Two Events on Friday

On Friday morning I went to an event called “Prominent Canadians speak out against the bombing of Lebanon”. It was at a banquet room of a five-star hotel in downtown Toronto. The hotel is actually right next to the Israeli consulate, where many a rally and vigil has occurred over the past decades.

Given my background and work with activist groups, I felt some discomfort at the title, the self-identification of the speakers as “prominent Canadians”, and the setting at a major hotel. I understood the logic though. Our society is a hierarchical one. The “prominent” have authority to speak, the non-prominent do not. Press conferences are held at hotels. When activist groups hold press conferences in outdoor, public spaces, like the OCAP press conferences I’ve been to, often the press doesn’t bother to show up. So, perhaps by setting up this panel in a hotel, and identifying the speakers as prominent, the press would show up, despite the press’s truly stark, and ever-increasing, racism on this topic. Right?

Evidently not. I saw a CityTV video camera there, and heard that some CanWest outfit was in attendance as well as the Toronto Sun. I haven’t yet checked if they covered it at all. In addition, there was a scattering of members of the public. I’d say twenty in all.

I cannot say anything bad about the panel, though.

Michael Mandel, a law professor, spoke about the violations of international law committed by Israel. Anton Kuerti, a concert pianist, talked of the humanitarian situation based on his following the press. Judith Weisman, from Jewish Women’s Committee to end the Occupation, read from Jennifer Loewenstein’s recent piece, which I had been so moved by two days before when the piece had come out that I had to write Jennifer right away (reading Jennifer’s article was as cathartic as watching George Galloway’s interview on Sky News). Weisman also told some personal stories of the constant humiliation of Palestinians that she had witnessed, evidence that we have completely lost our moral compass. Atif Kubursi, a UN consultant and professor of economics, emphasized the humanitarian situation based on his recent work in Lebanon. He also very skillfully explained various aspects of the political situation in Lebanon, support for Hizbullah, etc. David Orchard, who organized the event, spoke about Canada’s trajectory away from international law and towards support for war crimes, under Harper. A young Lebanese-Canadian scientist spoke about the effects on the victims and what she’d been hearing from her family in Lebanon.

While Weisman raised the issue of Palestine and the important connection between the events in Lebanon and Palestine, I do worry that even in “progressive” circles this connection is fading. Of course, the UN resolution that was just ratified gives nothing to the Palestinians, instead rewarding Israel for its destruction and slaughter. And Hizbullah, whether or not they undertook their July 12 operation to try to relieve Gaza, has been, since the Israeli invasion and for some time to come will be, too occupied to be able to think about helping the Palestinians. But leftists who are trying to mobilize solidarity from positions of relative safety should never forget the connection, for two reasons. First, there is the ethical obligation. Our societies are actively participating in the re-destruction of Lebanon, yes, but our societies have been participating in the destruction of Palestine for decades, and that means we owe something to the victims. Second, there is no way to even begin to understand what is happening, Israel’s motives and decisions, as well as those who are resisting Israel, without understanding Palestine and what Israel is doing to the Palestinians.


The second event I went to was a Sumoud fundraiser. Sumoud is a Toronto-based group that tries to educate and organize for Palestinian political prisoners. The prisoner issue is of course central to events in Palestine and Lebanon. Israel has thousands of Palestinians locked up in its prisons: 9,000 adult male prisoners, 300 children, 100 women – those were the numbers at the start of this current crisis. Israel has since kidnapped probably 600 more Palestinians.

The Sumoud event was a cultural event at a union hall, and it was very well attended, and I think successful as a fundraiser for relief in Lebanon and prisoner organizations in Palestine (the split will be 50-50 I believe). There was plenty of Arabic music and dancing, with much of the crowd singing and dancing along. The first act was a pair of poets who did spoken word, a style of rap where the rapper provides the music by singing/rapping the words of the poem. I’ve seen a lot of spoken word, now, some of it political. I’ve seen it in the US where I suspect the genre started, and here in Canada. It is a beautiful form, a good way to deliver surprises and wit, as well as convey powerful messages and emotions. On all of those counts, the performers last night were spectacular. The two who performed last night are my first and second favourite of the spoken word poets I’ve heard.

On military strategy

A couple of good quotes from Uri Avnery:

‘And most of all: even the best army in the world cannot win a war that has no clear aims. Karl von Clausewitz, the guru of military science, pronounced that “war is nothing more than the continuation of politics by other means”. Olmert and Peretz, two complete dilettantes, have turned this inside out: “War is nothing more than the continuation of the lack of policy by other means.”‘


‘Because it’s only with enemies that one makes peace.’

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Forget that big massacre, we’re moving on to new ones

In my city it this morning’s headlines were about a local heat wave, not blown up children and ugly quotes from criminals about how determined they are to keep up the slaughter.

Which is not to say that children aren’t being blown up. Israel blew up a kid and and an adult in Gaza today with a missile. That’s 177 total killed in the “Summer Rains” side of Israel’s two front massacre. 40 of those are children.

Continue reading “Forget that big massacre, we’re moving on to new ones”

The biggest massacre so far

Israel just killed more than 50 people, mostly children, in a single bombing. Count on the silence of Stephen Harper, or some formulation encouraging to the bombers. Count on there being no consequences for the killers or their cheerleaders.

According to the story, the Lebanese government told Rice that she’s not welcome in Lebanon any more. Rice replied that she didn’t want to go anyway.

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In praise of moral equivalence

Rahul had a very good blog post discussing the doctrine of ‘collateral damage’ and the related doctrine of ‘moral equivalence’. The idea is that they intentionally kill civilians, and we accidentally kill them. So, even though we kill hundreds or thousands and they kill dozens, they are morally inferior. Indeed, they are morally inferior twice over, because first of all, they kill civilians on purpose, and second of all, they force us (poor us!) to kill civilians because we are trying to kill them, and they keep hanging around all these civilians all the damned time.

This is, as Rahul says, a jumble of racist and incoherent arguments. Let us try to disentangle this jumble.

First, let’s take the idea that they target civilians and we don’t. This is false. We target civilians all the time. Leave aside the bombing of civilian infrastructure and the wholesale destruction of civilian areas, like Jenin Camp in 2002, because we can still argue that we visited all this destruction while trying to get at people we didn’t like.

We deliberately target civilians for murder. Israeli snipers fire straight into the centre of the Red Crosses on Red Cross trucks. They have shot children and administered a coup de grace at close range, in Gaza. In Iraq, Rahul took a photo of ambulances in Fallujah with nice clean bullet holes through the driver’s side. And of course, there was the recent murder of the UN observers. Canadian Prime Minister Harper defiled the Canadian who died their as he defiled the other Canadians who Israel has killed by saying that he doesn’t think the UN post was targeted. He won’t pay any political price for making the statement. But it is still worth noting that he says so from Canada, and Robert Fisk, who is in Lebanon, described their killing this way:

In past years, I have spent hours with their comrades in this UN position, which is clearly marked in white and blue paint, with the UN’s pale blue flag opposite the Israeli frontier. Their duty was to report on all they saw: the ruthless Hizbollah missile fire out of Khiam and the brutal Israeli response against the civilians of Lebanon.

Is this why they had to die, after being targeted by the Israelis for eight hours, their officers pleading to the Israeli Defence Forces that they cease fire? An American-made Israeli helicopter saw to that.

Second, Rahul points out that evidence we offer that Hizbullah targets civilians is that they use inaccurate weapons.

This means either that

1) When we use our accurate weapons to kill civilians we are doing so on purpose, or

2) We are using inaccurate weapons and killing civilians, in which case we are condemning Hizbullah for doing something we do more of.

The third argument for the moral superiority of our killing of more people is that they are cowardly because they are around civilians, forcing us to kill them. About this argument, Jonathan Cook had this to say:

The UN head of humanitarian affairs, Jan Egeland, who is in the region, accused Hizbullah of “cowardly blending” among the civilian population, and a similar accuation was levelled by the British foreign minister Kim Howells when he arrived in Israel.

In 2002 Israel made the same charge: that Palestinians resisting its army’s rampage through the refugee camps of the West Bank were hiding among civilians. The claim grew louder as more Palestinian civilians showed the irritating habit of gettting in the way of Israeli strikes against population centres. The complaints reached a crescendo when at least two dozen civilians were killed in Jenin as Israel razed the camp with Apache helicopters and Caterpillar bulldozers.

The implication of Egeland’s cowardly statement seems to be that any Lebanese fighter, or Palestinian one, resisting Israel and its powerful military should stand in an open field, his rifle raised to the sky, waiting to see who fares worse in a shoot-out with an Apache helicopter or F-16 fighter jet.

Of course, in the prison of Palestine, Palestinian fighters do exactly that. They have no cover and no way of hiding from Israel’s armaments and complete surveillance. So they fire their puny weapons in order to show defiance, and to ensure that Israeli soldiers cannot operate with complete impunity on the ground, but instead need to hide in their armored vehicles. They are then slaughtered. But this does not win them any points with us, either. Our reaction is every bit as vulgar and racist in that case as it is in others. Mitch Potter from the Toronto Star, a truly disgusting racist, was quoted by Dan Freeman-Maloy likening Palestinians to rodents, a standard racist analogy, for facing the Israeli army on open ground: ‘“Another batch of Palestinian militants drawn out lemming-like and falling by the dozen to higher-calibre Israeli fire, just like their predecessors.” [For Potter to call Palestinians lemmings is certainly ironic].’

I recently heard that a Canadian general named Lewis MacKenzie has said that yes, Israel has killed hundreds, but considering the weaponry that Israel has this is a low figure, and that if Hizbullah had this kind of armament, Israel would be a parking lot.

MacKenzie’s argument, restated, is that the imbalance in numbers killed is actually much less than the actual military imbalance. Lebanese and Palestinians should take comfort, then, because Israel could be killing many, many more of them. And Israelis should be afraid, because even though they can’t, Hizbullah really wants to kill us all. MacKenzie is, in addition to being a general, a mind-reader. Jonathan Cook’s answer to this:

In fact, although no one is making the point, Hizbullah’s rockets have been targeted overwhelming at strategic locations: the northern economic hub of Haifa, its satellite towns and the array of military sites across the Galilee.

Nasrallah seems fully aware that Israel has an impressive civil defence program of shelters that keep most civilians out of harm’s way. Unlike Horowitz I won’t presume to read Nasrallah’s mind: whether he wants to kill large numbers of Israeli civilians or not cannot be known, given his inability to do so.

Rahul’s blog post concludes with the idea that the doctrine of “collateral damage” must be discarded because it is incompatible with the rules of war and the Geneva Conventions.

The jumble of “moral equivalence”, meanwhile, when unpacked, is false on every single count.

Kill some Canadians? Kill some UN observers? No problem…

Israel bombed a UN post and killed some observers.

They’ve also stated that if an international force is to go to the newly-leveled Lebanon in order to protected those who leveled it from the people who have been slaughtered, displaced, and whose city has been leveled, they’d prefer it not be the UN. Eloquently reinforced by the bombing: a bombing is worth a thousand words.

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Summer Rains

“I am sorry with all my heart for the residents of Gaza… but the lives and well-being of Sderot’s residents are more important than those of Gaza residents.” Ehud Olmert

“Better Palestinian mothers should cry and not Jewish mothers”
-Major General Aharon Ze’evi, Israel’s director of military intelligence 2003

“I wish Gaza would sink into the sea.” – late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, 1992

Continue reading “Summer Rains”