Archives for posts with tag: Middle East

Joe Biden has gone on the record to declare, like many US presidents before him, that Israel has the right to defend itself. And of course it does! If zombie Hitler rose from the grave to lead an undead Fourth Reich into the heart of Israel to finish the job, then yes, Israel should do its best to save humanity from the zombie Nazis. We would all be counting on them! However, now that 2020 is over and the likelihood of this event has dwindled, we have to look at the cold reality.

Hamas is firing rockets into Israel. That’s obviously a bad thing, so maybe Israel does have the right to retaliate against journalists, and the right to ensure that children are just under one third of all Palestinian deaths. Given that life expectancy in the area is so short that the median age is about 21 years old, it’s just statistically likely that there would be disproportionately younger victims. It’s simple math! But wait! Why is life expectancy so short in Palestine? Now a lot of folks don’t like talking about that because that means you’re bringing context into the conversation. Context would require us to look at what happened before Hamas started firing rockets into Israel, and if we do that, then maybe it doesn’t look so much like defense after all…

The body of a Palestinian child, killed during an Israeli airstrike, is carried to Al-Shifa hospital in the Gaza Strip, Palestine, on May 13, 2021. Photo: Mahmoud Issa/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
Oh shit! Context!

What had happened just before the rockets was a police raid on the Al-Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem. There were a whole bunch of Muslims praying there because, you know, Islam, and it’s the third holiest site of Islam, and it’s the month of Ramadan, so some Muslims wanted to do some praying. At the same time, some Israelis wanted to do some celebrating of Jerusalem Day to commemorate their invasion and occupation of the area back in 1967. Since the mosque is technically owned by the Muslims (though the grounds are patrolled by Israeli forces), the police banned the revelers from the area. They decided to plan their parade anyway. The police opened fire on the Muslim worshippers with rubber bullets, tear gas, and stun grenades; the worshippers were, at most, throwing rocks. If you were wondering, those revelers were still able to enjoy their party as flames leapt over the mosque! It’s not a great look.

East Jerusalem wasn’t bent out of shape for no reason, either. In the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, Israelis were doing their best to forcibly evict Palestinians from their homes in order to claim them for themselves. It’s not like the Palestinians were behind on their rent or anything; the Israeli settlers just wanted to take their homes. So they did.

“If I don’t steal it, someone else will!” Well, they might, but it’s unlikely they would be an Arab.

We’re trying to look at context, so what’s the context of all this? What happened before? Well it started with the Nakba, or the ‘Catastrophe’, where over 700 000 Palestinians left or were kicked out of their land when Israel first became a thing in 1948. There were likely some atrocities to encourage them to leave, but these are being hidden by Israeli authorities. It’s pretty straight forward really. The British gave Jewish people a homeland thanks to the Balfour declaration, but it’s not like the land they were ‘giving away’ was empty (the British had also promised the land to the Arabs for helping them out with another thing, but you know, who gives a shit I guess?). Also, what’s the morality of a colonial empire ‘giving away’ land that it only ‘owns’ in an exploitative context? Anyway, the whole thing was a shit show, and all the Arabs in the area were kind of pissed for pretty obvious reasons.

In 1967, Israel decided to expand. To give a bit of nuance, a bunch of neighbouring countries were lining up military forces along Israel’s border, and overall tensions in the Middle East were high (the fact that there were hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees roaming around didn’t help, and Arabic countries kept trying to invade Israel to undo the crime they believe had been committed). However, Israel attacked first and attacked hard. To be clear in the context of this blog’s title, defense is not aggression. In about six days, Israel drove beyond its borders, and then annexed a bunch of the land it had invaded. Israel tripled in size at the further expense of the surrounding Arab countryside. This was (and still is) hella illegal under established international law, and the United Nations passed Resolution 242 to point out that you can’t just invade and take people’s land if you’re trying to establish peace in the Middle East. For comparison, when Russia annexed the Republic of Crimea, everybody got mad and imposed a bunch of sanctions even though Russia said that since Crimea was part of the USSR back in 1991 and had been a part of Russia since about 1783, it was entitled to have it back. Israel claims that because Jewish stories talk about a holy land, they have similar entitlement. I wonder if there’s a movement to sanction Israel, or at least boycott or divest investments…

Your laws mean nothing to me!

I’m not a historian, and I don’t advise utilizing this blog as any kind of historical education. There is much more to this story, and Israel arguably became a much safer country for its citizens after the 1967 expansion. The issue isn’t really related to traditional geopolitical affairs, but much more the creation and expansion of an ethno-state. Jews have what’s called a Right of Return that allows any diasporic Jewish person to easily immigrate to Israel; the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians that were displaced during its creation do not because Israel is a democracy and they don’t want non-Jewish voices influencing their political decisions. The overwhelming desire is to maintain a Jewish ethno-state. As an example, in 2018, it was enshrined in law that only Jews have a right to self-determination in Israel; Arabs in Israel, who also lost the official recognition of their language in the same bill, apparently do not. Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have no political voice whatsoever in Israel, despite Israel maintaining militarized checkpoints and controlling imports throughout the region.

This control manifests in many harmful ways. Checkpoints limit Palestinian ability to go to the hospital, go to a school outside of one’s ‘zone’, attend a funeral, whatever you can think of, because these checkpoints involve navigating hostile military police that can occasionally prove fatal. Israel also controls the water supply of Palestine and deprives them of this life-sustaining liquid. Israel actually illegally takes water out of Palestine to supply its own citizens. Palestinians only receive the aid that Israel allows, and with restrictions on fishing and lack of water, the food supply doesn’t do too well either. With Covid, despite Israel leading the world by having vaccinated 60% of its population, Palestinians aren’t doing nearly that well. They’re at about 5%. The conditions are so bad that the United Nations predicted that the land would be “uninhabitable” by… actually, according to their predictions, it already is.

Seems totally habitable!

Palestinians quite frequently rise up against Israel. They’re doing it right now, even, as I write this. Israel’s policy usually involves what is called “mowing the lawn“: when Palestinians get a little too uppity, the Israeli military will just come in and kill a whole bunch of them until they quiet down again. Even when Palestinians are protesting peacefully and unarmed, Israeli soldiers have been documented cheering on a sniper using them for target practice (the unit was reprimanded for taking a video, not for shooting unarmed protesters, if you were wondering). This ‘self-defense’ results in really disproportionate harms.

Palestinians aren’t too keen on all that stuff I mentioned above (and more – remember this isn’t an exhaustive blog), and Israel doesn’t want to give up its ethno-state. Really, it wants to keep expanding its illegal settlements into Palestinian territory to manifest the shit out of its destiny. Options are often framed as a binary between one and two-state solutions, but another, less discussed option is the perpetuation of a status quo that involves the gradual annexation of the surrounding territory and expulsion/extermination of the Palestinians living there.

It’s going well!

The world is trying to establish a degree of accountability. The International Criminal Court (ICC) is seeking to investigate potential war crimes committed by Israel when they were “mowing the lawn” back in 2014 (see statistics above). Hamas will also be investigated, but again, the statistics point to fairly disproportionate moral responsibility. The UN routinely attempts to condemn and interrupt Israel’s more pernicious behaviour, but the United States keeps stepping in to veto them. They’re even doing it again for the current crisis – 53 vetoes and counting! The Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) movement calls for non-violent intervention against Israel in a manner comparable to the successful international intervention that ended South African apartheid. However, in the United States, they’ve legislated against this kind of protest across the country, some places requiring professionals to sign an oath to never support the BDS movement lest they lose their job. In Canada, we’ve used our hate speech laws to stifle the BDS movement here at home as well. Elected Israeli officials offer no support either, and ‘alternate Prime Minister‘ Benny Gantz zealously seeks to develop illegal settlements with equal vigor to Benjamin Netanyahu. Israeli settlements in occupied territory are illegal under the 4th Geneva Convention. According to Human Rights Watch, what Israel is doing amounts to apartheid, but nobody ever seems able to do anything about it! Is firing rockets into Tel Aviv the best solution? Probably not, but the options available are quite limited.

Israeli violence against Palestinians cannot be considered defensive because it is an occupying colonial state – any violence is inherently an enforcement of its own hegemony. Even if Palestinians, or Hamas, or whomever, were to attack without ‘provocation’ which might necessitate ‘defense’, it’s hard to truly condemn insurrection based on the context of its evolution. We don’t cheer the explosion of Alderaan just because rebel forces might have attacked imperial storm troopers at a check point. Typical watchings result in rooting for the rebels.

The Death Star has the right to defend itself

To finish off, I’d like to quickly go over some of the counter arguments that I’ve seen in defense of Israel:

“Don’t you get it? Israel needs to bomb schools, hospitals, residential apartment buildings, media offices, and critical infrastructure because that’s where Hamas is hiding all their weapons and terrorists!!” The evidence that’s provided by the Israeli military about where Hamas might be holding its WMDs is often quite dubious. But let’s say for the sake of argument that the average, non-combatant citizen is so sympathetic to the Palestinian cause that they’re willing to let Hamas store weapons in the schools where children go to learn their ABCs (or the Arabic equivalent). Hamas is accused of using civilians as human shields, that’s part of the ICC investigation described above. Are people consenting to this? What does it say about the occupation that there are so many collaborators hidden among the Palestinian population? Maybe the depths that people are willing to go to resist Israel’s apartheid isn’t the slam dunk argument you think it is.

“Why does the left support Palestine?! Muslims hate gays, and the left LOVES the gays!! They’re all terrorists and Israel is doing what it can to keep order in a land filled with terrorists!!” Ah, I see you have chosen… racism. Demonizing a group of people as bogeymen to justify violent oppression against them is bad. No group is a monolith, and it’s quite dehumanizing to categorize them as such: hence, racism. Funny thing about racism, though: Israel is actually used as a template by some far right white supremacists for the ‘handling’ of minorities. The idea of an ethno-state is quite palatable to racists everywhere, and Israel certainly fits that bill. You can just ask Richard Spencer.

“Palestine wasn’t even a place when Israel was created! It was Syria and Jordan! It’s not their land!!” It was a territory of the British called Mandatory Palestine. Palestine has a long history of being associated with the region even if it was never established as an independent nation. It’s essentially irrelevant though: are you suggesting that they moved there from these other countries? Pretty sure the whole ordeal arises from the fact that these people were already there when was Israel was created, completely irrespective of what they were called. The problem doesn’t change! Let’s say they were truly stateless, does that mean they deserve the treatment they’re getting now? This one boggles my mind because like, this group doesn’t deserve dignity because the name doesn’t align with your understanding of history?

“You’re just being anti-Semitic! Why do you hate Jews so much!?” This is an obscenely common refrain when criticism of Israel arises, regardless of context. It’s offensive because it equates Judaism with the modern state of Israel (remember from earlier that no group is a monolith?). Plenty of Jewish organizations and individuals reject Israeli oppression. Hell, I would even go so far to say that criticism of Israel doesn’t even need to be considered anti-Zionist. Some Zionists need their Messiah to arrive before Israel can be founded, and see the secular institution of the nation as outside of their religious beliefs. Some Zionists don’t even recognize the current incarnation as a state!

Can’t we all just get along!?

Israel is in the midst of more lawn maintenance. What Palestinians are doing is fighting for their lives. This isn’t a ‘conflict’, or whatever milquetoast term some news organizations will use to try to be ‘neutral’ in their headlines, because that implies equitable forces on both sides. It’s a violent enforcement of apartheid being resisted by a group that doesn’t have many good options. Questions of ‘defense’ and ‘rights’ are often heavily loaded. When we look at all the context, the question shouldn’t involve such abstractions at all. What we should really be asking is: do Palestinians have the right to be alive?

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Muslims are all terrorists. 1.6 billion people, a quarter of the world’s population, are interchangeable variations of the same, freedom-hating towel head. From those in Uzbekistan to Bangladesh; from Morocco to Indonesia; from Algeria to Tunisia, all of them identical in every way. Actually, in doing some research so I could sarcastically list Muslim countries that nobody talks about because America isn’t drone-striking the shit out of them, I discovered that there are more Muslims in India and Pakistan than in the entirety of the Middle East! Normally this would imply vast cultural differences based on external influences, but we’re ignoring the incredible diversity that a quarter of the world’s population spread out over the globe necessarily implies, so again, for the sake of argument, Muslims are a homogeneous group with one goal in mind: destroying the West with suicide bombs and beheading videos.

Why do they hate our freedoms? I mean it’s just as easy to make blanket assumptions about their motivations (they’re evil) as it is to make blanket assumptions about their behaviours, but I’m going to hold motivations to a higher standard at this point otherwise this blog would be over very quickly.

I haven’t been entirely fair. I am certain there is another generalization that someone could use that doesn’t denounce Muslims as evil, and there is. They are just backward savages who haven’t caught up to civilization yet. It’s not bigotry if it’s condescending! I mean, the Iraq War was justified as a means to bring modernity and democracy to a simple, superstitious people who would surely be grateful for the wisdom (This was obviously after the “Weapons of Mass Destruction” excuse fell apart). If you consider the Medieval period when Christianity was pulling people apart on the rack, and now Muslims are beheading people, clearly parallels can be drawn. Muslims, a quarter of the planet, are just less culturally evolved, and surely they’ll catch up in the next few hundred years. That is how time works.

This is called Modernization theory. It basically says that all civilizations start out as baby hunter/gatherer tribes, and evolve through similar phases, until everyone ends up at the pinnacle of culture, us. We’re the best, and everyone else is just in an adolescent phase of their cultural development, and they can’t help that their limbic systems haven’t fully developed yet! This is what is commonly known as racism: the perceived notion that one’s own culture is superior to another. If a culture exists today, then it is a modern culture. THAT is how time works. The reason that one society might have longer life expectancies and less random violence isn’t part of some preordained path that each group of people must follow; human societies don’t exist in a vacuum. Shit goes on all around us, and that is what determines the direction groups of people will follow.

So what’s been going on with these generalized Muslims? Well, way back when Western secularism was first introduced to Muslim-dominated countries, the elites were all very impressed! They marveled at the technological advances that had been made; they listened to the Enlightenment ideas with rapt interest; they were awed by the massive expansion that the West was capable of, and they actually tried to secularize themselves with these Western ideologies. Except the problem with top-down ideological revolution is that it is indistinguishable from oppression. It usually involves banning practices from the previous paradigm, and violently enforcing its new social norms. This means that the Muslims who had been living out their lives quite contentedly were now being punished for that old way of living and were pushed toward this new way that allowed the powerful to buddy up with Western imperialists. Who cares what happens to the vulgar masses? Try to imagine what would happen if Obama implemented Sharia law while in office.  The reaction to that, I imagine, would be identical to the sordid Middle Eastern history of Islamic conflict with the West.

In addition to brutally enforced Westernization, the relationship between these two civilizations continued with a general disdain held by the West against the Middle East. Consider the creation of Israel. Turns out that the British, who did not even have ownership of the land at the time, promised it both to the Arabs, in the hopes that they would help them fight the Ottomans, and to the Jews as well, mostly to get them out of England. Given that someone was going to be inevitably screwed over by this incredible act of duplicity, and that the Jews had just suffered through the holocaust, Israel thus became a Jewish state. This Jewish state, now beholden to the West, acts as a stabilizer for the area. Stability in this context means that it will destroy with violence any group that gets out of line and does not provide appropriate resources at a steal of a price. The West betrayed the Muslims of the Middle East, and then allied themselves with the favoured demographic in order to marginalize and rob them.

Remember how I said earlier that the Western excuse for Middle Eastern intervention is to bomb the countries into respectable democracies? Well it turns out that the Middle East has been quite capable of establishing democracies in the past, but they tend to elect leaders who have the interests of the people in mind, rather than the interests of the West. In 1953, Iran elected a leader who was going to nationalize the oil industry so that the profits could go to the people of the country rather than foreign corporations. Unlucky for him, America and England decided that this would not do, and assassinated him. They then put up their own puppet dictator that brutalized the populace, but made sure that the money and resources went to the right people. More recently in Afghanistan, when Hamid Karzai was elected, rather than allow the people of the country to put into power someone who might allow Afghans some degree of autonomy, the US simply populated parliament with the warlords who had torn up the country in the aftermath of the proxy war fought between America and Russia decades earlier. I suppose putting in your own violent puppets in the first place means you don’t have to assassinate democratically elected world leaders to do it after the fact. Fun fact: Jihadi extremism was encouraged by the Americans during their cold war forays into the region as a weapon against the communists, and then was simply allowed to run rampant after the US pulled out their troops. The Taliban used Jihadi textbooks literally provided by the US to indoctrinate children into this violent mindset. There are many other examples of American interventions in democratic countries, purposefully destabilizing them for the sake of the flow of capital, but those are mostly irrelevant for the purposes of this blog.

America is actually quite fond of supporting brutal dictators in the Middle East. Remember the Iraq war that allowed Bush Jr. to fight Saddam just like daddy did? Saddam was the worst human imaginable, as the story goes, which is odd considering that America was providing him with money and weapons almost right up until they invaded his country in the early 90s. Or how about Hozni Mubarak, the malevolent dictator that Obama condemned when the people overthrew him. Again this is odd considering America had been supporting the despot for about 30 years. The excuses typically given are that these autocrats provide stability to the region, the same kind of stability I was talking about earlier.

The Middle East doesn’t produce violent extremism because of any ideological differences between Islam and the secular/Christian West, but because the Middle East has resources that the West devours but doesn’t want to pay for, so they, without any subtlety, fuck over everyone who lives there. People who, in theory, ought to have the rights to that covetous oil in the first place. If Arabs are constantly fighting over everything and are dirt poor, they’ll never be able to stand up to the greed-driven powerhouses responsible for their squalor. The touted “stability” that the West supports in the region is actually its opposite, since a Middle East in solidarity would be able to actualize some form of control over those resources, thereby forbidding the West from exploiting them.

If you’re thinking, hey now, I never condoned that colonial barbarism being committed by my society against the Middle East! I shouldn’t be targeted by Jihadi terrorists! I’m completely innocent! Doesn’t feel good to be judged for the deeds and mentalities of individuals who are only related to you by the most superficial of connections, does it? Well, I doubt the vast majority of Muslims in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, and Iran are particularly fond that they are being targeted for the deeds of people only akin to them under the most desperate of comparisons either. Except technically, we are more responsible for Western destructiveness than Muslims are for general acts of terrorism because we elect the government officials who collude with vicious imperialists regimes, if not the ones who perform the vicious imperialism outright. Muslims bear no such responsibility for the deeds of entirely unrelated peoples.

If you’re thinking, hey now, I know what this is really about, and Donald Trump isn’t trying to ban Muslims, he’s only trying to ban people from seven Muslim majority countries! Except, he said he was going to implement a Muslim ban, Rudy Giuliani said Trump asked him how to institute a Muslim ban, and considering the fear that right-wingers have of terrorists swarming in from my own Canada, why wouldn’t he include Canadian visas on his list? (you should totally read that second hyperlink to Breitbart because they manage to turn Canada’s loose regulations on Muslims to somehow being Barack Obama’s fault. It’s fucking hilarious) Trump said that Mexico is sending America their criminals and rapists, as if the country itself is responsible for the problem, and yet Mexico is not on the list either. The 9/11 terrorists that allegedly inspired the executive order did not come from any of these countries. That they are “trouble-spots” ignores the problems going on in Burma, Israel/Palestine, Romania, the Ukraine, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, etc. The only connection any of these countries have is that they are populated by mostly Muslims and don’t do business with Trump. Saying that this executive order is anything but a ban on Muslims ignores that it does not target the largest terrorist-producing nations, ignores what Trump himself has said about instituting a Muslim ban, ignores most of global conflict, and does not even coincide with the worldview espoused by its most fervent supporters. An interesting counter-argument that I haven’t seen in slogging through alt-right perspectives might be that these are countries that America is being overtly hostile toward, but that doesn’t work either, since America is very vocally claiming that it is fighting “terrorism” and not individual countries, so banning visas from those countries makes no sense from this perspective either. Also, how is “Obama and Carter did it too!” an argument against it being a Muslim ban? If the Democratic party is so hard on Muslims, then why fight tooth and nail to oust them? You can’t clamor for a ban on Muslims, and then when one is basically implemented, deny that it is exactly that when people call you out on it.

Post-script: There is actually a short version to this. I mean, these days the West is basically murdering civilians willy-nilly and then expecting that the region is not going to be pissed off about it. Why do Muslims-who-are-all-terrorists hate us? Really?