Saturday, February 26, 2011

[ePalestine] Philip Weiss: A Jewish Argument around the Arab Revolt

Philip Weiss: A Jewish Argument around the Arab Revolt

By Chris· February 23, 2011

To the point, 


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Friday, February 25, 2011

[ePalestine] 8 Most Commonly Held Misconceptions About the Israel-Palestine Conflict


8 Most Commonly Held Misconceptions About the Israel-Palestine Conflict 

By Ira Chernus, AlterNet 
Posted on February 21, 2011

The Israeli occupation of the West Bank and blockade of Gaza goes on, seemingly without end. Israeli troops continue to kill innocent Palestinians. The United States arms Israel to the tune of $3 billion a year or more. And most progressives talk as if there’s not a thing anyone can do about it. 

This sorry state of affairs persists because so many wrong ideas about the conflict are widely held here. Here are eight of the worst distortions in our discourse. 

1. The biggest and most dangerous misconception of all: “Israel is a vulnerable nation surrounded by powerful enemies -- a little David, pure and innocent, bravely fighting back against Goliath-like Arabs bent on destroying it.” 

This tale was, and still is, so commonly accepted that most Americans ignore the obvious facts: Israel has been the Middle East’s dominant military power since the Six Day War in 1967. It has a sizable nuclear arsenal while its neighbors have no nukes at all. 

The idea of Israeli being destroyed or “pushed into the sea” is a fairy tale. Palestinian violence against Israel never came near the levels of Israeli violence against Palestinians. Now, while Israel continues to occupy the West Bank and economically strangle Gaza, Palestinian violence has virtually ceased. 

Yet the old story of tough little Israel fighting for its life -- which is often read, between the lines, as a story of civilization warding off the barbarians -- continues to be the foundation of most everything the U.S. mass media and policymakers say about Israel. It’s a powerful story, especially when coupled with another, equally common misconception: 

2. “There is no space between the United States and Israel” when it comes to our national interests. Obama administration officials like to say that a lot. They make it sound as if U.S. and Israeli interests are identical. 

In fact, there are huge differences. The U.S. has plenty of reasons to want an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israelis are in no rush. The Israeli right thrives on the vote-getting power of a continuing battle against an enemy. Israeli centrists and even many liberals tend to ignore the Palestinian issue now that violence against Israel has practically disappeared.  

On the other hand, Israeli leaders have long been eager to strike Iran’s nuclear installations. But U.S. leaders have never even considered giving them the green light.  The George W. Bush administration knew as well as the current administration that military action against Iran would be unthinkable folly. According to a senior Israeli official, his government has not asked for U.S. permission to attack Iran because it does not want to be embarrassed when it’s told no. As Vice-President Joe Biden said, “There is no pressure from any nation that's going to alter our behavior as to how to proceed” on Iran. 

The differences between U.S. and Israeli interests were on public display most recently during the uprising in Egypt. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made it clear that he was eager to see Hosni Mubarak stay in power. After some uncertainty, Barack Obama came down on the other side, recognizing the strategic dangers if the U.S. supported Mubarak. U.S. officials were “on the telephone almost daily with their Israeli counterparts,” the New York Times reported, “urging them to ‘please chill out,’ in the words of one senior administration official.” 

The obvious differences between U.S. and Israeli strategic interests belie a third misconception: 

3. “The U.S. and Israel are tied together because they need each other as military allies.” Anthony Cordesman, one of the most prominent hawks in the national security establishment, has stated flatly what many other experts have also concluded: “America’s ties to Israel are not based primarily on U.S. strategic interests.” 

Top U.S. military leaders have explained why, in private and in public: U.S. military support for Israel endangers U.S. military interests in Iraq, Afghanistan and throughout the predominantly Muslim world. In Israel Meir Dagan, until recently head of the Mossad (Israel’s CIA), warned that Israel is gradually becoming a strategic burden on the United States. 

An article in the New York Jewish Week, quoting a former staffer for AIPAC (the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee), explained that the whole idea of “shared strategic goals” was cooked up by AIPAC in the 1970s “to persuade Republicans, who were overwhelmingly opposed to foreign aid, to vote for aid to Israel.” 

In recent years the GOP has been more likely than the Democrats to approve a U.S. blank check for Israel. But that may be changing. So watch out for the next misconception: 

4. “A more Republican Congress means more U.S. support for Israel’s right-wing government.” 

It’s true that Republicans are usually more hawkish on Israel, even though they usually come from districts with very few Jewish voters. But more GOP influence could be bad news for the Israeli government. 

Although Rep. Ileana Ross-Lehtinen, the new chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has always been a stalwart friend of “anything and everything for Israel,” she now warns that the new Republicans in Congress are again bent on slashing foreign aid, and even Israel’s aid could be “on the chopping block.” A Reuters analysis suggested that the Dems’ midterm loss “might convince Obama he has nothing to lose and decide to lean heavily on Israel to accept painful compromises.” 

If Obama leans heavily, would the Israelis move? That brings us to the next common misconception: 

5. “Israel never responds to pressure from the U.S.” 

The Israeli press is constantly filled with warnings from top-drawer pundits that when push comes to shove, Israel would not dare to refuse firm orders from the Obama administration. No less a figure than Israel's President Peres bluntly explained why: "Israel must forge good relations with other countries, primarily the United States, so as to guarantee political support in a time of need." 

Even a longtime hardliner like Netanyahu bends rather than run the risk of losing U.S. support and leaving Israel alone in the world. There are plenty of examples since Obama took office. For his whole life Netanyahu refused even to consider the possibility of a Palestinian state. Now he has publicly committed Israel to that goal. He initiated a de facto freeze on settlement expansion well before he agreed to the official 10-month freeze. He kept up a de facto moratorium on Jewish building in East Jerusalem for many months, too. These steps and others angered his right-wing coalition partners. But as leader of the nation he saw no choice except to cede to Obama’s demands. 

The Obama administration's pressure on Israel points to another misconception: 

6. “The right-wing Israel lobby has an invincible lock on U.S. Mideast policy.” 

If that were true, Obama would never have made his groundbreaking speech in Cairo, demanded the settlement expansion freeze, reprimanded the Israelis for breaking it and for building in East Jerusalem, or humiliated Netanyahu at the White House (which led a popular Israeli columnist to write that lots of Israelis were repeating “that joke about the eight-ton elephant that can sit down anywhere it wishes … Obama sat down on us this week."). 

If the Israel lobby could control U.S. policy, Obama would have swung all his weight behind Mubarak in the recent Egyptian upheaval. But the Israelis’ plea to the White House to support Mubarak, seconded by their lobby in Washington, was ultimately ignored by the administration. 

Inside the U.S. foreign policy establishment there are powerful voices opposing the traditional pro-Israel lobby, too. Elite newspapers are regularly taking more moderate stands on the issue, including the New York Times, whose two Jewish foreign policy columnists, Tom Friedman and Roger Cohen, regularly chastise the Israelis. 

The same change has come to Congress. Last spring, when AIPAC initiated another of its typical “we love Israel” letters in Congress, they were shocked to find that more than a third of Democrats refused to sign. As I recently heard a Jewish congressman say, when Israel issues come up, legislators generally turn to their Jewish colleagues for advice. The Jews used to simply parrot the AIPAC line. Now they’re likely to say, “Well, AIPAC says this, but J Street says that. You decide.” 

On every front, the hawks who once ruled the roost have to contend with a serious challenge from the doves. The division among Jewish lobby groups points to yet another misconception: 

7. “The U.S. supports Israeli policies because American Jews demand it.” 

Exit polls on Election Day, 2010, showed that three-quarters of Jewish voters want the U.S. to lead Israelis and Palestinians toward a two-state solution, and nearly two- thirds say they’d accept Obama administration pressure on Israel to reach that goal. 

American Jews are increasingly disturbed about the overt anti-Arab racism that’s moving from the fringe to the mainstream of Israeli society. New Israeli laws mandate McCarthyite crackdowns on prestigious human rights and peace groups. 

In response, top American-Jewish journalist Ron Kampeas recently wrote, “mainstream American Jewish organizations are embracing a strategy of acknowledging what’s wrong about Israel … addressing what some characterize as the deterioration of Israel’s civil society.” They “remain dedicated to defending Israel” when they think it deserves to be defended, “but they are no longer holding back on criticizing Israel.” 

Prominent individual Jews are speaking out too, like Peter Beinart; New Yorker editor David Remnick, who says he “can’t take” the occupation any more; the Atlantic magazine’s prominent pro-Israel writer Jeffrey Goldberg, who has confessed that “peace will not come without the birth of a Palestinian state on the West Bank which has its capital in East Jerusalem”; and prominent Jewish historian Howard Sachar, who now says “the Israelis and the Palestinians will never find peace if they are left to negotiate on their own. …Washington must lead the way in enforcing a final-status settlement.” 

Sachar’s view was recently echoed by a much more influential Jew, Tom Friedman, who is urging Obama to “put his own peace plan on the table … and demand that the two sides negotiate on it.” 

8. That’s not to say the right-wing pro-Israel lobby is powerless, by any means. Those right-wingers are eager to spread a misconception of their own -- that they don’t really influence government policy at all. The U.S. backs Israel so firmly, they say, because the American people have a long-standing cultural affinity with Zionism and just love the Jewish state. 

But polls consistently show that about two-thirds of all Americans want our government to stay neutral between Israel and Palestine. The continuing pro-Israel tilt attests that the right-wing lobby is still a force to be reckoned with. But the large majority who favor neutrality show that the lobby has no hammerlock on public opinion any more than it has on policymaking. 

However most Americans are still much more favorable toward Israel than toward the Palestinian cause, according to the polls. The main reason, I suspect, is the power of misconception number one: the widespread view of Israel as a victim of aggression whose very existence is always endangered. Americans love to root for the innocent underdog -- especially when he looks like a tough, courageous fighter who just won’t quit. 

The other misconceptions show there could be a very real possibility of changing U.S. policy, if progressive groups are willing to make the effort. But they won’t have any success unless they confront misconception number one head on, debunk it, and rebuild the public narrative on a foundation of truth about Israel’s strength and security. 

Ira Chernus is professor of religious studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Read more of his writing on Israel, Palestine and American Jews on his blog:

© 2011 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved. 

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Monday, February 21, 2011

[ePalestine] "Have you ever loved something so much that it destroyed you?"

Refuge and return 

Lamya Hussain writing from Bourj al-Barajneh refugee camp 

EI, February 8, 2011 

"Where would you like to go?" asks a taxi driver a little older than my father, his thick Lebanese accent I barely understand. 

I reply politely, "Off the airport road to Bourj al-Barajneh." 

"The refugee camp? No, I don't go there," he replies. 

Not understanding how to respond, I nod and keep waiting for a taxi that will agree to take me. I finally negotiate with a driver to take me to the main entrance of the Bourj al-Barajneh refugee camp for an outrageous fare of $20. 

As I get into the back seat, I roll down the window and breathe in a little of Beirut. Like a child curious towards a new environment, I take in the city, its beauty and its tragedy. Avoiding conversation, I maintain focus on the road as the driver chatted away, his voice slowly merging into the city sounds. 

A sudden slam on the breaks mean I had reached my destination. "Here you go! God be with you." I pull my suitcase from the trunk and settle my fare. As the taxi drove off I find myself standing at the tip of a busy bridge; across from it was a city within a city. I stand there for a moment or so, overwhelmed at its sight, unsure of how to proceed. 

In my work I had visited many refugee camps but somehow Bourj al-Barajneh had its own way of instigating emotional turmoil. It stood out from the rest of Beirut and it created a sense of fear onto the outside world. As if whatever enters is lost in it forever, the kind of fear one has of drowning in the ocean. 

Not sure of how to locate my host family, I drag my suitcase to the side of the road, kick it to place it in a horizontal position, and sit on it while I frantically look for my cell phone. I scroll up and down through my messages trying to find contact details for a man named Abu Muhammad. I've attracted the attention of a group of children who stand on the side, intrigued by a foreigner in the camps. They whisper to each other and giggle. I wave one of the kids over and ask him to direct me to Abu Muhammad's place. 

"Abu Muhammad? The one with the Internet cafe or the one with the shop?" 

"The one that owns a small shop in the camp," I reply. 

He thinks for a minute. "Will you buy my friends and I ice cream from Abu Muhammad's store?" 

I find his request a fair trade and agree to it. He waves over the rest of his friends who help push my suitcase through the camp as they yell and chant: "Foreigner! Foreigner in the camps!" 

We finally arrive at a small shop that is almost hidden under a crooked staircase. With no particular organization in the manner in which it is stocked with goods, in the center sat an elderly man next to a very dusty television placed on a three-legged chair supported by a stack of bricks. I can barely make out his face as it is dark inside the shop and three furious candles make just enough light to illuminate his shirt and the chair which he is slowly rocking back and forth. 

The kids yell out to him to get his attention while letting me in on the fact that Abu Muhammad is hard on hearing. He slowly walks in our direction and greets me with great enthusiasm. He asks the boys to help me take my suitcase up to the third floor where I would be staying with two other Canadian volunteers. I linger around to settle my promise to buy the kids ice cream from his shop. He generously adds candy to the deal and invites me to come by his place later in the evening to meet his wife. 

Over the next couple weeks I find myself right at home, accustomed to the daily abrupt power cuts, crooked narrow alleyways and of course the three dimensions of water. I create a system to store clean water that could be used to shower and drink, the second dimension for laundry and finally tap water that could only be used to clean. 

Time is a limited concept when one is working around frequent power cuts and scarce amounts of clean water. I obsessively back up my work, unsure of when the power would go out as I typed an email or organized my research. The tragic ends to conversations with friends and family on Skype always sting like a bee. On one such evening, I find myself sitting alone in my flat in Bourj al-Barajneh in total silence and darkness. I try to recall where I left my flashlight and slowly try to make way into the bedroom. I look through my suitcase and in the process knock over my roommate's collection of Elias Khoury novels. 

"Are you okay?" I hear Abu Muhammad's wife yell from her kitchen window, located directly below my bedroom. I yell back, asking her if she had spare candles, to which she responded with an invitation to her place. "What's the point of you sitting alone in the dark up there? The three of us might as well share the darkness!" I quickly dress myself in what later proved to be an uncoordinated color combination and counted each step down to their apartment. 

Abu and Umm Muhammad always extend a warm welcome accompanied with tea and snacks. As the three of us sat in darkness, their curiosity turned into a series of personal questions about my life. Nothing was off-limits; they are at ease asking me about my marital status, family details and religious beliefs. After having satisfied their inquisitiveness, they ask me a particularly difficult question: "Have you been to Palestine?" 

A sudden hot flash takes over my face during this awkward pause. I stare down deep into my tea cup as if trying to focus on the already diluted sugar granules. I remember the advice from other volunteers: "Make sure you don't tell folks here that you have been to Palestine; it creates emotional turmoil for them!" 

I wonder whether I could lie bold-faced to a harmless and kind elderly couple. I look up to the pair who probably already knew the truth I was struggling to conceal. "I knew it! You smell and feel like Palestine. I hear it in your voice, I sense it in your mannerisms, I feel it in the way you talk!" exclaims Umm Muhammad. 

She quickly reaches across the table and embraces me as if taking into her arms a part of her country. "Oh! Let her speak. I want to hear stories" says Abu Muhammad. 

In what seemed like an eternity the three of us discuss in great detail my experiences in the West Bank. "Tell me about the sea, the sea of Jaffa," asks Umm Muhammad. 

"It is angry, the waves crash onto the rocks like an army filled with rage," I reply. 

"What about Akka?" Abu Mohammad asks. 

"In Akka the waters are calm but run deep. The old city is beautiful and the marketplace has the best of Palestinian cuisine," I say. 

"What about Jerusalem, did you pray at al-Aqsa? Did you see the Dome of the Rock?" they both ask. 

I share details of my Jerusalem visits; I tell them how beautiful the Dome of the Rock is: "It sits like a gem in the core of Jerusalem, one can see it from afar as its golden dome reflects the sunlight throughout the day and moonlight through the night." 

We share nostalgia and a mosaic of emotions from joy to grief. "Take me home; I want to see Jaffa before I die," says Umm Muhammad. 

Words escape me -- I feel a sharp pain in my gut and a certain struggle to breathe. I realize my privilege, my non-Palestinian status, my foreign identity, and my ability to exist in freedom even in spaces like refugee camps. Ashamed of this privilege, I fail to offer any consolation to both Abu and Umm Muhammad. 

Sensing my guilt, Abu Muhammad continues: "Palestine is not an identity, land, home or some 'right' in international law! It's this memory we chase of a time that has long gone by, and knowing so we live in the shadows, chasing what used to be." 

I ponder his words and ask, "Would you return?" 

He opens his mouth to reply but he stops himself. He then reaches for a pack of cigarettes and lights the last one. I watch him carefully as his thoughts get the best of him; in that moment he was completely alone with his conscience. 

"Have you ever loved something so much that it destroyed you?" asks Abu Muhammad. 

I pretended that I didn't hear his question and ask, " Would you return?" 

My perseverance pays off as I watched him extinguish his cigarette abruptly. He crosses his arms and leans forward, I can now make out his face, even through the dark. He chooses his words carefully, as if each were carefully picked from years of internal debate and thought. 

"I remember Jaffa well. As a boy I would walk around for hours. I can smell the oranges of Jaffa. I feel the earth of Palestine under my feet, the fresh breeze of the sea, how the waves chased me back and forth. I remember in great detail my home, and in particular the door to my home. I try and unlock it every time I see it in my dreams. But no matter how hard I try I can never go inside it." 

As the power returns, it brings with it an awkward abrupt pause to our conversation. Abu Muhammad abandons our discussion and resorts to talking about his shop affairs and Umm Muhammad returns to asking me more questions about my marital status, family and religious beliefs. 

After I leave their humble dwelling, I find myself wide awake that night. I remember watching a home demolition in East Jerusalem, the faces of refugees in the occupied West Bank and my dear friend Aya. Her radiant smile as she visited the remains of her village. The journey we made to make her return to her original village, how she filled an empty bottle with sand to spread on her mother's grave in exile. I remembered how she silently wept at the loss of her land and marked her coming home. It is in that moment the lines between memory and return become blurred and in a beautiful summer sunset there is momentary peace. 

Lamya Hussain is a Toronto-based activist and a researcher on issues around Palestinian refugees. 


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Saturday, February 19, 2011

[ePalestine] Why Egypt worries Israel - Canada's only national weekly current affairs magazine.

Why Egypt worries Israel

Feb 11, 2011 by Paul Wells

... “I’m a business planner. I do business plans. If Israel was given to me today as a business plan, my recommendation would be that it’s an infeasible project. You cannot continue to act as though you don’t belong in the region that you exist in. When they built that wall [between Israeli and Palestinian populations in the West Bank], they became, on the other side of it, imprisoned just as much as us.” ...


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Monday, February 07, 2011

[ePalestine] The Guardian: Palestine is the key to Arab democracy 

Monday 7 February 2011 13.09 GMT 

Palestine is the key to Arab democracy 

Protesters in Egypt and Tunisia can learn from events in Palestine, the region's barometer for reform 

Sam Bahour 

Current events in Egypt and Tunisia have the entire region and beyond glued to their television sets. The all-too-spoken-about Arab street has risen, seemingly from the dead. But while it is satisfying to see a dictatorial head of state being ousted by his own people, it is far too early to rejoice. 

What we are witnessing is the removal and replacement of leaders, not an upgrading of the political systems that allowed someone like the Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak to remain in power for 30 years and then have the audacity to position his son to succeed him, while the Egyptian people sank into deepening poverty. Unrest across the region will force these reactionary regimes to make some minimal changes, such as introducing term limits, which should have been done decades ago. But these knee-jerk legislative changes are solely aimed at persuading the demonstrators to go home. 

Likewise, no one should belittle the fact that hundreds of thousands of average citizens are challenging their governments in the streets. This is not like demonstrations as we know them in western countries. It is the real thing. Serious conviction – and sustained repression – is the prerequisite to get many people to challenge a police state that ignores even the most basic human rights. 

In the Arab world, civil uprisings – or intifadas, as they are frequently called – were coined in the Palestinian context. However, the context of the first Palestinian intifada was very different to what we are seeing today. Back in 1987 Palestinians genuinely became fed up with the foreign military occupation that Israel maintains to this day. Communities across the West Bank and Gaza took to the streets and sustained their efforts for nearly six years. Demonstrations were only part of the story. The real ingredient to the Palestinians' ability to remain steadfast was much more complicated. Palestinians are highly political, and they organised themselves in a decentralised fashion and knew how to operate out of Israel's sight. 

But the first intifada was aimed solely at a foreign entity, Israel, and ended with the signing of the infamous Oslo peace accords, which have failed multiple times over the past two decades. The Palestinian leadership tried to pick the fruits of their intifada prematurely and paid a dear price in human, political, economic and social loss. 

Egyptians would be well advised to learn from the Palestinians that the window of opportunity for real change comes all too infrequently. They should therefore be very clear on what they desire from this historic episode. I'd guess that the US state department already has more than a few scenarios in place and dealing with these is what the Egyptian people will really be up against in the coming weeks. 

The second Palestinian intifada in 2000 had many more similar elements to today's upheavals in Tunisia and Egypt. Following the collapse of the Camp David II talks and continuing Israeli provocations, the Palestinian street erupted. Although this second uprising was quickly steered to target Israel, the undercurrent at the time was boiling against a Palestinian leadership that was seriously corrupt and refused to shift gear politically, opting instead for a never-ending US-sponsored peace process. 

The Palestinian president at the time, Yasser Arafat, knew that the second intifada had the potential to turn on him and the house of cards that he had created, the Palestinian Authority. Arafat knew how to shrewdly get his people to vent their anger elsewhere – towards Israel, the foreign occupier. Arafat thought, like today's Mubarak and the many other leaders of his generation, that the US would come to his rescue and make things happen. He was wrong. Every major Palestinian political crisis witnessed the traditional Palestinian leadership taking minute steps forward to keep the masses at a distance. Often these steps meant rearranging the cabinet while paying lip service to the demanded structural reforms. Expect the same in Egypt and Tunisia. 

Over the years, Palestinians have been able to maintain pressure on their occupier and keep their own quasi-government in check because they were organised at the grassroots level for many years beforehand. This level of deep, sustained organising has been weak to non-existent in most of the Arab world. The police-state governments in Egypt, Tunisia and across the Middle East made sure civil society remained obedient – as the media and the private sector were made to be. 

The obvious question is: if Palestinians are so experienced in taking to the streets, why then are there so few serious demonstrations in Nablus, Ramallah, Bethlehem or Gaza in solidarity with the Egyptian people? The reason is that the Palestinian Authority has been co-opted by a US-dominated and foreign-funded agenda which, in times of crisis, understands a single tool: force. The same applies to the Palestinian government in Gaza, for different reasons. Since the last Palestinian elections, which ended in infighting, the US has equipped, trained and led a new generation of Palestinian security services to serve their old model of Arab world governance – police states and banana republics. Expect the US not to embrace real democracy in the Arab world, but rather to put a new, younger facade on an old and corrupt system of governance. 

If you want a barometer for today's Middle East political temperature, follow Egypt; however, if you want a barometer for tomorrow's possibilities for serious, sustainable reform, keep your eye on the Palestinian people who are in a dual struggle – one to shed themselves from 43 years of a brutal Israeli occupation and one to create the first Arab model of truly representative and accountable governance. The main factor preventing the Palestinians from continuing on their path to structural reform, following their first genuine elections in 2006, is the refusal of the US to accept the results of those elections. Expect a similar US veto on any forthcoming Egyptian move towards electoral reform that encompasses true representation. 

Until the people of the Middle East take reforms seriously and transform their mass demonstrations into sustained, organised efforts that address all aspects of society – political, legislative, economic and social – then the blood and tears invested in this latest round of civil outcry will be wasted. 

Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American freelance business consultant and serves as a Board of Trustees member at Birzeit University. He is also a Director at the Arab Islamic Bank and the community foundation Dalia Association. He blogs at 


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