Why I want to return to Gaza!

Friends and family are asking me (most of them incredulously) why do I want to return to Gaza?  Don’t I know how dangerous it is? Can’t I help my friends in Gaza from my home in the USA?

Yes, I know it’s dangerous.  Yes, I could help my friends from home.

My heart is calling me back to Gaza. If I hadn’t visited earlier (September 2012 – May 2013) and met so many wonderful people, I probably wouldn’t have this desire. By nature, I’m not a thrill-seeker trying to dodge danger.

I’m not particularly courageous and I don’t like conflict. That might explain why I didn’t feel comfortable as an advocate in the U.S. legal adversarial system.  I would rather people just get along and hammer out their differences peacefully.

Why do I want to return to a part of the world burdened with so many conflicts? I can’t even speak the language.

The answer might not be simple but it’s real.  My heart and head are telling me that I have skills and talents that can help my friends in Gaza. I also have the health (Al-hamdulillah) and flexibility to follow my heart. Having recently watched several close friends this year battling serious health challenges, I’m feeling particularly blessed and thankful for my good health.

So I’m embarking on this journey with no reservations. Along the way, I’m hoping to educate my fellow Americans about a part of the world that few understand or even care about. My simple message . . . we’d better start caring before it’s too late. Their future is ours, and our future is inextricably linked with the Palestinians, with Israelis, with Egyptians, with people from every corner of the world.

My friends can begin their education by reading this excellent history of Gaza recently published in the New York Times, written by Jean-Pierre Filiu, and available here.

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Death Penalty in Gaza

Hamas gunmen provide security for Khaled Meshaal's visit to Gaza.

Hamas gunmen provide security for Khaled Meshaal’s visit to Gaza.

I’ve written about the death penalty before, check it out here.

The subject came up again recently after Hamas-led gunmen publicly executed several men in Gaza who were allegedly guilty of collaborating with Israel.

Reuters video of Hamas gunmen executing 18 collaborators in Gaza

A Facebook friend wrote:

Hamas’ recent execution of a number of people whom they deemed traitors shifted their image into a very bad place. “Bad optics” does not begin to describe it. I sympathize greatly with Gaza.. but I have zero respect or trust in Hamas. Too bad the people of Gaza do not have another leadership option. How does one stand up to people who will summarily shoot you if they decide you are not on their side?

My Facebook friend continued:

In civilized societies – there are trials, with witnesses and defense – before punishment. Lining people up and shooting them was a horrendous PR mistake, if nothing else – but it was also a criminal act.Any “uncertainty” I had about Hamas – mean

ing, any chance I was leaning their way, evaporated immediately. I am anti-Zionist – but now just like with the mess of Syria – there is no good side to be on, other than the side of the civilians who are victims caught in the fighting.

I share my friend’s visceral opposition to public executions, but that’s where our agreement appears to end.

I oppose the death penalty in all forms, whether carried out by #1 — “civilized societies” behind a glass window in an execution chamber after the requisite due process has been provided, or #2 — by the military superpowers (the U.S. and Israel) summarily executing people on the streets or in the desert by a drone strike (where’s the due process there?) or #3 — by masked Hamas gunmen who shoot suspected collaborators on the street.

In each case, the executioner provides justification for taking the life of another, but in my book only God/Allah has the responsibility to make life and death decisions, not humans.

I’m no sissy. Severe punishment (life imprisonment without parole) might be appropriate in some cases, but never the death penalty.

So let’s be consistent. If we’re going to condemn Hamas, as my Facebook friend did, then lets condemn the United States and Israel. Striking and killing a grandmother in Pakistan without warning or due process, or blowing Palestinians to smithereens with a drone strike on the streets in Gaza, are no less abhorrent than lining up suspected collaborators and killing them in front of witnesses.

My Facebook friend asks: “How does one stand up to people who will summarily shoot you if they decide you are not on their side?”

This statement belies the truth. There’s absolutely no evidence that Hamas summarily executes people it decides are not on their side. The men who were killed by Hamas gunmen were suspected collaborators who had been recruited by Israel as spies.  Read this very good piece by Jonathan Cook about collaborators.

I’ve written about the rule of law in Gaza, see here. Americans can best help strengthen the rule of law in the Gaza Strip by calling upon Israel to abide by the rule of law.

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Dear Senator Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth_Warren_CFPB

Dear Senator Warren,

Thank you for your leadership to protect the Middle Class (consumers and taxpayers) and to hold the financial Wall Street titans accountable for their irresponsible greed. Many Americans, including me, have watched your strong advocacy hoping that a new culture of fairness for the “little guy” is finally coming to Congress. You have asked the tough questions that need to be addressed, and you have demanded answers when many of your colleagues in Washington D.C. seemed content to maintain the status quo. Thank you!

Now, I hope you will use the same moral clarity which has guided you on consumer protection issues and turn that moral compass to foreign policy issues and, in particular, to the Palestine-Israel conflict. Just as the financial morass demanded scrutiny beneath the surface, there is much more to the Israel-Palestine conflict than is reported in the general media. My personal education about Gaza and Hamas grew tremendously after spending 9 months (September 2012 – May 2013) teaching in Gaza.

No American politician knows Israel and Palestine better than President Jimmy Carter. I encourage you to invite President Carter to either a personal meeting or a gathering of your peers in Congress to share his experience and recommendations. Ask him your tough questions about the Middle East.

I also hope you will have an opportunity to read the short stories written in English by young authors from Gaza in Gaza Writes Back. I’m pleased to give you this gift with the hope that you will find time, perhaps on your daily commute, to hear from Palestinians about life in the Gaza Strip.

GWB-cover

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency issued a report two years ago that Gaza may be unlivable by 2020. The Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have been struggling under Israel’s oppressive economic, political, and cultural siege for 7 years. Movement in and out of Gaza has virtually ceased for most Palestinians and others wishing to visit. The buffer zones imposed by Israel have severely curtailed agricultural production and fishing. The damage sustained from Israel’s past 3 military offenses in Gaza (Dec 2008- Jan 2009, Nov. 2012 and July – Aug 2014) has been cumulative, with families never fully recovering.

American taxpayers support these military operations and Israel’s illegal military occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to the tune of over $3 Billion per year, far more than any other country receiving US foreign aid. As investors in this long-term occupation lasting more than six decades, Americans have a responsibility to ask if it’s in our best interest to continue subsidizing the occupation or could the U.S. be a more responsible friend to Israel by employing some tough love?

We should demand that Israel stop all illegal settlement expansions in the occupied Palestinian territories, and if Israeli leaders refuse, we should withhold our generous foreign aid. We should not be cooperating in the economic siege of the Gaza Strip, and we should demand that Israel lift it. Finally, we should demand that the illegal military occupation of Palestine end.

You may hear from foreign policy advisers that the geopolitical landscape in the Middle East defies any simple solutions like the three I have mentioned above, but then I hope you will use the same moral compass and independent thinking that you have used on consumer protection issues.

Thank you.

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Cease-Fire Extended, but Not on Hamas’s Terms

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I picked up a copy of the New York Times in Grand Central Station today. There’s something much more satisfying about reading a hard copy of this flagship paper rather than scrolling through the digital version online. It’s particularly satisfying to purchase it at the iconic Grand Central Station. Wish I could do this every day!

Sadly, the joy ends there.

The headline on the front page today (August 27, 2014) screams a pro-Israel bias but will the average reader understand?

Cease-Fire Extended, but Not on Hamas’s Terms.

It would have been just as accurate to write Cease-Fire Extended, but Not on Israel’s Terms……or Not on Netanyahu’s Terms. Neither side got all of its demands satisfied in this agreement, so why trumpet one side versus another?

Because the New York Times has been Israel’s cheerleader since before the beginning of this most recent military campaign. A cheerleader, not a neutral professional news agency. A cheerleader can’t admit defeat or even a draw, but must keep the team’s spirits up.

I read Ms. Rudoren’s piece (she’s been the NY Time’s Jerusalem bureau chief since May 2012) and was disappointed but not surprised. I’ve been trying for the past 4 months to get a response from her or someone else working the international desk at the NY Times about why her paper has decided not to use the term “occupied” when referencing Gaza. No luck yet.

Giving Ms. Rudoren the benefit of the doubt . . . maybe she didn’t write the headline . . . maybe some copy editor back in New York did.

However, the very first words in her piece again mislead the reader.

“After 50 days of fighting that took some 2,200 lives . . .”

Whose lives? An uninformed reader might think this was a symmetrical battle with each side losing many 100s of people. Although there may be some controversy about exactly how many Palestinians in Gaza have perished, no one tries to make the argument that this has been a match between two equals suffering similar losses.

Palestinian civilians in Gaza have borne the overwhelming brunt of Israel’s firepower, on the order of 30:1 if my math is correct. If the reader makes it to page A11, Rudoren finally notes that more than 2,100 Palestinians were killed, most of them civilians. Israel lost 64 soldiers and six civilians.

Naturally, each side must claim victory, but was there really a victor?

Netanyahu failed to demilitarize Hamas, his stated goal for launching Operation Protective Edge.

Hamas failed to lift the 7-year siege (but Israel agreed to allow humanitarian aid and reconstruction materials in). Hamas failed to win agreement on opening its seaport and airport. It’s not even clear yet whether the Rafah border with Egypt will be opened. Discussions about the release of Palestinian prisoners has been postponed. This doesn’t look like victory to me.

Netanyahu might claim that he has “restored quiet” and destroyed 34 “terror” tunnels, and damaged a vast amount of the “terror infrastructure” aka businesses, hospitals, schools, banks, Mosques, water and sewer lines, private homes and even multistory apartment buildings.  Palestinian officials claim the destruction from Israel’s Operation Protective Edge adds up to more than $6 Billion USD.

Netanyahu has certainly raised the ire of millions of people around the world against Israel and galvanized the BDS movement.

Hamas might claim they have succeeded in showing the world that they can hit targets deep into Israel — including Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Ben Gurion Airport. Their resistance fighters can strike behind enemy lines and exact a punishment on the IDF in greater measure than in earlier battles. Hamas can also claim some success in the way it worked with the international media and social media to get its side of the battle out to the public, certainly better than in November 2012.

Despite the celebratory gunfire in the major squares in Gaza today, this ceasefire certainly feels like a return to the status quo and I wonder how the survivors will manage to pick up their lives from the rubble left behind.

I also wonder if Americans will ever get clear, unadulterated, unbiased news coverage of Palestine and Israel from the mainstream press.

 

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Dual citizenship

Jews anywhere in the world can volunteer to serve in the Israeli military, whether or not they are Israeli citizens.  Any many do. Palestinians want those foreign fighters investigated for war crimes. There’s a cold chance in hell THAT will ever happen, but raising the issue is good.

On a related note, how many Americans in positions of power and authority in our federal government have dual (Israeli – American) citizenship? A friend pointed out to me that many do. Check out this list (which hasn’t been confirmed and many of these people are no longer in government).

Michael Chertoff

Michael Chertoff

Attorney General – Michael Mukasey (former)
Head of Homeland Security – Michael Chertoff (former)
Chairman Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board – Richard Perle (former)
Deputy Defense Secretary (Former) – Paul Wolfowitz
Under Secretary of Defense – Douglas Feith (former)
National Security Council Advisor – Elliott Abrams (former)
Vice President Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff (Former) – “Scooter” Libby
White House Deputy Chief of Staff – Joshua Bolten
Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs – Marc Grossman
Director of Policy Planning at the State Department – Richard Haass
U.S. Trade Representative (Cabinet-level Position) – Robert Zoellick
Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board – James Schlesinger
UN Representative (Former) – John Bolton
Under Secretary for Arms Control – David Wurmser
Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board – Eliot Cohen
Senior Advisor to the President – Steve Goldsmith
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Christopher Gersten
Assistant Secretary of State – Lincoln Bloomfield
Deputy Assistant to the President – Jay Lefkowitz
White House Political Director – Ken Melman
National Security Study Group – Edward Luttwak
Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board – Kenneth Adelman
Defense Intelligence Agency Analyst (Former) – Lawrence (Larry) Franklin
National Security Council Advisor – Robert Satloff
President Export-Import Bank U.S. – Mel Sembler
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Administration for Children and Families – Christopher Gersten
Assistant Secretary of Housing and Urban Development for Public Affairs – Mark Weinberger
White House Speechwriter – David Frum
White House Spokesman (Former) – Ari Fleischer
Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board – Henry Kissinger
Deputy Secretary of Commerce – Samuel Bodman
Under Secretary of State for Management – Bonnie Cohen
Director of Foreign Service Institute – Ruth Davis

I’d like to know if a similar list has been constructed for current officials serving today in the US government.

I’d like to know how many members of Congress have dual citizenship.

The obvious concerns about a conflict of interest must be clear.

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Maps tell the story of the Middle East

Continuing with yesterday’s post of Max Fisher’s maps …… here are a few more.  I hope you will check them all out here. It really is an amazing collection and resource for understanding what’s happening today.

Map #18 – Israeli Settlements in the West Bank

Since 1967, Israelis have been moving into settlements in the West Bank. Some go for religious reasons, some because they want to claim Palestinian land for Israel, and some just because they get cheap housing from subsidies. There about 500,000 settlers in 130 communities, which you can see in this map. The settlements make peace harder, which is sometimes the point: for Palestinians to have a state, the settlers will either to have to be removed en masse, or Palestinians would have to give up some of their land. The settlements also make life harder for Palestinians today, dividing communities and imposing onerous Israeli security. This is why the US and the rest of the world opposes Israeli settlements. But Israel is continuing to expand them anyway.

Map #20 – Which countries recognize Israel, Palestine or both

The Israel-Palestine conflict is a global issue, and as this map shows it’s got a global divide. Many countries, shown in green, still do not recognize Israel as a legitimate state. Those countries are typically Muslim-majority (that includes Malaysia and Indonesia, way over in southeast Asia). Meanwhile, the blue countries of the West (plus a few others) do not recognize Palestine as a country. They still have diplomatic relations with Palestine, but in their view it will not achieve the status of a country until the conflict is formally resolved. It is not a coincidence that there has historically been some conflict between the blue and green countries.

Map #26 – Iran’s nuclear sites and possible Israeli strike plans

This is a glimpse at two of the big, overlapping geopolitical issues in which Iran is currently embroiled. The first is Iran’s nuclear program: the country’s leaders say the program is peaceful, but basically no one believes them, and the world is heavily sanctioning Iran’s economy to try to convince them to halt the nuclear development that sure looks like it’s heading for an illegal weapons program. You can see the nuclear development sites on here: some are deep underground, while others were kept secret for years. That gets to the other thing on this map, which was originally built to show how Israel could hypothetically launch strikes against Iran’s nuclear program. Israel-Iran tensions, which have edged near war in recent years, are one of the biggest and most potentially dangerous things happening right now in a part of the world that has plenty of danger already. Israel is worried that Iran could build nukes to use against it; Iran may be worried that it will forever be under threat of Israeli strike until it has a nuclear deterrent. That’s called a security dilemma and it can get bad.

Map #32 – Oil and Gas in the Middle East

 The Middle East produces about a third of the world’s oil and a tenth of its natural gas. (It has a third of all natural gas reserves, but they’re tougher to transport.) Much of that is exported. That makes the entire world economy pretty reliant on the continued flow of that gas and oil, which just happens to go through a region that has seen an awful lot of conflict in the last few decades. This map shows where the reserves are and how they’re transported overland; much of it also goes by sea through the Persian Gulf, a body of water that is also home to some of the largest reserves in the region and the world. The energy resources are heavily clustered in three neighboring countries that have historically hated one another: Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. The tension between those three is something that the United States, as a huge energy importer, has been deeply interested in for years: it sided against Iran during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, against Iraq when it invaded Kuwait and threatened Saudi Arabia in the 1990s, again against Iraq with the 2003 invasion, and now is supporting Saudi Arabia in its rapidly worsening proxy war against Iran.

Map #33 – Oil, trade and militarism in the Strait of Hormuz

The global economy depends on this narrow waterway between Iran and the Arabian Peninsula. Ever since President Jimmy Carter issued the 1980 “Carter Doctrine,” which declared that the US would use military force to defend its access to Persian Gulf oil, the little Strait of Hormuz at the Gulf’s exit has been some of the most heavily militarized water on earth. The US installed a large naval force, first to protect oil exports from the brutal Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, then to protect them from Saddam Hussein in the 1990s Gulf Wars, and now to protect them again from Iran, which has gestured toward shutting down oil should war break out against Israel or the US. As long as the world runs on fossil fuels and there is tension in the Middle East, there will be military forces in the Strait of Hormuz.

Map #40 – The Middle East at night from space.

Max Fisher concludes with this map to look at the region without political borders, without demographic demarcations of religion or ethnicity, without markers of conflict or oil. Looking at the region at night, from space, lets those distinctions fall away, to see it purely by its geography and illuminated by the people who call it home. The lights trace the rivers that have been so important to the Middle East’s history, and the world’s: the Nile in Egypt, the Tigris and Euphrates that run through Iraq and Syria, the Indus in Pakistan. They also show the large, and in many cases growing, communities along the shores of the Persian Gulf, the eastern Mediterranean, and the southern end of the Caspian. It’s a beautiful view of a really beautiful part of the world.

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40 Maps explain the Middle East

Kudos to Max Fisher for pulling together 40 maps which explain important developments in the Middle East.  I’ve inserted six of his maps below, but you should check out the entire collection here.

Map #1 – The Fertile Crescent, 2500 BC

If this area wasn’t the birthplace of human civilization, it was at least a birthplace of human civilization. Called “the fertile crescent” because of its lush soil, the “crescent” of land mostly includes modern-day Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and Israel-Palestine. (Some definitions also include the Nile River valley in Egypt.) People started farming here in 9000 BC, and by around 2500 BC the Sumerians formed the first complex society that resembles what we’d now call a “country,” complete with written laws and a political system. Put differently, there are more years between Sumerians and ancient Romans than there are between ancient Romans and us.

Map #4 – When Mohammed’s Caliphate Conquered the Middle East

In the early 7th century AD in present-day Saudi Arabia, the Prophet Mohammed founded Islam, which his followers considered a community as well as a religion. As they spread across the Arabian peninsula, they became an empire, which expanded just as the neighboring Persian and Byzantine Empires were ready to collapse. In an astonishingly short time — from Mohammed’s death in 632 to 652 AD — they managed to conquer the entire Middle East, North Africa, Persia, and parts of southern Europe. They spread Islam, the Arabic language, and the idea of a shared Middle Eastern identity — all of which still define the region today. It would be as if everyone in Europe still spoke Roman Latin and considered themselves ethnically Roman.

Map #7 – What the Middle East looked like in 1914

This is a pivotal year, during the Middle East’s gradual transfer from 500 years of Ottoman rule to 50 to 100 years of European rule. Western Europe was getting richer and more powerful as it carved up Africa, including the Arab states of North Africa, into colonial possessions. Virtually the entire region was ruled outright by Europeans or Ottomans, save some parts of Iran and the Arabian peninsula divided into European “zones of influence.” When World War I ended a few years later, the rest of the defeated Ottoman Empire would be carved up among the Europeans. The lines between French, Italian, Spanish, and British rule are crucial for understanding the region today – not just because they ruled differently and imposed different policies, but because the boundaries between European empires later became the official borders of independence, whether they made sense or not.

Map #8 – The Sykes – Picot treaty that carved up the Middle East

You hear a lot today about this treaty, in which the UK and French (and Russian) Empires secretly agreed to divide up the Ottoman Empire’s last MidEastern regions among themselves. Crucially, the borders between the French and British “zones” later became the borders between Iraq, Syria, and Jordan. Because those later-independent states had largely arbitrary borders that forced disparate ethnic and religious groups together, and because those groups are still in terrible conflict with one another, Sykes-Picot is often cited as a cause of warfare and violence and extremism in the Middle East. But scholars are still debating this theory, which may be too simple to be true.

Map #9 – An animated map of the imperial history of the Middle East

If you don’t think the history of the Middle East is complicated, take a look at this animated map. Whew!

Map #11 – The Arab Spring of 2011 

It is still amazing, looking back at early and mid-2011, how dramatically and quickly the Arab Spring uprisings challenged and in many cases toppled the brittle old dictatorships of the Middle East. What’s depressing is how little the movements have advanced beyond those first months. Syria’s civil war is still going. Egypt’s fling with democracy appeared to end with a military coup in mid-2013. Yemen is still mired in slow-boil violence and political instability. The war in Libya toppled Moammar Qaddafi, with US and European support, but left the country without basic security or a functioning government. Only Tunisia seems to have come out even tenuously in the direction of democracy.

Check out all 40 maps here.

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