Friday, June 8, 2007

Israeli - Palestinian conflict

Looking Back on 40 Years of Occupation

Three items:

1) Looking back on 40 years of occupation
2) Dallas Demonstrations on 40 years of occupation
3) About Christ Hodges.

We are introducing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a topic in the forum, because, I believe the crux of the problem in the Middle East emanated from this conflict. And it is in the interest of the Israelis, the Palestinians and the world to bring about a solution to this issue. Shame on the Israeli and Palestinian leadership, they have developed the habit of passing the problems on to the next generation, they have done this for four generations and still unabashedly they want to dump the problem on to the next.

If they spend their energy on building goodwill, it would have been more productive than otherwise. I am writing a piece on finding solutions to this conflict; hope to get it out in the next few weeks and discuss further for the progress.

If the Israelis and the Palestinians can learn to see each other’s point of view with a measure of sincerity, we can hope to take the next step.

We will be presenting a series of articles on the subject for each one of the reader to reflect upon. Open dialogue is the hallmark of civility.

Mike Ghouse
Looking Back on 40 Years of Occupation

By Chris Hedges
Israel captured and occupied the Gaza Strip and the West Bank 40 years ago this week. The victory was celebrated as a great triumph, at once tripling the size of the land under Israeli control, including East Jerusalem. It was, however, a Pyrrhic victory. As the occupation stretched over the decades, it transformed and deformed Israeli society. It led Israel to abandon the norms and practices of a democratic society until, in the name of national security; it began to routinely accept the brutal violence of occupation and open discrimination and abuse of Palestinians, including the torture of prisoners and collective reprisals for Palestinians attacks. Palestinian neighborhoods, olive groves and villages were, in the name of national security, bulldozed into the ground.

Israel’s image has shifted from that of a heroic, open society set amid a sea of despotic regimes to that of an international pariah. Israel’s West Bank separation barrier, built ostensibly to keep out Palestinian bombers, has also been used to swallow huge tracts of the West Bank into Israel. Palestinian towns are ringed by Israeli checkpoints. Major roads in the West Bank are reserved for Israeli settlers. The U.N. estimates that about half the West Bank is now off-limits to Palestinians. And every week there are new reports of Palestinian produce that is held up until it rots, pregnant women giving birth in cars because they cannot get to hospitals, and even senseless and avoidable deaths, such as one young woman who died recently when she couldn’t get through a checkpoint to her kidney dialysis treatment.

"We are raising commanders who are policemen,” former Israeli General Amiram Levine told the newspaper Maariv. “We ask them to excel at the checkpoint. What does it means to excel at the checkpoint? It means being enough of a bastard to delay a pregnant woman from getting to the hospital.”

The occupation was benign at the beginning. Israelis crossed into Palestinian territory to buy cheap vegetables, eat at local restaurants, spend the weekend in the desert oasis of Jericho and get their cars fixed. The Palestinians were a pool of cheap labor and by the mid-1980s, 40 percent of the Palestinian workforce was employed in Israel. The Palestinians flowed over the border to the shops and beaches of Tel Aviv. But the second-class status of Palestinians, growing repression by Israeli authorities in the West Bank and Gaza and festering poverty saw Palestinians, most of them too young to remember the moment of occupation, rise up in December 1987 to launch six years of street protests. The uprising eventually led to a peace accord between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization led by Yasir Arafat. Arafat, who had spent most of his life in exile, returned in triumph to Gaza.

The Oslo Accords that followed momentarily heralded a new era, a moment of hope. I was in Gaza when they were signed. The Gaza Strip was awash in a giddy optimism. Palestinian businessmen who had made their fortunes abroad returned to help build the new Palestinian state. The radical Islamists seemed to shrink away. Palestinian women threw off their head scarves and beauty salons sprouted on city streets. There was a brief and shining sense that life could be normal, free from strife and violence, that finally Palestinians had a future. But it all swiftly turned sour. The 1995 assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, coupled with mounting draconian restrictions on Palestinians to prevent them from entering Israel and keep them in submission, led to another uprising in 2000. This one, which I also covered for The New York Times, was far more violent. This latest uprising has led to the deaths of more than 4,300 Palestinians and 1,100 Israelis. It ushered in an Israeli policy that saw Jewish settlers relocated from Gaza. Gaza was then sealed off like a vast prison. Israel also began to build a security barrier—at a cost of about $ 1 million per mile—in the West Bank. When it is done, the barrier is expected to incorporate 40 percent of Palestinian land into the Israeli state.
Israeli air strikes have, over the past year, decimated the infrastructure in Gaza, destroying bridges, power stations and civilian administration buildings. The breakdown in law and order, coupled with the growing desperation in Gaza, has triggered an internecine conflict between Hamas and Fatah. There are some 200 Palestinians who have died in clashes and street fighting between the two factions during the past year—more than one-third of those killed by Israel during the same period.

The Israeli abuses have been well documented, not only by international human rights organizations, but Israeli human rights groups such as B’Tselem. On June 4, 2007, Amnesty International released a new 45-page report called “Enduring Occupation: Palestinians Under Siege in the West Bank,” which again illustrates the devastating impact of four decades of Israeli military occupation. The report documents the relentless expansion of unlawful settlements on occupied land. It details the ways Israel has seized or denied crucial resources, such as water, to Palestinians under occupation. It documents a plethora of measures that confine Palestinians to fragmented enclaves and hinder their access to work, health and education facilities. These measures include the 700-kilometer barrier or wall, more than 500 checkpoints and blockades, and a complicated system of permits to heavily restrict movement.

"Palestinians living in the West Bank are blocked at every turn. This is not simply an inconvenience—it can be a matter of life or death. It is unacceptable that women in labor, sick children, or victims of accidents on their way to hospital should be forced to take long detours and face delays which can cost them their lives,” said Malcolm Smart, director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program.

"International action is urgently needed to address the widespread human rights abuses being committed under the occupation, and which are fueling resentment and despair among a predominantly young and increasingly radicalized Palestinian population,” said Smart. “For 40 years, the international community has failed to adequately address the Israeli-Palestinian problem; it cannot, must not, wait another 40 years to do so.”

Of Gaza’s 1.4 million residents, a staggering 1.1 million now depend on outside food assistance. The World Food Program has identified Gaza as one of the world’s hunger global hot spots. The WFP is a principal food aid provider to Palestinians, providing assistance to 640,000 Palestinians, more than a third of them in Gaza.

The desperation—with young men unable to find work, travel outside the Gaza Strip or West Bank and forced to sleep 10 to a room in concrete hovels without running water—has empowered the Islamic radicals. The desperation has led the Palestinian population, once one of the most secular in the Middle East, to turn to radical fundamentalism. The more pressure and violence Israel employs, the more these radicals are empowered.

The Israeli lobby in the United States is captive to the far right of Israeli politics. It exerts influence not on behalf of the Jewish state but an ideological strain within Israel that believes it can crush Palestinian aspirations through force. The self-defeating policies of the Bush administration are mirrored in the self-defeating policies championed by the hard-right administration of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem. Israel flouts international law and dismisses Security Council resolutions to respect the integrity of Palestinian territory. It has instead trapped Palestinians in squalid, barricaded ghettos where they barely survive.

It is not in Israel’s interest—or our own—to continue to fuel increased Palestinian strife and rising militancy. Economic sanctions and an arms ban against Israel are our last hope. These were the tools that toppled the apartheid regime in South Africa. And it was, after all, the sanctions imposed by the first President Bush—he suspended $10 billion of loan guarantees for resettling Russian immigrants in Israel—that prodded right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to attend peace talks in Madrid.

A trade embargo—even if imposed only by European states—would be a start. It is outside pressure that can alone halt the inexorable slide into a conflict that could become regional. And a new regional conflict with Israel could spell the end of the Zionist experiment in the Middle East. It may be quixotic, perhaps even impossible, but it is the last measure left to save Israel from itself.

Chris Hedges is a veteran journalist and former Mideast bureau chief for The New York Times. His most recent book is “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War On America.”

Dallas Demonstrates Against
40 Years of Occupation
June 11, 2007 - 4:00-6:00 p.m.
Ferris Plaza, Houston & Young Sts.

Kathy Kelly, of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, will join the Dallas Chapter of Women In Black to demonstrate against 40 years of Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The action will include display of an 800-foot banner cataloguing the U.N. resolutions violated by Israel in its treatment of the Palestinian people. Everyone is invited to join in this call for justice.

Dallas Peace Center
4301 Bryan St., #202, Dallas, TX 75204

We honor and support venues that promote constructive and respectful exchange between invited speakers and their audience. Views and opinions expressed at programs sponsored by the Dallas Peace Center are not necessarily those of the Center. Most importantly we strive for thoughts and actions that promote peace and justice in the world.


About Chris Hodges
Chris Hedges, Columnist

Chris Hedges, currently a senior fellow at The Nation Institute and a Lecturer in the Council of the Humanities and the Anschutz Distinguished Fellow at Princeton University, spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. Hedges, who has reported from more than 50 countries, worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, where he spent fifteen years. He is the author of the best selling “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning,” which draws on his experiences in various conflicts to describe the patterns and behavior of nations and individuals in wartime. The book, a finalist for The National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, was described by Abraham Verghese, who reviewed the book for The New York Times, as “...a brilliant, thoughtful, timely and unsettling book whose greatest merit is that it will rattle jingoists, pacifists, moralists, nihilists, politicians and professional soldiers equally.”

Hedges was part of the New York Times team that won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for the paper’s coverage of global terrorism and he received the 2002 Amnesty International Global Award for Human Rights Journalism. He published his most recent book, “Losing Moses on the Freeway: The 10 Commandments in America” in June 2005. The book, inspired by the Polish filmmaker Krysztof Kieslowski’s series The Decalogue, follows people, including the author, whose lives have been consumed by one of the violations or issues raised by a commandment. The Christian Century said of the book: “Far from the grandstanding around stone tablets in front of an Alabama courthouse comes Losing Moses on the Freeway, a refreshing reflection on the ten great Mosaic laws that is muted yet monumental in its own right.” Hedges is also the author of “What Every Person Should Know About War,” a book he worked on with several combat veterans. Robert Pinsky, reviewing this book in The New York Times, called the book “...arresting, peculiar” and “significant.” “Neither jingoistic nor pacifist,” Pinsky wrote, “the book is about the moral authority of information, as it applies to the present and future nature of war.” Hedges will publish a book on the Christian right, a movement which he has criticized, with The Free Press in January 2007.

Hedges, who speaks Arabic and spent seven years in the Middle East, most of them as the Middle East Bureau Chief for The New York Times, was an early and vocal critic of the plan to invade and occupy Iraq. He questioned the rationale for war by the Bush administration and was often critical of the early press coverage, calling it “shameful cheerleading.” Hedges delivered a 2003 Commencement address at Rockford College in Rockford, Ill. shortly after President Bush landed with great fanfare on an aircraft carrier in which he told the graduating class “we are embarking on an occupation that, if history is any guide, will be as damaging to our souls as it will be to our prestige, power and security.” He added: “This is a war of liberation in Iraq, but it is a war of liberation by Iraqis from American occupation.” Hedges raised the ire of several hundred members of the audiance who booed and jeered his talk. His microphone was cut twice and two young men rushed the stage to try and prevent him from speaking. Hedges had to cut short his address and was escorted off campus by security officials before the ceremony was over. His address made national news and saw numerous attacks against him by right-wing pundits including an editorial in The Wall Street Journal denouncing Hedges for his anti-war stance. The New York Times issued Hedges a formal reprimand after the address for “public remarks that could undermine public trust in the paper’s impartiality.” Hedges left the paper not long after this incident to writebooks and teach.

Hedges, who is not a pacifist and supports humanitarian interventions, such as those in Bosnia and Kosovo designed to stop campaigns of genocide, nevertheless describes war as “the most potent narcotic invented by humankind.” He argues that violence has a dark fascination, something the Bible calls “the lust of the eye.” He writes that war is the pornography of violence, that “it has a dark beauty, filled with the monstrous and the grotesque.” “War,” he writes, “gives us a distorted sense of self. It gives us meaning. It creates a feeling of comradeship that obliterates our alienation and makes us feel, for perhaps the first time in our lives, that we belong.” War, Hedges wrote, exposes the capacity for evil that lurks not far below the surface within all of us. We are all culpable. War is about worshipping the death instinct, which Hedges, quoting Freud, refers to as Thanatos, the Greek God of death. War, he argues, starts out looking and feling like love, the chief emotion war destroys, leads to the annihilation of the other and finally to self-annihilation. War, he writes, is as close as we come to attaining a state of almost pure sin with its goals of hatred and destruction. His book draws heavily from his own experience and the literature of combat from Homer to Michael Herr.

Hedges, strongly influenced by writers such as George Orwell, Samuel Johnson, Karl Popper, Hannah Arendt, Elias Canetti and the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, began his career reporting on the conflict in El Salvador in 1983. He went to Latin America, ruled at the time by a series of despotic military regimes, following seminary because, as he said, “it was as close as my generation could come to fighting fascism.” Following six years in Latin America he took time off to study Arabic and then went to Jerusalem and later Cairo. He left the Middle East in 1995 for Sarajevo to cover the war in Bosnia and Kosovo and later joined the investigative team of The New York Times where he was based in Paris.

“War and conflict have marked most of adult life,” he writes in “War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning.” “I began covering insurgenices in El Salvador, where I spent five years, then on to Guatemala and Nicaragua and Colombia, through the first intifada in the West Bank and Gaza, the civil war in the Sudan and Yemen, the uprisings in Algeria and the Punjab, the fall of the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, the Gulf War, the Kurdish rebellion in southeast Turkey and northern Iraq, the war in Bosnia, and finally Kosovo. I have been in ambushes on despolate streteches of Central American roads, shot at in the marshes of southern Iraq, imprisoned in the Sudan, beaten by Saudi military police, deported from Libya and Iran, captured and held for a week by the Iraqi Republican Guard during the Shiite rebellion following the Gulf War, strafed by Russian Mig-21s in Bosnia, fired upon by Serb snipers, and shelled for days in Sarajevo with deafening rounds of heavy artillery that threw out thousands of deadly bits of iron fragments. I have seen too much of violent death. I have tasted too much of my own fear. I have painful memories that lie buried and untouched most of the time. It is never easy when they surface.”

Hedges, the son of a Presbyterian minister, has a B.A. in English Literature from Colgate University and a Master of Divinity from Harvard University. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard during the academic year of 1998-1999. He has a strong grounding in the classics and knows Greek and Latin, as well as Arabic, French and Spanish. He currently writes for numerous publications including Foreign Affairs, Harper’s magazine, The New York Review of Books, Granta and Mother Jones. (From Wikipedia)

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