Archive for March, 2009

Kashmir konflikt og kashmirernens politisk krav

March 31, 2009

Nasir Khan

Terrorangrepene i Mumbai i november 2008 ble fordømt av nærmest en hel verden. De minnet oss på, nok en gang, hvor viktig det er å bekjempe krefter som utfører politisk vold og etnisk/religiøst motivert terror på det indiske subkontinentet. Men de dype og underliggende årsake­ne til den elendigheten slike voldelige handlinger er et symptom på, blir ofte ignorert og underkjent. En av de viktigste årsakene er den uløste konflikten i Kashmir, som vekker sterke følelser av sinne hos millioner mennesker.

Problemene med vold og terror i denne delen av verden kan slett ikke løses slik Bush-administra­sjonen har forsøkt å gjøre det: Å gjenta mantraet om «krig mot terror» og samtidig planlegge og sette i gang massiv aggresjons­krig hjelper ikke det spor. Tvert imot har Bushs kortsiktige propa­gandatriks bidratt til å dekke over aggresjonskrigføringen og lagt grunnlaget for mer vold, fl ere massakrer. Hensikten er å fremme herredømme og imperia­listiske interesser: Den såkalte «krigen mot terror» er i virkelig- heten en forlengelse av USAs imperialistiske strategi for å nå egne mål i Midtøsten, men også langt utenfor regionen. Det er innlysende at ethvert seriøst forsøk på å bekjempe terror må ta terrorens årsaker i betraktning og ikke nøye seg med å angripe symptomene som ligger opp i dagen.

Den uløste konflikten i Kash­mir har siden 1947 brakt India og Pakistan stadig videre på en farlig konfrontasjonskurs. Dette året endte britene sitt styre i regionen, og som en siste gest mot sine undersåtter besluttet imperieherskerne å dele India langs etnisk/religiøse linjer.

Britene førte under hele proses­sen et dobbeltspill hvor de delte ut velsignelser og beskyttelse med den ene hånda og elendighet med den andre. Med sin grense­dragning mellom de to framvok­sende nasjonene i området åpnet britene en Pandoras eske for kommende generasjoner. De som hadde noe å takke for tjenesten, gjorde det til gagns: Britenes siste guvernør for India, Lord Mountbatten, ble utnevnt til det frie Indias første generalguver­nør. Den nøye utarbeidete og målrettede inndelingen skulle vise seg å tjene ett lands interesse på det andres bekostning.

På den tida India ble delt, var prinsedømmet Jammu/Kashmir styrt av Maharaja Hari Singh. Han var hindu, fra den etniske gruppa Dogra, og oldebarn av Gulab Singh, som hadde kjøpt hele Kashmirdalen fra britene som følge av den såkalte Amrit­sar-avtalen av 1846. Ettersom det store flertallet av innbyggerne i Kashmir var muslimer, var det ventet at Kashmir ville tilfalle det nye Pakistan etter delingen. Folk fra den delen av regionen som seinere ble kjent som Azad Kashmir («Fritt Kashmir») startet sammen med stammekrigere fra Nordvestlige grenseprovins (NWBP) i Pakistan en geriljaof­fensiv mot staten for å presse Hari Singh til å la Kashmir inngå i Pakistan. Herskeren ba da Lord Mountbatten om hjelp, og ble lovet det – på betingelse av at han sluttet seg til India. Dermed startet den første indisk-pakis­tanske krigen. Den endte i 1949 med en våpenhvile nedsatt av FN, som da nylig var stiftet, etter at India i 1948 hadde brakt Pakistan inn for Sikkerhetsrådet. Våpenhvilen innebar også etableringen av en delelinje, som har forblitt de facto grense mellom det indisk-kontrollerte Kashmir og Azad Jammu/ Kashmir (kalt pakistansk­okkupert Kashmir av inderne).

Sikkerhetsrådet vedtok tre resolusjoner i 1948/49 som også anerkjenner rettighetene til innbyggerne i Kashmir, hvis landområder de to nasjonene sloss om. Ifølge FN-resolusjo­nene skal India og Pakistan avholde folkeavstemning i Kashmir, slik at folk der kan få avgjøre sin egen framtid. Indias daværende statsminister Jawa­harlal Nehru lovet folket i Jammu/Kashmir uavhengighet så snart det ble fred i området. Dette løftet brøt han da kamp­handlingene tok slutt, og innhol­det i resolusjonene ble aldri fulgt opp. Derimot ga indiske myndig­heter Kashmir en særstatus som åpner for større grad av selvstyre i regionen.

Hensikten med dette var å pasifisere befolkningen når herskeren seinere lot regionen inngå i India. Løftet om folkeav­stemning er fortsatt ikke inn­fridd, og den ene indiske regje­ringen etter den andre har hardnakket hevdet at Kashmir er en del av India. Ethvert krav fra folk i regionen om folkeavstem­ning og enhver protest mot den indiske okkupasjonen har blitt ansett som et internt indisk anliggende. Ingen tredjepart er gitt anledning til å uttale seg på vegne av kashmirerne eller fremme de rettighetene som ifølge FN-charteret og resolusjo­nene fra 1948/49 er legitime. I stedet brøt det i 1965 ut ny krig mellom India og Pakistan om Kashmir.

I tiårene som fulgte har kashmirernes lidelse økt i omfang. De har utfordret legitimiteten til den indiske okkupasjonen, og i 1989 startet de væpnet kamp for å kaste okkupantene på dør.
Det indiske militæret slo hardt tilbake, med massearestasjoner, vold og forsvinninger som konsekvens. India har sendt flere enn 500 000 soldater for å undertrykke muslimene i Kashmir. I følge forsiktige anslag har indiske styrker tatt livet av rundt 70 000 mennesker og brutalisert en hel befolkning. Kilder i Kashmir mener tallet på drepte er så høyt som 100.000. I den væpnete kampen har hindumi­noriteten i området, panditene, blitt offer for opprørerne, og ifølge statlige myndigheter har flere enn 200.000 av dem fl yktet fra Kashmir. Noen har søkt tilflukt i Jammu, andre har dratt til India. Etter landfl yktigheten har panditene levd under sørgelige forhold. Men det er oppmuntrende å se at kashmir­ske muslimer og deres lederskap i sin helhet nå ber sine hindubrø­dre om å vende tilbake til hjem­landet.

Etter 18 års brutal militærok­kupasjon sto den indiske regje­ringen så overfor en ny situasjon: Jihad-rådet i Kashmir tok til orde for å avslutte den væpnete kampen og oppfordret alle militante til å bruke ikke­voldelige og fredelige metoder i kampen for frigjøring fra India. Ropet om frihet – azadi – har blitt høyere, og India kan ikke drukne det med sine maskingevær og plyndrende militærstyrker. Imidlertid har de indiske lederne vist liten vilje til å lytte til folket og har i stedet holdt Kashmirda­len under streng militær bevokt­ning.

Den pågående konflikten har ført til ufattelig stor nød og ødeleg­gelse i Kashmir. Samtidig er den en viktig årsak til spenningen India og Pakistan imellom. Rivaliseringen om regionen har ført de to landene inn i militær opptrapping og våpenkappløp – der anskaffelsen av atomvåpen er en del av bildet – som tapper begge for store ressurser. De to landenes myndigheter bruker et propagandaspråk mot hverandre som skaper fi endtlighet, mis­tenksomhet og hat og gjør at befolkningen på begge sider anser motparten for å være sin «dødsfi ende». Konfl ikten har forgiftet sinnene til både indere og pakistanere; den har pågått i mer enn seks tiår, og det er ingen løsning i sikte. I kjølvannet av situasjonen følger økt politisk polarisering og vedvarende spenning mellom de to folke­gruppene. Dette gjør det tilsva­rende vanskelig å løse uenighe­ten om Kashmir og andre konflikter og derigjennom normalisere forholdet mellom landene.

En annen urovekkende tendens er den økende politiske og religiøse ekstremismen i India og Pakistan. Denne utviklingen har i og for seg pågått i lengre tid; det nye er at ekstreme tendenser er allment akseptert som en del av det sosiale og politiske landskapet i begge land. Main­streampolitikken har blitt influert av gruppetenkningens og hatets predikanter og ypper­steprester.

Flere indiske partier står i nær forbindelse med Hindutva, den militante politiske hindunasjona­lismen, og organisasjonen Sangha Parivar fungerer som paraplyorganisasjon for partier som bekjenner seg til denne retningen. Hindutva-organisasjo­nene er influert av tanken om hinduistisk fl ertallsstyre, eller Rashtriya Swayamseval Sangh (RSS). Gjennom å identifi sere India med hinduisme og hindu­styre forsøker denne retningen å etablere en etnisk/religiøs dominans i landet. Det ledende indiske partiet Bharatya Janata Party (BJP) har stått i spissen for Hindutva-doktrinen og hinduise­ringen av landet som helhet. Jawaharlal Nehru advarte i sin tid om at dersom fascismen skulle gjøre seg gjeldende i India, ville det skje i form av majorite­tens (hindu-)nasjonalisme. I dag har hans ord og advarsler vist seg nærmest profetiske.

I Pakistan har fundamentalis­tiske religiøse partier forsøkt å ta monopol på islam. De har ikke på noe tidspunkt oppnådd særlig folkelig støtte og har gjort det tilsvarende dårlig i valg. Flere pakistanske religiøse ledere har imidlertid gjort seg notorisk bemerket med ukvemsord mot andre muslimer. Sunnipredikan­ter har rettet sin vrede mot de «vantro» sjiamuslimene, og sjia­predikantene har svart med samme mynt. Dette har forårsa­ket en negativ sirkel av vold og hatefulle beskyldninger i islams navn. Det er ingen tvil om at militante islamistiske grupper bidrar til denne negative utvik­lingen og utgjør en betydelig fare. Men Indias behandling av muslimene i Kashmir, samt landets uforsonlige holdning til konflikten, er noe alle pakista­nere ensidig fordømmer. Indias oppførsel provoserer også militante grupper som Lasher-e-Taiba; disse oppfordrer sine tilhengere til å hevne sine indiske religionsfellers lidelser, påført dem av militante hinduna­sjonalister – og til å slåss for Kashmirs frihet med alle midler, om nødvendig med vold. Angre­pene i Mumbai i november i fjor var et uttrykk nettopp for denne dynamikken.

De siste seksti årene har India opprettholdt sin okkupasjon av Kashmirdalen gjennom politisk manipulering og brutal militær­makt. Massakrene på kashmir­ske muslimer utført av indiske styrker vil under Folkeretten regnes som krigsforbrytelser. Men til sjuende og sist må lederne i New Delhi bære det endelige ansvaret for den folke­morderiske politikken. Indiske myndigheter kan ikke fortsette sin okkupasjon av Kashmir og tro at folk der – stilt overfor den militære og økonomiske stor­makten India, med imperialist-stater som USA og det sionistiske Israel som stadig nærere for­bundsfeller – skal gi opp sitt krav om frihet. Dersom okkupasjonen fortsetter, vil situasjonen garan­tert bare vil bli verre, og volden og terroren i området vil blom­stre.

De ti millioner muslimene i Kashmirdalen vil ha uavhengig­het fra indisk kolonistyre og undertrykking. Det mest fornuf­tige for India vil være å ta et oppgjør med fortidas politikk og erkjenne at folk i Kashmir har rett til sjølstyre. Dette vil ikke svekke India; tvert imot vil det demonstrere styrken i det indiske demokratiet og framheve den indiske kulturelle tradisjonens humane sider.

Hvorvidt befolkningen i Kashmir­dalen velger å slutte seg til India eller Pakistan – eller tar sikte på full sjølstendighet – bør være opp til dem å avgjøre. Uansett hvilken avgjørelse de fatter om sin egen framtid, bør den være deres alene, og dette er noe FN-resolu­sjonene gir dem rett til. Det er langt fra sikkert at folket i området velger å slutte seg til Pakistan, men i så fall har India ingenting å frykte. Da vil nemlig det hinduistiske Jammu-området og det buddhistiske Ladakh­området med all sannsynlighet bli en del av India. I stedet for å utsette dem for de militære styrkenes ydmykende og inhu­mane behandling, kan India gi folket i Kashmirdalen rett til å bestemme over sin egen skjebne. Med det kan de samtidig legge de politiske forholdene til rette for et godt naboskap mellom India og Pakistan. Dette vil imidlertid kreve både mot og klokskap fra indisk side.

Så fort det viktigste stridste­maet mellom de to landene legges dødt, kan de to tidligere rivalene og «fiendene» møtes som venner og konsentrere seg om å løse sine respektive sosiale og økonomiske problemer i en fredelig atmosfære. Nøkkelen til håp og godvilje i India og Pakis­tan ligger altså i opprettelsen av en uavhengig politisk enhet i Kashmirdalen. Ved å bilegge en konflikt som har skapt fi endskap og påført skader i uoverskuelig omfang, kan de to landene også bli i stand til å tøyle kraften i den religiøse fanatismen og etnisk/ religiøse gruppetenkningen som hjemsøker dem.

Nasir Khan, dr. philos, er historiker og fredsaktivist.

Oversatt av Cato Fossum og publisert i Klassekampen 17. Februar 2009

__________________________________________________

Some pictures of  Kashmiris under Indian occupation

Kenney can’t censor this interview: George Galloway speaks

March 31, 2009
One way or another, George Galloway will be heard in Canada — he is scheduled to speak in Toronto on Monday, Mar. 30 — despite the ban on him entering the country. On Sunday, a diverse range of groups supporting free speech will challenge his ban in a court hearing.

Even if this fails, Galloway’s speech will be broadcast live to audiences across the country; by his own estimation, the British Member of Parliament will be heard by “audiences probably a hundred times greater” than if Minister Jason Kenney had not upheld the decision to keep him out of Canada on “security grounds.” Am Johal caught up with Galloway, who is currently on a speaking tour in the United States.

Am Johal: The Harper government in Canada seems to have politicized the bureaucracy in making this highly irrational decision to ban you from Canada. It’s an unprecedented attack on free speech in Canada given you are an elected MP from Britain. What do you make of the Harper government’s motivation for doing this?

George Galloway: You know you can be more Catholic than the Pope, more discredited than George Bush but you can’t be more anti-terrorist than the U.S.A. Yet the Canadian government has managed it. I’m allowed into the United States to move freely and talk to massive audiences — swelled I’m sure by the Canadian ban — but I can’t get into your country. At least that’s the state of play now. Our court case challenging this ban is due to be heard on Sunday.

I’m a Scotsman and Canada and my country have such historical links that it’s a bit like being turned away from your own home. This is obviously a political move by an ultra-right wing government at the fag end of its term and I can only think that this is some attempt by Jason Kenney to stake out the far-right territory — so far-right they’re just a tiny angry blip in the distance for himself. What he has done is to boost the audiences for my speeches and I will be heard, either in person or by interactive video link. At the last count 20 cities wanted the feed.

The irony in this whole affair is that I have never been a supporter of Hamas. But they are the elected government of Palestine and no country can attempt to impose the kind of government they favour on another people in the way that my country, yours and the United States want to.

AJ: It is strange that you are allowed in to the U.S., but not in to Canada. This really undermines Canada’s reputation in the world as an enlightened nation. The Conservatives have proven that they are troglodytes. What message would you like to send to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney?

GG: There’s nothing I could say to either of them that wouldn’t be coruscating and deeply insulting. But I’d only do that face-to-face, so that must remain private. I rather suspect, though, that when I do meet up with them they will be much diminished politicians — is that possible? — and in opposition.

AJ: You have remarked in your recent speeches about the right-wing turn in Israeli politics, particularly the rise of Avigdor Lieberman who openly supports the ethnic transfer of Israel’s Palestinian citizens. What are the implications of this in the region and what role can the EU play in brokering a peace process, if any?

GG: I think that if Barack Obama cannot broker a deal between Palestine and Israel there’s no point in closing Guantanamo. Indeed he’ll have to open a hundred Guantanamos because the region will erupt.

The previous Israeli government launched the 22-day offensive on Gaza to win the election and still the Israeli people reject them for others who want even bloodier torment visited on the people. I’m deeply pessimistic. Only Obama can reign-in these blood-crazed politicians. The EU has not and never will have influence. America keeps Israel afloat financially and militarily. Winning the war for the mind of Obama is the principal task.

AJ: What do you make of Tony Blair in his role as a Mideast envoy for the Quartet?

GG: Not since Caligula made his horse pro-consul of Rome has there been such a ridiculous choice as Tony Blair, the war criminal, as Quartet envoy.

AJ: There are legal challenges moving forward and numerous campaigns to support your upcoming visit to Canada. If you are not allowed in, how do you intend to keep fighting the Harper government?

GG: I will be allowed in. If not now in the near future because I’ve visited Canada many times and I have faith in the eminent good sense of Canadian citizens. If not this time then I will broadcast by satellite link to audiences probably a hundred times greater than I would have down there. So I suppose I should be grateful to Kenney.

AJ: What do you think of Canada’s role in Afghanistan?

GG: The Canadian people with their magnificent shows of strength prevented Canada becoming embroiled in the Iraq catastrophe. I’m afraid that there is no winning in Afghanistan, not militarily certainly, many have tried and none succeeded. I’m afraid many wives, mothers and children will be grieving in the months to come. We have no right intervening in another country’s affairs and that will be my message in my speeches.

Am Johal is a Vancouver-based independent writer.

The Absurdity of Spending US Tax Dollars on Israel

March 31, 2009

Paul J. Balles argues that if enough ordinary Americans “feel the pinch and connect the dots between their own financial losses and America’s continued unbridled support of Israel’s devastating war machine, Israel could be forced to make peace with the Palestinians”.

By PAUL J. BALLES | South Lebanon, March 31, 2009

The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once quipped that a person is not conscious of his or her little toe until the shoe pinches. Likewise, one typically is not conscious of an event or situation that can have great impact on one’s life until it has a direct affect.

In an article I wrote in September 2007 on “Overcoming the apathy, fear and listlessness of Americans“, I pointed out that, “liberties and freedoms may be squeezed … but until ‘the shoe pinches’, the squeezing won’t hurt most people enough to get them to act”. In short, most people pay little, if any, attention to politics, social issues, environmental problems, economic concerns or military events until they hurt directly.

The things that are now painfully connected to the recent financial crisis in America include health care costs that people are unable to meet, home foreclosures, job losses, excessive credit debt and loss of pay.

Is it possible that an economic catastrophe in America might have a surprisingly positive effect? An article by Jane Stillwater entitled “Our dual-citizenship Congress” suggested an unforeseen result that could be very good for the whole world.

First, Jane’s article reveals that the shoe is pinching ordinary Americans. She writes:

I turned on the television last night and listened to the local news anchor tell me, “The State of California is currently facing bankruptcy.” I live in California.

This is not good news. Plus California’s jobs are drying up, homes are being foreclosed on, stores are going out of business, schools are laying off teachers, banks are eliminating branches. The eighth-largest economy in the world is about to tank. Boy could we use some financial help from the feds.

Then, after asking, “But will we get it?” she concludes, “Probably not.” While California and other states are not receiving bailouts like the banks that will help ordinary people, Jane concludes:

But Congress still continues to enthusiastically pour billions of our taxpayers’ dollars into the Israeli economy each year. What’s with that? Do our Congressional representatives hold dual citizenship with the United States and Israel or what? When are they going to stop voting pork for Israel and start voting bailout money for CA?

Are we Californians going to have to start firing Qassam rockets at Washington to get their attention or what?

After getting Jane’s permission, I sent her article to my Congressman and cc’d it to everyone I know in California. The next day, I received several comments that echoed Jane’s complaint. Why are we continuing to send US taxpayer money to support Israel’s slaughter of innocents in Gaza while we don’t have enough money to support our own economy?

My daughter wrote, “It infuriates me to think that they are spending our tax $$$ for Israel instead of our own country and state. Yes, we are feeling the pain of it too!”

Her husband, a fire captain in Southern California, has just lost 10 per cent of his pay due to the governor’s budget cuts.

How can this possibly have a positive outcome? The economic crisis in both state and federal budgets has already pinched many shoes. Americans are very upset at the damage done to their financial conditions.

If enough people feel the pinch and connect the dots between their own financial losses and America’s continued unbridled support of Israel’s devastating war machine, Israel could be forced to make peace with the Palestinians.

How could that happen? Israel would no longer be able to ignore the Arab peace initiative first proposed in 2002 that offers pan-Arab recognition of Israel in exchange for Israel’s withdrawal from lands captured in 1967.

Paul J. Balles is a retired American university professor and freelance writer who has lived in the Middle East for many years. For more information, see http://www.pballes.com.

The Testimony from Gaza

March 31, 2009
Israeli soldiers’ accounts of the fighting last winter further undermine the official rationale of the war.

The soldier had served as a squad commander during the Israeli army’s invasion of the Gaza Strip last winter. His unit was assigned to advance into Gaza City. His initial orders, he recalled, were that after an armored vehicle broke down the door of a building, his men were to enter, spraying fire: “I call it murdering … going up one floor after another, and anyone we spot, shoot him.” The word from his higher-ups was that anyone who hadn’t fled the neighborhood could be assumed to be a terrorist. The orders fit a pattern: In Gaza, “as you know, they used lots and lots of force and killed lots and lots of people on the way so that we wouldn’t be hurt,” he said.

Before the operation began, he recounted, the orders were softened. The building’s occupants would be given five minutes to leave and be searched on their way out. When he told his squad, some soldiers objected. “Anyone there is a terrorist; that’s a fact,” one said. The squad commander was upset. “It’s pretty frustrating that inside Gaza you’re allowed to do what you want,” he explained at a discussion in February among graduates of the Yitzhak Rabin Academy, a pre-army training course.

A transcript from that gathering, published in an academy newsletter, reached the Israeli media late last week. (The full Hebrew text is here; a Ha’aretz report in English is here.) Predictably, it set off a storm. In contrast to earlier criticism of the Gaza campaign, this time charges of disregard for civilians’ lives came not from Palestinians or the foreign media but from Israeli soldiers. Their testimony challenged the story of the war that is widely accepted in Israel and indicated a change, apparently dictated from above, in the Israel Defense Forces’ rules for fighting.

The soldiers who spoke at the academy hadn’t served together and weren’t talking about a breakdown in a single unit. Instead, they described an atmosphere in which “the lives of Palestinians were, let’s say much less important than the lives of our soldiers,” as one put it. Every civilian was presumed dangerous, a potential suicide bomber. In one segment of the testimony that received wide media attention, a soldier told of marksmen shooting a mother and her two children after they took a wrong turn as they fled their home. (In response, the army hastily announced that the brigade commander had investigated and that the marksmen had only fired warning shots, without harming the mother and children.)

There were counter-instances. A soldier identified as Binyamin (not his real name) described leading a patrol along the fence between Israel and Gaza. If the soldiers saw a Palestinian come within 300 meters of the fence, the orders were to treat him as a potential terrorist: Shoot in the air; if the “suspect” didn’t flee, shoot at his legs; then, if necessary, shoot to kill. But the 300-meter zone included farm land. Binyamin spotted an old man working in the fields. At first, the patrol’s marksman fired over the farmer’s head. The old man, apparently inured to gunfire, didn’t respond. Binyamin and the marksman looked at each other. “We simply understood that neither of us … wanted a farmer on our conscience.” The patrol drove on. Telling the story, Binyamin added, “Anyone who thinks I hurt Israeli security can come talk to me afterward.” His defensive tone suggested that his restraint was an exception to the wider atmosphere during the Gaza fighting.

Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead” in Gaza began with an air campaign in late December, followed by the ground invasion in early January. The immediate catalyst was heavy rocket fire from the Hamas-ruled Strip at southern Israeli communities, after a six-month ceasefire between Hamas and Israel ran out. (The actual chain reaction leading to war was more complex, as I wrote at the time.) From the start, Israel deflected charges of causing excessive civilian casualties with several arguments: Palestinian casualty figures were inflated; many of the supposed civilians were really combatants; and by fighting from within urban areas, Hamas had turned the civilian population into human shields. The Israeli army also feared that nearly anyone in Gaza could be a suicide bomber. None of those arguments should be dismissed out of hand. The Palestinians were also engaged in a public-relations battle. Hamas did base itself in urban areas, and it is infamous for its use of suicide bombers.

Most Israelis regarded the war as defensive, and the reports from Gaza have gained little traction in the Israeli domestic arena. The soldiers’ accounts may boost domestic criticism. As one of the soldiers commented, their experience reflected “a change in the rules for ‘purity of arms'” — meaning military ethics — compared to previous Israeli wars. Another soldier explained massive use of firepower as a response to Israel’s heavy casualties in the Second Lebanon War of 2006. “The intent was … to protect soldiers’ lives,” he said.

Any army will seek to minimize its losses. That said, the Israeli army does have a code of ethics that demands a balance between protecting its own forces and avoiding harm to noncombatants. If the code were not simply violated but superseded by new orders this time, a critical question is, who gave the orders — mid-level commanders, the top brass, or the country’s political leaders?

One lesson that generals and politicians, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, may have learned from Lebanon, and from wars elsewhere, is that public support for a war can turn to opposition when the number of fallen soldiers increases. Similarly, direct media coverage from the battlefield can spur political debate. During the Gaza fighting, the Israeli army prevented both local and foreign journalists from entering the Strip.

There is at least one more reason that domestic support for a war can evaporate: failing to achieve the war’s goals. At the outset of the Gaza campaign, Olmert said its purpose was to “change the situation in the south part of our country” — a deliberately modest and ambiguous goal. Other officials spoke of weakening Hamas and restoring Israeli deterrence. While Israel decided to stop the fighting unilaterally in January — just before Barack Obama’s inauguration — it sought a new ceasefire arrangement with Hamas, negotiated indirectly via Egypt. Olmert then injected the additional goal of a prisoner exchange to free captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been held in Gaza since 2006.

There’s still no agreed ceasefire in place. Since Israel withdrew from Gaza in January, over 180 rockets have been fired from there at southern Israel, according to the Israel Defense Forces. That’s less than the rate last November and December, as the ceasefire unraveled and expired. But it’s much more than the sporadic launchings when the truce was in place. Arguably, Gaza’s rulers have not been deterred from launching — or from allowing other groups to launch — missiles at Israel. Meanwhile, the talks on a prisoner exchange broke down last week, just before the soldiers’ testimony was published nationally.

This is the familiar arc of a poorly conceived war. At first, it looks like necessary defense. The public rallies around in the adrenaline rush of solving an intolerable problem by force. The critics are few, or foreign, and easily dismissed. As time passes, it becomes more difficult to name what has been gained amid the horror. The moral price reveals itself. Criticism becomes mainstream and respectable and is entirely too late.

Pentagon war spending hits $685.7 billion – GAO

March 31, 2009

Reuters, March 30, 2009

WASHINGTON, March 30 (Reuters) – Pentagon spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and to fight terrorism elsewhere has reached $685.7 billion since 2001, a U.S. government watchdog agency said on Monday.

The Government Accountability Office, or GAO, said the Iraq war accounted for $533.5 billion in Defense Department spending obligations through last December, while spending on operations in Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa and the Philippines totaled $124.1 billion.

The remaining $28.1 billion was for operations to defend the U.S. mainland, the GAO said in a letter to Congress dated March 30.

The spending total equals about 85 percent of the $808 billion that Congress has appropriated for military operations in the global war on terrorism since the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, the GAO said.

The $122.3 billion difference reflects multiyear contracts for procurement, military construction, research, development and other programs, the watchdog agency said.

GAO figures show the rise in Pentagon obligations slowing from 40 percent hikes between 2005 and 2007 to a 33 percent increase in 2008. Obligations for 2008 totaled $162.4 billion.

Congress has appropriated $65.9 billion for 2009 so far and the Obama administration is seeking another $75.5 billion, suggesting $141.4 billion in total appropriations for the year, down from 2008.

Pentagon spending in the first three months of fiscal year 2009 — from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31, 2008 — equaled about $31 billion, of which $25 billion went to the war in Iraq and nearly $6 billion to operations in Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa and the Philippines.

The Army accounted for $21.5 billion of war on terrorism obligations during the same period, followed by the Air Force at $3.7 billion. (Reporting by David Morgan, editing by Patricia Zengerle)

Israel’s Ethnic Cleansing Policy and Land Day: Palestinian Uprising and Resistance

March 31, 2009
Written by Ahmad Jaradat, Alternative Information Center (AIC)
Monday, 30 March 2009
Land Day: March 30th 1976, Palestinians took to the streets to protest Israel’s land confiscations orders. They were met by police and soldiers who opened fire on protesters, killing six of them and injuring many others.

pdf land_day_–_list_of_actions 10.61 Kb

On March 30, 1976, six young Palestinians were killed and dozens injured in mass demonstrations that took place in many towns and villages.  Twenty-eight years before, Palestinians lost 78% of their land to the Zionists during the months before and after Israel declared itself a State in 1948.   Not until 1966 did Palestinians, who remained in what became Israel, receive citizenship, living under military rule in the 20 year interim, much like Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza live today.  These years were marked by continued land theft and the activation of Israel’s policy of “Judeazation” of the Galilee, and other areas where indigenous Palestinians remained on their lands.

The State of Israel continues its policies of land theft.  But on this day, March 30th 1976, Palestinians took to the streets to protest Israel’s land confiscations orders. They were met by police and soldiers who opened fire on protesters, killing six of them and injuring many others.

The brave young men who were killed, and the many others who continue to protest Israel’s policies of land confiscation, have done more than fight for their rights and the rights of all Palestinians.  They have revealed the true face of Israel; a racist state whose aim, carried out through its policies of land confiscation, is to ethnically cleanse the land of all Palestinians, including Palestinians who are now citizens of Israel.

Palestinians everywhere commemorate Land Day, March 30th.   Not only to remember those who were killed in struggle but to unite in their message: Our land is the cornerstone of our struggle, it is the land on which we can exercise our rights and self determination.

In the West Bank, Israel’s goal of theft and control plays out through the building of more illegal Jewish-only settlements and “security” infrastructure to support them, including bypass roads and, of course, the monstrous Apartheid Wall.  The effect on Palestinian life is crushing.  This is the real aim of the occupation.  As Palestinians continue standing on their land and resisting against the occupation, they are resisting Israel’s policy of “silent deportation.”

In 2009, the commemoration of the Land Day is particularly poignant   Suffering Gazans are still being kept under siege as the world continues to watch.  1,400 Gazans were killed during Israel’s 23 day massive assault and another 5,000 were injured.  It is estimated that 30% of dead and wounded are children. Tens of thousands have been made homeless. There are reports of Israel having used white phosphorus weapons against the civilians.

This year’s land day comes at a time when massive deportation is taking place in east Jerusalem through the demolition of houses.

Of course, when we talk about settlers and settlement projects we are talking about a struggle for land. The usurpation and confiscation of Palestinian land involves more constraints and difficulties at all levels. Politically, it is an attempt to create an argument “facts on the ground” used to prevent Palestinians from implementing their rights in a state. It means Palestinians losing the revenues from their own land. Since 2000, one million trees where uprooted to expand settlements and to build the Apartheid wall.

Since the Oslo Accords, the supposed peace process signed in 1993, the number of settlers increased from 150,000 to 500,000 and the number of houses in the settlements increased five times. In some Palestinian cities or towns, like Hebron downtown, the number of settlers increased from 150 in 1993 to 500 in 2009.

Dozens of villages and towns have become virtual prisons, as they are completely surrounded by settlements. This is the case of Nahhaleen, in the west of Bethlehem.
The occupation displacement policy is daily implemented in the West Bank, according to district reports.

In south hills of Hebron, thousands of citizens were deported from their villages. In the north valleys, more than 6 villages like Aqaba, Madam and Bardallah are facing a displacement policy that includes demolition of their homes or confiscation of their land; such policies are to facilitate the development and expansion of the illegal settlements.  Many villages close to the Jerusalem Municipality border were illegally annexed to the city during the eighties.  However, the residents still hold West Bank identity cards. This is the case of Al-Walaja, Alkas, and Alon’man, in the Bethlehem district.  These towns  are now closed off by barrier fences.  Their residents are absolutely prevented from building new houses because, as West Bank residents, they cannot request the Jerusalem Municipality for building permits.

Land Day 2009, Global day
The Land Day as a symbol of the struggle in Palestine has become a day of solidarity with Palestinian people in their struggle for their rights.  At the World Social Forum, held in Brazil this past January, an initiative was launched calling for March 30 to be a Global Day of Action for Palestine and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign to end the Israeli occupation and apartheid.

This is a very important step forward towards real solidarity for Palestine.  It is provides a way to put real pressure on the International Community to seriously and clearly address creating a real and fair peace in Palestine. The Land Day, and actually the land of Palestinians, has become not only a Palestinian symbol of struggle but also a symbol of solidarity movements and of all powers who work for peace in Palestine. Demonstrations, meetings, exhibitions, conferences, etc. have been prepared around the world to commemorate the Day of Land.

From all indications, Land Day 2009 will again focus on the so-called peace process of the Oslo Accords, on the fight of Palestinian people for their rights on their land, and on the creation of real solidarity at an international level. Last year, we wrote an article for the occasion called: “Land Day 2008: Eyewitness on the failure of Oslo Agreement”. In 2009, everybody knows well what happened: War Against Gaza, Settlements Expansion, Displacement Policy, Home Demolishing, Land Confiscation, Assassination policy, Detentions, etc. All of these point to the same conclusion: while the occupation continues its policy of ethnic cleansing, Palestinians will continue to struggle for their land and their rights.

Narendra Modi, the Anti-Muslim Politician of India

March 30, 2009

Share | Email | Print | A A A

By Abhay Singh | Bloomberg.com

March 30 (Bloomberg) — As Narendra Modi, chief minister of the state of Gujarat, walks into a cavernous tent filled with 20,000 investors and business leaders in western India, he’s greeted like a Bollywood movie star. Conference goers surround the politician to shake hands, snap photos and touch his shoes — a show of reverence in India.

After the January conference gets under way in the city of Ahmedabad, billionaire Anil Ambani, whose empire ranges from telecommunications to financial services, steps to the lectern. He praises Modi, 58, for turning Gujarat into India’s top destination for investors before paying the Hindu nationalist the ultimate compliment: He should be prime minister.

Since Modi became head of Gujarat in 2001, he’s lured investors with a rapid approval process for developments, a network of roads and ports and uninterrupted power supply — a rarity in India.

“If Narendra Modi can do so much for Gujarat, imagine the possibility for India by having him as the next leader of India,” Ambani says.

Some 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the conference, in a Muslim ghetto called Juhapura on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, Modi’s name isn’t celebrated. He’s a top official in the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), or Indian People’s Party, which opposes special treatment from the government of any one religious group, including Muslims.

Contaminated Food

For the 700,000 residents of Juhapura, the water runs only 15 minutes a day, potholed asphalt roads are lined with rubble and government-subsidized shops sell contaminated flour and rice that make people sick, says Mohammad Ishaq Sayed, a tailor who lives with his family of six in a one-room, 100- square-foot (9.3-square-meter) apartment.

“We live in Gujarat and still we get nothing,” says Sayed, 53, sitting in a plastic chair outside his apartment, where naked electrical wires snake along the walls. “Why is there no development for us? What enmity do they have with us? We are Muslims, that’s why.”

As India continues to tally the economic costs from the terror attacks by Islamic militants that killed 164 people in Mumbai in November, Modi stands out as a symbol of a nation that, 62 years after independence, has yet to come to grips with a sectarian divide that’s fueled decades of violent riots and the marginalization of Muslims.

Shut Out

The 158.6 million Muslims, which account for 13.4 percent of India’s population of about 1.2 billion, are among the poorest people in the country. They are shut out of jobs and unable to get equal access to education, according to a 2006 government-sponsored report. At state-run companies such as banks and railways, Muslims make up only 4.9 percent of the workforce.

Thirty-eight percent of them live in such deprivation that they consume less than 2,100 calories of food a day, the report says. By comparison, 20 percent of Hindus living in cities don’t receive proper nutrition.

Alakh Sharma, director of the Institute for Human Development, a New Delhi-based group that studies labor markets, development policy and education, says India’s exclusion of Muslims from the mainstream hampers its economic growth.

“If 13 percent of the population is alienated and doesn’t become part of the economic process, how will the country continue to grow?” Sharma says. “It’ll affect demand for goods and become a source of conflict and strife.”

‘Scary Prospect’

In more than two decades in the BJP, during which time he’s ascended to the position of general secretary, the third- highest rank, Modi has been in the middle of the sectarian conflict whose origins go back centuries.

Modi helped organize a campaign in 1990 for the BJP leader to drum up support for building a Hindu temple at the site of a Muslim mosque in the state of Uttar Pradesh, according to his Web site, narendramodi.in. In Gujarat alone, the BJP campaign spurred 1,520 violent incidents between Hindus and Muslims from April 1990 through April ‘91, according to a report by the New Delhi-based Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.

“Modi’s rise is a very scary prospect for India,” says Shabnam Hashmi, an atheist who runs Act Now for Harmony and Democracy, a group started to counter sectarian politics in India. “He polarizes people by promoting the ideology of hate.” Jagdish Thakkar, Modi’s public relations officer, didn’t respond to several requests for an interview.

Rampaging Mobs

In February 2002, four months after Modi took control of Gujarat, Hindu mobs went on a rampage against Muslims after a fire on a train claimed 58 lives, among them Hindu pilgrims. In the riots that followed, more than 1,000 people were killed, mostly Muslims, while Modi allegedly instructed police to stand down and allow the violence to continue, according to an investigation by the eight-member Concerned Citizens Tribunal. The group, with no legal standing, was made up of former judges, professors and a retired police officer.

“If you are a minority you are pushed to the brink and treated like dirt in this state,” says Cedric Prakash, a Jesuit priest who runs a human rights center in Ahmedabad.

Modi has denied the allegations from the citizens group and critics.

“My future will be determined by the people of Gujarat,” Modi said at a conference sponsored by the Hindustan Times newspaper in October 2007. “In a democracy, criticism is welcome, but I am against the allegations.” The Supreme Court of India is still investigating the riots.

Holy War

The killings in Gujarat partly inspired Lashkar-e-Taiba, an Islamic militant group based in Pakistan, to launch its holy war against India, according to a study on the Web site of the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, a U.S. Department of Defense institute in Honolulu.

In November, 10 members of Lashkar-e-Taiba attacked two luxury hotels, a Jewish center, a cafe and railway station in Mumbai, according to Indian officials. In a massacre that shook India, the terrorists killed 164 people, including 26 foreigners. Earlier in 2008, the Muslim group Indian Mujahideen claimed responsibility for a series of bombings in three Indian cities.

The spate of violence weighs heavily on Indians as they elect a new prime minister starting in mid-April. The BJP is attacking the ruling Indian National Congress party for being soft on terrorism. The government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, 76, has delayed the hanging of a convicted Muslim terrorist sentenced to death in 2002 — a fact that the BJP’s candidate, Lal Krishna Advani, 81, rails against on the campaign trail.

Slowing Economy

The BJP is trying to return to power after a six-year term from 1998 to 2004, during which time it stiffened prison penalties for terrorists and lengthened the maximum detention period for suspects who hadn’t been charged to 180 days.

“People lived under six years of a BJP government, but the end of terrorism was not one of its achievements,” says Mahesh Rangarajan, a professor of modern Indian history at Delhi University. “The terrorism card that the BJP could cash in on is gone.”

India’s economic downturn may be an even bigger election issue in a country where voters have regularly rejected incumbents, Rangarajan says. The economy grew 5.3 percent from October through December, the weakest pace since the last quarter of 2003. The recessions in the U.S. and Europe, combined with the terrorist strikes in 2008, are taking a toll on India’s tourist industry.

Partition

The number of visitors to the country plunged 12 percent in February compared with a year earlier. A February poll by an Indian affiliate of CNN showed that neither party would gain 50 percent of the vote, forcing the winner to cobble together a coalition government.

The divide between Hindus, who make up 80.5 percent of the population, and Muslims runs deep. In the 16th century, the Mughals, an Islamic dynasty, took over and ruled the land until the British made the subcontinent a part of its empire three centuries later. Before Britain relinquished control of India in 1947, it partitioned the nation into Muslim Pakistan and Hindu-majority India to buffer historical conflicts.

Eleven million Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs were uprooted, seeking refuge in one of the two countries and clashing along the way. The violence took 500,000 lives. Since the 1960s, there have been at least four major sectarian battles each decade in India, spurred by everything from a Muslim’s cow entering a Hindu’s house to conflicts over religious sites.

‘This is Not Our Country’

Muslims, fearing violence, tend to live together in small clusters in places like the Byculla area in Mumbai and the neighborhood of Nizamuddin in New Delhi, according to the 2006 report sponsored by the Singh government, “Social, Economic and Educational Status of the Muslim Community in India.” In Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s largest city, where investors have backed new malls with big grocery and electronics stores and movie multiplexes, some apartment complexes are off-limits to Muslims, according to the rules of occupancy set by building owners.

Activist Hashmi says her family, because of its Muslim name, has felt unwelcome in parts of New Delhi. In 2003, her daughter, then 7 years old, came home from school after being verbally attacked.

“Another girl told her that we should go live in Afghanistan, this is not our country,” Hashmi says.

Finding Jobs

Muslims also face obstacles in finding employment at state-run companies, which provide 70 percent of the full-time jobs with benefits in India, the report says. At Indian Railways, one of the country’s largest employers, with 1.4 million workers, Muslims make up only 4.5 percent of the total. Among civil service officers — bureaucrats, diplomats and police — 3.2 percent are Muslim. At banks such as State Bank of India, the No. 1 lender, the figure drops to just 2.2 percent. Of the 30 companies in the Bombay Stock Exchange’s benchmark Sensitive Index, only one — software services provider Wipro Ltd. — is led by a Muslim, billionaire Azim Premji.

The report recommends that employers include Muslims in hiring to increase their numbers.

“A very small proportion of government employees are Muslims, and on average, they are concentrated in lower-level positions,” the report says. “While no discrimination is being alleged, it may be desirable to have minority persons on relevant interview panels.”

Drop Outs

Dev Desai, an economics undergraduate student at GLS College in Ahmedabad, encountered discrimination recently when trying to get a Muslim friend and fellow student a job.

“I spoke to some people and told them she was from my college and studies with me,” says Desai, a Hindu. “On hearing her name, they asked if she is Muslim. When I said yes, they told me to let it be.”

The minority group lags behind in education as well, partly because of a shortage of schools that teach in Urdu, a language used by Muslims. As many as 25 percent of Muslim children ages 6-14 never attend school or drop out. Muslim kids in the Juhapura ghetto face another issue: Their school is in a Hindu area.

“Some children are afraid and don’t go,” says Niaz Bibi, a resident and mother. “Their thinking is, we’ll never get a job so why study? Might as well learn a vocation like fixing cars.”

Bollywood

In top colleges offering science, arts, commerce and medical courses, only 1 in 25 undergraduate students is Muslim.

“This has serious long-term implications for the economic empowerment of the community and consequently for economic development of the country,” the report says.

India has put aside its sectarian differences in a few areas, such as its movie industry. Muslim film celebrities Shah Rukh Khan, a romantic leading man also known as “King Khan,” and Aamir Khan often top the box office. Aamir Khan starred in Bollywood’s biggest hit of 2008, Ghajini. While Indians have never elected a Muslim prime minister, lawmakers have selected three Muslim presidents, the titular head of government, including A.P.J. Abdul Kalam from ‘02 to ‘07.

Modi mocked the government report, which was chaired by retired judge Rajindar Sachar, at a conference sponsored by India Today magazine in March 2008.

Spiraling Investments

“Mr. Sachar came to see me and asked, ‘Mr. Modi, what has your government done for Muslims?’ I said, ‘I’ve done nothing,’” Modi said. “Then I said, ‘Please also note that I’ve done nothing for Hindus either. I work for the people of Gujarat.’”

As head of the state, Modi has spurred a construction boom by attracting a slew of investors, including Sabeer Bhatia, co-founder of e-mail service Hotmail. Investors pledged $243 billion to Gujarat at the 2009 Vibrant Gujarat Global Investors’ Summit in January, a 60 percent jump from the previous event in 2007. In a country infamous for bureaucratic red tape, Gujarat lures investors with a streamlined process requiring developers to get approval for major projects at only one agency, the Gujarat Infrastructure Development Board.

Tata Group, the $62.5 billion conglomerate that owns everything from salt to software companies, got permission from the state to build a plant to produce the $2,500 Nano, the cheapest car in the world, in three days.

Hindu Nationalist

“Most of us in India have come to regard a time frame of six months or three months as an average time to get clearances,” Ratan Tata, chairman of Tata Group, said from the stage at the January conference in Ahmedabad. “In this particular case, that tradition was shattered, and we had our land and most of our approvals in three days. That, in my experience, has never happened before.”

After Tata’s speech, Modi walked toward the lectern and gave the executive a hug before addressing the crowd himself.

“Even in a recession, companies aren’t going to stop manufacturing,” he said. “They will prefer a destination where low-cost manufacturing is possible. This is a chance for a country like India, if we can provide a low-cost manufacturing environment, to grab this opportunity.”

Modi joined the burgeoning Hindu nationalist movement as a teenager after growing up in a family of modest means; his father ran a tea stall at Vadnagar railway station in Gujarat, according to a 2007 article in the Times of India.

Ideological Fraternity

After completing his master’s degree in political science at Gujarat University in the 1970s, he became a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or National Volunteers Corps, his Web site says. The RSS advocates that Hinduism is central to Indian culture and life.

At the time, northern India was recovering from a famine and sectarian violence was rising: 500 people were killed in Ahmedabad in 1969. Members of the still active RSS take part in regular military-style parades, drills and exercises dressed in white shirts and khaki shorts. The RSS, which hatched political groups that would coalesce into the BJP in 1980, remains the fount of the party’s ideas.

“The RSS ideology is all about cultural nationalism,” says Prakash Javadekar, spokesman for the BJP and a member of India’s upper house of parliament. “We are an ideological fraternity.”

Babri Mosque

The BJP built itself into a national power starting in the late 1980s with a campaign to construct a temple where a mosque stood in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh. Modi, who joined the BJP in 1987, helped organize a 10,000-kilometer journey for Advani, now the BJP’s candidate for prime minister, to rally support for the temple and the party. Advani’s trip in a truck, with the bed trussed up to resemble a chariot from Hindu mythology, was scheduled to end at the site of the mosque.

Hindus believe the site was the birthplace of the Hindu god Ram and that a temple once stood there until Muslim invaders destroyed it in the 16th century and built the Babri Mosque.

Advani’s journey was cut short when authorities arrested him in the state of Bihar in October 1990. According to Advani’s Web site, he was arrested by political foes who opposed a resurgence of nationalism in India. Two years later, Hindu mobs tore down the mosque, fomenting riots in Mumbai that claimed more than 1,000 lives, mostly Muslims.

Train Fire

The temple campaign catalyzed Hindu support across India for the BJP, which won its first national election in 1996 and its second in ‘98.

“Communal violence in the last two decades is a result of the manipulation of religious sentiments by Hindu right- wing organizations for political gains,” according to the Institute of Peace & Conflict Studies report. “The politicization of the temple-mosque issue and the subsequent demolition of the mosque gave the BJP the opportunity to consolidate its vote bank.”

Javadekar rejects that claim, saying the Congress Party’s sectarian politics and favoritism toward minorities poses the biggest danger to India. Javadekar says the BJP supports the equal treatment of all religious groups in India.

“That means you do justice to all and appeasement of none,” he says.

The 2002 riots in Gujarat began with a fire in a train coach carrying Hindu pilgrims returning from Ayodhya. A commission set up by the Gujarat government said that Muslims set the fire after an altercation at the station between some pilgrims and Muslim vendors.

Lost Everything

The report of the citizens tribunal, which was released in October ‘02 and based on about 2,000 interviews, shows the fire started within the coach and was not deliberate, says Ghanshyam Shah, a social scientist who was a member of the tribunal.

As news of the fire spread through the state, Hindu mobs surrounded Muslim neighborhoods, destroyed houses with homemade bombs, raped and killed women and butchered men, according to the three-volume report of the citizens tribunal.

“We escaped with just the clothes on our backs,” says Sayed, the tailor in Juhapura. “Everything was destroyed. Our house was torn down, and all our possessions were stolen.”

Sayed, his wife and three sons were rescued by a Muslim police officer and taken to a camp outside Juhapura.

“The Muslim officer risked himself and brought us to the camp,” Sayed says.

Police Don’t Arrive

The police didn’t respond to calls for help from many Muslims, according to the report. It details the murder of Ahsan Jafri, a former member of parliament from the Congress Party.

The attack on the neighborhood where Jafri lived in Ahmedabad began on the morning of Feb. 28, 2002. A high- ranking police official visited Jafri at 10:30 a.m. and assured him that police reinforcements were on the way to quell the riots. The police never came even after Jafri’s desperate phone calls to Modi’s office and the police. Jafri was dragged out of his home and killed in the afternoon, as were others who had taken shelter in his house, the report says.

Three years later, in 2005, the U.S. State Department denied Modi a diplomatic visa and revoked his existing one under a section of the Immigration and Nationality Act that bars entry of foreign officials who are complicit in severe violations of religious freedom.

‘Absence of Healing’

“The violence in Gujarat in 2002 was extremely serious; it went on for months,” says Delhi University’s Rangarajan. “If you travel in the hinterland of Gujarat, what is more serious is the absence of a healing process.”

In 2008, six years after the riots, the Supreme Court of India formed a special team to investigate the violence. In February, the team arrested Deputy Superintendent of Police K.G. Erda, the officer in charge of the area where Jafri lived, for dereliction of duty and abetment of murder, according to Mitesh Amin, Erda’s lawyer. Erda has been released on bail, and the Supreme Court has halted the trial, Amin says.

In March, investigators submitted their confidential report to the court, which asked the Gujarat government to file a response by April 13.

The 2002 riots shouldn’t taint Modi’s reputation as a good administrator, says Ajit Gulabchand, managing director of Mumbai-based Hindustan Construction Co. The company is building an $8 billion waterfront development in Dholera, an industrial and business hub.

Carnegie Mellon University

“What happened was terrible,” Gulabchand says. “The question is, Are we moving on? Here is somebody who welcomes people and creates an atmosphere for business and other investments to thrive.”

Yogesh Patel and his business partner, Hotmail’s Bhatia, are also bullish on Gujarat. They’re building university campuses in Dholera and have partnered with Carnegie Mellon University to open a graduate school there.

During a meeting last year, after Patel told Modi about the potential for generating solar energy in northern Gujarat, the chief minister immediately called in a bureaucrat and asked him to get working on a plan.

“It’s like dealing with a private enterprise and talking to a CEO,” Patel says.

‘Modi Has to Evolve’

While political analysts say Modi is a possible future candidate for prime minister, he would face hostility from Muslims. “God will bring Modi down one day,” Sayed says.

In states with large Muslim populations, where they comprise more than 15 percent, Modi would have to soften his anti-Muslim image.

“Modi’s problem is very real,” Rangarajan says. “Modi has to evolve.”

In Ahmedabad’s Juhapura ghetto, Hindus built a 10-foot- high wall with barbed wire at the top to separate themselves from Muslims. The wall is a reminder of the issues confronting Modi and his party as they vie to rule India again.

To contact the reporter on this story: Abhay Singh in New Delhi at abhaysingh@bloomberg.net.

Last Updated: March 29, 2009 17:00 EDT

Witness to Israel’s war crimes

March 30, 2009

James Leas is a lawyer and longtime activist in Burlington, Vt. He works with Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine-Israel, and he recently traveled to Gaza with a National Lawyers Guild (NLG) delegation to investigate the impact of Israel’s 22-day offensive against Gaza. He spoke with Leah Linder Siegel about what he witnessed there.

A man looks out over the wreckage left by Israeli air strikes in Gaza City (Amir Farshad Ebrahimi)A man looks out over the wreckage left by Israeli air strikes in Gaza City (Amir Farshad Ebrahimi)

DID YOUR observations and experiences on the ground in Gaza confirm that Israel committed war crimes during its attack?

WE SAW an enormous amount–with our own eyes. We saw the aftermath of the war, but there were a few bombs that went off during the time we were there, because Israel was bombing the tunnels. When we were crossing into Gaza from Egypt, we heard an explosion.

Most of what we actually saw was the destruction of buildings and rubble–in residential areas as well as government buildings and humanitarian supplies. We also saw the aftermath of the bombing of the UN compound, where we saw residue of white phosphorous [weapons] on the floor. These buildings had been gutted–they had been destroyed by fire.

We saw the rubble of schools and medical facilities that had been attacked. We saw a number of ambulances and United Nations vehicles that had been destroyed.

We also interviewed people who had been victims or whose families had been victims of attacks. In one neighborhood, where many of the houses included people from the same extended family, we interviewed a woman whose two daughters had been killed and whose two sons and husband were wounded severely.

The sons and husband are now receiving medical care in Saudi Arabia. She told us how the Israelis fired tank shells at her house after telling people in all the neighboring houses to come to her house. There were over 100 people in her house, and they stayed there all night.

Then, in the morning, the Israelis fired tank shells at the house. They must have known there were civilians in there because they weren’t getting any resistance; they had control of the neighborhood. And then, when people tried to escape from the house, after the tank started shelling, the Israelis shot at the people running away. Many of them did get away.

There were some left in the house who were too wounded to escape. The Israelis didn’t allow humanitarian aid workers or ambulances to come get them for days. One of her sons was left with the dead and wounded for four days until the Israelis finally allowed aid workers to come get him.

The Israelis didn’t even allow the ambulance to come close; the aid workers had to actually walk a couple of kilometers and remove the wounded on donkey carts. And they couldn’t use the donkeys; they had to actually pull the carts themselves. So it was humiliation on top of interference with humanitarian aid. It was just one violation of international law after another.

We also talked to numerous people who had experiences consistent with Israel targeting civilians. In one case, tanks came up to a family’s house, and the family was told to get out of the house. The family was standing outside the house for five or seven minutes, while Israeli soldiers were nearby, eating chips and chocolate–indicating that they couldn’t have been under attack.

But then, another member of the tank unit came out and started firing at the family, killing a young child and wounding other children in the family. We found seven or eight of these types of incidents where civilians were specifically shot at and targeted. We also describe incidents in our report where civilian infrastructures, dwellings, hospitals and schools were attacked.

We actually visited many kinds of these installations. UN Director [of Operations in Gaza] John Ging was actually in telephone contact with the Israelis before they attacked the UN compound, telling them that bombing was coming quite close. Ging told the Israelis that they should avoid hitting the UN compound.

The Israelis knew its coordinates, they knew exactly where it was, they could see it from the air very clearly. Ging told the Israelis that there were hundreds of refugees there, and that there were fuel tanks near the building, which if hit could create a massive explosion.

Ging told them that if they hit it with the white phosphorous bombs that were raining down around the city, there could be an enormous tragedy. But the Israelis went ahead and hit it anyway. Fortunately, there were some very brave people who ran out during the fire bombing and moved the trucks away, so they didn’t have that explosion.

We interviewed Majdi Abd Robo, who lived in the Jabaliya neighborhood. The Israelis “recruited” him and forced him to walk in front of them when they were moving into a neighboring house to search for Palestinian combatants. When they found the combatants, they sent Majdi in.

The Israelis hit him, they threatened him that something would happen to his wife and five kids, who they separated from him, if he didn’t go into the house where the combatants were hiding. So he was forced to go into this house to do an investigation about the status of these combatants.

Majdi found that there were three combatants who had not been injured and who still had their weapons. The combatants told Majdi to go out and tell the Israelis exactly what he had seen. So he did that, and the Israelis bombed the house, and then forced Majdi to go back in to see if the combatants had been killed.

The combatants hadn’t been killed, so they bombed the house again and forced Majdi to go back in. This happened again and again, until after the third time, Majdi refused to go back in. He said this wasn’t what he was supposed to be doing.

In fact, under international law, it is a war crime to force members of one country to serve or do anything against their own country–and certainly to serve in the armed forces of their enemy. That is considered a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

We also interviewed the director of the American International School, which was completely destroyed by Israeli bombing. Fortunately, it was bombed during the night when no students were there, but the bombs did kill a young watchman who was there.

This was a school that got some funding from the U.S. It had Western-style education; there were boys and girls at the school; it was progressive; it was based on the American school model, where you encourage students to ask questions.

So why was that one attacked? Why was any of it attacked? In my mind, it raised the question of why did Israel carry out this attack at all? The Israelis’ main reason for their attack is rocket fire from Hamas and other militant groups in the Gaza Strip. They claim that they had to respond to the rocket fire.

I went on the Israeli Foreign Ministry Web site, and I learned something interesting. Israel had already stopped the rocket fire, and they did it in an interesting way. They negotiated a ceasefire with the Hamas government of Gaza. The ceasefire started on June 19, 2008, and it lasted for four and a half months. It was supposed to last six months.

It was very successful. The Foreign Ministry Web site says that there was calm already by July 27. Very few rockets were being fired only five weeks after the beginning of the ceasefire, and those being fired were from opponents of the Hamas government.

It was the Fatah militias that were doing the firing, and the Israelis actually have good relations with Fatah in the West Bank. The Israeli Foreign Ministry Web site reports that the Hamas government was actually arresting these Fatah combatants and trying to stop them from firing more rockets.

If you look at the monthly figures of rocket fire, it was already in the single digits by the first month of the ceasefire. If you look at the succeeding months it gets lower and lower, until finally in October, there was only one rocket fired for the whole month. Why wasn’t Israel satisfied with that?

On November 4, Israel launched a combined air and ground that killed six Hamas members. That was the end of the ceasefire. There were then a large number of rockets launched immediately after the attack. Israel continued to stage incursions into the Gaza Strip.

According to the Palestine Center for Human Rights, there were nine more incursions between November 4 and December 26. The ceasefire that Israel broke on November 4 was never restored. But Israel used the rocket fire as the reason for their major assault on Gaza that began December 27.

Israel claimed it had to stop the rocket fire once and for all. But Israel had already shown how to stop the rocket fire–the ceasefire. It had worked. Israel didn’t have a requirement to use military force. Israel was the one that broke the ceasefire, and then they claimed they needed to attack Gaza to defend themselves.

John Ging pointed out that during the cease fire Israel actually intensified the closure. The closure policy prohibits the transport of food, medical supplies and other commodities into the Gaza Strip. There had been 600 or 700 truckloads a day going into Gaza, and Israel’s closure, which began about a year and half before the Gaza offensive, reduced that to less than 100.

The UN reported malnutrition, brain damage among children and other very damaging effects of the closure policy on the Palestinian population of Gaza. Again, Israel as the occupying power has responsibilities to provide for the needs of the population, and here Israel was not only not providing for the needs of the population, but not allowing others to do so either.

So there were severe shortages of food and medical supplies even before the large-scale military operation took place. When Israel launched the December 27 attack, it was already a desperate situation. The people of Gaza were not able to handle the number of mass casualties or meet the needs of the population when everything was cut off.

In fact, during the two or three weeks before December 27, Israel actually tightened the closure by not allowing anything in. When the UN had food lined up outside the border between Israel and Gaza, they weren’t allowed to enter.

Just a few days before we got to Gaza, I read in the newspaper that the French government had donated a water treatment plant that was supposed to purify 2,000 cubic meters of water per day, and they were sending this plant, along with 50 technicians to install it in Gaza. It did get to Israel, it got through the port of Israel, and was waiting on the border of Gaza for more than a week.

When there was no sign of Israel allowing it in, the French took their water treatment plant back to France. So this was in total violation of humanitarian international law that requires that there be no interference with meeting the humanitarian needs.

CAN YOU talk about why the NLG decided to take this trip?

IMMEDIATELY AFTER the ceasefire on January 18, NLG members circulated e-mails about sending an emergency delegation to Gaza to investigate whether Israel had committed any war crimes during the course of its assault on Gaza.

We had been seeing media accounts that sounded like serious violations of international law, and it seemed that civilians were being targeted and that civilian dwellings and infrastructure, including electricity and water plants, hospitals and schools, had been hit. There were substantial media reports showing that facilities for humanitarian aid, like the UN compound, which included a warehouse for storing food and medicine, had been hit.

So people in the NLG decided that it was important that we quickly go to Gaza to investigate and then write a report about what happened and present it to the public. We wanted to do this so that we could have an examination of not just what happened, but also to look at the situation in respect to what the laws of war require.

There is a substantial body of international law concerning war, going back to the beginning of the 1900s when such laws were established. These laws are very good because they are designed to protect civilians. In recent years, there have been trials of people accused of committing war crimes in various parts of the world.

Israel, as an occupying power in the West Bank, Gaza and of course the Syrian Golan Heights, has a responsibility toward the civilian population. Israel is supposed to provide for their humanitarian needs and is supposed to protect them from violence.

Also if [an occupying power] is engaged in military action, it has additional responsibilities under international law to protect the civilian population. The occupying power has to make sure that targets are really military targets. They are supposed to distinguish between military and civilian targets, and they are supposed to focus exclusively on military targets.

The reports that had been coming out of Gaza showed that this wasn’t really happening. In fact, we saw reports that showed that Israel was using weapons that couldn’t really be directed. We heard that they had been using white phosphorus, that they had been using artillery from ships and other artillery pieces that you really can’t aim precisely.

When you have densely populated areas such as Gaza City, it’s very difficult to distinguish between civilian and military targets. So it’s very dangerous to use weapons that you can’t really be precise with, and it’s very difficult not to hit civilian populations when you can’t aim precisely.

WHAT ROLE do you think the United States has played in this most recent war in Gaza?

THE U.S. has played a very large role. The weapons casings we found had markings that indicated they were from the U.S. One of the things that we heard repeatedly was the word “impunity”–the idea that the Israelis appeared to have no fear of consequences for their violations of international law.

The Israelis feel like they can act with impunity. Israel targets civilians, civilian infrastructure and humanitarian aid workers–some of the most egregious violations of the international conventions–and it really is very difficult to hold them accountable.

In fact, the United States is doing everything it can to help [Israel]. By supplying the weapons, by providing vetoes in the United Nations, and by passing resolutions in Congress by overwhelming numbers saying that they support Israel’s attack on Gaza, the U.S. is helping Israel.

At the same time, the international media is showing that this was an attack on a largely civilian population. Gaza has 1.5 million people, and 55 percent are children under 18. The number of combatants, the number of weapons they have, and the kinds of weapons they use are no match for what Israel has. There is no place for combatants to go that is separate from the civilians.

WHAT DO you think people in the U.S. can do to show solidarity with the Palestinians?

I THINK that is the crucial question. During the war, we saw huge numbers of people around the world participating in demonstrations, protesting Israel’s actions. We need to continue to build a movement that will call for accountability, that calls for Israeli officials to be held accountable, to be subject to the same kinds of war crimes prosecutions that happened in Yugoslavia, that happened in Africa.

We need to build a movement that gives people the opportunity to oppose Israel’s occupation. We need a movement that calls for equal rights, that calls for the return of refugees to their homes and villages, and that calls for an end to U.S. aid to Israel, so that Palestinians can exercise their right to self-determination.

Saudi Shiites’ One-Word Demand

March 30, 2009

Rannie Amiri | Counterpunch, March 27 – 29, 2009

“Our dignity is more valuable than the unity of this land … If we don’t get our dignity, then we will have to consider seceding from this country.”

– Sheikh Nimr Baqir Al-Nimr, Saudi Shia religious leader from Al-Awamiya, currently in hiding after having delivered a speech demanding an end to the oppression of Saudi Shiites.

In 2005, the International Crisis Group (ICG) issued a report entitled “The Shiite Question in Saudi Arabia.” The Executive Summary recounted that since the establishment of Saudi Arabia in 1932, “… its minority Shiite population has been subject to discrimination and sectarian incitement.” It detailed how Shiites, the majority in the country’s oil-rich Eastern Province (EP) and accounting for approximately 15-20 percent of the overall population, remained strikingly underrepresented throughout all segments of civil society, including government (in which they essentially have no representation), the public sector, schools, the judiciary, the military and police.

The expression of anti-Shia sentiment in the educational system and limits placed on religious practices were specifically highlighted as problem areas (Shia Islam is not allowed to be taught in schools, only Wahhabism; thus Shiite students must officially identify themselves as ‘heretics’ and ‘infidels’ in order to pass exams).

The ICG made several recommendations in their report including:

  • expanding Shiite presence in government institutions
  • lifting remaining restrictions on Shiite religious rituals and practices
  • encouraging tolerance, eliminating anti-Shiism in mosques and schools, and curbing statements that incite anti-Shiite violence

There was relative calm between the Saudi government and the Shia after King Fahd in 1993 made token promises of easing political restrictions in exchange for the community building closer ties with the regime instead of looking abroad for support and assistance.

The ICG warned though that “King Abdullah needs to act resolutely to improve the lot of the two-million strong Shiite community and rein in domestic expressions of anti-Shiite hostility” or it will be “… a quiet that, without further concrete progress, risks exhausting itself.”

And exhausted itself it has.

With little improvement made, and after the recent violent clashes in the holy city of Medina this past February between Shia pilgrims and the Religious Police (who were found filming female pilgrims), that quiet has officially ended.

Although you would not know it by reading or listening to any of the mainstream Arab media outlets, a violent crackdown is underway in the cities of Al-Awamiya and Qatif in the EP.

On March 13, Sheikh Nimr Baqir Al-Nimr, a leading Shiite cleric from Awamiya, said during Friday prayers that unless the systemic discrimination and oppression of Saudi Shiites at the hands of the political and religious establishments ends, they would consider seceding from the Kingdom. In a subsequent internet posting he is reported to have said, “Our dignity is being held, and if it’s not let free, we will examine other options, and any legitimate option will be examined. We saw with our own eyes how the dissension forces beat up women [in Medina]. Where’s the dignity? Where’s the justice?” (Press TV, 22 March 2009).

Saudi Interior Minister Nayyef Ibn Abdul Aziz, visiting the ailing Crown Prince and Defense Minister, Prince Sultan in New York, immediately ordered his arrest.

Since then, events have turned ugly in both Awamiya and Qatif (where most of the pilgrims involved in the Medina skirmish came from). Despite the Arab media blackout, Saudi dissident and opposition websites such as Rasid.com and Moltaqaa.com, as well as the Saudi Information Agency, have reported on the ensuing clampdown in the hunt for Al-Nimr. By report, the cities’ residents have conducted only peaceful protests and vigils.

Multiple arrests have been made, including juveniles and an American citizen, Nuh Abdul-Jabber, 28. Saudi security forces stormed Awamiya again on March 25, cutting off power to the town of 45,000 for the third time in 10 days. The US State Dept., apparently in deference to the monarchy, has yet to comment on these developments.

Not so Amnesty International, who deplored the detention of men and teenagers by the Saudi authorities whom they believe are at grave risk for torture. Held incommunicado, they called for their immediate and unconditional release.

But why should anyone outside the Middle East be concerned about these events?

Awamiya is located just five miles from Ras Tanurah, the world’s largest offshore oil facility and home to Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest oil company (any talk of unrest, yet alone secession, is therefore quickly silenced).

Beyond that, according basic political, socioeconomic, cultural and religious rights to all citizens of Saudi Arabia, free from discrimination and oppression, should be everyone’s concern on a purely humanitarian level. Indeed, while the entire Kingdom was silent during Israel’s attack on Gaza, it was only the people of Al-Qatif—clearly recognizing and identifying with another people subjected to injustice and humiliation—who held demonstrations in support of the besieged Palestinians.

Their demand and those of Shiites in other towns and cities in Saudi Arabia is a most basic and simple one. It is a demand the government can easily grant and one they should hasten to accept. It was written on the signs of those protesting in Awamiya, was encapsulated in a single word in Sheikh Al-Nimr’s speech, and has become the newfound rallying cry of the Shia-minority in Saudi Arabia: Dignity.

Rannie Amiri is an independent Middle East commentator. He may be reached at: rbamiri at yahoo dot com.

Cheney and Spitzer- Commentators

March 30, 2009

by Christopher Brauchli | CommonDreams.org, March 28, 2009

Here richly, with ridiculous display,
The politician’s corpse was laid away.

– Hilaire Belloc, Epitaph on the Politician Himself

It was a study in contrasts. One fallen politician returned to the headlines reminding us that it was a shame his personal peccadilloes had led to his downfall and another, a disgrace to the country, returned in a flurry of self-importance and verbal flatulence.

Eliot Spitzer was last heard from in 2008 following disclosure of his dalliances with prostitutes. That would not have been particularly noteworthy but for the fact that as attorney general of New York, he had made a name for himself for trying to put prostitutes out of business. In 2004 he announced the arrest of 18 people for promoting prostitution and on related charges. At the time he said that the enterprise was a sophisticated and lucrative operation that was, nonetheless, “nothing more than a prostitution ring and now its owners and operators will be held accountable.” Subsequent events suggested that his efforts were either hypocritical or an attempt to remove from New York the temptation to which he succumbed. Now he is back in the news reminding us that whatever his flaws, his downfall was a loss to those who like clear thinking and cogent analysis. He was expressing his opinion about the financial mess in which we find ourselves.

In an interview with Brian Lehrer on WNYC he traced the funds that went from the taxpayer to AIG to Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, et al and observed that the bonuses that were creating such a furor, though outrageous, were “penny ante” compared to the money sent to those unworthy recipients. In an article in Slate on the same subject he observed that the concern about breaking contracts was hardly a legitimate concern saying: “Workers around the country are being asked to take pay cuts and accept shorter work weeks so that colleagues won’t be laid off. Why can’t Wall Street royalty shoulder some of the burden?” He reminded his interviewer that he had sued AIG in 2006 when Attorney General for the state of New York and gotten a $1.4 billion settlement. In addressing Mr. Lehrer he said: “[W]hat we saw was a company, when you peeled back the first layer of the onion, that was without anything close to adequate controls and adequate structure to know what was going. The way they put their financials together was something that was absolutely beyond what was acceptable.” Mr. Spitzer’s comments were constructive comments addressing a serious crisis. His comments stood in stark contrast to those of Dick Cheney.

Dick Cheney was last seen being wheeled out of town hunched over in a wheel chair. Dick was the former president of Halliburton. After leaving Halliburton he had an 8-year stint in the federal government, which was, by any measure, undistinguished but far-reaching. In January he left that position and returned to private life. On March 15 he emerged from Jackson Hole, the hole into which he crawled following his retirement and appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union” told the interviewer how far downhill the country has already gone even though the new administration has been in office just two months. In forming his opinions he was greatly affected (and troubled) by the respect that the new administration has demonstrated for the Constitution of the United States, a document for which Mr. Cheney had the same regard as King Henry the II for Thomas Becket. The United States Constitution proved to be somewhat more resilient than Thomas, however, for once Mr. Cheney was out of the picture it proved possible to bring life back into the Constitution, a fact that deeply troubled Mr. Cheney. Accordingly he found a soapbox in need of a speaker and took it upon himself to pronounce the country less safe than when he ruled the kingdom through his surrogate, George Bush II.

Lamenting the end of torture (although not in so many words) he said that the changes to detention and interrogation programs for terrorism suspects would make the country considerably less safe than formerly. In establishing himself not only as a guru but as a prophet he said: “He [President Obama] is making some choices that, in my mind, will, in fact, raise the risk to the American people of another attack.” Grabbing hold firmly of his bootstraps as he spoke, he said that the destruction of the Constitutional safeguards for prisoners were “absolutely essential to the success we enjoyed of being able to collect the intelligence that let us defeat all further attempts to launch attacks against the United States since 9/11. I think that’s a great success story. It was done legally. It was done in accordance with our constitutional practices and principles.”

If there is no terrorist attack, the message will be forgotten. If a terrorist attack occurs, Mr. Cheney can sagely pronounce, “I told you so” and suggest that only a trashing of the Constitution once again can protect the Constitution from terrorists other, of course, than the likes of him and others like him.

Christopher Brauchli can be emailed at brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu. For political commentary see his web page at http://humanraceandothersports.com