Monday, 20 July 2009

The Elders of Hizbollah

IDF troops handed Hezbollah-Vatican conspiracy theory, reports Haaretz:

The Pope and the cardinals of the Vatican help organize tours of Auschwitz for Hezbollah members to teach them how to wipe out Jews, according to a booklet being distributed to Israel Defense Forces soldiers.

Officials encouraging the booklet's distribution include senior officers, such as Lt. Col. Tamir Shalom, the commander of the Nahshon Battalion of the Kfir Brigade.

The booklet was published by the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, in cooperation with the chief rabbi of Safed, Rabbi Shmuel Eliahu, and has been distributed for the past few months.

The booklet, titled "On Either Side of the Border," purports to be the testimony of "a Hezbollah officer who spied for Israel."

"The book is distributed regularly and everyone reads it and believes it," said one soldier.

"It's filled with made-up details but is presented as a true story. A whole company of soldiers, adults, told me: 'Read this and
you'll understand who the Arabs are.'"

The copy obtained by Haaretz included a Pesach greeting from Shalom, "in the name of the Nahshon Brigade."

The story is narrated by a man named Avi, who says he changed his name from Ibrahim after he left Hezbollah and converted to Judaism. Avi says he was once close to Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, and describes Hezbollah's purported close relationships with the Vatican and European leaders.

The IDF Spokesman's Office said in a statement: "The book was received as a donation and distributed in good faith to the soldiers. After we were alerted to the sensitivity of its content, distribution was immediately halted."

According to the book, Nasrallah was invited to join a delegation to tour France, Poland and Italy, including the Vatican. Nasrallah could not refuse an invitation from the Vatican, Avi explained: "We knew [the Pope] identified with Hezbollah's struggle."

The book describes the alleged visit of Hezbollah officials to Auschwitz, led by the Vatican: "We came to the camps. We saw the trains, the platforms, the piles of eyeglasses and clothes ... We came to learn ... Our escort spoke as he was taught. We quickly explained to him: Every real Arab, deep inside, is kind of a fan of the Nazis."

The booklet also describes how European politicians and journalists ostensibly work against Israel.

"Our escort introduced us to important figures who identify with our causes. Rich people, people with authority ... They allocate big budgets to all sorts of Israeli organizations that erode the standing of the IDF ... We have a special budget for encouraging politicians and journalists who serve our purposes. Every opinion piece that conforms to our position is rewarded
generously."

Rabbi Shmuel Eliahu, the son of former Sephardi chief rabbi Mordechai Eliahu, is known for his extremist views, and was once charged with incitement to racism after calling for the expulsion of all Arab students from Safed College after a terror attack in the area.

The younger Eliahu was also behind an online video in which he described the "miracle of our matriarch Rachel," whom he claims appeared before Israeli soldiers in Gaza to warn them of booby-trapped buildings during Operation Cast Lead.

"In some of the places we went in Gaza there was a woman who warned them ... 'Did they tell you who I am,' she said, 'I am the matriarch Rachel," Eliahu says in the video.

He claims his father confirmed the veracity of the story, and told him that he had prayed to Rachel: "I told her: Rachel, there's a war... Go to God, Blessed Be He, pray over the soldiers who sacrifice themselves for the People of Israel, so that they will strike and not be struck."

David Menahemov, an aide to Eliahu, claims the book is not fiction. "Avi is a real person and everything in the book is absolutely true," insists Menahemov.

"It's a totally true story, I know the guy personaly. He's an Arab, who even though he converted still acts like an Arab. We helped him to write and to translate it. We changed a few details to protect him and his family."

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Israeli-Egyptian axis

Associated Press reports:

Israeli and Egyptian officials say two Israeli warships have sailed through the Suez Canal toward the Red Sea in a move seen as a possible signal to Iran that the Persian Gulf nation is within Israel’s reach.

Israel says its navy uses the canal regularly. But the recent moves are significant given Israel’s refusal to rule out military action if Iran persists with a nuclear program Israel believes is aimed at building weapons. Iran denies that charge.

Israeli defense officials say two missile boats crossed the canal Tuesday. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the move was not officially publicized. A Suez Canal official confirmed the report.

An Israeli submarine had sailed through the canal to the Red Sea earlier this month.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Iran—movement

The diversity of the movement in Iran reflects the different forces that have been drawn into the streets.

For the supporters of Mir Hussein Mousavi it about opening the country to the West. For the circles around his ally Hashemi Rafsanjani it is part of power struggle at the top. For the masses on the streets it is about poverty, alienation and the precarious living.

For the millions of women it is about social freedom and their status as second class citizens. For the students its about intellectual freedom. For the Iran’s diverse ethnic groups it is about their rights.

For the majority of ordinary people it has become a battle to reclaim the spirit of the 1979 revolution.

Put together the movement represents all the pent up frustration with a regime that wants to crush any hopes of change. For many the slogan “our vote was stolen” has come to symbolise a stolen revolution.

Most of all the events have shown that millions of people in Iran are no longer prepared to carry on in the old way, while the country’s rulers seem incapable of ruling on the old way. The country has reached a watershed.

Yet for this movement to continue, and have any chance of success, it has to be transformed further.

The one power that has yet to make itself heard is that of the collective strength of the working class.

Workers in Iran have been in revolt. A wave of strikes that began in 2004 has revived the grassroots committees that became the basis of workers’ control during the 1979 revolution. This was a decisive moment in the overthrow of the western backed Shah.

Events in Iran today have not reached this stage.

But many of the workers’ leaders are in jail. Its militants harassed and intimidated.

For the moment the regime hopes it can batter people off the streets. But it has lost its legitimacy, and from now on it can only enforce its will with the baton and the bullet.

How long Iran’s rulers hang on for power is unknown. Also unknown is the momentum of the movement.

But the one certainty is that the movement for change that has emerged over past 10 days represents a watershed. It speaks not only of Iran but for the deep sense of frustration across the whole of the region.

Iran—events

Iran is in the grip of a popluar rebellion unseen since the 1979 revolution.

The rebellion began as a protest against alleged vote rigging, but has now become a movement that lays bare the deep contradiction inside Iranian society.

Over the next week these demonstrations became more than the contested elections.

This uprising revolved around four crucial days.

On the Saturday 13 June, the day after the presidential elections, tens of thousands of people spilled into the streets to protest at what they considered to be widespread election fraud.

These protests spread rapidly to other cites, including Tabriz in the north and
Esfahan, a city of 1.5 million south of the capital.

The Basaji militia loyal to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who won the elections, moved to crush the protests. The Basaji raided Tehran University which is the centre of the reform movement. Five students are believed to have been killed. There were similar raids, and many more deaths, in other universities across the country.

But far from taming the movement it grew in scope. On Monday 15 June millions of people turned out in the biggest demonstration since the 1979 revolution. Similar mobilisations across the country transformed the protest into a national movement.

Over the next two days supporters of Ahmadinejad and the opposition The two became involved in a battle of mobilisations. It would be a real test of popularity and support on the ground.

Rumours began to circulate that elements within the Revolutionary Guards mutinied, saying that they were there to defend the people. Unconfirmed reports say that the head of the Revolutionary Guards in Tehran, a decorated veteran of the war with Iraq, was arrested after he refused an order to attack the demonstrations.

The battles on Wednesday 17 June became decisive. Dispirited, Ahmadinejad's supporters melted away. The struggle became between the crowds and hated Basaji militia backed by riot police.

In Esfahan the rioting, that at times verged on an uprising, gave way to fear. The Basaji militia took the offensive in night time raids on popular neighbourhoods. The city, an important centre for the textile industry, had been at the centre of a mass strike by teachers several years before.

Meanwhile rumours began to circulate that workers at the giant car plant north of Tehran planned to hold two one hour protest strikes. While a statement from the heavily repressed bus workers union declared its support for the demonstrations.

One 26 year old worker in Iran contacted by Socialist Worker on Thursday of last week said that many people felt like it “was like 1979”. He spoke on condition of anonymity.

“The protests are very uplifting and most people do not see it as a challenge to Islamic rule,” he said. “But people are very angry, they have lost their fear of the state.”

“Many of the protesters do not have much affinity for Mir Hussein Mousavi and they are frustrated by the lack of alternative to both Mousavi and Ahmadinejad.”

“The movement is very determined and feel they can now express their deep frustrations about the country and its rulers.”

He spoke of the extreme tension ahead of Ali Khamenei’s key speech following Friday prayers and said many people were convinced that Iran’s supreme leader would give some concessions.

They would be deeply disappointed. Khamenei seems to have calculated that his threats would be enough to quell the protests.

The reformers and their allies inside the establishment called on the demonstrations to continue. This open defiance of Khameini illustrates the depth of the divisions within the Iranian state. Mousavi called for a general strike if he was arrested.

Hashemi Rafsanjani, Mousavi’s conservative ally, fled to the holy city of Qoms. He won the support of half the Guardian Council, the body that elects the supreme leader, in attempt to stage a palace revolution. But it was not enough to displace Khameini.

That night Tehran, and other cities, resounded to the wail of rooftop protests. By Saturday 20 June, Khamenei’s gamble seemed to have paid off.

The repression began to take its toll on the size of the demonstrations.

Security forces acted with extreme brutality on those who defied the ban on protest. The planned demonstration through Tehran was stopped before it could form. Police and militia charged into crowds that had gathered.

During the day snipers fired at protesters.

Some 30 people are said to have been killed, including the Neda Soltani, her last moments captured on a mobile phone camera. Her death has come to symbolise the cruel repression fo the regime. Mosques were ordered not to hold services to mark her death, while her family had to bury her in secret.

The battles on the Saturday became more frantic and desperate.

One eyewitness described how construction workers in Tehran come to the aid of demonstrators.

“We watched from our apartment window a clash between the police and the construction site workers at the Towhid Tunnel (in Tehran).

“The police tried to take a shortcut to ambush the protesters. The workers used shovels, bricks and construction equipment to stop the police. At this point the demonstrators joined in to help the construction workers.”

The involvement of workers, and the poorer neighbourhoods, is an indication of how this movement is reaching deep into Iranian society.

As Socialist Worker went to press reports were emerging of protest strikes involving millions of Iranian workers.

Many of the reports that have emerged from Iran are difficult to verify.

But the eyewitness statements and film footage of mass demonstrations and street battles, as well as disturbing science of brutal violence meted out by state security forces, point to a transformation of a movement from a protest over the elections into a deep convulsion from below.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Iran—statement

Received this today. I cannot verify who this group is, but felt it should be published:

Statement # 1 by Coordinating Committee to Help Form Workers’ Organizations about Presidential Election and recent unrest

Iranian people have witnessed the presidential elections in Iran. During the debates between candidates there was never any mention of destitute conditions of the working class, non-payment of wages, temporary-work contracts, medieval sentences of floggings, killings and incarceration of workers and labor activists, suppression of May 1st events….

The reality is that these candidates themselves are collaborators in creation of such impoverished conditions facing working class and majority of the population in Iran . That is exactly why amongst hundreds of candidates only these four were hand-picked.

In the election process all resources of capitalists, familiar and unfamiliar liberals, media networks of world capitalism: BBC, VOA, was utilized to convince people of elections as an arena for change. In various styles they attempted to convince people that their votes held some power and value. After the election it became obvious that all their propaganda were naught.

Voters discovered that their votes were misused. And now they are protesting in hundreds of thousands. People should have defended their rights by a boycott of the election, but in any instance the votes tossed into ballot boxes are being utilized by the regimes officials.

People have a right to protest such mistreatments. While condemning all the attacks on protesters we remind all that such protests should not be led by likes of Mousavi, Khatami, Kahroubi, or any other executives or elements of the capitalist order. These protests shall become a part of justice seeking by workers and toiling masses against the capitalist order.

Iranian working class has been struggling for its basic rights for years and in the process has been vigorously attacked by the protectors of Capital. In the 80’s simultaneous with execution and incarceration of hundreds and thousands of activists of social movements, especially labour movement, they executed Jamal Cheragh Vaisi, the speaker for May 1st event in Sanandaj.

In the era of so called “political reforms,” labor activists in Saghez were arrested and incarcerated for participating in May 1st events, egalitarian and freethinking writers were portrayed as hired pens, and some of them were killed in a process of chain murders.

In the past few years we have also witnessed Khaton Abad workers getting riddled with bullets, Mansour Osanloo, president of the executive board of Vahed Syndicate getting his tongue cut and incarcerated, Mahmud Salehi being jailed and denied medical attention while in confinement, flogging of labor activists on charges of participating in May 1st ceremonies, and arrests and incarceration of tens of labor activists in this year’s May1st event….

Student protesters were viciously attacked and their dormitories ransacked. Women’s movement and their activists asking for their basic rights were also beastly attacked, and incarcerated. The just rights of teachers and nurses were also violated, by firing from jobs and confinement in prisons.

Now the protectors of Capital are facing a dire crisis and reproaching each other. Working class and noble liberated people of Iran should expose such demagoguery. Bourgeoisie in whichever shape from or color cannot and will not guarantee the just rights and demands of Iranian workers and toilers.

At best the desperate attempts of capitalist class and their representatives are to turn workers into a reserve force that could be used to maintain their dominance. Working class and liberated people of Iran shall not trust them.

Workers, liberated and noble people of Iran!

Major tribulations for workers and all exploited masses are: exploitation, extensive unemployment and lack of any rights, inflation and unbearable high costs of living, lack of basics rights to from workers organizations, the right to strike, freedom of expression, and other civil liberties. Such obstacles could be overcome only by relying on the power of the working class as the main and most powerful societal force.

Workers and brave, justice seeking people of Iran and throughout the world, in their extensive, and freedom seeking protests could and should demand: the identification, arrest and prosecution of all those who ordered and implemented the recent suppressions and killings of people, and demand freedom of all those imprisoned during the recent workers’ and people’s protests.

We also demand the annulment of all sentences against workers and labour activists as well as activists of women’s movement and students’ movement.

Capitalist order is an order of barbarism, suppression and exploitation, an order of corruption, poverty, prostitution, and deprivation. Let’s unite and call for the eradication of the capitalist system.

Coordinating Committee to Help Form Workers' Organizations

June 18, 2009

www.komitteyehamahangi.com

www.komitteyehamahangi.blogfa.com

komite.hamahangi@gmail.com

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Iran—bus drivers

Statement from Tehran bus drivers:

In recent days we have witnessed the passionate presence of millions of women and men, the old and the young, and ethnic and religious minorities in Iran, people who want their government to recognize their most basic right, the right to freely, independently, and transparently elect, a right that in most societies around the world is not only recognized officially but for whose protection no effort is neglected.

In the current situation, we witness threats, arrests, killings, and naked persecution, which threaten to grow in dimension and lead to the shedding of innocent people's blood thus bringing a rise in popular protests and not in their decline.


Iranian society is facing a deep political and economic crisis. Million-strong protests, which have manifested themselves with a silence that is replete with meaning, have become a pattern that is growing in area and dimension, a growth that demands a response from any responsible person and organization.


The Autobus Workers Union in an announcement issued before the elections declared, "in the absence of the freedom for political parties, our organization is naturally deprived of a social institution that can protect it."

"Workers of the Autobus Workers Union consider their social involvement and political activity to be the certain right of each member of society and furthermore believe that workers across Iran as long as they submit the platforms of presidential candidates and a practical guarantee about campaign slogans can choose to participate or not participate in elections."

The fact that the demands of the vast majority of Iranian society go far beyond those of unions is obvious to all, and in the previous years we have emphasized that until the principle of the freedom to organize and to elect is not materialized, any talk of social freedom and labor union rights will be a farce.

Given these facts, the Autobus Workers Union places itself alongside all those who are offering themselves in the struggle to build a free and independent civic society. The union condemns any kind of suppression and threats.

To recognize labor-union and social rights in Iran, the international labor organizations have declared the Fifth of Tir (June 26) the international day of support for imprisoned Iranian workers as well as for the institution of unions in Iran.

We want that this day be viewed as more than a day for the demands of labor unions to make it a day for human rights in Iran and to ask all our fellow workers to struggle for the trampled rights of the majority of the people of Iran.

With hope for the spread of justice and freedom,
Autobus Workers Union

....

I will publish the story of the bus drivers attempt to form an independent union on Tuesday. And will try and confirm (double source) these stories.

Iran Khodro—strike declaration

Protest strike declared in IranKhodro, the biggest car plant in Iran:

We declare our solidarity with the movement of the people of Iran.

Autoworker, Fellow Laborers (Laborer Friends): What we witness today, is an insult to the intelligence of the people, and disregard for their votes, the trampling of the principles of the Constitution by the government. It is our duty to join this people's movement.

We the workers of Iran Khodro, Thursday 28/3/88 [Iranian calendar] in each working shift will stop working for half an hour to protest the suppression of students, workers, women, and the Constitution and declare our solidarity with the movement of the people of Iran.

The morning and afternoon shifts from 10 to 10:30. The night shift from 3 to 3:30.

Labourers of IranKhodro

Friday, 19 June 2009

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Iran—corruption

Iran is a country ravaged by corrution. Ordinary people have to be pay bribes for services, to policemen and state officials. Students have to bribe examiners to get exam questions, and small businesses and traders—who were once the bedrock of the republic—have to pay heafty “bonuses” to officials for contracts.

This corruption led to many in the establishment to voice growing concerns over what was seen as the endemic mismanagement of the country.

In 2002 Ayatollah Jalaleddin Taheri, a leading figure in the southern city of Isfahan which is now one of the centres of protests outside Tehran, publicly denounced the “broken promises of the revolution”.

In his resignation speech delivered at Friday prayers Taheri said, “When I hear that some of the privileged progeny (clerics' sons) and special people, some of whom even don cloaks and turbans, are competing amongst themselves to amass the most wealth and to achieve their own ends.

“The ones who are pillaging the nation's wealth—yes, on behalf of the ones who think that Muslims' public wealth belongs to them and consider the country to be their private, hereditary property, I am drenched in the sweat of shame.”

Taheri gave voice to widespread perception that ”now the Shah and America are not in control of this country for us to be able to blame them for the shortcomings and problems.”

His biggest criticism was aimed at the pro-government militias. He denounced them as "henchmen of tyranny and the mercenary, unrefined, mad club wielders, with their false ideas and cruel behaviour.”

This widespread unease forced the parliament to appoint Abbas Palizdar, a onetime ally of Ahmadinijad, to investigate senior officials.

Palizdar’s enquiry exposed a network of kickbacks reaching into the heart of the establishment—including members of the powerful Council of Guardians, the head of special investigations, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, the intelligence minister and even former president Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani.

The biggest scandal involved some $100 million that when missing during the privatisation of Almakaseb, a large state-run trading company under the control of the son of a leading cleric. Other scandals involved the state-owned car company and public construction projects.

Palizdar found the most corrupt institution to be the powerful Revolutionary Courts that deal with dissent, drug smuggling and blasphemy. He found that those with money or influence had little to fear from the courts, even if the evidence against them was overwhelming. Those who could not pay were shown little mercy.

When Palizdar report was repressed he broke ranks and toured universities were he exposed the corrupt officials and their private projects. He was arrested in June 2008 and has not been heard of since.

The full report is available here.

Iran—a split in the ruling class

The elections in Iran have revealed the deep divisions at the heart of Iran’s ruling class.

The country is internationally isolated, faces a growing economic crisis and is ruled by a faction associated with the “hardliners” that want to be the main beneficiaries of privatisation of state-owned companies.

This faction has coalesced around the incumbent president Mahmud Ahmadinijad. They see his populist appeal as an important bulwark against the deep discontent that is sweeping the country.

A second section fears that the widespread corruption at the heart of the system is undermining popular support for the republic. They want the economy opened up and strip from power those they see as lining their pockets.

This faction, that includes many senior figures in the religious establishment, has put its hopes in Mir-Hossein Mousavi.

Mousavi is an establishment figure. He was prime minister during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war and played key role in the rise of the Islamic movement following the 1979 revolution.

He is respected for keeping the economy afloat during the war, and is considered a safe pair of hands.

Mousavi lost power in 1989 when the post of prime minister was abolished. Throughout the 1990s he became associated with the rising reform movement that wanted to limit the power of Iran’s new elite. His goal was always to steer Iran towards neoliberal “opening up” of the economy.

Mousavi was widely tipped to run for the president in the landmark elections in 1997. He gave way to Mohammad Khatami, then a little known cleric.

Despite winning 80 percent of the vote, and re-election in 2001, Khatami was unable to deliver reform, leaving the movement that brought him to power disappointed and demoralised.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won the subsequent elections on a promise to root out corruption and ease the growing poverty among the mass of Iranian people.

Once in power Ahmadinejad presided over huge windfall from the spike in oil price. He used this money to widen his base among the urban and rural poor—even distributing free potatoes during the election campaign.

But sections of the establishment accused him of squandering the oil wealth and failing to plan for the subsequent collapse in prices.

Meanwhile many of his supporters were disappointed when reneged on his promise to tackle corruption.

Ahmadinejad was certain of victory in the elections. All the early polls showed him polling double the number of votes than his nearest rival. But the trends also showed the gap narrowing as Mousavi campaign grew in strength.

Like Khatami, Mousavi promised widespread reform, but also to limit their scope. His key promise was to make public the finances of the government—a threat to sections of the elite who have been creaming off Iran’s resources.

His advocates sweeping neoliberal economic policies as part of making the state-owned sector more “efficient”. But these policies have little popular appeal. So Mousavi also promised sweeping social reforms.

Mousavi pledged to declaw the much feared morality police that enforce strict rules on dress and behaviour. He promised to open the top posts in government to women and “review” the laws that limit their rights.

He said who would bring the police under presidential control. At present the security forces are answerable only to unelected supreme leader Ali Khamenei.

Mousavi and other reformers want to harness the growing disquiet in the country to oust one faction of the ruling class from power. They want Ahmadinejad and the hardliners removed, but also limit the scope of popular anger.

The danger is that this movement could quickly run out of their control.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Obama's speech

There is lots to say about Obama’s speech, the most significant is that a black man is touring the region apologising for what white men have done. A point lost on many, but the symbolism is clear.

That Obama can deliver this speech in Cairo university is itself astounding.

If Bush had attempted to speak at the campus it would have been burnt to the ground. Obama instead is greeted with standing ovations from an audience that has not been shy in booing Egyptian ministers.

Fickle Arabs easily swayed by smooth words? That’s what many commentators would do doubt be thinking. But Obama’s tone is important.

Some, such as Noam Chomsky, have have dismissed it.

In his analysis Chomsky warns that “Those familiar with the history will rationally conclude, then, that Obama will continue in the path of unilateral US rejectionism.”

Others, such as William Pfaff, see it as a heralding a new era.

It is neither. But it does mark a shift in US strategy.

This speech needs to be seen in two parts. First what has not changed.

Echoing Bush’s 2002 “axis of evil” speech, Obama is committed to the “war on terror” . “When violent extremists operate in one stretch of mountains people are endangered across an ocean,” he announced.

Obama also warns Iran over its nuclear ambition and sets out to continue the war in Afghanistan.

Here is what’s different.

Gone is the rhetoric of “clash of civilisation” and “crusades” that characterised Bush and his supporters (especially from the pro-war left).

It is replaced with an acceptance of Islam, and the contribution of Muslims in creating civilisation. Easy words maybe, but a noteworthy departure from Islamobobia.

Obama said that, “Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq was a war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world... I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible.”

And although Bush referred to Iran as part of the “axis of evil”, Obama acknowledges that the US bears responsibility for the tensions.

He said: “In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government.”

He follows this with an appeal for negotiations.

This is not a continuation of Bush policies, but a departure. Bush wanted to invade Iran, Obama wants negotiations.

This softening of attitudes towards Iran is a recognition, if any is needed, that the US desperately need Iran to help out in Afghanistan and Iraq.

It is with Israel that real change of tone.

The president’s standard commitment towards Israel is laced with criticism.

He said, “It is also undeniable that the Palestinian people, Muslims and Christians, have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than 60 years, they've endured the pain of dislocation.

“Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza and neighbouring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations, large and small, that come with occupation.

“So let there be no doubt, the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. And America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity and a state of their own.”

In a remarkable passage he states:

“For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the centre of America's founding.”

There are two messages here. The first is that Palestinians must lay down their weapons. But in a radical departure from previous US leaders, Obama is saying Palestinians are suffering as black slaves did.

Note the language: “lash of the whip”, “segregation”, “daily humiliations”, “the pain of dislocation”.

These words have caused deep concern inside Israel.

Israeli ministers have been running around Washington waving bits of paper signed by Bush that allow them to continue settlements in the West Bank. Obama has instead told them they had to stop.

So here is Haaretz on the reaction inside the Israeli government: “Netanyahu now understands what he already knew before the speech: The moment of political reckoning that he so feared is now rapidly approaching.

“The thunder he hears in the distance is the sound of the Likud legions and the West Bank settler hordes rolling down the mountains. The light on the horizon is not that of a new day, but of a train coming right at him—a night train from Cairo.

“Netanyahu will have to decide over the coming weeks whom he would rather pick a fight with: the powerful US administration, whose president sees himself in an almost messianic role, or his own coalition and members of his party.”

In these circumstances it is easy to dismiss Obama's words as rhetoric, and we know that he faces deep problems reconciling the tensions between US imperialism with its Arab allies. But tension there are—caused partly by popular anger over Palestine, but more directly by the deep hatred of the Arab regimes.

And although the Israelis care little of what happens in Afghanistan, or which government rules in the Arab world. Alfter all they have the comfort of a powerful army and some 50 nuclear warheads.

But it matters deeply to the US and the rest of the West. And if they needed any reminding then last Sunday’s victory by Hizbollah in the Lebanese elections is very sobering. The resistance won largely because of Israel’s 2006 war on the country.

Would another Israeli assault on Gaza mean the US loses Cairo? For the US the stakes are now too high abd the Israelis must be reigned in.

Obama's speech is a recognition of the deep problems faced by US imperialism in the region. He no doubt hopes he can charm his way out of this sticky situation.

The ultimate test is what happens in practice, on this point Chomsky is right. But what is significant is that it will be the Israelis who ensure that Obama will fail.

Elections: What the US bosses think

The Wall Street Journal is over the moon over what it calls the "rebound of Saudi power." I won't mention the hypocrisy of the newspaper which a bastion of neo-conservative, pro-war, pro-Israel, and anti-Muslim, views... but not anti-Salafi (the conservative Saudi ideology).

Never mind. Here's it's take on the elections:

Saudi officials are savoring the weekend election victory in Lebanon of the so-called March 14 alliance.

The Western-leaning bloc held on to its parliamentary majority, despite some polls predicting gains by an opposition coalition headed by Iranian-backed Hezbollah.

"The vacuum of power among the Arabs has finally been filled. We can see that the balance is tipping in our favor," said one Saudi diplomat.

Saudi Arabia was a key player in ending the civil war in Lebanon in 1989, but its influence there waned after the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a billionaire who made his fortune as a contractor for the Saudi royal family.

Since then, the Saudis have openly intervened on behalf of the government dominated by Mr. Hariri's party. It has pledged $1.5 billion to prop up the country's currency and to help rebuilding efforts after the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel.

Opposition politicians in Lebanon accused Saudi Arabia of funneling money into the campaigns of politicians running alongside Mr. Hariri's son, Saad, who is now in the running to become Lebanon's next prime minister. Saudi officials have denied interference.

Influential Saudi-owned regional media outlets, however, waged their own public-relations campaign, warning in Lebanon of a looming crisis should Hezbollah and its allies win.

After the elections, Saudi's King Abdullah sent congratulations to the Lebanese people for their "successful" elections.

Tariq Alhomayed, editor of Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, owned by a brother of the king, went further, declaring in an editorial that the results showed "the fall of the Iranian project" in Lebanon.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Elections: What the UK bosses think

The Economist magazine catches the mood of relief in the west over the elections:

The coalition that has struggled to govern Lebanon since 2005 surprised even many of its followers as it emerged from a fiercely contested general election with an undented parliamentary majority.

Its win cheered the Western powers that support the March 14 alliance led by Saad Harir...

Yet March 14’s capture of 71 out of 128 parliamentary seats also underlined the flaws in Lebanon’s cumbersome democracy ... Taking advantage of the imbalance between the size of the constituencies and the number of their MPs, the alliance gained a critical advantage from the massive turnout by Sunni voters in Christian districts, reflecting both demographic shifts and the financial clout of the Sunni political machine.

The opposition’s losses were mostly suffered by independent politicians allied to them. Hizbullah, which in the past has shied away from a deep exposure to what it calls “dirty” electoral politics, ran only 11 candidates, all of whom won handily.

The March 14 victory is unlikely to inspire any early settlement of the feuds that have bedevilled its politics. But for the time being compromise is in the air.

This is helped by the warmer winds blowing from Barack Obama’s America, and the rise in Iran, engaged in an election of its own, of powerful currents arguing for accommodation with the West.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Change we can believe in?

It is easy to dismiss Obama's speech, and rightly. Noam Chomsky points to the substantive trap the US president finds himself in:

A CNN headline, reporting Obama's plans for his June 4 Cairo address, reads 'Obama looks to reach the soul of the Muslim world.' Perhaps that captures his intent, but more significant is the content hidden in the rhetorical stance, or more accurately, omitted.

Keeping just to Israel-Palestine — there was nothing substantive about anything else — Obama called on Arabs and Israelis not to 'point fingers' at each other or to 'see this conflict only from one side or the other.'

There is, however, a third side, that of the United States, which has played a decisive role in sustaining the current conflict. Obama gave no indication that its role should change or even be considered.

Those familiar with the history will rationally conclude, then, that Obama will continue in the path of unilateral US rejectionism.

....

But there is an edge, especially his criticism of Israel. Haaretz points to the problems Obama has with the new Israeli government:

During long, personal conversations with his inner circle over the past week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu admitted that he had no idea what US President Barack Obama would say in his speech in Cairo. "We have no information," he said. He does now.

Netanyahu now understands what he already knew before the speech: The moment of political reckoning that he so feared is now rapidly approaching.

The thunder he hears in the distance is the sound of the Likud legions and the West Bank settler hordes rolling down the mountains. The light on the horizon is not that of a new day, but of a train coming right at him — a night train from Cairo.

Netanyahu will have to decide over the coming weeks whom he would rather pick a fight with: the powerful US administration, whose president sees himself in an almost messianic role, or his own coalition and members of his party.

...

In these circumstances it is easy to dismiss Obama's words as rhetoric, and we know that he faces deep problems reconciling the tensions inside US imperialism with its Arab allies. But tension there is, caused by popular anger over Palestine and hatred of the Arab regimes.

But Obama is not Bush Lite... it is deeper than that. The US hoped that its invasion of Iraq would project its power, instead it has laid bare its weakness.

If you turn the prism you can see the light refracted in a different way. Here is a black man trotting the globe apologising for what the white men did. This is significant, because it will be the Israelis who will ensure that he fails.

...

For the record here is Omaba's speech.

Note the reference to the struggle against slavery... he is saying that the Palestinians are like the slaves in the US. Anyone familiar with this history will understand that those who helped the slaves are heroes.

Here is the Bush "axis" speech.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Is all OK, right?

Yes the economy is fine, says Forbes magazine:

Lebanon has been one of the unlikely success stories of the global financial crisis. The vital tourism and construction industries are booming, and capital is flowing into the country.

As optimistic Lebanese leaders, bankers and businessmen have emphasized, the success is primarily due to conservative bank-lending and bank-investment regulations, limiting exposure to mortgage-backed instruments and other products that have hurt the balance sheets of other international banks, including many Gulf countries.

A result of the country's long experience with perpetual instability in the national and regional political environment, conservative lending policies, backed up by a solid flow of remittances from millions of Lebanese abroad, have immunized the Lebanese economy from political turmoil.

Apart from the months immediately following the 2006 war with Israel, the Lebanese economy has experienced uninterrupted growth since 2001.

Healthy bank sector. A few years back, Lebanon's state regulations were subjected to heavy criticism from domestic and international bankers. Now the financial crisis has turned Lebanese banks into a safe haven in the region, and the economy has thrived:

--Bank deposits have grown steadily, rising 15% in the first three months of the year from the year-earlier period.

--Foreign currency reserves were estimated at 17.6 billion dollars in January 2009, up from 9.8 billion at the end of 2007.

--Foreign liquid assets stood at 22.3 billion at the end of March 2009, a record high.

Impact of the financial crisis. The banking sector's success is remarkable but does not detract from the fact that Lebanon's economy is well integrated into the global economy and will therefore inevitably feel some effects of its downturn in 2009. Private investors have incurred great losses in national and international investments, and the Beirut stock market alone has lost more than $5 billion since mid-2008.

The lack of capital investment will be felt in the crucial construction, telecommunication and service sectors in the medium term, particularly if the crisis continues throughout 2009.

...

But this optimism hides a slow burning crisis, writes Bassem Chit in Socialist Review:

Rafiq Hariri’s policies since the 1990s have mainly focused on borrowing money and then selling the US$40 billion accumulated debt to local banks with sky-high interest rates. As a result the state is going bankrupt.

...

Election battle

Kaveh Afrasiabi writes in Asia Times on what is at stake in the Lebanese elections:

Where Iran has Hezbollah, Israel has Jundallah, given Israel's apparent efforts to destabilize Iran by playing an "ethnic card" against it. This, by some reports, it is doing by nurturing the Sunni Islamist group Jundallah to parallel Tehran's support for Lebanon's formidable Shi'ite group, Hezbollah, that is favored to win parliamentary elections on June 7.

Should the Hezbollah-led coalition win as anticipated, the result will be even closer military-to-military relations between Iran and Lebanon, reflected in Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrollah's recent statement that he would look to Tehran to modernize Lebanon's army.
.....

Afrasiabi develops this theme in a second piece :

Israel, it appears, is not wasting any time in cultivating the seeds of a future conflict with Lebanon, where a military defeat for a Hezbollah-controlled government would be devastating to Hezbollah's political fortunes.

It has recently been revealed by former Israeli chief of staff General Dan Halutz that Israel failed to assassinate Hezbollah's political leader, Hassan Nasrallah, during the 2006 Lebanon war.

This, together with the Lebanese government's arrest of nine Lebanese who were spying for Israel's Mossad, reflects the basic tenor of Israel's one-dimensional security approach toward the evolving political developments in Lebanon.

Conspicuously absent in the US and Israeli calculations about the political and geostrategic implications of a Hezbollah victory is any appreciation of how this may actually deepen Hezbollah's moderation.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Pay the ticket... take the ride

Olivia Sterns of the Huffington Post took the trip across the Lebanon mountain ranges:

I recently found myself packed like a sardine with 7 strange Syrian men in a maroon-colored Denali hurdling across the border from Syria to Lebanon. Well, almost hurdling.

To be sure, the driver was speeding and swerving every chance he got, burning similarly overstuffed sedan-size "service taxis" in the dust, but every couple of kilometers we found ourselves stopped at a new checkpoint. Read more...

Friday, 24 April 2009

June elections—runners and riders

The AFP reports:

Some 587 candidates have thrown their hats into the ring for the June parliamentary election.

Three Armenians have already been selected unopposed in seats in Beirut and the Christian stronghold of Metn east of the capital after rival candidates withdrew, Interior Minister Ziad Baroud said at a press conference.

This gives two seats to the opposition, led by the Shiite militant group Hezbollah and one seat for the current Sunni-led ruling majority, ahead of the June elections.

Candidates can still withdraw before June 7 but their registration fee will not be reimbursed.

* * *

Meanwhile the New York Times is pushing the idea that the elections are nor legitimate as most votes will be bought. I get the feeling that despite being accurate, this story is overblown as the pro-Israeli newspaper is worried about the outcome, and so wants to begin muddying the waters.

Here's the report:

Votes are being bought with cash or in-kind services. Candidates pay their competitors huge sums to withdraw. The price of favorable TV news coverage is rising, and thousands of expatriate Lebanese are being flown home, free, to vote in contested districts.

The payments, according to voters, election monitors and various past and current candidates interviewed for this article, nurture a deep popular cynicism about politics in Lebanon, which is nominally perhaps the most democratic Arab state but in practice is largely governed through patronage and sectarian and clan loyalty.

Despite the vast amounts being spent, many Lebanese see the race — which pits Hezbollah and its allies against a fractious coalition of more West-friendly political groups — as almost irrelevant.

Lebanon’s sectarian political structure virtually guarantees a continuation of the current “national unity” government, in which the winning coalition in the 128-seat Parliament grants the loser veto powers to preserve civil peace.

Still, even a narrow win by Hezbollah and its allies, now in the parliamentary opposition, would be seen as a victory for Iran — which has financed Hezbollah for decades — and a blow to American allies in the region, especially Saudi Arabia and Egypt. So the money flows.

“We are putting a lot into this,” said one adviser to the Saudi government, who added that the Saudi contribution was likely to reach hundreds of millions of dollars in a country of only four million people. “We’re supporting candidates running against Hezbollah, and we’re going to make Iran feel the pressure.”

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Mobile free-for-all

This from Wireless News:

Alfa, the mobile operator, announced that it is keeping on strengthening its network in all Lebanon by installing 16 new transmissions Stations. Including two transmission stations in Tripoli, and a transmitter each for Batroun, Achrafieh, Tal Zaatar, New Rawda, Soujoud (Jezzine Caza), Tamich and Shyah (Karout Mall).

Alfa is the brand name of one of the two state mobile networks. Alfa is managed by Orascom Telecom Holding (OTH) starting February 1, 2009. Orascom is an international telecommunications company operating GSM networks in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia, having a total population under license of approximately 453 million with an average mobile telephony penetration of approximately 46 percent.

Orascom Telecom operates GSM networks in Algeria (”OTA”), Pakistan (”Mobilink”), Egypt (”Mobinil”), Tunisia (”Tunisiana”), Bangladesh (”banglalink”), Zimbabwe (”Telecel Zimbabwe”), and North Korea (”Koryolink”).

Through its subsidiary Telecel Globe, OTH also operates in Burundi, the Central African Republic and Namibia. Orascom Telecom had over 79 million subscribers as of September 30th, 2008.

Orascom Telecom is traded on the Cairo & Alexandria Stock Exchange under the symbol (ORTE.CA, ORAT EY), and on the London Stock Exchange its GDR is traded under the symbol (ORTEq.L, OTLD LI).

* * *

But according to India's Economic Times:

Telecom companies Bharti Airtel, Reliance Communications, BSNL and MTNL are looking to bid for licences and buy telecom companies in Syria and Lebanon.

Last week, the Syrian government announced that it would soon put up the country’s third mobile licence for auction. Besides, it also wants to privatise state-owned Syria Tel Mobile Telecom.

Similarly, Lebanon has two state-owned mobile companies and its government has announced that it wants to privatise both the companies.

* * *

While Reuters reports that:

Emirates Telecommunications Corp ETEL.AD (Etisalat) posted on Monday a 4 percent rise in first-quarter net profit and said it was interested in bidding for telephone licences in Syria and Lebanon.

Etisalat said in a statement it was on the lookout for investment opportunities and seeking to grow in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

"Etisalat is working through a conservative policy to search for investment opportunities that might emerge as a result of the global crisis," said Chairman Mohammed Omran.

"We will continue to observe and study various markets in the Middle East, Asia and Africa since they are high density."

"Etisalat has a great interest in competing for the licences available in Syria and Lebanon once they are officially put to bid."

Code Pink on Iran

This from Haaretz... be warned:

Israel is stepping up its public relations effort to discredit Iran within the international community, and part of its new campaign focuses on Tehran's abuse of human rights and sponsorship of terrorism.

"We have to lay the foundation in the world, and particularly in Europe, in order to be able to take harsher steps against Iran, especially in the economic sector," said one senior political source in Jerusalem.

The new campaign, to be overseen by the Foreign Ministry, aims to appeal to people who are less concerned with Iran's nuclear aspirations and more fearful of its human rights abuses and mistreatment of minorities, including the gay and lesbian community.

The campaign plans to recruit the international gay community, which Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissed in 2007 when he said there were no homosexuals living in his country.

The campaign will also reach out to Jewish groups who want to bring more attention to Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial and some members of the Iranian regime's anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist views.

About NIS 8 million have already been budgeted for the new campaign, which also includes increased briefings for foreign journalists on the Iranian nuclear program and greater use of the Internet and sites such as YouTube.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman want to broaden the PR campaign on the subject of Iran in the wake of increasing international willingness to negotiate with Tehran over its nuclear program.

One political source said there appear to be greater expectations in the U.S. and in Europe that diplomacy will solve the nuclear dispute.

However, the assumption in Israel is that dialogue will not lead to fundamental change in Tehran's stance and that the regime will not relinquish its nuclear aspirations, even in exchange for an incentives package from the international community.

The senior political source in Jerusalem said it is necessary to lay the groundwork now for the possible diplomatic failure.

Despite talk of a military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, the current campaign focuses more on harsh economic sanctions against Tehran.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Meeting

يدعوكم التجمع اليساري من اجل التغيير الى

عرض فيلم: نوبة صحيان، المدة: 10 دقائق

يتبعه ندوة تحت عنوان:

الحركة العمالية المصرية: بين قمع اجهزة الدولة ومعركة الاستقلال النقابي

يتكلم فيها: عمر سعيد، عضو في مركز الدراسات الاشتراكية في مصر

وذلك مساء الثلثاء 21 نيسان 2009، الساعة السادسة والنصف

المكان: بيت زيكو، اول شارع سبيرز، الصنائع، بيروت

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Israel's spy

This from LA Times:

A former Lebanese security officer and his wife have been arrested on suspicion of spying for Israel.

The intelligence branch of Lebanon's Internal Security Forces (ISF) have locked up a retired brigadier general identified only as "Adib A." and his wife on suspicion of belonging to an Israeli spy network.

[Note the Tayyar website identify him as Retired General Adib Alaalam]

The general was described as a “valuable catch” in the left-leaning daily Al Akhbar by an unnamed high-ranking security official. Though retired, he continued to maintain an office at the general directorate of the ISF, which he allegedly turned into a communications center for passing information to the Israelis.

News of the arrests comes just one month after military prosecutor Rashid Muzhir said he would seek the death penalty for two brothers arrested and charged with espionage last year.

According to another security source quoted by Al Akhbar, the retired general has confessed to working with Israeli intelligence services for the last 10 years, but insists his role was limited to gathering information and that he never carried out assassinations or bombings.

Suspicion fell on his wife as an accomplice based on information she gave during questioning.

Both hail from Lebanon's Bint Jbeil area along the border with Israel and could potentially have access to information about Lebanese security forces and militant groups there.

The official said ISF intelligence has been monitoring a group operating throughout Lebanon and especially south of the Litani river for several months now, indicating that more arrests are probable.

The network was reportedly uncovered after a young man was detained for possession of a large weapons cache. The youth was later linked to Israeli intelligence agents in Europe, but the charges could not be proven and the case was left to European spy agencies.

The paper went on to note that the investigation is expected to reveal even more sensitive information, “especially since the directorate [of General Security] has started coordinating with more than one party relevant to intelligence operations in Lebanon,” referring, most probably, to Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group.

Twice in the last seven months, Hezbollah has handed over suspected spies to the Lebanese army after conducting its own investigations.

In November, the group arrested brothers Youssef and Ali Jarrah for their alleged link to the assassination of Hezbollah official Imad Mughniyeh, and in February, Marwan Faqih was detained and accused of supplying bugged cars to the militia. All three were handed over to the Lebanese army.

Israel above the law

This from the AP newsagency:

Israel is unlikely to cooperate with a Gaza war crimes probe because it distrusts the UN agency sponsoring the investigation, an Israeli government official said.

Gaza’s Hamas rulers said they would work with investigators from the UN Human Rights Council which ordered the investigation in January, shortly after Israel’s three-week military offensive in Gaza.

The Israeli government official said Israel sent its response concerning cooperation to the UN agency a week ago.

He said Israel is “very unlikely” to cooperate. He spoke on condition of anonymity and said he could not elaborate because it’s not clear whether the head of the investigation, Richard Goldstone has been briefed.

Israel’s likely refusal to work with Goldstone raises questions about whether he will be able to carry out his mission.

Investigators have not yet said when they will visit the region, but without Israeli cooperation they would be denied access to crucial information from the military.

Goldstone, 70, is Jewish, has close ties to Israel and is known for his impartiality.

But Israeli diplomats said their opposition has nothing to do with who heads the investigation.

Yousef Rizka, an adviser to Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, said that the investigators “will find full cooperation of the Palestinian government and Palestinian people because the crimes of the occupation are clear and no one can underestimate them.”

Armenian vote

The BBC has an interesting piece on the Armenian-Lebanese:

In the upcoming parliamentary election in June, the main Armenian political party, Tashnak, looks set to play kingmaker.

The vote of the 150,000-strong Armenian community may sway the outcome of the bitter and close race between the pro-Western government and the opposition led by Hezbollah, a Shia group backed by Syria and Iran.

In the run-up to the election, politicians from both blocs have been fighting for the Armenian votes.

But of the three Armenian parties, Tashnak enjoys most support and it has already made its choice, joining the Hezbollah-led alliance.

"What makes us strong is our unity. That's how we survive as a community, that's how we preserve our identity - and that's why I'll vote with everyone else," Mr Havatian says.

But voting for the opposition is also highly unusual for the Armenian community, which has traditionally gone with the government, not against it.

In Lebanon's confessional political system, Armenians - like other major religious and ethnic communities, have an assigned number of seats in parliament.

For years, these seven seats were always won by the Tashnak Party.

But in 2000, a new law backed by Prime Minister Rafik Hariri redrew the electoral map of Beirut, dividing the Armenian neighbourhoods among districts with Sunni Muslim majorities.

As a result the Tashnak party lost seats to lesser-known Armenians who supported the Sunni Muslim prime minister.

"We were forced to go to the opposition," says Tashnak MP Hagop Pakradounian. "We simply cannot trust the government anymore."

For the Tashnak party and its supporters, the June election is a chance to re-establish its parliamentary foothold.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

More toys for the army


According to the PA:

The US Embassy says the US will provide Lebanon will 12 unmanned military aircraft in the coming months.

Since 2006, the US has provided Lebanon with more than a billion dollars in assistance, including $410 million to support security.

The US hopes a strengthened Lebanese military would spread state authority across a country buffeted by political and sectarian divisions. An Embassy statement Tuesday said Lebanese air force members are training on the Raven.

Picture above: How to launch a Raven using the delicate steps of a ballerina. As part of the new cultural sensitivity approach favoured in the US, the Lebanese army will be taught to launch the drone while dancing the dabke.

Friday, 10 April 2009

So farewell, dear brother

A personal note. I want to say farewell to my dear brother Carlos who died last week. He fought for reason in a world that is cruel and brutal and shallow. He finally made that gesture of ultimate protest when he took his life. We lay him to rest on Saturday.

I have few words to describe the grief I feel, not just for Carlos, but for all those who have been taken before their time.

This from the revolutionary poet Percy Bysshe Shelley:

'And these words shall then become
Like Oppression's thundered doom
Ringing through each heart and brain,
Heard again - again - again -

'Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number -
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you -
Ye are many - they are few.'

US obsessed by July war

The US and Israel keep reminding us that they beat Hizbollah in the July 2006 war. Still all the news emerging from the Pentagon confirms what even the most simple minded Israeli politician knows—they lost, and lost bad.

So take a look at the row raging inside the US military, reported here in the Washington Post:

Soon after the fighting ended, some military officers began to warn that the short, bloody and relatively conventional battle foreshadowed how future enemies of the United States might fight.

Since then, the Defense Department has dispatched as many as a dozen teams to interview Israeli officers who fought against Hezbollah. The Army and Marine Corps have sponsored a series of multimillion-dollar war games to test how U.S. forces might fare against a similar foe.

U.S. military experts were stunned by the destruction that Hezbollah forces, using sophisticated antitank guided missiles, were able to wreak on Israeli armor columns.

Unlike the guerrilla forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, who employed mostly hit-and-run tactics, the Hezbollah fighters held their ground against Israeli forces in battles that stretched as long as 12 hours.

They were able to eavesdrop on Israeli communications and even struck an Israeli ship with a cruise missile.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Remove sectarianism

We don't teach history

The BBC notes that Lebanese schools don't teach modern history. But the radical left do (see below for meeting with Fuad Traboulsi, author of A History of Modern Lebanon)

The BBC story:

Modern history is not part of the curriculum in Lebanon and, just like thousands of other children, Kristina and Ali - who are both 14 - turn to their families for answers their history teacher cannot provide.

"When I want to know something, I ask my dad," Ali says.

Kristina, who comes from a different religious background, says she does the same.

Their history teacher does not like the arrangement but, in a country split along sectarian lines, she prefers to stick to it.

"Sometimes students ask about more recent events," she says, "but it's difficult to explain things to them without getting into sectarian divisions."

In Lebanon, children are not taught modern history because adults cannot agree on it.

Even the country's ancient history is a thorny issue.

Lessons of war

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Friday, 3 April 2009

Palestine archipelago


This extraordinary re-imagining of the occupied West Bank as an archipelago shows how Palestinian areas have become cut-off from each other by Israeli settlements, roads and checkpoints.

Helem in New York

Georges Azzi of Helem, the Lebanon's LGBT rights group, addressed a gathering in New York.

Azzi made clear that the struggle for equality is part of the wider resistance in the Arab world:

Helem opened its center to people displaced by the Second Lebanon War in 2006. The majority of those who sought refuge were Shiite Muslim, and Hezbullah representatives visited the center and other shelters to ensure they were receiving care.

"If it’s possible in Lebanon, its possible anywhere." Helem members also participated in marches and other protests against Israel’s incursion into the Gaza Strip earlier this year.

A front page article in Helem’s annual newsletter accused Arab leaders and the United Nations of "enjoying a massacre done with bestiality-something they don’t see every day." The article further opined the scenes from Gaza caused people around the world to demonstrate and even riot in the streets.

A handful of people walked out of a panel discussion at the LGBT Center in lower Manhattan on Tuesday on which Azzi was a panelist after a journalist asked him about the article.

Azzi was quick to point out it attacked the Israeli government-and not Israelis themselves. He added, however, he feels Helem has a responsibility to show what he described as solidarity with Gazans and those who spoke out against the Israeli incursion.

Stupid Arab rich lose $2.5 trillion

The AP reports that Arab world has lost some $2.5 trillion in the global slump created by toxic deals that the global rich seemed to think would grease their wheels for years to come. The total is probably bigger.

Forbes runs the story. Wonder what even a portion of this money could have done for the regions poor.

Read and weep:

Arab financial officials said Thursday that the global economic crisis had cost the region's investors about $2.5 trillion, offering a sobering look at the challenges confronting the region's leaders despite their repeatedly rosy assessments of their nations' ability to weather the financial downturn.

The comments at the start of a two-day Arab Economic Forum focused the spotlight on the damage done in a region that has enjoyed steady growth for the past few years.

Adnan al-Kassar, a leading Lebanese banker and former economy minister, said that among the effects of the crisis in the Arab world was a 20 to 60 percent drop in the region's top stock markets, the decrease in worker remittance revenues and the cancellation of mega projects.

But al-Kassar didn't specify whether the $2.5 trillion in losses also included sovereign wealth funds held by some of the countries. Those funds are secretive and the exact amount of their losses has not been revealed.

In tandem with the equity markets slump, the governments of many of the Arab world's top oil producers are seeing revenue fall as oil prices fell from mid-July highs of $147 per barrel to roughly $50 per barrel at present.

Crude revenues are a mainstay for many of these countries, and the slide is forcing Saudi Arabia, for example, to project a deficit for the first time in 2002.

On a near daily basis, Arab newspapers report layoffs, with some of the most troubling headlines coming from Dubai, the one-time Gulf boomtown now mired in debt.

The job creation issue is paramount for many of the Arab nations. With a surging youth population, Arab governments face daily challenges of providing opportunities to a population that is often courted by Islamists. The ensuing tug-of-war carries broad domestic and international security ramifications.

As a result, Arab nations - particularly in the oil rich Gulf - have been careful to ensure that layoffs stemming from the downturn hit the countries' expatriate workforce, not the much smaller national labor force.

Bahrain police riot

The BBC have posted footage of a police riot in Bahrain.

It the reports:

On 13 March at about 1530, unemployed dustman Muhammad says he stepped out into the street to join a peaceful demonstration to protest against brutality by the police forces.

Five minutes, later along with about 50 others, he says he was fired upon by members of the Bahraini security forces. He was hit in the legs with a shotgun blast.

Asked if he or the others had done anything to provoke or threaten the security police Muhammad (not his real name) replied "Absolutely not!"

"There was no violence," he insisted. "It was a peaceful demonstration. The police opened fire without provocation."

Video footage of the incident - supplied to the BBC by a Bahraini human rights organisation - would appear to corroborate Muhammad's account.

It shows a line of police standing near from a group of protesters carrying Bahraini flags. Suddenly and without any apparent cause, the police open fire.

Members of this island nation's Shia community say they had joined the protest against alleged police brutality.
Divisions in society

The tiny island kingdom of Bahrain is unique in the Arabian Peninsula in that it has a Shia majority, thought to be about 65% of the population.

But like the other Arab Gulf states the ruling elite is Sunni. And with the Shia Muslim-led Iran just across the Gulf and tensions growing between Islam's two largest sects, Shia here find themselves under suspicion.

Members of the ruling family and its Sunni supporters in parliament have long accused Iran of fomenting unrest in Bahrain. Bahraini Shia organisations say Iran has nothing to do with it. They say Shia have long been victims of discrimination.

They accuse members of the royal family of seizing Shia land, and point to poor housing, high unemployment and employment discrimination as the root causes of what is now becoming almost nightly rioting in their villages.

Tear gas, rubber bullets and stun bombs are used to quell disturbances, but the alleged use of live ammunition signals a trend that is disturbing many people in Bahrain.

Khalil al-Marzok MP, a member of a Shia political party and a leading activist, says excessive use of force is making a volatile situation ever more dangerous, particularly for young Shia men.

"There is an increasing level of force being used and all that is doing is creating anger and more violence."
Government response

In a statement, a spokesperson from the Interior Minister's office told the BBC that the use of shotguns against ordinary citizens is not permitted as a general policy.

"Their use is allowed only in rare cases under the law, such as when people's lives are in danger or when the use of force becomes the only means for the security forces to perform their duty," the statement says.

It says all security personnel are aware of this policy and obey it.

But evidence of the use of live fire has continued to emerge. On 27 March, three children aged of 11 to 14 were reportedly hit by shotgun pellets, including one who was badly injured.

"We want a dialogue and we are trying to persuade the authorities that the opportunity to talk is still there," says another Shia MP, Jasim Husain.

But he says the political will to make that happen is not coming from either the ruling family or the government.
"Without dialogue," he says "I'm not sure where this country is going."

Monday, 23 March 2009

Equality now


The Lebanese elections are coming up! Will the politicians listen to the real voices of their people? Article 534 of the Lebanese Penal Code criminalizes "sexual acts against nature" and is used to target homosexuals and promote a general public hatred towards LGBTs in Lebanon.

It is high time we strongly demand that the government remove this article and ensure equality for all its population without discrimination.

We are asking Lebanese people only (in Lebanon and abroad) to sign this petition so that we reach 10,000 citizens whose voices cannot be ignored in our country any longer. Gay or straight—it doesn't matter.

Our cause is about human dignity and the right to protection. It is time we all stood together and recognized that none of us are free until all of us are free.

Once this petition hits 10,000 people, we will send it to all 128 members of the Lebanese parliament (hopefully right after the elections in June), as well as to the parliamentary human rights committee, the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Interior, and Ministry of Social Affairs.

You can sign the petition online here.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Under 18's now admitted

The The BBC reports that the Lebanese parliament has finally lowered the voting age to 18... after many, many years. All that is needed is a constitutional amendment, apparently.

This could shift the electoral terrain, but not yet. According the the report:

It is expected to take several months and under-21s will not be able to vote parliamentary elections in June.

The measure is likely to benefit the Shia Muslim political groups Hezbollah and Amal who were pushing for a change.

The elections are expected to be hotly contested between Shia-led opposition allies and a Sunni-led pro-West bloc.

However, analysts believe the numbers of the Shia Muslim community are rising fastest, and gaining demographic strength at the expense of the once-dominant Christian community.

Some clauses of the electoral law were amended last year, but MPs initially opposed proposals for lowering the voting age and introducing a quota for women in parliament.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Cluster bombs... 2 years on

The BBC runs a report on the lasting legacy of Israel's cluster bombs.

Rasha is her mother's biggest helper.

Seated on the floor of their tiny house in Marake, a village in southern Lebanon, the girl slouches over a bag of thyme placed in front of her.

Her thin, well-trained fingers move fast as she sorts the herbs, separating leaves from the stems.

For Rasha's family, thyme is the main source of income. Her father, Mohammad, harvests the wild herbs, while women sort, dry and sell them.

But Rasha hates the chore, and the memories it brings back.

She was 15 when, two years ago, she picked out a round shiny object from a bag of thyme her father had brought home. It exploded right in the room.

"I'd heard of cluster bombs, I had seen posters of them in school - but how could I imagine that something like that was possible?" she asks.

Her mother, Alia, looks away as Rasha pulls up her jeans and shows me the result of the explosion - her left leg is missing.

"I can't look at it," the woman sighs. "I cry every time I give her a bath. I am worried how it will affect her future."

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Friday, 13 March 2009

Public lesson


Farah reports on the national protest by teachers in Beirut over cuts in health provisions.

Picture: A teacher uses a copy of al-Manchour to shield himself from the sun.

Friday, 6 March 2009

No tanks

Remember those M60 tanks the US promised the Lebanese army... well they don't work. And as for the Cobra helicopters... Isreal said "no".

Here's Haaretz:

According to American planning, Lebanon was supposed to receive M-60 tanks and 10 Cobra helicopters.

The tanks and the helicopters are parked for the moment in Jordan - part of old equipment that the Jordanian kingdom wants to replace.

Lebanese army experts who came to examine the equipment received the impression that the tanks are in need of comprehensive mechanical work and a large number of spare parts; in short, a substantial financial outlay.

They didn't even get to the Cobras, because Israel informed the Pentagon that it is vehemently opposed to letting the Lebanese army have such helicopters.

Israel's viewpoint when it comes to arming the Lebanese army is a decisive factor in the decisions of the U.S. administration.

"We don't have a conversation on these matters without considering the concerns of Israel and Israel's qualitative military edge. That's a U.S. commitment that we take very seriously," explained Chris Straub, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Near East and South Asia.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Rise of Hamas

Time magazine notes the rise of Hamas in Lebanon's refugee camps:

Even Mahmoud Abbas' more popular predecessor as Fatah leader, Yassir Arafat, struggled to sell the Oslo peace process to his supporters in Lebanon, where members of Fatah remained committed to armed struggle to "liberate Palestine" and still run guerrilla training academies.

These days, however, even that more hard-line Fatah stance is no longer enough for most Palestinians here. Even high-ranking officials of Abbas' own party fear that he will trade away their "Right of Return" to what is now Israel.

"Yassir Arafat went into negotiations with the olive branch in one hand and a weapon in the other hand," says one Beirut Fatah commander. "But all Mohammad Abbas does is negotiate. He gets nothing, but he keeps negotiating. Palestinians believe in military operations because they want to go back to Palestine. They don't want to negotiate."

Hamas, meanwhile, is continuing to grow. The movement uses its financial backing from Iran and other countries to build clinics, kindergartens, and social services centers in every camp.

And the refugees hear stories about leaders in the West Bank growing rich from embezzled international aid, while refugees see almost nothing in social services from the Palestinian Authority, which is controlled by Fatah.

"Fatah isn't helping people," says the Beirut Fatah commander. "Hamas is taking advantage of this. They are entering deep, deep into the population."

"We already lost Jordan and Syria," says another Fatah commander in Lebanon. "All of them sympathize with Hamas. If we lose Lebanon, then Fatah and all of what it represents will be over."

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Stepping out


Lebanon Now report on the LGBT protest in Saseen Square against anti gay violence:

Hundreds of people armed with rainbow flags and signs denouncing violence and discrimination against homosexuals and other minority groups in Lebanon gathered at Beirut’s Sodeco square amid pouring rain on Sunday afternoon for a demonstration.

The event, the first of its kind in the Arab world according to the organizers, was staged by the Beirut-based Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer (LGBTIQ) support organization Helem, and also featured representatives from Lebanese rights groups Kafa, KAFA, TYMAT and SIDC.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

MEA strikes over missing worker

From the AP:

Workers at Lebanon’s national carrier have briefly stopped work at Beirut’s airport, protesting an employee’s mysterious disappearance.

Wednesday’s one-hour-long strike by Middle East Airlines didn’t affect flights.

Computer engineer Joseph Sader went missing while on his way to work at Middle East Airlines two weeks ago. His family claims he was kidnapped by gunmen near the airport — located in a Shiite Muslim stronghold — but motives are unclear.

The government says it’s investigating.

Meanwhile, police say MEA pilot Ghassan Mekdad was found shot dead Wednesday in his car on a Beirut street. Authorities don’t believe the shooting is related to the carrier.

The two incidents come as tensions rise ahead of parliamentary elections in June.

What's wrong with the Israeli left?

Natalie Adler and Ron Oppenheim have written an excellent piece in Socialist Worker:

The Israeli left accepts the “necessity and legitimacy” of Israel’s existence.

The same people who will campaign for peace, want a halt to aggression towards the Palestinian civilians, and advocate returning the occupied territories also accept the lie that Hamas, the Palestinian resistance ­movement, is “backward and must be dealt with”.

So if Palestinian civilians are killed during a military operation it is because Hamas uses them as “human shields”, or because they “operate in densely populated” areas. This is why many left wing intellectuals in Israel supported the war on Gaza, as they did the 2006 war on Lebanon.

Many on the left would genuinely like to see Palestinians having freedom and a livelihood – but the moment that Israel’s existence comes into question, they are swept up by nationalism... more

Saturday, 14 February 2009

60 percent of Saudis cannot afford to buy home

The Arabian Business website reports:

Up to 60 percent of Saudis are unable to own their own homes and heads of nearly 35,000 Saudi families earn less than SR2,000 ($533) a month, it has been claimed.

Mufleh Al-Qahtani, president of the National Society of Human Rights (NHSR), made the comments after signing a memorandum of understanding with the Saudi Establishment for Education and Training (SEET), aimed at providing education and training to members of needy families.

He said NSHR had received complaints from many people about businesses denying them jobs despite having the necessary qualifications.

“When we investigated the reasons behind this, we found that the standard of training they received was poor while their educational qualifications were insufficient,” he said in comments published by Arab News on Friday.

The government has allocated SR10 billion to build low-cost housing in different parts of the country to meet the needs of the poor but Qahtani said the kingdom lacked regulations encouraging social service initiatives by individuals and organisations.

He said it was more important to provide education and training to change the situation of the poor rather than direct financial assistance.

Prince Abdullah bin Faisal bin Turki, chairman of SEET, said his organisation has been supporting nearly 12,000 young men and women, by providing them with scholarships in association with educational and training institutions in the country.

“We are trying to alleviate the suffering of certain needy families and individuals in terms of human rights and administrative procedures,” he said.