Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The Unreported Truth

...during operation cast lead the IDF did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.

- British Colonel Richard Kemp

Friday, April 24, 2009

One man's torture is another's Friday night

The faux outrage and response to the [torture] memos recall an old international law class, from some years ago, where the discussion turned to the immorality of coercive interrogation. The United States was torturing prisoners, the professor suggested, because the al-Qaeda detainees were subjected to female interrogators, barking dogs, and loud music. As fundamentalist Muslims, the detainees were not “comfortable” with women “speaking down” to them, the professor contended. Nor were they fans of the heavy metal music played in their cell. Additionally, as Middle Easterners, they were accustomed to a society where dogs are undomesticated, dangerous animals — think: the way Westerners perceive wolves — or so the professor’s argument went.

It was at that moment that I realized how similar these “torturous” acts were to my own everyday lifestyle. “Wait a second,” I interjected. “Being in the same room with a dog, listening to Metallica, and getting reprimanded by a female for something she thinks I did wrong? That’s not torture. That’s my Friday night!”


To afford captured detainees the ability to determine what is and is not objectively torture based upon their subjective cultural preferences, religious sensitivities, or personal dislikes and fears is not only asinine morality and poor practicality — but bad law, as well. Imagine if we enforced this logic to the fullest extent or at least to its natural conclusion.

Would, say, placing bananas in the cell of a cibophobic al-Qaeda detainee constitute torture? Would it be torture if an unattractive and homely interrogator pleasantly asked a cacophobic detainee a few questions? What about a murderous dikephobic captive, who simply couldn’t stand being brought to justice? Perhaps imprisonment itself is torturous, for a koinoniphobe. Or maybe, for an eleutherophobic jihadist, the true torture occurs during those soccer matches outside in the Gitmo courtyard. What if the detainee’s “religion” required frequent conjugal visits — and a few Budweisers, while we’re at it?

Nicholas Guariglia @ Pajamas Media

Sunday, March 29, 2009

What does Netanyahu really think?

Binyamin Netanyahu will take the premiership of Israel in two days after managing to form a goverment with both the left and right hands of Israeli politics. Meanwhile, Netanyahu has yet to show his hand on the contentious issue of the two state solution.

This 1978 video shows a 28 year old Ben Nitay (aka Binyamin Netanyahu) arguing that the US should oppose the creation of a Palestinian state.

Whether Netanyahu still believes that is arguable. I think that while the idealist Netanyahu does not necessarily believe that Palestinians in West Bank and Gaza have an assumed right to self determintaion, he is pragmatic enough to realise that a two state solution is all but inevitable.

The political landscape has changed somewhat since 1978:
  • Israelis are under a constant threat of war or terrorism, and are willing to pay a dear price to end that state of living (even if yes, it is giving in to terrorists)
  • The peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan (from which Gaza and the West Bank were conquered) were concluded without the inclusion of the disputed territories in the peace agreement - due to objection from the Arab states. Thus the proposal of the paletinians receiving full citizenship in Jordan and Egypt are no longer realistic.
  • The demographic threat that Ben dismisses back in 1978 is very real today, such that granting Palestinians full Israeli citizenship would undermine the Jewish majority in the state of Israel and its ability to preserve itself as such.
  • The multi state solution (two-state; or three - incuding Hamastan; or four - including Jordan) is therefore seen as the only other realistic alternative. The global acceptence of this principle is such that rejection thereof would lead to diplomatic isolation for Israel. Netanyahu of saged hair is well aware that he may need to shed some of the ideals of his days of youth.

Netanyahu can't say much of this publicly as it conflicts with the idealism of his power base. His aggressive pursuit of a left wing party in his government and the expensive price he paid for it suggest that he is pursuing strategies that are consistent with the two-state solution.

Another possibility is that the next 3 years will focus on the Iranian threat and ignore the Palestinian issue, an issue that is seen as impossible to resolve while the Palestinian population and leadership is so fractured. On this issue Barak and Netanyahu see eye to eye as the existenial threat Iran poses to Israel breaks all barriers of left and right.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Israel serenading India

An Israeli government-owned arms company, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, produced the Bollywood-esque video in aims of strengthening Israeli-Indo defence ties. The clip, which was recently showcased at the Aero India exhibition in Bangalore, features a man (Israel) who promises to defend and shield a woman (India) asking for protection and security. Dancing on a stage flanked by flower draped missiles, the actors jointly sing: ‘Together, forever, I will hold you in my heart. Together, forever, we will never be apart' The Obsevers
I'm not quite sure what to make of this. The love affair between Israel and India is nothing new. In fact, the selection of the Mumbai chabad house as a target by the Pakistan's Lashkar-e-Taiba had little to do with the middle east conflict and much more to do with Israeli-Indian military relations. The masculination of Israel and feminisation of India may be somewhat insulting to India but is far more natural than the reverse. 

One thing though I now know for certain - Indians make far better bollywood clips than Israelis.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Morning After: An Analysis of the Israeli Political Landscape

The Israeli elections ended with two and a half victory speeches and one concession speech.

The biggest loser was clearly the Labor Party (HaAvodah). Despite Barak’s star performance in the recent Gaza operation as Defence Minister, the party that had dominated the Israeli political landscape since inception, that had ruled without loss for the first 30 years of nationhood (as Mapai and the Alignment) is tonight no longer a force in Israeli politics. It came in a dismal fourth place, having secured only 12 seats in Israel’s 120-seat Knesset. Israel’s voters, the sons and daughters of socialists, have firmly rejected the left. The Labor party would do best to stay in opposition and regroup, as Likud has done in recent years. The only scenario in which it is likely to be in government is in a national unity government alongside Likud and Kadima (where it may place the national interest over party politics).

Livni, the woman who called these elections having failed in her previous attempts in coalition building, claimed victory after securing first place. Kadima’s 28 seats reflect a one seat margin over Likud and a one seat loss from its position in the last Knesset. Within the span of three years, Kadima experienced two elections; the loss of its founding fathers (Sharon and Peres); a bogged corruption scandal; a worsening security situation; two controversial wars; and a likely recession. Livni delivered an excellent result for her party and should be proud of beating the pollsters. She ran a good campaign, and made the most of the last minute momentum Kadima experienced, buoyed by a high voter turnout. That said, having secured first place, she is back where she was when she called these elections, unable to form a stable coalition.

The other victory speech came from Netanyahu, the man most likely to be Israel’s next prime minister. With all the cards stacked against Kadima, this was his election to lose, which he did. He ran the classic frontrunner’s campaign (firmly rejecting Livni’s repeated requests for a debate) and ended up in second place. On the flip side, Netanyahu led the Likud back from its meagre 12 seats in the last Knesset to a political beast of 27 seats and most importantly, as the leader of the national block, he can thwart attempts by Livni to form a government. He is therefore most likely to become Israel’s next prime minister.

The Russian-immigrant- secular-nationalist party, Israel Bateinu (‘Israel is our home’) claimed half a victory, having delivered 15 seats that may well hold the balance of power in the next Knesset. This result (below polling expectations but above its 11 seats in the last Knesset) moves it from fifth place to third place, surpassing the Labor party. Avigdor Lieberman will play both sides to his advantage. Having ran on a platform that is more nationalist than Likud, he has recently proclaimed that his party cannot be assumed to recommend Netanyahu as the next Prime Minister and may indeed recommend Tzip Livni (if the price is right) or indeed himself for the top job.

Over the next few days, Tzipi Livni would be trying to mend fences with all those who would be happy to see the end of Kadima and try to ensure Shimon Peres gives her the first crack at forming a coalition – an unenviable task. Meanwhile, Bibi Netanyahu would be forming a block that would prevent her from governing. In between the rounds of meeting with political allies and foes, they may well play with Ynet’s recently-released game Build Yourself a Coalition. No doubt, Bibi would be having more fun than Livni. He is more likely to get the message “You can form a government” and far less likely to get the annoying popup: “Your coalition is politically unreasonable”.

Israel’s president, Shimon Peres, may find himself in the awkward position of handing the premiership to his former nemesis, the man who beat him in the 1996 elections, and the man who lost the current elections. He would probably much rather hand the reins to the woman whose party won these elections, to the party he co-founded, and to the people continuing the vision of the partners he lost along the way (Rabin and Sharon). Peres may well facilitate the formation a national unity government with a rotational approach, like the one he entered with Yitchak Shamir following the 1984 election deadlock. Barring that, Peres is bound to choose the candidate most likely to form a stable government, and like it or not, that person is Binyamin Netanyahu.

Only in Israel

  • Will you hear two victory speeches and one concession speech
  • Will you be able to vote for Holocaust Survivors and Grown Up Leaf Party, the party advocating for pension reform fo Holocaust surviors and marijuana legalisation.
  • Will you find a ticket promoting the environment and the separation of religion and state headed by the Chief Rabbi of Norway (son of the former Chief Rabbi of Denmark). Unfortunately, the party did not make the cut and Rabbi Melchior’s exemplarity conduct will be sorely missed in the next Knesset.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Three Falafels: An analysis of the Israeli elections

Three Falafels:

Three Israelis discussing their choices at the Ballot at Shimshon, the Falafel King



Ari: Avoda/Labor supporter

Kefir: Kadima supporter

Lavi: Likud supporter


Ari:  Hey Shimshon, give us three falafels with extra tahina and chilli ...and don’t be stingy with the falafel balls. We’re starving!

Lavi: So guys, don’t tell me you lefties are voting for the same thing again on Tuesday, some more Kadima and yet more Avoda. What do want? Four more years of pain and no gain?!

Kefir: First of all, Lavi, I’m not a leftie. Don’t forget the days we attended those Likud rallies together. Do you remember the one in ’96, when Olmert, then Mayor of Jerusalem, stood by Bibi [Netanyahu] and unveiled the election slogan ‘Peres will divide Jerusalem’?!; Remember the rally at Zion square where we chanted till we lost our voices ‘Arik, king of Israel, may he live forever’?! I’m not some starry-eyed leftie!

Lavi: Yeah, I remember. And now Arik [Sharon] is a vegetable, while Peres, who is still alive and kicking, will hand over the premiership to Bibi next week. Meanwhile, it is Olmert who offered North, South and East Jerusalem as part of final status agreement with Fatah. How the tables have turned? Imagine what happens if Hamas takes over the West Bank and starts shooting Qassam rockets from East Jerusalem at Ben Gurion airport or worse, here at Shimshon - the Falafel King.

Ari: It’s all very well to sit in opposition and criticise an incumbent, but the right never seems to come up with an alternate solution. I don’t think Kadima has all the answers, and it is a party formed in opportunism, but at least it made some brave decisions.

Lavi: Like what?! the disengagement?! I remember three years ago you were both arguing in favour of disengagement from Gaza, saying we had no business there. Leave them and they will leave us, you said. But we left them and they didn’t leave us. They elected a government that has our destruction as its aim; they used their borders to smuggle in weapons and fired thousands of rockets at us. I see the sacrifice but where is your peace?

Kefir: True, but at least now we can hit back. We can close borders when we need to. We can build a security fence between us, which you know very well has curbed the wave of suicide bombings that preceded disengagement. It is far easier to deal with an enemy state than with an insurgency.

Lavi: If only the world saw it that way. Look at them demonstrating, they want to put Olmert on war crimes trials; they call Peres a traitor. Peres! the darling of the left. So, you ceded territory, created a stronger enemy and gained zilch diplomatically. Where has Kadima disengagement plan taken us? This is achora (backwards), not kadima (forwards). Only Bibi stood up and predicted this is how it will turn out, while your leaders were busy expelling our own people from their homes.

Ari: But that’s the nature of peace. You make it with enemies, not with friends. And besides, what is your solution? Population transfer?!

Lavi: Drop it! Bibi is not Lieberman. The solution is to negotiate with the right partner from a position of strength, and not to negotiate from a position of weakness with partners who are either unwilling - like Hamas, or incapable - like Fatah, to stem the violence.

Ari: But meanwhile while you wait for your ideal partner, the problem is only getting worse, not better. You cannot have two million people living under occupation without expecting things to heat up. People have a right to live freely in their land!

Lavi: What occupation are you talking about? The one they have today with full control over their subjects; international recognition; government institutions and elections and an independent security apparatus? – or the old fashioned one, where under ‘occupation’, we supplied all their basic needs, and witnessed their population quadruple and life expectancy increase from 46 to 73?

Ari: It’s about pride, national pride. They are entitled to have a land like you do; to sing their own Hatikvah! This is not about the past, but about the future. The reality is that they, like us, are here to stay.

Lavi: If only they, like you, accepted that we are here to stay.

Kefir: Don’t forget, Lavi, that the biggest threat the Palestinians can inflict on us is demographic rather than military. As soon as they become a majority between the Mediterranean and the Jordan, the Palestinians will be seeking a one state solution, in which you and I will become a minority. Your choice is simple: either you give them their country or compete with them in the bedroom and at the ballot. The sooner we divorce ourselves from them, the better. Kadima is all about pragmatism, not idealism. There is no easy way out here. We have to strive for peace with the likes of Fatah while weakening the forces opposed to peace, like Hamas.

Ari: Well, that sounds not unlike the position of the Avoda. After all, it was Barak who led Operation Cast Lead, and he certainly delivered a military success as Minister of Defence, something that cannot be said of the diplomatic accomplishments of the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Hey, Kefir?!

Lavi: Ari, Ari, listen to yourself boasting military credentials. What happened to “Lift your eyes with hope; not through the rifles' sights; sing a song for love; and not for wars”. I see you guys no longer sing the ‘song of peace’. Disillusionment has set in, huh?!

Ari: I suppose, that’s somewhat true, but mark my words, the day will come and we must bring on that day. But maybe not this time around. This election is already over before it began... Bibi will become the next prime minister and will lead a broad-broad coalition with Barak on the inside and Livni on the outside – if he can afford to.

Kefir: Why would he prefer Barak over Livni?

Lavi: Both Likud and Avoda would be happy to see your party crumble in opposition. Kadima was a one term party and you had your day in the sun.

Ari: Okay guys, let’s drop the subject. How about we give the voting booth a miss this Tuesday and pop by my place for a barbeque instead?

Kefir: That’s a better way to spend a public holiday than standing in a queue.

Lavi: Count me in!

Ari:  Hey Shimshon, can we have some Turkish coffee here?! ...and don’t be stingy with the sugar. I’ve seen bitter days!

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Davos Debates: Getting Emotional

Peres' argument for Israel's operation in Gaza and Erdogan's response.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The light side of things

A man on a beach sees a shark near a child in the shallows. Ignoring personal safety, he dives in the water and, with his bare hands, kills the shark. He brings the tot to shore and is met with tumultuous applause from spectators. "Geez, mate" says a BBC reporter "You should get a medal. What part of Britian are you from?" Modestly our hero says: "Actually I'm from Israel" 

Next day on BBC's breaking news: "Israeli reservist kills child's pet"

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Blame Game in Gaza

In the Gaza Strip people are returning home -- or to the rubble that was once their home. Many are blaming Hamas for the destruction because the militants hid among civilians and attracted Israeli fire. Yet no one dares to speak out openly.

"I used to support Hamas because they fought for our country, for Palestine," says Sadala. Hamas stood for a new start, for an end of corruption, which had spread like cancer under the moderate Fatah. In the 2006 elections Hamas won the majority with their message of change, said Sadala, who earned a living in the building business. Gesticulating wildly, the 52-year-old surveyed the ruins of the bedroom: "That is the change that they brought about. We were blasted back 2,000 years."

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Goodbye George: From the Diary of Former Liberal

I didn’t always like George.

There was a time I thought of him as a stupid stooge, a man undeserving of power. There was a time I thought he had shattered America’s greatest asset – its democracy.

I had followed every twist and turn in that infamous ballot count, read all the relevant legal proceedings and felt personally wronged when on 12 December 2000 the US Supreme Court ruled against the man I voted for. I was so incensed by what I saw as an appointment against the will of the people that I inquired about rescinding my US citizenship. Thankfully, I never followed through.

It was nine months later, I felt American again, and a proud one at that.

As I watched the second plane crash into the World Trade Centre, I realised the world had changed forever; that a dark new reality has set in; that the world my children will grow in will not be the world of my childhood.

I understood this in seconds and so did George, my old foe. Some have still to grasp this.

On that day, George grew into his role as leader of the free world. Hanging chads no longer mattered when smoke filled the skies of Manhattan. A man not known for his words was saying exactly what I needed to hear. He spoke on that fateful day:

Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve.

America was targeted for attack because we're the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining.

It was comforting to hear of good and bad, of right and wrong. It was great to hear some answers when all around me were questions. I now know that this strength of George led ultimately to his demise and I am sure that he understood this as well, but by the then the course was set and history is unwavering.

As a former liberal, I had to get used to living with George’s moral clarity, a world of black and white, good and evil, Cowboys and Indians. But then I realised, even black and white has its place on a full colour spectrum. There is a time and place for monochrome. I also realised that the alternate view, proposed by the liberal camp, was even more limiting in its spectrum. Unlike George, their world was painted a single shade of murky grey, a world where perpetrator and victim were morally equalled. This alternate view suggested that America had brought September 11 upon itself and should see itself as its own aggressor and its aggressor as its victim. In this topsy-turvy weltanschauung, old allies and long held values should be abandoned for the sake of expediency. It is the same logic that blames the rape victim for her ordeal: she should have never worn that mini skirt in the first place.

George recognised that the problem was more fundamental than America’s mini skirt; that Osama and the 9/11 crew had little grievance about US policy in the Arab-Israeli conflict but were rather fiercely opposed to the spread of secular thought in the Middle East; that the best way of beating them was to do just that, spread democracy in the region, by whatever means necessary. A government by the people for the people has no interest in perpetuating ongoing conflict. George was not the first American to hold such a universalist view of freedom and democracy. Some years ago, his predecessors wrote:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government... to effect their Safety and Happiness.

The world has changed a lot since these words were written, and America has changed too – with men and women of all races allowed to vote and run for office - but mankind has not changed much. We all still strive for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. George believed this was true of everyone, even the Arabs.

The Iraqi elections proved that the unspoken notion of non-interventionalists that Arabs are (a) incapable or (b) undeserving of democracy was indeed a fallacy. It took a man of black and white to rid the world of this grey notion. The premise of basic human rights is set on universal principals that apply to all people at all times at all places – an absolutist notion. The relativist approach that opposes the imposition of democracy has pushed human rights championship away from their camp to the political right.

An so I too found myself on the other side of politics. I had become a neocon and have loved George ever since.

I believe history is likely to prove George right. We may not know the full impact of his actions for some decades to come and by then I know he is unlikely to get the credit for the wheels he set in motion. Meanwhile, we have witnessed democratic elections in Iraq and Palestine; the institution of parliaments in Qatar and Bahrain; Municipal elections in Saudi Arabia; Shura (Consultation) Council elections in Oman; Increased allowances for opposition parties in Syria, Egypt, and Tunisia; a royal decree granting women rights in Morocco; and the renunciation of terrorism by Lybia – to name but a few developments. As George said back in March 2005, “the trend is clear. In the Middle East and throughout the world, freedom is on the march”. His ally John Howard backed this view up when he stated that “these things wouldn't have been thought remotely possible a year ago and I have no doubt that ... one of the reasons ... was the overthrow of Saddam Hussein”. Even old foes like Walid Jumblatt, the leftist Lebanese Druze leader shared the view:

I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, eight million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world. The Berlin Wall has fallen.

The Berlin Wall has fallen once again while your news reporters were looking the other way, counting body bags in Iraq and actively embroiling themselves in partisan politics.

And so I bid farewell to the man who sacrificed his legacy to protect America’s greatest asset, freedom and democracy. Ironically, he had become the defender of the asset I had once accused him of robbing.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Some news you may have missed...

While the conflict between Israel and Hamas unfolded in Gaza over the past few weeks, many innocent Gazan civilians stuck in the middle have no doubt suffered much. Meanwhile, another group of civilians further south has been going through a nightmare of no lesser proportion. You may be forgiven if you haven’t heard about the dire situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where over 1,000 civilians have been killed by a Ugandan rebel group since Christmas (Source: ResolveUganda). After all, the papers were so filled with coverage of the situation in Gaza, they had left little space to report this story; the late-night news devoted half its time to scenes of death and destruction in Gaza, running out of time before they had the chance to update you on the massacres in the DRC


Confronted with two crises of a similar scale evolving over the same timeframe, the media chose to devote its full attention to one while blankly ignoring the other. Looking at these statistics, the mainstream media has little right to preach the doctrine of proportionality.

Monday, January 12, 2009

A time for war and a time for peace

It was the wisest of men who said there comes “a time for war,and a time for peace.” The doctrine of a just war was later formulated by Aristotle, Cicero, and Augustine and finally incorporated in Article 51 of the UN Charter, which states that “nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense.”

Much has been said about the current military operation Israel is conducting against Hamas and doubt has been raised over its moral and legal legitimacy. So, is the war on Hamas immoral? Is any war indeed just?

To find out more, read my article at: