Friday, November 24, 2006

They hate us because we fire on their funerals

US helicopter fires on Iraqi funeral party-ministry

24 Nov 2006 17:37:33 GMT
Source: Reuters

BAGHDAD, Nov 24 (Reuters) - A U.S. helicopter fired on a funeral party in Baghdad, one of dozens taking place after Thursday's devastating bombings in Sadr City, in response to ritual shooting, the Iraqi Interior Ministry said.

A ministry official said two people were wounded in Friday's air strike, which came after mourners fired into the air.

Earlier, some residents and a Shi'ite lawmaker reported clashes between gunmen and U.S.-led forces in Sadr City, a stronghold of the Mehdi Army militia in the Iraqi capital.

A U.S. military spokesman said he could not comment on specific operations but U.S. forces were helping Iraqi army and police enforce a curfew imposed after the Sadr City attacks on Thursday which killed more than 200 people.

'Modern day slavery’ in Israel

Migrants face ‘modern day slavery’ in Israel

Migrant workers in Israel face shocking working conditions, denied rights, blackmail, fraud before deportation.

TEL AVIV - Impoverished Turkish labourer Shaheen Yelmaz arrived in Israel four months ago dreaming of helping his father pay off his mounting debts.

But today the 23-year-old faces a US $14,000 debt of his own, deportation and the possible loss of his family home in Turkey after challenging his employer over non-payment of wages and shocking working conditions.

"I never wanted money for myself, I just wanted to pay off my father’s huge debts. We were told by Yilmazlar [a Turkish manpower agency that supplies construction workers to a number of companies in Israel] that we could make up to $1,400 a month and more with overtime if we worked in Israel," he told IRIN.

"Yilmazlar assured us we would be well treated and be housed in good accommodation. However, when I arrived, my dream turned into a nightmare."

Yelmaz was sharing a room with eight others - furnished with bunk beds - that was so small that there was no space for their suitcases. They were fed a monotonous diet of rice and lentils and there were only three toilets with no running water for 130 workers.

"The conditions of the toilets were so disgusting, they were not fit even for an animal," said Yelmaz.

"We were forbidden from using mobile phones on pain of confiscation and fines and were forced to work an average of 11 hours a day, without being paid overtime. And in our half-hour lunch break we were expected to go home, eat and return to the construction site.

"In addition to our passports being taken away [by the employer], we needed special permission to leave the premises after work and on our day off. If people left without permission, they were fined and threatened with deportation by the management."

The final straw came when Yelmaz found out that he and the other workers would only receive their first payment after three months. He and a friend, 41-year-old father-of-three Hikmat Tekin, decided to challenge their boss.

"We were told by the management that if we didn't like it, we would be deported without payment and barred from employment elsewhere in Israel," Tekin said.

Strict visa regulations

As he began his battle against his employer, Yelmaz became aware of the strict Israeli visa regulations governing conditions for migrant workers.

"The issuance of these visas is subject to the workers staying with the same employer stated on the visa and if this condition is broken then the migrant worker is deemed illegal and liable for deportation,” said Sigal Rosen, spokeswoman for Israeli human rights organisation Hotline for Migrant Workers.

The Hotline has received more than 20 requests for help from Turkish workers placed by Yizmazlar over the past few years.

"Many employers take advantage of the visa conditions by withholding wages from uninformed workers and then firing the employees when they owe them significant amounts of money," Rosen said.

"Often the employer will then inform police that the workers he has just fired are now illegal aliens. The police then arrest and deport them before they can challenge the employer in court,” said Rosen.

About 200,000 migrant workers live in Israel, mostly from Turkey, the Philippines and Eastern Europe. Half of them are deemed illegal, with about 5,000 getting deported annually on average, according to Rosen.

In March this year, an Israeli Supreme Court judge described the conditions of migrant workers in Israel as a "form of modern slavery" following a petition from human rights organisations.

The court further ordered the State to adopt a new employment scheme within the next six months allowing workers to resign without losing their legal status.

"Although it is difficult for migrant workers to change employers if they find the conditions too terrible, they can ask the manpower agency to find them new employment after three months,” Sabine Haddad, a spokeswoman for the Israeli Interior Ministry, said.

But in reality this does not happen. In general, manpower agencies are reluctant to help migrant workers find new employment as there is no further financial incentive for them once the workers have already been placed, said Rosen.

Furthermore, this provision is not available to workers placed by Yizmazlar who are not entitled to seek employment elsewhere.

In huge debt

Meanwhile, as Yelmaz awaits the Supreme Court's decision on 13 December, following a successful stay of deportation filed by his lawyer, he has found out that he cannot possibly pay off his father's debts.

Before leaving Turkey, he and other Turkish workers were obliged to sign blank promissory notes and a labour contract by Yilmazlar, which they said they were not allowed to read or keep a copy of.

"When the company found out I was leaving, they filled in one of the blank promissory notes that I had signed before coming to Israel," he said.

"They stated I owed the company $14,000 and that they would repossess my family's home if I did not pay up. The Turkish Embassy couldn’t help me because my signature was on the notes.”

He said that he was warned by the company manager that if he returned to Turkey quietly he would be forgiven but if he made any trouble, he would disappear.

Yilmazlar’s lawyer, Tal Benenson, told IRIN that he had affidavits signed by Yelmaz and Tekin before a Turkish-speaking notary in Israel, admitting that they were only using Yilmazlar to get into Israel and had no intention of staying with the company once in the country.

“They have told a pack of lies which they planned beforehand in Turkey with the help of Turkish workers already in Israel and the aim of these lies is to try and justify their fraudulent behaviour.

“Our client has laid out a huge sum financially for air tickets and medicals and is now suing Shaheen and Tekin for 200,000 Shekels [about US $46,450] to retrieve these expenses,” he said.

Gaza Revisited: Back to Basics

First Published 2006-11-16, Last Updated 2006-11-16 10:49:08

Whether intentionally or unwittingly, the media has sponsored a number of fallacies and even myths when covering the recent Beit Hanoun massacre, says Mamoon Alabbasi.

The recent massacre that killed about eighteen people, mostly women and children, in Beit Hanoun as a result of a direct Israeli attack was nothing new, horrid as it was. Also expected were Israel’s explanations of the ‘tragic’ event.

Both Israeli officials and their apologists were quick to claim that the strike was an accident and that it was supposedly targeting militants who fired Qassam rockets from civilian areas in ‘no-longer-occupied’ Gaza into ‘no-longer-occupying’ Israel. Unsurprisingly, many of those apologists added that though they felt sad for the victims’ loss of life, they do, however, fully understand Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself and its concern for security.

What is truly astonishing, however, is the fact that Israel has managed to get away with what it did unpunished from most mainstream media outlets. Had it been done by any other state or organisation, the normally critical media would have not given the undertakers of such an act the benefit of the doubt, while ignoring the whole context of the crisis.

Instead mainstream media has generally acted as an accomplice to Israel’s crimes by either abstaining from mentioning the context of the conflict or portraying a misleading context when reporting the Middle East conflict. Whether intentionally or unwittingly, the media has sponsored a number of fallacies and even myths when covering the recent massacre.

No-longer-occupied Gaza:

Israeli officials repeatedly claim that they no longer occupy Gaza. But what are we to understand from that claim? Is Gaza an independent sovereign state with full control of its borders, airspace and sea? The fact that the Israeli army (ironically called ‘Israeli Defence Force’) is no longer patrolling the streets of tiny but populated Gaza does not make the besieged strip free of occupation.

Retreating from inside the totally occupied area to surrounding positions, Israel has not ended its occupation of Gaza under any law including its own. About 1.5 million people living in a small area surrounded by a ruthless army that has ‘fully’ occupied them for over 38 years and can come back in whenever it feels like it to commit any inhuman action it pleases is not the concept of ‘no-longer-occupied’ that would spring to mind to the average Western observer. The fact is, the unholy Israeli presence has never left the God-tested strip.

As a follow up to their claim of no longer occupying Gaza, the Israeli authorities demand that Palestinians living in the strip should no longer engage in military action against Israel. But even if Gaza were suddenly (if not magically) to become an independent sovereign state with full control of its economy, borders, and the rest, such a demand should never escape the scrutiny of free objective media. It’s like Bin Laden asking the people of Texas not to antagonise al-Qaeda because his followers never targeted the southern state in the tragic terrorists’ attacks of 9/11.

What has also escaped the attention of many journalists, and a greater number of lawyers I might add, is the fact that ceasing to do a crime that you’ve been continuously doing for over 38 years does not give you immunity from punishment. Like the unforgivably monstrous sponsors of the Holocaust, the equally ugly mass murdering occupiers must be brought to justice and shame.

Rockets from civilian areas:

Another repeated claim that goes unnoticed is the idea that Palestinian militants are firing at the Israeli army or at Israel from civilian areas. Not many have bothered to point out that in a small land that has been occupied and severely controlled for over 38 years there is no such thing as a military area. It’s not a case of two countries at war. There is no Palestinian army. Those ‘militants’ are in effect civilians fighting occupation from their homes. Risky and unadvisable as it may be, they do not see a credible alternative way to obtain liberation.

However, if Israel acknowledges that it is ‘hitting back’ at civilian areas, why aren’t there cries of ‘terrorism’ in Western media? Is this a green light for terrorists that see it as acceptable to kill innocent civilians if there is a non-civilian among them?

Israel’s security:

Although they certainly are perusing counter-productive methods, Israel has the right to be concerned about its own security. However, to expect the Palestinians to give a hand is like anticipating invaded Poland to give a damn about Nazi Germany’s security phobia. From the perspective of his generals, Hitler had legitimate security concerns, too.

At the end of the day, invading or occupying powers are human too, even if their actions appear to be far from it. But shouldn’t people, or countries in this matter, be more concerned with the security of the invaded or occupied party instead? Do you go to the bullied child and ask him/her not to push back? Not for the concern that it would make matters worse for the bullied child, but because it might discomfort the bulling child.

Qassam rockets:

‘If it wasn’t for the Qassam rockets,’ the Israelis would like us to believe, ’none of this would have happened.‘ But it did happen before. Countless number of times, throughout Israel’s 38-year long occupation, and certainly long before the invention of those so called rockets, Israel has committed one atrocity after another. But most journalists and editors fail to mention that. They just nod their heads as Israeli officials make their - what should be -unbelievable statements.

That’s probably why the people of Gaza (and the rest of Palestine) seem – and in some cases indeed are – suicidal. They can’t bank on international organisations or world media to save them. Even during those instances where the whole world appears to side with them, they have not been rescued from this torturing never-ending occupation. Here’s a word that would sum up the context of the whole Middle East conflict; occupation.

Mamoon Alabbasi is a freelance journalist and editor for Middle East Online and Alarab Online. He can be reached at:

A Senate Mystery Keeps Torture Alive — and Its Practitioners Free


Nov. 22, 2006 – 7:08 p.m.

By Jeff Stein, CQ National Security Editor

With all the lawsuits over kidnapping and torture marching toward the Bush administration, you might think the top officials running the global war on terror would be worried just a little about the prospect that some day they might end up in court — if not having nightmares about getting measured for orange jumpsuits at Danbury Federal Prison.

Alas, no. Thanks to the legerdemain of Bush administration lawyers, a provision quietly tucked into the Military Commissions Act (PL 109-366) just before it was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bush on Oct. 17, would ease any worries they might’ve had. It not only redefines torture upward, removing the harshest, most controversial techniques from the definition of war crimes, it also exempts the perpetrators — interrogators and their bosses — from punishment all the way back to Nov. 1997.

The deft wording is the Bush administration’s attempt at bringing the United States’ criteria for defining a war crime into line with the Geneva Convention’s interpretation of torture.

The Supreme Court in June had declared the administration’s hastily assembled military commissions unconstitutional, saying all prisoners in U.S. custody had to be held in accordance with the Geneva Convention’s Article 3, which prohibits “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment.”

Renegotiating the Geneva Convention was out of the question. So the administration’s lawyers took what the president’s counselor, Dan Bartlett, later called “the scenic route.”

By way of the new Military Commissions Act, they effectively rewrote the U.S. enforcement mechanism for Geneva, the War Crimes Act, passed by Congress in Nov. 1997.

Never heard of this provision? That’s because coverage of the act focused more on its suspension of habeas corpus,barring anyone defined as an enemy combatant from filing suit challenging the legality of their detention or raising claims of torture and other mistreatment.

Former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, in particular, must be pleased by this legal three-card monte.

So, too, must be President Bush.

That’s because of another development that has garnered relatively minor coverage: The sworn statement of Lt. Gen. Randall M. Schmidt, the Army’s inspector general, that implicates the erstwhile Defense Secretary in the abuse of a Guantanamo detainee.

On March 17, 2005, Schmidt interviewed Maj. Gen. Mike Dunlavey, the retired former commander of Task Force 170, which was in charge of Guantanamo interrogations.

In his report, first obtained last April by the Internet magazine Salon, Dunlavey described himself as “a trial lawyer” who had “done over 3,000 interrogations” during his “35 years of intelligence experience.”

Under oath, Dunlavey said that Rumsfeld was “personally involved” in the interrogation of a high-ranking al Qaeda suspect, Mohammad al-Qahtani.

So was Bush, Dunlavey testified.

Marching Orders
In his deposition, Dunlavey refers to Rumsfeld as “SECDEF.”

“I met with the SECDEF on the 20th or 21st of February, 2002, along with the Deputy SECDEF, [Paul] Wolferwitz [sic] and a number of other personnel ...” Dunlavey said.

“The SECDEF said he wanted a product and he wanted intelligence now. He told me what he wanted, not how to do it.

“Initially,” Dunlavey continued, “I was told that I would answer to SECDEF . . . ”

But “the directions changed and I got my marching orders from the president of the United States.”

And not just by telephone.

“I was told by the SECDEF that he wanted me back in Washington every week to brief him. . . . The mission was to get intelligence to prevent another 9/11.”

No one said Rumsfeld was in the prison cell shouting questions at al-Qahtani.

But Rumsfeld was also “talking weekly” about the al-Qahtani interrogation with Gen. Geoffrey Miller, then a senior commander at Guantanamo, Schmidt reported.

The secretary of Defense was “personally involved in the interrogation of [this] one person,” he said.

Later in the year, we now know, Rumsfeld gave interrogators formal approval for hooding prisoners, exploiting their phobias, putting them in prolonged stress positions, often in complete darkness, and bombarding them with ear-splitting noise, tactics ordinarily forbidden by the Army Field Manual.

Joanne Mariner, a lawyer and director of the Terrorism and Counterterrorism Program at Human Rights Watch, took aim at Rumsfeld when the Army IG’s report surfaced.

“The question at this point is not whether Secretary Rumsfeld should resign, it’s whether he should be indicted,” Mariner said, urging the appointment of a special prosecutor.

“Gen. Schmidt’s sworn statement suggests that Rumsfeld may have been perfectly aware of the abuses inflicted on al-Qahtani,” she added.

Murky Trail
Who dunnit? Who slipped the language that could potentially exempt torturers from prosecution into the Military Commissions Act?

The White House counsel’s office wrote it, if Dan Bartlett’s “scenic route” jibe is any guide.

A spokeswoman there denied it.

But who was the accessory?

Backdating the exemption of perpetrators wasn’t in the original bill, stitched together by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz, Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and John W. Warner, R-Va., said a Senate aide involved in the drafting of the bill.

The version those three and the White House seemed to agree on — it apparently changed like a Rubik’s cube every week — backdated the officials’ exemption from prosecution only to Sept. 11, 2001.

Nor did the Warner version narrow the definitions for war crimes nearly to the extent that the final version did, said the aide, on condition of anonymity.

As for the timing of the midnight riders, they had to have been inserted quietly over the last weekend, or even the last night, before the bill moved to a final vote and then to the White House, the aide speculated .

“We have no idea who it came from or how it came to be.”

The senators’ offices did not answer queries during the shortened holiday week.

White House spokesperson Dana Perrino, meanwhile, thickened the mystery.

She said the stealth changes didn’t come from the counsel’s office.

“It could’ve come from elsewhere in the White House or Justice Department,” she said, a smile in her voice.

“But it didn’t come from us.”

Ah, sweet mystery of Hill life.

In any event, with Democrats holding the gavels come January, the Republicans should enjoy their legalistic coup while it lasts.

What the Republicans got, the Democrats can take away.

Jeff Stein can be reached at

Implications of the Israeli Occupation of Palestine

Source: BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights

Date: 21 Nov 2006
OPT: BADIL statement submitted to the UN Human Rights Council
No. (E/24/06)

The below statement was submitted by BADIL to the UN Human Rights Council convening for its third session in Geneva on 27 November. It was also presented to the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Louise Arbour, during her meeting with Palestinian human rights organizations in occupied Ramallah today.

Third session

Statement submitted by BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, a non-governmental organization in general consultative status

Implications of the Israeli Occupation of Palestine

1. The large majority of the recent victims of Israel's military operations in the Gaza Strip, including the victims of Beit Hanoun, are 1948 Palestinian refugees whose ongoing plight should alarm all parties concerned of the urgency of addressing the root causes of this protracted conflict. Palestinian refugees of 1948 and 1967 continue to lack access to effective protection, including physical, protection, and a durable solution in accordance with international law, UNGA Resolution 194 and UNSC Resolution 237. A similar cause for alarm is the continuing and repeated nature of displacement in the occupied Palestinian territories. Indeed, both Palestinian refugees and non-refugee residents of the occupied territories continue to be displaced either internally or externally as a result of house demolitions, military operations, revocation of their ID cards, particularly in Jerusalem, and the Wall and its regime, as well as confiscation of land and the construction and expansion of Israeli civilian colonies. Finally, the Palestinian refugees residing in the Gaza Strip and West Bank are subjected to frequent and extreme military attack by Israeli forces, as well as a denial of their freedom of movement.

BADIL Resource Center therefore supports the implementation of an international protection force and calls upon all members to reactivate the search for a durable solution based on the right of return, restitution and compensation of Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons.

2. BADIL Resource Center calls upon States and organizations to recognize the root causes of the conflict, namely Israel's protracted occupation and colonization of Palestinian land and its historical policy of population transfer, and to take measures to ensure respect for the rights of the Palestinian people. International efforts in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be balanced. The conflict in the occupied Palestinian territories is often misleadingly described as part of the so-called 'War on Terror'. Portraying the conflict in this manner acts as a mask of the severe human rights violations being committed daily on the ground by Israeli authorities against Palestinians. States have an obligation to take a stand against breaches of international law no matter who is the violator.

3. Over the past few months the United Nations, in particular the Security Council and the Quartet, have failed to put human rights at the core of their agenda and find rapid and meaningful solutions to ongoing violations of international human rights and humanitarian law for the Palestinian people, including respect for the July 2004 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice. As the reality on the ground unfolds, the Road Map has become an inefficient mechanism to find a just and durable solution to the conflict.

BADIL Resource Center calls upon the UN Security Council and the Quartet to put respect for and implementation of international law at the basis of the search for a just and lasting solution to the conflict. BADIL also calls upon states to take actions to bring about Israel's compliance with international law, including by supporting a protection force in the occupied Palestinian territories and other measures such as boycott and sanctions.

Big media versus cyber surfers

Dotcom mania returns

Glynn Davis

Published : Wed 22 Nov, 2006

There’s no doubt about it, the big media companies are in a spin. They are under threat from a growing band of small, fleet-footed upstarts who are creating websites of user-generated content.

The problem with these sites for Big Media is that they are proving such terrific social networking platforms that they are attracting young people in their millions and are quickly becoming their preferred media option above the traditional formats of newspapers and TV.

Needless to say, the likes of News International, Trinity Mirror, Emap, Daily Mail and Pearson, along with the large media agencies such as WPP, are struggling to work out how best to react to this phenomenon. They are facing a market where their audience of the future is drifting away in their droves.

Evidence of the seriousness of the situation was the move by the mighty Rupert Murdoch to purchase social networking site MySpace last year for $580m. At the time this was regarded as a pretty full price but in recent months it has been called the deal-of-the-century by some media industry professionals.

This is because, compared with the recent $1.65bn that Google splashed out for the video sharing website YouTube, it may well be a steal. Whatever the potential of such sites you cannot escape the fact that these are ludicrously high prices to pay for businesses that have yet to generate any meaningful revenues.

Big media versus cyber surfers: Broadband internet taking TV and print audience

It might not be too off-the-mark to suggest that these social networking sites are as insanely valued as any of the dotcom stocks that roamed the virtual planet of the late 1990s. We have entered another period of internet land grab where the biggest pockets initially prevail, but also run the risk of paying a high price for their actions. Witness yesterday’s hot website, old pals get together, Friends Reunited. Bought last year by ITV for £120m, now it is falling fast in consumers’ affections, according to a recent YouGov Brand Index poll.

Murdoch famously missed most of the boat on the dotcom boom-and-bust luckily avoiding pumping too much of his cash into helping further inflate the bubble.
But this time he is pretty gung-ho about investing in internet businesses.

And so he might because it is a sensible countermeasure to put in place as the media industry is undergoing a seismic shift with consumers moving from the print and TV channels and onto online platforms. Research from Credit Suisse found that households with internet access watched four to five hours less TV a week than those without, and for 12-to-24-year-olds the internet is now the dominant entertainment source.

But let’s not forget that a marriage between old and new media can end in tears as we have seen all too clearly before. Remember the Time Warner purchase of AOL – what a disaster that was. And then there were the internet purchases by German-based media giant Bertelsmann by its Chief Executive Thomas Middelhoff who had designs on creating a world leader in new media. This time around the company prefers to cautiously develop its own social networking site rather than splash out on a costly bolt-on acquisition.

What we are really questioning about these moves by Big Media today is that they are paying too high a price for social networking and user-generated-content businesses when there are scant traditional metrics available to calculate their true worth.

Big media versus cyber surfers: Youth market tough to crack

Yes, we admit that they do draw in millions of youngsters who are spending increasing amounts of their time on such sites – sharing stories, videos and music with their new like-minded "friends".

And we also admit that this young demographic has become ever-more important to advertisers in recent times as Big Media doesn’t want to run the risk of entirely losing their links with this audience who are choosing to shun traditional media channels. But in all this frenzied activity there seems to have been a few points missed. For one thing, while these sites attract many millions of young people, there is very little cash spent when they get there. This is because one of the most appealing aspects of these sites is that they effectively represent free entertainment. This makes the prospect of monetising them all the more difficult for their Big Media owners.

They are seeking to engineer revenue from them in a way that avoids rocking the boat and pushing them too much towards being a corporate entity. If this were to happen then we would undoubtedly see a migration of many of their users to the numerous other sites that are springing up and are deemed to be of a more cutting-edge and less corporate bent.

It is therefore a mighty fine line that Big Media treads in trying to extract cash out of these people who are not only difficult to find, but when they are found then they are very reluctant recipients of advertising. They are therefore a particularly expensive group to access.

Big media versus cyber surfers: Affluent 50+ forgotten as ad spend rushes the Net

This makes them a very different beast to the over-50s who are generally a cost-efficient bunch to access because they are easy to find as many remain relatively heavy users of traditional media (although they are also increasingly frequent users of the internet). And they are pretty receptive to advertising as they are used to receiving it through these recognised points of contact.

The only thing is that these people have pretty much been forgotten about as the media companies and brand owners have chosen to flock to the latest online sites in search of the lesser-spotted (or more spotty as the case may be!) 18-to-30 year-olds.

With this desertion is it any wonder that we have seen a fall off in the levels of TV advertising. For example, ITV experienced a fall of around 18% in the third quarter and Channel 4 suffered a 6%-7% decline this year, and predicts the same next year.
Could it be that Channel 4 has suffered less of a fall because it has pandered more to the whims of the 18-to-30 year-old market with its myriad reality TV shows and this has ensured it has retained more of its advertisers?

In contrast, advertising online has continued to grow. IPA Bellwether found that the number of companies spending more than 15% of their marketing budgets on the internet had risen sharply this year to the point that it is now double the level of the peak of the dotcom boom in 2000.

The advertising that has been delivered – via the traditional channels of print and TV – to older consumers has been largely irrelevant, according to US research from Focalyst (involving ad group WPP), which found that almost 25% of people over 42 years old are insulted by the advertising messages that companies are sending them.

The view was that overly-general messages, based on stereotypes, were being delivered – in stark contrast to the heavily segmented approach taken by advertisers when trying to appeal to the 18-to-30 market – because of the belief that many people in this age group were unwilling to change brands.

However, the research found that this was untrue and that as many as 66% of people based their purchasing decisions not on "brands" but on "value", thereby suggesting that this group are not half as stuck-in-their-ways as many media professionals would have us believe.

What also seems to have been forgotten is that this group have plenty of disposable income in their pockets. Unlike many younger people whose live-for-today mentality has played a major part in driving up the personal levels of debt in the UK to unprecedented highs.

For many such individuals the capacity for spending will surely become severely restricted as interest rates gradually move further upwards; unlike their parents who are likely to be far less indebted and have greater freedom to respond with their wallets to well-targeted advertising campaigns.

Big media versus cyber surfers: Fashion victim risk of Big Media make niche plays look good

But until we see such targeted campaigns that appeal to the older consumer then the only people opening their wallets with any great frequency look likely to be the large media companies, as they fight it out for the right to buy the very latest whizz-bang social networking site – yours for only $2bn.

Against this backdrop small media companies look a much more enticing prospect for investors than their larger rivals. With their niche market positions they have proven to be something of a safe haven of late and there looks to be more mileage in this subsector, particularly as consolidation at the bottom end continues to pick up pace.

We believe that business publishers in particular represent an attractive proposition with their relatively secure subscription and advertising bases. While these businesses are also having to react to their audiences moving online this is taking place at a much more manageable speed than with younger consumers who are flocking to the likes of MySpace at an increasing pace.


Glynn Davis
for The Daily Reckoning

Palestinian Scholars Discuss Ethnic Cleansing in London

The event was held under the title: On the Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine: Methods and Consequences and was held at the Friends House in London.

Palestine Chronicle Staff

LONDON - In a notable event that brought together a number of well known Palestinian scholars, the Palestinian Return Centre (PRC) launched its latest publication, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, by British author Geoff Simons.

Mr. Simons is an accomplished author of many books about Palestine and the Middle East. In this latest volume, published by PRC, Simons discusses at length a legacy of ethnic cleansing applied by Israel against the Palestinian people in the last six decades. The book is considered a rare addition to a historically tabooed subject, as suggested by the event’s distinguished speakers.

The event, chaired by Dr. Nour Masalha, himself a Palestinian author who was first to bring the issue of ethnic cleansing to public consciousness in the UK, also hosted Dr. Ghada Karmi, a well known Palestinian academician, Dr. Salman Abu Sitta, a respected Palestinian historian and Palestinian journalist and author Ramzy Baroud.

Dr. Masalha contended that a term such as ethnic cleansing was never infused with such ferocity and confidence as it is today, an indication of a shifting public opinion in Britain, as well as elsewhere in Europe. He cited a recent book by an Israeli Historian Ilan Pappe carrying the same title to demonstrate a changing narrative and a more tolerant public perception of such a narrative.

Dr. Karmi on the other hand, while insisting on the need to raise awareness of the atrocities committed by Israel, argued that a mere recognition of these violations is not enough. “What are we going to do about it?” is what really matters, she said. Karmi, an advocate of a one state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict – a topic about which she is currently writing a book – said that a two state solution is neither possible, nor plausible. A one state is the only way to reverse the cycle of violence and ethnic cleansing that was adopted by Israel decades ago, she said.

Dr. Abu Sitta, spoke from a historical viewpoint. He argued that there were three dimensions to the ethnic cleansing of Palestine that are hardly addressed: the actual uprooting of Palestinians, the massacres committed to ensure the success of such a practice and finally the erasing of the historical evidence that connected Palestinians to their land. Abu Sitta is well known for his work on Palestinian refugees and their right of return. He has documented all destroyed villages and localities in the Nakba (Palestinian Catastrophe) of 1947-48. One of his most notable achievements was the composition of the most comprehensive Atlas of Palestine as of yet.

Ramzy Baroud, a Palestinian journalist, editor of the Palestinian Chronicle and the author of several books, provided a detailed account of Israel’s policy of ethnic cleansing, but most importantly highlighted the racist discourse that adjoined such a policy. “Without such a discourse it would have not been possible to kill with impunity, to collectively punish an entire nation, to destroy its homes, its lives and its prospects for the future.” He argued that Palestinian infighting is providing needed support for the Israeli logic that tries to dehumanize Palestinians as incapable to achieve self-determination.

The event was held under the title: On the Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine: Methods and Consequences and was held at the Friends House in London.

The organizer, the Palestinian Return Centre is an independent academic/media consultancy founded and registered in the United Kingdom in 1996. It specializes in the research, analysis, and monitor of issues pertaining to the dispersed Palestinians and their right to return. It also serves as an information repository on other related aspects of the Palestine Question and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

A lobby to reckon with

Audio - Real


Tuesday, 7 May, 2002, 12:24 GMT 13:24 UK

Analysis: America's new Christian Zionists

Christian Americans Lobbying for Israel

The Jewish lobby has long been perceived as a powerful influence on US foreign policy but, as BBC Washington correspondent Stephen Sackur reveals, Israel has found new support from American Christians.

Since 11 September, support among Americans for Israel has grown massively as many now see the Middle East conflict as the frontline in the US "War on Terror".

Joining well-established Jewish lobby groups in America is a new and powerful phenomenon - Christian Zionism.

There are an estimated 40 million Christian Conservatives in America and they may be in a position to wield unprecedented influence in support of Israel.


Benjamin Netanyahu: "We will stand with Israel we will stand for freedom. God bless all of you! God bless America! And Israel!!"

Sackur: Thousands of miles away Israel and the Palestinians are locked in a deadly embrace. Here in Washington, D.C. in the shadow of the U.S. Congress tens of thousands of American Jews have gathered to show solidarity with Israel.

And the scene here is a testament to their organization and their commitment. They come from California, from Brooklyn and Boston, from Indiana and Florida by bus and by plane with their T-shirts, banners and their placards.

And from all of the people here there seems to be one simple message: "America and Israel United Against Terrorism".

Benjamin Netanyahu: "We will win this war! We will secure our states! And we'll preserve our liberty! A cause that has once again made America, Israel and the defenders of freedom the last, best, hope on earth. WE SHALL WIN! Thank you very much! All of you!!!" (wild cheering)

Sackur: Former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, dispatched to America by his great political rival, Ariel Sharon. His mission: to tighten the ties that bind the United States to Israel. This pro-Israel rally on Capitol Hill was the biggest ever seen in America.

Speaker to Sackur: "This is how powerful our voice is, because we want people to listen and to hear what we have to say about this issue. It's important to show and make a statement: that we stand together; that we support the state of Israel; that Israel is necessary for our country -- our country's survival and for my survival."

Sackur: Significantly it was by no means an exclusively Jewish crowd. Some of the most outspoken support for Israel today is coming from Christian Conservatives. From the podium, Janet Parschall, a leading voice on the Religious Right, made one thing clear -- support for Israel is now a litmus test for those who claim to be America's Moral Majority:

Parschall: "We represent millions of Christian broadcasters in this country. We stand with you NOW, and for EVER!!!"

Sackur: It's time to revise one of the oldest stereotypes in American politics -- the power of the Jewish lobby. Today it's not the Jewish lobby which counts. It's the pro-Israel lobby. And the difference is crucial. Two of the most formidable organizational networks in America - the Jewish Establishment and the Christian Right -- have joined forces. Together, they can penetrate deep into the body politic.

Parschall: "We stand together with our Jewish brothers and sisters and as God said to JoshuSackur: 'Stand firm. Be courageous'. That is our message from God today. We will stand firm; we will be courageous; and next year ..... in Jerusalem!!! God bless us!!!!" (wild cheering)

Sackur: In Washington, it's the age of absolutes: 'Good against Evil. Us against them.' In the post-September 11th world, American Jews and Evangelical Christians made common cause.

Investigating the pro-Israel lobby is a sensitive enterprise, especially at a time when many Jews are convinced the world -- that is, the non-American world -- is against them. Nonetheless, understanding the lobby matters -- enormously -- because U.S. policy in the Middle East could well make the difference between WAR and PEACE.

(church choir singing)

To appreciate the scale and reach of America's affinity for the Jewish state, I went to Church. The Cornerstone Church. A stadium-sized arena in San Antonio Texas, where ten thousand born-again believers answer God's call every Sunday morning. Had Cecil B. DeMill been a preacher, THIS would have been his kind of church. A mass choir, a deafening band and every theatrical moment captured by six television cameras beaming the experience direct to millions of homes across America.

(choir singing)

The stars and stripes hangs on one side of the Cornerstone's stage. On the other side -- a star of david. For the pastor here, John Hagee, loyalty to Israel is an article of faith.

Hagee sermonizing:

"God entered into an eternal covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, that the nation of Israel would belong to the Jewish people forever; and forever means two thousand and two, three thousand and two, four thousand and two --- because forever is forever. Jerusalem is the eternal capitol of the Jewish state -- not since Camp David but since King David. That's three thousand years ago. (cheering)

"Let us send a signal to the Arab states who are now threatening America with the oil factor. Let me say this loud and clear to OPEC: CHOKE!!! on your oil!! (cheering from Zionist Christians).

"We will ride the bus or bicycles -- but when push comes to shove, we're NOT for sale and we're going to stand with Israel through thick and thin until terrorists and terrorism are crushed.!!" (wild cheering)

Church attendee to Sackur: "My name's Terry Thompson. Now that I've come to know the Lord I understand that the nation of Israel and its borders were... the parameters were set up by God, and so I'm an impassioned - if you will - a Zionist for Israel."

Sackur: Now, do you feel strongly enough on this issue to make it something you'll be active on; where you'll actually have input into the political system?

Thompson: "Yes. Strongly enough to do that with my vote of course, but also with my dollars. We are Christian Zionists, and we'll voice that 'til our death."

Sackur: Pastor Hagee, you're a... Christian evangelist. You wanna bring people -- to Christ, and... in the end Israel is the Jewish state. People are gonna say, "Why does the pastor care for, and have so much sympathy for, the Jewish state?"

Hagee: "Yes. We understand that the Jewish state was something that's borned in the mind of God, and we are a people who believe the scripture and the scripture says very clearly that God created Israel; that God is the protector and the defender of Israel. If God created Israel; if God defends Israel, is it not logical to say that those who fight with Israel are fighting with God?

"We are seeing, in my judgment, the birth pangs that will be called in the future, the beginning of the end. I believe, in my mind, that the Third World War has begun.

"I believe that it began on 9-11. I believe that we are going to see an escalation of the Islamic influence all over the earth. And at that point in time, God, in his sovereign grace, is going to stand up and to defend Israel and the enemies of Israel are going to be decimated."

Sackur: Some people listening will be concerned that such is the... black-and-white, good-against-evil view... of the global confrontation that you're talking about... that it's inflammatory; it's dangerous.

Hagee: "Well, it's not dangerous. When you know the future there's no reason to consider it inflammatory. It's going to happen."

Sackur: In your office, and in the library beyond there are so many pictures of you greeting Israeli prime ministers from the past and of course the present prime minister of Israel. Tell me, how close are your contacts? With the Israeli government?

Hagee: "Well, if I phone Israel I can get in contact with most anyone that I want to talk to."

Sackur: Pretty much straight away?

Hagee: "Straight away".

(choir singing: "I will cling to the old rugged cross....)

Sackur: Christian Conservative leaders across America are singing from the same pro-Israel hymn sheet, and the Israeli government appreciates their loyalty. Benjamin Netanyahu recently went down to Texas to visit the Cornerstone Church. These links matter, not only because forty-million Americans describe themselves as 'Christian Conservatives', but also because the Religious Right is HIGHLY organized with a POWERFUL influence inside the Republican party, all the way up to the White House.

Back in Washington, I went to see Gary Bauer, once a Republican presidential candidate, now one of the conservative movement's most influential activists.

Gary Bauer: "The growth in America in churches has been among evangelicals. Those denominations tend to lean much more toward the idea that we must stand with other free democratic nations around the world in conflicts like this one."

Sackur: And right now, would you say that there is a national network of evangelical-based groups who are truly radicalized, engaged, energized by what's going on?

Bauer: "Yeah. I would use the word 'energized' rather than radicalized. I have an e-mail that I send to about a hundred thousand people around the country at the end of each day. When I started criticising the administration on its policy toward the Middle East in the last three weeks...."

Sackur: For not being..... strongly supportive enough...

Bauer: "Exactly. I was inundated with hundreds and hundreds of e-mails back saying, 'You're absolutely right. Keep the pressure on the White House', and so forth."

Sackur: Would you say that you view this within the prism... of... the next.... major.... clash of civilizations?

Bauer: "I do personally believe that there IS a clash of civilizations. The war that the United States is involved in post 9-ll. That same war in its own way is also being fought between Israel and the surrounding countries that I think not only hate Jews, but hate Western civilization and Western values generally."

Sackur: The past eighteen months have produced an extraordinary confluence of events which has changed the complexion of the pro-Israel lobby. Israel has a right-wing prime minister and is engaged in a war - of sorts - with the Palestinians. The United States has a conservative president who's declared a global war on terror.

Jim Zogby is head of the Arab-American Institute. He spends much of his time pitching the Arab perspective on Capitol Hill. But he says the ideological hawks, so-called neo-conservatives -- Christian and Jewish -- are in the ascendant as never before.

Zogby: "It's a remarkable coming together of ideological currents, two of which -- the religious right and the neo-cons -- share both the Manacheaistic view of the world - good and evil - absolute in their structure of thought, and also because of this absolutism, believe in a kind of apocalyptical end, final battle that must take place between good and evil. It's dangerous. But it is driving the debate right now in the Republican party, and in some ways driving the debate in the Hill."

M.C. at Washington gathering: "Ladies and gentlemen. It is my pleasure to present a founder of the state of Israel and a relentless pursuer of peace: Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon."

Sackur: The scene: The ballroom of the Washington Hilton Hotel. Out of the gloom the not inconsiderable bulk of the Israeli prime minister is projected onto a video screen. Live. From Jerusalem. His audience, clapping 'til their hands hurt, hard-core pro-Israeli activists. Since the second Palestinian Intifada began in the autumn of 2000, but particularly since the wave of suicide bomb attacks this year, the Jewish-American establishment has mobilized in defense of Israel. For the first time in a generation, there's widespread talk of a threat to the very survival of the Jewish State.

Ariel Sharon - to attendees: "We need you more than ever. You have strengthened the friendship between Israel and the United States; a friendship based on the shared values of freedom, democracy and the sanctity of life."

Sackur: Ever since the six-day war of 1967, the U.S. committed has itself to maintaining Israel's military edge. Around three-billion dollars of American tax-payer's money goes to the Jewish state every year, making it far and away Washington's biggest aid recipient.

Israel could get by without the civilian aid, but NOT without American military hardware. The obvious question is "WHY? Why does America so consistently and generously support Israel?"

Strangely, it's a question that rarely gets asked in Washington. So when I asked it of Congressman Robert Wexler, Democrat and vociferous champion of Israel he had the air of a teacher addressing a particularly dense student.

Congressman Robert Wexler: "The United States appreciates the history from which Israel was created. They realize that the Jewish people were granted a homeland; and that that homeland is the only spot on earth where Jewish people, as they've been thrown out of other nations since 1948, are able to go; and it's a democratic nation. And it's a freedom-loving people. And they're very decent people. And they deserve to have a free and secure state."

Sackur: Congressman, you know there are some people who look at the building just to our left -- the U.S. Capitol -- and describe it as "Israeli occupied territory". They believe that there's no fairness, there's no balance in the position taken by U.S. Congressmen-- that you are bought and paid for by Israel. How do you respond to that?

Wexler: "It's somewhat laughable that a nation as great and as big as the United States could even arguably be controlled by a nation of five million people, with relatively little resources, in the context of the world. Americans identify, empathize, and are just solid - rock solid - with the people of Israel. And the more Israel is threatened, the more America gets engaged."

Sackur: We're entering dangerous territory. The place where, for generations, Israel's enemies have spread wild accusations of Jewish plots and conspiracies; the charge is based less on fact, more on virulent anti-Semitism. It's not that the Jewish lobby doesn't exist. It does. But you have to understand the context in which it works.

Malcolm Hoelein: "The fact is that the American people support the issues we represent, and the stance that we take. Not because we say so, but because they believe so."

Malcolm Hoelein was recently described as the most influential private citizen in U.S. foreign policymaking. He actually runs an umbrella organization called the "Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations". In effect, he wields the clout of the American-Jewish establishment. When he calls, the White House listens, and the same goes for the Israeli prime minister.

Hoelein: "We can speak to leaders of the United States, associates of the present people in the White House, or the State Department, because they know that what we have to say is usually of value."

Sackur: The question is whether you have disproportionate influence in this system because of the way the system works.

Hoelein: "People look for sinister motivations and all sorts of conspiratorial approaches which are non-existent. The reason that Americans support the policies the U.S. has, and that why Congress by overwhelming majorities, support Israel, is because they believe in it. It's because they agree with it because the cause resonates with them. They understand what Israel has gone through. And especially since 9-11, even more so the American people identify with Israel's plight; and they understand that ISRAEL'S war is the forefront of OUR battle."

Sackur: Malcolm Hoelein's got a point. Opinion polls show that Americans consistently express more basic sympathy for the Israelis than the Palestinians. But it's the kind of broad, relatively shallow support that doesn't necessarily have much political significance. After all, for most Americans, the middle East issue isn't going to decide their vote. And while it might for the six-million American Jews, they make up just two percent (2%) of the U.S. population.

The truth is, American politics isn't driven by generalized, mild sentiment, but by activism. And that is where the greatest power of the American-Jewish Community lies. M. J. Rosenberg, of the left-of-center Israel Policy Forum:

Rosenberg: "Bedrock support of anything doesn't produce anything in Washington. It's activists who produce things. It's lobbyists. It's CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS. I mean, you all know how Washington WORKS! Unorganized sentiment means NOTHING in Washington. Only organized sentiment, only intelligently utilized sentiment. You gonna compare that to: 'Oh, well, seventy-two percent of Americans, if given a choice between Israel and the Arabs say, We like Israel. We saw the movie, Exodus, with Paul Neuman'. That doesn't do anything. It's organization. "

Nachum Segal: "We are celebrating Yom Ha-Atzmut, Israel Independence Day!! Fifty-four years!! Where? The best place for any celebration having to do with Israel -- J.M. in the A.M."

Sackur: This is Israeli Independence Day. And THAT is a big deal on America's most popular Jewish radio program: 'J.M. in the A.M.' -- Jewish moments in the morning. Broadcasting from New Jersey and reaching much of New York City, presenter, Nachum Segal, taps into the energy that courses through the nation's biggest, most diverse Jewish Community.

Segal: "Let's keep the momentum going after the big Washington rally on Monday. Also, today, at 12 noon, the Israeli consulate are holding a Yom Ha-Atzmut celebration on the street! Get out there and celebrate."

Sackur: But it's the violence in Israel that dominates much of the free-flowing conversation on JM in the AM.

Segal: "You're live on the air." (inaudible Jewish phrase)

Caller: (same phrase) "I wanna wish the state of Israel a very happy Yom Ha-Atzmut situation, and I wanna say to those who may be listening, who are in the cabinet: 'You've got the football on the one-yard line. Please don't fumble it. Okay?' "

Segal: "I love the sports reference, Dave. Thank you very, very much."

Caller: "Maybe George Bush will get more into it with that sports reference".

Sackur: Presenter, Nachum Segal, is a six-foot, four-inch bear of a man. A committed religious Zionist. He intersperses political commentary with references to the Torah and Jewish history. But his basic message to listeners is simple: "Get involved".

Segal: "We try as best as possible to energize our people to participate in this. I think.... that for many years, many of the people in our community around this country have NOT been involved in this process. But NOW, because of the situation, and because we've been able -- with avenues like this radio show -- we've been able to energize them. I think we see a lot more are getting involved."

Speaker to a group (background): "... of seven hundred people." (clapping)

Sackur: The most loyal foot-soldiers of Jewish-American activism are in Washington, for the annual conference of the key pro-Israel lobby group: AIPAC -- the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee. Out of a national membership of sixty-thousand, four thousand are here. A record turnout. And most are heading to Capitol Hill to lobby members of Congress on Israel 's behalf.

David Meltzer: "My name is David Meltzer. I'm from Tucson, Arizona. We're gonna meet with all the legislators from our state and we're going to brief them on the issues and do our very best to get them to agree with our viewpoint."

Sackur: AIPAC's power has become the stuff of Washington legend. Fortune Magazine consistently puts it in the top five special interest groups. No other foreign-policy-based lobby group gets into the top twenty-five.

Cynics describe America as the 'best democracy money can buy', and that's not the falt of AIPAC. But there is no doubt that AIPAC - just like the gun lobby or the oil industry -- uses its resources and political muscle with maximum efficiency.

J.J. Goldberg, author of the book, Jewish Power :

Goldberg: "AIPAC has a lot of influence on foreign policy. They work hard to make sure that America endorses, pretty much, Israel's view of the world and of the middle East. They do it partly by convincing, partly by implied threats. AIPAC does not raise money for candidates, but there are Jewish PACs that raise money for...."

Sackur: Political Action Committees...

"... Political Action Committees that raise campaign funds for candidates. Four or five times over the last twenty years these PACs have gone after members of Congress who voted in ways that AIPAC didn't like. They flooded their opponents with money and enabled them to beat the incumbents. Sent a message that: 'If you really go against AIPAC you'd better know where your next dollar's coming from.'

"So that - as I've been told by a number of congressional aids over the last few years -- 'If the Congressman doesn't vote against Arafat they'll pay a price. If they DO vote against Arafat, there's no price to be paid. There's no percentage for the member of Congress to stand up for peace for compromise. Nobody's going to reward them. They'll be punished'."

Sackur: The bottom line is this: AIPAC has an ENORMOUS impact on Capitol Hill. When it comes to Israel, one congressional staffer told me in private, "You'll find a greater plurality of views, and more freedom of thought in the Israeli Knesset than you will in Congress".

Darrell Issa, a young representative from California, a Lebanese Christian American was one of the few congressmen prepared to talk to me, on the record. First, he pointed to the steady stream of staunchly pro-Israel resolutions passed by Congress; purely symbolic, maybe. But still telling:

Congressman IssSackur: "When you have these resolutions, there's been a tradition of: 'Why cross the Israeli lobby for something that isn't going anywhere other than inside the House, and maybe on to some newspapers in the middle East', and that has been historically very much that way. I, myself, voted along with the vast majority of the members of Congress to congratulate Sharon on being elected prime minister."

Sackur: Do you * support Sharon?

IssSackur: "I think Sharon has gone over the top in his entire career. I think he represents the worst of Israeli politics, not the best."

Sackur: Then why did you... do that?

IssSackur: "It really wasn't worth being one of the few that was going to not congratulate a head of state."

Sackur: AIPAC, for all its political clout is media shy. I was allowed to visit their heavily secured offices, close to the U.S. Congress, but I wasn't allowed to interview any of their top executives. Instead, I had a conversation with AIPAC's spokeswoman, Rebeca Needler.

Does AIPAC, in effect, intimidate members of Congress?

Needler: "We do not... like some lobbying groups, put out cards with standards about members of Congress. We don't rate their performance."

Sackur: You do. I mean, internally you do.

Needler: "We don't put out cards about their performance; we don't..."

Sackur: But internally, you have a very clear knowledge of who votes how on middle Eastern issues...

Needler: "CLEARLY, we have our issues we're advocating for. We believe, on the Hill, we have friends and we have potential friends; and that's the way we look at it."

Sackur: What about enemies?

Needler: "We have friends, and we have potential friends; and that's the way we look at it."

Sackur: There are no enemies?

Needler: "We have friends, and we have potential friends; and that's the way we look at it."

Sackur: Throughout the day, the suited delegations march up and down the Capitol Hill corridors, where members of Congress keep their sprawling offices. They are lobbyists. Slick professionals, cajoling, persuading, and sometimes -- very politely -- trying to intimidate the nation's politicians.

For symbolic effect, most members keep their outer-office doors open; but when it comes to the middle East issue, some lobbyists find the doors here more open than others. Now, with me is Khalid Turaani, director of the pressure group, American Muslims for Jerusalem. What kind of access... what kind of open doors do you find on Capitol Hill? Is it easy for you to get your message to the people that matter?

Khalid Turaani: "Yes, the doors are always open; but the minds that (laugh) rarely are... it is really an uphill battle, especially with the effort on the other side that is very well financed, very well organized."

Sackur: A lot of people here would say that, in the end, the strong support for Israel in this place, on Capitol Hill, is a reflection of shared values... that basically most Americans, like most American politicians... (being interrupted) sympathize with Israel...

Turaani: "They sympathize with Israel, but about the shared values: I'm not sure Americans share the values of oppressing people; share the values of the atrocities that are being committed against the Palestinians. However, the Israelis and the pro-Israel groups here that have disproportionate power and influence try to convince Americans that 'we share these values with you', and 'our fight is your fight'... and I think not only are they wrong, but they are also dishonest about it."

Sackur: That kind of language finds few echos on Capitol Hill, or indeed, anywhere else that matters, in Washington, D.C. It's not that the officials in the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon are entirely united behind Ariel Sharon. It's simply that the pro-Israel lobby, with all its resources can apply heavy, sustained, political pressure whenever it needs to.

George W. Bush: "The world finds itself at a critical moment. This is a conflict that can widen, or an opportunity we can seize." [or cease. the word was pronounced 'cease' although it doesn't seem to fit with the context of the sentence. Transcriber note]

Sackur: Cast your mind back to April the 4th, this year (2002). A key moment in the recent history of America's engagement in the middle East. President Bush reversed course. After a year and a half of studied nonintervention, he placed himself squarely at the center of efforts to end the Israeli-Palestinian violence. The president condemned Yasser Arafat's failed leadership, but THEN... he turned to the Israelis:

Bush: "I ask Israel to halt incursions into Palestinian-controlled areas, and begin the withdrawal from those cities it has recently occupied."

Sackur: Five days later. Major embarrassment for the president. Ariel Sharon ignored his request, which prompted growing signs of frustration in the oval office.

Bush: "First of all I meant what I said... to the prime minister of Israel. I expect there to be withdrawal without delay".

Sackur: A potentially crucial test of the U.S.-Israel relationship was unfolding, so consider carefully what happened next.

Israel's loudest boosters in the U.S. Congress began to FUME about what they saw as a double standard on terrorism. The president's decision to send Colin Powell to talk to Yasser Arafat was seen as a betrayal. Elliot Engel, is a New York Congressman and a fierce Israel loyalist:

Congressman Elliot Engel: "I think it was a grave mistake to meet with Yasser Arafat."

Sackur: Are you saying that the Bush team had lost the plot in their 'clear message against terrorism'?

Engel: "Yes. I think when you sit down with an unrepentant terrorist, you lose the clarity. And I'll tell you what else I think. I think if you took a poll of members of Congress you will find that most people would agree with me."

John Hagee: "I was very disappointed with Mr. Powell going to see Yasser Arafat. Yasser Arafat has to go. Terrorism is a malignant cancer. You either get the cancer or the cancer gets you."

Sackur: Pastor John Hagee, in Texas, and a host of other religious conservatives weighed in. The coup d'grace was delivered by a phalanx of Republican senators who invited that most articulate of Israeli hawks, Benyamin Netanyahu, to put into words what they were feeling:

Netanyahu: "Until last week I was absolutely certain that the United States would adhere to its principles and lead the free world to a decisive victory. Today, I too, have my concerns. I'm concerned that the state of Israel is being pressed to back down just when it is on the verge of uprooting Palestinian terror."

Sackur: The White House was caught in a politically embarrassing pincer movement: the Congress, the Religious Right and the Jewish establishment 'encouraged' the president to modify his language toward Israel. A fortnight after his first dramatic intervention, he did:

Unknown person questioning Bush: "Do you believe that Ariel Sharon is a man of peace? And are you satisfied with his and his government's assurances that there was no massacre? In Jenin?"

Bush: "I do believe Ariel Sharon is a man of peace."

Sackur: Ariel Sharon a man of peace. That phrase sent an unmistakable sign to both Israel and the Palestinians. After days of high-stakes diplomatic maneuvering, George Bush backed away -- from a confrontation with the Israel government.

There are American Jews who would like to see the United States impose its will on Ariel Sharon. A hundred or so self-proclaimed 'peaceniks' gathered outside the State Department last month for a symbolic act of civil disobedience -- an illegal sitdown on the road. Their aim: to condemn the Israeli incursions in the West Bank and demand more active U.S. intervention.

In more optimistic times, a clear majority of American Jews favored the Oslo Peace Process. They rejoiced at the sight of the Rabin-Arafat handshake on the White House lawn. But this event is a forlorn affair. Few people seem to be listening to the words of maverick, liberal Rabbi Michael Lerner.

Rabbi Lerner: "We hold to the deepest treatment of spiritual truth of the Jewish tradition: that every human being is created in the image of God, and that our commitment is that the blood of the Palestinian people is equally precious to the blood of the Jewish people and the blood of the Jewish people is equally precious to the blood of the Palestinian people."

Sackur: The American Jewish community is far from monolithic. But, at a time when Israel is perceived to be under threat its clear where the momentum lies. The mainstream Jewish organizations, unswerving in their loyalty to the Israeli government, are fired up. Dissidents, like Jo Margolis, are simply --- fed up.

Jo Margolis: "It's always the loud people that you notice. You don't notice those who aren't. There are plenty of us, but we're in the woodwork because I think a lot of Jews when they get very frustrated and disgusted with what's happening in Israel, they physically... you don't hear from them. They drop off the scene."

Sackur: So here we have a bazaar scene: Rabbi Michael Lerner, three and a half hours after he began this act of civil disobedience is about to be put into a D.C. Metropolitan Police van. Behind him, the State Department business carries on as usual. Rabbi Lerner is in handcuffs now, his pockets are being searched by the police. There he goes up the steps into the van. And this one small act of defiance is... effectively over.

Speaker to crowd at AIPAC Jamboree: "And now.... from the United States Senate... this evening we would have half of the United States Senate with us this evening (crowd cheering, clapping) from Colorado! Wayne Allard!! From Montana! Max Baucus!"

Sackur: Back at the AIPAC lobby's Jamboree there is no room for subtlety. When it comes to political muscle-flexing, AIPAC is the Arnold Schwartzneger of the lobbying world. What other foreign-policy pressure group could parade HALF the U.S. Senate and ninety members of the lower House?

Speaker: "From Kansas... Sam Brownback!"

Sackur: There's a key point here about substance as well as style, and it lies in the words addressed to delegates by Tom DeLay [Texas], Majority Whip in the House of Representatives, arguably the most powerful Republican in Congress. Delay believes America should abandon all notions of being * broker in the middle East.

Congressman Tom DeLay: "Given recent events in the historic record, we should reject the idea that the United States should serve in the middle East as a disinterested negotiator, charged with mediating between two good-natured nations, earnestly striving for peace. We cannot, we will not, we should not, act as a mere broker. We can't ask Israel to do less than we are now doing!" (clapping).

Sackur: These, remember, the words of one of America's most powerful politicians. A Texas Republican. A key ally of the president. But on Israel, this born-again Christian has abandoned the center ground. He's line up with the Israeli hawks. He doesn't talk of the occupied west bank. He uses the language of the Jewish settlers: Judea and Sumeria.

DeLay: "I've toured Judea, Sumeria. I've walked the streets of Jerusalem. (clapping). I've stood on the Golan Heights. I didn't SEE any occupied territory. I saw ISRAEL!" (clapping, whistling)

Sackur: The AIPAC activists lapped that up. And THAT says something important about the pro-Israel lobby. A great many American Jews have no sympathy with the DeLay world view. But the point is, ideological conservatives - Jewish and Christian - are dictating the agenda. Leading Jewish Liberals, like M. J. Rosenberg of the Israeli Policy Forum sound helpless.

M.J. Rosenberg: "It's more than damaging, as far as I'm concerned. It's frightening. Their alliance is really coming into play which is the radical Christian Right and those Jews who traditionally have been Democrats have been so pushed to the right -- or have been moved to the right -- that they're giving five standing ovations to Tom DeLay.

"If, in fact, this is indicative of a major shift, America will lose its ability to be an honest broker in the region. Completely. Because what you're gonna have is speeches like the Tom DeLay speech will become essentially, not just a speech that a majority leader of the House gives at AIPAC, but it could get to the point that... that's a speech a president will give."

Sackur: The president. In the end it all comes back to him. A month ago George Bush committed himself to the tireless pursuit of middle East peace. But already his initiative seems short of breath. Perhaps he hadn't reckoned with the newly invigorated pro-Israel lobby. Or, perhaps his sympathies lie not a million miles from theirs. Either way, when it comes to America's role in the middle East, there is still - clearly - a lobby to reckon with.

Female voice: "A Lobby To Reckon With was presented by Stephen Sackur. The producer was Hugh Levinson."


Friday, November 24, 2006

It is not enough for the zionists to rampage and destroy every Palestinian village within their reach. It is not enough for them to have literally declared genocide against an entire nation, starting with the elimination of the women and children.
No... now the agents of this evil 'ism' must create lies and start attacking all Muslims. This tactic is not a new one, it has been used in the States for decades. But now the zionists in Britain are taking up the 'torch' and literally going after Muslim organisations that speak out against the injustices in Israel/Palestine.
Their guiding force has been their magazine Engage. This is the type of crap they present in their pages..

In October, MPAC ran a story which claimed that current Israeli policy with regard to Palestinian children is the same as Nazi policy towards Jewish children during the Holocaust. To ram home their point, they illustrated this story with a yellow star of the type that the Nazis forced Jews to wear as they were preparing to round them up and kill them. MPAC routinely runs these overblown pieces that portray Israel to be uniquely evil.

MPAC relies on the work of extreme Jewish anti-Zionists like Norman Finkelstein to defend itself against charges of antisemitism. It doesn't discuss the issues, think through the politics, educate its readers about the history of anti-Jewish racism. Instead, it simply relies on the kosherization offered by fringe Jewish anti-Zionists:

"Recently we were accused of anti-Semitism on the basis of an article that was actually written by a Jewish Israeli blogger!"

Well if it was written by a Jewish Israeli then it can't possibly be anti-Jewish can it? The blogger in question has a website full of antisemitic cartoons by Brazillian artist "Latuff", who recently won second prize in President Ahmadinejad of Iran's exhibition of Holocaust-denying images.

Sometimes people involved in Jewish communal politics have been tempted to respond to the demonization of "Zionism" and antisemitism by demonizing Muslims in return; to change the target of the demonization rather than oppose it.

MPAC seem to have learnt from the very worst traditions of communal politics. True, they are better than the Jihadists, who encourage young people to blow themselves up on the tube, who delight in beheading Jews, videoing the spectacle and sending it to Al Jazeera. But being better than the Jihadists isn't enough. Muslims need political organization in the UK but they deserve more sophisticated spokespeople than the amateurs at MPAC. It is unbelievable that someone who wants to speak for Muslims in public and who wants to discuss antisemitism, doesn't have the political sophistication to understand that David Irving is not a reliable political ally in a struggle against racist demonization.

David Hirsh

That Jewish Blogger in question is yours truly! I have yet to see an anti Semitic cartoon done by Carlos Latuff.... anti zionist yes...

Norman Finkelstein is extreme? The truth is extreme?

It all boils down to ...when all else fails, extend the target range to include the entire Muslim community in the efforts to establish a Muslim free Middle East... that's how I see it...

One of my regular commenters, 'Utbah', sent me THIS brilliant link this morning. It is really worth going there and clicking on the links within the articles as well. To read both sides is the only way to determine the truth.... and the truth is not coming from the side represented by Engage.

posted by DesertPeace

Will the "defeat" of the Bush administration in the recent elections cause a sea of change in US foreign policy? Maybe not.

The ripple effect

Will the "defeat" of the Bush administration in the recent elections cause a sea of change in US foreign policy? Maybe not, writes Gamil Mattar*

The Arabs are divided over the results of the US congressional elections. Some are plagued with guilt for having contributed to the damage caused to the Bush administration; others are worried over the growing schadenfreude towards that administration. Some are anxious over the consequences of the growing influence in Washington of bipartisan forces that hate Arabs and all they believe in. Others, conversely, are convinced that our luck will change with the Democratic control of Congress and that the worst period in our relations with the US is over.

The Arabs can be forgiven for having given more attention to the congressional election results than, for example, to the massacre in Beit Hanoun. After all, many of them say, we're all subject peoples of, or profoundly affected by, that far-flung, highly influential and extremely powerful empire, and it's only natural that what happens in its centre should overshadow our other concerns. I believe that many Europeans, Asians and other peoples were similarly distracted by those elections from events closer to home.

In common with people in London, Paris and Berlin, many Arabs are pondering the part they played in bringing about what has been widely described as Bush's defeat. I can perfectly well understand the logic of America's friends in the Arab world who fault their governments for not responding to the Bush administration's call to democratise and to initiate far-ranging and substantial political reforms. When Bush embarked on his Iraqi adventure, he proclaimed three objectives. The first was to eliminate weapons of mass destruction, an objective that was based on a lie or deliberately fabricated information. The second was to hunt down Al-Qaeda embers and terrorist groups -- another lie: there was no connection between Saddam's Iraq and Al-Qaeda. The third was to establish a democracy in Iraq that would inspire and be emulated by other peoples of the Middle East. This was not so much a lie as it was rhetoric concealing the ideological designs of the neo-conservatives and of individuals of Arab origins in the American academic establishment. It was also clear from the outset that this objective, even if sincere, was unattainable. President Bush was wrong to have put his faith in the assurances of his aides that this objective would be easily accomplished. In the process, he depleted much of America's moral clout and political stock.

Neither was the Iraqi problem a candidate for a democratic solution, nor were the Arab peoples and their governments prepared to take this particular opportunity to overhaul their systems of government. Clearly, the Arabs' antipathy towards the pressures the Americans were applying far outweighed the pressures themselves, and this contributed to the Bush administration's electoral failure.

Since well before the Iraq invasion, Bush sought to obtain assurances from Iraq's Arab neighbours and some Arab governments slightly further afield that they would help ensure the security of Iraq's borders, as well as assuage sectarian tensions in Iraq. These governments did not refuse; even the Arab League declared its willingness to do what it could. The Bush administration -- or what's left of it -- cannot claim that the Arabs didn't help. They did, but they did so grudgingly. I, along with many others, heard American commentators remark that when it came to lending their support in Iraq, the Arabs were hesitant, inconsistent and negative. "Negative" is an attribute, not without considerable inspiration from Israel and the Zionist lobby in the US, that Washington has perpetually affixed to all forms of Arab political behaviour.

When the Lebanese crisis erupted with the capture of two Israeli soldiers followed by a brutal Israeli disciplinary campaign, the Bush administration imagined that the opportunity was at hand to turn the tables in Iraq and recover some of its dwindling popularity in the US. The administration placed great hopes in Arab governments for steering Arab public opinion in a direction that would further the administration's aims in Iraq and at home. Again, Washington was disappointed. Many American newspapers remarked on how the Arab governments changed course mid-stream, and on the "negative" official and popular attitudes towards America that kept Washington from reaping the fruits of an opportunity that, as Seymour Hersh revealed, Israel and the US had been planning for some time.

In addition to this so-called negativism, anti- Americanism, or hostility to American foreign policy, has not abated in the Arab-Islamic world over the past few years. But the Arabs are not alone in this. According to opinion polls in Europe and Asia, hatred for American foreign policy has reached unprecedented levels, even, surprisingly, in Britain. I, therefore, have no cause to censure the Arabs for expressing such sympathies, especially after having watched the congressional electoral campaigns and noted the "hate campaign" the Democrats themselves mounted against Bush and his cabinet. However, during the campaigns, the American media gave considerable play to Arab anti-American feelings with the aim of furnishing additional evidence that the Bush administration had failed to develop a feasible policy towards the Middle East. If Zionist pressure groups were instrumental in this, so too were they in a tangential campaign focussing on Bush's energy policies and, specifically, his inability to compel Arab oil producing nations to lower the price of oil. In this regard, the Arabs were not only branded "negative" again, they were also accused of ingratitude to the US for the endless sacrifices it made in order to protect the security of Arab states.

The Arabs can shout themselves blue in the face refuting their "negativism" and denying that it was a major cause of the failure of US policies in the Middle East and, hence, of the failure of the Republican Party in the recent elections. However, they won't find much sympathy in the US. After all, there is an element of truth in the allegation. It is well known that many Arab people suffer from the negativism of their government towards domestic, regional and religious issues that are crucial to the welfare of their peoples. That said, Arab negativism may have contributed to the Bush debacle, but it wasn't the sole cause or even a direct cause. With time it will become clear that the largest measure of responsibility falls on the neo- conservatives themselves. These are the people that pinpointed the Middle East as the linchpin for their imperialist designs, and these are the people who guided every step Bush took towards the declaration of war on terrorism and the invasion of Iraq. More crucially, these are the people who set American interests and political behaviour in their current ideological mould, which is the major and most direct cause of the anti-Bush vote in the congressional elections.

In view of all this, it seems reasonable to expect a period in which the influence of the neo- conservatives on US foreign policy fades and the US strives to exercise a modicum of realism in its handling of the Middle East. This will first entail coming to terms frankly and practically with the equations of the Middle East conflict and, particularly, the Palestinian cause. Second, it involves entering into negotiations with Iran, Syria and the resistance movements in the Arab and Islamic world. Third, the US must separate religion from politics in the conduct of international relations and in the treatment of Muslim minorities in the West. Finally, they must expose the myth of "the clash of civilisations" and work to raise public awareness in the West of this fallacy. In addition, Washington must place some restraints on the Zionist lobbies and their disproportionate influence upon the centres of power in the White House and Congress. As the recent elections have confirmed, these pressure groups have swayed American policy in directions that conflict with American interests and principles. They were a major force behind the decision to invade Iraq, they have fuelled anti-Arab and anti- Muslim hatred in the US to a degree that threatens the lives and well-being of American Muslims, and more recently, they have begun to push for an invasion of Iran. In respect of the latter point, the remarks of former Israeli ambassador to Washington, Itamar Rabinovich, concerning the possibility of US negotiations with Iran are telling: "Can we [Israel] rely on the US alone... and let the US do what it wants [with Iran]? No, by no means." Evidently, this remark was a response to a statement issued by Philip Zelikow, advisor to Condoleezza Rice to the effect that if the US is to create an Arab alliance against Iran, it would have to pressure Israel into making concessions to the Palestinians.

On the other hand, there is nothing to confirm that the recent congressional election results will compel Bush towards a more realistic foreign policy approach. If anything, the situation is more ambiguous. Some point to the setting sun of the neo-conservatives, as evidenced by Bush's dismissal of key neo-con White House staff, and by Defense Secretary Bob Gates's indication that he will do the same in the Pentagon. Others, however, argue that the neo-conservatives have gained considerable ground over recent years and that their influence now extends throughout many sectors of society, even within the Democratic Party. Whatever shift we see in the White House, they say, is purely cosmetic and solely intended to dissociate itself from the failures at home and abroad. It has been suggested that some in the White House had anticipated disaster and abandoned ship before it sunk. A comment issued by former Bush adviser Richard Perle several weeks ago supports this contention. The "king of the neo-cons" said, "if we had known that the Bush administration would act so blunderingly and incompetently we wouldn't have urged him to invade Iraq." Further confirmation that the shift in the attitudes of the White House is superficial and transient is to be found in the knowledge that the elections brought many hawks into both Houses of Congress and that Vice-President Dick Cheney remains in place as the person best placed to recover from administration's electoral defeat, recharge the neo-conservatives resolve and shore up their bases of support in Congress and outside.

I have no doubt that Arab governments have a greater chance than ever before to influence policies on the Middle East, for the simple reason that in Iraq and elsewhere the US desperately needs the Arabs. But, regardless of what the US wants, I believe that the Arabs should summon the will to act in their own interests, quickly and on several fronts. That is of course, if the portrait Richard Hass painted of the future is accurate. In his recent interview with Der Spiegel, the president of the Council of Foreign Relations suggests that the future is grim:

"No viable peace process between Israel and the Palestinians is likely for the foreseeable future. Militias will emerge throughout the region, terrorism will grow in sophistication, tensions between Sunni and Shia will increase, causing problems in countries with divided societies, such as Bahrain, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. Islam will fill the political and intellectual vacuum. Iraq at best will remain messy for years to come, with a weak central government, a divided society and sectarian violence. At worst, it will become a failed state racked by all-out civil war that will draw in its neighbours."

The picture grows gloomier still if we think of everything that Israel might get up to in such a dismal Middle East.

* The writer is director of the Arab Centre for Development and Futuristic Research.

© Copyright Al-Ahram Weekly. All rights reserved

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The Peace Majority

How can a few city council resolutions stand against the tide of war?


We've been preparing for war for the past six thousand years or so


Tribune Media Services

November 23, 2006

Tony Blair told it like it was the other day — well, almost. What he did was demonstrate that the echo of truth often drowns out even its most shameless evasions.

"There's a deliberate strategy," he told David Frost, "... to create a situation in which the will of the majority for peace is displaced by the will of the minority for war."

Of course, he was talking about Iraq, where "al-Qaida with Sunni insurgents on one hand, Iranian-backed elements with Shia militias on the other," were strangling democracy in its cradle, turning a nice invasion ugly. He wasn't talking about Great Britain or the United States, where a cabal of liars and fanatics fobbed off a high-tech war on a public that assented only because they believed it would be easy and cheap. But he could have been.

The Bush administration, despite its repudiation in the midterm elections, is now preparing to ask Congress for another $127 billion or so to feed that failed war. And they'll probably get it, even as the opposition tepidly debates timetables for withdrawal and agonizes over the fate of our "mission."

The acknowledged cost of the war is now pushing $600 billion, making it, according to USA Today, our most expensive conflict since World War II. And that figure, of course, doesn't reflect the war's true costs, such as lifetime care for brain-injured, psychologically shattered and immune-system-compromised vets. A year ago, economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes estimated that such hidden costs could push the price tag for Bush's folly up to $2 trillion.

And even that estimate doesn't look at costs from the Iraqi point of view. Not only has that country's infrastructure been destroyed and its economy wrecked, but its soil has been poisoned for generations by the toxic detritus of war, such as depleted uranium dust, which causes, among other health disasters, birth defects and cancer. We've unleashed a moral horror on Iraq, and ourselves, that benefits only the war profiteers. Yet we're stuck with it.

The problem, as I see it, is that we've been preparing for war for the past 6,000 years or so. It's what humanity seems to know best — our default response to fear. The unlearned lesson of the 21st century is that we've gotten far too good at it. The structure of our society — government, industry, the media - can gear up for war at a moment's notice, on half a pretext, no matter how abhorrent the idea may be in the souls of ordinary men and women. "The will of the majority for peace is displaced by the will of the minority for war." History has bequeathed us a built-in suicide machine.

All of which brings me to last week's action by the Chicago City Council. My fair city recently joined communities large and small across the country — Detroit, Cleveland, Atlanta, Minneapolis and Oakland, along with Silver City, N.M., Sebastopol, Calif., Hamtramck, Mich., Fairmont, Minn., and many others — in passing a resolution urging Congress to implement a cabinet-level Department of Peace.

In the context of a pending war appropriations bill that will get consideration in Congress long before the Department of Peace legislation (HR 3760 and S 1756), cynics will see such non-binding resolutions in remote city councils as futility incarnate: the smallest of small potatoes.

I beg to differ, if only because these resolutions in themselves represent huge organizing efforts on behalf of peace. In Chicago, members of the City Council Resolution Action Committee, chaired by Jeannette Kravitz and Scott Roos, worked on the project for nearly a year before reaping success on Nov. 15, when the city's 50 aldermen passed the resolution unanimously. Such efforts inevitably create what one might call collateral benefits: They educate us and wake us up.

They also plant seeds. "We recognize that the world is interconnected and that everything influences the whole. As a consequence, there is no 'them and us.' There is only us, and the welfare of others, indeed of all life, is our own welfare."

So the Peace Alliance states on its Web site (, articulating a principle that absolutely must find manifestation in our politics, economy and social infrastructure if we are to have a future. The proposed Department of Peace would be a work in progress: a center for the study and implementation of peaceful conflict-resolution techniques as well as a symbol that stands against the momentum of war.

In conservative Fairmont, Minn., an online poll conducted by the local paper, the Fairmont Sentinel, was running, as of a few days ago, approximately four-to-one in favor of the Department of Peace resolution. Such numbers belied the naysayers' colorful dismissals of the resolution, in the comment section, as "feel-good liberal crap," "increased promiscuity rights for all people" and "all about ramming the gay agenda down the throats of people."

Such flailing nonsense reflects the terror that herds a population into war. I believe we're witnessing its last gasp. If the majority of us begin actively working for what we want, peace will be inevitable.

Iraq's fate hanging on a new axis

With two of the original members of the United States' "axis of evil" - Iran and Iraq - joining with another of Washington's pariahs, Syria, a strategic alliance of startling significance is emerging. The catalyst for the new grouping is the realistic fear of the "Iraqization" of Lebanon and the "Lebanonization" of Iraq. The overriding concern, though, is Iraq, which is where the US and the new axis could find common cause.

Nov 23, 2006

By Kaveh L Afrasiabi

While the US is actively exploring alternative options to salvage its intervention in Iraq, regional realities are dictating their own dynamic, not necessarily in tune with the United States' objectives. Slowly but surely, a new realignment is shaping up that is making Washington nervous - a Tehran-Baghdad-Damascus axis.

The possibility of such a "strategic alliance" being formed, to quote a headline in Tehran's conservative daily, Kayhan, is high, given this weekend's summit in Tehran that brings together the presidents of Iran, Iraq and Syria. (That's two out of three of the United States' "axis of evil" - Iran and Iraq, with the third being North Korea.) This comes at a volatile and uncertain time marked with the continuing bloodbath in Iraq, growing tension in Lebanon and the stalemated Arab-Israeli conflict.

On Tuesday, Iraq announced that it was restoring full diplomatic relations with Syria after a 26-year break, saying the move would increase cooperation on security.

The Kayhan editorial said, "America's fear of the trilateral meeting is very natural, since this alliance can translate into a new crisis for the United States at a time of the breakdown of the system of decision-making in that country." It further stated that while Iraq's deadly instability was the immediate reason for the Tehran summit, the issue of "strategic alliance" among the three countries went well beyond that.

Predictably, the US, which has been prodding both Syria and Iran to play a more constructive role in Iraq, has been lukewarm to Tehran's initiative for the trilateral meeting. Various US government spokespersons have repeated the old accusations of Iran's and Syria's "meddlings" in Iraq, with a Pentagon official claiming that some 70 to 100 foreign fighters crossed into Iraq from Syria each month.

This coincides with new reports in the Israeli and Western press on Iran's alleged al-Qaeda connections, vigorously denied by Tehran, which insists that it has itself been a victim of al-Qaeda terrorism in the past and that the Wahhabi terrorists are vehemently anti-Shi'ite.

Meanwhile, on the eve of the summit, the assassination of Pierre Gemayel, a fierce Christian and anti-Syria leader in Lebanon, has been seized on by US President George W Bush, who has pointed the finger of blame toward both Iran and Syria. This adds to the complexity of the Middle East scene wrought with multiple, simultaneous crises.

There is now a growing and realistic fear of the "Iraqization" of Lebanon and the "Lebanonization" of Iraq, with both countries descending to the depth of a bloody civil war far worse than anything now.

From the prisms of Tehran and Damascus, Israel is the only country that potentially benefits from such a nightmare scenario that they believe must be avoided at all costs. Yet the fragile truce in Lebanon may work in the United States' favor as a lever with regard to Syria and Iran with respect to Iraq, given the fact that unlike Tehran and Damascus, Washington has no intrinsic interests at stake in Lebanon.

Thus it could be that Lebanon will prove to be the Achilles' heel of the emerging axis. Clearly, the complex inter-relationships between Iraq and Lebanon require further scrutiny by strategists in both Tehran and Damascus, nowadays pressured by Washington as if they have identical interests.

Not so, and recently in his major foreign-policy speech, British Prime Minister Tony Blair made a point of referring to the divergent interests of Iran and Syria in the region. This resonates with the view of some political analysts in Tehran, such as Professor Kamran Taromi of Tehran University. He has written: "Iran may very much prefer to have stronger links to the Arabs which are neither at the mercy of the [Syrian Bashar al-]Assad regime nor constrained by Syrian interests. Iraq could provide just that."

The issue, then, is about Damascus' preparedness to enter a new strategic alliance with Iran and the Shi'ite-dominated new Iraq that would tilt the regional balance primarily in Iran's favor and likely diminish the influence of Saudi Arabia and, to a lesser extent, Syria's former ally, Egypt.

The driving forces
Tehran and Damascus agree on the hegemonic intentions behind the United States' invasion of Iraq and share fears of the US leviathan putting itself at the disposal of Israel, which pushed vigorously for the 2003 invasion through its vast network of influence-peddlers in the US. However, there are solid grounds for their present initiative toward setting new patterns in inter-regional relations, instead of passively observing the US-Israel machinations for a "greater Middle East" dominated by their particular geostrategic interests.

Doubtless, another common fear is the political and security meltdown inside Iraq, aggravating Iranian and Syrian fears of spill-over insecurity, given their porous borders with the "new Iraq" - which increasingly looks like a stateless country partitioned into the competing fiefdoms of armed factions.

In fact, Iraq's insecurity is a double-edged sword, simultaneously affording the US a weapon with which to threaten Iran and Syria, both of which, in turn, use the same insecurity and the potential for even greater insecurity against the US-led coalition forces.

Concerning the latter, the Kayhan editorial cited above poignantly states that there is little terrorism in the "nine Shi'ite provinces and five Kurdish provinces" of Iraq today, and that Muqtada al-Sadr's Medhi Army has succeeded in creating a protective ring for Baghdad's million and a half population. Another important point raised by Kayhan is: "Americans are strongly in favor of separating Iran's nuclear dossier from Iraq's security dossier, so that they can pressure Iran at one point and yet take advantage of Iran's support elsewhere. But this is not possible." This, in turn, raises another question: Does Damascus entirely share Iran's interest in linking the two issues?

The answer to this question touches on the Syria-Israel conflict and the desirability of Iranian (nuclear) support or even deterrence for Syria against Israel, which has shown absolutely no tangible sign of movement toward peace with Syria. This assumes, for the sake of argument, that one day Tehran decides to go nuclear full-force based on strategic calculations.

Consequently, irrespective of much talk of "strategic uncertainties" in the Middle East, Syria and Iran are convinced about Israel's warmongering and sub-imperialist intentions and its successful "rent-a-superpower" manipulation of the US. This drives Syria's and Iran's proactive search for new tools of deterrence and regime survival, including, but by no means limited to, their common "spoiler role" in Iraq.

But there are limits to that role for both Tehran and Damascus, which must calculate the intended and unintended consequences of runaway insecurity in Iraq spreading beyond Iraq's long borders with both neighbors.

After all, the bottom line is that Syria and Iran are of one mind with respect to the twin pillars of their Iraq policy, that is, Iraq's national unity and territorial integrity. Syria is fearful of Iraq's disintegration impacting its nearly 2 million Kurds, in light of the Syrian government's crackdown on Kurdish protesters in March 2004. This could erupt again if Iraq's Kurds reach full autonomy.

Iran, on the other hand, is rattled by the Americans' and Israelis' open support for Kurdish irredentism inside Iran, and this forms yet another common bond among Tehran, Damascus and the central government in Iraq, which has a Kurdish president (Jalal Talabani) who is due to visit Tehran shortly.

Challenges and opportunities for Tehran
As far as Tehran is concerned, the Iraq crisis is both a regional and an international crisis representing a multi-dimensional policy challenge. The visible intensification of chaos in Iraq poses a major threat to Iran's national-security interests that requires from Iran a multi-layered response at both regional and international levels.

No wonder Tehran's leaders are pushing for a multilateral approach toward the Iraq crisis as a key "damage control" measure that will, it is hoped, minimize the potential for damage and attain a better regional situation in the (near) future, instead of the currently growing quagmire.
In his recent Friday-prayers speech, Iran's former president, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, pointed at the irony of the US seeking Iran's support to "tow them out of the bottom" of Iraq's morass, openly wondering what incentives Iran would have to do so. A response to this question was given by James Baker, the former US secretary of state and now head of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group (ISG). In a recent meeting with Iran's ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammad Javad Zarif, he reminded Iran that Iraq's crisis is also a crisis for neighboring Iran.

Reportedly the ISG will recommend direct US dialogue with Iran and Syria over Iraq, and Baker and his colleagues must now be encouraged that both countries are showing serious signs of improving relations with Iraq, reflected most vividly in Syria's initiative to normalize diplomatic relations with Baghdad after 24 years.

Thus the weekend's summit in Tehran may prove a prelude to dialogue with the US, which continues to occupy Iraq at exorbitant price and yet without any prospect of "military victory", to paraphrase US statesman Henry Kissinger.

Turning the challenge of Iraq's (in)security into an opportunity for Tehran and Damascus, a modus vivendi with the US is now a distinct possibility, although opposition will come as stern objections from Israel and the pro-Israel forces encircling the White House.

Yet irrespective of the latter, and the relentless Israeli disinformation campaign aimed at torpedoing any Western policy shift on Iran, eg, by spreading the rumors of an Iranian nuclear test per a report in the Jerusalem Post, Iran continues to push for its revised and invigorated Iraq policy based primarily on its highly intertwined Iraq and US policies.

What the US invasion of Iraq managed to do almost overnight was to turn the long-standing Iran-Iraq dispute into an extension of Iran-US relations, as a result of which today it is nearly impossible to disentangle the two issues. This is at least so as long as Iran perceives the "new Iraq" less as an independent state and more as a continuously occupied state that it must penetrate and create zones of influence both to deter the US threat and to enhance its regional standing.

"Let us not forget that the Iraq crisis today is also a crisis of American hegemony," a Tehran political analyst told this author recently, adding that a net benefit of this "double crisis" for Iran has been the absence of an invasion by the US - the augment being that in all probability the US would have invaded Iran by now had it succeeded in Iraq.

Iran's dilemma, however, is that a complete failure of the US in Iraq is not in Iran's interests either, given Iran's fear of terrorism, mass refugees and irredentism from behind its vast western borders with Iraq. Tehran and the occupying powers may have their own interests in mind, but their common fear of Iraq's collapse is what could ultimately heal their great divide.

Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) and co-author of "Negotiating Iran's Nuclear Populism", Brown Journal of World Affairs, Volume XII, Issue 2, Summer 2005, with Mustafa Kibaroglu. He also wrote "Keeping Iran's nuclear potential latent", Harvard International Review, and is author of Iran's Nuclear Program: Debating Facts Versus Fiction.

Copyright 2006 Asia Times Online Ltd.