31 December 2013

Judges and Jurors in Beirut


On Friday morning, my Beirut apartment shook to the sound of an explosion. My roommate and I made our way to the site of the blast downtown with the help of a man on a street corner who, pointing in two different directions, remarked drily: “If you want to see the bomb go that way. If you want to go shopping go that way.”

To be sure, such violence has long been a part of the Lebanese landscape. So too have the self-appointed tribunals that spring up in the aftermath of political assassinations. READ MORE AT JACOBIN.

29 December 2013

Fun with chronology: misreporting the Israeli assault on Gaza

Al Jazeera

The New York Times' rendering of recent violence on the border between Gaza and Israel is a shining example of the chronological sleights of hand that have come to characterise mainstream reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Isabel Kershner's December 24 dispatch, "Killing and Retaliation at Gaza-Israel Border Continue Violent Cycle", sets up the timeline as follows:
"An Israeli labourer who was repairing the security fence along the border with Gaza was fatally shot on Tuesday by a Palestinian sniper, according to the Israeli military, and Israel immediately responded with airstrikes and tank and infantry fire against targets it associated with militant groups in the Palestinian coastal territory."

The seeming cause-and-effect relationship is emphasised by two photographs appearing side by side at the top of the article. On the left: the body of the sniper victim. On the right: the body of the three-year-old Palestinian girl cast as unintended collateral damage in the photograph's caption: "A shell killed her as Israel, responding to the sniper attack, struck targets it associated with militant groups."

Buried in a paragraph in the second half of the article, however, is the following detail: "On Friday, Israeli forces fatally shot a Palestinian man who approached the border fence separating Gaza from Israel."

As it turns out, the Friday in question occurred four days prior to the Tuesday sniper fire and military assault. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA.

16 December 2013

Fighting terror with terror

Al Jazeera

On December 12, the New York Times reported that "what appeared to be the second American drone strike in the past week" had killed at least 11 people in Yemen, as they drove home from a wedding. The article offered additional noncommittal details such as that "[m]ost of the dead appeared to be people suspected of being militants linked to Al Qaeda."

Reuters supplied a different version of the incident, citing 15 fatalities and a claim from local security officials that a party of wedding attendees had been "mistaken for an al Qaeda convoy".

The ease of confusing wedding guests with terrorists has, of course, been demonstrated time and again in the war on terror, as evidenced by mainstream media headlines over the years such as "US bomb blunder kills 30 at Afghan wedding". Funeral attendees have also been popular targets, a practice discussed in Glenn Greenwald's 2012 dispatch for Salon: "US again bombs mourners." READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA.

28 November 2013

On Israel's collective amnesia: 'Could we kill an Arab?'

Al Jazeera

A few years ago, the Israeli Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs unveiled an English-language website with the aim of repairing Israel's image, which was said to be under unfair attack abroad.

Jerusalem Post article marking the debut of the (now defunct) site noted that it "provide[d] hasbara material related to current events, tips for the 'novice ambassador', myths and facts about Israel and the Arab world, and lists of Israel's most prominent achievements in science, medicine and agriculture".

Among alleged image-improving factoids listed by the ministry was that "[a]n Israeli invention for an electric hair removal device makes women happy all over the world." The catalogue of "myths" included that the West Bank settlements are an obstacle to peace - a notion debunked on the website as follows: "The Palestinian Authority sees the roots of the conflict as being the '1948 settlements', whereas the facts show that the settlements were founded after the 1967 war."

Via this attempted sleight of hand, the ministry endeavoured to dismiss the problematic issue of 1948 by triumphantly "proving" that the post-1967 settlements were indeed established after and not before 1967 -  something that no one argues with anyway.

The real myth, of course, is the one propagated by Israel, whose refusal to atone for, or even acknowledge, that the crimes upon which the nation is founded constitutes the principal obstacle to peace. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA.

17 November 2013

Israel's other silent war

Al Jazeera

A recent Jerusalem Post op-ed on "South Africa's obsession with Israel" resurrects complaints regarding the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, which during its 2011 session in Cape Town concludedthat "Israel's rule over the Palestinian people, wherever they reside, collectively amounts to a single integrated regime of apartheid."

The op-ed author reasons that, "[i]f… supporters of the tribunal were honestly concerned with the lives of Palestinians, why then was there not a single word mentioned about the abuse of Palestinians by Arab regimes such as Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Kuwait, who keep them stateless, refuse them access to higher education and do not allow them the vote?"

This critique conveniently ignores the fact that Palestinian statelessness is a direct result of the establishment of Israel, whose initial crime of ethnic cleansing granted Arab regimes the opportunity to engage in such abuses. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA.

08 November 2013

Socialism in One Village


Back in 2003, a friend and I acquired jobs at an avocado packing facility in a village in Andalusia not far from where two of my father’s relatives were executed by Franco. For three and a half euros an hour, we stood by a conveyor belt and alternately clipped avocado stems, arranged the fruit in boxes, and arranged the boxes on wooden pallets.

Each activity was accompanied by unironic reminders from the factory bosses to work como una máquina, although they eventually realized that such rhetoric was less effective in increasing our output than the provision of boxed wine and cognac in plastic cups.

Our spare time was spent consuming the same refreshments in other venues where elderly villagers reminisced about periods of mass regional starvation and counted the number of days remaining until the Christmas lottery. Andalusia appeared permanently and inevitably repressed by the state, the aristocracy, the euro, and a host of related demons. Beyond palliative cognac and lottery ticket purchases, there seemed little that could be done.

Not once did we hear of nearby Marinaleda, star of a new study by Dan Hancox called The Village Against the World. A self-proclaimed “utopia towards peace,” the central Andalusian village currently boasts 2,700 inhabitants and some delusions of grandeur. Hancox notes, “In most parts of the capitalist world, ‘another world is possible’ is just an idealistic rallying cry. In Marinaleda, it’s an observable fact.”  READ MORE AT JACOBIN.

05 November 2013

Why migrants die

Al Jazeera

In 2001, a Palestinian friend of mine attempted to go to Europe.

Holding only a travel document for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon - one of the more useless bundles of paper currently in existence - he appealed to a Turkish mafia ring in Istanbul, and was promised passage to Greece in exchange for $1,000. 

Thus began an odyssey of sorts in which my friend was packed onto a series of overcrowded boats. The first broke down off the coast of Turkey, the second sank, and the third deposited its human cargo in the vicinity of the Turkish city of Izmir, which the migrants were told was Greece. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA.

31 October 2013

GMOs and politico-corporate incest

Al Jazeera

The annual World Food Prize - self-advertised as "the foremost international award recognising … the achievements of individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world" - was presented to three scientists in a ceremony earlier this month.

One of the recipients is an executive at Monsanto, the US-based biotech firm and Vietnam War-era manufacturer of the lethal defoliant Agent Orange.

Another recipient belongs to Syngenta, the Swiss agribusiness giant that recently sued Europe for daring to temporarily ban dangerous pesticides linked to the decimation of bee populations. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA.

23 October 2013

An Israeli 'spy eagle' has landed?

Al Jazeera

An October 17 report from Jerusalem-based AP correspondent Aron Heller begins:
"Israeli eagles dangerously endangered by pesticides, electrical wires and poachers now apparently face a new threat: Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas.
Hezbollah's Al-Manar website recently boasted of capturing an eagle that carried an Israel-labeled transmission device on its back and claimed the bird was an Israeli spy. It said hunters in central Lebanon shot down the bird and found devices on it as well as a copper ring on its leg that reads 'Israel' in English followed by letters that refer to Tel Aviv University. The fate of the eagle remains unclear."

Heller goes on to quote ornithologist Yossi Leshem, a Tel Aviv University professor, who complains that "[t]he whole field of conservation is based on regional cooperation and not this nonsense …. It's not enough that they kill people, now they are killing birds too." READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA.

15 October 2013

Writing Dershowitz's obituary

Al Jazeera

After half a century of service at Harvard University, law professor Alan Dershowitz is preparing to retire.

A recent article in the Harvard Gazette quotes Dershowitz’s musings on his legacy outside academia:
"'I hope people will at least analyze fairly what I’ve tried to do in those two areas where I’m most well-known: representing unpopular defendants in criminal cases and helping to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict. I don’t expect that I will be represented fairly, but I’m going to do what I can do bring that about', he said, mentioning his plan to rebut his obituary in advance in case news outlets don’t accurately reflect his life".

In the interest of fairness and accuracy, let us review some of Dershowitz’s alleged contributions to conflict resolution in the Middle East. As it turns out, his "help" in this field also revolves around the practice of defending criminals. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA.

04 October 2013

Do-it-yourself cartography of the Middle East

Al Jazeera

A recent offering from the New York Times Opinion page is an infographic titled "How 5 Countries Could Become 14".

Featuring analysis by Robin Wright—distinguished scholar at the United States Institute of Peace and the Wilson Center—it depicts prospective divisions of Libya, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen into territories with predictable names like Sunnistan, Shiitestan, Alawitestan, and Wahhabistan.

Despite the fixation with the –stan suffix, there is no polity called "Palestan". READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA.

30 September 2013

Breeding terror in Guantanamo?

Al Jazeera

A September 18 dispatch from Reuters announces:
"A former prisoner at the Guantanamo Bay US naval base died fighting for anti-government rebels in Syria, according to an Islamist opposition group which posted a video of his funeral on YouTube".
Held in Guantanamo from 2002 until 2006, Moroccan-born Mohammed al Alami is reportedly the first former prisoner to perish in the war in Syria. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA

15 September 2013

Iran's 'invisible army' in Latin America

Al Jazeera

When contemplating the logistics of a possible war with Iran, it is helpful to consult maps indicating the multitude of US military bases that already encircle a country under crippling economic sanctions.

No similar visual aids are available for Iranian bases in the vicinity of the US, for obvious reasons.

However, there are various ways to compensate for the lack of an apparent Iranian threat in the western hemisphere. One is to blame it on "invisibleness". READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA.

11 September 2013

From banana republic to banana democracy

Al Jazeera

Banana distributor Chiquita Brands International recently published a corporate social responsibility report that swears a "commitment to high ethical, social and environmental standards across the entire organisation".

In the introduction to the report, CEO Ed Lonergan exalts the corporation's "multitude of partnerships, collaborations and local initiatives that have empowered local communities and delivered meaningful improvements to our company".

Of course, some of Chiquita's contemporary partnerships appear to be somewhat lacking in the ethical standards department. In 2007, for example, the outfit was fined $25m in a US federal court for having made payments to Colombian groups designated by the US State Department as foreign terrorist organisations. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA.

10 September 2013

Different War, Same Columnist


Back in February 2011, New Republic offered a summary of a Thomas Friedman column “edited down to nothing but mixed metaphors and clichés.” It begins:
A wake-up call’s mother is unfolding.  At the other end is a bell, which is telling us we have built a house at the foot of a volcano. The volcano is spewing lava, which says move your house.

29 August 2013

Lebanon's permanent 'interim' UN force

Al Jazeera

The latest press release from the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) concerns the August 22 firing of rockets from Lebanon in the direction of Israel and the August 23 Israeli "retaliatory bombing" of a site in Lebanon nowhere near the rocket-firing location. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA.

24 August 2013

Those exotic Arabs, and other Orientalist fetishes

Al Jazeera

In the introduction to his masterpiece Orientalism, the late Edward Said writes of "the Orient" as "almost a European invention... a place of romance, exotic beings, haunting memories and landscapes, remarkable experiences".

Indeed, the exoticisation of the "Other" is a subtler component of Western hegemony, comprised of caricatures that are premised on and reinforce a denial of indigenous agency. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA.

21 August 2013

Mutual Opportunism in Ugandan–Israeli Relations


Israel’s relations with Uganda over the past five-plus decades epitomize how military ties and business investments ebb and flow with the currents of regional politics. These are halcyon days for mutual opportunism in Israeli-Ugandan relations. 
In some ways, the cooperative present harkens back to the early 1960s. In that decade of African independence, Israel was eager to win friends and influence economics on the continent. According to Arye Oded, a former Israeli ambassador to various African countries, 
Israel wanted to break through the encirclement of hostile Arab countries and open a way to a nearby continent, and especially East Africa. Moreover, as the number of independent African countries steadily increased during that decade, Israel wanted to gain their support at the United Nations and in international conferences. Israel also had commercial, economic, and strategic interests in Africa.

20 August 2013

Thomas Friedman’s “FLOP” – First Law of Petropolitics

NYT eXaminer

This is a book excerpt from Belén Fernández’s The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work (Verso).

By Belén Fernández:

One overly simplistic theory that somehow continues to elude the very minimal amount of scrutiny that is required to debunk it is Friedman’s First Law of Petropolitics, which I will refer to by its convenient acronym. The FLOP, which debuted in Foreign Policy magazine in 2006, posits that “in oil-rich petrolist states, the price of oil and the pace of freedom tend to move in opposite directions.” READ MORE AT NYTeXaminer.

15 August 2013

A boost for the terror industry

Al Jazeera

In the midst of the recent global travel warning and frenetic closure of 21 US embassies and consulates from Mauritania to Bangladesh , the State Department explained: "[W]e are concerned about a threat stream indicating the potential for terrorist attacks against U.S. persons or facilities overseas, especially emanating from the Arabian Peninsula". READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA.