Rojova: a struggle against borders and for autonomy

by Ali Bektaş on July 24, 2014

Post image for Rojova: a struggle against borders and for autonomyThousands of Kurds seek to break down the Turkish-Syrian border to join their comrades in defending the autonomous Kurdish enclave of Rojova from ISIS.

Photo: Kurdish resistance fighters mobilize against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, from archive (November 2012).

The struggle to abolish borders which separate peoples from each other, is commonly represented by certain well known and extreme examples. The militarized wall between the US and Mexico is one clear case in the consciousness of the Western left. Another disgusting manifestation is the stranglehold of Israel’s apartheid wall around the West Bank. Less well known, despite a hundred years of fierce struggle, are the borders that separate the 40 million Kurdish peoples from each other and which span across Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran.

The Kurdish aspiration to destroy these borders is reaching its peak today on the boundary that separates Turkey and Syria. As a result of decades of resistance to these nation states, the radical Kurds of Turkey and Syria are taking advantage of the geopolitical shake-up in the region and are declaring their regional autonomy. But before we examine the current situation, a brief sketch of the historical context is in order.

A History of Struggle

In the midst of the First World War, the semi-secret Skyes-Picot pact between Britain and France prefigured the borders which would define Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan and Iraq for a hundred years to come. After a four year war under the helm of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the father of modern-day Turkey, the Turkish Republic was formed with the Lausanne Agreement in 1923. Turkey was not only a project resulting from an independence war but also from the creation of an artificial national identity. This Turkish identity began to erase all other ethnicities and cultures which it regarded as a threat, and the Kurdish people were at the top of this list. After being carved up and divided by the imperial powers of Europe, the Kurds now found themselves being erased by the budding Turkish nationalism.

The 20th century history of the Kurds within the borders of Turkey is ripe with rebellions and ensuing massacres such as the events of Dersim that started in 1938. This instance alone left more than 10,000 Kurds dead and at least as many forcefully removed from their homes. Without a doubt, the most resilient Kurdish resistance movement emerged with the formation of the the Kurdish Workers Party, or PKK, in 1978. Formed by Marxist-Leninist students and led by Abdullah Öcalan, the PKK became a formidable enemy of the Turkish state as it waged a guerrilla war of independence, most aggressively in the late 1980s and 1990s.

At that time, the goal of the PKK was to create a unified Kurdistan along socialist principles. The PKK operated training camps across the border from Turkey in Iraq but more notably in Syria, especially in the Bekaa Valley near Lebanon. As a testament to its transborder aspirations, the PKK and its leader Öcalan left a deep mark on Kurds in Western Kurdistan, located in northern Syria. The 30 year civil war left more than 60,000 people dead within Turkish borders, the vast majority of them Kurds, members and sympathizers of the PKK, as well as 4,500 Kurdish villages evacuated and burnt by the Turkish military.

In 1999, Turkish special forces were able to capture Öcalan from exile in Rome (via Kenya), and the scope of the Kurdish struggle started to take a new form. From his extreme isolation in an island prison in the middle of the Marmara Sea, Öcalan began to make references to the Zapatistas and even to the relatively obscure social ecologist Murray Bookchin. The war for independence became transformed into one for autonomy, self-governance and expression of their identity such as using the Kurdish language, banned until very recently. More emphasis was placed upon the non-guerilla organizations of the Kurdish people, both their legal political parties but also on different modes of civil disobedience and the beginnings of an autonomous mode of federative governance.

The Kurds in Turkey had not been the only group under the yoke of a repressive nationalist Kemalism. Secularism, one of the pillars of the Turkish Republic, had been steadfastly preserved by its guardian — the Turkish Armed Forces — which targeted various stripes of Islamists vowing for power. But the tables turned at the turn of the century when the Justice and Development Party (AKP) put forth a program conjoining neoliberal development and Islam and swiftly rose to power. The AKP, with the rabid yet shrewd Erdoğan as its chief, became the first Turkish government to start a dialogue with PKK leadership in Oslo in 2008. Although mostly window-dressing, such interchange was unheard of until that moment.

In Kurdistan, the Sun Rises from the West

Today, the situation for the Kurds has taken a different turn with the dawn of the Arab Spring and its spread to Syria. The Syrian people were not able to bring a swift departure to their despotic leader Bashar Al-Assad as had been the case in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Instead, the country plunged into a still raging war against the last remaining Ba’athist dictatorship in the region. From this desperate mess emerged Rojova on July 19, 2012.

Rojova, meaning West in Kurdish, was the product of what is referred to as a Democratic People’s Revolution by those who took advantage of the weakening of the Ba’athist regime, namely the PYD (the Democratic Unity Party). Their territory is comprised of three cantons in northern Syria, Cizîr to the East, Efrîn to the West and Kobanê in the middle. Instead of forming a state, the PYD seek to implement democratic autonomy and self-governance with assemblies that extend down to the neighborhood level. In January of this year, their Democratic Autonomous Assembly passed a “social agreement” which guaranteed decentralization, free education in the native tongue, healthcare, housing and an end to child labor and any discrimination against women.

The radical Kurdish movement’s emphasis on women’s autonomy and empowerment must be underlined. There have been numerous PKK units and guerrilla camps which are only for women. Nearly all political organizations they form have two leaders, one a man and another a woman. Following in this tradition, on April 2, 2012 in Rojava, the autonomous force the YPJ (Women’s Defense Forces) was formed within the YPG (the People’s Defense Forces). Both the YPG and YPJ have had to defend the revolution of Rojova nearly constantly from both the Ba’athist regime as well as the various stripes of Islamists who have turned Syria into the latest front of their jihad.

A Gang called ISIS

Meanwhile, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, formed in 2009, gradually matured into a full-fledged Salafist organization and expanded its operations to Syria, renaming itself the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). Their form of jihad and power struggle led to their disavowal by Al Qaeda earlier this year, and ISIS quickly became the reigning address for Islamic extremists looking to join the holy war. ISIS stepped into the limelight of the Western media with its capture of Mosul in Iraq on June 10, 2014. But the autonomous regions of Rojova have also been under a fierce ISIS assault for more than a year.

Three weeks ago, on July 2, ISIS began a siege of Rojova’s central canton of Kobanê, using military equipment and munitions captured following their victory in Mosul. ISIS is trying to take Kobanê from the east, west and south and this ongoing siege constitutes the most serious threat that Rojova has come under thus far. The Kurdish movement in Turkey identifies deeply with Rojova since the PYD has been enormously influenced by the leadership of Öcalan. Therefore, a threat to the revolution in Rojova also constitutes a serious threat for the aspirations of regional autonomy for Kurds living within the borders of Turkey. In addition, many believe that the Turkish state is using ISIS for a proxy war against Kurdish autonomy by supplying them with arms and intelligence and free movement across its borders.

Following the ISIS siege of Kobanê, Kurdish and Leftist political actors in Turkey — namely the HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party) and BDP (Peace and Democracy Party) — mobilized to intervene in the situation. Starting on July 9, they set up four different encampments along the border in strategic locations to prevent regular ISIS movements in and out of Turkey so they could bring their wounded to Turkish hospitals and receive logistical support from the Turkish state. These encampments have also been used as staging grounds to cross the border en masse to join the YPG and YPJ forces in their defense of Kobanê. The current climate within the Kurdish movement in Turkey is one of a wartime mobilization with daily calls by party members for the youth to remove the borders and join the defense forces in Rojova.

One of the largest crossings in defiance of the border came on July 14, when approximately 300 youth crossed into Kobanê and were greeted by YPG members on the other side who would guide them across the minefield between the border and Kobanê. But this was only the prelude to what would be a historic celebration of the Kurdish struggle for regional autonomy, on the second anniversary of the revolution in Rojova.

Destroying the Border

All day and into the night on July 18, thousands of Kurds flooded into the encampment in the township of Pirsus (Suruç in Turkish). Tents had been set up near the village of Alizer, a village literally divided by the border between Turkey and Syria. People came from all over Kurdistan to celebrate the revolution in Rojova and to remove the border so as to join their compatriots on the other side in their war against ISIS.

The next day, on the 19th, the air was filled with the dry dust as the camp was set up in the middle of a fallow field under gusts of scorching winds. The sun shone hard at 45ºC, yet people kept coming and joining in the ongoing halay (a circular dance popular amongst Kurds). With more people came more and more tanks and armored personal carriers of the Turkish military as well as the water canons and other armored vehicles of the police.

The tanks and troops of the Turkish military arrived from a nearby base which has on its entrance the words “The border is honor” emblazoned on its entrance. Yet the Kurdish villagers and militant youth were not intimidated by the show of force and remained determined to destroy this border between them and their comrades under siege. On the other side of the border, thousands of Kurds from Kobanê arrived to embrace those separated from them by a flimsy barbed wire. As nighttime set in and the air became cooler, fireworks started to light the sky in a great celebration of the revolution. People were restless and the barbed wire lost any semblance of a deterrent it once represented. The stage was set for a spectacular confrontation.

And that confrontation came as promised. After the wires were clipped, a few hundred Kurdish youth crossed into Kobanê to be greeted by a delegation from the YPG. The police and military brutally attacked the celebration launching hundreds of teargas canisters into the area, as well as assaulting the crowd with batons and water cannons. The perseverance of the people was pure inspiration as everyone from the most bold and wild youth to old grannies joined the resistance against the forces of the Turkish state with rocks, molotov cocktails and fireworks. From the stage came directives for people to come and join those fighting or at least to come with their cars to help evacuate the wounded. After a two hour battle, the police and soldiers forced their way into the area with the tents and set fire to it all.

Five hours later, the military launched an operation at another encampment 30 kilometers away, near the village of Ziyaret, at the township of Birecik. The front lines of the siege of the Kobanê canton is visible from this point and this camp was strategically placed to sabotage ISIS movements and provide support and solidarity to the YPG. The people at that camp fought the military off and regained control of the camp only to have to endure another more vicious attack the following morning, on July 21, during which soldiers and police burned the tents and destroyed the cars of those there, arresting eight people after beating them.

Rojova for the Middle East

In the Western media, when one hears of Kurds or Kurdistan it is most often in reference to Mesud Barzani and the Kurdish territory under his control in Northern Iraq, which has also extended its sovereignty in the current context created by ISIS. It must be pointed out that this political formation has minimal affinity with the radical revolutionary one launched by the PYD in Rojova. In fact, both the PYD and PKK often find themselves in open conflict with Barzani’s vision for the Kurds. Occasionally doing the bidding of colonial states, Barzani is also a frequent visitor of Erdoğan. In fact, as recent as last week he flew to Ankara to meet with him and discuss the situation unfolding in the region.

The siege around Kobanê by ISIS is continuing but the YPG and YPJ are determined to thwart it and as of today have begun to take back territory from them. Meanwhile, their comrades on the Turkish side of the border have begun to rebuild the encampment at the village of Ziyaret and vow to stay there until ISIS is fought off. They see the defense of Kobanê as the crucial battle to keep the battle for Kurdish autonomy alive. Many compare this current mobilization to that which took place in defense of the Spanish Revolution against the fascists in the late 1930s. The crushing of the Spanish Revolution had global repercussions that are still being felt today. Similarly, the perseverance of the revolution in Rojova is the only remote hope for a different kind of Middle East, where peoples come together in solidarity with each other rather than at war under sectarianism stoked by colonial powers.

The author can be reached at ali@riseup.net.

 

The Israeli Pogrom of Gaza

 

 

Political Bestiality

 

 

by NORMAN POLLACK

 

Let’s start with terms: “bestiality,” bestial is marked by base or inhuman instincts or desires, brutal, to which bestiality adds, display or gratification of bestial traits or impulses; “pogrom,” an organized massacre of helpless people, specifically [and ironically], such a massacre of Jewish people. (Webster’s) Singly, and in combination, I believe we have an accurate description of Israel’s aggression in Gaza, the irony of course being that we see a replay of the barbarous treatment of the Jews practiced throughout history now instead being carried forward by Jews themselves in, yes, a massacre, as brutal as in Czarist times, of Gazans.

Before proceeding further, let’s throw in another phrase, emanating from Israeli and multiple Jewish sources, the charge, to be applied to fellow Jews for any criticism whatsoever of Israel, which makes one a “self-hating” Jew. I frankly don’t know whether to accept the designation (sans quotation marks), in which case I would be expressing my abhorrence to the war crimes committed by Israel, by convention, in world Jewry, THE representative of the Jewish people and religion, leading therefore to feelings of shame, alienation, and betrayal, that my religion, ancestral heritage, upbringing, could so distort the meaning of Judaism as I’ve known and loved it, necessitating, through the dictates of conscience (itself formerly a Jewish trait shared with world secular and religious thought), that I formally leave the Jewish faith until it purges itself of urges toward domination and, also yes, sadism. Or else, retain the quotation marks around “self-hating” Jew and come out fighting, throwing the vile epithet back in the face of those who use it to silence dissent and prevent exposure,, within the Jewish community, to recognition of what is being done in its name and to solidify its identity and devotion.

Obviously, I choose the latter, stating outright that Israel and world (especially American) Jewry blindly supporting it have contributed to the falsification, denigration, debasement of Judaism, a treacherous act of negation even Nazism with its gas chambers and concentration camps could not do, i.e., destroy the Jewish love of freedom and cosmopolitan outreach to all peoples in search of a humane, equitable social order. In fact, the phrase “self-hating” Jew is disguise, cover, defense mechanism, to hide what has become the tragic phenomenon resulting from the Holocaust. Rather than experience a burst of emancipation from that darkest of dark experiences, Jews have internalized it, introjected the behavior and values of their captors, murderers, assailants, replicating through application to others the crimes committed on themselves (ourselves, to bring it home). “Self-hating” Jew is in fact a reactive formation, possibly even a projection of what through intervening levels of the unconscious is the realization by the Jewish people of the true state of their current mindset and experience. I am speaking, then, of Jewish self-hatred, which is self-hating Jew stripped of the quotation marks, SELF-HATRED because the denial of all that made Judaism worthwhile as both a secular and religious experience in modern times—secular and religious being an almost empty distinction when one notes the unified Jewish response on behalf of the welfare of others, in America, blacks, the poor, radicals, militant labor, dissidents of every description—all washed away in the last half-century, first, gradually, then by the 1980s a growing tumult of, now the introversion of McCarthyism, of Reaction, an anticommunism of the spirit having nothing to do with communism but as code for opposition to antiwar, civil rights, whatever rocks-the-boat movements, most vociferously applied to the defense of Israel and the actions and tenets of US foreign policy.

Jewish self-hatred, out of unconscious recognition (not an oxymoron) that Judaism stands for power, force, militarism, occupation, conquest, the inferiority of blacks, Arabs, Muslims, a hodgepodge of xenophobia, ethnocentrism, deep-lying fears of real and imagined rejection, the element of self-hatred becoming prominent because in former times the opposite was true, Jewish identity having been the haven for intellectual freedom, forthright opposition to repression, gentle in its respect for tolerance and concern for the weak. Einstein would not bomb Gaza hospitals. The Rosenbergs would not, like Obama, flirt with nuclear annihilation. Schwerner and Goodman, with their comrade Chaney, would not murder small children, whether a Vietnam hamlet or in Shejaiya. But let’s get beyond the past. Shejaiya (I here and later anglicize it for Shujai’iya because of my earlier usage) provides sufficient indictment of the bestiality of the Israeli aggression.

***

This is the fifth in a series of articles on the invasion, the tone getting more militant as the brutality of the mission (to terrorize the Palestinian people and inflict as much damage and destruction as possible) widens and intensifies. 500 dead. Now 600 and more. The appetite of the beast is not sated. Israelis reveal a streak of uninhibited lust for blood seldom seen so publicly displayed, and not just in official circles. Consider two examples, reported in the Guardian. The first, perhaps not even Nazis could duplicate; rather than Eichmann-like bureaucratic methodical dealing in death, Israelis celebrating in a festive mood the death rained down on Gaza through airstrikes—more like a college fraternity drunken party than anything. I refer to Harriet Sherwood’s article, “Israelis gather on hillsides to watch and cheer as military drops bombs on Gaza,” (July 20), with the subheading, “People drink, snack and pose for selfies against a background of explosions as Palestinian death toll mounts in ongoing offensive.”

We read, “As the sun begins to sink over the Mediterranean, groups of Israelis gather each evening on hilltops close to the Gaza border to cheer, whoop and whistle as bombs rain down on people in a hellish warzone a few miles away.” Sherwood continues: “Old sofas, garden chairs, battered car seats and upturned crates provide seating for the spectators. On one hilltop, a swing has been attached to the branches of a pine tree, allowing its occupant to sway gently in the breeze. Some bring bottles of beer or soft drinks and snacks.” No “self-hating” Jews here, but should the despicable callousness ever break through, enough raw psychic material for Jewish self-hatred—the trouble being, breaking through appears near-impossible, how far gone, fortified behind towering psychological walls, these people are, as though even Jewish self-hatred, predicated on a modicum of awareness, is a step above and beyond the reach of who and what they are.

Her account, in Siderot, only gets worse, gruesome to the point of nausea (mine). “On Saturday [the 19th],” she writes, “a group of men huddle around a shisha pipe. Nearly all hold up smartphones to record the explosions or to pose grinning, perhaps with thumbs up, for selfies against a backdrop of black smoke.” Gazans know this, see the hatred at the check points and blockade even in “normal” times, the display of force everywhere, the sophisticated gadgetry of a supposedly superior society, the human depravity of “selfies against a backdrop of black smoke.” Siderot: “A house with a war view may even command a premium price these days.” “Anticipatory excitement grows as dusk falls,” because there will be more rockets after breaking the Ramadan fast, “and the Israeli military will respond with force.” Again, “The thud of shellfire, flash of an explosion and pall of smoke are greeted with exclamations of approval. ‘What a beauty,’ says one appreciative spectators.”

One wonders if Gazans are taking selfies against a background of dead children, rubble, further rubble? I have to say, no wonder the tunnels and rockets, a desperate attempt at self-respect (the opposite psychological dynamics of the Israelis’ self-hatred, mocking human life because unable to affirm it—or rather, confusing affirmation with a hedonistic, exhibitionist lifestyle, empty of regard for others but the self, driven to deface and exterminate those who are a reminder of what true affirmation is like), if not indeed survival. How hold the Occupation as a constant, and blame those suffering under it for rockets? Perhaps the Occupation is the unstated basis for Jewish self-hatred. One last reference to Sherwood’s article—a bit of touchiness on the Israelis’ part about their obvious inhumanity: “Given the dramatic views, media news are coming to the area to cover the fighting. On a nearby hilltop, an ugly scene develops as a group of Israeli men threaten a photographer, accusing him of being a ‘leftist’. We are warned against asking for interviews, as another cheer goes up.” To Israelis, and now world Jewry, to question a broad range of policy, in America and Israel alike, is to be a “leftist,” a term equated with the phrase “self-hating”.

The second Guardian article, also by Sherwood, “Israel uses flechette shells in Gaza,” (July 20), for me, an unknown, but not unexpected, development, given the seeding of antipersonnel devices earlier in Lebanon, bears the grisly, rightly so, subheading, “Palestinian human rights group accuses Israel military of using shells that spray out thousands of tiny and potentially lethal darts.” They’re illustrated in the piece. (This may help to explain the images seen of small children whose faces have been scarred by shrapnel.) She begins: “The Israeli military is using flechette shells, which spray out thousands of tiny and potentially lethal metal darts, in its military operations in Gaza,” as in the case of those “fired towards the village of Khuzaa, east of Khan Younis [of which we’ll hear more recently in the commission of Israeli atrocities], on 17 July…. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) did not deny using the shells in the conflict.” Its explanation was classic—hiding behind law written by the conquerors: “As a rule, the IDF only employs weapons that have been determined lawful under international law, and in a manner which fully conforms with the laws of armed conflict.” And with the laws of human moral conscience, in light of their promiscuous (i.e., unrestricted, indiscriminate) use, scope, and lethality?

Flechette shells should be thought per se evil. Probably US use of napalm in Vietnam was cribbed from and justified by the same contrived explanation or cheat sheet. B’Tselem describes the shell as “an anti-personnel weapon that is generally fired from a tank. The shell explodes in the air and releases thousands of metal darts 37.5 mm in length, which disperse in a conical arch 300 metres long and about 90 metres wide.” (I can hear the cheering from the hillsides—just the knowledge of and celebration of its release, even when the tanks are out of sight.) B’Tselem also notes that whatever its status, “other rules of humanitarian law render their use in the Gaza Strip illegal. One of the most fundamental principles is the obligation to distinguish between those who are involved and those who are not involved in the fighting, and to avoid to the extent possible injury to those who are not involved. Deriving from this principle is the prohibition of the use of an imprecise weapon which is likely to result in civilian injuries.” Even B’Tselem waffles by not declaring for outright prohibition, on the ground that “avoid[ing] to the extent possible” plays into the hands of any despot, like Netanyahu, who stands up and cynically proclaims his sorrow at civilian casualties, even a single one. Flechettes accounted for Palestinian deaths in Gaza earlier, and “also killed and wounded dozens of civilians, including women and children, in conflicts between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon.”

***

Finally from the Guardian, and moving forward in the Israeli onslaught, we have Sherwood, along with Peter Beaumont and Ian Black’s article, “More than 20 members of one family killed in Gaza strike,” (July 21), the subtitle of which graphically gives the lie to the Netanyahu-Obama sales pitch on the desire for moderation: “’We don’t want to see any more civilians killed,’ says Barack Obama as IDF attacks intensive care unit in day of bloodshed.” Roll out the propaganda machinery of damage control as what should be regarded as the sacredness of hospitals in the bombing or shelling of targets is ignored and disregarded, on the ground that they are storage depots for weapons (Israel’s lame excuse) or the destruction construed as part of an absolute right of self-defense (which Obama, not deploring these acts, uses to exonerate Israel of all war crimes). The first sentence says it all: “A hospital was shelled, killing and injuring staff and patients, and up to 28 members of one family died in an airstrike as Gaza endured another day of relentless bloodshed on Monday [the 21st].”

The international uproar over Shejaiya (I discussed the mass killings there in a previous article) required the flurry of Obama statements and Kerry’s diplomatic activities, the uproar itself however going largely unreported in the American media. The lead photo for the article, mother, child in her arms, older man, crouched on the floor, the caption, “Palestinian patients in the hospital after the building was shelled by the IDF,” is the ideal backdrop for Kerry’s amoral cynicism. Authorized by Obama to do “’everything he can to help facilitate a cessation of hostilities,’” Kerry now in Egypt blames Hamas for the violence and states that Israel, presumably including the hospital shelling, is making “an ‘appropriate and legitimate effort’ to defend itself but the consequences were of deep concern.” How deep the concern, this official Washington talking out of both sides of its mouth?

We learn further, “In Deir al-Balah in central Gaza, al-Aqsa hospital became the third to be struck in the 14-day conflict when three shells slammed into the intensive care unit, surgical and administrative areas. Five people were killed and 70 wounded, including about 30 medics…. Ambulances tried to evacuate patients but were forced to turn back by continued shelling. Israel has claimed that Hamas hides weapons in hospitals.” Therefore, blow them up? More still: “Further south, in Khan Younis, an extended family was wiped out in an air strike on a house. The number of dead was put at between 24 and 28. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights said “another 10 people were killed in a single air strike in Rafah, including four young children and a baby.” And Save the Children estimates “that on average, seven had been killed every day during the conflict,” one of its spokesperson’s also reminding us, “’For many children, this is the third war in six years that they are going through.’” A second photo taken at a morgue is captioned, “Palestinians pray over the bodies of 17 members of the Abu Jamea family, killed by an air strike.”

Sherwood, et. al., in an article, “Israel hits hundreds of targets in Gaza as soldier is confirmed missing,” (July 22), point out that one hundred alone focused on Shejaiya, “the scene of the most intense fighting of the conflict.” In the larger picture, according to B’Tselem, the description worthy of an indictment of Israeli leadership, civil, political, military, before the International Criminal Court in the Hague: “Horrific developments in Gaza have reached intolerable heights; Israel is bombing houses with people in them, entire families have been buried under rubble, and streets lie in ruins. Hundreds have been killed so far, dozens in the last 24 hours only, many of them women and children. The number of refugees is rising: tens of thousands of people have nowhere to go and no safe haven.” 1939? No, July 22, 2014. Nor in any particular exaggerated. We have the reports, the photographs, the children’s deaths, the rubble—and the slickness of the Israeli reply.

***

Anne Barnard, in her New York Times article, “Questions About Tactics and Targets as Civilian Toll Climbs in Israeli Strikes,” (July 21), enables us to fill in important details, first, about what happened in Khan Younis: “The blast from the Israeli strike was so powerful that it threw an iron door clear over several neighboring houses. It came to rest along with a twisted laundry rack still laden on Monday with singed clothes and a child’s slipper.” This, in a densely populated urban area; carnage is the only word that will do: “When the strike leveled a four-story house in the southern Gaza Strip the night before, it also killed 25 members of four family households—including 19 children—gathered to break the Ramadan fast together. Relatives said it also killed a guest of the family, identified by an Israeli human rights group as a member of the Hamas military wing, ostensibly Israel’s target.”

Enough reason for the slaughter, or do we now see McCarthyism’s guilt-by-association principle raised to near-infinity, itself testimony to a mindset verging on a totalistic concept and practice of repression. “The attack,” Barnard writes, “was the latest in a series of Israeli strikes that have killed families in their homes, during an offensive that Israel says is meant to stop militant rocket fire that targets its civilians and destroys Hamas’s tunnel network.” The explanation is self-serving and hardly connects with, except as a terror-tactic, the civilian killings on a massive scale. Barnard appears to realize this perfectly well, whatever The Times’s editorial policy: “The Palestinian deaths—75 percent of them civilians, according to a United Nations count—have prompted a wave of international outrage, and are raising questions about Israel’s stated dedication to protecting civilians.”

Israel’s reply: All Hamas’s fault, “saying they have chosen to keep operating among civilians,” while the now familiar spokesman for the Israeli military, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, said “he had not been able to confirm the circumstances of the attack here or who the target might have been.” Par-for-the-course stonewalling, nor would he “address questions about whether the target would have been considered worth so many additional deaths.” That is of course the question Israelis would not reply to; whatever the status of past surgical strikes (were they such? were they even then justified?), now, she continues, “there have been numerous instances of family homes being struck with residents inside.” Out of the mouths of babes, or even Times reporters, comes wisdom: “More and more Palestinians are accusing Israel of trying to inflict maximum suffering to demoralize Palestinians and weaken support for Hamas.” The tone of her writing seems to credit the observation.

How could it be otherwise, the facts now on the table, the war crimes not simply evident but becoming self-evident? More description of carnage, and then a fact which suggests ghoulishness beyond war crimes, to wit, encourage Gazans to seek safety in an area, then BOMB it: “On Monday night [the 21st], a strike hit an eight-story apartment building in downtown Gaza City—an area where Israeli officials had urged Gazans to take shelter. The building collapsed as rescue crews were inside, killing more people. The death toll, at least 13, was still being tallied.

Here one credits the Israelis for their frankness, as that of one senior military official who said that not all civilian casualties “come from strikes going astray; some take place when civilians are in places the military aims to hit.” What he meant was not terrorization as such, but a contrived picture of Hamas “holding people inside the apartments while shooting from there,” which comes down to the same thing (a license to kill). Barnard sees through this: “That did not appear to be the situation at the Abu Jameh home, where survivors said, the family was gathered to break the daily Ramadan fast, a ceremonial meal, a time when Israeli military officials would have known that people were likely to be home.” All of the dead were from that family, except for one Hamas member “who was visiting a member of the family.” Enough, no more for now. The picture is clear: “Of those who lived in the house, only four people survived, three men who had gone to pray, and Tawfik Abu Jameh’s toddler, shielded by the body of his mother. The children killed ranged in age from 4 months to 14 years, and included an adopted orphan whose father had been killed in an Israeli strike.”

“Self-hating” Jew, no, Jewish self-hatred, for the acts committed in the name of Judaism, and for the negation of the acts which had once distinguished Judaism as the vehicle and spirit of world humanism, peace, social justice, racial harmony, and individual self-creation and self-development, all the fruition of the struggle for freedom.

Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

 

 

Leonard Cohen on Creativity, Hard Work, and Why You Should Never Quit Before You Know What It Is You’re Quitting

by

“The cutting of the gem has to be finished before you can see whether it shines.”

Canadian singer-songwriter, poet, and novelist Leonard Cohen (b. September 21, 1934) is among the most exhilarating creative spirits of the past century. Recipient of the prestigious Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and countless other accolades, and an ordained Rinzai Buddhist monk, his music has extended popular song into the realm of poetry, even philosophy. By the time Bob Dylan rose to fame, Cohen already had several volumes of poetry and two novels under his belt, including the critically acclaimed Beautiful Losers, which famously led Allen Ginsberg to remark that “Dylan blew everybody’s mind, except Leonard’s.” Once he turned to songwriting in the late 1960s, the world of music was forever changed.

From Paul Zollo’s impressive interview compendium Songwriters on Songwriting (public library) — which also gave us Pete Seeger on originality, Bob Dylan on sacrifice and the unconscious mind, and Carole King on perspiration vs. inspiration — comes a spectacular and wide-ranging 1992 conversation with Cohen, who begins by considering the purpose of music in human life:

There are always meaningful songs for somebody. People are doing their courting, people are finding their wives, people are making babies, people are washing their dishes, people are getting through the day, with songs that we may find insignificant. But their significance is affirmed by others. There’s always someone affirming the significance of a song by taking a woman into his arms or by getting through the night. That’s what dignifies the song. Songs don’t dignify human activity. Human activity dignifies the song.

Cohen approaches his work with extraordinary doggedness reflecting the notion that work ethic supersedes what we call “inspiration” — something articulated by such acclaimed and diverse creators as the celebrated composer Tchaikovsky (“A self-respecting artist must not fold his hands on the pretext that he is not in the mood.”), novelist Isabel Allende (“Show up, show up, show up, and after a while the muse shows up, too.”), painter Chuck Close (Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work.”), beloved author E.B. White (“A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.”), Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope (“My belief of book writing is much the same as my belief as to shoemaking. The man who will work the hardest at it, and will work with the most honest purpose, will work the best.”), and designer Massimo Vignelli (“There is no design without discipline.”). Cohen tells Zollo:

I’m writing all the time. And as the songs begin to coalesce, I’m not doing anything else but writing. I wish I were one of those people who wrote songs quickly. But I’m not. So it takes me a great deal of time to find out what the song is. So I’m working most of the time.

[...]

To find a song that I can sing, to engage my interest, to penetrate my boredom with myself and my disinterest in my own opinions, to penetrate those barriers, the song has to speak to me with a certain urgency.

To be able to find that song that I can be interested in takes many versions and it takes a lot of uncovering.

[...]

My immediate realm of thought is bureaucratic and like a traffic jam. My ordinary state of mind is very much like the waiting room at the DMV… So to penetrate this chattering and this meaningless debate that is occupying most of my attention, I have to come up with something that really speaks to my deepest interests. Otherwise I nod off in one way or another. So to find that song, that urgent song, takes a lot of versions and a lot of work and a lot of sweat.

But why shouldn’t my work be hard? Almost everybody’s work is hard. One is distracted by this notion that there is such a thing as inspiration, that it comes fast and easy. And some people are graced by that style. I’m not. So I have to work as hard as any stiff, to come up with my payload.

He later adds:

Freedom and restriction are just luxurious terms to one who is locked in a dungeon in the tower of song. These are just … ideas. I don’t have the sense of restriction or freedom. I just have the sense of work. I have the sense of hard labor.

When asked whether he ever finds that “hard labor” enjoyable, Cohen echoes Lewis Hyde’s distinction between work and creative labor and considers what fulfilling work actually means:

It has a certain nourishment. The mental physique is muscular. That gives you a certain stride as you walk along the dismal landscape of your inner thoughts. You have a certain kind of tone to your activity. But most of the time it doesn’t help. It’s just hard work.

But I think unemployment is the great affliction of man. Even people with jobs are unemployed. In fact, most people with jobs are unemployed. I can say, happily and gratefully, that I am fully employed. Maybe all hard work means is fully employed.

Cohen further illustrates the point that ideas don’t simply appear to him with a charming anecdote, citing a writer friend of his who once said that Cohen’s mind “is unpolluted by a single idea,” which he took as a great compliment. Instead, he stresses the value of iteration and notes that his work consists of “just versions.” When Zollo asks whether each song begins with a lyrical idea, Cohen answers with lyrical defiance:

[Writing] begins with an appetite to discover my self-respect. To redeem the day. So the day does not go down in debt. It begins with that kind of appetite.

Cohen addresses the question of where good ideas come from with charming irreverence, producing the now-legendary line that Paul Holdengräber quoted in his conversation with David Lynch on creativity. Cohen echoes T.S. Eliot’s thoughts on the mystical quality of creativity and tells Zollo:

If I knew where the good songs came from, I’d go there more often. It’s a mysterious condition. It’s much like the life of a Catholic nun. You’re married to a mystery.

But Cohen’s most moving insights on songwriting transcend the specificity of the craft and extend to the universals of life. Addressing Zollo’s astonishment at the fact that Cohen has discarded entire finished song verses, he reflects on the necessary stick-to-itiveness of the creative process — this notion that before we quit, we have to have invested all of ourselves in order for the full picture to reveal itself and justify the quitting, which applies equally to everything from work to love:

Before I can discard the verse, I have to write it… I can’t discard a verse before it is written because it is the writing of the verse that produces whatever delights or interests or facets that are going to catch the light. The cutting of the gem has to be finished before you can see whether it shines.

Cohen returns to the notion of hard work almost as an existential imperative:

I always used to work hard. But I had no idea what hard work was until something changed in my mind… I don’t really know what it was. Maybe some sense that this whole enterprise is limited, that there was an end in sight… That you were really truly mortal.

Considering his ongoing interest in the process itself rather than the outcome, Cohen makes a beautiful case for the art of self-renewal by exploring the deeper rewards and gratifications that have kept him going for half a century:

It [has] to do with two things. One is economic urgency. I just never made enough money to say, “Oh, man, I think I’m gonna get a yacht now and scuba-dive.” I never had those kinds of funds available to me to make radical decisions about what I might do in life. Besides that, I was trained in what later became known as the Montreal School of Poetry. Before there were prizes, before there were grants, before there were even girls who cared about what I did. We would meet, a loosely defined group of people. There were no prizes, as I said, no rewards other than the work itself. We would read each other poems. We were passionately involved with poems and our lives were involved with this occupation…

We had in our minds the examples of poets who continued to work their whole lives. There was never any sense of a raid on the marketplace, that you should come up with a hit and get out. That kind of sensibility simply did not take root in my mind until very recently…

So I always had the sense of being in this for keeps, if your health lasts you. And you’re fortunate enough to have the days at your disposal so you can keep on doing this. I never had the sense that there was an end. That there was a retirement or that there was a jackpot.

What a beautiful testament to the creative spirit and its true motives, to creative contribution coming from a place of purpose rather than a hunger for profit.

Songwriters on Songwriting is a treasure trove of wisdom from cover to cover, featuring Zollo’s conversations with such icons as Suzanne Vega, k.d. lang, David Byrne, and Neil Young.

http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2014/07/15/leonard-cohen-paul-zollo-creativity/

The civilian death toll in Gaza is immoral and unacceptable — and it’s time to talk honestly about all of it

 

Collective punishment or human shields? Israel’s military has no “moral superiority,” time for media to cover Gaza fairly

Collective punishment or human shields? Israel's military has no "moral superiority," time for media to cover Gaza fairly
Palestinians flee their homes in the Zeitoun neighbourhood of Gaza City, after Israel had airdropped leaflets warning people to leave the area, Wednesday, July 16, 2014. (Credit: AP/Lefteris Pitarakis)

How commonly is the alleged moral superiority of the Israeli military invoked? So commonly that if you type “the most moral army in the world” into Google, you’ll immediately get a bunch of articles discussing the Israeli “Defense” Forces. Just last week, Slate’s William Saletan argued that while Hamas fires rockets at civilians, Israel takes “pains” in its “exemplary” efforts to avoid harming Palestinian civilians. The New York Times’ Steven Erlanger didn’t “argue” that Israel takes major precautions to avoid harming civilians, he seemed to be taking it as a given when he wrote Gazans were anxious about airstrikes “no matter how carefully Israel tries to target them.”

Despite the fact that the Palestinians are an occupied, besieged and oppressed population that lacks the capability to defend itself against systemic and daily Israeli violence, Hamas’s insistence that Israeli civilians are legitimate targets is morally indefensible, and should be condemned by all people of conscience. But according to what evidence is Israel’s conduct better? And how can it possibly be better when Israel has advanced surveillance capability and laser-guided weaponry, but has still managed to kill more than 150 Palestinian civilians (including 40+ children) in Gaza, compared to just one Israeli death in this latest round of violence? Instead of taking Israel at its word, let’s look at the take of credible observers.

Human Rights Watch, on Israel’s Conduct

After conducting an investigation, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a report on Wednesday accusing Israel of carrying out “unlawful” strikes in Gaza, ones that “either did not attack a legitimate military target or attacked despite the likelihood of civilian casualties being disproportionate to the military gain.” It noted that “Such attacks committed deliberately or recklessly constitute war crimes.” HRW Middle East Director Sarah Leah Whitson also added that Israel’s actions raise “serious questions as to whether these attacks are intended to target civilians or wantonly destroy civilian property.”



The report also said that “Human Rights Watch has documented numerous serious violations of the laws of war by Israeli forces in the past decade, particularly indiscriminate attacks on civilians,” and criticized Israel’s preposterously inadequate efforts at “warning” civilians of impending strikes. Now, which part of all that fits with “exemplary” efforts at avoiding killing civilians? Still, some may buy into Israel’s allegation that Hamas’s use of human shields is what’s responsible for the high civilian death toll. Let’s look at the evidence.

Human Shields

While human rights organizations haven’t yet addressed “human shields” allegations in the ongoing round of Israel-Gaza violence, they did after the 2009 round when Israel killed at least 773 Palestinian civilians, compared to three Israeli civilian casualties (a ratio of 257:1), and used the same “human shields” argument to deflect responsibility for those deaths. When the dust settled, Amnesty International investigated the matter and concluded that there was “no evidence that [Palestinian] rockets were launched from residential houses or buildings while civilians were in these buildings.” More attention-worthy was the report’s note that,

in the cases of [Israeli] precision missiles or tank shells which killed [Palestinian] civilians in their homes, no fighters were present in the houses that were struck and Amnesty International delegates found no indication that there had been any armed confrontations or other military activity in the immediate vicinity at the time of the attack.

Israel’s Use of Human Shields

By contrast, the same report found that “in several cases Israeli soldiers also used [Palestinian] civilians, including children, as ‘human shields’.” Going back in time just a little further to put this into context is important: when the Israeli Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that the Israeli military had to stop using Palestinian civilians as human shields, the Israeli “defense” establishment objected to the ruling. The appeal against the ruling failed, and the practice remains technically illegal, but Israel implicitly encourages it to continue by offering an “inadequate … slap on the wrist,” as Human Rights Watch put it, to Israeli soldiers caught using this reprehensible tactic.

This reveals two important things: the first is the moral hypocrisy and chutzpah on display when Israel ignores its own use of human shields as it accuses its enemies of using them. The second is Israel’s self-contradicting logic: If Palestinian militants had such disregard for Palestinian civilian lives, why was the Israeli military so invested in maintaining the ability to use Palestinians as shields? The fact that the Israeli army wants to use Palestinian human shields actually proves that they believe Palestinian militants prefer not to endanger their own civilians.

When Intentions Are Clearer

There may be more discipline among Israeli leaders in how they talk about the war on Gaza this time, but that wasn’t the case in previous conflagrations. In the 2012 assault, Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai said the “goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages.” Gilad Sharon, son of former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, said “we need to flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza.” And if you think that’s just rhetoric, consider that Amnesty International previously documented Israel had “flattened … busy neighborhoods” into “moonscapes.”

And it wasn’t just human rights organizations that were exposing Israeli war crimes in Gaza, but Israeli soldiers whose conscience could not bear to remain silent about the atrocities they had committed were also coming forward. And in the 2006 assault on Lebanon, one Israeli commander referred to the dropping of more than a million cluster bomblets over Lebanon like this: “What we did was insane and monstrous, we covered entire towns in cluster bombs.” Is this the most moral army?

Imbalance of Power Shapes the Conflict

While the 2009 Amnesty International report found no evidence that Hamas used human shields, it did acknowledge the obvious reality that Hamas does operate in (and fire rockets from) residential areas, adding “although this would be difficult to avoid in the small and overcrowded Gaza Strip.” Beyond the size and overcrowding of Gaza, Hamas also has no real army which could confront Israel on a traditional battlefield. As Yousef Munayyer recently argued on MSNBC, “Palestinians would certainly prefer to have precision-guided missiles and F-16s, and the kind of defense establishment that an independent, sovereign state would have to defend itself.” But in the absence of such capabilities, any fighting militia would be forced to use guerilla tactics that involve operating in inhabited areas.

As Andrew Sullivan put it,

Yes, they conceal armaments and rockets and weapons in civilian areas — and that undoubtedly increases civilian deaths. But what alternative do they have exactly, if they wish to have any military capacity at all? Should they build clearly demarcated camps and barracks and munitions stores, where the IDF could just destroy them at will?

Violence against civilians does not suddenly become more legitimate just because it is carried out by a state actor, and one that doesn’t fit our biases and preconceptions of who commits terrorism. And leading human rights organizations get that, which is why they call for ending military support not just for Hamas and other militant groups, but also for Israel.

Israel’s ground incursion in Gaza is now underway, and while it will almost certainly cause more casualties and destruction, it won’t contribute to resolving the conflict in the long term. Ultimately, this conflict will only be solved when the side holding virtually all the power, the one imposing displacement, occupation, and apartheid on the other side, is pressured in a meaningful way to allow Palestinians to exercise self-determination. Heeding the calls for a suspension of military aid to Israel would be the beginning of such meaningful pressure, and through it we could hopefully see a process that puts us closer to the ending the needless killing of innocent Israelis and Palestinians.

Omar Baddar is a Middle East political analyst based in Washington, DC. You can follow him on Twitter at @OmarBaddar

 

http://www.salon.com/2014/07/18/israels_military_has_no_moral_superiority_and_its_time_the_media_covered_gaza_fairly/?source=newsletter

Where’s the Outrage Over a Boy Burnt to Death?

http://cdn.images.express.co.uk/img/dynamic/78/590x/mohammed-abu-khdeir-486949.jpg

The Atrocity

by URI AVNERY

Bombs are raining on Gaza and rockets on Southern Israel, people are dying and homes are being destroyed.

Again.

Again without any purpose. Again with the certainty that after it’s all over, everything will essentially be the same as it was before.

But I can hardly hear the sirens which warn of rockets coming towards Tel Aviv. I cannot take my mind off the awful thing that happened in Jerusalem.

If a gang of neo-Nazis had kidnapped a 16-year old boy in a London Jewish neighborhood in the dark of the night, driven him to Hyde Park, beaten him up, poured gasoline into his mouth, doused him all over and set him on fire – what would have happened?

Wouldn’t the UK have exploded in a storm of anger and disgust?

Wouldn’t the Queen have expressed her outrage?

Wouldn’t the Prime Minister have rushed to the home of the bereaved family to apologize on behalf of the entire nation?

Wouldn’t the leadership of the neo-Nazis, their active supporters and brain-washers be indicted and condemned?

Perhaps in the UK. Perhaps in Germany.

Not here.

This abominal atrocity took place in Jerusalem. A Palestinian boy was abducted and burned alive. No racist crime in Israel ever came close to it.

Burning people alive is an abomination everywhere. In a state that claims to be “Jewish”, it is even worse.

In Jewish history, only one chapter comes close to the Holocaust: the Spanish inquisition. This Catholic institution tortured Jews and burned them alive at the stake. Later, this happened sometimes in the Russian pogroms. Even the most fanatical enemy of Israel could not imagine such an awful thing happening in Israel. Until now.

Under Israeli law, East Jerusalem is not occupied territory. It is a part of sovereign Israel.

The chain of events was as follows:

Two Palestinians, apparently acting alone, kidnapped three Israeli teenagers who were trying to hitchhike at night from a settlement near Hebron. The objective was probably to use them as hostages for the release of Palestinian prisoners.

The action went awry when one of the three succeeded in calling the Israeli police emergency number from his mobile phone. The kidnappers, assuming that the police would soon be on their tracks, panicked and shot the three at once. They dumped the bodies in a field and fled. (Actually the police bungled things and only started their hunt the next morning.)

All of Israel was in an uproar. Many thousands of soldiers were employed for three weeks in the search for the three youngsters, combing thousands of buildings, caves and fields.

The public uproar was surely justified. But it soon degenerated into an orgy of racist incitement, which intensified from day to day. Newspapers, radio stations and TV networks competed with each other in unabashed racist diatribes, repeating the official line ad nauseam and adding their own nauseous commentary – every day, around the clock.

The security services of the Palestinian Authority, which collaborated throughout with the Israeli security services, played a major role in discovering early on the identity of the two kidnappers (identified but not yet caught). Mahmoud Abbas, the PA president, stood up in a meeting of the Arab countries and condemned the kidnapping unequivocally and was branded by many of his own people as an Arab Quisling. Israeli leaders, on the other hand, called him a hypocrite.

Israel’s leading politicians let loose a salvo of utterances which would be seen anywhere else as outright fascist. A short selection:

Danny Danon, deputy Minister of Defense: “If a Russian boy had been kidnapped, Putin would have flattened village after village!”

“Jewish Home” faction leader Ayala Shaked: “With a people whose heroes are child murderers we must deal accordingly.” (“Jewish Home” is a part of the government coalition.)

Noam Perl, world chairman of Bnei Akiva, the youth movement of the settlers: “An entire nation and thousands of years of history demand: Revenge!”

Uri  Bank, former secretary of Uri Ariel, Housing Minister and builder of the settlements: “This is the right moment . When our children are hurt, we go berserk, no limits, dismantling of the Palestinian Authority, annexation of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), execution of all prisoners who have been condemned for murder, exile of family members of terrorists!”

And Binyamin Netanyahu himself, speaking about the entire Palestinian people: “They are not like us. We sanctify life, they sanctify death!”

When the bodies of the three were found by tourist guides, the chorus of hatred reached a new crescendo. Soldiers posted tens of thousands of messages on the internet calling for “revenge”, politicians egged them on, the media added fuel, lynch mobs gathered in many places in Jerusalem to hunt Arab workers and rough them up.

Except for a few lonely voices, it seemed that all Israel had turned into a soccer mob, shouting “Death to the Arabs!”

Can anyone even imagine a present-day European or American crowd shouting “Death to the Jews?”

The six arrested until now for the bestial murder of the Arab boy had come straight from one of these “Death to the Arabs” demonstrations.

First they had tried to kidnap a 9-year old boy in the same Arab neighborhood, Shuafat. One of them caught the boy in the street and dragged him towards their car, choking him at the same time. Luckily, the child succeeded in shouting “Mama!” and his mother started hitting the kidnapper with her cell phone. He panicked and ran off. The choking marks on the boy’s neck could be seen for several days.

The next day the group returned, caught Muhammad Abu-Khdeir, a cheerful 16-year old boy with an engaging smile, poured gasoline in his mouth and burned him to death.

(As if this was not enough, Border Policemen caught his cousin during a protest demonstration, handcuffed him, threw him on the ground and started kicking his head and face. His wounds look terrible. The disfigured boy was arrested, the policemen were not.)

The atrocious way Muhammad was murdered was not mentioned at first. The fact was disclosed by an Arab pathologist who was present at the official autopsy. Most Israeli newspapers mentioned the fact in a few words on an inner page. Most TV newscasts did not mention the fact at all.

In Israel proper, Arab citizens rose up as they have not done in many years. Violent demonstrations throughout the country lasted for several days. At the same time, the Gaza Strip frontline exploded in a new orgy of rockets and aerial bombings in a new mini-war which already has a name: “Solid Cliff”. (The army’s propaganda section has invented another name in English.) The new Egyptian dictatorship is collaborating with the Israeli army in choking the Strip.

The names of the six suspects of the murder-by-fire – several of whom have already confessed to the appalling deed – are still being withheld. But unofficial reports say that they belong to the Orthodox community. Apparently this community, traditionally anti-Zionist and moderate, has now spawned neo-Nazi offspring, which surpass even their religious-Zionist competitors.

Yet terrible as the deed itself is, to my mind the public reaction is even worse. Because there isn’t any.

True, a few sporadic voices have been heard. Many more ordinary people have voiced their disgust in private conversations. But the deafening moral outrage one could have expected did not materialize.

Everything was done to minimize the “incident”, prevent its publication abroad and even inside Israel. Life went on as usual. A few government leaders and other politicians condemned the deed in routine phrases, for consumption abroad. The soccer world cup contest elicited far more interest. Even on the Left, the atrocity was treated as just another item among the many misdeeds of the occupation.

Where is the outcry, the moral uprising of the nation, the unanimous decision to stamp out the racism that makes such atrocities possible?

The new flare-up in and around the Gaza Strip has obliterated the atrocity altogether.

Sirens sound in Jerusalem and in towns north of Tel-Aviv. The missiles aimed at Israeli population centers have successfully (up to now) been intercepted by counter-missiles. But hundreds of thousands of men, women and children are running to the shelters. On the other side, hundreds of daily sorties of the Israeli Air Force turn life in the Gaza Strip into hell.

When the cannon roar, the muses fall silent.

Also the pity for a boy burnt to death.

URI AVNERY is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is a contributor to CounterPunch’s book The Politics of Anti-Semitism.

http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/07/11/the-atrocity/

 

Did Bin Laden Win?

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria

http://media3.s-nbcnews.com/i/newscms/2014_09/211786/140226-binladen-spread-930a_78cfcc8e5d500911b3f1f4b998b3ac38.jpg

by ERIC WALBERG

Osama Bin Laden’s goal in 9/11 was to suck the US into Afghanistan and Iraq, sparking a regional conflagration that would sweep away the imperial legacy and establish a new caliphate. Over a decade later, this plan is still on track. As he led his jihadists triumphantly into Mosul and declared an emirate on Iraq-Syrian territory, ISIS ‘caliph’ Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced that the 1916 secret Sykes-Picot Agreement between Britain, France and imperial Russia was at last being dismantled.

The US and Saudis now face an intractable dilemma.

  • For the US, allowing the local al-Qaeda rebels to consolidate their hold on Sunni Iraq and northern Syria means the complete failure of their post-9/11 strategy of creating a new Middle East under their hegemony.
  • For the Saudis, it means risking the very existence of the Saudi state itself.

Sykes-Picot and Saudi Arabia

All of the Middle East states, including Saudi Arabia, were founded as a result of the disintegration of the Ottoman Caliphate at the end of WWI and the Sykes-Picot Agreement that effectively abolished the Ottoman caliphate (Turkey’s new secular leader formalized this in 1924), dividing it into British-French “mandates” and eventually nation states. The prickly Saudis did not suffer the humiliation of direct occupation, but they followed the imperial agenda.

Saudi control of the Arabian peninsula was not what the British had in mind. The British had hoped that the Hashemites could consolidate power over the holy cities Mecca and Medina. They nominally ruled Mecca at the time—Hussein as Emir of Mecca (1908–1917) and his son Abdullah, as deputy for Mecca from 1909–1914 in the Ottoman legislature. In 1917 Hussein was internationally recognized as king of the Kingdom of Hejaz.

Against all odds, the Saud tribe, followers of the ultraconservative Wahhab, defied the British and occupied Mecca in 1924, using an elite corps of jihadists—the Ikhwan—which Saud leader Abdul Aziz organized in 1912 for this purpose (not to be confused with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood founded in 1928). The British had no choice but to accede to this fait accompli, and abandoned their original plan involving the more westernized Hashemites.

However, the Ikhwan jihadists were then betrayed by Abdul Aziz and his new patrons—yes, the very same British—in 1929. The Ikhwan were not happy with Sykes-Picot, which the Saud leader accepted, as it allowed him to establish a tribal monarchy (under imperialist hegemony) to govern the Muslim world.

The Sauds and even more so the Ikhwan were the ISIS of the day—ruthless fighters who slaughter their enemies as ‘unbelievers’, determined to impose their Wahhab-inspired austere Islam on all Muslims. The Sauds were known for their thorough plundering and merciless killings, their raids being “deadlier than traditional Bedouin raids, which usually avoided killing for fear of triggering a blood feud,” according to historian Vernon Egger.

For almost a century now, the Sauds have been able to square the circle, reconciling their role within the empire with their primitive Wahhabism. But they have had their day. Al-Qaeda and now ISIS find their inspiration not with the compromised Saudis but the Ikhwan rebels (followers of Wahhab, but with his militancy restored, and as such dubbed “neo-Wahhabis”).

Just as the first Saudi King Abdul Aziz, supported by the Ikhwan, swept away the more complacent Hashemites and Ottomans/ British, Bin Laden/ ISIS would sweep away the now complacent Saudi royal family, grown fat on its oil wealth, and its US sponsors. Saudi control of the holy cities provides a poor echo of the once powerful Islamic civilization, and the “neo-Wahhabis” know it.

A rump caliphate

The yearning for a revival of the caliphate is predominantly a Sunni one. Hizb ut-Tahrir (HuT, Party of Liberation) was founded by Palestinians and Jordanians in 1953, advocating the revival of the Ottoman Caliphate. It was/is supported by Saudi Arabia (though it does not openly operate in Saudi Arabia).

The whole nineteenth century reform thrust in Islam appeared to be Sunni, though reformer Jamal al-Din al-Afghani was himself Shia and his Sunni Egyptian ally Muhammad Abduh was nonsectarian, campaigning for an end to the Sunni-Shia animosity. After the Caliphate was abolished in 1924 and replaced by colonialism, Shia and Sunnis cooperated in the revivalist Khilafat Movement. Iraqi Shia ulama supported the Sunni rebellion against the British, and Persian religious scholars went to the Caliphate Conference in Jerusalem in 1931.

Sunni extremists like ISIS accuse Shia of being American agents, supporting the US in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is hardly fair. Shia parties opposed these invasions but really had no alternative, and accepted the occupations as faits accomplis, naturally attempting to improve their lot under the circumstances. The charge of being agents of imperialism is belied by the fact that Iran is the only outspoken Islamic critic of imperialism and is the subject of unrelenting subversion for its trouble.

However, the imperial strategy of divide and conquer has worked, and Sunni-Shia sectarianism has been consolidated to the extent that to achieve their goal of a new caliphate, ISIS is collaborating with their secular foes of yesteryear, Baathists and former military personnel, who operate as the Iraqi Islamic Army and the 1920 Revolution Brigades.

Such a strategy will achieve at best a truncated caliphate—roughly ISIS’s current territory—surrounded by hostile Sunni and Shia states, which will soon be the scene of further conflict as the ex-Baathists struggle for control. Their tactical alliance with ISIS can’t last. At that point, ISIS will be forced to look to their Saudi foes for support, but this again is not a stable alliance, as the Saudi betrayal of the Ikhwan in the 1920s reminds us.

This caliphate revival, the goal of Bin Laden, of HuT, and stretching back to the Ikhwan in the 1920s and Afghani in the nineteenth century, should have ended with the US invasions following 9/11, which aimed at destroying al-Qaeda and consolidating US hegemony in the region. However, the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq proved to be a boon to these “neo-Wahhabis”, and all Obama’s horse and all of his men now look quite helpless.

By backing the Syrian insurgency, the US gave at least free rein (if not actual support) to ISIS, who presumably were only supposed to be spoilers, weaken Assad, possibly split up Syria and Iraq, but certainly not to gain power and keep it. With that now a possibility, the US is panicking, as well it should. So far, the Saudis aren’t panicking, presumably counting on using their oil wealth and anti-Shia sectarianism to let them co-opt leaders of some future Sunni Iraqi-Syrian state.

Perhaps they count on the US to drone ISIS out of existence and replace them with pro-US Sunnis. But this no longer looks like an option either. ISIS types are prepared to die in their jihad, like the Ikhwan insurgents a century ago, and it is unlikely that ISIS will be seduced by either the empire or a bankrupt monarchy.

Acceding to a rump caliphate would be the equivalent of the British making peace in the 1920s with the Ikhwan, an impossibility in terms of empire strategy. Now, as then, Saudi hegemony must be preserved. Now, as then, Saudi collapse would mean an end to imperial control over the vital region.

A new regional alignment

ISIS’s sectarian success is prompting calls for a nonsectarian alliance between governments in Syria, Iraq, Iran and possibly Turkey opposed to this scenario. Turkish support for the insurgency in Syria is already being seen as a mistake, encouraging Kurdish separatism, and Turkey’s Islamists have no truck with ISIS. A proposal by Diako Hosseini of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Institute for Political and International Studies is the establishment of a rapid deployment force by the neighboring countries of Iraq, centered on Iran and Turkey, which would act on the request of the Iraqi government.

What role can the US play here? Not much, as its support is the kiss of death to Iraqis seeking to extricate themselves from a decade of US occupation, and the return of its forces would be a blow to the regional powers, who should be the actors responsible for solving the region’s problems.

Such a regional alliance would stabilize the US-installed regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, though no longer under US hegemony. The rapprochement between Sunni and Shia that it implies would bring Muslims together in a way that ISIS and its sectarian caliphate cannot do. Neither the Saudi Wahhabis nor the ISIS neo-Wahhabis are capable of making this ‘leap of faith’.

Eric Walberg writes about the Middle East. He can be reached through his website.

A shorter version of this appeared at Middle East Eye

http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/07/10/did-bin-laden-win/

 

Israel: A toxic blend of propaganda, subterfuge and incitement inflamed a precarious situation.

  http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/.a/6a00d8341c630a53ef017d3c9a27b1970c-pi

Israel’s Right-Wing Govt. Knew Abducted Teens Were Already Dead As It Whipped Up Racist Frenzy

From the moment three Israeli teens were reported missing last month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the country’s military-intelligence apparatus suppressed the flow of information to the general public. Through a toxic blend of propaganda, subterfuge and incitement, they inflamed a precarious situation, manipulating Israelis into supporting their agenda until they made an utterly avoidable nightmare inevitable.

Israeli police, intelligence officials and Netanyahu knew within hours of the kidnapping and murder of the three teens that they had been killed. And they knew who the prime suspects were less than a day after the kidnapping was reported.

Rather than reveal these details to the public, Israel’s Shin Bet intelligence agency imposed a gag order on the national media, barring news outlets from reporting that the teens had almost certainly been killed, and forbidding them from revealing the identities of their suspected killers. The Shin Bet even lied to the parents of the kidnapped teens, deceiving them into believing their sons were alive.

Instead of mounting a limited action to capture the suspected perpetrators and retrieve the teens’ bodies, Netanyahu staged an aggressive international public relations campaign, demanding sympathy and outrage from world leaders, who were also given the impression that the missing teens were still alive.

Meanwhile, Israel’s armed forces rampaged throughout the occupied West Bank and bombarded the Gaza Strip in a campaign of collective punishment deceptively marketed to Israelis and the world as a rescue mission.

Critical details that were known all along by Netanyahu and the military-intelligence apparatus were relayed to the Israeli public only after the abduction of more than 560 Palestinians, including at least 200 still held without charges; after the raiding of Palestinian universities and ransacking of countless homes; after six Palestinian civilians were killed by Israeli forces; after American-trained Palestinian Authority police assisted Israeli soldiers attacking Palestinian youths in the center of Ramallah; after the alleged theft by Israeli troops of $3 million in US dollars; and after Israel’s international public relations extravaganza had run its course.

The assault on the West Bank arrived on the heels of the collapse of the US-led framework negotiations, for which the US blamed Netanyahu, and immediately afterHamas’ ratification of a unity deal with the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority. Netanyahu was still smarting from the US recognition of the unity government when news of the kidnapping reached him. Never one to miss an opportunity to undermine the Palestinians, he and his inner circle resolved to milk the kidnapping for maximum propaganda value.

Weeks after the incident, it is now clear that the Israeli government, intelligence services and army engaged in a cover-up to provide themselves with the political space they required for a military campaign that had little to do with rescuing any kidnapped teens.

The disinformation campaign they waged sent a heavily indoctrinated, comprehensively militarized population into a tribalistic frenzy, provoking a wave of high-level incitement, the shocking revenge killing of an innocent Palestinian teen and rioting across East Jerusalem.

Where the chaos will end and how far it will spread is unknown. But its origins are increasingly clear.

Gagging the media, lying to teens’ parents

On 12 June, three Jewish Israeli youths, Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach, went missing while hitchhiking from Kfar Etzion, an illegal settlement in the occupied West Bank. At 10:25pm, Shaar placed a panicked call to Israeli police.

During the eerie call lasting two minutes and nine seconds, the supposed kidnappers can be heard ordering the youths to keep their heads down. Israel Radio plays in the background as Shaar repeatedly appeals for help. Then several gunshots can be heard followed by celebratory singing as the kidnappers remark, “We got three.” The teens had been killed.

It took until the next morning for the police to connect the call to a missing persons report filed by the youths’ parents. In a meeting with Shin Bet officials that day, the teens’ parents listened to a recording of the phone call.

Bat Galim Shaar, the mother of Gilad Shaar, demanded investigators explain to her why gunshots can be heard in the background, and if this meant that her son was dead.

According to Bat Galim Shaar, police claimed the bullets were “blanks.” When the car used by the alleged kidnappers was discovered burned by a roadside, the Shin Bet told her no DNA was found. In fact, bullets and blood were present throughout the interior of the car. The Shin Bet had lied to the parents of the missing teens in order to stoke false hopes that their sons were alive.

140707-hebron-car.jpg

Israeli soldiers secure the area around a burnt car near the West Bank city of Hebron on 13 June after three Israeli teens went missing the day before.

 (Mamoun Wazwaz / APA images)

“When [the Shin Bet] told me finally at 6:00am Friday that the army was on the job, I felt better — as if we were in good hands,” Bat Galim Shaar told Israel’s Channel 10. “I was naïve, I told everyone Gilad would be home before Shabbat.”

Having deceived the victims’ parents, Israel’s military-intelligence apparatus moved to conceal the truth from the general public, imposing a gag order that barred the country’s media from reporting on the sound of gunshots in the recorded call to police.

According to the text of the gag order, which was first published in English atMondoweiss, the military had forbidden Israeli reporters from publicizing “All the details of the investigation” and “All details that might identify the suspect.”

Not only did all involved in the investigation — Netanyahu, the Shin Bet, the military — know right away that the three missing teens were almost certainly dead, they had identified the two men they believed were responsible for the crime little more than a day after it occurred.

To legitimize the military’s wider goals, they withheld this information as well.

Hiding the suspects

On 17 June, Arabic-language news site Rai Al Youm reported that Israeli police and Shin Bet agents had raided the homes of Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Eishe, the main suspects, near the southern West Bank city of Hebron. As a Palestinian news outlet based in London, Rai Al Youm was not subject to the Israeli military’s gag order and was therefore free to publish the names of the two accused kidnappers.

Citing a report in the Israeli online news outlet Walla! which was either scrubbed due to the gag order or otherwise rendered inaccessible, Rai Al Youm summarized an account by the father of Abu Eishe as follows: “On Saturday at dawn [two days after the alleged kidnapping was reported], special forces of the Israeli army stormed into the house and interrogated sons of the family trying to find any information that could lead them to his whereabouts but they were unsuccessful.”

Abu Eishe’s father added that the Shin Bet had also arrested his son’s wife to interrogate her about his whereabouts. An uncle of Qawasmeh remarked that four of his nephew’s brothers and his wife were arrested the day after the alleged kidnapping and interrogated.

Rai Al Youm added: “several of the military correspondents in the Hebrew media have reported last Friday on a statement attributed to a Palestinian security official in which he said that the PA [Palestinian Authority] is tracking two Hamas personnel who disappeared last Thursday [the day of the kidnapping] and that the security forces of the PA have given the information they have to Israel. And now it’s clear that this story was true and that Israel is looking for them and has charged them with being behind the kidnapping.”

Allison Deger, a correspondent for Mondoweissvisited the Qawasmeh home and confirmed that the army and Shin Bet brought several male members of the families in for interrogation on 14 June.

140707-hebron-home.jpg

The damaged family home of Amer Abu Eishe, one of two Palestinians identified by Israel as suspects in the killing of three Israeli teenagers, after it was destroyed by the Israeli army in the West Bank city of Hebron, 1 July.

 (Oren Ziv / ActiveStills)

In a normal high-profile criminal investigation, the names of fugitive suspects are widely publicized. Investigators prominently display posters of the wanted criminals in public spaces while police officials stage press conferences appealing for help from the public. In this case, however, Israel’s intelligence services chose to keep their suspects’ identities a closely-held secret for two weeks.

While Netanyahu and his top deputies blamed the entire membership of Hamas for the kidnapping, the Shin Bet gag order suppressed all information relating to the identities of the suspects until 26 June. As far as the Israeli public knew, the kidnappers could have been anywhere in the West Bank, in any schoolhouse or coffee house or hen house where anyone remotely affiliated with Hamas congregated.

Having manipulated an exceptionally suggestible population through the careful management of information, the military had all the political latitude it needed to rampage through cities far from the scene of the crime.

During a raid of Birzeit University near Ramallah, Israeli troops seized hundreds of Hamas flags, carting them away in trucks as though they had obtained valuable evidence. When the army bombarded the Gaza Strip, the only justification it needed was that the besieged coastal territory was governed by Hamas.

A poll released on 2 July revealed that 76 percent of Jewish Israelis approved of the army’s actions and expressed overwhelming support for the Shin Bet.

In the near term, the gag order had produced its intended result.

Rogue element

Though Qawasmeh and Abu Eishe were widely identified as veteran members of Hamas’ military wing, they comprised a rogue element that likely acted without the knowledge and against the wishes of Hamas leadership.

According to Israeli journalist Shlomi Eldar, members of the Qawasmeh clan of Hebron have earned a reputation for attacking Israeli civilian targets during ceasefires between Hamas and Israel.

While an extended family of over 10,000 can hardly be blamed for the actions of some of its members, it is notable that attacks carried out by fighters from the family were privately criticized by top Hamas leaders, as Eldar explains. Hamas leadership regarded the operations as self-destructive acts of freebooting and often paid for them in the form of Israeli assassinations. In each case, the violence shattered ceasefires and inspired renewed bouts of bloodshed.

“The same is true now,” Eldar writes. “Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Eishe have taken Hamas to a place where its leadership never intended to go.”

Hamas leadership has yet to take responsibility for the kidnapping and likely had no knowledge of its planning. As Haaretz military correspondent Amos Harel notes, “So far, there is no evidence that Hamas’ leadership either in Gaza or abroad was involved in the kidnapping.” Harel adds that the fallout of the kidnapping “effectively froze the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation.”

Why would Hamas leadership have authorized an operation that so clearly threatened to unravel the movement’s political achievements, wrecking the vaunted unity deal and leaving Abbas without rival in the West Bank?

The Israeli government’s propaganda blitz drowned out sobering questions like these. In turn, the gag order obstructed the flow of information that would have complicated the propaganda.

Determined to reframe the international media’s narrative around Israel’s plight at the hands of Palestinian terrorism, Netanyahu went on the offensive.

#BringBackOurBoys

On 17 June, the same day the Israeli army forcibly confiscated CCTV cameras in Beitunia that captured footage of its soldiers killing two unarmed Palestinian boys during a Nakba Day protest, Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Ron Prosor appeared behind a lectern at the UN Mission in New York City.

“It has been five days since our boys went missing,” Prosor thundered, “and I ask the international community, where are you? Where are you?!”

Referring to the Fatah-Hamas unity government, Prosor added: “All those in the international community who rushed to bless this marriage should look into the eyes of the heartbroken parents and have the courage to take responsibility by condemning the kidnapping. The international community bought in to a bad deal and Israel is paying for it.”

Beside Prosor stood a large placard displaying the smiling faces of the three missing teens beneath a hashtag reading #BringBackOurBoys. Israel’s propaganda blitz was approaching its apex.

For days, leaders of Israel’s trained online propaganda brigades — from the Israeli army spokesperson’s unit, to the Jewish Agency, to the Prime Minister’s Office — flooded social media with the #BringBackOurBoys hashtag. Mimicking Michelle Obama’s promotion of the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag that aimed to raise awareness of the kidnapping of Nigerian schoolgirls by Islamist militants, the Israeli prime minister’s frowning wife, Sara, posted a portrait of herself on Facebook holding a card that read, #BringBackOurBoys.

140707-right-wing-protest-women.jpg

Right-wing protesters shout anti-Palestinian slogans during a rally outside the Israeli prime minster’s residence in Jerusalem, 5 July. Demonstrators hold up posters depicting the three murdered Israeli teens which read “United to bring them home.”

 (Faiz Abu Rmeleh / ActiveStills)

The social media campaign reverberated throughout Jewish communities across the US, as synagogues around the country displayed yellow ribbons in a carefully coordinated show of solidarity with the missing teens. In New York City, local politicians appeared at pro-Israel rallies, while American diplomats from US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power to Ambassador Susan Rice competed with one another to deliver the most emotional tribute to the kidnapped teens.

Rachel Frenkel, the mother of the kidnapped Naftali Frenkel, was junketed by the Israeli government to the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva, Switzerland to plead for international help in rescuing her son.

The entire propaganda campaign was set into high gear despite Netanyahu and his inner circle’s knowledge that the teens were almost certainly dead. And it was enabled by the Shin Bet’s gag order, which even foreign correspondents like The New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren honored. The Israeli government refused to allow the facts from interfering with what seemed like a political opportunity.

Behind the pitiable image it affected before the world, Israeli society seethed with bloodlust. A spontaneously-created Facebook page calling for the execution of one Palestinian prisoner for each day the teens remained missing garnered more than 35,000 “likes” from mostly young Israelis in just a few days. It was called “The People of Israel Demand Revenge.”

Manipulated by a high-level campaign of deception and disinformation into believing that “their boys” were still alive, the Israeli public was about to receive shocking news.

A shallow grave

At 6am on 30 June, the bodies of Frenkel, Shaar and Yifrach were found in Halhoul at the northern entrance to Hebron in the occupied West Bank. They lay in a shallow grave on property owned by Marwan Qawasmeh, one of the two men suspected in their kidnapping and killing.

The bodies were discovered not by the Shin Bet, but by a team of volunteers from the Kfar Etzion Field School who led soldiers to the location. For its part, the army had been too busy invading Palestinian homes in areas as far away as Nablus to effectively comb the property of a suspect less than 10 kilometers from the site of the kidnapping.

Hours after the discovery, Israeli forces detonated explosive charges inside the Qawasmeh and Abu Eishe family homes. The destruction followed an announcement that the army was re-instituting its policy of punitive home demolitions against the families of Palestinians accused of terrorism.

That afternoon, Netanyahu set the tone for the national response, publishing remarks on his personal Twitter account that he had just delivered in a cabinet meeting:

on Twitter

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Netanyahu’s comments perplexed outsiders, but for those embedded inside the tight confines of Jewish Israeli life, they carried a familiar resonance.

From Kishinev to Jerusalem

Netanyahu’s statement alludes to the final stanza of a poem by the Hebrew writer Chaim Bialik titled “On The Slaughter”:

Cursed be he who says: “Avenge!”
Vengeance such as this, vengeance for the blood of a small boy,
Satan himself has not devised-
Let that blood pierce the abyss!
Let that blood pierce the depths of darkness,
Let it eat away the darkness and there undermine
All the rotted foundations of the earth.

In Bialik’s verse, a searing lament anchored in Biblical language, the poet dramatized a brutal 1903 pogrom incited by the Russian Tsar that left scores of Jews dead in the town of Kishinev.

Bialik followed his first account of Kishinev with “The City of Slaughter,” an incendiary work admonishing the victims of the pogrom for their supposed passivity in the face of armed marauders. (Reports of ferocious resistance by the locals was conveniently overlooked.) The poem helped radicalize thousands of young Jews across Eastern Europe, inspiring the formation of self-defense committees and winning waves of adherents to the militant philosophy of Zionism. Among those most influenced by Bialik was Vladimir Jabotinsky, the right-wing Zionist activist who would later become a political benefactor to Netanyahu’s father, Benzion.

In his crude appropriation of Bialik’s verse, Benjamin Netanyahu recast the Russian pogromist as a Palestinian militant, drawing a seamless line between the Jewish nightmare of pre-war Europe and the present-day Israeli experience. In Netanyahu’s view, the “human animals” of Palestine had inherited the genocidal spirit of the Tsar’s mobs and would repeat their crimes unless Jews were prepared to fight.

Of course, Israeli Jews are the exact opposite of turn-of-the-century shtetl dwellers girding themselves against pogroms and ethnic cleansing. Unlike the persecuted outclass of Eastern Europe, Israeli Jews comprise a nuclearized, high-powered military that lord over an outcasted, largely defenseless Palestinian population with full support from the world’s lone superpower.

For his part, Netanyahu shares more in common with the Russian Tsar who incited against religious minorities to deflect from his political problems than he does with Bialik, the itinerant scribe who channeled the pain of his society’s weakest members.

The exploitation of historical Jewish persecution has been a constant feature of Netanyahu’s rhetoric, on bold display during a nationally televised speech last October when he baselessly accused the Palestinian national movement of a direct role in the Holocaust.

This time, amidst a dangerously pressurized atmosphere, his demagogy helped set in motion a wave of vigilante violence that threatened to engulf the whole of Israeli society. Then he shrank from public view, maintaining a conspicuous silence for several days while the extremist elements he emboldened took control of the streets.

“Murder, riots, incitement, vigilantism”

As mobs of Jewish youths fanned out across central Jerusalem to chant “Death to Arabs!” and search for Palestinians to assault, active duty Israeli soldiers took to Facebook to demand revenge, posting photos of themselves with the weapons they were aching to use.

With an Israeli public opinion poll taken after the Israeli teens’ funeral showing the far-right Jewish Home party gaining ground on the right-wing Likud, Israeli political upstarts rushed to issue calls for blood vengeance and the “annihilation” of Hamas.Ayelet Shaked, a rising star of the right-wing Jewish Home party, published a call for the genocide of Palestinians on Facebook that earned thousands of “likes” from Israelis.

Rabbi Noam Perel, the secretary general of Bnei Akiva, the world’s largest religious Zionist youth movement, upped the ante on fanaticism when he called for turning the Israeli military into an army of avengers “which will not stop at 300 Philistine foreskins.”Akiva’s appeal alludes to the first book of Samuel, in which the biblical character Davidkills two hundred Philistines and brings back their foreskins as evidence that he had done so.

Against the backdrop of fever-pitched incitement, a small car entered the back streets of Shuafat, a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem, on 2 July. Behind its darkened windows were angry young men hunting for Arab boys.

Following a botched kidnapping of a ten-year-old boy in the same neighborhood the day before, a group of men grabbed a 16-year-old named Muhammad Abu Khudair, threw him in their car and sped away. Abu Khudair was found dead the next morning in the woods of Givat Shaul just west of Jerusalem with burns over 90 percent of his body.

140707-arara-protests.jpg

Protesters in the Palestinian city of Arara in the north of present-day Israel throw stones at Israeli police during a demonstration following the murder of Muhammad Abu Khudair, 5 July.

 (Yotam Ronen /ActiveStills)

As they did after the kidnapping of the three Israeli teens, the Shin Bet imposed a gag order on the investigation, seemingly hoping to delay the news that Abu Khudair was the victim of Jewish extremism. And as before, the police flooded Israeli media with disinformation, this time by insinuating the murdered teen had been killed by members of his own family for being gay.

The Electronic Intifada has obtained CCTV footage showing the faces of the alleged killers of Abu Khudair just as they abducted him. The video was concealed for several days from the Israeli public under a new Shin Bet gag order. When the police finally arrested the suspected killers of Abu Khudair, they curiously staged a simultaneous press conference about an unrelated killing a young Jewish woman, suggesting without any clear evidence that she had been the victim of a Palestinian terrorist.

On 4 July, an autopsy revealed that Abu Khudair’s killers had burned him alive. Protest and rioting spread from Shuafat across East Jerusalem and into areas of northern Israel. Meanwhile, Jewish nationalists took to Facebook to organize more lynch mobs.

Netanyahu surfaced briefly the day before at an Independence Day ceremony at the US consulate in Jerusalem. With US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro seated by his side, the Prime Minister was forced to confront the binge of racism that he helped inspire.

Speaking in English for the consumption of his American hosts, Netanyahu declared, “Murder, riots, incitement, vigilantism — they have no place in our democracy. And it is these democratic values that differentiate us from our neighbors and unite us with the United States.”

Outside, the chaos showed no sign of ebbing.

Max Blumenthal is an award winning journalist and bestselling author. His latest book isGoliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel (2013, Nation Books).

Tags:

 

Between selective sympathy and collective punishment

by Jerome Roos on July 5, 2014

Post image for Between selective sympathy and collective punishment

Rampant racism and strategic opportunism are driving Israel’s collective punishment of the Palestinians, who — as always — receive little sympathy.

This article was written for TeleSUR English, which will launch on July 24.

This week, Israel was shaken by the horrific discovery of the bodies of three young teenagers, buried under a shallow pile of rocks just north of the city of Hebron in the occupied West Bank. Naftali (16), Gilad (16) and Edal (19) had been kidnapped near the Gush Etzion settlements on June 12 while hitchhiking home from their yeshivas, and it is suspected that they were fatally shot shortly thereafter. For days now, the country has been transfixed by a sense of collective mourning and shared sympathy for the boys’ families.

As was to be expected, Prime Minister Netanyahu immediately blamed Hamas for the killings and ordered a large-scale crackdown on the occupied territories, followed by the bombing of over 30 sites in Gaza just hours after the discovery of the boys’ bodies. Since the kidnapping on June 12, Israeli violence has left at least seven Palestinians dead, including 10-year-old Ali and 15-year-old Mohammed, and more than 400 arrested and thrown into administrative detention. On Wednesday, the body of another Palestinian boy was found dumped in the woods just hours after being abducted in East Jerusalem. It is suspected that 16-year-old Mohammed was kidnapped and burned to death by Jewish extremists in revenge for the deaths of the Israeli teenagers. His body was so badly charred that investigators refused to let his father see it. Fierce riots broke out in East Jerusalem on Friday following Mohammed’s funeral.

Selective Sympathy

In recent weeks, the Israeli and international press have aggressively covered the disappearance of Naftali, Gilad and Edal — and rightly so. The deaths of the young Israelis undoubtedly warrants widespread media attention, while their mourning families deserve heartfelt sympathy. The moment we stop caring about the politically-motivated murder of innocent youths is the day we lose all claims to a human conscience. It is precisely for this reason that world leaders and the international media should now join their appropriate sense of disgust over the kidnapping of the Israeli teenagers with unambiguous sympathy and unequivocal support for the families of the hundreds of young Palestinians who have fallen victim to lethal Israeli aggression over the years.

According to the Palestine branch of Defence for Children International, an independent NGO with branches in over 40 countries, more than 1.400 Palestinian children have been killed by Israeli soldiers and settlers in the Occupied Palestinian Territories since the start of the second intifada in 2000. While exceptional cases — like the “unlawful killing” of two Palestinian teenagers by Israeli soldiers on Nakhba Day in May this year — do make it into the international headlines, the average Palestinian victim of lethal Israeli violence amounts to little more than a nameless statistic in the unread annual reports of a handful of human rights organizations. Other, less lethal and more structural forms of violence against Palestinians tend to go unreported altogether. In truth, few people in the West — let alone in Israel itself — really care for Palestinian suffering at all. That in itself is an affront to our common humanity.

Collective Punishment

But selective sympathy is hardly the only problem that the people of Palestine face today. In addition to an unjustifiable lack of international interest in the military, religious and structural violence they endure on a daily basis, the Palestinians are now suffering Israeli vengeance on a collective scale. For what it’s still worth, the Fourth Geneva Convention considers collective punishment to be a war crime — and for good reason. On its rampages through Europe in WWII, the Wehrmacht would often burn down homes and round up or execute random villagers in revenge for the deaths of German troops or the resistance put up by local populations. “Never again,” we used to say. Yet today, the Israeli government is resorting to similar tactics of collective punishment in the occupied territories, resorting to home raids and demolitions, mass arrests and aerial bombardments of densely-populated civilian areas to stamp out all resistance to the occupying forces — militant and non-violent alike.

And so the people of Palestine currently find themselves caught between selective sympathy from the international community and collective punishment at the hands of the Israeli military. At the same time, it is clear that neither occurs in a vacuum, and the latter in particular is undeniably driven by political opportunism on the part of the Israeli government. Local analysts claim that Netanyahu is not very keen on instigating a drawn-out conflict with Hamas, but there are at least two reasons why an escalation of armed conflict would be inevitable (and even desirable) for his government in the short-term. First, there is the need to stem or at least co-opt the embarrassing groundswell of overt racism in Israeli society. And then there is the unique opportunity to drive a wedge in the Fatah-Hamas unity government that was sworn in just a month ago, thereby continuing Netanyahu’s tested divide-and-rule diplomacy.

Rampant Racism

The first point is the most self-evident: Israel is simply frothing at the mouth with racist bigotry and anti-Arab sentiment right now. Earlier this week, groups of far-right extremists went on a rampage through Jerusalem chanting “death to Arabs!” and looking for Arab Israeli civilians to beat up, while settlers have intensified their assaults on Palestinians in Hebron and elsewhere. Meanwhile, a Facebook group full of racist anti-Arab commentary called “the nation of Israel demands revenge” managed to gather 35.000 followers — many of them soldiers — in just two days, through explicit calls for vengeance against random Palestinians. An influential rabbi even urged the government to “turn the IDF into an army of avengers, ‘which will not stop at 300 Philistine foreskins’.”

Since then, numerous Palestinian youths have faced brutal violence from Israeli soldiers and citizens alike: an angry mob of Jews was caught on camera assaulting a young Palestinian man on a public bus, and a 15-year-old Palestinian-American boy was severely lynched by Israeli police and is currently still held in prison without charge. In this context of rampant racism, Netanyahu’s firm response to the death of the three teenagers must be seen as first and foremost serving a domestic political purpose. A secular hardliner himself, Netanyahu can ill-afford to be seen to waver in the face of an overt “Palestinian provocation” (i.e., the kidnapping of the three teenagers), much less be outflanked on the right on issues of national security.

At the same time, the overt racism emanating from civil society poses a major challenge to Israeli officials, who are acutely aware of the fact that negative PR could further erode the support of Israel’s key allies in Europe and the US. Part of a longer-term development going back to the expulsion of 8.000 Israeli settlers during Sharon’s disengagement from Gaza in 2005, and more recently finding its expression in a doubling of hate crimes and the rise of the so-called “Price Tag” movement of racist and religious vandalism, the rise of Jewish extremism goes hand-in-hand with growing anti-government sentiment among settlers and the ultra-orthodox — giving Netanyahu a double incentive to try to appease and co-opt the racist anger. By aligning himself with popular outrage over the kidnapping and channeling the country’s deep-seated hatred of everything Arab (or gentile, for that matter) into a violent crackdown on Hamas militants and ordinary Palestinians alike, Netanyahu may succeed in deflecting some of the far-right’s anti-government sentiment and overt racism, diverting it back into the slightly less embarrassing form of secular “Israeli nationalism” espoused by his Likud party and the army (which obviously serves the exact same purpose: to legitimate the occupation and the idea of the Jewish State).

Strategic Opportunism

Beyond these internal political motivations, however, there is another, more strategic concern that is likely to animate the government’s heavy-handed response to the killings. For years, Netanyahu’s policy towards the Palestinians has been driven by a carefully crafted divide-and-rule strategy that seeks to continually segment the Palestinian population between Christians and Muslims, between inhabitants of Gaza and the West Bank, and between Arab Israelis and Palestinians living in PA-controlled territory — all while relentlessly prying apart the Palestinian leadership in order to undermine its bid for statehood at the United Nations. By skillfully keeping the militants from Hamas and the moderates from Fatah at loggerheads with one another, the Israelis have long prevented the emergence of a unified Palestinian front and thus kept their enemy internally divided. Stoking the flames of Palestinian extremism through economic sanctions and carefully targeted attacks on Hamas militants and officials has always been a core component of that approach. By continuously co-opting Fatah and using every opportunity imaginable to provoke Hamas, the chances of Palestinian unity were greatly diminished.

Some of that seemed to change in April this year, however, when Hamas and Fatah signed a reconciliation pact that eventually led to the swearing in of a unity government on June 2. Ever since, the Netanyahu government has been doing everything in its power to frustrate the proper functioning of the pact, even barring Ministers from Gaza from entering the West Bank for their swearing-in ceremony. As Sharif Nashashibi remarked for Al Jazeera last month, “Israel has made clear that it will do all it can to thwart Palestinian unity. It has imposed economic sanctions on the PA, refuses to negotiate with the new government, and has urged the international community not to recognise it.” In this context, the disappearance of the three Israeli teenagers on June 12 played right into the hands of the Israeli government: it gave Netanyahu the perfect justification for a renewed crackdown on Hamas and a political justification to drive a wedge in the fledgling Palestinian unity government.

Political Ploy

While some of its officials openly praised the kidnappings, Hamas neither confirmed nor denied any involvement — and while it is undoubtedly possible that its leader did indeed give the order for this heinous crime, it is equally possible that the suspected kidnappers acted independently of Hamas’ command structures. None of this, however, really matters to the Israeli government, for whom the triple kidnapping simply presented itself as a convenient opportunity to re-establish a nationalist pro-government discourse while furthering the strategic aims of the occupation. Within days, the Israeli military had moved in to detain hundreds of Hamas leaders while stepping up the pressure on the moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The divide-and-rule strategy appears to be working. While Hamas has openly called for a third intifada in response to the Israeli crackdown, Abbas has roundly condemned the kidnappers and has pledged the continuation of Palestinian-Israeli security coordination and the prevention of another Palestinian uprising. The odds of the unity government surviving now appear increasingly dim.

And so, while the world rightly expresses shock and horror at the deaths of the three Israeli teenagers, it appears to have all but forgotten about the tragic ways in which Israel’s occupation and war crimes affect the lives of ordinary Palestinian citizens on a everyday basis. Caught between selective sympathy and collective punishment, it is once again the latter who bear the brunt of an utterly disproportionate Israeli crackdown and a military and civilian quest for vengeance driven by deep-seated racism and religious hatred. When will this bloody madness end?

Jerome Roos is a PhD researcher in International Political Economy at the European University Institute, and the founding editor of ROAR Magazine.

http://roarmag.org/2014/07/palestine-collective-punishment-kidnapping/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+roarmag+%28ROAR+Magazine%29

School shootings, hatred, capitalism run amok: This 4th of July, we are in the midst of a tragic public derangement

We, the people are violent and filled with rage: A nation spinning apart on its Independence Day

We, the people are violent and filled with rage: A nation spinning apart on its Independence Day

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,

Here once the embattled farmers stood
And fired the shot heard round the world.
–Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Concord Hymn,” 1837

For centuries most Americans have believed that “the shot heard ’round the world” in 1775 from Concord, Massachusetts, heralded the Enlightenment’s entry into history. Early observers of America such as G.W.F. Hegel, Edward Gibbon and Edmund Burke believed that, too. A new kind of republican citizen was rising, amid and against adherents of theocracy, divine-right monarchy, aristocracy and mercantilism. Republican citizens were quickening humanity’s stride toward horizons radiant with promises never before held and shared as widely as they were in America.

The creation of the United States really was a Novus ordo seclorum, a New Order of the Ages, a society’s first self-aware, if fumbling and compromised, effort to live by the liberal expectation that autonomous individuals could govern themselves together without having to impose religious doctrines or mystical narratives of tribal blood or soil. With barely a decorous nod to The Creator, the founders of the American republic conferred on one another the right to have rights, a distinguished group of them constituting the others as “We, the people.”

That revolutionary effort is not just in trouble now, or endangered, or under attack, or reinventing itself. It’s in prison, with no prospect of parole, and many Americans, including me, who wring our hands or wave our arms about this are actually among the jailers, or we’ve sleepwalked ourselves and others into the cage and have locked ourselves in. We haven’t yet understood the shots fired and heard ’round the world from 74 American schools, colleges and military bases since the Sandy Hook School massacre of December 2012.

These shots haven’t been fired by embattled farmers at invading armies. They haven’t been fired by terrorists who’ve penetrated our surveillance and security systems. With few exceptions, they haven’t been fired by aggrieved non-white Americans. They’ve been fired mostly by young, white American citizens at other white citizens, and by American soldiers at other American soldiers, inside the very institutions where republican virtues and beliefs are nurtured and defended.



They’ve been fired from within a body politic so drained of candor and trust that, beneath our continuing lip-service to republican premises and practices, we’ve let a court conflate the free speech of flesh-and-blood citizens with the disembodied wealth of anonymous shareholders. And we’ve let lawmakers, bought or intimidated by gun peddlers and zealots, render us helpless against torrents of marketed fear and vengeance that are dissolving a distinctively American democratic ethos the literary historian Daniel Aaron characterized as “ethical and pragmatic, disciplined and free.”

Many Americans are adapting to living with variants of force and fraud that erupt in road rage; lethal stampedes by shoppers on sale days; security precautions in their homes against the prospect of armed invasion; gladiatorialization and corruption in sports; nihilism in entertainment that fetishizes violence without context and sex without attachment ; the casino-like financing of utterly unproductive economic activities such as the entertainment I’ve just mentioned and the predatory lending that has tricked millions out of their homes; the commercial groping and goosing of private lives and public spaces, even in the marketing of ordinary consumer goods; and the huge, new prison industry that Americans have created to deter or punish broken, violent men, most of them non-white, only to find schools in even the whitest, “safest” neighborhoods imprisoned by fear of white gunmen who’ve often been students themselves.

Abroad, meanwhile, thousands more shots, fiendish and celebratory, are being fired into the corpses of American national-security and nation-building projects by terrorists and fanatics we were told had been decimated. These projects cost trillions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives, limbs, homes and hopes, including those of American soldiers, contractors and idealists. Their sacrifices can’t justify retroactively what shouldn’t have been undertaken in the first place.

Stressed by all this republican derangement, millions are spending billions on palliatives, medications, addictions and even surveillance designed to protect them from themselves. All those vials, syringes, security systems and shootings reflect the insinuation of what Gibbon called “a slow and secret poison into the vitals of the empire…” until Roman citizens “no longer possessed that public courage which is nourished by the love of independence, the sense of national honour, the presence of danger, and the habit of command. They received laws and governors from the will of their sovereign, and trusted for their defence to a mercenary army.” Only a few late-Roman republicans, recalling their old freedoms, concluded, with Livy, that “We have become too ill to bear our sickness or their cures.”

What went wrong?

You might argue, and quite rightly, that “We, the people” have always subverted the truths we’d held to be self-evident, beginning with slavery and continuing with plutocracy. Yet somehow the republic kept experiencing what Lincoln called “a new birth of freedom,” thanks only partly to the fortuitous confluence of two oceans’ protection, a vast continent’s ever-alluring frontier and unending streams of aspiring immigrants:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame
With conquering limbs astride from land to land,
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates will stand
A mighty woman with a torch
Whose flame is the imprisoned lightning,
And her name: Mother of Exiles

True enough, the republic thus limned by Emma Lazarus in “The New Colossus,” her poem for the Statue of Liberty, needed those exiles for its labor market. And it still had a guiding aristocracy of sorts, but supposedly only “an aristocracy of talent and virtue,” as Jefferson put it, and not one of blood and ill-gotten wealth. True, too, certain lingering Puritan beliefs had nourished in the embattled farmers (and, even long before 1775, in some of the Puritans themselves) a conviction that resistance to tyranny is obedience to God. That injunction to defy worldly power sometimes in the name of a Higher Power legitimated individual conscience and autonomy right up through the nonviolent defiance of the best of the civil-rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s.

But the American emphasis on individual conscience and autonomy also gestated a liberal capitalist republic that has reduced individualism to market exchanges in ways that are now destroying both individuals and the society.

A liberal capitalist republic has to rely on its citizens to uphold voluntarily certain public virtues and beliefs that neither the liberal state nor markets can nourish or defend. The liberal state isn’t supposed to judge between one way of life and another, after all; and markets reward you as a self-interested consumer and investor, not as a citizen who might put such interests aside at times to advance a greater good that self-interest alone can’t achieve.

The moral silence and often bankruptcy of states and markets leaves citizen-leaders to be nourished and trained all the more intensively in institutions that stand somewhat apart from the state and markets. The Puritan founders of America’s oldest colleges understood this, but they expected that those colleges’ graduates would serve a theocratic state that would control markets and everything else. We’re right to dismiss the Puritans’ theocracy because it was repressive and hypocritical. But we’re wrong to have lost a side of its animating spirit that would have kept markets from controlling and devouring republican government and even our bodies and ourselves.

Symptoms and scapegoats hide the disease

Having miscarried republican self-discipline and conviction so badly, we find ourselves scrambling to monitor, measure and control the consequences, such as the proliferation of mental illness and the glorification and marketing of guns, as if these were causing our implosion.

They aren’t. They’re symptoms, not causes — reactions to widespread heartbreak at the breakdown of what Tocqueville called republican habits of the heart that we used to cultivate.

Equally symptomatic, not causal, are self-avowedly “deviant” and “transgressive” gyrations by people who imagine that the sunset of civic-republican order heralds a liberating, Dionysian dawn. Sloughing off our bad old repressions, we’ve been swept up by the swift market currents that turn countercultures into over-the-counter cultures and promote a free-for-all that’s a free-for-none as citizens become customers chasing “freedoms” for sale.

Even our war-makers’ and -mongers’ grand strategies and the growing militarization of our domestic police forces are more symptomatic than causal of the public derangement that’s rising all around us.

But turning the bearers of such frightening symptoms into our primary villains or scapegoats would only deepen our blindness to the disease, which is as old as the biblical worship of the Golden Calf and as new as Goldman Sachs. It runs deeper than anything that anyone but the Puritans and their Old Testament models tried to tackle.

I’m not suggesting we can or should return to Puritanism! Anyone expecting to recover that faith and way of life is stumbling up dry streambeds toward wellsprings that have themselves run dry. But we do need wellsprings that could fortify us to take risks even more daunting than those taken by the embattled farmers. We’d somehow have to reconfigure or abandon empty comforts, escapes and protections that both free-market conservatives and readers of Salon are accustomed to buying and selling, sometimes against our own best hopes and convictions.

Our cure would also require reweaving a fabric of public candor and comity strong enough to resist the rise of ressentiment, a public psychopathology, once associated with the rise of fascism, in which insecurities, envy and hatreds that many have been nursing in private converge in scary public eruptions that diminish their participants even in seeming to make them big. Ressentiment’s “little-big man” seeks easy targets for frustrations borne of exploitation by powers that he’s afraid to face and reckon with head-on. Blaming scapegoats warps his assessment of his hardships and options and drives him to wreak vengeance on them as soon as there are enough little-big men (and women, of course) to do so en masse under a Glenn Beck or a Sarah Palin.

Whether ressentiment erupts in racist violence, sectarian fanaticism, anti-Communist witch hunts, totalitarian show trials, politically correct cultural revolutions or sadistic escapism, its most telling symptoms are paranoia and routinized bursts of hysteria. Under the ministrations of gifted demagogues, its grievances and pain assume a fleeting brilliance that soon collapses, tragi-comically or catastrophically, on its own cowardice and lies.

Its targets often shift. The 9/11 attacks brought a reprieve of sorts to African-Americans, the republic’s most enduring scapegoats, when the burden of white censure pivoted toward Muslims. Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam lost credibility, but so did whites such as the neoconservative Daniel Pipes, who kept on insisting years after 9/11 that the first black president was a Muslim and a friend of terrorists.

The slipperiness of scapegoating became clear to me in 1993, as I wrote about a deranged black gunman, Colin Ferguson, who’d opened fire in a Long Island Rail Road car, killing six passengers. Even while holding him responsible, I saw him bearing symptoms far more widespread than his private demons. Noting Ferguson’s enthusiasm for a politics of rage, paranoia and death threats then prominent on a black radio station and in demagogic street politics, I warned that even deranged loners are sometimes better attuned to our subconscious hatreds and fears than we care to admit. That was true, too, of Jared Loughner, >the white paranoid-schizophrenic and anti-government fantasist who killed a U.S. District Court judge and six other people while trying to kill but severely wounding U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 13 others in 2011.

While apocalyptic religious and racist ranting can provoke emotionally disturbed people, so can journalism and entertainment that massage hatreds too diffuse to be called racist, religious or ideological. Some school shooters nursed the depictions of violence and lust that are pumped incessantly into young Americans’ horizons with the help of new technologies and investment strategies that ride reckless misreadings of the First Amendment. This hasn’t been done with malevolent intent as often as it’s been done in a kind of civic mindlessness by media corporations incentivized and indeed forced by market pressures to bypass our brains and hearts on the way to our lower viscera and wallets by exaggerating fears of armed home invasion, government takeover and vengeful victory by gunplay.

The invisible disease

Even though relatively few young Americans follow these siren songs into acts of destruction, the public fetishizing of sex and violence without context or caring dampens many others’ faith in society during their formative years. You don’t need to know a lot of developmental psychology or anthropology to know that children crave culturally coherent tests of prowess and loyalty in symbolic rites of passage that ratify their communal belonging. When such rites and symbols fail, some flail about, seeking order in private delusions, Dartmouth College fraternities and public orchestrations of ressentiment.

In 1775, most American communities still filtered such basic generational and human needs through traditions that encompassed kinship bonds and seasonal rhythms. In “Common Sense,” Thomas Paine could urge readers to take their recent experiences of monarchy “to the touchstones of nature” and decide whether they would abide the empire’s abuses. Today, those “touchstones of nature” — and with them, republican convictions about selfhood and society — have been torn up by runaway engines and developments in technology, communications and even intimate biology that would terrify Paine, Adam Smith and John Locke, not to mention those who fired the first shot at Concord. This time, we’re all in bed with the enemy. In “The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism” 40 years ago, Daniel Bell — no anti-capitalist, but prophetic enough about the worship of Golden Calves — argued that free markets no longer make free men because “economic liberalism has become… corporate oligopoly, and, in the pursuit of private wants, a hedonism that is destructive of social needs.”

He warned that consumer capitalism displaces the needs that the early republic filtered through nature’s rhythms and kinship traditions. It displaces those needs with ginned-up “wants” that “by their nature, are unlimited and insatiable…. [T]he rational calculation of efficiency and return” displace “the principle of the public household,” strip-mining and selling off fragments of cultural narratives.

Without civic wellsprings and narratives deep and compelling enough to strengthen a society’s adhesives and disciplines in the hearts of its young, neither free-market conservatives nor world-is-flat neoliberal cosmopolitans can reconcile their professed commitments to ordered, republican liberty with their knee-jerk obedience to riptides of destructive investment that are dissolving republican virtue and sovereignty before our eyes.

No wonder we’re losing our vision, in both senses of the word:

▪ Our foreign-policy savants across the ideological spectrum were too blind see that the Soviet Union was so much weaker than American Cold War propaganda and hysteria insisted that it imploded in 1989. The fabled “missile gap” that John F. Kennedy ran on in 1960 was as imaginary as Saddam Hussein’s WMD, but anyone who tried telling either of those truths was charged with a “failure of nerve” or worse by the blind war-mongers in our midst.

▪ Our business press was too blind to see that a tsunami of predatory lending would wreck the national economy and throw millions from their homes.

▪ Our market-addled Congressional committees and blue-ribbon commissions on national intelligence couldn’t discover, until Edward Snowden revealed it, that public surveillance had taken on an all-devouring life of its own.

▪ Neo-conservative and Vulcan conservative advocates of using American military force to spread democracy abroad couldn’t see that their strategy was doomed because democracy isn’t woven that way and because it was destroying democracy at home in ways that, if unchecked, will destroy the republic whose strengths they’ve so badly misconstrued and betrayed.

▪ Our consumer society, addicted to cheap comforts and quick fixes, can’t see its own Orwellian ensnarement by commercial censors, and it couldn’t take Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” about global warming seriously enough to offset the onrushing damage with the serious sacrifices we have yet to make.

▪ Our gilded political consultants, pollsters and campaign donors were too blind to see the boiling undercurrents that have swept away House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Nor can they see that Cantor’s political demise presages an inflammation of ressentiment so wild that the coming, specious, “Who Lost Iraq?” debate will be accompanied by the shot that some military veteran who feels betrayed will fire at a politician who’s been left holding the empty bag of our civic-republican hopes.

So we are flying almost totally blind, punched bloody by a Hand that we keep insisting is Invisible. We can see only the sickness of the gunmen and of the proliferation of their guns. Treatment of those symptoms is urgently needed, but it will be insufficient to curb the wrecking ball that global capitalism has become on our willfully blind watch, and triage won’t renew the civic fabric.

Exemplary defiance has its place

Whenever republican candor and courage have seemed about to succumb like this to tribal and theocratic delusions or to force and fraud in the past, some citizens have roused others to fend off threats to republican premises and practices:

▪ In 1776 a young schoolteacher named Nathan Hale was caught trying to track and expose the military and intelligence operations of the only established, legitimate government of his time. But just before his hanging he said, “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country” and became an incarnation of a nascent republic.

▪ Hale’s dignity in adversity, unfathomable to many of us these days, anticipated that of Martin Luther King, Jr., and black churchgoers who walked unarmed and trembling toward armed men and dogs with nothing but their faith and their long-shot strategy to delegitimate the seemingly impregnable segregationist establishment of their time by appealing to republican principles and an American civil religion whose theology was as vague as that of the founders.

▪ Hale’s dignity also anticipated that of three Yale seniors I came upon one wintry morning in 1968 as they gave university chaplain William Sloane Coffin, Jr., their military draft cards to announce their resistance to the U. S. Government on behalf of the American republic.

“The government says we’re criminals, but we say the government is criminal for waging this war,” said one of the seniors, struggling to find his voice. For all we knew, these guys were about to be arrested on the spot, and some of us felt arrested morally by their example because they were ready to pay the penalty of law in order to affirm their commitment to honest law itself.

Coffin, who held to a Calvinist theology that, like King’s, saw resistance to tyranny as obedience to God, was present to bless a courage that few national-security state conservatives understand, in the idiom of an American civil-religion few neoliberals and post-modern leftists understand. When he quoted Dylan Thomas’ “Do not go gentle into that good night; rage, rage, against the dying of the light,” that civil religion seemed to awaken briefly and to walk and talk again, re-moralizing the state and the law, and the silent, wild confusion I was feeling gave way to something like awe. (I described this experience in The Washington Monthly in 2000, during the protracted “election” of George W. Bush.)

▪ Hale’s courage also anticipated Edward Snowden’s. Both young men may have been impetuous and otherwise flawed in some respects, but they showed that resistance to corrupted power requires not only prowess, means, and will, but an elusive, republican sensibility that’s cultivated in civil society and confirmed in little daily interactions long before it emerges in demonstrations of civic courage that startle and move other citizens.

With a wonderment somewhat like Hegel’s, the German political philosopher Jurgen Habermas marveled at this “constitutional patriotism” in American citizens who possessed what Gibbon described as “that public courage which is nourished by the love of independence, the sense of national honor, the presence of danger, and the habit of command.”

When I tell young millennials these stories, though, many of them listen pretty much as they would to tales about knights in shining armor, long ago and far away. Much closer to them are the school shootings and Internet mayhem that make brave citizenship seem archaic, implausible, and irrelevant to self-discovery and social change.

Yet republican expectations do have ways of resurfacing whenever “We, the people” begin to imagine what our lives would be like, singly and together, if we had to live without them. Not everyone can be seduced or intimidated away from them.

Still, so many Americans are generations removed from any easily recoverable religious or ethno-racial identity or other adhesive that we have to ask: Where are the touchstones or narratives strong enough renew public virtues and beliefs that neither markets nor the liberal state do much to nourish or defend?

Nourishing a new liberal order

The question should prompt a quest for a political culture that isn’t too commercial and vapid and that isn’t held together only by demagoguery and delusion. No reconfiguration of today’s capitalism will be possible without something better than that. Yet no think tank, legislature or foundation can carry that quest or that reconfiguration to a just conclusion. Nor can an Occupy Wall Street that isn’t grounded in something deeper than its own noble effort to be the change it wants us all to make.

Nor can our “illness” be cured by champions of a new foreign-policy “realism” such as Robert Kagan, who urge us to face the inevitable challenges of a world where only willpower and force can sustain the liberal order that many Americans take for granted. That’s right as far as it goes, but it begs the question of where willpower comes from and what, within the liberal order itself, is sapping that willpower.

Quoting Michael Ignatieff, Kagan speculates candidly that liberal civilization itself “runs deeply against the human grain and is achieved and sustained only by the most unremitting struggle against human nature.” Perhaps, Kagan adds, “this fragile democratic garden requires the protection of a liberal world order, with constant feeding, watering, weeding, and the fencing off of an ever-encroaching jungle.” But he can’t seem to face the challenge posed by the new shots heard ’round the world from America: The jungle and its encroachments begin not only abroad but within our own garden.

What seems our greatest weakness could be one of our greatest strengths, although it, too, won’t be enough: Even 150 years after the founding, the philosopher George Santayana wrote that Americans still heralded the Enlightenment’s entry into history precisely because they’d “all been uprooted from their several soils and ancestries and plunged together into one vortex, whirling irresistible in a space otherwise quite empty. To be an American is of itself almost a moral condition, an education and a career….”

Although there’s plenty to regret and respect in the traditions we’ve lost, there’s no turning back from the “moral condition” and “career” we face as citizens. We have no choice but to keep faith with the republic and one another. If Americans have a manifest destiny now, it’s to lead in weaving a new republican fabric that markets can serve but not subvert.

In 2008, Barack Obama seemed to incarnate so brilliantly the promise of weaving our diversity into a new republican discipline — he even invoked Puritan and biblical wellsprings in some of his speeches — that many people ’round the world considered him a prophet who would satisfy their hunger for new narratives. Probably no national political leader ever can do that.

The narratives the world needs now will have to come from other prophets and leaders yet unsung. I do think that Americans will be strong among them, if only because we’ve had so much experience generating that hunger by generating the civic-republican-capitalist effort that has failed.

Jim Sleeper is the author of Liberal Racism (1997) and The Closest of Strangers: Liberalism and the Politics of Race in New York (1990)

Thousands demonstrate at funeral of slain Palestinian youth

http://img2.allvoices.com/thumbs/image/609/480/105375810-palestinian-teen.jpg

 

By Barry Grey

5 July 2014

Thousands of Palestinians demonstrated Friday at the funeral in East Jerusalem of the 16-year-old youth kidnapped and murdered Wednesday in an evident revenge killing by ultra-right Jewish nationalists. The throng carried aloft the coffin of Muhammad Hussein Abu Khudair and shouted slogans calling for a new “Intifada,” or popular uprising, against Israeli repression.

Israeli riot police massed along the route of the funeral march in the Shuafat neighborhood where Khudair lived and was abducted while waiting at a shop near his home to go to morning prayers. The police attacked demonstrators with stun grenades, tear gas and rubber bullets. The Red Crescent said some 30 Palestinians were injured by rubber bullets fired by Israeli forces. Dozens more were treated for tear gas inhalation.

Clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian protesters also occurred in other parts of East Jerusalem, including the neighborhoods of Ras al-Amud and Wadi al-Joz. There were also incidences of rock-throwing by Palestinian youth and Israeli police reprisals near the Al Aqsa Mosque complex, which the government had closed to all men under 50 years of age.

A video widely circulated on the Internet shows two Israeli police savagely beating a Palestinian demonstrator who is lying helpless on the ground, then dragging him away.

Fighting occurred as well on the West Bank. On Friday, eight Palestinians were said to have been injured in clashes with the Israel Defense Forces in Ramallah.

The West Bank, which is controlled by the US- and Israeli-supported Palestinian Authority, has been the target of mass arrests and harassment by Israeli forces since the disappearance June 12 of three Israeli teenagers who lived in settlements near Hebron. The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately blamed the Islamist Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, for the abductions, without providing any evidence to back up its claims. Hamas has denied any involvement.

The discovery on Monday of the bodies of the three Israeli youth—Gilad Shaer and Naftali Fraenkel, both 16, and Eyal Yifrah, 19—was seized on by Netanyahu to launch air strikes against Gaza, mobilize Israeli troops to the border, and threaten another invasion of the impoverished territory.

The Israeli government is utilizing the tragic deaths of the Jewish youth to press its demand that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas disavow his announcement last April of a unity government between his Fatah-led authority and Hamas. Netanyahu seized on that announcement to break off so-called “peace” negotiations that were being overseen by the United States.

Israel launched three new air strikes Friday evening, this time against the southern Gaza town of Rafah. The Israeli air strikes, using the most advanced weaponry, are said to be in response to the firing of crude rockets and mortars from Gaza into southern Israel. Hamas and other groups began launching rockets several weeks ago in response to the mass arrest of Hamas supporters on the West Bank.

Israeli officials said 18 rockets from Gaza struck southern Israel on Friday. The military says some 150 rockets have been fired at southern Israel in recent weeks. The air force has responded with air strikes against 70 targets in Gaza, according to the military.

On Thursday, at a celebration of the July 4 Independence Day holiday at the residence of the US ambassador, Netanyahu threatened to respond with “full force” if the rocket launches continued. There were reports Friday of negotiations for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, brokered by Egypt. Unnamed Hamas officials said they supported a truce and expected one to be announced. Israeli officials made no comment on the claim, however.

Instead, Netanyahu said his government would delay any major military escalation for 24 hours while cease-fire talks continued.

Meanwhile, Israeli authorities claim to have been unable to determine either the perpetrators or the motive for the killing of Khudair. This is despite eyewitness reports that the men who bundled the Palestinian youth into a car were Jewish, and the fact that the victim’s family supplied the police with vehicle’s license plate.

Moreover, the abduction and murder of Khudair came only hours after several hundred ultra-right and pro-settler Israelis held a march through East Jerusalem Tuesday night in which they chanted “death to the Arabs” and attacked Palestinian passers-by. The right-wing rampage followed Tuesday’s nationally televised funeral of the murdered Israeli teenagers.

Israeli authorities seem to be encouraging rumors that the teenager’s death was the result of an “honor killing” carried out by members of his family because he was supposedly gay. The family of the slain youth has denounced these claims and the insistence of Israeli police on questioning the youth’s cousins on their possible involvement in the crime.

The government’s posture of strict agnosticism as to the perpetrators of the Khudair murder stands in glaring contradiction to its blanket and unsubstantiated claim of Hamas’ responsibility for the killing of the Israeli youth, a contradiction that is ignored in the American media.

The attempt of Netanyahu to use the deaths of the Israeli teens as the pretext for stepped up aggression against the Palestinians, and the racist and fascistic agitation of pro-settler elements, prompted some 3,000 mostly young Israelis to stage a rally for peace and tolerance on Wednesday.

The rally was organized by Tag Meir, a pro-peace coalition of 43 organizations. USA Today quoted one of the participants, Jonah Clarfield, 25, as saying, “This is a response to the racist march that took place last night.” Marchers held hand-made posters reading, “We Are All Human Beings” and “Light, Not Terror.”

Powerful sections of the Israeli political and media establishment, on the other hand, are agitating for all out war with overtones of genocide against the Palestinians. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman traveled Friday to Sderot, the Israeli town that borders Gaza and has been the main target of Hamas rockets, where he attacked Netanyahu for being insufficiently ruthless.

“Not all terrorist targets can be destroyed from the air,” he declared. “Most of the rocket production sites are under schools, hospitals and mosques. We are only postponing a problem instead of dealing with it.” He went on to call for the assassination of key Hamas leaders.

The Jerusalem Post on Friday published a column by Martin Sherman, the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies, under the headline: “Into the Fray: ‘Cry Havoc! and let slip the dogs of war.’”

“It is time for a bold new offensive—before we are overtaken by events,” he wrote, adding, “For anyone with half a brain it should be crystal clear: The peace-with-Palestinians paradigm is irredeemably broken.”

He continued, “In other words, we must inflict strategic defeat, and impose strategic surrender, on the Palestinians…” He set out as components of this policy the need to: “Coercively dismantle and disarm the Palestinian security forces,” and “Refrain from any support for the unsustainable Palestinian economy, withhold any services hitherto rendered to it and allow it to collapse, as it inevitably will.”