Happy Palestine Land Day: Israel Earmarks 10% of West Bank for Settlements: White

Posted on 03/30/2012 by Juan

Ben White writes in a guest editorial for Informed Comment:

It has just come out that the Israeli military has earmarked ten percent of the land in the Occupied West bank for Israeli settlements. In addition, the Israeli government is moving forward with an outrageous plan that will mean the expulsion of tens of thousands of Bedouin citizens in the Negev desert. The context is the warning issued by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in a 2010 government meeting that a Negev “without a Jewish majority” would pose “a palpable threat”.

You won’t be told about this by television news, your elected representatives, or the US State Department (in fact, when asked about the Negev displacement plan they dismissed it as an “internal Israeli matter”). But this is the inconvenient truth that prompted the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to recently issue what according to one expert was the most cutting “condemnation of a legal system of segregation since apartheid South Africa”. That is why Land Day, beginning with the struggle for the land, is now marked all over the world as the movement for decolonisation and equality in Palestine/Israel gains momentum.

March 30 is marked by Palestinians as Land Day, but many in the West are unaware of the origins and significance of this annual protest. It is an opportunity to shed some light on the significant issues marginalised by the mainstream discussion about the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict”.

The first Land Day was held by Palestinian citizens of Israel (so-called ‘Israeli Arabs’) in 1976, as part of opposition to the expropriation of land by the state. Marked by a general strike and mass demonstrations, the response was brutal repression: six Palestinians were shot dead, as the Israeli government mobilised armoured vehicles and tanks to patrol villages in the Galilee.

In the aftermath, then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s cabinet “unanimously commended the security forces for their ‘restraint’ in handling the strike and the ensuing disturbances”. It was a justified response, apparently, to what Prof. Oren Yiftachel described as “a head-on challenge to the Judaization project”.

The land expropriations that led to Land Day were one example of how, in the words of Israeli legal advocacy group Adalah, the state “confiscated massive amounts of land from Palestinian citizens” after 1948. Estimates are that by the late 1970s, the average Arab community had lost between two thirds and three quarters of its land.

This is one facet of a discriminatory regime that goes to the heart of the question of Palestine: a history of ethnic cleansing, confiscation, alienation, and manipulated planning – all in order to maintain a system that privileges one group over another.

As former Israeli PM Menachem Begin’s adviser on Arab affairs put it: “If we needed this land, we confiscated it from the Arabs. We had to create a Jewish state in this country, and we did.” The facts bear out this honest appraisal. In 1948-53, 95 percent of new Jewish communities were established on ‘absentee’ property – that is, belonging to Palestinian refugees prevented from returning.

Yet a number of Palestinians remained, and particularly in the Galilee and the Negev in the south, the Israeli state was concerned about the ‘demographic battle’. This discourse (and the policies shaped by it) continues through to the present day: the current Housing Minister spoke in 2009 of it being a “national duty” to “prevent the spread” of Palestinian citizens in the Galilee.

The policies referred to by author Oren Yiftachel as ‘Judaization’ signify the attempt to boost the Jewish population of an area seen as having ‘too many’ non-Jews. One example was the establishment of mitzpim (Hebrew: ‘look out’) communities in the 1970s and ‘80s, in the Galilee. The goal of the initiative, in the words of a Jewish Agency planner, was to “prevent Arabs from ‘taking over’ government lands, keep Arab villages from attaining territorial continuity and attract a ‘strong’ population to the Galilee’.”

Israel’s systematic ethnic discrimination means the manipulation of regional authority boundaries and the planning regime. Misgav Regional Council, established in the 1980s, is an illustrative example. Given “a highly irregular geographical shape, in order to include most Jewish settlements and exclude most Arab villages”, the result has been to reinforce “patterns of functional and social segregation in the region”. In other words, Misgav is “not a regional plan in the ordinary sense” but “a strategic plan…to preserve state lands”.

Remember – this is all inside Israel’s pre-1967 borders, the supposed ‘democratic’ Israel loved by liberal Zionists who restrict their criticisms to West Bank settlements. But what do liberals say about admission committees that operate in around 70 percent of all communities in Israel, a key tool in the exclusion of Palestinian citizens and the maintenance of Jewish control over rural land? These committees are now supported by legislation in around 40 percent of communities; supporter of the law MK David Rotem said that he believed Jews and Arabs could be “separate but equal”.

This is the reality for Palestinian citizens that Israel and its advocacy groups don’t want to talk about, preferring false platitudes about ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’. These policies are what unite the experiences of Palestinians in both the pre-67 borders and in the West Bank.

Ben White is a freelance journalist and writer. Ben’s articles are available on his website and he tweets at @benabyad

Ben White’s new book is “Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination and Democracy”, available at Amazon.

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Tomgram: John Feffer, Islamophobia, Obama, and the Art of Acting Muslim

Posted on 03/30/2012 by John Feffer

John Feffer writes in Tomdispatch.com

Creating the Muslim Manchurian Candidate
The Right Wing’s Election-Year Islamophobia
By John Feffer

Those who fervently believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim generally practice their furtive religion in obscure recesses of the Internet. Once in a while, they’ll surface in public to remind the news media that no amount of evidence can undermine their convictions.

In October 2008, at a town hall meeting in Minnesota for Republican presidential candidate John McCain, a woman called Obama “an Arab.” McCain responded, incongruously enough, that Obama was, in fact, “a decent family man” and not an Arab at all. In an echo of this, a woman recently stood up at a town hall in Florida and began a question for Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum by asserting that the president “is an avowed Muslim.” The audience cheered, and Santorum didn’t bother to correct her.

Though they belong to a largely underground cult, the members of the Obama-is-Muslim congregation number as many as one third of all Republicans. A recent poll found that only 14% percent of Republicans in Alabama and Mississippi believe that the president is Christian.

These true believers treat their scraps of evidence like holy relics: the president’s middle name, his grandfather’s religion, a widely circulated photo of Obama in a turban. They occasionally traffic in outright fabrications: that he attended a radical madrasa in Indonesia as a child or that he put his hand on the Qur’an to be sworn in as president. An even more apocalyptic subset believes Obama to be nothing short of the anti-Christ.

By and large, however, this cult doesn’t attract mainstream support from the larger church of Obama haters. Indeed, these more orthodox faithful have carefully shifted the debate from Obama being Muslim to Obama acting Muslim. Evangelical pundits, presidential candidates, and the right-wing media have all ramped up their attacks on the president for, as Baptist preacher Franklin Graham put it recently on MSNBC, “giving Islam a pass.”

The conservative mainstream still calls the president’s religious beliefs into question, but they stop just short of accusing him of apostasy and concealment. What they consider safe is the assertion that Obama is acting as if he were Muslim. In this way, Republican mandarins are cleverly channeling a conspiracy theory into a policy position.

There is a whiff of desperation in all this. After all, it’s not an easy time for the GOP. The economy shows modest signs of improvement. The Republican presidential candidates are still engaged in a fratricidal primary. By expanding counterterrorism operations and killing Osama bin Laden, the president has effectively removed national security from the list of Republican talking points.

One story, however, still ties together so many narrative threads for conservatives. Charges that the president is a socialist or a Nazi or an elitist supporter of college education certainly push some buttons. But the single surefire way of grabbing the attention of the media and the public — as well as appealing to the instincts of the Republican base — is to assert, however indirectly, that Barack Obama is a Manchurian candidate sent from the Islamic world.

Obama and the Muslim World

A succession of Republican candidates have attempted to run to the right of party favorite Mitt Romney by asserting that only a true conservative can defeat Obama in November. Most of them boasted of the same powerful backer. Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum all declared that God asked them to run for higher office. Together with Newt Gingrich, they have deployed various methods of appealing to their constituencies, but none is more potent than religion.

Rick Santorum, a Catholic and the favorite of the evangelical community, has been particularly adept at using his soapbox as a pulpit. The president subscribes to a “phony theology,” Santorum has claimed, “not a theology based on the Bible, a different theology.” Although he occasionally asserts that “Obama’s personal faith is none of my concern,” he nonetheless speaks of the president’s attempt to “impose values on people of faith”– implying that the president is certainly no member of that community.

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Divided Arab League Won’t Call for al-Assad to Step Down

Posted on 03/29/2012 by Juan

The Arab League is meeting in Baghdad for the first time in 22 years, in the absence of long-time fixtures such as Zein El Abidin Ben Ali of Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Muammar Qaddafi of Libya, and Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen– all overthrown by the popular uprisings of 2011-12. Of the remaining two countries where there has been a substantial revolutionary movement, Syria has been suspended from Arab League membership, so that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad will be discussed only in his absence. But Bahrain’s Sunni monarchy has succeeded in remaining diplomatically viable despite its crackdown on its own protesting crowds. In part, Bahrain is being treated differently because many Arab leaders code the Shiite protesters there as an Iranian fifth column.

Syria is among the most pressing items on the docket, and is an issue that has already divided and in some ways defeated the meeting. Saudi Arabia and Qatar wanted a resolution calling for al-Assad to step down in Syria and for arming the Syrian revolutionaries. Failing that, they wanted to invite members of the rebel parties to attend in Baghdad. Iraq rejected all these proposals. As a result, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, along with about half of the attending countries, are only sending ambassadors, not foreign ministers– a snub at Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

In the meantime, military operations continued in Syria, with regime troops storming Qalat al-Mandiq in Hama province. Some 40 persons are estimated to have been killed there in recent days.

The Arabic press is reporting leaks that the League will reject foreign military intervention in Syria, but will back Kofi Annan’s UN plan. It is also being rumored that the al-Maliki government is attempting to deflect a harder line on Syria by threatening to bring up as an agenda item the treatment of religious and ethnic minorities in the Arab world. (For North Africa the discussion would concern Berbers, for Egypt Coptic Christians, for Saudi Arabia Shiite Muslims, etc.). Iraq is among the more multi-cultural of the Arabic-speaking states, with its Shiite majority and its large Kurdish minority, and so is in a position to lead a charge on the issue of minorities, one that would be extremely unwelcome to Sunni Arab-majority states. The problems of minorities are not irrelevant to the Syria crisis, since the religious minorities there are fearful of the secular Baath government being overturned by one dominated by Sunni Muslim fundamentalists. These fears are shared by al-Maliki’s Shiite-dominated government in Iraq.

Euronews has a video report on the Arab League’s support for the United Nations plan for Syria, involving a call for a ceasefire and negotiations.

Since Syria has already verbally pledged to observe the UN plan (though there is no sign it is doing so), the Arab League adoption of the UN plan for Syria is not very forceful nor does it contain anything new. The Syrian regime is accused of killing thousands of protesters over the past year.

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Scalia and the Uninsured Children (Cartoon)

Posted on 03/29/2012 by Juan

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Omar Khayyam (96): Against Astrology

Posted on 03/29/2012 by Juan

The good and bad
that are in human nature,
the joy and grief
that are in fate and destiny–
do not attribute them to
the movement
of heavenly bodies;
for according to the path of science,
the stars are a thousand times
more helpless than you.

Translated by Juan Cole
from [pdf] Whinfield 96

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