IPS Blog

Aftermath of the Israeli Flotilla Attack

Howard Zinn’s statement rings true for any nation, whether it be Israel, Palestine, or the United States: “There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.”

The Institute’s Israel/Palestine expert, Phyllis Bennis, had a scathing statement out today on The Huffington Post, on the Israeli military’s “massacre” of nine-plus activists. She says:

By coincidence, I am in Istanbul at the moment. In Turkey, home to most of the dead and injured among the international activists, 10,000 people marched from the Israeli consulate to the city’s main square, while thousands more took to the streets in Ankara, expressing outrage and demanding international accountability and immediate action to end the blockade of Gaza.

Maybe someone in the Israeli intelligence services or in the military really believed that the high profile threats that the Gaza Freedom Flotilla would “not be allowed” to reach Gaza shores would somehow convince the 700+ human rights defenders to simply give up. That they would agree to turn their 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid over to the Israeli military in the hope that the IDF, which has enforced an illegal and crippling siege against the 1.5 million Gazans for more than 3 years, would abide by their claim that they would send the aid on to Gaza… a Gaza that Israel continues to assert is not facing the humanitarian catastrophe that has been documented by the United Nations, by Amnesty International, by every Israeli and Palestinian and international human rights organization working in the region.

But anyone who knew anything about the Gaza boats knew that wasn’t going to happen.

Our own Netfa Freeman overlaid interviews of people protesting Israel, protesters’ chants, speeches, and music to create an audio story of the Gaza flotilla attack. It runs about 20 minutes long, but is worth every second.

CODEPINK provides an interactive timeline of the flotilla attack in Gaza yesterday, including firsthand stories of the attack – which they describe as “nothing short of state-sponsored terrorism.” It’s not quite complete yet, but should be a great resource for information as it comes.

Al-Jazeera is also liveblogging updates on the attack’s aftermath.

Kevin Drum wonders: How will this end?

There are now planned protests at Israeli embassies worldwide, if you want to let your country’s leaders know that you’re against the Israeli government’s actions.

Israel Plans to Meet Next Aid Ships with more Force

Two more activist-manned ships are traveling to Gaza to deliver aid, just a day after Israeli soldiers killed at least nine volunteers aboard vessels attempting to bring supplies. The commando-style raid, the deaths, and the arrest of nearly 700 activists sparked global condemnation, yet the Israeli military intends to meet the next ships with even more “aggressive force,” The Jerusalem Post reports. “Israel has decided that it is better to be perceived as savage than as weak,” Phyllis Bennis, an Institute for Policy Studies fellow and an OtherWords contributor, wrote on the Huffington Post op-ed. Many of the dead and injured are believed to be Turkish, and the incident is wrecking relations between Turkey and Israel.

Italy: Tomatoes and the Color Purple vs. Silvio

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, increasingly under attack by trade unions angered at his austerity proposals and a feckless economic program that has produced virtually no growth, now finds himself besieged on the Internet. There is a certain irony that this rightwing media mogul should find himself beset by the electronic media.

Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi looks down during a news conference at Palazzo Chigi in RomeThrough his massive holding company, Fininvest, Berlusconi owns Mediaset, one of the largest communications companies in Europe. It controls Italy’s three most watched channels, as well as Telecinco in Spain. Because he controls the government, Berlusconi also dominates the public station, RAI. What Italians see on their televisions is what Silvio wants them to see, and that means sports, soaps, and news shows that look like a joint undertaking by Fox News and Victoria’s Secret.

Shortly after a quarter of a million people turned out in Rome’s Piazza del Popolo last October to challenge Berlusconi’s control of the media and the Prime Minister’s efforts to make himself immune from the law, the “Purple Movement” sprang up on the Internet. According to one of the group’s founders, Emanuele Toscano, purple is the “symbolic color of battle for the affirmation of democracy, for the respect of our Constitutional Charter as the foundation of civilized living, for the defense of a free and plural information system.”

Using Internet tools like Face book, the “Purples” set up a nationwide network of Internet users, who turned out leaflets, organized transportation, and on Dec. 5 put several hundred thousand people into Rome’s San Giovanni Square for a “No Berlusconi Day.” The Rome police estimated the crowd 90,000, but even Berlusconi cabinet member, Robert Calderolli, put the number at 350,000.

Dec. 5 was Italy’s first Internet-promoted demonstration, similar in many ways to the massive 1999 demonstrations against the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in Seattle.

“The net is a natural incubator of dissent,” argues Toscano, although the “Purples” also used old-fashioned methods as well, like handing out leaflets downloaded off the web, and flooding local newspapers with letters. The latter strategy was essential because only about one-third of Italy’s 60 million people are connected to the Internet, and only seven million of those use it with any regularity.

Other on-line groups, like “More People Love Tomatoes than Silvio Berlusconi,” have sprung up, and the torrent of Internet opposition, coupled with growing union resistance, is starting to seriously dent the Prime Minister’s popularity. His poll numbers have plummeted from 49 percent approval in January, to 35 percent in May.

Political figures all over the continent are taking a beating because of the current recession, but nothing like Silvio. Even Europe’s basket case, Greece, gives its Prime Minister, George Papandreou, a 43 percent approval rating—a drop of 10 percent—and crisis-wracked Spain and Portugal have seen their prime ministers’ poll numbers fall only 3.5 percent and 4.5 percent respectively.

Some of Berlusconi’s wounds are self-inflicted, including his squabbles with rightwing allies in the Parliament, his sexual escapades, his fight with the Catholic Church, and his rather bizarre falling out with Rupert Murdoch. His admiring use of a quote by fascist leader Benito Mussolini during a Paris news conference on May 27 is not liable to help.

Italian unions are gearing up for a one-day general strike to protest Berlusconi’s austerity package, and Guglielmo Epifani, head of the General Confederation of Italian Unions (CGIL), has called for a June 12 protest in Rome. “The cuts are all concentrated on workers, the same old recipe that leaves out the high wage earners,” Epifani told the Financial Times. The austerity package calls for a three-year wage freeze.

Besieged on the streets, hounded by the Purples and the Tomatoes on the Internet, the Capo di tutti capi of Italian politics looks headed for a fall.

Kentucky Adopts Civil Rights Resolution

Following the uproar about Rand Paul’s views on civil rights–in particular, how he doesn’t think it’s the government’s job to guarantee them–Kentucky state lawmakers have adopted a resolution “declaring any form of discrimination to be inconsistent with American values,” the Associated Press reports. Paul’s views have made Kentucky “a laughingstock,” said state Sen. Gerald Neal, the majority-GOP legislature’s only African-American member, and the resolution’s author. OtherWords columnist Donald Kaul addresses Paul’s political fortunes in his latest column, which concludes: “If these people ever do get into office, we won’t need term limits. About one term is all the public will be able to stand.”

Israel: When You Circle the Wagons, Shoot Outward!

Were it not for the ongoing humanitarian tragedies, it would be amusing to watch Israel self-destruct. For a regime that once seemed the embodiment of competence and self assurance, it now appears to be suffering some sort of terminal grand mal, thrashing around and blindly smashing the crockery and furniture.

An Israeli holds a national flag on the beach near the Ashdod port in southern IsraelIsrael seems clearly bent on demonstrating what its opponents have long claimed — that it is a dangerous and illegitimate regime operating beyond the confines of international law and moral principle. The attack on the Gaza flotilla — with lethal force, in international waters — is the latest demonstration of its apparently infinite counterintuitive capacity. The offered defense of these indefensible actions — “They made me do it!” — would embarrass even a petulant five-year-old.

Complexity science heads don’t do prediction. In a non-linear system, where slight changes in initial conditions, agent interactions and perturbations across systems boundaries combine to generate unpredictable outcomes, the future is always uncertain. But we can learn over time to see patterns and probabilistic vectors, and therefore better anticipate surprises.

So, taking all that into account, let me suggest that Israel as we know it, will cease to exist in the foreseeable future. Its own internal inconsistencies — multiplied by demographics, and the continuing evolution of sociopolitical and humanitarian norms — will administer the coup de grâce.

Here’s why.

Social systems — which include communities, companies, marching bands and nation states — succeed or fail because of their relative coherence, which is what underpins their adaptive capacities. Adaptiveness is key, because as anthropologist L.S.B. Leakey put it so beautifully, “The lesson of evolution is, change . . . or perish!”

System coherence is determined in large part by:

  • The strength of shared “identity.” (Who are we? Why are we here? What are our values?)
  • The relative facility or friction of interactions. (How easy or hard is it to take concerted action?)
  • The strength and clarity of networks and information flows. (Does the intelligence necessary to make informed decisions get to those who need it in a timely fashion?)
  • The strength of relationships within and across system boundaries. (Because structures and actions are relationships made visible.)

These are all “nested” within a complex stew of interconnected and often fluid boundaries, continually evolving “initial conditions” and the (often contradictory) rules of the overlapping systems.

In a nutshell, Israel lacks coherence. The narrative that has held it together for the past 60 years — and blinded the outside world to the uglier realities — is eroding rapidly. The political divisions within the country make concerted action almost impossible. The social networks lack “requisite variety,” so objective realities are ignored. And relationships are dissolving as even traditional supporters back away from a regime increasingly seen as rabid and isolated.

Bottom line, Israel has become “condensed” and non-adaptive. And if a system can’t adapt — if it can’t “co-evolve” with its environment — it dissolves.

Time frames are always uncertain. Sometimes they are longer than one would imagine, because the system has more resilience than expected. More often, however, they tend to be shorter, because of another characteristic of complex systems, which is “iteration.” What that means is that small changes can have significant effects after they have passed through the emergence-feedback loop a few times. This is sometimes called the “snowball” effect. (A snowball gathers more snow on each roll and quickly goes from a ball the size you throw, to one that throws you.)

Israel cannot survive as a pariah/apartheid state. Like any modern state, it is entirely reliant on trans-boundary relationships and flows, from diplomatic recognition to raw materials and export markets. Its vaunted high-tech industry is worthless without willing foreign buyers. Because those markets can be served by a number of competitors, client loyalty is vital to success. As Israel slips further beyond the pale of civilized behavior, that loyalty will prove both highly transient and nearly impossible to recover once it’s gone.

So what will emerge in Israel’s place? After all the pushing and pulling, a bi-national, and perhaps even a bioregional state seems most viable. (See “The Only Path to a Middle East Picnic?“) After all, Palestine (like all the nations surrounding it) is a made-up entity. A vestigial remnant of European colonial days with arbitrary, and often irrational, boundaries. Redrawing those lines with goals of equity, diversity and social justice would have profound benefits for residents of the region and beyond.

One way or another, Israel appears to be on the way out. The big question is whether it will be with a bang or a whimper.

Israeli Attack on Palestinian Flotilla

The “Freedom Flotilla,” a group of six ships carrying much-needed supplies for Palestinians, was attacked today by the Israeli military. Initial reports say as many as 16 unarmed activists were killed, and dozen more wounded. It seems that Israel’s disregard for the international community and human rights law is becoming more and more pronounced.

You can find an extensive compilation of information on the flotilla raid here and here, courtesy of the Gaza Freedom March and the US Campaign to End the Occupation.

From UN expert Richard Falk’s press release:

The UN Special Rapporteur for the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Richard Falk, urged Monday the international community to bring to justice those responsible for the killing of some 16 unarmed peace activist, when Israeli armed commandos stormed a convoy of ships carrying aid to Gaza.

“Israel is guilty of shocking behavior by using deadly weapons against unarmed civilians on ships that were situated in the high seas where freedom of navigation exists, according to the law of the seas,” Mr. Falk said. “It is essential that those Israelis responsible for this lawless and murderous behavior, including political leaders who issued the orders, be held criminally accountable for their wrongful acts.”

Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu cancelled plans to meet with Obama in Washington this week. The attack comes just as long-delayed indirect talks between Israel and Palestine were getting underway.

From the US Campaign’s site:

The reaction of the Obama Administration to Israel’s attack on the humanitarian aid flotilla, which included U.S. citizens, has been tepid. A White House spokesperson stated that he “deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained.”

Of course, this statement completely ignores U.S. complicity in arming Israel and enabling its human rights abuses. In July 2008, the United States signed a contract worth $1.9 billion to transfer the latest-generation of naval combat vessels to Israel at U.S. taxpayer expense. Currently, Congress is in the process of appropriating a record $3.2 billion in military aid to Israel this budget year.

The raid is also expected to worsen relations between Israel and Turkey. And you can learn more about the history of the human rights situation in Palestine from Falk’s site.

You can take action here.

Readers’ Challenge: Why Ahmadis Now?

Yesterday was almost equally violent for both India, where suspected sabotage of train by Maoists left at least 74 dead in West Bengal, and Pakistan. In Lahore, an equivalent number were killed in the attacks on the two Ahmadi mosques. According to the New York Times: “Geo TV, a leading news channel in Pakistan, reported that members of the Punjab branch of the Pakistani Taliban were claiming responsibility for the attacks.”

The Los Angeles Times reports:

An Ahmadi elder from the Model Town mosque said the mosque had been getting threatening phone calls for some time, and had reported the threats to Lahore police. “We asked the government and police several times to enhance our security, but we didn’t get anything,” … After the [first] attack, Ahmadi worshippers . . . were angered by what they said was a delayed response from police once the attack began. Though a police station is near the mosque, the Ahmadi elder said police arrived about 50 minutes after worshippers called for help.

Elsewhere, another survivor said: “We are peaceful, law-abiding citizens and we get no protection.”

Persecution of the tiny Ahmadi sect has in fact been legislated. As ReligiousIntolerance.org reports:

In 1974, the National Assembly of Pakistan approved the Second Amendment to the Constitution literally excommunicating Ahmadi Muslims and banishing them from the fold of Islam. … In 1984, General Zia-ul Haq, promulgated [an ordinance] branding Ahmadis as criminals liable to fine and imprisonment if they practiced their belief in Islam.

In 1993 the Supreme Court of Pakistan heard a case by a number of Ahmadis who asserted that they were being deprived of their religious rights and freedoms. … The majority opinion of the court stated that many Islamic phrases were, in effect, copyrighted trademarks of the Islamic faith. Thus the use of these phrases by Ahmadis was a form of copyright infringement [violating] the Trademark Act of 1940.

Hmm, Islam as a brand. But what do Focal Points readers think inspired the Taliban to divert manpower and resources to attacking the Ahmadi, who arguably outdo the Taliban as cultural outlanders (since the latter enjoy some support in the Army and ISI), now. Why not keep their sites set on attacking the Pakistani government, which has caused it such grief in the frontier provinces?

From the Frontlines: May 28th, 2010

People will be marching against hate in Arizona this weekend, joining the AFL-CIO, SEIU, PDA, and the National Day Laborers’ Union.

Sudan inaugurated incumbent President Omar Al-Bashir with pomp and circumstance yesterday in Khartoum. While well attended by neighboring Arab leaders and Sudanese representatives, western and sub-Saharan leaders notably boycotted the ceremony, hoping to delegitimize the controversial elections last month.

Obama affirms moratorium on deepwater drilling and defended his administration’s response to the Gulf oil leak. In conjunction with the president’s press conference, the head of the Minerals Management Service in charge of the Gulf’s drilling operations announced his resignation.

A liability cap is just another term for “bailout.” And it looks like, thanks to Mitch McConnell and others in the Senate, BP (yes, that BP) is poised to get one heck of a bailout for polluting our Gulf.

And on the other side of the Capitol, the House rebuffs a veto threat on the fighter jet engine program.

A landslide election in Ethiopia Monday reinstated four-time incumbent Zenawi Meles and his EPRDF party, despite a trend towards more open, democratic elections in the previous 2005 election cycle.

“If the mine would leave, it would leave us in peace and we would live as before, happily. No more women would be persecuted and criminalized.” Women stand their ground against a Canadian gold mine in Guatemala.

Indonesia announces a two-year moratorium on logging in an unprecedented climate change effort, acknowledging scientists’ estimates that deforestation accounts for 20 percent of all CO2 emissions.

House Rebuffs Veto Threat on Fighter Jet Engine Program

Saving taxpayers half a billion dollars isn’t that simple. Defying the threat of a presidential veto, the House of Representatives voted Thursday to authorize a alternative engine program for the F-35 fighter jet. The backup plan is projected to cost $485 million next year. The Senate Armed Services Committee, meanwhile, gave this program a thumbs down on the same day. That means it won’t be included in the Senate’s version of the defense spending bill. Read Chris Hellman’s recent op-ed, which notes that increases in military spending affect the rest of the federal budget. “While domestic spending increased by approximately 24 percent from FY 2001 to FY 2010, military spending (including war costs) surged 71 percent,” he said.

Obama at the BP Press Conference

Obama at the 5/27 press conference. Credit: US White HouseCompetence. Obama oozes it. He always seems at ease during these press conferences, calmly slapping away questions like so many flies (yes, I’ll admit it, the only reason I’m employing this simile is so I can link to this really cool video of the President killing a fly just as it lands on his hand. You’ve seen it before but watch it again! It’s cool! He’s cool!).

And there was much substance too; just about everyone knew going in that this press conference would be all about BP and the oil spill in the Gulf, and the president was prepared. He defended his administration’s response to the spill, he accepted the blame when necessary, and at the end, he even deployed what has become a trademark Obama tactic: He utilized a seemingly innocent question from one of his girls — this one from Malia — as an opportunity to reinforce how deeply he feels about a particular issue and to place everything into warm and fuzzy context.

Somehow, Malia’s innocent Daddy, have you plugged the hole provided a segue way to a brief monologue about his love for the environment, his concern for the future, and his feelings about Simon Cowell’s departure from American ldol (ok, everything except for the American Idol bit, but one can never be sure), which caused me to wonder, for a brief moment, if Malia had actually uttered those words. No matter. It was great television.

There were a few awkward moments however, and all came towards the end. The first came when Chip Reid of CBS News asked the president whether Elizabeth Birnbaum, former director of the U.S. Minerals Management Service — the agency within the Interior Department responsible for regulating offshore drilling — had been fired or if she had resigned. The president said he didn’t know, and when Jackie Calmes of the New York Times followed up with the same question, the president eventually replied: “Come on Jackie, I don’t know.”

To the untrained ear (my ear, I suppose), this response almost sounded like an admission from the president that he wasn’t completely in control of the situation. After all, the employment status of the top official in his administration responsible for regulating offshore drilling seems to be precisely the type of personnel decision the president would ‘know’ something about unless, of course, he was attempting to signal that, yes, he didn’t fire her because she had resigned, in which case why not just say it? And if he did fire her, why not just say that? So confusing.

The second awkward moment came when the inimitable Helen Thomas, doyenne of the White House corps, asked President Obama the following:

When are you going to get out of Afghanistan? Why are we continuing to kill and die there? What is the real excuse and don’t give us this Bushism “if we don’t go there they’ll all come here.”

Her question was incredibly important for two reasons. First for President Obama’s seemingly exasperated response. The President outlined the Bush administration’s reasoning for entering the war in the first place as if he was explaining the utility of Facebook to his dotty grandmother. Second, because his reasoning was accepted wholesale by the press. Most of the press conference related news coverage on Thursday evening focused on President Obama’s oil spill responses.

This is especially troubling because it seems to be an indication that, for now, the press has moved on from Afghanistan. The BP spill is quite important, and could have long-lasting implications for the gulf and the rest of the country, but more members of the press should be asking about Afghanistan, if only because the 1,000th US soldier has just died there. And, oh yes, the Senate has just approved a $58.8 billion war spending bill that is likely to be approved by the House.

So, Ms. Thomas, for your continuing courage: Bravo!

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