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Mansplaining Women’s Pay Gap (John Oliver satire)

Tue, 26 Aug 2014 - 11:32pm

John Oliver explores America’s wage gap between men and women and proposes a possible solution.
Note: Solution proposed is 100% sarcastic.

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: The Wage Gap between Women and Men

As Int’l Powers focus on Kurds and Sunni Arabs, have Shiite Politicians lost Iraq Forever?

Tue, 26 Aug 2014 - 11:29pm

Mustafa Habib | Baghdad | via

In Baghdad [last] week, Iraq’s most senior Shiite Muslim politicians are lamenting their increasing isolation from the international community. The EU and the US are bypassing Baghdad to support Iraq’s Kurdish forces militarily; they’re also holding meetings with Iraq’s Sunni Muslim leaders and have apparently promised to support more Sunni independence. Is this the beginning of the end of a united Iraq?

At a meeting . . . that gathered senior leaders from Iraq’s Shiite Muslim political scene, one man turned to another and whispered in his ear: “So it seems we will not be ruling all of Iraq ever again. We will have Baghdad and our Shiite cities in the south, but nothing else”.

Almost everyone who attended the meeting – NIQASH was told about it by the whispering politician, who did not wish to be identified – was thinking the same thing. A short discussion on this exact topic followed but it was very negative in tone, and downright pessimistic about the future. This was then followed by conversations about how to distribute the country’s ministries among elected politicians. The subject of how the Shiites of Iraq had lost the country was not revisited.

Many of the politicians believe that a decision has been made by the international community. Over the past eight years foreign allies had always supported the Shiite Muslim politicians of Iraq. But this group has failed to rule the country well and unite its people. So the international community has decided to support the other major players in Iraq, the country’s Sunni Muslims and the Kurds.

In an exclusive interview with the New York Times published August 9, US President Barack Obama said that, “a residual US troop presence would never have been needed [in Iraq] had the Shiite majority there not “squandered an opportunity” to share power with Sunnis and Kurds.”

“Had the Shia majority seized the opportunity to reach out to the Sunnis and the Kurds in a more effective way, [and not] passed legislation like de-Baathification,” no outside troops would have been necessary,” the story said. “Absent their will to do that, our troops sooner or later would have been caught in the crossfire, [the President] argued.”

This was seen as an ominous sign by Shiite Muslim politicians as were several other very clear indicators that the international community no longer trusts the country’s Shiite Muslim parties to make the best decisions.

For example, Iraq’s foreign allies are communicating directly with other sectors of the Iraqi population, bypassing Baghdad.

The most obvious example is the US decision to launch air strikes in support of the country’s semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdish region, against the Sunni Muslim extremist group known as the Islamic State. In previous months, there had been no such support from the US when members of the same extremist group took part in ejecting the Iraqi army from provinces like Anbar – and even when the group took control of the northern city of Mosul in early June. The June takeover has led directly to the threats made against the nearby Iraqi Kurdish region.

Over the last few weeks there has been more and more talk from both the US and the European Union about directly arming Iraq’s Kurdish as well as directly supporting them militarily.

The European Union foreign affairs council released a statement after members met in Brussels on August 15 saying that it welcomed “the decision by individual Member States to respond positively to the call by the Kurdish regional authorities to provide urgently military material”.

Back in Baghdad, senior Shiite Muslim politicians expressed surprise at the enthusiasm of the international community for supporting the Iraqi Kurdish military, while Iraqi army forces fighting Sunni Muslim extremists north and south of Baghdad, as well as in the provinces of Diyala and Samarra were ignored.

The international reactions seem to have been something of a wakeup call for some of these politicians, who apparently had not realised that Iraq was on the verge of a whole new political scenario. As the President of the Iraqi Kurdish region has noted before, the Iraq “before Mosul” and “after Mosul” is a different country; he is referring to June 10, when the Islamic State, or IS, group took control of the northern city.

A statement was even issued by the office of the Commander in Chief of the Iraqi Armed Forces in Baghdad – that job is currently occupied by al-Maliki. It was released to the Iraqi media and said that while the Office welcomed international support, those providing it should carefully consider Iraq’s sovereignty. The statement warned against the distribution of military equipment without the consent or knowledge of the government in Baghdad.

Iraqi Kurdistan is important to the US for many reasons. Barack Obama said that part of the reason for launching air strikes was to protect US staff inside the region – the US has a consulate there as do many other countries. Because Iraqi Kurdistan has been the safest part of Iraq for years now, it is a base for many of the foreign firms and NGOs working in the country.

As a result of the last couple of month’s fighting, Iraqi Kurdistan has also become a shelter for over an estimated million refugees, both from inside Iraq and from Syria.

Additionally, the government in Baghdad had cut off funding and military aid to Iraqi Kurdistan several months ago, over budget and oil industry disputes. As a result, IS fighters had been able to come dangerously close to Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan – despite the region’s own military, who appeared to be under armed and under-resourced.

When arms shipments arrived in Iraqi Kurdistan from the US and the European Union this month, it was yet another sign that the international community were ignoring the political leadership in Baghdad and going straight to the Iraqi Kurdish.

Iraq’s foreign allies are also holding meetings with representatives from Iraq’s Sunni Muslim community and from Iraqi Kurdistan, without any Shiite Muslim representatives present.

“We are holding meetings on an ongoing basis with US officials to discuss the political and security situation in Sunni Muslim-majority provinces, particularly Anbar,” Saleh al-Issawi, deputy head of Anbar’s provincial council, told NIQASH. “We have asked the US to help us not to repeat what happened during al-Maliki’s regime. And we have told them that we have the power to manage our own cities’ affairs, both in terms of administration and security. We told them that we want to form our own military in Anbar and in other Sunni Muslim areas so that we can protect ourselves in the same way that the Iraqi Kurdish military protect Iraqi Kurdistan.”

“The US has agreed with us,” al-Issawi told NIQASH. “They have promised to support Iraq’s Sunnis and help us to avoid the previous experience with the Shiite Muslim-led government in Baghdad which was ignoring and oppressing us.”

Al-Issawi says that the US has agreed to help train and arm a new Sunni Muslim military force without coordinating with Baghdad.

“Meetings between the US and Sunni Muslims and the Kurdish are still going on,” a senior Iraqi Kurdish politician, who did not wish to be identified, told NIQASH. “They are discussing how to solve the conflicts that exist between Iraq’s Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish populations.”

“How Iraq is being run is changing,” the official alleged. “There hasn’t been any kind of official decision but informally it seems to have been agreed that Iraq’s provinces should have more independence. The government in Baghdad won’t be able to interfere in provincial affairs.”

Also worth remembering is the country’s increasingly important Law 21 – amendments to it were passed in the middle of last year – which legally gives Iraq’s provinces more power and independence from Baghdad. But the same old questions remain: will the Iraqi Kurds and the country’s Sunni Muslims trust the new Shiite Muslim-led government with this law, after the previous Shiite Muslim-led government managed to ignore it completely? And have the demands of Iraq’s Kurds and Sunnis changed “after Mosul” – are these now greater than Law 21 can address?

In a recent interview Jay Garner, a retired US army general who headed the occupation of Iraq first, after 2003, told British newspaper The Guardian, that, “the Iraq that we knew no longer exists.”

The “very best” that can be hoped for now, Garner, a long-time supporter of the Kurdish region, told the Guardian, “is a confederation, a federal system of Sunnis, Kurds, Shia. I think Iraq is now partitioned and we ought to accept that”.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Reuters: “Iraq’s Abadi forming new government amid unprecedented security crisis”

Can you Pass the Hamas Quiz?

Tue, 26 Aug 2014 - 11:27pm

By Jeffrey Rudolph (updated)

The degree of mainstream media distortion concerning Hamas is endemic in the US and Canada. In my local newspaper, the Montreal Gazette, one searches in vain for meaningful coverage of the respected Goldstone Report yet references to Barak’s (mythical) “Generous Offer” persists and ahistorical reporting on Hamas rockets dominates.

While one cannot entirely absolve Palestinians for their dire situation, three categorical truths should always be borne in mind to ensure that there is no confusion between victim and victimizer:

  1. Israel is illegally occupying Palestinian land;
  2. Occupied people have the legal right to resist occupation; and,
  3. Palestinians are the only occupied people to suffer international sanctions (while Israel enjoys significant economic, military and diplomatic support from powerful states).

The following quiz is intended to provide needed context to the inadequate reporting of Hamas in the mainstream media.


1. Has Hamas ever deliberately attacked an American target?

-No. According to Kenneth Pollack, former CIA analyst, Middle East expert and former National Security Council staffer, “[H]amas…[has] never deliberately attacked American targets. The PLO did…”

Pollack adds that in recent times Palestinian militant groups have all concentrated on Israel and one another and not the US “despite the tremendous levels of anti-Americanism in the region, the popularity that al-Qa’ida has garnered for its attacks on the United States, and the lopsided pro-Israel policies of [American] administration[s]. Consequently, it is difficult to suggest that Palestinian terrorist groups are a direct threat to the United States….[T]hey do not constitute the same kind of threat to American interests as al-Qa’ida and therefore do not merit the same response.” An objective observer is left to conclude that it is Hamas’s independence from the US orbit of control, coupled with the power of the Israel lobby, that engenders relentless US rebukes. (Kenneth M. Pollack, A Path Out of the Desert: A Grand Strategy for America in the Middle East, Random House, New York: 2008, 170)

-“Hamas is not ‘jihadist’ in the sense of al-Qaeda or ISIS. It is not fighting for a world-wide Caliphate. It is a Palestinian party, totally devoted to the Palestinian cause. It calls itself ‘the resistance’. It did not impose religious law (the ‘sharia’) on the population.”

Further proof that Hamas should not be equated with jihadist groups is that “there are churches in Gaza [which] Christians attend…freely, [and] there is a seat in the Gazan legislature reserved for a Christian – that’s night and day from the way ISIS treats Christians…”

-It should be obvious that simply killing “terrorists” in, say, Gaza without changing the conditions that produced them is ineffective since new “terrorists” will simply arise. For example, “Israel has assassinated dozens of Arab political and military leaders….What have the results been? Overall – nothing positive. Israel killed Hizbollah leader Abbas al-Moussawi, and got the vastly more intelligent Hassan Nasrallah instead. They killed Hamas founder Sheik Ahmad Yassin, and he was replaced by abler men. [They killed Hamas military leader Ja'abari whose] successor may be less or more able. It will make no great difference.”

2. True or False: Israel supported Hamas in the past.

-True. “For well over two decades after the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, Israel…[supported] the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoot Hamas in Gaza as a counterweight to the nationalist…(PLO). This reached the point where the Israeli military occupation encouraged Brotherhood thugs to intimidate PLO supporters.” (Rashid Khalidi, The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood, Beacon Press, Boston: 2007, xxviii-xxix)

According to Anthony Cordesman, respected Middle East analyst for the Center for Strategic Studies, Israel “aided Hamas directly—the Israelis wanted to use it as a counterbalance to the PLO.”

-In 2007 the US and Israel not only opposed a Palestinian unity government but, in a failed effort to destroy Hamas, “backed an armed force under Fatah strongman Muhammad Dahlan, touching off a bloody civil war in Gaza and leaving Hamas stronger than ever.” (Apparently, divide-and-rule continues to be a useful tool of control.) When the plot failed, Israel, with the support of the US and Egypt, “imposed a blockade designed not only to prevent Hamas from importing weapons, but to punish Gazans for electing it.” The result was devastation for Gaza’s economy. For example, by “2008, 90 percent of Gaza’s industrial companies had closed.” (Peter Beinart, The Crisis of Zionism, Times Books, New York: 2012, 76)

-Hamas maintains varying degrees of popularity due to Israel. Israel’s actions have shown “Palestinians that nonviolence and mutual recognition are futile….[H]amas’ greatest asset…is not rockets and tunnels. Hamas’ greatest asset is the Palestinian belief that Israel only understands the language of force….The people of Gaza will win [some] relief [after the 2014 'war'] not because Salam Fayyad painstakingly built up Palestinian institutions, not because Mahmoud Abbas repeatedly recognized Israel’s right to exist and not because Bassem Tamimi protested nonviolently in partnership with Israelis. Tragically, under this Israeli government, those efforts have brought Palestinians virtually no concessions at all. The people of Gaza will win some relief from the blockade – as they did when the last Gaza war ended [in 2012] – because Hamas launched rockets designed to kill.”

3. Which groups committed the following terrorist acts in Palestine to further nationalist goals during the British Mandate period?
3.1 July 22, 1946: Terrorists blew up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem killing 91 persons.
3.2 December 19, 1947: Terrorists attacked a village near Safad, blowing up two houses, in the ruins of which were found the bodies of 10 persons, including 5 children.
3.3 December 30, 1947: Terrorists attacked the village of Balad al Sheikh, killing more than 60 persons.
3.4 March 3, 1948: Terrorists drove an army truck up to a building in Haifa and escaped before the detonation of 400 pounds of explosives that killed 14 persons and injured 23.

-3.1 The Irgun: Zionist paramilitary group led by future prime minister Menachem Begin. It was classified as a terrorist organization by Israel itself when it became a state in 1948.

-3.2 The Haganah: Jewish paramilitary organization which became the core of the Israel Defense Forces. Members of the Haganah included future prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Ariel Sharon.

-3.3 The Palmach: Elite fighting force of the Haganah. (The Palmach’s last operation as an independent unit was against the Irgun. Perhaps right-wing Jews should not be so smug when they hear of fighting between Fatah and Hamas.)

-3.4 The Stern Gang: Radical Zionist paramilitary group that split from the Irgun in 1940. Future Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir was among its leaders.

The “prestate Zionist underground organizations Irgun and Lehi executed many suspected Jewish collaborators. They also deliberately bombed crowds of civilians, hid behind their own civilian population, and had maximalist territorial goals. The Irgun and Lehi, the progenitors of Likud, practiced what could be called ‘Judeofascism,’ and, minus the religious fundamentalism, could be compared to Hamas.”

-It is not disputed that Hamas has engaged in terrorism — some of it with the clear intention of frustrating peace efforts by other Arab actors. The relevant point now, however, is that Hamas should be accepted as an important and legitimate Palestinian party. (It should be noted that Hamas did not use the tactic of suicide bombings until after the 1994 Hebron mosque massacre, when the Israeli-American Jewish terrorist Baruch Goldstein murdered 29 Palestinian civilians.)

During the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict, Netanyahu, in a national broadcast, stated that the sole purpose of Hamas’ tunnels was “to annihilate our civilians and to kill our children”. However, Israel had already seen six instances in which Hamas was able to use the tunnels against Israel. Once when Gilad Shalit was captured [in 2006], and the rest during the current [2014 conflict]. In all instances, Hamas’ target were [Israeli] soldiers, not [Israeli] communities.”

Hamas is not a meaningful threat to Israel. “Yes, Hamas is an organization of brutal, ruthless fascists, but so were any number of national liberation movements – that didn’t make the foreign occupation of their countries and the wars fought to maintain those occupations any more just.”

4. Who said the following in 1998? “If I were a young Palestinian, it is possible I would join a terrorist organization.”

-Ehud Barak: Prime Minister of Israel, 1999-2001, and former Minister of Defence. This was Barak’s response to Gideon Levy, a columnist for Ha’aretz, when Barak was asked what he would have done if he had been born a Palestinian.

5. True or False: The Palestinian school curriculum incites hatred and anti-Semitism.

-False. Nathan Brown, Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University, after a detailed study on The Palestinian Curriculum, writes: “[T]he Palestinian curriculum is not a war curriculum; while highly nationalistic, it does not incite hatred, violence, and anti-Semitism.”

Right-wing supporters of Israel, seeking reasons why Palestinians harbor resentment against Israel and Jews, often point to Palestinian textbooks that purportedly instill such hatred. Prof. Brown demonstrates that a better explanation is to be found in the harsh occupation administered by Israel. As Prof. Brown writes in his conclusion, “With the effects of conflict felt on a daily basis, what textbooks and teachers say is probably irrelevant in any case.”

6. Identify the Middle East entities responsible for the following promulgations:
6.1 “Armed struggle is the only way to liberate Palestine. This is the overall strategy, not merely a tactical phase.” We aim “at the elimination of Zionism in Palestine.” “The…establishment of the state of Israel [is]…entirely illegal, regardless of the passage of time…”
6.2 “The [entity]…flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan River.”
6.3 “Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel.”
6.4 “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.” “[We strive] to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine, for under the wing of Islam followers of all religions can coexist in security…”

-6.1 The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). These are portions from the 1968 Palestine National Charter.

It is important to note that Israel negotiated peace accords with the PLO despite the fact that the 1968 Palestinian National Charter was in force at the time of the relevant negotiations. Clauses from the Charter were rendered void only after the 1993 Declaration of Principles was signed.

Before the early 1990s, The PLO Charter “was paraded around endlessly in Israeli propaganda.”

-6.2 The Likud party. This explicit rejection of a Palestinian state was part of Likud’s platform at the time of the 2009 Israeli elections; the elections led to a Likud-led government.

Despite this offensive clause, which contravenes international law, Hamas has indicated a willingness to support talks with Israel.

At least Likud has been consistent: “In a speech to Likud’s central committee a few months after taking office [as prime minister in 1996], Netanyahu flatly declared, ‘There will never be a Palestinian state between the Mediterranean and the Jordan.’ To make good on that pledge, Netanyahu created a government dominated by parties hostile to the peace process, and repeatedly used their hostility as an excuse for avoiding the steps that Oslo required.” While Netanyahu endorsed a Palestinian state in 2009, the conditions he attached made the endorsement meaningless. (Peter Beinart, The Crisis of Zionism, Times Books, New York: 2012, 118, 133)

-6.3 Israel. This is a clause of one of Israel’s Basic Laws.

Despite this official law of Israel, which contravenes international law, Hamas has shown a willingness to support talks with Israel. Even the US does not recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital; the US embassy is located in Tel Aviv.

Martin Indyk, Clinton’s ambassador to Israel, argues that “It was not reasonable to expect that Arafat, or any Arab leader…, would agree to an end-of-conflict agreement that left sovereignty over the Haram-al-Sharif [Temple Mount] in Israeli hands forever.” (Peter Beinart, The Crisis of Zionism, Times Books, New York: 2012, 72)

-6.4 Hamas. The portions are from the Hamas Charter.

While the Charter is one tool used by Israel to refuse to deal with Hamas, similarly odious clauses—provided above—did not prevent Israel from negotiating with the PLO. And, in any event, would it make a difference to Israeli leaders if a Hamas leader made more conciliating statements? See question 7.

7. Who made the following statements in 2007? “[T]here will remain a state called Israel—this is a matter of fact.…The problem is not that there is an entity called Israel. The problem is that the Palestinian state is non-existent.” “As a Palestinian…I speak…for a state on 1967 borders. It is true that in reality there will be an entity or state called Israel on the rest of Palestinian land.”

-Khaled Meshal: Chairman of the Hamas Political Bureau. (Meshal made similar statements in 2014.

-“Because of religious restrictions, Hamas itself cannot sign a peace agreement [with Israel]. But, like religious people everywhere (especially Jews and Christians), it has found ways around God’s commandments. The founder of Hamas, the paralyzed Sheik Ahmad Yassin (who wrote the [Hamas] Charter and was assassinated by Israel) proposed a 30-year Hudna. A Hudna is a truce sanctified by Allah, which can be renewed until the Last Judgment.”

-A 2009 study by an official U.S. government agency concluded that “Although peaceful coexistence between Israel and Hamas is clearly not possible under the formulations that comprise Hamas’s 1988 charter, Hamas has, in practice, moved well beyond its charter. Indeed, Hamas has been carefully and consciously adjusting its political program for years and has sent repeated signals that it may be ready to begin a process of coexisting with Israel. [And,] As evidenced by numerous statements, Hamas is not hostile to Jews because of religion. Rather, Hamas’s view toward Israel is based on a fundamental belief that Israel has occupied land that is inherently Palestinian and Islamic.”

It should be noted that the impressive economic and political performance of Turkey under the Justice and Development Party — Turkey is the fifteenth-largest economy in the world — demonstrates that political Islam can coexist with a sound economy and democracy.

-Ethan Bronner, the Jerusalem bureau chief for the New York Times, had this to say concerning Gaza under Hamas in early 2009: “Honestly, the idea that this is some totalitarian spot where you can’t write honestly is not true….Hamas is not al-Qaeda….I can’t tell you whether they are going to accept Israel. What they basically say…is if we can go back to the ’67 borders and we can deal with the question of a right of return and all Palestinians agree…we won’t stand in the way….[A]s a broad observation, it seems almost impossible to imagine that there could be a Palestinian state that doesn’t include Hamas as part of a political structure. And if that’s true, then Israel will not have the security of being a Jewish democratic state, not an occupier, without some relationship with the Hamas movement.”

-According to an October 2012 New York Times article, “Hamas…is working to suppress the more radical Islamic militant groups that have emerged [in Gaza]. The jihadist extremists, known as Salafists and inspired by the ideology of Al Qaeda, are challenging Hamas’s informal and fragile cease-fire with Israel.” After the 2006 elections, “militant jihadists began attacks against Israel and also against Internet cafes, restaurants and women’s hair salons in Gaza, places they saw as being at odds with their deeply conservative interpretation of Islam.”

In March 2014, Hamas militiamen continue to “find and stop renegade militants inside Gaza from firing rockets into southern Israel in violation of the ceasefire declared after the end in November 2012 of Operation Pillar of Defence, in which about 150 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed….Israeli officials share the assessment that Hamas is working actively to contain militants from firing into their country. ‘Today we can describe Hamas as a much more…responsible organisation than it used to be a decade or two decades ago — this all in light of their statehood experience,’ says a senior Israel Defence Forces officer…” (Financial Times, March 5 2014, World News, 4)

“Like so many former liberation organizations around the world, including Begin’s Likud, [Hamas] is transforming itself from a terrorist organization into a political party.”

-In an important 2012 book by Shlomi Eldar, Getting to Know Hamas, high-level officials in Hamas, such as its political chief Khaled Meshal, are shown to be strategic and pragmatic, not fanatical ideologues as commonly portrayed by Israeli leaders. For example, after “Shalit was seized by Palestinian militants in a 2006 cross-border raid” a detailed document was “sent by messenger to then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.” The document included the following: “Hamas offers two alternatives: 1. A separate track, dealing only with the release of Gilad Shalit in return for 1,000 Palestinian political prisoners. 2. A release of prisoners will take place in the broader context of a strategic approach ‏(as follows‏), and the number of prisoners released will not be in the hundreds.”

The detailed document, “whose existence and transmission to the prime minister were denied completely by Olmert’s office at the time, constituted an offer by Hamas to conduct a multilevel dialogue with Israel, beginning with discussion about a cease-fire and the building of long-term trust, and ending with a coexistence agreement to last 25 years, and the establishment of a Palestinian state within 1967 borders.”

The book explains that the “Shalit kidnapping was a premeditated action carried out by the Hamas military wing, led by Ahmed Jabari; the Popular Resistance Committee, headed by the Abu Samhadana family; and the Army of Islam, led by the Dormush family. Eldar describes it as an independent operation carried out despite the Hamas political leadership’s opposition. This and other…examples [in the book] offer proof that the organization is rife with divisions.”

Israel’s lack of understanding of Hamas, according to Eldar, “may be rooted in Israel’s acceptance of Hamas activities before the first intifada broke out in 1987, when Israel believed that it was worthwhile to let a religious and social movement compete with Fatah, as a way of neutralizing the influence of then-Fatah leader Yasser Arafat in the occupied territories. The first intifada, and even more so the second one, [wrongly] made clear to Israel that the double front it had hoped to create between Hamas and Fatah and between Israel and Fatah was to all intents and purposes a single and more violent front…”

-Question 7 clearly shows that Hamas accepts the existence of the state of Israel. Nevertheless, right-wing supporters of Israel argue that “words are cheap,” and Hamas doesn’t keep its word. However, see question 8.

8. Which party, Israel or Hamas, broke the six-month ceasefire that was agreed to in June 2008?

-Israel. In June 2008, “Egypt had ­brokered a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas…­[that] was a success: the average number of rockets fired monthly from Gaza dropped from 179 to three. Yet on 4 November Israel violated the ceasefire by launching a raid into Gaza, killing six Hamas fighters.”

-In a “document entitled ‘The Hamas terror war against Israel,’ The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs provides striking visual evidence of Hamas’s good faith during the lull. It reproduces two graphs drawn up by the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at the Israel Intelligence Heritage & Commemoration Center: [Graphs provided] The graphs show that the total number of rocket and mortar attacks shrank from 245 in June to 26 total for July through October, a reduction of 97 percent.”

-While Netanyahu constantly shouts his disgust and mistrust of Hamas, since he became prime minister in 2009 “he has negotiated with Hamas…with far more good will than with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. [N]etanyahu reached at least two written agreements with the Gaza terror group; one in the 2011 deal in return for the kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, and the second confirming the cease-fire that ended Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012. Netanyahu, who squeezed Abbas hard in exchange for freeing 80 pension-age prisoners who had been sitting in Israeli jails for more than 20 years and who broke up [US-led] negotiations [in April 2014] with the Palestinian Authority over the release of 14 Arab Israeli prisoners, was prepared to give Hamas 1,000 young and healthy terrorists, among them Arab Israelis. While Netanyahu refused to allow Abbas any sign of Palestinian sovereignty in the West Bank, he did not hesitate to recognize Hamas as sovereign in Gaza.”

-Hamas has demonstrated that it in fact does keep its word. Therefore, Israel knows how to stop rocket attacks from Gaza: enter good faith talks with Hamas. However, it is precisely Hamas’s potential as a serious and independent negotiating partner that threatens “Greater Israel.” Israeli policymakers know that upon proper negotiations, Israel will have to give up land and resources. (As Prime Minister Rabin stated, “Peace has a cost.”) But, right-wing supporters of Israel argue: What about Barak’s “Generous Offer”? See Question 9.

9. Who stated the following on February 14, 2006? “Camp David was not the missed opportunity for the Palestinians, and if I were a Palestinian I would have rejected Camp David, as well.”

-Shlomo Ben-Ami: Israel’s Minister of Public Security in 1999, Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2000-2001, and Israel’s top negotiator at Camp David and Taba negotiations. (What Ben-Ami recognized was that Israel in fact offered the Palestinians an unviable Middle East Bantustan — several blocks of West Bank land with huge Jewish settlements in between.)

Mainstream commentators continue to reproduce the baseless Israeli claim that former Prime Minister Ehud Barak was very generous in the offer he made to the Palestinians at Camp David in 2000. The quote by Ben-Ami should be sufficient to end this harmful myth.

-The conclusion of questions 6 to 9 is that Israel won’t deal fairly unless forced by US pressure—for example, in March 1957 Israel was forced to withdraw from Gaza, following the Suez War, after US President Eisenhower applied heavy diplomatic pressure and threatened economic sanctions—or Arab strength—for example, Egypt’s effectiveness in the 1973 war led to Israel’s willingness to negotiate an agreement at Camp David in 1977 which led to a peace treaty in 1979. Without such pressure, Palestinians will continue to suffer from tactics such as the one presented in question 15.

Besides Eisenhower in 1957, other US presidents have applied pressure on Israel when necessary. “After Israel attacked Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981, the Reagan administration had not only supported a UN resolution condemning Israel, it had delayed various arms sales. Between 1990 and 1992, George H. W. Bush’s administration had not only conditioned loan guarantees on a settlement freeze, it had backed six UN Security Council resolutions criticizing the policies of the Jewish state. [Bush's tough stance contributed to Shamir's dethroning as prime minister.] In 2004, after Israel repaired and upgraded an unmanned aerial vehicle it had sold to China, the Pentagon had demanded the resignation of the director general of the Israeli Defense Ministry.” (Peter Beinart, The Crisis of Zionism, Times Books, New York: 2012, 136)

-It should be noted that the Palestinians did try a largely non-violent resistance to Israel’s occupation during the first intifada (1987-1993). And, in September 2000, Palestinians again launched a rebellion, the second intifada (2000-2006), which was overwhelmingly nonviolent at its inception. However, in both cases, Israel responded with disproportionate, lethal force.

According to a leading American academic specialist on nonviolent resistance, commenting more than a year into the uprising, “The [first] intifada has thus far been distinguished on the Palestinian side by predominantly nonviolent forms of struggle…Considering…the severity of Israeli repression in the form of beatings, shootings, killings, house demolitions, uprooting of trees, deportations, extended imprisonments and detentions without trial, and so on, the Palestinians…have shown impressive restraint.” “Amnesty [International] reported that the number of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons during each of the first years of the [first] intifada hovered around 25,000, of whom 4-5,000 were administrative detainees.” (Norman G. Finkelstein, Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish Romance with Israel Is Coming to an End, OR Books, New York: 2012, 103, 108-9)

It is telling that one of “Israel’s early acts of retaliation [during the first intifada] was to deport the Palestinian-American pacifist Mubarak Awad of the Center for the Study of Nonviolence.” (Norman G. Finkelstein, Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish Romance with Israel Is Coming to an End, OR Books, New York: 2012, 114)

In the 2000 rebellion, instigated by Israel’s growing occupation and Sharon’s “walk” to the ultrasensitive Temple Mount, “Palestinians began throwing stones…Israeli forces responded with rubber bullets, killing six. In the days that followed, the Palestinians escalated to Molotov cocktails and Israeli forces kept firing, discharging over a million bullets in the first three weeks of violence.” (Peter Beinart, The Crisis of Zionism, Times Books, New York: 2012, 70)

10. Who, after serving six US secretaries of state on Arab-Israeli negotiations, wrote the following? “For far too long, many American officials involved in Arab-Israeli peacemaking, myself included, have acted as Israel’s attorney, catering and coordinating with the Israelis at the expense of successful peace negotiations. If the United States wants to be an honest and effective broker on the Arab-Israeli issue, than surely it can have only one client: the pursuit of a solution that meets the needs and requirements of both sides.”

-Aaron David Miller: Middle East negotiator and adviser on Arab-Israeli affairs at the US State Department for 25 years.

-During the Clinton administration, Miller “saw Bibi [Netanyahu] as a kind of speed bump that would have to be negotiated along the way until a new Israeli prime minister came along who was more serious about peace. In the words of Miller’s boss, Dennis Ross, ‘neither President Clinton nor Secretary Albright believed that Bibi had any real interest in pursuing peace.’ But every time the Clinton administration tried to drag Netanyahu in the direction of a viable Palestinian state, Netanyahu rallied American Jewish groups and conservative Republicans to his defense.” Netanyahu has remained consistent in his vision. “In 2005, he resigned as Sharon’s finance minister to protest Israel’s dismantling of settlements in Gaza.” (Peter Beinart, The Crisis of Zionism, Times Books, New York: 2012, 122, 123)

-“Where the issue of Palestine is concerned, American Middle East policy from [President] Truman down to Obama has consistently hewn to…three patterns…: an almost total lack of pressure from the Arab Gulf monarchies [which rely on US protection, and are threatened by Palestinian democratic movements]; the impact of US domestic politics, driven by the Israel lobby; and an unconcern about Palestinian rights [due largely to the powerlessness of the Palestinians]. The preferred approach of US presidents has therefore generally involved deferring to Israel and its American supporters, and refusing to advocate forcefully for inalienable Palestinian national and political rights.” (Rashid Khalidi, Brokers Of Deceit: How the US Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East, Beacon Press, Boston: 2013, 1)

11. Who said the following? “Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples [in the Middle East and surrounding regions].”

-General David Petraeus: US Army general, former Commander of the US Central Command, and former director of the CIA.

12. According to the United Nations 1947 Partition Resolution was the Gaza Strip to be part of the Jewish State or the Arab State

-Arab State. Arab rejection of the 1947 Partition Plan is understandable as Jews made up 37% of the population of mandatory Palestine, owned 7% of the land, yet the Jewish state was given 55% percent of the land. (Benny Morris, Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881 – 2001, Vintage, New York: 2001, 186)

-After the 1948-9 War, Gaza came under Egypt’s administrative control. And, as a result of the 1967 War, Gaza was occupied by Israel.

“The persecution of Gazans took new forms when Israel conquered the Strip in 1967. From recent Israeli scholarship we learn that the goal of the [Israeli] government was to drive the [Palestinian] refugees [in Gaza due to the 1948 War] into the Sinai, and if feasible the rest of the population too. Expulsions from Gaza were carried out under the direct orders of General Yeshayahu Gavish…Expulsions from the West Bank were far more extreme, and Israel resorted to devious means to prevent the return of those expelled, in direct violation of Security Council orders. The reasons were made clear in internal discussion immediately after the war. Golda Meir, later Prime Minister, informed her Labor colleagues that Israel should keep the Gaza Strip while ‘getting rid of its Arabs.’ Defense Minister Dayan and others agreed. Prime Minister Eshkol explained that those expelled cannot be allowed to return because ‘We cannot increase the Arab population in Israel’ — referring to the newly occupied territories, already tacitly considered part of Israel. In accord with this conception, all of Israel’s maps were changed, expunging the Green Line (the internationally recognized borders)…”

-According to Sara Roy, a Senior Research Scholar at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University (and child of Holocaust survivors), Gaza under Israel’s occupation suffered “de-development” as “the native population [was deprived] of its most important economic resources—land, water and labor—as well as the internal capacity and potential for developing those resources.” According to the respected Israeli historian, Benny Morris, “like all occupations, Israel’s was founded on brute force, repression and fear, collaboration and treachery, beatings and torture chambers, and daily intimidation, humiliation, and manipulation”. (Norman G. Finkelstein, This Time We Went Too Far: Truth and Consequences of the Gaza Invasion, OR Books, New York: 2010, 16-17)

13. Whose account of the forced expulsion of Palestinians by Jewish fighters in 1948, on the orders of David Ben-Gurion, was censored from his memoirs?

-Yitzhak Rabin: Prime Minister of Israel, 1992-1995. (David Gardner, Last Chance: The Middle East in the Balance, I.B. Tauris, New York: 2009, 161-2)

In July 1948, Ben Gurion gave orders “for the operations in Lydda and Ramleh: ‘Expel them!’ he told Yigal Allon and Yitzhak Rabin – a section censored out of Rabin’s memoirs, but published thirty years later in the New York Times.”

-It was as a result of expulsions and fighting that “Approximately 250,000 Palestinians driven out of their homes during the 1948 war and its aftermath fled to Gaza and overwhelmed the indigenous population of some 80,000.” (Norman G. Finkelstein, This Time We Went Too Far: Truth and Consequences of the Gaza Invasion, OR Books, New York: 2010, 15)

14. When Israel disengaged from the Gaza Strip in August 2005, approximately what percentage of the population of Gaza was Jews and approximately what percentage of the land of Gaza was controlled by Israel and Jewish settlers?

-When Israel withdrew from Gaza in August 2005, Jews constituted 0.6 per cent of the population (as approximately 8,000 Jewish settlers and 1.5 million Palestinians lived in Gaza); and, Israel and Jewish settlers controlled 25% of the territory, 40% of the arable land and a disproportionate share of the scarce water resources. (Avi Shlaim, Israel and Palestine: Reappraisals, Revisions, Refutations, Verso, London: 2009, 308)

-The 2005 withdrawal was seen as a victory for Hamas and a humiliation for the Israel Defence Forces.

-As indicated in question 15, the withdrawal was not intended to enhance peace prospects. In fact, in the year after the withdrawal another 12,000 Israelis settled on the West Bank—hardly a sign of Israeli goodwill.

-In terms of land mass, “the Gaza Strip encompasses just under 1.5 percent of the total area of British Mandate-era Palestine, (or ‘Greater Israel’ as the settlers like to call it). However, that same tiny area is [in 2012] home to approximately 1.7 million Palestinians, or over a quarter of the total Palestinian population between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. So, in divesting itself of just 1.5 percent of the land, Israel significantly recalibrated the so-called ‘demographic equation’ (the ratio of Jews to Arabs in the area under its control). [This recalibration] paves the way to permanent Israeli control of 98.5 percent of the land. West Bank Palestinians can either join their left-behind-in-1948 confreres as second-class citizens in an enlarged Jewish state or continue their stateless existence in insecure and disconnected enclaves of limited autonomy, a kind of Bantustan status. Meanwhile the inhabitants of [Gaza] remain isolated in an area that a recent United Nations report concluded might not be ‘a liveable place’ by 2020.”

15. Who made the the following 2004 statement indicating the primary motivation for Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip? “The significance of the disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process…And when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda. And all this with authority and permission. All with a presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of [the US] Congress.”

-Dov Weisglass: Senior adviser to then Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon.

-Ariel “Sharon and his top advisors said…that the Gaza evacuation was meant not to create a Palestinian state, but to forestall one. By 2004, the second intifada had fizzled, Arafat was dead, and America’s sequel to Oslo, the Road Map, was going nowhere. Into the breach came two initiatives. The first was the offer, drafted by Saudi Arabia and endorsed by the entire Arab League, to recognize Israel if it returned to the 1967 lines and negotiated a ‘just’ and ‘agreed upon’ solution for the Palestinian refugees. The second was the Geneva Accord, a model peace agreement signed by former Israeli and Palestinian negotiators that would have required Israel to dismantle major settlements like Ariel. These moves terrified Sharon, a lifelong opponent of a Palestinian state who feared international pressure to agree to the kind of deal that Clinton has proposed in December 2000.” (Thus the above Weisglass quote clearly reflected Sharon’s goal to exploit an Israeli unilateral withdrawal to prevent Israel from being “dragged into dangerous initiatives like the Geneva” Accord and the Arab League offer.)

Despite the Gaza withdrawal, argued former Israeli foreign minister “Shlomo Ben-Ami in 2005, ‘Sharon’s hidden agenda, which he has been harbouring for years, remains unchanged[:] the confinement of a Palestinian homeland within scattered enclaves surrounded by Israeli settlements, strategic military areas and a network of bypass roads.’” (Peter Beinart, The Crisis of Zionism, Times Books, New York: 2012, 72-3)

-According to Human Rights Watch, “While Israel has since [its 2005 withdrawal] declared the Gaza Strip a ‘foreign territory’ and the crossings between Gaza and Israel ‘international borders,’ under international humanitarian law (IHL), Gaza remains occupied, and Israel retains its responsibilities for the welfare of Gaza residents. Israel maintains effective control over Gaza by regulating movement in and out of the Strip [in conjunction with Egypt, which controls the Rafah checkpoint in Gaza's south] as well as the airspace, sea space, public utilities and population registry [through which Gazans are issued identification cards].” Israel also bars most Palestinians from roughly one-third of the arable land inside Gaza. “In addition, Israel declared the right to re-enter Gaza militarily at any time in its ‘Disengagement Plan.’ Since the withdrawal, Israel has carried out aerial bombardments…” (Norman G. Finkelstein, Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History, UC Press, Berkeley: 2008, xvii) (Peter Beinart, The Crisis of Zionism, Times Books, New York: 2012, 77)

Since Israel occupies Gaza, “it’s silly to analogize Hamas’ rockets — repugnant as they are — to Mexico or Canada attacking the United States. The United States is not occupying Mexico or Canada. Israel — according [even] to the United States government — has been occupying Gaza without interruption since 1967.” (July 30, 2014)

16. Who stated the following concerning Hamas’s victory in the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections? “The boycott of Hamas after winning a free and fair election in 2006, and subsequent punishment of the people of Gaza, have backfired and the group may be more popular than ever. Polls show that Palestinians voted for Hamas members because of frustration with corruption in the dominant party, Fatah, and because Hamas’ humanitarian efforts and good governance of municipalities had helped people educate and provide for their children amidst a crippling occupation. The same polls show that popular support for Hamas in 2006 was not based on support for the group’s religious or political ideologies. The international community and Israel should have seized on the opportunity to persuade more Palestinians to participate in the political process, which would have done more to undermine extremist ideologies than the current course.”

-Jimmy Carter: President of the United States, 1977-1981. The Carter Center, in partnership with the National Democratic Institute, sent an 85-member team to observe the election which was found to be peaceful, competitive, and genuinely democratic.

-A “report by the Congressional Research Service noted that the election ‘was widely considered to be free and fair.’” Nevertheless mainstream American Jewish groups “supported an Israeli blockade aimed at undoing that victory via economic pain.” (Peter Beinart, The Crisis of Zionism, Times Books, New York: 2012, 50, 51)

-In fall 2012, Fatah did poorly in municipal elections across the West Bank. “The old Fatah leadership has already lost most of its moral prestige, having bet it on being able to deliver a state with American and European backing….Four more years of Netanyahu [and his Greater Israel policies] and Hamas will be the only force in Palestine left standing.” “Because of the rift between Fatah and Hamas, there were no elections in the Gaza Strip, and no official Hamas candidates competing in the West Bank.”

17. What is the name of the Israeli soldier who was captured on 25 June 2006 by Palestinian fighters in a cross-border raid and was subsequently held as a prisoner in Gaza by Hamas?

-Gilad Shalit: He was probably the world’s best known captive. (Shalit “was released on Oct. 18, 2011, as part of a deal between Hamas and Israel under which over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners were to be freed”

-After the 2006 election victory by Hamas, the US and Israel “quickly moved from a crippling financial siege of the PA, with the aim of bringing down that government, to an escalation of Israeli assassinations of Palestinian militants, and to artillery and air attacks in Gaza that killed and wounded scores of civilians. Hamas had for 18 months observed a cease-fire in the face of these and earlier provocations (other factions were not so restrained, firing rockets into Israel). However, after a major spike in Palestinian civilian deaths and the particularly provocative Israeli assassination of militant leader Jamal Abu Samhadana, whom the PA government had just named to a security post, Hamas finally took the bait and responded with the capture of one Israeli soldier [Shalit] and the killing of others. The predictably ferocious Israeli response—even more killings of civilians, more assassinations, and ground incursions in Gaza…” (Rashid Khalidi, The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood, Beacon Press, Boston: 2007, xv-xvi)

-Ignoring immediate Hamas offers of a truce after the 2006 election, Israel launched attacks that killed 660 Palestinians in 2006, mostly civilians, one-third minors. The escalation of attacks in 2007 killed 816 Palestinians, 360 civilians and 152 minors. The UN reports that 2879 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire from April 2006 through July 2012, along with several dozen Israelis killed by fire from Gaza.

18. What are the names of the two Palestinians that were kidnapped from Gaza by Israeli soldiers on 24 June 2006 (i.e., one day before the Shalit capture)?

-Osama Abu Muamar and Mustafa Abu Muamar: Probably among the world’s least known captives. (Israel claimed the brothers were planning attacks on Israel.)

-According to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, “At the end of Dec. 2012, some 4,517 Palestinian security detainees and prisoners were held in Israeli prisons. A few dozen other Palestinians…are held in IDF facilities for short periods of time.”

-According to Daoud Kuttab, a Palestinian journalist and a former Ferris professor of journalism at Princeton University, Israel holds thousands of Palestinians, “some without charge or trial. Almost all of these prisoners are being held in contradiction to various international laws and treaties, particularly the Geneva Conventions, which regulate the actions of a prolonged occupying power.”

19. Who made the following 2006 statement when referring to the purpose of economic pressure exerted on Gazans after the election victory of Hamas? “The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.”

-Dov Weisglass: Adviser to then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

-The forced diet (i.e., illegal collective punishment) is working as “data from UNRWA, [indicate that] children’s inadequate nutrition is stunting their growth in Gaza. Israeli military do not allow vitamins and other essential nutrients into Gaza, so older persons and children, particularly, suffer from malnourishment.”

-In 2012 “An Israeli human rights organization, Gisha, sued in Israeli courts to force the release of a planning document for ‘putting the Palestinians on a diet’ without risking the bad press of mass starvation, and the courts concurred. The document, produced by the Israeli army, appears to be a calculation of how to make sure, despite the Israeli blockade, that Palestinians got an average of 2279 calories a day, the basic need. But by planning on limiting the calories in that way, the Israeli military was actually plotting to keep Palestinians in Gaza (half of them children) permanently on the brink of malnutrition, what health professionals call ‘food insecurity’.”

20. Which US leader said the following on 25 January 2006, the day after Hamas won the Gaza elections? “So the Palestinians had an election yesterday, and the results of which remind me about the power of democracy….And there was a peaceful process as people went to the polls, and that’s positive.”

-George W. Bush: President of the United States, 2001-2009.

-Bush had a stake in the election as his Administration had demanded them. However, soon after making the statement, Bush supported sanctions against the Hamas government. Apparently, democracy is the right to elect someone the US approves of—Venezuela, Iran, and other countries have learned this lesson as well.

Thomas Carothers, who was “director of the Democracy and Rule of Law Project at the Carnegie Endowment” published a book “reviewing the record of democracy promotion by the United States since the end of the Cold War. He finds ‘a strong line of continuity’ running through all administrations, including Bush II: democracy is promoted by the U.S. government if and only if it conforms to strategic and economic interests.” (Noam Chomsky, Hopes and Prospects, Haymarket Books, Chicago: 2010, 45)

21. Who was the head of the United Nations fact finding mission mandated to investigate the 2008-2009 military operations in Gaza?

-Richard Goldstone: Former judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, former Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and member of the Board of Governors of the Hebrew University. He is not only Jewish but is also a self-declared Zionist who firmly supports Israel as the state of the Jewish people. He identifies the Nazi holocaust as the inspiration for his pursuit of international and human rights law.

The Goldstone Report found that Israel’s assault was based in a military doctrine that “views disproportionate destruction…as a legitimate means to achieve military and political goals,” and was “designed to have inevitable dire consequences for the non-combatants in Gaza.” Although Israel justified the attack as self-defense against Hamas rockets, the Report concluded that the attack was “a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population, radically diminish its local economic capacity both to work and to provide for itself, and to force upon it an ever increasing sense of dependency and vulnerability.” (Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, 25 September 2009, paras. 63, 1213-14 and 1893.)

22. Which human rights organization reported the following concerning the 2008-2009 military operation in Gaza ? “[We] found no evidence that Hamas…directed the movement of civilians to shield military objectives from attacks….In all of the cases investigated…of families killed when their homes were bombed…by Israeli forces…none of the houses struck was being used by armed groups for military activities.…[However we did find that Israeli soldiers] used civilians, including children, as ‘human shields’, endangering their lives…”

-Amnesty International. pp. 3-4 and 76-77.

-Investigations by other, including Israeli, human rights organizations were likewise very critical of Israel’s—and to a much lesser extent, Hamas’s—actions.

-The war “took thirteen Israeli and fourteen hundred Palestinian lives. Despite Israel’s genuine efforts to limit civilian damage, the war partially or completely destroyed 14 percent of Gaza’s buildings, including sixteen hospitals, thirty-eight health clinics, and 280 schools, some of which were in session when the bombs fell.” (Peter Beinart, The Crisis of Zionism, Times Books, New York: 2012, 77)

23. Who said the following concerning peace with the Palestinians on 29 September 2008: “We have to reach an agreement with the Palestinians, the meaning of which is that in practice we will withdraw from almost all the [occupied] territories, if not all the territories. We will leave a percentage of these territories in our hands, but will have to give the Palestinians a similar percentage, because without that there will be no peace.”

-Ehud Olmert: Israel’s Prime Minister, 2006-2009.


Jeffrey Rudolph, a Montreal college professor, was the Quebec representative of the East Timor Alert Network and presented a paper on its behalf at the United Nations. He was awarded the prestigious Cheryl Rosa Teresa Doran Prize upon graduation from McGill University’s faculty of law; has worked as a chartered accountant at one of the world’s largest public accounting firms; and, has taught at McGill University. He has prepared widely-distributed quizzes on Israel-Palestine, Iran, Hamas, Terrorism, Saudi Arabia, US Inequality, the US Christian Right, Hezbollah, the Israeli Ultra-Orthodox, and Qatar. These quizzes are available at,

Comments can be sent to:

Mirrored from Detailed Quizzes


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Reuters: “Frustration mounts among war-weary Gaza residents”

Why Would They Stay? Making Sense of ISIS and Iraqi Sunnis

Tue, 26 Aug 2014 - 11:25pm

By Nathan Spannaus

ISIS’s meteoric rise to prominence has brought renewed attention on Iraq’s Sunni population and their relationship with radical forms of extremism. Outside of Iraq, the condemnations of ISIS have been frequent. In light of its recent media notoriety, dozens of governments and institutions within the Islamic world have spoken out against the group, declaring its actions un-Islamic. This past Saturday the Egyptian Dar al-Ifta condemned ISIS in a fatwa, adding that the term “Islamic State” was inappropriate for the group and it should be called the ‘al-Qaeda State in Iraq and Syria’ or QSIS instead.

While the outcry has been forthcoming from Islamic organizations worldwide, it has been asked (most prominently by Robert Fisk in The Independent), what to make of the tens of thousands of Sunni Muslims living under ISIS’s rule in Iraq? If ISIS is so repugnant, this line of thinking goes, why do they stay? By choosing to remain within the group’s territory, are they not granting their acceptance of ISIS and its legitimacy? If they shared the outrage toward ISIS’s practices, its treatment of Christians, Shiites and Yazidis especially, shouldn’t they flee its control?

While it is hard to imagine such an argument being made about other subjects of extremist regimes—I doubt Fisk believes that all Italians who lived under Mussolini were fascists—this stance more importantly ignores significant issues that face Iraq’s Sunni population.

The question of Sunnis’ fleeing ISIS territory is hardly straightforward. Where exactly should they go? Existing sectarian tensions with Iraq’s Shiite majority have by all accounts have only worsened with the ISIS offensive. Many Shiites view even moderate Sunnis as ISIS sympathizers. This hostility is heightened on the frontlines against ISIS forces: on Friday, members of a Shiite militia tasked with finding suspected ISIS members by Iraqi police opened fire into a Sunni mosque in Baquba, killing at least 60. (Two bombings over the weekend are thought to be in reprisal.)

Diyala province, where Baquba is located, is home to the current eastern boundary separating ISIS territory from Iraqi state control, marked by a seven-foot-tall berm cutting across the landscape. The boundary is patrolled primarily by Shiite militias, supported by Baghdad and Tehran, whose members see little distinction between ISIS and the Sunni population. As Ghaith Abdul-Ahad reports in The Guardian, these militias have kidnapped and executed residents of Sunni villages in retribution for losses suffered against ISIS fighters.

Any Iraqi Sunni fleeing ISIS territory would have to cross this boundary, or one similar, to an uncertain fate. (Indeed, Refugees International, in an open letter to Secretary of State Kerry, noted instances of refugees from ISIS “being prevented from reaching safer areas” of the country and subjected to “human rights violations” by the Iraqi military and associated militias.) The situation is hardly better in a refugee camp. Recent estimates put the total of Iraqi refugees (i.e. not counting Syrians) in Iraq at 2.8 million, and the UN High Commission on Refugees has described the condition of the internally displaced as dire, with shortages in essential services and lack of sufficient infrastructure from the government for dealing with the situation.

Moderate Sunnis are this left with few good options for removing themselves from ISIS control, a choice that is itself complicated by the circumstances on the ground. Having established the ‘caliphate’, ISIS has made efforts to establish stable governance within its territory, which has been lacking in many Sunni-majority areas of the country. These regions have been politically and economically marginalized by the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad, and ISIS has been able take control largely within these neglected areas by offering civil services and a degree of institutional order. However horrific its methods, Yale political scientist Stathis Kalyvas has argued that ISIS utilizes violence among the Sunni population in a controlled way that is politically effective and limits the possibly of a popular backlash. Given the often-indiscriminate attacks by Shiite militias, a moderate Sunni might well consider remaining under ISIS control a pragmatic alternative.

Iraqis Sunnis who have no love for ISIS’s ideology or tactics are faced with a brutal calculus in which the threat of sectarian violence, the poor infrastructure for refugees and the lack of government services and support leave few good options. This speaks to the truly dire circumstances within Iraq, where moderate Sunnis find themselves stuck between several rocks and an assortment of hard places. Fleeing ISIS might make sense in principle, but not necessarily in practice. To blame them for failing to do so, to condemn them as tacit collaborators, is to ignore the immense human toll wrought by this crisis and the pragmatic compromises it has necessitated. The political struggle against ISIS is far better served by offering Iraq’s Sunnis viable alternatives than by expecting them to act irrationally and then criticizing them when they don’t.

Nathan Spannaus is a postdoctoral researcher in Islamic Studies at Oxford University, and a graduate of McGill University’s Institute of Islamic Studies and Harvard’s Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. He has published articles in The Muslim World, Islamic Law and Society, Arabica (forthcoming), and the Oxford Handbook of Islamic Theology. Much of my current research is focused on Islamism and its place in Muslim society for a larger project entitled “Changing Structures of Islamic Authority”.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Reuters: “Iraq urges global action against Islamic State, Iran vows solidarity”

Open-Ended Ceasefire reached in Israel/ Gaza: But how Long will it Last?

Tue, 26 Aug 2014 - 11:10pm

Israel on the one side and Hamas and Islamic Jihad on the other have announced an open-ended cease-fire brokered by Egypt, the terms of which are similar to those of 2012.

Mass celebrations broke out among war-weary Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinians could argue that they have won some concessions. New checkpoints will be open and restrictions on imports into Gaza by Israel will be eased. The zone of the Mediterranean allowed for Palestinian fishing will start at 6 nautical miles and extend to 12 by the end of the year. (Current Israeli restrictions on fishing have meant a huge loss in protein for the population, and it is difficult to see what their purpose is beyond imposing a caloric restriction on the people of Gaza, half of whom are children.) The US and Israel will drop their objections to Palestinian government officials in Gaza being paid. In further negotiations, Israel will press for Gaza to be a demilitarized zone (sort of on the model of Austria in the Cold War) and Hamas will press for the strip to be allowed an airport and seaport. Egypt will oversee these further talks and will police the agreements just made.

The Israeli side can claim to have inflicted substantial attrition on Hamas military capabilities, having destroyed many tunnels, rockets and armaments stockpiled by the party-militia that has ruled Gaza since it won the 2006 elections. Moreover, because the current Egyptian government abhors the Muslim Brotherhood and movements of political Islam like Hamas, it is unclear that Hamas can restock its rockets and other weapons via the Sinai, as in the past.

Still, what the Israeli military was going for was a result similar to its 2006 war on Hizbullah in Lebanon; since that conflict Hizbullah has not fired any rockets into Israel or Israeli-occupied territories like the Shebaa Farms (which belong to Lebanese farmers). It is not at all clear that the war produced any such similar cessation of hostilities between Gaza and Israel. In part, there are undisciplined small groups in Gaza perfectly able and willing to construct some flying pipe bombs and send them over to Beersheva and Sderot (former Palestinian cities from which Gaza refugees hail that are now Israeli cities). One drawback of Israel reducing Hamas’s capabilities is that it also reduced its ability to police the Strip. Hamas itself has in the past honored cease-fires as long as Israel has observed their terms. In part, that 70% of Palestinians in Gaza are refugee families from what is now Israel and that 40% still live in squalid refugee camps means that they are very unlike the Shiites of southern Lebanon, who are farmers with their own land.

If the Palestinian side really does get the things it is asking for– an end to the illegal and creepy Israeli blockade of the civilians in its Occupied Territory — then the struggle will have been a big win for them.

The good thing about peace, however, is that it need not be a zero sum game. Both sides can gain from it.

Obviously, this open-ended cease-fire is fragile. Some of the goals of the two sides will be very hard to attain. And, at root, the Israel-Gaza war won’t really be over until there is a comprehensive peace settlement with either a two-state or a one-state solution to Palestinian statelessness. Israeli propagandists say that Gaza could be “Singapore” if it chose peace, but in fact 1.8 million stateless people don’t have the kind of rights, including rights over property and trading routes, that would allow them to prosper.

Israel’s Likud government has the doctrine of the Iron Wall, of hitting its enemies hard and consistently until they comply. It has failed to secure the acquiescence of Palestinians in their dispossession because being stateless is intolerable. Israel is put forward by Zionists (Jewish nationalists) as a solution to the statelessness of European Jews under the fascists during the 1930s and 1940s. But they have a blind spot when it comes to the statelessness of Palestinians, figuring that that does not need a solution. Until Israelis come to terms with the Catastrophe (Nakba) that they have inflicted on generations of Palestinians, who have been left more or less homeless and in a kind of vast concentration camp, they cannot really make peace. And each episode of the Iron Wall with its Iron Fist degrades Israel a little more. Perhaps it can survive being an international pariah. But Israelis will one day look in the mirror and not like what they see, one little bit.


Related video:

Hamas & Israel reach long-term Gaza ceasefire – BBC News

The new Jewish exodus: Emigrating Israelis replaced by European Jewry

Mon, 25 Aug 2014 - 11:34pm

By Naava Mashiah via Your Middle East

So much ink has been spilled over the past month during the latest eruption of violence between Israel and Gaza. An overflow of comments and statements, adjurations, appeals, dissensions, analysis and condemnations have been posted on social networks, media and published by think tanks. I am not in a position or will to write about the horror of war or the violence we witnessed, nor discuss the geopolitical implications of this latest round of actions (or non-actions) by the leaders of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.

But I would like to point out that this time, it is different. This time there is a different sense in the air. A point of no return has been crossed. At least this is what I see from my vantage point.

I wanted to discuss a gradual phenomenon of population exchange which is taking place – not of refugees, but rather, between the Jewish Diaspora, particularly European, and the Israeli population. There has been over the past few years a rising phenomenon of anti-Semitism in Europe. It is accelerated when there is violence in the region but it is NOT simply a correlation to what is occurring in the region. The anti-Semitic incidents are most prevalent in France and Belgium, where there is a large Jewish minority and also a large Muslim community. There have been isolated attacks on synagogues and Jewish owned stores in France. Germany has seen an alarming increase in anti-Semitic protests while in Rome, anti-Semitic graffiti is much more prevalent. A shooting in a Jewish museum in Brussels in 2012 occurred when there was not much news coming out of Israel at the time.

A reaction to this wave of increase of anti-Semitism is for European Jewry to purchase a second home in Israel, and some even change their domicile to Israel. For them, Israel still represents the ‘safe haven’ and provides refuge from these anti-Semitic actions. True, they benefit as well from no income tax for a certain period when they arrive; however, this is not the sole incentive.

On the other hand, I have been witness to many of my Israeli compatriots seeking to issue a second passport, a European passport. Some of their parents or grandparents originally hailed from Europe, and people are taking the time to go to the various embassies, prove their family roots, and wait for a second passport to arrive in the post…just in case. Perhaps they will need it if the ‘situation’ deteriorates and they must search for a safe haven in Europe.

This time around the comments on the social media were not complacent and there was a true worry about what type of society Israel is transforming into. There is no longer freedom of speech, at least for the left wing coalition, and the moderate journalists whom may express a tendency to be left of center. The left has not lost its voice, it is being stomped and bullied off the streets. People are wondering what type of society and values they are leaving for their children and grandchildren. This process of acquiring a second passport is not being done overtly, but rather, discretely for it is not a patriotic vote of confidence for the survival of the country.

So I see two sectors of the Jewish population, one in the diaspora, one in Israel, which believe the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. You wonder whom is deceiving themselves and whom will actually follow through and make the move. Will the exodus from Israel be larger than the inflow of immigrants from Europe? Will the immigration from North America still continue to make up the gap? Even as I write this, after the beginning of the cease-fire, a plane has landed with a planeload of new immigrants.

The Israelis whom move to Europe, as I did four years ago, will find out that the policy of the Israeli government will inevitably affect their life in Europe, even a small remote village. For the local population will remind you that you are Jewish and therefore connected to this homeland. It really doesn’t matter whether or not you agree with the Israeli government’s policies.

This time around something is different in the air. And people are taking stock of their lives, existence, and future. They are seeing the encroaching violence on their borders of extremist Jihadist movements, which are acting against their own brethren. They are seeing ISIS dropping leaflets on Oxford St in the UK encouraging Muslims to attack and move to the new Caliphate. People are not just preparing a plan in the top drawer, they are taking out the plan and dusting it off, and analyzing the various options.

Many in Europe say that it reminds them of Europe in 1936, and are reminded of those whom were proactive and departed, ending up as survivors. Some do not think we have reached such a drastic situation. While in Israel, it is no longer considered ‘against the stream’ to emigrate as it was in the 70’s when the immigrants were considered traitors to the country.

It is intriguing to watch these two streams of immigration like the currents in a river and see which direction the waters flow.

Naava Mashiah is CEO of M.E. Links and active in Middle Eastern Informal Diplomacy. She is also a member of Your Middle East’s Advisory Board.

Mirrored from Your Middle East


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Euronews: “Israel and Hamas trade more blows while Egypt seeks new Gaza ceasefire”

Veils, Gloves and Violence: New Extremist Rules See Women Disappear From Mosul’s Streets

Mon, 25 Aug 2014 - 11:29pm

By Nawzat Shamdeen | Mosul | via

Extremists are forcing Mosul’s women to wear full facial veils.

Mosul was always a conservative city when it came to women’s rights. However the Sunni Muslim extremists who took control of the town have made it even more difficult for females. Women must now wear facial veils and gloves and may not leave their homes unaccompanied. In one suspected case at least, the price for protesting these rules has been death.

On August 10 at around noon, an older woman arrived at a market in the centre of Mosul. She had bad back pain and it was also extremely warm. A bearded, heavily armed man got her attention and then asked her why she was not wearing a niqab, the traditional veil that covers almost the whole face, leaving only the eyes visible.

“I tried but I just about suffocated in the summer heat,” the old lady said, not hiding her sarcasm.

“So you will wear it in winter then?” the bearded man asked her, raising his voice because he thought she couldn’t hear him properly.

“Is Daash even still going to be here in winter?,” the old lady asked, using the Arabic acronym for the Sunni Muslim extremist group formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS – the group took control of the northern city in early June this year. She was making a joke – but her question also reflects the fact that the extremists, who now call themselves simply the Islamic State, or IS, are being forced to fight to maintain the territory they control.

This story has been repeated often around Mosul – it’s considered a kind of peaceful popular protest against the restrictions that the IS group have put upon local women. Among other things, the IS fighters have forced women to completely cover themselves up. They must wear gloves and the niqab, rather than just a headscarf or hijab. Married women are supposed to wear a black niqab and unmarried women must wear a white niqab. Additionally women have been banned from working outside their homes – the only exceptions are obstetricians and nurses.

Women were also instructed not to leave the house alone unless it was an emergency or they were accompanied by a male relative. The extremist group banned mixed classes at schools and universities and said that any violations of any of these rules were punishable by flogging.

Most of the rules were part of Article 4 of the city charter the extremists formulated and distributed in Mosul. And the extremist group’s morality patrols, known as the Hisba Diwan, were responsible for ensuring that the rules were not violated.

The IS rules have seen women all but disappear from Mosul’s daily life. Their faces and voices have disappeared from schools, banks, government departments and from the city’s cultural, artistic and sporting life, as if they had never existed in a society that had always treated women with respect.

A cloth merchant in Mosul told NIQASH that sales of his black and white fabric have increased dramatically. A lot of women are buying this cloth but generally they are not happy about it, the merchant, Ammar Abdullah, noted. “After buying fabric for herself and her three daughters, I heard one woman saying that no matter what they do, Daash will never turn Mosul into a village,” he said. By this she meant that villagers were backward and accepted the curtailment of women’s freedoms more readily whereas people in a big city like Mosul were better educated and more cosmopolitan.

Over the past weeks, the IS group has set up checkpoints for vehicles travelling in the city. Part of their mission is to check that women are wearing the niqab. If a woman in any car is not, then the driver’s papers are confiscated and the driver must report to a building, formerly the headquarters of the local Youth and Sports department, in the Tayaran area of Mosul, where they would be investigated.

Eye witnesses say they have also heard IS group members verbally abusing women who are not fully covered as they have instructed. Iraqi media, broadcasting from outside Mosul, have carried reports of this as well as reports that many local women are waiting for verdicts from the courts that the IS group has set up to carry out Sharia, or religious, jurisprudence.

The niqab remains controversial in religious scholarship, with some saying it is prescribed by the Koran – even within various different sects there are several different descriptions of how women should cover themselves – and others saying it was a cultural adaptation in certain Islamic societies.

“In Iraq, the niqab started to become more popular as a result of Saddam Hussein’s ‘Faith Campaign’,” says religious researcher, Mohammed Hashem. Hussein’s campaign really hit its stride in the mid-1990s when international sanctions on Iraq were at their worst. “In the 1960s and ‘70s, older women would cover their faces with a light veil but most of the younger women did not.”

Hashem himself believes that the Koran never explicitly asks women to cover their faces. In fact, he says, during pilgrimage many female pilgrims do not cover their faces – and if this was a generally accepted custom, then surely, of all places, the women on pilgrimage would be asked to cover their faces. But, he argues, they are not. In fact Hashem believes that the IS group’s ruling about niqab in Mosul is a violation of the teachings of Islam.

The wearing of the niqab is a product of male-dominated and regressive society, local writer Ahmad Hamadoun, argues. The niqab has existed for generations and it comes from an uncivilized, tribal way of thinking.

Hamadoun also says he can’t rule out the fact that the IS fighters might use the niqab themselves as a disguise, when they feel their lives are at risk.

Obviously the IS group is keen to maintain a good image. They quickly denied reports that they had ordered female genital mutilation on women in the areas they control in Iraq and Syria and they’ve accused secular media and individuals of trying to spread rumours about them.

The IS group insist that having girls and boys mix at school is against their religion as is having women leave their homes unaccompanied, without a niqab on. They also deny that they would attack women for not adhering to their rules and beliefs.

However realities on the ground indicate otherwise. The fate of a large group of women from the Yazidi ethno-religious group that IS fighters abducted remains unknown. And there has also been at least one woman attacked in Mosul.

On August 13, a well-known female gynaecologist, Ghada Shafiq, who worked at Mosul’s General Hospital, was attacked by armed men as she left her home in the Tayaran neighbourhood that evening. She was stabbed to death.

No motives for the attack have been declared. But the doctor’s colleagues say that she was targeted by the IS group because of an open letter she had allegedly written. The letter explained a strike that Mosul’s female doctors had been on since August 11.

“Female doctors have continued to work in order to aid the sick and injured of Mosul, a city that is in a critical condition because of the IS’ control over the city, aerial bombardment and the fact that no salaries have been paid for weeks,” the letter, which was seen by NIQASH, said. “Those doctors could have left the city in order to protect their own lives and their families.”

But they didn’t.

Yet in return, the letter said, “the IS group has imposed the niqab on female doctors in hospitals, with fighters at hospital entrances in order to stop any female doctors coming or going unless they’re wearing the niqab and gloves. When women doctors tried to convince them that they couldn’t do their jobs and treat patients dressed like this, the IS men abused the doctors verbally and began threatening them.”

The letter warned against yielding to these kinds of decisions made by the IS group because accepting their rules was the top of a slippery slope – it meant possible acceptance of later decisions that might be made by the IS leaders, such as those concerning genital mutilation and forced marriages to fighters.

The insistence on things like the niqab was in order to degrade women and that is why the doctors had started their strike, the letter explained: so that women’s voices would be heard. “Does Islam require believers to abuse and harass women in the streets?” the letter asked. “Is this behaviour part of the teachings of Islam?”

For asking those questions, the doctor paid with her life.

Mirrored from


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Life on Iraq’s frontlines against IS – BBC News

Reading Africa: How exciting Literature takes us beyond the Dreary Headlines

Mon, 25 Aug 2014 - 11:28pm

By Shaun Randol

There is not one positive news story on the front page. The two news organizations might as well tack up a single headline—“Africa Implodes”—and call it a day. The negativity, by the way, is not limited to the Western media. A snapshot of headlines on the same day presented by reveals an identical sentiment:

In all, 34 headlines from three resources and not one of them is immediately apparent as being good news. (Gay Rights in DR Congo”?? Could go either way…) With all of this depressing and pessimistic news, it’s no wonder Americans have a skewed outlook of what’s happening on the African continent, where in more than 50 countries close to 2,000 languages are spoken.

Opinion polls on what Americans think of Africans in general, the continent as a whole, or even individual countries are so scarce I couldn’t find a single one. (There are studies on opinions of sub-groups, such as African-American or Arab-American opinions toward Africa or particular countries therein (and vice versa), and a few on opinions of U.S. foreign policy in places like Egypt, but even these are hard to come by.). Therefore, a few reports on U.S. citizens’ misconceptions of the continent can be used as an approximation of attitudes toward and knowledge of the diverse continent. For one, major news outlets like CNN have failed time and again to properly locate African countries on a map, mistaking, for example, Niger for Nigeria. Even NBC News anchor Brian Williams once mistook Kenya for Nigeria in speaking about Boko Haram kidnappings. And in an online quiz asking readers to locate African countries on a map, The Washington Post found that, “according to data from more than 40,000 respondents, the median country was identified correctly less than half of the time, with South Africa being the most recognized country, and Gambia the least.” (Never mind that a former vice presidential candidate thought the entire continent was a single country.)

Misunderstandings and ignorance of Africa are not limited to average citizens, politicians, and the news media. Earlier this year, the Africa Is a Country blog triggered a widespread discussion in literary circles about stereotypes when they published a collage of dozens of book covers of so-called African literature that feature the acacia tree. “In short, the covers of most novels ‘about Africa,’” wrote Africa Is a Country, “seem to have been designed by someone whose principal idea of the continent comes from The Lion King.”

Which is why, when we published Gambit: Newer African Writing, we reached out to an artist from Burma to design the cover. As a result, the cover art depicts nothing stereotypical of “Africa” or what people would assume to be “African”—acacia trees, savannahs, impoverished children, or menacing warlords. The cover, featuring pensive silhouettes sitting above a checkerboard floor, directly reflects the mindsets of the authors within.

Despite what you might read online today or see on the evening broadcast, there is good news coming from Africa. Sometimes to find that news, however, you must look beyond the headlines. Literature can be that venue.

It was Czesław Miłosz and Milan Kundera to whom Americans turned when they sought news beyond the political spectacle put on by the elites in the U.S, Western Europe, and the U.S.S.R. during the Cold War. Today the same information-hungry audiences turn to the literary works of Liao Yiwu and Ilham Toti for insights into what life is really like in China.

That kind of intimate observation of day-to-day living… loving… working… playing… and yes, dying is exactly what you’ll find in our book, Gambit. But my co-editor—Emmanuel Iduma (from Nigeria)—and I take it a step further: each short story in the anthology is paired with an interview with the author. Readers are exposed to the inspirations, fears, dreams, and unique life philosophies of these individuals, ten in total from Botswana, Malawi, Nigeria, Somalia, and Zimbabwe. These three women and seven men represent a rich and diverse cross-section of continental experiences.

The countries featured in Gambit are as different from one another as Canada and Mexico, two very different states that happen to be on the same continent. And yet with an adjustment of a minor detail here or there, the stories could just as well take place in Toronto or Juarez. That’s because the themes are not “African;” they are human. Take, for example, Dami Ajayi’s (Nigeria) story about how smartphone technology interrupts a romantic relationship. Or Dango Mkandawire’s (Malawi) vignette on schoolyard bullying. Or the story by Donald Molosi (Botswana) featuring unrequited love between two men. Those stories do not take place under acacia trees—they take place in a 21st century globalized world.

When we begin to see the countless, vexing, and poetic layers that make up Malawi or Somalia or the whole darn continent, we begin to humanize “them,” the “other” to which bad news seems to be happening to all the time, somewhere else. For if we are to live together in peace, we must first understand who and what makes up our earthly neighborhood and to understand that “Africans are just like us!” Maybe then news editors will begin to promote an alternative narrative, one not of doom and gloom but rather of art and optimism.

Gambit is a humble gesture toward the betterment of our world made through informing and storytelling. Let us make an effort together to better understand each other, so that we’ll be more inclined toward cultural—not violent—engagement. Wouldn’t that be some good news?

Shaun Randol is editor-in-chief of The Mantle, a member of PEN American Center and the National Book Critics Circle and co-editor of the co-editor of Gambit: Newer African Writing

Poll: Palestinians of Gaza just like Americans: Want Peace, hate “ISIS” and refuse to Give up their Guns

Mon, 25 Aug 2014 - 3:12am

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — An overwhelming majority of Gaza residents support a long-term truce with Israel and oppose the disarmament of the Palestinian resistance, a poll released on Saturday showed.

The poll, which surveyed 1,000 Palestinians in Gaza from Aug. 14-19 and was conducted by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion, also found that a vast majority opposed the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria, which Israeli leaders have claimed maintains support in Gaza.

More than 90 percent of Gazans surveyed thought that resistance was either “well prepared” or “somewhat prepared” for the Israeli assault, and more than 93 percent opposed the disarmament of Palestinian militant groups, which Israel has said is a condition of any long-term truce.

At the same time, despite an Israeli assault that has killed more than 2,100 Palestinians — overwhelmingly civilians — in the last six weeks, nearly 88 percent of those surveyed also supported a long-term truce, and another 10 percent supported an unspecified “medium-term” truce.

80 percent rated US President Barack Obama’s stance on the conflict, which has been decidedly pro-Israel, as “negative,” while 65 percent said they were “very” or “fairly” content with Egypt’s role as a mediator in indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

More than 80 percent, meanwhile, were in favor of International Criminal Court intervention against Israel for prosecution for war crimes committed during the offensive.

The poll also surveyed opinions in Gaza regarding the Syria-based Wahhabi militant group Islamic State, previously known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which Israeli leaders have repeatedly referenced in their offensive against Hamas.

More than 85 percent of Gazans surveyed, however, said they oppose the group.


Related video added by Juan Cole

RT: “Moment Israeli airstrike destroys 13-storey residential tower in Gaza City”

Border Police Militarization and the Immigrant Children

Mon, 25 Aug 2014 - 2:56am

By Aviva Chomsky via

Call it irony or call it a nightmare, but the “crisis” of Central American children crossing the U.S.-Mexican border, which lasted for months amid fervent and angry debate, is now fading from the news.  The media stories have been legion, the words expended many.  And yet, as the “crisis” leaves town, as the sound and fury die down and attention shifts elsewhere (even though the children continue to arrive), the real factors that would have made sense of what’s been happening remain essentially untouched and largely unmentioned.  It couldn’t be stranger — or sadder.

Since late June 2014, the “surge” of those thousands of desperate children entering this country has been in the news.  Sensational stories were followed by fervent demonstrations and counter-demonstrations with emotions running high.  And it’s not a debate that stayed near the southern border either.  In my home state, Massachusetts, Governor Deval Patrick tearfully offered to detain some of the children — and that was somehow turned into a humanitarian gesture that liberals applauded and anti-immigrant activists decried.  Meanwhile the mayor of Lynn, a city north of Boston, echoed nativists on the border, announcing that her town didn’t want any more immigrants.  The months of this sort of emotion, partisanship, and one-upmanship have, however, diverted attention from the real issues.  As so often is the case, there is so much more to the story than what we’ve been hearing in the news.

As labor journalist David Bacon has shown, the children-at-the-border story was first brought to the attention of the media by anti-immigrant organizations, beginning with the radical right-wing Breitbart News Network in Texas.  Their narrative focused on President Obama’s supposed failure to control the border, his timid gestures aimed at granting temporary legal status to some undocumented youth through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the attempts of Congressional liberals to promote what they called “comprehensive immigration reform,” and of course those children “invading” the U.S.

In fact, there was nothing new about the so-called surge.  Rather, the Breitbart Network turned a long-term issue into a “crisis” for political reasons, and the media, politicians, and organizations on both sides of the political spectrum took the bait.

Breitbart’s Texas bureau chief Brandon Darby “ignited a national firestorm,” the network claimed proudly, when he released a set of exclusive photos of overcrowded detention facilities for child detainees.  Darby did not explain how he was able to gain access to what he called “internal federal government photos.”  He did, however, provide an explanation for what Breitbart called the “invasion”: the children “know they will not be turned away and that they will be provided for.”  In other words, it was the fault of Obama, the Democrats, and the liberals.  The stage was set for a Republican and populist backlash.

Pro-Obama voices like Deval Patrick and some immigrant rights organizations played right into the sensationalist nativist narrative.  “There’s a humanitarian reason to try to find a solution, try to find a way to help,” Patrick stated, insisting that at stake was an issue of “love of country and lessons of faith” — and that it was explicitly not a political issue.

Massachusetts Republican politicians, like Lynn’s Mayor Judith Kennedy Flanagan, complained instead about the impact on their communities, turning a fiscal problem into an occasion for xenophobia.  “It’s gotten to the point where the school system is overwhelmed, our health department is overwhelmed, the city’s budget is being [un]sustainably altered in order [to] accommodate all of these admissions in the school department,” she stated.  State Representative Mark Lombardo concurred: “We just can’t afford it. We’re not adequately taking care of our own children; our own veterans, our own families who are struggling here in Massachusetts. We gotta put American families first.”

Hundreds of protesters rallied on the Boston Common on July 26th demanding that the country put “Americans before illegals.”  It was easy for wealthy liberals, many commentators added, to foist the children on poor communities, but what about the domestic poor, the homeless, the veterans who can’t get access to medical services?  Why, under such circumstances, should we direct resources to Central American children?  (Such Republican racial identity-based appeals to the white working class date back to the presidency of Richard Nixon.)

Which Central America?

These two seemingly clashing narratives — the moral, humanitarian imperative to help children in need and the plight of strapped cities and Americans in need — turn out to neatly complement each other.  Both play the game of victimology in the service of party politics.  Each asks essentially the same question: Do Republicans or Democrats get more points for defending the neediest victims?  Each side claims the humanitarian high ground, while both conveniently avoid looking at the political economy of the problem they lament — and that they have, over many decades, collaborated in creating.

Unfortunately, many liberals and some immigrant rights organizations have failed to offer their own analysis that reached beyond generalized good will and support for the Democrats.  “We stand for justice and we care for all children in need!” the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition declared wholeheartedly, but not very illuminatingly.  In addition to “standing up for all kids,” the purpose of its August 7th counter-rally seemed to be simply to support Patrick’s offer to create temporary detention centers in Massachusetts.  Unfortunately, by disseminating Breitbart’s dramatic photos and adopting the right’s basic narrative, liberals missed an opportunity to go beyond a sterile debate and take a more meaningful look at the structural issues at stake.

In fact, the so-called “crisis” of these last months is anything but new, while the “debate” over where to temporarily detain the children is beside the point.  The number of Central American youths crossing the U.S.-Mexican border has been rising steadily since 2000.  Figures for minors apprehended at the border have gone up from a few thousand a year as the twenty-first century began, to 6,000-8,000 annually through 2011, 13,625 in 2012, and 24,668 in 2013.  A study released in February 2014 predicted that as many as 60,000 children were likely to be apprehended this year.  The overwhelming of U.S. detention facilities was, in this sense, predictable.  So Darby’s June news scoop should hardly have been a surprise, if anyone other than specialists had been paying attention.

The situation is not really hard to grasp.  There are three main reasons that Central American youth are crossing the border: they are fleeing lack of opportunity; they are fleeing violence; and they are seeking to reunite with parents and other family members already in the United States.  Although the media talk about “Central American children,” almost all of the detainees are, in fact, coming from only three of the six countries of Central America:  Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.  There are almost none from Belize, Nicaragua, or Costa Rica.  Anybody who remembers the 1980s can probably guess why.  The enormous quantities of military “aid” that the United States poured into Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras helped create an environment of violently enforced inequality whose bitter fruits are still being reaped.

Under a series of laws and court decisions since the 1990s, minors from Central America are granted special treatment when caught crossing the border.  Rather than being deported like Mexican children (who cross in the same numbers and for similar reasons), Central American youth are turned over to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which holds them in its own facilities (rather than U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers) and provides them with services while it locates and investigates family members to whom they could be released.  At that point, a lengthy hearing process begins to determine whether each minor is eligible for immigration relief.  If not, she or he will be deported.  These children are termed “unaccompanied” because they cross the border without parents or legal guardians, but the vast majority of them do have family in the U.S. and are coming to join them.

Deval Patrick and Judith Flanagan are talking past each other by focusing on different parts of this process.  Patrick offered to find a facility in the state to house the youth during the few weeks when they are in the custody of the ORR and fully funded by the federal government.  His “solution” is, in that sense, a cheap kind of “humanitarianism.”  Flanagan and the anti-immigrant demonstrators are complaining about the costs to communities like Lynn, where hundreds of undocumented Guatemalan children have indeed been released to family members.  They have a point.  As many online commentators have indicated, undocumented families tend to live in poor urban areas like Lynn that are already struggling with severe underfunding.  In other words, they are the communities least equipped to provide the kinds of locally mandated services like education that the newcomers need.

Why the Children Are Coming?

So what’s the real crisis and can it be solved?

Let’s start with what’s truly at stake here.  First, U.S. policies directly led to today’s crises in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.  Since Washington orchestrated the overthrow of the reformist, democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954, it has consistently cultivated repressive military regimes, savagely repressed peasant and popular movements for social change, and imposed economic policies including so-called free trade ones that favor foreign investors and have proven devastating to the rural and urban poor.

Refugees from U.S.-sponsored dirty wars in Guatemala and El Salvador — mostly peasants whose communities had been subjected to scorched-earth policies and the depredations of right-wing death squads — began to pour into the United States in the 1980s.  The refugee flood from Honduras didn’t begin until the United States supported a military coup against that country’s elected leftist president in 2009.  The youths crossing the border today are often the children and grandchildren of those initial refugees, and are fleeing the endemic violence and economic destruction left behind by the wars and the devastation that resulted from them.  In other words, the policies that led to the present “crisis” were promoted over the decades with similar degrees of enthusiasm by Republicans and Democrats.

Second, an enormous demand for undocumented labor had already drawn the parents of many of these children to the United States where they clean houses and yards, wash dishes, and grow and process food.  Their underpaid labor helps sustain the U.S. economy.  For generations, this country’s immigration policy has focused on using Mexicans and Central Americans as “workers” without granting them legal and human rights.  But workers are people and people have children.  In other words, the present crisis stems in part from the way our economy depends on separating parents from their children in order to exploit their cheap labor — and then our horror or dismay when they want to be reunited.

Finally, the communities and school systems that the federal government expects to receive the border-crossing youth need more federal support.  Many of the locales receiving immigrants are indeed in crisis.  If, thanks to federal legislation and federal agencies, these children are being released in large numbers to communities in which schools are already underfunded, then the federal government should guarantee the services that it requires communities to provide them.  Instead of spending billions of dollars annually underwriting detention, deportation, and the further militarization of the borderlands, it should direct those funds to fulfilling human needs.

Immigrant rights organizations should be criticizing both parties for their policies in Central America (including President Obama’s free trade agenda), their economic and immigration policies (that criminalize workers), and the ways they are pitting immigrant youth against poor Americans in a struggle for scarce resources.

Of course, that’s not how the story is being told.  Instead, our politicians, the media, and various organizations have simply been posturing.  Arguments that take the “humanitarian” position and those that use the “crisis” to try to undermine the administration’s flimsy gestures towards relief for undocumented youth, as well as those that protest the potential impact on communities like Lynn, are sadly incomplete.  We are in the midst of a series of crises that are perfectly real.  They just aren’t the ones that either side is talking about.

Aviva Chomsky’s most recent book is Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal (Beacon Press, 2014). She is professor of history and coordinator of Latin American studies at Salem State University in Massachusetts.

Mirrored from, where you can see Tom Engelhardt’s important introduction to the piece.


Related video added by Juan Cole

Vice: “Undocumented and Underage: The Crisis of Migrant Children”

Victim of McCarthy-Era Witch Hunt calls on U-Illinois not to Fire Critic of Israeli Policies

Mon, 25 Aug 2014 - 2:38am

Note by Juan Cole: In the early 1950s, under the influence of Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-WI), a national witch hunt was conducted for leftists. McCarthy claimed to have a list of 100 Soviet moles in the State Department. Even former members of the Communist Party, which had been popular in the 1930s Great Depression before Stalin’s crimes were recognized, and which was part of the formal US alliance against the Axis in World War II, were suddenly put under scrutiny. Running against secret Communists or alleged covert socialists became common in politics (a slimy sociopath named Richard Nixon got his start in Congress that way). Screen writers in Hollywood were fired, names taken off the films, and made non-persons. No actual crime had to be alleged or proven– people were punished and ostracized, essentially for thought crimes. These techniques of intellectual bullying and intimidation, supposedly on national security grounds, were intended by many of their proponents to roll back the New Deal reforms that made a decent life possible for working people and to make criticism of the absolute property prerogatives of corporations and the very wealthy illegal. Many of our social pathologies in the 21st century are rooted in the success of this inquisitorial drive. At the University of Michigan, there is still an annual lecture, the Academic Freedom Fund, in honor of three University of Michigan professors who were fired or suspended for refusing to testify to a visiting delegation from the House Un-American Activities Committee. One of those summarily fired was a mathematician, Chandler Davis, who emigrated to Canada. Professor Davis, still feisty in his late 80′s, has just written a personal letter to University of Illinois Chancellor Phyllis Wise urging her to rescind the firing of Professor Steven Salaita, a specialist in Native American Studies, for his trenchant criticisms of Israeli government policy toward the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip. When I first wrote him suggesting I reprint the letter, in his gentlemanly way he said it was a letter to Chancellor Wise and he preferred not. Then it got out on the internet anyway, and he relented.

Chandler Davis writes:

Dr. Phyllis Wise
University of Illinois

Dear Chancellor Wise:

I write from a rich experience of attacks on academic freedom; I have seen the damage that enforcing conformity can do to intellectual life. Among the victims was myself. My expulsion from American academe in 1954 has been thoroughly refuted by history, so that I speak not with the bitterness of any unresolved grievance, but with the immediacy that personal memory gives.

When anti-segregationists were expelled, when socialists were expelled, the damage was dire for the victims, but dire also for the whole community. Today, we have our work cut out for us to defeat real anti-Semitism and real bigotry of all sorts. I am heartsick to see your office betray the struggle by joining the attack on Professor Steven Salaita.

Of course some sufficiently strong partisans of the Israeli government are sorry to hear his criticism, and might deplore his presence on your faculty. You are not obliged to bow to them. They are asking you to violate the security of an academic position– in this case, a position firmly promised though not yet taken up. Even if you could justify breaking your University’s commitment to Prof. Salaita –which you can not– you should reject with indignation the calls to wrench him from the community. He is an active opponent of anti-Semitism and other bigotry, as you must know from his writings. We need him by our side.

Chandler Davis


Related video added by Juan Cole

2011 Academic Freedom Lecture – Ellen W. Schrecker – 10/13/11


Support the U-Michigan Academic Freedom Fund here

Can the Kabbalah teach us to Repair Climate Change?

Sun, 24 Aug 2014 - 11:25pm

By Alexandra Piacenza

How can Kabbalah, the system of mystical interpretation of Jewish scripture with roots in the 13th century, have a bearing on modern-day environmentalism? In the Kabbalistic view, God’s very act of creation has resulted in placing a sacred obligation on man to make right what is askew in the world. This obligation doesn’t just play out on the spiritual level, but also on the ethical and physical planes where care for the world becomes relevant. The Genesis story as interpreted by Kabbalah describes how man was set on a continual quest to free God’s purity from the constraints of imbalance and wrong action.

A Divine Prototype for Creation

According to Kabbalah, in the beginning, an ultimate and unknowable God withdrew into Himself, forming a space — a cosmic womb — within which He brought forth the primal blueprint of creation. God’s pattern for creation took the form of essential qualities, various vibrations of light drawn from His ineffable nature and enclosed in form-giving “shells” (kelipoth). These vessels of light known as sephiroth were to be arranged hierarchically in what is alternately known as The Tree of Life or Adam Kadmon — the divine prototype for all to come thereafter, including and especially human beings.

A God-Given Mission

For reasons known only to the mind of God, the pure source of creation also became the progenitor of the negative forces that would bedevil it: the power of God’s light entering the vessels shattered them. While most of the light was recovered, bits of it clung to the shards and to this day are waiting to be uncovered and released back to their source in God. Man’s God-given mission to remove what hides the divine light is known as “tikkun.” In the first chapter of The Caretakers of the Cosmos, author Gary Lachman said, “. . . we encounter those trapped ‘sparks,’ whether in people, nature, or inanimate things, which we are uniquely qualified to liberate, just as we encounter people and situations that can help liberate our own ‘sparks.’”

Similarly, in “Bal Taschit and Tikkun Olam: Jewish Environmental Ethics,” Elisheva Hannah Levin explains:

“It is our job to gather these sparks and raise them up whenever we find them, bringing the material world closer and closer to the world of Holiness and Oneness. . . When we learned of the knowledge of good and evil, and of life and death, we were pushed out of the womb of creation and born into a role of responsibility as stewards of creation. We have a duty to maintain the covenant of creation itself.”

Environmental Ethics Spring from Ancient Roots

Terry Gips, of the Hillel Center at the University of Minnesota points out the synergism between the Kabbalistic concept of tikkun olam (“repair of the world”) and bal taschit ( “do not destroy”) — Torah-based guidelines for respectful treatment of all resources, especially those provided by God through nature. The importance of bal taschit is encapsulated in the Hasidic saying: “Planting is so important that if a sapling were in your hand, and you were told that the Messiah had come, first plant the sapling, then go out to greet the Messiah.”

The Jewish Renewal Movement fostered by the late Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi encouraged acceptance of such modern-seeming ideas as Gaia consciousness and eco-kashrut. But these latter-day concepts are rooted in the anciently sourced tenets of the tikkun and bal taschit. And they in turn are derived from the most ancient Source of all.

Alexandra Piacenza: I have a BA in Psychology from Wellesley College and have been a devotee of Paramahansa Yogananda for over 25 years, including 15 years of teaching Sunday School children the fundamentals of yoga meditation. I’m also a deeply committed student of Catholicism especially interested in the basic harmony between eastern and western spiritual principles, practices and experience. I live with my husband in rural Northern Arizona. You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and

Mirrored from Eden Keeper


Related video added by Juan Cole

Ben Gurion University: “Jewish Environmentalism: Bridging Scholarship, Faith, and Activism,” Hava Tirosh-Samuelson

Iraq: Another Kurdish Town besieged by IS: Is Amerli the next Sinjar?

Sat, 23 Aug 2014 - 11:30pm

By Ahmad Mohammed | Kirkuk |

Demonstrators call on the government to help the besieged town of Amerli.

In Salahaddin, a drama of historic proportions is playing out in the town of Amerli. Surrounded by extremist territory, around 400 townspeople have been defending themselves for over 70 days now. The town, which is sheltering around 17,000 people, is under siege with power and water cut off. Locals can only wait and hope that their drama does not end in yet another humanitarian tragedy.

Since June 15, a small town in the Salahaddin province has been defending itself against Sunni Muslim extremists who surround it, controlling most of the other towns around it. Amerli, which is home to mostly Shiite Muslims of Turkmen ethnicity, has been under siege by forces from the extremist group known as the Islamic State, or IS, since mid-June.

Since the extremists took control of most of the area around the town, forcing other Shiite Muslim Turkmen into Amerli, it has been extremely difficult to get any goods or people in or out. The extremists have also disconnected water and power to the town.

As security analyst Michael Knights put it in a post on Foreign Policy magazine’s website: “This is Iraq’s other humanitarian crisis, the one no one seems to care about.”

For over 70 days now, the town has been protected by local fighters, many of whom have military backgrounds.

“Armed men have launched a number of attacks to try and enter the town,” one of Amerli’s residents told NIQASH. “But they have failed because of resistance from the local police and volunteers from among the townspeople.”

“There’s no drinking water, there’s no electricity and there’s a shortage of food,” says Khamis Nimeh, an Amerli resident. “The hospital in town is still taking patients even though there’s a shortage of medicines. But the people of the town are spirited. People who have never attacked anyone now only want to defend their town against attack.”

The townspeople, who are mostly Shiite Muslims, are certain that if the Sunni Muslim extremists are able to enter their town, they will be killed and the women and children taken captive.

Most of the towns around Amerli have been taken over by the IS group and their allies and locals have fled. The nearest town still under government control is Tuz Khurmatu, about 27 kilometres away from Amerli. However another town called Sulaiman Bek, about 10 kilometres from Amerli, is on the road that connects the two and has been controlled by the IS group for several months now, even before the group managed to take over the northern city of Mosul in early June.

What is going on in Amerli is a historic and heroic siege, Shallal Abdul, the mayor of Tuz Khurmatu, told NIQASH.

“The IS group has launched six attacks on the town as they try to occupy it,” Abdul noted. “Since the beginning of this crisis three people from among the locals have been killed and more than 30 have been wounded.”

Calling upon the central government in Baghdad and the authorities in the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan to cooperate to free Amerli, Abdul concluded, “we hope to see an end to this blockade soon – especially after the liberation of Atheem in Diyala province.”

“Although there are an estimated 17,000 people in Amerli, everyone is ignoring what’s going on there,” Ali Mahdi, the spokesperson for the Turkmen Front, a political party representing the Iraqi minority, told NIQASH. “If they worked together the Iraqi army and Iraqi Kurdish forces could lift this siege. But sadly it is only the people of the town that have been defending Amerli since the siege began.”

The Iraqi army is sending helicopters to bring food, medicine and ammunition into Amerli but they are regularly shot at by the extremist fighters surrounding the area. “And the helicopters cannot take many injured out of the Amerli either,” Mahdi explains.

The senior Turkmen politician appealed again to both domestic and international players to help the people of Amerli. But he was also critical, saying that, “some voices are heard on the international scene and others were not”. As an example he talked about organizations that focused only on those displaced from Sinjar and the Ninawa Plain – by this he means Iraq’s Yazidi and Christian minorities – while ignoring other groups, like Iraq’s Turkmen minority.

While the fighters of Amerli continue to defend their town and those in it, support has come from some unusual channels. A number of independent activists and journalists have launched campaigns on social media to support the besieged townspeople; they post pictures from the area and comments that they hope will inspire the exhausted locals.

There has also been a demonstration in Baghdad calling upon authorities to help Amerli.

Mirrored from


Related video added by Juan Cole

AFP: “Facing new flight, Turkish Kurds in Iraq long for home”

Kicked Off Twitter And Facebook, so-called “Islamic State” Terror Group Finds New Tools

Sat, 23 Aug 2014 - 11:26pm

By Glenn Kates via RFE/RL

The Islamic State has made good use of social networks in spreading its propaganda.

Thousands of social-media users were unwittingly exposed to horrifying images of James Foley’s execution in the hours after Islamic State (IS) militants posted video of his beheading online.

It was exhibit A in the extremist group’s two-pronged propaganda campaign: inflict fear in the West while using the same imagery to inspire and recruit radicals from around the world.

But since the video first appeared on August 19, major companies like Twitter and YouTube have increased their efforts to take down offensive material and remove accounts linked to terrorist groups. IS, though, appears to be adapting to the shutdowns by moving to open-source and more decentralized social networks that are difficult to regulate and also experimenting with other tools that are less popular in the West.

“It would be bizarre to imagine that just because Facebook or Twitter was slightly more difficult for them to use they would stop communicating with each other or spreading their message,” says Jamie Bartlett, author of “The Dark Net,” a new book about hidden online communities. “It’s in keeping with the modus operandi both of what we know about terrorist organizations and what we would expect any organization to do when they think their message is being unfairly censored.”

According to the Vocativ news site, an official IS forum has laid out a five-point plan to fight the account suspensions, which includes building its own servers and redirecting supporters to platforms besides Twitter and Facebook. It also suggested hacking Western TV channels.

Diaspora, a social network whose servers are distributed among a network of “podmins” rather than centralized, confirmed shortly after the Twitter and YouTube clampdown that IS supporters had begun moving to its platform.

The nonprofit expressed concern but said removing the content would be more difficult than it is for traditional social networks.


“Anyone is able to use Diaspora’s software in any way they choose,” the company said in a statement. “We cannot therefore prevent anyone from using the software; we are also not able to influence the decisions of podmins.”

But it also said that “larger” pods had already removed IS-related accounts and posts and a follow-up statement said “all of the most active accounts” had been closed.

On Vkontakte, a social network that is more popular than Facebook in Russia and some Russian-speaking countries of the former Soviet Union, an account set up earlier this month began posting updates shortly after the video of Foley — who had been missing for almost two years — appeared online.

The subscribers to the page appear to be overwhelmingly Russian speakers and many have adopted some version of the IS logo as their avatar. One of the page moderators, who identifies himself as Seyfulla Adiyev, is active on other online web forums and appears to be posting photos directly from IS-controlled territory in Syria and Iraq.
Nearly 300 people have subscribed to this Islamic State (IS) support page on VKontakte. Some use the branding of the extremist group as their avatar.
Nearly 300 people have subscribed to this Islamic State (IS) support page on VKontakte. Some use the branding of the extremist group as their avatar.

IS has as many as 80,000 members in Iraq and Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, with tens of thousands allegedly recruited from abroad. The Sunni-Islamist group, which now controls major cities in the two countries and seeks to create an Islamic Caliphate, has committed mass executions against Shi’ite Muslims and religious minorities in territory it has conquered.

The page on VKontakte violates the site’s own rules on extremism and may itself be taken down soon, but Bartlett, who also directs the London-based Centre for the Analysis of Social Media, says that in the long-term the group will continue to find ways to skirt censors — particularly as tools meant to protect online privacy gain traction.

As concern over government and corporate access to user data has grown in the West, so too has investment in technologies that put online privacy and Internet freedom at a premium. Internet censorship circumvention tools that aid IS can also benefit online activists and dissidents in authoritarian countries that punish dissent.

“The people who make these platforms are fully aware that they’re constantly faced with this dilemma,” says Bartlett. Generally though, “they’re willing to accept all the terrible awful propaganda if it also means that people can speak freely.”

Mirrored from RFE/RL

Copyright (c) 2014. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.


Related video added by Juan Cole

Euronews: ” Iraq: Foreign fighters flock to Islamic State”

Has the War on Terror Failed?

Sat, 23 Aug 2014 - 11:25pm

AJ+ “Has the West’s global “War on Terror” failed? Thirteen years of U.S. counter-terrorism policies have opened up a Pandora’s box of questions – both political and ideological.”

Aj+ Has the War on Terror Failed?

Iraq: Bombs & Bullets vs. Political Process

Sat, 23 Aug 2014 - 11:10pm

By Juan Cole

A series of bombings and shootings left some 35 dead in Iraq on Saturday, following on a massacre of 68 worshipers Friday at a Sunni Mosque in mixed Diyala Province. This violence was strategic, not random. One side effect was a severe setback in the attempt of Haydar al-Abadi, the prime minister designate, to form a government of national unit that includes Shiites, Kurds and Sunni Arabs.

The car bombings on Saturday were less important to the political process, but were clearly part of the Second Iraq Civil War provoked by the taking of Mosul, Tikrit and other Sunni cities by the so-called “Islamic State,” an al-Qaeda offshoot, in June. In Kirkuk, which is now held by the Kurdistan Regional Government, a bomber targeted Peshmerga and police, i.e. the Kurdish security forces now fighting IS around the Mosul dam with US air support. In Baghdad, a bomber targeted a domestic intelligence unit of the Ministry of Interior. Why such a facility would not have blast walls up and restrictions on vehicular traffic baffles me and tells you that the MoI in Iraq is not very good, which is why it has lost like 40% of the country this summer.

The IS tactic of car bombings of soft targets is and for many years is intended to foment civil war, since they focus on Shiite populations. Their hope is that they can convince hot-headed Shiite tribes and militias to strike back at Sunnis, thus helping mobilize Sunnis for IS in its fight against the Shiite-dominated government. Stalinists used to call this technique “sharpening the contradictions,” i.e., if class struggle were not happening they thought that sometimes you had to help it along with sabotage.

On Friday IS hit the jackpot, when a Shiite militia machine-gunned down 68 worshipers at the Mus`ab b. Umayr mosque in Diyala Province. The IS has made inroads in mixed Diyala, a province with Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis that borders Iran, and IS has been brutal to Shiites and Kurds.

The action sent a frisson of fear through the Sunni Arab community, afraid that it is being caught up in a war between extremist Shiites and the Salafi extremists of IS. Major Sunni Arab politicians that had been in talks with al-Abadi about forming a new government abruptly pulled out. Sheikh Ali al-Hatem, leader of the Dulaim tribe, charged that militiamen associated with outgoing prime minister Nouri al-Maliki were responsible, and that the massacre was typical of al-Maliki’s creepy tactics in repressing rebellious Sunnis in the 6 provinces where they have a major presence. He also called for a boycott of al-Abadi until these tactics (which include, he said, aerial bombardment of Sunni villages) are discontinued. (Al-Maliki is close to the Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq, an extremist militia recruited by the former PM to fight IS). Sheikh Ali al-Hatem is not actually all that important, since a huge group like the Dulaim tribe is inchoate, but apparently his sentiments are widely shared among the Sunni elite.)

The deaths and subsequent recriminations and their impact on parliamentary politics signal how hard it will be for al-Abadi to put the country back together. But al-Abadi can hardly take executive action like curbing the Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq militia until he forms a government, and in that sense the Sunni politicians are being irrational. Their best protest against al-Maliki policies would be to sit in a post-al-Maliki cabinet with al-Abadi and pressure the PM to move in a starkly different direction.


Related video:

CNN: “Gunmen open fire in Iraq mosque”

Sean Hannity Pwned by Patricia Bynes when he tries to “Educate” Her

Fri, 22 Aug 2014 - 11:32pm

The Young Turks:

“A Ferguson, Mo. official was having none of Fox News host Sean Hannity’s attempt to “educate” her on police brutality Wednesday night.

Hannity kicked off an interview with Democratic committeewoman Patricia Bynes by pointing out that she was not present when black teenager Michael Brown, who was unarmed, was shot by a white police officer on Aug. 9.

“You were not there. So you don’t know if this case is about police brutality, do you?” he asked.”* The Young Turks host Cenk Uygur breaks it down.”

The Young Turk: “Sean Hannity ‘Educates’ Guest On Police Brutality & She Fights Back”

It’s not Fergustan: Ferguson is what America Looks Like

Fri, 22 Aug 2014 - 11:25pm


People around the world have watched Ferguson, Missouri in disbelief that what they’re seeing is taking place in the United States. But Ferguson is actually quite American. AJ+ host Dena Takruri explains how the city is a microcosm of the systemic racial inequality that persists in the U.S, from poverty and unemployment to the police targeting of African-American communities.

AJ+ Ferguson Is America

Gaza needs UN Peacekeepers, Now! How to Break the Israel/Palestine Stalemate

Fri, 22 Aug 2014 - 11:25pm

By John V. Whitbeck

After the breakdown in the six-day “pause” to permit negotiations on a long-term Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire and the resumption of Israel’s onslaught against the caged people of Gaza, concerned people everywhere are wondering how the conflicting demands of the two sides can possibly be reconciled.

Each side feels a compelling need to achieve some gain to justify its sacrifices — on the Palestinian side, over 2,000 dead, over 10,000 wounded and massive destruction of homes and infrastructure and, on the Israeli side, 64 dead soldiers and two dead civilians — and not to agree to anything that its own people could view as accepting failure or defeat.

Considering the reasonableness or unreasonableness of the respective demands may assist any foreign governments which are genuinely interested in ending the infernal cycle of violence and making progress toward a durable peace with some measure of justice to decide which side they should be seeking to convince or compel to be reasonable.

Is it unreasonable to demand, as Palestine does, that residents of Gaza be permitted to leave their cage; to build a proper port; to rebuild their airport (destroyed by Israel in 2002); to farm their fields, even within three kilometers of their border with Israel; to fish their waters more than three nautical miles offshore; to export their produce and to import basic necessities?

Additionally, is it unreasonable to demand that the 61 Palestinians released in the Shalit prison swap and effectively kidnapped by Israel soon after the kidnapping in the West Bank of three young settlers be re-released?

This is all that Palestine has been demanding. To what other people could such modest demands be denied, as they have been throughout seven years of siege and blockade?

On the other hand, is it reasonable to demand, as Israel does, that, prior to any definitive agreement ending the occupation, Gaza be completely “demilitarized,” thereby stripping its people of any means of resisting their 47-year-long occupation (a right of resistance to foreign occupation being recognized by international law) or even of reminding a world which has preferred to ignore them of their miserable existence.

A high degree of “demilitarization” of the State of Palestine might well be agreed to in a definitive agreement ending the occupation, since Palestinians would not wish to give Israel any future excuse to re-invade and re-occupy Palestine, but what is needed now is not acquiescence in the occupation but the end of the occupation.

For the Israeli government, the best result that it can now realistically hope for is to maintain the status quo ante (including the siege of Gaza) and to again get away with murder, and, with Western powers exerting enormous pressures on Palestine not to join the International Criminal Court or otherwise seek recourse to international law to protect the Palestinian people, Israel should be able to achieve this simply by not agreeing to anything with the Palestinians.

Such a result would clearly be unjust and unsatisfactory for Palestine and ensure yet another round of death and destruction in the near future.

Only serious and principled outside pressure on Israel to accede to most of the reasonable Palestinian demands, accompanied by credible threats of meaningful adverse consequences for Israeli obstinacy, would offer any hope of achieving a win-win result which could make yet another replay of this latest onslaught unlikely.

Unfortunately, with the United States, the major European states and Egypt all firmly aligned on Israel’s side, any such serious and principled pressure is difficult to imagine in the absence of some game-changing Palestinian initiative.

With a view to saving Israeli face while ending the siege of Gaza (and subsequently the occupation of the entire State of Palestine), the Palestinian leadership should publicly request the deployment of UN, US or NATO troops to both Gaza and the West Bank to protect both Israelis and Palestinians from further violence pending a full Israeli withdrawal from the occupied State of Palestine.

Neither Israelis nor Palestinians will have peace or security until the occupation ends on either a decent two-state or a democratic one-state basis, and the current round of Gaza massacres may have produced a moment when even Western governments, notwithstanding their knee-jerk pro-Israel public pronouncements, are conscious of this reality and could, if given a significant prod and incentive to act on this consciousness, actually do so.

John V. Whitbeck is an international lawyer who has advised the Palestinian negotiating team in negotiations with Israel.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect Ma’an News Agency’s editorial policy.

Mirrored from Maan News Agency


Related video added by Juan Cole

AFP: “No school for Gaza’s children as classrooms turned into shelters”

Obama’s budding Cambodia Policy in Syria

Fri, 22 Aug 2014 - 11:10pm

By Juan Cole

Former British ambassador to the United States Sir Christoher Meyer is advocating that the US and Western Europe stop advocating the overthrow of the Baath regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and instead coordinate with it to move against the so-called “Islamic State,” which controls some predominantly Sunni Muslim desert towns on both the Syrian and Iraqi sides of the border.

The Obama administration is also talking about hitting IS in Syria. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says that the IS cannot be defeated without taking it on in Syria. For US fighter jets to fly over Syrian air space and avoid being shot down by Russian-supplied anti-aircraft batteries of the Baath government, the US would have to in some way coordinate with Damascus in this aerial bombing campaign. Typically this arrangement is made by sharing “Identify Friend or Foe” signal codes that the jets send out so that they can be seen as friendlies. Since the stated US position is that al-Assad should resign or be overthrown ASAP, such an arrangement would be, as Meyer says, “the mother of all U-turns.”

Meyer, however, is advocating not just a tacit recognition of strategic and tactical common interests with the Syrian Baath but an actual military alliance, which is unlikely.

British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond pushed back against Meyer’s amoral Realism. Hammond challenged the notion that you needed to coordinate with Damascus to do bombing runs on eastern Syria on IS positions. The foreign minister, however, is wrong about that. There would be a danger of setting off Baath Army anti-aircraft batteries unless there was at least minimal behind the scenes coordination.

For one thing, the Baath regime strategy has been to avoid fighting IS, which is the most gruesome and least sympathetic of its guerrilla enemies, and to allow IS gradually to defeat the moderate Free Syrian Army and the al-Qaeda affiliate, the Succor Front (Jabhat al-Nusra). Damascus seems to think that, faced with the Hobson’s choice between letting the Baath alone to win the coming Armageddon between Baath and IS forces, and risking Caliph Ibrahim marching into Damascus, only 60 miles from the Israeli border, the West will blink and acquiesce in Assad rule. Meyer is only one of many Western strategists who have been persuaded by this strategy. He advocates this alliance despite our knowledge of Baath atrocities (pictures have come out of mass torture to death, a bizarre factory of pain and murder on an industrial scale, by the Baath of its prisoners from among the guerrilla groups). Then there was the indiscriminate shelling of parts of Homs, which left them in rubble, a disregard of the lives of the people who lived there along with a dogged determination to wipe out the rebels (which the regime did).

Obama staffers are leaking the alleged necessity of cross-border bombing as a trial balloon. For my generation, it all sounds drearily familiar. Richard Milhaus Nixon and Henry Kissinger felt they needed to bomb Cambodia to stop North Vietnamese infiltration of troops into South Vietnam. They did so secretly and without Congressional or public authorization (you never want your country secretly going to war against another). They destabilized Cambodia and paved the way to the Pol Pot genocide that polished off a million of Cambodia’s five million people, a far higher percentage of the general population than the Nazis genocided in Europe in the 1940s.

The Obama people are at least speaking publicly about bombing Syria, though not of getting Congressional authorization. I suppose they think the dreaded AUMF (Authorization of Military Force) of 2001 still applies to an al-Qaeda offshoot like IS. Nor it there an analogy from the Khmer Rouge to the Baath, though the Baath has also piled up mountains of skulls bleached white in the sun. (The UN puts the deaths in the Syrian civil war at 191,000, but many of those are indirect, e.g. people thirsting to death on being forced to flee their homes because of fighting between government and guerrillas, and it is at least alleged that slightly more direct deaths have been perpetrated by IS and its de facto allies than by the Baath Army. The calculus of mass murder is a dreary and unedifying business.

For someone who doesn’t think morality is irrelevant to foreign policy, this debate is extremely distressing, since it reveals a dark world in which one’s only recourse against war criminals is a tacit alliance with other war criminals. Though, Realists would point out that such conundrums are common in history. FDR and Churchill openly allied against Hitler with the Soviet Union’s Josef Stalin, the paranoid head of a police state who had enormous amounts of blood on his hands. Ironically, the medium to far Left in the US and Western Europe agrees with the Neoconservative Meyer about a preference for al-Assad.

In the end, the idea that aerial bombing of IS in Syria is necessary should be interrogated. Giving close air support to the Kurdish peshmerga paramilitary to take the Mosul dam could practically work, as it worked in Afghanistan with the Northern Alliance and in northern Iraq in 2003 (when the US helped the Peshmerga take Mosul from the Iraqi Baath). But just bombing IS vehicles on the Syrian side, without there being any force to take and hold territory on the ground, has merely logistical implications (presumably Washington doesn’t want them moving around gasoline and kerosene for their vehicles– they smuggle Syrian oil). That could, however, be done on the Iraqi side of the border.

Whatever the Cameron government says in London, or the NSC staffers say in Washington, however, the proposed Obama “Cambodia strategy” in Syria does ally the West with Damascus and makes it even more likely that the Baath regime’s momentum of the past 18 months will continue on to a dreary Algeria-like fragile victory over the rebels. In turn, the Obama administration’s de facto policy (as opposed to what they say), may be beginning to align with that of the Czech Republic (which has all along supported al-Assad), Russia and Iran.


Related video:

Wall Street Journal: “Syria Vital to Defeat Islamic State, Says Official”