Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
Disclaimer: In accordance with title 17 u.s.c. section 107, this material is distributed without profit for research and educational purposes.
The Sir! No Sir! Blog has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is the Sir! No Sir! Blog endorsed or sponsored by the originator. Links are provided to allow for verification of authenticity.
This article by James Petras, was posted to Information Clearing House, August 21, 2009
The US seven-year war and occupation of Iraq is driven by several major political forces and informed by a variety of imperial interests. However these interests do not in themselves explain the depth and scope of the sustained, massive and continuing destruction of an entire society and its reduction to a permanent state of war. The range of political forces contributing to the making of the war and the subsequent US occupation include the following (in order of importance):
The most important political force was also the least openly discussed. The Zionist Power Configuration (ZPC), which includes the prominent role of long-time, hard-line unconditional Jewish supporters of the State of Israel appointed to top positions in the Bush Pentagon (Douglas Feith and Paul Wolfowitz ), key operative in the Office of the Vice President (Irving (Scooter) Libby), the Treasury Department (Stuart Levey), the National Security Council (Elliot Abrams) and a phalanx of consultants, Presidential speechwriters (David Frum), secondary officials and policy advisers to the State Department. These committed Zionists ‘insiders’ were buttressed by thousands of full-time Israel-First functionaries in the 51 major American Jewish organizations, which form the President of the Major American Jewish Organizations (PMAJO). They openly stated that their top priority was to advance Israel’s agenda, which, in this case, was a US war against Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein, occupy the country, physically divide Iraq, destroy its military and industrial capability and impose a pro-Israel/pro-US puppet regime. If Iraq were ethnically cleansed and divided, as advocated by the ultra-right, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and the ‘Liberal’ President Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations and militarist-Zionist, Leslie Gelb, there would be more than several ‘client regimes’.
Top Zionist policymakers who promoted the war did not initially directly pursue the policy of systematically destroying what, in effect, was the entire Iraqi civilization. But their support and design of an occupation policy included the total dismemberment of the Iraqi state apparatus and recruitment of Israeli advisers to provide their ‘expertise’ in interrogation techniques, repression of civilian resistance and counter-insurgency. Israeli expertise certainly played a role in fomenting the intra-Iraqi religious and ethnic strife, which Israel had mastered in Palestine. The Israeli ‘model’ of colonial war and occupation – the invasion of Lebanon in 1982 – and the practice of ‘total destruction’ using sectarian, ethno-religious division was evident in the notorious massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut, which took place under Israeli military supervision.
The second powerful political force behind the Iraq War were civilian militarists (like Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney) who sought to extend US imperial reach in the Persian Gulf and strengthen its geo-political position by eliminating a strong, secular, nationalist backer of Arab anti-imperialist insurgency in the Middle East. The civilian militarists sought to extend the American military base encirclement of Russia and secure control over Iraqi oil reserves as a pressure point against China. The civilian militarists were less moved by Vice President Cheney’s past ties with the oil industry and more interested in his role as CEO of Halliburton’s giant military base contractor subsidiary Kellogg-Brown and Root, which was consolidating the US Empire through worldwide military base expansion. Major US oil companies, who feared losing out to European and Asian competitors, were already eager to deal with Saddam Hussein, and some of the Bush’s supporters in the oil industry had already engaged in illegal trading with the embargoed Iraqi regime. The oil industry was not inclined to promote regional instability with a war.
The militarist strategy of conquest and occupation was designed to establish a long-term colonial military presence in the form of strategic military bases with a significant and sustained contingent of colonial military advisors and combat units. The brutal colonial occupation of an independent secular state with a strong nationalist history and an advanced infrastructure with a sophisticated military and police apparatus, extensive public services and wide-spread literacy naturally led to the growth of a wide array of militant and armed anti-occupation movements. In response, US colonial officials, the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agencies devised a ‘divide and rule’ strategy (the so-called ‘El Salvador solution’ associated with the former ‘hot-spot’ Ambassador and US Director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte) fomenting armed sectarian-based conflicts and promoting inter-religious assassinations to debilitate any effort at a united nationalist anti-imperialist movement. The dismantling of the secular civilian bureaucracy and military was designed by the Zionists in the Bush Administration to enhance Israel’s power in the region and to encourage the rise of militant Islamic groups, which had been repressed by the deposed Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein. Israel had mastered this strategy earlier: It originally sponsored and financed sectarian Islamic militant groups, like Hamas, as an alternative to the secular Palestine Liberation Organization and set the stage for sectarian fighting among the Palestinians.
The result of US colonial policies were to fund and multiply a wide range of internal conflicts as mullahs, tribal leaders, political gangsters, warlords, expatriates and death squads proliferated. The ‘war of all against all’ served the interests of the US occupation forces. Iraq became a pool of armed, unemployed young men, from which to recruit a new mercenary army. The ‘civil war’ and ‘ethnic conflict’ provided a pretext for the US and its Iraqi puppets to discharge hundreds of thousands of soldiers, police and functionaries from the previous regime (especially if they were from Sunni, mixed or secular families) and to undermine the basis for civilian employment. Under the cover of generalized ‘war against terror’, US Special Forces and CIA-directed death squads spread terror within Iraqi civil society, targeting anyone suspected of criticizing the puppet government – especially among the educated and professional classes, precisely the Iraqis most capable of re-constructing an independent secular republic.
The Iraq war was driven by an influential group of neo-conservative and neo-liberal ideologues with strong ties to Israel. They viewed the success of the Iraq war (by success they meant the total dismemberment of the country) as the first ‘domino’ in a series of war to ‘re-colonize’ the Middle East (in their words: “to re-draw the map”). They disguised their imperial ideology with a thin veneer of rhetoric about ‘promoting democracies’ in the Middle East (excluding, of course, the un-democratic policies of their ‘homeland’ Israel over its subjugated Palestinians). Conflating Israeli regional hegemonic ambitions with the US imperial interests, the neo-conservatives and their neo-liberal fellow travelers in the Democratic Party first backed President Bush and later President Obama in their escalation of the wars against Afghanistan and Pakistan. They unanimously supported Israel’s savage bombing campaign against Lebanon, the land and air assault and massacre of thousands of civilians trapped in Gaza, the bombing of Syrian facilities and the big push (from Israel) for a pre-emptive, full-scale military attack against Iran.
The US advocates of sequential and multiple simultaneous wars in the Middle East and South Asia believed that they could only unleash the full strength of their mass destructive power after they had secured total control of their first victim, Iraq. They were confident that Iraqi resistance would collapse rapidly after 13 years of brutal starvation sanctions imposed on the republic by the US and United Nations. In order to consolidate imperial control, American policy-makers decided to permanently silence all independent Iraqi civilian dissidents. They turned to the financing of Shia clerics and Sunni tribal assassins, and contracting scores of thousands of private mercenaries among the Kurdish Peshmerga warlords to carry out selective assassinations of leaders of civil society movements.
The US created and trained a 200,000 member Iraqi colonial puppet army composed almost entirely of Shia gunmen, and excluded experienced Iraqi military men from secular, Sunni or Christian backgrounds. A little known result of this build up of American trained and financed death squads and its puppet ‘Iraqi’ army, was the virtual destruction of the ancient Iraqi Christian population, which was displaced, its churches bombed and its leaders, bishops and intellectuals, academics and scientists assassinated or driven into exile. The US and its Israeli advisers were well aware that Iraqi Christians had played a key role the historic development of the secular, nationalist, anti-British/anti-monarchist movements and their elimination as an influential force during the first years of US occupation was no accident. The result of the US policies were to eliminate most secular democratic anti-imperialist leaders and movements and to present their murderous net-work of ‘ethno-religious’ collaborators as their uncontested ‘partners’ in sustaining the long-term US colonial presence in Iraq. With their puppets in power, Iraq would serve as a launching platform for its strategic pursuit of the other ‘dominoes’ (Syria, Iran, Central Asian Republics…).
The sustained bloody purge of Iraq under US occupation resulted in the killing 1.3 million Iraqi civilians during the first 7 years after Bush invaded in March 2003. Up to mid-2009, the invasion and occupation of Iraq has officially cost the American treasury over $666 billion. This enormous expenditure attests to its centrality in the larger US imperial strategy for the entire Middle East/South and Central Asia region. Washington’s policy of politicizing and militarizing ethno-religious differences, arming and encouraging rival tribal, religious and ethnic leaders to engage in mutual bloodletting served to destroy national unity and resistance. The ‘divide and rule’ tactics and reliance on retrograde social and religious organizations is the commonest and best-known practice in pursuing the conquest and subjugation of a unified, advanced nationalist state. Breaking up the national state, destroying nationalist consciousness and encouraging primitive ethno-religious, feudal and regional loyalties required the systematic destruction of the principal purveyors of nationalist consciousness, historical memory and secular, scientific thought. Provoking ethno-religious hatreds destroyed intermarriages, mixed communities and institutions with their long-standing personal friendships and professional ties among diverse backgrounds. The physical elimination of academics, writers, teachers, intellectuals, scientists and professionals, especially physicians, engineers, lawyers, jurists and journalists was decisive in imposing ethno-religious rule under a colonial occupation. To establish long-term dominance and sustain ethno-religious client rulers, the entire pre-existing cultural edifice, which had sustained an independent secular nationalist state, was physically destroyed by the US and its Iraqi puppets. This included destroying the libraries, census bureaus, and repositories of all property and court records, health departments, laboratories, schools, cultural centers, medical facilities and above all the entire scientific-literary-humanistic social scientific class of professionals. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi professionals and family members were driven by terror into internal and external exile. All funding for national, secular, scientific and educational institutions were cut off. Death squads engaged in the systematic murder of thousands of academics and professionals suspected of the least dissent, the least nationalist sentiment; anyone with the least capacity to re-construct the republic was marked. The Destruction of a Modern Arab Civilization
Independent, secular Iraq had the most advanced scientific-cultural order in the Arab world, despite the repressive nature of Saddam Hussein’s police state. There was a system of national health care, universal public education and generous welfare services, combined with unprecedented levels of gender equality. This marked the advanced nature of Iraqi civilization in the late 20th century. Separation of church and state and strict protection of religious minorities (Christians, Assyrians and others) contrasts sharply with what has resulted from the US occupation and its destruction of the Iraqi civil and governmental structures. The harsh dictatorial rule of Saddam Hussein thus presided over a highly developed modern civilization in which advanced scientific work went hand in hand with a strong nationalist and anti-imperialist identity. This resulted especially in the Iraqi people and regime’s expressions of solidarity for the plight of the Palestinian people under Israeli rule and occupation.
A mere ‘regime change’ could not extirpate this deeply embedded and advanced secular republican culture in Iraq. The US war planners and their Israeli advisers were well aware that colonial occupation would increase Iraqi nationalist consciousness unless the secular nation was destroyed and hence, the imperial imperative to uproot and destroy the carriers of nationalist consciousness by physically eliminating the educated, the talented, the scientific, indeed the most secular elements of Iraqi society. Retrogression became the principal instrument for the US to impose its colonial puppets, with their primitive, ‘pre-national’ loyalties, in power in a culturally purged Baghdad stripped of its most sophisticated and nationalistic social strata.
According to the Al-Ahram Studies Center in Cairo, more that 310 Iraqi scientists were eliminated during the first 18 months of the US occupation – a figure that the Iraqi education ministry did not dispute.
Another report listed the killings of more than 340 intellectuals and scientists between 2005 and 2007. Bombings of institutes of higher education had pushed enrollment down to 30% of the pre-invasion figures. In one bombing in January 2007, at Baghdad’s Mustansiriya University 70 students were killed with hundreds wounded. These figures compelled the UNESCO to warn that Iraq’s university system was on the brink of collapse. The numbers of prominent Iraqi scientists and professionals who have fled the country have approached 20,000. Of the 6,700 Iraqi university professors who fled since 2003, the Los Angeles Times reported than only 150 had returned by October 2008. Despite the US claims of improved security, the situation in 2008 saw numerous assassinations, including the only practicing neurosurgeon in Iraq’s second largest city of Basra, whose body was dumped on the city streets.
The raw data on the Iraqi academics, scientists and professionals assassinated by the US and allied occupation forces and the militias and shadowy forces they control is drawn from a list published by the Pakistan Daily News (www.daily.pk) on November 26, 2008. This list makes for very uncomfortable reading into the reality of systematic elimination of intellectuals in Iraq under the meat-grinder of US occupation. Assassinations
The physical elimination of an individual by assassination is an extreme form of terrorism, which has far-reaching effects rippling throughout the community from which the individual comes – in this case the world of Iraqi intellectuals, academics, professionals and creative leaders in the arts and sciences. For each Iraqi intellectual murdered, thousands of educated Iraqis fled the country or abandoned their work for safer, less vulnerable activity.
Baghdad was considered the ‘Paris’ of the Arab world, in terms of culture and art, science and education. In the 1970’s and 80’s, its universities were the envy of the Arab world. The US ‘shock and awe’ campaign that rained down on Baghdad evoked emotions akin to an aerial bombardment of the Louvre, the Sorbonne and the greatest libraries of Europe. Baghdad University was one of the most prestigious and productive universities in the Arab world. Many of its academics possessed doctoral degrees and engaged in post-doctoral studies abroad at prestigious institutions. It taught and graduated many of the top professionals and scientists in the Middle East. Even under the deadly grip of the US/UN-imposed economic sanctions that starved Iraq during the 13 years before the March 2003 invasion, thousands of graduate students and young professionals came to Iraq for post-graduate training. Young physicians from throughout the Arab world received advanced medical training in its institutions. Many of its academics presented scientific papers at major international conferences and published in prestigious journals. Most important, Baghdad University trained and maintained a highly respected scientific secular culture free of sectarian discrimination – with academics from all ethnic and religious backgrounds.
This world has been forever shattered: Under US occupation, up to November 2008, eighty-three academics and researchers teaching at Baghdad University had been murdered and several thousand of their colleagues, students and family members were forced to flee. The Selection of Assassinated Academics by Discipline
The November 2008 article published by the Pakistan Daily News lists the names of a total of 154 top Baghdad-based academics, renowned in their fields, who were murdered. Altogether, a total of 281 well-known intellectuals teaching at the top universities in Iraq fell victim to the ‘death squads’ under US occupation.
Prior to the US occupation, Baghdad University possessed the premier research and teaching medical faculty in the entire Middle East attracting hundreds of young doctors for advanced training. That program has been devastated during the rise of the US-death squad regime, with few prospects of recovery. Of those murdered, 25% (21) were the most senior professors and lecturers in the medical faculty of Baghdad University, the highest percentage of any faculty. The second highest percentage of butchered faculty were the professors and researchers from Baghdad University’s renowned engineering faculty (12), followed by the top academics in the humanities (10), physical and social sciences (8 senior academics each), education (5). The remaining top academics murdered at Baghdad University spread out among the agronomy, business, physical education, communications and religious studies faculties.
At three other Baghdad universities, 53 senior academics were slaughtered, including 10 in the social sciences, 7 in the faculty of law, 6 each in medicine and the humanities, 9 in the physical sciences and 5 in engineering. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld’s August 20, 2002 pre-invasion joke, “…one has to assume they (scientists) have not been playing ‘tiddlywinks’(a child’s game)”( justifying the bloody purge of Iraq’s scientists in physics and chemistry. An ominous signal of the academic bloodletting that followed the invasion.
Similar bloody purges of academics occurred in all the provincial universities: 127 senior academics and scientists were assassinated at the various well-regarded universities in Mosul, Kirkuk, Basra and elsewhere. The provincial universities with the highest number of murdered senior faculty members were in cities where the US and British military and their Kurdish mercenary allies were most active: Basra (35), Mosul (35), Diyala (15) and Al-Anbar (11).
The Iraqi military and allied death squads carried out most of the killing of academics in the cities under US or ‘allied’ control. The systematic murder of academics was a nation-wide, cross-disciplinary drive to destroy the cultural and educational foundations of a modern Arab civilization. The death squads carrying out most of these assassinations were primitive, pre-modern, ethno-religious groups ‘set loose’ or instrumentalized by US military strategists to wipe out any politically conscious intellectuals and nationalist scientists who might pursue an agenda for re-building a modern, secular society and independent, unified republic.
In its panic to prevent the US invasion, the Iraqi National Monitoring Directorate provided a list, which identified over 500 key Iraqi scientists to the UN on December 7, 2002. There is little doubt that this list became a core element in the US military’s hit list for eliminating Iraq’s scientific elite. In his notorious pre-invasion speech to the United Nations, Secretary of State Colin Powell cited a list of over 3,500 Iraqi scientists and technicians who would have to be ‘contained’ to prevent their expertise from being used by other countries. The US had even created a ‘budget’ of hundreds of millions of dollars, drawn from the Iraqi ‘Oil for Food’ money held by the United Nations to set up ‘civilian re-education’ programs to re-train Iraqi scientists and engineers. These highly touted programs were never seriously implemented. Cheaper ways of containing what one American policy expert termed Iraq’s ‘excess scientists, engineers and technicians’ in a Carnegie Endowment Paper (RANSAC Policy Update April 2004) became clear. The US had decided to adopt and expand the Israeli Mossad’s covert operation of assassinating selected key Iraqi scientists on an industrial scale. The US ‘Surge’ and ‘Peak Assassination’ Campaigns: 2006-2007
The high tide of terror against academics coincides with the renewal of the US military offensive in Baghdad and in the provinces. Of the total number of assassinations of Baghdad-based academics for which a date is recorded (110 known intellectuals slaughtered), almost 80% (87) occurred in 2006 and 2007. A similar pattern is found in the provinces with 77% of a total of 84 scholars murdered outside of capital during the same period. The pattern is clear: the murder rate of academics grows as the occupying US forces organize a mercenary Iraqi military and police force and provide money for the training and recruitment of rival Shia and Sunni tribesmen and militia as a means of decreasing American casualties and of purging potential dissident critics of the occupation.
The terror campaign against academics intensified in mid-2005 and reached its peak in 2006-2007, leading to the mass flight of tens of thousands of Iraqi scholars, scientists, professionals and their families overseas. Entire university medical school faculties have become refugees in Syria and elsewhere. Those who could not afford to abandon elderly parents or relatives and remained in Iraq have taken extraordinary measures to hide their identities. Some have chosen to collaborate with the US occupation forces or the puppet regime in the hope of being protected or allowed to immigrate with their families to the US or Europe, although the Europeans, especially the British are disinclined to accept Iraqi scholars. After 2008, there has been a sharp decline in the murder of academics – with only 4 assassinated that year. This reflects the massive flight of Iraqi intellectuals living abroad or in hiding rather than any change of policy on the part of the US and its mercenary puppets. As a result, Iraq’s research facilities have been decimated. The lives of those remaining support staff, including technicians, librarians and students have been devastated with few prospects for future employment.
The US war and occupation of Iraq, as Presidents Bush and Obama have declared, is a ‘success’ – an independent nation of 23 million citizens has been occupied by force, a puppet regime is ensconced, colonial mercenary troops obey American officers and the oil fields have been put up for sale. All of Iraq’s nationalist laws protecting its patrimony, its cultural treasures and national resources, have been annulled. The occupiers have imposed a ‘constitution’ favoring the US Empire. Israel and its Zionist flunkies in the Administrations of both Bush and Obama celebrate the demise of a modern adversary…and the conversion of Iraq into a cultural-political desert. In line with an alleged agreement made by the US State Department and Pentagon officials to influential collectors from the American Council for Cultural Policy in January 2003, the looted treasures of ancient Mesopotamia have ‘found’ their way into the collections of the elite in London, New York and elsewhere. The collectors can now anticipate the pillage of Iran.
Warning to Iran
The US invasion, occupation and destruction of a modern, scientific-cultural civilization, such as existed in Iraq, is a prelude of what the people of Iran can expect if and when a US-Israeli military attack occurs. The imperial threat to the cultural-scientific foundations of the Iranian nation has been totally absent from the narrative among the affluent Iranian student protesters and their US-funded NGO’s during their post-election ‘Lipstick Revolution’ protests. They should bear in mind that in 2004 educated, sophisticated Iraqis in Baghdad consoled themselves with a fatally misplaced optimism that ‘at least we are not like Afghanistan’. The same elite are now in squalid refugee camps in Syria and Jordan and their country more closely resembles Afghanistan than anywhere else in the Middle East. The chilling promise of President Bush in April 2003 to transform Iraq in the image of ‘our newly liberated Afghanistan’ has been fulfilled. And reports that the US Administration advisers had reviewed the Israeli Mossad policy of selective assassination of Iranian scientists should cause the pro-Western liberal intellectuals of Teheran to seriously ponder the lesson of the murderous campaign that has virtually eliminated Iraqi scientists and academics during 2006-2007. Conclusion
What does the United States (and Britain and Israel) gain from establishing a retrograde client regime, based on medieval ethno-clerical socio-political structures in Iraq? First and foremost, Iraq has become an outpost for empire. Secondly, it is a weak and backward regime incapable of challenging Israeli economic and military dominance in the region and unwilling to question the ongoing ethnic cleansing of the native Palestinian Arabs from Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. Thirdly, the destruction of the scientific, academic, cultural and legal foundations of an independent state means increasing reliance on the Western (and Chinese) multinational corporations and their technical infrastructure – facilitating imperial economic penetration and exploitation.
In the mid 19th Century, after the revolutions of 1848, the conservative French sociologist Emil Durkheim recognized that the European bourgeoisie was confronted with rising class conflict and an increasing anti-capitalist working class. Durkheim noted that, whatever its philosophical misgivings about religion and clericalism, the bourgeoisie would have to use the myths of traditional religion to ‘create’ social cohesion and undercut class polarization. He called on the educated and sophisticated Parisian capitalist class to forego its rejection of obscurantist religious dogma in favor of instrumentalizing religion as a tool to maintain its political dominance. In the same way, US strategists, including the Pentagon-Zionists, have instrumentalized the tribal-mullah, ethno-religious forces to destroy the secular national political leadership and advanced culture of Iraq in order to consolidate imperial rule – even if this strategy called for the killing off of the scientific and professional classes. Contemporary US imperial rule is based on supporting the socially and politically most backward sectors of society and applying the most advanced technology of warfare.
Israeli advisers have played a major role in instructing US occupation forces in Iraq on the practices of urban counter-insurgency and repression of civilians, drawing on their 60 years of experience. The infamous massacre of hundreds of Palestinian families at Deir Yasin in 1948 was emblematic of Zionist elimination of hundreds of productive farming villages, which had been settled for centuries by a native people with their endogenous civilization and cultural ties to the soil, in order to impose a new colonial order. The policy of the total deracination of the Palestinians is central to Israel’s advise to the US policymakers in Iraq. Their message has been carried out by their Zionist acolytes in the Bush and Obama Administrations, ordering the dismemberment of the entire modern Iraqi civil and state bureaucracy and using pre-modern tribal death squads made up of Kurds and Shia extremists to purge the modern universities and research institutions of that shattered nation.
The US imperial conquest of Iraq is built on the destruction of a modern secular republic. The cultural desert that remains (a Biblical ‘howling wilderness’ soaked in the blood of Iraq’s precious scholars) is controlled by mega-swindlers, mercenary thugs posing as ‘Iraqi officers’, tribal and ethnic cultural illiterates and medieval religious figures. They operate under the guidance and direction of West Point graduates holding ‘blue-prints for empire’, formulated by graduates of Princeton, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Yale and Chicago, eager to serve the interests of American and European multi-national corporations.
This is called ‘combined and uneven development’: The marriage of fundamentalist mullahs with Ivy League Zionists at the service of the US.
This article was published by Agence France Presse, January 25, 2009
JERUSALEM (AFP) – US peace envoy George Mitchell will find a region in disarray when he arrives this week on his first visit to try to cement a fragile ceasefire between Israel and Hamas militants.
The Jewish state is busy with an election campaign and the Palestinians are divided more deeply than ever in the wake of the deadly three-week Gaza war.
Mitchell is due to meet Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in Ramallah on Wednesday to review "how to relaunch the Israeli-Palestinian peace process," an official said.
But Abbas is a weakened figure whose writ no longer runs in the Gaza Strip where the Islamist Hamas movement retains power, despite the Israeli army assault that left more than 1,300 dead.
Abbas faces a battle with Hamas, which has declared victory in surviving the Israeli offensive, just to control international relief efforts. His calls for a Palestinian unity government have gone unheeded.
And Israel's leading parties are squabbling over who is best placed to work with US President Barack Obama and his "aggressive" push for peace.
Mitchell is to arrive in Israel on Tuesday night and hold talks over the following two days.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni charged that a government led by election favourite Benjamin Netanyahu could cause a "clash" with the United States.
"Israel and the United States can head toward full cooperation over common goals such as fighting terror, stopping Iran and Hamas and Hezbollah," she said.
"Israel and the United States can also reach a clash. It depends who will be here. If whoever is here stops the peace process and thinks that the world will be with him, will find himself in a head-on collision with the United States in 20 seconds."
Deputy prime minister Haim Ramon added his own warning: "Anyone who today wants to continue the settlements and annexe all the (occupied) territories will bring a major catastrophe on Israel.
"All that will cause a confrontation not just with the United States but the whole world," he said.
Livni leads the ruling centre-right Kadima party for the February 10 ballot which pollsters are predicting will result in a coalition government of Netanyahu's Likud, the far-right Yisrael Beitenu and conservative Jewish religious parties.
A Likud party official scoffed at Livni's comments.
"She is under pressure, because the polls predict that Kadima will lose. Benjamin Netanyahu is the best placed Israeli leader to handle our relations with Washington and defend Israel's interests," he said.
Netanyahu had already tried to cool fears of a drift to the far-right, saying: "If I win the elections, I won't form an extreme right wing government."
To add to the complications, Kadima Prime Minister Ehud Olmert faces corruption charges and is standing down from politics at this election.
But Mitchell, an Arab-American, is no stranger to the challenges of the six-decade Israel-Palestinian conflict.
He led a fact-finding mission into the causes of the 2000 second intifada or Palestinian uprising against occupation. The 2001 Mitchell report called for a halt to all violence and a freeze of Israeli settlements on Arab territory.
Obama appointed the 75-year-old on Thursday and dispatched him to the region to ensure a "durable" and "sustainable" ceasefire in Gaza after Israel's offensive.
Israel and Hamas declared unilateral ceasefires on January 18 and Israel completed its withdrawal from the territory on January 21.
However Israel has warned it will not hesitate to bomb the strip again if arms smuggling resumes and Hamas, which retains the capacity to send rockets to southern Israel, has demanded that the Gaza borders be fully open.
Mitchell arrives while both sides are negotiating in Egypt to try to consolidate the ceasefire.
On the ground in Gaza, residents were still picking through rubble, with major reconstruction efforts blocked because of closed borders.
Israel has kept the crossings shut, saying it will cooperate with rebuilding efforts only if Hamas, which Israel brands a terror outfit, does not control them.
War damage is estimated at 1.9 billion dollars (1.4 billion euros).
This article, by Jess Rosenfeld, was published in Haaretz, January 21,2009
I had just returned to Tel Aviv from a demonstration in the West Bank village of Ni'lin last July, when I caught word that the Israeli military had shot 11-year old Ahmad Musa in the head during a protest against the separation wall. Twenty minutes later, three Israeli anarchists and I were speeding back to the West Bank to see what had happened.
Soon we were again in the West Bank, where Israeli suburban-like settlements interrupt Palestinian farmland and villages. Apart from the occasional phone call by the activists to spread the word, we drove mostly in a stifling silence of despair.
As we were waved through a military checkpoint by an Israeli soldier with an M16 dangling carelessly around her neck, activist Yonatan Pollack kicked the glove compartment. "Fucking child killers," he spat out.
On November 7, Haaretz reported that the army had requested that the Shin Bet - Israel's domestic spy network and internal security service - provide information on left-wing Israeli activists traveling to the West Bank.
The stated goal was to make it easier for the army to issue restraining orders to prevent the activists from entering.
Since the beginning of the anti-wall campaign in Ni'lin last May, village residents have been joined by Israeli and international activists in non-violent attempts to block the army's bulldozers.
At the same time, the youth in the town have responded to the army's use of tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition with stone throwing. Their collective effort has created heavy delays in construction, and the wall - scheduled for completion last June - is still unfinished.
The struggle has not only generated robust participation by Israel's small radical left, it has also regalvanized the military refusal movement after two years of relative quiet.
Inspired by the resistance of Ni'lin villagers and horrified by the brutality Israel has used to repress the village uprising, the "refuseniks" - as they are locally known - are back in the news.
"If the army backs off in Ni'lin it will be an example to the refusal movement and Israeli society. It will show that the army can't break us," explains Omer Goldman, a Ni'lin solidarity activist who went to military prison this past September at age 19 for refusing to enlist on her conscription date.
Because military tribunals usually hand out numerous consecutive small sentences for refusal rather than dealing with drawn out public trials, Goldman received a second sentence immediately following her first.
Army service is compulsory for all 18-year-old Jewish and Druze Israelis, with men serving three years and women two, and it has long been seen as a sacred cow in Israeli society. The refusenik movement first emerged during Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and was re-launched at the height of the second Intifada with a refusal letter of 200 high-school graduates in 2001.
The refuseniks have now been thrown back into the national spotlight following the imprisonment of five Israeli draft dodgers - including Goldman last August and September. The jailings began after an open letter from graduating high school students refusing to enlist was published in the August 15 edition of Yedioth Aharonoth. Over 60 high-school students signed the letter, declaring their intention to evade conscription, once again taking aim at Israel's 41 year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
"Our refusal comes first and foremost as a protest of the separation, control, oppression and killing policy held by the State of Israel in the occupied territories," reads the published letter that was also sent to both IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
"We cannot hurt in the name of defense or imprison in the name of freedom; therefore we cannot be moral and serve the occupation," concludes the letter.
Goldman, whose father was a deputy head of the Mossad foreign intelligence agency, echoes the sentiment. I first met her hiding out in a Ni'lin medical clinic as the army invaded the village spraying live bullets.
As we sit in a trendy Tel Aviv cafe talking about both her political influences and activist experiences, it becomes clear that what drives the admirer of the 1968 Paris student revolt is both philosophical and visceral: she refuses to participate in what she has seen the military do in Ni'lin and rejects what the army represents.
"Ni'lin's [struggle] is a window that shows an example of Israeli-Palestinian solidarity," Goldman explains.
It is a perspective that grinds against the Israeli mainstream. For Defense Ministry spokesman Sholomo Dror, the issue of military refusal is one of a small minority of Israelis breaking the law and not fulfilling their national obligations.
Dror argues that Israelis have a "democratic" responsibility to serve in the state's armed forces.
"If you want to oppose the government's policies, then serve in the army and oppose the policies afterwards," he says in a phone interview from his Tel Aviv office. "I don't think serving in the army is violating people's rights."
According to Dror, refuseniks represent a fringe movement that poses no real threat to the military or challenge to Israeli society. "We have more people volunteering for elite unit enlistment being turned down," he says. The war on draft dodging
Despite this claim, Defense Ministry statistics show that 25 percent of Israeli's avoided military service in 2007. While 11 percent of those were exempt for religious reasons, the majority falls into what is commonly referred to as "grey refusal." This category refers to those exempt for mental or physical health reasons, or marriage, in the case of women.
In response to these statistics, Defense Minister Barak and IDF Chief Ashkenazi called for a "war on draft dodging" - an operation to publicly shame those avoiding service.
A vigorous television and billboard campaign was launched across Israel last year, under the slogan "A real Israeli doesn't evade the army."
The ads featured a group of Israelis on a post-army tour of India - a rite of passage so popular it has almost become a social institution - trying to impress a group of Swedish travelers with tales from the battlefront. The Israeli who avoided military service is the one who doesn't end up with a beautiful blond.
Following publication of high school refusenik's open letter, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz last September launched a criminal investigation into the New Profile organization - which provides support and information for people planning on or actively refusing military service.
Haaretz reported then that the inquiry into whether the organization was guilty of "incitement to draft dodging" was launched in the wake of a February request by the military.
The "incitement to draft dodging" law has never before been investigated, but New Profile organizer Haggai Matar said the group is careful to ensure that all its work is legal.
"We are trying to offer an alternative to Israel's security discourse, to ask who's secure and whose security we are talking about," he explains. "We argue that perhaps we should talk about a different kind of security - social security, equality and security from needing."
During our chat after a refusenik demonstration at a Tel Aviv military base, Matar talks about the importance of the support he received from New Profile during his own army refusal in 2001. The bushy-bearded, strawberry blond radical was a leader in the first high school refusal letter of the Second Intifada, faced a high profile public trial for rejecting enlistment and spent two years in jail as a result. The case is now taught as precedent in law schools across Israel.
"New Profile helped me a lot when I was refusing, and therefore, all I can do is offer the support that I got," Matar smiles.
He is part of a small minority of the 25 percent of Israelis who avoid the draft by publicly opting out. Public refusal continues to receive prominent national attention and vicious social backlash.
Like Goldman and Matar, refusenik, Sahar Vardi, received national media coverage when she was jailed for the first time on August 25 for refusing her military induction.
"I'm going to tell the recruitment officer that I'm not serving because of the occupation," Vardi said, just before entering the Tel Aviv military base for new conscripts. "I've seen Palestinian kids get shot and beaten by the army in the West Bank and this is something that I'm not going to be a part of." She seemed calmed and defiant, wearing a "courage to refuse" t-shirt with the graphic of a broken M-16.
In spite of facing both jail time and public backlash for their actions, refusenik activists are headstrong in their determination.
On December 18, the refuseniks rallied in front of Defense Ministry base in Tel Aviv - which also serves as a central army base - to present to Barak 20, 000 letters of international support calling for the release of jailed draft dodgers and commending their actions.
The action was organized by a coalition of Israeli and American anti occupation groups supporting military refusal, with most of the letters coming from supporters in the United States.
The crowed of 150 chanted "from Iraq to Palestine, choose refusal, stop the crimes," while several draft dodgers attempted to deliver the 20,000 letters. They were stopped by police, at the gate of the base.
"They're the army, they don't deal with these sort of things," said a police officer preventing the delivery of letters.
Since the beginning of Israel's offensive on Gaza three weeks ago, the refuseniks have been furiously organizing anti-war action, demonstrating at army bases and joining in mass demonstrations demanding an end to the war.
For many Palestinians, especially activists in Ni'lin, Israeli military refusal is an important act of solidarity for joint struggle against occupation.
"Despite being a small part of Israeli society, [the refuseniks] give us hope that even inside Israel there are people who are really rejecting occupation," says Hindi Mesleh, an energetic 25-year old activist with Ni'lin's popular committee who regularly engages with Israeli solidarity activists. His family is currently fighting to save their own farmland from being confiscated by the separation wall.
Mesleh speaks about the refuseniks with same glint of the admiration that comes out when discussing Palestinian prisoners. "It's hard for Palestinians to conceive of someone serving on a checkpoint one day and going to demonstrate in Ni'lin the next," he explains, two weeks after Musa's death.
According to eyewitness reports, Musa was fatally wounded by an M-16 sticking out of a rifle slit at the back of an Israeli jeep, as he turned to flee troops. His corpse in the Ramallah morgue, with his skull split diagonally in two on the cold metal table, corroborate his cause of death.
The anger that arose in response to the shooting was exacerbated at his funeral the next day when 17-year old Youseph Amira was killed by two rubber bullets to the head during a checkpoint clash.
That day in July, as we arrived in Ni'lin on the eve of Musa's funeral, Pollack jumped out of the car and walked towards the barricade lines, hugging the store front walls to avoid the army's rubber bullets.
Evaluating the situation, he turned to group of local children, and asked them in Arabic what needed to be done.
This article was published in The National (United Arab Emirates), January 26, 2009
George Mitchell will travel to Jerusalem this week amid a tense ceasefire in the Gaza Strip and a fierce electoral battle in Israel. As Barack Obama’s Middle East envoy, a role he held under the Clinton administration, he will seek to bolster the tenuous ceasefire and set the stage for a renewed push for peace. In anticipation of Mr Mitchell’s visit, the rhetoric from Israel’s myriad political parties is focused on the stagnant peace process. With the exception of some far right parties, each is portraying their candidates as the best suited to work with the Obama administration for peace.
Anyone who follows the seemingly impenetrable world of Israeli politics will not find any of this novel. What is new is the increasingly vocal and unified push from Arab nations, led by Saudi Arabia, for the peace process to be put on a more productive track. The move comes as a result of a rare show of unity at the inaugural Arab Economic Summit in Kuwait in response to Israel’s deadly assault on Gaza and the failure of the United States or the international community to stem the slaughter.
The core of the Saudi-led diplomatic push is the Arab Peace Initiative. The plan envisions a grand bargain for Middle East peace. It calls for Israel to withdraw to borders demarcated in 1967, a Palestinian state with a capital in East Jerusalem and a resolution to the Palestinian refugee situation. In return, the Arab world offers full diplomatic relations and a formal end to the 60 years of conflict, ostensibly opening a massive regional market for Israeli goods and services. For a country that relies heavily on the tourism industry, this is no small offer.
However, the initiative has struggled to gain traction. It was not until support for the plan was reaffirmed in 2007 that the Arabs began to receive a tentative positive response from Israeli politicians. Both the defence minister, Ehud Barak, and the president, Shimon Peres, have shown interest in negotiating a deal based on the Arab Peace Initiative.
But in the wake of the Gaza assault Arab governments are finding it increasingly difficult to justify dialogue with an Israeli state that appears to pay little more than lip service to peace. The difficulty facing the Arab leadership is convincing Israel that opening relations with perceptively hostile neighbours is in its best interest, a difficult task when Israelis are not the ones doing most of the dying. Short of a sudden outbreak of altruism in Israel’s halls of government, there is little to indicate that the country will change its policy of delay tactics in any peace talks.
Instead the Arab world must focus its diplomatic efforts on the US. Despite perceptions in this region that the US and Israel are inseparable allies, an image bolstered by the Bush administration, the US has interests in the Middle East that rely heavily on Arab support. The country’s efforts in Iraq, Iran and even Afghanistan would suffer should its relations weaken with the Arab world. Without continued co-operation from Arab states to control the inflow of foreign insurgents, Iraq’s tenuous calm could end along with US hopes of a peaceful withdrawal. Diplomatic pressure on Iran would weaken if Arab states ceased their co-operation with the embargo. And attempts to secure Afghanistan would falter without the availability of Arab airspace and bases.
The Arab Peace Initiative remains the most practicable path to peace and Palestinian statehood. But Arabs will never convince Israel of this: only the US has the power to push for its adoption.
In the last days before Israel imposed a unilateral cease-fire in Gaza to avoid embarrassing the incoming Obama administration, it upped its assault, driving troops deeper into Gaza City, intensifying its artillery bombardment and creating thousands more displaced people.
Israel's military strategy in Gaza, even in what its officials were calling the "final act," followed a blueprint laid down during the Lebanon war more than two years ago.
Then, Israel destroyed much of Lebanon's infrastructure in a month of intensive air strikes. Even in the war's last few hours, as a cease-fire was being finalized, Israel fired more than a million cluster bombs over south Lebanon, apparently in the hope that the area could be made as uninhabitable as possible.
(While this number seems hard to believe, consider this: It requires 1,700 shells to disperse about a million bombs. Most were fired from tanks, of which Israel had dozens lined up along the border. It isn't too hard to imagine, say, 50 tanks each firing 34 shells into Lebanon over the course of a few hours. According to the New York Times, Israel has a multiple-launch rocket system that can fire 12 shells in a minute.)
Similarly, Israel's destruction of Gaza continued with unrelenting vigor to the very last moment, even though, according to reports in the Israeli media, the air force exhausted what it called its "bank of Hamas targets" in the first few days of fighting.
The military sidestepped the problem by widening its definition of Hamas-affiliated buildings. Or as one senior official explained: "There are many aspects of Hamas, and we are trying to hit the whole spectrum because everything is connected, and everything supports terrorism against Israel."
That included mosques, universities, most government buildings, the courts, 25 schools, 20 ambulances and several hospitals, as well as bridges, roads, 10 electricity-generating stations, sewage lines and 1,500 factories, workshops and shops.
Palestinian Authority officials in Ramallah estimate the damage so far at $1.9 billion, pointing out that at least 21,000 apartment buildings need repairing or rebuilding, forcing 100,000 Palestinians into refugeedom once again. In addition, 80 percent of all agricultural infrastructure and crops were destroyed. The PA has described its estimate as conservative.
None of this will be regretted by Israel. In fact, the general devastation, far from being unfortunate collateral damage, has been the offensive's unstated goal. Israel has sought the political, as well as military, emasculation of Hamas through the widespread destruction of Gaza's infrastructure and economy.
This is known as the "Dahiya Doctrine," named after a suburb of Beirut that was almost leveled during Israel's attack on Lebanon in summer 2006. The doctrine was encapsulated in a phrase used by Dan Halutz, Israel's chief of staff at the time. He said Lebanon's bombardment would "turn back the clock 20 years."
The commanding officer in Israel's south, Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant, echoed those sentiments on the Gaza offensive's first day. The aim, he said, was to "send Gaza decades into the past."
Beyond these sound bites, Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, the head of Israel's northern command, clarified in October the practical aspects of the strategy: "What happened in the Dahiya quarter of Beirut in 2006 will happen in every village from which Israel is fired on. We will apply disproportionate force on it and cause great damage and destruction there. From our standpoint, these are not civilian villages, they are military bases. This is not a recommendation. This is a plan."
In the interview, Eisenkot was discussing the next round of hostilities with Hezbollah. However, the doctrine was intended for use in Gaza, too. Gabriel Siboni, a colonel in the reserves, set out the new "security concept" in an article published by Tel Aviv University's Institute of National Security Studies two months before the assault on Gaza. Conventional military strategies for waging war against states and armies, he wrote, could not defeat subnational resistance movements, such as Hezbollah and Hamas, that have deep roots in the local population.
The goal instead was to use "disproportionate force," thereby "inflicting damage and meting out punishment to an extent that will demand long and expensive reconstruction processes." Siboni identified the chief target of Israel's rampages as decision-makers and the power elite, including "economic interests and the centers of civilian power that support the [enemy] organization."
The best Israel could hope for against Hamas and n, Siboni conceded, was a cease-fire on improved terms for Israel and delaying the next confrontation by leaving "the enemy floundering in expensive, long-term processes of reconstruction."
In the case of Gaza's lengthy reconstruction, however, Israel says it hopes not to repeat the mistakes of Lebanon. Then, Hezbollah, aided by Iranian funds, further bolstered its reputation among the local population by quickly moving to finance the rebuilding of Lebanese homes destroyed by Israel.
According to the Israeli media, the foreign ministry has already assembled a task force for "the day after" to ensure neither Hamas nor Iran take the credit for Gaza's reconstruction.
Israel wants all aid to be channeled either through the Palestinian Authority or international bodies. Sealing off Gaza, by preventing smuggling through tunnels under the border with Egypt, is an integral part of this strategy.
Much to Israel's satisfaction, the rebuilding of Gaza is likely to be even slower than might have been expected.
Diplomats point out that even if Western aid flows to the Palestinian Authority, it will have little effect if Israel maintains the blockade, curbing imports of steel, cement and money. And international donors are already reported to be tired of funding building projects in Gaza only to see them destroyed by Israel a short time later.
With more than a hint of exasperation, Norway Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere summed up the general view of donors last week: "Shall we give once more for the construction of something which is being destroyed, reconstructed and destroyed?"