Friday, June 30, 2006

More on Canada's Teenaged Terror Suspects

al-qaeda and tim hortons collage
As Canadians living abroad, both Amos and I have been closely following press reports about the Toronto-area suspects (most from the well-off suburb of Mississauga) accused of having formed a terrorist cell and of plotting to bomb numerous targets in Ontario. All of the suspects were Muslims of various origins (Pakistani and Arab) attracted to extremist ideas. The Globe and Mail, Canada’s national newspaper, has had some really good coverage of the different people involved and of their family backgrounds. From two recent articles, it appears that most of them, with the exception of their ringleader (a 40 year old father figure), were very young. They were either in high school or had recently graduated from high school. It should be noted that none of them seemed to be from families that were struggling financially. Now, one of the things that all of these kids appear to have had in common was a really low regard for Canada and Canadian society. What I found remarkable was that they do not appear to have had real grievances about racism or discrimination in Canada against Muslims in general, at least not as far as I remember. What they did seem to have is resentment against and a total lack of identification with what one might describe as plain-old “white” Canada.

Reading some of the things they are said to have posted on their internet forum and blog, one really gets the sense that they were not unlike some of those ethnic high school cliques that latch onto gangster motifs that they see on rap videos. It’s a pretty typical North American high school phenomenon: there’s always a group of badass or wanna-be badass kids of South Asian, Caribbean, Latin American or other backgrounds whose parents are the most upstanding, middle class people, but whose kids are drawn to more hardcore identities and have a real disdain for whatever they identify as “white”. What they’ve designated as “white” Canada is just not cool in their eyes. Of course, most of these kids, being of middle class backgrounds anyway grow out of this teenage angst phase once they graduate from high school and start college or whatever. In the case of the suspects, though, they seem to have expressed their teenage angst through an attraction to fanatical Islamism and a hatred for Canada and the West. Instead of being fascinated by the graphic accounts of violence, the anti-Man messages and the “protest” lyrics of gangsta rap, these kids glorify jihad and martyrdom. In their case, Osama bin Laden and Zarqawi replace Tupac and Biggy Smalls. It’s as if they are basically attracted to the same things as other suburban wanna-be gangsters, the difference being that the Mississauga would-be terrorists are clued in to some other cultural.

In a previous post, Amos already cited parts of an article that dealt with the views of the 18-year old wife of suspect Zakariya Amara, Nada Farooq, whose family, of Pakistani origin, came to Canada in 1997. In an online forum made up of her clique of young Muslims, Nada posted various disparaging remarks about Canada and asserted that she felt absolutely no connection to the country (she raved about the Taliban instead). In an article that appeared today in the Globe and Mail, Zakariya Amara, Nada’s teenage husband, is quoted making even more telling remarks in the same online forum. Taking a swipe at the debased morality of Canadian women in his online post, Amara breaks out in a decidedly whacked out freestyle:
Pure poetry. What can you make of this kind of language? To me, it expresses a really juvenile "ethnicism" of some sort. To this kid, Canada is not just un-Islamic and immoral - it’s also boring and lacks culture or a clear identity, except for “Tim Horton’s” (a famous coffee and doughnut franchise in Canada). For this dude, Canada is a country full of plain Jennies and Heathers, who Amara thinks are undeserving of his respect.

What is ironic, of course, is that the parents of these kids hold totally different views from their parents who see Canada in a much more positive light. They are teenage rebels. Their religiosity is new, not inherited or passed on. According to the Globe and Mail article published yesterday (June 29),
The Farooqs, a Pakistani family, came to Canada in 1997 because they didn't like the idea of raising their children in the conservative society of Saudi Arabia, where foreign-born children don't have access to the same education as nationals, said Nada's father, Mohammad Umer Farooq.

The kids are also much more religious than their parents. According to her father,
[Nada] has always been more religious than he and his wife […] and it was a faith that she developed in Canada, not Saudi Arabia. [Nada’s father] described himself as 30 per cent religious and his daughter as 100 per cent.

Even more ironic is the fact that the father is even said to support Canada’s mission against the Taliban in Afghanistan, an issue that aroused the ire of many of the youngsters.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

One European Response to the Gaza Escalation

Israeli armor, north of the Gaza strip

An op-ed by Christiane Schlötzer in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung illustrates once again that the Europeans just don't get it. The analysis is full of clichés and condescending judgments. Perhaps the kicker was Schlötzer's assertion that
Both sides in the conflict are hostages to policies that, one has to say it, ... , are characterized by Old Testament obstinacy. [In dem Konflikt sind beide Seiten Geiseln einer Politik, die – man muss es sagen, ... – von alttestamentarischer Sturköpfigkeit geprägt ist].
To the writer, the Israelis (and Palestinians) are like children, abandoned by their irresponsible parents (the US). What they ought to do, she seems to imply, is to talk things out like reasonable adults. Or worse, they are like unconverted Jews, who must open their ears to the New Testament's message of love and kindness.

Although Schlötzer accuses Israel of living in a "dream" (nightmare would be better), her critique seems fundamentally divorced from the realities on the ground. She does not present even a shred of understanding for the responsibility of a state to protect its citizens and borders. Nor does she consider the possibility that a government that allows terrorists to launch an attack across a border ought to be held accountable in some way.

Equally absurd is the writer's patronizing conclusion:
by now at the latest, Israel ought to recognize that it is impossible to separate itself from the Palestinians forever by unilaterally drawing a border. A few terrorists who dig a tunnel to kidnap a soldier could destroy this dream. [... spätestens jetzt muss Israel erkennen, dass es nicht möglich ist, sich mit einer einseitigen Grenzziehung ein für alle Mal von den Palästinensern zu trennen. Schon ein paar Terroristen, die einen Tunnel graben, um einen Soldaten zu entführen, konnten diesen Traum zerstören].
The problem is that this was not "just" a few terrorists but a sophisticated, well-planned operation. Furthermore, it is bizarre that the writer turns this into an argument against Israel's "dream" of separating itself from the Palestinians. The terrorists operated from Gaza, which is no longer occupied by Israel. They ventured far beyond the 1967 borders to launch an offensive raid on Israeli troops. This is unacceptable in any scenario; it cannot be regarded as some kind of inevitability that resulted from a policy of unilateral disengagement, unless one argued the right-wing view that no withdrawal should have taken place at all because the Palestinians would be rewarded for terrorism.

It was also annoying to see the writer evade responsibility by attributing to the Palestinians en masse the rhetorical question:
Why should a brutal kidnapping be worse than the daily perceived arbitrariness of the occupation? [Oder dass ein brutales Kidnapping schlimmer sein soll als die alltägliche, als Willkür empfundene Besatzung.]
This ignores the fact that the Gaza Strip, from which the terrorists attacked, is no longer under occupation. Indeed the entire analysis sounds like something canned long before the withdrawal took place. Perhaps this is why it sounds so trite.

World Opinion on What Happened on Gaza Beach

It appears that the IDF doesn't have a throng of believers in the international press or NGO community to support its version of events.

The Home-Grown Terrorists

Nada Farooq

The Globe and Mail in a story titled Hateful chatter behind the veil reports on blogs and online forums run by Nada Farooq and other Muslim Canadian women, discovered by the newspaper. Farooq is the wife of Zakaria Amara, one of the “Toronto 17” arrested in early June (see Anti-Terror Raid in Canada Leads to Arrest of 17 Suspects, and The Motivations of Terror). The posts were made over a 20-month period , mostly in 2004, long before the arrests. The posts of these young women, almost all of whom were raised in Canada, provide a window onto the self-fuelled rage of Islamist extremists in the West. They provide further evidence against the view that such factors as discrimination against Muslims, on the one hand, or American foreign policy, on the other, are primarily responsible for the hatred preached and practiced by Muslim fundamentalists in the east and west.

Most jarring is the posters’ contempt for Canada: “Ms. Farooq's hatred for the country is palpable,” the reporters write,

She hardly ever calls Canada by its name, rather repeatedly referring to it as "this filthy country." It's a sentiment shared by many of her friends, one of whom states that the laws of the country are irrelevant because they are not the laws of God.

In late April of 2004, a poster asks the forum members to share their impressions of what makes Canada unique. Nada's answer is straightforward. "Who cares? We hate Canada."

Farooq rails against democratic institutions and secular governments:

"Are you accepting a system that separates religion and state?" she asks. "Are you gonna [sic] give your pledge of allegiance to a party that puts secular laws above the laws of Allah? Are you gonna [sic] worship that which they worship? Are you going to throw away the most important thing that makes you a muslim [sic]?"

Her views on Jews are hardly surprising:

May Allah crush these jews, [sic] bring them down to their kneees, humuliate [sic] them. Ya Allah make their women widows and their children orphans.

But she is equally intolerant of homosexuals, and of Muslims who do not share her embrace of terrorism and her disdain for Canada and the west. Alongside a photograph of a rally held by a Canadian support group for gay Muslims she writes:

Look at these pathetic people ... They should all be sent to Saudi, where these sickos are executed or crushed by a wall, in public.

All this is combined with the most self-serving paranoia, which insists that Muslims are the perpetual victims of conspiracies and persecution at the hands of non-Muslims:

"You don't know that the Muslims in Canada will never be rounded up and put into internment camps like the Japanese were in WWII!" [another woman] writes in one 2004 post. This is a time when Muslims "are being systematically cleansed from the earth," she adds.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

US Attorney General Gonzales in Israel

President Bush Swears in Gonzales as A-G (White House)

US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is currently in Israel, where I had the chance to attend a lecture he delivered at Tel Aviv University on “Global Law Enforcement after 9/11.” Sponsored by the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, and by the Faculty of Law, the talk was introduced by both the president of the university and the rector of the law faculty. The audience was made up of scholars, students, and of course, the American ambassador to Israel, Richard Jones, as well as a number of embassy staffers.

Strangely enough, Gonzales spent the larger part of his lecture talking about international cooperation in the realm of traditional law enforcement, singling out such crimes as human trafficking, child pornography, corruption, trade in illegal drugs, and intellectual property violations, and the multilateral approaches to them. He even cited the case of Ze’ev Rosenstein, the Israeli crime boss recently extradited to the US for his involvement in a sophisticated ecstasy ring. Going out of his way to praise multilateral approaches on the criminal front, Gonzales seemed to be avoiding the controversies around his particular juridical innovations in the post-9/11 era. This became abundantly clear during question period.

The critics in the audience were not deterred by rector Zvi Shtauber’s warm welcoming words to Gonzales - “the atmosphere here is very warm toward you and to President Bush” – nor by the Attorney General’s praise for “this wonderful little country.”

One of the first issues raised was Guantanamo. An audience member asked for how long the US planned to maintain the current situation, where detainees are denied access to a lawyer and held without charges. The Attorney General’s response was inauspiciously weak. Gonzales repeated several times that “people have a lot of misinformation about Guantanamo,” without doing anything to engage the question before him. Then, as a further defense, he explained that some countries did not want to repatriate detainees whom the US was willing to release. To illustrate this, Gonzales chose an example that actually did not fit the case: he told the audience that China had wanted some detainees who were Chinese citizens, but that the US refused to release them because they were sure to be tortured in their home country. Coming from one of the individuals who signed off on the infamous “torture memorandum,” this is bizarre, to say the least.

More disconcerting was Gonzales’s recurring invocation of the “poppa knows best” model. Even after Abu Ghraib, as well as the numerous smaller-scale improprieties, the Attorney General seemed to insist that the administration would do what is right, even without the usual legal procedures that one would associate with due process of the law. Thus, in response to an audience member who asked whether there were any US courts to which Guantanamo detainees could appeal, Gonzales recycled a slogan that critics who believe that the administration operates without any checks are simply wrong.

At the same time, Gonzales continued to pay lip service to the importance of protecting civil liberties, insisting that it was possible to respect basic human dignities as well as to protect one’s country. In the same breath, he asked whether the Geneva Conventions “still play the same role as before” in the post-9/11 era. Somewhat cavalierly, he answered his rhetorical question, with the words that they were “still important.”

See also the coverage in the Jerusalem Post and the Daily Telegraph.

Reactions to the Gaza Crisis

Israel, Egypt, and the Gaza Strip (CNN)

One thing that I consider a very positive development is the Egyptian and French participation in the negotiations to secure the release of the kidnapped soldier. I do not know how long they will maintain their involvement, but it can only be welcomed.

The Egyptians realize that an escalation in the Gaza Strip is not in their interest. My guess is that Mubarak wants to avoid a repeat of the mass demonstrations that broke out in Cairo at the height of the Al-Aqsa Intifada. When I was in Cairo more than a year ago, the intifada seemed to be a little less on the minds of Egyptians. I do recall passing through one village saturated with fading posters of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin (by then dead) on my way to a Coptic Monastery outside of Cairo. Another good reason for the Egyptians to get involved in Gaza is that not doing so will bite them in the behind at some point. At least one of the bombers involved in the terrorist attacks from Dahab was from the Gaza Strip or received his explosives there, from what I recall. I have never understood why the Egyptian security forces are not cracking down harder on the rampant smuggling of weapons and other goods (including prostitutes) from the Sinai into the Gaza Strip often via a network of tunnels. Perhaps economic considerations are part of it: I did not get the impression that the economy of the Sinai, except for the tourist resorts, is doing very well. Maybe the economy of the northern Sinai depends on the revenue derived from smuggling and the authorities simply do not want to rock the boat too much and turn a blind eye to what is going on. It's clear that smuggling is a major business.

An article by Doron Almog, published in Summer 2004 in the Middle East Quarterly (XI:3) says that the smuggling networks involved extend all the way to the Nile Delta and probably involve the Muslim Brotherhood and other sympathizers of the Palestinian struggle. Writing in 2004, Almog accused the Egyptian government of failing to crack down on cross-border smuggling in order to support the Palestinian "resistance" and in order to channel the energies of local extremists elsewhere. I really wonder if the Egyptians have changed their perspective since the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and since the rise of Hamas. After all, Hamas is a movement that the Egyptian regime, which totally supressed the Muslim Brotherhood in the last parliamentary elections, does not like and does not want to strengthen.

Gaza Hostage Crisis

Kidnapped IDF soldier Cpl. Gil'ad Shalit
Kidnapped IDF soldier Cpl. Gil'ad Shalit

By now, most of our readers will have heard about the very well-coordinated attack carried out two days ago by members of at least three different Palestinian factions against Israeli army positions just east of the Gaza Strip. The attackers killed two Israeli soldiers and kidnapped a third. Here are some facts that I consider significant enough to highlight:

  • The tunnel used by the attackers to get into Israeli territory and surprise the soldiers from the rear was 1 km in length and took about 2 months to dig
  • Hamas is not "one organization with a single leadership, making decisions collectively" as Ghazi Hamad, spokesman for the Hamas government in Gaza, claimed in an interview with the New York Times on June 17, 2006
  • The allegedly disciplined military wing of Hamas, "Kata'ib 'Izz al-Din al-Qassam", has splinter factions that oppose certain steps being taken by the political leadership of Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza
  • The attack was probably launched without the knowledge of the political leadership of Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza, but with the full-hearted support of Khalid Mesh'al, the leader of the military wing of Hamas stationed in Damascus, Syria

For more detail on Hamas Prime Minister Isma'il Haniyye's complete lack of control vis-a-vis the Mesh'al-controlled military wing of his own movement, see:

Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff, "Clock is ticking down," 27/06/2006

the original Hebrew version of the above article

For those who haven't read it yet and are wondering how this assault was executed, here's an excerpt from another article by Ha'aretz military commentator (and Hip Hop critic) Amos Har'el:
The tunnel was apparently very deep and almost a kilometer long, emerging into Israel about 300 meters east of border fence, just north of Kerem Shalom. Despite the army's numerous lookout posts in this area, no soldiers noticed the Palestinians emerging from the tunnel.

After they emerged, the Palestinians split into three groups that attacked the outpost almost simultaneously. The southern strike force, consisting of two Palestinians, attacked the outpost's "pillbox" and even tried to scale it with a ladder, sparking a fire fight in which both assailants were killed. Three soldiers were wounded during this fight, one moderately and two lightly.

The second strike force wasted most of its ammunition, which included a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) and hand grenades, on an empty armored personnel carrier that had been stationed near the outpost as a decoy.

However, the northern strike force scored a major success: Under cover of a line of trees, it was able to approach a tank located about 600 meters north of the pillbox undetected and attack it with an RPG and hand grenades. The attack killed two of the four-member crew [...]

After the attack, the six assailants left alive returned to Gaza overland, rather than via the tunnel, using either a small bomb or an antitank missile to blow a hole in the border fence. According to army sources, the entire incident lasted about 10 minutes.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Gaza & the Battle over International Public Opinion

The ten-year-old Huda Ghaliyya - a new Palestinian symbol? (AFP, SZ)

A Joint Post by Amos and J.

I've been kicking myself for it these past few days, but I have simply been unable to post on the latest developments in Israel and the Gaza Strip area. I think this paralysis set in about a week ago, when Amos and I set out to report on an article published in the German Sueddeutsche Zeitung about the tragic killing of several Palestinians from Beit Lahiyya who had simply gone to the beach. Following the incident, the Israel Defence Forces conducted an inquiry on the basis of which it rejected allegations that Israeli forces had fired the shell that killed members of the Ghaliyya family. The inquiry said that the shrapnel found in the bodies of Palestinians wounded in the incident who are being treated at Israeli hospitals did not match Israeli munitions. The Israelis also suggested that the deaths of the Ghaliyya family may have been caused by Hamas mines or booby-traps buried in the sand to thwart attempted landings by Israeli naval commandos.

It was an exposé in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung written by Thorsten Schmitz that strengthened our initial resolve to write something about this issue. In his article, Schmitz takes a critical view of the role Palestinian camera crews, on whom international news agencies rely almost exclusively for footage, have played in shaping portrayal of the conflict. He calls the work of these crews “Pallywood” and points to several instances in which they have been involved in attempts to trick public opinion. Schmitz recalls a “60 Minutes” documentary in which footage was shown of Palestinians transporting an alleged casualty of Israeli soldiers on a stretcher. At some point, the people carrying the stretcher of the “fallen” Palestinian stumble and fall themselves. Suddenly, the earthbound “fallen comrade” is seen bracing himself and nimbly jumping back onto the stretcher. Palestinian crews who see themselves as part of the Palestinian struggle have often been complicit in these kinds of distortions by complying with the directives of militants and by filming and re-distributing images on a selective basis. Schmitz notes that in a more recent incident, members of the Islamic Jihad whose car had been fired upon by an Israeli gunship were seen scrambling to remove a home-made rocket from their car to make it seem as if they had been unarmed. Tragically, the missile intended for these people killed up to eight civilians. It was images of these casualties that were most prominently broadcast around the world.

Schmitz argues that Palestinian footage of the Gaza beach tragedy is another example of "how the Palestinians sometimes distort the truth" [Ein Beispiel, wie Palästinenser manchmal die Wahrheit verbiegen]. In his account, Schmitz concentrates primarily on the cameraman Zakariya Abu Harbed who made Huda Ghaliyya famous, and on some hitherto ignored aspects of his footage. Huda was the young girl who lost her father and other family members on the beach and was declared an "orphan of the occupation" (a child who loses his/her father is considered an orphan in Arab society) and adopted by both Palestinian PM Haniyyeh and President Abbas.

In a telephone interview conducted by Schmitz, Abu Harbed insisted that he had arrived at the scene of the killings with the ambulances sent to rescue the wounded. On his tape, however, he was somehow able to film the arrival of the rescue crews. Furthermore, some of the injured and dead people have already been covered with blankets - Schmitz questions who might have done this if Abu Harbed came with the ambulances. More disturbingly, the footage shows a man lying motionless on the ground, covered by a blanket and presumably dead, suddenly getting up and holding a rife. In the background, there are dozens of men, most sporting beards typical of Hamas members [Schmitz's words], who are apparently collecting pieces of evidence - items whose existence has not been acknowledged by the Palestinians. There is also no crater visible in the footage. None of the "rescue workers" are doing anything to help the wounded people.

Schmitz also accuses the cameraman or others of having choreographed Huda's mourning scene. The reporter asked Abu Harbed why he did not try to calm down the hysterical Huda when he arrived on the scene, instead of following her with his camera for several minutes while she ran down the beach screaming. Abu Harbed responds: "She asked me to film her. She wanted to be seen with her father and to show the world what crimes Israel is committing." Needless to say, it is highly unlikely that a young girl of Huda’s age would be pre-occupied with these kinds of thoughts at the moment that her family lay dying.

The more and more I thought about Schmitz’s article, however, the less comfortable I felt writing only about this story. It turns out that that since its publication, other reports have provided more detail on the beach tragedy. Ha’aretz reporter Gideon Levy, for example, interviewed Huda Ghaliyya’s aunt in an article published on Friday, June 23. It could very well be true that Abu Harbed’s footage was choreographed in part, but that unexploded IDF ordinance that had landed on the beach some time prior to this is nevertheless to blame for the death of those civilians. Somewhere else I read that the shrapnel that did not match Israeli artillery might be accounted for by the fact that it stems from fragments of cars parked nearby. In any case, in subsequent incidents, innocent Palestinian civilians were again killed by Israeli missile fire. It is ludicrous to call these incidents deliberate killings of civilians, because it is simply not in the interest of the Israeli Air Force to miss its real targets. They are, however, tragic nevertheless, and it seems almost meaningless to focus only on the Gaza beach incident to prove a point about Palestinian distortions.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Israeli "Refugees"

A recent Ha'aretz article reveals that in 2005, 679 Israeli citizens, most of them immigrants to Israel from the former Soviet Union, applied for refugee status in another country. Of these people, 151 were recognized as refugees and granted "asylum". In most cases, requests for refugee status were made in Canada. The article doesn't reveal on what basis these people filed for refugee status, but from what I've heard in the past, the applicants are usually non-Jews who claim that they faced persecution on religious grounds in Israel. Under the Israeli Law of Return, any "child and a grandchild of a Jew, the spouse of a Jew, the spouse of a child of a Jew and the spouse of a grandchild of a Jew" are eligible to immigrate to Israel.

Many immigrants to Israel from Russia and other former Soviet republics are in fact not Jewish according to religious law. However, this has not prevented them from doing quite well economically compared to past immigrants. In Beer Sheva, a town that has a very large community of immigrants from the former Soviet Union (I'm sure they comprise at least 30 percent of the population), one sometimes gets the impression that every second or third physician is a recent immigrant from Russia, Belarus or the Ukraine. In general, the immigrants from the former Soviet Union, the majority of whom came to Israel in the early 1990s, after the breakup of the USSR, have integrated into Israeli life and all that it entails. You will find immigrants working in all sectors of the economy: from service jobs or security to the high-tech industry. Those who are not Jewish do not face any restrictions on their right to worship, although most are in case secular.

In short, to allege that non-Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union face persecution or systematic discrimination in Israel is nonsense. There is certainly resentment and prejudice among "veteran" Israelis against the "Russians", especially in towns in Israel's periphery such as Beer Sheva. It's common to hear Israelis, especially people who immigrated from North Africa or the Middle East in the 1950s and 1960s, complain about the fact that immigrants receive too many benefits and subsidies from the state. People also accuse the immigrants of being mobsters and prostitutes. And, the fact that many immigrants are decidedly secular and have almost no attachment to Judaism gets the more traditional, religious segments of the Israeli population angry. But it seems to me as if it's usually disadvantaged segments of the Israeli population -- poor people -- who express the most prejudiced views about the immigrants. To me, it often boils down to jealousy.

As a Canadian living in Israel, I have to say that I'm ashamed that Canada is granting refugee status to people who are clear frauds, instead of helping people who truly deserve asylum. Those Israelis claiming refugee status are trying to get into Canada for economic reasons. I've always had the impression that there is something very wrong with Canada's refugee policy. Don't get me wrong, I am not against the idea of granting refuge to those who deserve it, whatever their country of origin, but abuse of the refugee system is rampant. I've known quite a few people myself who immigrated to Canada by concocting stories to get refugee status. Even people at Citizenship and Immigration Canada have complained about what is going in their department. The problem seems to be that other channels of legal immigration are too restrictive.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Senate Approves Sanctions for PA

The US Senate has voted today to impose sanctions on the Palestinian Authority "until it acknowledges Israel's right to exist, renounces violence and accepts past peace agreements with Israel."

The US House has already passed a similar but not identical measure. Before the President can sign the legislation into law, the discrepancy between the two bills will have to be worked out in conference.

While AIPAC's horse seems to be the House bill, which is less flexible in providing humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians, the Israel Policy Forum is backing the Senate measure. As it turns out, the Lobby isn't so monolithic after all...

Monday, June 19, 2006

"It's a Funny War": Redefining Success in Iraq

I recently posted on the difficulty of taking the long view of things in Iraq. Since that time, in the past week, the Bush administration’s communications team has done a remarkable job of clearing my head. Last week was the week of redefining “success” in Iraq. I guess, according to the White House’s logic, the delinquency of the press corps justifies the PR blitz. Here’s Press Secretary Tony Snow on CBS’ Face the Nation on Sunday:
“[I]t's a funny war because ... that becomes the big story, rather than the fact that you've got almost 60,000 forces on the ground going after bad guys.”
Snow went on to lament the lack of a Battle of the Bulge “moment” by which to measure success in Iraq.

It’s no coincidence that Snow chided the media and made an inept attempt at historical analogy in the same breath. This is part of a two-pronged effort to reverse the downward slide of American support for the war. Take for example, Donald Rumsfeld’s commencement address at the Virginia Military Institute on May 16, 2006:
“You enter the world at a complicated time. Today's world is freer than it has ever been, but those freedoms are threatened as never before. We are a nation at war, but it is a war unlike any other we have fought. For the first time in American history, the full view of war -- its glories and its horrors -- is on display to the world -- 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Today's war fighters are conducting battles in an era of digital cameras, satellite phones, the Internet, blogs, and Google. As a result, the American people are seeing things they never saw before about the realities of major conflict and postwar violence. And they will need the help of those of you who have studied military strategy to better understand what it is they are seeing. And to become more aware that war requires continuous adjustments and calibrations, just as the enemy constantly adjusts its tactics.

Today, for example, we remember the D-Day Invasion as a great American victory. But many historians also remember it for a series of strategic and tactical errors and decisions based on imperfect intelligence, difficulties that cost thousands of lives, and delayed the Allied advance. Actually, it was undoubtedly both. Which of course is the nature of warfare."
Perhaps times are just too complicated for Dick Cheney. He stuck with his story today, insisting he stands by his statement of a year ago that the Iraq insurgency is in its “last throes”:
“Cheney predicted that 10 years from now people will look back at 2005 and say, ‘That's when we began to get a handle on the long-term future of Iraq.’"

But let’s meet the Administration on their terms – and perhaps this is exactly what Democratic leaders should be doing! How shall we define “success?” The Sunday NYT broached this question in an editorial. Take success one issue at a time, says the Times; start with: police, sectarian violence, reconstruction. On all three counts, it’s a pretty grim scene over there. But is it getting worse or are we “turning the corner” as the White House would have us believe? A Week in Review graphic demonstrates the difficulty of getting the raw empirical data one needs to see just how much worse it seems to be getting.

So what about anecdotal evidence? It’s ugly. The Washington Post ran a little noticed story Sunday about a cable from the US embassy in Iraq. The missive is “a stark compendium of its local employees' daily hardships and pressing fears cable from the US embassy.”

Meanwhile, a reinvigorated Karl Rove indicated in comments in New Hampshire last week that the Republicans not backing away from the issue of Iraq in the run-up to midterm elections in November. And House Republicans pushed through a non-binding measure on Friday declaring that an “arbitrary date for the withdrawal or redeployment” of American forces is not in the national interest.

If the Republicans haven’t redefined success in Iraq yet while the Democrats scramble for the Alternative, the GOP has certainly made headway in un-defining it.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

More on the Gaza Beach Tragedy

The scene in Sderot where another Qassam landed this morning (local time)

A Qassam landed near a public library in Sderot today. Meanwhile, the debate about the deaths on the Gaza beach is continuing. Ha'aretz reports that,
Meretz faction leader MK Zahava Gal-On called on the government Saturday to initiate the establishment of an international panel to investigate the blast that killed seven Palestinian civilians on a Gaza beach last week. Her comments followed a report Saturday in the British newspaper The Times indicating the army had erased details from its probe into the Gaza beach deaths.
I also wanted to give our readers a sense of some local reactions to the initial news of the blast. I witnessed a protest in Haifa on the Sunday following the deaths. It was held on Ben-Gurion Street in the German Colony. As this street is located at the foot of the Bahai'i Gardens and is full of shops and restaurants, it tends to attract tourists (many of them Bahai), local Christian Arabs (who also run many of the businesses on the street), and Muslims. About twenty people were gathered at the top of the street with signs in various languages, including Arabic, Hebrew, English, and French. One sign read “Occupation = Terror = די [Enough]. But much of the writing referred to the killing of children. Most noticeable were the flags - large Palestinian flags – that many of the protesters were waving.

During the approximately 20 minutes that I was on the scene, most of the slogans shouted were in Arabic, which I did not understand. other than a few references to al yahud. I did make out a few of the Hebrew slogans. Here are some samples:
Peretz, Peretz, ya rotze'ah. Intifidah tenaze'ah [Peretz, Peretz, you murderer. The intifadah will win].
Another one was:
[NAME OF A PERSON] ata yehudi, rotze'ah yeladim. [... you're a Jew, you’re a child killer].
There were no real negative reactions to the protesters - verbal or otherwise - from any of the bypassers, at least during the time I was present. If anything, a few drivers honked in support as they rode by.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Mondial Part II: Israeli Flags off the Field

The sign reads “Red [Card] for Ahmadinejad” (AP, ZDF)

German Jews, Iranian dissidents, and German leftists used the occasion of the Iran-Portugal World Cup match in Frankfurt on Saturday, June 17 to join forces in protest against Ahmadinejad and the Iranian regime. They had previously demonstrated together in Nuremberg (Nürnberg), on June 11, before the Iran-Mexico game. The protest in Frankfurt was explicitly directed at the vice president of the Islamic Republic, Mohammed Aliabadi, who had come to watch the game. Although the right-wing extremist NPD (German National-Democratic Party) had attempted to stage a rally in support of Ahmadinejad and his denial of the Shoah, the city of Frankfurt forbade the neo-Nazi protest, citing security concerns (Oberbayrisches Volksblatt, HR-Online). However, neo-Nazis did stage a protest Saturday, June 10 in Nürnberg, calling on “Solidarity with Iran” and shouting “Ausländer raus” [foreigners go home] (NZZ).

The German Jewish historian Arno Lustiger, a Holocaust survivor, demanded that Ahmadinejad be banned from entering Europe. He called on the Federal Republic of Germany to show [the Iranian president] the red card,” and remarked that Ahmadinejad hoped to plunge Israel into a “nuclear Holocaust” (HR-Online).

The Frankfurt and Nuremberg demonstrations were both supported by many mainstream German politicians. Claudia Roth from the Green Party as well as the Bavarian Interior Minister Günther Beckstein of the Christian Social Union (CSU) addressed the Nuremberg protests. Beckstein told the protesters that

Only a diplomatic passport would prevent [Ahmadinejad’s] arrest, should the Iranian president come to Germany,

adding that while

Germans are friends of the Iranian people, they are strong opponents of a man who denies the Holocaust (

At the Saturday protest, the leader of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in Frankfurt, Franz Frey, declared that

the Iranian regime’s hate-spewing preachers are not our friends and therefore not welcome (HR-Online).

In the meantime, on the football side of things, Portugal disposed of Iran 2:0, preventing a second-round appearance by the Islamic Republic (and, possibly, a visit by Ahmadinejad). Mexico had earlier defeated the Iranians 3:1.

The Mondial Part I: Israeli Flag on the Field

John Pantsil represents (Ha'aretz) - Thanks!

Unfortunately, Israel did not qualify for the 2006 World Cup, although the blue-white came incredibly close. Luckily, John Pantsil, a starter for the Ghanaian national team who also plays for Hapoel Tel Aviv in the Israel League, was there to represent during his country's match against the Czech Republic. Ghana won 2:0. Nice.

ADDENDUM: Apparently, the Israeli-flag waving by the Ghanaians has made some people very angry. Check out this post about some of these reactions on the very interesting Egptian blog, The Big Pharaoh.

Friday, June 16, 2006

The End of Israel

Ahmed Yousef, a political adviser to Palestinian PM Haniyyeh who is known as a Hamas moderate, has a new book coming out in English. He outlined the main argument of The End of the Jewish State to an Israeli reporter:
Your state is temporary, but the Jewish people will continue to live ... You will be able to live with us here, in one state, as you lived peacefully under the flag of Islam for hundreds of years (Cited in Ha'aretz)

Thanks, but I'll stick with self-determination.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Olmert Pitches Convergence Plan to the Europeans

An honor guard for Olmert in France (Channel 1)

It is not clear what Israeli PM Ehud Olmert hoped to get out of his trip to Europe other than crumpets and croissants. So far, Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac have reacted almost identically to Olmert's declarations about the great concessions he is prepared to make as part of his "convergence" plan: with tired indifference. Contrary to Le Monde, which imagined another instance of Anglo-American perfidy, speculating that

son plan dit de "regroupement" ("convergence" en anglais) ... aurait reçu les soutiens de MM. Bush et Blair [Olmert's "regroupement," or "convergence" plan in English, has received the support of Bush and Blair]

Blair actually did not endorse the convergence plan at all (see Aluf Benn's column in Ha'aretz for an analysis of the British position).

Olmert's plan envisions the "realignment" or bringing into Israel of most West Bank settlements, as well as the inclusion of some land beyond the 1967 borders to make the large, nearby settlement blocs continguous with the pre-1967 lines. It represents the second stage of the withdrawal from the territories acquired by Israel as part of the Six-Day War.

While Blair and Chirac did not express enthusiasm for convergence, they also have not expressed overt opposition to Olmert's plan. Rather, they have chosen to chant the old mantra of negotiated settlements, which Olmert has been clever enough to make a central part of his addresses as well. A unilateral solution, he emphasized several times, would only result if no partner could be found. Along the way, he repeated Israel's desire to work with Abbas, while stressing his opposition to dealing with Hamas, which still has not recognized the Jewish state's right to exist. This latter position too went unopposed by the Europeans. Here it is relevant to note the "overwhelmingly negative" perception of Hamas among Europeans reported in a recent poll by The Israel Project.

The withdrawal from the West Bank will be far more complicated than the "disengagement" from the Gaza strip. This is obviously true with respect to the number of people and settlements that will be evacuated, as well as with regard to the issue of final borders. But on the international front too, certain difficulties loom ominously. The Europeans will balk at recognizing the convergence as a withdrawal "from territories occupied in 1967" without serious efforts at negotiations with the Palestinians. And there is the rub. There is, as of yet, no partner on the Palestinian side who would accept Olmert's plan. Thus, if Israel hopes to attain international recognition of its new borders through another series of unilateral moves, it had better think again.

European Public Opinion on Israel

Olmert and Chirac in front of the Palais de l'Élysée (AP/REMY DE LA MAUVINIERE)

Olmert is currently on a tour of European capitals that has included meetings with British PM Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac so far. His stop in Paris, which began on Wednesday, June 14, coincided with the release of some interesting and pertinent new poll data by the Pew Research Center. According to the Center's survey of 17,000 people around the world, pro-Israel sentiment has shot up in Europe:
There has been a marked change in views of the Middle East conflict in both Germany and France. In both countries, increasing numbers sympathize with Israel; Germans now side with Israel over the Palestinians by about two-to-one (37%-18%) (PEW Center).
Perhaps the biggest surprise is France, regarded by many Jews as Israel's most intractable foe on the continent. According to Shmuel Rosner of Ha'aretz, 38% of French respondents side with the Israelis, and 38% side with the Palestinians; the "tie" is a marked improvement over previous results. A different poll conducted by The Israel Project registered a drop in pro-Palestinian sentiment in France from 47% (in 2002) to 21% today.

In Britain, however Palestinians still draw 4% more support than Israel. Anti-Israel sentiment was strongest among Spanish respondents. Interestingly enough, PEW reports a similar decline in approval of the US:
Just 37% of the Spanish feel favorably toward Americans, down from 55% last year.
It remains to be seen what effects if any these poll data will have on the reception accorded to Olmert's "convergence" plan in Europe - on which more to follow.

Also significant is that 77% of Turks, often perceived as America's allies in the Muslim world, now describe themselves as being opposed to America's war on terror (up from 56% in 2004). At the same time, the PEW Center notes that
Negative views of France have increased over the past year, especially in Muslim countries. In Turkey, 61% feel unfavorably toward France, up from 51% last year.
These numbers from Turkey are probably a reflection of France's (relatively) bold stance on recognition of the Armenian genocide, and French legislators' attempts to outlaw its denial (see our earlier post on this).

Olmert meets long-lost twin

Olmert and Chirac today in Paris (Ha'aretz)

Is it just me, or is there an uncanny resemblance between Ehud Olmert and Jacques Chirac in this picture?

Monday, June 12, 2006

Military Probe Likely to Conclude that IDF Not to Blame for Gaza Bombing

Amos Harel reports that an examination of shrapnel removed from wounded victims, footage of the explosion, photographs of the crater, intelligence, and firing data suggest that the explosions that killed 7 people on a Gaza beach were probably not caused by an errant IDF artillery shell. The final conclusions of the investigation will be presented on Tuesday night.

CNN has also picked up the story, reporting that:
An explosion on a Gaza beach that killed seven people last week was caused by explosives planted there by Palestinian militants, not artillery fire from an Israeli navy gunboat, Israeli military sources said.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Gaza Beach Deaths Might Have Been Caused by Hamas Daisy Chain Traps

Maybe we should have listened more closely to all the warnings about waiting until the inquiry had finished its work before rushing to judgment. DebkaFile reports that intelligence shared among the US, Israel, Egypt, and the PA
has yielded an initial impression that the blast that caused seven Paletinian deaths on a Gaza beach Friday, june 9, was caused by one of a series of bombs Hamas planted last week on the northern Gazan beach. They were put there as daisy chain traps in case Israeli commandos landed by sea to take Qassam missile launchers in northern Gaza by surprise.
Ha'aretz has also taken up the story. Amos Harel reports that military investigators have expressed increasing doubts that the explosion was caused by an errant IDF shell fired on Friday. However, it is possible that it was caused by unexploded IDF ordnance that had landed on the beach in previous weeks. Here is the article in English.

Reflections on Friday

The remains of a Qassam rocket that landed in
Sderot (Kobi Gideon/Baubau in Ha'aretz)

On Sunday, two days after the tragedy on the Gaza beach, a number of Ha'aretz columnists reflected on the event. None of their reflections were particularly surprising, though this does not invalidate them. The prophetic voice of Gideon Levy rang most scathingly against the actions of the Israeli army. According to Levy,
The events of this past weekend should not come as a surprise to anyone: The deterioration has been going on for weeks, and the question that should be asked is not what Israel is doing to counter the Qassams, but what it is not doing. An army that fires missiles at busy streets and tank shells at a beach cannot claim there was no intent to harm innocent civilians.
Levy has consistently deplored the cheapening of human life over the past five years, as he railed against the Israeli occupation in countless columns. In his critique, he also included another attack on the morality of the policy of "targeted assasinations." That policy, the ongoing occupation of the West Bank, the settlements, and the deaths of the civlians on the Gaza beach are all inextricably linked, for Levy.

The only thing missing from Levy's picture, of course, are the actions of Palestinian militants. Would this have happened if there had been no Qassam firing from the area of the beach? Is it not true that the Qassam-launchers have fired their rockets from civilian-populated areas at Israeli towns?

The consistent elision of the agency of the Palestinian organizations in Levy's eloquent appeals has drawn some legitimate criticism, sometimes in the form of parody. In a recent comment on Ha'aretz talkback (not a forum usually distinguished by high level of debate - though, to be fair, the Hebrew contributions are on average slightly higher than the imbecilic rantings of Ha'aretz's English readership), a reader posting as "Gideon Levy" responded to an article about a gruesome honor killing that the crime was the "result of the Israeli occupation." In Levy's defense, however, the prophet has no obligation to be balanced. He is singularly dedicated to the moral state of his people.

Bradley Burston, the Anglo columnist for Ha'aretz, also assumed the prophetic position, in a column entitled "The blood on our hands." Burston rightly deplores our (allegedly) quick ability to "disengage" from the deaths of these innocents. At the end of the day, he concludes,
We can live with it [the deaths], fundamentally, because we don't know what else to do, and because the only thing left for us to believe, is that it's wrong to negotiate.
Burston criticizes the army for holding out the option that these deaths might have been caused by a Palestinian "work-accident" (a possibility to which I also referred in my earlier post); such displacement, according to him, replaces feelings of guilt "with indignation over the world's propensity to pre-judge and condemn us." Perhaps that is true in this case. But, on the other hand, there have been cases where Palestinian militant groups blamed Israel for their own actions. We must only recall the rockets that exploded during a Hamas parade, as well as the many Palestinian victims of shooting by their own gunmen. Thus, it seems justified that the IDF wanted to complete its investigation before accepting responsibility.

Furthermore, Burston's column is ultimately an argument against unilateral action - as his use of the word "disengage" above indicates. I, too, favor negotiated settlements rather than unilateral solutions, but I would be hard-pressed to use this incident to support this position. The Qassam firing took place despite a ceasefire
; I see very little evidence that those carrying out the shooting would have felt bound by peace negotiations to stop launching rockets at Sderot.

While I mourn the loss of life along with Levy and Burston, and while I applaud their efforts to make Israelis conscious of Palestinian suffering, I am more persuaded by Ze'ev Schiff's conclusion that
Despite precise armaments, such incidents will continue to occur, so long as the war continues
And by the Ha'aretz editorial's observation that
Scaling down the counterattack on those launching the Qassams is akin to inviting [Israeli] families with children to up and leave the communities that are considered to be in danger.
As long as Palestinian militants continue their attacks, Israel is bound to act to protect its citizens, and cannot be expected to rely on goodwill, international law, or Abbas's promises to do so.

Saturday, June 10, 2006


The scene at the beach (AFP), from an article with the questionable
headline "Massacre sur une plage" [Massacre on a beach]

I heard the terrible news on the radio sometime on late Friday afternoon: seven Palestinian civilians had been killed on a beach in Gaza. All of the victims, which included a number of children, were apparently related. At the moment, the circumstances of their deaths are still not entirely clear, although preliminary findings of an IDF investigation indicate that they were caused by an errant Israeli artillery shell (Ha'aretz). Israeli air force and navy bombardment has been ruled out as a cause. However, there is also a slight chance that accidental Palestinian fire or a “work accident” might have been the cause (Ha'retz). In any case, my condolences go out to the surviving family members.

After initial reports of this tragedy, the IDF immediately suspended further artillery shelling until a military inquiry reporting to Defense Minister Amir Peretz concludes its work by Monday night. The IDF also apologized, stating that it “regretted the strike on innocents.” However, Chief of Staff Dan Halutz cautioned – and this was apparent in an Israeli radio interview given shortly after the first news – that the army was not taking responsibility for the incident until the end of the investigation (Ha'aretz). He further emphasized that the shelling had been in response to Qassam rocket attacks on Israel, and reiterated the IDF’s responsibility to protect Israeli citizens.

A few people in Israel have criticized the artillery shelling of the Gaza strip that began a few months ago after a number of Qassam rockets hit civilian targets in Sderot and other southern towns. But these critical voices make up a very small minority. For one, until now there have been very few civilian casualties as a result of this shelling. Secondly, in the wake of the complete withdrawal from Gaza, even most of the Europeans have realized that the Qassam rocket attacks on Israeli civilians living in the green line are simply unacceptable. Thus, until now, Israel has been able to shell and bomb rocket launching sites and terrorists on their way to missile attacks on Israel without much condemnation. Unfortunately, anti-Qassam measures taken by Israel have still proven relatively ineffective, though there had been some improvement in the past week. The tragic accident of last Friday, however, is likely to renew calls on Israel to limit its responses to Qassam fire, which is likely to put Israel in a dangerous predicament. Such calls also obscure the simple truth that if Palestinian militants were not engaging in rocket attacks on Israel, the IDF would not have been shelling Gaza in the first place.

In Europe, the French delivered the harshest condemnation of Israel, calling the bombardment of the beach “disproportionate” and deploring Israel’s actions. There was little understanding for Israel’s need to defend its own population against deliberate targeting by the Qassam launchers.

Of course, France’s outrage did not come close to the efforts of various Arab statesmen to use the accident to slam Israel. Lebanon and Syria together denounced the shelling as a “massacre.” The Syrian Foreign Ministry said that the attack "confirms once again that Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people were continuing, unrestrained, under the eyes and ears of the international community."

These kinds of declarations joined the images broadcast on Al Jazeera and other Arab television stations from the horrible scene. They as well as the Palestinian Hamas government are being quite clear in presenting the Israeli shelling as deliberate, which the use of the term massacre also implies. Hamas wasted no time in calling the “Israeli massacres” a “direct opening battle” that would merit a “tough, strong and unique response” (Ha'aretz) .

Never mind that Hamas had already re-started direct involvement in Qassam firing in the week before the accidental shelling of the beach. Furthermore, after the killing of the Popular Resistance Committee leader Jamal Abu Samhadana on Thursday night, after an Israel Air Force strike on a PRC training camp (apparently, it was not a targeted assassination – Samhadana was in the wrong place, at the wrong time), Hamas already declared that “the cease-fire no longer exists” (Ha'aretz).

After what happened on the Gaza beach, Hamas, attentive to public opinion that it is helping to whip up further by presenting this as a deliberate slaughter of civilians, is likely to return to full-scale attacks on Israel. In any case, all too many people across the globe are all too willing to believe that Israel killed these innocent civilians in cold blood. Furthermore, at a time when terrorists in Iraq are killing dozens of innocent Muslim civilians every day, it must be cathartic to finally attribute a "murderous massacre" to Israel – even when it is clear to all objective observers that it was not a massacre at all but an accident.

In Egypt, insinuations that Israel had deliberately set out to kill the civilians were more moderately expressed; but they led Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit to make the ludicrous declaration that

The use of force by Israel in the Palestinian territories is a principle unacceptable in itself [because] responsibility for security in the territories is entrusted to the Palestinian Authority.

So Israel should just sit back and wait for the PA to do something when Palestinian terrorists fire rockets at Israelis.

Danny Rubenstein believes that the images of a Palestinian girl crying over her family members’ bodies, imploring mourners not to leave her alone will incite similar anger as the footage of the boy Mohammed al-Dura who was shot in his father’s arms at the beginning of the intifadah. BTW, it is very likely that he was actually shot by Palestinian gunmen not by IDF soldiers – the boy and his father were caught in crossfire.

Meanwhile, the Israeli military has offered to evacuate the wounded (who number nearly 40 people) to Israeli hospitals. One nine-year-old boy has been transferred to Israel for treatment (Ha'aretz).

Reactions in the European press have been relatively balanced, and in some sense overshadowed by the fight between Abbas and Haniyyeh about the referendum on the “prisoners’ document.” Le Monde referred to an “explosion qui a tué sept Palestiniens sur une plage à Gaza vendredi” [an explosion that killed 7 Palestinians on a beach in Gaza on Friday], emphasizing that the IDF was investigating, but also citing Abbas as denouncing “ces massacres sanglants … symbole d’une guerre d’extermination” [these bloody massacres…symbols of a war of extermination] – truly an outrageous statement. Le Figaro referred to “la bavure israélienne qui a cause la mort de sept civils palestiniens” [the Israeli error/blunder that caused the death of 7 Palestinian civilians]. The newspaper further stressed the regret expressed by Defense Minister Amir Peretz.

In Germany, on the other hand, the Süddeutsche Zeitung spoke of “einem israelischen Angriff auf eine palästinensische Familienfeier” [an Israeli attack on a Palestinian family celebration]! The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung also referred to an Israeli "attack" on a beach.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Long View on Iraq

Everyone’s taking the long view of things in Iraq today amidst all the good news: the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in an American air strike in Baquba and the successful formation of a new government. Bush has learned the lesson of “tough talk” indeed. In the Rose Garden this morning, the President almost seemed chastened. "We can expect the sectarian violence to continue," he warned. Does Bush really have the long view of things in mind? Or is the battered leader of a party facing a referendum in November on its rule simply insulating himself politically at a time when the number two Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, can say of today’s announcement, “"I think any day the headline is anything but another car bombing is a good day?”

The answer isn’t so simple. It’s a commonplace that the war in Iraq will be Bush’s legacy, and there’s no doubt in my mind that the man himself so believes. Don Rumsfeld has been criticized since (at least) 2003 for his long-term vision of transforming the US military into a slimmer, sleeker version of itself.

I’ve often wondered myself how the average observer of this war can possibly take a longer view. One suggestion I heard from an Islamic historian at the height of the sectarian violence that broke out after the bombing of the Golden Mosque was this: the centuries-old Sunni-Shia rivalry in Mesopotamia has yet to produce a full-blown sectarian war. Though what worries me now is the resources at stake, the ambitions to redraw the political geography of the region, that this could be the impetus that history has hitherto lacked.

There is much “contemporary history” being written on the current struggle in Iraq, from Bob Woodward’s Plan of Attack to fascinating official US government histories of the war and reconstruction effort in all their phases. Now comes the rather authoritative-looking analysis by Michael R. Gordon of the New York Times and General Bernard E. Trainor (ret.), Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq. Commentary has published a review of the book by the Hoover Institution’s Victor Davis Hanson. Hanson, an ancient historian by training and author of The Western Way of War, is a military historian who moonlights as a something of a conservative populist pundit, provocateur and intellectual. In this review, he sounds some of the same themes I heard in his speech to the University of California-Berkeley ROTC a few months ago; that 9/11 and the prosecution of the War on Terrorism ought to be viewed against the backdrop of ca. 2800 years of military history (taking things back to the “hoplite revolution”). Do military historians have the answers – or at least the perspective – we need? Hanson complains that the authors of Cobra II write
“as if going 7,000 miles into the heart of the ancient caliphate, taking out a mass murderer in three weeks, and then birthing three elections at the cost of 2,300 American fatalities might not be considered successful in the long and tragic annals of military history.”

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Khawla Haniyye Visits Israel

Palestinian PM's Daughter Leaving Eshel Prison

The past two weeks have seen a deluge of reports about the family ties linking Palestinian Prime Minister Ismā'īl Haniyye to, surprise, surprise, the state of Israel. It all started rather "innocently" with a visit gone awry. On 29 May 2006, Haniyye’s 17 year old daughter Khawla was briefly arrested as she was visiting her fiancé (himself an unidentified relative of hers) in the Eshel Prison near Be’er Sheva. It turns out that poor Khawla got herself into a bit of a jam, because she had used a personal identification card belonging to her finance’s sister. According to the Saudi-owned, London-based newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat, the Israelis caught on after listening in on the conversation between the couple and overhearing the unnamed finance’s enquiries about her father the Prime Minister. The girl was released by the Israeli police shortly thereafter and went back to the Gaza Strip from where she had entered Israel via the Erez Crossing. Haniyye, for his part, was said by Palestinian government spokesman Ghāzi Hamd to have responded to the news,"بأعصاب هادئة جدا جدا" ("very very calmly"). Yeah, right, I’m sure he cussed her out real good once she got back.

This story caused a small storm in the Israeli and Arab media. I was actually moderately impressed by Al-Sharq al-Awsat’s restrained coverage of this marginal event. On the one hand, the paper, like almost every Arab media outlet, has a dumb tendency to preface anything Israel-related with the word "occupation" as in:

افرجت سلطات الاحتلال الاسرائيلي عن خولة، كريمة رئيس الوزراء الفلسطيني اسماعيل هنية، في سجن ايشيل في منطقة بئر السبع

(Translation: "The Israeli occupation authorities freed Khawla in [sic] Eshel prison in the Be’er Sheva area")

I guess the implication is that the Israeli police will always be regarded as occupation forces by the Arab media, even if they are carrying out their duties in Israel proper, as was the case here. Nevertheless, to its credit, the paper did not turn this into some libellous story about Israel "violating the honour" of Palestinian women and young girls, a claim that a reader commenting online on the Al-Sharq al-Awsat article indeed made:

عبير عرفات، «الولايات المتحدة الامريكية»، 30/05/2006
حرمات المسلمين تنتهك في كل فلسطين وليس على الآنسة الفاضلة خولة اسماعيل هنية. وغيرتنا على كل أخواتنا وأمهاتنا وبناتنا في فلسطين نابعة من وحدتنا تحت راية لا إله إلا الله.

(Translation: "Comment posted by ‘Abeer ‘Arafat from the USA:

The honour of Muslims is violated all over Palestine, and not only [in the case of] the wonderful Ms. Khawla Ismā'īl Haniyye. We fear for all our sisters, mothers and daughters in Palestine […]")

This whole episode was actually quite insignificant, although it should have raised a few eyebrows seeing as to how we are always given the impression that the Gaza Strip is completely cut off from Israel and that it is usually portrayed as a "giant prison". It did make me wonder, though, about the way in which this girl entered Israel. Of course, she would have entered “legally”, perhaps after requesting a visitor’s permit on humanitarian grounds. The newspapers did not really shed much light on these details. What I know, however, is that this is quite a trip to make for a young Palestinian girl who presumably came all the way without the accompaniment of a guardian. In a western society, seeing a young woman travelling on her own would not create much of a stir, but in a more traditional Arab society such as that found in the Gaza Strip, young women are not usually allowed to venture off wherever they please. To get to Israel from the Gaza Strip, one often needs to take commuter taxis to the Erez Crossing and then more commuter taxis (usually illegal taxis operated by Israeli Bedouin drivers) from the border to the prison.

So, before this girl set out, she, her family, her finance’s family, his friends or, perhaps, his political movement (it was never revealed whether the fiancé is a Hamas member and what he is imprisoned for) would have had to be sure that she would be in good hands. In short, to get this young girl to the prison would have required a considerable degree of organization and contacts that could be trusted on the Israeli side. Of course, I might be totally wrong; another possibility is that the Israel Prisons Service (which, by the way, has a fine high-tech website with flash clips and even an Arabic section devoted to "clearing up rumours") operates some kind of shuttle to bring prisoners’ relatives from the Gaza Strip to Israel. Judging on recent reports about Haniyye’s family connections in Israel, however, there is reason to believe that other people were helping out.

Details to follow in subsequent posts…


יהונתן ליס ועמוס הראל, "בתו של הנייה נעצרה בישראל עם תעודת זהות מזויפת," הארץ 29.05.2006

علي الصالح, " إسرائيل تفرج عن ابنة هنية بعد احتجازها متنكرة بهوية مزورة," الشرق الأوسط 30.05.2006

Monday, June 05, 2006

The Motivations of Terror

Mohammed Abdelhaleen, father of suspect Shareef
Abdelhaleen, leaving courthouse (Nathan Denette/CP)

By now, it seems clear that the suspects arrested by Canadian police are "home-grown" terrorists. Almost all of them are Canadian citizens or at least permanent residents. Most of the younger individuals have lived in Canada for a long time. They also seem to have been very well-integrated. The Toronto Star described three of the suspects as follows:
They were the popular kids, outspoken, always getting the laughs and experiencing all the regular teenage angst. At Mississauga's Meadowvale Secondary School, Saad Khalid, Fahim Ahmad and Zakaria Amara — Zak, to his Grade 9 pals — were close friends and though they were observant Muslims, back in 2001 they spoke mainly of girls rather than Islam.
As anyone who knows the multicultural reality of Canadian cities and their suburbs can attest, Mississauga is no French banlieu. And still, somehow, in the wake of 9/11, these youths, perhaps directed by some older members at the fundamentalist mosque they attended, became filled with resentment at "the West," Israel, and even Canada, which they imagined had begun persecuting Muslims. Apparently, they attended a "training camp" north of Toronto, where they filmed themselves taken part in exercises that seemed inspired by al Qaeda videos (think camouflage and monkey bars).

The suspects allegedly became angry enough to attempt to smuggle guns across the border and to purchase three tonnes of ammonium nitrate (from undercover cops), which they hoped to use to blow up such buildings as the CN Tower.

If even Canada can inspire this kind of resentment in young people, a number of whom were university students, and most of whom lived privileged suburban lives, those who continue to insist that certain socio-economic grievances and objective conditions of political oppression are to blame for Islamist terrorism look increasingly silly.

It is true that many of these would-be terrorists and their apologists imagine that Christians and Jews (i.e., Crusaders and Zionists) are oppressing Muslims around the world. But it's time to subject these perceptions of oppression to the kind of criticism they deserve.

Last year, the father of one of the suspects, Tariq Abdelhaleem, issued a fatwa "against innovation in Islam." A Globe and Mail journalist drew attention to those earlier statements this week:
"Our Muslim brothers and sisters are dying in Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan, Chechnya and other parts of the world," [Abdelhaleem] had written at the time on his website. "The puppet systems that are in power in the Islamic world are collaborating with the Crusaders and Zionists to keep the ummah [Muslim community] under oppression."
Interestingly enough, the reporter, Colin Freeze, also spoke to Abdelhaleem the younger:

It was in the basement that I met his son Shareef, and several of his friends, all young professionals eager to express their own views to a non-Muslim writer. They, too, were outraged by the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. And they wanted to discuss racial profiling.

They were all upset, but they never appeared extremist. Now, one year later, 30-year-old Shareef Abdelhaleem was chained to other suspects, his anxious eyes meeting his father's wounded gaze in court.

Maybe it will turn out that Shareef Abdelhaleem is innocent; that he had nothing to do with terrorism. But obviously some of those around him listened to his father, the imam. It is hard to avoid the impression that these young men have convinced themselves that Muslims are being unjustly oppressed - whether by having their countries invaded or by being subject to racial profiling. Muslims are eternal victims. This mindset in turn transforms terrorist attacks on Canadian citizens and institutions (proxies for the oppressors of the ummah) into righteous violence. But it is patently absurd to regard these men as victims; and it is perverse to portray Canada as an oppressor of either them or other Muslims.

Canadian MP Wajid Khan recalled a conversation that he had a year ago with one of the older men arrested in the sweep, Abdul Qayyum Jamal:
[Jamal] said Canadian troops were (in Afghanistan) to rape Muslim women. That's exactly where I stopped him and said, "I don't talk nonsense," (CTV).
These would-be terrorists, like far too many people in the Muslim world today, are the victims of their own delusions, which have been fuelled by their anti-imperialist apologists on the radical left.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Mearsheimer and Walt: An Assessment of the Controversy

AIPAC, in particular its policy conference, is the main target of Massing's article

In the New York Review of Books, Michael Massing reviews the controversy ignited by Mearsheimer and Walt. It is clear that he has little sympathy for those who called these scholars antisemites and lumped them together with David Duke. At the same time, Massing does give some credit to certain charges levelled by Dershowitz and others about the factual inaccuracies in the paper. He is also generally positive about Benny Morris's critique of Mearsheimer and Walt. Nevertheless, he appears convinced that the fundamental thesis of the two is right: "The Lobby" as described by M&W exists and has the power that the scholars ascribe to it; furthermore, it has had a negative effect on American foreign policy. The main problem of the paper, in addition to its historical mistakes, is that the authors never establish the former claim (about the Lobby's influence) with real evidence:
Overall, the lack of firsthand research in "The Israel Lobby" gives it a secondhand feel. Mearsheimer and Walt provide little sense of how AIPAC and other lobbying groups work, how they seek to influence policy, and what people in government have to say about them. The authors seem to have concluded that in view of the sensitivity of the subject, few people would talk frankly about it. In fact, many people are fed up with the lobby and eager to explain why (though often not on the record). Federal campaign documents offer another important source of information that the authors have ignored. Through such sources, it's possible to show that, on their central point—the power of the Israel lobby and the negative effect it has had on US policy—Mearsheimer and Walt are entirely correct
From there, he proceeds to give that missing documentation. Massing presents a closer look at AIPAC, arguing that it is controlled by a small group of extremely wealthy men who
do not share the general interest of a large part of the Jewish community in promoting peace in the Middle East.
AIPAC is able to exert so much influence in the legislative branch primarily through its ability to direct campaign donations by members. Thus, Massing explains,
AIPAC itself is not a political action committee. Rather, by assessing voting records and public statements, it provides information to such committees, which donate money to candidates; AIPAC helps them to decide who Israel's friends are according to AIPAC's criteria.
Massing concludes that
The nasty campaign waged against John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt has itself provided an excellent example of the bullying tactics used by the lobby and its supporters. The wide attention their argument has received shows that, in this case, those efforts have not entirely succeeded. Despite its many flaws, their essay has performed a very useful service in forcing into the open a subject that has for too long remained taboo.
What Massing's piece amounts to is an attack on AIPAC and on the current state of affairs in Washington more generally. I have to say that I find his approach far less objectionable than Mearsheimer and Walt's, although I still take issue with some of his historical and political judgments on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Having said that, it strikes me as unfair to dismiss as hysterical the critics of M&W who took the duo to task for coming very close to revealing yet another grand Jewish conspiracy. Their paper, as has been documented repeatedly on these pages, is full of mistruths and unsubstantiated charges marshalled to malign that mysterious entity which they chose to call "the Lobby." By casting their net as wide as they did, Mearsheimer and Walt seemed to be insinuating that Jews had diverted America from pursuing its true interests.

Furthermore, it is hard to ignore the question which we have asked again and again: what do M&W really want? Do they think that Israel should be left to the dogs? With a little more sympathy for American Jewish critics of M&W, Massing might have engaged that problem, which justifiable agitates many Jews in America, Israel, and the rest of the world.