Friday, January 30, 2009

Support the occupations. posted by Richard Seymour

I just got off the phone with some of the people who are occupying Nottingham University over the crisis in Gaza. There has been an effort to turf them out, with the power turned off (they got it back on after a while), and a couple of suits representing the Vice Chancellor visiting the occupation to threaten the students with disciplinary action. It is not entirely clear at the moment what the university can do, but given that other occupations have registered some success so far, one would hope for the students to prevail. 'Pete' explained to me what the students would like people to do:

"We have a petition that we are producing which we would like people to sign, so they should check the website for this. We would appreciate messages of support, especially if people could send them to us [] and the Vice Chancellor [] at the same time. And we would love for people to come and visit. It is a little bit difficult to get in, but we've got thirty people in so far. If people can bring supplies and food, that would be great. If you can't visit us, please try and visit one of the other occupations happening near you. There have been eighteen overall around the country, even if some of them are concluded. Also, read up on Gaza, that's far more important than us. And donate to the Disasters Emergency Committee, and Medical Aid for Palestine. We are going to set up a mechanism whereby people can donate through us, so we can see how much money we have been able to raise for Gaza by occupying."

These guys are doing a great job, so please help them in whatever way you can. Meanwhile, via Solomon's Mindfield, you can watch some interviews with the students who are in occupation on ITV.

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Ugly turn posted by Richard Seymour

Backtrack time? I think it is. When I wrote my post earlier, I was under the distinct impression that the racism was among a minority, and that the 'British jobs for British workers' slogan was an ill-thought-out nationalist reaction of a few that could be fought. We've seen this before. For example, there was a (tiny) minority on the Rover protests back in 2000 arguing that it was about 'British jobs', which the media focused on. In that light, the Tories, the right-wing press and the fascists all speaking out in support of the strikes would be an opportunistic hi-jacking of a genuine revolt for full union rights, jobs, pay, and conditions. That assumption is presumably why many people praised the post - they too are sick of the media perpetuating myths about the 'white working class' being especially racist.

The more I look at this, however, the more different it is. For a start, the overwhelming slogan of the Rover workers was 'Occupy, Organise, Nationalise'. But I am astonished to hear that there is a 'British jobs for British workers' protest planned by trade unionists for next week. Thus, this horrible slogan is not only the single most prominent one on the picket lines, it is actually becoming an official line of trade unionists who have in the past been an ally of anti-racists. Moreover, the arguments of some of the shop stewards supporting the strike are disgusting. This is how one Unite shop steward put it: "I'm a victim, you are a victim, there are thousands in this country that are victims to this discrimination, this victimisation of the British worker." This is an argument that comes straight from the playbook of the far right. Not all of the arguments are this bad, but there is some consistency regardless. Another shop steward, for example, states that it isn't a strike against "foreign labour" but "against foreign companies discriminating against British labour". That is exactly the wrong way to go about the argument, because it still says that the struggle is somehow between British workers and 'foreign' workers, not between the workers and the bosses. Moreover, it seems strangely congruent with the recent protectionist strategy of the Unite union. All of this is feeding into the racist coverage by the tabloids, and probably worse hysteria to come.

Of course, it is right to strike for jobs, and fair pay. That is what should be happening here. And I'm not going to pretend that the companies involved aren't engaged in union-busting. But I cannot, in good faith, stand by the claim that racism is only incidental to this strike. That was just not a realistic assessment. Given the way the demands have been raised, the only way the strikers could win would be if the the 'foreign workers' were sacked. As a consequence, I can't help but agree with those in the earlier thread who are worried about the fall-out. The bitterness that has been built up for years over low pay, deteriorating conditions, run-down housing estates, underfunded public services, and so on, has been intensified by the recession. Now, one expects Brown, whose slogan it is, to defend 'British jobs for British workers'. And the fascists, who gave it to Brown in the first place, will lap it up. But it would be a disaster if this slogan caught on. We do need a struggle, but this is the wrong basis for it.

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The wild cat strikes are not racist posted by Richard Seymour

This is not a racist strike. Naturally, a media obsessed with the idea of a 'white working class' can't see this. But thousands of workers across the UK aren't dropping their equipment and walking out at risk of losing pay and possibly their jobs over some racist bullshit. As Phil BC has already pointed out, interviews with strikers yield a much more complex picture than just British workers striking against 'foreign labour'. As one worker puts it: "This is not a racist protest. I’m happy to work hand-in-hand with foreign workers, but we are not getting a look in. There are guys at this site who had been banking on that work and then it gets handed to an Italian firm. It’s about fairness."

Those few who are raising slogans like 'British jobs for British workers' need to sort their arguments out, because they're wrong and they're misleading, and they seriously damage the prospects for solidarity. What's more, they got that slogan from Gordon Brown, and that itself should warn them that there's something wrong with it. This is not about foreign labour as such - the vast majority of these workers have no problem working alongside migrant workers. And the decision to refuse local workers access to those jobs has nothing to do with the company involved being nice and pleasantly multicultural. Nor is it about labour shortages, as there are plenty of skilled workers available to the employers at the Lindsey oil refinery. Nor is it even about cheap labour in this case, although there have been attempts to use cheap labour to run down conditions in the past. This is about the way Italian workers, who aren't responsible for this problem, are being used in an attempt to break trade union organisation among construction workers in the UK, and in particular to break the terms of previous agreements. If it was about anything else, why would the employers exclude them from the jobs in advance? Why shouldn't the jobs be open to anyone?

If you look at the contributors to the forum on the Bear Facts website for construction workers (which unfortunately does allow that horrible slogan, 'British jobs for British workers' to occupy a prominent position on its front page), you can see for yourself what the arguments are. There are a few who talk about 'British' this and that. But most of the arguments are about why on earth workers should put up with their pay and conditions being shredded, why are unions still funding the Labour Party, and don't we need a general strike to sort this out once and for all, etc. There are also people who are explicitly standing up against the nationalist arguments of the minority. These people are taking an exceptionally brave stance in defying Tory anti-trade union laws, and they're not being intimidated by the attempts to paint them as racists. They are fighting when, by and large, union bureaucrats are not. For that reason at least, the left has to defend this strike and stand up against those who are trying to pass this off as some sort of Powellite reaction.

Update: Socialist Worker has produced a much more critical discussion of the strikes here.

Update 2: Alarming developments.

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

France's General Strike posted by Richard Seymour

Greek workers are up in arms, the Italian working class is revolting against the Berlusconi administration, protesters in Iceland have deposed their government, and now Sarkozy is the latest to feel the wrath. Today's strikes and rallies involved millions of workers and took place across the country as this map shows:

The strikes were in protest over job losses, pay cuts, and planned reforms of the education system which would deprive teachers of paid time in which to do their work. Polls show that 69% of people back the strike. Here are some pictures:

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BBC: keep the pressure on posted by Richard Seymour

Let's see: we have a campaign of protests and returning license fees. We have the initiatives of celebrities (see David Soul, Ursula Le Guin and China Mieville on the Stop the War website). We have had three BBC HQs occupied, the latest of which was BBC Manchester. There was also a new protest outside BBC Scotland yesterday. We have 112 170 MPs backing a motion to force the BBC to change its stance on the Gaza Crisis Appeal. We have the Archbishop of Canterbury sticking his beard in. Now we have the nobel prize winning head of the IAEA boycotting the BBC. Every time Mark Thomspon restates his position, he only sounds more incoherent. He cannot explain how ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 managed to show the appeal without a sudden collapse in viewer confidence. And now the UN, as if to underline the terrible needfulness of the situation in Gaza and the callousness of those who would withhold aid, has launched an appeal for $613m. Could the UN be... good Lord... taking sides? And amid all this talk about impartiality, what has been brought out in striking clarity, and even reported in some right-wing papers, is the BBC's manifest bias toward Israel. I tell you, even if the BBC doesn't back down on this, this campaign is going to make them rue the day. We can and should make it the worst decision Mark Thompson ever made.

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The war against pre-terrorism posted by Richard Seymour

Following his detailed exposition of the "Tarnac 9" case, Alberto Toscano has an excellent article in today's Guardian on the way in which European states are inclined to use 'anti-terror' laws to attack and undermine forms of dissent that, while illegal, clearly are not terroristic.

I note that a number of the commenters under the article don't actually understand this point: there is much ado about how the suspects should "spend a very long time in jail" if the charges are proven correct in court. But the fact that the normal legal safeguards have been bypassed surely undermines the validity of any verdict reached. Moreover, the crimes of which the Tarnac 9 are accused amount to vandalism, but their case is treated by the French state as a preemptive strike against direct action and non-parliamentary forms of dissent, which are - in a way that is ominously familiar to environmental or antiwar protesters in the UK - increasingly categorised as terrorism. The invocation of 'war on terror' rhetoric is arbitrary, but it helps to justify "bypassing customary legal safeguards, above all the presumption of innocence". If it is permitted in this case, it sets a precedent that will be hard to reverse.

There is another problem here, in that there is no universally accepted definition of terrorism, and anti-terror legislation is usually opaque and riddled with double standards on the topic. Have a read of Lord Carlile's review from 2007 if you need confirmation of that. It can include sabotage and vandalism, or even the threat of sabotage and vandalism. It can include murders prompted by no obvious political goal. It can include also include mass murder. In this way, current conceptions of terrorism can be used to bracket flyposters (destruction of property after all) and protesters (where it might be argued that there is a threat of property being destroyed), with airplane hijackers and hotel bombers. It does not require a leap of the imagination to see how strikes and sit-ins could also be absorbed into the category of terrorism. A discourse that is supposedly about protecting the public is also the means by which the public is to be intimidated and repressed, just as a new wave of protest and rebellion is sweeping Europe.

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On Gaza occupations posted by Richard Seymour

I got word this morning that yet another University building has been occupied in support of Gaza, this time in Nottingham. You can read about the growing list of occupations here, but I just want to point out that this is not happening in isolation or without being noticed. Here is a statement from the Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees on the issue:

The Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees (PFUUPE) salutes the solidarity actions of students from universities across England in response to Israel’s war crimes in Gaza. Students from eleven universities have occupied buildings in their campuses in solidarity with Palestinian rights, including the right to education, and in outrage over Israel’s rolling massacres and wanton destruction in Gaza, including many educational institutions, in its latest war of aggression on Gaza and the year and a half of its criminal siege of Gaza that continues till today.

Students from the School of Oriental and Asian Studies (SOAS), the London School of Economics (LSE), Kings College, Oxford University, University of Warwick, University of Leeds, Manchester Metropolitan University, University of Sussex, Newcastle University, University of Birmingham, and the University of Essex have all acted to pressure their respective university administrations to respond to their demands.

In part, the students’ demands have included calls for their universities to condemn the attacks on Palestinian educational institutions as well as urging official mechanisms and programs that would support the right to education for all Palestinians. In light of the atrocities committed by the Israeli army in Gaza, students have also demanded that their universities pursue practical steps towards divesting from companies and institutions implicated in Israeli occupation of Palestine and its violation of international law.

We in PFUUPE are grateful for the hard and principled work of our colleagues in the British academic community over the past years in support of the cause of justice and peace in Palestine and for Palestinian academic freedom, in particular. The University and College Union’s 2008 motion condemning the complicity of Israeli academic institutions in the perpetuation of Israel’s occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people gives an excellent example of these efforts. We acknowledge the latest forms of student activism in England and elsewhere as a welcome continuation of those efforts aimed at holding Israel accountable for its injustice and crimes.

The bombing of the Islamic University, scores of public and UNRWA schools, and the headquarters of the University Teachers’ Association-Palestine in Gaza is only the latest episode in an ongoing Israeli policy of undermining and directly targeting Palestinian educational institutions. In light of this policy of the occupation, the effective solidarity of academics and students worldwide, particularly in the form of boycott, is particularly significant and highly appreciated by Palestinian academics. By their work in protest of these barbaric acts, our comrades have shown that this destruction cannot and will not occur in silence and without protest.

Israel’s murderous rampage in Gaza was described by leading international jurists as constituting a war crime, even a crime against humanity. It has caused over 1300 deaths and the injury of more than 5000 Palestinians, the great majority of whom are civilians. As the dust begins to settle in Gaza, we are only now beginning to comprehend the enormity of the indiscriminate destruction caused by the Israeli attacks.

We strongly admire and support the students in the United Kingdom who are calling for boycott and divestment, urging their universities not just to protest and condemn Israel's massacre in Gaza, but also to join and intensify the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel to end its impunity and to hold it accountable for its persistent violations of international law and Palestinian rights. We agree that, without sustained, effective pressure by people of conscience the world over, Israel will continue with its gradual, rolling acts of genocide against the Palestinians.

We urge academics around the world to intensify their boycott of Israeli academic institutions, and to isolate the Israeli academy in international forums, associations of academics, and other international venues. Israeli academic institutions are complicit in the entrenched system of oppression practiced by the Israeli state, and their silence at this critical moment is only the most vociferous indicator of this complicity.

Dr. Amjad Barham



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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Who has the right to self-defence? posted by Richard Seymour

As Israeli troops re-enter Gaza, the omnipresent mantra will be that "Israel has a right to defend itself". I recognise no such right, given that what it actually means is that "Israel has a right to defend its supremacy over the Palestinians with extreme force". But I just want to briefly point out one implication of this constant invocation of the right to self-defence in this context. The IR theorist Marc Trachtenburg once pointed out that the humanitarian intervention of the Victorian era "dramatised the fact that the society of nations was not a society of equals — that there were in fact two castes of states. To be a target of intervention — indeed, even of humanitarian intervention — was to be stigmatized as of inferior status". The obverse of this was that those of the inferior caste did not have the right to defend themselves. At best, they had the 'right' to be protected by members of the ruling caste, supposing anyone felt like giving a hand.

It might be argued that today the lower caste of states do have some rights of self-defence, but these are heavily circumscribed. Thus, the ruling caste reserves for its exclusive use the right to weapons of mass destruction, to aerial bombardment, invasion, and so on. Israel has a right to all of this but, say, Iran does not. And the Palestinians who - poor fools - don't even have a state, are not even permitted to have a rusty cache of rockets. The question of statehood is important. It is not uncommon for Israel's supporters to emphasise the fact that it is a sovereign state while its designated foes (Hamas, Hezbollah, Fatah, Islamic Jihad etc) are non-state actors. This emphasis presumably derives from the perspective of Just War theory, particularly that championed by Michael Walzer who is a strong supporter of Israel and can be relied upon to offer a sophisticated apologia for whatever war it is currently engaged in (Operation Cast Lead was no exception). For Walzer attributes to states the right not only to defensive violence, but to violence that targets civilians - both rights he denies nonstate actors. As Andrew Valls has pointed out, this is a double standard that relies on a heavily loaded conception of the kind of violence that nonstate actors might employ ("random murder"). This is an intriguing form of myopia given Walzer's background. For Walzer is, after all, one of those who helped pioneer the idea of Zionism - against the increasingly sceptical New Left - not as a religious or colonial venture but, rather absurdly, as a national liberation struggle with Labour Zionists juxtaposed to the Indian National Congress and the Algerian FLN. Nonetheless, the double standard operates in most conceptions of 'just war', and is mobilised in support of Israel's "right to defend itself against Hamas".

This caste arrangement was once structured by claims of racial solidarity, such as those of Anglo-Saxonism. Such are the origins of the 'special relationship' between the US and UK in the later 19th Century, in which the US resisted the urge to annexe any part of British territory in Canada or the British West Indies while the British not only acceded to American expansionism but embraced it at key points, such as during the 1898 war. Anglo-American competition did not disappear, but it was twinned with a new strategic orientation based in part upon racial sentiment and fear of emerging rival imperialisms of Russia and Japan. At this point, race and conceptions of democracy were inseparably intertwined, the latter seen as a function of the former. That is, for American imperialists such as Theodore Roosevelt no less than for the British empire, democracy was appropriate to the 'white race' which had alone reached a state of self-government.

The trend since 1945, however, has been to make racism invisible - as Robert Vitalis puts it, there is a pervasive 'norm against noticing' the way in which the global order is powerfully structured by race. In the Cold War, of course, the defence of white supremacy in South Africa, Rhodesia or even in the Deep South of the US, was interpreted as an anticommunist imperative. Opposition to anti-colonial movements was 'antitotalitarian'. Even the defence of right-wing dictatorships supported or imposed by western states was a defence of 'the Free World'. Today, the explicit justification for such caste distinctions is almost wholly democratic, (even if one will occasionally hear that the difference between the UK and Iran, for example, is that the former is a "civilized" state). Israel, it is argued, is not only a sovereign state but a democratic one. The world's democracies, it may then be added, have a duty to support one another against undemocratic rivals, at most offering friendly criticism if an ally appears to act against its own interests. Moreover, those democratic states have enhanced legitimacy in their global actions as they are said to be genuinely constrained by popular will, as opposed to despotic states that pursue narrow and parochial interests without the humane restraints that democratic states operate under (thus, "Israel takes the greatest of care not to harms civilians..."). This set of assumptions, as Vitalis suggests, rests upon a certain faux-naïveté about the endurance of race as an organising principle in world affairs, and in this way they help naturalise western supremacy. It would be pedantic to list the examples of democratic states that have been targeted for subversion and military attack by western states, or the democratic movements that have felt the iron heel of western repression. It is sufficient to note that in the most recent case of Israel's 'self-defence', the opponent has been the elected government of Palestine. Such violence by western states is neither democratic in method nor in aim, unless one is willing to descend to the argument that by definition political coercion by democratic states constitutes an enlargement of democracy's scope.

The way that the right to political violence (and to the technology and ideological legitimacy that enables it) is distributed, tells us a great deal about the way in which the global "colour line" that Du Bois wrote of has persisted beyond its formal overthrow. It stands as a rebuke to those polytechnic Polyannas who still insist that the era of 'humanitarian intervention' is one of unbounded egalitarianism.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Obama and the liberal defence of murder posted by Richard Seymour

Yours truly in The Guardian. Amusingly, a lot of the regular Guardianistas seem to be really pissed off about the mean things I said about Obama's foreign policy.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Gaza appeal posted by Richard Seymour

Watching this, you get a sense both of how insolent and stupid the BBC is being, and how frightened the Israeli government must be. It is extremely moderate, even - perhaps because it was made weeks ago, I don't know - somewhat understating the extent of the problem. It is as depoliticised as it is possible to be. Yet, it is still damaging for Israel because it is no secret how that suffering came about. And the demand of Israel and its supporters has been: cover up our war crimes, and don't do anything to help our victims, otherwise you're biased. That agenda is essentially what the BBC has acceded to. I note that, aside from the various celebrities speaking out (Samantha Morton, Bill Bailey, David Soul), The Guardian reported today that BBC workers were increasingly incensed at the attitude of the director-general. The NUJ and BECTU have also condemned the BBC. After having seen what all the fuss was about, those workers would be forgiven for going postal on the management.

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Boycott statement posted by Richard Seymour

Steven Salaita sent me this:

International Writers and Scholars Endorse Academic Boycott of Israel

We stand in support of the indigenous Palestinian people in Gaza, who are fighting for their survival against one of the most brutal uses of state power in both this century and the last.

We condemn Israel's recent (December 2008/ January 2009) breaches of international law in the Gaza Strip, which include the bombing of densely-populated neighborhoods, illegal deployment of the chemical white phosphorous, and attacks on schools, ambulances, relief agencies, hospitals, universities, and places of worship. We condemn Israel's restriction of access to media and aid workers.

We reject as false Israel's characterization of its military attacks on Gaza as retaliation. Israel's latest assault on Gaza is part of its longtime racist jurisprudence against its indigenous Palestinian population, during which the Israeli state has systematically dispossessed, starved, tortured, and economically exploited the Palestinian people.

We reject as untrue the Israeli government's claims that the Palestinians use civilians as human shields, and that Hamas is an irredeemable terrorist organization. Without endorsing its platforms or philosophy, we recognize Hamas as a democratically elected ruling party. We do not endorse the regime of any existing Arab state, and call for the upholding of internationally mandated human rights and democratic elections in all Arab states.

We call upon our fellow writers and academics in the United States to question discourses that justify and rationalize injustice, and to address Israeli assaults on civilians in Gaza as one of the most important moral issues of our time.

We call upon institutions of higher education in the U.S. to cut ties with Israeli academic institutions, dissolve study abroad programs in Israel, and divest institutional funds from Israeli companies, using the 1980s boycott against apartheid South Africa as a model.

We call on all people of conscience to join us in boycotting Israeli products and institutions until a just, democratic state for all residents of Palestine/Israel comes into existence.

Mohammed Abed
Elmaz Abinader
Diana Abu-Jaber
Ali Abunimah
Opal Palmer Adisa
Deborah Al-Najjar
Evelyn Azeeza Alsultany
Amina Baraka
Amiri Baraka
George Bisharat
Sherwin Bitsui
Breyten Breytenbach
Van Brock
Hayan Charara
Alison Hedge Coke
Lara Deeb
Vicente Diaz
Marilyn Hacker
Mechthild Hart
Sam Hamill
Randa Jarrar
Fady Joudah
Mohja Kahf
Rima Najjar Kapitan
Persis Karim
J. Kehaulani Kaunanui
Haunani Kay-Trask
David Lloyd
Sunaina Maira
Nur Masalha
Khaled Mattawa
Daniel AbdalHayy Moore
Aileen Moreton-Robinson
Nadine Naber
Marcy Newman
Viet Nguyen
Simon J. Ortiz
Vijay Prashad
Steven Salaita
Therese Saliba
Sarita See
Deema Shehabi
Matthew Shenoda
Naomi Shihab Nye
Magid Shihade
Vandana Shiva
Noenoe Silva
Andrea Smith
Ahdaf Soueif
Ghada Talhami
Frank X. Walker
Robert Warrior

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Broadcasting House invaded posted by Richard Seymour

"Students protesting against the BBC's refusal to broadcast an emergency aid appeal for Gaza have been ejected from Broadcasting House in central London.

Police moved in when about 15 members of Stop the War Coalition occupied the reception area and demanded to speak to a senior member of the corporation.

Spokeswoman Lindsey German said: "This is a question of humanitarian need. It doesn't imply any support for anybody.""

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CBS on Israel-Palestine posted by Richard Seymour

Watch CBS Videos Online

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Update from Glasgow Stop the War posted by Richard Seymour

Glasgow Stop the War Coalition

BBC Scotland headquarters occupied after refusal to show DEC Gaza aid appeal – Occupation victorious in highlighting the issue

GLASGOW – Over 100 people participated in an occupation of the BBC Scotland headquarters today, demanding that the broadcaster show the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal for Gaza. Occupiers entered the building at 5pm, and despite the police threatening mass arrests to remove everyone within 15 minutes, the occupation remained for almost 4 hours.

The occupation was successful in applying additional pressure on the BBC through extensive national and international media coverage, including CNN, CBS and Al-Jazeera. Tony Benn also telephoned the occupation to offer his support, saying 'The decision to occupy the BBC in Glasgow must be understood as a plea for the people of Gaza, who are suffering so much and who need our help to help get the money through'.

A delegation from the occupation was elected to meet with Ian Small, Head of Public Policy & Corporate Affairs and member of the BBC's Executive Board, who was called in specially to meet with the occupiers. The occupation had three main demands:

* That the BBC reverse its decision and show the DEC Appeal for Gaza.
* That the BBC director responsible for the decision not to air the appeal should be asked to resign.
* That the BBC show coverage of the outrage of the British people against the stopping of humanitarian aid to Gaza.

The BBC agreed that it will arrange a meeting with the delegation with Ken McQuarrie, the Controller of the BBC Scotland, and Atholl Duncan, the head of news for BBC Scotland on Wednesday the 28th of January. Glasgow Stop the War Coalition is asking its supporters and those who support humanitarian aid to Gaza to gather outside the BBC on Wednesday at 4.30pm.

Protestors also promised to return unless the DEC appeal is aired. Glasgow Stop the War also called for others to take similar actions around the UK.

All the occupiers decided to leave the building together, and no arrests were made.

'The life of every man, woman and child in Gaza is just as valuable as the lives of people anywhere else in the world. The people of Britain want to help the people of Gaza, and the BBC should give them the information to do so. Every day that the BBC waits to show this appeal, more people in Gaza will die,' said Penny Howard, of the Stop the War Coalition.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

The very model of a modern director-general posted by Richard Seymour

From the archives:

"The BBC is often accused of an anti-Israeli bias in its coverage of the Middle East, and recently censured reporter Barbara Plett for saying she 'started to cry' when Yasser Arafat left Palestine shortly before his death.

Fascinating, then, to learn that its director general, Mark Thompson, has recently returned from Jerusalem, where he held a face-to-face meeting with the hardine Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Although the diplomatic visit was not publicised on these shores, it has been seized upon in Israel as evidence that Thompson, who took office in 2004, intends to build bridges with the country's political class.

Sources at the Beeb also suspect that it heralds a "softening" to the corporation's unofficial editorial line on the Middle East.

'This was the first visit of its kind by any serving director general, so it's clearly a significant development,' I'm told.

'Not many people know this, but Mark is actually a deeply religious man. He's a Catholic, but his wife is Jewish, and he has a far greater regard for the Israeli cause than some of his predecessors.'"

(Some sort of prize will be awarded to anyone who can suitably re-work the original Gilbert & Sullivan lyrics).

Update: Whatever happened to Orla Guerin?

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BBC HQ occupied! posted by Richard Seymour

Stop the War Coalition
Press Release
Saturday 25 January 2009

Contact: Keith Boyd: 07912348366


Over 100 supporters of Scottish Stop the War Coalition and Palestinian groups
have occupied the BBC headquaters in Glasgow. They say they will not end their
occupation until the BBC has reversed its decision not to broadcast an
emergency aid appeal for Gaza. The protestors are demanding to meet with a
senior representative of the BBC.

Keith Boyd, one of the protesters occupying BBC Scotland's HQ, can be contacted
on: 07912348366

Andrew Burgin
07939 242 229
Press Office
Stop the War Coalition
27 Britannia Street
London WC1X 9JP

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Independent on Sunday reviews 'Liberal Defence' posted by Richard Seymour

"Richard Seymour is the blogger Lenin's Tomb. For the past five years, he has been following the war party, noting every suggestion of this group, and connecting their various journalistic musings to the shifts of power on the streets of Fallujah and Baghdad. Through his blog, Seymour has built up an audience of thousands of committed readers. For them and for him there must be a real pleasure at the predicament of the so-called pro-war left now faced with an Obama presidency. Atlanticist to their heart, they find that America has rejected them. At times Seymour perhaps takes too little care to acknowledge those other, precious occasions when liberals and others have refused the appeal of arms. But that quibble aside, this is an excellent antidote to the propagandists of the crisis of our times."

Update: This appeared in yesterday's Times:

"The Liberal Defence of Murder by Richard Seymour Verso, Eur16.99 Eur15. 29 In a powerful counter-blast against the monstrous regiment of "useful idiots" who, he says, have contributed in recent decades to the murderous mess of modern times, Seymour indicts not only the obvious suspects - the neocons - but the international cadre of liberal, left-leaning intellectuals and politicians, the "pro-war Left", who supported the War in Iraq for professed "humanitarian" reasons. In anger as much as sorrow, he examines the tropes they defend, such as "civilisation", "progress", "democracy", "freedom", arguing that their attitudes amount merely to an assertion of the status quo, supportive of neo-imperialism, Islamophobia and exploitation."

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

BBC shoe in posted by Richard Seymour

The BBC was, of couse, the target of today's protest because of its pro-Israel bias in the coverage of the recent war. However, its decision to ban the DEC appeal on Gaza actually resulted in two ministers attacking it, including Ben Bradshaw (of all people!) who said that the BBC should stand up to the Israeli authorities from time to time, thus implying that they were taking their lead from Tel Aviv. This sort of made our case for us.

Mark Thompson, editor-in-chief of BBC News, has written a pathetic self-justificatory piece on the BBC's editors' blog. He repeats his argument that one of the criteria for rejecting the appeal was a concern that the aid would not be efficiently delivered. Now, I ask you: what the fuck does an overpaid BBC editor know about the delivery of aid? What do they know that 13 humanitarian organisations don't? He also repeats his claim that it would be 'contentious' to highlight the humanitarian situation there, because there is an ongoing debate about who bears responsibility. But that is nonsense. There is no contention about whether there is a humanitarian crisis: the only sense in which broadcasting such an appeal would be 'contentious' is that it would potentially offend the hardcore supporters of Israel. But even the pro-Israel Daily Telegraph is chastising the BBC for its decision. Now, if they backed down over the Ross and Brand nonsense, they can and should be made to back down over this, and fast. As the rally was under way today, news came through that ITV and Channel 4 would air the appeal, while Sky said it was considering its position. The more other television stations broadcast it, the more pressure will be on the BBC to reverse this contemptible decision.

Incidentally, I hear the BBC said on its Teletext service that only 200 had turned up at the protest. I don't know what the total turnout was, but the pictures I shall post later will give the lie to that preposterous figure. More pictures and footage are on the way but, for now, here is a quick shot from the show-throwing outside Broadcasting House.

And another (thanks Michael):

The police, having agreed it with the organisers, took all this in good humour. I regret to say they didn't keep their cool later on when they decided to wade into the crowd, fists and arms flying, ending up in a huge fight and arresting several people. I'll post the footage later and let you see for yourself. In the meantime, Ellis Sharp has more pics here

Okay, more pics:

And here is the fracas with the cops:

Some more footage:

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Friday, January 23, 2009

The facts are insufficiently impartial posted by Richard Seymour

Facts are awkward. They take sides. They do not conveniently distribute themselves evenly along the spectrum of opinion and, therefore, they lack balance. They must either be suppressed or complemented by some lies. For instance. It is a matter of controversy only to Tzipi Livni that Gaza is experiencing a profound humanitarian crisis. Aside from the thousands dead and wounded, 50,000 people have been left homeless, 400,000 have been left without water, and 84% of the population have no secure source of food. Power shortages are normal - 40% of the population gets no electricity, while the remaining 60% only have intermittent access. Eight of Gaza's hospitals were partially destroyed by bombing and shelling during the war and 26 clinics were hit, and the whole medical system is suffering from severe shortages, including those resulting from having inadequate or non-existent power supplies. For over a month, access to Gaza's already diminished medical structure was severely reduced. By standards that are commonsensical, this is a humanitarian catastrophe. It has been worsened by the fact that, due to Israeli attacks on humanitarian workers, much aid delivery had to be suspended during the war itself. 89% of the people have received no aid at all. The simple fact is that if aid doesn't arrive soon, a great many people will suffer horribly and die.

The Disasters Emergency Committee, an umbrella group of 13 UK-based humanitarian agencies, did what it usually does in such circumstances. It prepared an urgent campaign to raise funds from the British public, for Gaza. Under an agreement dating back to 1963, the BBC broadcasts the DEC's emergency appeals, and other broadcasters tend to follow suit. Yet, this time, they have refused, a decision that will deny the campaign millions of pounds. Other broadcasters are now using this as an excuse to refuse to carry the appeal. The BBC says that its decision was prompted by concerns that broadcasting such an appeal would call its impartiality into question. I have to confess, I have absolutely no idea what this can mean. Does it actually mean anything? Note that the BBC didn't consider its broadcast on Kosovo, just under a decade ago, to have any implications for its impartiality. This despite the fact that the (very real) humanitarian crisis in Kosovo was at that point being used as a justification for war by the NATO powers that were at that point actually co-responsible for the crisis through their bombing campaign. In that case, there was an obvious consequence of broadcasting the DEC's appeal, inasmuch as it could have fed into pro-war propaganda and facilitated further carnage - but only a miserly sod would have demanded that it be withdrawn on those grounds. In the case of the Gaza appeal, the only likely consequence of broadcasting it is that some people get a slightly more comfortable and prolonged life. Obviously, the consequence of not broadcasting it is that they don't. The BBC is therefore clearly not being impartial. It is taking sides, effectively boycotting aid for Gaza on the apparent assumption that their job is to avoid offending Israel's supporters.

Tomorrow's protest starts outside BBC Broadcasting House at Portland Place, from 1.30pm. In the meantime, Stop the War recommends that you call the BBC and complain, on this number: 03700 100 222. Press 3 for complaints. And you might also consider donating to the DEC appeal.

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The shock doctrine at work posted by Richard Seymour

"Every downturn opens a window of opportunity to adjust the status quo, and astute managers push through necessary changes while the window is open. An economic crisis marks a sharp break with the past, and, observing the break, employees recognise that a firm cannot continue to do what it did in the past. The downturn lowers their resistance to change and cuts through complacency. A downturn often brings latent challenges to a head, and savvy managers can harness the resulting energy to infuse the organisation with a sense of urgency in fixing these problems. A downturn provides a ready-made external rationale to justify painful decisions that would appear extreme in better times."

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This land is your land posted by Richard Seymour

I know I expressed some disgust with the Obama inauguration spectacle, but there are ways to hijack such affairs for one's own nefarious purposes. This (spotted at Qlipoth) is one example:

Bruce Springsteen and Pete Seeger get a vast crowd to sing along to Woody Guthrie's socialist anthem, 'This Land Is Your Land', including the lyrics calling for the overthrow of private property. Fantastic.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Gaza Protest posted by Richard Seymour

If you have not heard by now, you should know that there is going to be a major national demonstration for Gaza this Saturday. Because of the pro-Israel bias of the British media, and the BBC has the worst record on this, the demo will be starting outside BBC Broadcasting House at Portland Place from 2pm, and then heading down to Downing Street. The demands of the protest are simple: end the blockade, stop arms sales to Israel, bring the war criminals to justice, and free Palestine. It should be a shoe-in. Incidentally, I want to mention that the best source for news and images of the recent and ongoing student protests and occupations over Gaza has been Solomon's Mindfield. One day, SOAS are in occupation, then LSE students, then King's College students, then Warwick University students... given the way the NUS leadership is trying to neutralise its internal democracy and expunge radical politics, this is quite an inspiration.

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"Wiped off the map" posted by Richard Seymour

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

To earth with a crash posted by Richard Seymour

You may have noticed the world's media creaming its collective pants over the Obama inauguration yesterday, with superlatives every bit as hyperbolic as Obama's speech was bland. Gullible liberal columnists couldn't get over the "magic" - it was like being five again, and Santa Claus was coming. Everyone, it seems, got the chance to cry again, and to tell everyone else about how they cried, as well as where they were when they cried. All of that stuff about Obama's disappointing appointments, his bellicose language, the support for TARP and his Wall Street backers, and the silence over Gaza, was forgotten for one spellbound day, sprinkled with fairy dust and dubya pee. Today, it's back to the bad news.

The "trillion dollar crash" is fast becoming the multi-trillion dollar crash. The US economy has continued to slump, despite the immense capital resources injected into the financial system. As Doug Henwood points out, the statistics for December were horrendous. Employment fell by over half a million, and the official unemployment rate is now 7.2% (sure to be a substantial underestimate). Retail sales took a record dive of 10% last year. Almost one in four US banks was unprofitable in the third quarter of 2008 and things can only get worse. The outgoing Bush regime estimated that the US economy would lose close to 3 million jobs over the next year. As incomes plummet, the number of unpaid or 'troubled' loans will increase. TARP will soon have more sequels than Police Academy.

Obama's elite supporters are sanguine about his ability to sort out the crisis. Indeed, Obama would probably not have won had he not benefited from a surge in support after the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Yet,the new Treasury Secretary (and known tax-dodger), Timothy Geithner, collaborated with Hank Paulson's disastrous decision to let Lehman Brothers go bust when he was chair of the New York Federal Reserve. The incoming Obama administration promises a fiscal stimulus, which is vital, but it is not likely to be more interventionist than the Bush administration has been over the last few months. On New Years Day alone, they threw $10bn at the Bank of America. It now seems that the incoming admin is intent on rehabilitating the failed TARP strategy of buying up 'toxic stock', removing it from bank balance sheets and supposedly leaving a healthy, profit-making institution in its place. This policy of socialising the losses while privatising the profits was exactly what made 'TARP I' so unpopular. Paulson actually abandoned the idea of buying toxic assets some time ago in favour of direct capital injections (though with only nebulous commitments from the institutions receiving such funds), but Geithner is now pushing the strategy quite forcefully, while blunting the edge with a promise to help small businesses and 'working families'. No member of the incoming administration shows any signs of wanting to reverse the Bush administration's pattern of buying non-voting stock in failing banks and allowing existing management to stick around with little or no alteration in their generous payments. This means that the same people who helped bring us to this impasse continue to be rewarded, maintain their power, and have no incentive to act in a more accountable way.

More bad news. The UK banking system is close to terminal. Contrary to the insistence of the Treasury that we are better placed than other economies to weather the storm, New Labour have encouraged a disproportionately huge and powerful financial sector while allowing the manufacturing sector to slowly bleed to death. Not only that, but the UK economy is uniquely reliant on overseas investment, which supports a third of all UK lending according to Will Hutton. As the world banking system collapses and neighbouring economies shrink, we are unusually exposed. As a result, unemployment is soaring - hitting just under 2 million by November (earlier than even David Blanchflower predicted). Current predictions are for unemployment to reach 3 million by 2010. Corporate profitability in the non-financial sector is sliding, which means that the resources for new investment are diminishing. Consumers, lacking income and with a tightened credit market, are increasingly forced to rely on pawnbrokers and short-term moneylenders. That will restrict their future spending even more.

Now, even the strongest City institutions, such as HSBC, are the subject of reports suggesting they need urgent recapitalisation. They continue to insist that this isn't so, and that they won't be going crying to the government any time soon, but the stock markets appear not to believe them. And as Lloyds-HBOS and RBS shares slide, the chair of the Treasury select committee is demanding their full nationalisation. If things continue as they are, the result may be a protracted and reluctant take-over of the entire UK banking system. The government's proposed new bank bail-out was received poorly by financial markets, probably because they know it doesn't go anywhere near far enough. Darling, like his new trans-Atlantic colleagues, is committed to buying up 'toxic securities' to help the banks stay afloat as private entities. Now, if we are going to pay for the banks' losses, we should own them and as owners we should protect jobs, and ameliorate conditions for borrowers and home owners. If the government is going to rehabilitate Keynesian demand-side economics, as it noisily announced in November, this would be a very moderate demand at the moment. As it is, we have a situation where banks are being given big rate cuts by the Monetary Policy Committee, but are refusing (with the exception of HSBC and Lloyds) to pass it on to consumers. True, the Chancellor has pledged that he won't let a single bank go down, but he has yet to be open about what this means. Leaving these institutions under private control while accepting the liabilities means that the government budget has to effectively bear trillions of pounds in liabilities. This could literally lead to the UK going bankrupt, Reykjavik-style.

The timidity of the Brown government is odd. It can't be explained by its relationship to big business. British capital is obviously divided over this, but when the Financial Times calls only half-jokingly for the government to shoot the bankers and nationalise the banks, it is obvious that a profound shift is taking place. Nor can it be about the polls. New Labour has never hesitated to impose unpopular policies, and it is right now implementing welfare cuts that are sure to further alienate its voting base. The government's proposed tax increase on higher income earners was popular, but it will raise little toward the costs now being racked up. The Fabian-funded research suggests that most people would support much higher taxes on upper incomes - but polls have often found much stronger public support for wealth redistribution than exists in the parliamentary Labour Party. My vague intuition is that, for all the bravado of the pre-Budget report, and for all the hints that Brown and Darling were dusting off the Keynesian texts, the government's reflex position is decidedly neoliberal. Neither the Labour Party, nor its parliamentary representatives, nor the cabinet, possesses a left-wing force substantial enough to force a different direction. Moreover, I think that both the Blairites and the Brownites, for all the petty wrangling between them, are keen to avoid anything that encourages the Left. Their psephological analysis continues to tell them that to win an election they must build an electoral coalition that includes pro-business, pro-family middle class voters in marginal constituencies, and they are determined to resist anything that looks like burying that New Labour project.

The political fall-out from this, even if we don't go bankrupt, is potentially explosive. Even on the overly optimistic assumptions of the government's last pre-budget statement, the Treasury expects to slash public spending in a disastrous way by 2011. Now, with a new bail-out weighing heavily on the public purse, and more surely to be expected, the only way to balance the budget will be to have serious tax rises, and a sustained and vicious attack on public services and welfare far more extreme than anything we have seen so far. Even before we get to that stage, millions of people are already being pushed to the edge by the job losses and pay cuts. Partly because of the government's weakness in the polls and the threat of a Tory government, most of the trade union bureaucracy is resistant to giving any expression to those grievances. This appears to be what is happening with the Chemilines dispute, for example. Moreover, the fear of losing a struggle in the current climate, where people are frightened of losing mortgages and so on, is likely to countervail against any tendencies toward militancy. If that pessimism and lack of confidence prevailed, then the initial stimulus for any widespread revolt might well originate from outside the institutions of organised labour, in the form of mass protests and riots (Reykjavik-style). Such a combustion has the virtue of gaining momentum rapidly and giving people confidence, but it also has the disadvantage that, unless it feeds into union resistance and lays deep roots in society, it will lose that momentum just as quickly, and hit the earth with a crash.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A friendly warning from the IDF posted by Richard Seymour

He returned yesterday to find the houses ransacked and scarcely habitable, with furnishing and electrical appliances tossed out of the window, gaping holes in the wall made for firing positions, furniture smashed, clothes piled on the floor, pages of family Korans torn out and remains of soldiers' rations littered in many rooms.

Stars of David and graffiti in Hebrew and English proclaiming "Arabs need 2 die", "no Arabs in the State of Israel" and "One down and 999,999 to go" had been scrawled on walls. A drawing of a gravestone bore the inscription "Arabs 1948 to 2009".

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Beit Lahiya posted by Richard Seymour

The UNRWA school that was fired on with white phosphorus:

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Map of Destruction posted by Richard Seymour


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Gaza: was there a winner? posted by Richard Seymour

Guest post by redbedhead:

It may seem crass to talk about winning and losing in the face of the Gaza slaughter, as though it were a football game. But there is good reason when one considers that the final tally of a battle or a war shapes key future events, determining the likelihood of future victories or even whether other battles will be entered into by those involved. And it is not only those directly involved who must be considered, for a victory or defeat by the army of choice will determine future actions. It is a truism about the Middle East, for instance, that Israel's 3-day, smashing victory over three Arab armies in 1967 secured them the sponsorship of the United States, which has sustained their superior position viz. their regional competitors.

Based upon a body count it would seem that Israel is the definite winner. There are, after all, something like 1300 dead Palestinians, plus another 5400 wounded, with well over half of the total being accounted for by civilians, even with only women and children being counted as such. This compares to 3 dead Israeli civilians and another 10 dead soldiers, most of them killed by friendly fire, apparently. But we can't look at the present invasion in terms of crude - and deadly - numbers. Israel has a massive military superiority over Hamas and its allied militias, like Islamic Jihad, the PFLP and DFLP. They have F-16s, guided bombs and missiles, Merkava tanks, phosphorous shells, unmanned surveillance drones, a navy, all the latest techno gizmos, access to US satellite intelligence - not to mention, apparently, the intelligence support of Mahmoud Abbas, Israel's favourite Palestinian collaborator, and leader of Fatah. All of this ensured that a Hamas military victory over Israel was utterly impossible and Hamas seems to have been smart enough to avoid direct confrontations in the open.

Israeli political leaders had set themselves a series of goals prior to and during the operation. Since Israel initiated the present conflict, planning it far in advance, prior even to the 6 months ceasefire negotiated with Hamas, and set the terms for its victory, it must be measured against those goals. In addition, other, unintended consequences must be looked at. Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, along with Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, have argued that the primary goal of the Gaza invasion was to stop Hamas lobbing rockets and mortars into southern Israel. If this were really the purpose of the attack, then certainly Israel has failed miserably, as demonstrated by the ceaseless firing of rockets throughout the invasion and even immediately following Israel's unilateral ceasefire. What's more, if the Israeli government wanted to end Gazan rocket fire the answer was very simple - meet the conditions of the original ceasefire negotiated with Hamas and agree to continue it. Hamas had, after all, met its terms - not only discontinuing Hamas' firing of rockets but putting a lid on rocket fire by rival militias such as Fatah and Islamic Jihad. Between June 19, when the ceasefire was agreed and November 4, when Israel launched a military raid, breaking the ceasefire, rocket and mortar fire was effectively nil (see attached pdf,p.6). It was Israel that failed to meet the terms of the ceasefire and which repeatedly provoked Hamas with attacks, arrests and killings.

The second stated goal was to prevent Hamas from re-arming. However, again, actions speak louder than words. If this were Israel's sole goal, they could have negotiated a deal with their pliant Egyptian ally or focused bombing strictly in the border region, where the smuggling tunnels exist. Nonetheless, even the head of Israel's intelligence agency, the Shin Bet, reports that the tunnel network hasn't been destroyed and that it will be up and running again in short order if Egypt doesn't clamp down. In other words, stopping smuggling was never dependent upon bombing the hell out of Gaza - it couldn't even be effective. What was required was Egyptian cooperation. But Egypt is now less likely, not more, to agree to a politically unpopular clampdown against the Palestinians, after hundreds of thousands demonstrated in solidarity with Gaza and against the Egyptian dictatorship. That was made clear after Israel and the US signed an agreement - without telling the Egyptians - to tackle the tunnels on Egyptian soil. The Egyptian Foreign Minister responded saying that Israel and the US can "do what they wish with regard to the sea or any other country in Africa, but when it comes to Egyptian land, we are not bound by anything except the safety and national security of the Egyptian people and Egypt's ability to protect its borders." President-for-life Mubarak went on television to specifically state that foreign monitors would not be allowed in Egypt. But even if Egypt agrees to more American Army Engineers to help it police the border, or an increase in police numbers IDF officials don't believe that this will stop the smuggling. So, Israel's second policy goal is clearly a failure. The real key for Israel was the need to restore its deterrent capability" - basically to instill fear in any and all Arabs who might think to challenge the occupation or any other Israeli strategic goals. New York Times billionaire columnist Thomas Friedman supportively referred to this as "educating" Hamas by "inflicting a heavy death toll on Hamas militants and heavy pain on the Gaza population." This was, in other words, according to Israeli supporters and critics, a terrorist operation by the state of Israel. As Norman Finklestein pointed out in a recent interview: "The goal of the operation was to terrorize the civilian population so that Palestinians would be afraid of Israel. This is the dictionary definition of terrorism."

Has Israel restored its deterrent capability, so badly damaged by its failed war in Lebanon in 2006, and its withdrawal under duress from Gaza in 2005 and southern Lebanon in 2000? Certainly every Israeli politician, journalist and military leader is claiming this. However, if the goal was simply to impress upon Hamas that they couldn't defeat Israel militarily, this was already known. Hamas has been trying since at least 2002 to agree a long term truce with Israel, only to face Israeli bombs and targeted assassinations. Certainly by now, any Palestinian knows that it doesn't matter what you do, Israel will try to kill you:

"it is overwhelmingly Israel that kills first after a pause in the conflict: 79% of all conflict pauses were interrupted when Israel killed a Palestinian, while only 8% were interrupted by Palestinian attacks (the remaining 13% were interrupted by both sides on the same day). In addition, we found that this pattern -- in which Israel is more likely than Palestine to kill first after a conflict pause -- becomes more pronounced for longer conflict pauses. Indeed, of the 25 periods of nonviolence lasting longer than a week, Israel unilaterally interrupted 24, or 96%, and it unilaterally interrupted 100% of the 14 periods of nonviolence lasting longer than 9 days."

The irony is that this pattern almost ensures the continuation of violent resistance since even non-violence is met by Israeli attacks. At a certain point, Israel's deterrent capability is undermined by the fact that only utter defeat and an acceptance of genocide would prevent Palestinians from resisting Israel's aggression. Certainly Hamas was suitably unbowed to fire off nearly two dozen rockets after Israel's unilateral ceasefire and to demand a withdrawal within one week or they would restart hostilities. What's more, everyone can see, as they did in Lebanon in 2006, that while Israel could defeat three Arab armies in six days in 1967, after three weeks fighting a starved, blockaded, disarmed population in Gaza, the IDF didn't take more than a corner of Gaza City.

Ultimately, of course, it will be in the coming days that the interpretation of events will unfold, depending upon the actual state of Hamas and other resistance organizations. It is likely that while Arabs throughout the region will of course remember that Israel can, in fact, destroy unarmed populations, that it is possible to resist and survive. What's more, Hamas will likely be strengthened politically, while Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah organization will be fatally weakened. Israel, the US, EU and their Arab client regimes may try to hold him up but everyone knows that they are now dead as a resistance movement and thus in the eyes of the Palestinian people. This makes it more likely that Israel will, as a result of this onslaught, be forced to recognize Hamas as the legitimate representative of the Palestinians, as will the international community. The 18 month campaign to destroy the results of the democratic election of Hamas, first by arming Fatah and fomenting a civil war and now with a direct intervention, have utterly failed. And outside of the Middle East, Israel has managed to discredit itself even further, spurring into being a massive movement in solidarity with the Palestinians and against Israel. They have shattered the myth that Israel is the victim and the Palestinians the aggressors. This movement, the heroic resistance of the Palestinians and the images of Israel's utter brutality, which they were unable to hide, though they barred all journalists from entering Gaza, has pushed even Israel's staunchest allies to criticize them. Turkey, Israel's only Muslim ally, strongly rebuked Israel, demanding their exclusion from the UN until they implemented the Security Council resolution. Egypt, the biggest Arab nation and paid billions by the US to play with Israel, has been made even more unstable by the slaughter, creating concern for the US' major Arab bulwark in the region. Jordan recalled their ambassador in protest. And there is even suggestion in a fascinating article by Justin Raimondo that the US ruling class is growing tired of Israel's mad dog routine, which threatens US hegemony in the region by alienating Arab allies and threatening others with domestic political upheaval because of Israel's penchant for killing Arab civilians.

It's unclear how all this will pan out over the medium term. But it is clear that the Gaza operation, which Israel was forced to end before Obama's inauguration, has not all gone the way Israel hoped. It may not even go the way that Livni and Barak hoped it would in terms of their electoral prospects, with the ultra-war mongers in Likud making most of the gains from the invasion. Hamas and the Palestinian people will live to fight another day, with a much larger international movement, one in which the call for boycott and divestment may get a major hearing. And the whole region has been destabilized thanks to Israel's compulsive need to avoid peace at any costs. The blowback is looking to be much worse than what they started out fighting, as they have internationalized the conflict.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Outposts of civilization posted by Richard Seymour

Israel is a First World country in a Third World region. It is unique among the countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) in that it is a non-oil-exporting economy with a high per capita income. With one of the highest population densities in the region, it has the ability to satisfy the needs of every citizen, even if it chooses not to do so (poverty rates, for example, are comparable to those in the UK). In a region notorious for looming food insecurity and growing water shortages, Israel maintains a high-technology economy with a big financial sector and, for no small number of its citizens, a properous lifestyle. It also has a reasonable share of the world's billionaires (ten on the most recent count). Eyal Weizman points out that these very suburban bourgeois living conditions are what Israel exports to its colonies in the West Bank and, previously, Gaza. Those heavily fortified village-like compounds with their pitched, red-tiled roofs are islands of luxury and comfort overlooking some of the worst poverty in the world.

Israel is a First World country in a Third World region, but this is a feat that could not have been accomplished without the original dispossession of the Palestinians and the theft of their natural resources and farmland (including about 500 orange groves in Jaffa), and which cannot be sustained without the continued dispossession of the Palestinians in the occupied territories. For example, Israel suffers from the same water shortages that bedevil the rest of the MENA economies, even though it doesn't have to support a large, water-intensive agricultural economy, but one means of resolving this issue is to steal West Bank water supplies. The West Bank's water sustained running taps and swimming pools for 282,000 Israeli colonists as of December 2007 (not including the approximately 200,000 Israelis living in occupied East Jerusalem). The growth rate of this population is currently about 5% a year. To support such growth, new land has to be confiscated on a regular basis.

Outside of the small areas of the West Bank in which the Palestinian Authority formally exerts either civil and military control (Area A) or just civil control (Area B), Israel still maintains its own 'Civil Administration' (Area C, 59% of West Bank territory), which gives planning permission to settlers while restricting the necessary growth of Palestinian villages and towns. When the authorities want to annexe more land for a colony, they either declare it abandoned or insist that it is needed for military security or public services. And despite occasional hypocritical condemnation of 'extremist' settlers who engage in regular pogroms against Palestinians, Israeli rules of engagement authorise IDF soldiers to protect the settlements in quite extraordinary ways. For example, according to Weizman, they are permitted to shoot any Palestinian who looks at the settlements through binoculars or in any other 'suspicious' manner. At any rate, the settler militias are not outlawed, and they are even permitted to collect funds from American organisations. (Intriguingly, there appears to be a number of Israelis who would like to form militias to attack Gaza, and former New York mayor Ed Koch has written in support of such an idea.) And, as the colonies expand, the necessity for obsessively regulating Palestinian movements, imposing ever more severe restrictions on the indigenous citizens of the West Bank, increases. There is evidence that Annapolis, and the sleazy accord that ensued, actually facilitated this process, resulting in a serious contraction in the West Bank economy - despite the fact that the West Bank was supposed to have benefited from a relaxation of the blockade that had been imposed since 2005.

That Israel solves its resource problems in this way is seen by its planners as both natural and just - indeed, Israeli supremacy is taken as proof of its intellectual, cultural and moral superiority. This has always been a mainstay of Zionist colonial ideology: Palestinian Arabs were seen as a negligent, backward race of peasants who had failed to properly develop the land, and therefore must give way to their sophisticated European overlords who, with all the grandiose pretensions of Paul Bert wooing the natives of Annam and Tonkin, entreated locals to see the colonization as a civilizing mission. It is a matter of broad consensus in Israel now that all of the land from the Jordan to the Mediterranean belongs to the 'Land of Israel'. Menachem Begin was not deviating from the norm when he scolded Ronald Reagan to the effect that what everyone called the West Bank was actually Judea and Samaria, and that the territory had been 'liberated' from Arab domination in 1967. Livni today explains her support for an eventual 'two-state' settlement in terms of a willingness "to give up a part of the country over which I believe we have rights". From this, it follows that any failure to exercise those "rights" is an act of immense generosity. And it then follows that Israel's failure to respect even the most basic rights of Palestinians, including the right to breathe, is mainly the fault of Palestinians themselves. According to Abba Eban's contemptible maxim, they "never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity". Palestinian attempts to resist the usurpation of their land and resources are in this light irrational acts of aggression.

The Palestinians must be made to understand. What must they be made to understand? Reportedly, when Lt Gen Moshe Ya'alon was Chief of Staff and suppressing the Second Intifada, he said that the Palestinians must come to understand "in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people." It is necessary to humiliate them, repeatedly, until they understand. It is necessary to isolate, demoralise, divide and deprive them. It is necessary to take out their kids with head shots.

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