Why Israel Is Not The Palestinian Problem

Many thanks to the Editorial Board at the International Herald Tribune for publishing a letter of mine on the Jan 9, 2009 printed paper, under the headline “When governments fail” (a modified version of yesterday’s blog “Are Palestinian Lives Truly Worthless?“):

David Brooks’s analysis (“The confidence war,” Views, Dec. 7) is missing the fact that the very strategies of successive Israeli governments, the Palestinian Authority and now Hamas have been based on the utter disregard of the value of the lives of individual Palestinians.

This has been true especially in the last decade or so. One side casually bombs crowded residential areas from afar only to release increasingly hypocritical apologetic press releases afterward. The other side sends youths on suicide missions or unleashes them armed with stones to throw at armored tanks – while proclaiming that thousands and thousands of dead women and children are a price worth paying for victory against “the Zionists.”

As shown repeatedly during the last century, it should be the job of international institutions to push hard for the safeguarding of lives, especially when the local governments are clearly unable or unwilling to do so. But I am afraid that with the way things are going, we can only expect a future made of innumerable deaths.

I’ll expand briefly upon that to argue why Israel is not the actual problem for the Palestinians, at the moment.

True, most of the actions undertaken during the latest conflict situation by the Jerusalem Government are at the edge or beyond the very limits of International Law and War Law. It also does look especially fishy how the Gaza invasion coincides with upcoming Israeli elections…one of the luckily few occasions where a democracy makes liberal use of somebody else’s blood for a few votes more.

But that’s less important to Palestinians than the gigantic failure of their leadership(s) to do anything positive on their behalf.

Like it or not, when there is a war one side usually shows little interest in protecting the other side’s civilian lives (it depends on the war, and on the propaganda, but the overall trend is alas towards more civilian deaths). However deplorable, if Azerbaijan declares war against Armenia (just an example) it goes without saying that Azerbaijanis will rather kill Armenians, and Armenians Azerbaijanis.

Usually, that is accompanied by each side trying as much as possible to protect its own: therefore Azerbaijan will do its best to defend Azerbaijanis, and Armenia Armenians. Sometimes that doesn’t actually work out as proclaimed (see Russian botched kidnap rescue attempts) but one can assume that at least the intention is always there.

That is not what happens for Palestinians. They must be the only people on Earth deliberately put in harm’s way by their own leaders. I am sure that even the incredibly locked-up Burmese junta, and the paranoid hermit North Korean state-wide prison, would try to lower casualties among their own citizens in case of war much, much better than Hamas (or Fatah for that matters) have ever managed even to imagine, let alone do.

In fact, just like in Communist states of old (USSR famine in the 1930’s, China famine in the 1950’s), in the world as seen by Hamas people are not people, but pawns to use for a higher ideological purpose (namely, the destruction of Israel). Horribly, a dead Palestinian child becomes more useful to them than a live Palestinian child, as it does make Israel look an abominable entity that doesn’t deserve to seat among Nations.

Whatever Israel has done or is doing, things don’t have to be the way they are. Resistance is a natural reaction to occupation, but suicide (or worse: making sure some of yours get killed for your political advantage) is not.

As suggested in the blog and the letter to the IHT, we would go a long way towards improving the Palestinians’ situation if only we could protect the people from Hamas (and from Fatah).

Now of course one would have to understand what brought Palestinians in the Occupied Territories to a situation that is perhaps worse than Somalia’s and definitely makes Haiti looks like Heaven on Earth. One would not do wrong by considering the issue of politicide by Israel, but that is as relevant to today’s situation as reconsidering the opportunity of wearing warm clothes in a snowstorm is to somebody that has already caught pneumonia.

Are Palestinian Lives Truly Worthless?

I am not saying that I disagree (and I don’t) with David Brooks’ definition of how to find a meaning in each Israeli-Palestinian act of terrorism or war (“The confidence war“, IHT, January 7, 2009). But what is missing from Mr Brooks’ analysis is the fact that the very strategies of successive Israeli Governments, the PLO and now Hamas have been based on the utter disregard of the value of the lives of individual Palestinians.

This has been true especially in the last decade or so, with one side casually bombing crowded residential areas from afar only to release increasingly hypocritical “sorry” press releases afterwards; and the other either sending youths to suicide missions or armed with stones against armored tanks, or proclaiming without a second thought that thousands and thousands of dead women and children are a price worth paying for victory against “the Zionists”.

As shown repeatedly during the last century, it should be the job of international institutions to push hard for the safeguarding of lives, especially when the local Government is clearly unable or unwilling to do so. But I am afraid that until negotiations get centered around politicking rather than the basic rights of individual human beings, Palestinians (and Somalis, and Darfuris, etc etc) can only expect a future made of innumerable deaths.

Time to Indict George W Bush for War Crimes?

Requests periodically recur for the indictment of U.S. President George W Bush, perhaps in front of an International Court, for various charges of war crimes, from the making-up of the “evidence” against Saddam Hussein to the list of abuses by American soldiers in Iraq and at Guantanamo against their prisoners, to the use of torture to extract information and confessions from terrorist suspects.

What is the feasibility of all that? It depends. Of the fact that the build-up to the war in Iraq in 2003 was based on nothing, I do not think there can be any doubt. Furthermore, it was definitely not me the one in charge whilst abuses and torture were (are?) being practiced. If Bush were a private citizen, the whole thing would already be in the hands of prosecutors and defense lawyers, trying to establish the boundaries between law, crime and ineptitude.

But Bush is no private citizen. Instead, he has spent eight years at the top of the Superpower. What hope could then be in getting him indicted, let alone sentenced?

First thing to be clarified is, would there be any role for an International Court? I do not think so. What future U.S. Administration would take the responsibility of establishing a precedent, sending a former president abroad to answer for war crimes? The only possibility is via the American own justice system.

Even in that case, one would have to present shock-and-awe evidence of criminal intent. It is true that, however slowly, the Congress is publishing reports very critical of the choices and behaviour of members of the Bush Administration, such as the results of the Senate Intelligence Committee chaired by Senator John D. “Jay” Rockefeller IV (D, W Va.), published about a month ago. But first of all, behind all that it’s simple partisan struggle, Democrats against Republicans in a fight which little interest in finding the truth about the President: because the only thing they care about is of course, getting re-elected.

To leave everything in the hands of various parliamentary committees, from this point of view, only serves to hush-hush the whole thing, with potential defendants more likely to die of old age than of attending a single hearing in a court of law. Ah, and to polarize the electorate for no overall gain (another positive opportunity for the politicians, and a pernicious disaster for the electorate itself).

One should therefore more than welcome the latest proposal by Nicholas D Kristof, from the pages of International Herald Tribune: forget the parliamentary committees, the courts, the discussions on the legality of Presidential decisions, in favor of a “Truth Commission” (TC) modeled on the one that helped South Africa become a democratic nation without bloodshed.

The TC would be something coming out of the U.S. themselves, thereby dismissing suggestions of “international interference”; it would only establish a single precedent, namely the fact that Presidents are responsible for what they do, and for what they leave behind; many of the “crimes” would be out in the open, because perpetrators just as in South Africa would prefer sincerity in front of the TC, to the danger of being brought in front of a criminal court.

At the end of the day, what Justice is the one that never comes to conclusions? It is much better to “know the truth”, because it allows us to dream to be able to avoid repeating the same mistakes in the future.

The Moral Equivalence of Hamas and Israel (and us)

Another day, another series of reports on tens of dead, dying and injured people in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

I’ll leave the sorting out of who’s to blame to anybody wishing to waste their time.

Sure, there are more victims on the Palestinian side than on the Israeli, indicating an overwhelmingly disproportionate response as if the value of human life really depended on nationality (a consideration unfathomably shared by the Palestinian leadership too: prisoners exchange usually involve a handful of Israelis to tens of Palestinians).

On the other hand what purpose can it be in the launching of aimless rockets by Hamas, randomly towards civilians? Apart, that is, from killing if not terrorizing them on purpose, because they are civilians: as if that has ever won anybody’s war.

The height of mutual stupidity is that people in charge on the two sides are determined to brutalize each other. At the same time, retaliation after retaliation, they have kind of abdicated all hopes of recovering their own humanity…to the sudden appearance of virtuous behavior in the other camp.

It’s fairly obvious that whatever the causes of their madness, they are all directly responsible for untold miseries that will befall on their own children.

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What should be done to bring peace to Israeli and Palestinians alike? It’s more than obvious, it’s actually boring. Stop wishing the others could go away. Realize the land is for the two of them, and for the rest of humanity as well. Decouple Israel from the messianic undertones, by getting it into the European Union.

But that doesn’t look like in anybody’s interest. The main hope is that the situation has worsened since the quasi-agreement with President Clinton in 2000, because when everybody knows peace is tantalizingly near, everybody rushes to settle the last scores.

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But that’s still too easy an analysis.  

Who else is brutalizing civilians in the futile attempt of getting a military and thus a political advantage in a never-ending war, worsened exactly because and by that brutalization?

It’s us from NATO.

The civilian victims are in Afghanistan, nowadays, and likely but less evidently in Iraq.

And it’s no novelty. Leaving aside the famously useless killings of tens of thousands in Dresden during World War II, just fifty years ago the French Government tried almost casually to defend the bloody bombing of a Tunisian border village, in the Algerian war.

Despite our illusions, things have not changed since. We are still eliminating fellow human beings without much of a thought. Here’s NATO proudly using American and European taxpayers’ money to kill road building workers. Never, or almost never, big news in our media.

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It is high time we leave aside idle discussions about other peoples’ business to mind about our own idiocy.

Serbia: Trapped in the past…by the EU!

I find the IHT’s Feb 25 Editorial on Serbia and Kosovo rather disingenuous (“Trapped in the past“, IHT, Feb 25).

They state that “Every effort has been made by NATO, the United Nations, the European Union and the United States to accommodate Serbian fears and sensitivities” but then undermine that very claim by decrying Serbia’s lack of “any willingness to negotiate the province’s independence” (as if this were a fait-accompli from the very beginning: so much for “accommodation“…).

They also accuse Belgrade of having “never demonstrated any remorse for the carnage unleashed by the former dictator Slobodan Milosevic“: thereby forgetting how young the Serbian democracy is, and its obvious innocence with respect to the crimes of a past dictatorship.

Serbia and the Serb may have a lot of soul-searching to do having lost pretty much everything and some in their misguided attempts to restore national pride by way of armed conflicts. But nothing, almost nothing has been done by the EU in primis, and by the USA, to help them out of that trap.

Actually, it is apparent that Kosovo has been recognized by some States, and not by others, only as part of a wider USA/Russia geopolitical game. What trust should Serbia put in such a process, is anybody’s guess.

If that can be the basis against “triggering wider conflict“, it’s very much doubtful.

On Nuclear Hypocrisy

Letter published on the International Herald Tribune, Dec 14, 2007

Regarding “Get Tehran inside the tent” by Vali Nasr and Ray Takeyh (Views, Dec. 7): The one underlying issue that the writers do not mention, and that does not appear in the article by Valerie Lincy and Gary Milhollin (“In Tehran we trust?” Views, Dec. 7), is that Iran is alone in a sea of hostile neighbors.

Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear bomb is as logical as Israel’s or Pakistan’s. For the current Iranian regime, and perhaps even for a hypothetical Iranian democracy, it would be extremely foolish to leave the fortunes of the state to the whims of the United States, Europe, Russia, or the Sunni Arab states, especially with troubled neighbors like Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

It is obvious that the West needs a new policy for Iran. Perhaps once – just once – the powers that be will pay attention to the basic needs of Iran, starting by ruling out an invasion.

Isn’t it telling that Nasr and Takeyh repeat the old fairy tale that during the Cold War “confronting Communism meant promoting capitalism and democracy,” forgetting to mention an egregiously contrary example? In a most tragic decision 54 years ago, the democratically elected government of Mohammad Mossadegh was toppled and an autocratic monarch reintroduced, all in the name of fighting world Communism.

Maurizio Morabito, England

Burma, Myanmar, India and us

Are we going to let India lead us by our noses once again?

In these hours not that dissimilar from that night on 3 June 1989, hours before the Tian-an-men massacre in Beijing, it may be difficult to think of how to realistically support the demonstrations in Burma, apart from sending more and more appeals for calm to a Military Junta probably second to none in matters of bloody-thirsty repressions and the political and economic strangling of a country.

Still, it is possible to perform three not-just-symbolic gestures:

(1) Categorically refuse the use of “Myanmar” in place of “Burma”.

Even if “quasi-etymologically correct”, “Myanmar” is the invention of the Military Junta, forced upon the country in 1989 with no democratic process at all. If the Burmese will want to change the official “foreign” name of their country to “Myanmar”, they will be able to do so after getting their country back from the usurpers.

More: a couple of years ago the Foreign Minister of Burma protested for the use of “Burma” by the US State Department: all more the reason not to use “Myanmar”.

(2) Let’s publish the names of the dictators.

For way too long the Military Junta of Burma has been treated as a shapeless entity, not as a group of ferocious dictators (humanity-free to the point of denying Aung San Suu Kyi the chance to meet her dying husband for one last time).

Here then some of the persons who should be answering charges in a court of law, instead of commanding Burma against the will of its people:

General Than Shwe – President
General Soe Win – Prime Minister
General Major Nyan Win – Foreign Minister

If we force as much publicity as possible on the names (and pictures) of those in charge of Burma, they won’t be able to hide themselves with the anonymity they have so far much cultivated.

(3) And finally, we should not let India lead us by the nose once again.

Not only many European Governments have underplayed the scandal of the Dhruv helicopters, built also using European supplies and then supplied to the Burmese Junta against every EU embargo rule. It’s worse than that: while outside the Burmese monks were demonstrating, Indian Oil Minister Murli Deora was busy signing a US$150-million agreement for natural gas research in Burma: a clear sign of support of the Junta on the part of a “democratic” Government.

This behaviour is part of New Dehli’s strategic myopia, with India so scared by rebellions in the Northeast to the point of propping up the Burmese Military Junta to get their help in preventing an escalation of those conflicts. And it is based on the apparent impunity when a State goes against rules established by other democratic countries.

If that way of thinking would be intolerable when done by communist China, all the more so for India.

Foreign and International Trade Ministers from all the EU countries (and elsewhere) have a clear duty tonight to apply all possible pressures: including a protest against the present Indian acquiescence, and possible future complicity with the Burmese Junta, before things turn to the worse.

(link to the AVAAZ petition “Stand with the Burmese Protesters”)

After Iraq – Six Points for a New Approach to International Military Interventions

-If President Bush had followed his “Mission Accomplished” message! He may have been celebrated to this day as an accomplished Statesman

The situation in Zimbabwe appears so dire, even Pius Ncube, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo, is calling for an outside intervention to free the locals from the overpowering elite that has ruined the Nation.

Unfortunately, no outside intervention appears forthcoming.

For each Sierra Leone where foreign troops got rid of murderous rebels, there are innumerable counter-examples of places abandoned to the rule of unsavory characters: Afghanistan until 2001, the Kurdish villages in northern Iraq until 1991, Rwands in 1994 of course, and nowadays Darfur.

Despite the experience of the appeasers in the 1930’s, the temptation is always very high towards opting against direct intervention. Especially so now, with no end in sight for the military adventure in Iraq.

But think for a minute: if only President Bush had followed through the message bourne out of the “Mission Accomplished” May 1, 2003 banner on USS Abraham Lincon to its obvious consequence! He may have been celebrated to this day as an accomplished Statesman: having successfully completed the mission of toppling Saddam Hussein.

In other words: in case of a dire humanitarian crisis caused by egregiously unlawful behavior, there is a way to intervene: by setting ourselves to fight the criminals against humanity, and to accomplish the goal of defeating them: and then, to subsequently go back where we came from.

To understand how can this be done in practice, let’s imagine that there is a need to rapidly convince a State to change its tactics.

Sadly, that is not difficult: candidates abound, where humanitarian aid is not allowed to a wayward province, or wholesale killing is still considered an option, or otherwise part of the local population is criminally treated.

1-Start by establishing a clear measurable objective (eg “remove tyrant”…and that’s it!)

This is a basic principle of management so obvious, and yet betrayed at least as often as proven correct. How many targets can one hit with one shot? Hence the objective should be “Free the Zimbabweans from the rampant inflation”. Or “Remove the Iraqi individuals that will build a nuclear arms capability at the first occasion”. Vaporous stuff such as “exporting democracy”, etc should be forgotten altogether.

2- To avoid war, use a credible threat of war

If the counterpart is hell-bent in their devilish actions, scare them by showing seriously-ready-to-use violent means. Seriousness and readiness are imperative.
In truth, the actual start of the war is a sign of failure, because evidently the actions put in place were not scary or credible enough: just as good crowd control involves showing off truncheons to frighten, rather than actually beating people up.
On the other hand, if a war looms anyway, it has to be started. Otherwise, any threatening posturing will be even less effective next time around: and therefore the risk of future misbehaviors (and wars) much higher.

3-Get in quick, get out fast

Conduct the war by getting in, shocking, aweing and then leaving.
George HW Bush understood it in 1991. George W Bush declared just as much in that banner in 2003, but then carried on with the occupation regardless. And a never-ending occupation can only erode political support at home, while keeping the troops in danger of being attacked by ever-more-empowered insurgents.

4-Stand-by, ready to invade again very quickly

Once the enemy country has been left to its own devices, the usual cliques could simply regain power (see Iraq 1991). This can be prevented by keeping alive a credible, ready-to-strike threat.
Admittedly, that can evolve into a tragically ironic, revolving-door situation, with several rounds of invasions and retreats. But then, one hopes even the most recalcitrant political elite may opt for a different take, after suffering the umpteenth invasion.

5-Prevent civilian casualties

The death of any innocent “enemy” civilian is a fiasco akin to bombing one’s own cities.
Civilian deaths have boosted rather than weakened their Government since time immemorable (think the USA’s reaction on 9/12). This is contrary to the stated objective of changing a State’s criminal ways.
The absolute reduction of “collateral damage” to the utmost minimum is therefore not just an ethical goal, it makes good political and military strategy. And it will definitely help in preventing an organized insurgency to form.

6-Invade by land, avoid aerial bombings, and stay away from big equipment as much as possible

The threat and practice of repeated invasions is only feasible if the conflict can be carried out without the use of large, hard-to-position, hard-to-move, maintenance-hungry equipment, bombers included.
Apart from logistical considerations, in fact, if we want a quick conclusion with no “collateral damage”, i.e. precision and speed, bombing cannot be an option. In fact, whatever Air Force generals have been saying for the past hundred years, the effectiveness of bombing in preparation of a later invasion has been tragically debunked in the Flanders, in Normandy, and even in the first Iraq war.
After all, the objective is change the ways of a State, not to destroy it wantonly, the latter is the only thing bombing is good at in a modern war (if anybody believes in “precision targeting”, I’ve got a bridge to sell)

Will the above ever become reality? It is well known that we are always ready to fight the last war. And so there is some hope indeed, that will have to wait for the time when it will be possible to analyze the Iraq conflict with pragmatic-historical rather than political eyes.