Monthly Archives: January 2009

What do you mean, contiguous?

President Obama gave an interview to Al Arabiya television tonight, and at times it was really quite amazing. I particularly enjoyed the parts about the bankruptcy of Al-Qaeda ideas and Obama’s strong commitment to reach out to the Muslim world. However, one part of the interview has stuck with me more than any other:

THE PRESIDENT: I think it is possible for us to see a Palestinian state — I’m not going to put a time frame on it — that is contiguous, that allows freedom of movement for its people, that allows for trade with other countries, that allows the creation of businesses and commerce so that people have a better life.

Contiguous. Thats the key word here. Obama might mean two things when he says contiguous Palestinian state:

1. A legitimately contiguous Palestinian state, in which the West Bank and Gaza are physically connected to some extent and the flow of people, goods, and services can occur in a truly free manner.

2. A contiguous West Bank as the Palestinian state, with Gaza left to its own devices or possibly pushed off on the Egyptians*.

I sincerely hope it is the first and not the second, but if the first is indeed what he meant, it would be a sea-change in American policy. And I am not enough of an Obama-maniac to believe that has happened just yet.

* This, by the way, is even an worse outcome than most people consider when talking about a 2 state solution. At least in those plans, Gaza is considered part of the Palestinian state, even if that state wouldn’t be contiguous.

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The Strength of Palestinian Children

Watch this child talk about life under the occupation. He is probably 5 or 6 years old, no older than 7. I have pasted a rough translation afterwards. 

“We want the world to come and see us and see our children, how they are locked in the classrooms (UNRWA Schools) sitting on the floor without mattresses or blankets. No food, no water, no electricity, is it a life? It is a siege, this is the biggest siege for Israel. 

Come and see how we are all living, thrown aside. We dont play we dont laugh, we can’t learn or have fun, also we cant watch TV or cartoon shows. When we open TV, the only thing we see is funerals, death, fire, tanks, shooting and invasions. I dont ever see childrens TV shows or cartoons to watch and enjoy and learn from. Its all about seige its all about the invasion and watching the shooting.

No food, no water, no drink, there is nothing. We are thrown aside like beggars. While other people are living in peace, playing lauging and happy, we are under seige, we have been under seige for almost 2 years, we dont eat drink we dont do anything.

They wont even open the borders to let in a little bit of food or anything else.”



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60 Minutes on the 2 State Solution

Bob Simon’s report on the future of Israel and Palestine puts the two-state solution into serious question.

The way Simon sees it (and he’s one of the only major media figures to engage clearly and honestly on this subject), Israel has three options:

Demographers predict that within ten years Arabs will outnumber Jews in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. Without a separate Palestinian state the Israelis would have three options, none of them good. They could try ethnic cleansing, drive the Palestinians out of the West Bank, or they could give the Palestinians the vote. That would be the democratic option but it would mean the end of the Jewish state. Or they could try apartheid – have the minority Israelis rule the majority Palestinians, but apartheid regimes don’t have a very long life.

To reiterate Simon’s narration, the choice here is between ethnic cleansing, aparthied and democracy. Israel has tried the first two to varying degrees for the past 60 years, but neither has worked out. The presence of Palestinians in this so-called “land without a people” means that the two major goals of Zionism (a state of Israel that covers all of Palestine, and a state of Israel predicated solely on ethnic/religious lines) are fundamentally opposed to each other. And when one considers that 25% of Israeli first-graders are Arab, it seems high time to try the third option. I’ll save my thoughts about why I prefer a one state solution and how I would envision implementing it, but for now it will suffice for me to say that I am strongly in favor of one-state because it is the only truly democratic solution. And I have a feeling Bob Simon might agree with me. 

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Document the Atrocities

Photos from Gaza serve two very important purposes. They have provided evidence of Israeli use of white phosphorous on civilians, the bombing of hospitals and ambulances (not to mention mosques, government offices, houses, and the rest of the non-military infrastructure of Gaza which are not considered acceptable targets in war). But they also display and document the suffering of Palestinians. The fill the record so that when the United States wakes up from its slumber, its government and citizens will be able to look back on the suffering they had previously ignored. Here are some of the most important photos from Gaza:

White phosphorus being used on a UN building.

White phosphorus raining down on civilians in a UN building.

Using white phosphorus against civilians is a war crime. This man's burns are proof that it happened.

An ambulance struck by Israeli shells.

More evidence of war crimes, not to mention sadism. This boy is 15. Courtesy of the International Solidarity Movement Flickr.

More evidence of war crimes, not to mention sadism. This boy is 15, his chemical burns caused by white phosphorus. Courtesy of the International Solidarity Movement Flickr.

A Palestinian boy in the ruins of his home.

Palestinian boys in the ruins of their home. Courtesy of ISM Flickr.

What can this man do for his child?

What can this man do for his child?

These boys sit next to the empty desks of their classmates on the first day back to school...

These boys sit next to the empty desks of their classmates on the first day back to school...

A brave young boy stands up to his occupier.

A brave young boy stands up to his occupier.

If you were wondering who did this.

If you were wondering who did this. Scrawled in a building occupied by the IDF during the most recent invasion.


IDF soldiers left behind many messages. This one readsWe came to annihilate you.

IDF soldiers left behind many messages. This one reads"We came to annihilate you."

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Please watch or listen to today’s DemocracyNow!

Today’s DemocracyNow! interview with Amer Shurrab is nothing less than heart-wrenching.

If you’ve read this blog you’ll know that Danny and I rarely make appeals like this, but I feel very strongly that this clip sums up the brutality and injustice that spans the past six decades.

Please watch it.

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The Right of Return

The right of return is the internationally recognized right of a refugee to return to his or her home after the violence that made him or her leave ends. This is a vital right, especially in times of war, as it allows people to flee violence with the knowledge that they will not lose their citizenship upon their return.

In the case of Palestine, the right of return is invoked in reference to the violent expulsion of Palestinians from their homes in 1948, the founding act of the modern Israeli state. In the 41 years since this expulsion (commonly known as Al-Nakba or The Catastrophe), the right of Palestinian refugees to return to the homes they were forced to leave during the 1948 war has never been in question by the international community. What has prevented peace has been action on this right. This is because returning refugees to their rightful homes and lands would mean demographically altering Israel such that it might not remain a Jewish super-majority. Israel, created as a state for Jews only, would cease to exist along its primary founding guideline should this right be granted and enough refugees return to their homes to shift the demographic balance. 

Today, 20% of the Israeli population is Arab, and though Israel has marginalized this population in a variety of ways, it cannot get rid of its Arabs (the Palestinians it failed to expel in 1948), and must continue to expand its Jewish population at a pace equal to Arab growth in order to preserve its current ethnic super-majority. Note that the goal is not to be the largest ethnic group of a plurality, or even to be above 50% of the population. Instead, to remain an ethnically Jewish state as it was founded, Israel must remain overwhelmingly Jewish. Thus, granting the right of return to every refugee who legally deserves it would pose a existential threat to Israel as we currently know it, and might possibly be great enough to turn it into a multi-ethnic state in which Jews cannot overwhelmingly dominate politics, culture, and society. If this were to happen, either the state of Israel would become a state no longer predicated on ethnicity, or it would have to disenfranchise or expel significant parts of its population. This is a doomsday scenario for the Israeli government, but a closer look reveals that the situation is even more complicated:

1. The right of return is not fully enumerated. Who does this right apply to? Only those who themselves were kicked out of Palestine in or after 1948? What about their families? If they are dead, what about their surviving children?  It seems inherently fair that the right of return be transferred to children at the very least, as not doing so would only validate the strategy of long-term expulsion as a means to avoid legal responsibility. Depending on the types of people eligible for return, the potential influx of Palestinians back to Israel could either be very small or threateningly large, and this uncertainty is a significant part of the problem. 

2. The right of return will not be acted upon by many who deserve it. For many who were kicked out of the homes in 1948, 60 years has been too long to wait for a solution. In this time, they have re-settled in the occupied territories or in other countries. I would not be surprised if many of these people did not act upon their right of return once it was formally granted.  I’m sure that much higher percentages of people who are still living in refugee camps would act on this right, and many Palestinians are still stuck in the refugee camps that were created in the wake of the Nakba. So it is obviously very difficult to guage just how many people would act on their right of return, even if we could settle on the number of people eligible for this right. This, then, is a second level of complication.

With these two questions in mind, as well as the existential threat posed to Israel by returning refugees, it is no surprise that many have turned to alternative forms of justice. First among these alternatives is financial compensation.  This is also complicated because it entails putting a dollar value on a deeply emotional and long-lasting trauma. Inevitably, the number will be too low for some on the Palestinian side, and too high for some on the Israeli side. And while it would be a meaningful gesture to expelled Palestinians, it would encounter two further problems. First, it would acknowledge that a wrong was done to these people, which then implies that they have always had a right to return, and further acknowledges that the Israeli state was founded on an act of violent expulsion instead of the happy myth of a land without a people for a people without a land. None of these implications are palatable to many in Israeli society, and would present severe roadblocks for the future Israeli government that might be in the position to address these questions. Second, without acknowledging the right of return, financial compensation might be immaterial to many refugees. I could imagine tha many people consider this as a question of ethics rather than compensation, and would refuse compensation without an acknowledgement of responsibility. The Israeli government, speaking for its citizens, must therefore acknowledge that what it did to these people was wrong. Without this, I would guess that many refugees might never accept alternative compensation. 

Clearly, this is not a simple question to resolve. Someone who flees violence or is forcibly expelled from his or her home has an internationally recognized right to return to that home. But, 61 years later, measuring who is eligible and who would act upon that right is far more complex. Any form of compensation or apology would acknowledge the deep injustice that marked the foundation of Israel, and would provide extra legal force to refugees insisting on their rights. But if this right were granted and refugees returned, the state of Israel itself might demographically shift to a degree that could jeopardize or erase the ethnic exclusivity that defines it. 

While I do not believe in states founded on ethnic, religious, or other bases of exclusivity, I understand that a one-state solution is currently viewed as idealistic and impractical. But when I look at the right of return from the perspective of basic fairness, I don’t see any other solution. The right of return is inescapable: physical return cannot be substitued by other compensation unless the wrongs of  the Nakba are acknowleged. Today, this acknowledgement, the foundation of a lasting peace, continues to feel like a distant dream. 


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Faulty Logic and State Terrorism

Thomas “Today I saw something at the Dubai airport, therefore huge generalization about the future” Friedman has gotten himself into some trouble recently:

Earlier this week, he argued that Israel could win its assault on Gaza (is it possible to win a bombing?) because punishing civilians would eventually result in their rejection of Hamas. There are two main problems with this rationale, the least important of which is the point I made in my previous post. There is no proof that civilians will turn on their government after a certain amount of bombing by the IDF. No amount of bombs persuaded the Vietmanese to change their minds, the escalating punishment of Algerians only solidified support for the resistance movement, Hezbollah is arguably stronger today than it was in 2006, and by the way after 9/11 Americans didn’t turn on President Bush and our government’s insane foreign policy, they only backed the insanity even more vigorously. Friedman’s entire defense of the Israeli government’s bombing of civilians rests on the idea that we’ll bomb the shit out of them and, presto-chango, they’ll make Hamas stop launching rockets. How exactly? In the next elections? In the next opinion poll? And why? Because they don’t want someone to defend them against white phosphorous and D.I.M.E. ammunition? Because their patriotism goes down when their people are being bombed indiscriminately? Friedman’s entire argument makes no sense. He doesn’t show any concrete way in which the citizens who suffered the most changed their minds about their local resitance movement, or if they did how that made a difference in the actions of that resistance movement. Friedman imagines a correlation where none is proven, then applies causation in an even bolder display of arrogance. He displays classic colonial mentality by de-humanizing civilians and assuming that, since they are not human, they will turn on their fellows after enough stress has been applied. 

This mentality segues into the most important problem with Friedman’s article. As Glenn Greenwald pointed out earlier this week, Friedman is endorsing terrorism (I specifically avoid saying state-sponsored, because that implies there’s a difference). If you went through his article and switched all the names, everyone would realize that he is backing something totally immoral, and the article would never be printed. Why doesn’t Friedman carelessly wipe away Hamas’ faults by claiming that their rocket attacks are designed to punish Israeli citizens into changing their government’s policies? Maybe because that would get him labelled an anti-semite, but probably because it never crossed his mind to apply his logic to the other side. And that’s exactly why he should be ignored. 

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