July 27, 2010

Eight Reasons Why We Should End the War in Afghanistan

Although there might not be any major bombshells in the recently-released Afghanistan war logs, the logs have been getting a fair amount of play in the media. Which, of course, is a good thing. Perhaps—and I’m not holding my breath here—but perhaps all of this will turn at least a few people’s attention away from whatever it is that they’ve been talking about—Mel Gibson, Lindsay Lohan, I really haven’t been paying much attention—and we’ll start to have a much-needed debate about the war. Well here’s my contribution to the debate, eight reasons why we should bring our troops home.

1) Many Afghans are getting killed.
Although NATO forces make efforts to limit civilian casualties, the fact remains that they’re still killing large numbers of civilians. And this number is rising. During the first quarter of this year, for instance, NATO troops killed more than twice as many civilians as they did during the same period last year.[1]

2) Many Americans are getting killed. This number, too, is rising. According to the Pentagon, 52 US troops were killed in June, the highest monthly total since the war began.[2] Of course, some of you probably think it’s worth it, some of you probably have no problem sending other people’s sons and daughters halfway around the world to get killed for a cause that the president claims “is in our vital national interest.”[3] Keep reading…

3) Al-Qaeda has been all but eliminated from Afghanistan. As Robert Dreyfuss has reported, many former intelligence officials believe that the U.S. military all but obliterated the group shortly after 9/11. According to one former CIA operations officer: “We had a lot of success with airstrikes. We came in with B-52s and F-16s, and at Tora Bora we dropped a 15,000-pound device on them. We blew them to bits. If you wanted to do a body count, you would have needed to pick up the pieces with Q-Tips.”[4] Just a couple weeks ago, CIA Director Leon Panetta claimed that there are no more than 100 al-Qaeda operatives left in the country.[5] Although some al-Qaeda operatives fled to Pakistan, US National Counterterrorism Director Michael Leiter estimates that there are only around 300 such individuals there.[6]

4) Even if the US left now and even if the Taliban regained power, there’s no reason to believe that the Taliban would again allow al-Qaeda to use Afghanistan as a safe haven. As Stephen Walt has argued: “Protecting al Qaeda back in 2001 brought no end of trouble to Mullah Omar and his associates, and if they were lucky enough to regain power, it is hard to believe they would give us a reason to come back in force.” And even if the Taliban allowed al Qaeda to return, Walt notes that “the United States isn’t going to sit around and allow them to go about their business undisturbed. The Clinton administration wasn’t sure it was a good idea to go after al Qaeda’s training camps back in the 1990s (though they eventually did, albeit somewhat half-heartedly), but that was before 9/11. We know more now and the U.S. government is hardly going to be bashful about attacking such camps in the future.”[7]

5) The war is fueling the insurgency. According to Matthew Hoh, the Marine captain turned Foreign Service officer who resigned in protest of the war last October: “the bulk of the insurgency fights not for the white banner of the Taliban, but rather against the presence of foreign soldiers and taxes imposed by an unrepresentative government in Kabul.” Moreover: “The United States military presence in Afghanistan greatly contributes to the legitimacy and strategic message of the Pashtun insurgency.” The reason for this, Hoh explains, is simple: although most Pashtuns don’t love the Taliban, they can’t help but view the US-NATO occupation “as a continued and sustained assault, going back centuries, on Pashtun land, culture, traditions and religion by internal and external enemies.”[8]

6) The war is fueling terrorism. Although still unpopular to state in many circles, the fact remains that they (that is, terrorists) want to kill us (that is, Americans) because of the violence our government is wreaking throughout the Muslim world. From our support of dictatorships in places like Egypt and Indonesia to our unflagging support of Israel to our occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the vast majority of terrorists want to kill us, not because of who we are, not because of what we believe, but because of what our government does. As Michael Scheuer, who formerly headed the CIA’s Bin Laden Unit, has stated: “It is…the Muslim perception that the things they love are being intentionally destroyed by America that engenders Islamist hatred toward the United States, and that simultaneously motivates a few Muslims to act alone and attack U.S. interests; a great many more to join organizations like al Qaeda and its allies; and massive numbers to support those organizations’ defensive military actions with prayers, donations, blind eyes, or logistical assistance.”[9]

7) The war is bankrupting us. This year alone the war is going to cost us around one hundred billion dollars. You heard me right. One hundred billion dollars. This year alone. [10] In order to pay for this, the government has two options. One, it can drive us deeper into debt, which will have the affect of further devaluing the dollar and making us all poorer. Two, it can cut social programs, which will just heap more suffering on millions of Americans who have already been devastated by the greed and excesses of our politicians and their corporate buddies.

8) The war is unwinnable. Counterinsurgency, let’s remember, is essentially a hearts and minds campaign. The goal is to win over the local population, to turn them against the insurgents and towards the “legitimate” (that is, American-backed) government. But it’s becoming increasingly obvious just how much most Afghans despise Hamid Karzai’s corrupt, warlord-promoting, woman-denigrating, election-stealing regime. According to a recent Pentagon report, while the population supports the Afghan government in none—repeat: none—of the country’s 121 “key districts,” it supports the Taliban in 8 key districts. And while the population “sympathizes with” the Afghan government in 29 key districts (24%), it sympathizes with the Taliban in 40 districts (33%) [11]. None of this should surprise us, of course. Last October, General Stanley McChrystal admitted that, even if received all the troops he wanted, his plan carried “a high risk of failing” (AP’s words).[12] And then last month, during one of his final briefings, McChrystal spoke of a “resilient and growing insurgency” and admitted that he didn’t expect things to get any better within the next six months.[13] Why we should expect things to improve after that isn’t exactly clear.

[1] Paul Wiseman, “NATO strikes killing more Afghan civilians,” USA Today, 16 April 2010 (h/t Antiwar.com).

[2] “June troop deaths in Afghanistan top 100,” UPI, 1 July 2010.

[3] “FULL TRANSCRIPT: President Obama's Speech on Afghanistan,” ABC News, 1 December 2009.

[4] “The Phony War,” Rolling Stone, 21 September 2006.

[5] Anne Flaherty, "CIA's Panetta: Few al-Qaida are in Afghanistan," AP News, 27 June 2010.

[6] David E. Sanger and Mark Mazzetti, “New Estimate of Strength of Al Qaeda Is Offered,” New York Times, 30 June 2010.

[7] “The Safe Haven Myth,” Foreign Policy, 18 August 2010.

[8] Karen DeYoung, “U.S. official resigns over Afghan war,” Washington Post, 27 October 2009.

[9] Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror (Potomac Books, Inc., 2004), 9-10.

[10] Brian Faler, “War Bill Approved as Afghan Conflict Tops Iraq in Cost, Troops,” Bloomberg Business Week, 28 May 2010.

[11] Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan, April 2010.

[12] Lara Jakes, “AP Sources: Afghan corruption worries McChrystal,” Associated Press, 14 October 2009.

[13] Jonathan Owen and Brian Brady, “The last post: McChrystal’s bleak outlook,” The Independent, 27 June 2010.

July 22, 2010

The Latest Anti-Muslim Freakout

Until now I’ve avoided writing about this whole “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy. Mainly because I really didn’t think it was much of a controversy. I knew that Pamela Geller was making a big fuss about it, but, let’s be honest here, Pamela Geller is either (a) a sociopath or (b) a very, very disturbed human being, someone so disturbed, someone who’s built up so many defense mechanisms, that she’s become completely oblivious to reality.

I didn’t think that many other Americans, even most of the racists over at Fox News, would stoop so low as to object to a mosque being built a couple blocks from Ground Zero. I mean, come on, I thought, people aren’t that ugly, are they?

Well the answer, it turns out, is that, yes, actually people are that ugly. Sarah Palin, for instance, recently Tweeted: “Ground Zero Mosque supporters: doesn’t it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate [sic].” Many others have provided more verbose, although equally nonsensical, “refudiations.”

For instance, take the New York Post—please. The Post keeps warning that the would-be mosque’s imam, Feisal Abdul Rauf, might not be the nice, kindhearted man he seems. For example, did you know that Rauf has given money to the Free Gaza Movement? Yes, the Free Gaza Movement, the very group which organized that nefarious flotilla, you know, the one that tried to deliver humanitarian goods to Gaza, things like CAT scanners, wheelchairs, and crutches.

The Post quotes a woman whose husband was killed in 9/11 to explain what all this means: “I think it goes to show he is not the man he represents himself to be. We have two Imam Raufs. We have the anti-Israel, anti-democratic imam, and we have the smiling, soft-spoken moderate Muslim who says ‘Why can't we all get along?’”

On Monday, the Post reported that, in a recent radio interview, Rauf “refused to describe Hamas as a terror organization.” Never mind that, in the interview in question, he made it clear that he believes targeting civilians is wrong and that he even described himself as “a supporter of the state of Israel.” Never mind that Rauf sees himself as a peacemaker, a “bridge builder,” and as such probably realizes that making a blanket condemnation of Hamas, one which fails to recognize the group’s diverse and complex nature, would likely hurt his future chances to engage the group and encourage it to do the right thing.

Never mind all this. And never mind that Hamas has repeatedly stated that it’s willing to accept a two-state solution. Never mind that it’s even stated its willingness to recognize Israel. None of this is important. And how do I know it’s not important? Because the Post doesn’t think it’s important, that’s how.

As absurd as the New York Post is, it has nothing on the Weekly Standard. In a recent article there, Stephen Schwartz suggests that Rauf’s mosque is being funded by extremists. As evidence, Schwartz tells us that in 2003 two Iranian brothers had talked about building a mosque in lower Manhattan. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll refer to them as Brother 1 and Brother 2. Well it turns out that Brother 1 once served in the same nonprofit organization as Rauf. Furthermore: from 1983-1992, Brother 2 headed a different nonprofit. And furthermore: in 2009, the US government accused this second nonprofit of being a front for the Iranian government. All of which, of course, proves that terrorists are funding Rauf’s mosque, right?

What’s that, still not convinced? How about we put this argument into syllogistic form:

  1. Rauf once worked with Brother 1 in Nonprofit A.
  2. Seventeen years after Brother 1’s brother (Brother 2) stepped down from Nonprofit B, the US government accused Nonprofit B of being a front for the Iranian government.
  3. Therefore, Rauf’s would-be mosque is being funded by terrorists.

QED, right?

Schwartz offers a couple of other, equally convincing (hear the sarcasm oozing from my voice) arguments. For instance, he tells us that the man who bought the location for the would-be mosque is business partners with Amr Moussa’s nephew. Amr Moussa heads the Arab League and, according to Schwartz, “was the first major Arab leader to go to Gaza and affirm support for Hamas, in mid-June, after the recent blockade-running assault.” Another QED, right?

Leaving aside the tangential, in fact less than tangential, in fact non-existent, relationship between Rauf and Moussa, it should be noted that Moussa didn’t actually “affirm” his “support for Hamas.” What he did was go to Gaza and talk to some of Hamas’ leaders and encourage them to be reconciled with Fatah, something which would undoubtedly benefit Palestinians.

But since we’re talking about a Weekly Standard article and all, I suppose there’s no need to let facts get in our way.

(For more on this issue, I recommend this excellent article at Teenage Politics, as well as this hard-hitting piece by Robert Wright.)

(Oh, and I can’t leave out this great article by Juan Cole.)

July 19, 2010

Lions, and Tigers, and Methodists! Oh My!

Robin Shepherd has this to say about the Methodist Church of Britain’s recent decision to boycott products from Israeli settlements in the West Bank:

The fact that an institution professing allegiance to values of love, truth and justice should have succumbed to an agenda of hatred, hypocrisy and barbarism is sadly emblematic of the degraded spirit of our times, and of the moral inversions which blow through them.

But who, these days, can really be surprised about such happenings in modern Europe? It is only the banality, to appropriate Hannah Arendt, of this particular evil that still has the power to shock us. (“The banality of Methodist evil,” Jerusalem Post, 4 July 2010)

Shepherd—described by Wikipedia as “a prominent British-born political commentator and analyst”—proceeds to tell us about “the discussions at the Methodist Conference which approved the boycott.” Although, he writes, “there was little in the way of the visceral hatred of Israel which we have become so accustomed to seeing,” here was a group of anti-Semites nonetheless. “Here was a group of almost stereotypically ordinary, middle-class, English Christians calmly reciting every hackneyed anti-Israeli calumny in the book.” And what, you might be wondering did they have to say? What did these hateful, hypocritical, barbaric English Methodist anti-Semites have to say?

“What is happening in Palestine today is what was happening in South Africa in the recent past,” one delegate said. Another spoke of the “66 percent of 9- to 12-month-old babies [that] are anemic in Gaza.”

Yet another described a picture, which she held up in front of her, of a small boy “with large eyes” and “deep pain” in those eyes. “This little boy lives in Gaza,” she said ominously, adding (without irony) that the conference should “speak and act for those whose voices are not heard.”

Later, the point was repeated with one speaker lamenting the position of the Palestinians who have “no one to tell of what they’re going through.”

There was a lecture on the Old Testament, the Jews as “the chosen people,” the children of Abraham, and the revelations of Jesus: “Jesus... never speaks of the land or owning it; he speaks of the kingdom and joining it,” said the delegate joyfully. “...He teaches us God is not a racist God [her emphasis] who has favorites. God loves all his children [her emphasis] and blesses them.”

Yes, shocking, I know. Here we are, only sixty years since the Holocaust, and English Methodists—of all people, English Methodists—have the audacity to suggest that Arabs have rights, that God loves all people, yes, all people, equally. Shocking, I know. Outrageous, I know. A bunch of “hackneyed anti-Israeli calumny” if I’ve ever heard any.

Now Shepherd never tells us why he finds the above viewpoints so horrible. He never tells us why Israel isn’t an apartheid state, why the delegates’ concern for the Palestinians is objectionable. Nor does he tell us why it’s wrong to boycott goods coming from West Bank settlements. The Methodist Church, it should be emphasized, isn’t boycotting goods coming from Israel, just goods coming from West Bank settlements, many of which have been built on expropriated land, all of which have been built in clear violation of international law. Shepherd huffs, and he puffs, and, as we’ve seen, he calls the Methodists all sorts of names, but he never explains why their viewpoints or why their boycott is wrong.

Instead, he complains that the church isn’t targeting any other countries and relates the following conversation he had with Methodist Church spokeswoman Anna Drew:

“Do you have any boycotts of other countries in the world, Saudi Arabia for example, where Christianity is banned?” I asked.

“Almost certainly not,” she said.

“So why have you singled out the Jewish state?” I asked.

“We have not singled out the Jewish state,” she replied, saying that the boycott was not against Israel, merely against the occupied territories.

And so the conversation went on, going round and round in circles as Drew summoned up every ounce of conceivable pedantry to argue that singling out the policy of a particular country was substantially different from singling out the country itself, even though such a boycott applied to no other country or its policies.

Again, Shepherd never explains why the Methodist Church’s boycott is wrong. He never tells us why, contrary to popular belief, the Palestinians aren’t suffering. He never tells us why, contrary to the 2004 decision of the International Criminal Court, Israeli settlements are not a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. All he does is complain that the Methodist Church is being inconsistent by only boycotting goods from Israeli settlements.

Now Shepherd himself never utters a word against Israel. He practically condemns the Methodist Church to hell for being inconsistent, but he doesn’t offer a single criticism of the Israeli government, which continues confiscating land in the West Bank, driving Palestinians from their homes, imposing its blockade on Gaza, etc., etc. Israel gets a pass while the Methodist Church is condemned to hell. Talk about being inconsistent.

July 12, 2010

Selective Amnesia: Netanyahu on Peace, Palestine, and the 2005 Disengagement

Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly said that he’s willing to grant the Palestinians a state. Of course, his proposed state isn’t really a state at all; it certainly isn’t something that any reasonable person could expect the Palestinians to accept. Not only has he stated that Israel will retain large areas of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley), but he has made it clear that any future Palestinian state will not be allowed to have an army and that Israel will maintain complete control over the area’s borders and airspace.[1] So, in other words, instead of offering the Palestinians an actual state, Netanyahu has offered them a second Gaza Strip, this one in the West Bank. Call it Gaza West.

Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations last week, Netanyahu defended his proposal, explaining why the Palestinians can’t be trusted with an actual state, why Gaza West is all they deserve. His explanation, in short: The Palestinians have shown that they don't want peace, that they won’t stop fighting until Israel has been completely destroyed. In support of this claim, he cited Israel’s 2005 disengagement from Gaza. “[W]e vacated every last inch of Gaza,” he said. “And that area was quickly taken over by Iran’s proxies. They poured missiles and rockets into them, and they were soon fired into Israel—12,000 rockets and missiles in total, in an area, I think, slightly smaller than New Jersey.” Consequently: All we’re going to give the Palestinians, all we trust them with, is Gaza West—so they can take it or leave it.[2]

Now it’s absolutely true that in September 2005 Israel “vacated every last inch of Gaza.” It evacuated its settlements in Gaza and redeployed its soldiers to the Strip’s borders. There’s no argument there. But to suggest that, by taking these actions, Israel somehow extended an olive branch to the Palestinians, that it went so far as to liberate Gaza, is simply ludicrous. As a result of the disengagement, Palestinians enjoyed more freedom of movement within the Strip,[3] but other than that, things remained essentially the same.

According to a B’Tselem-HaMoked report released six months before the disengagement, Israeli policies over the preceding four and a half years had turned Gaza into “one big prison.”[4] The report describes how Israel had imposed a harsh closure on the Strip, preventing all but a handful of people from entering or leaving. We read about Israel denying travel permits to students trying to attend college in the West Bank, patients needing medical care in Egypt, parents hoping to reunite with their children and husbands with their wives. We read about Israel denying one man’s request to go to the West Bank to visit his dying mother and then later rejecting his second request to leave so he could attend her funeral.[5]

The report also describes how the closure had devastated Gaza’s economy. By placing sharp restrictions on the number of Palestinians who could enter Israel to work, Israel caused many thousands of individuals to lose their jobs.[6] Furthermore, by forcing all imports and exports to pass through just one crossing and by requiring these items to go through an inefficient and “patently unreasonable” inspection process, Israel had stunted many businesses and destroyed many others.[7] Consequently, the Palestinian economy had fallen “into a deep recession, from which it [had] not recovered.” By the end of 2004, 35% of those in Gaza were unemployed and a full 77% were living in poverty.

So Gaza on the eve of the disengagement was much like it is today, the main differences being that Israel hadn’t yet completely destroyed Gaza’s economy, and it hadn’t yet launched those murderous, but oh-so-innocuous-sounding, military campaigns, Summer Rains, Autumn Clouds, and Cast Lead. Although Israel held true to its word and redeployed its troops to Gaza’s perimeters in September 2005, it maintained the closure and in so doing continued preventing Gazans from exercising many of their most fundamental human rights. It also reserved the right to freely enter Gaza for military purposes, even when those purposes involved taking “preventive measures.”

And while Israel kept its stranglehold on Gaza, it continued committing its crimes in the West Bank. From a September 13 UN report we learn that on September 12, the day the last Israeli soldiers left Gaza, the IDF “uprooted several olive trees on land belonging to Palestinians from Kafr al Labad for the construction of a fence around the Avnei Khefets settlement.” We also learn that the Israeli Archaeological Authority “levelled land and uprooted about 60 olive trees near Deir Ballut in search for archaeological artefacts in the area” and that in other parts of the West Bank the IDF continued leveling land for the construction of the Separation Wall.[8]

Subsequent UN reports detail more Israeli crimes,[9] all of which serve to confirm Dov Weisglass’ claim that the Sharon government initiated the disengagement in order to squelch the peace process and thus (we’re to assume) in order to give Israel more time to steal land in the West Bank. As Weisglass, who served as Ariel Sharon’s senior advisor, admitted to a Haaretz reporter in late 2004: “The disengagement is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.” He further noted that the peace process—which he described as “the evacuation of settlements,” “the return of refugees,” and “the partition of Jerusalem”—had “now been frozen…what I effectively agreed to with the Americans was that part of the settlements would not be dealt with at all, and the rest will not be dealt with until the Palestinians turn into Finns. That is the significance of what we did.”[10]

So although Israel gave the occupation a minor facelift, the occupation, with all its ugly, evil manifestations, raged on.[11] It shouldn’t have come as a surprise, then, when Hamas fired more than 30 Qassam rockets into Israel on September 25. Hamas said it was responding to a September 23 incident in which a Hamas truck “carrying rockets exploded, killing 15 Palestinians and wounding more than 80.” Hamas claimed that Israel was responsible for the explosion. “The Palestinian Authority and Israel said the blast was caused by Hamas explosives that went off accidentally.”[12]

Even if Israel didn’t cause the explosion, it’s not difficult to see why so many Palestinians believed otherwise and why some felt the need to respond with violence. For most of these men have lived their entire lives under the violence, humiliation, and injustice of the occupation. Every day they and their loved ones, in both Gaza and the West Bank, are victims of Israeli aggression. So when that truck exploded, killing 15 bystanders, these men reasoned that Israel was to blame, a conclusion which, given the context, hardly seems farfetched.

Although Netanyahu won’t admit that “the continued enmity toward Israel” is a response to the occupation,[13] the facts plainly suggest that it is. And until Israel admits this, and until its grants the Palestinians justice, real justice, there will not be peace in the Middle East.


[1] “PM’s Speech at the Begin-Sadat Center at Bar-Ilan University,” Prime Minister’s Office, 14 June 2009; Barak Ravid and Agencies, “Netanyahu: Israel will never share Jerusalem with Palestinians,” Haaretz, 12 January 2010; Jonathan Lis, “Netanyahu: Israel will never cede Jordan Valley,” Haaretz, 3 February 2010; “Netanyahu: Israel must have West Bank presence after peace deal,” Associated Press, 20 January 2010.

[2] “A Conversation with Benjamin Netanyahu,” Council on Foreign Relations, 8 July 2010.

[3] Gaza Access and Infrastructure Situation Report, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Occupied Palestinian Territory, 15 September 2005.

[4] One Big Prison: Freedom of Movement to and from the Gaza Strip on the Eve of the Disengagement Plan, B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, March 2005.

[5] Two more points to make about the travel bans. First, the report claims that, far from undertaking such actions for “security reasons,” Israel had in most cases arbitrarily prevented people from leaving Gaza. As proof for this, the report notes that Israel usually reversed its decisions when someone denied a travel permit was fortunate enough to have a lawyer or human rights organization intervene for them. “These reversals result from the state’s decision not to engage in an expensive, and at times embarrassing, legal challenge before the High Court of Justice.” Moreover, Israel had generally refused to provide any evidence that those banned from traveling were in fact security risks, further suggesting the arbitrary nature of its policies.

Second, Israel’s actions here clearly violated the 1995 Interim Agreement. For instance, the Interim Agreement mandated a “safe passage” route between Gaza and the West Bank, which the Agreement considered “a single territorial unit.” Although Israel opened a road connecting the two territories in October 1999, “[w]ith the outbreak of the al-Aqsa intifada in September 2000, Israel closed the safe-passage route, and it has remained closed ever since.” The Interim Agreement also provided “three [and only three] situations in which Israel is entitled to prevent a Palestinian resident from leaving the Occupied Territories to travel abroad. The three situations are: (1) for reasons specifically set forth in the agreement; (2) when a traveler does not have the required documents—in this regard, it was established that a passport or analogous document issued by the Palestinian Authority is sufficient to enable a Palestinian resident to leave the Occupied Territories; (3) where a warrant against the individual has been issued by the Palestinian Authority and forwarded to the Israeli authorities.”

[6] The report disputes Israel’s claim that it imposed these restrictions for security purposes: “The timing of the comprehensive closures and the reduction in quotas—which generally take place after attacks—together with the defense establishment’s characterization of these actions ‘as a response’ to attacks, are more consistent with a claim that these measures constitute collective punishment than that they are preventive actions. Since the outbreak of the intifada, Erez Crossing has been a target of several attacks that caused many casualties, including suicide attacks. However, Israel justifies its quota and closure policy on the fear of attacks inside Israel. This claim appears baseless. As far as B’Tselem and HaMoked know, except for one case that occurred at the beginning of the intifada, no workers from the Gaza Strip who entered Israel to work have been involved in attacks.”

[7] “If Israel had set up a reasonable alternative to Karni Crossing [the crossing which Israel required all goods to pass through] for moving goods when Karni was closed, some of the damage to the Palestinian economy would have been averted. One possibility was for Israel to enable goods to pass through Erez Crossing. Another possibility was increasing the capability of Sufa checkpoint to handle the crossing of goods. Israel also could have established a new land-crossing point, or permitted the construction of a seaport…

“Even if we accept Israel’s claim that it is necessary to prohibit the movement of trucks from one side to the other, existing technologies make it unreasonable to demand a container be unloaded to check its contents: a scanner could be used to carry out a thorough check of the contents. These devices are in use in many locations around the world, including Ashdod Port. In October 2004, Israel purchased one scanner for Karni Crossing, but it is only used to check empty containers.

“Not only has Israel not used existing technology to shorten the time it takes for containers to cross Karni, most of the goods intended for the Gaza Strip or which originate in Gaza are checked more than once before they reach their final destination. For example, goods from Europe intended for Gaza are checked first at Ashdod Port and again at Karni; goods made in Nablus in the West Bank that are intended for Gaza are liable to be checked three times: when leaving Nablus, at the checkpoint into Israel, and at Karni. Israel claims that the duplication is needed to catch weapons that are placed in the container after the first check. This problem, too, could be solved by modern technology, such as hermetic sealing of the checked containers, and instruments that can readily determine whether the seal has been broken.142 In most cases, these technologies would eliminate the need for duplicate checks and shorten the time needed to get the goods to the customer…

“Despite the heavy traffic at the crossing and the severe harm to the Palestinian economy resulting from the long lines, the crossing is not operated to its full potential.

“First, the crossing is open only about eight hours a day, during the daylight hours, and less on Fridays and Saturdays.143 From time to time, the crossing remains open for a longer time, sometimes until midnight, to facilitate the export of farm produce, clearly indicting that it is feasible to operate the crossing more hours of the day.

“Second, even when the crossing is open, it is not operated at full capacity. The more trucks being unloaded at a given time, the shorter the wait. The number of trucks being unloaded is reduced when there are insufficient examiners and guards. The State Comptroller’s Office conducted random checks a Karni Crossing over several months in 2001 and 2002, and each time, many of the crossing’s staff were absent. For example, ‘in December 2002, thirty-eight of the security staff and twenty-nine of the administrative staff, a total of sixty-seven personnel, were missing.’”

[8] Protection of Civilians, Weekly Briefing Notes, 7-13 September 2005, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Occupied Palestinian Territory, 13 September 2005.

[9] For example, a September 20 reports details the following crimes, among others:

  • 14-20 September: Teachers coming from the Palestinian towns of Yatta and Samu’ were unable to reach Imneizil elementary school as IDF soldiers managing Beit Yatir checkpoint denied them access and detained them for several hours. The teachers had previously been denied entry at this checkpoint on 7 and 8 September 2005 for not holding the correct permits and the school was closed for these two days.
  • 15 September: 31 fruit trees belonging to a Palestinian farmer from Khallet Zakariya were cut down adjacent to Alon Shvut settlement
  • 15 September: The IDF issued requisition order, T/157/05, for 21 dunums (2.1 hectares) of agricultural land belonging to Palestinian farmers from the towns of Al Khadr and Beit Jala. The land is to be used to expand the Tunnel checkpoint on Road No. 60.
  • 16 September: The IDF fired tear gas and rubber-coated metal bullets at Palestinian, Israeli and Internationals activists demonstrating against the Barrier construction in Bil’in, Ramallah. Five Palestinians and four IDF soldiers were injured.
  • 18 September: IDF bulldozers supported by IDF armored vehicles entered approximately 200 metres into the Palestinian area east of Beit Hanoun near the border fence with Israel. The bulldozers started to establish what is believed to be a new buffer zone along the security fence between the Gaza Strip and Israel.
  • 20 September: After their home was demolished in Beit Hanina (Jerusalem) in April 2005 for being built with a permit, a family of seven have been living in a caravan on the same location of the demolished house. On 20 September the Israeli Jerusalem municipality confiscated the caravan.
  • 20 September: The IDF paved and surrounded with barbed wire an area of approximately 30 dunums (3.0 hectares) west of the Barrier near Dhaher al Malih village. [Protection of Civilians, Weekly Briefing Notes, 14-20 September 2005, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Occupied Palestinian Territory]

[10] Ari Shavit, “Top PM aide: Gaza plan aims to freeze the peace process,” Haaretz, 6 October 2004.

[11] As John Dugard has noted: “The jurisprudence of post-war Germany shows that the test for occupation is that of continued control. In the Hostages Trial (United States of America v. Wilhelm List et al., 1949) a military tribunal stated that it was not necessary for the occupying Power to occupy the whole territory so long as it ‘could at any time (it) desired assume physical control of any part of the country’” [Israeli practices affecting the human rights of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem: Note by the Secretary-General, United Nations General Assembly, 18 August 2005].

[12] Greg Myre, “Israel Strikes in Gaza After Hamas Rocket Fire,” New York Times, 25 September 2005.

[13] “PM’s Speech at the Begin-Sadat Center at Bar-Ilan University,” Prime Minister’s Office, 14 June 2009.

July 6, 2010


(Updated below)

A couple weeks ago, the Humble Libertarian was nice enough to republish my essay, “Libertarianism, Property Rights, and the Israel-Palestine Conflict.” In that essay, I argued that, if we apply a Lockean/Rothbardian conception of property rights to the Middle East conflict, then we must conclude that Israel/Palestine doesn’t belong to any one ethnic or political group but rather that portions of the land belong to Palestinians and other portions belong to Jews.

Pretty standard libertarian stuff here, and I don’t see how anyone who believes in individual liberty and property rights would object to what I wrote. But, of course, people did object. In the comments section, two racists, both self-described libertarians, claimed that “the Arabs” are the ones to blame for the conflict. When I challenged one of these racists by making an argument based on actual evidence, he simply reaffirmed his position, while adding, “I do not claim to be a middle eastern policy expert.” You don’t say.

Anyway, the next day, one of the Humble Libertarian’s editors, a man named Matt Collins, felt the need to respond to my article by linking to an article written by Aaron Biterman of the Republican Liberty Caucus. Biterman’s article—subtitled “A(nother) Libertarian Defense of Israel”—is pure trash. A racist, historically inaccurate, and decidedly anti-libertarian piece of trash.

I posted a response to it on the RLC website, calling out Biterman for some of his more outrageous claims. ( For my response to his main argument, see below.) When the RLC refused to post my comments (how dare I respond to their propaganda with actual facts), I decided to email them to Biterman, who is evidently too busy to respond to me.

Now, as you can probably tell, I’m absolutely fed up with these charlatans. If you’ve had many dealings with people who describe themselves as libertarians (for example, if you’ve done any political networking on Facebook), you probably realize that such people are hardly rare. At first they seem like good guys. After all, they say they’re against things like tyranny and government abuse, they say they’re for the Bill of Rights and individual liberty.

But if you stick around long enough, you’ll realize that such people are total hypocrites. It turns out that they just don’t like the state when they’re the ones being abused by it. They don’t like taxes when they’re the ones paying them; they don’t like federal regulations when their businesses are the ones being affected; they oppose the Federal Reserve because they know what it’s doing to the value of their money. But these people generally don’t have a problem when the government is hurting someone else.

You’ll rarely hear any of these hypocrites object to the state’s wars or its efforts to deprive terror suspects of their basic civil liberties. If the US military were droppings bombs in places like California and Ohio, then these pseudo-libertarians would undoubtedly object. If the government were refusing to grant habeas corpus to white folks like us, then all hell would break loose. But, as it is, the targets of the War on Terror are just a bunch of brown-skinned, Allah-worshiping Iraqis, Afghans, Pakistanis, and Palestinians, so the likes of Aaron Biterman don’t give a damn.

Now, of course, these people have the right to buy into whatever fascist schemes their little hearts desire. If they want to rally behind warmongers like Rand Paul and Peter Schiff, then that’s their right. But I’m sick of them hijacking the libertarian (small-l libertarian) movement. And I’m sick of real libertarians, people who actually believe in things like the principle of non-aggression, refusing to call out these imposters.

Success, that’s the problem. Most people, including many (most?) sincere libertarians, are so obsessed with success that they become afraid of standing by their principles, they worry that taking a stand against people like Rand Paul will end up “hurting the cause.” Well how pathetic can you be? If the cause consists of people like Rand Paul, then what the hell’s the point?

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Appendix: A brief critique of Aaron Biterman’s “libertarian” argument against Palestinian property rights

In his essay, Biterman claims, among other things, that the 1948 Palestinian refugees shouldn’t be allowed to return to their homes. A strange belief for the Vice Chair of the Republican Liberty Caucus, an organization that “supports individual rights,” believing that “every human being is endowed by nature with inherent rights to life, liberty and property.” If such inherent rights exist, then it follows that the 1948 refugees, or at least most of them, have the right to return to their homes. For, even if one can make the case that some of the refugees forfeited their right to return by committing acts of terrorism, it’s clear that only a small number of them committed such acts, while the vast majority were simply victims of war, individuals who, through no fault of their own, were driven from their homes.

(Biterman, it’s worth pointing out, claims that the refugees were not driven from their homes but that “most of the Arabs living within the boundaries were encouraged to leave by the invading Arab armies to facilitate the slaughter of the Jews.” He doesn’t offer any evidence to support this claim for the simple reason, I imagine, that there is no evidence to support it. Israeli historian Benny Morris, himself a Zionist and loyal defender of Israel, divides the Palestinian exodus into four stages. During the first, Morris writes, around 75,000 Palestinians left voluntarily. In the second stage, around 400,000 Palestinians left either as a result of Israeli military attacks or out of fear of such attacks. In the third and fourth stages, another 300,000 fled, mostly “due to clear, direct causes, including brutal expulsions and deliberate harassment.” See Righteous Victims, pp. 256-57.)

Biterman argues that the refugees don’t have the right to return because, if they returned, they would just vote for Hamas, which is “a radical Islamist terrorist organization that seeks to wipe Israel (and all Jews) off the face of the earth and replace it with an Islamic Palestine.” Quoting Yaron Brook of the Ayn Rand Institute, Biterman writes: “Contrary to what the Palestinians are seeking, there can be no ‘right’ to establish a dictatorship.”

Now first of all, it’s absurd to say that Palestinians want to live under an Islamic dictatorship. Yes, it’s true that a large number of Palestinians—although not a majority—voted for Hamas in 2006, but this vote largely reflected the population’s anger with the exceedingly corrupt Fatah-led Palestinian Authority. Shortly after the 2006 election, Khalil Shikaki of Newsweek wrote: “Indeed, the most interesting aspect of the rise of Hamas is that its own voters, as demonstrated in exit polls, do not share its views on the peace process. Three quarters of all Palestinians, including more than 60 percent of Hamas supporters, are willing to support reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis based on a two-state solution. During the last 10 years, the trend among the Palestinians has been to move away from hard-line attitudes and to embrace moderate ones. Indeed, more than 60 percent of Hamas voters support an immediate return to negotiations with Israel.” And since then, Hamas’ popularity has further declined.

Second, it’s simply not true that Hamas wants to exterminate all Jews. Although the group’s 1988 charter calls for the extermination of the State of Israel, it also makes it clear that Hamas has no intention of wiping out the Jewish people. As the charter states at one point: “Under the shadow of Islam it is possible for the members of the three religions: Islam, Christianity and Judaism to coexist in safety and security.” (For more on this, see my article, “Does Hamas Want a Second Holocaust?”)

Third, for some time now, Hamas’ leaders have said that they will accept a two-state solution if (1) Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders and allows the refugees to return and if (2) the Palestinian people themselves agree to accept this settlement. (See “Hamas Wants to Talk Peace,” as well as Khaled Meshaal’s recent appearance on Charlie Rose.)

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After posting this article, I exchanged a few emails with Dave Nalle, Chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus. After telling me that my article “makes very little sense” and suggesting that perhaps I’m “some sort of paleocon who’s under the delusion” of being a libertarian, Nalle wrote that I “should take some time to read the RLC statement of principles at www.rlc.org and the disclaimer at the end of Aaron Biterman’s article which points out that the article is his opinion and not some sort of RLC policy statement.”

In response to this latter claim, I wrote:

Yes, I understand that, but why would RLC publish an article that so clearly contradicts its most fundamental principles? I understand why RLC would allow, even encourage, disagreement over some issues. But why allow Biterman to publish such a blatantly anti-libertarian piece of propaganda?

RLC claims that it “supports individual rights” and that it believes that “every human being is endowed by nature with inherent rights to life, liberty and property.” Biterman’s article unmistakably denies that Palestinians should be entitled to these rights. RLC should be ashamed that it published such an article and should remove it immediately.

In response to this, Nalle wrote:

I think he’s entitled the make his arguments. I don’t think either side in the conflict or those who support them have any legitimacy at all, personally. I don’t like choosing between two different sets of murderous despots. I’d have to reread his article again to comment intelligently on it, but my recollection is that he had some points - not entirely convincing, but good enough to explain Rand Paul’s position, which is what the main thrust of the article was.

Of course, Nalle has mischaracterized my position. It’s not as though I’ve simply chosen to side with a different “murderous despot” than Biterman. I’ve chosen to apply a libertarian view of property rights to the Israel-Palestine conflict, while Biterman has merely parroted a bunch of anti-Palestinian propaganda that could have easily come from Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Nalle did also write that, to the best of his knowledge, nobody at RLC deleted the comments I left in response to Biterman’s article. Which would mean that perhaps a computer glitch prevented my comments, but not other people’s, much friendlier, comments from posting. Fine. It’s possible.

July 5, 2010

Obama, Netanyahu, and Middle East Peace

During his meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu tomorrow, President Obama is expected to “focus on broad topics relating to an ultimate Middle East peace plan, rather than specific issues that continue to vex Israeli-Palestinian relations.” In other words, Obama is expected to talk about the “core issues”—borders, East Jerusalem, and refugees.[1]

Now being the smart man that he is (and I’m actually not being sarcastic here), Obama must realize that Netanyahu has no intention of compromising on these issues. Yes, Netanyahu has proposed granting the Palestinians a “state,” but it turns out that this “state” isn’t really a state at all. Under Netanyahu’s plan, the Palestinians would not be permitted to have an army, and Israel would retrain control of the area’s borders and airspace. Netanyahu has also made it clear that Israel will never relinquish East Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley, and other parts of the West Bank.[2]

Although this non-state might sound reasonable to the likes of Avigdor Lieberman (provided, of course, that Netanyahu also agrees to “transfer” a good number of Israeli Arabs out of Israel), Obama—who, we’ve already established, is a smart man—must realize that it’s not reasonable to the Palestinians. Nor, for that matter, to the rest of the world, which has repeatedly voted in the UN General Assembly that Israel must (1) withdraw from “the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem,” (2) acknowledge that the Palestinians have “the right to self-determination and the right to their independent State,” and (3) resolve the refugee crisis in conformity with Resolution 194.[3]

So, assuming that he really wants to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict, Obama’s task will be to persuade Netanyahu to do what Netanyahu obviously has no intention of doing. Now how, you might be wondering, how oh how, can Obama accomplish this?

Martin Indyk, who served as US ambassador to Israel during the Clinton years, writes that the president must find a way to “overcome the mistrust” that has “permeated and poisoned their personal relationship and build a partnership for peace.” In order to accomplish this, Indyk writes, “Obama should invite [Netanyahu] alone to Camp David for an afternoon walk in the woods. For his part, since he models himself on Winston Churchill, Netanyahu needs to make a real effort to take Obama into his confidence, much as Churchill wooed Roosevelt in the run-up to America’s entry into World War II.”[4]

Such a touching scene there: Barry and Bibi walking alone in the woods. Perhaps, if time allows, they could even go for a picnic, maybe even find a nice spot on the green and watch the sun set.

Of course, such actions will do absolutely nothing to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict. If Obama is really serious about doing this, then he would do well to listen to James Baker, who, in March, suggested how the president could curb Israeli settlement expansion: “I would…stress United States taxpayers are giving Israel roughly $3 billion each year, which amounts to something like $1,000 for every Israeli citizen, at a time when our own economy is in bad shape and a lot of Americans would appreciate that kind of helping hand from their own government. Given that fact, it is not unreasonable to ask the Israeli leadership to respect U.S. policy on settlements.”[5]

Baker, of course, has the right to dole out such advice. In early 1992, he and President Bush I. told Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir that they would freeze a $10 billion loan guarantee until Israel halted its settlement construction. “Israeli leaders told us they would just get the money from the U.S. Congress,” Baker recalls. “Our reply was, ‘We’ll see you on Capitol Hill.’” Baker and Bush ended up prevailing, as “[t]he Israeli public rejected Shamir’s ideological hard line” and in the June elections voted in Yitzhak Rabin’s Labor Party, which had “pledged to restore friendly relations with the United States.”[6]

If Obama applied enough pressure, he might be able to bring an end to Netanyahu’s coalition government, which in turn might pave the way for a Kadima-Labor government, which itself might be willing to make a reasonable offer to the Palestinians. Yes, there are a lot of mights there, and I’m not holding my breath. But if Obama really does want to resolve the conflict (and I think he does), and if he really is such a smart man (and we’ve agreed that he is), then perhaps—perhaps—it’s possible.

[1] Ali Weinberg, “Obama, Netanyahu meeting to avoid specifics, settlements,” First Read from NBC News, 2 July 2010.

[2] “PM’s Speech at the Begin-Sadat Center at Bar-Ilan University,” Prime Minister’s Office, 14 June 2009; Barak Ravid and Agencies, “Netanyahu: Israel will never share Jerusalem with Palestinians,” Haaretz, 12 January 2010; Jonathan Lis, “Netanyahu: Israel will never cede Jordan Valley,” Haaretz, 3 February 2010; “Netanyahu: Israel must have West Bank presence after peace deal,” Associated Press, 20 January 2010.

[3] “Responding to Avigdor Lieberman,” 29 June 2010; “Peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine (A/64/L.23),” United Nations General Assembly, 23 November 2009; “Following Two-Day Debate, General Assembly Adopts Six Draft Resolutions On Question of Palestine, Middle East,” United Nations General Assembly, 2 December 2009.

[4] “A quiet diplomacy on the Mideast peace path,” Washington Post, 2 July 2010.

[5] Akiva Eldar, “James Baker’s Advice for Obama on Forging Middle East Peace,” Haaretz, 23 March 2010.

[6] Ibid.; William L. Cleveland, A History of the Modern Middle East, 2004, p. 501.