Israel and Hizbullah: A quick round up

This is a summary of the latest events between Israel and Hizbullah. It starts when Hizbullah’s SG Hassan Nasrallah engaged in a long description of Hizbullah’s readiness to fight Israel even if involved in the Syrian quagmire, on Mayadeen TV. Obviously, I would be simplifying if I started the story then, as it is involved in a general buildup of coalitions in the regional arena. Israel’s actions are partly a result of freaking out when Nasrallah boasts about Hizbullah’s capabilities and partly to test if the new regional situation can work on its favor.

There seem to be no doubt that this preemptive strike comes as a direct reaction to this interview. It is also possible that this interview was pushed for in order to send clear messages to Israel based on intelligence reports that Hizbullah must have been getting around the Israeli military brewing something. But then military initiatives bring to light new possible alliances. Israel finds in Jabhat al-Nusra (it’s ugly like ISIS but with a different costume) a reliable ally or at least someone who wouldn’t stand in its way.

Hizbullah’s retaliation is then inevitable, if anything in order to avoid war: thus, today’s attack on what Hizbullah’s media characterized as being Israel’s “Golani” troops. This also mean that enemies have tested each other’s capabilities. The success of Hizbullah’s operation will determine the likelihood of escalation. As of now it looks quite successful. Then, the balance of power has been restored after having been tested, and given the regional situation, it seems doubtful that there will be more escalation in the very short term. But let’s see what the spring or the summer brings.

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France and antisemitism: It’s the politics stupid!

The recent events in France betray the primacy of the political (and not religious) dimension in the way different communities, groups, and states have handled (and have been handled in) this affair.

One facet is Israel’s urge to profit from the situation and attract a few more Jews to the promised homeland to which France has answered through Holland’s “Holocaust day speech” that urges Jews to reconsider and reflect on the fact that they are, after all, French.

Now one wonder in this case how truly wonderful are the various ironies of the politics in the age of Nation-State: Jews who have been in France for centuries have no problem going to Israel and adopt a completely different “nationality” yet deterritorialized Muslims who came there for less than a century because of economic imperatives have no place to go.

And another interesting highlight of the speech is a change of emphasis over what antisemitism really means. Although I profoundly disagree with the way the word is used in 99% of cases in contemporary social and political affairs since the end of WWII, Holland did seem to acknowledge that representations of Jews do change over time and come to reflect the concerns of ones time, namely here the politics of Israel and the general politics unfolding in the Middle East. Unfortunately, he acknowledged it through the worst wording ever: “hatred of Israel” (as if the reverse means anything in the first place) and, “imports the conflicts of the Middle East” (conflicts that in large part is fueled by your politically moribund foreign policies Mr Holland). Nobody is importing, it is you (and your predecessors) who is exporting!

And come to think about it, “antisemitism” does not mean much today (except for a very few “white” nostalgics) as it refers to a particular political discourse that is part of a specific period of time that sees the consolidation of national projects in nineteenth century and beginning twentieth century Europe. Today hatred against Jews is mostly similar “politically” to any other form of group hatred, racism or forms of xenophobia that occurs in any heterogenous society.

In any case, to go back to Holland’s speech, I don’t know what others think, but this is a huge improvement: moving from an atemporal abstract concept of antisemitism to one that may have some political historically situated logic (again not that “antisemitic” to describe these acts is in any way a useful term), in official western state discourse. It took the French to start it, who would have known!

The War with Images

My article at Opendemocracy on the use of images in war situations.

Raï in Jerusalem

Maronite-Cardinal-Beshara-Rai-Getty-1The new Christian maronite patriarch Cardinal Bechara Boutros el Rai, has been making some bold moves since the beginning of his mandate. First his visit to Syria in the midst of the conflict degenerating, and now his decision to visit Jerusalem as the Catholic pope has schedule a Middle East tour, all show that Rai wants to re-assert some form of power for Christians in the Middle East. Now I don’t know why everyone on the left side of the political spectrum (whatever that really means nowadays) lashed out at Rai, I think this visit is deemed to be considered as involving novel strategies that inscribes Rai as the most Arab of Christian Maronite authorities since the coming of the French in the region.

Rai kept on repeating, as he defended his controversial trip to Jerusalem, that he was going strictly for religious reasons. But then Rai added “I am going there to say this is our city, I am going home, and I am going to see my people. We have been present in Haifa and Galilee long before Israel.” Now that’s cleverly said as it contributes in a way to challenge the sovereignty of Israel over this chunk of land. Holy land is not to be possessed by nation-states. But that’s the Khomeinist rationale as explicited by his Jerusalem Day commemoration. That’s probably why Hizbullah was not so vociferous about Rai’s visit, opposing it publicly but quickly silencing the subject at the media level.

In the land where “non-state actors” prosper with or without the support of official states, what better way of producing political leverage than to use the various institutional tools at one disposal. Rai seems here to have learned from Hizbullah who uses Iran to further the interest of their community in Lebanon, producing political actions that can spill over outside of Lebanon.

Rai’s power material and symbolic springs from two different directions. His constituency and the various implications of the confessional system in Lebanon, and his institutional affiliation to the Catholic church based in the Vatican. This means that if Rai wants to bolster his position he can act on both these fronts. His recent visit to Jerusalem is clearly an attempt at gaining leverage through the organizational hierarchy of the Catholic Church especially now that the latter elected somewhat of a “third world” oriented pope. And in so doing, Rai can gain more independence as a figure representing a community that is not delimited by nation-states (Maronites in Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, etc).

By using the “religious” card, his institutional affiliation to the Church, Rai reminds contemporary societies that communities are still represented by institutions that transcend State boundaries (in this case Israel and Lebanon). Most importantly, they remind us that where State fail to provide solutions for communities, other institutions can be used. Given the type of power the Catholic Church has, this is probably the best political move they can do. And by saying that his motivation are non-political and strictly religious, these are religious motivations that are strictly political.

It remains to be seen the extent to which Rai’s move manifest an action that transcends the State, it is still framed by State-related political calculations, in this case, the power leverage Christian can get in Lebanon.

Ramadan “made in Israel”!

20130808_195648I know it is a bit late now, but I forgot to add this picture I took in a Sainsburys supermarket in Dalston, London, a week or so ago. If you zoom in on the photograph, you’ll be able to see that the dates offered come from Israel. A nice way to celebrate Eid! I wonder what the Sainsburys management team was thinking when they put that stuff out there. Don’t they know that Muslims are generally allergic to something called Israel? At least, for the festivities, include a couple of dates from somewhere else! Out of all countries that can sell you dates, why choose to bring them from that tiny place that calls itself Israel!? This is another example why the claim that UK or Europe adopt policies of “Free Trade” is complete bullocks, to use an expression dear to a British audience. There is always a bit of political logic behind any policy to trade “freely”.

Nasrallah with Assange on Russia Today

There are several points to remember from Hizbullah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah’s televised interview conducted by Wikileaker Julian Assange two days ago. Though as it was geared to a Western audience, most of what was said was already known by the local population from Nasrallah’s various televised speeches in Beirut, there is, I think, a very important point that Nasrallah made when Assange asked him how, when, and in what circumstances would the conflict with Israel end.

For the first time, to my knowledge, an official from Hizbullah (and not any official), formally acknowledged that “the only solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is establishing a democratic state on Palestinian land where Muslims, Jews and Christians live in peace”.

Now that’s quite something, rhetorically and substantially. It gives a bit of perspective to this fashionable notion that Arabs have commercialized, namely that “Israel should cease to exist”. I’ve already offered a specific reading of this claim and though I am not sure Nasrallah read my post before making his statement, what he says does read the same way.

That in a way should be more alarming to the average Israeli than the more literal take on the claim that states that Jews should be thrown to the sea. More alarming, because it is realizable through diligence and perseverance that started almost 30 years ago…

What is meant by “Israel should cease to exist”

This magnificently visionary passage of Fanon’s “Les damnés de la terre” nails cleverly what is at stake when the colonized decides to effectively fight the colonizer. What has been the slogan of the Palestinian resistance for decades and is now preserved by the “Islamist” resistance (that is still Palestinian but also Lebanese.. and beyond) grouping Hamas and Hizbullah that Israel should cease to exist could be well understood in this particular way:

« La violence qui a présidé à l’arrangement du monde colonial, qui a rythmé inlassablement la destruction des formes sociales indigènes, démoli sans restrictions les systèmes de références de l’économie, les modes d’apparence, d’habillement, sera revendiquée et assumée par le colonisé au moment où, décidant d’être l’histoire en actes, la masse colonisée s’engouffrera dans les villes interdites. Faire sauter le monde colonial est désormais une image d’action très claire, très compréhensible et pouvant être reprise par chacun des individus constituant le peuple colonisé. Disloquer le monde colonial ne signifie pas qu’après l’abolition des frontières on aménagera des voies de passage entre les deux zones. Détruire le monde colonial c’est ni plus ni moins abolir une zone, l’enfouir au plus profond du sol ou l’expulser du territoire. » (Fanon, Les damnés de la terre, p.44)

My translation:

The violence that has shaped the arrangement of the colonial world, has unrelentlessly paced the destruction of indigenous social structures, demolished without restriction economic system of references, modes of appearance, dress codes, will be claimed and endorsed by the colonizer when, deciding to his own history in action, the colonized mass would engulf itself in the forbidden cities. Blowing up the colonial world is henceforth a very clear image of action that can be used and understood by every individual consituting the colonized people. Dislocating the colonial world does not signify that after the abolition of borders, tracks of passages would be arranged between the two zones. Destroying the colonial world is not more nor less than abolishing a zone, bury it in the deepest ground or expel it of the territory. (Fanon, Les damnés de la terre, p.44, my translation)