Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Hariri's Murder was indeed the Beginning

/ connecting the dots /
A year and a half ago, immediately after the assassination of Rafik al-Hariri, Ramzy Baroud, an Arab-American journalist and editor of the Palestine Chronicle, wrote an article about the assassination, not so much to answer the question of "who did it?" (although one would expect that these queries might be connected), but rather the question "who benefits?". Because quite a bit of what he wrote can be seen to day in a new light, I'll highlight a few passages:

...The tide is turning against Syria, and it is turning fast. Both Israel and the United States are up in arms to bring an end to Syria's hegemony over Lebanese affairs. But one must not be too hasty to believe that the American-Israeli action is motivated by their earnest concern for Lebanese sovereignty. Look a few miles to the east, to Iraq, and be assured that meaningful national sovereignty is the least of Washington's concerns at this point. Skip through the brief, albeit bloody, history between Israel and Lebanon, and you'll reach the same conclusion: Lebanon's sovereignty is nowhere to be found on Israel's list of things to do. In fact, Israel's violations of Lebanon's sovereignty continue unabated...

[Israel's] mission therefore, has always been to separate individual Arab countries from the pack, to pressure them, allure them, or beat them senseless (as in the cases of Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinian leadership) until a peace deal on Israeli terms is finally reached.

But Syria and Lebanon have thus far maintained a different dynamic in their dealings with Israel.

To begin with, Lebanese resistance demonstrated that Israel would only honor international law if forced to do so. The partial Israeli implementation of UN resolution 425 and its forced withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000 are evidence of that claim.

To Israel, that was a very dangerous and alarming precedent...

...The killing of Rafik al-Hariri will be exploited by those who want Israel to be the only regional power broker. Hariri's assassination is the kind of provocation that precedes a major military undertaking or political reshuffling. The latter is the most likely prospect for now, and the U.S. move to recall its ambassador from Syria "for urgent consultations," coupled with the organized anti-Syria campaign, will serve that goal.

One must have no illusions that Syria's presence in Lebanon is for the sake of Lebanon. Far from it. But Damascus is terrified at the possibility that its withdrawal from Lebanon could risk the loss of a strategic ally. Moreover, the return of instability to the tiny Arab republic adjacent to Syria will turn the tables in any future peace talks. Israel will hold all the cards.

The Lebanese people have the right to demand and expect full sovereignty. Yet it would be a tragedy if Lebanon found itself free from an Arab neighbor only to fall under the grip of an alien foe that has killed tens of thousands of Lebanese over the years.

It is a difficult position for Lebanon as well as Syria, which finds itself at the mercy of a hungry predator ready to make his final leap.

We might never know who is responsible for Hariri's death, but it will almost certainly cultivate political turmoil that benefits only Israel.

Also from the distant past:
- On Hezbollah's disarmament: Nadim Hasbani July 11 2006, Roger Shanahan, February 2006.

- On July Invasions of Lebanon: Noam Chomsky 2003: "Limited War" in Lebanon, this is eerily reminiscent of the recent events:

"On July 25, Israel launched what the press described as its "biggest military assault on Lebanon" since the 1982 invasion. The assault was provoked by guerrilla attacks on Israeli troops in southern Lebanon, killing seven Israeli soldiers. By the time a US-arranged cease fire took hold on July 31, about 125 Lebanese were reported killed, along with three Syrians and three Israelis, one a soldier in southern Lebanon, while about 500,000 people were driven from their homes according to reports from Lebanon..."
[remembered by Blogging the Middle East]

Finally, in the ultimate ironic event of the bombing raids, the Israelis bombed al-Khiam, the theater of many horrors inflicted on the Lebanese resistance during the Israeli occupation, and not only through Israel's proxies (SLA)...

Sunday, July 23, 2006

War Crimes, somebody is saying War Crimes!

/ the rape of Lebanon /
At last an international body not afraid to speak its mind. The International Commission of Jurists seems to not have lost the ability to call a war crime a war crime, when it's happening. They are among the few international bodies that are "extremely concerned by the apathy of the international community and the inactivity of key governments toward the ongoing Israeli military actions in Lebanon as well as in Gaza" and they point out that:
For the past eight days and nights, the Israeli air forces have destroyed countless civilian buildings, infrastructure and means of transportation in operations that have killed more 300 people - most of them civilians - and wrecked havoc on Lebanese cities, harbours, airports and other infrastructure, leading to the displacement of more than half a million people. Appalled by the impact of the ruthless military operations, the ICJ recalls that Israel has to unconditionally respect the lives and security of civilians and abide by the Geneva Conventions to which it is a party. Under the law of war, intentional attacks against the civilian population as such or against civilians not taking direct part in hostilities, as well as the extensive destruction of property not justified by military necessity, constitute war crimes. The wanton destruction of the Beirut airport and civilian aircrafts are blatant examples of these destructions. Similarly, the bombing of undefended towns, villages and dwellings that are not military objectives, as well as the intentional attacks that will knowingly cause incidental loss of life or injury to civilians also constitute war crimes for which individuals can be held criminally responsible.

"While Israel has a legitimate right to defend itself against hostage-taking and the launching of rockets by the Hezbollah over Israeli territory, this right is not unlimited and is subject to the restrictions of international law," said Mr Andreu-Guzman. "Indeed, the disproportionate and indiscriminate reactions of the Israeli military are reprisals against the civilian population and thus amount to collective punishment. Collective punishments constitute a war crime under international law", added Mr Andreu-Guzman...

On a similar vein UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, to her credit, noted that:

"Indiscriminate shelling of cities constitutes a foreseeable and unacceptable targeting of civilians,"...

"Similarly, the bombardment of sites with alleged military significance, but resulting invariably in the killing of innocent civilians, is unjustifiable."

Ms Arbour expressed "grave concern over the continued killing and maiming of civilians in Lebanon, Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory".

Without pointing to specific individuals, she suggested that leaders could bear personal responsibility.

"I do believe that on the basis of evidence that is available in the public domain there are very serious concerns that the level of civilian casualties, the indiscriminate shelling of cities and so on, on their face raise sufficient questions that I think one must issue a sobering signal to those who are behind these initiatives to examine very closely their personal exposure," she told the BBC.

As to the use of disproportionate force, Israel's ambassador to the UN pretty much conceded that point, when he said:

Referring to complaints that Israel was using disproportionate force, Dan Gillerman, IsraelÂ’s United Nations ambassador, said at a rally of supporters in New York this week, "“You'’re damn right we are."”

"“If your cities were shelled the way ours were,"” he said, addressing critics, "“you would use much more force than we are or we ever will."

Anyway the sad reluctance around the world to state anything that might actually challenge Israel's right indiscriminately whoever and whatever it wants and cause (until now) more than 300 deaths of civilians and more refugees per capita than the Yugoslav wars, is becoming really worrying. Zapatero seems to be the only European leader to manage to actually condemn Israel's actions and demand that they cease - good for him.

[As I write this I see that Jon Egeland, the UN's emergency relief chief has also said that the "disproportionate response" by Israel was a "violation of international humanitarian law"]

Let me add that the whole idea that by bombing Lebanon back to the stone age, Israel will be safer, is idiotic. Similarly idiotic is the idea that Hezbollah can be removed from Lebanon - in fact the recent events make it quite likely that Hezbollah will emerge from this round of events stronger - as pointed out be no less a figure than Lebanese President Fuad Siniora:

"...the criminal Israeli bombardments must stop immediately. Israelis are bombing civilians and this increases Hezbollah's popularity, even among people who would not normally support it..."

Add to this the fact that it doesn't seem at all likely that by shelling apartment buildings, refugee convoys and airports any serious blow against Hezbollah is being struck, and one is left wondering... what is this ongoing massacre really about?

Monday, July 17, 2006

Letters from Lebanon

/ The crisis in Lebanon /
And on to Lebanon... I received from a friend in the Middle East the following witness report from a Lebanese artist (whose name will remain unpublished for the time being - these being difficult times) in Beirut, yesterday, which I post in its entirety

> This morning
> A.
> Yet another day of bombing all over the place. In the mountain here,
> we were subject to about three different bombing runs: 1 to continue
> destroying the Beirut to Damascus road; another to destroy the cell
> phone antennas; and another to again hit the Beirut to Damascus road.
> Just a few minutes ago, the house was shaking again, and I only
> assume the Israelis are pounding the same area. The safe areas are
> much further to the north, the northeastern enclave, an area
> traditionally christian. Listening to Nasrallah's speech tonight was
> not reassuring one bit. After pleading with the Lebanese to stand
> firm, and after denouncing Arab government leaving Lebanon to pay the
> price for Israeli aggression, he asked us all to look at sea and watch
> the Israeli gunboat that had been pounding the coast and hills all
> day. he said that it was about to be hit by a HizbAllah missile. He
> promised that it will burn, that it will sink, that its sailors will
> die. It made me sickto my stomach, almost as much as it makes me sick
> to hear Olmert, Bush, the Saudi, and Palestinian position about this.
> Nasrallah also called for an open war against Israel, and that he
> will hit Haifa, and what is behind Haifa, and behind and behind Haifa.
> What this means remains unlcear. But clearly it is worrying. Within
> minutes of the speech, parts of West Beirut were celebrating. The
> city is about to be reduced to rubble, and fireworks are being fired
> in the air. Incredible. Al-Jazeera and most local networks pointed
> their lenses towards to sea, to look for a missile launch, which came
> but was not visible. This is just not good. This is just about to
> get worse. I dont know what to think anymore. Pundits are
> speculating, making noise: Did HizbAllah need to drag Lebanon into
> this mess at this time? How can HizbAllah monopolize the decision to
> launch a war, to destroy the country? Others are convinced that Israel
> is simply intent on enforcing resolution 1559, namely to disarm
> HizbAllah by force. HizbAllah is asking everyone to stand form, and to
> be patient. This has happened before and we have triumphed. We will
> triumph again, they say. Whatever all this leads to, one thing is
> certain, the scale of the destruction is enormous. People are dying
> in the south and elsewhere. Too many. The bombing has moved to the
> north and in the past hour positions inside Syria were hit. Iran has
> said that were Syria to be hit, they will respond. A regional war?
> What's going on?
> Embassies here are starting to remove their citizens. the French,
> canadians, germans, and the americans just announced the same.
> I cannot imagine this going on for months, despite what some officials
> up high are stating. I assume that the regional ploy is to disarm
> hizbAllah. This will only happen is Syria and Iran get something in
> return. What is the U.S. willing to grant them? Also, they have to
> find a way out for HizbAllah. Which means that their position inside
> the Lebanese government will have to be negotiated. They may disarm
> them, but they have to give them a way out as well. After all,
> HizbAllah represents 1 million folks here. Israel and the U.S cannot
> kill them all.
> Rumors aplenty, every ten minutes. The news, all of it, Arab and
> international, makes me sick. We are stuck with a false choice:
> Support HizbAllah, or be an Israeli agent. That is at least what
> HizbAllah and their Syrian allies are saying. The Christian right's
> position is equally naive. They want to assume that HizbAllah will
> just go away. they are wishing it at least. That wont happen, no
> matter what. Everyone is miscalculating it seems: HizbAllah, the
> Americans, the Israelis, The Saudis, the Palestinians, The French, The
> Russians, The Chinese. You name it. The effects on the ground will
> remain once this crisis is resolved, and has already generated enough
> antagonism to last us another decade.
> We are trying to think of what to do. To leave, and be stuck in the
> U.S glued to the TV trying to figure out what is happening will be
> maddening.
> This will clearly get worse before it gets better, and we have not
> seen the worse yet. Now, all parties are slowly revealing their
> cards.
> best
> w.
> This evening ....
> We still have the land-line. Cell phones are working from time to
> time. Electricity is being rationed. We are getting around 8 hours a
> day. Generators provide the rest at this point. It is a situation we
> are used to, one that is decent -- even very good compared to what
> other areas of the country are living through at the moment.
> More idiots on Lebanese TV speculating some more about Israel's and
> HizbAllah's intentions. More shelling in the Southern Suburb. More
> massacres in the South. More missiles to northern Israel. More
> fireworks celebrating HizbAllah's resistance.
> Doi we need to say this again and again and again: There is no such
> thing as targeted/surgical shelling in a city with hundreds of
> thousands of homes, built cheek to cheek. Israel shelled the house of
> Hassan Nasrallah. I suppose they thought he would be home enjoying
> his afternoon tea at the time. They took out the light house that
> stood on the Corniche, lest it send out distress signals that the
> world will not see. A family leaving, fleeing its village in the
> South was pulverized -- surely the smoke from the shelling blinded the
> scope of the gunner, preventing him/her from seeing that the small
> people in the car were not extremely short HizbAllah fighters. Should
> we tally numbers? Do we need to open more morgue doors b to reveal
> yet another mangled body, yet another weeping parent, yet another
> angry relative denouncing this or that government? this or that
> policy?
> Amr Moussa stated tonight, after the spineless meeting of Arab
> ministers, that it is clear now that the U.S. has handed Israel a free
> hand in solving the Mid-East crisis, as it sees fit. Whether it
> decides unilaterally to withdraw from Gaza, from the West Bank, from
> destroying Gaza again, from destroying Beirut, etc. I wonder what
> took them so long to figure this out. Is the oil in the Gulf still a
> weapon in their hands? Surely not, as we are reminded time and time
> again. What is the price of oil again? How much of Europe's oil
> supplied by the Saudis and the Kuwaitis? How much of the U.S. oil is
> supplied by the Middle East? Did we reach 78 USD a barrel yet? Maybe
> the Saudis will use some of the surplus to rebuild the country again.
> What's a billion dollars when the price of oil reaches 78 USD?
> Someone knows this somewhere, and is most likely depending on it.
> Israeli cease-fire conditions announced -- as I write this:
> -Retreat of HizbAllah fighters to behind the Litani river in the
> south.
> -Hand-over of all HizbAllah missiles to the Lebanese Army
> -Deployment of the Lebanese Army in the South.
> On this end, I am tired, and am not able to think straight anymore.
> Hoping for a quiet night, and to wake up with a cease-fire declared.
> w.

And this report (minus the pictures which my correspondent refrained from forwarding) I received today - the author will remain similarly anonymous for the time being:

Dear friends and colleagues,

I'm sending theses new pictures now. Last night , 60 raids were executed all
over Lebanon , from Tripoli in the north to Baalback in the East ,and in
Beirut. Since Thursday 197 civilians were killed and 35o injured according
to the health ministry , but this can not be a finel account since whole
villages and cities are completely cut off , there' s no way to reach them
or know wht's happening there.
Now what happened in the south last night seems to be outrageous . People
are fleeing in masses , there are humongous traffic jams in Saida , caused
by hundreds of people fleeing to Beirut through the South. Those people have
nowhere to go in here , and that's way they hadn't left their villages so
far. This morning, the streets of beirut were full with families carrying
plastic bags in whivh they packed their belongings , or what's left of them.
Appartement buildings in beirut are either full or over priced.
People took in relatives and friends in their houses .
Now all this is fine, it's war , killing destroying , moving people ,
cutting off cities , destroying infrastructure , it's calssical.
But , please , take a minute and look at any of these pictures in a
different way. Some countries said they will help lebanon's reconstruction
(thanks) . Saudi Arabia said it will give 50 milion $ in aid. A small
calculation of the difference in oil prices between last Wednesday and today
will show how generous this offer is , especially that the Saudis political
stand almost gave the israelis a green light to go on.
Anyway , that was not my point .
The point is , if you take a real look at the pictures , you will see: a
house , a car , a shop... Destroyed ones. But , 6 days ago , they were
somebody's car , shop , and house. Inside the houses were toys for children
, books and music. All gone, and no one will pay for it.
The shops are all what these people own. The harbour that was burnt last
night , contained goods someone had paid for. People will go bankrupt.
Did I mention that the targeted areas are the poorer in Lebanon?
Oh yeah , and I forgot to mention all the people who died.

Related news. Nasrallah's public statement (the man is either on crack, suicidal, or knows something the rest of the world doesn't - what the hell is he expecting to gain from all this? Can the current situation empower Hezbollah? Can they "win" in any meaningful sense? Did they expect anything less than the current massacre from the always happy-to-kill-an-Arab IDF racists? What?)

An article in the Asia Times about the war, by Sami Moubayed, a Syrian analyst, which is the only piece that I've read recently that makes some sense - and sort of answers ny question above...

An article over at EuroTrib about the rather abrupt decline of the "Cedar Revolution" rhetoric...
Juan Cole on the war in Lebanon.

Noam Chomsky about the situation in Gaza and the Lebanon

And a few Lebanese blogs (where self-righteous republicans, from the safety of their condos together with ultranationalist Israelis, vent their collective wrath against those "damn Arabs" in various comment sections...) providing excellent coverage of the situation and the developments in Lebanon.

Blogging the Middle East

The Lebanese Bloggers

Lebanese Blogger Forum

Ur Shalim

Lebanese Political Journal

Letters Apart

Jamal's Propaganda Site

The Beirut Spring...

Gaza in tatters

/ Stripping Gaza /
If one notes what the UN Special Rapporteur on OPT reported on his visit (21 June 2006), it seems the kidnap of the Israeli soldier by the Palestinians in Gaza wasn't an act out of the blue, but a response to daily Israeli practices:

Gaza is under siege. Israel controls its airspace and has resumed sonic booms which terrorize and traumatize its people. The targeted killing of militants is on the increase. Inevitably, as in the past, such killings have resulted in the killing and wounding of innocent bystanders. Israel also controls Gaza's territorial sea and fires missiles into the territory from ships at sea. The no-go area along the border of Gaza has been extended to some 500-600 metres to enable the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) to prevent the firing of Qassam rockets by Palestinian militants. IDF policy now allows it to fire shells up to 100 metres from civilian houses. Within Gaza, medical services have been seriously affected by the prohibition on the funding of medical equipment and medical supplies managed by the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority. The non-payment of salaries to Palestinian Authority employees has affected both hospitals and schools as employees cannot afford to travel to work. Unemployment and poverty are on the increase. After a long period of closure of the Karni commercial crossing, this crossing has been re-opened but it still processes only a limited number of trucks with the result that Gaza is still short of basic foodstuffs and is unable to export its produce.

Human rights violations in the West Bank have also intensified. The construction of the Wall continues to impact severely on human rights. In farming areas, lands are being abandoned in the closed zone (the area between the Wall and the Green Line) as farmers are denied permits to farm their land. Families both within the closed zone and its precincts have been substantially impoverished as a result. The impact of the Wall is no less severe in the cities. The Wall in Jerusalem divides Palestinian neighbourhoods and in so doing separates families who hold different identity documents. The law prohibiting Israeli Arab spouses from co-habiting with their West Bank and Gaza Palestinian spouses has further damaged family life. Travel into and out of Jerusalem has become a nightmare for Palestinians as a result of new travel restrictions.

However more importantly the abduction of an Israeli soldier in Gaza happenned two days after Israel invaded the Gaza strip to abduct two Palestinian civilians, who were charged with being... "Hamas members", that is members of the legally elected governing party in the Palestinian Territories.

In fact, despite protestations to the contrary there was a low level war going on in Gaza, as soon as Hamas was elected - as the UN situation report made clear, this past April. They noted that:

Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have fired more than 2,300 artillery and tank shells into the Gaza Strip since 29 March, more than 150 shells a day. This intensified IDF shelling comes as Palestinians over the same period fired more than 67 home made rockets (around 5/day) and an alleged Katyusha rocket (a longer range rocket) that was found south of Ashqelon on 28 March.

The shelling has been concentrated in the northern Gaza Strip – As Siafa in the northwest, Beit Lahia and Beit Hanoun in the north/northeast and areas east of Jabalia camp in the north and Gaza City.

Over the same period, the Israel Air Force (IAF) launched 34 missiles inside the Gaza Strip targeting wanted people, buildings, roads and other infrastructure.

Seventeen Palestinians have been killed, among them two children in artillery shelling and missile strikes since 29 March. One was a five-year-old boy, killed together with his father when an IAF aircraft targeted a training base used by Palestinian militants in Rafah on 7 April. An eight-year-old girl was killed and eight children from her family injured when an artillery shell hit her family's house in Beit Lahia on 10 April.

At least 62 Palestinians have been injured, including one woman and 11 children. One Israeli was also injured after a home made rocket was fired from inside the Gaza Strip and landed south of Ashqelon on 6 April.

The continuous firing of artillery shells and launching of IAF missiles are causing immense psycho-social strain on the Gaza population, especially on children. There are also additional risks from unexploded shells, particularly Palestinian farmers and shepherds and for children playing in the fields. Residents of As Siafa, for instance, reported that 15 shells out of a total of 200 that landed in the area in the three days from 30 March to 1 April, have not exploded.

So the rape of Gaza is continuing, even now that the world's attention has shifted over to Lebanon:

Southern Gaza is in TOTAL DARKNESS. Three quarters of the television frame is PITCH BLACK while northern Gaza has a few lights. About an hour ago, Israel bombed with F-16's the only power station left in Khan Younes plunging it in TOTAL DARKNESS too.

Do you know what it means to be without electricity for 10 days in today's world??? No water, no sewage, no cooling, no storing of whatever food is left, no communication... etc. As though this were not sufficient for those poor Palestinians, tonight, like every night, Israel has been bombing and sending missiles into Gaza and flying over it all night with sonic booms to scare the people and especially the children who are totally terrified.

Yesterday a one and a half year old child died in an awful way of injuries sustained by Israeli bombing and mainstream media instead of covering it, is allowing a terrorist like Ehud Olmert to take the microphone and tell the world that Israel never targets civilians. It has been 10 days now and all Israel has done is target civilians and kill dozens!

Finally, a statement regarding Gaza from the Communist Party of Israel...

Sunday, July 9, 2006

More on the DR of Congo

/ colonialism / new and improved /
PambazukaNews interviews Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, Director of UNDP Oslo Governance Centre, regarding the DRC, in which he portrays the situation in the DR of Congo as it is - and it is colonialism repackaged:

...What is evident is that France and its allies, African as well as non-African, do not wish to see the DRC become a regional power in Central Africa, and thus constitute a threat to French hegemony and Western interests in the sub-region. A strong state in the Congo will not only threaten French control over the resource-rich countries in the sub-region, namely, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Sao Tome and Principe. Moreover, the DRC has enough arable soil, rainfall, lakes and rivers to become the breadbasket of Africa, and enough hydroelectric power to light up the whole continent from the Cape to Cairo. While its mineral resources are so abundant that a young Belgian geologist declared the country a geological scandal at the beginning of the last century, the real scandal of the Congo include the facts that its uranium was used to build the first atomic bombs in the world and its wealth has since the days of King Leopold II been used not in the interests of its people but to the benefit of its rulers and their external allies...

...The forthcoming election means more to the international community, which is spending heavily on it and even sending in European Union forces to supplement MONUC to ensure that it is being held, than to the Congolese people. The major powers of the world and the international organizations under their control would like to legitimize their current client regime in Kinshasa so they can continue unfettered to extract all the resources they need from the Congo...

...Since the current transitional government has not fulfilled the requirements laid out in the Sun City/Pretoria accord for free and fair elections, the ritual of 30 July is likely to confirm Joseph Kabila as President, but it will not change the political situation of the country for the better. Violence will continue in the northeast, and corruption and incompetence will remain the most salient features of a government with an externally-driven agenda...

[via Black looks]

I needn't add too much here, just point out a Global Witness Report, on "Fraud, abuse and exploitation in Katanga’s copper and cobalt mines", confirming empirically the gist of the African political scientist's main claims:

...The mining sector in Katanga is characterised by widespread corruption and fraud at all levels. A significant proportion of the copper and cobalt is mined informally and exported illicitly. Government officials are actively colluding with trading companies in circumventing control procedures and the payment of taxes. The profits are serving to line the pockets of a small but powerful elite – politicians and businessmen who are exploiting the local population and subverting natural riches for their own private ends. Large quantities of valuable minerals are leaving the country undeclared, representing a huge loss for the Congolese economy and a wasted opportunity for alleviating poverty and enhancing development. A local source estimated that at the end of 2005, at least three quarters of the minerals exported from Katanga were leaving illicitly...

[via Eurotrib]