Wednesday, July 26, 2006


5000 Israelis marched in Tel Aviv against the war. Beautiful people. Read more from Gush Shalom.

And there is talk of a deal brokered by Mahmoud Abbas between Hamas, who have agreed to free Gilad Shalit and Israel, who have agreed to a prioner release but at some future date. The Israelis will call it a 'goodwill gesture' , so as not to make it look like they caved in to a swap. The only sticking point is the Hamas leadership in Syria and his Syrian backers, who I think would be total bastards if they blocked this.

An unrelated naive footnote: look closely at the picture. Why do other governments not speak up in situations like this? Why are the only interlocutors the superpower, the former colonial powers, and neighbouring states? Why do other states not speak up? What has happened to the politics of solidarity? Wiser commentators than me will say they have their own problems, they don't have the power or leverage to intervene decisively so why burn bridges through rhetorical posturing, their interests are not directly implicated, or perhaps their interests necessitate silence/acquiescence (e.g. does the GoI think that Israel's response to terrorism is a relevant and legitimate precedent?). And so realpolitik rolls on.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Beirut calling

What will happen to us on Saturday?

If you are in London on Saturday, please come to Embankment at 12 noon to protest Israeli attacks on Lebanon and Gaza.

last thoughts on a busy blogging day...

I make a living by teaching this stuff. I teach a course called the International Relations of the Cold War, one week of which is devoted to conflict in the Middle East. So we talk about 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973, 1978-82, the first intifada, the second intifada. And I teach all of this like history, trying hard to play devil's advocate, hoping that the students will be pro-Israeli so that I can fulfill my pedagogical duties faithfully by saying what I really believe (If the students are pro-Palestinian, I have to do just the opposite - I am not paid to do propaganda, 'good' or 'bad'. Thankfully, most of the time it is not a simple for and against conversation, with my having to remind them of all the other axes of confrontation involved - not just Israel against Palestine, but the superpowers against each other, Arab states jockeying for leadership of the region, Arab states against the Palestinians, etc.) But it is all history. Now 2006 will need to be added to this list like a number in some mathematical progression. I am feeling rage, distraction, impotence, frustration at the thought of having to teach this stuff like a spectator, watching it happen, not being able to do very much beyond helping people understand, interpret, rationalise what appears - at first glance - to be madness. It is one thing to bring these skills to bear on the past, quite another to have to apply them to events that unfold in your adult politically-conscious lifetime.

And I don't even have a personal stake in this conflict. I have never been to the countries involved, I don't know anyone who lives there, I know people here who have people there, but that's about it. For me, the anger comes out of political beliefs, abstractions. God knows abstractions can drive people to madness, but I think personal contact and intimacy push one into an exponentially more acute realm of experience.

The moral choices in a given situation always appear more clear-cut, almost self-evident, in retrospect. How could people have been racist, imperialist, pro-apartheid, we wonder. How could they have sat around and debated the pros and cons of apartheid? Yet debate they did (why do you think sanctions took so long?) in student unions and sports associations and parliaments, weighing what against what I can't quite fathom, but some weighing was evidently going on. Our children are going to ask us this question - how could we have debated the pros and cons of what Israel is doing? How could we have seen Oslo, with its legacy of an archipelago of moth-eaten bantustans, as anything but power and control for Israel without responsibility? How could we have seen Gaza disengagement as anything but a rectification of the demographic problem, from Israel's point of view, and the creation of a giant open-air prison? How could we have accepted Israel's bombardment of civilians in Lebanon? How could we not have sanctioned Israel? What were we sitting around and talking about? Tony Blair, Margaret Beckett and the whole sorry lot will be remembered in the same way that we think of Thatcher and Reagan - as egregious holdouts in the campaign for sanctions against apartheid South Africa. That is how sickening and odious all these political choices are going to look in retrospect.

Our children will look back on Palestine as the Spanish Civil War of our time. If we didn't take a stand on Palestine, they will ask, what did we stand for? In the same way that we judge intellectuals of the interwar period by their attitude towards the creeping fascism of the time, we will be judged by our attitude towards politics in the Middle East. How, if we took the colonial taboo seriously, could we have tolerated Zionism? How, if we claimed to be liberals, could we have endorsed a claim to land based on a religious belief in the destruction of a temple and a mass exodus two thousand years previously? How, if we took the apartheid taboo seriously, could we have tolerated the Occupation and the Separation Barrier? And when they put us in the dock, it will not do to say something mealy-mouthed like 'I supported the two state solution' (everyone from Netanyahu to the little old ladies who run the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign supports two states - we just all have very different views of what those two states will look like). And just as we memorialise and celebrate George Orwell and Ernest Hemingway as brave artists who had the courage of their convictions, the bulldozer-hugging ISM activists whom lots of us would like to see as naive and ridiculous will be feted by our children. Their books will be read. Their words will inspire another generation.

I am optimistic. I am optimistic that our children will indict us for sitting around on our sorry arses.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

laugh of the day

I was going to write a detailed critique of this, but thought I would simply direct you to the appropriate link. Bear in mind that this man was once the Speaker of the US House of Representatives - a position that is third in the presidential line of succession. Warning: wear a nappy, you are likely to piss your pants laughing at the comments.

Reactions from Iraq

In contrast to virtually every other Arab state, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki forcefully denounced the Israeli attacks on Lebanon. 'The Israeli attacks and airstrikes are completely destroying Lebanon’s infrastructure,' Mr. Maliki said at an afternoon news conference inside the fortified Green Zone, which houses the American Embassy and the seat of the Iraqi government. 'I condemn these aggressions and call on the Arab League foreign ministers’ meeting in Cairo to take quick action to stop these aggressions. We call on the world to take quick stands to stop the Israeli aggression.' His reaction isn't surprising, given that it will almost certainly shore up his Shia political base (by demonstrating that he is not simply a stooge of the Americans) and given his already close links with Iran. The NYT report goes on to say that 'A growing number of Iraqi officials have stepped forward in recent days to condemn Israel. On Sunday, in a rare show of unity, the 275-member Parliament issued a statement calling the Israeli strikes an act of “criminal aggression.” The militant Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, whose followers play a crucial role in the government, said last Friday that Iraqis would not “sit by with folded hands” while the violence in Lebanon raged.'

[Here's a short political theory lesson: response to political base = representative democracy. This is what democracy looks like. Do the neo-cons get this? Or do they still think democracy = liberal capitalism = pro-US / pro-Israel]

Don't forget Gaza

Because Gaza and the West Bank are the truly long-term issues. I was directed to this piece by Gideon Levy via a friend's blog. Levy asks two simple questions - 'So, who really did start? And have we "left Gaza?'"'. There follows a torrent of common sense, which I have to quote in full. (You might be interested to know that Levy was once a spokesman for that great chameleon Shimon Peres.)

Israel left Gaza only partially, and in a distorted manner. The disengagement plan, which was labeled with fancy titles like "partition" and "an end to the occupation," did result in the dismantling of settlements and the Israel Defense Forces' departure from Gaza, but it did almost nothing to change the living conditions for the residents of the Strip. Gaza is still a prison and its inhabitants are still doomed to live in poverty and oppression. Israel closes them off from the sea, the air and land, except for a limited safety valve at the Rafah crossing. They cannot visit their relatives in the West Bank or look for work in Israel, upon which the Gazan economy has been dependent for some 40 years. Sometimes goods can be transported, sometimes not. Gaza has no chance of escaping its poverty under these conditions. Nobody will invest in it, nobody can develop it, nobody can feel free in it. Israel left the cage, threw away the keys and left the residents to their bitter fate. Now, less than a year after the disengagement, it is going back, with violence and force.

What could otherwise have been expected? That Israel would unilaterally withdraw, brutally and outrageously ignoring the Palestinians and their needs, and that they would silently bear their bitter fate and would not continue to fight for their liberty, livelihood and dignity? We promised a safe passage to the West Bank and didn't keep the promise. We promised to free prisoners and didn't keep the promise. We supported democratic elections and then boycotted the legally elected leadership, confiscating funds that belong to it, and declaring war on it. We could have withdrawn from Gaza through negotiations and coordination, while strengthening the existing Palestinian leadership, but we refused to do so. And now, we complain about "a lack of leadership?" We did everything we could to undermine their society and leadership, making sure as much as possible that the disengagement would not be a new chapter in our relationship with the neighboring nation, and now we are amazed by the violence and hatred that we sowed with our own hands.

What would have happened if the Palestinians had not fired Qassams? Would Israel have lifted the economic siege that it imposed on Gaza? Would it open the border to Palestinian laborers? Free prisoners? Meet with the elected leadership and conduct negotiations? Encourage investment in Gaza? Nonsense. If the Gazans were sitting quietly, as Israel expects them to do, their case would disappear from the agenda - here and around the world. Israel would continue with the convergence, which is solely meant to serve its goals, ignoring their needs. Nobody would have given any thought to the fate of the people of Gaza if they did not behave violently. That is a very bitter truth, but the first 20 years of the occupation passed quietly and we did not lift a finger to end it.

We started. We started with the occupation, and we are duty-bound to end it, a real and complete ending. We started with the violence. There is no violence worse than the violence of the occupier, using force on an entire nation, so the question about who fired first is therefore an evasion meant to distort the picture. After Oslo, too, there were those who claimed that "we left the territories," in a similar mixture of blindness and lies.

photo of the day

From a demonstration in Chicago, while a pro-Israel rally is held across the street.

Go to London this Saturday, 22 July, 12 noon, Embankment.

this fucked up world

Britain is running its biggest sea evacuation since Dunkirk, and it doesn't have the political will to do anything beyond evacuate its own civillians. This is Rwanda-type behaviour (remember the French evacuating their embassy dog?), albeit on a different scale. Even the evacuees get it: 'This will get worse. The terrible thing is that now foreigners are coming out, Israel won't care, they'll do what they like to the place.' France is now pushing for UN Security Council action, but it remains to be seen what will come of that. The US just seems to want to give Israel time and a free hand (just like Ariel Sharon gave the Phalanges time and a free hand...)

Louise Arbour, the UN's high commissioner for human rights, says that the scale of killing in Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories could constitute war crimes. The obligation to protect civilians during hostilities was laid down in international criminal law 'which defines war crimes and crimes against humanity', she said in a statement. But who is committing war crimes here? To attack soldiers of an occupying force is not a war crime, as Gilad Atzmon so clearly put it. And on the subject of scale, what exactly is the scale? On the Lebanese side 300 dead, 1000 injured, and 500,000 displaced. On the Israeli side 29 dead, of which 14 were soldiers and 15 civillians (BBC). So if - as the laws of war make clear - proportionality is a cardinal rule, who is committing the war crimes Madame Arbour? Say it dammit.

Please link, please blog, please talk, please write, please argue with everyone in sight. And if you're sceptical about whether this will change anything on the ground, remember that hegemony is built on silence and acquiescence as much as on brute power.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Other Israel

Among the few people with the courage to give official Israeli policy the lambasting it deserves are some Israelis themselves. Possibly the one thing that can be said for Israel at this time is that it is still an open enough society to permit its members (at least those of its inhabitants that it recognises as full members) to speak freely. But don't expect them to be given much space in the mainstream American media. (See for example this egregious opinion piece in the NYT that basically says 'bomb the shit out of Lebanon and about time too.') I want to look for this other Israel - the Israel that can speak truth to power, that can take the log out of its own eye - because I know it exists.

For a start, read Tanya Reinhart, on how the Gaza re-invasion has been in the offing for months and on the stupidity of thinking that Gaza disengagement can be the end of the story: 'one cannot let Gaza free, if one wants to keep the West Bank. A third of the occupied Palestinians live in the Gaza Strip. If they are given freedom, they would become the center of Palestinian struggle for liberation, with free access to the Western and Arab world.' And they would be right to become so.

Kathleen Christison: 'those who devise and carry out Israeli policies have made Israel into a monster, and it has come time for all of us -- all Israelis, all Jews who allow Israel to speak for them, all Americans who do nothing to end U.S. support for Israel and its murderous policies -- to recognize that we stain ourselves morally by continuing to sit by while Israel carries out its atrocities against the Palestinians...Those who continue to support Israel, who make excuses for it as it descends into corruption, have lost their moral compass.' [The author is a former CIA political analyst and has worked on Middle East issues for 30 years.]

Gilad Atzmon makes some unpleasant comparisons and foregrounds the key moral argument: 'Although, both Palestinian militants and Hezbollah were originally targeting legitimate military targets, Israeli retaliation was clearly aiming against civilian targets, civil infrastructures and mass killing directed against an innocent population. It doesn't take a genius to realise that this is not really the way to win a war or confront that particular sort of combat known as guerrilla warfare...this time it was Israeli soldiers and pure military posts that were targeted. In other words, it is rather impossible to dismiss the fact that Palestinian militants and the Hezbollah were actually operating as legitimate resistance paramilitary groups fighting a colonial army and occupation forces.' [The author was born in Israel and served in the Israeli military.]

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Israel is massively in the wrong

Actually I didn't feel that strongly until I read Gideon Levy's brilliant column in Ha'aretz. Everyone is watching Lebanon now, but don't forget Gaza. Much that Levy said (on 2 July 2006) about the attack on Gaza is also applicable to the attack on Lebanon - particularly the points about proportionality. Much that he said in that column is worth quoting in full.

The "summer rains" we are showering on Gaza are not only pointless, but are first and foremost blatantly illegitimate. It is not legitimate to cut off 750,000 people from electricity. It is not legitimate to call on 20,000 people to run from their homes and turn their towns into ghost towns. It is not legitimate to penetrate Syria's airspace. It is not legitimate to kidnap half a government and a quarter of a parliament.

A state that takes such steps is no longer distinguishable from a terror organization. The harsher the steps, the more monstrous and stupid they become, the more the moral underpinnings for them are removed and the stronger the impression that the Israeli government has lost its nerve.

Everything must be done to win Gilad Shalit's release. What we are doing now in Gaza has nothing to do with freeing him. It is a widescale act of vengeance, the kind that the IDF and Shin Bet have wanted to conduct for some time, mostly motivated by the deep frustration that the army commanders feel about their impotence against the Qassams and the daring Palestinian guerilla raid. There's a huge gap between the army unleashing its frustration and a clever and legitimate operation to free the kidnapped soldier.

The only wise and restrained voice heard so far was that of the soldier's father, Noam Shalit, of all people. That noble man called at what is clearly his most difficult hour, not for stridency and not for further damage done to the lives of soldiers and innocent Palestinians. Against the background of the IDF's unrestrained actions and the arrogant bragging of the latest macho spokesmen, Maj. Gen. Yoav Gallant of the Southern Command and Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad, Shalit's father's voice stood out like a voice crying in the wilderness.

The legitimate basis for the IDF's operation was stripped away the moment it began. It's no accident that nobody mentions the day before the attack on the Kerem Shalom fort, when the IDF kidnapped two civilians, a doctor and his brother, from their home in Gaza. The difference between us and them? We kidnapped civilians and they captured a soldier, we are a state and they are a terror organization. How ridiculously pathetic Amos Gilad sounds when he says that the capture of Shalit was "illegitimate and illegal," unlike when the IDF grabs civilians from their homes. How can a senior official in the defense ministry claim that "the head of the snake" is in Damascus, when the IDF uses the exact same methods?

Collective punishment is illegitimate and it does not have a smidgeon of intelligence.

And for some context on the Hizbullah kidnappings, see Amal Saad-Ghorayeb's piece in today's Guardian:

The prisoners Hizbullah wants released are hostages who were taken on Lebanese soil. In the successful prisoner exchange in 2004, Israel held on to three Lebanese detainees as bargaining chips and to keep the battle front with Hizbullah open. These detentions have become a cause celebre in Lebanon. In a recent poll, efforts to effect their release attracted majority support, much more even than the liberation of Shebaa Farms, the disputed corridor of land between Syria and Lebanon still occupied by Israel.

Which doesn't necessarily make it pretty, but certainly less like the unprovoked 'act of war' that official Israel would have us believe. Hamas and Hizbullah are rightly labelled 'terrorist' when they attack civilians. Attacks on soldiers as part of a legitimate ongoing resistance against occupation are not 'terrorist'.

Friday, July 14, 2006

More Mumbai/...

Top read of the day: a hard-nosed piece from Vikram Doctor saying can we stop wallowing in sentimentality and move beyond offering water bottles?

Thursday, July 13, 2006

More Mumbai/...

From this, otherwise horrifying, Flickr set.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

On Mumbai/Bombay/Bambai/whatever

Exactly what is this city called? I can just see airport destination signs in the year 2015 giving up in multicultural exasperation.

Via Indianwriting, comes this little snippet from The Moor's Last Sigh:

Bombay was central, had been so from the moment of its creation: the bastard child of a Portuguese-English wedding, and yet the most Indian of Indian cities. In Bombay all Indias met and merged. In Bombay, too, all-India met what-was-not-India, what came across the black water to flow into our veins...Bombay was central; all rivers flowed into its human sea. It was an ocean of stories; we were all its narrators, and everybody talked at once.

So like I said, yesterday, all there was left for me to do was to look through my address book and write to all the people I knew. Looking at that email today (I can't seem to get very much done) I realise that the seven people I sent it to comprised one Tamilian married to a Punjabi, one Parsi, one cousin of aforementioned Parsi who is Roman Catholic, one Gujarati Muslim who is married to a Bengali Hindu, one Kannadiga who has actually spent more time in Cal and Bombay than anywhere else, one Maharashtrian who would actually call herself Bangalorean and is married to a Tamilian, and one Tamilian who is married to a Bengali. (shrug) I'm not trying to run a cute national integration ad. In Mumbai, this is how it will always be.

'...the only truly cosmopolitan city in South Asia...' Salil Tripathi calls it.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Please, please no backlash

I started this blog about a year ago after 7/7. There was no connection - I had been thinking about starting one for a while, but then 7/7 happened and suddenly there were lots of things I wanted to say. Now one year on, another of my favourite cities has been hit in a similar kind of attack with much more devastating consequences. There are immediate things to do - Mumbai Help seems to be an information point of sorts. These days when something like this happens, I find myself switch into what feels like a well-rehearsed routine: try calling, knowing fully well you will not get through, text but dont bother sitting around waiting for your phone to beep in reply, reach for your address book in weary resignation and write to all the people you know hoping they are ok, watch the news, read blogs, blog yourself, just sit around. The sheer banality of the event and the response is horrifying because the event itself is so horrifying. Unless of course you know someone who dies and then you're in completely different, and for me - at least till now - completely unfamiliar territory. (One of these days, am I going to know someone like this? One of these days, could it be me?) (Was the Cold War like this? If you lived on the 'frontline' (where was that?) did you just get used to crisis and nuclear brinkmanship and the possibility of sudden and certain incinerating death?)

Why Bombay? Why always Bombay? Because it's big and successful, so if you can make a splash there you're sure to hit the big time. (Why does anyone go to Bombay?) Please please let there not be a backlash. I'm incoherent. I'm not trying to write an article ok? The trains, soft spot, so horrifyingly easy. It's a miracle it hadn't happened before. And now what? How do you screen every single person who gets into a Bombay train? And what kind of inflammatory nonsense will Bal Thackeray now decide to spew? And why won't Advani just shut up instead of trying to make political capital out of this by saying the UPA has been soft on terrorists. Exactly what would he have them do?

Please, please no backlash. NDTV has one of their polls running at the moment asking "Best way to tackle terrorism is?" and giving 3 options: 'political measures, military crackdown and economic upliftment'. The last I don't buy, but the most popular response at the moment is 'military crackdown'. On whom? By whom? The last thing one needs is Shiv Sainik vigilante groups answering that question in their own way.

Please, no backlash.

Read Bombay blogs here and here.

Buchu says: 'oi. hope everyone is safe and sound. it is not a nice world, is it...i have a mega rant about the indian media after this. their coverage todaywas ridiculous. have blogged a bit about it, will do so in detail later. amcomparing it to the BBC coverage of 7/7 and i'm appalled.also, while i hate advani anyway, i honestly felt like throwing something atthe tv today. this man was part of a govt that took two terrorists tokandahar and handed them over. how DARE he ever open his moustachioed (sp?)mouth again and complain about the UPA's incompetence.on the backlash: so far it's been calm. but as with the bombs in '93 thebacklash began once the initial shock had faded. keeping all fingerscrossed.and finally, my heart almost broke when i looked at the list of the dead.there's a d'souza and a coutinho, a mohd tahir and a zuber khan and amohanlal and a desai and a patel. looking at those names on the screen madeall that death and gore much more real than the numbers that the newschannels have been throwing up.'

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