Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Waist Deep in Blood

Almost every weekday for the last twenty-two days the first thing I do when I get home from work is look at Al Jazeera, the Electronic Intifada or Democracy Now to learn the latest news from Gaza. I don’t bother with American media outlets because they are a disgrace.

I don’t personally know a single Palestinian so readers might wonder why an American guy who lives in California keeps writing about Gaza and Israel. I can’t quite explain it myself, except to say that I find Israel’s hubris shocking and its inhumanity in Gaza appalling. The displaced in Gaza reportedly number ten percent of the population; electric power is sporadic at best and may soon be non-existent; fresh water is scarce; hospitals are overwhelmed; and worst of all, hundreds of innocent children have been killed by Israeli bombs.

I can’t get one image out of my mind. I saw it first on the UK’s Independent and again tonight on Democracy Now, a two and a half or three year old girl with a fractured skull and broken nose, horrific bluish-purple rings around her dark eyes, lying on a hospital gurney. She was injured when her home was bombed. I look at her image and ask myself what crime against Israel she is guilty of. Can this little girl be a hardened terrorist at two and a half or three years of age? Is she an arms smuggler? An assassin? A top Hamas leader? No, her crime, if we can call it that, was being born in the wrong place, nothing more than that.

Bibi Netanyahu and his American enablers stand waist deep in the blood of innocents. The death toll is way north of 1,000 and Bibi, badass Jewish avenger with an insatiable appetite for death, vows that Israel isn’t done yet. Oh no, Israel is in this one for the long haul. Most of the casualties on the Palestinian side are civilians, with a significant portion of those being children, like the little girl with the fractured skull and broken nose.

I don’t know a single Palestinian, and yet, staring at these images and video footage I feel sick to my stomach, tears well in my eyes, and I am outraged that the world stands silently by while Israel rains more death on Gaza. The UN tries to act, but as always is stymied by the US; Bibi Netanyahu merely laughs, secure in the knowledge that Israel is untouchable.

Writing in the Independent over the weekend, Robert Fisk, one of the most intrepid journalists ever, wondered what world reaction would be if the tables were turned, if more than 1,000 Israelis were dead and the Palestinians were dropping precision bombs on Israeli homes, schools, hospitals, parks, and apartment blocks. All the hemming and hawing and posturing and obfuscating would go straight out the window. The US would marshal international support and launch a full-scale military deployment on “humanitarian” grounds. American film stars and directors would stage star-studded fundraisers for Israel. Politicians in Washington D.C. would be apeshit.

Dead, wounded, maimed or homeless Palestinians don’t matter. Old or young, male or female, the world simply doesn’t care. Maybe this is why I keep looking at the news day after day, maybe, down deep, I refuse to believe that the world isn’t going to lift a finger to help the Palestinians, that people are so cowardly and craven and callous. 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Gaza Scorecard

“Editors around the world are requesting their journalists to be ever softer, ever more mealy-mouthed in their reporting of any incident which might upset Israel.” Robert Fisk, The Independent, August 2001

The New York Times keeps a running scorecard of the latest Israeli-Palestinian madness in Gaza. According to the Times, Israel has struck 3,209 targets in Gaza, and Hamas has fired 2,233 rockets into Israel. It’s interesting that these numbers are reported side-by-side, as if to show there is some equality between the Israeli Defense Forces and Hamas. But it’s one thing to attack a target in a densely populated territory with sophisticated weaponry, and another to launch a rocket indiscriminately in the hope it will find a target.

The death count is the true indicator of the one-sided nature of this latest round of conflict: 856 Palestinians, many of them children, 40 Israelis, most of them soldiers. It’s also telling that the Times chose not to report the number of wounded on either side, or the number of people displaced from their homes – those numbers fall overwhelmingly, and almost exclusively, in the Palestinian column of a grim ledger.

I look at photographs of destruction on Aljazeera and wonder how the people of Gaza will ever rebuild their homes, businesses, schools, and neighborhoods, not to mention the water and sewage system and electrical grid. For the third time in six years, the infrastructure of Gaza has been smashed. How are Palestinians supposed to rebuild in the face of Israel’s blockade? Where will the enormous quantities of steel, cement and other building materials come from? Not from the sea – the Israeli navy won’t allow it; not from the air -- Israel controls the airspace; not by land from Egypt because the Egyptian dictatorship despises Hamas almost as much as Israel’s political leaders do.

Israel has a right to exist. Israel has a right to defend its territory and population. But Israel doesn’t have the right to occupy land taken from the Palestinians by armed force, or to evict Palestinians so Israel can build more settlements, or to indefinitely imprison Palestinians, and on and on. 

What most irks me about the constant turmoil in the Middle East is the role played by the United States. For decades we’ve blindly backed Israel, allowed Israel to call our diplomatic tune, and provided buckets of military aid and diplomatic support so that Israel can maintain a stranglehold on Gaza and the West Bank. Along with unconditional support of Israel, the US supports the junta in Egypt and the despotic rulers of Saudi Arabia. We sure know how to pick our friends. And lest it be forgotten, we once considered Saddam Hussein a stand-up guy.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Body Count

What’s the body count today? More than 500 Palestinians and maybe half a dozen Israeli’s. By Bibi Netanyahu’s perverse standard this is a perfectly acceptable ratio. Hamas “militants” are firing rockets at Israel, and therefore the Israeli military has a God-given right to fire back – with fifty times the firepower – from land, air, and sea. Bibi is going to teach Hamas a lesson it will not forget, and if thousands of innocent civilians with no where else to flee get killed or maimed in the process, well, that’s the fault of Hamas, not Israel. Doesn’t Israel take the extraordinary humanitarian step of calling Gazans on the telephone before raining bombs on their homes? Bibi claims this is a sign of how much Israel values the lives of Palestinians.

Americans have no concept of what is happening in Gaza, no idea of what it means to be under constant bombardment, with shortages of food, water, overcrowded and overwhelmed hospitals, and sporadic electricity. I sit in sunny Santa Barbara and try to imagine what it would be like if this upscale seaside city were to suddenly come under bombardment, if artillery shells were whistling down from the foothills, and warships offshore were lobbing projectiles into the center of town, if entire blocks of office buildings and houses were reduced to smoking rubble. And suppose this kind of intense bombardment was happening for the third time in six years?

The world community should be calling for Bibi’s scalp for engaging in actions completely contrary to international law: collective punishment, disproportionate force, and the targeting of civilians. But of course nothing like that happens, Israel, as always, is immune from criticism and consequences. Other than the United States, can any country on earth flaunt international law and UN resolutions with such impunity? Israel wraps itself in its right of self-defense and the shadow of the Holocaust, while it uses many of the same tactics against Palestinians in Gaza that were employed by the Nazis against Jews in the Warsaw ghetto.

The double-standards are astonishing: Arabs are almost always referred to as militants or terrorists, while Israeli’s are depicted as embattled folk just trying to protect their homeland. Never mind that Israel has stolen thousands of square miles of Palestinian land to build settlements upon and reneged on one negotiated settlement after another; the motives of Arabs are evil and warlike, the motives of Jews are decent and peaceful.  

I don’t blame the majority of Israelis for the actions of their political leaders. It’s not that difficult for the political system of a nation to be highjacked by whack jobs. I think the average resident of Israel understands that endless war with the Palestinians – and official policies that call for treating Palestinians like animals -- can lead to nothing but more carnage, hatred, and suffering. But just as millions of Americans failed to stop George W. Bush from invading Iraq, reasonable Israelis cannot stop Bibi Netanyahu. Bibi is leading them over the edge, to a place from which there may be no return.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Gaza, Again

Sitting here on the Platinum Coast of California on a lovely summer day, sun-kissed, birds chirping and a Monarch butterfly floating outside my window. All is peace and beauty, and yet I can’t stop thinking about the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, thousands of miles from here, under siege once again by the might of the Israeli military.

As it always does, Israel claims to merely be defending itself from Hamas rocket attacks. As always, Israel portrays itself as the aggrieved nation. Israel also claims that it doesn’t target civilians, but when the casualties are tallied, it is mostly civilians who are killed or injured. Thus far, the death toll on the Palestinian side is north of 100, on the Israeli side, 0. The Hamas forces are either very inept marksmen or they rely on impotent rockets.

Israel, of course, has the full complement of high-tech weaponry, much of it supplied, or financed, by the United States – Israel’s staunch ally and international protector. Fighter jets, laser-guided missiles, drones, cluster bombs, and bunker busters, Israel unleashes the full kit on Gaza; Bibi Netanyahu, egged on by extremists who wouldn’t mind seeing every last Palestinian exterminated, promises more to come, including the possibility of a ground invasion. The mainstream media in America accepts Israel’s pronouncements at face value, repeats the tired narrative that the Arabs are the aggressors and that Hamas is ultimately responsible for civilian deaths. The rest of the world, even the Arab world, stands by and looks on, mostly silent.

On Democracy Now the other day a spokesperson for the Israeli ambassador claimed, with a straight face and total conviction, that Israel’s occupation of Gaza ended five or more years ago. And yet, Israel continues to control all movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza, including by air and sea. The Israeli navy has maintained a maritime blockade since 2009. Israel prohibits the entry of basic building materials like cement. Gaza residents cannot even rely on electricity for more than a few hours each day.

Along with military might, Israel boasts a finely tuned propaganda machine.

In one media report I saw Netanyahu said more than one thousand targets in Gaza had been attacked over the course of four days. Gaza is roughly twice the size of Washington D.C. In an area so small the question to ask is, what hasn’t been targeted? Is there anyplace in Gaza where civilians can take refuge?

In Gaza the cycle of violence and retribution has no end. The United States and Europe could intervene, if they had the will, but no point holding our collective breath. Israel has a blanket pass and a get-out-of-jail-free card with no expiration date. Even when Israel’s policies are dead wrong, they are deemed right because the lives of Jews have been weighed and metered and determined to be of more value than the lives of Palestinians.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

No Shame for the Dutch

My second favorite team is out of the World Cup. The Dutch played valiantly against Argentina, contained Lionel Messi, and dominated long stretches of the second half. But, as happened against Costa Rica, all the hard work produced no goals.  Ron Vlaar was huge in defense and it was unfortunate that he missed his penalty kick. Nobody thought the Netherlands would advance as far as they did. Losing via penalty kicks is always hard to accept. You battle an opponent to a deadlock after 120 minutes of football, and then roll the dice with PK's and come up short.

I wasn't that impressed with Argentina. I think Messi and Company will have their hands full against Germany.

I'm still digesting Brazil's shocking dismantling by the Germans. I've never seen a team in a major competition defend so poorly and look so lost. The Germans had acres of space to play in, and it appeared that Brazil was afraid to close them down. That 18-minute stretch when the Germans ran riot is etched in World Cup lore now.  Germany laid an epic whipping on Brazil, one that won't be forgotten for a long time.

Congratulations to the Netherlands for going farther than anyone thought they would. The players did their nation proud.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Bye Bye Red Devils

I’m in football heaven with the World Cup, as are supporters of the teams still in the competition, and fans in general. Not surprisingly, ABC and ESPN have completely shied away from the controversial aspects of the Brazil World Cup, the huge amount of money invested to host the competition and what this has meant for the poor, workers, and favela dwellers; the excessive corporate glitz and glitter; and the dubious stature of FIFA. The competition on the field has been intriguing to watch. Before the tournament began I picked Belgium, with the Netherlands a close second. I didn’t believe Belgium would win the tournament, but I thought they had a good chance of reaching the semifinals.

After today’s matches I only have the Netherlands to support. Belgium played a mediocre game against Argentina, managing only one shot on target, and my favorite player, Eden Hazard, made no impact on the match at all. Hazard is a tremendous talent, but as Chelsea fans saw during the English Premier season, he can inexplicably go missing or appear disinterested. The positive news for Belgium is that they are a young side that will improve, and four years from now, who knows? More experienced Argentina showed they know how to win. That know-how is what Belgium lack.

I wasn’t surprised that the Dutch dominated Costa Rica in terms of possession, shots, shots on target, and corners taken. What I didn’t expect was for the Dutch to be held goalless for 120 minutes. Arjen Robben looked dangerous for the Dutch almost every time he touched the ball, slashing and cutting past defenders, drawing fouls; Robin Van Persie and Wesley Sneijder also played well, making scoring chances for themselves. Sneijder hit the woodwork twice. Credit Costa Rica for playing disciplined and spirited defense, forcing the match to penalty kicks where anything can happen.

Four big teams, two European and two South American, and three matches remain. Brazil will face Germany without Neymar Jr. and Thiago Silva. The Dutch have to devise a plan to impede Lionel Messi and break down Argentina’s defense. 

I can’t wait for next Tuesday and Wednesday.