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Tuesday, 20 May 2008

HUMANITARIAN AID AT THE POINT OF A GUN?

It is now almost three weeks since the disastrous passage of Cyclone Nargis across Burma on 2nd May and yet the military junta in power in that Asian country continues to deny free access to Western aid workers and aid flights.

As hundreds of thousands remain homeless and hungry, and millions teeter on the verge of disease and infection, there is now a growing call here in the West to intervene militarily in Burma, against the wishes of the ruling generals, and deliver aid parcels to the suffering Burmese at the point of a gun.

I have never been a fan of 'Humanitarian intervention', especially since it was used by dictators like Hitler to justify the conquest of the Sudetenland – and by our own Tony Blair to justify the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq. I also find the idea of using military force – bombs, bullets, etc – to feed the victims of a natural disaster rather distasteful, not to mention counter-productive. Is being stuck in the middle of a shooting war between well-intentioned US marines and nationalistic Burmese soldiers really what the suffering victims of Nargis need right now?

It is of course the easy, popular and macho option to advocate military action in Burma, and it does makes it look like you ‘care’ – that’s why the foreign ministers of Britain and France have been at the forefront of such hawkish calls. I, however, was pleased to see the former poster-boy for ‘humanitarian interventionism’, David Rieff, cogently articulate the argument against such ill-thought-out aggression in an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times over the weekend:

“At first glance, the arguments…may seem like common-sense humanism. How could it be morally acceptable to subordinate the rights of people in need to the prerogatives of national sovereignty? In a globalized world in which people, goods and money all move increasingly freely, why should a national border -- that relic of the increasingly unimportant state system -- stand in the way of people dedicated to doing good for their fellow human beings? Why should the world stand by and allow an abusive government to continue to be derelict in its duties toward its own people?

“Surely, to oppose this sort of humanitarian entitlement is a failure of empathy and perhaps even an act of moral cowardice.

“This has been the master narrative of the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis. It has dominated the speeches of officials and most of the media coverage, which has been imbued with an almost pornographic catastrophism in which aid agencies and journalists seem to be trying to outdo each other in the apocalyptic quality of their predictions. First, the U.S. charge d'affaires in Yangon, Myanmar's capital, without having left the city, told reporters that though only 22,000 people had been confirmed dead, she thought the toll could rise as high as 100,000. A few days later, Oxfam was out with its estimate of 1.5 million people being at risk from water-borne diseases -- without ever explaining how it arrived at such an extraordinarily alarming estimate.

“In reality, no one yet knows what the death toll from the cyclone is, let alone how resilient the survivors will be. One thing is known, however, and that is that in crisis after crisis, from the refugee emergency in eastern Zaire after the Rwandan genocide, through the Kosovo crisis, to the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, to the 2004 South Asian tsunami, many of the leading aid agencies, Oxfam prominent among them, have predicted far more casualties than there would later turn out to have been.

“In part, this is because relief work is, in a sense, a business, and humanitarian charities are competing with every other sort of philanthropic cause for the charitable dollar and euro, and thus have to exaggerate to be noticed. It is also because coping with disasters for a living simply makes the worst-case scenario always seem the most credible one, and, honorably enough, relief workers feel they must always be prepared for the worst.

“But whatever the motivations, it is really no longer possible to take the relief community's apocalyptic claims seriously. It has wrongly cried wolf too many times.

“We should be skeptical of the aid agencies' claims that, without their intervention, an earthquake or cyclone will be followed by an additional disaster of equal scope because of disease and hunger. The fact is that populations in disaster zones tend to be much more resilient than foreign aid groups often make them out to be. And though the claim that only they can prevent a second catastrophe is unprovable, it serves the agencies' institutional interests -- such interventions are, after all, the reason they exist in the first place.

“Unwelcome as the thought may be, reasonable-sounding suggestions made in the name of global solidarity and humanitarian compassion can sometimes be nothing of the sort. Aid is one thing. But aid at the point of a gun is taking the humanitarian enterprise to a place it should never go. And the fact that the calls for humanitarian war were ringing out within days of Cyclone Nargis is emblematic of how the interventionist impulse, no matter how well-intended, is extremely dangerous.

“The ease with which the rhetoric of rescue slips into the rhetoric of war is why invoking R2P should never be accepted simply as an effort to inject some humanity into an inhumane situation (the possibility of getting the facts wrong is another reason; that too has happened in the past). Yes, the impulse of the interveners may be entirely based on humanitarian and human rights concerns. But lest we forget, the motivations of 19th century European colonialism were also presented by supporters as being grounded in humanitarian concern. And this was not just hypocrisy. We must not be so politically correct as to deny the humanitarian dimension of imperialism. But we must also not be so historically deaf, dumb and blind as to convince ourselves that it was its principal dimension.

“Lastly, it is critically important to pay attention to just who is talking about military intervention on humanitarian grounds. Well, among others, it's the foreign ministers of the two great 19th century colonial empires. And where exactly do they want to intervene -- sorry, where do they want to live up to their responsibility to protect? Mostly in the very countries they used to rule.

“When a British or French minister proposes a U.N. resolution calling for a military intervention to make sure aid is properly delivered in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans, then, and only then, can we be sure we have put the specter of imperialism dressed up as humanitarianism behind us. In the meantime, buyer beware.”


Rieff identifies the central flaw in the principle of ‘humanitarian interventionism’ – it only applies in a one-way direction, from North to South, from West to East. To have any real merit, the likes of France and Britain need to accept that India and China et al have a reciprocal right to intervene in our backyard, next time one of us faces a hurricane or similar natural disaster. (In fact, the United States rejected humanitarian aid from the likes of Cuba and Venezuala in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005). It’s not a step the governments of the West are likely to take any time soon.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

THE MODERATION OF HAMAS

It has long been argued on the pro-Israeli, neoconservative right that liberal newspapers like the Guardian (in the UK) and the New York Times (in the USA) should not make space on their comment or op-ed pages for spokesmen from Hamas. Hamas, we are told again and again, is a terrorist organisation committed to the destruction of the state of Israel and staffed by Holocaust-denying Islamic extremists.

Of course, the whole reason that Israel’s apologists in the West so vociferously oppose giving a voice to members (or even supporters) of Hamas is to prevent the public in Britain, in America, across Europe, etc, from hearing the actual views of Hamas, rather than those caricatured (or falsely ascribed to them) in the right-wing press – as the actual views of Hamas suggest there is a great deal of room for compromise, dialogue and negotiation.

In fact, despite the opposition of Bush, Blair, Olmert et al, polls show a majority of the Israeli public support the idea of negotiating with Hamas. And Hamas too – contrary to popular opinion – has accepted the reality of the state of Israel (without formally ‘recognizing’ the Jewish state), is in favour of negotiating with the Israel government and has also thrown its weight behind a de facto ‘two-state’ solution based on a long-term truce between Israelis and the Palestinians. See here, here and here (if you don’t believe me).

And this week, Hamas – again, through the much-maligned op-ed pages of the Guardian – has taken its first public step to shake off its anti-Semitic image and its long history of association with Holocaust deniers and conspiracy theorists. Think I’m exaggerating? Well, how else can we respond to Monday’s Guardian article by Bassem Naeem, the minister of health and information in the Hamas-led Palestinian administration in Gaza, entitled ‘Hamas condemns the Holocaust’. Naeem takes on this traditionally taboo subject for Islamists head on:

“….it should be made clear that neither Hamas nor the Palestinian government in Gaza denies the Nazi Holocaust. The Holocaust was not only a crime against humanity but one of the most abhorrent crimes in modern history. We condemn it as we condemn every abuse of humanity and all forms of discrimination on the basis of religion, race, gender or nationality.

“…The plight of our people is not the product of a religious conflict between us and the Jews in Palestine or anywhere else: the aims and positions of today's Hamas have been repeatedly spelled out by its leadership, for example in Hamas's 2006 programme for government. The conflict is of a purely political nature: it is between a people who have come under occupation and an oppressive occupying power.”

This, for me, is a clear sign of Hamas moderating its image, its message, its approach. It is time for Israel and its Western sponsors (the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union) to respond in kind and to recognize that there can be no negotiated, peaceful, just settlement with the Palestinian people which excludes the political party which the Palestinians overwhelmingly elected to power in 2006 – Hamas.

Friday, 16 May 2008

PROPAGANDA FROM THE FRONT LINE….

"Girl of 8 used as 'suicide' bomber". That’s the headline which screamed out at me from the front page of London’s Metro freesheet on the Tube yesterday morning. I felt sick to my stomach, unable to digest this latest barbarity allegedly perpetrated by fellow members of my faith. Here is how the Metro reported the story in its first three paragraphs:

“Militants strapped explosives to a young girl and used her to blow up an army checkpoint in Iraq yesterday.

“They detonated the device by remote control as the child, thought to be as young as eight, walked towards a group of soldiers.

“The girl and an army captain were killed in the blast which also injured up to seven other soldiers."


Simple and straightforward, right? Wrong. Five short paragraphs later, in the same article, a revelation:

“The Americans called it a 'suicide' attack and put the number of injured at seven. Later, they gave the age of the girl as between 16 and 18.”

So, let me get this straight. The Metro claims in its banner headline and at the start of its front-page lead story that a girl 8 has been used by those nasty evil terrorists in Iraq to kill and maim Iraqi soldiers. The article says she is ‘thought to be as young as eight’. Thought to? Thought to by whom? Because later in the same article, American officials give the age of the girl as being between 16 and 18. Can British journalism get any lazier, shoddier or more bizarre? I mean, if you’re going to lie about a ‘fact’ in your story (the age of a suicide bomber), it would probably be best not to reveal that your lying by undermining your own central ‘fact’ later in the same piece. Then agan, the article’s author was probably hoping that commuters making their way to work on a busy morning probably wouldn’t read beyond the headline and the opening paragraphs.

But it wasn’t just the Metro that went with the headline-grabbing claim of an ‘8-year-old suicide bomber’. So too did the Telegraph, the Mirror, the Daily Mail and the rest. The Telegraph tried to have it both ways:

“It was reported that the girl was as young as eight. Neither the US or the Iraqi army could confirm this.”

If neither the US nor Iraqi troops could confirm an age of 8, then who “reported” that the “girl was as young as eight”. It’s a sly journalistic trick: confidently state something that you know to be potentially untrue, and then, in the very next breath, caveat it in order to cover your ass.

Of course, it’s not the first time, in the fog of Iraq’s bloody war, that false information has been peddled by journalists and/or occupying coalition forces. In its coverage of the alleged ‘8-year-old suicide bomber’, the Daily Mail reported this morning that,

“In February, Iraqi insurgents used two women with Downs Syndrome as human bombs in a blast that killed 99 people in Baghdad.”

Other reports made similar references to the infamous ‘Downs Syndrome bombers’, despite the fact that this story has been thoroughly debunked and disproved by, among others, the Independent’s award-winning Iraq correspondent Patrick Cockburn:

"More often, the lies have been small, designed to make a propaganda point for a day even if they are exposed as untrue a few weeks later. One example of this to shows in detail how propaganda distorts day-to-day reporting in Iraq, but, if the propagandist knows his job, is very difficult to disprove.

"On 1 February this year, two suicide bombers, said to be female, blew themselves up in two pet markets in predominantly Shia areas of Baghdad, al Ghazil and al-Jadida, and killed 99 people. Iraqi government officials immediately said the bombers had the chromosonal disorder Down's syndrome, which they could tell this from looking at the severed heads of the bombers. Sadly, horrific bombings in Iraq are so common that they no longer generate much media interest abroad. It was the Down's syndrome angle which made the story front-page news. It showed al-Qa'ida in Iraq was even more inhumanly evil than one had supposed (if that were possible) and it meant, so Iraqi officials said, that al-Qa'ida was running out of volunteers.

"The Times splashed on it under the headline, "Down's syndrome bombers kill 91". The story stated firmly that "explosives strapped to two women with Down's syndrome were detonated by remote control in crowded pet markets". Other papers, including The Independent, felt the story had a highly suspicious smell to it. How much could really be told about the mental condition of a woman from a human head shattered by a powerful bomb? Reliable eyewitnesses in suicide bombings are difficult to find because anybody standing close to the bomber is likely to be dead or in hospital.

"The US military later supported the Iraqi claim that the bombers had Down's syndrome. On 10 February, they arrested Dr Sahi Aboub, the acting director of the al Rashad mental hospital in east Baghdad, alleging that he had provided mental patients for use by al-Qa'ida. The Iraqi Interior Ministry started rounding up beggars and mentally disturbed people on the grounds that they might be potential bombers.

"But on 21 February, an American military spokes-man said there was no evidence the bombers had Down's. Adel Mohsin, a senior official at the Health Ministry in Baghdad, poured scorn on the idea that Dr Aboub could have done business with the Sunni fanatics of al-Qa'ida because he was a Shia and had only been in the job a few weeks."

Tragically, despite the Americans now admitting that there is no evidence that the bombers had Down’s syndrome, despite Iraqi officials acknowledging a link between Dr Aboub and Al Qaida to be improbable and unlikely, the doctor remains in prison, as do dozens of mentally disturbed beggars.

This is the power – and the disastrous and depressing consequences – of the propaganda that we are being fed by ‘reporters’ (stenographers?) from the front line of the conflict in Iraq. Next time I pick up the Metro and see a similar story to this morning’s rubbish, about ‘child suicide-bombers’ and ‘8-year-old killers’, I’ll remind myself that all it tells me is how screwed Iraq and its people are, how little progress is being made there and how little are media tells us. To quote, once more, the peerless Patrick Cockburn,

“…it is all too clear that al-Qa'ida is not running out of suicide bombers. But it is pieces of propaganda such as this small example, often swallowed hole by the media and a thousand times repeated, which cumulatively mask the terrible reality of Iraq.”

Monday, 12 May 2008

SHARIA LAW IN ISRAEL (!)

In the wake of the recent brouhaha over the Archbishop of Canterbury’s remarks about the compatibility of Islamic Sharia law with English civil law, politicians and pundits alike united to decry and condemn any such move towards allowing the spread of so-called ‘sharia courts’. This is what the Culture Secretary Andy Burnham MP had to say on the issue on BBC1’s Question Time:

“You cannot run two systems of law alongside each other. That would be a recipe for chaos."

Chaos? Really? I was reminded of his remarks when I came across this fascinating article in the Jewish Chronicle, which points out that Israel (Israel!) has managed to accommodate the sharia – especially in the form of Muslim family law – into its own legal code for the past six decades. The Chronicle notes,

“Not only is sharia law officially recognised by the justice system in Israel in everything regarding the personal status of Muslims, but the judges of the sharia courts are officially appointed by a joint ministerial-parliamentary committee and their salaries paid for by the state. Ironically, this arrangement originates from the days when Britain was the Mandate power in Palestine.

“Most matters of personal status, especially marriage and divorce, are ruled in Israel by religious courts. For three religious groups, Jews, Muslims and Druze, there are official, state-appointed courts, who rule on these matters. For Christians, there are private ecclesiastical courts whose rulings are recognised de facto by the civil authorities.

“The system began with an Act during the British Mandate, under which all recognised religious groups were allowed to deal with matters such as marriage, divorce, inheritance and adoption in their own courts. After 1948, the system was continued but only in matters of personal status. By law, the sharia courts have exactly the same status as the rabbinical courts.”

I find it most amusing that the inclusion of state-sanctioned sharia courts for Muslim citizens of secular, democratic Israel – as with the application of Islamic 'personal law' for Muslim citizens in secular, democratic India – is a legacy of the great British Empire which had no qualms about “two systems of law” running “alongside each other” (to quote Andy Burnham). Yet, now, more than sixty years since the demise of that Empire, and in spite of an even larger concentration of Muslims living here in Britain, we are told that there is no space, no place, no possibility, of sharia law being incorporated, included or accommodated into our own ‘secular’ English legal system.

Islamophobia anybody?

Thursday, 8 May 2008

FULL SPEED TO THE WHITE HOUSE? YEAH, RIGHT!

Will Hillary Clinton have (FINALLY! FINALLY!) dropped out of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination by the time I finish typing and publishing this blog? The signs look good, with Sky News currently reporting that the party’s former presidential nominee George McGovern has urged the former First Lady to pull out and the Clinton camp admitting that their candidate has had to lend herself (!) $6.4 million over the past month simply in order to stay in the race.

Let’s face the facts: she had to win Indiana by a big margin if she was to have any chance of convincing super-delegates that she is the more ‘electable’ candidate. She failed, and failed miserably. Obama cut her earlier twenty-point lead to just two percent, despite all his troubles over his controversial pastor, Jeremiah Wright. Meanwhile over in North Carolina, where Hillary had acknowledged she had to either win or narrow the gap, the junior senator from Illinois managed to give the junior senator from New York a massive 14 percentage point whipping – 56% to 42%.

Yet the Hillary-Bill campaining combo (Billary?) have so far refused to give up and seem to be campaigning in a self-deluded, heads-in-the-sand, parallel universe. Despite being behind in the delegate count, behind in the popular vote and behind in the number of states won, this is what Senator Clinton had to say at her ‘victory’ rally in the Indiana state capital, Indianapolis, last night:

"Well, tonight we've come from behind. We've broken the tie, and thanks to you, it's full speed on to the White House.”

Full speed? Yeah, right! Maybe if her definition of full speed is 5 miles an hour. She is down and out but she doesn’t want to admit it to herself – and nor do her equally delusional friends and family members. As pointed out by Guardian America’s Michael Tomasky yesterday morning:

“She - and Bill, and Chelsea, and most of the people around them - surely can't believe that she's about to lose the Democratic nomination. There was supposed to be no question about her winning it. There's reason to think they won't stop until the door is closed and triple-locked and boarded and sealed shut around the edges with rubber cement.”

Hillary’s supporters cling to the idea that she is the ‘electable’ candidate by repeatedly pointing out that their candidate wins more white, working-class votes than Obama does. They keep asking the question: ‘Why is it that Obama can’t win the white vote?’ Of course, the reality is that he has won plenty of white votes in plenty of white states (Iowa anybody?) and so I personally would turn the question on its head: ‘Why is it that Hillary can’t win the black vote?’ After all, come the general election in November, the Democrats won’t be expected to win the white, working-class vote (just ask John Kerry and Al Gore!) but, on the other hand, they simply can’t win – and never have won! – without the all-important black vote. But Hillary (with Bill’s help) has alienated black Democrats on a hitherto unprecedented level – and do I need to ask what the effect would be on black Democratic voters if a white candidate, behind in elected delegates and behind in the popular vote, effectively stole the nomination from a black front-runner by twisting the arms of unelected (and largely white) ‘super delegates’?

In fact, the party’s most senior black Congressman had this ominous warning for the Clintons, and the Democratic Party high command, only a week ago:

“We’ll be playing with fire if we interfere with the voters’ choice,” James Clyburn, the party’s chief whip in the House of Representatives, told The Sunday Times. “African-Americans will feel cheated.”

That’s the understatement of the century.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

WAR WITH IRAN – BACK ON THE AGENDA?

So, is the United States planning military action against Iran before the current White House incumbent vacates the Oval Office in less than nine months time? I have long believed that President George W. Bush would not leave office without taking some form of military action against Iran – either directly or indirectly (via the Israelis). Yet, in recent months, I had convinced myself that war with Iran was now off the agenda, especially in the wake of the US intelligence community’s official assessment that Iran halted its alleged nuclear weapons programme five years ago.

Was I wrong to relax? Does the Bush administration really want to provoke a third world war in the Middle East? Check out what top officials were saying on Wednesday alone (!)

CIA

"It is my opinion, it is the policy of the Iranian government, approved to highest level of that government, to facilitate the killing of Americans in Iraq".

This was the bold claim of CIA Director Michael Haydon, speaking at Kansas University, in what AP’s John Milburn actually described as “the boldest pronouncement of Iranian involvement by a U.S. official to date”. As I have repeatedly pointed out, the Bush administration’s best prospects of engineering a war with Iran, and getting the US public on side, is to pretend that any military action against Tehran is in response to alleged Iranian ‘attacks’ on Coalition forces inside of Iraq. Once again, a la Iraq, we sadly see the top officials at the CIA willing to endorse such blatant propaganda.

PENTAGON

“There is indication that the Iranian support of the Taliban has continued. Again, we don't believe it to be at the same level of which they have provided fighters and weapons into Iraq. But there is some clear evidence that it has occurred."

This was the surprising claim of the chief of operations for senior U.S. military staff, Lieutenant General Carter Ham. Ham wants us to believe that not only are the perfidious Persians responsible for American deaths in Iraq but in Afghanistan too. Two for the price of one! Of course, the thought of Shia-fundamentalist Iran providing support for the Sunni-fundamentalist, Shia-hating, Iranian-diplomat-killing Taliban is so ridiculous and impossible that only a Pentagon official would dare express it, let alone think it in the first place.

STATE DEPARTMENT

“It will come as no surprise to hear that Iran remained the most significant state sponsor of terrorism.”

This was the not-so-surprising claim of Dell Dailey, the State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism, speaking at the launch of the Bush administration’s annual report on terrorism trends. But what else would you expect him to say? Wouldn’t you expect him to focus on a fantastical Iranian terror ‘menace’ rather than allow journalists to focus on the State Department report acknowledgement that suicide bombings around the world are up 50%, casualties from terrorist attacks are up 9% and injuries are up 15%? So much for the much-lauded, so-called ‘War on Terror’….

Oh, and on a side note, while U.S. officials were talking up the Iranian ‘threat’, so too were the Israelis. And on Wednesday too! On a conveniently-timed visit to the United States, Israel’s Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz (a former defence minister and chief of the general staff) said Iran could possess nuclear bomb technology by the end of 2008, citing an updated Israeli intelligence assessment (and contradicting both U.S. intelligence and the International Atomic Energy Authority).

So Wednesday really was, for American and Israeli officials, ‘Get Iran Day’.

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

"WHAT A BLACK DAY, THEY KILLED MY FAMILY."

It never ceases to amaze (or disgust) me how Western journalists can continue to refer to a ‘peace process’ in the Middle East, while the Israelis simultaneously continue to butcher Palestinians in their hundreds. According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, the Palestinian death toll this year is worse, so far, than the previous three bloody years of the conflict. It said 312 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza in 2008, including 197 unarmed civilians of whom 44 were children and another 14 were women.

Tragically, the latest killing includes both a woman and several children – shortly after 8am yesterday, a Palestinian mother and her four children were killed by an Israeli military attack as they sat around their breakfast table in the Gaza town of Beit Hanoun. Two other children and 10 others who were nearby were also injured.

Here is the peerless Donald Macintyre reporting on this brutal incident in the Independent:

“The Israeli military said it had been targeting nearby gunmen and suggested the deaths had been caused when explosives it said were being carried by two militants blew up. The children were about to eat breakfast when they were killed.

“The deaths of the children, and the wounding of two older siblings, overshadowed efforts by Egypt to broker a ceasefire between Israel and the armed factions in Gaza. At least one militant and another unidentified man were killed by Israeli forces during the incursion.

“Palestinian medics identified the dead children as sisters Rudina and Hana Abu Meatak, aged six and three; and their brothers, Saleh, four, and Mousad, 15 months. Their mother, Miyasar, who was in her late 30s, died later of wounds she sustained. Seven rockets were later fired into Israel, three claimed by Hamas in response to the deaths of the family.

“The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights said that, according to its preliminary investigation, around 20 armoured vehicles moved over a kilometre into northern Gaza at around 6am, and that at around 8.15am Israeli aircraft had fired a missile at a group of militants. The missile landed 10 metres away from the Meatak home, seriously injuring a militant, it said.

“Less than a minute later, the PCHR said, two further missiles were launched at the same area, landing at the door of the same house and killing another militant. The centre said that shrapnel from the missiles destroyed the door and sprayed around the house, killing the children outright.

“…The children's father, Ahmad Abu Meatak, told Associated Press that he was on his way to a nearby market when his home was hit. "What a black day. They killed my family," he said, sobbing outside the local hospital where the bodies were taken.”

Donald Macintyre, incidentally, is a (British) Middle East correspondent who deserves praise and support for his rigorously honest and compassionate (not to mention brave and courageous) reporting from the Occupied Territories. In recent weeks, he has interviewed Israeli soldiers who have confessed to him the torture, beatings and abductions that they have inflicted on the residents of the occupied Palestinian town of Hebron in recent years (a story which remarkably appeared on the front page of the Independent, entitled 'Our reign of terror, by the Israeli army').

In fact, Macintyre – a former political commentator and domestic journalist who has transformed into an insightful Middle East reporter and foreign correspondent par excellence – has form in this area: it was nearly three years ago that he first reported on the former Israeli soldiers who have admitted to joining the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) simply out of a desire “to kill Arabs”. When I read such accounts, such confessions of brutality and abuse, my mind often harks back to a former (Jewish) colleague of mine who, despite being liberal and left-wing and ‘pro-peace’, used to be in continual denial about the IDF’s long history of killing, maiming and torturing Palestinian civilians. He once proclaimed to me: “I refuse to believe that a single Israeli soldier has ever deliberately killed or harmed a Palestinian civilian.” It’s both ironic and depressing that, thanks to the journalism of Donald Macintyre and others, we now know that Israeli soldiers themselves disagree with such a na├»ve and partisan statement.

By the way, on a related issue, the Guardian reports that warmonger-turned-peace-envoy Tony Blair yesterday presented to the Israeli government a list of checkpoints that he wanted lifted in the West Bank. There are currently 500 Israeli barriers in the West Bank, stifling trade, chocking the Palestinian economy, preventing mothers in labour from reaching hospital, blocking kids from getting to school, etc. Guess how many the Israelis decided to move after their meeting with the all-powerful Blair?

One.