Saturday, January 31, 2009
The Conservative budget includes $85 billion in projected red ink, new regional-development programs, industry-specific bailouts and a scattershot of government funding for everything from cultural festivals to community newspapers, the profoundly 'liberal' 2009-10 budget drew both outrage and deep introspection from conservatives from sea to shining sea.
The newly minted Liberal party leader Michael Ignatieff made the correct decision on Wednesday in announcing that the Liberals will support the budget delivered this week. Flawed though it may be, it mostly embraces the approach the Liberals advocated – and its defeat would force the country into another prolonged period of political uncertainty that it can ill afford. Even to play a tactical game of chicken by demanding major amendments in return for the budget's passage could have forced the Liberals into a corner, creating a stand-off that Ignatieff was smart to avoid.
And most importantly Ignatieff has helped end one of the ugliest political chapters in Canada's recent history, and may well have contributed to a greater maturity in addressing the country's enormous economic challenges.
For the Liberals, at least, the threat of a coalition served its purpose. It humbled Harper, and forced the Conservatives – after holding on to government only by prolonging Parliament – to embrace many of the opposition's budgetary demands. And inadvertently, it forced the Liberals to address their own leadership issues, accelerating the replacement of Stéphane Dion by a leader with the apparent ability to seriously challenge Harper.
In the long run, however, the coalition was untenable. Forming a three-headed monster of a government, beholden to staunch leftists and sovereigntists, would have destroyed the Liberals' identity and credibility. More important, for Canada's immediate interests, it would have resulted in a fragile and unwieldy government at a time when strong and steady leadership is required.
Monday, January 26, 2009
One morning two months ago, Shamsia Husseini and her sister were walking through the muddy streets to the local girls school when a man pulled alongside them on a motorcycle and posed what seemed like an ordinary question.
"Are you going to school?"
The men squirted the acid from water bottles onto three groups of females and was meant to terrorize them into staying home. An attempt to expunge any element of free will in their minds, to literally burn or sear obedience into them. These despicable acts are an apt expression of the medieval thinking that characterized the rule of the Taliban from 1996 to 2001 in Afghanistan and in which times girls were banned from schools.
For a few days after the attacks, parents kept their children away from the 5 year old Mirwais School for Girls built by the Japanese government. Then the headmaster, Mahmood Qadari - a man - reached out to the parents, and promised them greater police protection. "If you don't send your daughters to school, then the enemy wins," Qadari told the New York Times. "I told them not to give in to darkness. Education is the way to improve our society."
And then an amazing thing happened, they began to come back. Today most of the school's 1,300 girls, including nearly all of the wounded ones, have refused to be cowed. "My parents told me to keep coming to school even if I am killed," Shamsia, 17, told The Times. "The people who did this to me don't want women to be educated. They want us to be stupid things." The girls' have learned to be brave -- and are providing an inspirational lesson in defiance.
Eduction is integral to any constructive future Afghanistan might have. Of the 5.7 million students enrolled last year, according to Afghan government data, 35% are girls. About 800,000 of the total were new students, and 40% of them are girls. The high schools graduated 69,000 students, of whom 25% are girls.
During Hillary Clinton's confirmation hearing last Tuesday, Sen. Barbara Boxer, of California, said "no woman or girl should have to grow up and face persecution for having being born female", and referred to acid attacks common against women in Pakistan. Clinton said the issue is "central to our foreign policy."
"It is heartbreaking beyond words that, you know, young girls are attacked on their way to school by Taliban sympathizers and members who do not want young women to be educated." Clinton responded, "This is not culture. This is not custom. This is criminal. And it will be my hope to persuade more government ... that we cannot have a free, prosperous, peaceful, progressive world if women are treated in such a discriminatory and violent way."
Some people disfigure little girls because of religious fanaticism. Some people deny Israel the right to exist because of religious fanaticism. Some people deny Palestinians the right to sovereignty because of religious fanaticism. Some people deny women the right to abortions because of religious fanaticism. Some people deny gay people the right to marry because of religious fanaticism.
In my humble opinion, the world could do without religious fanatics.
Saturday, January 24, 2009
Much has been debated as to whether the United Nations is an effective organization or is losing relevancy. But this diary isn't about that, rather that I came across a stunning bit of information about one of its representatives and thought it was extremely telling in why the UN is viewed by some as a wavering.
Ever heard of Richard Falk? In his Nation magazine biography, he is described as:
Richard Falk, professor emeritus of international law and practice at Princeton University, is the United Nations Human Rights Rapporteur in the Occupied Territories and a member of the Nation editorial board. He is the author of many books, including The Costs of War: International Law, the UN, and World Order After Iraq.
Falk made some headlines for being deported from Israel in December and recently made the claim that:
Hamas, he pointed out, consistently urged the continuation of its July 2008 Egypt-sponsored ceasefire with Israel and even its extension for up to 10 years. According to the respected British newsweekly, The Economist, Falk noted, Hamas proposed an extension of up to 20 years. “What is so revealing is the Israeli refusal to even acknowledge that this was a diplomatic initiative that would have probably ended any violence.”
Clearly this is false. But that is neither here nor there. What I found extremely shocking was when I looked a bit further in Falk's more interesting views and history.
1. Falk supported the Iranian revolution and attacked Jimmy Carter for labeling the Ayatollah Khomeini a religious fanatic.
2. Falk is a 9/11 conspiracy theorist.
3. Falk argues that Vietnam war protesters were entitled to bomb facilities in the US as a form of protest.
4. Compares Israel to Nazi Germany.
So yeah - Mr Falk is clearly a mixed bag and not shall we say a huge champion of human rights in the total sense of supporting the rights of all humans And more importantly - *he is representing the Palestinians people in this regard for the United Nations*. Maybe this needs to be rethought.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
“Letter to Obama: scale out arms dealing and make it illegal by the year 2020; write into every defense contract a requirement for a peacetime project; convert military bases to housing for the poor; require military personnel to devote part of their time to rebuilding infrastructure; fund social services and take the balance out of defense and homeland security budgets.”
“My advice to the Obama team is to scrap the business tax cuts, and, more important, to deal with the threat of doing too little by doing more. The way to do more is to look more broadly at the possibilities for government investment to provide further relief to Americans in distress – enhanced unemployment benefits, expanded Medicaid and more.”
“Remember his 2007 words about Palestinian suffering and his campaign pledge to talk unconditionally with adversaries. The silence on Gaza, Obama must know, is extremely costly. The bright promise of moral leadership is sullied and squandered, along with the potential of America’s ability to be an even-handed mediator.”
TOM HAYDEN, peace activist
“For all Richard Nixon’s faults, his trip to China is remembered as a courageous, far-sighted initiative that opened a new era in Sino-American relations. A trip to Cuba by President Barack Obama would be no less historic.”
WILLIAM M. LEOGRAND and PETER KORNBLUH, LA Times
“Make a clean break from the George W. Bush regime’s law of rule to our declared commitment to the rule of law. Bush-Cheney’s stream of criminal and unconstitutional actions are on auto-pilot. Break these daily patterns as soon as you ascend to the presidency or be held increasingly responsible for them.”
“Speak not so much to him as to America. After Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s election in 1932, FDR met with Sidney Hillman and other labor leaders. Hillman and his allies arrived with plans they wanted the new president to implement. Roosevelt told them: ‘I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it.’”
JOHN NICHOLS, The Progressive
“We have to stop looking at him and start looking to ourselves, the people who knocked on doors, reached out independently of the campaign, signed petitions, registered voters around the clock and organized the most amazing campaign in American history to see who has the leverage to defeat the lobbyists, special interests and Republican operatives who will do everything to derail change.”
DANNY SCHECHTER, mediachannel.org
“A shift from green jobs to a broader focus on green technology. This would require federal investments on the scale of $500 billion over the next decade.”
TERYN NORRIS and JESSE JENKINS, Huffington Post
“It’s troubling that Obama ramped up his rhetoric about exiting Iraq to focus on what he calls the ‘central front in the war on terror,’ Afghanistan. An escalation would drain resources vital to his goals for an economic recovery, health care and social justice at home. Too few people in the mainstream media are asking tough questions.”
KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL, The Nation
"Now that you're president you have lots of responsibilities. As an American citizen I know some tips the people want you to take care of. My first concern is having you focus on finding Osama Bin Laden, and taking the troops to where he is instead of having them in Iraq, dying and losing family and friends, fighting for nothing. Osama is a huge threat to our country. Another tip is to try and solve if not all, but most of, poverty in Africa. Little children are dying, babies don't live to enjoy our world. Kids left orphans. Older brothers, only 12-years-old, take care of their 6-year-old sisters, no parents just them. Cardboard boxes are being used as beds. This is a problem you can't ignore. This problem is my number one concern. Please fix it. Global warming is yet another problem. It is so expensive to fix but important to fix. Go solar power, stop cutting down trees, recycle. The world should have generations of people to come. But in all the trouble of the world stop being Superman for us, be Superman for yourself and your family. The White House is full of rooms to enjoy. Take your family out to ice cream. Don't let your daughters feel like you don't care about them. Also, trust your daughters. When they go out don't send your entire pack of security, just two. Also spend time by yourself. In the newspaper I saw a before and after picture of the past presidents. They aged so much. So take time for yourself and relax. A spa, yoga, fun activities and sports, all these will help. But if you still age use Neutrogena deep wrinkle. I may be a kid but I watch the news, read the newspaper and listen to my parents' conversations. I know a lot about what is going on. Take these tips and make your job easier. Congratulations on becoming president."
YEHYA SESAY, 6th Grader, MA
"You know, if you're the president you only have two jobs: peace and money. That's it."
And of course here's my advice to Obama, "listen, measure and act." Yep - should be easy as pie making everyone happy.
Monday, January 19, 2009
Originally posted on 6/18/08
As some will note I have written several diaries now on the failure of the fourth estate during this primary season. The reactions to these pieces were mixed from agreement, indifference and denial of any bias in the coverage. But with the recent feeding frenzy of the press in response to former White House press secretary Scott McClellan's new book - nothing could be clearer: A CORRUPT MEDIA HAS FAILED.Amongst other things, McClellan's asserts that the media's failings are primarily responsible for the rush to war in Iraq and complicit in enabling the Bush administration.
And through it all, the media would serve as complicit enablers. Their primary focus would be on covering the campaign to sell the war, rather than aggressively questioning the rationale for war or pursuing the truth behind it... the media would neglect their watchdog role, focusing less on truth and accuracy and more on whether the campaign was succeeding. Was the president winning or losing the argument? How were Democrats responding? What were the electoral implications? What did the polls say? And the truth--about the actual nature of the threat posed by Saddam, the right way to confront it, and the possible risks of military conflict--would get largely left behind...
If anything, the national press corps was probably too deferential to the White House and to the administration in regard to the most important decision facing the nation during my years in Washington, the choice over whether to go to war in Iraq. The collapse of the administration's rationales for war, which became apparent months after our invasion, should have never come as such a surprise. The public should have been made much more aware, before the fact, of the uncertainties, doubts, and caveats that underlay the intelligence about the regime of Saddam Hussein. The administration did little to convey those nuances to the people, the press should have picked up the slack but largely failed to do so because their focus was elsewhere--on covering the march to war, instead of the necessity of war.
He goes on to blame a liberal media bias, but that's a whole other story. PBS's Bill Moyers devoted an entire show in April 2007, entitled Buying the War to answering the questions of a complicit media.
How did the mainstream press get it so wrong? How did the evidence disputing the existence of weapons of mass destruction and the link between Saddam Hussein to 9-11 continue to go largely unreported? What the conservative media did was easy to fathom; they had been cheerleaders for the White House from the beginning and were simply continuing to rally the public behind the President -- no questions asked. How mainstream journalists suspended skepticism and scrutiny remains an issue of significance that the media has not satisfactorily explored. How the administration marketed the war to the American people has been well covered, but critical questions remain: How and why did the press buy it, and what does it say about the role of journalists in helping the public sort out fact from propaganda?But what's more interesting about the fallout of this book is the sudden Mea Culpa by some members of the press.
"... I'll start by saying I think he's fairly accurate. Matt, I know when we were covering it--and granted, the spirit of 9/11, people were unified and upset and angry and frustrated. But I do think we were remiss in not asking some of the right questions. There was a lot pressure from the Bush White House. I remember doing an interview and the press secretary called our executive producer and said, `We didn't like the tone of that interview.' And we said, `Well, tough. We had to ask some of these questions.' They said, `Well, if you keep it up, we're going to block access to you during the war.' I mean, those kind of strong-arm tactics were really...CNN's Jessica Yellin on 360:
Yellin: I think the press corps dropped the ball at the beginning. When the lead-up to the war began, the press corps was under enormous pressure from corporate executives, frankly, to make sure that this was a war that was presented in a way that was consistent with the patriotic fever in the nation and the president's high approval ratings.
And my own experience at the White House was that, the higher the president's approval ratings, the more pressure I had from news executives -- and I was not at this network at the time -- but the more pressure I had from news executives to put on positive stories about the president. I think, over time --
Cooper: You had pressure from news executives to put on positive stories about the president?
Yellin: Not in that exact -- they wouldn't say it in that way, but they would edit my pieces. They would push me in different directions. They would turn down stories that were more critical and try to put on pieces that were more positive, yes. That was my experience.
Washington Post's Dana Milbank::
Of course he's right. We didn't do as much as we could have and the fact of the matter is we did raise these questions. And I mean I guess what Scott`s just saying in a backwards way there is they were just doing a particularly good job of keeping the facts out of the public domain.
Specifically, back in September 2002, with the Bush administration and much of the Beltway media rushing to embrace war with Iraq, Kennedy delivered a passionate, provocative, and newsworthy speech raising all sorts of doubts about a possible invasion. Unlike today, the political press wasn't very interested in Kennedy or what he had to say about the most pressing issue facing the nation. Back in that media environment, being the voice of American liberals didn't mean much.So what is the moral of the story?
Boehlert puts it best "let's not forget that it wasn't that long ago that the media did their best to ignore what Kennedy had to say. And when it ignored Kennedy, and when it ignored the voice of liberals, the press -- and the country -- paid a dear price."
Thursday, January 15, 2009
But now it would appear that an outpouring of grassroots anger over Israel's Gaza operation has rocked that special relationship and there are some alarming signs in its wake.
For context, Turkey abolished Islamic Law some 80 years ago, and has been proud of its secular tradition, but now, a large and growing group is calling for its return. Anti-Semitic sentiment was recently fueled when its 'moderate' Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, declared: "Allah's punishment for Israel's inhumane actions will lead to its destruction."
The week-end before, some people wrote, “We will kill you” on the door of one of the biggest synagogues in Izmir resulted in the closing down of synagogues. Near Istanbul University, a group put a huge poster on the door of a shop owned by a Jew: “Do not buy from here, since this shop is owned by a Jew.” A group put posters on his wall saying that: “Jews and Armenians are not allowed but dogs are allowed.” Some young people are even threatening others with violence if they are seen as pro-Israel in social networking websites such as Facebook and Hi5.
As of late, Turkish society has exploded with an influx of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel rhetoric, this included billboards being posted with anti-Israel and anti-Jewish expressions. Private firms are also posting anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish statements on their Websites. Bardak, a Turkish company which manufactures custom coffee mugs for Toshiba, HSBC, Cargill, Acer and Canon, has a phrase across its front page: "JEWS YOU ARE GOING TO PAY EVERYTHING THAT YOU ARE COMMITTING."
Some Turkish commentators have said Erdogan's rhetoric smacked of anti-Semitism, but the prime minister rejected the accusation.
"Neither myself, nor my government, nor anyone from my party has ever given any premium to anti-Semitism," he said. "I am a leader who has said anti-Semitism is a crime against humanity."
Whatever Erdogan's intentions are or your opinion is on the conflict in the Middle East - those signs have to give you the chills, chills, chills.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
This did not go over well. Officials close to the outgoing Olmert blasted Barak. "The remarks constitute a lack of national responsibility," the officials said. "Ministers speaking to the media about the conduct of the war touching on cease-fire initiatives are very grave."
Reports emerged that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was avoiding a meeting with his two key ministers in order to allow the military operation to continue. Olmert was not planning to convene the war cabinet overnight so as to again avoid confronting the issue with the ministers, both of whom support a ceasefire.
Then later Hamas has agreed in principle to the Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire but is still demanding clarifications on a number of issues.
An Israeli envoy will meet Egyptian mediators in Cairo tomorrow after a Hamas delegation concludes talks on an Egyptian truce proposal.
Olmert told Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos that he wanted to bring the operation in the Gaza Strip to an end if Hamas agreed to the Egyptian proposal.
At the crux of the cooperation agreement between Israel and the U.S. is supervision to halt the smuggling of arms from Iran, through the Persian Gulf to Sudan and other countries, and finally to Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
The director general of the Foreign Ministry, Aharon Abramowitz, will meet with State Department officials Jeffrey Feltman and Daniel Hale in Washington today, as well as officials from the White House, Defense Department and U.S. intelligence agencies, in an effort to reach a written guarantee that the United States will act more extensively against the smuggling.
If an agreement is formulated, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni will travel to Washington to sign the agreement.
These seem like positive signs to me, although it seems that majority of both the Israeli and US public do support the Israeli military operation in Gaza. Maybe this will change with an end of the hostilities.
Let's all hope for a end on the attacks in the coming days and for an Obama administration to bring on an era of peace in the Middle East.
Monday, January 5, 2009
Which brings us back to today, first people around the internet, and specifically in the blogosphere were shrieking from the rafters that Israel was using Depleted Uranium in Gaza then later this became accusations of Phosphorus Gas. So I decided to investigate this further. Here is what I found:
The source of the story of Israelis using Depleted Uranium in Gaza comes from Press TV:
Medics tell Press TV they have found traces of depleted uranium in some Gaza residents wounded in Israel's ground offensive on the strip.
Norwegian medics told Press TV correspondent Akram al-Sattari that some of the victims who have been wounded since Israel began its attacks on the Gaza Strip on December 27 have traces of depleted uranium in their bodies.
The report comes after Israeli tanks and troops swept across the border into Gaza on Saturday night, opening a ground operation after eight days of intensive attacks by Israeli air and naval forces on the impoverished region.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned on Sunday that the wide-ranging ground offensive in the Gaza Strip would be "full of surprises."
A ground offensive in the densely-populated Gaza is expected to drastically increase the death toll of the civilian population.
But who is Press TV really?
Press TV is an English language international television news channel which is funded by the Iranian government, based in Tehran and broadcasts in English on a round-the-clock schedule. With 26 international correspondents and more than 400 staff around the world, its stated mission is to offer a different view of the world events.
Then about the Phosphorus Gas... Well this stems from a 'credible' news source, although the reporting is well - libelous at best.
Israeli artillery shells explode with a chemical agent designed to create smokescreen for ground forces.
Israel is believed to be using controversial white phosphorus shells to screen its assault on the heavily populated Gaza Strip yesterday. The weapon, used by British and US forces in Iraq, can cause horrific burns but is not illegal if used as a smokescreen.
As the Israeli army stormed to the edges of Gaza City and the Palestinian death toll topped 500, the tell-tale shells could be seen spreading tentacles of thick white smoke to cover the troops’ advance. “These explosions are fantastic looking, and produce a great deal of smoke that blinds the enemy so that our forces can move in,” said one Israeli security expert. Burning blobs of phosphorus would cause severe injuries to anyone caught beneath them and force would-be snipers or operators of remote-controlled booby traps to take cover. Israel admitted using white phosphorus during its 2006 war with Lebanon.
The use of the weapon in the Gaza Strip, one of the world’s mostly densely population areas, is likely to ignite yet more controversy over Israel’s offensive, in which more than 2,300 Palestinians have been wounded.
Which leads most logical people to ask? Why is Israel 'believed' to be using this? Photos of course. I have attached one for reference.
Seems concrete to me. Let's run with the story.
In the meantime, Israel is denying this.
Israeli military spokesmen deny that their forces have used phosphorus in Gaza, despite photographs and film of munitions showing similar characteristics to the potentially lethal shells.
The Israelis have not said what kind of munitions they have been using, other than saying that their use is permitted under international law.
Phosphorous shells are not illegal if they are used to create a smokescreen or to illuminate targets, rather than as a weapon against people, military experts and human rights campaigners said yesterday.
Mark Garlasco, senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch, said it seemed from news films that Israel had used "artillery-delivered obscurants" which were not illegal.
So now that this is all cleared up, some can run off and start quoting this as fact ;)
Saturday, January 3, 2009
After visiting the hospital bed of two brothers injured by such an attack — one of whom an 8-year-old, who lost his leg as a result — Obama added: "If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I would do anything to stop that. And I would expect Israelis to do the same thing."
Obama is absolutely correct. Israel has the right and the duty, to put a stop to the threat posed by Hamas — an Iranian-backed Jihadist militia — to its citizens. A just and proportionate Israeli response is one that strives to eliminate Hamas' ability to carry out attacks against Israel. No more, but also no less.
Israel is portrayed as the big bully using an inappropriate level of force against a vastly inferior foe. This is how it is reported and is therefore the way that it is perceived. Little coverage goes to the 10 or 15 missiles or more a day fired at Israel, only the response. But since April 2001, Israelis have been the target of *nearly 8,000 rockets and mortar shells*.
Usually people living within a 15-mile radius of Gaza have under 20 seconds to find shelter once a "code red" alarm is sounded. Sometimes a missile slips through Israel's warning system, depriving civilians of the opportunity to scramble for safety. The latest missiles launched into Israel have a range of around 25 miles and have been used to attack Beersheba. It should be noted that over half a million Israelis (10% of its population) live within range of these new, more powerful BM-21 Grad missiles.
Which brings us to today:
A Timeline of the Current Crisis-War as per Reuters.
June 19 - A truce begins between Hamas and Israel. It calls for Hamas to stop cross-border rocket fire and for Israel to gradually ease its embargo on Gaza.
Aug 2 - Factional fighting kills three Hamas policemen and six pro-Fatah gunmen in the Gaza Strip in the worst fighting since June 2007.
Nov. 5 - Hamas fires dozens of rockets at Israel after Israeli forces kill six Palestinian militants in an eruption of violence that has disrupted the four-month-old truce.
Dec. 14 - Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal is quoted as saying the group will not renew the six-month-old truce with Israel.
December 18 - Hamas Islamists declare the end of the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire with Israel which expires the next day with a surge of cross-border fighting.
December 24 - Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip ratchet up rocket fire toward Israel.
December 27 - Israel launches air strikes on Gaza in response to almost daily rocket and mortar fire that intensified after Hamas ended the six-month ceasefire.
December 28 - Hamas says an Israeli air strike destroys a laboratory building at the Islamic University, a significant cultural symbol of Hamas.
-- Israeli aircraft bomb some 40 smuggling tunnels in the Gaza Strip that provide a lifeline to the outside world.
December 29 - Israel steps up its air strikes and bombs the Hamas-run Interior Ministry, the first air strike targeting a government building in the offensive.
-- Israel declares areas around the Gaza Strip a "closed military zone."
-- Palestinian militants fire rockets deeper into southern Israel.
December 30 - Israeli warplanes press on for the fourth day with attacks on Hamas targets.
-- Palestinian casualties since December 27 are 348 dead and more than 800 wounded. A U.N. agency says at least 62 of the dead are civilians.
-- Three Israeli civilians and a soldier have been killed by Palestinian rockets since the air strikes began.
-- Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum urges Palestinian groups to respond using "all available means" against Israel.
-- Israel says its attacks herald "long weeks of military action."
December 31 - Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh tells Palestinians that "victory is near."
-- Emergency session of U.N. Security Council to consider resolution drafted by Arab countries calling for immediate cease-fire adjourns without a vote.
January 1 - Israel kills Nizar Rayyan, a hardline Hamas leader, in an air attack on his Gaza Strip home.
-- Palestinian casualties since December 27 are 412 dead and about 1,850 wounded. A U.N. agency says about a quarter of the dead are civilians.
-- Three Israeli civilians and a soldier have been killed by Palestinian rockets since the air strikes began.
January 2 - No sign of a cease-fire on the seventh day of the conflict, with at least 429 Palestinians killed and 2,000 wounded, but a Palestinian official says that Egypt had begun exploratory talks with Hamas to halt the bloodshed.
January 3 - An air strike on a mosque kills 11 Palestinian civilians and wounds dozens, as Israeli tanks and troops wait on the border for a possible ground offensive. Palestinian death toll rises to at least 446.
Israel evacuated Gaza in 2005, removing not only its soldiers but all Israeli settlements, despite bitter resistance from the settlers and their political allies. At great political, financial and security cost to itself, Israel removed every soldier and every single civilian from Gaza, hoping that disengagement would reduce friction, spur economic development and provide a model for peace that could be extended to the West Bank. Israel was not alone in this hope. The United States, United Nations, European Union, World Bank, the Arab League and a thousand nongovernmental organizations were poised to help Gazans build prosperity, freedom and peace. What was the response? Delivering a Hamas victory in the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections. Hamas - the organization that is listed as a terrorist organization by Canada, the European Union, Israel, Japan, the United States and is banned in Jordan, Australia and the United Kingdom.
If Hamas, with total power in Gaza, had been willing to concentrate its energies on the economic development of the region and cease cross-border attacks, the Israeli government and public would have been much more willing to make a similar withdrawal from the West Bank where the majority of Palestinians live. We could have been seeing, by now, the birth of a new Palestinian state. But I digress...
Despite the tragic deaths of civilians, Israeli’s airstrikes have been precisely aimed at Hamas fighters, installations and rocket launchers. Inevitably, the use of force causes injury and death to innocents, but from initial figures announced by U.N. personnel, it appears that more than 80% of those killed were Hamas security personnel or other militants — a ratio that might compare favourably with the use of force by NATO troops in Afghanistan. Israel has chosen its targets carefully, pursuing terrorist training camps and rocket storage facilities, and has used precision missiles to minimize civilian casualties.
Hamas has even admitted, most of the dead are terrorists.
This stands in stark contrast to Hamas' own conduct. By using heavily populated Gaza as a launching pad for its attacks and deliberately placed weapons factories and training centers in and around such civilian areas, Hamas is guilty of a double war crime. Not only does it target Israeli schools and hospitals, it also uses Palestinian women and children as human shields.
The cumulative effect on those who have had to endure such assaults is devastating, but seldom reported in the American — let alone Arab — press. Unlike Al-Jazeera, Israeli media shy away from inflammatory journalism, and the Israeli public tends to deal with the consequences of Hamas' attacks with introverted dignity, not photogenic rage. Israel is unfairly condemned for defending itself because the court of public opinion tends to be presented only with evidence of Israel's retaliation, not with its cause — Hamas' aggression.
As well - it must be understood that the timing of this conflict is fundamentally linked to three elections. Israel faces a general election in February; Iran will choose its next president in June; and Obama becomes president in about two weeks. As has been noted:
But the Israeli government's objectives are not just to influence Hamas. They are equally anxious to influence Israeli public opinion. Israel is a genuine democracy. It is due to have a general election on February 10. If that election results in Tzipi Livni as prime minister with Ehud Barak, the Labour leader and former prime minister, as her deputy, the peace process has a serious prospect of getting somewhere. *The attacks on Hamas are already helping Livni and Barak in the opinion polls*. The international community might not approve, but if we wish to see a Palestinian state in the foreseeable future this is likely to be the best route.
An Israeli government re-elected just 21 days after President Obama takes office would create an unprecedented opportunity to relaunch the peace process. George W. Bush only seriously engaged in the issue in his last year in the presidency, when his authority was disintegrating. Obama is likely to have eight years of power ahead of him and will carry more weight with both Israelis and Arabs than any previous president for many years.
Having Hilary Clinton as his Secretary of State is an additional asset. She is a powerful figure in her own right, well thought of in Jerusalem, and respected by the Palestinians. If the new US administration is willing to engage and help guarantee any successful negotiations, the Middle East could at last turn a vital corner.
Finally, there is the Iranian dimension. Iran may not be a proper democracy but no one can predict whether Ahmadinejad will get a second term in June or be ousted by a moderate opponent. If he goes, much of his rhetoric on liquidating Israel will go with him. A peaceful resolution of Iran's nuclear aspirations would also be more likely, especially as Obama has promised a serious dialogue with Iran to try to meet its security concerns. If the United States, under Bush, has been able to do a deal with Gadaffi's Libya then a new relationship with Iran, brokered by Obama, is not inconceivable.
So the stakes are high. An Israeli-Palestinian peace will not ensure, as is sometimes asserted, that Iran will become peace-loving, that al-Qaeda will disband or that terrorism will be a thing of the past. But no one can doubt that Israel-Palestine, Iran and terrorism are linked both in the political psychology of the Middle East and in the strategy of many Western governments.
Stopping Hamas launching missiles at Israeli civilian communities will not ensure peace nor an independent Palestine. But Israel will never concede a Palestinian state unless the Palestinians provide an absolute guarantee of an end to hostilities by all Palestinian parties.
As for the rest of us who watch by the sidelines, we can only hope for peace, understanding and that people don't play hard and loose with the facts.