Archive for the ‘Israel’ Category
Posted by worriedlebanese on 11/04/2011
Ten days ago, a group of Israeli business executives and public figures (including the former heads of Shin Bet and the Mossad, and a former IDF Chief of Staff), proposed a plan to end the Israeli-Arab conflict: they modestly called it the Israeli Peace Initiative (considering it’s nonofficial, call this naming wishful thinking). Up to now, not much attention was given to a proposal that seems like a “regional version” of the “Geneva Accords”. In its content, it doesn’t actually offer anything new. It’s a simple variation on the “land for peace” principle that has been the dominant peace paradigm since the drafting of the UNSC resolution 242 in 1967.
The only “novelty” in this proposal is that it presents itself as a “response to the Arab Peace Initiative (API)” which was is the Arab League’s first public endorsement of the “Land for Peace” principle (during the Beirut Summit in 2002, and then during the Riyad Summit in 2007 when it re-adopted the API without altering it). The endorsement of the “Land for Peace” principle is not the most significant element in the Arab Peace Initiative. What matters the most is that it showed the Arab states’ common willingness to recognize Israel…
Likewise, the “Israeli Peace Initiative” most significant feature is that it believes time is playing against Israel, and that it was critical for the Israeli government to revive negotiations.
What’s wrong with the “Land for Peace” principle?
I personally believe that the problem lies in the fact that it proposes a solution to the conflict without addressing the dynamics behind the conflict, and the dynamics that the conflict has created. Moreover, this principle doesn’t “solve” a conflict, but actually proposes a principle for settlement that covers three distinct conflictual dynamics:
- Interstate conflicts: two conflicts have already been been solved – Israel-Egypt & Israel-Jordan – and two conflicts remain – Lebanon-Israel & Syria-Israel. In this case, the territorial element is obvious, and the “land for peace” formulae has proven to be efficient in solving two conflicts, and it will undoubtedly prove itself when an agreement will be reached regarding the two remaining interstate conflicts. And the reason is actually very simple, the “land for peace” principles actually translates to an old & agreed principle in interstate relations (and law), that of territorial sovereignty.
- The Israeli-Palestinian problem: in this case territory is obviously an issue, but it is not the central one. The central issue is the relation between people (individuals and groups). The 1947 partition plan tried to offer a two state solution to this conflict: this could have allowed a territorial solution to the conflict were it accepted by the two parties, but it was actually refused by both (explicitly by the Palestinian side and implicitly by the Israeli side through the conquest of additional land). Moreover, the successive Israel governments have actually imposed a one state solution to the conflict since 1967 through a policy of land control, ethnic engineering and legal disenfranchisement). Trying to solve such a conflict “territorially” without looking into the people’s needs and grievances is both unrealistic and unethical. The problem here is between people that a particularly unkind history has shaped. So before looking into a “territorial settlement” (and this requires a search for the legal grounds underlying this principle, and the mechanisms of its implementation), one should remember that people have rights… and start addressing these issues.
- Refugees problem (Palestinians refugees and Jewish refugees): Here too, one should concentrate on the human dimension of the problem. It’s not about territory, it’s about people.
What are the dynamics that should be addressed?
– Use of force to attain gains. Violence pays! and it pays pretty well. It has allowed the Jewish state established in 1948 to expand territorially and demographically, to reverse the ethnic balance, to reallocate wealth and redistribute property. Violence was necessary for the creation of a Jewish State (in a hostile environment), and necessary for its expansion.
Likewise, violence has served the Palestinian leadership well. There were no legal or political ways for it to assert itself, to expand the national movement and make its aspirations heard. That is true in the Palestinian Refugee camps and in the West Bank and Gaza. The only place where rights could be fought for legally (but not always successfully) was within Israel because some Palestinians still residing there were granted Israeli citizenship… Moreover, violence proved particularly instrumental for the Palestinian political parties to impose themselves after loosing an election (Fatah) or to assert their political rights (Hamas).
– Discrimination and ethnic engineering. This too has worked quite well. For all States in the Middle East. Discriminated and hostility toward Jews has not only resulted in the massive immigration of Arab-speaking Jews, but from the obliteration of their existence in the national narrative. This started in Palestine in the beginning of the 20th century and was followed by all the national ideologies in the Near East. Lebanon has enshrined discrimination against Palestinians in its constitution. Most countries in the Near East define themselves as ethnic states, leaving no place for national minorities in their narrative (the only notable example is today’s Iraq): Israel sees itself as a Jewish state (i.e. a State for Jews), Syria and Lebanon as Arab states (withstanding the notable presence of Armenians, Kurds and Syriacs…), Egypt as a Muslim Arab state and Turkey as a Turkish state (i.e. a State for Muslim Turks)… Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Israel have actively practiced ethnic engineering: Turkey and Israel against Arabs; Syria, Iraq and Turkey against Kurds.
What can be done?
If we want to end the conflict, instead of looking for ONE solution that offers a package deal we should be looking into the grievances and trying to neutralise the dynamics behind the conflict.
- Delegitimise violence: That doesn’t happen by simply condemning it! It can only happen once the gains that were done through violence are denounced and once propers institutions (or mechanisms) are establish that could allow the reversal of these gains. In other words, propers institutions should be established that would allow the expression of grievances and the pursuit of legitimate claims.
- Protect identities and respect difference: The protection of one’s identity is obviously a legitimate aim, but not all methods of protection are right. Wanting the protect Jewish identity in Israel, or Christian identity in Lebanon, or Arab identity in Syria, or Turkish identity in Turkey are legitimate concerns. But the means to attain it ceases to be legitimate when it’s carried through at the expense of another group. And up to now, Kurds are suffering from it in Syria and Turkey, Palestinians are suffering from it Lebanon and Israel, Arab-speakers are suffering from it in Turkey…
- Create institutions that respect difference: All countries in the Middle East are ethnically diverse and yet have discriminatory policies. Only two countries, albeit particularly dysfunctional, have up to now created a political system that respects difference: Lebanon (since 1926) and Iraq (since 2003). In Israel, a Palestinian-Israeli although offered equal citizenship can only watch Israeli politics as a bystander because the ethnic majority doesn’t allow him a space within the national debate that it defines as jewish.
- Start a healing process by working on common interests… Common interests are central to the Middle East agreements that have been promoted by the United States since the Camp David accords between Israel and Egypt (in 1979). However, they do not support a healing process because the peace treaties have not created the proper institutions that deal with grievances.
Posted in Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Levantine Christians, Middle East, Palestinian territories, Palestinians, Peace, Pluralism, Political behaviour, Reconciliation, Turkey, Violence | Leave a Comment »
Posted by worriedlebanese on 10/04/2011
I was quite shocked when I read the Bil’in Popular Committee’s press release following the assassination of Juliano Mer-Khamis. It read:
“The popular committees against the wall and israeli occupation express their deep sadness and sorrow to the murder that happened in Jenine today against the activist and director Juliano.
The popular committees see this act as part of the escalation politics exercised by israeli occupation. These politics permits such horrific acts. Therefore, we hold the israeli occupation accountable and fully responsible for such acts. […] Regardless that this act was committed on an occupied land , we believe that the killing of Juliano only serves Israeli interests”.
The saddest thing about this press release is that it is not even “tailor made” to suit the particular case. It obeys a abstract and rigid format that could apply and is applied to all crimes or heinous acts. The standards were set by oppressive regimes and their servile media across the Middle East. If any violent act with political repercussions is made, it is always convenient to accuse Israel, to denounce its regime and consider it accountable for any similar act… and finally end the statement by saying that this act serves Israeli interests.
It is very said to witness a dynamic and young NGOs fighting for a just cause (ending occupation and Israeli encroachment on Palestinian land), such as Bil’in Popular Committee, repeating that discourse and parrotting those regimes.
Not everything can be blamed on Israeli policies (occupation and violent escalation). Isn’t there enough stuff one can rightly blame israeli occupation and violence for? Doing it systematically on things that cannot be directly attributed to israeli acts and policies only discredit legitimate accusations and denunciations!
Affirming that Juliano Mer Khamis was probably killed by the same people who had repeatedly threatened him, and denouncing the violent and intolerant groups within Palestinian society that should be held accountable for such crimes is not a sign of weakness but an important step toward strengthening Palestinian society, deepening its understanding of pluralism and diversity and liberating it from the forces of oppression (be they local or foreign).
Posted in Discourse, Israel, Journalism, Palestinians, Violence | Leave a Comment »
Posted by worriedlebanese on 26/11/2010
This morning, A.B. Yehoshua published an article in Haaretz stating that Zionism is not an ideology.Truth to tell, his arguments are not very convincing. The article follows an interesting structure though. At first, the author rebrands Zionism, then he defines its core issue, and he ends by copyrighting it. His central point lies in the middle, sandwiched between two extremely controversial arguments.
Rebranding Zionism. From ideology to concept
Abraham “Bouli” Yehoshua chooses a very convenient definition of ideology and then claims that “zionism” doesn’t fall under this definition because of its multiple forms. In his own words, zionism “is a common platform for various and even contradictory social and political ideologies”. The same can be said about most nationalisms (a nationalist can be left wing or right wing) and and to certain degrees political ideologies (russian, french, italian and lebanese versions of communism are not exactly the same). At first sight, one can brush this whole issue as being a terminological issue by saying that A.B. Yehoshua can call Zionism whatever he wants, the point he is trying to make is elsewhere. However, let’s keep in mind that this argument is actually quite a controversial one because zionism as an ideology is a central issue in “palestinian studies” and pro-palestinian groups. By rebranding zionism the way he does, he is actually claiming that most of the research and arguments done under the heading of zionism are worthless. So most pro-palestinian militants or scholars will probably not read any further and attack him on this point. Let’s go beyond his controversial argument and see it for what it is, a simple question of terminology that actually is not really relevant to the central point: the definition of the core issue of Zionism.
Defining the common platform
In his search for a core issue, A.B. Yehoshua distinguishes between two periods:
– Before 1948, the core issue of Zionism was to “establish a state for the Jews”.
– “After the Jewish state, namely the State of Israel, was actually established […] Zionism was expressed […] through the principle of the Law of Return”.
Stated this way, the core issues of zionism seem innocuous. And if Zionists had chosen to establish this state on an uninhabited island, these points would have remained unobjectionable. The problem with these issues is that they do not take into account the fact that the Jewish state was established in an populated region, and that it was imposed on the majority of this land’s population through foreign pressure (British then international) and force. So the problem is not the “theoretical underpinning of zionism, it is with its practical application. The same can be said about the second expression of zionism, “the law of return”. Theoretically, it doesn’t seem to be problematic. It becomes objectionable when it is used as a tool for demographical engineering (safeguarding a strong jewish majority), and when it benefits over 200,000 immigrants who cannot be considered as Jewish by any definition.
Repositioning the concept of Zionism
A.B. Yehoshua ends his article with a strong property claim. He stresses that zionism as a concept belongs to Jews, and “finds its expression only in its rightful place”, in the relationship between Israeli Jews and Diaspora Jews. He resorts here to an argument he came up with a couple of years ago, and that he has repeated on many occasions: Jews in the diaspora are only “playing with Judaism”, and “full Jewish life could only be had in the Jewish state”. He restates it in this article by making a distinction between “responsible” Jews and “partial” Jews (who “practice their Jewish identity partially”). He states that the former live “their lives within a defined territory and under self government”, while the latter “live enmeshed in other nations”. Again, this is a very controversial argument that shocks many Jews across the world. Moreover, it fails to take into account the possibility of an autonomous and complete jewish life in the diaspora (that is clearly and massively visible in New York and Antwerp). And it ignores the fact that Israeli jews are equally enmeshed in a plural nation in which at least 30% of the population is non-Jewish. Another problem in his definition lies in the fact that Israel has no “defined territory”, and that “Self-government” doesn’t take into account that it is actually the direct (non-jewish Israelis and non Jewish immigrants to Israel and their descendants) and indirect government (West Bank and Gaza) of populations that if enfranchised would make up the majority of the country’s territory.
One could explain A.B. Yehoshua’s arguments by putting them under the banner of idealism… But pushed to such an extent, it actually falls under cynism.
Posted in Discourse Analysis, Israel, Prejudice | 15 Comments »
Posted by worriedlebanese on 23/07/2010
Another “sophisticated and smooth-tongued” criminal
The first article I read today was about the Roman Polanski case, the second one was about an Israeli case of “rape by deception”: Jurists say Arab’s rape conviction sets dangerous precedent, by Tomer Zarchin (Haaretz, July 23). So withstanding the heated debate surrounding Nasrallah’s declarations and the ICJ’s advisory opinion on the unilateral declaration of independence of Kosovo, I will be commenting on this extraordinary Israeli case.
Here are the facts: Sabbar Kashur (30 y/o) had consensual sex with a woman after he posed as a Jewish bachelor interested in a long-term relationship. When the woman found Kashur was not Jewish but Arab, she filed a police complaint that led to charges of rape and indecent assault. Sabbar Kashur has been under house arrest for two years and was just condemned by the District Court of Jerusalem for “rape by deception”.
Now let’s look into the legal arguments. Judge Zvi Segal justified his verdict by stating that “the court is obliged to protect the public interest from sophisticated, smooth-tongued criminals who can deceive innocent victims at an unbearable price — the sanctity of their bodies and souls”. He based his decision on the High Court of Justice’s precedent in the Zvi Sleiman case that established “rape by deception” in which a “person does not tell the truth regarding critical matters to a reasonable woman, and as a result of misrepresentation she has sexual relations with him”.
The legal category of “rape by deception” or “rape by fraud” appeared in common law countries in a bid to protect the weak and “moralise” the interaction between two adults leading to a sexual relation. In most cases, the “perpetrator” misleads the “victim” into believing that the sexual relationship will procure benefits (medical healing in a welsh case, insurance benefits in an Israeli case…). Gideon Levy is quoted as saying that this judgement would have been quite different had the “perpetrator” been Jewish and the “victim” Muslim. I’m not sure that is true, and I don’t believe that the problem lies there. It’s more about the legitimacy of the claim. Should the court support and defend as “public interest” all considerations considered as crucial by the victim, in this case sectarian considerations?
Posted in Intercommunal affairs, Israel, Justice | 6 Comments »
Posted by worriedlebanese on 22/07/2010
Another example of Jumblatt's mastery of ME politics
So basically, Walid Jumblatt has been working this past decade on reinforcing his position as a cross-national Druze leader. He made a major step in that direction in 2001 when he organised a meeting between Lebanese and Israeli Druze in Amman. For more information on that meeting check out Tareq Ayyoub’s article in the Jordan Times: Lebanese, Israeli Druze leaders meet in Amman.
To be able to go ahead in his communal agenda, he has to do three things:
- Secure the assent of Syrian authorities and Lebanese communal leaders who are hostile toward Israel, so as not be accused of “normalisation” or collaboration with Israeli authorities.
- Give this communal meeting and the presence of this Israeli delegation a spin. This means selling it in a particular way to the media. The best example of this successful spin is Samer Husseini’s article in the Safir and Orient Le Jour’s article Druze from Israel succeed in breaking the blockade by coming to Lebanon (in French).
- Reinforce his pro-palestinian credentials. He did that a month ago with the four bills he presented in parliament in order to expand Palestinian civil rights (more info on that here).
Posted in Communication, Intercommunal affairs, Israel, Lebanon, Patronage Networks, Peace, Political behaviour | 1 Comment »
Posted by worriedlebanese on 20/07/2010
En lisant ce matin quatre compte-rendus sur le Congrès Diasporique Druze organisé la veille au BIEL (Solidère), j’ai eu l’impression de suivre une leçon magistrale sur les malheurs du journalisme libanais. Il s’agissait donc pour les rédactions d’informer leurs lecteurs sur la tenue d’un congrès. Ce genre d’exercice journalistique peut-être conduit de différentes manières: la reproduction des interventions orales (intégrale, résumée, ou sélectionné), l’entretien avec une ou plusieurs personnes présentes, l’analyse de la thématique et des enjeux du congrès… C’est une question de choix rédactionnel (le journaliste choisit un angle) et de culture journalistique. Observons ces choix et la culture journalistique qu’ils reflètent.
Al-Akhbar, sous le titre “Ouverture du premier congrès diasporique druze” (افتتاح المؤتمر الاغترابي الأول للدروز) nous propose une sorte de première dépêche de l’événement. L’information est claire et succinte. Elle est issue de la grande tradition des communiqués de presse arabes dont voici le format rigide: phrase introductive qui précise que l’évènement a réuni un grand nombre de personnalités; phrase centrale qui n’est autre qu’une citation d’un homme politique (en l’occurrence, Walid Jumblatt; phrase de conclusion qui “contextualise” (généralement par rapport à d’autres déplacements de politiciens) ou “évalue” (toujours une grande réussite) l’événement. Le seul élément qui pourrait titiller la curiosité du lecteur est le segment de la présentation des personnalités présentes qui mentionne “la délégation de Sheiks Druzes des territoires de 1948” (c-à-d Israël) avec la précision qu’ils sont “arrivés au Liban il y a deux jours en traversant la Jordanie et la Syrie” pour rassurer les lecteurs qu’on est pas en présence d’un acte de collaboration avec Israël.
An-Nahar sous le titre “Joumblatt à l’ouverture du Premier Congrès Diasporique Druze: “avec la Syrie, nous avons établie la formule définitive de l’entente interne” (جنبلاط في افتتاح “المؤتمر الاغترابي الأول للموحدين الدروز”:
مع سوريا وضعنا الصيغة النهائية للتسوية الداخلية) nous livre une variante de la première formule. Elle épouse les même règles que la première mais en plus détaillée, au lieu de trois phrases, nous avons droit à trois paragraphes: un paragraphe de présentation des personnalités, un grand paragraphe d’extrait de discours (de politiciens, évidemment), et un court paragraphe de “contextualisation” ou “d’évaluation”. Notons que dans le paragraphe de présentation, le journaliste Amer Zeineddine (عامر زين الدين) nous informe de la présence “d’une délégation druze d’Arabes de Palestine [عرب فلسطين] présidée par Aouni Kneifess” et lui concède un petit extrait de son allocution.
Le compte-rendu du journal As-Safir reprend la même formule “extensive” qu’An-Nahar sous un titre similaire “Joumblatt à l’ouverture du premier Congrès Diasporique Druze: Nous sommes l’avant-garde de la voie arabe … Et les instants d’errance sont du passé” (جنبـلاط فـي افتتـاح المؤتمـر الاغترابي الدرزي الأول: نحن طليعة الخط العربـي… ولحظات التخلي انتهت). L’article de Jaafar Antari se distingue par un témoigne sur les interrogations et la speculation autour des résultats escompté de ce congrès: aboutira-t-il au “rassemblement des Druzes du Liban et de l’étranger” ou se contentera-t-il d’être “une plate-forme pour des déclarations politiques”? Evidemment, l’article ne propose aucun élément de réponse, mais il fait passer un commentaire sur la délégation druze “en provenance de la Palestine occupée” (circonlocution de circonstance), “arrivée au Liban via la Syrie” (gage de respectabilité). Le journaliste note en passant que la table à laquelle était placée la délégation est devenu le centre d’intérêt de la soirée et qu’elle a attiré vers elle à plusieurs reprises Walid Jumblatt qui venait par moment pour la féliciter et par moment pour la rassurer. Ce genre de phrase est dans le style journalistique libanais une invitation “à lire entre les lignes”, pratique qui au lieu d’informer ne fait que confirmer les préjugés du lecteur initié. Pour un article plus intéressant sur la dynamique
Mais le pompon revient à l’Orient-Le Jour avec l’article intitulé “Les druzes d’Israël parviennent à briser le blocus en venant au Liban“, franchit allègrement la complaisance de ses confrère et verse dans la propagande de style héroïque. Au lieu de quelques circonlocution politiquement correcte, la rédaction journal préfère l’emphase avec un désintérêt total pour la réalité décrite. Le titre annonce la couleur: Il parle de blocus, alors que ce qui empêche la visite de cette délégation druze sont deux lois identiques de part et d’autre de la frontière libano-israélienne: les deux pays interdisent le voyage de leurs citoyens vers un pays ennemi et interdisent aux citoyens de l’autre pays de se rendre dans leur pays. Donc en principe, ces dignitaires n’ont pas seulement “bravé l’interdit des autorités israéliennes”, mais également la loi libanaise. Mais on peut noter qu’il existe une exception à cette interdiction légale, et elle touche les hommes de religions: ceux-ci peuvent faire ce déplacement sans trop d’encombres… Et il le font. Les synodes maronites, arméniens et grecs-catholiques comprennent souvent des prêtres venus d’Israël (qui d’ailleurs sont parfois de nationalité libanaise). D’ailleurs, ce n’est pas la premières fois que des dignitaires Druzes de nationalité israélienne se rendent au Liban, ce n’est donc pas “une première”. Comme les trois autres journaux libanais, rien n’est dit sur la particularité des Druzes israéliens et de leur rapport avec l’Etat d’Israël, autre qu’une allusion de Walid Joumblatt sur “le courage” de cette délégation dont les membres ont “refusé de s’enrôler dans le service militaire obligatoire en Israël”. Allégation qui au demeurant reste à vérifier…
Posted in Communication, Discourse, Discourse Analysis, Israel, Journalism, Lebanon, Semantics, Version Francophone | Leave a Comment »
Posted by worriedlebanese on 13/07/2010
In an unprecedented step, the Quartet on the Middle East decided to appoint Paul the octopus as their special envoy to the Middle East. Paul will be taking over the position held by British former Prime Minister Tony Blair. The new Special Envoy seemed rather confident and unshaken by the daunting mission that was bequeathed to him. He will be arriving to Jerusalem tomorrow morning and Helga, his official spokesperson, announced that he would immediately start working on solving the Middle East’s most pressing problems. Paul chose Helga as his spokesperson earlier today, as she sat cramped at the bottom of his fish-tank in one of the two transparent boxes the public has grown accustomed to seeing on every news edition. He seemed so happy with his choice that he clung to her with eight arms, almost suffocating her. Three divers had to plunge into the tank to detach them from one another. The Quartet agreed never to put Helga or any other person in the tank again.
Instead of predicting the outcome of a sports game, Paul will be recommending the best move to make in the Middle East’s most intense political game. Every morning he will be presented with an Israeli position and a Palestinian position, and he will announce which one will have the most favourable outcome for Peace in the Middle East. Tony Blair, in the name of the Quartet wished Paul the best of luck, even though he confessed that his successor clearly didn’t need it.
The Quintet was established in Madrid in 2002 and is made up of four sides involved in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process: the United States, Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations. The Quartet’s first Special Envoy was James Wolfensohn, the former president of the World Bank, who stepped less than a year after his appointment when he realised he couldn’t do anything. The Quartet’s second Special Envoy refused to admit his failure in his mission and only learnt of his dismissal through an article in the Jerusalem Post.
Posted in Fiction, Israel, Middle East, Palestinian territories, Palestinians, Peace, Personal | Leave a Comment »
Posted by worriedlebanese on 12/07/2010
Haret Hreik... before and after the war
To put it bluntly, I have no clue about what I’m going to write under this heading. Many ideas have been swirling in my head, and going in all directions. I’m not sure what I want to comment on. I’ve read four newspapers and found only two articles about this commemoration. Nothing in the Orient-Le Jour, nothing in the Daily Star, two articles in al-Akhbar, and two translated israeli articles in the Safir. There doesn’t seem to be a consensus around this commemoration. But this doesn’t mean that the July war has been forgotten, or that it has lost meaning in Lebanese politics. Hezbollah and Amal outlets refer to it as frequently as they could; so does March XIV® (and its outlets) when it wants to attack Hezbollah and its weapons. So why are there so few articles about this war on the day it started 4 years ago?
Commemorations serve many purposes. But whatever purpose that is,there is a political will behind it, the decision to mark that day as a day of remembrance. The political will obviously lacks in Lebanon. The parliament, the government and society is divided in its understanding of this war and that day. Some blame Hezbollah for starting the war with its operation against the IDF, others consider that Israel only used a legitimate Hezbollah operation as a pretext to wage war against Lebanon.
This deep division certainly explains the lack of public commemoration. But with all this talk about a future war between the two countries (that many consider inevitable), shouldn’t this day be used to clarify things and reflect on ways to prevent that war?
On a personal note, I can’t help but commemorate this day. It represents an important turning point in my life. It sparked my interest in blogging and in Peace work, two activities that I’m still hooked to.
Posted in Hezbollah, Israel, Lebanon, Memory, Violence | 9 Comments »
Posted by worriedlebanese on 11/06/2010
You’ve undoubtedly heard what happened to Helen Thomas! She resigned after making a comment on Jews having to go back to Poland and Germany. In case you haven’t heard the story, here’s the video that started an avalanche of reactions in cyberspace with some extolling her as a martyr of the jewish lobby, and others congratulating themselves for debunking an antisemite (or even a nazi) and applauding her disgrace.
All this started in Washington DC, so why is it relevant to us, Lebanese? Well, Helen Thomas’s family hails from Lebanon… But that never brought Helen Thomas any attention in Lebanon. So how can one explain all the attention she got in our media? Let’s see what three editorialists have to say about it:
Michael Young, “Arabs shouldn’t weep for Helen Thomas“, Daily Star (june 10th): ” It’s never pleasant to see someone self-destruct”. The argument that “she was pushed out of her job because of criticism from the ‘Jewish lobby’” is “nonsense. The condemnation was universal, and rightly so”. The editorial focuses on Helen Thomas’ words: “They should go home” to “Poland, Germany, America and everywhere else”. He looks into their significance in an American, Jewish and Arab context.
Michael Young makes it clear that he is no fan of Helen Thomas, and he obviously has scores to settle with her for her adamant opposition to the neo-con worldview he shares with the previous American administration. His arguments are familiar to all pro-peace activists. But he never states the obvious, how hypersensitive the US is to anything that touches Jews/Israel. Had Helen Thomas said something similar about the chinese of Malaysia for instance, we probably wouldn’t have heard anything about it.
Badr al-Ibrahim, “Helen Thomas, the voice that cries in the wilderness of America” (in Arabic), al-Akhbar (june 10th): “When it comes to Israel, freedom of expression becomes a sin for which one is reprimanded”. The editorial focuses on “censorship”: “Free media is a slave to a corrupt political ideology, and it suffers in this case from the same ails than the media in the « Unfree world »: double standard, partiality, deviation from objectivity, and a rejection of intellectual diversity, as well as actively helping the government suppress opinions, criminalise them and force “expiation” on those who express them”.
Badr al-Ibrahim is far from convincing. Comparing the freedom of expression that is enjoyed in the US to the one that is prevalent in the Middle East is simply preposterous. Every society has “its issues” and can be hypersensitive when they are discussed. But that has nothing to do with state censorship, and is not always related to the existence of a lobby.
For more details about what happened, check out Hicham Hamza, The Helen Thomas Affair (in French), Oumma (June 9th) for whom Helen Thomas “resigned herself to leaving office because of the uproar caused by her radical critique of the State of Israel. Back on the underside of a timely political-mediatic diversion”. In his view, the affair is “a degression designed to divert the attention of the American public from the real issues of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis”, and he presents all the info he gathered in this perspective.
Sure, some people have pushed that issue as a divergence mechanism. But this doesn’t explain everything. Helen Thomas did say what she said, and it wasn’t even accurate (most Israeli Jews do not come from Poland and Germany, a larger number comes from the Middle East and North Africa). And this would have hit the cyberspace sooner or later making the same splash.
Posted in Blogosphere, Communication, Conspiracy, Culture, Discourse, Israel, Journalism, Lebanon | 9 Comments »
Posted by worriedlebanese on 08/06/2010
Deux petits exemples d’attitudes pseudo-résistantes: un égyptien et deux libanais.
Le Conseil d’Etat Egyptien a jugé en faveur de la déchéance de nationalité des Egyptiens mariés à des Israéliennes. Cette décision pourrait concerner jusqu’à 27 000 personnes. Elle s’appuie sur deux idées: la présomption que toute juive est sioniste (ce qui n’est pas évident dans ce cas sachant que ces Israéliennes ont tout de même épousées des Egyptiens musulmans), et que ceci pose un problème au niveau de la loyauté puisque “un sioniste ne peut être loyale à l’Égypte et au monde arabe » (et cela en dépit du fait que l’Egypte a signé la paix avec Israel en 1979). La décision du Conseil d’État reconnaît une exception: elle ne s’applique pas aux Égyptiens mariés à des Israéliennes arabes. L’argumentaire derrière l’exception est que les “Arabes de 1948” ont subi cette nationalité, et ne peuvent pas par conséquent être considérés comme des sionistes. Etrange attitude, et perception, venant d’un pays qui a conclu la paix avec Israël, qui s’est engagé depuis trois décennies à normaliser ses relations avec son voisin, et qui coopère avec le gouvernement israélien sur plusieurs plans, notamment dans la politique d’enfermement de Gaza (pour satisfaire des intérêts égyptiens).
Plusieurs photos commencent à circuler du premier acte de l’embarquement du commando Israélien. Celui dans lequel les manifestants ont capturé quelques soldats israéliens. Dans une des images, on voit un soldat Israélien manifestement blessé, choqué et humilié pleurer. Et sur le site de tayyar.org, j’ai remarqué plusieurs commentaires sous la photos se moquant des larmes du soldat et mettant en doute son courage et sa masculinité. Pathétique non?
Cette attitude rejoint celles de nombreux manifestants qui applaudissent à Beyrouth et à Rabieh (siège de l’ambassade de Turquie) Recep Tayyip Erdoğan alors qu’ils étaient totalement absents au moment de Nahr el Bared, lorsque le conflit entre l’Armée et Fateh el-Islam a conduit à la destruction du camp, à des pillages, à des “dommages collatéraux” et au déplacement de la population civile qui d’ailleurs n’a toujours pas été autorisée à rejoindre le camp et à rebatir.
Posted in Civil Society, Culture, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Palestinians, Prejudice, Version Francophone | 6 Comments »
Posted by worriedlebanese on 05/06/2010
I’ll try to spill a couple of thoughts that have been whirling around in my mind.
Yes, sure, the Israeli commando was attacked on the Mavi Marmara. A quick look at the organisation behind the protest gives you a clear idea that you were not dealing with your ordinary “peace activists”. These people were here on a mission: Break the blockade, get through to Gaza whatever the cost! And yeah, many seem to have an islamist background and amongst them there seems to have been several disreputable characters. But Israeli Intelligence knew all about those people and the organisation behind them since their departure from Turkey. Both sides knew that there was going to be a clash. It was expected. But that certainly doesn’t explain or justify the bloodbath.
Now let’s look at the dynamic the Mavi Marmara affaire triggered. One finds three types of media coverage, and one can fairly say that they were all biased, and their approach was teleological.
- The pro-Israeli media was interested in whitewashing the Israeli army and justifying Israeli policy. And it used all the usual techniques: an agressive smear campaign against the victims of the raid, and a substitution of victimhood (the soldiers were presented as the victims). The only problem with this “defense” line was that it could only convince those who were ready to be convinced. Those who are not die hard supporters of the Israeli government and its policies could easily see the loopholes in that presentation and the manipulation of information. Watching some footage and comments reminded me of Alan Dershowitz’s The Case for Israel. Another interesting twist is that the pro-Israeli arguments left the Palestinians out of the picture (as they usually do). It wasn’t about Gaza (that is always cynically presented as ok as long as it is not starving). It was about Israel vs Turkey (which is a rather melodramatic approach, knowing that the military alliance is still secure, no Ambassadors were called back or off…).
- The anti-Israeli media was interested in celebrating the victimhood of the injured and the killed while denouncing the brutality of Israel. Everything that didn’t fit that picture was discarded… The activists on the Flotilla were shown as heroes not because of their own deeds (ex: they fought Israel), but through their victimhood and their courage in facing a brutish enemy. They didn’t speak of the militants fighting the commando. They did not insist on the psychological dimension or emotions (fear, panic…), as did the pro-Israel media. The anti-Israeli media was so focused on being anti-Israeli that it even repackaged the objectives of the flotilla: they became more anti-Israeli than pro-Palestinian. Actually, Palestinians were left out of the picture. It was more about “we” vs Israel.
- Then we have the “neutral” media, mostly western (think BBC for instance) with its very ambiguous respons to the events. Probably because it was being (too) actively fed by both sides. The pro-Israel groups were working on the narrative : reframing the events, shedding a different light on the different actors of this drama, feeding the media “information” in an orderly way (even if the “info” was inaccurate). Pure Hasbara. The pro-Palestinian groups were also extremely active, but as usual, they focused on the emotional side. Instead of expanding the narrative, they reduced it to its most emotional content: they shot and killed us. Instead of insisting on the flaws of the Israeli argument, with its specific framing of the events, they repeated their mantra without backing it with more arguments. What the “neutral” media tried to do was denounce the outcome of the raid but it showed its discomfort with the identity of the protestors who were injured and killed, reminding the listeners/viewers that they were islamists.
To sum things up, the “Mavi Marmara operation” highlights two important elements in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. One one side we have a country and a society that is becoming increasingly cynical and unapologetic with the violence it shows towards anyone non-Jewish. This has become quite apparent for most people except a majority of Israelis. On the other side we have a Pro-Palestinian movement that is growing more and more strikingly heterogenous, and its most vocal, recognisable and effective components are islamist (moderate as in this case, or radical as in the case of Hamas and Hezbollah). This dynamic is affecting the whole movement, making some people within it increasingly uncomfortable, and shifting the focus from “pro-Palestinian” to “anti-Israeli”, a shift that is both damaging to the movement and to the dynamics of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict.
Posted in Communication, Discourse, Israel, Journalism, Palestinian territories, Palestinians, Prejudice, Turkey, Values, Violence | 13 Comments »
Posted by worriedlebanese on 03/06/2010
Like many of you in cyberspace, I’ve been reading extensively about the “Gaz Freedom Flotilla affair/raid/attack/massacre”.
Trying to represent "evil" and missing the point while at it
At first, I received an avalanche of such emails. Frankly, I was irritated by the tone of these emails. They all focused on “Israel’s barbaric acts” and “its monstrosity”. This kind of commentary is shallow (how important is labelling), easy (it’s done by people who are hostile to Israel and/or its policies to start with) and useless (it’s intended for audiences that are hostile to Israel and/or its policies), and usually boders on Tourette Syndrom. Not only it preaches to the converted, but its language confirms the pro-Israel public in its own prejudice and paranoia. It mostly forgets that the whole issue is about GAZA, and not Israel. Take a look at Carlos Latuff’s cartoon and try do imagine how a supporter of Israel would understand it.
Then I started reading blog entries about the whole affair. Trying to look beyond the praise, the condemnation, the victimisation and the accusations, I started processing some information:
- What are the facts? If you think identifying the relevant data or “hard facts” is an easy matter, well think again. Check out the articles written, pick out anyone of them, randomly. Ignore all the commentary (accusations, justification, condemnation) and set aside the hard facts. You’re not left with much. Here’s a little quiz: how many boats did the flotilla consist of? How many injured were there (on both sides)? What do you know about the deceased?
- What do we actually know about what actually happened? Nothing much. It’s more about “they did it again” or “they were looking for trouble and they got it”.
- What are we being told about it? One could excuse the cyberworld for sticking to the emotions and emotional responses. But what excuse does the Media have for doing such a lousy job. I just watched the news report on the BBC, two days after the events, and all I got was two conflicting versions, one made by Israeli officials, and another made by activists from the Flotilla. Both versions were either unspecific or blatantly inaccurate, with more smear than info.
- What are the contentious issues? There’s a bunch of them: the Israeli blockade on Gaza (is it legal, ethical, effective, productive?); the Gaza freedom flotilla’s attempt to break the blockade (is it effective? is it lawful? is it suicidal?); the Israeli army’s enforcement of the blockade and its capture of the boats (is it brutal? proportionate? hysterical? lethal? normal?)…
- What are the frameworks within which the data is being processed and propagated?
When whitewashing borders on paranoïa
Next came the “pro-Israel” blogs and outlets. I wasn’t surprised by their reactions either. I’ve heard their arguments before, and actually expected to hear them. One could sum them up in three sentences : “we are the victims”, “they are the agressors”, “they made us do it”. The cartoon pictures here illustrates this perception perfectly. The argument presents itself in the following manner: it starts with an abstract apologetical formula that is not linked to an act but to an outcome (which is odd for an apology). Then there’s a quick recasting of the events in which are presented an elastic yet always humane “we” (that alternatively or hypothetically refers to the IDF, the government, Israelis or Jews) and an accusative barbaric “them” (in which those directly concerned are presented as a small sample of a much larger and threatening group). Any act attributed to “we” becomes a mechanical reaction to an act attributed to “them”. This transforms this “act” (and any act is by definition voluntary) into something of a “coerced” or “involuntary” reaction (think knee jerk reflex) which absolves the person who committed it from any responsibility.
Finally, I started constructing my own story (compatible with my worldview, you’d argue), trying to verify some info, and comparing it with other affairs to try to make sens of it all. If one wants to strip the whole affair to its bare elements, the story is quite simple, and let’s not start arguing about chronology.
- Who: The flotilla brought together an international group of militants who want to break the blockade on Gaza as a first step towards getting it lifted.
- What: The blockade is imposed by Israel (with the complicity of many other international actors, including Egypt), and its alleged objective is “defensive” (to prevent the rearmament of Hamas). The result is punitive: collective punishment that transforms Gaza into a large prison and creates an informal economy completely dominated by Hamas and that is dependent on tunnels through which many things are smuggled including material that is used for weapon construction.
- How: The strategy is to force Israel into changing its policy towards Gaza, more specifically, to get it to lift the blockade. The key word here is obviously “force”. And it’s a tricky word and a complicated objective. Basically, you have a group of people who want to change a military strategy through non-military means… The Media is a central component of this strategy because it’s about “image”, symbolic steps and building pressure within and outside Israel to get its security complex to modify its strategy.
- Where’s the problem? Israel can no longer count on domestic pressure because its Jewish population is today totally unconcerned by Palestinians and insensible to their plight. Its only concern is to remain unconcerned, untroubled by them. As for international pressure, it is not strong enough to influence the Israeli government. So the Flotilla’s strategy didn’t have a chance to succeed. All it could do was encourage more flottilas to head toward Gaza and hope that this would lead to a snowball effect… and in the meantime keep the blockade on the global agenda (the international community has a very short memory span). It also could hope to get as much humanitarian aid through as it can. But that’s about it.
- What next? With its customary brutality and the death toll it leaves behind (that is obvious to all who simply look at the figures), the IDF might have changed things. The “Mavi Marmara” deaths have already started a new dynamic, just like the Cana massacres did in 1996 and in 2006 or the Sabra and Chatilla massacre in 1982. Sure, the story will be revisited over and over again, whitewashed as much as possible. But in the meantime it would have created an insufferable image for Israel that would force it to revise its strategy or at least refrain from doing the same mistake (while at the same time denying it was a mistake) in an immediate future. And in this immediate future the Rachel Corrie will be arriving, and probably other flotillas.
Posted in Antisemitism, Blogosphere, Communication, Conspiracy, Discourse, Israel, Palestinian territories, Prejudice, Semantics | 2 Comments »
Posted by worriedlebanese on 30/03/2010
I came across the “open letter” of Elias Zahlawi addressed to the pope a couple of days ago, and decided to react to it today on the site I found it on. Here is a reproduction of my comment.
A short critique of F. Elias al-Zahlawi’s open letter.
Thanks to Adib S. Kawar and Mary Rizzo for sharing this article with us, and for taking the time to translate it, making it available to a larger audience, one larger than the originally intended or expected from its author. It is precisely because of this widening of its audience that I believe some elements should be thrown into the discussion.
F. Elias Zahlawi’s letter belongs to a particular literary style, that of the “open letter”. This journalistic genre is typically ambivalent surrounding its addressee. It has an epistolary addressee (one that the open letter is addressed to) and an actual audience (the one that has access to the support it was published on).
It’s often quite legitimate to ask oneself to whom it was actually written. This question is crucial because the meaning of this act of communication can only be fully understood if one looks at all its actors, the active one(s) (i.e. the emitter) and the passive one(s) (i.e. the recipients). With Father Zahlawi’s “open letter”, the answer is quite easy, and one can deduce that from the style of the letter and its arguments: the letter is intended for its (Syrian and Arab) audience.
One expects a letter from a catholic priest to the Pope to bear a particular language and tone. One would also expect the text to limit itself to presenting and explaining the motivating behind this subordinate’s criticism of the Pope’s policy, acts or speeches. These elements are quickly dealt away with because F. Elias Zahlawi is not here to convince the Pope of anything. He is not publishing a letter intended to the Pope, but writing an editorial to present to his Syrian/Arab audience his adherence to a specific political stand and geopolitical vision, one that is incidentally shared by most editorials in this part of the world. This explains why the doctrinal and pastoral arguments are so extremely weak and sparse. They are completely manipulated to serve the geopolitical argument and perspective advanced by the author. This just another opinion piece, identical in many ways to many opinion papers published in the Arab press in its language, arguments and references. Its “epistolary” style is just a literary tactic that actually flatters the author (by parading a kind of bravado) and confirms his ethnic narrative: that of a binary world divided between West and East, the powerful and the powerless, the oppressors and the oppressed, the rich and the poor. In this binary world, the author faces two challenges that contradict his strict division. Two elements do not fit in the mutually exclusive categories he defends:
- F. Zahlawi is Christian (and Catholic), a religion identified with the West (the powerful, the oppressor, the wealthy). This is why he insists on presenting himself as an Arab priest, putting forward an ethnic identity (based on language, culture and an alleged common ancestry) and throughout his article he stresses the divide between him and the Pope who he portrays as belonging to the West, the powerful, the wealthy… So his open letter actually reinforces this divide and shows quite clearly his identity politics and the ethnic strategy he is defending (and which are expected from a person belonging to a vulnerable minority).
- The region faces a rather powerful and destructive force that is not “western” but Islamist. Here again, the binary divide is upset. But Father Elias Zahlawi finds a way around this. He considers Islamic groups as a creation of the west and of violence carried in the name of Islam as a reaction to the West’s policy. This re-establishes his binary divide between the West (to which he conflates Judaism and Israel) and the East (that is composed of Muslims and Christians united by their alleged Arab identity).
What is missing from this opinion paper
Well, the editorialist in black dress doesn’t really address what motivated his “open letter”, the Pope’s call for a special assembly of the Synod of Bishops on “The Catholic Church in the Middle East: Communion and Witness” that is to take place in October this year (from the 10 to the 24th). He doesn’t say anything about the catholic church and catholics in the Middle East. He doesn’t speak of the challenges they face or address their current plight (drop of 20% to 70% depending on the country, inertia and difficulties in the ecumenical dialogue with orthodox, protestant and non-chalcedonian churches…). He says more about the plight of American natives and Palestinians than about Oriental christians (that he actually hardly mentions). Why?
Probably because such a synod rejects the binary divisions his worldview is based on, and because he probably perceives such a synod as being divisive; It might tackle some issues in their full complexity instead of the simple terms he defends. So he answers its call with a kind of “preemptive strike” one that doesn’t really strike its opponent but comforts its supporters in their certainties.
Posted in Discourse, Discourse Analysis, Identity, Intercommunal affairs, Israel, Journalism, Levantine Christians, Middle East, Palestinians | Leave a Comment »
Posted by worriedlebanese on 29/03/2010
I tried to access Palestinian Mothers a couple of minutes ago but couldn’t do it. The site’s introductory page announced that “this Ning network has ben taken offline by its owner”. It was a bit surprised by this announcement even though things haven’t been going very smoothly on that network. Its owner and main animator Iqbal Tamimi had informed all members that she will be terminating a certain number of accounts. And soon later she started implementing her new policy. I voiced my objection to such proceedings and a rather animated debated was launched surrounding Iqbal Tamimi’s policy and my complaint.
Oddly enough, Iqbal Tamimi had problems publishing some articles two weeks ago (on her own network) and today the network was shut down, for reasons I don’t know. I though the debate that my comment launched was rather interesting, so I will publish it here (the discussion is found in the first comment).
Blogging under Damocles’ sword
Posted by JC|WorriedLebanese on March 16, 2010 at 10:40pm
As I write this entry, I cannot help but think of the sword of Damocles that hangs over my head. Like all members of this network, I’ve received of late two emails from the creator and animator of Palestinian Mothers threatening the following categories of members of expulsion:
- Anonymous members (people who do not share a “real name” and “personal picture”);
- Old members with false identities (because they cause the creator and animator of Palestinian Mothers a great distress);
- Passive members who do not participate (because they do not take the Palestinian cause seriously) ;
- Peepers (a sub-category of passive members who are busy with other stuff but who indulge in their voyeuristic urges from time to time);
- Spies (people who are here to eavesdrop on other members’ activities).
I have a problem with this type of “spring cleaning” or screening, and not only because I’m very likely to fall victim to it. I believe the logic behind it is flawed. Doesn’t everyone find this compartmentalisation impoverishing? What is great about the internet is that if offers us the opportunity to hear voices that we are not likely to hear in our every day life. It allows us to interact, argue, learn, teach, inform, question our certainties. I’m not sure all this is possible in a network of totally “like-minded” people. The reason I came to Palestinian Mothers in the first place was precisely because it offered a different voice that was no longer heard on MEpeace after several members were either excluded or driven out because their views were different. And I followed them here so as not to loose their voice.
Posted in Blogosphere, Check them Out, Culture, Intercommunal affairs, Israel, Justice, Memory, Middle East, Palestinians, Peace, Personal, Pluralism, Political behaviour | 1 Comment »
Posted by worriedlebanese on 16/01/2010
You can't expect better from a phone with a disabled flash. Gideon Levy (left) & Eyal Sivan (right)
Gideon Levy is in France these days promoting his new book, a collection of articles he wrote on Gaza (from 2006 to 2009) translated into French and published by La Fabrique. He gave a lecture this thursday at Columbia University’s parisien address (an amazing compact campus).
Moral support for a marginal[ised] group
I’ve been following Gideon Levy’s writing on Haaretz’s english edition for four or five years now, so I’m quite familiar with his approach to the conflict. Nothing of what he said was new. He wasn’t actually here to inform the public on thing they didn’t know. Those who were present were quite familiar with the conflict. This was quite obvious from their questions. And it was quite expected because of the networks through which his lectures (and book signings) were promoted. His discussion of Gaza meant to explain his moral stand, one that he shared with the audience. His voice is a lonely one in the Israeli media. And those who were present at this little gathering also represented marginal group: jewish/israelis who were supportive of Palestinian rights (what’s left of the “peace camp”), pro-Palestinian individuals who still had faith in Israel… Each person seemed to be leaning on the other to feed the little hope they still held in their hearts.
A scandalous blond (and failed party pooper)
Many of the people in the audience were jewish, some were even Israeli. Next to our covert Lebanese group was a very conspicuous Israeli (ashkenazi) group. And all except one person seemed to share Gideon Levy’s moral stand. This became quite visible when this person spoke out. She could have been Arielle Dombasle’s twin sister (who had seen another plastic surgeon). She confessed that she’d a bit nervous about coming here, and that she was hurt by the way the lecturer had portrayed Israel and Israelis. She said that Israelis too were hurt and were suffering, and he didn’t speak of that. She also added that Palestinians too were responsible of many wrongdoing and that he didn’t mention that either. As she was speaking her mind, you could feel the negative vibes radiate out of the audience. People were whispering to each other their contempt for her position… and they were expecting a strong reaction from Gideon Levy, one they could brush her remarks off and aplaude to. And that’s just what they got!
Gideon Levy saves the day
Our lecturer was quick to point out that her arguments didn’t hold because they called for an artificial balance in an extremely asymmetrical situation. He argued that you couldn’t be “balanced” when one side has one of the world’s strongest armies and the other under-equipped and untrained fighters… when one side is still the occupant and the other the occupied (an argument he developed during his lecture)… when one territory is the main battleground (indiscriminately)… when the death and destruction is so high on one side and so low on the other…
And as expected, the public applauded… for the first time in this Q&A session.
I obviously agreed with most of his arguments. And I understand why his reaction was so swift and razor-sharp. In many academic conferences and intellectual debates relating to Israel/Palestine, you increasingly have a group of well trained pro-Israel advocates within the audience who either disrupt the conference, try to destabilise the speaker or deviate the debate or the discussion. I’ve seen them operate on several occasions and they are extremely efficient. But Arielle’s twin was obviously not one of them. She shares with them the same point of view and probably the same sources of information, but she was here alone, to (somewhat) listen and to share her divergent point of view. She was one of those people Gideon Levy had been talking about, one of those people who support each and every Tsahal action, who believe it is the most moral army in the world (“couldn’t it be the second or the third?” asked Gideon Levy, “right after Liechtenstein’s?”)… and he obviously couldn’t reach out to her. She didn’t hear him and he didn’t know how to make his voice heard.
Here lays the biggest challenge of what is left of the Peace camp: instead of find a way to make itself heard, it should find a way to make people listen. Instead of talking to a supportive audience that agrees with all that it stands for, it should be seeking ways to reach out to another audience, THE other audience. And it can only do that by going through their networks. This will undoubtedly be a tough challenge… yet it’s probably the only challenge worth taking.
Posted in Civil Society, Communication, Diversity, Israel, Palestinians | 4 Comments »