My mother, the infiltrator 

My mother is an illegal infiltrator. She has infiltrated her hometown, where her parents were born and where she was raised. Her activities as an infiltrator are as varied as they are nefarious: She takes my sister to school, with the neighbor’s kids. She cooks and cleans her home.
We actually purchased that home so that she would have a base to operate from once she had infiltrated. She goes to the gym (I suspect infiltrators probably do need to stay in shape). She visits her sisters; I can’t say for sure if they assist her illegal activities. I’m sure they provide moral support at least. She helps care for her brother’s young children. You see my uncle might have been an infiltrator.
They kicked him out of his homeland too, said he didn’t have the right permit to live there. He actually did, but they didn’t want to renew it. He was kept away from his kids for years. Eventually, he was given permission to infiltrate again, but he died a few months later, before this ruling came into effect. So maybe he became an infiltrator posthumously. I don’t know.
I’m not sure when my mother stopped being a member of the community she grew up in, or a resident of the town where she was raised. Maybe it was when she fell in love with a dangerous inmate. It wasn’t a maximum security prison back in those days-he’d actually been allowed to leave Gaza to study. They met in university: she the future infiltrator, he the future prisoner. They were in love, with each other and with Palestine. And love is what screwed them up.
They decided to get married, and you just can’t do that if you’re a Palestinian. It’s not up to you to decide who you marry and where you live and where your kids will be raised or if you can even live together in your own country. That’s all up to the Zionists to decide. So they went ahead and decided that my dad can’t live in the West Bank, because he escaped from that coastal prison. The same rule applies to me, because I was born in Gaza.
I tried telling them I didn’t want to be born there, that I’d wanted to be born in Fallujah like my grandfather, but it didn’t matter to them. We were both born in Gaza, so Zionism had bestowed upon us Gaza IDs to prove it. They are in Hebrew. I don’t read Hebrew.
So my mother went back to where she grew up with her eight siblings and countless cousins and neighbors and friends and memories and all that. She went back and tried to live her life again there in the West Bank. But history always catches up with criminals; an unseen clerk in the vast monstrosity that is the Israeli occupation authority had found her guilty of marrying the inmate a couple of decades back. Her (Hebrew) West Bank ID disappeared. She got the Gaza ID instead. And suddenly, one night as she lay asleep in her bed, she became an infiltrator in her own home, her own town, her own country.
Now she is a criminal, but it only seems fitting that a Palestinian would be a criminal for living in their own home. It happened in the lands occupied in 1948, so why shouldn’t it happen in the West Bank? I haven’t seen her for a year, because I’m not allowed in and she can’t get out. And now a mother might get torn away from her kids and sisters and nephews and nieces and sent away, or maybe even thrown in jail for seven years.
This is life under the boot of Zionist population control. Going back to live in your hometown is now infiltrating. Marrying a Palestinian with the wrong ID gives the army the right to split up your family. You don’t decide where to live, or with whom. You can’t see your spouse or your children at will. And when someone in the occupation army decides to change the rules overnight, you know another aspect of normal living will have become criminalized.
Mohammad Alsaafin was born in the Khan Younis refugee camp and grew up in the UK and the US, before going back to Palestine for college at Birzeit. This was cross-posted on Kabobfest.

The West Bank expulsion order is merely the latest step in a long process

The Israeli army order that permits Israel to ethnically purge the West Bank of non-Jews (Palestinians and foreigners who are not Jewish) is the next rational step in the evolution of the Jewish state.
A Ha’aretz editorial calls this latest iteration of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine “a step too far.”  The editors go on to state that “Israel, which justifiably prevents Palestinians from returning to where they lived before 1948… cannot expel Palestinians from the occupied territories on the basis of dubious bureaucratic claims.” 
The Ha’aretz editors are confused, mistaking cause with the tools of implementation.  They wrongly presume that Palestine is being purged of natives because of “dubious bureaucratic claims” and not because of any racist religious mandate or racist secular dogma.   
Israel is locked in an interminable grind to rid the Holy Land of non-Jews.  That process exploded with the creation of the colonial-settler state in 1948, and continues today.  Anyone who opposes what is happening in the West Bank today should also oppose what happened in all of Palestine in 1948 out of logical and moral constancy.  In 1948, war was the primary tool employed by the Zionist army for its “justifiable” territorial ethnic cleansing.  In 2010, “bureaucratic claims” are merely the updated tactics; the racist toolbox is expansive. 
It’s worth exploring the logic that likely underpins the “liberal” Zionist mindset.  How is it that a contemporary Zionist can say that an ethnic purge is justifiable in at least one case, but not in others?  It helps to understand that Zionist ideology is marred by an ethnocentric, exclusivist, us-above-all stain. 
Jewish exceptionalism permits Zionists to rationalize the suffering of others as a necessary price to be paid for Jewish supremacy within a territorial space.  The difference between “liberal” Zionists and other Zionists is that the former seem to believe that the goal of securing that space has been achieved, while the others believe that the process is ongoing.  Therefore, 1948 was justifiable, but 2010 is excessive, “a step too far.” 
In both cases, Zionists rationalize atrocity as necessary for securing the Jewish people. The only difference is whether the process of securing the Jewish people is ongoing or complete. You are a ‘liberal’ Zionist if you think the process is complete, and a Kahanist-Liebermanist if you don’t. There is no contradiction here, after all.
 I’ll end by noting that there is a silver lining to all this.  The original Amira Hass article in Ha’aretz says that the order “disregards the existence of the Palestinian Authority and the agreements Israel signed with it and the PLO.”  As the thin veils of self-deception fall away, more people will see things for what they are.  The Palestinian struggle is quintessentially about equal rights in all Palestine/Israel.  The right of return is at the core of that struggle.

What a sleek, modern ethnic-cleansing operation looks like

The above photograph is said to be of a caravan of police vehicles leaving the Negev village of El-Araqib after demolishing three homes there yesterday. A report from the the Regional Council for Unrecognized Villages in the Negev, states:

Yesterday, Tuesday, April 13th, the Government of Israel demolished 3 homes and served many home demolition orders in the unrecognized village of El-Araqib. The government is coveting the lands of this village and lately has staged a major attack on the residents of this village to forcefully take the lands:
the JNF (Jewish National Fund) is planting a forest on these lands; the residents are forced to come to the courts to defend their ownership of the lands, in a legal system that does not recognize any papers prior to the existence of the state; and the home are being demolished. The homes demolished yesterday have been demolished twice before in the past two months.
The government yesterday also razed to the ground all the homes and tents of the village of Twail abu-Jarwal. For these villagers – it is the 40th time that they have had to experience their entire village being demolished in the last couple of years. One wonders, is it not time to change tactics?
The police and the inspectors also emptied out the water containers and attempted to bury them – leaving both humans and animals without water. One of the young men from the village asked: Did they also have a “spill water” court order?

Below, left, are photographs of the water containers at Twail abu-Jarwal. Apparently the villagers were reduced to storing water in this manner after their water tank, at right, was destroyed some years ago. For Jews reading this post: These actions are being done in your name.

Bedouin youths on a hike apparently have no right to exist

Rebecca Vilkomerson tells a quietly-stirring story at The Only Democracy, about the (apparently-accidental) killing by Israeli soldiers of a Bedouin youth two weeks ago in a village in the Negev that is surrounded by military reserves. Vilkomerson explains that Qasr al-Sir was originally part of Dimona, the Israeli city in the Negev where they do hummina-hummina-hummina.
Then the village got displaced. But despite the fact that it is a recognized village, it exists in a precarious geographical status, in which boys going for a hike in the hills are fired upon.
When people talk about Israel’s right to exist, which is not something I dispute, I would point out that Israel is routinely denying the right of Palestinians to exist on their lands, and no one gives a hoot. Please note in the following story that there is no real investigation of the killing; and this is accepted around the world. Remember how the killing of one Greek youth detonated political upheaval in that nation?
Do you think that Palestinians do not also cherish their children? I apologize for the sloganeering, but– attention must be paid. Vilkomerson:

Qasr al-Sir was an “unrecognized” village in its new location—meaning it didn’t appear on any maps, didn’t receive any basic services like water, electricity, paved roads, sewage treatment, or garbage collection, and its homes could be destroyed at any time. The group of villages that were “recognized” in 2003 are controversial, because in return for the recognition, they gave up the right to the rest of their territorial land.
For Qasr al-Sir, this means that while the village itself now has some “amenities”–such as a school, some paved roads, and protection from home demolitions–it is still dealing with conditions that are unthinkable in Jewish communities in Israel.  One of these problems is that right up to its very boundaries, unmarked, is a military training zone where soldiers can fire freely. The village is literally fenced in by the military.
This is no coincidence on a systemic level, as 85% of the Negev (or Naqab in Arabic) has been either requisitioned as a closed military zone or nature preserve.  This is one of the ways that the Bedouins in the Negev have been forced to relinquish more and more of their lands, forced into isolated urban and rural areas with minimal, if any services.
The young man who was killed was a member of BUSTAN’s new eco-building training program.  He was 19 years old.  There was next to no media coverage of his death–one paragraph in YNET (the website of Yediot Ahronot, the largest Israeli daily paper) which mistakenly called the village “unrecognized” and implied that the men were trespassing–and nothing more. Similarly–no real investigation.  When folks from BUSTAN called the local police chief to see why not, he was irritated and dismissive of their concerns.
No one thinks the boy was killed on purpose.  It was Friday afternoon, almost Shabbat, a time when it should have been quiet and it would have been safe to walk the hills.  In that sense, it was a “mistake.”  But it was a mistake that speaks entire worlds.

Judith Butler joins Chomsky, Tutu, Klein and a growing chorus worldwide in support of Berkeley divestment

 The fight over divestment is coming to a head in Berkeley. The student Senate is expected to vote on Wednesday to possibly override the Student President’s veto of the divestment bill. As can be expected both sides have been rallying their supporters.
Following notable endorsements from Desmond Tutu, Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein, an ad appeared in the Daily Californian today with signatures from over 260 Jewish supporters of the divestment action. Below after the jump is a handy resource put together by Jewish Voice for Peace outlining all the support the bill has received, including from Benjamin Netanyahu’s own sister-in-law.
Perhaps most impressive so far is this speech which Professor Judith Butler will give to students tomorrow in support of the bill. The speech entitled “You Will Not Be Alone” has been published on the Nation’s website, and we repost here in full:
Let us begin with the assumption that it is very hard to hear the debate under consideration here. One hears someone saying something, and one fears that they are saying another thing. It is hard to trust words, or indeed to know what words actually mean. So that is a sign that there is a certain fear in the room, and also, a certain suspicion about the intentions that speakers have and a fear about the implications of both words and deeds.
Of course, tonight you do not need a lecture on rhetoric from me, but perhaps, if you have a moment, it might be possible to pause and to consider reflectively what is actually at stake in this vote, and what is not. Let me introduce myself first as a Jewish faculty member here at Berkeley, on the advisory board of Jewish Voice for Peace, on the US executive committee of Faculty for Israeli-Palestinian Peace, a global organization, a member of the Russell Tribunal on Human Rights in Palestine, and a board member of the Freedom Theatre in Jenin.
I am at work on a book which considers Jewish criticisms of state violence, Jewish views of co-habitation, and the importance of ‘remembrance’ in both Jewish and Palestinian philosophic and poetic traditions.
The first thing I want to say is that there is hardly a Jewish dinner table left in this country–or indeed in Europe and much of Israel–in which there is not enormous disagreement about the status of the occupation, Israeli military aggression and the future of Zionism, binationalism and citizenship in the lands called Israel and Palestine.
There is no one Jewish voice, and in recent years, there are increasing differences among us, as is evident by the multiplication of Jewish groups that oppose the occupation and which actively criticize and oppose Israeli military policy and aggression.
In the US and Israel alone these groups include: Jewish Voice for Peace, American Jews for a Just Peace, Jews Against the Occupation, Boycott from Within, New Profile, Anarchists Against the Wall, Women in Black, Who Profits?, Btselem, Zochrot, Black Laundry, Jews for a Free Palestine (Bay Area), No Time to Celebrate and more.
The emergence of J Street was an important effort to establish an alternative voice to AIPAC, and though J street has opposed the bill you have before you, the younger generation of that very organization has actively contested the politics of its leadership. So even there you have splits, division and disagreement.
So if someone says that it offends “the Jews” to oppose the occupation, then you have to consider how many Jews are already against the occupation, and whether you want to be with them or against them. If someone says that “Jews” have one voice on this matter, you might consider whether there is something wrong with imagining Jews as a single force, with one view, undivided. It is not true.
The sponsors of Monday evening’s round table at Hillel made sure not to include voices with which they disagree. And even now, as demonstrations in Israel increase in number and volume against the illegal seizure of Palestinian lands, we see a burgeoning coalition of those who seek to oppose unjust military rule, the illegal confiscation of lands, and who hold to the norms of international law even when nations refuse to honor those norms.
What I learned as a Jewish kid in my synagogue–which was no bastion of radicalism–was that it was imperative to speak out against social injustice. I was told to have the courage to speak out, and to speak strongly, even when people accuse you of breaking with the common understanding, even when they threaten to censor you or punish you.
The worst injustice, I learned, was to remain silent in the face of criminal injustice. And this tradition of Jewish social ethics was crucial to the fights against Nazism, fascism and every form of discrimination, and it became especially important in the fight to establish the rights of refugees after the Second World War.
Of course, there are no strict analogies between the Second World War and the contemporary situation, and there are no strict analogies between South Africa and Israel, but there are general frameworks for thinking about co-habitation, the right to live free of external military aggression, the rights of refugees, and these form the basis of many international laws that Jews and non-Jews have sought to embrace in order to live in a more just world, one that is more just not just for one nation or for another, but for all populations, regardless of nationality and citizenship.
If some of us hope that Israel will comply with international law, it is precisely so that one people can live among other peoples in peace and in freedom. It does not de-legitimate Israel to ask for its compliance with international law. Indeed, compliance with international law is the best way to gain legitimacy, respect and an enduring place among the peoples of the world.
Of course, we could argue on what political forms Israel and Palestine must take in order for international law to be honored. But that is not the question that is before you this evening. We have lots of time to consider that question, and I invite you to join me to do that in a clear-minded way in the future. But consider this closely: the bill you have before you does not ask that you take a view on Israel.
I know that it certainly seems like it does, since the discussion has been all about that. But it actually makes two points that are crucial to consider. The first is simply this: there are two companies that not only are invested in the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and peoples, but who profit from that occupation, and which are sustained in part by funds invested by the University of California.
They are General Electric and United Technologies. They produce aircraft designed to bomb and kill, and they have bombed and killed civilians, as has been amply demonstrated by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. You are being asked to divest funds from these two companies. You are NOT being asked to divest funds from every company that does business with Israel.
And you are not being asked to resolve to divest funds from Israeli business or citizens on the basis of their citizenship or national belonging. You are being asked only to call for a divestment from specific companies that make military weapons that kill civilians. That is the bottom line.
If the newspapers or others seek to make inflammatory remarks and to say that this is an attack on Israel, or an attack on Jews, or an upsurge of anti-Semitism, or an act that displays insensitivity toward the feelings of some of our students, then there is really only one answer that you can provide, as I see it. Do we let ourselves be intimidated into not standing up for what is right?
It is simply unethical for UC to invest in such companies when they profit from the killing of civilians under conditions of a sustained military occupation that is manifestly illegal according to international law. The killing of civilians is a war crime. By voting yes, you say that you do not want the funds of this university to be invested in war crimes, and that you hold to this principle regardless of who commits the war crime or against whom it is committed.
Of course, you should clearly ask whether you would apply the same standards to any other occupation or destructive military situation where war crimes occur. And I note that the bill before you is committed to developing a policy that would divest from all companies engaged in war crimes. In this way, it contains within it both a universal claim and a universalizing trajectory.
It recommends explicitly “additional divestment policies to keep university investments out of companies aiding war crimes throughout the world, such as those taking place in Morocco, the Congo, and other places as determined by the resolutions of the United Nations and other leading human rights organizations.” Israel is not singled out.
It is, if anything, the occupation that is singled out, and there are many Israelis who would tell you that Israel must be separated from its illegal occupation. This is clearly why the divestment call is selective: it does not call for divestment from any and every Israeli company; on the contrary, it calls for divestment from two corporations where the links to war crimes are well-documented.
Let this then be a precedent for a more robust policy of ethical investment that would be applied to any company in which UC invests. This is the beginning of a sequence, one that both sides to this dispute clearly want. Israel is not to be singled out as a nation to be boycotted–and let us note that Israel itself is not boycotted by this resolution. But neither is Israel’s occupation to be held exempt from international standards.
If you want to say that the historical understanding of Israel’s genesis gives it an exceptional standing in the world, then you disagree with those early Zionist thinkers, Martin Buber and Judah Magnes among them, who thought that Israel must not only live in equality with other nations, but must also exemplify principles of equality and social justice in its actions and policies.
There is nothing about the history of Israel or of the Jewish people that sanctions war crimes or asks us to suspend our judgment about war crimes in this instance. We can argue about the occupation at length, but I am not sure we can ever find a justification on the basis of international law for the deprivation of millions of people of their right to self-determination and their lack of protection against police and military harassment and destructiveness.
But again, we can have that discussion, and we do not have to conclude it here in order to understand the specific choice that we face. You don’t have to give a final view on the occupation in order to agree that investing in companies that commit war crimes is absolutely wrong, and that in saying this, you join Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Christians and so many other peoples from diverse religious and secular traditions who believe that international governance, justice and peace demand compliance with international law and human rights and the opposition to war crimes.
You say that you do not want our money going into bombs and helicopters and military materiel that destroys civilian life. You do not want it in this context, and you do not want it in any context.
Part of me wants to joke–where would international human rights be without the Jews! We helped to make those rights, at Nuremberg and again in Jerusalem, so what does it mean that there are those who tell you that it is insensitive to Jewishness to come out in favor of international law and human rights?
It is a lie–and what a monstrous view of what it means to be Jewish. It disgraces the profound traditions of social justice that have emerged from the struggle against fascism and the struggles against racism; it effaces the tradition of ta-ayush, living together, the ethical relation to the non-Jew which is the substance of Jewish ethics, and it effaces the value that is given to life no matter the religion or race of those who live.
You do not need to establish that the struggle against this occupation is the same as the historical struggle against apartheid to know that each struggle has its dignity and its absolute value, and that oppression in its myriad forms do not have to be absolutely identical to be equally wrong. For the record, the occupation and apartheid constitute two different versions of settler colonialism, but we do not need a full understanding of this convergence and divergence to settle the question before us today.
Nothing in the bill before you depends on the seamless character of that analogy. In voting for this resolution, you stand with progressive Jews everywhere and with broad principles of social justice, which means, that you stand with those who wish to stand not just with their own kind but with all of humanity, and who do this, in part, both because of the religious and non-religious values they follow.
Lastly, let me say this. You may feel fear in voting for this resolution. I was frightened coming here this evening. You may fear that you will seem anti-Semitic, that you cannot handle the appearance of being insensitive to Israel’s needs for self-defense, insensitive to the history of Jewish suffering. Perhaps it is best to remember the words of Primo Levi who survived a brutal internment at Auschwitz when he had the courage to oppose the Israeli bombings of southern Lebanon in the early 1980s.
He openly criticized Menachem Begin, who directed the bombing of civilian centers, and he received letters asking him whether he cared at all about the spilling of Jewish blood. He wrote:

I reply that the blood spilled pains me just as much as the blood spilled by all other human beings. But there are still harrowing letters. And I am tormented by them, because I know that Israel was founded by people like me, only less fortunate than me.
Men with a number from Auschwitz tattooed on their arms, with no home nor homeland, escaping from the horrors of the Second World War who found in Israel a home and a homeland. I know all this. But I also know that this is Begin’s favourite defence. And I deny any validity to this defence.

As the Israeli historian Idith Zertal makes clear, do not use this most atrocious historical suffering to legitimate military destructiveness–it is a cruel and twisted use of the history of suffering to defend the affliction of suffering on others.
To struggle against fear in the name of social justice is part of a long and venerable Jewish tradition; it is non-nationalist, that is true, and it is committed not just to my freedom, but to all of our freedoms. So let us remember that there is no one Jew, not even one Israel, and that those who say that there are seek to intimidate or contain your powers of criticism.
By voting for this resolution, you are entering a debate that is already underway, that is crucial for the materialization of justice, one which involves having the courage to speak out against injustice, something I learned as a young person, but something we each have to learn time and again. I understand that it is not easy to speak out in this way.
But if you struggle against voicelessness to speak out for what is right, then you are in the middle of that struggle against oppression and for freedom, a struggle that knows that there is no freedom for one until there is freedom for all. There are those who will surely accuse you of hatred, but perhaps those accusations are the enactment of hatred. The point is not to enter that cycle of threat and fear and hatred–that is the hellish cycle of war itself.
The point is to leave the discourse of war and to affirm what is right. You will not be alone. You will be speaking in unison with others, and you will, actually, be making a step toward the realization of peace–the principles of non-violence and co-habitation that alone can serve as the foundation of peace. You will have the support of a growing and dynamic movement, inter-generational and global, by speaking against the military destruction of innocent lives and against the corporate profit that depends on that destruction. You will stand with us, and we will most surely stand with you.

We should support Israel because — er, well, they have pretty soldiers

It must have been hell to be a leading southern editor during segregation. You would have known that it was profoundly wrong, but it was your people whose ox was being gored, your friends, your tribe. Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen has a piece about Budrus, a new documentary on the occupation, where he doesn’t really know what he thinks.
He uses Steve Walt as the old punching bag, but notice the flipflopping at the end of this excerpt. We should support Israel because of shared values– and those shared values are, what, ripping up a different race’s olive trees? No thank you. I’d urge Cohen to speak genuinely about his own values and interests, not “America”‘s.
Why doesn’t he say why Jews of his generation think a Jewish state is necessary? (And yes, the one thing he’s unmuddled about is how goodlooking the soldier is who, shades of Golda Meir, is forced by the situation to whack Palestinians…)

One of the Israeli soldiers is an attractive woman. She has a job to do and it is clear she does it without much relish. At least on one occasion, she uses force — whacking a Palestinian woman with her baton — but she takes no glee in it and expresses appreciation — although not sympathy — for the plight of the Palestinians. Everyone in the region knows the importance of olive trees. 
As for the Palestinians, they, too, are humanized….
Stephen M. Walt, a professor at Harvard and co-author along with John Mearsheimer of the extremely controversial book “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” has for some time been carrying on a running dialogue with almost anyone to make the point that supporting Israel is not in America’s best interest.
In the sense that America’s best interest has to do with oil and Muslim nations and fighting Islamic radicalism, he is right. But if America’s interest is enlarged to encompass shared values, he is wrong. It is in America’s interest to support Israel.
But “Budrus” the film and Budrus the village are emblematic of why America’s support for Israel is being questioned. The pretty Israeli soldier aside, those appealing peace activists aside, the eventual compromise aside — the awful sight of cranes yanking olive trees into the air sinks the heart.

The nuclear paradox

Here’s how President Obama states the nuclear paradox:

The risk of a nuclear confrontation between nations has gone down, but the risk of a nuclear attack has gone up.

Here’s how I define it:

Hypothetical nuclear threats provoke more fear than real nuclear threats.

Nowhere is this paradox more evident than in Tel Aviv and Tehran.
Which city is currently in greater jeopardy of nuclear annihilation? Tehran.
Which city’s residents are repeatedly being told by their political leaders they should be afraid of nuclear annihilation? Tel Aviv’s.
So, to return to Obama’s assessment, when he says the risk of nuclear confrontation between nations has gone down, he’s saying something that’s both obvious and deceptive. What’s obvious is that the Cold War risk of a nuclear war between nuclear-armed states has diminished, but what he purposefully did not say is that the risk of any nuclear-armed state actually using its nuclear weapons has gone down.
The risk that Israel could use tactical nuclear weapons to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities is real. I don’t believe that Israel is likely to do so because its current leadership — despite its willingness to engage in hyperbolic rhetoric — probably recognizes that the regional and global impact of the first use of nuclear weapons in warfare since 1945 would seal Israel’s fate as a pariah state.
Still, the risk that Israel might use nuclear weapons is indisputably greater than the risk of nuclear weapons being used by any organization or state that is not currently armed with such weapons.
The risk of nuclear terrorism should not be dismissed, but as Brian Michael Jenkins notes, it’s important to distinguish between nuclear terrorism and nuclear terror. In 2008 he wrote:

Will terrorists go nuclear? It is a question that worried public officials and frightened citizens have been asking for decades. It is no less of a worry today, as we ponder the seventh anniversary of 9/11.
Might Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions lead eventually to arming Hizbollah or Hamas with nuclear weapons? Might a financially desperate North Korea sell the wherewithal for nuclear weapons to terrorist buyers? Might a political upheaval in always turbulent Pakistan put a nuclear weapon in the hands of extremists? Could there, ultimately, be a nuclear 9/11?
We have to take the long-shot possibility of nuclear terrorism seriously, but we must not allow ourselves to be terrorized by it.
Nuclear terrorism and nuclear terror reside in different domains. Nuclear terrorism is about a serious threat — the possibility that terrorists might somehow obtain and detonate a nuclear weapon — while nuclear terror is about the anticipation of that event. Nuclear terrorism is about terrorists’ capabilities, while nuclear terror is about imagination.
Fear is not free. Fear can pave the way for circumventing established procedures for the collection of intelligence, for attempts to operate outside the courts, and perhaps for torture. Distinguished scholars discuss the durability of the U.S. Constitution in the face of nuclear terrorism.
Frightened populations are intolerant. Frightened people worry incessantly about subversion from within. They worry about substandard zeal. Frightened people look for visible displays to confirm unity of belief–lapel pin patriotism.
Fear creates its own orthodoxy. It demands unquestioning obeisance to a determined order of apprehension.
During the Cold War an all-out nuclear exchange would have meant planetary suicide. Today, we face one tyrant in North Korea with a handful of nuclear weapons, an aspirant in Iran enthralled by first-use fantasies, and a terrorist organization with an effective propaganda machine-dangerous, vexing, but not the end of the world, not the end of the nation, not the end of a single city.
Undoubtedly, a terrorist nuclear explosion of any size would have a huge psychological impact on America. But whether it would lead to social anarchy would depend heavily on the attitudes of the nation’s citizens and the behavior and communications of its leadership.
We may not be able to prevent an act of nuclear terrorism. But we can avoid destroying our democracy as a consequence of nuclear terrorism.
Whether or not we as citizens yield to nuclear terror is our decision.

John Mueller from Ohio State University’s department of political science wrote last year:

The evidence of al-Qaeda’s desire to go atomic, and about its progress in accomplishing this exceedingly difficult task, is remarkably skimpy, if not completely negligible. The scariest stuff — a decade’s worth of loose nuke rumor — seems to have no substance whatever. For the most part, terrorists seem to be heeding the advice found in an al-Qaeda laptop seized in Pakistan: “Make use of that which is available … rather than waste valuable time becoming despondent over that which is not within your reach.”

As Mueller and Mark G. Stewart note in an article in the current edition of Foreign Affairs, if America’s counterterrorism policy was actually based on objective risk assessment, we’d understand that the risk al Qaeda poses to each American is about the same as the risk posed by kitchen appliances.

As a hazard to human life in the United States, or in virtually any country outside of a war zone, terrorism under present conditions presents a threat that is hardly existential. Applying widely accepted criteria established after much research by regulators and decision-makers, the risks from terrorism are low enough to be deemed acceptable. Overall, vastly more lives could have been saved if counterterrorism funds had instead been spent on combating hazards that present unacceptable risks.
This elemental observation is unlikely to change anything, however. The cumulative increased cost of counterterrorism for the United States alone since 9/11 — the federal, state, local, and private expenditures as well as the opportunity costs (but not the expenditures on the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan) — is approaching $1 trillion.
However dubious and wasteful, this enterprise has been internalized, becoming, in Washington parlance, a “self-licking ice cream cone,” and it will likely last as long as terrorism does. Since terrorism, like crime, can never be fully expunged, the United States seems to be in for a long and expensive siege.

This article is cross-posted at Woodward’s site, War in Context.

‘A serious newspaper should not confuse Jews and Zionists’

The Toronto Globe and Mail ran a story yesterday on a Middle East conference at York University that upset the Israel lobby because it considered binational visions of Israel/Palestine’s future.The scholar and author Yakov Rabkin responded to the piece in this letter. (Not sure if Globe and Mail have run it; but Rabkin said I could.)
The report on the attempts at censorship at York University (Controversy brews over York’s handling of conference on Mideast by Elizabeth Church, April 12 ) is misleading in one important aspect. It presents those who opposed the conference on alternatives to the Zionist structure of the state of Israel as Jews whereas Jews could be found on both ends of the divide.
There were many Jews among the organizers, and one fourth of the invited speakers were Israeli Jews. I observed an altercation between protesters from Toronto’s Jewish Defense Laeague wrapped in Israeli flags and Israeli participants at the conference. “What right do you have to wrap yourselves in our flag?” – asked one outraged Israeli.
A serious newspaper should not confuse Jews and Zionists. Some Jews are, indeed, Zionists, others are non- or even anti-Zionists. Canadian Jewish Congress, which supports all Israeli governments is no more or less Jewish that the Independent Jewish Voices that often condemns Israel’s actions. “Two Jews – three opinions”.
Most Zionists today are Christian; their number is four times greater than the entire Jewish population of this planet. On the eve of the 62th anniversary of Isreal, it is important to remember that it was the Zionist minority of Palestine’s inhabitants that issued the unilateral declaration of independence. Israel is a Zionist state, not a Jewish one, another important distinction to make in future articles on this burning subject.
Yakov M Rabkin
Professor of History
University of Montreal
author of “A Threat from within: a century of Jewish opposition to Zionism”

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