Worried Lebanese

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Archive for the ‘Palestinians’ Category

Can one find the “Israeli Peace Initiative”® appealing?

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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…
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
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Posted in Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Levantine Christians, Middle East, Palestinian territories, Palestinians, Peace, Pluralism, Political behaviour, Reconciliation, Turkey, Violence | Leave a Comment »

Political discourse needs some spring cleaning

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 »

Paul the octopus new envoy to the Middle East

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 »

La “droite” libanaise essaie de limiter les dégâts

Posted by worriedlebanese on 24/06/2010

Une bonne semaine après la “bombe Joumblatt” (l’expression est de Philippe Abi Akl, l’Orient-Le Jour, 23/6/10), je suis à me demander si Walid Joumblatt n’avait pas plutôt raison de qualifier la sois-disant “droite” libanaise de la droite la plus bête au monde. Depuis quelques jours, elle s’efforce à “limiter les dégâts” que la séance parlementaire du 15 juin a eu sur son “image”.

Voici les déclarations de quatre politiciens chrétiens (de deuxième et de troisième rang) sur la question des droits civiques et sociaux des Palestiniens du Liban qui illustrent bien cette tentative maladroite qui au lieu de réparer les dégâts jette une lumière sur le problème de fond.

La palme d’or revient à Fares Soueid dont la mauvaise fois peut rivaliser avec celle de Walid Joumblatt, avec le talent en moins. Pour lui, en ce qui concerne la cause palestinienne, le Liban « a dépassé les anciens clivages », alors que tout dans le débat parlementaire de mardi dernier signalait le contraire. Et comme ceci n’était pas suffisant, il nous explique comment la réconciliation s’est faite entre les ennemis d’hier, l’OLP et la “droite” libanaise représentée par le parti Kataeb. Pour lui, c’est une sorte de valse à trois temps: D’abord «l’OLP a pris l’initiative en 2007 d’admettre sa responsabilité dans la guerre civile au Liban. Cette initiative a permis une purification de la mémoire de la guerre et a réconcilié entre eux les anciens adversaires ». Ensuite,  le parti Kataeb organise un congrès sur le thème « Vérité et réconciliation » en 2007  auquel s’est associé Abbas Zaki (l’ancien représentant de l’OLP au Liban). Et au final, la communauté sunnite qui, durant la guerre, affirmait que les milices Palestiniennes étaient « l’armée des musulmans » a également dépassé cette étape. Le résultat pour Fares Soueid est évident: « la cause de la Palestine concerne tous les Libanais, et non une communauté à l’exclusion des autres ». Croit-il vraiment à ses bobards? Dans l’affirmatif, c’est inquiétant, dans la négative, c’est navrant.

Ensuite, nous trouvons le député Atef Majdalani qui se rabat sur un discours ‘juridicisant’ pour essayer de justifier sa position inconfortable au sein du courant du Futur (bloc parlementaire à 2/3 musulman plutôt favorable au vote immédiat des amendements des droits des Palestiniens du Liban): Il a rappelé aux Palestiniens qu’à l’exercice de tout droit fait pendant le respect d’un devoir. Cette logique vaut pour les droits politiques. Peut-on vraiment l’étendre aux droits sociaux sans compromettre nos principes fondamentaux? Evidemment pas, mais le flou du raisonnement est manifestement tellement comfortable pour Atef Majdalani!

Enfin, Michel Pharaon et Boutros Harb invitent le gouvernement à se saisir de la question des droits des Palestiniens en invoquant un argument institutionnel: la séparation des pouvoirs et des fonctions… argument absurde dans un régime parlementaire basé sur le principe de collaboration des pouvoirs, qui de plus est connaît un gouvernement d’union nationale dans lequel les 2/3 de l’assemblée est représentée. La logique derrière leur argument m’échappe. Après tout, le gouvernement représente la quasi totalité des blocs parlementaires, et les mécanismes décisionnels sont similaires dans les deux instances et butte sur les mêmes problèmes: clivage confessionnel et partisan, politisation extrême, concentration du pouvoir entre les mains d’une dizaine de Zu’ama qui commandent quasiment l’ensemble des députés et des ministres.

Enfin, le propose de M. Massoud Achkar se distingue par son honnêteté intellectuelle. Ce dernier estime la question extrêmement délicate, « compte tenu des données démographiques et des équilibres du pays ». Il lance des pointes à Joumblatt en demandant de mettre ces questions  «à l’abri des surenchères et des intérêts personnels » et surtout qu’elles soient abordées sur le plan technique « loin des médias », « afin que la présence exceptionnelle et provisoire des Palestiniens au Liban ne devienne pas permanente et ne pèse pas sur la société libanaise ». Il souligne donc la raison de “l’inquiétude de la droite” auquel faisait référence Joumblatt (c.f. billet d’hier), dénonce la démarche démagogique de Joumblatt (s’il voulait vraiment faire avancer la question des Palestiniens, il aurait agit différemment (en s’adressant directement aux Chrétiens et à “leurs” politiciens pour les rassurer), et reformule l’aporie de la présence Palestinienne au Liban (un provisoire qui dure depuis 62 ans!). S’il avait rajouté la mémoire chargée de la guerre qui est marquée par l’absence de réconciliation entre les Chrétiens et les Palestiniens du Liban (n’en déplaise à Fares Soueid), il aurait souligné toutes les questions qui restent à  assainir entre ces deux groupes.

(à suivre… Demain la suite)

Posted in Culture, Discourse, Diversity, Lebanon, Palestinians, Version Francophone | Leave a Comment »

Back to the future: “Lebanese Left” vs “Lebanese Right”

Posted by worriedlebanese on 23/06/2010

For over a week, we’ve been reading a lot of things about the heated parliamentary debate on Tuesday 15th of June 2010 triggered by four bills (that no lebanese newspaper published) presented by Walid Jumblatt (head of the PSP, Druze MP of the Chouf), Elie Aoun (member of Jumblatt’s Democratic Gathering, Maronite MP of the Chouf), Alaeddine Terro (member of the PSP, Sunni MP of the Chouf), and why the Christian MPs refused the four “double urgency” bills that would allow Palestinians in Lebanon to own property, get work permits in any profession and receive social-security payments. Let’s look into Walid Jumblatt’s words during that debate and see what they say about politics in Lebanon:

“The ‘right’ throughout the world is stupid, the Lebanese right is worried. We’ve been hearing the same arguments for 62 years. Do you want to postpone things, well postpone them. But if you want to postpone them this time, understand that your postponing a problem. The embargo on Gaza is allegedly carried out to “topple Hamas”. However it [Hamas] prevailed and gained strength, thank God it won. In Lebanon, the breakdown of the Palestinian Authority leads to the emergence of fundamentalist movements in the camps and to the displacement of Palestinians. When fundamentalist movements appear in the camps, what happens to you? Do you loose? You don’t loose a thing. We send the Lebanese army to die and then we make promises to rebuild the camps. Is that what you want? I’ve never seen stupider than the Lebanese right, I’ve never seen stupider than the Lebanese right”. Walid Joumblatt, spoken in Parliament on Tuesday 15th of June 2010, reported by Al-Akhbar in its wednesday edition (my translation).

Walid Jumblatt raises a whole lot of issues in this short and somewhat improvised speech. I say somewhat improvised because he could have easily expected the result of last Tuesday’s parliamentary discussions; The Free Patriotic Movement, the Lebanese Forces and the Kataeb were bound to oppose any bill extending the rights of  the Palestinian of Lebanon, especially if these bills followed the “double urgency” procedure. Such a procedure deprives Christian politicians of the time needed to convince their Christian constituency that extending Palestinian rights do not infringe on their own political rights.

Let’s look a bit closer at what Walid Jumblatt is saying:

  • He calls the Christian parties the “Lebanese right” and considers them the stupidest of all “rightist” parties worldwide. By doing so, he reclaims his father’s rhetorical arguments and terminology, with its binary division of politics between so-called “rightist” (actually christian) parties and so called “leftist” (actually muslim) parties. In a later interview with al-Akhbar, Walid Jumblatt said that he had expected this reaction from the ‘right’, “but not this degree of stupidity. This is a stupidity of historic dimension. Stupidity is not Christian, because there is a category of Christians who has struggled in favour of Arab issues even before the ‘National Movement'”. Framing the whole issue in these terms and asserting that he had expected the result seem to indicate that reclaiming his father’s heritage and boosting his “progressif” credentials could be one of the objectives behind the bills he presented.
  • He states that Palestinian civil rights have been postponed for 62 years and insinuates that the Christian/”rightist” parties are to be blamed for it. This is historically inaccurate. Most of the discriminations against the Palestinians date back to 1982, and were part of the Lebanese government and parliament’s backlash against the PLO (most of the provisions that restrict the labour market were repealed a couple of years ago). Others have to do with general rules that were prevalent across the world concerning foreign labour when they were instituted and were not modified to suit current standards.
  • He speaks of the Israeli policy towards Gaza, suggesting a comparison could be made between the Israeli handling of Palestinian affairs and the Lebanese “rightist” Christian policies towards Palestinian refugees. In a context like the Lebanese one, this is for the least “libellous”. The intention is to “smear” the “right”, instead of shedding a light on either dynamic (the Israeli and the Lebanese one).
  • He suggests that granting Palestinian increased social rights would support the Palestinian authority and curb the expansion of Islamist groups within the Palestinian camps. This suggestion is pleasing to liberal ears, but it is extremely simplistic and unfounded. It ignores the internal political dynamics between the Palestinian Authority and the palestinian diaspora (which has become increasingly strained and loose since the Oslo accords), within the Palestinian community in Lebanon (which has become less sensitive to Palestinian nationalist rhetoric), and between Palestinians and Lebanese parties and constituencies. All these dynamics point to a weakening of the PLO and the PA’s authority, and an increased influence of Islamist parties, regardless of Palestinian social conditions.
  • He says that christians parties do not pay the price of their mistakes, the Palestinians and the Lebanese army do. This is the only argument he uses that breaks away from his father’s rhetoric in which the Lebanese army and the “right” were considered as one. This rhetorical change reflects the important change the Lebanese army underwent in the 1990s (under the Syrian Mandate) and now “switches sides” in the political equation.

Posted in Discourse, Discourse Analysis, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Levantine Christians, Palestinians | 2 Comments »

A look into Walid Jumblatt’s ideological bomb

Posted by worriedlebanese on 16/06/2010

A tribute to Kamal Jumblatt in the camp of Mieh-Mieh

I’ve been listening to the news and reading newspapers for the past day and haven’t found any account on the amendments of the Lebanese laws that were proposed  by Walid Jumblatt’s bloc: I finally found a mention of them in tuesday’s edition of the Akhbar daily. Interestingly enough, the amendements seem to have slipped out of the public debate. The news outlets are insisting on another issues, the cross-partisan communal vote: most Christian MPs choose to postpone the amendments while most Muslim MPs wanted to vote the amendments immediately.

Here’s a list of the 4 bills Walid Jumblatt, Alaeddine Terro and Elie Aoun submitted to the parliament following the “double urgency” procedure:

Amendment of the law on real estate acquisition by non-Lebanese (property ownership)
Amendment of article 79 of the Lebanese labor law (the right of litigation in cases of labour disputes)
Amendment of article 59 of the Labour Code (opening the labour market)
Amendment of article 9 of the Social Security Act (to allow Palestinians to take advantage of the Lebanese social security)

Posted in Journalism, Lebanon, Palestinians | Leave a Comment »

La “résistance” à petit prix

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 »

Mavi Marmara revisited

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 »

    Father Zahlawi’s take on East vs West

    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:

    1. 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).
    2. 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 »

    A debate on how to manage a virtual network

    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 »

    Peace, moral stands and choosing one’s audience

    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 »

    The Archipelago of Eastern Palestine

    Posted by worriedlebanese on 09/12/2009

    Julien Bousac's very telling map of Palestine

    Mahmoud Abbas’s visit to Lebanon reminded me of an interesting map I stumbled upon a couple of weeks ago while flicking through Challenge (don’t worry, i haven’t succumbed to the corporate world yet… still resisting. The magazine was offered to me by a pretty flight attendant).

    I personally believe that maps are misleading. But this specific one says more than a thousand words.

    Posted in Israel, Palestinian territories, Palestinians | 4 Comments »

    Security first? The contours of a Lebanese policy for peace talks with Israel

    Posted by worriedlebanese on 12/08/2009

    661054_pw_diplomacyThe Lebanese have grown accustomed to governments unable or unwilling to deal with their southern neighbour. Some regret that these governments haven’t been able to defend the country militarily and diplomatically (from the IDF’s ferocious attacks), while others deplore that none has come up with a policy for peace talks with Israel.
    Hussain Abdul-Hussain, a contributor to NOW Lebanon, has come up with an interesting analysis on the subject. He believes Lebanon should define a policy on Israel and embark in peace talks because “Lebanon will never defeat Israel militarily, [so] its ‘conflict’ with the Jewish state can only be resolved by diplomacy”. He concludes his article with the following statement:

    Since the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon in 2005, both governments have failed to produce a policy on Israel. The Mitchell team is determined to change all this, but they need the help of Lebanon’s leaders, who must not be shy about talking peace with Israel, just like their Syrian and Palestinian brethren. The rest will become details.

    At face value, his conclusion is indisputable, but if you look into it, you discover there is an important dimension to Israeli-Lebanese relations that Hussain Abdul-Hussain completely leaves out: the “security” dimension.

    This is quite common among Beirutis. But if you ask Israelis or Lebanese living in Southern Lebanon, it’s their primary concern. And this issue is certainly the murkiest. Here’s why:

    • Since the 1960s, the Lebanese government has failed to secure its border with Israel. So before embarking in Peace talks, the Lebanese government should see how it will be able to achieve that and start working on it.
    • Since the 1960s, Israel has been “retaliating” after each attack coming from Lebanon. This has brought a lot of destruction, death and distrust in Southern Lebanon. Shouldn’t Lebanon build a defensive strategy so as to dissuade, limit or restrain the “IDF”?
    • An armed grouped, Hezbollah, backed by the majority of the local population wants to keep the fight going. Their most popular argument within their constituency is similar to the one of the Israeli army: only military strength will ensure our security and disuade our enemy from attacking us. It’s a defensive argument (that is not weaker than that of the Israeli army). What could the Lebanese government answer to this argument be?
    • There are other armed groups that are held back by Hezbollah (mostly Palestinian, and Sunni islamists) who are willing to pursue the fight, and the Lebanese State doesn’t seem to have a hold on them.

    Before asking the government to come up with a diplomatic strategy toward Israel, I think it is foremost important to ask them to come up with a coherent military and defensive strategy, one that takes into account and deals with Hezbollah and the Palestinians of Lebanon.

    Posted in Geopolitics, Hezbollah, Israel, Lebanon, Palestinians, Peace, Security, Violence | 10 Comments »

    Violence spills over: Shooting at Tel Aviv gay center

    Posted by worriedlebanese on 04/08/2009

    Candles in memory of dead spell out "love"

    Candles in memory of dead spell out "love"

    How fast is Israel heading for trouble? How much can one extrapolate from one crime news heading, a simple human interest story? Could it be an indicator or is it just an isolated case?

    One thing is certain, Israeli editorialists and politicians are not taking it so lightly (c.f. Yediot Ahronot article). For them, it’s not just about Nir Katz (24) and Liz Trubeshi (17) who were killed on saturday. It’s about a shooting attack on a gay and lesbian youth center in Tel Aviv. It’s about a hate crime. It’s about an automatic weapon (such as an M-16 rifle) that was used by an Israeli to kill other Israelis because of differences in lifestyle and values.

    It’s about a bubble exploding, but unlike Eytan Fox’s הבועה, the needle that burst it is not directly tied to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict… but might very well be indirectly link to it. For how long can Israeli society nurture  its militaristic culture and breed distrust between some of its sectors, before that starts spreading?

    Judging from the reaction of editorialists and politicians, the fear is there, but also the discomfort. How should this attack be called? A terror attack? Can it be called a terror attack although its perpetrator seems to be jewish? This is the kind of hesitation one sees in interviews and opinion papers. It’s not a simple case of semantics, its about classification, operating a distinction between “jewish violence and “palestinian violence”: when violence is so instrumental in separating and defining two groups, what happens when it erupts within one of the groups? what does it say about the opposition between the two groups…

    Posted in Conspiracy, Culture, Identity, Israel, Palestinians, Prejudice, Religion, Secularism, Security, Semantics, Values, Violence | Leave a Comment »

    De l’islamophobie ordinaire*

    Posted by worriedlebanese on 18/07/2009

    *Réaction à l’article d’opinion d’Ivan Rioufol “Voila comment s’installe la barbarie ordinaire…”, paru dans le Figaro du vendredi 17 juillet.

    Ivan RioufolVous avez remarqué les points de suspension qui terminent le titre de l’article, ou plutôt le laisse ouvert pour indiquer que beaucoup de choses restent à dire. En fait, il aurait été plus juste de le ponctuer avec un deux-points car cet editorial est un véritable réquisitoire où l’auteur exprime méthodiquement tout son dégout sur les Musulmans, un dégout ordinaire puisqu’il est partagé par beaucoup et peut passer inaperçu: une virulente islamophobie de salon dirons nous en détournant l’une de ses expressions. Pour bien saisir les idées fondamentales autour desquels l’article s’articule, il est conseillé de se poser ces trois questions suivantes en le lisant:

    • De quel danger s’agit-il?
    • Quels en sont les symptômes?
    • Qui en est responsable?

    Pour mes commentaires, lisez la suite: Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Antisemitism, Blogosphere, Civil Society, Discourse, Diversity, Identity, Intercommunal affairs, Islam, Israel, Judaism, Palestinians, Pluralism, Prejudice, Religion, Secularism, Semantics, Version Francophone | 5 Comments »