Genocide in Rwanda – 20 years on

April 6, 2014 at 7:40 am (africa, genocide, history, Jim D, reactionay "anti-imperialism", tragedy, UN)

Above: Jean-Paul Samputu, who lost his family, sings and talks about the genocide

The tragic events surrounding the Rwandan genocide of 1994 must never be forgotten. They are a major reason why some of us despise the isolationists of the right and the so-called “anti-imperialist” “left.” It occurs to me that a new generation of socialists has grown up largely unaware of these events, and miseducated by the isolationism -in-principle of people like the ‘Stop the War Coalition.’

The following is a modified and edited version of the account written by Janice Anderson, Anne Williams and Vivian Head in their book War Crimes and Atrocities (Futura, 2007):

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In a period of 13 weeks from 6 April 1994, about half a million people perished in a mass slaughter of the minority Tutsi population of Rwanda, a tiny country in Central Africa. Thousands of the majority Hutus were also slain for opposing the killings

Background

Rwanda’s population is divided into two ethnic groups, the Hutus and the Tutsis. The Hutus are the more numerous and are by tradition crop growers and farmers. Over the centuries, Hutus have encouraged Tutsis from northern Africa to come and work in Rwanda and, for over 600 years, the two groups shared the same language, culture and nationality.

Rwanda was first colonised by the Germans, but during World War I it was taken over by the Belgians, who caused a rift between the two groups by granting preferential status to the Tutsis. Then European missionaries added a further twist, by encouraging the Hutus to fight back, resulting in the loss of over 100,00 lives in a rebellion in 1956. Three years later the Hutus had seized power and over 200,000 Tutsis retreated to neighbouring countries where they formed the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), an army dedicated to taking on the Hutus.

When Rwanda became independent in 1962, the Hutus took power, but were constantly fearful of Tutsi retaliation, which eventually came in 1990, when the RPF attacked, forcing the then-president to sign a power-sharing agreement that was never properly implemented due to Hutu opposition. The situation was made even worse when a plane carrying the Burundi president (a Hutu) was shot down.

Aware that the fragile ceasefire was about to crumble, the UN sent a peacekeeping force of about 2,500 multinational soldiers, but by this time the majority of Hutus, including much of their political and religious leadership, had decided that the Tutsis had assassinated their president and that the only solution was to annihilate the entire Tutsi population.

In April 1994, amid ever-increasing threats of violence, the Rwandan president, Habyarimana and the new Burundi president, Cyprien Ntaryamira, held peace talks with the Tutsi rebels. But disaster struck on 6 April, when the small plane carrying the two presidents was shot down by ground-fired missiles as it approached Kigali airport. Their deaths plunged Rwanda into a frenzied state of political violence, leading to genocide.

The Genocide

Just 24 hours after the plane was shot down, road-blocks started to appear  on the roads around Kigali, manned by the Interahamwe militia. The Interahamwe (meaning ‘Those Who Stand/Fight Together’) was the most effective of the Hutu militias. They identified Tutsis and hacked them to death with machetes. Tutsis who could afford to pay were given the option of dying by a bullet. Specially organised death squads, working from prepared lists, went from neighbourhood to neighbourhood in Kigali. Not only did they round up all the Tutsis, but they picked on moderate Hutus as well, including prime minister  Agathe Uwilingiyimana: he was guarded by Belgian UN guards, who the attackers arrested, tortured and then killed, causing Belgium to withdraw the remainder of its UN troops.

The violence spread like wildfire from Kigali. Via the radio, the government urged Tutsis to congregate at churches, schools and stadiums, promising that they would make these safe places of refuge. Little did the Tutsis know that by gathering in large groups they in fact made themselves easy targets. Some of the victims managed to ward off attacks by using sticks and stones — until the joint forces of  the Rwandan army and presidential guard were brought in to wipe them out with machine guns and grenades. In just two weeks, by 21 April, it is generally estimated that about 250,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered, making this one of the most concentrated acts of genocide ever.

What made the genocide even more atrocious is the fact that it was encouraged by government and church officials, who even bribed the killers to do their dirty work. Local officials and leaders of Anglican and Catholic churches conspired with the killers and in many cases took an active part in the slaughter. Men, women, children and babies were killed in their thousands in schools and churches where, tragically, they had gathered in the hope of finding sanctuary. The victims had to bear the knowledge that they were being killed by people they knew — neighbours, fellow workers, sometimes even relatives by marriage.

The Interahamwe weren’t driven by drink, drugs or even mindless bloodlust, but a fanatical devotion to their cause. They were cold-blooded killers who were urged on by the media and by the government. Participants were often given incentives, such as money or food, and were even told they could keep the land of the Tutsis they killed.

The radio was important in spreading the killing. Even the poorest households would possess a radio and people would listen intently to government broadcasts. When Hutus heard the voices coming through the radio calling on them to “kill, kill. kill the Tutsi minority”, they responded accordingly.

The genocide was initially aimed mainly at young male Tutsis who could have been members of the RPF guerrilla force. However, as the days went by women and children also became victims. Survivors later told stories of being aped by individuals or gangs, sometimes using sharpened sticks or gun barrels. Sometimes they were sexually mutilated or forced into “marriages” that made them a sex slaves.

The Aftermath

The killing didn’t stop until July when the RPF finally managed to capture Kigali, causing the collapse of the government. A ceasefire was declared as soon as the Hutus realised that the RPF was victorious, and an estimated two million Hutus fled to Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). It wasn’t until the killing stopped that UN troops and aid workers arrived in significant numbers – while it was going on there had been just a token and entirely impotent UN presence.

Why was it that while the genocide was happening the international community deserted Rwanda? Erratic media coverage conveyed the false notion of two ‘tribes’ of African ‘savages’ mindlessly killing each other as they had done for many years. As a result there was little public pressure in the West for governments to intervene. Controversy has raged ever since over the role (or lack of it) of foreign governments and the UN in allowing the genocide to proceed. It wasn’t until 7 April 2000, the sixth anniversary of the massacre, that Belgium’s prime minister apologised for the international community’s failure to intervene. He told an audience at the site of a memorial that, “A dramatic combination of negligence, incompetence and hesitation created the conditions for the tragedy.”

Linda Melvin, in the Guardian, points out that General Roméo Dallaire, the UN force commander in Rwanda in 1994 had wanted just 5,500 reinforcements to stand guard at places where desperate people were sheltering; this would have sent a clear signal to the machete-wielding Interahamwe that the world would not stand for their brutality.

Melvin concludes her important piece as follows:

The 20th commemoration of the genocide sees fine words spoken by all and it seems timely to reflect on why Rwanda was so quickly abandoned to its fate in 1994. There has never been a satisfactory explanation for the indifference over Rwanda. Western governments – the US, UK, Belgium, France – continue to withhold a wealth of information about events. Neither the US nor the UK, two permanent members of the UN security council, has ever answered accusations of a failure to abide by obligations under the 1948 genocide convention, nor revealed the information on which their decisions were based. The failure to critically examine the role of ministers and officials has further encouraged the sort of secretive and unaccountable decision-making that will no doubt shroud the decision-makers today and those who sit and read the cables.

With no official inquiry by either the US or the UK, blame for inaction over the genocide has simply slipped away from the officials and politicians responsible. This might be a suitable time to find out why the UK government was so determined in the security council that Dallaire’s UN peacekeepers be withdrawn from Rwanda, leaving behind a “token force” in order to “appease public opinion” – not to protect civilians but to try to negotiate a ceasefire in the civil war.

Since 1994 there has been an almost continuous series of debates, studies and resolutions on the failure over Rwanda. These have shown how little true humanitarianism there is at the heart of states that both possess abundant resources and profess a commitment to human rights. Nothing has changed.

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Bessie Smith: Back Water Blues

February 9, 2014 at 5:52 pm (jazz, Jim D, music, New Orleans, song, The blues, tragedy)

Extreme weather and flooding having become a highly-charged political issue in the UK. So I thought Bessie Smith’s blues (superbly accompanied by pianist James P. Johnson) about the flooding of New Orleans in 1927 might be appropriate:

This is dedicated to all the people of the ‘Somerset Levels’ who’ve had to suffer so much over the past weeks. I’d also like to dedicate it to Lord Chris Smith of the Environmental Agency, a decent man whose monumentally inept handling of the situation and lack of PR skills are making it increasingly likely that he’s going to be made the scapegoat for this fiasco.

But, for now, let’s just enjoy Bessie’s incredible voice…

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The First World War: a history lesson for Gove

January 8, 2014 at 10:45 pm (capitalism, capitalist crisis, Daily Mail, Europe, Germany, history, imperialism, Marxism, posted by JD, Tory scum, tragedy, truth, war)

Following Michael Gove’s bizarre article in the Mail,  attacking ‘Blackadder’ and ‘Oh What A Lovely War’ (and then fellow Tory Max Hastings’ equally fatuous follow-up), I thought it might be an idea to check up on what a proper historian has to say about the First World War. Here’s the late James Joll (Emeritus Professor of the University of London and a Fellow of the British Academy), in his 1973 book Europe Since 1870:

Any single explanation for the outbreak of war is likely to be too simple. While in the final crisis of July 1914 the German government acted in a way that made war more likely, the enthusiasm with which war was greeted by large sections of opinion in all the belligerent countries and the assumption by each of the governments concerned that their vital national interests were at stake were the result of an accumulation of factors — intellectual, social, economic, and even psychological, as well as political and diplomatic — which all contributed to the situation in 1914 and which can be illustrated in the events of the last weeks before the outbreak of war.

While some people have argued — and it was a popular view in the period between the wars — that the war was the result of the ‘old diplomacy’ and of an alliance system based on secret agreements, others, and especially some of the leading German historians since the Second World War, have seen in the war a half-conscious or in some cases deliberate attempt by governments to distract attention from insoluble domestic problems by means of an active foreign policy and an appeal to national solidarity at a time of war. For Marxists the war was inherent in the nature of capitalism; the forces which drove states to expand overseas were in this view leading inevitably to a clash in which the great international cartels would no longer be able to agree on a peaceful division of the under-developed world and would force governments into war for their own economic interests. Other writers have concentrated attention on the implications of strategic decisions and on the influence of for example the naval rivalry between Germany and Britain in creating international tension, or on the effects of the German decision finally taken in 1907 that, in order to defeat the French army before turning to fight the Russians on the Eastern Front, it would be necessary to violate the neutrality of Belgium, and thus run the risk of bringing Britain into the war as a guarantor of Belgian neutrality under the treaty of 1839

[...]

If we try to account for the widespread optimism and enthusiasm with which the war was initially greeted by many people in all the belligerent countries, we have to look at many of the factors described in the preceding chapters — the belief that the doctrine of the survival of the fittest could be applied to international relations, so that war seemed to be the supreme test of a nation’s right to survive; the belief, stemming from Nietzsche, that only by a supreme shock and effort could the limitations of bourgeois life be transcended and its essence transmuted into something nobler. Or again, even if the governments of Europe did not deliberately envisage war as a way out of their internal political difficulties, the fact remains that war briefly produced a sense of national solidarity in which bitter political quarrels were forgotten: Irish Catholics and Ulster Protestants could agree to shelve their differences ‘for the duration’, as the phrase went; right-wing Catholics and socialist free-thinkers who had not spoken for years shook hands with each other in the French Chamber of Deputies, and the Kaiser gave a warm greeting to a gentleman whom he mistakenly supposed to be the Social Democratic leader Scheidemann. In Germany in particular the war seemed to create a new sense of solidarity, of belonging to a Volsgemeinschaft such as a generation of social critics had been longing for, a national community in which class antagonisms were transcended and in which the Germans felt rightly or wrongly a sense of mission and of purpose which had been lacking since the 1860s and early 1870s.

But perhaps in addition to the illusion that the war would be a short one, the illusion which received the most bitter blow, even though it was to be revived hopefully by President Wilson in 1918, was the belief that international relations could be conducted on a rational basis in which the interests of the various nations could be made to harmonise with each other without the need for armed conflict. It was this illusion that had governed Grey’s diplomacy and his attempt to mediate between the continental powers in the last days of July 1914; and it was a similar belief that inspired the leaders of the Second International when they came to Brussels in the hope of finding a way to demonstrate that the international solidarity of the European working class was stronger than the division between their capitalist rulers. The ideological assumptions on which European liberalism had rested were already breaking down before 1914. The war was going to hasten this process in the field of practical politics and everyday social and economic life. The war destroyed the political, economic, social and territorial structure of the old Europe and neither conservatism nor liberalism nor even socialism were ever going to be the same again. From the standpoint of sixty years later there is all too much truth in the prophesy made by Jean Jaures in 1905: ‘From a European war a revolution may spring up and the ruling classes would do well to think of this. But it may also result, over a long period, in crises of counter-revolution, of furious reaction, of exasperated nationalism, of stifling dictatorships, of monstrous militarism, a long chain of retrograde violence.’

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I have little doubt that I shall be returning to James Joll from time to time throughout the coming year: in the meanwhile I recommend Europe Since 1870 (from which the excerpts quoted above were taken) and his The Origins of the First World War (1984, with Gordon Martel). I doubt that Michael Gove will want to read anything so objective, scholarly and challenging.

Comrade Coatesy: ‘Daily Mail Attacks My Granddad.’

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Racism; Censorship; Disunity

January 7, 2014 at 4:15 pm (academe, Anti-Racism, censorship, Feminism, Free Speech, intellectuals, murder, post modernism, posted by JD, Racism, reactionay "anti-imperialism", reblogged, relativism, strange situations, tragedy, truth, women)

Read this piece. Think about it. Share it:

Above: Kassim Alhimidi (left) and Trayvon Martin (right)

By Unrepentent Jacobin (Reblogged from Jabobinism):

On the Hounding of Adele Wilde-Blavatsky

There is a damaging idea fast gathering influence on the Left that – like a lot of contemporary postmodern Leftist thought – urgently needs dismantling. This idea holds that racism is only possible when prejudice is married with power. The corollary of this premise is that racism may only travel in one direction – from the powerful to the powerless – and it is therefore nonsensical to discuss, still less condemn, racist attitudes expressed by ethnic minorities. In the West, racism is the preserve of the white majority who use it – often, it is claimed, unconsciously – to sustain their advantage and to oppress those they deem to be ‘other’. In the geopolitical sphere, meanwhile, this racism is the preserve of the world’s wealthy democracies and is expressed as Orientalism, Military and Cultural Imperialism, and Neoliberalism, all of which are used to dominate and subjugate the Global South.
Furthermore, racism exists independently of individual prejudice and cultural mores – like the power systems of which it is a part, it is abstract; metaphysical; unavoidable; unchanging. It is all-pervasive, ‘structural’, endemic, systemic, and internalised to such a degree that even (or especially) white liberal Westerners who perceive themselves to be broad-minded and non-prejudicial are not even aware of it. It is therefore incumbent on every white person, male or female, to ‘check their white privilege’ before venturing to comment on matters pertaining to minority cultures, lest they allow their unconscious ethnocentricity to reinforce oppressive power structures. Instead, moral judgement of minorities by universal standards should – no, must – be replaced by a willingness to indulge and uncritically accept difference.
In the view of this layman, this kind of thinking is wrong, both morally and in point of fact.
Postmodernism is notoriously unhappy with anything as concrete as a dictionary definition. However, the inconvenient fact is that racism remains clearly defined in the OED, and by the common usage its entries are intended to reflect, as follows:

Racism, n: The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races. Hence: prejudice and antagonism towards people of other races, esp. those felt to be a threat to one’s cultural or racial integrity or economic well-being; the expression of such prejudice in words or actions. Also occas. in extended use, with reference to people of other nationalities.

That the effects of this prejudice and antagonism are aggravated, perpetuated and sometimes institutionalized by the effects of power is undeniable, but this is a separate issue. Many unpleasant aspects of human nature and behaviour (greed, for instance) are also exacerbated by power, but that doesn’t change the ugly nature of the behaviour itself, nor allow us to infer that the powerless are incapable of making it manifest.
Efforts to effect an official change to this definition should be strongly resisted on grounds of egalitarianism (an idea the Left once cared about deeply). The difficulty with the power + prejudice formulation lies, not just in its dilution of what makes racism so toxic, but in a consequent moral relativism which holds people to different standards. It is manifestly unjust to hold some people to a higher standard of thought and behaviour based on their unalterable characteristics. However, it is far worse to hold others to a respectively lower standard based on those same characteristics, which insists on the indulgence of viewpoints and behaviour by some that would not be tolerated from others.
This separatist thinking has given rise to identity politics, moral equivalence, cultural relativism and what Ayaan Hirsi Ali and others have called “a racism of low expectations”. As Hirsi Ali remarked in her memoir-cum-polemic Nomad (excerpted here):

This Western attitude is based on the idea that people of colour must be exempted from “normal” standards of behaviour. There are many good men and women in the West who try to resettle refugees and strive to eliminate discrimination. They lobby governments to exempt minorities from the standards of behaviour of western societies; they fight to help minorities preserve their cultures, and excuse their religion from critical scrutiny. These people mean well, but their activism is now a part of the very problem they seek to solve.

Identity politics reinforces the racist argument that people can and should be judged according to their skin colour. It rests on the same crude, illiberal determinism, and results in what the French philosopher Pascal Bruckner has described as a “racism of the anti-racists”. This, as we shall see, leaves those vulnerable to oppression within ‘subaltern’ groups without a voice and mutes criticism of chauvinism and out-group hatred when expressed by minorities.
The alternative to this, now routinely derided as ‘Enlightenment Fundamentalism’, is a principled commitment to egalitarianism and universalism – the notion that what separates us (culture) is taught and learned, but that what unites us is far more important and fundamental: that is, our common humanity. On this basis, the same rights and protections should be afforded to all people.
This is what underpinned the idealism of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the American Declaration of Independence, two of the most noble documents produced by Enlightenment thought. It was the foundation for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, drafted and adopted in the wake of the carnage of the Second World War. And it is the basis upon which civil rights groups and human rights organisations have sought to advance the laws and actions of nations and their peoples.
The answer to prejudice, and to the division and inequality it inevitably produces, is not exceptionalism based on a hierarchy of grievance, but to strive for greater equality on the basis that we belong to a common species, divided only by our ideas. As Martin Luther King declared on the steps of the Lincoln memorial:

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

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On 20 December, the feminist writer and activist Adele Wilde-Blavatsky published an article in the Huffington Post entitled Stop Bashing White Women in the Name of Beyonce: We Need Unity Not Division. Wilde-Blavatsky’s post was a rebuke to those – on what she described as the post-colonial or intersectional feminist Left – who use identity politics and arguments from privilege to delegitimise the voices of white feminists speaking out about the abuse of women in the Global South and within minority communities in the West. Read the rest of this entry »

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Israel-Palestine: the unintended conquerers

October 13, 2013 at 6:04 pm (good people, history, humanism, israel, literature, Middle East, palestine, posted by JD, reblogged, tragedy, war, zionism)

 

Unintended Conquerors

Yossi Klein Halevi’s new book Like Dreamers speaks with rare clarity on the Israel-Palestine conflict.  BY Louis Nayman (at In These Times)

Above: Zion Karasanti, Yitzhak Yifat and Haim Oshri, IDF paratroopers at Jerusalem’s Western Wall shortly after its capture. (David Rubinger / Knesset website)
Shortly after 9:15 a.m. on June 7, 1967, reservists of the Israel Defense Forces 55th Paratroopers Reserve Brigade became the first soldiers of a sovereign Jewish state to enter the Old City of Jerusalem, the historic and Biblical capital of the Jewish people, in nearly 20 centuries. The ceasefire that ended Israel’s 1948 War of Independence had left Jerusalem’s Old City under the Jordanian army’s control, and many religious Jews with strong feelings that the promise of redemption had not yet been fulfilled.

The night before, the unit had sustained high casualties in hand-to-hand fighting against Jordanian Army infantry in the surrounding hillsides. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan questioned whether modern Israel even needed what he dismissively called “this Vatican,” but ultimately relented to the pressure of Israel’s Chief Rabbi and the political Right. However, the conquest was easier than anticipated: Unknown to the IDF, Jordanian forces had slipped away under cover of night, so when approval came that Wednesday morning to take the Old City, soldiers of the 55th broke through the Lion’s Gate and reached the Temple Mount and Western Wall in short order. In a scene eerily foreshadowing the triumphal image 36 years later of an American soldier draping the stars and stripes across a statue of Saddam Hussein, someone fastened an Israeli flag atop the Dome of the Rock—Islam’s third holiest site—prompting an appalled Dayan to order it taken down immediately.

Over the course what became known as the Six Day War, the territory under Israeli control tripled, its borders expanded to the banks of the River Jordan, the Suez Canal and the heights of Golan, encompassing not only all of Jerusalem, but the holy historical sites of Hebron, Jericho and Bethlehem. What had begun as a defensive war for national existence had ended in an occupation of conquest.

The consequences of that transformation over the next five decades are vividly, and at times heartbreakingly, recounted in American-born Israeli journalist Yossi Klein Halevi’s excellent and exquisitely written new book, Like Dreamers: The Story of The Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation. Through the intertwining personal histories of seven reservists of the 55th  Brigade— who range from pork-eating, Yom Kippur-breaking kibbutzniks to kashrus-observing, kippot-wearing seminarians—Halevi provides a comprehensive, insightful and richly accessible portrayal of the competing utopian visions of modern Zionism: one secular, the other messianic. Understanding these competing visions is central to finding a just and enduring resolution to the competing claims dividing what both Arabs and Jews call the Holy Land.  

To kibbutzniks, the founding elite of the modern Jewish state, Stalin-era Red Army songs came more easily than the most elementary Hebraic prayers. They believed the aim of Zionism was to build a democratic socialist country in the ancient Jewish homeland that would claim its place among the other sovereign secular democracies of the world, a nation among nations.

Religious Zionists, not interested in building what Halevi characterizes as “another Belgium,” sought to create a Jewish state that remained true to Biblical prophecy and borders, included the holy sites of Jerusalem, Jericho and Hebron, observed Jehovah’s rituals and commandments, and served as a beacon and moral example to all the nations. Halevi quotes a 21-year-old seminarian and corporal exclaiming at the liberation of the Temple Mount, “Two thousand years of exile are over.” Another tells an officer, “We are writing the next chapter of the Bible.”

But with unfolding of events—the Yom Kippur War; the founding, expansion, and dismantling of settlements; the incursion into Lebanon; the Camp David and Oslo Accords; the Rabin assassination; the massacre at the Mosque of Abraham; successive intifadas and failure to reach agreement at the second Camp David meeting in 2000—worldviews change, as did the former paratroopers who held them. In following the stories of these paratroopers and their comrades, Halevi masterfully demonstrates the fluidity, complexities, inconsistencies and contradictions that propel national, cultural and geopolitical, as well as personal, history. Of the seven paratroopers:

Two kibbutzniks—Meir Ariel, who becomes a rock musician and Avital Geva, who earns international acclaim as a conceptual artist—were involved in founding of Peace Now, the political movement dedicated to ending the occupation and reaching a just two-state solution with the Palestinians.  Brought up in secular socialist kibbutzim where the kitchens weren’t kosher and the Sabbath was just another work day, Ariel and Geva in middle age separately come to embrace ritual prayer and the Study of Torah.

Arik Achmon, the brigade’s intelligence officer and the son-in-law of the founder of the leading left-wing kibbutz movement becomes a corporate executive, union buster and influential proponent of unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, while at the same time favoring construction of a security barrier separating most of the West Bank and Gaza from Israel proper, concluding that for Israel, ending the occupation is a more urgent priority than making peace.

Yoel Bin-Nun, former seminarian and corporal in the paratroopers, who becomes a rabbi, teacher, and founder of two settlements beyond Israel’s 1967 borders, similarly concludes when “confronted with the unbearable choice between preserving the intactness of the people of Israel and the intactness of the land of Israel,” the Jewish hierarchy of values places people first, then Torah and then land. Anguished by the religious Right’s growing participation in, and tolerance for, violence against other Israelis and Israeli institutions, he quits the settlement he founded, and at the age of 58, votes Labor for the first time in his life. 

Yisrael Harel, the only non-sabra of the seven, is a child refugee of the Shoah who, as a leader and top organizer of the settler movement, goes on to meet clandestinely with PLO representatives in an effort to find a framework for agreement on Palestinian sovereignty that preserves established Jewish settlements. Harel’s colleague Hanan Porat, also a former seminarian, becomes the first West Bank settler to win election to the Knesset as a strong proponent of expanded settlement by both legal and extralegal means. When during the elections of 1992 hard Right parties attack Labor Prime Minister candidate Yitzhak Rabin for suffering an emotional breakdown on the eve of the 1973 Yom Kippur war, Hanan Porat publically comes to the defense of his former commander.    

Former kibbutznik and paratrooper Udi Adiv becomes increasingly estranged from what he comes to see as “Zionist imperialism” and “the fiction of progressive Zionism.” While a left-wing radical at the University of Haifa, he asks an Israeli Palestinian to put him in touch with the PLO. Ultimately, Adiv becomes involved with a Syrian sponsored anti-Zionist terror network.  Arrested in Israel three months following the massacre of Israeli Olympic athletes in Munich, he is convicted of espionage and sentenced to 17 years in prison. While imprisoned Adiv asks to be confined with the Arab prisoners, but grows disillusioned when they exhibit more solidarity with nationhood and Islam than with class. He is returned by request to the general prison population, comprised mostly of Sephardic poor and working-class Jews. Released after serving 12 years, he tours the destroyed Arab village on whose land his own kibbutz expanded and thinks, “Every nation carries its legacy of injustice… . To correct the injustices of the past meant imposing new injustices.” Nearly two decades following his arrest, one of his former interrogators casually tells him during a chance encounter that “all of us”—meaning the intelligence service— “are in favor of an agreement with the Palestinians.” The kibbutznik takes it as a vindication of sorts.

None of these lives played out neatly. Some bent toward behavior and ideologies they never would have imagined, others experimented with various philosophies and careers, while others pressed the limits of messianic certainty. In them, we see that progress marches not so much in a straight dialectic as rambles in gradual zigs, abrupt zags, and occasional reverses—something Hegel and Marx and Yeats never quite got.

Halevi’s narrative includes a number of tactical and strategic lessons for contemporary progressives seeking justice for Palestinians. Boycott, Divesture and Sanctions proponents might remember that the most powerful consequence of the 1975 United Nations “Zionism is racism” resolution, was to incense Israelis and sway Israeli public opinion to support—or at least not oppose—the expansion of settlements in Judea and Samaria. Arafat’s last minute hardening of position and retreat from an agreement at the 2000 Camp David talks, under which Israel would have withdrawn from more than 90 percent of the West Bank and would have established a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, led to the resumption of the intifada and the surprise election months later of hardliner Ariel Sharon as prime minister, thereby prolonging the misery of occupation and postponing indefinitely the prospects for establishing a two-state solution and the redress of Palestinian grievances.

Yossi Klein Halevi’s eye for detail and character, and ear for complexity and nuance, create an authoritative narrative with the intensity and sweep of an epic novel. From now on, no understanding of the history and currents shaping the prospects for a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians will be complete without Halevi’s remarkable and compelling book.

ABOUT THIS AUTHOR

Louis Nayman is a longtime union organizer. The views expressed are his own.

More information about Louis Nayman

H/t: Roger McCarthy

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Lampedusa tragedy: the EU must act

October 4, 2013 at 8:12 pm (Europe, Human rights, immigration, Italy, posted by JD, poverty, Racism, tragedy, UN)

From France 24:

Body bags containing African migrants, who drowned trying to reach Italian shores, lie in the harbour of Lampedusa

Above: some of the bodies at the dockside

Italy calls for EU help after Lampedusa boat tragedy

Italy has asked for help from the European Union to deal with refugee arrivals in the wake of the sinking of a boat carrying migrants off the coast of the Sicilian island of Lampedusa on Thursday, in which it is feared 300 or more people could have died.

Around 500 people, believed to be mostly Eritreans and Somalis, were aboard the 20-metre boat when it capsized and sank on Thursday morning when the vessel was around half of a mile from the island.

By Friday afternoon, 111 bodies, including at least three children and two pregnant women, had been recovered.

But with only 155 survivors plucked from the water almost 24 hours after the disaster, there were fears that the final toll could rise significantly higher in what is one of the worst migrant tragedies to strike the Mediterranean in recent years.

“Two motorboats remained in the area overnight and this morning divers resumed work but we expect to recover more than a hundred [more] bodies from the ship,” coast guard official Floriana Segreto told Reuters.

Meanwhile, a ferry arrived early on Friday with a truck carrying about 100 coffins and four hearses for the dead, who are now lined up along the floor of a hangar at the airport.

“Seeing the bodies of the children was a tragedy,” Pietro Bartolo, a local doctor, told the AFP news agency. “In many years of work here, I have never seen anything like this,” he said.

‘A European tragedy’

Italy is one of the most common destinations for refugees trying to reach Europe from northern Africa and the Middle East.

According to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, 8,400 migrants landed in Italy and Malta in the first six months of this year, almost double the 4,500 who arrived during the first half of 2012.

Migrants frequently head for Lampedusa, just 113 km (70 miles) from the coast of Tunisia, and are often found in dangerously overcrowded boats before being taken ashore by the Italian coastguard.

There have mean numerous accidents involving migrant boats attempting to reach Italy and last year almost 500 people were reported dead or missing on the route between Sicily and Tunisia, according to UN figures.

Italy has pressed the EU for more help to fight the crisis, which it says concerns the entire 28-nation bloc.

“This is not an Italian tragedy, this is a European tragedy,” said Italy’s Interior Minister Angelino Alfano on Thursday.

“Lampedusa has to be considered the frontier of Europe, not the frontier of Italy.”

The EU’s Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroemn called on EU countries to do more to take in refugees, which she said would help reduce the number of perilous Mediterranean crossings.

A redoubling of efforts is needed to “fight smugglers exploiting human despair”, she said in a tweet.

‘These deaths did not need to happen’

Meanwhile, repressive policy towards illegal immigrants by Italy and other European countries could have also contributed to the tragedy, a UN official said Thursday.

François Crepeau, the UN’s special rapporteur on migrants’ rights, said that by closing their borders to refugees, European countries are only giving more power to human traffickers.

“Treating irregular migrants only by repressive measures would create these tragedies,” he told reporters. “These deaths did not need to happen.”

In Italy, migrants can work legally only if they have a work permit and a contract before they arrive – a policy pushed through by Italy’s anti-immigrant Northern League party.
Migrants who arrive in Lampedusa are processed in centres, screened for asylum and often sent back home.

Crepeau was speaking at the start of a two-day debate at the UN General Assembly on international migration.

At the start of the debate, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon offered his “deep condolences” and said he hoped the Lampedusa tragedy would be a “spur to action.”

The UN chief said protecting migrants’ rights, fighting against exploitation and improving the public perception of migrants were all crucial.

Pope Francis, who visited the island in July on his first papal trip outside Rome, also expressed his sadness over the incident.

“The word that comes to mind is ‘shame’,” Francis said in unscripted remarks after a speech in the Vatican. “Let us unite our strengths so that such tragedies never happen again.”

On Friday, Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta called for a national day of mourning and a minute of silence to be held in all schools to mark the tragedy.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)

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Chile: how the army killed reform

September 11, 2013 at 4:28 pm (AWL, democracy, history, Latin America, posted by JD, reformism, socialism, thuggery, tragedy, United States)

Soldiers carry the body of President Salvador Allende, wrapped in a poncho. (AP Photo/El Mercurio, File)

Above: soldiers carry the body of Allende, wrapped in a poncho

By Cathy Nugent (from the Workers Liberty website)

On 11 September 1973, a bloody military coup in Chile ousted the Popular Unity government of President Salvador Allende. Allende was killed defending the Presidential Palace during the coup.

Workers in the factories attempted to defend themselves against the military attacks — but they were not sufficiently organised or sufficiently armed, to stop the onslaught.

The military regime of General Pinochet which followed tortured and killed hundreds of thousands of working-class militants and political activists.

Allende’s Popular Unity (UP) coalition government was elected in 1970. The two main parties were the pro-Moscow Communist Party and Allende’s Socialist Party. Allende considered himself a Marxist.

The Chilean Communist Party had a stagist strategy for achieving socialism in Latin American countries. The first stage was for the workers to defeat the “reactionary feudal sector”, forming an alliance with the “progressive” national bourgeoisie. Then the workers’ movement would proceed to a struggle for socialism.

Yet by 1970 Chile was a fully bourgeois society. Even if there had been an important economic distinction between landlords and capitalists, politically the ruling class as a whole was united against working class or struggle.

The Socialist Party was nominally Marxist. In 1973 the overthrow of the capitalist state was still party policy, but not a policy that the party adhered to in practice.

The Popular Unity government came to power on a wave of radicalisation in 1970, boosted by dissatisfaction with a mild reform programme of a Christian Democrat government. Allende promised more.

The Popular Unity government believed Chilean economic development should take place without reliance on aid, loans or investment from abroad, particularly the United States. It stood in the tradition of the 1938 -1946 Chilean “Popular Front” government of the Radical Party, supported by the Communist Party and the Socialist Party.

Popular Unity’s reforms were far-reaching. By 1973 about 40% of land had been expropriated and turned into smaller plots and co-operatives. Copper and nitrate mines were nationalised, as were the banks and many smaller industries. The government intended to compensate the capitalists but could not afford it! Many nationalisations were on the initiative of the workers.

From day one the US State Department, headed by Henry Kissinger, funded the military and right-wing opposition to Popular Unity. The 1973 coup was actively backed by the CIA.

By 1972 Popular Unity began to be destabilised: the US withdrew credit; financial speculation was rife; agricultural productivity was low; wage strikes continued right through to 1973.

This led to economic crisis and crippling inflation which by 1972 had generated a middle-class and bourgeois reaction threatening the existence of the government.

Instead of building on the mass working-class support for its policies, the government grew less inclined to make concessions to the workers.

In May 1972 a demonstration in Concepcion in support of further nationalisation, was fired upon by cabineros acting on the orders of the Communist Party mayor.

Instead of acting against the Chilean financiers, the government encouraged wage “restraint” in order to “conquer” inflation.

Allende believed a loyal “constitutional” majority among the officers would not allow a military coup.

In August 1972 the government sent in the police against a shopkeepers’ strike in Santiago to try to get them to open up (many of them had been hoarding and conducting black market trading). This prompted violence from the fascist opposition.

In October 1972 the truck owners went on strike against a proposed state-controlled truck company. The strike spread to many other small businesses. In Parliament the opposition tried to impeach four government ministers.

During the middle-class strikes the Chilean workers tried to keep the factories operating, to defend the government and to try to stop the worsening of shortages. But Allende did not build on this support.

Workers’ councils known as cordones were formed in several areas of the country. They saw their goal as keeping production going during the crisis, and defending the gains the workers had won under Allende.

Armed detachments were organised to meet the right-wing threat but were nowhere near widespread enough to save the Chilean workers from the savagery of the army.

Large sections of the Socialist Party supported the cordones, but the Communist Party was very hostile to them, seeing them as a challenge to their hegemony in the trade unions.

In the March 1973 legislative elections, Popular Unity increased its share of the vote to 45% (from 36% in 1970). By May the right was out in force on the streets

Now the miners struck against the withdrawal of the sliding scale of wages. Under this system — won in the first months of the government — wages were pegged to inflation and would rise automatically with the cost of living.

An attempted coup led by a rebel section of the military took place in June 1973. It was not supported by the whole of the military, only because they had not yet fully formulated their policy.

The government still enjoyed massive support amongst the working class. Only five days before the final coup a million people demonstrated in Santiago to celebrate the third anniversary of Allende’s election.

In the event, apart from small armed detachments of workers, the Chilean proletariat was defeated with minimal fighting and then subjected to a terrible butchering.

There followed 16 years — until 1989, when the junta was forced into an election — of the viciously anti-working class Pinochet government.

Marxist socialists have had many debates about the lessons of the coup. They have pointed out that Allende’s refusal to arm the workers was decisive in the defeat of the working class. This is true. But it was only the last act in a tragedy at the core of which was the Popular Unity government’s decision to try to conciliate the capitalists, trying to convince them to go along with its reforms.

As the elected government, the UP thought they had the power — the armed forces. That is why they did not arm the workers. They learned that when it came to it, the capitalists, not parliamentary democracy, had the ultimate loyalty of the armed forces.

The working class of Chile paid for Allende’s weakness, confusion and vacillation with many tens of thousands of proletarian lives.

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Islamism and the racist right: not incompatible

August 5, 2013 at 10:28 am (conspiracy theories, crime, fascism, islamism, Jim D, mental health, Racism, terror, tragedy, United States)

Above: the Tsarnaev brothers (Tamerian on right) immediately before the bombs went off

There’s something  thoroughly distasteful about the way elements of both left and right attempt to use terrorist incidents to bolster their predetermined agendas. Fox News (etc) will immediately point the finger at Islamists. Socialist Worker (UK) and their ilk will respond by reminding us that it’s not always Islamists who do these things, usually name-checking Timothy McVeigh and/or Anders Behring Breivik and concentrating upon the dangers of “Islamophobia.” As far as I’m aware, the “blowback” explanation/justification for terrorism is the exclusive preserve of a certain kind of leftist but I may even be wrong about that.

So I’m not about to draw sweeping conclusions from the revelation (to be aired on BBC Panorama tonight) that one of the (suspected) Boston bombers was simultaneously a militant Islamist and a subscriber to publications espousing white supremacy and anti-government conspiracy theories.

According to the BBC, Tamerian Tsarnaev possessed articles arguing that both 9/11 and the 1995 Oklahoma bombing were US government conspiracies, and another on “the rape of our gun rights.”

He also possessed material condemning US drone attacks and the plight of Guantanamo Bay prisoners.

I opened by criticising those who use terrorist outrages to justify a simplistic political agenda, so I’ll try to avoid doing that myself. The motives of the Tsarnaev brothers are not obvious, and mental health may well be a factor. They were not members of any Islamist network. As ethnic Chechens, they spent their early years in a troubled and violent region. In the US, Tamerian lived a relatively comfortable and apparently conventional life, but seems to have become a militant Islamist when his boxing ambitions were frustrated due to his lack of citizenship.

The BBC quotes a friend of the brothers, saying: “He (Tamerian) just didn’t like America. He felt like America was just basically attacking all Middle Eastern countries…you know, trying to take their oil.”

And on the all-important (but too often overlooked) distinction between Islam and Islamism, it’s worth noting the words of Nicole Mossalam, spokesperson for the mosque that Tamerian occasionally visited:

“As far as connecting with the Islamic community here, to actually praying, being involved, doing acts of charity .. all these were pretty much lacking.

“I would say he was just a Muslim of convenience.”

* Panorama – ‘The Brothers who Bombed Boston’ will be screened tonight, Monday 5 August on BBC One and then on the BBC iPlayer in the UK.

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Was profit a factor in the Galician train crash?

July 27, 2013 at 9:11 am (capitalism, Jim D, profiteers, tragedy, transport, workers)

If this is true it should be more widely publicised:

p002_f01.jpg

Profit behind Galician train crash?

From the Basque newspaper Gara:

The disaster took place on a curve where a new high speed rail line was connected to a slow one – to save money. Drivers were supposed to slow from 220 km to 80 km. There was nearly an accident during the inauguration run.
There was no automatic braking system -to save money… Drivers had to be punctual to avoid passengers claiming compensation (and save money.) The accident train was running late.

…But of course, it’ll be the driver who carries the can.


H/t: Pete Gillard (via Facebook)‬

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You been a good ole wagon…but you done broke down

July 6, 2013 at 1:01 am (engineering, jazz, Jim D, song, The blues, tragedy)

My old Ford Focus served me well for about ten years, and if I’m honest I have to say I gave it quite a thrashing one way and the other. A couple of weeks ago it finally expired with much juddering, wheezing and agonized whining. Something called the cam belt, so I’m told. It buggers up your valves: nasty. And expensive. It would have cost more to repair than the car was worth.

Happily (or so I thought), just at that moment my employer was offering a 2007 Mondeo diesel estate for sale at what seemed a very reasonable price, so I snapped it up. Just one week after buying it, the bloody thing has broken down and I had to be towed home in ignominy late on Thursday night . It’s something called the EGR valve and it’ll cost me over £200 to put right.

Bessie Smith, back in 1925, seems to have had similar troubles with an old vehicle: “You Been a Good Ole Wagon … but You Done Broke Down” she sang, presumably about a much loved but knackered Model T. Why this automotive song should be illustrated by a female backside (albeit shapely), I’ve absolutely no idea:

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