Last Friday, the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald took on Bill Maher over the supposedly ‘unique’ danger of Islam on Maher’s show ‘Real Time’ on HBO. Maher has long contended that Islam is an inherently violent religion that poses a greater threat than all other religions.
Greenwald took it to Maher on Friday, and to be frank, made Maher look pretty silly. Maher argued that whenever Muslims are given political freedom, they choose theocracy and extremism. Greenwald pointed out that US involvement in the Middle East is the driving force behind extremism, and that other religions are equally ‘dangerous’ when it comes to promoting violent and oppressive policies (Israel’s occupation of Gaza being a good example).
Greenwald posted this clip blog with the major exchanges:
Despite the United States and Israel’s insistence that Palestinians are not entitled to their own country, the internet giant has decided that it is time to officially recognize Palestine as a legitimate entity. From the Palestinian News Network:
The International web search engine “Google” recognized the Palestinian state after it was referring to Palestine as “The Palestinian Territories” since its establishment.
When writing the link related to Palestine (www.google.ps) the word google is showed at the page and the word Palestine comes beneath it.
This comes after Palestine was recognized as a non-member state at the United Nations in November 2012.
It’s an interesting development from a philosophical point of view as it symbolizes the declining importance of governments when it comes to defining political realities. An alternative world is being created online, and it’s relevance to the real world is becoming ever more important.
Hossam Yaakoub, right, a Lebanese-Swedish operative, is escorted by police as he arrives at the court in Limassol on March 21, 2013. (Yiannis Kourtoglou/AFP/Getty Images)
By Sebastian Rotella
A rare inside look at Hezbollah during a recent terror trial in Cyprus portrayed a militant group with the prowess of an intelligence service: meticulous overseas reconnaissance, Western operatives with elaborate covers, training at secret bases where recruits and instructors wear masks for maximum security.
And the conviction last month of a confessed Hezbollah operative for doing terrorist surveillance of Israeli tourists has heated up a debate that continues to divide the West: Whether the European Union, like the United States and Israel, should designate Hezbollah as a terrorist group.
In a report to be published by a West Point think tank next week, a former U.S. counterterror official argues that the Cyprus case and an attack on Israelis in Bulgaria last year show that Hezbollah has returned to aggressive operations on European soil. Western counterterror agencies largely share that analysis, which has spurred a proposal by Britain for the European Union to designate Hezbollah’s military wing as a terrorist organization.
“In Cyprus you have a case that underwent full judicial scrutiny, and a conviction in a European court,” said Matthew Levitt, the report’s author, a former top Treasury Department intelligence official who is now a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “You have all this evidence. You have a European Hezbollah operative who was also doing courier work across Europe. What else do they need?”
Decisions in the 27-nation European Union move slowly through a bureaucratic labyrinth, especially on diplomatically sensitive questions. But the current debate departs from traditional European reluctance to confront a militant group that is a powerhouse in the government and on the streets of Lebanon.
In Paris, Berlin and other capitals, the terrorist activity and Hezbollah’s military support for the Assad regime in Syria’s civil war have challenged a strategy of maintaining cordial relations with Hezbollah to prevent retaliation and preserve diplomatic leverage.
“It has been and will be the most serious discussion on Hezbollah they’ve had,” said a U.S. counterterror official who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly. “Stability in Lebanon has been one of the main European arguments for not designating Hezbollah. But when they see what Hezbollah is doing Syria, which is exacerbating instability there and creating spillover into Lebanon, causing instability there as well, it changes this perspective.”
On July 18 last year, the bombing of an airport bus carrying Israeli tourists at the Bulgarian beach resort of Burgas killed six people. Investigators said they identified two alleged Hezbollah operatives as suspects, although little evidence has been made public.
The court verdict in Cyprus carries more weight in the legalistic European Union. There are also parallels between the Burgas bombing and the surveillance and potential targets described by Hossam Yaakoub, the Lebanese-Swedish operative whom police in Cyprus arrested days before the attack in Bulgaria. His statements are extraordinary because of the wealth of detailed revelations about the inner workings of Hezbollah.
“The case provides unique insights into how (Hezbollah) recruits and trains new operatives,” Levitt writes in a case study of the Cyprus trial that will appear Monday in the CTC Sentinel, a publication of the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point.
The military think tank provided ProPublica with an advance copy of the article, “Hizb Allah Resurrected: the Party of God Returns to Tradecraft.” ProPublica separately obtained the 26 pages of depositions that Yaakoub, 24, gave Cypriot police.
During the past decade, arrests, raids and infiltration by spy agencies have produced a great deal of information about the operations, training camps and leadership of al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In contrast, Hezbollah remains a secretive, disciplined militant group with worldwide reach and a vast war chest. Iran, a close ally, provides arms, funds, training and strategic direction. Hezbollah’s paramilitary operations, social welfare work and political power have won a formidable reputation in the Arab world and beyond. It is a militant group that increasingly resembles a state entity.
“I believe in the armed struggle of Hezbollah until the liberation of Lebanon,” Yaakoub told his interrogators, according to the Cypriot police depositions. “Hezbollah is the political party, which supports the people of Lebanon and fights for the rights of our country … Although I believe in the armed struggle for the liberation of Lebanon from Israel, I am not in favor of the terrorist attacks against innocent people. For me, war and terrorism are two different things.”
A three-judge panel in Cyprus nonetheless found that Yaakoub was preparing the terrain to attack Israeli tourists and other Jews on the island as part of Hezbollah’s holy war. The Cypriot police presumably received a tip about him from Israeli intelligence, Levitt said, and followed him as he documented and photographed flights arriving from Israel, buses transporting Israeli tourists, kosher restaurants and other potential targets.
After his arrest last July 7, Yaakoub reacted with the practiced cool of a well-trained operative, according to the depositions. He denied everything. He explained that he was traveling with a Swedish passport because his family had moved to Sweden six months after he was born and he had lived there until he was 14. He described himself as a Beirut-based trader in souvenirs, clothes and other merchandise. He backed up his story with company documents and names of local clients.
As police confronted him with detailed evidence, however, his resistance began to crumble. During an interrogation that began after midnight a week after his arrest, he admitted the truth: “I am an active member of the Hezbollah for about four years now. I was recruited by a Lebanese called Reda in 2007… He told me that he needed me for the secret mission of Hezbollah … my secret mission would be surveillance and undercover activities.”
Yaakoub fits a classic profile, according to Levitt and other experts. Hezbollah takes advantage of the global Lebanese diaspora to recruit operatives with Western passports. Bulgarian authorities, for instance, are seeking two Lebanese suspects who traveled with authentic Australian and Canadian passports — and fake U.S. driver licenses — in the airport bus bombing last year.
Canadians, Swedes and Colombians of Lebanese descent have allegedly taken part in past plots. And Yaakoub told police he trained in Lebanon alongside a fighter who spoke English with an American accent, according to the deposition.
The training began with five to seven months of lessons in tradecraft in Beirut from an instructor named Yousef. He taught the recruit about cover stories and clandestine operations, sending him at one point to deliver an envelope to a man in Istanbul. Next came military training with pistols, rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and C-4 explosives at secret camps in south Lebanon. The sessions were designed for maximum operational security.
“They took me from different spots in Beirut, using closed vans so I could not see,” Yaakoub said, according to the deposition. “Each training group consisted of 10-13 people. Both the trainees and instructors wore hoods, so they could not recognize each other. We had individual tents and exercises were performed in a separate place. It was forbidden to see each other.”
Soon Hezbollah chiefs sent Yaakoub on courier missions to the French city of Lyon and to Amsterdam, where he thought he recognized the voice of his contact as one of his masked classmates from Beirut. The deployment of Yaakoub in Europe coincides with a dangerous strategic shift by Hezbollah, experts say.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Hezbollah and Iran conducted bombings, kidnappings and hijackings on Israeli, American and European targets from Argentina to Lebanon to France, inflicting hundreds of casualties. In the early 2000s, the group curtailed operations outside the Middle East theater, focusing on its struggle with Israel.
In 2010, however, leaders of Hezbollah and Iran launched an aggressive new terror campaign. They wanted to retaliate against Israel for the assassinations of Hezbollah warlord Imad Mughniyeh in 2008 and of Iranian nuclear scientists in subsequent years, according to Western counterterror officials.
“Even before the Burgas attack, we were growing concerned about what Hezbollah is doing around the world,” the U.S. counterterror official said. “They are plotting in a way we hadn’t seen since the 1990s. There is certainly a feeling that Iran and Hezbollah have ramped up their networks.”
Reactivating Terror Wing
Iran and Hezbollah decided on a new offensive in which the Quds Force, the external operations wing of Iran’s intelligence service, would hit hard targets such as Israeli and Saudi diplomats, according to Levitt’s article. Hezbollah, meanwhile, would focus on Israeli tourists and other soft targets, Levitt asserts, citing information from U.S., Israeli and European security agencies.
As a result, Hezbollah revamped the Islamic Jihad Organization, its international terrorist wing, according to Levitt.
“New operatives were recruited from the elite of (Hezbollah’s) military wing for intelligence and operational training, while existing IJO operatives were moved into new positions,” the article says. “At the same time, the IJO invested in the development of capabilities and tradecraft that had withered since the 2001 decision to rein in operations.”
The past two years have brought a spate of attacks and plots. The Iranian security forces are accused in cases including the assassination of a Saudi diplomat in Pakistan, a bomb attack on an Israeli diplomat in India and a foiled plot to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington, D.C.
Alleged Hezbollah plots have been discovered as well. In January of last year, Thai police found a warehouse full of bomb-making chemicals for an alleged plot against Israeli targets. The chief suspect in that case resembles Yaakoub: an accused Hezbollah operative with dual Lebanese and Swedish citizenship.
Meanwhile, Yaakoub did patient undercover work in Cyprus, according to his confession and evidence at his trial. Hezbollah provided expense money and a salary of $600 a month. He burnished his cover story by registering his import-export firm, looking into acquiring a warehouse, meeting with clients and, on his handler’s advice, developing a social life on the island.
Acting on instructions from Beirut, he watched Israeli tourists arrive on flights and charted their movements on airport buses and at hotels, using codes to disguise his notes and communicate with fellow operatives, according to his confession.
The surveillance takes on ominous significance in light of the Burgas attack, in which a young man with a backpack bomb blew up a bus as it picked up Israeli tourists at the airport. The attacker died in the blast. European investigators believe he was not a suicide bomber, but rather a dupe or the victim of a premature explosion. Hezbollah has denied any role in Burgas.
Yaakoub’s reconnaissance featured very specific tasks for reasons that are not yet clear. He identified Internet cafes for his handlers. He obtained three SIM cards for mobile phones. He meticulously studied an area behind a hospital, taking photos and drawing a map.
“I am not aware of the organization’s objectives on the matter, nor do I know why they sent me to this mission,” he told interrogators, according to the deposition. Despite his confessions, he refused to accept that he was involved in terrorism, declaring:
“It was just collecting information about the Jews, and that is what my organization is doing everywhere in the world.”
Reaction in Europe
The conviction of Yaakoub adds to mounting evidence of Hezbollah activity across Europe. And it creates a headache for the European Union. Most governments in Europe have a markedly different view of Hezbollah than Israel or the United States, which see it as a terrorist organization pure and simple. Only the Netherlands agrees with that assessment. Britain has designated Hezbollah’s military wing as a terror organization, but not the political leadership.
The motives of other European governments vary. Especially on the left, sectors of European political parties and public opinion tend to see Hezbollah more favorably than Americans do. They accept the view that it is a resistance movement, not a terrorist organization.
Nations such as Spain and Italy are also reluctant to confront the group because they have military peacekeeping contingents in Lebanon that are vulnerable to retaliation. In addition, key European powers such as France and Germany described their relationships with Hezbollah on pragmatic grounds.
French officials assert that if they designated Hezbollah as a terrorist group, it would cut them off diplomatically from a powerful force in Lebanon and the Middle East. Tensions between Hezbollah and Europe could further destabilize the conflict-ridden political environment in Lebanon, the argument goes.
The common wisdom has begun to change because of increasing exasperation with Hezbollah’s actions in Europe, signs of involvement in crime and corruption, and its military role in Syria, experts say. Earlier this year, British diplomats began to push their proposal that the EU label Hezbollah’s military wing a terrorist group.
This would curtail funding and political support for the group in Europe, but maintain a channel for dialogue, British officials say. U.S. officials and experts think there is no distinction between Hezbollah’s political and military leadership, but they think the proposal would be powerful and timely.
“It would send a strong message,” Levitt said.
The discussions about the proposal have intensified in the European Union in recent weeks, according to U.S. and European officials. Political and economic crises in Bulgaria and Cyprus have complicated matters, however, because those countries were taking a lead role along with Britain.
“We have been pretty active on this issue,” a senior British diplomat said. “We are keen to do it. But it is a slow process.”
The Arabic word for God is ‘Allah’. In Aramaic (the language Jesus Christ most likely spoke) word for God is ‘Allaha’. In Hebrew, the word is ‘Eloah’ (singular of ‘Elohim’).
Anyone not dogmatically devoted to a particular religious doctrine should be able to see that the three major religions originating in the Middle East have an awful lot in common. Both Islam and Christianity agree that Jesus was a divine prophet, born of a virgin and revealed God’s word. Both believe in one omnipotent God and both believe in heaven and hell. Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic are all Semitic languages with the same root, and words used to describe the divine are almost identical.
The French word for coffee is café. It doesn’t take too much brain power to figure out they have the same root and are describing the same thing. But in the world of religious fundamentalism, as soon as someone uses a slightly different sounding word, it automatically means something completely different. ‘Allah’ and ‘Allaha’ become two distinct entities, and followers of each must fight to prove their respective God’s superiority.
Which brings us to Christian tribalist Pat Robertson and his incessant war on Islam.
The marijuana advocate and End-Times Evangelist believes the United States should not pursue peace in the Middle East, because giving concessions to Palestinians will incur “The wrath of Almighty God to fall on this nation”. Speaking about John Kerry’s visit to Israel, the 700 club host stated that:
I think this is headed for disaster for the United States. God says, they divided my land, there is something about dividing God’s land, he said this is my land, I gave it to Abraham and his descendants and I don’t want it taken away from them and Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel. For the United States to get into a deal where they’re trying to split Jerusalem and take it away from the Israelis and split up their capital, huge mistake. You are asking for the wrath of Almighty God to fall on this nation and when it falls it won’t be fun, it won’t be fun. We should do everything we can to restrain our leaders from this course of folly and it is and it is a course of folly and it will result in terrible suffering for people in the United States.
As RightWingWatch notes, Robertson has a history of linking international relations to acts of divinity:
Previously, Robertson asserted that Ariel Sharon’s debilitating stroke and the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin were signs of divine punishment for their attempts to put together a peace deal.
It is unclear where Robertson stands on the 330,000 Palestinian Christians living in the West Bank, Gaza and Israel, but one thing is for sure – if anyone gets in the way of the Israel’s role in the coming Armageddon (as predicted by the esteemed futurists in the Book of Revelation), they must be forsaken. And according to Robertson, that pretty much means anyone of Arab descent.
Robertson’s fear of Allah – a sky being locked in battle with his own bearded super deity in the clouds, seems to have tipped him over the edge. Kerry’s dangerous proposal to ease tensions in the area and possibly extend more legal rights to people with dark skin and funny names in the land they were born in is, according to Robertson, a direct affront to the Christian God and must be stopped at all costs. Writes Robertson of the pre-battle:
If God’s chosen people turn over to Allah control of their most sacred sites-if they surrender to Muslim vandals the tombs of Rachel, of Joseph, of the Patriarchs, of the ancient prophets-if they believe their claim to the Holy Land comes only from Lord Balfour of England and the ever fickle United Nations rather than the promises of Almighty God-then in that event, Islam will have won the battle.
You’ve got to give it to him in terms of sheer imagination and willingness to ignore reality. It takes a special person to confidently and publicly espouse beliefs so ludicrous that a well schooled 9 year old would laugh at them. There’s probably no point trying to make Robertson see nuance given he has built his career peddling childish fantasy theories, but liberals should dismiss him completely. We don’t know whether Robertson does actually smoke the green stuff, but if he is, it might be worth finding out where he gets it.
President Barack Obama delivers remarks to the Israeli people at the Jerusalem International Convention Center on March 21, 2013.
By Lawrence Davidson
It is said that the devil has about him the smell of fire and brimstone (sulfur). Evil deeds are often described as “most foul.” On the other hand, people who appear, accurately or not, as always innocent are described as “smelling like roses.” There seems, then, to be a longstanding association between behavior and smells.
The Israeli army has recently dedicated itself to demonstrating this association. On March 6, the Middle East Monitor reported “Israeli forces have sprayed Palestinian homes in the village of Nabi Saleh with Skunk as a punishment for organizing weekly protests against the Apartheid Wall built on occupied land. Human rights watchdog B’Tselem published a video showing Israel’s armored tanker trucks fitted with ‘water canons’ [spraying] the foul fluid.”
Skunk is a fluid so offensive smelling that people automatically retreat from any place or anyone doused with it. This is not the first time the Israelis have used such noxious tactics. Zionist settlers are fond of diverting the sewage from their illegal settlements, which are usually placed on high ground, into the fields and towns of Palestinians living in the valleys below. This is apparently done with the knowledge and approval of the Israeli state.
I doubt if many of the Israelis involved in these maneuvers have ever read Dante’s Inferno. In that epic poem, Hell is a place steeped in sewage and rot, and Israeli actions seem intent on reproducing this scenario. Are the Israelis then trying to turn the Holy Land into Hell? Well, yes, at least for the Palestinians. To this end the settlers and soldiers mimic Dante’s demons.
How far does the bad smell of Israeli actions reach? We can be sure that it reaches as far as London, where MP David Ward of the Liberal Democratic Party recently wrote in a Holocaust Memorial book that “having visited Auschwitz twice . . . I am saddened that the Jews, who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust, could within a few years of liberation from the death camps be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza.”
Ward’s reference to “the Jews” has been qualified, because not all Jews support Zionism or Israel’s claim to “Judea and Samaria,” much less the pogrom-like way the Israelis are going about ethnically cleansing the areas under their control. In fact, an increasing number of American Jews are expressing alienation from such behavior in Israel.
Yet Ward was correct when it comes to the “Jewish state’s” behavior. Perhaps Mr. Ward’s confusion was a product of Israel’s constant insistence that it represents all the world’s Jews.
Not everyone seems to smell the odor emanating from Israel. Mr. Ward’s Liberal Democratic Party called him to account for daring to draw attention to the fact that foul acts continue to be committed against the Palestinians by the self-proclaimed representative of the Jews.
A quiet word to Ward about avoiding generalizations would probably have sufficed but, using a process similar to those carried out by totalitarian regimes, Ward’s party ordered him “to meet with the party’s ‘Friends of Israel’ chapter to ‘identify and agree on language that will be proportionate and precise when he speaks out again on the Israeli-Palestine conflict.’” He did so and issued the required apology. This smells like censorship to me.
It’s one thing to punish someone for calling attention to Israel’s rank behavior. It is something else to insist that foul is actually fair – to say the sewage smells like roses. Who would be reckless enough to imply such a nauseating thing and do so with a straight face before cameras with the whole world watching? How about the President of the United States? He lives in Washington D.C., where denial of Israel’s malodorous nature is almost unanimous.
President Obama had an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 TV station on March 15, just before he left to visit that country. In the interview, he stated that he admires Israel’s “core values.”
In a subsequent analysis, the Israeli journalist Gideon Levy, who has an honest nose for these things, asked, “which values he was talking about? The dehumanization of the Palestinians? The attitude toward African migrants? The arrogance, racism and nationalism? Is this what he admires? Don’t separate buses for Palestinians remind him of something? Doesn’t two communities living on the same land, one with full rights and the other with no rights, ring a bell . . . ?
“To admire ‘core values’ while knowing we’re talking about one of the most racist countries there is, with a separation wall and apartheid-like policies, means betraying the core values of the American civil rights movement that made the Obama miracle possible.”
Nonetheless, upon arriving in Israel, President Obama said that U.S. support for the very same Israel Levy describes will “be forever.” It might be added that, at the same time, the President insisted that the Palestinians cease demanding a halt to the building of settlements, with their targeted open-sewer policies, before any further “peace” negotiations with the Israelis.
When it comes to Israel, President Obama, and most of the Congress as well, can’t tell the difference between fair and foul. That is because they live in a peculiar professional world whose parameters, in reference to Israel and Palestine, are defined by a Zionist lobby with Orwellian powers.
In this special world, double-think abounds. Racism, apartheid, ethnic cleansing, and the tactical use of Skunk and raw sewage disappear and are replaced by imaginary “core values” that smell like roses.
The President can privately smell garbage and call it roses all he wants. But when he tries to sell the rest of us on this connection, the credibility of his language sinks into the gutter. Remember what George Orwell tells us about the potential for harm in the misuse of political language.
Misused, such language offers a “defense of the indefensible” and is “designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” That is what most politicians’ language has sunk to when it comes to Israel/Palestine.
That this should go on “forever,” as the President claims, is just hyperbole. Consider the fact that a recent CIA report calls into question the Zionist state’s ability to last for more than another twenty years.
No, the bad smell coming from Israel denotes internal socio-political rot, as well as rotten tactics toward non-Jewish inhabitants. Sooner or later everyone possessing a humane conscience, to say nothing of a functioning honest nose, will refuse to have anything to do with this “apartheid-like” state.
Ahmed Shihab-Eldin: Not willing to play the 'angry Arab'
By Ben Cohen: Regardless of whose side you take in the Israeli Palestinian crisis, there is no denying that the Jewish state has been far better at the public relations game than the Palestinians have ever been. There are many well funded pro Israel groups in the US that have sophisticated media strategies and employ them brilliantly when faced with criticism of their behavior towards the Palestinians. As a consequence public opinion is solidly in favor of Israel in the US, making it an anomaly in comparison to the rest of the world. The Palestinians have done an awful job of bringing attention to their plight, and despite the shockingly one sided nature of the conflict between themselves and Israel, they continue to be portrayed as the aggressors.
While Jews have been incredibly well represented in the US mainstream media both in management and on air, Palestinians have never had anyone in a position of real influence, and this has clearly had a major impact on the way the crisis in the Middle East has been portrayed.
Up until now, that is. In a forward thinking and (at least by American media standards) brave move, the Huffington Post hired Ahmed Shihab-Eldin, a Palestinian American to host and produce segments for their recently launched ‘Huff Post Live’ video platform. A former producer and and co-host of Al Jazeera English’s Emmy-nominated social media show, “The Stream”, Ahmed is no rookie, but his position within a large mainstream media entity is a novelty in America’s media establishment.
Ahmed regularly draws attention to the plight of the Palestinians, bringing on guests rarely seen on other mainstream media outlets like Palestinians from the Gaza strip and critics of Israel who are usually confined to academia or obscure foreign policy websites that have little reach. Ahmed, an extremely likeable and articulate character, refuses to play into the ‘angry Arab’ role the media likes to pick up on, despite facing intense criticism from all sides of the political spectrum (just check some of the comments on youtube to get an idea). Ahmed represents a new breed of journalist in the digital age, where an ability to connect with an audience trumps ethnicity, age or social background.
The Daily Banter spoke to Ahmed about his thoughts on the latest outburst of violence in the region, the Palestinian’s inability to draw attention to their cause, Obama’s indifference to Israeli aggression, and why Arianna Huffington took such a big risk in hiring him.
(NB: The answers have been lightly edited for brevity)
TDB: What was your immediate reaction to the overwhelming support for Palestinian statehood in the United Nations?
ASE: My immediate reaction was that a lot of people are going to try to break down an deconstruct what this actually means and I think that the sad reality is that it means very little. And so the people who have been saying that are right. What I think is most significant about this, even the way it played out, the fact that Israel switched their tone as they often do 180 degrees by saying that this is you know, a threat against peace and then as soon as it looked like the Palestinians would probably win, switching and saying that this is insignificant and downplaying the significance of the vote.
Also, the US was really exposed as a weakened power, one that’s reputation in the Middle East, that is quickly changing, but also in terms of the international stage is becoming increasingly less significant, especially unilaterally, especially as a leader.
When I heard about the bid, my first logistical reaction was ‘great’, now eventually Israel will be pursued in the international criminal court because now they can. And I think that’s great because Palestinians for far too long have not had any cards in their pocket to play when it comes to the games Israel plays regarding the conflict. This both really undermines Americas power, both soft and hard. And I think most importantly Europe realizes that they have to go it alone…..so I think Europe is starting to realize that it no longer has to fall in step with the US. Which I think is great because the US, more so than Israel believes that there is no resolution to the conflict.
TDB: Why do you think the Palestinians have had such a hard time drawing attention to their plight, particularly in the US?
ASE: I think it’s a lot of reasons. Perhaps first and foremost I am actually going to place the blame on Palestinians, ironically. I think too often we blame the press, we blame the West, we blame America, and I think those are all valid concerns, but I think the Palestinians have allowed divisions about our own identity to get the better of us. I really think that if the Palestinians were more unified in terms of their leadership, but also in terms of their ideology and in terms of their demands, I think they have allowed Israel and others to divide us in that regard. Of course another thing is AIPAC and the Jewish lobby and the fact that the way that American politics works – the two party system – you have to pledge allegiance or blind support to Israel’s right to defend themselves. Israel has created this really great narrative that Israel deserves the right to defend itself against all reason or rational, disregarding international law, and America bows to this for many reasons.
TDB: Do you see anything to be positive about in terms of US attitudes towards the conflict?
ASE: I really do. And I wish people didn’t ask me that question, because admitting to that – because it has been such a slight change and if we all talk about this change and celebrate the change, people tend to forget. People tend to have short attention spans. But to answer your question, yes, there is a change. Partially because of the internet, because things go viral and people are connecting of social media, but also because of other platforms – Indie GoGo and Kick Starter, because people based in Gaza being able to document and live tweet events and it adds to the effect that Palestinians are actually, you know, humans. The whole notion that Palestinians have been dehumanized by Israel’s aggressive policies, that’s one thing, but I think that the media have portrayed Palestinians very simplistically and I think that that has done a huge disservice to our plight. I think the shift is coming, in that there are people who are more influential, because as you know the Huffington Post is one of the most read news sites in the US, and for eight days, we covered it – and it wasn’t biased.
There is a compelling narrative coming out about people having the right to live in dignity for the right for their leaders to represent their interests. Now obviously these haven’t been covered seamlessly by any means, and we’re still at the beginning process – we’re seeing tens of thousands of protests happening in Tahir Square – it’s still in its infant stages, but in the context of that, that has forced the media, not just the Huffington Post and social media outlets but also the mainstream media to cover the conflict within that context. You can’t avoid that context. Even if the new Arab Spring is more complex, with terrorism and violence, that narrative still exists; of popular revolt and uprising, and you know that has been happening for decades in Palestine. Obviously they are not rising up against their own leaders – they are uprising against their oppressors, so I think you can extrapolate from that – and that’s why we’re partially beginning to see a shift.
TDB: Let’s talk about official US policy. Do you see any nuance in Obama’s position?
ASE: No. I have to tell you I’m very disappointed in Obama. I understand the criticism of him weren’t necessarily fair in the first term given the context of the claims against him – you don’t want to seem anti Netanyahu or anti Israel or whatever, but this is his second term and he hasn’t offered anything during the Gaza conflict to really be a leader. And a leader is someone who leads because he has conviction and because he knows what’s right and because he knows what’s best in his estimation, and I didn’t see any leadership from Obama. Even in calling the settlements illegitimate and making that distinction rather than calling them just ‘settlements’, which of course we know now there’s 3000 more. You know the United Nations – they vote to recognize Palestine – they call the settlements illegal – if they call Gaza occupied even though Israel does not, why Obama feels the need to buy into this notion that we can pretend that the reality on the ground isn’t the reality. And this at a time when he’s seen first hand more than any other President the entire reality on the ground completely shift in the Arab world – like dramatically. And it’s continuing to shift. It’s really troubling to me and I think he thinks it’s not going to affect him or affect Americans, I’m trying to really grasp what it is – or what is informing his need to maintain that status quo.
So do I think Obama has been a leader? No. Do I think he has shown a shift from his predecessors? Not at all. When it comes to that leaked video of Romney saying the Palestinians don’t want peace, we’re just going to kick the ball down the road – implying that all Palestinians want to eliminate and kill all Israelis – I think that all those things that Romney said, largely Obama would not say, but in terms of how those things affect US policy I think it’s sad to say that Obama really isn’t different. I think that Arabs might even be more disillusioned by Obama, given the context in the region and how he has augmented the ‘let me just kill people randomly’ strategy.
TDB: There are many Jews seriously concerned about the crisis – they do not support Israel’s actions and want to see a viable Palestinian state. What do you think they can do to help change public opinion?
ASE: Generally, raise your voice. Try and mobilize and find like minded people that are Jewish or Muslim or Arab or have a stake in the game or are invested in the region or invested in Israel for a multitude of reasons and try and organize and try create a presence online. I really believe that for any change to happen there is going to have to be an overwhelming display or popular resistance, whether it’s online or whether it’s at the UN or whether its petitioning your elected leaders, whether it’s creating a group like ‘J Street’ or a more justice based group for resolving the conflict for exposing injustices. I think it’s going to have to be an amalgamation and accumulation of these types of movements and initiatives that are going to actually bring about some policy changes because Israel is increasingly isolated themselves and I think there’s a lot of Jews that recognize that and who are concerned by that. And if I was Jewish I would be. I think that’s extremely concerning.
TDB: You’re probably the first Palestinian American to be given such a prominent media platform. Do you think your hiring was a risky thing for the Huffington Post to do, or is it a sign of changing times?
ASE: I think both. I know that’s a cop out, but I think Arianna took a huge risk. Arianna probably didn’t even know that when she asked me to collaborate then eventually to leave Al Jazeera to join her, she didn’t know probably that I was Palestinian, I would argue that she probably thought I was Egyptian, because at the time when I was speaking about what was happening in the region without really mentioning Palestine. Arianna really believes at the end of the day – and that’s part of her own political views and the way in which the Huffington Post has evolved, she really believes in transparency.
I think as long as that person is transparent and is accountable to his or her words and their reporting and all that stuff, then that’s what it should be about and that’s what the Huffington Post is about……I’m not particularly ideological or dogmatic when it comes to my beliefs. A lot of my Palestinian friends yell at me and say I normalize things when I talk to Israelis and acknowledge their right to exist.
TDB: Do you feel a lot of pressure with your role?
ASE: Is it a lot of pressure? Yeah. I have so many friends in the Muslim world, primarily in Palestine, who think that I am their outlet for reaching the wider American world and that’s not the case. I can’t just be a megaphone for what everyone wants to say.
Israel is feeling the heat from the international community after declaring it would build 3000 new settlement homes on Palestinian territory, with the UN going as far as calling the move as ‘an almost fatal blow’ to to the peace process. From the BBC:
Britain and France have both summoned Israeli ambassadors in protest at Israel’s decision to approve the construction of 3,000 new homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The UK said the move would cast doubt on Israel’s “stated commitment to achieving peace with the Palestinians”.
Israel authorised the 3,000 additional housing units a day after the UN voted to upgrade Palestinian status.
The UN warned the homes would be “an almost fatal blow” to peace hopes.
Sweden also summoned the Israeli ambassador, while Russia and Germany expressed their opposition to the settlement plans.
Israel also announced that it would withhold more than $100 million in taxes and customs duties that Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinians each month, saying it would use the money to pay off Palestinian debts to Israeli companies. Withholding the funds endangers the sustainability of the government in the West Bank as the money is vital in keeping it afloat.
In typical fashion, Netanyahu has pledged to ignore the international community and go ahead with the punitive measures designed to inflict maximum damage to the Palestinians for declaring statehood. Netanyahu told his cabinet:
“Accordingly, the government of Israel rejects the U.N General Assembly decision….Today we are building, and we will continue to build in Jerusalem and in all areas that appear on Israel’s map of strategic interests.”
Even the US has condemned the latest actions of the Israeli government with Hillary Clinton telling an audience at the Saban Center think tank in Washington:
“Let me reiterate that this administration, like previous administrations, has been very clear with Israel that these activities set back the cause of a negotiated peace.”
The petty and incredibly damaging measures taken by Israel are again, completely self defeating. As public opinion around the world turns against them, they isolate themselves further and endanger their own survival in a region that is inherently unstable and increasingly hostile. New Arab governments won’t placate Israel as they did before the Arab Spring, and European countries will be less willing to provide political support as their populations demand action in opposing Israeli aggression. It is only a matter of time until the US has to publicly distance itself from Israel given the implications its behavior has in the region – and then Israel really will be by itself.
It wasn’t enough for Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to push the peace process back by assaulting Gaza and inflicting massive a massive humanitarian disaster on the area – he is now authorizing the construction of 3,000 illegal settlement homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem – to the dismay even of the United States. From Reuters:
Hours after the United Nations voted overwhelmingly to grant de-facto statehood to Palestine, Israel responded on Friday by announcing it was authorizing 3,000 new settler homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. An official, who declined to be named, said the government had also decided to expedite planning work for thousands more homes in a geographically sensitive area close to Jerusalem that critics say would kill off Palestinian hopes of a viable state. The decision was made on Thursday when it became clear that the U.N. General Assembly was set to upgrade the Palestinians’ status in the world body, making them a “non-member state”, as opposed to an “entity”, boosting their diplomatic clout.
The majority of the international community has made it clear that it supports Palestinian statehood and opposes the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian land – two facts the Israeli government is unwilling to swallow. As the Guardian notes:
The fact that Israel won the support of just nine countries, including the US, at the UN has caused a degree of alarm inside the Jewish state.
Israeli officials were shocked at the scale of European support for the Palestinian resolution, with France switching sides and Germany abandoning a pledge to vote against. Among EU nations, only the Czech Republic supported Israel.
Israel’s hardening stance is becoming so out of step with the international consensus that is putting itself at great risk going forward. The vicious response to the vote in the UN exemplifies the Israeli doctrine of disproportionate force and makes getting back to peace negotiations close to impossible – and that puts everyone else’s interests in the region at risk, particularly the United States.
Israel is engaging in the overt colonization of another country in full view of the world with no inkling of remorse. Its standing as a respected member of the international community is being irreparably damaged and it is only a matter of time before the status quo becomes untenable. Votes in favor of the Palestinians and condemnation of Israeli aggression and settlement activity in the international community are just the start. The measures against Israel are largely symbolic at the moment, but at some point they will become economic, and change will be imposed on them from the outside. Andrew Sullivan wrote this as Israel pummeled Gaza with hi-tech weaponry earlier in the month:
Without diplomacy toward a two-state solution, we are looking at a lifetime of constant Israeli warfare against all of its neighbors, deeper isolation in the region (with Turkey and Egypt already fast moving away) and growing international pariah status as Greater Israel becomes more fundamentalist and less democratic. And at some point, as America’s energy revolution leaves us less and less exposed to Middle East oil, and as the national interest becomes more attuned to events in Asia and the Pacific, and as the occupation turns Israel into the South Africa of the 21st Century, the Jewish state will become a self-evident burden for America, spawning terror and conflict and anti-Americanism as far as the eye can see. If all Israel can count on then are America’s Christianists and the current GOP, if they continue to spurn American attempts to unwind the conflict by undoing the settlements, then Israelis should be genuinely afraid for their future.
Sadly there are no signs they understand why they should be afraid. And that means there’s still no end in sight.
What is one of the first things Hamas does when it is fresh off standing up against an Israeli assault and widely perceived to have gained ground politically at the expense of its intramural rival, Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority? It voices support for Abbas’s effort to get his organization’s status at the United Nations upgraded from observer to “non-member state.”
Given the way Hamas is routinely suspected and reviled in some quarters, this move is sure to give rise to explanations that are convoluted and conspiratorial — that what Hamas is saying is a ruse, or is just a tactic for harassing Israel, or is a step toward shoving the Palestinian Authority aside while Abbas is down.
The explanation that is simple and straightforward, and ought to be obvious, is much more likely to be accurate: that Hamas supports the creation of a Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel, and that diplomacy is the preferred way to achieve that goal. That’s all that anyone who endorses Abbas’s initiative at the U.N. is signing up to.
And it is what everyone with a hand in this long-running conflict — including Israel, the Palestinians, the Quartet and the Arab League — claims to support. The Hamas spokesman said that his organization supports any political gains that Abbas can make at the U.N. “without causing harm to the national Palestinian rights.”
Although some saw this position by Hamas as surprising, there is no reason for any surprise. Hamas has repeatedly made clear that it will support the establishment of a Palestinian state limited to the 22 percent of the mandate of Palestine that would be represented by the 1967 borders, provided that such a settlement is approved by a majority of Palestinians in a referendum.
The land swaps that are generally recognized as being necessary to accommodate some of the facts that Israel has established on the ground since 1967 represent a small step from that formula, as long as the 1967 borders are taken as the starting point for any such trades.
And yet the government of Israel, and Americans who sing that government’s tune, and much of the American media habitually describe Hamas and the objectives of Hamas as something much different. The usual formula is something like “Hamas is dedicated to the destruction of Israel.”
Attempts to substantiate such a description often point to Hamas not having formally recognized Israel and its right to exist. Well, it hasn’t, but neither has Israel recognized any right of Hamas to exist (even after Hamas won a free all-Palestinian election).
Not only that, but Israel has done everything it can to try to squeeze Hamas out of existence, going to the extreme of collectively punishing the population of the Gaza Strip in an unsuccessful effort to do so. It is Israel that appears to be dedicated to the destruction of Hamas. Why should Hamas be expected to bestow the first recognition, gratis, under such circumstances?
One also often hears that all Hamas is offering is a hudna or truce, rather than a commitment to a final settlement. That will be a distinction without a practical difference. The agreement that ended the Korean War 59 years ago is only a hudna, but that peace has held even though the regime north of the armistice line is far more erratic, illegitimate, and downright scary than Hamas.
Besides, anyone can see — and Hamas’s leaders are not dummies — that Israel, the strongest state in its region, is here to stay no matter what its borders. Even if the most extreme, negative assumptions about Hamas’s intentions and objectives were true (and they very likely are not), being part of (or even being the ruling party in) a Palestinian state in that 22 percent would not bring it any closer to being able to destroy or even undermine Israel.
Instead, it would have that much more to lose from the certain retaliation if it were to renege on an agreement that finally established the long-sought Palestinian state.
An upgraded status for Palestinians at the United Nations merely levels somewhat the diplomatic playing field for the bilateral negotiations that will still be needed to bring a real Palestinian state into existence, as well as reconfirming the objective that everybody involved says they share. It would thus be a positive step.
Don’t just listen to what Abbas or Hamas say on the subject. See what former Israeli diplomat Yossi Beilin, who helped to craft the Oslo accords, says about it. See also the statement on the subject by Gro Harlem Brundtland, who was the Norwegian prime minister at the time the accords were negotiated, and Jimmy Carter, who based on his past experience also knows a thing or two about Arab-Israeli negotiations.
Probably some in Israel and the United States will see Hamas’s endorsement of Abbas’s U.N. initiative as another reason to oppose the initiative. If the governments of Israel and the United States continue foolishly to oppose this move and to invest political capital in trying to defeat it, we will have come in a sense full circle.
The organization that is continually accused of not wanting a peaceful diplomatic settlement will have signed on to a process aimed at moving toward such a settlement and giving it additional multilateral approval. It will be its chief accusers who fail to do so.
Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)
The 193-nation U.N. General Assembly on Thursday overwhelmingly approved the de facto recognition of the sovereign state of Palestine after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called on the world body to issue its long overdue “birth certificate.”
The U.N. victory for the Palestinians was a diplomatic setback for the United States and Israel, which were joined by only a handful of countries in voting against the move to upgrade the Palestinian Authority’s observer status at the United Nations to “non-member state” from “entity,” like the Vatican.
Britain called on the United States to use its influence to help break the long impasse in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Washington also called for a revival of direct negotiations.
There were 138 votes in favor, nine against and 41 abstentions. Three countries did not take part in the vote, held on the 65th anniversary of the adoption of U.N. resolution 181 that partitioned Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states.
Thousands of flag-waving Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip set off fireworks and danced in the streets to celebrate the vote.