Monday, December 29, 2008

Children Killed as Israel Continues Massive Airstrikes on Gaza, Prepares Land Invasion

Palestinian (Gazan) "Terrorists"

"All that you have done to our people is registered in notebooks." -Mahmoud Darwish, the late Poet of Palestine

"Electricity comes and goes as usual. Most shops are closed. There is a lack of everything - the UN relief agency UNRWA has not been able to deliver food aid for about 750,000 people. There are shortages of anaesthetic gas, medical supplies, flour and milk - but many of the people I have spoken to say they don't feel like eating while this is going on.

Families are just sitting in their homes. I spoke to one of my neighbours, Iman, a 14-year-old-girl. She was so scared she could barely speak. 'I don't know where to go. I don't know where is a safe place to stay. We don't know when they will strike again,' she said."

-BBC journalist & Native Gazan Hamada Abu Qammar

Israel is not currently permitting international journalists to cross into Gaza. [Surprise. I wonder why not...]

Children Killed as Israeli Jets Again Bomb Gaza
Agence France-Presse [December 29, 2008]

GAZA CITY (AFP) — Israeli jets bombed Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip for a third day on Monday, killing several children, amid growing international calls for halt to the violence that has left more than 300 dead. As Israeli tanks massed ahead of an expected ground operation, warplanes staged dozens of bombing raids in the densely-populated Palestinian enclave overnight, killing seven people including six children, medics said.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon repeated his call for an end to the hostilities and urged Israel to allow humanitarian aid into the enclave that it has kept virtually sealed since Hamas seized power there in June 2007. "He strongly urges once again an immediate stop to all acts of violence," his spokeswoman said.

The Israeli blitz, unleashed on Saturday in retaliation for ongoing rocket and mortar fire from Gaza , has killed 310 Palestinians and wounded more than 1,400 others, with most of the victims Hamas members, according to Gaza medics. They said that among those killed overnight were four girls from the same family aged from one to 12 years old. They died in an air raid in the northern town of Jabaliya that targeted a mosque near their home, while two boys were killed in a raid on the southern city of Rafah, medics said.

China and Japan joined the growing international chorus for a halt to the violence, which has also included Britain, France and Russia. Beijing said it was "shocked and seriously concerned" at the violence, while Japan called on Israel to "exercise its utmost self-restraint" and for Palestinian militants to halt rocket attacks.

Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian movement branded a terror group by Israel and the West, remained defiant and lashed out at the world for not doing enough to end the Israeli blitz. Israel is "committing a holocaust as the whole world watches and doesn't lift a finger to stop it," Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum told reporters. The Islamist group "reserves the right to hit back at this aggression with martyr operations," meaning suicide bombings of the sort Hamas has not carried out inside Israel since January 2005, he said. Hamas has responded to the Israeli onslaught by firing nearly 100 rockets and mortars into the Jewish state, killing one man and wounding a handful of others. Some of the rockets landed some 30 kilometres (18 miles) inside Israel, the farthest yet.

Despite the ongoing bombardment, Israel said that it would allow 100 truck-loads of humanitarian aid into Gaza on Monday. The Kerem Shalom crossing in Gaza's south was opened on Monday morning to allow the passage of the goods, an Israeli military spokesman told AFP.

As pressure mounted within the impoverished territory, dozens of Gazans tried to break through the border into Egypt on Sunday, to be stopped by Egyptian police firing into the air. An Egyptian policeman was killed and another wounded by shots from across the border in the divided town of Rafah, a security official and medics said, adding that the source of the fire was unclear.

Amid vows by Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak to expand the air blitz and to send in ground troops if necessary, the Israeli cabinet on Sunday gave the green light to call up 6,500 reserve soldiers.

The Israeli offensive sparked protests across the world, with demonstrations held in European capitals, Turkey, Egypt and Syria. At least two Palestinians were killed with clashes with Israeli security forces during protests in the occupied West Bank.

Israel unleashed "Operation Cast Lead" against Hamas in the middle of Saturday morning, with some 60 warplanes bombing more than 50 targets in just a few minutes. The Israeli blitz came after days of spiraling violence since the expiry of the Gaza truce. It comes less than two months before snap parliamentary elections in Israel called for February 10.


*Current figures put the number of Palestinian dead at 320, at least 62 of them civilians, including children. Three Israelis have been killed in retaliatory rocket and mortar attacks by the Palestinian group HAMAS, including attacks using primitive homemade Qassam rockets. According to pro-Israeli sources, since 2004, 23 Israelis (not counting those killed in the past three days), civilians and several military personnel, have been killed by Palestinian rocket and mortar attacks. Several of those killed were Palestinian workers in Israel.

As usual, the U.S. is providing the Israeli assault on Gaza with diplomatic cover. Republicans and Democrats, including the incoming president, Barack Obama, through his lackey David Axelrod, pledged eternal support for Israel, no matter what it does.

One day, there will be a reckoning.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Israeli Assault on Gaza Continues as Israeli Army Prepares for Ground Invasion

Israel Tanks Mass Near Gaza as Jets Again Pound HAMAS

Agence France-Presse [December 28, 2008]

GAZA CITY (AFP) — Israeli tanks massed at the Gaza border on Sunday as warplanes again pounded Hamas targets in the densely populated enclave where raids have killed nearly 290 people in less than two days. Dozens of tanks and personnel carriers idled at several points near the border after Israel warned it could launch a ground offensive in addition to its massive air blitz.

Hamas responded to the continuing bombardment by firing rockets the farthest yet into Israel, with one striking not far from Ashdod, Israel's second-largest port, some 30 kilometres (18 miles) north of Gaza . It caused no casualties, medics said. The Islamist movement accused Israel of "committing a holocaust as the whole world watches and doesn't lift a finger to stop it." Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum said the movement "reserves the right to hit back at this aggression with martyr operations," meaning suicide bombings of the sort which Hamas has not carried out inside Israel since January 2005.

Britain, France and Russia joined the growing international chorus for a halt to the violence. Pope Benedict XVI implored the international community to do "all it can to help the Israelis and Palestinians on this dead-end road... and not to give in to the perverse logic of confrontation and violence." [The United States, predictably, fully supports the latest Israeli military assault on Gaza, providing the usual diplomatic cover.]

But Israeli Defence Minster Ehud Barak vowed to "expand and deepen" the bombing blitz, unleashed in retaliation for persistent rocket fire by militant groups. "If it's necessary to deploy ground forces to defend our citizens, we will do so," his spokesman quoted him as saying. The cabinet gave the green light to call up 6,500 reserve soldiers, a senior official told reporters after the meeting.

Warplanes continued to pound the impoverished and overcrowded territory of 1.5 million people, where many streets were deserted, and schools and shops stayed shut as hundreds of funerals were held. Jets bombed a series of tunnels on Gaza's border with Egypt -- a lifeline used by Hamas to smuggle goods and weapons into the enclave, which has been virtually sealed off by Israel since the Islamists seized power in June 2007. [These type of tunnels are, contrary to what the story claims, used also by Palestinians generally in Gaza, who have endured a long Israeli blockade (collective punishment), contrary to the ceasefire agreement, on the Gaza Strip.]

Later on Sunday, jets targeted several metal workshops, which the Israeli army charged were being used to manufacture makeshift rockets.

One woman and a man were also killed when a missile hit a family home in the neighbourhood of Zeitoun in eastern Gaza City, medics said.

And as pressure mounted within the impoverished territory, dozens of Gazans tried to break through the border into Egypt, only to be stopped by Egyptian police firing into the air. An Egyptian policeman was killed and another wounded by shots from across the border in the divided town of Rafah, a security official and medics said, adding that the source of the fire was unclear.

A Palestinian human rights group branded the Israeli pounding of Gaza one of the bloodiest days in Israel's 40-year occupation. As well as the nearly 290 dead, more than 600 people have been wounded, medics said.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the campaign was launched "in order to regain a normal life for the citizens in the south who have suffered for many years from incessant rocket, mortar and terror attacks." Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni urged the international community to put the blame squarely on Hamas. "I expect the international community, including the entire Arab world, to send a clear message to Hamas: 'It is your fault. It's your responsibility. You're the one who's being condemned,'" she told US television network NBC. [Although HAMAS certainly bears some of the responsibility, the warped idiocy and ridiculousness of Livni's statement is clear.]

The Israeli bombardment has sparked widespread international concern. In New York, the UN Security Council called for an "immediate halt to all violence." Egypt, which brokered a six-month truce between Israel and Hamas that expired on December 19, said it was trying to negotiate a new ceasefire. And the UN envoy to the Middle East Robert Serry called for a new truce with international backing, telling AFP in an interview that there was no military solution to the conflict. But a senior Israeli official insisted: "We have our goals and our timetable, and we don't seek mediation."

Israel's main ally Washington blamed Hamas "thugs" for provoking the offensive by firing rockets into the Jewish state from Gaza , and urged Israel to avoid causing civilian casualties. [Predictable. This is Lebanon 2006 Redux. The civilian blood spilled in the last two days in Gaza rests on both the attacker and its backer, as President George W. Bush once argued, no?]

The Israeli offensive sparked protests across the world. In the occupied West Bank, two demonstrators were killed in clashes with police.

Israel unleashed "Operation Cast Lead" against Hamas in the middle of Saturday morning, with some 60 warplanes hitting more than 50 targets in just a few minutes. By Sunday, some 230 targets had been hit, the military said.

Hamas has responded by firing more than 90 rockets and mortar rounds at Israel, killing one man and wounding some 20 people. The Israeli blitz came after days of spiraling violence since the expiry of the Gaza truce. It comes less than two months before snap parliamentary elections in Israel called for February 10.


*The number of Palestinians killed, both HAMAS members and civilians, stands at approximately 280-290. While HAMAS is a (para)military target, the Palestinian civilians are not, nor should they be classified, as is callously done, as "collateral damage." If your child was killed, would you want them to be referred to by such a soulless, unfeeling, inaccurate term?

Estimates yesterday, so far, put the number of Palestinians killed at 205. This number has gone up since then. Of the 205, at least 65 were civilians. Nearly 400 Palestinians, many of them civilians, including children, have been wounded. Since 2004, according to pro-Israeli sources, 24 Israelis have been killed by mortars and primitive Qassam rockets fired by Palestinian groups such as HAMAS, through its paramilitary wing, the 'Iz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades. [1 more Israeli was killed yesterday.]

An Israeli ground invasion is imminent.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Israel Launches Massive Assault in Occupied Gaza Strip

Israeli warplanes launched a wave of air strikes on Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip, killing and injuring scores of Palestinians.

A BBC reporter in Gaza says people are desperately seeking refuge, but he says there are no safe places.

The strikes, the most intense Israeli attacks on Gaza in decades, come after the expiry of a truce with Hamas earlier this month. Missiles hit security compounds and militant bases across Gaza. Israel said the operation would go on "as long as necessary".

At Least 228 Die as Israel Hammers Hamas-run Gaza

Agence France-Presse [December 27, 2008]

GAZA CITY (AFP) — Israeli warplanes have hammered Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip in retaliation for rocket fire, killing at least 228 people in one of the bloodiest days of the decades-long Middle East conflict.

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said "Operation Cast Lead" against the Islamist movement, which has also left some 700 wounded, will continue "as long as necessary. "The battle will be long and difficult, but the time has come to act and to fight," he said.

Exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal called in Damascus for a new Palestinian intifada, or uprising, against Israel and promised new suicide attacks.

Following mid-morning bombings, in which some 60 warplanes struck more than 50 targets in just a few minutes, Hamas fired more than 70 rockets and mortars into Israel killing one person and injuring four, according to a new Israeli army toll.

Israeli air strikes continued sporadically throughout the day and into the night.

Two Hamas members were killed in an Israeli helicopter raid in eastern Gaza City while they were preparing to fire more rockets into Israel, a medical source said.

Two other Palestinians were wounded in that late Saturday attack, as Israeli helicopters also targeted four metals factories in the city where rockets are believed to be stored or built.

A mosque near the Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City was damaged when Israeli air-ground missiles targeted two Hamas policemen standing near its doors. Both men were injured, witnesses said.

"We will not stand down and we will not cave in even if (the Israelis) should eradicate the Gaza Strip or kill thousands of us," Ismail Haniya, who heads the Hamas government, said in a defiant radio address.

Meshaal called for a "military intifada against the enemy" and said "resistance will continue through suicide missions." Hamas has not carried out a suicide attack in Israel since January 2005.

He said that for there to be any talks with the people of Gaza, "the blockade must be lifted and the crossings (from Israel) opened... notably that in Rafah," which leads to Egypt. Israel imposed a blockade after Hamas seized power in Gaza last year, but let in dozens of truckloads of humanitarian aid on Friday.

The White House said only Hamas could end the cycle of violence by putting a stop to the rocket fire on Israel. "These people are nothing but thugs, and so Israel is going to defend its people against terrorists like Hamas," spokesman Gordon Johndroe said at George W. Bush's Texas ranch, where the president is preparing to spend the new year. "If Hamas stops firing rockets into Israel, then Israel would not have a need for strikes in Gaza," Johndroe said. "What we've got to see is Hamas stop firing rockets into Israel. "The United States holds Hamas responsible for breaking the ceasefire; we want the ceasefire restored. We're concerned about the humanitarian situation and want all parties concerned to work to make sure the people of Gaza get the humanitarian assistance they need," said Johndroe. [Surprise, surprise]

He was referring to a six-month truce mediated by Egypt, which ended on December 19, with Hamas refusing to renew it.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert pledged Israel will do its utmost to avert a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. "The people in Gaza do not deserve to suffer because of the killers and murderers of the terrorist organisation," he said, referring to Hamas. He insisted that Israel had only hit Hamas targets, including command structures and rocket-manufacturing installations. [Because Olmert really cares about Palestinians...]

UN chief Ban Ki-moon called for an immediate halt to the violence , as did the European Union, Russia, Britain and France, while several Middle Eastern states and the Arab League slammed Israel. Members of the UN Security Council were set to hold consultations late Saturday, a UN spokesperson said, adding it was unclear if there would also be a formal meeting.

The Arab League will hold an extraordinary summit in Doha on January 2 to discuss the crisis, diplomats in Cairo said.

In Gaza, thick clouds of smoke billowed into the sky. Mangled, bloodied and often charred corpses littered the pavement around Hamas security compounds, and frantic relatives flooded hospitals. Medics said civilians had been hit, but the majority of the victims appeared to be members of Hamas, branded a terror group by Israel and the U.S.

Hamas said the strikes destroyed its security structures across Gaza and killed three senior officials -- the Gaza police chief, the police commander for central Gaza and the head of the group's bodyguard unit. Dr. Moawiya Hassanein, the head of Gaza emergency services, put the toll at 225 dead and 700 injured, 140 of them seriously.

Later, a medical source added three more to the toll with witnesses saying that two of them died in the east of Gaza City while they were preparing to fire rockets towards Israel.

The bombing came after days of spiralling violence, with militants firing rockets and Israel vowing a fiery response.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak , who brokered the six-month truce, slammed the "Israeli military aggression on the Gaza Strip" and blamed "Israel, as an occupying force, for the victims and the wounded."

The bombardment set off angry demonstrations in Israel's Arab towns and in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, as well as protests in countries around the region.

It came less than two months ahead of Israeli elections on February 10. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, the head of the governing Kadima party and one of the front-runners for the premier's chair, said that "today there is no other option than a military operation."

Violence in and around Gaza has flared since the truce ended, and it escalated dramatically on Wednesday.


The latest Israeli military assault against the Palestinians in Gaza should be seen as much as a pre-election political manuever as a military "response," however disproportionate, to rocket and mortar fire by Palestinian groups from Gaza. In 1996, then Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres ordered a massive attack against southern Lebanon, supposedly against the Lebanese Shi'i party and paramilitary group Hizbullah. Prolonged Israeli artillery fire on a U.N. compound, which the Israelis claimed was a "mistake" despite contrary evidence, killed over 100 Lebanese civilians seeking refuge, including many children. Peres did so to "prove" that he was "tough" just before a national election (which he still lost). Pro-Israeli sources put the number of Israeli deaths, civilian and military, from Palestinian rocket and mortar fire at 23.

Iraq: The Necessary Withdrawal

Iraq: The Necessary Withdrawal

By Juan Cole
Richard P. Mitchell Professor of History, University of Michigan

The Nation [December 23, 2008]

The passage by the Iraqi Parliament in late November of the US-Iraqi Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) adds credibility and urgency to President-elect Obama's pledge to get US troops out of Iraq by the midpoint of his first term. Bush's costly and illegal war has been a drain on the economy to the tune of a trillion dollars if hidden costs are included, a sum likely to triple in coming decades as the public pays for the care of injured veterans. The war has left tens of thousands of military personnel wounded, suffering from brain trauma or dead. The toll on Iraqis has been monumental. It cannot end too soon.

The general Iraqi hostility to the presence of foreign troops was apparent in the process whereby the SOFA was enacted. The fierce debates that it provoked signaled that there are only two major factions in Iraqi politics: those who want the United States out within a couple of years and those who want the United States out now.

The Washington debate on withdrawal, in contrast, has been peculiarly removed from reality since the early days of the presidential campaign. Such opponents of withdrawal as John McCain called it an act of "surrender," a waving of a white flag. (To whom would we have been surrendering?) The US military would have to stay in Iraq forever, they implied, because it would be too embarrassing to leave. They demanded "victory" but carefully avoided defining what they meant by the word. They warned that parts of Iraq, or even the entire country, would become an Al Qaeda base were the United States to depart. Even as they spoke, Shiite militias were systematically cleansing about half the Sunni Arab population from the capital and a Shiite prime minister was gathering military power into his hands. The Republican visions of Osama bin Laden occupying Saddam's palaces were paranoid fantasies.

The Bush administration initially pressed on Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki a SOFA text that all but formally reduced Iraq to a colony. The United States would control Iraq's air and water, would arrest and detain Iraqis at will and without the requirement of due process, would decide unilaterally what was a terrorist threat within the country and how to deal with it, and would initiate military action unilaterally. Its troops and private security contractors would enjoy complete immunity from Iraqi law. There was no timetable for US withdrawal. A year or two earlier, an Iraqi government might have had to just go along with it.

Maliki had long argued that he would not need US troops past 2009. Only in March and April 2008 did he prove, however, that he had won control of the increasingly well-trained and professional Iraqi military in ways that might allow him greater independence from the United States. Despite American advice to the contrary, he moved militarily against his main internal rival, the Shiite Mahdi Army, in Basra, Amara and Sadr City last spring. With that success under his belt, the prime minister had gained the confidence to push back against the Bush/Cheney imperium.

Despite his new role as commander in chief of a more confident Iraqi military, Maliki needs the support of other Shiite notables and parties to remain in power. His Islamic Dawa Party is relatively small. He depends on the support of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the spiritual leader of Iraq's Shiites, who strongly opposed any SOFA that infringed on Iraq's sovereignty. Maliki is also increasingly closely allied with the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, the leading Shiite party in the Iraqi Parliament, which has close links to Iran. Both ISCI and its patrons in Tehran wanted to see a timetable established for US troop withdrawals from Iraq. Not only is Iran threatened by the massive US troop presence on its borders but the occupation of Muslim countries by a non-Muslim military is anathema to the Islamic Republic. One of the grievances Ayatollah Khomeini had voiced as he made the Islamic Revolution in Iran in the 1970s was that US troops based in Iran enjoyed immunity from Iranian law.

In the end, by dint of hard bargaining and brinkmanship, Maliki secured a very different sort of agreement from the lame-duck Bush. As of January 1, the US military will have to get permission from Iraqi authorities for military operations. Off-duty, off-base US troops who commit crimes might theoretically be liable to prosecution before an Iraqi judge. Civilian security contractors will be under Iraqi law. US combat troops will withdraw from all Iraqi cities to bases by the end of June, ending their unilateral neighborhood patrols. By 2011 they will be out of the country altogether, and the Iraqi government can advance the deadline by a simple request. Some US commanders may engage in foot-dragging in meeting these deadlines, setting the stage for conflicts between Washington and Baghdad. But with Obama and Maliki committed to the withdrawal of US combat troops, it is clear that Bush's hopes for long-term bases have been dashed.

Perhaps never before in history has an invader that won a crushing military victory, and that continued to occupy its prize, voluntarily accepted such humiliating terms from the vanquished. It is difficult to discern how Bush's agreement differs from the "surrender" Democrats were accused of advocating when they put forward a similar timetable for complete withdrawal.

Even with all these concessions, the agreement only got 54 percent of Parliament's 275 potential votes, barely an absolute majority, precisely because so many Iraqi political forces found the idea of formally authorizing the further presence of US soldiers on Iraqi soil so distasteful. Powerful Shiite fundamentalist parties such as the Sadr movement and the Fadhila (Virtue) Party rejected it altogether, and the latter boycotted the vote. The Sunni Arab representatives held their noses while mostly voting for it but required that a national referendum be held on the pact. (It is scheduled for July and is not assured of passage.) In the aftermath of negotiations, the Shiite clerical establishment expressed concerns that the agreement infringed too much on Iraq's sovereignty.

Even though the SOFA allows for an extension of the 2011 deadline by mutual consent, the Obama administration would be unwise to keep US troops in Iraq beyond it. As the drawdown proceeds, the smaller numbers left behind will become increasingly vulnerable to attack, and a plurality of Iraqis clearly still means them harm. Sistani is increasingly impatient with the foreign occupation, and an explicit fatwa, or legal ruling, from him forbidding the continued presence of US soldiers could set 15 million Iraqi Shiites virulently against those remaining.

There are powerful reasons for which the United States should mount an orderly withdrawal from Iraq. The first and most important is that the Iraqis want it. In an opinion poll of 2,228 randomly selected Iraqis done last February for the BBC and other clients by D3 Systems and KA Research, 72 percent somewhat or strongly opposed the continued presence of foreign troops in the country, and nearly 40 percent wanted US troops out immediately. The proportion of the public that believed attacks on coalition forces are acceptable stood at 42 percent last winter.

The US occupation of Iraq has profoundly harmed its image in the Muslim world, and the only hope of mending relations with Arab peoples in particular is for a complete US withdrawal. Public opinion matters because an angry populace becomes a recruitment pool for violent groups. Iraq-inspired terrorism has hit Madrid, London, Amman, Jeddah and Glasgow, among other cities. Bush's crusade, far from making the NATO countries and their allies safer, has turned them into serial targets of angry young men who view the West as genocidal toward Sunni Muslims.

The potential benefits of a withdrawal outweigh the risks. Maliki had earlier been unwilling to come to terms with the Sunni Arabs, knowing that he could always call down US bombs on them if they defied him. With the prospect of a less robust US role looming, the prime minister has suddenly discovered the art of compromise. He acquiesced in the popular referendum on the SOFA demanded by Sunni parties because he needed the vote for it to express a cross-sectarian national consensus.

Juan Cole

Likewise, the Sunni Arab "Awakening Councils," local militias fostered by the American military, had often expressed a profound hostility toward the Maliki government, pledging to take it on after they had finished off "Al Qaeda in Iraq," the radical fundamentalists who seldom actually called themselves that and against whom the Awakening Councils had turned. This fall, as part of the preparations for a reduced US role, the Maliki government took over the responsibility of paying the salaries of around 50,000 Awakening Council fighters in Baghdad, tying their fate to that of the prime minister. Maliki wants to decommission most of them, a move they are resisting. The relationship is not solely negative, however. Maliki at one point attempted to bring some of their representatives into his cabinet, and they are likely to have a place in provincial administration after the upcoming provincial elections.

Iraq has been embroiled in at least four low-intensity civil conflicts in recent years. In the south, the Shiite militias and the new Iraqi security forces have been jockeying for power. Following Maliki's Basra and Amara campaigns, the Iraqi military has emerged on top and has forced the militias to stand down, at least for now. In the center of the country, the Sunni Arab population fought the US military presence (with the Awakening Councils' defeat of the radical fundamentalists in Anbar province and Baghdad, that war has wound down). The Sunni Arab resistance groups have also been fighting the Shiite-dominated Iraqi state. They have, however, lost Baghdad, and those in Anbar seem resigned to the new situation. Resistance continues in the ethnically mixed Diyala, Salahuddin and Nineveh provinces. Finally, behind the scenes there has been Arab-on-Kurd violence in the north, as the two ethnic communities struggle for control of cities like Khanaqin and Kirkuk.

It should be noted that Baghdad was ethnically cleansed of nearly a million Sunni Arabs in 2006-07 under the nose of US troops while the troop escalation, or "surge," was being implemented. Shiite militiamen invaded neighborhoods at night or sent threatening letters to Sunni heads of households, or killed one member of a clan as a warning to the others. American soldiers were helpless to intervene. This sort of micro-level political and demographic struggle is likely to continue for some time in Iraq, but it will unfold whether US troops are there or not.

The two big remaining security problems--continued Sunni Arab resistance to the new order in Diyala, Salahuddin and Nineveh provinces, and the Kurdish-Arab wrangling over Kirkuk and other disputed territories--can only be resolved politically, not by military force. The struggles in Iraq, like those in Lebanon since 1975, are kaleidoscopic, characterized by shifting alliances and serial feuds. The main supporters of the US presence in northern Iraq are the Kurds. If US troops come into ever greater conflict with Maliki, could they really afford to fight their best ally, the Kurdish paramilitary peshmerga? Yet how could they decline to support the elected prime minister? There is also the danger of Turkey, Washington's NATO ally, being drawn into a Kurdish-Arab struggle on Baghdad's side. US troops would be in an impossible situation if they were expected to intervene militarily in such a complex struggle.

Obama could help make sure that the troop withdrawal goes smoothly by engaging in the sort of hands-on, intelligent and far-seeing diplomacy the previous administration was either uninterested in or incapable of. He should seek a concrete plan for the disposition of Kirkuk before the United States loses all leverage in Iraq. It might be possible, for instance, to partition the province so that the Kurdish population can join the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Turkmen and Arabs can have their own province and remain in Iraq proper. The city of Kirkuk could also be partitioned or could have a dual role. The city of Chandigargh in India is the capital of both Punjab and Haryana provinces, after all. The oil wealth of Kirkuk is already divided between the federal government and the KRG by a formula that gives 17 percent to Kurdistan. A territorial compromise can also be reached, but high-level and tough diplomacy will be required.

The other historic compromise that still needs to be made is between the Shiite-dominated government and the Sunni Arabs. Al Qaeda in Iraq are a rapidly diminishing factor; not only would the Iraqi Shiites and Kurds not put up with them but the Iraqi Sunni Arabs have largely rejected them. The idea that Al Qaeda in Iraq could hope to hold significant territory or use it as a base for external attacks is a fantasy. Nor would Shiite Iran, secular Turkey or monarchical Jordan stand for it. The Iraqi Sunnis are largely Iraqi or Arab nationalists who mainly want to avoid being marginalized and impoverished in the new Iraq. President Obama, in conjunction with Iraq's neighbors, should continue to work with the Iraqi government to find practical means of national reconciliation.

The United States invaded a country that had not attacked it, dissolved its army and much of its government, threw it into chaos, and set in train events that probably have led to the deaths of as many as a million Iraqis and have left more than 4 million displaced. It is a burned-out hulk of a country, full of widows and orphans, of the unemployed and the marginalized, still infested with militias and suffering daily bombings and assassinations. The United States kicked off an ethno-religious free-for-all that could still tear the country apart.

Obama bears no responsibility for these policies, but as president he inherits the responsibility to do everything he can to allow Iraq to go forward without further calamities and to repair, through reparations or aid, as much of the damage as possible. The key question is whether the Obama administration will have the wisdom and concentration to broker overarching deals in Iraq proactively as it prepares to depart that country, rather than being purely reactive.

Juan Cole is Richard P. Mitchell Professor of History at the University of Michigan and author of Engaging the Middle East (Palgrave Macmillan), forthcoming in March. His last book was the widely acclaimed Napoleon's Egypt. He also authors the influential and widely read blog Informed Comment.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Bethlehem, 2008: Christmas Under Occupation

Christmas under Occupation

Palestinian Christians

The Occupation Wall, Bethlehem

Palestinian Roman Catholics, Bethlehem

Tower, Occupation Wall, Bethlehem

"Bethlehem Wall Digs Deep into the Hearts of Humans"

By John Kelly, Irish Times [December 24, 2008]

IT WAS late Friday afternoon and I was finishing up my week's work in Bethlehem University when Brother Jack put his head round my door and shouted: "Hi John, every Friday a few of us go up to the wall - would you like to join us?"

Conscious though I was of "the Wall", the 70km-long, eight-metre-high monstrosity that attempts to divide Palestine from Israel, I thought in my naivety he was referring to a local pub. I said: "Sure, great, be right with you", only to find that it was indeed the wall and we were there to say the rosary walking up and down past the Israeli armed guards at the main checkpoint leading to Jerusalem.

There were about 10 of us, a few De La Salle Brothers from Bethlehem University, some nuns from the Caritas Baby Hospital and a couple of locals, one of whom was an elderly lady whose lovely olive and lemon back garden had been cut in half and destroyed by the construction of the wall a few years before.

As we walked up and down saying the rosary, in full view of the Israeli guards, Jack hacked a bit off the wall with his crucifix and gave it to me. I have it framed in my study. The wall almost completely circumscribes the small town of Bethlehem and it has a number of checkpoints, each with Israeli armed guards. It is impossible, for me at any rate, not to compare this situation with the Nazi's Warsaw Ghetto and second World War checkpoints.

As with the Jews in that terrible city of the early 1940s, the Palestinians are being treated like scum by the Israeli guards. Bethlehem resembles a ghetto where the local population is not permitted by the Israeli authorities to leave by the main roads. Illegal though it is by United Nations Charter and the International Bill of Human Rights, this is occupied territory, and it is a very hostile occupation.

The distance from Bethlehem to Jerusalem is some 10km, but Palestinians must take a 26km secondary dirt road passing through Israeli checkpoints which are often closed with no warning or explanation. Palestinians in the West Bank are not permitted to enter Jerusalem without a date- and time-limited pass from the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) - more often than not refused.

This has made the operation of the small but very courageous Bethlehem University very difficult. Before this wall was built, the majority of students and staff lived outside the Bethlehem area, mostly in Jerusalem, Ramallah, Hebron - and yes, even Gaza. While some of the staff have passes that allow them to travel on the more direct routes, most students do not. In effect, the student population is now restricted to those living in Bethlehem, within the wall.

Likewise in Gaza, the Israeli authorities do not allow university students travel to universities in the EU and the USA where they have been accepted for postgraduate studies. As a strategy for future peace and reconciliation, this makes no sense.

It is the students, more than any other sector of the Palestine communities, who are suffering with non-stop harassment and humiliation by Israeli checkpoint soldiers. Palestinian student Rula (22) dreads the journey every day to and from Jerusalem. She says: "Sometimes I cannot concentrate in my lectures because I am . . . worried what the Israelis will do to me on my way home."

For no reason, they often have to take off their shoes, have their laptop computers confiscated, undergo strip searches and be made wait hours, with no explanation, being sneered at.

Strangely, for us non-Arabs, these checkpoint guards are generally quite affable and send you on your way with "have a nice day" American-style. Dr Hala al-Yamani, a professor in the faculty of education in Bethlehem University, says she has noticed a dramatic decline in her students' concentration and motivation.

"When you are facing this sort of pressure or humiliation, your feelings towards yourself change and you feel worthless."

Despite this, Dr al-Yamani says this year's graduation of more than 530 Bethlehem University students proves they are strong and committed.

"Despite these troubles, they say 'hey, I want to do it and I will. We've got that power that nothing will stop us. When you lose your home, and you lose your land, and you lose everything, you have to prove yourself and we don't have any way other than by education'."

This is indeed a fine university, with the highest international academic standards and procedures. Inside those walls there is a different world where the students, Christians, Muslims and those of no religion, live in harmony, shut out physically and spiritually from the harsh and cruel realities of the Israeli occupation outside.

• Dr John Kelly is a former registrar of University College Dublin and is chairman of the Friends of Bethlehem University in Ireland,

عيد الميلاد سَعيد

عيد الميلاد سعيد
Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Iraq & The U.S. Presidential Election

Juan Cole, the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan, discusses the role of the ongoing occupation and war in Iraq on the then-ongoing U.S. Presidential election. Filmed October 31, 2008 in Seattle. Cole publishes a widely read and influential blog, Informed Comment.

Go to the Occident blog directly to view the lecture.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Plagiarism Checker (and it's Free!)

Nifty free online plagiarism checker:

I have done some test runs, using popular web sites like CNN and niche ones, like this blog. When a sentence or two was typed in, the plagiarism checker caught it regularly.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Eid al-Ghadir: The Dispute over Historical Memory

Eid al-Ghadir ("celebration" or "holiday"), which is this week, commemorates the event of Ghadir Khumm, when both Shi'i and Sunni Muslims agree that the Prophet Muhammad publicly identified his son-in-law 'Ali ibn Abi Talib as his "successor." Sunnis and Shi'is disagree as to the nature of the succession. Shi'is (Twelvers, Isma'ilis, and Zaydis) hold that 'Ali, the first Shi'i Imam, was named the Prophet's spiritual and communal/political successor and Sunnis holding that 'Ali was the Prophet's spiritual successor or that Muhammad was only highlighting the important status of 'Ali, and not naming him as his actual successor as head of the community. The event is recorded in both Shi'i and Sunni texts, including the famous Musnad of the medieval Sunni jurist Ahmad ibn Hanbal, founder of the Hanbali school of jurisprudence, one of the four surviving schools in the Sunni tradition.

Shi'is worldwide mark Eid al-Ghadir with celebration and special prayers, commemorating the life and role of Imam 'Ali. They reaffirm their identity as Shi'is, Muslims who hold line of the Prophet's family descending through Imam 'Ali and his wife Fatima, Muhammad's daughter, (Ahlul Bayt) in special regard. The majority (of Shi'is) Twelver Shi'is, Isma'ilis, and Zaydis all believe in the spiritual and communal/political authority of the first five, and in the case of the Isma'ilis six, Imams, male members of the Ahlul Bayt who they view as historical and, in some cases, current-if-occulted heads of the Muslim community. After the sixth, they believe in different lines of Imams.

In some mixed areas, such as Iraq and Yemen, where both Shi'is and Sunnis live, Eid al-Ghadir is a period of communal tension.

The Investiture of 'Ali at Ghadir Khumm, from 1307-1308, Northwestern Iran or Northern Iraq. Copied by Ibn al-Kutbi in a copy of the manuscript Kitab al-Athar al-Baqiya 'an al-Qurun al-Khaliya (Chronology of Ancient Nations). Held at the Edinburgh University Library.

Read articles, written by Shi'i authors, about Ghadir Khumm and its importance in Islamic history from a Twelver Shi'i perspective:

(1) "Event of Ghadir Khumm in the Qur'an, Hadith, History"

(2) "Orientalists and Ghadir Khumm"

(3) Ghadir Khumm in Sunni and Shi'i Texts, with References

Read two Isma'ili views of the event:

(1) "The Imamate in Isma'ilism"

(2) Ghadir Khumm

In the interest of balance, read an article about Ghadir Khumm from a critical Sunni perspective, generally speaking. It includes refutations of the Twelver Shi'i interpretation as well as sectarian inuendo common in such polemical exchanges between Shi'is and Sunnis, from both groups. It is somewhat difficult to find critical Sunni views of this event, as the bulk of material that initially turns up in most searches is Shi'i hagiographical material.

(1) "Hadith of Ghadir Khumm: A Sunni Perspective"

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Arab Palestine: History Erased

Al-Majdal Ascalon's famous central mosque in the 1970s. The agricultural town, located just north of the Gaza Strip, was occupied in November 1948 by Israeli forces. Many of its 14, 500 original Arab Palestinian residents were also uprooted.

History Erased

By Meron Rapoport
Ha'aretz [Israel], 6 July 2007

In July 1950, Majdal - today Ashkelon - was still a mixed town. About 3,000 Palestinians lived there in a closed, fenced-off ghetto, next to the recently arrived Jewish residents. Before the 1948 war, Majdal had been a commercial and administrative center with a population of 12,000. It also had religious importance: nearby, amid the ruins of ancient Ashkelon, stood Mash'had Nabi Hussein, an 11th-century structure where, according to tradition, the head of Hussein Bin Ali, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, was interred; his death in Karbala, Iraq, marked the onset of the rift between Shi'ites and Sunnis. Muslim pilgrims, both Shi'ite and Sunni, would visit the site. But after July 1950, there was nothing left for them to visit: that's when the Israel Defense Forces blew up Mash'had Nabi Hussein.

This was not the only Muslim holy place destroyed after Israel's War of Independence. According to a book by Dr. Meron Benvenisti, of the 160 mosques in the Palestinian villages incorporated into Israel under the armistice agreements, fewer than 40 are still standing. What is unusual about the case of Mash'had Nabi Hussein is that the demolition is documented, and direct responsibility was taken by none other than the GOC Southern Command at the time, an officer named Moshe Dayan. The documentation shows that the holy site was blown up deliberately, as part of a broader operation that included at least two additional mosques, one in Yavneh and the other in Ashdod.

A member of the establishment is responsible for the documentation: Shmuel Yeivin, then the director of the Department of Antiquities, the forerunner of the present-day Antiquities Authority. Yeivin, as noted by Raz Kletter, an archaeologist who has studied the first two decades of archaeology in Israel, was neither a political activist nor a champion for Arab rights. As Kletter explains, he was simply a scientist, a disciple of the British school and a member of the Mandate government's Department of Antiquities who believed that ancient sites and holy places needed to be preserved, whether they were sacred to Jews, Christians or Muslims. In line with his convictions, he fired off letters of protest and was considered a nudnik by the IDF.

"I received a report that not long ago, the army blew up the big building in the ruins of Ashkelon, which is known by the name of Maqam al-Nabi Hussein and is a holy site for the Muslim community," Yeivin wrote on July 24, 1950, to Lieutenant Colonel Yaakov Patt, the head of the department for special missions in the Defense Ministry, and sent a copy to chief of staff Yigael Yadin and other senior officers. "That building was still standing during my last visit to the site, on June 10 - in other words, the army authorities found no reason to demolish it from the conquest until the middle of 1950. I find it hard to imagine the site was blown up due to infiltrators, as they have not stopped infiltrating the area during this entire period."

The detonation, by the way, was extremely successful. Of the ancient and holy site, not so much as a stone remained.

Yeivin's complaint was seemingly related to procedural matters, but only seemingly. The army, he wrote, needed to understand that there were "sanctified buildings," and if it wanted to touch them, "it is proper, honest and courteous first to talk to the institutions that supervise these areas and buildings, and to consult with them in order to find ways to avoid destruction." But that is not happening, Yeivin stated. "I was told that simultaneously, the mosque in the abandoned village of Ashdod was blown up," Yeivin added. "This is not the first case. I already have had many occasions to draw your attention to similar cases elsewhere, and the chief of staff issued explicit directives with regard to the preservation of such buildings and places, but apparently none of this avails commanders of a certain type ... I believe the commander responsible for this explosion should be brought to trial and punished, because in this case there was no justification for a swift, war-contingent operation."

A perusal of the IDF Archives shows that Lieutenant Colonel Patt forwarded Yeivin's complaint to Yadin. However, Yadin, who would later become Israel's preeminent archaeologist and whose father, Eliezer Sukenik, was an archaeologist of repute in his own right and Yeivin's colleague in the Mandate Department of Antiquities, was not unduly upset. Below Patt's letter addressing Yeivin's complaint are handwritten remarks: "1. Confirm receipt of letter and inform that the matter is being dealt with; 2. Add to Dayan's material for my meeting with B.-G." - referring to then prime minister and defense minister David Ben-Gurion.

It stands to reason that the handwriting is Yadin's, as it is unlikely that anyone else could have met with Ben-Gurion concerning "Dayan's material." And Yadin, as is clear from another note written on the letter, did not attribute any great importance to the complaint. "Teven la'afarayim," it says, roughly the equivalent of "coals to Newcastle" - in short, there is nothing new in Yeivin's complaint.

Nor was Dayan unduly upset. In a response he sent to the chief of staff's bureau, apparently on August 10 under the heading "Destruction of a holy place," Dayan wrote: "The detonation was carried out by the Coastal Plain District, at my instruction." The first words of the sentence have been struck out, but a letter dated August 30 removes all doubt. Dayan replied to a letter concerning "damage to antiquities in the Ashkelon area": "The chief of staff approached me and I gave him my explanations; the action was carried out at my instructions."

That reply was so embarrassing that Yaakov Prolov, the head of the Operations Department in the General Staff, sent a letter to the chief of staff's bureau asking for guidelines on how to reply to Yeivin. "A mistake was made here and it can be assumed it will not happen again," someone instructed him in script that looks like that attributed to Yadin in the previous letter. Whitewashing, it turns out, is not a new invention.

Blots on the landscape

Not surprisingly, it did in fact happen again. At the end of October, Yeivin sent another letter, this time directly to Yadin, to complain about "the blowing-up of the ancient mosque at Yavneh," a 1,000-year-old structure whose minaret is still standing on a hill south of Yavneh, close to the train station. Yeivin reminded Yadin that he had been promised that those responsible would be punished this time. But it turned out there was an unexplained disparity between the explicit orders prohibiting damage to mosques and the actual policy in the field.

"I have just received an official reply from your bureau chief [Michael Avitzur], and after reading it I am totally at a loss," Yeivin wrote to Yadin. "On the one hand, I have in front of me your explicit order, which speaks unequivocally about preserving places of archaeological or historical value ... On the other hand, I read in the letter of Lieutenant Colonel Michael Avitzur that the mosque at Yavneh 'was exploded on July 9, 1950, before the date on which the cessation of blowing up mosques was announced.' How can these two things be reconciled?"

Yeivin's quotation from Avitzur's letter makes it clear that blowing up mosques was widespread enough that it required a special order to stop it. Yeivin himself wrote later in the letter, "I am extremely concerned following my talks with a number of people involved in the policy on this question." Yeivin did not specify whom he spoke to, but noted, "I do not see myself as being able to write explicitly about everything."

David Eyal (formerly Trotner), who was the military commander of Majdal at the time, says "he does not want to return" to that period. The historian Mordechai Bar-On, who was Dayan's bureau chief during his term as chief of staff and remained close to him for years, says he himself did not serve in Southern Command at the time and therefore is not familiar with the destruction of mosques in Ashkelon, Yavneh and Ashdod, and also never heard Dayan issue any such order.

"As a company commander in Central Command, we expelled the Arabs from Zakariyya, but we did not destroy the mosque, and it is still there," Bar-On says. "I know that in the South, in the villages of Bureir and Huj [near today's Kibbutz Bror Hayil], the villages were leveled and the mosques disappeared with them, but I am not familiar with an order to demolish only mosques. It doesn't sound reasonable to me."

The affair of the mosque demolitions does not appear in Kletter's book "Just Past? The Making of Israeli Archaeology," published in Britain (Equinox Publishing) in 2005. Kletter, who has worked for the Antiquities Authority for the past 20 years, does not consider himself a "new historian" and has no accounts to settle with Zionism or the State of Israel. Nevertheless, the story of archaeology comes across in his book to no small degree as one of destruction: the utter destruction of towns and villages, the destruction of an entire culture - its present but also its past, from 3,000-year-old Hittite reliefs to synagogues in razed Arab quarters, from a rare Roman mausoleum (which was damaged but spared from destruction at the last minute) to fortresses that were blown up one after the other. Had it not been for a few fanatics like Yeivin, who pleaded to save these historical monuments, they might all have been wiped off the face of the earth.

As the documents quoted in the book show, only a small part of this devastation occurred in the heat of battle. The vast majority took place later, because the remnants of the Arab past were considered blots on the landscape and evoked facts everyone wanted to forget. "The ruins from the Arab villages and Arab neighborhoods, or the blocs of buildings that have stood empty since 1948, arouse harsh associations that cause considerable political damage," wrote A. Dotan, from the Information Department of the Foreign Ministry, in an August 1957 letter that is quoted in Kletter's book. A copy was sent to Yeivin in the Department of Antiquities. "In the past nine years, many ruins have been cleared ... However, those that remain now stand out even more prominently in sharp contrast to the new landscape. Accordingly, ruins that are irreparable or have no archaeological value should be cleared away." The letter, Dotan noted, was written "at the instruction of the foreign minister," Golda Meir.

Kletter reveals in his book that Yeivin and his staff occasionally tried to stop the destruction - not always, not consistently, and not for moral reasons or out of any special respect for the people (the Arabs) who lived for centuries in these towns and quarters. Their grounds were scientific, and Kletter believes this approach stemmed from their background. Before 1948 they worked for the Department of Antiquities of the Mandate government under British management, alongside Arab employees. Kletter relates that in the department they fought for the "Judaization" of the names of ancient sites, but nevertheless remained loyal to the department - so much so that after the United Nations passed the partition plan, in November 1947, Yeivin proposed that the department remain unified even after the country's division into a Jewish state and an Arab state. Eliezer Sukenik went one step farther: "I do not believe the Jewish state will preserve its antiquities," he said in a December 1947 discussion. "We must place scientific sovereignty above political sovereignty. We are interested in the archaeology of the whole land, and the only way [to ensure this] is a unified department."

Perjury at Megiddo

"Yeivin was not the greatest archaeologist in the world, but he had personal integrity, which is the most important trait of the British heritage," Kletter says. "But that heritage did not suit the nationalism of the 1950s, because Ben-Gurion wanted to erase everything that had been, to erase the Islamic past."

Ben-Gurion saw everything that existed here before the revival of the Jewish community as wasteland. "Foreign conquerors have turned our land into a desert," he said at a meeting of the Society for Land of Israel Studies in 1950. Thus the failure of Yeivin and his colleagues was a foregone conclusion. In the 1950s, when archaeology was a fad and archaeologists like Yadin were cultural heroes, people of science were nudged out of management positions. Yeivin was forced to resign and "technocrats" like Teddy Kollek were effectively put in charge of managing Israel's major archaeological sites.

The Department of Antiquities was formally established in July 1948, as a unit of the Public Works Department in the Ministry of Labor. Even before this, the veterans of its Mandatory predecessor tried to preserve antiquities, and in particular to prevent looting, but did not always succeed. The museum in Caesarea was emptied out by thieves, and the same fate befell the findings and documents at Tel Megiddo, which were concentrated in the offices of the University of Chicago archaeological expedition, which had been digging there since the 1920s. Rare collections, such as the one at Notre Dame Monastery in Jerusalem, disappeared almost completely, and private collections and antique shops in Jaffa and Jerusalem were also targeted by thieves. "All the objects have disappeared from the government museum [more than 100 fragments of inscriptions and parts of pillars]," reported Emanuel Ben-Dor, who would later become Yeivin's deputy director, after visiting Caesarea. "The collection in the office of the Greek patriarch was destroyed." The Megiddo incident was particularly embarrassing, as the dig was carried out by American archaeologists and the U.S. consulate wanted to know who was responsible for the devastation. An investigation was launched under Yeivin's supervision, and the local commanders said that Arab units had wrecked the site. Yeivin discovered that this was untrue, and that Israeli soldiers had looted the site and then burned the archaeological expedition's offices.

In a confidential report, Yeivin quoted from an internal letter of the local unit: "In consultation with the battalion commander and with the brigade's operations officer, we agreed that in the event of an investigation by the U.S. consul general ... we will (shamefully) lie and say the place was found in this condition when it was captured and that the crime was committed by the Arabs before they fled."

But the theft of antiquities was only a small part of the problem. The major problem was the destruction. In August 1948, the army started to demolish ancient Tiberias, apparently in the wake of a local decision. The attempts to salvage some of the town's archaeological gems were to no avail. In September the site was visited by Jacob Pinkerfeld, from the Department of Antiquities' monument conservation unit.

"In ancient Tiberias the army began to blow up a hefty strip of buildings in the Old City," Pinkerfeld wrote in his report. "In talks with all the responsible parties at the site, we emphasized the special importance of the ancient stone with the relief of the lions on it, which was built into one of the walls. We were promised that this antiquity dating back 3,000 years would be specially guarded, but in my last visit I found precisely this stone blown to bits." So sweeping was the destruction of Tiberias that even Ben-Gurion was taken aback when he visited the city in early 1949.

The list for destruction sometimes assumed ludicrous proportions. During a visit to Haifa in August 1948, Yeivin discovered the army was laying waste to large sections of the Arab city around Hamra Square (now Paris Square) under the direction of the city engineer. In his restrained language, Yeivin expressed his astonishment at the destruction: "With our own eyes we saw the ruins of half of a building that had served as a synagogue on the Street of the Jews ... According to Jews who live there and wandered about among the ruins, another two or three synagogues were also destroyed there ... It would appear that with attentiveness, the damage inflicted to these holy buildings could have been avoided."

Depressing impression

The leveling of the villages began as soon as the fighting ended. During his visit to the North, Yeivin saw the army blowing up villages near Tiberias and Mount Tabor. He asked that before villages were demolished, consultations be held with representatives of the Department of Antiquities, because "in many villages, ancient building stones are embedded in the houses." At Zir'in (now Kibbutz Yizrael) a Crusader tower was blown up, and the fortress at Umm Khaled, near Netanya, was reduced to rubble.

But there were successes, too. An order was issued to raze the fortress at Shfaram, but Antiquities Department staff arrived at the last minute and blocked the demolition. And at Al-Muzeirra, a village south of Rosh Ha'ayin, a miracle occurred: the army used a handsome building of pillars in the middle of the abandoned village for target practice, apparently without knowing it was "the only mausoleum that survived in our country from the Roman period," according to Yeivin. When, nonetheless, the decision came to blow up the mausoleum in July 1949, an antiquities inspector arrived at the site and prevented the blast. The site is now known as "Hirbat Manor" (the Manor Ruin) and is recommended in all sightseeing guides for the area.

Kletter relates that in February 1950, at the initiative of Yeivin and others, who grasped that without government intervention, the country's urban past would simply disappear, Ben-Gurion agreed to establish a government committee "for sacred and historic sites and monuments." The committee was staffed by senior government and military personnel. The report, which was submitted in October 1951, stated that certain sites had to be preserved as "whole units" - "Acre, a few quarters in Safed, small sections of Jaffa and Tiberias, small sections of Ramle and Lod, a few sections of Tarshiha." The rest of the towns, and hundreds of villages, were already lost.

However, the state institutions failed to honor even these conclusions. According to Kletter, Yeivin was one of the first to fight the August 1950 decision to demolish all of Jaffa. Afterward, artists who had moved into the abandoned city joined the struggle, as did Development Authority personnel, and thus a few sections were spared total annihilation. Yeivin was less successful in Lod. In June 1954, he wrote a protest letter to the education minister, in the wake of a decision on "the destruction of the ancient quarter in the city of Lod." Israeli law, pursuant to British law, stipulated that only what was built before 1700 was considered an "antiquity," but Yeivin wrote that the other sites should also be preserved - both for tourism and because they are "cultural and educational assets and living historical testimonies that every enlightened state is obliged to preserve."

Kletter's book leaves the impression that the destruction was not accidental and that its perpetrators were aware of its significance. The ideological foundation of the devastation is set forth in the August 1957 Foreign Ministry letter sent at the behest of Golda Meir. After the author of the document, A. Dotan, requested the Ministry of Labor to "clear the ruins," he specified "four types" of "ruins" and the grounds for their destruction:

"First, it is necessary to get rid of the ruins in the heart of Jewish communities, in important centers or on central transportation arteries; rapid treatment must be given to the ruins of villages whose residents are in the country, such as Birwe, north of Shfaram, and the ruins of Zippori; in areas where there is no development, such as along the rail line from Jerusalem to Bar Giora, one receives a depressing impression of a once-living civilized land; attention must also be directed to ruins in distinctly tourist areas, such as the ruins of the Circassian village in Caesarea, which is intact but empty ... Accordingly, the Ministry of Labor should assume the mission of clearing the ruins ... It should be taken into account that the participation of nongovernmental elements requires caution, as politically it is desirable for the operation to be executed without anyone grasping its political meaning."

Kletter says he was surprised to discover the scale of the destruction, but that to some extent he understands those who were behind the operation. The decision not to allow the Palestinian refugees to return was unavoidable, he believes, if the idea was to establish a Jewish state here. Those were the rules of the game in that period, he says, and if the Jewish community had lost in 1948, the Arab victors would likely have treated the Jews in the same way. And because it was impossible to preserve hundreds of abandoned Palestinian towns and villages, there was no choice but to demolish most of them, Kletter maintains.

He also has nothing against the archaeologists who in the early years of the state were concerned almost exclusively with Jewish sites, or in the best case with Christian or Roman sites, and ignored Muslim sites almost completely. It is natural for researchers to be interested first and foremost in their own culture, Kletter says; and besides, relative to the political pressure exerted on them by people like Ben-Gurion, who declaredly wanted to erase the Arab past of this country, they behaved honorably. "Early Israeli archaeology has something to be ashamed of and much to be proud of," Kletter writes.

Still, Kletter says, his book is "about loss, about what could have been but was not. The loss of archaeology that began with a scientific tradition and did not continue, the loss of vast historical information, the loss of the village landscape. I don't think this village landscape belongs to us - it belongs to the people who lived here - but still, there is longing for that lost landscape. We cannot bring it back, but at least we should be aware of the truth and not lie to ourselves."

Kletter says this country's great good fortune lies in the fact that it contains so many monuments that it was impossible to destroy all of them. But even those that were destroyed somehow continue to live a different life. Mash'had Nabi Hussein, the holy site in Ashkelon, was leveled in 1950, but the Muslim believers did not forgo it. A few years ago, the Shi'ite Ismaili sect, which is based in central India, established a kind of small marble platform at the site, on the grounds of Barzilai Hospital, and since then thousands of believers have come there every year. In Yavneh, only the minaret remains of the razed ancient mosque, standing alongside heaps of rubble and one fig tree, but in a visit to the site a week ago I saw a group of elderly Ethiopians there on the hill, praying ardently under the fig tree. It was as if the place had remained holy even if its inhabitants had changed.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Najaf's Cemetary: The Sadr Movement

Plastic flowers and posters of the dead adorn hundreds of graves as Shi'i Muslims visit the graves of loved ones at the Martyr's cemetery in the southern city of Najaf, some 160 kms from the capital Baghdad as Shi'is mark the start of the Eid al-Adha on December 9 2008.
(QASSEM ZEIN/AFP/Getty Images)

COMMENT: Each tomb, in addition to having a photograph of the deceased, is flanked with photographs of Grand Ayatullah Sayyid Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr (with the white beard and glasses) and his son, Muqtada al-Sadr. This hints at the influence of the Sadr Movement, founded by the father and now led by the son. Some of the tombs are also graced with paintings of the Shi'i (Twelver) Imams.

Click the photograph above to view it in its full size.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

In Photos: The Hajj & Eid al-Adha

A general view of the tents of Muslim pilgrims in Mina, Saudi Arabia on December 9, 2008, where they will camp for three days and cast stones at pillars symbolising Satan. (REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah)

A Muslim pilgrim reads the Qur'an at Mount Arafat, southeast of the Saudi holy city of Mecca, on December 7, 2008. A human tide washed over Mount Arafat today morning as hundreds of thousands of devoted Muslims gathered for the key moment of the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.

Muslim pilgrims pray outside Namira mosque in Arafat near Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Sunday, Dec. 7, 2008. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Water is sprayed in cooling mists over Muslim pilgrims as they pray outside Namira mosque in Arafat near Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Sunday, Dec. 7, 2008. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Members of an exclusive Muslim community who call themselves An-Nadsir attend prayer to celebrate Eid al-Adha in a remote area in Gowa district, in Indonesia's South Sulawesi province, December 8, 2008. (REUTERS/Yusuf Ahmad)

Kyrgyz men pray on the first day of Eid al-Adha, the Muslim feast of sacrifice, in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan on December 8, 2008. (VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO/AFP/Getty Images)

A Member of the French Council for Muslim Communities visits defaced graves of Muslim World War I soldiers at the Notre-Dame-de-Lorette cemetery in Ablain-Saint-Nazaire, northern France, Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2008. Vandals desecrated at least 500 tombs of Muslim soldiers in northern France on Monday. The desecration near the town of Arras appeared timed with the start of Eid al-Adha, the most important holiday in the Muslim calendar. (AP Photo/Michel Spingler)

Indian Muslims pray together to mark Eid al-Adha in Mumbai, India December 9, 2008.
(REUTERS/Jayanta Shaw)

Muslims pray together to mark the Eid al-Adha holiday Monday Dec.8, 2008 at the Minneapolis Convention Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (AP Photo/Dawn Villella)

Chinese Muslims wait to buy mutton skewers during Eid al-Adha outside Huxi Mosque in Shanghai December 9, 2008. (REUTERS/Aly Song (CHINA)

Salwa Al-Masri (back) makes tea for her family as her child helps prepare a humble celebration on the first day of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha on December 08, 2008 in the Rafah Refugee Camp, Gaza Strip. Abed couldn't buy a sheep to slaughter as a part of Eid Al-Adha celebration. Most of the sacrificial animals in Gaza have been smuggled through tunnels between Rafah and Egypt as Israel still blocks their crossings with Gaza Strip. (Abid Katib/Getty Images)

In New Delhi, India, Muslims offer Eid al-Adha prayers at the Ferozshah Kotla Mosque on Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2008. (AP Photo/Gurinder Osan)

Thousands of tents housing Muslim pilgrims are crowded together in Mina near Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2008. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

A Saudi worker sews Islamic calligraphy in gold thread on a drape to cover the Kaaba at the Kiswa factory in the holy city of Mecca on November 29, 2008. The Kaaba cover is called Kiswa and is changed every year at the culmination of the annual Hajj or pilgrimage. The Kaaba, Islam's holiest site which stands in the centre of Mecca's Grand Mosque, contains the holy Black Stone which is believed to be the only piece remaining from an altar built by Abraham. (KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Thousands of Muslim pilgrims cast stones at a pillar, symbolising stoning Satan, in a ritual called "Jamarat," the last and most dangerous rite of the annual hajj, near the Saudi holy city of Mina on December 8, 2008. To complete the ritual, a pilgrim must throw 21 pebbles at each of three 25-meter (82-foot) pillars and this year the faithful are being given pebbles in pre-packed bags to spare them the effort of searching for the stones. (KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Muslim pilgrims perform the "Tawaf" ritual around the Kaaba at Mecca's Grand Mosque before leaving the holy Saudi city at the end of the annual Hajj pilgrimage on December 10, 2008. The official Saudi News Agency (SPA) reported that the most recent statistics put the total number of pilgrims this year at more than 2.4 million, almost 1.73 million from abroad and 679,000 from within the kingdom, mostly foreign residents. (KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)