Author Archive

"Memories of Mosul’s Libraries"

March 3rd, 2015 No comments

The Arabic Literature (in English) offers reminiscences: “Memories of Mosul’s Libraries.”

Of course it can’t un-burn the books and irreplaceable manuscripts, but it can help those of us (like me) who never got to Mosul appreciate what is being destroyed.

I notice people keep comparing ISIS to the Visigoths, the Huns, etc. (This is particularly unfair to the Visigoths, IMHO). Are we forgetting that during 1933-1945 the country of Goethe, Schiller, and Beethoven embarked on an insane wave of genocide, tyranny, and especially book-burning, not to mention looting the great art of Europe?

I guess we are.
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4 Things more Dangerous to Israel than Iran’s civilian Nuclear Enrichment

March 3rd, 2015 No comments

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s strident and continual harping on the alleged dangers of Iran to Israel’s security. Netanyahu has raised this issue repeatedly over the past 20 years, often predicting that Iran was as little as a year away from having a nuclear warhead. Decades later, it does not, and Israel is still there. Many observers believe that Netanyahu is performing as a magician does, trying to make the audience take its eye over the real sleight of hand by pointing in the direction of a distraction.

There are, in fact, more pressing dangers to Israel than Iran’s nuclear reactors,

Extensive and years-long investigations of Iran’s civilian nuclear enrichment program by the International Atomic Energy Agency have never revealed any evidence that Iran has a parallel nuclear weapons program. Only a couple of years ago, the Israeli defense minister was publicly admitting that Iran had not made a decision to weaponize its nuclear program.

Iran is just doing what Japan, South Korea, Germany, Ukraine, Sweden and Spain have done– develop nuclear reactors to generate electricity. By doing so, Iran can save its oil and natural gas for export to earn foreign exchange instead of eating its own seed corn. None of the countries just mentioned, who have their own nuclear energy programs, has a nuclear bomb, and no one is particularly worried about them getting one. As the former Israeli defense minister admitted, Iran would have to kick out the UN inspectors before it could turn its civilian enrichment facilities toward bomb-making. No country under active UN inspection has ever developed a nuclear weapon.

Here are genuine dangers to Israel, about which Netanyahu won’t be saying anything today:

1. Israel’s continued program of flooding its own citizens into the Occupied Palestinian West Bank is a serious war crime for which the country may yet be charged at the International Criminal Court. The illegal colonization of the West Bank sets the Muslim world, of 1.5 billion persons, against Israel. The Muslim world won’t be weak and ineffectual forever, and Netanyahu is undermining Israel’s future by constantly increasing the number of Israeli squatters on Palestinian land.

2. Israel’s continued de facto opposition to Palestinian statehood leaves Palestinians stateless and without the rights of citizenship, or indeed, any basic human rights– to their own property, to freedom of movement to hospitals or shopping, to water and other resources, to peaceable assembly and protest– in short, to basic human rights. This holding of the Palestinians as stateless chattel even as their landed property is being taken from them has deeply alienated European states and civil society from Tel Aviv. Sweden has recognized Palestine, and the French and Italian parliaments have called for such recognition on a short timetable. A third of Israeli trade is with Europe, and Israel depends deeply on scientific and technical exchanges with Europe, which could gradually be closed off as boycotts and sanctions spread.

3. Israel now has al-Qaeda on its border in the Golan Heights. The rebel Jabhat al-Nusra or Support Front, which holds the Golan, has declared allegiance to Ayman al-Zawahiri and al-Qaeda central. Mr. Netanyahu does not seem perturbed by this development, even though al-Qaeda is a brutal and highly destructive terrorist group that killed nearly 3,000 Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis and Syrians. In fact, the Israeli military has targeted the enemy of the Support Front in Golan, Lebanon’s Hizbullah, but hasn’t hit al-Qaeda with air strikes. If al-Qaeda is holding territory and it is bordering Israel, I’d say that is a security issue. Iran is very far away and has no plausible means of attacking Israel, and even in the unlikely scenario where it developed a bomb, would no more be able to use it than the Soviets were able to use theirs against the US>

4. Syria and Israel share a long common border. Syria is in civil war and governmental collapse, and half of Syrians have been displaced from their homes, four million abroad. The potential for radicalization here is enormous, as the rise of ISIL demonstrates. Yet Israel has done nothing, repeat nothing, to ISIL. An organization that France and Britain see as an existential threat to Europe has elicited only yawns in Israel’s Ministry of Defense. If Syrian civil and ISIL aren’t a threat to Israeli security, it is hard to think of what could be.

These are the real security threats Israel faces, which are in the present. Netanyahu does not want to do the right thing with regard to the Palestinians, and he is unconcerned by the Syrian developments because he holds the incorrect theory that Israel is better off if the Arabs are busy with one another. Israelis of European background often seem blithely unaware that they are smack dab in the Middle East and that its troubles are their troubles. A normal state like Iran, which has fair order and a return address should it attack Israel, is much less a security concern than the 4 unpredictable issues above.

Related video added by Juan Cole:

RT: Protesters clash with Israeli troops near West Bank separation barrier

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Palestine to take Israel to Int’l Criminal Court for War Crimes

March 3rd, 2015 No comments

RT | –

A Palestinian man stands at his makeshift shelter near the ruins of his house that witnesses said was destroyed by Israeli shelling during a 50-day war last summer, on a rainy day east of Gaza City February 19, 2015. (Reuters/Suhaib Salem)

Palestine’s first complaint against Israel’s alleged war crimes will be filed at the International Criminal Court in April, according to a senior Palestinian official. The issue will reportedly be related to the 2014 war in Gaza.

“One of the first important steps will be filing a complaint against Israel at the ICC on April 1 over the [2014] Gaza war and settlement activity,” Mohammed Shtayyeh, a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) told AP on Monday.

The Palestinians will be able to take legal action at the court based in The Hague, Netherlands, after the nation moved to join the international authority formally in January. According to the court’s procedures, “the statute will enter into force for the State of Palestine on April 1.”

Israel’s foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nachshon expressed his country’s refusal to react to the declaration, describing it as “speculative and hypothetical,” as quoted by AP. The Israeli administration has for decades consistently opposed Palestine’s legal power to sue Israel for war crimes.

After Palestine’s move to join the ICC was confirmed by the UN in January, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country “will not let Israel Defence Forces (IDF) soldiers and officers be dragged” to The Hague. Following the announcement in January, Israel froze the transfer of half a billion shekels ($125 million) in tax revenue to the Palestinian Authority.

The ICC, with jurisdiction to prosecute individuals for the international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, announced a preliminary examination into Israel’s 2014 actions in Gaza. Around 2,200 Palestinians were killed in that conflict, with over 60 percent of the victims being civilians. Israel’s losses included 66 soldiers and 6 civilians, according to an investigation, carried out by AP earlier this month.

After Palestine officially joins the Court in April, it also plans to sue Israel over its policy of settlement building on land occupied by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War. Under international law, all Israeli construction on land seized during the war is considered illegal.

Via RT


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Euronews from last month: “ICC opens inquiry into Israeli-Palestinian conflict”

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The Birth of Tragedy continues

March 3rd, 2015 No comments

A painting that says it all by Sulafa Hijazi on Arab Women Artists.

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Gaza’s sole power plant to close as funding runs out

March 3rd, 2015 No comments

GAZA CITY (Ma’an) — Gaza’s only power plant is due to shut down by the end of this week as donor funding for fuel in the coastal territory has run out, officials said.

The energy and natural resource authority told Ma’an that the power plant had been using a Qatari grant to pay for diesel fuel to maintain operations.

Gaza’s sole power station, which was damaged during the war, is struggling with a severe lack of fuel and is only able to supply the enclave with six hours of power per day.

In July, Amnesty International said that there could be no justification for “targeting a civilian structure that provides crucial services to so many civilians.”

“The strike on the power plant, which cut off electricity and running water to Gaza’s 1.8 million residents and numerous hospitals has catastrophic humanitarian implications and is very likely to amount to a war crime,” Philip Luther, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme, said.

Gaza has been forced into dependence on Israeli electricity as a result of the siege, which has crippled domestic production and repair capabilities.

Via Ma’an News Agency


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Gaza: Why is no-one rebuilding it? BBC News

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Melhem on "The Twilight of Middle Eastern Christianity."

March 3rd, 2015 No comments

My old friend Hisham Melhem has written some cogent columns recently for Al-Arabiya, but I particularly want to call your attention to his recent “The twilight of Middle Easter Christianity.”

It’s lament for what the Middle East stands to lose as Christian communities dwindle, illuminated by personal anecdotes (Hisham’s background is Lebanese Christian). I considered providing some excerpts but on reflection I think I should just encourage readers to click through and read the whole thing.

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Gates of Nineveh on the Mosul Damage

March 2nd, 2015 No comments

The Assyriology blog Gates of Nineveh has Part I of its assessment of the damage done by ISIS in Mosul.

From the conclusion:

It is worth noting that in 2003 around 1,500 smaller objects from the Mosul Museum were relocated to the Iraqi Museum in Baghdad in order that they may be better protected. Nevertheless, many statues otherwise too large or delicate to be moved remained.

When it comes to the Assyrian artifacts, by far the most important losses are the lamassu at the Nergal Gate, one of which was exceedingly well preserved. They were some of the few lamassu left in their original locations to greet visitors to Nineveh the same way they would have greeted visitors in ancient Assyria.

As for the items inside the museum, a number are replicas of originals held elsewhere, while others are likely genuine.

The destruction of sculptures from Hatra [a Seleucid foundation – MCD] appears to be even more devastating, and I will have another post on this damage shortly.

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Flashback 1996: Netanyahu Accuses Peres of Political Grandstanding for Visiting Washington the Month Beore an Election. I Guess Two Weeks Before an Election is Different.

March 2nd, 2015 No comments

I will have only two comments at this point on Mr. Netanyahu’s visit. Here’s the first:

The Associated Press, May 1, 1996:

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Less than a month before Israel’s presidential [sic] election, opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday accused Prime Minister Shimon Peres of exploiting his close relations with President Clinton and several Arab leaders to improve his chances for re-election.

Netanyahu is Peres’ only challenger in the May 29 vote.

“With all due respect, I want to say to Mr. Peres … that foreigners do not decide the outcome of the Israeli elections, not the American government, the king of Morocco or Yasser Arafat,” Netanyahu told parliament. The criticism came after Peres wrapped up a three-day U.S. visit during which he and Clinton signed a defense pact and agreed to cooperate in fighting terrorism.

I guess Peres was playing electoral politics because he visited the US just four weeks before the Israeli election, whereas Netanyahu’s speech to Congress is only two weeks before the election, which in no way constitutes partisan grandstanding. I guess. Not only is he here again, this time to speak to Congress,

The second point is to cite this piece Marsha B. Cohen wrote for LobeLog in 2012: “Purim: When Bad History Makes Bad Policy.”

That was the year Netanyahu gave President Obama a copy of the Book of Esther, presumably as an indicator of Persian perfidy. (Hat tip to Marsha Cohen for reviving this.)

Not only is he here again on a similar mission, to Congress this time, but Purim starts Wednesday at sundown. Will he hand out Hamentaschen to the Congress?
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What does Iran think of Netanyahu’s Interference in Talks?

March 2nd, 2015 No comments

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

As Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu makes a bid to thwart President Barack Obama’s foreign policy toward Iran, the Iranian press is reacting to the wrench Netanyahu is trying to throw into negotiations over Iran’s civilian nuclear enrichment program. For some odd reason, US mass media are almost never interested in what critics of the US are saying; it is almost as if there is an unwritten rule of American journalism that you don’t allow the ‘enemy’ to have a voice. But I don’t think good journalism on the Iran negotiations can be done if one is only quoting the American side. Iranians, of course, like Americans, are divided on the nuclear negotiations:

Reformers and moderates remain hopeful that Obama will prevail against the far right wing Israeli Likud Party and what Iranians call “extremists” in the US Congress. (It should be a wake-up call for US congressmen when Iranians think they are the extremists).

The hard liners in Iran don’t care, since they do not believe that Obama is negotiating in good faith to begin with. They point out that the US sanctions on Iran are arbitrary and by fiat, and have no basis in international law, and that Iran is being made to bend over backwards to please Washington just to get back to a normal situation. That is, they don’t think Iran is really gaining anything here. Indeed, some want reparations for the damage the US has done the Iranian economy.

According to BBC Monitoring, Piruz Mujtahidzadeh wrote in the moderate newspaper, Iran “The USA and Tel Aviv have strategic relations, and they will not change regardless of any disagreement that may at some points occur between the two sides. Defending Israel’s security and ensuring its survival were an essential principle for the US presidents. The different views that the Obama and Netanyahu have regarding Iran dominate the two countries’ current relations. Despite Netanyahu’s opposition [to Iran’s nuclear deal] … Obama intends to solve Iran’s nuclear programme in the final years of his tenure. Therefore, he will strongly stand against the Congress’s extremist currents who have close ties with Tel Aviv. Hence, Israel’s destructive efforts against Iran will have no impact on the White House’s policy whatsoever.”

Mujtahidzadeh, then, believes that Obama really wants the agreement with Iran as part of his presidential legacy, and that he will find a way to sideline Netanyahu. But being realistic, he doesn’t expect the prime minister’s speech to do lasting damage to the US-Israel relationship.

BBCM writes that Hamed Hoshangi of the reformist I’temad has been following the Obama administration’s hard ball with Netanyahu, translating his op ed: “In an unprecedented attack against the Israeli prime minister on Wednesday [25 February], US Secretary of State John Kerry said: We should not forget that Netanyahu encouraged the then President George Bush to attack Iraq in October 2002. … John Kerry is forced to attack Netanyahu directly amidst the Israeli prime minister’s opposition to Washington’s policy in the Middle East and his opposition to continuation of the [nuclear] talks with Iran given that the possibility of reaching an agreement over [Iran’s] nuclear dossier has entered a serious stage…. It seems that disagreements among a group of US Democrat politicians over Netanyahu’s intense involvement and his attempts to shape a policy for Washington have entered a new dimension, and the powerful Jewish lobby in the USA is facing serious problems with regard to support for Netanyahu.”

Hoshangi thinks that the Israel lobby (it isn’t properly called a Jewish lobby) may well end up being weakened within the Democratic Party by Netanyahu’s antics.

Hasan Hanizadeh of the reformist newspaper Arman wrote about Congressional sabotage of the talks, saying (BBC Monitoring):

“Disputes between the US Congress and White House will definitely affect nuclear talks. On the other hand, the Zionist regime’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has explicitly stated that this regime will never allow Iran and P5+1 to reach a comprehensive agreement, even if this results in Israeli-US confrontation. Although his remarks include aspects of election propaganda and are made for domestic use, they indicate that there is complete coordination between the Zionist regime and some extremist members of the US Congress … Barack Obama, who is in sharp disagreement with Netanyahu, is also trying to prevent [Israeli party] Likud’s victory through achieving a comprehensive agreement with Iran … If America does not meet its commitments against Iran by the 10th of month of Tir, 31 July, it will certainly be condemned by public opinion, because Iran has met all its commitments.”

Hanizadeh, then, sees a coordination between the far right in Israel and in the US. But he also seems to think that Obama is attempting to interfere in Israeli electoral politics by doing a deal with Iran that will weaken the extreme nationalist Likud Party of Netanyahu. He believes, in any case, that Iran has been entirely forthcoming in the negotiations, and if they do fail, people will blame Obama rather than Tehran.

Likewise, BBCM translates a report of the hard line Risalat , that takes the talks seriously but does not think the Iranian side is asking for enough:

“What has not been considered in [nuclear] talks between Iran and P5+1 member states is the issue of the financial damage that they [the West] inflicted on Iranians and public funds. … Iran should come up with some serious financial issues and calculations [during the talks] and also ask the other side in the talks for compensation for the damage . . .”

In contrast, BBC Monitoring says, the conservative Hemayat wrote yesterday that US sanctions will not be reduced under any circumstances, and that Washington is only pretending to negotiate:

“Sanctions are based and planned on the colonialist ideology and its total removal can only be expected if one of following two conditions is realized. First, Iran’s complete surrender to excessive demands of the enemy; second, the West’s total surrender to Iran! Since neither is possible, this friction is likely to continue. In other words, sanctions have not been imposed to remove them or discuss their abolition. The enemy’s rhetoric and promise on lifting sanctions are nothing but deception.”

Iranian commentary on this issue seems on the whole somewhat hopeful, and shows awareness of the fissures in Washington and the discomfort of many Democrats with the ways in which Netanyahu is attempting to undermine their party’s and their leader’s policies toward Iran. Some think the episode will change US relations with Israel, while others question whether that is really possible. They see the GOP obstructionists in league with Netanyahu as “extremists.”

Related video:

WotchitGeneralNews: “Iran’s Zarif Says Netanyahu Trying to Undermine Nuclear Talks”

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Gaza’s Food Insecurity made even worse by Environmental Damage of Israel’s War, Blockade

March 2nd, 2015 No comments

By Mel Frykberg

BEIT LAHIYA, Northern Gaza Strip (IPS) – Extensive damage to Gaza’s environment as a result of the Israeli blockade and its devastating military campaign against the coastal territory during last year’s war from July to August, is negatively affecting the health of Gazans, especially their food security.

Safa Subha and three-year-old Rahat rely on Oxfam aid for food to fight malnutrition after having been accustomed to living on a diet of bread and tea. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

“We were living on bread and tea and my five children were badly malnourished as my husband and I couldn’t afford proper food,” Safa Subha, 37, from Beit Lahiya told IPS. “My children were suffering from liver problems, anaemia and weak bones. It was only after I received regular food vouchers from Oxfam and was able to purchase eggs and yoghurt that my children are now healthier.”

Lack of dietary diversity is an issue of concern, particularly for children and pregnant and lactating women, due to the lack of large-scale food assistance programmes and the high prices of fresh food and red meat

“But it is still a struggle as I have to ration out the food and my doctor has warned me to keep giving the children these foods to prevent the malnutrition returning,” said Safa.

According to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), in several communities, lack of dietary diversity was highlighted as an issue of concern, particularly for children and pregnant and lactating women, due to the lack of large-scale food assistance programmes and the high prices of fresh food and red meat.

Before the war, Safa’s husband Ashraf worked as a farmer, renting a piece of land on which he grew produce that he then sold.

“My husband used to earn about NIS 300 per week (about 75 dollars) from farming. After the land became too dangerous to farm, because of Israeli military fire and much of it destroyed in Israeli bombings, my husband tried to earn some money renting a taxi,” said Safa.

However, Ashraf’s attempts to support his family as a taxi driver did not provide sufficient income for their survival.

“He can only use the taxi a couple of days a week because it doesn’t belong to him and he often doesn’t have money to buy fuel because it is so expensive and Israel only allows limited amounts of fuel into Gaza because of the blockade,” said Safa.

Kamal Kassam, 43, from Beit Hanoun, in the northern Gaza Strip, has had to rely on Oxfam’s Cash for Work programme to support his wife and five children aged 6 to 12.

During the war the Kassam’s had to flee to a U.N. shelter after the family home was destroyed by Israeli bombs, which also wounded his wife and left one of his daughters severely traumatised, suffering from epilepsy and soiling herself at night.

Kassam’s wife Eman is ill and another daughter needs regular medical treatment for cancer.

The Kassams were provided with a temporary tin caravan to live in by aid organisations but were unable to purchase food or school clothes because they had received housing aid and were therefore “less desperate”.

“I used to work in a factory but lost that job after Israel’s blockade. Before the war I made about NIS 30 (about 7.50 dollars) a day by picking up and delivering goods from my donkey cart,” Kassam told IPS.

But during a night of heavy aerial bombardment, a bomb killed his donkey and destroyed the cart as well as his only way of supporting his family.

Israel’s extensive bombing campaign during the war also destroyed or damaged, infrastructure, including Gaza’s sole power plant and water sanitation projects.

As a result, untreated sewage is pumped out to sea and then floods back into Gaza’s underground water system, contaminating drinking water and crops and leading to outbreaks of disease.

Israeli restrictions on imports, including vital spare parts for the repair of sewerage infrastructure and agricultural equipment such as fertiliser and seedlings, has limited crop production.

Furthermore, the regular targeting of fishermen and farmers, trying to access their land and Gaza’s fishing shoals in Israel’s Access Restricted Areas (ARAs), by Israeli security forces has severely hindered the ability of Gazans to earn a living from farming and fishing.

OCHA identified the most frequent concerns regarding food security and nutrition as “loss of the source of income and livelihoods due to severe damage to agricultural lands; death/loss of animals; inability to access agricultural lands, particularly in the Israeli-imposed three-kilometre buffer zone; and loss of employment.”

Food insecurity in Gaza is not caused by lack of food on the market alone. It is also a crisis of economic access to food because most Gazans cannot afford to buy sufficient quantities of quality food.

“As a result of the lack of economic access to food due to high unemployment and low wages, the majority of the population in Gaza has been pushed into poverty and food insecurity, with no other choice but to rely heavily on assistance to cover their essential needs,” said ‘GAZA Detailed Needs Assessment (DNA) and Recovery Framework: Social Protection Sub-Sector’, a report by the World Bank, European Union, United Nations and the Government of Palestine.

“The repetition of one harsh economic shock after the other has resulted in an erosion of household coping strategies, with 89 percent of households resorting to negative coping mechanisms to meet their food needs (half report purchasing lower quality food and a third have reduced the number of daily meals),” said the DNA report, adding that the situation was expected to worsen in 2015.

Edited by Phil Harris

Licensed from Inter Press Service

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