Why does Washington’s imperialist warmaking continue?

(This is v.2 of this blog post. I edited it to try to give a better picture of the casualty tolls in Iraq from the 2003 decision to invade. But those numbers are still really hard to capture. ~HC.)

In the months leading up to March 19, 2003, when Pres. George W. Bush launched an unprovoked and completely optional war of “total regime change” against Iraq, I was proud to take part in several of the broad and spirited antiwar demonstrations and other actions that took place all around the United States and the world.

But we failed to stop Bush from launching his illegal war.

It was 15  years ago this week, on March 19, 2003, that Bush unleashed the war. The negative consequences of that decision– primarily on Iraq and its people, but also on the United States and the integrity of the global order– were massive, and continue to this day. They include (but are not limited to) the following:

  1. The number of those who died directly or indirectly as a result of the invasion of Iraq or the numerous secondary conflicts sparked by the invasion has been estimated at around half a million. Around 4,500 U.S. service-members lost their lives. The numbers of those Iraqi residents wounded or displaced during the 15 years of conflict has been considerably higher. All these casualty figures continue to rise.
  2. The physical infrastructure of Iraq, a country of some 33 million souls,whose schools, hospitals, universities, road system, artistic infrastructure, etc, had already been very badly damaged by 13 years of extremely punitive, US-led sanctions, received considerable additional blows, leading to numerous public-health crises and de-development.
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The less-mentioned lives of Mrs. Krim

This week, US media have contained many glowing obituaries of a 91-year-old medical researcher called Mathilde Krim, who in the early 1980s played an apparently huge role in publicizing and destigmatizing the then-new disease of HIV/AIDS and in mobilizing funding for NGOs and research centers working to understand the disease and treat its many victims. Dr. Krim died on January 15.

The New York Times, for example, carried this obituary, covering more than half a page, that devoted nearly all its column inches to the many contributions Dr. Krim had made to AIDS research.

What that obit referred to only in passing was the role she had played in immediate post-1945 Europe as a gun-runner for the Irgun– described there only as part of the “Zionist underground” rather than (as would have been more accurate) an already well-known terror group.

Mathilde and JohnsonBut neither the NYT nor any other Western MSM outlet I have seen/heard has made any mention of the role Mrs. Krim played as a very close confidante to Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson during the crucial days leading up to and during Israel’s “Six Day War” of 1967 again its Arab neighbors.

In those days, Mrs. Krim’s husband (her second) was Arthur B. Krim, a prominent Hollywood lawyer who was Chair of the Democratic National Finance Committee. Conveniently, the Krims had a ranch in Texas right next to Pres. Johnson’s; and it was a barely hidden secret in leading government circles in Israel and the United States at the time that Mrs. Krim was extremely close to Lyndon Johnson.

In the days leading up to the war, the many forms of “signaling” conducted between Washington and Tel Aviv were extremely important. Israel’s Labor Party PM, Levi Eshkol, needed to win support from Washington for the strategy he pursued in the lead-up to this war, which he and his generals were planning in exquisite detail in those days. And he needed reassurances from Washington that Pres. Johnson would back him, before he and his generals finally launched the “blitz” against the Arab armies that destroyed nearly all their capabilities in the first hours of the war. Mrs. Krim was almost certainly one key channel for those messages. She and Johnson were at their ranches together in the days leading up to the war (with several in-person visits and phone calls recorded between them); and then she went to Washington DC when he did, once the war broke out.

Mrs. Johnson, meanwhile, was suffering from what was described as a massive headache, and stayed in Texas.

More details about Mathilde Krim’s relationship with Johnson in that crucial period can be found in Donald Neff’s 1985 book Warriors for Jerusalem: The Six Days that Changed the Middle East. I don’t have a copy to hand but shall look for one shortly.

The huge role that Mrs. Krim played in 1967 is well-known to everyone who has seriously studied US-Israeli relations at that time. After all, she was an integral part of a well-oiled pro-Israeli influence movement at the heart of the US political system, and the DC-Tel Aviv signaling process that she was part of worked strongly in Israel’s favor to transform not just the Middle East but the whole shape of global politics. (It also led to the misery of the people of the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem; Gaza, and the Golan Heights: all of whom continue until today to live under the military occupation rule initiated by that war.)

So surely, that role Mrs. Krim played in the events of May-June 1967 should have received some mention in the news media this week? That it has not, thus far, probably tells us a lot about the extreme skittishness with which the Western MSM continues to address any topics related to the deep entanglement of so much of the US political elite– especially the Democratic Party– with their counterparts in Israel.

Syria, the Western “left”, and the Palestinian-rights movement

I’m sorry that I’ve been absent from the blogosphere for so long. There has been a lot to ponder in international affairs. But I’ve been busy for the past 7-plus years publishing other people’s work. I feel very good about what my publishing company, Just World Books, has achieved. But I regret that because I’ve poured so much of my time and attention into the publishing, I’ve had so little time left to do my own writing.

Crucial among my concerns has been the question of how and why so much of the western “left”– a force that played such a strong role in the antiwar and broadly anti-imperialism movement in the lead-up to the Iraq war in 2003– has become so deeply co-opted into the allegedly “liberal/humanitarian” wing of the imperialist movement over the past 14 years.

There is much that I hope to write about this over the coming months. My thinking on the topic still evolves. But it already seems clear to me that a number of processes have been at work:

  1. The erosion of the whole memory/immediacy of the question of imperialism and the need to counter it, as I understood it back when I was young in the UK, in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Many younger people in the west today think that imperialism/anti-imperialism is “tired old dogma” or whatever. Or, they talk glibly, in re Syria, about “dual imperialisms”– that is, Russian along with US/Western– without any appreciation of the relevance of the history of western imperialism in the M.E. region or the significance of the fact that Russia is in Syria as the invited ally of the legitimate government of Syria wile the US/Saudi/western forces are there to disrupt, hobble, or topple the country’s entire governing system, in the continuation of plans that the Zionists and Americans have pursued for many decades now.

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2017: A crucial year for the Palestine Question

Several people have been noting that next year, 2017, will mark the 50th anniversary of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), Gaza, and Golan. But the imminent arrival of this somber– and truly mind-boggling– anniversary reminds me that 2017 will mark important anniversaries of three other crucial developments in the Palestine Question, too. These are:

  • The centennial (100-year anniversary, no less!) of the Balfour Declaration, the diktat from the British Foreign Secretary that imperial London would support the creation of a “Jewish national home” in Palestine– whatever that meant… but would do so only provided that the “civil and political rights” of the non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine would not be adversely affected. (Fat chance!)
  • The 70th anniversary of the UN Partition Plan for Palestine– which gave Israel (along with its conjoined twin, the never-born Palestinian Arab state) the only “birth certificate” it has ever had in international law; and
  • The 30th anniversary of the launching of the First Intifada, which started in Gaza on December 9, 1987, spreading rapidly through the whole of the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Make no mistake about it: 50 years of rule by a foreign military is already a terrible travesty, and a crime against the whole Lockean concept that government can only legitimately be exercised “through the consent of the governed.” When the international community most recently codified and regulated the whole concept of rule by “military occupation”, in the Geneva Conventions of 1949 (especially the 4th one), it was only ever envisaged that military occupation by a foreign military power would be a temporary, or short-term situation, pending the conclusion of a conflict-resolving final peace treaty.

But for Palestinians and the legitimate indigenous residents of occupied Golan? No. For them, occupation has hardened into a 50-year-old force that because of Israel’s massive (and completely illegal)  policy of moving of large numbers of its own civilians into the West Bank and Syria’s Golan region now looks harder than ever to reverse or displace.

I remember back in early 1987, when pro-peace (or pro-peace-ish) Israelis first started facing up to idea that their occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and Golan was about to hit the 20-year mark. They were nonplussed! “How did this happen!” some of them exclaimed. That was back then, when there was still a fairly large “Peace Now” movement in Israel…

Six months after June 1987, the first intifada broke out. What heady (and painful) days those were for Palestinians. It may be hard to remember now, but traveling among all the cities of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and between those cities and Gaza was still relatively easy to do. Jerusalem was the organizing hub for the whole intifada. Throughout the six years that followed, the occupied territories were abuzz with numerous, very creative forms of nonviolent resistance…

Oslo, and the “return” soon thereafter to the OPT’s of the PLO leadership apparatus, put an end to all of that. Oslo ushered in, in quick order, the severing of Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank by an Israeli ring of steel; and then the progressive quadrillement of the whole of the West Bank– its dividing-up into tiny, mutually impenetrable cantons– by the new Israeli road system that had been specifically allowed by the PLO leadership as part of the Oslo arrangements; and the cutting-off of Gaza which later allowed Israel’s imposition on it of a debilitating, total siege…

At this point, nearly 30 years after 1987, I think the most constructive and realistic way to view “the occupation” is not as a singular step that started in 1967 that was somehow a “deviation” from what “should” have been Israel’s rightful path, but rather as a continuation of the settler-colonial process that started to gain international political traction with Lord Balfour’s declaration of 1917… and then won a serious (and troublingly “colonial”) international imprimatur from the infant United Nations in 1947…and has certainly continued since 1967 with Israel’s increasingly blatant colonization of the West Bank (and Golan.)

So let’s not just look at 1967. Let’s look at 1947, too– the year just 20 years earlier than 1967 when (a) the United Nations voted to give half of Palestine, lock-stock-and-barrel, to its overwhelmingly recently arrived population of Jewish settlers– this, in an era when everywhere else in the world de-colonization was already underway; and (b) the leaders of the Zionist yishuv in Palestine took the Partition Plan as their carte blanche (as Ilan Pappe has so rightly documented) to start launching their program of anti-Palestinian ethnic cleansing in–and soon enough also beyond– the areas the Partition Plan had allotted them. Yes, as Pappe has shown in his work, the Nakba started in November 1947.

And yes, the period of time that Israel has controlled the West Bank, Gaza, and Golan is far, far longer than the earlier period during which it controlled “only” the area within its pre-1967 boundaries (which were already, as we know, considerably broader than what the UN gave to the “Jewish state” in the Partition Plan.)

… And let’s look, too, at 1917, the year that Chaim Weizmann, Lord Rothschild, and other Zionist leaders managed to persuade British Foreign Secretary Lord Balfour to issue his infamous declaration, which was later incorporated into all the post-WWI peace agreements– as part of which, by amazing happenstance, Britain emerged with a neo-imperial “Mandate” from the League of Nations to rule over Palestine (and Jordan and Iraq)… just until these countries’ own inhabitants should be “ready” to exercise self-rule, you understand.

1917 came 32 years after the infamous Conference of Berlin,  in which the European powers sat round and solemnly carved up the whole of the African continent amongst themselves, to let each participating power engage in settler colonialism, looting, and rapine within its designated zone, exactly as it wished. But still, by 1917, the tide of global opinion was already starting to turn against settler colonialism and the “rights” of all the world’s peoples were much on the lips of diplomats.

Zionists have often tried to portray their movement as one of “national liberation” from foreign (including British) rule. In truth, though, they have always relied on the patronage of other, much larger, globally powerful states in order to realize their settler-colonial objectives in historic Palestine. That was the case in 1917. It was the case in 1947. It was the case in 1967. And it remains the case, today. Without the support that Washington has lavished on Israel– within its current, expansionist borders– for several decades now, there is no way that Israel could have defied all the norms by which the whole of the rest of the world community has to abide… and could have done so, continuously, for the whole of the past 50 years.

The publishing company that I founded in 2010, Just World Books, has published numerous great books on the Palestine Question. You can see the whole list of our publications here. Now, we are  working on our plans for the books we’ll be publishing later this year, and in 2017. (Stay tuned!) And we’re also, along with our friends, allies, and partners, planning to organize a great series of events around the whole United States in 2017, so that communities everywhere around the country can better understand what is happening in Palestine/Israel. More people in the United States than ever before are now hungry for good information about what’s happening in Palestine, and eager to understand both how the situation got to be where it is today, and what our own country’s role in that has been.

There’s no doubt that 2017 will be a crucial year for broadening the discussion of what’s happening in Palestine/Israel. But we shouldn’t just be looking at 50 years of occupation. We need to look, too, at 100 years of Western-supported Zionist settler-colonialism in Palestine, the 70-year anniversary of the Partition Plan and the Nakba that it sparked, and the 30-year anniversary of the First Intifada. When we look at all these anniversaries and put them into perspective alongside each other, then we can much better understand the state of the Palestine Question today.


70th anniversary of Sétif massacre

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the massacre that the “Free” French forces committed against Algerians in the wilaya of Sétif in May 1945.  This was at the very same time that the victorious Allies in Europe were celebrating their victory over Nazism. During World War II, many Algerians had fought alongside the “Free” French, believing the propaganda they used about “liberty, equality, and brotherhood”. So once it was clear that the “Free” French and their other anti-Nazi allies would be winning in Europe, many of the former Algerian fighters from Sétif, holding their own victory parade in their hometown, held up banners demanding what they had been promised… The French response? A prolonged and very punitive massacre…

My dear friend Landrum Bolling was an American newsman in North Africa at the time. Hearing rumors of the massacre, he went to Sétif to find out what had happened, carving right through all the French attempts to cover it up. You can read a report (in French) of Landrum’s account what he saw, in El Watan today.

I’m very pleased that an interview with him that I blogged ten years ago helped bring his testimony back to public notice… But really angry that my blog archives here have become so corrupted that I can’t find that blog post any more. Darn it.


NYT’s lazy, content-free reporting on Algeria

Today’s New York Times carried an article reported from the Algerian capital, Algiers, by staff reporter Aida Alami. What a waste of a reporting opportunity! This was the first time an NYT correspondent had been writing from inside this important North African country for a long time. Previous NYT pieces about Algeria were one on March 1 on some serious antifracking protests in the south, reported by Carlotta Gall from who knows where (no dateline given, and no sourcing for what she wrote, either); and an AP story from last December 20 about Algeria feeling the effects of the oil price collapse… So clearly, for Ms. Alami to get into Algeria was a major opportunity for some good, well-informed, on-the-ground reporting.

She flubbed it.

Her article is headlined “In Algeria, Entrepreneurs Hope Falling Oil Prices Will Spur Innovation”. It consists almost entirely of interviews with two Algerian guys aged 30 and 38 who founded a PR company in the capital, Algiers, and recently (last February) organized a conference on “innovation” and “success”, under the rubric “Fikra” (Thought). The other named source is someone described as a senior analyst at the political-risk research firm Eurasia; but his location is not disclosed, so it’s likely that Alami spoke to him outside Algeria.

Does Ms. Alami provide us with any flavor of what life is like in today’s Algiers? None at all! As it happens, I was in the country for most of this past week, and in Algiers itself for most of that period. I could tell you about the bustling downtown pedestrian zones, the busy port operations, the stifling traffic jams, the tens of thousands of students at the capital city’s three massive universities, the construction zones (often completely Chinese-staffed and -run) all around the city, the bookstores and restaurants, the well-cleaned streets often with beautiful streetside plantings, etc etc. You get no sense of the city or the lives of its people whatsoever from Ms. Alami’s thin and ill-reported piece.

But the piece is far worse than actually ill-reported. It is massively misreported, including in the following ways:

(1) Ms. Alami writes:

Since [the] French colonial era ended in the early 1960s after a bloody war, Algeria has been relatively closed to the world culturally, politically and economically.

This is absolute nonsense– and is belied by the little bios she provides for the two entrepreneurs she talked to. Of one, she says he “travels between Nice, in France, where he has another company” (though she doesn’t name the other place where he travels between, I assume it’s Algiers.) Of the other, she says he was educated at King’s College, London…

One of the the things I did in Algeria this past week was attend an international conference of librarians, who came to the east-Algerian city of Constantine from many parts of the world. Now, it is true that a handful of foreign participants in our conference– as Ms. Alami also reported of February’s Fikra conference– did not get their visas in time to attend. But organizers of my conference said that at least one participant had been refused permission to come to Algeria by her employer, a major research institute in France… Go figure.

Culturally, Algeria has produced numerous fine writers renowned throughout (mainly) the French-speaking world; a unique, indigenous form of hip-hop-fusion music called rai that resounds throughout the whole Mediterranean, and further afield; and numerous world-class soccer players…

The Algerian economy is, as Ms. Alami notes, fueled in a major way by exports of hydrocarbons. This is not at all a country that is “closed to the world economically”!

Plus, the way she writes that sentence makes it seem as if, under French colonial rule, everyone in the country had full and wonderful access to the world outside. Totally not true. French colonial rule, like colonial rule everywhere in the world, involved the maintenance of heavy restrictions on the ability of the indigenous people to maintain relations with the rest of the world– or even, under France’s notorious system of “quadrillage“, with compatriots in other districts.

Now, it is true that the rulers of the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria have had no incentive or desire to embrace integration with the neoliberal, US-led wing of the world economy. But that doesn’t mean it is isolated from the rest of it, at all. (And actually, I believe a lot of Algeria’s natural-gas exports are shipped to the U.S.; plus, a lot of U.S. firms are involved in various hydrocarbon exploration and extraction operations throughout the country– including Halliburton, which was doing the highly contested fracking there.)

(2) Since Ms. Alami’s visit to Algeria is/was such a rarity in the NYT’s reporting, she also definitely owes it to readers to try to describe the country’s tough geostrategic and geopolitical position more fully.

She writes:

The political system has been dominated since independence by one party, the National Liberation Front, while the economy has been choked by cronyism, insider dealing and anticompetitive regulations.

Algeria had its version of the Arab Spring in the 1980s amid another collapse in oil prices. In 1991, the army canceled elections after an initial round was won by Islamists, sparking a decade of civil war and terrorism that killed tens of thousands. Then, military leaders imposed a state of emergency that was lifted only in 2011.

What she does not write is that Algeria, population nearly 40 million, has two deeply troubled neighbors with whom it shares very long, hard-to-police borders. These are Libya and Mali. (A map should have been provided, to show this.) Given the proliferation of terrifyingly well-armed, extreme-Islamist militias in both those countries, today’s Algeria is in a very tough position indeed.

Add to that the fact that the country’s ageing, military-backed President, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, is apparently in a very vulnerable (and not clearly known) health situation with no clear mechanism in sight for organizing a succession… and the country’s politics actually seem much, much more important than the issue Ms. Alami chose to write about: whether two young-ish Algerian entrepreneurs are able to make a go of their PR company or not.

Back in early 2011, Algeria was just one of the many African Union countries that argued strongly against NATO’s use of any force against Libya. In the days leading up to the highly ill-advised NATO bombing of Libya, an African Union mission was actually in Libya, trying desperately to mediate a ceasefire between Col. Qadhafi and the Libyan opposition forces. But France, Britain, and their friends in the Obama White House were determined to go ahead with their bombing of Qadhafi’s forces, which they carried out under the (oh-so-mendaciously misapplied) excuse of a “humanitarian” intervention… And we have all seen what has become of Libya since then.

So nobody in the “west” listened to the anti-war arguments being made by the African Union governments, back in 2011. Today, now that Algeria is de facto and in practice a strong bulwark against any further spread of Al Qaeda and its affiliates in the region, people in the “west” should certainly be eager to learn a lot more about the country’s situation. This, they won’t do by reading silly, inconsequential, and unthinkingly orientialist reporting like that of Ms. Alami.

Algiers bookstore  Algiers Bay

Jodi does Jerusalem (NYT Sept 17, 2014)

The NYT’s Jodi Rudoren was writing about East Jerusalem on Sept. 17th. There was some interesting and useful information buried down deep in the article. In particular, she described the Israelis’ use of “skunk water” against civilian areas in E. Jerusalem for her readers and included snippets from a couple of interesting interviews with community leaders from E. Jerusalem’s seriously embattled– and extremely vulnerable– Palestinian community.

But the value of the piece was very badly marred by the whole frame she gave it, particularly in its top half. Here are the details:

 LocationMs. Rudoren writesHC comments
1Headline and framing"Unrest by Palestinians Surges in a Jerusalem Neighborhood"OK, the headline is chosen by the editors, not the reporter. Still, it reflects the general framing of the piece which is focused on the "unrest", rather than its causes.
2Para 4 (the casualty count), pt. 1" Some 727 people have been arrested, 260 of them under 18, for throwing rocks and other actions in near-daily demonstrations that were met with increased force."727 "people", nationality unidentified, have been arrested for "throwing rocks and other actions" (also unidentified.) I suspect that many of these "other actions" were nonviolent ones. Also, of course, many people are arrested on the basis of no infraction of the law. But no, Jodi R just goes with the police claims that, if someone was arrested, then he or she must have been doing something wrong. Tarek Abu Khdeir, anyone? Also of note: during the 1st Intifada, the Israeli hasbarists made a point of always describing the geological fragments as "rocks" rather than "stones". Why does she follow this?
3Para 4 (the casualty count), pt. 2"More than 100 police officers have been injured and 15-year-old Mohamed Sinokrot was killed by what a Palestinian doctor determined in an autopsy was a sponge-covered police bullet that hit his head."Here, we have "more than 100" police officers having been injured-- seriousness of injury not defined-- apparently being placed there to "balance" the 15-year-old Palestinian who was killed by the police. But how about the numbers of Palestinians injured-- why no mention of them? Also, let's hear how seriously these 100 Israeli police were "injured"... Finally, what on earth is a "sponge-covered police bullet"? Tell us, please, *what is the material in the bullet that is covered by the "sponge"*? Frankly, I've never heard of a sponge-covered bullet before. I've heard many times of the "rubber-coated metal bullets" that the Israeli military use, as reported by all the human-rights organizations.
4Para 5 (political explanations begin)"“I see the third intifada started already,” said Jawad Siyam, director of the Wadi Eilweh Information Center, which tracks demonstrations and arrests, using the Arabic shorthand for the waves of violence that plagued Israel in the late 1980s and early 2000s. “We said from the very beginning: It will stop in Gaza but it will continue in East Jerusalem.”"Where to start with this? "Intifada" is not some sinister "Arabic shorthand for... waves of violence". Intifada is the Arabic word for an uprising (or, more literally, a "shaking-off".) The 1st intifada (1987-93) was almost wholly nonviolent from the Palestinian side-- and the 2nd intifada (2000-2002) started off that way. No, Ms. Rudoren, "intifada" is not "shorthand" for anything-- and certainly for "waves of violence."
5Para 6 (more politics)"East Jerusalem is as much a concept as it is a specific location. Palestinians claim it as their future capital. Israel captured it from Jordan, along with the West Bank, in 1967, and later annexed some 27 square miles that include about a dozen hilly Palestinian enclaves, and a similar number of Jewish areas that most of the world regards as illegal settlements."That first sentence is a classic evasion! It is also, quite simply, untrue. East Jerusalem is definitely recognizable as a specific location: It is the whole part of Jerusalem that came under Israel's military occupation in June 1967 and has been under occupation ever since. Of course, Ms. R hates to use the "O" word! Hence, when describing how E.Jerusalem came under Israeli control in 1967, she does not say-- as would be absolutely the case-- that the IDF "occupied" it in the course of the hostilities, but rather that the IDF "captured" it. (American children have a game called "capture the flag" that is energetic and a lot of good fun. I imagine her use of "capture" in this context is intended to convey the same kinds of feelings.)

No word from her, of course, that Israel's unilateral act of Anschluss of an expanded area of E. Jerusalem in 1968 was *completely illegal* under international law. The verbal contortions she uses to describe "hilly Palestinian enclaves" and "Jewish areas that most of the world [but not, apparently Ms. Rudoren or her bosses?] regards as illegal settlements" are amazing and notable...
6Para 7, meet the Jerusalem Palestinians..."More than 300,000 of Jerusalem’s 830,000 residents are Palestinians. They are not citizens, but get social-welfare benefits from Israel and travel fairly freely... "Oh, they are so lucky to "get" social-welfare benefits. (Irony alert.) Nothing about how they also have to pay into the social-welfare funds and pay extremely high Israeli taxes, including the arnona, in return for which the municipal services they receive are derisory.
7Para 7, more about those whiny Palestinians"they have complained for years about shortchanged services, including a severe lack of classrooms and slow garbage pickup."Come on, Jodi Don't just tell us that the whiny Jerusalem Palestinians *complain* about the disproportionately poor level of services they receive in return for their tax payments. Tell us the *facts*, as well documented by numerous Israeli and other organizations about the deeply institutionalized discrimination in terms of classroom size, spending per pupil, per-capita spending on trash services etc that exists as between Jerusalem's Palestinian and Jewish residents...
8Para 9"Yossi Klein Halevi, a skullcap-wearing Jew who lives in the area called French Hill, which overlooks Issawiya, said he noticed a woman in a Muslim head scarf eyeing him nervously during a recent evening walk. Then he realized that he himself tensed up as a car filled with young Palestinian men passed... "First of all, French Hill is not just "an area". It is an illegal settlement-- one of the first to be built in occupied E. Jerusalem. Please tell us this, Ms. Rudoren. Secondly, Yossi Klein Halevi is not just "a skullcap wearing Jew" who happens to live in French Hill. He is one of the numerous Israeli settlers in the occupied territories who was born in the United States and made a deliberate decision to become a settler. And he happens to be a Contributing Editor for The New Republic, a largely neocon American publication. It is the height of laziness for a journo to write about another journo (and another American journo, at that), as though said individual is just a random vox pop...

Absence of “peace process” might help Gaza ceasefire negotiations?

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal gave an important press conference in Doha, Qatar today, in which he spelled out the movement’s terms for concluding a ceasefire with Israel over Gaza. (Not clear to me yet whether his demands include some regarding the West Bank. I think the demand for re-release of the Shalit-deal-released Palestinians whom Israel rearrested over the past month would apply to the West Bank?)

Of great significance, too: The fact that PA/PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) today also reportedly endorsed Hamas’s terms in re the ceasefire. This puts Abu Mazen in a good position to be a reliable carrier of messages between Hamas and its US-Israeli opponents. Previously– as recently as about a week ago– Abu Mazen had lined himself up completely with the US-Israel alliance and its friends in Egypt’s military government, as they tried to force their own ceasefire terms down Hamas’s throat without any hint of a negotiation. Now, evidently, something– perhaps the overwhelming force of Palestinian public opinion?– has persuaded Abu Mazen that the most honorable role he can aspire to is as a letter carrier, rather than by continuing to be a Quisling for his people.

While reading this news today, it occurred to me that the fact that there is nothing left of that long-running and deceptive, US-stage-managed pantomime called the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process” probably makes it easier for the parties concerned in the current Gaza-Israel crisis to conclude the robust humanitarian ceasefire that urgently needs to be nailed down. Back during the past two Gaza-Israel crises, in 2008-9 and 2012, Washington and Tel Aviv were still very eager to use the crisis to build up the political prestige of Abu Mazen and somehow to keep the peace process panto on the road; and Abu Mazen, loyal (and nicely rewarded) servant that he was, was very eager to do their bidding. This time, thank God, the business of concluding the ceasefire that urgently needs to be concluded bears none of that extra freight. It can be concluded on its own terms, between the parties directly concerned– that is, on the one side the US-Israeli alliance and on the other, Hamas and its allies.

As noted, Abu Mazen can play a decent role– as a letter-carrier between the US-Israeli side and the Palestinian resistance side. This would actually be very similar to the role that Lebanese PM Fouad Siniora played in the Lebanon-Israel crisis of 2006. A crucial aspect of that negotiation, remember, was that no-one was trying, during those ceasefire negotiations, to force Lebanon to sign a peace agreement with Israel, something that would have made the reaching of a ceasefire agreement impossible, despite the huge amount of damage that Israel inflicted on the Lebanese people during the terrible 33 days of that war. It’s the same in Palestine now.

Much remains to be negotiated between the parties to the current conflict– including, as always in these ceasefire negotiations between warrior Israel and its neighbors, the precise modalities of the ceasefire such as whether there will be a verification mechanism, and if run by whom and how; the sequencing of the many steps involved, including the reopening of Gaza to the rest of the world, implementation of the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access, release of prisoners and captives, and so on on. But at least now these matters, which are of grave and urgent concern to Gaza Palestinians and their friends all around the world can be addressed without being weighted down by the requirements of that travesty of a diplomatic phenomenon, called the “peace” process.

And yes, given the final failure of the “peace process”, it surely behooves the members of the UN “Security” Council– if they have any respect for the basic survival and security of Palestinians in their homeland– to abolish the Quartet and regain control of this diplomacy for the UNSC itself. For a Biblical 40 years, the United States has held this crucial item on the world diplomatic agenda captive to its own wiles. It is time for the UNSC to wrest it back.

But that will all take time. The people of the pulverized Gaza Strip can’t wait. They need a decent ceasefire now– one that will end the suffocation, humiliation, and continuous assaults they have suffered for the 47 years. Let’s hope the newly appointed letter carrier does an honest, decent job.

WaPo’s biased reporting on Gaza, part 3

You have to ask if any of the WaPo reporters now covering the Gaza-Israel conflict remembers how to do basic, objective reporting of a news story. Anyway, the editors who allow such biased reporting to appear, and who insert the often stupid headlines, also have to take much of the blame.

Our main lesson today comes from this piece in today’s paper, bylined by William Booth from Gaza City. The headline is, “After overnight invasion, ‘we now have Israelis in our houses,’ a Gazan says.”

What I want to note, regarding this piece and another that ran beside it, bylined by Booth and two other, from “Jerusalem”, are some of the ways in which the reporting of speech acts can carry a heavy freight of meaning and implication that is quite inappropriate in a news article. Yes, Journalism 101, but it seems Booth and his colleagues need some reminding of this.

A speech act: Someone speaks. How to report it? “She said” or “he said” is nearly always the most straightforward and honest.

Or, you could alter that verb, depending on the way the person made the utterance: “She yelled”, “she whispered”, “she muttered”, “she screeched”… Be careful with these, though because some of them, depending on the context, carry some freight of judgment/implication.

Then, there are speech-reporting verbs that clearly carry the weight of the reporter’s judgment of the speaker. As here, where Booth writes about Hamas politician Musheer Al Masri that, “Masri boasted that Hamas cadres have fired Kornet anti-tank guided missiles… ” Oh! So because the guy is from Hamas, Booth feels it’s quite okay to portray him as some kind of boastful blowhard? Why didn’t he write that “Masri said…”, or possibly “Masri claimed…”? (But “claimed” carries some implication of the writer’s doubt as to the veracity of the claim. “Said” is nearly always better.)

If we’re into describing politicians as “boasting”, how about we use it for many of the extremely blowhard comments made by Netanyahu? But no. The WaPo/CraPo wouldn’t do that, would it?

And in the very next para, we have an even more brazen attempt to use slanted reporting of a speech act to demean a Hamas person . Booth writes,

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri, standing in front of Shifa Hospital, where members of the Islamist militant movement gather to brief — and spin — the media, said…

Oh my goodness! He feels the need to remind his readers that every so often it is possible that officials who are “briefing” the media are also trying to “spin” them? When will we see this reminder inserted into reporting of a media briefing from a US or Israeli official? In the WaPo/CraPo, probably never.

The other piece— to which Booth contributed, along with lead byliner Sudarsan Raghavan and rookie local hire Ruth Eglash– is much more consistent in its use of “saids”. Actually, there are a lot of “saids” in it, since the piece is nearly wholly a compilation of media briefings issued by various bodies (primarily, “the Israeli military”, which is kind of weird; shouldn’t they write “the IDF Spokesman”?) Because of its reliance on official briefings– spinnings?– this piece could have been “reported” from just about anywhere, including the couch in my basement.

But as you get lower down in this story, there is one intriguing use of a speech-act-reporting word other than “said”, and a little sentence that baldly carries a “potent” judgment that is completely out of place in a piece of news reporting.

The speech-act-reporting word in question is “acknowledged”, as in “Netanyahu also acknowledged that ‘there is no guarantee of 100 percent success’ in the push to destroy the tunnels.” “Acknowledged” is one of the SARW’s that conveys the writer’s judgment not of the author of the speech act in question but of the truth value of the proposition contained in the speech act. (Other SARW’s that do this include “realized that”, “understood that”, and so on.)

In the context there, the WaPo writers’ use of “acknowledged” conveys that they think that what Netanyahu was saying at that point was true and reasonable. As it happens, I agree with that judgment (but not the possible further implication, that Netanyahu is altogether pretty “reasonable”– unlike that boastful braggart over at Hamas!) But my agreeing with the judgment is not the point. That kind of judgment should not be in a news article. Rather than “acknowledged”, the writers should have used “said”– or, in this context, “added”. Keep it neutral, guys!

But there, at the end of the next paragraph, we have an amazing piece of (pro-Israeli) judgment:

An expansion of the ground offensive, military analysts said, could entail a broadening of the mission to seek and destroy rocket launchers, weapons infrastructure and storage facilities, and perhaps even eliminate key Hamas commanders and officials. Even as Israel has relentlessly bombarded Gaza, Hamas militants have succeeded in firing hundreds of rockets into southern and central Israel, rattling Israelis. As long as the militants possess rockets and tunnels, they remain a potent threat to Israel.

That latter judgment is something they (or I) could write in an op-ed– or, if these news reporters heard a military analyst say it, they could report that. But no. It is presented as, quite simply and baldly, their own judgment. I wonder if they’d claim that, because the first of the three sentences there included an attribution of some technical-military judgments to (completely unidentified) “military analysts”, then that attribution should somehow carry over to the third of the sentences? But I don’t think so, since the second sentence seems to include (gasp!) a tiny shadow of their own reporting.

So wow. A “potent threat to Israel”. That is scary, no? No wonder we Americans should all be expected to line up like zombies and support each and any action the Israeli military might take to defuse that threat…

Um, a bit of neutrality, please, WaPo reporters? If you are going to do some actual reporting on the threat perceptions that people involved in this conflict have (though that is not what you’re doing here), then surely we should have some mention of the threat perceptions of the 1.8 million Palestinians of Gaza, the vast majority of whom are civilians.

I shall not hold my breath.

One last question I have is whether William Booth, now described as “The Post’s Jerusalem bureau chief”, though just a few days ago he was in London, speaks enough Arabic to do his own on-the-ground reporting. If not, then the “native informant” colleague who actually helped him do the reporting should have been given the byline, or at least a co-byline, on the Gaza-datelined piece. In the Jerusalem-datelined piece, no “local informants” are identified either– except Ruth Eglash, who is given a tagline at the bottom of truly grandiose length. So we’re told there that she previously worked as a “senior editor at The Jerusalem Post.” And that is supposed to burnish her journalistic credentials??