16 May 2018

The case against 'clashes': Misreporting Israel's massacre in Gaza

Middle East Eye

Everyone has heard the saying: "It's like shooting fish in a barrel."
These days, it seems the expression was perhaps expressly designed to describe events in the Gaza Strip, where on 14 May the Israeli army slaughtered no fewer than 60 Palestinians, among them paramedics, disabled persons, and a baby. The occasion: Palestinian protests against 70 years of vast injustice and a continuing panorama of brutal Israeli oppression and blockade, topped off by the recent inauguration of Donald Trump's US embassy in Jerusalem.
Israel has, of course, assigned blame to the Palestinians themselves - as no good assault on Gaza is complete without an attendant assault on logic. According to the official Twitter account of the Israeli military spokesperson, the episode unfolded as follows: "Throughout the day, the Hamas terror organisation led massive and violent attacks, which IDF troops operated to thwart."
Never mind that there's no detectable violence in the photograph accompanying the tweet, which instead appears to depict young and old Palestinians standing and walking in the charming prison-esque landscape to which Israel has reduced the Gaza Strip.
Journalist Sharif Abdel Kouddous, reporting from the Gaza protests for Democracy Now, surveyed the terrible weaponry at the disposal of the Palestinians, including rocks, kites, balloons, and some Molotov cocktails - none of which, he specified, could reach the Israeli soldiers, "who are sitting behind these ramparts and picking people off with sniper rifles".
In addition to "high-velocity sniper bullet", Abdel Kouddous noted that doctors in Gaza had reported Israel's use of fragmentation bullets, as well, and had "seen injuries with fist-sized holes in the exit wounds". New and exciting tear gas-dispersing drones were also on the scene in the besieged Palestinian coastal enclave, which has previously played host to Israeli white phosphorus munitions, missiles and numerous other projectiles.
Facts on the ground notwithstanding, Western mainstream media has long had a knack for converting the fish-in-a-barrel scenario into a drastically different one. Think headlines along the lines of: "Fish in barrel clash with shooter", or "Fish die in barrel as shooter retaliates against aggression". 
Or "Fish drawn to surface of water, and into centre of earthly turmoil" - a possible equivalent of the New York Times' take on Israel's deadly air strike on four boys playing football in 2014: "Boys drawn to Gaza beach, and into centre of Mideast strife". READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

13 May 2018

Islamophobia without borders: The case of Brigitte Gabriel

Middle East Eye

"I am the Anne Frank who lived to tell about it, and I'm trying to warn the world."
These rather intense words were spoken not by a survivor of the Holocaust but by Brigitte Gabriel, a well-known Lebanese-American Islamophobe and self-styled "national security expert" who in 2017 discussed her "childhood under brutal terrorism" with US talk-show host Dave Rubin.
The author of such predictable (and bestselling) titles as Because They Hate: A Survivor of Islamic Terror Warns America and They Must Be Stopped: Why We Must Defeat Radical Islam and How We Can Do It, Gabriel is the founder of the ACT for America organisation, which specialises in the profitable dissemination of anti-Muslim propaganda (see, for example, this advisory: "If you live in a warm state such as Florida or Arizona and see someone dressed in an overcoat or unusual clothing for the season and the location, they may be hiding or packing explosives or a suicide belt").
But while Gabriel's tale of personal victimisation by "Islamic terror" may be an easy sell in a post-9/11 era of intensified bigotry - particularly given apparent Trumpian efforts to Make Fascism Great Again - her version of history isn't exactly reconcilable with reality.
As Gabriel tells it, she was born in the "once peaceful, idyllic Christian town" of Marjayoun in southern Lebanon - a country whose capital, Beirut, was "commonly called the Paris of the Middle East". A lengthy Buzzfeed report by journalist David Noriega points out that Gabriel was in fact born Hanan Qahwaji, but perhaps this name was too Middle East and not enough Paris. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

07 May 2018

A Nicaraguan Spring or imperial spring cleaning?

Al Jazeera English

In April, Nicaragua saw intense clashes between protesters and government forces that reportedly left dozens dead.
The protests were initially set off by proposed adjustments to the national social security system, which have now been cancelled by Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.
Journalist and former teleSUR English director Pablo Vivanco remarked to me in an email that, while the violence was no doubt "deplorable", it is difficult to view the events in Nicaragua outside a current context in which "left-leaning governments in Latin America have faced increasingly violent opposition coupled with mounting hostility from Washington". 
And while the proposed social security reforms "can certainly be criticised", Vivanco said, "it is also necessary to point out that some of the leading organisations in the protests were actually calling for harsher cuts and privatisations". Predictably, the right-wing crowd in the United States has commenced accelerated salivation at the prospect of the demise of one of the remaining leftish entities in the Americas. 
The US media has been helpfully dramatic, with the Wall Street Journal, for example, editorialising that "Ortega Has to Go". 
To be sure, Ortega & Co are nasty characters indeed .- but that doesn't mean the US should be involved in their departure. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

12 April 2018

On Lebanon’s civil war anniversary, Israel's crimes are far from history

Middle East Eye

This May, Israelis will celebrate their 70th anniversary of "independence"  - a grotesque euphemism for ethnic cleansing and the forcible establishment of the state of Israel on Palestinian land. The process entailed the killing of some 10,000 Palestinians, the expulsion of 750,000 more, and the destruction of 500 or so villages.
April, meanwhile, hosts the 43rd anniversary of another terrible regional episode in which Israel played no minor part. This one goes by the name of the Lebanese civil war, a 15-year affair with complex and multifaceted causes, ranging from egregious socioeconomic injustice and a disproportionate distribution of political power and resources to increasingly self-fulfilling efforts to channel public discontent into sectarian antagonism.
The civil war is generally regarded as having commenced on 13 April 1975 - when right-wing Christian Phalangists massacred 27 Palestinianstravelling by bus through the Beirut suburb of Ein el-Rummaneh - and ultimately eliminated an estimated 150,000 people
An additional 17,000 were disappeared, their surviving family members condemned to continuous psychological punishment and grief due to the Lebanese state's unwillingness - to this day - to exhume mass graves or otherwise pursue accountability. After all, any such resurrection of the past would have obvious implications for the civil warlords who remain in power.
As in the case in the present Syrian conflict, however, the term "civil war" can almost be seen as a misnomer in the Lebanese context, given the extent of outside involvement. And while there are plenty of players - both foreign and domestic - with a surplus of blood on their hands, it’s useful to reflect on the Israeli role in particular, if for no other reason than to highlight the fact that Israel’s habitual terrorising of the Middle East has done nothing to jeopardise its service as BFF and supposed terror-fighting partner of the global superpower. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

04 April 2018

Neo-con warrior Elliott Abrams returns to conflict – in Lebanon

Middle East Eye

In a recent dispatch for Politico Magazine, Elliott Abrams - neocon extraordinaire, former component of the Ronald Reagan and George W Bush administrations, and current senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, DC - warns that “Lebanon is boiling” and that “thousands of Americans could get stuck in the middle of a war”.
The gist of the article, co-written by Abrams’ colleague Zachary Shapiro, is that the United States must formulate a comprehensive evacuation plan for its citizens in Lebanon, in preparation for the next seemingly inevitable showdown with Israel.
During the 2006 war, in which Israel killed an estimated 1,200 people in Lebanese territory - the majority of them civilians - the US deigned to evacuate some 15,000 citizens, after initially attempting to bill them for the privilege.
The US undersecretary of state for political affairs defended the attempted billing on the grounds that the government had had to “go out on an emergency basis and rent [evacuation] vessels”.
By contrast, rush-shipping bombs to the Israeli military was apparently neither too much of a hassle nor too much of an expense. 
Evacuation will be even trickier in the next war, Abrams and Shapiro argue, as “every indication is that it will be a fiercer conflict than in 2006”. This is presumably true, since Israeli officials have spent the better part of the last 12 years threatening that they will no longer hold back in Lebanon - as if they ever did. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

22 March 2018

World Water Day for a plastic world

Al Jazeera English

The theme of this year's World Water Day - marked annually on 22 March - is "Nature for Water", which, as the website of the United Nations Environment Programme informs us, "explores nature-based solutions (NBS) to the water challenges we face in the 21st century." 
The challenges are clearly dire; as the UN notes, 2.1 billion people currently "lack access to safely managed drinking water services," while an estimated 1.8 billion "use an unimproved source of drinking water with no protection against contamination from human faeces." 
In theory, of course, nature-based solutions are the obvious answer to problems in nature. The UN advises planting more trees, restoring wetlands, and reconnecting rivers to floodplains.
But while the whole "NBS" campaign will no doubt generate handsome revenues for a UN system that specialises in self-enrichment, no solution to water or related challenges is possible within a global capitalist system that is itself destroying nature.
And even if water is considered a basic human right under international law, there isn't much room for "rights" in a neoliberal milieu of comprehensive commodification and the eradication of any sort of terrestrial harmony in favour of the financial tyranny of an elite minority. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

18 March 2018

Iraq, 15 years on: A toxic US legacy

Middle East Eye

Fifteen years ago this month, the United States spearheaded a fantastically bloody war on Iraq as part of its ongoing effort to ensure the Iraqi nation’s perpetual misery.
Straight-up carnage aside, there were some other more trivial, yet still “spectacularly unsavoury”, results of the invasion, as veteran journalist Patrick Cockburn recalls: “Soon after US occupation officials took over Saddam Hussein’s palace complex in central Baghdad as their headquarters,” for example, “the lavatories in the palaces all became blocked and began to overflow. Mobile toilets were rapidly shipped into the country and installed in the palace gardens.”
As it turned out, the Americans had failed to read up on bathroom traditions in the Middle East, or to realise that in many parts of the world, defecation is not accompanied by massive quantities of toilet paper.
And while such visuals were no doubt also metaphorically relevant, given the excrement that passes for US policy in the region, the fallout of the war on Iraq has been toxic in far more extraordinarily pernicious ways.
Consider, for instance, Cockburn’s 2010 article for The Independent, headlined “Toxic legacy of US assault on Fallujah ‘worse than Hiroshima’”. In it, he outlined the results of a study by British scientist Chris Busby and colleagues Malak Hamdan and Entesar Ariabi on the increase in reports of cancer, birth defects, infant mortality and other forms of suffering in the Iraqi city of Fallujah, the focus of a particularly vicious US assault.
To be sure, as one of the top polluters on the entire planet, the US military has never been thrilled about acknowledging what would appear to be obvious: that saturating the environment with toxic materials will have repercussions on both environmental and human health, including the health of the United States’ own warriors, as underlined by the afflictions affecting veterans of the Vietnam War and first Gulf War, among other imperial escapades. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

17 March 2018

Iran and Honduras: A Tale of Two Protests

The Washington Spectator

When scattered protests broke out in Iran at the end of December, Donald Trump took enthusiastically to Twitter to interpret the events for the rest of the world: “The people of Iran are finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime. The people have little food, big inflation and no human rights. The US is watching!”
And again: “The USA is watching very closely for human rights violations!”
The press breathlessly followed suit. As Oxford-based historian of modern Iran Eskandar Sadeghi-Boroujerdi observed on December 30, “Within the space of some 24 hours, nearly every mainstream Western media outlet has inclined to assimilate legitimate expressions of socio-economic distress and demands for greater governmental accountability into a question of ‘regime change.’”
Unsurprisingly, no such ruckus was elicited by events much closer to home—in that part of the so-called U.S. “backyard” known as Honduras—where protests following November elections that were widely denounced as fraudulent had reportedly left at least 31 dead by the beginning of January.
Indeed, the United States has never watched too closely for human rights violations in Honduras—perhaps because the United States is itself often complicit. (Not that the gringos haven’t been implicated in abuses in Iran: the 1953 CIA coup that overthrew Mohammad Mossadegh, the demo- cratically elected prime minister, comes to mind, as does the ensuing reign of the notoriously repressive shah, a dedicated U.S. ally and obsessive purchaser of American weapons.)
Back in the 1980s, for example, Honduras was the playground for the CIA-trained death squad Battalion 3-16, while also serving as a launchpad for the U.S. Contra war on neighboring Nicaragua—a lengthy affair that was blatantly irreconcilable with even the most forgiving of human rights standards. READ MORE AT THE WASHINGTON SPECTATOR.

04 March 2018

Elections, migrants, and a fascist renaissance in Italy

Middle East Eye

Earlier this year, Italian politician Attilio Fontana warned radio listeners that the "white race" was under existential threat thanks to the usual suspects: immigrants.
The Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera quotes his analysis as follows: "We must decide whether our ethnicity, our white race, our society should continue to exist or should be erased."
Fontana is a member of the political party known until recently as the Northern League (Lega Nord), before the "Northern" qualifier was dropped to accommodate right-wing maniacs in central and southern Italy.
The League, commanded by European Parliament deputy Matteo Salvini, is part of what is described as a centre-right coalition, although it is anyone's guess how the "centre" fits in. Led by the Forza Italia party of Italy's recurring affliction, Silvio Berlusconi, the coalition is predicting favourable returns in Italy's general election on 4 March.
According to Salvini, who is also quoted in the Corriere della Sera article, the problem with immigrants is not so much "skin color" as the "Islamic presence in the country," which has resulted in a situation in which "we are under attack; at risk are our culture, society, traditions, and way of life ... Centuries of history are at risk of disappearing if Islamisation prevails."
Salvini credits the late Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci with having prophesied the attack, which indeed she did, in numerous unhinged rants on subjects ranging from alleged Muslim plots to blow up Saint Peter's cupola in Rome to equally nefarious Muslim schemes to replace European mini-skirts with chadors and cognac with camel's milk.
(Nor did Fallaci confine her ominous forecasts to the European continent. She also lambasted US universities for permitting persons by the name of Mustafa and Muhammed to study biology and chemistry despite the threat of germ warfare.)
In 2006, Fallaci threatened to explode a mosque and Islamic centre slated for construction in Tuscany, no doubt a rather ironic solution to the problem of terrorism.
Salvini, meanwhile, may have a particular problem with Muslims, but that doesn't mean that all other "others" are off the hook. The League has pledged mass deportations of asylum seekers to Africa, while Berlusconi has put the number of prospective deportees at 600,000.
Despite a long history of misdeeds - from tax fraud to mafia ties to infamous "bunga bunga" parties - billionaire Berlusconi is back in the game yet again, although he is barred until 2019 from holding office.  READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

22 February 2018

Review: The Wrong Story: Palestine, Israel, and the Media

Middle East Eye

In 1988, his final year of service as New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief before being appointed diplomatic correspondent in Washington, Thomas Friedman gave an interview to the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot, in which he proposed some symbolic concessions to the Palestinians in order to keep them in line.
The Palestinians must be given "something to lose", argued Friedman, because "I believe that as soon as Ahmed has a seat in the bus, he will limit his demands."
Writing shortly thereafter, Noam Chomsky wondered whether a prominent journalist might also be promoted to the post of chief diplomatic correspondent by "urg[ing] South Africans to 'give Sambo a seat in the bus', or propos[ing] that Jews be granted something to lose, because 'if you give Hymie a seat in the bus, he may limit his demands'".
Now, three decades later, Friedman remains regrettably institutionalised at the Times, despite having told the nation of Iraq to "suck on this". But even without his assistance, the US newspaper of record has exhibited enthusiastic dedication to traditions of Orientalist contemptuousness and other forms of bias.
In a new book titled The Wrong Story: Palestine, Israel, and the Media, Greg Shupak, a professor of media studies at the University of Guelph in Toronto, undertakes to document- and correct - the warped media narrative on Palestine-Israel. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.