The Fayyad plan is still-born
Joseph Massad in the Electronic Intifada on the fools who have hope in the US-backed and armed Palestinian Authority to bring “democracy” to Palestine:

The Palestinian Authority is pregnant! Indeed, it is the unelected and American-imposed Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad who is pregnant. He told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz in a recent interview that “the time for this baby to be born will come … and we estimate it will come around 2011.
” Unlike females of the human species but like female whales, the gestation period for male Palestinian collaborators with the Israeli occupation extends at least to two years.
Fayyad, “the Palestinian Ben-Gurion,” as Israeli President Shimon Peres recently dubbed him, had declared his pregnancy in a document he issued on 25 August 2009 titled “Palestine: Ending the Occupation and Establishing the State,” and more recently to Haaretz: “the birth of a Palestinian state will be celebrated as a day of joy by the entire community of nations.”
We seem to already know the name, weight, ideological color and the physical make-up of this “baby;” nay we even know the political structure, and the foreign policy of the fruit of Fayyad’s womb: a tiny Palestinian “state” that recognizes Israel as a “biblical” Jewish state.
The time of birth will be determined by Fayyad as both mother and midwife. While the last immaculate conception that took place in Palestine was in Nazareth, it remains unclear if what is unfolding in Ramallah is a second immaculate conception, as no paternity tests have been scheduled as of yet for this illegitimate baby.

Soldiers aren’t the only ones engaged in Afghanistan

Who is actually fighting the noble war in Afghanistan?

A recent Congressional Research Service analysis [1] obtained by ProPublica looked at the number of civilian contractors killed in Afghanistan in recent months. It’s not pretty.
Of the 289 civilians killed since the war began more than eight years ago, 100 have died in just the last six months. That’s a reflection of both growing violence and the importance of the civilians flooding into the country along with troops in response to President Obama’s decision to boost the American presence in Afghanistan.
The latest U.S. Department of Defense numbers show there are actually more civilian contractors on the ground in Afghanistan than there are soldiers. The Pentagon reported [2] 107,292 U.S.-hired civilian workers in Afghanistan as of February 2010, when there were about 78,000 soldiers. This is apparently the first time that contractors have exceeded soldiers by such a large margin.

Here you are, liberal Jews, BDS is for you

How the Magnes Zionist blogger, an Orthodox Jew in Israel, offering 13 reasons why “liberal Zionists” should back the BDS movement. Here’s the thing. Jews who now oppose any kind of pressure on Israel and somehow hope the Jewish state will give up the occupation by choice are on the wrong side of history, willing to remain silent or complicit with the ever-growing fundamentalist settler violence in the West Bank:

J-Street, the organizational voice for liberal Zionists in the US, has gone to the barricades against the Berkeley student government divestment resolution. Read here. Frankly, I was surprised by their militancy. I understand that the Global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel is a difficult pill to swallow for liberal Zionists (those who believe that the Israel should exist as an ethnic state of the Jewish people, yet are interested to see a Palestinian state arise).
I understand the arguments against academic boycott. I also appreciate the existential fears. And I certainly accept the political pressures on organizations like J-Street.
But forget about J-Street. I am addressing this to my liberal Zionist readers – those who are pained and disillusioned by Israel’s actions, but who want to preserve what is good about the Jewish state, and to help it become a just society. You are nervous about BDS because it seems so drastic and unbalanced to you – and because you have been misinformed that is motivated by hatred for Israel.
Those Jews who have spoken in favor of BDS are mostly post-Zionists, anti-Zionists, non-Zionists, and/or known leftists. Yes, their voices are important, and I believe they have been on the correct side of history longer than I have. But I don’t need to convince them to support BDS. So why should you, as a liberal Zionist, consider supporting the Global BDS movement? Here are 13 reasons.
1. You already support two of the three central aims of the movement, which are
1. Ending Israel’s occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall;
2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality;
Where you may disagree is over:
3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.
But note that the phrase “as stipulated in UN resolution 194” weakens the statement since even Israel never rejected 194. And even if you don’t recognize the right of return, you recognize the importance to the Palestinians of claiming that right. And haven’t you have signed petitions with which you are not in complete agreement because you beiieve in the broader goal? There are many people who agree with you here who support the tactics of BDS.
2. You don’t have to sign on to all of BDS.
You don’t like academic boycotts? Good, neither do I. You are nervous about calling for sanctions? Don’t. But what about partial divestment from companies profiting from the Occupation as a symbolic and non-violent act of protest? What about boycotting settler’s wine and other products? How can you be opposed to the Occupation and support the Occupiers.
3. You want to support non-violent Palestinian protest.
BDS is first and foremost a Palestinian action. “If only,” you have said countless times, “there were a Palestinian Gandhi or Nelson Mandella.” Well, the tactics of BDS are the tactics of Gandhi and Mandella. Even if you are apprehensive about the aims of some of the movement, don’t you understand how important it is to support non-violent protest?
4. There is no slippery slope here.
If you support BDS today, you say to yourself, what will happen when it really gets up steam – perhaps you will be hurting Israel? Yet the chances of that happening are nill, and you know it. Who has the power?
5. BDS is becoming effective as a tactic.
In the beginning it wasn’t, and this is what kept me off the BDS wagon for a long time. And I am still not entirely on it. But successes recently have been impressive, both in their own right, and as a morale booster for the Palestinians.
6. If you oppose them you stand with AIPAC and the ZOA
Sure, you may not like the rhetoric of some Palestinians and their allies. But you also don’t like some of the rhetoric of the Jewish rightwingers. So who do you stand with on this one? The human rights folks — or AIPAC and the Zionist Organization of America? Do you really want to hear the neocons crowing over their victory as they simultaneously demonize your ilk?
7. BDS actually strengthens the hand of the pro-peace camp in Israel.
Israel is very sensitive to its public image. Whenever it is criticized, there are elements in Israeli society that point to Israel’s loss of standing and argue that only a just and peaceful solution will stop the decline. This also answers the objection that it is unfair to single out Israel. And the people who makes this argument are always singling out Israel for preferential treatment.
8. BDS does not materially hurt the average Israelis
I find it odd that many liberal Zionists who call for sanctions against Iran – a regime that is not engaged in the systematic deprivation of human rights to the extent that Israel is engaged – think that a cultural boycott or a divestment from certain American companies will hurt the average Israeli. The effect of the protest is symbolic; the message is what is important.
9. Other tactics have failed repeatedly.
If you genuinely believe in a two-state solution, wouldn’t it be good idea to see if BDS helps end the Occupation? Or are you one of those liberal Zionists who want a two-state solution In theory, but is pretty ineffectual about ending the Occupation.
10. Palestinians should have a little naches (pleasure) after all their suffering and BDS provides them with that.
They don’t have an army. They are not allowed by the world armed resistance. Where else, besides some world organizations, can they score victories?
11. You are appalled at the lies and disinformation of the anti-BDS movement.
The BDS movement does not seek to destroy the state of Israel. BDS is not even anti-Zionist. Stop listening to the Big Lies.
12. Many Jewish and Israeli human rights activists support it.
They are doing your job for you in Israel. They allow you to be hopeful about the state. Shouldn’t you be listening to therm here?
13. You are sick up to here with the news coming out daily from Israel.
Isn’t it about time you gave back a little? There are consequences for their misdeeds.
If you are unconvinced by the reasons above, but uneasy about circling the wagons with the likes of AIPAC, ZOA, Aish ha-Torah, etc. then you have another option: oppose BDS, but don’t be strident about it. Don’t rain on the Palestinian parade.
Sit on the fence and wait, if you must. But don’t fall on the side of AIPAC and ZOA.

How the media lies about Muslims and terror

A useful reminder that the tabloid media (in fact, most corporate press since 9/11) like to smear “terrorists” first and ask questions later:

Express Newspapers apologised in the high court today and agreed to pay substantial damages to four trustees of a UK charity after falsely claiming it had links to an al-Qaida commander.
The trustees of the Bolton-based Amanat Charity Trust, more commonly known as the Ummah Welfare Trust, sued for libel over a story published on the express.co.uk website in December 2009 headlined “Jet bomb ordered by 9/11 spirtual leader”.
In the online article it was falsely alleged that the charity, which provides emergency relief in developing countries, had links with Anwar al-Awlaki, the al-Qaida commander who is said to have been the spiritual leader of those responsible for the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks and involved in the attempt to blow up a passenger jet over Detroit on Christmas day last year.
The article, which was removed from the Express website on 19 January, also falsely claimed al-Awlaki was one of the charity’s “favourite speakers”.

This is how BDS starts to gain momentum

Jewish Voice for Peace reports on a major development in the US to hold Israel to account, no matter the whinging of the Zionist lobby:

Being a part of the tremendous coalition effort to pass a divestment bill at Berkeley was quite simply an ecstatic experience.
As my colleague Sydney Levy said, “The movement grew by an enormous leap today.”
First, the vote itself: after the UC Berkeley Student Senate originally voted on March 18, by a margin of 16-4, to divest from companies that profit from the occupation, that vote was vetoed by the Senate president. The Senate needed 14 votes to overturn his veto, but early this morning, after an epic 10 plus hour meeting, senators found they had only 13 yes votes with one abstention. So the students tabled a vote to overturn the veto.
This means the veto stands but can still be overturned later–there will be much continued lobbying and activism in the coming weeks. (Meanwhile, some weeks ago AIPAC openly threatened to take over the UC government to block the bill.)
But in many ways, the vote itself was not the star of this story. For anyone who was there last night and until 7:30 this morning when the forum ended, it was clear what the future looks like.
For one, the smart money is on the members of UC Berkeley’s Students for Justice with Palestine (SJP), the group leading this effort. They are a remarkable multi-ethnic group that seemingly includes every race, religion and ethnicity including Muslims and Jews, and Israelis and Palestinians.
They are just brilliant thinkers and organizers and driven by a clear sense of justice and empathy. They spent a year researching and writing the divestment bill, and I can’t express how much I love and respect them and how much hope they make me feel. And there are students just like them on every other campus in the world.
Second, the feeling on campus and in the room was electric. We filled an enormous room that fits 900. Most stayed through the entire night.  If you can imagine, the evening started with remarkable statements by divestment supporters Judith Butler, Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein, Richard Falk, Hatem Bazian and George Bisharat. And then the extraordinary parade of students and community members who spoke on both sides of the issue until it was past sunrise.
And though the final vote still hangs in the balance, the fact remains that the vast majority of the Senate voted to divest. The bill garnered the support of some of the most famous moral voices in the world, a good chunk of the Israeli left (9 groups and counting), nearly 40 campus groups (almost all student of color groups and one queer organization) plus another 40 US off-campus groups.
In addition, the room was filled with Jewish divestment supporters of every age including grandmothers and aunts and uncles and students. Our staff, activist members, and Advisory Board members like Naomi Klein, Judith Butler, Daniel Boyarin, Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb and Noam Chomsky each played critical roles in the effort. And of course, all of you who generated over 5,000 letters of support.
So much has changed since Gaza
Just 2 years ago we secured only 4 pages of Jewish endorsement letters for a similar selective divestment effort. This time, we put together 29 pages of major Jewish endorsement statements (which you can download here), and the list continues to grow by the day. We also made 400 bright green stickers that said “Another (fill in the blank) for human rights. Divest from the Israeli occupation” and gave every single last one away.

As attorney Reem Salahi said to me, “When I was a student here in law school 2 years ago, no one spoke about divestment. Now everyone is talking about it.”
For those of us there, it was clear–the room was with divestment. The senators were with divestment. And given the endorsements that kept pouring in up to the last second, from Nobel prize winners, from Israeli peace groups, from leading academics and activists–it seemed like the whole world was with divestment.
There were a number of Jewish students who expressed seemingly real discomfort if the divestment bill should pass. (As it turned out, they were repeating these talking points almost verbatim, with histrionics encouraged.) Many said they wouldn’t feel safe on campus, others said they would feel silenced, a few said young Jews would no longer want to come to UC Berkeley.
While feeling for their discomfort, it was difficult to watch how speaker after anti-divestment speaker seemed unable to distinguish between the discomfort of infrequent dirty looks, and rare nasty or bigoted name-calling, and the “discomfort” of having your home demolished or of having only toxic water to give to your family or of being shot or stuck at a checkpoint for hours in the sun.
They were unable to make the distinction between “feeling silenced” because the bill might pass against their wishes, and being silenced because you are jailed for your nonviolent activism or because you can’t get a visa to travel or because your story is virtually invisible in film, in history books, in the mainstream media, everywhere.
I of course wasn’t the only one who noticed this. Students of color, and one student senator in particular, beautifully articulated what it meant to come to campus “already marginalized.”  That is certainly a part of why so many student of color campus groups support the divestment effort, and why the links between being anti-racist in Israel/Palestine and anti-racist in the U.S. (and elsewhere) are particularly strong, clear, and important — and these students know it.
Which makes the statements of the anti-divestment Jews all the more striking in juxtaposition to the statements of the many Jewish students who supported divestment, each of whom said, “I feel safe on this campus.” And the progressive Jewish UC-Berkeley senator who said, “this divest bill will actually make me feel safe” and “this [bill] is creating space for Jews to have a community here. I’ve never been prouder to be a Jew.”
And that, if anything, suggests the most exciting part of what happened here.
It’s so clear to me how the organizing itself, and the ways it brought all of us, but especially Jews and Muslims and Arabs of every age together, is the solution. When peace happens, it will radiate outward from these relationships, mirrored in the Israeli-Palestinian relationships in places like Bil’in and Sheikh Jarrah.
This was so apparent when I saw, on one side of the room, Jewish and Palestinian and Muslim students literally leaning on each other and holding hands for support–and on the other side of the room, a relatively small (and by their own admonition, fearful) group of Jews that seemed to mostly have each other. It was very jarring and poignant and deeply sad.
The future is clear and it’s already here. It is a multicultural (and queer-integrated) universe bound together by a belief in full equality. Period.
Silence and apathy are the friends of the status quo. Sunlight, debate, facts, passion- these are what justice requires to grow. Open debates like the one UC Berkeley held last night simply must happen at campuses everywhere.  The students of SJP have already won by making this debate happen.
The whole campus is talking about Israel and Palestine. Last night’s forum and vote will forever impact the lives of every person who was in that room. And the new connections made have strengthened the movement in ways none of us imagined.
No wonder Israeli Consulate General Akiva Tor stayed for the entire vote. If I were he and it were my job to protect Israel’s occupation, I’d be worried. Very worried.
This morning, not hours after the meeting ended, I found an email in my inbox from an SJP group at another campus. “We want to introduce a divestment bill on campus and were wondering if you might assist us with speakers…”
Let this new stage begin.
In gratitude,
Cecilie Surasky,
Deputy Director
Jewish Voice for Peace

Don’t be tempted to visit Sri Lanka (even with those pretty beaches)

Sri Lanka is dying to get more tourists to visit the island paradise. Unfortunately for them, the country is a police state that tortures and imprisons opponents.
Nonetheless, Colombo wants to entice us with this:

A year after the defeat of Tamil rebels who had made parts of Sri Lanka a no-go area, the island hopes to entice tens of thousands of tourists to places that appear in one of Asia’s most celebrated religious sagas.
Tourist officials have identified and collated more than 50 sites said to feature in the Ramayana, a Sanskrit epic more than 2,000 years old. The saga tells the story of Rama, an incarnation of the Hindu deity Vishnu, who battles to rescue his wife, Sita, who is held captive by an evil demon king who lives on what is today Sri Lanka.
With an eye specifically to attracting Indian visitors, tourism officials in Colombo believe the trips to palm-fringed beaches and unspoilt jungles can be seamlessly combined with tours of the places where Rama fought – and defeated – the powerful demon, Ravana.
“Local legends that have come down for centuries seem to confirm the authenticity of these sites,” said Asoka Perera of the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau.

According to the Independent, tourism figures are up but some remain reluctant to support a dictatorship:

Following the conclusion of the decades-long civil war against the LTTE, the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa announced its intention to try to increase sharply the numbers of overseas visitors. Earlier this year, the authorities said that the number of visitors in January was up by more than 30 per cent compared with the same month in 2009. There was a 25 per cent increase in British visitors to the island.
Some potential visitors could still be deterred by concerns about the government’s actions against dissidents and political opponents. Earlier this year, Mr Rajapaksa won an impressive victory in a presidential poll that secured him a further five years in office. Yet the authorities responded by detaining his main opponent, the former army chief Sarath Fonseka, and placing him before a military court accused of taking part in politics while still in uniform.
Many observers have also asked what the government is doing to reach out to the Tamil minority. In recent elections, turn-out in Tamil areas was very low, with many potential voters saying they saw little reason to go to the polls.

Thinking about removing Zionist colonies is the easy part

So, if most Israelis actually back the removal of settlements (and polls have suggested similar results for decades), why have colonies simply expanded so much for so long? Talk is cheap, actions are what matter. And on the ground, Israeli Jews are complicit in the occupation and have been since 1967 (if not before):

A survey of the Israeli general public and Israeli settlers taken in early March shows three-fifths of the Israeli public (60%) support “dismantling most of the settlements in the territories as part of a peace agreement with the Palestinians.” This is eleven points higher than the previous reading (49%) taken in December, 2009, and is the highest level recorded since 2005, during the debate over evacuating the Gaza Strip.
Just one-third of the Israeli public (33%) opposes dismantling most settlements, including 13 percent very strongly opposed. This is the lowest level of strong opposition to dismantling settlements recorded by the Truman Institute for the 26 surveys in which this question has been asked since 2001.
In contrast to the views of the Israeli public, among Israeli settlers a large majority (69%) oppose dismantling most West Bank settlements. Moreover, a majority of settlers believe most of the Israeli general public shares its opposition to dismantling settlements.

How many Israelis view journalists doing their job

Gideon Levy on how the Israeli public truly views the latest controversy over press freedom, Anat Kamm, Uri Blau and censorship:

If it depended on public opinion, Kamm and Blau would be executed and Haaretz would be shut down on the spot. The general who gave the assassination orders revealed by Kamm and Blau has come out of the affair unscathed, while the journalist and his source are enemies of the people.

Zionists tell Washington that blind support is the only acceptable path

Obama, you have been warned:

World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder has publicly questioned United States President Barack Obama’s commitment to Israel’s security, in a letter he reportedly drafted with the approval of his close friend Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“Our great country and the tiny State of Israel have long shared the core values of freedom and democracy,” wrote Lauder, in a letter published Thursday as an advertisement in The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal.
“It is a bond much treasured by the Jewish people. In that spirit I submit, most respectfully, that it is time to end our public feud with Israel and to confront the real challenges that we face together,” wrote Lauder.

Baby steps down Havana way

The LA Times notes a small change in Cuba (but in reality, the island will stay remarkably similar until either the Castro brothers die or reform or the Obama administration removes the insane and counter-productive embargo):

So, a Cuban walks into his neighborhood barbershop for a trim and a shave on a Havana afternoon. In all likelihood, haircutter and customer argue about baseball. Maybe they discuss CompaneroCompanero Fidel’s latest column in Granma. When they finish, the newly coiffed client pays for the services in Cuban pesos; about 15% goes to the state for taxes, and the owner legally pockets the rest.
Private profits in communist Cuba? This is no joke. It’s Havana’s latest, limited experiment with the free market. The government is divesting itself of hundreds of state-run barbershops and beauty shops with three workstations or less, turning people who have been wage-earners for decades into small-time entrepreneurs who will pay the state 15% of average revenues in the area for the right to operate.
Like some Cuban growers who are allowed to rent stalls from the government in farmers markets, and some cooks who run modest restaurants out of their homes, these hairstylists and manicurists will be entering the world of free-market competition. They will be allowed to set their own prices and presumably will succeed or fail on the quality of their cuts and mani-pedi services. Now, imagine that.
Since the 1959 revolution, Cuba has privatized most of its economy, with about 90% of legal activity now concentrated in government hands. President Raul Castro appears committed to the basic model, at least as long as his big brother is alive. But the latest shift is driven by necessity.
In addition to the U.S. trade embargo, Cuba is suffering the same hardships as most other countries in the global recession. Tourism, nickel exports and remittances from the U.S., all of which are key sources of foreign currency, have fallen off. Cuba’s elderly are living longer and the young need jobs. Castro recently declared that the government has a million employees too many on its payroll.
The cautious measures appear designed to relieve some of the pressure on the state without risking political challenge or creating significant private wealth. Furthermore, they are meant to limit opportunities for corruption, to encourage people to work harder and to draw some cash from the illegal, underground economy into government coffers; officials also have approved new licenses for private taxis while cracking down on unauthorized so-called gypsy cabs.
The changes are less ambitious than we’d wish and aren’t irreversible. The government legalized self-employment in several retail services in 1993, then strictly limited the number of licenses available. But for Cubans, who deserve a better standard of living, these are positive steps — profit-making jobs and free-market pedicures.
See: www.antonyloewenstein.com


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