The Head Heeb : Knocking Down 4000 Years of Icons
Saturday, June 28, 2003
An incomplete cease-fire?
As most of you know by now, the three main Palestinian factions - Fatah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad - have apparently agreed to a three-month cease-fire in return for an Israeli troop pullout from Gaza and Bethlehem. Israel has also reportedly agreed to "raise the quota of work permits it issues to Palestinians and ease travel restrictions at the Rafah crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, and the Allenby Bridge border crossing between the West Bank and Jordan." Palestinian security chief Mohammed Dahlan, for his part, has reportedly committed to collect "illegal weapons," share intelligence with Israel and prevent attacks on Israelis. If it works, it will be the first real, concrete step forward since Aqaba, and possibly the largest step since the beginning of the intifada.
The trouble is that the truce is only binding on the big three, and a number of smaller groups, including the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, have already announced that they will not participate. This is both a challenge to Dahlan, should he choose to accept it, and a potential loophole wide enough to drive an explosive-filled truck through. The question that must be answered in order to determine whether the cease-fire will hold is whether the "fringe groups" that have rejected the truce are really fringe groups or whether they are the Hamas Plausible Deniability Brigades. If the former, Israeli intelligence will likely record a dramatic decrease in attack warnings over the coming week. If the latter, then a profusion of new "fringe groups" is likely to spring into being, possibly combined with covert Hamas and Islamic Jihad aid to attacks by more established groups. I hope that Hamas is serious and that this cease-fire will signal the beginning of Israeli disengagement from the West Bank and Gaza, but past experience indicates that this isn't the way to bet.
UPDATE: The latest holdup appears to be coming, not from Hamas, but from al-Aqsa.
UPDATE 2: Fatah has joined, and the Israeli troop withdrawal has begun. So far, so good.
UPDATE 3: It looks like al-Aqsa has the "honor" of the first violation, and that at least one faction of al-Aqsa doesn't consider itself bound by Fatah's signature on the cease-fire.
Why the MDC failed
A report by a coalition of civil society groups in Zimbabwe attributes the failure of the MDC's recent protests to a combination of state repression and poor planning:
exhorted the public to "protest peacefully - march for your freedom" and announced that there would be marches in all major city centres.
The report also concluded that the MDC sent mixed signals about the goal of the protests and that its changing positions "smacked of 'power first, principle later.'" Those four words are actually a fairly good capsule description of Tsvangirai; it's becoming increasingly clear, I think, that he won't be the one to topple Mugabe. As long as it's power first and principle later, then he won't be able to mobilize an effective popular coalition - the principled people won't follow him, and the power-hungry are already members of ZANU.
This week's Friday magazine in Ha'aretz includes a very moving story [1, 2] about Israeli Arab victims of suicide bombings. Among the family members interviewed is Hasan Tuataha, whose brother was killed in a terror attack:
Hasan, 48, married and the father of four, the principal of an elementary school in Jisr al-Zarqa, says quietly, "What should I tell you, that I am starting to develop a hatred for the Palestinian people? That would not be true. That I now think that all the Palestinians are despicable murderers? No. I know there are all types. In the meantime, the pain is greater than any anger. Certain things keep going through my mind. The question that cuts through my heart is: How is it possible to come and murder innocent people, just like that, without any thought about what will happen to their families? It's such a barbaric deed that the mind can't take it in. I am in a state of shock. And I was in shock before this, too, when Jewish friends of mine from Hadera were killed in terrorist attacks. I have lost two friends to terrorist attacks."
Others like Bassam Jaber, whose university-student niece Suad was killed while riding a bus home, are more conflicted about the meaning of the suicide bombings:
Jaber: "It is indeed hard to digest. To me, it reflects in the sharpest, most acute and most painful way the impossibility of our situation. On the one hand, we lost Suad. An 18-year-old kid got on the bus and murdered her. On the other hand, we, the Arabs in Israel, immediately get an outpouring of hatred. We are blamed. There is incitement against us. And yet, at the same time, Israelis slam the Palestinians with Apache helicopters, and children and lovely, innocent young women like Suad are killed. What can I say?"
The families of the victims have received varying levels of support from their own community. One of Tuataha's complaints is the relative lack of support his family has received from Israeli Arab organizations. After his brother's death, he was visited by MKs Ahmed Tibi and Jamal Zahalka, but did not hear from other Arab MKs or community organizations. The Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, when reached by Ha'aretz, had "no documentation concerning attacks in which Arabs were killed or wounded" and considered it the state's job to keep track of such matters.
Jaber, in contrast, says that his family was visited by every Arab MK as well as representatives of the Palestinian and Egyptian governments. Both families have also received support from the Israeli government and from the Organization of Terror Victims - the latter of which, in Tuataha's case, contacted the family via a settler living in the West Bank. It seems that Israeli Arabs are as much in the middle when they are terror victims as at any other time.
Friday, June 27, 2003
Five al Qaeda suspects arrested last Sunday in Malawi have been turned over to American authorities while their bail application was pending:
Malawi authorities handed the men over to U.S. officials Monday night, said Fahad Assani, Malawi's director of public prosecutions.
A while ago, I wrote about the manner in which certain international law enforcement tactics developed during the drug war, including the use of foreign police to obtain evidence through torture, were being revived for the war on terror. I can now add to that list the time-honored practice of "irregular rendition," or circumventing extradition through deportation. Essentially, an irregular rendition occurs when the United States submits an extradition request to a foreign country for a fugitive, usually a citizen of a third country. Rather than allow extradition proceedings to run their course, the authorities of the requested state deport the fugitive and put him on the first plane out of the country - which just happens to be packed to the gills with American law enforcement agents.
In a somewhat more irregular version of irregular rendition, the fugitive is apprehended by corrupt local police but without the cooperation of the foreign government, and put on a plane in much the same way. This occurs most often when the fugitive is a citizen of the requested state and therefore not subject to deportation; for instance, Nigerian heroin trafficker John Okpala was brought to the United States in this way in 1994. Neither form of irregular rendition will deprive American courts of jurisdiction to try the fugitive; a long line of Supreme Court cases, most recently United States v. Alvarez-Machain, have held that American prosecutors may bring a suspect to trial even if he was kidnapped outright.
The Malawi affair is apparently the first type of irregular rendition - a deportation of fugitives who were not Malawi citizens, conducted openly by the government of Malawi. Such renditions have historically been a mixed bag. In places like Nigeria, where corruption in local courts has made honest extradition proceedings virtually impossible, irregular rendition has been a means of evening the odds - of using corruption to fight corruption.
Nevertheless, irregular rendition derogates from the fugitive's right to legal process in the requested state and - as has apparently happened in Malawi - it is often used precisely to prevent an honest judicial ruling. Contrary to the Guardian report, the United States and Malawi do have a functioning extradition treaty, signed during the British colonial period and reaffirmed by exchange of notes on January 6, 1967. It is thus possible for the United States to obtain relief through the ordinary extradition process. Moreover, the courts are the least corrupt and most independent branch of the Malawi government, and the Malawi authorities deported the fugitives in anticipation of a court ruling releasing them on bail. In such cases, irregular rendition isn't fighting corruption with corruption - it's corruption, plain and simple.
Human Rights Watch has released a detailed report on abduction of children by the Lord's Resistance Army in northern Uganda, including testimonies of kidnapped children. There has also been some use of underage soldiers by the Ugandan army and by government-organized local defense forces, but this pales beside the atrocities perpetrated by the LRA over a period of almost a decade.
Thursday, June 26, 2003
Jailan Halawi interviews Sa'ad Eddin Ibrahim, Nehad Selaiha discusses advances in state support for independent theater groups, Negar Azimi analyzes the protests in Iran, Lola Keilani interprets the Jordanian election and Gamal Nkrumah writes about Ethiopian, Sudanese and Palestinian refugees living in Cairo.
For those in the DC area
The Smithsonian's Mali festival began yesterday, and will continue until July 6 on the National Mall. The scheduled events, which include a film festival as well as exhibits and performances, will take place simultaneously with Appalachian and Scottish festivals. Anyone with even a mild interest in West Africa should find this fascinating.
Wednesday, June 25, 2003
Nick Barlow has asked me to comment on this article about a neo-Nazi web site run by Russian immigrants in Israel:
The Israeli attorney general has launched a criminal investigation into a local neo-Nazi website that jokes about gas chambers, advocates shooting Palestinians and denies that the Holocaust happened.
The site (which appears to have been taken down) refers to Jews as "Zhids" - a common anti-Semitic slur - and "black arses." The latter, a Russian ethnic slur most often applied to Central Asians, is also directed at "Arabs, foreign workers and, tellingly, immigrants from Muslim republics of the former Soviet Union." In some ways, it appears to combine neo-Nazism with the worst excesses of the Israeli far right.
Last month, the White Israeli Union was the subject of this Ha'aretz article, which provides additional context. Essentially, the emergence of neo-Nazism in Israel is a product of the immigration of non-Jewish Russians during the 1980s and 1990s. Under the Law of Return as amended in 1970, any person having a Jewish grandparent - or the spouse of any such person - may emigrate to Israel regardless of whether he is halachically Jewish. As many as 250,000 non-Jews from the former Soviet Union have emigrated to Israel under this provision, and the proportion of non-Jews has increased as Russian immigration has declined. Israeli Interior Ministry figures for the first half of 2002 indicate that 58 percent of Russian immigrants were not halachically Jewish, and the number may actually be as high as 70 percent.
Many, or even the majority, of these immigrants identified in some respect with the Jewish people, and have become, for all intents and purposes, ethnic Jews. Some, however - particularly those who had little connection to the Jewish people and had absorbed anti-Semitism in Russia - expressed their frustration at poor economic opportunity through hatred of the majority population. In addition, an unknown number of Russians - many of them with criminal records - have obtained Israeli citizenship through completely fraudulent Jewish credentials. These, naturally, feel no particular allegiance to Judaism, and those who were anti-Semites in Russia are still anti-Semites in Israel. Over the past several years, a number of anti-Semitic attacks have taken place in Israel, including "violence and insults, drawing swastika on houses, and desecration of cemeteries."
Opinions vary as to the scope of the problem. Most estimates indicate that the number of hard-core Russian anti-Semites in Israel is in the hundreds at most - and that the great majority of anti-Semitism continues to come from the Arab sector. Nevertheless, the presence of Russian neo-Nazis is shocking, both because they are not easily visible and because Arab anti-Semitism has mostly been passive. There have been very few overtly anti-Semitic attacks by Israeli Arabs; even on the occasions when they have participated in terror attacks, they have not done so with the explicit racial calling card that the Russian neo-Nazis have used. The neo-Nazism of the "White Israeli Union" is something that the great majority of Israelis believed, until very recently, that they had left behind.
Islamic Movement shakeup
An investigative committee empaneled by the southern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel is expected to recommend a major shakeup in a report next month. The committee was set up after the United Arab List, which is dominated by the southern branch of the Islamic Movement, declined from five seats to two in the Knesset election on January 28.
A housecleaning in the Islamic Movement, which has been plagued by feuds within its leadership, may very well be in order. Among the issues being considered by the commission, though, is whether the movement should "drop its decision, arguably the most significant in its history, to run for the Knesset." The more radical northern branch of the Islamic Movement has contested municipal elections but has traditionally boycotted Knesset votes; the southern branch, in contrast, has encouraged Arab Israelis to participate in the political process. Through its well-connected leader, Abdelmalik Dehamshe, the southern branch has been able to exercise considerable influence and patronage.
The southern branch's political participation may now be in question. Although its leadership denies that it has become weaker relative to the northern branch, it may now feel pressure to take a more radical stance in order to re-establish its credentials. This would be a tragedy in several ways. First, it isn't necessary to look to the radicalism of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement to explain the UAL's decline in the last election. Feuding within the party, its failure to run a candidate from its traditional base in the Triangle region and the departure of United Arab List MK Hashem Mahameed to form the breakaway Progressive National Front all contributed to the party's loss at the polls. Part of the problem may also lie with Dehamshe's failure to stand up for Azmi Bishara and Ahmed Tibi when the Central Election Commission attempted to disqualify them - not to mention the fact that Lebanese television, which is popular among Arab Israelis, openly campaigned for Bishara and his Balad list.
More importantly, however, a withdrawal from politics by the southern branch will accelerate the rift between Jewish and Arab Israelis. Israeli Arabs have legitimate grievances against the state, but reconciliation is a two-way street, and if the southern branch follows the northern out of politics, it will amount to a withdrawal from Israeli society by the official representatives of its Muslim community. It will also leave Arab Israelis with fewer alternatives for political participation. The United Arab List, which consists of the Democratic Arab Party and Arab National Party (Mada) as well as the southern branch of the Islamic Movement, will not immediately cease to exist, but the importance of the Islamic Movement in delivering votes will likely take it out of the running in the next election unless it rejoins Mahameed.
If the southern branch does withdraw from politics, a union between the Democratic Arab Party, Mada and the Progressive National Front could potentially be a silver lining. The Progressive National Front is notable for its focus on Arab Israelis' local concerns rather than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and a coalition party led by Mahameed might be able to work with the Jewish parties better than Balad. The same personality feuds that plague the UAL, however, make such a union unlikely; the more probable result if the southern branch withdraws will be an increase in Arab Israeli apathy and a deepening of Arabs' alienation from society. That won't be a good thing for any Israelis, either Jewish or Arab.
A libel suit in Israel
The Israeli courts are now facing a dilemma that has plagued the American judicial system for more than a decade: determining the degree to which Internet service providers are responsible for messages posted by users. Yuval Dror reports on the open Israeli discussion site hydepark.co.il, which is facing a libel suit based on the content of a user-created political forum.
It could be a tough case. Although discussion forums on Hyde Park are not monitored and may be freely created by users, the owners reserve the right to delete illegal or morally offensive threads:
Unlike its image, however, the Hyde Park Internet site is not as permissive as the real Hyde Park in London. "A person cannot open a forum called `Death to the Arabs.' It's against the law," says Shtalrid. So is the law where freedom of expression stops? "Not exactly," he explains. "We have our own moral yardsticks, which don't permit us to open forums that encourage murder and death. But the main criterion is the law. Hyde Park is not the place to whitewash something illegal." And how do the two of them know what's legal and what isn't? "We aren't jurists. We relate to issues the way `a reasonable person' would relate to them," Yanous replies.
The owners also reserve the right to edit or delete individual posts, although, with 6.4 million articles posted in the three years the service has been in operation, the vast majority of posts go unscreened.
Courts in other common-law countries have reached varying decisions as to whether this degree of control is enough to transform an ISP from a passive conduit for others' writings to a "publisher" that is liable for defamation. Since the enactment of 47 U.S.C. 230 in 1996, American ISPs have been broadly protected from liability for content posted by others. Prior to that, however, at least one court had reached a different conclusion in Stratton Oakmont, Inc. v. Prodigy Services Co.. The Prodigy court held that promulgation of "content guidelines" combined with the right to censor posted articles was sufficient editorial control to render Prodigy legally similar to a newspaper, and therefore liable as a publisher. In the UK, where there is no equivalent statute to 47 U.S.C. 230, courts have continued to hold ISPs liable for defamatory material posted by users. In Israel, courts have occasionally followed both British and American decisions in defamation cases, but without statutory protection for ISPs, the British decision of Godfrey v. Demon Internet, Ltd. is likely to be more persuasive than the post-1996 American cases.
Tuesday, June 24, 2003
The Jews of Ulster
Ikram Saeed pointed me to this article, which reminds us that there are more than two religious groups in Northern Ireland:
There's an old joke told in Northern Ireland about a guy in Belfast who is stopped by a ruffian and asked his religion.
There are about 600 Jews living in Northern Ireland, down from 16,000 in the 1960s. They try to stay neutral in the conflict between Catholics and Protestants, but sometimes it finds them:
For some Protestants, the alliance with Jews has more to do with religious ideology than political expedience. They view their ties to the Jews in the context of religion and history.
The article doesn't mention whether Northern Ireland's 2500 Muslims feel the same way.
The Iranian government's balancing act is continuing despite the restoration of relative calm in Teheran. On the one hand, it has banned further protests outside universities, but on the other, it has condemned the "crimes" of hard-line paramilitaries and indicated that it will not interfere with on-campus protests. Iranian Girl (entry of June 23) isn't impressed by the ban and predicts that demonstrations will continue, saying that "no one was waiting for their permission" in the first place. There are also suggestions that other cities may not be as calm as the capital, including one report (via Ayandegan) of an armed assault against a paramilitary headquarters in central Iran. A great deal will depend on whether the general strike scheduled for July 9 takes place as planned, but this could go in any number of directions.
The view from Lira
Emmanuel B'gisha argues that regional economic disparities have helped to perpetuate the LRA's war against the Ugandan government. I'm somewhat skeptical; the LRA has done nothing for the impoverished northwest of Uganda, and has in fact terrorized the people of that region more than any other part of the country. If the LRA ever had any popular support, it has long since squandered it through brutality and atrocities. A 1999 Human Rights Watch report concluded that "popular support for the LRA is minimal," and there is no reason to suspect that it has increased since.
Nevertheless, the poverty of the northern region and the poor human rights record of the Ugandan army have given its people little cause to love the government, and these conditions are worth correcting in their own right. If poverty in the Lira district is so severe that outsiders can see it as a plausible explanation of the LRA's continued existence, then it certainly deserves the government's attention.
Monday, June 23, 2003
In praise of frankness
Imshin reveals another reason why New Yorkers and Israelis understand each other:
A few years ago something struck me when I came back from a short trip to Europe. I realized how relieved I always was to be home. The western world is a bit straight laced for me. I love the chaos. I love it that roads aren't perfectly straight. I love it that people are a bit crazy. And bad tempered. And say what they think, instead of giving you a dirty look and leaving you to guess.
I'm New York born and raised, and I've had much the same experience with the rest of the United States. One of the things that unnerved Naomi and me most about our trip to Utah was that nobody ever seemed to stop smiling. In New York, if a person smiles at you, it's because he likes you; in Utah, I could never be sure. Some people may call it bad manners, but I'm more comfortable knowing where I stand.
Gerald Steinberg explains why the security fence is important.
Of pageants, summits and the Israeli-Arab conflict
The Industry and Trade Ministers of Israel and Jordan have agreed to create two new joint industrial zones and expand several existing ones. The Qualified Industrial Zone program, created in the wake of the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty of 1994, allows jointly produced goods to enter the United States free of tariffs or duties. The significant thing about the current expansion of the zones, however, is that they are no longer necessary for Jordan, which now has free access to American markets in its own right:
The U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement signed in 2000 gives Jordanian companies free access to U.S. markets without having to first strike deals with Israelis. But [Jordanian Minister of Industry and Trade] al-Bashir said Qualified Industrial Zones could still benefit Jordanian businesses by allowing them to work with and learn from Israelis with more experience in the U.S. market.
The Israeli-Jordanian agreement, which was reached at the World Economic Forum, is one more example of the quiet cooperation between Israel and the Arab world that is continuing despite the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It's also an example of what I occasionally call the Beauty Contest Theory of Israeli-Arab Relations. These days, no international beauty pageant is complete without a human-interest story about Israeli and Arab contestants meeting and becoming friends. The idea is that when Israeli and Arab beauty queens meet in person on neutral ground and realize that their opposite numbers aren't ten-foot-tall fire-breathing demons, they're able to move beyond the political hysteria created by the conflict. In fact, bridging the initial gap often closes so much of the distance between them that the rest is relatively easy.
The relationships that develop at trade fairs and economic summits are of a similar nature; businessmen and trade ministers may not be as photogenic as beauty queens, but they're also meeting on neutral ground where the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not at issue. The Israeli-Jordanian agreement is a case in point. In Jordan, "normalization" - i.e., the establishment of regular business, professional and cultural relations with Israel - is a highly contentious political issue. The results of the recent parliamentary election, where the Islamist opponents of normalization fared worse than expected, may have strengthened the hand of those who support a closer relationship, but normalization is still a dangerous subject to bring up in Amman. When Israeli and Jordanian businessmen meet in person and roll up their sleeves, however, they have proven quite capable of working together. In fact, even the Palestinians have not let the conflict stop them from joining an Israeli-Jordanian proposal to save the Dead Sea.
A resolution to the Israeli-Arab conflict will, of course, involve issues much more contentious than economic or environmental cooperation. All the same, the ability of Israelis and Arabs to work together on non-political issues is living proof that productive negotiation between the two is possible, and that each is not necessarily the other's implacable opponent.
Nigerians for Sharon
The Nigeria-Israeli Association has weighed in on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Sunday, June 22, 2003
Blaming the victim
A high-level South African official, Defense Minister Mosiuoa Lekota, has finally used strong language to describe the situation in Zimbabwe. The trouble is that his criticism was directed against the opposition:
"After we had prevailed on Zanu and themselves to have the discussions, he now leaves the discussions and calls this mass action thing, that now puts him in jail.
There are certainly reasons to criticize the timing and execution of the MDC's recent march. It was poorly planned, badly coordinated and its failure very possibly extended Mugabe's lease on office by several months. Although Tsvangirai vowed following his release on bail that "he and his supporters would continue to exert as much pressure as we can," it's likely that they are too weakened to accomplish much in the short term.
Lekota's allegations, however, ring hollow in view of the fact that Mugabe has been using the promise of "dialogue" to delay real reform for three years, and in view of South Africa's failure to push him to follow through on his promises. It is cruelly ironic for a member of the South African government, whose diplomatic cover has helped Mugabe remain in office, to criticize the MDC for undermining its own position. Indeed, as the Sunday Times pointed out, Lekota's remarks betray an ignorance of his own country's history:
This is a startling statement from a man who was at the forefront of South Africa's mass-action movement, which aimed to pressure the apartheid government into making real concessions at the negotiating table. Lekota should know better than most that the use of state power to oppress a people cannot go unopposed by those seeking a democratic society.
The Times suggests that South African leaders may be haunted by the "spectre of a liberation movement packing its boxes to make way for an opposition movement," seeing in Mugabe's troubles the future of the ANC. Unlike the ANC, however, ZANU ceased to be a liberation movement decades ago and is now nothing more than a vehicle for tyranny. Old radical attorney George Bizos, who was part of the defense team in the Rivonia trial and is now defending Tsvangirai against treason charges, knows who is leading Zimbabwe's real liberation movement these days. The South African government needs to follow suit.
HIV-free in 2016?
Ernest Moloi explains why he thinks Botswana can "raise an AIDS-free generation" by the completion of its Vision 2016 program. I'm skeptical, but there are encouraging signs - HIV infection rates have begun to decline after peaking in 2000, and Botswana is beginning to follow many of the community education measures that have successfully reduced infection rates in Uganda. With Botswana's greater resources, it should be able to achieve similar success with equal commitment.