Do Unto Others focuses on the Middle East, (nonviolent) social movements, and how I make sense of my place in the world. I'm currently based in Cairo, Egypt doing peacebuilding and community development.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Obama's Speech on Libya

Generally, I thought Obama's speech to the world nation was fair. It was well-written and he made a relatively compelling case for 'just' war in Libya (even though I personally don't believe that terminology to be very helpful).  You can come to your own conclusions about the military intervention, I, personally, have a lot of friends and respected thinkers on either side of the issue, interventionism and anti-interventionism.

One of the points that Obama formulated in his address was in regard to the "well why not military intervention in _____, there is a humanitarian crisis there" argument. I think it's a valid argument and Obama addressed it by saying that the military intervened in this case because American interests and values were at stake (although he didn't very clearly define what those interests of values were -- and no, I don't find 'protecting civilians' to be an American value. See 1,000,000 dead in Iraq for evidence) and because stopping Qaddafi was, more or less, a winnable battle.

Even though Obama made his counter-argument, I do want to return to "well, what about ______, why doesn't the US military do shit there" argument for the sake of pointing out the hypocrisy of it all.  Here are excerpts from Obama's speech:
In the face of the world's condemnation, ______ chose to escalate his attacks, launching a military campaign against the _____ people. Innocent people were targeted for killing. Hospitals and ambulances were attacked. Journalists were arrested, sexually assaulted, and killed. Supplies of food and fuel were choked off. Water for hundreds of thousands of people in _____ was shut off. Cities and towns were shelled, mosques were destroyed, and apartment buildings reduced to rubble. Military jets and helicopter gunships were unleashed upon people who had no means to defend themselves against assaults from the air.
Sure, the president is obviously talking about Libya. But he could as easily be describing the Gaza Strip. Fill in the blanks with Netanyahu, Gazan, and Khan Younis, respectively. It fits like a glove, like a freaking glove.
It's true that America cannot use our military wherever repression occurs. And given the costs and risks of intervention, we must always measure our interests against the need for action. But that cannot be an argument for never acting on behalf of what's right. In this particular country — ______ — at this particular moment, we were faced with the prospect of violence on a horrific scale. We had a unique ability to stop that violence: an international mandate for action, a broad coalition prepared to join us, the support of Arab countries, and a plea for help from the _____ people themselves. We also had the ability to stop _______'s forces in their tracks without putting American troops on the ground.
To brush aside America's responsibility as a leader and — more profoundly — our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are. Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different. And as President, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.
Operation Cast Lead, anyone? 400 murdered children. You could cut aid to Israel, to the tune of $9 million/day, and you wouldn't have to put troops on the ground to stop the violence. Hell, you wouldn't even have to impose a no-fly zone. Just stop the hemorrhaging of US dollars and you bring the 'only half-assed attempt at democracy in the Middle East' to its knees.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Criticism of an occupied and subjugated people

This paragraph, in Amira Hass' recent column in Haaretz, has been challenging me:
In the binary thinking of those who oppose the Israeli occupation (Palestinians, Israelis and foreigners), public criticism of the tactics used in the struggle of an occupied and dispossessed people is taboo. It is as if criticism would create symmetry between the attacker and the attacked. To a large extent, this taboo has been broken with regard to the Palestinian Authority: Many opponents of the occupation have no qualms about portraying the PA as a collaborator, or at least as the captive of its senior officials' private interests. But when it comes to Hamas' use of arms, silence falls. As if there were sanctity in the Qassam soaring high into the sky, only to fall amid the clamor of Israeli propaganda.
For sometime, I have held that an oppressed people's chosen form of resistance shouldn't be criticized by the (latent or active) oppressors. We should use our words criticizing the unjust sytems, policies, and players who create desperation that pushes people to respond with any means at their disposal. I still believe that. Let's not waste our words preaching to the oppressed, but let's use our words to undermine the powers that be. 

Nonetheless, Hass' article is making me think. Shooting rockets indiscriminately at Israeli civilians isn't morally defensible nor is it a step towards a just peace. Israel's actions, or justification for their actions, are rarely (if never) defensible. But that doesn't help me figure out how to participate, as a privileged American whose government provides and arms Israeli warplanes, in a discussion about Hamas militants' response to Israel's illegal and cruel siege of Gaza.

Maybe I just keep critiquing the American government and lamenting my and my government's role in the ongoing imprisonment of 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza. Maybe I try to explain why Hamas militants would launch rockets at Israel by describing the desperation inflicted on Palestinians that I have seen. Maybe I explain that launching Qassam rockets at Israel is strategically stupid (and it contributes to the cycle of violence and hatred) and will result in the death of innocents in Gaza.

I'm thankful for a brain that has the ability to think, analyze, shift, and transform -- even though sometimes, it feels like a curse.

Military intervention in Libya: A few thoughts and some links (part 2)

The Western military campaign continues in Libya as does the fighting between pro-democracy rebel groups and forces loyal to Qaddafi.

Along with the armed tension, the debate over the efficacy and morality of Western military intervention has continued. I previously wrote a post presenting a handful of viewpoints about military intervention. Since then, I have continued to read well-presented arguments both for and against military intervention.

Because you are dying to know, I find myself, in this particular situation, more firmly on the anti-intervention side of things. We didn't exhaust any options before we got to a military campaign. Granted, innocents were being killed so action needed to be taken quickly, but there are effective coercive methods that were not employed, they weren't even discussed. The second reason I am hesitatant to support this military intervention is because of the United States' track record when it comes to military interventions (that's just a euphemism for war, right?). Did the U.S. send planes and warships to Libya because it's so concerned with the humanitarian situation there and because human rights in the world are worth dying for? Please. See Sudan, Bahrain, Yemen, Syria, and Gaza. There are strategic interests involved in Libya, there always are when the U.S. military is sent abroad.

Here are four articles I found worthwhile:

•As'ad AbuKhalil in The Economist -- A debate on Arab revolutions: This house believes the West should keep out of the Arab world's revolutions. Read it, here are some good lines:
This sudden Western concern for the people of Libya raises more suspicions than it raises hopes.
It is not that democracy cannot be imposed from outside—as liberal critics of George Bush often put it—but the notion that Western governments ever pushed for democracy and enlightenment in the Middle East is dubious at best.
•Max Ajl on his blog, Jewbonics -- How we missed you, humanitarian intervention.
Furthermore, air campaigns don’t dislodge dictators. What they do is turn children into corpses.
Popular insurgencies defeat illegitimate regimes. Their inability to do so does not mean that the regimes are legitimate. But it highlights the fact that we cannot intervene effectively in civil wars. The outcome is always disaster. When you hit a society with a hammer, only the strong remain standing, and the strong tend to be the most vicious. History tells us few lessons, but it does tell us that we will inevitably make things worse.
•Seham on Mondoweiss: I waiver, and still I approve of military support for the Libyan resistance

Seham generally supports the intervention because it's what Libyans have asked for and goes on to make connections to the recent bombings in Gaza and Jerusalem.

•Eric Stoner in Waging Nonviolence: Why war on Libya is wrong.
How people who are so knowledgeable about US foreign policy can buy in to the humanitarian argument for war is beyond me. It should be abundantly clear to anyone who really pays attention that the US doesn’t ever intervene out of concern over civilians or because of our desire to uphold democracy, human rights and freedom. These nice ideals are used only to sell war to the public.
The historical record is clear: in almost every case the US intervenes in other countries to protect its perceived economic or geostrategic interests. The same is undoubtedly true in Libya, which sits atop the largest oil reserves on the African continent and has largely been a hold out against neoliberalism.
Food for thought. Hope it helps to continue to turn the wheels about the ongoing violence in Libya and the role of the United States.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

This is why borders suck

After a one-year moratorium on deportations to Haiti, the United States resumed deporting people back to Haiti in January in 2011, determining conditions had drastically improved in Haiti.

The Haitians being deported are primarily those convicted of misdemeanors and minor drug offenses but have already served their time in the States.

Freedom Packages

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Military intervention in Libya: A few thoughts and some links

Britain, France, and the United States are bombing targets in Libya.  This military intervention follows a United Nations Security Council resolution which gives allowance to protect Libyan civilians using military force. From what I have read, it seems that bombing targets and installations from the air is pushing the limits of the resolution that was passed.

The Arab League was in favor of the UN's move to institute a no-fly zone over Libya, but the Arab League has expressed concern over how the UN resolution and the no-fly zone has, seemingly without hesitation, became a military bombing campaign. 

I don't have any analysis to provide at this point as this isn't my area of expertise and I've been disconnected for several days while traveling across the Atlantic Ocean and adjusting to the 10-time difference. What I will provide is a series of links which have helped my understanding of the issues around non-intervention/intervention opinions based on historical, moral, and/or strategic rationale. Here are some of the articles I found useful, with a short description for those of you who may pick and choose amongst this list.

Richard Falk - Qaddafi, Moral Interventionism, Libya, and the Arab Revolutionary Moment
Richard Falk, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories and emeritus professor of international law at Princeton University, has a post which helpfully breaks down the non-interventionist and interventionist perspectives into three categories: realists, moral interventionists, moral and legal anti-interventionists.

Asli U. Bâli and Ziad Abu-Rish, Al Jazeera - The Drawbacks of Intervention in Libya
The title says it all and this is a brilliant article. These aren't pacifists calling for anti-intervention but are pragmatists (who happen to be experts in international law) looking at the history of Western (colonial) intervention while looking strategically at the proposed military intervention and are asking, "will this work?" They seem to think it won't work as effectively as other methods could.

Stephen Walt, Foreign Policy - What does the UNs decision mean for Libya? For the rest of the world?
Stephen Walt, foreign policy expert and co-author of the seminal The Israeli Lobby and US Foreign Policy, cautions that this action might not quickly cripple Qaddafi, he might hang on despite military intervention, as many other regimes have survived when faced with armed international pressure. He calls the air strikes and no-fly zone "the politico-military equivalent of a hail mary pass." That's a great line.

Robert Dreyfuss, The Nation - Obama's Women Advisers Pushed War Against Libya
The last paragraph of this article is sharp. It appears there is a civil war in Libya and there are not genocidal massacres taking place. So what gives France, U.S., and Britain (with the loose support of the United Arab Emirates) the right to intervene in an internal matter?

Abdel al-Bari Atwan, The Guardian - Relief will fade as we see the real impact of intervention in Libya
The intervening countries drafted a UN resolution because they are so concerned with the loss of civilian life? So why were 40 people killed in a drone attack in Pakistan, and why were Western leaders sitting on their hands while the Bahrain and Yemeni regimes are murdering pro-democracy protesters. Also, what are the long term effects of this action? Will Libya turn into another failed state as a result of this chosen form of intervention?

Stateside again

I was welcomed back to California with an early-spring storm. They're predicting rain for the next week.

Posting has been light, and will continue to be for a number of days, as I acclimate to this time zone and dedicate myself to watching as much of the NCAA men's basketball tournament as humanly possible.

I am planning to be in the states for a number of months, as opposed to going back to Palestine after a month at home, fyi.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters joins BDS movement

The frontman for the notorious rock n' roll band, Pink Floyd, has publicly called for boycotts, divestments, and sanctions to be levied against Israel in hopes of bringing about a just peace in the seemingly intractable conflict.

My article is over at Waging Nonviolence, here's an excerpt:
Waters’ public stance is huge. He is the highest-profile musician to declare his support for the BDS movement to date. The nonviolent struggle against Israeli apartheid is going mainstream, and not in some soft, cuddly, watered-down manner; but BDS is a means of nonviolent struggle that really has some teeth, as was seen in South Africa. A cultural boycott of Israel, where artists would refuse to entertain and whitewash Israeli apartheid, is a nonviolent tool with the power to rapidly erode the moral standing of Israel in the world.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Palestinian women call for justice on International Women’s Day

How did Palestinian women commemorate International Women's Day? Go see my recent post at Waging Nonviolence that outlines the various ways Palestinian women called for their rights to be acknowledged. 

Free my people; Long live Palestine

Thursday, March 10, 2011

I wonder if Peter King will speak with these folks

US Congressman and Chair of the Committee on Homeland Security, Peter King, of New York, is beginning hearings today in the radicalization of Islam in America. It's a witch hunt reminiscent of the McCarthyism of the 60s.  I doubt any of these American Muslims are slated to speak at the hearings.

Roger Waters: Fear builds walls

Riz Khan interviewed Roger Waters on Al Jazeera about the walls being constructed across the world, special attention is paid to the separation wall that Israeli is building in the West Bank.

The whole interview is worth watching but if you can't then pay special attention after 8:00 when Waters how he heard about the boycott, divestment, and sanction (BDS) movement against Israel after he had scheduled a concert for Tel Aviv. Waters ended up cancelling the Tel Aviv show and instead played at Neve Shalom (an intentional multi-religious community in Israel -- a concert which he now says he partially regretted, because it still violated the BDS call). At 17:00 Waters speaks about his recent call to musicians and artists around the world to support the Palestinian freedom struggle by participating in BDS.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Boycott or Terror

Here is a piece written by a friend, Amos Givirtz. Givirtz is a Jewish Israeli who resides in the Negev and is a tireless advocate for Bedouin residents of the Negev struggling to obtain their rights.  Givirtz recognizes in this piece that Palestinian society will never cease struggling against the occupation. If that's true and Israeli fails (which it ultimately will) to suppress Palestinian resistance, then Israel and the international community have a choice to make: will they push Palestinians towards armed resistance or will they support nonviolent resistance, including boycotts. It's in everyone's interest, most clearly the interests of Israel, to support the latter.

Boycott. Divest. Sanction.

Here's Amos:
The Grad missile that fell in Beer Sheva was a reminder of the danger to the security of Israeli citizens, a danger that lies in the violent Palestinian struggle against Israel. Throughout the years of struggle over the land between the Zionist movement and the Arab Palestinian people, we have witnessed different modes of action to which the Palestinians have resorted in their attempt to resist their dispossession: war and terrorism of various kinds have been the main ones. Today we witness a relatively new kind of struggle: a popular struggle, basically non-violent. It takes place in villages whose people demonstrate against the erection of the Separation Barrier that robs them of their lands. It is also manifested in the Palestinian Authority's attempts to build institutions of a future state while opposing terrorism. We also witness the non-violent struggle of Palesitnian civil society organizations calling for various types of sanctions and boycott of Israel as a means of pressure to put an end to the Occupation and its violations of human rights.

As long as Israel persists in its occupation and reinforces it, the Palestinians will persist in their struggle against it. The question is only what type of struggle they choose: the option of armed struggle, namely suicide attacks, personal assaults, bombings, missiles, bargain abductions etc., or the option of a popular non-violent struggle.

We, citizens of Israel, have a security interest in supporting the popular non-violent struggle. It does not jeopardize our lives and security. It is a struggle that does not risk the lives of soldiers maintaining the Occupation, it does not even jeopardize the settlers' security. But it is a struggle that clarifies for us and for the world at large who the assailant is in this conflict, and who the victim. It is the type of struggle that shows us and the world who actually wants peace and who opposes it! It is a struggle that sows conflict between the majority of Israeli citizenry and the government of Israel and the radical right-wing! It is a struggle that will show us and the whole world that the Israeli army, rather than defending the people, is busy with Occupation and its enhancement.

Non-violent struggle, unlike armed struggle, enables the party against whom it is launched to recant - then pressure is lifted. It is a struggle that does not create irreversible facts on the ground, unlike killing and destruction that result from violent struggle: the killed cannot be revived. The often wounded cannot retrieve their former state. Boycott, on the other hand, can be lifted at any moment. It is a struggle that invites Israelis and international bodies to participate. No Israeli who opposes Occupation and human rights violations would give a hand to a violent struggle against Israel. However, many of the opponents of Occupation and the violation of human rights it entails would lend their hand to a non-violent struggle against the Occupation and its injustices.

Since there is no chance that Palestinians willingly rescind their claims to their lands and homes, there is no chance that they give up their struggle, as long as Israel continues to push them out. Our own interest, as Israeli citizens, is that the Palestinians resort to non-violent struggle. This includes demonstrations, creating institutions of their state-to-be, protest and support flotillas, non-collaboration, strikes, reconstruction of houses demolished by Israel, planting trees where Israel has uprooted them, various types of boycott etc.
A harsh struggle within Palestinian society revolves around the question what kind of road to choose. The recent Grad missile has reminded us of the violent option, while the calls to boycott Israel are a reminder of the non-violent option. Israelis who support boycott are more concerned with the security of the citizens of Israel than those who attempt to silence them.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

US congressman claims there is no Israeli occupation

Brooklyn congressman, Max Weiner, recently debated former congressman, Brian Baird, on the Israel/Palestine issue. Weiner is loved by many progressives but is unfortunately a PEP (progressive except Palestine) and has drawn the wrath of the leftist Israel/Palestine blogosphere over his comments at the debate held at the New School in New York, NY. Watch the whole debate here. Here's an astonishing excerpt (Roger Cohen, columnist of the NY Times, moderated the debate):
WEINER: You can see a difference in the development in the West Bank with 11 percent year over year growth, with no Israeli occupation there either, with increasing access to checkpoints —

COHEN: What about area C, D,

WEINER: Hold on, maybe this would be helpful

COHEN: No occupation in the West Bank, did I hear you right?


COHEN: Have you been to the West Bank lately?


COHEN: You didn’t see the IDF there?

WEINER: In Ramallah? No. In Nablus? No. Now can I tell ya there might be some people in this room who think Jerusalem is occupied.

COHEN: Well hold on a second there, let’s stick to the West Bank. You’re saying there is no IDF presence there?