Arab-Israeli Conflict


By Sheila Carapico, Middle East Research and Information Project, July 1, 2014

* This memo was prepared as part of the “Ethics and Research in the Middle East” symposium

American political scientists studying the Middle East face ethical dilemmas not shared by most of our disciplinary colleagues. Sometimes – perhaps unexpectedly – our presence in countries or communities experiencing repression and/or political violence puts our local colleagues, hosts, or contacts at risk by association. The massive U.S. military footprint and widespread mistrust of U.S. policies and motives multiplies the risks to our interlocutors.

The trademark methodology of American Arabists is fieldwork, meaning, in political science, in-depth interviews, participant observation, data collection, document-gathering, opinion polling, political mapping, and recording events. As sojourners but not permanent residents, we rely heavily on the wisdom, networks, and goodwill of counterparts “on the ground,” particularly other intellectuals.

In any environment where agencies of national, neighboring, and U.S. governments are all known to be gathering intelligence, our research projects may look and sound like old-fashioned espionage. Even under the very best of circumstances (which are rather scarce) a lot of people are wary or suspicious of all Americans, including or sometimes especially Arabic speakers who ask a lot of questions and take notes. Immediate acquaintances probably grasp and trust our inquiries. Their neighbors or nearby security personnel may not. It is common knowledge that at least some spies and spooks come in academic disguise and that some U.S.-based scholars sell their expertise to the CIA or the Pentagon. Instead of treating whispered gossip as the product of mere paranoia or conspiracy theories, we need to recognize its objective and sociological underpinnings. (more…)

All eyes in the world are on Gaza or at least they should be. The daily deaths and destruction rival the biblical “fire and brimstone” that fell out of the sky on Sodom and Gomorrah. If you think this is an exaggeration, check out this explicit video made by a Guardian crew. Gaza is drenched in biblical symbolism; this is a desolate zone that bleeds tragedy. Here was the ancestral home of the Philistines, an arch enemy of Israel, now transformed into stateless Palestinians trapped in a living hell. Literally trapped, so that there are no safe houses, even those supposedly sanctioned by the United Nations. As you read this commentary, it is likely that somewhere in Gaza someone is being killed, blown to pieces by a bomb (labeled “made in the USA”) or maimed for life, and a short and miserable life at that.

The Bible is a book full of prophecy, but then there are those stories that have such a déjà vu quality that it takes the breath away. Consider this King James Version passage from I Samuel 18:6-7:

And it came to pass as they came, when David was returned from the slaughter of the Philistine, that the women came out of all cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet king Saul, with tabrets, with joy, and with instruments of musick. And the women answered one another as they played, and said, Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.

Of course, the KJV is now four centuries old, so it always needs to be translated into contemporary terms. So perhaps this would fit the current Gaza better: (more…)

On stupidity and war

Israel is a fast learner, but did it learn the most valuable lesson of all?

by Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera, July 23, 2014

The war hasn’t ended and already the criticism over Israel’s military adventure in Gaza is mounting as the Islamist movement, Hamas, continues to surprise the “invaders”.

Leading and, presumably, respected media commentators have blamed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his hastiness, Israel’s Security Service – the Shabak – for its ignorance and the military for its poor performance.

Israel might claim technological superiority and tactical victory, but, as one expert concluded, strategically, it’s been defeated.

Needless to say, there are many ways by which one takes stock of the ongoing war. But after three military adventures in six years, Hamas remains a formidable force in Palestine. And Israel has little to show for its military prowess and technological edge aside from the terrible devastation wrought across the Gaza Strip – home to 1.8 million Palestinians living impoverished lives in the world’s longest-standing refugee camp.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has boasted of Israel’s moral standing and condemned Hamas for targeting civilians. But in the last few days, it’s the Israeli military that has suffered hundreds of casualties, including 29 soldiers killed, thus far. While on the Palestinian side, Israel’s bombings led to thousands of civilian casualties. It takes chutzpah to take pride in such a dreadful record. (more…)

by Yakir Englander, ISLAMiCommentary, JULY 18, 2014

Serious illness calls for first aid, then sometimes surgery, followed by healing the source of the disease. If you ask which is most important, I’d say you can’t have one without the other. Without first aid, the patient will never reach the doctor. First aid without deeper treatment and true healing can cause a slow, more painful death and/or disability.

Unfortunately, this analogy applies to the recurring violence between Israel and Palestine. As first aid, we must quickly stop the violence. Then the leaders will need to sit and talk and agree on a political solution. But an immediate ceasefire and political negotiations, like first aid and surgery, are no guarantees of a long term healing of the underlying diseases of hatred and fear, of injustice and deep discrimination.

The Facebook posts of my friends this week — both pro-Israeli pro-Palestinian — do reflect a focus on stopping the violence; that is good. But at the same time they are screaming that the other side is entirely to blame. This discourse does not heal the disease. When a cease-fire comes, I’m afraid that most of my American and Israeli Facebook friends will simply continue on with their ordinary lives as if the current conflict had never happened.

Elie Wiesel once wrote that the Holocaust “robbed man of all his masks.” If we want change, we cannot go back to wearing the masks. Instead, we must internalize the stark reality of the death of the image of God, and then create a new system that allows, once again, for true human relationships.

A cease-fire between Israel and Hamas can slow down the death of more bodies. But it will not stop the death of the soul and of the image of God. I understand why many of my family and friends will put their masks back on and continue their daily lives, leaving memories of the bombings and sirens behind. We have many other issues in our lives. But some (mostly Palestinians and people living in the south of Israel) will not be able to so easily move on.

To my friends: when you publish another article about why the “other” side is totally evil and wrong, I ask you: Does your soul feel healed? (more…)

On Youtube there is a fascinating film on co-existence in Haifa. It is well worth watching at this time of intense violence in Gaza.


Fouad Ajami, left, met in 2007 with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad’s Green Zone. (Wathiq Khuzaie/AP)


By As’ad AbuKhalil – Alakhbar English, June 23, 2014

The news of Ajami’s death triggered a competition among American journalists: they all wanted to express how much they loved him and admired him. They all spoke about his “grace” and one Zionist publication called him the “genuine Arab hero.” The New York Times and Wall Street Journal were quick to publish glowing obituaries.

Fouad Ajami is not the only Arab Zionist (and I am using the word Zionist here as a description and not as an insult, which it is for all of us anti-Zionists who measure the ideology by its devastating impact on the lives of Palestinians and Arabs and by its blatantly racist discourse) but he may have been the first Arab Zionist to advocate publicly for his Zionism. Ajami’s career is a political career and not an academic one.

Academic careers in the top US universities are specifically and rigidly structured and designed: those who are not graduates of the “elite US universities” don’t even get short-listed for jobs. Yet, Fouad Ajami went to school at Eastern Oregon College and received his PhD at the University of Washington, Seattle. It is certain that he is the only graduate of the University of Washington, Seattle who got an offer from Harvard University (he turned it down). When Martin Peretz and other Zionists at Harvard were lobbying for the university to hire Ajami, he demurred. He set his own conditions: that he did not want to teach undergraduates. They explained to him that all faculty at Harvard teach undergraduates. (more…)

Cairo Review, May 14, 2014

A half century ago, the poet Ali Ahmad Said Esber, better known by his pen name Adonis, left Syria for exile, first to Lebanon and then France. He lives on an upper floor of a new apartment tower in the Paris suburb of Courbevoie, steps from La Grande Arche in the modern business district of La Défense. Embroidered cushions from his homeland are on the sofa, abstract paintings on the walls; Arabic and French newspapers are piled around, next to music CDs of Bach and Mahler; Lebanese sweets are served on a platter along with cups of Nescafé. He never stays in one place for long; at the end of April, he was off to New York to open the PEN World Voices Festival with Salman Rushdie and Noam Chomsky.

Adonis, 84, is widely recognized as the greatest living Arab poet. He began writing verse as a teenager in Qassabin, a village in Syria’s Latakia province. In Beirut in the 1950s, he started a modernist revolution that the Guardian has called “a seismic influence on Arabic poetry comparable to T.S. Eliot’s in the Anglophone world.” He has published twenty volumes of poetry and thirteen books of literary criticism, reflecting on everything from love and Arab nationalism to American power; in 2011, he became the first Arab writer to win the prestigious Goethe Prize for literature. Adonis, meanwhile, has long been a leading public intellectual in the Arab world. His most recent writings are collected in Printemps Arabes: Religion et Révolution, published in France earlier this year by Éditions de La Différence. According to his English translator, Khaled Mattawa, Adonis believes that Arabic poetry has the responsibility of igniting a “mental overhaul of Arab culture.” Cairo Review Managing Editor Scott MacLeod and journalist Jonathan Randal interviewed Adonis in Courbevoie on April 11, 2014.

CAIRO REVIEW: Critics say your poems carry a lot of anger, but you have written some sweet poems. “The rose leaves its flowerbed/To meet her/The sun is naked/In autumn, nothing except a thread of cloud around her waist/This is how love arrives/In the village where I was born.”
ADONIS: Yes, romantic.

CAIRO REVIEW: How old were you when you wrote that?
ADONIS: I forget.

CAIRO REVIEW: Has Syria plunged into a dark age?
ADONIS: Well, the Arab world is living, and for a long time has been living, in a kind of age of darkness. Syria is part of that. But we can’t judge the future. I think that there are always some strengths in the people, to find solutions, escapes/exits, new horizons. I believe in that. The human being is a decent creature, who is manipulated by everything.

CAIRO REVIEW: When you were sixteen, was it a better moment?
ADONIS: Beginning when I was fifteen, we had plans. We could feel it, personally, lots of people of my generation. We had a kind of hope and vitality, a hope to change things, do something better. But from that moment of my adolescence, we also felt that there was nothing we could do in our society if the revolution was going to remain politically institutionalized. Without the separation of religion from the state, there was nothing we could do. I felt that for a long time.

CAIRO REVIEW: Was religious fundamentalism a danger at that time?
ADONIS: No. There wasn’t the ideological aspect of religion in my youth. It was almost invisible. Religion was never a problem. With my friends at school, I never asked, “What’s your religion?” Never. It didn’t exist. (more…)

There is a very interesting set of 40 maps that Max Fisher has put together on one website to explain the history of the Middle East. Check it out here.

Below are Map #7 and Map #23

What the Middle East looked like in 1914

This is a pivotal year, during the Middle East’s gradual transfer from 500 years of Ottoman rule to 50 to 100 years of European rule. Western Europe was getting richer and more powerful as it carved up Africa, including the Arab states of North Africa, into colonial possessions. Virtually the entire region was ruled outright by Europeans or Ottomans, save some parts of Iran and the Arabian peninsula divided into European “zones of influence.” When World War I ended a few years later, the rest of the defeated Ottoman Empire would be carved up among the Europeans. The lines between French, Italian, Spanish, and British rule are crucial for understanding the region today – not just because they ruled differently and imposed different policies, but because the boundaries between European empires later became the official borders of independence, whether they made sense or not.

Syria’s refugee crisis

Syria’s civil war hasn’t just been a national catastrophe for Syria, but for neighboring countries as well. The war has displaced millions of Syrians into the rest of the Middle East and into parts of Europe, where they live in vast refugee camps that are major drains on already-scarce national resources. This map shows the refugees; it does not show the additional 6.5 million Syrians displaced within Syria. Their impact is especially felt in Jordan and Lebanon, which already have large Palestinian refugee populations; as many as one in five people in those countries is a refugee. While the US and other countries have committed some aid for refugees, the United Nations says it’s not nearly enough to provide them with basic essentials.

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