We Are All Prisoners Here

In my latest for Babylon Times, hosted by Souciant, I look at two subjects that each demand their own justice: Gilad Shalit and the many Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

Goodbye to All That

After Congress sounded the death knell for the two-state solution last month, it’s worth looking at how it might have worked in order to come up with new and practical ideas for the future. Taking off from Jerry Haber’s critique of what he termed “Liberal Zionist” failures in envisioning two states, I offer an view of how it should have been in my latest Babylon Times piece, hosted by Souciant.

We Interfere, Palestinians Pay the Price: A Neverending Story

Once again, outside interference in Palestinian affairs caused severe harm to Palestinians, and also set back the very ambitions those outsiders wished to advance.

For at least the past year, Professor Nathan Brown has been putting forth a nuanced view of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad with the goal of trying to break the

Palestinian PM Salam Fayyad

Western infatuation with him while trying not to blame the man himself.

It’s an important mission.

Brown’s latest entry at Foreign Policy furthers this line of thinking within the framework of what might turn out to be Fayyad’s denouement on the Palestinian political stage.

Brown sells Fayyad a little short in some ways, but his purpose is to break the mystical aura.

Still, we should note that there have been real accomplishments under Fayyad.

It’s true, for example, that the so-called “economic revival” in Ramallah has been vastly overstated, and even the extent to which it is real is mostly attributable to foreign aid and the lifting of some travel restrictions by Israel. But in the imaginary world where there’s even a possibility of a Palestinian state, its economy is going to require large amounts of external aid for some time, and Fayyad was instrumental in modeling what that early success could look like. Continue reading

A Damaging Hoax: A Gay Girl in Syria (UPDATED)

[NOTE: Updating now that the Syrian government has cheerily started reporting on this: “MacMaster’s hoax aimed at enhancing continuous fabrications and lies against Syria in term of kidnapping bloggers and activists.”

MacMaster claims he is trying to “educate” others about the conditions in the Mideast. Yet he didn’t think of how the Syrian government could use his charade for their purposes if it was ever discovered? One really has to wonder if his motives were as pure as he’d like us to believe.]

I freely admit to being one of the many people around the world who was taken in by the hoax perpetrated by the blog “A Gay Girl In Damascus.” I applaud Ali Abunimah for his dogged efforts at exposing this sham, and thank him for doing so.

Any of you who have followed my bursts on Twitterabout this know I’m angry about it. Perhaps it’s because I hate being suckered. But I think the reasons are much deeper

Tom MacMaster, perpetrator of "Gay Girl In Syria" hoax

than that.

Tom MacMaster, the charlatan who perpetrated this hoax, initially issued a very thin apology, where he blamed “liberal orientalism” for the controversy. He later posted a much more sincere and convincing apology.

OK, what more could he do? He can’t be expected to rake himself over hot coals or something. But we should still take a long, hard look at this and understand just why so many activists were angered at what he did.

The real-life Syrian activist Sami Hamwi sums it up nicely in his blistering attack on MacMaster: “I say shame on you!!! There are bloggers in Syria who are trying as hard as they can to report news and stories from the country…We have to deal with more difficulties than you can imagine. What you have done has harmed many, put us all in danger, and made us fearful about (pursuing) our…activism…Your apology is not accepted, since I have myself started to investigate Amina’s arrest. I could have put myself in a grave danger inquiring about a fictitious figure.”

Sami Hamwi himself uses a pseudonym to edit the web site GayMiddleEast.com. And I’m sure more than a few of you are now saying “How can we believe that Hamwi is a real person? If Amina was a hoax, why couldn’t Hamwi be as well?” Continue reading

Obama: Losing the Middle East

In the early days of the Egyptian revolution, before Hosni Mubarak stepped down, as the Obama administration was still trying to figure out a stance, the idea that the United States would not support their friend and loyal partner Mubarak prompted many conservative columnists to opine that Obama was going to go down in history as the President who lost the Middle East.

They were right, albeit for the wrong reasons.

Obama’s standing in the Middle East has plummeted from the heights it held in the wake of his speech in Cairo in 2009. His administration’s policies and actions have reflected none of the pretty words he uttered and that has been noticed.

This dim view of Obama in the Arab world has not brought him approval in Israel, where he has been mistrusted from day one. His subsequent pursuit of a settlement freeze has deepened that mistrust. Few in Israel, much less the increasingly right-wing elements that are falsely labeled “pro-Israel” in the United States, either realize or are willing to acknowledge that Obama has done more to enhance Israel’s military capabilities than any other president.

Obama has tried to walk a very fine line between the Arab peoples and the Western concerns that are his primary constituency and it is heading toward a result that will be an utter disaster for the US. Continue reading

Assad Undermines Palestinian Cause For His Own Petty Gains

According to reports on Syrian television, 23 people were killed along the border with Israel as they tried to go across the border with Israel.

The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) disputed the numberand the circumstances.

Syrian President Bashar Assad

Considering the sources of both the accusation and the denial, both highly dubious with long track records of dissembling, I’m keeping my mind open on this. But there are some very important points to be made about the violent confrontations on the northern border.

Let’s start with this: Uri Avnery was right when he said the IDF used disproportionate force. The IDF itself said all the injuries were on the Syrian side of the border—this is why they say they cannot confirm any casualties. The IDF also says they shot live fire at the legs of protesters heading toward the border fence, but still on the Syrian side. Hard to see how that can be called proportionate force. And at least one witness, a journalist, said that the Israelis are understating the severity of their response.

Let’s also be clear about another point: Israel is not defending its borders here. The Golan Heights, which is the area Israel is defending in these incidents, is occupied territory, internationally recognized as Syrian. Unlike the West Bank, which is claimed by the Palestinians but was not previously part of any sovereign state (it was occupied by Jordan from 1949-1967 and part of Mandatory Palestine before that), the Golan is Syrian, and Israel’s annexation of it in 1981 is illegal and recognized by no other country, including the United States.

So, Israel is not defending its borders here, but is defending its occupation. And herein lies the problem, because what is happening on the Syrian border, though certainly heartfelt and significant, is counter-productive for the Palestinians. Continue reading