The story of Lebanon’s oldest synagogue restored to its former glory, including with the backing of Hizbollah.
An interesting editorial in Arab News that highlights the growing desire in the Middle East to shake off American bullying:
The Lebanese government is absolutely right to have turned down $100 million of US arms aid because of the malign conditions that were attached to it at the last moment by the House of Representatives in Washington.
In essence, the aid was to be offered on the condition that the arms it would have bought, from US suppliers naturally, could not be used against Israelis. The condition, moved by the chairman of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, Howard Berman is as muddle-headed as it is unjust. It illustrates the blinkers that continue to be worn by senior US legislators. The Lebanese armed forces are woefully underequipped and need the new weapons that the aid would have bought. Their record, however, is hardly one of aggression against Lebanon’s southern neighbor. Lebanese troops have never invaded and occupied a huge swathe of northern Israel. Lebanese warplanes have never sped into Israel and bombed in detail power stations, oil supply depots, bridges and roads. Lebanese artillery has never conduct long-range bombardments of Israeli towns and cities.
Yet the Berman amendment made the ludicrous stipulation that any arms for which the US paid could not be used against Israel. Thus we could have had the situation that when Israel chooses again to wreak devastation in Lebanon the Lebanese defense forces could not fire on the attackers with any of their new armaments. Berman would have effectively ensured that Israel would be free to behave as outrageously and illegally as it liked without the Lebanese defense forces being able to defend themselves.
Trouble is brewing and a number of reliable sources in the Middle East fear that another round between Hizbollah and Israel is almost inevitable. After all, Israel was beaten badly in 2006 and doesn’t want to get too used to failure. I was in Lebanon the days before the Hariri assassination and remain fascinated with this case:
In a two-hour long television appearance, Hezbollah’s leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, offered Monday what he contended was evidence proving Israel’s involvement in the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri, in a 2005 bombing.
The news conference was widely followed in the Arab world, where it was broadcast live by Al-Jazeera, the satellite channel. In Lebanon, it was much anticipated, coming amid speculation that an international tribunal investigating Mr. Hariri’s death would indict members of Hezbollah later this year. Mr. Hariri’s supporters have long contended that Syria or its allies in Lebanon, Hezbollah foremost among them, were behind the killing.
Mr. Nasrallah presented a series of clips, each several minutes long, of what he said was Israeli surveillance footage intercepted by Hezbollah of roads and places that Mr. Hariri frequented, including the seaside boulevard in Beirut where he was killed.
“Such surveillance generally comes as the first step of the execution of an operation,” Mr. Nasrallah told reporters during the conference via satellite link.
Mr. Nasrallah acknowledged that the images were not conclusive evidence against Israel but noted that the areas surveyed by Israeli reconnaissance planes were not places that Hezbollah members frequent or live in.
“Is this a coincidence after coincidence after coincidence?” he asked.
He also offered a rationale for the killing. “Israel was looking for a way to assassinate Hariri in order to create political chaos that would force Syria to withdraw from Lebanon, and to perpetuate an anti-Syrian atmosphere in the wake of the assassination,” he said.
While the news conference may not shift the debate, it was a sophisticated presentation, and it demonstrated that Hezbollah was able to intercept footage of Israeli aerial reconnaissance. Israel and Hezbollah fought a month-long war in 2006, and many in Lebanon fear that both sides are prepared to fight again.
When failure is your middle name, why not copy the masters?
The US may be using Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon as a model for its supposed draw-down in Iraq.
In other words, expect America to hassle and monitor Iraq for years to come, violating Iraqi sovereignty. Like Israel does in Lebanon.
A wonderful column by Larry Derfner in the belly of the Zionist beast, the Jerusalem Post:
Given the way Israel behaves now, it’s pretty sad to remember that it was envisioned as a country where the Jews ran their own national affairs – but nobody else’s.
Now it’s not enough for Israel to have its own coast, its own territorial waters, its own airspace – no, we’ve got to control Gaza’s coast, Gaza’s territorial waters, Gaza’s airspace, too. The Gaza Strip is part of our sphere of influence. Let any Turkish ship, Libyan ship or any other ship we don’t like try to sail into Gaza, and they’ll get a taste of gunboat diplomacy, Israeli-style. Let anyone try to fly a plane in or out of Gaza and they’ll be at the mercy of the Israel Air Force.
Is this what any decent, fair-minded, peace-loving Zionist ever had in mind?
We’ve gone from being a Jewish state to being a Jewish mini-empire. A Jewish hegemon.
We fly spy planes over Lebanon on a daily basis. We blew up the beginnings of a nuclear reactor in Syria. We run the lives of two million Palestinians in the West Bank and take their land piece by piece.
Why? Because might makes right. If anybody tried to blockade our coast and our airspace, if anybody flew spy planes over us, if anybody blew up one of our nuclear installations, if anybody ruled our lives at gunpoint and built foreign settlements on our land, we’d kill whoever we had to kill to stop it.
But the Arabs are weak and we’re strong, so we get away with it.
And we wonder why we’re not so popular in the world?
The US Presbyterian Church continues to gently push for effective change in Palestine and the New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof rehashes the tired line of finding a Palestinian “Gandhi” (do these Western commentators simply feel the need to repeat predictable talking points over and over again?)
Max Blumenthal finds increasing Israeli violence at Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem.
It is, as Zeev Sternhell writes, all signs of a nation in deep crisis:
Among the regimes in the Western world, Israel stands out with certain characteristics that generally do not indicate a strong democratic system. Its parliament is paralyzed, the opposition is nonexistent, and contempt for the law is becoming more pronounced. This not only refers to the unrest caused by the ultra-Orthodox, but also to something much more dangerous, the unrest caused by the settlers. The “respectable” right has chosen leaders of the most dangerous kind, like Moshe Ya’alon, who erases the line between Likud’s level-headed elements and the extremist “Feiglins” and far-right National Union party. In the not-too-distant future, they will replace Likud’s current leadership, which itself is much less restrained than the veteran Revisionists.
Moreover, the political leadership and the ruling elites, including the military elite, evince a worrisome lack of talent. From the Second Lebanon War to the Gaza flotilla – and this period includes Operation Cast Lead – Israel’s failures have been much greater than its successes. Against this backdrop, Israel’s moral crisis is getting deeper all the time. Israeli society is disintegrating into layers and blocs that have totally different worldviews and historical visions. More and more, these hostile blocs lack a mutual national objective.
Viewers of the Channel 10 news last Friday were amazed to see a scene that seemed to belong to the world of sick imagination: To shorten the route to the Cave of the Patriarchs for the Jews of Hebron, the windows of Arabs’ homes that the worshipers pass were sealed off. You had to rub your eyes to believe how the colonial power allows itself to make life so unbearable for the natives. Not only were their windows sealed, but access to their homes was made especially difficult – just for the convenience of the occupiers.
Remember Latma, the Zionist outfit in Israel run by the Jerusalem Post’s Caroline Glick?
You know the ones. Hating Arabs and Palestinians in particular. Doing wonders for Israeli PR.
They’re back with another tasteful affair:
The possibility that Palestinians may soon have more rights in Lebanon – such as fair work and fair pay – is covered by al-Jazeera.
The current situation is a shameful example of Arab racism and inaction towards the Palestinian people:
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman – a fan of Western state violence – writes today that Israel should stretch out the hand of peace because otherwise it may simply kill many more Palestinian civilians:
Israel’s newfound sense of security, though, was bought at a very high price — and it is not a steady state.
Let me explain. The history of Israeli-Arab relations since 1948 can be summarized in one sentence: “War, timeout, war, timeout, war, timeout, war, timeout, war, timeout. …” What differentiates Israel from the Arabs and the Palestinians is how much more productive Israel has been during its timeouts.
Israel today is enjoying another timeout because it recently won three short wars — and then encountered one pleasant surprise. The first was a war to dismantle the corrupt Arafat regime. The second was the war started by Hezbollah in Lebanon and finished by a merciless pounding of Shiite towns and Beirut suburbs by the Israeli Air Force. The third was the war to crush the Hamas missile launchers in Gaza.
What is different about these three wars, though, is that Israel won them using what I call “Hama Rules” — which are no rules at all. “Hama Rules” are named after the Syrian town of Hama, where, in 1982, then-President Hafez el-Assad of Syria put down a Muslim fundamentalist uprising by shelling and then bulldozing their neighborhoods, killing more than 10,000 of his own people.
In Israel’s case, it found itself confronting enemies in Gaza and Lebanon armed with rockets, but nested among local civilians, and Israel chose to go after them without being deterred by the prospect of civilian casualties. As the Lebanese militia leader Bashir Gemayel was fond of saying — before he himself was blown up — “This is not Denmark here. And it is not Norway.”
The brutality of the Israeli retaliations bought this timeout with Hezbollah and Hamas, and the civilian casualties and troubling TV images bought Israel a U.N. investigation into alleged war crimes.
Bottom line: Israel needs to try to buy its next timeout with diplomacy, which means Netanyahu has to show some initiative. Because the risks to Israel’s legitimacy of another war in Gaza, Lebanon or the West Bank — in which Israel could be forced to kill even more civilians to squash rocket attacks launched from schoolyards by fighters who wear no uniforms — will be staggering.
In Washington the assumption is that it’s only a matter of time before Israel and Hezbollah will be at war again. But what’s worse is that, according to policymakers and analysts I’ve spoken to, the United States is sharply opposed to Israel finishing the work it failed to get done in its two previous Lebanon wars (1982-2000; 2006). This isn’t just because the Obama Administration wants to keep things cool in the region to allow for relatively peaceful U.S. withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan and to keep terrorists off the streets of U.S. cities. The more disturbing reason is that Israel is no longer trusted to do the job right.
Regardless of how Israel’s enemies game it out, sooner rather than later, Jerusalem is going to have to make war on Hezbollah, because the United States is withdrawing from the region, Israel is getting weaker, and its enemies are getting stronger. The only way to ratify or challenge a new balance of forces in the region is through war.
My following article appears in today’s Crikey:
On Tuesday lunchtime the Australian Human Rights Centre and the UNSW International Law and Policy Group (with assistance from the Israeli embassy) hosted a seminar on “The Fight against Terror: Practical Dilemmas in applying the Laws of War.” The two speakers were Professor Abraham Bell of Israel’s Bar-Ilan University and Colonel Sharon Afek, Deputy Military Advocate General for the Israel Defence Forces.
In light of the recent Gaza flotilla disaster, the Goldstone report and ongoing global attempts to hold Israeli officials to account for alleged war crimes, the event was timely and occurred without an interruption or boycott call.
Five police stood guard outside the small lecture theatre, anticipating any possible trouble or public protest, an option I heard by pro-Palestinian activists was briefly discussed when the event was announced but eventually dismissed.
Bell, who has spoken extensively on the legality of Israel’s so-called security barrier that runs directly into Palestinian land in the West Bank, outlined his personal views that corresponded with the official, Israeli government position.
He condemned the limitations of international criminal law and wished that “armed terrorist groups be neutralised before they attacked Israel”. He lamented that international humanitarian law was not being enforced against non-state actors (despite the UN-backed Goldstone report directly condemning alleged breaches of humanitarian law by both Israel and Hamas, something Human Rights Watch says neither side has properly addressed).
But Israel still maintains a control over the land, sea and air borders around Gaza and this week announced it would once again allow building materials like cement and steel and more food items into Gaza (including the now-infamous ketchup and mayonnaise items), objects that have been officially banned for years.
Bell said during his UNSW talk that after the flotilla incident, “Israel has essentially given up economic sanctions against Hamas in Gaza”, contradicting the official Israel position that the blockade was designed to provide security for Israel and stop Hamas rocket fire.
Bell used visual aides like photos of Muslim suicide bombers in Israel, fact sheets provided by UN Watch and the Anti-Defamation League and recounted the story of losing friends in terror attacks inside Israel. It wasn’t a dispassionate legal talk but a call to understand Israel’s isolation in the international community because of the abundance of Islamic nations in the UN.
The most revealing talk, however, was by Colonel Afek, a former legal adviser for the West Bank. A softly-spoken man, he played numerous IDF videos shot by pilotless drones over southern Lebanon and Gaza and asked the audience to understand the moral and legal dilemma over whether Israel should attack homes where militants were allegedly hiding or warehousing weapons. “We are forced to make split-second decisions”, he said.
Afek said that many commanders in the field resented having to receive legal advice before launching attacks on “terrorists”. He explained how the IDF made thousands of phone calls to residents in Gaza before launching attacks on their homes in late 2008/early 2009.
The IDF lawyer acknowledged that many in the world today see Israeli officers as war criminals and threaten to arrest and prosecute them in foreign courts. “The problem isn’t with international law”, he told a questioner who asked his opinion on the Israeli government wanting to amend humanitarian law to better support Israeli war aims. “The problem is with fighting terrorism.”
Both Bell and Afek articulated the frustration that the world didn’t understand Israeli actions. Afek said that he had shown one of the IDF videos to a US commander who couldn’t see any issues with dropping munitions on civilian areas that contain “terrorists”. It was a revealing statement. One of the reasons Washington and a number of other Western states have been equally against the Goldstone report was that its recommendations could be turned against Western actions in Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere.
I asked why neither man had explained the context for Palestinian “terrorism”, the fact that the occupation of the West Bank was illegal and the Palestinian legal right to resist it within legal means. Afek acknowledged that he had not discussed the wider issues in Palestine but “these are political questions, not legal ones”.
One questioner wondered why Israel had “hijacked language” by claiming Palestinians defending their land were terrorists while Israel always acted in “self-defence”, no matter the Palestinian death toll.
Bell responded that Palestinians “have no right to commit terrorism to defend their own land” (though he claimed the rights to the land were contested) and showed pictures of buses and cafes destroyed by Palestinian suicide bombers.
*Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist and author of My Israel Question and The Blogging Revolution.
A grimly fascinating tale in the New York Times about an enterprising Lebanese man who has opened a flash restaurant in Baghdad:
Mr. Hage, 51, is the most updated version of an old Lebanese story, that of a diaspora known for its willingness to follow commerce where it leads. Simply put, for a decade, he has trailed America’s imperial pursuits. After helping build an airport in Kandahar, in southern Afghanistan, he stopped in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. For six years, he has come into and out of Iraq, where so many fortunes were made, via the American government, in construction and services.
“Wherever the Americans are, we are,” he said. Then he smiled, flirtatiously. “Next,” he said, “we’re looking to go to Iran.”
There are countless men and women across the world, in the West and East, who thrive on America’s never-ending war machine.