Monday, April 5. 2010
Saturday, January 2. 2010
The Question to Ask, Before Any Argument About Whether Or Not It Happened is: "Would It Matter to You?"
The Afghan government said its investigation has established that all 10 people killed Sunday in a remote village in Kunar province were civilians. Its officials said that eight of those killed were schoolchildren aged 12-14.
Yes, that thirteen-year-old Afghani better have solid proof on hand that he’s not an insurgent when he’s yanked out of bed by western soldiers in the middle of the night.
Sunday, March 22. 2009
He took a quotation from a classical Hebrew text and turned it into a slogan during the war: “He who is merciful to the cruel will end up being cruel to the merciful.” New York Times 3/22/09
The first paragraph in today’s New York Times article on the controversy surrounding the Israeli army’s treatment of Palestinian residents in Gaza sums it up. The debate, we’re told, exposes “the clash between secular liberals and religious nationalists for control over the army and society.”
Quick everybody! All those who instantly assumed it was a matter of moral theists being horrified by the brutality of godless secularists, raise your hands!
Just kidding. Any reasonably literate adult reading this piece can correctly infer from the beginning which of the two groups is advocating for the glorious necessity of mowing down unarmed civilians.
And it isn’t the liberal secularists.
No, according to the accounts from Israeli soldiers who’ve begun to speak out, it was the “religious nationalists” (and that’s a word combination that should make every rational, humane person shudder) who have helped perpetuate the idea that the IDF are holy warriors and the Palestinians, well, something else, something unholy and therefore of less value. Of particular concern among Israeli liberals has been the military’s chief rabbi, Brigadier General Avichai Rontski, the man responsible for the slogan quoted at the beginning of this piece. According to this article, he was reprimanded by the Defense Ministry for including it in a booklet handed out to Israeli troops during the war.
Yes, yes, I know. There have been murderous unbelievers. Stalin. Mao. Atheism is no guarantee against horrifying acts. And I’ve known plenty of religious people who are humane and decent.
But all too often, religious zealotry transforms morality into something supernatural, disconnected from humanity. This is true of pretty much any religion, whether it's Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism... To the zealots, humans are abstracts. Empathy is scorned. Murder becomes morality, atrocity a virtue. The physical welfare of the unbeliever is only considered in terms of how the unbeliever might impact believers, either as a potential convert or as an antagonist. The article illustrates this vividly when it mentions that Rontski has said "that the main reason for a Jewish doctor to treat a non-Jew on the Sabbath, when work is prohibited but treating the sick and injured is expected, is to avoid exposing Diaspora Jews to hatred."
To all too many religious zealots, the notion of alleviating human suffering for the sake of alleviating human suffering just doesn't make sense.
And when human consequences are taken out of the picture, horrors follow.
Saturday, January 17. 2009
Last week:The above is the classic approach by apologists for atrocity. You first deny emphatically that the atrocity is taking place. The fiction underlying this is that if it were taking place, you would be outraged, or at least “disturbed” by it.
Then, when the truth of the atrocity becomes undeniable, you switch masks and affect a bland, “nothing to see here” approach. What was earlier flatly denied is now presented as business as usual. Now the underlying fiction is that the atrocity is a normal military tactic that only the most fluffy-headed naïf would find objectionable.
CNN’s Ben Weideman does an excellent – and damning -- report on this. Then Rick Sanchez and Jim Clancy discuss it. “It’s not a chemical weapon.” Jim Clancy says, and Rick Sanchez bobs his head in agreement. “It’s not a chemical weapon but it’s a dangerous chemical,” he says.
Here’s what a now declassified Pentagon Intelligence document on Saddam Hussein had to say in 1995 about Hussein’s use of White Phosphorus:
POSSIBLE USE OF PHOSPHOROUS CHEMICAL WEAPONS BY IRAQ IN KURDISH AREAS ALONG THE IRAQI-TURKISH-IRANIAN BORDERS; AND CURRENT SITUATION OF KURDISH RESISTANCE AND REFUGEES (U)…
The use of White Phosphorus is not ruled out in every military situation. According to Global Security.org, while the Geneva Convention prohibits the use of Incendiary Weapons” (defined as "any weapon or munition which is primarily designed set fire to objects or cause burn to persons through the action of flame, heat, or combination thereof, produced by a chemical reaction of a substance delivered on the target,”) this definition does not include:
i) Munitions which may have incidental incendiary effects, such as illuminants, tracers, smoke or signaling systems; (ii) Munitions designed to combine penetration, blast or fragmentation effects with an additional incendiary effect, such as armour-piercing projectiles, fragmentation shells, explosive bombs and similar combined-effects munitions in which the incendiary effect is not specifically designed to cause burns to persons, but to be used against military objectives, such as armoured vehicles, aircraft and installations or facilities.
And that, Clancy tells us, is how White Phosphorus is being used by Israel, as “an obscurant.”
That means, it’s going to cover their fighters, cover their tanks as they move into some of these areas, the howitzer’s fired overhead, the smoke comes down…
Okay, fair enough. But then he goes on to say…
the phosphorus comes down, moves everybody out of the way, they get out of the way, and then there’s smoke to cover their movement.” (emphasis added)
I have to say, I find this definition of “obscurant” a bit baffling. It’s one thing to say that the smoke from the phosphorus covers the movement of tanks. But the bit about “moving everybody out of the way” is just another way of saying, “Everyone runs like Hell to get away from those phosphorus fragments.” It presumes, first of all, that everybody in Gaza is in a position to run somewhere else. And how do people other then the forces firing the rounds learn to attempt to get away from the phosphorus?
Well, there’s nothing that’s likely to motivate you quite as much as seeing the person next to you burnt alive down to the bone.
Incidentally, here’s what that 1995 report had to say about Saddam Hussein’s use of White Phosphorus:
IRAQ USED WP IN ERBIL AND DOHUK BECAUSE THEY WANTED THE KURDS TO PANIC AND FLEE FROM THE AREA.
This sounds similar what Mr. Clancy is describing.
Soooo… Saddam Hussein rains White Phosphorus down on people to get them to “panic and flee from the area” and he gets written up in a Pentagon report summarized as “IRAQ HAS POSSIBLY EMPLOYED PHOSPHOROUS CHEMICAL WEAPONS AGAINST THE KURDISH POPULATION.”
Israel uses White Phosphorus to “move everybody out of the way” in Gaza on people who can't go anywhere and…
Sunday, January 11. 2009
“I don’t know what we’re doing here. Purification maybe. It’s dirty here. I don’t know why a good Hebrew boy should be here so far from his home.” an Israeli Soldier in Gaza.
It’s not Mai Lai. It’s not Abu Gbraib. It’s a relatively small incident in Gaza. A woman was badly wounded when the door to her house was blown off. The ambulance “was delayed.” She died.
And This House Was Not Actually Supposed To Be Shelled
There are some who claim that Israel has violated the principle of proportionality by killing so many more Hamas terrorists than the number of Israeli civilians killed by Hamas rockets. That is an absurd misapplication of the concept of proportionality for at least two reasons. First, there is no legal equivalence between the deliberate killing of innocent civilians and the deliberate killings of Hamas combatants…. proportionality is not measured by the number of civilians actually killed, but rather by the risk of civilian death and the intentions of those targeting civilians. …Hamas, on the other hand, refuses to build shelters, precisely because it wants to maximize the number of Palestinian civilians inadvertently killed by Israel’s military actions… Accordingly, Israel’s actions satisfy the principle of proportionality as well as the principle of self-defense against armed attack. Alan Dershowitz
“We received eyewitness reports that on Sunday, the IDF had evacuated about a hundred people into a single residence house in the Zeitun neighborhood. The next day the house was shelled…” BBC World News
Wednesday, January 7. 2009
United Nations investigators say they have uncovered no evidence to support a claim by the Israeli military that Hamas fighters were holed up in a Gaza school, prompting a deadly attack by Israeli forces that killed 40 civilians, many of them children….
Will this matter to Israel’s hard-line, victory-at-any-cost defenders?
The first casualty of war is truth.
The second casualty of war is shame.
Monday, January 5. 2009
“Every civilian death is a tragedy, but some are more tragic than others.”
Alan Dershowitz and James Zogby on Larry King, Part 1
Alan Dershowitz and James Zogby on Larry King, Part 2
I used to admire Dershowitz as a witty and articulate advocate for civil liberties, and a terrific debater. Today, it’s painful to watch him. He’s aged into an advocate for institutionalized torture and, in order to “logically” support this stance, a “heuristic” advocate for institutionalized perjury and rape. Alan Dershowitz has become the embodiment of the impervious, defend-anything American “supporter” of Israel.
The recent Larry King debate between Alan Dershowitz and James Zogby is a good indication of just how far Dershowitz has fallen. All the hallmarks of a man vigorously defending what he senses is indefensible are there. Dershowitz’ face is stony, grim. You can almost see reason bouncing off it without leaving so much as a scratch. He filibusters. He interrupts and when he’s called on it, he silently emotes, first elaborately miming puzzled outrage and doing everything he can to draw attention away from James Zogby, then looking down, perhaps at his notes, giving little indication of actually listening. Which is s pity because what Zogby is saying is worth hearing:
Israel withdrew, as they said, in 2005 but continued to maintain almost complete closure over Gaza, making it impossible for decent human life to take place. Unemployment among youth, 80%, unemployment in the entire country, 70%, 50% among the adult population, but the poverty level is crushing. The fact here is when…even when the ceasefire was winding down, Israel chose that moment to make a provocation by crossing into the border on an assault against Hamas fighters. Now, there is no side here that’s right. I am not going to be a defender of Hamas’ provocative behavior, but neither should Alan be defending what Israel has done or is doing now. The fact is both sides are playing out pathologies and there’s no adult supervision.
The pathology of Hamas and Israeli hardliners seems to be rooted in the notion that God is on their side. It’s a belief that effectively makes human consequences beside the point, and enables even brilliant men like Alan Dershowitz to rationalize away the idea that one it’s just as wrong to torture, blockade and starve people A as it is to torture, blockade, or starve people B.
“Orwellian” is a term frequently invoked these days when the subject of the “War on Terror” and the conflicts in the Middle East are brought up. Two years ago, in a piece on civilian deaths in Lebanon, Dershowitz paraphrased Orwell’s quote from Animal Farm "All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.” It was a richly appropriate quote with which to end that article, but not because it shed a positive light on Dershowitz’ premise.
It was appropriate because, as anyone who has read Animal Farm knows, Orwell intended that slogan to be bitterly satiric, an expression of ideals ultimately corrupted in the name of selfishness and expedience.
Saturday, January 3. 2009
...do you think that the [Gaza] population at large – and I don’t know what the state of, or the existence of their media are there – but do you think the population there at large are aware that this was all commenced by their present Hamas government’s terminating, unilaterally terminating the truce and firing relatively huge numbers of rockets, I understand there were fifty fired on Saturday the 27th alone. Do you think that they are aware of the fact that this was at least initially the result of actions by their own local government?
This question from a reporter identified only as “George” comes at the end of a December 29th UN press conference dealing with the humanitarian impact of the fighting in Gaza. The answer from Karen Abuzayd, Commissioner General of the United Nations Relief & Works Agency : "No, I don’t think that they think that the truce was violated first by Hamas. I think that they saw that the Hamas had observed the truce quite strictly for almost six months, certainly four of the six months, and that they got nothing in turn…” She cites the fact that even when rockets were not being fired from Gaza, the crossings were not opened by Israel, and goes on to point out that from the standpoint of most of the people at Gaza, Israel violated the ceasefire when, on November 4th, it bombed a tunnel being dug out of Gaza, killing seven militants.
Abuzayd's comments are well worth listening to, and the account of the press conference is worth reading. Both offer a far more detailed and balanced view of the events leading up to the current situation in Gaza than we are likely to get from the American media.
Thursday, January 1. 2009
I’ve always believed that an entrepreneur could make a profit selling certain keyboard shortcuts to lazy or unthinking authors. Imagine, for instance, how many repetitive stress disorders could be avoided for journalists writing about the internment of the Japanese/the lynching epidemic/the McCarthy era by reducing the phrase “shameful chapter in our nation’s history” to Cntl Shft % or something similar. Travel writers could get a tremendous amount of use from a shortcut for “land of contrasts” and journalists covering kidnappings from “a parent’s worst nightmare.”
When the subject of the writing is controversial, as is practically any conflict in the Middle East, the value – and therefore the usage – of these clichés doubles. They serve not only as stale filler for unimaginative writers, but as a way of distancing both the writer and the reader from what is actually being discussed. Robert J. Lieber’s Washington Post piece on the airstrikes in Gaza opens with a smorgasbord of such shorthand cues that let the reader know exactly how they are supposed to think about what they’re reading without the author becoming too sordidly direct.
Take the term, Hard Truths, which appears in both the title of the piece “Hard Truths About the Conflict” and in the second paragraph -- “hard truths about Gaza, its Hamas rulers and the wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Experienced readers know that when this word combination appears in a piece involving Israeli and/or American actions in Lebanon/The West Bank/Gaza/Iraq/Afghanistan,” eight times out of ten the “hard truth” being promoted is the unpleasant necessity of killing/detaining/waterboarding Arab civilians. The author is here squaring his jaw, gazing with steely eyes off into the distance, and inviting readers to do the same. Otherwise – well, what are you, some kinda bleeding heart wuss who wants soft truths?
The first sentence is an especially good illustration of this strategic use of clichés.
After Israel's dramatic airstrikes, the world's media are filled with images of suffering Palestinian women and children, innocent victims in what is being referred to as a renewed cycle of violence.
There are exceptions, but the phrase dramatic airstrikes, is most frequently used to describe actions by either the United States or its allies, as in Israel’s airstrikes in Gaza, or American airstrikes in Afghanistan and Tripoli. The implication is that these bombings are not so much bombings as a rather hyperbolic gesture intended not to kill, but to catch everyone’s attention. In this case, the notion of the airstrikes as theater rather than reality is bolstered by the reference to images of suffering Palestinian women and children. Not “suffering Palestinian women and children,” of course. Images of them. This is followed by innocent victims, a cliche frequently used as a sort of written “sigh” in pieces like this. It’s intended to convey that the writer, however, square-jawed and steely-eyed a purveyor of hard truths, has his tender side. When looking at images of suffering Palestinian women and children one must, after all, maintain a grave demeanor.
The next sentence begins with the word predictably another “sigh” in this context, but of a slightly different type. In this case, the “sigh” is accompanied, not by sad look, but by a quick roll of the eyes.
Predictably, both sides are being urged to call a halt, though in much of the Middle East and parts of Europe these demands, and the blame, fall especially heavily upon the Israelis.
Here, the readers are invited to shake their heads in bemusement at the calls for an end to the violence, especially since it’s just not fair that the blame falls “especially heavily on the Israelis.” This sets up the readers to view any criticism of Israel’s response in the Gaza as both boring and unreasonable.
The rest of the piece is less densely sprinkled with such clichés, the writer already having primed his readers about what mindset they should adopt while reading it. It’s interesting to note that Lieber actually attacks a cliché in the course of this piece, the use of the term “cycle of violence” to describe what is happening. “…what we are witnessing is not a 'cycle" of violence,'” he insists.
The IDF airstrikes are a reaction to the unrelenting rocket and mortar attacks against the Jewish state. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 in the hope that the Palestinians would use the opportunity to prepare for an eventual agreement and a two-state solution in which they would live side by side in peace with Israel.
Except, of course, that this is not a matter of Israel withdrawing from Gaza, hands in the air, and then being the innocent subject of rocket attacks. It’s a matter of Israel, even after withdrawing from the strip, controlling its airspace and access to water, and barring most humanitarian aid to the area. That’s the “cycle of violence” many have in mind when they use the term in this context. To claim, as Lieber does, that “Israel Defense Forces (IDF) seek to minimize civilian deaths” when the civilians of Gaza have been dying from contaminated water, malnutrition, and other results of Israel’s blockade is to carefully avoid facing these and other rather important realities. The writer, for all his insistence on “hard facts,” is profoundly selective about the “hard facts” he wants everyone to face.
Which is why, no doubt, he opened with a salvo of those self-serving clichés. When a writer strikes a pose in that manner, and expects the reader to join in, a careful and skeptical reading is advised.
Saturday, March 29. 2008
Kadhafi warns US allies could suffer Saddam's fate
Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi warned Arab allies of the United States that they could meet the same fate as former Iraq president Saddam Hussein, hanged in 2006 three years after the US-led invasion.And after this comment, Moamer just move to the #1 spot on the BushCo lynching list.
Wednesday, January 23. 2008
Tens of thousands flee Gaza for Egypt
Tens of thousands of Palestinians poured from the Gaza Strip into Egypt Wednesday after masked gunmen with explosives destroyed most of the seven-mile barrier dividing the border town of Rafah.Won't Israel be pleased?
Sunday, February 18. 2007
Saudi says no bar to nuclear cooperation with Russia
Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter and a key U.S. ally, said on Wednesday the kingdom does not see any obstacle to cooperating with Russia on developing a nuclear energy program.I guess that this would be an insurance policy against the possibility of Iraq's fate.
Monday, January 15. 2007
US military strike on Iran seen by April ’07; Sea-launched attack to hit oil, N-sites
Washington will launch a military strike on Iran before April 2007, say sources. The attack will be launched from the sea and Patriot missiles will guard all oil-producing countries in the region, they add. Recent statements emanating from the United States indicate the Bush administration’s new strategy for Iraq doesn’t include any proposal to make a compromise or negotiate with Syria or Iran. A reliable source said President Bush recently held a meeting with Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Dr Condoleezza Rice and other assistants in the White House where they discussed the plan to attack Iran in minute detail.
Tuesday, December 5. 2006
Saudi Arabia Plans to Protect Sunni Minority
The U.S. is not the only country crafting the fate of Iraq (The Baker Commission's report is set to be released a week from today). Today Reuters reports that Nawaf Obaid, a security adviser to the Saudi government, writing in the Washington Post said that the Saudi government has plans of their own. Obaid writes that if the U.S. begins to withdraw from Iraq, Saudi Arabia plans to protect the Sunni minority from "Iranian-baked shiite militias." The Saudi options are three-fold, much like those of the Pentagon-- although without all those clever names:This would result in a major war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, along with the Iraq civil war, the Israeli-Lebanon-Palestinian conflict, and the coming Afghan collapse. Heckuva a job, Bushie!
The effect on oil prices when Iran begins bombing Saudi oil fields will be rather "attention-getting".
Sunday, November 26. 2006
Jordan King: 3 Mideast Civil Wars Possible in 2007
And I hope that my discussions, at least, with the president will be to provide whatever we can do for the Iraqi people. But at the same time, we do want to concentrate ourselves on the core issues, which we believe are the Palestinians and the Palestinian peace process, because that is a must today, as well as the tremendous concern we've had over the past several days, what's happening in Lebanon.Israel attacked Lebanon because it knew it was OK with Baby Bush. Now the country is destabilized and Bush ads another bloody war to his six-shooter.
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