Saturday, January 31, 2009

Uruknet: The Wounds of Gaza 2009

The Wounds of Gaza 2009

Jan 30, 2009

This first-hand field report and analysis comes direct from UK physicians Dr Ghassan Abu Sittah and Dr Swee Ang in Gaza. Please consider supporting their important medical efforts through any designated charities or through MAP.

Forthcoming dispatches will be published here as received; here is the first which provides background to the situation as well as salient medical and political details often directly garnered on the situation at hand.
Emphasis in bold is editorial.

The wounds of Gaza are deep. Dr Ghassan describes it as multi-layered. Are we talking about the Khan Younis massacre of 5,000 in 1956 or the execution of 35,000 prisoners of war by Israel in 1967? Yet more wounds of the First Intifada, when civil disobedience by an occupied people against the occupiers resulted in massive wounded and hundreds dead? We also cannot discount the 5,420 wounded in southern Gaza alone since 2000. Hence what we are referring to below are only that of the invasion as of 27 December 2008.

Over the period of 27 December 2008 to the ceasefire of 18 Jan 2009, it was estimated that a million and a half tons of explosives were dropped on Gaza Strip.

Gaza is 25 miles by 5 miles and home to 1.5 million people. This makes it the most crowded area in the whole world. Prior to this Gaza has been completely blockaded and starved for 50 days. In fact since the Palestinian election Gaza has been under total or partial blockade for several years.

On the first day of the invasion, 250 persons were killed. Every single police station in Gaza was bombed killing large numbers of police officers.

Having wiped out the police force, attention was turned to non-government targets. Gaza was bombed from the air by F16 and Apache helicopters, shelled from the sea by Israeli gunboats and from the land by tank artillery.

Many schools were reduced to rubble, including the American School of Gaza, 40 mosques, hospitals, UN buildings, and of course 21,000 homes, 4,000 of which were demolished completely. It is estimated that 100,000 people are now homeless.

The weapons used apart from conventional bombs and high explosives also include unconventional weapons of which at least 4 categories could be identified:

1. Phosphorus Shells and bombs.

The bombs dropped were described by eyewitnesses as exploding at high altitude scattering a large canopy of phosphorus bomblets which cover a large area. During the land invasion, eyewitnesses describe the tanks shelling into homes first with a conventional shell. Once the walls are destroyed, a second shell – a phosphorus shell is then shot into the homes. Used in this manner, the phosphorus explodes and burns the families and the homes.

Many charred bodies were found among burning phosphorus particles.

One area of concern is the phosphorus seems to be in a special stabilizing agent. This results in the phosphorus being more stable and not completely burning out. Residues still cover the fields, playground and compounds. They ignite when picked up by curious kids, or produce fumes when farmers return to water their fields. One returning farming family on watering their field met with clouds of fumes producing epistaxis. Thus the phosphorus residues probably treated with a stabilizer also act as anti-personnel weapons against children and make the return to normal life difficult without certain hazards.

Surgeons from hospitals are also reporting cases where after primary laparotomy for relatively small wounds with minimal contamination find on second look laparotomy increasing areas of tissue necrosis at about 3 days. Patients then become gravely ill and by about 10 days those patients needing a third re-look encounter massive liver necrosis. This may or may not be accompanied by generalized bleeding, kidney failure and heart failure and death. Although acidosis, liver necrosis and sudden cardiac arrest due to hypocalcemia is known to be a complication of white phosphorus it is not possible to attribute these complications as being due to phosphorus alone.

There is real urgency to analyze and identify the real nature of this modified phosphorus as to its long term effect on the people of Gaza. There is also urgency in collecting and disposing of the phosphorus residues littering the entire Gaza Strip. As they give off toxic fumes when coming into contact with water, once the rain falls the whole area would be polluted with acid phosphorus fumes. Children should be warned not to handle and play with these phosphorus residues.

2. Heavy Bombs
The use of DIME (dense inert material explosives) were evident, though it is unsure whether depleted uranium were used in the south. In the civilian areas, surviving patients were found to have limbs truncated by DIME, since the stumps apart from being characteristically cut off in guillotine fashion also fail to bleed. Bomb casing and shrapnels are extremely heavy.

3. Fuel Air Explosives
Bunker busters and implosion bombs have been used. There are buildings especially the 8-storey Science and Technology Building of the Islamic University of Gaza which had been reduced to a pile of rubble no higher than 5-6 feet.

4. Silent Bombs
People in Gaza described a silent bomb which is extremely destructive. The bomb arrives as a silent projectile at most with a whistling sound and creates a large area where all objects and living things are vaporized with minimal trace. We are unable to fit this into conventional weapons but the possibility of new particle weapons being tested should be suspected.

5. Executions
Survivors describe Israeli tanks arriving in front of homes asking residents to come out. Children, old people and women would come forward and as they were lined up they were just fired on and killed. Families have lost tens of their members through such executions. The deliberate targeting of unarmed children and women is well documented by human right groups in the Gaza Strip over the past month.

6. Targeting of ambulances
Thirteen ambulances had been fired upon killing drivers and first aid personnel in the process of rescue and evacuation of the wounded.

7. Cluster bombs
The first patients wounded by cluster were brought into Abu Yusef Najjar Hospital. Since more than 50% of the tunnels have been destroyed, Gaza has lost part of her lifeline. These tunnels contrary to popular belief are not for weapons, though small light weapons could have been smuggled through them. However they are the main stay of food and fuel for Gaza. Palestinians are beginning to tunnel again. However it became clear that cluster bombs were dropped on to the Rafah border and the first was accidentally set off by tunneling. Five burns patients were brought in after setting off a booby trap kind of device.

As of 25 January 2009, the death toll was estimated at 1,350 with the numbers increasing daily. This is due to the severely wounded continuing to die in hospitals.

60% of those killed were children.

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The severely injured numbered 5,450, with 40% being children. These are mainly large burns and polytrauma patients. Single limb fractures and walking wounded are not included in these figures.

Through our conversations with doctors and nurses the word holocaust and catastrophe were repeatedly used. The medical staff all bear the psychological trauma of the past month living though the situation and dealing with mass casualties which swamped their casualties and operating rooms. Many patients died in the Accident and Emergency Department while awaiting treatment. In a district hospital, the orthopaedic surgeon carried out 13 external fixations in less than a day.

It is estimated that of the severely injured, 1,600 will suffer permanently disabilities. These include amputations, spinal cord injuries, head injuries, large burns with crippling contractures.

The death and injury toll is especially high in this recent assault due to several factors.

1. No escape: As Gaza is sealed by Israeli troops, no one can escape the bombardment and the land invasion. There is simply no escape. Even within the Gaza Strip itself, movement from north to south is impossible as Israeli tanks had cut the northern half of Gaza from the south. Compare this with the situation in Lebanon 1982 and 2006, when it was possible for people to escape from an area of heavy bombardment to an area of relative calm – there was no such is option for Gaza.

2. Gaza is very densely populated. It is eerie to see that the bombs used by Israel have been precision bombs. They have a hundred percent hit rate on buildings which are crowded with people.
Examples are the central market, police stations.

Schools, the UN compounds used as a safety shelter from bombardment, mosques (40 of them destroyed), and the homes of families who thought they were safe as there were no combatants in them and high rise flats where a single implosion bomb would destroy multiple families. This pattern of consistent targeting of civilians makes one suspect that the military targets are but collateral damage, while civilians are the primary targets.

3. The quantity and quality of the ammunition being used as described above.

4. Gaza’s lack of defense against the modern weapons of Israel. She has no tanks, no planes, no anti-aircraft missiles against the invading army.
We experienced that first hand in a minor clash of
Israeli tank shells versus Palestinian AK47 return fire. The forces were simply unmatched.

5. Absence of well constructed bomb shelters for civilians. Unfortunately these will also be no match for bunker busters possessed by the Israeli Army.

Taking the above points into consideration, the next assault on Gaza would be just as disastrous. The people of Gaza are extremely vulnerable and defenseless in the event of yet another attack. The International Community, if it were serious about preventing this large scale of deaths and injuries, will have to develop a defense force for Gaza if it is considered desirable for Gaza were to continue to be inadequately armed to defend herself.

:: Article nr. 51374 sent on 30-jan-2008 17:49 ECT


:: The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Xymphora quotes Israeli students and soccer fans: "Death to the Arabs"

Xymphora writes:
You think it's bad now?
You can start to have an inkling of where the idea of the 'blood libel' came from (my emphasis in red):

"When the leader of Israel's religious-Zionist Meimad Party recently addressed a meeting of 800 high-school students in a Tel Aviv suburb, his words on the virtue of Israeli democracy for all its citizens were drowned out by student chants of 'Death to the Arabs.'"


"Israeli soccer matches were suspended during the assault on Gaza. When the games resumed last week, the fans had come up with a new chant: 'Why have the schools in Gaza been shut down?' sang the crowd. 'Because all the children were gunned down!' came the answer."

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Mark Crispin Miller on Roberts's "Unconscious" Oath Screw Up

With the whole world watching, Chief Justice Roberts garbled up Obama's oath of office
yesterday--deliberately, some say, since the new president must speak his piece precisely,
and Roberts made that quite impossible (unless Obama had decided to ignore his clumsy
prompts, and do it right entirely on his own).

"I'm relatively certain they re-administered the oath out of view of the masses to make it all
legit," writes a friend. "I say he screwed it up on purpose." That could be, although, if so, it
would be a pretty brazen move.

I'd say that Roberts didn't do it consciously, but that his screw-up was a stark bit of unconscious interference with Obama's swearing-in. Roberts is, of course, a flaming Bush Republican--
and, as such, intent on (further) disenfranchising the very citizens who voted, or tried to vote,
for Obama/Biden.

For example, Roberts has been on (what we might call) the Klan side of every Supreme
Court decision that pertains to voting rights since he was placed on that almighty body.
He voted to uphold the Indiana photo ID law, having made some idiotic arguments defending
it in open court.

The stated purpose of the law was to halt in-person "voter fraud" in Indiana. Replying to
the point that there was not a single case of such fraud ever having been discovered in that
state, Roberts noted that such lack of evidence was no surprise, since "voter fraud" is, by
its very nature, secret, and therefore leaves no traces. (Cf. Rumsfeld's Law: "Absence of
evidence is not evidence of absence.") And upon hearing that ID-less Indiana voters have
to cast provisional ballots, and then travel to the county seat to get them counted, Roberts
said that that was not a hardship, since county seats in Indiana aren't so far away.

And the Roberts Court has recently decided to take up a lawsuit arguing that there's no
longer any need for Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act--a move whereby the Court
could simply nullify Congress's extension of the Act back in 2006. (For more on this, see

Such moves make very clear that our Chief Justice is a faithful servant of, and true believer
in, his ever-shrinking party and its racist base. Thus is he operating squarely in the
un-American tradition of the Court that gave us Bush v. Gore. (He's also following in the
footsteps on his predecessor William Rehnquist, who made his bones as an anti-democratic
activist way back in the early Sixties, when, as a lawyer for the GOP, he roamed the precincts
of South Phoenix on Election Day, trying to block minority votes.)

In short, Roberts personifies that spirit of fanatical elitism whereby the Bush Regime, and
its bad works, were forced on all the rest of us. Small wonder, then, that Roberts couldn't make
his tongue behave as he stood out there yesterday, half-trying to suppress his rage sufficiently
to swear Obama in. And so he screwed it up, because his heart just wasn't in what he was
saying--just like Bush, whose tongue broke down whenever he was forced to sound a
note of altruism or idealism or inclusiveness, or any other alien notion.

And this won't be the last time that we hear the voice of Bush (or Cheney) piping up in
unexpected places. Much depends on whether our new president will be polite, and let
it resonate, or whether he will shut it down at last, and try instead to say--and do--
what's right.


CNN: Roberts 'screwed up' oath of office
Mike Sheehan and David Edwards
Published: Tuesday January 20, 2009

The oath of office of the President of the United States is perhaps the most hallowed tradition in American politics. It marks the end of an intense election process, the peaceful transition of power, and perhaps even the rise of a new generation.

But today, it was a bungle of supreme proportion.

According to the Constitution, the oath is specified as follows: "I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." Modern tradition has added "so help me God" to the end of the oath.

John Roberts, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, had the honor today of administering the oath to Barack Obama with a Bible used by Abraham Lincoln.

But instead of a smooth delivery, Chief Justice Roberts interrupted Obama early and then switched the order of some of the words, slipping up the new president and causing him to hesitate at one point.

ROBERTS: Are you prepared to take the oath, Senator?
OBAMA: I am.
ROBERTS: I, Barack Hussein Obama...
OBAMA: I, Barack--
ROBERTS: solemnly swear...
OBAMA: I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear...
ROBERTS: ...that I will execute the office of president to the United States faithfully...
OBAMA: ...that I will execute... [pause]
ROBERTS: ...faithfully the office of president of the United States...
OBAMA: ...the office of president of the United States faithfully...
ROBERTS: ...and will, to best of my ability...
OBAMA: ...and will to [the] best of my ability...
ROBERTS: ...preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
OBAMA: ...preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
ROBERTS: So help you God?
OBAMA: So help me God.
ROBERTS: Congratulations, Mr. President.

CNN's Wolf Blitzer later commented that Roberts "had one job to do today and he sort of screwed up."

By law, Obama became president at noon Eastern, regardless of the ceremonial oath of office. But that didn't stop some from speculating and others from kidding.

Chris Wallace of FOX News wondered if, due to the fumbled oath, Obama really was president.

Martin Bosworth of the Boztopia blog quipped, "When you think about how Clarence Thomas tried to derail the changeover by having the Court hear the birth certificate case, you have to wonder."

Mark Sherman of The Associated Press later reported that Roberts, shaking hands with the new president before a special luncheon in the Capitol, "chatted briefly with Obama and appeared to say that the mistake was his fault, not Obama's."

This video is from CNN's Newsroom, broadcast Jan. 20, 2009.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Guardian: Gaza massacres: The latest phase in Israeli war to remove the Palestinians from their land

This remarkable petition in today's Guardian makes me wonder when
American academics and literary figures will have the courage and
decency to do the same. How many wars must we witness before our
intellectuals will say enough? --HCJPP

Growing outrage at the killings in Gaza
The Guardian, Friday 16 January 2009

The massacres in Gaza are the latest phase of a war that Israel has
been waging against the people of Palestine for more than 60 years.
The goal of this war has never changed: to use overwhelming military
power to eradicate the Palestinians as a political force, one capable
of resisting Israel's ongoing appropriation of their land and
resources. Israel's war against the Palestinians has turned Gaza and
the West Bank into a pair of gigantic political prisons. There is
nothing symmetrical about this war in terms of principles, tactics or
consequences. Israel is responsible for launching and intensifying it,
and for ending the most recent lull in hostilities.

Read more:

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Left I on the News: Israelis Target a Palestinian Hospital and UN Relief Supplies

Left I on the News

War crimes without end

Left I Quotes unnamed news sources

About 500 people including patients were huddled in a Gaza City hospital that suffered a "direct hit" in an Israeli air strike Thursday, the international Red Cross said, condemning the incident as unacceptable.

In an unusually sharply-worded statement, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said that the situation in Gaza was "completely and utterly unacceptable based on every known standard of international law and universal humanitarian principles and values."

The second floor of the Al-Quds hospital immediately caught fire in the strike on Thursday morning, severely damaging the pharmacy and parts of the building.

Meanwhile, at least one Palestinian Red Crescent warehouse with relief supplies was shelled by Israeli forces on Thursday morning and set ablaze.

The Federation accused Israeli soldiers of firing on Red Crescent volunteers to stop them from putting out the fire.

Left I writes:

As I write this, you'll find this story from AFP and Al Jazeera. Not a word on CNN, MSNBC, AP, etc. No doubt they're waiting until they have a chance to get the official "there were Hamas militants firing at us from inside" statement from the Israeli government to accompany their article.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Mark Crispin Miller: Bush's last press conference: It's all Public Relations

Mark Crispin Miller analyzes Bush's last press conference.
As sharp as Miller is, he misses some fundamentals; as if Bush didn't know that there weren't WMDs. There's more. Hopefully I'll get to work on it soon. --RB

MCM writes:
The media's accounts of Bush's "last press conference" fail to do the slightest justice
to the comic horror of that performance. (For some long excerpts, see the link below.)

First of all, Bush was obviously drunk (just like Nixon in his last press conference).
As ever, the booze loosened him up; and, moreover, at this candid final moment
he did not feel any need to fake humane or idealistic feelings. So he spoke with an
unusual coherence, offering no rich grammatical and/or syntactical mistakes.

What we got, then, was a powerful display of Bush's perfect moral imbecility. Did he
make any mistakes? Tellingly, the only ones that he could think of were theatrical
missteps--i.e., propaganda moves that didn't work right. It was a mistake, he
said, to put up that big banner ("MISSION ACCOMPLISHED") on the USS Abraham
Lincoln. Why? Not because it was a lie, and not because it was a grandiose attempt
to use the war, and those who fought in it, to score points for himself. No, it was a
mistake because it didn't make the point that (he now claimed) they really meant
to make. (He didn't say what that point was.)

And Katrina? Well, maybe his "mistake" there was not landing Air Force One in
New Orleans or Baton Rouge. After all, if he'd done that, it would have sent a
more convincing message of his deep concern for all those victims of the
hurricane. (But if he'd landed Air Force One in New Orleans, he complained,
"the critics" would have yapped about his interference with the rescure effort.)
That he and his were criminally negligent throughout that episode (and have
continued to ignore that ravaged area ever since), and that they thereby turned
a big disaster into a catastrophe, is one "mistake" that Bush couldn't even bother
to deny--because he couldn't (and will never) even see it as a problem.

Were there disappointments? Well, he said in passing, it was certainly a disappointment
that those "weapons of mass destruction" never actually turned up. There are no
words to capture the pure (banal) evil of that utterance. A gruesome war ensued
because of his team's mad insistence that those weapons were stowed somewhere
in Iraq, with many hundred thousand dead and maimed, that nation devastated, our
economy kaput, and all the world now filled with loathing for America--and Bush
shows no remorse for it, or even any dim awareness of those consequences, but only
"disappointment" that they didn't find the weapons. That there were no such weapons
in the first place is another monstrous fact that Bush apparently can't grasp, or no
longer even knows, assuming that he ever did. The only thing that seems to bug him
is that that still-missing arsenal messed up the show.

Watch the whole performance, and you'll see that Bush's mind is totally fixated
on the failure or success of his team's propaganda. Did it win the day, and dazzle
the reporters, and jack up his ratings? Or did it fail because of this "mistake" or
that unlucky "disappointment," making all "the critics" bark, and driving down his
ratings even more? That's really all he's ever thought about--which is another
way of saying that he's never really thought at all. It also tells us that he couldn't
(and will never) tell the difference between propaganda and reality. That's a
weakness common to all tyrants who've been on the job too long; but (as I
demonstrated in The Bush Dyslexicon) Bush's mental eye has been thus clouded
from the start, and only got more clouded after Cheney made him Emperor just
after 9/11.

This, then, is the man who--although unelected--was, by and large, defended,
and at crucial times applauded, by "the liberal media" (although, typically, he sees
himself as their long-suffering punching-bag). It was not until last year that they turned
noticeably critical; and even then they pulled their punches, and still do (as in their over-
tactful coverage of this press conference). Thus his blind, vindictive reign is, finally,
their fault, even if the blindness and vindictiveness are all his own (and, of course,
Dick Cheney's).


Robert Parry: Obama's transition, lessons from 1968, a new Middle East crisis

From Robert Parry:

Editor's Note: Because we've been publishing more stories, some readers say they miss some that fly by. So, each month, we'll point out some special stories from the previous month.

Here is a selection from December 2008, focusing on Barack Obama's transistion, troubling historical lessons from 1968, and a new Middle East crisis:
"Obama's Fateful Choice of Gates" by Robert Parry, looking at Robert Gates's shortage of gratitude for Obama keeping him on. (December 1, 2008)
"Obama's Risky Team of Rivals," by Lisa Pease on Obama's dubious reading of history. (December 1, 2008)
"Thinking Bigger on Autos" by William John Cox, examining what's needed to save the auto industry. (December 2, 2008)
"Bush Still Lies about Iraqi Inspections" by Robert Parry, citing George W. Bush's endless false claims about Iraq and UN inspectors. (December 2, 2008)
"Obama v. King, on War and Peace" by Peter Dyer, noting differences between the two leaders. (December 3, 2008)
"Obama's Familiar Orbit of Advisers" by Michael Winship, questioning how big a change is coming. (December 4, 2008)
"Mukasey's 'Nixon Defense' of Bush" by Jason Leopold, noting the historical antecedent for clearing Bush. (December 6, 2008)
"The Significance of Nixon's 'Treason'" by Robert Parry, pointing out what 40-year-old tapes tell about America's recent past. (December 9, 2008)
"We All Failed Gary Webb" by Robert Parry, recalling the historical debt to a fallen journalist. (December 10, 2008)
"Will Obama Buy Torture-Lite?" by Ray McGovern, analyzing how far Obama will go in reining in Bush's practices. (December 10, 2008)
"ATime Machine to Save America" by Robert Parry, looking back at the fateful Supreme Court ruling on Bush v. Gore. (December 11, 2008)
"Torture Trail Seen Starting with Bush" by Jason Leopold, tracing back the origins of Bush's torture policies. (December 12, 2008)
"Obama and US-Russia Tensions" by Anonymous, examining what Obama's Cabinet picks portend for future relations. (December 14, 2008)
"The Dilemma That Is Gaza" by Morgan Strong, recognizing an emerging crisis. (December 15, 2008)
"Cheney Admits Detainee-Abuse Role" by Jason Leopold, reporting on the Vice President's bold admissions. (December 16, 2008)
"Secrecy Worsens Wall St. Mess" by Brent Budowsky, citing a lack of transparency in trillion-dollar bailout. (December 17, 2008)
"Obama v Washington Mythmaking" by Robert Parry, describing tough challenges for the President-elect. (December 18, 2008)

"Deterring Torture Through the Law" by Coleen Rowley and Ray McGovern, recognizing the power of accountability to stop abuses. (December 20, 2008)
"Cheney's Contempt for the Republic" by Robert Parry, observing how the Vice President defends his actions. (December 22, 2008)
"Two Dangerous Bush-Cheney Myths," by Robert Parry, exploring counter-arguments on torture and the "surge." (December 26, 2008)
"Henry Kissinger: Eminence Noire" by Robert Parry, tracking the dark history of a Washington Wise Man. (December 28, 2008)
"How Hypocrisy on Terror Kills" by Robert Parry, examining U.S.-Israeli double standards on terrorism. (December 30, 2008)
"Torture & the Crime of Aggressive War" by Peter Dyer, recalling the legal prohibitions on the most severe crimes. (December 31, 2008)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Jane Mayer: Bush's Sadism on Display: Torturing the Victims

One record of Bush's sadism is recorded in Jane Mayer's important The Dark Side The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into A War on American Ideals (2008)

Mayer recounts the torture tha Abu Zubayda, current Guantanamo Bay internee and Al Qaeda suspect, underwent at the hands of US authorities, mostly apparently by the CIA.

Zubayda’s extremis also taught the Agency about President Bush’s mind-set. According to New York Times reporter James Risen, Tenet explained to Bush not long after Zubayda’s capture that intelligence gathering was going poorly because Zubayda had been sedated with painkillers. Bush retorted, “Who authorized putting him on pain medication.?

Bush's remark is made all the more revealing when one takes into consideration that Bush knows that Al Qaeda is a creation of US and other intelligence agencies and that he and Cheney planned and executed 9/11, the passageway to hundreds of thousands, millions of their victims.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Democracy Now: Allan Nairm: Admiral Dennis Blair unfit for Director of National Intelligence

Investigative journalist Allan Nairn reveals Admiral Dennis Blair played a critical role in backing the Indonesian occupation of East Timor during the 1990s. At the height of a wave of ruthless attacks on Timorese that killed hundreds and displaced tens of thousands, Blair personally informed top Indonesian general, Wiranto, of unwavering US support. He continued to support the Indonesian military until international outcry forced the Clinton administration to withdraw its military and diplomatic backing. [includes rush transcript]

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Nir Rosen explanis terrorism: It describes what the Other does, not what we do

Gaza: the logic of colonial power
As so often, the term 'terrorism' has proved a rhetorical smokescreen under cover of which the strong crush the weak

Nir Rosen,
Monday 29 December 2008

I have spent most of the Bush administration's tenure reporting from Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Somalia and other conflicts. I have been published by most major publications. I have been interviewed by most major networks and I have even testified before the senate foreign relations committee. The Bush administration began its tenure with Palestinians being massacred and it ends with Israel committing one of its largest massacres yet in a 60-year history of occupying Palestinian land. Bush's final visit to the country he chose to occupy ended with an educated secular Shiite Iraqi throwing his shoes at him, expressing the feelings of the entire Arab world save its dictators who have imprudently attached themselves to a hated American regime.

Once again, the Israelis bomb the starving and imprisoned population of Gaza. The world watches the plight of 1.5 million Gazans live on TV and online; the western media largely justify the Israeli action. Even some Arab outlets try to equate the Palestinian resistance with the might of the Israeli military machine. And none of this is a surprise. The Israelis just concluded a round-the-world public relations campaign to gather support for their assault, even gaining the collaboration of Arab states like Egypt.

The international community is directly guilty for this latest massacre. Will it remain immune from the wrath of a desperate people? So far, there have been large demonstrations in Lebanon, Yemen, Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Iraq. The people of the Arab world will not forget. The Palestinians will not forget. "All that you have done to our people is registered in our notebooks," as the poet Mahmoud Darwish said.

I have often been asked by policy analysts, policy-makers and those stuck with implementing those policies for my advice on what I think America should do to promote peace or win hearts and minds in the Muslim world. It too often feels futile, because such a revolution in American policy would be required that only a true revolution in the American government could bring about the needed changes. An American journal once asked me to contribute an essay to a discussion on whether terrorism or attacks against civilians could ever be justified. My answer was that an American journal should not be asking whether attacks on civilians can ever be justified. This is a question for the weak, for the Native Americans in the past, for the Jews in Nazi Germany, for the Palestinians today, to ask themselves.

Terrorism is a normative term and not a descriptive concept. An empty word that means everything and nothing, it is used to describe what the Other does, not what we do. The powerful – whether Israel, America, Russia or China – will always describe their victims' struggle as terrorism, but the destruction of Chechnya, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, the slow slaughter of the remaining Palestinians, the American occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan – with the tens of thousands of civilians it has killed … these will never earn the title of terrorism, though civilians were the target and terrorising them was the purpose.

Counterinsurgency, now popular again among in the Pentagon, is another way of saying the suppression of national liberation struggles. Terror and intimidation are as essential to it as is winning hearts and minds.

Normative rules are determined by power relations. Those with power determine what is legal and illegal. They besiege the weak in legal prohibitions to prevent the weak from resisting. For the weak to resist is illegal by definition. Concepts like terrorism are invented and used normatively as if a neutral court had produced them, instead of the oppressors. The danger in this excessive use of legality actually undermines legality, diminishing the credibility of international institutions such as the United Nations. It becomes apparent that the powerful, those who make the rules, insist on legality merely to preserve the power relations that serve them or to maintain their occupation and colonialism.

Attacking civilians is the last, most desperate and basic method of resistance when confronting overwhelming odds and imminent eradication. The Palestinians do not attack Israeli civilians with the expectation that they will destroy Israel. The land of Palestine is being stolen day after day; the Palestinian people is being eradicated day after day. As a result, they respond in whatever way they can to apply pressure on Israel. Colonial powers use civilians strategically, settling them to claim land and dispossess the native population, be they Indians in North America or Palestinians in what is now Israel and the Occupied Territories. When the native population sees that there is an irreversible dynamic that is taking away their land and identity with the support of an overwhelming power, then they are forced to resort to whatever methods of resistance they can.

Not long ago, 19-year-old Qassem al-Mughrabi, a Palestinian man from Jerusalem drove his car into a group of soldiers at an intersection. "The terrorist", as the Israeli newspaper Haaretz called him, was shot and killed. In two separate incidents last July, Palestinians from Jerusalem also used vehicles to attack Israelis. The attackers were not part of an organisation. Although those Palestinian men were also killed, senior Israeli officials called for their homes to be demolished. In a separate incident, Haaretz reported that a Palestinian woman blinded an Israeli soldier in one eye when she threw acid n his face. "The terrorist was arrested by security forces," the paper said. An occupied citizen attacks an occupying soldier, and she is the terrorist?

In September, Bush spoke at the United Nations. No cause could justify the deliberate taking of human life, he said. Yet the US has killed thousands of civilians in airstrikes on populated areas. When you drop bombs on populated areas knowing there will be some "collateral" civilian damage, but accepting it as worth it, then it is deliberate. When you impose sanctions, as the US did on Saddam era Iraq, that kill hundreds of thousands, and then say their deaths were worth it, as secretary of state Albright did, then you are deliberately killing people for a political goal. When you seek to "shock and awe", as president Bush did, when he bombed Iraq, you are engaging in terrorism.

Just as the traditional American cowboy film presented white Americans under siege, with Indians as the aggressors, which was the opposite of reality, so, too, have Palestinians become the aggressors and not the victims. Beginning in 1948, 750,000 Palestinians were deliberately cleansed and expelled from their homes, and hundreds of their villages were destroyed, and their land was settled by colonists, who went on to deny their very existence and wage a 60-year war against the remaining natives and the national liberation movements the Palestinians established around the world. Every day, more of Palestine is stolen, more Palestinians are killed. To call oneself an Israeli Zionist is to engage in the dispossession of entire people. It is not that, qua Palestinians, they have the right to use any means necessary, it is because they are weak. The weak have much less power than the strong, and can do much less damage. The Palestinians would not have ever bombed cafes or used home-made missiles if they had tanks and airplanes. It is only in the current context that their actions are justified, and there are obvious limits.

It is impossible to make a universal ethical claim or establish a Kantian principle justifying any act to resist colonialism or domination by overwhelming power. And there are other questions I have trouble answering. Can an Iraqi be justified in attacking the United States? After all, his country was attacked without provocation, and destroyed, with millions of refugees created, hundreds of thousands of dead. And this, after 12 years of bombings and sanctions, which killed many and destroyed the lives of many others.

I could argue that all Americans are benefiting from their country's exploits without having to pay the price, and that, in today's world, the imperial machine is not merely the military but a military-civilian network. And I could also say that Americans elected the Bush administration twice and elected representatives who did nothing to stop the war, and the American people themselves did nothing. From the perspective of an American, or an Israeli, or other powerful aggressors, if you are strong, everything you do is justifiable, and nothing the weak do is legitimate. It's merely a question of what side you choose: the side of the strong or the side of the weak.

Israel and its allies in the west and in Arab regimes such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia have managed to corrupt the PLO leadership, to suborn them with the promise of power at the expense of liberty for their people, creating a first – a liberation movement that collaborated with the occupier. Israeli elections are coming up and, as usual, these elections are accompanied by war to bolster the candidates. You cannot be prime minister of Israel without enough Arab blood on your hands. An Israeli general has threatened to set Gaza back decades, just as they threatened to set Lebanon back decades in 2006. As if strangling Gaza and denying its people fuel, power or food had not set it back decades already.

The democratically elected Hamas government was targeted for destruction from the day it won the elections in 2006. The world told the Palestinians that they cannot have democracy, as if the goal was to radicalise them further and as if that would not have a consequence. Israel claims it is targeting Hamas's military forces. This is not true. It is targeting Palestinian police forces and killing them, including some such as the chief of police, Tawfiq Jaber, who was actually a former Fatah official who stayed on in his post after Hamas took control of Gaza. What will happen to a society with no security forces? What do the Israelis expect to happen when forces more radical than Hamas gain power?

A Zionist Israel is not a viable long-term project and Israeli settlements, land expropriation and separation barriers have long since made a two state solution impossible. There can be only one state in historic Palestine. In coming decades, Israelis will be confronted with two options. Will they peacefully transition towards an equal society, where Palestinians are given the same rights, à la post-apartheid South Africa? Or will they continue to view democracy as a threat? If so, one of the peoples will be forced to leave. Colonialism has only worked when most of the natives have been exterminated. But often, as in occupied Algeria, it is the settlers who flee. Eventually, the Palestinians will not be willing to compromise and seek one state for both people. Does the world want to further radicalise them?

Do not be deceived: the persistence of the Palestine problem is the main motive for every anti-American militant in the Arab world and beyond. But now the Bush administration has added Iraq and Afghanistan as additional grievances. America has lost its influence on the Arab masses, even if it can still apply pressure on Arab regimes. But reformists and elites in the Arab world want nothing to do with America.

A failed American administration departs, the promise of a Palestinian state a lie, as more Palestinians are murdered. A new president comes to power, but the people of the Middle East have too much bitter experience of US administrations to have any hope for change. President-elect Obama, Vice President-elect Biden and incoming secretary of state Hillary Clinton have not demonstrated that their view of the Middle East is at all different from previous administrations. As the world prepares to celebrate a new year, how long before it is once again made to feel the pain of those whose oppression it either ignores or supports? © Guardian News and Media Limited 2009