Wednesday, July 30, 2014

War Crimes Radio

War crimes radio. That's what it feels like I am listening to as I drive to and from work.

I turn on the radio in the morning and learn about Israel bombing its 6th UN school, killing scores and wounding countless others. I turn off the radio and head into the office.

The day is done, I head home. I turn on the radio - scores more dead. This time in a market temporally opened during a 4 hour humanitarian ceasefire. The market sits adjacent to what used to be a neighborhood - called Shuja'iyah - before it was reduced to rubble by Israel's overwhelming firepower. Bodies remain entombed in the remains of the bombed-out neighborhood as there has not been a sufficient lull in the violence to enable their retrieval. Today more lives are turned to dust. 

Where ever they go, where ever they may seek shelter, the people of Palestine in Gaza are subjected to the extreme violence of a colonial regime whose main objective remains constant: "Jewish supremacy in Palestine — as much land as possible, as few Palestinians as possible," as Bashir Abu-Manneh reminds us.

"Israeli violence isn’t senseless — it follows a colonial logic," elaborates in his recent piece for the Jacobin. (Go read it.)

Yesterday Gaza's sole power plant was bombed . . . a deliberate attempt to engineer a humanitarian crisis and shore up Israel's long-term efforts to de-developed Gaza's economy, making it a ward of international aid.  

Israel destroys infrastructure and bombs trapped civilians all under the obnoxious pretext of punishing terrorists. In reality, Israel's objective is to root out any resistance to the military occupation and siege that it has imposed on Gaza, and to transform the tiny enclave into a compliant vassal state unwilling or unable to challenge Israeli dominance.

The death toll in Gaza surpassed 1,300 today. Of that number, nearly 300 are children. An orgy of destruction. That's all it is.

Meanwhile in Israel, life remains minimally disrupted. The hugely disproportionate effect of the rockets vs Israel's massive technological advantage and firepower speaks to the wildly incongruent nature of the conflict - what is tantamount to one-sided barbarism carried out by a democratically elected government that believes it has a free pass to kill, vaporize, explode, decapitate whoever it wants in order to feel "safe" and protect its illegal, expansionist borders.

Worst yet, Israeli leaders blame the incomprehensible destruction wrought by its own invading army on the people it has penned in like animals and massacred in the full light of foreign media. Under international law, the Israeli army cannot claim self-defense against a people it is blockading, occupying, invading, and indiscriminately shelling.

Terrorism is the act of killing civilians to further political ends, terrorism is creating enemies to cynically use them as a pretext for further war, terrorism is occupation, terrorism is theft of indigenous land and the systematic destruction of a people's ability to survive.

Terrorism is more often state-sanctioned than not. Terrorism is absolving oneself of moral responsibility, terrorism is claiming that Palestinians wanted to die, terrorism is blaming the dead for their own deaths.

As Susan Abulhawa, a Palestinian-American writer and human rights activist, states clearly, to blame Palestinians in Gaza for the colossal loss of life and destruction they are currently experiencing is morally repugnant and inexcusable:

It’s the equivalent of saying a woman in a tight dress is forcing men to rape her. No one is forcing Israel to kill unarmed civilians in their homes. No one is forcing them to bomb hospitals, rehabilitation centers, water treatment plants, bakeries, or children playing soccer on the beach.  They’re doing it all on their own. Willfully and deliberately. They are using guns and bombs and planes and warships and drones and snipers of their own volition against a defenseless civilian population in one of the most densely populated places on earth. Together with Egypt, they have besieged all borders, so there is no place for people to run or take cover. There is just no refuting this simple fact. 

I have amassed a painfully large collection of links - but to spare you I will post the six most important articles I have come across this week, aside from three very powerful pieces by Palestinian writers I am saving for a later post:

The Guardian front page today (31st)

The four boys recently torn to bits by an Israeli bomb on a beach in Gaza hail from the Bakr family, who happen to be interviewed in this short (beautiful) film made in 2013. Fisherman in Gaza are prevented by Israel's naval blockade (i.e. gunboats) from going farther than 3 nautical miles out to sea. Which means their nets mostly catch seaweed.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Take Action Now: Stop Arming Israel

Demand an arms embargo, demand that Israel be held to account for striking civilian targets. Email this letter to your local, state, and national elected officials. Urge them to take action.

Click for contact info:
US Representatives 
US Senators
US President
Israeli Embassy 

Dear __________________,  
I am deeply troubled by recent events in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. I urge the US government to immediately stop the transfer of all arms to Israel. An arms embargo is the only long-term solution to Israel’s 47 yearlong military occupation of Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem.
F-16s, Hellfire missiles, U.S. government-issued Caterpillar bulldozers, Apache helicopters and other weapons, munitions and equipment have been directly linked to violations of international humanitarian and human rights law by Israeli forces. Knowing this, the U.S. government is not only violating its own law and policy, but is complicit in the commission of these human rights violations. 
Many human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, are calling for an UN-imposed comprehensive arms embargo on Israel and Palestinian armed groups. From 2008-19, the US is projected to provide military aid to Israel worth $30 billion.  
The U.S. government must stop arming a military power that launches devastating attacks with impunity against civilian populations, and regular engages in the use of excessive force, including the recent collective punishment of the Palestinians in the West Bank that proceeded the murder of both Palestinian and Israeli teenagers (which Israel has admitted was not the work of Hamas), as well as the escalation of violence in Gaza - the third such assault on a blockaded and displaced people since 2009. 
Since Israel began military operations targeting the Gaza Strip, well over 1,000 Palestinians and 50 Israelis (all combatants except for 3) have been killed. The United Nations has estimated that 77% of the deaths in Gaza are civilians. Of those, over 24% are children.   
Israel is an occupying power whose military tactics routinely violate international humanitarian and human rights law. To help stop these human rights violations, the U.S. must stop supporting Israel unconditionally and do its part to protect the lives of non-combatants. U.S. policy prohibits the provision of weapons where there is a credible expectation that they may be used in grave human rights violations. Israel must put in place effective mechanisms to ensure that they are not using American made weapons to violate the fundamental human rights of the Palestinian people. 
The U.S. must act in accordance with its own laws and policies concerning weapons transfers. It must stop arming Israel. This is the surest way to end the ritual of violence, to protect Israel’s security, and achieve Palestinian freedom.  

Israeli actions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories constitute war crimes and serious violations of the Geneva Conventions, including the most basic principles and laws of armed conflict (as detailed here by legal experts and in this vital piece: "Five Israeli Talking Points on Gaza—Debunked").

Call the White House and protest American complicity in Israeli war crimes: switchboard 202-456-1414, ask for President Obama’s office.

Sign the BDS Movement's petition and check out their fact sheet: The Case for a Military Embargo on Israel.

[The language used in this letter draws heavily from various human rights organizations including Amnesty International.]

Sunday, July 27, 2014

"Nothing Left" / Emily Dickinson's Promise

I awoke this morning to news of a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza. Depending on the source it was 12 to 36 hours long. Whatever the case, it has already passed, at least formally.

Israel has resumed what it calls "military operations" against a largely defenseless population, smothering it under rubble as much of the Muslim world prepares to celebrate the festive and joyous end of Ramadan, Eid il-Fitr.

During the temporary lull in violence rescue crews and families returned to the worst hit areas in Gaza to retrieve the dead, salvage personal belongings and assess the damage. News reports struggled to describe the indescribable, what Peter Beaumont of The Guardian referred to as cities reduced to "a moonscape from which the smell of death at times wafted."

As Palestinians excavated the dead - pushing the death toll past 1,000 - Israelis headed out to malls, restaurants and beaches.

Original reporting from Gaza depicts scenes of intolerable loss. Even before Israel began its indiscriminate onslaught, conditions in Gaza were unlivable and inhumane, due to Israel's lethal economic stranglehold on a pint-sized parcel of land no bigger than Philadelphia, explains Pam Bailey at Mondoweiss:

The Gaza Strip has been under Israel’s control in some fashion for 47 years, but with suffocating intensity since 2007. Israel strictly limits travel in and out; controls the supplies that come in, including a ban on most construction materials; and prohibits virtually all exports, thus crippling the economy and triggering one of the highest poverty and unemployment rates in the Arab world. One could call such long-term, repressive conditions a continual provocation.

"Gaza has been under Israeli siege for seven years," writes Rafeef Ziadah, a Palestinian human rights activist. Echoing Bailey she continues:

Fishermen are shot when they go out to sea. Trade is blocked. Travel is nearly impossible. Water is contaminated. Hospital supplies are lacking. The economy is kept in controlled collapse, just short of catastrophe. Israel is rationing everything that enters Gaza, from calories to world literature.

Suffering in Gaza is layered and multifaceted. Deprivation runs deep. And the newest wave of destruction wrought by Israel, an advanced occupying power against an occupied downtrodden people, over the past three weeks truly stupefies.

Not only individuals but whole families have been wiped out. Not only individual homes but whole city blocks have been eviscerated. Hospital operating theaters and cancer treatment centers have been bombed (Al-Aqsa Hospital), UN schools shelled (Beit Hanoun), and electricity and water sanitation plants destroyed.

And it's not over yet. Nor is it the first time, in case you forgot. This is the third such aggression in less than six years. Google any of the aforementioned war crimes and you will find ample evidence attesting to and describing identical atrocities committed by the state of Israel during its prior assaults on Gaza, leading one commentator to quip that the latest campaign should be renamed Operation Déjà Vu.

But the big question looms, when a ceasefire is finally achieved how will the people of Gaza recover?

How can life resume under the siege? How can life resume when one's ability to provide for oneself and others is being systematically sabotaged?

Israel's illegal blockade is designed to produce a slow-death by strangling the economy and creating cruel and perverse shortages in critical items like medicine, bedding, water, food, electricity, fuel, and basic building materials like cement and wire, i.e. shelter. Emulating Somali warlords, the Israeli government deliberately prevents desperately needed humanitarian aid from reaching a people whose very survival depends on it.

Beaumont describes the shell-shocked and forlorn as they return to their homes in hopes of retrieving bits of their former lives. Instead they stand before utter ruin:

"We left at the beginning of the war," says Zoheir.
"It is the first time that we have managed to come back." Umm Fadi adds: "We're staying in the UN school in Jabaliya. We came to get clothes for the children. But there is nothing left."

It is the phrase we hear throughout a long day: "Nothing left." And it is true. Whole areas that were once inhabited have been reduced to a landscape of earth and dust and broken shapes.

Alaa Helou, 35, a carpenter, points to what is no longer there. "That was a two-storey house. There was three storeys and over there was four storeys high. We came to see our house. We thought it might have been damaged by a shell. But there is nothing left of it."

"We spent 20 years making our place nice," says his older brother. "We spent all of our money on our homes."

Ayman Mohyeldin of NBC News shared this photo and story on instagram. It is illustrative of so many fates in Gaza at the moment:

July 27, 2014 | Gaza City, Gaza. Ashraf Al Masri spent his life's savings along with his 5 brothers to build a 3-story building; an apartment for each of the 6 brothers so that the family could raise their kids together. They were hardworking, honest and modest brothers who drove taxis or worked in construction. They valued family and integrity and hard work to put their kids through school. Ashraf's son wanted to be an inventor. When the war began, they did the sensible thing and moved their family to a UN school. But the school was crowded and not safe, they were at the school that was hit where 16 people died. 3 days ago, their family building, that cost their life's savings was completely destroyed along with any personal belongings. They left the shelter and found a single apartment where the family of 60 - sixty - are now all living together. They are now living off of handouts including one meal a day that they all have to share and mattresses that they take turns sleeping on. Their new reality is that they are now literally impoverished with no money, no home and only with the clothes on their backs and each other. ‪#‎gaza‬ ‪#‎palestine‬ ‪#‎israel‬ ‪#‎hamas‬ ‪#‎photojournalism‬ ‪#‎reportage‬

Words alone fail to do suffering of this magnitude justice.

This morning I also awoke to the words of Emily Dickinson, as she describes one of death's few consolations in her poem, "If I Should Die." Here she petitions the reader to take comfort in knowing that the "commerce" of life will continue to function even after one's death:

If I should die,
And you should live—
And time should gurgle on—
And morn should beam—
And noon should burn—
As it has usual done—
If Birds should build as early
And Bees as bustling go—
One might depart at option
From enterprise below!
'Tis sweet to know that stocks will stand
When we with Daisies lie—
That Commerce will continue—
And Trades as briskly fly—
It makes the parting tranquil
And keeps the soul serene—
That gentlemen so sprightly
Conduct the pleasing scene!

A 19th century American poet promises the dead that those left behind will continue to experience life. If death is eternal stillness, then life is eternal movement and the dead can rest easy in this knowledge.

But is this a promise we've denied the victims of Israel's determined bloodletting in Gaza?

Will the survivors, the living, be given the chance to rebuild their lives, to partake in the commerce of life and "conduct the pleasing scene" as Dickinson describes?

Will the world demand a just ceasefire, a lifting of the siege, and freedom for Palestine?

Or will the status quo continue to be defined by our inaction, depriving the living of their rights, and the dead of their sole consolation that life and hope spring eternal in their absence?

Little Asem Khalil Abed Ammar, killed in Gaza. Source:

News & Views: 
  • "Gaza: The Makings of a Modern Day Dystopia" - Queen Rania of Jordan, HuffPo [I am sharing this not because I trust heads of state - I don't - but because of its eloquence, probably the eloquence of her speech writers.]

Friday, July 25, 2014

Massive Link Dump: War Postcards

French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre said "Hell is other people." He was halfway there. Hell is other people who steal your land.

Hell is being colonized and occupied. Hell is asymmetries of power. Things Sartre failed to recognize in regard to Palestine.

Today the suffering in Gaza deepens - death toll now exceeds 800, 4,000 injured, 80% of those civilians, 1/3 children - while Israelis get on with their lives and their leisure.

Postcards from hell, war in Gaza, July 15th - 25th:

Postcards from paradise, fashion shows and beach bumming in Israel, July 15th - 25th:

Media: (* = a must read)
Israel's propaganda machine, however, insists that these Palestinians wanted to die ("culture of martyrdom"), staged their own death ("telegenically dead") or were the tragic victims of Hamas's use of civilian infrastructure for military purposes ("human shielding"). In all instances, the military power is blaming the victims for their own deaths, accusing them of devaluing life and attributing this disregard to cultural bankruptcy. In effect, Israel—along with uncritical mainstream media that unquestionably accept this discourse—dehumanizes Palestinians, deprives them even of their victimhood and legitimizes egregious human rights and legal violations.
I feel guilty in leaving, and for the first time in my reporting life, scarred, deeply scarred by what I have seen, some of it too terrible to put on the screen.
But it is wrong to suggest that Israeli civilians near Gaza suffer as much as Palestinians. It is much, much worse in Gaza. I defy anyone with an ounce of human feeling not to feel the same after ten minutes in Gaza’s Shifa Hospital with wounded and dying civilians. In the mortuary, it’s so overcrowded that the bodies of two children are crammed on to a single shelf. One day, they had only found enough of the remains of six women and children to fill a single stretcher.
The IBA said the ad's content was "politically controversial". The broadcast refers to child deaths in Gaza and reads out some of the victims' names.

In its appeal, B'Tselem demanded to know what was controversial about the item. "Is it controversial that the children [aren't] alive? That they're children? That those are their names? These are facts that we wish to bring to the public's knowledge."

West Bank:
The shelling of the UNRWA school, which killed 15 and injured 200, was a war crime. The UN had given the school’s coordinates to the Israelis, so they knew it was a school and was holding displaced persons. The UN, when informed it would be shelled, asked for more time to evacuate people but were denied it.

Behind all these maneuvers looms Israel's occupation of Palestine, now in its fifth decade. Not content with having ethnically cleansed hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in 1948 and 1967 and not satisfied with owning eighty-two percent of Mandatory Palestine, every Israeli government since 1967 has built or expanded settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem while providing generous subsidies to the 600,000-plus Jews who have moved there in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Two weeks ago, Netanyahu confirmed what many have long suspected: he is dead set against a two-state solution and will never--repeat never--allow it to happen while he is in office. Given that Netanyahu is probably the most moderate member of his own Cabinet and that Israel's political system is marching steadily rightward, the two-state solution is a gone goose.
After spending one week in Jerusalem from July 14-19, one day in the West Bank, and one afternoon being harassed by Israeli security in Ben Gurion airport, I must say that the ubiquity of the Israeli security complex has left a lasting impression on me.
Unlike conventional wars, the longest and most legitimate wars of all have been the people's fight for independence from colonialism. 

Israel is in the midst of such a fight against a people's struggle for freedom and independence and it makes similar, if not identical claims, to those made by other colonial powers of the past.

But not one foreign power big or small was able to win a single asymmetrical war against a people resisting colonialism throughout the entire 20th century.

This definite and paradoxical conclusion - the most instructive, and yet ignored of all lessons of war is categorical: Not one great power possessing superior firepower has won against a weaker, less organised and less professional resistance against occupation. 

Not the French, not the English, not the Belgians, the Dutch, the Spanish, the Portuguese, the Italians, the Soviets, the Chinese, the Afrikaners, etc. Not one!  In the end, they all lose. And if they don't, then it's not the end.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Massive Link Dump: "The Evidence Is In The Morgue Refrigerators"

 Ayman Mohyeldin, NBC News: A child has been killed in Gaza every hour for the past two days according to the UN.

Media:  (* = a must read)
From most American media you would assume that the Israelis were minding their own business and the Palestinians of Gaza just irrationally started firing rockets at them. With rare exceptions, we aren’t told that most truces have been broken by Israel, not Hamas. We aren’t told that over 70% of Gaza’s population used to live in Israel and was ethnically cleansed and left penniless. We aren’t told that Israel has a blockade on Gaza that does not allow it to export most of what it produces, that this blockade has thrown 40% of the working population into unemployment and left 56% of families food insecurity (just on the verge of going to bed hungry). We aren’t told that Israeli occupation has left 90% of [the strip's aquifer non-potable] people in Gaza without potable water. * We aren’t told that Gaza’s Palestinians demand an end to being kept in a big concentration camp. If Israelis were being treated as the Palestinians are, what do you think they would do about it?

The Human Toll: 
Israeli soldiers sniping a youth in the street in front of distraught mother, bombing hospitals filled with the sick and elderly, firing on buildings adjacent to UN water tankers --- and little kids practicing their English with reporters - UK Channel 4 captures it all here, powerful reporting.
Gaza City - Two small bodies lie on the metal table inside the morgue at Gaza’s Shifa hospital. Omama is 9 years old. Her right forearm is mangled and charred and the top half of her skull has been smashed in. Beside her lies her 7-year-old brother. His name is not certain. It might be Hamza or it might be Khalil. Relatives are having trouble identifying him because his head has been shorn off. Their parents will not mourn them—because they are dead too.
 My conclusion after numerous interviews with ordinary youth, from one end of Gaza to the other? Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his spokesmen are wrong when they accuse Hamas of ordering a sheep-like people to act as human shields or to remain in their homes in the face of warnings to evacuate. The decisions of tens of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza to stay in their homes until they were literally forced to leave were for some an act of desperation, saying they had nowhere else to go
A cease-fire agreement is possible, but all parties need to be at the table; Hamas was not consulted over the one proposed by Egypt last week. Even peace might be possible — if the international community has the courage to engage in dialogue with Hamas. The terms outlined by Hamas for a cease-fire are the same as those the United Nations has called for repeatedly: open the border crossings; let people work, study and build the economy. A population capable of taking care of its own would enhance Israel’s security. One that cannot leads to desperation.
In January 2008, barriers along the Gaza-Egypt border were knocked down. Thousands of Gazans poured into Egypt to acquire much needed supplies. I remember the relief within the Palestinian community. This transient glimpse of freedom was a treat.

A neighbor of mine was simply delighted to drink a Coca-Cola. The freedom to move, fresh food and clean water, and the simple pleasure of sipping a soda, this is what Gazans need: the normal life everyone else takes for granted. During the first days the border was open, Hamas suspended rocket attacks from Gaza. Israeli politicians should take note.
One day children have a large family and the next day they are orphans. The practical implications of this will affect them forever. Children grow up in a environment where they realize they have no security in their own homes. Even their bedrooms are not safe anymore.

I know of many Palestinians who do not like Hamas. Yet for them, the Gaza war is about the siege – part of their own war of independence. Israelis refuse to get that.

Outside Gaza: 

Solidarity and Action: 

1. Contact President Obama at (202) 456-1111 and the State Department at (202) 647-4000. Demand that they immediately withdraw U.S. military aid from Israel and call on Israel to immediately end its attacks. Tell them to stop supporting Israel’s crimes with our tax dollars.

2. Call the Egyptian Embassy at (202) 895-5400 and demand they open the Rafah border for injured Palestinians in need of urgent medical care. Alternate number: (
202) 966-6342.

3. Call Boeing. Boeing provides Israel with F-15A fighter jets, Apache AH 64 helicopters, tungsten or DIMEbombs to attack Gaza. Boeing’s headquarters are located in Chicago. Contact Boeing at (312) 544-2140 and demand they stop giving Israel weapons to use against civilians in Gaza.

More than half of all US international aid goes to trigger-happy Israel:

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Terrorism Of The Telephone

Three summers ago I read the short memoir "I Saw Ramallah" by Palestinian writer Mourid Barghouti.

It became an instant favorite.

It's a book about loss, about the exile's fraught relationship with return. It's evocative. It's unforgettable. It's written by a true poet and beautifully translated by Ahdaf Soueif.

Edward Said called it “one of the finest existential accounts of Palestinian displacement we have.”

But after three years I have yet to finish it, refusing to read the last chapter, which is only three pages long. I am saving it, but for what or why, I don't exactly know.

At my bedside it remains despite countless moves that keep my books boxed up and in storage for months or years on end. This one though, always remains within arm's reach. 

Tonight I picked it up, leafing through the pages without real purpose . . perhaps looking for some sort of comfort or poetic insight to cope with the terrible news streaming out of Gaza. But instead of finding solace my heart sank deeper and my stomach clenched as my eye caught one paragraph in particular, covered in violet highlights. It's a passage that describes the special place the telephone has in the lives of Palestinians, a people displaced by war and occupation:

The details of the lives of all whom we love, the fluctuations of their fortunes in this world, all began with the ringing of the phone. A ring for joy, a ring for sorrow, a ring for yearning. Quarrels, reproach, blame, and apology between Palestinians are introduced by the ringing of the phone. We have never loved a sound so much, and we have never been terrified by one – I mean, at the same time. Bodyguards – or your luck, or your intelligence – can protect you from terrorism, but the displaced person can never be protected from the terrorism of the telephone. (Page 127)

The terrorism of the telephone. Today the phrase takes on new meaning as Israel's indiscriminate onslaught drags on and the most moral army in the world continues to make its "courtesy calls" - a warning call to Palestinian families to flee their homes before they are bombarded with deadly weapons

But in the midst of such incalculable human suffering, countless massacres and the lack of safe places to evacuate to, these calls amount to little more than cruelty disguised as mercy. The pained language of an unnamed writer describes how they induce a different kind of death: 

I'll tell you what is harder than dying in Gaza by an Israeli missile deluxe. What is harder is that you get a phone call from the Israeli army telling you to evacuate your home because it will be bombed in ten minutes. Imagine; ten minutes; and your whole short history on the surface of Earth will be erased.

Gifts you received, photos of your siblings and your children (dead or alive), things t
hat you love, your favorite chair, your books, that last poetry collection your read, a letter from your expatriate sister, reminders of the ones you loved, the smell of your bed, the jasmine tree that hangs off your western window, your daughter’s hair clip, your old clothes, your prayer rug, your wife’s gold, your savings; imagine; all this passes in front of your eyes in ten minutes, all that pain passes while you are struck by surprise.

Then you take your identification papers (passport, birth certificate, etc.) which you have ready in an old metallic candy box, and you leave your home to die a thousand times, or refuse to leave and die once

"I Saw Ramallah" is a book that gives life-affirming substance to a tragedy whose dimensions only seem to grow.

Tonight I won't finish it.  

Monday, July 21, 2014

Massive Link Dump: It's All A Blur, Day 15

At a loss for words, I'll let the news coming out of Gaza speak for itself:

(Warning) video shows the reported moment when an Israeli sniper opens fire on a Palestinian man who returned to his neighborhood looking for relatives. The shooting was witnessed and documented by solidarity activists including an American and British national. ‪#‎gaza‬ ‪#‎Hamas‬ ‪#‎israel‬ ‪#‎palestine‬ - Ayman Mohyeldin, NBC News

Key Context:

NBC News Ayman Mohyeldin: July 20, 2014 | Shifa Hospital, Gaza City. The legs of 2 year old Khadijah killed in an Israeli strike on Shejaiya. She was one of 30 bodies claimed by relatives at the morgue in a matter of minutes during a two-hour humanitarian ceasefire allowing for families to collect the dead off of the streets and treat the injured. #gaza #shejaiya #israel #palestine

A scene of heartbreak and heroism:
Video Post by Watania Media Agency. (A Palestinian woman buried beneath the rubble in Shejaiya appears to be dead but is found breathing. Medics rescue her.) 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Grandma And The Machine Gun

Bar graphs. Aren't they great? Especially this one, embedded in a recent BBC article on Israel's ground invasion into Gaza (original article here):

Look closely though.

Notice any funny business?

I did. Despite being reassured by the declaration in the bottom right-hand corner.

First, the source:

  • I'll be generous and assume our friends across the pond at the BBC value informing the public and would simply like to communicate statistical information in a straightforward, visual way. But instead of doing their own research or critical thinking (you know, that thing called journalism), they rather outsource this important job to a highly interested third party, the Israeli Army - the party that happens to stand accused of gross human rights violations. No one knows how to sell a war to the public better than the people waging it, and the BBC appears all too willing to help.

Second, the items being compared:

  • In Logic 101 at my community college I learned what it meant to "compare apples and oranges." To do so is to transgress and insult your audience by making a false analogy - comparing two incomparable things, like apples and oranges, or maybe more fittingly, "grandma and machine guns," if you speak Romanian. Here the BBC tries to pawn off on the public a comparison between "Rockets fired from Gaza" and "Gaza targets hit by Israel." The key words here - "fired" and "hit" - are two very different things.

Rhetorical trickery or sheer brilliance? Both.

Gaza's rockets don't inflict much damage, partly because they are neutralized before hitting the ground by Israel's sophisticated missile defense shield, the Iron Dome, and partly because they are crude and ineffective weapons. They are no match for Israel's far superior "field-tested" weaponry. That's why this graph is reduced to comparing "Gaza targets hit by Israel" vs "Rockets fired from Gaza" and not "Gaza targets hit by Israel" vs "Israel targets hit by Gaza" - which, in effect, would be the orange bars' true equivalent.   

But that's just it. There is no equivalency in this war, between Gaza "the grandma" and Israel "the machine gun." Israel's bombs are powerful enough and the people in Gaza defenseless enough that Israel's bombs actually hit the ground, and with shocking results. 

As Foreign Policy details here, Israel's war on Gaza is defined by a grotesque power differential between oppressor and oppressed, in which Israel drops its payloads with absolute impunity on a Gaza trying to defend itself with puny rockets that, at this point, hardly pose a threat to Israel. (The Foreign Policy piece ends on a disturbing Hunger Games-like note.)

Israel has a massive military advantage that it is exploiting to collectively punish a civilian population. What's more, Israel has Gaza's borders on lock down, confining the Palestinians like prisoners to their tiny territorial cell. Families are ordered to evacuate their homes, yet they have nowhere to evacuate to. UNRWA currently reports that over 61,479 displaced persons are seeking refuge in their 49 shelters in the Gaza Strip. But these shelters are not enough - Gaza's population is 1.8 million - and they are not inviolable and are still at risk of being hit, as are homes and hospitals and the pregnant women and children seeking shelter within them. Israel has destroyed over 1,500 homes so far. [Update 7/24/2014: It was only a matter of time before UN schools were attacked. See here.]

A letter signed by Nobel Peace Laureates, writers, and peace activists published in The Guardian describes the roots of Israel's military advantage:

Israel's ability to launch such devastating attacks with impunity largely stems from the vast international military cooperation and trade that it maintains with complicit governments across the world. Over the period 2008-19, the US is set to provide military aid to Israel worth $30bn, while Israeli annual military exports to the world have reached billions of dollars.
In recent years, European countries have exported billions of euros' worth of weapons to Israel, and the EU has furnished Israeli military companies with research grants worth hundreds of millions. Emerging economies such as India, Brazil and Chile are rapidly increasing their military trade and cooperation with Israel, despite their stated support for Palestinian rights. By importing and exporting arms to Israel and facilitating the development of Israeli military technology, governments are effectively sending a clear message of approval for Israel's military aggression, including its war crimes and possible crimes against humanity.

In the end, the effect is this, notes Seumas Milne:

For the third time in five years, the world’s fourth largest military power has launched a full-scale armed onslaught on one of its most deprived and overcrowded territories.

Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University, Richard Falk, describes this latest assault as a "bloody sacrifice" exacted by Israel from an enclave it has held "hostage" and "cordoned off" from the world.

So, is it the same thing when the firepower of one side vaporizes into thin air, while the other lands its punch, traumatizing the build environment and mutilating the people within it?

This makes a big difference to the people on the ground. A difference that speaks to the asymmetrical nature of a war that is passed off by mainstream media as tit-for-tat skirmishes between near equals.

Deceptive wording and a little "Excel wizardry," as a friend likes to call it, go a long way in the propaganda war. The two sides portrayed here and the damage they inflict are being made to appear as equals by virtue of the corresponding heights of the colored bars. But the bars are misleading, comparing two different things, rockets that fizzle vs bombs that blast.

My logic teacher would not be impressed.

The BBC pulled a fast one on us viewers by printing this infographic, happy to obfuscate reality. As the saying goes, they pissed on our backs and told us it was raining.

I don't envy either side in this war, but the lack of parity between the two must be acknowledged and accurately reported.

The adage goes that "real journalism is publishing what someone else does not want printed; everything else is public relations." By publishing Israel’s claims as fact, and ignoring the reality on the ground in Gaza, mainstream journalism shows us how well practiced it is in the art of PR.

[Read more about the BBC's entrenched biases here: "Brian Eno joins criticism of BBC’s bias against Palestinians"]

Friday, July 18, 2014

Just When We Needed Him Most, We Lost Him

Yesterday, as Israel launched its ground invasion into Gaza, NBC News executives pulled a similarly moronic move, ordering foreign correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin out of the Gaza Strip, citing security concerns (which is quite a riot considering Mohyeldin is a battle-hardened journalist who rose to fame after being one of only two foreign journalists to bear witness to Israel's horrific 22 day-long assault on Gaza in 2008-9). The New York Times writes:

Ayman Mohyeldin, the NBC correspondent who was playing with a group of Palestinian kids moments before an Israeli attack killed four of them on a Gaza beach yesterday, has been pulled from the region. According to a report by Glenn Greenwald at the Intercept, the network demanded Mohyeldin leave immediately, citing "security concerns," although it also sent a different correspondent, Richard Engel, to Gaza.

Mohyeldin's sophisticated understanding of a complex region, his extensive experience in war zones, and most importantly, his moving, humanizing reports from Gaza were too much for a big profit-driven news network to bear. NBC rather cave to the Israel Lobby-backed status quo than capitalize on the best opportunity it had to cover this catastrophe in an open and honest manner.

Mohyeldin is undoubtedly one of the most experienced reporters and trusted voices on Gaza out there (his harrowing reporting landed him on Time's annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world).

Recently in Gaza, he didn't waste his time regurgitating Israeli talking points, but instead reported from the ground and gave us a real understanding of the terrible human toll being inflicted on the Palestinian people.

He conveyed to viewers the reality of what it means to bomb a captive civilian population.

Naturally, this was a problem because it exposed the Israeli army's appalling conduct, human rights violations, and killing of innocents - behavior that Israel's own top officials struggle to justify before world audiences (example: Spokesman Mark Regev on England's Channel 4 News).

Mohyeldin's truth-telling, his genuine concern for life, his moral bravery are what got him pulled from a beat that desperately needed his clear-eyed, powerful reporting.

The following links explore the NBC/Mohyeldin scandal and the mainstream media's longstanding lack of fairness when reporting on the issue of Palestine:

    Ayman Mohyeldin at il-Shifa hospital in Gaza before being pulled.


    Update 7/18/2014: After public outcry, NBC is returning Moyheldin to his post in Gaza. A statement from NBC reads:
    Ayman Mohyeldin has done extraordinary reporting throughout the escalation of the conflict in Gaza, filing 25+ reports over the past 17 days, including his invaluable and well-documented contribution to the story on the deaths of the four Palestinian children on Wednesday. As with any news team in conflict zones, deployments are constantly reassessed. We've carefully considered our deployment decisions and we will be sending Ayman back to Gaza over the weekend. We look forward to his contributions in the coming days.

    Thursday, July 17, 2014

    Gaza Is Beyond All Help And Israelis Cheer

    The world has failed the people of Gaza.

    Israel has begun its ground incursion. A week-long campaign of terror from the sky wasn't enough.

    Flattening Gaza's rehabilitation hospitals, playgrounds, cafes and centers for the disabled wasn't enough.

    Killing over 200 civilians and 53 children wasn't enough. 

    Nothing is enough for bloodthirsty commanders and their masters in Tel Aviv.  

    So they fill the air with toxic white smoke and send in the tanks.

    The people of Palestine await certain death. The despair in their voices can be heard on Facebook as they write about dying.

    They resist by holding fast to their homes, by holding fast to dreams of rebuilding their cities, by staying human.

    There is nowhere to run. Surrender is not an option. The last time Israeli Occupation Forces invaded Gaza, they killed civilians bearing white flags.

    Israel doesn't fight fair, assailing a people unable to soften the blows.

    Israelis take great pleasure in this temporary weakness.

    Their cheers can be heard in the distance.

    To them, dying children is sufficient for an evening of amusement.

    Families perishing in their own homes is nothing but a lurid spectacle.

    Israel's invasion of Gaza is just something to do.


    Wednesday, July 16, 2014

    History, Comedy, Tragedy

    The most challenging truths of any war are its ironies. And the occupation of Palestine is rife with them. The whole conflict is defined by a core paradox: that Zionism, the national movement to claim Palestine for Jews at the expense of non-Jews, emerged out of the legitimate desire of a persecuted people for a homeland.

    But in escaping persecution (that culminated in the Holocaust in Europe) and settling in Palestine, Jewish settlers displaced its native inhabitants and created a second refugee population. The Palestinian people now form one of the largest diaspora groups on earth.

    In a bitter twist of fate, the survivors of a genocide founded a nation on what Israeli historian Ilan Pappé has termed an incremental genocide.

    But despite what conventional wisdom dictates, for centuries Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived amongst each other and commingled peacefully in Muslim-ruled lands. It is simply not true that Muslims and Jews have been warring since "time immemorial."

    Compared to their harsh treatment throughout history in Christian Europe and Russia, Jewish communities made out well living under Muslim powers, despite being classified as second-class citizens. They still had basic rights and freedoms that protected their faith and allowed them to prosper. Jewish communities flourished for centuries in Muslim Spain, what's known as Andalusia, but were summarily expelled once Isabella and Ferdinand took hold of the throne. Under these Catholic monarchs, both Muslims and Jews faced conversion or exile.

    So it is no surprise that Jewish refugees yearned for a safe haven among a people more affable to their traditions and life ways, especially in light of the antisemitic sentiment and policies barring their entry into post-war United States.

    According to the Ottoman Census of 1893, Muslims made up 85% of the population of Mandate Palestine in the 19th century. But many Christians were ethnically Palestinian, as well, further entrenching an Arabic speaking Palestinian majority (many Jews spoke Arabic as well).

    Historic Palestine was not an empty land awaiting a people without a land, as the oft-quoted Zionist shibboleth goes.

    The historical archives corroborate Palestinian ownership of the land and their longtime presence, a reality reflected in this western produced clip of Palestine in 1896, one of the first known video recordings of the place:

    Not all Jews fleeing Europe before and after WWII wanted to establish an exclusively Jewish state in Palestine. There existed a rich debate between various groups, both secular and nonsecular. But as European Jews arrived in ever greater numbers, militant factions within the Jewish polity eventually gained ascendancy, overriding more moderate voices. Their paramilitaries, such as the Irgun and Haganah, waged an ugly colonial war that included many massacres and acts of terrorism. The sole objective of this concerted military campaign was to systematically expel the Palestinians and ethnically cleanse the land. It was eventually successful enough to declare Israel a state in 1948.

    Naturally, what is the average Israeli's "Independence Day" is "The Day of Catastrophe," or the Nakba, for Palestinians.

    Today the descendants of those original Jewish settlers continue to dispossess the Palestinians of their land, using the sophisticated powers of the modern nation-state to suppress their struggle for national liberation.

    Everything we see happening today stems from this fundamental injustice, a history that must be appreciated in order to understand the gravity of the conflict and what drives both sides - and the vastly disparate impact felt by the two. 

    Today's death toll, as reported by NBC, has climbed to 213 on the Palestinian side (including 43 children and 1,600 wounded) and has expanded to include one Israeli fatality.

    This fatality occurred as an Israeli man willfully advanced too close to the war zone, which is concentrated in Gaza, not Israel proper, despite media assertions to the contrary. While volunteering to distribute food to Israeli soldiers at the border, the man was critically wounded by mortar fire and later died.

    While Israel's vastly superior firepower and its Iron Dome technology keeps the war and its terrible human toll at arm's length, every inch of Gaza remains under intense threat. Israel launches warheads into one of the most densely populated places on earth while still trying to maintain the moral upper-hand. But by simply firing into such a crowded place, they are, in effect, transforming every civilian into a human shield and engineering a crisis. Israeli state-sanctioned violence has killed over 40 children in one week.

    Meanwhile, the majority of Israelis continue to live relatively normal lives, alerted to immanent danger by an iPhone app. The primitive rounds fired from Gaza are by and large vaporized in the skies overhead by the Iron Dome before they can do harm to Israelis. Palestinians in Gaza, on the other hand, are "warned" by being shot at with smaller rounds, the so-called "knock-knock" bomb. Even as they struggle to flee the area, they are struck and killed. Lacking modern defense systems or bomb shelters, no one and no place is safe in Gaza.

    Despite being shot at like so much fish in a barrel by a powerful country aided by a superpower and billions of dollars of American taxpayer money, Gaza needs more than a ceasefire. According to historian Juan Cole, Palestinians need and are entitled to the following if a just peace is ever to be achieved:

    Palestinians in Gaza should be paid billions in reparation for the land and homes they lost in southern Israel in 1947-48.

    The ban on Palestinian exports must be lifted.

    The ban on importation of building materials must be lifted.

    Gaza’s water crisis must be resolved.

    Gaza’s electricity generation should be shifted to solar energy with international aid.

     * * *

    Even in the darkest of times, humor bequeaths insight, making The Daily Show the smartest entertainment around. The Daily Show has a knack for bringing painful but humorous lessons to bear on the most serious of subjects. Satire is the best form of emotional purging simply because it can't be endlessly debated - either you get it or you don't.

    In yesterday's episode, Jon Stewart excoriates the asymmetrical nature of the assault (clip begins at 4:45), taking note of the different attire worn by two NBC correspondents, one based in Tel Aviv, and the other in Gaza. In the following clip they are juxtaposed in a split screen shot, their clothing clearly indicating widely divergent threat levels in their respective locales. Ayman Mohyeldin, who is in Gaza City, is outfitted for a war zone, prepared to confront massive violence. Donning a burly flack jacket, he's dressed like an extra for the war film "The Hurtlocker," quips Stewart. In contrast, the Jerusalem reporter looks like he's about to "bang out his stand-up and head to a Jimmy Buffet concert." (Jon Stewart's face below captures it all):

    Luckily, we now have the phenomenal foreign correspondent, Mohyeldin, working for NBC, so his first-rate coverage of events in the Middle East will finally reach an American audience and hopefully open their minds to less parochial perspectives. (Update 7/17/2014: Oh for Pete's sake! - "NBC News Pulls Veteran Reporter from Gaza After Witnessing Israeli Attack on Children"; "NBC Pulls Ayman Mohyeldin From Gaza Despite Powerful Reporting")

    Incidentally, Mohyeldin was playing with the four boys slaughtered on the beach yesterday moments before the missiles hit. The boys were struck by munitions fired from an Israeli gunship positioned off the coast (even swimming out to sea to escape the barrage, as Stewart jokingly suggests in the above segment, is not an option for Gazans because the sea forms part of a militarized parameter that is controlled by Israel).

    Juan Cole explains what happened:
    There was no warning (contrary to what Euronews suggested) and there were no military targets on the beach. There were just little boys who tried to run away and who appear to have been deliberated targeted for a second strike by an Israeli gunboat.

    A hotel filled with journalist witnessed the whole event and tended to the survivors. These unlawful strikes constitute war crimes.

     * * *

    I'll devote the rest of this entry to links cataloging today's beachside horror in Gaza (an event that follows on the heels of another gruesome beach bombing). The Washington Post's blog quotes responses to the scene from journalists who witnessed it:

    The Post's own William Booth was there. The victims were "scrawny fishermen’s kids," he writes, "whom we saw every day, running around on the beach, playing in the waves."
    Peter Beaumont of the Guardian:

    The following two videos offer a harrowing glimpse into the aftermath of the bombing. Heartrending and graphic, the first one records the moment one of the boy's mothers learns that her son has been killed (she is seized with a grief that can't be expressed in words), and the other one shows the four little boys on the beach after they were struck. Their lifeless and bloodied bodies lie crumpled on the sand. It is a horrific scene:

    Here are some photos, including one image composed of several screen shots that show the boys being fired upon while trying to evacuate the beach, making it appear as if they were being targeted:

    Collecting the survivors before carting away the dead.

    Operation "Genocidal Edge" as Palestinian blogger Rana calls it.

    A distraught father.

    An inconsolable mother outside the morgue.

    The targeting and killing of innocents is a war crime.