31 July 2008

Refugees: from Palestine to Iraq to…. Sudan

Posted in Comment tagged , , , at 9:43 am by lilithhope

I swear, there must be some really really intelligent and compassionate people responsible for the crisis of internally displaced people (IDPs) in Iraq. Especially those who deal with non-Iraqi IDPs.

This IRIN report looks at the problems that Palestinian refugees in Iraq are facing as a consequence of the continuous unrest there. Already a displaced population, the Palestinian refugees have fled the to the harsh nether-areas on the Iraqi-Syrian border, where they endure brutal living conditions in fragile makeshift housing. Their situation is, indeed, deplorable.

So what was the solution offered by some sharp policy-maker (the IRIN article does not specify who made this suggestion)? The Palestinian refugees internally displaced in Iraq were offered to go to…. wait for it… SUDAN!

Yes, ofcourse! that beakon of stability where these now TWICE displaced people could finally find secure living living conditions.

Honestly, who pays for these sorts of people to spout such insulting garble under the guise of ‘solution’? Because, really what this suggestion indicates is the view that the Palestinians are so hopeless, their lives so worthless, their plight so fatefully bound to an interminable river Styx of nether-existance that they should be sent to a land where genocide, rape and corruption have already marred the lives of millions. I’m sure these brainy policymakers hope that because of their perpetual displacement, the Palestinian refugees in the Iraqi-Syrian desert are so out of touch with the current affairs that they don’t realize what is going on in Sudan, and that in their ignorance they will accept the offer.

In their infinite wisdom, they also probably think that the Palestinians should  be grateful that they have been offered a way out of one hell, but conveniently forget that they are being offered another.

And the height of insult of this situation is that while Sudan’s president Omar Al-Bashir has recently been tried for his role in the genocide and war crimes committed in Darfud by the governemnt-supported militia, no such international condemnation has EVER been made against any Israeli leader for their own genocidal policies, their own crimes against humanity, their undeniable war crimes. The closest international law has come to condemning the Israeli government is the ICJ’s 2004 ruling that the construction of the land-grabbing wall was ‘in breach of international law’. And what action was taken in light of that ruling? Predictably, none. Just as no one has been brought to justice for settlement expansion, for the daily murders of innocent civilians and children, for Qana, for Sabra and Shatila, for Deir Yassin…

I suppose that, after they got over the disbelief at being offered a ‘refuge’ in Sudan, the question floating around in the heads of those Palestinian refugees is: when will the perpetrators of our own suffering be indicted for their crimes?

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29 July 2008

What’s driving the Jerusalem attacks

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 11:39 am by lilithhope

Excerpts from Uri Avnery’s latest perceptive article, which explains the recent incidents/attacks in Jerusalem by situating them within the systematic mistreatment of Palestinian Arabs in this historic city:“In practice, the Jerusalem municipality is a city government by Jews for Jews. Its leaders are chosen by Jews only, and see their main purpose in Judaizing the city. Years ago, Haolam Hazeh magazine disclosed a secret directive to all government and city institutions to make sure that the number of Arabs in the city did not exceed 27.5%, the exact percentage that existed at the time of the annexation.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the elected democratic mayor of West Jerusalem is also the military governor of East Jerusalem.

Since 1967, all mayors have seen their job in this light. Together with all the arms of government, they see to it that Arabs living outside the city do not return to it, and that Arabs living in the city move out of it. A thousand and one tricks, large and small, are employed to this end, from the almost total refusal of building permits for rapidly growing Arab families, to the cancellation of residency rights for people who spend some time abroad or in the West Bank […]

A young man from Sur Baher recently shot pupils of a religious seminary in West Jerusalem. A young man from Jabal Mukaber drove a bulldozer and ran over everything that crossed his path. This week, another youngster from Umm Touba repeated exactly the same act. All three of them were shot dead on the spot.

 

The attackers were ordinary young men, not particularly religious. It seems than none of them was a member of any organization. Apparently, a young man just gets up one fine morning and decides that he has enough. He then carries out an attack all by himself, with any instrument at hand – a pistol bought with his own money, in the first instance, or a bulldozer he drives at work, in the two others.

If this is indeed the case, a question presents itself: why is this being done by Jerusalemites? First, because they have the opportunity. A person who drives a bulldozer at a building site in West Jerusalem can just crash into a passing bus in the next street. The driver of a heavy truck can run over people. It is relatively easy to carry out a shooting attack, like the recent event at the Lion’s Gate, the perpetrators of which were not caught. No intelligence service can prevent this, if the attacker has no partners and is not a member of any organization.

From the utterances of the commentators this week, one can gather that they cannot even imagine the anger that accumulates in the mind of a young Arab in Jerusalem throughout the years of humiliation, harassment, discrimination and helplessness. It is easier and more amusing to go into pornographic descriptions of the 72 virgins waiting for the martyrs in the Muslim paradise – what they do with them, how they do it to them, who has enough energy for them all.

One of the main contributing factors for the stirring up of hatred is the demolition of “illegal” homes of Arab residents, who are quite unable to build “legally”. The dimension of official stupidity is attested to by the demand of the Shin-Bet chief, voiced this week again, to destroy the homes of the attackers’ families, for the sake of “deterrence”. Apparently he has not heard about the dozens of studies and the accumulated experience, which prove that every destroyed home becomes an incubator for new hate-driven avengers.

This week’s attack is especially instructive. It is quite unclear what actually happened: did Ghassan Abu-Tir plan the attack in advance? Or was this a spontaneous decision in a moment of excitement? Was this an attack at all – or did the bulldozer driver run into a bus by accident and try, in a state of panic, to escape – running over his pursuers, becoming a target for a shooting spree by passersby and soldiers? In the atmosphere of suspicion and fear that pervades Jerusalem now, every road accident involving an Arab becomes an attack, and every Arab driver involved in an accident will in all probability be executed on the spot, without a trial. (It should be remembered that the first intifada broke out because of a road accident, in which a Jewish driver ran over some Arabs.)”

24 July 2008

Depressing…

Posted in Comment tagged , , , at 10:05 am by lilithhope

 

Ok, maybe i was wrong, when i showed optimism for Obama and claimed that his pandering to the Zionists was only a means to an end, which would change drastically if he managed to get into the White House.

Yeah, the more i read in today’s press about Obama’s failure to condemn any aspect of the continuing Israeli settlements and human rights abuses, the more pessimistic i am about the future of Palestine.

But surely not as disappointed as, say, the likes of Ali Abunimah (see his most recent article here) or any of the other Palestinian-American intellectuals who were courted by Obama in Chicago in the early 1990’s in order for them to support his ascendency to the Senate.

I wonder what the spirit of Edward Said is thinking… ‘another one bites the Galilee dust’.

One can only hope that Said will use his post-mortem powers to perhaps enter Obama’s dreams and talk some sense into him. Please Ed, come back to us now that you are needed so!

23 July 2008

Miniskirts, collagen and institutionalised disempowerment

Posted in Comment, Lebanon Diaries tagged , , , , at 9:32 am by lilithhope

The image of the stereotypical Lebanese woman is of one clad in a miniskirt and heels, with pouting collagen lips and long, flowing, immaculately coiffed locks, perhaps behind the whell of a shiny BMW of Hummer, or tugging a miniature designer dog on a leash, or socializing with a long thin cigarette in big big diamond-studded sunglasses while some South East Asian ‘helper’ takes care of the kids.

She is the epitomy of a ‘liberal’ woman, freed from the confines of the conservative patriarchy that dominates in the region, as manifested by restrictions on dress, such as the mandatory hijab, or restrictions on social behaviour.

But, as mentioned in the IRIN report below, Lebanese women are systematically disenfranchised:

“Thousands of children in Lebanon are denied full access to education, healthcare and residency because they do not have Lebanese citizenship.

Lebanese women cannot pass on their nationality to their children and in the event of separation, it is the father who gains automatic custody, according to Lebanese nationality law.

Women were only present in parliamentary life twice between 1952 and 1962 and then not again until three female members of parliament (MPs) won seats in the 1992 elections.

“Women’s groups are demanding a 35 percent quota in representation in the government, which would allow for issues such as the custody and nationality law to take precedence,” said activist Roula Masri […]

A more comprehensive reform to the nationality law has become mired in the political issue of the presence of tens of thousands of Syrian workers and 400,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.Now, it is this last sentence that really gets my goat:

Some politicians have argued that to allow Lebanese women to nationalise the children they have with non-Lebanese, such as Syrians and Palestinians, would be to shake up the delicate sectarian demographic on which the country’s political system is founded.”

 

All these politicians out there who fear for Lebanon’s confessionalist system, that ‘delicate sectarian demograohic’… WHAT A JOKE!!

Lebanon is founded on a demographic of the 1920’s, when the Christains were a majority, and therefore that legitimised giving them all the political power. Post-civil war, the Taif accord did grant Muslims some comparative rights in the government, but those relative gains remain subservient to a system that is very out-of-date, simply because the Christians are no longer a majority in Lebanon.

Everyone knows that. Which is why politicians refuse to have a census: any proof that, as all social indicators (birth rates, death rates, migration) indicate, the Muslim community is infact larger than the Christian community would reveal that, in the name of history, Lebanon’s political institutions are weighted to the minority.

What politicians are calling ‘delicate demographic’, I’m calling ‘denial’. Denial that, for the sake of this country’s future, the political system need profound reform, and the festering confessionalist system needs to be done away with once and for all.

But, obviously, the stakes are sky high, and no one should hold their breath that any such acknowledgment is forthcoming in the remotely near future. But as a result of this denial, this belief in a romantic myth and this unrelenting grasping to an expired colonial mindset, it is the women that suffer. Women are being denied their human rights in the name of a corrupt political falacy.

And are we surprised?

21 July 2008

Egypt’s feminist voices

Posted in Comment tagged , , , , at 3:09 pm by lilithhope

The statistics below are from a BBC article about sexual harassment in Egypt (thanks Didi):
SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN EGYPT
Experienced by 98% of foreign women visitors
Experienced by 83% of Egyptian women
62% of Egyptian men admitted harassing women
53% of Egyptian men blame women for ‘bringing it on’
Source: Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights
Even as a woman who lived in Egypt for the best part of a year and experienced several instances of sexual harassment first-hand (including having a breast grabbed by a teenage boy on a passing motorcycle during the month of Ramadan), I still find these figures shocking.
Nevertheless, I am very grateful that it is an Egyptian women’s rights group that is compiling and publishing such statistics, because it reinforces the notion that sexual harassment cannot be excused in terms of ‘cultural specificity’ ie ‘that’s just how they do it over there’. But to say that is not to reject a relativist means of understanding feminism altogether, because i do think that there is a balanced medium between the two.  
The work that the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights this rights goup is doing should be celebrated for debunking the myth that it is just scantily clad, non-Arab, non-Muslim women who are victims of lewd male behaviour in the Middle East. Moreover, I applaud them for seriously broaching the subject and pushing for punitive legislation, simply because there are many other women’s organizations in Egypt who, in the name of national or religious solidarity or anti-imperialism, are apologists for sexist behaviour in their country. It is not just the institutionalized patriarchy that this organization struggles against, it is the also the accusation made on the behalf of other Egyptian women’s groups that the denunciation of sexism is a colonial tool for societal fragmentation.
Even though there are undeniable historic links between a homogenous Western-directed feminist discourse and the hierarchical colonial mindset (the realization of which gave rise to postcolonial/third world feminism), such concerns should not restrict the possibility for women’s organizations in postcolonial countries to identify, speak out against and seek to remedy the types of persecution they perceive of in their own societies.
I studied contemporary feminist movements in Egypt, and one of the conclusions i came to was that the desire to pit ‘liberal’ feminism against a more culturally authentic feminism (such as so-called “Islamic” feminism) is an unfruitful activity, with each side trying to delegitimize the other, and ultimately reducing the possibilities for positive change that can be acheived in many different ways. Rather, I think that it is more useful to try to identify the different types of power that inform the philosophies and activities of the different types of feminism, so that one can understand the different problems that they encounter when it comes to acheiving legitimacy within their own country, or moving beyond contextual systems of dominance and making some tangible positive impacts in womens lives. 
I came to the conclusion that it is most important to recognise plurality in how women in different contexts and from different backgrounds (nationality, class, religion etc) define both oppression and emancipation. To recognise conceptual plurality is a means of acknowledging that there is more than one path of pragmatic action, that activism comes in many diverse shapes and forms, and can be effective in different ways.
Accordingly, I wish the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights success on the road ahead of them, in the hope that they can broaden the debate around women’s status in Egyptian society, and insha’Allah, bring about a change of mentality in those men who blame women for their oppressive actions.

US forces kill Iraqi governor’s son

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 2:20 pm by lilithhope

 To echo some the reaction of some commentators to this AlJazeera article: why isn’t this being reported in the Western press?“US troops have shot dead the son and nephew of Hamid Hummud al-Shakti, the governor of Iraq’s northern Salaheddin province.

The deaths of Husam, the 17-year-old son, and Uday, the nephew, occurred during a raid on Sunday in the town of Baiji, police said.

Lieutenant-Colonel Saad al-Qaisi, al-Shakti’s brother, said American troops stormed a family house in the town of Beiji, where the governor’s son Husam and his cousin were staying.

He said: “They shot dead Husam and wounded three others. This is barbaric and inhuman.””

18 July 2008

Still a ticking timebomb

Posted in Lebanon Diaries tagged , at 4:15 pm by lilithhope

After Wednesday’s post=prisoner swap celebrations, things aren’t looking to perky out here in the land of the Cedars.

On one hand, the sh*t is kicking off again in Tripoli:

One person was killed and six people were wounded in renewed clashes overnight in Lebanon’s northern port city of Tripoli.
News reports on Friday said a man died and two others were wounded when a car refused to stop at an army roadblock in
Bab al-Tebbaneh.”

On the other hand, in addition to threatening You Tube videos, telephone calls and text messages, an Israeli intelligence site just reported that Hizbullah are ready to shoot down any Israeli jets flying in Lebanese airspace, which is a violation that Israel often engages in… Sounds to me like someon’es on the offensive!

The only thing I’m curious about is which will happen first: Israel vs. Lebanon, Part 3; or Lebanon vs. Lebanon, Part 167…

 

 

The secret of Hizbullah’s success

Posted in Comment tagged , , , , at 1:57 pm by lilithhope

I’m always writing to the Guardian complaining about the lack of pieces about Lebanon, admittedly not without the slight tings of hope that they will commission me to write something for them… But this piece on Hizbullah may be one-sided and flattering, but it’s refreshing to see attempts in the mainstream western media that portray Hizb as anything other than a bloodthirsty gang of Ayatollah Khomeini wannabes. It’s fresh up on Comment is Free, so jump in and join the fray!

16 July 2008

Decaying human bodies: the currency of post-conflict bargains

Posted in Lebanon Diaries tagged , , , , at 2:28 pm by lilithhope

Finally, two years and over 1,200 dead later: the end of the 2006 Israel/Hizbullah war.

At 9 am this morning, a long-awaited prisoner swap began between Israel and Hizbullah. After much speculation as to their condition, the Israeli soldiers that were captured in July 2006 were returned in long black boxed, along with the remains of Israeli soldiers killed on Lebanese soil during the Israeli invasion that followed the ambush. In return, Israel will return five Lebanese prisoners and the remains of 199 Palestinian and Lebanese killed in cross-border operations over the last 30 years, most famous of whom is Dalal Mughraby, a 19 year-old Palestinian woman who was killed in 1978 in the wake of a highjacking of an Israeli bus that killed 36 (for a touching recent interview with Dalal’s family, see here).

Despite the fact that the exchange of decades-old body parts and certain individuals convicted of child murders,  namely, Samir Kuntar, could ever be anything but a dismal and grotesque ordeal, the exchange taking place in south Lebanon today strikes a particularly tragic note. Engineering such a prisoner swap was Hizbullah’s initial motivation for capturing the two Israeli soldiers, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, in 2006. Instead, the capture sparked the 2006 war and Israeli invasion, which left over 1,000 Lebanese civillians and some 160 Israeli’s mostly soldiers, dead. Essentially, scores and scores of human lives wasted in a war that acheived nothing, and the initial purpose of which is only being resolved today. If only, like has happened in the past, the prisoner swap could have occured without such bloodshed…

Out of all the various media coverage of today’s events, Al Jazeera makes one particularly inetersing point, which gets to the heart of the strength of Hizbullah as an armed resistance movement:

“The Hezbollah exchange has prompted the public in Arab countries such as Jordan and Egypt – which have both signed peace deals with Israel – to question why their governments have not been able to repatriate the bodies of their soldiers.”

Indeed, this leaves us reconsidering the effiectiveness of Hizbullah’s tactics, most importantly the use of force, in acheiving their goals when compared to superficial diplomacy. It makes us question the extent to which measured violence directed at certain targets is or can be a legitimate tool for acheiving political ends… To say which is not a call to arms, nor a condoning of indiscriminate violence against civilians, but only to say that the tactics of armed resistance should not be immediately dismissed as “terrorist” or “extremist”. Infact, what this incident shows us is that Hizbullah’s initial ambush acheived more than those who blindly follow the path of diplomacy, while simultaneously causing significantly less damage than the responsive use of force by the Israeli government, which was deemed more legitimate because it was conducted by a nation state, an army, not some “rogue” or “guerilla” group.

Violence has always been and remains a legitimate way of pursuing political ends; the contestation revolves around WHO uses the violence, rather than the extent of that violence. Hizbullah is continuously demonized because it is a non-government actor who uses violence to acheive its war-time goals (Hizbullah and Israel are in a defacto state of war, and have been since 2000), even though its pales in comparison to the hell-fury that has been unleashed by the Israeli’s on both the Lebanese and Palestinian peoples over the last 60 years…  

In conclusion, maybe what im about to say contradicts the non-emotive analysis that i just offered, and betrays the resolute humanist in me: today’s prisoner swap strikes me as particularly morbid purely because it is in the currency of broken, decaying human bodies that the debts of this ongoing conflict are being paid.

After all the bombs and fires and burning and screaming and bitterness and revenge, this is what it all comes down to: pieces of shattered bone, fragments of formeldahyde-soaked flesh, perhaps some mutilated organs or gangrene-infested limbs, contained in shiny, black boxes, baking in the stifling summer sun.

4 July 2008

Preparing the battlefield

Posted in Comment tagged , , at 2:05 pm by lilithhope

“Late last year, Congress agreed to a request from President Bush to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran, according to current and former military, intelligence, and congressional sources. These operations, for which the President sought up to four hundred million dollars, were described in a Presidential Finding signed by Bush, and are designed to destabilize the country’s religious leadership. The covert activities involve support of the minority Ahwazi Arab and Baluchi groups and other dissident organizations. They also include gathering intelligence about Iran’s suspected nuclear-weapons program.”

As the relentless hostile rhetoric of the American Administration and Israel’s recent mid-range airforce exercises indicate, the likelihood of a pre-emptive strike on Iran, under the pretext (and against all indicators) that it is developping nuclear weapons, is increasingly likely. In this context, the quote above is an excerpt of a recent fascinating article by Seymour Hersh, in which he states that the US is paving the way for its attack by using Iraq as a base for conducting cross-border operations and by financially supporting and arming radical Sunni militant groups inside Iran against the current regime.

Obviously, the Administration has not learnt its lessons from previous experiences of following the philosophy of ‘the enemy of my enemy is my freind’. It is a twist of irony worthy of a Woddy Alan film, were it not so tragic: the United States is not only repeating the miskate that it made in the 1980’s of supporting the Taliban against the Soviets, thereby sacrificing long-term security for the sake of short-term gains; but it is also fuelling the very groups that are on the fringes of Al-Qa’ida, the object this grandiose “War on Terror” that has consumed thousands and thousands of lives… In Afghanistan they bomb them indiscriminately, while in neighbouring Iran they encourage their dissident and sepratist antics.

One of the most intersting points of Hersh’s piece concerns the ineffectiveness of the US strategy of supporting such ethnic minorities as the Beluchis or Ahwazui, which is elaborated upon during his interviw with Vali Nasr:

“A strategy of using ethnic minorities to undermine Iran is flawed, according to Vali Nasr, who teaches international politics at Tufts University and is also a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Just because Lebanon, Iraq, and Pakistan have ethnic problems, it does not mean that Iran is suffering from the same issue,” Nasr told me. “Iran is an old country—like France and Germany—and its citizens are just as nationalistic. The U.S. is overestimating ethnic tension in Iran.””

A good piece all in all, definately worth the read, even though it will leave you with an ominous feeling about the last few months of the Bush presidency, and even after, as the military industrial complex grinds its way forward regardless of indivuduals or parties. Let’s hope that somewhere, some voice of reason prevails.

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