All 5 entries tagged Palestine

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October 08, 2006

Why is Foreign Policy so reliant on bombs, not brains?

We have 50% of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3% of the population. In this situation, our real job in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which permit us to maintain this position of disparity. To do so, we have to dispense with all sentimentality… we should cease thinking about human rights, the raising of living standards and democratisation. – George Kennan, US Foreign Policy advisor, 1948

I would characterize current U.S. nuclear weapons policy as immoral, illegal, militarily unnecessary, and dreadfully dangerous – Robert McNamara, former US Foreign Policy advisor, 2005

It doesn’t sound like much has changed, then. Foreign policy seems to be the most influential, potentially dangerous and ideologically-divided type of politics, yet it is also the area of politics in which there is the least debate and where elites have the greatest say over our lives. In 2003, the Parliamentary debate on war in Iraq was an unprecedented exercise in debate before destruction. Only because of the incredible pressure put upon the government was there any debate in the Commons. They won because the Conservative opposition wished to play up the divisions in the Labour Party.

Daily Mirror, 6th October 2006The effect of poor foreign policy has been clear to see from the headlines this week. The Muslim population of Britain and other Western countries have been angered not only by the closed world of foreign affairs, but also by the blinkered reporting of it by newspapers, television and radio. Jack Straw’s remarks this week tackled one of those issues denied a hearing because different communities are afraid of stepping on each other’s toes. Henry Porter in the Observer and Martin Kettle in the Guardian both defended some of Straw’s words, while warning of the likely reaction from those who hadn’t read what he actually said in his newspaper article and radio interviews. But the – fairly predictable – reaction to Straw’s comments wasn’t the fault of a nervous Muslim population (in fact most moderate Muslims have shrugged it off), but was the fault of a British population not used to such open discussion of delicate issues. The media doesn’t prepare us for the identification of acceptable difference that is needed in a modern, diverse society where things aren’t only in shades of grey, but in full-blown technicolour. And the media isn’t helped when the government restricts debate of things like the replacement of Trident, nuclear power and our foreign policy generally.

When Tony Blair talks of a ‘roadmap’ for the Middle East, only he and his transatlantic allies seem to know what this roadmap is, and only they helped define it in the first place. There was little discussion here in the UK and in America of what would be required, just as there was little involvement of citizens in Israel and Palestine, and that’s been reflected in the fragility of the process. Similarly, no-one seriously thought to ask what should replace Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and only a few hours was given over to Parliamentary debate about the inevitable invasion.

Jack StrawTo refer back to George Kennan’s remarks in 1948, is it the case that military planning is done without reference to human rights and democracy? Events since 2001 suggest that it could well be. 2,973 people died on 11th September of that year, and the reaction to it has – at least in terms of casualties – been seriously overblown. Iraq Body Count – an independent body – suspects that between 43,799 and 48,639 civilians have been killed in Iraq since 2003, far more than in New York and Washington, and far more than were murdered by Saddam Hussein. Where is morality in this situation? Yes, one can blame the ‘insurgents’, ‘terrorists’ or ‘freedom fighters’ for many of these deaths, but it is clear that the British and American invasion triggered them.

George Bush does not seem a sentimental man, and Tony Blair does only when he’s performing for the cameras. But has sentimentality gone the same way as informed debate amongst ordinary people and our governments? The past five years and the closed-door world of Western foreign policy suggest that it has.


September 07, 2006

Israel's Megaphone: Desperation?

A coalition of pro-Israeli groups called GIYUS (Give Israel Your United Support) has launched a piece of software called Megaphone which brings up desktop alerts that encourage people to participate (and do so in a pro-Israeli fashion) in online polls, phone votes and discussion forums.

The website says:

Today’s conflicts are won by public opinion. Now is the time to be active and voice Israel’s side to the world.

What’s more, a spokesman from the Israeli Foreign Ministry has publicly called for Israelis abroad to download the software and get voting.

It’s potentially a controversial idea. By organising so carefully, GIYUS has the potential to sway almost any opinion poll in the world that allows anyone to vote.

BBC History magazine has already discovered that its polls can be swung in this way, and has had to pull a vote about whether holocaust denial should be a criminal offence.

Megaphone screenshotMany will argue that GIYUS is essentially trying to ‘rig’ the polls in order to make Israel look better. But how easily influenced are people? If they see that 67% of people think holocaust denial should be made illegal, are they likely to change their mind?

GIYUS will say that they’re doing what they’re doing because Israel needs defending against the pro-Palestinian media. And while it may be a questionable thing to do, is it surprising given the way these polls operate? Perhaps this piece of software might make media organisations rely less on the power of the opinion poll (Sky News does it with depressing intensity). Otherwise we’ll now have to take such polls with a greater pinch of salt.


July 08, 2006

Jeremy Bowen on Gaza

The BBC's Jeremy Bowen has written a sensible and rational piece on the motives of Israel and Palestine for the current crisis in Gaza, and it's well worth a read.

He writes:

…in the 39 years since Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza, history has delivered a few fundamental lessons, which neither side at the moment is in any mood to absorb.
The Gaza crisis is doomed to run its course, in the same way that Palestinians and Israelis are doomed to live alongside each other.

For those who criticise the BBC for being pro–Palestine, read this article from their Middle East Editor. Perhaps the same rationality isn't displayed in every broadcast, but it's clear from Bowen's article why the story is a hard one to cover: both sides believe passionately that they are right and will fight endlessly to prove it. Complete objectivity in such an environment must be virtually impossible when so many innocents are caught in the crossfire (on both sides).

Not only is Bowen's article essential reading for anyone trying to understand the reasons for the current crisis, it would also be highly useful for those engaged in it.


June 30, 2006

How not to be John Humphreys

Jon Snow's giving a perfect demonstration of how to defeat your interviewee without resorting to Humphreys–style incredulation. The interview went something like this:

Jon Snow: How does blowing up a Palestinian power station help you get back the Israeli soldier?
Israeli spokesman: (Answers a different question)
Jon Snow: It's a simple question - what's to be gained from blowing up the power station?
Israeli spokesman: Well it's easier for us to capture him if there's darkness.
Jon Snow: Surely it's easier to smuggle someone around if there's darkness?
Israeli spokesman: Er… umm… (Answers a different question again)

Quite.

Besides which destroying a power station (Gaza's only power source) which will take six months to rebuild (not that the Palestininans can afford it) is perhaps going to cause considerable damage to the Palestinian people (no power = no clean water) when one soldier's life (paid to potentially sacrifice his life) is at stake.

Also today, there's been a bit of a debate over whether the BBC should say the solider was 'captured' or 'kidnapped'. Personally if it's a soldier, then it's sort of an 'act of war', so capture sounds appropriate. I prefer kidnapping to be used solely in relation to civilians, as using it in relation to soldiers would slightly diminish the power of the word. But then it's a bit of a non–debate – I don't care which is used and am sure the same term would be used if it was a British, American or an Israeli soldier.


June 28, 2006

What is Israel playing at?


Blowing up power stations…


…destroying bridges.

Doesn't Israel's move into Gaza seem more like an act of war than an attempt to arrest what we should probably call terrorists?

It isn't anti–semitic or anti–security to say that Israel's moves overnight were grossly disproportionate to the threat that they believe exists. What they're doing is akin to us going and blowing things up in Northern Ireland because we're trying to smoke out the IRA. Quite simply it's the sort of tactic you might expect in the early 1900s, but today seems completely ridiculous.

Yes, Hamas is virtually impossible to work with, and yes they claim that Israel shouldn't exist. But when has violence ever prevented more violence?

Many of the actions which Israel take seems to be a deliberate attempt to encourage retaliation, forcing continual escalation which will eventually give them a justification for invading.

While the Palestinians aren't about to sign a peace agreement, that doesn't mean that Israel should fight fire with fire.


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