Saturday, September 26, 2009

Zahi Khouri – Think Again: Palestine

Zahi Khouri – Think Again: Palestine

By Haitham Sabbah
Illustration By Carlos Latuff

Illustration By Carlos Latuff

President Obama got the leaders of Israel and Palestine to shake hands this week. But a meeting in Midtown does not a Palestinian deal make. Here’s why.

By Zahi Khouri *

"Economic Peace Is Possible."

No. Neither sustainable economic development nor peace is possible without political freedom.

The idea of "economic peace" suggests an economic conflict, and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is certainly not that. Although economic issues do figure into Palestinian concerns, they are not nearly as important as addressing the rights of Palestinian refugees, terminating Israel's occupation of Palestinian land, and establishing a viable, independent, and sovereign Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital. To suggest that economics are what this is about would be to sideline history and to willfully ignore the reality of Israel's occupation. This conflict is political and it calls for a solution that is political.

Besides, even if economic growth were issue No. 1, the greatest impediment to economic development and opportunity for Palestinians is not the absence of industrial parks as advocated by the Israeli government under its model of "economic peace." Rather, it is the denial of basic freedoms and rights to Palestinians under occupation and the myriad restrictions Israel imposes on the free movement of Palestinian goods and people within, and in and out of, the occupied Palestinian territory. It is the inability of Palestinians to access the 60 percent of the occupied West Bank under Area C (Israeli control), including the 40 percent that Israel claims for its settlement enterprise. And it is the forced isolation of occupied East Jerusalem, long the economic heart of the Palestinian economy, from the rest of the West Bank. All these economic constraints are fundamental to the architecture of Israel's occupation.

In short, "economic peace" is a slogan designed to give the appearance of positive movement while distracting from the real issues and the ongoing dispossession of Palestinians. It does not mean, nor does it promise, an end to Israel's occupation. Rather, it offers economic crumbs in an effort to normalize and better manage the occupation.

"As with Gaza, a West Bank Withdrawal Endangers Israel."

Wrong. Israel argues that its withdrawal from Gaza was rewarded with rocket attacks by Hamas. The attraction of such an argument lies in its simplicity. But just as "economic peace" is designed to divert attention away from the real issues, the argument that a Gaza withdrawal was dangerous for the Israelis is designed to mask the reality that Israel never stopped occupying the Gaza Strip.

Contrary to popular belief, Israel's unilateral disengagement from Gaza in 2005 did not bring about an end to the occupation. Yes, Israel removed its settlers (who, in many cases, relocated to settlements in the West Bank). And yes, Israel withdrew its troops — though only as far as the border. From that close distance, Israel has imposed a medieval-style siege on Gaza that continues to this day. Israel remains an occupying power under international law because it retains effective control over Gaza's borders and its land, sea, and airspace, allowing it to suffocate and starve Gaza as it is doing today.

The scale of the humanitarian crisis that Israel has created in Gaza is hard to convey. Even before the election of Hamas in 2006, there were severe restrictions on the amount of food, water, fuel, and other essentials allowed to enter the Gaza Strip. In 2006, then-senior Israeli government advisor Dov Weisglass callously claimed that "the idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger." The result was that by the end of 2007, well over 80 percent of Gaza's population lived below the poverty line. Authorities have also clamped down on Gaza's imports and exports, suffocating the Palestinian economy. By November 2007, the U.N. World Food Program was already warning that less than half of Gaza's food import needs were being met. Following the election of Hamas, Israel tightened these economic restrictions further to enforce a complete closure, further compounding the humanitarian crisis. It is within this context that Israel's disengagement from Gaza must be judged.

Of course, rocket attacks from Gaza are not a proper response to Israel's harsh policies. Palestine is a just cause fought for in the name of rights, universal principles, and international law; its actions must be faithful to that. The lesson that should be drawn from Gaza is that the only guarantee of security for Israel is a full end to its occupation and domination — not just an end in name. The only form of withdrawal carrying the promise of peace is a full withdrawal — from the West Bank and East Jerusalem, along with Gaza — that allows for the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state.

"Arab Intransigence Blocks Peace."

Four words: the Arab Peace Initiative. First proposed by Saudi Arabia in 2002 and subsequently endorsed by 57 Arab and Islamic states, the Arab Peace Initiative offers full normalization of relations with Israel in exchange for Israel's full withdrawal from all territory occupied in 1967, as well as a just and agreed upon solution for Palestinian refugees in accordance with U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194. That resolution, in essence, says to Israel: Do what is required of you under international law and U.N. resolutions, and the Arab and Islamic world will normalize relations in return. Israel's response so far has been to ignore the Arab Peace Initiative, squandering what is a historic opportunity.

As for the Palestinians, President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad are the most accommodating Palestinian leaders ever to hold office. Yet Israel is frittering away their time at the helm; Israeli leaders evidently feel no urgency to negotiate. Eventually, this window of opportunity will close. As settlers flock to the territories, Palestinians will determine that a Palestinian state is no longer viable. When the debated solution turns from two states to one state with equal rights for all, Israel may well regret it did not seize multiple opportunities to return all of the West Bank and East Jerusalem as part of a peace deal.

"Settlements Are Not the Issue."

They are crucial. Israeli settlement activity is precisely the undertaking that is foreclosing the possibility of a Palestinian state. Recent U.S. efforts to restart meaningful negotiations have faltered around Israel's refusal to implement a comprehensive settlement freeze in keeping with obligations under both international law and the "road map." Israel's refusal to comply has undermined the credibility of the peace process and eroded Palestinian public confidence in the ability of negotiations to bring tangible results.

Rather than favoring Palestinians or Israelis, a credible peace process holds both accountable to commitments made in the name of peace. The true test of meaningful negotiations, as distinct from negotiations for their own sake, is what happens on the ground. The faux freeze Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now proposing — build units already in the pipeline and then implement a brief six-month freeze, all the while continuing pell-mell with construction in East Jerusalem — is powerful on-the-ground evidence that Netanyahu and his coalition intend to build greater Israel at the expense of Palestinians.

Israeli settlements pose the greatest threat to the two-state solution. Settlements and their related infrastructure, like settler bypass roads, account for more than 40 percent of the West Bank, fragmenting the territory, monopolizing freshwater resources, and confining Palestinians to a series of disconnected cantons where unemployment, poverty, and hopelessness have reached endemic levels. Settlements run counter to the very principle of "land for peace" on which the Middle East peace process is built, and they make a viable and sovereign Palestinian state a physical impossibility. Without a viable and sovereign Palestinian state, there is no two-state solution.

"Israel's Occupation Is Not Apartheid."

It is. In fact, it would be most accurate to call it occupation, colonialism, and apartheid all rolled into one. This is the conclusion reached in a recent report commissioned by the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa, titled "Occupation, Colonialism, Apartheid?", that brought together a team of international scholars and legal experts to assess Israel's occupation vis-à-vis international law.

On apartheid, the report identifies a series of discriminatory laws, standards, and practices that Israel applies exclusively to Palestinians living under occupation — laws, standards, and practices which do not apply to Israeli settlers living in the occupied West Bank and that are intended to "maintain [Israel's] domination over Palestinians in the OPT [occupied Palestinian territories] and to suppress opposition of any form."

In particular, the report identifies three pillars of apartheid as it existed in South Africa, noting that they also exist in the occupied Palestinian territory today. The first pillar consists of laws and policies that "establish Jewish identity for purposes of law and afford a preferential legal status and material benefits to Jews over non-Jews." The ramifications of this include the massive disparity in terms of the rights and privileges enjoyed by Israeli settlers compared with Palestinians, such as the denial of the right of return for Palestinian refugees compared with the 1950 Law of Return allowing all Jews to immigrate to Israel or, since 1967, the occupied Palestinian territory.

The second pillar concerns Israeli policies intended to segregate the population along racial lines. These policies center on the confinement of Palestinians to areas that resemble "Bantustans" (the largest being Israel's complete closure on Gaza), policed by Israel using a network of walls, roadblocks, checkpoints, and a special permit regime. Meanwhile, the Israelis construct settlements and a separate road system to service them, all built on confiscated Palestinian land that Palestinians can no longer access.

The final pillar focuses on repressive measures initiated under the rubric of "security." For example, Palestinians are subject to arbitrary arrest, administrative detention, extrajudicial killings, torture, and an oppressive code of military laws and military courts that fall short of international standards for a fair trial. These measures are reinforced by restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly, association, movement, and so on, which are ultimately designed to suppress Palestinian dissent while reinforcing Israeli control.

In short, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who grew up in the Jim Crow South, has it right when he uses the term apartheid to describe Israel's policies in the occupied Palestinian territory. And the facts are increasingly on the table. Whether the Barack Obama administration, already saddled with a brutal fight over health care, has the courage to challenge Israel's "economic peace," siege of Gaza, intransigence, settlements, and apartheid remains to be seen.

* Zahi Khouri is chief executive of the Palestinian National Beverage Co. (a Coca-Cola franchisee), chairman of the Palestinian Tourism Investment Co., and chairman of the board of the NGO Development Center, a Palestinian nongovernmental organization.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Muammar Qaddafi says Israeli Mossad was behind JFK assassination

Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, in his extemporaneous remarks before the General Assembly on September 23 said that Lee Harvey Oswald assassin Jack Ruby (aka Jacob Rubinstein) was an Israeli intelligence agent who was involved on the behalf of Israel to assassinate President John F. Kennedy in 1963. Qaddafi claimed that Kennedy was prepared to expose Israel's nuclear weapons development facility at Dimona in the Negev Desert and Israel ordered Kennedy's assassination.

Qaddafi's remarks in a one and a half our-long speech are the talk of the hallways, cafeterias, and smoking areas at UN headquarters. Qaddafi's speech has outweighed President Obama's maiden speech on the delegates' interest meters.

Those who were hoping for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to engage in polemics over "Holocaust denial" were sorely disappointed. In his remarks, punctuated with Islamic religious references, Ahmadinejad had a message for the United States and its allies vis a vis the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan: "It is no longer possible to bring a country under military occupation in the name of fight against terrorism and drug trafficking while the production of illicit drugs has multiplied, terrorism has widened its dimensions and has tightened its grips, thousands of innocent people have been killed, injured or displaced, infrastructures have been destroyed and regional security has been seriously jeopardized; and those who have created the current disastrous situation continue to blame others. How you can talk about friendship and solidarity with other nations while you expand your military bases in different parts of the world including in Latin America. This situation cannot continue. It is all the more impossible to advance expansionistic and inhuman policies on the basis of militaristic logic."

Ahmadinejad added, "By the grace of God, Marxism is gone. It is now history. The expansionist Capitalism will certainly have the same fate." Ahmadinejad's remarks came just before the G20 industrial countries' leaders meet in Pittsburgh.

To repeat from UN headquarters, while Obama's speech was received well by most of the delegates and media, it is Qaddafi who is the star of this show. As one Iraqi reporter told this editor, "it's the first time the UN heard a speech from a leader who didn't feed them bullshit but the unvarnished truth."

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Censorship American Style: Hide the US War Dead from the American People

Censorship American Style: Hide the US War Dead from the American People

The Obama administration's freak out, as expressed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, over the Associated Press Agency's belated circulation of a photograph of a dying US soldier in Afghanistan, Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard, is the latest of example of the hypocrisy of US authorities who claim to be concerned about the feelings of American military families, while really simply desiring to censor the war's horrors from the eyes of the American people.

Lance Cpl. Josua Bernard, fatally wounded in AfghanistanLance Cpl. Josua Bernard, fatally wounded in Afghanistan

The truth: Americans until only the last 18 years, have been able to see the carnage of war as it has been felt by our own troops from as long ago as there were cameras. Pioneering photographer and war chronicler Mathew Bradey brought home the horrors of the US Civil War with photos like this one of dead Union and Confederate soldiers after the Battle of Antietam.

Dead soldiers at Civil War Battle of Antietam, by Mathew BradyDead soldiers at Civil War Battle of Antietam, by Mathew Brady

In World War II, while the military tried to prevent publication of the photos of dead American troops at first, by 1944, President Roosevelt lifted the ban, hoping that the images would fire up American resolve on the home front.

Dead US soldiers in World War IIDead US soldiers in World War II

Although it was a much less popular war, photos of American dead were plentiful from the Korean War.

US Dead in the Korean WarUS Dead in the Korean War

Vietnam was awash in press photographers, and the Pentagon never banned them from depicting American casualties.

Dead US soldier being taken from battlefield in VietnamDead US soldier being taken from battlefield in Vietnam

In fact, when American policy-makers talk about the "lesson of Vietnam," they generally aren't talking about the real lesson of not sending American troops to fight unpopular wars, or of not intervening on the side of corrupt regimes in wars of national liberation, or of not fighting in wars where there is no chance of the US winning. They're talking about the "lesson" of not letting the American people learn the real nature and cost of the war in question.

That's why journalists--and particularly American journalists--since Vietnam have been kept on short leashes, and why they are vetted by Pentagon officials and hired media "experts" before they are allowed to be "embedded" with units in the field. It's why the Reagan administation had a navy destroyer turn its guns on, and threaten to sink a small boat carrying reporters trying to make its way to Grenada to cover the US invasion of that island. And it's why since the Gulf War in 1990-91, photographs of American battlefield dead have been banned.

AP deserves credit for finally breaking the ban and offering its photo of a dying soldier, shot in a firefight with Taliban fighters in Afghanistan--even if the news agency did wait three weeks to offer the photo to subscribers. The real shame is that so few American newspapers and electronic media organizations chose to run that photo.

Gates claims that AP was "insensitive" to the dead soldier's relatives, but it's hard to see how that can be. The real insensitive thing would be to try to hide his death from the public, as the Pentagon wanted to do. Hell, if the Afghan War is worth fighting, it should be worth dying for, and if it's worth dying for, and if young soldier Bernard gave his life for his country, his death and the manner of his death should not be hidden from his countrypeople. We should all see the terrible price he paid acting in our name.

Were the photographers and news organizations who showed American soldiers dead on the beach in the Pacific in World War II being insensitive?

Life Magazine ran this photo of dead marines in the Pacific in 1943Life Magazine ran this photo of dead marines in the Pacific in 1943

Were the photographers and news organizations who showed America's dead in Vietnam being insensitive?

Slain US soldier in a dry rice paddy in VietnamSlain US soldier in a dry rice paddy in Vietnam

Were the photographers and news organizations who showed America's dead in Korea being insensitive?

Dead Marines in KoreaDead Marines in Korea

Was the photographer and news organization which dared to break the ban and publish a photo of America's dead in the Battle of Fallujah in Iraq being insensitive?

Dead Marines in Fallujah, IraqDead Marines in Fallujah, Iraq

I don't think so.

Moreover, there is a terrible double standard at work here, if news organizations accept the censorship or deem it inappropriate to show dead American bodies, but go ahead and show dead bodies of the enemy, like these:

Body of dead Viet Cong soldier being abused by US troopsBody of dead Viet Cong soldier being abused by US troops

Dead Iraqi fighterDead Iraqi fighter

Dead Taliban fighterDead Taliban fighter

After all, if all we see are dead enemy fighters, it might give the false impression that the war in question--in this case the Afghanistan War, or what might now be called Obama's War--is a one-sided affair where the only terrible casualties are those suffered by the "enemy," not by "our boys."

Enough with the censorship! If we are going to be a warlike nation, if we are going to have a public that cheers everytime the government ships off men and women to fight and kill overseas in countries that most Americans cannot even locate on a globe, then let's make sure that everyone at least gets to see the blood and gore in full, including our own, and of course, also the civilian casualties of our military.

Twenty More questions on 9/11

More questions on 9/11
By Pepe Escobar

Osama "dead or alive" bin Laden would rather lose his kidney than pass up the opportunity to celebrate the eighth anniversary of September 11, 2001, on the United States. And like clockwork, he resurfaced in an 11-minute, al-Sahab-produced audiotape last week (sorry, no video, just a still picture), where he states how a series of grievances had "pushed us to undertake the events of [September 11]".

But there may be no mobile dialysis machine operating in a mysterious cave somewhere in one of the Waziristan tribal areas of Pakistan after all. According to David Ray Griffin's new book, Osama bin Laden: Dead or Alive? and based on a Taliban leader's remarks at the time, the mellifluous Saudi jihadi died of kidney failure in Tora Bora on December 13, 2001. Problem is, by that time, according to local mujahideen, Bin Laden had already escaped across the mountains with a bunch of al-Qaeda diehards to Parachinar, in Pakistan, and then to a shadowy underworld.

A decoy? A ghost? The devil himself? Who cares? Bin Laden, the brand, is still very good for ("war on terror") business. All this with the Barack Obama administration insisting the US is fighting the elusive, seemingly eternal Taliban leader Mullah Omar and the Taliban plus al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, while General Stanley McChrystal - General David Petraeus' former top death squad operator in Iraq - insists there is no al-Qaeda in Afghanistan (but he wants up to 40,000 extra troops anyway).

Last week, Asia Times Online published Fifty Question on 9/11. The article stressed the questions were only a taste of the immense, mysterious 9/11 riddle. (Arguably the best 9/11 timeline on the net may be seen here.

Due to overwhelming reader response, here's a follow-up with 20 more questions - with a hat-tip to all who joined the debate.

1. In the first months of 2001, three years after Bin Laden's 1998 fatwa against the US, Mullah Omar wanted to "resolve or dissolve" the Osama-Taliban nexus in exchange for Washington maneuvering to lift United Nations sanctions. Would anyone from the first George W Bush administration confirm a solid Taliban offer? Kabir Mohabbat, a Houston-based, Paktia (Afghanistan)-born businessman also involved in the (failed) 1990s negotiation for the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan pipeline, and then named by Bush's National Security Council as a key Taliban contact, has sustained that was the case.

2. Eight names on the "original" Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) list of 19 Muslim hijackers happened to be found alive and living in different countries; the FBI has always sustained that the identity of the hijackers was established from DNA collected at all four sites - the World Trade Center (WTC), the Pentagon and the Shanksville, Pennsylvania, crash site. Would the FBI explain how is that remotely possible?

3. All four planes referenced in the official narrative have thousands of parts with a serial number, plus tail numbers. Any one of these would have been enough to identify the plane(s). How come all of these parts disintegrated or vaporized? Why was not a single one of them recovered and/or matched up with all the mass of data about these four flights?

4. How come cell phones miraculously find a signal and work properly at 10,000 meters?

5. How to explain the enormous surge in "option puts" on both United Airlines and American Airlines on September 10?

6. How come the passport of alleged hijacker Satam al Suqami (and not Mohammed Atta, as reported) was miraculously found amid massive World Trade Center debris - either by "police and FBI" or by "a passerby who gave it to the NYPD", according to different versions?

7.Why was a military grade of thermite - a super-explosive - found at all sample sites surrounding Ground Zero? A peer-reviewed, scientific journal analysis is here.

8. How come Barry Jennings, who worked for New York City's Housing Department, reported on 9/11 to ABC News how he heard an explosion on the 8th floor of WTC 7? Jennings happened to die just a few days before the release of the NIST report on the WTC 7 collapse. A great number of actual 9/11 witnesses also heard and saw explosions going off inside the Twin Towers long before their collapse. A montage of news reports about these explosions can be seen here.

9. Why did the BBC confirm live on air the collapse of the WTC 7 building - which was not even hit by any plane - no less than 23 minutes before it actually collapsed? In the BBC live report, the WTC7 building is shot still standing.

10. Why there has been no investigation of Dov Zakheim? He was a prominent member of the Project for the New American Century group, and chief executive officer of SPC - a company making systems for remote control of airplanes - for four years prior to 9/11. Six months before 9/11, he became supervisor of a group of Pentagon comptrollers responsible for tracking no less than $2.3 trillion missing from the Pentagon books; many of these comptrollers died on 9/11.

11. The "five dancing Israelis" question. How come Oded Ellner, Omer Marmari, Paul Kurzberg, Sivan Kurzberg and Yaron Shmuel had set up a video camera on top of their white van pointing at the Twin Towers even before they were hit? Later they were seen celebrating. The FBI established that two were Mossad agents and that their employer, Urban Moving Systems, was a front operation. The investigation about them was killed by the White House. After being deported from the US, they admitted on Israeli TV that they had been sent to New York to "document" the attacks. How about other reports of vans packed with tons of explosives intercepted on New York bridges?

12. How come two US employees of Odigo, an Israeli instant messaging company based in Herzliya, the headquarters of Mossad, received an SMS about an attack on the WTC two hours before the fact?

13. How come there was no investigation of ICTS International, owned by Ezra Harel and Menachem Atzmon, and crammed with former Israeli Shin Bet agents? This was the company responsible for airport security at Dulles, Logan and Newark airports on 9/11.

14. Why was there no full investigation of the circumstances related to how Larry Silverstein leased the WTC only seven weeks before 9/11 - as facilitated by New York Port Authority chairman Lewis Eisenberg? Silverstein over-insured the WTC against terrorism and made an astonishing profit.

15. Why were anthrax packages mailed to the only two US senators who voted against the Patriot Act?

16. Why did situation room director Deborah Loewer follow Bush to Florida on 9/11 - considering that's not part of her job description?

17. Where are the full tapes from the Pentagon's security cameras? The hole in the Pentagon may be the most glaring hole in the official narrative - as the destruction caused by a Boeing 757 was simply not compatible with the size of the hole. Why were no significant plane debris and remains of passengers ever found?

18. Why did the 9/11 Commission not consult reputed engineers and architects to show that in the real world, steel and concrete skyscrapers simply cannot dissolve into molten metal and fine powder in only 10 seconds after very localized and relatively low-temperature fires? Kerosene simply cannot melt steel.

19. Why did the 9/11 Commission not consult airline specialists who insist trainee pilots who had practiced on very light aircraft for a few weeks simply cannot land a jet on the ground floor of the Pentagon after allegedly slicing through half a dozen light poles and evading a series of trees, cars and overpasses?

20. How come no one investigated claims by the two co-chairs of the 9/11 Commission, Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, who wrote in the New York Times on January 2008 that the Central Intelligence Agency "failed to respond to our lawful requests for information about the 9/11 plot [and] obstructed our investigation?"

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

He may be reached at