It wasn't long ago that people living in the Middle East had to rely on foreign-based Arab-language shortwave radio, such as the Voice of America, Radio Monte Carlo and the BBC World Service, to get a steady flow of accurate news. From the 1960s to the mid-1980s, government-controlled radio stations, especially in larger Arab nations, pumped out heavily censored news reports, not only to their own populations but to Arabs across the region. Similarly, when terrestrial Arab television services began in the 1960s, audiences were fed a steady diet of official propaganda. Newsgathering and reporting, in the Western sense, were not critical to how governments ran their media. Instead of field reporting, interviews, studio discussions and the sort of broad coverage we are accustomed to today, viewers were given a studio-delivered digest of "protocol" news -- mainly government bulletins of the official state activities and speeches of the day.
Welcome to the Global Telecommunications Revolution
The region's broadcasting landscape is far different today. The emergence of a global telecommunications revolution in the 1980s, particularly in satellite television, brought dramatic changes to the Middle East, perhaps more than to any other region on Earth. With more than 300 satellite stations now on the air in the Middle East, it's hard to believe there is room for any more. But new stations are still popping up on audiences' satellite menus, and the choice of channels could easily reach 400 by the end of 2007.
Many in the West believe the catalyst for the region's media explosion was Al Jazeera, but the first satellite broadcaster in the region started in Egypt. The Egyptian Satellite Channel began transmitting in December 1990, followed a year later by the Middle East Broadcasting Center (MBC). MBC was created from Saudi petro dollars and personally financed by Sheikh Walid al-Ibrahim, a brother-in-law of the late King Fahd.
During the early 1990s, many other Arab countries followed with their own satellite offerings. Among the first crop, more than 70 percent were state-funded and controlled enterprises broadcasting in Arabic.
CNN and the First Gulf War
Witnessing the dramatic impact of CNN's international coverage of the 1991 Gulf War, several Arab states realized the strategic value of satellite television during times of conflict. Many of the Gulf States began launching their own national satellite TV networks. Arab governments saw satellite news as the ideal vehicle for extending and exerting influence beyond their own borders.
But it wasn't until Al Jazeera began broadcasting in November 1996 that the Arab world received its first 24-hour dedicated news service. Al Jazeera, whose motto is "the opinion and the counter-opinion," surprised Arab governments and audiences by broadcasting uninhibited political discussions, including studio debates with live phone-ins. This was the first forum for freedom of expression in the region.
The Rise of Al Jazeera
The genesis for Al Jazeera, which means "The Island" in Arabic, was a disagreement between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the BBC News Service. In 1996, the Saudi-owned Orbit Radio and Television Service, operating from Rome, partnered with the Arabic TV division of the BBC to create an Arabic satellite news channel. But less than two years into the deal, the two were in editorial conflict. Reports at the time claimed the Saudis stopped financing the project because of a dispute over the broadcast of a documentary about executions in Saudi Arabia.
Seeing a gap and a golden opportunity, Qatar's progressive emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, who was looking to democratize his tiny state and increase his influence in the region, immediately hired many of the journalists from the BBC-Saudi venture, who were now out of a job.
With $140 million in start-up money from Qatar's Sheikh Hamad and a pledge to subsidize it for five years, Al Jazeera began broadcasting from a state-of-the-art studio in Doha and quickly established itself as a serious force in the satellite news market.
Now, after more than a decade of beaming its direct style of news and popular talk shows into millions of Arab homes, Al Jazeera has become one of the most recognized media brands in the world. One of its most popular programs, The Opposite Direction, is a 90-minute showdown between opposing guests, in which viewers are encouraged to call in and join the debate. By pioneering a more accessible style of news coverage, Al Jazeera has not only become the most-watched satellite TV network in the Arab world but has also managed to infuriate the United States and every Arab government in the region. Libya and Kuwait, among others, have at various points threatened to pull their ambassadors from Qatar in protest.
Following 9/11, U.S. officials complained that Al Jazeera was dedicating too much coverage to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. It was reported that the then-U.S. secretary of state, Colin Powell, had asked Qatari emir, Sheikh Hamad, to "tone down" Al Jazeera's inflammatory rhetoric. Meanwhile, the channel was upsetting many Arab governments by giving airtime to Arab dissidents, whose voices, until then, had been largely silenced.
How Satellite Changed the Arab World
The impact of the satellite dish across the Arab world has been profound. While Al Jazeera, by far the best-known television network, boasts 60 to 70 million regular viewers worldwide, Arabs spend a lot more time watching entertainment channels, such as MBC, than news coverage, especially during the month of Ramadan, which is a lot like the "sweeps" season in the United States.
Today, the Egyptian government's media giant, Egyptian Radio and Television Union (ERTU), boasts no fewer than 25 satellite television stations. And since 1996, Lebanon has produced more than a dozen television networks, among them the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC), Future TV and Hezbollah's Al Manar TV, which has large appeal among Islamist viewers in the region. Lebanon, in particular, has become a "media laboratory" for sectarian-style competition. Most, if not all, stations are sponsored and financed by different political parties or religious groups. Al Manar carries the messages of the Shiites, or Hezbollah; LBC caters to the Christian Phalangists; NBN, to the Shiites of the Amal faction; and Future TV, to the Sunnis affiliated with former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was assassinated in 2005. For years, the Lebanese have used satellite TV not only to compete politically in their own market but to disseminate their message to their supporters globally, including the many Lebanese working abroad. Currently, there are also more than a dozen stations competing in Iraq.
The Death Knell of Terrestrial TV
Terrestrial TV has long since been eclipsed by its brash, omnipotent satellite rivals, but state television in the Middle East still has an important role in some of the larger Arab countries, such as Egypt, and particularly in the poorest rural areas. Still, if they can afford it, most people prefer satellite TV. Travel to the poorest places in the Arab world, including Palestinian refugee camps or the center of the desert, and one finds that satellite dishes abound, hooked up to the humblest shacks and tents.
Just as the First Gulf War spurred the launch of many of these satellite networks, the latest war in Iraq has taken coverage to a whole new level. The conflict has set off a "war of information" across the region and attracted a number of non-Arab countries -- including Iran, the United States, Israel, the United Kingdom and, most recently, France -- to compete for viewers in the Arab-speaking world.
The Battle for Iraqi Hearts and Minds
One of the first channels to start broadcasting with Iraqis in mind was the Iranian government-backed satellite TV network, Al Alam ("The World"), which was launched during the invasion. The channel broadcasts throughout the region (with bureaus in Tehran, Baghdad and Beirut) but has focused primarily on Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories. Al Alam's initial purpose was to reach out to the Iraqi Shiites and win hearts and minds before the United
States did. Today, however, the Iranian government is using the channel to counter the political influence of Saudi Arabia in the region.
The Iraqi Media Network (IMN), which is funded by the United States and produces the Iraqi government-run Al Iraqiya television network, was not the only attempt by the United States to counteract the popularity of pan-Arab news channels in Iraq, or in the rest of the region for that matter. In February 2004, Al Hurra was established and, two months later, its sister channel, Al Hurra Iraq. Initially, Al Hurra had moderate success around the region but has now developed into a dismal failure. While audiences tune in to find out what the U. S. position is on current events, Al Hurra's coverage is not taken seriously and is derided as nothing more than "American propaganda" by most Arabs.
Competition Has Arrived
While many satellite channels have recently tried to emulate the success of Al Jazeera, the network did not have any serious rivals until 2003, when the Saudi-owned 24-hour news channel, Al Arabiya, was launched from Dubai.
Initially, Al Arabiya looked a lot like Al Jazeera but with flashier graphics. But soon after its launch, the channel's owner, a brother-in-law of Saudi Arabia's late King Fahd, put a new, staunchly pro-American editor in charge. Since then, the coverage of the two channels, particularly in Iraq, has diverged dramatically.
American audiences got their first taste of Arab television in 2001, when Al Jazeera scooped the world's media with its coverage of the U.S. attack on Afghanistan in the aftermath of 9/11. The channel also broadcast exclusive interviews with Osama bin Laden. Later, in 2003, when the war erupted in Iraq, the entire world, for the first time, could watch the bombing of Baghdad through the lenses of Abu Dhabi TV and Al Jazeera, rather than those of CNN.
In the early days of the Iraqi War, when many Western journalists were practicing roof-top reporting before becoming more embedded with the troops, Arab reporters and camera crews were putting their lives at risk, reporting from the "eye of the storm" in Baghdad. And while U.S. networks were showing cruise missiles being launched from U.S. destroyers, Al Jazeera and Abu Dhabi TV were showing them landing and wreaking havoc in Iraq. Abu Dhabi TV was competing neck and neck with Al Jazeera in the first six months of the conflict but then retreated from its early prolific coverage. Some believe that an editorial decision was made to pull most of their reporters out of Iraq.
Unfortunately, the success of this hard-hitting, aggressive style of reporting came with a high price. Many Arab television reporters and cameramen have been killed, detained or jailed. Some of these were detained by the United States, including an Al Jazeera cameraman working in Afghanistan. The United States was also concerned that another very negative side to the conflict was being exported to the world. In 2001, American missiles destroyed Al Jazeera's office in Kabul; the channel's offices were hit again in 2003, during the invasion of Baghdad. In 2005, allegations surfaced in the British press that President Bush had discussed bombing Al Jazeera's headquarters, allegations the White House denies.
AL Jazeera Goes English
In recent months, Al Jazeera's new English-language channel has had a tough time breaking into the American market. Despite its international presence, with news bureaus in Doha, London, Kuala Lumpur and Washington, D.C., and the fact that it has signed up prominent journalists and anchors such as Sir David Frost and former ABC anchor David Marash, major U.S. cable operators declined to add Al Jazeera English to their programming when it launched last November. The decision was mired in censorship and politics. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld accused the network of spreading "vicious lies." Al Jazeera's unstinting coverage of the war's effects on civilians and its footage of American military deaths have upset U.S. officials. Meanwhile, a recent Accuracy in Media poll found that 53 percent of Americans opposed the launch of the channel. Two-thirds of Americans believe the U.S. government should not allow the channel to air in the U.S. market.
Media a World Apart
At a time when animosity between the West and the Arab world is increasing, Arab satellite television has provided a window on what close to 300 million people in the Middle East see on a daily basis. Unfortunately, these images are very polarizing. Almost daily, Arabs are reminded time and again of the American occupation of Iraq and the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Images of the sectarian war that has engulfed Iraq and pictures of Palestinian children haunt viewers throughout the region. Nevertheless, this very same medium has changed people's lives there. The Arab nationalism that Egyptian President Gamal Abed El Nasser tried but failed to market to the Arab world in the 1960s has been revived today through satellite TV. The breadth of the coverage has only highlighted the commonalities that exist among the different populations, whether they are living in Marrakesh or Beirut. Arabs throughout the region watch the same sitcoms, see the same religious shows, laugh at the same jokes and cry when they see the same news stories. Their freedoms of information and expression are no longer restricted by their "ministries of information" or by borders. Democracy might not be a reality on the ground in the Arab world, but "pluralism" is in the air … on satellite TV.
Seven messages and counting on my voice mail from different San Francisco area reporters, all wanting to know the Muslim community's reaction to the heinous killings by Nidal Malik Hasan. All wanted to know what had driven a 39-year-old Muslim to go on a killing rampage, murdering 13 people in Fort Hood, Texas.
"He had it all," someone said. "He's an educated man, he's a doctor."
Why did he do it?
Apparently, I fit the profile of someone who has these answers: I am a Muslim Palestinian American -- I must know what one out of the 1.5 billion Muslims around the globe is thinking at any given time.
"Hey, Jamal . . . sorry to disturb you so early. But you know the Hasan story is big, and I was wondering if you're willing to come for an interview and talk about how it feels being a Maahzlem [Muslim] and all," a TV producer says to me on my cell, while I'm driving to work.
"How did you feel being a Christian, with Timothy McVeigh and Adolf Hitler being Christians?" I fired back.
Silence. I probably should not have said that, but there it is.
War is traumatizing for anybody, but it's especially devastating to children caught in the crossfire. They are the ones who bear absolutely no responsibility for all the violence, yet they are the ones left with some of the worst physical and psychological scars -- scars they'll carry for life.
As the Israeli army continues its attack on Gaza for the 17th consecutive day, the number of Palestinian civilian deaths continues to rise amidst massive destruction of buildings and property. Israel has employed its full-fledged arsenal to bombard Palestinian residential areas. The latest numbers stand at more than 900 dead and 4,000 injured. More than 280 children have died and approximately 1,480 have been injured since Israel began its offensive against Gaza on Dec. 27, 2008. According to U.N. sources, close to a third of the dead and one fourth of the injured are children. Israel has accused Hamas of intentionally attacking from civilian-populated areas, driving up casualties among non-combatants to provoke anger against Israel.
Regardless of this claim, do children have to pay the price? More
I AM A Muslim And I Can Vote
With all the attention there has been on the voting behavior of different religious and ethnic segments of the population, it is plainly clear that the Muslim vote has been overlooked. There are only a few hours left to the outcome of the most important election of our time and the votes that I along with more than two million American Muslims are about to cast, and I'm starting to feel neglected. However, being a Muslim and neglected under the Bush Regime is good...really good. A day without wiretapping, profiling, and harassment...is a good thing.
For the past eight years, Muslims have endured bigotry, Islamophobia, and racism from the Republicans. That's why they are very enthusiastic about this election, and they will be voting en masse for Barack Obama. According to a Pew Poll, American Muslims will vote 70 to 80 percent Democrat, whereas according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) 78 percent of Muslims voted Republican in 2000.
Why are Muslims leaning towards Obama?
The answer is simple: there is a sense of urgency in the Muslim community because so many issues are affecting them: with the Iraq war and the war on terrorism, they have been victims of anti-Muslim policies of the Bush administration, such as the Patriot Act, secret detentions, and the "secret evidence" laws used against them. Muslims are genuinely optimistic that a sweeping change promised by Obama will restore the civil rights that have been usurped by the Bush administration and end the Islamophobia that has swept the country and exploited by John McCain during the election.
There are 6-7 Million Muslims living in the United States, with around 2.3 million of them are eligible to vote according to some estimates. Several Muslim organizations have been working diligently to "Get Out the Muslim Vote" by helping Muslims to register and urging them to vote on November 4. Leading the pack is CAIR, a non-partisan organization with an overall goal of enhancing American Muslim political and civic engagement, according to one of their representatives. Their volunteers have been spearheading the effort of a nationwide strategy to register voters, distribute voter guides, and get out the Muslim vote for the 2008 elections.
6-7 Million might not sound a lot, but Muslims are concentrated in several swing states like Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Virginia, which just might make the difference. As for those Muslims who still cling on the concept that they share the same social values with the Republicans and therefore ought to vote for John McCain--well, they ought to get their heads examined. This Muslim will not be only voting for Barack Obama but also will be voting against Prop 8 in California. After eight years of divisive politics, it is time for us as a nation to move beyond all forms of bigotry.
Will Dubai be just for the 'haves'? Marketplace March 10, 2008
Six Flags, Busch Gardens and Sea World are planning to build amusement parks in Dubai. If all that reminds you of a certain American city also built in the desert, well, join the club, says commentator and Arab media producer Jamal Dajani.
It's funny how you can go halfway around the world and still feel like you've never left home. Of course you've got your Starbucks here and McDonald's. Kentucky Fried Chicken's very big, too, but fast food's small fry compared to what's on the way. Just this past week, Six Flags announced it'll be building a 5 million square foot amusement park here. Busch Gardens and Sea World are coming, too. If all that reminds you of a certain American city also built in the desert, well join the club, says commentator and Arab media producer Jamal Dajani.
When I first saw Dubai from a distance, it reminded me of Las Vegas. Just like Vegas' shimmering chrome skyscrapers, everything in Dubai is so immense and so grand. Instead of casinos, there are burjs, or towers. Burj Dubai, the tallest building in the world, is still under construction. Then you have Al Burj, Burj Al Arab and so on, and just like Vegas, people go to Dubai in search of financial gain. Arab men in their gleaming white dish-dashes, Europeans in business suits, Indians in traditional clothing and women with their Gucci bags. They're all after one thing -- money.
A Saudi friend of mine complained. "I went to the bank and could not find any tellers who spoke Arabic," a familiar complaint in the States, from those who insist everyone should speak English.
Not everyone is happy with this new Babylon. More than half a million Saudis a year visit Dubai. They've invested billions of dollars in this tiny emirate, but resentment is brewing amongst the Salafi Muslims in the Kingdom next door. Many Saudis believe that Dubai is a bad influence on their conservative society. A society where women cannot even drive stands in stark contrast to Dubai, where women in bikinis sun on the shores of manmade islands.
Dubai has provided jobs and has brought in modernity into a desolate desert, but it remains a playground for the "haves," particularly those who "have" oil.
Many wonder what impact this wealthy emirate will have. Will proceeds from skyrocketing oil prices filter to poor countries, or will it only benefit the few?
Most Arabs realize that their petro-bonanza will one day come to an end. Their future may lie in tourism, leisure, media and banking, industries that keep Dubai light-years ahead of the competition, and an envy to its neighbors.
Editor’s Note: Morocco is girded to pay a price for co-operating with the U.S. on the war on terror says Jamal Dajani, director of Middle Eastern Affairs at Link TV. He writes frequently on the Middle East and the media.
TANGIERS, Morocco – Shortly after the failed suicide attacks in Glasgow, Scotland, the Moroccan Interior Ministry declared a heightened state of alert warning of imminent terrorist attacks in Morocco. According to several Moroccan and Arab terrorist experts, the recent failure of Al Qaeda in Europe will force it to shift its attention to Arab and Islamic countries which enjoy strong relations with the West and the United States and are considered partners on the war on terror. Morocco fits this description.
During a recent trip from Tangiers to Fez, a heightened state of alert was evident. Our driver was stopped and questioned either by the police or by the Royal Darak (Gendarmes) no less than six times.
According to Almassae, the main Arabic daily newspaper, the threat comes from Al Qaeda in the Arab Maghreb, led by Bin Laden’s self-appointed deputy in Algeria, Abu Al Wadud, who, during a recent televised broadcast made direct threats against Morocco. An unnamed source from the Moroccan security service believes that these threats are real, due to two factors: first, this branch of Al Qaeda has always delivered on its threats in the past and second, several known Moroccan terrorists appeared on the tape sitting next to Abu Al Wadud.
Only a week ago, a suicide car bomb killed at least eight people and wounded thirty in the town of Lakhdaria, about 120 kilometers southeast of Algiers. The bombing took place during the opening of the All Africa Games, one of the continent's biggest sporting events, taking place in Algiers. Meanwhile, Moroccan police detained 15 suspected Al Qaeda members who were plotting to blow up sensitive targets in the North African country.
Morocco has always been considered a bridge between Europe and the Middle East, and between Africa and the Arab world; an Islamic country where ancient traditions intermingle with modernity and where nightclubs and mosques exist on the same block. Does Al Qaeda plan to destroy this harmony?
Since the ascent of Mohammed VI to the throne, Morocco has seen many changes. The young enthusiastic king has embarked on a campaign of reform and transparency absent during the reign of his father King Hassan II, who died in 1999, leaving the young heir with the responsibility of guiding this impoverished nation into the 21st century. The young king has brought about vital domestic reforms, such as the elevation and protection of the status of women, as well as establishing an independent commission on human rights.
One of his first decrees was to grant freedom to a number of political prisoners and abolish many of the laws that restricted freedom of the press. Though his critics claim that he has not done enough, others believe that he has opened a Pandora’s box full of new troubles. Criticism against the king and various members of the government can be seen daily in the Moroccan press. Articles and op-eds about allegations of fraud by government officials and ministers are common.
Recently, the press was up in arms about unconfirmed reports that the Moroccan government has plans to grant the United States permission to build a new military base on its soil and use it as a monitoring center for all of Africa. Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia are part of another U.S. project, the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership, under which African countries collaborate with U.S. forces to prevent the spread of terrorism and receive intelligence and assistance from the United States.
With this new openness in Moroccan society, Berbers have been more aggressively seeking recognition of their identity and language (Amazigh). During a recent debate on television I watched a proponent for the Amazigh language demand that government-run schools give it a higher priority than French. Although Arabic is Morocco’s official language, French is widely taught and serves as the primary language of commerce and government.
In the midst of these issues, the kingdom remains in a precarious position dealing with the separatist Polisario movement in the Western Sahara and historically strained relations with neighboring Algeria and Spain. The kingdom has accused both of arming the separatist rebels.
The rise of Islamism may be the biggest threat facing the young king. Ironically, King Mohammed VI’s new policy for tolerating an independent press has worked in their favor. They now urge the government to be accountable for their unfulfilled promises. On September 7, 2007, some 15 million eligible Moroccan voters are expected to go to the polls during the legislative elections, and many believe that these parliamentary elections will swing in favor of the Islamists.
The king’s father, Hassan II, used a metaphor to describe his country that seems fitting. He stated that Morocco is “like a tree whose roots lie in Africa but whose leaves breathe in European air.” Will the current king be able to maintain this delicate balance?
Editor’s Note: Though Hamas won elections in January 2006, its efforts to govern have been stymied by sanctions, an Israeli siege and Fatah’s attempts to discredit it, according to commentator Jamal Dajani. With Hamas’ recent victory over Fatah in the Gaza Strip, Israel and Washington may now have to do what was once unthinkable: recognize Hamas as a legitimate political party. NAM contributor Jamal Dajani is a producer and the Director of Middle Eastern Programming at Link TV.
“We are now like a group of wild cats that once were spoiled and dignified but now caged in and starved. On the political level, our leaders look like small players while the big ones are living somewhere else, like Washington, Tel Aviv and Tehran,” wrote Dr. Eyad El Sarraj in an email to friends living in the outside world on the current crisis in the Gaza Strip.
Two years ago, Sarraj invited me to his home in Gaza for tea and sweets. He had just returned from a swim in the Mediterranean.
“The sea is my only escape…of course I can only do that when the Israelis are not shelling us,” he said while drying his hair. At that time I interviewed Sarraj for a documentary I was working on. He spoke to me in detail about the effects of the occupation on the mental health of Palestinian children, an area of expertise that he developed while running the only mental health clinic in the Gaza Strip.
The situation in Gaza has changed since. The fighting is now between Fatah and Hamas; brothers from the same family have turned their guns on each other.
What happened in Gaza has been attributed to the result of a coup d'etat, the spread of radical Islam in the Middle East and, by some, to Al-Qaeda. But none of these theories is correct.
So what went wrong in Gaza?
Though Hamas won elections in January 2006, its efforts to govern have been stymied by international sanctions against the Palestinian government and a crippling Israeli siege. Fatah, instead of responding to its electoral loss by bringing in new leadership and weaning itself away from corruption, has spent its time conspiring to overthrow Hamas.
Denied the legitimate victory it won in the elections, Hamas was not allowed to govern. Now it has won a military victory -- with bullets. Yet what led to this was a prolonged Israeli occupation and siege, the international community’s indifference to a starving Palestinian population, and the systematic weakening of the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
When Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza last year, it left almost 80 percent of the population dependent on foreign aid agencies and the United Nations. Since the election of Hamas, the United States, the European Union and most Arab countries have abandoned the 1.4 million inhabitants in Gaza, driving many of the young population to take up arms. Gaza has become nothing but a large jail with dilapidated neighborhoods and external forces pitting different groups against one another and playing on their fears. The situation is not that different from the creation of the Crips and Bloods in East Los Angeles.
Back in 2005, when I was traveling between different neighborhoods I was able to recognize who was in control by the flags and the different insignias: Fatah, Hamas, PFLP, Islamic Jihad and so on. Kids my son’s age -- who was then in the 11th grade -- were toting guns on their shoulders instead of being in classrooms. The writing was on the wall.
Interestingly, since the battles with Fatah, Hamas has been careful not to provoke the Israelis. Rocket attacks in southern Israel have almost ceased; Hamas has also ordered the militias that kidnapped BBC correspondent Alan Johnston to hand him over, a possible first step towards his release. Meanwhile, there are talks that Hamas has been negotiating with the Israelis about freeing its kidnapped soldier, Gilad Shalit. Israeli pragmatists in the country's intelligence circles have started to propose the unspeakable: that Israel may have no choice but to deal with the new lords of Gaza.
Today, the Palestinian territories are effectively split in two. Gaza is now controlled by Hamas, which has close ties to Syria and Iran. The West Bank is dominated by Fatah, which has ties to Israel and the West. For the past several years, we have been hearing about George W. Bush’s vision of a “two-state solution,” an Israel and a Palestinian state living side-by-side. The new reality on the ground is that we have three states on historic Palestine, a Hamas-run state in Gaza, a Fatah-run state in the West Bank, and Israel in between.
SAN FRANCISCO--Al Jazeera's new English-language channel has had a difficult time breaking into the American market. Despite its international presence, news bureaus in Qatar, London, Kuala Lampur and Washington, D.C., and its success in signing up prominent journalists and star hosts such as Sir David Frost, major U.S. cable operators declined to add Al Jazeera English to their programming when it launched Nov. 15. This sad decision is mired in censorship and politics. But, just as sad, it may not matter. Because so far Al Jazeera English is not very good.
Why would cable operators not want to hear about a part of the world so much in the news? Probably because Al Jazeera has received bad press. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld accused the network of spreading "vicious lies," and U.S. officials have been upset by Al Jazeera's airing of footage of American military deaths, as well as its unstinting coverage of the war's effect on civilians. A recent poll found that 53 percent of Americans opposed the launch of the channel. Two-thirds of Americans thought the U.S. government should not allow the channel to enter into the U.S. market.
That's unfortunate. I've watched Al Jazeera in Arabic since its debut in 1996. It has revolutionized satellite television in the Middle East and become a vital link between people in the Arab World, where most media is state-controlled. By regularly broadcasting dissent and opposing points of view, Al Jazeera provides the broadest spectrum of argument that many Arab viewers have ever seen. In addition, their world-class field journalists deliver the immediate, hands-on international reporting that U.S. networks abandoned long ago. While Western journalists were practicing roof-top reporting in their coverage of the war on Iraq, Al Jazeera reporters were putting their lives at risk reporting from the "eye of the storm," Baghdad. While American networks were showing the cruise missiles being launched from U.S. destroyers, Al Jazeera was showing them landing and wreaking havoc in the land of the two rivers.
I was in Washington, D.C., for the launch of Al Jazeera English and had discussions with some of its excited staff members, who had been nervously awaiting this big occasion. There was the last-minute name change to Al Jazeera "English" instead of "International," and problems with their server and high-definition cameras. But Al Jazeera English went on the air as scheduled, though with much less fanfare than if it had premiered on American cable.
I watch Al Jazeera English on the Internet, where you can get a free taste of it 15 minutes at a time or subscribe for $ 5.95 per month. But if you're hoping to see what made Al Jazeera famous globally, you will be sorely disappointed. Al Jazeera English is worlds apart from its decade-old sibling. With its lack of Arab faces on camera, it's more akin to the BBC and, to a lesser degree, CNN International.
In fact, Al Jazeera, Arabic for the "island," began broadcasting in 1996, a few months after BBC World Service launched a Arabic TV channel. The BBC channel faced censorship demands by the Saudi government, and after two years in operation the BBC shut it down.
Many of the unemployed BBC-trained staff members joined the original Al Jazeera. Yet the phoenix that rose from the ashes of the BBC Arabic Channel seems now to have returned to its origins.
This past Sunday, for example, millions of Arabic-speaking viewers watched the popular show "Al Shari'a (Islamic decree) and Life," a program made famous by its Egyptian-born cleric and his vitriolic attacks on the West. On the new channel, by contrast, English speakers watched "Temples of Doom," which examined the negative effects of tourism and pollution on the Egyptian ancient sites. Although informative, it was similar to many documentaries I've seen on the BBC, PBS, and National Geographic.
The new channel's editorial policy seems more restrained. When a 70-year-old resident died of his wounds after being hit in an Israeli attack on Gaza, the Arabic Al Jazeera reported that he was "martyred." At Al Jazeera English, however, he was simply "killed."
Another major difference is the detached, analytical attitude of hosts. On Al Jazeera English, no matter how hot the topic, their demeanors remain unruffled. This is in direct contrast to the exciting and fiery style on the Arabic Al Jazeera's programs, such as "The Opposite Direction," where host Faisal Qassem excels at fanning the flames of the argument and guests with opposing views frequently have such passionate exchanges that they sometimes appear about to come to blows.
While the well-produced reports about surfing in Rio and dispatches from Zimbabwe did not impress me, it is too early to reach a definitive conclusion. I am hoping that the Al Jazeera English will keep improving.
Meanwhile, I'll keep watching the old Al Jazeera that I am fond of, the one that gives me a real look at the world through Arab eyes.
Speaking in the East Room of the White House last week, President George W. Bush said that the US was taking heavy casualties in Iraq.- Stating his concern, he said, “I know many Americans are not satisfied with the situation in Iraq. I am not satisfied either.”
What prompted President Bush to speak so candidly was the inescapable fact that more than 100 American soldiers have been killed in October alone in the worst monthly toll in a year and the fact that Americans will decide the fate of his party in the voting booths in the next few days. Nevertheless, the President did not waver from insisting that the US is still winning the war in Iraq. “Absolutely, we’re winning,” Bush said. “As a matter of fact, my view is the only way we lose in Iraq is if we leave before the job is done.”
Are we winning?
If we are talking about the loss of less than three thousand US troops in three years of conflict, then perhaps we are winning the war on the insurgents. The problem with this is the fact that US military experts never take into account the tens of thousands of Iraqis who have died since the invasion. Nor do they consider the level of resentment it has generated against the US in the region. Increasingly, both the administration as well as its adversaries in the Democratic Party have been drawing parallels between the war in Iraq and Vietnam. However, Iraq does not resemble Vietnam but rather the “old” Afghanistan during the Soviet era when in the 1980s, thousands of Arab and Muslim fighters descended on Afghanistan to fight the Soviet occupation forces that had invaded the country in 1979. The Soviet military was unable to quell the lightly armed, resourceful Afghan and Arab mujahideen. At that time, there were 130,000 Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan, a country of 24 million. This ratio roughly matches that of the US in Iraq. The Soviets were ultimately defeated and withdrew from the country in 1988.
In a similar fashion, Iraq has now become a magnet for Islamic extremists who want to fulfill their Jihadist duties by expelling the US from Arabia. According to many analysts in the Middle East, the US adventure in Iraq will also eventually go down in history books as a terrible defeat in the same way. There is perhaps that one similarity between the Iraq and Vietnam wars which is the influence of both on the elections. Just as Vietnam was a hot issue in its time, so too has Iraq become one for this November 7.- Even President Bush thinks that the insurgents could affect the outcome of the mid-terms, claiming that the rise in violence during Ramadan is designed to impact voting here.
An interesting phenomenon in the Arab press is the unusual amount of attention that has been paid to the impending US elections. With a third of the Senate and 36 state governorships being contested, the stakes are very high for Bush.- Arabs are covering the lead-up to these mid-term elections very closely, and analysts engaged in election predictions have been forecasting a similar outcome on both sides of the ocean. They agree that the Republicans will have to give up some seats and are similarly unsure whether that will be enough for the Democrats to regain control of the congress. Arab coverage however, is putting a greater emphasis on whether these elections will have an impact on a US withdrawal from Iraq. “Will the victory of the Democrats in the US mid- elections provide good options for ending the occupation in Iraq?” This was the headline of al-Basrah News on a day when the City of Basra witnessed the killings and kidnappings of more than fifteen Iraqi police officers. Several programs on TV channels like al-Madar program on Abu Dhabi TV, focused on what has been dubbed as “the Iraqi Card”, and how the Democrats should play that card intelligently. Would they admit to defeat, thus playing into the hands of the Republicans and alienating the American voter, who according to Arab TV pundits “is not and will not cope with defeat”, or will they play it smart by promising to leave Iraq with dignity without admitting defeat?
There are also the “doomsday pundits” who have been warning that Bush might attack Iran by air and sea just before the elections to prove to his domestic audience that his party is best at preserving and protecting their way of life, thereby ensuring a Republican victory in congress. Critics say that such an attack would have a devastating effect on world opinion, but based on previous experiences, it appears that the Bush Administration has little concern regarding this. Ironically enough, with all recent Arab media analysis of the upcoming US elections, similar scrutiny was not given to the most recent Presidential Elections in Egypt and Yemen when the longstanding-presidents of both countries were ushered into office for another term with little attention paid to questionable election procedures in Egypt and a media monopoly in Yemen. In addition to this, there is barely any debate about the complete lack of elections in many Arab countries. Perhaps this great interest in a mid-term election several thousands miles away might awaken the spirit of many of the pundits to demand serious and free elections in their own backyards.
OPEN FORUM San Francisco Chronicle Lenses on the Mideast Where can you turn for the straight story?
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
I am forever the skeptic when it comes to war-time reporting, and it's not just because I am a member of the media.
My skepticism was born in Jericho (the West Bank) as a child, during the Six-Day War in 1967. Back then, we did not have a television, and I remember huddling in the "radio room," as my grandmother called it; I would later refer to it as the "war room."
This was where we'd spend most of our time during the war, away from the broken glass caused by Israeli fighter-jets racing through the sound barrier. When my grandmother was in the room, we could not touch the dial; it had to be fixed on the Egyptian broadcast "Sawt El Arab" or Voice of the Arabs.
"Report number 42," the announcer would say; and through the crackling sound of my grandmother's ancient shortwave radio, we would all strain to hear the war updates.
"The Egyptian forces have repelled the Zionist army ... the Jordanian army advanced to ..."
I believe that it was on the second or third day of the war, as we were listening to these victorious reports, that we felt a rumbling throughout the house. It was caused by the advancing Israeli armored units and the fleeing Jordanian ones.
"Report number 57 ... Arab armies are advancing toward Tel Aviv," Sawt El Arab kept on reporting.
During the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, as cruise missiles were landing on Baghdad, field reporters for Al Jazeera and Abu Dhabi gave us up-close, immediate coverage of the first war scenes. American anchors, however, hung back, relegated to roof-top reporting from their hotels in Kuwait City. Even when they entered Baghdad later, U.S. anchors continued to hone their "embedded" journalism, a reporting style they excelled in.
In spite of the excellent and brave reporting done by many of the Arab news anchors, my skepticism toward the Arab media was not entirely dispelled, because several Arab outlets regularly quoted the Iraqi Minister of Information at that time, Muhammad Sai'd Al Sahaf, as a reliable, impartial source for updates.
"The Iraqi army is sending back the 'Oulouj' (the mercenaries) in body bags ... back to where they had crawled from," Sahaf would frequently boast when referring to the U.S. and British troops. On many occasions, his statements were marketed as facts. Remembering Sawt Al Arab, I knew better.
Hours of relative calm have passed since the cease-fire began in the aftermath of the war in Lebanon, or the Sixth War (1948, 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982, 2006), as the Arab media have been referring to it.
For 33 days, I have been frantically flipping between Arab, Israeli, U.S., and sometimes French TV networks. Similar images, but accompanied by different narratives, words and terminologies.
Qana is a site of a massacre in all Arab press; a regrettable accident in the Israeli one.
Hezbollah is "the Islamic Resistance" in the Arab and Muslim worlds, but a terrorist militia everywhere else.
Embedded journalism is back, with CNN reporters leading the pack. This time around, however, CNN is embedded with the IDF and not the U.S. Marines. I have noticed that CNN, in Israel, obtained more of its reports from embedded journalists than the official Israel Broadcast Authority TV (IBA) itself.
Two Sundays ago, when a Hezbollah rocket killed 12 Israeli reserve soldiers in Kfar Giladi in northern Israel, the story immediately broke on Al Jazeera TV, with the Israeli Channel 10 also confirming that the deaths were among the military. French TV 5 also immediately reported the death of 11 Israeli reservists. Strangely out of sync, however, Mathew Chance of CNN reported to Wolf Blitzer, "Earlier today a barrage of rockets rained down on this area ... one of them hit a crowd of Israelis gathered in this car-park right behind me, killing at least 10 of them."
When ending his report, Chance stated that he was not permitted to tell us whether the dead were civilians or soldiers because of censorship laws in Israel. CNN was complying with Israeli censorship laws far better than the Israeli media.
I have been intermittently watching Hezbollah's Al Manar TV network on the web. As a result of the Israeli bombings, its production quality has suffered tremendously; nevertheless, it has been broadcasting with minimal interruptions. While Al Manar TV and most Arab media did not spare any film reel on recording all the civilian casualties, images of dead Hezbollah fighters have practically been nonexistent. When Israel claims that it had killed 40 Hezbollah fighters, Al Manar usually admits to the death of four and so on, yet we do not see images of these fighters dead or alive.
Meanwhile, the Israeli media have been trying to package its invasion with the heroism of a new "Entebbe" (the 1976 Israeli rescue raid in Uganda), as demonstrated by the euphoria with which Israeli networks greeted the news of the commando raid on a hospital in Baalbek last week.
A reporter on the Israeli Channel 10 announced the snatching of "high-ranking Hezbollah commanders" in the hospital, only later removing the "high-ranking" from future broadcasts. Two of the kidnapped Lebanese hospital employees' last names are Nassrallah, no relationship to Hezbollah's Secretary General Hassan Nassrallah.
As the war in Lebanon seems to have stopped for the time being, the war of information has only just begun. Both Israel and Hezbollah are claiming victory. Israeli officials have been focusing more on claiming a diplomatic victory than a military one, because they feel that the U.N. resolution has put "Hezbollah under the microscope of the international community." Hassan Nassrallah, on the other hand, began his speech on Monday by assuring the Lebanese people that they had won a strategic as well as an historic victory. I will leave the argument of who won the war to the pundits and analysts, but one thing I am sure of is that the civilian population on both sides was the big loser.
My skepticism is long-lived, and my work in the media and constant review of reports from different vantage points has sensitized me even more to how much the twists and nuances of language can color viewers' perceptions of events. However, whether we work in the media or not, I think that all of us would be well-advised to adopt some skepticism about how we view the information we are getting, according to who is giving it to us and how much the interpretation of events can vary depending upon the agenda and the desired political perception of those giving it to us.
Recently, during a dinner conversation with some European friends, the subject of skepticism came up in the conversation. I was told how typically French it was to question and be skeptical of everything; never to just accept something at face value just because an "expert" or a journalist said it. This is contrary to attitudes in the United States, where people are less likely to challenge information they received from their TV anchor or their newspaper. I could only describe it as a sort of deference to authority or those that "know better."
Jamal Dajani is a producer and the director of Middle Eastern programming at Link TV. Since 2001, he has produced more than 1,000 installments of the Peabody Award-winning program "Mosaic: World News from the Middle East." In 2005, Dajani completed "Occupied Minds," a documentary on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and "Who speaks for Islam," both aired on Link TV and PBS stations. He was born and raised in Jerusalem.
Five years ago, President George W. Bush promised to "liberate" the people of Afghanistan, "smoke out" bin Laden and finish off the Taliban in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The President followed through on his promise by invading Afghanistan, but Al Qaeda and the Taliban would escape into neighboring Pakistan and set up new command centers far from America's reach.
Last week, President Bush hosted an Iftar diner at the White House in honor of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. To the outside world, the meeting seemed to be a success, and Mr. Bush praised both Musharraf and Karzai as "two courageous leaders" who are working to defeat the forces of terrorism and extremism. In reality, the US President had to intervene when his guests clashed at the dinner table. Karzai alleged that OBL and Mullah Omar were in Pakistan and Musharraf had turned a blind eye toward them. This enraged Musharraf, who on several occasions accused Karzai of being weak and unaware of the security situation in his own country, comparing him to an ostrich.
Recently, a declassified US intelligence report, pointed to the conflict in Iraq as the "cause celebre" for jihadists throughout the Muslim world and also questioned whether the US was winning its global "war on terror."
The declassified excerpts from the report made no mention of Afghanistan, where the war against Al-Qaeda began five years ago, and where the Taliban have rebounded in parts of the country and reconstruction efforts have virtually stopped. The alliance between Bush, Musharraf and Karzai has been nothing short of a failure due to the fact that the main players in the region, Hamid Karzai and Pervez Musharraf, have deep mistrust in each other.
After 9/11, President Musharraf pledged his country's support to America's fight against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, but he has struggled to control his own military and intelligence services, which have for many years supplied money and weapons to various radical groups in Afghanistan. Regardless, the border area where the Taliban and Al-Qaeda members are thought to have taken refuge is inherently difficult to control because of terrain and fierce autonomy claimed by local leaders.
"We used to call them the no-go areas," says Governor Ali Muhammad Orakzai, the Pakistani political chief of the tribal areas. According to Orakzai and many familiar with the Afghan Pakistan border areas, when the Pakistani army is fighting the Taliban, they are fighting brethren and cousins.
US officials say that today the border region is a key front of the global war on terror and many analysts believe that the entire leadership of both the Taliban and Al-Qaeda is hiding in these tribal areas. So why is the hunt for Osama bin Laden, Ayman al- Zawahiri and Mullah Omar in this region practically non-existent?
In 2004, after prodding from the United States, Pakistan launched a major military offensive against the camps of tribal militias harboring Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters in the Waziristan provinces. But the offensive failed and the Pakistani government's negotiations with the tribal leaders led to the Sargodha peace pact in February 2005; in effect, creating a de facto sanctuary for Al-Qaeda.
Loosing patience with Musharraf, the U.S. military began targeting Al-Qaeda members using unmanned Predator aircrafts equipped with Hellfire missiles. In 2005, when Hayat Ullah Khan, a local Pakistani journalist took photographs showing that a U.S. missile had been used to kill an Al-Qaeda operative and contradicting the Pakistani's military's account of his death, within days he was seized by unknown assailants and his body was later found on a remote roadside. His family insists that the Pakistani military is responsible for his death, something vehemently denied by Musharraf.
The number of attacks in Afghanistan by the Taliban and Al-Qaeda has increased dramatically in 2006 and what is significant is that the attackers have been targeting the capital Kabul. Two suicide attacks rocked Kabul in September, underscoring the rising danger in the once-calm capital as militants step up attacks across the country.
Is this due to capitulation by President Musharraf for allowing the border region of Pakistan to become a safe haven for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda? A maneuver, some would say, to save face in front of his military, which had lost upwards of 800 of its troops fighting in the tribal region and was by in large sympathetic to both outlawed organizations.
Perhaps the most telling element about Musharraf's precarious position in getting his country caught in the battle of the "war on terror" is his remarkable comment on a recent television interview when he claimed that former U.S. deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage had threatened to bomb Pakistan back to "stone age" if Pakistan did not cooperate with the U.S. shortly after the events of 9/11 in its hunt for Osama bin Laden. This would seem to indicate a man under extreme pressure, no longer willing to risk his life and presidency to appease the U.S. and the question remains: how long will Musharraf be allowed to play both sides of the equation?
When the massacres of Sabra and Shatilla occurred in 1982, the U.N. found itself hapless in preventing the slaughter of innocent civilians on Lebanese soil. Later in 1996, during "Operation Grapes of Wrath," the Israeli army shelled a Fijian UNIFIL compound, killing 106 civilians and injuring scores of others who had taken refuge there to escape the battles between Hezbollah and Israel. Last Sunday, 10 years later, history has repeated itself in Qana, and Israel is again responsible for the death of more than 60 civilians who perished after an Israeli bomb caused the building where they had taken refuge to collapse on top of them.
From beneath the rubble, the listless tiny bodies of 42 children were removed. A sobbing mother described her ordeal from her hospital bed, having to save one of her children and letting go of another, "I cannot lift you up; I do not have the strength to do so.I hand you over to honorable Zainab," referring to her dead daughter who was named after the granddaughter of the prophet Mohamed.
Many believe that Qana is the site of the ancient town of "Cana," where according to John 2:1-11, during a wedding ceremony, Jesus performed his first miracle, transforming water into wine. Twice in this past decade, it is blood instead of wine that has flowed in Qana.
For the past two weeks, condemnations against the killings of civilians in Lebanon have resonated throughout the entire world, and cries for an immediate ceasefire have fallen on deaf ears. Championing Israel's position to the world community, the U.S. used its 43rd veto in the U.N. Security Council to block what it deemed to be an anti- Israel resolution. Meanwhile, as Condoleezza Rice was being entertained by Israeli Prime Minister Olmert, the cries of suffocating children in Qana were disregarded. She was "deeply saddened by the terrible loss of innocent life," Rice told the press on Sunday, but evidently not saddened enough to call for an immediate cease-fire in the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah.
Last year, the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri divided Lebanon into two major camps, those who supported the Syrian presence in Lebanon lead by Hezbollah, and those who wanted to see an end to what has been referred to as the Syrian occupation of the country, lead by Druze leader Walid Jumblat and referred to as the "Cedar Revolution." Today (Aug.1) during a major rally in central Beirut, the crowds denounced Israel for the massacre of Qana; they were waving Hezbollah flags, Lebanese flags, and many angry demonstrators adorned the opposition red and white scarves, as well as pro-Hariri blue ribbons. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Arabs and Muslims stretching from India into Iraq demonstrated against the United States, Israel, and Arab leaders.
Pictures of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and Gamal Abdul Nasser, the late president of Egypt and champion of Arab nationalism during the 1960s, have surfaced in many Arab capitals.
Thanks to Israel, Hassan Nasrallah has been anointed as the heir to Nasser, something that will surely unnerve his earlier critics: King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and King Abdullah of Jordan, along with President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, where they are already sitting on one huge powder keg of Islamist movements in their respective countries.
While Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982 transformed a peaceful and docile community of Shi'ite Muslims into a formidable force in the resisting of the occupation, hence, the birth of Hezbollah, today Israel's "scorched earth" policy against the Lebanese civilians has united Sunnis and Shi'ites against it and the United States. Something the United States has been spared from in Iraq at least for the time being. today in Sadr city, Iraqis set fire to the U.S. and Israeli flags.
During an impromptu demonstration in Beirut held after the news of the Qana massacre first surfaced, a demonstrator carried a cardboard sign with "The Silence of the Lambs," written on it. Surely he did not mean that the Lebanese were lead to the slaughterhouse without resisting or complaining. I can only guess that the demonstrator was alluding to silence of the world community, the U.N., and the Arab leadership.
War Through the Camera Lens -- Television's Conflicting Reports
New America Media, Commentary, Jamal Dajani, Jul 26, 2006
Editor's Note: Arab media show their expertise as well as their biases in their reporting on the war in Lebanon, while U.S. celebrity news anchors generally show themselves. Jamal Dajani is director of Middle East programming at Link TV. Visit his blog and others here.
SAN FRANCISCO--Monitoring Arab, Israeli, Iranian and U.S. satellite television networks in a time of war is an exhausting job. Trying to make sense of the commentaries and analysis of the current conflict is an exercise in futility.
I have been switching back and forth between channels for what seems like forever. I spent 10 hours at the office, came home, had dinner, rested a bit and took a shower. I felt refreshed.
It’s almost midnight in San Francisco, 10 a.m. in Beirut. I have been watching Al Jazeera and Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. (LBC) for the past two hours. The field reporting on Al Jazeera is excellent. They know how to connect the dots: Beirut, south Lebanon near today’s fiercest battles, Haifa, Jerusalem and then Gaza. Later I’ll watch some CNN after a repeat of Larry King.
On U.S. networks, I often find myself watching celebrity anchors who put the spotlight on themselves more than the conflict itself. More airtime is devoted to these talking heads than to the story of 14 members of the same family buried beneath the rubbles of a bombed building; or the half million people made refugees in Lebanon; or the rockets falling on Haifa; or the four U.N. observers who were just killed. Meanwhile, several networks consistently introduce many of their so-called Middle East experts as independent analysts when they’re often right-wing Lebanese Christians or members of Israel-backed think tanks with agendas and axes to grind.
At times, the coverage has resembled the early days of the war on Iraq. Retired generals have been recruited into action by most major networks to dazzle viewers with computer-generated battle scenes. Superstar anchors with little or no experience in the Middle East -- the likes of CNN's Anderson Cooper -- are parachuted into Haifa and Beirut. Even CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta gave us his health report from northern Israel and Beirut. This time, however, he taught me nothing about my health. Sanjay’s face beamed with excitement as he shadowed Lebanese and Israeli doctors around hospital operating rooms.
In the fog of war, news is muddled with opinion. Many reporters seem to wear their flags on their sleeves, and I am not speaking just about Arab and Israeli journalists. Also in the midst of that same fog of polemics, accusations seem to flourish in the media and on college campuses.
In an opinion piece published in the Los Angeles Times, Alan Dershowitz, a professor of Law at Harvard University and author of the book “Making the Case for Israel,” argues that there is a vast difference between “innocent” civilian casualties such as those in Israel and those who “voluntarily place themselves in harm’s way in order to protect terrorists from enemy fire.” In short, he absolves Israel of its killing of many if not most civilians in Lebanon and Palestine. I don’t know how Dershowitz's mind functions. Perhaps in his next op-ed he'll find a way to legitimize the killings of the four U.N. observers.
On a Lebanese network, Ra’ed (Thunder) a beautiful baby of a few hours is shown on camera in the city of Tyre. “Ra’ed was made homeless even before he was born,” the reporter says. “Ra’ed will grow up to bring down his thunder and seek vengeance from those who had pillaged his country and killed his brothers and sisters,” the reporter adds.
God help us...
Arab Regimes Back Israel's Attacks on Islamist Groups
Editor's Note: Israel has gotten a green light for its military response to the abduction of several of its soldiers from more than just the United States. Arab governments too have been notably silent as the crisis in the Middle East grows.
SAN FRANCISCO--Far more surprising than U.S. statements of support for Israel's assault on Gaza and Lebanon are similar proclamations from Arab governments. Just before the Israeli cabinet gave Prime Minister Olmert the green light for more attacks, a spokesperson for the Saudi government called for Israeli restraint, but blamed the current conflict on Hezbollah's seizure of two Israeli soldiers. "There is a difference between legitimate resistance and miscalculated adventures," he stated.
The official for the Saudi Ministry of Information hit hard on Islamic resistance groups in Lebanon and Gaza. Those groups, he said, should "bear the consequences of the crisis they have created."
Meanwhile, both King Abdullah II of Jordan and President Mubarak of Egypt warned that Hezbollah is dragging the Arab world into conflict through its misguided gambles and adventures. The majority of Arab regimes has been silent about Israel's new two-front war. Their foreign ministers to the Arab League will not meet to discuss the crisis until July 15, three days after the start of Israeli air attacks and time enough for Israel to completely destroy Lebanon's infrastructure.
Israeli attacks on Lebanon or Gaza are not something new; nor are prisoner exchanges between Hezbollah and Israel. To date, there have been three prisoner exchange deals between Israel and Hezbollah (July 1996, June 1998 and January 2004) and several prisoner swaps between Israel and the PLO. The most famous swap was in May 1985, when in exchange for three Israeli soldiers held by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Israel released 1,150 Palestinian political prisoners. So why the overblown Israeli reaction to the capture of several Israeli soldiers, and the Arab silence this time?
In a new strategy shift, the dependence of Palestinians and Lebanese on Arab regimes to confront and contain Israel politically and militarily has ended. Militant groups from Palestine to Iraq -- groups known in the Arab world as the Islamic Resistance and as "terrorists organizations" by Israel and many Western countries -- have been taking matters into their own hands. Arab masses have long realized the powerlessness of their leaders to end the conflict in Iraq or alleviate the suffering of the Palestinians. People throughout the Middle East remember the failed mediation attempts by King Abdullah II of Jordan and President Mubarak of Egypt to lift the September 2002 siege on Yasir Arafat. Arafat remained a prisoner in his compound until few days before his death on November 11, 2004, when he was air-lifted to a military hospital in France only after French President Jacques Chirac intervened.
At the same time, as Arab regimes' influence over organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah has waned, Israel has lost a kind of buffer zone. Unlike the PLO in the past, neither Hamas nor Hezbollah is dependent on Arab state support. Syria's influence over Hezbollah takes second place to that of Iran.
Hence, the Israeli government is very concerned that any success achieved by Hamas or Hezbollah will open the way for more groups -- perhaps even Al Qaeda -- to fight Israel or terrorize Israelis.
Arab regimes are very concerned as well. The aftershocks left by the elections in Gaza are still felt beneath the seats of monarchs and leaders stretching from Riyadh to Rabat. Many Arab rulers are threatened by democracy and the rise of Islamism in the region. In Gaza, they are challenged by a democratically elected Islamist government, Hamas. In Egypt, the challenge comes from the Islamic Brotherhood, and in Lebanon, from Hezbollah, commonly referred to as a "state within a state."
Away from the sectarian violence that has plagued Iraq, Hamas (a Sunni organization) and Hezbollah (Shiite) have found themselves on the same front, fighting a battle for their survival. The survival of each is dependant on the other. Similarly, Arab regimes and Israel have forged an undeclared alliance to rid themselves of the growing menace in the region, "popular Islamist movements." Israel is doing the bombing and destruction, while Arab regimes quietly cheer on the sidelines.
Today, on Al-Manar Television in Beirut, Hassan Nassrallah, the Secretary General of Hezbollah, answered the Saudis and others and said, "As for the Arab rulers, I will not ask you about your history. Just a brief word, we are adventurers...We never bet on you, we always bet on God."
Did the Arab rulers bet on Israel? Did Hezbollah and Hamas miscalculate? The coming days should tell.
By Jamal Dajani
Looking at the current crisis in Gaza, I find that its most striking characteristic is imbalance. First, there is the lack of parity between how most of the mainstream press portrays the Israeli Defense Force’s kidnappings of Palestinian civilians (which reflects the official Israeli line that they are “arresting terrorists’), and how it reports the Palestinian capture of members of the Israeli military, which in contrast is referred to as “illegitimate kidnappings of soldiers.” This disparity is evident in the international media coverage of the June 25 abduction of Corporal Gilad Shalit, a 19-year-old Israeli tank gunner, by three Palestinian militant groups.
The standard media treatment of any aggression against any Israeli target is to extricate it from the context in which it has occurred and ignore circumstances and tensions surrounding it. In this case, the multitude of Palestinian civilian casualties and deaths in the weeks preceding Shalit’s kidnapping is hardly mentioned. In this way, the average reader gets a foreshortened perspective of the story and is likely to view the young corporal as an innocent victim who merely happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
In addition, many newspapers have also written several sensitive profiles of Shalit, enabling us to empathize with him and his family’s hope for his safe return. Because Shalit is also a French national; France has tried to intercede on his behalf by putting further pressure on the Palestinians. By comparison, coverage of the IDF’s killings of a Palestinian family of seven who were enjoying a picnic on the Gaza beach on June 9 quickly gave way to the official Israeli response that their deaths resulted from a mine planted by Hamas.
The second kind of imbalance is political. Palestinian groups holding Corporal Shalit are demanding the release of all Palestinian women and children prisoners in exchange for his return, but Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has refused all negotiations, defiantly declaring, “The government of Israel will not yield to the extortion of the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas government, which are led by murderous terrorist organizations…We will not conduct any negotiations on a prisoner release.”
The third kind of imbalance is military. Israel has responded to guerrilla actions with overwhelming force designed to crush the Palestinians’ infrastructure and terrify the population. In the first stage of an operation euphemistically dubbed “Summer Rains,” Israeli aircraft relentlessly pounded Gaza, targeting much of the Palestinian infrastructure and demolishing the main electric plant, leaving the majority Gaza residents without electricity. In its subsequent land invasion, Israeli tanks and armored vehicles invaded Beit Hanoun (in the Gaza Strip) and drove tens of thousands of Palestinians from their homes, further tightening the noose on the 1.3 million inhabitants living in what has become the worlds’ most densely populated area. As of today (July 7), the IDF has killed 27 Palestinians. One Israeli soldier has also died.
What’s happening in Gaza nowadays is not something new. Israel has long felt entitled to take unilateral action and flex its military might with no regard for how much destruction or civilian casualties result. Two years ago, when I was working on my documentary, “Occupied Minds,” and was filming in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, an IDF commando unit disguised as Palestinian farmers entered the Old City of Nablus and kidnapped a Palestinian man allegedly wanted for interrogation by the Shin Bet. They went into the Kasbah in broad daylight and abducted the man as he was shopping at a vegetable stand. Witnesses last saw him as he was whisked away bound, his head covered with a burlap sack. His family has not heard of his whereabouts since.
Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza can recount hundreds of stories like this that never make it into the Western media nor warrant interventions by mediating countries such as France and Egypt. Another kidnapped Palestinian does not make big headlines.
Those familiar with Gaza know that Corporal Shalit is by now being held in the southern part of the Gaza Strip, far from the battlefield. So what are the real reasons behind this disproportionate use of force? Some Israeli analysts believe Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz, who both have civilian backgrounds, see this as a testing ground of their military bravado and feel they must outperform their military predecessors Ariel Sharon, Ehud Barak, and Yitzhak Rabin to gain legitimacy in the eyes of Israelis.
I believe, however, that the aim behind Israel’s military operation in Gaza is to topple the democratically elected government of Hamas and impose further territorial demands on the Palestinians. It is a familiar and ineffective strategy that Israel has been engaging in for decades, trying to extinguish political problems with the use of military power.
The current Israeli policy of retaliation and reprisals will not bring lasting peace and security to the Israelis. It is improbable that it will bring the release of the captured soldier either, the reason Israeli officials have focused on to legitimize the reoccupation of Gaza.
Counterattacks by Palestinians on nearby Israeli towns with home-made rockets are only going to exacerbate the situation as well and will continue to detract from the real issues on the ground.
A real and lasting peace will only be possible when every human life, Palestinian and Israeli, is seen to be of equal value and all the followers of Abraham can participate fully in the opportunities and human rights that only a segment of the population enjoy today.
World Cup Pay-Per-View Riles Soccer-Crazed Middle East
SAN FRANCISCO--"The poor man's game is for the rich only." Such is the cry of sports writers across the Arab world these days. From my position monitoring Arab media for a U.S.-based nonprofit, I've watched the fallout from the decision by soccer's governing body to grant exclusive World Cup broadcast rights in the Middle East to a Saudi-financed television network. The result of the deal: Middle Easterners must pay upwards of $500 to view the competition.
Though only two Arab teams, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia, are playing in the World Cup, soccer-mania has spread like wildfire throughout the Middle East, as it does every four years. But diehard fans from Morocco to Yemen are furious at FIFA's (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) deal with the Arab Radio and Television Network (ART).
In Algeria, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika gave instructions to the ministry of information to pursue all possible means to convince FIFA to grant Algeria TV the broadcast rights for the games. All efforts failed. Last week an Algeria TV news anchor apologized profusely to the country's soccer fans and consoled viewers that they could at least watch the highlights of 64 games.
Even the European channels, which are popular in Algeria, will be encrypting live match broadcasts according to their own agreements with FIFA. An Algerian fan complained in French, "Shame on French television... how they could do this to us? We gave the French National Team Zenedine Zeidan (known as "Zizou" to the French). Without him, France would not have won the World Cup in 1998."
In the war-torn country of Iraq, residents of Baghdad have been pooling their money to watch the games at designated family members' homes. According to a report on Al-Arabiya TV, coffee shops have been opening late to accommodate the fans, but many chose to stay at home, fearing suicide attacks by insurgents. The Iraqi national team, once one of the best teams in the Asia Division, did not qualify this year for lack of practice and long layovers due to the turmoil in the country.
"I don't care who wins the championship, I just want a few minutes of escape," one Iraqi fan told an Al Arabiya reporter. "The fact that ART is charging us a fee to watch the World Cup is despicable," he said, but was not his main concern. "I hope that we'll have electricity during the games," he sighed.
In the Middle East, I've seen this love of soccer temporarily quell conflict between the bitterest of foes. In December 1998, I watched the final World Cup match, between France and Brazil, at the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem. The hotel set up a wide-screen television in its open-air garden, where crowds of Palestinians, Israelis, foreign tourists and reporters munched on Arabic mezza and nervously sucked on their argilehs (water-pipes) while watching the action. Within five minutes of the start of the match, soccer fans separated according to their favorite teams. The majority of Palestinians and Israelis rowdily cheered Brazil, while foreigners more politely supported "le bleu, blanc, rouge."
Today, inside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, a small coffee house that will remain nameless is serving its mixed patrons Arabic coffee and argileh along with World Cup matches via a pirated receiver. "During the match, there is no war," the owner tells me with pride on the telephone. "If you discuss politics here, I'll kick you out -- end of story." This year, he says, Palestinian and Israeli fans are united against one common enemy: satellite and cable carriers charging hefty fees for the privilege of watching this global game.
Here in the United States, Arabs who choose to pay to watch the games in Arabic on ART won't get a respite from reminders of the war and conflict savaging the Middle East. I've been watching these ART broadcasts in San Francisco because the ESPN announcer bores me and my third-grade Spanish is no match for the lively Univision sportscaster. At the end of each game, and after the long-distance phone company and travel agency ads, there is a peculiar pitch: Special Agent Hassan, a confident and beautiful Arab-American woman, appears.
"I have a masters in chemistry," she says in English, "I am a weekend soccer goalie, I stop the plans of terrorists...I am a special agent with today's FBI." The next advertisement typically features a U.S. Army soldier, who says, "I am a bridge between two civilizations. I am an American soldier and an Arabic translator...Join the Army and get a reward of up to $10,000, and speed up the process of obtaining U.S. citizenship."
I miss the days when a game could make fans in a garden courtyard in Jerusalem forget, for a moment, the troubles of their conflicted land. Soccer's popularity is gaining in America, but it's got a long way to go. When the U.S. team was annihilated by the Czech Republic, 3-0, few seemed to notice here. I mentioned "the game" to a colleague. "It was a one-sided match," I said.
"Yeah," he replied, thinking I meant the previous evening's basketball face-off. "Shaq had an off-day."
SAN FRANCISCO--Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert swept through the nation's capital this week and garnered President George Bush's approval for further unilateral actions against Palestinians.
Olmert victoriously addressed a joint session of Congress, which almost unanimously passed HR 4681, the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006, a resolution intended to criminalize all Palestinians, regardless of their political affiliations.
This new resolution bans direct assistance to the Palestinian population. Even desperately needed humanitarian aid being provided by NGOs will be affected. It forbids or severely restricts the movement of Palestinian diplomatic representatives within the United States. The nature and ramifications of this resolution are so severe that even the Bush administration found it excessively punitive.
In his Congress speech Olmert recounted the history of his parents. "My parents Bella and Mordechai Olmert were lucky...They escaped the persecution in Ukraine and Russia and found sanctuary in Harbin, China. They immigrated to Israel to fulfill their dream of building a Jewish state living in peace in the land of our ancestors."
What Olmert failed to tell Congress is the fact that several days earlier, on May 15, Palestinians throughout the world commemorated Al Nakba Day (The Catastrophe), 58 years since the day Israel was declared a state atop the ruins of Palestinian homes and hundreds of ethnically cleansed towns and villages.
In a speech partially drafted by Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Weisel, Olmert spoke about Palestinian terrorism, the Iranian nuclear threat and introduced new words to the lexicon of the Israeli understanding of a peace agreement, such as "convergence" and "realignment." He completely ignored words such as "occupation," "oppression" and "apartheid."
The Wall, or as Israeli leaders call it, "the fence," was not on Olmert's agenda, or the fact that once completed, it will gobble up another 10 percent of the 22 percent remaining of historic Palestine. This land was intended to be the future home of the Palestinian people who, according to Israeli calculations, in less than five years will outnumber Jews living in the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.
Olmert talked about offering a hand of peace to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, recalling Ariel Sharon's words. "The Palestinians will forever be our neighbors," Olmert said. "They are an inseparable part of this land, as are we. Israel has no desire to rule over them, nor to oppress them. They too have a right to freedom and national aspirations."
He did not mention Israel's containment and control of the entire civilian population in Palestine, by fortress-like walls and mazes of checkpoints. It's a medieval strategy the Holy Land used during the Crusades, when besieged cities were deprived of food and water and hygiene was disregarded, causing the spread of epidemics.
Neither did he mention his last order to the Israeli Shabak, just before departing to meet with Bush, to authorize yet another extrajudicial assassination of a Palestinian in Gaza. This one resulted in the "crossfire" killing of a young boy, his mother and a female relative.
Moreover, shortly before Olmert came to Washington, in a decision that recalls South Africa's "Mixed Marriages Act," the Israeli Court upheld the Citizenship and Entry Into Israel Law, which bars Israeli citizens and their Palestinian spouses from the occupied territories from living together legally in Israel. Under the law, a man or woman from the West Bank who is married to an Israeli citizen or permanent resident cannot acquire Israeli citizenship or residency rights. Mentioning Israeli discriminatory policies against non-Jews might not have played out too well among his Washington audience.
Olmert's speech to Congress was a skillful confection, portraying a vision of a modern Israel in sync with the 21st century. "Israel has impressive credentials in the realms of science, technology, high-tech and the arts and many Israelis are Nobel Prizes laureates in various fields," he said. An Israel "on the cutting edge of technology" has moved beyond occupation to "realignment."
But beneath this appealing veneer lies the reality of a country in a regressive historical tailspin, spiraling downwards from apartheid laws that designate what class of people may lawfully couple with one another to siege strategies abandoned shortly after Middle Ages.
By encircling Palestinian towns and villages with walls and turrets, Israel has gained complete control of ingress and egress to the populations within. The flow of food and other resources vital to these populations depends entirely on Israel's whims and purposes.
Inside de facto Israel, its Palestinian citizens face their own brand of discrimination and are treated as third-class citizens, if treated as citizens at all. They are denied educational opportunities, welfare benefits, access to land and are even restricted to where they are permitted to live (similar to the Group Areas Act in South Africa).
Olmert did not mention any of the realities of what actual life for a Palestinian is like, and he was wise not to. Instead, he spoke of paving the way for "realignment": "Should we realize that the bilateral track with the Palestinians is of no consequence, should the Palestinians ignore our outstretched hand for peace, Israel will seek other alternatives to promote our future and the prospects of hope in the Middle East. At that juncture, the time for realignment will occur."
This realignment will eventually complete the Bantustanization of Palestine. It is the real reason behind Olmert's triumphant visit to Washington. It is something neither the Bush administration, Congress nor AIPAC, the American Israel Political Action Committee, will tell you about. That's because Olmert's next plan, according to many Arab and Israeli analysts, is to ask Congress for upwards of $10 billion in U.S. aid to help Israel realize its grand vision of unilateral, partial withdrawals and relocation of distant Israeli settlements.
Editor's Note: Al Qaeda may or may not be behind the recent deadly bombings in Dahab, Egypt. But a change in strategy by Osama bin Laden, signaled in a taped speech a day before the blasts, should concern Western analysts and politicians. New America Media contributor Jamal Dajani is director of Middle Eastern programming at Link TV.
Only 24 hours after Arab media aired an audio tape of Osama bin Laden's latest speech, a deadly bombing attack hit the Egyptian resort town of Dahab, leaving scores of dead and injured.
Did the timing of the April 24 attack have anything to do with Bin Laden's recording? No direct connections have yet been found. But Western analysts, who generally portray Bin Laden as greatly weakened since the start of the war on terror, should reconsider their assessment of the Al Qaeda leader. Bin Laden's latest tape shows an important shift in strategy.
In the new speech, broadcast on April 23 by Al Jazeera, Bin Laden accused the West of waging a "crusader war" on Islam, and issued another warning designed to encourage attacks on Western civilians. "Those who have wronged the Prophet should be handed over to Al Qaeda for judgment," Bin Laden sternly preached.
Many Western analysts and pundits have been increasingly skeptical about Bin Laden's ability to influence Muslim sentiments across the globe. When President Bush met with Pakistan's President Musharraf last March in Islamabad, he didn't mention Bin Laden or his whereabouts either in his speech or in the press conference that followed. He instead praised Pakistan's role in the war on terror, discussed the recent earthquake in Pakistan and even laughed about cricket while, according to Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid, Bush's nemesis was "only a few hours drive away in Pakistan's Pashtun belt."
The White House regularly maintains that Bin Laden is harried and constrained. Commenting on the new Bin Laden tape, White House spokesman Scott McClellan downplayed its importance. "The Al Qaeda leadership is on the run and under a lot of pressure," McClellan said. "We are on the advance. They are on the run."
It is true that for almost five years, Bin Laden has evaded capture by a reported dozen or more intelligence agencies tracking him. During this time, his ability to directly plan and organize strikes on the West has dissipated. Recent attacks in Europe and in Iraq have been orchestrated by new Al Qaeda franchise leaders, such as Abu Musab al Zarqawi, who stole the limelight from the Al Qaeda founder.
Nevertheless, one cannot write off Bin Laden's influence. He is on the run, but has adopted a new strategy: the pen -- or in his case, audio and videotape -- is mightier than the sword.
Unlike his previous recordings, which were mostly rhetorical and peppered with threats, his latest speech disseminated to his followers was Bin Laden's smartest ever. Through lashing words and a dash of poetry, Bin Laden looked toward current events to paint a picture of a clash of religions and inspire more attacks against the West.
"The war is a responsibility shared between the people and the governments," Bin Laden said, in a complete departure from his offer of a truce to the United States. He touched on a full range of current events that strike a chord with many Arabs and Muslims. Addressing Palestinian frustrations, Bin Laden declared that "the blockade that the West is imposing on the government of Hamas proves that there is a Zionist crusaders' war on Islam." Referring to the crisis in Darfur, Sudan, he urged his supporters to foil what he termed Western and American efforts to divide the country. The "mujahideen and their supporters," Bin Laden said, "especially in Sudan and the Arab peninsula," should "prepare for a long war against the crusader plunderers in Western Sudan." He denounced the U.N. Security Council, mocked King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and called on Muslims to expand the boycott resulting from the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in Denmark.
Bin Laden has recognized that much of the current war is about winning the hearts and minds of Muslims. He has one plan in mind: to inspire, influence and instigate attacks on Western targets or Arab regimes that support the West.
Nearly three years have passed since the last attacks on Sharm El Sheikh, a large Egyptian resort close to Dahab. Following those July 2005 attacks, Arab media revisited rumors of an elusive terrorist group calling itself the Al Qaeda Organization in the Levant and Egypt that might have been behind the bombings. The Egyptian government has neither confirmed nor denied the Al Qaeda connection.
What target will Al Qaeda choose next? These are the questions that perhaps no intelligence agency can answer until the White House and analysts alike re-evaluate their assessment of Bin Laden's sphere of influence.
Dialogue of the Deaf Commentary/Analysis, Jamal Dajani, Mar 31, 2006 New America Media
Editor's Note: A Palestinian looks at Israel's recent election and sees an impasse, with little dialogue between the major actors and a failed effort by Arab-Israelis to form their own party. New America Media contributor Jamal Dajani is director of Middle Eastern programming at Link TV.
When Palestinian voters took to the polls in January and voted for Hamas, stunning the international community, the results were described as an "earthquake." On Tuesday, March 28, in the lowest election turnout in the country's history, Israeli voters did not cause an earthquake. But the outcome was still dramatic.
Israelis apparently moved to center politically, by giving the Kadima party the majority of seats in the Israeli Knesset, rejecting Benjamin Netanyahu and dealing a major blow to the conservative Likud party. But they also surprised many analysts and pollsters by voting in large numbers for Avigdor Lieberman's far-right Beiteinu party, which calls for an Arab-free Israel. The Beiteinu party wants to place Arab towns and villages outside state borders and strip Israel's Arab residents of their citizenship.
The vision of new centrist government leader Ehud Olmert is more moderate, but only slightly. Olmert has pledged to establish permanent borders for Israel by 2010, with or without the Palestinians' approval. Several years ago, when he was mayor of Jerusalem, Olmert outlined his vision of an Israeli state with "as many Jews and as few Palestinians as possible." During his victory speech to Kadima supporters, he reiterated this vision by declaring, "In the coming period we will move to settle the final borders of the state of Israel, a Jewish state with a Jewish majority."
The message strikes a popular chord. A recent poll conducted by the Israeli organization Geocartographia, for the Center for the Struggle Against Racism, found that more than two-thirds of Israeli Jews would refuse to live in the same building as an Arab. Nearly half would not allow an Arab in their home, and 63 percent of Jewish Israelis consider their country's Arab citizens a security and demographic threat.
Israeli-Arabs have long felt disfranchised from the Israeli political system. After facing discrimination on political, financial and social spheres, many say they are second-class citizens.
In one pre-election TV campaign advertisement for an Arab-Israeli party, a camel spoke as he wandered through the desert.
"They think I am a donkey," the animal says. "But I am a camel."
Calling someone a donkey in both Arabic and Hebrew literally means "stupid." The TV spot was a call to Arab-Israeli voters to turn away from Zionist parties and vote for their own party. Traditionally, most Israeli-Arabs have aligned themselves with the Labor party, only to be disappointed by its empty promises.
Their attempt to unify this year did not work. In preparations for the elections, the four main Arab parties debated forming a unified Arab list. The idea showed overwhelming support by the community, but soon was cancelled due to division and bickering. Arab voters turned out in low numbers, and many voted for Labor again. Posters in Arabic showing Moroccan-born Labor leader Amir Peretz were plastered in large Arab cities and villages. Arab parties won only nine out of 120 seats in the Knesset, a representation of 7.5 percent in a nation where one out of five Israelis is an Arab.
Shortly after the final results of the Israeli elections were announced, guaranteeing Ehud Olmert the prime minister's seat, Ismail Haniyeh took the oath of office in front of President Mahmoud Abbas in Gaza, becoming the first Palestinian prime minister from the Islamist group Hamas. That same day, the Bush administration banned its officials from meeting with any member of the new Hamas-led Palestinian government.
Washington wants Hamas to recognize Israel and honor all previously signed peace agreements before it will end its boycott. To this, Ismail Haniyeh maintains that he is waiting for Israel to recognize a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders, release Palestinian prisoners and recognize the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to Israel.
As it stands today, Prime Minster Ehud Olmert wants to unilaterally define the borders of Israel and does not want to negotiate with a Hamas-led government. Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh is waiting for Israel to withdraw to the 1967 borders. Thus far, the two leaders are communicating to each other through the media only, each one outlying his vision for peace in a style some analysts refer to as a "dialogue of the deaf."
On Wednesday, March 29, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza gathered in the streets to watch the eclipse of the sun. An elderly man muttered that the eclipse was a bad omen.
Caught in the Middle -- Arabs Fear Nuclear Israel, Iran
Editor's Note: When many Arabs hear Iran insist that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, they're reminded of similar assurances by Israeli leaders decades ago. Movement toward a nuclear weapons-free Middle East can only take place by addressing both nation's nuclear capabilities and security concerns. Contrary to popular conception in the West, the threat of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East is not just an Israeli concern. Arabs are alarmed by an increasingly nuclear Middle East, and fear both Israel's and Iran's nuclear capabilities.
Every year at the general conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Arab representatives request that the agency condemn Israel's nuclear arsenal and demand that the country join the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty arms control pact. They demand that Israel open all its nuclear facilities to IAEA inspection, and call for making the Middle East a region free of nuclear weapons. This drive, however, is continually stymied by U.S. and EU opposition. Meanwhile, Israel remains non-committal, neither admitting nor denying possessing nuclear weapons.
As the war of words between Iran and Israel heats up, Arabs feel caught in the middle.
Last December, leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman) met in Abu Dhabi to discuss the current hot spots of the Middle East: the war in Iraq, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the Syrian-Lebanese crisis and Iran's controversial nuclear program.
"There is concern that Iran's nuclear program could be weaponized," Reuters quoted one conference official as saying. "At the end of the day, they (the Iranians) are building a nuclear reactor across the Gulf ... There is also concern that if there is any military action (against Iran), Iran might retaliate and attack pro-U.S. allies in the Gulf."
The nuclear programs of both Iran and Israel go back decades.
The Iranian nuclear program began in the Shah's era in the 1960s, under the auspices of the United States. Iran's first nuclear research center was equipped with a U.S.-supplied 5-megawatt nuclear research reactor. The Shah at the time had plans to build as many as 23 nuclear power stations across the country with help from the United States.
Meanwhile, Israel's nuclear ambition practically began at the creation of the state. In 1949, Hemed Gimmel, a special unit of the Israeli Defense Force's Science Corps began a geological survey in the Negev desert in search of uranium reserves. Later, in 1952, the Israel Atomic Energy Commission was created. At that time, its chairman, Ernst David Bergmann, declared that an "Israeli bomb" was the best way to ensure "that we shall never again be led as lambs to the slaughter."
If the Israeli nuclear program grew out of fear of its neighbors and the conviction that the Holocaust justified any measures Israel took to ensure its survival, from where does Iran's justification come?
On Sept. 22, 1980, following a long history of border disputes, Iraq invaded Iran. The war lasted eight years, claimed 1 million casualties, and cost over a trillion dollars. The majority of Arab nations supported Saddam's regime both financially and militarily. International antipathy toward the Islamic Revolution in Iran contributed to an apathetic response by the rest of the world to Iraq's use of chemical warfare, which caused the death of over 100,000 Iranian troops and civilians.
Resentment toward Arabs by Persians is not just a product of the Iran-Iraq war. It goes back to the seventh century, when the last Sassanid shah, Yazdegerd III, lost a 14-year struggle to drive out the Umayyad Caliphate out of the Persian Empire.
The similarities between Iran's and Israel's desire for nuclear dominance can also be seen in Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad's claim that Iran is developing its nuclear program for "peaceful purposes." That assertion brings to mind David Ben-Gurion's own in December of 1960. When U-2 spy planes identified Dimona as an Israeli nuclear site, Ben-Gurion claimed that it was only a nuclear research center built for "peaceful purposes."
Arab states have been previously engaged in long and bloody wars with both Israel and Iran. In the present scheme of things, however, they may seek to join the nuclear arm race as well.
It is convenient to characterize possession of nuclear capability as benevolent when it is ourselves or our allies who are being questioned. But it is unrealistic to expect some nations to lay down their arms and make themselves vulnerable to others who will not.
Taking Iran's nuclear program to the U.N. Security Council could be an opportunity to affect meaningful and long lasting détente in the Middle East -- if the Security Council also looks seriously into the current danger posed by Israel's nuclear arsenal. Until then, Arabs will feel caught in the middle.
Jamal Dajani is director of Middle Eastern programming at Link TV.
In France's Dark Hour, Palestinian Media Stand By Their Longtime Ally
Editor's Note: As most Arab media fault France for marginalizing its Muslim immigrant communities, Palestinian media are criticizing the rioters, defending the French government and objecting to the use of the term "Intifada" to describe the unrest.
Since the start of the car-torching and vandalism that have wreaked havoc through the Parisian banlieues (poor suburbs), the vast majority of Arab media has criticized France's "failure" to integrate its Muslim and North African immigrants into society. Palestinian media, however, have taken a different line.
Pictures of burning cars and storefronts hit the front pages of Arab newspapers worldwide. Arab satellite TV provided round-the-clock coverage of the French riots. Ahmed Sheikh, editor-in-chief of the most viewed Arab television network, Al-Jazeera, declared, "We view the (French) problem with great importance, as it might spread throughout Europe and may affect both the Arab and Islamic Worlds." The Lebanese Al Safeer newspaper led with the headline, "Since the beginning, there was neglect," and added, "the French system needs reform...and other European systems do not fare better."
But Palestinian media came to the defense of the French government. "We as Arabs and Muslims hope for France and its friendly people peace and security," wrote a commentator in the Palestinian Al Quds. "One should not forget how France helped millions of immigrants to lead a life of dignity in its bosom."
The Palestine Broadcasting Corporation, the official mouthpiece of the Palestinian National Authority, recently replaced its usual English foreign-language newscast with a French one. During a recent broadcast focusing on the riots, the presenter began by conveying the Palestinians' regrets to the French government and people.
Moreover, Palestinian writers and reporters showed dismay and irritation at the use of the term "Intifada" in some Arab and European media in reference to the riots. Headlines such as "L'Intifada palestinienne pour modele" (the Palestinian Intifada as an example) appeared in Le Monde, and "A Toulouse, le quatier du Mirail partage entre intifada" (In Toulouse, the Mirail neighborhood is divided by the Intifada) in Le Figaro. The term "L'Euro-Intifada" has been added to the lexicon of several French television outlets, such as TV 5.
For years, scenes of youths pelting stones at the Israeli occupying army and burning tires have been synonymous with the Palestinian struggle, the Intifada. For years, Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have paid their "Arnona" (Israeli taxes) to their oppressors, but received nothing in return. Many Palestinian journalists, therefore, argue that the French disfranchised Arabs and Muslims have the means to fight within the system by conducting civil disobedience, without resorting to mayhem and destruction. This was the case, they argue, when French Muslims marched throughout the country against the "Laďcité" decision to ban from French public schools the "foulard," the headscarf worn by religious Muslim women.
"What is going on in France in no way should be compared to the Intifada," said Palestinian physician and francophone journalist Fares Shaheen in an interview from Gaza. "The Palestinian Intifada is for a noble cause -- it is an uprising to liberate an entire people. What's going on in France are just acts of vandalism, nothing else ... the people responsible for these acts of violence in no way represent Islam or Muslims, and they don't represent the Arab Nation."
Besides the desire to keep ownership of the term "Intifada," France's longstanding dedication to the Palestinian cause explains the reluctance of many Palestinians to criticize the French government.
One year ago, on Nov. 11, 2004, Yasser Arafat, president of the Palestinian Authority, died at Percy Military Training Hospital in Clamart, France. Before he was rushed there for treatment, the Israelis had made him a virtual prisoner in his West Bank compound for nearly three years. The Bush administration declared him a "persona-non-grata" and refused to negotiate directly with him, putting the breaks on the "Road Map for Peace" initiative.
France, during that period, watched in frustration as the United States focused on Iraq rather than Israeli-Palestinian peace. France refused to support the Iraq war, refused to isolate Arafat and took the lead in Europe within the Quartet (the United States, European Union, Russia and the United Nations) to keep the Road Map alive.
France had stepped to the rescue of Arafat before, helping him get out of Lebanon in the 1980s as Israeli forces closed in.
Ending the special coverage of the riots in France, the presenter for Palestine TV thanked her guests and said in perfect French, "And as such, we won't forget how France welcomed the late Arafat during his final days. Yes, that's something that the Palestinian people can never forget."
The Palestinians' strong sense of loyalty to the French government and their desire to differentiate "their" Intifada from the youth riots in France could backfire. After all, those same youths and their parents have been the loudest voices in France in support of the right of Palestinian self-determination. But for now, Palestinian media remain reluctant to criticize a longtime friend.
PNS contributor Jamal Dajani is director of Middle Eastern programming at Link TV (www.linktv.org).
Editor's Note: The first problem a Palestinian American encounters on his return trip to Jerusalem is the name of his country of birth.
Day One: Ben Gurion Airport
The flight to Ben Gurion Airport from Amman takes only 20 minutes. We arrive in Tel Aviv on the eve of Rosh Hashana. Airport security is heightened. I strategically position myself behind an official from the U.S. State Department at the passport control. He's wearing shorts and has been on R&R in Amman.
"They always harass me at Ben Gurion airport," I tell the big-shot with the diplomatic passport. He goes through fast. "Next," the female official yells.
"You're born in Israel, no?" she asks.
"Jerusalem," I answer, "not Israel. This is what I wrote on the form...It is also on my passport."
She rolls her eyes. "You must write a country." She crosses out Jerusalem and writes "ISRAEL" in red. As usual, I am irritated.
"When I was born," I say, "the Jordanians controlled Jerusalem. My mother was born there when the British controlled it, and my father was also born in Jerusalem at the start of WWI during the final days of the Ottomans. His passport says Palestine on it, in Arabic, Hebrew and English."
"Next," she yells again, handing me my passport and a "security-risk" paper. I am stopped at baggage claim by an Israeli security officer. I look behind him, and there is the State Department guy in his shorts. "Is there a problem?" he asks. "Nothing out of the ordinary," I reply, "for a Palestinian returning home."
The Israeli security officer looks at the U.S. official, looks at me, and hands me my passport.
"Welcome to Israel," he says.
Day Two: Jerusalem
Today is Rosh Hashanah and the first day of Ramadan. No traffic is permitted in the Haradym (orthodox Jewish) neighborhoods in Western Jerusalem, and the Old City comes to a standstill 15 minutes before the Iftar (breaking the fast). Everyone is waiting anxiously in their dining rooms. There is a strange sense of peace in a place that witnessed so much bloodshed for centuries. I sit on my balcony facing the Mount of Olives, listening to the wind. The calls of the Mu'athens echo in harmony from the seven hills of the city like a symphony... "Allah wa Akbar...Allah wa Akbar," God is great...God is great. The canon sounds, shattering the peace and signaling the end of the fast. I hear the noise of spoons hitting pots and plates. People talking and laughing. I wonder what it is like to live in the Western part of the city.
Day Three: Ramallah
"Wein Ala Ramallah," (We are going to Ramallah) a folkloric song everyone from Ramallah knows by heart, highlights the beauty and the longing of what used to be a beautiful village. Now, most of Ramallah's original inhabitants live in Michigan. My parents used to take us to this place in the summer time to escape the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem. The trip took 15 minutes but felt as if we were going to some faraway place. Today, it took me a little shy of two hours to get there. We went through one bypass road and three checkpoints. Kalandia was the worst. A backlog of hundreds of cars. You can buy just about anything while stuck in traffic: clothes, fake Nikes, fruits, vegetables, birds, refrigerators. I saw someone selling refrigerators from the back of his truck. Under the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority, Ramallah developed into a mish-mash of buildings without planning or zoning restrictions. Overcrowded, dirty and noisy. Oh, to the glorious days of Ramallah... "Wein ala Ramallah."
Day Four: Beit Agron
I went to Beit Agron to renew my Israeli press card. Without it I will not be able to cross into Gaza, which is still considered a closed military zone. At 8:30 a.m., two foreign journalists (1 Italian, 1 British) received their press cards in less than 15 minutes. I, on the other hand am told that my application will take several days. I plead with the press office employee and tell him that I am staying in the country for only two more days. He does not budge.
I am boiling from the inside out but decide not to lose my temper. So I leave for a stroll in the Old City.
I enter it from the New Gate passing College des Freres, the French Catholic school where I spent 13 years receiving my early education. I walk down the Via Delorosa, the road taken by Jesus Christ to his Crucifixion, and stop at the sixth station where he fell carrying the cross. I touch the markings on the stone wall... I no longer feel the pain... I am not angry any more.
Day Five: Jericho
During the Six Days War in 1967, we stayed at my grandmother's in Jericho. I always thought of my grandmother as my protector. She was 88 when the Israelis in their tanks rolled down the Mount of Temptations into Jericho. When the soldiers came to our home she made us all stand behind her and made sure we were all safe. Jericho always reminded me of her: warm, old and beautiful... an oasis.
Today, the ancient road between Jerusalem and Jericho is blocked off by the 30-foot Israeli security wall. The Palestinians call it the "Apartheid Wall." Now you have to go through a tunnel to link to the one lane highway which snaked its way into Jericho. I know when my ears pop that I am getting close to Jericho. It is below sea level.
Today, when we approach Wadi el Qilt intersection, the traffic comes to a quick halt. Two Israeli humvees have blocked off the road and the soldiers are checking Palestinian drivers' IDs. Of course, Israeli settlers with yellow plates are quickly waved through. Palestinians have to sit in their cars for miles under the heat of the sweltering sun of the Jordan Valley.
I see an old lady in her 80s riding on a donkey. She's carrying grapes and figs. She is stopped by the Israelis and turned back. She passes our car.
"Where are you heading to, hajeh?" (a title of respect to address the elderly that literally means "pilgrim")
"Jericho", she replies. "I'll get there, Inshallah, don't worry."
She gently nudges her donkey, who immediately turns right into the hills. I watch her slowly disappear and reappear like a mirage. It takes us about two hours to make into the center of town, yet I am thrilled. Jericho has not changed a bit. It remains the same laid-back town I remembered. Farmers still grow citrus and bananas and the center of the town has not grown by a single foot. When we got to the "Douwar" (the Circle), I look to my right and there she is...and there is her donkey eating some orange peels. He looks happy. We drive next to her and stop. She looks at me and smiles. I smile and wave. I think of my grandmother.
Day Six: Jerusalem
I read in the Letters to the Editor section of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that the Israeli Cabinet has halted the efforts of the agriculture minister to bypass the High Court's ruling to end the cruel force-feeding of geese to produce foie gras! This outcome was hailed to "preserve the dignity of Israel as a humanitarian state in keeping with the rule of law." The letter-writer added: "Perhaps the dignity of Israel as a humanitarian state in keeping with the rule of law will now manifest itself with regard to Palestinians as well as to geese?"
I've just finished reading seven newspapers, front to back. Three Israeli papers, three Palestinian ones and the International Herald Tribune. The Palestinians are missing one huge newspaper sheltered from partisan and government influence. They need their own New York Times. There is much debate going on in the Israeli press about the future of Israel. Should Israel give up the West Bank? Should Israel sacrifice its Jewish identity for democracy?
There is a lot of talk and debate but no action on the ground to ease the suffering of the Palestinians. The gigantic Wall is almost 70 percent complete, the Israelis continue their policy of demolishing Palestinian homes, illegal settlement activities continue in the West Bank and human rights abuses against the indigenous people of the land are committed daily by the Israeli government, under the watchful eye of the United States and the European Union.
Tonight, I'll head back to Ben Gurion Airport. A young Israeli security officer, perhaps a new immigrant or the son of one, will ask: "Where is your Israeli ID card? Why did come back? Who did you see? Who do you know? What do you do?"
I know the drill by heart...
PNS contributor Jamal Dajani is director of Middle Eastern programming at Link TV (www.linktv.org).
21st Century 'Muslim Desperados' -- Why London Bombers Don't Fit 'War on Terror' Frame
Editor's Note: The specter of homegrown Muslim desperados setting off bombs in London or Sharm el-Sheik doesn't fit the current logic driving the West's war on terror -- but it may pose an even greater challenge than fighting a single Al Qaeda network led by a handful of jihadists.
SAN FRANCISCO--The discovery that the perpetrators of the most recent bombings in London were not outsiders but native British nationals with ordinary lives has broken the stereotype of the hostile foreigner who seeks to destabilize an enemy nation from without. Analysts are searching for a plausible rationale to explain the contradiction between the Pakistanis and other Muslims involved and their Western upbringing.
Some have said the motivation of these particular young Muslims has nothing to do with a backlash against the war in Iraq, foreign troop presence in Afghanistan and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Australian Prime Minister John Howard put it this way, shortly after the second bombing in downtown London: "Can I remind you that the murder of 88 Australians in Bali took place before the operation in Iraq? Can I remind you that the 11th of September occurred before the operation in Iraq? Can I also remind you that the very first occasion that bin Laden specifically referred to Australia was in the context of Australia's involvement in liberating the people of East Timor?"
This rationale, which has subsequently appeared in several op-ed articles, goes like this: Since 9/11 happened before the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, there is no cause and effect relationship between terrorist actions now and the war in Iraq and foreign troop presence in Afghanistan.
On the other hand, the U.S. government, its allies and many members of the press have regularly held Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda responsible for terror attacks worldwide, including what is happening in Iraq on a daily basis. These routine accusations are always buttressed with the fact that Al Qaeda or its wannabes obligingly take credit on their Web sites, or through praises delivered by bin Laden or by his right-hand man Ayman al-Zawahiri. The recent attacks in London were claimed by at least three so-called "Al Qaeda franchises."
But the London attacks do not fit into the past profile of foreign attackers or jihadists who have descended on a country to wreak havoc and destruction. They were homegrown. These are 21st century Muslim Desperados with characteristics similar to terrorists active in the 1970s in groups such as the Red Brigade in Italy, the Red army in Japan, the Baader-Meinhof Gang in Germany and even the Symbionese Liberation Army in the San Francisco Bay Area. Just as members of those seventies terror groups adopted rhetoric from Communists and South American revolutionaries, today's Muslim Desperados model their ideology from bin Laden's and Al Qaeda's deviated interpretation of Islam.
Their disenfranchisement with the British system preceded 9/11. These Muslim Desperados have felt chafed too long by being relegated to an inferior immigrant status in a country they did not immigrate to, but were born into. Their history goes back to the summer of 2001, when Muslim youths, the majority of whom were of Pakistani origin, in the towns of Oldham, Burnley, Leeds and Bradford shocked the nation by rioting against provocations by the neo-fascist British National Party.
It was largely after 9/11 that many of them were drawn to radical Islam. Inside the sanctity of their mosques, they were listening to extremist imams such as Abu Hamza Al Masri, currently in jail, who always referred to the 9/11 perpetrators as martyrs and openly praised Bin Laden as a hero. Many of them traveled to Pakistan to study the Quran, Arabic and Urdu. Many others simply received their indoctrination through hundreds of terror Web sites. There, they learned the science of bomb-making and like a sponge absorbed the rhetoric. Like the gun-slinging outlaws of the past with modern-day weaponry, their blaze of fire and destruction holds no message except to visit anarchy and terror on the status quo that has excluded them.
While this profile holds true, it is superficial if one does not take into consideration the galvanizing impact of the cumulative influence of the Western presence in the Middle East and Islamic countries. Before the current Iraqi war, there was the second Intifada in Palestine (2000), and before that the sanctions on Iraq, which were preceded by that other Iraqi war, Desert Storm ... stretching all the way back to the British and French colonial division of Arabia and installation of puppet regimes.
These multiple fissures were exacerbated by the flagrant disregard of "good cause" in the invasion and devastation of Iraq, which is seen not as a mission of "democratization" but as willful mischief on the part of those responsible. This has further polarized those who feel their own culture and people threatened by what they see as a sort of Crusader renaissance. And the definition of what that culture is, and who those people are, has become much broader since the Al Qaeda ideology has captured the imagination of so many of those who feel at risk.
It is a mistake to underestimate the empathic capacity for one another of those who feel under siege -- to discount how the "Westernized" Pakistanis of London can be galvanized by the Iraqi war or the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But to discount this is to miss the complexity of identities that now transcend individual nationality and find their greatest commonality with the part of themselves that is most threatened: their religious and ethnic sides.
The horrific bombings in Sharm el-Sheik have shocked the world again. First the comfortable, stable regularity of an everyday London permeated with uncertainty and instability, then a peaceful, remote vacation spot shattered and charred. In all the horror and carnage and panic, there does seem to be a very deliberate message in these attacks: "No more 'business as usual,' for anyone, anywhere."
PNS contributor Jamal Dajani is director of Middle Eastern programming at Link TV.
Arab Media Condemn Attacks -- Warn No Place Immune From Terrorists
Editor's Note: Jamal Dajani, director of Middle Eastern programming at Link TV (www.linktv.org), monitored Arab news programming, online newspapers and Web sites from Paris on July 7, the day of the London bombings.
Q: Is there a single, dominant reaction to the London bombings in Arab news media?
A: Arab media are condemning these attacks, which, incidentally, happened in areas of London with large Muslim and Arab populations. But the focus is that no place on earth is immune from terrorists, especially ones who are willing to kill or be killed.
Q: Do Arab media take the London attack as a sign that Al Qaeda is shifting the focus of its attacks or its operations to the West?
A: The name "Al Qaeda" is now used by Islamist terrorists worldwide who have no connection, or a very loose one, to Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda. This is clear from monitoring not only the news on satellite TV and the Arab print media, but the so-called Al Qaeda Web sites -- for example, those that showed the beheadings of hostages. The term "Al Qaeda" now is similar to the term "mafia" -- the U.S. mafia, Israeli mafia, Russian mafia and so on.
Before the London attacks, these groups were threatening England as well as Italy, to put pressure on these countries to withdraw from Iraq, similarly to what happened to Spain. This is my own analysis as well as many in the Arab media.
Q: What kind of message, if any, is Arab media sending to Muslims in Europe about their vulnerability in the aftermath of the bombings?
A: Arab media praised Tony Blair for recognizing how Muslims condemned these horrific terrorist attacks, but they are also concerned about backlashes. Their communities have suffered from the aftermath of 9/11.
The National Association of British Arabs issued a press release to all Arab media on the day of the attacks. They unequivocally condemned the bombing, calling it a "horrific" attack against "this most diverse of cities." They noted that two of the blasts took place in largely Arab and/or Muslim communities, and called on all Londoners to "resist any voices inciting racial or religious hatred."
Q: What kind of questions are Arab journalists and pundits raising in their commentaries or broadcasts?
A: The common denominator is the fear that the quagmire of Iraq may have sped out of control, beyond Iraq's borders. Many believe that the occupation of Iraq has refueled the hatred toward the United States, Britain and coalition countries.
Q: How should the United States or Britain respond to these attacks, according to Arab commentators?
A: There's a general consensus here: The sympathy earned by the U.S. after 9/11 was squandered with the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, followed by the occupation of Iraq and Baghdad, the ancient capital of the Islamic empire. This generates animosity toward the West. Britain is victimized due to Blair's blunder by following and supporting Bush's policies.
As long as the United States and Britain are occupying Iraq, more attacks will happen. It is a matter of time. The terrorists are taking full advantage of the situation.
Dajani was interviewed by phone and e-mail by Brian Shott, an editor at Pacific News Service.
'Occupied Democracy': A New American Foreign Policy Pacific News Service, Commentary, Jamal Dajani, Jan 19, 2005
Editor's Note: Elections held under foreign occupation or orchestrated from afar -- such as those in Afghanistan and the West Bank/Gaza, or the upcoming Iraqi elections -- can never be a true democratic forum, the writer says.
SAN FRANCISCO--During the last year the United States has sought to bring elections to Afghanistan, Iraq and what may become Palestine. If American ideology is embraced by the Muslim world, the thinking goes, our heavy military and financial involvement in these areas will be validated. This strategy has spawned a new trend in U.S. foreign policy that might aptly be called "occupied democracy."
All three countries where our time-honored democratic traditions are to be observed are under foreign military occupation. This fact negates the entire principal of self-determination by the majority of the people by subordinating it to a grander scheme already predetermined by the powers that be. Can what is being touted as "democracy coming to the Muslim world" really be taken as a true expression of the will of the people in each respective country?
Much feel-good fanfare was made about the U.S.-orchestrated elections in Afghanistan, which predictably resulted in the victory of our favored candidate, Hamid Karzai, who assumed a very shaky presidency. And it appears that elections "under the gun" will take place in Iraq on Jan. 30, whether the country is ready or not, if for no other reason than to shore up the credibility of Eyad Allawi, another man handpicked by the United States.
But the recent elections in the West Bank and Gaza were the flimsiest excuse of all for a forum representing the will of the people.
This so-called democratic process, which took place at breakneck speed and under Israeli occupation, resulted in the election of yet another handpicked new regime leader, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). The majority of Palestinians had not even heard of Abbas until George Bush anointed him as the "moderate" Palestinian leader. In addition, about half of all Palestinians live outside the West Bank and Gaza in the Diaspora throughout the Middle East, Europe and the Americas -- yet they were completely ignored and excluded from participating in this "historic" event.
This is in sharp contrast to the extensive media coverage devoted to the efforts being made to solve the logistical problem of giving Afghani and Iraqi expatriates the ability to vote their homelands' elections. Currently, polling places are being set up from Detroit to Damascus, in order to allow the large numbers of Iraqis living outside Iraq to participate in the impending elections.
The world has never doubted Palestinians' ability to engage in the political process. Nevertheless, fans of these Palestinian elections are preoccupied with a futile process that hinges not on their dictates, but on the whims and dictates of the Israeli occupation. Palestinian elections are not going to bring relief to casualties of this occupation, neither to the farmers whose land was appropriated to make way for Israel's security fence, nor to those whose every movement is stymied by mazes of more than 700 checkpoints that choke the roads.
It's popular to portray the Palestinians as being on a par with the Israelis. To imagine that if they could only get themselves a democratically elected leader, civilized discussions and solutions would emerge. Successful democratic elections in Palestine may prove to the world that the Palestinians are capable of embracing democracy and thus raise their stock in world opinion. But as long as the status quo of Israeli occupation exists, hemming the Palestinians into smaller and smaller cantons while Israel holds all the keys, the democratic process will be irrelevant to the facts on the ground.
Meanwhile, the Bush administration and its surrogate regime remain determined to hold elections in Iraq on Jan. 30. Recently, the Iraqi representative to the United Nations, Samir Sumaidaie, asked for a postponement in order for the government to concentrate on improving security. No one listened. Others have argued that, should the elections be held on the scheduled date, the Iraqi Shiites would be guaranteed a lopsided victory at the expense of the Sunnis, many of whom will be boycotting the elections due to the presence of foreign troops. Their cries also have been ignored. Will millions of Iraqis, just like millions of Palestinians, be denied participation in these historic elections? Will the United States repeat its previous mistakes in Afghanistan and Palestine for a blitz toward democracy?
Recently I asked a friend of mine living in Ramallah if he was satisfied with the outcome of the elections, and if he felt that they had brought democracy to the Palestinians. His answer: "Freedom, and not democracy, is what we are looking for." The same will remain true for millions of Iraqis.
PNS contributor Jamal Dajani is director of Middle Eastern programming at LinkTV (www.linktv.org).
Electing The Next Emperor - Arab Media Anxiously Watches The GOP Convention Commentary, Jamal Dajani, Pacific News Service, Aug 31, 2004
EDITOR'S NOTE: Arab media is providing wall-to-wall coverage of the GOP convention because the stakes for the Middle East are high. PNS contributor Jamal Dajani writes that for pundits in the Middle East the American presidential election is nothing short of electing the next emperor.
Although people in the Middle East cannot vote in the U.S. presidential elections this coming November, Arab media is for the first time providing wall-to-wall coverage of the convention in New York, anxiously observing what pundits are dubbing the process of "Electing the Emperor."
Shortly after the fall of Saddam's statue on April 9 of last year at Firdos Square in Baghdad, newspapers such as the Egyptian Al Ahram started using the term "empire" when referring to the United States. Now they are debating the pros and cons of Kerry or Bush as the "emperor" of the new world order.
A few weeks ago, Al Jazeera Television provided its 40 million viewers with expansive coverage of the Democratic National Convention in Boston. Now its team in Washington is out full force at the Republican Convention in the Big Apple.
Arab media are not watching the conventions to see who will be the candidates. There will be no surprises there. What they are watching is the duel between an incumbent emperor and an emperor-in-waiting.
The incumbent has earned himself the title of "war president" by storming into the politically volatile Middle East like a raging bull in a china shop, knocking everything off balance and fracturing the entire region from Morocco to Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, Senator Kerry has been competing to show that he also is capable of taking charge in a time of war by bringing his past Vietnam record to the forefront of his campaign.
There are two debates going on in the Arab world about the future emperor. One is transpiring secretly in the hallways of government buildings and palaces, and the other is taking place among the populace on television screens.
Networks such as Al Jazeera, Abu Dhabi, and Al Manar have been interviewing people on the street about their opinions on the U.S. presidential elections. Al Jazeera has added a new weekly show to its schedule titled: "The American Presidential Race."
The average Arab sees no difference between Bush and Kerry. To them "the lesser of the two evils is still evil." Recent declarations by the Senator about his position on the war on Iraq did not bring hope to "the man on the street" in the region. They understand that Senator Kerry does not want to end the occupation of Iraq, but merely wants to put a happy face on it by proposing to internationalize the occupation.
Arab television also showed images of Kerry's brother flying to Tel Aviv accompanied by 400 new Jewish immigrants to Israel in order to meet with Ariel Sharon. That sends Arabs a clear message that in regards to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Kerry would prefer to appease six million Israelis while dismissing the concerns of 300 million Arabs.
But the Arab governments have a different take on the election. While the Iraq war and the recent scandal at Abu Ghraib prison have dealt a major blow to the Bush administration's credibility in the region, many Arab regimes, with Saudi Arabia taking the lead, hope for the re-election of George W. Bush. They believe in the motto: "the devil you know is better than the devil you do not know."
The leaders of the oil producing countries in the Arab world are nervous about the notion of Kerry winning the U.S. elections given his promises to make the U.S. less dependent on Middle East oil. They paid close attention to Senator Kerry's veiled threat to them and to the Saudi royal family in particular during the Democratic National Convention where he declared to a cheering audience, "I want an America that relies on its own ingenuity and innovation - not the Saudi royal family." To them this means Senator Kerry wants to meddle with their bread and butter: oil. These regimes feel more at ease continuing to conduct business as usual with a familiar partner: President Bush.
While Arab governments and the Arab population differ on their choice of the next emperor, the facts on the ground remain the same. Images of American-made Apache helicopters, and American-made tanks wreaking havoc in both the West Bank and Iraq haunt their living rooms thanks to Arab satellite television and speak to a dismal future; a future that does not offer the slightest glimmer of hope for peace in the region.
The Arab masses view an Israeli occupation and an American occupation daily and they are not differentiating between the two. They are hoping for a new emperor who will someday end these horrific images they are subjected to on a daily basis.
So far, in the vast deserts of the Arab world, these hopes are nothing but a mirage.
Beheading the Media -- Terrorists Get What They Want Commentary, Jamal Dajani, NCM Report, Jun 28, 2004
World media, with television leading the pack, are now controlled by thugs and terrorists. Bin Laden was the first to command global attention by using Al Jazeera, CNN and others to deliver his threats and recruitment messages. TV outlets throughout the world are competing to rebroadcast Bin Laden’s messages, Al Zawaheri’s threats. Recently, beheading rituals have become the new fad for fear. Media-savvy politicians have long used the power of television to deliver a message or win a political campaign; today terrorists are doing the same. The terrorists have stolen the show. They are mastering the Internet and television to terrorize the world.
This past month alone, terrorists in Iraq and Saudi Arabia hijacked our airwaves on six different occasions. Three times when the terrorists released the videos of their victims pleading for their lives, and three times when the victims were gruesomely beheaded. Those stories and videos were repeated by all major networks over and over. Each time those terrorists released the video of their captured victim, TV networks immediately pre-empted their programming to air it. Each time a beheading occurred, TV networks raced to deliver the news. Are we doing the terrorists’ deeds? Do we have to be pawns in their grasp?
The terrorists are winning the battle of the media. If their aim is to spread fear in the hearts of the innocents, then they have succeeded, and the media are accomplices. Three gruesome beheadings and a lot of air time. The terrorists understand the game. They dangle us the bait and we willingly bite. Terrorists have been calling the shots. They understand the concept of building up a story, and on many occasions they made sure to release their messages just before the weekend to dominate not only the news but the Saturday and Sunday shows as well.
Hundreds of innocents have been dying in Iraq, Palestine, Chechnya and other places. Why is it when someone is beheaded by terrorists we get a disproportionate amount of coverage in the news? The fact of the matter is that we tend to think of beheadings as barbaric and medieval thus, gruesome and exciting. So could it possibly be that TV networks are also catering to their audiences and demographics? Are we both satisfying the terrorists’ needs for PR and our need of larger audiences?
Unfortunately, it seems that TV executives are making an unholy bargain with the terrorists. Television delivers instantaneous global coverage and the terrorists deliver the ever gruesome acts which attract an audience. Those TV executives must quickly decide between ratings and responsibility; the terrorists won’t wait. They are hard at work planning to deliver more shocking events to the world as they have been guaranteed a captive audience.
Americans Cheer 'Kill Bill' But Are Shielded From Images of Real Violence
Editor's Note: News viewers around the world see the most gruesome violence unfold on their television screens, but Americans only encounter such images in the make-believe world of Hollywood.
My teenage son and his friend can't stop talking about "Kill Bill," the recent film by Quentin Tarantino. Heads and limbs chopped off by swords, blood splattering all over the screen -- to me, it was overkill. But when we went to see the film, the crowd exploded with joy at such scenes. No doubt there will be a sequel, and scores of people will gladly line up to hand over their $9.50.
I'm no stranger to scenes of gruesome violence. I produce a news show called "Mosaic: News from the Middle East" for Link TV. Since 9/11, I do not recall a peaceful week around the globe. Images of death and destruction are vivid on Arab satellite television networks. Yet here in the United States, our own television networks make exceptional efforts to shelter viewers from such real-life scenes.
Images of a Palestinian infant removed from beneath the rubble of an apartment building flattened by an Israeli missile; pictures of an Israeli bus driver's bloodied torso dangling outside his bus, blown to smithereens by a suicide bomber; the limbless bodies of Chechen rebels and their hostages inside a Russian theatre; dead Iraqi bodies after an errant smart bomb hit their neighborhood -- such scenes are the norm on Arab satellite television networks, where 280 million people in 22 countries tune in on a daily basis.
Here in the United States, close to 3,000 people perished in the World Trade Center terrorist attacks, yet not a single body was shown on American TV. Millions of Americans watched the War on Iraq through the lenses of embedded journalists who gave almost no coverage to the human toll and the suffering that advancing armies left behind. A glorious victory and a sanitized war is what the U.S. media has been projected to its audiences.
For the first time ever, in the second Gulf War, CNN, FOX and all other major networks had to rely on Arab TV network coverage of besieged Iraqi cities, but still showed little of the death, destruction and horror. "Americans do not have a stomach for these scenes," I was told by a fellow journalist. Another TV producer for a major U.S. network told me that showing images of death and devastation in a news report would turn off advertisers.
Meanwhile, millions of dollars are spent in Hollywood on visual effects to capture the best scenes simulating blood, gore, death and destruction. And millions of Americans snake in lines around movie houses, eager to receive their 90 minutes of thrill for just under 10 bucks.