afghan warlords and by villagers of highly doubtful reliability. These locals had strong incentives to tar as terrorists any and all Arabs they could get their hands on as the Arabs fled war-torn Afghanistan in late 2001 and 2002 - including noncombatant teachers and humanitarian workers.
- And the Bush administration has apparently made very little effort to corroborate the plausible claims of innocence detailed by many of the men who were handed over.
The military trials are a sham, based largely on guilt-by-association claims. Writer Stuart Taylor explains:
"The administration's unspoken logic appears to be: Better to ruin the lives of 10 innocent men than to let one who might be a terrorist go free. This logic would be understandable if the end of protecting American lives justified any and all means, including the wrecking of many more innocent non-American lives…"
Such realities perfectly explain the cynicism towards the US in certain parts of the world. Some of us prefer to simply regard the US as a rogue state.
- Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez tells Tony Blair to "go right to hell" and accuses him of being a "pawn of imperialism."
- The Danish editor of "those" cartoons interviewed neo-con and Islamophobe Daniel Pipes in 2004.
- John Howard thinks the Greens are offensive. This is clearly much more problematic than sending a country to war on a lie. On a related topic, the Murdoch broadsheet says the local arts community is arrogant and out of touch. That rather reminds me of someone else...
"Like the invasion of Iraq, an attack on Iran has a secret agenda that has nothing to do with the Tehran regime's imaginary weapons of mass destruction. That Washington has managed to coerce enough members of the International Atomic Energy Agency into participating in a diplomatic charade is no more than reminiscent of the way it intimidated and bribed the "international community" into attacking Iraq in 1991.
"Iran offers no 'nuclear threat'. There is not the slightest evidence that it has the centrifuges necessary to enrich uranium to weapons-grade material. The head of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, has repeatedly said his inspectors have found nothing to support American and Israeli claims. Iran has done nothing illegal; it has demonstrated no territorial ambitions nor has it engaged in the occupation of a foreign country - unlike the United States, Britain and Israel. It has complied with its obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to allow inspectors to 'go anywhere and see anything' - unlike the US and Israel. The latter has refused to recognise the NPT, and has between 200 and 500 thermonuclear weapons targeted at Iran and other Middle Eastern states."
Not unlike Britain, Washington is likely to ask Australia for troops and assistance. It is unlikely John Howard would deny the request and it is therefore vital to begin a campaign to avert a potentially catastrophic conflict.
"The attempt to explain to Israelis that such acts of vengeance are puny compared to the intensity of the Israeli assault on every individual, and against the entire Palestinian community, is doomed to failure. On a daily basis, Israel attacks every Palestinian with systematic variety. The aggregation is lethal, even if the killing of a nine-year-old girl or setting a dog on an elderly woman are not daily occurrences. It's that aggregation that undermines any attempt to conduct a normal life. It's being locked up in the West Bank's enclaves, so that simple routines like going to school, work, or visiting family are impossible. There's the unceasing expropriation of land for roads and security fences for settlements; the trees uprooted by the army, livelihoods that are cut off daily, and the insult of that; the army's prohibition, on security grounds, against accessing farm and grazing lands; the break-ins to houses in the middle of the night, which the Israeli public rarely if ever hears about; the hours of waiting at checkpoints; the frightened children; the aimed rifles."
Eva Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous president, explains why his country will continue to cultivate coca:
"You have to realise that, for us, the coca leaf is not cocaine and as such growing coca is not narco-trafficking. Neither is chewing coca nor making products from it that are separate from narcotics. The coca leaf has had an important role to play in our culture for thousands of years. It is used in many rituals. If, for example, you want to ask someone to marry you, you carry a coca leaf to them. It plays an important role in many aspects of life."
Read a fascinating interview with the new leader about British imperialism, US attempts to smear him and plans for his impoverished nation. It's worth remembering that, "in the 182 years since it was granted independence from Spain, this chaotic and crippled country has welcomed and waved goodbye to more than 190 failed governments."
In related news, Costa Rica is also turning away from the US orbit.
"A dispute over the fate of an ancient Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem threatened Wednesday to ignite tensions in Holy City as workers removed skeletons from the site despite Muslim pleas for the work to end.
"Israeli developers and archaeologists are removing the tombs to make room for the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center to build a multi-million-dollar Museum of Tolerance, dedicated in part to promoting understanding among different religions. Muslims are incensed.
"Mufti Ikrema Sabri, the senior Islamic cleric in Jerusalem, on Wednesday demanded that the dig stop at the site which until 1948 served as the main Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem.
"'There should be a complete cessation of work on the cemetery because it is sacred for the Muslims,' Sabri told The Associated Press. The Waqf, the Muslim council in Jerusalem that Sabri oversees, was not consulted on the dig, he said. The cemetery was in use for 15 decades and friends of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad are buried there, Sabri said."
Imagine the justified outcry if a Muslim country desecrated Jewish graves?
"The George W. Bush administration's adoption of a policy of threatening to use military force against Iran disregarded a series of official intelligence estimates going back many years that consistently judged Iran's fear of a U.S. attack to be a major motivating factor in its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
"Two former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officials who were directly involved in producing CIA estimates on Iran revealed in separate interviews with IPS that the National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs) on Iran have consistently portrayed its concerns about the military threat posed by the United States as a central consideration in Tehran's pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability.
"Paul Pillar, who managed the writing of all NIEs on Iran from 2000 to 2005 as the national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia, told IPS that all of the NIEs on Iran during that period addressed the Iranian fears of U.S. attack explicitly and related their desire for nuclear weapons to those fears."
"The NSW Jewish Board of Deputies has been successful in pressuring the NSW Department of Education to cancel Middle East simulations for high school history students (AJN 27/1). These simulations had been run with the help of the Centre for Middle East and North African Studies at Macquarie University, of which I am the director.
"The simulations for high school students have been popular among students and praised by teachers and parents alike for helping students understand the issues in an imaginative and highly-effective manner. We have not received a single complaint about the conduct of the simulations from any student, parent or teacher. The NSW Jewish Board of Deputies action will be seen by many as heavy-handed and unfair. It has stifled legitimate discussion of the issues in the Middle East.
"I would urge the Board of Deputies to take great care in this matter. Australians expect open, fair debate of issues such as the Middle East. Just because my centre examines all points of view does not mean we have an 'anti-Israel bias', as claimed by Michael Danby MP. Of the 10 speakers we had on campus last year no less than three were Israelis. Only one was an Arab.
"In my opinion, one of the best speakers we have had was Professor Eli Salzberger from Haifa University. We invited him at the suggestion of the Jewish chaplain at Macquarie. That’s hardly displaying an anti-Israel bias.
"In its haste to push a pro-Israel line and stifle debate, the Board of Deputies has needlessly limited the educational opportunities for NSW high school students. It is also wrong to smear this centre with the label 'anti-Israel bias' when it is patently untrue."
Dr Andrew Vincent Director, Centre for Middle East & North African Studies Macquarie University, NSW
- Sami Ramadani, a political exile from Saddam's regime and a senior lecturer at London Metropolitan University, argues that the mainstream media is deliberately distorting the will of the Iraqi people:
"Only complete withdrawal will satisfy most Iraqis. And if genuine liberty and independence are not forthcoming, the spiral of violence will intensify from Afghanistan to Palestine."
- Debate over Victoria's racial vilification laws continues and church leaders are asking for change.
The Bush administration likes to tackle terrorism in its own special way:
"State Department officials appointed by President Bush have sidelined key career weapons experts and replaced them with less experienced political operatives who share the White House and Pentagon's distrust of international negotiations and treaties.
"The reorganization of the department's arms control and international security bureaus was intended to help it better deal with 21st-century threats. Instead, it's thrown the agency into turmoil and produced an exodus of experts with decades of experience in nuclear arms, chemical weapons and related matters, according to 11 current and former officials and documents obtained by Knight Ridder.
"The reorganization was conducted largely in secret by a panel of four political appointees. A career expert was allowed to join the group only after most decisions had been made. Its work was overseen by Frederick Fleitz, a CIA officer who was detailed to the State Department as senior adviser to former Undersecretary of State John Bolton, a critic of arms agreements and international organizations."
Take this one example:
"Thomas Lehrman, a political appointee who heads the new office of Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism, advertised outside the State Department to fill jobs in his office. In an e-mail to universities and research centres, a copy of which was obtained by Knight Ridder, he listed loyalty to Bush and Rice's priorities as a qualification.
"Lehrman reportedly recalled the e-mail after it was pointed out that such loyalty tests are improper."
Lehrman would have fitted right into the "Evil Empire."
"Thousands of Muslims are expected to attend a rally in London at the weekend to protest at both the publication of cartoons defiling the image of the Prophet Mohamed and the response of Islamic extremists.
"Muslim leaders will use the demonstration to call for calm and urge the media to apologise for the offence they have caused. The rally, expected to be one of the biggest Muslim demonstrations in Britain, is to be sponsored by Muslim newspapers and broadcasters."
No such common-sense from some so-called "free-speech" advocates who, if they were honest, should admit that it's yet another way to justify their belief that Muslims are threatening our "Western" way of life.
Former Guantanamo Bay inmate Mamdouh Habib says he was defamed by the Murdoch press:
"His barrister Clive Evatt QC today showed the four-person jury a series of articles published by The Daily Telegraph on April 20, 2002, which branded Mr Habib a suburban terrorist.
"Mr Evatt said the front page story and other 'hard-hitting' articles inside the paper made 'dreadful allegations' about Mr Habib, which he argued were defamatory.
"'We say an ordinary, reasonable reader looking at the whole thing...will come to the conclusion that what the Telegraph are really saying is that he is a suburban terrorist,' Mr Evatt said.
"Another opinion piece by Daily Telegraph columnist Piers Ackerman published on February 15, 2005, shortly after Mr Habib's release from Guantanamo Bay, criticised Mr Habib's claims he made in a TV interview that he was tortured while held prisoner by US authorities.
"Mr Evatt said the piece suggested Mr Habib had lied about being tortured, suggested he was a fundraiser for international terrorists and a would-be recruiter of fighters for the Jihad."
The media is not fond of taking responsibility for what it publishes. Habib was released from Guantanamo Bay, never charged with any offence and allegedly tortured while in custody. The press loves labelling anybody accused by the West as a "terrorist." The word has become almost as meaningless as being called a "communist." Perhaps the Murdoch press would like to present evidence that those scrupulous US authorities must have missed.
Let's hope and pray that former UN weapon's inspector Scott Ritter is wrong about these comments about war with Iran:
"First, American forces will bomb Iran. If Iranians don't overthrow the current government, as Bush hopes they will, Iran will probably attack Israel. Then, Ritter said, the United States will drop a nuclear bomb on Iran."
His prediction about the US intentionally torpedoing diplomacy has disturbing echoes with Iraq.
Israeli's Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert - and likely future Prime Minster - has announced his plans if Kadima wins the March 28 election. The Jewish state must "separate" from the Palestinians, he claims. An independent Palestinian state is impossible, however, if these ideas are implemented:
"We will hold on to the major settlement blocs (in the West Bank). We will keep Jerusalem united."
Hamas may have a few things to say about that, as they should. If the international community is serious about building a contiguous Palestinian state, Olmert's comments should be condemned as the expansionist Zionism that they are.
"It is a tragic mistake to lump all Muslims with the forces of darkness. Moderate, enlightened, free-thinking Muslims do exist. Hounded in their own circles, they look to the West for succour and support. And, however weak they may presently be, they eventually will have a crucial role in modernizing the Muslim world."
Perhaps he would like to remind his readers that the vast majority of Muslims are "moderate, enlightened, free-thinking" and a tiny minority are intolerant and violent. Not unlike most other religions, in fact.