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Israel's humane society

The Serbian vulture (Photo courtesy of Galai PR)

The following is my latest piece for Al Jazeera.

Lima, Peru – Last week, Israel’s High Court voted to uphold a law denying Israeli citizenship or residency not only to Palestinians married to Israeli Arabs, but also to spouses of similarly distasteful nationality (Lebanese, Iraqi, etc).

I read the news of the court verdict on the Haaretz website, where it was offset by another breaking headline of a more compassionate nature: “Serbian vulture set free after treatment at Israeli veterinary hospital”.

According to the article:

The vulture was found injured at Kibbutz Lehavot Habashan in northern Israel, and was rushed to an Israeli veterinary hospital specializing in wild animals. There, the bird was diagnosed with multiple gunshot wounds.

Following two months of treatment, the vulture was set free. The Serbian embassy in Tel Aviv was reportedly “delighted to hear about the bird’s recovery, and Serbian diplomats attended the release of the Serbian ‘patient’ back into the wild”. Haaretz offered the following assessment:

Flying in the Middle East can be perilous for the scavenger birds, as they are sometime [sic] shot by people ignoring the international treaties protecting these birds.

As for other creatures imperiled by ignorance of international treaties, these might include Palestinian populations regularly subjected to collective punishment in violation of the Geneva Conventions. The inferior urgency of Palestinian medical conditions vis-a-vis avian ones is additionally underscored by the Israeli tradition of firing missiles at Palestinian ambulances, as well as by Haaretz headlines such as “IDF investigating death of diabetic Palestinian delayed at checkpoint” and “Palestinians: Ailing woman dies after IDF denies her ambulance”.

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The Foibles of Thomas Friedman

The following is Max Ajl‘s review for Jadaliyya of my book The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work.

A researcher once carried out an informal study to try to find out whether or not people actually read the books on bestseller lists. To find out, he put envelopes in the reputedly high-selling books. In each envelope was a note saying that if those who found the envelopes were to send them to a designated address, the researcher would send them five dollars. According to the story, the response rate was zero. After readingThe Imperial MessengerBelén Fernández’s treatment of the life’s work of Thomas Friedman, one can only hope for the sake of American intellectual culture that some of the books included in that experiment were Friedman’s.

Fernández’s book, part of Verso’s Counterblasts series, in which leftist writers take on the leading lay-preachers of the right, is organized around three themes: Friedman commenting on America and the economy; Friedman commenting on the Middle East; and Friedman commenting on the Special Relationship between America and Israel. Cataloging the stumbles of a man who can barely take a step before tripping over another fact was clearly a trying task. There is something altogether manic and dulling about reading the careful pairing of one Friedman statement with another that neatly negates it, again and again.

It cannot have been thankful labor, and it is clear that Fernández set to work with great diligence: reading all of his collected columns and books since 1995, crosscollating them for topicality, and juxtaposing them for their contradictions and inconsistencies.

The results, as befit the crown prince of American nincompoop commentators, are ridiculous. One week will see Friedman calling for US aggression against Iraq so as to “create a free, open, and progressive model in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world to promote the ideas of tolerance, pluralism, and democratization.” The previous week would have seen him announcing that “we can invade Iraq once a week and it’s not going to unleash democracy in the Arab world,” while a third reflection has him describing the invasion as “the most important task worth doing and worth debating,” even though it “would be a huge, long, costly task—if it is doable at all, and I am not embarrassed to say that I don’t know if it is.” This tangled skein and dozens like it that Fernández extracts from Friedman’s nearly endless production attest to a mind that displays total indifference to the consistency of the thoughts and words it commits to paper.

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Deconstructing Thomas Friedman: Book review by IPS

From yesterday’s review of my book by Sandra Siagian for Inter Press Service:

NEW YORK, Dec 6, 2011 (IPS) – A new book on the influential New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman sets out to debunk his hawkish, neoliberal views, accusing him of overt racism, factual errors and skewed judgments on issues ranging from the U.S. invasion of Iraq to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Deconstructing one of the country’s highest-paid journalists, Belen Fernandez’s “The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work” presents a comprehensive overview of the man – and three-time Pulitzer Prize winner – she describes as “characterised by a reduction of complex international phenomena to simplistic rhetoric and theorems that rarely withstand the test of reality”.

Fernandez, 29, admits that prior to 2009 she wasn’t too familiar with the work of the foreign affairs columnist. It wasn’t until that summer she decided to analyse Friedman’s work after reading “a sequence of ridiculous articles”.

Finding it difficult to “cram all of that incompetence into a concise book”, Fernandez divided the content into three issues that “most enraged” her, analysing his work along with a brief examination of the shortcomings of the U.S. media.

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Doug Henwood interview: The Imperial Messenger

I was recently interviewed about my new anti-Thomas Friedman book by the great Doug Henwood for his program “Behind the News”. The show aired this morning on Berkeley’s KPFA 94.1.

The first guest was Michael Dorsey, professor of environmental studies at Dartmouth, who was speaking from the annual climate summit currently underway in Durban, South Africa.

My part begins at minute 27.10 with a wonderfully relevant introductory song.

Henwood has also included the recording of Friedman’s infamous “Suck. On. This” performance on Charlie Rose on behalf of the Iraq war effort. Remarks Henwood in response: “It’s like junior high school, only with automatic weapons and high explosives”.

Listen to the interview at the Left Business Observer or click below:

Book review: Fernández skewers empire’s messenger Tom Friedman

Below is an excerpt from David Cronin‘s review for The Electronic Intifada of my book The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, slated for release by Verso this coming Monday, Nov. 7. Cronin, the author of Europe’s Alliance with Israel: Aiding the Occupation, writes:

Few books on current affairs merit being called page-turners; because of Fernández’s witty and punchy style, this one does.

Click here to read the review in full at The Electronic Intifada. Click here to read an exclusive excerpt from The Imperial Messenger, also at EI.

Even though just one chapter is specifically focused on the “special relationship” between Israel and the US, Friedman’s commitment to Zionism is criticized throughout Fernández’s book.

While Friedman has claimed he learned he was “more Middle East than Minnesota” on his first visit to Jerusalem in 1968 (55), Fernández stresses that his refusal to analyze Zionism and its legacy from a critical perspective means that all his work on the region must be treated with circumspection (54).

In any event, his claim is a dubious one; a great deal of his travels are spent in the Westernized environments of golf clubs, luxury hotels or hamburger restaurants (Friedman’s most famous and ludicrous theory is that no two countries hosting a branch of McDonald’s have gone to war against each other (3)).

Perhaps the best thing about this book is how it highlights the shoddiness of Friedman’s research and how someone who has been lauded by Pulitzer Prize judges for his “clarity of vision” is frequently muddled and inconsistent.

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Thomas Friedman: Imperial Messenger of the Arab Spring

(Photo: AFP-Mark Ralston)

The following is an article I wrote for the Beirut-based Al Akhbar English.

It took Thomas Friedman — New York Times foreign affairs columnist and three-time Pulitzer Prize recipient for reporting and commentary on the Middle East — approximately 46 days after the outbreak of the Arab Spring in Tunisia to weigh in on the matter.

Noted champion of the notion that Iraqis should be made to “Suck. On. This” by the US military in order to “try to build one decent, progressive, democratizing society in the heart of the Arab East”, Friedman eventually turns up in a Tel Aviv hotel to discuss ramifications of the Egyptian uprising with a retired Israeli general. He then proceeds to Egypt itself, an experience that subsequently merits significant reflection:

When I was in Cairo during the Egyptian uprising, I wanted to change hotels one day to be closer to the action and called the Marriott to see if it had any openings. The young-sounding Egyptian woman who spoke with me from the reservations department offered me a room and then asked: ‘Do you have a corporate rate?’ I said, ‘I don’t know. I work for The New York Times.’ There was a silence on the phone for a few moments, and then she said: ‘Can I ask you something?’ Sure. ‘Are we going to be O.K.? I’m worried.’

I made a mental note of that conversation because she sounded like a modern person, the kind of young woman who would have been in Tahrir Square. We’re just now beginning to see what may have been gnawing at her — in Egypt and elsewhere.

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Calling all ultimate missionaries to Israel

Trial of "Hamas terrorists" in IDF military court, one of many exotic activities awaiting the ultimate missionary

I first learned of an intriguing excursion known as “The Ultimate Mission to Israel” in 2009 while perusing an article on the website of the Jerusalem Post.

The article, which outlined Israel’s sudden concern for the fate of UNIFIL despite its repeated targeting of UN personnel and institutions in Lebanon, cited Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak as warning that—in the event of a significant gain by Hezbollah in the upcoming Lebanese elections—Israel would no longer “feel the restraints it did in 2006 about attacking Lebanese infrastructure”.

Barak refrained from explaining how the 2006 destruction of much of Lebanon, including apartment complexes, milk factories, bridges, children in the backs of pickup trucks, and approximately 1200 other people qualified as infrastructural restraint. I was distracted from pondering the issue myself by a large advertisement featuring soaring warplanes in the bottom right-hand corner of my computer screen.

Clicking on the planes, I arrived at an invitation to “explore Israel’s struggle for survival” via the weeklong Ultimate Mission to Israel, which focused on closer-to-home infrastructural threats to the Jewish state. The itinerary included such activities as:

  1. briefings by Mossad officials.
  2. an inside tour of the IAF targeted killings unit.
  3. attendance at a military trial of “Hamas terrorists”.
  4. a “live exhibition of penetration raids in Arab territory”.
  5. a barbecue.

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