The PA, the UN, Egypt and the flotilla: no help for the Palestinians

Two states?

In September of 2011, the Palestinian Authority will approach the United Nations for a resolution recognising Palestine as a new member state. Against the backdrop of what are still hopefully being called the Arab revolutions, much of the world believes that UN recognition will force Israel to follow suit and recognise, and thus leave in peace, a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.

The government of Israel often warns that a sovereign Palestine would mean Hamas’ taking power, probably violently, and then using a new state as a launching pad for the destruction of Israel. However, one must doubt that Hamas is so irrational. Its leaders are well aware that they would be blown to dust if they initiated a war with Israel. Their being religious does not change that. Religious governments are not crazy, and are as likely as non-religious ones to make war. Iran, for all the Israeli and US rhetoric attacking it, seems to have no intention of starting wars. Why would a poorly-armed, dishevelled group like Hamas?

However, with a state, a legitimate government would set up legitimate defense forces against Israeli aggression. It would enable Palestine’s acceptance as a member of the UN. It would also mean the possibility of self-reliance for its citizens, instead of depending on foreign aid under the constant threat of land expropriation and housing demolitions. Finally, it could end the Palestinian refugee issue (though not satisfactorily, as many insist on the “right of return” of all refugees to their previous homes and parents’ and grandparents’ homes, which could be anywhere in Israel or the Palestinian territories). Of course, given Israeli government interests in the status quo in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, and its continual proving its ruthlessness in pursuing those interests, all these hopes are mere hopes. After all, asked one West Bank resident, “who cares if we get recognised as a state if the Israelis can still block the roads?”

If Palestinians want a state, international law states that certain conditions must be met. First, it must have a stable population. Check. Second, it must have a government. The Palestinian Authority is not great, but it has the necessary institutions of a government. Check. Third, it must have a defined territory. This issue is contentious, to say the least. It is hard to know exactly where Israel begins and Palestine ends; but the hope is that a Palestinian state would be built on the pre-1967 lines: the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. More recent negotiations (not to mention the settlements) have reduced the size of the West Bank that could belong to Palestine but have partly compensated for the loss of territory with the idea of land swaps between the two states. The solutions are on the table, though the current Israeli government continues to require conditions that make reaching those solutions all but impossible. Fourth, it must have the capacity to enter into relations with other states. That requires recognition by other states. Most of the world’s states now recognise Palestine as sovereign, with the exception of the most powerful ones. But some governments do not recognise Israel as a state either, and some of its territory is considered illegal (the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem were annexed and settled—an unequivocal violation of international law) and yet it is obviously sovereign. But getting and holding a state will not be easy for anyone.

First, the Security Council needs to recommend statehood to the General Assembly, which might not happen. The US government, which can veto any Security Council resolution, has always vetoed resolutions that are not in the Israeli right wing’s self interest, and has done so recently. In doing so, it goes against the international consensus; but the powerful are not constrained by others’ opinions. Despite its posturing for decades, the US government has done little to promote peace and allow the recognition of a Palestinian state. It is possible that the PA can use General Assembly Resolution 377, which can be invoked to bypass the Security Council when it fails to act to maintain international peace and security (its main function), though it may not be valid for the purpose of recognising a new member state. Second, Israel’s diplomats are flying around the world to drum up support for the Netanyahu government’s Bantustan vision for Palestine. The US, of course, supports Israel in this endeavour, as does Germany.

Third, if somehow Palestine is recognised, the US government will not be its friend. The US senate voted unanimously last week that statehood should (a non-binding resolution) be obtained through negotiations and not unilateral declaration. In fact, not only will the US not negotiate with Hamas, whose participation in talks is just as legitimate as that of any other party, the PA opted to approach the UN because there was no peace process to speak of. The resolution consists entirely of conditions directed at the Palestinians (eg. “any Palestinian unity government must publicly and formally forswear
terrorism, accept Israel’s right to exist, and reaffirm previous agreements made with the Government of Israel”, including, presumably the humiliating Oslo Accords), as the US government never puts any pressure on Israel. Susan Rice, White House ambassador to the UN, has also threatened to suspend all aid to the PA if it gains statehood. Though much of that aid goes into the pockets of the corrupt PA, some of it is nonetheless recycled back into the economy. If a sovereign state will lead to rapid growth in the private sector, Palestine has a chance for self-sufficiency. If not, the Palestinians might be worse off than before. Do the Palestinians have any powerful friends?

Egypt

Egypt’s revolution held promise not only for Egyptians, but for Palestinians as well. In 2007, at Israel’s behest, Egypt blocked all access to the crossing at the town of Rafah that straddles the Sinai and the Gaza Strip. In post-(or mid-) revolutionary Egypt, under pressure from the people, the transitional government promised it would open the crossing. A legitimate Israeli fear was that the crossing would become the transfer point for masses of weapons, but it was to be screened for such things like a normal national border. But since the Egyptian junta’s announcement, little has changed. Palestinians applying to leave Gaza—some 20,000—are being told to come back in September. Aside from a few hundred travelers (on a good day) and a mere two truckloads of exports a day, mostly only journalists and ambulances can leave the Strip. One official said it might take months for the Egyptian government to send enough personnel to man the border. Perhaps they are walking there. It has also been reported that, despite pledges of independence from the US and Israeli governments, these two have been reportedly pressuring Egypt not to ease restrictions. Disappointing, to say the least.

The flotilla

The Freedom Flotilla of over a dozen ships is headed for Gaza. The purpose of the flotilla is partly to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza but mainly to bring international attention to the terrible plight faced by the Strip’s inhabitants. It is carrying three thousand tons of aid and its members are from dozens of countries. It is easy to understand why so many people feel strongly about Gaza. Gaza is the most crowded area on earth, with 1.5m people crammed into 360km2. Four out of five Gazans rely on humanitarian aid; 40% of Gazans are unemployed; 80% live in poverty.

Given the impossibility of legitimate trade with the outside world, Gazans long ago resorted to transporting goods by tunnels, which are sometimes bombed by Israel (see here and here for two articles on the latest such attack). Middle East Online says that “[p]rior to Israel’s ‘easing’ of the blockade in 2010 [following the first flotilla debacle], an estimated 80 percent of goods in Gaza’s stores were smuggled through the border with Egypt. Now most consumer goods in the markets and corner shops come from Israel.” Gazans are as enterprising and rugged as anyone else. They do not really need humanitarian aid; they need the ability to trade. According to deputy head of the ICRC in Gaza Mathilde De Riedmatten (and everyone else who has been there), the Strip, essentially a large prison camp, continues to experience crises in health care, water and sanitation. Agriculture has suffered, not only because fertilizers are on the long list of items banned under the blockade, but also because the IDF periodically levels the land and uproots trees. Construction materials cannot enter the Strip, and since Operation Cast Lead in 2008-9, they have been needed to repair all manner of buildings. God knows what would happen if Israel repeated its indiscriminate slaughter of Gazans from two years ago, with Gazans still unable to leave. But despite implausible claims that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza, the powerful do not want the flotilla to continue.

Professor Stephen Zunes said in a recent piece on the flotilla that “nothing frightens a militaristic state more than the power of nonviolent action.” Israeli newspapers have printed the foreboding words of many Israeli officials that Hamas is involved in the organisation of the flotilla, that its intent is to smuggle arms, and that its members plan to attack Israeli soldiers, while others have ridiculed such claims. In his inimitably clever way, Christopher Hitchens attempts to take apart the members of the flotilla. He assumes that the humanitarian convoys will bolster Hamas, rather than help the people; and he questions the motives of the organisers by implying they are associated with the regime of Bashar al Assad of Syria and Hezbollah, which seems, I think any reasonable reader can agree, a stretch. Then he mentions al Qaeda, having learned from George Bush that saying two words in the same speech (“Saddam” and “al Qaeda”) forces listeners to associate the two mentally, when of course they have nothing to do with each other. Despite their use of words such as “proof”, there is little reason to take anything these people say seriously.

The only argument they have worth considering is that any feeding of the people of Gaza bolsters the Hamas government. However, that is only true if the blockade of Gaza had any hope of turning the people against Hamas, and so far it has not worked. How could it? History suggests that people punished collectively for supporting a certain group do not turn on the group but on their punishers. It is obvious that the true oppressors are the ones turning the screws on Gaza: Israel, and to a lesser extent the US and Egypt. The stated goal of the siege of Gaza has not and will not work. The inhumanity of punishing 1.5m people for 44.45% of voters’ electing a terrorist group when their alternative was a corrupt, unresponsive, collaborator party also escapes those who insist on maintaining the blockade.

All manner of coercion is taking place to prevent the flotilla from reaching Gaza. The Greek government, in a move that presumably will not make it any more endearing to its people, banned all ships in the freedom flotilla from leaving its ports. When a Canadian ship left Crete, Greek authorities intercepted it and took all 50 people on board into custody. Israel’s government threatened to jail any journalists found covering the flotilla for up to ten years. It dropped the ban not long after, though having changed their minds so quickly, one wonders if they might change them back. There is evidence that Israelis had sabotaged some of the flotilla ships.

However, there is no evidence any of the ships that are attempting to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza have been found to contain weapons or materials that could be used for military purposes. No evidence was found for the claim that the flotilla organisers have links to Hamas or other terrorists. In fact, flotilla organisers have likely done everything they can to assure there is no legitimate cause for Israel to attack any of its members, as it did last year when nine activists died in a confused fracas. Their non-violent resistance seems in line with the thinking that produced the phrase “If you want to beat Mike Tyson, you don’t invite him into the ring, you invite him to the chessboard.”

Though there is no real evidence the flotilla poses any threat to Israel, the US government has stated it is not willing to protect the US citizens on board against an Israeli attack, and that such an attack is well within Israel’s right. The ships will not be passing into Israeli waters but international waters, followed by the coast of Gaza, which is only blockaded by Israel. It seems unlikely any state has the right to attack unarmed people in international waters; either way, it leaves the Palestinians and those who want to help them find justice without a friend or saviour.

How about one state?

Does all this mean the only hope for a Palestinian state for the PA to take matters into its own hands? Much has been made of the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation agreement, with its possibility of integrating Hamas into a new PA. But not only will such a government be rejected by Israel and the US, Palestinians do not seem to hold out much hope for it either. The PA, set up by the Oslo Accords in the 1990s, is seen by many in the West Bank as collaborators: the police of the occupation. The two parties presumably feel the need to work together to obtain statehood, but where would they go from there?

Another question that others have asked is, is a Palestinian state the best way to achieve freedom? Again, if Israel is still in the neighbourhood, still wary to the point of paranoia about any Arab provocation, still hungry for land based on ancient myths of an Eretz (Greater) Israel, an independent Palestine will mean little. One often hears the phrase “facts on the ground”, usually used to imply that settlements have changed Israel’s requirements since 1967, but which obfuscate the issue by making the settlements of the West Bank and East Jerusalem seem irreversible, when the settlements of the Sinai and Gaza were not. In spite of the mess on the ground, it has been said since the beginning of the Arab Spring that Israel will have to make peace sooner rather than later. I do not share this optimism; but since many of the people who do are people who know the issue better than I, let us consider an audacious, less realistic but vastly improved possibility: the one-state solution.

Ali Abunimah, founder of the Electronic Intifada, writes in his book One Country: a Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse, “There is no credible ‘peace process’ to provide hope that the misery on the ground is merely a transitionary phase on the way to deliverance, and the one big idea that is supposed to save us—the Palestinian state—lies in tatters.” His thesis is that, if the inhabitants of the Holy Land can just learn to share, they would all be far better off. It is hard to escape his logic. Jews and Palestinians boast roughly equal numbers in Israel and the territories (6m each). They both claim ownership of the land on which they live. The fact that the West Bank and Jerusalem are so important to both Palestinians and Jews alike provides legitimacy to the claim that they should be shared. One state could mean the true right of return that gives all Palestinian refugees a place to live outside the squalid camps so many still inhabit. The two-state solution may in fact be the movement of the old guard. Fatah and Hamas may become (even more) irrelevant as the one-state cause picks up steam among young people in the Palestinian territories.

Israelis would need to abandon their unswerving claims to a purebred Jewish state in all the land of Israel/Palestine, which at the moment seems more distant than ever. Hamas would need to permanently abandon its rhetoric and violence. But if the flotilla achieves its PR goal, if non-violent Palestinian resistance continues to succeed, if the two-state bid fails and if international pressure on Israel increases, one state for Jews and Arabs might be the answer to the question of peace that everyone claims to want.

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Operation Cast Lead, two years on

Two years ago, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) began the indiscriminate slaughter it named Operation Cast Lead. Some 1400 people were killed, thousands more wounded and displaced. Hundreds of sad people marched in Gaza in commemoration.

See here for the reasons Israel attacked Gaza.

Here I write about why the Mavi Marmara (the Gaza flotilla) incident may have been good for Israel, because it distracted the world from Operation Cast Lead and the Goldstone Report.

I wrote here about attempts to try Tzipi Livni as a war criminal, which apparently did not go anywhere.

And here I wrote about how Israel’s culture legitimised Cast Lead (and other violence in Israel’s name).

Gaza is still under blockade, which means little rebuilding gets done. Things had been relatively quiet along the Gaza border for the past two years until recently, when more rockets have been fired from Gaza, Israeli air strikes have followed, and thus tensions are higher. There are fears (or hopes?) that another Cast Lead-like massacre might be “necessary”. Gabi Ashkenazi, IDF Chief of Staff, said Israel “will not accept” more rockets from Gaza, and “holds the Hamas terrorist organisation solely responsible for any terrorist activity emanating from the Gaza Strip”, which means the IDF does not distinguish between rockets fired by Hamas or by any other group.

It is sad that this crime will go unpunished, and that it may even repeat itself.

"Ismail, Abed and Leila don't go to the infant clinic anymore"

The news for the past week, 28/8/10

This is your Menso World News weekend update. Here is the news.

The PKK have announced a ceasefire for the millionth time.

Israeli and Palestinian leaders are in some kind of peace talks, also for the millionth time.

Uighur separatists are suspected of having set off a bomb that killed some people in Xinjiang. Turns out the bomb wounded more people than it killed.

Some people have died in India’s Red Corridor in fighting between the Maoist Naxalites and the groups they fight.

Observers documented mass rape in the Congo. Is that the first you have heard of it?

A Muslim wrote a scathing article about the “Ground Zero Mosque”, and another wrote about why the veil is wrong. We haven’t heard much about female genital mutilation recently, so I guess that’s not going on anymore.

Somali pirates are being talked about by important international legal bodies. A bomb exploded at a hotel in Mogadishu too, but that’s not as cool as pirates.

Some suspected Islamic terrorists were rounded up by the secret service of a big country, accused of plotting to blow something up.

There are some problems related to Gypsies. Those damn gypsies, always causing problems.

And finally, Glenn Beck did something crazy.

So much for the news this week! Not that any of it’s news.

Paving the Road to Gaza: Israel’s National Role Conception and Operation Cast Lead

On December 27, 2008, the Israel Defense Forces began their assault on the Gaza Strip in what they called Operation Cast Lead. 13 Israelis and as many as 1400 Palestinians were killed in the three weeks of fighting. The war enjoyed wide support among Israelis: according to the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research, 94% of Jewish Israelis (76% of Israel’s population) supported the attack. Operation Cast Lead caused enormous suffering in Gaza and has been a thorn in the side of Israelis since its commencement. Numerous human rights organisations have issued reports on the conflict accusing both sides of war crimes, and the Israeli government has denied any but the noblest intentions. How did we get here?

This essay uses national role conception theory to explain how Israel’s political culture approved of Operation Cast Lead and permitted the latest brutal attack on the Palestinians. You can find it at the following link.

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 miftah.org), 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 IsraelNationalNews.com, 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.