Archives for August 2011

Syrians must contemplate foreign help – if not the West’s

Abdur Rahman al Shami” writes:

On 22 August an interview with Bashar Al-Assad was aired on Syrian TV. He assumed the people were following his every word. But they were not in the least concerned with his interview; instead, many stayed up the whole night watching the battle to liberate Tripoli. It had huge symbolism, especially for the people of Damascus. With the fall of Tripoli and the departure of Gaddafi and his family, it became clear to the people that despite the severity of losses, the fight in Libya was worth the price.

The decision by the Syrian people to march in protest was taken on the night of 17 March, the day the UN passed resolution 1973, imposing a no-fly zone over Libya. The following day there were demonstrations in Damascus, Dara’a, Banias and Homs. Two people were killed, and this effectively lit the flames of the Syrian revolution.

But our peaceful revolution received no official support from the Islamic and Arab countries. All we got were hesitant platitudes from our neighbours. Likewise, the west called only for reform, or at most economic sanctions. This encouraged Assad to increase his repression in the hope that he would be able to quell the revolution quickly.

But our revolution gathered momentum. Always peaceful, and without any external intervention it spread, with more and more protesters, cities and villages taking part. Syrian opposition figures inside and abroad worked to support the revolution through a series of initiatives, culminating in the formation of national councils earlier this month.

The revolutionaries on the ground now find themselves confronting a new reality. On the one hand we are faced with Arab silence, an ongoing regional indecision – especially from neighbouring Turkey – and the west as passive spectators to Assad’s violations. On the other, Tripoli and Libya are liberated. While Nato support was helpful, credit must be given to the determination of the Libyan people and their tactics, including armed struggle.

There is no doubt that the Syrian revolutionaries will now carry out a reappraisal of their own position; especially as we witness the daily bombardment of Homs, Latakia and Deir al-Zour; while Hama is attacked, the plains of Houran bleed, Aleppo is terrorised and Damascus repressed. The revolutionaries are now questioning the peaceful nature of the Syrian revolution – we have not until now used arms against the regime – and also re-evaluting our position on foreign intervention.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International says:

At least 88 people are believed to have died in detention in Syria during five months of bloody repression of pro-reform protests, a new Amnesty International report reveals today.

Deadly detention: Deaths in custody amid popular protest in Syria documents reported deaths in custody between April and mid-August in the wake of sweeping arrests.

The 88 deaths represented a significant escalation in the number of deaths following arrest in Syria. In recent years Amnesty International has typically recorded around five deaths in custody per year in Syria.

“These deaths behind bars are reaching massive proportions, and appear to be an extension of the same brutal disdain for life that we are seeing daily on the streets of Syria,” said Neil Sammonds, Amnesty International’s researcher on Syria.


Is BDS campaign working?

Ynet reports:

Many Israeli agricultural products have been recently targeted by the Israel boycott campaign: tomatoes, peppers, citrus fruit, carrots, melons, strawberries and celery. But the flowers have been the primary obsession of the divestment movement, which wants to strangle the Israeli economy.

Agrexco, Israel’s leading flower exporter, has recently declared bankruptcy, partially due to the global boycott of its produce, according to some reports. More than 20 organizations in Europe in 13 countries endorsed a boycott of Agrexco.

International pressure, boycotts and sanctions on South Africa’s apartheid government played a major role in ending its power. Modeled on that global campaign, the anti-Israel boycott movement has notched notable victories of late, while making use of an old Marxist lexicon (“imperialism,” “colonialism,” “occupation,” and “settler society”).

The first symbol of the anti-Israel economic campaign, Caterpillar, was far removed from the Western public consciousness. Yet Israeli roses were a better Jewish scapegoat, as flowers are a pillar of Israel’s economy (in the 1980s Israel became the world’s number two flower exporter. Agrexco was boycotted because it’s partially owned by the Israeli government and because the company has some farms in the Jordan Valley and in Tekoa, a settlement at the gates of the Judean desert.


Israel’s social protest leaders mull pulling up stakes after ‘march of million’ rally

Haaretz reports:

Social protest leaders are starting to discuss what to do about the tent camps scattered around the country once the summer’s demonstrations come to a head with the “march of the million” scheduled for Saturday night.

They are considering a call to dismantle the tent cities after the march, which will include a mass rally at Tel Aviv’s Kikar Hamedina. The leaders noted, however, that local activists may well ignore such a call and keep the camps standing. Moreover, there are many homeless people in the camps who have nowhere else to go.

The tent element of the protests has been waning. On Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard, many of the tents stand empty. There are no longer activities, lectures and debates there, and at night the street is often quiet.

Although complaints from area residents have been piling up at city halls across the country, local authorities have made very few moves to take down tent cities.


Evidence that former Bush official David Welch and US Rep. Dennis Kucinich tried to help Gaddafi retain power — updated

(Update below)
Jamal Elshayyal visited Libya’s intelligence headquarters in Tripoli, much of which were destroyed in NATO airstrikes.

I managed to smuggle away some documents, among them some that indicate the Gaddafi regime, despite its constant anti-American rhetoric – maintained direct communications with influential figures in the US.

I found what appeared to be the minutes of a meeting between senior Libyan officials – Abubakr Alzleitny and Mohammed Ahmed Ismail – and David Welch, the former assistant secretary of state who served under George W Bush and the man who brokered the deal which restored diplomatic relations between the US and Libya in 2008.

Welch now works for Bechtel, a multinational American company with billion dollar construction deals across the Middle East. The documents record that, on August 2, 2011, David Welch met with Gaddafi’s officials at the Four Seasons Hotel in Cairo, just a few blocks from the US embassy there.

During that meeting Welch advised Gaddafi’s team on how to win the propaganda war – suggesting several “confidence building measures”, the documents said. The documents appear to indicate that an influential US political personality was advising Gaddafi on how to beat the US and NATO.

Minutes of this meeting note his advice on how to undermine Libya’s rebel movement, with the potential assistance of foreign intelligence agencies, including Israel. “Any information related to al-Qaeda or other terrorist extremist organisations should be found and given to the American administration but only via the intelligence agencies of either Israel, Egypt, Morroco, or Jordan… America will listen to them… It’s better to receive this information as if it originated from those countries…”

The papers also document that Welch advised Gaddafi’s regime to take advantage of the current unrest in Syria, pointing out: “The importance of taking advantage of the Syrian situation particularly regarding the double-standard policy adopted by Washington… the Syrians were never your friends and you would loose nothing from exploiting the situation there in order to embarrass the West.”

Despite this apparent encouragement to Gaddafi of going on a propaganda campaign at the expense of Syria, the documents claim Welch attacked Qatar, describing Doha’s actions as “cynical” and an attempt to divert attention from the unrest in Bahrain.

The documents claims that Welch went on to propose the following solution to the crisis which he said many would support in the US administration; Gaddafi “should step aside” but “not necessarily relinquish all his powers”. This advice is a clear contradiction to public demands from the White House that Gaddafi must be removed.

According to the document, as the meeting closed, Welch promised: “To convey everything to the American administration, the congress and other influential figures.” But it appears that David Welch was not the only prominent American giving help to Gaddafi as NATO and the rebel army were locked in battle with his regime.

On the floor of the intelligence chief’s office lay an envelope addressed to Gaddafi’s son Saif Al-Islam. Inside, I found what appears to be a summary of a conversation between US congressman Denis Kucinich, who publicly opposed US policy on Libya, and an intermediary for the Libyan leader’s son.

It details a request by the congressman for information he needed to lobby American lawmakers to suspend their support for the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) and to put an end to NATO airstrikes. According to the document, Kucinich wanted evidence of corruption within the NTC and, like his fellow countryman Welch, any possible links within rebel ranks to al-Qaeda.

The document also lists specific information needed to defend Saif Al-Islam, who is currently on the International Criminal Court’s most wanted list.

Update: Al Jazeera:

A spokesperson for the US state department said that David Welch is “a private citizen” who was on a “private trip” and that he did not carry “any messages from the US government”. Welch has not responded to Al Jazeera‘s requests for comment.

Dennis Kucinich issued a statement to the Atlantic Wire stating: “Al Jazeera found a document written by a Libyan bureaucrat to other Libyan bureaucrats. All it proves is that the Libyans were reading the Washington Post… I can’t help what the Libyans put in their files… Any implication I was doing anything other than trying to bring an end to an unauthorised war is fiction.”

The document connected to Welch can be read here.

The document connected to Kucinich can be read here.


On Israel, the New York Times is perniciously one-sided

At Adbusters, Matthew A. Taylor writes:

Although the spin is hard to detect for the average reader, New York Times reportage of Middle East affairs is perniciously biased. In their seminal book, Israel-Palestine on Record: How the New York Times Misreports Conflict in the Middle East, Princeton professor Richard Falk and media critic Howard Friel argue that “the Times regularly ignores or under-reports a multitude of critical legal issues pertaining to Israel’s policies, including Israel’s expropriation and settlement of Palestinian land, the two-tier system of laws based on national origin evocative of South Africa’s apartheid regime, the demolition of Palestinian homes, and use of deadly force against Palestinians.” In other words, what is not said by the New York Times may be even more important than what is said.

In June of 2010, a year and a half after the Israeli military launched what a United Nations investigation described as “a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population,” the New York Times sent a photographer into Gaza to capture a slice of daily life. Ethan Bronner, the Times Jerusalem bureau chief, wrote the narrative for the photo essay entitled “Gaza, Through Fresh Eyes,” in which he gushes about “jazzy cellphone stores and pricey restaurants … endless beaches with children whooping it up … the staggering quality of the very ordinary.” Seemingly lifted from an apolitical travel magazine, Bronner’s article merely alludes to families who have been “traumatized,” and omits any mention of the UN allegations of recently committed Israeli war crimes and human rights violations. Other than an oblique reference to “destroyed buildings” and “rubble,” Bronner’s travelogue also elides the vast civilian infrastructure Israel destroyed during the onslaught, including chicken farms, a flour mill, a sewage treatment plant, a UN school, vast tracts of civilian housing, government buildings, a prison, police stations, TV stations, newspapers … and between 600 and 700 factories, workshops and businesses. The impression left by Bronner? Gaza is an OK place; nothing remarkable to see there, least of all evidence of Israeli war crimes; move along, move along.

(H/t Mondoweiss)


What does Gaddafi’s fall mean for Africa?

Mahmood Mamdani writes:

“Kampala ‘mute’ as Gaddafi falls,” is how the opposition paper summed up the mood of this capital the morning after. Whether they mourn or celebrate, an unmistakable sense of trauma marks the African response to the fall of Gaddafi.

Both in the longevity of his rule and in his style of governance, Gaddafi may have been extreme. But he was not exceptional. The longer they stay in power, the more African presidents seek to personalise power. Their success erodes the institutional basis of the state. The Carribean thinker C L R James once remarked on the contrast between Nyerere and Nkrumah, analysing why the former survived until he resigned but the latter did not: “Dr Julius Nyerere in theory and practice laid the basis of an African state, which Nkrumah failed to do.”

The African strongmen are going the way of Nkrumah, and in extreme cases Gaddafi, not Nyerere. The societies they lead are marked by growing internal divisions. In this, too, they are reminiscent of Libya under Gaddafi more than Egypt under Mubarak or Tunisia under Ben Ali.

Whereas the fall of Mubarak and Ben Ali directed our attention to internal social forces, the fall of Gaddafi has brought a new equation to the forefront: the connection between internal opposition and external governments. Even if those who cheer focus on the former and those who mourn are preoccupied with the latter, none can deny that the change in Tripoli would have been unlikely without a confluence of external intervention and internal revolt.

The conditions making for external intervention in Africa are growing, not diminishing. The continent is today the site of a growing contention between dominant global powers and new challengers. The Chinese role on the continent has grown dramatically. Whether in Sudan and Zimbawe, or in Ethiopia, Kenya and Nigeria, that role is primarily economic, focused on two main activities: building infrastructure and extracting raw materials. For its part, the Indian state is content to support Indian mega-corporations; it has yet to develop a coherent state strategy. But the Indian focus too is mainly economic.

The contrast with Western powers, particularly the US and France, could not be sharper. The cutting edge of Western intervention is military. France’s search for opportunities for military intervention, at first in Tunisia, then Cote d’Ivoire, and then Libya, has been above board and the subject of much discussion. Of greater significance is the growth of Africom, the institutional arm of US military intervention on the African continent.

This is the backdrop against which African strongmen and their respective oppositions today make their choices. Unlike in the Cold War, Africa’s strongmen are weary of choosing sides in the new contention for Africa. Exemplified by President Museveni of Uganda, they seek to gain from multiple partnerships, welcoming the Chinese and the Indians on the economic plane, while at the same time seeking a strategic military presence with the US as it wages its War on Terror on the African continent.


Algeria’s regime: out on a limb that looks set to fall

Brian Whitaker writes:

With three out of five countries now under new management along the north African coast, the spotlight is turning towards the remaining two: Algeria and Morocco.

In Morocco, where a new constitution was approved in July, the king’s promises of reform may succeed in staving off a mass revolt – at least for the time being. Morocco also recognised the national transitional council (NTC) in Libya with deft timing a week ago, declaring its support for “the legitimate aspirations of the brotherly Libyan people”.

That leaves Algeria out on a limb, increasingly identified with the forces of counter-revolution. Not only has it so far failed to recognise the Libyan NTC, but it is now openly providing refuge for members of the Gaddafi family.

Welcoming the Gaddafis, according to Algeria’s ambassador at the UN, was nothing more than a humanitarian gesture, in line with the traditions of desert hospitality – but we don’t have to look very far to see the politics behind it.

What happened to the Tunisian, Egyptian and Libyan regimes could easily have been the fate of the Algerian regime, too. In January, as the Tunisian uprising gathered pace, Algeria also experienced widespread disturbances – and for very similar reasons. Regular protests were still continuing on a smaller scale at the end of March.


Libya’s rebels achieved what many thought would be impossible

George Joffe writes:

Given Libya’s dramatic lack of political and administrative experience (the legacy of the baleful perfection of the Jamahiriyah, which punished dissent with death or imprisonment), and the parallel lack of civil society (eliminated over the years for identical reasons), it is almost impossible for Libya to ignore the accumulated experience of the previous regime.

Indeed, Mr Abdel Jalil himself, as president of the Council, is Libya’s former minister of justice and the commander of the East’s military forces. General Younis, who was killed at the end of July, had been the interior minister. Yet General Younis’ death was almost certainly a consequence of a widespread dislike and suspicion of former members of the Gaddafi regime within the insurgent movement.

The issue also highlights the tensions within the Council between different groups: Exiles against former members of the regime, Islamist militias suspicious of the military command, and tensions between the armed forces of the East and those of the West of the country. Mr Abdel Jalil has battled against these trends, it is true, but it is not clear how successful he has been and how coherent and competent the Council will be in handling its new responsibilities. Nonetheless, there are still many question marks about the immediate future that pro-Gaddafi forces may seek to exploit if they manage to regroup.

Yet against these concerns must be set the single staggering fact that, admittedly with NATO’s help but essentially with their own resources, Libya’s people have overthrown the regime that had oppressed them for decades. Unlike Tunisia, the regime was not capable of understanding its own loss of legitimacy and fought unsuccessfully to retain control. Unlike Egypt, there was no army as a national institution which, in the end, was prepared to force the regime to go. NATO’s help was vital in evening out the odds that the insurgents faced, but they were the ones who actually achieved what many thought at the beginning would be impossible.

It could be argued, therefore, that Libya, the country upon which its regional neighbors used to look with a pitying regret, perhaps even contempt, may turn out to be a paradigm of how liberty can and should be won against corrupting and violent dictatorship. In that respect, it finds its place alongside Tunisia as the unexpected and unanticipated examples of radical political change in the Arab world, in which it is North Africa that offers lessons to a Middle East that has been used to precisely the reverse!

Given that achievement, perhaps, the problems faced by the National Transitional Council can now be seen in a proper perspective.


‘Libyans don’t like people with dark skin, but some are innocent’

Patrick Cockburn reports:

Yassin Bahr, a tall thin Senegalese in torn blue jeans, volubly denies that he was ever a mercenary or fought for Muammar Gaddafi.

Speaking in quick nervous sentences, Mr Bahr tries to convince a suspicious local militia leader in charge of the police station in the Faraj district of Tripoli, that he is a building worker who has been arrested simply because of his colour. “I liked Gaddafi, but I never fought for him,” Mr Bahr says, adding that he had worked in Libya for three years laying tiles.

But the Libyan rebels are hostile to black Africans in general. One of the militiamen, who have been in control of the police station since the police fled, said simply: “Libyan people don’t like people with dark skins, though some of them may be innocent.”

Going by Mr Bahr’s experience, any black African in Libya is open to summary arrest unless he can prove that he was not a member of Colonel Gaddafi’s forces.

Fathi, a building contractor who did not want to give his full name and was temporarily running the police station, wanted to know why Mr Bahr had a special residence permit that an immigrant worker would not normally obtain. “You must have been fighting for Gaddafi to have a permit like this,” he said. Mr Bahr said that three years earlier he had walked through the Sahara and crossed the Libyan border illegally with other West Africans looking for work. They had been picked up by the Libyan police, but he had eventually bribed them to get a residence permit. He had been watching television with nine other African immigrants when they were arrested, though no arms were found in the house.

Racism against black Africans and Libyans with dark skin has long simmered in Libya. Before the war there were estimated to be a million illegal immigrants in the country, which has a population of six million and a workforce of 1.7 million.

In 2000 there were anti-immigrant riots in which dozens of workers from countries like Ghana, Cameroon, Niger, Chad, Nigeria and Burkina Faso were killed. The war has deepened racial hostility. The rebels claim that many of Colonel Gaddafi’s soldiers were black African mercenaries. Amnesty International says these allegations are largely unproven and, from the beginning of the conflict, many of those arrested or, in some cases, executed by the rebels were undocumented labourers caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.


Military council fails to defuse mounting tales of torture in Egypt

Ahram Online reports:

Soldiers arrive one mid-afternoon to break off a peaceful gathering in Tahrir Square. Days later, several young people recount scary ordeals and horror stories they claim they endured.

Amr, for example, a young Egyptian man who works in the TV and Radio Corporation, entered the Metro Station in Tahrir Square to take the train home around 2pm.

“On the stairs going into the station, three men in civilian clothes arrested me. They took my ID card and broke it into two pieces. They kicked and punched me around and then led me to a personnel carrier nearby,” Amr told El Nadeem Centre for the psychological rehabilitation of victims of violence and torture.

“In the crowded vehicle, soldiers cursed me and hit me all over my body repeatedly until I almost fainted. I found a few young men in the car who were also apparently beaten and we all had trouble breathing because it was inhumanely hot and stuffy in there. They drove us around for two hours until we arrived at the prison,” Amr continued, recounting his story as it appears on the Centre’s website.

“Soldiers welcomed us at the prison gate by hitting us with electric shock batons in sensitive parts of our bodies. They made us crawl on our stomachs into the jail yard while stepping down on us with their boots and lashing at us with their whips,” Amr recalled to El Nadeem.

Ahmed, a journalist, said that soldiers arrested him that same day as he headed towards a mosque near the square to perform his afternoon prayers.

“I told them that I am a journalist. They said they did not give a damn. They took us to a prison. They stripped us and made us crawl naked on the jail’s asphalt. My back is swollen and I might need surgery on my leg,” goes Ahmed’s account to El Nadeem Centre.

Zeinab, a young woman, said that soldiers abused her as she tried to help an elderly woman whom soldiers knocked down after she shouted at soldiers in defence of those being beaten.

“Some soldiers grabbed me, lifted my blouse and started slapping me straight on the flesh. They said that I was more or less a whore,” Zeinab told El Nadeem.

These stories are not of the horror and torture that Egyptians endured in the long years under the draconian rule of ousted president Hosni Mubarak. The peaceful gathering in question did not take place against one of the many facets of Mubarak’s repressive rule.

Moreover, the soldiers accused of brutality and torture were not members of the notorious State Security Intelligence core, which haunted and abused endless numbers of protesters and other ordinary citizens for decades to keep Mubarak safely in power.

The demonstration in question took place on 1 August 2011; seven months after Egyptians ousted Mubarak in a spectacular popular revolution.


Pro-Assad militia threatens to go on strike

Asharq Al-Awsat reports:

The state of unity exhibited by the Syrian regime since the outbreak of protests more than 5 months may have finally come to an end. Over this period of time, the al-Assad regime has relied on Syrian military forces and the pro-regime “Shabiha” militia to suppress the protests taking place across the country, but both forces have now begun slowly to move out of the Damascus regime’s control. This is a state of affairs that could significantly change the equation on the ground and may lead to a scenario that will result in a quick and indeed surprising end to the Syrian crisis, which has so far claimed 2,200 lives, according to Human Rights groups’ estimates.

The “Shabiha” militia has played a prominent role in silencing the demonstrations taking place in Syria. The Syrian security apparatus hired the “Shabiha” militia to suppress anti-regime protests, and eyewitness reports indicate that “Shabiha” militants have beaten and killed unnamed Syrian demonstrators, as part of the al-Assad regime’s campaign to quell the popular uprising against it.

However the Syrian regime is now running out of funds, particularly after the protests and demonstrations have continued for more than 4 months. This has led to a situation where the al-Assad regime is no longer able to continue paying the “Shabiha” militia. This has reportedly angered members of the pro-regime militia and may even lead to them electing to withdraw from the picture.

The Syrian regime’s trouble finding funds to pay the pro-regime “Shabiha” militia, who have been instrumental in the al-Assad regime’s campaign to quell the popular uprising, represents the first overt indication that the economic sanctions imposed on the Syrian regime by the international community is having an effect. Earlier this week, Syrian Central Bank Governor Adib Mayaleh acknowledged that “we [the people of Syria] will have to tighten our belts” adding that “all [Syrians] will be increasingly affected [by the economic sanctions], and this will create unemployment and poverty.”

This confirms information reported to Asharq Al-Awsat by a well-informed source that the “Shabiha” militia has threatened to go on strike if the Syrian government continues to fail to pay up. The source stressed that this is an extremely urgent issue, particularly as many members of the “Shabiha” militia in Damascus left the capital for Latakia and other Syrian provinces, after the Syrian regime stopped paying them.


The failure of the Internet: Why efficiency promotes poverty unless ordinary people can own and sell information

“What you have now is a system in which the Internet user becomes the product that is being sold to others, and what the product is, is the ability to be manipulated.” Jaron Lanier


White House guidelines on 9/11 messaging — don’t mention Baghdad

The New York Times in its Izvestia-like role as mouthpiece for the White House, shares some of the guidelines that have been sent to government officials with directions on how they should talk about 9/11, as its tenth anniversary approaches. Goodness knows what any of them might say if they were not provided with clear instructions on how to speak and think.

The documents being reported on have been distributed to hundreds, perhaps thousands of officials. They are referred to as “internal documents” which leads me to doubt that they are even classified as confidential, yet the Times, prissy as ever, didn’t publish the documents — merely quoted from them liberally.

There are two sets of guidelines — one on how American officials should communicate with other Americans and the other on how to talk to everyone else.

[T]he guidelines aimed at foreign audiences … call on American officials to praise overseas partners and their citizens, who have joined the worldwide effort to combat violent extremism.

“As we commemorate the citizens of over 90 countries who perished in the 9/11 attacks, we honor all victims of terrorism, in every nation around the world,” the overseas guidelines state. “We honor and celebrate the resilience of individuals, families, and communities on every continent, whether in New York or Nairobi, Bali or Belfast, Mumbai or Manila, or Lahore or London.”

Bali or Belfast?

There was a much more obvious city beginning with “B” to couple with Bali.


After all, more innocent civilians have died in terrorist attacks in that city alone in the last decade than in every other location on the planet where attacks have occurred.

Of course the subject of terrorism in Iraq is awkward for Americans since the lines between terrorism and warfare so often became blurred on an American-made battlefield that quickly became a terrorist training ground.

The report notes:

Some senior administration officials involved in the discussions noted that the tone set on this Sept. 11 should be shaped by a recognition that the outpouring of worldwide support for the United States in the weeks after the attacks turned to anger at some American policies adopted in the name of fighting terror — on detention, on interrogation, and the decision to invade Iraq.

So what tangible form does that recognition take?

Everyone should maintain a polite silence about Iraq. Oh… and don’t mention al Qaeda either. With bin Laden dead, al Qaeda is totally passé.

Let’s focus on the future (“present a positive, forward-looking narrative”) while we remember the past.


New Palestinian strategy document will make it difficult for U.S. to oppose UN vote

Akiva Eldar writes:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is probably aware that when it comes to a media event, like a speech at the UN General Assembly, President Shimon Peres doesn’t have to be asked twice to sacrifice himself for the nation. Someone who has been watching the honorable president for decades once told me that Peres is blessed with a unique characteristic: He always knows how to adjust reality according to his needs at the time.

So Peres will easily be able to convince himself that the nation ‏(if not the entire universe‏) is demanding that he travel to New York next month to represent the prime minister at the assembly declaring a Palestinian state. But this time Peres is expected to face opposition from close associates.

“How can Peres promise the world that Netanyahu has accepted the two-state solution based on the 1967 borders when he himself has long since lost his faith in Netanyahu’s intention of reaching such an agreement?” asked one of them. The source adds, “Can the president repeat the words he said in the spring of 2009 at the AIPAC conference in Washington, to the effect that Netanyahu wants to make history and peace is his primary interest?”

It’s true that Netanyahu is making history. On his watch the UN General Assembly is expected to recognize an independent Palestinian state by a huge majority. The wording of the draft, crafted in recent days by the Fatah leadership, is designed to enable even “problematic” countries such as Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic to climb on board, or at least abstain.

This version will make it difficult for the United States and the Marshall Islands, and even for Israel, to explain their votes against the proposal. Instead of recognizing Palestine within the 1967 borders, it will state that the permanent borders will be determined in negotiations with Israel based on the borders of June 4, 1967. This approach made it possible to enlist the support of leading moderates in Hamas, who claim that recognition of the 1967 borders before the signing of a final-status deal means waiving the claim to the right of return.

Several of those people are signatories to a new strategic position paper, drafted by more than 50 Palestinian government officials, researchers and advisers − members of the Palestine Strategy Group. This is the forum that in 2008 composed a document recommending that the leadership transfer the conflict to the United Nations.

The new document presents the Palestinian strategy both before and after the UN vote.

Among the participants in the group’s workshops over the past year in Jericho, Gaza and Istanbul were Omar Abdel Razek, the former finance minister in the Hamas government in the West Bank, and Nasser al-Shaer, that government’s education minister. Next to them sat senior Fatah officials including associates of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas − former Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath and senior adviser Mohammad Shtayyeh. Other signatories are Naser al-Kidwa, a former Palestinian observer at the United Nations, Fatah Deputy Secretary General and Communications Minister Sabri Saydam, and former economics minister and businessman Mazen Sinokrot.

Already in the preface, the authors stress that “strategic unity,” now greatly enhanced by the reconciliation process, is a key condition for putting together an effective strategy. The document’s starting point: Given the Israeli government’s intransigence, the option of settling the conflict via bilateral negotiations − the path pursued by the Palestinian leadership for 20 years − is no longer available.

Most of the document’s authors support the option of an independent Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital and a fair arrangement that will fulfill the right of return and the compensation of the Palestinian refugees. The document rejects the possibility of continuing the status quo, maintaining that the endless negotiations provide cover for expanding the settlements and consolidating the occupation. The authors also erase from the agenda the option of a Palestinian state with temporary borders and limited sovereignty, under effective Israeli control.

If the strategy of a diplomatic struggle for Palestinian independence − including sanctions, turning to the International Criminal Court and nonviolent resistance as in Egypt and Tunisia − does not change the situation, the group recommends switching to what the document calls Plan B: dismantling the Palestinian Authority and restoring responsibility for the West Bank’s inhabitants to Israel. The authors are not ignoring the price their public would pay for that, but wonder what honorable option would remain.

If it turns out that this option is unattainable, the authors recommend working toward a model of a binational state or democratic state without distinction between Israel and Palestinian citizens. Another possibility is a confederation between Jordan and the Palestinian state.

The authors recommend explaining to the Israelis that they must forget the plan for unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank, with restrictions on the movement of Palestinians, and the dream of annexing Gaza to Egypt and the West Bank to Jordan.

They hope their neighbors will understand that the realistic alternatives to a genuine negotiated settlement will be far worse for Israel’s security.

Most participants in the workshops rejected an armed struggle against a foreign occupation and especially the use of violence against civilians. But the authors warn that a change in strategy from an attempt to achieve political independence to a conflict like the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa will play into the hands of extremists in the region.

“Should this happen, not just Israel’s legitimacy will be under threat, but its very existence, ” they conclude. “And this will have been brought about by Israel itself.”


IDF training Israeli settlers ahead of ‘mass disorder’ expected in September

Haaretz reports:

The IDF has conducted detailed work to determine a “red line” for each settlement in the West Bank, which will determine when soldiers will be ordered to shoot at the feet of Palestinian protesters if the line is crossed. It is also planning to provide settlers with tear gas and stun grenades as part of the defense operation.

The IDF is currently in the process of finalizing its preparations for Operation Summer Seeds, whose purpose is to ready the army for September and the possibility of confrontations with Palestinians following the expected vote in favor of Palestinian statehood at the UN General Assembly.

According to a document acquired by Haaretz, the main working assumption of the defense establishment is that a Palestinian declaration of independence will cause a public uprising “which will mainly include mass disorder.”

The document states the disorder will include “marches toward main junctions, Israeli communities, and education centers; efforts at damaging symbols of [Israeli] government.

Also, there may be more extreme cases like shooting from within the demonstrations or even terrorist incidents. In all the scenarios, there is readiness to deal with incidents near the fences and the borders of the State of Israel.”

As part of its preparations, the IDF is investing a great deal of effort in preparing the settlers for the incidents, with the main concern being confrontations between Israeli settlers and the Palestinians.

Yesterday the army held training sessions for the chief security officers of settlements at a military installation near Shiloh. In recent weeks the IDF has been training the readiness squads of settlements at the Lachish base, which is used as a command training center ahead of September.

The main message the army is issuing is that the demonstrations will be controlled and that the army has sufficient forces in order to deal with every disturbance. In order to be sure, there is also a decision, in principle, to equip the chief security officers of settlements with the means for dispersing demonstrations. These would include tear gas and stun grenades, although that would create a logistical problem as there’s a shortage of means for firing that type of ammunition.

Moreover, as part of the preparations, staff work was performed in which the commander of the platoon responsible for defending each settlement patrolled the area with the chief security officer of the settlement, in order to identify weak points.

The army is establishing two virtual lines for each of the settlements that are near a Palestinian village. The first line, if crossed by Palestinian demonstrators, will be met with tear gas and other means for dispersing crowds.

The second line is a “red line,” and if this one is crossed, the soldiers will be allowed to open fire at the legs of the demonstrators, as is also standard practice if the northern border is crossed.


Counter-terrorism Inc. — How the US government funds America’s booming security industry

The Los Angeles Times reports:

On the edge of the Nebraska sand hills is Lake McConaughy, a 22-mile-long reservoir that in summer becomes a magnet for Winnebagos, fishermen and kite sailors. But officials here in Keith County, population 8,370, imagined this scene: an Al Qaeda sleeper cell hitching explosives onto a ski boat and plowing into the dam at the head of the lake.

The federal Department of Homeland Security gave the county $42,000 to buy state-of-the-art dive gear, including full-face masks, underwater lights and radios, and a Zodiac boat with side-scan sonar capable of mapping wide areas of the lake floor.

Up on the lonely prairie, Cherry County, population 6,148, got thousands of federal dollars for cattle nose leads, halters and electric prods — in case terrorists decided to mount biological warfare against cows.

In the Los Angeles suburb of Glendale, where police fear militants might be eyeing DreamWorks Animation or the Disney creative campus, a $205,000 Homeland Security grant bought a 9-ton BearCat armored vehicle, complete with turret. More than 300 BearCats — many acquired with federal money — are now deployed by police across the country; the arrests of methamphetamine dealers and bank robbers these days often look much like a tactical assault on insurgents in Baghdad.

A decade after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, federal and state governments are spending about $75 billion a year on domestic security, setting up sophisticated radio networks, upgrading emergency medical response equipment, installing surveillance cameras and bombproof walls, and outfitting airport screeners to detect an ever-evolving list of mobile explosives.

But how effective has that 10-year spending spree been?

“The number of people worldwide who are killed by Muslim-type terrorists, Al Qaeda wannabes, is maybe a few hundred outside of war zones. It’s basically the same number of people who die drowning in the bathtub each year,” said John Mueller, an Ohio State University professor who has written extensively about the balance between threat and expenditures in fighting terrorism.

“So if your chance of being killed by a terrorist in the United States is 1 in 3.5 million, the question is, how much do you want to spend to get that down to 1 in 4.5 million?” he said.

One effect is certain: Homeland Security spending has been a pump-primer for local governments starved by the recession, and has dramatically improved emergency response networks across the country.

An entire industry has sprung up to sell an array of products, including high-tech motion sensors and fully outfitted emergency operations trailers. The market is expected to grow to $31 billion by 2014.

Like the military-industrial complex that became a permanent and powerful part of the American landscape during the Cold War, the vast network of Homeland Security spyware, concrete barricades and high-tech identity screening is here to stay. The Department of Homeland Security, a collection of agencies ranging from border control to airport security sewn quickly together after Sept. 11, is the third-largest Cabinet department and — with almost no lawmaker willing to render the U.S. less prepared for a terrorist attack — one of those least to fall victim to budget cuts.

The expensive and time-consuming screening now routine for passengers at airport boarding gates has detected plenty of knives, loaded guns and other contraband, but it has never identified a terrorist who was about to board a plane. Only 14 Americans have died in about three dozen instances of Islamic extremist terrorist plots targeted at the U.S. outside war zones since 2001 — most of them involving one or two home-grown plotters.

Homeland Security officials say there is no way to compute how many lives might have been lost had the nation’s massive security apparatus not been put into place — had the would-be bombers not been arrested before they struck, or deterred from getting on a plane because it was too hard.

“We know that they study our security measures, we know they’re continuously looking for ways to get around them, and that’s a disincentive for someone to carry out an attack,” said John Cohen, the department’s deputy counter-terrorism coordinator.

“Another way of asking the question is: Has there been a U.S. airplane that has exploded?”

State and local emergency responders have undergone a dramatic transformation with the aid of $32 billion that has been dispensed in Homeland Security grants since 2002, much of it in the early years spent on Hollywood-style tactical gear, often with little connection between risk and outlay.

“After 9/11, it was literally like my mother running out the door with the charge card,” said Al Berndt, assistant director of the Emergency Management Agency in Nebraska, which has received $163.7 million in federal anti-terrorism and emergency aid grants. “What we really needed to be doing is saying, ‘Let’s identify the threat, identify the capability and capacity you already have, and say, OK, what’s the shortfall now, and how do we meet it?’ ”

The spending has been rife with dubious expenditures, including the $557,400 in rescue and communications gear that went to the 1,500 residents of North Pole, Alaska, and a $750,000 anti-terrorism fence — fashioned with 8-foot-high ram-proof wrought iron reinforced with concrete footers — built around a Veterans Affairs hospital in the pastoral hills outside Asheville, N.C.

West Virginia got $3,000 worth of lapel pins and billed the federal government for thousands of dollars in cellphone charges, according to the Center for Investigative Reporting, which compiled a state-by-state accounting of Homeland Security spending. In New York, $3 million was spent on automated public health records to help identify bioterrorism threats, but investigators for the department’s inspector general in 2008 found that employees who used the program weren’t even aware of its potential bioterrorism applications.


Syrian protesters ‘killed’ after Eid prayers

Al Jazeera reports:

Syrian security forces have shot dead at least seven protesters on the first day of the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday, activists say.

Protests erupted in many towns and cities on Tuesday morning, after Muslims performed morning prayers marking the end of Ramadan.

The Local Co-ordination Committees (LCC) activist network said six of the deaths occurred in the southern province of Deraa and one in Homs.

Syrian security forces reportedly also opened fire on protesters in the town of Deir ez-Zor.

LCC said a “huge” protest was formed as worshippers emerged from the al-Omari mosque in Daraa and marched to the town’s cemetery. Muslims traditionally visit graves on the first day of Eid.

Large demonstrations were also reported in cities including Deraa, Idlib, Hama and Homs, and in Damascus suburbs.

A day earlier, security forces killed at least eight people and wounded dozens in raids across the country, according to opposition activists.


‘Defections’ in Syrian army reported

Reuters reports:

An armored Syrian force surrounded a town near the city of Homs Monday and fired heavy machineguns after the defection of tens of soldiers in the area, activists and residents said.

One woman, 45 year-old Amal Qoraman, was killed and five other people were injured, they said, adding that tens of people were arrested in house to house raids in the town of 40,0000.

Since the demise of Muammar Gaddafi’s rule in Libya, activists and residents have reported increasing defections among Syrian troops, as well as more intense street protests in a five-month-old uprising against President Bashar al Assad.

Syrian authorities have repeatedly denied army defections have been taking place. They have expelled independent media since the uprising began in March.

Activists say there have been desertions in eastern Deir al-Zor province, northwestern Idlib province, the Homs countryside and the outskirts of Damascus, where security forces fought gunbattles with defectors Sunday.

At least 40 light tanks and armored vehicles, and 20 buses of troops and military intelligence members deployed at dawn at the entrance of Rastan, 20 km (12 miles) north of Homs and began firing heavy machineguns at the town, two residents said.

“The tanks deployed at both banks of the highway, which remained open, and fired long bursts from their machineguns at Rastan,” one of the residents, who gave his name as Raed, told Reuters by phone.

He said defections began in the town when it was stormed by tanks three months ago to crush large street protests against Assad in an assault that killed dozens of civilians.

Security forces killed Monday a former officer who had played a key role in coordinating army defections, activists said.

Mostapha Selim Hezbollah, a former air force officer in his 40s’, was shot dead when his car was ambushed near the town of Kfar Nubul in Idlib province, which borders Turkey, they said.

“It was a targeted assassination. A companion who was with him in the car was badly wounded but we managed to get him to a hospital. The attack happened just before ‘iftar’ (breaking of fast). We don’t know yet if it was security police or troops who fired at them,” one of the activists told Reuters by phone.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is based in Britain, said five other people were killed earlier in military assaults on several towns in Idlib.

Rastan is traditionally a reservoir of recruits for the mostly Sunni rank-and-file army that is dominated by officers from the Alawite minority sect to which Assad belongs, and effectively commanded by his younger brother Maher.

Troops backed by tanks also entered the town of Qara on the same highway south of the city of Homs, which has been scene of daily protests, killing one resident and arresting tens of people in house to house raids, activists said.

“These armored assaults on outlying areas are designed to crush protests and to contain any defections in the army,” said a Syrian political analyst in Damascus, who did not want to be named because of fear for his safety.

“The regime’s political control on the army had seemed unbreakable, but that is no longer the case, after soldiers saw mosques being stormed, worshippers attacked and minarets shelled,” he said.