Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Israeli Forces Kill Palestinian Children: Hamas Must Renounce Violence

According to Palestinian doctors, an Israeli aircraft fired missiles into a crowded Gaza street on Monday, killing five people including two Islamic Jihad leaders and 2 child bystanders. This incident is part of an unfortunate pattern of children loosing their lives in this conflict. Two more Palestinian children were killed near the Al Boreij refugee camp when an undetonated Israeli shell exploded near the youths. According to Remember These Children, these deaths bring the total number of Palestinian children killed by Israeli soldiers and settlers since September 2000 to 707 (in comparison, 123 Israeli children have lost their lives in this time).

These deaths coincide with Israeli threats to kill any Palestinian member of Hamas, including members of the Palestinian government.

Ironically, these deaths have not been deemed as newsworthy in the New York Times or the Washington Post, CNN, and only seemed to have been mentioned in passing in the USA Today in an article on the Israeli threat mentioned above. Washington Post instead decided to focus on the Oscar nomination of "Paradise Now" and the reaction of family members of people killed by suicide bombings.

Meanwhile the United States, Israel, Europe and much of the world have continued to argue for economic and military isolation of Palestine until the ruling Hamas party "renounces violence and recognizes Israel's right to exist." Israel has taken this opportunity to impound money it has taxed from Palestinians, and the U.S. government has demanded back money it had given to the Palestinian Authority before the election victory by Hamas. The Palestinian crisis is so severe that the World Bank has given an emergency $42 million dollar grant to keep the PA from collapsing BEFORE the Hamas party formally takes power. Israeli leaders have called this strategy "putting starving Palestinians on a diet."

Ironically, while Hamas itself has held to an informal truce for over a year, and Israel has continued attacks that kill Palestinian civilians and threaten to assassinate Palestinian politicians and heads-of-state, international attention has focused on Hamas' violence and Israel's "right to defend itself." This moral double standard is can only be seen as hypocrisy as Palestinians and others who identify with them. While many may consider this position as "Pro-Israel," it could lead to more violence and destabilization in the Middle East that conflicts with Israel's long term interests.

A recent combative Al Jazeera interview with Aziz Duwaik illustrates a more nuanced position of local Hamas politics (and Al Jazeera editorial policy). Aziz Duwaik is professor of urban planning at the Najah University of Nablus and elected member of parliament in the recent Palestinian legislative elections as a representative of Hamas

Do you fear a Holocaust against Muslims similar to what happened to the Jews?

Why not? The Holocaust was committed by human beings, not by citizens of another planet, and Germany, where Nazism thrived, was probably the most culturally advanced European country in the 1930s and 1940s.

But Europe is now democratic, unlike Nazi Germany?

Yes, but who told you those democracies don't commit genocide? America is a democracy, but we saw recently how this democracy invaded and destroyed two small and weak countries based on lies, while most Americans were duped into believing that Bush was doing the right thing.

Let's talk about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Do you still want to destroy Israel?

You are asking the victims of Israeli oppression, occupation and racism if they are interested in destroying their oppressors and tormentors? This is a tendentious question that should be asked to Israel, which is occupying our country and oppressing our people and carrying out ethnic cleansing against us.

In fact, all that we want is to be free. Is freedom for the Palestinian people tantamount to destruction of Israel?

Are you not are evading the question?

I am not evading anything; it is you who is evading and ignoring reality here. Just take a look and see for yourself who is destroying whom, who is stealing whose land, who is savaging and persecuting and brutalising whose people, and who is practising ethnic cleansing and slow-motion genocide against the other.

But the question remains, how can Israel possibly talk with Hamas as long as Hamas refuses to recognise Israel's right to exist?

Why on earth should we recognise Israel while Israel refuses to recognise Palestine? Indeed, we can't understand why the international community, strangely enough including some Arab leaders, is demanding that we recognise Israel but making no similar demands on Israel that it ought to recognise Palestine.

But Israel is a reality while Palestine is not.

Palestine is also a reality. There are nearly five million Palestinians living in Palestine and these people have an inherent right to self-determination. Do you think that we are children of a lesser God or something?

Israel has recognised the PLO and said it will accept President Bush's vision which calls for the creation of a Palestinian state that would live in peace alongside Israel?

The important thing is not what Israel says but what Israel does. Israel has built hundreds of Jewish-only colonies in the West Bank and transferred hundreds of thousands of its citizen to the occupied territories. This alone shows the mendacity of its claims regarding Palestinian statehood.

Are you implying that the creation of a Palestinian state is no longer possible or realistic?

Precisely. Israel has effectively killed all prospects of a genuine and viable Palestinian state in the West Bank. In a nutshell, there is no room left for a true and viable Palestinian state in the West Bank. The implanting of so many Jewish colonies has made the creation of such a state utterly impossible.

Will you be willing to negotiate with Israel?

Negotiation in itself is not the issue. The issue is our rights as human beings and as a nation. If Israel is willing and ready to come to terms with our human, civil and political rights, then we can negotiate, otherwise we will not allow ourselves to repeat the same failed process of the past 10 years all over again. We maybe weak politically, but we certainly are not stupid.

The Oslo process was not a peace process. It was a process of deception and cheating and lies which enabled Israel to truncate our homeland with settlements and separation walls and roadblocks and closed military zones. We will not deceive our people as the Palestinian Authority did for 10 years.

Some authoritarian tendencies of Hamas, and its history of attacks on civilians certainly are reasons for sincere, legitimate concern. However, Israel's plan to kill Palestinians and call for the isolation and destruction of Hamas while Hamas sticks to a truce and struggles for legitimacy can only reinforce the most radical elements in Hamas, while marginalizing those who call for co-existence and a peaceful resolution. The other powerful countries that support and participate in this strategy are only damning the region to continued violence, and the continued loss of life of the guilty and the innocent alike. Unfortunately the death toll of children in Israel and its occupied Palestine will not stay at 830 forever.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Aristide: A Man that the Powerful Love to Hate

Those reading the news on Haiti these days may be surprised to continuously read comments by American officials and analysis by international media (including the New York Times or the BBC) to only understand the Haitian political crisis through the lens of the deposed president Jean Bertrand Aristide. Indeed, the hatred and distrust is so profound that George Bush is reportedly advising President-elect Preval to deny Aristide re-entry into the country in violation of the constitution, and BBC argued until recently that the political violence was a metaphorical "Shadow of Aristide."

Aristide as a target since 1987

However, the truth is that violence and persecution of Aristide, his allies and what he represents has been a much more consistent element of Haitian politics than has been the peaceful transfer of power from one elected official to another (only once has an elected Haitian president handed over power in this way to another elected president when Preval ceded his position to Jean Bertrand Aristide in 2002).

In this light, it is an important question to ask for newcomers to Haitian politics. Why does the United States (and the Haitian elite) hate Aristide with such a passion?

My grandmother Peg recently asked me this question. She is no political neo-phyte, and was once even thrown out of a gala thrown in Omaha for Oliver North because she was passing out satirical programs for the event which boasted of his "many accomplishments in Central America" and pictured women and children murdered by CONTRA forces on the inside. Luckily, her familiarity with the politics of Central America during the 1980s will allow her to better understand the current Haitian situation.

I may be overanalyzing, but I have tried to thoroughly answered the question, so my response is long. The short answer is 1) Aristide is a symbol and a leader of a movement that has tried to bring the massive social underclass into power where a small elite minority has traditionally ruled. 2) The same actors that tried to prevent this transition from dictatorship to true democracy in the 1980s are still those fueling the anti-Aristide hatred. 3) Since those actors that are in the United States are then, therefore, still fueled by a cold-war anti-communism and Central American style dirty war, they still attack Aristide in the same brutal and anachronistic way that they operated in Central America in the 1980s.

The "Salvadorization" of Haiti

First of all, Aristide must understood in the context of the intense class struggle of countries like Haiti and El Salvador. This is pointed out in the quintessential book on the topic, The Uses of Haiti written by Harvard physician Paul Farmer. In addition to helping run clinics in Haiti, Peru and Rwanda, Farmer took time out last month to diagnose and help treat Haitian priest and Aristide ally Fr. Gerard Jean Juste. "Both countries are small and agrarian; both are extremely inegalitarian and dependent on the United States," (Farmer 247).

Aristide first became famous as a Catholic priest in Cite Soleil, the poorest slum in the capital of the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. This sprawling shanty-town is currently cited as the home of "bandits" and "armed gangs" blamed with insecurity in Haiti. It was also the site of many of the most serious accusations of Florida/Ohio-style disenfranchisement of poor Haitian voters.

He rose to prominence during the presidency of Ronald Reagan, as the movement for democracy in Haiti grew to a flood, the meaning of the name "lavalas" the movement gave itself. He stood out as much for his determination and his bravery as much as for the rhetoric of his sermons that so frightened the small wealthy minority of Haiti. Aristide maintained a high profile as openly challenging of the Haitian army despite the string of political motivated killings and massacres that so much resembled the massacres in El Salvador like El Mazote, the so-called "Salvadorization of Haiti" (qtd. Farmer 148). "While others in the opposition had gone into hiding after receving multiple death threats, he remained adamantly visible," (qtd. Farmer 135). More than one assassination attempt failed, gaining him prestige among Haiti's oppressed and passionate hatred from the army and the ruling class.

While the U.S. government and Haitian elites called Aristide a "communist," political attacks mounted against popular movements and their representatives under Cold War logic being designed by characters like Otto Reich, Roger Noriega and Eliott Abrams. These were the same people carrying out U.S. support for the Salvadoran and Honduran military atrocities and illegally obtaining support for the Contra attacks on the Sandinistas by selling arms to the Iranians. This became known as the "Iran-Contra Affair," though despite its illegalities, everyone who went to jail was pardoned by Reagan or George Bush the first. However, at the same time, the U.S. government was pressuring for formal elections to justify these policies under the rubric of the fight for democracy.

It is important to point out that many of the same people who designed the brutal anti-communist policies in Haiti and Central America were put in prominent positions of power in the George W. Bush government. In addition to the three named above (Otto Reich and Roger Noriega have been explicitly working on overthrowing the Aristide government), the former U.S. ambassador to Honduras John Negroponte who coordinated with the CIA and the notorious torture-squad Battalion 316 is now the head of U.S. intelligence. Not surprisingly U.S. policy still reflects brutal and anachronistic cold war logic of the Reagan era, including the stance on Aristide.

Meanwhile, Haitians involved in the brutality against activists of Lavalas have also returned to positions of prominence. The recent coup's military leaders, many of whom were trained in the United States and paid by the CIA, were from the line of Tonton Macoute's that protected the old dictatorships and lead a coup in 1990. American journalist in Haiti Kevin Pina writes,
Several of the paramilitary leaders now rampaging Haiti are men who were at the forefront of the US-backed campaign of terror during the 1991-94 coup against Aristide. Among the paramilitary figures now leading the current insurrection is Louis Jodel Chamblain, the former number 2 man in the FRAPH paramilitary death squad.

These "death squad leaders" have since been freed by the coup era courts while Lavalas activists were imprisoned. The current politicians that argue against the Préval presidency and against Aristide's right to return are also many of the same characters who the dictatorship tried to usher into power during the transition. Leslie Manigat, who won 12% of the last elections, is currently challenging the legitimacy of the Préval election. Manigat was the first un-elected "president" to serve after Baby Doc Duvalier stepped down from power.

Aristide as a symbolic target

It is also important to note that Aristide is seen as a prominent symbol of liberation theology outside of the American mainland. This incorporation of values of social justice and empowerment of the poor as essential lessons of the gospel were hated enough by Americans in power that they have allowed systematic murder, torture, and rape of priests and nuns in Central America and in Haiti. Furthermore, many of those in this country that most supported such attacks had connections to powerful Christian organizations. Meanwhile, the vatican and other organizations have attempted to marginalize Aristide and others because of their politics and have never adequately come to the defense of Christians of the cloth under attack by right wing death squads. One wonders if the attack on Aristide isn't the continuation of this violence against Christians who support the poor because they represent a real challenge to the right-wing configuration of political christianity that is so closely connected to powerful states, transnational corporations and wealthy individuals.

However, perhaps the most important point in understanding the hatred of Aristide is that we should not assume that the Americans and Haitians in positions of power hate Aristide because of Aristide the individual. Indeed, as Farmer poinst "existing power structures" see "popular organizations that threaten to offer the overwhelming majority a voice in managing their own affairs [as] a threat to democracy," (Farmer 32). Aristide the priest is not the threat, but Aristide the leader of Lavalas is. Furthermore, the U.S. government and media as well as the Haitian elites would have a hard time arguing that they were working for democracy if they showed open contempt toward the %80 of the population that voted for Aristide.

They therefore have focused on rhetorically attacking Aristide on the international stage while physically attacking and judicially persecuting everyone else in the Lavalas movement that worked with Aristide. These include the former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, the Priest Gerard Jean Juste (now in Miami on conditional release for cancer treatment), folk singer So Anne, and many others. There is some speculation that any Lavalas member that was seen as a potential presidential candidate was imprisoned as a preventative measure.

The current president-elect Préval would probably have been a target of government repression if he had been more of an active candidate for presidency. Many international analysts called Préval "an enigma" before the election because he kept quiet and out of sight before the election. He has stated that he did not intend to run for president, but after other Lavalas candidates were imprisoned and forbidden to run, "1,000 peasants showed up at [his farmers'] cooperative meeting area and urged him to run. They told him he would be a traitor if he didn't."

Since the election, Préval has kept his remarks relatively coy on issues such as Aristide's return, saying "The Haitian Constitution says that whatever Haitian can return to his country, he does not need a visa, so he must decide whether he wants to return, if there are legal and other actions." This statement is legally based, arguing that no one is above the law, but neither can extra-judicial decisions be made to ban a resident of Haiti from his country because of politics. However, diplomats from the U.S., French, Canadian, and Haitian interim (coup) government have been pushing for Aristide to be banned from the country and have been taking Préval's statements out of context so that they seem to agree with the foreign diplomats' position. The media is playing into this game as well, as the recent round of "Aristide's Return May Cause Chaos" articles

What does it all mean?

This is a difficult position for the Haitian people and Préval, in general. While having won an important battle to bring Préval to power, this is the fourth election in which the candidate supported by the poor came to power. However, since the first election there have been 3 coups (2 of them successful). The death squad leaders are free while Lavalas politicians and technocrats have been imprisoned, killed, or run into hiding. The economic health of the country has been devastated and all of the health, transportation and education projects have been targetted for repression as part of "Aristide's" Lavalas movement.

We need to watch the Haitian news carefully. The more criticism heaped on coup supporters for a lack of "democracy" or "legitimacy" in the international media, the more likely a coup or other dirty trick is in the works.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

New Orleans after Mardi Gras

My older brother, a former New Orleans resident, invited me down to Mardi Gras this year. I went down with him years ago, and found it to be too decadent, too crazy. New Orleans was lively enough without being so packed with out of town youths agressively drinking for a week.

When he invited me this time, I think I said, "I don't think I want to drink excessively in NOLA while many of its former residents are still struggling and unable to return. Maybe if we can find some of the black New Orleans Mardi Gras rituals..."

Jordan Flaherty, a New Orleans resident and union organizer with Left Turn published a piece "Nothing Stops Mardi Gras." This piece captures my ambivalence well, and details many of the alternative Mardi Gras rituals I didn't know about.

Jordan also appeared on Democracy Now today with Amy Goodman.

On Friday Feb. 24th, Andrei Codrescu published another piece called "Mardi Gras After the Deluge."