The War with Images

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

A Christmas lesson (bis)

Listening to the Maronite Patriarch Mar Nasrallah Butros Sfeir giving the noon Christmas mass today in Beirut, confirmed what I was thinking of yesterday. At some point in the unfolding of the celebration, Sfeir tells the story of the birth of Jesus and so mentions his birth in Bethlehem. “In the city of Bethlehem, in Palestine, where he was born”.  He seems unperturbed, and swiftly moves to another subject. Worse, as he shifts his discussion to abstract concepts of love and tolerance (as noted, a classical rhetorical strategy amongst modern privatized Christianity), he manages to extract from it an even shakier concept of ‘love for the nation’. He then manages to mumble something like the birth of Jesus which symbolizes this message of love actually teaches us about how one should ‘love his nation’. Fortunately, he does not elaborate further. Bethlehem is a couple of kilometers away from where he is giving his mass. It is under the control of a political entity (Israel) that causes much injustice and oppression, and has probably no respect for Sfeir’s tradition (i.e. Christianity). To add insult to injury, a significant number of people from Bethlehem and from around it live within the nation that Sfeir wants people to love, although these people are neither loved by those people Sfeir is concerned with nor given any form of ‘love’ or ‘tolerance’. Well maybe if Jesus was the messenger of ‘justice’ it would have been better. Love as such stripped out of social realities is a monster-like fantasy causing more wreckage than healing.

US taxpayers fund Israeli settlers

Emily strikes beautifully with this detailed account of how certain American charities contribute to the building of huge complexes in Palestinian territories for incoming Jewish settlers.

This settler business makes me think that never in the history of mankind has arrogance reached these heights, this despicable misreading and imagining the past as a legitimate device to expropriate belonging by claiming chunks of land where people actually live.

It was quite disturbing to watch these images of settlers moving in imperturbably with their boxes, their personal affairs, their books, cds, their petty life artifacts while Palestinians were screaming outside the house. Kind of a snapshot of how Israel was built: Moving ideas and fantasies on the remains of oppressed reality.

Gaza and the legitimation of killing: Lessons for History

Wars, conquests, collective violence, and all kinds of forms of domination and oppression are justified through specific rhetorical strategies, or ideologies.

Take a very recent epoch, the one that was dubbed the ‘modern age’ that starts roughly with European ‘enlightenment’ and is still unfolding today. This is an epoch that sees the development and consolidation of States with their invented National histories, an epoch where capitalist economic and social changing structures have been nurtured by evermore centralized poles of power and more rigid notions of self.  This epoch has seen the rise of a discourse of human rights, ‘rights’ people had, claims they could make on the past, on territory, and even on other people (teaching democracy for example).

Israel represents one little (but oh so deadly) experiment of applying national theory to practice from scratch. It is the quintessence of modern culture: believing in an idea that fathoms a history for a people, projects it on a territory and then consolidates State structures to the detriment of previous social and economic structures in place. In a way Israel is the Frankenstein of the West. It is the horrible result of an experiment where the idea that some ‘ideational’ link with some representation of the past can materialize in ‘reality’, indeed, should, or has a ‘right to’ materialize in reality.

In this sense another type of colonial practice is born with Israel. We could probably talk of a classical colonialism that Europe and to some extent the US practiced, consisting in occupying and seizing the means of production of a specific area (Latin America, Africa, India, etc.). But the new colonialism is one that exist side by side a perpetual condemnation of colonialism. The new colonialism exists in the age of NGOs, UN, and other international institutions that legitimates the occupation and oppression of the ‘uncivilized’. New colonialism is practiced mainly by the US and Israel today and consist in subverting the average person into believing that there are ‘security’ questions to address in order to protect the ‘rights’ of certain political entities.

Several times Talal Asad’s quote at the right top end of this blog has been criticized. But it still holds so well today. War by the ‘civilized’ is much more couched in a moral rhetoric that legitimates it and makes it more deadly. Trabulsi in Al Safir today argues that one such legitimating tool is the concept of “Security”. In this excellent article, Trabulsi showed how Israel and the US succeeded in imposing the notion of ‘security’ as a ‘reason of State’ in order to clamp down on any insurgency effort fighting their occupier. Trabulsi shows also how Arab states, especially Egypt and Saudi Arabia, caught onto this program and gradually switched from a discourse centralized on Palestinian (or say local population) demands to one of imposing security to the benefit of Israel so as to resolve and neutralize the Palestinian question.

I want to develop a couple of points Trabulsi makes in his article. The ‘security’ rationale is very perverse in several ways. First it ignores the fact that insurgents, fighters, resistance groups etc, have longstanding political demands which makes them do what they do when they do it. By this token it refuses to address these demands. Also, the Security rationale sanctifies (and goes fully in line with) a discourse on liberal values in the sense that it is only fair that Israel is a ‘legitimate’ entity that needs to ‘protect’ itself. Protection defined as such may justify the killing of civilians, in a different way than say ‘terrorist’ practices do. Terrorists have nothing to protect. They are out of a discourse of human rights. They are evil incarnate. Falling outside the hegemonic makes you unrecoverable.

A discourse of human rights sanctifies and makes it possible for this political Frankenstein to exist. The question to ask is when does the Palestinian question fall within a discourse on human right (which would then only make it a legitimate claim ‘respected’ by the West) and when does it fall outside of it? The politically dominant strives to push it outside of the ‘civilized’ discourse in order to legitimizes more killing while the world looks at it oblivious because it becomes ‘logical’ that Israel or someone else acts this way. You can kill much more recklessly when you are on the side of liberalism.

One sad point here is that the Palestinian question will only acquire saliency when it fully complies with this discourse, something most western-educated Palestinians or pro-Palestinians strive to achieve. One will always look at Hamas with ‘reservation’ because at the end of the day Hamas is not inscribed in this discourse, neither through its claims (calling for the destruction of Israel) nor through its practices (hitting ‘civilian’ targets). That is the biggest tragedy. One cannot actually make a case that Israel as a political entity with the history it projects should be destroyed. Or maybe one can, but it will take a lot of other subverting strategies. And weapons, lots of them…

For now Islamic movements are not revolutionary enough at the political level. They have to extirpate themselves from a discourse of human rights. Their use of ‘religion’, and their practice of piety is a good place to start. We need to go back to a discourse of human ‘roles’. Away from morals and into ethics…

Samir Kassir

Has anyone seen the new statue erected right next to the Al Nahar building in downtown representing Samir Kassir philosophizing with one hand in the air? I just want to point out one thing: Apart from the very bad selection of sentences from his work that are inscribed on the large stone that is next to the statue, there is a little biographical note that mentions Kassir as a Lebanese journalist. What? The guy is Palestinian! Or let’s say that he was born as part of those people that came to be called Palestinian and not as part of the population that came to be registered as Lebanese. Well, probably the fact that he was Christian, anti-Syrian, married to a Lebanese Force sympathizer, and living in Ashrafieh would qualify him to become some sort of “Lebanese” you tell me… Maybe they thought they were doing him a favor, lifting him up a step on the ladder of social recognition. Sad ending to the story. Even sadder than his actual assassination.

Another face of hegemony

Check out this excellent article by an Israeli PhD student in Cambridge on the politics of naming and labeling that is prevalent in the Israeli press. For one thing, it shows very well how standards to judge if a press is “free” should be put into question: it has nothing to do with what a ‘political regime’ allows or not, but with what a political system end up imposing as non-questionable, as hegemonic. So stop talking about the freedom of the press. Actually, stop talking about ‘freedom’. It is a word that does not mean much, and if you look at reality, those who use it as a sign of difference are most likely to be those who oppress the most.

More caring and some pedagogy

Manar TV (Hizbullah related) ran today a series of interviews with priests and Christian activists from and in Bethlehem (it was a live show), interpreting the birth of Jesus (that is commonly confused with the capitalist commercialized Christmas) as a communal celebration with the current state of affairs in Palestinian. It seems that this particular Christian celebration in Bethlehem takes a little militant turn and is used as a platform to denounce the racist and apartheid-like policies of the Zionist state.

There was an interesting priest talking from Al Manar’s studio with the host of the show. I could not get his name and whether he was Lebanese or Palestinian but he sure knew how to speak. Ironically, a socially militant Christian should turn to al Manar as a source of inspiration. I mean what can he get out of these wanna-be aristocrat Lebanese Maronite (and other) bishops for example? When did we ever see any of these conservatives talk about Palestine and other oppressive environments on a day like Christmas? Their Church sermons that are all over the Christian related TV channels are all about either some vague interpretation of the birth of Jesus as a source of peace, of God’s message of love. The only political undertones in Church’s sermons revolve around nationalistic self-preservation and elitist discursive articulations.

C’est pas moi c’est lui

Bank Hapoalim and Israel Discount Bank are facing charges in New York federal court that they violated American anti-terrorism finance laws by allegedly serving as a conduit for Hamas. The accusations come from the Arab Bank of Jordan, which was first accused of similar charges and is now striking back by throwing the charges at the Israeli banks.

Thank god the American public institutions are here to be more rigorous than the Israelis in the fight against terrorism:

The Defense Ministry’s Web site, for example, lists 200 organizations as terrorist entities with which Israeli banks are barred from conducting financial transactions. The list’s American equivalent, by contrast, includes roughly 800 organizations. There is only one entry for Hamas on the Israeli list, whereas the American list has some 30 charities and individuals tied to the Islamist group.
The consequences of the muddled situation emerged in September, when Israeli authorities discovered that roughly $745,000 transferred by Israel Discount Bank ended up in the coffers of the Executive Force, Hamas’s main security force in Gaza. The money, which was classified as wages paid out by the Palestinian Authority, was wired to Executive Force-controlled accounts at the Palestine Islamic Bank in Gaza.

The connection between Romans, Jews, and Arabs

Now let’s see if this triggers a déjà-vu:

The Israeli cabinet could soon free 100 Palestinian prisoners from Fatah, the party of embattled Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, public radio reported on Saturday…
The prisoner release would come on the occasion of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting, the radio said. The detainees to be freed would be those who did not take part in deadly attacks on Israelis.

Isn’t it the story of baby Jesus all over again? Substitute the Roman empire for Israel, the jews for the Arabs, the Jewish clerical establishment for Fatah, Jesus and Barabas et al for Fatah and Hamas prisonners (the selection here is crucial), Easter for Ramadan and here you go. Ever shifting roles of dominant and dominated, that is the story of human misery.

Sadness

An illustration of colonialism internalized:

The Israel Prison Service on Friday separated Palestinian security prisoners affiliated with Fatah from those linked with Hamas, after receiving intelligence information indicating that factional violence could break out among the prisoners in the wake of the bloody clashes in the Gaza Strip that led to the Hamas takeover there.

Hamas doomed dreams

So Fatah asks for permission to Israel to get arms from other Arab states to neutralize Hamas, and the latter’s leader Ismael Haniyeh wants to integrate its militia to the Palestinian security forces. Do you get it? Hamas lives in Alice’s wonderland… Can somebody tell Haniyeh despite all the efforts deployed, purely ‘Palestinian’ decisions will never be possible?

Fatah is not Palestinian anymore, people should wake up and scrap the last decades of history of Palestinian resistance.

Colonization continues

Do you know why there are constant Jewish settlements being built in the West Bank? Because these dudes find much more security and material comfort to live surrounded by ‘angry arabs’ then in the US:

Settlements near Jerusalem and Tel Aviv have become a suburban paradise for North American religious Jews. They offer large homes with yards, lawns and swimming pools, and prices are low compared with those of the cramped apartments not only of Israel’s main population centers but also of such smaller cities as Beit Shemesh and Modi’in.

In short, that’s how you buy ‘religious extremism’. And that’s how you provide a market for ‘religious extremism’. Just to echo with the discussion on ‘capitalism’ in the earlier comment section.

Security-wise, we can thank Abbas and co. who make sure these settlers get everything they need. No capitalistic structures without the provision of the number one public good: Monopoly over the means of coercion (By protecting the structures you create the market). No wonder how perceptions of the West Bank and Gaza are more and more ‘growing apart’. I remember this conversation I had with a colonel from Ramallah who told me that people in Gaza are from ‘another creed’: “they don’t think like us” he used to tell me.

And to add insult to injury, Fatah is busy asking from Israel the permission to get arms from other Arab states in order to neutralize Hamas.

So on the one hand, you have a mini-civil war in Palestine between those who have been won over by the colonizers cause and those who still try to resist, and on the other, you have a colonizer that makes sure that colonies are expanding and that constituencies of ‘colonizees’ are much better off living here than in their home town.

Colonization succeeds when it is effectively internalized. When West Bank and Gaza will be perceived as two different ‘countries’, then Israelis would have succeeded in their deepest ambitions. When people will think of themselves mostly through their projected differences, then exploitative structures are well entrenched.

Action Plans …

Understanding the implications of the document, Jordanian government officials ordered that the publisher’s printing house stop the presses while that edition’s plates were confiscated.

Do you think they used the same document template for Lebanon?

"Land day" in Palestinian camp Ain el Heloueh

Meet 1948 Palestinian refugees Fadel Tah and Hussein Ali Issa (they are respectively 86 and 84 years old). I don’t know how Israelis wake up in the morning everyday and get on with their daily lives with this on their conscience.

Rice Pudding …

Tis a testament to the rottenness of the current US regime that I find myself with sympathies for a sycophant like Mme. Rice. No comment here, I just like the pic.

I would add that all of this plays perfectly into Iran’s hands, just as the “Holocaust conference” did. Sometimes I wonder if power makes you stupid. If so, make me a weakling.

Israel sighs with relief: No clear right of return for Palestinians

See how this Israeli journalist is so afraid Palestinians may have the right to return that he scrutinizes the UN resolutions pertaining to the issue and find that the texts are quite vague and that Israel will not have to comply with a clear ‘legally binding’ right of return. Well, first it shows us how utterly petty and miserable some Israelis are, and second, it shows the possibility that actually the drafting of those resolutions were not the product of purely neutral international instances (those ideals you would see materializing in the minds of some Lebanese for example).

Dahlan and the Mecca Agreement …

Dahlan was the darling of the Western intelligence services, and was being tutored in English in London, where he could be found at Claridge’s Hotel. In the evenings, he would sometimes be spotted at some of London’s most fashionable nightclubs … The speculation in Washington is that the White House will make sure Fatah gets the money one way or another – even if that means taking responsibility for its disbursement out of the hands of the State Department and putting it back into the hands of the Central Intelligence Agency. “They’ll just take this white program and make it black,” a government consultant with ties to the agency said. “They’ll make the program covert, like it once was” in February 2006.

Lesson in Palestinian history

Sorry but I could not refrain from posting this concise (even if deja vu for many) summary of what are the choices left to Palestinians. No wonder why Hamas does not ‘recognize’ Israel. If words (i.e. the act of not recognizing) is all that is left, then be it:

United Nations “Partition Plan” to the Palestinians:
You are going to have 47% of the 100% which was originally yours.

“Oslo Agreement” to the Palestinians:
You are going to have 22% of the 100% which was originally yours.

Barak’s “Generous Offer” to the Palestinians:
We are going to give you 80% of 22% of the 100% of the land which was originally yours.

Sharon’s “Peace Plan” to the Palestinians in 2000:
We are going to give you 42% of 80% of 22% of the 100% of the land which was originally yours, and this 42% will remain under continuous curfew.

“American Zionists” to the Palestinians:
According to our version of the Bible you are entitled to 0% of 42% of 80% of 22% of the 100% of the land which was originally yours.

The “Road Map” to the Palestinians that Bush envisions:
If you stop your resistance to the occupation (which we call terrorism), and your refugees give up their right of return to their ancestral homes, and you agree to only elect officials acceptable to Bush and Olmert you agree to lock up all your resistance fighters, and you agree to drive your cars only on roads that Olmert assigns for your use, and you do not object to the ‘wall’ that Sharon started building & Olmert is finishing, and you agree not to claim Jerusalem as your capital, and you agree that your children’s school curriculum only includes courses and books approved by the Israeli government, and you agree not to give birth to more than three children per family, and stop complaining about the new law that prohibits Israeli Arabs from marrying Palastenian Arabs, while it allows them marry any other nationality in the world.

THEN President Bush, will consider putting pressure on Olmert to consider negotiating with you on the 42% of 80% of 22% of the 100% of the land which was originally yours.

(Thanks Ali)

Another Hamas Supporter …

Seems everyone has been getting in on the act:

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert accused Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday of having played a role in the founding of Hamas and emboldening the Islamic group during his time as prime minister.
“Netanyahu is the man who set up Hamas and revived it by releasing Sheikh Yassin (Hamas’ founder) and giving Hamas the option to grow because of stupidities he committed as prime minister,” Olmert told the committee.

Here is another translation:

“Netanyahu established Hamas, gave it life, freed Sheikh Yassin and gave him the option to blossom,” he said, adding that the current political in the Palestinian Authority was “because of the nonsense that was done while Netanyahu was prime minister.”

The daggers are out … God love Israeli politics, one of the truest bloodsports around …

Meanwhile in Palestine

Grignotes que je te dise, grignotes:

The Palestinian Authority on Wednesday condemned Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s decision to approve moving the separation barrier near Modi’in Ilit away from the Green Line in order to take in two settlements, as was first revealed by security sources and a brief submitted by the state to the High Court of Justice.