Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The failure of American Jewry

Voicing any fair criticism of Israel these days is hazardous. You are sure to be dumped as an anti-Semite. And this labeling is often so loosely used that it is unfair to all Arabs, and surely to some (so-called self-hating) Jews, who trace their bloodline to Abraham and Jacob, respectively. But who cares those facts? To many die-hard Zionists the single litmus test is: does the person support the state of Israel unquestioningly? Any slight criticism is not tolerated by these self-described guardians of the Jewish state, in spite of the fact that things are not that beautiful or glamorous under the dirty and rotten rug of Israel.

Peter Beinart, an Associate Professor of Journalism and Political Science at the City University of New York and a Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation, recently wrote an important article “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment” in The New York Review of Books. He deplored the fact that the leading institutions of American Jewry discourage any broad discussion of the Palestine-Israel conflict and would rather check “their liberalism at Zionism’s door.” They are afraid to be critical of the conduct of the Israeli leaders. Such an attitude has only emboldened the Zionists in Israel to feel untouchable -- i.e., outside the reaches of international laws and obligations -- with their savage crimes against the Palestinian people.

As I have noted many times, there has not been a single honest peace broker in Israeli history since the annexation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967. Many of them are outright fascists and murderers. The current leaders of Israel are no exceptions to that general rule. A sampling of their views is sufficient to prove that the current Zionist leaders in Israel are intolerant and hateful of the Palestinian population. In his 1993 book, A Place among the Nations, Netanyahu not only rejects the idea of a Palestinian state, he denies that there is such a thing as a Palestinian. In fact, he repeatedly equates the Palestinian bid for statehood with Nazism. An Israel that withdraws from the West Bank, he has declared, would be a “ghetto-state” with “Auschwitz borders.” And the effort “to gouge Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] out of Israel” resembles Hitler’s bid to wrench the German-speaking “Sudeten district” from Czechoslovakia in 1938. It is unfair, Netanyahu insists, to ask Israel to concede more territory since it has already made vast, gut-wrenching concessions. What kind of concessions? It has abandoned its claim to Jordan, which by rights should be part of the Jewish state.

Has Netanyahu changed his views since coming back to power? No. And yet, President Obama had to cave into Jewish pressure to invite him back to the White House and use the Blair House. Netanyahu was even promoted as one who is ‘willing to take risks for peace’.

According to Beinart, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Shas’s immensely powerful spiritual leader, has called Arabs “vipers,” “snakes,” and “ants.” In 2005, after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon proposed dismantling settlements in the Gaza Strip, Yosef urged that “God strike him down.” The official Shas newspaper recently called President Obama “an Islamic extremist.” Just imagine what would have been the reaction in the Jewish controlled media if some leader or newspaper in Iran or some Hamas or Hizbollah leader had uttered such offensive words against a sitting American president! And yet, not a single Jewish leader has protested the official Shas view.

Beinart notes that Effi Eitam, a charismatic ex–cabinet minister and Israeli war hero, has proposed ethnically cleansing Palestinians from the West Bank. “We’ll have to expel the overwhelming majority of West Bank Arabs from here and remove Israeli Arabs from [the] political system,” Eitam declared in 2006. In 2008, he merged his small Ahi Party into Netanyahu’s Likud. And for the 2009–2010 academic year, he is Netanyahu’s special emissary for overseas “campus engagement.”

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is a notorious fascist who once shared Eitam’s views. In his youth, he briefly joined Meir Kahane’s now banned Kach Party, which also advocated the expulsion of Arabs from Israeli soil. Now Lieberman’s position might be called “pre-expulsion.” He wants to revoke the citizenship of Israeli Arabs who won’t swear a loyalty oath to the Jewish state. He tried to prevent two Arab parties that opposed Israel’s 2008–2009 Gaza war from running candidates for the Knesset. He said Arab Knesset members who met with representatives of Hamas should be executed. He wants to jail Arabs who publicly mourn on Israeli Independence Day, and he hopes to permanently deny citizenship to Arabs from other countries who marry Arab citizens of Israel.

Hebrew University Professor Ze’ev Sternhell is an expert on fascism and a winner of the prestigious Israel Prize. Commenting on Lieberman and the leaders of Shas in a recent Op-Ed in Haaretz, he wrote, “The last time politicians holding views similar to theirs were in power in post–World War II Western Europe was in Franco’s Spain.” With their blessing, “a crude and multifaceted campaign is being waged against the foundations of the democratic and liberal order.” Sternhell should know. Beinart informs us that in September 2008, Sternhell was injured when a settler set off a pipe bomb at his house.

For the last several years, especially since the Bush Jr. days of 2001, we are continuously reminded about the greatness of the ‘only democracy in the Middle East.’ Uri Avnery, a human rights activist, unmasks Israel’s true character. In a July 17 posting in the Media Monitors Network, he wrote, “When I was first elected to the Knesset, I was appalled at what I found. I discovered that, with rare exceptions, the intellectual level of the debates was close to zero.” That was back in 1967, when the Knesset included members like Levy Eshkol and Pinchas Sapir, David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Dayan, Menachem Begin and Yohanan Bader, Meir Yaari and Yaakov Chazan, for whom today streets, highroads and neighborhoods are named. If you thought that in the last 43 years, the debates within the Knesset have improved, you are wrong. Avnery says, “In comparison to the present Knesset, that Knesset now looks like Plato’s Academy. What frightened me more than anything else was the readiness of members to enact irresponsible laws for the sake of fleeting popularity, especially at times of mass hysteria.”

In a recent Knesset debate, Haneen Zoabi of the Arab nationalist Balad faction tried to explain why she had joined the Gaza aid flotilla that had been attacked by the Israeli navy. According to Avnery, “MK Anastasia Michaeli, a member of the Lieberman party, jumped from her seat and rushed to the rostrum, letting out blood-curdling shrieks, waving her arms, in order to remove Haneen Zoabi by force. Other members rose from their seats to help Michaeli. Near the speaker, a threatening crowd of Knesset members gathered. Only with great difficulty did the ushers succeed in saving Zoabi from bodily harm… As far as I could make out, not a single Jewish member raised a finger to defend Zoabi during the tumult.”

That is not the end of the Knesset mobster-like behavior! Recently, the Knesset decided by a large majority to adopt a proposal, supported by Likud and Kadima members, to strip Haneen Zoabi of her parliamentary privileges. Even before, Interior Minister Eli Yishai had asked the Legal Advisor to the Government for approval of his plan to strip Zoabi of her Israeli citizenship on the grounds of treason. One of the Knesset members shouted at her: “You have no place in the Israeli Knesset! You have no right to hold an Israeli identity card!” According to Avnery, “The proud parents of these initiatives, which enjoy massive support from Likud, Kadima, Lieberman’s party and all the religious factions, do not hide their intention to expel all the Arabs from parliament and establish at long last a pure Jewish Knesset. The latest decisions of the Knesset are but parts of a prolonged campaign, which gives birth almost every week to new initiatives from publicity-hungry members, who know that the more racist and anti-democratic their bills are, the more popular they will be with their electorate… There seems to be no limit to this parliamentary irresponsibility. All red lines have been crossed long ago. This does not concern only the parliamentary representation of more than 20% of Israel’s citizens, but there is a growing tendency towards depriving all Arab citizens of their citizenship altogether.”

A call for boycott is a democratic means of expression. Not so, if you are in Israel. Recently, the Knesset gave the first reading to a bill to impose heavy penalties on any Israeli who advocates a boycott on Israel, in general, and on economic enterprises, universities and other Israeli institutions, including settlements, in particular. Any such institution will be entitled to an indemnity of $5000 from every supporter of the boycott.

I fail to see anything great about Israeli democracy. Most of its leaders are corrupt and immoral, and have come from the military with records of war crimes. Some are psychopaths. Most are racists. And on the top of that, fascistic leanings have always tainted its government. Peter Beinart writes, “Israeli governments come and go, but the Netanyahu coalition is the product of frightening, long-term trends in Israeli society: an ultra-Orthodox population that is increasing dramatically, a settler movement that is growing more radical and more entrenched in the Israeli bureaucracy and army, and a Russian immigrant community that is particularly prone to anti-Arab racism. In 2009, a poll by the Israel Democracy Institute found that 53 percent of Jewish Israelis (and 77 percent of recent immigrants from the former USSR) support encouraging Arabs to leave the country. Attitudes are worst among Israel’s young. When Israeli high schools held mock elections last year, Lieberman won. This March, a poll found that 56 percent of Jewish Israeli high school students—and more than 80 percent of religious Jewish high school students—would deny Israeli Arabs the right to be elected to the Knesset. An education ministry official called the survey ‘a huge warning signal in light of the strengthening trends of extremist views among the youth.’” Only in ‘democratic’ Israel can one see such a support for a fascist leader like Lieberman!

Reuven Rivlin, Speaker of the Knesset recently said: “The country cannot be divided…I oppose the idea of a state belonging to all its citizens or a bi-national state and am thinking about arrangements of joint sovereignty in Judea and Samaria under the Jewish state, even a regime of two parliaments, Jewish and Arab…Judea and Samaria will be a co-dominion, held jointly…But these are things that take time…Stop waving demography in my face.” What we notice from such messages is much worse than apartheid: a Jewish state in which the Jewish majority will decide, if at all, and when, to confer citizenship on some of the Arabs.

What is so disconcerting is that there is no public concern—even outrage—among the leaders of organized American Jewry about such trends in Israel and her government. AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents remain the Jewish state’s unabashed promoters in the USA. The latter declares that “Israel and the United States share political, moral and intellectual values including democracy, freedom, security and peace.” On its website, AIPAC celebrates Israel’s commitment to “free speech and minority rights.” These groups may not say that Israeli Arabs don’t deserve full citizenship and West Bank Palestinians don’t deserve human rights. But in practice, by defending virtually anything any Israeli government does, they make themselves intellectual bodyguards for Israeli leaders who threaten the very liberal values they profess to admire. The Jewish newspaper - the Forward - sums up the overall response of America’s communal Jewish leadership in its headline “Jewish Leaders Largely Silent on Lieberman’s Role in Government.”

According to Peter Beinart, “Not only does the organized American Jewish community mostly avoid public criticism of the Israeli government, it tries to prevent others from leveling such criticism as well. In recent years, American Jewish organizations have waged a campaign to discredit the world’s most respected international human rights groups. In 2006, Foxman called an Amnesty International report on Israeli killing of Lebanese civilians “bigoted, biased, and borderline anti-Semitic.” The Conference of Presidents has announced that “biased NGOs include Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Christian Aid, [and] Save the Children.” Last summer, an AIPAC spokesman declared that Human Rights Watch “has repeatedly demonstrated its anti-Israel bias.” When the Obama administration awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Mary Robinson, former UN high commissioner for human rights, the ADL and AIPAC both protested, citing the fact that she had presided over the 2001 World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa.”

A Knesset member from Netanyahu’s Likud recently charged Naomi Chazan, head of the New Israel Fund, which supports some of the human rights groups inside Israel that are critical of Israel’s heavy-handedness with the Palestinians, with treason, and a member of Lieberman’s party launched an investigation aimed at curbing foreign funding of Israeli NGOs. Are these the healthy signs of democracy, or warning signs of fascism?

Where is Israel heading to? Just a look at the actors in the Israeli politics -- Netanyahu, Lieberman and Eitam -- is enough to lose sleep upon. Their political drama is far worse. Settlements are growing at triple the rate of the Israeli population; half of Israeli Jewish high school students want Arabs barred from the Knesset. Eitam visits American universities to sell his poisonous pill of ethnic cleansing. Netanyahu knows that Obama is no position to threaten his regime. Thus, he has started to remove the remaining thousands of Palestinian population in the Jordan valley. As I write, villages are being eradicated, starting with Farasiya, where all the dwellings and the water installations were destroyed. As Avnery has reflected, this is pure ethnic cleansing, much like the similar operation now going on against the Bedouins in the Negev.

Beinart asks, “If the line has not yet been crossed, where is the line?” We may never get that answer from American Jewish leaders, and not even from the charlatans like Elie Wiesel. (As I have repeatedly said, since at least the time of the Bosnian crisis of the early 1990s, Wiesel’s tears are shed exclusively for the Holocaust victims. There is no place for others, and surely not the victims of Israeli inhumanity in that mask of hypocrisy.) They behave as if their past suffering, their victimhood in Nazi Germany gives them the license to murder, injure, annex, plunder, and all the horrendous crimes known to mankind. They truly have never gotten out of that “victimhood” mentality of the Jewish Holocaust. They fail to recognize that this sickening obsession with victimhood is at the heart of why Zionism is still viewed as nothing better than Fascism and racism and why its “charm”, if there ever was one, is dying fast among America’s secular Jewish young today who have access to the Internet. No Eitam-lectures and propaganda on the U.S. university campuses can repair that damage.

Equally reprehensible is the behavior of the Jewish lawmakers in the U.S. Not only are they cheerleading for Israel, they ensure that she can go on terrorizing others without ever being punished. Aided by the pro-Israeli lobby groups, they essentially make sure that Israel is supported militarily, economically and diplomatically in spite of her grievous crimes against humanity. The guys like Chuck Schumer and Joe Lieberman even enlist other lawmakers to punish any country that is slightly critical of the rogue state. To most of them, Washington D.C. and their own constituency come second or third to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. It is no accident that they bring resolutions in the Capitol Hill to drown the Goldstone report, to punish Iran, to annoy or embarrass Turkey, to overlook the heinous crimes of Israel in international waters when its IDF kills civilian activists, to condemn UN inquiries on war crimes. They are criminally silent on the cold-blooded murder of American activists Rachel Corey and Furkan Dogan, let alone the victims of the USS Liberty. Their blind support for the crimes and ‘security’ of the pariah state is costing Americans dearly in blood and money. How long can they afford to do such proxy acts?

In the December 1948 a letter from Albert Einstein, Hannah Arendt, and others appeared in the New York Times that protested right-wing Zionist leader Menachem Begin’s visit to the U.S. after his party’s militias massacred Arab civilians in the village of Deir Yassin. I have failed to see that kind of activism amongst Jewish men of conscience. No one protested the recent visit of Israeli leaders to Washington D.C., coming as it did right after the Gaza freedom flotilla attack. There is an eerie silence everywhere in the Jewish controlled media today. As the New York Times op/ed columnist Roger Cohen recently wrote about Furkan Dogan, the Turkish-American teenager victim of the Gaza flotilla, “I also have little doubt that if the incident had been different — say a 19-year-old American student called Michael Sandler killed by a Palestinian gunman in the West Bank when caught in a cross-fire between Palestinians and Israelis — we would have been deluged in stories about him.” What can we expect, when we did not even hear much about Rachel Corey, bulldozed to death for protesting demolition of Palestinian homes in the Occupied Territories, in the media?

Why this silence in the Jewish controlled media about Israeli crimes? Why the failure of American Jewry to discuss sensitive issues that affect lives of so many? How many thousand of Americans must die at the altar of Zionism? This chill is a bad thing. Can’t they see? Today, it is the Palestinians, the Arabs, and the Muslims, who are the victims. But what guarantee is there that tomorrow or the day after it won’t hurt the very nest it is trying to protect?

In 2004, Israeli tanks and bulldozers demolished hundreds of houses in the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip. Beinart says that while watching television, a veteran Israeli commentator and politician named Tommy Lapid saw an elderly Palestinian woman crouched on all fours looking for her medicines amid the ruins of her home. He said she reminded him of his grandmother. Unlike most American Zionists, who suffer from an epidemic of not watching tragedies of the Palestinian people, Lapid watched. And he was able to connect the Palestinian elderly woman’s tragedy with that of his own Jewish grandma in Auschwitz.

Truly, what the Palestinians suffer today in the Occupied Territories is no less painful than those suffered seven decades ago by the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Well, the rate of extinction may be slower, and there are no gas chambers, but there is no shortage of Israeli bullets that kill or injure, and Israeli bombs and missiles that are dropped into the homes, schools, hospitals, shops and streets of the Palestinian people. And then there is the never-ending cycle of eviction, demolition and annexation of Palestinian land and properties. Far from the wishful proclamations of Pinchas Lavon, one of the founding fathers of Israel, who declared in December of 1948 rather naively, “For the first time we shall be the majority living with a minority, and we shall be called upon to provide an example and prove how Jews live with a minority,” that experience of the minority Palestinians has been simply awful; it has no parallel in our world today outside those suffered by the Rohingya Muslims of Burma. That is a sad commentary to what Israel has become. It is no longer the little God-fearing David but has transformed itself to the monstrous God-less Goliath.

Let’s hope that there will be more Jews like Lapid who will watch the unpleasant scenes of Israeli brutality. If they do, they will find their grandmas and grandpas amongst the victims of Gaza and the West Bank. Let’s also hope that they understand that the best way to memorialize the history of Jewish suffering is through the ethical use of Jewish power, and nothing can be better in that direction than stopping the bleeding process for the Palestinian people.

But my hopes here may be misplaced in a people that are led by Zionists who are taking them on a downward spiral of war and savagery, and moral bankruptcy that cannot even distinguish between right and wrong, moral and immoral acts. I am not sure if the world Jewry is even aware of its own ailment. Its leadership is arrogant and overconfident and refuses to see the visible warning signs and amend its faulty ways, and instead breeds a culture of fascism that does not tolerate opposing views or claims. It muffles the voices of Sternhell, Lapid, Avnery and others. What good can come out of such an immoral leadership that uses ordinary people as pawns or zombies for fulfilling its evil desires? Is the American Jewry ready for an alternative leadership that is caring and peace-making?

Peter Beinart still sees a ray of hope in his people to try a new brand of Zionism that is angry at what Israel risks becoming, and in love with what it still could be. He believes that this different Zionist calling has its roots in Israel’s Independence Proclamation, which promised that the Jewish state “will be based on the precepts of liberty, justice and peace taught by the Hebrew prophets.” I hope he is right and the definition is inclusive.

With all the economic and media power it controls, American Jewry in general, and American Zionists in particular, are in a unique position today to either do much good or much harm to our world. Which option will it choose?

Furkan Dogan - the Turkish American victim of the IDF killing

One of those killed on-board the Gaza Freedom Flotilla was a 19-year old Furkan Dogan, a Turkish American. He was born in Troy, N.Y., and spent his first two years there. Then he moved to Turkey with his family. After the humanitarian aid for the stranded in Gaza, for the first time Furkan was planning to return to the U.S. this summer. But that wish never realized. He was killed by the IDF.

Roger Cohen has recently written an excellent article on the Israeli killing of Furkan in his latest op/ed column in the New York Times. So far no FBI investigation has been initiated to learn the particular set of events that led to his death by the IDF on Turkish flotilla that tried to break the blockade of Gaza. He writes, "I also have little doubt that if the incident had been different — say a 19-year-old American student called Michael Sandler killed by a Palestinian gunman in the West Bank when caught in a cross-fire between Palestinians and Israelis — we would have been deluged in stories about him... This chill is a bad thing. Let’s do whatever it takes to find out how Dogan died — and the eight other victims. The Middle East requires more open debate and the dropping of taboos. It needs the leading institutions of American Jewry to encourage broad discussion rather than, as Peter Beinart put it in an important recent essay in The New York Review of Books, checking “their liberalism at Zionism’s door.”
The inaction from the FBI to probe the Israeli brutality is simply unacceptable. Having lived in America, Professor Dogan, the father of the victim, said, “I know what people do there when a cat gets stuck in a tree.” Mr. Cohen rightly surmised, "It’s different, however, when an American Muslim male gets stuck in a hail of Israeli gunfire."

Will America ever treat all its innocent victims the same way?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Question on secularism

Commenting on my article on Friedman's letters from Turkey, "Friedman’s Disingenuous Letters Hide Israel’s Crimes", one reader wrote: Thank you Dr. Habib Siddiqui for your very insightful piece of history. It clears up a lot of knots the way things are unfolding in recent days. One question: secularism is not all about freedom of religion or is it all about a Godless society?"

My briefly reply follows:

Secularism today is a very misunderstood theme. At one extreme, it is understood that there is no place of religion in anything to do with life, which led to the ideologies like communism/socialism in places like China and the USSR. That extremism led to the experimentation with a Godless society there.

In the USA, on the other hand, what we have is a benign model where the presidents take oath with Bible in the hand, and swear to trust in God. Religion is a personal matter, although religion influences laws and regulations of this country.

In the Qur'an the very idea of compulsion of religion was rejected with the verse lakum deenikum waliyadeen (meaning: to you is your deen or way of life or religion and to me is mine.)

In the first few centuries of Islam, philosophy emerged as a new branch, thanks to Greek ideas, which got translated by then. At one point, during Imam Ghazzali's time, there was a serious debate on the subject when he wrote his famous book critiquing philosophy showing its drawbacks in explaining immaterial subjects, and the matter of faith and belief. See his book: Incoherence of the Philosophers.
The earliest serious philosopher of separation of philosophy and religion can be found in the works of Ibn Rushd, who while a good Muslim said that there is one truth, but there are (at least) two ways to reach it: through philosophy and through religion. Thus, it is said that what the Sufi masters learned through meditation and devotional practices were learned by Ibn Sina and his kind of philosophers through experimentation. Most of those Islamic philosophers were pious Muslims, much in contrast to what happened in the last few centuries.

During the European renaissance we see a serious distinction between the two subjects to emerge when the philosophers rejected Christianity as having the truth. With the Freemasons in power in France, we see how religion would be totally ignored, thus moving to the extreme version we see today. One of its modern interpreters, Holyoake, an agnostic, argued that "Secularism is not an argument against Christianity, it is one independent of it. It does not question the pretensions of Christianity; it advances others. Secularism does not say there is no light or guidance elsewhere, but maintains that there is light and guidance in secular truth, whose conditions and sanctions exist independently, and act forever. Secular knowledge is manifestly that kind of knowledge which is founded in this life, which relates to the conduct of this life, conduces to the welfare of this life, and is capable of being tested by the experience of this life."

Today, the states like Turkey, India, France, South Korea and Mexico adopt secularism constitutionally as a state pillar (the 1972 Bangladesh constitution had the same feature). But outside Turkey and France, none of these countries adopt fundamentalist interpretation of Godless secularism. What is meant in general is state policies will not discriminate on the basis of religion for any position and that rules of the state will not be based on religion.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The New York Mosque Controversy Shows Ugly Signs of Religious Intolerance

New York City is home to millions of people of all races and religions. It is probably the most ethnically diverse metropolis on earth. It is, therefore, not surprising that one will find one’s place of worship, whether it be a church, synagogue, mosque, temple or whatever in this most populous city in America.

I first visited New York City in July of 1980, almost 30 years ago, soon after defending my Masters thesis. In that summer my parents had come to visit North America. It was their first of many such visits to follow over the next three decades. After meeting me a few days before my defense they had left for Toronto and then New York City. I caught up with them in New York City (NYC). A senior friend of mine – Zafar bhai – came to the Greyhound bus terminal to take me to his apartment in Astoria in Queens, just a few miles from Manhattan, the heart of NYC.

New York felt hot and humid, especially inside a fifth-floor apartment in Astoria that did not have air conditioner. I remember having had to take showers two to three times a day to cool off. But the city was amazing. I say this not because of its many tourist attractions, and these are many, but because of its diversity of population. Nowhere else outside Bangladesh I had ever felt this close to my home (and after thirty years, I still have that feeling). I was a foreign student but in New York City I felt like as if I had belonged there for many years. There was no inquisitive looks that sometimes scan anyone looking different; because, everyone there actually looked different. The sense of being a minority or a foreigner quickly evaporates in that atmosphere. I saw people vending on streets, even begging inside the subway trains that transport people between the stations. (These days with all the video cameras in the subway stations and metro police roaming inside the trains you won’t see beggars any more. However, other characteristics of the city still remain.)

I had only a few days left before leaving for Bangladesh where I would be spending my summer vacation before returning to NYC and then going to Los Angeles, California, to pursue my Ph.D. degree. Zafar bhai had lately brought his family to New York City and was hard pressed to work long hours -- outside his graduate studies -- everyday at a gift store in a hotel in Manhattan. Still moving unaided was no problem inside the city, especially within Manhattan. All the blocks are more like squares and the numbering on streets is sequential, and thus, difficult to get lost. Zafar bhai cautioned me about mugging. But with so many people moving all day and night, the fear factor of being mugged or robbed never registered in me. I felt safe, in spite of the fact that in those days the city had a bad reputation as one of the most unsafe cities in America!

The city was different by all means. It was electrifying and simply breathtaking to watch the city skyline from the top visitor gallery of the Empire State Building at night. I visited the Bronx Zoo, the twin towers of the World Trade Center (WTC), the Liberty Statue in the Staten Island, the Time Square, the Rockefeller Center, the UN Building, the Broadway, and many museums. One’s tour of America is simply incomplete without a visit to this great metropolis.

In those days there were not too many mosques, but a sizable Muslim community, almost half comprising of Afro-Americans, existed in the city. One night I was waiting for a train in a subway station when a young Afro-American conveyed salam to me. I was surprised. I asked him how he could recognize that I was a Muslim, especially given the fact that the odds of someone looking like me being a Muslim were rather slim. After all, in those days, Muslims from south Asia, residing in New York, accounted for less than ten percent of its south Asian population. He simply answered, “We can tell.”

Well, in the last thirty years, NYC has become even more cosmopolitan and culturally diverse. There are massive pockets in Queens and Brooklyn where up to 20% of people who do not speak English at all or not very well. Many of them are from East Europe, Puerto Rico, the Caribbean islands, Latin America and China. Neighborhoods such as Flushing, Corona and Sunset Park are the least English speaking communities within the city. NYC is truly a melting pot! More than a third of its population of 8.4 million is foreign-born. While Jews make up two percent of American population, the New York City metropolitan area (or greater New York City) is home to the largest Jewish community outside Israel. Thirteen percent of its metropolitan population identifies them as Jewish. Like the Irish, the Jewish community has played an important role in New York City's politics; Jewish voters traditionally vote in large numbers and have often supported politically liberal policies. The city’s mayor is Jewish. One of the two senators from the state of New York is also Jewish.

With new immigrants from Asia and Africa settling in the city (which is often their first choice), there are perhaps now more than half a million Muslims who either live or work in the metropolis. [According to Peter Awn, dean of the School of General Studies at Columbia University, “Numbering an estimated 600,000, Muslims now represent one of the fastest growing religious communities in New York City.”] While minarets don’t don or dot the skyline of the city yet, there are many mosques today in Queens, Brooklyn and Bronx to cater to the spiritual need of the growing Islamic community. One can also see ethnic stores, with joint non-English and English signs, catering to needs of the various ethnic communities. There are also many halal stores selling meats, slaughtered according to Islamic rules. All these are worthy signs of a city that has demonstrated to the world the true meaning of pluralism and multi-culture.

However, not everything is as rosy and fascinating in the NYC any more, since at least the days of Rudy Giuliani, a highly polarizing figure in New York politics. There is now a hue and cry brewing about a mosque to be built a couple of blocks away from what was once the WTC site, which is now called the Ground Zero. Many see the proposed mosque as an insult to the 3,000 victims who died on 9/11 in the attacks on the WTC.

As I noted elsewhere, 9/11 has been a traumatic experience for many Muslim Americans, especially those who live in the tri-state area, within and outside the NYC. Many of the victims of the tragic event were Muslims who worked in the WTC. As a matter of fact more Muslims died there that day than Jews. [Published reports suggest that while the number of Jews working in the WTC numbered a few thousands, less than a dozen Jews died there. Apparently, they were forewarned of the impending attack by an intelligence monitoring service, operating out of Israel. Whatever the fact may be, they were the lucky survivors. But most Muslims working in those twin towers were not that lucky. They perished in the inferno.] Some of the passengers, outside the hijackers, were also Muslims, who died that day. Many of the firefighters were Muslims, too. Many of the injured victims were also Muslims. Many ordinary Muslims sustained verbal abuses and physical harms following the sad event. Many Muslim homes, businesses and mosques were damaged as part of mob hysteria and hate crimes.

Amongst the most vehement opponents of the mosque project is Sarah Palin, the defeated vice presidential candidate from 2008 election. She has made the proposed mosque famous in "red America" with her tweets to New Yorkers, asking them to stop its construction near the site. Tweeting from her Blackberry, Palin implored, "Ground Zero Mosque supporters: doesn't it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate." Excuse her English, she likely meant "repudiate."

Palin is now joined by many racist and bigoted elements within and around the NYC who have held rallies opposing the proposed construction of the Islamic center in a plot owned by a Muslim developer who had bought the plot containing a building, which was damaged on 9/11, for nearly four million dollars. They say that Muslims should collectively feel guilty for the crimes of those hijackers, much like what the Germans and Japanese felt after World War II. If that be the case, these messengers of hatred ought to know that their argument is not different than those of the Muslim extremists who say that they are justified in attacking western interests. After all, the vast territories of Muslims continue to be terrorized by American and western powers for more than a century, let alone in places like Iraq where since the invasion of 2003 a million innocent civilians were butchered on a cooked-up charge of possessing the WMDs, which were never to be found. To this very day, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Palestine continue to bleed. Do Americans feel a collective sense of guilt for their savagery against Muslims? No, we won’t get answer to this question from these amnesic bigots.

Many of the opponents include Jews, while Mayor Michael Bloomberg, himself a Jew, supports the construction of the mosque. He led the counter-response, "Sarah Palin has a right to her opinions, but I could not disagree more. Everything the United States stands for and New York stands for is tolerance and openness."

As rightly noted by the mayor, the Muslim center project is actually intended to be a cultural center dedicated to interfaith tolerance, something which is missing from the bigots like Palin. They forget that the ability to practice one’s religion within its own home or property is a basic human right, and cannot be taken away by protests and hooligan-like behaviors or obscene slogans. This personal freedom is also enshrined in the First Amendment. Not surprisingly, despite such rowdy protests the local community board at Ground Zero approved the plan for the Islamic center by an overwhelming 29-1 vote. But the debate is still not over. The Landmarks Preservation Commission is yet to make a final decision on whether or not to allow the construction of the mosque on the Muslim owned property.

Whatever the fate of the planned mosque near Ground Zero may be, there is little doubt that the proponents of bigotry are wining; they are making a dent in America that once respected pluralism. Recently, the board of trustees of a Roman Catholic church on Staten Island rejected a proposal to sell a vacant convent to a Muslim group that planned to use it as a mosque. Many other mosque construction plans across the country have faced similar opposition from such hate groups.

Sadly, many of the organizers of such anti-Muslim campaigns are Jews, the very people whose ancestors, if not they themselves, were once the victims of religious intolerance. Fortunately, many of the sanest voices opposing such bigotry against Muslims are also Jews. Steve Beckow is one such noble Jew who was a former Member of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. He wrote an article “To Muslims of America, I Apologize." He believes that “9/11 was truly, as has been said, an "inside job." It was an engineered false-flag operation in which some Muslims played a role, but in the employ of primarily American agencies like the CIA and FBI. It featured not only some Muslims, but also some Israelis as well as nationals from many other countries.” In the column, he recently wrote, “Muslims deserve, and some day will receive, an apology from the American government for all that has been intentionally done to them from 9/11 onwards. And is still being done today.” I hope he is right.

America has been a land of immigrants. It is its religious tolerance that allowed many Jews and others to find a safe refuge here. There is no better symbol of America’s tolerance than a Muslim center near the Ground Zero. Denying such rights to Muslims who now are perhaps the second largest religious community will be a slap to that very American model, and would only strengthen the messengers of hatred and intolerance, something that no great nation can allow.

Kosovo's Independence legal - declares the World Court

Last Thursday, the UN's highest court declared that Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia in 2008 did not violate international law. That is, it was a legitimate declaration, and as such, Kosovo is a bona fide independent country, outside the control of Serbia. This news should come as a matter of good news to the millions of others who are still oppressed and live a life of third class citizen, or worse still, illegals, in their country of birth, e.g., the Rohingya Muslims of Arakan state of Burma (Myanmar).

Kosovo, lived by Albanian Muslims, was an autonomous territory within Yugoslavia. Slobdan Milosevic, the former Serbian leader, revoked Kosovo’s autonomy in 1989 and fiercely repressed ethnic Albanians. The Serbian Orthodox Christian leadership forced them to live a life of unwanted citizens in a country that they lived for centuries. Serbian repression eventually forced armed rebellion by the Kosovars. Milosevic wanted to write the suicide note for the Kosovars, much like what he tried to do, or succeeded in doing, with Bosnia, in the early 1990s. In his arrogance, he ignored that these Kosovars were children of their own land, and had a glorious past. But nothing mattered to Serbian Christian bigots. They killed and raped, destroyed and ravaged Kosovo. But thanks to world pressure and moral support for Kosovo independence movement, the Serbs were ultimately unsuccessful. NATO intervened in 1999 to halt Milosevic’s violent response to the rebels. After the war ended, the United Nations administered Kosovo for eight years, during which time it lingered in a legal limbo.
It was a question of time when the Kosovars would be declaring independence. And this they did in 2008. After the failure of a negotiated settlement, Kosovo unilaterally declared independence in February 2008. Sixty-nine countries, including the United States and a majority of European Union nations, have recognized Kosovo.

Political analysts say that the advisory opinion, passed in a 10-to-4 vote by the court judges, is likely to spur other countries to recognize Kosovo’s independence.

Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian leadership welcomed the court’s decision. “This is a great day for Kosovo, and my message to the government of Serbia is, ‘Come and talk to us,’ ” Kosovo’s foreign minister, Skender Hyseni, said after leaving the court, The Associated Press reported. The U.S. State Department said the ruling was “a judgment we support,” according to The Associated Press. “Now it is time for Europe to unite behind a common future.”

Cheers, Kosovo!!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

France’s Niqab Bill

There was a time in my life when France loomed big in my radar screen of the countries that I needed to visit. In my teenage years, I occasionally met French tourists, mostly college going students. Most of them spoke very little English. And yet that language barrier did not hinder these young French tourists from visiting the new independent state of Bangladesh. They appeared inquisitive and fun-loving.

Years later when I came for my graduate studies in North America, I had few classmates that had come from France. They were good students, not the kind you see amongst today’s French politicians. At the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, one of the externals for my Ph.D. dissertation committee was a French professor who taught instability phenomena in the aerospace engineering department. He was a brilliant man who later returned to France to care for his ailing mother. I also met many French-speaking North African students who had a love-hate relationship with everything French. While they were bitter about their colonial experience, I could see their eyes shine every time they had the opportunity to speak in French, especially with someone from France or the province of Quebec in Canada. While some of us made fun of such unmistakable mood changes amongst our French-speaking friends, which we viewed as a flaw, they would remind us that ‘civilized people speak French and not English.’ There was definitely that nostalgia about being ‘civilized’, in spite of the memories of a bitter past that their parents had to endure against the French colonizers!

While the French Republic gave us the notions of liberty, equality and fraternity, the non-European natives – the colonized people – were never included in that formula. They were for conquer, colonization and carnage. And the French colonizers were a tough bunch -- ruthless killers, criminals and marauders -- who fought tooth and nail before ceasing their control of the former colonies.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, the colonial empire of France was the second largest in the world behind the British Empire. Its influence made French the fourth-most spoken colonial European language, behind English, Spanish, and Portuguese. The French rule of Algeria lasted from 1830 to 1962. Algeria became a destination for hundreds of thousands of European immigrants, known as colons and later, as pieds-noirs (meaning “Black-Foot”). These colonists accounted for ten percent of the population in Algeria, before the country achieved its independence in 1962. In Algeria, the native Muslims were not considered French and did not share the same political or economic benefits as those enjoyed by the pieds-noirs. Politically, the Muslim Algerians had no representation in the Algerian National Assembly and wielded limited influence in local governance. To obtain citizenship, they were required to renounce their Muslim identity, a bigotry-ridden litmus test, whose ramification in terms of certain Muslim-related legislative measures cannot be overlooked or ignored in today’s so-called secular France. Since this renouncement would constitute apostasy, only about 2,500 Algerian Muslims acquired citizenship before 1930.

Following a French Justice Ministry decree, décret Crémieux, in 1870, all Sephardic Jews -- who had settled in Algeria (Tunisia and Morocco) after the Spanish Inquisition as a welcome gesture from the Ottoman Empire -- quickly became French citizens and came to be regarded by the natives as the pieds-noirs.

Like in other former colonies, the nationalists in Algeria wanted equality, if not liberty, which were denied to them. During a reform effort in 1947, the French government created a bicameral legislature with one house for the Pieds-Noirs and another for the Algerians but made a European’s vote equal seven times a native’s vote. In response, Algerian paramilitary groups such as the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) appeared which demanded independence from the French rule. This led to the outbreak of a war for independence, the Algerian War, in 1954, in which over the next eight years more than a million Algerians were killed by the colonists and the French government.

After General Charles de Gaulle assumed leadership in France in 1958, he attempted peace by visiting Algeria within days of his appointment and by organizing a referendum on January 8, 1961 for Algerian self-determination. The referendum, organized in metropolitan France, passed overwhelmingly. Pieds-noirs viewed this referendum as betrayal and formed the Organisation de l'armée secrète (OAS) and began attacking institutions representing the French state, Algerians, and de Gaulle himself. They terrorized and tortured the Muslim population of Algeria and bombed places of worship, business, schools and housing. The bloodshed culminated in 1961 during a failed Algiers putsch that was led by retired generals to topple de Gaulle. After this failure, on March 18, 1962 de Gaulle and the FLN signed a cease-fire agreement, the Évian Accords, and held a referendum. In June 1962 the French electorate approved the Evian Accords by an overwhelming 91 percent vote. On July 1, 1962, Algerians voted 5,992,115 to 16,534 to become independent from France. De Gaulle pronounced Algeria an independent country on July 3.

As noted earlier, Algerian independence had been bitterly opposed by the pieds-noirs and many members of the French military, and the anti-independence OAS. A "scorched earth" policy was declared by the OAS to deny French-built development to the future FLN government. This policy climaxed June 7, 1962 as the OAS Delta Commando burned Algiers’ Library, with its 60,000 volumes, and blew up Oran’s town hall, the municipal library, and four schools. In addition the OAS was pursuing a terror-bombing campaign that in May 1962 was killing an estimated 10 to 15 people in Oran daily.

The Evian Accords stipulated that Algerians would be permitted to continue freely circulating between their country and France for work, although they would not have equal political rights to French citizens. It is no surprise that many of the Muslim migrants to France are from Algeria.

After independence of Algeria, many Pieds-Noirs settled in France, while others migrated to New Caledonia, Italy, Spain, Australia, North America, Israel, and South America. As hard-core racists, many of them remain hostile to Muslim migrants in France and elsewhere.

The post-9/11 xenophobia against Muslims in France owes a great deal to racist and bigoted elements within the French society that have not come to terms with their losses in Algeria. They see the Muslims as aliens and unwanted, and would like nothing better than a litmus test, much like the failed attempt in colonial Algeria more than a century ago. To them, the French Muslims must prove their adherence to the French way of life by renouncing their Muslim identity. Interestingly, President Nicolas Sarkozy, a crypto-Jew with roots in Ottoman-ruled Salonika, is at the head of such a xenophobic campaign against Muslims in Europe.

Last week, on July 13 the French lower house of parliament approved a bill banning wearing garments such as the niqab or burka, which incorporate a full-face veil (with eyes open), anywhere in public. It envisages fines of 150 euros for women who break the law and 30,000 euros and a one-year jail term for men who force their wives to wear the burka. While the bill is showcased as a touchstone for the Sarkozy administration’s policy of integration, most Muslim women do not fit the stereotype of marginalized, oppressed women. Many of the 2000 niqab-wearers in France are new converts to Islam. They wear it as a choice, as a sign of their modesty, and not out of forced compulsion from anyone. The French bill is opposed to religious freedom and is highly discriminatory. It proscribes what to wear and what not to wear on the streets.

In a BBC interview, a French Muslim woman said, “Liberty means freedom of conscience, of expression.” Would Sarkozy and his justice minister, Michèle Alliot-Marie, who said on the eve of Bastille Day that the vote was a “success” for the Republic, ever have the moral courage to listen to those French Muslims -- why they wear it? Can these French legislators, the closet bigots -- I must point out, answer the following questions: what is it about the invisibility of a woman’s face that is so challenging to French identity? What is so important about the niqab that gives the state the right to intervene? As the Guardian editorial wisely noted, “Users of the metro or underground learn instinctively to avoid looking each other in the eye. It is regarded as an intrusion. And yet no state legislature would think about passing a law that bans the wearing of sunglasses indoors on the grounds that it poses a threat to national security. So what is it about the niqab, worn by so few, that threatens so many? And what values, exactly, are being protected?” (July 15)

The French bill banning niqab and burqa has only shown how weak the French society is. It is rotting from within like Holland and Belgium. Rather than fixing its inner weaknesses, it is trying to pass a law that would terrorize a small minority that proudly dons burqa or niqab as their personal choice. France talks about secularism, religious freedom and liberty but the essence of such messages has never penetrated its soul. Sarkozy and his gang of secular fundamentalists ought to know that they can never expect to be respected for upholding flawed values that promote bigotry, instead of pluralism or multi-culture in a world that is increasingly becoming diverse. Like his Donmeh forefathers, is he trying to use one community against another to take Europe on a path of civilization wars?

Whatever be the answer to that uneasy question, well, with such bills promoting bigotry, I have no intention of ever visiting France. As a matter of fact, we can all make it a personal agenda not to include France in our list of potential tourist spots. After all, it’s a crime to promote bigotry.

In 2002, at the height of the push for Turkey’s admission to the EU, the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) had this to say in response to former French president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing’s argument that Muslim Turkey has no place in the European Union:
“Ironically, in the fifteenth century, when European monarchs expelled the Jews, it was Moslem Turkey that provided them a welcome…. During the Holocaust, when Europe was slaughtering its Jews, it was Turkish consuls who extended protection to fugitives from Vichy France and other Nazi allies…. Today’s European neo-Nazis and skinheads focus upon Turkish victims while, Mr. President [d'Estaing], you are reported to be considering the Pope’s plea that your Convention emphasize Europe’s Christian heritage. [The Center suggested that Giscard’s new Constitution] underline the pluralism of a multi-faith and multi-ethnic Europe, in which the participation of Moslem Turkey might bolster the continent’s Moslem communities—and, indeed, Turkey itself—against the menaces of extremism, hate and fundamentalism. A European Turkey can only be beneficial for stability in Europe and the Middle East.”
After the Erdogan-Perez debate and recent Gaza Freedom Flotilla massacre of Turkish Muslims by the IDF, we may never hear such words of praise from the SWC.
Sarkozy’s maternal grandfather, Benedict Mallah, a native of Ottoman Salonica immigrated to France in the early 20th century and immediately "became" a Catholic. According to the book written by the prominent historian Joseph Nehama (1881-1971) Histoire des Israelites de Salonique (part VI., pages 56, 66, 67) the Mallah family originated from the Provence region in France. Haim Joseph Mallah, a rabbi from Salonica, spread out Sabbateanism in Ukraine and Poland. He died in 1720. This rabbi who was a member of the Donmeh in Thessaloniki was of the Karakash (the group the later false messiah Jacob Frank had ties with) subsect of the Sabbatians. This means that Mr. Nicolas Sarkozy too has family ties with the Donmeh of Turkey.
See also my articles on Turkey and its Jewish factor, esp. the role of Donmeh, the crypto-Jews, in founding the Young Turk Movement that brought down the Ottoman Empire.
According to the Pravda site:
The founder of the Young Turks was a Jewish Italian B'nai B'rith official named Emmanuel Carasso. Carasso set up the Young Turk secret society in the 1890s in Salonika. [See also: the site here.] Most of the Young "Turks", were in fact "Jews" and this was a well known fact. Sarkozy’s family has roots in Salonika. It should be pointed out that the Donmeh people represented in the Young Turk Movement and the CUP were solely responsible for the deaths of Armenians in 1915. [See also the citations here.]

The Guardian, UK, Editorial on French niqab ban

I must thank the editor of the Guardian, UK, for a very thoughtful editorial. The editor has correctly diagnosed the problem with the French bill that curtail Muslim women's choice or right to don the way they want. A simple question posed to any of those Muslim women by Sarkozy and his gang of secular fundamentalists, who are nothing but closet bigots, would have shown the stupidity of their false claims that Muslim women are oppressed to wear the niqab. No, they don't wear it for any such reason. While Islam does not require a full niqab, while advocating modesty for both sexes, some Muslim women put on niqab as a choice. The Qur'an is clear that what is mandated is a long garment that covers their body. As a sign of modesty, most young Muslim women therefore cover their hair and breast, while exposing the face and hands only. Anything beyond that is a matter of personal modesty. But that right to dress modestly cannot be threatened or annexed by a law that claims to promote pluralism and multi-culture in a society.
What Sarkozy and the French legislators are doing is nothing but bigotry. They want to put a litmus test for proving French identity: abandon Islam, and become French. The same program was tried back in the 19th century French Algeria towards French citizenship. It backfired to lead to the independence war of 1954. While Sarkozy may not see a repeat of that problem in Christian France, but if he is wise, he would rethink his stupid policy before promoting it any further.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Is Obama Losing Moral Compass?

Last week the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was in Washington D.C. He was invited to stay at the Blair House and have a working lunch at the White House with President Obama. In front of the cameras, the two leaders appeared smiling and shaking hands. Apparently they discussed the Palestine-Israel conflict. Netanyahu declared that he is committed to “peace” with Palestinians and President Obama asserted that the Israeli leader is “willing to take risks for peace.” However, Netanyahu did neither offer any specifics about what he would do to help move peace negotiations forward nor mention a two-state solution to the conflict.

If there was any doubt about relationship between the two leaders, Obama reiterated, “If you look at every public statement that I’ve made over the last year and a half, it has been a constant reaffirmation of the special relationship between the United States and Israel, that our commitment to Israel’s security has been unwavering.”
Yes, Obama is right. Look at what his administration has done for the rogue state! The Israeli government will be getting more military and economic aid from the U.S. government than anytime before in its entire history. Recently Obama and his aides pushed the United Nations Security Council to pass a fourth round of sanctions and have worked with the Europeans and others, pressing them to adopt even tougher punishments on Iran. As to the Gaza Freedom Flotilla attack that killed nine Turkish (including a Turkish-American) human rights activist Washington sided with Israel against Turkey. Obama even told Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey to tone down his criticism of Israel.

This new warming gesture to the prime minister of a state that has been committing war crimes for decades is simply unbelievable, especially from a person who last year won the Nobel Prize for peace. Who can forget Obama’s speeches in Turkey and Egypt that aired optimism for peace and prosperity to billions of people of our planet? It sounded sincere and that change was in the horizon. He promised closure of the Guantanamo Bay prisons. He promised pullout of the American troops from Iraq. He promised fairness and healing of the old wounds. Truly, no American president in our time has been able to create so much enthusiasm and hope as Obama was able to do. All those promises now sound empty and hollow. Obama seems to have either fooled or betrayed us all big time!

To the vast majority of his cheerleaders the sad reality is sinking in that while the presidents may come and go, when it comes to Israel, business is going to remain as usual in the White House.

Just days before Obama was sworn in as the president, Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) committed some of the worst war crimes against the Palestinians living inside Gaza. Some 1400 Palestinians were killed – more like in an execution style murderous orgy. Last year, the UN commissioned an inquiry, which was led not by a gentile but by a Jewish and pro-Israeli judge – Richard Goldstone of South Africa (who even claimed to be a Zionist). The commission concluded that the IDF’s actions in Gaza qualified as war crimes. And yet, the Obama administration resisted all attempts both inside and outside the U.N. to reprimand and censure Israel for such heinous crimes. It even condemned the Goldstone report as an anti-Israel, “biased” report.

Last month, the Obama administration did everything within its power to prevent an international probe into the Israeli raid on ships bound for the Gaza Strip, bringing in humanitarian aids. As if we have not seen enough of toothless internal inquiries conducted by the Israeli government to investigate its own crimes, the Obama administration, to make a mockery of the entire sad episode, backed another internal investigation mounted by Israel. Lest we forget, only recently an IDF soldier has been found guilty of the three-week long Gaza massacre of 2008-2009. He was charged with manslaughter in connection with the deaths of a Palestinian mother and daughter who were shot while waving white flags. No high ranking official within the IDF has been put behind the jail. In its April 2010 report, Human Rights Watch stated, “Israel has failed to conduct credible investigations into policies authorized by senior levels of the country’s political and military leadership that may have led to violations of the laws of war.”

It has been nearly 18 months since Obama was sworn in as the president and yet nothing positive has come out of his administration to stop the Israeli blockade of Gaza. Some 1.5 million Palestinians, mostly refugees from the Israeli annexation of their ancestral homes, are now forced to live like sardines there. Currently, more than 77 percent of Gaza Palestinians either face or are vulnerable to hunger; of these, 65 percent are children younger than 18. According to UNICEF, 10 percent of Gaza children show signs of stunting, while the World Health Organization maintains that another 10 percent face chronic malnutrition.

Back in 2005 when Israel dismantled its illegal settlements there and withdrew, an American-mediated agreement allowed Palestinians to export up to 450 truckloads of goods a day from Gaza. However, true to her deceptive nature, Israel allowed no more than 70 trucks per day before the siege was imposed to punish the Palestinians. According to the Israeli rights group Gisha, which collects data on Gaza’s besieged economy, since 2007, the total number of trucks carrying goods out of Gaza has been less than 300, i.e., less than a hundred a year. This number is equivalent to just four days of exports under the de-facto pre-siege number – which itself was far less than originally envisioned. As a result, according to the estimates by the Palestinian Federation of Industries, more than 90 percent of Gaza’s factories have closed down or are working at minimum capacity. (Newsweek, July 12, 2010) What more statistics does President Obama need to fathom the grim situation in Gaza?

The near-total export ban from Gaza also tells us that the prime motivation for Israeli action is not aimed at preventing weapons from reaching Gaza but actually to destroy Palestinian economy. Israel is enforcing a collective punishment of the Palestinians for voting for the Hamas. As noted by Professor Juan Cole of University of Michigan, that is a political, not a military, objective, and it is impermissible under international law (e.g., the Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention) to target innocent civilians to achieve nonmilitary goals. In German, it is called Sippenhaft or Sippenhaftung.

However, as usual, no one within the Obama administration, including the Jewish senators, children and grand-children of Jewish victims of Sippenhaftung, seems to be concerned about such gross violations of international law. The Jewish Senator Chuck Schumer of New York has been a great promoter of Israeli interest. In a recent statement he even endorsed such collective punishment of the Palestinian people. He said, “The Palestinian people still don’t believe in the Jewish state, in a two-state solution… They don’t believe in the Torah, in David… You have to force them to say Israel is here to stay. The boycott of Gaza to me has another purpose — obviously the first purpose is to prevent Hamas from getting weapons by which they will use to hurt Israel — but the second is actually to show the Palestinians that when there’s some moderation and cooperation, they can have an economic advancement… And to me, since the Palestinians in Gaza elected Hamas, while certainly there should be humanitarian aid and people not starving to death, to strangle them economically until they see that’s not the way to go, makes sense.” With such statements, mostly false, it is clear that these sons of ghetto dwellers have learned the Gestapo tactics quite well! Humanity is not in their soul!

In his welcoming speech to Netanyahu, president Obama said, “We discussed the issue of Gaza, and I commended Prime Minister Netanyahu on the progress that's been made in allowing more goods into Gaza. We've seen real progress on the ground.” This statement distorts the grim reality in Gaza. It is untruthful and misspoken. Obama said, “I believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu wants peace… We’ve seen over the last year how our relationship has broadened… And I think a lot of that has to do with the excellent work that the Prime Minister has done.” What a joke!

If war is peace, annexation is liberation, colonization is freedom, piracy is philanthropy, murder is life, and starvation is nourishment, one can understand such misplaced adulation for a psychopathic mass murderer like Netanyahu. In his remarks to the press, President Obama made no mention of settlement expansion or the Israeli commando attack on the humanitarian aid flotilla that killed nine people including a U.S. citizen.

By failing to condemn the Israeli piracy and murder of Turkish human rights activists in the international waters, Obama has sent the green signal for such acts of savagery and heinous crimes without facing any retribution.

So, with such a cavalier attitude towards condoning one of the worst crimes of this decade, the Obama Administration has shown that it is no different than its predecessor – the much hated administration of George W. Bush. With its appeasing words for the Israeli war criminals responsible for strangulating Palestinians in Gaza and murdering the human rights activists it has shown that it has lost moral compass. Whether the Obama administration likes to admit or not, the Israeli attack on the Freedom Flotilla has once again vindicated Goldstone’s report and its central claim that Israel used disproportionate force and deliberately attacked civilians in the Gaza assault—just as Israel, albeit on a much smaller scale, did in the massacre aboard the flotilla. Only a stupid or insanely biased individual can miss to see that writing on the wall.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Some questions on Israel answered

Today I got a letter from one of my readers who wrote:
Can you please enlighten us on the following facts:

1. How could it be called as United Nations when few of its members have Veto Powers.

2. Why is that USA helping Israel all out?

3. What should be the role of Muslim Countries around Palestine and others under the present situation?

My response to him follows:
1. You are right. The UN cannot hide its dirty past or its history of actually serving the purpose of the few - the veto powers, no matter how it tries to present itself as an international organization. It needs democracy more than any other place on earth, and cannot behave like a world-Brahmin of the few.

2. Israeli lovers have been able to take control of the USA legislative body, the senate and the congress, for a number of years. No senator and congress person can dare to challenge the Israeli interest and still get elected, or reelected. That is what has happened to the USA. As such, we can't expect to see change in USA policy in matters relating to Israel in a foreseeable future until, of course, these 'Amen Corners' are cleansed from the the US Congress.

3. The role of Muslims should be one of words mimicking actions. They have been too vocal like a paper tiger, while not doing much that make the bottom line difference. The problem is with Muslim leaders, who are subservient to non-Muslim forces. No one has the guts to say things that would make them blacklisted, more like what is happening with Iran. Their enemies, on the other hand, are careful and persistent. Rather than going after all Muslim states in one shot, they take turn one at a time. Today it is Iran, yesterday it was Iraq and before that Afghanistan, and tomorrow it will be Turkey or Pakistan. Such slow selection process does not alarm the targeted victims - the Muslim people, while one by one they are dying, or becoming failed states. Since their enemies are stronger and more organized what Muslims need is to use their collective voices with hiqmah or wisdom.

Here are some suggestions that many have hinted about:
a. energize the OIC, and let it be the arbitrator and enforcer amongst Muslims, much like the NATO, so that it can punish its bad guys, while protect its good ones (this is what the Qur'an calls for);
b. move to dinar and dirham based economy, away from the paper money; convert all foreign exchanges to gold and silver; move assets and money away from hostile countries;
c. create competencies in science and engineering, develop world class institutes in every area of human knowledge;
d. challenge western and pro-Israeli stands in every opportunity they get about the inhumanity of the Israeli factor, while not being oblivious about their own hypocrisies;
e. strengthen their own homes and bring their people united on general principles enshrined in the Qur'an and Sunnah;
f. boycott doing business with countries that are hostile to Muslim causes like those in the Occupied Palestine.

Israel has to be unmasked and shown as a pariah state that is detrimental to the interest of the other countries. When others see the danger in that relationship, they will relent. Nowadays, however, the western powers use Muslims against each other because the Ummah is not represented in most territories by the very people that they dare to represent. Problem is: the Ummah can't get rid of these puppets in their midst because their enemies won't let them be removed. Somalia is a good example here. Once Muslims respect their own people, no western power can subdue them whether that be in Palestine or elsewhere. They are far from holding onto Allah's rope, as required per dictum of the Qur'an. Muslims are their worst enemies today. The harm they do to each other is worse than those done by their hated enemies. That is the sad reality. Under that scenario, there is little good that will emanate from Muslims in matters dealing with Palestine.

Israel is a time bomb in making. Either it has to kill all the Palestinians or remove them from its control, or allow them to live in a state of their own. And there is a third option, which is to accept the one-state formula of a democratic state with equal representation for all the inhabitants - settlers and natives. This latter option has remained untried today, but remains a viable option. In this third option, the population growth rate of the Palestinians will overpass that of the Israelis. And as such, they cannot approve it either. So, knowing all these options, they are undecided today hoping that by some miracles the problem will disappear. But it won't. If they are wise today, they will let Palestinians live in the pre-1967 borders, i.e., accept the second option. That will require changing their colonial and settler mindset, and accepting the UN resolutions per international law and expectations. Which one will they choose to accept or reject?

Saturday, July 3, 2010

President Carter’s Book on Palestine

Book Review: Palestine Peace Not Apartheid by Jimmy Carter, Simon & Schuster, New York (2006)

No American president has probably touched the lives of so many outside in a positive way than Jimmy Carter – the 39th president. For the past three decades, since leaving the White House, he has been a resolute voice for human rights and democracy. It was for such activism in the world arena that the Nobel Committee honored him as the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2002, the only U.S. President to have received the Prize after leaving office. To most of his admirers he genuinely deserved the award, something that cannot be said of President Obama, who earned the award in 2009.

President Carter is very vocal about the Palestine-Israel conflict and believes that the USA has a strong role in any peace effort involving the Middle East. Is America ready to play its historic role for peace-making? Can it be trusted by all the parties to the dispute? President Carter’s book “Palestine Peace Not Apartheid” makes it abundantly clear that America has failed in that task rather miserably. Still, his observation is right. After all, the USA has been Israel’s greatest benefactor since the Jewish state was recognized by President Truman. Had it not been for America’s economic aid and security guarantees, plus the abuse of the veto power inside the UN Security Council, the rogue state would have long been a distant memory, much like the short-lived crusader state in the 12th century.

Most people would have hard time realizing that in spite of such blind (and often criminal) support, rendered by the USA, the official U.S. policy in matters relating to the Palestine-Israel conflict is predicated on a few key UN Security Council resolutions, notably 242 of 1967 and 338 of 1973. In his book, president Carter says, “Approved unanimously and still applicable, their basic premise is that Israel’s acquisition of territory by force is illegal and Israel must withdraw from occupied territories. More specifically, U.S. policy was that Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza were “illegal and obstacles to peace.”” (pp. 38-39)

Israel, however, has always put confiscation of Palestinian land ahead of peace. It was these illegal settlement activities during the Bush Sr. administration that provoked an official White House statement: “The United States has opposed, and will continue to oppose, settlement activity in territories occupied in 1967, which remain an obstacle to peace.” From the State Department, Secretary Baker even added, “I don’t think there is any greater obstacle to peace than settlement activity that continues not only unabated but at an advanced pace.” (pp. 131-2) After George H.W. Bush was no longer in office, a major settlement between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, previously halted because of U.S. threat of cutting aid to Israel, was rapidly completed. (p. 132)

As to America's diplomatic gestures in the Middle East, Carter says that after his presidency ended, there was no sustained American leadership in the Middle East peace process until the Gulf War against Iraq in the spring of 1991, when Secretary Baker made several trips to the region. During Clinton-era there was a 90% growth in the number of settlers in the occupied territories, with the greatest increase during the administration of Prime Minister Ehud Barak. By the end of the year 2000, Israeli settlers in the West Bank and Gaza numbered 225,000. The best offer to the Palestinians – by Clinton, not Barak – had been to withdraw 20% of the settlers, leaving more than 180,000 in 209 settlements, covering about 10% of the occupied land, including land to be “leased” and portions of the Jordan River valley and East Jerusalem. (pp. 150-1)

According to Carter, “The percentage figure is misleading, since it usually includes only the actual footprints of the settlements. There is a zone with a radius of about four hundred meters around each settlement within which Palestinians cannot enter. In addition, there are other large areas that would have been taken or earmarked to be used exclusively by Israel, roadways that connect the settlements to one another and to Jerusalem, and “life arteries” that provide the settlers with water, sewage, electricity, and communications. These range in width from 500 to 4000 meters, and Palestinians cannot use or cross many of these connecting links. This honeycomb of settlements and their interconnecting conduits effectively divide the West Bank into at least two noncontiguous areas and multiple fragments, often uninhabitable or even unreachable, and control of the Jordan River valley denies Palestinians any direct access eastward into Jordan. About 100 military checkpoints completely surround Palestine and block routes going into or between Palestinian communities, combined with an uncountable number of other roads that are permanently closed with larger concrete cubes or mounds of earth and rocks. There was no possibility that any Palestinian leader could accept such terms and survive, but official statements from Washington and Jerusalem were successful in placing the entire onus for the failure on Yasir Arafat.” (pp. 151-2)

A new round of talks was held at Taba in January 2001, during the last few days of Clinton presidency. It was later claimed that the Palestinians rejected a “generous offer” put forward by PM Barak with Israel keeping only 5% of West Bank. Carter says, “The fact is no such offers were ever made.” (p. 152)

In April 2003 a “Roadmap” for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was announced by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan on behalf of the US, the UN, Russia and the EU (known as the Quartet). This was before George W. Bush invaded Iraq. Annan stated, “Such a settlement, negotiated between the parties, will result in the emergence of an independent, democratic Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbors. The settlement will end the occupation that began in 1967, based on the Madrid Conference terms of reference and the principle of land for peace, UNSC Resolutions 242, 338 and 1397, agreements previously reached by the parties, and the Arab initiative proposed by the Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah and endorsed by the Arab Summit in Beirut.” (p. 159)

As we all know, the Palestinians accepted the roadmap in its entirety, but the Israeli government announced 14 caveats and prerequisites, some of which would preclude any final peace talks. According to Carter, “The practical result of all this is that the Roadmap for Peace has become moot, with only two results: Israel has been able to use it as a delaying tactic with an endless series of preconditions that can never be met, while proceeding with plans to implement its unilateral goals.” (p. 160)

In October 2003, seeing no progress with the “Roadmap”, with involvement of the Carter Center, a final draft for a new initiative was concluded, which was later disclosed by Carter in Geneva. A majority of the Israelis and Palestinians approved the Geneva principles, despite strong opposition from some top political leaders. Sharon condemned the Geneva Initiative and there was silence from the White House, but Secretary Powell supported the Initiative and met with key negotiators – Yasser Abed Rabbo and Yossi Beilin. (p. 167) Later George W. Bush, a born-again Christian, mindful of not repeating his father’s “mistakes” (in chiding the Jewish state), had no interest in any peaceful resolution of the conflict.

Taking advantage of diplomatic vacuum left by GW Bush, Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon came up with a unilateral decision to encircle Palestinians by constructing a wall that’s at least 3.5 times Israel’s international recognized border. According to Carter, the wall effectively divided Palestinian villages, separating the farmers from their fields, and not just separating Palestinians from Jews but rather Palestinians from Palestinians. (pp. 189-194) He observes, “There has been a determined and remarkably effective effort to isolate settlers from Palestinians, so that a Jewish family can commute from Jerusalem to their highly subsidized home deep in the West Bank on roads from which others are excluded, without ever coming in contact with any facet of Arab life.” (p. 190) In July 2004, the International Court of Justice determined that the wall was illegal and called on Israel to cease construction of the wall, to dismantle what has already been built in areas beyond Israel’s international recognized border, and to compensate Palestinians who have suffered as a result of the wall’s construction. But Israel has ignored the ICJ verdict.

During the Israel-Lebanon conflict of 2006, the Bush administration strongly supported Israel, encouraged their bombardment of Lebanon, and blocked the efforts of France and other nations to impose an immediate ceasefire. According to Carter, during this period of conflict, while world’s attention was in Lebanon, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) killed more than 200 Palestinians, 44 of them children, in Gaza. (p. 200) In September 2006, Prime Minister Olmert authorized construction bids for another 690 homes in the occupied West Bank. He also rejected an offer from Kofi Annan, UN Secretary-General, to negotiate an exchange of prisons. (p. 202)

According to Carter, from September 2000 until March 2006 (before the book went for publication), some 3,982 Palestinians and 1,084 Israelis were killed in the second Intifada and these numbers include many children: 708 Palestinians and 123 Israelis (p. 206). President GW Bush shares great responsibility for letting such massacre to continue.

The question of land – who owned what percent before the infamous Partition plan was announced in 1947 – is very important to understand the root cause of the ensuing conflict. Zionist leaders have always claimed that the Partition plan in which the Jews were given a bigger share of the pie was fair. Land records, however, show that Jewish ownership was only 2.5% of the land before Israel declared its independence in 1948. Carter reminds us that in 1880 there were only 30,000 Jews in Palestine, scattered among 600,000 Muslims and Christian Arabs. When Britain conducted a census in Palestine in 1922, there were about 84,000 Jews and 670,000 Arabs, of whom 71,000 were Christians. By 1930, thanks to the British policy of Jewish immigration from Europe to Palestine, their numbers had grown to more than 150,000 (p. 65). By the time the area was partitioned by the UN, these numbers had grown to about 600,000 Jews and 1.3 million Arabs, 10 percent of whom were Christians (p. 58). That is, there were two Palestinians for every Jew, and yet, the Jews were given 56% of the land! It does not require a genius to understand the reasons behind Arab rejection of the unfair plan.

As a result of the war of 1948, more than 710,000 unarmed Palestinians were expelled by the Zionist terrorists from their ancestral land. The return of these refugees and their children and grandchildren, born in Diaspora, now remains a serious bone of contention. Israel is adamant about disallowing return of the Palestinian refugees while it remains open to Jewish immigration from anywhere in the world to the holy land.

Carter reminds us that by 1964 when the PLO was formally organized, there were, according to the UN estimate, 1.3 million Palestinian refugees, with one-fourth in Jordan, about 150,000 each in Lebanon and Syria, and most of others in West Bank and Gaza refugee camps (p. 58). Nor should we forget that when Israel launched pre-emptive strikes on June 5, 1967 and within six days occupied the Golan Heights, Gaza, the Sinai, Jerusalem, and the West Bank another 320,000 Arabs were forced to leave the additional areas in Syria, Egypt, Jordan, and Palestine that were occupied by Israel. A number of UN resolutions were adopted with U.S. support and Israeli approval, reemphasizing the inadmissibility of acquisition of land by force, calling for Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories, and urging that the more needy and deserving refugees be repatriated to their former homes (p. 59).

In the popular Jewish-owned western media the Palestinians, and their political leadership, are portrayed as the “bad guys,” who aspire to drive the Jews into the sea and reject the two-state formula. President Carter discloses that in a 1990 meeting the PLO chief Yasir Arafat stated, “The PLO has never advocated the annihilation of Israel. The Zionists started the ‘drive the Jews into the sea’ slogan and attributed it to the PLO. In 1969 we said we wanted to establish a democratic state where Jews, Christians and Muslims can all live together. The Zionists said they do not choose to live with any people other than Jews… We said to the Zionist Jews, all right, if you do not want a secular, democratic state for all of us, then we will take another route. In 1974 I said we are ready to establish our independent state in any part from which Israel will withdraw.” (p. 62)

According to president Carter, PLO Chairman Arafat sent a letter to PM Rabin in September 1993 in which he stated unequivocally that the PLO recognized the right of Israel to exist in peace and security, accepted UN Resolutions 242 and 338, committed itself to a peaceful negotiated resolution of the conflict, renounced the use of terrorism and other acts of violence, affirmed that those articles of the PLO covenant that deny Israel’s right to exist were not any longer valid. Although Israel recognized the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinian people in the Oslo Peace negotiations, Arafat failed to obtain other specific concessions concerning a timetable for Israel’s withdrawal from occupied territories. (pp. 134-5)

Hamas has been portrayed as a Palestinian resistance group that is totally opposed to peace, and rejecting the so-called two-state formula for co-existence. According to Carter, much in contrast to Israeli claims about Hamas’s intention for a Palestinian state in all the territories, the Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh stated in June of 2006, “We have no problem with a sovereign Palestinian state over all our lands within the 1967 borders, living in calm.” (p. 203)

Well, such shocking revelations may sound unbelievable, but fact remains that Israel has never been serious about letting Palestinians live in an independent state of their own.

In the popular western media, Israel is portrayed as a model state with equal rights for all its citizens. However, facts are much uglier. It remains the last of the apartheid states in our world. During his many trips to Israel, President Carter met with local Palestinians who emphasized that they were deprived of their most basic human rights. They claimed that that any demonstration against Israeli abuses resulted in mass arrests of Palestinians, including children throwing stones, bystanders who were not involved, families of protesters, and those known to make disparaging statements about the occupation. Once incarcerated, they had little hope for a fair trial and often had no access to their families or legal counsel. Most of these cases were tried in military tribunals, but 90% of the inmates were being held in civilian jails. One of the attorneys told, “Here there is one system under civil judges and another under the military. Most of our cases, no matter what the subject might be, fall under the military. They are our accusers, judges, and juries, and they all seem the same to us.” (pp. 118-9)

The apartheid character of the Israeli state is too visible through its persecution and harassment of the Palestinian people. International human rights organizations estimate that since 1967 more than 630,000 Palestinians (about 20%) of the total population) in the occupied territories have been detained at some time by the Israelis. According to President Carter, in addition to time in jail, the pre-trial periods can be quite lengthy. Palestinian detainees can be interrogated under special laws for a total of 180 days and denied lawyer visits for intervals of 90 days. Accused persons are usually in military courts in the West Bank, and incarcerated in prisons inside Israel, in violation of the 4th Geneva Convention. (pp. 196-7)

Access to water, e.g., remains a persistent issue. Each Israeli settler uses five times as much water as a Palestinian neighbor, who must pay four times as much per gallon. There are Israeli swimming pools adjacent to Palestinian villages where drinking water had to be hauled in on tanker trucks and dispensed by the bucketful. Most of the hilltop settlements are on small areas of land, so untreated sewage is discharged into the surrounding fields and villages (p. 121).

Only in an apartheid state can one expect to see such outright discrimination and harassment of a people! Israeli state policy forces exodus upon the Palestinian people.

Consider also the disproportionate privilege enjoyed by the settler Jews in the Gaza Strip before June 2004 when Israel’s cabinet approved a plan for disengagement from the territory. Living among 1.3 million Palestinians, the 8,000 Israeli settlers were controlling 40% of the arable land and more than one-half the water resources, and 12,000 troops were required to defend their presence. (p. 168) According to Carter, the Palestinian people had little freedom of movement or independent activity. (p. 170)

In 1948 there were 90,000 natives in Gaza. The population more than tripled by 1967, and there are now more than 1.4 million – 3,700 people living per sq. km, making it one of the most densely populated places in our planet. Israel does not allow air and sea transportation from Gaza. Carter observed that fishermen were not allowed to leave the harbor, workers were prevented form going to outside jobs, the import or export of food and other goods was severely restricted and often cut off completely and the police, teachers, nurses, and social workers were deprived of salaries. Per capita income decreased 40% during 2004-06, and poverty rate reached 70% (pp. 175-6). This was the situation before reinvasion of Gaza in July 2006 and its latest demolition in December 2008 – January 2009 by the IDF (during the last days of Bush administration).

A reading of Carter’s book reveals that the US government, far from being an honest peace-broker, has actually aided in strengthening Israel’s apartheid character. As to the reality of settlements in the West Bank, Carter observes, “It is obvious that the Palestinians will be left with no territory to establish a viable state, but completely enclosed within the barrier and the occupied Jordan River valley. The Palestinians will have a future impossible for them or any responsible portion of the international community to accept, and as Israel’s permanent status will be increasingly troubled and uncertain as deprived people fight oppression and the relative number of Jewish citizens decreases demographically (compare to Arabs) both within Israel and Palestine.” (p. 196)

There is no denying that the unwavering support of the US government has emboldened the Israeli leaders to believe that they are above the international law and have the right to confiscate and colonize Palestinian land, and sustain subjugation and persecution of increasingly hopeless and aggravated Palestinians. The latter see that suicidal activities are ways to shorten their pathetic condition. This madness on both sides must come to an end.

Carter concludes, “Peace will come to Israel and the Middle East only when the Israeli government is willing to comply with international law… It will be a tragedy – for the Israelis, the Palestinians, and the world – if peace is rejected and a system of oppression, apartheid, and sustained violence is permitted to prevail.” (p. 216) He is absolutely right.

Palestine Peace Not Apartheid is a courageous work of a man who is sincere about finding peace in one of the most troubled areas of our world. President Carter has visited the Occupied Territories many times and has firsthand knowledge about America’s failed and half-hearted diplomatic initiatives in the Middle East. I strongly recommend this book to anyone serious about understanding the root of the Palestine-Israel conflict and the fallacy of the American ‘balanced’ diplomacy in the Middle East.