Monthly Archives: January 2011

a point of pride

translation: Al-Jazeera is not Arab, Al-Jazeera is Zionist

Pride is a funny thing and it can really stuff you into a corner sometimes. Seeing this in the center of Ramallah might cause some real confusion if you don’t factor in pride first. As I took this photo a plainclothes policeman came and hassled me to move along. Nameless youth – the same who have busted up meetings on democracy and attacked Al-Jazeera offices in the past – were in the streets standing firm with the Palestinian Authority. The intelligentsia were taking the opportunity to loudly vocalize their support of Abu Mazen and their indignation at Al Jazeera, who was called a CIA agent, Shin Bet service, Israeli Foreign Ministy, and more.

So the question is why this kind of reaction to what is surely at least partially true – and it must be because no authority takes nearly a billion dollars from the Americans without being subject to their terms in some way.

First, we must address the issue of pride. The Palestinian people hold fiercely to their pride because it is almost the last thing many of them have. How can one expect them to react in such a situation? Israel has two very important opportunities with this leak: one, they come away as being strong actors in the negotiations, actors who have whittled their opponent’s demands to nearly nothing at all. Indeed, the “right” in Israel can now voice horror over the supposed “concessions” being made by Israel in these sham negotiations. Secondly, as an editorial in Ma’ariv pointed out:

The real answer to the question as to whether we have a partner or not is not to be found in the documents that were published by al-Jazeera but, rather, in the streets of the West Bank. If the Olympian quiet that was maintained there yesterday continues, that is a sign that the Palestinian Authority of Abu Mazen and Salam Fayyad is a genuine sovereign power, and that its policies have the support of a majority of the public.

Their silence is their assent. Like some blushing bride guarding her modesty, the silence on the streets of Ramallah is a result of their assent and not their fear of the Palestinian Authority, which, as pointed out, has become more and more ubiquitous and powerful in the past few years. The Palestinian intellegentsia, unable to rear their heads because of both this powerful police state and the threat of turning out as their Gazan brothers and sisters have – starving and without power and under threat of installation at any time – must rally to protect their pride by loudly agreeing with the Palestinian Authority’s position on the leaks. If they do not, they risk their positions in Palestinian society and their grip on the hope that their system can be reformed through foreign aid and talks of democratization, rather than the kind of reform being discussed in in the streets Tunisia, Egypt, and Jordan this week.

sharia law is not a cultural practice

Too many in the West equate Sharia’ (the road or the way) law to cultural practices. This is incorrect and does a disservice to Islam. Islam and Sharia, after all, are systems that exist very separately from culture, if not antithetical to it. Islam came along in the time of Jahaliyyah, the dark ages of the Arabian peninsula where blood feuds were the way of law and women were treated as cattle and slaves, if not buried alive in the desert. Islam quickly raised up the status of women, children, and the poor in ways unrivaled by the West until less than a hundred years ago. In addition, Islam was an expanding religion and within a hundred years of Muhammad’s death it ruled nearly everything between the Himalayas and the Pyrenees. It’s success was partially due because it would seek to eradicate every injustice done in a system while leaving intact the aspects of culture deemed inoffensive. People kept eating the same food, wearing the same clothes, living their same lives … so long as everything was halal (acceptable in Islam). They kept their own languages and forms of art, their poetry and music, and the basic traditions that kept them whole as a distinct community. In this way, Islam was both throwing out the religions of the fathers while keeping that which made the world diverse. In the Quran it is even mentioned:

O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted. (43:19)

Indeed, the diversity within the Islamic world – even today in the age of Saudi globalization – is truly breathtaking. However, just because these societies are Islamic in character – meaning, many of their population is Muslim – do not for a second think that Islamic societies represent Islam or Sharia. For instance, despite the fact that a staggering rate of Egyptian women have been vaginally mutilated, this is a practice frowned upon in Sharia’ and Islam, as women are supposed to feel pleasure during sex as a gift from God. Beating women and children is against the Sunnah (way of the Prophet) and suicide of any sort – including self-immolation and suicide bombing – is forbidden as well. Keeping women from leaving the house or learning to read, marrying off children to each other without consulting them at a proper age, and honor killings are all issues people in the West traditionally associate with Islam and Sharia’, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Sharia’ law is a legalistic school of philosophy based around the Qur’an, Hadith (sayings of the Prophet), and Sunnah. A very small percentage of the global Islamic community is qualified to make rulings on what Sharia’ is or what it entails, but it basically breaks down into being a set guideline for living life – issues like marriage, inheritance, contracts, etc. It is something designed to bring a set standard of justice to people all over the world, regardless of their culture. Sharia’ law and Islam in general respects the diversity of people and their cultures, but not at the expense of justice.

“If the Israelis tell us that this is working well, we consider it a success.”

From Foreign Policy Magazine:

If Palestinian state-building is understood as a pact by which Palestinian institutions are built and shaped to facilitate security-collusion — in expectation that this will cause Israel to see it to be in its own interest to give Palestinians a state — then the overall matrix of western policy becomes clear. It is a pre-requisite of Oslo and subsequent agreements that the PA should work with the IDF — “with the participation of US security officials” — to defeat and dismantle any opposition to this project, and, as Mrs Clinton reminded Mahmoud Abbas last year, this demand extends to Hamas — unless it should accept the Quartet’s conditions.

These principles are not new: they are long-established principles of American counter-insurgency dating back to the US campaign in the early 1900s against Filipino ‘rebels’ and were adopted in subsequent conflicts. This doctrine has combined the establishment of harsh, unaccountable security apparati to a ‘benevolency pacification’: Security strongmen evolve to control the business and financial sectors.

In the Palestinian context this pacification has come to mean something far more extensive than the original Oslo demand for collusion with Israel to dismantle and destroy Oslo’s opponents. Indeed, the concept is being used to create a politico-security and economic architecture and élite in order to implement a benevolency pacification. In return the elites receive significant material benefits and privileges. So successful has this political and security architecture been in normalizing the West Bank that the then US Assistant Secretary of State, hailed it as “the best Palestinian Authority government in history”.

This kind of article was inevitable. I’m just surprised it took so long to show up in print, especially since I’ve been writing on it for so long. Everyone here today is depressed because the Palestine Papers have proven once again how helpless they are against their own police state vying to sell their land in favor of villas in Dubai and cash for their kids.

the palestine papers

I’ve been learning how to play chess. So far I’m only able to see four moves ahead, which makes me a pretty mediocre player. I’ve only won two games so far, but I’m trying every day to be able to see more and more moves ahead, to work out different scenarios and keep them running parallel so I can advance. What I’ve gathered so far, though, is that the most important part of chess is to be able to react to an opponent’s moves with a clear mind and steady hand.

So when I see something like The Palestine Papers being published by Al Jazeera, I have to stop and examine the board critically before I react. Some facts to consider:

  • Al Jazeera is a state-owned and state-run news organization.

A reaction I heard today was that Al Jazeera works for the Israeli Foreign Ministry. While this may not be true in a literal sense, we can’t forget that Al Jazeera is an incredibly powerful wing of the Qatari foreign ministry. Qatar has been courting foreign money by the fistfuls, bringing in international games, conferences on private security companies, and offering terrific incentives to multinational corporations.  Whatever Al Jazeera was ten years ago, they are not the same organization today.

  • The Palestinian Authority / Palestinian Liberation Organization has to negotiate with the Israelis if they want to gain international support.

Since – according to the intelligentsia – armed and civil resistance has failed, the only way towards survival is to court the support of the international community. The PA does this in two ways, through economic and diplomatic means. Through economics, they present themselves as an easy place to do cheap and dirty business. Through diplomacy, they hustle from embassy to embassy begging for recognition while using their presence at the UN to pressure for resolutions condemning the Israeli occupation. The only way they are able to sustain either of these fronts, though, is through appearing as a valid party in negotiations with the Israelis. Therefore, to keep both outreach approaches strong, they must continue with negotiations at all costs, even if this means offering bizarre concessions to the Israelis. The fact that the PA is still willing to “play ball” after the genocide in Gaza and continued appropriation of land in the West Bank is proof of this, since any strong actor would have abandoned negotiations long ago. But the Palestinian Authority is not the strong actor. Their grip on power is contingent on whether anyone will meet with them. If the Israelis and Americans continue to meet with them, the sick truth is that the rest of the world will see them as valid representatives for the Palestinian people.

  • Both the Palestinian Authority / Palestinian Liberation Organization and the Israelis must sustain the negotiation process in order to maintain the status quo abroad while advancing interests locally.

This is why the peace process never fails. It simply stalls or is frozen, perhaps moving from direct to indirect negotiations from time to time. The present negotiations between the two parties have painfully dragged along for nearly two decades with nothing to speak of except continued encroachment of the West Bank and Gaza while the Palestinian Authority gains stature in the eyes of the international community.

Yet it is not just Israel and the PNA/PLO that benefit from these negotiations. The USA uses them as election fodder and the Arab states use them as an excuse to continue business-as-usual with Israel while neglecting the refugees that crowd their borders.

So what is the point of releasing these documents? Barring some sort of collective madness, the Palestinian people are not going to overthrow the PNA and expel the PLO. Gaza is a stark, daily reminder of what happens to a people who decide to stop playing the game. It’s possible the Israelis will look bad for not accepting such gracious concessions, and that the Palestinians offering them nearly all of East Jerusalem and their major settlement blocs will make it seem as though they are negotiating in bad faith.

However, without further facts at this point, the only conclusion I can draw is that this is a move designed to humiliate the Palestinian people further. They are being shamed for not being able to change their current situation. Really, this has been the overarching theme to the occupation that I’ve seen so far since living here: instill shame. Whether through stumbling drunk teenagers in Ramallah plotting their ticket out, hassle at the checkpoint, constantly jumping through hoops for a job or foreign aid money, casual cancellation of elections, and being forced at gunpoint to the negotiation table, the main goal of the occupation is to bring low the pride of the Palestinians. It still makes one wonder who it is, if not everyone involved in these negotiations, that wants them brought to their knees so badly.

zionism as an attempt to throttle palestinian, islamic, and arab unity

Why shouldn’t the Middle East conglomerate as some sort of Arab-Zone, akin to the arrangement in Europe? After all, the language is basically the same, the people are the same, the money changes hands fluidly and without much fuss (you can spend your dinars, riyals, and shekels pretty much anywhere), and the borders are completely arbitrary – laid down by a retreating direct-colonial force of Europeans who hardly understood what kind of societies they were leaving.

Pan-arabism was popular once before its benefactor – Gamal Abdul Nassar – was brought low by the Israelis in a series of semi-humiliating military skirmishes. Now it seems these arbitrary kingdoms and dictatorships barely have anything to do with one another and though the man on the street believes in Arab and Muslim brotherhood through the currencies in his wallet and his tears for Palestine, the state itself seems too caught up in dancing on the edge of a blade to worry about pan-arabism anymore.

This disjointed unity is what leads the Middle East in particular and the Muslim world in general to become simple vassals to Western markets and imperial ambitions. Just think! With Gulf Capital, Iraqi oil, Egyptian labor and strategic positioning, Syrian water, and spiritual and linguistic commonalities, the Middle East would become a strong force to be reckoned with. Something that could give all major world powers cause for concern. Markets could be refashioned around sharia’ law, armies could be converged and strengthened, and nobody could say the educational system would produce some of the smartest and brightest innovators in a thousand years. The pride in such an “empire” could crush the world.

Further, why are the Arabs against Israel? (This is the main reason I support Israel.) The Arabs are one of the least developed cultures. They are typically nomads. Their culture is primitive, and they resent Israel because it’s the sole beachhead of modern science and civilization on their continent. When you have civilized men fighting savages, you support the civilized men, no matter who they are. Israel is a mixed economy inclined toward socialism. But when it comes to the power of the mind—the development of industry in that wasted desert continent—versus savages who don’t want to use their minds, then if one cares about the future of civilization, don’t wait for the government to do something. Give whatever you can. This is the first time I’ve contributed to a public cause: helping Israel in an emergency.

Ayn Rand, 1974

Enter Zionism and its tactics. Today in the servees to Nablus, the driver purposefully turned up the radio to an almost blaring volume when a report on the news came on about a recent protest in Gaza where families of detained Palestinians had laid in front of the French FM’s car in order to protest the double standard between the issue of Gilad Shalit and the thousands and thousands of Palestinian political prisoners. “This is Palestinian blood!” a woman screamed on the radio. The rest in the car sat silently.

See again, when attacks on Gaza can only result in heavily-monitored protest tents. The Palestinians who live in Israel can now enter into the West Bank, and they navigate the streets with looks of astonished confusion on their faces. Each portion of Palestinian society says in turn: look how it could be for me if not for my place in the system! The Gazans exist as a threat to those in the West Bank, and the ramshakle poverty of the West Bank exists as a warning to those who remained in their villages during the Nakba. Look how it could be if not for….

Zionism exists as this wedge in the system for the Palestinians, and their tactics of gradient punishment serves to split the Palestinians into four camps – those in the West who retain their dignity, those in the occupied territories of the 48, those who live under occupation in the West Bank, and those who live in hell in Gaza.

Likewise, such an example as Iraq, a mighty country brought to its knees by US aggression, serves as an example to the rest in the Arab world – do not step out of line or this could be you! And how could Arab unity be accomplished with these invaders in their midst, humiliating and splitting the people at every turn? Zionism as a thorn in the side of the Levent, and Iraq as a solemn reminder to the rest. No wonder no money can be spared to keep these two situations under wraps – either in arms money to Israel or foreign aid to the PA, continued presence in Iraq or an embassy the size of the Vatican. All must be done to assure that this throbbing heart of blessings and wealth is kept split and under control by foreign forces.

So what becomes the only weapon to fight against this division? Religion of course, which is where our radical jihadis emerge. The Ikhwan in Egypt are brothers of Hamas in Gaza are brothers of the Islamic State in Iraq are brothers of Hizballah in Syria and Lebanon. When you split people with their wallets, take care to split their souls as well. Who will win? The opulent lifestyle crammed down the throats of the Gulf Arabs, or the radical asceticism and ultimate sacrifices made by a pan-Islamic movement in the Middle East?

who has a dream?

for Harpers, 17 January

snail on the edge of a straight-razor

It seems a world ago when American conservatives were up in arms about a mosque being built near “Ground Zero”, the site of the former World Trade Centers in lower Manhattan. Yet as money begins to be disclosed in time for taxes, we can clearly see the media circus was done for the benefit of another lower Manhattan landmark – Wall Street.

Robert Mercer, the co-CEO of the giant hedge fund manager Renaissance Technologies, appears to have financed the ad campaign entirely himself, through a $1 million contribution on July 26 to the New York State Conservative Party, according to a filing today by the party’s housekeeping account. Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long confirmed to Haberman that Mercer was the source of the ad money.

This kind of contribution is not the only cause of the “Ground Zero Mosque” hysteria. The media was complicit as well, as were the politicians who fanned the flames in hopes of being re-elected. Yet who started this mess? A hedge fund manager, cynically exploiting hatred against Muslims to distract from policies that might harm his class interests during election season.

These cynical circus games have caused untold damage to America. How many times have I read news stories abroad only to discover that in the United States, my fellow citizens are closely following the newest disappearance of a young woman or celebrity scandal? Senator Bernie Sanders stood on the floor of the senate for nine hours and clearly outlined what was going wrong with America while the news outlets decided that other, less materially important stories might get more ratings.

So assuming these sorts of media shenanigans won’t be letting up in the near future, what happens when the media distractions start to craft reality? Mosques were firebombed this summer, Muslims were attacked in the streets, and legislation was drawn up around the country as a response to this influx of “Islamophobia”.  The fake competition between the “right” and “left” in the United States, the false dichotomy of “democrat” and “republican” has resulted in the murder of many, spurred on by angry talk show hosts, leading news stories, and suggestive slogans and rhetoric from politicians. It only takes a slight nudge to push some individuals over the edge, and when the result is as extreme as shooting up a Unitarian Universalist church by a Viet Nam vet or the recent shooting of sixteen in Tuscon by a 22 year old young man. Both perpetrators were victims of a poor economy and a government that had failed them in ways of social service – but when searching for the reason for their predicament, the perpetrators sidestepped at the last moment and others ended up bearing the brunt of class rage in their stead.