Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Transformation of HAMAS


Something is stirring within the Hamas body politic, a moderating trend that, if nourished and engaged, could transform Palestinian politics and the Arab-Israeli peace process. There are unmistakable signs that the religiously based radical movement has subtly changed its uncompromising posture on Israel. Although low-key and restrained, those shifts indicate that the movement is searching for a formula that addresses the concerns of Western powers yet avoids alienating its social base.
Far from impulsive and unexpected, Hamas's shift reflects a gradual evolution occurring over the past five years. The big strategic turn occurred in 2005, when Hamas decided to participate in the January 2006 legislative elections and thus tacitly accepted the governing rules of the Palestinian Authority (PA), one of which includes recognition of Israel. Ever since, top Hamas leaders have repeatedly declared they will accept a resolution of the conflict along the 1967 borders. The Damascus-based Khaled Meshal, head of Hamas's political bureau and
considered a hardliner, acknowledged as much in 2008. "We are realists," he said, who recognize that there is "an entity called Israel." Pressed by an Australian journalist on policy changes Hamas might make, Meshal asserted that the organization has shifted on several key points: "Hamas has already changed–we accepted the national accords for a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, and we took part in the 2006 Palestinian elections."
Another senior Hamas leader, Ghazi Hamad, was more specific than Meshal, telling journalists in January 2009 that Hamas would be satisfied with ending Israeli control over the Palestinian areas occupied in the 1967 war–the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. In other words, Hamas would not hold out for liberation of the land that currently includes Israel.
Previously Hamas moderates had called at times for a tahdia (a minor truce, or "calm") or hudna (a longer-term truce, lasting as long as fifty years), which implies some measure of recognition, if only tacit. The moderates justified their policy shift by using Islamic terms (in Islamic history hudnas sometimes develop into permanent truces). Now leaders appear to be going further; they have made a concerted effort to re-educate the rank and file about the necessity of living side by side with their Jewish neighbors, and in so doing mentally prepare them for a permanent settlement. In Gaza's mosques pro-Hamas clerics have begun to cite the example of the famed twelfth-century Muslim military commander and statesman Saladin, who after liberating Jerusalem from the Crusaders allowed them to retain a coastal state in the Levant. The point is that if Saladin could tolerate the warring, bloodthirsty Crusaders, then today's Palestinians should be willing to live peacefully with a Jewish state in their midst.
The Saladin story is important because it provides Hamas with religious legitimacy and allows it to justify the change of direction to followers. Hamas's raison d'être rests on religious legitimation; its leaders understand that they neglect this at their peril. Western leaders and students of international politics should acknowledge that Hamas can no more abandon its commitment to Islamism than the United States can abandon its commitment to liberal democracy. That does not mean Hamas is incapable of change or compromise but simply that its political identity is strongly constituted by its religious legitimation.
It should be emphasized as well that Hamas is not monolithic on the issue of peace. There are multiple, clashing viewpoints and constituencies within the movement. Over the years I have interviewed more than a dozen leaders inside and outside the occupied territories. Although on the whole Hamas's public rhetoric calls for the liberation of all of historic Palestine, not only the territories occupied in 1967, a healthy debate has grown both within and without.
Several factors have played a role in the transformation. They include the burden of governing a war-torn Gaza and the devastation from Israel's 2008-09 attack, which has caused incalculable human suffering and increasing public dissatisfaction in Gaza with Hamas rule.
Before the 2006 parliamentary elections, Hamas was known for its suicide bombers, not its bureaucrats, even though between 2002 and 2006 the organization moved from rejectionism toward participation in a political framework that is a direct product of the Oslo peace process of the 1990s. After the elections, the shift continued. "It is much more difficult to run a government than to oppose and resist Israeli occupation," a senior Hamas leader told me while on official business in Egypt in 2007. "If we do not provide the goods to our people, they'll disown us." Hamas is not just a political party. It's a social movement, and as such it has a long record of concern about and close attention to public opinion. Given the gravity of deteriorating conditions in Gaza and Hamas's weak performance during last year's fighting, it should be no surprise that the organization has undergone a period of fairly intense soul-searching and reassessment of strategic options.
Ironically, despite the West's refusal to regard the Hamas government as legitimate and despite the continuing brutal siege of Gaza, demands for democratic governance within Gaza are driving change. Yet Hamas leaders are fully aware of the danger of alienating more-hardline factions if they show weakness or water down their position and move toward de facto recognition of Israel without getting something substantive in return.
Hamas's strategic predicament lies in striking a balance between, on the one hand, a new moderating and maturing sensibility and, on the other, insistence on the right and imperative of armed resistance. This difficult balance often explains the tensions and contradictions in Hamas's public and private pronouncements.
What is striking about Hamas's shift toward the peace process is that it has come at a time of critical challenges from Al Qaeda-like jihadist groups; a low-intensity civil war with rival Fatah, the ruling party of the PA; and a deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza.
Last summer a militant group called Jund Ansar Allah, or the Warriors of God, one of a handful of Al Qaeda-inspired factions, declared the establishment of an Islamic emirate in Gaza–a flagrant rejection of Hamas's authority. Hamas security forces struck instantly and mercilessly at the Warriors, killing more than twenty members, including the group's leader, Abdel-Latif Moussa. In one stroke, the Hamas leadership sent a message to foes and friends alike that it will not tolerate global jihadist groups like Al Qaeda, which want to turn Gaza into a theater of transnational jihad.
Despite the crushing of Moussa's outfit, the extremist challenge persists. The Israeli siege, in place since 2006, along with the suffering and despair it has caused among Gaza's 1.4 million inhabitants, has driven hundreds of young Palestinians into the arms of small Salafist extremist factions that accuse Hamas of forfeiting the armed struggle and failing to implement Shariah law. Hamas leaders
appear to be worried about the proliferation of these factions and have instructed clerics to warn worshipers against joining such bands.
Compared with these puritanical and nihilistic groups, Hamas is well within the mainstream of Islamist politics. Operationally and ideologically, there are huge differences between Hamas and jihadi extremists such as Al Qaeda–and there's a lot of bad blood. Hamas is a broad-based religious/nationalist resistance whose focus and violence is limited to Palestine/Israel, while Al Qaeda is a small, transnational terrorist network that has carried out attacks worldwide. Al Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri have vehemently criticized Hamas for its willingness to play politics and negotiate with Israel. Hamas leaders have responded that they know what is good for their people, and they have made it crystal clear they have no interest in transnational militancy. Their overriding goal is political and nationalist rather than ideological and global: to empower Palestinians and liberate the occupied Palestinian territories.
Unlike Al Qaeda and other fringe factions, Hamas is a viable social movement with an extensive social network and a large popular base that has been estimated at several hundred thousand. Given its tradition of sensitivity and responsiveness to Palestinian public opinion, a convincing argument could be made that the recent changes in the organization's conduct can be attributed to the high levels of poverty, unemployment and isolation of Palestinians in Gaza, who fear an even greater deterioration of conditions there.
A further example of Hamas's political and social priorities is its decision to agree in principle to an Egyptian-brokered deal that sketches out a path to peace with Fatah. After two years of bitter and violent division, the warring parties came very close to agreement in October. The deal collapsed at the last moment, but talks continue. There are two points to make about the Egyptian role: first, Hamas leaders say they feel somewhat betrayed by the Egyptians because after pressure from the Americans, Cairo unilaterally revised the final agreed-upon text without consulting the Hamas negotiating team. Second, many Palestinian and Arab observers think Egypt is in no hurry to conclude the Fatah-Hamas talks. They contend that faced with regional challenges and rivals (Iran, Turkey, Syria and Saudi Arabia), the Mubarak regime views its brokering process in the Palestinian-Israeli theater as an important regional asset and a way to solidify its relationship with Washington.
Despite its frequently reactionary rhetoric, Hamas is a rational actor, a conclusion reached by former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy, who also served as Ariel Sharon's national security adviser and who is certainly not a peacenik. The Hamas leadership has undergone a transformation "right under our very noses" by recognizing that "its ideological goal is not attainable and will not be in the foreseeable future," Halevy wrote in the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot just before the 2008 attack on Gaza. He believes Hamas is ready and willing to accept the establishment of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. The US Army Strategic Studies Institute published a similar analysis just before the Israeli offensive, concluding that Hamas was considering a shift of its position and that "Israel's stance toward [Hamas]…has been a major obstacle to substantive peacemaking."
Indeed, it could be argued that Hamas has moved closer to a vision of peace consistent with international law and consensus (two separate states in historic Palestine, divided more or less along the '67 borders with East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, and recognition of all states in the region) than the current Israeli governing coalition. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vehemently opposes the establishment of a genuinely viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, and is opposed to giving up any part of Jerusalem–and Netanyahu's governing coalition is more right wing and pro-settlement than he is.
Hamas's political evolution and deepening moderation stand in stark contrast to the rejectionism of the Netanyahu government and call into question which parties are "hardline" and which are "extremist." And at the regional level, a sea change has occurred in the official Arab position toward the Jewish state (the Arab League's 2002 Beirut Declaration, subsequently reiterated, offers full recognition and diplomatic relations if Israel accepts the international consensus regarding a two-state solution), while the attitudes of the Israeli ruling elite have hardened. This marks a transformation of regional politics and a reversal of roles.
Observers might ask, If Hamas is so eager to accept a two-state solution, why doesn't it simply accept the three conditions for engagement required by the so-called diplomatic Quartet (the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations): recognition of Israel, renunciation of violence and acceptance of all previous agreements (primarily, the Oslo Accords)? In my interviews with Hamas
officials, they stress that while they have made significant concessions to the Quartet, it has not lifted the punishing sanctions against Hamas, nor has it pressed Israel to end its siege, which has caused a dire humanitarian crisis. In addition, Hamas leaders believe that recognition of Israel is the last card in their hand and are reluctant to play it before talks even begin. Their diplomatic starting point will be to demand that Israel recognize the national rights of the Palestinians and withdraw from the occupied territories–but it will not be their final position.
There can be no viable, lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians if Hamas is not consulted and if the Palestinians remain divided, with two warring authorities in the West Bank and Gaza. Hamas has the means and public support to undermine any agreement that does not address the legitimate rights and claims of the Palestinian people. Its Fatah/PA rival lacks a popular mandate and the legitimacy needed to implement a resolution of the conflict. PA President Mahmoud Abbas has been weakened by a series of blunders of his own making, and with his moral authority compromised in the eyes of a sizable Palestinian constituency, Abbas is yesterday's man–no matter how long he remains in power as a lame duck, and whether or not he competes in the upcoming presidential elections.
If the United States and Europe engaged Hamas, encouraging it to continue moderating its views instead of ignoring it or, worse yet, seeking its overthrow, the West could test the extent of Hamas's evolution. So far the strategy of isolation and military confrontation–pursued in tandem by Israel and the United States–has not appeared to weaken Hamas significantly. If anything, it has radicalized hundreds of young Palestinians, who have joined extremist factions and reinforced the culture of martyrdom and nihilism. All the while, the siege of Gaza has left a trail of untold pain and suffering.
If the Western powers don't engage Hamas, they will never know if it can evolve into an open, tolerant and peaceful social movement. The jury is still out on whether the Islamist movement can make that painful and ideologically costly transition. But the claim that engaging Hamas legitimizes it does not carry much weight; the organization derives its legitimacy from the Palestinian people, a mandate resoundingly confirmed in the free and fair elections of 2006.
To break the impasse and prevent gains by more extremist factions, the Obama administration and Congress should support a unified Palestinian government that could negotiate peace with Israel. Whatever they think of its ideology, US officials should acknowledge that Hamas is a legitimately elected representative of the Palestinian people, and that any treaty signed by a rump Fatah/PA will not withstand the test of time. And instead of twisting Cairo's arms in a rejectionist direction, Washington should encourage its Egyptian ally to broker a truce between Hamas and Fatah and thus repair the badly frayed Palestinian governing institutions. If the Obama administration continues to shun engagement with Hamas, Europe ought to take the lead in establishing an official connection. European governments have already dealt with Lebanon's Hezbollah, a group similar to Hamas in some respects, and they possess the skills, experience and political weight to help broker a viable peace settlement.
Like it or not, Hamas is the most powerful organization in the occupied territories. It is deeply entrenched in Palestinian society. Neither Israel nor the Western powers can wish it away. The good news, if my reading is correct, is that Hamas has changed, is willing to meet some of the Quartet's conditions and is making domestic political preparations for further changes. But if Hamas is not engaged, and if the siege of Gaza and Palestinian suffering continue without hope of
ending the political impasse, there is a real danger of a regional war.
This article can be found on the web at:

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

How credible is Human Rights Watch on Cuba?

By Tim Anderson
February 11, 2010 -- In late 2009 the New York-based group Human Rights Watch published a report titled New Castro Same Cuba. Based on the testimony of former prisoners, the report systematically condemns the Cuban government as an “abusive” regime that uses its “repressive machinery … draconian laws and sham trials to incarcerate scores more who have dared to exercise their fundamental freedoms”.
The group says it interviewed 40 political prisoners and claims to have identified extraordinary laws by which Cubans can be imprisoned simply for expressing views critical of their socialist system.
At first glance one might be forgiven for thinking that Cuba must be among the worst of human rights abusers in the Americas. A little reflection, however, might lead one to question such statements coming from the USA, a country with thousands held in an international network of secret prisons, many subject to torture regimes.
So how credible is this scathing report on Cuba? And who does Human Rights Watch represent?
Answering the latter question is a little more difficult than it is for other organisations such as the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), established by the US government, or even the France-based Reporters without Borders (RSF), funded directly by the US State Department for some of its anti-Cuba campaigns. In the manner of "embedded journalists" who travel with US troops around the world, the NED and RSF can be considered "embedded watchdogs", helping to legitimise or delegitimise regimes, consistent with US policy.
`Privatised, US-based selection of issues'
Human Rights Watch, however, is not funded by the US government. Yet it gets most of its funds from a variety of US foundations, in turn funded by many of the biggest US corporations. These wealthy, private foundations often tie their contributions to particular projects. So for example HRW's Middle East reports often rely on and acknowledge grants from pro-Israel foundations. Other groups ask for a focus on women’s rights or HIV/AIDS issues. More than 90% of HRW’s US$100 million budget in 2009 was "restricted" in this way. In other words, HRW offers a privatised, wealthy, US-based selection of rights issues.
The coordination of all these interests is best illustrated through HRW’s new chairperson, James F. Hoge Jr. A publisher and journalist, Hoge was editor of Foreign Affairs from 1992 to 2009, and a prominent member of that magazine’s sponsor, the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). The CFR, regarded as the most influential of US foreign policy think tank, includes much of the US corporate elite (including banks and media) as well as past and present leaders of the two major parties. Past US secretaries of state, such as Henry Kissinger and Condoleezza Rice, and the current US secretary of deence Robert Gates are CFR members. It is really a "Who’s Who" of the US elite.
The HRW board is similarly dominated by the US corporate elite, such as banking and corporate media executives, and some academics, but not government officials. The board includes former Mexican foreign minister Jorge Castañeda (a former Marxist academic turned right-wing politician), while Chilean-born lawyer José Miguel Vivanco serves as director of HRW’s Americas division.
Vivanco has been the subject of most controversy in Latin America through his attacks on Venezuela and Cuba. If HRW has at times appeared to be acting somewhat independently of US foreign policy, for example, when it supported the US "war on terror" but criticised US operations in Iraq, this has not been the case in Latin America, where the group has closely followed Washington’s line.
Of the HRW's reports on Latin America over the past few years, the only systematic criticism of regimes has been of Venezuela and Cuba. Reports on Brazil, Honduras and Mexico have been on much more specific issues, such as police violence, transgender people's rights and military justice. When it comes to Colombia, HRW has published reports on the use of landmines and the "paramilitary mafias". The latter report does note that Colombia has had worse violence "than almost any other country in the western hemisphere". Indeed, Colombia is way ahead of any other Latin American country in terms of the murder of trade unionists, journalists, lawyers and ordinary people. The Colombian military and its allied right-wing militias have been responsible for most of this slaughter, yet HRW blames left guerrillas and right militias equally, without implicating the regime of Alvaro Uribe, the major Latin American recipient of US aid.
Biased reports
On the other hand, the group’s December 2008 report on Venezuela (A Decade Under Chavez) had an open political motivation. According to Vivanco, it was written “because we wanted to demonstrate to the world that Venezuela is not a model for anyone”. That report was roundly criticised by more than a hundred academics for not meeting "even the most minimal standards of scholarship, impartiality, accuracy of credibility". Rather than a careful report on human rights, it was an attempt to discredit a government, mainly on the basis on allegations of "political discrimination" in employment and the judiciary. The evidence was poor and the approach anything but systematic. HRW disregarded this criticism.
The recent report on Cuba (Different Castro, Same Cuba) is a similar attempt to pillory an entire social system on the basis of some anecdotes. As has been the case for some years, the major US focus on "human rights" in Cuba is on the few dozen people arrested and jailed for what HRW says was simply pursuing their basic rights. The Cuban government says most of these people were taking money from US programs designed to overthrow the Cuban social system. HRW ignores Cuba’s right to protect itself from Washington’s interventionist programs.
In respect of the 40 former prisoners said to have been interviewed in Cuba, HRW draws attention to what it calls a law:
“that allows the state to imprison individuals before they have committed a crime, on the suspicion that they might commit an offence in the future … This ‘dangerousness’ provision [refers to] any behaviour that contradicts socialist norms. The most Orwellian of Cuba’s laws, it captures the essence of the Cuban government’s repressive mindset.”
Other laws have been used, it says, which:
“criminalize the exercise of fundamental freedoms, including laws penalizing contempt, insubordination, and acts against the independence of the state. Indeed, article 62 of the Cuban constitution prohibits the exercise of any basic right that runs contrary to ‘the ends of the socialist state’.”
HRW also claims that in January 2009 a number of young people in eastern Cuba were charged with "dangerousness" simply for being unemployed. One was said to have been jailed for two years just “for being unemployed”. HRW notes that Cuba links some arrests to “a US policy aimed at toppling the Castro government … However, in the scores of cases Human Rights Watch examined for this report, this argument falls flat.” Let’s examine some of the legal and practical aspects of these claims.
Firstly, article 62 of the Cuban constitution actually says that citizens liberties "cannot be used against that established by constitution and the law, nor against the existence and objects of the socialist state, nor against the decision of the Cuban people to build socialism". That is not the same thing as "prohibiting the exercise of any basic right that runs contrary to ‘the ends of the socialist state'". Dissent is not the same thing as attacking the constitutional order.
Legally, there is indeed a principle of "social dangerousness" in Cuban law, but is a concept that qualifies criminal and other offences. For example, "social dangerousness" can aggravate an "act" which is an offence under labour law (Law 176). Conversely, under the Penal Code (art. 14) the absence of "social dangerousness" can mitigate the penalty for an offence. The "dangerous state" defined by the Penal Code (art. 72) is also a qualifier to a range of anti-social conduct, including drunkenness.
In other words, the HRW focus on "dangerousness" is an artefact. There is no substantive offence of "dangerousness". It is a qualifier to actual conduct. Similarly ,the fact of being unemployed in Cuba is not any sort of offence. That is just absurd.
However in the case of the celebrated "dissidents" – which include many of the "independent journalists" and "human rights defenders" funded by the US State Department and USAID programs to promote a "transition" in Cuba – the possession of large amounts of money while unemployed can constitute evidence of an offence.
For example, "dissident" Oscar Espinosa Chepe had been unemployed for 10 years at the time of his March 2003 arrest, yet he had more than $7000 hidden in the lining of his suit. That money could have been in the bank with his other savings, but it had recently come from a US-linked group. Similarly, Raúl Rivero, Héctor Palacios, Osvaldo Alfonso Valdés and others were charged because there was evidence (including receipts) that they had received money from US programs aimed to overthrow the Cuban constitution. The HRW report ignores this evidence.
The same Miami groups that sent money to these Cubans (but note, most of the US government money stays in Miami, provoking conflicts within these groups) had organised bombings of tourist hotels in Cuba in the late 1990s. Cuban authorities are unsurprisingly intolerant of this terrorism. The March 2003 arrests were provoked by Cuban fears that the Bush regime would mount an Iraq-style invasion, making use of these paid agents.
After the New Castro report, Human Rights Watch maintained its campaign on behalf of the US-funded "dissidents". It demanded in January 2010 that the Cuban government "immediately cease its harassment of the blind human rights defender Juan Carlos González Leiva, a leader of the Council of Human Rights Rapporteurs". González Leiva heads the Camagüey chapter of the Cuban Foundation for Human Rights, a body which has been funded by Washington via Miami for at least a decade.
Some US "aid" for Cuban agents bypasses Miami. The US government directly supports the "independent journalists" over whom both Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and HRW express so much righteous anger. The US Interests Section in Havana (the de facto embassy) directly prints the Revista de Cuba magazine of the "Márquez Sterling Journalists Society", while El Disidente magazine is printed in Puerto Rico but distributed through the Interests Section.
This information is published in some detail in Cuba but is barely mentioned by HRW, or in any other US reports. Since the US "consensus" has effectively disqualified the entire Cuban system, no regard need be paid to such detail. Yet there can be no doubt that independent countries have the right to self-defence from US subversion and terrorism.
HRW does not condemn US blockade
HRW says the 50-year economic blockade by the US of Cuba has failed, but (unlike the 187 countries that voted against the blockade at the United Nations in 2009) the New York-based group does not condemn this blockade as a violation of human rights.
Rather, HRW argues that Cuba uses the blockade as a pretext for repression. It proposes a new program against Cuba where Europe and Latin America join with Washington in demanding "the unconditional release of all political prisoners", including "the 53 dissidents still in prison from the 2003 crackdown". If these demands do not achieve their end, then countries, including the US, "should be able to choose individually whether or not to impose their own restrictions on Cuba". In fact, the US is the only country with such sanctions against Cuba.
This sort of "human rights intervention" is consistent with US foreign policy in Latin America. Dispensing with troublesome, independent regimes was practised ad nauseum throughout the "American Century", and was always backed by the US corporate elite. Delegitimisation campaigns have always preceded "regime change", for example in Guatemala and Chile. Human Rights Watch apparently sees no abuse of human rights in such interventions.
Sitting down with CIA agents
José Miguel Vivanco has sat on panels with Caleb McCarry, the Bush-appointed and Washington-based "Transition Administrator" for a "Free Cuba", without a word about the appalling human rights abuse implicit in one country pretending to organise the political "transition" of another country. On this count, HRW needs a little homework on article 1 of the International Bill of Rights, which sets out the "right of a people to self-determination".
Vivanco has similarly spoken on panels with former CIA agents Frank Calzon and Carlos Montaner, people who have personally organised terrorist attacks on Cuba. He did not sit down to condemn them for these attacks, but rather to concur with them over support for the US-backed "dissidents". Such is the flexibility of his advocacy.
As a reward for his services, in June 2009 Vivanco received a National Endowment for Democracy award for his work for "Democracy in Cuba". This made the US government link quite clear.
US propaganda campaigns against Cuba have not flagged in half a century, and HRW is just one of the more recent contributors. Responding to cries from the US for "human rights and freedom", one Cuban diplomat wearily replied, "of course, and the US has a very long history in this, from Batista, Somoza, Trujillo, Duvalier, Pinochet, Videla", referring to the US-backed dictators of Cuba, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Chile and Argentina.
All the prisoners HRW spoke with had been released. One wonders what the HRW report might have said had it discovered a hidden prison in Cuba where hundreds were held without charge, tortured and argued to be beyond the reach of any legal system?
In the case of those prisoners – held by the US military in occupied Cuba, at Guantanamo Bay – HRW wrote (in January 2010) that US President Barrack Obama should “renew his pledge” to close the prison. No condemnation of the "abusive" Washington regime for its "repressive machinery". But why should we expect such candour and self-criticism from the US elite?
The lesson from the Human Rights Watch reports on Cuba is that we have nothing to learn about the little Caribbean island – whether on its weaknesses or strengths – from a self-appointed organisation which represents the US corporate and foreign policy elite.
[Tim Anderson is a senior lecturer in political economy at Sydney University.]
A note on sources: Some detail of the charges against the "dissidents" arrested in March 2003 was published at that time by Cuba’s foreign ministry (MINREX), and remains online. More detail emerged in the 2003 book The Dissidents by Cuban journalists Luis Báez and Rosa Miriam Elizalde. Many articles on the US-funded organisations (mostly Miami-based, but also the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders) that work with the US government against Cuba have been written by the French-Canadian journalist Jean-Guy Allard, French academic Salim Lamrani and US journalist Diana Barahona. Human Rights Watch funders appear in its annual reports and linked funding is often acknowledged in its country reports.] 

What is Non-Violent Resistance?

By Sami Awad, Director of the Holy Land Trust

Non-Violence is an alternative to either armed resistance or passive acceptance of the status quo. It is both a strategy and a philosophy which rejects violence as a means to promote change, and instead aims to change power relations through assertive acts of omission (refusal to do something) or commission (actively challenging the status quo). It is a method by which to change the minds of both the oppressor and oppressed so that a new reality can be built upon different perceptions of the ‘other’.
The many tactics of non-violence can be broken down into three broad categories:
1) Civil Disobedience: when individuals or a group refuse to obey rules and laws, therefore undermining the power of the oppressor. For example refusing to respect laws prohibiting the gathering of people, or the waving of a flag as has been the case in Palestine.
2) Reverse Strike: Involves community building and the creation of alter-natives, in order to make a people less dependent on the facilities of their oppressor. This can involve boycotts of the oppressor’s goods and services and the development of alternatives.
3) Direct Action: These are symbolic actions which are specifically directed to gain broad sympathy or express personal grief, opinions and commit-ment to a just cause. Direct action can take many forms along the spectrum between assertiveness and aggressiveness. For example a peaceful protest versus a group of individuals actively removing a roadblock or earth mound.
Successful non-violent campaigns are able to effectively utilize all three of these methods simultaneously.
Non-Violence in Palestine – Past and Present
Despite the common mischaracterization of Palestinian resistance as wholly violent or radical, there is a long and rich history non-violent actions and campaigns, as well as a large number of contemporary ones. For instance:
In 1902, the inhabitants of three Palestinian villages – al-Shajara, Misha and Melhamiyya – held a collective peaceful protest against the takeover of 70,000 dunums (7,000 hectares) of agricultural land by the first European Zionist settlers.
In 1936 Palestinians held a six-month non-violent industrial strike against the British Mandate’s refusal to grant self determination to Palestine. The ultimate aim of the strike was to make Palestine ungovernable by anyone but the Palestinians themselves.
Fifty years later, in 1986, Hannah Siniora, then editor of the East Jerusalem Arabic Daily, called for Pales-tinian civic disobedience by boycotting Israel-made cigarettes. This led to a full-scale Palestinian boycott of Israeli soap, food, water, clothes and other consumer goods.
The 1987-1993 First Intifada was largely conducted non-violently. Palestinians held mass public demonstra-tions, refused to pay taxes, and sought out local alternatives to Israeli facilities. Community leader Mubarak Awad initiated olive tree planting on Palestinian land about to be confiscated by Israeli settlers. Israeli law prohibited any construction on land dedicated to growing fruit. Awad used non-violent resistance, and Israel’s own laws, to challenge the encroaching settlements.
Currently, and especially since construction of the separation Wall began on June 16th 2002, Palestinian villages across the West Bank have cooperated in non-violent resistance. The communities of Jayyous, Budrus, Bil’in, Ni’lin and Umm Salamonah have all non-violently resisted the Wall being built around them. Weekly non-violent demonstrations against the Wall are held in the cities of Bil’in and Nihlin (north of Ramallah) which bring together Palestinians and Israelis, as well international activists.
The Logic of Non-Violent Resistance

The logic of a non-violent strategy to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is simple. Turning this knowledge into a practical campaign effective in achieveing Palestinian goals is much more difficult. Practically, a non-violent strategy allows for a broader and therefore larger participation among the citizenry than armed conflict does. This was true in the First Intifada – largely credited with empowering civil society, women, as well as the young and old. The players in the Second Intifada, on the other hand, were restricted to their ability and willingness to fight violently.
Secondly, by unilaterally removing violence from one side of the equation, there is the possibility of transforming the perception of victimhood within Israel and the international community, which could in turn affect policy. Looking back through this book, it is clear that Palestinians and Israelis live in a rather assymmetric world, and that this conflict disproportionately affects Palestinians. Yet in the minds of Western Europeans and Americans especially, the perception of Palestinians has been shaped more by the sporadic acts of terror, rather than by the accumulation of suffering wrought by occupation.
It is assumed, but not guaranteed, that a non-violent stategy would lead to a decrease in the cycle of death and injury. This sadly could be both bad and good for the Palestinian cause. A decrease in death and carnage is likely to coincide with a sharp decrease in media attention – precisely what is needed most to inspire change in opinion and policy.
Only a strategy that is assertive, coordinated, inclusive, creative, and one that is more and more adept at creating its own media can hope to succeed in making lots of noise without firing any bullets. There have been powerful, if not controversial, attempts by isolated villages to begin building this movement. It is time now to learn from their experiences and begin coordinating a national non-violent strategy.
Israel’s Response to Non-Violence
Israeli, Palestinian and international human rights organizations routinely catalogue, and often film, Israel’s response to non-violent actions. The response usually consists of using overwhelming force to disburse crowds.
Most typically, Israel employs tear gas, concussion grenades and rubber bullets to do so, but on many documented oc-casions they have employed live ammunition, and most re-cently have begun showering protesters with a mixture of sewage water and chemicals from nearby settlements. The saddest part of this response is the effect that it has upon the non-violence movement in general. The fact that protesters have been literally showered in sewage, beaten and sometimes killed in the daily or weekly events, reaffirms the notion amongst those most skeptical of a peaceful strategy that ‘Israel only responds to violence’.
This perception is further strengthened by the lack of accountability laid upon those soldiers and their commanders who routinely sidestep the law in their use of force. Rarely, if ever, has anyone been punished; and never have these punishments made their way up the ranks or into the realm of those who design policies. This lack of accountability has endowed soldiers with a sense of immunity from their actions; a perception which no doubt adds to their willingness to utilize force – even when unneccessary.
This last summer the small village of Ni’lin north of Ramallah began to organize weekly, and sometimes daily demonstations against the encroaching wall. On July 29th, the ten year old unarmed Ahmed Hassan Yusef Musa was struck in the head by a rubber bullet and killed at one such demonstration. The following day, at Ahmed’s funeral – turned demonstration, 19 year old Yusuf Ahmad Amira was shot dead by the IDF. Neither case has resulted in punishment.
This is the same village where a 17 year old girl Salaam Kanan was able to capture video footage of a bound and blindfolded Palestinian man being shot at point blank range by a soldier a few feet from his commanding officer. This particular case received alot of attention; however, Israeli, Palestinian and international human rights organizations insist that many more incidents like this take place when no cameras are present.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Letter from Venezuela - A different perspective to Valentine's Day


4F the Day of found Dignity

Today is a very special day for Venezuelans.  Its the day when people in Venezuela and around the world got to see for the first time, a young military man by the name of Hugo Chavez Frias.  Today is the day, he decided to raise the sword of Bolivar in defense of his country and his country men.  Today is the day of the failed coup attempt, in which he took personal responsibilty for the attempt on national t.v., asked the soldiers to lay down their arms and issued his famous statement,  "por ahora" for now.

Up until that point the people of Venezuela have been suffering under the yoke of oppression. They were living with price increases every day, to satifity the World Bank and the IMF.  The president at that time,  Perez along with these institutions lead the country into debt and the people were made to pay.    Oil was trading at $7.00 per barrel and 50% of the population was living in poverty, with half of those living in extreme poverty. 

The coup attempt opened a window for the people of Venezuela.  They woke up from a long slumber and expressed what the people in power had told them not to even pay attention to.  Chavez,  was only an  expression of what many of  the people of Venezuela were feeling.  They had had enough of the promises of a better life.  Yet while the population was getting promises, the people in power  were clearly enjoying that better life.

With each new economic plan issued by the government, the IMF and the World Bank, the people of Venezuela found themselves paying more and getting nothing in return but starvation and promises.  There were daily price increases on almost every item to pay off the debt .  Meanwhile there was no running water, there was little employment, people couldnt buy food, in many of the poor areas there no electricity, children couldnt go to school to get an education if they parents couldnt pay, and no healthcare, but the people in power kept promising.  For many of the people in power, this system was quite ok, since they were benefiting from the polices while Venezuelans paid the price.  Then came Chavez on the 4th of February, and the souls of the Venezuelan people woke up. 

Since then,  history has been written.  Chavez is now the President of Venezuela. 

This week is the 10 year anniversary of the Bolivarian revolution and what accomplishments have been made.  There is now running water in most of the areas in Venezuela, children are now going to school, there are free hospitals, roads, trains, schools and universities and low cost fuel and food for all to enjoy. Yes there is stil work to be done, and thats why they have the amendment.

But the story of Venezuela is not only about Venezuela, its about a people who have been trampled on, lied to, manipulated and abused for many years, while being fed promises of a better life.  The story of Venezuela is the story of hope to all those people around the world who are looking for a better future, for themselves, their children and their nation.  The story of Venezuela is the story of so many of the people of the world, who all aspire to a better day, where they can walk with their heads held high.  The story of Venezuela is the story of a people who one day wake up and find their dignity.


Sunday, February 7, 2010

Palestine Strategy Study Group: Prerequisites for an effective strategy

Posted: 06 Feb 2010 08:25 AM PST
escher spiral

Excerpt from an August 2008 Report. 

The Palestine Strategy Study Group suggests that the following three requirements are essential for there to be an effective Palestinian national strategy that is unified, strongly formulated, and clearly communicated to the outside world. All three lie firmly within the capacity of Palestinians to achieve. They can be acted upon straight away. This Report calls on all Palestinians to make this happen.

An essential prerequisite for seizing the strategic initiative is to shape the nature of the discourse within which the issue of Palestinian independence is discussed.
A discourse is a framework of language within which verbal communication takes place. It is the discourse that determines what can and cannot be said within it and how this is to be understood. At the moment the Palestinian national struggle is nearly always discussed in terms of other peoples’ discourses. This is like playing all football matches on other teams’ pitches. It is always an away game – we begin one goal down. Palestinians must refuse to participate on those terms. We must explain and promote our own discourse and make this the primary language within which the Palestinian issue is discussed.
Two international discourses in particular are inappropriate for the Palestinian case. Unfortunately these are the usual frameworks adopted by the international community.

The first is a peacemaking discourse, which assumes that the problem is one of ‘making peace’ between two equal partners, both of whom have symmetric interests, needs, values and beliefs. This is the wrong discourse because there are not two equal conflict parties. There is an occupying power and a suppressed and physically scattered people not allowed even to have its own identity legally recognised.

The second is a statebuilding discourse, which assumes that the problem is one of ‘building a state’ along the lines attempted in Cambodia or El Salvador or Mozambique – or even to a certain extent in Afghanistan. This is the wrong discourse because there is no Palestinian state.
The result of the dominance of these two discourses (not to mention the prevailing Israeli-US discourse) is that the essence of the Palestinian problem is not recognised in the first place. This is disastrous for the Palestinian cause.
The Palestine Strategy Study Group strongly urges fellow Palestinians to seize their destiny in their own hands by refusing even to enter these other discourses until it is appropriate to do so and to focus all their energies on explaining and promoting the prior Palestinian discourse. The appropriate discourse uses the language, not of peacemaking or statebuilding, but of national self-determination, of liberation, of emancipation from occupation, of individual and collective rights, of international law. This must be the primary discourse. Only when the priorities defined within the primary Palestinian discourse of emancipation are recognised can the hitherto rightly subordinated discourses of peacemaking and statebuilding move properly into the foreground.
Perhaps the most appropriate comparable discourse here is the discourse of decolonisation. This needs to be clearly understood by the international community. For example before 1947 Gandhi’s primary discourse in India was not a peace-making discourse, because he was not making peace with Britain but struggling to end British occupation. And it was not a state building discourse because there was not yet an Indian state. His primary discourse was one of emancipation and national struggle. The same is true of the Palestinian discourse. Palestinians are of course ready to enter serious negotiations. They are more ready to do this than Israelis. But such peacemaking has to be defined within a context that genuinely aims to deliver Palestinian national aspirations. Anything less is simply not peacemaking but a confirmation of continuing occupation and repression.
There is no space to pursue this in detail further here, except to note the importance of combating a central idea in the peacemaking discourse that what is at issue is two equivalent ‘Israeli’ and ‘Palestinian’ ‘narratives’. No doubt there are Israeli and Palestinian narratives. But what is centrally at issue is not a mere Palestinian narrative, but a series of incontrovertible facts – facts of expulsion, exclusion, dominance and occupation bitterly lived out by Palestinians day by day over the past 60 years and still being endured at the present time. This is not a narrative. It is a lived reality. Finding the best strategy for ending this lived reality is the main purpose of this Report.
Transforming the discourse within which it is discussed is a major part of that effort.
For example, here are some undeniable facts. In 1922 there were 84,000 Jews living in Palestine (census data). By 1947 this number had risen to 608,000. Much of this was the result of deliberate policy to build immigrant Jewish numbers in order to create a Jewish state in Palestine. At that time (1947) there were 1,364,000 Palestinians. Palestinians owned some 95% of the land where they had lived for centuries. Yet in November 1947 UN General Assembly Resolution 181 called for a division in which Jewish land would be 57.12% and Palestinian land would be 42.88%. This was not a Security Council Resolution. The Jewish State of Israel was declared in May 1948. By the time of the ceasefire in 1949 Israel held 78% of historic Palestine and the Palestinians were left with 22%. The 1949 Armistice Line was not and is not a legally defined political border. UN General Assembly Resolution 273 (III) of 11 May 1949 admitted Israel into the UN, not a ‘Jewish’ State. Some 750,000 Palestinians had become refugees (about half the population – see UN Resolution 194). In 1967 Israel occupied the remaining 22% of the land of Palestine.
In November 1988 the Palestine Liberation Organisation, recognised by Palestinians as their sole representative, made the extraordinary sacrifice of accepting the existence of the State of Israel and determining to establish an independent Palestinian state on the remaining 22% of historic Palestine in accordance with UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 (PNC Political Communique, Algiers, 15 November, 1988). Has a national movement ever made a concession on a similar scale? To this day this remains the basis for official Palestinian strategic objectives. Yet for twenty years these objectives have not been realised. Why? In negotiations Israelis repeatedly say ‘we do all the giving and the Palestinians do all the taking’. This is the opposite of the truth. Palestinians continue to demand no more than 22% of their historic land. It is Israel that has done all the taking through continuous government backed settler encroachment on this remaining 22%. The aim has been to create ‘facts on the ground’, now reinforced by the ‘security wall’, in order to reduce the land left for a future Palestinian state below even 22%.
This is not just a ‘Palestinian narrative’. These are facts. At the time of writing Israeli government-backed settler encroachment is still continuing relentlessly despite the negotiations. Palestinians know that Israel is not yet a serious negotiating partner. It is on the basis of these facts and on this understanding that the strategic objectives for Palestinians are set out in the next section.
The second prerequisite is national unity. A house divided against itself cannot stand. Palestinian strategic action is impossible if the Palestinian nation is unable to speak with one voice or to act with one will. This does not mean agreeing about everything. Nor does it cancel internal Palestinian politics. But it does mean that, when it comes to formulating and enacting a national plan in relation to the outside world, Palestinians must subordinate internal politics to the superior demands of shared destiny and unity of purpose.
It is not surprising that, under the intolerable pressures of occupation, deep internal divisions have surfaced, particularly since the passing away of the charismatic national leadership of Yasser Arafat. It is also true that external powers – particularly Israel but also others – have adopted a deliberate policy of ‘divide and rule’. But this is all the more reason for Palestinians to rise above such rivalries, pressures and provocations when formulating a strategy for national liberation. The future in this respect is in our own hands.
After the hopes engendered by the creation of the National Unity Government in the wake of the achievement of the manifestly free and fair January 2006 elections, the events of June 2007 were a severe blow to Palestinian national unity. The Palestine Strategy Study Group has no interest in allotting blame and it is not its business to make pronouncements on internal Palestinian politics. But the Group is unanimous in calling on all political leaders to conduct internal politics in such a way that the Palestinian people present a unified face to the outside world. The Group is convinced that this is also the wish of the vast majority of the Palestinian people. We owe this to all those who have struggled for so long and made such great sacrifices for the national cause. This is essential not least because of the prospect of a possible national referendum on the current negotiations. How can the Palestinian people make an informed decision on a matter of such supreme national importance without prior extensive and informed national debate that rises above partisan political interest? This Report is an attempt to encourage such a debate.
The third prerequisite is that as broad a spectrum of Palestinians as possible should join in the task of strategic analysis, strategic choice, and strategic action. In this report the Palestine Strategy Study Group invites readers to participate in a strategic approach to the national project, because this is the essential means for its realisation.
Strategic thinking is a particular kind of thinking. Strategic thinking formulates clear national objectives and keeps them firmly in view throughout. Everything is subordinated to the achievement of those objectives. But analysis is also guided by hard-headed assessment of relative power capabilities – what Palestinians and others can and cannot do on their own or in combination.
Strategic thinking combines ultimate vision with a firm grasp of practical possibilities.
So the analysis of power links objectives to strategy. The concept of power is central in politics and is elaborately discussed in the literature. But it will be taken here in its simplest sense as the ability to get what you want done. If you get what you want done you have power. If you do not get what you want done you do not have power.
Four aspects of power are important in strategic thinking and are worth bearing in mind while reading this report because they have guided its formulation.
First there is the nature of power (types of power). The American political analyst Joseph Nye distinguishes between ‘hard power’ and ‘soft power’. He sees international politics being played out on a three-dimensional chess-board where the top board represents military power, the middle board represents economic power, and the bottom board represents cultural power. Dominance of any one board does not guarantee strategic success. It depends on the situation. For example in the late 1980s the Soviet Union had invested in enormous military power, but was deficient in economic power and had lost cultural power. The collapse of the Soviet Union demonstrated the severe limits of military power on its own over the longer term. In those circumstances military power proved to be no power at all.
Kenneth Boulding similarly distinguishes between ‘threat power’, ‘exchange power’ and ‘integrative power’:
§ · Threat power says ‘do what I want or I will do what you do not want’.
This is an approach that relies on force and the threat of force.
§ · Exchange power says ‘do what I want and I will do what you want’.
This is an approach that emphasises bargaining and compromise.
§ · Integrative power says ‘do what I want because you want it as well’.
This is an approach that focuses on ‘winning hearts and minds’.
Boulding argues that threat power may be effective over the short term, but is less effective than exchange power and integrative power over the middle term. Repression on its own cannot endure. For Boulding integrative power is the most effective form of power over the long term – the power of legitimacy, of loyalty, of cultural identity, of trust. Enduring families, communities, nations and religions in the end rest on integrative power.
In strategic planning agents must choose the most effective form of power (or combination of forms) in different circumstances, and must be prepared to be flexible in switching from one to the other where appropriate.
Second there are the locations of power (who has power).
The strategic analysis that follows is based on an assessment of what Palestinians can and cannot do on their own or in combination with others in relation to different kinds of challenge. Similar analysis is undertaken of Israeli relative power and options, and those of regional third parties and relevant international players including the United States.
It is essential in strategic thinking to take constant account of how the chessboard
looks from the perspective of the opponent. This is fundamental. A player who does not do this – who only looks at the board from its own perspective – will never be a grandmaster. Such a player will lose. The strategic purpose is to exert mounting pressure on the opponent to act as we want. This can only be done if we understand what the opponent desires and fears, and the sources and limits of the opponent’s power. The same applies to inducing third parties to behave in the ways we want them to.
Third there is the application of power (the strategic deployment of threats and inducements).
Strategic players are able to use threats and inducements (sticks and carrots) effectively in influencing the behaviour of others. Strategic threats must be credible to be effective. This almost certainly means that they cannot be a bluff. Palestinians must therefore be prepared to carry out the threatened actions in case the opponent does not heed them. More is said about this in section 7 below.
Fourth there are the uses of power (how to deploy power to attain strategic goals).
In the end the whole purpose of strategic thinking comes down to the way the various forms of power are used. Oliver Ramsbotham distinguishes between the politician, the visionary and the statesperson in this regard:
§ · The politician understands how to manipulate the levers of power inorder to stay in office, but is not able or willing to use power consistently in order to attain strategic purposes. This use of power is ultimately pointless.
§ · The visionary, in contrast, does keep long-term strategic goals clearly in view. The visionary can inspire aspirations and can articulate longings. But the visionary does not keep the short-term workings of power in his sights and
consequently cannot deliver. This use of power is ultimately ineffective.
§ · The statesperson never loses sight of strategic objectives, but also clearly understands the workings of political power. The statesperson is able to step back at times in order then to leap forward further (reculer pour mieux sauter), has a good grasp of timing, can sense opportunities and act on them, remains flexible but determined in the face of unexpected events or setbacks.
When the statesperson meets an impasse, he does not remain clutching the bars that block his path. He lets go, finds another path around the barrier, and suddenly appears from an unexpected side to turn the tables on those who thought that they had stopped him. The statesperson surprises his opponent.
He does not act as his opponent expects. The statesperson is capable of strategic thought and action. This use of power is what achieves lasting results.
The Palestine Strategy Study Group wants Palestinian leaders to be statespersons. It is hoped that the report may make a contribution towards clarifying what this entails.

Please, Mr. President, Stop Talking Nonsense

By Alan Hart
06 February, 2010
At a town hall meeting in Tampa, Florida on 28 January, President Obama explained what in his view had to happen if there is to be a two-state solution which would see Israel and the Palestinians living side by side in peace and security. He said, “Both sides are going to have to make concessions“.
My own view is that Israel’s still on-going colonization of the occupied West Bank has destroyed the prospect of a two-state solution on any basis the Palestinians could accept. But for the sake of discussion I’ll pretend that is not necessarily so.
Israel is not required to make concessions. Israel is required to accept and implement UN Security Council resolutions which call for an end to its occupation and, more generally, to cease regarding itself as being above and beyond international law.
The Palestinians made the concession necessary from their side long ago.
There were three related reasons why Yasser Arafat and his mainstream PLO leadership colleagues decided that they had got to compromise with Israel if their people were ever to obtain a minimum but just about acceptable amount of justice.
> The first was the reality of the existence of the nuclear-armed Zionist state – not a legitimate existence (as the true story of its creation proves) but a fact of life.
> The second was the knowledge that the Arab regimes were never going to fight Israel to liberate Palestine, and, would collude with Zionism-and-America to prevent the PLO becoming an effective resistance movement in terms of guerrilla activities.
> The third was the realisation that all the major powers of the world were committed to Israel’s existence inside its borders as they were on the eve of the 1967 war.
It took the pragmatic Arafat six long years, from 1973 to 1979, to sell the idea of compromise with Israel first to his Fatah leadership colleagues and then to the Palestine National Council (PNC), the highest decision-making body on the Palestinian side. And it was a mission that Arafat knew from the start could cost him his credibility with his own people and perhaps even his life. Why? Because he was asking them to accept what most thought was “unthinkable” – recognizing and thus legitimizing Israel’s existence inside its pre-1967 borders in return for only 22% of all the land the Palestinians were claiming.
In fact the full extent of the concessions Arafat persuaded his leadership colleagues to accept and be prepared to make went even further than that. Though they could not say so in public until they had something concrete to show for their policy of politics and compromise, they accepted, and Israel was informed, that the Palestinian right of return would have to be limited to the territory of the Palestinian mini-state on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem its capital or the whole of Jerusalem an open, undivided city and the capital of two states.
At the end of 1979, shortly after Arafat had persuaded the PNC to endorse his policy of politics and compromise with Israel, I had the first of many meetings with him. His comment on the PNC vote – 296 for his policy and only four against – was this: “How far we have travelled in six years. No more this silly talk of driving the Jews into the sea. (A statement Arafat and his Fatah colleagues never made). Now we are prepared to live side by side with them in a mini-state of our own. It is a miracle.”
It was the miracle of Arafat’s leadership. What he needed thereafter was an Israeli partner for peace. At a point it seemed that Israeli Prime Minister Rabin might be the partner, but he was assassinated by a Zionist zealot. The assassin was not de-ranged. He knew exactly what he was doing. Killing the peace process Arafat’s policy of politics and compromise had set in motion.
There are no more concessions the Palestinians can make for peace. President Obama’s statement that they must is absurd and obscene. Unclear is whether he was speaking out of ignorance of real history or from Zionism’s script.