Sunday, June 7, 2009

Why can’t a Muslim Woman Marry a non-Muslim Man?

I have not been able to write in a while, but I had no idea that it has been this long! My last posts was way back in January. Anyhow, hopefully I will start blogging again.

Here are some quick thoughts I had; thought I'd pen them down in this blog before I lost my motivation to write, which has happened rather frequently the past few months.

Islam's Prohibition of Muslim Women Marrying Non-Muslim Men

A friend had called and told me that an interesting topic on Muslim women was being debated on the BBC show - The Doha Debates. I only managed to catch the last 20 mins of the debate - should Muslim women be allowed to marry non-Muslim men - but it was sufficient for me to get at gist of the topic. At the end, over 60% of the audience voted that Muslim women should be allowed to marry non-Muslim men. It was not defined exactly what "allowed" translated into - but I imagine it entailed broad societal acceptance.

I would sure like to know the exact make-up of the audience - it appeared to me from the audience speakers that there were quite a bit of young Muslim people (both men and women from various countries) so the high percentage was notable.

Towards the end of the debate, a Muslim girl from the audience very eloquently explained why Muslim women, who have been raised in Muslim households and educated, are intelligent enough, and should be trusted to make the right decision without facing any opposition from their families. It all sounded very positive.

Only this fact still remained: a Muslim woman who was raised and educated in a Muslim household, would also know very well that no less than the Quran (2:221) states that believing Muslim women should not marry non-Muslim men until the men become believers (Muslims) themselves - ie. belief in the Oneness of God and the message of the Prophet.

One of the minimum requirements of Muslim belief is the acceptance of the Quran - words of God. Surely, these individual(s) based on their own desiresdo not want Muslim society to be forced to alter the word of God? How presumptuous? But that is exactly what is happening all around, on a variety of issues from drinking of alcohol to homosexuality. All of it in an effort to be humanistic, and all-accepting. As if one cannot be that while still retaining to your concept of the truth. People who do not practice the religion, but vehemently claim the label for themselves do nothing but corrode the essence of relgion.

This isn't about being too rigid, or old-fashioned. It is simply this - if one chooses to be a Muslim, to have conscious acceptance, then one also has the responsibility to accept and try to live a life based on its dictates. Not every believing Muslim would be unfailing in this endeavour - I am no exception - but at least believing Muslims should have the decency to not force or demand that a wrong (religiously speaking) be turned into a right to bolster one's individual divergent choice.

Not every single individual act needs the seal of approval from the larger society. If approval is needed, seek it elsewhere where it is to be found.

An interesting article by one of the speakers at the debate: Yasir Qadhi

Monday, January 19, 2009

An Article Worth Reading: Oxford University Professor Avi Shlaim on Gaza War

I came across this article sometime ago. It was published at the Guardian Online on Jan. 7, 2009. I meant to put it up because I thought it was a good article worth the time to read. The writer is an Israeli, an ex-IDF personnel, and someone who had actually fought in Israel's wars. He is now a professor at a top university in the UK. His conclusions bear attention....

How Israel brought Gaza to the Brink of Humanitarian Catastrophe
By Avi Shlaim, Oxford University Professor of International Relations

The only way to make sense of Israel's senseless war in Gaza is through understanding the historical context. Establishing the state of Israel in May 1948 involved a monumental injustice to the Palestinians. British officials bitterly resented American partisanship on behalf of the infant state. On 2 June 1948, Sir John Troutbeck wrote to the foreign secretary, Ernest Bevin, that the Americans were responsible for the creation of a gangster state headed by "an utterly unscrupulous set of leaders". I used to think that this judgment was too harsh but Israel's vicious assault on the people of Gaza, and the Bush administration's complicity in this assault, have reopened the question.

I write as someone who served loyally in the Israeli army in the mid-1960s and who has never questioned the legitimacy of the state of Israel within its pre-1967 borders. What I utterly reject is the Zionist colonial project beyond the Green Line. The Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the aftermath of the June 1967 war had very little to do with security and everything to do with territorial expansionism. The aim was to establish Greater Israel through permanent political, economic and military control over the Palestinian territories. And the result has been one of the most prolonged and brutal military occupations of modern times.

Four decades of Israeli control did incalculable damage to the economy of the Gaza Strip. With a large population of 1948 refugees crammed into a tiny strip of land, with no infrastructure or natural resources, Gaza's prospects were never bright. Gaza, however, is not simply a case of economic under-development but a uniquely cruel case of deliberate de-development. To use the Biblical phrase, Israel turned the people of Gaza into the hewers of wood and the drawers of water, into a source of cheap labour and a captive market for Israeli goods. The development of local industry was actively impeded so as to make it impossible for the Palestinians to end their subordination to Israel and to establish the economic underpinnings essential for real political independence.

Gaza is a classic case of colonial exploitation in the post-colonial era. Jewish settlements in occupied territories are immoral, illegal and an insurmountable obstacle to peace. They are at once the instrument of exploitation and the symbol of the hated occupation. In Gaza, the Jewish settlers numbered only 8,000 in 2005 compared with 1.4 million local residents. Yet the settlers controlled 25% of the territory, 40% of the arable land and the lion's share of the scarce water resources. Cheek by jowl with these foreign intruders, the majority of the local population lived in abject poverty and unimaginable misery. Eighty per cent of them still subsist on less than $2 a day. The living conditions in the strip remain an affront to civilised values, a powerful precipitant to resistance and a fertile breeding ground for political extremism.

In August 2005 a Likud government headed by Ariel Sharon staged a unilateral Israeli pullout from Gaza, withdrawing all 8,000 settlers and destroying the houses and farms they had left behind. Hamas, the Islamic resistance movement, conducted an effective campaign to drive the Israelis out of Gaza. The withdrawal was a humiliation for the Israeli Defence Forces. To the world, Sharon presented the withdrawal from Gaza as a contribution to peace based on a two-state solution. But in the year after, another 12,000 Israelis settled on the West Bank, further reducing the scope for an independent Palestinian state. Land-grabbing and peace-making are simply incompatible. Israel had a choice and it chose land over peace.

The real purpose behind the move was to redraw unilaterally the borders of Greater Israel by incorporating the main settlement blocs on the West Bank to the state of Israel. Withdrawal from Gaza was thus not a prelude to a peace deal with the Palestinian Authority but a prelude to further Zionist expansion on the West Bank. It was a unilateral Israeli move undertaken in what was seen, mistakenly in my view, as an Israeli national interest. Anchored in a fundamental rejection of the Palestinian national identity, the withdrawal from Gaza was part of a long-term effort to deny the Palestinian people any independent political existence on their land.

Israel's settlers were withdrawn but Israeli soldiers continued to control all access to the Gaza Strip by land, sea and air. Gaza was converted overnight into an open-air prison. From this point on, the Israeli air force enjoyed unrestricted freedom to drop bombs, to make sonic booms by flying low and breaking the sound barrier, and to terrorise the hapless inhabitants of this prison.

Israel likes to portray itself as an island of democracy in a sea of authoritarianism. Yet Israel has never in its entire history done anything to promote democracy on the Arab side and has done a great deal to undermine it. Israel has a long history of secret collaboration with reactionary Arab regimes to suppress Palestinian nationalism. Despite all the handicaps, the Palestinian people succeeded in building the only genuine democracy in the Arab world with the possible exception of Lebanon. In January 2006, free and fair elections for the Legislative Council of the Palestinian Authority brought to power a Hamas-led government. Israel, however, refused to recognise the democratically elected government, claiming that Hamas is purely and simply a terrorist organisation.

America and the EU shamelessly joined Israel in ostracising and demonising the Hamas government and in trying to bring it down by withholding tax revenues and foreign aid. A surreal situation thus developed with a significant part of the international community imposing economic sanctions not against the occupier but against the occupied, not against the oppressor but against the oppressed.

As so often in the tragic history of Palestine, the victims were blamed for their own misfortunes. Israel's propaganda machine persistently purveyed the notion that the Palestinians are terrorists, that they reject coexistence with the Jewish state, that their nationalism is little more than antisemitism, that Hamas is just a bunch of religious fanatics and that Islam is incompatible with democracy. But the simple truth is that the Palestinian people are a normal people with normal aspirations. They are no better but they are no worse than any other national group. What they aspire to, above all, is a piece of land to call their own on which to live in freedom and dignity.

Like other radical movements, Hamas began to moderate its political programme following its rise to power. From the ideological rejectionism of its charter, it began to move towards pragmatic accommodation of a two-state solution. In March 2007, Hamas and Fatah formed a national unity government that was ready to negotiate a long-term ceasefire with Israel. Israel, however, refused to negotiate with a government that included Hamas.

It continued to play the old game of divide and rule between rival Palestinian factions. In the late 1980s, Israel had supported the nascent Hamas in order to weaken Fatah, the secular nationalist movement led by Yasser Arafat. Now Israel began to encourage the corrupt and pliant Fatah leaders to overthrow their religious political rivals and recapture power. Aggressive American neoconservatives participated in the sinister plot to instigate a Palestinian civil war. Their meddling was a major factor in the collapse of the national unity government and in driving Hamas to seize power in Gaza in June 2007 to pre-empt a Fatah coup.

The war unleashed by Israel on Gaza on 27 December was the culmination of a series of clashes and confrontations with the Hamas government. In a broader sense, however, it is a war between Israel and the Palestinian people, because the people had elected the party to power. The declared aim of the war is to weaken Hamas and to intensify the pressure until its leaders agree to a new ceasefire on Israel's terms. The undeclared aim is to ensure that the Palestinians in Gaza are seen by the world simply as a humanitarian problem and thus to derail their struggle for independence and statehood.

The timing of the war was determined by political expediency. A general election is scheduled for 10 February and, in the lead-up to the election, all the main contenders are looking for an opportunity to prove their toughness. The army top brass had been champing at the bit to deliver a crushing blow to Hamas in order to remove the stain left on their reputation by the failure of the war against Hezbollah in Lebanon in July 2006. Israel's cynical leaders could also count on apathy and impotence of the pro-western Arab regimes and on blind support from President Bush in the twilight of his term in the White House. Bush readily obliged by putting all the blame for the crisis on Hamas, vetoing proposals at the UN Security Council for an immediate ceasefire and issuing Israel with a free pass to mount a ground invasion of Gaza.

As always, mighty Israel claims to be the victim of Palestinian aggression but the sheer asymmetry of power between the two sides leaves little room for doubt as to who is the real victim. This is indeed a conflict between David and Goliath but the Biblical image has been inverted - a small and defenceless Palestinian David faces a heavily armed, merciless and overbearing Israeli Goliath. The resort to brute military force is accompanied, as always, by the shrill rhetoric of victimhood and a farrago of self-pity overlaid with self-righteousness. In Hebrew this is known as the syndrome of bokhim ve-yorim, "crying and shooting".

To be sure, Hamas is not an entirely innocent party in this conflict. Denied the fruit of its electoral victory and confronted with an unscrupulous adversary, it has resorted to the weapon of the weak - terror. Militants from Hamas and Islamic Jihad kept launching Qassam rocket attacks against Israeli settlements near the border with Gaza until Egypt brokered a six-month ceasefire last June. The damage caused by these primitive rockets is minimal but the psychological impact is immense, prompting the public to demand protection from its government. Under the circumstances, Israel had the right to act in self-defence but its response to the pinpricks of rocket attacks was totally disproportionate. The figures speak for themselves. In the three years after the withdrawal from Gaza, 11 Israelis were killed by rocket fire. On the other hand, in 2005-7 alone, the IDF killed 1,290 Palestinians in Gaza, including 222 children.

Whatever the numbers, killing civilians is wrong. This rule applies to Israel as much as it does to Hamas, but Israel's entire record is one of unbridled and unremitting brutality towards the inhabitants of Gaza. Israel also maintained the blockade of Gaza after the ceasefire came into force which, in the view of the Hamas leaders, amounted to a violation of the agreement. During the ceasefire, Israel prevented any exports from leaving the strip in clear violation of a 2005 accord, leading to a sharp drop in employment opportunities. Officially, 49.1% of the population is unemployed. At the same time, Israel restricted drastically the number of trucks carrying food, fuel, cooking-gas canisters, spare parts for water and sanitation plants, and medical supplies to Gaza. It is difficult to see how starving and freezing the civilians of Gaza could protect the people on the Israeli side of the border. But even if it did, it would still be immoral, a form of collective punishment that is strictly forbidden by international humanitarian law.

The brutality of Israel's soldiers is fully matched by the mendacity of its spokesmen. Eight months before launching the current war on Gaza, Israel established a National Information Directorate. The core messages of this directorate to the media are that Hamas broke the ceasefire agreements; that Israel's objective is the defence of its population; and that Israel's forces are taking the utmost care not to hurt innocent civilians. Israel's spin doctors have been remarkably successful in getting this message across. But, in essence, their propaganda is a pack of lies.

A wide gap separates the reality of Israel's actions from the rhetoric of its spokesmen. It was not Hamas but the IDF that broke the ceasefire. It di d so by a raid into Gaza on 4 November that killed six Hamas men. Israel's objective is not just the defence of its population but the eventual overthrow of the Hamas government in Gaza by turning the people against their rulers. And far from taking care to spare civilians, Israel is guilty of indiscriminate bombing and of a three-year-old blockade that has brought the inhabitants of Gaza, now 1.5 million, to the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe.

The Biblical injunction of an eye for an eye is savage enough. But Israel's insane offensive against Gaza seems to follow the logic of an eye for an eyelash. After eight days of bombing, with a death toll of more than 400 Palestinians and four Israelis, the gung-ho cabinet ordered a land invasion of Gaza the consequences of which are incalculable.

No amount of military escalation can buy Israel immunity from rocket attacks from the military wing of Hamas. Despite all the death and destruction that Israel has inflicted on them, they kept up their resistance and they kept firing their rockets. This is a movement that glorifies victimhood and martyrdom. There is simply no military solution to the conflict between the two communities. The problem with Israel's concept of security is that it denies even the most elementary security to the other community. The only way for Israel to achieve security is not through shooting but through talks with Hamas, which has repeatedly declared its readiness to negotiate a long-term ceasefire with the Jewish state within its pre-1967 borders for 20, 30, or even 50 years. Israel has rejected this offer for the same reason it spurned the Arab League peace plan of 2002, which is still on the table: it involves concessions and compromises.

This brief review of Israel's record over the past four decades makes it difficult to resist the conclusion that it has become a rogue state with "an utterly unscrupulous set of leaders". A rogue state habitually violates international law, possesses weapons of mass destruction and practises terrorism - the use of violence against civilians for political purposes. Israel fulfils all of these three criteria; the cap fits and it must wear it. Israel's real aim is not peaceful coexistence with its Palestinian neighbours but military domination. It keeps compounding the mistakes of the past with new and more disastrous ones. Politicians, like everyone else, are of course free to repeat the lies and mistakes of the past. But it is not mandatory to do so.

• Avi Shlaim is a professor of international relations at the University of Oxford and the author of The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World and of Lion of Jordan: King Hussein's Life in War and Peace.

Article Obtained from the Guardian (UK).

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The World Watches As Gaza Burns

I can understand why so many people choose not to follow the news. Being oblivious to the pain and suffering of people so far removed would allow one to work, play and live psychologically unencumbered. But I am one of those who has to follow the news - in the past, staying informed was part of what I had to do for several reasons, partly educational and professional, now it's become a part of who I am.

So I am often haunted by horrific accounts of the injustice, turmoil and violence brought upon the innocent through the actions of humankind. And the images that stay in my mind are often the faces of the most defenseless - children caught in the middle of a strife they cannot comprehend. Be it the beseeching big eyes of the nameless Rwandan child on Time magazine way back then, or little Mohammad al-Dura's final moments as he huddled by his father amidst gunfire. God only knows how many other innocents suffer, robbed of a childhood, or are taken away in violence.

The continuing crisis in Gaza bothers me for many reasons - now I have to contend with new images to add to my already burdensome gallery of conscience. When people accuse the Israeli military of being baby killers, I do think, given the facts on the ground, it's a literal assessment of the reality.

It is difficult to rationalize the continuation of a mission with an aim of "preventing rocket fire capability" when it's still not achieveable after 19 days and nearly 1000 Palestinian deaths (most of them civilians, and over 300 of them children). By comparsion, deaths incurred by the Israelis through Hamas rockets is a handful (but apparently a handful too much in the unjust scale of human life value). The disproportionate death ratio should be evidence enough that the "weaponry" arsenal of Hamas is limited and out-dated, compared to the Israeli arsenal, which is the best and modern weaponry available (obtained from the US).

Depending on where you stand, the Israeli attacks can be viewed as an act of defense in response to rocket attacks, or an illegal act under international law, which requires the occupier (Israel) to maintain responsibilities and obligations to the people (Gazans) it is occupying; that is not do all the things Israel did prior to the attacks.

But one would be hard pressed to argue that Israel's defense argument is still valid given the situation unfolding - Israel has now committed blatant criminal acts, for example, through the use of chemical weapons (Human Rights Watch has reported that Israel is dropping them into Gaza's dense residential areas) and the preventing medical personnel from carrying out their duties in evacuating the wounded (Red Cross found barely alive children next to their dead mothers in a village).

Israel has argued that the continuation of the sporadic rocket fire is justification enough to carry out the war, never mind the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of their miliary actions. But to expect Hamas to stop their attempts at defense when faced with Israel's relentless onslaught is farcical. Like it or not, Hamas is the democratically elected representative of the Gaza people - it is their duty to protect the citizens.

Someone (I would expect the more powerful nation) has to be the one to say enough is enough - but Israel has refused to step up to its obligations to be a responsible nation. What bothers Israel most is that Hamas is even attempting to fight back, posturing and showing defiance in the face of death. What Israel fears by withdrawing would be Hamas declaring a victory, by virtue of having survived the onslaught.

Israel desires an outright psychological defeat in the minds of the Palestinians more than anything else - but it fails to understand that a people with nothing to lose, have nothing to fear.

A Palestinian child, when asked by a reporter why he chose to throw stones at an unseen enemy, and not run to cover when the Israeli air strikes began, replied that it was pointless to run when the bombs would reach him faster than wherever he could run to.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Human Rights Watch: Israel Violating International Law by Using Chemical Weapons

Have you seen the videos of air bombs falling ito Gaza and wondered what the whitish powder was? Well, it's not smoke from the fires apparently. Human Rights Watch have reported that the white powder is actually from the white phosphorous bombs that Israel is dropping into Gaza.

Well, this is a violation of international law (never mind the fact that the war was already a violation of international law).

While international law allows such chemical weapons to be used in battlefields as a smokescreen, the material is considered dangerous in residential areas due to the severe burns it inflicts, as well as its highly flammable quality.

From Haaretz:
"Based on his observations last week, HRW military analyst Mark Garlasco determined that the IDF is using the material, although the army has not confirmed its use.

In 2006 Israel acknowledged for the first time that it had attacked Hezbollah targets during the second Lebanon war with phosphorus shells. Until then Israel had maintained that it only used such bombs to mark targets or territory.

Phosphorus has been used by armies since World War I. During World War II and Vietnam the U.S. and British armies made extensive use of phosphorus. During recent decades the tendency has been to ban the use of phosphorus munitions against any target, civilian or military, because of the severity of the injuries that the substance causes".

Using such chemical weapons in densely populated Gaza is a criminal act.

Seems that the rule of law is only for the select few.

This is how a dead victim of phosphorus bombs looks like.

If you are American, here is what you can do, as suggested by Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR):


1. Call your U.S. Representative and urge her or him to ensure that any resolutions or statements coming from Congress are balanced and promote peace with justice. This will ensure that the international community does not perceive that the U.S. government is divided on the goal of bringing a just and durable peace. (Find suggested talking points below.)

Call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask for your representative's office.

2. Call the House Speaker and Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and urge them to ensure that any resolutions or statements coming from Congress are balanced and promote peace with justice. This will ensure that the international community does not perceive that the U.S. government is divided on the goal of bringing a just and durable peace. (Find suggested talking points below.)

(If you are not a constituent be sure to mention that you are calling them in their leadership roles. If you reach an answering machine, feel free to leave a message.)

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Speaker of the House
Phone: (202) 225-0100

Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA)
Phone: 202-225-4695
Berman is chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Call the committee at: 202-225-5021

Sample talking points:

I urge you to ensure that any congressional resolutions or statements relating to the Middle East conflict are balanced and promote peace with justice in the region.
Balanced statements will ensure that the international community does not perceive that the U.S. government is divided on the goal of bringing a just and durable peace.

As you may know, Israeli attacks on Palestinian civilians block efforts to bring peace with justice to the Middle East, harm our nation’s image and interests worldwide and strengthen voices of extremism in the region.

The Palestinian people must be given some hope of freedom from Israeli occupation and domination and Israel’s immoral and illegal collective punishment of the Palestinian people living in the Gaza Strip must end.

I also believe American taxpayer dollars should not be used to for weapons that kill civilians.

3. Sign CAIR's Online Petition urging our nation's leaders to speak "in favor of peace and justice for all parties in the current humanitarian crisis unfolding in the Gaza Strip." When completed, the petition will be sent to elected officials nationwide and will be given to members of the current and incoming administrations. Go to:

4. Pray for all those who are suffering and oppressed.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Atrocities Continue in Gaza - The Children Suffer

It is 15 days and counting. To date the Israeli military operation have caused 854 Palestinians to be killed in Gaza; aid workers say that one-third of that figure are children. Keeping in mind that more than half of the population in Gaza are children, that figure may be much higher than reported. There are also 3680 injured Palestinians.

Reports by aid workers who have managed to enter the embattled areas have depicted the scenes as devastating - little children, weak and barely clinging on to life were found next to their dead mothers, little toddlers dead, and dead bodies of an extended family strewn in a village.

A UN aid worker described the Gaza civilians as being“the meat in the sandwich,” because they cannot flee anywhere since the borders are closed.

Here are some interesting facts obtained from a New York Times article - you can get a sense of how the atrocities are being perpetuated.

"The Israelis say they are also using new weapons, like a small-diameter smart bomb, the GBU-39, which Israel bought last fall from Washington".

"Israeli intelligence officers are telephoning Gazans and, in good Arabic, pretending to be sympathetic Egyptians, Saudis, Jordanians or Libyans, Gazans say and Israel has confirmed"

"They aim the missiles at empty areas of the roofs to frighten residents into leaving the buildings, a tactic called a knock on the roof".

"The most important strategic decision the Israelis have made so far, according to senior military officers and analysts, is to approach their incursion as a war, not a police operation".

"Civilians are warned by leaflets, loudspeakers and telephone calls to evacuate battle areas. But troops are instructed to protect themselves first and civilians second".

"As the commander of the army’s elite combat engineering unit, Yahalom, told the Israeli press on Wednesday: “We are very violent. We do not balk at any means to protect the lives of our soldiers.” His name cannot be published under censorship rules."

"While The New York Times and some other news organizations have local or Gaza-based Palestinian correspondents, any Israeli citizen or Israeli with dual citizenship has been banned for more than two years from entering Gaza, and any foreign correspondent who did not enter the territory before a six-month cease-fire with Hamas ended last month has not been allowed in".

"Israel has also managed to block cellphone bandwidth, so very few amateur cellphone photographs are getting out of Gaza".

"In one widely reported episode, 43 people died when the Israelis shelled a street next to a United Nations school in northern Jabaliya where refugees were taking shelter. The United Nations says no militants were in the school"

The few pictures of the war in Gaza that have come out are horrific. It is all the more worse because Gaza has so many young children, and they bear the brunt of the war in more ways than just the physical risk of death. It would be easy to look away from such horror, but I think it is important to bear witness to the pain of the innocent.

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “Fear the cry of the oppressed, for there is no barrier between it and God."

Fiqh-us-Sunnah, Volume 3, Number 1

What CAN we do to stop this injustice?

We can pray for there to be peace, and for the innocent deaths to stop.

We can spread what we know about this conflict through our writing and speaking.

When we hear misinformation, we should do what we can to stop it from spreading. The worst thing you can do is to stay silent because you are afraid of speaking the truth for fear of being labelled "extremist", "anti-semite" or "terrorist-lover" when you know different.

Speak out against injustice, for your silence may one day come to hurt you too.

Dead Mother and her Dead Children

Grieving over a Dead Baby

Dead Palestinian Children

A Palestinian man carries his son wounded in Israeli army operations into Shifa hospital in Gaza City, Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2009. (AP Photo/Ashraf Amra)

Palestinians carry a boy into Shifa hospital in Gaza City, wounded during the Israeli army operation in Gaza, Sunday Jan. 4, 2009. (AP Photo/Ashraf Amra)

A Child holds a banner reading, " Don't Kill the Children," during a protest after Friday prayer in front of the U.S. embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Jan. 9, 2009

Monday, January 5, 2009

Analysis of Israel's Motives in Gaza

Israel's Motives

The following is my attempt at an analysis of Israel's motives behind the Gaza massacres.

Israel has said that the aim of its military operations in Gaza is to stop Hamas from launching rockets into Southern Israel. It is portrayed as a defensive act framed under "war on terror". Israel say it has tried to target key Hamas installations and infrastructures that enable the rocket attacks. So far, they have air bombed shopping centres, public squares, police stations, residential housings, mosques, universities and schools, and in the process also destroyed more than half of Gaza's ambulances.

That in itself shows the difficulty of Israel's attempt in achieving its objective in a place like Gaza: densely populated with little safe haven for civilians to run to when the bombs start falling. The UN has estimated that at least one-third of the casualities so far in Gaza are civilians. With the ground offensive underway, that number will only increase. As an indication of what may come to pass, Human Rights Watch reported that the last time Israeli tanks moved into Gaza, more than half of the Palestinian casualities were civilian.

Gaza by Latuff

There is no way Israel can limit its damage to Hamas installations or militants without adversely affecting the civilian population, and Israel knows this. Given the extent of the damage from Israel's military actions - the heavy costs bourne by the Gaza civilian population, the media reporting of the casualities that serves only to fuel public shock and anger against Israel's actions, and the eventual detereoration of Israel's public image worldwide, why would Israel even embark on such a mission? It is pure madness on Israel's part?

On the contrary, there is method (or a rationale) to this. Israel's military incursion is part of a broader plan to enforce a peace on its own terms. Yes, Israel is after peace (it needs peace), but it is after a peace that is established on its own terms.

However, Israel cannot achieve what it wants through an agreement with Hamas. Ever since Hamas was democratically elected by the Gaza people in 2006, it has been a constant thorn at Israel's side. Efforts to stymie Hamas' ability to govern under the mandate of the Gaza people had the effect of strengthening its appeal. Despite what Israel did (essentially turning Gaza into a prison camp through illegal blockades - Gazans had no control over its own borders - land, air and sea, and were reduced to begging for food, medicine and fuel) Hamas only grew stronger in Gaza, and this weakened the only other party in Gaza that Israel could negotiate with.

Negotiating with Hamas would have been unthinkable for Israel - not because of the rocket attacks, nor because Hamas was deemed a "terrorist group" (afterall history has shown that Israel negotiated with the formerly labelled terrorist group, PLO) but because it would have been perceived by people (especially Arab people) as having been forced by Hamas' militant stance. And that would not have bode well for Israel's future security - a country surrounded by a sea of Arab neighbors. Already Israel believes that the net effect of Israel's pull-out from Lebanon in 2006 was to embolden Hamas who had hoped to emulate Hezbollah's achievements in that regard.

Israel was widely perceived to have lost its teeth - and indeed the defeat in Lebanon showed the limits to the Israeli military. Compound that perception with the rise of Hamas in Gaza, who had effectively solidified its position in the past two years.

The Israeli military operations then aim to accomplish three objectives (1) the forcible weakening (or removal) of Hamas (2) demonstrating the might of the Israeli military (3) re-establishing Israel's deterrent power by signaling to Arab nations that Israel can act militarily under the frame of defense (or war on terror) if it chooses to, and it will not be reined in by the world.

How can Israel benefit from achieving the objectives above? Firstly, it re-establishes Israel to a position of power. Second, peace or cease-fire negotiations with the remmants of Hamas (whoever is left standing after the war) and the PA in West Bank would now be acceptable to Israel since it would be stemming from its renewed position of power, and also because Hamas would not be in a position to dictate terms, weakened as it is. The underlying assumption would be that the civilian population would be war-weary enough to support opportunities for peace, even if under terms that are undesirable. Already efforts are underway to turn the Gaza civilian population against Hamas - recordings, such as this one as reported on CNN, are played in phone calls to Gaza civilians:"Urgent message, warning to the citizens of Gaza. Hamas is using you as human shields. Do not listen to them. Hamas has abandoned you and are hiding in their shelters."

This assumption can backfire though because the Israeli operations have not discriminated between Hamas and the civilian population. Besides Hamas has had a track record of providing for the Gaza civilian population, and beleaguering Hamas might sway people to their side.

Still, any peace process (or any ceasefire agreement or truce) would likely be pushed by the world community under the guidance of the new Obama administration, compelled by the horrors of the recent war. But any peace that ensues from such an agreement though may be short-lived, especially if the terms are overtly favoring one party over another. And as a new generation of Palestinians form, the cycle of violence may begin once more.

A hefty price for strategizing toward the short-term gains.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Israel's Attacks on Gaza

Israel has refused to cease its attacks on Gaza despite the massive humanitarian crisis unfolding there. Gaza civilians who had already been deprived of food, medicine and fuel for months before the attacks, are now overwhelmed by the carnage inflicted on them by Israel.

Gaza hospitals are unable to cope with the overwhelming numbers of injured people flooding the hospital. Hospital staff are overworked, and they also operate in fear of their own lives as even Gaza medical personnel are not safe from the Israelis bombs. Israelis are bombing ambulances. They have no way of alleviating the pain of those suffering, as they lack much-needed medical supplies. Not every injured Gazan is able to make it to the hospital anyway, some prefering to stay home and suffer for fear of being bombed on route to hospitals, or as an NYT article put it:"risk driving through streets of pummeled buildings and concrete shards".

But Israel's foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, has audaciously claimed that "there is no humanitarian crisis and therefore there is no need for a humanitarian truce".

The soon-to-be US president, Obama Barack has already happily set the tone for his new administration's dealing with Israel by giving the greenlight for Israel's continued genocidal acts now and in the future: "If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that,” Obama said. “And I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.”

Israel claimed initially that their attacks were a response to Hamas's act of sending rockets into Israel after the six-month cease-fire ended on Dec. 19. They claimed that their primary mission in the attacks is to stop Hamas from firing rockets into civilian areas of Israel.

But anyone who has been following the developments, know that Israel prevented open border crossings at Gaza to the detriment of its civilian population for long months.

Richard Falk, the UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Palestinian territories, said in a statement that considering "the cruelty and unlawfulness of the Gaza blockade ... it would seem mandatory for the International Criminal Court to investigate the situation, and determine whether the Israeli civilian leaders and military commanders responsible for the Gaza siege should be indicted and prosecuted for violations of international criminal law."

He added: "Some governments of the world are complicit by continuing their support politically and economically for Israel's punitive approach."

Israel have tried their utmost since Hamas became the elected government in Gaza to weaken Hamas' position, prevent them from governing and providing for their people. Israel's main intention all along has been to topple Hamas, and futher weaken Gazans so that they remain unrepresented by a government that actually advocates on their behalf.

The lack of response from the world has only solidified Israel's murdereous intent.

Israel will continue until Gaza is sufficiently decimated. Israel does not want to deal with anyone on an *equal* basis, much less the Palestinians. The only peace acceptable to Israel would be the one dictated to by Israel.

Meanwhile, the weak, vulnerable and the most innocent of the Gaza population - the children - suffer.

"But there were several children in another intensive care unit on Tuesday. Among them was Ismael Hamdan, 8, who had severe brain damage as well as two broken legs, according to a doctor there. Earlier that day, two of his sisters, Lama, 5, and Hayya, 12, were killed.

“I prepared them breakfast that day in the garden,” said their mother, Ayda, 36. “They had the tea, bread and thyme. Lama wanted a second pita, but we all teased her saying, ‘Keep it for lunch.’ She told us, ‘Don’t worry, God will provide us with bread.’

“She made all of us laugh,” the mother said. “I cleaned after them and collected the garbage. Ismael volunteered to dump the garbage, but Hayya and Lama joined him. The garbage can is in front of the house, a five-minute walk away. All of a sudden I heard the news from a neighbor, and I ran barefoot to the hospital. A relative collected the bodies of Lama and Hayya on a donkey cart.

“The neighbors ran trying to save Ismael, who was the only one breathing,” she said. “They say my kids flew 40 meters before hitting the ground.”

Ismael died Wednesday night."

Source: NYT, Dec. 31, 2008

Ismael, before he passed away. Dec. 31, 2008.
Source: Mahmud Hams/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

These Palestinian children do not have the chance to live a proper childhood that so many of us elsewhere take for granted. Do they not have the right to grow up, to exist?

If Palestinian children are not caught in the crossfire first, they are forced to grow up faster than they should. The excerpted NYT news report below has a journalist obtaining comments from two young Palestinian boys on the political situation, as if they were grown-ups. How warped is that?

Approach two Israeli boys of that same age and you will see the vast difference - Israeli boys would be cocooned safely in their homes, coddled by their parents, and armed with video games as boys that age usually are.

Palestinian boys are forced to defend themselves with stones. That is unjust.

At the Shuafat refugee camp on the northern outskirts of Jerusalem on Sunday, masked Palestinian youths burned tires and used slingshots to hurl stones at Israeli soldiers.

Mohammed, 13, predicted bloody Hamas reprisals. “Hamas will be the one that will bomb green Egged buses, and we will go back to the way it was,” he said, referring to the Israeli bus carrier that is often a target of suicide bombers.

Others were more doubtful. Ahmad, 14, said he supported “neither one nor the other,” complaining that Hamas and Fatah spent too much time fighting each other instead of working for Palestinian unity.

Source: NYT, Dec. 29, 2008

Dead Palestinian Child Carried. Jan. 1, 2009.
Source: Ismail Zaydah/Reuters

Israel is always adamant that everyone acknowledge their "right to exist". But one only has rights, if one is responsible. When a murderer attacks with impunity, he is deemed a danger to society. When he is caught, his rights are taken away, and he is locked up. In some other societies, he is even put to death.

When Israel has reneged upon its responsibilities to be a responsible nation in the world, time and time again, one has to ask if it has come time for Israel's rights to be taken away.

No longer can I say with my conscience intact that present day Israel has the right to exist, in the manner it has been existing. I do not mean all Israelis should be put away in jails, or murdered. Rather perhaps a superpower should occupy Israel (much like the way US had occupied Iraq), disarm the state, and force it into compliance - that is, force it to accept a just two-state solution so that finally the Palestinians can have their turn to exist and live the good life that has been denied them for too long.

Of course, this will not happen.

But for the first time in my life, I think I can fully appreciate it when people state that Israel has no right to exist - certainly, Israel as it is today has no right to exist - it is nothing more than a murderous thug.

And murderous thugs should be restrained.

If enough of us in this world are vocal enough about our abhorence towards Israel's acts, then perhaps our leaders would be compelled to restrain Israel, and help it change its behavior.

Is that too much to hope for?