Thursday, April 24, 2003
Lesbian, Vegan Wicca Against Globalization for Economic Justice in Palestine, a Free Iraq, and Mumia

The other day, whilst taking a dig at the deluded hippies/meddling twerps from the International Solidarity Movement, I mentioned the organizer of the ISM's "How to Stand in Front of a Bulldozer" seminar. This is a busybody who goes under the name "Starhawk". She's the one who wants to help Israel by making sure the terrorists have ready access to arms and shelter.

I got an email today from Janet Kingan, a reader in Massachusetts who pointed out that the gentle souls at Hamas -- whom Starhawk defends tacitly, if not actively -- ever wised up to the fact she was a pagan, they'd have her beheaded. Janet also hipped me to Starhawk's website. Apparently, my initial impressions of Starhawk were wrong. It turns out she's more than just a feminist pagan with misguided ideas about what Israel needs. In fact, she's nothing short of a Renaissance womyn.

From Starhawk's bio:
Starhawk is the author or coauthor of nine books, including The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess, long considered the essential text for the Neo-Pagan movement, and the now-classic ecotopian novel The Fifth Sacred Thing.... Starhawk is a veteran of progressive movements and deeply committed to bringing the techniques and creative power of spirituality to political activism.
The bio goes on to list her wide and varied political activities which date back (surprise, surprise) to the golden days of Vietnam. Along with sticking her nose into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she's also been involved with anti-nuclear protests, mucked about in El Salvador and Nicaragua, dabbled in environmental activism, and been a part of the global justice movement.
Together with Penny Livingston-Stark, she also coteaches intensive seminars that combine permaculture design, political organizing and activism, and earth-based spirituality. Known as EAT, Earth Activist Training, this seminar is now held both in Europe and in the US.
Around here, you'd ask ma hakesher?-- what's the common thread? What do environmental issues have to do with "earth-based spirituality" have to do with El Salvador? The answer: nothing, other than a fuzzy sense that all of these are Really Bad Things that we need to speak out against.

I get this same ma hakesher? feeling every time I see these anti-globalization carnivals and espy someone in a kaffiyah toting a banner reading "Israel=Nazism" or "Justice for Mumia". There is no coherent ideology. Just protesting for protesting's sake. If it's not the research facility at Lawrence Livermore then it's the "massacre" in Jenin. It doesn't actually matter as long as you get a chance to pull out the big puppets.

The article on the ISM seminar detailed the training the activists receive. Among this is a whopping one hour on the historical backdrop to the conflict. In addition, the activists also learn how to handle the media. It doesn't say just how much time is devoted to teaching them the party line, but one suspects that it's more than 60 minutes. This is the whole point: the background is irrelevant; the only thing you need to know is what to chant.

I'm sure Starhawk will probably argue my ear off to the contrary, and I invite her to do so if she can find time in her busy schedule.

Back to Business as Usual

Almost as if to celebrate the establishment of an Abu Mazen government, a Palestinian bomber blew himself up this morning at the entrance to the train station in Kfar Sava. Alexander Kostyuk, the 23-year old security guard at the train station was killed when the bomb went off, and a dozen others were injured.

Two thoughts here. First, the attack. Throughout the recent Passover holiday week, the security services have been working night and day to prevent attacks such as the one this morning. They managed to foil literally dozens of these attacks, in a few cases actually nabbing the bomber on the way to the scene of the crime. Unfortunately, one of the bastards managed to get through. This morning's "martyr" belonged to the Al Aqsa Brigades (still under the leadership of the murderous ghoul Arafat), or some splinter group thereof. All this coming against the backdrop of the new government.

Secondly, the victim. Kostyuk was an immigrant from the Ukraine who leaves behind a pair of grieving parents and a younger brother. He died in the line of duty, having physically blocked the entrance to the train station and prevented the bomber from going inside. Had he not done so, the death toll would likely have been much higher. And all this as part of a low-paying, low status job. In her blog today, Allison Kaplan Sommer summed up Kostyuk's heroism:
What is remarkable is that this isn't remarkable. He isn't the first guard and won't be the last to do this. We're not talking about policemen, or soldiers, or any other official job with a fancy uniform and a good pension. We're talking about someone who is likely doing this because they can't find a job in the profession they really want to work, and desperately need a paycheck. And yet, when push comes to shove, they put their lives on the line -- and often lose.

My appreciation and respect for these people knows no bounds.
Let me second that thought. Strongly.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003
Showdown Over

And so it ends. Arafat and Abu Mazen have reached an agreement which will allow the latter to announce his government to the Palestinian Legislature and will probably lead to the publication of the road map.

The core of the problem was Mohammed Dahlan, whom Arafat was trying to keep from becoming the minister in charge of security. As I understand the deal, Dahlan will be in charge of security although he won't be the interior minister. Which I suppose is the kind of diplomatic hair splitting meant to placate hysterical egomaniacs like Arafat. A steady stream of fawning phone calls from Europe to Arafat's office in the Muqata'a probably helped as well.

The bigger question remains what will happen with disarming the Palestinian terrorist groups. Hamas has already threatened the new government. A bigger question remains what to do with the Al Aqsa Brigades which are a part of Arafat's Fatah movement. Without some serious moves to crack down on these bastards, no progress will be possible in the region.

The Honourable MP for Baghdad

The British media are in a tizzy over a report in the Daily Telegraph which alleges that George Galloway, a Labour MP for Glasgow and a prominent leader of the anti-war movement in Britain, received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Saddam Hussein. Over the last decade, Galloway has been one of Saddam's leading supporters in the West.

The Telegraph discovered documents in the Iraqi Foreign Ministry in Baghdad which detailed the payments-- diverted from Iraq's oil-for-food program -- to Galloway's coffers. A followup report today in the Telegraph quotes memoranda from Saddam himself saying that he can't afford to pay Galloway's increasing demands.

In addition, a story in today's Times of London alleges that Galloway misused funds from the Mariam Appeal, a non-profit organization whose purpose was to help sick Iraqi children.

Galloway has of course denied all the allegations and has threatened to sue the Telegraph for libel. In the meantime he faces expulsion from the Labor party, being charged with treason, and hopefully getting voted out by his constituents at the next possible opportunity.

It'll be more interesting to see what the implications are for the anti-war movement and whether they will have the guts to publicly denounce the man.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003
Showdown Continues

We are now about 24 hours away from the deadline for Abu Mazen to present his cabinet. The way things look at the moment it ain't gonna happen. Abu Mazen has decided he isn't going to talk to Arafat anymore and in the meantime the ra'is is getting body checked by the Europeans who have disabused him of the idea that he can appoint one of his toadies as an alternative Prime Minister.

In short, we're looking at a game of political chicken between a relatively unknown quantity (Abu Mazen) and a guy who specializes in pulling last-minute stunts, usually to the detriment of his people (Arafat).

Today's Ha'aretz presented a very interesting analysis of the conflict over the nomination of Mohammed Dahlan to be the top security honcho. According to the article, the Dahlan nomination is only part of a greater issue -- the dismantling of the PA's official terrorist branch:
Palestinian sources said the dispute actually revolves around the premier-designate's plans for establishing a new PA security policy, and whether he must win Arafat's approval for every decision he makes.

The sources said Abu Mazen's plans to disarm the underground armed wing of Fatah, the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, and how he will confront Hamas and Islamic Jihad are at the heart of the dispute.

The Al Aqsa Martyr's brigade have been at the forefront of the suicide bombings and shooting attacks over the last two years. Arafat is so opposed to disbanding them that he is willing to risk open confrontation with the whole world. Not for nothing does this man have a Nobel Peace Prize.

It should be interesting to see what happens tomorrow night. Arafat has been busy painting Abu Mazen as a stooge of Israel and America, thus ensuring that Abu Mazen's legitimacy is undercut even if he does manage to cobble together a cabinet.

The Post-War Political Landscape

David Brooks gives a slightly over-the-top sketch of politics post-Saddam as seen by a hypothetical 20-year-old named Joey Tabula Rasa.

Brooks, as always, is amusing and occasionally spot on. Even if you do get the sense that he's reaching a bit.

Monday, April 21, 2003
Showdown in Ramallah

There's a pissing match a-brewing at the highest echelons of the Palestinian leadership. Tomorrow night, Abu Mazen, the Palestinian Prime Minister-designate is supposed to present his cabinet for approval Palestinian legislature. However, he has spent the last week or two fighting with Arafat over the makeup of the cabinet. The enmity between the two has increased in the last couple of days and have currently reached a dead end.

The main bone of contention between the two men is who will be in charge of security in the new cabinet. Abu Mazen wants Gaza strongman Mohammed Dahlan, whom Arafat hates and fears. The ra'is is doing everything in his power to block the appointment of Dahlan and is trying to place one of his own cronies in the job.

Dahlan is symptomatic of the bigger issue here, which is reforming the PA. Bush and the Europeans pushed for the appointment of a Palestinian prime minister as part of an attempt to reform and democratize the PA. By trying to stack the new cabinet with his own lackeys, Arafat hopes he can use Abu Mazen as a reformist fig leaf while he himself continues to pull the strings. Unfortunately for him, Abu Mazen seems to have his own ideas and it looks like he'd rather resign than become a political puppet.

Abu Mazen has until tomorrow night to present his cabinet to the legislature. At the moment, it's anyone's guess if he'll manage it. If not, there's a good chance that the reforms will collapse, in which case Bush will probably ditch the proposed road plan and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will remain stuck in its present state.

I suspect that Arafat's plan is to use his popularity in the Palestinian street to topple the reforms, then wait out the subsequent political shitstorm until the dupes in Europe start demanding that Bush pressure Israel to make concessions without Palestinian reforms. Israel, of course, will do no such thing even if Bush pushes Sharon (which is unlikely in this scenario). In the meantime, of course, everyone suffers.

Now, I'm not a big believer in the roadmap. I don't think it's the best solution to the situation. To some degree it rewards the Palestinians, and Arafat in particular, for abandoning the last peace process and turning to terror. However, it's better than any other alternative out there at the moment for dialing down the violence around here.

At the same time, I have an almost childish hope that the Arafat succeeds so that the world will finally see the repulsive bugger for what he is: an inveterate terrorist, corrupt to the core and the biggest stumbling block to any progress in the region.

The best thing that could possibly happen for the Palestinian people is for Arafat to suffer a massive coronary tomorrow morning and die. Short of that, we can only hope (as one Israeli official did) that the Europeans finally come to their senses and cut ties with Arafat completely . (Continuing to meet with the guy, as Germany's Foreign Minister Joshcka Fischer did last week, only encourages him to continue making trouble).

Now we wait and see whether Abu Mazen is able to knock Arafat off the throne or vice versa.

Sunday, April 20, 2003
Haaretz visits the ISM

Until last month, the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) was a fairly obscure group of "peace" activists from Europe and the States who travelled to the territories in the belief that their presence would either help publicize what was going on or else help keep the level of violence down. In general, the group found that their first assumption was wrong, since no one really paid them much attention. Then, on March 16, ISM member Rachel Corrie was accidentally run over by an IDF bulldozer while trying to stop the IDF from destroying smuggling tunnels used terrorists to smuggle guns in from Egypt. Subsequently, the group found a much higher profile. Unfortunately, it also found out that its second assumption -- the IDF won't dare do anything while white foreigners are on the scene -- was also incorrect and two other ISMers have been injured in the course of clashes between the IDF and the Palestinians.

Ha'aretz writer Uri Ayalon visited a training workshop set up by the ISM and presents a first-hand account of the group's activities. On the one hand, it's your basic Ha'aretz piece (weepy lefty) which tries to present a damning picture of the occupation. Unwittingly, however, it paints a portrait of a misguided, do-gooder fools in over their heads.

Given what happened to Rachel Corrie, you'd think the first lesson of the ISM workshop would be "keep away from the bulldozers." Instead, as Ayalon reports:
At the workshop, once the introductions are complete, they start out by teaching the "basic terminology of Palestine." The political correctness of ISM doesn't recognize any such thing as a "separation fence" or a "security fence," just an "apartheid fence." One is not to speak of the Israel Defense Forces, but of "the occupation army" or simply "the Israeli army." As in Palestinian society, a "shaheed" is anyone killed because of the occupation, and not necessarily a suicide bomber.

This sets the general tone of things. On the other hand, most of the ISMers probably see the world in these terms anyway. The workshop then proceeds to give them a deep, in-depth understanding of the situation. Or not:
Then they learn about the history of the region (a hundred years are covered in the space of one hour), the doctrine of non-violent resistance (as preached by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King), Palestinian culture (if you're a man, don't shake a woman's hand, and if you're gay, it's better not to reveal it), the laws in the territories (touching a soldier is grounds for arrest) and how to deal with the media.

So, having affirmed the members' PC preconceptions and equipped them with a Dummies Guide to the Conflict and some commonsense advice, the ISM then plunks them down in the middle of a confrontation between the IDF and an often violent Palestinian society. The ISMers soon find that their self-righteous moral stances don't count for much when the bullets start flying between the two sides.

To their credit, the ISMers do stick to the party line, no matter what happens. Ayalon reports a conversation with Jens, a volunteer from Sweden who saw fellow ISMer Brian Avery get wounded by a ricocheting bullet.
At the end of our conversation, Jens asks that I quote him on one more thing: "It's clear to me that what I'm going through here, and what happened to Brian, are nothing compared to what the Palestinians go through every day." At the workshop in Beit Sahur, they taught us to insert this sentence into every interview with the media.

The article does a lot to reinforce my opinion of the ISM as a bunch of misguided do-gooders. (A much more damning assessment can be found here.) They come and stick their noses into a conflict which isn't theirs and which they don't properly understand and are then shocked when they get their noses shot off.

They see the world in very clear terms: Evil, agressive Israelis; poor, helpless Palestinians. They feel the need to act, to serve as the protector of the helpless. Except that reality is hardly ever that clear, and the poor, oppressed Palestinians whose homes they try to protect, or whom they harbor in their offices, are sometimes the ones planning on blowing up a bus or a pizza parlor.

As a result they often end up as stooges for terrorists or as convenient human shields for groups of gunmen trying to get some shots off at the IDF.

In general, I find it hard to begrudge the ISMers for being idiots. On the other hand, I find it very easy to begrudge them when they rationalize their idiocy by saying that it's for my own good. "I feel that in my activism here I am raising the price of blood and lowering the level of violence," says "Starhawk", an American feminist who organized the workshop. "So I believe that my presence in the territories also contributes to the security of my relatives in Israel."

This kind of help we don't need. Only an idiot, of course, would believe that helping protect terrorists contributes to the security of her relatives in Israel. Then again, only an idiot thinks that European and American protestors are bulldozer- and bullet-proof.

Syria-ous Fool

Slate has a nice little analysis of Bashar Assad, "The evil moron who's running Syria."

As to the $64k question -- what the hell is this guy thinking? -- the answer is a combination of factors: Bashar deeply believes that the Zionists are behind everything and thinks he can leverage his pro-Saddam actions to inherit Saddam's mantle as the hero of the Arab world.

In short, the guy's a bit of a dipshit.