Gaza laid bare

Israel’s air assault on Gaza began with attacks on the Strip’s main police stations, including one in Rafah’s densely populated Junaina neighborhood which left twenty-five officers dead. Over the course of the war, approximately two hundred and fifty civilian policemen would be killed and every major police office damaged or destroyed, according to figures provided by the Ministry of the Interior.

When it became clear that policemen were being targeted, officers were ordered to don plain clothes uniforms and continue their patrols carrying sticks rather than guns to avoid detection. Trestle-table desks were set up amidst the rubble of bombed police stations to maintain the administrative network of law enforcement in the Strip, and the thirteen thousand-strong police force continued to function. “We would not allow the Israeli aggression to bring chaos to our streets,” says Ihab Al-Ghusain, a spokesperson for the Ministry. “We simply made the best of what we had.”

The Geneva Convention stipulates that to be considered a legitimate military target, objects must contribute to military action. “Police were not combatants and could not represent legitimate targets unless actively engaged in hostilities,” claims Sarah Leah Witson, the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch.

There was no significant increase in theft or looting during the war, although several calls were made to an emergency police hotline reporting incidents of over-pricing by merchants. “We have a bad history of safety in Gaza,” says Mr. Al-Ghusain, “and as a result people here have suffered. In times of crisis, people need the reassurance of a working police force more than ever; we could have everything else, but without security we have nothing. That’s why it was so important to keep going.” [continued…] (Hat-tip to Mondoweiss.)

Taboo broken in US Middle East offensive

A period of high-level diplomacy on the Middle East opens in New York on Monday, promising further insights into an emerging strategy from Barack Obama’s administration that is already raising concerns among Israel’s supporters.

On Monday, King Abdullah of Jordan said the US was promoting a “57-state solution” in which the entire Muslim world would recognise Israel. But he also warned that the new US administration had little time, before fresh violence erupted, to promote a two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. [continued…]

Netanyahu meeting with Obama decides Mid-East’s future, says Abdullah

President Obama’s critical meeting with Binyamin Netanyahu next week has become the acid test for the Administration’s commitment to peace in the Middle East, King Abdullah of Jordan said yesterday.

The monarch does not conceal his feelings about the Israeli leader. He described their last encounter – 10 years ago when he had just come to the throne – as the “least pleasant” of his reign. But he, and President Mubarak of Egypt, are expected to meet the Israeli leader before his trip to Washington, where the future course of the region could be decided.

The King said that he was prepared to believe what Israelis have told him — that a right-wing Government in Israel is better able to deliver peace than the Left.

“All eyes will be looking to Washington,” he said. “If there are no clear signals and no clear directives to all of us, there will be a feeling that this is just another American Government that is going to let us all down.”

If Israel procrastinated on a two-state solution, or if there was no clear American vision on what should happen this year, the “tremendous credibility” that Mr Obama had built up in the Arab world would evaporate overnight. [continued…]

Trivializing the Holocaust

First of all, I want to apologize to all the good women who are engaged in the world’s oldest profession.

I recently described Shimon Peres as a political prostitute. One of my female readers has protested vigorously. Prostitutes, she pointed out, earn their money honestly. They deliver what they promise.

Israel’s president, on the other hand, only tells the truth by accident. He is a political impostor and a political sham. To him, too, apply Winston Churchill’s words about a former prime minister: “The right honorable gentleman sometimes stumbles upon the truth, but he always hurries on as if nothing has happened.” Or the words of former minister Amnon Rubinstein about Ariel Sharon: “He blushes when he tells the truth.” [continued…]

Obama worsening Afghan-Pak state

For all the talk of “smart power,” President Obama is pressing down the same path of failure in Pakistan marked out by George Bush. The realities suggest need for drastic revision of US strategic thinking.

  • Military force will not win the day in either Afghanistan or Pakistan; crises have only grown worse under the US military footprint.
  • The Taleban represent zealous and largely ignorant mountain Islamists. They are also all ethnic Pashtuns. Most Pashtuns see the Taleban — like them or not — as the primary vehicle for restoration of Pashtun power in Afghanistan, lost in 2001. Pashtuns are also among the most fiercely nationalist, tribalized and xenophobic peoples of the world, united only against the foreign invader. In the end, the Taleban are probably more Pashtun than they are Islamist.
  • It is a fantasy to think of ever sealing the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The “Durand Line” is an arbitrary imperial line drawn through Pashtun tribes on both sides of the border. And there are twice as many Pashtuns in Pakistan as there are in Afghanistan. The struggle of 13 million Afghan Pashtuns has already enflamed Pakistan’s 28 million Pashtuns.


Pakistan’s ethnic fault line

To American eyes the struggle raging in Pakistan with the Taliban is about religious fanaticism. But in Pakistan it is about an explosive fusion of Islamist zeal and simmering ethnic tensions that have been exacerbated by U.S. pressures for military action against the Taliban and its al-Qaeda allies. Understanding the ethnic dimension of the conflict is the key to a successful strategy for separating the Taliban from al-Qaeda and stabilizing multiethnic Pakistan politically.

The Pakistani army is composed mostly of Punjabis. The Taliban is entirely Pashtun. For centuries, Pashtuns living in the mountainous borderlands of Pakistan and Afghanistan have fought to keep out invading Punjabi plainsmen. So sending Punjabi soldiers into Pashtun territory to fight jihadists pushes the country ever closer to an ethnically defined civil war, strengthening Pashtun sentiment for an independent “Pashtunistan” that would embrace 41 million people in big chunks of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

This is one of the main reasons the army initially favored a peace deal with a Taliban offshoot in the Swat Valley and has resisted U.S. pressure to go all out against jihadist advances into neighboring districts. While army leaders fear the long-term dangers of a Taliban link-up with Islamist forces in the heartland of Pakistan, they are more worried about what they see as the looming danger of Pashtun separatism. [continued…]

Fear and worry pervade refugee camps as Pakistanis flee assault on Taliban

As they waited in rows of empty white tents, refugees from fighting in the Swat Valley said Sunday that they had been repeating a Koranic verse from the sayings of the prophet Muhammad.

“He who recites this will receive my blessing and protection,” one woman read from a pamphlet in Arabic. “If he is hungry, he will find plentiful food. . . . If he has fear of a cruel ruler or enemy . . . the fear will be gone.”

The army has launched an offensive in Swat against armed Taliban extremists, and for now at least, there is enough food, water and shelter for the estimated 200,000 refugees who since Thursday have poured into four camps set up by the United Nations and the government of this northwest Pakistani city.

But there is a pervasive sense of loss and worry among the families that keep arriving in overcrowded farm trucks and rented vans. In interviews in two camps Saturday and Sunday, some refugees said their homes had been destroyed in the fighting. Others said they had to abandon their goats and cows. And some, in their rush to escape, even had to leave their children behind.

“When the shelling started, my wife and I ran out to gather the children. It was like a hell outside, and we just started running,” recounted Taj Mahmad, 35, a vegetable-cart puller. “I realized that my son and my smallest daughter were missing. She is only 3. But my wife cried and said the rest of us would be killed if we stayed, so we kept going. I have no idea what happened to them.” [continued…]

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