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Archive for May, 2021

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The Israel-Hamas ceasefire has now been in effect for four days. It will be broken sooner or later, that’s for sure, though before that happens there will surely be another explosion in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and/or inside Israel itself. On the 11 days of fighting, death, and destruction preceding the ceasefire, Avi Issacharoff has a typically incisive analysis (May 21st) in The Times of Israel, the gist of which is in the title: “Why Hamas (most of all) and Netanyahu (for now) are the winners of this mini-war: The losers, needless to say, are the citizens of Gaza and Israel, as the Islamist terror group makes strategic gains beyond even its own expectations.”

On Gazawis being losers, see the analysis (May 20th) by Haaretz’s Amira Hass (whose knowledge of Gaza is unmatched among Israelis): “Gaza’s destruction: An unbearable humanitarian and financial toll.” The lede: “Hamas figures estimate that damage to the Gaza Strip has already cost more than a quarter of a billion dollars, while damage to power and water infrastructure has obstructed access to water for around 800,000 people.” The destruction visited upon Gaza’s infrastructure—conforming to the IDF’s Dahiya doctrine—is staggering. As Le Monde’s Benjamin Barthe reports:

Selon les décomptes des Nations unies, 24 centres de santé ont été touchés par les bombardements, ainsi que 50 établissements éducatifs. Trois usines de désalinisation d’eau, servant 400 000 habitants, ont été mises hors service. Le seul laboratoire de dépistage du Covid-19, la clinique Rimal, dans le centre de Gaza, a volé en éclats lorsqu’un missile a frappé une rue adjacente. Les bureaux du Croissant-Rouge qatari ont été dévastés.

Selon le ministère de l’habitat de Gaza, 162 bâtiments résidentiels ont été anéantis par les tirs israéliens. Si l’armée a fréquemment prévenu leurs occupants avant de passer à l’action, leur laissant quelques dizaines de minutes pour évacuer les lieux en catastrophe, cela n’a pas toujours été le cas. Une dizaine de familles de Gaza ont été décimées par les frappes, à l’instar des Al-Kolak et Al-Aouf.

The Al-Kolak and Al-Aouf families, on Gaza’s Wehda Street, lost 44 members, the reports on which I linked to in the post of May 16th. Barthe continues:

« Ces onze jours de guerre ont été aussi éprouvants que les cinquante jours de la guerre précédente, en 2014 », affirme Leïla Barhoum [de l’ONG humanitaire Oxfam]. « Nous avons réchappé aux bombardements, mais je ne sais pas comment nous allons survivre au milieu de toutes ces destructions », ajoute Abier Al-Masri, de l’ONG de défense des droits de l’homme Human Rights Watch.

L’armée israélienne rejette toute responsabilité pour ces pertes et ces dégâts matériels, au motif que les « terroristes du Hamas se cachent parmi les civils ». Mais cet argument, répété à chaque offensive, ne suffit pas à expliquer l’étendue des frappes, notamment le bombardement de quatre immeubles d’une dizaine d’étages qui faisaient la fierté de Gaza : Shorouk, Al-Jawhara, Hanadi et Al-Jalaa. Contrairement à ce que M. Nétanyahou avait promis, le département d’Etat américain n’a reçu aucune preuve attestant de la présence du Hamas au sein de la tour Al-Jalaa, dont l’effondrement a entraîné la destruction des bureaux de l’agence de l’agence de presse AP et de la chaîne panarabe Al-Jazira.

« Cette opération a bafoué une nouvelle fois tous les principes du droit humanitaire international, comme la proportionnalité et la distinction entre cibles civiles et militaires, accuse Essam Younes, le directeur de l’ONG de défense des droits de l’homme Mezan.

A dispassionate examination of the toppling of the Al-Jalaa tower from the perspective of international law is offered by journalist Dania Akkad (May 24th) in Middle East Eye, “Israel’s war on Gaza: Was Hamas really operating out of the Al-Jalaa building? Experts say Israel’s attack on the tower block, used by international media organisations probably wasn’t legal—here’s why.”

Concluding Barthe’s report:

De nombreux lieux de culture ont aussi fait les frais des bombardements israéliens, comme la librairie Samir Mansour, la plus renommée de la bande de Gaza. Cette boutique, qui vendait aussi bien de la littérature arabe que des classiques occidentaux, a été réduite à l’état de gravats. Selon son propriétaire, plusieurs dizaines de milliers de livres sont partis en fumée dans l’explosion, qui a aussi détruit une imprimerie, une bibliothèque et un centre de formation. « L’une de mes plus grosses ventes après le Coran, c’était la traduction des Misérables, de Victor Hugo », raconte Samir Mansour, avant d’ajouter d’une voix exténuée : « Les misérables d’aujourd’hui, c’est nous. »

A report from Gaza on France Inter this morning (listen at 7h30) describes the catastrophic situation at the Al-Shifa hospital, and whose top doctor, Ayman Abou al-Awf—who had created the hospital’s coronavirus unit—was killed, along with his entire family, in an Israeli attack (see also the report in Libération).

For a Gazawi POV that is no doubt representative of sentiment there, do read the NYT guest essay (May 24th) by translator-editor Basma Ghalayini, “A Gazan’s view on Hamas: It’s not complicated.”

In my last post, which was mainly on Jerusalem, the Palestinian resistance there, and of the anger driving it, there was a word I neglected to mention, which is humiliation. The Israelis humiliate the Palestinians in countless ways, personally and symbolically, which is so well known to non-Palestinians that one hardly needs to give examples (if one wants a couple of recent ones, see, e.g., Nathan Thrall’s lengthy March 19th essay in the NYRB, “A Day in the Life of Abed Salama,” and the 2021 Oscar-nominated short film The Present; in France: Le Cadeau). Focusing on Palestinian citizens of Israel (PCIs), the humiliation—and mounting ras-le-bol—ensues from the panoply of discriminatory laws to which they are subject, notably land policies. The latest indignity to PCIs is the 2018 “nation-state” law, which validated the apartheid label for some who had previously resisted it. To comprehend the explosion of PCI anger in Israel’s “mixed cities,” one need look no further. As Tel Aviv-based political scientist and pollster Dahlia Scheindlin headlined a May 13th opinion piece in Newsweek, “For years, Israel’s leaders have cultivated ethnic hatred. This is on them.”

The communal riot in Lod (Lydd) has been extensively reported, e.g. by Ruth Margalit (May 20th) in The New Yorker. Le Monde’s Jerusalem correspondent Louis Imbert had an exceptional reportage from the city in the May 15th issue. It begins:

Une tumeur cancéreuse, un abcès de haine explose en Israël, dans une éruption de tentatives de lynchages, d’incendies antisémites, de ratonnades. Un Arabe battu en direct à la télévision à Bat Yam. Un juif bastonné à Saint-Jean-d’Acre. Depuis lundi 10 mai, les Israéliens assistent, impuissants, à des scènes de chaos inconnues ces vingt dernières années, alors que le Hamas poursuit ses tirs sur le pays, depuis l’enclave de Gaza. L’épicentre de ces émeutes est à Lod. A un jet de pierre de l’aéroport David-Ben-Gourion. Dans un coin de plaine industrielle glauque du centre du pays, où un mort est tombé, Moussa Hassouneh, lundi.

Tard dans la nuit de mercredi à jeudi, des groupes armés juifs errent dans les quartiers nord, au bord de la route 40 fermée par la police. Ils traînent des barres de fer et des battes sur le bitume jonché des débris des émeutes de la veille. Certains portent en bandoulière des fusils automatiques. Ils se penchent sur les pare-brise des voitures, sous la lumière biaisée des réverbères. Juif ou Arabe ? Ils traquent l’ennemi. De petits groupes s’aventurent sur des routes défoncées, dans le noir d’encre, à travers un lacis d’usines et d’entrepôts qui mène à la ville arabe.

Lod’s Likud mayor has fueled the toxic climate:

Ce maire d’une ville moyenne de 77 000 habitants, Yair Revivo, homme sanguin, aisément incohérent, fervent membre du Likoud au pouvoir, en lutte constante avec le tiers arabe de sa majorité municipale, se révèle en incendiaire dans la crise actuelle. Dans la nuit de mardi à mercredi, il a appelé le gouvernement, en direct à la télévision, à déployer l’armée à Lod, dénonçant « une Intifada ». Les funérailles du jeune homme arabe tué la veille dégénéraient en attaques contre des Juifs – et aussi de groupes de défense juive contre des Arabes. Le premier ministre, Benyamin Nétanyahou, pâle et essoufflé à 2 heures du matin, est venu ici pour dénoncer « l’anarchie » et décréter l’état d’urgence dans la ville.

Mais déjà, depuis des mois, le maire M. Revivo exigeait des soldats. Il n’en fait pas mystère : il est le maire de la part juive de la ville. Dès le début de son second mandat, en 2018, il a mis fin à un programme de constructions immobilières dans les quartiers arabes. Il refuse de fournir des services sociaux « aux familles criminelles. » Dans son vocabulaire, ce mot, « criminel », précède ou suit usuellement celui d’« Arabe ».

M. Revivo souhaite traiter à la sud-américaine la criminalité qui gangrène Lod. Des affiches marquées d’étoile de David proclament sa détermination à lutter contre les gangs arabes, qui font lit sur la mixité de la ville, en bonne intelligence avec la mafia juive. Ceux-ci prospèrent sur le commerce de drogue et d’armes dans des quartiers arabes où la police est aux abonnés absents.

Quoting Malek Hassouneh, the father of Moussa, who was shot and killed:

« Vois comme ils nous traitent : à l’hôpital, un flic m’a dit qu’il faudrait encore deux morts arabes pour que nous nous calmions. Ils ne veulent pas d’Arabes à Lod », estime le père. Les Hassouneh sont une famille de notables ici, rassemblée dans une belle maison du sud. Ils possédaient avant 1948 quelque 7 000 dounam (700 hectares) de terrain. Les parents de Malek, qui ont fui ou ont été chassés durant la guerre, se sont vus confisquer leurs biens par l’Etat. Il reste 2 000 dounam à cet entrepreneur du bâtiment.

Son histoire familiale, M. Hassouneh la reconsidère à cette heure. Alors que des manifestants brandissant le drapeau israélien réclament devant le tribunal de Lod la libération du « héros » qui a abattu son fils. En ce jour où le ministre de la sécurité intérieure, Amir Ohana, affirme que si cela ne tenait qu’à lui, le tireur serait déjà libre (il a été libéré jeudi). « J’étais un bon citoyen ! Je respectais l’Etat. J’étais satisfait de mon sort ici : j’allais passer dignement le flambeau. Je n’aurais jamais cru dire cela mais aujourd’hui, je ne suis plus israélien », dit M. Hassouneh.

The article goes on to discuss the phenomenon of extremist, gun-slinging Jewish settlers on the West Bank moving to Lod and other mixed cities—and with their attitudes toward Arabs—to further Judaize them. Establishing a parallel with France, the actual situation in Lod would be akin to the city of Saint-Denis in the Paris banlieue with a Front National mayor and who received security reinforcements from Génération Identitaire bullyboys constituted as an armed militia—and who was backed by a President Le Pen…

As the Republican Party has become the US equivalent of the French FN/RN (it’s even further to the right, in fact), it is likewise with the Likud, which is now the Israeli equivalent—in overall Weltanschauung—of the party headed by Marine Le Pen. This may not have been the case in the past but it is now.

But whereas the FN/RN is as far right as one gets on the French political spectrum (among parties that contest elections), there are formations to the right of the Likud—Itamar Ben Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit being the most talked about at present—which not only elect deputies but are potential coalition partners for the Likud.

In an essay (May 19th) in the highbrow webzine AOC, “Israël-Palestine: la guerre silencieuse,” sociologist Eva Illouz, of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and EHESS in Paris, has this to say:

Le lecteur européen ignore que l’extrême droite israélienne à laquelle Netanyahu s’est allié est d’une nature différente des partis habituellement ainsi qualifiés en Europe. Itamar Ben Gvir, qui dirige le parti d’extrême droite Otzma Yehudit (Force juive), avait jusqu’à récemment dans sa maison un portrait de Baruch Goldstein. Baruch Goldstein était un médecin américain qui, alors qu’il vivait dans la colonie de Kiriat Arba (Hébron), a tué 29 musulmans pendant qu’ils priaient dans la grotte des patriarches. Ben-Gvir, quant à lui, est un avocat qui défend les terroristes juifs et les auteurs de crimes haineux. L’organisation Lehava, étroitement associé à ce parti, a pour mission d’empêcher les mariages interconfessionnels et le mélange des « races ».

Le président d’Israël, Reuven Rivlin, un homme dont on ne peut pourtant pas dire qu’il porte la gauche dans son cœur, a, par le passé, décrit les attaques de Lehava contre les mariages interconfessionnels en des termes non équivoques : les membres de ce mouvement sont, a-t-il dit, comme « des rongeurs qui minent de l’intérieur le fondement démocratique et juif commun d’Israël ». Lehava publie aussi les noms des Juifs (dans le but de leur faire honte) qui louent des appartements à des Arabes. Seule la culture du Sud profond américain du début du XXe siècle peut soutenir la comparaison avec une telle idéologie.

Netanyahu est devenu leur allié politique naturel, virant ainsi vers les formes les plus extrémistes du radicalisme de droite. Ces groupes attisent les flammes de la guerre civile en répandant le racisme au sein de la société israélienne au chant du slogan « mort aux Arabes ».

The American counterpart of the Israeli extreme right is the groups that participated in the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville VA in August 2017. If Itamar Ben Gvir and his followers weren’t Jews, we’d be calling them neo-Nazis. And they may possibly end up in the next Israeli government…

The peace march in Tel Aviv on Saturday was nice and let’s hope there are more of them, but the political domination of a radicalized right-wing is the reality in Israel. Which is why more explosions are a certainty.

To be continued.

UPDATE: Amjad Iraqi of the indispensable +972 Magazine has a must-read interview (May 21st) with ICG senior analyst Tareq Baconi, “Hamas breaks out of its Gaza cage.” Baconi, who’s Jordanian-Palestinian and based in Ramallah, is presently the sharpest Palestinian analyst of the conflict IMHO.

In the interview are numerous links to good articles, including “The UN predicted Gaza would be unlivable by 2020. They were right. Israel is trying to keep Gaza ‘quiet’ by applying new calculations to make life survivable — without allowing the people to truly live,” by Tania Hary in +972 (Dec. 31, 2019); and Tareq Baconi’s “Gaza and the One-State Reality,” in the Autumn 2021 issue of the Journal of Palestine Studies.

2nd UPDATE: PCI lawyer Diana Buttu has a guest essay (May 25th) in the NYT that merits reading, “The myth of coexistence in Israel.”

3rd UPDATE: The Israeli NGO Terrestrial Jerusalem has published (May 20th) an invaluable report on the legal side of the property disputes in East Jerusalem, “Large-scale Displacement: from Sheikh Jarrah to Silwan.” (h/t Eric Goldstein)

4th UPDATE: In Haaretz (May 22nd): “Israelis tell him to go to Gaza, Palestinians call him a collaborator: The life of a stateless Jerusalem reporter.” The lede: “Born in East Jerusalem, he’s stateless and didn’t know a word of Hebrew until five years ago. But then Suleiman Maswadeh, who spoke to Haaretz before the flare-up in Gaza, decided he wanted to succeed. Today he’s the Israeli public broadcaster’s correspondent in Jerusalem.” The interview is lengthy but is worth the read, for what it tells about the chasm—which looks unbridgeable—in the city of Jerusalem, not to mention among Israelis and Palestinians more generally.

5th UPDATE: The gauchiste webzine Jacobin has a hard-hitting interview (May 26th) with Jerusalem-based ICG senior analyst Nathan Thrall, “We can’t expect Joe Biden to stop supporting Apartheid.” The lede: “The Western media discourse gets it all wrong. Israel is not at risk of becoming an apartheid state — it already is one.” It would be useful to see a response by liberal/left Zionists (Meretz, J Street et al) to Thrall’s arguments, in this interview as well as in his lengthy article in the 21 January 2021 issue of the LRB on “The separate regimes delusion.”

6th UPDATE: Samy Cohen, who has long been one of France’s leading political science specialists of Israel, has a tribune in the May 27th Le Monde, “Les Israéliens se sont laissé bercer par l’illusion qu’Israël était un ‘Etat juif et démocratique’.”

A very good article in Le Monde dated March 19th, by Christophe Ayad and Louis Imbert: “Du rêve d’un ‘Etat juif et démocratique’ à la colonisation de la Cisjordanie, que reste-t-il du sionisme?”

7th UPDATE: Khalil Shikaki, the director of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, has an unfortunately spot-on article (May 19th) in Foreign Affairs, “Fighting in Gaza marks the start of a more violent era: The search for a two-state solution is over.”

8th UPDATE: Le Monde’s Louis Imbert has a portrait in the May 28th issue of Hamas’s Gaza leader Yahia Sinouar, in which he is presented as a relative moderate. One reads, e.g.

Longtemps, les généraux israéliens n’ont pas caché leur intérêt, voire leur admiration pour cet enfant d’une famille de réfugiés implantée à Khan Younès, à Gaza. M. Sinouar y a fait respecter les « bonnes mœurs » pour le Hamas naissant.

9th UPDATE: Tel Aviv-based journalist Neri Zilber has a must-read opinion piece (May 28th) in the Toronto Globe and Mail, “Israel’s Palestinian policy is in tatters.” Money quote:

As Israeli journalist (and co-creator of the hit TV show Fauda) Avi Issacharoff recently wrote, Israel’s policy aimed “to weaken Fatah and the PA so that it would not have a partner to negotiate with, and to strengthen Hamas through funds and [by easing measures] to claim that there is no partner to negotiate with.”

10th UPDATE: See the Statement on Israel/Palestine by Scholars of Jewish Studies and Israel Studies (May 22nd). If I were eligible to sign it, I would.

11th UPDATE: FWIW Vox’s Zack Beauchamp argues “In defense of the two-state solution.” The lede: “Some are declaring the two-state paradigm for Israel and Palestine totally doomed. But it’s not — and it’s still worth fighting for.” (May 26th)

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“This is Israel’s most failed and pointless Gaza operation ever. It must end now.” Voilà the headline of an analysis (May 18th) by Haaretz editor-in-chief Aluf Benn. It begins:

As of its ninth day, Operation Guardian of the Walls in Gaza has turned into Israel’s most failed and pointless border war ever, even when measured against the tough competition from the champion league of the Second Lebanon War, and Operations Pillar of Defense, Cast Lead and Protective Edge in Gaza. We have been witness to a serious military and diplomatic failure that has exposed major deficiencies in the army’s preparations and performance and in the leadership of a confused and helpless government.

Instead of wasting time in a useless effort to create an “image of victory” while causing death and destruction in Gaza and upending lives to Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must stop now and agree to a cease-fire – and hope that the failure will be forgotten by public opinion as quickly as the Mount Meron disaster. In a more perfect world, it would be proper to add here “and order a thorough house cleaning of the Israel Defense Forces.” But criminal defendant Netanyahu, who is fighting to keep his official residence on Balfour Street, has neither the authority nor the political power to lead such a needed change.

Benn proceeds to discuss the five biggest problems revealed so far in Israel’s preparations for and conduct of the war. It would be helpful if such analyses were read by pro-Israel US commentators, some of whom have been figuratively screaming over the past week, not to mention ‘Les Grandes Gueules Moyen-Orient‘ I happened to come across two nights ago on i24NEWS Français, the one with la plus grande gueule being Meyer Habib, the deputy in the French National Assembly representing the 8th constituency of French citizens abroad, the majority of whose voters reside in Israel (and are, like Habib, dual-national Israelis). Habib, who is close to Netanyahu and the Likud (he was a Betar militant in his youth), may have been elected under the center-right UDI label but is way out there on the right. A prediction: between now and next April, Habib will endorse Marine Le Pen and her Rassemblement National, and will be followed by a not insignificant number of his co-religionists (N.B. French Jews are more conservative and attached to Israel than their American counterparts, and with a greater visceral animosity toward Arabs and Muslims).

N.B. Denouncing Israel’s military campaign in Gaza must not obscure the role of Hamas in initiating the conflict with its unprovoked rocket attacks, first on Jerusalem than everywhere else in Israel in the rockets’ range, and with the intention of hitting the civilian population at random (Hamas rockets, as one reads here, are not equipped with guidance systems that would enable them to strike specific targets). If Israel is committing war crimes that could be investigated by the ICC, so is Hamas.

Then there’s the politically pernicious side of Hamas’ action, which is explained by historian Vincent Lemire, the director of the French research center in Jerusalem, in a full-page, must-read interview in Le Monde dated May 18th, “‘Le fossé n’a jamais été aussi profond entre Jérusalem-Est et Jérusalem-Ouest’.” The two weeks that preceded the Hamas rockets had witnessed an exceptional mobilization of young Jerusalem Palestinians: against the Sheikh Jarrah evictions, the attempt by the Israeli police to set up a checkpoint on the steps of the Damascus Gate of the Old City—a “small agora” where Palestinian families gather in the evening during Ramadan—and the actions of that police at the Al-Aqsa mosque and on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. The tactical intelligence, as Lemire put it, of the Palestinian activists resulted in the Israelis not only beating a retreat at the Damascus Gate but also preventing Jewish extremists from marching through the Old City on their May 10th “Jerusalem Day.” It was a humiliating setback for Netanyahu and whose political future appeared compromised—until Hamas rescued him with its rockets. It was, as Lemire put it

une grossière tentative de récupération de la part du Hamas, qui, lundi soir, a choisi de déclencher une nouvelle guerre pour revenir dans le jeu, plutôt que de célébrer dignement la victoire des Palestiniens de Jérusalem.

On Jerusalem Day:

[Le] lundi 10 mai, [il y a eu] l’échec retentissant du « Jour de Jérusalem », organisé chaque année pour commémorer la « réunification » de la ville en 1967. Le jour où Israël devait célébrer sa pleine souveraineté sur sa capitale « éternelle et indivisible », les juifs israéliens ont été interdits par la police israélienne de pénétrer sur l’esplanade des Mosquées, puis empêchés de passer par la porte de Damas, avant que toute la Vieille Ville ne leur soit finalement rendue inaccessible.

Ce soir-là, jusqu’aux tirs de roquettes du Hamas, le premier ministre israélien, Benyamin Nétanyahou, était mortifié, humilié, et sa carrière politique semblait définitivement compromise.

Israeli journalist and activist Haggai Matar described the situation in Jerusalem well in +972 Magazine (May 10th), “Israel chooses violence: From the repression in Sheikh Jarrah to the bombing of Gaza, the Israeli government has opted to escalate its brutality toward Palestinians.” He begins:

The escalation in violence across Israel-Palestine over the past days is primarily the result of a number of choices made by the Israeli government. While such violence is far from unprecedented in our region, and has been inherent to Israel’s oppressive policies for decades, these are choices that ultimately serve the interests of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is desperately fighting to save his political career and avoid potential time behind bars.

The dangerous choices started in earnest with the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, when the Israeli authorities made the unfathomable decision to place new makeshift checkpoints at the entrance to Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem. They then attacked Palestinians who gathered there to enjoy breaking the daily fast with friends and family. It took two weeks of police violence and a steadfast response by Palestinian protesters for the police to back down.

On Sheikh Jarrah, for those who need a primer, see the one (May 6th) by Mustafa Abu Sneineh in Middle East Eye, “Sheikh Jarrah explained: The past and present of East Jerusalem neighbourhood.”

See likewise the report (May 19th) by FT Jerusalem correspondent Mehul Srivastava, “How Arab evictions fuelled the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

One aspect of what’s happening in Sheikh Jarrah has not been mentioned so far as I’ve seen. The Jewish extremist organization that is claiming property there is basing the claim on the contention that the property in question was owned by Jews before 1948, i.e. by persons in their ethno-religious group, not by particular individuals in the organization in question. The Jewish organization wants to evict the Palestinian families who have lived there for seventy years and then occupy it for themselves, for the simple reason that a Jewish family, whose identity is immaterial and whose descendants are not part of the organization, owned it generations ago.

Rhetorical question: Is there any legal system in the world—and particularly in a state claiming to be a democracy and governed by rule of law—where such a claim would have any legal validity? Where invoking mere membership in an ethno-religious group would give someone the legal right to appropriate a piece of property and evict its longtime inhabitants?

I have long resisted applying the apartheid label to Israel, though in a 2014 post, ‘Rage in Jerusalem,’ made an exception for East Jerusalem, where I determined that the ignominious label did indeed apply. If such was the case seven years ago, it is every bit as much so today.

AWAV readers, who are by definition well-informed, will be aware that the apartheid analogy in regard to Israel has gone mainstream, notably with the April 27th release of Human Rights Watch’s report, A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution. As the editor of the report, Eric Goldstein, who is Acting Executive Director of HRW’s MENA Division, is a very good and dear friend—and who happens to be responsible for this blog’s name: yes, Arun with a View was his brainchild—I owe him my assessment of the report, and particularly as we’ve had numerous discussions on the subject over the years. I will have a separate post on it soon (after I’ve had a chance to actually read through the thing; in the meantime, here’s an opinion piece of his in The Forward, on how attaching the apartheid label to Israel was not a decision HRW reached lightly).

Rereading my 2014 post, so much of what I wrote then could be repeated almost verbatim today. Quoting myself:

[O]n the Israeli response to the rage in East Jerusalem—of draconian police and army repression, mass arrests and prosecutions of minors, sealing off Arab neighborhoods with concrete blocks, demolishing the homes of the families of terrorists (or anyone the Israelis deem as such; a.k.a. collective punishment), randomly spraying “skunk water” in the eastern part of the city, restricting Muslim access to the Haram al-Sharif, colonizing densely populated Arab quarters with extremist settlers, proposing new “anti-terrorism” laws that will further abuse Palestinians under Israeli rule (including Palestinian citizens of Israel, PCIs), etc, etc—, WTF are Netanyahu & Co.—indeed the entire Israeli right—thinking? How do they imagine this is going to play out? What’s the end game? We’re not talking about Gaza, Jenin, or some place around which the Israelis can build a wall and try to forget about. This is their “eternal” unified capital city, but where close to 40% of the population does not enjoy the rights of citizenship and is hostile to them. And the Palestinians of Jerusalem are devoid of political leadership, with not a single person who can speak in the name of even some of them or serve as an interlocutor with the Israelis. Moreover—and I find this incredible—, the Israelis don’t want Palestinian interlocutors in Jerusalem. They don’t want to negotiate or bargain with the Palestinian residents of the city, to collectively dialogue with or treat them as anything other than barely tolerated interlopers in a city that they, the Israelis, consider to be theirs and theirs only. And the Israelis have absolutely nothing to propose to the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem (except to subtly—or not so subtly—encourage them to emigrate, or just go away). The people who run the state of Israel have become unhinged, point barre (the new state president, Reuven Rivlin, being a notable exception). Again, WTF do they expect to happen? Indian-style communal riots, with rampaging mobs in both communities chauffé à blanc murdering dozens, if not hundreds? And if this comes to pass—an eventuality that one must not exclude—, what then? If anyone who identifies with the Israeli right can give a response to this—to what appears to objective observers to be an irrational fuite en avant on the part of Netanyahu & Co.—, I’m all ears.

Needless to say, I have yet to see any kind of response to this from anyone who considers a unified Jerusalem to be Israel’s eternal capital.

N.B. The Palestinians will never cede on the question of Jerusalem. They will never acquiesce in the Israeli annexation of the eastern part of the city or it being severed from the rest of the West Bank. If there is ever, inshallah, going to be a peace agreement—which we’re not likely to see in our lifetimes—Israel will simply have to yield on East Jerusalem, as not only does it have no legal right to be there (if UNSC resolutions mean anything) but also, as I wrote in 2012, no moral right.

Vincent Lemire, in the interview cited above, makes an observation that Israelis and Israel partisans may not be aware of, which is that Israel is losing the demographic battle in Jerusalem.

[Les Palestiniens] résistent aussi parce que la démographie leur donne raison : il y a aujourd’hui 350 000 Palestiniens à Jérusalem, soit cinq fois plus qu’en 1967 (70 000), alors que la population israélienne n’a pas progressé dans les mêmes proportions (190 000 en 1967, 560 000 aujourd’hui, soit une multiplication par trois).

Et si on se focalise sur la Vieille Ville, cœur historique et religieux de la ville sainte, la résistance démographique palestinienne est encore plus nette : la population juive israélienne représente moins de 10 % de la population totale de la Vieille Ville aujourd’hui.

La colonisation progresse à grands pas en Cisjordanie, mais elle est en échec à Jérusalem, ce qui est insupportable pour l’extrême droite israélienne, qui se cogne à cette réalité à chaque fois que ses Proud Boys tentent de manifester dans les ruelles étroites de la ville historique.

Cette bataille démographique est essentielle parce qu’elle engage toute la société civile, toutes les familles, avec évidemment les femmes en toute première ligne, et parce que la supériorité militaire israélienne n’y peut rien changer.

The Israeli supreme court will hand down its ruling in the coming weeks on the Sheikh Jarrah evictions. If it goes against the Palestinian families, which is likely, there will be an explosion of rage among Palestinians, and not only in Jerusalem. If the ruling is in their favor, the Jewish extreme right will go ballistic. And they’re armed and dangerous. Either way, the consequences will be bad. This thing is only beginning.

Some worthwhile articles by A-list analysts:

Shlomo Ben-Ami in Project Syndicate (May 13th): “The end of Israel’s illusion.”

Mouin Rabbani in Time magazine (May 13th): “Israel-Palestine is a state of permanent conflict punctuated by periodic carnage. Only the watching world can stop it.”

Tareq Baconi in the LRB blog (May 14th): “Sheikh Jarrah and after.”

Natan Sachs in the Brookings Institution blog (May 15th): “The perfect storm for Israelis and Palestinians.”

Dahlia Scheindlin in The Guardian (May 16th): “How did it happen that Israel’s Jews and Arabs rose up against each other?”

To be continued.

UPDATE: Journalist Neri Zilber has a useful ‘7 min read’ (May 13th) in Newlines Magazine, “The war that shouldn’t have been: Israel and Hamas had reached a pragmatic arrangement for years. How it was upended.”

The never uninteresting and invariably incisive Peter Beinart correctly asserts in his Substack newsletter (May 20th) that “If Israel eliminated Hamas, nothing fundamental would change.” Entre autres, he writes:

Today, it’s common to associate Hamas’s militancy with its Islamist ideology. The implication is that if only Islamists were eliminated from the Palestinian political scene, Palestinian politics would grow more moderate and quiescent. But Israeli leaders didn’t always see it that way. Just as US officials once saw Islamists like the Afghan Mujahedeen as less threatening than communists backed by the USSR, Israeli officials once saw Hamas as more pliable than Yasser Arafat’s more secular Fatah. In a recent letter to the editor of The New York Times, former Times’ Jerusalem correspondent David K. Shipler noted that in 1981, Israel’s military governor of Gaza told him that, in Shipler’s words, “he was giving money to the Muslim Brotherhood, the precursor of Hamas, on the instruction of the Israeli authorities. The funding was intended to tilt power away from both Communist and Palestinian nationalist movements in Gaza, which Israel considered more threatening than the fundamentalists.” Oops.

And don’t miss Gershon Baskin’s opinion piece (May 19th) in The Jerusalem Post, “Israel must talk to Hamas to improve the situation in Gaza.”

2nd UPDATE: The Times of Israel’s senior analyst Haviv Rettig Gur has an analysis (May 22nd) that merits reading: “Hamas’s forever war against Israel has a glitch, and it isn’t Iron Dome: Why Hamas promises another war soon, and another and another. And why it won’t work.” The story of the two retired IDF major-generals meeting with Vo Nguyen Giap in Hanoi is interesting. Also the bit about Musa Abu Marzouk’s May 17th interview with RT.

3rd UPDATE: Adam Shatz’s analysis of this latest phase in the Israel-Palestine conflict, “Ghosts in the land,” is up on the LRB website (June 3rd issue). At the end of the piece is a link to Adam’s 45-minute May 21st podcast discussion with Tareq Baconi and Henriette Chacar.

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[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below]

Gaza edition. I watched the destruction of the Al Jalaa tower in Gaza live on Al Jazeera yesterday. In an email sent out shortly afterward—admittedly sous le coup de l’émotion—I wrote that if the Israelis are looking to be hated, they’re doing a helluva job. As reported, the building housed the offices of Al Jazeera, the Associated Press, and other media outlets, plus offices of businesses, lawyers, and doctors, and private residences. The IDF says that Hamas had “military intelligence assets” in the building—with the journalists and other civilians there thus serving, unbeknownst to them, as “human shields”—so was thus a legitimate military target, and with an IDF spokesman on CNN today reminding us that the inhabitants of the building were given an hour’s notice to evacuate before the missiles hit, so that no one would get hurt. How thoughtful of the IDF. As for the evidence of Hamas’s “military intelligence assets,” the Israelis naturally cannot reveal their “intelligence sources and methods…”

Even if Hamas had some kind of military asset in the building—which the media organizations and others would have presumably been aware of—that was no reason to target it. The fact of the matter is, Israel committed an act of state terrorism in destroying the Al Jalaa tower, even if happily no one was killed or injured, as the manifest intent of taking it down was to terrorize and collectively punish the Gaza population for the actions of its rulers, and to shock and awe Hamas in a way the IDF did not succeed in doing in 2014. In a p. 2 article in Le Monde dated May 16-17 and signed by Madjid Zerrouky and Piotr Smolar, “A Gaza, sous les bombardements, la peur et la dévastation,” one reads that other high-rise buildings in Gaza housing media organizations have been destroyed by the Israelis over the past week. Here is a lengthy passage that merits quoting:

Les Gazaouis ont une hantise des immeubles les plus hauts depuis que les forces israéliennes s’emploient à réduire méthodiquement à l’état de gravats ce que les locaux appellent les « tours ». Soit une demi-douzaine d’édifices de plus de dix étages qui se sont effondrés en quelques secondes, endommageant les habitations alentours. Cette fois, les forces israéliennes ont surpris les habitants en ciblant, dès les premières heures du conflit, les infrastructures civiles et commerciales du territoire.

Une quasi-inversion par rapport à leur « calendrier » d’attaques en 2014. Et une nouvelle punition collective pour le poète Omar Salah, 19 ans. Membre de We Are Not Numbers (« Nous ne sommes pas des numéros »), un collectif de jeunes Gazaouis qui ont saisi la plume pour informer le monde et échapper à l’enfermement, il décrivait avec amertume le sort réservé à l’artère commerçante du quartier de Rimal, attaquée le 13 mai. « Rimal est associé à de beaux souvenirs chez tout le monde dans la bande de Gaza. En ces jours d’avant l’Aïd, cet endroit est censé être décoré pour célébrer la fête. Il s’est transformé en cendres grises. »

« C’est un sacrifice pour Jérusalem, Cheikh Jarrah et nos frères palestiniens de l’intérieur. » Malgré sa mauvaise fortune, Ahmed Al-Zaim tentait, lui, de faire bonne figure en posant aux pieds de la carcasse d’« Al-Jawhara », la tour dont il était le propriétaire. Un immeuble de dix étages qui est parti en fumée mercredi 12 mai. Le bâtiment abritait 14 médias, dont le quotidien Palestine Daily News, la chaîne de télévision panarabe Al-Araby ou l’agence photo APA. La veille, la tour « Al-Shourouk » avait subi le même sort. Sept médias, dont ceux du Hamas, y avaient leurs bureaux. L’armée israélienne a affirmé avoir ciblé des stocks d’armes du mouvement islamiste « cachés dans des bâtiments civils ».

« En moins de vingt-quatre heures, Israël a bombardé plus de trois tours qui abritent la plupart des médias locaux et internationaux travaillant à Gaza. C’est alarmant. Israël impose un black-out aux médias pour masquer des crimes de guerre », accuse de son côté Ramy Abdu, président de l’Observatoire euroméditerranéen des droits de l’homme.

Concierge, groupes électrogènes et vue sur la mer… La tour Hanadi, une résidence de 14 étages – le plus haut immeuble de la ville – était, elle, décrite comme un havre de paix et de confort par ses occupants. Quelque 80 familles issues de la classe moyenne et de la bourgeoisie locale ont tout perdu « en un clin d’œil » dans la soirée du 11 mai, selon les dires de l’un de ses habitants, qui, hébétés, s’affairaient le lendemain à récupérer ce qui pouvait l’être au milieu d’un gigantesque amoncellement de décombres : papiers administratifs, jouets des enfants, rideaux ou affaires scolaires…

« J’ai fait aussi l’expérience directe de la première frappe, sur ce qu’on appelle la tour Hanadi. Je la voyais de mon appartement. C’était un peu surréaliste. Effectivement, les habitants avaient été avertis. Sur les réseaux sociaux, l’information a donc circulé que la tour allait être visée », décrit Matthias Schmale, de l’UNWRA. Le gardien de l’immeuble a ainsi été averti au téléphone par un officier israélien. C’est notamment cet échange, filmé, qui a donné l’alerte : « De combien de temps as-tu besoin ? Deux heures, trois heures ? Je vais à l’immeuble pour dire aux gens de ne pas venir et de partir ? (…) Allô. Oui, je suis là. J’écoute. Deux coups avec un drone, puis vous frappez la tour… »

A Beit Lahya, dans le nord de l’enclave, la famille Al-Tanani n’a pas eu la chance d’être contactée. « Elle a complètement été effacée des registres de l’état civil palestinien », note l’universitaire Shadi Fakhri Jabr. Il a fallu plusieurs heures, jeudi, aux membres de la sécurité civile, armés de simples pioches, pour dégager des décombres de leur maison les corps de Rawiya, 37 ans, son époux Mohamed, 39 ans, et de leurs quatre enfants âgés de 4 à 7 ans.

« Les Israéliens préviennent parfois les habitants, mais ils frappent aussi sans avertissement. C’est la loterie. Et les barrages d’artillerie peuvent être si intenses que nos ambulances, qui n’hésitent pourtant pas à aller au feu, atteignent parfois difficilement les blessés. Dans le nord, ce sont des quartiers entiers qui sont touchés, dénonce le docteur Ahmad Mohana, directeur de l’hôpital Al-Awda, qui a la douloureuse impression que le sort s’acharne sur son établissement. Le secteur médical était déjà dans une situation critique : le résultat de quatorze années de siège imposé à la bande de Gaza. Nous venons de subir de plein fouet l’épidémie de Covid-19. Et maintenant, cette guerre… »

All the lives and livelihoods shattered, in addition to those lost. This is an outrage and for which Israel, as the perpetrator, is rather manifestly responsible. Hamas may have initiated hostilities with its unprovoked rocket attacks beginning a week ago but Israel was not obliged to respond militarily, particularly with 90% of the rockets being intercepted by the Iron Dome—which both sides knew would happen—and most of the rest falling harmlessly. Hamas may be playing a cynical game—and committing war crimes while it’s at it—but Israel is not obliged to fall into its trap. And as for Hamas’s cynical game, it may be summed up in the title of a must-read analysis by Le Monde’s Benjamin Barthe and Louis Imbert: “Le Hamas veut imposer à Israël un nouveau rapport de force: Le mouvement islamiste réalise pour l’instant une opération politique payante. Dans l’opinion publique palestinienne, son initiative est saluée comme un sursaut d’orgueil salutaire, un réveil de la résistance à l’occupation israélienne.”

So that’s it: Hamas is seeking to sweep aside a deliquescent Palestinian Authority and impose itself as the dominant Palestinian actor, vis-à-vis Israel and everyone else, and which would most certainly win an election in the West Bank-Gaza (which will have to happen sooner or later). And thanks to Israel, and Benjamin Netanyahu in particular, Hamas will likely succeed.

As for the other side of the equation, two pertinent articles from 2019 have been reposted on social media of late, one in Foreign Affairs by Aaron David Miller, “Israel and Hamas need each other;” the other in the Forward by Gaza writer and columnist Muhammad Shehada, “You know who wants Netanyahu to win? Hamas.” If the latter was the case in 2019, it is equally so in 2021. Hamas wants Netanyahu to remain in power and for his government to lurch even further to the extreme right—and with the inevitable consequences on the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and among Palestinian citizens of Israel. And it will likely succeed. Helluva job, Bibi.

To be continued.

UPDATE: Voilà the page 2 article in Le Monde dated May 18th: “Dimanche à Gaza, le massacre de la rue Wehda.” In The Washington Post’s dispatch (May 17th) on the Wehda Street massacre, and the 17 members of the extended family killed by Israeli missiles, is this:

The [IDF’s] operation is the first test of a new “victory concept” espoused by Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, Israel’s chief of staff. It aims to turn the Israeli military into what one Israeli Defense Forces document describes as a “significantly more lethal, networked war machine that can destroy enemy capabilities in record time and with the lowest possible casualties” and to shift away from the old methods known as “mowing the lawn” — military campaigns that buy a little respite — to more decisive victories. Part of it is adapting to more quickly identify targets in dense urban areas such as Gaza. “This,” Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesman, said in a recent briefing, “is the doctrine and concept being applied.”

For those in the city, it has felt as if there is no escape.

Also in Le Monde is an interview with Hagai El-Ad, the executive director of B’Tselem, in which he submits: “Il faut se demander si la véritable intention de tels assauts [par Israël] n’est pas de brutaliser la population civile.”

2nd UPDATE: The well-known Israeli journalist and specialist of Palestinian affairs (and co-creator of the series ‘Fauda’), Avi Isaacharoff, seeks to set the record straight in a Twitter thread (May 17th) “For the ones who forgot some facts about the war in Gaza.”

3rd UPDATE: Historian Martin Kramer has seen fit to repost on Twitter a 2006 blog post of his, “Hamas of the intellectuals,” the subject of which is the dim views of Edward Said of the Palestinian Islamist organization and the secular intellectuals who apologize for it.

4th UPDATE: Gerson Baskin, the well-known peace activist and founder of the Jerusalem-based Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information—and who has dialogued with Hamas officials—has this comment (May 12th) on his Facebook page:

I don’t know about you, but I am quite amazed by the military capabilities of Hamas. Gaza has been under siege since 2005. From around 2014 the smuggling tunnels between Sinai and Gaza were destroyed by the Egyptians. Israel controls almost everything that enters Gaza, there are strong limitations on materials which are called “dual usage” meaning that they have a civilian use and a potential military use which are not allowed into Gaza. With all those limitations, let’s admit it – Hamas has developed an enormous quantity of short- and long-range rockets which are of a much higher quality than ever before. They have demonstrated the ability to launch up to 100 rockets in a very short period of time. The Engineering faculty of the Islamic University in Gaza must have really focused the studies and military applications of the students in the past years. By the way, if I remember correctly, the building of the Engineering faculty was built with money from USAID. I visited there once back in 2007. With that, it is important to consider what could have been done for the people of Gaza if Hamas had employed all of that enterprising genius in the development of housing, schools, hospitals, high-tech startups and more. I imagine that many Palestinians feel some sense of pride in the military abilities demonstrated by Hamas against mighty Israel. I can understand that, but please take a minute and consider what could have been developed instead of those rockets.

A question I’ve been asking (rhetorically) for years: if Hamas wants to end the Israeli blockade of Gaza, why doesn’t it simply announce that it accepts the three principles of the Middle East Quartet? Seriously.

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Le 10 mai 1981. It is, as Thomas Legrand reminded us on France Inter this morning, the only election that everyone in France remembers by its full date: day, month, and year. For on that day—today being the 40th anniversary—François Mitterrand won the 2nd round of the presidential election, bringing the left to power for the first time in 23 years—and following the legislative elections the following month, enabling the left to govern without non-left coalition partners for pretty much the first time ever (even the Popular Front in 1936 included centrist Radicals). Every Frenchman and woman with the slightest political consciousness who was around on that day remembers where s/he was and how s/he felt. And for those on the left, the feeling was exhilaration.

As for moi, I wrote about the 10 mai 1981 on the 30th anniversary—in AWAV’s early days—and offered my bilan of Mitterrand’s fourteen years in the Élysée, which one may consult here. I wouldn’t modify anything I wrote then, except maybe on the Maastricht treaty (which I would now not put in the negative column). But my overall assessment of Mitterrand is now darker, with the publication in March of the report of the commission headed by Vincent Duclert and submitted to President Macron, on France, Rwanda, and the genocide of the Tutsis in 1994, and what French archives reveal on this. It’s a damning indictment of Mitterrand’s role, of continuing to support the Hutu regime even as the genocide was underway, refusing to recognize that what was happening was indeed a genocide, and of his atavistic obsession—shared by part of the French military hierarchy—with an imagined “Anglo-Saxon” (i.e. American and British) threat to the French position in Africa, and which Paul Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front was seen as the spearhead. Mitterrand’s attitude toward Rwanda in 1994 is not news but that he was afflicted with the Fashoda complex to this extent—of viewing the USA and UK, otherwise French allies, as adversaries, if not enemies—is striking, not to mention disappointing (for more on this, watch the interview with Vincent Duclert here).

The 10 mai 1981 is of course being marked today, with the usual reportages, documentaries, talk shows, and the like. The reaction of Boomer generation lefties is bittersweet, as in 1981 the left was a political and social force—constituting half the electorate, or close to it—with an ideology, a political program, and hopes for the future and a better life for all. Today the French left is a champs de ruine: a pile of rubble, speaking for at best a third of the electorate, structurally fractured, with no credible program or leaders, and with no hope of qualifying for the 2nd round of next year’s presidential election—or winning any national election in the foreseeable future. And in the PS at least, no one has any illusions about this. The French left is hardly alone here (cf. England, Spain, Italy). I have some things to say on this general subject—of the structural decline of the left in Europe (the USA is a different matter)—and will do so at the opportune moment. In the meantime, here are the thoughts on the anniversary by my friend Guillaume Duval, director of Alternatives Économiques, posted on his Facebook page, and who has not lost hope.

Le 10 mai 1981, il y a 40 ans et j’en avais 24. J’étais déjà cependant un “vieux” militant socialiste puisque j’avais rejoint ce parti en 1973, 2 ans après le congrès d’Epinay qui avait vu sa refondation.

On aurait tort de croire toutefois que les dix années qui séparent Epinay et le 10 mai 1981 ont été une marche triomphale vers la victoire. En 1981 la gauche a gagné bien qu’elle soit profondément divisée. Depuis 1978 c’était la guerre totale entre le Parti communiste (encore très puissant à l’époque) et le Parti socialiste. Et au sein même du Parti socialiste c’était la guerre civile pratiquement aussi totale entre mitterrandistes et rocardiens.

Mais après 16 années de gaullisme conservateur, autoritaire et affairiste (l’image généralement positive qu’a désormais acquis le gaullisme à gauche a de quoi faire sourire celles et ceux qui ont vécu cette période), après 7 ans d’un giscardisme très proche idéologiquement de ce qu’Emmanuel Macron nous inflige actuellement (même si Giscard était plus progressiste qu’Emmanuel Macron sur les sujets de société) la volonté de changement du peuple français a quand même été plus forte que les profondes divisions de la gauche.

Pour ma part, bien que n’ayant jamais été mitterrandiste et connaissant déjà toutes les ambiguïtés du personnage, je m’étais engagé à fond, comme jamais depuis, dans cette campagne. Et je ne le regrette pas. Il fallait aérer le pays, rompre avec ce carcan, bourgeois, conservateur, bien pensant et policier qui nous étouffait.

Même si très vite, dès 1983, appuyé sur l’énarchie qui avait déjà phagocyté les cercles dirigeants du Parti Socialiste, ce qu’on n’appelait pas encore à l’époque le social-libéralisme (que j’ai combattu dès le départ) a triomphé. Faisant ainsi qu’au final les 2 septennats de François Mitterrand ont eu surtout comme fonction historique de rétablir les profits des entreprises qui avaient fondu dans les années 1970 sous Giscard et Chirac…

40 ans plus tard le cycle ouvert avec la rénovation du Parti socialiste (que j’ai pour ma part quitté depuis bientôt trente ans à la fin d’un second septennat de Francois Mitterrand marqué par tant d’affaires sordides) est manifestement terminé.

C’est grâce en particulier à Emmanuel Macron qu’il s’est clos : avec lui la chenille du social-liberalisme énarchique qui avait progressivement dévoré le Parti socialiste s’est muée en papillon d’une nouvelle droite aussi autoritaire que les Pasqua, Poniatowski ou Sarkozy, plus favorable encore que toutes les droites classiques aux plus riches et nettement plus antisociale encore que tous les Chirac, Sarkozy, Giscard et Barre réunis…

Est-ce que la gauche, enfin débarrassée de ces parasites qui la rongeaient de l’intérieur, régénérée par le logiciel écologiste, peut revivre, et cela dès 2022 ? Le pari est évidemment très loin d’être gagné d’avance. Mais toutes celles et tous ceux qui ont vécu la période profondément démoralisante de 1978-1981 (ou celle tout aussi déprimante de 1993-1997) savent aussi qu’il n’est pas non plus nécessairement perdu d’avance. D’autant qu’ils savent également ce qu’une victoire de l’extrême droite impliquerait. Pas une minute à perdre.

On the occasion of the 40th anniversary, France 5 aired a one-hour documentary yesterday, “Henri Weber, le rouge et la rose.” Henri Weber, who died of Covid last year, was a major figure on the French left of the past five decades: in May ’68, then the Trotskyist LCR, before joining the PS in the 1980s, converting to social-democracy, and becoming a personality in the party leadership and one of its intellectuals. For the anecdote, I had the opportunity to speak with him on the phone in 2017—a mutual friend put me in touch—to seek his help in organizing a visit for one of my classes (American students) to PS HQ on Rue de Solférino. He was warm and friendly and made the visit happen. A good man (and with good politics). The documentary may be watched for the next month here.

UPDATE: From INA: Revivez en direct la soirée électorale du 10 mai 1981 (h/t Guillaume Duval). N.B. Jean-Pierre Elkabbach and Alain Duhamel are still around and on TV regularly (I’ve seen both in the past two weeks).

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Places of Mind

[update below]

For any left-leaning, intellectually-inclined American of my generation and with an interest in the Middle East, Edward Said was a reference. Eighteen years after his death, he finally has a biography—more-or-less authorized—authored (naturally) by a protégé, Timothy Brennan, a professor of cultural studies, comparative literature, and English at the University of Minnesota. The book has received the expected attention, with four excellent reviews—that I’ve read so far, at least—the most excellent of them the 9,000-word essay by my dear friend Adam Shatz—who knew Said personally—in the May 6th issue of the London Review of Books. If you read just one review of Brennan’s book, let it be Adam’s.

The other reviews are the smart and always interesting Pankaj Mishra’s in the April 26th-May 3rd issue of The New Yorker, Thomas Meaney (smart historian) in the New Statesman, and Sameer Rahim in Prospect magazine (of which he is managing editor; titled “the confusions of Edward Said,” this one isn’t too sympathetic).

I never personally met Said, though saw him speak three or four times in the early-mid ’80s (in New York and Chicago) and was a fan of his through that decade, after which I became critical of some of his public positions, e.g. over the 1991 Gulf War, with him opposing the US-led international coalition but me supporting. And I was not in agreement with his harsh critique of the Oslo Accords, which I strongly favored at the time—how could one be against peace between the Israelis and Palestinians?—but had to acknowledge later that Said was not totally wrong on this one. But despite my political disenchantment with Said, I enjoyed reading his columns in Al-Ahram Weekly in the latter part of the ’90s and to his death in 2003. Agree with him or not, he was a brilliant writer and so erudite.

À propos, watching Said debate Fouad Ajami on the PBS MacNeil/Lehrer Report in 1985 during the War of the Camps in Lebanon (Shias vs. Palestinians), a fellow U of Chicago MENA-focused graduate student friend and I marveled afterward at how these two Middle Eastern Arab academic intellectuals possessed a greater command of the English language than just about any of their educated American counterparts. Both were very impressive.

As for Said’s 20-25 books, I will admit to having only read five. Two of the early ones, The Question of Palestine and Covering Islam, I read around the time they came out and liked both, though my assessment would likely be different today (particularly in regard to the latter). My favorite book by Said was his memoir Out of Place, of his childhood and adolescence, which, in addition to being an engaging read, gave deep insights into the man, his family and milieu, and of life in Cairo and Lebanon (and a bit in Jerusalem) in the 1940s and early ’50s. It’s absolutely worth the read.

As for Orientalism, I first read it early on but not in a serious way. I was generally uncritical of its theses, though felt that Bernard Lewis got the better of the exchange with Said over the book (in the pages of the NYRB in 1982), and this when I was far more politically sympathetic to Said than to Lewis (not that I ever gained sympathy for the latter). In the early ’00s (after 9/11), I decided that I really needed to read it again and seriously, so proposed it to my U of Chicago alumni reading group here in Paris. I will simply say that I strongly disliked the book and downright hated its chapter 3, and particularly the latter part, of Said’s broadside against contemporary (to the 1970s) American social science—and political science above all—on the Middle East (these pages of my copy are covered with marginal comments—e.g. Rubbish! Bullshit!—and exclamation/question marks signifying incredulity). I proclaimed to my reading group friends that Said was way outside his domain of specialization in chapter 3 and simply did not know WTF he was talking about. The critiques of Orientalism by its many detractors were correct. Case closed.

In his essay, Adam mentions the negative reception of Orientalism by intellectuals in the Arab world, citing the case of Sadiq Jalal al-Azm. The article to read on this is Emmanuel Sivan, “Edward Said and His Arab Reviewers,” Jerusalem Quarterly 35 (Spring 1985).

UPDATE: Adam Shatz discusses “Edward Said and Palestine” (May 13th) with historian and journalist Jon Wiener in a 20-minute podcast hosted by The Nation magazine.

Verso’s blog has an unsigned post (May 11th), “A tale of two books: A biographical controversy concerning a new life of Edward Said,” the controversy being over Said’s longtime extra-marital relationship with Dominique Eddé and how Timothy Brennan dealt with that in his book.

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[update below]

I’ve been following the media reports and seeing the images as has everyone—plus the announcements on social media by persons I follow or see of loved ones or friends in India who have died of Covid. If one hasn’t already, do take the time to read Arundhati Roy’s ‘long read’ article in The Guardian, “We are witnessing a crime against humanity.” The lede: “It’s hard to convey the full depth and range of the trauma, the chaos and the indignity that people are being subjected to. Meanwhile, Narendra Modi and his allies are telling us not to complain.” I can do without Roy’s commentaries on geopolitics but she is very good when writing about her own country. E.g., this:

As this epic catastrophe plays out on our Modi-aligned Indian television channels, you’ll notice how they all speak in one tutored voice. The “system” has collapsed, they say, again and again. The virus has overwhelmed India’s health care “system”.

The system has not collapsed. The “system” barely existed. The government – this one, as well as the Congress government that preceded it – deliberately dismantled what little medical infrastructure there was. This is what happens when a pandemic hits a country with an almost nonexistent public healthcare system. India spends about 1.25% of its gross domestic product on health, far lower than most countries in the world, even the poorest ones. Even that figure is thought to be inflated, because things that are important but do not strictly qualify as healthcare have been slipped into it. So the real figure is estimated to be more like 0.34%. The tragedy is that in this devastatingly poor country, as a 2016 Lancet study shows, 78% of the healthcare in urban areas and 71% in rural areas is now handled by the private sector. The resources that remain in the public sector are systematically siphoned into the private sector by a nexus of corrupt administrators and medical practitioners, corrupt referrals and insurance rackets.

Healthcare is a fundamental right. The private sector will not cater to starving, sick, dying people who don’t have money. This massive privatisation of India’s healthcare is a crime.

On the sidebar at the end of Roy’s essay is a link to a report by The Guardian’s Delhi correspondent Hannah Ellis-Petersen, “‘The system has collapsed’: India’s descent into Covid hell.”

On the state of India’s social safety net, journalist and writer Vidya Krishnan—who has covered health and science there for some twenty years, including as the health editor for the daily newspaper The Hindu—explains in The Atlantic that “India is what happens when rich people do nothing: The chamber of horrors the country now finds itself in was not caused by any one man, or any single government.” Money quote:

What is evident, however, is that we suffer from moral malnutrition—none of us more so than the rich, the upper class, the upper caste of India. And nowhere is this more evident than in the health-care sector.

India’s economic liberalization in the ’90s brought with it a rapid expansion of the private health-care industry, a shift that ultimately created a system of medical apartheid: World-class private hospitals catered to wealthy Indians and medical tourists from abroad; state-run facilities were for the poor. Those with money were able to purchase the best available care (or, in the case of the absolute richest, flee to safety in private jets), while elsewhere the country’s health-care infrastructure was held together with duct tape. The Indians who bought their way to a healthier life did not, or chose not to, see the widening gulf. Today, they are clutching their pearls as their loved ones fail to get ambulances, doctors, medicine, and oxygen.

At the top of the NYT webpage today is an article titled “Deaths mount at an Indian hospital after oxygen runs out,” which reminds me that a great uncle of mine died at a hospital in Bombay in the 1990s because, needing oxygen, the tank he was provided was empty. My grandmother also died of malpractice in an Indian hospital in the early 1960s. If medical care in that country is such for the middle class, one can imagine what it is for the poor,

Mumbai-based researcher, writer, journalist, and strategy consultant Vivek Y. Kelkar has a report in the Substack newsletter The Cosmopolitan Globalist—that he is co-editor of and with which I am informally associated—”Covid19 brings chaos and horror to the Subcontinent: India thought it had escaped the worst. It was wrong.”

Don’t miss the Financial Times’ ‘free to read’ article by writer and columnist Ramachandra Guha, “The unmaking of India: The country’s catastrophic Covid response has exposed a creeping erosion of democratic values and traditions under Modi.”

À suivre.

UPDATE: Writing in Project Syndicate (May 4th), Brahma Chellaney, who is a professor of Strategic Studies at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi, critiques “The lurid Orientalism of Western media.” The lede: “By trafficking in images of death, suffering, and private acts of mourning, Western media coverage of the COVID-19 crisis in India has broken one of the first rules of journalism. And while a Western double standard is nothing new, applying it repeatedly does not make it more acceptable.” Among other things. Chellaney takes issue with the circulation of images such as the one above of the funeral pyre.

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Biden’s 100 days

[update below] [2nd update below]

It’s become banal to say how pleasantly surprised we are by him—by his rhetoric and actions—since he took the oath of office on January 20th. By “we” I refer to those of us who supported Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders and were dismissive of Biden and his candidacy before he suddenly, contre toute attente, surged in March 2020 and then clinched the nomination in April. And while we warmed to him over the subsequent months, not too many had high hopes of what he would or could set out to achieve once elected. Being rid of Trump was almost enough.

Progressives’ pleasant surprise of the past three months has literally transformed into gushing enthusiasm since Biden’s address to Congress on Wednesday, with even the most Biden-skeptic gauchistes giving the speech the thumbs way up on social media. In my social media world, there is now a near total consensus that, in economic and social policy, Sleepy Joe is indeed the Real Deal.

The title of an article by Anand Giridharadas in The Atlantic (April 14th) summed up the matter: “Welcome to the new progressive era: Progressives thought they knew what a Biden presidency would look like. How did they get him so wrong?” It begins:

Washington in the first days of the Biden administration is a place for double takes: A president associated with the politics of austerity is spending money with focused gusto, a crisis isn’t going to waste, and Senator Bernie Sanders is happy.

People like to tell you they saw things coming. But as I talked to many of the campers in Joe Biden’s big tent, particularly those who, like me, were skeptical of Biden, I found that the overwhelming sentiment was surprise. Few of us expected that this president—given his record, a knife’s-edge Congress, and a crisis that makes it hard to look an inch beyond one’s nose—would begin to be talked about as, potentially, transformational.

If there are any doubts as to the Biden administration’s progressive cred, see the piece (April 28th) in the People’s World—the more or less official organ of the CPUSA, in Popular Front mode these days—by its editor-in-chief, “Biden to unveil proposals for radical reform of the economy.” John Bachtell, former CPUSA chairman (2014-19) and a contemporary of mine in college (we were dorm neighbors, took a seminar together on the thought of Antonio Gramsci, and talked/debated/sparred over politics), thus introduced it on Facebook:

When you take all of the Biden Administration accomplishments and initiatives so far – the American Rescue Plan and tackling the coronavirus, the hundred or so executive orders affecting policy across the board, the American Jobs Plan, and commitment to radically transform energy production, transport, and other sectors to reduce GGH by 50%, shifting the tax burden to the wealthy, the diverse cabinet and its connections to mass democratic movements, and now the American Families Plan – we are talking about a potentially transformative era in U.S. history perhaps not seen since the Civil Rights era, Great Depression, and Reconstruction. Not to speak of the democratic reforms contemplated by Biden and the Democratic-led Congress, i.e., the ProAct, For the People Act, Citizenship Act, LGBTQ Equality Act, and DC Statehood. It’s an agenda that’s desperately needed and can unite a majority of the country, and the broad political left and center. But unless it passes, all may be for naught and this illustrates the urgency of the mass democratic movements to unite behind the agenda. Winning it will also open new space for wider and more radical economic and political reforms. My colleague John Wojcik lays it out here.

The CPUSA’s French counterpart, the PCF, is on the same page:

Fox News will have a field day with this if they find out about it but that’s okay. C’est la bonne guerre.

One observer who foresaw Biden’s progressive shift over a year ago is Peter Suderman, an editor at the right-leaning libertarian Reason, who had a commentary dated March 4, 2020, “Joe Biden is no moderate: [He] is a classic big-government liberal,” which I linked to in a post at the time. It’s a premonitory analysis and worth (re)reading.

Also worth reading is John F. Harris’ post-speech commentary in Politico, “Biden just gave the most ideologically ambitious speech of any Democratic president in generations: With his vow to spend money on blue-cotllar jobs and tax the rich, Biden’s program aims to splinter the Trump Coalition.”

As for what President Biden’s predecessor—whom Twitter so thankfully cancelled—is up to these days, this has been making the rounds on social media:

Biden may deserve a grade of A so far on economic and social policy but on foreign policy he gets but a B (I’ll raise it when he reverses Trump’s actions on Iran and Cuba). And while I’m taking a wait-and-see attitude on immigration, so far I give him a B–/C+. More on that soon.

UPDATE: Robert Reich has a typically spot-on commentary (May 2nd) in The Guardian, “The first 100 days of Biden were also the first 100 without Trump – that’s telling: The new president is benefiting not just from bold proposals and actions but from his predecessor’s catastrophic record.”

2nd UPDATE: James Traub writes in Foreign Policy (May 7th) that “America is becoming a social democracy: The Biden administration is accomplishing what was once thought historically impossible.”

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