Archive for May, 2008

Horrors we have no choice but to forget

Posted in World Affairs on May 31, 2008 by albasheer
Horrors we have no choice but to forget
Robert Fisk – The Independent May 31, 2008

I have a clear memory of a terrible crime that was committed in southern Lebanon in 1978. Israeli soldiers, landing at night on the beach near Sarafand – the city of Sarepta in antiquity – were looking for “terrorists” and opened fire on a car load of female Palestinian refugees.

It took the Israelis a day before they admitted shooting at the car with an anti-tank weapons, by which time I had watched civil defence workers pulling the dead women from the vehicle, their faces slopping off on to the road, an AP correspondent holding his hands to his face in shock, leaning against an ambulance, crying “Jesus Christ! Jesus Christ. I suppose all this is because of what Hitler did to the Jews.” Save for his remark, however, all I remember is silence. As if the whole scene was muted, sound smothered by the dead.

Yet I was running a tape recorder for part of the time, and when I listened to the old tape again a few days ago, I could hear many women, weeping, cars passing, honking horns above the shrieks of grief. My own original notes state, in my handwriting, that “a throng of women stood crying and wailing”. Yet all I remember now is silence. A child was on a stretcher, cut in half, a girl in the back seat of the car, curled in death into the arms of an older woman. But silence.

I was reminded of all this by an especially powerful interview conducted at Cannes with the Israeli director Ari Folman, who has made a remarkable film – Waltz with Bashir – about Israel’s later, 1982 invasion of Lebanon and about the “collective amnesia” of the soldiers who participated in this hopeless adventure.
Bashir Gemayel was the name of Israel’s favourite Christian Maronite militia leader who was elected president but almost immediately assassinated. It’s an animated film – a film of cartoons, if you like – because Folman is trying to fill in the empty space which the war occupies in his mind. Because he can’t remember it.

“I never talked about my army service,” Folman said. “I got on with my life without talking about it, without thinking about it. It was like something I didn’t want to be connected with whatsoever.” In one astonishing scene, Israeli soldiers come ashore in Lebanon – only to find that there is no one there. They are entering an empty country, washed clean of memory.

Alas, Lebanon was not empty; more than 17,000 Lebanese and Palestinians, almost all civilians, died in that terrible war, and at the end of Folman’s movie, the animation turns to reality with photographs of some of the 1,700 Palestinian dead of the Sabra and Chatila massacre, murdered by Israel’s Phalangist allies while the Israelis watched from high-rise buildings. It is Folman’s dream that this film should be shown in an Arab country – given the dotage and stupidity of most Arab ministers, that is surely a hope that will not be realised – but it did almost win the Palme d’Or at Cannes.

Amnesia is real. And it afflicts us all. But it is also a block to memory. Take my old letter-writing friend, poet Don Newton. He dropped me a note the other day, asking why humans have to create wars and mentioning, at the start, that he remembered the Second World War and, in 1944, Germany’s V2 missiles. What grabbed me by the throat, however, was the penultimate paragraph of his letter, written with an eloquence I cannot match – and whose power and suddenness will shock you, as readers, just as it shocked me. This is what Don wrote:

“I saw some of my friends killed around me when I was 12, when a V2 punched into the road near where we were playing … I was lucky and survived but ran over the road to find my father lying dead by our front gate. He looked for all the world like a grey, dusty broken puppet with his left arm laying next to him. It had been sliced off just above the elbow by a piece of shrapnel that had also cut through the oak gatepost behind him.

“Strangely enough, that sight seems to have wiped from my conscious mind all but a handful of memories of him and those are mostly unpleasant in their associations, like the time I burst into the toilet when I was only six, to find him sitting reading a newspaper, and blurted out that my younger brother by a year had been run over. Peter died in hospital the next day without ever recovering consciousness. This ‘amnesia’ is, I suppose, a defence mechanism but I find it weird and unable to break. I am struggling to put this problem into a poem and, hopefully, when it is out on paper maybe the fog will clear?”

I find this letter – horror and the mundane inextricably, unbelievably mixed together – unanswerable. The V2 explosion turns into a father’s death, the interruption in the lavatory into a child’s death. And a poem to clear the amnesia? Only a poet could suggest that. I didn’t see my father die but I was sitting beside my own mother when she died from the results of Parkinson’s. My memory is clear – she choked on her own saliva because she could no longer clear her throat – and I do remember sitting by her body and thinking (and here I quote another Israeli, a fine and brilliant novelist), “I’m next!”

So I turned, of course, to a haiku in Don’s latest collection of poetry, The Soup Stone, called “Mum’s Death, 1982” – the same date as Folman’s Israeli invasion when he (and I) were trying to stay alive in Lebanon:

“Just sitting, waiting,

For your last slow breath.

Suddenly – it’s here.”

Which is about as close to death as you can get in verse. And there really is a silence at the end.

John McCain’s Navy Flight Instructor Weighs In

Posted in World Affairs on May 31, 2008 by albasheer
John McCain’s Navy Flight Instructor Weighs In – May 19, 2008

I was John McCain’s Navy Flight Instructor — in formation tactics and air-to-air-gunnery. I could write a book about this man. Suffice to state, I shudder (and I’m fearless) at the nightmare thought of this man becoming our next President and Commander in Chief. I am not alone as to this man’s former shipmates, instructors and senior officers — as to who and what this man is really all about. Although politics is really theater and the best performing actor gets to stay on the main stage — sorta like American Idol only much more dangerous to all living things — the performance and the make-over (re-invention) of this man is currently matched only by that of former LTC Oliver North, USMC (Ret.). Together on the same ticket, these two clowns would be real crowd pleasers in this sorry day and age of liars, banal dummies and limp-headed performers.

Thanx for having the guts to put the real deal information on the site re: John Sidney McCain III — since the mainstream media is much too lazy to put the real story on McCain out there for the rest of their lazy consumers.

Best regards,

CDR Jerry K. Loeb, USN (Ret.)
Palm Desert, CA

Editorial: Tutu in Gaza

Posted in World Affairs on May 31, 2008 by albasheer
Editorial: Tutu in Gaza
31 May 2008
When someone of the international moral standing of South African Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu speaks his mind on an issue — and speaks it forcibly, as he has just done on Gaza — the world has to sit up and listen. Arguably more so than any other living person, apart possibly from his compatriot, friend and fellow struggler against apartheid Nelson Mandela, the former archbishop of Cape Town has come to personify and voice the authority of morality in international politics. From his pioneering work to ensure reconciliation between black and white in South Africa during and after the end of apartheid to his outspoken opposition to human rights abuses in Africa and elsewhere, he is a pillar in the struggle for justice and peace in the world.

His assessment of the situation in Gaza where he has been on a two-day fact-finding mission for the UN into the killing of 19 Palestinians by the Israelis in November 2006 is not merely stark and uncompromising; it is damning. It is not so much his ringing denunciation of the Israeli blockade and comparison of the Israelis with the Burmese junta that draws attention. It was to be expected; almost everyone else who has been to Gaza says much the same. What impresses is his accusation against the international community for its silence and complicity in the blockade and the “guilty” verdict he pronounces.

Who in this part of the world can disagree with a word the archbishop says? The Israelis and their supporters will certainly try to present him as a friend of terrorists and morally inconsistent. Indeed, they already have done so. He is, however, just as critical of Hamas. In his meeting with Gaza’s “prime minister” Ismail Haniyeh, he did not mince his words that Hamas’ firing of rockets into Israel is also a violation of human rights. Hamas cannot ignore that.

His condemnation should certainly shame the international community into action. Whether it will depends on the moral fiber of politicians not just in the West. Do they have the guts to respond? Probably not. The betting has to be that they will pretend not to have heard his words.

That is where the peace process becomes so obviously a sham. There can be no peace without Gaza. It cannot be left on the back burner, as the Israelis, the Americans, Fatah and others imagine. The Palestinians in the West Bank will not accept a peace process that leaves Gaza in limbo and their fellow countrymen and women there in misery.

Tutu’s bitter condemnation of the international community for ignoring Gaza recognizes that fact, uncomfortably though it may be for those who imagine they can cobble together a settlement in the next few months before President Bush leaves office. They imagine in vain, for they, unlike the good archbishop, are truly eyeless in Gaza, blind to the obvious fact that it cannot be left aside. The equation is simple: No Gaza, no settlement.

No Comment!!

Posted in World Affairs on May 28, 2008 by albasheer
No Comment!!
Cherifa Sirry’s Blog

Fiery exchange of words and accusations in Arab League between Saudi Arabia and Syria!!

I translated this exchange that occurred between the Foreign Minister of the Kingdom of Evil and the Syrian Ambassador to the Arab League because I thought that it might not appear in Western press. In fact, most of the complicit Arab media also didn’t refer to the fiery exchange that took place yesterday.

The source is the Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar:


Saud el Faisal, the Saudi Foreign Minister offered a long interjection mainly about “the crazy war Hezbollah was conducting in Beirut”. He also went on to personally attack the General Secretary of Hezbollah describing him as “Sharon, because he and the Israelis agreed to invade Beirut”.

El Faisal said that “the constitutional Lebanese government was facing complete war and that it was not possible for the Arab world to stand there powerless. El Faisal adds that is Iran is handling the administration of the battle and Hezbollah is trying to impose on Lebanon “wilayat el Faqih” (guardianship of Islamic jurisprudence) and it is upon us to do all that is in our power to stop this war and save Lebanon even if this requires the creation of an Arab military force that should spread quickly in Lebanon to restore security and protect the existing legitimate system. We have to issue now a statement clearly condemning Hezbollah and Iran through this meeting and we must send a warning to the militias to stop the battle and withdraw. We also have to stand by the Siniora government, thank it for its endurance and provide it with support”

When the Saudi Minister finished speaking, the Syrian Ambassador spoke:

“Syrian Foreign Minister Walid el Moallem is not present for personal reasons. Damascus sees that what is happening in Lebanon is an internal matter in which Syria does not wish to interfere. The Saudi Foreign Minister offered however a biased and partisan series of cover-ups that must be responded to in order for his position not be later adopted for truths”. The Syrian Ambassador then directed himself to the Saudi Ambassador: “you are now revealing your real and partisan position which favors one party of the Lebanese over the other. You say that the Lebanese government is a constitutional government when we all know that it is a de-facto government which does not represent all the Lebanese, but a portion of them… and the fact that it spent 11 hours taking its last 2 decisions meant that it knew the risks involved and the kind of debacle that could arise as a result… and it is the debacle we are watching unfold today. “ The Syrian Ambassador went on to tell Saud el Faisal: “Since you want to send Arab forces to Lebanon, would you like them to go to Lebanon to kill the majority of Lebanese in defense of the Israeli spy and agent Samir Geagea who has today become your ally?”

El Faisal interrupts the Syrian Ambassador: “He is not our ally”

The Syrian Ambassador answers: “He is your ally and he gets from you support and money too. Do you want to impose on us your interpretations and tell us that Iran is the enemy and not Israel which kills children everyday non-stop? You want to send forces now to Lebanon, but it didn’t occur to you to move a finger when Israel was bombing Lebanon everyday without a break? Why didn’t you think of sending forces to face the Israeli invasion then? You also speak about Hezbollah in a hostile way. You and all of us know that this party has changed greatly from the day it was established. It sacrificed enormously for its country Lebanon as well as for the ‘Umma’ and such sacrifice is only offered by those who are looking for the benefit of their country.

As for Iran which stood by us and our concerns, you now want to convince us that Iran in an enemy? A while ago when we spoke in a closed session of Arab-Iranian relations, everyone was eager and no one voiced any objection. This means that Saudi Arabia wants to impose its obsessions on us and this is a matter which we shall not accept. “

Al Faisal responded by saying that Iran supported rebellion. Al Faisal added speaking directly to the Syrian Ambassador: “ you are addressing me and speaking about our position as though we were allied with Israel. If you repeat such talk, I will take a different position with you.”

The Syrian Ambassador answers sharply: “don’t threaten me. If you try to change your words, you will hear from me what you never heard from anyone before. I am telling you and everyone in this meeting that the Arab League has to be impartial and fair towards all parties in Lebanon and there is the Arab Initiative which we issued here and which the Secretary General knows is a plan that has already been welcomed by all parties in Lebanon on the basis of an entire package and not just a series of separate steps.”

Internal disagreements had started in the beginning of the session as a result of Egypt and Saudi Arabia’s insistence that the final statement include a “condemnation” of the Lebanese opposition forces that took control of Beirut. Arab sources said that the Secretary General of the Arab League “was not in favor of putting together an extended Arab committee that would take-over the responsibility of mediating between the different factions and that he preferred a small committee limited to Qatar and Djibouti in order to be more effective.”

Sources said also that while Arab countries were busy competing for participation in the committee, General Secretary Moussa’s reservations were ignored in spite of his indication that a wider committee would not achieve its goals.

No Shame No Pain

Posted in World Affairs on May 28, 2008 by albasheer
No Shame No Pain
Cherifa Sirry’s Blog – 26/05/2008

A public bow from the US to Hezbollah and the Lebanese opposition

The US Chargé d’Affaires in Lebanon, Ambassador Michele J. Sison has certainly changed her tune during those past 10 days. We are not seeing her grumpy face or hearing her usual criticism regarding the Lebanese resistance and opposition. Quite the contrary, ambassador Sison seems to have developed a sudden affection for the Lebanese opposition and is making a definite effort at socializing with it and at being cheerful and charming, What a change from the days – not too far ago- when ambassador Sison and the notorious ambassador Feltman were only chummy and charming with their agents Jumblaat and Gaegae, the March 14th Forces and the Siniora government!

As I watched the news yesterday, I couldn’t help but laugh. I particularly enjoyed ambassador Sison’s special effort at being cheerful while repeating and stressing during her various stops the following U official statement:

“the US welcomes the agreement reached by the Lebanese leaders in Doha”!

My my my!! Aren’t those leaders the very leaders that the US considered a terrible “threat to Lebanon’s ‘young’ democracy”?? Aren’t those leaders all “terrorists” as far as the US was concerned?? Aren’t they all allied to some kind of “Evil Axis”?? Hasn’t the US placed those leaders on a list of people forbidden to travel to the US?? Hasn’t the US also frozen their bank accounts??

Now the US has suddenly discovered that those leaders might after all not be “terrorists” and that it might be preferable for the US to ally with them rather than find itself entirely cast out of the Lebanese political arena.

The US really has no shame.

It was only a few weeks ago that the notorious US ambassador to Lebanon (Feltman) was complaining as always about his “disgust at the ongoing shameless attacks on Lebanon’s democratic institutions by those seeking to restore decision-making to Damascus and its allies” and it is barely 10 days ago that Bush informed the world that ” The Lebanese people have sacrificed much for the sake of their freedom, and the United States will continue to stand with them against this latest assault on their independence and security”

Now the US wants to befriend those it’s been threatening and condemning for years – not to mention the 2006 war – because it realizes that without them, the real representatives of Lebanon, the real protectors of its sovereignty and independence from the likes of a “Jeffrey Feltman governments”, the US really has no ‘friends’ in Lebanon.

The US has lost Iran. It lost Iraq. It lost Gaza. It is losing Lebanon… Who is next in line?

The US is adamant on losing all its Arab allies for the sake of Israel and many of us Arabs have reached the point where we feel that the US must now choose between either us or its dear apartheid ‘island of democracy’, Israel.

The U.S. Disdain for Mideast Democracy

Posted in World Affairs on May 28, 2008 by albasheer
The U.S. Disdain for Mideast Democracy
Rannie Amiri – 04/04/2008 – 17:27 | Hits: 374

Intimidation and Violence in Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq
Seasoned Middle East observers have long been familiar with the contempt the United States holds for genuine democracy in the region, despite the equally familiar rhetoric and platitudes to the contrary. One only needs to count the litany of Arab countries considered American allies to appreciate this; all are nations ruled by a collection of monarchs and dictators who have never stood for a legitimate election in their lives.

In 1953, a precedent was set: anyone who dared challenge Western interests or dictates would be unceremoniously deposed. Such was the case when the popular and democratically elected Iranian Prime Minister, Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh, was overthrown in the CIA-orchestrated coup dubbed Operation Ajax after he nationalized the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. The toppling of Mossadegh’s government (engineered by President Theodore Roosevelt’s grandson, Kermit Roosevelt Jr.) allowed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to become absolute monarch of Iran. Shortly thereafter, the nation’s oil reserves were opened up to a consortium of American and European companies.

The authoritarian rule of the Shah, ruthlessly enforced by his CIA and Mossad-trained SAVAK secret police, ultimately gave rise to the 1979 Islamic Revolution and put an end to the line of those occupying the Peacock Throne.

We are still left to speculate, almost wistfully, on the “what ifs.” What if there was no foreign intervention in Iranian politics and democratic rule was allowed to stand? How might have this positively impacted on the development of Iran and the entire Middle East in the subsequent decades?

Instead, the policy of installing and maintaining dictators diametrically opposed to democratic rule made its debut.

Witness the 2006 Palestinian election victory of Hamas, to the dismay and chagrin of the U.S. Although a majority government was legally formed and a prime minister elected, the Palestinian governance suffered a geographic (and ideological) split: Hamas governed Gaza while Fatah ruled the West Bank. Palestinian President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas quickly sought to curry favor with the U.S. and Israel by demonstrating his disregard for the democratic process and rule of law. By appointing Salem Fayyed as prime minister, Abbas assured them the Palestinian leadership would remain fractured and feckless.

But what was the real, tangible result of the election?

Simply, the collective punishment of the electorate.

To exact retribution for voting Hamas into power, the residents of Gaza were made to suffer. In clear and flagrant violation of international law, Israel limited the import of basic humanitarian goods, supplies and services to one of the most densely populated pieces of land on earth, as well as increased the frequency and severity of military strikes into the territory resulting in hundreds of civilian deaths.

Cordoned off in all directions, and out of sheer desperation and necessity, the walls separating Gaza from Egypt where leveled and the population burst forth. The scenes of thousands of Palestinians crossing and returning through the destroyed Rafah barrier were not what most expected to behold. There were no extravagancies or luxury goods brought back from Egypt. Rather, it was cooking oil, fuel, livestock, food, medicine and the staples of ordinary existence. The sight should have not only brought shame to the Israeli government but to largely unsympathetic one in Egypt as well.

As for Lebanon, it is ostensibly the most democratic of the Arab states. The current political showdown between the U.S.-backed government of Prime Minister Siniora and Hezbollah has challenged that notion however. While the country has been without a president since November 2007, the inability to elect a new one after 16 attempts is only a minor symptom of Lebanon’s deeper political woes.

What lies at the heart of this crisis is the unconstitutional nature of Siniora’s rule. There has been no Shia representation in his cabinet since November 2006 when all five Shiite ministers resigned over the failure to form a national unity government (the Lebanese Constitution requires that all of the country’s major confessional groups be represented in the cabinet).

Their demand was for a fair and equitable distribution of ministerial positions. This would also allow them to restrain the hands of the Prime Minister and ruling March 14 Coalition who, among other seditious acts, encouraged the Israelis to extend their July 2006 war until Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah was killed. He was not, but 1000 Lebanese civilians were.

Along with the Free Patriotic Movement of Michael Aoun (who speaks for a significant portion of Lebanese Christians) Hezbollah and Amal have proposed an equal split of cabinet posts between themselves and the government, giving them veto power in an administration that has already cut deals with al-Qaeda affiliated extremists and the Israelis. Rather than encourage dialogue and compromise among all the parties in the spirit of national reconciliation, the U.S. instead dispatched three warships to Lebanon’s coast. It was a very unsubtle message to the opposition.

Iraq too has felt the dire consequences of people’s wish to have a voice in their future. Vice President Cheney’s surprise March visit to Iraq was unsurprisingly followed by a unilateral assault waged by Prime Minister Maliki against the followers of Muqtada al-Sadr. It was only this past February that al-Sadr extended the order for his Mahdi Army to observe a unilateral ceasefire for an additional six months.

Al-Sadr is enormously popular among the impoverished residents of Bagdad’s Sadr City, home to two million Iraqis alone. He also enjoys a significant following in the south of Iraq, rivaling that of Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim’s Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI). Although ISCI controls many governmental positions in the southern provinces, Sadr’s base is formidable and the two groups have often clashed.

Maliki’s own Dawa party and Hakim’s ISCI are both aligned with the U.S. and want to see American troops remain for now. Al-Sadr on the other hand has called for an immediate end to the occupation and the withdrawal of all foreign troops. Other differences include ISCI’s desire to create a federalized superstate encompassing the entire south whereas Sadr favors a unified country under a more centralized government.

To understand the violence which erupted in Basra and other cities this past week, one only has to be aware that provincial elections are scheduled for October 1st and the winner will have a large say in the debate over federalism. Both ISCI and Dawa fear a Sadr victory in these elections.

Encouraged by the U.S., an attempt was made to weaken Sadr’s political and military standing prior to the vote with the attack. The folly backfired miserably however and Sadr’s untrained, undisciplined Mahdi Army was able to handle the American-trained Iraqi Army better than anticipated.

The threat of upcoming elections and their expected outcome unfortunately led to hundreds of Iraqi deaths, thousands of injuries, and the simmering resentment of families who were unable to feed their children or obtain medical care during the conflict.

Whether it is the blowback from the Palestinian elections or the menacing presence of U.S. warships off Lebanon’s coast or the provoked fratricide in Iraq, in the Middle East, the power of the ballot is being confronted by the power of the bullet.

Editorial: Humanitarian Aid

Posted in World Affairs on May 28, 2008 by albasheer
Editorial: Humanitarian Aid
28 May 2008

The Kingdom’s emergency donation of $500 million to the UN’s World Food Program (WFP) to help combat the global food crisis should scotch the myth that Middle Eastern oil producers do nothing to help the world’s poor. The one-off donation — larger than that given by all other countries combined — is obviously not going to end the crisis but it has solved the immediate problem of finding the money to feed an estimated 73 million people in 78 countries at a time when the cost of food, so far this year, has gone up by a shocking 35 percent. That is not merely our view. It is the view of the WFP’s executive director Josette Sheeran: “The Saudi donation will keep many people from dying, others from slipping into malnutrition and disease, and will even help to stave off civil unrest,” she said on Saturday. For UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the grant comes not a moment too soon, given the scale of the crisis.

Inevitably, in contrast to his praise, the diehard Islamophobes and Arab-bashers around the world bad-mouth the donation, claiming it is merely a PR gesture. That says far more about their willful ignorance of the truth and nothing about the reality of Saudi aid.

While boosted oil revenues may have decided the size of the donation, which has given the WFP a $215-million surplus on its $755-million appeal, this is not a one-off gesture. Saudi Arabia has long been a major and generous provider of foreign aid. Over the past 30 years it has given over $85 billion for international humanitarian and relief work. That equates to 4 percent of GDP, making the country the biggest giver in per capita terms in the world. Yet the myth about tight-fisted oil producers or only giving to Muslim recipients persists. Saudi Arabia gives to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Two years ago, it provided aid to help people living in rubbish dumps in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh; Cambodians are not noticeably Muslim; they are largely Buddhist. Likewise, the WFP donation is not ring-fenced for Muslims.

In part the myth is the oil producers’ own doing. The Kingdom and others do not, on the whole, make a song and a dance about their aid programs, preferring simply to get on with the job of providing aid where it is needed with a minimum of fuss and publicity. Who, outside Kuwait, for example, was aware that last month it set up a fund to help poor Muslim countries deal with the food crisis?

Saudi Arabia has done its part; it is up to others to do theirs. A glance at the WFP’s list of donors shows how pathetic donations have been. The Americans, Canadians, Japanese and most Europeans (although not all) have always been relatively generous in their giving but the donations of other wealthy countries, a few oil producers among them it has to be admitted , look downright mean. Indeed, some major oil producers do not give anything at all. That is their choice but it is both irresponsible and immoral. It is certainly not our way.