Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein trav­els across Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea, the United States, Britain, Greece, and Australia to witness the reality of disaster capitalism. He discovers how companies such as G4S, Serco, and Halliburton cash in on or­ganized misery in a hidden world of privatized detention centers, militarized private security, aid profiteering, and destructive mining.

Disaster has become big business. Talking to immigrants stuck in limbo in Britain or visiting immigration centers in America, Loewenstein maps the secret networks formed to help cor­porations bleed what profits they can from economic crisis. He debates with Western contractors in Afghanistan, meets the locals in post-earthquake Haiti, and in Greece finds a country at the mercy of vulture profiteers. In Papua New Guinea, he sees a local commu­nity forced to rebel against predatory resource companies and NGOs.

What emerges through Loewenstein’s re­porting is a dark history of multinational corpo­rations that, with the aid of media and political elites, have grown more powerful than national governments. In the twenty-first century, the vulnerable have become the world’s most valu­able commodity. Disaster Capitalism is published by Verso in 2015 and in paperback in January 2017.

Profits_of_doom_cover_350Vulture capitalism has seen the corporation become more powerful than the state, and yet its work is often done by stealth, supported by political and media elites. The result is privatised wars and outsourced detention centres, mining companies pillaging precious land in developing countries and struggling nations invaded by NGOs and the corporate dollar. Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein travels to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea and across Australia to witness the reality of this largely hidden world of privatised detention centres, outsourced aid, destructive resource wars and militarized private security. Who is involved and why? Can it be stopped? What are the alternatives in a globalised world? Profits of Doom, published in 2013 and released in an updated edition in 2014, challenges the fundamentals of our unsustainable way of life and the money-making imperatives driving it. It is released in an updated edition in 2014.
forgodssakecover Four Australian thinkers come together to ask and answer the big questions, such as: What is the nature of the universe? Doesn't religion cause most of the conflict in the world? And Where do we find hope?   We are introduced to different belief systems – Judaism, Christianity, Islam – and to the argument that atheism, like organised religion, has its own compelling logic. And we gain insight into the life events that led each author to their current position.   Jane Caro flirted briefly with spiritual belief, inspired by 19th century literary heroines such as Elizabeth Gaskell and the Bronte sisters. Antony Loewenstein is proudly culturally, yet unconventionally, Jewish. Simon Smart is firmly and resolutely a Christian, but one who has had some of his most profound spiritual moments while surfing. Rachel Woodlock grew up in the alternative embrace of Baha'i belief but became entranced by its older parent religion, Islam.   Provocative, informative and passionately argued, For God's Sakepublished in 2013, encourages us to accept religious differences, but to also challenge more vigorously the beliefs that create discord.  
After Zionism, published in 2012 and 2013 with co-editor Ahmed Moor, brings together some of the world s leading thinkers on the Middle East question to dissect the century-long conflict between Zionism and the Palestinians, and to explore possible forms of a one-state solution. Time has run out for the two-state solution because of the unending and permanent Jewish colonization of Palestinian land. Although deep mistrust exists on both sides of the conflict, growing numbers of Palestinians and Israelis, Jews and Arabs are working together to forge a different, unified future. Progressive and realist ideas are at last gaining a foothold in the discourse, while those influenced by the colonial era have been discredited or abandoned. Whatever the political solution may be, Palestinian and Israeli lives are intertwined, enmeshed, irrevocably. This daring and timely collection includes essays by Omar Barghouti, Jonathan Cook, Joseph Dana, Jeremiah Haber, Jeff Halper, Ghada Karmi, Antony Loewenstein, Saree Makdisi, John Mearsheimer, Ahmed Moor, Ilan Pappe, Sara Roy and Phil Weiss.
The 2008 financial crisis opened the door for a bold, progressive social movement. But despite widespread revulsion at economic inequity and political opportunism, after the crash very little has changed. Has the Left failed? What agenda should progressives pursue? And what alternatives do they dare to imagine? Left Turn, published by Melbourne University Press in 2012 and co-edited with Jeff Sparrow, is aimed at the many Australians disillusioned with the political process. It includes passionate and challenging contributions by a diverse range of writers, thinkers and politicians, from Larissa Berendht and Christos Tsiolkas to Guy Rundle and Lee Rhiannon. These essays offer perspectives largely excluded from the mainstream. They offer possibilities for resistance and for a renewed struggle for change.
The Blogging Revolution, released by Melbourne University Press in 2008, is a colourful and revelatory account of bloggers around the globe why live and write under repressive regimes - many of them risking their lives in doing so. Antony Loewenstein's travels take him to private parties in Iran and Egypt, internet cafes in Saudi Arabia and Damascus, to the homes of Cuban dissidents and into newspaper offices in Beijing, where he discovers the ways in which the internet is threatening the ruld of governments. Through first-hand investigations, he reveals the complicity of Western multinationals in assisting the restriction of information in these countries and how bloggers are leading the charge for change. The blogging revolution is a superb examination about the nature of repression in the twenty-first century and the power of brave individuals to overcome it. It was released in an updated edition in 2011, post the Arab revolutions, and an updated Indian print version in 2011.
The best-selling book on the Israel/Palestine conflict, My Israel Question - on Jewish identity, the Zionist lobby, reporting from Palestine and future Middle East directions - was released by Melbourne University Press in 2006. A new, updated edition was released in 2007 (and reprinted again in 2008). The book was short-listed for the 2007 NSW Premier's Literary Award. Another fully updated, third edition was published in 2009. It was released in all e-book formats in 2011. An updated and translated edition was published in Arabic in 2012.

Ticking time bomb in Gaza

My feature story in the Sydney Morning Herald/Melbourne Age (alongside my short film and photographs):

Umm al-Nasr, Gaza Strip: Everybody in Gaza fears another war. After the 2014 conflict, which killed 2250 Palestinians and 70 Israelis, little has changed on the ground for the territory’s 2 million residents.

A local psychiatrist, Khaled Dahlan, recently told me in Gaza that Palestinians had multi-generational trauma, having been dispossessed and attacked for decades. “We have had so many conflicts” in the last 70 years, he said.

The World Health Organisation estimates that at least 20 per cent of the population has severe mental illness.

Daniel Shapiro, the US ambassador to Israel under former US president Barack Obama, recently warned that “the next war in Gaza is coming”.

Israel’s military Chief of Staff, Lieutenant-General Gadi Eisenkot, explained in late March that his country reacts “disproportionately” to rocket fire from the strip. “The reality in Gaza is volatile,” he said.

Eisenkot warned that the Hamas authority in Gaza was “continuing to dig [tunnels] underground and to build their abilities and defensive capabilities”. Israel claims Hamas has new heavy rockets with which to attack Israeli border towns.

Israel’s State Comptroller released a report on the 2014 war that found the Israeli government was uninterested in avoiding a military conflict. “There was no realistic diplomatic alternative concerning the Gaza Strip,” it stated.

Hamas recently elected a new leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, who reportedly opposes reconciliation with Israel. He served 22 years in an Israeli jail before being released in a prisoner swap in 2011. Tensions rose again after the alleged Israeli assassination in late March of a senior Hamas militant in Gaza.

Yet Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in late 2016 that his country would help rebuild Gaza – if Hamas disarmed.

“We will be the first to invest in a port, an airport and industrial areas”, he told a Palestinian newspaper in October. Israel’s Transport Minister Israel Katz proposes building an island near Gaza to service its people – but Israel would control its air, sea and land borders.

Hani Muqbel, head of the Hamas Youth Department, told me in Gaza that his group’s philosophy was different to Islamic State’s or al-Qaeda’s. “They’re destroying the image of Islam,” he said. In contrast, Hamas had built a “national liberation movement”.

He acknowledged the current difficulties in Gaza but blamed the “Israeli occupation, siege and the [rival Fatah-run] Palestinian Authority [in the West Bank]”.

Muqbel said that Hamas did not want another war but that its issue with Israel “wasn’t between Jews and Muslims. It’s not a religious war, it’s about land.”

He demanded that Western powers stop claiming Hamas “wanted to kill Jews because they’re Jews. We do not.

The Israeli media largely ignores Gaza and Israelis are not legally allowed to visit. Yet former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo recently said that the occupation was the country’s only “existential threat“.

An editorial in the liberal newspaper Haaretz urged the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “immediately consider other ways of halting the deterioration in Gaza – first and foremost by alleviating the wretchedness of life there”.

The Israeli human rights group Gisha recently found that Israel had massively reduced the ability of Gazans to leave in the last months, dropping 40 per cent compared to last year’s average. In February, only 7301 people went through the Erez checkpoint, which connects Gaza to Israel and the occupied West Bank. It was the lowest number since the end of the 2014 war.

Countless Gazans haven’t left for years. Many told me that it was impossible to plan anything major in life, such as marriage or travel, with certainty because applications to leave Gaza were routinely rejected by Israel with no reason given. Often they were ignored entirely.

The effect of the wars and isolation has been dramatic on the domestic lives of men and women. The last years have seen an explosion of Western aid organisations in Gaza working with local NGOs on furthering women’s rights in a male-dominated society. Many women said that these courses gave them awareness of their legal and social rights along with the ability to resist and leave a violent marriage.

The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women recently released a draft resolution that highlighted the status of Palestinian women. It expressed “deep concern” about the “ongoing illegal Israeli occupation and all of its manifestations”, including “incidents of domestic violence and declining health, education and living standards, including the rising incidence of trauma and the decline in psychological well-being”, especially for girls and women in Gaza.

A lawyer with the Gaza-based NGO Aisha Association for Woman and Child Protection, Asma Abulehia, said that she met six to seven women every day who faced domestic abuse or economic uncertainty. However, many women couldn’t leave their houses to seek help, trapped by an abusive husband or family.

“The Israeli occupation is the main reason for these problems,” she told me. “The bad economic situation has worsened social problems, along with ignorance of Islam and unfair laws against women in Gaza.”

Due to the suffocating 10-year blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt, support for Hamas has decreased. Many people long for a return of the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority that governs Palestinians in the West Bank, though they aren’t convinced it would make much difference to their daily lives. Many said they wanted to leave and build a life elsewhere.

This month, Human Rights Watch released a new report, Unwilling or Unable, detailing Israeli restrictions on human rights workers entering Gaza to document breaches of human rights and international humanitarian law. It accused Israel of severely curtailing the ability of Israelis, Palestinians and internationals to enter or leave Gaza and dismissed its reasons for doing so.

Human Rights Watch asked the International Criminal Court, currently investigating possible war crimes committed in Palestine including Gaza, to determine the “credibility” of Israeli domestic investigations and its restrictions of human rights workers in and out of Gaza.

In a 2015 report the United Nations voiced fears that Gaza would be uninhabitable by 2020. It stated that the 2014 war had “effectively eliminated what was left of the middle class, sending almost all of the population into destitution and dependence on international humanitarian aid”.

“Hamas doesn’t care for the people,” Abulehia said. “They deny violence against women and drug abuse [of the opioid Tramadol] even exists.”

Abulehia said violence against women was worsening, though there were no reliable government figures. The Safe House, funded by the Hamas government and run by women in a secure location, is the Gaza Strip’s only women’s shelter, where up to 50 people can sleep overnight. The average stay is three months.

Many women I met at the Aisha office faced troubling options. Nineteen-year-old Noura al-Reefy married her husband three years ago and wanted a divorce. Her father-in-law sexually harassed her and her husband did nothing.

“He wanted to see my husband and me have sex in front of him and me naked without my hijab,” she told me. During multiple visits to Gaza, I’d never heard such graphic accounts of abuse from a woman.

Reefy had attempted suicide twice. She hadn’t finished high school but planned to complete her education after divorce. She was forced to marry her cousin “but it was a bad idea from the start. I wish it was easier for women to get divorced here..”

Buthaina Sobh, head of the Wefaq Society for Women and Child Care, told me in conservative Rafah, in the south of the territory, that sexual harassment at work, at home and on the streets was commonplace.

“In our society,” she said, “women can’t demand sexual pleasure, they’re considered a slut. Only men can. However, intellectual women now recognise that women have sexual desires and can ask for it privately.”

Sobh said the constant Israeli attacks made Palestinians “used to suffering”. She was pessimistic that women’s lives could change substantively until the siege was lifted.

Training facilities for women are still rare but slowly growing. In the conservative, Bedouin area of Umm al-Nasr in the strip’s north, I visited a multi-storey centre where women learnt tailoring and toymaking for local consumption. A showroom displayed the work for sale. Carpentry classes for women were initially resisted by traditionalist men in the village, but now the teaching of skills in a territory with one of the highest unemployment rates in the world – at least 43 per cent – is being welcomed. The Hamas authority backs the centre and wants similar facilities established throughout the strip.

The centre also runs English courses and exercise classes. Working for the Italian NGO Vento Di Terra, project manager Sara Alafifi said that before the 2014 war many people thought that exercise for women was a waste of time but now healthy bodies were seen as a sensible way to manage stress.

There are alternatives. A group of Israeli and Palestinian economists recently released two studies with the World Bank that outlined a blueprint for economic development in the West Bank, Jordan Valley and Gaza. At the launch in Jerusalem, former Israeli ambassador to South Africa Ilan Baruch was blunt.

“There has been a deliberate Israeli policy to create deficiency,” he said. “The international community has to get involved – not as a donor, but to exert pressure.”

The constant threat of war against Gaza makes normality impossible. Hypertension, deep anxiety, increasing domestic violence and insomnia are ubiquitous amongst the population.

With hawkish Israeli commentators demanding another war with Hamas, and advocating the assassination of its leaders within days of any conflict commencing, prospects will only improve if the international community can put concerted effort into finding a new direction.

Antony Loewenstein is a Jerusalem-based independent journalist and author.

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US magazine Truthout interview on disaster capitalism and Gaza

My interview in US magazine Truthout by Dan Falcone:

Dan Falcone recently interviewed journalist, blogger, filmmaker, activist and author Antony Loewenstein in East Jerusalem via Skype to discuss his current film project, Disaster Capitalism — inspired by his 2015 book, Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe (Verso, 2015), as well as a host of domestic and foreign issues impacting the West, the US and the world. In his film project, Loewenstein provides commentary on US involvement and influence in Haiti, Afghanistan, Gaza, Papua New Guinea and beyond. Loewenstein also draws parallels to Brexit and the national election in the US within his own research and work, and explains how those areas are relevant.

Daniel Falcone: I wanted to first ask you about the film that you’re making, Disaster Capitalism. I know that you’ve spoken a lot about the book, about your thesis, about the argument. Could you just tell me something about the film or where you are in the process of the film and what will the film convey differently from the book, if anything?  

Antony Loewenstein: I started working on the book about five years ago, and I started working on the film at about the same time, and initially, I was working on my own. I was traveling to some of these places that are featured in the book, and decided I wanted to do a documentary about it. I didn’t know the shape of what that would look like. In 2012, I partnered with a New York-based filmmaker Thor Neureiter, and he and I have been working together ever since. He’s my film partner and we have been to Papua New Guinea, Afghanistan and Haiti, twice each.

They’re featured in the book as well, but the film is different for a few reasons. One obviously touches on similar issues — people making money from misery, corporations, individuals in countries that are poor or developing. But a lot of the money ended up being unaccountable, and many Haitians themselves say to us, in the film, that “We never saw the money.”

We look at, in the film also — as I do in the book — the role of the Clintons, particularly Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. Bill Clinton, of course — for those who don’t know Hillary and Bill actually had their honeymoon in Haiti in the mid-1970s. I only mention that because they have expressed a love for Haiti for decades, and what that love has actually meant though is, “I believe that Haiti should be exploited.” Until a few years ago, she was the face of putting in power the last prime minister, Michel Martelly, who was a dictator, essentially. He had no qualifications. He used to be a nightclub singer, and I’m not putting down nightclub singers, but he just had no experience in the political arena. The country, basically, has gone to turmoil since.

So the film shows communities, locally, who are suffering, and Papua New Guinea, in Bougainville, which is a small province or country to the north of Australia, it’s a beautiful, beautiful country, incredibly rich with natural resources, but in reality, like so many countries that are so wealthy, it’s incredibly poor because it’s been exploited by Australian and American and Canadian mineral companies, and Bougainville had a huge copper mine — it was the biggest in the world in the 1970s and ’80s — run by the large mineral company Rio Tinto, [which is in both] Australia and London.

There was a huge civil war over this mine. It was one of the most brutal civil wars in that part of the world, between Australia and Asia Pacific for years, but no one’s ever really heard of it. It’s not particularly known.

Outstanding work, thank you, Antony. In shifting gears a bit but perhaps related, how about the Brexit decision and other European countries that might follow suit. How is that pertinent in the realm of disaster capitalism in your estimation?  

I think it’s really relevant. You know, I spend time in my book, not in the film, but in the book Disaster Capitalism, I spent quite a bit of time in the UK and looking at particularly the issue of immigration and how immigration is often being privatized and outsourced. What that means is that a lot of detention centers where immigrants are being imprisoned, essentially, run for profit. I think the Brexit decision was an interesting one.

On the one hand, I think the effect of it is going to be very negative for Britain, but at the same time, I had a great deal of sympathy, from a left-wing perspective of why people wanted to leave. I think the majority of people who wanted to leave and voted to leave were not going from a left-wing position from what I’ve read. What I’ve read and spoken to people is that there was profound degree of unease, concern, about the fact that in the last 30 years — which is something I talk about in my book — the British economy has not benefited the majority of the population, and it’s why then immigration is easily blamed for these problems.

So in line of what you’re saying in terms of Trump versus Clinton, the Trump populism, if you will, or his ethno-nationalism, is gathering support in terms of his foreign policy, where he’s trying to take advantage of this mistrust for neoliberals and institutions, and he’s not giving very constructive answers, and his base is given dangerous points of view to real concerns. Can you comment on this? 

I agree, and just to be very, very clear again, this is not at all a robust defense of Donald Trump. He is using a clearly strong sentiment of an aspect of predominantly white Americans who feel totally disenfranchised from the US economy. That view is not illegitimate.

I think the people who support him don’t overly care about the fact that there’s not a great deal of detail behind his policies.

Hillary Clinton, to me, is a dangerous demagogue who also has learned nothing from history whatsoever and has made so many bad decisions on Iraq, on Libya, on many other cases. I’m not suggesting that someone like Trump would be better.

Clearly, I think it’d be wonderful that there’s a female president, yes, but surely that’s not the only important issue. How does she see women in Afghanistan? Does she think that Muslim women should be bombed in various Muslim countries? Yes, she does. That’s a less than feminist position.

They’re not leaving us with very good choices in the US; often the case.  

Agreed. And if I was American, and I’m not for a second telling you how Americans should vote, I think, at the moment, I would probably vote for someone like Jill Stein who’s of the Green Party, who from what I read, has very interesting policies. They’re progressive.

When looking at a region like Gaza, how can disaster capitalism be pertinent in the Middle East and especially in terms of our relationship with Israel? For example, it seems like a lot of your work — I know you touch on warfare and the consequences of militarism, but it sounds like — what it reads to me as anyway — is your critique of imperialism and resource wars in addition to how we sponsor terrorism or military campaigns across the world, but how about specifically Gaza? Is the west essentially destroying that place only to build it back up and destroy it again and other regions that support the occupation? 

The situation in Gaza is incredibly desperate. I have not been there for a few years. I was last there in 2009. I’m now based in East Jerusalem. Gaza is really almost the perfect example of the tacit failure of Israeli and US policy towards Palestinians — that there really is no great desire to resolve this issue. What I mean by that is, the circle status quo that exists between Israel and Hamas, the rulers of Gaza, is Israel doesn’t actually have a great desire to overthrow Hamas. They could overthrow Hamas in a day.

So Israel essentially believes, and the US gives uncontrolled and unlimited amounts of military support, which I might add has increased under Obama. This idea, somehow, that many in the Zionist community argue that Obama has been the worst president for Israel and a disaster, it’s a complete lie. The fact that settlements on the West Bank have no impact on the financial support that Israel has received.

The occupation is going to be 50 years old in 2017, next year. That’s in the West Bank. In Gaza, Israel in theory disengaged in 2005. As I said before, they still control the land, sea and air borders, which was always done in an incredibly bad and poor way, barely touches the surfaces of what Gaza needs.

It’s like an open-air prison. The border with Egypt is sealed virtually 99 percent of the time. The border with Israel is also mostly sealed. Very few Gazans can get in and out. So the effect that Israel, and with US and Western support, is backing, and funding and arming a permanent open-air prison, for no real strategic benefit, let alone humanitarian relief. It really depends how one views the Israel-Palestine conflict.

A lot of the Americans, when they watch the news media coverage of the Middle East, and they’re presented with a sampling — don’t really have an understanding of who the Palestinians are. They don’t know much about the Palestinians, but they see, I think, isolated acts of violence perpetrated by Palestinians against Israeli soldiers, and it’s a separate point to Israel “mowing the lawn,” or barricading a place like Hebron, the city that they recently did indeed block off. In other words, separate from the Israeli policy, there seems to be this marriage between what Israel does as justified because they are on the receiving end of Palestinian terrorism. 

And people aren’t really able to distill the fact that Israel policy is going to carry on no matter what happens, whether there’s a stabbing, a kidnapping, an explosion, etc. People are correlating Israeli policy with actions of people on the other end of this for years. This isn’t just a media culture, but it’s in the educational system, higher education and people that study international relations. What do you think about the corporate media structure and how it delivers this picture to American society from the standpoint of what’s happening to the Palestinians?

Well, certainly, 9/11 has made this far worse, and even before then, but certainly become a lot worse since 9/11 in your country. The framing of the Israel-Palestine conflict is usually like this: Israel is defending itself. Israel was sort of sitting here minding its own business. Palestinians are aggressive. They’re angry. They’re stabbing us. They’re killing us. They’re blowing up buses in Tel Aviv. They hate us because we’re free, because we’re Jews, because we’re a democracy, whatever it may be.

That’s a fundamentally wrong and racist view. There’s no doubt that there is Palestinian violence against Israel. Yes, it happens. There are — not so much these days, but there have been suicide bombings and stabbings, and any attack, to me, against civilians is fundamentally wrong, and should stop. There’s an occupation that is happening. I’m living here in East Jerusalem. It’s happening right here, and it’s happening right down the road.

So in Israel the rhetoric — and in the US too is — Hamas, Hezbollah, ISIS, Al-qaeda are all the same thing. They’re framed in all the same way, so when there’s, for example, a beheading of a journalist in Syria, or Iraq, by ISIS the last couple of years, many in the Israeli political elite and the media automatically tie that, and they say, “You see. The Arabs, they’re crazy.”

We’re still at a stage, in 2016, where we’re actually — are we not accepting it’s an occupation? Are we saying that it’s not permanent? Fifty years is permanent.

What are your thoughts on something like the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS) or the impact of the lobby? A lot of the criticism of Israel that I read shows the left sort of having these divisions within the progressive side in terms of criticizing the United States’ support of Israel and the occupation. How influential is the lobby? Are we more concerned with government decisions, media structures, or is the lobby the influential interest group? I see differences of opinion in terms of what question should we be asking and where do we apply a critical focus.  

Also, in BDS, there’s a disagreement there too. How pertinent is BDS? Is that the most constructive response? I just see members of the left wing that are — I wouldn’t say feuding, but they disagree on the effectiveness of BDS, where do you come down on this?  

Okay, two points there. There’s no doubt the Israel lobby is influential. It has power. AIPAC, which is America’s largest Israel lobby, at its conference a few months ago, and you see it’s powered by the people that are speaking there, which is pretty much all the top political leaders on the Democratic and Republican side, hundreds of Senators come, thousands of delegates, Jews and non-Jews, mostly Jews, but others too. They have influence. They have power. There’s no question about that. They push a very hardline position.

There are small groups. The group Jewish Voice for Peace is one that I have a lot of time for. They’re a lobby group of sorts. They’re liberal Jews. They’re based around the US. They have, I think, about 100,000 people signed up. They speak out very forcefully about occupation.

Let’s not forget, BDS was established, officially, in 2005 by Palestinian Civil Society, essentially saying to the world, “We’re living here under occupation. We’re asking you to please help us by not supporting any institution within Israel. That could be cultural. That could be academic.”

I think there is a desperate attempt now, in the US, to make BDS illegal. I don’t think we’re that far away from a very important test case that I suspect will go to the Supreme Court.

We’re talking about criticizing a policy which demonizes Palestinians for over half a century. Within Israel itself, BDS is not supported by the majority of Israel Jews. There’s no question about that.

Thank you, very much.  

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The importance of creating a one-state solution in Palestine

My book review in Electronic Intifada:

The Re-Emergence of the Single State Solution in Palestine/Israel by Cherine Hussein (Routledge, 2015)

The death of the two-state solution for Israel and Palestine has been a long time coming.

Israeli journalist Avi Issacharoff recently wrote in The Times of Israel that the settler movement had “won.”

“No Palestinian state will exist here beside the State of Israel,” he said. He argued that Israel was beginning “its inexorable slide toward eventually becoming a Muslim state.” Issacharoff feared this outcome because he believed “separation” was the only way for Israel to survive as a Jewish-majority entity.

The unspoken reality, however, has always been that a two-state arrangement, if it ever came to fruition, would disproportionately discriminate against Palestinians, including Palestinian citizens of Israel. Moreover, a true democracy doesn’t divide itself along ethnic or religious lines unless it wants to resemble apartheid South Africaor the Jim Crow south in the United States.

In today’s Jewish state and even more so in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israeli violence against Palestinians isn’t an aberration but a deliberate policy of control.

And nobody truly believes that hundreds of thousands of Israeli colonists will be moved from their places of residence without causing a Jewish civil war in Israel.

These realities require more imaginative thinking towards a viable outcome for an oppressed Palestinian population.

This book by Cherine Hussein, deputy director and research fellow at the Council for British Research in the Levant’s Kenyon Institute in East Jerusalem, aims to correct the myriad of misconceptions about the one-state solution. She frames her argument around the celebratory mood after the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993 and posits a more realistic alternative.

“Since then, the two-state solution has continued to both dominate, and frustrate, the official search for peace” she explains. “In parallel to this however, a more obscured struggle of resistance — centered upon the single state idea as a more liberating pathway towards justice — has re-emerged against the hegemony of Zionism and separation, and the shrinking territorial space for a viable two-state solution in the contested land.”

For Hussein, this struggle is personal. She writes that being an Egyptian “played a big role in establishing an easy rapport based upon a natural solidarity with the Palestinian people.”

She wants to know “whether or not the single state solution simply represented the resurfacing of an idea within the corridors of academia; to illuminate the kind of phenomenon the single state idea could be in the process of becoming; and to inform the understandings of political and social transformation deployed within it.”

Hussein aims to illuminate questions relevant to the scholarly field of International Relations, but her project also aims to be forward-looking, and to “explore the possibility of a single-state movement seriously.”

Over the course of the book, it becomes clear that Hussein had only limited access to Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territories. It’s an unfortunate gap, despite the author blaming “geographical accessibility and limited sources of information.”

Modern communication technology surely renders these excuses redundant. After all, decades of futile negotiations between a complicit Palestinian Authority and Israel has led to growing support within Palestine for a single state. We need to hear these voices.

Hussein offers a pithy history of how the one-state option entered the public consciousness, highlighting a number of articles in American literary publications and surely more importantly “the extent to which ‘the facts on the ground’ created by Israel were irreversible, and how profoundly this reality had transformed the search for workable solutions and viable futures.”

Importantly, she stresses that “the broad ideological orientations of single-state intellectuals are located within the realm of the secular” despite the majority of Palestinians being either proud Christians or Muslims. The challenge of including, say, Hamas in a one-state imagination, a group wanting an Islamic entity, is acknowledged.

How to mainstream the one-state solution, to generate widespread support among Palestinians in the diaspora and in Palestine itself is a key question without any set answers. Hussein writes that, “while it is Palestinian-Israelis [Palestinian citizens of Israel] who are acknowledged to be the central energy behind the re-emergence of the single-state idea, Diaspora Palestinians are its fastest growing force.”

Deepening Israeli racism, occupation and intransigence are arguably the best weapons one-state advocates have and there’s every indication Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government will continue delivering on that front.

The surging boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign is intricately linked to this shift in political alignment. Hussein correctly concludes that, “while the BDS movement may not take an open stand on political solutions … its practices of resistance remain interlinked with the tactics of the single-state conception of the world.”

However, the short-term impediments to the one-state movement and Palestinian political elites joining forces are clear: “no official Palestinian body or faction has openly supported the single-state solution as the desired Palestinian solution as of this writing. As such, single-state intellectuals are obstructed by this obstacle in openly calling for a single-state solution within diverse theaters of international civil society.”

Hussein is presumably referring to the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, two leading political bodies with a desultory record of adherence to human rights.

This book would have been greatly enhanced by Hussein spending far more time on the ground in Palestine rather than overly relying on (often) years-old sources and writings. This is an academic text and sometimes feels burdened with impenetrable language. The aim is clearly a scholarly readership.

The urgency in Palestine for solutions has never been clearer. The author has written a summary of the key events in modern Palestine and why the one-state solution is a just outcome to the conflict.

Insightful analysis is vital in an age of cheap and predictable opinions, and Hussein reviews the record comprehensively. It would have been helpful for the author to provide more concrete thoughts on how more Palestinians (and Israelis, for that matter) would embrace a truly democratic, one-state solution, but perhaps that’s a task for another book.

Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist and Guardian columnist. He is author of, most recently,Disaster Capitalism.

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My Politics in the Pub speech on Gaza and Palestine

Last week I spoke at Sydney’s Politics in the Pub about the recent Gaza conflict and implications for global attitudes towards Israel. Thanks to Cathy Vogan for filming the event:

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Palestinians now wanting true justice under one-state solution

In 2013, I released with my co-editor Ahmed Moor the edited collection, After Zionism. It featured many prominent views on the viability and necessity of a one-state solution in Israel and Palestine.

Now a new study of Palestinians, via Haaretz, reveals the growing belief amongst Palestinians in Palestine that a state treating all its citizens with equal respect under the law is desirable. Sadly, there’s no evidence that the majority of Israelis feel the same way:

By more than a 2-1 margin, Palestinians oppose the two-state solution, favoring instead the goal of a Palestinian state “from the river to the sea,” according to a recent poll by the centrist Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

At the same time, though, the poll found that a large majority of Palestinians favored the tactic of “popular resistance” – such as demonstrations and strikes – over violence to achieve their goals, Globes reported Sunday.

Interestingly, Gazans were more moderate when it came to tactics, but more hardline about the goal.

The survey also found that West Bank leader Mahmoud Abbas was a much more popular leader than Gazan leader Ismail Haniyeh – both in the West Bank (28.1 percent to 6.9 percent) and in the Gaza Strip (32.4 percent to 11.7 percent).

The poll, which questioned a relatively large sample of 1,200 respondents, was taken June 15-17 – following the abductions of three Israeli teenagers, the formation of the Fatah-Hamas unity government, and the collapse of the Kerry peace talks. However, it was conducted just before West Bank protests arose against Abbas for his cooperation with Israel’s search for the kidnapped boys and crackdown on Hamas.

Asked what political goal they favored over the next five years, 60.3 percent replied “action to return historic Palestine, from the river to the sea, to our hands,” while 27.3 percent answered “end[ing] the occupation of the West Bank in order to reach a two-state solution.”

Another 10.1 percent said the goal should be a “one-state solution, for the entire region, from the river to the sea, in which Jews and Arabs enjoy equal rights.”

If a Palestinian leadership were to reach agreement with Israel on a two-state deal, 64 percent said Palestinians should still continue to press on for a Palestinian state encompassing the territories and Israel, while 31.6 percent said they would accept a two-state solution.

On the question of tactics, again, the trend was toward moderation, with 70 percent of Gazans and 56 percent of West Bankers saying Hamas should observe a cease-fire with Israel. Asked if Hamas should go along with Abbas’ demand that the unity government publicly renounce violence, 57 percent of Gazans agreed, while West Bankers were split evenly.

Popular resistance won the support of 73 percent Palestinians in Gaza and 62 percent of those in the West Bank.

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How to solve the Middle East crisis in eight minutes

Rap News have been producing sensational political videos for years. Their latest, on Israel/Palestine, is a cracker:

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Why the Wikileaks Party visit to Syria was so delusional

My weekly Guardian column is published below:

The sight of Australian citizens associated with the WikiLeaks party sitting and chatting with Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad during their recent “solidarity mission”, along with their comments about the regime, is a damning indictment on a party that ran a dismal election campaign in 2013 and has never bothered to explain its subsequent collapse.

For WikiLeaks supporters such as myself (I have been backing the group since 2006), this latest PR exercise is nothing more than an act of stunning political bastardry. It does nothing to push for true peace in Syria, and essentially amounts to a propaganda coup for a brutal dictatorship. It’s also a slap in the face to the WikiLeaks backers who are still expecting answers about why the party imploded without public review or reflection.

The problem isn’t meeting Assad himself. He’s the (unelected) leader of Syria and an essential part of any resolution of the conflict, still supported by many Syrians who fear Islamic fundamentalism. Saudi Arabian-backed extremism across the Middle East, implicitly supported by the Western powers now focused on Assad’s butchery, is spreading sectarian carnage by pitting Sunni against Shia, leading to the death of thousands. Syrian civilians are suffering the full brunt of this madness. Saudi funding for Syrian “rebels” – in essence backing Al-Qaida terrorism – is repeating the playbook used against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, enriching militants in a battle that will inevitably come back to bite the Saudis and their Western allies.

A third way is, for the time being, out of sight. And in this context, it’s hard to see how the WikiLeaks party can judiciously show solidarity to Syria’s besieged people.

When the WikiLeaks party delegation returned to Australia, various members expressed their views about the trip. Activist Jamal Daoud, who wrote in 2012 that he supported Assad, blogged that he had heard while in Syria that “the alternative to the regime is total chaos.” Although acknowledging that meetings were held with both regime and rebel representatives, Daoud clearly believes that the regime remaining in place is the ideal outcome.

John Shipton, chief executive of the party and the father of Julian Assange, spoke to ABC Radio in Melbourne to defend the mission. He mouthed the talking points of the regime itself – that they’re fighting terrorism in cities and towns across the country – and claimed that the WikiLeaks party is planning to set up an office in Damascus in 2014. “We’ll continue to expose the truth to the Australian people and to our international audience”, he said. Shipton added that as the delegation walked around Damascus, they found “a lot of support for the government” – which is undoubtedly true, but likely to be similar to journalists being taken around by minders from Saddam Hussein in Iraq and finding nearly universal backing for the dictator.

Sydney University academic Tim Anderson – who wrote in 2007 that Cuba is a democracy and the US is not, ignoring the lack of an open press and the Castro brothers’ authoritarian ruling in the process – also defended his participation in the mission after The Australian newspaper attacked him. He went on to state: “forget the absurd myth of a single man [Assad] ‘killing his own people’. That line is designed to pull the wool over our eyes. This is a ‘regime change’ exercise that went wrong, because Syria resisted.”

It is deeply problematic that Anderson and other side players downplay or brush aside the gross abuses committed by the regime, which have occurred both during the war and during Bashar and his father Hafez’s decades-long rule.

Considering how the mainstream media will spin such a trip must be a major consideration when talking about “truth” in a modern, complex war. How support for a peaceful resolution practically occurs when facts on the ground are notoriously difficult to assess should be the heart of the matter. Instead, it appears that the WikiLeaks party was caught up in an inevitable maelstrom of their own naive making. If you visit Syria and are pictured meeting Assad, you should make damn sure you’re on the front foot to rebut the likely criticisms and provide a cogent and detailed rebuttal to what you saw, and why a few WikiLeaks party members from Australia can make any difference to the war. You should also know that any “solidarity mission” to Syria will be used by either side as a way to bolster their claims and defend their own crimes, of which there have been plenty by all sides.

Moral and political clarity is vital – which is why, for example, the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez was rightly condemned in my view after he voiced support for Iran and Syria in the process of opposing “US imperialism“, and refused to oppose human rights abuses in both nations. Equally, being a supporter of the Palestinians’ right to self-determination shouldn’t automatically lead to backing Fatah or Hamas, two groups with a documented record of abusing their own citizens.

The situation in Syria is dire, with dirty hands on all sides. As it stands, the solution is not with the Baath party, nor the Al-Qaida-aligned rebels – but this is a decision for the Syrian people to decide. Encouraging a peaceful settlement and negotiations must be the goal. The WikiLeaks organisation remains an essential tool in holding governments to account, but its Australian-based party’s visit to Syria exposes the dangers of believing that the “enemy’s enemy is my friend”. It is not.

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Vice interview about Ben Zygier, Israeli spying and Western acceptance

I was recently interviewed by Lily Jovic for Vice magazine:

Last month, Israel struck a 1.2 million dollar deal with the parents of Melbourne-born Mossad agent Ben Zygier, as compensation for his death in prison 3 years ago. The payout seemingly marks the end of the Prisoner X case, a case which despite having serious national security implications, did little to capture the attention of Australia’s government or the people it protects.

We had a chat with Antony Loewenstein, author of My Israel Question and The Blogging Revolution, to help us understand why an Australian man turned Israeli spy, jailed without trial and eventually found hanging in a cell while under 24-hour watch, didn’t become the news story of the year.

VICE: Hi Antony. What did you think of the payout?
Anthony Loewenstein: The payout is unsurprising; it’s something governments do pretty commonly as a way to bring silence to the family, who in this case are principally based in Melbourne. They’ve pretty much said nothing the whole time, and generally speaking, members of the Zionist community/lobby have remained silent the whole time too. Countless journalists have tried to speak to them and gotten nowhere. Israel investigated itself and they essentially found that they have no responsibility over what happened, but here’s a million dollars to shut up; it’s a payoff to buy silence.

That’s probably what is most peculiar about this case, the absence of any public discourse, particularly from the Jewish community in Melbourne.
What needs to be understood here is that the Zionist lobby works within the shadows. So when a story like this happens, which is rare, about something that has the potential to embarrass them and Israel, their response is either to say nothing or to deny there is a problem in the first place. It’s a “nothing to see here, move it along” situation, and a damage control approach that is very much supported by both sides of Australian politics. In terms of Zygier, the response of most people in power is: bury it, don’t respond, don’t give it oxygen and hopefully it will go away. Israel’s payment to Zygier’s parents is yet another attempt to make that happen.

What are some questions which, in your mind, the Australian government could press Israel with? If not to bring closure to the family then to at least address security concerns.
How many Australian Jews are going to Israel, taking citizenship and working for the Mossad? What are they doing with the Mossad? The enemies that Mossad sees are the enemies Australia sees, because Australia is a client state of America and Israel. That’s how it works, that’s what real politics is about. How does the Australian government feel about Israeli Australian citizens who undertake potentially illegal behaviour? That’s an important question, the Australian government had no interest in finding that out, they didn’t really care and evidently don’t care because they turn a blind eye and support it.

I think we really have to separate between public statements and private realities. The assassination of a Hamas weapons dealer in 2010 obviously got exposure because the Israelis, in a remarkably stupid manner, were caught on CCTV cameras. The Australian government was publicly pissed off with the fact that Australian passports were used, but I understand privately that this sort of thing happens all the time.

So, Australia isn’t privately concerned with what happened to Zygier or Israel’s austere censorship measures?
Well there’s been a remarkable lack of curiosity, in fact a ridiculous lack of curiosity. The report that the Australian government released after the Zygier incident, was complete bullshit, whitewash. Basically saying yes there were some issues with overall security but Israel behaved fine.

Publicly when something of that nature happens, they have to say something. The idea that Australian passports are being forged for the use of assassination and covert operations is a pretty bad look. Privately, that’s not seen as a major problem and I understand the relationship between both countries is largely unaffected by it all.

In the case of Zygier, the relationship between the two governments has certainly worked more in Israel’s favour. In your opinion, is it more mutual than it appears?
Ultimately the relationship with Israel is fundamentally based on a question of intelligence sharing over issues like Iran and Hezbollah. Bob Carr’s comments in past six months expressing that all the Israeli colonies in the West Bank were illegal, has caused apoplexy. The Jewish community was incredibly pissed off with that, and the result was that they would much rather have had an Abbott government, and here we are. Not to say that was because of them of course, but they are much happier with that kind of governance.

One that props up the image of Israel?
Precisely. The Zygier case feeds into that image paranoia the Jewish establishment has. It looks as if Israel essentially abused or assaulted Zygier in some way, and when Israel is already perceived to be under attack for its countless, daily human rights abuses in the West Bank and Gaza, this is merely one more stake in the heart. If there’s a sense somehow that there beloved Israel could end up killing one of us, either through suicide or murder, that’s not a good look. It’s led to the shift of Israel’s image from this wonderfully social, left wing country to an occupier and brute.

There’s a real sense that the Zygier case, for a lot of people, was very clarifying and actually confirmed the belief that Israel is a rogue state that treats its own citizens badly. Zygier was an agent, yes, but with dual citizenship.

That’s all we really know about Zygier, could more information ever emerge?
Obviously a lot has emerged this year, and he was probably involved in some kind of covert action in relation to Hezbollah, and potentially monitoring in Europe what Iran was doing in relation to its nuclear program. It appears that he may well have committed suicide, and it’s far from impossible that he did so, we just don’t know. That information may come out at some point, but not for a long time.

Any information you could divulge from your own research that tells us of Zygier’s involvement in Mossad and his apparent suicide?
In terms of the actual details of what he was doing and how he died, I don’t know. That is far too difficult to discover from here. What I have investigated is the constipation of the Zionist establishment towards this kind of case. They’re embarrassed that it will be seen that an Australian citizen has essentially become a traitor to his own country and undertaken activities by a foreign country, which in Australian law could well be illegal, that is the fundamental point.

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While BDS surges globally, Murdoch’s organ in Australia fiddles

While Israel continues daily to brutalise Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and Stephen Hawking’s decision to back BDS causes waves around the world, it’s comical to read Rupert Murdoch’s Australian desperately hoping that the Zionist state would just get some love. After praising Israel for singing lullabies to Palestinians recently, today’s editorial merely deepens the level of delusion. Long may it continue:

An outbreak of common sense at the University of Sydney is welcome. Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence has rejected support from the student council (and one of his own academics) for the anti-Israel boycotts, divestment and sanctions campaign.

“I do not consider it appropriate for the university to boycott academic institutions in a country with which Australia has diplomatic relations,” said Dr Spence. As it should, one of our premier seats of learning is standing up for freedom of expression, democracy and liberal intellectual engagement. The BDS push came from Associate Professor Jake Lynch – a paradoxical show of intolerance given he heads the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies.

Student activists and Greens MPs who have given succour to the often anti-Semitic BDS campaign should pause to think. Incongruously, these pro-Arab demonstrators focus on one of the few Middle Eastern countries where Arabs have a free vote and hold seats in a democratic parliament. We could take their commitment to human rights more seriously if occasionally they protested against atrocities inflicted upon Arabs by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, or blood-letting between Hamas and Hezbollah, or, in the past, the cruelty of Saddam Hussein. But on Arab aggression the protesters see, hear and speak no evil.

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Reporting tips for Murdoch’s Australian over Palestine, BDS and Gaza

Fair journalism is hard, isn’t it? Getting all the facts, putting them into sentences and writing them down accurately. I’m tired just thinking about it.

The following article appears in today’s Murdoch’s Australian. The selectivity of the piece is startling but unsurprising:

The NSW Greens have outraged Jewish leaders by organising a fundraiser cruise to support a plan for Palestinians to build an “ark” in Gaza and try to ruin the Israeli naval blockade of the territory.

Greens MP David Shoebridge used his office and website to promote a “sail in solidarity” voyage on Sydney Harbour last night to raise money for the “Gaza’s Ark” campaign.

“The economic situation in Gaza is desperate, with most of its land trade shut down by Israeli border guards, its airport destroyed by Israeli bombardments . . . and its fishing fleet coming under Israeli fire if it moves beyond six nautical miles from the coast,” Mr Shoebridge’s website says.

“Gaza’s Ark will challenge the blockade by rebuilding a boat in Gaza using Palestinian shipbuilders, load the vessel with Palestinian goods and products and sail to international waters with both Palestinians and internationals on board.

“The goal is to challenge the ongoing, illegal Israeli blockade and focus worldwide attention on Gaza and the complicity of the governments that support it or look the other way.”

The description of the project on Mr Shoebridge’s website is mild compared with the international Gaza’s Ark website, which focuses on alleged Israeli atrocities and what is claimed to be a policy of “apartheid” towards Palestinians, as well as promoting the international boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against the Jewish state.

Mr Shoebridge said the Gaza’s Ark project was not a BDS campaign, though he said BDS was “one of the legitimate ways” to fight against what he said was Israeli oppression.

Prominent NSW Greens who joined Mr Shoebridge on last night’s fundraiser included senator Lee Rhiannon, who has supported BDS, his fellow state upper house member John Kaye, and the preselected candidate for a Greens state upper house seat, Mehreen Faruqi.

About 50 other Palestinian supporters disembarked after a three-hour cruise on Sydney harbour last night. “It’s an excellent fundraiser and we support it as Parliamentarians for Palestine,” Senator Rhiannon said.

Mr Shoebridge has had the occasional run-in with the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, including claiming that a parliamentary visit by some state MPs other than Greens to Israel was a one-sided Israeli PR tour supported by the board.

The board’s chief executive, Vic Alhadeff, said: “The reality which Mr Shoebridge and his colleagues mischievously ignore is that all people of goodwill support the citizens of Gaza in their aspirations for a better life.

“The problem is that they suffer under the brutal Hamas regime which wages war on Israel.”

Some facts that may get in the way of a Murdoch hatchet job. Labor state and federal politicians had purchased tickets to support the event, including Laurie Ferguson, Shaoquett Moslemane and Amanda Fazio (they didn’t attend in the end, though). Union figures attending included Greg Shaw (PSA), Caroline Staples (PSA), Rita Malia (CFMEU), Ivan Simic (CFMEU), plus a number of representatives from the PGFTU and Young Labor.

Besides, since when are “Jewish leaders” monolithic and solely represented by the pro-settler and racist Zionist lobby?

Finally, opposing Israel’s illegal blockade of Gaza, in a peaceful way, is wholly vital and legitimate in a democracy, unless of course you believe, as does the Israeli spokespeople who claim to be “journalists” at the Murdoch rag, that we must blindly support Israeli government policy.

I’ve attended many fund-raisers for Gaza Ark and wish I had been there last night.

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The rising Salafist movement in Gaza

Asmaa al-Ghoul is a journalist and writer from the Rafah refugee camp in Gaza. Here she reports for Al-Monitor on the Islamist movements inside the occupied territory:

I managed to reach the house of one of the jihadist Salafist leaders in the Gaza Strip. The Hamas-led Gaza government had imposed limitations on most jihadist Salafist leaders following the Ibn Taymiya Mosque incidents in Rafah at the end of 2009, when its security forces killed 28 jihadists after their leader, Abdel Latif Moussa, declared the Islamic caliphate. Salafist jihadism in the Gaza Strip is an international movement that promotes armed jihad against the ruling Arab and foreign governments.

The only way to reach the house of the leader, who was forbidden from talking to the press, was by being disguised as a devout woman. Then I revealed my identity as a journalist, after which the Salafist leader’s family kicked me out. However, he explained why the members of the movement had moved to Syria to fight, saying, “They moved to Syria because the jihad door in the Gaza Strip was closed, and the situation was not taken into consideration, contrary to Syria, where it is open to jihad and to fighting the enemy.” He refused to define what he means by enemy, and he noted that after he was locked up more than once in the aftermath of Ibn Taymiya Mosque incident, he sought to live a simple life and to keep his jihad mission and vocation as a member of the Salafist jihad between God and himself.

When asked if he is considering going to Syria himself, should he get the chance, he replied, “I prefer to keep this to myself.” Regarding the movement’s connection with al-Qaeda, the leader said that both organizations share the same approach, which calls for unity and jihad in the name of God, adding that only their names differ. Moreover, he said what differentiates them from other Salafism movements is that they abide by the religion as a whole, following the ideology of Sheikh Muhammad al-Maqdisi.

Despite his reluctance to talk or to disclose the number of militants from Gaza in Syria, he ultimately provided some information about their presence and efforts against the regime in Syria, independent of the Free Syrian Army. The militants joined Jabhat al-Nusra, which was formed in 2011 in Syria and was classified by the US as a terrorist organization.

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Inside the mind of Hamas leader Khalid Mishal

Australian journalist Paul McGeough travels to Doha, Qatar for Fairfax Media to interview the Hamas head. What follows is a fascinating discussion about the future of Palestine. Read the whole thing. What remains deeply concerning is the apparent desire of Hamas to embrace the failed two-state equation that will never happen in reality with any justice:

The Hamas leader doesn’t like the term, but in coming to that edge, Mishal has been burning bridges. Incredibly, Hamas has quit Damascus. The Syrian capital became the movement’s headquarters in exile after Jordan’s naive new king, Abdullah II, cast out the Hamas gang in 1999. As an Islamist organisation rooted in the then sinister-sounding Muslim Brotherhood, the movement was alert to the possibility that Damascus could turn on it – the Assad regime had done so brutally in 1982, virtually flattening the city of Hama to choke a brotherhood uprising.

But Hamas had nowhere else to go. And locked in its own conflict with Israel, the ruling Assad family saw strategic good sense in giving shelter to what were called the ”rejectionist” Palestinian factions – those who refused to buy in to the Washington-backed peace process.

This Assad-Hamas relationship was a pact between a minority, Shiite-aligned dictatorship and a Sunni resistance movement. It endured despite the re-emergence of the Sunni-Shiite schism in the Muslim world, but it could not survive the Arab Spring, which has embroiled Syria in sectarian chaos, with an estimated 70,000 civilians dying.

As the Hamas leader tells it, even before the first protests erupted in Syria in March 2011, he had urged the mercurial Bashar al-Assad to opt for reforms that might head off any revolt by his own people. ”I alerted him to the likelihood of the Arab Spring coming to Syria,” Mishal says, adding by way of a rebuke to the translator: ”I did not warn him.”

Hamas hung in for another 10 months. But that encounter in which Mishal urged Assad to act pre-emptively, was their last. Over the years, they had met regularly, enjoying each other’s company. ”There were no more meetings,” says Mishal. ”It was clear that we differed in our opinions on what would happen. We wished they would meet the aspirations of their people – regrettably, the Syrian leadership took the other option.

”That made it impossible for us to maintain a presence there – with such brutality and bloodshed. And once we felt our presence was being sought after as a justification for what was happening, we had to leave. [Syrian officials] were demanding that we openly support their policy – they wanted to know why we did not [publicly] express solidarity. We were left with no choice.”

This was bigger than merely offending an embattled dictator, because other powerful parties would take deep offence at Hamas abandoning Assad. Guardedly, Mishal lifts the veil, ever so slightly: ”Our assessment of Syria was a source of disagreement with a number of people.”

Hamas’ abandonment of Syria ”soured” the movement’s relations with Tehran, he confirms. There were ”areas of agreement and disagreement” with Moscow and ”it had an impact on our relations with [the Lebanese Shiite militia] Hezbollah, because our stand on Syria was different to theirs”.

After reports that Tehran had punished Hamas by chopping a funding deal worth an estimated $25 million a month, a movement spokesman in Gaza said Hamas would not do the bidding of the Iranians in any military conflict between Iran and Israel: ”If there’s a war between two powers, Hamas will not be part of such a war.”

During more than six hours of interviews with Fairfax Media in Doha, Mishal sets out the departure from Syria only in terms of needing to be on the right side of history: ”We had to stand with the people, to support their calls for freedom and economic reform … we would never support bloodshed and brutality when the people rise peacefully to demand change.”

Mishal has announced he is quitting as supreme leader of Hamas – his replacement could be confirmed by a vote of the Hamas shura, or top council, any day now. But Fairfax Media was assured, too, that Mishal aspires to a bigger brief, as leader for all Palestinians.
By coincidence, the 74-year-old Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas says he will not seek re-election as head of the Palestinian Authority – although it’s not clear if he also intends to relinquish his posts as head of Fatah and of the PLO. There is speculation – read that as hope – in some Palestinian circles and in Israel and Washington that Abbas, jaded as he is, might not follow through on quitting the PA.

Unlike Mishal, Abbas is seen as a moderate, a staunch advocate of non-violent negotiation with Israel who only recently has revealed himself capable of independent or determined action – such as his bid for Palestinian membership of the UN and his faction’s in-principle agreement to join Hamas in a new unity government.

Historically, Hamas has spurned the PLO because of the latter’s renunciation of armed struggle and its recognition of the state of Israel. Hamas and Fatah fought a bloody civil war in 2007 – when a Fatah force failed dismally in a bid to dislodge Hamas from the Gaza Strip, despite arms, funding and co-operation from the US and Israel. Under Israeli occupation, in the case of Fatah in the West Bank, and locked in by Israeli forces, in the case of Hamas in Gaza, the factions have been at daggers-drawn since. But in renewed unity talks sponsored by the new Cairo regime, they have agreed in principle that Hamas will join the PLO.

PLO membership for Hamas would serve as a launch pad for Mishal to seek to head the PLO. Given the enmity between the factions, it comes as no surprise that the latest round of unity negotiations, in Cairo in mid-February, is deadlocked on the issue of election rules that would determine the degree of difficulty for Mishal to take leadership of the PLO.

There’s a question here, too: if Hamas folds itself into the PLO and Mishal makes a bid for the top seat, how does the movement stick to its refusal to abide by previous deals between the PLO and the international community? Some Arab-language media reports speculate that Qatar and others have hit on installing Mishal as leader of the PLO precisely because such an appointment would back him in behind those deals.

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