Egypt Opens Rafah Crossing: This Is What Democracy Looks Like

June 2, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Robert Naiman, Truthout

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Hasna el Ryes, a Gaza resident waiting to cross into Egypt, leaves the border terminal after getting an entry stamp in her passport on the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing in Egypt, May 28, 2011. Hundreds of Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip arrived by the busload to pass through the reopened border into Egypt, taking the first tangible steps out of an Israeli blockade after years of deadlocked peace talks. (Photo: Holly Pickett / The New York Times)

There was a slogan on the streets of Seattle: “This is what democracy looks like.” You can’t love democracy and denigrate protest, because protest is part of democracy. It’s a package deal.

Likewise, you can’t claim solidarity with Egyptian protesters when they take down a dictator, but act horrified that the resulting government in Egypt, more accountable to Egyptian public opinion, is more engaged in supporting Palestinian rights. It’s a package deal.

On Saturday, at long last, the Egyptian government “permanently opened [3]” the Egypt-Gaza passenger crossing at Rafah. A big part of the credit for this long-awaited development belongs to Tahrir. It was the Tahrir uprising that brought about an Egyptian government more accountable to public opinion and it was inevitable that an Egyptian government more accountable to public opinion would open Rafah, because public opinion in Egypt bitterly opposed Egyptian participation in the blockade on Gaza.

In addition, opening Rafah was a provision of the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation accord brokered by the Egyptian government – an achievement facilitated by the fact that the post-Tahrir Egyptian government was more flexible in the negotiations with Hamas that led to the accord.

Mubarak had a deal with the US government: I obey all your commands on the Israel-Palestine issue and in exchange, you shut your mouth about human rights and democracy. Tahrir destroyed this bargain, because it forced the US to open its mouth about human rights and democracy in Egypt, regardless of Egypt’s stance on Israel-Palestine. When it became clear to Egypt’s rulers that subservience to the US on Israel-Palestine would no longer purchase carte blanche on human rights and democracy, there was no reason to slavishly toe the US line on Israel-Palestine anymore.

The Mubarak regime also had a domestic motivation for enforcing the blockade: it saw Hamas as a sister organization of Egypt’s then semi-illegal opposition Muslim Brotherhood and it saw enforcing the blockade as a means of denying Hamas “legitimacy,” figuring that more “legitimacy” for Hamas would mean more “legitimacy” for Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, thereby threatening Mubarak’s iron grip on Egypt’s politics.

But, of course, post-Tahrir developments in Egypt threw that calculation out the window: the post-Mubarak government in Egypt has reconciled with the Muslim Brotherhood, which is a de facto partner in the present interim government and is expected to do well in September’s parliamentary elections. It would be absurd for the Egyptian government to try to isolate the Muslim Brotherhood by trying to isolate its sister Hamas, when the Muslim Brotherhood is a de facto part of the Egyptian government and the role of the Brotherhood in running Egypt is likely to increase.

There are other considerations. Egypt’s government has seen how Turkey’s influence in the region has grown dramatically as a result of its “no problems with neighbors” policy. Now Egypt is saying: “I’ll have what she’s having,” and moving to normalize relationships in the region, just as Turkey has done.

The opening of the Rafah passenger crossing will mean that women, children and the elderly from Gaza will be able to travel freely to Egypt and, through Egypt, almost anywhere else in the Arab world. Adult men will have to get Egyptian visas, a process that currently can take months.

But – although it is virtually certain that some will try to claim otherwise – the opening of Rafah does not mean that the siege of Gaza is over.

Rafah is a passenger crossing, not a cargo crossing, as The Associated Press noted in reporting on the opening of Rafah. Gaza’s cargo crossings are still controlled by the Israeli government.

The Israeli human rights group Gisha reports that, since 2005, “goods have not been permitted to pass via Rafah, except for humanitarian assistance which Egypt occasionally permits through Rafah.”

In general, the Israeli government does not allow construction materials (cement, steel and gravel) into Gaza. Since January, about 7 percent of what entered monthly prior to June 2007 has been allowed in for specific projects.

The Israeli government prevents regular travel for Palestinians between Gaza and the West Bank, even though according to the two-state solution, which is the official policy of the US, Gaza and the West Bank are supposed to be one entity.

Exports from Gaza are generally prohibited by the Israeli authorities.

Palestinians in Gaza cannot farm their lands in Israel’s self-declared “buffer zone” along the northern and eastern borders with Israel, estimated to contain nearly a third of Gaza’s arable land.

The Israeli government does not allow Palestinian fishermen to fish beyond three nautical miles  from Gaza, although under the Oslo Accord, they are supposed to be able to fish for 20 nautical miles from Gaza.

Thus, more pressure is needed on the Israeli government – and the US government, which enables Israeli policies in Gaza – to lift the blockade.

And that’s why it’s so important that another international flotilla is sailing to Gaza in the third week of June, to protest the blockade. It’s time to open all the crossings, not just Rafah.

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M.K. Gandhi and the Birth of Israel

March 25, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Gandhi1 Oakland–My Pakistani friends have no great respect for the “great soul,” because they are of the opinion that his great political skills dominated his moral authority, but it must be remembered that, although a Hindu, he supported the Caliphate Movement (the Sultan of Turkey as the temporal leader of Islam) during the 1920s.  Further, he gained the ire of international Zionism’s claims to Palestine which was an exacerbating point to South Asian Islam, in addition.  Therefore, your essayist has decided to write about the ideas of this great man on Palestine.  It must be remembered that he spoke up for the welfare of Muslims as well as Hindus in India.  If many of his ideas had been incorporated at the birth of an independent South Asia, there may not have been a Partition, nor would we be staring down a nuclear “gun” in that region, too.

Your author starts his composition with a remembered reading of “The Jews in Palestine” (Harijan of November 26, 1938: Collected Works, Volume 74).   As remembered, it permitted some room for a one-State solution in Israel-Palestine, but reading it closely again, there is not; yet, in a comment to a reporter, shortly before his death the profound man gave a suggestion for a solution to resolve the conundrum.  If that proposal had been taken seriously, the crisis in the Middle East might not be before us today.

Gandhi’s mind was a curious mixture of the practical and impractical.  His ideas on the Abrahamic “Holy Land” bear this out.  “I cannot…say…I have made a…study of the…religion [Judaism], but I have studied as much as a layman can…” (Interview in The Jewish Chronicle, London, Oct. 2nd, 1931).  In fact, he makes no references of the traditional Indian Jewish communities — the Cochin, the Bombay and the Baghdadi.  He seems to have known little about them.  In fact, as he states in his article we shall be discussing, he knew “…the Jews…in South Africa…” (“The Jews in Palestine,” the Harijan Nov. 26th 1938).  Incidentally, South Africa was where he developed his methodologies on non-violence.

Although he states that he will be talking about the “Jewish Question” in relation to Palestine and Germany, he knows very little about European Jewry and Palestine itself.  He states in the same commentary as mentioned above:  “I should love to go… [to]…the Holy Land…”  Much of what he does know about contemporary European Jewry and Palestine comes from Central European (German) and Zionist itself propaganda.

The whole question of a one-State resolution of the Israeli issue, which I do not personally hold, came in a conversation I had with Richard Falk, the United Nations’ Human Rights Rapporteur to (Israel’s) Occupied territories (Palestine) [Muslim Observer, March 19, 2009].  The Legal Doctor stated “The two-State solution is being undermined…because of the expansion of the Settlements and house demolitions…” Although some Palestinian intellectuals themselves are beginning to come to this position, too, such as Ali Abunimah who founded and maintains the Electronic Infitada (see his One Country).  A one State solution would not work well in my opinion because the Israeli right would repress it due to the fact that Israel would cease to be a Jewish State.  Within Israel itself, it has support within their Left, though.

Curiously, Falk had not read Gandhi’s central essay which we shall look at, and he made a note to do so.  In other collections of what M.K. Gandhi said and in Zionist replies to the piece the subject is often called the “Jewish Problem.”  Most scholars who discuss it today note this is not how we speak of it today.  No way is Judaism a “problem,” but a perversion of it, Zionism, is.  Most politicized aspects of all religions do have a “perverted” wing, also.  Politics and religions make devious bedfellows.

First I shall go through an exegesis of his text “The Jews in Palestine.”  He refers to it as the “Arab-Jewish” question – not the Palestinian issue.  Moreover, in accord with my statement above, when Gandhi applies the words “Jew” or “Jewish,” etc., please mentally replace it with ”Zionist” or “Zionism” to avoid the sectarianism of the time.  The founding and maintaining of the State of Israel was a Zionist project that involved only a small part of the Jewish people.  Furthermore, the function of Christian Zionism cannot be ignored although it is not relevant to this paper; and, thus shall be ignored in this paper.

Mohandas Gandhi, ever the adroit politician, states, “My sympathies are…with the Jews,” Then, he switches his position “…my sympathy does not blind me to the requirements of justice.”  He points out the “mythical” basis for the demand for homeland for the Jews in Palestine within the text of the Bible itself.  Clearly, he states his opposition to a Jewish State with these famous words, “Palestine belongs to the Arab…[as]…England belongs to the English or France to the French.  It is wrong and inhuman to…impose the Jews on the Arabs.”  Further, the Mahatma, as in his struggle in India, appeals to his readers’ ethical sensibility:  “What is going on…cannot  be justified by any code of conduct.”  It is quite apparent here that Gandhi’s perceptions are still relevant in this century.
More importantly, “It would be a crime against humanity to reduce the…Arabs…that Palestine can be restored to the Jews…”  This is a pretty strong attack upon the Zionists of the time since the principle of “crimes against humanity” had not been established in International Law.  Strangely, Gandhi had accused Zionists of collaboration with the Nazis as Lenni Brunner’s book (Zionism in the Age of Dictators), written in our generation, does.  Gandhi states in the essay under discussion, “…a cry for a national home affords a…justification for the German expulsion of the Jews…” to which, curiously, the archives of the Third Reich, that Brenner utilizes in his book, attest. 

M.K. Gandhi goes on to damn the National Socialist regime in Berlin.  He asks “Is England drifting towards armed dictatorship….?”  Here he is  equating his struggle in British India and the conflict in West Asia.  He makes assumptions that often are inaccurate because he cannot get away from his Indian environment.  He applies the Jewish concept of God with his Hindu perception of the Divine:  “…Jehovah of the Jews is a God more personal than the God of the Christians, Mussalmans [another word not used much anymore because it is in bad taste] or the Hindus.”  Gandhi’s theology is quite mistaken here.  Muslims and Christians look to a most personal God, too.  All three religious systems deriving from the Numen of Abraham share this principle.  Therefore, for Mohandas Gandhi “…the Jews ought not feel helpless.”  Further, “The same God rules the Jewish heart…[that]…rules the  Arab heart.” 

M.K. Gandhi felt that the Jews (Zionists] were going about it the wrong way.  He does not say that they cannot emigrate there, but they have to do so under Palestinian law. “The Palestine of the Biblical conception is not a geographical tract.”  This is, also, true for non-indigenous Muslims and Christians — except for their sacred places.  Thus, it is mere a locality “…in their hearts.”

“…it is wrong [for the Zionists] to enter it under the shadow of the British bayonet…”  Here Gandhi is speaking in terms of the Indian reality again, and, I believe, does not fully understand the crisis in the Levant of his period in history!

“ They can settle in Palestine …by the goodwill of the Arabs.”  That is under their law and permission, and it follows that they can only buy the land that the Arabs may alienate – not grabbing it violently from the Palestinians as they have proceeded to do!  He advises them to “…seek to convert the Arab heart.”  Further, he emphasizes the commonality between the two peoples, “…there are hundreds of ways of reasoning with the Arabs, if they [the Zionists] discard…the…British bayonet.”  (Again he is in looking at Palestine from the perspective of India once more, and considers the two resistances as one against the same Imperialism,) but the Mahatma accuses the Zionists that “…they are co-sharers with the British in despoiling…people who have done [them] no wrong…”  For the Mahatma his interest and attraction for Palestine is that they are both English “possessions,” which is only partly accurate.  For him what pushes this view askew is the Zionist factors that are actively plotting to steal the land when the Colonialist leaves.  Fortunately, this was not true in South Asia where the dominant demand was just as disrupting – a homeland for the Muslims.  Gandhi seems to have envisioned Palestine as a Muslim majority Mandate, which in actuality it was not so.  Although the United Kingdom invented the census for British India, they never had a chance to apply it to their Middle Eastern jurisdictions.  The best estimates are that before 1948, 45% of the population were native Christians; next the Muslims; then Palestinian Jews. 

It was a multi-sectarian State or Province that worked!  There was little tension between the three groups.  The establishment of the State of Israel lowered the Christian population to 7%; the Muslims now dominate the Occupied Territories, and the Arab Jews there were forced into Israel proper where they are treated rather shabbily for being “Oriental.”  Historically, the Jews were treated better in Islamic dominated areas than in Europe.  The Christian less so probably because of the mistrust generated from the Crusades.  After the establishment of Israel, unfortunately, Jews in other Islamic lands became highly resented.  Israel itself, also was perceived as a European neo-colony in the midst of Arab territory, and a threat to all of Islam.

Although Gandhi did not approve of the ferocity of the Arab defiance, for he wishes they had chosen non-violence, under the circumstances, “…nothing can be said against the Arab resistance…”

M.K. Gandhi concludes his important essay by urging the Jews to employ non-violence in Germany since it had been effective in India, but, realistically, would not in Germany.  Unfortunately, Zionism itself was entwined within the fascist goals by destabilizing the British Empire in the Middle East.  In his last paragraph Gandhi says “[The Jews] can command…[the] respect of the world by being [truly] the chosen creation of God instead of the brute beast…forsaken of God.”

Shortly before the end of his life, when it was likely that a State of Israel would be formed, a Doon Campbell of Reuters (the news gathering agency) asked our subject, “What is the solution of the Palestine problem?  Gandhi replied, It “… seems almost insoluble.  If I were a Jew, I would tell them:  Do not…resort to terrorism [in which the Zionists were engaged at the time].  The Jews should meet the Arabs, make friends with them, and not depend on British [non-players now]…or American aid.” (A.K. Ramakrishnan, The Wisdom).  How much different would the world be if we followed Mohandas Gandhi’s words, and that includes the Islamic world in the Middle East! 

M.K. Gandhi, a South Asian thinker has had a tremendous influence worldwide during the last century into this century.  Although his solutions were or seemed impractical, many of them can be re-examined now to see if we can extract anything practical for our times.  Though he had never been to West Asia, if his suggestions had been factored into the equation, the crisis that presently threatens a World War, which, most assuredly, would bring in the West, would never have unfolded in such a dangerous manner.  Still, what he replied to Doon Campbell’s question is even now applicable.  Washington should step aside from acerbating the conflict, and let the two parties negotiate amongst themselves.  At this point both sides should follow non-violence to allow the talks to proceed, and the West can enforce non-violence only if it has to do so.  M.K. Gandhi even at this time has much to say to our world.

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US Media and Israel Military, All in the Family

March 4, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

By Alison Weir, Sabbah Report

[Alison Weir is executive director of If Americans Knew, which provides information and media analysis on Israel-Palestine]

israel-bias-boot-595x545 Recent exposés revealing that Ethan Bronner, the New York Times Israel-Palestine bureau chief, has a son in the Israeli military have caused a storm of controversy that continues to swirl and generate further revelations.

Many people find such a sign of family partisanship in an editor covering a foreign conflict troubling especially given the Times’ record of Israel-centric journalism.
Times management at first refused to confirm Bronner’s situation, then refused to comment on it. Finally, public outcry forced Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt to confront the problem in a February 7th column.

After bending over backwards to praise the institution that employs him, Hoyt ultimately opined that Bronner should be re-assigned to a different sphere of reporting to avoid the “appearance” of bias. Times Editor Bill Keller declined to do so, however, instead writing a column calling Bronner’s connections to Israel valuable because they “supply a measure of sophistication about Israel and its adversaries that someone with no connections would lack.”

If such “sophistication” is valuable, the Times’ espoused commitment to the “impartiality and neutrality of the company’s newsrooms” would seem to require it to have a balancing editor equally sophisticated about Palestine and its adversary, but Keller did not address that.

Bronner is far from alone

As it turns out, Bronner’s ties to the Israeli military are not the rarity one might expect.

A previous Times bureau chief, Joel Greenberg, before he was bureau chief but after he was already publishing in the Times from Israel, actually served in the Israeli army.

Media pundit and Atlantic staffer Jeffrey Goldberg also served in the Israeli military; it’s unclear when, how, or even if his military service ended.

Richard Chesnoff, who has been covering Mideast events for more than 40 years, had a son serving in the Israeli military while Chesnoff covered Israel as US News & World Report’s senior foreign correspondent.

NPR’s Linda Gradstein’s husband was an Israeli sniper and may still be in the Israeli reserves. NPR refuses to disclose whether Gradstein herself is also an Israeli citizen, as are her children and husband.

Mitch Weinstock, national editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune, served in the Israeli military.

The New York Times’ other correspondent from the region, Isabel Kershner, is an Israeli citizen. Israel has universal compulsory military service, which suggests that Kershner herself and/or family members may have military connections. The Times refuses to answer questions about whether she and/or family members have served or are currently serving in the Israeli military. Is it possible that Times Foreign Editor Susan Chira herself has such connections? The Times refuses to answer.

Many Associated Press writers and editors are Israeli citizens or have Israeli families. AP will not reveal how many of the journalists in its control bureau for the region currently serve in the Israeli military, how many have served in the past, and how many have family members with this connection.

Similarly, many TV correspondents such as Martin Fletcher have been Israeli citizens and/or have Israeli families. Do they have family connections to the Israeli military?

Time Magazine’s bureau chief several years ago became an Israeli citizen after he had assumed his post. Does he have relatives in the military?

CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, while not an Israeli citizen, was based in Israel for many years, wrote a book whitewashing Israeli spying on the US, and used to work for the Israel lobby in the US. None of this is divulged to CNN viewers.

Tikkun’s editor Michael Lerner has a son who served in the Israeli military. While Lerner has been a strong critic of many Israeli policies, in an interview with Jewish Week, Lerner explains:

“Having a son in the Israeli army was a manifestation of my love for Israel, and I assume that having a son in the Israeli army is a manifestation of Bronner’s love of Israel.”

Lerner goes on to make a fundamental point:

For a great many of the reporters and editors determining what Americans learn about Israel-Palestine, Israel is family.

Jonathan Cook, a British journalist based in Nazareth, writes of a recent meeting with a Jerusalem based bureau chief, who explained: “ Bronner’s situation is ‘the rule, not the exception. I can think of a dozen foreign bureau chiefs, responsible for covering both Israel and the Palestinians, who have served in the Israeli army, and another dozen who like Bronner have kids in the Israeli army.”

Cook writes that the bureau chief explained: “It is common to hear Western reporters boasting to one another about their Zionist credentials, their service in the Israeli army or the loyal service of their children.”

Apparently, intimate ties to Israel are among the many open secrets in the region that are hidden from the American public. If, as the news media insist, these ties present no problem or even, as the Times’ Keller insists, enhance the journalists’ work, why do the news agencies consistently refuse to admit them?
The reason for media obfuscation

The answer is not complicated.

While Israel may be family for these journalists and editors, for the vast majority of Americans, Israel is a foreign country. In survey after survey, Americans say they don’t wish to “take sides” on this conflict. In other words, the American public wants full, unfiltered, unslanted coverage.

Quite likely the news media refuse to answer questions about their journalists’ affiliations because they suspect, accurately, that the public would be displeased to learn that the reporters and editors charged with supplying news on a foreign nation and conflict are, in fact, partisans.

While Keller claims that the New York Times is covering this conflict “even-handedly,” studies indicate otherwise:

The Times covers international reports documenting Israeli human rights abuses at a rate 19 times lower than it reports on the far smaller number of international reports documenting Palestinian human rights abuses.

The Times covers Israeli children’s deaths at rates seven times greater than they cover Palestinian children’s deaths, even though there are vastly more of the latter and they occurred first.

The Times fails to inform its readers that Israel’s Jewish-only colonies on confiscated Palestinian Christian and Muslim land are illegal; that its collective punishment of 1.5 million men, women, and children in Gaza is not only cruel and ruthless, it is also illegal; and that its use of American weaponry is routinely in violation of American laws.

The Times covers the one Israeli (a soldier) held by Palestinians at a rate incalculably higher than it reports on the Palestinian men, women, and children the vast majority civilians imprisoned by Israel (currently over 7,000).

The Times neglects to report that hundreds of Israel’s captives have never even been charged with a crime and that those who have were tried in Israeli military courts under an array of bizarre military statutes that make even the planting of onions without a permit a criminal offense a legal system, if one can call it that, that changes at the whim of the current military governor ruling over a subject population; a system in which parents are without power to protect their children.

The Times fails to inform its readers that 40 percent of Palestinian males have been imprisoned by Israel, a statistic that normally would be considered highly newsworthy, but that Bronner, Kershner, and Chira apparently feel is unimportant to report.
Americans, whose elected representatives give Israel uniquely gargantuan sums of our tax money (a situation also not covered by the media), want and need all the facts, not just those that Israel’s family members decree reportable.
We’re not getting them.

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