- [VIDEO] Why doesn’t the media care about dead Palestinians? #Gaza
- An “Efficient” assault: US-Israeli war crimes in Gaza
- Israel, not Hamas, is the serial truce-breaker
- Indonesia’s Election: Democracy at risk?
Posted: 14 Jul 2014 01:56 AM PDT
Abby Martin remarks on the latest violence in Palestine, including Israeli airstrikes on civilian targets in Gaza.
Posted: 14 Jul 2014 01:52 AM PDT
The humanitarian catastrophe resulting from Israel's latest killing spree in Gaza should weigh heavily on the conscience of US citizens, given that Israel remains the largest recipient of US foreign aid, to the tune of 3 billion dollars a year.
According to Reuters, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) has now dropped bombs on over 1,000 targets across what has been deemed the world's largest open-air prison. Scenes of extreme suffering and loss abound, like that in the town of Khan Younis, where a house filled with civilians was bombed, or the missile that leveled Gaza's police headquarters, killing 18 members of one family.
The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) observed "Israeli warplanes launched 39 airstrikes targeting houses, agricultural plots, open areas, a charity and a bank in the southern Gaza Strip town of Khan Yunis." Furthermore, "Israeli tanks and gunboats … fired dozens of shells at agricultural and open areas," killing "9 Palestinian civilians, including 2 women …" PCHR also documents that 149 houses in Gaza have been "targeted and destroyed."
These outbursts of state terror are so periodic and unceasing, it's difficult to express the gravity of the situation. Much like the previous large-scale Israeli military assault on Gaza in 2012 called 'Operation Pillar of Defense', 'Operation Protective Edge' has unleashed horrifying levels of violence against Palestinian civilians. Doctors on the ground are now reporting that Israel is using weapons against Gazans which have beenbanned under international law, "[causing] major damage to [their] bodies, especially the limbs." Responding to this gruesome development, Palestinian Health Ministry Undersecretary Youssef Abo al-Rish condemned "Israel's use of internationally banned weapons" as "a blatant violation of human rights and international agreements."
Compounded with the devastating human toll this savagery has spawned is a media narrative that all but ensures it will continue. Both television and print media repeatedly cast Israel as merely "defending itself" or "retaliating" against Hamas rockets. Writing in the Boston Globe, Chairman of the Anti Defamation League Jeff Robbins notes "Those who have been fortunate enough not to have endured rockets aimed at their homes can be counted upon to issue the familiar incantations about Israeli 'collective punishment,' dodging as always the question of what, precisely, Israel is supposed to do about attacks against its civilians if not to try to prevent them."
Ignored in this callous dismissal of Israeli war crimes is the fact that the people of Gaza are under a foreign military occupation in violation of international humanitarian law and multiple UN Security Council Resolutions. That this brutal occupation may be the source of the rocketing is untouched in the corporate press. Instead, American audiences are presented with a de-contextualized narrative of a cycle of violence from both sides, accompanied, almost invariably, by vague and insincere demands for a de-escalation of the conflict.
If the vast disparity in firepower between Hamas and the IDF doesn't illustrate the specious framing, then the death toll certainly does. Since the beginning of Israel's assault, 170 Palestinians have been killed and over 1,120 have been injured according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. Based on figures from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, "70 percent of Gaza fatalities are civilians," and of that number, "30 percent are children." Conversely, zero Israelis have been killed. Nonetheless, the western authors of this mass slaughter are unrestrained in their exuberance, foremost the "leader of the free world."
In his July 8 Op-Ed in Haaretz, President Obama celebrated the growing "security relationship" between the US and Israel, a bond that is "stronger than ever." Perhaps the "strength" of this bond can be measured in the overwhelming silence and distortion that has greeted this latest chapter in the Palestinian people's long record of national humiliation. So when ABC World News anchor Diane Sawyer misidentifies Palestinian civilians devastated by IAF airstrikes as Israelis, a simple one minute apology to American viewers (not to the people of Gaza) suffices.
Any deeper investigation into the dominant narratives of Palestinian villainy that have long characterized US media discourse is forbidden. For example, the New York Times will issue no apology for featuring a front page photograph of a masked Palestinian slinging a stone alongside an article about the brutal lynching of Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khadeir. Unlike Sawyer's "mistake", misrepresentations of this kind are the norm, and therefore merit no apologies. These images are illustrative of Palestinian menace or an ominous "demographic problem" pensively waiting to destroy an Israeli state–an island of civilization in a "tough neighborhood"–"forced to take action to protect its civilians." Rhetoric of this kind is highly reminiscent of the US genocide against North America's indigenous population, which was carried out to "protect" the European colonists from the "terror" of "merciless Indian savages," as Thomas Jefferson described them in one of his lesser known contributions to "enlightenment" philosophy.
Incidentally, the traditional imperial pretext of "protecting civilians" has been stretched to surreal dimensions under the current offensive. Among the "military" targets selected in this campaign to "protect" Israelis are beach-side cafes, mosques, and rehabilitation centers. The New York Times headlined the attack on the beach-side cafe as follows: Missile at Beachside Gaza Cafe Finds Patrons Poised for World Cup (my emphasis). It would be instructive to observe the response within the US if the terrorist attack against innocent civilians at the Boston Marathon was headlined Exploding Pressure Cooker Finds Athletes Poised for Boston Marathon. Needless to say, more than a simple "correction" would be demanded.
Underlying these socially sanctioned exhibitions of dehumanization is a doctrine of state violence which was articulated most powerfully by Israel's first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion. In a shockingly unambiguous entry in his Independence War Diary he noted "Blowing up a house is not enough. What is necessary is cruel and strong reactions. We need precision in time, place and casualties. If we know the family–[we must] strike mercilessly, women and children included. Otherwise the reaction is inefficient. At the place of action there is no need to distinguish between the guilty and the innocent." Under 'Operation Protective Edge', the Israeli military has adhered to this pernicious doctrine with a frightening degree of discipline.
Overshadowing this record of atrocities is the inescapable fact that the United States is complicit in the killing of every innocent Palestinian under Israeli occupation, a reality systematically omitted from conventional narratives. A particularly dramatic illustration of this norm could be perceived in a recent State Dept. press conference. After establishing the dogma that Palestinians had no "right to defend themselves", State Dept. spokesperson Jen Psaki was asked what Washington would do to pressure Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to "rein in" Hamas.
Since Hamas and the PA formed a "unity government", the journalist protested, Abbas certainly shared "responsibility" for the Hamas rocketing into Israel. Another question could have easily been asked, namely what was the Obama administration going to do to "rein in" Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Critical inquiry of this kind is inconceivable in US establishment journalistic circles. Consequently, the leader of the "only democracy in the Middle East" (typical language in imperial societies that lack self-reflection, the US being a dramatic example) can launch missiles at unprotected civilian structures–murdering the elderly, women, and children–and the best headline Human Rights Watch can produce to capture the tragedy is Palestine/Israel: Indiscriminate Palestinian Rocket Attacks. On the IAF airstrikes on houses? They "appear to be" collective punishment.
At a recent Palestine solidarity rally, author and activist Max Blumenthal proclaimed"This is not a conflict. It is a conquest. It is an illegal conquest." Beyond the highly misleading, and often racist, commentary that prevails in the establishment press, this is arguably the most succinct description of Israel's ongoing war against Palestinians. Much like the global conquerors in Washington, the regional conquerors in the Israeli government interpret any expression of autonomy by those over whom they rule as not only threatening but criminal. It is through this perverse logic that the systematic subjugation of an entire people is made to look virtuous or, to borrow Benjamin Netanyahu's words in reference to its threats against Iran, "those in the international community … don't have a moral right to place a red light before Israel." Throughout history, all oppressive states have imbibed this psychotic worldview, some in more lethal doses than others. One shudders at the thought of future servants of empire retelling this chronology of suffering and the monstrosities they will inevitably conceal in the name of "freedom".
Posted: 13 Jul 2014 09:58 PM PDT
You would be forgiven for thinking that the latest Israeli offensive on the Gaza strip is an unfortunate necessity for the Zionist state; that Hamas holds full responsibility for the dead and the wounded; and that Israel is merely “responding” to Palestinian aggression, simply defending itself with no interest in escalating the conflict. You would be forgiven because, although it is an inaccurate and biased narrative, it is the only narrative you will hear in the mainstream media.
Yousef Munayyer, Executive Director of the Jerusalem Fund, a non-profit organisation based in Washington, DC, has explained why this is not the only narrative by examining data about all the ceasefire violations on either side since the last Egyptian-brokered deal agreed by Israel and Hamas on 21 November 2012, which brought to an end Israel’s so-called “Operation Pillar of Defence”. The terms of the agreement included “ending all hostilities by Israelis and Palestinians, and facilitating the freedom of movement and transfer of goods within Gaza.”
Within 24 hours, Israel explicitly violated the conditions of the ceasefire when its armed forces shot dead a Palestinian man east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip; 19 others were wounded in the incident.
Meanwhile, Israel’s promise to facilitate freedom of movement and the transfer of goods within Gaza has been reneged upon continuously since the signing of the truce.
This follows a familiar pattern in which a previous ceasefire agreement, brokered by Egypt in 2008, was ended by Israel’s extrajudicial assassinations of Palestinians.
Below is a graph, provided by the Jerusalem Fund, detailing the dynamics of fire over a 54-week period following the last ceasefire. All numbers are taken from UN OCHA. From a quick look at the data on weekly violations throughout the year following the 2012 ceasefire, we can see that Palestinian rocket fire has been infrequent and isolated, almost always occurring “after successive instances of Israeli ceasefire violations.”
Yet, as former editor of antiwar.com John Glaser mentions, “In the diplomacy on Mid-East peace, we invariably hear about Israel’s security concerns, while that of the Palestinians is hardly mentioned.” This is in spite of overwhelming evidence pointing to the constant military aggression inflicted upon the Palestinian population by Israel, an inherent element of both the siege on Gaza and the occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The Israeli human rights group B’tselem, citing the Israeli Shin Bet, notes that nearly 14,000 projectiles were fired from Gaza from 2005 to 2013. UN OCHA noted that Israel fired about the same number of artillery shells into Gaza in 2006 alone.
In accordance with Glaser’s observation, just 17 of the nearly 120 Israeli ceasefire violations over one year following the 2012 ceasefire were reported on by the New York Times. This extensive under-reporting of Israeli ceasefire violations points to the immunity Israel enjoys in the West, and the incentive this provides Israel to continue to violate ceasefire agreements. Israeli forces can then “fire into Gaza without accountability, provoke a reaction and then claim self-defence.”
Who, if not the West, will hold Israel accountable? A more recent example indicative of a broader truth on western media misrepresentation of Palestine-Israel, can be seen here when Diane Sawyer of ABC News misreports Palestinian victims of Israeli airstrikes as Israelis.
Drawing on visual graphics provided by the Jerusalem Fund displayed below, depicting the relation between Palestinian casualties caused by Israeli fire and Palestinian projectile fire, the organisation makes some important observations:
[...] the various resistance factions in Gaza are restraining themselves and are not responding to every Israeli escalation. However, when extrajudicial assassinations of members of militant factions outside of Hamas like the Popular Resistance Committee (PRC) and Islamic Jihad are conducted, the factions then respond as was the case in points 3 and 7.
This leads to the following conclusion: “Israeli policies of extrajudicial assassination which ultimately create high Palestinian casualties and provoke projectiles from Gaza are self-defeating if the goal is to minimize projectile fire.”
Why, then, does Israel continue to carry out extrajudicial assassinations in moments of relative calm such as that of unarmed PFLP member Muataz Washaha in the West Bank university town of Birzeit on 27 February 2014, in which his family’s home was set alight and demolished? More importantly, why are such cases not covered in equal measure to the rare and isolated cases of Palestinian resistance rocket fire which, when they are not intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system, do little, if any, damage?
Whilst Hamas’s ceasefire conditions, listed below, were declared publicly on Palestinian television live on 8 July 2014 by an anonymous leader of the Qassam Brigades, they received no coverage in the western media. Subsequently, it came as no surprise when Netanyahu addressed the cabinet 2 days later with a unilateral rejection of any appeals for a ceasefire. When world powers are repeating the now auto-response, “We support Israel’s right to defend itself against Palestinian fire”, why should Israel bother to address the underlying causes of hostility from militarised factions of the Palestinian resistance?
Hamas ceasefire conditions:
Writing earlier this year, Mounayyer predicted accurately the grave consequences of media misrepresentations of the Israel-Palestine conflict, detailing a reality we are currently witnessing:
If another massive Israeli bombardment of Gaza began, Israel would surely use the pretext of “self-defence” to fend off any international criticism and the mainstream media’s failure to cover these cease-fire violations would have provided and supported the Israeli narrative needed to make war.
It is now crucial more than ever that western media acknowledges the critical role it plays in framing the Palestine-Israel conflict in the West and in shaping the trajectory of the conflict on the ground. The findings of the Jerusalem Fund ceasefire violations catalogue, highlight the moral duty that journalists bear to cover both Palestinian and Israeli aggression, and ensure that Israeli violations are given equal exposure. Only then, when Israel feels that there are real consequences for violating ceasefire agreements and international law, will Hamas’s third condition, for Israel to commit to previous agreements, will there be any real hope of peace.
Posted: 13 Jul 2014 09:29 PM PDT
Recent political unrest in parts of the Middle East has led many Western analysts to question the compatibility of Islam with democracy, but Indonesia—the world’s most populous Muslim country—is looking to tell a different story, the next chapter of which begins this week.
An important country about which most Americans know little, Indonesia is the world’s third-largest democracy, after India and the United States, and the tenth-largest economy. In recent years, it has enjoyed high growth, low inflation, an extremely low debt-to-GDP ratio, a strong stock market, and record-breaking exports and foreign direct investment.
Indonesia’s economic success has been built on the back of its even more impressive democratic development. In just a few years, after the fall of longtime strongman Suharto in 1998, the country transitioned from a tightly controlled authoritarian system to one of the most vibrant democracies on earth. Through three successive cycles of democratic elections—in 1999, 2004, and 2009—Indonesia has been hailed as a model of an open, moderate, tolerant, multiethnic, and multireligious society.
Presidential elections in Indonesia are among the most free in the world, with a “one man, one vote” system that is not intermediated by an electoral college, as in the United States. Indonesians have embraced this freedom with great fanfare over the past fifteen years. In Indonesia’s first democratic election, in 1999, more than 93 percent of its roughly 150 million voters participated. I had the privilege of monitoring that first election, which was broadly praised as free, fair, nonviolent, and well run, despite the absence of any democratic traditions in the country since the 1950s. While some of the initial euphoria about elections declined in subsequent contests, voter participation has remained above 70 percent in every cycle.
This week, Indonesians are set to test and, hopefully, build on that record as they choose a new president in the most hotly contested race in the country’s history. The race is a nail-biter, with the candidates polling within several points of each other—in some polls, within the margin of error and with a margin smaller than the number of undecided voters. The uncertainty of the outcome has left both the people of Indonesia and its markets on edge.
This is the first time that the incumbent is term-limited. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has served two five-year terms and cannot run again due to constitutional reforms. His party, moreover, did not win enough seats in the April legislative elections to field a candidate for the presidential race. For the first time in Indonesian history, the party in power is not fielding a candidate for the top job.
This election is also the first head-to-head contest, with the popular governor of Jakarta, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, running against the charismatic former commander of the Indonesian special forces and former Suharto son-in-law, Prabowo Subianto. In all previous election cycles, three or more contenders have vied for the presidency.
The race has forced the candidates to make clear distinctions between each other and led the other parties that won seats in the incoming legislature to quickly choose sides. With four of the five Islam-based parties supporting Prabowo, his coalition is perceived as more Islamic, while the coalition backing Jokowi is perceived as more secular and nationalist.
This divide dates back to the founding of the Indonesian state, when leaders of the struggle against the Dutch colonial power were writing a constitution in preparation for their declaration of independence. One of the primary debates among the independence leaders was whether the new state should be Islamic or essentially secular, but rooted in God. Those in favor of the latter won the day, arguing that the archipelago’s ethnic and religious diversity demanded an open paradigm that defined the state as broadly as possible.
There is some overlap between the two coalitions, with the secular-nationalist Golkar party backing Prabowo, and the Islam-based National Awakening Party (PKB) backing the Jakarta governor, for example. But the relatively defined character of each coalition has given Indonesian voters a clearer choice than in past elections and should be healthy for the consolidation of the country’s democracy.
The personalities of the two candidates could not be further apart. Jokowi is a largely untested, understated, and untainted “man of the people,” beloved for his integrity and inclusiveness by Indonesia’s poor and lower middle class. Prabowo is a self-styled strongman with compelling oratory skills and a record of military experience that appeals to the upper-middle and upper classes, which yearn for strong leadership after a decade under Yudhoyono. Prabowo has been dogged by allegations of human rights abuses during his military career, including the torture and disappearance of protesters during the turmoil that brought down his father-in-law and violent suppression of dissent in hot spots like West Papua and East Timor, a former province that is now an independent state. Indonesians, however, have famously short memories, and with more than half the country under the age of thirty, few voters either know or care much about Prabowo’s dark past.
In recent months, Prabowo has closed the gap with the Jakarta governor, who was leading by as many as 30 percentage points. While this heated competition is in many ways a good thing for Indonesian democracy, it has also unleashed a dark side of Indonesian politics, with a raft of smear campaigns, largely against Jokowi, flooding social media—Indonesia has the second-largest Facebook community in the world, after the United States—and tabloids. They have accused Jokowi of being everything from Chinese and non-Muslim to a communist. While none are true, the ferocity and relentlessness with which these charges have circulated have hurt the governor in a country that is still overwhelmingly Muslim and anticommunist.
More importantly, these campaigns have brought race and religion to the fore in an ugly and highly divisive manner, a real concern for a country of such diversity and one that has a history of ethnic and religious violence. Indeed, the role of media in this campaign has been more controversial than at any time in the past, with outlets owned by businessmen aligned with one ticket or the other providing highly partisan coverage and undermining Indonesia’s reputation for a free, independent, and neutral press.
This race is not only the tightest in Indonesia’s democratic history; it’s also widely seen as the dirtiest, raising fears of a close outcome—perhaps with a margin of less than 2 percent—that could get bogged down in court challenges and even give way to violence. Passions are running high across the country. Some reports suggest that minorities are afraid to vote and that a climate of intimidation exists in some of the most contested areas.
Indonesia has achieved great things over the course of its fifteen-year experiment with democracy, but the ugliness of this race reminds us that such progress cannot be taken for granted. At a time when political restructuring in the Middle East continues to challenge the notion that Islam and democracy can coexist, and when pluralism and tolerance are under attack around the world, Indonesians hope to rise above these provocations and cement the country’s place as a vibrant Muslim-majority democracy.
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