Archive for October 2007
If you were Palestinian, you would too.
By Stephen Gowans
Mandate Palestine, the territory that now comprises Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, was still very much Arab when the British transferred its control of the territory to the UN in 1947. Two-thirds of the population was Arab and only six percent of the cultivable land was in Jewish hands.
The UN initially considered creating one democratic state in Palestine whose future would be determined by a majority vote of the population, the same proposal put forward by Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad today.
But the UN abandoned the proposal in favor of partition, which the British favored and the Jewish population accepted. The views of the Arabs – the majority – were ignored.
The UN plan assigned over one-half of the territory to the Jewish one-third of the population and 42 percent to the Arab two-thirds – a highly unbalanced and unfair partition, but more than that, illegal and immoral for being forced on the majority over its vehement objections.
The Arabs, understandably, were aggrieved. But their reasons to be aggrieved were soon to grow more numerous.
War broke out between the two populations soon after the UN partition plan was announced in 1947. Six months later, 800,000 Palestinians had either been forcibly expelled from their homes by the Jewish militia, the Haganah, or had fled, later to be prevented from returning. The Jewish population now claimed 80 percent of the territory, an addition of a further 24 percent to the already unbalanced 56 percent pledged by the UN.
It doesn’t take an ethicist or jurist to see that the creation of Israel was an illegal and immoral act, and that Arab Palestinian hatred of Israel, and a desire to see Israel’s dissolution, is not rooted in irrational hatred or anti-Semitism, but in dispossession.
In 1967, Israel gobbled up the remaining 20 percent of ex-Mandate Palestine it hadn’t conquered in 1948. The call for Israel to withdraw to its pre-1967 borders – a plea made by many liberals and progressives as a solution for “peace in the Middle East” – does nothing to address the original ethnic cleansing of 1948, and could hardly, therefore, constitute a just, equitable or even practical solution.
Partition, the solution put forward since 1947, has never worked, not even when the Arab majority was promised 42 percent of the territory. To declare as workable a partition plan that promises a Bantustan-like state on 15 percent of ex-Mandate Palestine and a permanent surrender of the Palestinian right to return is astonishingly naïve.
Apart from dispossession as a reason for hating Israel, Palestinians have other, more quotidian and visceral reasons. These are starkly illustrated in an October 21 2007 Observer article by Conal Urquhart, excerpted below. The article describes, in the words of Israeli soldiers, the brutal and inhuman treatment they mete out to Arab Palestinians in the occupied Gaza Strip and West Bank.
“Nufar Yishai-Karin, a clinical psychologist at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, interviewed 21 Israeli soldiers and heard confessions of frequent brutal assaults against Palestinians, aggravated by poor training and discipline. In her recently published report, co-authored by Professor Yoel Elizur, Yishai-Karin details a series of violent incidents, including the beating of a four-year-old boy by an officer.
“The soldiers described dozens of incidents of extreme violence. One recalled an incident when a Palestinian was shot for no reason and left on the street. ‘We were in a weapons carrier when this guy, around 25, passed by in the street and, just like that, for no reason – he didn’t throw a stone, did nothing – bang, a bullet in the stomach, he shot him in the stomach and the guy is dying on the pavement and we keep going, apathetic. No one gave him a second look,’ he said.
“The soldiers developed a mentality in which they would use physical violence to deter Palestinians from abusing them. One described beating women. ‘With women I have no problem. With women, one threw a clog at me and I kicked her here [pointing to the crotch], I broke everything there. She can’t have children. Next time she won’t throw clogs at me. When one of them [a woman] spat at me, I gave her the rifle butt in the face. She doesn’t have what to spit with any more.’
“Yishai-Karin found that the soldiers were exposed to violence against Palestinians from as early as their first weeks of basic training. On one occasion, the soldiers were escorting some arrested Palestinians. The arrested men were made to sit on the floor of the bus. They had been taken from their beds and were barely clothed, even though the temperature was below zero. The new recruits trampled on the Palestinians and then proceeded to beat them for the whole of the journey. They opened the bus windows and poured water on the arrested men.
“Yishai-Karin, in an interview with Haaretz, described how her research came out of her own experience as a soldier at an army base in Rafah in the Gaza Strip. She interviewed 18 ordinary soldiers and three officers whom she had served with in Gaza. The soldiers described how the violence was encouraged by some commanders. One soldier recalled: ‘After two months in Rafah, a [new] commanding officer arrived… So we do a first patrol with him. It’s 6am, Rafah is under curfew, there isn’t so much as a dog in the streets. Only a little boy of four playing in the sand. He is building a castle in his yard. He [the officer] suddenly starts running and we all run with him. He was from the combat engineers.
“’He grabbed the boy. I am a degenerate if I am not telling you the truth. He broke his hand here at the wrist, broke his leg here. And started to stomp on his stomach, three times, and left.”
Liberal Israelis fervently deplore the treatment of Palestinians by the Israel military and find revelations such as these to be deeply distressing. Most, however, are Zionist, and no matter how much they disapprove of the brutality of the occupation are not prepared to consider, or provide redress, to the events of 1948 – the root of Palestinian hatred of Israel. Forcing the Israeli military to live up to its rhetoric about being the most ethical military in the world, will not put an end to Palestinian hatred.
If the neutral left is really neutral, why does it keep coming down hard on the West’s official enemies while ignoring the West’s henchmen?
By Stephen Gowans
Many left activists and progressives claim to be equally opposed to oppression, whether practiced by the friends of imperialist powers or their enemies, but are virtually silent on the well documented oppressions of such US client states as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Ethiopia, while exhibiting an uncritical zeal in denouncing the enemies of Anglo-American imperialism, often for crimes that have been exaggerated or invented to be used as pretexts for Western intervention and fulfillment of imperialist goals.
There is no better illustration of this tendency to profess principled neutrality while regularly exhibiting a pro-imperialist bias, than the current obsession with the alleged genocide in Darfur and the claims of unjustified political oppression in Zimbabwe, while a virtually unremarked series of crimes and oppressions is carried out by the US and British client government of Meles Zenawi in Ethiopia.
In an anti-guerilla war conducted in the country’s Ogaden region, “Ethiopian troops are burning villages, raping women and killing civilians as part of a systematic campaign to drive them from their homes.” Refugees say dozens of villages have been destroyed and have “accused the Ethiopian government of forcibly starving its own people by preventing food convoys reaching villages and destroying crops and livestock.”*
“A former Ethiopian soldier who defected from the army said how he had been ordered to burn villages and kill all their inhabitants. He said the Ethiopian air force would bomb a village before a unit of ground troops followed, firing indiscriminately at civilians. ‘Men, women, children – we killed them all,’ he said.”
The little-known conflict in Ogaden parallels the more widely known war in Darfur. The conflict began when rebels killed scores of Ethiopian guards and Chinese employees at a Chinese-run oil field. The government replied with a harsh crackdown.
“Human rights investigators are gathering evidence of widespread use of rape, with women reporting gang-rapes by up to a dozen soldiers. In some villages, men have been abducted at night, their bodies dumped in the village the next morning.
“While in Darfur, aid agencies have been able to establish camps and provide humanitarian support, they have been blocked from setting up operations in the Ogaden. The International Committee of the Red Cross has been thrown out and Medicins Sans Frontieres has also been prevented from working. Journalists trying to enter have also been banned – those that have tried have been promptly arrested.”
But while neutral leftists have worked themselves into a state of high moral dudgeon over Sudan’s counter-insurgency in Darfur, which “has been described by the US as ‘genocide’ and by the UN as ‘crimes against humanity’”, they have been virtually silent on Ethiopia, a recipient of US and British military and humanitarian aid.
“America’s top official on African affairs, assistant secretary of state, Jendayi Frazer, visited one town in the Ogaden last month.
“On her return to Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, she criticized the rebels and said the reports of military abuses were merely allegations. ‘We urge any and every government to respect human rights and to try to avoid civilian casualties but that’s difficult in dealing with an insurgency,’ she said.”
The West’s official enemies are never allowed the same latitude in dealing with their own (often US and British financed and instigated) insurgencies – a double standard backed by neutral leftists through their voluble condemnations of the anti-insurgency efforts of official enemies and comparative silence on those of Western client states.
“The US provides some $283m (£140m) in military and humanitarian aid to Ethiopia and has trained its military – one of the largest and strongest in Africa.”
Compare Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe with Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. For trying to invest Zimbabwean independence with real content (land reform and indigenization of the economy), Mugabe has been calumniated by British and US officials and the Western media as a strongman who will do anything to stay in power, from stealing elections to repressing the opposition. The elections Mugabe was said to have stolen were endorsed by the South African Development Community, an organization of neighboring states, and the opposition operates freely, despite being openly backed and financed by Western powers in pursuit of a regime-change, anti-independence agenda.
For doing the West’s bidding in the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia’s Meles is showered with US and British aid and was handpicked by Tony Blair to sit on Britain’s Commission for Africa, to lead the “African renaissance.” Neutral leftists say little about “the British Government’s – and the West’s – favorite African leader”, channeling their energies instead into calling on the US to intervene militarily in Darfur and in competing to see who can exercise the greatest stridency in denouncing the Mugabe government (contributing to the program of ushering Mugabe and his pro-independence policies out and the MDC and its pro-Western dependence policies in.) Somehow, the end result of all this is to put the West more firmly in control of Africa.
And yet the political repressions of which Mugabe is accused are practiced ardently by Meles. Indeed, even if every charge leveled against Mugabe were true (and most are not), he would still be an angel against Meles.
Following Ethiopia’s May 2005 general election, which the opposition claimed was rigged, “security forces opened fire on protesters, killing 193 people.” Thousands of opposition supporters and leaders were rounded up and thrown in jail.
“More than 100 opposition leaders were put on trial for treason while the police crackdown intensified. Text messages, which had been used to organize the demonstrations in 2005, were banned.”
The state asked that the death penalty be imposed on 38 opposition leaders, including the founder of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council, a former UN war crimes prosecutor and the mayor-elect of Addis Ababa. The court rejected the prosecution’s recommendation, but sentenced the opposition leaders to life imprisonment. They were later freed, but only after the US intervened.
“Britain still gives Ethiopia £130m in humanitarian aid each year – more than any other African country,” while carrying out an unremitting campaign of demonization against Robert Mugabe and blocking Zimbabwe’s access to international credit.
How it is it that Meles, who has carried out much graver crimes than any Mugabe has been accused of, is showered with honors and humanitarian aid, while Mugabe is treated as Africa’s version of Hitler and his country is subjected to a campaign of economic warfare?
The answer lies in the reality that Meles acts as Washington’s attack dog in the Horn of Africa, invading Somalia to put down a pro-independence government, while Mugabe pursues an independent foreign policy and implements reforms to give Zimbabwean independence meaningful content.
How is that many left activists and progressives, though professing neutrality, channel much of their energy into campaigns deploring the official enemies of Anglo-American imperialism, while remaining virtually silent on oppressions carried out by US and British client states?
The answer has much to the do with the media and how left activists and progressives react to it. The news media are structured to report on what state officials say and do. To garner support for their policies, state officials make public statements on issues they want to draw public attention to, while steering clear of events they prefer remain unnoticed. Because Western state officials make frequent references to Zimbabwe, and few, if any, to Ethiopia, dozens of media news stories appear on Zimbabwe for every one that appears on Ethiopia. In this way, state officials, working through the media, are able to establish a public agenda, not only for the media but for the neutral left to follow – one which places Mugabe scores of rungs ahead of Meles, and Darfur much higher than Ogaden. Left activists and progressives talk about Mugabe and Darfur because the media do and the media do because Western state officials do. But neutral leftists hardly ever talk about Meles and Ogaden because the media hardly do, and the media hardly do because Western state officials almost never do (and don’t want to.) The result is that while professing neutrality, many left activists and progressives have been unwittingly recruited into agendas set in Washington and London.
These are the conditions that, in part, lead the neutral left to channel considerable energy into denouncing the official enemies of Western governments, while spending little time talking about or campaigning against oppressive regimes that receive Western aid and support. Neutral leftists are quick to denounce the military government of Myanmar (an official enemy) for its crackdown on a religious group, while saying virtually nothing about the military government of Pakistan (a client state) for an equally bloody crackdown on a religious group. Neutral leftists are acutely sensitive to the humanitarian crisis in Darfur (officially condemned), while saying virtually nothing about the much larger humanitarian crisis in Iraq (officially ignored) or the humanitarian crisis in Ogaden (also officially ignored.) Neutral leftists say virtually nothing about Meles Zenawi, a strongman accused of rigging elections who threatens political opponents with the death penalty, has invaded another country, and carries out crimes against humanity within his own borders (and is supported by the West) while spitting out contempt for Robert Mugabe, who has done none of these things (but isn’t supported by the West).
In all it does, despite professions of neutrality, the neutral left is pro-imperialist, not neutral. The moment its members devote half as much energy to railing against the governments of Egypt, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey as they do against Zimbabwe, the Taliban, north Korea, Belarus and Iran, will be the moment their claims to support neither imperialism nor its official enemies unconditionally become something more substantial than deceptive rhetoric.
* All quotes from Steve Bloomfield, “Ethiopia’s ‘own Darfur’ as villagers flee government-backed violence,” The Independent, October 17, 2007, http://news.independent.co.uk/world/africa/article3067244.ece
By Stephen Gowans
As he stepped off his plane at the Minsk airport two summers ago to begin a two-day visit to Belarus, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez pointed to a connection between his country and that of his host, President Alexander Lukashenko. “Belarus,” he declared, “is a model of a social state, which we are also building.” (1) That Chavez’s model state exists in an infrequently remarked upon corner of Europe may be a surprise to most admirers of the Bolivarian Revolution.
Called Europe’s last dictator by Condoleezza Rice and a “brother in arms” by Chavez (2), Lukashenko oversees over a “socially-oriented market economy” in which 80 percent of the enterprises are state-owned and collective farms still feed the country.
He has “presided over a continual increase in real wages for several years…cut the (value added tax), brought down inflation, halved the number of people in poverty”…and created “the fairest distribution of incomes of any country in the region.” (3)
He has done “what the conventional wisdom in the West says is not possible: maintaining a state run economy with one of the strongest growth rates in Europe, generating increases in wages and pensions, boosting productivity and minimizing the disparities in wealth that have destabilized so many of the former Soviet republics in their transition to market economies.” (4)
What may be equally surprising to Chavez admirers is that Lukashenko has done all this by “steadily turn(ing) Belarus into a miniature version of the Soviet Union, with a state-run economy.” (5)
The only deputy of the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic to vote against the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, Lukashenko talks fondly of the Soviet Union — “my country,” he called it in 2005 before the UN General Assembly. (6) Statues of Lenin and busts of Stalin — some newly erected — can still be found in Belarus.
This hardly sits well with state officials in the West who accuse Lukashenko of stealing elections and smothering democracy – the usual charge leveled against leaders who haven’t signed on to the project of fattening the bottom lines of Western corporations and investment banks at the expense of their own people. Lukashenko wins elections by landslides because he is widely popular, and he’s widely popular because he puts the interests of Belarus’ people first.
So Washington and London fund subversion projects under the guise of promoting democracy, funneling millions of dollars to youth groups, anti-Lukashenko media and opposition parties to bring down the government. The New York Times remarked that in the last presidential election the US and British-backed opposition “seemed not to be running an election campaign, as much as they (were) trying to organize an uprising.” (7)
The opposition failed miserably, both at the polls and in the streets.
Check out Stewart Parker’s new book, The Last Soviet Republic: Alexander Lukashenko’s Belarus (http://www.belarussolidaritycampaign.co.uk/) as well as “Belarus struggles to defend workers’ interests” in the latest issue of Proletarian http://www.cpgb-ml.org/index.php?secName=proletarian&subName=display&art=338 .
Both go a long way to setting the record straight on the hold-out Soviet republic Chavez calls a model of a social state.
1. New York Times, July 24, 2006
2. Financial Times, August 2, 2007.
3. Times Online, March 10, 2006.
4. Los Angeles Times, March 19, 2006.
5. New York Times, January 1, 2006.
6. Lukashenko address to the 60th Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations, September 15, 2005.
7. New York Times, January 1, 2006.
Tim Beal and Don Borrie challenge the view that north Korea’s recent economic difficulties are attributable to mismanagement, pointing to new sanctions as the likely cause of economic contraction after seven consecutive years of growth.
One of the advantages of sanctions for US foreign policy, they write, is that its effects, “those malnourished babies – can be blamed on the Koreans, which in turn is produced as evidence that the sanctions are desirable and necessary.”
See the Pyongyang Report
By Stephen Gowans
There is a major cleavage among the politically active members of the left between those who identify with the working class across all borders (the working class internationalists) and those who defend governments or movements engaged in anti-imperialist struggles (the anti-imperialists.) Since governments engaged in anti-imperialist struggles are most often not working class governments, or are, but are not always seen as such, these two groups are regularly at odds with each other. The anti-imperialists are accused of being thug-huggers while the working class internationalists are accused of being pro-imperialist.
While it is true that anti-imperialists do sometimes spring to the defense of thugs, it should be noted that they don’t spring to the defense of thugs simply because they’re thugs. Defending a thug (Saddam Hussein, for example) from the unjustified aggression of another county is hardly thug-hugging. If it were, one could say that a person who defends a child abuser from spousal abuse is a child abuse supporter. This is logically untenable, and yet it is not unusual to hear it said that defending the Iranian government from the aggression of the US and Britain amounts to defending holocaust-denial or misogyny or working class repression.
At the same time, it should be made clear that many of the people anti-imperialists spring to the defense of are not thugs, though it is common practice for imperialist governments to depict them as such. Working class internationalists frequently discourage critical examination of pro-imperialist propaganda by denouncing those who dare challenge official demonology as pro-fascist leftists and supporters of dictators and tyrants.
By comparison, working class internationalists are frequently willing to accept the charges leveled at targeted countries by imperialist governments at face value. This amounts to an inexcusable dereliction of critical thought, since it is standard practice for aggressor states to demonize targets to enlist public support for their aggressions and for the US and Britain to lie to justify their aggressions (WMDs in Iraq being the most conspicuous recent example.) This ought to be obvious to anyone with a modicum of good sense. Turning a blind eye to the accustomed fabulousness of great powers may make it easier to live with one’s government, but it should hardly be a trait embraced by those who consider themselves to be politically left.
While working class internationalists argue that unlike anti-imperialists they act independently of the judgments made by Washington and London about the governments of foreign countries, the truth of the matter is that they operate within a frame established by the US. They uncritically accept the demonology of aggressor states and work to promote the demonology as a legitimate part of the leftist project. That they are most vociferous in denouncing imperialist targets at precisely the time their own governments are gearing up for aggressions against other states and wish to win public opinion to their side either calls their motivations into question or paints them as gullible. Their ardent denunciation of official targets in the run-up to war and comparative silence on anti-working class governments that operate as subordinate members of imperialist blocs likewise calls their sincerity into question or suggests they’re dupes. You’ll hear working class internationalists rail vigorously against Mugabe but will hear not a peep from them about Mubarak. They’ll anguish more over Darfur than over Iraq (though Iraq’s humanitarian crisis is more profound than Darfur’s.)
Working class internationalists also profess fealty to the working classes of other countries, but work, through their amplification of pro-imperialist demonology, to support imperialist interventions in other countries which harm the working classes in those countries. Working class internationalists who echoed NATO denunciations of Slobodan Milosevic did nothing to help the Yugoslav working class, and much to harm it. Serbs are now saddled with a harsh neo-liberal regime of the sort Milosevic’s government eventually resisted. Working class internationalists who echo pro-imperialist diatribes against Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF government in Zimbabwe help justify interventions that, if successful, will lead to reversal of land reforms, privatizations and the anti-working class tyranny of the IMF.
Working class internationalists may be sincere in their devotion to the working class but their actions do little to help the class they profess fealty to and much to strengthen the corporate rich of their own country. As Germans they would have gladly joined Hitler in his pre-invasion denunciation of the Polish government, arguing that the Polish government, no friend of the working class, was no friend of theirs, and deserved to be toppled.