Thursday, May 26, 2011

Truth and lies (from Netanyahu) about the Rafah border crossing

The Israeli human rights organization Gisha, which fights for the right of movement of the people of Gaza, has issued a new press release setting the record straight about the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt, which the Egyptians have now reopened (although subject to many restrictions.) In addition to the link above, I am reproducing the text of the release below.

Cartoon by the Brazilian artist Latuff.

Gisha response to Egyptian announcement on opening date of Rafah Crossing: If Israel wants a say in passage via Rafah, it should permit passage between Gaza and the West Bank

Gisha welcomes the announcement that Egypt will expand the ability of Gaza residents to travel abroad via Rafah Crossing, which has become Gaza's gateway to the world, in light of Israel's closure of Gaza's airspace and territorial waters and restrictions on travel via Erez Crossing. Gisha notes the need also to permit passage of people and goods between Gaza and the West Bank, recognized by Israel as a single territorial unit whose integrity is the basis for a two-state solution.
Since the capture of an Israeli soldier in June 2006, Israel has vetoed the implementation of the U.S.-brokered 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access which gave Israel security supervision over Rafah Crossing in exchange for a commitment to permit access between Gaza and the West Bank. If Israel wants a say concerning passage via Rafah, it should implement its commitment to allow Palestinians to travel between Gaza and the West Bank.
The Egyptian commitment concerning Rafah includes longer operating hours, no numerical limit on passengers, and visa-free travel, except for men aged 18-40. Crossing for Palestinians is expected to continue to be limited to those listed in the Israeli-controlled population registry. The expansion does not appear to include passage of goods, which are restricted to the Israeli-controlled crossings and subject to prohibitions on construction materials and export.
Background – Netanyahu Mislead Congress.
Since Israel closed Gaza's airspace and territorial waters and all but closed Erez Crossing to Palestinians, Rafah Crossing has become the gateway to the outside world for 1.5 million Palestinian residents of Gaza. Crossing via Erez (on the border between Gaza and Israel) is limited to "extraordinary humanitarian cases, especially urgent medical cases", preventing Palestinians from traveling between Gaza and the West Bank.
Rafah Crossing was operated according to the U.S.-brokered Agreement on Movement and Access until June 2006, when Israel announced its suspension following the capture of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's comment before the U.S. Congress that in Rafah, "the European observers evaporated overnight" failed to note that the "evaporation" was ordered by Israel, which refused to allow the EU border mission observers to reach their post and has objected to the implementation of the agreement ever since. The EU observers have been waiting in their hotel in Ashkelon for the last five years, waiting for Israeli permission to return to Rafah.
Rafah remained mostly closed from June 2006 to June 2010, when Egypt opened it in the wake of the flotilla incident for limited categories including holders of foreign passports or visas and those seeking medical attention in Egypt. Between June 2010 and January 2011, 19,000 people per month on average crossed Rafah in both directions, 47% of the number of people who crossed monthly in the first half of 2006. Crossing for Palestinians is limited to those listed in the Israeli-controlled population registry. Since the 2005 "disengagement", goods have not been permitted to pass via Rafah, except for humanitarian assistance which Egypt occasionally permits through Rafah.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

DSK: Who's the victim here?

I've just arrived in New York from Paris, with the case of Dominique Strauss-Kahn resonating on both continents. In the eyes of the law, of course, he's innocent until proven guilty. But that hasn't stopped a lot of nonsense from spouting out about the case, especially in France, where I make my home most of the year. First, about half the French seemed convince that this is some sort of a plot, launched by President Nicolas Sarkozy or by one or more of DSK's Socialist Party rivals. Key to these plots are that DSK was somehow "trapped" into attacking the hotel maid, or that she was somehow paid to make up the story; my taxi driver on the way to Charles de Gaulle airport, a Socialist and supporter of Francois Hollande, was full of such theories (yes, all journalists should be ready to pull a taxi driver story out of a hat, I'm no exception.)

Some of Slate's French collaborators dissected this notion is a piece called "Dominique Strauss-Kahn Conspiracy Theorists Are Embarrassing Themselves," which I recommend you read. The authors make the following important point:

The potential crime, as they see it, is all about DSK's weakness rather than his strength and the maid's weakness. Yes, we must respect that DSK is innocent until proven guilty. But to consider the case simply as a conspiracy theory or an "ambush" on a "libertine" is to transform the presumption of innocence into a presumption of guilt on the part of the accusers.

A similar point is made by the French feminist activist Magali de Haas in an interview in the weekly L'Express. The article is in French, but de Haas says that all the attention is being focused on DSK and his tragic downfall, rather than on the victim of the alleged crime. De Haas points out that many French people see this at most as a case of a lady's man going a little too far, instead of the serious crime he is accused of, and tend to think of sexual violence as some sort of joke. De Haas reminds readers that an estimated 75,000 women are victims of sexual assault each each in France, and concludes that DSK is not being accused "of an affair of morals, but a crime."

There does indeed appear to be a victim in this case, a young African immigrant who has all but been identified by name in the news media. Whether she is an agent of Sarkozy or of the Socialists remains to be seen; but I wouldn't bet on it.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Many are the ways...

... that Israel has sought to cleanse the West Bank of its Palestinians and steal their land.

Yesterday a story in Haaretz by Akiva Eldar detailed how Israel authorities stripped the residency status from 140,000 Palestinians between 1967 and 1994. The details are in a document the newspaper obtained under Israel's Freedom of Information Law; basically their residency permits were cancelled if they stayed abroad for too long, but they were not warned that would happen.

The Guardian also carries the story; should I hold my breath until a major US media outlet covers it also, like the New York Times? Or just let my breath out with a sigh?

Thanks to Mondoweiss for linking to this story. To keep up with what is really going on in Israel and Palestine, be sure to subscribe to their feed, and consider making a donation to these seekers of truth.

Photo: The Allenby Bridge. AFP/Getty Images

Afterthought. All is not bleak, however. CUNY's reversal of its decision to revoke Tony Kushner's honorary degree is a sign that the Israel lobby's power is waning.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Israeli leaders: Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide

The Israeli narrative has run its course, and it's time for those who believe in justice and an end to the brutal occupation of Palestinian lands to take their turn to speak. The disruption of Israeli ambassador Michael Oren's speech at the University of California, Irvine is in the finest tradition of civil disobedience and speaking truth to power.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Hiding in plain sight? So was The Purloined Letter

It seems intuitively unlikely, as so many have pointed out, that Osama bin Laden could have been hiding out in a large, obvious compound in a wealthy suburb less than a mile from a military academy without Pakistani authorities--or at least Pakistani intelligence officials--knowing about it.

Many would be more convinced of Pakistani government claims of ignorance if OBL had been hiding in a cave, as some imagined.

But I'm reminded of the great Edgar Allan Poe story "The Purloined Letter," one of his Auguste Dupin detective pieces (the others include the gruesome "The Murders in the Rue Morgue.") You can read "The Purloined Letter" online here. I won't entirely spoil the plot, but basically a letter has been stolen and the bumbling police can't find it despite a careful search of the premises of the main suspect; Dupin shows them that the letter was hiding in plain sight.

So imagine that OBL got tired of living in caves, and that he wanted to be near civilization, live with his family, and have something approaching a normal life (which, given his Islamic fundamentalist asceticism, did not require him to go dancing or to the cinema.) Where better to hide than in plain sight?

I am not saying this is what happened, I am just saying that it could have happened this way, and what seems logical to conventional minds is not always the truth. After all, U.S. intelligence agencies, with all their satellite technology and human assets, took several years to track OBL down. Was it an intelligence failure, or just a failure of the imagination?

Update: Now that I've written this, I Googled to see if anyone else had made this connection. A number of people have, which I find heartening for two reasons: 1) Not everyone follows conventional reasoning, and 2) American literary traditions are still alive.

Photo: William S. Niederkorn, Berg Collection, New York Public Library

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Did the Navy Seals shoot an unarmed man who was already dead?

It's hard to know who is going to get more batty over the killing of OBL, the left or the right. Cindy Sheehan, on her Facebook page, says we are all patsies if we think he is really dead. And some right-wingers say he has been dead for a long time. Then some civil libertarians, like Glenn Greenwald, think his civil rights might have been violated (Greenwald's claim that the mainstream media would continue insisting that OBL was armed proved untrue the second day.)

My own feeling is that making a big deal out of any of this is a loser, especially for the left that I am part of. I think we need to let Obama have this one, let him be an American hero, and it will all blow over soon enough (as soon, that is, as the White House gets its story straight.)

Meanwhile, anyone who thinks OBL's rights were violated can always make a donation to the ACLU. After all, we can't bring OBL back--unless he is already back, working again for the CIA.

Who's sorry now? A former student of mine reminds us of this exchange between McCain and Obama during the second presidential debate. Thanks to JM for this walk down memory lane (or should I say the avenue of forgetting?)

Obama: If we have Osama bin Laden in our sights and the Pakistani government is unable or unwilling to take them out, then I think that we have to act and we will take them out. We will kill bin Laden; we will crush Al Qaeda. That has to be our biggest national security priority.

McCain: He said he wants to announce that he's going to attack Pakistan. Remarkable. You know, if you are a country and you're trying to gain the support of another country, then you want to do everything you can that they would act in a cooperative fashion. When you announce that you're going to launch an attack into another country, it's pretty obvious that you have the effect that it had in Pakistan: It turns public opinion against us.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The man who shot Osama Bin Laden

I'm sure that many fascinating details about the raid against Bin Laden's compound just north of the Pakistani capital (what did Pakistani intelligence know and when did they know it?) will emerge in the coming days and weeks. Despite its huge symbolic importance, however, it is unclear how much Bin Laden's death will impact Al Qaeda's terrorist operations around the world, as former CIA agents and other talking heads are already pointing out.

What seems more certain is that this momentous event will have a huge effect on domestic politics in the United States. The far right, Tea Party fringe will have a very difficult time from here on out questioning Barack Obama's patriotism, his seriousness about fighting terrorism, and even his religious background (continued claims that he is a closet Muslim will begin to fall increasingly flat.) And the mainstream Republican Party, which has been riding the coat-tails of the far right's thinly disguised racist assault on Obama, is going to be left with having to argue domestic policies on their merits--or at least, increasingly so.

One might also hope that Obama, whose backbone in the face of right-wing criticism has often turned to jelly, will now be able to buck up and get in touch with his inner liberal--especially as his re-election next year would now seem to be all but assured. At the very least, activists and others to Obama's left should be presented with new opportunities to hold this administration to at least some of the promises it made during the last election.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Opening Gaza's prison gate

Over the past several days Egyptian officials have indicated that they will permanently open the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza, although there seems to be some confusion over it. Israel has of course objected strenuously, but Egyptian officials have pretty much told the "Jewish state" to mind its own business (note that I put Jewish state in quotation marks because its population includes a significant number of non-Jews.)

A press release from the Israeli human rights group Gisha, issued today, shows why we should support the Egyptian decision: Israel is trying to starve the Gazan population into submission, and doesn't want anyone to see the documents that prove it.

Here is the first paragraph of the Gisha statement, but please read the rest:

On Thursday, April 28, 2011, the state appealed the Tel Aviv District Court ruling that the Defense Ministry must provide Gisha with the "red lines" document, in which the Defense Ministry apparently determined the minimal number of calories residents of Gaza should be allowed to consume, as part of the restrictions on the transfer of civilian goods into the Gaza Strip. The district court ruled that the Freedom of Information Act requires disclosure of the document for the sake of public interest in transparency.

The Pope's miracles. It seems that the Vatican has decided to count Sister Marie Simon-Pierre's supposed recovery from Parkinson's disease after praying to Pope John Paul II, despite questions raised earlier about just how miraculous this particular miracle really was. But it will be interesting to see what the Vatican manages to dig up for the second miracle required for beatification. Perhaps if someone recovers from the childhood trauma of the sexual abuse by priests that John Paul II proved to be so complacent about, that might do the trick.