Dep’t of Homeland Security suggests anti-Semitism may be motive for assassination attempt in Arizona

Jan 09, 2011

Philip Weiss


JTA picks up a Fox News report that a Dept of Homeland Security memorandum has mentioned the alleged gunman’s connection to American Renaissance, a nativist group that Homeland Security notes rails against ZOG (Zionist Occupied Gov’t) and is “anti-Semitic.” The memo also mentions that wounded congresswoman Gabriel Giffords is Jewish. The JTA story says that Giffords made her Jewish identity a proud point of her political campaign (following a 2001 trip to Israel, after which she embraced her Jewish roots).


Remnick takes another step– the occupation is ‘deeply wrong’

Jan 09, 2011

Philip Weiss


There was an emotional encounter between neocon Bret Stephens, New Yorker editor David Remnick and Fareed Zakari on CNN’s GPS today. At 12 or so, Zakaria brings up the recent Israeli interview with David Remnick, in which he said he is sick of the occupation. And Remnick responds:

I’ve always been tired of it. What I think of it is relatively immaterial.. If things seem quiet now, and I was just in Israel for ten days, and in the West Bank as well… I know this is not by any stretch of the imagination as perilous as Pakistan…but the corrosive effect of occupation on Israeli society and on the region is really serious. And so it is disappointing.. that Obama for whatever reason is going to slowly withdraw from this issue and not spend any big political capital to do it. Because the only place that will be able to bring people to the table is the United States.

Neocon Stephens then objects. Zakaria says,

It is now 43 years, you [Stephens] were the editor of the Jerusalem Post, it is 43 years, the Israelis have been ruling a population that it has not enfranchised and it has not yet let go. You can’t be comfortable with that.

Stephens: No I’m not. I’m against the occupation.

Zakaria: But what does that mean?

Stephens: It’s bad for Israel. It’s bad for the Palestinians. It’s bad for the world.

Remnick: And it’s wrong. It’s deeply wrong.

Eliot Spitzer is also on the panel. I believe he safely ducked this issue. And let me say one other thing. An all-star panel, as Zakaria advertises it, and three of the four panelists are Jews, and their opinions range from neoconservative to liberal Zionist. This is why I harp on the new quasi-Jewish establishment, because of our inevitable representation in such fora. Where are the realists? (Only Zakaria) Where are the Arab-Americans? Or the anti-Zionists? When Remnick says that what he thinks of the occupation is immaterial, he is wrong. He has the power to help shape American Jewish opinion. And that’s the ballgame.


Angry Arab says that after Bill Clinton got in, Arabists were ‘eliminated’ from State Dep’t

Jan 09, 2011

Philip Weiss


Angry Arab has a fascinating post on a letter written to the NYT by ass’t sec’y of state Jeffrey Feltman. Angry Arab– As’ad AbuKhalil– uses the letter as an opportunity to reflect on the elimination of Arabists from the State Department since the Clinton years.

A few quick points before the excerpt: there were Arabists all over the State Department in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s; and they generally lost.

They opposed the creation of Israel and warned that it could only be established and preserved by force (prophetic). They pushed for the right of return of the Palestinian refugees, and lost (and the wound still festers). The Arabists were described as a romantic and anti-Semitic and fuddy-duddy elite in the Robert Kaplan book that Angry Arab mentions below, The Arabists– a book that treated Israel’s creation as a great liberal advance. Many of them came out of the old WASP establishment; and it is impossible to talk about the vanishing of the Arabists without speaking of the rise of Jews into the Establishment and the Jewish mistrust of that blueblood ancien regime.

I was raised to dislike and fear Arabs; and my youthful prejudice is still widely shared in American Jewish life. Erica Jong wrote, Arabs and Other Animals, as the title of one of her chapters in her bestseller Fear of Flying– a no-cost prejudice, like the n-word back when Mark Twain was writing. Clinton’s was the most philosemitic presidency in history. He appointed two Jews to the Supreme Court, and his Middle East negotiating team was almost all Jewish. These sociocultural factors are of course significant in policymaking; and though I believe younger Jews are far more worldly than their parents’ generation, the change is taking place slowly. Brzezinski was railroaded after the Carter administration because he was seen as being too pro-Arab.

He was said to be advising Obama; I don’t see hide nor hair of him. The great Rashid Khalidi (who as an Obama adviser actually might have saved the two-state-solution) was blackballed during the 2008 campaign. And remember the manner that the neoconservatives blackballed Chas Freeman as National Intelligence director in early 2009– an Arabic speaker, who liked Saudi Arabia, he was deemed an Arabist. Forget about it. That happened in the Obama administration, of course, and why? Well for the same reason that Feltman and Treasury’s Stuart Levey can endure from the disaster Bush administration into the Obama administration, because they are regarded as reliable by the Israel lobby, a force outside partisan politics. It’s all of a piece, the character of the new Establishment.

Angry Arab:

So Jeffrey Feltman wrote a letter to the New York Times today to express his disapproval of a Lebanese newspaper and its editorial line. When I read that last night, I could not help but think of the degradation of Middle East expertise in the US government. It is fair to say that ever since Bill Clinton came to power, the Arabists were completely eliminated from policy making positions at the White House and State Department (although some remain at other branches of the US government). Of course, the war on Arabists began in earlier years: Henry Kissinger tried to marginalize them in earlier years too. Their obituary was written in the book on their record by Robert Kaplan.

In the late 1990s, I spoke about the Arabists and made the point I am making now at a conference at Georgetown University. After my talk, I was approached by Robert Pelletreau–he was the last Arabist to serve as the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs because the job went after him to ardent Zionists from outside the Foreign Service: people like Martin Indyk–and he pleaded with me to not use the word “Arabist” because it hurts the career and image of Middle East specialists at the US government. Feltman comes from the Foreign Service but does not dream of ever being considered an Arabist: not only because of his Likudnik politics but also because of his failure to achieve any of the knowledge or competence of Arabists in yester years….

This is not about politics: I am not endorsing the political views (always timid) of former Arabists: but I am at least pointing out the competence of Arabists in comparison to the Zionist crowd who now occupy positions of power relating to the Middle East in the US government.



Ynet: US gov’t believes that Palestinian state would be ‘disaster’ and 2nd Tehran

Jan 09, 2011

Jeffrey Blankfort


Ynet piece by Hagai Segal:

“George W. Bush issued his two-state vision only after Ariel Sharon voiced a similar vision. Until that point, the Americans believed (just like Israel’s governments) that a Palestinian state would be a disaster. Secretly they still think so, because one Tehran is enough, yet they cannot be against it when Israel is in favor.”

Another demonstration of the confidence many Israelis have in their influence in Washington. To date it has not been misplaced.


Amidst ghettoes, camps, and a mural for a mass-murderer, a settler offers his coexistence plan
Jan 09, 2011 06:23 pm | Scott McConnell


Our group has been five days in Israel/Palestine; the scene is more depressing than my last trip here five years ago. Against the inexorable tightening of the screws on the Palestinians–  Occupied Palestine brings to mind Orwell’s image of a boot stamping on a human face, forever—one can perhaps balance the heightening of international awareness and protest, and a quickening  in the long dormant Israeli Left.  But  there is room for surprises from unexpected directions.   

Our day began with a bus trip out to Hebron—a pause on the side of the road to take in the separation Wall surrounding Bethlehem, severing it from its farmland and olive trees. A Presbyterian colleague told me she once believed the world would never put up with the Israelis turning Bethlehem into a walled ghetto, but the world  has, with hardly a peep. The road to Hebron is a vivid demonstration that you don’t need to occupy a large amount of territory to  maintain control: here a Palestinian refugee camp, from 1948—and outside it a small complex of Israeli gates and pillboxes and machine guns.  Everyone who enters or exits must satisfy the IDF guards.

Here another Arab town, surrounded by the Wall, cut off from its own olive trees, which now fall on the Israeli side. One suspects there are aquifer considerations too—the Wall is generally routed to steal water from the Arabs and give it to the settlers. Here’s  another crossing where the Palestinians now have to go through a tunnel to reach the other half of their town.

Hebron of course, is a trip in itself—a place like no other in the world.  The city center has been turned into a ghost town for the benefit of a few hundred settlers—guarded by an equal number of IDF.  After viewing the tombs, we wander the deserted streets on a cold afternoon. The Palestinians have been removed from the city center. A European NGO witness and observation patrol drives slowly around. Eight year-old settler girls throw rocks at it. The settlers have  painted a mural, which looks to me like an attempt to portray a heroic Baruch Goldstein, mowing down Muslim worshippers with a machine gun.  My Israeli guide, from New York, isn’t sure that’s what the painting represents.

And then, a lift in the mood, from a most surprising source.  On the drive back we stop at Gush Etzion, a hilltop settlement, to meet with Nachum Pechenick, the director of Eretz Shalom. Born in Hebron, he is a settler who wants, allegedly, to co-exist peacefully and meaningfully, with his Arab neighbors. Our group is pretty skeptical. We are tired, but turn up the hill. He meets us and we follow to a restaurant.  Night has fallen, the sky is clear. You can see Jerusalem on the right, and  before us, all the way to Tel Aviv and  the coast. Pechenick is in jeans, big knitted kippa,  big brown beard, about forty.  We sit down for tea and coffee in a restaurant full of settlers and their kids, warm and convivial.  The guy starts talking . His English is halting, but expressive.  He draws you in.  He is religious, charismatic—reminds me of the 60’s.  He loves the land, has a mystical attachment to it, won’t leave. His own settlement is illegal, even by Israeli standards.  But his group tries to make friends with Palestinians—cooperate on soil, water, joint playgrounds with their kids. (This last may be the most radical, un- Zionist, and potentially productive, concept.) Respect their property.  He hopes to live, he tells us, as a religious settler Jew in a Palestinian state.

Peace must be made on the ground, between neighbors.  I try to maintain my realist stance, but am taken by it.  The guy is, kind of obviously, full of love. When he says that peace won’t come by driving Jews from Judea and Samaria, it does make sense.  (It won’t come from what the Israelis are doing now, that is clear enough.)  But after forty-five minutes it becomes  plain to me that Nachum Pechenick should have an American audience. I would wager a lot of young American Jews –feeling as trapped by the current  situation as I do–would find him enormously appealing. Certainly more so than the fraudulent peace maneuvers of Dennis Ross and George Mitchell. 

Pechenick tells us has nearly a thousand followers. Who knows?   If he’s right about the thousand, he could,  I believe, have ten thousand after a month of talking to college Hillels. And through that emerge as a meaningful part of our sense of what’s possible. 

A bit of googling finds Pechenick last spring trying to organize a joint demo last spring with West Bank Palestinians against a fence expansion.  He is, as he puts in his not quite colloquial English, “off the box.”  Over to you, Tikkun.  Here’s his website:



Hillary Clinton condemns Shepherd Hotel demolition as demonstrators cry, ‘This is stolen land’

Jan 09, 2011

Alex Kane


Caterpillar and Volvo bulldozers demolish a part of a historic hotel in occupied East Jerusalem. (Photo: Alex Kane)

[UPDATE: Hillary Clinton condemns the destruction:

[We are very concerned about the initiation of demolition of the Shepherd’s Hotel in East Jerusalem. This disturbing development undermines peace efforts to achieve the two state-solution. In particular, this move contradicts the logic of a reasonable and necessary agreement between the parties on the status of Jerusalem. We believe that through good faith negotiations, the parties should mutually agree on an outcome that realizes the aspirations of both parties for Jerusalem, and safeguards its status for people around the world. Ultimately, the lack of a resolution to this conflict harms Israel, harms the Palestinians, and harms the U.S. and the international community. We will continue to press ahead with the parties to resolve the core issues, including Jerusalem, in the context of a peace agreement.]

Ramallah, West Bank–I was a witness to the destruction of a historic hotel in occupied East Jerusalem today, but activists bearing witness didn’t let the incident go on without making some noise.

After meeting with members of the Rifka Al-Kurd family, who now live steps away from illegal settlers who evicted members of the family to take over their home in Sheikh Jarrah, the delegation I am with received news of the hotel demolition.

Up the street from the Rifka Al-Kurd family residence is the Shepherd Hotel. Al Jazeerareports:

The Shepherd Hotel was razed by three Israeli bulldozers, early on Sunday, as part of a plan to build a new settlement of 20 units in the heart of the occupied city.

The hotel is located on the demarcation line between two Arab neighbourhoods of Sheikh Jarrah and Wadi al-Joz. The site will not only divide the two neighbourhoods but it will also change the aspects of occupied Jerusalem.

According to official documents, the hotel was owned by al-Quds Mufti, Haj Amin al-Hussaini, who was deported by the British rule in 1937. He later died in Lebanon in 1974.

The settlement project is funded by Irving Moskowitz, a wealthy Jewish-American gambling magnate.

Mammoth Caterpillar and Volvo bulldozers were working on razing a wing of the hotel.

Defending the demolition in front of the press was Elisha Peleg, a Jerusalem City Council member who is part of the right-wing Likud Party. Peleg insisted that “Jerusalem is the united capital of Israel,” while international activists and Palestinian women yelled “this is stolen land,” “shame on you” and disrupted his interviews with the media. In front of the gates to the hotel stood Israeli police and private security guards carrying rifles.

I told Peleg that he was a shame to Jews around the world. He turned around and told me that journalists shouldn’t voice their own opinions and that there was nothing wrong with building for Jews.

“They want to continue to take more land,” said Nasser Ghawi, a Palestinian resident of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah who has also seen his home taken away and given to Israeli settlers.

Israeli activists hastily organized a protest against the hotel demolition.

Alex Kane is a blogger and journalist based in New York City. He blogs on Israel/Palestine and Islamophobia in the U.S. at, where this post originally appeared. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.



Abu Rahma family has become symbol of occupation (and of an authoritarian regime– Gideon Levy)

Jan 09, 2011



and other news from Today in Palestine:

Land, property, and resources theft & destruction / Ethnic cleansing / Settlers

Israeli forces demolish Shepherd Hotel
JERUSALEM (Ma’an) — Israeli bulldozers began demolishing the Shepherd Hotel in theSheikh Jarrah neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem on Sunday under the protection of a huge force of Israeli police and border guards. Israeli authorities leveled the hotel to make way for a new settlement. The initial plan is to build 20 Jewish-only residential units, Ma’an’s Jerusalem correspondent reported. Secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative Mustafa Barghouthi described the demolition as further evidence of Israel’s policy of ethnic cleansing, which he said exposed the real plots against Jerusalem. demolishes East Jerusalem hotel wing to clear way for new homes
Bulldozers arrive in Sheikh Jarrah early Sunday to raze wing of Shepherd Hotel compound, where 20 new Jewish housing units will be built despite U.S. and British condemnation … The hotel was declared “absentee property” by Israel after it captured and annexed East Jerusalem. The title was transferred to an Israeli firm, which sold it in 1985 to Irving Moskowitz, a Florida bingo king and patron of Jewish settlers.
East Jerusalem: Construction of Jewish neighborhood begins
Shepherd Hotel leveled to make room for 20 housing units designated for Jews. Peace Now: Extreme right taking over east Jerusalem like thieves in the night,7340,L-4010762,00.html
Israel demolishing chance for peace: Palestinians
RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories (AFP) – Palestinian officials on Sunday slammed Israel’s demolition of an east Jerusalem hotel to make way for settler homes, accusing the Jewish state of destroying any chance of peace … “By doing this, Israel has destroyed all the US efforts and ended any possibility of a return to negotiations,” Nabil Abu Rudeina, a spokesman for Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, said in a statement.”Israel has no right to build in any part of east Jerusalem, or any part of the Palestinian land occupied in 1967,” Abu Rudeina said, calling on the United States to “stop Israeli tampering.”
Netanyahu is warned against using private guards at East Jerusalem settler compound / Akiva Eldar
Housing Minister Atias asked to transfer security in the Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem to the Israel Police following fatal shooting of a Silwan resident by a privately employed guard … The housing minister says that since March 2010, some 15 security guards were removed from their position because they were found to be unsuitable to work in the unit. He said that in May alone there were 246 incidents registered by the security guards in their log book, including three in which they had to use firearms because they considered their lives to be in danger.
Palestinians and police trade accusations over violent clashes in Silwan on Friday night
According to Palestinian sources, the incident began when a number of Border Police officers trying to enter a home in the village to reach the defensive position on its roof assaulted an elderly woman who resisted their entry … Police confirmed that nine arrests were made and said more are anticipated. For months Palestinian neighborhood activists, aided by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, and attorney Leah Tsemel, have been fighting against what they say is an unlawful police position on the roof of a village home.
Persecution of Adnan Ghaith continues, despite release
Silwan, Jerusalem (SILWANIC) 9 Jan — Al-Bustan Popular Committee member Adnan Ghaith received a summons from Israeli police for investigation today. Renewed police attempts to investigate Ghaith for his political activity in Silwan come hot on the heels of his release on bail by the Jerusalem Magistrates Court on 6 January. Ghaith has been fighting a lengthy legal battle against Israeli authorities’ attempts to enforce a temporary ban on Ghaith from the Jerusalem area. The ban, originally an order issued by an Israeli military commander of the central region, is expected to come in to effect on 12 January, for a period of four months.
Israeli police call director of Wadi Hilweh Information Center again
Silwan, Jerusalem (SILWANIC) 9 Jan — The Israeli Police called Jawad Siyam, director of the Wadi Hilweh Information Center and member of the Neighborhood Committee, for an interrogation again this morning. Siyam was released by the Magistrate Court on January 7, when evidence for the assault charges laid against him proved insufficient.
Activism / Solidarity / Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions
Video: Israel engulfs an entire West Bank village in tear gas / Joseph Dana
Amid controversy over Israel’s use of tear gas against unarmed demonstrations in the West Bank and the media attention placed on Bil’in’s protest after the killing of Jawaher Abu Rahmah, Israel attacked the village of Nabi Saleh with poisonous gas. As soldiers were leaving the village, marking the end of the demonstration, the army covered the entire place with tear gas. Houses, shops and mosques engulfed in the tear gas which killed Jawaher Abu Rahmah. The army was able to do this with a  special device called ‘the ringo’ which fires 60 rounds of tear gas in about 7 seconds. The footage speaks for itself especially from minute 7:00.
In the West Bank, everyone knows there’s a culture of no-accountability / Lisa Goldman
The death last week of Bil’in resident Jawaher Abu Rhamah, after she inhaled tear gas at a demonstration, has received a great deal of publicity, making her into a symbol of the violent means the Israeli army uses to maintain its control over the West Bank. Many commentators are parsing the incident as if it were an isolated one, but the truth is that violence and brutality are the norm. And while there is plenty of documentation to support that statement, most Israelis would prefer not to know.

A few months ago, at a Friday demonstration in Nabi Saleh, a border police officer threw a percussion grenade on my foot … He was grinning a little bit.

Family, friends and volunteers renovate Hajja Sara’s kitchen tent
The image below was taken during our visit to Hajja Sara of Palestinian Susiya on Thursday January 6. Her tent kitchen was torched before dawn on December 28, apparently by neighboring settlers – part of a wave of escalation in the area.Following news of the incident, family and friends in Palestine and Israel, as well as Israeli and international groups, have enlisted to help in donation and work on the ground. Hajja Sara’s kitchen now stands again. We too have received donations in money and in kind (cooking equipment), and will deliver them shortly to Hajja Sara and her family. Prize laureates join academic boycott of settlement university
155 academics sign petition calling Ariel, where the education center is located, an illegal settlement whose existence contravenes international law and the Geneva Convention … Among the signatories are three Israel Prize laureates … Yigal Cohen-Orgad, chairman of the Ariel college’s executive committee, said: “A tiny and bizarre minority of some 150 lecturers is behind the petition, out of 7,000 faculty members…”
Iranian activists back home from Gaza
Iranian activists accompanying Asia’s first humanitarian aid convoy to Gaza have returned home after successfully completing their mission. The Iranian activists arrived in the Iranian capital, Tehran, after delivering medical supplies and electricity generators donated to the people of Gaza.
Meet the first ever Indian activists to enter Gaza (Palestine)
Press Invitation – You are cordially invited to meet the delegates at the press conference and share their experience through personal testimonies, as well as their rich collection of videos and photographs that documented the historic journey. Venue: Press Club of India, Raisina Road, New Delhi (Near Metro Station Central Secretariat) Time: 2.45 pm    Date: Monday, January 10, 2011

Peaceful views of Palestine
Amesbury [Massachusetts. USA] — The Amesbury Peace Center will host another program in its continuing exploration of issues related to peace in the Middle East, titled “Gaza Steadfast, a Photographic Presentation and Talk,” by Skip Schiel. [every little bit helps]
Violence / Reprisals / Rumblings of war
Hamas urges Gaza militant groups to stop attacks on Israel
(Reuters) Hamas official says organization began talks with other militant factions in order to ‘control the situation on the ground’, signaling Hamas hopes to avert any large-scale IDF operation in Gaza.
Man hurt in Qassam strike
At least three Qassam rockets were fired at southern Israel Saturday evening, wounding a truck driver lightly … The wounded truck driver, Yitzhak Zaafrani, was hurt by glass shreds after driving near the rocket landing site. He told Ynet that he suddenly heard a loud explosion while driving, as the windshield shattered.  “I drove to the entrance of one of the kibbutzim and called the police,” he said. “I was hit by a little shrapnel, but all is well…the IDF will respond, because if it doesn’t respond things will get worse.”,7340,L-4010687,00.html
Israeli right demands ‘heavy price’ for Gaza rockets
JERUSALEM (AFP) — Right wingers in the Israeli government called on Sunday for tough military action against Gaza militants after a violent weekend on Israel’s border with the Palestinian coastal enclave. “The government must consider afresh a policy of zero tolerance, exert a heavy price, not let this situation deteriorate,” National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau told journalists at the weekly cabinet meeting … The Israeli military said two rockets slammed into southern Israel on Sunday, one shortly after midnight and a second later in the morning, bringing the number of rockets and mortar shells fired across the border to 20 since January 1.
IDF mulls deploying anti-mortar system along Gaza border
The defense establishment may erect a deterrence system along Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip in light of increased mortar attacks on western Negev communities, Army Radio reported on Sunday. Leaders of communities in the Gaza envelope told defense officials this week that residents have begun to fear mortar shells more than rockets because there is no protection system in place as of yet.
War crimes
‘Good hit. Alpha.’ / Amira Hass
Rare testimony from the flight navigator in the 2002 bombing of Hamas military commander Salah Shehadeh that killed 14 civilians, including eight children … Last month Maj. T. spoke about the moments before and during the bombing and about his discovery that civilians had also been killed. Haaretz has obtained a recording of his remarks. They appear below in translation

Zahhar: We are close to historic victory
The Palestinians will achieve a historic triumph in any future confrontation with Israel, but the toll will be heavy on the Palestinian side, senior Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahhar said Saturday … The Hamas official made the comments at a ceremony held to commemorate the second anniversary of a massacre at the UN-controlled Al-Fakhoura school in Jabalia in the northern Gaza Strip. The school was bombarded by Israeli forces during Operation Cast Lead … Abdullah Baroud, a child who was injured in the attack on Al-Fakhoura school, delivered a speech describing how he and his friends had suffered.
The murders of Jawaher Abu Rahmah and Omar Al Qawasmi
Family of Israeli soldiers’ victim to sue
Ramallah: The family of Omar Al Qawasmi who was mistakenly killed on Friday morning by Israeli soldiers say they will sue the Israeli Army once their mourning period is over … “We will study the circumstances and see the best possible court to file the case, and the Israeli Higher Court of Justice is an option. Any other court in the world is a possibility.”
Palestinian mother tells of a family tragedy during protest against separation barrier
Daughter becomes third casualty in a West Bank family dedicated to ‘non-violent resistance’ against Israeli barrier … “How do you think I feel?” says Abu Rahme softly, a white scarf covering her head and an almost absent look in her eyes. She can hardly comprehend what has happened to her family or the repeated horrors that have been inflicted on it. The family has come to symbolise the Palestinian struggle against the occupation of the West Bank.
The IDF uses propaganda like an authoritarian regime / Gideon Levy
Instead of working toward revealing the truth behind the recent death of an anti-fence demonstrator the IDF is reaching into its bag of lies.
Racism / Discrimination / Suppression of dissent
Survey: Employers don’t want Arabs, haredim, disabled
Israeli employers shy away from hiring ultra-Orthodox Jews, Arabs and the disabled, according to a survey by the Ono Academic College. The study is based on questionnaires sent to 41 major companies in high-tech, health care and ministries. This is considered a significant sample of employers.
Minister Herzog: PM responsible for racism wave
Welfare minister slams planned investigation into activity of leftist groups; urges Netanyahu to ‘stop groveling before Lieberman’,7340,L-4010943,00.html
Israeli intellectuals decry Knesset plan to investigate leftist groups
In letter sent to all Knesset members, signatories say investigation of citizens by elected officials signals the end of democracy.
Israel’s very own Revolutionary Guards / Zvi Bar’el
The Knesset does not want to look like the parliaments in the Arab countries, but it does not want to give up the authority to act like them. It wants to act as if there is a law against receiving contributions from foreigners without actually having to legislate it and make a mockery of itself. All it wants to do is “investigate,” that is, to brand as suspect all those associations without having to air the issue in a court of law.
Siege / Restrictions on movement
West Bank: UN warns of new Israeli controls
The United Nations says it is increasingly concerned that Israel is about to tighten access restrictions to the occupied West Bank. It has been briefing aid agencies that Israel could soon increase restrictions and strengthen its checkpoints.
Egyptian authorities uncover four Egypt-Gaza tunnels
The Egyptian authorities declared Saturday that four tunnels connecting Egypt to Gaza and though which goods, diesel fuel, gasoline and building materials were being smuggled, have been uncovered.  No smugglers were arrested, but police are currently guarding the tunnels, which will eventually be destroyed, sources say.
Gaza: One crossing open for limited goods
Israeli authorities informed Palestinian liaison officials that one Gaza crossing would be partially opened Sunday for the limited transfer of goods, Palestinian crossings official Raed Fattouh told Ma’an.
More about Hani Amer from Mas’ha / Dorothy Naor
I have a few comments about the details concerning Hani Amer from Mas’ha, about whom I have written several times in the past. The article below [by Joseph Dana] rightfully depicts the Nakba as continuing, but does not sufficiently depict the hardships that Hani and his family have to deal with … Hani’s well, mentioned below, is used to provide water to other farmers in the village. 3 years ago Hani paid several thousand shekel to the Israeli electric company so that he would have electricity to run his water pumps.  But the army will not allow him to have electricity, and the electric company won’t return the money. Also, one of the water pipes is broken and needs repair, but the army does not allow the equipment in to repair it, so the water goes to waste.
PFLP: Israel responsible for detained leader’s life
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine on Sunday held Israeli authorities responsible for the life of party leader Ahmad Sa’adat. The PFLP Secretary-General and Jamal Abu Al-Haija entered their third week of hunger strike in protest over their treatment by Israeli prison authorities. Israel has kept both men in solitary confinement for almost two years. PFLP appealed to the International Red Cross to visit Sa’adat urgently, and urged human rights organizations to intervene in Israeli violations of international law. [End]
Rights group rejects criticism by Gaza ministry
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — A Palestinian rights group on Saturday rejected claims by Gaza’s Interior Ministry that it is not legally competent. The ministry released a statement Saturday slamming the Independent Commission for Human Rights. The statement came in response to a report by the commission claiming the Gaza government mistreated detainees and refused to allow rights groups to visit prisons in the Strip. Director of the commission Mamduh Al-A’ker said the organization was established under a presidential decree issued in October 1993 by late President Yasser Arafat.
Political/Diplomatic news
Israel envoy to discuss reviving peace talks in US
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – An envoy of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will travel to Washington next week to discuss ways to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, a statement from Netanyahu’s office said on Saturday.
Report: Erekat denies direct talks with Israel
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat on Sunday denied rumors that direct talks with Israel have resumed, the Kuwaiti News Agency reported. Erakat said Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were holding separate meetings with the US administration but no Israeli-Palestinian meetings were being held, according to the report.
Haniyeh discusses unity with Al-Masri
GAZA CITY (Ma’an) — Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh met with businessman Munib Al-Masri and a delegation of independent figures on Thursday to discuss national unity … Al-Masri, head of the independent movement to end Palestinian division, has shuttled between Gaza and the West Bank in an attempt to draw rival Hamas and Fatah factions closer to reconciliation. Informed sources told Ma’an that the Nablus billionaire would open projects to create job opportunities in the besieged Gaza Strip.
Israeli diplomats ordered to cut off contact with host governments
Foreign Ministry employees committee issues request as part of broadening of strike with goal of receiving salary increases … Foreign Ministry employees will also stop issuing entry visas to Israel, meaning that tourists – with the exception of those from the United States, Canada, Russia and western European nations – won’t be able to enter Israel until further notice.
Other news
Russia Today video: Down Fatah Avenue, on to Hamas Square: Ramallah praises its heroes through street names
The West Bank city of Ramallah is naming its streets to mark its 100th anniversary but some of the choices are causing controversy [from a comment: First.. sure, controversy.. but when israel names it’s streets after people like Ben Gurion, Golda Meier, or Ariel Sharon.. it’s ok]
Minister slams Islamic scholar’s criticism of PA
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) – The recent comments by leading Islamic scholar Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi criticizing the Palestinian Authority has provoked mixed reactions in Palestine and across the world. Qaradawi, head of the international union of Muslim scholars, said the PA and the Palestine Liberation Organization were leading the Palestinian people to great danger … PA Minister of Religious Affairs Mahmoud Al-Habbash on Saturday told Ma’an Radio that Qaradawi’s comments were disappointing and unacceptable.
New scanners could end preflight questioning at airport
The Israel Airports Authority is scheduled to start testing an automatic baggage screening method today, which will replace the current policy of questioning passengers in order to determine the degree of risk they pose.
Israeli activist says cleared by Shin Bet to visit Gaza PM
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — An Israeli activist who plans to ask Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh to free Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit said Sunday he has Israeli security approval for his mission … Israel’s Channel 10 reported Sunday that Marshak planned to enter Gaza with a delegation of Palestinians from inside Israel.
Doctor: Comatose ex-Israeli PM respond to pinches
(AP) JERUSALEM – The personal doctor of Ariel Sharon says the comatose former Israeli prime minister responds to pinches and opens his eyes when spoken to … Former Sharon spokesman Raanan Gissin told The AP there has been no change in Sharon’s condition.
beautiful, peaceful photos – relief from news
Images from a weekend in the Negev / Hagai El-Ad
Some of these were taken in  Timna Valley’s Sasgon Basin where Adam Teva V’Din , and other environmental justice NGOs, are fighting destructive resort development.
Iraq, other Mideast, Arab world
Saturday: 4 Iraqis killed, 10 wounded
Meanwhile, at least four Iraqis were killed and 10 more were wounded in light violence. No reports escaped Baghdad today even though “bombings and shooting remain a daily occurrence in the Iraqi capital.” Eight people were wounded when a bomb exploded in AbuGhraib. A bomb blast in a Hashimiya chicken coop killed two children. In a second version of the news item, the dead were a woman and her four-year old nephew.
Arab summit plan in Iraq faces challenges
BAGHDAD (AP) – Insurgent threats and a lack of hotel space for delegations pose stiff challenges to Iraq’s plans to host for the first time in 20 years the annual Arab League meeting, despite assurances from the body’s leader Sunday.
Exiled Iran opposition claims attack on Iraq camp
PARIS (AFP) – The head of Iran’s main exiled opposition coalition on Saturday accused forces in Iraq of carrying out an attack on a camp housing Iranians that left dozens injured.
Palestinian plight in southern Lebanon refugee camps / Wyre Davies
It is sometimes controversially said that Palestinian refugees in Lebanon live in worse conditions than those during the Israeli occupation in Gaza. There is no better place to witness and document the plight of Lebanon’s refugees than Nahr al-Bared.
Israeli violations of Lebanon’s sovereignty: the record / As`ad AbuKhalil
Lebanese Foreign Minister, `Ali Ash-Shami, states that Israeli violations of Lebanon’s sovereignty in the last year alone was 4000: averaging 11 violations a day.  The violations were 7000 from 2006 and 2009.  This should suffice for Lebanon to reject in principle any role for the UN or for international treaties in dealing with the Israeli threat.  The only choice for Lebanon vis-a-vis Israel is armed resistance against Israeli occupation and aggression.  All other measures merely give Israeli the cover for its war crimes.
Mussa rejects intervention over Christian attacks
BAGHDAD (AFP) – Arab League Secretary General Amr Mussa rejects the potential “exploitation” of attacks on Christians in the Arab world as a pretext for intervention by outside powers, he said in Iraq on Saturday.
Clinton meets Lebanon PM, back tribunal probing his father’s assassination
(Reuters) U.S. Secretary of State confers with current Lebanese premier Saad Hariri after meeting with Saudi Arabian King Abdullah in New York.
Clinton seeks stronger ties with Arab allies
U.S. secretary of state set to depart on trip to United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s trip to the Persian Gulf is intended to strengthen ties with Arab allies, rally support for penalties against Iran, and promote democracy and security across the Middle East.
Protesters killed in Tunisia riots
(Video) At least 20 people have been killed in clashes with police in a two cities in Tunisia. Six people were killed and another six wounded in the city of Tala, 200km southwest of the capital Tunis, on Saturday, after security forces opened fire on protesters. Another 14 people were killed in similar clashes in the Kasserine region, union sources told Al Jazeera.
Algeria unrest turns deadly
(Video) Three people have been killed and hundreds injured in continuing protests in Algeria, as the government meets to discuss ways of halting the rising food costs and unemployment that have sparked the unrest.
Yemen separatists kill soldiers
Southern secessionists in Lahaj kill at least three in an attack on army checkpoint, the latest in a wave of violence … In a separate incident on Saturday, eight soldiers were injured in the city of Lawdar when their vehicle came under attack. The city was the site of asuspected al-Qaeda ambush that killed nine soldiers on Friday.
U.S., other world news
*Video: Keith Olbermann – Violence and threats have no place in democracy 
One of the USA’s most eloquent commentators connects the violent rhetoric and imagery coming from American politicians and media with the attack on a congresswoman in Arizona, and demands change.
WikiLeaks demands Google, Facebook unseal subpoenas
Call comes after revelation that US has tried to force Twitter to release WikiLeaks members’ private details
Icelandic MP fights US demand for her Twitter account details
Birgitta Jonsdottir brands efforts by US justice department to access her private information ‘completely unacceptable’
WikiLeaks: Twitter deserves credit for defending its users’ rights
The US department of justice has ordered Twitter to hand over the messages and account details of several users who are, or have been, associated with Wikileaks. Initially the order was sealed, that is it was to be kept secret from the targets. It’s to Twitter’s credit that it asked for the order to be unsealed and then informed the users concerned.



Barghouti: Ariel U boycott is first step

Jan 09, 2011

Philip Weiss


More than 150 Israeli academics have now called for a boycott of Ariel University Center of Samaria in the occupied West Bank in part because it was built to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state. (Yes and the colonization of East Jerusalem proceeds apace today, and how do people come to terms with that reality?) Omar Barghouti welcomes the action, and responds in part:

As in the South African academic boycott, for Israeli academics to endorse a boycott of their own institutions does not mean that they must quit their jobs or seek employment elsewhere, as some dishonestly claim. There are diverse ways to fight colonialism and apartheid from within without committing career suicide. It may mean, for starters, ending their personal complicity in projects that violate human rights and international law by refusing to be part of them and urging others to follow suit; applying pressure on their institutions and academic associations to condemn the occupation and apartheid and end all complicity, partly by challenging the organic partnership between these institutions and the state’s system of colonial oppression; and, most crucially, inviting world academics and academic institutions to join the boycott, as brave South African academics had done in the  struggle against apartheid there.

World academics should seriously consider an academic boycott of the Ariel college-colony, at the very least, as a first step towards a full boycott of all Israeli academic institutions involved in planning, implementing, justifying or whitewashing Israel’s colonial rule and apartheid. While at it, they may want to consider the compelling boycott case against Hebrew University, too, as an institution that has been guilty — for several more decades than Ariel — of maintaining a campus mostly on Palestinian
territory occupied by Israel in 1967, in clear violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, among other violations.



War and Michael Walzer

Jan 09, 2011

Matthew Phillips


  “The tasks of the critic, thus armored, are…to question relentlessly the platitudes and myths of his society”—Michael Walzer, The Company of Critics

“We justify our conduct; we judge the conduct of others.”—Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars

In November, NYU School of Law hosted a conference entitled “The Enduring Legacy of Just and Unjust Wars—35 Years Later”. The conference wasn’t open to the public; but the occasion of the anniversary of Michael Walzer’s celebrated book gave me further opportunity to reflect on the shadow Walzer has cast over our intellectual life. I first became acquainted with Walzer’s writing as an undergraduate when, during a session of a course on Modern Jewish Philosophy, the class discussion shifted from Emmanuel Levinas to a thinker with somewhat more tangible ideas. Everyone in the class agreed on the stature of Michael Walzer as a public intellectual. I don’t remember the context of the conversation, or its content, but I do remember something the professor said in an offhand way. He said that Walzer was “the kind of liberal who likes to reason his way to a good conscience”.

This quote has stuck with me as I have gone on to explore Walzer’s writing. Since that time, Walzer has commented frequently— mostly in his familiar outlets of The New Republic and Dissent—on the two wars Israel has embarked on, first in Lebanon in 2006 and then Gaza in 2008, as well as the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Understandably, the views of the author of the seminal Just and Unjust Wars would be sought after, if only to bestow on each of these wars the moral seal of “just” or “unjust”. Readers may have been relatively surprised, as I once was, to find that Walzer “supported” three of these four wars. The exception, predictably, was the war in Iraq; even here, however, Walzer was careful to square his opposition to the war with what he termed, in the aftermath of the war in Afghanistan, a “decent left” position.

An article written in The New York Review of Books on the eve of the 2003 invasion was called “The Right Way”. The “rightness” in question was not the invasion, or its execution, or the likely consequences for American soldiers and Iraqis; rather, Walzer was advising liberals to adopt his perfectly measured way of opposing the attack on Iraq—suggesting that the Left should never fail to emphasize the brutality of Saddam (as if that was in question), and even go so far as to concede the menacing nature of the Iraqi regime to its neighbors. Whatever one thinks of Wazler’s formula, it was obviously not conceived by Walzer to galvanize liberals, or to have any significant effect in arresting the drive to war.

Michael Walzer’s lasting authority on the subject of war clearly derives from his work Just and Unjust Wars. This book has, by all accounts, achieved something like canonical status, both within and outside the academy. It is easy to see why, though I will only posit a few reasons, from the perspective of a lay reader. It is written in clear and accessible prose, peppered with philosophical and literary allusions, all the more inviting because of the complex just war tradition Walzer navigates— rooted in Catholic moral theology, but historically involving thinkers as diverse as Maimonides, Aquinas and Hugo Grotious. Secondly, Walzer eschews a narrow legal positivism in favor of a broader moral perspective. Of course, law and morality inform each other throughout the work; they are not, however, indistinguishable in Walzer’s account of war. Lastly, there is Walzer’s determined stance as a citizen. Although it is not entirely clear from the book itself, Walzer has admitted elsewhere that the guiding idea behind Just and Unjust Wars was his support for the Six-Day War in Israel, as opposed to the American war in Vietnam, which he protested against.

Thus Walzer, by his own account, set out to give his intuitive responses to war a theoretical framework for which to justify those responses, ex post facto. One can perhaps state that Walzer, in addition to much else, succeeds in vindicating his a priori positions. I would add, however, that later editions do not take account of the rich historical record that the Six-Day war has produced, especially as interpreted by Israel’s “New Historians” when the Israeli archives opened in the 1980s.. As some of these historians have shown, blame for the war falls, perhaps unevenly, on both sides.

More importantly, there is the issue of how the raison d’etre of Just and Unjust Wars has affected Walzer’s future stances on war. I would argue, indeed, that the qualities one notices in Just and Unjust Wars—Walzer’s unwillingness to defer to the framework of international law, his clear support for Israel’s resort to force, the ability to shape the argument to suit the war—have led him to badly misjudge later conflicts. At the very least, it must be quite ironic that given his moral authority, as well as his protestations about the “hellishness” of war, Michael Walzer has—with remarkably few exceptions—supported the many military adventures the United States and Israel have undertaken since Vietnam. True, as we shall see, Walzer has sometimes equivocated, mostly to inveigh against the predictable consequences that naturally follow from war. In the cases where he has opposed war, moreover, Walzer has basically done to the antiwar position what the Israelis did to the Road Map: entered enough caveats and qualifications as to make it essentially untenable.

There is one final quality of Just and Unjust Wars, in light of Walzer’s recent commentary, that bears mentioning. This is encapsulated by the subtitle of the book: “A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations”. Walzer understands, or has in the past, that moral positions are nothing if they are not grounded in real events; that is, the way wars are actually, not ideally, fought. Thus every argument made by Just and Unjust Wars is illuminated by historical example. In Walzer’s later stances on particular wars, however, he has neglected or distorted the factual record. The factual record, in this sense, refers to historical context—obviously crucial to understanding—as well as verifiable information about how a war has been fought. In no instance has the conduct of a given war, even when it has manifestly included atrocities, affected Walzer’s initial judgment of that war. In other words, while his notion of just war has been applied quite loosely, Walzer’s judgments of war, once established, have been seemingly resistant to reinterpretation. In the case of Israel’s most recent wars, Walzer might be contrasted to prominent and likeminded Israeli liberals, many of whom at least called for a cease-fire in these conflicts as civilian casualties mounted on the other side.

In May 2009, Walzer co-authored (with the Israeli philosopher Avishai Margalit) an article entitled “Israel: Civilians and Combatants” in the The New York Review of Books. Readers of the New York Review understand their longstanding journalistic practice of recruiting Jewish intellectuals, preferably Israelis, to criticize Israeli policy—probably to protect the respective journal from charges of anti-Semitism or similar ad-hominem attack. Anyway, it would be hard to exaggerate the combined leverage—one senior member of the American Jewish left, another a senior member of the Israeli left—of these two authors, at least to those who care about Israeli politics. This came, of course, at a time when liberal opposition to (certain) Israeli policies was growing within the United States, as the emergence of the lobby J Street has shown. 

Far from a forceful denunciation of the actual war in Gaza, however, the article is essentially a speculation of what Israeli policy should entail, in the future. This is perhaps unsurprising, as Walzer apparently supported the Gaza War with, as always, a few caveats. In this case, Walzer and Margalit were responding to an article by two Israeli academics called “Assassination and Preventive Killing” which appeared in an American journal in 2005. Readers might wonder as to why Walzer and Margalit would scrutinize an article that appeared more than three years earlier. Walzer and Margalit, indeed, could not state definitively that the ideas expressed in the article governed IDF conduct in Gaza. So why now, in May 2009? Wouldn’t it be more prudent to consider the implications of this article, or others like it, before Israel engaged in two major wars? Or are we to believe that these two Princeton colleagues, both seasoned in debates surrounding Israel, were unaware of both the article and the ideas contained in it before May 2009, months after the Gaza fighting ended? Even if they only belatedly encountered the article, ideas surrounding policy rarely appear in a vacuum.

Apart from the dubious sense of timing, there is the nature of the article itself. As I said, Walzer and Margalit’s essay is not a retrospective consideration of the actual wars Israel has engaged in, whether in Gaza 2008 or Lebanon 2006. In fact, Walzer and Margalit are careful to remove their ideas from the realm of actual history. They hone in not on the issue of targeted assassination (which they purposely choose not to comment on), but on the question of the immunity and safety of non-combatants. They take issue with the idea, as put forward by the two Israeli academics, that given the confused nature of fighting terrorists, who readily recruit from and mingle with civilians, that Israeli soldiers might be absolved from the responsibility of risking their own safety to protect the lives of civilians on the other side.

To Walzer and Margalit, Israeli soldiers are responsible for the lives of civilians—both their own, and the enemies. To blur the distinction between combatants and noncombatants, we are to understand, even in a war on terrorism—this would be a fateful blow to the concept of jus in bello. Walzer and Margalit end with the coy suggestion that Israeli soldiers should have no problem understanding the idea of treating theother side’s civilians as if they were your own; after all, aren’t Jews everywhere guided by the “counterfactual” notion that they were all present at Egypt?

One probably shouldn’t dwell on this clever idea; Walzer and Margalit do not seriously believe an idea repeated in the Passover haggadah would guide the actions of Israeli soldiers during war. Yet it does point to something real, and, I think, quite important about Walzer and Margalit’s article, which is its extreme presumptuousness. Here we have two professors at Princeton, both far removed from the realities of war, essentially telling soldiers in another country how to behave. They even, in fact, go so far in their article as to literally tell both sides what they should say to their soldiers.

This might seem mundane, given how often intellectuals pontificate on issues of war and peace (and everything else), but it is noteworthy in Walzer and Margalit’s case because of their total unconcern for reality. Is there a chance in hell, to put it bluntly, that Israelis are going to take risks to their own safety, as Walzer claims they should, to protect the lives of those widely perceived to be the enemy? Walzer seems to think so, because the chief impediment to the immunity of noncombatants, in his eyes, is a matter of policy. Policy, of course, can be dictated and reversed (though nowhere, as I have said, does Walzer flatly state that Israel has purposely attacked civilians), perhaps with the necessary convincing from liberal intellectuals in the The New York Review of Books, which Israeli generals surely peruse on their breaks.

But the chief impediment to the immunity or noncombatants is not simply, in the case of Israel and the United States, a matter of policy. It is equally a matter of two other things, namely the methods of modern warfare as well as the ideology of soldiers and their leaders. In other words, even were the United States and Israel to flatly rule out attacking civilians in war (which these countries, in practice, do not), other important issues would confound the nature of policy. If one wishes to seriously address the issue of civilian immunity, therefore, we must deal with these complicating factors. Yet Walzer virtually ignores these problems, instead focusing on academic questions that do not account for any sort of contingency in warfare. For this reason, we must seriously question his ability to grapple with war today, at least war as practiced by Israel and the United States. 

Let us return to the issue of noncombatant immunity in the wars of Israel. Noncombatant immunity, as any reader of Just and Unjust Wars knows, is a crucial component of just war theory. It is also, as mentioned, the ostensible topic of Walzer’s article in the New York Review of Books, co-authored with Avishai Margalit. In the article on the Gaza war, however, no historical background to the conflict is given, and there is no mention whatsoever of Israel’s actual prosecution of the war. Instead, Walzer and Margalit frame their approach to the subject as a response to that article written in 2005. Of course, by mid-2009—and I would suggest that this was the real impetus for Walzer’s article—very serious allegations were being made about Israel’s conduct during the war in Gaza, allegations that would eventually culminate in the Goldstone report.

But the authors never engage any of these allegations. Their criticism is entirely hypothetical and prescriptive; they simply admonish the Israeli army to respect noncombatant immunity in future engagements. Of course, as the authors themselves know, what they tell the Israeli military to do will have no bearing whatsoever on what it actually does. What Walzer and Margalit would be capable of achieving, however, are reasoned conclusions about Israel’s behavior in Gaza. Yet this element—namely, reality—is curiously missing from their article. Instead, the reader is treated to a lengthy discussion of a scenario concocted by the authors, revolving around an imaginary kibbutz captured in northern Israel—something like the liberal equivalent of a Pentagon “war game”. One might conclude that the actual Gaza invasion, with its evident destruction and alleged atrocities, isn’t sufficiently relevant in hindsight to the issue of just war theory and Israel. 

To be fair, Walzer has also responded to Israel’s recent wars in a more timely manner, at least while they were ongoing. His article, “The Gaza War and Proportionality”, dated January 8, 2009, objects to the widespread notion that Israel’s attacks were “disproportionate” simply because they amounted to greater civilian casualties on the other side. As Walzer points out, correctly, issues of proportionality in war don’t amount to a simple one-for-one equation. Wars have aims; they are not simply a series of reprisals, and are thus governed by different rules than (to use his example) a family feud. Rocket attacks from Gaza, moreover, despite the failure to inflict large casualties, have obviously been designed with that intention.

Is Israel, therefore, obligated to wait until Hamas has more sophisticated rockets? In that case, Walzer asks, “how many civilian casualties are ‘not disproportionate to’ the rocketing of Tel Aviv?”. Put this way, Walzer suggests, one is likely to justify the use of too much force. Yet it would be the logical conclusion of those insisting that Israel’s attack had been, up to that point, “disproportionate”.

Here, I think, Walzer effectively dismantles a superficial objection to the Gaza War; “proportionality” is not simply a matter of tallying casualties, remarkably lopsided though they were in Gaza. Yet it is crucial to note the issue of “proportionality”, however wrongly interpreted it was by both media pundits and heads of state, was hardly the main problem with Israel’s war. For as Walzer must know, the decision to go to war was itself the real crime, given that a cease-fire had been in place six months prior to the invasion, during which time Hamas rockets came to a standstill.

Israel, in fact, did not live up to its obligations under the cease-fire (which required an ease of the blockade), then refused to renew Hamas’ offer to renew the cease-fire, just as Israel has always dismissed similar Hamas offers for long-term truces. This is all plain to those who follow the Israeli press—Israel’s decision to go to war in December 2008 was just that: a decision, hardly the only available option at Israel’s disposal. As was similarly revealed to Americans on 9/11, Israel’s war on Gaza showed the entire world that whatever their obvious enmity toward the Palestinians, the safety of Israel’s citizens is hardly the priority of the Israeli government. This is scandalous; but it is the only conclusion one can draw from the fact that the Israeli government has done everything in its power to avoid limited truces with Hamas in the future, while violating those cease-fires that have reigned between Hamas and Israel. 

The fact that Walzer was able to ignore this issue—that given the precedent of a non-violent solution, the war itself simply need never happened—may seem quite remarkable. Indeed, one might think that a preeminent just war theorist, in his capacity as public intellectual, could be relied upon to point to an clear instance of a government going to war as an alternative to peaceful resolution, of which the Gaza War was a paradigmatic example. Such an expectation is akin to supposing that a preeminent mathematician, when examining an apparently complicated proof, could point to mere errors of addition. Such logical (and moral) clarity is seemingly beyond Walzer.

Walzer’s widely disseminated response to the Lebanon war in 2006 is also worth considering. Published in The New Republic, “War Fair” perfectly encapsulates all the shortcomings of Walzer’s perspective. Again, there is the confused and belated timing: Walzer counsels Israel that “there cannot be any direct attack on civilian targets…this principle is a major constraint also on attacks on the economic infrastructure”. Yet a few lines down, he readily acknowledges that this principle has already been violated by “Israeli attacks on power stations in Gaza and Lebanon”. Walzer’s objection to “reducing the quality of life in Gaza, where it is already low”, furthermore, “is prudential, as well as moral”. Walzer appreciates the complex reality that people do not like to witness their livelihood being destroyed, and are likely to react aggressively against those who preside over that destruction.

In reality, Walzer barely conceals that the tactic he is discussing is what is often referred to as “collective punishment”. Of course, Walzer objects to this, both on principled and pragmatic grounds, for the Palestinians and Lebanese are invariably going to hold Israel responsible for their punishment (even if, unbelievably, Israel is in fact responsible). Indeed, what Walzer refers to in 2006 as “reducing the quality of life in Gaza” soon culminated in the ongoing Israeli siege on Gaza. Walzer, in Just and Unjust Wars, calls siege “the oldest form of total war”; in the same book, Walzer also points to the closing of the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping as a reason for Israel to claim the right to launch a preemptive strike on Egypt in 1967.

Of course, if this is convincing, then the far graver strangulations placed on the Gazans today would thus be considered a more serious military provocation; and we might therefore realize that one crucial reason the Palestinians are not allowed to have a military is to remove the one instrument they could use to assert the same rights for themselves that Israel has claimed in the past. In any event, readers might look to future editions of Just and Unjust Wars to account for the criminality of the siege in Gaza, perhaps as a fitting bookend to Walzer’s historical discussion of the siege of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Needless to say, its devastation on Palestinian society has been chronicled and documented by virtually every human rights group—sources arguably more thorough and reliable than Josephus.

Walzer, like the Israeli government, clearly believes that the capture of three Israelis soldiers and the firing of rockets from Lebanon and Gaza compelled the Israelis to act in the summer of 2006. Let us begin with the capture of the Israeli soldiers. Walzer acknowledges that a military response to the capture of three Israeli soldiers was not strictly “necessary”, since these acts have often, in the past, been a transparent attempt to negotiate a prisoner exchange. Yet this time, since Hamas and Hezbollah “describe the captures as legitimate military operations”, a military response was warranted.

Furthermore, and crucially, “Israel’s goal is to prevent future raids, as well as to rescue the soldiers, so proportionality must be measured not only against what Hamas and Hezbollah have already done, but also against what they are (and what they say they are) trying to do.”

Walzer is clearly right, again, that “proportionality” was not the crucial issue. Yet what would happen if the Lebanese and the Gazans were to apply Walzer’s reasoning to their own position? This is a fair question unless we believe that Israel is uniquely entitled to certain prerogatives in war that others are not. Walzer has never explicitly claimed this on behalf of Israel. Should we therefore bear in mind the many Palestinian and Lebanese civilians who have been abducted over the years, being held without charge and lingering unaccountably in Israeli prisons? Surely the abduction of civilians is a graver crime than the abduction of a uniformed soldier on duty, such as Gilad Shalit.

Does the “other side” therefore have the right—in fact, a greater right— to mobilize on their behalf? Walzer, of course, simply doesn’t entertain the possibility. / “The crucial argument”, Walzer tells us, “is about the Palestinian use of civilians as shields”, a tactic of pressing interest because it “tests the philosophers’ dialectical skills”. Putting aside all of the evidence suggesting that the IDF has itself engaged in such a tactic, the bombardment of Lebanese civilians—not the alleged use of “human shields”—was undoubtedly the most serious issue of the Second Lebanon War. The bombardment, as Walzer surely knows, followed from the Israel’s initial unwillingness to send a ground invasion of forces well into Lebanon. Whatever one feels about the merits of this approach militarily, it flatly violates a principle that Walzer made explicit in an essay on the war in Kosovo in his book Arguing About War: that one, in his words, “can’t kill unless [they] are prepared to die” (emphasis in original).

Walzer attached much importance to this principle in terms of the Kosovo intervention (which he nonetheless supported) in 1999. In this instance, Walzer was troubled by the modern state fighting wars exclusively from the air, in a way that completely exposes the enemy while totally shielding itself from attack. This is obviously the strategic advantage of aerial bombardment; it is also, for Walzer, the source of its immorality.

So what about Lebanon, and, indeed, Gaza? As Walzer says in the same essay on Kosovo, “political leaders cannot launch a campaign aimed to kill Serbian soldiers, and sure to kill others too, unless they are prepared to risk the lives of their own soldiers…they cannot claim, we cannot accept, that those lives are expendable, and these not”. It is perhaps worth repeating that Walzer’s critique of aerial warfare, however useful, did not lead him to reconsider his endorsement of the Kosovo intervention. Logically, however, and if his misgivings are to be in any way taken seriously, Walzer would at least have to apply them to future conflicts. Yet they never emerge again in Walzer’s commentary.

Could this be because the United States and Israel do not presently engage in what Michael Ignatieff has dubbed, in the context of Kosovo, “virtual war”? Nothing could be further from the truth. It would take a separate essay to discuss this issue in full; to take only one example, however, with regard to the U.S. war in Iraq, it was well understood that the American people would not tolerate a protracted armed confrontation with Iraqi forces. The military thus applied the doctrine of “Shock and Awe”, which meant to effectively overwhelm and destroy the enemy from the air before any actual fighting began.

In the Second Lebanon War, the emerging resistance of Hezbollah led to the widespread bombardment of South Lebanon, only after which did Israel pursue a ground invasion. Predictably, the death of many Lebanese civilians resulted from the bombing campaign, as well as the near devastation of Lebanon’s infrastructure. In 2008, Israel’s continued embrace of “virtual war” reached its climax in Gaza. Norman Finkelstein, in his book This Time We Went Too Far: Truth and Consequences of the Gaza Invasion, cites evidence of how Operation Cast Lead was “largely conducted by remote control”. As one soldier, part of Israel’s “Breaking the Silence” collective, observed after the war, “It was like a playstation computer game”. To another it felt “like a child playing around with a magnifying glass, burning up ants”.

In the end, what has Michael Walzer really said about warfare today? If anything, Walzer has critically evaded or obfuscated the most important questions about war; and his ethical framework is, at best, hardly more illuminating than most people’s intuitive responses. Walzer’s analysis has always hinged on the implicit idea that atrocities, when our side commits them, can nonetheless be compartmentalized; behavior need not affect our essential judgment of war. In some cases in history, of course, such as the Allied bombing of Dresden, this attitude might be warranted.

Today, however, when U.S and Israeli wars are transparently more lethal than those attacks credited—often wrongly— with precipitating those wars, it becomes nothing but intellectual sophistry to maintain, as Walzer has, that one can support or defend a given war, but not the bombing of civilians, the use of cluster bombs, white phosphorous, etc. As everyone can see, the former necessarily contains and engenders the latter. Equally regrettable is Walzer’s willingness to essentially wipe the slate clean before every war, as if the past actions of the US and Israel cannot fairly predict their further conduct in war. Most people, though perhaps not just war theorists, wouldn’t be so unassuming. / What then, in reality, has been Walzer’s purpose in commenting on war? Once one looks past the common trope about “human shields”, or the moral truisms about not killing innocent people, one sees that Walzer has basically stuck to reiterating Israel’s declared aims, and tailoring his arguments accordingly.

Rather unbelievably, Walzer has even seen fit to invoke the crudest examples of Israeli hasbara—for example, asking us, in the context of a discussion about rocket attacks from Gaza in 2006, to “imagine the U.S. response if a similar number [of rockets] were fired at Buffalo and Detroit from some Canadian no-man’s land”. Of course, if Gaza, one of the most densely populated places on earth, can be justly compared to a “no-man’s land”, then it would indeed make little sense to condemn virtually any response to such attacks, no matter how brutal or excessive. At other times Walzer has waxed philosophical (“dialectical limits”), or he has created some hypothetical scenario to carefully analyze (as in the article co-authored with Margalit), but he has shed no light on how these conundrums translate into reality.

With regard to the U.S., he has used the majority of his energy not to oppose our many wars, but to berate the left for failing to conform to his correct mode of (always ineffectual) opposition. As for the cruel and cynical ways that the U.S. and Israel fight wars today, with use of power far beyond the means of their opponents, Walzer has only scratched the surface.

Then there is international law. It has long been Walzer’s aim to polarize issues surrounding the legality of war from his own “moral” judgments about war, the latter of which is really deserving of our attention. In “The Crime of Aggressive War”, a 2007 essay in Washington University Global Studies Law Review, Walzer claims that “there are good reasons why the development of just war theory preceded the development of the international laws of war. Legal texts may only imperfectly and incompletely embody our moral ideas, but without moral ideas, we would not be able to write legal texts.” Such reasoning, as far as I can tell, is perfectly sensible, and appears to add to—rather than detract from—our understanding of international law.

Yet this is not Walzer’s true goal. As Walzer says in the same essay, “all states that are members of the U.N. have the same legal value. They do not, however, have the same moral value”. Furthermore, “the judgments we make (or should make) when a particular state is attacked or invaded have more to do with the moral value of the state then with the brute fact of attack or invasion”. Of course, this is the rationale offered by virtually every aggressor throughout history—surely no one attacks a state with brute force if that state is perceived to have a great deal of “moral value”. And even if one were to accept Walzer’s reasoning, moreover, it is nonetheless quite disturbing that our preeminent just war theorist apparently believes that the “value” of any state—however one determines it—should take precedence over the lives of ordinary citizens, who are war’s victims (weapons don’t disfigure the moral qualities of a state). Indeed, if you are one of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have had loved ones killed in the aftermath of the invasion in 2003, you learn from Walzer that the American invasion “does not fit the moral meaning of aggression” because “there was no common life under Saddam Hussein” which Iraqis at large were willing to defend.

This is pure (and deeply offensive) nonsense; as anyone who reads Nir Rosen’s superb reporting knows, Iraqis not only shared a high standard of living prior to the devastation wrought by sanctions in the nineties (which Walzer supported); but it was also the occupation forces who fomented the sectarianism leading to civil war and sought to capitalize on the highly fractious nature of the state they invaded. In any event, we are often reminded that for every two Israelis there are three opinions; perhaps Hamas can thus invoke the deep polarizations within Israeli society as a pretext for attacking the Israeli people—or Iran can launch an attack on Washington, citing “red state” and “blue state” antagonisms as evidence that Americans share little “common life” worth defending.

A month after the symposium held to honor Walzer’s Just and Unjust Wars, the world noted an anniversary of a different sort—the two-year mark of the Israeli massacre in Gaza. The utter lack of restraint Israel exhibited in that war, should, I think, finally compel us to rethink the merits of just war theory, and not only in terms of how it has been postulated and exploited by Walzer. For it is obvious that far from placing clearly defined limits on war, just war theory has become an endlessly malleable paradigm which can be readily invoked by the most powerful states, though never their enemies or victims—which is precisely why Obama relied on it in his Nobel speech. It is also obvious that just war theory is no reasonable alternative to strict adherence to international law, and that Walzer’s distinction between “illegal but morally necessary wars” is an ideological recipe for wars that are neither legal nor moral. Yet one quality just war theory undoubtedly has, and that international law admittedly lacks, is that it allows intellectuals to rationalize the actions of a favorite state, and, in turn, assuage the tribulations of their conscience.


Israelis demolish Shepherd’s Hotel in occupied East Jerusalem to make way for Jewish housing

Jan 09, 2011

Philip Weiss


This story was on NPR this morning, good. Residents of occupied Sheikh Jarrah woke up to the sound of the bulldozers. My account comes from a source who has seen the UN version of events:

Shepherd’s Hotel in Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem is currently being demolished. The demolition started this morning and is ongoing. Shepherd’s Hotel is being demolished in order to facilitate the construction of a residential Jewish settlement. These demolition and settlement construction plans date to the 1984. In July 2009, the Israeli planning authorities approved the construction license. It allows for the demolition of the existing building in favor of two residential buildings, with 30 housing units and associated amenities at the first stage and 90 housing units at a later stage.

The property called Shepherd’s Hotel was built in the 1930’s by Haj Amin Al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, as his family home outside of the Old City of Jerusalem. The British exiled him in 1937, and the British used it as a military outpost. During Jordanian rule, from 1948 through 1967, the Mufti’s proxy took control of the property and rented it to hoteliers. Thus the home became known as the Shepherd’s Hotel. In 1967, the Hotel, along with the rest of Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood where it’s located, fell under Israeli occupation. They confiscated the property and transferred it to the Israeli Custodian of Absentee Property who in turn transferred it to the Israeli Development Authority from where it subsequently passed, on 5 November 1985, to “C & M Properties.”

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