Archive for the ‘Ramzy Baroud’ Category

Of Hope and Pain: Rachel Corrie’s Rafah Legacy

March 21, 2013
“Hi Papa .. Don’t worry about me too much, right now I am most concerned that we are not being effective. I still don’t feel particularly at risk. Rafah has seemed calmer lately,” Rachel Corrie wrote to her father, Craig, from Rafah, a town located at the southern end of the Gaza Strip.
‘Rachel’s last email’ was not dated on the Rachel Corrie Foundation website. It must have been written soon after her last email to her mother, Cindy, on February 28. She was killed by an Israeli bulldozer on March 16, 2003.

Immediately after her painful death, crushed beneath an Israeli army bulldozer, Rafah embraced her legacy as another ‘martyr’ for Palestine. It was a befitting tribute to Rachel, who was born to a progressive family in the town of Olympia, itself a hub for anti-war and social justice activism. But Olympia is also the capital of Washington State. Politicians here can be as callous, morally flexible and pro-Israel as any other seats of government in the US, where sharply dressed men and women jockey for power and influence. Ten years after Rachel’s death, the US government is yet to hold Israel to account. Neither is justice expected anytime soon.

Bordering Egyptian and Israeli fences, and ringed by some of the poorest refugee camps anywhere, Rafah has never ceased being a news topic in years. The town’s gallantry of the First Palestinian Uprising (Intifada) in 1987 was the stuff of legends among other resisting towns, villages and refugee camps in Gaza and the rest of Palestine. The Israeli army used Rafah as a testing ground for a lesson to be taught to the rest of Palestinians. Thus, its list of ‘martyrs’ is one of the longest, and it is unlikely to stop growing anytime soon. Many of Rafah’s finest perished digging tunnels into Egypt to break the Israeli economic blockade that followed Palestine’s democratic elections in 2006. Buried under heaps of mud, drowning in Egyptian sewage water, or pulverized by Israeli missiles, some of Rafah’s men are yet to be located for proper burial.

Rafah agonized for many years, not least because it was partially encircled by a cluster of illegal Jewish settlements – Slav, Atzmona, Pe’at Sadeh, Gan Or and others. The residents of Rafah were deprived of security, freedom, and even for extended periods of time, access to the adjacent sea, so that the illegal colonies could enjoy security, freedom and private beaches. Even when the settlements were dismantled in 2005, Rafah became largely entrapped between the Israeli military border, incursions, Egyptian restrictions and an unforgiving siege. True to form, Rafah continues to resist.

Rachel and her International Solidarity Movement (ISM) friends must have appreciated the challenge at hand and the brutality by which the Israeli army conducted its business. Reporting for the British Independent newspaper from Rafah, Justin Huggler wrote on December 23, 2003: “Stories of civilians being killed pour out of Rafah, turning up on the news wires in Jerusalem almost every week. The latest, an 11-year-old girl shot as she walked home from school on Saturday.” His article was entitled: “In Rafah, the children have grown so used to the sound of gunfire they can’t sleep without it.” He too “fell asleep to the sound of the guns.”

Rafah was affiliated with other ominous realities, one being house demolitions. In its report, Razing Rafah, published October 18, 2004, Human Rights Watch mentioned some very disturbing numbers. Of the 2,500 houses demolished by Israel in Gaza between 2000-04, “nearly two-thirds of these homes were in Rafah… Sixteen thousand people, more than ten percent of Rafah’s population, have lost their homes, most of them refugees, many of whom were dispossessed for a second or third time.” Much of the destructions occurred so that alleyways could be widened to secure Israeli army operations. Israel’s weapon of choice was the Caterpillar D9 bulldozer, which often arrived late at night.

Rachel Corrie was also crushed by the same type of US manufactured and supplied bulldozer that terrorized Rafah for years. It is no wonder that Rachel’s photos and various graffiti paintings adorn many walls of Rafah streets. Commemorating Rachel’s death anniversary for the tenth time, activists in Rafah gathered on March 16. They spoke passionately of the American girl who challenged an Israeli bulldozer so that a Rafah home could remain standing. A 12-year-old girl thanked Rachel for her courage and asked the US government to stop supplying Israel with weapons that are often used against civilians.

While Rafah carried much of the occupation brunt and the vengeance of the Israeli army, its story and that of Rachel’s was merely symbolic of the greater tragedy which has been unfolding in Palestine for many years. Here is a quick summary of the house demolition practice of recent years, according to the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions, also published in Al Jazeera August 2012:
The Israeli government destroyed 22 homes in East Jerusalem and 222 homes in West Bank in 2011, leaving nearly 1,200 people homeless. During the war on Gaza (December 2008 – January 2009), it destroyed 4,455 homes, leaving 20,000 Palestinians displaced and unable to rebuild due to the restrictions imposed by the siege. (Other reports give much higher estimates.) Since 1967, the Israeli government destroyed 25,000 homes in the occupied territories, rendered 160,000 Palestinians homeless. Numbers can be even grimmer if one is to take into account those who were killed and wounded during clashes linked to the destructions of these homes.

So, when Rachel Corrie stood with a megaphone and an orange high-visibility jacket trying to dissuade an Israeli bulldozer driver from demolishing yet another Palestinian home, the stakes were already high. And despite the inhumane caricaturing of her act by pro-Israeli US and other western media, and the expected Israeli court ruling last August, Rachel’s brave act and her subsequent murder stand at the heart of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It highlighted the ruthlessness of the Israeli army, put to shame Tel Aviv’s judicial system, confronted the international community with its utter failure to provide protection for Palestinian civilians and raised the bar even higher for the international solidarity movement.

The Israel court verdict last August was particularly sobering and should bring to an end any wishful thinking that Israel’s self-tailored judicial system is capable of achieving justice, neither for a Palestinian, nor an American. “I reached the conclusion that there was no negligence on the part of the bulldozer driver,” Judge Oded Gershon said as he read out his verdict in a Haifa District Court in northern Israel. Rachel’s parents had filed a law suit, requesting a symbolic $1 in damages and legal expenses. Gershon rejected the suit, delineated that Rachel was not a ‘reasonable person’ and, once more blamed the victim, as has been the case with thousands of Palestinians for many years. “Her death is the result of an accident she brought upon herself,” he said. It all sounded that demolishing homes as a form of collective punishment was just another ‘reasonable’ act, deserving of legal protection. In fact, per Israeli occupation rules, it is.

Rachel’s legacy will survive even Gershon’s charade court proceeding and much more. Her sacrifice is now etched into a much larger landscape of Palestinian heroism and pain.

“I think freedom for Palestine could be an incredible source of hope to people struggling all over the world,” she wrote to her mother nearly two weeks before her death. “I think it could also be an incredible inspiration to Arab people in the Middle East, who are struggling under undemocratic regimes which the US supports.”

Ramzy Baroud is an author and a journalist. His latest volume is The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle (Pluto Press, London). He can be reached at ramzybaroud@hotmail.com. Read other articles by Ramzy.

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Ten Years on, Iraq Continues to Bleed

March 13, 2013

      
Mar 11 2013 / 11:09 pm

The sectarian strife in Iraq is making a comeback. (Photo: Zoriah.net/file)
The sectarian strife in Iraq is making a comeback. (Photo: Zoriah.net/file)
 

By Ramzy Baroud

Al Qaida-linked groups are wreaking havoc in Iraq, with deaths reported almost on a daily basis as a result of their ever-innovative killing tactics. The rise of militant violence throughout the country is happening within the framework of worsening sectarian tensions, which underlines a real national crisis that has been brewing for years.

The Sunni and Shiite strife, however, also reflects a growing polarisation in the Middle East region, which was greatly exacerbated by the advent of the so-called Arab Spring.

Missing from many Iraq-related political analyses is the US-led Iraq war, whose impact has devastated Iraqi society like no other event in recent Middle Eastern history. It will be greatly misleading to speak of Iraq’s current woes and ignore those who were the architects of such a crisis in the first place.

Almost every news report about Iraq violence cites another news report of another violent event somewhere else in the country. Thanks to hyperlinked text, we can now trace Iraqi violence as far as time allows. “At least three policemen were killed by suicide bombers on February 21 in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul,” reported Reuters. The Associated Press reported on the same day of an attack on an “army checkpoint north of Baghdad, killing four soldiers and wounding four others.” A few days earlier, a devastating series of bombings, “mainly targeting Shiite areas of Baghdad killed at least 21 people”, reported AFP. It is an endless chain reaction that seems to feed on itself.

However, missing from most reportage is that violence in Iraq was not self-generating and that the current divide between Sunni and Shiite groups and political parties is not a manifestation of the ever-unscrupulous political process symptomatic of any fledgling democracy.

Writing in The Atlantic, under the title: ‘Why we’ll never get a full account of the war in Iraq”, D.B. Grady argued that one of the main reasons that the decision to invade Iraq remains a mystery, is that former US vice-president Dick Cheney “would like to keep it that way”. Cheney’s “adroit manipulation of classification policy,” he wrote, “kept his vault-like office sealed through both terms of the Bush presidency.”

Considering how much we knew of America’s ill-intentioned moves towards Iraq prior to the March 2003 invasion (let alone what was revealed by Cheney’s own neoconservative friends, their think tanks, writings and interviews), the devastation that was witnessed throughout the war and hundreds of thousands of leaked documents of unreported war conducts, one fails to appreciate the mystery.
The US quest for war was in no way linked to the terrorist attacks of September 11, although the spin doctors managed to use the horrific events to persuade a shell-shocked and largely misinformed public that Iraq was somehow linked to the attacks on US soil. The then senior administration official, Paul Wolfowitz, was one of the first to argue for an immediate regime change in Baghdad following the attacks. The fact is Wolfowitz, one of the most ardent pro-Israeli neocons in Washington, was actively concocting his war plans in the early 1990s as he was unsatisfied that the first Iraq war did not eliminate the supposed Iraqi threat completely. Cheney and Wolfowitz worked closely to achieve their vision of a new Middle East. September 11 was not the cause of war, but the catalyst.

The US war and invasion of Iraq, ten years ago, was but a continuation of an earlier conquest, which, according to many war hawks, left Iraq under Saddam Hussain crippled but not destroyed. It was the then US secretary of state, James Baker, who reportedly threatened Iraqi foreign minister, Tariq Aziz, in a Geneva meeting in 1991 by saying that the US would destroy Iraq and “bring it back to Stone Age”. The US war which extended from 1990 to 2011, included a devastating blockade and ended with a brutal invasion. These wars were as unprincipled as they were violent. Apart from their overwhelming human toll, they were placed within a horrid political strategy aimed at exploiting the country’s existing sectarian and other fault lines, thereby triggering civil wars and sectarian hatred from which Iraq is unlikely to recover for many years.

For America, it was a strategy merely aimed at lessening the pressure placed on its own and other allied soldiers as they faced stiff resistance the moment they stepped foot in Iraq. For the Iraqis, however, it was a petrifying nightmare that can neither be expressed by words or numbers. According to UN estimates cited by BBC, between May and June 2006 “an average of more than 100 civilians per day [were] killed in violence in Iraq”. The UN estimates also placed the death toll of civilians in 2006 at 34,000. That was the year the US strategy of divide-and-conquer proved most successful.
The fact remains that the US and Britain had jointly destroyed modern Iraq and no amount of remorse or apology — not that any was offered, to begin with — will alter this fact. Iraq’s former colonial masters and its new ones lacked any legal or moral ground for invading the sanctions-devastated country. They also lacked any sense of mercy as they destroyed a generation and set the stage for a future conflict that promises to be as bloody as the past.

When the last US combat brigade had reportedly left Iraq in December 2011, this was meant to be an end of an era. Historians know well that conflicts do not end with a presidential decree or troop deployment. Iraq merely entered a new phase of conflict and the US, Britain and others remain integral to that conflict.

One post-invasion reality is that Iraq was divided into areas of influence based on purely sectarian and ethnic lines. In western media’s classification of winners and losers, Sunnis, blamed for being favoured by Saddam, emerged the biggest losers. While Iraq’s new political elites were divided between Shiite and Kurdish politicians (each party with its own private army, some gathered in Baghdad and others in the autonomous Kurdistan region), the Shiite population was held responsible by various militant groups for the Sunni plight.

The sectarian strife in Iraq, which is responsible for the death of tens of thousands, is making a comeback. Iraqi Sunnis, including major tribes and political parties, are demanding equality and the end of their disfranchisement in the relatively new, skewed Iraqi political system under Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki. Massive protests and ongoing strikes have been organised with a unified and clear political message. However, many other parties are exploiting the polarisation in every way imaginable.

The future of Iraq is currently being determined by various forces and almost none of them are composed of Iraqi nationals with a uniting vision. Caught between bitter sectarianism, extremism, the power-hungry, wealth amassing elites, regional power players, western interests and a very violent war legacy, the Iraqi people are suffering beyond the ability of sheer political analyses or statistics to capture their anguish. The proud nation of impressive human potential and remarkable economic prospects has been torn to shreds.

Writing in the Baltimore Sun on February 21, Ralph Masi, a professor at the University of Maryland, described an encounter with a key Iraq war architect, Richard Perle, who served as an assistant defence secretary and a chairman of the Defence Policy Board. Perle — a former adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — was confronted by Masi during a talk at the Army War College Annual Strategy Conference on the day Saddam’s statue was toppled by American forces on April 9. “I asked him, ‘What’s next?’” Masi wrote. Perle replied: “Iran or Syria — take your pick.”
The American war party, led by such infamous luminaries as Cheney, Wolfowitz, Perle and others, may have not realised their vision for a new Middle East exactly as they had hoped. However, considering the sadistic war in Syria, a manifestation of that vision has finally prevailed. It really matters little what secrets and mysteries Cheney’s vault-like office contained, for the impact of his legacy is out there for the whole world to see.

– Ramzy Baroud is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is: My Father was A Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press). (This article was first published in Gulf News – gulfnews.com)

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New Actors in Middle East Peace Charade

February 10, 2013

Feb 7 2013 / 2:33 am

John Kerry, new US secretary of state. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
John Kerry, new US secretary of state. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)


By Ramzy Baroud

Despite much saber-rattling by Israel and the US administration and hyped-up expectations by the Palestinian leadership, the recognition of Palestine as a non-member observer state last November is fast becoming yet another footnote in the protracted conflict.

Only hours after the announcement of Palestinian’s “state” status, Israel had its own to make: the building of a new illegal settlement on Palestinian land (according to international law, all of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are illegal).

The area is called the E-1 zone by Israel. A couple of European countries responded with greater exasperation than usual, but soon moved on to other seemingly more pressing issues. The US called Israel’s move “counterproductive”, but soon neglected the matter. Palestinian activists who tried to counter Israel’s illegal activities by pitching tents in areas marked by Israel for construction were violently removed.

Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority (PA) is at a standstill in the same pitiful possession. It continues to serve as a buffer between occupied, ethnically cleansed and rightfully angry Palestinians. Its existence would not have been possible without Israel’s consent.

Fiery speeches, press releases and conferences aside, the PA has effectively sub-contracted part of the Israeli occupation – as in maintaining Israel’s security for example – in exchange for perks for those affiliated with the PA.

Examples of these privileges include easier access to business contracts or jobs. It is this symbiosis that constantly averts any serious confrontation between Israel and the PA. Both parties would lose if the status quo were seriously hampered.

For Israel to reclaim its responsibilities as an occupying power under international law would be a huge financial and political burden that could impede its settlement constructions in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. In fact, Israel is able to maintain all the benefits of military occupation without much cost. For Abbas, shutting down the PA conglomerate would mean financial and political suicide for the branch of Fatah politicians affiliated with him.

Thus some clever manifestation of the “peace process” show must be found that would help both parties save face – Israel to finish its settlement plans and the PA to sustain its enterprise.
In fact, Israel’s decision on January 30 to release US$100 million of taxes and tariffs collected on behalf of the PA (which it has withheld, some say robbed to punish the PA for its UN bid) was possibly a prelude to the resumption of the same ongoing peace charade.

According to an Israeli official cited by Agence France Presse, the transfer was a “measure to ease the financial crisis faced by the Palestinians,” ironically manufactured by Israel. That gesture of “good will” is likely to be harnessed into some “confidence building measures” in hopes of resetting the entire “peace process”.

An explosion of mass rallies and protests in the West Bank – where most people have not received a full pay check for months – will neither serve Israeli nor PA interests. Scenes of desperate Palestinian men and women marching throughout the territories would be a threat to both Abbas’ already drained political apparatus and Israel’s horribly disfigured image.

But there is evidence that there is more to the plan than averting a crisis. According to a statement made by Muhammad Sbeih, secretary-general for Palestinian affairs in the Arab League, an Arab League delegation will soon to head to the US to “move forward the Middle East peace process”. “The proposal includes specific Arab ideas about Israel’s withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territory, the establishment of a Palestinian state, “guaranteed security for both sides”.

Moreover, on February 1, the London-based Arabic newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi reported that the UK hosted a conference for Palestinian and Israeli officials to discuss ways of resuming the so-called peace process.

According to the paper, which quoted Palestinian sources, the Israeli delegation was headed by Yossi Belin – known for his role in laying the foundation for the Oslo accords. The head of the Palestinian delegation, prominent Fatah member Muhammad Ishtayya, denied that any negotiations took place. Instead, he told Ma’an the conference – held at the Wilton Park Resort in southern England – “only discussed the Middle East crisis”.

Meanwhile, attempts at wooing Hamas continue. Several Arabic newspapers, including Asharq Al-Awsat reported that the head of Hamas’ Politburo, Khaled Meshaal, had indicated in a recent meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan that Hamas is prepared to the accept the so-called “two-state solution”. Meshaal allegedly asked the Jordanian King to relay the message to US President Barack Obama. However, a Hamas statement denied the reports as baseless.

Israeli politics regarding the occupation and illegal settlement constructions are unlikely to change after its January elections. Despite media enthusiasm over the rise of Israel’s left and center, there are no indications that the new configuration is likely to sway Israel away from its war-driven policies.
However, Israel looks at political events unfolding in Washington with concern. The US administration is assembling its team for Barack Obama’s second term in office and of course, Israeli interests are high on the agenda. Two nominations in particular were of much interest to Israel, that of John Kerry, as secretary of state and Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense.

A Voice of America website commentary poised a mundane question in relations to Kerry’s new post on February 1: “Can Secretary of State John Kerry Bring Peace to Israel and the Palestinians?”
Israeli media however, is far more candid in these matters. “Is John Kerry good for Israel?” asked Yedioth Ahronot on its English website. “He may be a friend of Israel but is not considered the standard bearer for Israel at the Senate,” the Israeli paper quoted a state official as saying.

If Kerry is not good enough, one can only imagine the seething anger of neoconservatives, pro-Israeli pundits and other officials at the nomination of Hagel. Hagel’s past statements on Israel and Iran are neither those of “standard bearers for Israel” or anything that resembles a commitment of any sort.
In an all-day confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill, Republican lawmakers pounced on the former Nebraska Republican senator regarding everything he said or failed to say (or sign) over issues of vital interest to Israel. It was frankly difficult to decipher whether Senator John McCain and Senator Ted Cruz were more concerned about genuine US security issues or Israel’s “security” masquerading as vital US national interests.

Hagel is chastised for criticizing the immense power wielded by the pro-Israel lobby in Washington – as if his allegations were mere fantasies and despite the fact that the major campaign unleashed against his nomination was launched by the very forces he criticized.

Few expect a major departure from old policies once the new Washington team is fully assembled, although others underscore a slow but steady shift in US priorities in the Middle East. Even if one adheres to a more optimistic reading of the supposed “shift” underway in Washington, one cannot expect a major change to Israel’s behavior in the occupied territories.

Without a real mechanism to force an Israeli change – which must be accompanied by taming the disproportionately powerful lobby – little on the ground is likely to change.

While American politicians were busy defending their pro-Israeli credentials in Senate hearings, other hearings of great importance, yet, thus far of little consequences, were being concluded elsewhere.

An inquiry set up by the Human Rights Council last March and brazenly boycotted by Israel, had finally concluded that Israeli settlements are a violation of international law while calling on Israel to “immediately” withdraw all of its settlers from East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The UN investigators concluded that Israel’s continued violations of the 1949 Geneva Conventions could amount to war crimes “that fall under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court,” Al-Jazeera reported. “Israel must … cease all settlement activities without preconditions [and] must immediately initiate a process of withdrawal of all settlers”, the report, released, January 31, read in part.

The findings by the well-respected international organization once more accentuate the real parameters of any genuine peace. Bit this kind of peace doesn’t suit Israeli, hence US interests.
Until Palestinians find an alternative to this sorry trio of Israel-US-PA peacemakers, all they can expect is more of the same – a secret conference here, another settlement there and an occasional Israeli handout, oddly enough, taken from Palestinians’ own tax money.

– Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is: My Father was A Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press).
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Exploited and Misused: The Impossible Discourse of the ‘Arab Spring’

January 25, 2013


    

The 'Arab Spring' has become an Arab springboard for regional meddling and foreign intervention.

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The ‘Arab Spring’ has become an Arab springboard for regional meddling and foreign intervention.

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By Ramzy Baroud
Jan 23 2013 / 11:10 pm

A reductionist discourse is one that selectively tailors its reading of subject matters in such a way as to only yield desired outcomes, leaving little or no room for other inquiries, no matter how appropriate or relevant. The so-called Arab Spring, although now far removed from its initial meanings and aspirations, has become just that: a breeding ground for choosy narratives solely aimed at advancing political agendas which are deeply entrenched with regional and international involvement.

When a despairing Tunisian street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi lit himself on fire on December 17, 2010, he had ignited more than a mere revolution in his country. His excruciating death had given birth to a notion that the psychological expanses between despair and hope, death and rebirth and between submissiveness and revolutions are ultimately connected. His act, regardless of what adjective one may use to describe it, was the very key that Tunisians used to unlock their ample reserve of collective power. Then-President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s decision to step down on January 14, 2011, was in a sense a rational assessment on his part if one is to consider the impossibility of confronting a nation that had in its grasp a true popular revolution.

Egypt also revolted less than two weeks later. And it was then that Tunisia’s near-ideal revolutionary model became prey for numerous, often selective readings and ultimately for utter exploitation. The Egyptian January 25 revolution was the first Arab link between Tunisia and the upheavals that travelled throughout Arab nations. Some were quick to ascribe the phenomenon with all sorts of historical, ideological and even religious factors thereby making links whenever convenient and overlooking others however apt. The Aljazeera Arabic website still has a map of all Arab countries, with ones experiencing revolutionary influx marked in red.

Many problems have arisen. What tools, aside from the interests of the Qatari government, for example, does Aljazeera use to determine how the so-called Arab Spring manifests itself? And shouldn’t there be clear demarcations between non-violent revolutions, foreign interventions, sectarian tension and civil wars?

Not only do the roots and the expressions of these ‘revolutions’ vastly differ, but the evolvement of each experience was almost always unique to each Arab country. In the cases of Libya and Syria, foreign involvement (an all-out NATO war in the case of Libya and a multifarious regional and international power play in Syria) has produced wholly different scenarios than the ones witnessed in Tunisia and Egypt, thus requiring an urgently different course of analysis.

Yet despite the repeated failure of the unitary ‘Arab Spring’ discourse, many politicians, intellectuals and journalists continue to borrow from its very early logic. Books have already been written with reductionist titles, knitting linear stories, bridging the distance between Tunis and Sanaa into one sentence and one line of reasoning.

The ‘Arab Spring’ reductionism isn’t always sinister, motivated by political convenience or summoned by neo-imperialist designs. Existing pan-Arab or pan-Islamic narratives however well-intended they may be, have also done their fair share of misrepresenting whichever discourse their intellectuals may find fitting and consistent with their overall ideas. Some denote the rise of a new pan-Arab nation, while others see the ‘spring’ as a harbinger of the return of Islam as a source of power and empowerment for Arab societies. The fact is, while discourses are growing more rigid between competing political and intellectual camps, Arab countries marked by Aljazeera’s editorial logic seem to head in their own separate paths, some grudgingly towards a form of democracy or another, while others descend into a Hobbesian ‘state of nature’ – a war of all against all.

But reductionist discourses persist, despite their numerous limitations. They endure because some are specifically designed to serve the interests of certain governments – some with clear ambitions and others are simply trying to ride the storm. In the case of Syria, not a single country that is somehow a party in the conflict can claim innocence in a gory game of regional politics, where the price tag is the blood of tens of thousands of Syrians.

Western media continues to lead the way in language-manipulation, all with the aim of avoiding obvious facts and when necessary it misconstrues reality altogether. US media in particular remains oblivious to how the fallout of the NATO war in Libya had contributed to the conflict in Mali – which progressed from a military coup early last year, to a civil war and as of present time an all-out French-led war against Islamic and other militant groups in the northern parts of the country.

Mali is not an Arab country, thus doesn’t fit into the carefully molded discourse. Algeria is however. Thus when militants took dozens of Algerian and foreign workers hostage in the Ain Amenas natural gas plant in retaliation of Algeria’s opening of its airspace to French warplanes in their war on Mali, some labored to link the violence in Algeria to the Arab Spring. “Taken together, the attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya, the Islamist attacks on Mali, and now this Algerian offense, all point to north Africa as the geopolitical hotspot of 2013 — where the Arab Spring has morphed into the War On Terror,” wrote Christopher Helman, in Forbes, on Jan 18.

How convenient such an analysis is, especially when “taken together.” The ‘Arab Spring’ logic is constantly stretched in such ways to suit the preconceived understanding, interests or even designs of western powers. For example, it is now conventional media wisdom that the US is wary of full involvement in Syria because of the deadly attack on the US embassy in Benghazi. When seen from Washington, the Arab region appears less compound and is largely understood through keywords and phrases, allocated between allies and enemies, Islamists and liberals and by knee jerk reactions to anything involving Israel or Iran.

One only needs to compare media texts produced two years ago, with more recent ones. Whereas the first few months of 2011 were mostly concerned with individuals and collectives that had much in common with Mohamed Bouazizi – poor, despairing, disenfranchised, and eventually rebellious – much of the present text is concerned with a different type of discussion. Additionally there are almost entirely new players. The Bouazizis of Tunis, Egypt and Yemen remain unemployed, but they occupy much less space in our newspapers and TV screens. Now we speak of Washington and London-based revolutionaries. We juxtapose US and Russian interests and we wrangle with foreign interventions and barefacedly demarcate conflicts based on sectarian divisions.

“Arab awakening is only just beginning”, was the title of a Financial Times editorial of Dec 23. Its logic and subtext speak of a sinister interpretation of what were once collective retorts to oppression and dictatorships. “The fall of the Assads will be a strategic setback to Iran and its regional allies such as Hizbollah, the Shia Islamist state within the fragile Lebanese state,” the editorial read. “But that could quickly be reversed if Israel were to carry out its threats to attack Iran’s nuclear installations, enabling Tehran’s theocrats to rally disaffected Muslims across the region and strengthen their grip at home. It is easy to imagine how such a conflict would drag in the US, disrupt the Gulf and its oil traffic, and set fire to Lebanon.”

Note how in the new reading of the ‘Arab Spring’, people are mere pawns that are defined by their sectarian leanings and their usefulness is in their willingness to be rallied by one regional power or another. While the language itself is consistent with western agendas in Arab and Muslim countries, what is truly bizarre is the fact that many still insist on contextualizing the ever-confrontational US, Israel and western policies in general with an ‘Arab Spring’ involving a poor grocer setting himself on fire and angry multitudes in Egypt, Yemen and Syria who seek dignity and freedom.

Shortly after the Tunisian uprising, some of us warned of the fallout, if unchecked and generalized discourses that lump all Arabs together and exploit peoples’ desire for freedom, equality and democracy were to persist. Alas, not only did the reductionist discourse define the last two-years of upheaval, the ‘Arab Spring’ has become an Arab springboard for regional meddling and foreign intervention. To advance our understanding of what is transpiring in Arab and other countries in the region, we must let go of old definitions. A new reality is now taking hold and it is neither concerned with Bouazizi nor of the many millions of unemployed and disaffected Arabs.

– Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is: My Father was A Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press).


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US, Israel instill fears over Iran’s growing influence in Latin America

January 2, 2013

Mon Dec 31, 2012 5:41PM

The issue for Israel and its US conduits is entirely political. Iran is indeed expanding its political and diplomatic outreach, but entirely through legal and official means, something that the US has failed to do since The Monroe Doctrine gave the US exclusive hegemony over Latin America starting in December 1823. But much has changed since then, especially in the last two decades when the US swung towards disastrous Middle East foreign policies, much to the pleasure of Israel. The suffering endured by Arabs and Muslims was the needed break for some Latin American countries to challenge US policies in their respective countries.

 
Reading the text of a bill that was recently signed into law by US President Barack Obama would instill fear in the hearts of ordinary Americans. Apparently, barbarians coming from distant lands are at work. They are gathering at the US-Mexico border, cutting fences and ready to wreak havoc on an otherwise serene American landscape.
Never mind that crazed, armed to the teeth, homegrown American terrorists are killing children and terrorizing whole cities. It is the Iranian menace that we are meant to fear according to the new law. When compounded with the other imagined threats of Hezbollah and Hamas, all with sinister agendas, then the time is right for Americans to return to their homes, bolt their doors and squat in shelters awaiting further instructions, for evidently, “The Iranians are coming.”

It is as comical as it is untrue. But “The Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act”, which as of Dec. 28 is an official US law, is not meant to be amusing. It is riddled with half-truths, but mostly complete and utter lies.

Yes, Iran’s influence in Latin America is on the rise. However, by US standards, the expanding diplomatic ties, extending trade routes and such are considered a threat to be ‘countered’ or per Forbes magazine’s endless wisdom, ‘confronted.’

Language in politics can be very dangerous as it can misconstrue reality, turning fictitious scenarios into ‘facts’. Despite its faltering economy, the US continues to experience a sharp growth in its think tank industry – men and women whose sole purpose are to invent and push political agendas, which oftentimes belong to some foreign entity; in this case it is Israel. Ian Barman, Vice President of the American Foreign Policy Council reflected that sentiment exactly in a recent article in Forbes.

Only in the past year, “policymakers in Washington have woken up to a new (Iranian) threat to U.S. security”, he wrote, citing an alleged Iranian assassination plot in Washington. According to Barman, that was the wake-up call leading to a “deeply worrisome” reality. In a moment of supposed level-headedness, he writes: “exactly how significant this threat is represents the subject of a new study released in late November by the U.S. House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee. That report, entitled ‘A Line In The Sand’, documents the sinister synergies that have been created in recent years between Iran and Hezbollah on the one hand, and radical regional regimes and actors-from Venezuela to Mexican drug cartels-on the other.”

But according to Agency France Press, reporting on the new law on Dec. 29, “Washington has repeatedly stated it is closely monitoring Tehran’s activities in Latin America, though senior State Department and intelligence officials have indicated there is no apparent indication of illicit activities by Iran.”

Indeed, on the issue of Iran’s influence in Latin America there are two contradicting narratives. One that merely acknowledges Iranians growing diplomatic outreach in Latin America since 2005 and another that speaks of massive conspiracies involving Iran, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, drug cartels, and yes, even underground music piracy groups. The alleged conspiracy is not only far-fetched, it is purposely fabricated to further punish Iran, on behalf of Israel, for its nuclear energy program. The panic over Iran’s ‘infiltration’ of the US ‘neighborhood’ in Latin America, didn’t start a year ago (as alleged by Barman) but rather coincided with old Israeli-Western propaganda which pained Iran as a country ruled by religious fiends whose main hobby is to assemble bombs and threaten western civilization. When pro-Israeli think tank ‘experts’ began floating a scenario of ‘what if Iran and Hezbollah join forces with Mexico’s Los Zetas drug cartel’ a few years ago, the idea seemed too absurd to compel a rational response. Now it is actually written into the new bill turned law as if a matter of fact. (Sec. 2, Findings 12)

The bill doesn’t only lack reason, proper references and is dotted with a strange amalgam of politically-inspired accusations, it also relies on wholesale allegations of little, if any plausible foundation whatsoever: “Hezbollah and other Iranian proxies with a presence in Latin America have raised revenues through illicit activities, including drug and arms trafficking, counterfeiting, money laundering, forging travel documents, pirating software and music and providing haven and assistance to other terrorists transiting the region.” (Sec 2, Findings 8)

Of course, since the whole exercise is fueled by Israeli anxiety, Hamas also had to somehow be pulled in, if not indicted through the same inexplicable reasoning: “The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration concluded in 2008 that almost one-half of the foreign terrorist organizations in the world are linked to narcotics trade and trafficking, including Hezbollah and Hamas.” (Sec. 2, Findings 10)

US author and journalist, Belen Fernandez has been looking into this matter for years. In all of her writings on the topic she seemed to trace the very thread that unites the invented upheaval over Iran’s supposed takeover of the ‘Western Hemisphere.’ In an article entitled: “Distorting Iranian-Latin American Relations”, nearly two years ago, she wrote: “Iranian ‘penetration’ in Latin America has in recent years become a pet issue of Israeli Foreign Ministry officials and American neoconservative pundits, many of whom take offense at the perceived failure of the U.S. government to adequately appreciate the security threat posed by, for example, the inauguration of a weekly flight from Caracas to Tehran with a stop in Damascus.”

The issue for Israel and its US conduits is entirely political. Iran is indeed expanding its political and diplomatic outreach, but entirely through legal and official means, something that the US has failed to do since The Monroe Doctrine gave the US exclusive hegemony over Latin America starting in December 1823. But much has changed since then, especially in the last two decades when the US swung towards disastrous Middle East foreign policies, much to the pleasure of Israel. The suffering endured by Arabs and Muslims was the needed break for some Latin American countries to challenge US policies in their respective countries. This period was the era in which powerhouses like Brazil rose and popular governments took the helm. US policies in Latin America are not failing because of Iranians ‘sinister’ plans, but because of something entirely different.

Demeaning Latin America as a hapless region waiting for US saviors and pinning US political stocks on Iran might serve immediate Israeli purposes, but it will certainly contribute to the growing political delusion that permeates Washington. Alas, there are little indications that Washington politicians are anywhere near waking up from Israel’s overbearing spell. Just examine the author of the anti-Iran bill: Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina’s 3rd District. He is a ‘freshman’, but has massive ambitions. He joined the Congress in 2011 and quickly learned the ropes. He knows that in order to succeed on Capitol Hill, one must win favor with the pro-Israeli lobby. He sponsored the bill on January 3, just few days before Iranian President went on a major diplomatic tour in Latin America to expand his country’s international relations. That alone was unacceptable, for Latin America has long been designated as the US ‘backyard’, per the belittling perception of US mainstream media. The trip ignited the ire of Israel, which media and officials considered a travesty at a time that Tel Aviv was tirelessly working to isolate Iran. The bill was clearly a coordinated move, as its language indicates textbook Israeli hasbara.

Duncan might have been a novice, but he is quickly catching up. On May 20, he proudly posted a statement on his House of Representative page that sharply censures his own president’s remarks on Israel, while fully supporting the political stances of the leader of another country, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He decried Obama’s siding with the “Hamas-led government”, thus “undermined(ing) Israel’s position in the negotiation process.”

“President Obama’s statement that Israel should retreat to its impossible to defend 1967 borders breaks a promise to one of our strongest allies, threatens Israel’s security, and jeopardizes the future of democracy in the region,” he wrote. Of course, Duncan wholeheartedly agreed with Netanyahu’s right-wing policies. “(The Israeli) Prime Minister understands the hard reality of Israel’s precarious security situation and daily threats of terrorism. I agree with the Israeli Prime Minister that President Obama’s position is simply unrealistic.” He concluded with a very telling statement: “As a Christian, I ask Americans to continue lifting up the people of Israel with prayers for safety and the hope for a lasting peace.”

This strange attitude towards politics and American national security is the real threat, not Iranian embassies and water purification projects in some Latin American countries. But considering the rising religious zealotry, shrewd Israeli lobby and the numerous think tanks of catered wisdom, there is little space for pragmatic politics or sensible approach to anything that concerns Israel. Thus, Obama enacted the bill into law and funds have been secured to evaluate Iran’s growing ‘threats’ in ‘America’s backyard’ so that proper measures are taken to counter the frightening possibilities.

What Duncan doesn’t know however, is that Latin America is no longer hostage, neither to the whims of Washington, nor to his South Carolina’s 3rd District. And that the ‘Western Hemisphere’ is no longer defined by the confines of US foreign policies, which seem to be narrowing each year to meet Israeli expectations and not those of America.

RB/JR

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A different war in Gaza, and the war ahead

November 26, 2012


The sun sets over the Gaza Strip on November 20, 2012.

The sun sets over the Gaza Strip on November 20, 2012.
Mon Nov 26, 2012 11:23AM
Despite their heavy losses, thousands of Palestinians danced with joy throughout the Gaza Strip. They kneeled and prayed among the rebels, thanking God for their “victory”. Masked armed men were crowded by jubilant Gazans cheering for resistance. Israel and its benefactors began assigning blame by pointing the finger mostly at Iran. But their words drowned in the echoes of Palestinian chants. All parties know that something fundamental has been altered, although the battle is anything but over. A war of a different kind is about to begin.”

 

In life, some phenomena cannot be explained by ordinary logic or technical language, let alone official discourses. How did Gaza manage to fight back with such ferocity and undying vigor in quelling the latest Israeli war despite years of a bloody siege and one-sided war in 2008-9? It simply cannot be explained by the outmoded language of today’s media analysts. Notwithstanding, a new reality is about to emerge.

During the 2008-09 ‘Operation Cast Lead,’ Israel killed over 1,400 Palestinians and wounded over 5,000 others. It was like shooting fish in a barrel. Most victims were civilians as is always the case in such wars of ‘self-defense’. A United Nations investigation published in September 2009 concluded there is “evidence indicating serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law were committed by Israel during the Gaza conflict, and that Israel committed actions amounting to war crimes, and possibly crimes against humanity.”

Back then there was no shortage of indictments and condemnations, as will surely emerge from its latest eight-day war on Gaza. Many spoke of how the tide of public opinion is turning against Israel, how the Zionist regime was losing its command over an ever-skewed narrative of David vs. Goliath, of how the US will no longer be able to shield Israel against the profound anguish of millions of besieged people imploring the world for help and solidarity.

Much of this was in fact true, but equally true was that Israel succeeded in dragging Gaza and the rest of Palestine back to the same status quo – despite the heinous crimes committed four years ago – that preceded the war. Former Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, told journalists on January 12, 2009 that her regime was deliberately “going wild” in Gaza to “restore … Israel’s deterrence. Hamas now understands that when you fire on its citizens it responds by going wild – and this is a good thing.”

It certainly was good enough for the United States, but also for many European powers who giddily wined and dined with Livni in Brussels, shortly after the war, as if thousands of people had not been killed and wounded or that whole families hadn’t just perished for no fault of their own and as if a whole nation was not still in mourning for its lost children, men and women.

It is not that Israel was particularly crafty in restoring its standing among official western circles in the last four years, thus giving it the needed confidence to assault Gaza once more. The fact is that Israel never lost that standing to begin with. These very powers (starting with Washington and London) never ceased backing Israel with the latest killing technology, bolstering Israel’s economy despite their own economic woes and of course, supporting Israel’s “right to defend itself” at every available opportunity.

The 22-Day War on Gaza of 2008-09 was in actuality a continuation of another long war, which is difficult to demarcate by specific dates and times. Palestinians in Gaza (as in the rest of the occupied territories) have been dying at rates that decelerate and accelerate depending on the political mood in Tel Aviv. In 2008, embattled Kadima party officials sought war to boost their rating among a war and security-obsessed public. In 2012, elections in Israel are upon us once more. In both cases, Palestinian blood had to be exacted in that same bloody game of Israeli politics. And all rising stars in Israeli politics needed to be there to impress the ever-approving public.

When “more than 90 percent of Israeli Jews support Gaza war” (Haaretz, Nov 19), it becomes less shocking to read Gilad Sharon (son of former Israeli Prime Minister and repeatedly accused war criminal Ariel Sharon) writing in the Jerusalem Post: “There should be no electricity in Gaza, no gasoline or moving vehicles, nothing. Then they’d really call for a ceasefire … We need to flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn’t stop with Hiroshima – the Japanese weren’t surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki, too.” 

Yet what was thought of as another hunting season of Gaza’s civilians and fighters alike didn’t turn out as desired. ‘Operation Pillar of Cloud’ was meant as to present Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Defense Minister Ehud Barak with ample opportunities so that they may wave their fingers in threatening gestures and score as many political points as they could before international pressure mount. Instead, it ended up being a political debacle of historic proportions.

Israel’s trial balloons were downed by hundreds of Palestinian rockets that reached as far as northern Tel Aviv and even west Jerusalem. What was meant to break the resistance, so that Palestinians may never dare complain of occupation, of Israel-imposed political isolation and suffocating siege, along with Israel’s ‘deterrence’ wars, resulted in a new strange reality that sent Israelis everywhere seeking shelter. When sirens blared, Israel came to a halt as Israelis experienced bloody glimpses of what Palestinians experience too often.

Some 167 Palestinians were killed and over a thousand wounded. Six Israelis were killed, including a soldier who died from his wounds after a ceasefire was achieved through Egypt on November 21. But it was not the amount of spilled blood that made this war different, for the ratio of horrific deaths remains tilted. It was different because of the nature of the message that Hamas and other resistance factions delivered. Even starved and besieged Gazans are capable of fighting back after six long years of a hermetic blockade that forced them to dig hundreds of tunnels seeking salvation through neighboring Egypt.

In Ramallah, acting Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas spoke of a popular but peaceful resistance in a televised speech. He conveniently explained the Israeli war as an attempt to coerce him not to seek the UN vote on a non-member state status for Palestine. And as Israeli leaders struggled to understand the new variable in their unfair war equation with the Palestinians, Arab officials poured into Gaza signaling that this time around things would be different. The Americans took notice too. Just as the US media spoke of a shift in US foreign policy focus to East and Southeast Asia, the alarming nature of the new war forced Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to rush to Israel to offer its support and solidarity. European leaders did the same. The lines were being demarcated once more. This time Gaza was a dividing point of regional and international politics, its resistance being the main factor behind a seismic shift.

Many in Israel tried to distort the facts by explaining that a ceasefire for Hamas would be good for Israel as it would bring “quiet” to border communities. Thus the Israeli objectives were achieved in a roundabout sort of way. Haaretz military correspondent Amos Harel labored to soften the blow by saying “The art of measuring the level of deterrence power is far from an exact science. Nobody expected that failed actions against Hezbollah in 2006 would lead to six-and-a-half years of quiet (which for the time being persists) on the Lebanon border”.

However, Israel’s intentions were not exactly about achieving peace and tranquility. For decades, Israel’s sought to have complete monopoly over violence, thus the right to punish, deter, intervene, occupy and “teach lessons” to whomever it wanted, whenever it wanted. Its recent targeting of Sudan, its past strikes against Iraq, Tunisia, Syria, appalling wars in Lebanon, and constant threats against Iran are all cases in point.

Certainly, something big has changed. Not that Palestinians managed to narrow the imbalance of power, but that they succeeded in imposing their resistance as a factor in Israel’s “security” equation that was exclusively determined by Israel.

Despite their heavy losses, thousands of Palestinians danced with joy throughout the Gaza Strip. They kneeled and prayed among the rebels, thanking God for their “victory”. Masked armed men were crowded by jubilant Gazans cheering for resistance. Israel and its benefactors began assigning blame by pointing the finger mostly at Iran. But their words drowned in the echoes of Palestinian chants. All parties know that something fundamental has been altered, although the battle is anything but over. A war of a different kind is about to begin.

RB/HMV

 
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US Elections and the Middle East

October 17, 2012

US President Barack Obama (R) listens as Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (L) speaks at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012.

US President Barack Obama (R) listens as Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (L) speaks at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012.
Mon Oct 15, 2012 5:34AM

Although some real differences may be underscored between both candidates on various issues in the Middle East, both are strong supporters of Israel, both tirelessly vying for the backing of the strong pro-Israel lobby in Washington. Obama, however, until now at least, refuses to concede to Israeli demands of agreeing on ‘redlines’ on Iran’s supposed quest for a nuclear bomb. Romney is exploiting that diversion to the maximum.”
 

US elections are manifestly linked to the Middle East, at least rhetorically. In practical terms, however, US foreign policies in the region are compelled by the Middle East’s own dynamics and the US’ own political climate, economic woes, or ambitions. There is little historic evidence that US foreign policy in the Arab world has been guided by moral compulsion.
When it comes to the Middle East – and much of the world – it is mostly about style. The country’s two leading political parties have proven equally to be interventionists. In the last two decades Democrats seemed to lean more towards unilateralism in foreign policy as in war, while Republicans, as highlighted by the administration of George W. Bush, are much less worried about the mere definitions of their conducts. The US administration of Bill Clinton (1993-2001) maintained a draconian siege on Iraq that caused what former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark described as ‘genocide.’ Two years later, W. Bush chose the direct war path, which simply rebranded the ongoing ‘genocide’. In both cases, hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis died.

Despite the warrior-like saber-rattling by former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney about his intentions to transform the Middle East to suit US interests shall he be elected, few would take that as more than despairing attempts at reaching out to the most zealous members and groups of his party, especially those who wield political influence, media access and, of course, funds. The pro-Israeli gambling magnate Sheldon Adelson is referenced more than others, but there are many others who demand such satisfactory rhetoric before reaching out for their checkbooks.

Ultimately, “it’s the economy, stupid” – a phrase that reached legendary eminence after it was coined for Bill Clinton as he unleashed his successful presidential campaign in 1992. Once again, the phrase is likely to be the determinant factor on November 6.

American voters will decide whether to extend President Barack Obama’s mandate by four more years or hand a more impulsive, but equally opportunistic Romney the fate of a country that has long crossed the line of economic recession into uncharted territories since the Great Depression in 1929.

Romney, the archetypal American elite with ample wealth, lifestyle and language so detached from the average American is doing his very best to exploit Obama’s failing to rescue the currently tattered, and largely struggling economy. The recovery, despite the hype, is still lacking at best. With a large and growing deficit, and unrelenting government borrowing, prospects for the future remain dim.

“Economic growth has never been weaker in a post-war recovery. Consumer spending has never been so slack. Only once has job growth been slower,” wrote Paul Wiseman, in the Huffington Post (August 15). These were his thoughts on a thorough analysis produced by the Associated Press, which concluded that Obama-championed recovery since 2009 has been the weakest of all 10 US recessions since World War II.

The recession which dates back to 2007-2008, scaled back economic growth, caused massive cuts and cost numerous jobs. Republicans often wish to omit the eight-year legacy of George W. Bush and his colossal military expenditure. It is in these instances that the Middle East becomes a victim of omission, for heedless wars and an unprecedented strain on the economy as a result of them seem too trivial to mention. Listening to Romney rambling about his prospected foreign policy, one gets the impression that another war is already in the making. Destination doesn’t matter, what matters is that Romney appears strong, decisive and ready for a combat at a moment’s notice.

Democrats are focusing their strategy on dividing their campaign messages between the economy (placing the recovery within generally upbeat news of positive economic indicators) and other issues that matter to large sectors of American society: health care, abortion, immigration, civil rights questions, and so on. With the economy continuing to follow an impulsive line of logic, both parties are still busy defining the very problems facing their nation, leaving the task of devising real solutions, if any, to a later date.

The heavy sense of disappointment felt by many Americans is unmistakable. Long gone is the ‘hope and change’ fervor of Obama’s last election campaign. Democrats are no longer offering sensational answers; it’s mostly about braving the difficult journey ahead. Republicans seem more united by their own aversion of Obama than their affinity to Romney. The latter’s lack of consistency, inability to form and staunchly defend a cohesive vision, and clearly expressed disinterest in 47 per cent of American voters (per a leaked video recording) makes him hardly the long-awaited savior. Moreover, disorganized and divided Republicans between traditional conservatives, Tea Party supporters and religious zealots among others are hardly ready for the coveted ‘landslide’, as boldly anticipated by Keith Edwards in the American Thinker (October 02).

The importance of the elections is barely accentuated by the political forte or aptitudes of its main candidates, but by the historic transition that the United States is currently undergoing. This is not just within the realm of the devastated economy, but in its global standing as well. Here is where the Middle East mostly fits in: The timing of the region’s own transition – exemplified by ongoing revolutions, political upheavals and civil wars – couldn’t be any more challenging or inopportune. Just as US foreign policy was reconsidering neoconservative war wisdom, momentous events throughout the Middle East are wreaking havoc on an already disorderly American retreat. Unable to completely shift from its militant policy of old, the Obama administration is trying to weather the storm until the elections are over.

In a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed on October 1, Romney recharged, with the hope of challenging mounting accusations that see his foreign policy expertise as deficient and misguided. “Our country seems to be at the mercy of events rather than shaping them,” he wrote, once more demanding action against Iran, even more US support of Israel, and greater intervention in Syria, Libya and elsewhere. His administration, he said, will “encourage liberty and opportunity” to replace extremism in the Middle East.

Although some real differences may be underscored between both candidates on various issues in the Middle East, both are strong supporters of Israel, both tirelessly vying for the backing of the strong pro-Israel lobby in Washington. Obama, however, until now at least, refuses to concede to Israeli demands of agreeing on ‘redlines’ on Iran’s supposed quest for a nuclear bomb. Romney is exploiting that diversion to the maximum.

There is little that Middle Eastern countries can expect from the outcome of the upcoming elections. The region seems propelled by its own dynamics, despite insistent US attempts at intervening or meddling to ‘shape outcomes’ of ongoing conflicts. Equally important, regardless of who will reside in the White House, the sluggish economy and the fear of getting entangled in new military adventures, will likely redefine future US relations to the region.

 
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The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this Blog!
 
 

Ramzy Baroud’s message on Facebook re Greta Berlin

October 13, 2012


GA: Bless Ramzy for standing for truth and justice.
Greta Berlin, our support and total solidarity with your noble efforts will not cease, but double.

Thank you for all you have done for justice in Palestine. For the numerous hours you spent brainstorming ways to break the siege on Gaza, to dodge the Israeli navy, to act upon your beliefs in ways that some of us can only tweet about. You are an indefatigable warrior.

I am sorry about the misguided attacks on you and your integrity. Please don’t stop. Your courage will continue to inspire us. Much Love. Ramzy Baroud

The Children Are Still Dying: Violence is Not News

August 24, 2012

By Ramzy Baroud
Somewhere in my home I have a set of photo albums I rarely go near. I fear the flood of cruel memories that might be evoked from looking at the countless photos I took during a trip to Iraq. Many of the pictures are of children who developed rare forms of cancer as a result of exposure to Depleted Uranium (DU), which was used in the US-led war against Iraq over two decades ago.
I remember visiting a hospital that was attached to Al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad. The odor that filled its corridors was not the stench of medicine, but rather the aroma of death. At a time of oppressive siege, the hospital lacked even basic anesthetic equipment and drugs. Children sat and stared at their visitors. Some wailed in inconceivable pain. Parents teetered between hope and the futility of hope, and at prayer times they duly prayed.

Protracted conflicts don’t make children any less innocent.
(Kathy Kelly)

A young doctor gave a sweeping diagnosis: “No child that ever enters this place ever leaves alive.” Being the young reporter I was at the time, I diligently made a note of his words before asking more questions. I didn’t quite grasp the finality of death.

Several years later, Iraq’s desolation continues. On August 16, 90 people were killed and more were wounded in attacks across the country. Media sources reported on the bloodbath (nearly 200 Iraqis were killed this month alone), but without much context. Are we meant to believe that violence in Iraq has transcended any level of reason? That Iraqis get blown up simply because it is their fate to live in perpetual fear and misery?

But the dead, before they were killed, were people with names and faces. They were fascinating individuals in their own right, deserving of life, rights and dignity. Many are children, who knew nothing of Iraq’s political disputes, invited by US wars and occupation and fomented by those who feed on sectarianism.

We often forget this. Those who refuse to fall into the trap of political extremes still tend to process and accept violence in one way or another. We co-exist with tragedy, with the belief that bombs just go off randomly and that surviving victims cannot be helped. We somehow accept the idea that refugees cannot be repatriated and the hungry cannot be fed.

This strange wisdom is most apparent in Sudan. In the Upper Nile state, people are dying from sheer exhaustion before they reach refugee camps in Batil. Some walk for weeks between South Kordofan and the Blue Nile, seeking respite and any chance of survival. Those who endure the journey – compelled by fighting between the Sudanese army and rebels groups – might not survive the harshness of life awaiting them at Batil. The BBC News reported on August 17, citing a warning by Medecins Sans Frontieres, that “[p]eople are dying in large numbers in a refugee camp in South Sudan.”

I almost stumbled on the ‘humanitarian catastrophe’ in Batil (as described by MSF’s medical co-ordinator, Helen Patterson) while reviewing reports of the deteriorating situation in some Darfur refugee camps. Batil now hosts nearly 100,000 of the estimated 170,000 refugees who recently fled their homes. According to the medical charity, 28% of the children are malnourished, and the mortality rate is twice that of the accepted emergency threshold.

Darfur is, of course, a festering wound. Many of the internally displaced refugees often find themselves in a constant state of displacement, as was the case earlier this month. UN officials say that ‘all’ 25,000 people in a single refugee camp, Kassab, went on the run again after armed groups clashed with government forces. They settled in another ‘shelter’ nearby, the town of Kutum. According to the African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), the supposed new shelter ‘lacks water, food and sanitation’ (CNN, August 9).

Since then, the story has somewhat subsided. Not because the fleeing refugees are in a good standing, but because this is all the attention that 25,000 refugees can expect from a media awash with news of two-faced politicians and celebrity scandals. It might take a ‘peacemaking’ celebrity to place Batil or Kassab on the media map for another day or two, and surely nothing less than a sizable number of deaths to make the refugees a relevant news item once again.

That said, no attention-seeking VIP is likely to venture out to Mali anytime soon. While the humanitarian crisis in West Africa is reaching frightening levels, the media continues to address the conflict in Mali in terms of the logic of Western interests being threatened by rebels, coups and jihadists. Aside from the fact that few ask of Western complicity in the chaos, 435,000 refugees are flooding neighboring countries. This was the most recent estimate by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs on August 16, but the fact is ignored by most media.

The World Food Program says that the food crisis is devastating – not only for distraught refugees, but also for millions within the country. Malian children are, of course, outnumbering all other victims. They are helplessly dragged around through endless deserts. When they die, they merely leave a mark as yet another statistic, estimated without much certainty, and, sadly, without value.

However, here may lay the moral to the story. Every Malian, Sudanese, Iraqi, Syrian, Palestinian, Yemeni or Rohingya child matters immensely to those around him. His or her life – or death – might conveniently serve to fortify a political argument, make a good National Geographic reportage, or a Facebook photo with many ‘shares’ and ‘likes’. But for parents, families, friends and neighbors, their children are the center of their universe, however poor and seemingly wretched. Thus, when UNICEF or UNRWA complains about a shortage of funds, it actually means that thousands of innocent people will needlessly suffer, and that centers of many universes will dramatically implode, replacing hope with bottomless despair, and often rage.

It may be convenient to assign conventional political wisdom to explain complex political issues and violent conflicts. But protracted conflicts don’t make life any less precious, or children any less innocent. It is a tragedy when Iraqis seem to be on a constant parade of burying their loved ones, or when the Sudanese seem to be on a constant quest to save their lives. It’s a greater tragedy, however, when we get so used to the unfolding drama of human violence that we can accept as destined the reality of children crossing the Sahara in search of a sip of water.

– Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London.)

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Neocons vs. the ‘Arab Spring’: Back on the Warpath

August 9, 2012

By Ramzy Baroud

The neoconservatives are back with a vengeance. While popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and other Arab countries had briefly rendered them irrelevant in the region, Western intervention in Libya signaled a new opportunity. Now Syria promises to usher a full return of neoconservatives into the Middle East fray.

“Washington must stop subcontracting Syria policy to the Turks, Saudis and Qataris. They are clearly part of the anti-Assad effort, but the United States cannot tolerate Syria becoming a proxy state for yet another regional power,” wrote Danielle Pletka, vice president of foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute (Washington Post, July 20).

Pletka, like many of her peers from neoconservative, pro-Israeli ‘think tanks’, should be a familiar name among Arab reporters, who are also well aware of the level of destruction brought to the Middle East as a result of neoconservative wisdom and policies. Rarely though are such infamous names evoked when the ongoing conflict in Syria is reported – as if the main powers responsible for redrawing the geopolitical maps of the region are suddenly insignificant.

Pletka was the biggest supporter of Ahmad Chalabi, the once exiled Iraqi, who she once described as “a trusted associate of the Central Intelligence Agency (and) the key player in a unsuccessful coup to overthrow Saddam Hussein” in the 1990s (LA Times, June 4, 2004). Chalabi led the Iraqi National Congress, which was falsely slated as an authentic Iraqi national initiative. Eventually, members of the council, composed mostly of Iraqi exiles with links to the CIA and other Western intelligences, managed to sway the pendulum their way, and Iraq was destroyed.

Although the destruction of an Arab country is not a moral issue as far as the neocons are concerned, the chaos and subsequent violence that followed the US war in 2003 made it impossible for warring ‘intellectuals’ to promote their ideas with the same language of old. Some reinvention was now necessary. Discredited organizations were shut down and new ones were hastily founded. One such platform was the Foreign Policy Initiative, which was founded by neoconservatives who cleverly reworded old slogans. Matt Duss, wrote in ThinkProgress.org about the Foreign Policy Initiative inaugural conference on Afghanistan in March 2009: “I was struck by how very little that was said was controversial,” he wrote. “And that’s really the point — in the wake of Iraq debacle, for which the neocons are widely and rightly held responsible, it simply won’t do to bang the drum for American military maximalism. One has to be a bit slicker than that. And these guys are nothing if not slick.”
Slick, indeed, as neoconservatives are now trying to weasel in their version of an endgame in Syria. Their efforts are extremely focused and well-coordinated, making impressive use of their direct ties with the Israeli lobby, major US media and Syrian leaders in exile. They are being referred to as ‘foreign policy experts’, although their ‘expertise’ is merely confined to their ability to destroy and remake countries to their own liking – and even these are unmitigated failures.

Writing in CNN online, Elise Labott reported on a recent neoconservative push to upgrade American involvement in Syria: “Foreign policy experts on Wednesday (August 1) urged the Obama administration to increase its support of the armed opposition.” The ‘experts’ included Andrew Tabler of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), another pro-Israel conduit in Washington. It was established in 1985 as a research department for the influential Israeli lobby group, AIPAC, yet since then it managed to rebrand itself as an American organization concerned with advancing “a balanced and realistic understanding of American interests in the Middle East.”

Obama, of course, obliged under pressure from the ‘experts’. According to CNN, he signed a secret order “referred to as an intelligence ‘finding,’ allow[ing] for clandestine support by the CIA and other agencies.”

Still, the neocons want much more. The bloodbath in Syria has devastated not only Syrian society, it also brought to a halt the collective campaigns in Arab societies which called for democracy on their own terms. The protracted conflict in Syria, and the involvement of various regional players made it unbearable for the neoconservatives to hide behind their new brand and slowly plot a comeback. For them, it was now or never.

On July 31, AIPAC wrote all members of Congress urging them to sign on a bill introduced by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Howard Berman. Entitled ‘The Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act (H.R.1905)’, the bill, if passed, “will establish virtual state of war with Iran,” according to the Council for the National Interest. The old neoconservative wisdom arguing for an unavoidable link between Syria, Iran and their allies in the region is now being exploited to the maximum.

A few days earlier, on July 27, fifty-six leading ‘conservative foreign-policy experts’ had urged Obama to intervene directly in Syria. “Unless the United States takes the lead and acts, either individually or in concert with like-minded nations, thousands of additional Syrian civilians will likely die, and the emerging civil war in Syria will likely ignite wider instability in the Middle East.”

The timing of the letter, partly organized by the Foreign Policy Initiative, was hardly random. It was published one day before the first ‘Friends of Syria’ contact-group meeting in Tunisia, which suggests that it was aimed to help define the American agenda regarding Syria. Signatories included familiar names associated with the Iraq war narrative – Paul Bremer, Elizabeth Cheney, Eric Edelman, William Kristol, and, of course, Danielle Pletka.

With the absence of a clear US strategy regarding Syria, the ever-organized neoconservatives seem to be the only ones with a clear plan, however damaging. In her Washington Post piece, Pletka’s argument for intervention, bridging countries, peoples, sects and groups of all kinds – as if the Middle East is but a chess game governed by delusional but persistent ambitions. In one single paragraph, she made mention of Iran, Hezbollah, Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, terrorists aimed at destabilizing Iraq, “puppet governments in Beirut” and “Palestinian terror groups dedicated to Israel’s destruction.”
Yet, it is this sort of ‘political expertise’ that governed US foreign policy in the Middle East for nearly two decades. Now that the short respite is over, the neoconservatives are back with their bizarre maps, bleak visions, and a fail-proof recipe for perpetual conflict.

– Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London.)

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