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The UN Security Council voted to establish a “no fly zone” in Libya.  I know Obama had been pushing this, and I would really like to know how he got Germany, Russia, and China to abstain rather than veto.  Obama has his international cover.

Gadhafi made it easier by talking like a psycho.

The United Nations authorized military strikes to curb Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, hours after he threatened to storm the rebel bastion of Benghazi overnight, showing “no mercy, no pity.”

“We will come. House by house, room by room,” Gaddafi said in a radio address to the eastern city late on Thursday.

With a Rwanda type massacre in the works, I actually have mixed feelings.  Unlike some who post here, I am not a pacifist.  I do respect pacifism.  But I do believe that war which violates national sovereignty is sometimes justified under three conditions:

1.  National defense against attack.

2.  Defense of a fellow nation under attack.

3.  Prevention of genocide.

I would have supported WWII to prevent the Holocaust.  In retrospect, I would have supported military action to prevent Kmer Rouge’s “year zero” genocide, and perhaps Rwanda.

The “no fly zone” strategy was effective in Serbia.  Much less so in Iraq.  I have no idea how it’ll play out here.  Will it drag us in further to a long term war, or can the coalition tip things in favor of the opposition.  Do we even have the capacity for a third war front, justified or otherwise?  Is it even going to happen in time to prevent Gaddafi’s attack on Benghazi?

But please, spare me the “it’s all about oil” cliches.  It’s such an oversimplification that it’s not even really true anymore if it’s true.  The motives to fight the Nazis a half century ago weren’t all pure either, nor are most ventures of any sort.  Mass genocide is indeed bad for most business, but that’s really beside the point.  The question for me is whether this intervention will save lives.

Is the violation of national sovereignty principles and the perpetuation of the notion of the US (even in coalition with other countries) as the perpetual cop of the world a greater or lesser evil than the pending massacre?  You tell me.

Addendum: A very powerful photo slide show on Libya.

As happy as I am to see the popular revolts in the Middle East, I do agree with Michael Walzer’s cautionary editorial that the odds are still against meaningful and positive transformation of the societies in question.  He asks plenty of the right questions, and is right to be concerned about unbridled optimism.  He puts in into excellent context.  Here’s a sampling.

These are not easy questions, and although there are hundreds of reporters in Cairo, and thousands of dispatches, reports, and interviews have been published, I haven’t seen them addressed carefully or at length. Some academic observers, who know some of the rebels, have been talking with them and about them. But many of the journalistic pieces that I’ve been reading begin by saying that we don’t know what will happen (a line I will repeat in spades), and then go on as if the most important thing has already happened, and democracy is triumphant. It isn’t triumphant, not yet; the hardest fights lie ahead. The odds are not good—not because of any special features of Arab political culture but because they are never good. Democracy is difficult to establish and difficult to sustain; it is, so to speak, a high-maintenance regime. It isn’t just a matter of organizing free elections; anti-democratic forces often win free elections when other features of democratic life are absent. Democracy requires a lively civil society, with many different associations independent of each other and of the state; it requires a widespread acceptance of the right of opposition and of the possibility that today’s opposition will be tomorrow’s government; it requires a mood of tolerance and a willingness to compromise with political enemies; it requires a commitment to gender equality; it requires a fairly high level of citizenly participation. And it may require a secular politics.

He raises plenty of other good points. But whatever the outcome, these uprisings do represent a moment.  A moment which may be wasted.  A moment which may be watered down as established power interests adapt, coopt, and perhaps reverse.  A moment which may already be exaggerated for substance in the romance of the images on our electronic screens.  But a moment nevertheless, which presents an undeniable opportunity.

Certain events happen only a few times in a lifetime, and sometimes not at all.  Halley’s Comet was a dud, and I probably won’t get a second chance to see it.  Maybe I’ll get to see the US win the World Cup Soccer tournament (when my son plays on the team), but probably not.  Maybe I’ll see a cure for cancer, but probably my lifetime will only reveal new combos and refinement of the same three basic techniques – cut it out, burn it, poison it.  And maybe I am witnessing rare events which can potentially transform politics globally and pull some societies out of the middle ages and into pluralistic modernity. It’s like waiting for a goal in the aforementioned World Cup.  Lots of hopeful lead-ups shut down by the defense which prevails most often, but then when you least expect it (and sometimes when you’re getting a glass of water in the kitchen), something big happens.  And the signs of potential are unmistakable.  There are no signs of inevitability, but a healthy dose of signs of potential.

There is little we as Americans can do about these except continue to pressure our own government to act with restraint and finesse, and mostly to stay out of it; which it appears to be doing.  Barring that it’s up to the people we are watching.  Instead of fretting, let’s root for them and hope for the best.

By request, here’s an article on topic.  Please post links to more detailed articles.  I’m not up on the story.

I still haven’t had the time to catch up with the story behind what was a horrific event over the weekend, but here’s some coverage.

From The Nation:

This one is about lack of satisfaction in Obama’s response.

Netanyahu canceled a meeting with Obama to fly home to deal with the fallout.

Turkey is comparing the incident to 9/11.

An article on one of the Americans involved.

Israel’s press conference on the subject claiming they found weapons on the flotilla, and that they were shot at first.

The Israeli account of the incident.

The videos came from the Israeli government link.  If anybody has anything from a more neutral source, please let me know.

Addendum: Here is the most reasonable piece on the incident I’ve come across, or so it appears to me since I pretty much agree with the analysis.  I think in Israel’s case I’m reminded of the old peace movement saying, “when your only tool is a hammer, you see every problem as a nail.”

Second addendum: Some statements from flotilla survivors.

Third addendum: Here’s a CBS story on the topic.

In response to this Nation piece entitled Feeling the Hate in Tel Aviv, which includes a rather disturbing video (includes racist remarks directed at Obama); a long time friend of mine who has lived in Israel and is an expert on Israeli culture and the Middle East conflict threw together some thoughts.  She is very much a left winger.

I saw it. You can see the contradiction in the Kikar scene where one of the young guys pointed to himself and talked about not liking people who are dark skinned. One thing that the video does not do a good job is showing the context for these ideas, which are very complicated. Part of it has to do with the lack of international education and awareness, part of it has to do with the attacks that Israelis have suffered from since the beginning of the Second Intifada. This is a big factor. I remember being in Tel Aviv during the First Intifada and even in 1993 – when most Tel Avivis were of the mind set – the Intifada isn’t against me and I’m not against the Intifada.

Also I don’t think that Max Blumenthal knows Arabic. I was on the web just last night and I was watching a youtube video of a Yemeni Jewish dance and the comments in Arabic were completely anti-Semitic, stating that the Jews weren’t real Yeminis and that they were Zionists, that the women were whores. Last December one Rabbi in Yemen was murdered and it now looks like the very last Jews in Yemen are leaving. There were also anti-Semitic attacks in Europe, in Spain, in France, in Holland. One guy was tortured for 3 weeks and then murdered. This is not being reported by the mainstream international press, but it is being reported in Israel. South Africa is a leader in the Boycott Israel movement and calling for the replacement of Israel with a secular Palestinian state. There was a record number of immigrants to Israel from there in December. The economy in Israel is really awful 1/3 of Israeli children go hungry. The welfare state has been almost destroyed, but people are still immigrating because of this rise in anti-Semitism. What you are seeing is a cycle of anti-Semitism fueling racism, extremism fueling extremism. All of this on top of the on-going Israeli Occupation, and that is also on top of a general feeling that Israel’s right to exist is being attacked, and Israelis are in danger of having bombs dropped on them and the rest of the world doesn’t care. Such a situation is not one conducive to promoting liberal enlightened ideas.

I have been trying to continue this post and facebook is really annoying so I will try to be as brief as possible despite the fact that this is not a good format for dealing with this issue.
The west’s relationship with the Middle East continues to be exploitative – sell weapons of mass destruction and buy oil. Talk of the Nation had some guy on a couple of weeks ago wishing that someone would drop bombs on Israel after having read Carter’s book. There is your stimuli for Israel’s current hatefest.

10 years ago there was not massive popular support for the Occupation, but Israel was able to continue that Occupation with US support. Now the US has finally changing its policies but it is doing so at a time when Israeli cities have seen bombs drop on their civilians, when there is a regime in Iran that threatens to destroy Israel and is close to having a nuclear bomb and sponsors right wing Islamistists who try on a regular basis to infiltrate Israel and do in Israel what is being done in Iraq on a daily basis. Israel is not in the US it is in the Middle East and it is becoming like any other shitty Middle Eastern country. Americans and American Jews need to face the facts and deal with reality. And it is an ugly reality. The whole Middle East is an ugly reality. Cakha ze ha haim sham!

I realize some of these thoughts may fall on deaf ears as the American political approach to the issue pretty much breaks it down to an oversimplified black and white.  But the end result of the progressive communities’ Arab good-Israel bad approach is pretty much guaranteeing a perpetual cycle of violence.

Michael Walzer, in my view one of the more profound thinkers when it comes to war and foreign policy, asks the question and tries to answer it.  He argues that both sides have to take some unilateral actions without obsessing over what they will get in return.

Some highlights:

NO ONE can say with any certainty that the two-state solution was viable before the war in Gaza. I can imagine arguments that the war made it more viable and also that it made it less viable. But, really, its viability doesn’t have a lot to do with the immediate strategic/political situation. There isn’t any other solution; this one is unique. People keep coming back to it because there’s no other way to go. It survives, therefore, I guess, it’s viable.

But it isn’t in great shape right now, even though everyone knows what each side would have to do to realize this solution. The Palestinians have to end their civil war, and form a provisional government that recognizes Israel and represses all terrorist activity. The Israelis have to form a government that recognizes the Palestinians’ right to a state of their own, defeats the settler movement, and begins the evacuation of the settlements.

The nice thing about these two lists of what-ought-to-be-done is that they don’t require any mutual engagement. Settling their civil war and repressing terrorism are things that the Palestinians can do—indeed, have to do—by themselves. And Israelis can defeat the settler movement and move the settlers out of the West Bank without a “partner” on the other side and without handing over territory. Move the settlers out and the army in. That would be a sufficient indication of a readiness to withdraw, just as the repression of terrorist activity by the Palestinians would be a sufficient indication of a readiness to coexist. The readiness is all…

It’s a good follow up to the Four Wars of Israel/Palestine – old but still relevant.  He’s right about the two-state solution being the only possibility for peace in the short term.  It would be nice if everyone could sing Kumbaya under a grand banner of Palestine propped up by western standards for the separation of church and state, and maybe decades or centuries down the road it’ll all be moot (actually it will, one way or another), but in the short run we need a solution which stops the shooting for a generation or two when what are open wounds now become points of contention in debates over the interpretation of history.

In the meantime, what governs is expressed in the lines from the old Obie-winning SF Mime Troupe play, Seeing Double:

There is no God in the land of Palestine
just millions of voices crying “I want mine!”

Jerome Slater began the discussion with this discussion of the just war philosophy and the invasion of Gaza, in which he boldly argues that Israel does not in fact have the right to defend itself until it retreats to the pre-1967 borders.

Doug Lieb then submitted a rebuttal, in which he dismisses the idea that Hamas represents “resistance” and basically characterizes Slater’s argument as a moral justification for killing civilians.

Slater then responds by accusing Lieb of employing a straw man instead of his actual arguments, and responds to a number of Lieb’s points.

If Lieb responds further, I’ll post the response.

I recently posted about a tragedy which could be heard on live television in Israel.  It may not have been the direct result of an Israeli attack.

From Israel Matsav:

I’m sure you all remember the story of Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, the ‘Palestinian’ doctor who lives in Gaza and works in Tel HaShomer. You will recall that three of the doctor’s daughters died in their home, allegedly as a result of the house being hit by an IDF shell. You will also recall that I reported that Israel Television’s Channel 1 reported that the doctor’s daughter and niece who were brought to the hospital had shrapnel in their heads that came from a Grad-type Katyusha rocket, which is a weapon used by Hamas and not by the IDF.

On Saturday night, Israel’s Channel 2 presented with the IDF Golani Brigade battalion commander whose unit fired on the house. While the conclusions are still preliminary and he’s careful to present them as such, they also speak for themselves.

There’s a little more through the link, but here’s the interview.  It’s in Hebrew, but if you pull up the menu at the little triangle in the lower right hand corner of the video image and hit the closed caption (cc) button you can get English subtitles.

Setting aside the fact that, besides the videos which have not yet been releases, the only non-IDF individual who could provide any useful information is the physician who removed the shrapnel, it’s really beside the point.  This happens with war, so whomever you blame for starting the war is responsible regardless of whose weapons actually hit the house.

The statement comes from their website, and it pretty much reflects my views.

December 28, 2008

Jewish Voice for Peace joins millions around the world, including the 1,000 Israelis who protested in the streets of Tel Aviv this weekend, in condemning ongoing Israeli attacks on Gaza. We call for an immediate end to attacks on all civilians, whether Palestinian or Israeli.

Israel’s slow strangulation of Gaza through blockade has caused widespread suffering to the 1.5 million people of Gaza due to lack of food, electricity, water treatment supplies and medical equipment. It is a violation of humanitarian law and has been widely condemned around the world.

In resisting this strangulation, Hamas resumed launching rockets and mortars from Gaza into southern Israel, directly targeting civilians, which is also a war crime. Over the years, these poorly made rockets have been responsible for the deaths of 15 Israelis since 2004.

Every country, Israel included, has the right and obligation to protect its citizens. The recent ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza shows that diplomatic agreements are the best protection for civilian life.

Moreover, massive Israeli air strikes have proven an indiscriminate and brutal weapon. In just two days, the known death toll is close to 300, and the attacks are continuing. By targeting the infrastructure of a poor and densely populated area, Israel has ensured widespread civilian casualties among this already suffering and vulnerable population.

This massive destruction of Palestinian life will not protect the citizens of Israel. It is illegal and immoral and should be condemned in the strongest possible terms. And it threatens to ignite the West Bank and add flames to the other fires burning in the Middle East and beyond for years to come.

The timing of this attack, during the waning days of a US administration that has undertaken a catastrophic policy toward the Middle East and during the run-up to an Israeli election, suggests an opportunistic agenda for short-term political gain at an immense cost in Palestinian lives. In the long run this policy will benefit no-one except those who always profit from war and exploitation. Only a just and lasting peace, achieved through a negotiated agreement, can provide both Palestinians and Israelis the security they want and deserve.

Addendum:  Somebody linked me to this video entitled If the IDF made Hamas-style videos.  It comes with the following explanation.

Here is how I imagine an IDF video would look like if it was made like those cheesy Hamas jihadist videos that glorify terror, with bad music, poor sound effects and repetitive explosions.

I haven’t seen any Hamas videos so I can’t judge, but I guess the real point is to prove that the IDF was targeting paramilitary operations.  I don’t think there’s any serious doubt about that.  But it also misleads, much like the first Gulf War footage, to suggest that these are “surgical strikes” and not an the overkill being suggested by a number experts.

Here is a comment on the Youtube page (you can get there by clicking twice on the video).

Good vid…& to extend the metaphor, imagine what would happen if the Palestinians had a wing of F-18 fighters. Would they just use them responsibly like the Israeli’s do and just protect their own land or limit their incursions to 40 miles into Israel like they are doing with their rockets? No, they would try to wipe out Israel as fast as they could.
Who knows what they would do?  They wouldn’t be fighting asymmetrical warfare, so they might actually act a bit differently.  Then again, they might act like Franco with Guernica.  Who knows?  I’m not an expert.

The TS has a review of the play, which just finished at the Van Duzer at HSU but is playing again at the Arcata Playhouse at 501 9th Street for three additional performances at 8 p.m. Oct. 25, Oct. 26, and Oct. 27.

This one-woman play about the the woman who lost her life trying to prevent an Israeli bulldozing of a Palestinian home allegedly suspected of containing hidden entrances to tunnels containing caches of weapons. It has been the subject of controversy, more for the politics surrounding it than anything in the play itself. As the NY Times put it:

Given Ms. Corrie’s lightning-rod status as a pro-Palestinian activist — she has been held up as both a heroic martyr (by Yasir Arafat, among others) and a terminally naïve pawn — the New York Theater Workshop drew accusations of moral cowardice. Theater artists including Vanessa Redgrave, Harold Pinter and the American playwrights Tony Kushner and Christopher Shinn joined the fray. Rachel Corrie became a name best not mentioned at Manhattan dinner parties if you wanted your guests to hold on to their good manners.

But politics aside and despite a rather unimaginative title the play has received rave reviews. There have also been responses including censorship efforts. There are particularly nasty reviews such as this one claiming that the play is anti-semitic because it omits the fact that she burned flags at demonstrations and because the Israelis were trying to destroy “a structure” but were unable to stop the arms going through the tunnels thanks to Corrie and her “fellow activists.” The blogger’s account contradicts the Israeli report however, which denies that any demolition was intended. The nearby “structure” belonged to Samir Nasrallah, a Palestinian pharmacist.

There is dispute as to whether the driver saw Corrie. You can read the details of the eye witnesses at Wikipedia and probably a thousand other sites. Normally soldiers are supposed to clear the areas for the bulldozings, but they weren’t out on the day in question. They claim they remained in armored vehicles in fear of Palestinian snipers, but wouldn’t that danger be present at any time? Such danger would seem to be at its least when western activists are present. In any case, whether the driver’s actions were deliberate is probably beside the point of the play, which is that a brave and perhaps naive young woman took a stand and lost her life for her cause. That should earn her some respect, whether you ultimately agree with her politics.

The conservative blogger’s rant about her also contains a paradox in that they blame her for the inability to stop the transportation of arms through the house. But despite her efforts the home was destroyed, which would suggest that maybe the home wasn’t what the IDF believed it was. Certainly it wasn’t crucial to the underground operation.

I haven’t yet seen it so I can’t review it, but obviously it’s not light entertainment. The following passage from the above-linked NY Times review captures what I anticipate.

The play, directed by Mr. Rickman, is not an animated recruiting poster for Palestinian activists. Its deeper fascination lies in its invigoratingly detailed portrait of a passionate political idealist in search of a constructive outlet. And its inevitable sentimental power is in its presentation of a blazing young life that you realize is on the verge of being snuffed out. (I kept thinking of the letters from Julian Bell, Virginia Woolf’s nephew, who was killed in the Spanish Civil War.) The play’s most obvious hold on the audience’s attention comes from its being structured as a sort of countdown to a tragic death. The very look of the stage at the beginning — in which Rachel’s bedroom in Olympia, Wash., seems to float against a ravaged Middle Eastern townscape — presages a journey we know will be fatal.

The photo comes from her memorial website.


June 2020