Thursday, 28 August 2008

Breaking habitats, building resistance

A quiet ethnic cleansing continues in East Jerusalem as Israel proceeds with uncaring resolve to reduce Palestinian houses to rubble, displacing and breaking their inhabitants in the process.

Demolish their homes, demolish their spirits. That's the painful conclusion of Jill Shaw, a recent participant in the admirable Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) campaign to stop Israel's tactical expulsion of its Arab 'citizens':

"ICAHD, an Israeli group whose primary mission is to resist Israel's practice of home demolitions, states that 18,000 Palestinian homes have been demolished by Israel since 1967. Additionally, another 22,000 East Jerusalem homes have demolition orders on them. This does not include the thousands of homes with demolition orders throughout the rest of the West Bank."

The familiar excuses are trotted out: these people have no building permits, thus their dwellings are illegal and subject to removal. But, as ICAHD, the UN and multiple other legal observers have shown, Palestinians are consistently denied such building permits, leaving them with little choice but to build wherever and however they can. They live in a state of constant uncertainty and fear, knowing that a 3 am rap on the door means the probable destruction of their dwellings by dawn. As I always say to those seemingly indifferent to such suffering, just imagine for a moment what that would feel like for your own family. How can a country calling itself a civilised democracy throw people on the street in such a cruel and merciless way?

As Jonathan Cook explains, it's all part of Israel's stealthy acquisition of land, a process which sees it encircle Palestinian habitats with 'legitimate' settlements while pretending 'good faith' actions against "illegal outposts" like Migron. The main settlements, notes Cook:

"now form an almost complete ring around Palestinian East Jerusalem, cutting it off from the rest of the West Bank and destroying any hope that the city will one day become the capital of a Palestinian state.

"These settlements are supposed to be the nail in the coffin of any future peace agreement with the Palestinians," said Dror Etkes, a veteran observer of the settlements who works for the Israeli human rights group Yesh Din. "Their purpose is to make a Palestinian state unviable."

The majority of the half a million settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, according to Mr Etkes, are "economic opportunists", drawn to life in the occupied territories less by ideological or religious convictions than economic incentives. The homes, municipal services and schools there are heavily subsidised by the government. In addition, the settlements – though illegal under international law – are integrated into Israel through a sophisticated system of roads that make it easy for the settlers to forget they are in occupied territory surrounded by Palestinians.

But Migron, with its supposed links to the Biblical site where King Saul based himself during his fight against the Philistines, attracts a different kind of inhabitant."This place is holy to the Jewish people and we have a duty to be here," Mrs Genud said. "The whole land of Israel belongs to us and we should not be afraid to live wherever we want to. The Arabs must accept that."

Unlike the 150 or so official settlements dotted across the West Bank, Migron is an example of what the Israeli government refers to as an "illegal outpost", often an unauthorised outgrowth from one of the main settlements. Today there are more than 100 such outposts, housing several thousand extremist settlers."

Meanwhile, Israel's brazen expansion bulldozes on unimpeded, with a near doubling of homes under construction in the last year. As noted in a new report from the Israeli-based Peace Now group:

"the housing ministry had begun work on 433 new settlement housing units between January and May this year compared with 240 in the same period last year, despite continuing negotiations with the Palestinians for a peace agreement. The organisation said its findings were based on figures from Israel's central bureau of statistics. It said more than 1,000 new buildings, representing 2,600 housing units, were under construction in settlements. Of these, 55% are on the eastern side of the concrete and steel barrier Israel has built in and along the West Bank."

ICAHD's mission is a severe embarrassment to the Israeli authorities, hence its constant vilification. Jeff Halper, the group's leading Israeli activist is unequivocal in describing Israel's actions as "apartheid" and calling for a concerted campaign to break its system of discrimination:

"This, then, is a call for a global anti-apartheid campaign, an international response to, and utter rejection of, the “convergence plan” which Olmert has pronounced the most pressing priority of his new government, a plan that calls for Israel to “converge” into its "thickened" settlement blocs while locking the Palestinians permanently into a truncated, non-viable, semi-sovereign prison-state. While not based on the racial policies of South African apartheid, the formal institutionalization of the Occupation whereby one state assumes permanent and structured domination over another, one people permanent domination over another through a system of institutionalized discrimination, means that Israel’s form of apartheid conforms in principle, conception and structure to apartheid. While some may object to the use of the term on the grounds that it deflects debate from the issues, while “dispossession,” “ethnic cleansing,” “colonization” and other terms may be more descriptive for what is occuring in Israel-Palestine, apartheid is the only term existing that gets to the deliberately structured, permanently institutionalized form of systemic discrimination underlying Israel’s “convergence plan” that perpetuates the Occupation forever."

ICAHD members are subject to frequent arrest for helping to block the demolition of Palestinian homes. Jeff Halper has been arrested eight times, latterly for defending a house torn down by the Israelis and rebuilt by ICAHD.

Halper was also arrested and charged with 'border violations', having entered Gaza and re-entered Israel as part of the recent Break the Siege voyage. It was another telling act of political vindictiveness against a brave Israeli bearing international witness to his country's wicked persecutions.

The withdrawal of EU funding from ICAHD is yet another indication of the punitive isolation felt by Palestinians and their advocates. The EU action, part of an 'upgrading' of relations with Israel, is particularly reprehensible given ICAHD's avowed non-violent philosophy and adherence to international articles on the illegality of the Occupation, settlements and destruction of Palestinian homes.

Despite all these obstacles and intimidations, including streams of vitriolic antagonism from within the Israeli media, ICAHD continue to build and resist, both in the physical replacing of Palestinian homes and in the construction of international awareness. It's an inspiring project helping to restore broken habitats and keep an open window on the plight of a brutalised people.


One Hundred Months

One hundred months to save the planet.


Friday, 15 August 2008

Georgia: what's in their minds?

War is, by any reasonable definition, an ugly business. But its grotesque human consequences are regularly shrouded and clouded by the dual language of the political elite and their media proxies.

Beyond the sanctimonious denunciation of Russia's presence in Georgia, this less palatable truth remains: a despotic Washington satellite, brought to power in a CIA-backed coup, has acted on instruction of its patrons to promote 'strategic conflict' in the Caucasus.

The current crisis is also an object lesson in how Western politicians and their satellite media respond in synchronised fashion. Thus, while David Miliband, Jim Murphy and other New Labour clones beautify Georgia as a 'bullied little democracy', the BBC spotlights claims of Russian 'atrocities' in Gori, asking, in partisan tones, when the tanks will depart Georgia. In stark contrast to the chorus citing Russian aggression, the actions of Georgia's leader, Mikhail Saakashvili, have been conveniently muted.

In a welcome departure from other Guardian posturings, the paper's Seumas Milne puts the issues in proper perspective:

"The outcome of six grim days of bloodshed in the Caucasus has triggered an outpouring of the most nauseating hypocrisy from western politicians and their captive media.

"You'd be hard put to recall after all the fury over Russian aggression that it was actually Georgia that began the war last Thursday with an all-out attack on South Ossetia to "restore constitutional order" - in other words, rule over an area it has never controlled since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Nor, amid the outrage at Russian bombardments, have there been much more than the briefest references to the atrocities committed by Georgian forces against citizens it claims as its own in South Ossetia's capital Tskhinvali.

"By any sensible reckoning, this is not a story of Russian aggression, but of US imperial expansion and ever tighter encirclement of Russia by a potentially hostile power. That a stronger Russia has now used the South Ossetian imbroglio to put a check on that expansion should hardly come as a surprise. What is harder to work out is why Saakashvili launched last week's attack and whether he was given any encouragement by his friends in Washington. If so, it has spectacularly backfired, at savage human cost."
So, what lies in the minds of those behind this doomed attack on South Ossetia? Three words underlie US-Georgian motives for this seemingly crazy action: provocation, destabilisation and escalation.

As Michel Chossudovsky's excellent analysis shows, 'plucky little Georgia' has been involved in a wanton act of mass killing, designed by their Washington planners, all with calculated intent:

"US-NATO military and intelligence planners invariably examine various "scenarios" of a proposed military operation-- i.e. in this case, a limited Georgian attack largely directed against civilian targets, with a view to inflicting civilian casualties. The examination of scenarios is a routine practice. With limited military capabilities, a Georgian victory and occupation of Tskhinvali, was an impossibility from the outset. And this was known and understood to US-NATO military planners.

"A humanitarian disaster rather than a military victory was an integral part of the scenario. The objective was to destroy the provincial capital, while also inflicting a significant loss of human life. If the objective were to restore Georgian political control over the provincial government, the operation would have been undertaken in a very different fashion, with Special Forces occupying key public buildings, communications networks and provincial institutions, rather than waging an all out bombing raid on residential areas, hospitals, not to mention Tskhinvali's University."
With their systematic dismissal of international law, most notably, of course, in Iraq, Bush and Cheney have fuelled the potential for blatant unilateral invasions and coups around the globe. Thus, while Saakashvili feels licensed to act with impunity, at his sponsor's direction, condemnation of Medvedev's/Putin's military response and 'delayed' presence in Georgia is ringing increasingly hollow.

Despite having signed a bilateral agreement on NATO protocols, Georgia is not an official partner. The now almost-free movement of Russian tanks around Georgia provides the immediate rationale for Georgia to become a formal part of the NATO club. Signing-up would provide full-member 'cover' to Tblisi and an expanded presence for the US/NATO in a key outpost with a vital oil pipeline and Western-laden arms and surveillance infrastructure.

But, as Chossudovsky shows, the US-NATO-Israeli axis is also about ratcheting-up tension in the region as part of a deepening strategy to break Iran. Israel itself is now a firmly-established and central player in this game plan to control the Caucasus' oil and gas rich resources. It's supply of arms and high-tech equipment to Georgia, coupled with its military advisers to Tblisi, illustrates the kind of quid pro quo relationships Israel is forging in relation to its own border agenda, not least, of course, in securing support for its 'peace demands' with the Palestinians. And Iran has become a critical target in that geopolitical and energy-securing project.

All this should be reasonably apparent to a 'professional' media supposedly dedicated to imparting context and truth. But where are we likely to hear from the BBC that the forging of US-Georgian-Israeli interests serves a geopolitical purpose in expanding the Western political, arms and energy complex? Where is the analyses showing that the fomenting of conflict and instability is really about serving military 'needs' and the 'stability' of selected oil profiteers?

But there's another kind of gross omission here: any true media reading and dissemination of the human politics.

So much of this is legitimated and filtered through the supposed 'hard analysis' of foreign affairs journalism, a 'sober vernacular' complemented by political, academic and other policy-informed, 'realist' discourse. Military correspondents, arms experts and defence commentators weigh-up the relative strengths of each sides' 'capabilities.' Maps are pored-over, while people become demographic statistics. Weapon stockpiles and the latest tank design are given fetish-like attention, encouraging viewer fascination. Mark Urban's in his glory. The logistical becomes the story.

The plight of civilians is, of course, covered. But still in a mainly number-counting way; a cost-accounting take on the conflict. And, of course, the human cost factor is always inversely-related to how the BBC and its political peers view the victimised state or people in question.

Rarely do we hear the issue primarily contextualised as the madness of war and the despicable actions of the powerful. It's glaringly obvious that Bush et al are up to their necks in planning and executing this villainy. The Russians have also shown their own readiness for ruthless life-taking here, in Chechnya and elsewhere. Again, the political and media response varies according to which particular villain 'we' support. Yet, state-directed murder is still treated, in generic terms, as, somehow, the respectable prerogative of state leaders.

Bush, Cheney, Saakashvili, Olmert and their political coteries all conspired to initiate a military action which, by any rational logic, they knew couldn't be won and which would lead to the deaths of thousands of civilians.

Bush sat in his seat at the opening day of the Beijing Games, having handed-down a sermon on China's human rights record (the hypocrisy should have wowed the media as much as the opening ceremony) almost certainly knowing that a bloodbath was about to unfold that very same day in South Ossetia.

What, one wonders, lurks in such minds? It's a dark question, with serious psychological import. Yet, in similar 'couch-probing' vein, what can we say about a system of politics and its media messengers that gives formal respect to such psychopaths – a term offered here in its common usage, but which could never be contemplated in addressing or describing 'our' dutiful, if 'mistaken', leaders. Saddam and Karadzic, yes. Bush, Cheney and Blair, don't be absurd.

It all points-up the need for a more humane politics and a recasting of the journalism used to read it. One which begins from an analysis of care and compassion for the lost and suffering rather than a fascination for the bombs and armaments lined-up to inflict such misery. A politics and reportage ready to indict and denounce 'our' warmongering crazies as well as 'theirs'. A media concerned with exposing the 'ethical' contortions of Bush, Brown and their fellow hypocrites in a dutiful, dual effort towards journalistic integrity and peaceful resolutions for those oppressed by politicians in respectable suits. An encouragement of zenpolitics before a career in geopolitics.


Monday, 11 August 2008

Anwar's trials and tribulations

So, Anwar Ibrahim finds himself in a re-run of his previous persecution by the Malaysian state elite.

The decision to charge Anwar over spurious sodomy allegations comes as he prepares to contest the Permatang Pauh by-election (the seat now vacated by his wife Wan Azizah), which will likely secure Anwar's return to parliament.

Following the Pakatan Rakyat (People's Alliance) opposition's recent electoral surge, the prospect of Anwar back in such a formal political role has raised the Barisan danger level to critical. Emergency measures, it seems, have been actioned at the highest level to halt this imminent 'catastrophe'.

The sodomy charge also comes after Anwar produced damning evidence against the present Attorney General and Inspector General of police showing that they perverted the course of justice during Anwar's 1998-99 arrest and trial. Anwar has further called for a Royal Inquiry into claims that Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak was involved in the cover-up of a murder. Anwar, as ever, has some seething and powerful enemies to contend with.

The capacity for ruthless reaction to such challenges should never surprise us. Yet, this latest demonisation of Anwar illustrates the more sordid depths to which those in power will stoop in a desperate effort to protect their interests.

Yet, it's a strategy very likely to backfire. Do those behind this prosecution consider the Malaysian public so gullible as to support yet another such show trial after Anwar was cleared of the previous sodomy conviction?

This central question of popular credibility is elaborated by Khoo Boo Teik:

"How, then, can a prosecution of Anwar on new sodomy charges bring anything save domestic and international ridicule?

"How will Saiful's [Anwar's aide, Saiful Bukhari Azlan, the person alleging the sexual assault] allegations find currency among dissident voters who have psyched themselves to resist a campaign of anti-PR psychological warfare?

"Won't charging Anwar with sodomy again revive on a larger scale the collective Malay disgust with his aib (shame) in 1998-99?"

As reported by Anil Netto, only a small percentage of Malaysians, some 11 percent, place any credence in these charges. Even a servile Malaysian media will have trouble changing that consensus.

Of course, that's not the immediate point of this shameful purge. The primary purpose is to prevent Anwar, as far as possible, from campaigning and forging a prime ministerial profile. Anwar is also confident he can persuade 30 BN parliamentarians to support a no-confidence vote on 16 September, thereby overturning five decades of Barisan rule. Hopes that the stigma of these latest claims will register somewhere in the public consciousness may remain. But that seems of secondary consideration to Anwar's detractors at this panic-driven time. For Anwar's accusers, this latest sodomy allegation is the last throw of the dice. These are people on the point of political oblivion, fearing not just the end of a BN-dominated era, but the collapse of an entire network of power. While the charge seems transparently fabricated, the stakes are immensely high.

I recall being in the KL court room during Anwar's first trial in 1999 (on associated corruption charges - the subsequent sodomy trial followed in 2000). It felt like a monumental occasion, one that might even have precipitated Mahathir's own demise. Yet, while one sensed much sympathy for Anwar, at large, and a hopeful coalescing of new opposition forces, there was no doubting the enterprise of the Mahathir-led conspirators in seeing Anwar put safely out of circulation. At the time, there seemed little prospect of him ever returning to political prominence. How the tables have turned. The question now is whether the same methods can be used to turn them back again on Anwar.

I've always held key reservations about Anwar's political and economic credentials - not just with regard to his past UMNO/BN life, but in his too-close association with Western neoliberal institutions like the IMF and World Bank. However, Anwar's market leanings have to be viewed within the more immediate context of his iconic place within the Pakatan Rakyat and the very real prospects of it sweeping away the Barisan's power-obsessed network.

How any incoming PR government may fare in challenging both Malaysia's authoritarian and neoliberal afflictions remains to be seen. A more collective leadership with real progressive alternatives is a minimum requirement. One also hopes for a project dedicated to building a more thoughtful leftist-Islamic alignment. Like most other countries, Malaysia ultimately has to choose between the familiar 'imperatives' of market-driven 'growth' and sustainable people-led policies.

Whatever the unfolding case for meaningful reform and participatory democracy, there's the urgent removal of a tired and corrupt order to consider. Hopefully this latest malevolent action will prove to be the critical catalyst for long-awaited change. Then the more difficult work of reformasi can begin.


Thursday, 7 August 2008

Lauding Livni

And so, "disgraced" Ehud Olmert plans to stand down. Disgraced over financial irregularities, that is. Not wanton acts of aggression in Palestine and Lebanon.

Kadima Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is now hailed as 'Mrs Clean' and the new 'moderate hope' for resolving the Palestinian issue. In truth, neither she nor Kadima's more hawkish notables - Public Security Minister Avi Dichter and Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz - indicate any substantive shift on the key final status issues – notably, complete disengagement of the West Bank settlements.

Reviews of Livni's political character suggest a shift from idealogue to pragmatist. Displacing much of her ultra-nationalist background - her father was a leading Irgun member - Livni claims a willingness to sacrifice land in order to secure Israel's 'democratic integrity'. The precedent cited is Israel's 'disengagement' from Gaza. Yet, this is another standard reading of Israel's 'benign withdrawal' narrative, as suggested in this piece of BBC spin:
“A former protege of Ariel Sharon, she helped broker Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and has championed a vision of Israel co-existing with a Palestinian state, say analysts.”
While noting Livni's role here, such accounts tell us nothing about the cynical thinking behind the 'withdrawal' and how Israel has merely shifted from a policy of "direct control to remote control" in order to intensify its strangulation of Gaza.

Livni has, discomfortingly for Israeli and US hawks, offered a 'private' opinion that an Iranian nuclear capability poses little existential threat to Israel.

Yet, this rational calculus has not been accompanied by any public reticence in demonising Ahmadinejad. Livni's hostility towards Tehran remains open and vociferous. As with her resolute agenda of retaining the West Bank settlements, Livni's verbal assault on the 'scheming mullahs' remains a standard fixture of Israeli politics.

And so, the pantomime electoral process is played-out one more time. Or should that be two more times? Everything, it seems, is again 'on hold' for the 'peace process' as we await the outcomes of the Israeli 'changeover' and the US presidential election. Will Livni, if installed, bring new impetus to the 'Annapolis process'? Will Obama, despite his pro-Israeli assurances, use the moment, if elected, to sponsor a serious peace deal?

The real truth for the Palestinians and all those seeking an end to the Occupation is more prosaic. It lies not in these electoral modifications and the contingencies of political replacements. It lies in the Palestinians' own determination to realise justice on their own terms, as a proto-state, unhindered by the conditionalities of extraneous elections and 'new-hope' leaders. As one sober voice puts it:
"In the region it is the season for the regular ritual of watching US and Israeli elections to build hopes or disappointment based on who might fill the leadership seats. We have been doing this for decades without it ever advancing our causes or mitigating our political failures. Has the time not come to realize that we have to take our affairs into our own hands and have others watch our elections instead, and at last respect the results and the will of the people?"
Beyond the media gaze, with all their electoral fascinations and speculations on Livni and Obama, a more simple actuality prevails: there is no serious peace process, and Palestinians cannot place their hopes or trust in other incoming leaders to effect one. Any true resolution will have to start from looking at the legitimate case for peace, justice and sovereignty inside Palestine, not how the political weather looks at this moment in Tel Aviv or Washington.


Friday, 1 August 2008

Rewarding torturers: CACI's Scottish Census contract

It's very dispiriting to learn that the Scottish Government has awarded the contract for the 2011 Census to a firm with a proven record of facilitating torture and abuse in Abu Ghraib.

One can only hope that a Government with a clearly stated position of opposing the Iraq war and professing ethical policies will seriously reconsider their decision. Parliamentary claims of cost-effectiveness and reassurances of data protection from CACI mean nothing against the truth of this firm's involvement in such abuse. Try rationalising those kind of things to the families of dead and tortured Iraqis.

Iraq is the most privatised war in history and it's incumbent upon any progressive legislature to ensure that the corporate beneficiaries of such slaughter are openy denounced and denied further business.

Please sign this petition urging the Scottish Government to end this shameful contract.