Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Masterclass In Box-Ticking

Just a week ago, Barack Obama was sworn as the 44th President of the United States. Long ago, during the infancy of his campaign, Obama was perceived as acutely sensitive to the Arab cause, befriending several leading Palestinians. This move was canceled out by a subservience to the Jewish lobby during great swaths of the election campaign but Obama looks set to become a man of actions as well as words, or so his first week in the Oval Office would have us believe.
Of course, the most impressive thing about Obama is his tacit humility and sympathy. Only an hour after his inaugural address, the President found himself issuing a statement denoting his hope that the recently stricken Senator Edward Kennedy would recover to a functional state. This is a man definitely wants to do good, to be seen in a positive light not just by his fellow Americans but also across the world.
It was under this context that Obama gave his first interview as President to Al Arabiya, promising that via "a language of respect," he would show that "Americans are not your enemy." While some political anlaysts have pinned up this reconcilliatory gesture as a nod to the Bush Administration, who offered an interview to the Saudi-owned network in 2004, Obama's words provoked a positive reaction in the Middle East. Hisham Melhem, the journalist who conducted the interview commented that, "the reaction has been phenomenal. People thought the president was sincere, authentic."
Obviously sincerity and authenticity are very small steps on the path to repairing America's tarnished image but they are on the trail nonetheless, something that Manouchehr Mottaki, Iranian Foreign Minister recognized, declaring, "we are in a turning point. We are at a milestone now." Given that those words came from a delegate of a government that was more a belligerent than an acquaintance of the Bush administration, their impact is huge. Even for there to be a possibility of normalization represents the change that Obama so often spoke of during his campaign. The Syrian state news agency reported that Al-Assad expressed "hope that dialogue would prevail to overcome the difficulties that have hindered real progress toward peace, stability and prosperity in the Middle East." In one fell swoop, Obama has captured the imagination of the world. Here we have a leader who at the very least will commence a program of actual dialogue. This desire to make amends was evidenced by the appointment of George Mitchell as Special Envoy to the Middle East. Within days, Mitchell had embarked on a tour of Israel, the West Bank, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia in the hope of solidfying a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.
However, voters back home will not reelect Obama if he does not solve America's economic problems. It appears he is aware of this circumstance and sides with the general populous, sending an important message that instead of an executive entwined with the oil industry, the United States would be served by a man with the interests of the people at his heart. After the release of the latest Wall Street bonus figures showed little change from the boom of 2004, Obama declared, "There will be time for them to make profits, and there will be time for them to get bonuses. Now is not that time. And that's a message that I intend to send directly to them." Indeed, Obama backed up his powerful words by ordering Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to cancel Citigroup's purchase of a new executive jet after recently having taken receipt of $45 billion as part of the government bailout plan.
For the last two years, Obama has spoken of change. Not limited to the two previous examples, Obama has made a real change even in the first two weeks of his presidency.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

I'll take the high road and you'll take the low road...

Israel today displayed its political savvy, declaring a unilateral ceasefire that will in theory end the Israeli atrocities in Gaza but in reality will only see an escalation to the dire plight of the Palestinians. The bombs will stop but whilst Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni gaze from the high road to hatred, the situation within the Gaza Strip will worsen. Israeli troops will remain deep inside the Gaza Strip, thereby intensifying the blockade that will be forgotten now that the Knesset has shown some compassion, making the first move towards peace. As to who they were competing with it is hard to say. Hamas, the Gaza Strip's democratically elected government has been destroyed bec ause it was not in line with Israeli principles. Many of its members are dead and its leader, Khaled Mashaal, is apparently exiled in Damascus, isolated from returning some political stability to the territory that under the rule of law is his to govern.
Instead, conscripts and reservists from the enemy will patrol the streets, ensuring that Hamas cannot regroup or resupply. There is no means for a free and fair election to establish government whilst Israeli troops roam the streets so it is fortunate that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon sees this only as a temporary solution, describing the ceasefire as "the first step leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza." Ban must be hoping that successive steps will involve a withdrawal also of Israeli planes from Gazan skies and Israeli boats from Gazan waters. So long as the blockade continues, revenge from Hamas will have real justification and anti-Western sentiment the world over will only continue to ferment.
Indeed, the War on Terror has failed to eliminate the root cause of the problem. In less than three years, Israel has killed around 3500 Palestinians and Lebanese whilst suffering just 49 civilian deaths. This is summary murder. When the number of Palestinians who died exceeds by far the number of rockets and mortars fired (750 apparently), things have gone beyond retaliation. Such barefaced disproportionality does nothing more than cause abject fury atthe Israeli cause and by extension, the financial and political backing of Western powers, the US and UK in particular. As long as the governments of those countries fail to condemn Israeli-perpetrated breaches of international law, terror attacks will continue and innocent people will continue to die, all while Israel is praised by Western leaders for its bold move to further the cause of peace in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Dedicated to the memory of Malcolm H. Kerr, October 8. 1931- January 18. 1984.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Self-Persecution is a Terrible Thing

Whilst the State of Israel has apparently been torn ragtag by Hamas rockets since the dawn of time, the local Jewish community recently fell victim to attack from one of their own.
At Hills Road Sixth Form College, Cambridge - where I am a Lower Sixth student -, there has been an undercurrent of support for human rights. The school has our own chapter of Amnesty International and also had two former students feature in international news coverage after climbing phone masts in Beijing in protest of PRC's treatment of the Tibetan people.
This undercurrent continued in the form of the Lower Sixth production, an adaptation of Fiddler on the Roof which in essence discusses the responsibility of Jews the world over to maintain their traditions even when impeded. Our Director, Richard Fredman - himself Jewish - seemed uncomfortable with a message that may be interpreted as Zionist within a defined secular education system. It was presumably for this reason that, at the end of the show, a video was shown featuring Israeli tanks and warplanes as well as soldiers rounding up Palestinians.
What followed was a hateful torrent from the local Jewish community. The video, according to a spokesperson of the Cambridge and Suffolk Jewish Community confirmed that Cambridge is an "institutionally anti-Jewish city," "a blot on cultural landscape." The spokesperson then slammed Mr Fredman as "misguided," an abuser of public funds. Julian Cohen-Gold, the father of one of my schoolmates, claimed that Fredman had no right to portray the "very strong political message," especially since it has "no parallel with the pogroms." The influential Jewish Chronicle saw requisite to throw its weight around and claimed that Mr Fredman had intentionally developed a piece of "anti-Zionist and even anti-Jewish propaganda." May I ask, how is it that a Jew can be anti-Jewish?
Mr Fredman thankfully recognised this propensity to find offense where where there was none and preemptively wrote in his programme notes, "I make no apology for dedicating this production to all people forced from their homes by intolerance, ignorance and fear." Mr Cohen-Gold must have been looking to avoid the parallels because they were pointed out to him in the program and then reinforced when the house lights went on at the end. Our principal, Ms. Sinclair offered a vague apology but reiterated that Mr Fredman had raised awareness of political and moral issues "with considerable success and with the college's full support".

I have never been the victim of self-persecution so perhaps I just cannot recognise the symptoms but nonetheless, I consider the depiction of our city, with thriving Muslim and East Asian districts, as a "blot on the cultural landscape" as an extremely offensive remark, especially because the nature of its origin was that the director of a high school musical rightly refused to fall into the political hypochondriac's mindset that seems to plague so many of his religious peers.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Great Escape

Yet again, it appears that the Israel government has gotten away with summary murder, riding above the realm of international law. During the ongoing incursion into the Gaza Strip, Israeli forces have destroyed international installations and killed countless civilians, knowingly in breach of the Geneva Conventions. This is the latest episode in a long succession of violations that have been almost continuous since the 1970s. The mere act of control over the borders of the Palestinian Territory's borders constitutes a de facto invasion and de jure occupation: Israeli troops are denying Palestinians access to food and other aid via a blockade supposedly aimed at deterring Hamas rockets. Such an action fails to realize that it also constricts the ability of the Palestinian Authority to govern the West Bank but more importantly does recognize that in practical terms, Hamas is the government of Gaza and that a cease in rocket attacks will only occur once Israeli forces the right of rule to Hamas, who in 2006 won a free and fair election and have also omitted their call for the destruction of Israel from their manifesto. Simply put, Ehud Olmert and his advisers have again failed to realize that terrorism and crime only escalate when infrastructure fails to exist. This failure led to humiliation in the invasion of Lebanon in 2006 and looks set to turn off the tap of goodwill towards Israel with Ban Ki-Moon demanding an immediate halt to military operations. Perhaps if the Israeli government followed the western model and tried those accused of terror in courts rather than executing summary justice, the bloodshed and condemnation would be avoided.
My use of the word condemnation perhaps is unjust for whilst Ban Ki-Moon and thus the UN are furious, that body matters little to Olmert. Outgoing President George W. Bush remained unflinching in his support of the Israeli cause, explaining how,"I understand Israel's desire to protect itself and that the situation now taking place in Gaza was caused by Hamas," whilst him imminent successor Barack Obama has not issued a statement supportive of either belligerent.
Gordon Brown remained agnostic, declaring a need for "security to both the Palestinian people and the Israeli people". This is broadly line with the opposition Conservatives as well as France's Nicolas Sarkozy. Indeed, only LibDem leader Nick Clegg called for an arms embargo and demanded that the Prime Minister condemn the wrongdoings of Israel, joined by China's Hu Jintao in criticising Israeli actions. Hugo Chavez completed the field of non-Middle Eastern political leaders and took very heavy action, expelling the Israeli ambassador. Unfortunately, that move will be of little consequence when Israeli's guardian angel fails to whisper in her ear that the needless violence must come to an end for things to progress.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Dr Mr President

Dr Mr President

I shall never know my grandfather, for no better reason than his country’s continued financial and political support of Israel’s incursions into and invasions of large parts of Lebanese territory. My grandfather, Malcolm H. Kerr died when he was shot by two Hezbollah gunmen outside his office on the campus of the American University of Beirut on January 18 1984 as a result of an order issued by the Islamic Republic of Iran to rid Lebanon of so-called “infidels.”
That decree would likely never have been passed had US sponsorship for abusive governments and regimes not continued throughout the second half of the 20th Century. The Shah of Iran, a western sympathizer was guilty of huge human rights abuses as well as inefficient rule, the combination of which can be attributed to the rise of the Islamic Revolution that saw fanaticism stew across the Middle East. More pressingly, since the days of Ariel Sharon, Israel has adopted a policy beyond international law in terms of so-called “retaliation” against the civilians of the Palestinian Territories and Lebanon.
Likewise, the two greatest beneficiaries of US Foreign Aid, Israel and Egypt are controlled by Washington-leaning, repressive governments. Hosni Mubarak et al have rounded up many members of the Muslim Brotherhood as a subsequent favour to George W. Bush’s administration. Israel, by far the greatest recipient of US foreign aid has used the money to develop perhaps the most ruthlessly efficient military in the Eastern Mediterranean and the wider Middle East. This military they have used to invade Lebanon and run rampant over the beleaguered Palestinians. The systematic elimination of the remnants of Palestine has continued for well over 25 years and yet our great country, the only one with real power to bring it to a halt just stands by. Of course, this creates massive animosity for the US and Israel amongst not only Islamic fundamentalists but civilians the world over. This January of 2009, a Danish man shot two Israelis in Odense as some sort of mitigation of the Israeli bombing of Palestine and yet America allows the slaughter to go on. So long as that is the case, civilians will take the law into their own hands. For the stability of our country and the world, please act now Mr President.`
Mr President, your olad friend Jeremiah Wright was right, if blunt in describing the terrible attacks of September 11th 2001 as “chickens coming home to roost.” What should have been perceived as a wake-up call was coloured instead as an excuse for the killing to continue. My heart goes out to the families of the soldiers who gave their lives for freedom and liberty but those were not the motives their commanders had in mind. Does anybody know how many civilians have died not only in Iraq but in Afghanistan too?
Mr President, so long as our country continues to sponsor the Israeli persecution of Palestine, innocent civilians, American and otherwise will continue to needlessly die. 230 civilians were killed on the first day of the Israeli Air Force’s current bombing campaign. The replying salvos of rockets penetrated an Israeli school that was thankfully closed for the day. Hundreds of children would have otherwise died because their government had, using American money, set off an awful chain reaction. The same people that witness daily the Israeli Army-perpetrated abuses of Palestinians suffer as a result of their government’s morbid policy.
Mr President, you have a wonderful opportunity to restore some kind of normalcy to a region of the world that was once so impressive as to foster three of the world’s strongest religions. Not since Jimmy Carter has any President been willing to talk to those countries regarded as enemies. I assure you that a great deal of your popularity outside the borders of the United States derives purely from your billing as a man who will institute a more intelligent, even-handed foreign policy. In a poll of non-Americans, 75% of the sample preferred you to your adversaries due to this. If we extend this trend across the whole world of non-Americans, 4.5 billion people believe that you are the man to steady the ship. It is true that your duty is to the American people so bear this in mind: Dozens of families lost loved ones in Lebanon. Many thousands more lost loved ones because their sons and daughters fought for what was an apparently justified cause in various theatres across the Middle East and yet still, the root cause of the problem, Israel’s unchecked extermination of the Palestinian people continues to be so by their greatest benefactor. All you have to do is condition their aid package and the killing will fall away.
Mr President, it is in your interest to constrict our tax-funded aid package to Israel. This would eventually lead to an end to the illegal Israeli land, sea and air blockades of the Palestinian territories, opening up mental and actual trade routes to two of the world’s most resilient economies in the face of the global financial crises, Iran and Lebanon. Instead, that possibility is marred by the persistence of the Jewish lobby whilst also diverting funds to Tel Aviv that will ultimately taint the hands of our country’s taxpayers, a country that since 2003 has been trying to repair its so awfully broken image.
We elected you as the man to help us with that process.
Mr President, the international community has pleaded with the Israeli government to bring a close to the slaughter. You have to opportunity to bring down the role of America as a perpetrator and instigator of violence and warfare in the Middle East. If I, a 17 year-old, can recognise this then so surely does the man who was once a hero to me.