The American horror inflicted on Bradley Manning

If anybody doubts the brutality of the US “justice system” and the ways in which anybody deeply associated with Wikileaks is deemed an enemy of the state, the treatment of Bradley Manning is nothing less than torture. The reality of a tattered super-power. The Guardian reports:

Shortly before Bradley Manning was arrested in Iraq under suspicion of being the source of the vast transfer of US state secrets to WikiLeaks, he is alleged to have entered into a web chat with the hacker Adrian Lamo using the handle bradass87. “I’m honestly scared,” the anonymous individual wrote. “I have no one I trust, I need a lot of help.”

That cry for assistance was a gross under-estimation of the trouble that was about to befall Manning, judging from his testimony on Thursday. In his first publicly spoken words since his arrest in May 2010, delivered at a pre-trial hearing at Fort Meade in Maryland, the soldier painted a picture of a Kafkaesque world into which he was sucked and in which he would languish for almost one excruciating year.

Over more than six hours of intense questioning by his defence lawyer, David Coombs, Manning, 24, set out for the court what he described as the darkness and absurdity of his first year in captivity. The more he protested the harsh conditions under which he was being held, the more that was taken as evidence that he was a suicide risk, leading to yet more tightening of the restrictions imposed upon him.

He related how he turned for help to one particular member of staff at the brig at Quantico marine base in Virginia where he was taken in July 2010. He assumed that Staff Sergeant Pataki was on his side, so opened up to him.

“I wanted to convey the fact that I’d been on the [restrictive regime] for a long time. I’m not doing anything to harm myself. I’m not throwing myself against walls, or jumping up or down, or putting my head in the toilet.”

Manning told Pataki that “if I was a danger to myself I would act out more”. He used his underwear and flip-flops as an example, insisting that “if I really wanted to hurt myself I could use things now: underwear, flip-flops, they could potentially be used as something to harm oneself”.

The conversation took place in March 2011, some eight months into his stay at Quantico where he had been held in the most extreme conditions. He was under constant observation, made to go to the toilet in full view of the guards, had all possessions removed from his cell, spent at times only 20 minutes outside his cell and even then was always chained in hand and leg irons.

Manning felt good about his interaction with Pataki. “I felt like he was listening and understanding, and he smiled a little. I thought I’d actually started to get through to him.”

That night guards arrived at his cell and ordered him to strip naked. He was left without any clothes overnight, and the following morning made to stand outside his cell and stand to attention at the brig count, still nude, as officers inspected him.

The humiliating ritual continued for several days, and right until the day he was transferred from Quantico on 20 April 2011 he had his underwear removed every night. The brig authorities later stated that in their view the exceptional depriving of an inmate’s underpants was a necessary precaution, in the light of his ominous comments about using his underwear and flip-flops to harm himself.

If the marine commanders were guided in their treatment of Manning, as they said they were, by fears that he was suicidal, that assessment would certainly have been merited at the beginning of his captivity. Manning began his epic testimony by describing how he had a virtual mental breakdown soon after he was taken to Camp Arifjan in Kuwait following his initial arrest.

He was clearly terrified by the uncertainty in which he suddenly found himself. He had, by his own admission, recently committed a massive dump of government information from secure military computers to the website WikiLeaks, and now he was in the hands of army jailers with no knowledge about what was going to happen to him.

“I didn’t know what was going on, I didn’t have formal charges or anything, my interactions were very limited with anybody else, so it was very draining.”

He was put on a schedule whereby he would be woken up at 10 o’clock at night and given lights out at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. “My nights blended into my days and my days into nights,” he told the court.

15 comments

Statement by Antony Loewenstein in support of Canberra Candlelight Vigil for #Assange

The following statement by me was read out last night in front of parliament house in Canberra to support Julian Assange and Wikileaks:

In an age of government and corporate media spin, WikiLeaks stands tall as a unique voice of independence that demands support.

The last 10 years of the so-called “war on terror” has given the world criminal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, state-sanctioned torture and killing, Guantanamo Bay, secret prisons run by the US and supported by Britain, Australia and others and covert battles in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and beyond.

Documents released by WikiLeaks, including the most recent Detainee Policies, uncover the reality of this moral and legal morass. The public has the right to know what is being done in our name. As a journalist, I commend Julian Assange and WikiLeaks for believing that information is the key to enlightenment and the mainstream media have failed us consistently in the last years. It’s no wonder so many people trust little that is published by them.

Assange himself requires strong Australian government representation. He faces the serious risk of rendition to America, a long jail-term and torture. This is not because he’s committed a crime but another, more inconvenient fact; he’s deeply embarrassed the world’s only super-power.

The vast majority of the Australian public back Assange and believe he’s entitled to be treated justly by any court of law or state.

Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist and author: http://antonyloewenstein.com/

8 comments

“The employment of Palestinians is forbidden”

Yet more evidence that a great part of the American and Israeli relationship is about assisting the defence industries in both countries. The Washington Post reports:

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to supervise construction of a five-story underground facility for an Israel Defense Forces complex, oddly named “Site 911,” at an Israeli Air Force base near Tel Aviv.

Expected to take more than two years to build, at a cost of up to $100 million, the facility is to have classrooms on Level 1, an auditorium on Level 3, a laboratory, shock-resistant doors, protection from nonionizing radiation and very tight security. Clearances will be required for all construction workers, guards will be at the fence and barriers will separate it from the rest of the base.

Only U.S. construction firms are being allowed to bid on the contract and proposals are due Dec. 3, according to the latest Corps of Engineers notice.

Site 911 is the latest in a long history of military construction projects the United States has undertaken for the IDF under the U.S. Foreign Military Sales program. The 1998 Wye River Memorandum between Israel and the Palestinian Authority has led to about $500 million in U.S. construction of military facilities for the Israelis, most of them initially in an undeveloped part of the Negev Desert. It was done to ensure there were bases to which IDF forces stationed in the West Bank could be redeployed.

As recorded in the Corps’ European District magazine, called Engineering in Europe, three bases were built to support 20,000 troops, and eventually the Israeli air force moved into the same area, creating Nevatim air base. A new runway, 2.5 miles long, was built there by the Corps along with about 100 new buildings and 10 miles of roads.

Over the years, the Corps has built underground hangers for Israeli fighter-bombers, facilities for handling nuclear weapons (though Israel does not admit having such weapons), command centers, training bases, intelligence facilities and simulators, according to Corps publications.

Within the past two years the Corps, which has three offices in Israel, completed a $30 million set of hangars at Nevatim, which the magazine describes as a “former small desert outpost that has grown to be one of the largest and most modern air bases in the country.” It has also supervised a $20 million project to build maintenance shops, hangars and headquarters to support Israel’s large Eitan unmanned aerial vehicle.

Site 911, which will be built at another base, appears to be one of the largest projects. Each of the first three underground floors is to be roughly 41,000 square feet, according to the Corps notice. The lower two floors are much smaller and hold equipment.

Security concerns are so great that non-Israeli employees hired by the builder can come only from “the U.S., Canada, Western Europe countries, Poland, Moldavia, Thailand, Philippines, Venezuela, Romania and China,” according to the Corps notice. “The employment of Palestinians is also forbidden,” it says.

one comment

Fighting for the rights of Sri Lankan tea pickers

one comment

Straight from the inner sanctum of David Petraeus

More here.

4 comments

Assange explains role on CNN of national surveillance state that’s upon us

9 comments

The time is now; calling on military boycott against Israel

Via The Guardian:

A group of Nobel peace prize-winners, prominent artists and activists have issued a call for an international military boycott of Israel following its assault on the Gaza Strip this month.

The letter also denounces the US, EU and several developing countries for what it describes as their “complicity” through weapons sales and other military support in the attack that killed 160 Palestinians, many of them civilians, including about 35 children.

The 52 signatories include the Nobel peace laureates Mairead Maguire and Adolfo Pérez Esquivel; the film directors Mike Leigh and Ken Loach; the author Alice Walker; the US academic Noam Chomsky; Roger Waters of Pink Floyd; and Stéphane Hessel, a former French diplomat and Holocaust survivor who was co-author of the universal declaration of human rights.

“Horrified at the latest round of Israeli aggression against the 1.5 million Palestinians in the besieged and occupied Gaza Strip and conscious of the impunity that has enabled this new chapter in Israel’s decades-old violations of international law and Palestinian rights, we believe there is an urgent need for international action towards a mandatory, comprehensive military embargo against Israel,” the letter says.

“Such a measure has been subject to several UN resolutions and is similar to the arms embargo imposed against apartheid South Africa in the past.”

The letter accuses several countries of providing important military support that facilitated the assault on Gaza. “While the United States has been the largest sponsor of Israel, supplying billions of dollars of advanced military hardware every year, the role of the European Union must not go unnoticed, in particular its hefty subsidies to Israel’s military complex through its research programmes.

“Similarly, the growing military ties between Israel and the emerging economies of Brazil, India and South Korea are unconscionable given their nominal support for Palestinian freedom,” it says.

The letter opens with a quote from Nelson Mandela: “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

The other signatories include John Dugard, a South African jurist and former UN special rapporteur in the occupied territories; Luisa Morgantini, former president of the European parliament; Cynthia McKinney, a former member of the US Congress; Ronnie Kasrils, a South African former cabinet minister; and the dramatist Caryl Churchill.

 

8 comments

Making Freedom of Information more accessible in Australia

As a journalist, I’ve spent time investing in Freedom of Information requests that sometimes go nowhere and sometimes go far (see my report, with Paul Farrell and Marni Cordell of New Matilda, of the first time the entire contract between the Australian government and British multinational Serco was published in 2011).

Today sees the launch of a new campaign, Right to Know, which hopes to put tools in the hands of the public. Bravo. If corporate media was smarter, which it’s not, it would empower citizens to assist in its investigations. Instead, there’s a ghetto mentality. Collaboration is a key into future reporting:

2 comments

How the media picks “worthy victims” and who deserves a no-fly zone (hint: not Gaza)

The essential Medialens on how our corporate (and public broadcasting) media selects who deserves Western largesse and those “terrorists” who can just “suck on this” (the classic comment of New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman in 2003 when explaining how the Iraqis should see the invading American troops):

On March 30, 2011 – eleven days into Nato’s war on Libya – Professor Juan Cole wrote from his armchair at the University of Michigan:

‘The Libya intervention is legal [sic] and was necessary to prevent further massacres… and if it succeeds in getting rid of Qaddafi’s murderous regime and allowing Libyans to have a normal life, it will be worth the sacrifices in life and treasure. If NATO needs me, I’m there.’

Cole thus declared himself ready to suit up and reach for the sky with Nato’s bombers. It was an extraordinary moment.

The rationale, of course, was the alleged risk of a massacre in Benghazi by Gaddafi’s forces. Cole told Democracy Now!:

‘They mounted tanks, 30, 40, 50 tanks, sent them into the downtowns of places like Zawiyah, and they just shelled civilian crowds, protesters… And then they started rolling the tanks to the east, and they were on the verge of taking the rebel stronghold, Benghazi. And there certainly would have been a massacre there in the same way that there was in Zawiyah, if it hadn’t been stopped at the last moment by United Nations allies.’

This was mostly a product of the fevered atmosphere generated every time state-corporate propaganda targets a ‘New Hitler’ for destruction (Gaddafi, Milosevic, Saddam Hussein, Assad, et al). Two or three weeks of sustained moral outrage from Washington, London and Paris, echoed across the media, are more than sufficient to generate the required hysteria. Almost anything can then be claimed, with even rational questioning denounced as ‘apologetics for tyranny’. In The Politics of Genocide, Edward Herman and David Peterson wrote:

‘The vulgar politicisation of the concept of genocide, and the “emerging international norm” of humanitarian intervention, appear to be products of the fading of the Cold War, which removed the standard pretexts for intervention while leaving intact the institutional and ideological framework for its regular practice during those years.’ (Herman and Peterson, The Politics of Genocide, Monthly Review Press, 2010, pp.10-11)

With mainstream political parties no longer exercising restraint on the war wagon, the need to ‘do something’ can be turned on and off like a tap.

By way of a rare exception, Seumas Milne noted in the Guardian of Gaddafi that ‘there is in fact no evidence – including from other rebel-held towns Gaddafi re-captured – to suggest he had either the capability or even the intention to carry out such an atrocity against an armed city of 700,000’.

But most of the press was untroubled by a lack of evidence – the West was simply right to act. A leader in The Times commented on October 21, 2011:

‘Without this early, though sensibly limited, intervention, there would have been a massacre in Benghazi on the scale of Srebrenica.’ (Leading article, ‘Death of a Dictator,’ The Times)

An Independent editorial agreed:

‘Concern was real enough that a Srebrenica-style massacre could unfold in Benghazi, and the UK Government was right to insist that we would not allow this.’ (Leading article, ‘The mission that crept,’ Independent, July 29, 2011)

With the above in mind, consider that, on November 16, on the third day of Israel’s latest assault on Gaza, with at least 18 Palestinians already killed, the BBC reported:

‘Israel’s aerial bombardment of Gaza has intensified after it authorised the call-up of 30,000 army reservists, amid reports of a possible ground offensive.’

Israel’s cabinet quickly approved the activation of 75,000 reservists, as well as hundreds of Merkava main battle tanks, armoured bulldozers and other assault vehicles, which were transported into position for attack.

Was a massacre looming? The Israeli deputy prime minister Eli Yishai appeared topromise as much on November 18:

‘We must blow Gaza back to the Middle Ages destroying all the infrastructure including roads and water.’

A prominent front-page article in the Jerusalem Post by Gilad Sharon, son of the former Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, openly advocated mass killing:

‘We need to flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn’t stop with Hiroshima – the Japanese weren’t surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki, too.

‘There should be no electricity in Gaza, no gasoline or moving vehicles, nothing. Then they’d really call for a ceasefire.’

Was the call to ‘Flatten all of Gaza’ beyond the pale of respectable discourse? Apparently not for the BBC, which quoted a less frenzied comment by Sharon three days later.

Recall the human cost of Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s three-week offensive waged between December 2008 and January 2009. The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem reported:

‘The magnitude of the harm to the population was unprecedented: 1,385 Palestinians were killed, 762 of whom did not take part in the hostilities. Of these, 318 were minors under age 18. More than 5,300 Palestinians were wounded, of them over 350 seriously so.’

There is no question, then, that a ‘Benghazi moment’ had arrived for Gaza around November 16 or shortly thereafter. A Cast Lead-style massacre of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of civilians was a very real possibility. If Hamas rockets had killed more civilians, for example in Tel Aviv, it might well have happened.

Whereas Benghazi was being torn apart by a Western-fuelled insurgency, Gaza is under decades of military occupation and years of siege, greatly strengthening the moral case for external intervention. Escape from a ground assault would have been completely impossible for Gaza’s 1.6 million people, about half of them children. And whereas Benghazi was up against Gaddafi’s tin pot army, Gaza was targeted by the most advanced weaponry US taxpayers’ money can buy. Gaza, certainly, was facing a cataclysm beyond anything Gaddafi could have inflicted on his own people.

By any reasonable accounting, then, the case for a no-fly zone, indeed a no-drive zone – some kind of humanitarian intervention – was far more compelling for Gaza than it had ever been for Libya. And yet our search of the Lexis media database found no mention in any UK newspaper of even the possibility of setting up a no-fly zone over Gaza. There was no reference to Gaza’s ‘Benghazi moment’.

6 comments

How we’re all targets now; journalists increased killed by state actors

Being a war reporter was also dangerous but the risks are increasing. Here’s a powerful piece by the always interesting David Carr in The New York Times:

The setting at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel on Tuesday represented the height of refinement, but Alan Rusbridger, editor in chief of The Guardian, reminded the black-tie crowd at the annual dinner for the Committee to Protect Journalists of something it knew all too well: in many parts of the globe, its profession is under murderous assault.

“Targeting journalism has become a trend, and now the people who are harassing and killing journalists include governments as well as the people you would expect,” said Mr. Rusbridger, who, along with others, was honored at the gathering in New York.

Journalists who dig into murky and dangerous corners of the world have become accustomed to being threatened and sometimes hunted by drug lords and gangsters, but now some governments have decided shooting the messenger is a viable option. The C.P.J. reports that government officials and their allies are now suspected of being responsible for more than a third of the murders of journalists, a higher proportion than killings attributed to terrorist groups or criminal enterprises.

On the same day as the Waldorf event, three employees of news organizations were killed in Gaza by Israeli missiles. Rather than suggesting it was a mistake, or denying responsibility, an Israeli Defense Forces spokeswoman, Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, told The Associated Press, “The targets are people who have relevance to terror activity.”

So it has come to this: killing members of the news media can be justified by a phrase as amorphous as “relevance to terror activity.”

We have entered a very different era of information management in contemporary conflicts. As my colleague Noam Cohen reported last week, both sides in the Gaza conflict used Twitter accounts to fire verbal shots back and forth in an effort to shape perception in the outside world.

The good news is that, unlike in 2008, foreign correspondents were allowed to enter Gaza and see for themselves. The bad news is that they were entering a place where some journalists already there were considered targets, making a dangerous situation all the more so.

Mahmoud al-Kumi and Hussam Salama worked as cameramen for Al-Aqsa TV, which is run by Hamas and whose reporting frequently reflects that affiliation. They were covering events in central Gaza when a missile struck their car, which, according to Al-Aqsa, was clearly marked with the letters “TV.” (The car just in front of them was carrying a translator and driver for The New York Times, so the execution hit close to our organization.) And Mohamed Abu Aisha, director of the private Al-Quds Educational Radio, was also in a car when it was hit by a missile.

Human Rights Watch spoke up in protest, saying in a statement, “Civilian broadcasting facilities are not rendered legitimate military targets simply because they broadcast pro-Hamas or anti-Israel propaganda.” Reporters Without Borders, another advocacy group, called the killings a “clear violation of international standards.”

Israeli officials have said Hamas was using journalists and their operations as “human shields,” and a press officer for the Israeli Defense Force warned in a Twitter post that reporters should be wary of the company they keep: “Advice to reporters in #Gaza, just like any person in Gaza: For your own safety, stay away from #Hamas positions and operatives.”

While it is true that news media operations have become one more arrow in the quiver of modern warfare, a direct attack on information gatherers of any stripe is deeply troubling. And such attacks are hardly restricted to Israel: recall that in the United States assault on Baghdad, television stations were early targets.

A distinction needs to be made. The battle over ideas — over who owns the truth in a given conflict — should be fought with notebooks and video cameras, not weapons of war.

 

2 comments

Serco and G4S making a killing by British outsourcing craze

(Via The Independent):

More than half of the Government’s contract spending on detention services went to just two firms, G4S and Serco, a report reveals today.

G4S was this month stripped of a key prison contract in the wake of its shambolic handling of Olympic security but the report reveals it won contracts for a third of spending on detention, surveillance, prisoner escort and deportation.

The report, by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, shows that out of £745m spent on contractors by the UK Border Agency and the National Offender Management Service between May 2010 and April 2011, G4S received £229m while £154m – one fifth – went to Serco.

Richard Garside, one of the report’s authors, said: “For… two very large companies [to] hold more than half the contracts doesn’t strike us as a particularly promising way of diversifying the market place.” He said it was against the public interest to have a near-monopoly on “very lucrative contracts which are shrouded in commercial confidentiality”.

Shadow Justice secretary Sadiq Khan said it emphasised the need for extending Freedom of Information so there was greater transparency.

Justice minister Jeremy Wright said new organisations were now competing in the market, adding: “Through competition we have secured significant cost reduction.”

G4S declined to comment but said the contracts were awarded only after a comprehensive and transparent procurement process.

Serco said: “All our contracts have been awarded following competitions designed to deliver value for the customer.”

4 comments

Why Israel lost the war and doesn’t recognise it’s now more isolated than ever

Adam Shatz in the London Review of Books:

The ceasefire agreed by Israel and Hamas in Cairo after eight days of fighting is merely a pause in the Israel-Palestine conflict. It promises to ease movement at all border crossings with the Gaza Strip, but will not lift the blockade. It requires Israel to end its assault on the Strip, and Palestinian militants to stop firing rockets at southern Israel, but it leaves Gaza as miserable as ever: according to a recent UN report, the Strip will be ‘uninhabitable’ by 2020. And this is to speak only of Gaza. How easily one is made to forget that Gaza is only a part – a very brutalised part – of the ‘future Palestinian state’ that once seemed inevitable, and which now seems to exist mainly in the lullabies of Western peace processors. None of the core issues of the Israel-Palestine conflict – the Occupation, borders, water rights, repatriation and compensation of refugees – is addressed by this agreement.

The fighting will erupt again, because Hamas will come under continued pressure from its members and from other militant factions, and because Israel has never needed much pretext to go to war. In 1982, it broke its ceasefire with Arafat’s PLO and invaded Lebanon, citing the attempted assassination of its ambassador to London, even though the attack was the work of Arafat’s sworn enemy, the Iraqi agent Abu Nidal. In 1996, during a period of relative calm, it assassinated Hamas’s bomb-maker Yahya Ayyash, the ‘Engineer’, leading Hamas to strike back with a wave of suicide attacks in Israeli cities. When, a year later, Hamas proposed a thirty-year hudna, or truce, Binyamin Netanyahu dispatched a team of Mossad agents to poison the Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Amman; under pressure from Jordan and the US, Israel was forced to provide the antidote, and Meshaal is now the head of Hamas’s political bureau – and an ally of Egypt’s new president, Mohamed Morsi.

Operation Pillar of Defence, Israel’s latest war, began just as Hamas was cobbling together an agreement for a long-term ceasefire. Its military commander, Ahmed al-Jabari, was assassinated only hours after he reviewed the draft proposal. Netanyahu and his defence minister, Ehud Barak, could have had a ceasefire – probably on more favourable terms – without the deaths of more than 160 Palestinians and five Israelis, but then they would have missed a chance to test their new missile defence shield, Iron Dome, whose performance was Israel’s main success in the war. They would also have missed a chance to remind the people of Gaza of their weakness in the face of Israeli military might. The destruction in Gaza was less extensive than it had been in Operation Cast Lead, but on this occasion too the aim, as Gilad Sharon, Ariel’s son, put it in theJerusalem Post, was to send out ‘a Tarzan-like cry that lets the entire jungle know in no uncertain terms just who won, and just who was defeated’.

Victory in war is not measured solely in terms of body counts, however. And the ‘jungle’ – the Israeli word not just for the Palestinians but for the Arabs as a whole – may have the last laugh. Not only did Hamas put up a better fight than it had in the last war, it averted an Israeli ground offensive, won implicit recognition as a legitimate actor from the United States (which helped to broker the talks in Cairo), and achieved concrete gains, above all an end to targeted assassinations and the easing of restrictions on the movement of people and the transfer of goods at the crossings. There was no talk in Cairo, either, of the Quartet Principles requiring Hamas to renounce violence, recognise Israel and adhere to past agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority: a symbolic victory for Hamas, but not a small one. And the Palestinians were not the only Arabs who could claim victory in Cairo. In diplomatic terms, the end of fighting under Egyptian mediation marked the dawn of a new Egypt, keen to reclaim the role that it lost when Sadat signed a separate peace with Israel. ‘Egypt is different from yesterday,’ Morsi warned Israel on the first day of the war. ‘We assure them that the price will be high for continued aggression.’ He underscored this point by sending his prime minister, Hesham Kandil, to Gaza the following day. While refraining from incendiary rhetoric, Morsi made it plain that Israel could not depend on Egyptian support for its attack on Gaza, as it had when Mubarak was in power, and would only have itself to blame if the peace treaty were jeopardised. After all, he has to answer to the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas’s parent organisation, and to the Egyptian people, who are overwhelmingly hostile to Israel. The Obama administration, keen to preserve relations with Egypt, got the message, and so apparently did Israel. Morsi proved that he could negotiate with Israel without ‘selling out the resistance’, in Meshaal’s words. Internationally, it was his finest hour, though Egyptians may remember it as the prelude to his move a day after the ceasefire to award himself far-reaching executive powers that place him above any law.

That Netanyahu stopped short of a ground war, and gave in to key demands at the Cairo talks, is an indication not only of Egypt’s growing stature, but of Israel’s weakened position. Its relations with Turkey, once its closest ally in the region and the pillar of its ‘doctrine of the periphery’ (a strategy based on alliances with non-Arab states) have deteriorated with the rise of Erdogan and the AKP. The Jordanian monarchy, the second Arab government to sign a peace treaty with Israel, is facing increasingly radical protests. And though Israel may welcome the fall of Assad, an ally of Hizbullah and Iran, it is worried that a post-Assad government, dominated by the Syrian branch of the Muslim Brothers, may be no less hostile to the occupying power in the Golan: the occasional rocket fire from inside Syria in recent days has been a reminder for Israel of how quiet that border was under the Assad family. Israeli leaders lamented for years that theirs was the only democracy in the region. What this season of revolts has revealed is that Israel had a very deep investment in Arab authoritarianism. The unravelling of the old Arab order, when Israel could count on the quiet complicity of Arab big men who satisfied their subjects with flamboyant denunciations of Israeli misdeeds but did little to block them, has been painful for Israel, leaving it feeling lonelier than ever. It is this acute sense of vulnerability, even more than Netanyahu’s desire to bolster his martial credentials before the January elections, that led Israel into war.

Hamas, meanwhile, has been buoyed by the same regional shifts, particularly the triumph of Islamist movements in Tunisia and Egypt: Hamas, not Israel, has been ‘normalised’ by the Arab uprisings. Since the flotilla affair, it has developed a close relationship with Turkey, which is keen to use the Palestinian question to project its influence in the Arab world. It also took the risk of breaking with its patrons in Syria: earlier this year, Khaled Meshaal left Damascus for Doha, while his number two, Mousa Abu Marzook, set himself up in Cairo. Since then, Hamas has thrown in its lot with the Syrian uprising, distanced itself from Iran, and found new sources of financial and political support in Qatar, Egypt and Tunisia. It has circumvented the difficulties of the blockade by turning the tunnels into a lucrative source of revenue and worked, with erratic success, to impose discipline on Islamic Jihad and other militant factions in the Strip. The result has been growing regional prestige, and a procession of high-profile visitors, including the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, who came to Gaza three weeks before the war and promised $400 million dollars to build housing and repair roads. The emir did not make a similar trip to Ramallah.

Hamas’s growing clout has not gone unnoticed in Tel Aviv: cutting Hamas down to size was surely one of its war aims. If Israel were truly interested in achieving a peaceful settlement on the basis of the 1967 borders – parameters which Hamas has accepted – it might have tried to strengthen Abbas by ending settlement activity, and by supporting, or at least not opposing, his bid for non-member observer status for Palestine at the UN. Instead it has done its utmost to sabotage his UN initiative (with the robust collaboration of the Obama administration), threatening to build more settlements if he persists: such, Hamas has been only too happy to point out, are the rewards for non-violent Palestinian resistance. Operation Pillar of Defence will further undermine Abbas’s already fragile standing in the West Bank, where support for Hamas has never been higher.

Hardly had the ceasefire come into effect than Israel raided the West Bank to round up more than fifty Hamas supporters, while Netanyahu warned that Israel ‘might be compelled to embark’ on ‘a much harsher military operation’. (Avigdor Lieberman, his foreign minister, is said to have pushed for a ground war.) After all, Israel has a right to defend itself. This is what the Israelis say and what the Israel lobby says, along with much of the Western press, including the New York Times. In an editorial headed ‘Hamas’s Illegitimacy’ – a curious phrase, since Hamas only seized power in Gaza after winning a majority in the 2006 parliamentary elections – the Times accused Hamas of attacking Israel because it is ‘consumed with hatred for Israel’. The Times didn’t mention that Hamas’s hatred might have been stoked by a punishing economic blockade. It didn’t mention that between the start of the year and the outbreak of this war, 78 Palestinians in Gaza had been killed by Israeli fire, as against a single Israeli in all of Hamas’s notorious rocket fire. Or – until the war started – that this had been a relatively peaceful year for the miserable Strip, where nearly three thousand Palestinians have been killed by Israel since 2006, as against 47 Israelis by Palestinian fire.

Those who invoke Israel’s right to defend itself are not troubled by this disparity in casualties, because the unspoken corollary is that Palestinians do not have the same right. If they dare to exercise this non-right, they must be taught a lesson. ‘We need to flatten entire neighbourhoods in Gaza,’ Gilad Sharon wrote in the Jerusalem Post. ‘Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn’t stop with Hiroshima – the Japanese weren’t surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki too.’ Israel shouldn’t worry about innocent civilians in Gaza, he said, because there are no innocent civilians in Gaza: ‘They elected Hamas … they chose this freely, and must live with the consequences.’ Such language would be shocking were it not so familiar: in Israel the rhetoric of righteous victimhood has merged with the belligerent rhetoric – and the racism – of the conqueror. Sharon’s Tarzan allusion is merely a variation on Barak’s description of Israel as a villa in the jungle; his invocation of nuclear war reminds us that in 2008, the deputy defence minister Matan Vilnai proposed ‘a bigger holocaust’ if Gaza continued to resist.

But the price of war is higher for Israel than it was during Cast Lead, and its room for manoeuvre more limited, because the Jewish state’s only real ally, the American government, has to maintain good relations with Egypt and other democratically elected Islamist governments. During the eight days of Pillar of Defence, Israel put on an impressive and deadly fireworks show, as it always does, lighting up the skies of Gaza and putting out menacing tweets straight from The Sopranos. But the killing of entire families and the destruction of government buildings and police stations, far from encouraging Palestinians to submit, will only fortify their resistance, something Israel might have learned by consulting the pages of recent Jewish history. The Palestinians understand that they are no longer facing Israel on their own: Israel, not Hamas, is the region’s pariah. The Arab world is changing, but Israel is not. Instead, it has retreated further behind Jabotinsky’s ‘iron wall’, deepening its hold on the Occupied Territories, thumbing its nose at a region that is at last acquiring a taste of its own power, exploding in spasms of high-tech violence that fail to conceal its lack of a political strategy to end the conflict. Iron Dome may shield Israel from Qassam rockets, but it won’t shield it from the future.

 

5 comments