Finally, an end to poppy eradication in Afghanistan

After years of wrongheaded “War on Drugs” policies in Afghanistan, the United States says it has changed. Richard Holbrooke, a highly experienced diplomat, now US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said “we’re going to phase out eradication” of heroin-producing poppies. This can only be good.

87% of the heroin bought in the world in 2004 was made from poppies grown in Afghanistan. (1) That number has climbed from 70% in the 1990s, a big drop in 2000 due to a ban on poppy farming by the Taliban (2), and a resurgence to as much as 90% today (3) (though figures vary).

Eradication efforts do indeed destroy some acreage of poppy farms, but they do not help reach any of the US’s goals. The UN Office of Drugs and Crime report that “the Taliban and other anti-government forces” earned between 50 and 70 million dollars from poppy production in 2008. (4) Antonio Costa, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, says that the same people may also be hoarding poppy stocks, in order to decrease the amount available on the market and push up prices. (4) Moreover, spraying crops punishes the innocent farmers growing them. If Afghan farmers lose their crops to foreign invaders, who are they likely to turn to for protection? If more poppies are eradicated, the price of heroin goes up, the so-called insurgents make more money and gain more allies. Is it any wonder they are putting up such a fight?

In fact, President Barack’s focus is shifting from Iraq to Afghanistan precisely because it is becoming the more difficult of the two conflicts to win. Iraq has always been seen as the pointless, unnecessary war, the bad war, and the one most frequently designated a quagmire. The reality has changed as Iraq has become more stable and Afghanistan conflict has become to look intractable. Richard Holbrooke has been saying since he was sworn in as Special Representative that Afghanistan will be “much tougher than Iraq” (5), and since a year earlier that US counter-narcotic policy in Afghanistan “may be the single most ineffective program in the history of American foreign policy”. (6) He also said that “Nato’s future is on the line”. He is surely right. More importantly, a collapse of NATO’s operations in Afghanistan could mean more violence in Central Asia, more radical Islamism and more suicide terrorism in America and Europe.

For now, let’s get back to drugs. There are alternatives to destroying poppies (though Afghanistan’s Ministry of Counter Narcotics might disagree (7)). Growing poppies could be considered an advantage rather than a scourge. The Senlis Council suggests using them to manufacture opiate-based, legal painkillers such as morphine. (8) Other countries, such as Turkey, grow poppies legally and sell opiates to the United States. Giving farmers a rich market for their crops would mean giving them a livelihood and delivering them from the Taliban. Decriminalising poppy production in Afghanistan will help the cause of NATO forces.

Spokespeople have used the words “phasing out” to explain their shift in policy away from spraying poppy fields. These words make it sound like a slow process that will not end overnight. Nevertheless, policy is moving in the right direction. An end to the eradication of poppies could be the turning point in the war for a democratic and stable Afghanistan.

The time perspective problem in conflict analysis and resolution

Tatar scholar Zufar Fartkutdinov once said “the patience of a nation is measured in centuries.” Many nations and their independence movements lie dormant for hundreds of years until they are roused by great upheavals. Others make attempts at independence but need to be patient and change political culture over centuries to get their way. But what Fartkutdinov called patience, some might call living in the past.

Time perspectives are an interesting psychological phenomenon. We see the passage of time in all kinds of different ways. Some people focus on the past. Of those who do, some think about the good things, or at least what we can learn from the bad, and others brood over past misfortunes and injustices. Some people are only interested in the pleasures of the present. Others are more focused on the future, and lose sight of the lessons of the past. Psychologists Philip Zimbardo (who wrote the Lucifer Effect) and John Boyd have studied time perspectives and have reached two conclusions that are highly relevant to conflict resolution: a) time perspectives are learned, not naturally ingrained, and b) a healthy time perspective is one that takes a balanced and optimistic view of the past, present and future.

For someone Zimbardo and Boyd would call “past-positive”, reflecting on the past is about learning from the bad (eg. mistakes) and celebrating the good. Both men scored nearly perfect for past-positive on the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory, a test of how we perceive time that you should consider taking. Their high scores were presumably because of their wide understanding of time perspective psychology. They know it is very important to know what happened in the past, because it provides a sense of continuity and a sense of self. It can be a source of happiness. And it is necessary if we want to predict the future. But too much emphasis on history, especially a “past-negative” perspective on your group, can cause serious problems.

A focus on the past seems to lead to collectivism. Collectivism rises from an extreme focus on history as told by members of the group you belong to. I have detailed the problems that collectivism causes in my series on individualism and collectivism. Collectivist ideas such as nationalism, racism and so on are irrelevant in modern society, where they are no longer necessary for security or meaning. They continue to exist, however, because we consider the past to be much more than something to learn from. For so many collectivists, the past is a source of pride, honour, rules and meaning.

But should it be? Our groups are not pristine. They have committed war, pillage, rape, oppression and other crimes, often on large scales. Collectivists, of course, dismiss these cases as aberrations, not the people we really are. But a fair reading of history would have to include the good with the bad. Clearly, our collective pasts are not the best place to find virtue.

What is so bad about living in the past? For an individual or a group, the dangers are the same. First, people who are stuck in the past are not willing to try new things, make new friends, or embrace change. For an individual, this can mean a life of misery. What if you moved to get a new job and spent your whole time thinking about how much better your old home was? You would be missing out on all the opportunities for fun and learning in your new environment. For groups, fear of the new means all the same things, but with global implications.

Take, for instance, the Tibetan people. Given that the Tibetans were once free of Chinese rule, many of them resent that it has come back. The fact that most Tibetans are not old enough to know what it was like for Tibet to be independent is irrelevant. People locked in past-negative perspectives imagine what the past was like as they reconstruct it from stories and can only imagine a return to it. But if a Tibetan adopts a future perspective (or better still, a balanced and optimistic view of time), he or she can thrive in the new and prosperous China. Many Tibetans have already done so. Why does one have to cling to one’s culture and past to the rejection of all others? If there are advantages in doing so, try adopting a new culutre in addition to your old one.

Second, since most groups, especially fiercely collectivist ones, share a history of trauma, such as war, genocide, oppression, slavery, and so on, they are likely to want revenge. As Zufar Fartkutdinov probably realised, revenge can stew for centuries. Think about the hatreds in the world that are based on past injustices that hating people feel have gone unresolved. Palestinians hate the Israelis. Millions of Asians hate the Japanese. People from the former Yugoslavia hate each other. Tamils and Sinhalese hate each other. Muslims hate the Jews and the Americans. Anyone who might have oppressed my people, even though I may have lived free and peacefully my whole life, is evil. These feelings are often called ancient hatreds, but a more accurate word is racism. Not everyone in these groups feels hatred, but it is difficult not to when your parents and teachers and friends and leaders and media and history books all tell you to.

So where does this leave us? Zimbardo and Boyd’s first point was that time perspectives are learned. If they are learned, they can be unlearned. For people to want reconciliation instead of revenge, they need to learn other perspectives on the past, and on time itself. A future orientation would also be helpful. A future orientation makes you more likely to learn, save, work hard and try to reconcile the past for the sake of the future. Some of the conditions for a future orientation are

-living in a temperate zone, because different seasons make us plan ahead;

-a stable family, society and nation, because we can predict the future and how our actions will be rewarded;

-education, because we spend many hours learning with no immediate benefit but great future benefit;

-having a job and being successful, because these things show us our effort can pay off.

The future is worth keeping in mind in order to make the right decisions today. Poor neighbourhoods, especially those with poor schools, drugs and gangs, have trouble leaving a “present-fatalistic” mindset because it seems as though, whatever you do, you are bound to be stuck in the ‘hood. But someone with the future in mind thinks it is better to be safe than sorry: no guns, no drugs, no jail, just hard work for future payoff.

The past is too often a weapon in the propaganda war. It should be taught as a way of orienting oneself in a morally neutral history, and learned through multiple perspectives. The past has too much pain and blood to be where we should get all our rules and morals from, but if we learn an inclusive and fair history, we can learn important lessons about how to improve the world. If we focus on the future, we are more likely to be patient and work hard for the benefit of others. Learn more about time perspectives and their effects in the Time Paradox by Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd.

Questions on Iran’s future

Iran is at a crossroads. We do not know what is going to happen, because its near future depends on the next move of an opaque government. Everyone is asking if it will crack down harder or somehow relent. I do not have many answers but I do have a lot of questions.

First, questions for people who back Mir Hossein Mousavi. His supporters, including most “Westerners”, are certain Ahmadinejad’s government rigged the election. Sure, there is some evidence that the election was stolen and should have gone to Mousavi, but how can we be sure? Did you witness the election? We are so quick to let our biases get in the way that if the pro-Western leader loses and self-identified Westerners are told he may have been cheated, all of sudden everyone believes it.

Second are my questions for Iran’s government. If the government cracks down on demonstrators and institutes martial law and more repression, will it work? Will angry Iranians hold back? Can they be repressed? A million people, or even more, were in the streets of Tehran. And in case the government has learned nothing from its own history, the clerics should open the books up and look at 1979.

So more repression could backfire terribly for the ruling elites. But what is their alternative? Elites will do anything to avoid losing power. They will not simply step aside and let angry young people sweep them out. That will only happen if the protest reaches critical mass and overwhelms the security forces. Even if the govt backs down, what are they going to do? Would they satisfy all the demands of the demonstrators? Or just enough to keep them quiet? Would they put Mousavi in power? What about those who voted for Ahmadinejad? Will they just roll over and accept it?

Here is a hard question for the same people. Is Mousavi so great? He preaches a message of liberalism, of which I like the sound, but look at his history. A leader of the Islamic Revolution, who approved of the seizing of the hostages at the US embassy; PM during the Iran-Iraq war, when a million people died (though that was instigated by Saddam); one time member of the leadership council of Hezbollah, and does not recognise Israel. Patrick Clawson, deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, says “Mousavi is Ahmadinejad without the invective or anger.” That description does not fill me with hope. Would he be more likely than Ahmadinejad to give up building nuclear weapons? (According to the Jerusalem Post, no.) Given Iran’s Ayatollah-centered political system, does he even have that choice?

Iran’s future is in the hands of its government. It must choose wisely, balancing its desire for the status quo with a realistic handling of the crisis of confidence in its rule. Unless there is another revolution, do not expect a new, liberal democratic Iran any time soon.

One week of Israeli-Palestinian conflict bias-balancing: Conclusions

Day 7: Conclusions

I have spent the past week reading and analysing newspapers from Israel and Palestine to try to make sense of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. By balancing the biases from news media, we can get a good picture of what is going on, what the people think and why things are the way they are.

One unspoken job of the newspapers is to give its readers reasons why they are right. If you believe Palestinians should not have their own state, you read the papers that not only agree with you but give you well-reasoned arguments as to why yours is the only logical position to take on the issue. Thus, when you read other newspapers that say Palestinians deserve sovereignty, you can denounce them dextrously. The newspapers I read, particularly Haaretz, the Jerusalem Post, the Palestine Chronicle, the Alternative Information Centre and Arutz Sheva were very good at telling their readers how to think and why.

All newspapers are biased, though some more obviously than others. It is hard to tell which are the right-wing papers and which are left-wing, as the basic positions are the same. The divisions would be more accurately described as into doves and hawks. I didn’t find as many doves as I expected. I know there are peace activists among Israelis and Palestinians but there is just so much anger that they are clearly fighting an uphill battle. Others, meanwhile, claim to want peace, but since there could never be peace while the other exists, they must be held down or eliminated.

My take on the two-state solution

The biggest issue at play in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is, in my opinion, independence for Palestinians. There are other issues too but they would all be solved if this one was. For example, the right of return of Palestinian refugees. If there was a Palestinian state, it would be able to accommodate them. So the two-state solution is the solution. But it is still a long way off.

Netanyahu’s ideas on a Palestinian state are that, since it is a dangerous tiger, it should have its teeth, claws and one eye removed. Having nominally endorsed the idea of a Palestinian state, he can say he is on the side of the US. However, he has shown his hawkish side is the one he will follow. A Palestinian state must agree to recognise Israel as a Jewish state; a demilitarised Palestinian state; no control over Jerusalem; and Jewish West Bank settlements will keep growing. He made this proposal because he knew Palestinians would reject and get angry at it, making his government look like the peacemakers whose olive branch was rejected by the unreasonable Arabs. He started his speech by saying “Peace has always been our people’s most ardent desire.” What he meant was, Peace for Jews is our desire. If others need to be repressed or killed to secure it, fine.

That said, there is no reason to believe the two-state ideal is dead, as some Palestinian journalists have claimed. Netanyahu will not be in power forever. The Barack administration will keep up the pressure. Jimmy Carter’s point of view is valuable as well. But a viable Palestinian state does, nonetheless, seem a distant prospect.

The Israeli press spends too much time writing about why everything Israel does is right, and why everyone who disagrees with anything it does is wrong. If the newspapers reflect and reinforce public opinion, Barack Obama and Jimmy Carter are hated in some circles of Israeli society. These are the peacemakers. How can Israelis claim they want peace if they shoot the peacemakers? And how can they find solutions if everything is the fault of Arab terrorists?

Israelis in general also need to get over the idea that theirs is the only legitimate claim to the land of Israel. Was there nobody there before the Aliyah? Why do Jews but not Arabs deserve a nation state? There is no reason that Jews, Muslims and Christians, Jains, Daoists, dogs and monkeys cannot all live in harmony in Israel. All it requires is accepting that our group is no better than theirs.

How should Palestinian leaders proceed? Being far less powerful than the Israeli state, Palestinian leaders might be better to commit to non-violent resistance and creative solutions. I know, I know, in the face of aggression, one wants to be aggressive. I can understand the Intifada and the radical groups and the anger and bitterness of the Palestinians. But violence by Palestinians has two major consequences. First, it means retaliation, and if the blockade of and war in Gaza were any guide, violence is just not worth it. The Israeli Defence Forces should have made that clear. Second, it means less international sympathy for the people committing violence. If the Palestinians can play the peaceful yet oppressed minority, they could garner the support needed for recognition of their plight, and the world would put enough pressure on Israel to give them their own state. Or perhaps that is already the case and the result is not statehood but the status quo. Perhaps everyone needs to work harder to achieve peace.

The media can play the role of the hawk, by presenting narrow views and arguments that never compromise, or it can play the role of the dove, by presenting a variety of viewpoints, each one reasonable, from people of all ideologies in the conflict. Too many play the hawk. More critical thinking, more balanced biases, and more recognition of the legitimate claims of the other are the only way to achieve peace.

One week reading Israeli and Palestinian newspaper bias

Day 6

Today we will start by looking at an Israeli paper, then a Palestinian one, then one that claims neutrality.

Yedioth Ahronoth

Wikipedia calls Yedioth Ahronoth (“latest news” in Hebrew) the most widely circulated paper in Israel since the 1970s. It gives right- and left-wing commentary, though it is seen as more of a tabloid than a newspaper.

The big news today is Netanyahu’s speech at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. He will be laying his policies out plain, they say. They also say he will give his support to the idea of a Palestinian state, but that it must be a demilitarised state. How a demilitarised state could keep its independence I do not know. The leader writes of this and shows photographs of protestors. In one, some women are holding signs saying “NO settlements/apartheid wall/Gaza siege”, and in another photo, counterpoint to the first, people are waving Israeli flags and holding a banner in Hebrew that I can’t read, but which the article reliably informs me reads “Barack Hussein Obama – an anti-Semite and hater of Jews”.

The next headline reads “Iran reformists: annul vote”. “Ahmadinejad rivals Mousavi, Karroubi say they will file an appeal to annul ‘illegitimate’ results of nationwide election”. Well, if you like. I doubt it would do anything. In the Israeli press, the assumption is that the Iranian election was rigged and fraudulent. I wonder if it really was. An op-ed embed in this story asks “The beginning of the end? Young Iranians may topple Ayatollah regime in wake of elections fiasco.” It should have been titled “Wishful thinking? Israelis hope young Iranians will topple the Ayatollah”.

You see, if all you read is Israeli newspapers, you will probably just presume the vote was fraudulent, along with the fact that Iran is about to declare nuclear war on Israel. So you could have trouble seeing that it is possible Ahmadinejad won the popular vote, or that the ruling clerics might be popular. There is certainly some evidence of violence and vote rigging. Do they mean the Iranian election should have gone to second-choice Mousavi? Are enough Iranians going to be angry enough with the result that they will take down the government?

The next headline down in Yedioth Ahronoth is about Jimmy Carter. Despite the protest we read about yesterday, he met with the town council of Gush Etzion, a Jewish settlement in the West Bank. The local council says it changed Mr Carter’s perceptions. A seemingly carefully selected group was brought into council leader Shaul Goldstein’s house to meet with Carter. The group included two religious leaders, two women who had lost family members to terrorists, and a pair of newlyweds who said that, if there were limits to the natural growth of settlements, they could not raise a family in Gush Etzion.

A link in this article leads to the report on Noam Shalit giving a letter to the former US president for his son Gilad. Unlike Haaretz, the Yedioth Ahronoth website does not have a timer counting the number of seconds Gilad Shalit has been kidnapped. It does, however, have the exact number of days, 1083, printed in the article.

Arab Media Internet Network

At first glance, AMIN is structured like the Palestine Chronicle: journalists write new articles every day or so and submit them to the newspaper. As a result, the links to all the old articles are down the sides of the page. There seem to be many more articles in Arabic than in English. According to Google Translate, this site does not translate from English to Arabic or vice versa. Here is a selection of the articles in Arabic. (Bear in mind that Google Translate is imperfect and it is not always possible to capture the shades of meaning of other languages.)

Is the establishment of a Palestinian state in the interest of Palestinians?

Palestinians pin their hopes on others

Suffering of prisoners and the suffering of 40 years of occupation

Exposing racism in the Israeli police and security forces

An Israeli ministerial committee ratifies a law against commemorating the Nakba

The Arabic headlines seem slightly more angry than the English ones. Here are some of them.

Will the Netanyahu government make progress toward peace?

Obama’s song and dance in Cairo

Oslo redux: Fool’s gold in Israel/Palestine

While I will not translate the full Arabic articles, the English articles are nonetheless pro-Palestinian. But they are well-written and full of insightful analysis. The article on if the Netanyahu government’s progress on peace, for instance, discusses why it may, though gives six reasons why it probably will not. Popular, hawkish governments are sometimes the ones who make real progress toward real solutions. This journalist, Elias Tuma, a professor emeritus at the University of California, recalls how similar leaders such as Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin have surprisd us by signing lasting peace treaties. Being a strong leader, says Tuma categorically, “Natanyahu is capable of reaching and signing a peace agreement with Palestinians.” Then he gives six reasons why he might not.

First, Avigdor Lieberman, Foreign Minister and Deputy PM, submitted a bill to the Knesset banning commemoration of the Nakba. Second, Lieberman’s party submitted a bill demanding that Israeli Arabs recognise Israel as a Jewish, Zionist and democratic state. Third, the same party demands that Israeli Arabs serve in the military or another civic institution. Failure to do either of the last two results in loss of citizenship. Fourth, another party in the ruling coalition submitted a bill to declare that Jordan is Palestine. In other words, the Palestinians can leave Israel and go there. (I read about this idea elsewhere. It is really stupid. They might as well have declared that Russia is Israel.) It is not just cracks that support this bill: its supporters include three cabinet ministers. Fifth, Netanyahu has not accepted the two-state solution yet. Well, actually he has, but this article came two days before his speech where he said he accepted it. Sixth, Netanyahu insists on continuing construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Well, actually he said that new settlements would not be allowed, but natural growth of existing settlements (which are numerous) would be allowed. History will bear out the accuracy of this analysis. I think Elias Tuma is right.

Many of the articles are out of date, speculating on what Netanyahu (or even Barack) will say in his speech. This past weekend was something of a game changer because of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech and the election in Iran, so they are not so relevant anymore. One final note of interest on this site: there are a number of books in Arabic, written by Palestinians about Israel. If I could read Arabic, I would love to delve that much deeper into the experiences of Palestinians by reading them.

Bitter Lemons (subtitle: Palestinian-Israeli crossfire) is a project, financially supported by the European Union, to present Israeli and Palestinian viewpoints on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and peace process. It “maintains complete organizational and institutional symmetry between its Palestinian and Israeli components.”

Bitter Lemons offers a long list of links to such pertinent documents as Security Council resolutions; International Court of Justice decisions; the Athens Plan, a 2005 initiative calling for Israel to disengage from Gaza and the Northern West Bank; statements by political leaders; and other agreements and plans dating back to the founding of Israel.

I also appreciate that you can very easily access back editions all the way to 2001; and each weekly edition addresses a different topic. Some of the most recent are Obama’s Cairo speech; In the aftermath of Pope Benedict’s visit; and West Bank-Israel security issues. Many of the same contributors write in each edition. This week’s is Netanyahu’s speech on the peace process.

“A Palestinian View”: Ghassan Khatib calls Netanyahu’s speech “a failed public relations exercise” that “catered to the right-wing constituency that put him in the position he is in.” (An English transcript of his speech can be found here.) After taking apart Netanyahu’s “farcical” concept of a Palestinian state, Khatib says that the entity Netanyahu describes is not a state at all. I agree wholeheartedly, and will explain why tomorrow. Khatib continues by saying that the speech is a threat to peace, and that the American administration must clean up the mess. He also acknowledges the radicalisation of Palestinian opinion, and that this speech will not help that either. Mr Khatib is a former minister of the Palestinian Authority.

“An Israeli View”: Responding to pressure from Washington, the Israeli prime minister and his advisors thought of the best way they could address US government demands and throw them out at the same time: “give everyone–the US administration, his coalition, the Palestinians–a little of what they want. Confuse them, too. But also do something dramatic to satisfy the Americans.” He avoided confronting the real issues, and is “steeped in Revisionist ideology”. His coalition, meanwhile, will hold.

“A Palestinian View” (I do not really like the whole identity thing but I suppose it is relevant): Mr Netanyahu’s speech was “the death of hopes for peace and a Palestinian state.” Is that not a little premature and pessimistic? Anyway, the writer, a professor at Al-Quds University, goes on. He speaks of the PM’s invocation of Abraham when he said that the West Bank, like the rest of Israel, is Jewish and Israeli and whatever else makes it ours because it is the land of Abraham. But, says the writer, Abraham is a prophet of the Christians and the Muslims too. Are they not all his children? This article gets bitter. Though of course the Israelis, especially the government, should understand Palestinian viewpoints, the ones this writer mentions are the kind that Netanyahu’s base would reject out of hand. It therefore speaks less to Israelis in a position to do something and more to the already bitter. This man should aim his lemons higher.

“An Israeli View”: This final article, also bitter, blames the Palestinians for repudiating Mr Netanyahu’s acceptance of a Palestinian state. Moreover, “[h]ad they accepted Netanyahu’s offer, I have no doubt that there would have emerged in Israel an unprecedented consensus favoring a Palestinian state.” But that is like saying, if you offer me a bowl of rice off your banquet table, I should accept it graciously; and if not, I do not deserve it. This writer, a columnist for Haaretz, said that “they repeatedly reject Israel’s generous offers”. So it’s all their fault.

I very much enjoyed reading Bitter Lemons, because even what I do not agree with, I appreciate as a well-reasoned perspective. I can conclude that, as far as I have read, they do indeed uphold their position in the centre of the road. Tomorrow, I will draw conclusions from my week reading Israeli and Palestinian newspaper bias.

One week at the throats of newspapers at the throat of the Holy Land

Day 5

I get the newspapers I am reading from two lists, found here and here. I am hobbled somewhat in my weeklong endeavor by not knowing Arabic or Hebrew, but there seem to be a variety of news sources in English. Some of them are niche media, and others have wide appeal, and most are important because of the people they represent and influence. Unfortunately, as we shall see, they are not all equally worthy of our time.

The Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy

I like global dialogue and democracy. Let’s take a look.

This organisation’s vision is an independent, democratic Palestinian state. The leader has a picture and headline about George Mitchell shaking hands with Mahmoud Abbas. This is Week in Review. For some reason this paper is also called Miftah (and is at, which is shorter than the Palestinian Initiative… so I will call it Miftah. According to Miftah, “[t]his week was all about diplomacy”. US envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, met with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Miftah says “Mitchell basically carried the message of his big boss, US President Barack Obama, urging the Israeli government to freeze settlement activity while pushing for its acceptance of the two-state solution.” Notice the words used. “Basically” sounds to me like “only”, implying that the big boss is calling the shots and the Israeli government has heard it before.

This article talks about potentially reassuring moves from the United States, and after each point begins a paragraph with “Still…” to say why things might not be wonderful yet. And for a recap, this article has some small stories. “Occupation authorities” (that’s the Israeli government) forced a man named Mohammed Gosheh to demolish his own home. When newspapers want to bring out your emotions, they make things personal, giving you a victim, a specific person you can feel sorry for.

A special report on “the Myth of Incitement in Palestinian Textbooks” is a prominent link. The Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace, an organisation not described in this article, only named, “persisently” publishes articles on how textbooks produced and read by Palestinians incite hatred against Jews. As I said, this piece does not describe the Center, except to say that “the Center’s first director, Itamar Marcus, is a right wing Israeli supporter and resident of the West Bank settlement of Efrat.”

“The Center’s work reveals a deeply flawed methodology aimed at misleading the reader.” Unfortunately, we do not know anything about that methodology because, again, this paper does not describe it. I personally have trouble believing that the textbooks do not make people angry, as I find history books to be a hugely powerful propaganda tool. (Read this post for related discussion.) However, if I were a Palestinian, I would probably be pretty angry at the Israelis for everything. History books, newspapers, word of mouth: all carry stories about very bad things the Israelis have done to the Palestinians. And when an identity such as “Israeli” or “Palestinian” is thrust upon us, we usually want to defend its collective manifestation to the death.

This article was not particularly well written, as you only need to see what it leaves out to find its bias. More useful, therefore, are the 23 links it provides to back up its premise. Many of them are to Miftah and even Geocities, but some are to the European Union. One final note on this long list of links that supposedly proves this journalist’s point: the links to Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post are dead. Did the newspapers themselves take the stories out? Or are there not really any stories in those papers about the myth of incitement in Palestinian textbooks? Or am I reading something into nothing?

The heading that caught my eye fastest was actually the second from the top, but I resisted reading it until the apparently more important meetings of George Mitchell and the bulldozing of Mohammed Gosheh’s house. The heading reads “Doughnuts for Residency”. “Anyone who knows Arab culture,” the item reads, “will know that a sweet treat is usually offered by the bearer of good news.” (That could be useful to know.) The writer just bought doughnuts because she finally got her residency permit, which make her a legal resident of Jerusalem. She has lived there for 11 years already. The reason she and her husband have had to wait so long for a permit to live together, she writes, as if I could not guess, are the “complicated and extremely discriminatory” laws designed to screw with Arabs. The writer of this article has some very angry things to say about Israeli law, though she hides her anger under smooth-flowing, personal-feeling prose.

Miftah is not only news. As far as I can tell, it is more of a think tank, with leadership and policy programmes, and links to other organisations, such as Al-Quds 2009, where I found these evocative paintings by a Palestinian artist.

Jerusalem Newswire

I get an idea of this paper’s orientation from its main headline: “Israelis tell ‘Bibi: Reject Obama’s demands”. Right underneath this was a link for donations reading “Help keep JNW on the front lines of the media war”. I did not know the media were at war as well.

The main article says that “a strong majority” (clarified later in the article as “nearly six out of ten”) of Israelis told Binyamin Netanyahu that they do not want anyone building a Palestinian state in Israel on land that, really, is just for Jews. The journalist discusses Netanyahu’s speech this coming Sunday, where he is expected to address “President Barack Obama’s belligerent foray into Middle East politics, the Israeli-‘Palestinian’ conflict and the Iranian nuclear threat to Israel – an issue Washington has relegated to a position of secondary importance.” So Barack’s reaching out to Muslims is belligerence, the ‘Palestinians’ have no legitimate argument and Iran’s nukes are no longer interesting to the US. The final paragraph is on the two-state “‘solution’ [which] calls for the peace-loving Israelis to give their land to the Jew-hating Palestinian Arabs who remain committed to destroying what would be left of Israel.” This writer’s bias is palpable and his inability to see clearly on this issue makes this whole article a joke. And when I realise that this whole website is written by the same author, I find it is he who is the joke. Let us try again.

Arutz Sheva (Channel Seven)

At, Arutz Sheva is Israel’s #1 news site, eh? Does that mean #1 for feelings of superiority and hatred too? There is only one way to find out.

The leader is about Jimmy Carter. Because three days ago Jimmy Carter declared “Mideast peace is impossible without Hamas”, and yesterday won an award from the Palestinian Authority, residents of a Jewish town he is planning to visit called Gush Etzion “express their disapproval of the meeting.” The article quotes a grassroots committee who issued a statement reading “Carter has always, and will always, speak up and defend those who wish to destroy the State of Israel. He pushes an anti-Israel agenda, while presenting himself as a good-willed broker who seeks peace and is ready to listen to ‘both sides.’ This makes him all the more dangerous.” This article is designed to pick Carter apart so thoroughly as to be able to counterpunch his every argument and deed. And it claims only to be quoting from a letter by an unofficial group in a Jewish town of 44,000. Perhaps this newspaper believes the group speaks for all Jews.

According to this article in another newspaper, Arutz Sheva is a religious Zionist radio station and is viewed as the voice of the Israeli settler movement. Also known as Arutz-7, it has been shut down by the authorities for being pirate radio (transmitted from a boat and over the internet). Gush Etzion, as you may have guessed, is in the West Bank, not far from Bethlehem. Along with the two-state solution, the question of Jewish settlers in the West Bank seems the most controversial, and both are being pushed hard by the Americans. Therefore, if we want to understand the issues, we should listen to the settlers. Whether you agree with it or not, Arutz Sheva is an important read.

Israel’s foreign ministry says that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s electoral win in Iran means the world must act now. Actually, it does not say what action we, the world, must take. All Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is quoted as saying is that “the international community must continue to act in an uncompromising manner to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear [weapons] and to cease its support for terror organizations and destabilization of the Middle East.” No specifics on what we should do or what Iran does.

An article near the top is about a rocket fired by “Gaza Arab terrorists” that did not hit anyone or do any damage. The Palestinian Authority blames Israel (though I do not know how you could blame a country for something) for wild boars in Samaria that are destroying Palestinians’ crops. Israel (again I wonder who) is apparently doing its best to cull the hungry swine. And while I was thinking the Jerusalem Newswire was just a radical rag, I found an article just like the one I turned my nose up at earlier. 56% of 503 survey respondents said that Netanyahu does not need to agree to freeze construction of settlements in the West Bank. The good thing about this article is that it can teach you about each major Israeli political party, because the writer breaks down how the supporters of each answered the survey. 81% of those who vote Likud said Israel can continue building settlements, whereas 68% of those who vote Kadima believe Israel has no choice but to give in to American demands to halt construction. It is clear that Likud voters (and the party that answers to them) are tough and steadfast, and Kadima voters are a bunch of pussies.

One week of the Israeli-Palestinian war of words

Day 4

It has become clear to me that it is too difficult to report every day on the same four newspapers I set out to on day 1, simply because not all of them change every day. My two choices for Palestinian papers, especially, are slower to change and not really written by Palestinians in Palestine. I am also having trouble keeping up with the workload of reading and analysing several newspapers a day. I will take from a wider selection of newspapers while keeping my main objective in mind: aiding our critical thinking by comparing reporting bias in Israeli and Palestinian news media.

Palestinian Information Center

The Voice of Palestine (or the Voice of Hamas), the PIC “aims to promote awareness about Palestine, the Palestinians and the Palestinian issue and to balance the often distorted picture presented in the mainstream media.” It is available in eight languages.

The leader reads “Palestine resistance fighters clash with an IOF [Israeli Occupation Force] patrol”. It is an interesting change of words. If this headline had been written for Israelis, it would have read “Palestinian militants clash with an IDF [Israeli Defence Force] patrol”. They even had a name for the organisation that released the information and conducted the attack: the Palestine Eagles Brigades. Newspapers give names to people they want to make seem more human, and ignore the names of those who are less than human. (One might read, for instance, “10 foreign terrorists were killed fighting with local citizen Menso El Rey.”) “The Eagles added that its fighters managed to withdraw safety and that the attack was within the framework of retaliating to occupation crimes against the Palestinian people in the West bank and the Gaza Strip, especially the aggression on farmers.” The article is only 107 words long.

Down the right side of the website, which always attracts my attention before the left side, are the following links (with pictures): Palestine: What it’s all about; T-shirts mock Gaza killings; Farming under fire and F16’s in Gaza; Attacks on medics during Gaza war; Use of phosphorus bombs in Gaza; Al Nakba: The catastrophe of Palestine, 1948. I do not contain my curiosity and go straight to the link about the t-shirts. It led to an Al Jazeera video on Youtube you may want to watch. (You can find lots of other Al Jazeera videos on how evil Israel is from here.)

Other PIC articles are also short. There is less attempt at providing an analytical justification for why the Israeli state must be destroyed; they just get to the point. One talks of a meeting between Hamas and the Egyptian government and combines this news with a Hamas statement that the “PA [Palestinian Authority] security apparatuses’ practices against Hamas and the resistance in the West Bank” must end. It is not clear how these two issues are related.

I find three links to an item titled “Barak calls on IOF to prepare for fresh war on Gaza” all visible at the same time. One was “Most Read”, one “Most Printed” and the other was running across the top banner. Clearly, this was an article I am supposed to read. A picture of an unsmiling Ehud Barak greets us. The article does not say much beyond the headline, except that it uses words like “deeper” and “larger” than in January to describe the threatened offensive in Gaza. Remember what I said yesterday about numbers being used to evoke sympathy, anger and evidence? This article ends with the following: “The latest Israeli war on Gaza that started late December 2008 and ended in late January 2009 claimed the lives of almost 1,500 Palestinians and wounded almost 6,000 others.” This is a quarter of the words in the article.

Another feature of note on this website is the left-hand banner, part of which reads “Palestinian Memory Bank”. Apparently, every day the site reports something that happened to the Palestinians in history on that day. There are two dates, 1996 and 1974, and neither is particularly damning or interesting. But since they presumably have something to put there every day, what this section is saying is that on every day of the year, the Israelis have been assholes.

The Jerusalem Post

Apparently, the number that turned out to vote for the next president of Iran was “massive”. As I clicked on this leader, the first thing I noticed was not the body of the article but a banner: “The Iranian Threat”, a small picture of Iran and an apelike Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. I wonder, if Ahmadinejad is defeated at the polls, will they replace his picture with one of Ayatollah Khamenei. In wording almost identical to something I read yesterday, the article asks if Iran will keep “hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in power or [elect] a reformist who favors greater freedoms and improved ties with the United States.” Whom would you rather elect, a hardliner or a reformist? The Post conceals its bias against Ahmadinejad like a burka made of air. I wonder if it would not be more effective to be more subtle. Anyway, says the article, it does not really matter who wins because “crucial policies are all directly controlled by the ruling clerics headed by the unelected Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.”

And if the Ayatollah were not enough reason to give up hope, the next article says “Mousavi [that’s the other guy running for president of Iran] win would not stop nuke drive”. Oh dear. Then what’s the big deal? Do Israelis really care if the Iranian government stops cracking down on bloggers?

More headlines about Netanyahu’s speech on Sunday. “Noam Shalit gives Carter a letter for son” is probably just a way of reminding everyone that Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was kidnapped in Gaza. “Israel better at security issues than US” is a funny headline about a funny subject: comparing the numbers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan to those killed in Israel and Palestine, the numbers of minorities incarcerated in the US to those incarcerated in Israel, and the better life expectancies in Israel to those in the US, Egypt and Syria. If one is digging for the point of this article, it is probably to say to the US, “you have no business telling us how to treat people, because our record is superior to yours.” In other words, we will keep building settlements in the West Bank whether you like it or not.

And then we come to a thoughtful, relatively balanced article: the op-ed. I am used to Canadian and American newspapers, where the bias is most visible in the op-eds and editorials because they come right out and state their affiliations and beliefs. The articles feel more balanced. However, this feeling may come from my having been socialised by North American news media and not Israeli or Arab. It is possible that those socialised by the kind of reading I am doing this week find the language normal and balanced; and it is the differences that enable me to see bias more clearly.

Today’s op-ed is called “Peace vs. Reality”. Allow me to represent the opening passage. “Palestinian and Israeli youth gather on a soccer field for a friendly match as part of a sports peace program. Two steps forward. IDF soldiers kill Palestinian civilians in the war in Gaza. Two steps back. Bereaved Israeli and Palestinian parents meet each other to share their pain and promote peace and reconciliation. Two steps forward. Hamas launches dozens of rockets daily on the South, killing and terrorizing civilians. Two steps back.

“However many steps forward the grassroots peace process takes, the harsh winds of reality, fanned by the political leadership on both sides, send peace spiraling backward.”

At multiple levels, attempts at peace are being made. It is not just the governments that are talking. This piece discusses an argument that broke out among Israeli and Palestinian teenagers at a meeting arranged by the Peres Center for Peace. It then describes a documentary of the uphill battle Palestinian and Israeli peace activists face. The article makes little use of numbers and instead shows the humanity, the legitimate grievances, the bad choices, and the killing on both sides of the conflict. This editorial is my favourite of anything I have read so far this week. I will stop for today in order to preserve the hope with which it was written.