Meanwhile in Lebanon…

With all the massacres and war crimes that the Israelis have been committing in Gaza over the past weeks, and continue to commit despite their self-styled ‘unilateral ceasefire, and all this being compounded by a sorely disappointing Obama who seems to be unwilling to apply more than a few cosmetic changes to US foreign policy, I have been neglecting the homefront for a while. So here goes.

The Palestinian (ex-)residents of the Nahr al-Bared camp, destroyed by the Lebanese army last year, have written an open letter to Saniura to protest against turning their former home into little more than the extension of a military base for the army that destroyed it. The letter was published in al-Akhbar and as-Safir and an English translation is provided by Electronic Lebanon. There have also been a report of hundreds of PFLP-GC  fighters (a Palestinian faction controlled by Syria) being moved to Naameh (south of Beirut) and the Beddawi camp in Tripoli. The same Lebanese army has recently severely beaten up and publicly humiliated two gay men on Sassine square, in the centre of christian Ashrafiyyeh, Beirut.
The ‘national dialogue’ on defence policy has been postponed until after the parliamentary elections scheduled for june this year, and even the national budget  couldn’t be agreed on, after the opposition threatened to veto it because they say not enough money is allocated for the reconstruction of the south destroyed by Israel in 2006. Meanwhile, although most of the roads in this country remain potholed and rubbish-strewn, and power cuts of up to 21 hours a day prevail anywhere but in the centre of Beirut, there does seem to be money for a preposterously bad-taste, ludicrously wasteful and environmentally destructive project that wants to copy Dubai in constructing a massive cedar tree-shaped peninsula in front of the coast at Dammour – exclusively reserved for the rich and infamous, of course. As if Lebanon is some tiny gulf state without a thousands-year old heritage that needs silly glamour shit like this to attract tourists… All Lebanon needs is a decent infrastructure and political stability, but that’s the last thing on the minds (read: is not in the interest) of the warlords and feudal landowners who ‘govern’ this country… Meanwhile, a reconciliation meeting of sorts has taken place with M14 druze leader Jumblatt getting together with Hizbullah parliamentary bloc leader Raad for the first time since the fighting in may last year. Lebanon also officially has an ambassador in Syria now, for the first time since the two countries were created (or separated) by the French in 1943/1946. He is called Michel Khoury.
A riot has occurred in the Tripoli prison, where inmates held two wardens hostage for a night. And for the first time in months, some fighting was reported between M14 and M8 supporters, leaving 8 people wounded – a lot more of this has been predicted in the run-up to the elections, but thus far hardly any has materialised. Saida has been made political poster-free now too, in addition to (most of) Beirut, which is supposed to lessen tensions, as a lot of this fighting starts over people tearing down the other party’s posters – or putting up their own in areas ‘controlled’ by the other party.
In other news, Israel is once again claiming (through its TV Channel 2) to have prevented a massive Hizbullah attack on ‘Israeli interests’ abroad, this time in Europe. They come out with a story like this every two months or so and of course there is no way to check its truthfulness, especially as they are always careful to keep details (if any) vague and unconfirmable. This time they claim to have received help from the intelligence services of an ‘undisclosed European country‘.
Ynet carries an interesting article on the Fillka Israel blog, a much-quoted but  notoriously unreliable source of  ‘secrecy and intelligence news’, written by someone claiming to be one Elie Bni Symon, a non-existing professor of political science at Hebrew University. Ynet claim it is in reality a black propaganda operation run a Lebanese called Khodor Awarkeh for a Syrian/SSNP intelligence network.
The new shia resistance group that was announced recently seems to be non-existent too, and this according to Nowlebanon, who would be delighted at finding an ‘answer’ to Hizbullah: ‘Resistance watchers – analysts, authors and journalists – contacted by NOW said they’d never heard of Husseini and found it strange it took a television interview to bring a 3,000-strong actively-training force to come to light. Wouldn’t someone have noticed them earlier, was the resounding refrain. In fact, it was quite a challenge finding people who knew much about Husseini. “I doubt his wife supports him,” one religious leader said, after making yet another phone call on the ancient Panasonic fax machine at his side to a colleague in search of information on Husseini. In fact, interview after interview ended with the same conclusion: This is mostly talk.’

And finally, an item which bears no direct relation to the Middle East, but is highly revealing of the attitude of the British army (or maybe of human beings in general): ‘A former official with the British Ministry of Defense said military pilots in the country have been shooting at UFOs since the 1980s. Nick Pope, former head of the Ministry of Defense’s UFO project, said UFOs have been fired upon but none have been brought down or captured by the Royal Air Force, The Daily Telegraph reported Monday. “There was a faction in the MoD who said ‘We want to shoot down a UFO and that will resolve the issue one way or another,'” Pope said. “We know of cases where the order has been given to shoot down — with little effect to the UFO.” Pope said pilots only fired upon UFOs in cases where the objects appeared threatening. “In the case of UFOs, whether the object is causing a threat is very much a pilot’s judgment call. The public won’t know unless it comes down in a heavily populated area,” he said.’ Welcome to planet earth!


Waltz with Bashir

Since the censorship board of Lebanon’s Security Directorate bans public screenings of Israeli movies, UNAM officials called the screening “private.”  “The subject of this film is a crucial moment in the history of Lebanon, for the history of Israel, for the history of the Palestinians, and for the history of Palestinian life in Lebanon,” UMAM founder Monika Borgmann told Haaretz.  “At some point every state must deal with its violent past and the sooner it does so the better. That’s why I think this movie should be shown,” she said. “Yesterday, my phone didn’t stop ringing…everyone wants a copy of the film,” she said. “I think it comes out on DVD in March. The next day, it’s going to be pirated all over Lebanon.” is publishing excerpts from the graphic novel accompanying the animated movie ‘Waltz with Bashir’. Two were published yesterday, two more will follow next Saturday. The film romanticises what the Israelis call ‘the (first) Lebanese war’, although it should more correctly be called ‘the nth Israeli war’, of course. It is written by an Israeli soldier who fought in that war and witnessed the Sabra and Shatila massacre ‘from a hundred yards away’. The first excerpts are quite disappointing, as they concentrate – predictably – on the ‘troubled conscience’ of the invaders and murderers, who are portrayed as individuals with personalities, dreams, nightmares and histories, while the Palestinians and Lebanese (in this excerpt at least) remain anonymous speechless masses or dead bodies forming no more than a backdrop for the main actors. In that sense, there is nothing revolutionary or new about it. Our media show us the Middle East from that perspective every day, dehumanizing the victims and lamenting the ‘anguish’ of the victimisers. Ah well, there had to be a reason why the film got so many oscars and Israeli academy awards… Notice how Haaretz (or Borgmann?) suggests, in the above quote, that the state which has to deal with its violent past is not Israel but only Lebanon… Meanwhile we have moved one ‘Lebanese’ and several ‘Palestinian’ wars on, and no doubt in 20 years some Israeli will start to feel pangs of conscience about the current slaughters too – and find a way to spin money and fame out of them. We’ll keep you updated.

Wanted in the Hague

It seems we are finally about to witness a serious legal assault on the war criminals occupying the land to our south. Tzipi Livni nearly cancelled her visit to Belgium after lawyers asked a court to arrest her for the war crimes perpetrated on the Palestinians. Some years ago, it very nearly came to a trial of Ariel Sharon in Belgium over Sabra and Shatila. Similar proceedings are initiated in the Netherlands and Great Britain. With top UN officials also calling for an inquiry, Israel is taking the threats extremely seriously: ‘Israeli authorities have issued an order banning the publication of the full name and photographs of the field commanders of the Gaza war, the Haaretz reported. The measure has been taken amid concerns that international bodies and rights groups are planning to take legal actions against the high-ranking Israeli commanders who have been involved in the alleged war crimes in the Gaza Strip. The Israeli Defense Ministry fears that interviews with army officers describing the destruction of civilian homes and other internationally unlawful acts could incriminate the military commanders. The ban applies to the full name and photographs of officers from the rank of battalion commander down. The order also prohibits tying particular battlefield commanders to the destruction of particular areas in the coastal sliver. According to the report, the decision had been made following the publication of reports that a lawsuit had been filed with a Dutch court against one of the Israeli brigade commanders after his identity was revealed by the media.’
As well as: ‘Barak is expected to bring forward a draft resolution supporting army officers and troops involved in unlawful actions during the Gaza War, The Jerusalem Post reported in its online edition. The move comes amid speculations that Tel Aviv will face a wave of legal cases which will be opened against Israel over alleged war crimes committed during Operation Cast Lead. “The Israeli government bears the responsibility for sending IDF troops on missions, as well as for defending civilians, and as such is obligated to grant its full support,” Barak said Friday. The minister added that Israeli officers and troops should not be harmed due to their participation in the military operation. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had earlier tasked a special team, headed by Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann, to deal with possible lawsuits. The army will also set up a legal team to collect evidence which could be used to defend military commanders in international courts.’ Barak seems to forget the principle established at the Nuremberg trials of another genocide: ‘Befehl ist Befehl’ is no defence… In fact, I seem to remember that Israeli law actually contains a clause to the effect that it is the duty of every citizen to refuse to carry out orders that consitute the sort of human rights violations that the nazis inflicted on a certain religious community…
Not helping their defense in court will be remarks like these: ‘Israel’s war against Hamas was launched, in large part, to send a message to its adversaries: Be afraid. Any attacks on the Jewish state will be met with overwhelming, even brutal, force. Traditionally off-limits sites, like Mosques and hospitals, won’t serve as hiding places. Enemy leaders will be hunted down and killed — even if they’re surrounded by their children and wives. Israeli leaders believe they’ve accomplished that task. “The Arab view is now that Israel is a crazed animal, locked in a cage, fuming to get out all the time,” a senior Foreign Ministry official tells Danger Room, approvingly. “Now, it’s the responsibility of the Arab leadership to keep the animal in the cage, by not provoking it.“‘ In any case, where I come from, crazed animals are not kept in cages – they are shot. By far the quicker and easier solution, and you don’t have to feed them either…

The following is an example of the real life implementation of that doctrine, and is only one of the many atrocities Israelis will (hopefully) be convicted of: ‘Out of all the devastation I have seen so far, there is one story in particular that I think the world needs to hear. I met a mother who was at home with her ten children when Israeli soldiers entered the house. The soldiers told her she had to choose five of her children to “give as a gift to Israel.” As she screamed in horror they repeated the demand and told her she could choose or they would choose for her. Then these soldiers murdered five of her children in front of her. The concept of “Jewish morality” is truly dead. We can be fascists, terrorists, and Nazis just like everybody else.’

Mark Regev, the IDF spokesman, is getting ever more preposterous – he is now beginning to sound like that clown employed by Saddam who kept insisting the Iraqi army was successfully defending the country until the bombs were literally raining down on the building he was speaking in. After accusing Hamas of killing children to make the IDF look bad, he now ‘suggests’ it was Hamas, not Israel, using white phosphorus: ‘”When you walk into a totalitarian government where people have injuries, how do you know that some of these injuries weren’t caused – for example – by Hamas munitions?,” Regev told Britain’s Channel Four. When confronted by the Channel Four presenter for accusing Hamas, Regev argued that the democratically-elected government of Hamas is an “authoritarian government” and therefore reports gathered from witnesses in Gaza can not be relied upon. He went on to lash out at a report by the channel’s correspondent in Gaza for suggesting that “Israel went and randomly killed civilians” adding that it “is not clearly the case.”‘ Relish the careful formulation of that phrase: he doesn’t say ‘it is clearly not the case’, but ‘it is not clearly the case’… What the hell does that mean? Something is either the case or it is not, there is no middle ground there. This is Israeli semantics deviousness of the classic variety of ‘occupied territories’ versus ‘THE occupied territories’ – or even better: ‘disputed territories’! The Israelis don’t seem to realise that the time they could get away with a few of these niceties in the eyes of the world is long past… Notice also the characterisation ‘authoritarian government’ – used by the spokesman for a government that routinely censures the press, keeps journalists and aid workers away from war zones, forbids opposition parties and violently oppresses a significant part of its own population in its totally militarised society. Regev’s remarks are all the more absurd because they ‘came as Yigal Palmor, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman finally admitted on Friday that the controversial chemical weapon was deployed in its offensive against the Palestinian territory. “Yes, phosphorus was used but not in any illegal manner,” Palmor told The Times. “Some practices could be illegal but we are going into that. The IDF is holding an investigation concerning one specific incident.” Palmor was referring to the Israeli shelling of a UN headquarters in Gaza where the compound was hit by three white phosphorus shells causing a fire which destroyed much of the aid supplies.’

Meanwhile, anonymous human rights activists claiming to be Israelis have put up this website, with ‘Wanted by the International Criminal Court’ posters offering a handy overview of the most indictable suspects, such as this one: ‘Description of the suspect: a white woman, 50 years old, above average height, blonde hair.
Anyone who has information about the suspect when he is outside of the Israeli borders, report immediately to:
The Prosecutor – POBox 19519, 2500 Hague, Netherlands
Fax +31 70 515 8 555 –
All calls will be treated in confidence’

Auntie Beeb is a bitch!

‘But the BBC made a rare breach of an agreement dating back to 1963 when it announced it would not give free airtime to the (Gaza aid) appeal. (…) The BBC (…) said it did not want to risk public confidence in its impartiality.’

The BBC? Impartial? On the Middle East? Hahaha…. As BBC founder Lord Reith famously wrote: ‘They know they can expect us not to be really impartial’.

Update: ITV and Channel 4 will air the ad, and 2000 people demonstrated outside the BBC building, reports… the BBC.

The end of a legend?

It’s hardly the first time, but the Daily Star has once again been invaded by bailiffs who shut the paper’s offices down last week. My almost-employer (I was offered the job last summer but then they turned out to have no money to pay me) is up to its ears in debt as usual – it’s been written up by a tiny staff and a seemingly-endless supply of unpaid interns for years now. The paper was founded in 1952 by Kamal Mroue, and continued by his widow after his death in 1966. It died and resurged several times during the civil war. Since its resurrection in 1991, the founder’s son Jamil Mroue has been running it as virtually the only independent newspaper in Lebanon – and the Middle East for that matter – and consequently it hasn’t got the party/sectarian backing (i.e. financial input) that keeps Lebanon’s myriad other newspapers going without a readership sufficient to support it. Apparently nobody seems to appreciate the value of this sole independent english-language source for news in the region. Or its policy of giving a voice to all sides and parties. And thus, unless Jamil finds a new source of money somewhere quickly (something which he has a proven reputation for), a legend will die – and several of my friends will have to look for new jobs…

The monarchs are getting restless…

In a telltale sign of how serious the repercussions of the Gaza massacre – and the complicity of the ‘moderate’ Arab regimes in it – are becoming, read this plea annex threat written by prince Turki al-Faisal (high up in the Saudi royal family and former head of the Saudi intelligence services) in the Financial Times: ‘Last week, President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad of Iran wrote a letter to King Abdullah, explicitly recognising Saudi Arabia as the leader of the Arab and Muslim worlds and calling on him to take a more confrontational role over “this obvious atrocity and killing of your own children” in Gaza. The communiqué is significant because the de facto recognition of the kingdom’s primacy from one of its most ardent foes reveals the extent that the war has united an entire region, both Shia and Sunni. Further, Mr Ahmadi-Nejad’s call for Saudi Arabia to lead a jihad against Israel would, if pursued, create unprecedented chaos and bloodshed in the region. So far, the kingdom has resisted these calls, but every day this restraint becomes more difficult to maintain. When Israel deliberately kills Palestinians, appropriates their lands, destroys their homes, uproots their farms and imposes an inhuman blockade on them; and as the world laments once again the suffering of the Palestinians, people of conscience from every corner of the world are clamouring for action. Eventually, the kingdom will not be able to prevent its citizens from joining the worldwide revolt against Israel. Today, every Saudi is a Gazan, and we remember well the words of our late King Faisal: “I hope you will forgive my outpouring of emotions, but when I think that our Holy Mosque in Jerusalem is being invaded and desecrated, I ask God that if I am unable to undertake Holy Jihad, then I should not live a moment more.”
Let us all pray that Mr Obama possesses the foresight, fairness, and resolve to rein in the murderous Israeli regime and open a new chapter in this most intractable of conflicts.

Obama sorely disappoints already…

I should have known – I knew – it was naive to take Obama’s speech at face value, to think he was anything other than the figurehead of the military-industrial and financial interests every US president inevitably represents. But like so many people in this region (and presumably all over the world) I desperately wanted to believe a better world was just around the corner. Just for a few days, to bask in some hope and optimism and leave the despair and bitterness behind – until reality hit again and put us back with our feet on the ground. Yesterday night, it happened. 48 hours of hope is all we were allowed. Robert Fisk points out the obvious: despite the celebrated strenghtening of the State department and all the talk about diplomacy over blood, the professed willingness to talk to ‘all parties involved’ and the support for democracy and freedom for all  apparently do not extend to the democratically elected government of Palestine. So much for change…: ‘It would have helped if Obama had the courage to talk about what everyone in the Middle East was talking about. No, it wasn’t the US withdrawal from Iraq. They knew about that. They expected the beginning of the end of Guantanamo and the probable appointment of George Mitchell as a Middle East envoy was the least that was expected. Of course, Obama did refer to “slaughtered innocents”, but these were not quite the “slaughtered innocents” the Arabs had in mind.
There was the phone call yesterday to Mahmoud Abbas. Maybe Obama thinks he’s the leader of the Palestinians, but as every Arab knows, except perhaps Mr Abbas, he is the leader of a ghost government, a near-corpse only kept alive with the blood transfusion of international support and the “full partnership” Obama has apparently offered him, whatever “full” means. And it was no surprise to anyone that Obama also made the obligatory call to the Israelis.
But for the people of the Middle East, the absence of the word “Gaza” – indeed, the word “Israel” as well – was the dark shadow over Obama’s inaugural address. Didn’t he care? Was he frightened? Did Obama’s young speech-writer not realise that talking about black rights – why a black man’s father might not have been served in a restaurant 60 years ago – would concentrate Arab minds on the fate of a people who gained the vote only three years ago but were then punished because they voted for the wrong people? It wasn’t a question of the elephant in the china shop. It was the sheer amount of corpses heaped up on the floor of the china shop. (…) Sure, give the man a chance. Maybe George Mitchell will talk to Hamas – he’s just the man to try – but what will the old failures such as Denis Ross have to say, and Rahm Emanuel and, indeed, Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton?’

But he might soon have another chance to display his diplomatic approach, in Israel’s next war, one which will not conveniently end the day before his inauguration. The invaluable (see also here for the gigantic weapons shipment the US sent to Israel last week and here for a discussion of the offshore gas field recently discovered off Gaza as one of Israel’s motivations for the invasion) carries a comprehensive recapitulation and analysis of the political and strategic developments in Lebanon since the Doha agreement of last June:In the Middle East, it is widely believed that the war against Gaza is an extension of the 2006 war against Lebanon. Without question, the war in the Gaza Strip is a part of the same conflict. Moreover, since the Israeli defeat in 2006, Tel Aviv and Washington have not abandoned their design to turn Lebanon into a client state. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy, in so many words, during his visit to Tel Aviv in early January that today Israel was attacking Hamas in the Gaza Strip and that tomorrow it would be fighting Hezbollah in Lebanon. Lebanon is still in the cross-hairs. Israel is searching for a justification or a pretext to launch another war against Lebanon.
Washington and Tel Aviv had initially hoped to control Beirut through client political forces in the March 14 Alliance. When it became apparent that these political forces could not dominate Lebanon politically the Israeli military was unleashed on Lebanon with a goal of bringing about the ultimate downfall of Hezbollah and its political allies. Areas where support for Hezbollah and its political allies were strongest saw the harshest Israeli attacks in 2006 as part of an attempt to reduce, if not remove, popular support for them. (…)
Tel Aviv has been mapping a large-scale blitzkrieg against Lebanon as a whole, which includes an immediate land invasion. Just before the Israeli massacre in the Gaza Strip started, Israeli officials and generals had promised that no Lebanese village would be immune from the wrath of Israeli aerial bombardments, regardless of religion, sect, and/or political orientation. In substance, Tel Aviv has promised to totally destroy Lebanon. Israel has also confirmed that in any future war against Lebanon, the entire country rather than Hezbollah will be the target. In practice, this was already the case in 2006’s Israeli aerial attacks on Lebanon. Continue reading “Obama sorely disappoints already…”