As the Syrian army and rebels fight for control of Qusair, it is necessary to realize why the town is strategically important and vital for Shias on both sides of the border, making it a military and media battleground.
There are far more elements surrounding the situation in Qusair than first meet the eye, RT’s Nadezhda Kevorkova reveals.
The army’s advance to Qusair is a key strategic operation. Qusair is near Homs, which is located on the road connecting Damascus with the Mediterranean seaport. And Qusair itself is the closest town to the Lebanese border. So taking control of it allows the forces to control the Lebanese border with the Shias living on both sides. There is an important high point between Qusair and the Lebanese village Al-Qasr. The Syrian army was forced to leave this area in the fall of 2012, so locals lost their protection. Opposition fighters took over the region and tried to chase out the Shias and take control of the high point – there were severe battles here in April 2013. (I was in Lebanon’s Al-Qasr at the time – the village came under heavy fire). But the rebels lost to the fighters from the Syrian People’s Committees. They were able to hold the high point.
Had the opposition forces won over this rather small and seemingly insignificant area, there would’ve been major consequences. The war would’ve spread to Lebanon, and Hezbollah would’ve been obligated to get involved. Jihadists would’ve been able to get into Syria from Lebanon and attack Hezbollah in southern Lebanon in the Beqaa Valley.
But fighters from the Syrian People’s Committees didn’t let them do it and held the high point.
Thanks to their effort, the government forces were able to deploy troops here and start the Qusair counter-offensive on May 19.
Thirty-thousand Syrian Shias live on the Syrian side of the border (not the Alawites – the Shias). As we know, the border between Syria and Lebanon is relative – the Shias have lived here for ages. When colonial powers drew border lines between countries, they didn’t take the traditional settlement patterns of ethnic groups and communities into account. Many of the local residents have Lebanese passports.
In the fall of 2012, rebels and foreign mercenaries began to sweep Shia villages with fire. They also intimidated people and conducted ethnic cleansing operations. In mixed communities they would go into Shias’ houses telling people to get out, drew “outlaw” signs on the buildings, snipers shot at those who tried to exit these houses. If a family left a home, it was burned down. Rebels planned to drive all Shias out of the area near the border.
Opposition propaganda resources in major mass media and social networks have deployed a campaign in the Islamic world aimed at bolstering the idea that all the Shias are apostates – they are not Muslims, not native to these regions and are simply a tool that is used for proliferating Iranian policy across the Middle East. That is why jihad regards killing a Shia as noble. A number of propaganda resources that different sheikhs were using to broadcast anti-Shia sermons, were involved with the campaign.
Moreover, the mass media are thus instilling the minds of Muslims with the idea that all the Shias, including ordinary peasants, are Hezbollah militants, and Hezbollah, in its turn, is a supplement to the ‘dreadful thugs’ of the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution.
Such an approach, which is used by the opposition and backed by the world’s major mass media, has a precise analogy.
The scorched-earth policy was first used in the region by the Irgun Jewish settlers in April 1948, when several Palestinian villages were wiped off the map (Deir Yassin is the most well-known). The goal was simple: the news about the massacre of 254 Palestinians – kids, women and old people would terrify all the rest so much, that they would run away voluntarily. The news about such unprecedented atrocities as, for instance, disembowelling pregnant women did strike terror into people: unarmed and unskilled in terms of war 740 thousand Palestinians fled from their home villages becoming refugees. Zionist ideologists still claim that the Palestinians are not native to Palestine and they were invited there as migrant workers, so they are either Bedouins, or nomads, or Gypsies from the Middle East who didn’t have any skills in agriculture and didn’t know how to farm.
This is also the reason that has been driving the mass-media campaign to discredit Hezbollah that has been accused of allegedly fighting against the Syrian people. Video footage and photographs of fallen Hezbollah fighters dating back to the 2006 Lebanon War have been circulated as “proof” that Hezbollah is involved in Syria and suffering losses. Back in 2006, 800 Hezbollah fighters put up resistance to the ground invasion of Lebanon by Israel, and these numbers were officially announced by the party leader Hasan Nasrallah.
I met with families that were forced to flee Syrian villages by the border. These were mostly large families who feared that their women, wives and daughters, would be raped by the opposition fighters and criminals that accompany them. Many also said that it was their strategy to intimidate the local population on purpose to have the houses vacated. Nonetheless many stayed and organized community defense volunteer squads to protect themselves from the rebel forces and mercenaries with arms in their hands.
The battle of Qusair has been of strategic importance, but not only that – Qusair is the only town, however small (with 50,000 people of population ) that had been given up by the government forces in the past – while the rest of the towns in Syria are under the government’s control. Mass-media that are telling their audience that the purpose of the battle of Qusair was “to regain control over the Mediterranean coast” and “re-deploy the government forces to Aleppo” are lying. The army is already in full control of the coast. Last Sunday, the army launched a massive offensive on all transit routes for weapons and supplies coming into the country.
As of today, Qusair is surrounded by the Syrian army, which is also in control of the downtown area. An escape corridor is being kept open for the fleeing population. The militants who fail to use it are contained in town’s quarters.
As for the losses, all the numbers cited are pure speculation and part of the propaganda attack on Syria. For example, the opposition initially reported online that they had killed “90 Hezbollah militants,” yet after a while changed the number to 30, and that’s in addition to the Syrian army’s losses of 20 soldiers reported by the army itself.
Listening, on 15 April, to the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on US policy towards Iran put me in mind of the inscription Dante imagined over the entrance to Hell: “Abandon hope all you who enter here”.
There seemed no notion among members of the committee that territories beyond the borders of the United States of America are not subject to US jurisdiction – still less that reasoned persuasion and reciprocity can be more effective tools for achieving US foreign policy goals than sanctions (how the good Congressmen love sanctions!) and the infliction of pain.
Wendy Sherman, the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs who heads the U.S. delegation in the P5+1 negotiations with Iran, must have come away from that hearing with the feeling that she has an impossible task. Congress will howl if the administration makes the slightest concession to secure Iranian agreement to non-proliferation assurances and restrictions on nuclear activities. Yet if Iran is offered nothing in return for measures it deems to be voluntary, because they lie beyond the provisions of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), it will continue to defy the US and its allies.
Still, it is hard to avoid the thought that the administration could have made more of this opportunity.
Ambassador Sherman’s opening statement contained no reference to the US intelligence community’s confidence that Iran’s leaders have not taken a decision to acquire nuclear weapons. Instead, it referred to “Iran’s nuclear weapon ambitions” and to the need for Iran to “change course”, which the congressmen could be forgiven for taking as confirmation of their chairman’s opening assertion that Iran is trying to build a nuclear arsenal.
On top of that, Ambassador Sherman fed the Congressmen’s appetite for a penal approach by stressing that the goal of US policy is to have Iran live up to its “international obligations”. The Congressmen were left undisturbed in their conviction that Iran is entirely in the wrong and most certainly should not be rewarded for mending its ways. The opportunity to start helping their Honours to understand that the reality is more complicated went begging.
I hope LobeLog readers who know what lies behind that last sentence will forgive me for explicating it.
Iran’s “international obligations” come in two forms. One lot of obligations stem from the provisions of the NPT. Iran accepts that these are genuine obligations under international law and is ready to comply fully with them without reciprocity. Indeed some observers believe Iran is already fully compliant.
The other lot stem from the provisions of four Security Council resolutions adopted under article 41 of the UN Charter. Iran refuses to accept the legally-binding nature of these, not unreasonably, given that, when they were adopted, the Council had not determined that Iran’s nuclear activities represented a threat to international peace and security. Instead, Iran offers to proceed on the basis of reciprocity, volunteering the steps specified in these resolutions in return for recognition that Iran has NPT rights as well as obligations, and also for the lifting of nuclear-related sanctions.
The third missed opportunity was ethical in nature. The administration had no need to indulge in misrepresentation and distortion but succumbed to temptation.
The Congressmen were told that Iran is “isolated”. In reality, Iran maintains full diplomatic relations with some 100 states. Iran’s Foreign Minister is received courteously almost everywhere in Asia and Europe apart from the UK and Israel. Just this week Iran assumed the chair of the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. Currently Iran presides over the 120-member Non-Aligned Movement
Ambassador Sherman implied that responsibility for the appalling civil conflict in Syria must be ascribed to Iran, “a destabilising influence across the entire Middle East”. The initial supply of weapons to the Syrian opposition by Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia was not mentioned. Some Middle Eastern states are allowed to have interests beyond their borders, it seems, and others are not.
Oh, and in Syria all the violence against “the Syrian people” is being inflicted by the Assad regime, supported by its Iranian ally. Perish the thought that the opposition has shed a single drop of Syrian blood!
Most Europeans yearn for the objectivity and ethical agnosticism that underlay the US opening to China, détente with the Soviet Union, and the final flurry of US/USSR agreements heralding the end of the Cold War. That sort of objectivity should come naturally, one might think, when the adversary is Iran, a state so very much weaker than the US. Alas, the opposite seems to be the case!
- Israel says no ‘compromise’ should be made with Iran (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- US obstructing global disarmament: Iran (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Nuclear Iran: What’s at Stake for the BRICS (alethonews.wordpress.com)
More than 70 countries have refused to say yes to an Arab-backed resolution against Syria at the United Nations General Assembly.
Russia, China and Iran were among the 12 countries that opposed the resolution on Wednesday.
Russia called the resolution, co-sponsored by the United States, “counterproductive and irresponsible.”
The resolution was adopted by a vote of 107-12 with 59 abstentions. Argentina, Brazil, and more than a dozen other Latin American and Caribbean countries abstained from voting.
Russian Deputy Ambassador to the UN Alexander Pankin called the resolution “very harmful and destructive,” saying it disregards “illegal actions of the armed opposition.” He also accused the resolution’s Arab sponsors of attempting to replace the Syrian government instead of trying to find a political solution to the crisis in Syria.
Syrian Ambassador to the UN Bashar Ja’afari also stated that the resolution “seeks to escalate the crisis and fuel violence in Syria.”
The non-binding resolution, which was drafted by a number of Arab states, calls for a “political transition” and refers to the foreign-backed militants in Syria as “effective representative interlocutors” needed for the transition.
The Syria crisis began in March 2011, and many people, including large numbers of soldiers and security personnel, have been killed in the violence.
The Syrian government says that the chaos is being orchestrated from outside the country, and there are reports that a very large number of the militants are foreign nationals.
Damascus says the West and its regional allies, such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, are supporting the militants.
In an interview recently broadcast on Turkish television, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said that if the militants take power in Syria, they could destabilize the entire Middle East region for decades.
“If the unrest in Syria leads to the partitioning of the country, or if the terrorist forces take control… the situation will inevitably spill over into neighboring countries and create a domino effect throughout the Middle East and beyond,” he stated.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abbas Araqchi says the United States’ opposition and lack of commitment to various international disarmament conventions are obstacles to advancing the issue of global disarmament.
Pointing to the US’s 16-year opposition to bringing up the issue of disarmament in the UN Disarmament Conference, Araqchi said, “The US has, for all practical purposes, taken the conference hostage and is hindering its effective performance in advancing international peace and security.”
He said that the US opposition to the protocol to the Biological Weapons Convention, its non-adherence to its commitments under the Chemical Weapons Convention to eliminate its arsenal by 2012, and efforts to prevent global denuclearization as well as a nuclear-free Middle East are all part of Washington’s black record of non-compliance with international obligations and disrespect for international mechanisms on global disarmament and security.
Reacting to Washington’s recent decision to boycott the upcoming UN Conference on Disarmament because of its chairmanship by Iran, Araqchi said, “Iran is among the first founders of the [UN] Disarmament Conference, and as an independent country, it has always played an instrumental and constructive role in advancing the objectives of the conference, in particular that of nuclear disarmament.”
In a statement issued on Monday, Erin Pelton, the spokesperson for the US Mission to the United Nations, said that the US would not send its ambassador to the conference, adding the US believes the Islamic Republic of Iran should be barred from any formal or ceremonial positions in UN bodies.
Araqchi further noted, “Iran has also played a key role in negotiations on international treaties, including the Chemical Weapons Convention.”
Describing Iran as a victim of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), the Iranian spokesman said the Islamic Republic of Iran along with other peace-loving nations of the world will continue to tap into all national and international potential to contribute to the creation of a WMD-free world.
Iran proposed the idea of a nuke-free Middle East and is among the flag-bearers of nuclear disarmament, he highlighted.
Iran will accede to the rotating presidency of the 65-nation UN Conference on Disarmament, based in Geneva, on May 27 and it will hand it over to another country on June 23 in an alphabetical order.
The conference seeks to reach an agreement on global nuclear disarmament and stopping the development of other weapons of mass destruction.
- Canada not to attend UN disarmament talks under Iran presidency (alethonews.wordpress.com)
By once again blowing the chance to close a nuclear deal with Iran, the U.S. and its western partners have set themselves up for escalating the conflict with the Islamic republic
The most recent round of nuclear talks between the P5+1 were, by any meaningful measure, a failure. Even as she sought to put the best face possible on the non-outcome in Almaty, Kazakhstan last month, European Union Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton had to acknowledge that western members of the P5+1 and Iran “remain far apart on substance.”
Western officials blame the failure either on the Islamic Republic’s upcoming presidential election or on that old fallback, Iranian “intransigence.” In reality, talks failed because America and its western partners remain unwilling to recognise Iran’s right to enrich uranium under international safeguards.
U.S. strategic culture
As a sovereign state, Iran is entitled to enrich, if it chooses; as a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), it is entitled to do so under safeguards. The NPT explicitly recognises signatories’ “inalienable right” to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. That this inalienable right includes the right to enrich is clear from the NPT itself, its negotiating history, and decades of state practice, with at least a dozen non-weapons state parties having developed safeguarded fuel-cycle infrastructures potentially able to support weapons programmes.
If Washington recognised Iran’s right to enrich, a nuclear deal with Tehran could be reached in a matter of weeks. As long as Washington refuses to acknowledge Tehran’s nuclear rights, no substantial agreement will be possible.
Yet the Obama administration is no closer than its processor to accepting safeguarded enrichment in Iran. This is partly due to pressure from various allies — Israel, Saudi Arabia, Britain, France — and their American supporters, who expect Washington somehow to defy legal principle along with political reality and compel Tehran to surrender its indigenous fuel-cycle capabilities.
But the real reason for U.S. obstinacy is that recognising Iran’s nuclear rights would mean accepting the Islamic Republic as a legitimate entity representing legitimate national interests. No American administration since the Iranian Revolution — not even that of Barack Hussein Obama — has been willing to do this.
Washington’s unwillingness is grounded in some unattractive, but fundamental, aspects of American strategic culture: difficulty in coming to terms with independent power centres (whether globally or in vital regions like the Middle East); hostility to non-liberal states, unless they subordinate their foreign policies to U.S. preferences (as Egypt did under Sadat and Mubarak); and an unreflective but deeply rooted sense that U.S.-backed norms, legal rules, and transnational decision-making processes are meant to constrain others, not America itself.
Because these attitudes are so fundamental, it is unlikely that Obama will invest the political capital required to bring America’s Iran policy in line with strategic reality before his presidency ends. And so the controversy over Iran’s nuclear activities will grind on.
The world has experienced such diplomatic stasis before. In 2003-2005, Britain, France, and Germany worked (ostensibly) to prepare a nuclear settlement with Tehran; Iran suspended enrichment for nearly two years to encourage diplomatic progress. The initiative failed because the George W. Bush administration refused to join the talks unless Tehran was willing to abandon pursuit of indigenous fuel-cycle capabilities.
In 2009-2010, efforts to negotiate the exchange of most of Iran’s then-stockpile of enriched uranium for fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor collapsed for similar reasons. In the May 2010 Tehran Declaration brokered by Brazil and Turkey, Iran accepted all of Washington’s terms for a fuel swap, yet the Obama administration rejected the Declaration because it openly recognised Iran’s right to enrich. Three years later, the administration is once again undermining chances for diplomatic success with its inflexibility regarding Iran’s nuclear rights.
The world has also seen what happens when America and its European partners demonstrate such bad faith in nuclear diplomacy with Tehran — Iran expands its nuclear infrastructure and capabilities. When Iran broke its nearly two-year suspension of enrichment in 2005, it could run less than a thousand centrifuges; today, it has installed 12,000 centrifuges, more than 9,000 of which process uranium gas to produce enriched uranium. In February 2010, Iran began enriching uranium to the near-20 per cent level needed to fuel the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR) after the U.S. and its partners refused to sell the fuel; Iran consistently offered to suspend near-20 per cent enrichment if it could obtain an adequate fuel supply for the TRR. After the Obama administration torpedoed the Tehran Declaration, Iran accelerated its production of near-20 per cent uranium and began indigenously manufacturing fuel plates for the TRR.
With America and its European partners once again blowing an opening to accept Tehran’s nuclear rights and close a nuclear deal, we are likely to see another surge of expansion in Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. Certainly, Iran will continue enriching, at the three to four per cent level needed for power reactors and at the near-20 per cent level needed for the TRR, and installing more efficient second-generation centrifuges. Iran also appears to be on track to commission a heavy water reactor at Arak next year.
Although the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) consistently certifies that no nuclear materials have been diverted from Iran’s safeguarded nuclear facilities, all of these steps will be cited by Israel, the pro-Israel lobby in Washington, and other constituencies in the U.S. hankering for military action as evidence that time for diplomacy with Tehran has run out. Additionally, it is possible that the Islamic Republic will find legitimate reasons to begin enriching above the 20 per cent level. While such higher-level enrichment would be done under IAEA safeguards, this would also be interpreted in the U.S. and Israel as provocative Iranian “escalation.”
Pressure on Obama
Obama would prefer to avoid another U.S.-initiated war in the Middle East. But his unwillingness to revive America’s deteriorating regional position through serious nuclear diplomacy with Tehran will increase pressure on him to order U.S. military strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities before the end of his presidency.
Rather than openly abandon the delusion of U.S. hegemony in the Middle East, Obama will try to placate more hawkish elements by escalating America’s ongoing “dirty war” against the Islamic Republic — including economic warfare against civilians, threatening secondary sanctions against third countries in violation of U.S. WTO commitments, cyber-attacks, and support for groups doing things inside Iran that Washington elsewhere condemns as “terrorism,” stoking sectarian tensions, and fuelling further violence in Syria to prevent Tehran from “winning” there. But that, too, will only further destabilise the Middle East and bring American and Iran ever closer to the brink of overt confrontation.
Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett are authors of Going to Tehran: Why the United States Must Come to Terms with the Islamic Republic of Iran, New York: Metropolitan, 2013. They teach international relations, he at Penn State, she at American University.
- Nuclear Iran: What’s at Stake for the BRICS (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Flynt Leverett: U.S. Is Engaged in A Dirty War against Iran (alethonews.wordpress.com)
People like myself who are either paleoconservatives or libertarians generally base their opposition to Israel and its Lobby on the costs of the de facto alliance, both financial and in terms of the wars and political chaos it has triggered. We try to demonstrate how damage to rule of law and actual U.S. interests has been a byproduct of the relationship and seek to explain what a sane U.S. foreign policy might actually look like, end of story. But it is different sensibility coming from the more humanitarian inclined political left of the spectrum, which one would assume to have a natural inclination to oppose purveyors of oppression and human suffering. With that in mind, I would observe it is remarkable how ineffective the left has been in mobilizing any serious opposition to Israel’s policies.
There is a kind of groupthink that might provide an explanation for the lack of results in spite of what sometimes appears to be frenzied activity on the part of the cluster of liberal groups that focus on the Middle East. Gatherings to “Expose AIPAC” often focus on strategy and training, hardly discussing or challenging the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) at all. They also frequently fail to confront the full array of predominantly Jewish groups actively promoting Israel to include The Hudson Institute, WINEP, the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, MEMRI, the American Enterprise Institute’s foreign policy wing, and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. The plethora of well-resourced and actively engaged Jewish groups involved in foreign policy and more particularly Israel promotion is a fact of life inside the Beltway and a critical element supporting the interventionist narrative in spite of the country as a whole becoming decidedly war weary.
At the same time, most American Jews are actually either cool or even hostile to the policies of the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Peter Beinart has called for a boycott of goods produced in the Israeli settlements while Jeffrey Goldberg has denounced a coalition partner in Netanyahu’s government, writing “The Jewish Home party advances an ideology that will bring about the destruction (the self-destruction) of Israel.” This reaction to the Israeli drift rightwards politically speaking probably explains why most organizations on the political left that are critical of Israel are themselves led by American Jews and, to their credit, they are very outspoken regarding Israel’s human rights violations and its policies towards the Palestinians. But it sometimes seems that they are restrained in their critiques, something that might be attributed to what could be referred to as Jewish identity politics. Instead of biting the bullet and confronting the fact that it is leading Jewish organizations and their in-the-pocket politicians that have quite plausibly been the sine qua non in unleashing a series of actual and impending wars against the Muslim world, they instead sometimes serve as gatekeepers to frame and divert an uncomfortable truth while looking for alternative explanations.
Part of the problem is that even though major Jewish organizations’ support of interventionism represents what is only a minority opinion among Americans in general, they pretend to represent everyone who is Jewish and have successfully sold that canard to both congress and the media. And make no mistake, it is the financial and political muscle of Jewish groups like Anti-Defamation League, Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, The American Jewish Committee, and the AIPAC that have given the green light to the hard line Israeli governments that have done so much damage to U.S. interests over the past decade. Christian Zionists are highly visible and are frequently cited to demonstrate the diversity of the Israeli Lobby, but they are largely irrelevant in terms of the actual dynamics of the pro-Israel effort. The reality is that no other national lobby can gather 13,000 of the faithful to its convention and count on the enthusiastic presence of numerous politicians from both parties as AIPAC does every year. But in spite of the quite visible power of the Jewish organizations it is sometimes more convenient and less troubling to look instead for other reasons to explain Tel Aviv’s misbehavior.
Progressives who are nervous about mentioning the shameless politicking of Jewish organizations frequently parrot what I call the Noam Chomsky rationalization, engaging actively in criticizing Israeli behavior while at the same time blaming the Middle East farrago on outside forces like American imperialism, capitalism, or oil. This approach largely exonerates Israel from actual blame for what it does and it also by extension minimizes the role of the Jewish groups that constitute the core of the pro-Israel lobby because it is claimed that Washington drives the Israeli government’s behavior based on its own self-interest not vice versa. As a result, the critics seldom question the legitimacy of the self-defined Jewish state and they are sometimes reluctant to support any measures that would actually do damage to Israel and its perceived interests.
Norman Finkelstein, a reliable progressive critic of Israeli actions, is of the Chomsky persuasion. He believes that the United States would have attacked Iraq anyway based on its own interests whether or not the fervently pro-Israel neocons had occupied key positions in the Pentagon, National Security Council, and White House. Finkelstein, in an article on the Israel Lobby, maintains that “fundamental U.S. policy in the Middle East hasn’t been affected by the Lobby,” rejects the view that Israel is a liability for U.S. national interests and states instead that it is a “unique and irreplaceable American asset.” He describes American Jewish elites as only “’pro’ an Israel that is useful to the U.S.” He insists that the neocons do not “generally have a primary allegiance to Israel [or] in fact, any allegiance to Israel.” The evidence, however, suggests otherwise: even agreeing that the Iraq war had a number of godfathers, the folks in the Pentagon and White House who cooked the books and led the charge had extremely well documented strong personal and even financial ties to Israel, so much so that several of them were accused of passing classified information to the Israeli Embassy.
The shaping of the narrative to minimize the role of organizations that are demonstrably Jewish – albeit unrepresentative of Jewish opinion in America -has also been very effective in some media circles. An April 2007 ninety minute presentation on PBS’s Frontpage with Bill Moyers “Buying the War,” a critical look at the genesis of the Iraq invasion, did not mention Israel’s supporters even once. And one only has to consider the recent Obama trip to Israel as well as the interrogation at the Chuck Hagel nomination, which was driven by organizations like AIPAC from behind the scenes, to realize that the United States government is no free agent when it comes to Middle Eastern policy. Ignoring the dominant role of “Jewish leaders” and the well-funded organizations that they head which falsely pretend to represent their entire community is a convenient obfuscation if one does not want to address causality, a bit like being concerned about global warming without looking at the actual science.
President Obama recognizes the power represented by Jewish groups acting as a cohesive and focused political entity when he meets with them collectively in the White House, so why the reluctance in recognizing and confronting their persistent pro-war, pro-intervention agenda? At a March 7th session, shortly before his trip to Israel, Obama met with Alan Solow, Lee Rosenberg and Michael Kassen of AIPAC; Barry Curtiss-Lusher of the Anti-Defamation League; David Harris of the American Jewish Committee; Jerry Silverman of Jewish Federations of North America; Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz; former Congressman Robert Wexler; Dan Mariaschin of B’nai B’rith; Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; Jeremy Ben-Ami, executive director of J Street; and Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Admittedly the linking of Jewish organizations’ easy access to policymakers with their possible role in launching a string of failed wars in Asia and still more in the offing on behalf of Israel makes many people uncomfortable because it invites the dual loyalty critique and even more extreme commentary that is ultimately racist in nature, but there you have it. The president knows who is pulling his strings and so should the rest of us.
Americans can either confront the ugly realities of what has been going on for the past twelve years or they can pretend that what they are seeing is not really there. The gatekeepers are understandably concerned lest Washington’s next war be blamed on American Jews so it is far better to suggest against all evidence that Israel is a pawn of American imperialism or that recent wars have been about oil or capitalist exploitation. The reality is that if progressives (and the rest of us) really want to stop a proxy war against Syria followed by a catastrophic conflict with Iran we have to take the blinkers off and be willing to confront Jewish groups like AIPAC and the ADL directly and persistently.
- Israel’s Fraying Image (nationalinterest.org)
- AIPAC Bill Runs Into Unusual Resistance In Congress (alethonews.wordpress.com)
In 2013 it is possible that Israel, backed by the United States, will launch an attack on Iran. This would be a catastrophic event, risking war, bloodshed and global economic collapse.
In this passionate, but rationally argued essay, the authors attempt to avert a potential global catastrophe by showing that the grounds for war do not exist, that there are no Iranian nuclear weapons, and that Iran would happily come to the table and strike a deal. They argue that the military threats aimed by the West against Iran contravene international law, and argue that Iran is a civilised country and a legitimate power across the Middle East.
For years Peter Oborne and David Morrison have, in their respective fields, examined the actions of our political classes and found them wanting. Now they have joined forces to make a poweful case against military action. In the wake of the Iraq war, will the politicians listen?
Lebanon has asked the United Nations Security Council to condemn Israel for violating its sovereignty by air, sea, and land.
In a letter to the UN Security Council, Lebanon urged the 15-member body to “compel Israel to halt its violations of Lebanon’s sovereignty by air, sea and land, and carry out all its obligations in accordance with Resolution 1701,” Reuters reported on Monday.
UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which brokered a ceasefire in the war of aggression Israel launched against Lebanon in 2006, calls on Israel to respect Lebanon’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
“The Israeli Air Force continues to violate Lebanese airspace and in the previous days intensified its circuits above Lebanon. This constitutes a disgraceful violation of (Lebanon’s) sovereignty,” the letter said.
On Friday and Sunday, Israeli warplanes carried out two airstrikes on Syria. The Syrian government called the attacks a “flagrant violation of international law.”
On Sunday, Lebanese President Michel Sleiman condemned the Israeli airstrikes on Syria. A statement issued by Lebanon’s presidential office read: “Sleiman strongly condemned Israel’s aggression on Syrian sites [which it carried out] by violating Lebanese airspace to carry out these attacks.”
“This act is not unusual for a mutual enemy [such as Israel] whose policy is based on aggression that takes advantage of the circumstances Syria is going through to carry out its aggression just as it used to do in Lebanon during its days of crisis,” the statement added.
Lebanese caretaker Prime Minister Najib Miqati also denounced the strikes, saying they “underscored once again Israel’s aggressive intentions.”
“[The strikes] fall within the series of continuous aerial violations of Lebanon’s sovereignty and its threats against Lebanon,” he said in a statement issued on Sunday.
The Syrian Foreign Ministry has sent letters to the UN Security Council stating that Israel’s aggression shows the links between Tel Aviv and terrorist groups operating in Syria, including the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front.
Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoabi told reporters in Damascus on Sunday that Syria had the right and the duty to defend its people by all available means and it would not give in to Israeli acts of aggression.
The Israeli attacks on Syria have made the Middle East more dangerous, the Syrian information minister stated.
Israel’s reported second air strike on Syria in two days targeted a facility just outside the capital. But there was no escalation toward Israel to justify the attack – and Tel Aviv is only trying to drag the US into the conflict.
That’s the view of journalist and Middle East expert Ali Rizk, who told RT he believes the actions are Israel’s attempt to influence US Middle East policy.
RT: This isn’t just an isolated incident but a series of air offensives above a foreign territory. Why has Israel been so persistent despite the fact that such military action is a clear violation of international law?
Ali Rizk: I think you have to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. Remember that all of the furor and havoc about chemical weapons? Who was the one that made this first announcement…it was Itai Brun, the military intelligence Israeli official who made the announcement about Syria using chemical weapons from the very beginning, after President Obama had said time and again, “that is the red line.”
That didn’t succeed thus far in dragging the US to war against Syria so now I think we had two incidents.
There was a reported Israeli strike on a convoy and now we have indeed an Israeli strike on Jamraya. So I think we have a classical example of what we might call Israel trying to manipulate US policy in the Middle East, trying to drag Obama yet again into another confrontation.
I think that is the case which we have right now, once again. So Israel is going to continue with these practices until it drags the US into conflict.
Why? The reason being that the Syrian army has made military advancements very recently. It seems that Bashar Assad militarily has gained the upper hand so Israel realizes Assad won’t be going unless there’s outside intervention. So Israel is trying to drag the US by saying “If you don’t go in, then we shall wreak havoc. We shall go ahead with our own military escalation.”
RT: We’ve heard from commentators from Israel that the strikes are a balanced reaction. Do you agree?
AR: Balanced reaction to what? It’s in Israel’s interests for this to happen. Has there been any escalation against Israel for Israel to react? Has there been any military action, has Israel been attacked by any side, whether it be Hezbollah or Syria? Has Israel been attacked by any side whatsoever? Israel has not been attacked.
So we hear this talk about game-changing weapons. But that doesn’t give the right or justification for such escalation…I have to emphasize, the clear message if anyone had any doubts I think now it has become clear: Israel wants Bashar Assad to fall. That is Israel’s choice. Netanyahu himself has said time and again: “Syria is the linchpin between Iran and Hezbollah.”
RT: The Assad government, which has been portrayed as warring tyrant by many countries, has now become the victim of a powerful war machine. Could Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Iran weigh in if Syria did go to war with Israel?
AR: That’s the big question. The Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah made it clear and provides an answer to this question. In a speech last Thursday, he said that Syria’s real friends – meaning Hezbollah, Iran, and Russia – won’t allow Syria to fall into the hands of the US, Israel, or Al-Qaeda affiliates…
I think what you have now is that Iran and Hezbollah now have a new significant ally of real significant weight which is Russia, which is continuing to the Middle East scene once again. So I think that if we do have escalation, Iran will intervene, Hezbollah will intervene, and I think also we might speak about a Russian intervention or some kind of a Russia role because Russia clearly has been very much present and there saying “I am here and I have a significant say.”
- Israel Attempts to Provoke Hezbollah (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Thirteen years ago I knew very little about Israel-Palestine. Like most Americans, this seemed to be a distant, confusing conflict that had little to do with me. I was unaware –again, like most Americans – that American taxpayers give Israel over $8 million per day, more than we give to any other nation.
I was unaware that our nation has vetoed numerous United Nations efforts to reign in Israeli aggression; resolutions that were supported by almost every other country around the world. I was unaware that US actions were enabling a massive land theft and ongoing ethnic cleansing that has caused profound tragedy in the Middle East, deep damage to our own nation and endangered American lives.
My personal awakening to these facts and others began in the autumn of 2000 when the Palestinian uprising known as the Second Intifada began and was, for a while at least, in the American news. I grew curious about this conflict, determined to follow the news on it, and noticed quickly how one-sided the news coverage appeared to be. While we heard from and about Israelis frequently, the Palestinian side seemed to be largely glossed over at minimum, and was sometimes completely hidden.
I began searching for additional information on the Internet and was astounded at what I learned. Israeli forces were killing hundreds of largely unarmed Palestinian men, women and children; many of the children were being killed by gunshot wounds to the head.
While some Israelis were also being killed during this period, these deaths were far fewer and virtually invariably occurred after Palestinian deaths. Over 90 Palestinian children were killed before a single Israeli child. Over 140 Palestinian men, women and children living on their own land were killed before anyone in Israel was.
As I learned the nature of Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the true history of the region, it began to seem to me that this was the longest and possibly most significant cover-up I had ever come across. I finally decided to quit my job as the editor of a small community newspaper in northern California and go and see for myself what was going on, travelling to Israel-Palestine as a freelance reporter in February and March of 2001.
When I returned I created an organisation called “If Americans Knew” to provide the full facts to my fellow citizens and to study why and how US news coverage was failing to do this.
Israel-centrism and patterns of distortion
We have conducted a number of statistical studies on this issue and found that US media were covering Israeli deaths in far greater detail than they were covering those of Palestinian.
For example, the New York Times was reporting on Israeli children’s deaths at a rate seven times greater than they were covering Palestinian children’s deaths; this didn’t even include the far larger number of words and amount of personal information given about Israeli victims compared to Palestinians. We also found that primetime network news programmes were covering Israeli children’s deaths at rates up to 14 times greater than the coverage given to Palestinians.
I discovered a system of reporting from the region in which a violent conflict between an officially “Jewish state” and the Muslims and Christians it had dispossessed (and was in the process of dispossessing further) was being covered most of the time by journalists with legal, familial or emotional ties to Israel. A great many are Israeli citizens (though this is almost never disclosed) or married to Israelis, their children also being Israeli.
I discovered that the Associated Press control bureau for the region, from which virtually all news reports that appear in US newspapers were transmitted, was located in Israel and was staffed almost entirely by Israeli and Jewish journalists (many of whom had served in the Israeli military).
I learned that the son of the New York Times bureau chief was serving in the Israeli military while his father was reporting on the conflict. In fact, I discovered that it was common for journalists in the region reporting for American media to have close personal ties to the Israeli military; that at least one staff member had been serving in the Israeli military even as he was reporting for the NY Times; that US News & World Report’s senior foreign correspondent, who had covered and written about the Middle East for more than 40 years, had a son serving in the Israeli army during the time he was reporting there; that Middle East “pundit” Jeffrey Goldberg, whose commentary pervades both the print and broadcast media, is an Israeli citizen who served in the Israeli military.
I learned that CNN anchorman Wolf Blitzer lived in Israel for many years, at one point travelled around the US as the “voice of Israel” and had worked for an Israel lobby publication.
I learned that Time magazine’s bureau chief was an Israeli citizen, and that NPR’s long-time correspondent from the region had an Israeli husband who had served in the military and may be an Israeli citizen herself.
I also discovered that this pattern of Israel-centrism went beyond the regional reporting. In fact, the regional filtering of the news may not even be the most significant factor in the broken media reporting on this issue that Americans receive.
Within US-based journalism per se I discovered patterns of Israel-centrism that were deeply troubling. In some cases I personally experienced the intentional suppression of information on Palestine. Following are a few examples.
San Francisco Chronicle
While I was on my first trip to the Middle East I had met with a managing editor at the San Francisco Chronicle before I left and told him of my intention to report from the region. He had been quite interested and asked me to send him my first-hand reports.
During my trip, despite the difficulties in doing this, I sent him several reports at a time when almost no other American journalists were in the West Bank or, especially, Gaza. None were printed.
Finally, he sent me an email saying that he might be able to publish some of my reports, but that this would be “political”. This was unusually honest but quite troubling. It should not be “political” to publish on-the-scene reporting.
While he never explained the obstacles confronting such reports, I suspect they had to do with the fact that the top editor at the time, Phil Bronstein, tilts toward Israel; that numerous advertisers were pro-Israel; that the pro-Israel power structure is extremely strong in California; that pro-Israel organisations in the US invariably mount protests and boycotts if newspapers stray too far from their preferences; and that others are frequently afraid of being called “anti-Semitic” and of the potential damage honest journalism on this topic could do to their careers.
A few years later a journalist who had worked for the Chronicle for many years, Henry Norr, was fired by Bronstein. While a different rationale was put forward for Norr’s termination, Norr himself believes that the real reason was his activities related to Palestine. He had written a column about an Intel factory constructed illegally on Palestinian land and had also given a lunchtime briefing to staffers about a trip he had taken to the West Bank.
Still another former Chronicle journalist has described the inner workings related to news coverage of Israel-Palestine; that most of those editing wire copy were Israel partisans, that this journalist was largely kept away from editing reports on the issue; and that there was an atmosphere in which anti-Arab cartoons were sometimes posted on a bulletin board.
In 2004 our organisation conducted a statistical study of the Chronicle’s coverage during the first six months of the Second Intifada and discovered that the Chronicle had covered 150 per cent of Israeli children’s deaths and only 5 per cent of Palestinian children’s deaths. Before releasing it to the public I phoned Bronstein to meet with him to present it in person, the normal protocol. He failed to return my phone calls. At a public forum I again requested such a meeting. In front of a large audience Bronstein promised to meet. Yet, he later again refused to return phone calls and this meeting never transpired.
We then released our report publicly and distributed it as widely as possible. In addition, some groups and individuals disseminated thousands of fliers containing some of our key charts and statistics, headlined “What Children Matter?” These activities, of course, received considerable attention, and I feel were far more valuable than a meeting.
Gannett is one of the top news chains in the US. According to its website, it consists of 82 daily newspapers, including USA TODAY, and it reaches 11.6 million readers every weekday and 12 million readers every Sunday. USA TODAY is the nation’s top newspaper in print circulation, reaching 6.6 million readers daily.
In addition to its newspapers, Gannett owns 23 TV stations, which reach 21 million households, covering 18.2 per cent of the US population. It also delivers news on 9,500 video screens located in elevators of office towers and select hotel lobbies across North America.
In 2001 a Gannett reporter who was writing a series of articles in the wake of the 9-11 attacks, heard about my trip to the region six months before the attacks and phoned me for an interview. He was extremely interested in my story and ended up calling me several more times for follow-up interviews, asked me to send him all my reports from my trip, and upon receiving them he was quite complimentary about their quality.
The reporter then sent a photographer to take pictures of me in my home for the article, had her express mail them to him, and said the story would be coming out soon.
We were in the process of creating the If Americans Knew website at the time and hurried to make this live, since this would be major exposure.
A little later I went on a speaking tour and a reporter from a community newspaper in a tiny newspaper chain in New York State interviewed me for his paper. A few days later he wrote to me saying that the newspaper owner had killed his article. He said this was the first time this had ever happened to him.
I then realised that I had never seen the Gannett newspaper article on me and If Americans Knew. I emailed the reporter, told him about this incident, and asked him if I had missed his article or whether the same thing had happened to him. I hadn’t missed it. He said that his editor had similarly killed the story.
I later saw an article by this reporter about Americans visiting Iraq who were highly critical of the US government. It is interesting that this subject matter was permissible, but not a feature on someone critical of Israel.
National Public Radio – Vermont and Michigan
Several years later I was on a speaking tour in Vermont and New Hampshire and was to be interviewed on a local affiliate of the influential National Public Radio network. When I arrived at the radio station it turned out that the radio host who had agreed to do this was not available and another person was going to do the interview, someone called Neal Charnoff.
Charnoff and the programme producer took me back to the studio where they would record the interview for later broadcast. Oddly, the regular sound engineer was told he could go outside and take a break, and the producer took over.
The host began his first question with a statement that my articles contained “anti-Semitic” overtones. I interrupted him immediately, said this was untrue, and asked him what he was talking about – which specific articles or statements that I had written did he claim were “anti-Semitic”?
He could not answer. I wondered if he had even read anything I had written or whether he was simply repeating the unfounded accusations by the Anti-Defamation League, a fanatically pro-Israel organisation that has been implicated in a vast spying operation on Americans.
Flustered at the embarrassment at having made a statement based on no evidence, he began the interview again in a more normal fashion. I told him about my trip to the West Bank and Gaza Strip and what I had found.
Within a few minutes, and sooner than the scheduled end of the interview, he stopped it. He turned off the equipment and said they would not be airing it.
I was shocked and asked him why not. There was then a brief conversation in which he, and to a lesser extent the producer, defended Israel against the statement of facts I had made about what I had seen. The producer, who seemed to be more reasonable – and who also may have realised that Charnoff’s intention to kill the interview so publicly would reflect badly on the station – said that she was sure they would be able to broadcast something.
They eventually did so. They did not, however, include information on my upcoming talks in the area, information that would normally have been included. I noticed later that Charnoff’s interviews frequently seem to focus on the Jewish experience and that a disproportionate number of the authors, musicians, etc., that he highlights on his programme are Jews.
Another incident took place in another NPR affiliate, this one in Ann Arbor, Michigan, location of the University of Michigan, one of the top public universities in the United States.
One way that we and other groups try to get around the media’s reluctance to report fully and accurately on Palestine is through the placement of paid advertising. Sometimes even this is censored.
WUOM, the largest NPR affiliate in the state of Michigan, apparently at the direction of its head, Steve Schram, refused to run a spot giving the name of our organisation. Then, when we challenged this censorship, the station supplied a number of fraudulent and ever-changing explanations. Only after fighting this over a year and involving the university administration and a small sit-in in the WUOM office were we able to force them to include our name in a paid advertisement.
American History Magazine/Weider History Group
Still another incident occurred when we tried to buy an advertisement in American History magazine. The ad was to promote the autobiography of CNI’s founder, former US Congressman Paul Findley. We were told that the magazine would not publish the advertisement because CNI was “anti-Israel”. In fact, they informed us that none of their other 10 magazines would run the ad either.
We were amazed to learn that almost all the national popular history magazines in the United States are published by the Weider History group; American History, World War II, Military History, Vietnam, Armchair General, the Civil War, etc.
According to its website, the Weider History Group is the largest chain of history magazines in the world, making its pro-Israel bias particularly important. George Orwell’s words suggest the significance of the Weider censorship within its history magazines: “Who controls the past controls the future.”
As their censorship of our ad because they considered us “anti-Israel” would suggest, the Weiders are very close to Israel. The co-founder of the Weider empire is one of six North American chairmen of the Jerusalem Fund of Aish HaTorah, which takes political leaders, corporate executives, investors and entertainment personages on private trips to Israel to increase their support for the country.
A Weider foundation has given large grants to another Aish HaTorah-connected organisation, the Los Angeles-based American Friends of Aish Hatorah, a nationalistic Israeli organization that promotes Israel in the United States and has a programme to create and equip advocates for Israel on American campuses. Aish has been connected to the production of pseudo-documentaries promoting Islamophobia that were distributed in America.
The Weiders originally brought future movie star and California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to the US and played a major role in building both his personal and political career. Weider patriarch Joe Weider once proclaimed proudly, “We created Arnold.” As California governor, Schwarzenegger promoted Israel, stating, “I love Israel. When I became governor, Israel was the first country that I visited.”
The Media role in US policy formation
Thirteen years ago when I grew curious about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I had no idea that my questions would lead me to discover such an extraordinary pattern of influence on behalf of a foreign country in the US media.
This influence, I believe, may be the single most significant factor in creating America’s uniquely massive support for Israel. If American news organisations had been reporting fully and accurately on the region; if they had exposed the pro-Israel lobby’s power and manipulation in the United States; if they had covered the damage done to Americans by policies centred on what would “benefit” Israel rather than Americans (though not, I believe, those Israelis dreaming of peace), I have no doubt that US policies would be vastly different than those we see today.
Moreover, I feel that it is US support for Israel that has supplied the economic, military and diplomatic support for Israel to continue with astoundingly aggressive and oppressive policies. As such, exposing and overcoming pro-Israel power over information in the US about Israel-Palestine may, I believe, be the most important activity that those seeking justice and peace in the Middle East can undertake.
Providing Americans with the full facts on the region; on the determining influence on our media, our government and our country by Israel and its partisans; and on the devastating, wide-ranging damage created by the current situation, will eventually, I have no doubt, bring the momentous change that is so urgently needed. In fact, given that the US has a history of being a very changeable country, if enough resources are devoted to this effort, such a transformation could occur in less time that some long-time observers might expect.
Alison Weir is executive director of If Americans Knew and president of the Council for the National Interest. She is the author of Against our Better Judgment: The Hidden History of how the United States was used to create Israel. For copies write to email@example.com.
- Cynthia McKinney: Israel Lobby shaping US policy (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Obama’s Peace Antics in Israel – Four More Years of This? (alethonews.wordpress.com)
As some of you know, my film EXILE, A MYTH UNEARTHED, which examines the myth of the Jewish EXILE and its political impact on both Israeli Jews and Palestinians in the Middle East, was going to be shown on the BBC Thursday April 25th. It was pulled out of the schedule only a few days earlier.
Since than I was flooded by dozens of emails of angry and concerned viewers asking what happened. To be honest I debated whether to tell the story of what I think had happened. I have worked with the BBC in the past on some programs that were deemed controversial and I never had any political censorship. On the contrary I was impressed by the integrity and fairness of the people I dealt with.
So based on my past experience, I was going to wait patiently until the BBC programming executives would solve the internal drama that apparently has begun to brew inside the BBC. “The film is gorgeous, courageous and fresh, “ I was told several times by the programming executives. I was promised that the cancellation was temporary: “Given the short timescale and your workload, we have decided to delay transmission until we’ve had the chance you’ve had the chance to go through it in detail”.
I naively believed and decided to wait quietly. But things have their own momentum and as I learned more, I realized that the story of “EXILE” in the BBC is far more complex.
Among the dozens of emails I received one caught my attention. It included the official email response from the BBC to the inquiry/complaint sent to irate viewers who contacted the BBC asking why the program was pulled out of the schedule. This email contradicted a private email sent to me by the programming executives. I was intrigued.
I discovered after quick research that while I was contacted by the BBC barely a week before the broadcast asking for my comments about the cut, the BBC have had the film for almost 6 months. So why was this sudden rush which supposedly was the excuse given to me as to why the film was pulled out? Why was I contacted so late in the game? And why was there a discrepancy between what was told to me and the “official” version . I started to dig a bit deeper and to put my findings in a blog, rather than answer the dozens of people who wrote to me privately.
This is not a personal issue. This is ultimately a sad saga of what I believe is a mixture of incompetence, political naiveté, conscious or subconscious political pressure and ultimately, I believe, a lack of courage of broadcasters when they are faced with the complexity of the Middle East issue and the intense emotions, fears and aggression it generates. Once you indeed depersonalize this incident, you gain a fascinating insight into how subtle and complex is the process by which our understanding of the Israeli Palestinian conflict is being shaped and what happens when one dares to raise questions about issues deemed by some as taboos. It is this insight that I think is worth sharing and detailing.
The story begins for me with the name. I discovered only 3 days before the broadcast that the BBC has been using a different name for the film: Jerusalem – An Archeological Mystery Story. It struck me as an odd choice that seems to camouflage the film’s real subject and repackages it as a neutral archeological mystery of sort- like the hundreds of hours one can see on cable and Satellite channels throughout the world.
“ Exile” of course is not about a mystery, neither it is limited to archeology or to Jerusalem. The name and the illusion that one can pretend that this film is just about archeology and its mysteries are at the core I believe of Thursday’s fiasco.
Digging deeper I also learned that this title was established back in November 2012 in the agreement between the National Film Board of Canada (one of the film’s co producers and its int’l distributor) and the BBC. I was approached by the distributor to see if I would agree for the BBC to cut down the program. I agreed to it on the condition that I would be consulted so the integrity of the longer version (104 min) would be preserved. I also said that if I was not to be consulted my name should be removed from the program and the cut down will be listed as an “adaptation from a film by Ilan Ziv”. From my access to some internal documents, it is obvious now that the BBC was not genuinely interested in my getting involved. As the documents suggest, they already announced that the cut down version would be an adaptation.
So back in November 2012, everything seemed to be on track to produce a cut down of the film without having to deal with the director, broadcast the film under a neutral title and hopefully avoid any serious political debate. A perfect solution! So what went wrong?
Fast forward to Saturday April 20th 2013 when I received an email from a friend in the UK who saw that “my” film Jerusalem; An Archeological Mystery Story was going to be broadcast on BBC 4. He even read a preview of it in the Guardian. The preview promised that the film “ will ruffle some feathers”. Two days earlier I did receive from the editor who cut the film a copy of the cut for me to comment on, but there was no mention of an impeding broadcast date!
On Monday, 3 days before the broadcast, I fired an email to the BBC programming executives complaining that it is unfair to expect me to spend time reviewing the cut and coming up with suggestions of a re cut, when I was given only a few days before a broadcast date that no one bothered to inform me about. I pleaded for more time. It was only when one of the programming executives called me, I realized that there were much bigger issues for her than my complaint about being pushed into an impossible schedule.
The program executive seemed genuinely shocked that a freelance employee hired by the BBC to take part in the re-versioning process called the film “propaganda”. When I asked if this unnamed person had specific examples to support such a sweeping charge, I was told that she claimed that , “Everything was propaganda”. And there was more.
An “unnamed” BBC insider who I was told “liked the film,” claimed that the film props up the myth of Exile “ which we all know did not happen, in order to support his political analysis”. I learned that the cut I was given was now irrelevant, since some internal review deemed one scène with the Palestinians to be “too emotive” and they were asked to cut it down. Realizing that a mini political storm was brewing around the film and attacks lodged against its integrity, I asked and was promised that I would be given at least a summary of the essential charges so I could answer them in length. I am obviously very familiar with some of them and could easily and in detail refute them. I told the programming executive that my reply would help them to defend the film in the Channel. After all, they professed to love the film and seemed genuinely interested to show it. I told them it was very easy for me to prepare a detailed rebuttal with citation of sources for every word of the narration, the overall analysis and for every scene. I told them that some of the academic participants in the program who saw the cut and are reputable scholars in their field did not find any factual errors or misrepresentations of facts or of the historical narrative. In other words, I argued that such a detailed and substantial defense would convince any objective reader and observer of the editorial integrity of the film. I repeated the request several times yet I never got a reply. Instead, I received an email telling me that they decided to pull it out of the schedule, citing the “ short timetable and my work load “( !) A few days later I saw the “official” version that went to the public:
“We originally acquired ‘Jerusalem: An Archaeological Mystery Story’ to supplement BBC Four’s season exploring the history of archaeology. However, we have decided that it doesn’t fit editorially and are no longer planning to show it as part of the season. Plans to broadcast the program are currently under review” So Exile, A myth unearthed has begun its own exile within the BBC.
I do believe it is ultimately a sad saga. A saga of well meaning programming executives who acquired the “courageous “ film they claim to love, believing that they can sneak it by with a “neutral title”. When they were “caught”, rather than face the criticism and be helped by the mountains of documents and data I was ready to send them, they panicked like deer in the headlights not knowing what to do and eventually raised their hands in resignation.
The truth of the matter is that the reaction outside and inside the BBC surprised me too. The film by now has been shown in a Jewish Festival in Toronto, playing in a screening room there for a week. It was shown on Canadian TV with a second broadcast planned for June. Another version of the film is scheduled to be shown in France and the original version in Switzerland ,with hopefully screenings in the US later in the year. The response in all the public screenings, some of which I attended, was overall extremely positive. Nowhere did the film generate such a reaction as that of the few individuals inside and outside the BBC.
The temporary success to “exile” the film might prove I believe to be a pyrrhic victory.
EXILE does not deal with contemporary politics in the Middle East, rather, it proposes to examine their ideological and historical underpinnings. EXILE has not contributed to the political stalemate in the region nor to the continued bloodshed, occupation and violence. It is a film born out of the continued violence. Rather than propose a simplistic solution or an aspirational political program , it tries to suggest a possible way out by re examining the historical narratives we all grew up on, suggesting that in this tormented land there are historical models of co existence and tolerance that could replace the dominant conventional nationalist ones. Silencing this film is silencing a possibility of discussion, debate and re examination not of the current political stalemate but of the intellectual stalemate that contributes to it.
I hope that somewhere in the BBC someone will rise above the hysteria and the attempts at self censorship to take a cooler look at the film and realize how it has been profoundly mis-characterized , -viewing it through partisan glasses instead of looking at it for what it is: a film that can and has already in its public screenings generated dialogue and positive, thinking rather than perpetuating divisions and polarization.
So for me this is not the end of EXILE in the UK but only the beginning. I will show the film publically throughout the UK and will challenge the BBC to either broadcast the film or relinquish its rights. I have offered to buy these rights so I could place the film elsewhere in the UK.
The saga of EXILE will continue. Stay tuned!
Exile – A Myth Unearthed (Trailer)
Egypt said it quits Non-Proliferation Treaty talks to protest the failure of the parties involved to implement a resolution aimed to free Middle East from nuclear weapons. Although not articulated, Israel is said to be the reason for the withdrawal.
“We cannot continue waiting forever for the implementation of this resolution,” Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Monday, as talks in Geneva entered second week.
Cairo said it was pulling out of the talks “to send a strong message of non-acceptance of the continued lack of seriousness in dealing with the establishment of a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East.”
Egypt called for more responsibility from member states in “implementing legitimate international resolutions” saying there is “continued lack of seriousness in dealing with the establishment of a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East.”
Egypt’s comments are largely seen as reference to neighboring Israel, which neither confirms nor denies the possession of nuclear weapons.
“Egypt along with many Arab countries has joined the treaty with the understanding that it would lead to a Middle East completely free of nuclear weapons. However, more than 30 years later, one country in the Middle East, namely Israel, remains outside the NPT,” Egypt`s Assistant Foreign Minister Hisham Badr told a news conference in Geneva earlier this month.
Arab states and Iran have repeatedly warned that the Israeli purported nuclear program threatens peace in the region.
Editor of the website Palestinian Chronicle, Ramzy Baroud, believes Egypt’s move is a significant step, but one that mainly emphasizes the double standards of how some country’s nuclear ambitions are handled by Western states.
“It is very important what Egypt has done. Because what applies to Israel should apply to everyone else and Israel should not expect preferential treatment as far as this issue is concerned.” But Baroud also believes that such apparent favoritism is unlikely to change anytime soon, given what’s at stake for countries like the US.
“They [Israel] are living up to the US governments’ expectations in the past, keeping hush about their nuclear power, but at the same time [the US] asked them not to declare it openly because, if they do so, it will become a very difficult legal issue for the US to deal with, and they would be subject to international pressure.” US and Israeli officials have said that one of the necessary conditions to enable a nuclear arms-free zone in the Middle East is Iran’s nuclear program curbed. Meanwhile, Tehran claims its nuclear program solely pursues peaceful purposes such as energy and research.
The Geneva talks were meant to prepare for the next major review of the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Held every five years, the next one is scheduled for 2015.
The NPT, originated in 1970, was introduced to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy. According to the document five states were recognized as nuclear-weapon states: the US, Russia, the UK, France and China.
A total of 190 parties have signed the treaty. Israel, India, Pakistan, North Korea and South Sudan are not signatories to the NPT. Pyongyang withdrew from the treaty in 2003 when it was accused of launching an enriched uranium weapons program.