Archive for December, 2007

The asymmetry of the conflict

Monday, December 31st, 2007

The Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) describe their activities as “reducing violence by getting in the way”.

I am all for reducing violence. But the CPT have a history of getting in the way of people, if they happen to be Israelis, defending themselves.

The point of view is perfectly illustrated by this fragment of an email written by a CPT member named Jan Benvie:

On 28 December, 2007, two armed, off-duty Israeli soldiers and two Palestinian gunmen killed each other… The Israelis were from the settlement of Kiryat Arba, near Hebron, the Palestinians from Hebron.

Both communities have their narratives of why their young men are dead. Their narratives are similar, although I doubt either would agree with me, such is their enmity towards each other.

Part of the narrative goes like this: both believe the other wants to kill them and steal their land; neither thinks the other wants peace…

I think of the bereaved families in both Kiryat Arba and Hebron. As a mother, I feel particularly for the parents mourning their dead sons. [my emphasis]

Now a few facts, independent of ‘narratives’: three Israelis were walking down a road. A car carrying Palestinians drove by and sprayed them with bullets. Because the Israelis were off-duty soldiers walking in a dangerous place, they were armed and fired back. Two Israelis and one, possibly two, Palestinians died.

The thrust of Ms. Benvie’s email is that there is a symmetry here: both sides hate the other, both sides commit violence, both sides have grieving parents.

But this incident (which I wrote about in “The 35… and two more” ) is a perfect example of the asymmetry of the conflict.

Apologists for the Palestinians will say that the Israeli settlers had initiated the violence by living on ‘Palestinian land’. But even if you ignore the history of the Jewish presence in and around Hebron, and even if you think that the penalty for a Jew living on ‘Arab land’ should be death, the terrorists did not know who they were shooting. There is no doubt in my mind that any Israeli hiking on that road would have been shot.

If the victims had been unarmed, the only difference would have been that none of the terrorists would have been hurt. In that case, would Benvie still blame the Israelis equally? For what?

The CPT distribute a brochure entitled “No way to the Inn” which includes the line “If the Christmas story were to happen today, Mary and Joseph would have a hard time getting to Bethlehem”, because of the security fence.

CPT's nativity sceneThe brochure suggests building a little wall around a nativity scene, and then calling the local media to explain why you are doing it. It compares the Jews of today to the Romans of Herod’s time, and talks about the hardships faced by Palestinians living near the barrier.

But nowhere does it mention that the barrier is being built in order to stop Palestinian terrorists from attacking and killing Israelis. The CPT ‘gets in the way’ of self-defense, but doesn’t seem to do much to get in the way of terrorism (although one CPT member did offer to ride the no. 18 bus in Jerusalem after it had been bombed twice in two weeks).

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Who killed Benazir Bhutto?

Monday, December 31st, 2007

I haven’t written anything about Benazir Bhutto’s murder because I wasn’t ready to deal with it. I wasn’t ready to face the fact that, in the Middle East, murder is the option of choice to achieve political ends, and death is more important than life. If so, is there hope for anything except war, poverty, and death?

The Profession of Death
By Barry Rubin

Much will be said about Benazir Bhutto’s assassination; little will be understood about what it truly means. I’m not speaking here about Pakistan, of course, as important as is that country. But rather the lesson–as if we need any more–for that broad Middle East which begins in Pakistan and ends on the Atlantic Ocean coast.

This is a true story. Back in 1946, an American diplomat asked an Iranian editor why his newspaper angrily criticized the United States but never the Soviet Union. The Iranian said that it was obvious. “The Russians,” he said, “they kill people.”

A dozen years earlier, in 1933, the Iraqi official Sami Shawkat, gave a talk which became one of the most famous texts of Arab nationalism. “There is something more important than money and learning for preserving the honor of a nation and for keeping humiliation at bay,” he stated. “That is strength….Strength, as I use the word here, means to excel in the Profession of Death.”

What, you might ask, was Shawkat’s own profession? He was director-general of Iraq’s ministry of education. This was how young people were to be taught and directed; this is where Saddam Hussein came from. Seventy-five years later the subsequent history of Iraq and the rest of the Arab world show just how well Shawkat did his job.

September 11 in the United States; the Bali bombing for Australia; the tube bombing for Britain; the commuter train bombing for Spain, these were all merely byproducts of this pathology. The pathology in question is not Western policy toward the Middle East but rather Middle Eastern policy toward the Middle East.

Ever since I read Shawkat’s words as a student, the phrase, “Profession of Death,” which gave his article its title, struck me as a pun. On one hand, the word “profession” meant “career.”

To be a killer–note well that Shawkat was not talking specifically about soldiers, those who fight, but rather those who murder–was the highest calling of all. It was more important than being a teacher, who forms character; more important than a businessperson, who enriches his country; more important than a doctor who preserves the life of fellow citizens. Destruction was a higher calling than construction. And for sure in the Arabic-speaking world what has been reaped is what has been sowed.

But also the word “profession” here reminds me of “to profess,” “to preach.” What is of greatest value is for an educator to preach and glorify death. What kind of ideology, what kind of society, what kind of values, does such a priority produce? Look and see.


The 35… and two more

Sunday, December 30th, 2007

The Lamed-HeyIn the Winter and Spring of 1947-48, Palestinian Arabs and Jordanian troops maintained a siege on several Jewish kibbutzim southeast of Jerusalem in the area known as Gush Etzion. Ultimately, after five months, Kibbutz Kfar Etzion was overrun, and 250 inhabitants — soldiers and civilians — were massacred. The other kibbutzim surrendered.

Early in January 1948, a detachment of Jewish soldiers numbering 35 tried to walk the twenty kilometers from Jerusalem to Gush Etzion to bring them needed supplies. Supposedly they were seen by an Arab shepherd, whom they captured.

The story is that they considered killing him but decided to release him because he was a noncombatant. This story is told to recruits in the Israeli army, where it is presented as correct behavior, an illustration of the concept of tohar haneshek (purity of arms).

Of course the shepherd reported what he had seen, and a large force of Arabs was sent against them. All 35 were killed. They are remembered as the “lamed-hey” (the 35).

Ahikam Amichai (L) and David RubinThis Friday, almost exactly 60 years after the deaths of the lamed-hey, three young Israelis, Na’ama Ohion, Ahikam Amihai and David Rubin, were hiking in a place called Nahal Telem, near Hebron. Here is how Na’ama Ohion described what happened:

Ohion told her friends that, at the beginning of the hike, an elderly Arab passed them, and they began to recall the story…

Ohion told her friends they were making black-humor jokes about the historical incident. “We could never imagine that our hike would end up like theirs,” her friends said she told them.

About an hour later, she said, a gray Land Rover appeared and drove toward the three hikers, with a rifle barrel sticking out of the window. A Palestinian sitting in the back seat sprayed the three with bullets. Amihai and Rubin were hit, and Ohion ran to hide behind bushes above the trail. When she heard the shooting die down and the terrorists’ vehicle drive away, she came out of her hiding place.

Ohion saw her friends’ bodies riddled with bullets. After her attempts to resuscitate them failed, she climbed out of the wadi to a high point where she could use her cell phone, and waited there until help came. — Nadav Shragai, Ha’aretz

Amihai and Rubin, both sons of rabbis, were off-duty soldiers, and they were armed. Before they died they managed to kill one of the terrorists and wound another. The Islamic Jihad, the Fatah al-Aksa Brigades, and Hamas have all claimed ‘credit’ for the murders.

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Trouble for the ‘moderates’

Sunday, December 30th, 2007

Looks like the ‘moderate’ wing of the PA is taking some heat:

Fatah’s armed wing, the Aksa Martyrs Brigades, on Sunday called for the murder of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayad for “collaboration” with Israel and the US…

Fayad has been under heavy criticism from some Fatah leaders and activists, who accuse him of denying them public funds and plotting to undermine Fatah’s grip on power. — Jerusalem Post

Fatah, of course, is the basket the US has been putting all of its eggs into. And Fayad is almost singlehandedly responsible for the recent international pledges to donate more than $7 billion to the Palestinian authority.

The so-called moderate PA has not been getting much support from the Arab states lately, either. Last month at the UN,

Riad Mansour, the PA’s [UN] observer, wanted to include a clause in a draft resolution condemning Israel at a Decolonization Committee meeting. It would have expressed “concern about the takeover by illegal militias of Palestinian Authority institutions in June 2007” and called for its reversal, but under Arab state pressure this was toned down to “concern about an illegal takeover.” Mansour himself was subjected to a barrage of insults, led by the representatives of Egypt, Syria and Libya, who claimed that his initiative would be interpreted as a UN condemnation of Hamas, thereby easing Israel’s cutting of electricity and fuel supplies to Gaza. —Daniel Pipes [my emphasis]

What seems to be true is that there is very little support for the Abbas/Fayad PA except in the US State Department.

If I thought it was prepared to struggle with extremists, reach a negotiated settlement with Israel, and create a peaceful Palestine, I might feel bad about this.

But since I think that compromise with Israel is not a popular point of view among Arabs (to say the least), that Abbas and Fayad have exactly as much real support as the US will pay for, and that the PA ‘government’ is a Potemkin village, I am not heartbroken. There’s no possibility of success anyway.

I think the government of Israel knows this and is doing the only possible thing right now: killing the Islamic Jihad and Hamas terrorists. Why doesn’t the US understand the situation, stop wasting money on the corrupt Fatah organization, and let it fall of its own weight? Any services delivered to West Bank residents come from their local minor warlords anyway.

But, you say, “Hamas will take over!”

The only thing preventing a Hamas takeover in the West Bank today is the IDF. If the US policy continues — if we succeed in stage-managing a ‘peace’ agreement with those who, it has been said, “couldn’t deliver a pizza in Jerusalem”, and the IDF leaves the West Bank as a result — then Hamas will take over.

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Do you trust the wire services? You shouldn’t.

Friday, December 28th, 2007

Time after time, we read, see and hear outrageously biased “news” reports and “analyses” in the supposedly impartial media. Barry Rubin dissects one of them for us.

How The News Is Made
By Barry Rubin

Ring, ring, goes the telephone. And of course I answer it.

The voice on the other end says that he is “Joseph” of Reuters. I get many calls from journalists and wire services but never has someone I don’t know introduced himself by first name only. Since he has an obvious Arabic accent it is quite clear that he thinks I am either so biased as to care what his family name is or so stupid not to guess why he isn’t giving it.

So the effect is to achieve the exact opposite of what he wants. It puts me on my guard.

Next he tells me that he is doing a story on how Israel is strangling the Palestinian economy. In such circumstances, I have taken to arguing back with correspondents. By framing the story that way, I explain, Reuters is building in a bias. After all, the story should be: What’s wrong with the Palestinian economy, how to fix it, and will the massive infusion of aid–$7.4 billion just promised for three years by mostly Western donors–help?

Aren’t wire services, and the media in general, supposed to be somewhat balanced? They ask an open question, collect viewpoints, and let the reader conclude what the factors are, or at least wait until they have gathered some evidence. This is supposed to be especially true of wire services, which supply newspapers and other media with the basic facts on which they can build their own stories.

What is going on here, then, is not reporting but propaganda.

Clearly unnerved, he promises to quote me accurately. And he does keep that promise fully, sort of. But the outcome is quite predictable. And here is the dramatic headline that went out in the resulting story: “Analysis-Aid can’t save Palestinian economy in Israeli grip.”

No doubt is to be left that it is Israel’s fault that the Palestinian economy is in shambles. And so pervasive is this evil that even the whole world cannot save them. So after that $7.4 billion is all gone with no result everyone will know who to blame, right?

Before continuing let’s note the problem with this analysis on two levels. First, Israeli closures and control on movement are the result of Palestinian terrorist attacks, coupled with the unwillingness and inability of the two Palestinian governments (Palestinian Authority-Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip) to stop them. No attacks; no closures. And this is absolutely clear. If attacks were to stop, so would Israeli restrictions. But if Israel removed all roadblocks and closures, the attacks would continue. This makes obvious the principal, fundamental cause of the problem and what needs to change in order to fix it.

In other words: if Palestinian terrorism stops, Israeli restrictive measures will end and the Palestinian economy has a chance to develop.

But if Israeli restrictive measures end, Palestinian terrorism would continue and thus the Palestinian economy would not develop because Israel would put back on the restrictions eventually and also, of course, no one will invest in the middle of a war.

Is that clear and logical? Obviously, not for Western leaders and much of the news media.

Second, even if all Israeli action were to disappear, the Palestinian economy would still be in trouble. There are a number of reasons for this which are all well-known and were vividly seen in the 1990s, at a time when there was massive aid and a low level of Israeli security operations. These factors include: huge corruption which siphons off money; the lack of a clear legal framework for investment and commerce; the incompetence of the Palestinian regime; internal anarchy and violence by gangs with political cover; and an ongoing war against Israel.