Monday, January 15, 2024

Only the ICJ Can Save the Holy Land Now

The world witnessed an extraordinary event last week. South Africa presented a genocide case against Israel in the International Court of Justice (ICJ). According to many experts, the case presented by the African nation is very strong, having provided ample and hard-to-refute evidence. In fact, most of what was cited was based on UN figures showcasing the dimensions of the tragedy as well as statements made by the Israeli officials themselves, proving intent. Israel countered the allegations with the expected self-defense argument; and that it was actually the one on the receiving end of genocide. The sheer numbers of Palestinian civilian deaths, physical destruction, medical calamity, and famine conditions tended to dilute the Israeli counterargument.

Notwithstanding South Africa’s solid case for genocide, some have pointed to geopolitics potentially playing a role and ultimately influencing the decision of the ICJ. As the court is now tasked with mulling over the evidence to make a fairly quick but transcendental decision, let us look at the two possibilities and the implications under each scenario.

Starting off with the scenario of the ICJ ruling in favor of Israel, the immediate implication will likely be an emboldening of Israel’s far right-led military actions inside of Gaza. Quite simply, this means more bombs, more death, more destruction, more injury, more famine, and more tragedy on the Palestinian side. Even on the Israeli side, more soldiers will be maimed or killed; and the hostages will likely face their end. Israel itself will continue to struggle politically to get itself out of the quagmire, with opposing political forces unable to provide solutions or wrangle away decision-making power from Netanyahu’s far-right coalition. 

Globally, a chasm emerging between Judaism and Zionism will only widen. Many Jews all over the world will continue to protest against the hijacking of their very religion by the Zionists, who seem intent on occupying and killing in their name—ironically akin to what some see as Islamist jihadi organizations having done in the name of Islam, with the only difference being that Israel is a state that is a party to the Genocide Convention and can be held to account. Regardless, because Israel’s democracy appears to have been hijacked by its very own extremists, global Jews will increasingly distance themselves from all those seemingly not bound by any Conventions, let alone a sense of humanity. Israel will find itself progressively isolated from its very own global community.

Meanwhile, the region will continue to boil, especially in Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq, and Syria, and possibly extending to Jordan and Egypt, who have warned against any genocide or transfer. Regional peace will become more distant, putting at risk the entire global supply of oil and other goods passing through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal. The Middle East will drift further and further away from what will be seen as a criminally hypocritical West.

Under such a scenario, it is highly likely that the West, particularly the United States, and the world order it created post World War II, will be in shatters, as no country will take the Genocide Convention, let alone ICJ’s rulings, seriously anymore. The global South will feel that the ICJ itself is nothing more than an instrument hypocritically used by the powers that be whenever it serves their interests. Any talk of human rights, will be meaningless; and Western diplomacy will find it impossible to carry out an agenda based on civilized principles, like democracy and justice. All this would also give free reign to nations who have genocidal tendencies to act with impunity. They will argue that if Israel can get away with it, why can’t they?

Such a world will indeed be a dire one. Few winners would emerge from this scenario, except that is for extremists intent on going at each other’s throat;  or dictators disregarding any semblance of international law. Humanity and peace would be its ultimate victim.

Of course, there is the alternative scenario, in which the International Court of Justice decides in favor of South Africa. What would be the implications of such a ruling? They are equally immense. First and foremost, it would send a strong message to the world, that any nation that crosses the line set by humanity under international law, will be held to account—even nations with powerful friends or even if they were once ironically on the receiving end of genocide.

Secondly, and depending on the urgency set by the court, such a ruling could put an immediate stop to the hostilities, ordering Israel to stop its bombings and invasion of Gaza, hence ceasing and desisting the massacres, destruction, and inhumane treatment of Palestinians, and instead bringing back food, water, medicines, and power into the Gaza strip. While the far right in Israel may protest such measures, Israel as a state cannot and will not risk becoming a pariah state, and will be forced to comply.

Aside from saving countless Palestinian civilian lives as well as those of Israeli hostages, who could be released back to their families together with Palestinians held in Israeli jails, such an ICJ ruling will also highly likely diffuse the regional situation as hostilities in Lebanon, Yemen, and Iraq will cease. All of them have already explicitly stated that they would stand down once Israel stopped its attacks on Gaza.

Within Israel proper, this scenario will have serious reverberations. The fact that Israel—which ironically as a nation came about due to the genocide against Jews—is found guilty of genocide will mean that the entire narrative of the nation will have to change from that of being a victim of an injustice to that of being a perpetrator itself, hence on par within international law with all other nations, with no special treatment. Israeli society will indelibly have to shift blame from outsiders to those within its midst who caused this calamity to befall the nation. It is highly likely the finger will be pointed to Israel’s far-right for all its excesses—be they during this war, with the settlers, or for generally being against peace. One could even contemplate that some salient politicians may be banished altogether from the political scene, not unlike other extremists in the history of other nations. The same could occur within Palestine, especially if a peace process is kicked-off and culminated quickly. The Palestinians will want to embark on the reconstruction of their lives at the earliest. It would be unlikely that their extremist elements would survive a comprehensive peace agreement either politically or ideologically.

But why and how could peace emerge from a simple ICJ decision; and who could push for it? It could emerge simply because it is the only dynamic that would allow the region to stabilize. Without it, the region will continue to teeter; since Israel would have been weakened by the indictment, and no nation can come to its rescue or continue to support it without potentially facing the threat of legal action within the respective country—indeed there is already talk of potential lawsuits being brought against American Secretary Blinken and President Biden for aiding and abetting Israel in their excessive retaliation in Gaza.

The only way to reverse this dynamic, is for the West, led by the United States, to push for a comprehensive peace plan, even if it needs to be imposed. Some might say that this is too idealistic a scenario. In fact, it’s the least costly of alternatives for all those involved, including the United States, which has been desperately trying to keep a leash on Israel. Meaning, an ICJ order could serve to get the United States off the hook, providing an off-ramp with the desired outcome, but without the potential political price to pay. Some may say that this is too late; and that the United States is too implicated. Perhaps, but things could change if the United States were to lead a serious peace effort that culminates in regional peace. This would essentially transform a hefty liability into a regional victory. 

Encouragingly, the United States has been calling lately for comprehensive peace and “regional integration”, a term never before heard, but which showcases the opportunity to all the parties involved. Since, under this scenario, the world will have seen that the West and the United States in particular did not oppose the ICJ, it would dampen the hypocrisy charge. It could also serve to once more lend credence to the world order and specifically the multilateral institutions, namely the UN, which itself has been a victim of this war, with hundreds of its own staffers killed.

A final word on Iran, who some may argue might oppose such a peace deal. Bottom line, a comprehensive peace cannot be attained without Iran being party to it; and indeed, on no less than two occasions in the past 3 months, Iran has explicitly indicated that it is willing to sign up for comprehensive peace talks together with the rest of the Gulf States. It did so with a peace proposal submitted in October by Lebanon and one submitted by the Palestinians in December. As hard as some may find it to believe, Iran has no interest in being left out of a peace deal, especially a regional one that sees all the Arabs, including Palestine, potentially making peace with Israel.

The stakes have arguably never been higher for all those involved and indeed the world. Since democracy seems to have failed the two societies in circumventing mortal conflict, it is now left to the International Court of Justice to decide whether it’s time to put a stop to the violence and provide a sliver of hope for peace in the Holy Land. If the right choice is taken by the Court, who knows, perhaps the Almighty in his great wisdom might very well have decided that two peoples, on the receiving end of genocide, in the end needed to peacefully co-exist on his most Holy of Lands.

Friday, December 8, 2023

Winning the Peace in the Holy Land Might Require Imposition

It is finally beginning to dawn on many military strategists in the West that not only might Israel not win its war on Gaza, but it might outright lose it. Israel refuses to admit this ugly reality and continues with its brutal war killing Palestinian civilians while slaughtering Israeli soldiers. The world and especially the United States is now losing patience. Can peace somehow be snatched from the jaws of utter tragedy?

That Israel may lose this war may have come as a surprise to some, but in reality, Israel has been losing wars for well over two decades, as highlighted by Israel's own Ha'aretz recently. Indeed, the only questionable claim some in Israel may have of a semblance of a victory has been its expansion in the West Bank through illegal settlements. October 7th proved how unsustainable that concept was. In fact, not only did it prove to be untenable, but rather outright counter-productive, even in terms of land mass. Here's why:

Prior to October 7th, for almost two decades, Israel and its far-right governments mostly led by Netanyahu had been peddling to their society that it was ok to "gift" Israeli settlers Palestinian land. But all the land that settlers grabbed over the two decades now pales to the land that was evacuated by Israel to shield its citizens from rocketry and potential invasion in retaliation to its perceived historic injustice. On its Northern border with Lebanon, Israel has had to vacate land amounting to some 30% of the country size; and in the South, bordering the Gaza strip, it has had to do the same to a further 15% of its land mass. This effectively means that since October 7th, Israel has become almost 45% SMALLER than it had been before, displacing hundreds of thousands of Israelis as was recently highlighted by the New York Times.

To any casual observer, exchanging 45% of Israel's land for some illegal settlements to satisfy the unquenchable thirst of settlers would seem like a lousy barter. But of course, this trade-off was not apparent to many an extremist Israeli politician, including Netanyahu, who until October 7th was arrogantly trying to sell expansionist policies to the world, going as far as displaying the now infamous "River to the Sea" map in the UN General Assembly. As it happens, the whole world has now realized that such illegal Israeli expansionist policies have not only become unsustainable, but worse yet, have produced an existential threat to Israel proper, which finds itself struggling to cope even with one of the smallest regional powers, Hamas.

Two months into the raging war in Gaza, warnings to Israel have been increasing from all corners of the globe, even from close friends like journalist Thomas Friedman and US President Joe Biden, one of Israel's most stalwart supporters. They are all essentially warning of the same thing: Israel's extremist policies have alienated the world; and Israel needs to stop destroying itself as it attempts in vain to destroy the notion of Palestine. Even former Israeli PM Ehud Barak, who once wisely exited Israel from Lebanon, issued a similar warning, going as far as to cite pre-biblical text that warned about the eighty-year curse, which throughout history has plagued any established Jewish state (Israel happens to be approaching this milestone).

The response by those in power in Israel has of course been adamant: Yes for war at any cost. No to Hamas existence. No to Palestinian Authority taking over. No to a Palestinian state. But given that Israel is effectively not winning the war in Gaza on the battlefield, is continuing the war sustainable militarily, economically, socially, and internationally? In the meantime, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have come out and said that they were willing to accept peace with a two-state solution, based on the UN's internationally recognized 1967 borders. If one is willing to take them up on their offer, it would appear that what stands in the way of peace in the holy land at the moment may not be Hamas, but extremist Israelis in power.

And so the world finds itself facing two scenarios. The first is a continuation of this vicious war, which is killing more and more Palestinian civilians, while driving Israelis deeper and deeper into a military abyss. The other scenario as unlikely as it may seem is peace, which the whole world, including most Palestinians and some Israelis, are actually for. How to get out of this dilemma?

As the Palestinians appear ready, the Israelis might need to be compelled by the international community to come to the table, accepting the ugly reality of battleground dynamics and real politik. But even if they come to the table, it must not be assumed that a just peace might be attained. Indeed, a more reasonable assumption might be that the Israelis will try their best to compensate their losses on the battlefield with wins on the negotiation table. They could make such demands as Hamas leaving Gaza, not paying retribution for all the destruction, not dismantling illegal settlements, not giving back occupied land, not releasing Palestinian prisoners, not agreeing to a contiguous, autonomous, and fully independent Palestinian State along the recognized 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, and not allowing the Palestinians the right to return. This must not be allowed as it will derail the peace. Similarly and in exchange, all the Palestinian factions must be forced to accept Israel and must assume the responsibility of their own Palestinian state, holding it accountable for the welfare of all its citizens and the Palestinian Diaspora, while disallowing any security infringements with Israel. 

Left to their own devices and given all the bloodshed, the warring parties may not be inclined to sign such a peace. However, if the world wants to have a lasting peace in the Holy Land, all these conditions MUST be accepted by both parties,  circumventing all the post-Oslo shenanigans. Notwithstanding all the tragic violence, death, and destruction, the world in its entirety should now place as its utmost priority Winning the Peace in the Holy land. If they will not do it on their own, the two states must be imposed upon to sign a lasting peace. If that requires a forced peace through UN resolutions, then so be it. If it means having UN forces separating borders, so be it. And if it means the need to build walls between the two states on the 1967 borders, so be it. 

While there may never have been such a destructive moment in the history of the two peoples, perhaps somewhat counter-intuitively, there might never be a better moment for final and lasting peace to emerge from the rubble, not unlike democracy emerged from a destroyed Europe after World War II. But first a space for peace has to be cleared up by the international community. Second and more importantly, this winning the peace has to be seen as the primary objective by the whole world, regardless of the warring parties. Having seen the scope of the calamity, the suffering of people, and the utter destruction, there should now be one and only one objective and that is Winning the Peace that finally brings resolution to a conflict that has gone on for too long and brought the region to the brink of utter catastrophe. If the only way to bring this about is through international imposition, then let it be.

Sunday, December 3, 2023

Land for Peace is Still Paying Dividends. Why Not in Palestine?

In the spring of 2000, Israel still occupied a large part of my homeland Lebanon’s southern territory, following its invasion in 1982. Local communities resisted the occupation; and as a result, many were killed by Israel, while others were jailed in the notorious Khiam prison. They fought back with the attacks focused on Israeli troops. During those nineteen years of occupation, more than 1,300 Israelis died in what some term as Israel’s “Vietnam”.

That very spring of 2000, while attending Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, several Lebanese and Israelis happened to be taking a negotiation’s class with Ambassador Dennis Ross. On the first day introductions, I recall one of the Israelis, an older mid-career student named Ram, stood up proudly in class to say he had been an Israeli fighter pilot during the siege of Beirut in 1982. When my turn came, I retorted that I had been a child civilian on the receiving end of his bombs for the three-month siege. This apparently made it up through the school’s echelons; and a group of us were asked if we would like to hold a public Lebanese-Israeli school debate with American intermediation.

The day of the event, the hall was full of anticipation as the two sets of negotiators sat parallel to each other, with the American moderators perpendicular to both. The Israelis drew first; and argued that Israel was occupying the south of Lebanon because it “provided Israel with a safety zone”, without which they would be constantly under attack from Lebanon. We retorted that the best way for Israel to achieve its safety is to stop occupying Lebanese land and retreat behind its own borders. The counter-retort by the Israelis was that our hypothesis was wishful thinking; and that a sovereign state needed to defend itself from “terrorists” on its border denying its very existence. We argued that, if once they left Lebanon, our “resistance fighters” continued attacking, they had the right to defend themselves, while currently they were breaking international law and could not claim self-defense. They said what we were proposing was too risky. Our final retort was that there was really only one way to find out: For Israel to leave. And if things didn’t work per our hypothesis, I looked at Ram, “You may get the chance to fly over Beirut once more!”

As it happens, less than three months later, Israel did decide to exit unilaterally from Lebanon, in fulfillment to what was PM Ehud Barak’s campaign promise. What ensued was a flood of Southern Lebanese villagers returning to their homes after years of exile. The exit of Israel was hailed as a divine victory by the Lebanese, particularly the resistance. In Israel, the exit came as a relief to most Israelis who had come to see its futility. What ensued is worthy of highlighting.

In the 23 years since Israel’s exit from Lebanon, the deaths to Israeli soldiers dropped by a jaw dropping 97.6% (from 1,303 during the two decades of occupation to a mere 28 post exit). This excludes the only flare up that occurred in 2006, as a result of the hijacking of two Israeli soldiers, which was perpetrated by the Lebanese resistance to release all the Lebanese prisoners still held in Israeli jails six years after their exit (they were subsequently all released). But even if we include the 2006 war, the reduction in Israeli deaths still fell sharply by 85.1%. Currently, there remains a fairly small, disputed area and no prisoners. While not quite at peace, there is now a de facto d├ętente with most skirmishes within an acceptable framework (which is holding up even at the height of the Israel-Gaza war). In fact, the two nations inked an oil and gas exploration deal last year.

In retrospect, it might be worthwhile to ask what lessons that conflict and its resolution teach us? First, occupations lead to higher deaths on all sides. Our hypothesis at Harvard was indeed correct: Deaths were substantially reduced after the Israeli occupation ended. Second, taking and keeping prisoners also increases conflict, while releasing them will reduce from it. This would seem obvious to some, but in the Middle East the bravado of tried-and-failed policies seems to pervade with some trying to convince the world that violence is the only way. It isn’t. And third, US intermediation is key to clear up the space for rational discussion and to keep things together when the going gets tough.

Bottom line, the land for peace formula is still very much alive and paying dividends in Jordan, Egypt, and arguably even Lebanon. It has saved countless lives and delivered relative regional stability. Why not try it in Palestine? And in light of all the pointless death and destruction on all sides, especially the Palestinian, what proof do extremist war mongers have that their brute force, occupation, and imprisonment works better?

Monday, November 20, 2023

Israeli Self-Defense or Self-Attack?

The explosive report published this past Saturday in the Haaretz pinpointed the blame on the Israeli army itself for bombing and killing its own people at the Nova Festival in Re'eem on October 7th. It is a stunning admission that will have substantial repercussions on the current Israel War on Gaza, and more importantly what will happen after it ends.

The truth came out due to Israeli society blaming the national Police, who are tasked with internal security, for not protecting the festival participants. The police essentially responded by saying Hamas had no idea about the festival; rather, it was the Israeli army helicopter's panicked and  indiscriminate bombing of the festival that razed innocent Israelis to the ground and charred others--eventually attracting the attention of Palestinian fighters who had been headed in a completely different direction. The report stopped short of saying how many of the 346 festival goers were killed by Israeli fire; but it did say that among  the worst atrocities were likely the result of Israeli fire, not Hamas, since Hamas does not have heavy weapons that could have caused it.

This report is damning because it only confirms prior reports by Israeli witnesses in several Kibutzes, who admitted having being fired upon by Israeli tanks, with houses burnt or destroyed with everyone in them. If Israel did it in Re'eem, surely it cannot deny doing it in all the other Kibutzes ... 

This report underlines once more Israel's calamitous response to October 7th, possibly pointing to a gross overreaction in terms of firepower used, not only on Palestinians but even on Israeli citizens! Equally dire is that it weakens an already weak justification for the collective punishment of Palestinian civilians, and it does so in several ways: 

First, it questions the intent of Hamas to indiscriminately kill civilians in the first place and specifically festival goers in what has been referred to as a "turkey shoot", which in turn was used to justify Israel's current ad hoc retaliation in Gaza to kill innocent civilians. But if Hamas didn't even kill most of the festival goers, what justification does Israel have for its indiscriminate and incessant killing of Palestinian civilians in Gaza and the West Bank and at such scale?

Second, Israel initially cited the degree of barbarity, comparing Hamas to the likes of ISIS, by showcasing charred bodies etc. They would later imply that the ensuing hell Israel unleashed on Gaza was a commensurate response, notwithstanding international norms. They used this argument to basically justify, mostly to Western media, their inhumane actions against Palestinian civilians and to circumvent restrictions set by international law. But if this barbarity had actually been self-imposed by Israel's own air force, where does it leave their narrative and it's international legality?

And third, Israel has been trying to show the world its unity over the war, and that all of Israeli society "democratically" stands behind its violent campaign in Gaza. Evidently, protests against the war within Israel as well as the Haaretz report, quoting Israeli Police, paint an opposing picture: There are clear differences of opinion inside of Israel as to the war's objectives, how it's being conducted, and how and when it should end.

But this doesn't even scratch the surface of the massive problem for Israel. If some of the crimes against Israel were perpetrated by Israelis themselves, where does this leave its standing with the international community vis-a-vis the crimes it perpetrated against the Palestinians? Will Israel now be held to account by its own people for its crimes? Will its leaders be persecuted in the UN or through the International Court of Justice for crimes against the humanity of both Israelis and Palestinians ? And can anyone who aided and abetted Israel, like the US, be prosecuted in court for providing Israel with the weapons to conduct its unjustified crimes? 

As for Israel's legal argument, how do the latest revelations transform its claim of self-defense when it seems clear now that the worst atrocities may  actually have occurred in an Israeli self-attack? Realizing internal Israeli and global Jewish opposition to what is going on, will the self-defense argument be able to stand on solid footing? Meaning, will its current crimes against civilians not dilute its own legal standing, at best making it less of a Western darling and at worst turning it into a militaristic pariah state, dragged through international courts for crimes against humanity, while garnering less and less sympathy from anyone? 

Israel is in a bind and so is the international community that has been arming and egging it on. Every day the war extends, and the atrocities in Gaza pile up, will see them digging deeper into a hole of lawlessness. Can this downward spiral be reversed? And more importantly, will the international community be able to retain any  international norms, rights, and lawfulness once this storm blows over, if it allows Israel to go unpunished for its crimes against humanity? The answers to these questions might very well determine the course of global geopolitics and foreign relations among peoples for generations to come ...

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

How Israel just lost the war ... to a Palestinian hospital!

Over the past few days and weeks, Israel has been trying to convince the world of the narrative that Palestinian hospitals in Gaza are nothing but bases for Hamas. They suggested that they were launching pads to rockets, had underground tunnels, housed fighters, were command and control centers, and were even likely to be where many abducted Israelis were being held.

As a result, they argued that they were justified to intentionally and freely bomb any hospitals, deny them water, electricity, and fuel, in what has been described as a first in modern warfare. Unfortunately, much of the so-called civilized world's leaders appear to have  bought the story and watched on, denying albeit a temporary ceasefire.

It would all come to a head with Israel facing off against Al Shifa hospital, the oldest and grandest of Gazan hospitals. The hospital is in fact older than the State of Israel itself having been founded in 1946, and it is formed of a large multi-edifice complex with a large courtyard in the middle.

In the past few days, Al Shifa received multiple warnings and was fired upon on multiple occasions, with the _New York Times_ confirming that the attack last week was of a projectile that was indeed Israeli, into the complex courtyard, which they knew was now housing civilians seeking shelter from all the indiscriminate bombings. The explosion was filmed and it caused the injury of several among which was a young victim, who was pictured with a severed leg screaming in agony.

Israel's war on Al Shifa continued and it soon encircled the hospital announcing to the Israeli public that the grand prize was within reach. Interestingly, the grand prize was no longer the elimination of Hamas or any other such fanciful project. It was the taking of Al Shifa!

The siege would last days and the warnings flew as often as the bombs, with Israel suggesting everyone inside flee. Those inside, including doctors, nurses, and staff refused to leave their patients behind. Newspaper pictures that beamed across the world help explain why: The hospital wards were full of patients, being treated, notwithstanding the severe shortages of medical supplies, electricity, oxygen, and water.

One specific ward shocked the world. It was the children's ward with multiple newborn babies, four of whom, it was reported, had been recently extracted from the wombs of their deceased mothers in emergency cesarian acts to save them. They were pictured trying to catch a breath in a world gone inhumanely mad around them, not even showing them an inkling of mercy. How they must wish to have never been born or to be dead along with their mothers?

Israel's media war reached a frenzy, expecting a climax with the entry of the Israeli army into the hospital on Wednesday, November 15th, following a barrage of meaningless statements, such as precise targeting and the like that meant nothing to the lifeless, limbless, and soulless ... In went the army, warning the hospital chief and doctors once more to leave. They refused. The Israelis  started searching the hospital, and searching, and searching ... only to find that there was no armed presence, no tunnels, no prisoners. Only the death, destruction, and misery they had caused.

In Al Shifa, they did find something else, which they will be hard pressed to deny. Defiance! The hospital defied the entire might of the Israeli army, continued with its mission and laid bare for the entire world to see the unbridled and naked aggression of the Israeli army on civilians, even those who had taken shelter within the hospital.

Desperate to find something, the Israeli army might be drawn to find a tunnel here or there. With 500 Kms of them crisscrossing the Gaza strip's 360 KM2, any high schooler could have told them that it means it is highly probable that every square kilometer would have one or two kilometers worth of tunneling underneath, most without anyone's knowledge, not even evidently the Israeli intelligence, which seemingly remains clueless.

 The war will likely come to a stop soon as it must, with Israel having achieved little if any political objectives: Hamas is still standing, the abductees are still at large, and the rockets never ceased flying into Israel. While the future remains unclear, what is indeed clear is that Israeli policies of demonizing the Palestinians have fallen flat, and people throughout the whole world have come to recognize it through protests from Australia to California and everywhere in between.

Israel has been stood up by a defiant Palestinian hospital.  Without the firing of a single bullet, Al Shifa has shot down the Israeli hypothesis that the Palestinians were all criminally complicit in their crime against Israel, deserving such collective punishment. The indiscriminate civilian bombing, ad hoc destruction of schools, hospitals, and religious sites have all lost their justification; and it is now up to the world to hold the Israelis responsible for these crimes to account, just as the Jews themselves once did to those who perpetrated crimes against their own during WW2.

Saturday, October 14, 2023

How Many Babies Truly Perished

In the first days of the war, as global media outlets started broadcasting the horrifying events, news emerged of 40 decapitated Israeli babies, presumably by Hamas. The story was repeated in many outlets including CNN and the BBC by both reporters and guests. At one point, even US President Biden alluded to it in his “I stand with Israel” speech.

As an Arab American, I was appalled and horrified. Regardless of political and ideological differences that one could have with anyone, and the vacillating acceptance of the inevitability of civilian deaths coming from both sides in an interminable 75-year conflict, this would be a red line of barbaric proportions that no human could ever accept. It does not pertain to any faith or civilization and cannot be justified whatsoever. But then I began to wonder:

Who were these babies? Were they all together in some daycare center, or pre-school, or hospital incubator in a mass killing so often tragically perpetrated in the United States? Which hospitals received them and why weren't there reporters at the scene? When were they counted and by whom? Why wasn’t there any footage of any doctor coming out to speak of them? Were there any death certificates? How come no relative of any of these babies has stepped forth to identify them, parent, grandparent, uncle or aunt, anyone? Where were they laid to rest? Above all, why have these babies not been honored with a mention of their name or a national burial worthy of their innocent sacrifice?

Although many questions emerged, curiously few if any journalists asked or probed guests on their shows who were making those claims. Why was that? Surely, an astounding claim such as this that shakes the moral fiber of our very humanity deserves to have some physical evidence presented. But none has emerged so far, except for what appears as a grainy picture of a slain baby, shown to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken by Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, hardly the beacon of earnest truth. While the picture may very well have been that of an innocent Israeli baby victim, why didn’t Netanyahu show pictures of the 39 others?

In the ensuing days, as the aerial bombardment of Gaza began, news of more children deaths emerged, this time with hundreds of Palestinians. This in itself did not come as a surprise as anyone with minimal knowledge of the region would know that there are almost 1 million children in Gaza, some fifty percent of the population. So statistically up to half of civilian casualties are likely to be children. And indeed, hospitals and international relief agencies in Gaza soon began reporting the trickle, come flood of those deaths.

Meanwhile, the story of the 40 babies has begun winding down, with some outlets quietly rescinding it and even Joe Biden retracting some of what he had stated in his speech. Still notwithstanding the possibility that the US President may have fallen victim to false propaganda, no major outlet has come out to report on such a massive rescinding as they are accustomed to. Why the hush? In all fairness, the New York Times did have an article on fake stories fueling the war, including gaming videos and old footage from Latin America being used as propaganda, but not much else has been made of what seems to be a central justification by Israel to compare Hamas to ISIS and proceed with what could end up being genocide and the banishment of 2 million Palestinian from Gaza, against all international norms and law.

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been going on for more than 75 years and understandably elicits the most primal of emotions from many, beyond just Arabs and Israelis. Misled emotions driven by propaganda, however, often lead to oversized reactions that only serve to cloak real agendas, ultimately hurting vastly more innocent civilians. It is here that responsible journalism takes on a crucial dimension of reporting the truth wherever it leads. In the end, this might be the only way for us all to keep our humanity and moral compass intact. Alas, if the media is forced to turn a blind eye, it would be complicit not only in spreading news of the fake killing of forty babies, but the real perishing of entire generations of babies on both sides of the conflict and their dream of peace.

Friday, June 30, 2023

Federalization or Balkanization? Lebanese Federalism Addresses the Wrong Problem with the Wrong Solution

"The tragedy of the Lebanese federalists is not only in their diagnosis of the wrong problem but in providing the wrong solution. Lebanon needs the antidote of concentrated federal power after all the abuse received by its citizens. What the country desperately needs is for the people to retain their rights that devolve power to each citizen. What Lebanon wants is a Bill of Rights to deliver on decentralization, not more federalization, which would constitutionalize sectarian abuse and quite possibly lead to Balkanization."


Lately, Lebanese television has been parading Federalists to present their plan for getting the nation out of its current calamity. Contrary to its name, which tends to imply unification, the Federalists are actually proposing the cantonization of the country into as much as a dozen or more cantons based purely on religious grounds. They justified their position based on “studies” that they conducted, in which they concluded that Lebanon had different ethnic and religious “cultures”. In their minds, these are irreconcilable, because of a hegemon, Hezbollah, controlling the nation. Since they do not want conflict, they are recommending Constitutional partitioning, which they disingenuously are calling Federalism. Their hope is that it leads to nirvana. The fear of many is that it leads to Balkanization.

But before we delve into any plans, it is worthwhile to ask what exactly is the problem in Lebanon that merits their recommendation of Federalism? If the problem is a concentration of power, then federalization usually is the epitome of concentrated power not a dissolution of it. Indeed, if we look at history, federalization usually unites different regions or factions under a single governing umbrella; and it does it for different reasons: 

Federalization unites to draw economic efficiency: Differing regions might not be coordinating well, or commerce is not functioning because of absence of lack of standards, or infrastructure is not being built. A better coordination of effort and pooling of resources is therefore required, which justifies a typical federalization process. This first modern one occurred in the United Stated after independence in 1776. The ensuing loose confederation was a first attempt and did not work well with commercial issues quickly emerging with contradicting state interests. Federalism was used to address such inefficiencies and be the ultimate arbiter. The question here is: Given that Lebanon is already a united nation, but operating with gross inefficiencies, how exactly is partitioning it into several states going to increase economic efficiencies, especially at a time when the state is dysfunctional and in default as is?

Federalization leads to a concentration of power: A federation takes power from its parts and governs over all of them. Federations typically have a single army, a single foreign policy, an overarching set of laws and institutions, including a single monetary policy. This concentration of power has both internal as well as external repercussions. Internally, it creates more consistency and standardization, while externally it creates more presence. Notwithstanding the economic power of nations like Germany, France, and Italy, many in Europe half a century ago felt that they could not strategically compete against large powers such as the United States, Russia, and China, unless they established a federation that joined all of their individual but insufficient efforts together. Today the European Union has a President and Parliament that does most of the negotiations on behalf of its member states with the other global powers. If the diagnosis in Lebanon is that there is too much power in the hands of one party, Hezbollah, how exactly is concentrating more power in a federation going to help resolve the situation? In trying to federalize, will the Lebanese federalists accidentally increase the power of the central government rather than decrease it, or will I make no difference at all because de facto Lebanon is sectarian-federalized? 

The third is social cohesion: A federation attempts to pull together differing factions into a common core, delivering a sense of belonging to something bigger than one’s own. Russia and China both created a strong sense of national cohesion to withstand the centrifugal forces at the edge of their vast empires. In that sense, federation creates a narrative—regardless of it being real or concocted—which unites and brings about cohesion and nationalism. What kind of nationalist narrative would exist if Lebanon were to be divided in religious enclaves? Are the Lebanese federalists really federalizing or are they Balkanizing?

Lebanese Federalists fail to justify all three of the above key elements of federalization.

Economically, proposing to federalize Lebanon at a time when it is bankrupt is wishful thinking at best. Indeed, to establish all the required federal and state institutions is currently as impractical as it is inefficient for a nation of Lebanon’s size and economic conditions. For example, they proposed creating judiciaries in each of the to-be established dozen or so states. Who exactly is to pay for this at a time when the judiciary in Lebanon literally does not have resources to turn electricity on or buy paper? Establishing parliaments and councils, constitutions laws, etc … are all extremely costly endeavors. Who is to fund them? And even if that were to miraculously happen, there is no mention of who and how all established states would agree to pay their portions, and what happens if they don’t. Economic costs should not be underestimated or diminished, especially not in view of what recently happened post-Brexit with the UK exiting the EU costing hundreds of $Billions more than estimated, which the people would ultimately have to pay. Are the Lebanese people willing to undertake such an exorbitant endeavor when they can barely make their daily ends meet? 

Politically, what the Federalists are proposing seems to be intuitively the exact opposite of what they themselves are diagnosing to be the problem, which is a concentration of power. At this point, they admit that Lebanon’s power is split by sects, controlled by a handful of sectarian leaders. Wouldn’t federalizing cause this concentration of power to become even worse by essentially Constitutionalizing this illegal and unpatriotic practice? And even if their diagnosis of the problem is that all of Lebanon’s ills are due to Hezbollah’s imbalance of power, why would federalization change this dynamic? Some would argue that the contrary could end up happening by handing the power reigns over to them. Besides, come partition time, what guarantees that they wouldn’t claim the lion’s share? India and Pakistan are still disputing Kashmir well over seven decades after partition. Lebanese federalists might need to be asked whether they think in drawing maps, who is likely to have the upper hand: An academic pen or a keen sword?

As for social cohesion, the Federalists assume that the Lebanese people only see themselves defined as purely religious communities. In reality, the Lebanese and their ancestors are among the most socially mobile people in the history of mankind, traversing the globe for millennia, and being invaded by empires for most of history. Globalization is embedded in the DNA and so is coexistence. It is no accident that it was named a “message” by Pope John Paul II. Are we now being asked to burn this message and our social cohesion with a false notion security coming from deluded religious segregation? Are we to go back five centuries, when others in our region have started looking five ahead? If anything, Lebanon desperately needs to eliminate sectarianism not to federalize it into the Constitution. I think our youth expects more from this type of tribalized religious thinking, and indeed they are way ahead of the federalists as proven by an increase in inter-marriage occurring all over the nation among all sects.   

The tragedy of the Lebanese federalists is not only in their diagnosis of the wrong problem but in providing the wrong solution. Lebanon needs the antidote of concentrated federal power after all the abuse received by its citizens. What the country needs is for the people to retain their rights that devolve power to each citizen. What Lebanon wants is a Bill of Rights to deliver on decentralization, not more federalization, which would constitutionalize sectarian abuse and quite possibly lead to Balkanization. Watching the kaleidoscopically colorful maps of the proposed religious enclaves, along with the proposal that it would drive social cohesion, was as surreal an experience as I've ever had. The only thing missing from the maps shown were the inevitable thirty-foot walls, which unfortunately appears to be what is equally separating Lebanese federalists from reality.