Gaza: 7th Year of Unlawful Blockade (UN HRC SR Press Release)

Richard Falk, Special Rapporteur for the Palestinian Territories

Gaza Blockade

Prefatory Note: I am posting a press release of yesterday, 14 June 2013, to take note of the start of the seventh year of the Israeli blockade. After the Mavi Marmara incident, 31 May 2010 and the more recent November ceasefire agreement between Israel and the Gaza government there was an undertaking to ease the blockade with respect to the flow back and forth of people and goods, but the situation remains desperate for the civilian population of Gaza that remains essentially locked into the Gaza Strip where economic destitution has reached epidemic extremes and where the water is mostly unfit for human consumption. The international community, and its main leaders, have commented adversely on the blockade, but nothing happens! It is this sense of powerlessness that is undermining the legitimacy and relevance of the United Nations to the suffering of the Palestinian people, and with particular relevance to the extreme ordeal of the civilian population of Gaza.  More

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An Open Letter of Response to CRIF (Conseil Représentatif des Institutions juives de France)

BY RICHARD FALK 

An Open Letter of Response to CRIF (Counsèil Représentif des Institutions juives de France)

I am shocked and saddened that your organization would label me as an anti-Semite and self-hating Jew. It is utterly defamatory, and such allegations are entirely based on distortions of what I believe and what I have done. To confuse my criticisms of Israel with self-hatred of myself as a Jew or with hatred of Jews is a calumny. I have long been a critic of American foreign policy but that does not make me anti-American; it is freedom of conscience that is the core defining reality of a genuinely democratic society, and its exercise is crucial to the quality of political life in a particular country, especially here in the United States where its size and influence often has such a large impact on the lives and destiny of many peoples excluded from participating in its policy debates or elections.

It is always difficult to negate irresponsible accusations of this kind. What follows is an attempt to clarify my honestly held positions in relation to a litany of charges that have been given currency by a campaign conducted by UN Watch ever since I was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to be Special Rapporteur for the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories in 2008. What follows are brief attempts at clarification in response to the main charges:

–the attacks on me by such high profile individuals as Ban ki-Moon, Susan Rice, David Cameron were made in response to vilifying letters about me sent to them by UN Watch, and signed by its Executive Director, Hillel Neuer. The contention that Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, also attacked me is misleading. She regretted the posting of a cartoon on my blog that had an anti-Semitic cartoon, but she took note of my contention that it was a complete accident and that the cartoon was immediately removed when brought to my attention;

–it was the cartoon that has served UN Watch as the basis of their insistence that I am an anti-Semite. Their bad faith is demonstrated by their repeated magnification of the cartoon far beyond what I had posted on the basis of its size on the Google image page for the International Criminal Court. As I have explained many times, I was unaware when I posted the cartoon of its anti-Semitic character, and pointed out that the post in which was inserted was dealing with my argument that the ICC was biased in its use of its authority, in this instance by issuing arrest warrants against the Qaddafi leadership in Libya. Israel was not mentioned in the post the content of which had nothing whatsoever to do with Judaism or Jews. To ignore such an explanation is to my way of thinking and to reprint the cartoon in an enlarged form is a sign of malicious intent; any fair reading of the 182 posts on my blog, including one devoted to Jewish identity would make it very clear to any objective reader that I have not expressed a single sentiment that can be fairly described as an anti-Semite. It is a grave disservice to both Israel and Jews to confuse criticism of Israel’s behavior toward the Palestinians with anti-Semitism.

–the claim that I am a 9/11 conspiracy theorist, actually a leading one, is false, as well. I have consistently maintained that I have insufficient knowledge to reach any conclusions about whether there is an alternative narrative of the 9/11 events that is more convincing than the official version. What I have said, and stand behind, is that David Griffin and many others have raised questions that have not been adequately answered, and constitute serious gaps in the official version that were not closed by the 9/11 Commission report. I would reaffirm that David Griffin is a cherished friend, and that we have professionally collaborated on several projects long before 9/11. It should be pointed out that Griffin is a philosopher of religion of worldwide reputation that has written on a wide range of issues, including a series on inquiries into the post-modern world and the desirability of an ecological civilization.

–The recent UN Watch letter that led me to be removed from the Human Rights Watch SB city Committee also claims I am a partisan of Hamas, which is a polemic charge and is untrue. What I have encouraged is a balanced view of Hamas based on the full context of their statements and behavior, and not fixing on language in the Hamas Charter or a particular speech. When the broader context is considered of Hamas statements and recent behavior is considered, then I believe there exists a potential opportunity to work with Hamas leaders to end the violence, to release the people of Gaza from captivity, and to generate a diplomatic process that leads to a period of prolonged peaceful co-existence with Israel. I have never insisted that this hopeful interpretation is necessarily correct, but I do maintain that it is worth exploring, and a preferred alternative to the current rigid insistence on refusing to deal with Hamas as a political actor because it is ‘a terrorist organization.’ It was evident in the recent violence preceding the November ceasefire in Gaza that leaders throughout the Middle East were treating Hamas as the governmental authority in Gaza and as a normal political entity, and this helped bring the violence to an end.

–Finally, UN Watch charges that I am biased and one-sided in my treatment of Israeli behavior, and cites Susan Rice and others for support, as well as noting my failure to report on violations by Hamas, Fatah, and the Palestinian Authority. I can only say once more that I am trying my best to be objective and truthful, although unwilling to give in to pressure. I did make an effort in my initial appearance before the Human Rights Council to broaden my mandate to take account of Palestinian violations, but was rebuffed by most of the 49 governmental members of the Council for seeking to make such a change, and reasonable grounds were advanced for not changing my mandate. I have noted Palestinian violations of international law wherever relevant to the assessment of Israeli behavior, as for instance in relation to the launch of indiscriminate rockets. Palestinian abuses of human rights of Palestinians under their control while administering portions of Occupied Palestine is outside my mandate, and I have no discretion to comment on such behavior in discharging my responsibilities as Special Rapporteur.

It is my view that Israel is in control of the occupied Palestinian territories of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, and is primarily responsible for the situation and the persistence of the conflict, especially by their insistence on undertaking provocative actions such as targeted assassinations and accelerated settlement expansions.

I would grateful if this account of my actual views and beliefs can be circulated widely in response to the CRIF repetition of the UN Watch attacks.

Richard Falk

29 December 2012

Hamas, Khaled Mashaal and Prospects for a Sustainable Israel/Palestine Peace

Richard Falk writes in a guest column––

In the aftermath of Khaled Mashaal’s emotional visit to Gaza in celebration of Hamas’ 25th anniversary, commentary in Israel and the West has focused on his remarks at a rally as ‘defiant’ and disclosing ‘the true face’ of Hamas. Emphasis was particularly placed on his dramatic pledge to recover the whole of historic Palestine, from the Mediterranean to Jordan, “inch by inch,” no matter how long such a process might take. Mashaal also challenged the legitimacy of the Zionist project, and justified Palestinian resistance in whatever form it might assume, although disavowing the intention to attack civilians as such, and denying any complicity by Hamas in the November 21, 2012 incident in Israel when a bomb exploded in a Jerusalem bus.

These remarks certainly raise concerns for moderate Israelis who continue to advocate a two-state solution in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 242, but at the same time, it is important to listen to Hamas fully before reaching any firm conclusions. What Mashaal said in Gaza was at a rally dedicated to reaffirming its fundamental struggle in the immediate aftermath of the recent 8 day Israeli attack (code-named Pillar of Defense), and by a leader who for the first time in 45 years had openly dared to set foot in his occupied and oppressed homeland. Mashaal is a leader who has lived in exile in several countries of the region since he was 11 years old, having been born in the Selwad neighborhood of Ramallah, then under Jordanian control. He is someone who in 1997 Israel had tried to murder in a notorious incident in Jordan in which only the capture of the Mossad perpetrators induced Israel to supply a life-saving antidote for the poison that had been sprayed into Mashaal’s ear in exchange for their release from Jordanian captivity. In Mashaal’s imagery, this return to Gaza was his ‘third birth,’ the first being in 1956 when he was born, the second when he survived the Israeli assassination attempt, and the third when he was able to kiss the ground upon entering Gaza. These biographical details seem relevant for an assessment of his public remarks.

The context was also given a heightened reality by the Hamas/Gaza success in enduring the latest Israeli military onslaught that produced a ceasefire that contained some conditions favoring Gaza, including an Israeli commitment to refrain from targeted assassinations in the future. It also was a context shaped by recent and more distant painful memories that was the main trigger of the upsurge of violence, especially the assassination of the Hamas military leader and diplomat, Ahmed al-Jabari, and the May 22, 2003 killing of the disabled spiritual founder of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. It was after Sheikh Yassin’s death that Mashaal was declared ‘world leader’ of Hamas.

The most important element of context that needs to be taken into account is the seeming inconsistency between the fiery language used by Mashaal in Gaza and his far more moderate tone in the course of several interviews with Western journalists in recent weeks. In those interviews Mashaal had clearly indicated a readiness for a long-term hudna or truce, provided that Israel ended its occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, and agreed to uphold Palestinian rights under international law. He made clear that these rights included the right of return belonging to the 4-5 million Palestinians living in refugee camps or exile, and contended that such a right was more deserving of recognition than is the Israeli grant of such a right of return to every Jew even to those completely without a prior connection to historic Palestine. Of course, this claimed right is in its potentiality a threatening claim to Israel, and to Zionism, as it could, at least in theory, threaten the Jewish majority presence in Israel. Whether many Palestinians if given the choice would return to live in Israel so as to reinhabit their ancestral homes seems highly questionable, but the right to do so  unquestionably belongs to Palestinians, at least to those who had previously resided in present Israel.

In these interviews, Mashaal was consistent about the readiness of Hamas to pursue these national goals nonviolently, without “weapons and blood” if Israel were to accept such a framework for peace. His words to CNN in a November 22nd interview are notable in this respect: “We are ready to resort to a peaceful way, purely peaceful way without blood and weapons, as long as we obtain our Palestinian demands.” The extent of “Palestinian  demands” was left unspecified, which does create an ambiguity as to whether this meant accommodation or some kind of rearticulation of a unified Palestinian entity. Also unclear as to whether the peaceful path could precede the end of occupation, or must be a sequel to the existence of a state. In the other direction, Mashaal indicated that once Palestinian statehood was fully realized, then the issue of the acceptance of Israeli legitimacy could be placed on the political agenda. His deputy, Mousa Abu Marzook, in a conversation in Cairo told me in a similar vein that the Hamas Charter pledge to destroy the Zionist state had become “a false issue.” This PhD from Louisiana Tech, an intelligent exponent of Hamas thinking, echoed Mashaal’s moderate approach, and indicated that as with the U.S. Constitution’s treatment of slavery, the Hamas Charter has evolved with changing circumstance, and its clauses subject to modification by interpretation.

Along similar lines, Mashaal has spoken about Hamas as ‘realistic’ with respect to an appreciation of the balance of forces relative to the conflict, and referred to Arafat’s response to those who insisted that Israel would be at mortal risk if a Palestinian state were to be established on the West Bank. The former PLO leader had pointed out that any Palestinian move to threaten Israel militarily in such circumstances was unthinkable. It would be sure to produce a devastating attack that would crush Palestinian hopes forever.

There is posed a fundamental question: what is the true voice of Hamas? There seems to be a sharp contrast between the fiery language of Mashaal’s words spoken at the anniversary demonstration in Gaza and his far calmer and accommodating tone in interviews and other statements in recent years.  The more hopeful understanding would suggest a gap between the emotional occasion of the speech and the more rational views consistently expressed elsewhere. Such an explanation is the opposite of the Western insistence that only the rally speech gave expression to the authentic outlook of Hama. In contrast, I would accord greater weight given to the moderate formulations, at least for exploratory purposes. Put differently, in Gaza Mashaal was likely expressing a maximalist version of the Palestinian narrative relating to its sense of legitimacy while in more reflective arenas, ever since the entry of Hamas into electoral politics back in 2006, its dominant emphasis has been on pursuing a political track that envisioned long-term peaceful co-existence with Israel, a sidestepping of the legitimacy issues, at least once the occupation was definitively ended and the rights of Palestinian refugees was recognized in accordance with international law.

It can be asked, ‘How can Hamas dare to put forward such a claim in view of the steady rain of rockets that has made life treacherous and miserable for the more than a million Israelis living in the southern part of Israel ever since Israel ‘disengaged’ in 2005?’ Such a rhetorical question repeated over and over again without reference to the siege or Israeli violence has distorted the Western image of the interaction, suggesting that when Israel massively attacks helpless Gaza it is only exercising its defensive rights, which is the most fundamental entitlement of every sovereign state. Again the more accurate interpretation depends on a fuller appreciation of the wider context, which would include the American plot to reverse the outcome of the 2006 electoral victory of Hamas by arming Fatah with heavy weapons, the Israeli punitive blockade since mid-2007, [Vanity Fair, 2008] and many instances of provocative Israeli violence, including a steady stream of targeted assassinations and lethal over-reactions at the Gaza border. Although not the whole story, the one-sided ratio of deaths as between Israel and Palestine is a good first approximation of comparative responsibility over the period of Hamas ascendancy in Gaza, and it is striking. For instance, between the ceasefire in 2009 and the Israeli attack in November 2012, 271 Palestinians were killed and not a single Israeli. [B’Teselm report] The respected Haaretz columnist, Gideon Levy, has pointed out that since the first rockets were launched against Israeli in 2001 59 Israeli have died as compared to 4,717 Palestinians.

The Western media is stunningly oblivious to these complications of perception, almost never disclosing Israeli provocations in reporting on the timelines of the violence of the parties, and fails to acknowledge that it has been the Israelis, not the Palestinians, that have been mostly responsible for ending periods of prolonged truce. There are further confusing elements in the picture, including the presence of some extremist Palestinian militias that launch rockets in defiance of Hamas policy, which in recent years generally limits rockets to retaliatory roles. Among the ironies of the al-Jabari assassination was that it was evidently his role to restrain these militias on  behalf of Hamas, including disciplining those extremists who refused to abide by policies of restricting rocket attacks to retaliatory situations.

There is no doubt that Hamas’ reliance on rockets fired in the direction of Israeli civilian population centers are violations of international humanitarian law, and should be condemned as such, but even this condemnation is not without its problematic aspects. The Goldstone Report did condemn the reliance of these rockets in a typically decontextualized manner, that is, without reference to the unlawfulness of the occupation, including its pronounced reliance on collective punishment in the form of the blockade as well as arbitrary violent incursions, frequent military overflights, and a terrifying regime of subjugation that imparts on Palestinians a sense of total vulnerability and helplessness. The Goldstone Report also was silent as to the nature and extent of a Palestinian right of resistance. Such unconditional condemnations of Hamas as ‘a terrorist organization’ are unreasonably one-sided to the extent that Palestinian moral, political, and legal rights of resistance are ignored and Israel’s unlawful policies are not considered. This issue also reveals a serious deficiency in international humanitarian law, especially, as here, in the context of a prolonged occupation that includes many violations of the most fundamental and inalienable rights of an occupied people. The prerogatives of states are upheld, while those of peoples are overlooked or treated as non-existent.

It is also relevant to take note of the absence of alternative means available to the Palestinians to uphold their rights under international law and to challenge the abuses embedded in Israeli occupation policies. Israel with its drones, Apache helicopters, F-16 fighter aircraft, Iron Dome, and so forth enjoys the luxury of choosing its targets at will, but Palestinians have no such option. For them it is either using the primitive and indiscriminate weaponry at their disposal or essentially giving in to an intolerable status quo. To repeat, this does not make Hamas rockets lawful, but does it make such reliance wrong, given the overall context of violence that includes absolute impunity for Israeli violations of international criminal law? What are we to do with international law when it is invoked only to control the behavior of the weaker party?

It gives perspective to imagine the situation being reversed as it was during the Nazi occupation of France or the Netherlands during World War II. Resistance fighters were uniformly perceived in the liberal West as unconditional heroes, and no critical attention was given as to whether the tactics used unduly imperiled innocent civilian lives. Those who lost their lives in such a resistance were honored as martyrs. Mashaal and other Hamas leaders have made similar arguments on several occasions, in effect asking what are Palestinians supposed to do in the exercise of resistance given their circumstances, which have persisted for so long, given the failures of traditional diplomacy and the UN to secure their rights under international law.

In effect, a sensitive appreciation of context is crucial for a proper understanding, which makes self-satisfied condemnations of the views and tactics of Hamas and Khaled Mashaal misleading and, if heeded, condemns the parties to a destiny of perpetual conflict. The Western mainstream media doesn’t help by presenting the rocket attacks as if taking place in a vacuum, and without relevant Israeli provocations. Of course, Israeli supporters will retort that it is easy to make such assessments from a safe distance, but what is a safe distance? “The risks are ours alone,” they will say with a somewhat understandable hostility. But what about the horrible Palestinian circumstances, are they not also entitled to redress?

Is there a way out of such tragic dilemmas? In my view, only when the stronger side militarily treats ‘the other’ as having grievances and rights, and recognizes that the security of ‘the self’ must be based on mutuality, will sustainable peace have a chance. In this conflict, the Israelis missed a huge opportunity to move in this direction when the weaker Palestinian side made a historic concession by limiting its political ambition to Occupied Palestine (22% of historic Palestine, less than half of what the UN partition plan proposed in 1947) in accord with the consensus image of a solution embodied in Security Council Resolution 242. Instead Israel has sought to encroach further and further on that Palestinian remnant by way of its settlements, separation wall, apartheid roads, and annexationist moves, offering the Palestinians no alternative to oppression than resistance.  It is no wonder that even the accommodationist Palestinian Authority supported the recent Hamas anniversary celebrations, and joined in proclaiming an intention to reconcile, reuniting Hamas and Fatah under the umbrella of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

It is possible to react to the Gaza speech of Khaled Mashaal as the definitive expression of the Hamas creed, but it seems premature and unwise to do so. Instead, it is time to give a balanced diplomacy a chance if indeed there is any political space left for the implementation of the two-state consensus, and if there isn’t, then it is time to explore alternatives, including a return to a unified Palestine that is governed in accordance with human rights standards and international law. If this diplomatic dead end is the stark reality as of 2012, then it must be concluded that the overreaching by the Zionist leadership in Israel, especially its insistence on viewing the West Bank and East Jerusalem as integral to biblical Israel, referencing the former as ‘Judea and Samaria’ and the latter as the eternal Jewish capital, has itself undermined the political, moral, and legal viability of the Zionist Project. These alternative options should long ago have been clarified, and now, by taking to heart ‘the peaceful alternative’ depicted by Mashaal, especially in the aftermath of the General Assembly endorsement of Palestinian statehood and signs of an incipient Palestinian unity, there is one last opportunity to do so, should peace-oriented perspectives on the conflict be given a chance, however remote, to guide our thinking, feelings, and actions.

[END]

American Stingers’ First Casualty is Diplomacy: Syria’s Parallels with Afghanistan

CounterPunch, August 13, 2012

The revelation about President Barack Obama’s decision to provide secret American aid to Syria’s rebel forces is a game changer. The presidential order, known as an “intelligence finding” in the world of espionage, authorizes the CIA to support armed groups fighting to overthrow Bashar al-Assad’s government. But it threatens far more than the regime in Damascus.

The disclosure took its first casualty immediately. Kofi Annan, the special envoy to Syria, promptly announced his resignation, bitterly protesting that the UN Security Council had become a forum for “finger-pointing and name-calling.” Annan blamed all sides directly involved in the Syrian conflict, including local combatants and their foreign backers. But the timing of his resignation was striking. For he knew that with the CIA helping Syria’s armed groups, America’s Arab allies joining in and the Security Council deadlocked, he was redundant.

President Obama’s order to supply CIA aid to anti-government forces in Syria has echoes of an earlier secret order signed by President Jimmy Carter, also a Democrat, in July 1979. Carter’s fateful decision was the start of a CIA-led operation to back Mujahideen groups then fighting the Communist government in Afghanistan. As I discuss the episode in my book Breeding Ground: Afghanistan and the Origins of Islamist Terrorism (chapters 7 & 8), the operation, launched with a modest aid package, became a multi-billion dollar war project against the Communist regime in Kabul and the Soviet Union, whose forces invaded Afghanistan in December 1979. In the following year, Carter was defeated by Ronald Reagan, who went for broke, pouring money and weapons into Afghanistan against the Soviet occupation forces to the bitter end.

Carter’s national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski later claimed that it was done on his recommendation, and that the motive was to lure Soviet forces into Afghanistan to give the Kremlin “its Vietnam.” The Soviets’ humiliating retreat from Afghanistan in 1989, the collapse of Soviet and Afghan communism and the rise of the Taliban triggered a chain reaction with worldwide consequences. President Obama’s decision to intervene in support of Syria’s rebels, who include fundamentalist Islamic fighters, points to history repeating itself. Brzezinski, now in his 85th year, still visits Washington’s corridors of power. And General David Petraeus, a formidable warrior, is director of the CIA.

Three decades on, it seems likely that President Carter’s motive behind signing the secret order to provide aid to the Mujahideen was to entice the Soviets into Afghanistan’s inhospitable terrain, thus keeping their military away from Iran in the midst of the Islamic Revolution which overthrew America’s proxy, Shah Reza Pahlavi, in February 1979. If that was indeed the plan, then the Soviet leadership fell right into the Afghan trap.

China was then part of the U.S.-led alliance against the Soviets. Now Beijing and Moscow stand together against Washington as the conflict in Syria escalates. Otherwise, the U.S.-led alliance has many of the old players––the much enlarged European Union, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others in the Sunni bloc in the Arab world. And Turkey, which is now the base for the anti-Assad forces, channeling help to them. Turkey’s Islamist government plays a crucial role in Syria, like Pakistan in the 1980s during America’s proxy war in Afghanistan.

In Washington, an American official told Reuters that “the United States was collaborating with a secret command center operated by Turkey and its allies.” And a few days before, the news agency reported that Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey had established a “nerve center” in Adana in southern Turkey, near the Syrian border, to coordinate their activities. The place is home to America’s Incirlik air base and military and intelligence services.

According to NBC News a few days ago, the rebel Free Syrian Army has acquired American MANPAD Stinger missiles via Turkey, clearly to target Syrian government aircraft. It reminds of President Reagan’s decision in the mid-1980s to supply Stingers to Mujahideen groups for use against Soviet aircraft. Their use was first reported in 1987 and it soon emerged that the heat-seeking weapons were so accurate that they were hitting three out of four aircraft in Afghanistan. As I have discussed in my book Breeding Ground, some of the hundreds of Stingers were likely to have been passed on to the Taliban and their allies after the Soviet forces left Afghanistan and the last Communist government in Kabul collapsed in 1992.

In recent months, American and European officials have been busy feeding information to media outlets that Saudi Arabia and Qatar are the main sources of weapons to rebels in Syria through Turkey. The pattern is consistent with the long-standing Saudi policy to keep Islamists out of Saudi Arabia itself, lest they challenge the ruling family. Long-term lessons of proxy wars remain unheeded for immediate perilous “gains.”

Reports of the Obama administration sending Stinger missiles to Syrian rebels carry the first indication that non-state players now have advanced U.S. weaponry in the Middle East. That Washington is in such a cozy alliance with forces including Islamists soon after the killing of Osama bin Laden on Obama’s personal order is as incredible as it is consistent with follies of the past. The present will define the future again.

The situation in Egypt is becoming explosive. The killing of 16 Egyptian border guards in the Sinai Peninsula by “suspected Islamists,” and violence thereafter, represent challenges on several fronts for the new president Mohamed Morsi. Israel has been quick to blame Islamic militants in Gaza, ruled by Hamas, which has close ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, the party of the Egyptian president. For its part, the Brotherhood has pointed the finger at Israel’s secret service Mossad, claiming it is a plot to thwart Morsi’s presidency. These developments cast a shadow over Morsi’s relations with Hamas and, at the same time, increase his dependence on the Egyptian armed forces to quell the unrest, thereby undermining his authority. Murderous optimism of powerful and suicidal pessimism of victims in an oppressive environment blight the lives of many.

[END]

Questions about Constitutional Future: Whose Egypt?

CounterPunch, July 2, 2012; Palestine Chronicle, July 3, 2012

A development of this magnitude was unthinkable before Mubarak’s fall

After a tantalizing delay, Egypt’s military authorities accepted the inevitable. Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood was declared elected as president a week ago and took the oath of office on Saturday (June 30, 2012). A development of such magnitude was unthinkable before Hosni Mubarak surrendered power to the military in February 2011 amid a massive popular uprising against his regime. For nearly 60 years since the 1952 Egyptian revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood had been the main source of opposition to the ruling establishment. The prospect of the Brotherhood’s candidate being allowed to stand, let alone freely campaign, for the presidency had looked remote.

That the Islamist movement has survived despite long state repression, and its own internal conflicts, will be seen as a remarkable feat. Since the Brotherhood’s founding by Hassan al-Banna in 1928, when Egypt was under British rule, the movement’s anti-Western ideology and commitment to an Islamist order as the remedy to the “ills” of colonialism and imperialism have made it an object of admiration as well as fear in much of the Muslim world. The organization has transformed itself many a time and promises to work by peaceful means. Even so, its activities, and those of its breakaway factions, have generated profound distrust among many secular and Western-oriented people in the Arab world and beyond.

Morsi’s victory comes in controversial circumstances. Sections of Egypt’s educated middle classes are far from happy. Leading secular and liberal candidates were eliminated, even though together they had gained more than forty percent of the vote in the first round. It meant that Morsi and Ahmed Shafiq, a prominent figure from the Mubarak era, entered the final round representing opposite poles. Shafiq was initially disqualified as a candidate, but was quickly reinstated. The Egyptian armed forces apparently did not want to let go after the fall of Mubarak from the presidency.

Although a member of the ruling elite despised by many, Shafiq came close to being elected as Egypt’s president. But it was not to be. Displaying their influence in society, Muslim Brotherhood volunteers collected unofficial counts from precincts around the country. The overall tally showed Morsi getting fifty-two percent of the vote. The delay in making the formal announcement of Morsi’s victory, which caused anxiety and tension in Egyptian society, is a topic of speculation. It appears that ultimately the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces reconciled itself with the new reality. However, before it happened the military council granted itself sweeping powers in all important areas, including defense and foreign policies and internal security.

For now, the elected president is Mohamed Morsi, but real power remains with the military. American aid of 1.3 billion dollars a year since Egypt signed the 1978 Camp David accords, and made peace with Israel, enabled Washington to exercise enormous power over the Egyptian armed forces. Those developments following President Anwar Sadat’s defection from the Soviet camp neutralized Egypt’s official backing for Palestinians and isolated Egypt in the Arab world. Sadat also enraged many in his own country. His assassination in 1981 led to Mubarak’s rise to the presidency and the rest is history.

Despite the recent political upheaval, it is difficult to see how Egypt’s conduct on the international stage can alter. For unless the country has a constitution defining the powers of the president, the parliament and the judiciary, the chairman of the Supreme Military Council, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, remains the most powerful man and President Morsi his deputy.

There is another possible explanation of what was a soft military coup prior to Morsi’s victory. It suggests that military’s move was not so much against the Egyptian people, but was to prevent Hosni Mubarak handing over power to his son, Gamal. In that scenario, Egypt would have turned into a country ruled by a single family like most other states in the region. So, it is said, the military moved against Mubarak, one from its own ranks, to maintain its control in the country. If Gamal Mubarak had succeeded his father, Egypt would be on the road to becoming a family dynasty such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait or Qatar, where institutions are more frail and the rule of law has corroded.

Questions about Egypt’s constitutional future persist. A multi-layered battle is set to continue between the military and civilians, Islamists and secularists, conservatives and liberals. Many eyes will be on parliamentary elections if and when they take place. For now, those firmly entrenched in power and those in the population yearning to see a new Egypt confront each other. The most important country in the Arab world is going to be looking inward rather than outward. And it is what happens in Egyptian society that is going to affect the rest of the Middle East.

Can President Morsi possibly order permanent twenty-four hour opening of the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza? The answer is: “Not likely.”

[END]

The Turkel Commission Endorses Law of the Jungle

Palestine Chronicle (January 24, 2011), Foreign Policy Journal (January 25, 2011), CounterPunch (January 27, 2011)

Now this is the Law of the Jungle—as old and as true as the sky;
And the Wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the Wolf that shall break it must die.
As the creeper that girdles the tree-trunk the Law runneth forward and back—
For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.

––Rudyard Kipling, The Law of the Jungle, 1894

Tales of oppressors and oppressed abound in human folklore. According to one, there in the Valley of Outlaws was an unfortunate village traumatized by a marauder and a handful in his band. That democracy ruled the flock was their favorite boast and that no outsider was allowed to join them was their absolute insistence. The chief had long proclaimed that everything outside the flock was theirs –– so God had willed, he claimed. Hence his men will take it all one by one. Armed with lethal weapons the marauding gang frequently attacked the village on the edge of the Valley. The raiders destroyed the villagers’ crops, looted and burned their property, violated the dignity of women, did not spare children playing hide and seek in orchards. Drunk with power, carrying guns and swords, the band of outlaws inflicted a reign of terror on the villagers by day, even more by night. Those brave enough to complain and lucky enough to reach the powers that be promptly found the judge to be from the pack. The outcome was predictable. The complainant had no chance.

Then there are episodes in recorded history that depict man’s cruelty against fellow humans. Harvey Newbranch, in a powerful editorial published in the Omaha Evening World-Herald in 1920, decried the lynching of a black man outside the Douglas County Courthouse. “The lack of efficient government in Omaha, the lack of governmental foresight and sagacity and energy, made the exhibition possible,” said Newbranch. “It was provided by a few hundred hoodlums, most of them mere boys, organized as the wolf-pack is organized, inflamed by the spirit of anarchy and license, of plunder and destruction.” Further Newbranch observed in his editorial, “Ten thousand or more good citizens, without leadership, without organization, without public authority that had made an effort to organize them for the anticipated emergency, were obliged to stand as onlookers, shamed in their hearts, and witness the hideous orgy of lawlessness.”

The spirit of Newbranch’s editorial rested in a sentence in which he said that “there is the rule of the jungle in this world, and there is the rule of law.” However we still live in a world where the rule of law is nothing but the rule of the jungle.

The report by Israel’s Turkel Commission endorsing the Israeli attack on the Gaza-bound aid flotilla in international waters in May 2010 was entirely predictable. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed the Commission against worldwide protests two weeks after the killing of nine Turkish activists on board the lead ship the Mavi Marmara. The flotilla was on the open sea as it approached Gaza, its one-and-a-half million population living under an Israeli blockade. In setting up the Commission, the Israeli government rejected calls from the United Nations and governments for an international inquiry. The Commission’s members were all Israeli, with two observers, the Northern Ireland Protestant politician David Trimble and Brigadier General Ken Watkin, former Judge Advocate General of the Canadian Forces. News organizations described them both as “friends of Israel.” Even so, Trimble and Watkin had no right to vote on the Commission’s conclusions, making the inquiry an all-Israeli affair. The inquiry was to look into a bloody event that occurred well outside the domain of Israeli law in international waters. Still in Washington, officials of the Obama administration leapt to assert that Israel had the right and the competence to hold such an inquest.

The Israeli government will feel that the Turkel report has served its immediate need for a basis to counter the hostile world opinion. Prime Minister Netanyahu will be relieved at Turkel’s findings: the Israeli military’s interception and capture of the vessels in the flotilla conformed with international law; in most cases the use of force also complied with international law; Israeli commandos acted professionally; and the Israeli blockade of Gaza is legal, there is no violation of humanitarian law. What else could Netanyahu have wished for? Nonetheless glaring oddities haunt the credibility of Turkel and Israel. Those who were traveling on the Mavi Marmara have numerous accounts of brutality committed by Israeli commandos to tell. There is enough film footage to reveal the behavior of Israeli soldiers during the operation. Yet the Turkel inquiry was barred from questioning the soldiers who took part in the operation, exposing its one-sided character. Prime Minister Recep Tayyib Erdogan of Turkey has led the criticism of the Turkel report saying it had “no value or credibility.”

This is a return to the Law of the Jungle in the twenty-first century, where might is right. Attacking the young and the old, the frail and the sick, male or female in open sea––legal. Axes, clubs, iron bars, slingshots and metal objects are weapons. “In the face of extensive and anticipated violence,” using one of the world’s most advanced military forces to neutralize activists ––self-defense. The soldiers’ conduct -– professional and reasonable. Never mind worldwide condemnation. Law is merely a tool. We are back to medieval barbarism where it is a crime to be an underdog and the victim is responsible for what has happened.

[END]

Crisis management, Obama-style

Crisis in the Mediterranean as the Israeli navy moves to intercept the Rachel Corrie humanitarian aid boat sailing toward Gaza.

President Obama cancels a planned foreign tour of Australia and Indonesia, leaves the White House and heads for Louisiana to inspect the oil spill off the Gulf of Mexico, his third inspection.