Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Sameh Habeeb - live account from Gaza

Photos courtesy of Palestine Think Tank.

BubbleShare: Share photos - Easy Photo Sharing

After initial fears for Sameh Habeeb's safety, the Gazan blogger is back relaying live accounts of the ongoing Israeli massacre. I implore all to read his blog, Gaza Today, here are a few excerpts from his latest post:

Tuesday morning two female children aged 4 and 11 years killed in North of Gaza while they were on a donkey-driven carriage. The bombing of these children debunks the Israeli allegation of only targeting Hamas militants. They were bombed by High-tech F16 in daylight.

A boat sailing from Cyrprus to Gaza loaded with 3 tons of medical aids was not far away from Israeli army fire. The boat was hit despite it was not loaded with weapons for Hamas which is clearly deflate the Israeli propaganda. The boat was exposed to fire of Israeli naval gunboats and partial damage took place in the body of the boat. The relief boat still in the territorial waters and it's seeking a seaport to anchor.

The death toll has reached 390 with more than 1,700 injured, 2 hundreds are in critical conditions while there is a severe shortages in medicines. Medical sources announced a collapse in medical sector and Gaza hospitals. Muhamad El Khozndar a doctor at Al Sehfa' hospital said on a local radio station that Gaza hospitals are no longer working properly. Bandaging stuff, medical tools, medical machines and general cleaning unavailable at the hospitals. Additionally, windows of the hospitals crashed due to a nearby bombings hit a mosque.

Add to that, it is very dangerous for people to leave their house in search of food supplies. Any mobile car, bicycle or walking persons turned to targets for Israeli military machine.

*Many houses shelled in the early morning in the North of Gaza. Victims of the north area are 60 alone.

*Neither fuel, nor gasoline nor Benzin in Gaza. Power cuts up to 21 hours.

*Israeli navy fired on the dignity boat and hurting it. The boat was to deown and now it has gone to Lebanon ports. The boat was loaded with 3 tons of Medical aids needed to Gaza hospitals.

*Medical sector collapsed in Gaza. Doctors request medical airplane to evacuate wounded people who are slowly dying. Only 10 wounded left to Egypt due to lack of Ambulances equipped with ICU.
*Windows of Al shifa' hospital destroyed in bombings nearby while stormy and rainy weather in

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

2,000-strong Gaza protest in Melbourne

A day after 2,000 marched in Sydney, a similar turnout in Melbourne came to voice their opposition to Israel's massacre in Gaza.

I was there and took several photos. Organisers put the numbers at roughly 2,000. I'm quite astonished at the turnout, considering most people found out less than 24 hours ago.

Whether it will be covered or not is another question. Protests against Israel tend to fall under the Australian media's radar... surprise, surprise.

Organisers have planned another rally for Sunday at 4pm from the State Library.

For more information, visit

Five Palestinian girls from same family killed by Israel

'I didn't see any of my girls, just a pile of bricks'

The Guardian

The family house was small: three rooms, a tiny kitchen and bathroom, built of poor-quality concrete bricks with a corrugated asbestos roof, in block four of Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza. There are hundreds of similar homes crammed into the overcrowded streets, filled with some of the poorest and most vulnerable families in the Gaza Strip.

But it was this house, where Anwar and Samira Balousha lived with their nine children, that had the misfortune to be built next to what became late on Sunday night another target in Israel's devastating bombing campaign of Gaza.

An Israeli bomb struck the refugee camp's Imad Aqil mosque around midnight, destroying the building and collapsing several shops and a pharmacy nearby. The force of the blast was so massive it also brought down the Balousha family's house, which yesterday lay in ruins. The seven eldest girls were asleep together on mattresses in one bedroom and they bore the brunt of the explosion. Five were killed where they lay: Tahrir, 17, Ikram 15, Samer, 13, Dina, eight and Jawahar, four.

They were the latest in a growing number of civilian casualties in Israel's bombing campaign. At least 335 Palestinians have been killed and as many as 1,400 injured. On the Israeli side, four people have been killed by Palestinian rockets. Israel's military offensive continues and may yet intensify.

Imam, 16, lay in the room with her sisters but by chance survived with only injuries to her legs. She was eventually pulled free and rushed to hospital. "I was asleep. I didn't hear anything of the explosion," she said yesterday as she sat comforting her mother. "I just woke when the bricks fell on me. I saw all my sisters around me and I couldn't move. No one could see me from above. The neighbours and ambulance men couldn't see us. They were walking on the bricks above us. I started to scream and told my sisters we would die. We all screamed: 'Baba, Mama. Come to help us.'"

Her parents had been sleeping in the room next door with their two youngest children, Muhammad, one, and Bara'a, 12 days.

Their room was damaged and all were hurt, but they survived and were taken straight to hospital even before any of the older girls were found.

Imam eventually recognised her uncle's voice among the rescuers and she shouted again for help. "He found me and started to remove the bricks and the rubble from me," she said. "They started to pull me by my hands, the bricks were still lying on my legs."

Her mother, Samira, 36, had seen the pile of bricks in the girls' bedroom and was stricken with grief, convinced they were all dead. Like all the family, she was asleep when the bomb struck. "I opened my eyes and saw bricks all over my body," she said. "My face was covered with the concrete blocks."

She checked on her two youngest children and then looked in the room next door. "I didn't see any of my daughters, just a pile of bricks and parts of the roof. Everyone told me my daughters were alive, but I knew they were gone."

She sat on a sofa surrounded by other women at a neighbour's house further along the street and struggled to speak, pausing for long moments and still overcome with shock.

"I hope the Palestinian military wings retaliate and take revenge with operations inside Israel. I ask God to take revenge on them," she said.

Her husband, Anwar, 40, sat in another house where a mourning tent had been set up. He was pale and still suffering from serious injuries to his head, his shoulder and his hands. But like many other patients in Gaza he had been made to leave an overcrowded hospital to make way for the dying. Yesterday his house was a pile of rubble: collapsed walls and the occasional piece of furniture exposed to the sky. He spoke bitterly of his daughters' deaths. "We are civilians. I don't belong to any faction, I don't support Fatah or Hamas, I'm just a Palestinian. They are punishing us all, civilians and militants. What is the guilt of the civilian?" Like many men in Gaza, Anwar has no job, and like all in the camp he relies on food handouts from the UN and other charity support to survive.

"If the dead here were Israelis, you would see the whole world condemning and responding. But why is no one condemning this action? Aren't we human beings?" he said. "We are living in our land, we didn't take it from the Israelis. We are fighting for our rights. One day we will get them back."

Live blog from Gaza

For a live, eye-witness account of Israeli's war on Gaza, please refer to the following blog:

Gaza Today - Sameh Habeeb

I have also added it to my list of live feeds on the right hand-side, although it has no word for a title, but instead "...".

Monday, December 29, 2008

Rally for Gaza in Melbourne

The following is an announcement from Justice for Palestine.

Rally for Gaza

30 Dec 2008 - 17:00
30 Dec 2008 - 18:30
5pm, Tuesday, 30th December

Victorian State Library

Cnr La Trobe and Swanston St


Over 230 people have been killed and more than 700 wounded (half of them critically) on Saturday, December 27 when Israeli launched a series of violent air strikes against the Palestinian civilian population of the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli airstrikes, which saw 100 tonnes of bombs dropped across the region took place at 11.30 am (Palestinian time) just as thousands of Palestinian school children were breaking from school to go home, resulting in many of them being killed or seriously injured.

Journalists and human rights activists on the scene at Gaza Hospital are reporting gruesome scenes; shocked families pick through body parts to identify loved ones - amputated bodies are strewn throughout hallways because morgues in the city can no longer accommodate the dead.

The Israeli air strikes against Gaza's 1.5 million civilian population comes on top of the Israeli imposed siege designed to strangle the life of the Palestinians living there, by denying them adequate fuel, food, medical supplies and power.

The people of Gaza are standing steadfast in the face of these atrocities but we in the international community also need to raise our voices and be heard to demand an immediate end to Israel's massacre of hundreds of innocent people and for an end to the illegal siege and collective punishment of the Palestinian people.

Join others around the world and raise your voices in opposition to Israel's war crimes and illegal collective punishment of the people of Gaza

Stop the Massacre! End the Siege Now!

Please bring placards and banners

Organised by Justice for Palestine and Palestinian Community Association

For more information: 0439 454 375 or email.

Gaza ... how history is easily ignored

Rational arguments in the media and academia will point to history to explain modern phenomenons, and the need to learn from history as human struggles for power and supremacy often follow similar patterns.

Greek philosophers, modern historians, even Jesus Christ himself addressed the role of power in humanity. Christ's philosophy was that benevolent power would be met with similar benevolence, and aggressive power with aggression. "Love thy neighbour and love thy enemy" were not simply beliefs attributed to a social level, but also within the political world. Christ's warning, which was preceded by that of several Greek philosophers, was that too much power becomes self-destructive: "Absolute power corrupts absolutely".

A magnanimous power will survive, but unfortunately history offers us little examples of the kind. Nations and peoples throughout history have fallen at the hands of the same error. Nearly all civilisations on earth have reached peaks of power at one certain time, and nearly all have fallen for exactly the same reason: No civilisation has learnt how to master power.

As a nation's power expands so do their appetites for greater power, until eventually their greedy illusions of invincibility forces them to lose all sight of reality, and they take a tumultuous road down to humility ... or worse, extinction.

Is this not what occurred to ancient Israel or to put it into a more recent context, Nazi Germany, the British Empire and the Soviet Union?

The reality emanating from Gaza highlights that Israel has not learnt, neither from its ancient nor its most recent history. The Gaza massacre is another event in the endless cycle of Middle Eastern violence that commenced with Britain's Balfour Declaration of 1917.

Since 1948, Israel has sought military supremacy in the region and a free reign to do as it pleases, and has mobilised effective lobbies amongst the rich Jewish diaspora of the US and Europe in order to keep the money, support and advanced weaponry flowing.

The wars of 1967 and 1973 were Israel's decisive chances to demonstrate to the region, and indeed the world, that it is the regional superpower. Its intelligence service, Mossad, has meddled in the internal affairs of its neighbours, exploiting divisions in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Jordan. On some occasions it succeeded, on others it failed.

It succeeded in preventing a Palestinian overthrow of the Hashemite Kingdom in Jordan, but failed to spark a civil war in Syria. It succeeded in instigating sectarian and tribal tension in Lebanon, but failed in its support of the Kurds to overthrow Saddam ... until the Americans came of course.

In direct combat, it has demonstrated total military might and absolute brutality in an attempt to humble the Arabs. It blitzed Lebanon in 1982, destroying the once beautiful Beirut, and killing 28,000 civilians in its path. It was the first Arab capital since Jerusalem that fell to the Israelis. Israel hoped its reign of destruction would have scared the Lebanese, the PLO, and then Syrian President Hafez al Assad into submission.

But in the rubble and ashes of the Israeli-destroyed Beirut of 1982 rose a resistance of impoverished, angry men. They would call themselves Hezbollah, a Shia group aided by Syria and Iran. The movement would become the most successful Arab story in a century of failures. It would push Israel to withdraw from Lebanese territory in 2000 and become the first Arab force that would claim a military victory against them in 2006.

It is easy to forget that before the Israelis invaded Lebanon and embarked on its war of horror in 1982, the Shi'ites of South Lebanon were ambivalent towards Israel. They grew sick of the PLO exploiting their lands, and in fact showered incoming Israeli troops with rice and rose petals. Israel, through its delusion that brutal might and power humbles all creatures, gave reason to Hezbollah's existence.

Israel is continuing that very policy today. It believes that by striking at civilians in Hamas territory, the Palestinians will return to Abbas and finalise an agreement on Israeli terms. What they will get is another Hamas, a greater Hamas, and more Palestinians determined to fight. It has made recruiting for Hamas all the more easier, which will now compete with Al-Qaida for fresh young talent.

Suicide bombings will return to Israeli cities after several years of relative calm. Israel will bring the war to its streets, but that isn't all. Hamas will not simply return to a rogue, extremist group that commits random suicide bombings and launches a few home-made rockets. Hamas, with its new-found popularity, will move further into the arms of Tehran and seek further sophistication and training. Hamas will turn its back on Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Abbas, and like Hezbollah in Lebanon, will attempt to create an efficient Iranian-funded state-within-a-state that will win the support of its constituents. Iran's price will be that Hamas refuse to negotiate with Israel. The Islamic group will become more sophisticated, and more determined to resist Israel at any cost.

But perhaps this is what Israel prefers. Surely the Israelis, ever intelligent through their extensive spy network, is aware that its actions will only embolden its enemies. Israel has only ever made peace when the Americans saw it in their own interest to draft an agreement.

The Jewish state has never demonstrated a willingness to sign a concrete peace deal with any Arab state, let alone the Palestinians, because Israel is still drawn to its Zionism roots. Zionism, or Jewish fascism, is a warped, nationalistic interpretation of Judaism that promotes zealotry, racism and extremism. It is a blend of selected testaments from the Torah and ultra-nationalist fever. It has attempted to morph the Jewish religion into a national identity based on racist theories. It considers Jews as a superior race that is promised the Holy Land, originally a Greater Israel between the Euphrates and Nile.

Perhaps today you will probably find less Israelis that subscribe to this belief than in 1948, but core Zionist beliefs still resonate in a Israeli political establishment heavily influenced by far-right Zionist movements. Israel still considers Palestinians and Arabs as inferior, and its racist policies are derived from a Zionist ideology that stresses that a Jew cannot view an Arab as an equal.

In war-time, it deliberately bombs indiscriminately to inflict maximum civilian pain. In peace-time, it focuses on ethnically cleansing Palestinians through military occupation, settler expansion, strict curfews, blockades, violation of human rights, imprisonment, torture, assassination and bulldozing of homes.

Israel does not want peace. Israel does not want to share historic Palestine with the Palestinians. Israel does not want to give up the Golan Heights, and if given the chance, it would have established settlements in South Lebanon. Such reluctance is not because of security reasons - Israel is well aware of its military might and takes every opportunity to remind the Arab/Islamic world of its prowess -but because of its deep ideological attachment to Zionism.

Since Israel's withdrawal of Lebanon, the Israelis continue to make life hell for South Lebanese through harassment and intimidation. Daily air violations, naval incursions and firing at Lebanese fishing boats, the terrorising of civilians in border villages, poisoning crops of nearby farms, threatening to destroy any irrigation system are all but a regular occurence. During the Second Lebanon War, the Israelis directly targeted factories and industry in South Lebanon to cripple its economy, in addition to spraying millions of cluster bombs in the dying days of the war. All of the above daily violations and continued harassment is in the goal of making the land uninhabitable and driving the people out through mass migration.

Influential far-right Israelis who hold the balance of power in the Jewish state advocate Zionism and the dream of Greater Israel. Perhaps on a superficial level, even the most extreme Jewish groups will concede that a Greater Israel is far from reality, but that does not change their deeply held conviction that the current inhabitants of these lands are inferior, expendable subjects with no claim to their properties.

Gaza is today's example of such a mentality.

Robert Fisk: Leaders lie, civilians die, and lessons of history ignored

The Independent

We've got so used to the carnage of the Middle East that we don't care any more – providing we don't offend the Israelis. It's not clear how many of the Gaza dead are civilians, but the response of the Bush administration, not to mention the pusillanimous reaction of Gordon Brown, reaffirm for Arabs what they have known for decades: however they struggle against their antagonists, the West will take Israel's side. As usual, the bloodbath was the fault of the Arabs – who, as we all know, only understand force.

Ever since 1948, we've been hearing this balderdash from the Israelis – just as Arab nationalists and then Arab Islamists have been peddling their own lies: that the Zionist "death wagon" will be overthrown, that all Jerusalem will be "liberated". And always Mr Bush Snr or Mr Clinton or Mr Bush Jnr or Mr Blair or Mr Brown have called upon both sides to exercise "restraint" – as if the Palestinians and the Israelis both have F-18s and Merkava tanks and field artillery. Hamas's home-made rockets have killed just 20 Israelis in eight years, but a day-long blitz by Israeli aircraft that kills almost 300 Palestinians is just par for the course.

The blood-splattering has its own routine. Yes, Hamas provoked Israel's anger, just as Israel provoked Hamas's anger, which was provoked by Israel, which was provoked by Hamas, which ... See what I mean? Hamas fires rockets at Israel, Israel bombs Hamas, Hamas fires more rockets and Israel bombs again and ... Got it? And we demand security for Israel – rightly – but overlook this massive and utterly disproportionate slaughter by Israel. It was Madeleine Albright who once said that Israel was "under siege" – as if Palestinian tanks were in the streets of Tel Aviv.

By last night, the exchange rate stood at 296 Palestinians dead for one dead Israeli. Back in 2006, it was 10 Lebanese dead for one Israeli dead. This weekend was the most inflationary exchange rate in a single day since – the 1973 Middle East War? The 1967 Six Day War? The 1956 Suez War? The 1948 Independence/Nakba War? It's obscene, a gruesome game – which Ehud Barak, the Israeli Defence Minister, unconsciously admitted when he spoke this weekend to Fox TV. "Our intention is to totally change the rules of the game," Barak said.

Exactly. Only the "rules" of the game don't change. This is a further slippage on the Arab-Israeli exchanges, a percentage slide more awesome than Wall Street's crashing shares, though of not much interest in the US which – let us remember – made the F-18s and the Hellfire missiles which the Bush administration pleads with Israel to use sparingly.

Quite a lot of the dead this weekend appear to have been Hamas members, but what is it supposed to solve? Is Hamas going to say: "Wow, this blitz is awesome – we'd better recognise the state of Israel, fall in line with the Palestinian Authority, lay down our weapons and pray we are taken prisoner and locked up indefinitely and support a new American 'peace process' in the Middle East!" Is that what the Israelis and the Americans and Gordon Brown think Hamas is going to do?

Yes, let's remember Hamas's cynicism, the cynicism of all armed Islamist groups. Their need for Muslim martyrs is as crucial to them as Israel's need to create them. The lesson Israel thinks it is teaching – come to heel or we will crush you – is not the lesson Hamas is learning. Hamas needs violence to emphasise the oppression of the Palestinians – and relies on Israel to provide it. A few rockets into Israel and Israel obliges.

Not a whimper from Tony Blair, the peace envoy to the Middle East who's never been to Gaza in his current incarnation. Not a bloody word.

We hear the usual Israeli line. General Yaakov Amidror, the former head of the Israeli army's "research and assessment division" announced that "no country in the world would allow its citizens to be made the target of rocket attacks without taking vigorous steps to defend them". Quite so. But when the IRA were firing mortars over the border into Northern Ireland, when their guerrillas were crossing from the Republic to attack police stations and Protestants, did Britain unleash the RAF on the Irish Republic? Did the RAF bomb churches and tankers and police stations and zap 300 civilians to teach the Irish a lesson? No, it did not. Because the world would have seen it as criminal behaviour. We didn't want to lower ourselves to the IRA's level.

Yes, Israel deserves security. But these bloodbaths will not bring it. Not since 1948 have air raids protected Israel. Israel has bombed Lebanon thousands of times since 1975 and not one has eliminated "terrorism". So what was the reaction last night? The Israelis threaten ground attacks. Hamas waits for another battle. Our Western politicians crouch in their funk holes. And somewhere to the east – in a cave? a basement? on a mountainside? – a well-known man in a turban smiles.

Jackson Diehl: Olmert's Final Failure

Washington Post

Israel's new battle with Hamas in Gaza means that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will be remembered for fighting two bloody and wasteful mini-wars in less than three years in power. The first one, in Lebanon during the summer of 2006, punished but failed to defeat or even permanently injure Hezbollah, which is politically and militarily stronger today than it was before Olmert took office. This one will probably have about the same effect on Hamas, which almost certainly will still control Gaza, and retain the capacity to strike Israel, when Olmert leaves office in a few months.

The saddest aspect of all this is that Olmert, a former hard-line believer in a "greater Israel," was more committed than any previous Israeli prime minister to ending the country's conflicts with Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians. Thrust into office in January 2006 by the incapacitation of Ariel Sharon, Olmert won his own mandate by promising to unilaterally withdraw Israeli soldiers and settlers from most of the West Bank. When that project was undermined by the Lebanese war, he launched into one-on-one negotiations with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in which he discussed terms for a two-state settlement going well beyond those previously offered by an Israeli government. He also initiated indirect talks with the Damascus regime of Bashar al-Assad over the objections of the Bush administration.

Olmert has the passion of a latter-day convert to the two-state solution. He is convinced that, unless Israel is able to separate itself from the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza in the relatively near future, it will be overwhelmed demographically and will have to give up either its democracy or its status as a Jewish state. As recently as his last visit to Washington in late November, he was still pushing -- after virtually everyone else in Jerusalem and Washington had given up -- for some kind of "framework agreement" with Abbas that would spell out the terms for a deal, and be ratified by the U.N. Security Council.

In the end all Olmert got was U.N. Resolution 1850, passed Dec. 16, that endorsed a two-state solution without any specifics. Instead of a groundbreaking accord with Abbas or Assad, he will leave behind scorched earth in Gaza, a Lebanese front bristling with Hezbollah's missiles and an Israeli West Bank presence that has expanded rather than contracted during the past two years, with thousands of new homes for Jewish settlers under construction. To top it off, Olmert may well go to prison on the corruption charges that have forced him from office.

His failure represents another missed opportunity for Middle East peace -- and probably means that the incoming Obama administration, like the incoming Bush administration of 2001, will inherit both a new round of Israeli-Palestinian bloodshed and a new Israeli government indisposed to compromise. The front-runner for prime minister in the Israeli election scheduled for February is Binyamin Netanyahu, who aspires to indefinitely postpone Palestinian statehood -- and to use military force against the Iranian nuclear program. If Netanyahu is elected, Barack Obama will be more likely to preside over a crisis in U.S.-Israeli relations than a Middle East peace.

Olmert badly miscalculated in launching the 2006 offensive against Hezbollah -- and he's probably making the same mistake in Gaza, which will cost many lives and subject Israel to another round of international opprobrium while distracting attention from the more serious threat of Iran. Despite his bold intentions, Olmert proved unwilling or unable to stand up to the Jewish settlement movement in the West Bank; his government failed to dismantle even those outposts it has repeatedly declared illegal.

But Olmert is not the only one to blame. President Bush hosted a Mideast peace meeting in Annapolis last year but never fully invested himself in Olmert's attempt to negotiate with Abbas. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice traveled to the region 16 times in 21 months but proved feckless as a broker. Arab states proclaimed their commitment to peace with Israel as part of a two-state settlement but were unwilling to take any tangible action to make it happen.

Worst of all, Abbas followed in a long tradition of previous Palestinian leaders by reacting to a far-reaching Israeli offer with an uncourageous demurral. Olmert has never publicly disclosed the terms he discussed with Abbas, but sources say he went well beyond what Israel agreed to at the Camp David talks of 2000, previously the closest approach to a deal. I'm told Olmert offered to support the groundbreaking concession of allowing thousands of Palestinian refugees to "return" to Israel over a period of years; he also agreed to divide Jerusalem between Israel and Palestine. Abbas, like Yasser Arafat at Camp David, refused to sign on to a compromise that the world would have hailed.

So Olmert, like Ehud Barak eight years ago, will end his term as prime minister by bombing rather than liberating Palestinians. He will be remembered for his wars -- but it may be many years before Israel again has a leader as willing to make peace.

ACTION: Australia supports Israel

Breaking with the UK, UN and Europe's criticism of Israel's attacks, Julia Gillard has excused Israel of its barbaric crimes and taken the line of George W. Bush.

Australia has failed the Middle East once again.

ACTION: Write/Email/Phone Julia Gillard and complain.

PO Box 6022
House of Representatives
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

Tel: (02) 6277 7320
Fax: (02) 6273 4115

Please circulate!

The Gaza massacre

Human suffering must precede all political, religious or economic interests.

Israel has maintained a policy of aggressive belligerence since its inception 60 years ago. It cannot continue like this, we cannot accept an Israeli massacre of Arabs every few years. Hatred breeds hatred. Generations of Arabs will not forget the suffering inflicted upon them by Israel. History needs to be appreciated. Every power falls.

Israel will not maintain its balance of power in the region forever. History has taught us that old wounds rarely heal. Should the day come in 200 years where Israel finds itself at the knees of the Arab world, the Arabs will not forget the atrocities of today.

News from the world:

"Israel should be shunned like South Africa" - George Galloway at a London protest against Israel's onslaught, as the UK and Europe harden their stance against Israel.

It is incredibly difficult in this age of technology for Israel and the West to justify the Jewish state's actions whilst cameras, images, videos and live blogs stream through the internet, mobile phones, iPod etc. It is very easy to gain a true understanding of the conflict, without using the traditionally pro-Israeli maintstream media.

Angry protests against Israeli terror have also been held in France, Canada, and throughout the Arab world.

Israel bombs Islamic University in Gaza - Body on the Line

The true story behind Gaza is not the one Israel is telling - Johann Hari (The Independent)

"Barack Obama refuses to stake out his position" - This is a dilemma for the president-elect, as highlighted in The Australian.

Despite maintaining a pro-Israeli line during the elections, Obama's call for change in the Middle East, his desire to engage Iran and Syria, and actively pursue a peace agreement has him at odds with the hawks in Tel Aviv. Israel appears to be doing all it can to complicate the situation in the Middle East, and hopefully torpedoing any hope of peace in order to stall Obama.

Obama is keeping silent, as he should. If he comes out with a Bush-like pro-Israeli line - and you can bet AIPAC is currently hounding his transition office for such a statement - Obama will immediately alienate the Arab world, and his European allies before he even arrives into office. It's best he keeps his mouth shut, or at most take a soft "we are concerned about the loss of life" line.

Egypt and Hamas exchange fire at Rafah crossing - from Reuters.

Mubarak is digging his own grave. The Arab public already resent the pro-American dictators and monarchs that are scattered throughout the Arab world. The Arab states are polarised between Iran and the US, but the Arab people are not.

For the Arab public, Palestine continues to instill passion and anger. The daily sufferings in Iraq and Palestine, aired constantly in its most graphic form on pan-Arab TV, enrages Arabs. When Egypt and Saudi Arabia openly supported Israel's war on Lebanon in 2006, polls returned showed a massive popularity boost for Hezbollah's Hassan Nasrallah in the same countries.

But Egypt's open complicity with Israel in the massacre of Gaza is unforgivable. The co-ordination has been exposed and exploited by Syria, Iran and Hezbollah, who have led a campaign to ignite Arab public anger at Egypt's leadership in a move that will isolate Mubarak and Saudi Arabia in the region. Hezbollah has called for massive protests in Egypt against Mubarak.

The patience of the Egyptian people is already wearing thin. A repressed country whose leader cannot move in the country without an army of vehicles surrounding him. Mubarak's role in the suffering of Palestine may be the last straw.

Mubarak's complicity has also drawn criticism from Egypt's opposition.

UN condemns Israel - Sydney Morning Herald

Nothing out of the ordinary. As I stated in the case of the UK, it is very difficult for world powers to conceal Israeli atrocities in the face of new media. For many nations and peoples in the world, Israel is already a pariah state. The only obstacle in making this status official is the United States.

Strong condemnation has also come from Israel's main Muslim ally, Turkey.

Eyewitness: Australian human rights activist in Gaza - ABC News

Many innocent have died, according to eyewitness Sharon Lock.

Jewish and Palestinian lobbies clash in Australia - ABC News

40 years of failed Israeli policy - Rami Khouri

Monday, December 22, 2008

Syria leads homophobic charge at UN

France and the Netherlands submitted a declaration last week at the UN General Assembly calling for the universal decriminalisation of homosexuality.

Inspired by the gay activist campaign, International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO), the French/Dutch declaration aimed to get world governments to respect the basic human rights for homosexuals.

The declaration received 66 signatories, including Israel, Australia, Cuba, and several African nations who still have homosexual acts listed as a crime.

The notable abstainers were the big-three (US, Russia and China). Not much of a surprise considering the big-three regularly refuse to engage in international declarations, be it the international criminal court, climate change, banning cluster bombs, or supporting human rights. Yet, we grant these irresponsible nations veto-wielding power at the UN Security Council.

If the declaration could only have waited a few extra weeks for Obama to arrive in office.

On the other side of the human rights fence sat the Arab world. The Syrians, on behalf of 60 countries (mainly Muslim states), submitted a counter-resolution highlighting the following reason to oppose the Franco-Dutch declaration:

- legalising homosexuality could lead to paedophilia, incest and bestiality.

After years of constant inter-Arab rivalry and tension over Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon, it's good to see Arab states finally agree on one thing ... the continued denial of human rights.

We're all aware of the Arab world's view of homosexuality, and not even the most optimistic gay activist would have expected a policy u-turn based on a European-backed UN declaration to decriminalise homosexuality.

However, instead of joining the US, China and Russia in merely refusing to sign, the Arab world had to insist on publicising its justifications for criminalising homosexuality. Even the Vatican, renowned global activists against gay rights, watered down its refusal to sign to simply stating "the declaration went too far".

It did not submit a counter-declaration demonstrating a profound ignorance with absurd claims that bestiality, incest, paedophilia and other perversions are a symptom of homosexuality.

Syria, Lebanon, and all Arab states have only brought global humiliation upon themselves. By submitting this counter-declaration, the Arab world is essentially boasting pride in its regression and ignorance.

Homosexuality isn't the only front where Arab states score appallingly for human rights. The suppression of political freedom, the censorship of ideas, knowledge and information, the deprivation of women's rights, honour killings, the persecution of religious minorities, and archaic gender and marriage laws are all commonalities in the Arab world.

There is not a single aspect of Arab society that lives up to the standards of the UN human rights conventions.

How has it come to this?

Let's wind the clock back 1000 years to the age when Syria led the Arab world on a different course. As the Arab Empire's capital, Damascus was the beacon of progression, a wonder the West could only reach in their dreams.

The Arab world dared to explore sciences, theories and philosophies the West (under the strict religious authority of the Catholic Church) would have condemned as blasphemy and sacrilege.

Whilst Western monarchies were burning progressive thinkers at the stake, the Arab world was discovering new formulas and technologies. Whilst the West committed horrendous atrocities against its minorities, the Arab world was granting them asylum.

What a sad, embarassing reality the Arabs find themselves in today. Not only are we denying human rights, but expressing pride in our denial.

All we have to hold onto, as Lebanese and Arabs, is a past glory lost deep in history. We have absolutely nothing to be proud of today.

And yet, many Lebanese scramble to find historic attachments to prove their current worth:

Divided Lebanon's common genes

BBC News
Natalia Antelava

In Lebanon, geneticists led by Dr Pierre Zalloua have managed to identify the Phoenician gene.

The Lebanese have been particularly enthusiastic about the project, with dozens still queuing up every day to have their DNA tested. Many, it seems, are hoping to discover their Phoenician ancestry.

"I will be more than happy to have Phoenician roots," says Nabil, a student as he waits for his turn to give blood for the test.

"Phoenicians started the civilization, they are the ones who invented the alphabet, I would be very proud to be a Phoenician," he adds.

There is a good chance that Nabil is of Phoenician descent - the study has revealed that while one in 17 people across the Mediterranean carry the Phoenician gene, in Lebanon almost a third of the population have Phoenician roots.

Photos: The first three images are of public gay hangings in Iran, two of which are the same hanging, and the final photograph depicts the murder of gay men in Iraq.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Lebanon gets an air force

The Russians have decided to further agitate Israel and the US by supplying one of the most defenseless countries in the world, Lebanon, with a small air force.

Russia will supply Lebanon ten MiG-29s, which is scheduled to be delivered before August 2009 to coincide with Army Day.

Israel and the US have expressed concern at the deal, warning it may threaten Israel's air force.

The deal comes as some of Lebanon's American-backed leaders express frustration at the US' "empty promises" to equip the Lebanese military. Washington had promised to aid and equip Lebanon's army after Syria withdrew in 2005, but little has arrived as a consequence of Israel's opposition to deliver potentially threatening weapons to Lebanon.

Defenseless or defensible?

Lebanon has long been Israel's soft target, a country it can pound as it pleases due to the country's lack of defense. Lebanon has no anti-air capabilities, little air or naval power, and a severely under-armed and under-trained army.

Hezbollah has proven to be Lebanon's main defensive arm of late, the country's only paramilitary organisation with substantial backing and training. But Hezbollah is only able to match Israel using guerilla warfare, and cannot defend Lebanon from conventional military incursions, such as air and navy.

Israel isn't frightened by Lebanon acquiring ten MiG-29s, it know it can wipe them all out within minutes. Its concern is that it won't be able to violate Lebanon's airspace without running into contact with a fighter jet. If the Israelis engage and shoot down a Lebanese MiG-29 in Lebanon's skies, the world - and more importantly Hezbollah - will view it as an Israeli attack on Lebanese territory. Such an attack could validate a military response by Hezbollah, and spark conflict along the border.

Russia tests Israel's patience

Israel's becoming increasingly alarmed by Russia's continued drive to equip its adversaries with weapons capable of causing harm to the Jewish state. Sophisticated arms sales to Syria and Iran have constantly caused Israel to panic, and the Israelis often model its defense capabilities on potential attacks by Russian-made systems operated by its two main rivals.

The Israelis never counted on facing a similar front in Lebanon. The Russians, still angry after Israel's military engagements with Georgia, are aware that Lebanon is traditionally a no go zone for arms sales. Any weapons deal with Lebanon is guaranteed to infuriate the Israelis, which appears to be the Kremlin's goal.

From Israel's point of view, the unstable Lebanon needs to remain utterly defenseless to ensure the Jewish state maintains its military superiority and intimidation over the country. A few fighter jets will do little to change the regional balance of power, but it's Russia's intentions in the Middle East and its willingness to add Lebanon to its list of military clients that troubles Israel and the US. Ten MiG-29s today, an anti-air system tomorrow? A handful of tanks next week?

Local impact

Russia's decision to become a weapons supplier to Lebanon comes after continued frustration at Washington's broken promise to supply the Lebanese military with adequate weapons and equipment. Should Lebanon become dependent on Russia for military assistance, America's current allies in the country could see an interest in shifting closer to Moscow. Not exactly a desired outcome for the US.

There has been little comment from the Opposition and Hezbollah on the deal, although I don't believe there would be great objections. Parliamentary elections scheduled for 2009 could see the Opposition win majority and form government, placing Hezbollah in charge of Lebanon's military forces.

Indeed, such a victory would intensify Israeli and American objections to the Russian arms deal.

Internal divisions plague military

Regardless of the deal, Lebanon's military will remain considerably weaker than that of its neighbours. Lebanon's internal divisions and flawed political system ensures political instability and tension remains constant. The political system divides the country into sectarian cantons, each serving their own interest. This significantly weakens the national interest, and the national institutions created to serve the national interest.

The Lebanese army is the country's main national institution. Its weakness is a result of continued political infighting, rampant corruption, a poor economy, and a lack of centralised power. A strong military requires a strong economic and political will. Neither exist at present, and no political party has demonstrated a desire to change the status quo or enact desperately needed reforms of any kind, be it social, economic or political.

Until the country's political leaders summon enough will power to place the national interest at the forefront of their agenda and abandon tribal/sectarian politics, nothing will change.

Whilst we remain divided, Israel has little to worry about.

Israeli troops terrorise civilian on Lebanon's border

Meanwhile, Israel border patrols continue to taunt Lebanese civilians living close to the border. The latest incident involved Israeli troops throwing two smoke bombs and firing at a Lebanese farmer, Mohammad Ahmad Hassan Daher, near the southern village of Blida. The man was unhurt, but such attacks are not new.

If roles were reversed and Hezbollah had fired across the border, Israel would probably respond with a war.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Turkey's myth, legend and history

One of my favourite blogs, Beside Beirut, recently posted on the continued sensitivity surrounding Turkey's founding father, Kemal Ataturk.

Ms Tee refers to a documentary that aimed to show the human side to Ataturk, which coincided with the 85th anniversary of the Turkish republic. The human portrayal of Ataturk sparked controversy and even a criminal trial for "insulting" the founding father.

I couldn't resist engaging in the discussion, and started to type a response that perhaps overstretched the desired length for a comment.

I've decided to post my response here, because as I was writing my comment, lessons from my university history classes began to seep through.

One such class that I undertook was "myth, legends and history", which discussed how nations and empires throughout history have crafted an historic myth or legend, or exacerbated a certain historic event, in order to define their unique characteristics and identity, and give purpose to their nation's existence.

I used this approach to understand the delicacy of Ataturk to the Turkish people, and his significance to the Turkish identity.

Here is my comment, which can equally be accessed on Beside Beirut's blog:

I was raised with quite a number of Turks, as I lived in the outer suburbs of Melbourne where many Turkish immigrants reside.

What constantly fascinated me about the Turkish people is their ardent nationalism and loyalty to the Turkish nation, identity and Ataturk. At the same time, they considered Islam as part of their culture and would have no problems promoting it, but to a lesser extent than Arabs. Their national identity came first.

But I wonder, as has been illustrated in your post, whether this strong sense of secular nationalism is a desperate struggle to avoid confronting the truths of pre-World War I, a truth that could ultimately undermine the foundation of Turkish nationalism today.

I’ve had a few discussions with friends on this matter, and one recounted to me that he found Ataturk’s secular nationalism to be artificial i.e. Turkey today is artificial.

World War I could have eaten Turkey up and torn it to pieces. The Armenians and Kurds would have claimed the east, the Arabs would have taken Iskenderun and Mersin, the Greeks all of the Western shoreline and Istanbul.

Ankara would have been the final remnant of the Ottoman Empire. Indeed, central Anatolia was where the Turks originally began their reign, and the other regions were indeed populated with Armenians, Kurds, Arabs and Greeks. For the latter groups, they considered and still consider such territories as their own.

Ataturk succeeded in forming a unique identity, albeit artificial, by suppressing anything non-Turk and purging this history from the Turkish psyche.

Part of that suppression was Islam and a religious identity that could have undermined the artificial uniqueness Ataturk was formulating.

Ataturk wasn’t wrong in his intentions, he quickly needed to define Turkey as a nation-state to ensure its survival. It was a quick transition from colonial empire to modern nation-state, and the foundation of what constituted the empire was not fit for a nation-state.

But the transition was too quick. The EU negotiations and the Middle East conflict today have prompted many Turks to revisit the questions of Ataturk’s era … who are we and what defines us as a nation?

The fear is if this question is asked by the Islamists, the answers may go too deep.

I have a Turkish friend who recently discovered he’s Syrian of origin. His father recently confessed his “Syrian” roots - as if it was some major taboo to admit to anything non-Turkish - and that he could speak Arabic. My friend, of course, believes he’s been deceived all his life and can’t grasp that his Turkish identity is indeed artificial.

This is what the secularists fear. Ataturk’s Turkish identity cannot be tampered with, even in the slightest form, for it may unravel all that has been swept under the rug for the past century.

Turkey is also in the unfortunate position where all its neighbours have a deep historic distaste for it and are waiting for the right moment to pounce and reclaim their territories. That right moment may not come for a century, or even a few centuries.

Alternatively, it’s a nation that could easily implode for the same reasons. Unless Turkey finds a way to reconcile with its artificial foundations, I suspect there will be a lot more trouble to come.

Most nations have used an historic myth, legend or hero to define themselves. Troy is the most commonly used. The Romans, British, even Nazi Germany manifested links to Troy in order to define itself.

Of course, as the centuries progressed, the British began to create stories of its own like King Arthur, Robin Hood, the notion of chivalry etc. No one knows if these stories are true, or if King Arthur ever lived. In fact, most of the elements of the King Arthur story originate from France, and were later romanticised in the 19th century.

The Turks have Ataturk. To humanise Ataturk is to undermine his significance as a Turkish legend. He is their Achilles, their Remus and Romulus.

Who knows maybe in 1000 years people will be asking if he even existed just as I am questioning King Arthur’s existence today.

So Turkey is definitely not the only nation to manifest artificial roots in order to justify its existence.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Samir Geagea's apology

Here is an interesting article in the LA Times about Geagea's public apology over his actions in the Lebanese Civil War, and the negative responses received from most political circles.

As someone whose main drive in life is to support human rights and justice in Lebanon, I find it difficult to digest Samir Geagea's words.

I have spent much energy on this blog in the past year and a half condemning our political leaders and warlords like Geagea for their 15 years of barbarism between 1975-1990. It revolts me to see the same leaders that destroyed Lebanon 20 - 30 years ago lead the country today. What disgusts me even more is that our blind people allow this absurdity to pass.

I never supported Geagea's release from prison, but I did support a fair trial. Either way, a fair trial or not, he would still be languishing in a prison cell.

When the warlords decided to grant themselves amnesty in 1990, the voices of the Lebanese people - the real victims of the war - were absent.

This is where I disagree with Daragahi when he states in the LA Times article:

"Few care to open old wounds; the war is even excluded from school curricula."

We do care. It was never the people's decision to forget and forgive, and if you wonder through Lebanon, you will find today's pain is prevalent as the Lebanese have been forced to grieve in silence over their lost loved ones.

The people never underwent a reconciliation process, and to undergo such a process one needs to be given the freedom to express their pain.

We didn't, and the dangerous reality today is that the anger of the war generation has been past onto the young. I recall an encounter with a 15-year-old in Lebanon 2 years ago, who stated:

"If a war starts, I will blow up that family's house" pointing down the road. "They support a political party that killed my uncle in the war".

Geagea's apology was courageous, but not historic. And in the Lebanese ambiance of distrust, how do we know that this is not simply another performance?

If Geagea is genuinely remorseful about his past crimes, and bent on preventing them from occurring again, then he would abandon partisan politics, run independently, and promote a grassroots reconciliation process.

Better yet, he would check himself into The Hague for war crimes along with all other warlords and criminals currently leading both political camps.

What gives Geagea or any warlord the right to absolve themselves of guilt?

If Hitler apologised to the Jews, would that exonerate him? If Saddam apologised to the Kurds and Shi'ites, would he be alive today?

I accept Geagea's apology, but he still must pay for his crimes, along with the other leaders. Eleven years without a "winter or a summer" isn't enough for someone who stole the seasons from thousands of innocent Lebanese and Palestinians.

My stance remains: A tribunal at The Hague investigating war crimes committed in the Lebanese Civil War.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Sarkozy the Arab advocate

The flurry of information available online sometimes means it takes a long time for a news story to make its way into my hands.

The following article was written two months ago, but its topic is still worth discussing.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who was elected with a conservative mandate by the French people to act tough on immigration (a veiled reference to the millions of resented North Africans in the country), is proving to be more progressive than one expected.

In addition to breaking with the US and bringing Syria in from the cold as well as building nuclear reactors in Libya - all with the aim of winning Arab support for his ambitious Mediterranean Union - the descendant of a Hungarian Jewish immigrant has gone to say the following statement, one which has rattled the conservative French camp:

"Arabic is the language of the future".

French royalists and conservatives love to recount the heroic stories of French history, including that of Charles Martel's successful triumph against the Arabs in the south of France in the 8th century. The same "prestigious civilisation and spiritual values" Charles Martel expelled - an important victory in the emergence of the French nation - has now been invited by the current French ruler to be taught to not only the Arab immigrants, but to the French as well.

I was in France at the time of the previous presidential elections, and had many discussions with Sarkozy voters who saw him as a modern, albeit watered down, Charles Martel that would fight to remove the current Islamic threat haunting France and their 'unique' identity. Instead, he's said Arabic should be taught in more schools.

I certainly don't object to Sarkozy's attempt to break the stigma surrounding everything Arabic and Islamic in France, but I can't resist being cynical.

During the presidential elections, Sarkozy took an overly hardline stance in an attempt to draw the far-right voters from Le Pen. He didn't bother catering to the Socialist left, whose weakness was epitomised by the fact they couldn't come up with a better candidate than the horribly stiff Segolene Royal.

Sarkozy succeeded. His anti-immigration stance and staunch conservatism broke the back of Le Pen. The National Front was annihilated. I, the centre-leftist that I am, was appalled. I assumed Sarkozy's victory would be the worst thing for the Arab world, for France's involvement in the Middle East, for the Arab migrants in France who now occupy ghettos, and for tolerance. It was a triumph for xenophobia, so I thought. I'm now wondering whether I've thought wrong.

Sarkozy virtually ended the deadlock in Lebanon after giving Syria what she wanted, undermining both the US and Saudi Arabia in the process. Sarkozy was the frontrunner into bringing Libya in from the cold, despite the controversy over the nuclear reactor/Bulgarian prisoner deal. He's been incredibly active on the Middle East, North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa.

And now he's on the march to promote tolerance within his country by pushing for more Arabic in French schools.

If anything, it's the complete reverse of what he promised. He used the fears of the French people in order to combat those fears once in power, so it seems.

France is peculiar when it comes to migrants, much different from Anglophone countries. Whilst Anglophone countries have established their societies based on the principles of multi-culturalism, France has stuck to its guns and pushed the integration agenda. Integration essentially means forsaking your origins and embracing the French way of life.

The integration policy was so deep rooted that I struggled to find adequate ingredients to cook my Lebanese dishes. Perhaps the Lebanese in France are accustomed to that, but when one attempts to find a small Lebanese corner that mimics Beirut, its meager in comparison to Australia or even the UK - where there is a substantially smaller Lebanese population than in France.

This policy is a failure that has only created resentment and fear. The North African migrants resent the fact the French want them to renounce their origins and embrace la baguette, le fromage et le vin rouge. They fear they would lose their identity and culture. The French resent the fact that the North Africans refuse to integrate, and fear that their identity and culture is being undermined by an 'alien' presence.

Sarkozy may also see integration as a failed approach, and being the most Anglocised leader in French history, perhaps he wishes to implement the Anglo model of multi-culturalism.

The problem stems from the false belief that you can't love more than one country, share more than one culture, speak more than one language, and still remain loyal to the country where you reside. This is something I encounter also in Anglo-Saxon conservative Australians each time I state I hold a Lebanese citizenship.

'You can't have both, you're Australian. Where do you live? Australia. So you can only love Australia. If not, go back to Lebanon.'

This belief is false. The one thing Australians and French share is their distaste for foreign languages. Neither believe they need to learn a foreign language because everyone else should learn theirs.

'If you're in France, speak French.'

'You can't live in France and speak Arabic, English or German. You're not truly French.'

'If you're in Australia, speak English.'

'You can't live in Australia and speak Arabic, Italian or Chinese. You're not truly Australian.'

Wrong. You can. And I'm glad Sarkozy sees that.

Sarkozy: "Arabic Is The Language of the Future"

Brussels Journal


The French government is strongly advocating the teaching of Arabic language and civilization in French schools. Not surprising, considering the number of Arabs and Muslims in France, and the unctuous deference with which they are treated by officials, beginning notably with Nicolas Sarkozy, who cannot praise enough the splendor of Arabic contributions to the world.

The French National Assembly was the scene of a meeting earlier this month of the first Conference on the Teaching of Arabic Language and Culture, attended by a variety of interested parties. There was much wearisome blather about the need for "dialogue."

In his message to the participants, French President Nicolas Sarkozy called Arabic the "language of the future, of science and of modernity," and expressed the hope that "more French people share in the language that expresses great civilizational and spiritual values."

"We must invest in the Arabic language (because) to teach it symbolizes a moment of exchange, of openness and of tolerance, (and it) brings with it one of the oldest and most prestigious civilizations of the world. It is in France that we have the greatest number of persons of Arabic and Muslim origin. Islam is the second religion of France," Sarkozy reminded his listeners.

He proceeded to enumerate the various "advances in terms of diversity," the increase in Muslim sections of cemeteries, the training of imams and chaplains and the appointments of ministers of diverse backgrounds.

"France is a friend of Arabic countries. We are not seeking a clash between the East and West," he affirmed, emphasizing the strong presence of Arab leaders at the founding summit of the Union for the Mediterranean, last July 13. "The Mediterranean is where our common hopes were founded. Our common sea is where the principal challenges come together: durable development, security, education and peace," added the French president.

George W. Bush and the shoes of mass destruction

What was this Iraqi journalist thinking?

How could one be 5 metres from Bush and still miss? Twice?! Damn it!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

YouTube goes Zionist?

According to the Palestine Think Tank, YouTube has become the latest casualty to the Zionist media munchers.

The online revolution has forced the Zionist lobbies in the US and across the world into overdrive.

It's much easier to influence traditional media streams, such as newspapers and televisions, by twisting the genitals of a few editors and CEOs.

But the internet has posed a problem for Zionists, where millions of people have become their own producers of media content. All of a sudden, the truth about Israel, its violations of human rights, its war crimes, its institutional racism, and the behaviour of its extremist supporters in our own Western backyards, began to seep out.

A lot more difficult to influence millions of self-proclaimed "editors" who produce their content from their bedrooms.

So the plan of responsive action is to control the sites that diffuse the content, i.e. YouTube and Google. I knew the greatness of Google would be short lived. Eventually, right-wing Jewish and Christian fundamentalists i.e. Zionists would spoil the party.

There's only one source of free speech left to conquer for the Zionists ... the blogosphere.

Are we next?

New Lebanese gloss mag gets religious lesson

At last, a sex magazine in Lebanon.

No, sorry lads, it isn't pornography, but Jasad, a women's glossy mag that is considered just as bad, according to the religious order of the Arab world.

As the following article states, such a magazine wouldn't raise an eyebrow in the West, which for many in the Arab world is essentially the problem.

Long have we been informed that sex, drugs, homosexuality, alcohol and rock 'n' roll are Western diseases that aim to demoralise our high standards and rich prudent culture in the Islamic world. Ironically, the Christian order of the Middle East would sit on the Islamic world's side of the fence on this argument.

The Christian and Muslim religious bodies of Lebanon are quite similar to oil firms. A few, old, large organisations that control the means of daily life, appear to compete with each other in public, but on the inside resemble much the same.

In Lebanon, the various religious organisations take turns to inflict their conservatism on the country, whether it's banning Metallica or Madonna from touring Lebanon, or preventing the reform of archaic laws on gender and sexuality.

I stated in a recent comment that the political alliances of this country aren't natural and doomed to fall, eventually.

For example, the Opposition enlists apparent progressive, secular groups such as the FPM and SSNP, both of whom would see no problem with such a magazine, and the Islamic fundamentalist Hezbollah, the party that tried to shut the magazine down.

But the founder of this magazine, Joumana Haddad, is also a culture editor of the pro-March 14 paper, An Nahar.

March 14 also has its contradictions, as it generally encompasses the secular, chic class of Beirut's Sunnis (Future Movement), as well as the right-wing hardcore Christians of the Lebanese Forces, most of whom would probably agree with Hezbollah on the matter.

So if we redrew Lebanon's political alliances on the lines of conservatism versus liberalism, we would be in for some major surprises.

Hezbollah, Amal and LF vs FM, FPM and SSNP? Of course, that would require the parties to adhere to their ideologies and place domestic policies at the forefront, and their regional patrons on the backburner. That'd be the day!

Lebanese politicians caring about Lebanon? Yeah right!

New Lebanese glossy lifts the veil on hidden erotic heritage

Guardian/The Age

ON ANY Western coffee table it would not look out of place: a magazine with a slightly risque cover and articles ranging from sexuality to fetishism and the human body.

But on the news stands of the Middle East it's a different matter. In the run-up to its launch this week, the glossy quarterly Jasad ("body" in Arabic) has been generating plenty of curiosity and hostility as it prepares to take on some of the most powerful taboos in Arab culture.

Issue one of the Lebanese title includes articles on self-mutilation and cannibalism as well as stories on sexual themes by authors from Egypt, Morocco, Syria and Palestine. Pseudonyms are not permitted. Regular features will include Body-Talk, Voyeur's Corner and My First Time.

The quarterly, licensed as required by the Lebanese Government, is the brainchild of the writer and poet Joumana Haddad, whose day job is culture editor of Beirut's famed An-Nahar newspaper.

"The body is a quintessential part of Arab culture that has been veiled," said Haddad.

"I'm not trying to introduce something alien. We have wonderful erotic texts in Arabic like The Scented Garden or the non-censored texts of A Thousand and One Nights. These are all part of our heritage and we have come to deny it."

In a region where the majority are Muslims, Arabic is revered as the language of the Koran and the trend is for bodies to be covered up rather than exposed, this daring experiment has triggered both anger and excitement.

Officials of Hezbollah, the powerful Lebanese Shia movement, tried to close Jasad's stand at last week's Beirut book fair. One outraged visitor ripped down a poster, complaining that the subject matter was "haram" — forbidden.

Visitors to the website of the popular al-Arabiya TV have attacked it. "Stop promoting this blatant vulgarity and obscenity," was one furious comment.

But another said: "Amazing magazine! Oh Lord, please let it be distributed in Jordan!" A Saudi man pledged to buy 50,000 copies and distribute them free "to open people's minds".

Jasad will be on sale in sealed plastic envelopes in Lebanon but elsewhere it will be delivered directly to subscribers' homes for $US130 ($A198) for four issues to avoid censorship.

Subscribers in Saudi Arabia, the most conservative of Arab countries, number in "the hundreds", according to Haddad. Egyptians are finding it pricey but she has high hopes for the countries of the Maghreb such as Tunisia and Morocco.

The Jasad website features a keyhole with erotic pictures, statues and other provocative images sliding past tantalisingly behind it. The cover of the first issue pictures a naked woman sheathed in bright crimson silk fabric, like a flower.

The Arabic "J" of the title is linked to a set of handcuffs, hinting at the restrictions on free discussion of the body.

Haddad is firm that while Jasad is an "adult publication", it is far from pornography.

"Some of the things that people wrote in Arabic a long time ago would make the Marquis de Sade blush," she said, laughing. "Now even the word 'breast' in Arabic would be shocking in certain circles. The language has gone backwards because of the influence of religion in daily life. This is about the reappropriation of our language. It's been stolen along the way. We have rotten political systems that increase the power of religion."

Only in the "oasis" of Lebanon — where pornography is banned but magazines and videos are sold and lax laws allow a porn film industry to function — would it be possible to legally publish a magazine such as Jasad.

"I don't mind having people thinking differently from me," said Haddad. "I respect the right of people not to accept these things, but I don't accept it when they try to stop me doing what I want to do.

"This is not a political project. The magazine is about love for the culture of the body. It's not a cause — but it does hope to break taboos."


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Greek riots energise angry youth

One week of rampant rioting by angry youths across Greece has led to real fears that the violence could spread throughout Europe.

Clashes and protests have already been reported in Spain, Denmark, France, Italy and Russia.

So how is it that the police shooting of a young Greek boy could turn into a continent-wide dilemma?

School pupils, teenagers, university students, unemployed youth, and left-wing anarchists have united in massive numbers to express their frustration with the system, albeit for different reasons or differing aspects of the system.

Commentators, the media and analysts have pinpointed the causes to rising unemployment among frustrated youth. The motives may in fact be rising unemployment, or the opposition to globalisation, police violence, or the EU itself. It could simply be raging teenage hormones, or a combination of all.

Some might be resenting democracy, corruption, capitalism, the state of the world, regardless of the various motives, the sign is clear ... many are unhappy. Unhappy to the point they'd prefer to see the streets of their cities burn than swallow their depression indoors. The death of a Greek youth was an inevitable trigger to unleash boiling emotions and anger that has been festering for sometime.

Despite years of economic growth and ridiculous profits for global corporations, the benefits of economic prosperity appear to have alluded the youth.

The system created an economic pathway, and the youth followed the process, only to find that the system doesn't work. The young were told to finish high school, get good scores, go to university, get a good degree, and then they would be promised a piece of the pie. The system lied, the youth have been deceived.

The truth remains that after two decades of solid growth in the OECD, little has trickled down for many young people. Corporate executives receive extravagant bonuses, whilst downsizing their companies and shutting the door on a very long queue of talented, qualified graduates waiting to break in. And now the youth have been told the world's heading into recession, so even the tiny hope of excelling to great prosperity has been shattered for many.

For the anarchists and far leftists who never believed in the routine capitalist life, even after the demise of Communism, their response has been crude and blunt: 'I told you so'.

And as Europeans do when they're angry, they take to the streets with molotov cocktails, and if you're French, you might go all the way to the guillotine as President Nicolas Sarkozy illustrated:

"The French love it when I'm in a carriage with Carla, but at the same time they've guillotined a king."

I can empathise with the young rioters. I am 23 years old, received a degree with great scores, trying to find a direction in my life only to run into walls at every turn. Employment in a job of my qualification seems a distant dream. The bank account shrinks, the bills pile up, and you wonder ... where to from here? And there are many around me, the same age, struggling with the same frustration.

During my time in France, I also encountered a frustrated youth, many with excellent qualifications, and nowhere to go.

If the economy was expanding for two decades, why aren't there enough jobs for today's youth? Where have all the industries gone?

Diplomats, leaders, businessmen fly from capital to capital attempting to resolve the economic crisis, whilst protecting their immediate interests. And that's part of the problem. The decision, the fate of the unemployed youth of OECD countries is in the hands of a select few incredibly wealthy individuals who don't seem to have the interests of the disadvantaged at heart.

The public are then told to vote for a change of government in a democratic process to express their discontent with current policies. One votes, a new government is brought into power, the policies shift only slightly enough to catch the headlines, but the circumstances remain the same. In the case of Greece, a typically corrupt Mediterranean entity (I'm beginning to think corruption is inherent in Mediterranean culture), their supposed democracy has only offered the option of two corrupt family dynasties, the Papandreou and Karamanlis (current Prime Minister).

Where is the solution? The political leaders don't know. The wealthy chief executives who manipulate the world's economy don't know, and probably don't care. The rioters don't know. But one thing is for sure, something has to change.

There is no unified goal from these protests, because the youth simply have no idea where they're heading. They're lost for direction, they're lost for answers. They feel ripped off and need to release their depression and frustration at a system that just isn't working for them.

One can only take so much pressure before the bubble bursts, and it appears for many young Greeks, the bubble for them has burst.

As the economic downturn begins to negatively impact more sectors of society throughout the industrialised world, then Western leaders should brace themselves for more strikes and more riots.