Sunday, August 29, 2010

Yes there are poor areas of Gaza too

There has been circulating widely in the last week, photos, ostensibly from Gaza, purporting to show a modern State, quite the opposite from what we are led to believe from reports by the BBC or in the Guardian and other newspapers.

These photos had NO context and NO description and were highly suspect.

From research by Tom Gross, a correspondent whose articles we have used in the past, it appears that some of the photos are actually from Damascus or Beirut, and one we know for certain is from a beach in Ashdod.

Below are Tom’s comments.

IT is strongly recommended NOT to send on the photos in the original e-mail with the title “Can you guess the location of these photographs?”


Notes from Tom Gross

Yes, there are poor areas of Gaza too. There are also plenty of slums in Paris (and London and Rome and New York), but the media tend to focus their pictures on the Eiffel Tower and Champs Elysee instead.

Not so in Gaza where many journalists (who in private, even more than in public, disparage Israel in every way) are doing their best to paint a distorted picture of the economic situation there, showing off the worst possible aspects -- and using words like “devastated economy” (BBC) and “dire humanitarian situation” (Sky news) -- in order to fool everyone from the common reader right up to politicians such as British Prime Minister David Cameron into thinking conditions in Gaza resemble some kind of prison camp.

Such media distortion is unhelpful; to say the least, in helping policy makers formulate good policy for the region for the benefit of Palestinians and Israelis alike.

You would never know from the media coverage that people in Gaza are by many economic and health indicators, on average better off than those in Turkey, from where the most controversial of the recent “humanitarian aid” flotillas came. For example, in Turkey life expectancy is 72.23 and infant mortality is 24.84 per 1,000 births. In Gaza, life expectancy is 73.68 and infant mortality is 17.71 per 1,000 births.-- Tom Gross

For genuine pictures of Gaza, please see

The Islamic University of Gaza:

Al-Quds University:

The Gaza Grand Palace Hotel:

Democracy is flagging in both the Palestinian Territories

Aug 12th 2010 Gaza and Ramallah

The Economist

HANNA NASIR, the head of Palestine’s Central Elections Commission, is not prone to expletives. But the Christian nuclear physicist and former dean of Palestine’s leading university was full of them when the cabinet of the Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad (pictured above left), who runs the West Bank, recently cancelled the municipal elections he was organising. If anything, his rival prime minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas (pictured on the right), is even less keen to put his movement’s popularity to the test.

It was the third election the Palestinian Authority (PA) has annulled in less than a year. The terms of the PA’s presidency, parliament and municipalities have all now expired. With no date for fresh polls and in constitutionally uncharted waters, officials increasingly rule by fiat. How far, bemoans Mr Nasir, has Palestine fallen from the heights of 2005 and 2006, when he ran elections that international observers hailed as being among the fairest in the Middle East. Instead of building a democratic state, the PA is fast on its way to creating just another Arab autocracy.

Western governments which bankroll it do not seem unduly worried. Most of them view the PA as a necessary bulwark against an Islamist electoral tide, which in 2006 swept Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, into power in the Palestinian territories. Instead of accepting the Islamist victory, Western governments diverted funds from the PA’s democratic institutions into the PA security forces under the control of Mahmoud Abbas, the PA’s previously (and fairly) elected president, whose secular Fatah party Hamas had beaten in the 2006 general election. When, the year after, Hamas chased Fatah out of Gaza, Western governments invested in an unelected emergency government established in the West Bank under Mr Fayyad, a technocrat appointed by Mr Abbas though not in hock to Fatah.

Western governments have hailed Mr Fayyad for his efficient rule. In contrast to Yasser Arafat, the PA’s capricious but charismatic first leader, Mr Fayyad has made the wheels of bureaucracy turn smoothly. His well-managed service-delivery is lubricated by Western largesse but also by the collection of electricity bills. Still, a growing chorus of Palestinian sceptics say they have yet to see evidence of the institutions Mr Fayyad has promised to build.

Nor do they see tangible signs of his promised state. Palestine’s biggest symbol of sovereignty, its parliament, has been emasculated. For three years Mr Fayyad’s government has rebuffed efforts to revive it and put legislation to parliamentary scrutiny. “The focus on Fayyad’s personal virtues has obscured a series of unhealthy political developments, and mistakes honest administration for sound politics,” says Nathan Brown of George Washington University in Washington, DC.

The result is that in both Palestine’s cloven halves, governance is remarkably similar. Both Hamas and Mr Fayyad rule by decree, merging executive and legislative arms into one. Both promise elections sometime in the future but in the meantime round up their opponents and silence unlicensed independent media outlets. As a signal of their intention to rule without the restraints of impending elections, Mr Fayyad has a two-year plan for government; Hamas has a ten-year one. Both try to replace popular participation with populism. Mr Fayyad ostentatiously parades in public, telling his people not to buy products made in Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Mr Haniyeh, his Hamas counterpart in Gaza, takes to the pulpit in mosques and personally dishes out dollars to his beleaguered people.

In both parts of the Palestinian territories, most people accept their rulers’ decrees without a murmur, for fear they may otherwise be thumped. If they are lucky, dissenters are invited to tea with local intelligence officers. Repeat offenders are sent to prison. Applicants for a government job, such as a post as a teacher, must get a certificate of good conduct—in the West Bank from local security officials and in Gaza from the local mosque. So most people are wary of stepping out of line.

But such constraints have sown apathy in both Palestine’s halves. The main political factions either boycotted Mr Nasir’s local elections or were too disorganised to mount effective campaigns. Protests after their cancellation were meek and brief. Opinion polls say most Palestinians are more or less willing to put up with their muzzled lot, since they have been exhausted by their own intifadas (uprisings), by Israeli repression and by periodic chaos.

Western policymakers, now straining to get direct talks to resume between Israel and the PA, with luck in the next few weeks, seem in no mood to promote a new round of elections that could lead to another triumph for Hamas. Fatah, the faction they favour, is fractious and disorganised. Faced with Egypt’s proposal for a new caretaker government to succeed the rival governments in the West Bank and Gaza and to prepare for elections there, the American administration and the European Union have both balked. “The last thing many in Europe want is for Hamas to regain an executive role in the West Bank,” says a European official. “We prefer division and no elections to reconciliation and elections.”

Instead, some appear to favour grafting the model that prevails in Jordan, where King Abdullah intermittently suspends parliament and rules by decree, but maintains stability, refuses to threaten Israel and listens as keenly to his foreign backers as he does to his own people. Egypt may even have urged the PA to halt its local elections.

But such regional policies have drawbacks. Keeping the status quo means putting off the task of reuniting the West Bank and Gaza and building a single Palestine state. With scant hope of peaceful change through elections, challengers inevitably consider other, more violent, options. “We had a choice of seeking power by democracy or revolution,” says Mahmoud Zahar, a Hamas leader in Gaza. Like most Palestinians, his faith in democratic change has been undermined by Western-backed efforts to overturn or ignore the results when Hamas won in 2006. The ascent of Mr Fayyad, whose party won only two of the Palestinian parliament’s 132 seats in that election, has taught other aspirants that the ballot box is not the only way to the top.

Mr Fayyad is only 58, but his list of rivals, some of them armed, is long. And contenders are already baying to replace the PA’s increasingly frail president, Mr Abbas, now 75, who often says he wants to step down. Succession in Palestine may yet come by appointment, palace coup or something even bloodier, rather than by the ballot box.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Demonizing Israel is bad for the Palestinians

MUDAR ZAHRAN 08/01/2010 05:53

The negative focus on Israel by the global media has harmed the Palestinians’ interests for decades.

Since the establishment of the
State of Israel, the international media have been unhesitant in criticizing the Jewish state on almost everything. This has evolved into a media culture by itself, to the point that many internationally renowned newspapers would have a button labelled “Israel” or “Israeli-Arab conflict” on their Web sites including very little positive content about Israel. Media hostility toward Israel has been mainly focused on its military operations and, in more quiet times, on the living conditions of the Palestinians in Israel.Amazingly enough, the international media, and particularly the Western ones, pay very little attention to the conditions of the Palestinians living in Arab countries, despite the extreme oppression they have been enduring for decades in most Arab countries.

These Palestinians do not have someone to speak for them in the global media, possibly because a news story about countries other than Israel is less interesting or “sexy” by media standards. This tendency to blame Israel for everything has lead to the development of numerous myths about the situation of the Palestinian there that have provided an excuse to purposely ignore and compromise the human rights of the Palestinian in many Arab countries.THE EXAMPLES for that are plentiful and sometimes cross the line into tragic comedy. While the world is crying over the Israel-imposed blockade on Gaza, the media, for some unknown reason, choose to deliberately ignore the conditions of the Palestinians living in camps in Lebanon.Lebanon, a country with some of the most hostile forces to Israel, has been holing up Palestinians inside camps for almost 30 years. Those camps do not have any foundations of livelihood or even sanitation and the Palestinians living there are not allowed access to basics such as buying cement to enlarge or repair homes for their growing families. Furthermore, it is difficult for them to work legally, and are even restricted from going out of their camps at certain hours. Compare this to the fact that Palestinian laborers were still able to go to work every day in Israel while Hamas was carrying out an average of one suicide bombing per week a few years ago, and until recently launching missiles daily on southern Israel. Not to mention the fact that Israel allows food items and medications into Gaza if handled through the Palestinian Authority.

The Lebanese atrocities toward the Palestinians have been tolerated by the international community, not only by the media. Today, while some Israeli military commanders have to think twice, in fear of legal consequences, before they visit London or Brussels, well-known Lebanese leaders who had directly participated in mass killings of Palestinian civilians, during and after the Lebanese civil war, are becoming world-respected political figures – Nabih Berri, for example, the leader of Amal Shi’ite militia who enforced a multi-year siege on Palestinian camps, cutting water access and food supplies to them. The Palestinians underBerri’s siege were reported to be consuming rats and dogs to survive.

Nonetheless, he has been the undisputed speaker of the Lebanese parliament for a long time. He travels frequently to Europe and criticizes Israel for its “crimes against the Palestinians” on every occasion.MANY OTHER Arab countries are no different than Lebanon in their ill-treatment and discrimination against the Palestinians. Why do the media choose to ignore those and focus only on Israel? While the security wall being built by Israel has become a symbol of “apartheid” in the global media, they almost never address the actual walls and separation barriers that have been isolating Palestinian refugee camps in Arab countries for decades.While Palestinians targeted by the IDF are mostly fighters pledging war on Israel, the world swiftly overlooked the Sabra and Shatila massacre in which Lebanese Christian and Shi’ite militiamen butchered thousands of Palestinian women and children. Unsurprisingly, the international media accused Israel of being responsible for the massacre, despite the fact that live testimonies aired by Al-Jazeera satellite television a few years ago show massacre survivors confirming that IDF commanders and soldiers had nothing to do with the killing.

The demonization of Israel by the global media has greatly harmed the Palestinians’ interests for decades and covered up Arab atrocities against them. Furthermore, demonizing Israel has been well-exploited by several Arab dictatorships to direct citizens’ rage against Israel instead of their regimes and also to justify any atrocities they commit in the name of protecting their nations from “the evil Zionists.”This game has served some of the most notorious Arab dictatorships, and still does today, as any opposition is immediately labelled “a Zionist plot.”This model had served Gamal Abdel Nasser in ruling Egypt with an iron fist until he died, and was the main line for Saddam Hussein, who was promoting that “Iraq and Palestine are one identical case” in his last years in power.The global media must be fair in addressing the Palestinians’ suffering in Arab countries and must stop demonizing Israel. It should start focusing on the broader conditions of the Palestinians in the Middle East region.There is much to see.

The writer, a Jordanian of Palestinian heritage, is a researcher at the University of Bedfordshire.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Albert the Alligator and the British Ambassador

By Barry Rubin

August 1, 2010

Once upon a time in an intellectual galaxy now seemingly far away, liberals and conservatives shared a common view. There were the forces of democracy and the forces of totalitarianism (or, if you prefer, authoritarianism) that threatened the world, took away freedom, and held back both economic and social development. The goal of Western foreign policy was to help those favoring liberty against the tyrants and would-be tyrants.

Naturally, there were different views about how to do this, for example should some dictatorships be backed against those deemed worse, but the basic template was the same.

Then came a turning point which can be symbolized by a line in Walt Kelly's comic-strip "Pogo." A dialogue balloon destined to shake the world: "We have met the enemy," said either Pogo the possum or Albert the alligator, "and he is us." Kelly later wrote that he originated this line in 1953 in an essay opposing McCarthyism but it really took off in a 1972 cartoon, perfectly timed for the "1960s," the era whose ideas rule us today in much of the West.

The sentence was a parody of Oliver Hazard Perry's message-"We have met the enemy and they are ours"-describing his naval victory during the War of 1812. So what had once been a triumphant shout of American victory was transmuted in a post-Pogo world to symbolize a vitriolic yell of self-induced anti-Americanism.

And so if there are evil forces in the world, they are said either not to be evil at all (mislabeled as so by false Western propaganda) or were only made to behave that way by our (Western, American, democratic, capitalist, etc) sins. In other words, the guilty party is the democratic victim whose bad behavior created the monsters. In this spirit, a supposedly great American intellectual claimed America was the cancer of the world. Formerly, it had been known as the last, best hope of humanity.

How often do we see this worldview evinced nowadays? After September 11, America was said to be the cause of the terrorism that struck it. After the bloody July 7 attacks on British mass transport, a top British intelligence official said the terrorism happened due to Britain's involvement in the Iraq war. President Barack Obama has made this a constant theme, most recently putting the Turkish trend toward Islamism (without admitting it exists) on the shoulders of European states that didn't admit Turkey into the EU.

So nowadays, the most common way of dealing with radicalism, repression, terrorism, and such things in the Third World is to blame it on democratic states so often victimized by such issues.

The latest contribution to this genre comes from British ambassador to Israel Tom Phillips who said Israel's sanctions' regime on the Gaza Strip "was breeding radicalism."

He claimed it had driven "Gaza into a Hamas-controlled tunnel economy, and the Palestinian Gaza private sector has been almost completely destroyed....Young boys on the streets [have had] no role models apart from the Hamas guy in the black shiny uniform on the street corner...creating, in psychological terms, another generation of people that are not going to feel that friendly about Israel."

The message is that the problem is completely due to "us." The other side doesn't actually exist. It has no history, no worldview, no ideology, and no goals. The "other side" is merely a blank screen or mirror, reflecting back what we do.

This is, of course, a racist and imperialist vision. It denies the others any culture or history or mentality of their own. If one is only a victim always, one has no volition, higher intelligence, or ability to affect history.

Can somebody just be a sincere revolutionary Islamist or radical nationalist who wants to seize state power, wipe you out, and implement his own program for achieving utopia?

The truth can be found by examining the sequence of events. For instance, Islamist Iran is not radical because it has been isolated; rather, it has been isolated because of its radical behavior. Same thing with Syria.

In the case of the Gaza Strip, the publicly known facts should be recalled. Let's count the number of times Hamas was treated generously and not driven toward radicalism.

The participation in elections of Hamas in Palestinian elections was clearly illegal, since that group did not accept the Oslo Accords, recognize Israel, or cease using terrorism. Yet despite all of this, the United States actually urged, and Israel accepted, its participation. (1)

When Hamas won the elections, neither the United States nor Israel tried to intervene or reverse the results. Again, they didn't "drive" Hamas into radicalism by denying it that electoral victory. (2) True, the Palestinian Authority tried for a while to hang on, but in the end it signed a power-sharing agreement with Hamas. (3) But then Hamas staged a coup, killed fellow Palestinians, and seized power. Yet even then there was no move by Israel or the United States to unseat the new regime. (4)

After repeated Hamas attacks on Israel and Israeli retaliation a ceasefire was signed. There were restrictions on supplies but they regularly flowed into Gaza. (5) There was, for example, a border industrial area that provided jobs for Gazans from Israeli companies until Hamas attacked it.

Finally, near the end of 2008, Hamas tore up the ceasefire and launched a massive attack on Israel. Israel defended itself. After the resulting war in which Western countries made sure Hamas would not be overthrown (6) the sanctions' regime we've seen until recently was implemented by both Egypt (which feared Hamas's revolutionary Islamism and status as an Iranian client) and Israel.

This is not a picture of Gazans being driven to radicalism, it is a story of how the consequences of a radical policy unfolded, forcing Israel to react.

There's more. Ambassador Phillips, and the many others who speak about events around the world in similar terms, simply fail to comprehend how a dictatorship works. They think that if you engage hardline ideological revolutionaries they will moderate. If you offer to trade with them, a process of materialism will set in so that the once fire-breathing radicals will be transformed into luxury-loving bourgeois.

Suppose Gaza didn't have a "Hamas-controlled tunnel economy" but merely had a Hamas-controlled normal economy, would that be better? And why should one believe that the economy wouldn't be controlled by the dictatorship, because Western governments or companies were doing business there? But that is equally true of Syria, Iran, Saddam Hussein's Iraq, and ideological dictatorships in other parts of the world. Has this turned them toward love and moderation?

Oh, and let's remember that the main purpose of those tunnels was to import weapons for attacking Israel. Hamas will take advantage of any openings to bring in more arms and things that can be used for fighting (cement for military installations; pipes for rockets). It will tax and seize assets to build up its military machine. The more satisfied are people's material needs, the less reason they will have to oppose the Hamas regime.

This Phillips-Pogo view also ignores the political mechanisms of ideological dictatorships. Hamas doesn't wait for young boys to see its cadre as role models. Here's what it does:

--Pays people with money obtainable, including that siphoned off from aid and trade, to recruit them and make them the arms of the regime. The more commerce, the more money Hamas has to spend on indoctrination, organization, and weaponry.

--Arrests and intimidates opponents so they don't provide alternative role models. In the Gaza Strip there aren't that many moderate role models. Wealthy businessmen? Fatah gunmen? Corrupt figures against whom people voted for Hamas. Maybe the dedicated UNRWA teacher offers an alternative role model? OK, but how many of these are also radicals?

--Control all institutions including mosques, media, youth organizations, schools, and so on which all actively and intensively preach the same message. Support Hamas; kill the Jews; be a Jihad fighter. The regime isn't going to let external institutions or countries that oppose its Islamist radicalism have influence in its territory. Hamas would rather sacrifice benefits to its people than give up authority to those it knows want to overthrow the regime.

Phillips' line that it is Israel's policy which is creating "another generation of people that are not going to feel that friendly about Israel" is rather ludicrous in light of this reality. After all, the same thing is happening on the West Bank where there is no sanctions' regime in place, Western aid flows lavishly, and supposed moderates are in control. Whatever Israel does, incitement and indoctrination will continue at the same level from those who hate Israel because it exists.

Here's the truth: revolutionary forces that use terrorism, preach a totalitarian ideology, create dictatorships, and have genocidal goals are responsible for war and conflict in the Middle East.

No matter how intensely Western democracies flagellate themselves, no matter how much they appease and concede, that basic and deadly fact will not change. No, let me correct the end of that sentence: the cost will become more dangerous, bloody, and deadly.

Speaking of alligators, it was another Briton, Winston Churchill, who said that an appeaser is someone who feeds the alligator--ok, nitpickers, I know he said crocodile but they differ only in the roundness of the snout--in hopes that it will eat him last.

Our problem is that contemporary appeasers also hope the alligator will eat us first.

Gaza: Open Air Prison?

British Prime Minister, David Cameron, exploited his visit to Turkey to curry favour with his hosts, using Palestinian propaganda hype, saying that Israel’s blockade turned the Gaza strip into a “prison camp”. Every last Israeli left Gaza long before Hamas' bloody take-over. Closing the borders and even war has not stopped the incessant rockets and terrorist attacks on Israeli citizens and border checkpoints. More than 30 terrorist attacks come out of Gaza each month.

Applying international law, Israel inspects the constant flow of goods through its borders into Gaza, in an attempt to exclude war material. Propagandists (and it seems European politicians) conveniently ignore the rules of war and international law, and claim these actions to be a form of occupation. They declare that Israel ruthlessly keeps Gazans in poverty.Visiting international politicians and aid agency representatives are taken to view the deliberately unrepaired damage of the war Hamas provoked.

Poverty stricken areas, including families living in plastic tents since their houses were destroyed in the war, are all on the carefully pre-arranged agenda. Israel is obligingly condemned. And more western tax payer money is pledged to the highest ever per capita aid program.

Although of little interest to the mainstream media, Gazan "poverty" is strongly questioned in the blogosphere. No accumulation of facts seems to be able to stop the constant flow of lies, cynically manipulated into very effective anti-Israel (and often anti-Semitic) propaganda.Even the Palestinian media reports a very different picture. There is an abundance of both basic and luxury goods. It is not clear if it comes via the Egyptian border, underground tunnels, or the thousands of trucks that the Israelis officially allow to stream through their border crossings. But the fact is that there is plenty, and often at very attractive prices.

Ordinary Palestinian citizens say that there is enough to go around - but the Hamas apparatchiks steal it. And what of building materials to house those wretched families? Somehow, they don't seem to rank in the Hamas list of priorities. A brand new shopping mall replete with luxury goods, a luxury hotel fancy restaurant, an olympic size pool and a fancy jail to lock up prisoners accused of crimes such as "passing information to the Palestinian Authority" do make it into the list of latest completed projects, though.Electricity shortages? Also an internal problem. Seems that Hamas collects electricity bills from the end user & then steals the money - expecting the Palestinian Authority and international donors to pay the Israeli suppliers. When the suppliers want their overdue money before providing more goods, who do you guess is blamed?But those wretched Palestinians are suffering.

Then again, life expectancy, infant mortality, and even cell phone penetration statistics show Gaza to be better off than other Muslim countries – and in many cases better than most places on earth!Forgotten is the Economist report of 2004 that the West Bank and Gaza rank amongst the most obese populations in the world. Clicking on the links embedded above will bring you to lots of reports and pictures showing the truth.

But what about the charge that Israel has turned Gaza into a large open-air jail? We all value freedom of movement. We want to be able to leave our country of residence either permanently or temporarily for vacation, to receive better medical care, to advance our education or business. But of course, we all know that no-one can get in or out. Don't we?Israel can be forgiven for being very cautious about allowing enemy aliens through its territory - after all Hamas has officially and openly declared its intent to wipe Israel off the map and sends regular rockets across the border to remind us all.

Nevertheless, many people do cross the border - usually for humanitarian reasons, often to receive medical treatment in Israeli hospitals.But what everyone seems to forget is that Israel is not Gaza's only border. Fellow Arab country Egypt, which has supported the Palestinian cause since it was first invented, is linked to Gaza with a little more than 11 km of border, and an official crossing at Rafah.So why an open air prison? The Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR) regularly exposes the real problem in its monthly reports. Here it is from this month's bulletin:

Violations of the Right to Travel and Movement Gaza residents are still suffering from the unavailability of passport books since November 2008 until the end of this current month.

According to ICHR information obtained from officials from the Ministry of Interior of the Deposed Government, the MOI in the West Bank does not send passport books for citizens in Gaza Strip which entails depriving them from the right to travel and movement. In addition, it affects most of those in urgent need for traveling abroad for seeking medical care, university education, students and thousands of expatriates whose passports have expired and require renewal.
International travel, even via Egypt, requires a passport.

The PA won't issue Gazans with passports. Gazans can't travel. That's Israel's fault. Clear