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August 12, 2007

Learning from the Settlers

Filed under: Uncategorized — lisoosh @ 1:41 pm

When reading about Hizbollah supporters buying up land in the area from Druze and Christian residents and moving their own people in, I came across a number of commenters/posters who are quick to point out that there is nothing inherently wrong with buying up land and offering it as homes to people from a particular sect, or as one said “disenfranchised Shia ” (although why not just rebuild the Shiite villages I don’t know).

Funnily enough, I have heard several Settlers in the West Bank say exactly the same thing. That there is nothing inherently wrong with private Jewish people who may be Israeli citizens buying up private land in order to live on it. And they are right.

However both are completely disengenous. Some (I said some, not all, and not many) settlers as private citizens purposely buy up land and move to areas in an attempt to force Israeli government policy and to make it much more difficult to allow for the building of a Palestinian State in the West Bank. I don’t think Hizbollah is being any more altruistic, rather they appear to be in the early stages of building up what is commonly thought of as “Hizbollahland”, removing people who may be hostile and populating the area around their new bases with workers, militants and friendly families.

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Hizbollah in their own Words 3/3

Filed under: Uncategorized — lisoosh @ 12:26 pm

BBC 2 This World: Hunting for Hezbollah part 3/3

Hunting for Hezbollah, BBC2

In the third installment, we see the new military fortifications that Hizbollah is building North of the Litani, as Charles Levinson mentioned on his blog the other day (links in article below). Apart from seeing some of what is going on, and the fortifications that Hizbollah had before (and that no-one knew about) is how scared the narrators are. It is quite evident that collecting any information on events in the south is a bit of a hit and miss affair and pretty dangerous. Added to which Hizbollah remove any tapes they find which show anything incriminating at all – they definitely have a stanglehold on information and on journalism in the area. And appear to have something to hide.

Hizbollah in their own Words 2/3

Filed under: Uncategorized — lisoosh @ 12:11 pm

BBC 2 This World: Hunting for Hezbollah part 2/3

Hunting for Hezbollah, BBC2

The second installment. What interested me here was the confidence of the UNIFIL representative that they were controlling the situation, when we see shortly afterwards they control nothing.

Oh and the fact that state of the art US arms from Iraq are making their way into the hands of militants in Lebanon.

Hizbollah in their own Words 1/3

Filed under: Uncategorized — lisoosh @ 12:00 pm

BBC 2 This World : Hunting for Hezbollah part 1/3

Hunting for Hezbollah, BBC2

This is the first of 3 installments showing the BBC documentary that I mentioned earlier concerning the rearming of Hizbollah North of the Litani. This installment shows Beirut as being potentially in a state of preparation for civil war. They visit Hizbollah “reservists” who are quite chatty till the big boys come along and Lebanese gun runners.

While the documentary is perfunctorily narrated by the BBC journalist it really stars Dauod “Big D” his driver, a Shiite and Hizbollah supporter. As such, it very much shows the situation in Lebanon from his point of view and that needs to be kept in mind while listening to the narrative. Other sects are not represented, nor any government officials, nor do we hear what Hizbollah oppponents have to say about their rearmament. As such, the internal ramifications of their military growth, and their apparant aggression towards Lebanese factions who disagree with them isn’t particularly clear. I don’t have a problem with this per se as the documentary is still interesting, informative and entertaining, but I do think that the British narrator should have reminded his audience a bit more often that the view portrayed was somewhat limited by access and the opinions of his guide.

A good lesson in the limitations of a short documentary or article to show the “real” anything, all that can really be shown is perception and opinion. However, I think it is very important to see what other people see and think and to have a window into their world, no matter how limited.

August 10, 2007

When Journalists become Part of the Conflict.

Filed under: Uncategorized — lisoosh @ 11:58 am

As part of my research I came across this great article in Arab Media Societyby Dutch journalist Joris Luyendijk on the “Weaponization of News Media in the Middle East”.

Well, it is my conviction that journalists can never fully unweaponize themselves and never have. In conflicts there is no such thing as objective value-free reporting that serves none of the parties, be it directly on indirectly.

..Yes, to deserve its name news must be trustworthy and reliable in the sense that journalists must never report things they know to be untrue or they know to be manipulated. And yes, parties to the conflict abuse and use journalists and news media in increasingly violent ways.

All of that is patently true but the idea that, opposed to untrue and manipulated news, there could be such a thing as objective and unweaponized information is I think flawed, if not to say naive.

Weaponization takes many forms, sometimes obvious and sometimes subtle, from Al Qaida propaganda on Al Jazeera to the presentation of statements by the White House about Saddam Hussein’s supposed connection to 9/11 or his weapons of mass destruction. From the choice to give no coverage to, say, Darfur, Congo or North Korea, to the choice to cover a story on a daily basis. In the end every kind of representation and thus reporting involves a set of choices, and these choices inevitably empower some while disenfranchising others.

There is also a long section on Lebanon and how many points of view actually exist there, from 18 sects and many different political perspectives. She demonstrates that there are so many points of view, and so many different ways of describing them that it is almost impossibe to write about Lebanon without it being politicized in some way.

And then she talks about the importance of a journalists presence:

At the same time and to my surprise, while social scientists recognize that knowledge is never neutral, they do seem to expect from their media organizations objectivity and neutrality. To take this phrase from the conference paper: “Despite their purported neutrality, news organizations are not always innocent bystanders to conflict.”

We are hardy ever innocent bystanders to conflict. Merely with their presence journalists influence the parties they report on, so we are participants rather than bystanders. And our choice of what to report and how always serves certain power interests.

Russia has been slaughtering civilians in Chechnya for years and the decision of western media to all but ignore this means we are indirectly weaponized by Putin. When news media present the NATO ‘operation’ in Afghanistan as a ‘reconstruction mission’, this is political, and when we treat statements from the White House about, say, Iraqi weapons of mass destruction or about Saddam Hussein’s collaboration with Al Qaida or about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, when we treat these statement as more trustworthy, then we are weaponized by the White House. We are weaponized by the Israeli government when we give coverage to victims of suicide bombings, and weaponized by the PA when we highlight victims of the Israeli occupation.

..My very first assignment as a Middle-East correspondent took me to Sudan where famine caused hundreds of dead every day. I went to a refugee camp in the south, collected my harrowing quotes and returned to the capital Khartoum. The night before I was to fly back to Cairo I went to an ex-pat party where I chanced upon a diplomat. I could not help losing my temper. How could Western policy makers fail to have a policy towards these poor Sudanese, I fumed, whereas a hundred times as much political effort went into the situation in Palestine even though a hundred times more people died in Sudan than in Palestine? The diplomat looked at me and made a point I will never forget: why are there hardly any western journalists in Sudan? How can a Western politician initiate new policies when the issue of Sudan is virtually absent from the media? She continued: If you journalists would have given as much space to every dead Sudanese as you had given to every dead Palestinian, politicians would be lining up here to solve the crisis.

As I said, journalists are rarely innocent bystanders to conflict and rather than continue the chase for the Unicorn of Objectivity, I believe journalists should come out and be honest to their audiences.”

“Warning. Access to this area is forbidden. Hizbullah.”

Filed under: Uncategorized — lisoosh @ 11:30 am

I know, bad blogger. I haven’t posted for a few days and consistency is key. Oh well.

I wanted to write an article about journalism in Lebanon, both local and foreign correspondants operating in Lebanon, partly out of curiosity and partly because of the fall out over Lisa and Rinats recent visits. The trouble with this is that even doing some perfunctory research, the topic just becomes larger and larger so I will break it up into a series and start by focusing on recent reporting about Lebanon and Hizbollah.

I’ll start with a recent Naharnet article about the recent revelation that Hizbollah is building its own telephone network connecting Beirut with the South that runs parallel to Lebanons own infrastructure.

Hamadeh revealed that the installation of underground cables, which run parallel to the state’s phone system, had been “discovered by chance and following ample rumors” in the southern town of Zawtar al-Sharqieh in the Nabatiyeh district.

“(The ministry) has discovered by chance that a new telephone network is being created along that of the state in Zawtar al-Sharqieh,” Hamadeh said in a radio interview.

He said that “technical reports” later showed that the work has expanded to reach Yohmor in east Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, with another wireless networking being set up between the port city of Tyre and Abbassieh as well as in other regions of the Tyre province.

Hamadeh also uncovered similar works are underway in Beirut and the southern suburbs (Dahiyeh).

Charles Has an article up about the revelation that Hizbollah is apparantly building what appears to be a superbase and long range missile firing center above the Litani (and out of the watchfulish gaze of UNIFIL troops in Hizbollahs traditional stomping grounds).

The area that is widely believed to be the focal point of Hezbollah’s rebuilding project is a system of steep, wooded wadis east of the Shiite staunchly pro-Hezbollah village of Rihane (Find it in the center near the top of the map spelled Ar Rayhan). Obviously, this is not the only place Hezbollah is working, but it does appear to be one of the most ambitious and visible. One line of speculation goes that this is where Hezbollah’s heavy weapons, long range rockets, and intricate underground bunkers, etc., could be concentrated, while south of the Litani Hezbollah would focus its preparations on lighter arms in urban centers, where they can more easily escape the notice of UN peacekeepers.

In order to do this they have been buying up blocks of land from Christian and Druze villages and moving in their own people.

All around this wadi system to the north and east are Christian and Druze villages, but Hezbollah seems to be intent on buying the land and repopulating it with Shiites. Directly east of Rihane is the Christian village of Qotrani (spelled Al Qatraneh on the map). South of Qotrani, find the once-Christian village of Shbayl. Northeast of Shbayl find the Druze village of Al Sreiri (spelled As Suraryri on the map). South of As Surayri find another Druze farmstead Burghoz.

All these villages are poor, in a state of general decline, and were thus unable to resist when a wealthy Shiite businessman named Ali Tajeddine offered to buy their land for two and four times its estimated value. Tajeddine is originally from the village of Hanaouay outside Tyre. He made his money trading diamonds in Sierra Leone before moving back to Lebanon and starting a successful contracting business. It’s said he’s funded by Iran and he’s widely believed to have strong ties to Hezbollah. He is reportedly a key player in Jihad al Binna (the Building Jihad), Hezbollah’s post-war reconstruction outfit.

Just as an aside, while the blog contains quite useful information, the comments leave a lot to be desired. There are many there who seem to be working very hard to fetishize Hizbollah. What really amuses is that there are people there who are quite happy to defend the displacement of the Druze and Christian populations by Shia who, I would bet serious money on it, probably rant endlessly about “ethnic cleansing” in Israel. Just another example of the hypocracy exhibited by proponents of the “sides” in the conflict, the same selective amnesia.

Surprising as this news was to me, it appears I am late to the party. Charles report is pretty much a retread of one written by Nic Blanford for the Christian Science monitor in February and reprinted in the London Times.

While analysts say the military buildup does not necessarily signal any intention by the Iranian-supported militants to launch a fresh round of fighting, they say it is a troubling sign that Hizbullah is rearming just out of sight of the United Nations.

…Hizbullah has chosen to abandon its former stronghold in Lebanon’s UN-patrolled southern border district where its fighters withstood Israel’s month-long onslaught last summer.

In that area, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has swelled to six times its former size with reinforcements from NATO countries such as France, Italy, and Spain. They have been joined by some 20,000 Lebanese troops and together they man around 100 checkpoints and conduct 500 patrols day and night, UNIFIL officials say.

Of course Hizbollah has a history of building secret military installations.

Still, the extent of the military buildup in these “security pockets” north of the Litani is unclear given the ingenuity of Hizbullah’s engineers and the strict secrecy under which the group operates. Before the war last summer, Hizbullah spent six years secretly building bunkers, tunnels, and firing positions along the border with Israel.

In one case, a bunker complex 100 feet underground covering an area of almost a square mile was built within 300 yards of a UNIFIL observation post and an Israeli army position on the border, but its existence remained hidden until after the war.

“They let us see certain things like their observation posts along the border fence, but all the time they were building an underground city in the south that we never knew existed,” says Timur Goksel, who retired as UNIFIL’s senior adviser in 2003.

And it seems that in May, the BBC was working on the same story.

With over 10,000 UN peacekeepers now patrolling the ground between the Israeli border and the Litani River, it has become increasingly difficult for the militants to operate in their old stamping ground.

But I had heard that they were reinforcing a defensive line north of the Litani, just outside of the UN zone. From here, they could launch longer range rockets into Israel, over the heads of the peacekeepers.

And just to give a heads up to the bloggers, Ms Levantine was reporting rumours about this in January.

All of this suggests that regardless of last years war, Hizbollah is continuing its policy of deciding Lebanons foreign policy for it with facts on the ground.

And what does this say about Lebanon and journalists?

Well, it suggests that Hizbollah is extremely well organized, and has something substantial to hide. The question is how much information are these journalists really able to uncover, how much stays hidden from them and how open is Lebanon really?

August 4, 2007

Jihad, The Musical

Filed under: Uncategorized — lisoosh @ 2:52 pm

Allison has an article up about a show at the Edinburgh Fringe entitled “Jihad, The Musical”. She has also included a video of a key song “I wanna be like Osama” that is absolutely hysterical. Take a look.

A Cunning Plan

Filed under: Uncategorized — lisoosh @ 1:11 pm

I grew up watching Blackadder and one of the best characters was Baldrick, an idiot who always came up with a “cunning plan” for each situation, usually overtly ridiculous and convoluted but adopted in the end due to the lack of any better suggestions.

So it dawned on me that this news: “Another record poppy crop in Afghanistan” might be indicative of a fiendishly cunning plan – locate the “War on Drugs” and the “War on Terror” all in one location.

Certainly worthy of Baldrick.

link

August 3, 2007

Wisdom of Terry Pratchett #1

Filed under: Uncategorized — lisoosh @ 10:46 am

“You can’t go around building a better world for people. Only people can build a better world for people. Otherwise it’s just a cage.”

Witches Abroad

August 2, 2007

Making Immigration to Israel Harder

Filed under: Uncategorized — lisoosh @ 1:26 pm

I saw this article on Ynet today, a very hot topic among strong Zionists and Aliyah supporters, the subject is bound to be controversial.

It begins:

‘This is the bankruptcy of Zionism’
Planned budget cut to aid for new immigrants sparks outrage amongst aliyah organizations. Absorption minister pledges to stop Finance Ministry’s plan, says cut of even 1% to funding sends wrong message to Diaspora

And continues later:

It was recently reported that the Ministry of Finance intends to submit a budgetary plan for 2008 that would see a steep drop in State funding for aid to new immigrants.
 
According to the proposal, the absorption packages would shrink by 20%, the customs grant would be canceled and benefits for immigrant scientists and academics would also be canceled.

When I made Aliyah in 1992 (wow, THAT long ago), immigrants from the West were not entitled to a sal klita (absorption basket) of financial assistance in the same manner as immigrants from other countries. We were entitled to some money towards the flight there (didn’t get because of useless shaliach), a taxi ride from the airport and one free Ulpan (Hebrew course). I had to pay to live in the absorption center for 5 months (admittedly at a discount) and I was entitled to duty off of some basic appliances.

Needless to say, I was pissed. In part because it just didn’t seem fair, and in part because I came woefully unprepared for Aliyah. Which was mainly my fault (I’ll use the impetuous youth defence), but also in some measure the fault of my useless shaliach who led me to believe that I would have more assistance and also made no effort to ensure I was really prepared to make this giant step. I assume that was due to his eagerness to get some Aliyot under his belt, but really he perfomed me no service whatsoever.

Currently, olim from the west are entitled to the same cash benefits as other immigrants in order to get them to emigrate, it seems that volume is important, but is this a wise move?

Is the goal to just have as many Jews as possible pack themselves in or is the goal to bring over people who will assimilate effectively and become useful, productive, long term members of Israeli society? Is it necessarily a good thing to make Aliyah incredibly easy? Don’t people value things more if they have to work for them?

Living in Israel is difficult. The costs of living are high, the standard of living (in a financial sense) drops substantially for all but a select few when they move there. The culture and society are very different, social mores alien to westerners, the work environment tough, language completely different and of course being away from family, friends and an extended support structure magnifies every obstacle. And that is not even to mention terrorism. Shouldn’t people be as prepared as possible?

During my time there I met many many “trial aliyahs”. Whole families who upturned their lives on the whim of one member and were then torn apart by the difficulties. Youngsters who grew up in youth movements and thought they’d just “give it a go”. People with problems – medical, social, professional, that they thought would just disappear when they moved country. Almost all left in a year or two. Can Israel afford to spend its limited resourse on people who will contribute little or nothing? And what is the expense in terms of disruption on society with large numbers of people constantly in flux?

And that is not even to mention the large numbers who stay but closter themselves in little enclaves and communities with no contact with Israelis in general. I remember bumping into an Australian who was in the absorption center with me three years after I made Aliyah. She had been a member of a youth organization and had pretty decent Hebrew at the time of her Aliyah due to her Jewish Day School. When I bumped into her her Hebrew was worse due to her job as an English teacher and her insistance of only socializing with Anglos. When she found out that I shared an apartment with Israelis (as in native) and dated an Israeli (who later became my husband) she told me that she could never live with “those people”. And she was not alone in that. Why make Aliyah if you don’t want to live as part of society? Why move to Israel if the only Israel you are willing to accept is the one in your imagination?

Politically of course there are also issues. Someone can step off of the plane and be entitled to vote in the first election that comes along. Does this make sense? Large numbers of new immigrants can affect an election, change the political landscape without living the results and them leave. Is this good for a society?

There are a lot of potential ways in which the system can be changed in order to make absorption more cost effective and to reduce the stress on society.

1. Olim could be permanent residents for 3 years before becoming voting citizens. If they leave before 3 years is up, they do not become citizens. This wouldn’t affect the Law of Return, but it would provide some political stability and ensure that voters have some “skin in the game”.

2. Assistance should be need based. There is no question that a diamond merchant from Belgium does not need the same assistance as a peasant from Ethiopia. Immigration should not be prevented because someone absolutely cannot afford it, but what about people who act on a whim rather than taking a couple of years to save the money?

3. Assistance could also be offered as a grant – if the immigrant does not stay, they lose the money (enforcement might be tough).

4. Better, assistance be conditional on certain pre-Aliyah efforts, such as learning Hebrew (or at least attending classes) before aliyah, and/or getting career counsilling before getting on the plane.

5. Assistance could be conditional on perfoming a year of National Service (for those not required to serve in the army), teaching in schools, tutoring, working in hospitals, etc. Those who choose to receive should be required to give something back. I actually think it should be compulsory anyway as a method of facilitating absorption and giving immigrants exposure to segments of Israeli society they would otherwise never see.

Of course all of these are suggestions, and I am sure that there are plenty of ideas out there.

The main point is that Israel needs committed immigrants, not people who treat it as an extended, state sponsored vacation. Israel should always be a haven for Jews in danger, and being in danger is a pretty good way of paying your dues. But perhaps some want to make it too easy in order to pad the numbers. Perhaps it should be just a little more difficult in order to raise the chances that those who make Aliyah from Western nations are willing and able to make the sacrifices it requires, are willing to become Israelis and are willing to put the work in before they even step foot on the tarmac.

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