Tuesday, January 27, 2009

On Gaza Appendix B: Occupation 101

To keep you satiated while I work on my next post.

Friday, January 16, 2009

On Gaza Appendix

Some great information (videos, articles, what have you) on the Gaza/Palestine/Israel situation:

The Real News Network: Who and what is Hamas?
Guardian: UN levels war crimes warning at Israel
The Huffington Post: Understanding the Gaza Catastrophe
VBS.TV: Palestine vs. Israel - Against the Wall (Par 1 of 6) - A look at the situation in the West Bank.
Znet: Israel must lose - An open letter signed by a litany of academics.
Znet: Gaza Q&A

Petitions to sign:
Amnesty International: Civilians must be protected in Gaza and Israel
Campaign for Peace and Democracy: No blank check for Isael!

Be sure to check out the links in the post itself, also.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

On Gaza

So Israel is still bombing the fuck out of Gaza (pardon my French) and have invaded as well. About a thousand Palestinians killed and about 4,400 injured so far. This is something that has been really bothering me from the beginning. The notion that discussion of this situation is even controversial makes my head want to explode a la that one scene in Scanners. The complete disconnect from reality that seems to exist in the minds of Israel's most hardcore supporters takes that to a whole other level.

There are a lot of things about the entire situation that bother me. The complete repression of the Palestinian people, which has been described by officials from South Africa who lived under Apartheid as "infinitely worse" than Apartheid; the complete denial of any wrongdoing on Israel's part, including denying that there is any kind of humanitarian problem that has arisen as a result of either its 18-month blockade of Gaza or the bombing itself; the notion that bombing the hell out of a given people will somehow create any semblance of peace with those people.

There was a debate on Democracy Now! on January 5th between Christopher Gunness of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, and Meagan Buren, senior advisor of The Israel Project, that illustrates the disconnect from reality that the supporters of Israel's treament of not only the current Gaza situation, but the Palestinian people in general, seem to experience. "But for over eight years now, we’ve been talking about rockets coming into Israel. Let’s talk about that word 'proportionality' for a moment. What should Israel do? ... What would proportionality be every time Hamas fires a rocket discriminately targeting civilians? Israel should fire a rocket back? One rocket for one rocket back into civilian territories? ... I can’t accept the argument that rockets are justifiable because of occupation ... Israel left all of Gaza three years ago in hopes of peace, like I’ve already stated. In hopes of peace, they pulled every soldier, every settler out of Gaza" And finally, my favourite part of that interview:

AMY GOODMAN: Are you denying that there is a humanitarian crisis? Meagan Buren, are you denying there is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza?

MEAGAN BUREN: I’m not in Gaza right now. And frankly, I find it hard to take Hamas at its word. And I have to say that Israel continues to send in thousands and thousands of tons of food and supplies—

CHRISTOPHER GUNNESS: Take the UN at its word. There is a humanitarian crisis. Take the UN—

AMY GOODMAN: Christopher Gunness—

MEAGAN BUREN: —every single day.

AMY GOODMAN: Christopher Gunness is not Hamas. He’s with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

CHRISTOPHER GUNNESS: And I’m saying there’s a humanitarian crisis. Please answer that.

MEAGAN BUREN: OK, well, Christopher Gunness is saying that there’s a humanitarian crisis. I’m saying it’s unfortunate that all of the food and supplies that are going in from Israel into Gaza, Hamas isn’t distributing to its people. Remember, there is another border with Gaza, with Egypt.

AMY GOODMAN: Christopher Gunness, is that the case, that Hamas—let me put that question to the person on the ground in Gaza. Is that the case? It’s Hamas that’s stopping the distribution of food and medicine?

CHRISTOPHER GUNNESS: I have heard no reports of Hamas hoarding food, but I have to say that there is a war going on, and our workers are not getting out to everywhere where they normally get out to. Our food distributions are going on, and we’re saying we need more petrol, we need more fuel, and we need more grain. And if we don’t get that, the humanitarian crisis will deepen, and a lot more people will suffer and be made more radical and even less likely to be partners in peace.

You can listen to the entire program, including the debate here:

Download audio

You read that right. She is so dedicated to this idea that Israel can seemingly do no wrong that she first writes off the notion of a humanitarian crisis in Gaza as propaganda from Hamas, and then when called on that, she just blames it on Hamas anyway. Brilliant. Christopher Gunness gets it. Meagan Buren and those she represents, do not.

What is it that Christopher Gunness gets, but Meagan Buren does not? When you dispossess a group of people in a very violent, uncompromising way, this will inevitably create a very desperate and radical element that will fight back against that oppression. Meagan Buren said that Gaza was not occupied. Well, that's not exactly true. There weren't Israeli troops on the ground in Gaza, that much is true. That's not the only form of occupation, however. Israel controlled both the border and airspace of Gaza. The people of Gaza, believe it or not, were suffering as a result.

Now, the problem with taking this line of reasoning is that people automatically consider this "justification" for terrorist acts. People just can't seem to wrap their heads around the idea that you can explain something without justifying it. (And God help you if you make the argument that something Israel is doing might be wrong, lest you be called an anti-semite, the last refuge of anyone who has no argument and just wants to discredit any criticism of Israel. Making any criticism of Israel into an act of anti-semitism is a pretty swift way to shut down a debate. It's complete and utter bullshit, of course, but it's an easy out for the Israel can do no wrong crowd.) The notion that explanation is somehow justification was illustrated nicely in the above debate as well. Historically speaking though, it is quite accurate. There is a really great book by social critic Mike Davis called Buda's Wagon that outlines the history of the use of car bombs as a tactic. It provides a really good framework for understanding the use of terrorism in response to such situations.

One example from Buda's Wagon is Corsica. The Corsican people—who had become marginalized by the pied noir viniculturalists who had been expelled from Algeria in 1962, but migrated to Corsica to take over the wine industry thanks to preferential treatment from the French government—brought significant attention to their cause through a significant campaign of bombings against the pied noirs. Another example Davis provides is Saigon, which saw Viet Cong guerrillas effectively use car bombings to drive the American presence out of Saigon into a self contained “military suburb” called the Long Bingh complex. This came after the American presence displaced large numbers of people—many entire neighbourhoods—forcing them into shantytowns and slums on the outskirts of Saigon, so that American military and business presences could reside there.

There are several other exaples in the book of car bombings used as a terrorist tactic in similar situations. The basic premise is that you cannot repress an entire people without expecting them to rise up. This is exactly why the continued bombing and subsequent invasion of Gaza is only going to cause more harm than good. I like to think of terrorism in general, including that perpotrated by Palestinian radicals upon Israel as a symptom of a disease. You can do whatever you can to treat the symptoms, but they'll just keep coming back until you do something about the disease itself. The disease, in this case, is egregious injustices perpotrated against an entire people. Supporters of Israel seem to think the disease is the Palestinian (or Arab) people in general.

A friend of mine posted a video on Facebook the other day in which AlterNet.org's Max Blumenthal spoke to attendees of a pro-Israel rally in New York, which was also attended by some big-name Democratic politicians. Th attendance of these big-name politicians alone is problematic, but not at all surprising. What's really disturbing is that some of these people seem to want to wipe out the Palestinians altogether without even a hint of irony. That's fucked up. One girl in the video even called this another holocaust, because the Jews are being persecuted for "like, the trillionth time." Again, completely without irony. The first time I saw that, I thought she was referring to how the Israelis are treating the Palestinians, until she said they're being persecuted for the trillionth time. It is amazing. If it wasn't so scary, it'd be almost comical.

Again, what these people fail to realize is that this is not going to stop terrorism from being directed towards them, and in fact will likely cause further animosity from the Arab world for the slaughter and ongoing repression of the Palestinians. I have to wonder if the people in the above video even know both sides of the story. Media coverage of the Israel/Palestine conflict in the United States is horrendously one-sided in favour of Israel. The dehumanising nature of their coverage of Palestinian deaths, coupled with their ultra-humanising coverage of any Israeli tragedy certainly doesn't help them understand the situation. In all likelihood, they simply know there is someone attacking the homeland of their people, so fuck those guys, let's kill them. For a good look at just how this type of thing is presented in the media, check out the documentary Peace, Propaganda and the Promised Land.

It's astounding how such a willful disregard for human rights can be so roundly ignored by the American media, the American government and the supporters of Israel. Every country in the United Nations called for a ceasefire, but it was vetoed by the United States. I could go on and on into the American complacency (scratch that; outright support) of the United States for Israel, but I'm trying to keep this relatively short. Suffice it to say that Joe the Plumber's belief that Obama's presidency will mean the death of Israel is a little on the delusional side. Israel is the child that can do no wrong in the US's eyes.

There is no easy answer to the Israel/Palestine situation, but there are a few things that really need to happen for any kind of progress to be made. There needs to be a political, two-state solution first and foremost. As long as the Palestinians are under occupation by the Israelis, there will be no hope for progress. Of course this won't solve every problem, and there is going to be a lingering resentment toward Israel for the treatment of the Palestinians over the course of history. Even a two-state solution respecting the 1967 borders and Palestinian control of Gaza's borders and airspace, as well as the issue of the settlements in the West Bank being dealt with will not create absolute peace at this point, but it will be a very strong step forward in establishing a framework for peace.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Read a book

One thing I've noticed of late is that people do not understand politics. They don't understand how governments work and they don't understand the schools of thought that create the political spectrum. This is a problem. If we are to be active participants in the world around us, understanding the ins and outs is extremely important. The political culture and public discourse, in my view, are just as important as the issues themselves. The way we understand and talk about the issues should be well informed. Most of the time, they're not. Yeah, that's a problem.

Case in point, the recent coalition brouhaha in the Canadian House of Commons. There was a survey done, I think, by the CBC that showed that maybe half of Canadians think we elect the Prime Minister directly (we don't) and over two thirds couldn't name our head of state (the Queen). The alleged popular opposition to the coalition spoke to this ignorance and the Conservative government exploited it, claiming that the coalition would undermine Canadian democracy, even though it's a perfectly normal aspect of the parliamentary system which has taken place throughout the history of parliamentary democracies with little controversy.

When we as Canadians vote in a federal election, we are electing Members of Parliament. The way things usually work is that the party with the most members of parliament (a plurality, not necessarily a majority) gets to form the government. That government has to hold the confidence of the majority of the Members of Parliament in the House of Commons. If a government has a majority of the MPs in the House, then that is no problem. Right now, however, the Conservatives hold only a plurality of the seats. The other three parties collectively outnumber the Conservatives. If those other parties do not feel confident in the government, they can bring that government down. This is very normal in a minority government situation. There are then two options: An election, or the other parties can form a coalition, approach the Governor General, and then she can appoint the coalition as the government. This is a completely legitimate and normal function of parliamentary democracy. Apparently not many people realize this. Go figure.

Another one that bothers me is the idea that anarchism means merely chaos. That anarchists just want to tear down any sense of order and peace that exists in society. I hear this a lot, especially from liberals on a message board that I frequent (which admittedly is a liberal/Democratic—big D, no kids' table—message board). They have pretty much bought into the Sex Pistols brand of anarchy = chaos. On a slightly less ignorant level, some like to equate it to an extreme form of libertarianism, meaning free reign of the market, which describes one strand of anarchism (anarcho-capitalism) but is by no means the prevalent form that most anarchists would associate with. When you look at great anarchists throughout time, from Bakunin to Goldman, to Chomsky and Zinn, there's a strong sense of equality and justice, not just a free for all social Darwinist approach to anarchism.

To quote Howard Zinn in a recent interview: "The term anarchist to so many people means somebody who throws bombs, who commits terrorist acts, who believes in violence ... Anarchism is also misrepresented as being a society in which there is no organization, no responsibility, just a kind of chaos. Anarchism to me means a society in which you have a democratic organization of society—decision making, the economy—and in which the authority of the capitalist is no longer there, the authority of the police and the courts and all of the instruments of control that we have in modern society, in which they do not operate to control the actions of people, and in which people have a say in their own destinies, in which they're not forced to choose between two political parties, neither of which represents their interests. So I see anarchism as meaning both political and economic democracy, in the best sense of the term."

Socialism is another sorely misunderstood concept in public political discourse, as evidenced but the completely absurd claim during the US presidential campaign that Barack Obama is a socialist. The first time I heard John McCain call Barack Obama a socialist and accuse him of class war, I laughed. Hard. Then when Sarah Palin did it, I laughed even harder, because she's a complete joke in general. The fact that anyone can take those accusations seriously, and then run with them the way the McCain-Palin camp and his cheerleaders have, tells me that no one in the United States (or at least no one in the public eye of the united states) seems to know what the hell they're talking about.

Do these politicians want some sense of a social safety net? Yes. Is that socialism? Hell no. Socialism is the EQUITABLE redistribution of wealth (if you only want to talk about the redistributive tenets of socialism, which they all seem to...I'm looking at you, Sarah Palin). Not just equality of opportunity but equality of result. You think a Democratic tax policy is going to make everyone economically equal? If you do, to be completely frank, you're an idiot.

Idiot or not, it's an argument I've seen come from conservatives for a while, in reference to liberal/Democratic politicians in general, and the absurdity never ceases to amuse...then bemuse....then just flat out annoy. Not only because of the fact that Obama nor any other mainstream American politician are socialists, but because of the idea that this is somehow a bad thing.

Returning to Zinn: "Here in the United States, the beginning of the twentieth century, before there was a Soviet Union to spoil it, you see, socialism had a good name. Millions of people in the United States read socialist newspapers. They elected socialist members of Congress and socialist members of state legislatures. You know, there were like fourteen socialist chapters in Oklahoma. Really. I mean, you know, socialism—who stood for socialism? Eugene Debs, Helen Keller, Emma Goldman, Clarence Darrow, Jack London, Upton Sinclair. Yeah, socialism had a good name. It needs to be restored."

If I could sum this all up to you, my wonderful non-existent (hopefully soon to be existent) readers, I would simply say this: Read a book. Learn a thing or two about what you're talking about before you actually run your mouth about it. There are so many more examples, but these are just the ones that stick out in my head right now.

Anyway, I'm going to try to do weekly updates here. I'm also working on a rad design for the blog which will hopefully be done when I have some free time. I can write from work. I can't design here, sadly.

Also, I'll try to keep these shorter from now on. I promise.