27 July 2021

In the "Middle East"

“Middle East”, (like the previous favourite, “Near East” as well as “Far East”) is a contemptible name that expresses the Eurocentric outlook of those who coined it. In that sense, it resembles the American word "Midwest". (If Los Angeles was the capital, maybe Chicago would be in the Mideast, like Cairo.)

West(ern) Asia is a better term, and is what people in other parts of Asia usually call it. Though perhaps people who live in parts of Siberia and Kazakhstan may object, and "South West Asia" would serve us better.

Then there is a question of whether there is justification for terms like MENA (Middle East - North Africa) or WANA (West Asia - North Africa). When one looks at the definition given to MENA by various UN agencies Wikipedia, we can see that Palestine is usually included, whereas Israel is more often excluded, though the rationale is usually economic. A UN agency or any world body, naturally has the prerogative to lump nations together in its programmes in whatever way it finds useful.

There is also the term, “the Arab world”, which usually means countries that are part of the Arab League. It does not include some countries that are usually included under MENA or WANA, such as Turkey and Iran, and also leaves out countries where Arabic is an official language like Israel, Somalia, Chad and Eritrea. But somehow, it seems more correct for example, to lump Tunisia together with Lebanon in "the Arab world", than to place them together in something called MENA or WANA. The latter pretend to be geographical terms, but are actually contrived, when the meaning is cultural rather than geographic.


Arab is a linguistic or cultural definition, pretending to be an ethnic definition. In the Bible, there is hardly any mention of Arabs. At that time, individual tribes, like Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, were referenced. A Berber living in Southern Libya has little to do with a Marsh Arab in Southern Iraq. The two will find it difficult to converse, and are both genetically and culturally distinct. But they still have enough in common to be classified together as Arabs.


Jew, as a definition is even worse than Arab. Arabs at least share a common language and broadly, a common culture. Jews can renounce all religious faith, but still remain Jewish. They can live in the Amazonas or China, have any concoction of genes, or speak any language on earth, but, as long as they claim some distant Jewish ancestry, they will be warmly accepted into the Jewish fold. And if a Jew comes to Israel from a family that has lived for a thousand years in Morocco, looks like a Berber and speaks Arabic, as soon as she comes to Israel she will instantly be regarded as a Jew, and not, heaven forbid, as an Arab.

American exceptionalism

Dave Winer: Something they don’t teach us in school in my country is that when we pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, we are really pledging allegiance to each other. Because that’s all there is, the people. No dear leader, no state church, just us.



I'm on the free list for “Continuing Ed” so receive his missals every couple of days. The latest one, The Insecurity Industry - by Edward Snowden - Continuing Ed — with Edward Snowden is powerfully and persuasively written.

Where Netanyahu went, NSO followed: How Israel pushed cyberweapon sales - Haaretz.com

Paywall alert, though much quoted article.

Democrats call for possible action against NSO over Pegasus revelations - The Guardian

Four Democrats in Congress tell Biden administration that such firms ‘should be sanctioned, and if necessary, shut down’
Democratic lawmakers in Washington have called on the Biden administration to consider placing NSO Group on an export blacklist and said recent revelations of misuse reinforced their conviction that the “hacking-for-hire industry must be brought under control”.

Pegasus | How to find out if your phone was infected with the spyware - The Hindu

Mobile Verification Toolkit works on both iOS and Android OS. It simplifies the process of acquiring and analysing data from Android devices, and analyses records from iOS backups and filesystem dumps to identify potential traces of compromise.


Explained | Pegasus and the laws on surveillance in India - The Hindu

Mr. Gupta is of the opinion that the use of Pegasus is illegal as it constitutes unauthorised access under Section 66 of the Information Technology Act.

Section 66 prescribes punishment to anyone who gains unauthorised access to computers and “downloads, copies or extracts any data”, or “introduces or causes to be introduced any computer contaminant or computer virus,” as laid down in Section 43.

Are India’s laws on surveillance a threat to privacy? - The Hindu
Lengthy article; saving the link.

After meet with Modi, Mamata says PM should call all-party meet on Pegasus row, wants SC probe - The Print

6 Assam policemen killed in border clash with Mizoram - The Hindu

These are two Indian states!

Tunisia president accused of staging coup after suspending parliament - The Guardian

Tunisia’s president imposes month-long curfew and bans gatherings - The Guardian

Tunisians will wake on Tuesday to draconian restrictions including a nationwide curfew from 7pm to 6am, and a ban on gatherings of more than three people in public places.

Billionaire tycoon named as Lebanese PM as economic crisis bites - The Guardian

As Lebanon has crumbled, its leaders have faced a growing threat of sanctions from France and the EU. European leaders do not see the return of Miqati as the breakthrough that was demanded. However, senior officials said they would reserve judgment until Miqati named a ministerial line-up.

I'll bet China will step in.

Doyen of particle physics Steven Weinberg passes away - The Hindu
I thought this was interesting:

Prof. Weinberg was a rationalist and spoke against irrational anti-science ideas without hesitation. He wrote the book Facing Up: Science and its Cultural Adversaries, exposing the harm done by irrational and religious ideas. In now, oft-quoted remarks, he said: “With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil — that takes religion. Religion is an insult to human dignity. Without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things”.

He was a self-declared atheist and firmly committed to science and expressed his view on religion and God fearlessly: “Science does not make it impossible to believe in God, it just makes it possible not to believe in God.”

Activists’ acquital after smashing up arms factory shows a lot about everything

How it was reported

(straight) -> Morning Star Online

(supportive) -> The Guardian, & The Guardian & The Guardian again

(super-supportive) -> The Electronic Intifada & ISM

(ecstatic) -> Smash EDO

(appalled) -> The Jerusalem Post, The Jerusalem Post, The Jewish Chronicle

My take:

Britain is one of the few countries where, despite heavy police surveillance, it is possible to break into a factory, cause £180,000 of damage, claim moral justification, gain support from politicians, a random jury and a judge, and win acquittal from all charges.

(Stating the obvious), Israel has totally lost the p.r. war in Britain.  But Israelis regard this as hatred towards them, rather than a sign that they should change something.

Great news for depressed bloggers

Haaretz newspaper says that an Israeli team has developed software to spot depressed bloggers "by analyzing their writing. The program scours blogs for words and phrases, descriptions and metaphors that can indicate the writer's psychological state."

The news coming out of Israel has been bad enough to make even the most positive-minded bloggers betray signs of depression. So now comes this wonderful announcement that we can be diagnosed and treated in time, and not suffer the fate of Binyamin Netanyahu's psychiatrist who, according to the recent satirical piece by Michael K. Smith, committed suicide recently.

According to the story: "Yatom grew increasingly depressed at his complete lack of progress in getting the Prime Minister to acknowledge reality, and he eventually suffered a series of strokes when attempting to grasp Netanyahu’s thinking, which he characterized in one diary entry as “a black hole of self-contradiction."

A friend asked quite seriously whether that story is true. My response was that in the regions of Ali Baba, Jesus and Theodore Herzl, everything becomes true, as long as you can get a few people to believe you.

When lies become the reality for which people live and die, fiction may be the best approximation of truth and blogging a reasonable therapy.

news reporting on the flotilla incident

The flotilla affair should surely be studied by journalism students for years to come.  A ship with 60 journalists aboard (according to Reporters without Borders), and a huge amount of camera and communications equipment gets hijacked by a hostile power that jams all communications signals, confiscates all equipment, cuffs the journalists, and keeps them under nasty conditions for the hours and days that follow.  It spreads its own version of what happened, based on doctored video and audio footage, then adds additional footage from the equipment stolen from the journalists. The journalists and other eye witnesses are not permitted to speak until leaving the country, and apparently the journalists are held longer than the activists.

Afterwards, the IDF even produce a clearly fabricated version of the initial dialogue with the Mavi Marmara (this is even different from the first version released by the IDF to Israeli Channel 10 news).  See later confirmation of this here.

It appears that, as in earlier events, like the Gaza War, disinformation was used, then retracted.  This tactic is effective in order to confuse critics in the early hours or days when the story is still "hot."

Despite everything, almost all Israelis and most journals around the world accept the Israeli version that the first actions of the activists were violent, based on a small amount of film material shot by the Israelis.

Indeed, the segment of film released by the IDF appears to be uncontrovertible.  However we are denied context.  It does not establish whether or not the army began to use live ammunition from the beginning of the assault (as the activists say), or whether, for instance, the activists felt justified in putting up a struggle since they believed they were going to die anyway.

The accounts of the raid by journalists and eye witnesses appear to differ from that of the IDF, and the ones I have heard seem to have more in common with each other than the Israeli version. I wonder how, if an investigation of the affair is conducted, this will be handled?

the reality of occupation

Pro-Palestinian groups around the world are ebullient. Finally they're in the spotlight and are keeping up a ceaseless banter on Twitter and the networks. The martyrdom of a few shahids at the brutal hands of the Israeli military seems to have been worth it for this moment of glory.

Curiously, for once (with the exception of Raed Salah and Hanin Zoubi) there are no Palestinians in this story: only internationals and Turks. The world, which has consistently betrayed Palestine and left it to be ruled over and subjugated by Israel, is suddenly in the forefront, with a tale of nobility, heroism and personal sacrifice on the high seas. A Hollywood movie.

The Palestinians are somewhere in the background. Their lives continue under occupation. Breaking through a blockade, with a few tons of food, medical supplies and cement is not going to be enough. Even defeating the policy of siege is not going to be enough. Palestinians need to get back control over their lives, a state of their own, or a sharing of power all over Palestine.

the tv news

The news tonight brought more stories of Israel's public relations debacle around the flotilla incident.  Foreign reporters gathered on what's known as Jonah's Hill in Jaffa, where they were left alone with a rowdy bunch of right-wing hecklers.

Hours later, the government press office people appear on the scene but have not been provided with any real details to feed the media. To compensate, they transport the journalists in a bus with covered windows to a secret base. There they can film the backside of a commando who speaks for 57 seconds and is not permitted to respond to questions.  Eventually, the weary journalists are brought back into the arms of the right-wing hecklers, who now turn violent and chase everyone away.

The TV news program anchors suggest that instead of blaming Israel's official propaganda machine, Israelis should tear themselves away from the TV screens, go on the network, and fight the public relations war themselves.

Another news item brings the story of the Turkish aid organization's links with Islamic terror organizations. It turns out that those killed were not innocent peace activists but bloodthirsty terrorists or perhaps mercenaries working for Al Qaida:

"They were terrorists - hired killers who came to murder soldiers, not to assist the residents of the Gaza Strip," said a navy officer."

Whatever justification can be made for this botched and tragic incident, only Israelis will believe it or care. Jamming broadcasts, isolating the activists from all contact with the world for 24 hours, confiscating film media and presented only selective material that supports Israel's version has not helped.  The world has accepted a one-dimensional narrative of Israel's brutal aggression and moved on.

Finally, the only story that matters is the ongoing siege of Gaza and when it is going to end.  Will we allow ourselves once again to forget?

after the flotilla

the flotillaI read a number of articles today about the flotilla, in a desultory sort of way - generally agreeing with all of them, from Gideon Levi's editorial to the Guardian editorial, Robert Fisk and the blogs. I listened to Al Jazeera, heard MK Haneen Zoubi's press conference and watched the Israeli Channel 10 TV news. Channel 10 is often a bit less biased than the others, but they managed very well to keep up the Israeli side of the story, spreading a new rumor that the Turks who attacked the soldiers were possibly Al-Qaida operatives. They poked fun at the 25 trucks full of humanitarian aid, that was already on its way from the Ashdod port for Gaza as just a quarter of what the army allows through every day, without questioning what may have been in the containers (items such as expensive electric wheel chairs have been mentioned elsewhere). It was also curious that Egypt's opening of its border with Gaza now, "for an unlimited period" received only a casual mention, whereas this is no doubt something significant. Why at least that border could not be opened before, and why tunnels became necessary even for transporting trivial items, has continued to puzzle me.

The Jerusalem Post also has few words of criticism, other than the manner in which the event was handled from a public relations perspective. They complained that the Israeli navy's photos came in just in time for the local TV news, but too late to convince the world media. I would agree that Israel manages to convince its people of its version of events much more effectively than it manages to convince anyone else. This creates a dangerous gap between the unique way that Israelis see their situation and the way almost everyone else in the world sees it.  Both of these perspectives may be a little one-dimensional.  But the gap between them is growing wider.*

Finally tonight we have some hard facts and numbers regarding the activists and the number of those killed. This came about because, mercifully, Israel decided to back down and deport them all immediately.


* Patrick Cockburn in The Independent (June 2) say the same in PR dangerously distorts the Israeli sense of reality "The problem is that nobody believes Israeli propaganda as much as Israelis. Pro-Palestinian activists often lament the fluency and mendacity of Israeli spokesmen on the airwaves and the pervasive influence of Israel's supporters abroad. But, in reality, these PR campaigns are Israel's greatest weakness, because they distort Israelis' sense of reality. Defeats and failures are portrayed as victories and successes."

* See also the interview by Mario Vargas Llosa of Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy:  "The media in Israel, most of them, are the biggest collaborators to the occupation. There is no censorship in Israel, almost none. There is something that is much worse than censorship, self-censorship, because in self-censorship there is never resistance. Were it government censorship, there would be resistance, but this is self-censorship. This is a tyranny of ratings, the tyranny of those who want to please the readers, the tyranny of selling newspapers and not bothering the readers with things they don't want to read."

In the same newspaper, Levy's statements are backed up Amos Schocken: Haaretz publisher: Self-censorship is greatest threat to press freedom: Amos Schocken tells conference sponsored by the French Embassy in Israel in cooperation with Haaretz that many journalists are concerned about alienating their readers.
I'm not sure that it is simply deliberate self-censorship or willful manipulation.  It is at least partly an unconscious self-participation in mass illusion on the part of the journalist.  People, including journalists, basically see what we want to see and hear what we are open to hearing.  Thus, Haaretz writer Liad Shoham heard a different version of MK Hanin Zoubi's press conference than the one I heard.

Targeted assassination is suicide

The gag order on the Anat Kam story was finally lifted yesterday, but the interest in the Israeli press was in its own freedom in being able to report the case, the question of the severity of Kam's alleged crime in stealing secret army documents, and the possible damage to national security.

Regarding the Haaretz publication of evidence gathered from Kam ("License to kill") that Israel had continued targeted assassinations under conditions that contravened Israel's own supreme court ruling, the Channel 10 news anchor, Yaacov Elon said that the matter hadn't created a huge amount of interest at the time. That's true, but who is supposed to generate such interest? The media, of course.

The fact is, Israel's media isn't interested in crimes committed by the Army in the Occupied Territories. Even when the person responsible for them, according to a poll published in the same news program, would currently be the most favored candidate for prime minister.

Israelis care a lot about their freedom, and want to give their army, their air force and security services as much of the stuff as possible when dealing with Palestinians. Regardless of its continuing and drastic repercussions, the Mabhouh assassination has won only praise here.

Most Israelis are unable to perceive the devious influence of this attitude on their own society. Targeted assassinations? America does them too, and lately ordered one against an American-born citizen. Israel is not known to conduct targeted assassinations against its own citizens, but that might be less of a problem if the Chair of the Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee gets his way . Rotem wants to strip those who hurt state security of their citizenship.

Democracy, such as it is in Israel, is being stripped away by its security services, its lawmakers, and also by a compliant media that screams bloody murder when press freedoms are threatened but fails to alert its audience when actual murder goes unpunished. "License to kill" was the title of the original Haaretz story. In granting such a license, Israelis are really targeting the moral and judicial underpinnings of their own society - not to mention its already tarnished image as a fair and democratic society. They are targeting themselves.

For a Future without Prisoners

Rotem writes:

Dear Friends,  I have just completed an article (in Hebrew and English) calling for the release of imprisoned peace and justice activists Orr Ben David and Mohammad Othman. I have sent it to the three major Israeli newspapers as well as to you and other friends. Please distribute far and wide in hopes that it helps to bring about the speedy release of all activists for peace and justice in Israel/Palestine.

(Hebrew version is at:  http://bit.ly/5BJNSZ)


For a Future without Prisoners

By: Rotem Dan Mor

Every week, as I return from lessons in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Rehavia I pass by the tent erected by activists in support of Gilead Shalit, the captive Israeli soldier. Each time I pass by and wish them good luck I am struck by the steadfast commitment to their cause while I am also, sadly, reminded of my own inactivity in the cause of my imprisoned friends.  For as the leaders of Israel and of Hamas (along with the press) are busy discussing the release of their combatants there are a few important prisoners whom have been neglected from the debate. These prisoners are those who have been imprisoned for taking a stand for peace and justice in Israel/Palestine. Amongst them are my friends Orr Ben David and Mohammad Othman both young, but experienced, activists for peace.

I have known Mohammad Othman* for many years due to our mutual engagement in the fight to bring down the racist barriers separating our peoples and our struggle for a joint future for Israelis and Palestinians. Mohammad is from Jayous, a beautiful agricultural village located in the Northern part of the occupied West Bank. The village has lost much of its land to the separation barrier built by Israel. Muhammad was arrested on the 22nd of September at the Allenby Bridge as he was returning from a speaking tour of Scandinavia. He has spent the first 60 days of his arrest in isolation while enduring intensive and often humiliating interrogations and for the last 30 days has been under administrative detention without a trial or formal charges. In recent days two more Palestinian anti-wall activists Jamal Juma' and Abdallah Abu Rahmeh have been arrested and held, like Muhammad, without formal charges. Alongside them in Israeli prisons are thousands of Palestinian prisoners many of whom have been sentenced for petty offences, if they can be called that, such as working in Israel to support their families, organizing civil protests, and taking part in Palestinian institutes and political parties.

I met Orr Ben David** when she was a 15 year old teenager while she attended an alternative summer camp dealing with social and environmental issues which I co-founded. Orr is now a 20 year old woman whom recently completed a year of voluntary service in which she taught arts to children. Orr has been imprisoned for refusing to serve in an army which oppresses another people as well as its own soldiers. She is presently serving out a 34 day sentence after already having spent 46 days in military prison. During her long prison stay Orr has been joined by other military refusers such as Wala Kasem and Idan Barir whom have also spent time in prison for their refusal to serve. In addition to the imprisoned objectors there are hundreds of other young soldiers imprisoned for such "crimes" as standing up to their abusive commanders, deserting in order to support their families, and refusing to cooperate with the military system whilst it is harming their physical and/or mental health.

As we live out day our daily life it is easy to forget about all those imprisoned in prisons far away from our eyes and hearts. This is true sometimes for our imprisoned friends and even more so when those prisoners are defined by our rulers as "enemies" or "terrorists" and never as human beings. This is why those dedicated people whom remind us daily that Gilead Shalit has been imprisoned far too long, at a great cost to his mental and physical health, are so important. Nevertheless, as we remember Gilead and work for his speedy release, and while our Palestinian counterparts work for the release of their combatants, we should not forget those whom are imprisoned not in the name of past and present wars but for a future free of them. These young people like Or and Muhammad, who have committed their bodies and souls to non-violent action for peace, justice and equality are the foundations on which we shall one day build a joint society for all of this land's peoples. A society which will provide a worthwhile future for our children far away from the  armies, prisons and cemeteries of today and close to their friends and families, fruit trees and vegetable gardens, sports and recreation clubs, learning centers and nature.

The writer is a long time Israeli Peace activist, a student of Mid-East classical music (musicenter.co.il) and a guide for educational tours and encounters (jerusalemtours.blogspot.com).

* Mohammad Othman is a staff member for the Palestinian grassroots organization Stop the Wall (Stopthewall.org). For more info about his imprisonment: freemohammadothman.wordpress.com

**Orr Ben David is a conscientious objector and a member of the Shministim movement: www.shministim.com