27 August 2006

The Duty of a Leader

Common Sense
John Maxwell

On February 8, 2003 I wrote: "Never fear, the PNP can produce, at a moment's notice, someone as irrelevant to our problems as Mr Seaga. They will be doing their damnedest to thwart Portia Simpson Miller, the only top politician who shows any signs of being able to listen to the people or to understand what they say.

"In my view, and I am clearly prejudiced, Portia Simpson is the only Jamaican politician now capable of leading a movement for the building of a nation out of the atomised parts of what was once a proud and honest people. If we do not return to that path, 'dog nyam we supper'."

That was three years ago. My opinion has not changed.

On Monday, Jamaica's fastest-growing and most vital city, May Pen, was closed for business. It was shut down by what the Press described as a mob, bands of people outraged by the behaviour of the police, demanding justice for four alleged gunmen, shot dead by the police on Saturday.

According to the police, they carried out a "targeted operation" in Alexandria, on the Chapelton Road, where they killed two brothers, one 21, the other a year older, and two teenagers. According to the police, they recovered three pistols from the four corpses. Not one surrendered.

The demonstrators said it was murder. According to them, there was no shoot-out, and the guns had been planted by the police.

It isn't easy or wise to contradict the police version of violent confrontations - as I am aware from more than 40 years of writing about such encounters. In the first place, the presumption is that the police, being a fine, upstanding body of men and women, sworn to uphold the law and acting in the best interests of the community, have a decided advantage when they testify in court.

Judges, juries and the public they represent are normally on the side of law and order and deplore criminal behaviour of any kind. On the other hand, the people usually shot by the police are almost always described as 'wanted men", even if nobody inside or outside of the force knew that they were wanted before they died. In fact, they are usually the unwanted members of the society, dropouts, no-hopers, usually with few friends and no money.

According to the police, many of these young men, some no more than boys, are so hardened in vice and so desperate, that as soon as they see policemen they open fire at them. Some of the behaviours described by the police are so outlandish as to verge on the fantastic.

In Grants Pen Four Roads a few years ago, the police described shooting two boys who, according to them, had ridden past the police on bicycles and when challenged, had leapt off their bicycles and began firing at the police. As I commented at the time, the young men seemed to be kamikaze acrobats, rather than, as proved later, just two ordinary boys walking home (not riding) after 'liming' at Half-way-Tree.

Even if the police's May Pen story is true in every particular, the society should be really alarmed at two things:
  • First, that there are people in this society so desperate and depraved that they only need to see a cop to begin hostilities; and
  • Second, that there are people willing to violently and publicly demonstrate their solidarity with such despicable desperadoes.
If the young men are so terminally desperate, how did they get that way?

What is it in their lives that makes them so careless of death that they will continually confront superior forces of heavily-armed police, knowing that there is no recent record of the police losing any of the shoot-outs in which they have been engaged?

Why are our youth so keen on police-assisted suicide?

Do they consider themselves so worthless and so lost that anything is better than life?

Don't the people who show solidarity with these men understand that eliminating criminals is good for them and the rest of the society?

Don't they understand that the more criminals killed by the police, the happier and orderly will their societies be?

If the police story is correct, if it is the truth as they continually insist it is, there is something very wrong - dangerously wrong with this society.

If the police story is wrong, if it is a lie, there is something very wrong - dangerously wrong with this society. Whichever of the stories is true is immaterial. Whichever of the stories is true demonstrates that this society is sick, diseased, and in urgent need of fixing.

Waiting for Portia

I have been an admirer of Portia Simpson Miller almost from the first day I met her, more than 30 years ago. Although she was hardly more than a schoolgirl at the time, she struck me as a very clear-eyed, straight and straightforward woman with a developing vision of what Jamaica could be.

She didn't believe in airy-fairy solutions. She understood that development was about people, not about concrete and steel. She knew that people wanted work, not simply jobs, but work to fulfil their ideas of themselves. She understood that creative work which involved the whole person was the answer to many of the problems of alienation, exclusion and misery which beset the people of whom she was so unapologetically representative.

She was not afraid to stand, almost alone, in defending her people when they were savagely attacked in the 1970s. I remember one weekend in July 1980 when she had to find from God knows where, the funds to bury 17 of her constituents, gunned down in partisan warfare.

She did not flinch, she did not run away. Despite the fact that her constituency was viciously polarised and as badly neglected by her own government as it had been by the JLP, she built a community of interest there in which former enemies became reconciled to each other and a measure of peace introduced into what was a battleground created by others.

While most Jamaicans do not know the details of her work, there is an intuitive sense of who Portia is among most people. Which is why there was such unbounded celebration at all levels of the society when she triumphed in the leadership contest in the PNP earlier this year.

What she inherited was a national movement which had lost its way and forgotten its historic purpose. Patterson had recreated the PNP as a more efficient and globally serviceable version of the JLP. It was more efficient and ruthless about liberalisation, privatisation and retrenchment than the JLP would ever have dared to be. Its policies have created more millionaires in the last 14 years than existed in the entire Caribbean before then.

The transfer of wealth from poor to rich proceeded at a pace unmatched even in the satellites of the former Soviet Union. In one of the most economically unequal and savagely unjust societies on the planet it is now chic to speak about "wealth creation" without admitting that wealth creation goes hand-in-hand with poverty creation.

Most Jamaicans know very well what has been happening. They know that, like a smouldering dung heap, Jamaica is ready to erupt into flames. And they believe that Portia Simpson Miller can put out the fire, and redirect our energies to building a Jamaica of the heart and soul, instead of an embattled collection of gated communities sitting on top of a degraded environment from which all hope has fled and where joy is a refugee.

Most of us, with the exception of the political classes, know that Jamaica's course cannot continue to be business as usual. It cannot make sense for the government to steal beaches, destroy green spaces, provide inadequate schools and keep people from growing their own food.

In a country of just over 1,500 arable square miles, it is in my view a scandal that one family can own nearly seven square miles and an even bigger scandal that the government can contemplate handing over to that family another couple of square miles for factory farms. It is a scandal that the government can even contemplate covering farmland with concrete, so-called housing solutions.

It is a scandal that we have raided the national pension scheme to build highways whose real purpose is to celebrate the soon-to-be-defunct internal combustion engine. It is utter madness to build thousands of hotel rooms in a climate of fear which will, in a few years, destroy mass tourism. It is even crazier to build these hotels in areas which will be destroyed by increasingly frequent and violent hurricanes and subverted by climate change.

In Hanover, the parish council is braying for another super hotel. Why? Because it will produce a few jobs for a few labourers and mass profits for a few contractors. But such hotels will not be about Jamaica, they will be about processing visitors like hogs in a 19th century Chicago slaughterhouse. The only thing they won't capture is the squeal of the processed animals.

Meanwhile, no thought is given to a different kind of agriculture, one based on the care of the land by people and not on the brutalisation of the land by pesticides, herbicides and expensive machinery.

If we began to think, it would be plain to us that the tourism industry, if intelligently designed and operated, could provide not only jobs for waiters and housekeepers, but a huge export market for Jamaican produce, organically grown and nurtured with love by people with real stakes in a peaceful, prosperous society.

A Jamaica of the heart

There are people of all classes waiting for Portia to summon them to sacrifice and work. There are people waiting for Portia to tell them how they can help re-think, redirect and refashion Jamaica, how they can help to develop their brothers and sisters, how they can teach the illiterate to read and to grow food, lead scout troops, teach children music, dancing, gymnastics and swimming and how they can bring Jamaica back from the brink of disaster.

Sadly, it seems to me, Portia is being purposefully entangled in a bureaucratic spider's web of 'heavy metal development' in which people wax eloquent about trickle-down theory without understanding that education and better domestic environments will not only reduce crime and HIV/AIDS but increase the GDP and public safety. And that the politics of love and care can produce Marcus Garveys and Harry Belafontes out of 'wanted men' and Mary Seacoles and Louise Bennetts out of 'teggeregs' and 'bad girls'.

When Portia Simpson Miller was campaigning for the presidency of the People's National Party she told us, famously and presciently, that we needed to elect not a manager but a leader.

As her paradigm, Norman Manley said nearly half-a-century ago, in 1958 when Portia was still a little girl: "The duty of a leader is to lead."

A few years later, he advised us to 'dis-enthrall' ourselves - to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery. And then he died, but his movement did not die, nor did his ideas.

20 August 2006

Giving Genocide a Bad Name

Common Sense
John Maxwell

According to me, the most important piece of news last week was not about the Middle East conflict. Nor was it about the arrest of dozens of people in England on suspicion of plotting to blow up aeroplanes. Nor was it the arrest in the United States of brown-skinned people with dozens of cell phones in their cars.

My story affects the prospects of life and death for millions of people, so it is clearly of "transcendental significance" to old time news editors like me. But to my successors, the story has proved to be of no interest whatsoever.

What is of transcendental importance this week in the US is the fact that someone has been arrested for the 1996 murder of six year-old JonBenet Ramsay, a person obviously of immense geopolitical significance in the North American scheme of things.

My significant story was one that wasn't even new, in fact; it's been around for years. But when I saw that the subject was due to be discussed at an important international conference I thought, at last, its significance would be recognised and everybody, everywhere, would learn about it and would begin to do something about it.

I was wrong, of course. Who gives a damn if six million fewer Africans or Asians die of AIDS in the next few years? In 1995, some researchers in Australia (Donovan B, Bassett I, Bodsworth NJ) found no connection between circumcision and reduced rates of HIV or any other Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI).

The researchers did warn, however, that research in other cultures might give different results. Whatever the researchers thought, their findings were seized upon by a claque of medical fundamentalists who were out to prove that the male foreskin had invaluable prophylactic properties and was, anyway, more natural.

A frenzied counterattack was launched on the proponents of circumcision, declaring that they were backward, old wives tales' believers, caught up in the remains of a 19th century frenzy to keep little boys from masturbating. A few years ago, it was noticed that among Jews and Muslims the rate of cervical cancer in women was much lower, and this was traced to circumcision. Uncircumcised men were capable of carrying a virus harmless to them, but inducing cancer in their wives.

At the same time it began to be noticed that among the circumcised West Africans, HIV infection was much lower than among southern Africans in Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa itself. Soon, studies confirmed that circumcision was a crucial factor in making unprotected sex less of a lethal lottery.

In Swaziland a century-and-a-half-ago, the king decreed an end to the coming-of-age rituals involving circumcision. He thought the ritual would interfere with his nation's preparedness to fight off the Dutch and British invaders. Today, circumcision is back in fashion in Swaziland.

According to the Washington Post (December 26, 2006): "Even now, with life-saving retroviral drugs increasingly available, the AIDS rate in Swaziland remains extremely high. The United Nations estimates that two of every five working-age adults are infected with HIV. An estimated 20,000 people here last year died of complications caused by AIDS, and in the past decade the disease has lowered life expectancy from 57 years to 33. There is worry that AIDS could severely depopulate Swaziland, a tiny nation of 1.2 million people on the border between South Africa and Mozambique."

Six years ago, at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa, Robert Bailey, a researcher from the University of Illinois, said "I believe the evidence is now compelling enough to consider adding circumcision to the limited armament we already have against HIV/AIDS". Millions have died since.

Several other researchers have produced studies showing the same thing - that circumcision will prevent more than half the probable infections among men and ever more important - prevent them passing it on to their partners.

Last week, Richard Feachem, executive director of the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, predicted that circumcision would increasingly be seen as a lifesaving procedure which all parents would want for their sons. And it would be discussed at this year's AIDS conference. Again.

To end the endless discussion and get action, I think we have to convince the new fundamentalists that the procedure is not evil. We may be more effective if we sell the procedure as an anti-masturbation tool since they are much more interested in our 'morals' than our lives.

As one who had no choice in the matter, I'm very happy my parents made the right decision. Having been around for a long time, I know that I've been - shall we say - luckier than many of my friends; but perhaps it was not luck but management.

Genocide in Haiti

Nobody knows how many thousands of Haitians were slaughtered by the forces of the Duvalier dictatorship and the forces of evil which followed them. In 1994, President Clinton was expressing horror at the number of people "having their faces chopped off" by the licensed murderers of the American-supported, elite-backed Cedras regime.

And on the two occasions on which those same professional assassins succeeded, with US government help, in driving President Aristide from office, the dirty work continued.

Even after the recent so-called elections, when even the Americans were embarrassed by the antics of their puppets in Haiti, the professional murderers are still at work.

On the 215th anniversary of the Bwa Kayiman summons to revolution by the Jamaican-born Bouckman inspired by the female spirit Ezili Danto, on August 14, Haiti's most famous folklorist, 'So Anne' Auguste, was freed after 826 days - 27 months of false and malicious imprisonment. The prosecutors conceded that there was no evidence against Ms Auguste (as they had to), and the judge accordingly set her free.

In 2004, 'So Anne' was taken from her home at midnight on Mother's Day by American marines who blasted her gate open with explosives, shot her dog and arrested and shackled her and her grandchildren - one only six years old - dragging them all off to jail. Meanwhile, people like Otto Reich, Roger Noriega and other Bush spokesmen were talking about Aristide's 'terrorists' and the threat they posed to civilisation. 'So Anne' is a Lavalas activist.

According to the Haitian Press Agency (AHP), President Preval has now threatened the armed bandits whose bloody rampages have continued to terrorise the Haitian people.

The president said that either the terrorists put down their weapons and join the DDR Programme (Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration), or else they die. The unanswered question is whether the United States and the United Nations will allow the legally elected head of state to exercise his legal functions, or whether they will continue to sabotage the 'populist' government as in the past, by withholding emergency aid, by blocking the country from other foreign assistance, by sabotage, bribery and subversion of the institutions of the state.

Messrs Cheney and Bush still exercise an unspoken veto over Haitian democracy, insisting that President Aristide should not return to the country. Since Haitian law does not permit the exclusion of any Haitian from Haiti, it is clear that Bush and Cheney comprise the real constitution of Haiti.

Anyone they declare a terrorist is fair game, and it does not matter what your countrymen think... unless, of course, you happen to be in Lebanon.

Genocide, as defined by the United Nations in 1948, means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, including:
  1. killing members of the group;

  2. causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group

  3. deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

  4. imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and

  5. forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Genocide in Palestine

If the UN definition of genocide means what it seems to mean, it is clear that what is happening in Palestine constitutes genocide within the meaning of the Convention.

As I have related before, the Israeli Air Force on a regular schedule orders its supersonic fighter-bombers to break the sound barrier, creating sonic booms (in the dead of night) over Palestine and post-traumatic stress disorder in children and their parents. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has publicly fantasised about driving all the Palestinians mad by this sonic terrorism.

Here are examples of what seem to me to be other acts which appear to be genocidal. The reports are from the Israeli Human Rights group B'Tslem.
  1. killing members of the group
    At about 4:00 am on July 12, an Israeli air force plane bombed a three-storey building in the Sheikh Radwan neighbourhood in Gaza city.

    The bomb caused the building to collapse and killed Nabil and Salwah Abu Salmiya , who lived in the building that was bombed, and seven of their children: Nasrallah, age 4; Aya, age 7; Yihya, age 9; Ayman, age 12; Huda, age 14; Sumayah, age 16; and Basma, age 17. Another son, Awad, age 19, was moderately injured. In addition, another 40 people who lived in the adjacent buildings were injured.

    According the IDF spokesperson's statement, the house that was shelled "served as a hideout for senior activists in the Hamas military wing, including Muhammad Deif, who was in the building at the time of the attack. At the time, those present were planning the continued military activity of Hamas".

    According to media reports, the father of the family, Nabil Abu Salmiya, who was killed, was a lecturer at the Islamic University and a Hamas activist. As in similar cases in the past, the military has not provided evidence or additional details to explain or justify the killing of innocent civilians.

  2. causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group
    "Rubber bullets come in packs of three encased in nylon. The Open-Fire Regulations state that, 'A pack of rubber cylinders is to be fired when encased with the original and intact covering'." An IDF soldier's testimony helps to explain the unusual injuries.

    The commanding officer "taught us about rubber bullets, he said that they are fired bound in threes, which is ineffective for the most part, because they are too heavy. But if we separate them, they can kill. He added, winking, I am not hinting at anything. The guys laughed and said to him: 'You're not hinting - you're telling us.' He did not correct them."

  3. deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part

    July 11, 2006, six [Israeli] human rights groups petitioned the Israeli High Court demanding that the crossings in Gaza be opened to allow for the steady and regular supply of fuel, food, medicine and equipment, including spare parts needed to operate generators.

    Since Gaza's power station was destroyed on June 28, there is an increased need for fuel to power the generators in Gaza and for spare parts to keep the generators running at such a high capacity.

    Without a steady supply of fuel and parts, hospitals cannot perform life-saving surgery and treatment plants cannot pump and treat sewage in Gaza. Gaza hospitals have reduced their activities to life-saving procedures. Since the bombing of the power plant, Gaza's water utility has been dumping 60,000 cubic meters of raw sewage into the sea each day. There is concern that untreated sewage will pollute the aquifer or spill into the streets.

    Because of the electricity shortages, stores in Gaza have stopped selling meat and dairy products. Trucks laden with food and medicine, including 230 containers from international aid organisations, have been stuck at Karni Crossing, which has been closed since July 6.

    Withholding fuel, food, and equipment from Gaza residents constitutes collective punishment, in violation of international law. The petition argues that Israel is not fulfilling its legal obligations to provide for the needs of the civilian population and to distinguish between military and civilian targets.

  4. imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group

  5. forcibly transferring children of the group to another group

    For almost six years, since the beginning of the second intifada, in September 2000, Israel has forbidden Palestinians of the Occupied Territories from living with their spouses who are foreign residents. Israel also prohibits the foreign family members from visiting the Occupied Territories, and refuses to process the more than 120,000 requests for family unification that have been submitted during this period.

    The freeze policy severely infringes the right to marry and found a family of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians: spouses are unable to live under the same roof; children are forced to grow up in single-parent families; people do not leave the Occupied Territories because Israel will not allow them to return; women who are foreign residents live in the Occupied Territories with no legal status and thus face the constant threat of deportation.
Survival these days is perfectly straightforward. If HIV/AIDS doesn't get you, some bureaucrat will.

13 August 2006

The Donkey Carts of War

Common Sense
John Maxwell

When I heard they'd rocketed a donkey cart in Gaza and killed an old woman and her grandchild as well, I thought that it must have been a mistake.

That was about two weeks ago, so this week I was a little surprised to hear an Israeli spokesman saying that even donkey-carts were now military targets in Lebanon. And when, as I write this, I hear President Bush calling his enemies 'fascists' I know that the world has turned, perhaps in concert with my stomach. Or maybe not.

As Nicholas Kristof says in Thursday's New York Times, the killing of children, even when they lack geopolitical significance, is a tragedy. He was writing about Darfur and Arab genocide. I was also thinking about Haiti, which lacks geopolitical significance at this moment - if one concedes that justice and human rights are of no geopolitical significance.

In Nazareth, so dear to Christianity, an Israeli Arab forgave Hezbollah for the death of his sons from rocket fire, because, he said, it would not have been fired had Israel behaved itself.

People have forgotten, if they were ever conscious, of the suffering of the eight million Haitians, who have been for several years the victims of a slow-motion genocide; and in Gaza what looks remarkably like genocide is going almost entirely unnoticed.

The new Middle East, according to Dr Condoleezza Rice, is, as we speak, undergoing its bloody birth pangs in Lebanon, overshadowing all else.

There may in fact be a new Middle East a-borning, and perhaps even a new world, but there is the distinct possibility that the presumptive parents may well be disappointed in the newborn. It may be a 'jacket', as we say in Jamaica, or a 'throwback', as they used to claim in late nineteenth-century English novels, to explain children who didn't look at all like their fathers.

The intended birth certificate for the newborn was being prepared at the United Nations until the godparents were rudely interrupted by the news that there were interested parties who were apparently disputing paternity.

The document, a so-called ceasefire agreement, was an attempt to repartition the Middle East by slicing off part of Lebanon in a Solomonic judgment and giving it to Israel. That was not how it was described, of course, but that's what it would have been. The government of Lebanon and Hezbollah were among those who objected. Even France, one of the putative parents, realised that the original plan was a non-starter because it ignored Lebanese interests.

The problem really is that neither the Americans, British nor the Israelis, regard Lebanon as a serious country whose interests are of some import. The Lebanese army is laughable. With its 60,000 soldiers, it cannot do as much as Hezbollah can with 2,500 fighters.

And, since Hezbollah has prevented Israel from dismembering Lebanon and confined their advance to a few miles across the border, Hezbollah must certainly have an interest in the planning. But there is more.

Nearly 90% of Lebanese now support Hezbollah, somewhat more than support either the president or the prime minister. The fact that Hezbollah does not formally control the parliament may be a delicious merry-thought for the US but the facts on the ground, as the Israelis like to describe them, are that Hezbollah must be a major player in any settlement or attempted settlement of this crisis. The state, after all, is the party, which possesses a monopoly of armed force.

Hezbollah, backed by 87% of the Lebanese and blocking Israel's conquest of the country, must satisfy anyone who deals in facts. Only Hezbollah can disarm Hezbollah.

The West, including Israel, prefer to see Hezbollah as 'terrorists' rather than what they really are - a legitimate resistance to the occupation of their country by Israel. Their role is recognised by international law, custom, and practice. And they are a natural and predictable response to Israel's behaviour over the last half-century.

In Gaza too, Hamas is the homegrown response to Israeli oppression. It too is a resistance movement, termed terrorist by the US, Britain and much of the European Union. In Europe, partisan groups like Hamas and Hezbollah were crucial in driving the Germans out of France, Italy and other occupied countries. And the epic story of the (illegal?) Jewish resistance in Warsaw can still make your hair stand on end.

The Palestinians, like the Haitians, are not considered mature enough to govern themselves or perhaps, they happen to be standing just where the Christians are intending to shoot, in the words of the old 'joke'.

The Israeli establishment have it as an article of faith that Arabs and Muslims cannot be trusted. They are enormously grateful to Iran's President Ahmedinejab for his persistent imprecations against Israel and portray him as an anti-Semite, like Hitler and the Nazis, and he is presumed to want to wipe Jews off the face of the earth. This claim has enormous resonance among those Jews and non-Jews who believe that every politician says exactly what he means.

It is not frivolous to describe the Middle East as almost as much a semantic problem as a political and religious problem. One important question is, what is the difference between Jews, Israel, and Zionism?

Originally, Zionism was an idea to find a home for the Jews where they would be safe from persecution and employ their genius to provide a 'light for the world'. The nationalist movement was not originally religious although it was based on faith. Not all Jews can be described as ethnically Semitic, while Palestinians and most other 'Arabs' are considered Semitic.

The Iranians or Persians may be largely Muslim but they are neither Semitic, nor Arabs. The so-called Arabs of the Sudan seem to the naked eye to be black, whatever that signifies. This welter of conflicting definitions is fertile ground for anyone who wants to make trouble. It is not so productive for those who wish to make peace.

The current crisis may, paradoxically, provide a serious opportunity for peacemaking, particularly because the other possibilities are so potentially catastrophic.

The fact that Hezbollah has not only survived but fought off the world's fifth most powerful army is going to make life more dangerous for us all - at least initially - but it also has within it the seeds of a more peaceful world.

It is now freely admitted that Hassan Nasrallah has more authority in the Middle East at this time than any other Arab - including Mubarak and Assad. The example of Hezbollah is bound to suggest new strategies to the oppressed of Saudi Arabia, Syria, Jordan, Iraq and the Maghreb. It really doesn't matter if the populations are Shia or Sunni. Hezbollah shows what can be achieved by commitment, discipline, and application and you may be sure that many in North Africa and the Middle East are absorbing that lesson.

This in turn signals serious trouble for the West and its oil companies, for a start, whose fortunes depend on the corrupt sheiks and princelings who share the wealth with them and not with their people.

Israel realises some of the danger in the present crisis. They need to get out of Lebanon quickly without further humiliation or casualties. Hezbollah has now sterilised nearly half of Israel for four weeks, with nearly a million people in bomb shelters and unable to work. At the same time, Israel's destruction of Lebanese infrastructure and wealth has the potential to create a really dangerous enemy right next door.

Wise statesmen should be able to realise that the current upheaval provides a huge and never to be repeated opportunity to encourage serious economic development in the whole region, beginning with the Palestinian state and Lebanon. Prosperous, autonomous states, no matter who governs them, are always more reliable neighbours than desperate, revenge-seeking paupers.

The Arabs have conceded Israel's right to exist. What is necessary is for the West and Israel to concede that the Arabs too, have the right to exist and to develop themselves in their own way, without interference and disruption.

The major problem is that the people of Palestine and the other Arab states neighbouring Israel are continually, incessantly and purposefully libelled as incompetent, shiftless good-for-nothings, only interested in blowing up things and in praying to Mecca several times a day.

It is more or less the same treatment dealt to black Americans openly up to the sixties and more discreetly since then. It is the same kind of treatment accorded to the Haitian people whose ancestors were the first in the world to promulgate universal human rights. Mathematics and writing may have evolved in North Africa and the Middle East, but the peoples of these areas, having lost imperial power, appear to have simultaneously lost their capacity to think.

The Olmecs of Mexico had the curious habit of carving monumental statues of black people - whom European scholars agree they obviously could never have seen - and managed to develop systems of writing and a calendar more accurate than any developed in the 'civilised world' for a thousand years after they went missing from history.

A cursory glance at the history of civilisation and power makes it apparent that theories of race, ethnicity and racism have been mainly developed as means for one set of people to assert their hegemony over another - especially important when both sets of people lay claim to the same resources.

Notwithstanding the effortless superiority of European civilisation, as represented by the Israelis, it seems clear from the events of this week that their hapless opponents, Hezbollah, have been observing what may be called more civilised practices in their war.

Hezbollah has apparently aimed its notoriously unreliable Katyushas at areas containing military targets and, possessed of an unknown but fearsome range of other rockets, have refrained from aiming them at major population centres.

Those aimed at Haifa, for instance, are mainly aimed at the port and the military installations round it, and not at households. Nasrallah has, however, threatened to aim them at Israel's capital Tel Aviv, if Israel attacks central Beirut.

And despite the Israelis' contention that they are engaging in precision destruction, they have managed to kill a thousand Lebanese, mainly civilians, and make a million refugees. In Gaza, precision armaments managed to destroy a donkey cart and kill an old woman and her granddaughter two weeks ago. They were of no geopolitical significance.

While Hezbollah's rockets have paralysed northern Israel, they have killed just over a hundred Israelis, about half of them soldiers killed in action.

To report these facts is dangerous, because people will say that doing so is anti-Semitic and pro-terrorist. But there must come a time for the truth, when avoidable conflict is creating so much grief, agony, anxiety, destruction and devastating the natural and cultural environment of the region and the world.

It is necessary to ask why, for instance, has Israel kidnapped half of the government of Palestine? Why has it since the defeat of Fatah, tried to starve the Palestinians into submission? Why has it been bombing the infrastructure of Gaza, including the power stations, and why does the Israeli army telephone people to inform them that their houses will be bombed in two hours and they had better get out? And what, pray, are targeted assassinations but state murder?

Tactics such as these would do enormous damage to the reputation of Israel and its sponsors if they ever became widely known. The problem is that the western Press, as it is called, conceals these facts in what is clearly a public relations exercise.

Finally, it was entertaining (I can't think of another word) to watch CNN as it discredited a photographer who had doctored a photograph of Beirut bombing to make it seem more dramatic. If the photographer had had any practice in doctoring photos he could simply have increased the contrast and decreased the brightness of the picture on his computer. Poor bastard. He is now an object of abject scorn.

What I don't understand though, is why the US Press has so far not acknowledged the deliberate and damaging doctoring of a video in 2004, which was widely used to discredit Howard Dean, then a presidential candidate. Dean was speaking in a large, noisy hall and had to shout to make himself heard.

The paragons of purity in the US Press used sophisticated techniques to strip out the noise and amplify Dean's voice, with the result that he appeared to be screaming and out of control. He didn't make the cut, of course.

Now, that's what I call terrorism.

06 August 2006

An Eye for an Eye?

Common Sense
John Maxwell

I never got as far as Tacitus; Virgil's Aeneid was the rock on which my Latin foundered, which tells you how long ago I was last in school.

Apart from everything else, Hector was my hero, not Ulysses, and I must confess that when Ulysses ran into the Cyclops, I had a sneaking hope that he would end up as dinner for Polyphemus and friends.

Alas, that was not to be, and it was the noble and endlessly patient Penelope who got him in the end. I mention Tacitus because he is the author of two of my favourite quotations; the first:

"A shocking crime was committed on the unscrupulous initiative of few individuals, with the blessing of more, and amid the passive acquiescence of all." Which I believe pretty well summarises the fate of the Palestinian people, at least, according to the story so far. The second quotation will appear in its own time.

The British, having been mandated by the League of Nations to safeguard the interests of Palestine and its people, both Palestinians and Jews, threw in the towel in 1948 when people whom the British officially described as 'terrorists' and 'criminals', forced the Empire out of Palestine and declared the state of Israel, the legitimacy of which was recognised almost immediately by the "Great Powers" bequeathing the world a problem which more than half-a-century later has only become more intractable.

Part of the reason lies in what seems to be essential qualifications for First World statesmen: an infinite capacity to delude themselves.

So we hear people like Tony Blair, George Bush and Condoleezza Rice proclaiming vapidly, that the present crisis will be solved when the Israelis - or whoever - succeed in disarming Hezbollah in Lebanon. The problem is that this disarming of Hezbollah is likely to take a very long time and cost oceans of blood on all sides. Innocent Israelis, Palestinians, Lebanese and others will be slaughtered before the statesmen's appetite for blood is sated.

The Israelis are not irrational when they say that they dread the proclamations of President Ahmadinejab of Iran, Sheik Nasrallah of Hezbollah and the Hamas leaders in Palestine. And those leaders are in turn, not being irrational when they call for the extinction of Israel.

As they all see it, there is an inexorable logic to their fears. And part of this logic is inherent in the behaviour of the western powers who, paralysed by guilt, have found it impossible to deny Israel anything. And Israel, having lost six million of its kith and kin to European lunacy, holds, quite rationally, that nobody is going to do anything like that to it again.

In pursuit of this entirely legitimate sense of self-preservation Israel has armed itself to the teeth, with the enthusiastic cooperation of the United States, Britain and France and even Apartheid South Africa. Unfortunately for all of us, the motives behind the Europeans's defence of Israel had nothing to do with morality or justice, or even of Israel's best interests. It has mainly to do with oil.

In pursuit of their interests, the West saw Israel as an essential factor in the destabilisation of the Arab world to the greater profit of the oil companies. These companies used to be called the Seven Sisters but are more like four, these days, and getting immeasurably richer. More powerful and unaccountable by the minute.

The Palestinians had been scattered after Israel's War of Independence and the few remaining in Palestine were, it was thought, a fairly negligible factor. Israel carved Palestine into a collection of settlements most aptly described as Bantustans, in a Palestine in which the Palestinians were powerless share-croppers on what used to be their own land.

As Israel has grown mightier, so Palestine has become more abridged. Walls are even now being built in Jerusalem, enforcing a new apartheid. The 1949 walls in Jerusalem were torn down by the Israelis after the Six Day War.

On Thursday, the Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman derided Sheikh Nasrullah for saying that Tel Aviv was the capital of Israel and that if the Israelis bombed Beirut, the Lebanesee capital, Hezbollah would bomb Tel Aviv, the Israeli capital. Mark Regev, the Israeli spokesman, said Nasrallah should read his history books. Jerusalem was Israel's capital, not Tel Aviv.

The Palestine problem is not only about establishing a viable Palestinian state, it is also about the fate of Jerusalem, the holiest city of the Jews and the Christians and after Mecca and Medinah, the third holiest city of Islam and the official capital of Palestine. No one except Israel, Costa Rica and El Salvador regards Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

In resolution 478 the UN declared that Israel's purported annexation of East Jerusalem was contrary to international Law. In 1997, the United Nations Division for Palestinian Rights report entitled "The Status Of Jerusalem" confirmed the UN plan to declare all Jerusalem an international city.

It is ironic that during the Muslim occupation of Jerusalem from the year 638, Christians and Jews living in the city were granted autonomy. And while the Byzantine Christian authorities had not tolerated the presence of Jews within the walls of the city, the Muslim rulers allowed the re-establishment of a Jewish community.

Since the establishment of Israel, as the Arabs have become more fragmented and comparatively weaker, Israel has become stronger and its appetite has grown sharper. As more and more Jews have migrated to Israel from Russia, Eastern Europe and the United States, the pressure has grown to settle the Palestinian problem on Israeli terms - preferably by relocation to some other Arab country.

The Palestinians regard Jaffa oranges as theirs, and the olive groves and other productive areas of Israel were productive before there was Israel. The Palestinians have not only patriotic claims to Palestine, but property rights claims as well. It drives them into insensate fury then, to be constantly told that they are to be driven from the land they and their ancestors have occupied, loved and nurtured for millennia.

Effectively, Israel has converted Palestine into a concentration camp and the Palestinians effectively into prisoners. Although the world through the United Nations has recognised the Palestinian right to independent statehood, the Israelis have refused to allow this development on the ground that they cannot trust the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world, who have held, as an article of faith for 60 years, that Israel is an illegitimate foreign intrusion into Arab territory.

This belief, expressed most offensively by the Iranian president, has until now largely been the only Arab compensation available to a nationalism which has proved inferior in force to Israel. It is, however, as Sadat proved, more of an empty shibboleth than a serious proposition. It seems fairly clear that if Yasser Arafat and Fatah could come as they did, to accept the legitimacy of Israel, almost any Palestinian could.

The sticking point has always been that Israel continues to change its basic demands, and it is now in the peculiar position of saying it wants peace but is unwilling to trade land for peace. The problem here is the Palestinians are insisting on the right of return to their ancestral holdings as well as to Palestine, but, with the enormous oil wealth of the Arab nations and the unspoken reparations owed by Europe to the Jews, there is no doubt that a way could be found to satisfy both the Israelis' demand for living space and the Palestinians'.

Unfortunately for all of us, the current American administration is even more beholden (some might say hog-tied) to the Israeli lobby in the United States than any of its predecessors. American Jews vote, and American politicians feel that they cannot afford to offend them in any way, even so far as telling them the truth.

The result is that Israel has a lock on American politics and that translates, among other things, into an American subsidy of more than US$6 billion annually, almost one-third of the American aid programme to its allies. Another crucial factor is an automatic US veto of any United Nations consensus which does not favour Israel. And, of course, a steady flow of sophisticated weapons of destruction.

As Kissinger said, the United States has no friends, only interests; Israel is by far the most important of all those interests. It has not hurt Israel that two of the most recent US secretaries of state have been Jewish, either by religion or background (Kissinger and Albright), or that two others have important connections to defence industries and oil - Schultz and Baker - not to mention Vice-President Dick Cheney and his connections.

And then, there is of course, the neo-con brains-trust which, in its Project for a New American Century and other publications, sees the United States as a client of Israel, rather than the other way round. Israel for them is the cutting edge of a more fundamentalist American crusade against all pretenders to world power and the guarantor of American hegemony in the arena of Middle Eastern politics and oil.

It was clear - as I said last week, that the latest offensive was long planned, just waiting for a convenient and credible casus belli. By christening any resistance to Israeli hegemony as 'terrorist', Israel could also get into the 'War on Terror' and clean up the inconvenient and pestiferous Hezbollah in Lebanon. After that, Hamas.

When Mr Bush and the Israeli government speak of spreading democracy, the word has a very special meaning. Hamas, which is a social movement, albeit one armed to the teeth, is seen as nothing but a bunch of terrorists.

They occupy in Palestine something of the same space occupied in France during World War II by the French resistance - the maquis. But resistance to Nazi Germans in France cannot, obviously, be compared to resistance to Israel and the United States. These are civilised states. Germany - although producing Beethoven and Karl Marx, was obviously not. To outsiders the difference is difficult to discern.

So, back to Tacitus, who famously declared (and pardon my ignorance of whom he spoke) "They make a wilderness and call it peace". He must have been speaking of Israel's plans for Lebanon. A wilderness right now seems the only possible result of the present conflict.

The brutal destruction of Lebanon in pursuit of 'terrorists' is clearly not going to extinguish 'terrorism'. What has already happened, as I predicted last week, is that the Lebanese people have been radicalised by Israel's blitzkrieg and that radicalisation is spreading like a California wildfire. Hezbollah, which is Shia, has managed to impress al-Qaeda, which is Sunni and normally hates the guts of the Shia. The war on terror appears most spectacularly in Lebanon, to have ignited a Pan Arab nationalism which transcends religious sectarianism.

The possibility of catastrophe in this should be obvious. If the Shia and the Sunni in Iraq begin to see a common enemy because of what happens in Lebanon, the American attempt to tame Iraq is even more surely doomed. The shift by the leaders of Egypt, Jordan and most spectacularly of all, Saudi Arabia, suggests that the neo-cons and their satellites have disastrously overplayed their hand.

According to all reports, Nasrallah is now more popular in Egypt than Mubarak, more popular in Jordan than King Abdullah, more popular in Syria than Assad. The idea of a real, and infinitely more dangerous Muslim Brotherhood becomes every day more possible.

Fundamentalist Americans - the Christian Taliban - are right now joyously urging Bush to push Israel even further, hoping literally to precipitate Armageddon, and accelerate the return of their Messiah and the ascent of the faithful to Heaven - naked and shriven of sin and impurity.

The problem is that the Anti-Christ they fear, being a devious fellow, may be closer to home than they might imagine. And the Bible, whatever its virtues, is not a grammar of modern politics.

Tacitus may be more useful: he warned against the dangers of unaccountable power, against power untempered by principle, and against popular apathy and corruption, engendered by the wealth of the empire which allows such evils to flourish.

In Britain and the United States, the major casualty of the war on terror has been the civil liberties of the citizen. The terrorists, on the other hand, seem to be having a whale of a time. Sadly, some of us, in the days after 9/11, forecast just such a possibility.