Archive for November, 2008

What do you have to do to be called a terrorist?

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

After a three-day standoff with militants ended amid a fire Saturday at the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower Hotel, the removal of the bodies from the wrecked 105-year-old landmark began… 

On Wednesday night, when a married couple in their 70s went to their third-floor window to see what was happening after hearing gunfire, the attackers blazed away with assault rifles, killing them both. Shards of glass still hung in the panes on Saturday.

When several attackers seized a Jewish outreach center, Nariman House, on Wednesday, neighbors mistook the initial shots for firecrackers in celebration of India’s imminent cricket victory over England. But then two attackers stepped out on a balcony of Nariman House and opened fire on passers-by in an alley nearby. They killed a 22-year-old call center worker who was the sole financial supporter of his widowed mother.

When a tailor locked up his store for the night, half a block from the Taj Hotel, a gunman spotted him and killed him instantly, said Rony Dass, a cable television installer. “We still don’t know why they did this,” he said, mourning his lifelong friend. Somini Sangupta and Keith Bradsher, NY Times

What do you have to do to be called a terrorist?

This question comes to mind when the word ‘militant’  is used in almost all of the media accounts of the Mumbai attacks.

In addition to the usual targets of  Westerners and Jews, the gunmen murdered anyone available — old men and women, anybody they felt like shooting.

When terrorists detonate a bomb, they know they are going to kill indiscriminately, but they don’t usually look their victims in the eye. In many cases these terrorists carefully aimed at their victims, most of whom were ordinary Indians.

“One man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter”, Jeremy Bowen of the BBC famously said, no doubt having in mind Palestinian terrorists and thereby proving himself a moral idiot. I suppose his logic is that he would prefer not to offend anyone, no matter how ignorant that person may be.

But for whom are the Mumbai terrorists ‘freedom fighters’?

Is it necessary to call them ‘militants’ so as not to offend the homicidal sociopaths among The Times’ readership? How many of them could there be?

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The Saudi Initiative

Friday, November 28th, 2008

What’s so wrong with the ‘Saudi initiative’ (more correctly, the Arab League initiative)? Couldn’t issues like the ‘return’ of descendants of Arab refugees be negotiated into return to the Palestinian state and compensation? After all, it does represent a breakthrough in that for the first time the Saudis seem to be saying that under some circumstances they would recognize Israel.

Caroline Glick makes the problem clear, when she writes,

With his enthusiastic embrace of the so-called Saudi peace plan, Olmert is committing Israel to accepting the Arab narrative of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The Saudi plan is predicated on the wholly mendacious claim that there has never been any Arab aggression against Israel – only Israeli aggression against Arabs and legitimate Arab resistance to Israel. With Olmert now giving his stamp of approval to the Saudi plan, he is denying the country its moral right to defend itself both militarily and diplomatically. [my emphasis]

Leaving Olmert aside (how wonderful if this were possible in more than rhetoric!),  her point is well taken. The text of the Arab League approved version of the initiative and the original Saudi version can be found here: “The Arab Peace Initiative“.

There are several reasons that Glick is correct. Consider the introduction and point 1 of the proposal:

Reaffirming the resolution taken in June 1996 at the Cairo Extra-Ordinary Arab Summit that a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East is the strategic option of the Arab countries, to be achieved in accordance with international legality, and which would require a comparable commitment on the part of the Israeli government [introduction]

[The Council of Arab States] requests Israel to reconsider its policies and declare that a just peace is its strategic option as well. [point 1, my emphasis]

In other words,  the Arab states have chosen the ‘strategic option’ of  seeking peace through (their interpretations of) relevant UN resolutions, but Israel has not and must ‘reconsider’. The implication is that the Arabs want peace and Israel does not.

The second point describes the concrete steps that Israel must take — indeed, as the proposal has been presented by the Arabs, must complete — before the Arabs will take action:

I- Full Israeli withdrawal from all the territories occupied since 1967, including the Syrian Golan Heights, to the June 4, 1967 lines as well as the remaining occupied Lebanese territories in the south of Lebanon.  [note that this includes all of East Jerusalem — ed]

II- Achievement of a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194. [This has always been interpreted by the Arabs to mean that all 4-5 million Arabs claiming refugee status have a right to choose between compensation or ‘returning’ to Israel proper — ed]

III- The acceptance of the establishment of a sovereign independent Palestinian state on the Palestinian territories occupied since June 4, 1967 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

And here is the third point:

Consequently, the Arab countries affirm the following:

I- Consider the Arab-Israeli conflict ended, and enter into a peace agreement with Israel, and provide security for all the states of the region.

II- Establish normal relations with Israel in the context of this comprehensive peace.

The third point begins with the word ‘Consequently’, and the Arabs have made it clear that it is to be understood in a temporal as well as a logical sense — “after the above Israeli actions and as a result of them”. Before discussing the content of the third point, let’s look at the implications of this.

One would expect in a compromise made between equals that steps would be taken by both sides simultaneously, or perhaps with each side making a concession in turn. This gives the impression that neither side is admitting that its present position is untenable, but rather that they are moving together in a cooperative fashion. It also has the practical effect of enabling either side to stop the process if it feels that the other is not living up to its commitments.

But the Arab initiative is exactly the opposite. Israel is required to make all the concessions before the Arab states must do anything. This is reasonable only if we understand the first part — in which Israel must “reconsider its policies” as follows: Israel admits that her policies were wrong and agrees to redress the injustices. Then, and only then, will the Arab states grant ‘peace’ (we’ll discuss what this might be later).

So what exactly is Israel asked to redress?

  • By full withdrawal with no adjustments or compromises, Israel admits that the 1967 war was a war of aggression by Israel against the Arabs.
  • By ‘return’ or compensation of  ‘refugees’ Israel accepts that the consequences of the 1948 war are her responsibility. Everyone agrees that if the ‘refugees’ were allowed into Israel it would be the end of the Jewish state. But it’s also true that accepting responsibility for the refugees by compensation — even if not one ‘returns’ — is an admission of guilt.

So Israel is expected to admit her guilt and sole responsibility for the conflict, and give up everything concrete — land, and possibly even her nation itself. As Glick points out, Arab war and terrorism against Israel are therefore excused because they constitute morally and legally (by the Arabs’ interpretations of UN resolutions) justified resistance against an aggressor.

Now let’s look at what Israel gets, assuming that there still is an Israel after the implementation of point 2.

The conflict will be ‘ended’ — there will be no more fighting. There will be ‘normal relations’. The Arabs will ‘provide security’ for all states in the region.

There is no mention of recognition, even less recognition as a Jewish state. Will Israel even have a role in ‘providing security’ for herself? This is a surrender, not a treaty between equals.

The Arab nations have lost every war they fought against Israel and have had the West save them from suffering the consequences of defeat time and again. Yet they try to dictate terms of surrender as though they had been victorious! What arrogance and chutzpah!

But some say that regardless of all this, Israel should take the proposal seriously, at least as a starting point for negotiations. After all, it is the first time the Arabs — in particular the Saudis –have admitted that under some conditions they will live at peace with Israel. This reminds me of a joke: a man proposes marriage to a woman, who responds “I’ll marry you when Hell freezes over!” So the man goes home and tells his mother, “she hasn’t accepted yet but we have a starting point for negotiations. There are some conditions under which she’ll marry me.”

The only form of this initiative that Israel should be prepared to  use as a basis of negotiations should be one turned upside down. Something like this:

Whereas the Arab nations recognize that the state of Israel is fully legitimate and entitled to define itself as a Jewish state for the Jewish people, they agree to end the conflict.

In return, insofar as the Arabs, Iranians and their proxies will prove that they have actually renounced war and terrorism, Israel will negotiate a two-state solution with the Palestinians — those who accept the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state.

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AP stories distort, distort, distort

Thursday, November 27th, 2008

The media coverage of the Palestinians seems to be based on the idea that nothing can possibly be their own fault. Every problem they have is a direct result of Zionist colonialism. That’s nonsense. But every story like this buttresses the position of those who want to solve all the problems by making the Zionists go away.

None Dare Call it News Coverage

By Barry Rubin

I realized something important when reading a relatively marginal feature story from the Associated Press.

It shows us that Palestinians don’t really exist as a society but only as a set of victims. By definition, all — or to be fair, almost all, of their problems are said to come from Israel. Yet since the continuation of the conflict and their difficult situation comes first and foremost from within Palestinian politics and society, this kind of interpretation makes it impossible to understand why there is no peace, no Palestinian state, and no end of violence.

Karin Laub, “Amid poverty, a Renaissance villa in the West Bank,” November 26, 2008, provides a great opportunity to talk about the problems within Palestinian society. The story is about a “Palestinian tycoon [who] has created a tranquil paradise on a Holy Land mountaintop, with a replica of a famous Renaissance villa, sculpted gardens and a wrought-iron pavilion that once belonged to a nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte.”

We are immediately told, however, that this is to be compared, not to the impoverishment of his own society but rather to guess-who: “But even one of the West Bank’s richest men cannot entirely shut out Israel’s military occupation, army bases and Israeli settlements occupy hills surrounding the 100-acre estate.”

Note that the mere existence of Israeli installations nearby is the “terrible” thing that allegedly cancels out this individual’s Garden of Eden. Not that there is any direct effect, but the message is that all Palestinians are a subject people, no matter how rich they are. He may never meet an Israeli, he may live in a situation where he can accumulate wealth and act as a lord, he may live under Palestinian Authority rule but — we are told — this is deceptive. Because nothing matters but Israel’s presence, even if it is barely in sight.

I have learned not to take even the most basic claims of AP for granted so I do not assume that there are “army bases” or settlements in the area.

Only afterward however are we informed that maybe, just maybe, there is something wrong with this conspicuous display of wealth in the Palestinian context:  “And some say such a display of wealth, the honey-colored Palladian mansion is visible for miles, is jarring at a time of continued economic hardship. At the foot of the mountain in Nablus, unemployment runs at 16 percent and the mayor says 40 percent of the 180,000 residents live in poverty.”

Jarring? How about asking the most basic questions, the kind that would be asked in covering any other society on earth?

The person in question is Munib Masri. The Masris are a large clan closely associated with Fatah and the Palestinian Authority (PA). We are given the bare facts — he was close to Arafat, he formed a development company. But the points are made with the greatest possible delicacy: “Critics say some of the profits were made possible by a lucrative telecommunications monopoly the company held for several years.”

We are not told from whence this monopoly came — from the PA. The word corruption is never mentioned. Such a lack of curiosity about the sources of his wealth does not accord with journalistic practices in covering other stories.

Indeed, the story of the telecommunications monopoly is one of the best-known stories of corruption among Palestinians. How PA and Fatah factions competed over the loot, how Arafat intervened directly into the issue.

But for AP it is a story untold. The story should be as follows:

  • The Palestinian upper economic and political class cares nothing for its own people.
  • In its fourteen-year rule of the West Bank, the PA has focused on looting it rather than on raising living standards and providing good government.
  • Billions of dollars in international aid donations have disappeared, probably paying for a large portion of Masri’s mansion.
  • The PA’s failures are blamed on Israel both by the PA itself, Western governments, and the international media.
  • Palestinian suffering is not primarily due to Israel but to their own leaders.
  • A lot of Israel’s success has been due to Jews around the world making both investments and donations.  Palestinians have not been forthcoming in supporting their own “state,” a point well-known in Palestinian circles (an exception here, of course, is in backing Hamas’s terrorist campaign in recent years).
  • Anyone who keeps their eyes open will see other huge, albeit less impressive than this one, mansions in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Even other members of Masri’s own family have been criticized for their ostentation. While this estate may be the most extreme case, it is hardly an exception in that regard.
  • Wealthy Palestinians do not give charity to help their poorer cousins. The PA doesn’t even have a comprehensive tax system. Thus, the international community is left to support the Palestinians, and their oversized security apparatus.
  • Violence sponsored by the PA was responsible for destroying the chance for their people to work in Israel, hitherto a major aid to their economy; the destruction of infrastructure; and the hesitation of investors, who are also put off by the PA’s corruption and incompetence.
  • Intransigence and the failure to reach a compromise solution stem from the Palestinian leadership, including Masri’s buddy, Arafat.

Meanwhile, despite the hints in this article about a stifling Israeli occupation, Masri has no difficulty in proposing huge projects costing more than a half billion dollars. I suspect that these projects will never materialize but will be scams for ripping off foreign aid money.  “Masri remains optimistic, even though independence appears no closer than when he first returned to the West Bank.”  Hm, I wonder why they haven’t achieved it yet. I sure won’t learn it from AP coverage.

And to switch to the broader picture, consider another Karin Laub effort, “Abbas ads make appeal to Israelis,” November 21, 2008. The subtitle is, “The Palestinian’s ads detail withdrawal terms first offered in a 2002 Arab Peace Initiative.” Well, if the ads detail the terms, Laub certainly doesn’t.

The 12-paragraph story never gets around to telling us what’s in the offer and why Israel has a problem with it. The only reference to that point says, “An Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, Gaza and parts of Jerusalem would bring them recognition by the Arab world.”

Of course, Israel has already withdrawn from all of Gaza, but at any rate it would have been easy for Laub to mention that the terms are for Israel to leave all of the West Bank and all of east Jerusalem, not one centimeter less. She merely had to insert the word “all.” The point is that the way it is worded makes the offer seem more attractive than it is.

But that’s not the worst part. Laub doesn’t mention that the plan also demands that all — there’s that word again — Palestinians who ever lived in any part of what is now Israel and all their descendents must be allowed to ‘return’ to Israel. That’s a few million people.

To distort points of fact about the terms is scandalous and shameful. A couple of decades ago, AP would have issued a correction. But that’s not the way things are done nowadays, is it? Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is only paraphrased as saying “its positions on key issues such as final borders, the status of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees are not acceptable.” There’s no explanation as to why it is, presumably lest Israel’s rejection be understood as a rational response.

And as always there is no mention of Palestinian refusal to meet Israel’s needs. As always, we aren’t even told about such things, which Abbas’s adds don’t mention: end of incitement to terrorism, a declared end to the conflict, no foreign troops on Palestinian soil. One might think that an ad campaign by the PA would say something about Palestinian positions.

The article concludes, “Many Israelis are also skeptical about a peace deal, in part because the embattled Abbas no longer speaks for all Palestinians.”

Thank goodness that while it is impermissible to criticize the PA or Fatah, at least the media can talk about Hamas. We are then given a decent description of it as an  “Islamic extremist group” which staged a “violent 2007 takeover, two years after a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the territory,” and its firing of “thousands of rockets and mortars on Israeli border towns since the pullout.” The article then notes, “Israelis fear a West Bank withdrawal could bring more attacks.”

Of course, that’s in the last paragraph. But two more reasons for Israeli skepticism should also be added: the failure of the PA to keep its past promises and its demands that Israel give everything without offering anything itself.

Can we coin a phrase here? Much of the coverage can be called “anti-news” because it is deceptive nature. Perhaps there should be little labels affixed, like those on cigarette packs: Warning! Reading this article can be hazardous to your intellectual health.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA and other GLORIA Center publications or to order books, visit

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A lesson for Jews from Mumbai

Thursday, November 27th, 2008

As I write, news reports indicate that hundreds are dead and injured in Mumbai. Indian commandos are about to storm the Chabad house there, where it appears that Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, his wife Rivka and an uncertain number of others are being held hostage by terrorists (their small son was reportedly rescued early on).  It’s painful but impossible to stop trying to keep up with events as this horrible but familiar story unfolds.

I’m sure when it’s over the ‘mujahideen’ that perpetrated this atrocity will explain that they had important ‘political’ motives. What political imperative made them include the Chabad house as a target? Is Chabad someow a representative of the Zionist entity that is denying ‘human rights’ to Palestinians, who are themselves no strangers to this kind of ‘political’ activity?

No, let’s face it, we know why the Chabad house was attacked.

It would be good if the various camps among Israelis and Jews everywhere would pay attention and understand that after all this time they are not a ‘normal’ people in the eyes of the world. This is why there needs to be a state of Israel that can defend itself and indeed, defend the Jewish people.

Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg

Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg

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Olmert is really finished this time

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

Israel’s attorney General, Menachem Mazuz, has informed Prime Minister Olmert that he will likely be indicted for systematically billing multiple agencies to pay for private trips abroad (Ha’aretz, AG plans to indict Olmert over double-billing affair). This would be the first time a sitting Israeli PM was indicted.

There is no law in Israel which demands that the PM resign if he is merely indicted for a serious crime (he would need to be convicted), although Olmert has said that he would step aside if indicted. If he does resign or declare himself incapacitated, the ‘designated acting PM’ is Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and she would take the position of PM for up to 100 days. New elections are already scheduled for February.

Previously Olmert promised to quit after the Kadima primary in September, assuming that the winner could form a coalition. Livni won, but for various reasons — in particular because the Shas party escalated their demands for tribute — she was not able to do so. Olmert then chose to stay on. My guess is that Olmert is looking for a way to hang on even now, unless things get a lot worse. A spokesman said that “…in this case the prosecution is presenting a one-sided, incorrect version of the events that is destined to crack and collapse.”

Polls show that the coming election may be close, although the Likud party of Binyamin Netanyahu presently has the advantage. That could change, and there is also the possibility of a unity government. In any event, there’s no question that Tzipi Livni today would be much more effective as PM than Olmert, the lamest of ducks.

There have been suggestions that the Obama administration wants to get moving immediately after his inauguration on a far-reaching ‘peace’ plan. Olmert has already made inappropriate statements about what Israel should be prepared to accept in negotiations with the Palestinians, statements which will be construed as bottom lines when serious negotiations resume with the new administration.

Considerations of national interest as well as decency and self-respect demand that Olmert step down now.

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