Monday, November 26, 2012

Jerry Brown's Brave New World

California Governor Jerry Brown is famous for sending mixed messages.  He is, after all, the darling of baby boomer progressives who simultaneously scaled back on California’s social democratic experiment, paving the way, through his ineffectual response to Howard Jarvis’ special interest revolt, for our precipitate decline.  He is the man who promises leadership before passing the buck to voters.  He is the man who campaigned on knowing California like the back of his battle-scarred hand and then acted bemused when confronted by GOP pledge-taking fundamentalists.  Now he is the defender of public education who is telling the state’s public higher education sector—the world’s finest—to steel itself for more disinvestment. 

 
Think back nearly three weeks to the passage of Prop 30 and the Democrats’ supermajority victories in both Assembly and Senate in California.  Brown was hailed as a political genius, and Prop 30 was heralded as a comeback, a sign of the return of sane government, and a victory for education in the state. 

But was the passage of Prop 30 a triumph of progressivism in California?  Was it something to be proud of?  Hardly.  It does not mark a renewed investment in California’s education sector, and the margin of its passage was as narrow as its actual achievements are limited.  All that Californians did was look into the toilet where they’d been dumping their schools and universities for over a decade, ruminate on the sight for a few minutes, and decide to put off pushing the ‘flush’ button.

Brown spent the election season going around the state chastising commentators for “talking down” California, a strategy which smacks of desperation and disingenuity in equal measure.  The Governor’s hypocrisy has been thrown into sharp relief now that the onus is on him to articulate an affirmative vision of what some see as a newly-empowered governing structure should be setting out to accomplish. 

Amongst those anxious to encourage a re-investment in our public sphere were the leaders of the University of California and California State University systems, who requested increases in state funding.  Brown’s answer was typical.  He evaded the question of the responsibility of state government to its institutions of higher learning (at the same time warning them not to pursue fee increases—a case of wanting to have your political cake and eat it, too) while praising incoming CSU Chancellor Timothy White for taking a small salary cut.  While White’s move suggests that he is more in touch with the mood on campuses and across the state than some of his underlings, his move is nothing more than symbolic.  It is, however, the kind of move that Brown—the pioneer of gesture politics—can appreciate.

Brown’s admonitory language towards our public universities was telling.  Their appraisal of distance learning and new technologies, he warned them according to the LA Times, must be conducted “not in the gilded tones of academia but in the harsh reality of the marketplace and technologies”. 

This is vintage Brown.  A nice, meaningless turn of phrase, sure to go down well with the voters, given that it encourages the growing mistrust of higher education and of public institutions and draws a false distinction between academia and reality.  Then there is his characteristic emphasis on the need for “harsh” measures.  His is not the California of yester-year, a place where people dream about alternative futures or harbour ambitions to create a more perfect society.  Instead the emphasis is on making do with the paltry state of affairs in which we life and subjecting our public institutions to a paring down which we will feel in the health of our economy, in the strength of our society, and in the greatly diminished character of our culture in years to come.

Some tea-leaf readers have seen salvation from Brown’s grim vision in two developments: the uptick in talk about rational political reform, and the Democrats’ supermajorities.

While the pseudo-reform represented by Prop 31 deservedly failed in November, the general move towards the rationalisation of our political structure seems to be gaining steam.  The idea of at least some half-hearted stabs at reform has the backing of LA Times columnist George Skelton, Mr Conventional Wisdom himself.  Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg has made reform the rhetorical centrepiece of his plans for the next legislative session, perhaps in an effort to head off the suggestion that Democrats might actually try to do something with the power vested in them by voters.

But comprehensive reform would not be easy, and as Prop 30’s narrow passage suggests, Californians aren’t that into facing up to reality, making serious choices, or committing to the public good.  I heard a talk a few weeks ago from Mark Paul (co-author with Joe Mathews of the wonderful book California Crackup) in which he suggested that one alternative to the kind of ideas-driven reform outlined in his book (the institution of more representative voting systems, a systematic overhaul of the initiative system, and reconfiguring direct democracy, would be something as simple as Californians voting on whether or not to replace our overburdened constitution with that of Iowa. 

Bizarrely, I reckon this latter occurrence would be far more probable than any more inventive or creative scenario.  Indeed, it’s probably eminently possible because I think that Californians—at least on the basis of our behaviour at the ballot box—have ceased to think of ourselves as a people trying to live in an exceptional world.  Our exceptionalism was undoubtedly always more apparent than real, but the power of that once firmly-held belief and its subsequent abandonment shouldn’t be underestimated.  These days, after all, we seem to be keen to show just how small-minded, presentist, self-interested, and un-ambitious we can be.

If comprehensive reform remains elusive in an unmotivated social context, the Democrats’ supermajorities are unlikely to prove panaceas.  Assembly Speaker Perez, like his counterpart in the Senate, was quick to announce that there would be no short-term pursuit of tax cuts (and therefore no investment in our beleaguered institutions).  Perez went a step further and validated Brown’s hypocritical “no taxes without a vote of the people” pledge, a pandering promise which put him in the same boat as the Norquist-oathed GOP.  “The Governor’s been very clear”, the Speaker said, “that the only way to do taxes as long as he’s governor is through a direct vote of the people.  We’re not looking to figure out new ways to do things that we’ve said we’re not going to do”. 

Steinberg’s reforms, while a good start, seem to echo the consensus converging on the Governor’s dirty, irresponsible politics.  Prop 30’s “success” seems to be establishing this unbelievably convoluted method of governing 40 million people as the “new normal” based on the conceit that asking voters to approve each and every dollar is somehow more democratic, and that the electoral security granted legislators who pass the buck is worth the suffering that the uncertainty this system breeds foists onto those least able to support themselves in our state.

Our newly-empowered state leaders seem content to continue living in the post-Prop 13 world.  The signals they are currently sending demonstrate that they are content to muddle along in our diminished state, taking a morally-stunted approach to the public good, one based more on short-term self-preservation than on long-term public interest.  The world that the half-heartedness of these supposed progressives is creating is one which is increasingly harsh, ever bleaker for those who remember better days, and largely deaf to idealism.  It is a world whose leaders actively seek to repudiate the idea that collective action—even when that action “costs” some of us something material in the short-term—can create institutions, places, ideas, and frameworks which make for a more happy, just, and equal world. 

Ageing politicians are wont to speculate about their legacies.  Perhaps the legacy of Jerry Brown’s final political act will be the ushering in of this brave new world. 

Reading for the Holidays

As I ease out of my Turkey coma into a grading marathon and the holiday season, it’s time for indulging in reflections and making plans.  And just as amongst my fondest remembrances of years past involve good books, one critical facet of my holiday agenda is always deciding what to read during the precious vacation days.  While I managed a lot of reading in this past year, I felt that there was some slippage where quality was concerned, partly because of the reading material available on the road, that place where I spent the last five months of 2011 and the first eight of 2012.  Nonetheless, there were definite highlights.


I kicked off the new year by hurdling through the Hunger Games trilogy, which made a couple of flights, a bus ride, and an unhealthily-long layover at Heathrow fly past.  This was a fast-paced series, directed at teens if you’re of the school which believes that books have discrete age-based audiences, but engaging and enjoyable. 

From that point on, I was largely reliant on my kindle, and when I chose to find an actual book, I was at the mercy of Nakumat, the all-purpose grocer of East Africa.  They quickly had me addicted on Jo Nesbo’s crime series which features the grumpy, pickled, yet likeable Harry Hole.  I read this series neither straight through nor in order, but Hole is a well-rounded characters—whose psychological travails do not distract from those of a more practical and criminal nature.  It should be noted that if you’re the skittish type, these are less than ideal for dark nights.

It was on just such a night—beneath a mosquito net by head-lamp during a power outage in Uganda—that I read The Troubled Man, the final instalment of Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander series.  I’ve been rationing the books which comprise this wonderful Swedish detective series over four years or so, and Wallander, in spite of his foibles, is someone who grows on you.  His police station, his town, his mannerisms, and his colleagues comprise a memorable and very human world, and the brooding, introspective nature of both the crimes which unfold in southern Sweden, and the manner of their solution, will make this a series that I will miss.

My book-shopping was fortunately not entirely restricted to Nakumat, and in the wonderful Prestige Bookshop in downtown Nairobi, I picked up a copy of Chinua Achebe’s The Trouble With Nigeria.  Best known for his novel Things Fall Apart, the Nigerian author here launches a stinging assault on his country’s corrupt elite.  The treatise was written during the 1980s, but stands, on some level, as an indictment of corruption and civic rot in all times and places.  I just finished Achebe’s memoir, There Was a Country, which centres on the author’s experience of the Biafra War.  I found the memoir disappointing when compared to Achebe at his best, partly because it conforms to the characteristics of a genre which is somewhat stodgy and formulaic from the outset, and partly because it just seemed to lack the magic I associate with his novels, and the spark of outrage that accompanied The Trouble With Nigeria. 

Kampala is a less urban-feeling city than Nairobi, but it has a very good answer to Prestige in Aristoc books, right on Jinja Road.  By far the best purchase there was Peter Abrahams’ Mine Boy.   Sometimes described as the first African novel, this story captures the conflict associated with migration to the cities in mid twentieth-century South Africa.  Readers glimpse at the beginnings of an apartheid state, witness a lost moment in the class struggle, and observe the emergence of new communities in a city which simultaneously threatens to swallow all its children and provides a certain kind of safety in its anonymity.  Perhaps the best book of the year for me.

The kindle is great for reading short stories, collections, and classics, and there were naturally some gems amongst these.  Thomas Paine’s Age of Reason is a book I wish I’d read ten years ago.  The trans-Atlantic free-thinker, lately appropriated by Tea Party-ers who appear not to realise what they’ve sunk their teeth into, launches an acerbic assault on “revealed religion” and the great danger that Christianity poses for individuals who aspire to govern their lives according to rules of logic, morality, and compassion.  While not a non-believer, Paine’s sceptical tract makes timely reading for humanists—secular and religious—in a world which often seems governed by various versions of religious and social fundamentalism.

Two pieces by that American savant, Mark Twain, made for wonderful reading on the road.  The Innocents Abroad describes a journey undertaken by Twain and fellow New World-ers to the Old.  His marvel always laced with a healthy dose of humour, his anecdotes self-deprecating, and his observations endlessly witty, Twain’s account is inspiring travel reading.  As laugh-out-loud funny (“I had quickly learned to tell a horse from a cow, and was full of anxiety to learn more”) is Roughing It, the story of his journey across the West into a world that is geographically familiar to those of us who live there, but culturally somewhat removed.  Twain’s missives travel across time even more than space, and these classic reads are accounts of another century even more than they are journeys into strange lands.

Back in California, I picked up Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, an oddly beguiling fantasy, with a premise which works much better than I would have imagined.  I’ve been told that this novel is not necessarily representative of his fictional work, but the story of a new place populated by old ideas and superstitions (deities from “old” worlds remain at large in the contemporary United States, working to stage a comeback) was good enough that I intend to read more of Gaiman’s writing. 

I enjoy both mysteries and historical fiction, and so Eliot Pattison’s Bone Rattler, a mystery set on an American colonial frontier, which explores not only a series of interconnected deaths, but muses on cultural sympathies between the Scots and Native Americans who were all victims of English colonialism, was a wonderful read.  Dark and dense, the going in this novel is occasionally as slow as the passage through the North American backwoods which it describes.  The writing is wonderful, and the plot emerges gradually from a mist, enveloping the reader, and making this one hope that the other books in the series are as good.

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A few of the books I hope to read in the coming year: Charles Portis—True Grit.  Oscar Casares—Amigoland: A Novel.  Ian McEwan—Sweet Tooth.  Tahar Ben Jelloun—This Blinding Absence of Light.  Biyi Bandele—The King’s Rifle: A Novel.  Sol Plaatje—Mhudi.  John Lanchester—Capital.

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And if you’re looking for holiday reading, here are some of my all-time favourites stories.

Edward Abbey—The Monkey Wrench Gang

Nadine Gordimer—A Guest of Honour

Alan Paton—Too Late the Phalarope

John Steinbeck—East of Eden

T. H. White—The Once and Future King

Victor VillaseƱor—Rain of Gold

Richard Adams—Watership Down

Ngugi Wa Thiong’o—Wizard of the Crow

Cormac McCarthy—The Border Trilogy

J. R. R. Tolkien—The Lord of the Rings

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Recommendations would be much appreciated!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Liberal Hypocrisy and Obama's War of Terror

In the years following 2003, a liberal or progressive movement mobilised around President Bush’s decision to take the United States to war in Iraq.  The basis for that war changed daily as the Bush administration massaged intelligence to suggest that Saddam Hussein possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction (he didn’t, having given up the ones we’d given him in previous years).  The Vice President lied to the public when he invented a link between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.  The Secretary of State disgraced himself when he went before the United Nations with absurd claims about the imminent threat Saddam Hussein posed to the world.  And the Defence Secretary strutted around the television studios promising us a quick, easy victory.


During this debate, the administration and its Republican allies in Congress smeared those who opposed their agenda.  Critics of the war were labelled unpatriotic or un-American.  Backed into supporting this ruinous farce, Democrats rubber-stamped the President’s war, to the outrage of their constituents.  The media allowed itself to be bullied, and didn’t conduct the most cursory or elementary investigations into the administration’s assertions. 

Then the war began.  We bombed Baghdad with breathtaking ferocity, killing thousands of Iraqis.  We obliterated the infrastructure and gutted the institutions of this country we were supposedly rescuing from misrule.  Finding ourselves faced with an insurgency sparked by our violent and hubristic intervention, we turned to unaccountable and often-unhinged trigger-happy gun-slingers, hired hands and mercenaries who protected our viceroy, raced around cities, unleashing rounds at will, unleashing a war of terror on Iraqis.

To combat this all-too-predictable uprising, we set up secret prisons and torture chambers.  Like Latin American juntas from the ‘70s, we “disappeared” Iraqis in their hundreds and thousands.  Like former British colonial rulers, we suspended the rule of law and imprisoned people without trial.  Like Saddam Hussein, we brutally interrogated and then murdered some of the prisoners in our custody, and failed to hold many of the torturers, most of the murderers, or any of their superiors who gave the orders to account.

This terrible chain of events sparked a backlash at home.  Progressive groups emerged organically when Democratic leaders failed to lead, and under pressure from the grassroots who were outraged by the war, the mounting U.S. casualties, the tens of thousands of Iraqi deaths, and the revelation that our military and intelligence agencies were behaving like crooks and thugs, liberal Congressional leaders began finding their backbones and their voices.

The President who could do no wrong after 9/11 found himself on the defensive, flayed vigorously by his Democratic opponent (ultimately to no avail).  Bush emerged from his pyrrhic electoral victory in 2004 faced by even stronger opposition.  More U.S. soldiers died, more abuses came to light, and the President’s party took an incredible pummelling during the midterm elections.  Infuriated voters, reminded by the daily body counts of the lies and misrepresentations on which they’d been taken to war, the stonewalling and the unaccountability of the administration, turned en masse to a Democratic candidate who had been catapulted into the public eye on the basis of his stinging critique of the war in Iraq.

Probably more than any other issue in the past few decades, the war in Iraq motivated progressive grassroots.  After the near-silence which greeted Bush’s 2000 loss of the popular vote, and the Supreme Court decision which stopped vote-counting in Florida, the explosion of anger over the disastrous, bloody, immoral, and costly war in Iraq waged on a transparently-false basis along clearly-illogical lines was a pivotal moment for liberals and progressives in the United States.

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Four years after the end of the Bush presidency, the coalition that gathered to oppose George W Bush’s war in Iraq has just re-elected a President who plunged the United States deeper into an ill-judged and unnecessary war in Afghanistan.  The same President, thanks in part to the moral cowardice of his Congressional allies, has failed to make good on his promise to close the reprehensible prison we maintain at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. 

President Barack Obama has strengthened the same domestic surveillance tools progressives decried in the Bush Administration, and went a step further in passing the NDAA which allows for the indefinite detention without trial of American citizens (his sole misgiving in passing the final version of the NDAA was that it had watered down his executive power).  The President has shut down investigations into CIA murders of prisoners, and has failed to apologise to those wrongly imprisoned in Guantanamo, leaving them with a heavy burden to carry through their lives—one which will prove socially, economically, and politically debilitating.

Worse still, the President has embraced the use of un-manned drones as a method of waging war, and has proceeded to use these tools of terror and indiscriminate violence to kill militants and civilians alike in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya.  Indeed, drones formed the cornerstone of his attack in Libya.  While the bombardment of Libya might have been defensible in human rights terms, the President removed this and all future wars waged by drone attacks from public and Congressional scrutiny by ordering his lawyers to make the incredible claim that the killing of people and the destruction of infrastructure in another country is not a hostile act. 

The wholesale expansion of the 11-year-old war in South Asia to Pakistan, a place where Bush had lobbed a few bombs, but now the epicentre of the U.S. War of Terror, went unmarked by the President, Congress, the media, and, most surprisingly, the very same people who would have called George Bush out in the most vehement terms had he undertaken such a drastic move so out of step with the public interest.  Liberals and progressives would have condemned him in even stronger terms had he done so in the secretive and underhanded way—without debate, without announcement, and without explanation—that the President opted to wage war in Pakistan. Some praise the President for his understated approach to national security and international affairs—there are no aircraft carriers and “Mission Accomplished” signs in the Obama White House.  But when silence lets the President get away with murder—quite literally—this is a problem for our democracy.

The hypocrisy is hard to stomach.  The fervour with which Obama was embraced by many Democrats in 2012 may have been less fulsome than in 2008, but only just so.  And where the enthusiasm was lacking, it didn’t appear to have anything to do with the standard-bearer of a supposedly progressive and social democratic party having embraced the policies and methods of the Bush White House, Pentagon, and Justice Department.  John Yoo must be chuckling in his Berkeley office, as the unholy principles behind his once-maligned “torture memos” are underwritten by the assassinations, bombings, and imprisonments of a Democratic president backed by the same grassroots who fought so passionately against the terrible wars and atrocities of the Bush era. 

One measure of torture is whether the acts perpetrated “shock the conscience”.  The same metric could be applied to the conduct of the Obama Administration in its persecution and expansion of conflicts which are not only unnecessary, but which will ultimately prove self-destructive.  For moral reasons and out of concern for the public interest, Americans of all political stripes should be loud in their condemnation of this President’s immoral and frankly very vicious foreign policy. 

At the end of the day, I’m not sure what saddens me more. That the President who rode to electoral victory the wave generated by mass opposition to one terrible war is now managing several equally-awful if not worse wars of aggression.  Or that the people who found their voices in condemning injustice, the abuse of public trust, and the violence of war when those things were perpetrated by a President from one party are now so silent when it comes to the precise same dreadful things being done by a President from another party.

As an idiot from Texas once tried to say, “Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice...”  

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A White House petition asking the President to halt drone attacks.

An ACLU petition reminding the President of his promise to close Guantanamo Bay.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Israel's New Gaza War

You might have heard John McCain crankily calling for an investigation into the killing of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya in Benghazi.  The foremost target of his ire is U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice.  This is of particular significance given the widely-held assumption that Rice is President Obama’s top choice to replace Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State.  The same John McCain who was gibbering about hostilities with Russia over its war with Georgia four years ago before even reading accounts of the origins of that conflict is now flaying Rice over announcements she made in a press conference in the aftermath of the attack in Benghazi.  McCain has been so industrious in his hare-brained flogging of this particular dead horse that he was unable to attend a Congressional hearing on the matter. 


Perhaps his lack of interest in the substance behind the attack is perfectly understandable in light of the fact that his criticisms of Rice’s statements reveal that he either a) didn’t actually watch the interview; b) listened to the interview through his Limbaugh-filter; c) is a bitter, nasty, dishonest charlatan who sells himself as a foreign policy “expert” on the basis of his willingness to play the bullying, warmongering blowhard.

While I find McCain’s pathetic posturing appalling, I agree with him on this much: Susan Rice is unfit to serve as Secretary of State. 

Like others in the Obama administration, Rice has been eager in recent days to defend Israel against criticism for its bombardment of Gaza.  Rice has form on talking herself in circles where Israeli colonialism is concerned, and is perhaps the most vocal representative of this administration in its efforts to run what amounts to a long-term assisted suicide program in the Middle East by offering unconditional support to Israel however violent, irrational, and self-immolating the actions of that country might be.  Rice’s support for the IDF’s military actions against Gaza over the past years is particularly hypocritical given the fact that much of her credibility stems from her rhetorically strong stance against human rights violations.

But the larger point is that, by allying itself with neoconservatives whose hands are still stained red after their war against Iraq, with warmongerers who pushed us deeper and deeper into an unnecessary and pointless war in Afghanistan, and with the fundamentalist goons in both the evangelical and AIPAC camps, the Obama administration has undercut its ability to act as an honest broker in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.  The idea that you can offer unconditional moral, material, and military support to one party in a conflict, and then turn around and make demands on the other party to the conflict while claiming some kind of good faith is risible, and is a perfect illustration of the gross immorality which characterises the President’s execution of an increasingly-militant foreign policy.

The President and his advisors have a well-worn phraseology to justify their immoral acts, a language shared by many of those who support Israel blindly.  On Sunday, the President declared himself “fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself”.  Rice re-iterated the administration’s response at a Security Council meeting.  The same formulation was used by Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, even as it was reported that “the United States has given the green light to go ahead with Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza ... The President urged Prime Minister Netanyahu to make every effort to avoid civilian casualties” (deliberately ignoring the fact that the kind of war Israel is waging, like Obama’s drone wars, depends on the ability to commit the kind of murder that those in power refer to as “collateral damage” with utter impunity).  Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes trotted out a similar gem, “We believe Israel has a right to defend itself, and they’ll make their own decisions about the tactics they use in that regard”, ignoring the culpability engendered by the United States by its open underwriting of Israel’s actions. 

Others are more honest, if also more frightening.  Israel’s radical, psychopathic foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, in reaction to Palestinians’ bid for recognition at the United Nations, urged the outright “toppling of Abbas’ government”.  While Lieberman is regarded as a right-wing outlier, the fact that he speaks from the cabinet table of a nuclear-armed country given carte blanche in its colonial policy by the world’s sole superpower makes his status as the resident nutcase more disconcerting than reassuring. 

Gilad Sharon, son of the former Prime Minister, urged the Israeli government to emit “a Tarzan-like cry that lets the entire jungle know in no uncertain terms just who won, and just who was defeated”.  How would that defeat of Gaza be achieved?  Invoking the U.S. annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Sharon called for cutting off electricity, gasoline, and the movement of vehicles in Gaza.  In fact, he writes, “we need to flatten entire neighbourhoods in Gaza”.  The uncharitable could easily map Sharon’s unhinged calls for total war on Gaza against Raphael Lemkin’s definition of genocide, given the advocate’s emphasis on the “destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups ... and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups” as key components of the acts used to target European Jews (Lemkin, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe ix). 

This formulation—that Israel has the right to defend itself, and that this is the beginning and end of what is happening in Gaza—is deliberately misleading, as was Susan Rice’s statement to the UN Security Council, which began, “Today, the United States strongly condemned the barrage of rocket fire from Gaza into southern Israel and expressed regret at the death and injury of innocent Israeli and Palestinian civilians caused by the ensuing violence”. 

Listening to Rice, one might be forgiven for assuming that this conflict began on Wednesday with the launching of rockets at Tel Aviv, rather than in the second decade of the twentieth century.  One might assume that the basis of this conflict rests on a bizarre Palestinian predilection for violence rather than on repeated wars of aggression waged by both sides after the repeated seizure of land.  One might forget to ask why it is that there are missiles being launched into Gaza, and why it is that Israel needs to defend itself against its neighbours.  One might ask whether placing the entire burden of responsibility on Hamas while offering that organisation—whatever you think of its ambitions and methods—none of the legitimacy required to bargain in good faith is an intelligent thing for Israel to do.  One might wonder whether the economic conditions imposed on Gaza (where unemployment is at 40% and 38% of inhabitants live below the poverty line) have anything to do with the elusiveness of peace. 

The CIA World Factbook recounts how “high population density and Israeli security controls placed on the Gaza Strip since the end of the first intifada have degraded economic conditions in this territory”, and describes how “Israeli-imposed border closures, which became more restrictive after Hamas seized control of the territory in June 2007, have resulted in high unemployment elevated poverty rates, and the near collapse of the private sector that had relied on export markets ... Changes to Israeli restrictions on imports in 2010 resulted in a rebound in some economic activity, but regular exports from Gaza are not permitted”. 

One might further ask why the parties to this conflict should be treated as equals when one of them is a nation-state with all of the privileges and recognitions that comes from this status, while the other is an occupied territory.  One possesses a formidable military machine, backed by the weaponry of the globe’s superpower, the other has to resort to guerrilla street fighting to gain the attention of the global public.  One retains the power of life and death over the other.  The rockets Hamas launches into Israel are but, when you think about it, a small gesture against the struggle for survival, recognition, and dignity that the people of these colonised territories wage on a daily basis.

One of the most extraordinary things about the manner in which Israel conducts its affairs is its apparent obliviousness to its own history.  I would have at least expected Israel’s leadership and support network to show a little more awareness about the immediate circumstances in which their nation came to be.  It was brought into being at the end of a campaign waged by what were then described as terrorist gangs—their tactics included bombings, kidnappings, and murders—by the British administrators against whom they waged a guerrilla war while their supporters lobbied the nations of the world and made their case before the UN to the frustration of Palestine’s colonial rulers.  These are precisely the efforts made today by Palestinians, but they elicit not so much as a flicker of recognition from the cabal which orders more bombings, advocates policies of segregation, and is currently contemplating a ground invasion—which would undoubtedly be a campaign on all sides of spectacular violence, stunning ferocity, and surreal aims—on the grounds that you can extirpate a maligned and persecuted people’s will and ambitions through the application of overwhelming military force. 

This struggle did not begin last week, and it cannot end until we recognise that its origins and historical character are important; until we understand that we cannot expect people who have suffered injustice to bear the double-standard inflicted on them by their colonial rulers and global powers; and until we accept that the United States is daily eroding its ability to play a constructive role in making peace.