The Head Heeb : Knocking Down 4000 Years of Icons

Musings about politics, religion, law, art and marriage - what else is there?

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Saturday, April 05, 2003
Personal history

Ha'aretz profiles Israeli historian Shulamit Shahar [1, 2].

Library invasion

The rule of law in Zimbabwe took another blow as police refused to evict ZANU militants from a municipal library in opposition-controlled Harare:

The police... advised the council's municipal police against evicting the youths.

The ruling party's supporters occupied the properties in the run-up to the parliamentary by-election in Kuwadzana on 29 and 30 March. They subsequently turned the properties into bases from which they launched raids on suspected MDC supporters in the constituency.

This may be a sign that the tactics of the farm invasions are now being unleashed against the MDC - a measure that has a perverse sort of logic from Mugabe's point of view, given his constant allegations that the MDC is in league with the commercial farmers. As with the farm takeovers, it is likely that much of the dirty work of suppressing the MDC will be done by "militants" and "war veterans" who will ignore court orders and who the government will claim to be unable to control. In fact, though, the government will merely be unwilling.

Friday, April 04, 2003
Gathering storm

The MDC still hasn't set a date for mass action in Zimbabwe, but it's definitely being planned:

William Bango, Morgan Tsvangirai's spokesman, said: "This is not going to be a picnic. It's a very serious issue. It's a matter of life and death. It was resolved that the action would go ahead, but the date is yet to be set.

"We have to make sure the people are ready. If Tsvangirai calls for the action when the people are not prepared, the consequences may be disastrous.

In the meantime, the government is also preparing; soldiers have been deployed in Masvingo, and MDC vice president Gibson Sibanda has again been denied bail at least until Monday.

Peace comes closer

The rebel factions in Côte d'Ivoire have finally taken their seats in the national unity government established under the January peace accords. They will have nine of the 41 cabinet seats; these will not include the controversial defense and interior portfolios, but the security forces will be overseen by a multi-party council.

From Tunisia to the Negev

Avner Avrahami profiles the Ashoush family of the Negev. As usual, the details of family life are interesting, but what's almost as much so is that Hanan Ashoush - the secretary of his local Likud party committee - "is ready to give up 95 percent of the territories."

Thursday, April 03, 2003
Taking it to the country

The right wing NZ First Party will petition for a referendum concerning a pending bill to abolish Privy Council appeals in New Zealand:

[NZ First leader Winston] Peters had been approached by a number of business and legal people concerned over the possibility of losing the London-based final court of appeal to a New Zealand-based supreme court, his spokesman told NZPA today.

"An increasing number of people are gravely concerned about this new supreme court and the idea of (Attorney General) Margaret Wilson appointing the highest court in the country is appalling," Mr Peters said.

It was a major constitutional issue and not one to be decided by a minority government.

Peters also "questioned whether New Zealand had the legal talent to staff a final court of appeal," an argument that might make him less than popular with the country's bar. Even if true, this isn't necessarily an obstacle to creating a local supreme court; many Commonwealth countries with relatively small legal communities recruit foreign judges.

The arguments for and against retaining Privy Council appeals have been debated for more than a decade. The majority of Privy Council appeals in New Zealand have taken place in commercial cases, and the business community has generally favored retaining them, as have some Maori organizations that view the council as a bulwark against political influence in local courts. The governing Labour Party and the Green Party, on the other hand, have favored abolishing Privy Council appeals as a "step toward nationhood."

Sabbath inspections redux

Israeli Attorney General Eliyakim Rubinstein has weighed in on Industry and Trade Minister Ehud Olmert's decision to suspend the work of Sabbath-closing inspectors:

In a letter to Olmert, Rubinstein wrote that the political or ministerial level did not have the authority to freeze the implementation of a law, and that an existing piece of legislation could only be altered by the Knesset.

Officials in the Industry and Trade Ministry said Olmert was studying the matter and had yet to make a decision regarding the Sabbath inspectors.

The suspension had caused the first coalition crisis in the current government, with Mafdal threatening to withdraw. Mafdal was assuaged by Sharon's promise that the law would continue to be enforced, but Olmert's latest remarks may have thrown this promise into doubt.

Rubinstein's right; ministers shouldn't have the power to rewrite the law on their own, especially in highly sensitive areas. On the other hand, ministers are entitled to a certain amount of autonomy and discretion to set their own enforcement priorities, and the line between the two isn't always clear. I suspect that Olmert might take his time "studying the matter," and that Sharon won't press the issue very hard.

Notes from the classroom, part 4

I was observed today, a ritual that all adjuncts and non-tenured professors must undergo once a semester. Fortunately, the observer caught me on a day when I was on my game, and most of his comments were good. He had two criticisms, though, one of which I agree with and one I don't.

His first objection was a point of classroom practice - my habit of asking questions of the entire class rather than calling on particular people. That's a deliberate choice on my part. As far as I'm concerned, my students are adults and are in my class because they chose to be; I don't consider it my job to babysit or police them. If any of them don't want to pay attention, that's their business, and I find that the class benefits more from the observations of willing participants than from the discomfiture or embarrassment of unwilling ones.

His other criticism, however, made me stop and think. In part, the way I've been teaching my class is a reaction to the way I was taught in law school. Many law professors think of law school as a liberal arts institution rather than a trade school, and teach law as if it were one of the humanities rather than a practical skill. This means that, in most law schools, classes tend to be long on theory and policy but short on practice, and they don't always prepare the students for life in the profession. I've been teaching my evidence class the way I wanted to be taught in law school - sharing my practice tips, explaining what really happens in court and applying the law to real-world situations.

In all this time, it never occurred to me that an undergraduate college is a liberal arts institution. I have, of course, been aware that I'm not teaching in a law school, but I've always viewed the difference in terms of the students' sophistication rather than the focus of the class. The observer's comments, however, made me realize that most of the people I'm teaching won't become lawyers, and that they aren't going to trade school. For them, a humanities focus might be more appropriate.

I don't plan to jam my thinking entirely back into the box. The class has, for the most part, enjoyed my practical discussions and courtroom role-playing exercises, and I'll keep on teaching them about how the law really works. From now on, though I think I'll mix a bit more of the why in with the how.

Wednesday, April 02, 2003
The Palestinian connection

It looks like Yasser Arafat may have played a part in freeing Newsday reporters Matthew McAllester and Moises Saman from a Baghdad prison:

Ed Abington, a former U.S. consul general in Jerusalem who is now a Washington, D.C.-based adviser to the Palestinian Authority, said McAllester and Saman may owe their freedom in large part to the intervention of Arafat.

Abington said that he had spoken twice with Arafat by telephone in the past few days and that Arafat agreed to try to help free the journalists. Arafat then instructed one of his former ambassadors to Iraq to contact the head of Iraqi military intelligence, who confirmed the journalists were being held and then apparently helped order their release, Abington said.

Saman is part Palestinian, and his relatives in the West Bank are also believed to have contacted Arafat.

Arafat's role as intermediary makes an odd sort of sense. On the one hand, the Palestinian Authority has long-standing ties with the Iraqi regime, which has given money to the families of suicide bombers. On the other hand, the prominence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the West, and the number of Americans who have diplomatic or advisory connections with Arafat, gives the PA a presence in America that other pro-Saddam governments don't have. Those may be the wrong reasons, but they put the PA in exactly the right place to act as mediator; it was easier for Newsday to reach out to the Palestinians than to anyone else who might have influence in Iraq.

And it worked - Arafat made a phone call, and two imprisoned reporters are on their way home. I've never made a secret of my dislike for Arafat, and his general track record on freedom of the press isn't very good, but this time he took the opportunity to do the right thing. This goes out to Arafat from a former reporter: just this once, thank you.

Reviewing an outdated law

The Israeli Supreme Court has ordered the government to show cause why a Mandate-era law giving the Interior Ministry the power to close newspapers should not be struck down. This order, made in response to a petition by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, may be a signal that the high court - which has frequently expressed its impatience with press restrictions - now intends to end them entirely. If it does so, it might find a sympathetic ear in an unexpected place; the Interior Ministry itself. Unlike former minister Eli Yishai, who wasn't shy about exercising his press control powers during his tenure, current Interior Minister Avraham Poraz has expressed doubt about whether newspaper closures are appropriate in a democratic society. He's right, and the court should take this opportunity to advance freedom of the press in Israel.

War crimes trials: not in Belgium anymore

The lower house of the Belgian parliament has approved sweeping amendments to the war crimes law under which Ariel Sharon was threatened with prosecution:

Under the amendments, the 10-year-old law would apply only for war crimes committed in countries lacking democratic credentials and unable to cope with fair trials. Other complaints would be sent on to the countries concerned.

The immediate catalyst for the reforms - which are expected to be approved by the Senate in short order - was the filing of a complaint against George Bush and Colin Powell by Iraqi survivors of the 1991 Gulf War. The complaint against Sharon, which had been brought in connection with the Sabra and Shatila massacre, had caused major strain in Belgian-Israeli relations, and the prospect of similar tension with the United States was evidently unappealing to the Belgian government.

The proposed reform will go a long way toward narrowing the scope of the Belgian law, which effectively made Belgium the arbiter of crimes against humanity throughout the world. An even more effective reform, however, would be to eliminate the possibility of private prosecutions. It is the accessibility of the Belgian criminal justice system to private parties, more than anything else, that has allowed groups with a political agenda to hijack the legal process. Prosecuting crimes should be the job of prosecutors, not political pressure groups.

Calm before the storm?

The anticipated mass protests in Zimbabwe don't appear to have materialized thus far; on the second day after the expiration of the MDC's ultimatum, the streets of Harare are quiet. The government-owned Zimbabwe Herald attributes the calm to lack of support for the ultimatum and, in somewhat contradictory fashion, to the MDC's alleged complacency after its victory in this weekend's by-elections. My guess is that Harare's silence has more to do with well-orchestrated government intimidation, poor planning by the MDC and the disruption caused by the arrest of MDC vice president Gibson Sibanda (who has reportedly been denied bail). It's likely that the calm is temporary; MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai has said that the party will exercise its right to protest "at a time and manner of our choosing," and I expect that time to be sooner rather than later.

Enemies and teachers

An article in today's New York Times contained the following interesting observation, credited to Palestinian political scientist Khalil Shikaki of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research:

Palestinians also worked in Israel and watched Israeli television. They saw that, for its own citizens, the Israeli system had distinct virtues. This is not easy for even ardent Palestinian democrats to acknowledge.

Yet since 1996, Dr. Shikaki has been polling Palestinians about what governments they admire, and every year Israel has been the top performer, at times receiving more than 80 percent approval. The American system has been the next best, followed by the French and then, distantly trailing, the Jordanian and Egyptian.

This actually doesn't surprise me, although I've never seen it in statistical form. I've heard anecdotal versions before, in the form of intifada leaders' stories of how they learned about democracy while watching television in Israeli prisons, and the latest PCPSR poll seems to confirm that most Palestinians want what they see on television. Of the 1319 Palestinians surveyed, 65.5 percent rated Israeli democracy as "good" or "very good" - and this was in a poll taken in November 2002, after Operation Defensive Shield.

Of course, much of the reason for this admiration for Israeli democracy may be the Palestinians' proximity to Israel; if Palestine shared a border with the United States and Palestinians grew up on a diet of American television, then they would likely rate the United States above Israel. Still, it seems that Palestinians recognize what all too many of their supporters abroad do not - that Israel, for all its flaws, is a country in which democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law are real.

Tuesday, April 01, 2003
Ever wonder what they eat in Somaliland?

A Taste of Africa has pictures.

A new beginning?

Central African Republic coup leader François Bozize appears to be following through on his promise to form a multi-party cabinet by naming a slate of ministers from a broad coalition of political factions, including the party supported by ousted president Ange-Félix Patasse. Earlier, Bozize had appointed Abel Goumba, one of the CAR's founding fathers, as prime minister, and today's cabinet appointments were substantially Goumba's choice.

Bozize's coup has been widely condemned outside the CAR, but it appears to be more popular in the republic itself, where Patasse's regime amounted to a repressive kleptocracy. Earlier this week, more than 100,000 citizens demonstrated in support of Bozize in the capital city, a number far more than can be accounted for by government orchestration. It remains to be seen, though, whether Bozize will continue to lead the country in the right direction; the fact that he has not yet set a timetable for elections is an issue of concern. The CAR has been ill served by leadership since its inception, and it is far too early to tell whether Bozize will be an exception.

A find at Ayodhya

An archaeological find may provide a breakthrough in the Ayodhya mosque dispute:

Archaeologists have uncovered a broken pillar with a carving of a lotus flower at the site of a destroyed 16th-century mosque claimed by both Hindus and Muslims, a government official said Tuesday.

The age and significance of the pillar are as yet unknown, but they may shed light on whether a Hindu temple actually existed on the site before the mosque was built. The mosque was destroyed by Hindu militants in 1992; construction of any new facilities continues to be frozen by court order until the courts resolve the question of ownership.

Going out of business?

Nauru can't seem to catch a break lately, with the island falling victim to a dengue fever epidemic and Acting President Derog Gioura in the hospital for a heart attack less than a month after the death of President Bernard Dowiyogo. Every year seems to bring worse news for this island nation, which was at one time wealthier per capita than any other country in the world. With the exhaustion of Nauru's once-profitable phosphate deposits, the island was left as a mined-out wasteland with no meaningful source of income other than offshore banking, and the country was defrauded of the cash reserves accumulated during the fat years. The international financial community's recent crackdown on money laundering has reduced the potential of offshore banking as a reliable source of foreign exchange - a dangerous circumstances for a country where even drinking water must be imported. At the moment, Nauru is little more than a holding center for Australian immigration detainees - a source of income but also, apparently, of the dengue fever.

With economic woes have come social and political turmoil. Earlier this year, Nauru was cut off from the world for several weeks after its entire communication system failed, leaving it with no connection to the outside other than passing ships. This happened just as the presidential succession was going to court, with outgoing President Rene Harris deposed by a parliamentary no-confidence motion but Dowiyogo temporarily enjoined from taking office until the issue was decided. The illness of Gioura, who was chosen Acting President earlier this month by a bare parliamentary majority, is likely to throw the government into even greater paralysis.

At one point during the 1970s, it was proposed that all Nauruans move to Australia. If present trends continue, that may yet happen.

Bishara halfway off the hook

A magistrates' court in Nazareth has dropped charges against MK Azmi Bishara for arranging trips to Syria for Israeli Arabs. The court "accepted the defense's argument that the trips to visit relatives in Syria were of a humanitarian nature, and that Bishara enjoyed parliamentary immunity when the visits were arranged." The court upheld charges against two of Bishara's parliamentary aides, although it is possible that prosecutors will dismiss the case now that there is no longer a possibility of convicting Bishara. It's a good day for the rule of law in Israel; whatever you may think of Bishara, the Israeli courts have shown that they can deal fairly even with a vociferous opponent of the state.

A separate indictment in Jerusalem, charging Bishara with supporting a terrorist organization, remains pending. It is difficult to see how that indictment can proceed, however, in light of the Israeli Supreme Court's January ruling on Bishara's parliamentary candidacy. The challenge to his candidacy was based on the same statements that are the subject of the indictment, and the Supreme Court ruled that there was insufficient evidence of support for terrorism to disqualify him from running. It is unlikely that the court would find the same evidence sufficient to support a criminal conviction, and I would guess that the prosecution sees the writing on the wall.

UPDATE: An Adalah press release gives further details about the court decision.

Monday, March 31, 2003
For those who aren't sure is the place to go for those of mixed heritage.

On the edge

The MDC's ultimatum to the Mugabe government expires at midnight tonight, with no sign of a settlement in sight and rhetoric escalating on both sides. The MDC, emboldened by the success of last week's general strike and its victory in two parliamentary by-elections over the weekend, has vowed that mass action will continue until Mugabe is overthrown. The government has responded with its own brutal logic; in the past week, there have been 500 arrests including the MDC vice-president, and other opposition legislators have gone into hiding amid persistent reports of torture. Some analysts have described Mugabe's rhetoric as "reminiscent of his warning before he unleashed the Gukurahundi campaign" - the military repression in Matabeleland during the early 1980s that left more than 20,000 dead.

To say that the next days will be dangerous for Zimbabwe is to understate the situation. Tomorrow could see Tiananmen Square repeated in Harare and Zimbabwe taking the final step into totalitarian rule, or it could be the beginning of a bloody civil war. Even if the MDC succeeds in forcing Mugabe out of office, restoration of democracy and the rule of law may prove easier said than done. "People power" victories, like that in the Philippines in 1986, often turn into defeats, and an MDC oligarchy is likely to be little better for Zimbabwe than a ZANU oligarchy. A successful completion to Zimbabwe's political crisis will require both vigilance and luck, both of which have a way of giving out when they are needed most.

UPDATE: The MDC has accused the government of issuing arms to pro-Mugabe war veterans.

Sunday, March 30, 2003
And "pilger" sounds a lot like "pillage"

Cinderella Bloggerfeller explains why "fisking" is here to stay:

I know some think the verb "fisk" is out of fashion. But it's just too good to abandon, sounding like a cross between "frisk" and the Spanish "fisgar" – "to pry into" or "to harpoon, to spear". Even if Robert Fisk was just a harmless drudge at the local news sports desk, reporting on the successes of Smalltown Athletic under-5s netball team, it would still have been his destiny to end up as a verb.

A more conventional definition has also begun to circulate around cyber-glossaries. Any odds on how long before "fisking" makes print dictionaries - and how long before the first etymologist theorizes that it is a corrupted Spanish verb?

Land Day

The 27th annual Land Day demonstrations proceeded peacefully today, with about 100,000 Arab Israelis protesting in the Galilee. As in previous years, the Israeli Interior Ministry spent much of the past few weeks negotiating with Arab leaders over the terms of the demonstration, and "[t]he police planned not to make their presence felt in the centers of Arab towns."

Unfortunately, the planning for Land Day lately has felt more like truce negotiations than cooperation between citizens. The Israeli government and Israeli Arab leaders are quite capable of working together to prevent violence at demonstrations, but neither seems to be doing much to redress the real differences between the two communities. In Avraham Poraz, Israel has an Interior Minister who is sympathetic to Arab concerns, but there's only so much he can do in the context of a government that places a low priority on Arab development. At the same time, Land Day - which marked the beginning of organized Arab Israeli political activity in 1976 - has become as much a pan- Arab protest as one intended to secure the protesters' rights as Israelis. This year's demonstrations, in which opposition to the Iraq war and support for the intifada took precedence over local grievances, are in many ways a step in the "Palestinianizing" of Israeli Arabs - something which will, in the long run, be good for neither them nor Israel.