Category Archives: Blog

Blog and journal entries. Opinion and/or reportage not published elsewhere.

Hiatus

I’ve managed to lapse out of the habit of updating this site with my newest articles, but I’m going to get back into it now. You can also look back on the MEMO website for the last few months of my columns.

Over the summer I did two features for Al-Akhbar too, about the response to the war in the West.

And, as always, my stories for The Electronic Intifada are syndicated in the RSS feed you see on the right (or click here).

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Mostly blogging

Most of my writing these days is published on my blog for The Electronic Intifada. I will continue to be published at EI (and other places) in more long form articles from time to time, and when that happens I will still post about them here.

To see my latest articles you should check my blog: articles I publish there are automatically syndicated here via the RSS feed which you can see to the immediate right of this post.

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My interview with Russia Today on the Syrian Observatory

UPDATE: The problems I detail below have now been resolved. Fair play to RT, they corrected the page I complained about less than two hours after I posted the item below. To clarify: I have no problem with the edit of the interview itself, it’s well done. It’s also running on the live channel itself every hour on the half hour today, I’m told.

After my story for Al Akhbar English about the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Russia Today asked to do to the above interview with me about the case, released on their website today. The interview itself is fine, however, I take issue with the written summary of the interview RT published on their site. Specifically:

  • I did not say “the sources of such information [on the dead in Syria] are highly questionable”.
  • I did not blame “Syrian activists for speaking on the situation in Syria the way the West wants”.
  • I certainly did not say “human rights activists cannot necessarily be trusted”. I did cast doubt on some of the claims of a certain Mussab Azzawi.

In short, watch the interview rather than trusting the article.

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Angry Arab talk: “The Case Against Israel”

As`ad AbuKhalil speaks on “The Case Against Israel”. Audio recorded at Goldsmiths, 17 January 2011. The opening night of his UK tour, hosted by Goldsmiths Palestine Campaign. Mostly about Palestine, but some Syria and other interesting discussion in the Q&A.

Click play above to listen, download the MP3 here, or download in other formats here.

Creative Commons license: Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0

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My appearance on Epilogue, Ken Livingstone’s book review show

Me on Press TV’s book review show “Epilogue”. Ken Livingstone leads a discussion between Dr Salman Sayyid & myself about Raja Shehadeh‘s book “Strangers in the House”.

Part 1: (parts 2 and 3 after the break)

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MythTV guide

Our TV and MythTV-based DVR computer system

I’ve built my own DVR using the excellent Linux-based MythTV software. I’ve written a detailed guide about how I did it here.

I mostly wrote it for my own benefit, but hopefully it will be of use to others too. If you’re into this kind of thing, please do take a look and let me know what you think in the comments secion.

This was a very fun project for me and in the end it turned out better than I expected, if anything. There is also plenty of potential for future expansion. My next step is probably getting a proper router so I can control the system via the remote web-based interface.

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Review: “Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide” by Ben White

This book is an excellent “guide for the perplexed”. It is perfect for those new to the subject. I personally will be buying copies and foisting it on friends and relatives. At the same time I was surprised how much a learned from it (particularly about the Palestinian citizens of Israel).

It is not a history book per say, but it is a highly readable journalistic summary of the main events in the history of the occupation, with a big emphasis on the Nakba (the ethnic cleansing of half the population of the Palestinians from their homeland in 1947-48 by Zionist militias and terrorist gangs). The second half of the book is about the reality on the ground right now. It combines interesting (and often shocking) facts and figures with anecdotes from individual Palestinians on the ground: many of whom were recorded in conversations with White himself.

It is all highly readable and only about 120 pages long. It includes an excellent “Frequently Asked Questions” section, a solid bibliography recommending further reading, and a huge list of action, news and information websites.

The book also avoids the infernal BBC curse of “balance”. It is not balanced: it is against occupation, against ethnic cleansing and against apartheid. But at the same time, it is not polemical, and never less than factual and humane.

The book fills a perfect gap. I’ve lost count of the times people have asked me “can you recommend one book to start learning about Palestine-Israel?” For the first time, I now have a definitive answer.

White defends his book from Hasbara attacks on his blog here.

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Liberal arrogance and some Palestinian non-violent martyrs

Guardian America editor Michael Tomasky thinks he’s being clever and original by asking: “why don’t the Palestinians just imitate Ghandi?“.

Self-satisfied liberals ask this from time to time. From Michael Moore in “Stupid White Men” to occasional Haaretz editorials. It seems every liberal who asks this thinks they are the first to ever do so. Apparently, the Palestinians are supposed to thank them for bringing them the enlightenment of non-violence resistance.

The answer to the question is: “actually, they do all the time: idiot. But you’re too busy kissing Barack Obama’s behind to notice. Too busy to report on the Palestinian victims of Israeli soldiers’ frequent attacks against unarmed demonstrations.” Hell: an American was shot in the head by Israeli soldiers last month just after such a demonstration (he was not even protesting at the time). Did you even report on that Tomasky? That says a lot: you won’t even report on unarmed victims in Palestine when they are the privileged White Man.

Here is a list of 17 names (10 of whom minors). It is a list of unarmed Palestinians murdered by Israeli terrorist soldiers during popular demonstrations against Israel’s apartheid wall in the West Bank in the last 5 years.

Take note that this list does not even include the hundred of civilians (926 according to Palestinian hospital sources) murdered by Israel during their latest massacre in Gaza — they were mostly sitting at home, in hospitals or UN schools acting as makeshift shelters or trying to flee the Israeli onslaught. It does not include other unarmed Palestinian demonstrators murdered by Israeli terrorist soldiers during the second intifada, those who were demonstrating about things other than the wall. It does not include the victims of the ruthless Israeli repression of the first intifada: which on the Palestinian side was almost entirely a popular non-violent struggle. It does not include the 3000 victims of Sabra and Shatila, murdered by Israel’s sectarian rightist death squad allies in Lebanon, brought into the Palestinian refugee camps by Israeli soldiers in 1982. It does not include the many returning Palestinian farmers shot dead by Israeli soldiers for checking on their farms between 1948 and 1967. It does not include many many thousands of Palestinian and other Arab civilians murdered by Israel for far less than demonstrating non-violently over the last 100 years of Zionist colonialism in Palestine.

Nevertheless, here is the list. Remember these names before you start preaching to the Palestinians, Tomasky. They know far more about non-violent resistance than you ever will.

February 26th, 2004
Muhammad Fadel Hashem Rian, age 25 and Zakaria Mahmoud ‘Eid Salem, age 28
Shot dead during a demonstration against the wall in Biddu.

Abdal Rahman Abu ‘Eid, age 17
Died of a heart attack after teargas projectiles were shot into his home during a demonstration against the wall in Biddu.

Muhammad Da’ud Saleh Badwan, age 21
Shot during a demonstration against the wall in Biddu. Muhammad died of his wounds on March 3rd 2004.

April 16th, 2004
Hussein Mahmoud ‘Awad ‘Alian, age 17
Shot dead during a demonstration against the wall in Betunya.

April 18th, 2004
Diaa’ A-Din ‘Abd al-Karim Ibrahim Abu ‘Eid, age 23
Shot dead during a demonstration against the wall in Biddu.

Islam Hashem Rizik Zhahran, age 14
Shot during a demonstration against the wall in Deir Abu Mash’al. Islam died of his wounds April 28th.

February 15th, 2005
‘Alaa’ Muhammad ‘Abd a-Rahman Khalil, age 14
Shot dead while throwing stones at an Israeli vehicle driven by private security guards near the wall in Betunya.

May 4th, 2005
Jamal Jaber Ibrahim ‘Asi, age 15 and U’dai Mufid Mahmoud ‘Asi, age 14
Shot dead during a demonstration against the wall in Beit Liqya.

February 2nd, 2007
Taha Muhammad Subhi al-Quljawi, age 16
Shot dead when he and two friends tried to cut the razor wire portion of the wall in the Qalandiya Refugee Camp. He was wounded in the thigh and died from loss of blood after remaining a long time in the field without being treated.

March 28th, 2007
Muhammad Elias Mahmoud ‘Aweideh, age 15
Shot dead during a demonstration against the wall in Um a-Sharayet – Samiramis.

March 2nd, 2008
Mahmoud Muhammad Ahmad Masalmeh, age 15
Shot when trying to cut the razor wire portion of the wall in Beit Awwa.

July 29th, 2008
Ahmed Husan Youssef Mousa, age 10
Killed while he and several friends tried to remove coils of razor wire from land belonging to the village.

July 30th, 2008
Youssef Ahmed Younes Amirah, age 17
Shot in the head with rubber coated bullets during a demonstration against the wall in Ni’lin. Youssef died of his wounds August 4th 2008.

December 28th, 2008
Arafat Khawaja, age 22
Shot in the back with live ammunition in Ni’lin during a demonstration against Israel’s assault on Gaza.

Mohammad Khawaja, age 20
Shot in the head with live ammunition during a demonstration in Ni’lin against Israel’s assault on Gaza. Mohammad died in the hospital on December 31st 2008.

This list, based on eyewitness accounts, is maintained in English by the ISM and the AATW. A slightly older version has been published on the ISM website, since when there have been two more murdered.

UPDATE: On 17th April 2009, this grizzly list became 18 when Basem Abu Rahme was murdered by a Israeli terrorist soldier in Bil’in.

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Review: “Dreams from My Father” by Barack Obama

I went into this book looking for the “old” Obama, who one gets the impression was perhaps more radical before he started to compromise in order to win elections. It seems, though, that this is an illusion, and he was never really on the left in the first place. Obama has a good knack for making everyone think he agrees with them. In reality, when you re-read what he actually said, you find he avoids taking non-conventional positions (1). Ultimately this book is a long series of avoidance.No doubt it is an enjoyable read. It is thoughtful, accessible and interesting. He avoids giving easy answers to the many questions he poses on race, identity and society in general. For the most part, it is also quite humbly written. The middle section of the book recounting his time working in Chicago’s South Side leaves you with the sneaking suspicion that he actually achieved more than he recounts. This could be false modesty on Obama’s part, but the focus on the shortcomings and disappointments of his work as a community organiser makes a refreshing change from the self-glorification of most political memoirs.

However, all is not what it seems. The book was written before be became a politician, and he mentions in the new forward to the 2004 edition that there were a few things he would not have written now, but that he decided to leave the book basically as it was, even though they are politically inconvenient (p. ix — incidentally it would be interesting to get hold of an original 1995 edition of the book to see what changes were made). This is presumably a reference to things that Republican opponents could theoretically use for campaign ammunition, like his college drug use and his Black Nationalist acquaintances (horror of all horrors, he even admits while in Chicago to buying Louis Farrakhan’s newspaper “occasionally” (p. 201)). Look at things from another perspective though, and it seems pretty obvious that Obama decided to “come clean” about these things early on so as to sidestep such attacks. This was a smart move, as it mostly seems to have worked — for example, past drug use was never an issue in the presidential election.

He gives little indication that he wanted to be become a politician. He says he wanted to bring a new legal expertise from Harvard “like Promethean fire” (p. 276) back to the South Side to continue to fight on behalf of local communities. To be fair, he did return to Chicago after law school.

Evidence abounds, though, that Obama was thinking of becoming a politician as early on as the late 1980s, and certainly before Dreams From My Father was published. Writing in the New Yorker, Ryan Lizza says “Obama was writing ‘Dreams’ at the moment that he was preparing for a life in politics, and he launched his book and his first political campaign simultaneously, in the summer of 1995″ (2). This seems credible, and for all its honesty, Dreams should still be read with a proverbial pinch of salt, perhaps not so much in what it claims as what it omits. For example in recounting the part of his childhood spent in Indonesia, he mentions the huge massacres orchestrated by the dictator Suharto as he came to power in a military coup in 1965-66 (pp. 43-44:”The death toll was anybody’s guess: a few hundred thousand, maybe; half a million. Even the smart guys at the Agency had lost count” ). But he underplays the extent of CIA involvement: and more glaringly fails to mention that Suharto was supported by every US president from Nixon to Clinton (3).

The more I read this book, the more it became clear it is empty of conclusions. A memoir need not take political positions, but he poses so many questions and offers no answers. By the end of the book, you just find yourself wishing he would take a stand on something. Obama was clearly thinking more like a politician than a lawyer and wanted to avoid offending the wrong people. This fits well with his later “Change” and “Hope” slogans, which proved so popular precisely because they can pretty much mean what you want them to mean.

In summary then: a good read, and in fairness it raises some good points about about Black consciousness, Black Nationalism and race. But I can’t help but feel it is ultimately hollow, a politician building up his “narrative”.

(1) For example, his alleged past support for the Palestinians. While it does seem that he previously took a more balanced approach than his more recent conversion to the church of AIPAC, willing to hear from both Israelis and Palestinians, it is also true that he never made any concrete promises. See Ali Abunimah, “How Barack Obama learned to love Israel“, Electronic Intifada, 4 March 2007.

(2) Ryan Lizza, “Making It: How Chicago shaped Obama“, The New Yorker, 21 July 2008.

(3) See, for example, John Pilger, “Our model dictator“, The Guardian, 28 January 2008.

Reviewed 7 December 2008.

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Review: “US policy towards Jerusalem and the Occupied Arab Territories, 1948 and 1967” by Candace Karp

A pretty dry, academic account of (surprise surprise) US policy towards the Israeli occupation of Palestinian and other Arab lands in 1948 and 1967 (with a focus on the status of Jerusalem in 1948). It’s a sound summary of the official US documentary record, supported by various memoirs etc. Its main problem is that its key conclusion is simply not supported by its own evidence.The main example of this is how Karp states in several places that US support for Israel was ultimately detrimental to “its own cold war interests” and that it was “largely instrumental in its own undoing”. But the very evidence she cites proves exactly the opposite. In 1948, the US did not want to send its own troops to Palestine, since it was concerned that the USSR would react by doing the same. Karp argues that the US failing to do so undermined it’s own strategic goal of “stability” in the region — yet none of the internal documentation she cites demonstrates this was a genuine regional goal. What is clear from what is cited here is that a central US goal in 1948 was to keep Soviet troops out of the region. By actively undermining the internationalization of Jerusalem (as called for in the November 1947 UN plan), they achieved this.

Keeping to what is revealed by the account of the documentary record, this is a pretty useful summary. One of the most interesting points that comes out is the fact that Israel’s supposed wish for peace with it’s neighbors was always clearly a lie. Something I learned was that Jordan and Egypt offered full recognition of Israel (in return for withdrawal the the 1949 ceasefire lines) as early as November 1967 (p 95) — with nothing for the Palestinians. Also Israel demanded control of Gaza and possibly the West Bank before it would even negotiate over withdrawal. There are other interesting such facts that come out.

But it is a bit of a missed opportunity in that it does not discuss how the Israeli aggression of 1967 led the US to start a massive military aid program to Israel. However it does quote the NSC Planning Board from August 1958: “if we choose to combat radical Arab nationalism and to hold Persian Gulf oil by force if necessary, a logical corollary would be to support Israel as the only strong pro-West power left in the Near East” (p 57). Beyond delusions, this is the key to understanding the last 40 years plus of extreme pro-Israel US foreign policy.

Reviewed 1 July 2008.

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Review: “The Road Map to Nowhere: Israel/Palestine Since 2003” by Tanya Reinhart

An excellent sequel to “Israel/Palestine: How to End the War of 1948”. Here Reinhart argues that the correct way to understand the 2005 Israeli redeployment from Gaza (the much vaunted “disengagement”) is in the context of massive US pressure behind the scenes, even rising to the level of military sanctions. The sancations (minor in relative terms, but huge in effect) were not explicitly linked to the Gaza pullout (which the Bush administration needed for PR purposes in the Arab world), instead they were triggered by attempted Israeli military technology sales to China. With the reality of the sanctions in the background, Sharon had little choice but to go through with the announced plan. Although he had been hoping all along for a chance to back out of the plan at the last minute, Hamas adhered to a one-sided ceasefire, and the US insisted that the pull out go ahead.She puts the case well and I was convinced by the end of the book, having initially been sceptical. Reinhart is much missed.

Reviewed 22 May 2008.

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Review: “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns” by Frank Miller

Philosophic pretence can not disguise what is essentially yet another very stupid story about a masked vigilante in tights who goes around beating criminals within an inch of their lives (as if police brutality has never been tried — and ever solved society’s problems). Making matters worse is the way Frank Miller thrusts his misanthropic ideology down the reader’s collective throat. This would be forgiveable if it was not at the expense of the plot and characters — who are essentially poorly developed stooges. On first glance, you could be forgiven for thinking the story is a critical reassessment of the American “superhero” as essentially a vigilante, little removed from the criminals he pursues. It soon becomes clear that, yes, Miller sees Batman in this way: but he approves of it. Witness his transformation of the mutant gangs into a sort of brown shirted “Batman Youth”. Look below the surface and you start to find an almost fascist world-view.

This book is extremely over-rated and was critically acclaimed at the time, probably because it was seen as something “new” and “gritty”. Spare me. You could forgive the ideology if the book worked as art unto itself. But once you remove that, little remains.

Compare this to the work of Alan Moore at the time. “V For Vendetta” stars a protagonist who is essentially sympathetic to the writer’s political views, but Moore wisely makes him a genuinely ambiguous figure, whose actions are often morally questionable. Compare this to Miller’s two-dimensional Batman. To the original dimension of the Batman character (“heroic”), Miller’s oh so great achievement was to add a second dimension: “gritty”. Oh, well done.

You get the feeling this book wishes it were Moore’s “Watchmen”. A masterful work, “Watchmen” is a complete and successful deconstruction of the superhero genre. “The Dark Knight Returns” on the other hand, is another desperate attempt to shock life into the long-since rotted corpse of yet another ridiculous superhero character.

Reviewed 4 April 2008.

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