Thursday, November 29, 2012

Palestine at the UN

In case you had any doubts about the significance of today’s (Thurs, Nov. 29) bid by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas for United Nations “observer” status for Palestine, here are a few facts to chew on.
            First, Palestine is expected to prevail in the General Assembly vote by a large margin, possibly as much as two-thirds of the delegates. This will include European nations such as France, Spain, Norway, Denmark and Switzerland that have long formed a solid block against Palestine on this issue. It will not include Israel, of course, and its longtime poodle, the United States, along with its longtime poodles, Australia, Canada and Great Britain. But the opposition of these nations will have no bearing on the case: the Palestinians are on track to win this one big.
            What that means is that though they will not get full member status with voting rights, the Palestinians will have access to UN agencies and treaties, and, most importantly, the right to join the International Criminal Court (the ICC). This, in turn, will allow them to bring their cases alleging Israeli war crimes and violations of international law before the ICC. Now what any thinking person should be asking is: why should Israel and the United States and Great Britain (the Brits pledged that they would support the Palestinians in their admission bid if only they would promise NOT to seek an ICC case against Israel) worry about this? Why should the United States be putting immense pressure on Abbas to abandon his UN move, suggesting that it will cost him $200 million in development aid currently blocked in Congress, and more if Israel freezes the transfer of tax and tariff funds it collects on the Palestinians’ behalf? Isn’t Israel a law-abiding member of the international community, one of the great democracies of the Middle East?
            Well, no, it’s not. And this is what the world needs to know (not that it’s been any secret for the last 60 years, but the mainstream media, especially in the U.S., routinely buries this kind of “anti-semitic” information). The world needs to know that Israeli settlements—all of them, not just the ones President Obama convinced Netanyahu two years ago to “freeze”, and which Netanyahu has since started building again—are illegal. They are illegal specifically according to the very United Nations that Palestine is now seeking to join (actually it has been seeking full UN membership for years, and has always been blocked from full membership by, you guessed it, the United States.). In a little document called “Israeli settlements in the occupied Arab territories,” (easily searchable online) issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in April of 1996, the Human Rights Commission does the following.

1) It notes ‘with appreciation the report (E/CN.4/1996/18) submitted by the Special Rapporteur pursuant to resolution 1993/2 A of 19 February 1993, in which he recommends, inter alia, that the confiscation of Palestinian-owned land and the construction or expansion of settlements should be halted immediately..
2) Reaffirms that the installation of Israeli civilians in the occupied territories is illegal and constitutes a violation of the relevant provisions of the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, of 12 August 1949..
3) Reiterates its request to the Government of Israel to comply fully with the provisions of Commission resolutions 1990/1, 1991/3, 1992/3, 1993/3, 1994/1 and 1995/3 (in other words, the several times the UN has already “reaffirmed the illegality of the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories”and with which Israel is in noncompliance)..
4) Urges the Government of Israel to abstain from installing any settlers in the occupied territories and to prevent any new installation of settlers in these territories.

            That seems plain enough to me. And what terrifies the United States and Israel and their allies is that it will be plain enough to the International Criminal Court and the whole world as well. As Francis Boyle, the renowned international lawyer and legal adviser to the Palestinian Authority for years, said today in an interview, observer status (and he made the point that Switzerland had observer status until about three years ago, so it’s not some flimsy or inconsequential status to have) will give the Palestinians the legal standing to bring the case he’s been urging them to bring for years to the ICC—the case against the illegality of the Israeli settlements. As anyone who reads can clearly see, the Israeli settlements are illegal, and such illegality is precisely what the ICC is meant to adjudicate. So the first case the Palestinians should bring, according to Boyle, is the case against the settlements. After that, it may also choose to bring the war crimes case against Israel stemming from its violations of international law in its previous (2008) invasion of Gaza. A UN report, the famous (by now infamous) Goldstone Report, in fact did find evidence of war crimes, specifically that the Israeli military attacked civilians, hospitals, schools and individual homes in Gaza (see my blog on this, “Condemning Goldstone,” Sept. 26, 2011.)
            Of course, Israel is already fulminating and threatening to take “whatever actions are necessary” if the Palestinians should “use this platform for confrontation.” Which I guess means that the Palestinians should conclude that taking Israel to court would be considered a hostile act—something like firing rockets, perhaps. And perhaps they are right. Because what Francis Boyle said in his interview suggests that this legal track may now become the next step in the long Palestinian fight for justice. He called it “a legal intifada.” The problem for Israel, and the United States, is that though legal actions may be devastating in their effect, they cannot reasonably be called violent, or war-like, or what Israel likes to call an “existential threat.” Because isn’t that what imperial nations are always prating about—the rule of law? Well, yes, but not when the wogs want to use the law. Because when “they” use the law, they can become a threat to the reigning myth—the myth that Israel, along with its propaganda ally, has long perpetrated: that Israel is innocent of any wrongdoing, that it is only trying to defend itself, and that in doing so it always abides by international norms; and that it is those lawless Palestinians and other Arab or Muslim states who pose a deadly threat to its people’s existence.
            So if the people of the world—including the benighted and propagandized people of the United States—were ever to see, via the International Criminal Court, the truth about who the criminals actually are, then the Emperor’s clothes, hair, and every other pretense of civilization would surely vanish. Who knows what might happen then? With Palestine in the UN, we just might get to see.

Update, 11/29: the General Assembly voted 138 to 9, with 41 abstentions, today to give Palestine observer status at the UN. The US and Israel voted "no," joined by the powerhouse nations of Canada, the Czech Republic, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, and Panama. 

Lawrence DiStasi

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Esty Campaign in final stage

The end of the campaign to fund Esty: A Novel/Memoir is closer than ever--a mere 6 days left until we go to press on December 1. So if you haven't yet joined the effort, there is still time. It's a communal publishing venture that rewards donors with either autographed copies of the new book, or a place on the Acknowledgments page, or both. Don't be left behind: we're about 4/5 of the way there. Join the Esty campaign by clicking on the cover icon or the link below, which will take you to the Indiegogo page. All donations, no matter how small, are deeply appreciated.

Thanks for all the help,
Lawrence DiStasi

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

You Can't Kill Them All

One of the things that occurs to me as I watch the horror videos of Israeli airstrikes once again battering the 1.5 million defenseless people of the Gaza strip with U.S.-supplied rockets, bombs and god knows what else, is that though the Israeli military, with American help, has the capacity to kill all the Palestinians, it can’t quite bring itself to do it. This is not because its own public opinion would object. According to a report by Ali Abunimah of the Electronic Intifada (, recent rallies by Israeli citizens and remarks by its public officials indicate that a large portion of Israelis would like nothing better. Gilad Sharon, the son of former prime minister Ariel Sharon, for example, recently said this:
            We need to flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn’t stop with Hiroshima – the Japanese weren’t surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki, too. There should be no electricity in Gaza, no gasoline or moving vehicles, nothing. Then they’d really call for a ceasefire. (emphasis added by Abunimah)
No, it’s because, despite the wonderful example of the United States (which Israel could in fact follow exactly with its arsenal of hundreds of nuclear weapons), Israel fears the negative world opinion that might result. This is due to the fact that most Americans still believe Israeli propaganda—that it is this lonely democracy trying to defend itself from hordes of crazed Arabs and Muslims out to destroy it.
            As to why Arabs and Muslims side with the Palestinians, neither Israel nor the United States media ever really addresses that. The “conflict” or “war” is always presented as if it just broke out spontaneously, usually when the Palestinians do something bad, and Israel has no choice but to “defend its people.” ‘They fired rockets at us. They have fired over a thousand rockets at us. They have even fired rockets as far as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem! And their rockets don’t try to avoid killing civilians, as ours do.’ As if the Palestinians, a refugee population under as severe a military blockade as has ever existed, could even get their hands on sophisticated rocket systems capable of precise targeting. And as if poor little Israel did nothing, has never done anything to incite that pathetic rocket fire.
            The truth, though, is that both historically and proximally, Israel has been provoking and attacking and ethnically cleansing and starving the Palestinians for the better part of a century. Most recently, they shot and killed a mentally deficient boy who wandered too close to their security fence keeping Gazans in their open-air prison. And shortly after that, eviscerated another young boy playing soccer—apparently a suspect activity for Gazans. And shortly after that brought off one of their “targeted assassinations” by killing the Hamas military leader Ahmed Jabari and his son with a drone strike on his car. (Here again, the imitation of one nation’s tactics by another is haunting: after Israel’s success with these targeted killings—no arrest, no charges, no trial, just kill the bastard—the Obama administration has adopted this tactic as its favorite in Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere.) As to the history, a recent piece by renowned Israeli historian Ilan Pappe reminds us of just how commonplace and enduring Israel’s attempt to get rid of the Palestinian people entirely has been. What Pappe reminds us—in a piece whose main burden is to show how even today, the ethnic cleansing operation known by Palestinians as the Nakba is continuing in the plan to forcefully remove 70,000 Beduoins from the Negev Desert, their home for millennia—is that the very term Nakba was first used by Israel’s military. Here is part of his discussion:
Long before the Palestinians themselves understood what was the essence of the Israeli master plan to expel them, and the far-reaching implications of the country’s ethnic cleansing, the perpetrators themselves found an adequate term in Arabic to describe it: Nakba (catastrophe)….The term was mentioned for the first time not in Arab or Palestinian sources but in Israeli military intelligence sources. It appeared in leaflets the Israeli air force distributed during those ten days in July on the eve of a very singular attack on a village or a town….The leaflets demanded in the main the “peaceful” eviction of the village and its surrounding areas. If not, the leaflets warned, the village would be severely punished. We do not have all the leaflets but here is the one rained on the huge and beautiful village of al-Tira near Haifa in the middle of July 1948:
“The sword will cut your throats without pity or compensation. If you insist and continue with your wrong doing … you should know that our airplanes, tanks and artillery will grind your village to dust, shell your houses, break your back, uproot you from your land … and your village will become a desert. Oh the people of al-Tira, if you wish to avoid a Nakba [sic] … surrender. The victorious Israeli army has already demolished the criminal hotbeds of Jaffa, Acre, Tiberias and Safad. It has occupied tens of villages in the south and the north, and this triumphant army will destroy you in several hours.” (Ilan Pappe,, 20 July 2012)
            It is, of course, this very Nakba (a term recently proscribed by an Israeli law upheld by its courts; the authorities don’t like being reminded of the murderous theft their nation has engaged in any more than Americans like being reminded of ours) and its final solution that Palestinians have been fighting in any way they can. What else can a people like the Gazans, blockaded on land, sea and air, whose airport and most other infrastructure including potable water has been destroyed, whose fishermen cannot fish, whose economy—what was left of it—was destroyed in the 2008 Israeli invasion and who now, 80% of them, live on the relief food provided by UNRWA (with Israel fiendishly calculating how many calories a day will prevent Gazans from starving, but “keep them on a diet”)—what can such people do to salvage a sliver of dignity other than protest? Other than fight back against their occupier? Other than launch a stone or a curse or a rocket?
            To be met, when they do so, by a mainstream media in the U.S. and Britain describing the resulting massacre as a “war.” A “rocket war.” As if there were two roughly equivalent nations engaged on a field of battle. As if a people with no protection whatever, no anti-aircraft system, no system of air-raid shelters, no air force, no artillery, no military equipment to speak of other than what can be smuggled in through tunnels, can be at war with one of the most modern, best-equipped, nuclear powers in the world. It’s an absurdity. There can be no war between two such antagonists. Which is really what frustrates the Israelis. If only they could go all out and flatten Gaza, as most Israelis seem to prefer. If only they could somehow magically “disappear” all of the Palestinians, not over time, not little by little as they have been doing, but instantly, quickly, with some sort of death ray that would leave no trace.            
           Fortunately, there is still an outside world, still world opinion, still a few people of conscience left in the world who can express their outrage, and more important, an elected government now in Egypt run by the elder brother of the Hamas regime in Gaza (the Muslim Brotherhood). This is why there is now talk of a cease-fire. This is why there is now a trip to the region by Hillary Clinton. This is why the Israeli army apparently won’t be unleashed for a second time in five years to go house to house on their killing spree. They know that “killing them all” would not play well on the nightly news, much less in an increasingly-inflamed Arab world. Even killing a dozen or so from one family is met with hand-wringing in the world press. So if ‘killing them all’ is to have any chance, it will probably have to be the slow holocaust that has been in progress now for over sixty years. And the world will have to go on lamenting the ‘stubborn’ nature of this ‘conflict,’ and American presidents will have to go on blessing poor Israel’s “right to defend itself” until, it hopes, as Israelis hope, there will one day be no more Palestinians to defend against.
            But oh, how long that might take. And oh, wouldn’t it be so much cleaner and easier if killing them all were still an option.
Lawrence DiStasi

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Esty Funding Campaign

The campaign to fund Esty: A Novel/Memoir is almost over--a mere 16 days left until I go to press on December 1. So if you haven't yet joined the effort, there is still time. It's a communal publishing venture that rewards donors with either autographed copies of the new book, or a place on the Acknowledgments page, or both. Don't be left behind: we're about 3/4 of the way there. Join the Esty campaign by clicking on the cover icon or the link below, which will take you to the Indiegogo page. All donations, no matter how small, are deeply appreciated.

Thanks a million,
Lawrence DiStasi

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Election High

I don’t know about you, but I thoroughly enjoyed watching the election returns last night. It was a little like watching the World Series, only with all four games coming in one night. And like the recent series, it was a virtual “sweep” for the team I was rooting for, team Obama. All that was missing, for me at least, was the chance to be a fly on the wall of Romney headquarters—it’s always interesting to see how losers respond—or even better, on the wall of Repuglican headquarters in Mississippi or Alabama or Kentucky or Texas. To be able to observe how these folks reacted to the outcome they most dreaded—the “black socialist” in the White House for four more years—would’ve been sweet indeed. As it was, it was pretty sweet to see how the mainstream pundits reacted. Most kept trying to keep up the pretense that “anything could happen,” and “it’s far from over yet,” when, in fact, the election was over pretty early in the evening. CBS was already predicting that Ohio was “leaning” to Obama by around 7PM if I remember correctly. They had Nevada “leaning” too. Then when Wisconsin fell to the President, and Pennsylvania came through as well, the writing was on the wall for all to see—the President had not only won, but would win big.
            The only real mystery in this election was how Romney did as well as he did in the first place. The guy is a robot. And a Mormon to boot—Mormonism being the weirdest religion ever invented, not to mention the most racist (Mormons traditionally believed that Black people descended directly from Cain—you know, the guy who killed his brother Abel and then wondered if he were his brother’s keeper—pretty appropriate, come to think of it, for a capitalist like Romney). And made his money in leveraged buyouts, perhaps the most heartless form of financial skullduggery yet invented by the Wall Street boys. I mean of all the candidates that a Repuglican party might have selected to represent them, could anyone imagine they’d choose the one most easily caricatured as the essence of rapacious, self-aggrandizing, look-out-for-number-one, white-bread capitalism? And yet they did, holding their collective Tea Party noses as they did so, or not. All of which goes to show that once again, Barack Obama is the luckiest politician alive when it comes to the self-destructive dopes who run against him.
            So the mantra of the Clinton administration, it’s the economy, stupid, ought to be amended here: it’s the Repugs, stupid. I mean, they’ve invested their whole strategy in a vanishing constituency: mostly old, mostly southern, mostly racist, sexist white guys. And suddenly, last night, there they were, looking around and wondering if perhaps they ought to figure out another way to win elections. And all you had to do was compare the crowd in Obama’s Chicago headquarters, with the crowd in Romney’s Boston mausoleum—all older, white, lookalike and increasingly grim faces in the latter (at one point they started to sing, to scream, really, God Bless America; which was quite eerie); a rainbow of colors and types and smiles on the faces of the mostly young, dancing, flag-waving crowd with a sense of destiny in the former. Two Americas. One dying. The other coming into its own like a gathering tide. What’s hardest to understand is how these older, and presumably wiser folk can’t seem to get this. Or maybe they can. Maybe that’s what really animates them: their sense of foreboding and growing certainty that rich as they are, powerful as they are and have always been, their days are numbered. That, amazingly, they are not going to able to “take back the last century” as they had hoped. And from my perspective, it couldn’t be happening to a more deserving bunch of dinosaurs.
            What remains, now, is for the progressives who have had to live through all of Obama’s ditherings these past four years to figure out how to keep his feet to the fire. Because the table is now set for a still-hopeful Obama (as was clear in his speech last night) to bend over backwards once again to try to get people who hate his guts to make nice with him to “solve the country’s problems.” Uh oh. Here we go again. Here we go into Grand Bargain time. And if Obama, as representative of the left, can be pressured into yielding ground on the basic social contract enacted by FDR and Johnson and the rest—Social Security and Medicare and Civil Rights and Rowe v Wade—in order to get the Repugs to agree to raise taxes a hair, then his re-election campaign would be better off having failed. The point is to keep that from happening. It may take marches and demonstrations and civil disobedience. It may take more (I keep having this fantasy of Wall St bankers barricaded in their gated mansions, with marauding bands of desperate workers howling outside). But whatever it takes, it’s going to have to be done because we know, now, after four years, that Barack Obama will only respond to popular pressure. If he’s left to his own advisers and his own instincts, he’ll allow himself to be rolled again and again by filibustering Repugs.
            So here’s to last night. And here’s to Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Baldwin. And here’s to the end of Romney. And here’s also to the coming struggle; because as we should all know by now,  election victories are only the first step in a marathon. As we in California found out to our horror when the $36 million dollar campaign to defeat Proposition 37, (a modest attempt to force the food industry to label genetically modified foods—what a concept!), succeeded in so confusing the masses that they voted it down. How anyone could vote against knowing exactly what one is putting in one’s body is beyond me, but a majority actually did. So don’t think the oil barons or the corporate food kings or the Walton family or the pharmaceutical drips or the military-industrial hogs or the banksters are finished. They’ll be out in force, perhaps greater force than ever. And it falls to us, the people, to do everything possible to curb that power, to bring it to heel, and keep it there.

Lawrence DiStasi

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Just Vote

There are lots of things I could say about why it’s important to vote.  But since most have been said, ad infinitum, I’ll limit my exhortations to just a few.
            Vote to make sure the Republican money machine doesn’t win—to spit in the eye of American Crossroads (Karl Rove) and the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Koch brothers and Exxon and Wal-Mart and Monsanto and all the rest of the vultures.
            Vote to let the world know that some of us, at least, are not taken in by Mitt Romney’s indefatigable lying, and find it outrageous and obscene.
            Vote to let the rest of the United States know that global warming is not a hoax (this is the title of a book written by Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, who, if Romney is elected and the Republicans take control of the Senate, is slated to chair the Committee on the Environment and Public Works—the very one that rules on measures to combat global warming. No joke.)
            Vote to make sure that the entire structure of the New Deal (Social Security), as extended by the Johnson Administration (Medicare, Civil Rights, etc.), is not dismantled by the crazies of the Republican Right who have been frothing at the mouth to reverse FDR’s reforms for seventy years.
            Vote to register your protest about the wild and wildly increasing inequality in what was supposed to be an equal society: the six Wal-Mart heirs have about $92 billion in assets. That’s enough to feed every hungry person on earth (the UN estimates $30 billion/year is enough to eradicate hunger world wide), including those with insufficient food in the U.S. And this: for every dollar the richest 0.1% of Americans earned in 1980, they’ve added three more dollars to their wealth; while the poorest 90% have added one cent to theirs!
            Vote to make sure your elected reps know that you’re pissed about facts like these: that for every dollar of profits earned from 2008-2010 by our great corporations like Boeing, DuPont, Wells Fargo, Verizon, GE, and Dow Chemical, the public treasury got one cent in taxes (that’s a 1% tax rate). (facts from Paul Buchheit,, July 2, 2012) And Willard (Mitt the Twit) Romney is campaigning on the idea of reducing taxes for precisely these corporations “so they can compete in the global economy!”
            Finally, even if you’re not enthused about Obama (and who is these days), vote anyway, vote your anger, vote your outrage, vote to thumb your nose at all those who think they can continue to hoodwink the people and exploit and ruin the commons, while lining their own pockets with ever more cash and perks, and then get to call it “public service.”
            In short, just vote. Remembering the old Tammany Hall mantra: vote, early and often.

Lawrence DiStasi