From the +972 website:
Attacks by Jewish hooligans on Arabs, unprecedented incitement by right-wing politicians and clashes between Israeli Police and Arab youth. We’ve been here before, but never like this.
By Ron Gerlitz
This article is written at the height of an extensive, violent escalation in the Jewish-Arab conflict, both within Israel and between Israel and the Palestinians in the territories and the Gaza Strip.
Regarding the events inside Israel, it is important to note the dramatic difference between the events of October 2000 and those of the past week. In October 2000, it was Arab citizens of Israel confronting the police. In contrast, during the past week, Jewish and Arab civilians have faced off and attacked each other. The majority of these incidents involved assault and manifestations of racism by Jewish Israelis against Arab Israelis.
Unfortunately, such attacks are not a new phenomenon, but their scope over the last week is unprecedented. This is not just an escalation – it is an entirely new reality. We have never been in a situation in which attacks against Arab civilians occurred daily and all over Israel. The following is a collection of statements I heard from a firsthand source in the last few days: “Death to Arabs” marches in the streets of Nazareth Illit night after night, gangs of Jewish hooligans roaming the Jerusalem streets and beating Arabs, violent attacks against Arabs on buses, and, in Pardes Hanna, dozens of young people entered a mall screaming “Death to Arabs.” Furthermore, there have been innumerable incidents of profanity against Arabs.
No one comes out unscathed
I didn’t comprehend the scope of this phenomenon from the media, but rather from the fact that every single Arab citizen I have met recently (and I meet many) has told me about an incident that happened to him or to his family. One tells me that someone cursed at his daughter on the bus: “Filthy Arab, get out of here, all of you.” Another one tells me that she went to a clothing store and heard from an Arab worker that all the Arab employees had been fired that day. A friend tells me that his daughter went to the mall where some people (who didn’t realize she was Arab) told her, “All Arabs are dogs.” A colleague who lives near a main thoroughfare in a Jewish town says that a bag of sand was thrown at her house; since then, she has not let her children go out to the yard. Everyone has a story from the last week, and I haven’t yet mentioned the shock waves created by the brutal murder of 16-year-old Muhammad Abu Khdeir.
The result is that Israel’s Arab citizens sense a tremendous fear on a daily basis. Many of them avoid public areas; some have stopped showing up for work at shopping malls or riding public transportation, or they have prohibited their children from doing so. For many Arab citizens, the past week represents a turning point. Fear for their lives and their children’s lives have become a tangible, daily experience. This fear, in turn, gets linked to the insult and anger at the horrendous conditions in which they find themselves. The combination of increasing fear, anger, and sense of indignity is bad news for all residents of this country.
At the same time—and this is also important to point out—there have been attacks by Arabs on Jews: stones thrown at buses on the roads, Molotov cocktails thrown at passing cars, and, in the case that could well become symbolic—checking “who is a Jew” at the entrance to Qalanswa, taking Jewish drivers out of their cars, beating them, and setting their cars on fire. Even though these incidents are much smaller in scope than the attacks against Arabs, they are still a form of violence that is dangerous and morally repugnant. It is only by chance that these events have not yet resulted in casualties, and they have certainly increased the sense of fear and hatred among Jews.
On a personal note: I have worked on the issue of Jewish-Arab relations for a long time. I deal with issues of discrimination and racism, which evoke all kinds of feelings in me, such as anger, exasperation, frustration and a motivation to take action. We now find ourselves in a situation in which Arab citizens are genuinely afraid to walk in the streets, and rightfully so: when they do go out, they may well be verbally abused, or, in the worst case, be physically attacked. This causes me great shame.
And now for the bad news
I usually refrain from drawing pessimistic pictures of the future, but even according to the most cautious approach, it seems that the Jewish-Arab conflict in Israel might have entered a new and dangerous stage. Systematic discrimination by the establishment and popular racism have been some of the fundamental elements of the conflict to date. It seems that another element will now be added: violent conflicts between Jewish and Arab citizens. This is a nightmarish scenario that, unfortunately, no longer seems so imaginary. This is how civil wars in other regions of the world began. All those who value life must do everything in their power to stop this.
Where is the police?
As things stand now, the police have failed utterly to protect Israel’s Arab citizens. It is true that the police have prevented the lynching of Arabs wherever they have been on the scene, but the police do not work systematically to protect Arab lives. Many of the Arabs have been abandoned to the screaming, cursing and beating, and they are lucky that non-racist Jewish Israelis have saved them from the racists.
But it is also worth examining the protests in the Arab towns that included violent attacks on the police and sometimes on Jews as well. The difference between these events and those of October 2000 is clear. The police should now be roundly criticized: for the profusion of arrests, for the consistent and systematically discriminatory treatment of Arab protesters, and the suppression of demonstrations.
At the same time, it should be noted that the violent demonstrations transpired without any shots fired by the police or any casualties. Someone must have given the order to do everything to avoid shooting at the Arab protesters—and the order was carried out. Even though the police endured stones being thrown at them and the roads were closed, they managed to get through all the events without any casualties. In this sense, the police internalized and implemented the lessons of the October 2000 events. This is a positive development in the relationship between the state and its Arab citizens, and an example of how some of the recommendations made by the Or Commission were actually put in place. The police do not deserve a prize, but Noam Sheizaf was apparently right when he said they deserve a good word [Hebrew]. I would add: if only the Border Police and IDF acted this way toward the Palestinians in the occupied territories, many deaths could have been prevented.
There is leadership, and then there is leadership
The local Arab municipal leadership also deserves a good word. In almost all the localities where demonstrations took place, the heads of the local authorities intervened to prevent deterioration into even greater violence. Many of them went into the streets at night to try and prevent an escalation, and there is no doubt that they helped restore calm. At the time of writing, criticism of the heads of these local authorities is being voiced in Arab society. I do not share this criticism. Without their involvement, protestors or police officers may have been killed, and the situation would quickly have escalated from there.
Such an escalation would harm the Arab struggle to attain equality and break Jewish hegemony. At best, it would, strengthen, preserve and reinforce existing patterns of discrimination; at worst, it would contribute significantly to an additional infringement upon the rights of Arab citizens. All this is, of course, in the best-case scenario, in which the escalation does not lead to a civil war or an ongoing bloodbath.
Over the next few days, demonstrations are expected to take place in Arab localities. Both sides—the protesters and the police—will come with much more hatred and anger. One side sees its people subjected to nonstop bombings in Gaza, with more than 100 casualties and counting. The other side has to cope with protesters who, they believe, support the enemy even as their own families take cover in bomb shelters. This is a very dangerous scenario. The next few nights will be a litmus test for both the police and the Arab leadership.
In contrast to the local Arab leadership and the police – who have managed to cool down the flames – is the Israeli government. Not only is the government taking no action to reduce the escalation inside Israel, the past week has seen ministers fomenting provocation against Arab citizens. Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett have let fly harsh, racist statements directed at Arab citizens. Liberman, as usual, suggested that Arabs should be denied their citizenship.
After a weekend of violence between Arab citizens and the police and between Jews and Arabs, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself chose to address Arab citizens. He reminded them that they receive payments from the National Insurance Institute and made all kinds of demands of them in return. It is hard to conceive of a more wretched, divisive, and dangerous response by a prime minister in these times.
But it is easy to think of a much better response. No need to think hard, just read the words of President-elect Reuven Rivlin:
We must understand that we have no option other than living together. The bloodshed will only come to an end when we all realize that we are not doomed to live together, but destined to live together. Any vacillation or compromise on this issue will result in deteriorated relations that could result in tragedy, not only for shared life, but for life itself.
So what now?
I have not given up hope. I still believe that there can be a better future for the relationship between Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel. At times like these, I once again hold fast to the awareness (which I have also written about here) that ethnic conflicts far more intransigent and violent than this one have been resolved, while conflicts that seemed mild have declined into bloodshed. All options are on the table.
This is not the first time that I am ending an article with the words of the Arab citizen of Israel, Raef Zreik, which now seem more important than ever:
My optimism does not stem from the belief that one can decipher history’s hidden plan or hasten its evolution. My optimism is more modest: it is the result not of clear analytical thinking but of historical experience. Experience teaches us that sometimes—but only sometimes—there are also historical tales with a happy end. History also teaches us that this end is not happenstance; rather, there were those who toiled to bring it about. And it is worth remembering: Just as we have no assurance of success, neither is there any certainty of failure.
Read this post in Hebrew on Local Call.
Ron Gerlitz is Co-Executive Director of Sikkuy: The Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality in Israel.
Adam Keller, of the left wing Israeli peace bloc Gush Shalom, wrote this on Friday 4 July on his blog Crazy Country. Since then, the Israeli authorities have arrested six Jewish suspects in the case of Abu Khdeir’s murder.
Above: “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.”
It is becoming clear that the government, army and security services assumed from the start that the three (Israeli) boys were no longer alive. Probably, it was no surprise for them that there did not come any claim of responsibility, and no proposal of negotiating their release. The soldiers who conducted the searches on the ground were instructed to turn every stone, quite literally, and also to empty water holes and search their bottoms. The soldiers were sent to look for dead bodies, not for hostages. But on the media were imposed gag orders, preventing them from publishing information pointing to the death of the boys. The Israeli public was called to take part in mass prayers and rallies on city squares with the call “Bring back our boys” and one gets the impression that also the three families going from hope to despair were not informed to the full.
To whom was it worthwhile and why? It is not difficult to guess. Long before Gil-Ad Shaer, Eyal Yifrah and Naftali Fraenkel took their fateful ride, Binyamin Netanyahu already marked as a primary target the Palestinian Reconciliation Agreement. He was determined to drive a wedge and break up at any price the “Technocrat Government” created jointly by Fatah and Hamas. From the first day the government of Israel declared Hamas to be responsible for the kidnapping – a clear proof, if it exists, has not been published until this moment.
Under cover of the great outcry “Bring Back Our Sons” the army started a widespread detention campaign, which had no direct connection with the kidnapping. Operation Brother’s Keeper was mainly directed against “the civilian infrastructure” of Hamas – starting with the Speaker of the Palestinian Legislature down to grassroots activists of Hamas-linked educational institutions and charity associations. It was clear that the people detained knew nothing about the kidnapping, and nobody expected them to know. But, as was noted with satisfaction by knowledgeable commentators such as Alex Fishman of Yediot Achronot, the kidnapping created “a rare window of opportunity” in which the world kept silent about a massive detention campaign which under different circumstances would have caused a wave of international protest. Nor was there much ado about the killing of several Palestinians, among them boys of the same age as the Israelis which the army supposedly was searching for. Read the rest of this entry »
Noam Chomsky’s new article in The Nation on the BDS campaign against Israel has caused a stir. He makes quite a few highly controversial points, not all of which Shiraz would necessarily agree with. We republish this important piece, exacty as it appears in The Nation (starting with the Editor’s note) in the interests of information and debate:
Editor’s Note: BDS has been a topic of vigorous debate in the Nation community. For more on that debate, and for a range of responses to this article in the coming days, go to TheNation.com/BDS.
On Israel-Palestine and BDS
Those dedicated to the Palestinian cause should think carefully about the tactics they choose.
By Noam Chomsky
The misery caused by Israel’s actions in the occupied territories has elicited serious concern among at least some Israelis. One of the most outspoken, for many years, has been Gideon Levy, a columnist for Haaretz, who writes that “Israel should be condemned and punished for creating insufferable life under occupation, [and] for the fact that a country that claims to be among the enlightened nations continues abusing an entire people, day and night.”
He is surely correct, and we should add something more: the United States should also be condemned and punished for providing the decisive military, economic, diplomatic and even ideological support for these crimes. So long as it continues to do so, there is little reason to expect Israel to relent in its brutal policies.
The distinguished Israeli scholar Zeev Sternhell, reviewing the reactionary nationalist tide in his country, writes that “the occupation will continue, land will be confiscated from its owners to expand the settlements, the Jordan Valley will be cleansed of Arabs, Arab Jerusalem will be strangled by Jewish neighborhoods, and any act of robbery and foolishness that serves Jewish expansion in the city will be welcomed by the High Court of Justice. The road to South Africa has been paved and will not be blocked until the Western world presents Israel with an unequivocal choice: Stop the annexation and dismantle most of the colonies and the settler state, or be an outcast.”
One crucial question is whether the United States will stop undermining the international consensus, which favors a two-state settlement along the internationally recognized border (the Green Line established in the 1949 ceasefire agreements), with guarantees for “the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of all states in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries.” That was the wording of a resolution brought to the UN Security Council in January 1976 by Egypt, Syria and Jordan, supported by the Arab states—and vetoed by the United States.
This was not the first time Washington had barred a peaceful diplomatic settlement. The prize for that goes to Henry Kissinger, who supported Israel’s 1971 decision to reject a settlement offered by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, choosing expansion over security—a course that Israel has followed with US support ever since. Sometimes Washington’s position becomes almost comical, as in February 2011, when the Obama administration vetoed a UN resolution that supported official US policy: opposition to Israel’s settlement expansion, which continues (also with US support) despite some whispers of disapproval.
It is not expansion of the huge settlement and infrastructure program (including the separation wall) that is the issue, but rather its very existence—all of it illegal, as determined by the UN Security Council and the International Court of Justice, and recognized as such by virtually the entire world apart from Israel and the United States since the presidency of Ronald Reagan, who downgraded “illegal” to “an obstacle to peace.”
One way to punish Israel for its egregious crimes was initiated by the Israeli peace group Gush Shalom in 1997: a boycott of settlement products. Such initiatives have been considerably expanded since then. In June, the Presbyterian Church resolved to divest from three US-based multinationals involved in the occupation. The most far-reaching success is the policy directive of the European Union that forbids funding, cooperation, research awards or any similar relationship with any Israeli entity that has “direct or indirect links” to the occupied territories, where all settlements are illegal, as the EU declaration reiterates. Britain had already directed retailers to “distinguish between goods originating from Palestinian producers and goods originating from illegal Israeli settlements.”
Four years ago, Human Rights Watch called on Israel to abide by “its international legal obligation” to remove the settlements and to end its “blatantly discriminatory practices” in the occupied territories. HRW also called on the United States to suspend financing to Israel “in an amount equivalent to the costs of Israel’s spending in support of settlements,” and to verify that tax exemptions for organizations contributing to Israel “are consistent with U.S. obligations to ensure respect for international law, including prohibitions against discrimination.”
There have been a great many other boycott and divestment initiatives in the past decade, occasionally—but not sufficiently—reaching to the crucial matter of US support for Israeli crimes. Meanwhile, a BDS movement (calling for “boycott, divestment and sanctions”) has been formed, often citing South African models; more accurately, the abbreviation should be “BD,” since sanctions, or state actions, are not on the horizon—one of the many significant differences from South Africa.
Read the rest here
Guest post by Pink Prosecco
Peter Tatchell is an admirable man who has campaigned bravely on LGBT rights and many other issues. However I cannot agree with the thrust of this post, recently published in Gay London. To summarise, he regrets the way in which the LGBT community has retreated from ‘radical idealism to cautious conformism’. He wishes instead that LGBT campaigners questioned the institution of the family and were generally less bourgeois, and complains that more timid types only jumped on the LGBT bandwagon when it was safe to do so.
But this can be turned round I think. One might conjecture that the handful of LBGT men and women who were prepared to campaign and be visible forty years ago were unusually independent and tough minded. They were perhaps thus also more inclined to be non-conformist and politically radical in ways that went beyond sexual orientation.
I should note at this point that the ‘pink’ in ‘pink prosecco’ only references my slightly sub-shirazian shade of politics. However personally I don’t see why LGBT people should be expected to be any more or less radical than anyone else. It’s a sign of progress not regression that people who are dull, or disagreeably right wing, are as happy to identify as LGBT as creative, radical, edgy types. Peter concludes:
“The unwritten social contract at the heart of the recent campaigns for LGBT law reform is that gay people should behave respectably. No more cruising, orgies or bondage. In return, the ‘good gays’ will be rewarded with equal treatment. The ‘bad gays’, who fail to conform to conventional morality will, of course, remain sexual outlaws. Is that what we want? A prescriptive moralism that penalises non-conformists within our own community?”
But why should bondage and a rejection of conventional morality be seen as LGBT specific issues?
We must all register our protests, as best we can. Staff at Channel 4 (including Jon Snow, below) made their feelings known this evening:
Excerpted from Press Gazette:
National Union of Journalists’ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet described the sentences as “outrageous” and called for the British Government to condemn the verdicts.”The NUJ condemns in the strongest terms these sentences meted on journalists who were merely doing their job,” she said. “This is an outrageous decision and travesty of justice made by a kangaroo court.”Al Jazeera has rejected the charges against its journalists and maintains their innocence. This is a brutal regime which is attacking and arresting many journalists to attempt to silence them and prevent them from reporting events.
“The British Government must immediately signal its opposition to this verdict and do all it can to have the sentences overturned. The NUJ is calling on all media organisations to register their protest in support of colleagues at Al Jazeera and all the Egyptian journalists who have been attacked and arrested by their country’s authorities.
“Governments must not be allowed to deny journalists, wherever they are, the right to be able to report independently and in safety. The freedom of journalists is an integral part of any democratic process.”
Free speech campaign group Index on Censorship said the verdicts sent a message that journalists “simply doing their job” was considered a crime in Egypt.
Chief executive Jodie Ginsberg condemned the verdicts as “disgraceful” adding: “We call on the international community to join us in condemning this verdict and ask governments to apply political and financial pressure on a country that is rapidly unwinding recently won freedoms, including freedom of the press.
“The government of newly elected president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi must build on the country’s democratic aspirations and halt curbs on the media and the silencing of voices of dissent.”
Ginsberg said at least 14 journalists remained in detention in Egypt and some 200 members of the press were in jails around the world, and that concerns are growing over the safety of media representatives across the globe.
“Index is deeply concerned at the growing number of imprisoned journalists in Egypt and around the world,” she said. “We reiterate our support to journalists to report freely and safely and call on Egyptian authorities to drop charges against journalists and ensure they are set free from jail.
“And we ask governments to maintain pressure on Egypt to ensure freedom of expression and other fundamental human rights are protected. Index joined the global #FreeAJStaff campaign along with other human rights, press freedom groups and journalists.”
The hashtags #journalismisnotacrime and #FreeAJStaff were trending on Twitter this morning after the verdicts came through.
The picture below should shame anyone and everyone in Britain (and the rest of the West) who doesn’t bother to vote …
Men show their fingers after the ink-stained part of their fingers were cut off by the Taliban after they took part in the presidential election, in Herat province June 14, 2014.
…but even more, it should shame those on the so-called “left” who have ever expressed (publicly or privately) any degree of sympathy for the rural fascists of the Taliban. You know who you are (and so do we), you scum.
By Harry Glass (at Workers Liberty)
On 4 June 1989 the Chinese Communist Party savagely repressed the Tiananmen Square democracy movement that had grown to threaten its rule over the previous three months. The student-based protest had occupied Tiananmen Square at the heart of Beijing.
The Tiananmen movement has been remembered in 2004 as an overwhelmingly student-based protest movement, well summed up by the iconic image of students defying the tanks of the Chinese army.
But, though students took the lead in establishing the encampment in the square, it was ultimately the intervention of the working class that was of lasting significance.
At the beginning of the protests in May 1989, students did not generally seek working class support, confining the workers’ headquarters to the far side of the square until the end of the month.
But as the students were pulled towards the internal machinations of the ruling party, backing the “reformist” faction within the bureaucracy, the workers struck out on the road to independence.
One of the first signs came on 15 May, when 70,000 steelworkers at the Capital steel plant struck in solidarity with the Beijing democracy movement.
In fact, 1989 marked the rebirth of the working class as a powerful force in Chinese politics.
The Beijing Workers Autonomous Federation began organising on 17 April, before coming out publicly on 18 May.
Workers’ federations spread across many major cities, and incorporated steel workers, builders, bus drivers, machinists, railway workers and office staff.
A small core of around 150 activists managed to register 20,000 workers in those five weeks, including workers in state-run factories such as Shougang (Capital Iron and Steel) and Yanshan Petrochemicals.
They denounced the Communist regime as “this twentieth century Bastille, the last stronghold of Stalinism”.
After the declaration of martial law and the bloody massacre, the student movement went into decline. But the workers’ movement gained in strength and expanded far beyond the confines of Tiananmen Square.
Workers’ Autonomous Federations were established in Changsha and Yueyang in Hunan province, in Shanghai, Chengdu, Hangzhou and Guangzhou in the south.
The number of strikes and the dip in production figures measure the extent of workers’ involvement. Whilst the regime claimed that workers remained aloof, the workers’ organisations suffered the fiercest attacks in the press, and workers faced the severest repression in the crackdown.
Internal documents from the state-run “union” ACFTU admit that the Tiananmen protests were about working class political independence.
And 1989 was not the end of workers’ organisation and struggle.
In 1991 Liu Jingsheng and others set up the Free Labour Union of China. It was suppressed in 1992 and its founding members are still imprisoned.
In 1991 the Ministry of State Security investigated 14 underground workers’ organisations, with between 20 and 300 members, two modelled explicitly on Solidarnosc.
In 1994 Li Wenming and Guo Baosheng were detained for trying to establish an independent union and publishing “Workers’ Forum”.
In the same year Liu Nianchun helped found the “League for the Protection of the Rights of Working People” for which he was sentenced to three years re-education-through-labour after two years of “home surveillance”.
In 1998 Hunan worker Zhang Shanguang applied to the local government for permission to register a laid-off workers’ organisation, the “Association for the Protection of the Rights of Laid-Off Workers”, and was sentenced to 10 years.
In 1999 Yue Tianxiang and Guo Xinmin established the “China Workers’ Monitor” in Gansu province, for which they were sentenced to 10 and two years.
In the same year in Henan province, Xue Jifeng was arrested for organising an independent union. The government put Xue into a psychiatric hospital.
The number of disputes skyrocketed between 1992 and 1999. Official statistics showed 14 times more labour disputes by 1999 compared with 1992, from simple contractual disagreements to work stoppages and strikes.
Collective disputes also increased rapidly, involving 250,000 workers in 1998. Besides unrest over wages, disputes involved unpaid pensions to laid-off employees, poor working conditions and the fraudulent sell-off of state enterprises.
A new wave of the independent labour movement began in 2002. Read the rest of this entry »
“As Lenin put it, those who wish to see a pure revolution without nationalist revolts in oppressed countries, will never live to see a revolution. Such revolts can manifest all sorts of religious and nationalist prejudices. But Lenin argued the political complexion of the leaders of small nations–be they nationalist, fundamentalist, dictators or democrats–should not determine whether socialists in the major imperialist countries support them against imperialism. It is enough that a victory for imperialism would set back the cause of oppressed nations everywhere for socialists to commit themselves to the side of national liberation. Whether the leaders of such nations are despots, or merely murderous “democrats” in the George Bush mould, it is the task of the working class of these nations to settle accounts with them. Any interference by the imperialist powers would only be to secure profits and strategic interests.”-
As well as (I would contend) misrepresenting Lenin with an out-of-context quote, Rees fails to acknowledge that, if taken seriously, his formula would amount to “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”; put much more crudely and honestly here. It also exposes the truth that many of us have known all along, that the likes of Rees are not really anti-war at all, but invariably support the anti western side, even if that means Saddam, Putin or the Taliban – or, presumably, in the event of a western intervention – Boko Haram.
Us Shirazers are not always fans of Nick Cohen, but he nails Rees and the latter-day “left” isolationists and pro-whoever’s-anti-western “leftists” of the War Coalition variety, good and proper:
220 schoolgirls haven’t been ‘abducted’ by Boko Haram, they have been enslaved
Terrorists from a religious cult so reactionary you don’t have to stretch the language too far to describe it as fascistic attack a school. The assault on a civilian target, filled with non-combatant children, has a grotesque logic behind it. They call themselves “Boko Haram“, which translates as “western education is forbidden”. The sect regards learning as oppression. They will stop all teaching that conflicts with a holy book from the 7th century and accounts of doubtful provenance on the life and sayings of their prophet written hundreds of years after he died.
A desire for sexual supremacy accompanies their loathing of knowledge. They take 220 schoolgirls as slaves and force them to convert to their version of Islam. They either rape them or sell them on for £10 or so to new masters. The girls are the victims of slavery, child abuse and forced marriage. Their captors are by extension slavers and rapists.
As you can see, English does not lack plain words to describe the foulness of the crimes in Nigeria, and no doubt they would be used in the highly improbable event of western soldiers seizing and selling women.
Yet read parts of the press and you enter a world of euphemism. They have not been enslaved but “abducted” or “kidnapped”, as if they will be released unharmed when the parties have negotiated a mutually acceptable ransom. Writers are typing with one eye over their shoulder: watching their backs to make sure that no one can accuse them of “demonising the other”.
Turn from today’s papers to the theoretical pages of leftwing journals and you find that the grounds for understanding Boko Haram more and condemning it less were prepared last year.
Above, from the left: Charles Glass (freelance journalist), Seymour Hersh (‘investigative’ ‘journalist’), Robert Fisk (Middle East ‘correspondent’ for The Independent), and John Pilger (conspiracy theorist). A panel discussion on “Reporting War” at Low Library Rotunda of Columbia University, April 14, 2006
Yassin al-Haj Saleh is a Syrian writer who spent 16 years in the regime’s prisons. In this exclusive for PULSE, Saleh, who has been described as the “conscience of Syria“, discusses the distorted lens through which most people are viewing the conflict:
By Yassin al-Haj Saleh at the Pulse website:
In the West, Robert Fisk and Seymour Hersh are considered critical journalists. They occupy dissident positions in the English-speaking press. Among Syrians, however, they are viewed very differently.
The problem with their writings on Syria is that it is deeply centered on the West. The purported focus of their analysis – Syria, its people and the current conflict – serves only as backdrop to their commentary where ordinary Syrians are often invisible. For Fisk and Hersh the struggle in Syria is about ancient sects engaged in primordial battle. What really matters for them are the geopolitics of the conflict, specifically where the US fits into this picture.
On the topic of chemical weapons, Fisk and Hersh, completely ignore the antecedents of last summer’s attack on Ghouta .
A reader who relies exclusively on Fisk/Hersh for their understanding of Syria would never know that the Assad regime had used chemical weapons several times before the August 21, 2013 massacre in Ghouta. I was there at the time. I saw victims of sarin gas on two occasions in Eastern Ghouta and I met doctors treating them. The victims were from Jobar, which was hit with chemical weapons in April 2013 and from Harasta, which was hit in May 2013.
It is shocking that investigative journalists such as Fisk and Hersh know nothing about these attacks. They write as if Ghouta was the first time chemical weapons were used in Syria. Their credibility and objectivity is compromised by these omissions.
For these renowned commentators, the entire Middle East is reducible to geopolitical intrigue. There are no people; there is only the White House, the CIA, the British Government, Recep Tayyib Erdogan, the Emir of Qatar, the Iranian regime and of course Bashar Assad and the jihadis.
In Fisk’s myriad articles, one rarely reads about ordinary Syrians (the observation also applies to the late Patrick Seale).
Robert Fisk was once a scourge of American reporters embedding with US forces during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. But he saw no irony in himself embedding with Syria regime forces as they entered Daraya in August 2012.
More than 500 people were killed in a massacre at that time (245 according to Fisk). Who killed them? The rebels, determined Fisk based solely on interviews with regime detainees. Why should local fighters kill hundreds from their own community? Robert Fisk does not provide an answer. Had he spoken to a single citizen without his minders present, he would have learned that they had no doubts about the regime’s responsibility. Indeed, it was an American journalist, Janine di Giovanni, who established that fact shortly thereafter by visiting Daraya on her own.
At the same time when this was happening Human Rights Watch documented ten attacks on bread queues around Aleppo. Fisk did not mention a single one.
During this time Fisk visited a security center in Damascus where he was welcomed by a security official. He was given access to four jihadi fighters, two Syrians and two foreigners. Fisk made a point of mentioning that the prisoners were allowed family visits. As someone who spent 16 years in Assad’s jails and who has firsthand knowledge of these factories of death, I find this claim highly improbable. Fisk’s credulity is risible; he is assisting a shameful attempt to beautify the ugly polices of the House of Assad.
Why has Robert Fisk never attempted to contact people of Eastern Ghouta to ask them what happened there last August? It would have been easy for a person as well-connected as he to convince his friends in the regime, such as Assad’s media adviser Buthaina Shaaban, to facilitate his entrance to the besieged town. He could have met ordinary people for a change without the intimidating presence of regime minders and found out for himself who used the chemical weapons that killed 1466 people, including more than 400 children.
Ignoring local sources of information on the conflict in Syria seems to be a standard practice among many in the West, especially among left wing and liberal commentators. This speaks volumes about their ideological bias. Their dogmatic self-assurance with its veneer of professionalism is not substantively different than the obscurantist self-righteousness of the jihadis.
The Hersh/Fisk narrative unfolds in a historical vacuum: it tells you nothing about the history and character of the regime. You will not learn that the regime has used collective punishment as a policy since the very beginning of the Syrian revolt. That it has used fighter jets, barrel bombs and scud missiles against civilians to cow them; that it has invited foreigners from Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, and other countries to assist in the slaughter.
Nor will you learn about a flourishing death industry in the very places to which Fisk is a welcome visitor. Three months ago he penned an article about Assad’s systematic killing of the detainees in his dungeons, but Fisk reported on this topic in a way that gives us a biopsy of his professional conscience.
Fisk prefaces his report on the regime’s atrocities by warning readers about the horrors that may soon exist “if the insurrection against Bashar al-Assad succeeds.” For most, the significant fact about the photos was the industrial scale killings inside Assad’s jails that they evidenced. But Fisk appeared more obsessed with the timing of the photos, as they appeared a day before the Geneva 2 Conference. Fisk may have been reminded of Nazi Germany by the horrific fate of the 11,000 prisoners, but he still found occasion to expatiate at length about Qatar, whose “royal family viscerally hates Bashar al-Assad”, for funding the investigation. For Fisk, the atrocities were a mere detail in a larger conspiracy whose real victim was Assad’s regime.
To the uninitiated, Fisk’s article might convey the impression that those 11,000 were all that were killed by Assad’s regime and the 20,000 killed in Hama in 1982 were all that that were killed by his father’s. The actual number of victims is eleven times as many for Assad and twice as many for his father. Moreover, these figures ignore the tens of thousands arrested, tortured, and jailed, and the millions who have been humiliated by this regime
By methodically ignoring the Syrian people and by focusing on Al Qaeda, Robert Fisk and Seymour Hersh have done us all a huge disservice. The perspective on Syria portrayed by these writers is exactly the view of Syria that Bashaar Assad wants the rest of the world to see.
- Yassin al-Haj Saleh (born in Raqqa in 1961) is one of Syria’s most prominent political dissidents. In 1980, when he was studying medicine in Aleppo, he was imprisoned for his membership in a pro-democracy group and remained behind bars until 1996. He writes on political, social and cultural subjects relating to Syria and the Arab world for several Arab newspapers and journals outside of Syria, and regularly contributes to the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper, the Egyptian leftist magazine Al-Bosla, and the Syrian online periodical The Republic. Among Saleh’s books (all in Arabic) are Syria in the Shadow: Glimpses Inside the Black Box (2009), Walking on One Foot (2011), a collection of 52 essays written between 2006 and 2010, Salvation O Boys: 16 Years in Syrian Prisons (2012), The Myths of the Others: A Critique of Contemporary Islam and a Critique of the Critique (2012), and Deliverance or Destruction? Syria at a Crossroads (2014). In 2012 he was granted the Prince Claus Award as “a tribute to the Syrian people and the Syrian revolution”. He was not able to collect the award, as he was living in hiding in the underground in Damascus.
H/t: Gene at That Place