Monthly Archives: January 2009

The politics of ME ME ME, and Daniel Gavron on Israeli-Palestinian coexistence, cooperation, partnership

On OpenDemocracy, Keith Kahn-Harris and David Hayes worry that “the shrillness and point-scoring of much internet-based discussion – on topics as diverse as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and chronic fatigue syndrome – is narrowing the space where a larger political dialogue should be”. They note the growth of solipsistic micropolitics.

Some excerpts, but it’s worth reading in full – to take the edge of some of the online arguments (although there are reasons for the edge on arguments about Israel and Jews within the Greens other than the solipsism the authors rightly protest).

“This is not just a question of people with too much time on their hands beavering away at the keyboard on controversies that affect nothing – if it were “only” this, there would be little to worry about. The problem goes deeper. It is partly that so much of this activity is harmful and wasteful, in a context where intelligent citizens working in a spirit of constructive dialogue could in principle perform a useful role in clarifying issues and arguments and offering usable ideas to those seeking solutions to the conflicts concerned.

Even worse, this kind of internet politics is also engaged in by opinion-formers, major institutions and “the brightest and best” more generally. In the Jewish community – a world with which one of us is very familiar – those who are most committed and influential in what they view as the defence of Israel have, over the last few years, increasingly come to adopt the same style of politics and mode of address. They include (in the United States) high-profile intellectuals such as Alan Dershowitz and lobbying organisations such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) and (in Britain) organisations such as Britain Israel Communications & Research Centre (Bicom). Pro-Palestinian activists, while usually less organised, also engage in these struggles with just as much fervid and driven commitment.

Both sides, all sides, have become tied up in intricate micropolitical struggles. At the moment these include: who exactly broke the ceasefire first; what the word “civilian” means; whether civilian casualties are simply “human shields”; what a “humanitarian crisis” consists of. In the recent past they have included long-running sagas such as whether Jimmy Carter is an anti-semite; whether settlements are illegal under international law; whether a particular BBC report is biased.

At root, these struggles can involve vital issues, but in the hothouse of the internet, they so often disintegrate into thousands of fragments – from the interpretation of an ambiguous phrase to the reliability of a single news item. The result is an internet war of attrition that produces an impenetrable fog of confusion – and must reinforce the indifference and alienation of the non-involved.”

They go on to introduce the example of internet combat over chronic fatigue syndrome, finding:

“The politics of ME – the illness – demonstrates that the insular internet-driven combat that influences so many arguments over the middle east are now replicated in other fields.

People equipped with the requisite background or expertise – for example, those few who (like one of us) are both committed Jews and persons with ME – might have the knowledge necessary to understand the political contours of these two particular controversies. But in the huge number of other controversies where an individual’s knowledge is more limited, the possibility of understanding, being persuaded by, or much less participating in them is much reduced if and when they descend into internet-driven cliquishness and circular backbiting. The day may be fast approaching when all politics will look like the middle east – and the only responses available will be either to join in the maelstrom of bickering or (more likely) to shrug one’s shoulders and switch off.

The democratising possibilities of the internet are in the process of speeding the degeneration of the public sphere into a proliferation of insular nodes, each fighting a war that can never be won. Battles cannot be won on the net nor can they be lost. What remains is a solipsistic politics of ME, ME, ME: my views, my truths, my facts, my pain, my anger. Convincing others and changing the world is forgotten in favour of the perpetuation of one’s own perspective.”

Internet combat about anthropogenic climate change would be another example. This is a very worthwhile article – although I think that it is often a sense of threat and helplessness, rather than solipsism, that fuels the arguments.

Shunted unjustly to the bottom of this post, this recorded interview (MP3 – scroll down to 11am on Sunday 2nd March) of Arnold Wesker talking to Daniel Gavron about his book Holy Land Mosaic introduces some the many peace and cooperation initiatives between Israelis and Palestinians. Gavron is very good at explaining the challenges and achievements, and making critique of the general situation in ways which avoid inflaming. If you listen to him you may have some of your assumptions about Zionists challenged. There are questions and answers too.

He particularly notes the value of environmental initiatives.

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Friends of the Earth Middle East impersonated by anti-Zionist(s)

The other day Harry’s Place noticed that a group calling itself Friends of the Earth Middle East (Eco Peace) England had signed something calling itself the Final Declaration of the Beirut Resistance Forum, which among things called for “Restoring UN Resolution 3379 which classifies Zionism as racism, and ousting Israel from the UN”.

Since we link to Friends of the Earth Middle East, this was a bit of a problem. We don’t accept that Zionism in general is racism, or that referring to Zionism as racism will bring an end to any kind racism. We feel that, like any nationalism, there are many facets to Zionism. Some aspects of Zionism are racist, some are based on an untenable religious claim; but all are preoccupied with self-determination in what is perceived, quite fairly, as a region hostile to Jews. We support FoEME’s primary objective: “the promotion of cooperative efforts to protect our shared environmental heritage”. We feel that it would be counter-productive to designate the majority of one state racist simply because they want to live securely in that state. So I sent an email requesting clarification. The reply:

“Dear Ms. Vogel,

Thank you for your email and for wanting to clear up this matter with us
directly.  We highly appreciate that.

Our organization is “EcoPeace / Friends of the Earth Middle East” and our
website is www.foeme.org.  We are indeed a regional organization of Israeli,
Jordanian and Palestinian environmentalists working towards protection of
our shared environmental heritage.  And we are indeed promoting a Jordan
River Peace park.

We are NOT however, “Friends of the Earth Middle East (Eco Peace) England”.
We do not know who they are, and they are using our name, illegally, I might
add. Notice that there is no web link to that organization in the “Harry’s
Place” site.  No wonder…

And of course we do NOT support the ‘Final Declaration of the Beirut
Resistance Forum’, or any such document related to its message.

We are happy to be linked to your Greens Engage blogroll, and do hope that
you keep us on.  We certainly have similar views.

I hope I have cleared up this unfortunate misuse of our name, and again, I
thank you for writing to us directly.

Sincerely,
Mira Edelstein
Resource Development
Friends of the Earth Middle East”

Then Mira Edelstein wasted quite a lot of her time trying without success to track down the impostor. We’d hope that the person who posted the Beirut declaration on Socialist Unity would help with this, but we doubt it. Signatory 35 remains in place. You have to wonder how many other of those signatories are made up.

ADDITION 1st Feb – something we missed from a fortnight ago.

Friends of the Earth Media Release for 15th January 2009

Amman / Bethlehem / Tel Aviv
15 January 2009

EcoPeace / Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME) is deeply alarmed by
the humanitarian crisis and the widespread destruction of civil
infrastructure. The ongoing Israeli – Palestinian conflict has had
dangerous repercussions for the Gaza Strip’s already dilapidated water
supply network and sewage systems. UN reports indicate that more than
500,000 Palestinians in Gaza remain without safe drinking water and
sewerage collection systems and treatment facilities have ceased
functioning resulting in sewage in the streets. Furthermore, these
sewerage systems are in danger of overflowing leading to raw sewage
floods into the surrounding communities and the Mediterranean Sea.
Sewage contamination will lead to long-term consequences for both
Palestinians and Israelis including the outbreak of infectious diseases
and the loss of important groundwater sources through pollution.

Friends of the Earth Middle East appeals to the United Nations
Environmental Programme to send a team from its Post-Conflict Assessment
Unit to Gaza and Israel in order to undertake an independent assessment
of the environmental impacts of the recent escalation of fighting. The
appeal comes in advance of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s arrival in
Israel on January 15.

Nader Al Khateeb, Palestinian Director of Friends of the Earth Middle
East said, “Allegations are currently widespread that the Israeli Army
is utilizing white phosphorous and other chemical weapons in densely
populated urban centres of the Gaza Strip. We join other peacemaking
organizations in calling for an immediate cessation of the ongoing war
that would also enable experts to investigate these allegations in order
to properly assess the public health and environmental impacts of the
conflict.”

Friends of the Earth Middle East calls on the UN Secretary-General to
announce that the Post-Conflict Branch of the United Nations
Environmental Programme will send a team to Gaza and Israel so that the
environmental damage caused by the conflict can be independently
assessed and recommendations made for reconstruction efforts.

Gidon Bromberg, Israeli Director of Friends of the Earth Middle East,
said that documenting the consequences of war on the shared environment
of Israel and Palestine highlights the loss to both nations and must be
followed up by actions that will help avoid another round of violence
and destruction. “As soon as the ceasefire comes into effect,
reconstruction efforts, beyond urgent humanitarian assistance, should
focus on working with communities on both sides of the border. The
reconstruction effort should involve grassroots peace-building efforts
so that the ceasefire has a better chance of survival and that
infrastructure rebuilt will not again be destroyed by the next round of
violence.”

For more information on cross-border community based peacemaking efforts
visit FoEME’s Good Water Neighbor’s project at http://www.foeme.org and
contact:

Nader Al Khateeb, Palestinian Director of Friends of the Earth Middle East
T: 972 522875022, nader@foeme.org (spoken languages: English and Arabic)

Gidon Bromberg, Israeli Director of Friends of the Earth Middle East
T: 972 52 4532597, gidon@foeme.org (spoken languages: English and Hebrew)

Mira Edelstein, Foreign Media Officer, Friends of the Earth Middle East
T: 972 54 6392937, mira@foeme.org (spoken languages: English and Hebrew)

Gaza – whose fault?

After a series of helpful links on Gaza, Mr Kellie Strøm writes:

“I now know who’s fault the Gaza war is.

It is the fault of Israel.
And it is the fault of Hamas.
And of Fatah. And of America.

It’s the fault of the kings, presidents, priests, dictators and strongmen of Iran, of Egypt, of Saudi Arabia, Syria, Jordan.

It’s the fault of Britain, of the United Nations, of the European Union, of the old Soviet Union, of the new Russia.

It’s the fault of the peace movement patsies and their fascist fellow-marchers.

It’s the fault of those who abuse the great power they have, and those who waste the little power they have.

It’s the fault of some of those who lie among the recent dead, and others among the ancient dead, and those who still follow the dead with too little care for the living.

And I know there are a number among the newly dead, and among the long dead, who were not at fault, and their number is terrible.

I’m going to try turning away from the question of fault. I see little if anything to gain there. Instead my question is, where is the potential for positive change? Not just in Israel, and Gaza, and the West Bank, but in Iran, and in Egypt, in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Lebanon?”

HT: Bob From Brockley

How to help Avigdor Lieberman

hitler-stalin_pact_cartoon

Everybody decent is disgusted with Avigdor Lieberman.

Avigdor Lieberman heads up the Israeli deeply nationalist party Yisrael Beitenu (‘Our Home’). It was Avigdor Lieberman who pushed for two of the Arab Israeli parties to be banned from the imminent elections – a ban which was briskly overturned by the Israeli Supreme Court yesterday. Avigdor Lieberman intends to shunt his Citizenship Bill into Israeli law to address the “disloyalty” of Israel’s Arab citizens. He’s interested in population swaps. He voted against pulling out of Gaza in 2005 (and has been making capital out of Hamas rockets ever since). He blamed the Mercav Harev bombings on “incitement” by Arab Israeli MKs. Nevertheless, in 2006 he accepted a responsibility for strategic affairs in the Kadima coalition, obliging Labour MK Ophir Paz-Pines to resign from the cabinet retorting that Lieberman himself was a strategic threat. Israeli politics is bizarre like that.

Everybody who likes to posture as someone who really cares about Palestinian Israelis enjoys ostentatiously displaying how much they despise the views of Avigdor Lieberman – and then too often making him out to be the archetypal Zionist. It’s pretty uncomplicated in fact – the man really is a strategic threat to Israelis and Palestinians alike. And even if being irreconcilably anti-Arab weren’t a strategic threat, being irreconcilably anti-Arab is enough to make you want him to fail. That he became so senior (he resigned in 2008) is a sign of the times and a signal of danger. Lieberman has a very well thought-out plan for the future. It’s not Kach (a party Israel banned because it was in favour of ethnic cleansing), but it involves treating Arab Israelis as a strategic threat.

To tamper with the words and meaning of Hadash (Israeli communists) chair MK Mohammed Barakeh, Avigdor Lieberman is a boycotter’s wet dream. He is their pin-up. He is exactly what boycotters want us to believe that the Israeli government is like. He fits with the whole pantomime narrative about Israel that boycotters force on us. He’s more like George Galloway than anything.

You can imagine what politicians like Lieberman can do with boycotts of Israel. This is a person who calls home-grown boycotts of the occupation a form of incitement to international victimisation of Israel, and blames the Israeli left. He has always blamed the left for  “offering solutions to a problem they never understood”. In view of the quality of the recent protests about Gaza, he is looking like a savant these days, which is a crying shame.

“I have no claims against the Arabs, nor against the world. I do have a complaint against the leftists. All of our troubles, all of our problems, all of our victims are because of those people.”

He raises politics as a Jewish identity issue. Just as Jewish boycotters call themselves the only good Jews, he insists that good Jews support the settlements.

Richard Silverstein doesn’t seem to perceive any connection between Lieberman calling Jews who try to selectively boycott musicians “kapos” (an incendiary reference to co-opted Jews who policed the Nazi concentration camps in return for higher living standards) and the weak state of the Israeli left.

Newman and Pogrund worried in 2005, before Lieberman got lucky as Deputy Prime Minister, about the boycott strengthening the Israeli right:

“The boycott attempts from abroad only serve to strengthen the voices of the Israeli right, and their simplistic arguments that the British academic community is collectively anti-semitic and – in the words of one senior Israeli professor on the eve of Holocaust day this month – is guilty of repeating what the Nazi-era Germans did to Jewish academics. This knee-jerk, somewhat hysterical, reaction goes down well with the Israeli Jewish public, large sections of whom remain convinced that they stand alone against a hostile world that wishes for nothing more than the extinction of the Jewish state.”

If I can talk in crude political terms (this kind of befits me – but you live and learn) the Israeli right, like the Palestinian right, are standing solidly in the way of the  Palestinian state which most Israelis want.

The Israeli left, the progressives – who for obvious reasons of wishing to broaden their support base in Israel aren’t calling for boycott – are the Palestinians’ best allies.  Both the Israeli and Palestinian progressives need international support against their rejectionists. When they come together, they get further every time. Camp David, Oslo, Geneva Accords, Taba. They know what peace looks like. Anything we do here in support of Palestinians and Arab Israelis should not undermine the progressives. But the boycott campaign does undermine them. Boycott is the wrong tool for the job because it seems continuous with older hateful boycotts against Jews, and is amenable to being used by the Israeli right to reassert a polarisation between Israelis and Palestinians, and has been overrun by negationists (including British anti-Zionists, although they have little influence), because negation has been the logic and lifeblood of the boycott campaign – if only boycotters would realise its logic. The Israeli right are already deriving sustenance from Ahmedinejad, Haniyeh and Nasrallah. Why would we give the negationists any more? Why would we set Israel – and particularly the Israeli left – up to fail?

On the other hand, if you want to assist Avigdor Lieberman and the nationalists on opposing sides, then go ahead with the boycott campaign. You may end up proving yourself correct, and then won’t you feel on top of the world? Which is what boycotting Israel is all about – right?

A testimony from Gaza; looking ahead

Abed Rabu’s case is being investigated at the highest levels. From TIME:

“Abed Rabu says he herded his wife, mother and three young daughters, Amal, 2, Samar, 4, and Suwad to the door, giving the children a white flag to wave. “Two Israeli soldiers were beside their tank, eating chocolate and potato chips,” he recounts, waving empty wrappers bearing Hebrew writing that he found later in the rubble. “It was like a picnic for them.”

Then, according to Abed Rabu — whose account is backed up by his wife Kauthar and two neighbors — a third Israeli soldier popped out of the tank with an M-16 rifle and fired. “I didn’t understand what happened,” says Abed Rabu. “I thought he was firing in the air, and then I looked down and saw my 2-year-old daughter lying there with her insides spilling out.”

“I started screaming ‘Why are you doing this?’ he says. “And then the soldier shot my two other girls. My wife fainted. And when my mother tried to drag Suwad inside the house, the soldier shot my mother in the chest, her shoulder and her leg.”

It makes your blood boil. No efforts should be spared to find out what happened here and for other similar reports, to prosecute culprits, and to (attempt to) compensate the victims. Questions should be asked about the culture within the Israeli army. Israel is responsible for the conduct of its soldiers and to some extent rightly characterised by the conduct of its soldiers.

In Britain, this characterisation has gone too far. The brutal, Nazi, fascist state by which Israel’s most childish and vindictive enemies refer to Israel is completely unsubstantiated. Witness the anti-war demonstrations, the free operation of its artists, dissenters, media, human rights groups.  It is wilful to link the behaviour of some rogue soldiers, as yet unprosecuted, with the intentions of the Israeli government or the Israeli people.

And it is also true that reports of atrocities need to be questioned. One example is Jenin; Mohammed Al Dura, the iconic dead Palestinian boy and focal point of hatred,  is another. Israel accepted the blame for Al Dura’s death even though its own investigators advised that Israeli fire could not have killed the boy. Despite the outpouring of hatred (Bin Laden cited Al Dura as a reason for attacking the World Trade Centre, Daniel Pearl’s murderers used him as a reason) the Israeli government felt its credibility was too low to protest its innocence and it took a French activist and a number of libel trials to find that Israeli soldiers were framed. In the case of the Ghalia family, many of whom died in an explosion on a beach in Gaza, Israel later admitted that the its own investigation, which had exonerated the IDF, had been flawed. The reason it is important to raise these examples is not to seek to portray the Israeli army in as blameless, or to create seeds of doubt that there were any atrocities in Gaza – it is to emphasise the importance of investigations.

Israeli government and Israeli Defence Forces do what they feel they must do in defence. Part of the reason Israel has to defend itself is that so many Jews live there and there is a growing culture of Jew-hatred among religious Muslims in that part of the world. No, you can’t blame Jew-hatred it on Israel. That would be siding with the racists. The very sad thing is that the parents and grandparents of those Jews made the decision that they’d be better off in Israel. There is no good reason to rubbish this supposition, although you might disagree with it.

So Israel will investigate, and other inter-governmental and international non-governmental organisations will investigate.  I think Israel will find that some of its soldiers hate Palestinians enough to kill them for being Palestinian, and that these soldiers also support the occupation. We might be understanding, as we are about Hamas, and say that they have been radicalised by the conflict (can you see – this radicalisation cuts both ways). Or we might be uncompromising (this is my personal position) and demand that those who are convicted serve prison sentences and that the Israeli Defence Forces initiate activities to erradicate hatred of Palestinians.

What investigators or prosecutors should concentrate on is whether there was a directive to target civilians (nobody is claiming that there was), whether a blind eye was turned by those in command to the deliberate killing of civilians or needless neglect of the wounded, and whether there was a climate of tolerance to hatred of Palestinians in the IDF which could reasonably be implicated in any gratuitous killing, abuse or neglect of civilians. They will also have to examine the conduct of Hamas, who have needlessly sacrificed so many of their own people in their successful attempt to draw Israel into war. Hamas is not just a force of nature – it has always had agency and it has always had choices.

It would be a very bad idea to submit to bias in favour of Hamas as a way of showing solidarity with Gazans.  If Hamas ceases – and stops other Palestinians – from trying to kill Israeli civilians and political opponents, the door to a political solution will open.  If Israel acts to halt and roll back the settlements, this will be a vast help – a vast obstacle if not.

Elections are coming up. Of course, as a concerned international you may have your own political axe to grind and you may hope to import the conflict to your own country in order to advance this agenda. This may be why you are so quiet about Darfur, Sri Lanka, Congo and Zimbabwe – you can’t really see the relevance of those thousands and millions of people dying and displaced in those countries.

Israelis and Palestinians can do better without you. They can only win the battle with their own haters and expansionist single-staters if ordinary people can envision the alternative – peaceful coexistence – as a real possibility.  Any responsible concerned international will realise this and act accordingly. Help the Israeli and Palestinian peace movement work towards this – give them some money and listen – not just selectively – to what they have to say. Another Israel is not my favourite organisation.  Some of the organisations it supports are deaf and blind to the concerns of British Jews (unsurprising – it’s concerned with Israel – British Jews, my primary concern, must fend for themselves) and uses rhetoric which looks like simple self-criticism if you are (as Israeli Jews are) part of the majority, or if you are (as Arab Israelis are) part of a neglected and excluded minority who wants to protest religious or racial discrimination, but is very threatening when appropriated by the anti-Israel British Left and used in argument against British Jews in a burgeoning climate of anti-Zionism and antisemitism.  However, the threat of Hamas and the Israeli right should sharpen up our priorities – go have a look (scroll down for the list).

Lastly, news of the new US special envoy for Arab Israeli affairs, George Mitchell.  A New York Times interview which problematises his prospects. Also a Guardian piece containing some principles of managing negotiations referring back to his time in Northern Ireland, and an op-ed from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency which also considers the I-P conflict in the light of the Northern Ireland conflict.

Environmental Studies students from the Middle East: “Where do we go from here?”

Anxiety about the environment cuts across all local and national conflict, and environmentalists in the Middle East understand that it is simply not possible to isolate each other. Such a sense of a shared existence is the bedrock of a peaceful resolution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

At the Arava Institute of Environmental Studies in Israel’s Negev Desert, Palestinian, Israeli, Jordanian and American Environmental Studies students consider coexistence and ask “Where do we go from here“? These students give some of the most powerful arguments for peace that I have read in a while.

“The recent violence in Gaza and southern Israel has weighed heavily on the students here – possibly the only place in Israel where Palestinian and Israeli students continue to look each other in the eye day-to-day and ponder their common present and future.  Needless to say, their studies, as in the rest of Israel and Palestine, have been disrupted directly and indirectly by tragic current events.  But here, uniquely, we are trying to use the event to strengthen our collective vision, rather than further divide.

Within the context of our pre-scheduled lecture on regional environmental policy (with guest lecturer, Green Movement-Meimad candidate Dr. Shmuel Brenner), I asked the students three questions regarding their vision of the future for the region, and how we we get from where we are now to where we want to be.”

Read the whole thing on Greener Israel, the unofficial blog of Israel’s new political party, the Israel Green Movement – Meimad.