Monday, August 29, 2011

Last of the Delta Bluesmen, Dave Honeyboy Edwards dies at 96

Chicago blues great ‘Honeyboy’ Edwards dies at 96

Fourteen years ago I interviewed Honeyboy for my book on blues mandolinist Yank Rachell (Blues Mandolin Man, University Press of Mississippi, 2001). He was a mere churl, only 82, a sweet, thoughtful man; a great part of blues history and the real, hard, true life.-- Rick Congress

BY DAVE HOEKSTRA Staff Reporter/ August 29, 2011 4:24PM

Updated: August 29, 2011 8:53PM

The aura of a shaman surrounded any given appearance by blues legend David “Honeyboy” Edwards.

He often favored creased, pinstriped suits because he fit so well into dignity. He had soft and easy cheekbones that were curtains to an enduring soul.

Mr. Edwards died of congestive heart failure early Monday morning in his South Shore apartment. He was 96 years old.

He was the last of the Delta bluesmen.

Mr. Edwards was in the house when the iconic Robert Johnson took his last drink of poisoned whiskey. He witnessed the Mississippi River flood of 1927. In 1953, he moved to Chicago after recording “Drop Down Mama” for Chess Records. He won Grammys and had a cameo in the 2007 spoof movie “Walk Hard.”

But few events may have stirred Mr. Edwards’ soul as much as his January 2009 appearance at the Hideout-sponsored party on the eve of President Barack Obama’s inaguration at the Black Cat Nightclub in Washington. “Playing the D.C. show was a very special thing for him,” said Michael Frank, Mr. Edwards’ longtime manager and harmonica player.

Mr. Edwards was the crowd-pleaser among heavies including Andrew Bird, the experimental band Tortoise and members of the Mekons. A sold-out audience of more than 800 people saw Mr. Edwards deliver a haunting version of “Sweet Home Chicago” and Robert Lockwood’s “Little Boy Blue.”

Mr. Edwards piercing eyes were as wide as the Potomac River.

“I never thought I’d live to see the day a black man get elected president,” Mr. Edwards said after his set as fans lined up for his autograph and Icy Demons played a mix of Brian Eno-influenced pop and hip-hop. Mr. Edwards traveled the world. He could adapt to every setting.

The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards was a fan. In May 2004 he dropped in unannounced at the now-defunct Boxcar blues club near his home in Southport, Conn., to sit in with Mr. Edwards.

To have watched Mr. Edwards play was to have participated in history.

Mr. Edwards was born in Shaw, Miss. His father, a guitarist and violinist in country jukes throughout Mississippi, bought Mr. Edwards a Sears guitar for $4 from a plantation worker. At the age of 14 Mr. Edwards left home to hobo with bluesman Big Joe Williams. Mr. Edwards’ distinctive style of uneven phrasing and skewed timing was a response to woodshedding with Williams’ clanky nine-string guitar.

“When I started playing with Big Joe, he had bad timing,” Mr. Edwards told me in a 1988 interview at Wise Fools Pub. “He played a lot of chords, but there was so much break time in the middle of them since he played by himself so much.”

After roaming the mid-South with Williams, Mr. Edwards debuted in 1935 on the legendary Beale Street in Memphis. He became homesick and returned to Greenwood, Miss., where he began playing with harmonica player Big Walter Horton.

This was the template that Frank used in 1972 when he met the guitarist, who was sharing a bill with Jim Brewer at Biddy Mulligan’s in Rogers Park.

“Blues musicians from his generation were in one sense revolutionaries,” said Frank, who also managed Brewer before his death in 1989. “Honeyboy was very much underrecognized as a guitar player. He was deliberate in some performance techniques because he knew they engaged the audience. He enjoyed playing so much that when he did tricks, he did them for himself as well as the other musicians on stage. He loved to screw around with the very last notes of a song. He’d hold these chords and notes, look at the other guys on stage and laugh, almost to say, ‘You can’t do this, watch me.’ He never doubted himself. He liked to hear a good player but he didn’t have heroes as musicians.”

Mr. Edwards cultivated a new audience around 1997, when he began woodshedding with blues band Devil and the Woodpile at the Hidedout music club, a non-blues room. Club owners Tim and Katie Tuten were fans, and a photo of Mr. Edwards and Devil and the Woodpile hangs in the front of the bar.

“People sat on the floor around the bar,” recalled former Woodpile frontman Rick Sherry. “[Blues harmonica great] Sugar Blue showed up the first night and sat in with us. Honeyboy was particular about playing in the city because he didn’t get enough money. He loved the fact the young crowd appreciated him.”

Sherry’s current band, the Sanctified Grumblers, was to play with Mr. Edwards at this year’s Chicago Blues Festival, but Mr. Edwards cancelled because of illness.

“When you played with Honeyboy you were in the millisecond of the moment,” said Sherry, who plays harmonica, washboard, clarinets and sings. “You never knew where he went. Every song was 12 bars. It was never 12 bars. He’d hold that note, look in the audience and kick his leg. Playing with him was this amazing Zen thing I’m going to miss.”

“You were living right there, and that’s where the energy built.”Over the years there has been a mythical debate as to who wrote “Sweet Home Chicago,” Robert Johnson or Mr. Edwards. (But the wordplay and rhythm is derivative of Scrapper Blackwell’s “Kokomo Blues,” which preceded even Mr. Edwards and Johnson).

Mr. Edwards’ life was well documented. In 1997 he penned his autobiography, The World Don’t Owe Me Nothing: The Life and Times of Delta Bluesman Honeyboy Edwards (Chicago Review Press), and in 2002 he was subject of the Scott Taradash documentary “Honeyboy.” Mr. Edwards also was featured in Martin Scorsese’s PBS series “The Blues.”

Mr. Edwards won a 2008 Grammy for best traditional blues album for “Last of the Great Misssissippi Bluesmen: Live in Dallas” and last year was honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achivement Award.

On the day of his death, Mr. Edwards was slated to perform at the noontime concert series at Millennium Park. He last performed April 17 at the Juke Joint Festival in Clarksdale, Miss.

“He’d always put on a great show, even though sometimes at the beginning of the night he said he didn’t feel like it,” Frank said. “But the music came to him.

“And then he got inspired by that commitment he made.”

Visitation will be from 2 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the McCullough Funeral Home, 851 E. 75th St. There will be an open mike between 7 and 9 p.m. for remembrances from friends and fans. A friends-and-fans gathering will begin at 8 p.m. at Lee’s Unleaded Blues, 7401 S. Chicago Ave.

Services will be private on Friday. In lieu of flowers, it is requested that donations be made to the National Blues Museum.

J14: The Exclusive Revolution

Aug 27 2011 by Joseph Dana and Max Blumenthal

The men and women who set out to build a Jewish state in historic Palestine made little secret of their settler-colonial designs. Zionism’s intellectual author, Theodor Herzl, described the country he envisioned as “part of a wall of defense for Europe in Asia, an outpost of civilization against barbarism.” “All the means we need, we ourselves must create them, like Robinson Crusoe on his island,” Herzl told an interviewer in 1898. The Labor Zionist movement’s chief ideologue, Berl Katznelson, was more blunt than Herzl, declaring in 1928, “The Zionist enterprise is an enterprise of conquest.” More recently, and perhaps most crudely, former Prime Minister and current Defense Minister Ehud Barak described the goal of Zionism as maintaining “a villa in the jungle.”
Those who dedicated themselves to the formation of the Jewish State may have formulated their national identity through an idealized vision of European enlightenedness, but they also recognized that their lofty aims would not be realized without brute force. As Katznelson said, “It is not by chance that I speak of settlement in military terms.” Thus the Zionist socialists gradually embraced the ideas of radical right-wing ideologue Vladimir Jabotinsky, who outlined a practical strategy in his 1922 essay, “The Iron Wall,” for fulfilling their utopian ambitions. “Zionist colonization, even the most restricted, must either be terminated or carried out in defiance of the will of the native population,” Jabotinsky wrote. “This colonization can, therefore, continue and develop only under the protection of a force independent of the local population — an iron wall which the native population cannot break through. This is, in toto, our policy towards the Arabs.” According to Jabotinsky, residents of the Zionist yishuv (community) could not hope to enjoy a European standard of life in the heart of the Arab world without physically separating themselves from the natives. This would require tireless planning, immense sacrifice and no shortage of bloodshed. And all who comprised the Zionist movement, whether left, right, or center, would carry the plan towards fulfillment. As Jabotinsky wrote, “All of us, without exception, are constantly demanding that this power strictly fulfill its obligations. In this sense, there are no meaningful differences between our ‘militarists’ and our ‘vegetarians.’”
One of the greatest misperceptions of Israeli politics is that the right-wing politicians who claim Jabotinsky’s writings as their lodestar perpetuate the most egregious violence against the Palestinians. While brimming with anti-Arab resentment, the Israeli right’s real legacy consists mostly of producing durable strategies and demagogic rhetoric. The Labor Zionists who dominated Israel’s political scene for decades bear the real responsibility for turning the right’s ideas into actionable policies. The dynamic is best illuminated by the way in which successive Labor Party governments implemented the precepts outlined in Jabotinsky’s “Iron Wall” under the cover of negotiations with the Palestinians. As early as 1988, the Laborites Yitzhak Rabin and Haim Ramon were advocating for the construction of a concrete wall to separate the Palestinians from “Israel proper.” When Rabin declared his intention to negotiate a two-state solution with the PLO, his supporters adopted a slogan that had previously belonged to the right-wing Moledet Party: “Them over there; us over here.” Then, when Rabin placed his signature on the Oslo Accords in 1993, Israel began surrounding the Gaza Strip with electrified fencing while revoking Palestinian work permits by the thousands.
The violence of the Second Intifada accelerated the process of total separation. Suicide bombing confirmed to average Israelis the Orientalist stereotype of the Arab native as inherently violent, incurable and culturally retrograde. By extension, the wave of terrorism ratified Jabotinsky’s thesis. “Something like a cage has to be built for [the Palestinians],” Israeli revisionist historian Benny Morris declared in a 2002 interview. “There is a wild animal that has to be locked up in one way or another.” As Israeli forces set about in tanks and combat jets to crush the Intifada, 709 kilometers of steel and concrete were erected around Jewish demographic enclaves, detaching Israel from the occupied population to its West while gobbling up over 180 thousand dunams of Palestinian land. Meanwhile, thousands of Jewish settlers were evacuated from the Gaza Strip, enabling the transformation of the coastal ghetto into an enormous holding cell that would be monitored, controlled and economically exploited from the outside by Israel. In short order, occupied Palestinians disappeared from Israeli life. If Israelis interacted with them, they did so with rifles in their hands, or at checkpoints from behind bulletproof glass.
By 2011, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was heralding what he called “The Big Quiet.” Palestinian resistance flared up occasionally, but it was effortlessly suppressed. Inside the Green Line, terror against Jewish Israeli civilians was almost non-existent. What a Haaretz columnist described during the height of the Second Intifada as the “war over the morning coffee and croissant, over the evening beer” appeared to have been won. Cafe-goers in Tel Aviv finally enjoyed the fruits of a one-way peace guaranteed by the strategy of separation, domination and control. The status quo was now the ideal.
In the course of crushing Palestinian resistance, Israel’s leaders exploited the nation’s siege mentality to ram through a program of economic liberalization that ravaged the country’s middle class. In 1986, the Labor Party’s elder statesman Shimon Peres had initiated the economic reforms as a precursor to the Oslo Accords. But under Netanyahu’s watch, the economic trend’s most extreme manifestations exploded to the surface. An American-educated libertarian who could easily campaign on a Tea Party ticket, Netanyahu distilled his essence through the exploitation of all under Israeli rule, Jews included. Indeed, Netanyahu depended more on the beneficence of avaricious oligarchs like the diamond tycoon Lev Leviev, the late shipping baron Sammy Ofer, and the American casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson than the respect of any military chieftain. While authorizing new homes in the occupied West Bank by the thousands, Netanyahu slashed housing subsidies for working class residents of Israel proper. The American Israel lobbyist and former Pentagon spokesman Dan Senor had celebrated Israel’s new economy in his bestselling book “Start-Up Nation,” but behind the scenes, and far from the gaze of the international media, the Israeli middle class was seething with resentment. Soon, Netanyahu would feel their wrath.
In July 2011, radical left-wing activists in Israel organized a Facebook event titled, “The Week of Rage” as a spontaneous demonstration against the skyrocketing price of rent and basic consumer goods. Also prominent in the activists’ list of grievances were anti-democratic proposals of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, that were designed to stifle dissent against the occupation and Israel’s repression of its own Palestinian citizens. The protests were characteristically theatrical, with demonstrators attacking the Likud Party headquarters with cottage cheese, a staple commodity that had become unaffordable for most. Enthusiastic as they were, the demonstrations were sparsely attended.
On July 14, another spontaneous protest developed in Tel Aviv. About a dozen young residents with scant experience in direct action protest pitched tents on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard. Months before, protesters in Greece had pitched their own tents in Syntagma Square directly in front of the Greek parliament to challenge their government with a display of people power. The location selected by the Israeli demonstrators was no less significant. Instead of setting up camp in front of the Finance Ministry or the Knesset, they chose a wide, grass-lined strip that mimicked Viennese strolling grounds. On one end of Rothschild Boulevard was the Dizengoff House where David Ben Gurion publicly declared the establishment of the “Jewish and democratic” state. On the other end was the recently refurbished Ha’Bima Theater, the symbol of the Zionist resuscitation of the Hebrew language.
As the protesters erected the first tents, we interviewed Stav Shaffir, a media professional in her late-20s. “We are a young group of Israelis and we feel we’re unable to live in Tel Aviv because the prices of housing are going up,” Shaffir told us. “We’re fed up with having to always move between places and look for the cheapest housing solutions. It’s now time to say enough so we’ve come out to the streets with our tents and we’ve also started in Jerusalem.”
We asked Shaffir if the protest movement was connected in any way to the law passed five days before in the Knesset that criminalized speaking in favor of a boycott of settlement-produced goods, or to the constant stream of anti-democratic laws. “There are many things that are connected but here we protest against the housing costs,” she insisted. “We are not a group. Everyone has their discretion to choose what is the most important issue.”
What began as a small gathering of Tel Avivians built unexpected, immediate momentum. Shaffir and her friends struck a chord among the country’s frustrated middle class. Three weeks after the first tents appeared, 300,000 demonstrators filled the streets of Tel Aviv in one of the largest protests in Israel’s history. Chanting in unison, “The people/nation demand social justice!” Israelis of nearly all political backgrounds joined together as the voice of a disgruntled but suddenly hopeful people.
The protesters presented a smorgasbord of Israeli grievances, including more rights for the physically disabled, better care for the elderly, and the release of Gilad Shalit, a soldier held captive by Hamas since 2006. But everything seemed to center around the kitchen table demands originally outlined by Shaffir and her cadre. Polls taken a week after the protests exploded showed nearly 90 percent of Israelis approved of the demonstrations’ demands.
The crisis no one was willing to mention, however, was the 44-year-long Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Demonstrators we interviewed from across the political spectrum deflected questions about the occupation — at times in an aggressive, resentful manner — by calling it a divisive “political” issue.
“I think the general public sees occupation as a security issue, a left-right issue that is not related to our cause for social justice,” Hadas Kouchalevich, a leader of the Israel Students’ Union, told us. Kouchalevich’s organization has shepherded thousands of university students to the demonstrations, including students from Ariel University who study in a West Bank mega-settlement. When asked if she personally believed the July 14 movement could connect social justice to the issue of occupation, she replied, “No. Occupation is a security issue, not a social justice issue.”
The decision to exclude the occupation from the grievances of the July 14 movement was entirely organic. No hired gun consultant advised movement activists to avoid the hot button issue in order to broaden the appeal of the demonstrations. The mainstream of the Jewish public decided on its own, and without much internal reflection, that social justice could exist alongside a system of ethnic exclusivism. Thus, while the July 14 movement proceeded through cities across Israel bellowing out cries for dignity and rights, Palestinians remained safely tucked away behind an elaborate matrix of control — the Iron Wall. Ten years of separation had not only rendered the Palestinians invisible in a physical sense. It had erased them from the Israeli conscience.
“It’s very strange to see a social justice protest without mentioning occupation,” Gidi Grinstein, a confidant of Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who heads the Reut Institute, a government-linked Israeli think tank remarked. “But most people in Israel don’t even believe there is an occupation anymore. They see the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, and think there is a functioning government. They hear about the Palestinian statehood resolution at the UN in September, and they think Palestine is a real state. So there is this cognitive dissonance among Israelis.”
For years Israel’s tiny but intensely motivated left-wing tried to mobilize mass protests against the occupation, hoping they could shake Israeli society out of its slumber. But the settlements grew, and the occupation became more and more entrenched. Suddenly, with hundreds of thousands of their compatriots in the streets demonstrating against the most right-wing government in their country’s history, some leftists began conjuring visions of a revolution.
“We have failed to end the occupation by confronting it head on but the boundary-breaking, de-segregating movement could, conceivably, undermine it,” wrote Dimi Reider. Reider claimed the demonstrations could achieve dramatic change because they “may challenge something even deeper than the occupation.” Hagai Mattar, a veteran anti-occupation activist and widely read journalist, echoed Reider’s unbridled enthusiasm. “For the first time in decades, perhaps, we are witnessing the impossible becoming possible,” Mattar wrote on the popular Hebrew website MySay. “What appeared to be a mere fantasy half a year ago… has become a vivid reality.”
Many members of the Israeli left have suffered for their activism. Some have been injured by Israeli soldiers during protests in the West Bank, where they routinely dodge rubber bullets and high-velocity teargas projectiles. Others have served months in prison for refusing to serve in the Israeli Army. With a suite of anti-democratic laws passed by the Knesset, they fear a coming crackdown. But perhaps the greatest source of suffering for Israeli leftists is having been cast out of one of the most tribalistic societies in the world. Many are turned down for housing and employment on the grounds that they refused military  service. The very word “leftist,” or smolini, has become an insult in the Hebrew language. Hoping to replace the communal bond their society had denied them, the radical leftists who have not escaped to the squats of Berlin or Barcelona formed a tribe within the tribe.
As the July 14 protests gathered momentum and manpower, members of the radical left bolstered the movement with their tactical experience and fearlessness in the face of police intimidation. On July 23, when hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Tel Aviv, Israeli police forces arrested 43 demonstrators. Most of them were leftists who attempted to block a major intersection. The most prominent among them was Matar. Normally, the arrests of left-wingers at anti-occupation protests go unreported. In this instance, however, the arrests were broadcast to a national audience during the prime time news. After being released from their jail cells, the demonstrators were greeted by their fellow Israelis not as traitors but as heroic leaders.
“The radical left is no longer an outsider, but forms an important part of the mainstream,” Matar wrote recently in an article celebrating the protests. If this new movement welcomed leftists, and upheld them as its vanguard, how could it not be revolutionary?
Born out of indignation and mired for years in malaise, radical leftists like Matar believe they have found the influence they always sought among mainstream Israelis. However, there was little evidence that the July 14 movement’s rank and file had any interest in overthrowing the “system,” or that they would ever be willing to acknowledge, let alone engage, the occupation. If anything, the demonstrations reflected the young urban class’s yearning for early Zionist communalism, where everyone was guaranteed respect so long as they were part of the yishuv (community).
As Yehuda Nuriel, a columnist for the leading Israeli newspaper Yedioth Aharanot, wrote recently, “Here is the Zionism we almost lost. We found it in the tent.” Indeed, July 14 seems to represent a remarkable reincarnation of the Zionist spirit that gave birth to the state of Israel, not the revolution that will “challenge something deeper than the occupation,” as Reider wrote.
As during the glory days of early socialist Zionism, Palestinians are isolated and ignored. “It’s a classic secular, Jewish and urban protest,” Tamar Herman, a political scientist at the Israel Democracy Institute, told the Associated Press. “Arab participation would open the door to the divisive questions here.”
In mixed cities and in Palestinian communities inside the Green Line, a few Palestinian citizens of Israel are pitching their own tents. But on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard, the epicenter of the protest movement, there is only one tent representing Palestinian demands. It is “Tent 1948,” a small encampment dedicated to promoting Arab-Jewish solidarity and reminding the mass of demonstrators of the dispossession of Palestinians in 1948. Left-wing Israeli writers Noam Sheizaf and Mairav Zonszein claimed that Tent 1948 was “challenging the protest movement from the left, by reminding people of land issues that followed 1948.” Citing the presence of the Arab-Jewish tent and the inclusion of a single Arab speaker at the raucous July 23 rally in Tel Aviv (the speaker did not risk rankling his massive audience with any mentions of occupation), Reider opined that “the participation of Palestinian citizens of Israel in the protests has more bearing on the conflict than any concentrated attempt to rally the crowds against the occupation.”
Palestinian-Israelis join the July 14 protests at great personal risk. They fear that by joining the movement their own national identity will be co-opted to advance a struggle that will betray them in the end. Boudour Youssef Hassan, a 22-year-old law student at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, is among many young Palestinian citizens of Israel who looked upon the demonstrations with suspicion. “At first I thought it was a good thing that they were confronting the right-wing government,” she said of the Jewish demonstrators. “But the longer it goes on the more I think they are simply using us Palestinians while their real goal appears to be the revival of the Zionist left.”
Abir Kopty, a Palestinian rights activist from the northern Israeli city of Nazareth, is one the few Palestinians to have insinuated themselves into the main protest area on Rothschild. Kopty played a central role in the establishment of Tent 1948 and she is a major presence at Palestinian tent protests around the country. “I’ve been a part of Tent 1948 not because I wanted to be part of J14,” Kopty told us. “My role there is to challenge J14 and to tell them they can’t have social justice without addressing issues like occupation. So I refuse to be a part of J14. I’m only there to challenge and to assert my Palestinian identity.”
Despite her prominent role, Kopty agreed with Youssef Hassan that the movement was exploiting her presence to burnish its social justice image. “I’m aware that they’re using me but it doesn’t matter because in the world [the July 14 movement] won’t receive any real support unless they address the Palestinian issue and the occupation,” Kopty said. “Palestinians aren’t really a part of J14 anyway because they generally didn’t go to Rothschild to set up tents. Instead they are setting up tents in their own neighborhoods just to say, ‘Hello, we are here.’”
But could the July 14 protests initiate a process that will eventually lead to the unraveling of the occupation and discrimination against Palestinians, as many on the Israeli left have suggested? “The injustice will continue,” Kopty declared flatly. “And I don’t believe J14 will create changes that are socio-political. But our struggle is completely political. So when J14 finally explodes because the different internal groups have contradicting interests — and they can’t remain apolitical forever — our struggle will go on.”
As the July 14 movement grows, it is becoming more inclusive, but not of Palestinians. Instead, Jewish settlers of both the ideological and practical variety are now welcomed into the protest’s big tent.
Ariel is the linchpin of the major settlement blocs Israel refuses to relinquish in final status negotiations. Built on hundreds of hectares of land confiscated from private Palestinian landowners and surrounded by the Israeli separation wall, which creates a wedge between seven nearby Palestinian villages, Ariel sits directly on top of one of the largest aquifers in the region. According to the Israeli human rights group B’tselem, Ariel residents receive 7.9 times more government subsidies than those who live inside Israel proper. This August, the Israeli government approved the construction of 277 new housing units in Ariel, including 100 for settlers evacuated from the Gaza Strip in 2005.
Ariel has become a symbol of the cognitive dissonance of Israel’s occupation. While its borders stretch deep into the West Bank, consolidating Israel’s domination over Palestinian life, its interior resembles a grassy bedroom community in Southern California, lined with neat rows of mission-style subdivision homes. From Ariel’s new university to its state-of-the-art theater to the gleaming sports center built thanks to the generosity of American junk bond kingpin Michael Milken and Texas mega-church pastor John Hagee, the settlement contains all the trappings of a “normal” community. The majority of Israelis have bought into the image of Ariel as Israel’s own Temecula — a suburb, not a settlement.
On August 13, when protest leaders declared an “expansion into the periphery” of Israel, Ariel held its first ever social justice demonstration, with hundreds of disgruntled residents demanding lower housing prices. Two days before, the July 14 movement endorsed the protest in Ariel, advertising directions to the demonstration on its official Hebrew website.
"This is the test," the July 14 website proclaimed. "Are we together or are we not?" 
This article originally appeared on 

August 29, Happy Birthday Charlie Parker

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Marx to Capital: sooner or later you fail

Capitalism's New Era
Sunday 28 August 2011
by: Shamus Cooke, Truthout | News Analys

"Karl Marx got it right, at some point capitalism can destroy itself," said Mr. Roubini (one of the few economists who isn't an idiot--my note R.Congress), in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. "We thought markets worked. They're not working."

The world economy is in shambles and about to get worse, according to even mainstream economists. How bad is anybody's guess. Some things, however, are certain: the recovery that politicians have been promising for years existed only in their heads. The reality of the situation is now apparent to millions of people across the globe, who, before, clung to the empty promises of economic recovery. This newfound consciousness will inevitably find expression in the political realm and, more importantly, the streets.

A key aspect of this sudden mass awareness is in response to high unemployment and the deeply unpopular measures that politicians are forcing upon working people, both byproducts of the Great Recession. Politicians are blaming "the markets" for demanding austerity measures, but "markets" are simply places where wealthy people invest their money. To guarantee a profitable return on their money these investors demand that labor laws be squashed and social programs be eliminated, all over the world.

Spain, for example, is one of many countries having austerity measures forced down their throats. Reuters reports:

"Analysts see the shaking up of the country's inflexible labor laws [laws that protect workers] and the easing of hiring and firing [so older, activist, or slower workers can be fired] as vital to restoring the country's competitiveness. The labor reforms are crucial. They will help to restore growth [profits] in the long term. Growth is the only way out of these adverse fiscal trends,' said Luigi Speranza, analyst at BNP Paribas." [May 27, 2010]

To summarize, creating new laws that enable Spanish corporations to work their workers harder will be better for profits.

Greece faces a similar austerity plan, according to The Guardian UK:

"Tax increases, spending cuts and wage reductions and a sweeping privatisation programme have led to violent protests in Greece, with many arguing that the International Monetary Fund and European Union have demanded too high a price for their financial support." [August 2, 2011]

In the United States, these policies find expression in the attack against public-sector unions and the targeting of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid for cuts, while mass unemployment is allowed to act as a very efficient way to lower wages for all workers.

Politicians have made it clear that economic growth, especially corporate profits, will increase in response to these anti-worker policies. They are only partially right. Corporate profits in fact have been on the rise, but the austerity measures have been responsible for the depressed economies throughout Europe and the US. When workers' wages are lowered and social programs are decimated, working people and the poor are left with little money for any purchases other than the bare necessities. Without consumer demand for their products, corporations curtail operations even more. This global dynamic has been decades in the making, with the recession having finally forced the issue into the forefront.

The Reagan and Thatcher administrations were the first Western representatives during the post-World War II era of this now dominant trend, which aimed at pushing back the social programs and wages won by the labor movements. Their policies were in response to the lower corporate growth rates that began in the 1970s and continue to this day. Now, all of Europe is suffering because banks and corporations demand a more profit-friendly business environment: universal health care and education programs are in jeopardy, plus wages and other benefits are under attack.

For the wealthy and corporations this is a life-and-death struggle. The Great Recession has already bankrupted the banks and corporations who were not fit enough to survive under a crumbling market economy. The existing companies are thus forced to squeeze more work for less pay out of their workers, since labor is the most flexible cost of any business. Pushing labor costs down - and by extension cutting social programs - is thus the priority of the corporations and their paid-for politicians across the globe, since the global economy is tightly connected and they all play by the vicious rules of the market. In fact, the intensity with which the corporate elite is pursuing these policies is a reflection of their negative outlook for the global economy.

This constitutes a new era in global capitalism, one that mimics the market economy of past generations. The 2008 recession was not a temporary phenomenon, but the ushering in of a new period in which the corporate elite attempt to restructure social relations, meaning that past assumptions regarding wages and social programs must be destroyed, as a new, more profitable equilibrium is sought between the corporate elite and working people.

Implied in this nation-by-nation restructuring is a restriction of democracy, since these anti-worker policies negatively affect the vast majority of the population. The riots in London are an expression of this, as are the mass demonstrations throughout Europe as well as the Middle East. In the United States, democracy is circumvented via the so-called Super Congress, whose duty it is to cut Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Austerity programs throughout Europe are being implemented against the wishes of the general working populations.

Also included in this attack on working people is the corporate elite's doubled efforts to divert the working-class anger toward fake populist movements - like the Tea Party in the US - or against minorities, such as Muslims and immigrants in the US.

This will require that working people stay focused on who exactly is attacking them, while focusing on measures that can serve as alternatives to what the corporate elite are forcefully implementing.

The most immediate and important demand of working people must be taxing the rich and corporations, since social programs need to be funded and expanded and a massive jobs program with a strong green component is desperately overdue. It's not by coincidence that taxing the rich is rarely used in austerity plans; and when, on rare occasions, the rich are taxed, it's at low levels with high publicity, so the angry public will think the illusion of "shared sacrifice" is a reality.

For example, in the US, President Obama is again calling to end the Bush tax cuts for the rich (after allowing them to continue less than a year ago). It is doubtful that the Bush tax cuts will be ended, but if they were, it would be insufficient. Working people must demand that taxes on the rich be raised to at least pre-Reagan levels (70 percent), while President Eisenhower levels would be best (90 percent). Over the decades, the tax burden has shifted dramatically, causing wealth to accumulate into the bank accounts of the top 1 percent of the population, the same people who are now demanding that social programs be destroyed so that their investments are secured and their corporate profits remain high.

Since illusions of an economic recovery have now been shattered, it's up to working people to demand that their labor unions and community groups unite to tax the rich and corporations in order to finance a massive jobs program. Fortunately, the AFL-CIO is organizing actions for the first week of October to demand jobs and oppose cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Many within the labor movement are calling for massive demonstrations across the country for October 1. It will take these types of actions to unite working people to fight for a positive solution to the economic crisis.

Fast Times in Palestine


Book of the Month

Fast Times in Palestine

By Pamela Olson
Mason Hill Press, May 2011, 382 pages, $14.95

A rare piece of literature about Palestine that places its main emphasis on pleasure of reading. Its author, Pamela Olson, arrived in the country at age 22 and fell in love with its people, culture, and struggle.

This hymn to her adopted land is an engaging mix of travel diary, novel, and political journalism. We follow an enraptured Olson as she makes her way in Palestine; through cultural experiences, the development of her career in media, and most of all her relationships with Palestinian people.

In her words: “What makes Palestine (for foreign visitors) is the Palestinian people. Their warmth and strength and sense of humour and their total belonging to this land...Palestinians have this incredible capacity to make strangers feel like they belong. And once you feel you belong, it becomes your struggle, too. Like them, you are forced to struggle not only with the occupation but also with yourself. How can I be most effective without turning into what I hate?”

Her story contains numerous accounts of the everyday hardships inflicted by the Israeli occupation. Told in stark yet human terms, Olson makes them plainly accessible to the casual, uninformed foreign reader who remains to be persuaded.

The author has professed that her main intention was to raise awareness within this demographic. “My hope is that it will galvanise ordinary people to act, or at least continue to learn more,” she told us.

A powerful method to this end is rooting her narrative in human experience. She draws on a number of personal friendships that illustrate the charm and variety of Palestinian culture that so many abroad are unfamiliar with. Tales of gathering the olive harvest, New Year’s Eve in Jericho, and an ever-so-sweet romance succeed in removing the politics from the population, through engaging and well-nuanced characterisation that any reader can engage with.

As a personal story it carries shades of beat literature, with its laidback sense of morality and its tone of narration. The author is the central character but is positioned as the eager listener, the blank canvas; she is coloured in by the events and people.

Yet her affable and quintessentially liberal voice is the most receptive of prisms through which an American reader can see the injustice lost in media representations. There is an element of entrapment in the way Olson’s innocent, honeyed tones casually shatter accepted ideas about the conflict. Her observations are as radical and uncompromising as any of Israel’s harshest critics.

No wonder, then, that her book has been so well received in the United States. The worlds of media, academia, and activism have combined to shower Fast Times with praise, while Jewish and Palestinian organizations have joined the chorus.

Essential reading for the casually interested, valuable insight for devotees, and a damn good story for everyone else.

Expansionism by any other name?

Published 06:00 26.08.11
Latest update 06:00 26.08.11

Lebensraum as a justification for Israeli settlements
We were fortunate when we occupied the West Bank because had we not done so, where would we have come to live? And who knows how high housing prices would have risen?
By Yossi Sarid

Until now Israel had supported the occupation of the territories with two pillars: history and security - its right to inherit the land and its obligation to defend it. In recent weeks a third pillar was added, which all these years was hidden under straw and stubble. And maybe it's not a pillar but a snake, whose head must be crushed while it's still small.

According to the school of thought based on history and faith, the Land of Israel was received by the Jewish people from the hand of God, and we are commanded to take all of it by dint of the Covenant of the Pieces that God made with Abraham. That was a nice big gift, we have to admit, stretching from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates. It was granted on various festive occasions not only to Abraham but to his heirs as well. Eventually it was forced to shrink, and now there is really no reason to shrink it further out of choice.

The second, security-based school of thought stipulates that we need virtually all the territories for self-defense. Without them we'll never be able to live in security without feeling threatened. Therefore, if we are ever forced to leave certain parts of the country, even then we'll evacuate only in order to remain, relying forever on temporary "security arrangements," which even social-welfare-oriented MK Shelly Yachimovich will sign.

Sometimes one school of thought overlaps the other and the difference between them becomes blurred. It often happens that members of the security school - people who do not lead a religious way of life - put a knitted skullcap on and then prophesy in the same messianic style. And the opposite happens as well: Rabbis and students bring up reasons in the name of security so as not to rely on the promise alone.

And now, in the middle of the summer, when the social protest is putting the housing shortage at the top of the agenda for a moment, the third school of thought is developing and taking hold. The interior minister - in advance of a Black September of his own - approves the construction of 1,600 housing units for the ultra-Orthodox in Jerusalem's Ramat Shlomo neighborhood, another 624 units in Pisgat Ze'ev and another 930 in Har Homa Gimmel - all beyond the Green Line. Defense Minister Ehud Barak, for whom the election threshold is a sharp knife at his throat, approved 277 homes in the settlement of Ariel, may it be established in his day. And 42 MKs are calling on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to ease the housing shortage in the country via accelerated construction in the territories.

Suddenly we are short of space here in Israel, which has become full to capacity and needs lebensraum. Every cultured person knows that this is a despicable German concept, banned from use because of the associations it brings up. Still, people are starting to use it, if not outright then with a clear implication: We are short of land, we are short of air, let us breathe in this country.

When we embarked on the Six-Day War did we want to remove a threat or did we want to gain control in order to spread out? That's what happens after 44 years of mire and moral corruption, which distort things and make us forget the original objective and replace it with an entirely different one. We were fortunate when we occupied the West Bank because had we not done so, where would we have come to live? And who knows how high housing prices would have risen? The divine promise is now being revealed in all its ability to prophesy about real estate.

The founding fathers, as opposed to the Diadochi who fought for control after Alexander the Great's death, represented a different approach, for the most part. Between "A little goes a long way," and "Don't bite off more than you can chew," they chose to bite; they even agreed to the 1947 UN partition plan for lack of choice. They believed that all the objectives of rational Ben Gurion-style Zionism could be fulfilled even in "Lesser Israel," which is more complete and more at peace with itself. And it has no need for lebensraum, may God preserve us.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Domestic Strife? Start a War


August 19 - 21, 2011
Netanyahu and the Border Incident

The Return of the Generals


SINCE THE beginning of the conflict, the extremists of both sides have always played into each other’s hands. The cooperation between them was always much more effective than the ties between the corresponding peace activists.

“Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” asked the prophet Amos (3:3). Well, seems they can.

This was proved again this week.

* * *

AT THE beginning of the week, Binyamin Netanyahu was desperately looking for a way out of an escalating internal crisis. The social protest movement was gathering momentum and posing a growing danger to his government.

The struggle was going on, but the protest had already made a huge difference. The whole content of the public discourse had changed beyond recognition.

Social ideas were taking over, pushing aside the hackneyed talk about “security”. TV talk show panels, previously full of used generals, were now packed with social workers and professors of economics. One of the consequences was that women were also much more prominent.

And then it happened. A small extremist Islamist group in the Gaza Strip sent a detachment into the Egyptian Sinai desert, from where it easily crossed the undefended Israeli border and created havoc. Several fighters (or terrorists, depends who is talking) succeeded in killing eight Israeli soldiers and civilians, before some of them were killed. Another four of their comrades were killed on the Egyptian side of the border. The aim seems to have been to capture another Israeli soldier, to strengthen the case for a prisoner exchange on their terms.

In a jiffy, the economics professors vanished from the TV screens, and their place was taken by the old gang of exes – ex-generals, ex-secret-service chiefs, ex-policemen, all male, of course, accompanied by their entourage of obsequious military correspondents and far-right politicians.

With a sigh of relief, Netanyahu returned to his usual stance. Here he was, surrounded by generals, the he-man, the resolute fighter, the Defender of Israel.

* * *

IT WAS, for him and his government, an incredible stroke of luck.

It can be compared to what happened in 1982. Ariel Sharon, then Minister of Defense, had decided to attack the Palestinians and Syrians in Lebanon, He flew to Washington to obtain the necessary American agreement. Alexander Haig told him that the US could not agree, unless there was a “credible provocation”.

A few days later, the most extreme Palestinian group, led by Abu Nidal, Yasser Arafat’s mortal enemy, made an attempt on the life of the Israeli ambassador in London, paralyzing him irreversibly. That was certainly a “credible provocation”. Lebanon War I was on its way.

This week’s attack was also an answer to a prayer. Seems that God loves Netanyahu and the military establishment. The incident not only wiped the protest off the screen, it also put an end to any serious chance of taking billions off the huge military budget in order to strengthen the social services. On the contrary, the event proved that we need a sophisticated electronic fence along the 150 miles of our desert border with Sinai. More, not less, billions for the military.

* * *

BEFORE THIS miracle occurred, it looked as if the protest movement was unstoppable.

Whatever Netanyahu did was too little, too late, and just wrong.

In the first days, Netanyahu treated the whole thing as a childish prank, unworthy of the attention of responsible adults. When he realized that this movement was serious, he mumbled some vague proposals for lowering the price of apartments, but by then the protest had already moved far beyond the original demand for “affordable housing”. The slogan was now “The People Want Social Justice”

After the huge 250,000-strong demonstration in Tel Aviv, the protest leaders were facing a dilemma: how to proceed? Yet another mass protest in Tel Aviv might mean falling attendance. The solution was sheer genius: not another big demonstration in Tel Aviv, but smaller demonstrations all over the country. This disarmed the reproach that the protesters are spoiled Tel Aviv brats, “sushi eaters and water-pipe smokers” as one minister put it. It also brought the protest to the masses of disadvantaged Oriental Jewish inhabitants of the “periphery”, from Afula in the North to Beer Sheva in the South, most of them the traditional voters of Likud. It became a love-fest of fraternization.

So what does a run-of-the-mill politician do in such a situation? Well, of course, he appoints a committee. So Netanyahu told a respectable professor with a good reputation to set up a committee which would, in cooperation with nine ministers, no less, come up with a set of solutions. He even told him that he was ready to completely change his own convictions.

(He did already change one of his convictions when he announced in 2009 that he now advocates the Two-State Solution. But after that momentous about-face, absolutely nothing changed on the ground.)

The youngsters in the tents joked that “Bibi” could not change his opinions, because he has none. But that is a mistake – he does indeed have very definite opinions on both the national and the social levels: “the whole of Eretz Israel” on the one, and Reagan-Thatcher economic orthodoxy on the other.

The young tent leaders countered the appointment of the establishment committee with an unexpected move: they appointed a 60-strong advisory council of their own, composed of some of the most prominent university professors, including an Arab female professor and a moderate rabbi, and headed by a former deputy governor of the Bank of Israel.

The government committee has already made it clear that it will not deal with middle class problems but concentrate on those of the lowest socio-economic groups. Netanyahu has added that he will not automatically adopt their (future) recommendations, but weight them against the economic possibilities. In other words, he does not trust his own nominees to understand the economic facts of life.

* * *

AT THAT point, Netanyahu and his aides pinned their hopes on two dates: September and November 2011.

In November, the rainy season usually sets in. No drop of rain before that. But when it starts to rain cats and dogs, it was hoped in Netanyahu’s office, the spoiled Tel Aviv kids will run for shelter. End of the Rothschild tent city.

Well, I remember spending some miserable weeks in the winter of the 1948 war in worse tents, in the midst of a sea of mud and water. I don’t think that the rain will make the tent-dwellers give up their struggle, even if Netanyahu’s religious partners send the most fervent Jewish prayers for rain to the high heavens.

But before that, in September, just a few weeks away, the Palestinians – it was hoped - would start a crisis that will divert attention. This week they already submitted to the UN General Assembly a request to recognize the State of Palestine. The Assembly will most probably accede. Avigdor Lieberman has already enthusiastically assured us that the Palestinians are planning a “bloodbath” at that time. Young Israelis will have to exchange their tents in Tel Aviv for the tents in the West Bank army camps.

It’s a nice dream (for the Liebermans), but Palestinians had so far showed no inclination to violence.

All that changed this week.

* * *

FROM NOW on, Netanyahu and his colleagues can direct events as they wish.

They have already “liquidated” the chiefs of the group which carried out the attack, called “the Popular Resistance Committees”. This happened while the fire-fight along the border was still going on. The army had been forewarned and was ready. The fact that the attackers succeeded nevertheless in crossing the border and shooting at vehicles was ascribed to an operational failure.

What now? The group in Gaza will fire rockets in retaliation. Netanyahu can – if he so wishes – kill more Palestinian leaders, military and civilian. This can easily set off a vicious circle of retaliation and counter-retaliation, leading to a full-scale Molten Lead-style war. Thousands of rockets on Israel, thousands of bombs on the Gaza Strip. One ex-military fool already argued that the entire Gaza Strip will have to be re-occupied.

In other words, Netanyahu has his hand on the tap of violence, and he can raise or lower the flames at will.

His desire to put an end to the social protest movement may well play a role in his decisions.

* * *

THIS BRINGS us back to the big question of the protest movement: can one bring about real change, as distinct from forcing some grudging concessions from the government, without becoming a political force?

Can this movement succeed as long as there is a government which has the power to start - or deepen - a “security crisis” at any time?

And the related question: can one talk about social justice without talking about peace?

A few days ago, while strolling among the tents on Rothschild Boulevard, I was asked by an internal radio station to give an interview and address the tent-dwellers. I said: “You don’t want to talk about peace, because you want to avoid being branded as ‘leftists”. I respect that. But social justice and peace are two sides of the same coin, they cannot be separated. Not only because they are based on the same moral principles, but also because in practice they depend on each other.”

When I said that, I could not have imagined how clearly this would be demonstrated only two days later.

* * *

REAL CHANGE means replacing this government with a new and very different political set up.

Here and there people in the tents are already talking about a new party. But elections are two years away, and for the time being there is no sign of a real crack in the right-wing coalition that might bring the elections closer. Will the protest be able to keep up its momentum for two whole years?

Israeli governments have yielded in the past to mass demonstrations and public uprisings. The formidable Golda Meir resigned in the face of mass demonstrations blaming her for the omissions that led to the fiasco at the start of the Yom Kippur War. The government coalitions of both Netanyahu and Ehud Barak in the 1990s broke under the pressure of an indignant public opinion.

Can this happen now? In view of the military flare-up this week, it does not look likely. But stranger things have happened between heaven and earth, especially in Israel, the land of limited impossibilities.

Uri Avnery is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is a contributor to CounterPunch's book The Politics of Anti-Semitism.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Barghouti: The tent protests ‘[are] the epitome of hysterical denial of the colonial reality’

by Kiera Feldman on August 19, 2011

Kiera Feldman conducted the following interview with Omar Barghouti over email in early August:

Kiera Feldman: How will the boycott law affect you personally? Are you changing your actions or speech in any way?

Omar Barghouti: We are all determined to carry on what we have been doing for years now: BDS. Far from deterring us, this law will only strengthen our resolve to continue to expose Israel's occupation, ethnic cleansing and apartheid and to demand accountability for them in accordance with international law.

The Israeli establishment is increasingly, though unwittingly, helping our campaign to spread by revealing Israel's true face as a rogue state that denies Palestinians their basic rights and freedoms with complicity from Western governments and international corporations. This law is among the very last veneers of democracy that Israel is now dropping, thus risking full exposure to, and dire consequences from international public opinion.

KF: As a prominent leader in the BDS movement, do you worry that you’ll be targeted?

OB: This is not about any individual activist; it is targeting the whole BDS movement as a global, Palestinian led campaign that raises the compelling slogan of freedom, justice and equality and that has broken through the barriers of the western mainstream, winning allies in trade unions, academia, cultural circles, faith groups, and, crucially, liberal Jewish groups. Israel's nuclear weapons and massive military might are deemed largely ineffective in countering this morally-consistent, nonviolent movement that is anchored in international law and universal human rights.

We are all concerned about Israel's intensifying repression, but we are determined to counter it with our own intensification of BDS, with the wonderful support of our principled, anti-colonial Israeli partners and our allies worldwide.

KF: What impact do you think the boycott law will have on BDS organizing within Israel? And outside of Israel?

OB: At first, BDS, like any Palestinian led resistance and international solidarity with it, is bound to enhance Israel's already tribal, paranoid consensus in support of apartheid and settler colonialism. But Israel is not unique in this; all colonial regimes, from South African apartheid to the French colonial rule in Algeria, go through this initial phase of "circling the wagons" when faced with resilient, rights-based and effective resistance. But as soon as this resistance starts exacting a heavy price from the colonial community, cracks start appearing in the wall of complicity and dissent takes off. We are not there yet, but we are headed without doubt in that direction.

BDS is clearly growing at an impressive rate, raising the cost of Israel's occupation and apartheid. The cultural boycott, in particular, has started biting in a very significant way, making more and more Israelis see their state's naked image in the mirror, and it is an ugly scene of war crimes, siege, militarism, vile colonial hubris, and power drunkenness that many cannot bear. Many do not like it and are already questioning whether this is the future they would want for their children.

These tendencies have not yet translated into a flood of support for BDS in Israel, but they have been reflected in the encroaching process of mainstreaming the idea of boycott in Israeli society. Hundreds of leading cultural figures, academics, so-called "peace" groups, among others, have already adopted partial boycotts against colonies, for the first time ever. This is a slippery slope, though. They start with a selective boycott first, largely to "save Israel," essentially as an apartheid state, but by doing so they inadvertently legitimate the tactic of boycott, thus opening the door for BDS to grow.

As the BDS campaign spreads steadily from Europe to Canada to the US to Asia, Latin America, Australia and Africa, we are witnessing a corresponding, gradual but steady erosion of Israel's standing in world public opinion and in its impunity as a state above the law. It will increasingly be seen as a world pariah, and that will eventually repel investments, joint projects and visits. A South Africa moment is reaching Israel, gradually but surely. The establishment establishment is keenly aware of this and is panicking, as a result, as its weapons of choice -- intimidation, vilification, racist incitement and blunt repression -- prove pathetically inadequate in its fight against BDS.

Two main corporate targets of the global BDS campaign, Agrexco and Veolia, just to give a concrete example, have suffered massive losses lately. While both corporations are desperately trying to hide or dismiss the impact of BDS on their bottom line, there is absolutely no doubt that the billions of dollars wroth of contracts that Veolia has lost in the last couple of years and the closing of markets in Europe and elsewhere in the face of Agrexco were to a large extent, but not exclusively, a result of BDS campaigns. Other management and financial factors have played a role as well, clearly. This will be a lesson to many corporations that are still profiting from Israel's occupation and apartheid. As in South Africa, when their profits start dwindling and their brands are sullied as partners in Israeli apartheid, these international profit-maximizing corporations will start abandoning ship much more rapidly.

KF: Within Israel, the boycott law has stirred up support for settlement boycotts among liberals. I wonder if it’s maybe less-than-helpful to have a renewed drive among liberal Zionists to keep fantasizing, “If only the Occupation were over, then everything would be better.” What do you make of this focus on settlement boycotts over the full call?

OB: This was mostly answered above but I'll add we welcome every partial boycott of Israel and its complicit institutions, despite the intentions of some of its initiators. Those calling now for a boycott of colonial settlements, after decades of silence in the face of a brutal system of occupation and apartheid, are obviously doing so to undermine or circumvent the wider, more principled, and by far more morally consistent BDS campaign. Rather than weakening BDS, though, they are really contributing to making the ground more fertile for its future growth.

Soft Zionists have always tried to maintain a gate-keeping role in channeling solidarity with Palestinians, specifically with a small subset of Palestinian rights, while suppressing any attempt to develop an independent Palestinian resistance strategy based on self determination and justice.

With BDS, this Zionist gate-keeper hegemony is largely in tatters, and soft Zionists are taking it quite harshly, acting out and throwing media tantrums here and there, accusing Palestinian civil society of "betraying" them and hurting in the process its own interests. In their twisted, self-centered world view, typical of apologists for colonialism anywhere, they think that if they withdraw their support, Palestinians would lose their only hope for emancipation. This racist colonial discourse, though, has been largely discredited and soft Zionists have increasingly been revealed to many as a fraud, purely interested in egotistic self preservation and in safeguarding Israeli apartheid.

The litmus test for any Israeli group claiming to support human rights and a sustainable peace based on justice and international law is whether it is ready to support the most basic right to full equality for the indigenous Palestinians. If they do, this which would automatically translate to embracing the right of return for Palestinian refugees systematically and brutally ethnically cleansed during the Nakba and ever since. Calling for an end to the occupation alone, as if that would end Israel's multi-tiered system of colonial oppression, ignores the basic human rights of two thirds of the indigenous people of Palestine. No conscientious human rights advocate can be so selective, hence racist.

KF: The rights-based approach is, of course, a hallmark of the BDS movement. In a recent speech, you noted, “It is not a Jewish issue. It’s an Israeli colonial apartheid issue, and it should remain within those parameters.” At the same time, American BDS supporters (e.g. Jewish Voice for Peace) often invoke Jewish values and traditions in their organizing. In the BDS movement, what are the positives and negatives of the mobilization of Jewish identity?

OB: There is no contradiction between evoking the best in Jewish heritage to support the Palestinian struggle for justice and self determination on the one hand and the statement that BDS and Palestinian resistance in general should not be reduced to a Jewish issue or an intra-Jewish debate, as J Street has consciously -- yet abortively -- tried to make BDS, most recently, on the other. Universal human rights should be upheld for all humans and by all humans, regardless of ethnic, religious, national or any other identity attribute. The Palestinian civil society leadership of the BDS campaign, the BDS National Committee (BNC), has strongly endorsed the JVP-led campaign to pressure TIAA-CREF to divest from companies that are complicit in Israel's violations of international law. We see JVP as an important ally in the US. We also have partners in the US Jewish community that fully endorse BDS, such as such as the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, American Jews for a Just Peace, etc.

The fact the JVP, among other Jewish groups, resorts partially to the bright side of Jewish ethics is first up to them and second is something that they should be praised for. They do not attempt to privilege this dimension over human rights and international law. In other words, they do not endorse or try to impose what I call in this US context "Jewish privilege," whereby you cannot criticize or act against Israel and its policies unless you are Jewish, for fear of being labelled as anti-Semitic. We respect diversity and context-sensitive strategizing by our allies and partners. Our main concern is respect for the three basic rights listed in the BDS Call: ending occupation and colonization of the 1967 territory; ending the system of racial discrimination within Israel by establishing full equality; and the right of return for our refugees in accordance with UN resolution 194. JVP endorses these rights, clarity of language or lack of it notwithstanding, and this is the main foundation of our strong and strengthening relationship with them.

By putting tribal allegiance to Israel over fundamental commitment to universal human rights, however, Zionist Jewish organizations in the US and the West in general consciously abet in propagating the racist, indeed anti-Semitic, myth that Israel speaks on behalf of the entire world Jewry and that it is entitled to do so. Reducing Jews to a monolithic group that thinks alike and that is automatically expected to ignore suffering by other humans when the oppressors are themselves Jewish is not only anti-semitic; it is categorically false and deceptive. There is rich diversity among Jews worldwide; many in the leadership of BDS groups in the West as well as in South Africa and elsewhere are Jewish. Many leading cultural figures that have endorsed and advocated BDS are Jewish. All these insist that their humanity comes first and that no oppressor state like Israel can appropriate their wills or speak on their behalf.

KF: A few Jewish Israeli BDS supporters have told me that the tent protests feel like a game changer—that there is a kind of revolutionary feeling in the air. What do you think the tent protests might mean for the BDS movement? Do the demands of the BDS call feel any closer at hand or any more attainable?

OB: My overall assessment of this new Israeli initiative is that it is little more than a creative whitewashing, copycat movement with shallow roots and shallower commitment to real social-political transformation which must be based on justice and human rights. This whole reformist effort is largely led by middle class Ashkenazi Jews who prefer to polish the chains of Israeli apartheid, to borrow from Desmond Tutu, rather than breaking them altogether.

Demanding lower rents and affordable housing is a legitimate and justified demand in any normal country; the problem is, Israel is anything but. Diverting attention from the huge elephant in the room, Israel's occupation, colonialism and apartheid, to the narrow concerns of the Jewish-Israeli, colonial middle class cannot but be seen as an ill-conceived effort, at a minimum, or a downright racist and complicit effort that aims at perpetuating Israel's regime of oppression against the indigenous Palestinians, whether in Israel, in the shatat (exile) or in the occupied Palestinian territory. A struggle to maintain colonial privileges for the Jewish population of Israel at the expense of basic justice for the Palestinians is immoral and colonial to the boot.

Even if we put moral and legal considerations aside, you would think that an honest and rational social movement (if we can even call this movement in Israel that) that is trying to imitate the spreading Arab Spring, would figure out that Israel's military spending added to the overall cost of the occupation, the colonies, their infrastructure, the wall, etc. are the main reason behind the massive inequalities in Israel and the extremely unjust distribution of wealth (one of the highest in the developed world).

It is equivalent to Afrikaaners, say, demonstrating in Cape Town in the 1980s for better housing for the middle class (read: all white), while completely ignoring apartheid and its crimes. It would have been a joke then. It is a joke now--a nasty one. Most Arabs are watching this copycat Israeli attempt in amusement and a good deal of disgust. It is the epitome of hysterical denial of the colonial reality.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Donors help keep Palestinians in cages

Donors help keep Palestinians in cages
Charlotte Silver
The Electronic Intifada
16 August 2011

Development aid to the Palestinian Authority has only entrenched Israel’s occupation and colonization.

“Israel besieges us, puts us in cantons — in cages — and the international community is feeding us in these cages. It’s anything but developmental and it’s helping Israel’s colonization, ethnic cleansing and dispossession,” Dr. Samia Botmeh said, as she sat in her office in the Center for Development Studies (CDS) at Birzeit University near Ramallah in the occupied West Bank.

Despite the massive amounts of development aid that have been poured into the West Bank, the productive capacity of the Palestinian economy — measured by examining the agricultural and manufacturing sectors — is half that of 1994, and accounts for no more than 12 percent of employment. While the World Bank and Palestinian Authority boast an 8 percent growth in gross domestic product (GDP), real per capita income is still 8.4 percent lower than what it was in 1999, signifying that the GDP growth is not reflective of income growth for the average Palestinian.

Egypt provides an elucidative comparison. Two decades of serious neo-liberal reforms produced a GDP growth in Egypt that was similarly applauded by the International Monetary Fund (IMF): between 2006 and 2008, GDP grew 7 percent and there was a 4.6 percent spike in 2009 alone. However, as was made stunningly clear at the end of January, the country’s GDP growth had not trickled down to the majority of the people: unemployment had actually increased and 40 percent of the population lived on less than two dollars per day.

With former IMF representative Salam Fayyad at the helm since 2007, the PA has adopted the strategy of neo-liberal “good governance” as its framework for the state-building project. As post-colonial states have done in the past, the PA has sought to create an environment conducive for efficient and free-flowing markets by privatizing public services, emphasizing private property rights and reducing corruption. This agenda — state-building through neo-liberal policies — is most patently set forth in a PA program titled “Ending the Occupation, Establishing a State.”

As Mustaq H. Khan, an economics professor at London’s School of Oriental and Afrian Studies, pointed out in a lecture in Ramallah last winter, the injection of development aid into Palestine has deceptively flattered the PA’s good governance program, leading onlookers and promoters such as the IMF and World Bank to attribute the boost in GDP to a successful market economy (“Post-Oslo State-Building Strategies and their Limitation,” 1 December 2010 [PDF]).

There is still a stark contrast between the perceived improvement in the Palestinian economy and the actual standard of living for the majority of Palestinians. Development aid — which comprises roughly 40 percent of Palestine’s GDP — has been complicit in obscuring economic reality and in some cases truncating Palestine’s struggle for national liberation.

In June 2011, Birzeit University held a conference at which activists and academics spoke with donors and a representative from the PA on the failures of development, as well as the troubling role development aid plays in Palestine’s national movement.

“The framework of development is extremely unrealistic and problematic,” Dr. Samia Botmeh told The Electronic Intifada. The framework under scrutiny at Birzeit was the United Nations Development Programme’s Conflict-Related Development Analysis (CDA), which seeks to maximize the impact of development aid in conflict zones.

Botmeh added that the current international framework for assessing development aid in the West Bank treats the Israeli-occupied region either as a conflict zone or a post-colonial zone. “This is completely unrealistic because we are not in a conflict, we are in a colonization process,” she said.

The conference took place after the university’s Center for Development Studies concluded a project commissioned by the UNDP that examined how development funds could be better allocated in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip amid Israel’s continued occupation.

Because the CDA framework attempts to implement “development” projects while avoiding any political position, the study found that it implicitly assumes both parties have a reason to compromise. This fundamentally flawed approach refuses to acknowledge — and therefore address — the stark power imbalance that allows Israel to remain intransigent.

Realizing that reallocating funds would not address the fundamental hindrances to achieving economic self-determination through development in Palestine, the center articulated what development should look like in the context of an active colonization process. “Development should be about more than helping people survive; it should be about ending colonization,” Botmeh explained.

The Center for Development Studies’ critique shows how development fails to achieve much of anything tangible for Palestinians, and — even more ominously — serves to fortify Israel’s occupation and further annexation of land.

Development confined to “state-building”

After the implementation of policies dictated by the Oslo Accords, signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in the mid-1990s, international aid to Palestine took a turn toward development. Previously, aid to Palestine was earmarked for “humanitarian” purposes such as UN operations and charity. With the establishment of the Palestinian Authority as a transitional government, development aid was ostensibly intended to promote an independent economy that would facilitate a smooth transition to a Palestinian state.

After 18 years of an ostensible peace process — of which the agency of the Palestinian national liberation struggle has been confined to a “state-building” project by the PA and Israel — Palestinians’ standards of living have decreased, while inequality has increased.

Botmeh believes that the underlying assumption of this development aid is that it is being funnelled into a post-colonial state and that Israel has an intention to withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. These assumptions, blatantly oblivious to any political reality, have allowed development aid to reinforce Israel’s colonization through the continued degradation of Palestine’s territorial contiguity and the ongoing depopulation of Area C — more than 60 percent of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, that is under full Israeli military control.

Under the Oslo accords, the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip were carved up into areas A, B and C, the last of which is administered and controlled by the Israeli government and its military. Israel has declared three-quarters of the land as “closed military zones” or nature reserves, and therefore “off-limits” to Palestinians. Approximately 40,000 Palestinians live in Area C.

The 1999 deadline for the termination of the West Bank’s geographic stratification into Areas A, B and C has long passed. Far from assisting in the formation of a viable state, development aid has served to entrench the partitioning of the land.

Peter Lundberg, a representative of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, confirms these faults in the current development paradigm in Palestine. Speaking from the perspective of an international donor, Lundberg excoriated the complicity of development aid in fragmenting Palestinians by only working in Area A due to Israeli restrictions in Area C.

“Donors and the PA have been too focused on state-building, which is important, but they are going to lose critical parts of the land,” Lundberg said. “Development should help Palestinians stay on their land; too many have left [their land in] Area C.”

Because implementing projects in Israeli-controlled Area C are logistically burdensome and in many cases impossible, donors are inclined to contribute to projects in Area A.

According to Lundberg’s statistics, there has been an exodus of Palestinians from Area C mostly due to the impossible living conditions Israel has created and the predatory nature of surrounding settlements. Israel does not allow communities to be connected to sources of water or electricity and refuses nearly every request for a building permit, thus leading to the destruction of water-collecting devices, schools and homes. In contrast, settlements sitting next to these Palestinian villages are afforded free-running water, electricity, roads and expanding infrastructure.

In 1967 there were approximately 200,000 Palestinians living in the Jordan Valley, which is designated Area C, except for the Palestinian city of Jericho. Today, there are only 56,000, 40,000 of whom live in Jericho (in Area A), according to statistics from the international aid agency Save the Children.

The devastating picture that these statistics reveal is that donors have been complicit in aiding Israel’s process of cantonizing the West Bank into the 18 percent that comprises Area A. By doing so they have helped to surrender the majority of the West Bank’s land and agriculture — which could form the basis of a genuine self-sustainable Palestinian economy and state — to Israel’s control.

Neo-liberalism undermining Palestinian rights for self-determination

Raja Khalidi, a senior economist with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), has written that the development enterprise — representing $1.5 billion a year — is taking place inside territories that have been tagged by the World Bank, European Union, IMF and United States as a site for expanding a neo-liberal project (see “Neoliberalism as Liberation: The Statehood Program and the Remaking of the Palestinian National Movement,” Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol 40, no. 2, Winter 2011).

In the PA’s neo-liberal paradigm — as enshrined in the “Palestinian Reform and Development Plan” of 2008-10 and “Ending the Occupation, Establishing the State” — economic growth is promised as a consolation for occupation rather than a strategy to resist it.

Speaking at the conference, Khalidi remarked on the absurdity of such an agenda in the context of an occupation that ultimately determines Palestine’s economy. “For the last three years, the PA has been routing out internal obstacles to state-building, while the PA has no structure to tackle external obstacles,” he said.

Moreover, without sovereignty, genuine economic growth is out of reach. Khalidi explained that the PA is not only unable to counteract Israel’s aggressive policies of colonization but it also does not have the ability to exercise control over Palestine’s macro-economic policies — such as its own currency and control over interest or exchange rates.

Development aid has long been faulted for its inadvertent assistance in sustaining the occupation by reducing its humanitarian impact and thus making it more palatable. However, Omar Barghouti, a leading figure of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, revealed the disingenuous nature of international development aid.

“Development exudes complicity in colonialism; it’s intentional and it’s complicit — ignorance is not an excuse,” he said at the conference.

Barghouti proffered several examples of countries throwing some money at the cause of development in Palestine while concurrently supporting projects or companies that actively undermine Palestinian sovereignty.

Veolia, a French transportation corporation that according to Barghouti is mostly owned by the state, is currently building Jerusalem’s new light rail system. The Jerusalem light rail connects West Jerusalem to illegal settlement blocs in occupied East Jerusalem. Despite targeted pressure on Veolia to withdraw from the light rail project — part of a global BDS campaign that has cost the company up to $10 billion, according to Barghouti — the company and by extension France have held onto their contract with Israel.

Restoring class struggle to the national liberation struggle

Adam Hanieh, a lecturer in development studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies, situates development aid in the longer arc of Israel’s colonization of the land through systematic fragmentation of the Palestinian people and nation. In his lecture at Birzeit, Hanieh restored the importance of class struggle to the goal of national liberation and exposed development aid as working against Palestinian unity undivided by wealth or class, against the occupation.

“Sixty-three years of colonization have seen the division, fragmentation and fracturing of the Palestinian people. Development must confront this fragmentation, not aid it,” Hanieh explained to the audience.

Illustrating how neo-liberalism has encouraged the notion that the solutions to problems are individual in nature rather than collective, Hanieh stressed that much of the “development” one sees arising in the West Bank benefits Israeli business. For example, consumption in Ramallah’s flourishing restaurant and cafĂ© culture is mostly funded by this development aid — and in turn sustains the importation of Israeli products. Poignantly, this new consumer class — enabled by development aid — creates one more isolated stratum of Palestinian society.

All this continues against the backdrop of the regional popular uprisings against, among other things, neo-liberal policies. These uprisings showcase an exemplary shaking off of dictators and the present world order and the inspiring potential of class struggle.

If development aid programmes set freedom — rather than the introduction of a neo-liberal state — as their principal objective for Palestinians, then they may begin to counter the 63-year process of confiscation and colonization. Otherwise, they will be offering that process a helping hand.

Charlotte Silver is a journalist based in the West Bank. She can be reached at charlottesilver A T gmail D O T com.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The freedom-seekers America ignores

SUNDAY, AUG 14, 2011 10:01 ET

With Washington's bipartisan blessing, Israel is sabotaging a Palestinian plea for U.N. recognition

The freedom-seekers America ignores
AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Reuters/Ali Hashisho

Once again Israel is doing its utmost to block Palestinian aspirations for self-determination, unleashing its diplomats in order to obstruct Palestinian efforts to secure some semblance of statehood and freedom at the United Nations this September. Meanwhile, the U.S. and other powers have nothing meaningful to add to this debate except to support Israel's sabotage. Such a predicament is nothing new for the Palestinians.

One of many constants in the Middle East over nearly a century, in fact, is the denial of the Palestinian people's desire for statehood and independence. The current Israeli opposition to the PLO's effort to obtain United Nations recognition of a Palestinian state is but the latest iteration of longstanding obstruction of the Palestinian search for statehood, self-determination and recognition.

Like so much else in the modern Middle East, this obstruction started with Britain, which controlled Palestine from 1917 until 1948, and which never fully accepted that the Palestinian Arabs were a people entitled to statehood in their own land. The 1922 League of Nations Mandate for Palestine, hand-crafted by the British to suit their own desiderata, and repeating the wording of the 1917 Balfour Declaration, explicitly recognized a "Jewish people" who were entitled to a "national home" in Palestine. While the Palestinians formed over 90 percent of the population, their existence and their national and political rights were never mentioned in this document, which formed the basis for British rule of the country. Even when the British offered "concessions," these always involved Palestinian acceptance of superior rights for another people in what Palestinians considered their homeland.

This same two-tier rights principle was at work in the United Nations General Assembly partition resolution of 1947. Instead of Palestine becoming an independent state with a one-third Jewish minority, or most of it going to its Arab majority, the U.N. mandated that over 55 percent of the country -- only 7 percent of which was Jewish-owned at that time -- should become the state of that minority. The Arab state called for under the plan, however, would have been divided in four pieces, would not have included Jerusalem or Haifa (two of the three cities with the largest Arab populations), and embodied numerous other injustices. The gerrymandering necessary to give the Jewish state most of Palestine was so grotesque, in fact, that it would have had nearly as many Arabs as Jews in its population.

Perhaps because of revulsion at (and guilt over) the just-revealed horrors of the Holocaust, these provisions were all presumably considered acceptable to the great powers, headed by the U.S. and the USSR, which rammed this resolution through the General Assembly. The Palestinians, shattered by British repression of their desperate anti-colonial revolt at the end of the 1930s, divided, and leaderless, never reacted coherently to this unjust plan, except to reject it. But it was superseded long before it was due to be implemented in mid-May 1948 by successive offensives of well-organized and well-armed Zionist forces, which took over vast swaths of land that had been allotted to the Arab state. The great powers did nothing to prevent this from happening, or later to ensure that a Palestinian state came into being. This is not surprising, as most of them, as well as Israel and Jordan, were in fact opposed to the creation of such a state, and connived in Jordan's absorption of most of what remained after Israel had expanded its control to 78 percent of Palestine by the time of the 1949 armistice accords.

Statehood and self-determination continued to elude the Palestinians in subsequent years. Once again facing daunting odds, as in the past, Palestinians often did not maximize their opportunities due to poor leadership, incoherent strategy and a limited understanding of the politics of the great powers, both domestic and external. It took nearly two decades after the debacle of 1947-49, which shattered Palestinian society and turned over half its people into refugees, to rebuild a coherent Palestinian national movement. It took Palestinians even longer to formulate an unequivocal demand for a state on the 22 percent of Palestine not incorporated into Israel after 1948. After a decade and a half of movement in this direction (and away from the earlier idea of a democratic state for Arabs and Jews in all of Palestine), the PLO finally issued its 1988 declaration of independence, ironically basing the claim on the 1947 partition resolution.

Irony, it seems, is the constant companion of Palestinian history, as by 1988 Israeli annexations, colonization and land expropriations in Jerusalem and the West Bank had already begun to make this solution impossible. Today, after 44 years of such ceaseless effort, it is highly questionable whether this process can be reversed. Few people who understand the powerful forces behind this effort within Israel (perfectly represented in the current government), or who have closely examined the situation on the ground in the occupied territories, believe that it is any longer possible. Even President Obama in his modest attempt to freeze settlements last autumn, witnessed first-hand the momentous obstacles to any and all challenges to the status quo, no matter how reasonable or feasible they may be. One of the greatest of these obstacles is the U.S. Congress, 81 of whose members are this month going on a "magical mystery tour" of Israel sponsored by an AIPAC offshoot, where they will be sure to be shown nothing that would disturb that body's smug pro-Israel complacency.

Today, the PLO proposes that the United Nations recognize a state within the 1967 borders whose creation has already been preempted by systematic Israeli actions that were intended to prevent just such an outcome. President Obama, Congress and other unwavering supporters of Israel insist that the Palestinians refrain from seeking a U.N. resolution recognizing such a state and that they can only accede to statehood through negotiations with their occupier and tormentor. In this regard, it is worth recalling further the events of 1947-48. Then no one demanded that the Jews in Palestine refrain from going to the U.N., that they negotiate with the Palestinians or jump through any other hoops in order to obtain statehood: indeed, their state obtained its legitimacy through a General Assembly resolution (the 1947 partition decision), and in 1949 was accepted as a member state by the General Assembly, just as the PLO currently proposes to do.

At that point, the new state of Israel had international public opinion and the great powers on its side, and it already had an army that had defeated first the Palestinians and then several feeble Arab armies, and would do so again repeatedly in subsequent decades. That army is still preeminent in the region. Furthermore, today the greatest of great powers, the United States, is even more one-sided in its support of Israel than it was in 1947. But international public opinion has evolved since 1947. It increasingly recognizes that the denial of Palestinian self-determination is the core of the problem, and that the solution is not more of a misguided "peace process," which allows for the consolidation, perhaps permanently, of Israeli control of the West Bank.

Further immiserating Palestinians is no solution, though Congress will undoubtedly soon try to prove otherwise by cutting aid to the Palestinian Authority for having the temerity to press for statehood and freedom at the U.N. Whatever solution emerges, it cannot do what every formula proposed for Palestine by the great powers since the 1917 Balfour Declaration did: allow superior rights to one people at the expense of another.

Rashid Khalidi is the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University and the author of six books on Middle Eastern history, including"Palestinian Identity", "Resurrecting Empire", and The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood. Khalidi is a former advisor to Palestinian negotiators at the Madrid and Washington

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Senator Leahey calls for US defunding of Israeli commando units

News update from the New Yolk Crimes:

A Joint Congressional/Israeli commando team, killing 3 aides, 12 bystanders and two dogs, arrests Senator Patrick Leahy and flys him in chains to Tel Aviv for secret military trial. "He's an existential threat to the Jewish people all over the world," said Israeli prime minister Netanyahu.

The White House issued a press statement saying that President Obama was "somewhat troubled" by Israel's action.

from Haaretz
Published 02:56 16.08.11

U.S. Senator seeks to cut aid to elite IDF units operating in West Bank and Gaza
Senator Patrick Leahy claims Shayetet 13 unit, undercover Duvdevan unit, and the Israel Air Force Shaldag unit are involved in human rights violations in occupied territories.

By Barak Ravid

U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy is promoting a bill to suspend U.S. assistance to three elite Israel Defense Forces units, alleging they are involved in human rights violations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Leahy, a Democrat and senior member of the U.S. Senate, wants assistance withheld from the Israel Navy's Shayetet 13 unit, the undercover Duvdevan unit and the Israel Air Force's Shaldag unit.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak, a long-time friend of Leahy's, met with him in Washington two weeks ago to try to persuade him to withdraw the initiative.

According to a senior Israeli official in Jerusalem, Leahy began promoting the legislation in recent months after he was approached by voters in his home state of Vermont.

A few months ago, a group of pro-Palestinian protesters staged a rally across from Leahy's office, demanding that he denounce the killing by Shayetet 13 commandos of nine Turkish activists who were part of the flotilla to Gaza last May.

Leahy, who heads the Senate Appropriations Committee's sub-committee on foreign operations, was the principle sponsor of a 1997 bill prohibiting the United States from providing military assistance or funding to foreign military units suspected of human rights abuses or war crimes. The law also stipulates that the U.S. Defense Department screen foreign officers and soldiers who come to the United States for training for this purpose.

Leahy wants the new clause to become a part of the U.S. foreign assistance legislation for 2012, placing restrictions on military assistance to Israel, particularly to those three units.

Leahy says these units are responsible for harming innocent Palestinian civilians and that no system of investigation is in place to ensure that their members are not committing human rights violations. According to Leahy's proposal, U.S. military assistance to Israel would be subject to the same restrictions that apply to countries such as Egypt, Pakistan and Jordan.

The senior Israeli official said that the Israeli Embassy in Washington had been trying unsuccessfully now for some months to persuade Leahy to back down from the initiative.

Two weeks ago, during Barak's visit to Washington, Israel's ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, asked Barak to meet with Leahy to dissuade him from promoting the legislation.

Leahy, who is on the Democratic Party's left flank, has for many years promoted human rights issues globally. He has been sharply critical of Israel in recent years, especially following Operation Cast Lead in late 2008.

However, he also signed Congressional resolutions supporting Israel's right to self-defense....

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Israeli housing protests: For Jews Only

The Wrong Struggle
The real victims of the state's housing policies are Arabs.

By Seraj Assi

Nearly three weeks ago angry young residents of Tel Aviv took to the streets to protest soaring housing prices. The protests have rapidly reached different sectors of the Israeli society. The Israeli media has propagated the event as a glorious democratic manifestation, while Western media rushed to compare it to the people revolutions in neighboring Arab countries.

Yet it must be recalled that by far the Tel Aviv protests are taking place within the Zionist consensus. For many Arab citizens, the protests are widely seen as a bourgeois distributional conflict over Zionist colonial spoils. No wonder the protests are directed against high housing prices per se rather than against the founding policies and fundamental causes behind the crisis.

We should remember that the real victims of the state's housing policies are not the middle-class Jewish Israelis longing for the exclusive and luxurious privileges offered by the Tel Aviv center. They are the poor Arab residents of Jaffa who have been pushed out of the city by decades of ethnic gentrification, urban exclusion and alienation.

In the meantime, the Israeli media reports the event as if the Arab population, the real victims of the state's economic policies, does not exist. The real narrative- the dispossession, the disempowerment, the unrelenting daily grind of injustice and discrimination, and the daily violation of human rights and dignity - does not fit into the format of the Israeli media's agenda.

When a year ago Arab residents of Jaffa took to the Ajami neighborhood to protest the new housing plan designed exclusively for Zionist-Jews, known as Be'emuna Jews-Only housing project, they were dismissed as subversives to the state's Jewish character. When they later marched to Jerusalem to demonstrate ahead of the High Court hearing over the project, they were widely presented as a punch of unruly Arabs. Requests and petitions by Ajami residents to stop work in the project have been unanimously dismissed by the Tel Aviv District Court and the High Court of Justice.

While the shortage of housing had been threatening Arab residents of Jaffa for decades, the Israel Lands Administration gave itself a right to sell public land to a construction company devoted to pushing Arab residents out of the city. Nothing has been done to stop Bemuna's attempts to dilute Arab neighborhoods by moving in religious Zionist Jews at the expense of local residents. Nor to address Be'emuna's repeated racist statements, discriminatory marketing methods and housing policies. The "domino effect" of the project has instead brought more and more racist housing projects to Jaffa.

The process of internal occupation of Arab lands is by no means confined to Jaffa. Judaization is expanding all over the country from the Negev region in the South down to the Galilee in the North, including the Arab Triangle in the center, and the major mixed cities of Haifa, Acre and Jerusalem. Policies of transfer, dislocation, land expropriation and housing demolition continue uninterrupted. Statics show that over the past few decades, Arab lands in Israel were rapidly diminished from nearly 19.5 million dunams (in 1947) to only 404 thousand dunams (in 2005). At the same time, Jewish settlements inside Israel has grown from 317 to 907, and they now constitute 96 percent of the country territory.

Moreover, we have not seen a single protest against the wave of fascist and racist laws directed against the Arab population, starting from the Nakba law through the loyalty law, and multiple bills regulating admission to "Jews-only" communities. Protests by Arab residents were rather rooted out by state violence and widely condemned by the Israeli society. Only when the state's economic policies began to threaten the narrow interests of the White Ashkenazi society did they draw attention and media coverage.

It can be argued that bourgeois Israeli Jews are now paying the prize that Arabs in Israel have been paying for decades. But we should remember that soaring housing prices in Tel Aviv are themselves the outcome of the racist policies that were originally designed to prevent Arabs and other poor Jewish communities from approaching the city center. We should also remember that those middle-class Israeli yuppies that came to live in Jaffa for an "oriental" experience are no less responsible for turning Jaffa into a fashionable neighborhood and making prices unaffordable for the local Arab residents.

The dirty secret of the Tel Aviv protests is that the bulk of those middle-class Ashkenazi protestors are moved by a racist hysteria. They are simply afraid of being moved to the city peripheries and the far less fashionable parts of the country. For when they complain that they only feel at home in Tel Aviv, they explicitly express a racist desire to stay away from the development towns and neighborhoods populated by Arabs, poor Mizrahi and Ethiopian Jews.

This should not be taken as an invitation for a common struggle between Arabs and poor Mizrahi, Ethiopian and Russian Jews. Nor should it let us forget that the struggle of Arab Palestinians with the state cannot be simply reduced from a struggle over land and existence to class and civil struggles. Indeed, nothing is more ironic than to see Arabs protesting against high housing prizes in Tel Aviv as if they were allowed to live in Tel Aviv at all.

Calls for Bedouins from the unrecognized villages of the Negev to join the protests are quite revealing here. For we know very well that the struggle of these Bedouin communities is primarily against the state not the government. Not surprisingly Israel is now suing Bedouin of al-Arakib village (which has been recently destroyed by the state more than twenty times) for NIS 1.8m for "illegal invasions" of state lands and "destruction expenses".

The struggle of Palestinians in Israel cannot be separate from politics colonization, ethnic discrimination and racism. That is to say that Palestinians in Israel have not to join the protests so much as to make sure they formulate their own struggle away from the Tel Aviv bourgeois protests that are now taking on racist Zionist formulations and being joined by racist settler movements like Yesha Council and Im Tirzu.

We are running out of time. Even as we speak, the circle of internal colonization is closing up. Palestinians in Israel should be fully aware that their struggle cannot be formulated within the Zionist framework, but only outside of it.

- Seraj Assi is a PhD Student in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University, Washington DC. He contributed this article to