Barack Obama’s silence on Gaza bombings is galling to Arabs

President-elect Barack Obama’s silence on the weeklong conflict in Gaza is drawing criticism among Arabs who have grown skeptical about hopes that his administration will break with the Mideast policies of the Bush era.

Obama, who is moving to Washington this weekend, was on vacation in Hawaii when the crisis erupted and has made no statements, either about Israel’s bombing of Gaza or Palestinian rocket attacks against Israel. His aides say that he does not wish to address foreign-policy issues in any way that could send “confusing signals” about U.S. policy as long as President George W. Bush is in office.

“President-elect Obama is closely monitoring global events, including the situation in Gaza, but there is one president at a time,” said Brooke Anderson, chief national security spokeswoman for the Obama transition team.

Arab commentators maintain, however, that Obama did comment on foreign affairs when he issued a statement condemning the terrorist attacks in Mumbai and that he has given several news conferences outlining his economic proposals. They suggest that his refusal to speak out on Gaza—where more than 400 Palestinians have died in the Israeli airstrikes, compared with four Israeli deaths from the rockets—implies indifference to the plight of Palestinians or even complicity with Israel’s bombing campaign. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — Readers of The Huffington Post are apparently much more concerned about George Bush’s lack of leadership during his last three weeks in office than they are about Obama’s silence. As for the American blogosphere as a whole, the snapshot provided by Memeorandum suggests that a war that garnered lukewarm interest in its first week has now as it enters its second week virtually fallen off the radar.

One aspect of this “conflict” — I hesitate to call it a conflict because the Hamas counterattack at this point is little more than symbolic — is that a key component of the Israeli-US narrative on Hamas has failed to be proven.

Those who were skeptical about the viability of Israel entering into a truce with Hamas repeatedly argued that the lull would simply afford the “Iran-proxy” an opportunity to re-arm with a much more deadly arsenal of missiles.

Where are they? Are we to believe that they are being held in reserve for the right moment?

(Ashdod and Ashkelon have been struck by a handful of Grad rockets but this can hardly be compared with the fusillades of Katyushas that Hezbollah rained down on Israel in 2006.)

Israel’s YouTube “smoking gun” — “Grad rockets” being loaded into the back of a truck just before being blown up by a preemptive strike — turns out to have been bogus.

The tunnels from Egypt through which all the Iranian missiles were supposedly being funneled, appear to have really been what the residents of Gaza claimed: the supply line for everyday goods required inside a territory under economic siege.

As Obama continues to “monitor the situation” in Gaza, he should also listen to what the Organization of the Islamic Conference, meeting in Saudi Arabia, said today:

    We call on the US administration, namely the US President-elect Barack Obama, to pay the utmost attention to the possible repercussions of the ongoing Israeli war and its implications on the future of peace efforts in the Middle East and establishing lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. And to pay the utmost attention to the war’s consequences on the new administration’s efforts to enhance the image of the United States within the Muslim world.

Interestingly and perhaps surprisingly the most charitable view about what the president-elect can do before he takes office comes from Hamas’ Beirut representative, Osama Hamden:

    “If he talks against the Palestinians he will lose any chance before he has even started,” he told the Chicago Tribune. “And if he talks against the Israelis, this will not help him.”

Israel pounds Gaza as Hamas offensive enters second week

Israeli air strikes claimed a Hamas military commander and destroyed a Gaza school on Saturday as an assault on Gaza which has so far killed more than 440 Palestinians entered its second week.

Troops and tanks massed at the border remained on alert to advance into Gaza after seven days that have seen more than 750 air raids launched against Hamas leaders and military targets. [continued…]

Al Jazeera: Israeli bombardment of Gaza enters second week

Propaganda war: trusting what we see?

The Israeli propaganda effort is being directed to achieve two main aims.

The first is to justify the air attacks. The second is to show that there is no humanitarian calamity in Gaza.

Both these aims are intended to place Israel in a strong position internationally and to enable its diplomacy to act as an umbrella to fend off calls for a ceasefire while the military operation unfolds.

Israel has pursued the first aim by being very active in getting its story across that Hamas is to blame. The sight of Hamas rockets streaking into Israel has been helpful in this respect.

It has also allowed trucks in with food aid and has stressed that it will not let people starve, even if they go short.

Israel appears to think its efforts are working.

One of its spokespeople, who has regularly appeared on the international media, Major Avital Leibovich, said: “Quite a few outlets are very favourable to Israel.”

Israel has bolstered its approach by banning foreign correspondents from Gaza, despite a ruling from the Israeli Supreme Court. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — It’s curious that the BBC, on the one hand provides in text the evidence that Israel mischaracterized a strike — evidence documented by the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem — yet they only include the IDF’s video of the aerial view of the attack. This is what they left out:

Spokesman’s Unit hails ‘fair’ coverage

Foreign and domestic television crews are lined up along Herzl Street in Sderot on a cold Thursday afternoon. A siren sounds and the crews run into crowded bomb shelter doorways as three booming thumps are heard in the distance. Kassams have just struck the Negev town.

This first-hand experience of life under rocket fire may be one of the reasons Israeli diplomats and spokesmen feel Israel is finally getting a hearing in the international media.

“We’re talking to families who have lived under this for eight years,” said a journalist from a major European outlet who asked to remain anonymous. “It’s an important part of what’s happening here,” he said.

IDF officials, too, feel the coverage has been mostly fair.

“I’m surprised for the better. The coverage has been balanced on most channels, even on some outlets not known for being pro-Israel,” said Maj. Avital Leibovich, head of the foreign press department in the IDF Spokesman’s Unit. [continued…]

Polls show Israeli public in no mood for compromise

Some were troubled by pictures of children and women among the casualties, others voiced trepidation about a ground invasion, but the overwhelming view among Israelis on the streets of Jerusalem yesterday was that their government was right to attack Gaza and the offensive should go on for as long as it takes.

Israel’s relentless air strikes on the Palestinian enclave may be drawing strong criticism and calls for a ceasefire in much of the rest of the world, but a common reaction of Israelis is that outsiders simply don’t understand what they have been going through.

Domestic opposition has been much more muted than in some past wars, and even in those areas deemed to be Jerusalem’s most liberal, the mood was generally uncompromising. [continued…]

Report: Abbas to release hundreds of Hamas prisoners

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has informed the Palestinian organizations that he plans to release hundreds of Hamas prisoners jailed in prisons in the West Bank, sources in Hamas claimed Saturday.

Abbas’ office has yet to respond to the report.

According to the report, Abbas is interested in making a goodwill gesture ahead of a possible renewal of the talks between the Palestinian factions and on the backdrop of the Israel Defense Forces’ offensive against the terror organizations in Gaza. [continued…]

Dem leaders out of step with voters on Israel’s attack on Gaza

A new Rasmussen Reports poll — the first to survey American public opinion specifically regarding the Israeli attack on Gaza — strongly bolsters the severe disconnect between American public opinion on U.S. policy toward Israel and the consensus views expressed by America’s political leadership.

Not only does Rasmussen find that Americans generally “are closely divided over whether the Jewish state should be taking military action against militants in the Gaza Strip” (44 percent to 41 percent, with 15 percent undecided), but Democratic voters overwhelmingly oppose the Israeli offensive — by a 24-point margin. By stark contrast, Republicans, as one would expect (in light of their history of supporting virtually any proposed attack on Arabs and Muslims), overwhelmingly support the Israeli bombing campaign (62 percent to 27 percent).

It’s not at all surprising that Republican leaders — from Dick Cheney and John Bolton to virtually all appendages of the right-wing noise machine — are unquestioning supporters of the Israeli attack. After all, they’re expressing the core ideology of the overwhelming majority of their voters and audience.

Much more notable is the fact that Democratic leaders — including Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi — are just as lock step in their blind, uncritical support for the Israeli attack, in their absolute refusal to utter a word of criticism of, or even reservations about, Israeli actions. [continued…]

Where’s the academic outrage over the bombing of a University in Gaza?

Not one of the nearly 450 presidents of American colleges and universities who prominently denounced an effort by British academics to boycott Israeli universities in September 2007 have raised their voice in opposition to Israel’s bombardment of the Islamic University of Gaza earlier this week. Lee C. Bollinger, president of Columbia University, who organized the petition, has been silent, as have his co-signatories from Princeton, Northwestern, and Cornell Universities, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Most others who signed similar petitions, like the 11,000 professors from nearly 1,000 universities around the world, have also refrained from expressing their outrage at Israel’s attack on the leading university in Gaza. The artfully named Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, which organized the latter appeal, has said nothing about the assault.

While the extent of the damage to the Islamic University, which was hit in six separate airstrikes, is still unknown, recent reports indicate that at least two major buildings were targeted, a science laboratory and the Ladies’ Building, where female students attended classes. There were no casualties, as the university was evacuated when the Israeli assault began on Saturday.

Virtually all the commentators agree that the Islamic University was attacked, in part, because it is a cultural symbol of Hamas, the ruling party in the elected Palestinian government, which Israel has targeted in its continuing attacks in Gaza. Mysteriously, hardly any of the news coverage has emphasized the educational significance of the university, which far exceeds its cultural or political symbolism. [continued…]

The Arab-Israeli Conflict: too complicated for our beautiful minds

There are so many words written about the “root causes” of the Arab-Israeli conflict, you might think the underlying issue is difficult to understand. But you’d be wrong. For all the mythology that interested parties want to wrap this conflict in, it’s really not difficult at all to understand the confrontation that has been going on in Palestine for more than a century now. All you have to do is try to imagine that what happened to Palestine happened instead here in the U.S. Then ask yourself, “What would Americans do in this position?”. And at that point, you find it miraculously stops being difficult to understand.

The problem with this approach is that American Exceptionalism has left us barely able to imagine being in other people’s shoes. So we explain the world to ourselves through ridiculous platitudes like we’re good and they’re evil, that actually explain nothing and leave us as confused as when we started. We just don’t do empathy very well.

But let’s try anyway. Let’s try imagining that what has been going on in Palestine for the last 100 years is going on instead here in the U.S., right now. [continued…]

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