Gilad’ s New Book: The Wandering Who? will be out in October. It is already available (pre-order) on Amazon.com
bandannie read the book and was mesmerized by the accuracy of his analysis.
Jewish identity is tied up with some of the most difficult and contentious issues of today. The purpose in this book is to open many of these issues up for discussion. Since Israel defines itself openly as the ‘Jewish State’, we should ask what the notions of ’Judaism’, ‘Jewishness’, ‘Jewish culture’ and ‘Jewish ideology’ stand for. Gilad examines the tribal aspects embedded in Jewish secular discourse, both Zionist and anti Zionist; the ‘holocaust religion’; the meaning of ‘history’ and ‘time’ within the Jewish political discourse; the anti-Gentile ideologies entangled within different forms of secular Jewish political discourse and even within the Jewish left. He questions what it is that leads Diaspora Jews to identify themselves with Israel and affiliate with its politics. The devastating state of our world affairs raises an immediate demand for a conceptual shift in our intellectual and philosophical attitude towards politics, identity politics and history.
You can now pre-order the book on Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk
“A formidable improvisational array…a local jazz giant steadily drawing himself up to his full height…”-John Fordham, The Guardian
“Best Musician” living in the world today, Robert Wyatt, The Guardian
“…Atzmon is an astonishing musician.” John Lewis, Metro
Click below for samples of his music :
The Tide Has Changed by Gilad Atzmon
Fatal torture ‘widespread’ in Syrian jails – Middle East – Al Jazeera English.
Unbearable to listen to the brother of the victim but do bear with his narration.
The Murder of Sakher Hallak by the Syrian Security Apparatus
The chronology of events:
• After visiting the USA to attend a medical conference, Dr. Sakher Hallak was arrested by the Syrian secret police, the Mukhabarat, on Wednesday, May 25, 2011, on his way home from work, at 11:30 at night.
• On Thursday, May 26, his wife called a person she knew, a relative who worked in the Syrian Congress, named Adnan Alsokhneh. He assured her that the Mukhabarat had him, and that he will ensure that he is released soon.
• On Thursday, Sakher’s office manager/nurse contacted one of his patients who has connections in Damascus. He told her that someone form the intelligence service wrote up something against Sakher, and that he was in deep trouble. He promised to check on his status at the Mukhabarat, and to call her back with any new information.
• Dr. Sakher Hallak called his best friend, a psychiatrist, on Thursday morning to tell him that he is at the Mukhabarat and that he is well, and that he would be released in a couple of days. The Mukhabarat wanted to ask him about his recent visit to the USA, he said. He visited the USA from April 15 to May 05, 2011 in order to attend a medical conference in Miami, Florida. Later that morning, his friend visited Sakher, and he told the family that Sakher was well.
• On Friday, May 27, the Mukhabarat interviewed Sakher’s wife and daughter. They were told that everything would be OK, and that he would be released on Saturday.
• On Saturday, his wife called again, and she was told that he should be on his way home, but he had to stop at the courthouse to sign some documents.
• His body was found freshly dead Friday at 6 PM, in a village 20 km from Aleppo. It was dumped in a ditch in an out-of-the-way area.
• On Saturday evening, May 28, the coroner’s office called family, and told them that they have a body in the morgue, and that it might belong to Sakher.
• Indeed, the body was that of Sakher. There was evidence of multiple injuries, consistent with torture and direct trauma to the head. His eyes and his penis were mutilated. Most of the bones in his body were broken, and marks from different types of boots were imprinted on his body. He died by strangulation. There were handcuff and rope marks on his fingers, suggesting that he was trying to dislodge the rope off of his neck.
• In the morgue, the Mukhabarat told family that they never had Sakher in their custody, but, that, instead, they found him dead on the street.
• The coroner’s official cause of death was torture and strangulations by rope. They refused to release the full report or the date and time of death.
• The Mukhabarat wrapped the body with gauze, like a mummy, making sure that only his face, with his eyes closed, and his feet were showing, to prevent any incriminating photos. The family was not allowed to be alone with his body.
• Sakher’s body was monitored by 2 Mukhabarat agents at all times. They also prevented people from attending his funeral; only 200 were allowed to attend. They used official cars to transport the body to the funeral and made sure that no photos were taken.
• The family were told that he was killed by the Mossad. No one believed it, since he was a physician, not a nuclear scientist.
• Subsequently, the family was told that his nurse manager murdered him. They took the cameras out of his office, and accused her of stealing. She was in jail for a period of time, charged with theft, but not murder. She was released recently.
• In June 2011, a physician, helping a boy injured in a demonstration in Aleppo, was arrested by the Shabiha. They told him that he was being taken away to join Dr. Sakher Hallak.
Saturday, August 27 2011|Joseph Dana
Over the years of writing and wrestling with Israel/Palestine, Akiva Orr has become a supportive figure. Born in 1930’s Berlin, Orr has lived the entirety of Israel’s existence. From Eric Fried to Joe Slovo, Akiva can speak for days about his personal relationships with some of the most interesting revolutionary leaders of the late twentieth century. It is not Akiva’s circle of friends rather his work on the ground in Israel/Palestine as a founding member of Matzpen which is most fascinating. Orr wrote Max Blumenthal and me an email this morning in reference to our latest piece about Israel’s tent protests. It is reprinted in full along with an interview Blumenthal and I did with Orr last summer regarding Israel’s wars as well as a youtube link to a full length documentary about Orr’s political party in Israel, Matzpen.
Your article on the “social-protest” is excellent. Full of factual data and ideological insights. I found it excellent and learnt facts I did not know. I fully agree with its content but I still consider this protest unique and politically important in Israeli politics. This is so due to my own political development. Let me explain.
I was politicized by my participation in the great Israeli seamen’s strike in 1951. By the way, a film about that strike was shown in Rothschild tents recently and I was asked to comment.
Until the seamen’s strike I was just an ordinary Israeli kid imbibing all the Zionist education without questioning it. I grew up in a non-political home, as a Tel Aviv ‘Beach Boy.’ I joined the “Hagannah” in 1945 when I entered High School. So did 25 of my other class mates out of which three joined Begin’s ETZEL and one joined the Stern Gang. The remaining six class mates joined nothing. Keep in mind that this was typical to all Jewish high schools at that time. In the “Hagannah” we did military training in summer holidays and fly-posted Tel Aviv streets with weekly at nights. We also participated in anti-British demos. We never did anything anti-Arab. I participated in “Hagannah” activity as a cog participates in a machine. I became platoon commander at 16 and trained 30 kids in drill and use of fire arms but we never fired a bullet (too expensive). All this sounds very political but I was totally a-political. I knew nothing about Marx, Lenin, or the USSR and could not tell the difference between the various Jewish political parties in Palestine. I detested all politics. It reeked of emotional blackmail.
I visited neighbouring Jaffa often as a kid and though it was 100% Arab it never occurred to me that the Arabs might oppose Jewish independence in Palestine. To me – and to most of my generation – the Arabs were part of the physical landscape like the mountains and the vegetation. We did not hate – or fear – them. It never occured to us that a lengthy military/political conflict with them is inevitable. It was simple: our enemy were the British who ruled us, not the “natives”.
Only during the 1951 seamen’s strike did I become politically critical because I read the various press reports about the strike. At that time most Israeli newspapers belonged to political parties. I read them and saw that most press reports were biased against the seamen, and distorted the real facts of the strike. Only one paper gave a factually accurate reporting – and supported the seamen.
It was the paper of the Communist Party (CP). So I joined that party knowing nothing about Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, or the USSR. It took another 2 years of CP membership before I became an anti-Zionist. In the CP, I met Palestinian comrades who were not “Uncle Tom’s” and when I sold the CP paper in Jerusalem (every Friday for 6 years), I encountered violent hostility and opposition that forced me to learn the facts about Capitalism and the Zionist-Palestinian conflict. The 1950s were the peak of the “Cold War” and anti-communism was rough and rampant. I acquired my political education not by books but by political confrontations. I firmly believe that political confrontations with adversaries is the best political education.
Now back to Rothschild tents. Most young people in the tents face their first political confrontation in those tents. Before July 14 they were just fodder in politics. Now they are becoming politically critical – and aware. Whatever the outcome of this unique protest – their minds and attitudes are changed and will stay so. They will not be political fodder again. Give them time and many will become anti-Zionist. One cannot be weaned in a week from what one embraced uncritically for many years at home, in nursery and school. This confrontation/protest changes their minds – and lives. Nothing similar ever happened in Israel before. Moreover, thanks to the mobile phones, Facebook, and the Internet, this protest is completely self-managed. No external organization hatched it or runs it. Massive Citizens’ self-organizing activity never existed in Israel before. This makes all political parties tremble. They know that this protest changed the rules of the political game in Israel. Israeli citizens cannot be treated as “election fodder” in the future. Whoever will treat them so will pay dearly at the ballot box.
My political activity aims to make the ballot box obsolete by direct participation of all citizens in all political decisions.
This protest is a “first small step” in that direction, and as Mao used to say: ”The longest journey starts with one small step.” Though I am not – and never was – a Maoist, I agree with him. That is why I support this protest despite all its drawbacks.
Keeping up the struggle – and enjoying it
by Aya Kaniuk and Tamar Goldschmidt on August 27, 2011
Ali Khalifa Mu’tasem Udwan
On Monday, August 1st, 2011, at dawn, the Occupation soldiers murdered Mu’tasem Udwan and Ali Khalifa and seriously wounded Ma’amun Awad.
It was the first morning of Ramadan.
Murder is always shocking. And because afterwards there is nothing. But what shocked me in particular was how Mu’tasem’s mother saw him very soon after he was murdered, lying on the ground by his house door, his brain splashed on the asphalt. This is how she saw him, her son, and somehow this is what shocks me most of all. Because as soon as he is dead, he is already gone and my thoughts go to the holes that he has left behind. But this particular hole, of Mu’tasem’s mother, is what turns off all the lights for me.
On the one hand, what happened that dawn in Qalandiya refugee camp is not extraordinary. Such things happen all the time. The Occupation soldiers invade one Palestinian locality or another, especially at night, under this or that pretext, and then they break doors, and after breaking in they smash things inside the house, closets and plate glass and television sets, and usually pick up one or another youth, about whom this or that has been said, some truth or some falsehood, usually taken as testimony from another boy under some pressure or other, whereby it is reasonable to assume that he would say anything he was told to say and confess anything he was ordered to confess, and usually there are also stones hurled at the Occupation soldiers and mostly the Occupation soldiers shoot at the stone throwers who are usually mere children, and they also fire rubber or teargas ammunition and even live bullets into homes and on the streets just like that, and here and there at the end of all of this people are wounded or killed, and all this is not that extraordinary. Not in the Qalandiya refugee camp, not throughout the Occupied West Bank.
Still, the murders of Ali Khalifa and Mu’tasem Udwan were cast in the camp as a unique event and different from all the other events that have become routine with the dripping of the years.
Again and again people have been saying, “how could they possibly do this”, and “why of all days on the first day of Ramadan”, the religious and the secular ask alike.
And not because the blood of a person murdered during Ramadan is more precious than that of a victim on any other day. But perhaps it is only that people cannot complain to the same extent at any given moment and shout ‘No!’ and that it is unbearable, unacceptable. For if they did that, no joy would be left, no endurance and the ability to exert oneself and bring up one’s children properly in spite of it all, and live in spite of everything, and also it is normally too dangerous to revolt, and involves tremendous effort.
But there are such moments when the truth, always present, emerges and is heard, and time stops.
Ramadan is such a symbolic moment. Perhaps because in Ramadan the shops remain open at night, too, and one has the duty of doing good deeds, and because people need such moments of shift away from the everyday, and this is provided by religion and tradition, and not only for Palestinians under Occupation.
“This is what happened that night”, says Haitham Hamed, our friend. A gentle, special man from Qalandiya refugee camp. “This is what I heard happened”.
“They came for Wajih. Wajih Haitham Khatib. He is a 15-year old boy. More than 200 soldiers came. 200 soldiers to catch a 15-year old boy. 200 soldiers came for one kid and killed two adults. That’s what happened. They always come, all the Israeli soldiers, to the camp. They bring with them all those forces just to pick up a kid or two… And the Border Patrol and… They keep coming from a thousand ways. From down here, from outside, from the settlement above. They come down, or up, and around the camp where the airplanes were (what used to be the Atarot airfield) and from the main road, from lots of roads. This time, too. They came from near the settlement.
And he’s accused – this I heard in the camp – do you know of what? Are you familiar with the settlement next to the camp? Not Psagot, what’s it called? Kochav Hashachar. He’s accused of having burnt the mountain. Burnt the mountain? With all those soldiers and Border Patrol and the guys with the guns and jeeps and fence and guards and cameras all around. He came to them and burnt a mountain there?
What a story. Just doesn’t enter one’s head. But that’s what his parents told me. That this is what he is accused of. That this 15-year old kid went near the settlement and burnt the mountain. The soldiers didn’t know his real address. So they entered more than one house. And in every house they broke stuff. That’s what I heard. And it’s normal for them to break stuff. They don’t know any other way. First they break the doors with their special machines that they bring. They don’t knock. Only this way, without saying a word, they place the device on the door and press a button and – pow – it opens the door. Always. Not once or twice. Like they did at our home, remember? People replace doors a lot in our camp (chuckling).
In short, they came to the camp, and didn’t find the boy. They didn’t find the boy. So if you don’t find the boy, you raise such hell? Right, Tammi? You don’t find the boy so you go ahead and kill two people? And then what did they do? What they did was to pick up his cousin. 22-years old. They didn’t find Wajih so they took his cousin, and said that they were taking him until the kid’s father would turn him in.”
And Tamar said: “It’s shocking, Haitham. Shocking. Not only do they kill them, they take in his nephew… kidnap…”
“Yes,” said Haitham. “And his dad brought him to Ofer prison the next day, I think. So his nephew would be released… Under what kind of law do they do this? Taking his cousin, telling his dad if you bring your own son, you can take back your nephew… What law has such words… For the father to hand in his own child. In his own hands he takes his child to prison. And the child knows he’s going…I can’t lie to you, stones have been thrown at them. They left Wajih’s house on the way to the another one, and stones were thrown at them. But often they entered the camp and picked the people up, and every time stones were thrown at them. But they didn’t always do this. So why did you come this time, in Ramadan? For a boy no older than 15 or 16? And you knew there were people in the street because of Ramadan. And you knew stones would be thrown at you. And I want to say something about the stone-throwing thing. Throwing stones, that’s the maximum. For who in the camp would have the heart to pick up a gun and shoot at soldiers? So maximum they throw stones. Say a Molotov cocktail, right, Tammi? At most, a Molotov cocktail or stones. So a stone was thrown, so what. They don’t kill you with a stone, right? A stone doesn’t kill, only wounds you. So for this you came and killed two?”
“Mu’tasem, Mu’tasem Udwan, the first fellow they killed. He is my neighbor,” says Majdi from the camp, whom we have just recently met. “He lives just 10 meters away. We were all woken up by the shooting… it was war… I went up to the roof. And there was this soldier down in the street. His rifle placed on a tripod… And Mu’tasem opened his door to take a look outside because of the shooting and the noise. Terrible noise… and teargas and lots of shooting. Mu’tasem who looked down didn’t notice the soldier. The soldier shot him in the head, and he fell to the floor. He opened the door of his home and the soldier shot him with a live bullet to the head… and his brain spilt on the ground. And he didn’t have a head anymore. He didn’t have a head…I saw all that from my roof. I’ll never forget this as long as I live. He had no more head… and his brain spilt on the floor. Abu Ali, Ali Khalifa the second one, he lives down hill. But that night he was at the camp. With his friends. That’s how it is during Ramadan. A bit like your Thursday and Friday nights. People hanging out together. All night. And guys beating traditional drums to wake people up before dawn so they might still get bread or other things for the house before the fast…….And then it all began….When the shooting got really heavy he wanted to go back home. To get away. His car was parked near my house. He may have come there because he wasn’t as familiar with the camp as we are, so he came back for his car. And he saw Mu’tasem lying on the ground. All alone. It was just 6 minutes after he was shot. And he went over, to Mu’tasem, he may have thought he was wounded, and wanted to help him. He didn’t notice the soldier…and the soldier shot him too. Two bullets. One came out the other side. And a hole opened up in his abdomen. And then he fell, right by Mu’tasem.”
“That’s how he went… How Abu Ali went…”
“Haitham, did you call him Abu Ali?”
“His name was Ali Khalifa. But he was called this way. Abu Ali, because his name is Ali. So you add the Abu. Like that.”
“Everyone knows these guys”, says Haitham. “The camp is small, but everyone knows Abu Ali most. I knew him well, the day before I saw him at the gas station, washing his car. But earlier too. He was with me in prison. As a boy. At the Russian Compound. He was a good person… He used to help people, the elderly, all of us cannot believe he’s dead, I swear to you. That he’s gone. Unbelievable. And he is a Jerusalemite. A Jerusalemite. He lives down the hill. Not in the camp… His parents pay municipal taxes. I knew Mu’tasem, too, but not well. He’s a nice guy. Really nice. Studied at the university. He was about to graduate in a year’s time. And he didn’t do anything. Doesn’t throw stones. He was at home. Looking out through his own door and was shot in the head.”
“And the one who was wounded, Ma’amun Awad, he was shot inside his car”, says Majdi. “He was trying to get away, and the soldiers wouldn’t let him pass, and he pleaded, and finally they threw a gas canister into his car, and smoke broke out, and he opened the car door to escape the smoke, and they shot him, they had an M-16, and he is wounded now. Badly wounded.”
“Maybe you know him”, says Haitham, “this is Ma’amun Awad, whose father owns a gas station at Semiramis, where the army camp used to be and the soldiers would throw stones at the taxis, remember? Poor guy. Got two bullet. Two bullets sitting in his backbone, and the doctors fear that if they’re removed, he will become paralyzed. They say if the bullets are taken out, he’ll end up paralyzed.”
And we fell silent again. Time passed. Then I asked: “Haitham, after that happened to Mu’tasem, did his family see?” Because I kept thinking of it the whole time.
“Sure they saw. He was shot at the entrance to his house. In the beginning his mother was upstairs, watching everything. She saw someone on the ground, his brain spilt… she didn’t realize at first that it was her own son she was seeing. Poor guy, she said, poor wounded child, crying for him not knowing it was her son. But shortly afterwards she knew. And rushed out. She couldn’t recognize him. his head was blasted, the brain was spilt on the ground. That’s what they say. And from the eyes up there’s nothing… And his mother went mad, poor woman. We all cried for her. Pulling at her hair. She’s ill. She’s ill now…”
“The thing that hurts you about Mu’tasem is that the fellow was inside his own home. Standing inside his home. You know what that means, at home? Where the heart is. That’s the worst. The most painful. Right?”
“I couldn’t eat for 4, 5 days after all of this”, says Majdi, “nor sleep properly… not after seeing his brain splashed on the ground.. his flesh hot. His and Abu Ali’s, hot… Abu Ali’s abdomen on the floor… all the flesh, the meat… After the soldiers left I went down where they lay, Mu’tasem and Abu Ali. I thought I’d pick all that up from the ground and put it away, on the side. But I was told not to. That they will take it too, to later sew it back into their bodies… So we collected all of this and put it in plastic bags, and it was hot, hot, their flesh was hot.”
“I think they do it on purpose”, Haitham added. “It’s on purpose. Tammi…. People are sitting like this anyway, and have nothing, and their life is hard. Such a hard life… So why pack in Ramadan like this? Why do this and leave people with no illusions? That’s the reason, I say. To take away their illusions. Their… How do you say this in Hebrew, I’ve forgotten. To take away their hope, Aya. That’s the word. That’s the point and I’m not racist. I look at things from many angles. This will happen and that will happen and I’ll think again and again. And I don’t see everyone the same way. But they did this out of racism. That’s what I think. Not because of the stones, and not because of Wajih. Because of racism. Otherwise they wouldn’t kill two people. It’s their racism that got Mu’tasem. And Abu Ali. Their racism…”
“The camp is very heavy now. Our heart is heavy” says Haitham, after we sat quietly for some more moments. “And fear. People are walking around afraid of soldiers, that if they go out at night, they’d be killed. From far away. And it’s quiet at night. People don’t open their windows out of fear. This is the story of what happened that night of Ramadan in our camp… This is what happened.”
And this is what our friend A., another friend from Qalandiya, told us (A. is a very close friend of ours, and he is always asking us to keep him anonymous because he is afraid that if the soldiers find out that he is talking about what happens at the camp, they would hurt his family). He is the one who first told us about this all, right after it happened. He called us twenty minutes after the murder in the camp, to tell, while the calls for the first prayer of Ramadan were still heard in the background, and Mu’tasem was already dead, and Ali not yet, and Ma’amun unconscious, and it all sounded unreal, like a film or a book or a nightmare:
“Mu’tasem, you know, is such a cute guy. He heard a noise… We say “this guy’s clock is through”. Now he stepped out of the door, the soldiers standing outside, saw a guy look out, so they shot him. I don’t know, I say this, you know, he’s dead, but someone shot him. The guy who shot, I mean what is he saying in his own home now? He’s sitting alone, I think he has kids, he too has a family, or a mother, brothers, his father… And he’s sitting at home, and saying I killed a child today. Why? He can’t say why. Because, why? What did the kid do? What did he do to me? Was he armed? No, he carried no weapon. Was he, how do you say this, was he one of the Arab fighters? No, he was not one of those. And I know he had nothing on him. He didn’t throw stones. He just stepped out of his home, and suddenly I killed him – the soldier would say and I say, this soldier, what can he say? If he has a heart, what does he end up saying? He’d say, wow, why did I kill him? That’s what I think. Just like that. Because, why? What did he do?”
And Tamar said, “I think he’s sitting at home and making this… screen… making up some story for himself.”
“No, no, listen”, A. interrupts her. “He did this and he knows. He could have aimed at the leg, no? He could shoot at the leg and wound him. If he’d want to. But he aimed at the head. And Tammi, on their rifle they have this… he sees through his sights… he looks, he knows. You understand… So I don’t know, I don’t know what he… how he sits at home, knowing, knowing he killed. Say, the soldier is a human being, right? He has a heart, doesn’t he? So what does he tell himself. That I killed a boy today. What does he tell himself…”
(Crossposted @ mahsanmilim. Translated from Hebrew by Tal Haran)
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
As Fighting Continues in Tripoli, A Look at Role of the U.S., NATO and Oil Firms in Libya Uprising
Over 160 Arrested in Ongoing Civil Disobedience Against Keystone XL Tar Sands Oil Pipeline
Covering Up Wall Street Crimes: Matt Taibbi Exposes How SEC Shredded Thousands of Investigations
Click on photo
This is what it looks like when government fails to protect its citizens:
More than a quarter of people living in New Orleans in August of 2005 lived below the poverty line. Many of the poor in New Orleans stayed at home to weather the storm. Why?
Twenty-seven percent of New Orleanians didn’t own a car, making evacuation even more difficult and expensive than it would otherwise be.
People without the means to leave are also the most likely to rely on the television, as opposed to the radio or internet, for news. TV news began warning people how bad the storm would be only 48 hours before it hit; some people, then, had only 48 hours to process this information and make plans.
Poor people are more likely than middle and upper class people to never leave where they grew up. This means that they were much less likely to have a network of people outside of New Orleans with whom they could stay, at the same time that they were least able to afford a motel room.
For those who were on government assistance, living check-to-check, it was the end of the month. Their checks were due to arrive three days after the hurricane. It was also back-to-school time and many were extra cash poor because they had extra expenses for their children.
A study of New Orleanians rescued and evacuated to Houston (Quigley, 2006), described by political scientist Caroline Heldman, found that:
…14% were physically disabled, 23% stayed in New Orleans to care for a physically disabled person, and 25% were suffering from a chronic disease… Also,
• 55% did not have a car or a way to evacuate
• 68% had neither money in the bank nor a useable credit card
• 57% had total household incomes of less than $20,000 in the prior year
• 76% had children under 18 with them in the shelter
• 77% had a high school education or less
• 93% were black
• 67% were employed full or part-time before the hurricane
The city failed to get information to their most vulnerable residents in time and they failed to facilitate their evacuation. The empty buses in flood water, buses that could have been filled with evacuees prior to the storm, is a testament to this failure.
There is so much spin surrounding the Transitional National Council victory in Libya that it is difficult to interpret the outcome, and perhaps premature to do so at this point considering that the fighting continues and the African Union has withheld diplomatic recognition on principled grounds. Almost everything about the future of Libya has been left unresolved, beyond the victory of the rebel forces as massively assisted by NATO air strikes as well as a variety of forms of covert assistance given to the anti-regime Libyans on the battlefield. Of course, in the foreground is the overthrow of a hated and abusive dictator who seemed more the outgrowth of the surrealist imagination than a normal political leader who managed to rule his country for more than 42 years, and raised the material standards of the Libyan people beyond that of other societies in the region.
It does seem that the great majority of the Libyan people shared with others in the region a thirst for political freedom. The initial uprising seems definitely inspired by the Arab Spring. But unlike the other populist challenges to authoritarian Arab states, in Libya the anti-regime forces abandoned nonviolent tactics at early stage and became an armed uprising. This raised some doubts and widespread fears about the onset of a civil war in the country, but it also brought forth a variety of explanations about the murderous behavior of the regime that left its opponents no alternative.
Now with Qaddafi gone as leader, if not yet captured or killed, a new central concern emerges. What will the morning after bring to Libya? At the moment it is a matter of wildly divergent speculation as the unknowns are so predominant. There are a few observations that clarify the main alternatives. More favorably than in Egypt or Tunisia, this populist uprising possesses a revolutionary potential. It has seems poised to dismantle the old order altogether and start the work of building new structures of governance from the ground up. The fact that the TNC resisted many calls for reaching an accommodation or compromise with the Qaddafi regime gives the new leadership what appears to be a clean slate with which to enact a reform agenda that will be shaped to benefit the people of the country rather than foreign patrons. This opportunity contrasts with the messy morning after in Egypt and Tunisia where the remnants of the old order remain in place. In Cairo numerous demonstrators were sent to jail, and reportedly tortured, after new demonstrations were held in Tahrir Square led by those fearful that their political aspirations were being destroyed by the same old bureaucracy that had provided Mubarak with his oppressive structures of authority that made the country safe for neoliberal exploitation and unsafe for constitutional democracy. Let’s hope that the TNC can sustain Libyan unity and commit itself to the building of a democratic constitutional order and an equitable economy step by step. It will not be easy as Libya has no constitutional experience with citizen participation, an independent judiciary, or the rule of law. Beyond this, political parties, non-state controlled media, and civil society were absent from Libya during the Qaddafi era.
And then there is the big possible problem of NATO’s undefined post-Qaddafi role. The air war inflicted widespread damage throughout the country, and already NATO entrepreneurial interests are staking their claims, and TNC spokespersons have indicated that those who lent their cause support will be rewarded in appreciation. Fortunately, NATO does not purport to be an occupying force, but the United States and the principal European countries that took part in the war are pulling strings to release billions of dollars of assets of the Libyan state that were frozen in compliance with Security Council Resolution 1973 and various national directives, and may well be playing a major advising role behind the scenes. Will this dynamic of enabling the new leadership to achieve a finance recovery and reconstruction in Libya come as part of a package containing undisclosed political conditions and economic expectations? There are signs that oil companies and their government sponsors are scrambling to get an inside track in the current fluid situation. It does not require paranoia about imperialist geopolitics to take note of the fact that the two major military interventions in the Arab world within the last decade were both situated in significant oil producing countries whose leadership rejected integration into a world order in which global energy policy was under the firm control of the market interests of international capital. And, oh yes, the other likely target of major Western military action is Iran, and it too ‘happens’ to be a major oil producer. Let us recall that the UN failed to respond in oil-free Rwanda in 1994 when a small expansion of a peacekeeping presence already in the country might have saved hundred of thousands from an unfolding genocidal onslaught. In the realm of world politics, it may be worth observing, coincidences rarely happen.
There are also significant unresolved issues associated with the precedent set by the UN in authorizing a limited protective intervention that when acted upon ignored the guidelines set forth by the drafters of the Security Council resolution. The actual scope and ill-disguised purpose of the intervention shortly after it became an operational reality in Libya was to tip the balance in a civil war and achieve regime change. Such goals were never acknowledged by the pro-intervening governments in the course of the extensive and sharp Security Council debate, and had they been, it is almost certain that two permanent members, China and Russia, given their reluctance to approve of any use of force in the Libyan situation, would have blocked UN action by casting a veto. The UN is confronted by a dilemma. Either it refuses to succumb to geopolitical pressures as was the case when it withheld approval from the United States plan to attack Iraq in 2003, and steps aside while a so-called ‘coalition of the willing’ is hastily formed to carry out an attack, or they grant some kind of limited authority that is cynically overridden by the far more expansive goals of the intervening governments as has been the case in Libya. Either way respect for the authority of the UN is eroded, and the historical agency of geopolitics is confirmed.
In the Libyan case, the evaluation of the UN role is likely to depend on what happens in the country during the weeks and months ahead. If a humane and orderly transition takes place in the country, and national resources are used to benefit the people of Libya and not foreign economic interests, the intervention will be effectively marketed as a victory for humane governance and a demonstration that the international community can engage in humanitarian intervention in an effective and principled manner. If the country descends into chaos as the Libyan victors fight among themselves for the political and economic spoils or take revenge on those associated with the Qaddafi regime, the intervention will be retrospectively discredited. This will happen also if the country becomes one more neoliberal fiefdom in which the majority of the population struggles to subsist while tiny elites sitting in Tripoli and Benghazi collaborate with foreign financial and corporate interests while skimming billions off the top for themselves.
This assessment of the intervention as a precedent is based on considering only its consequences. As such, it does not take into account the importance of maintaining as a matter of principle, the integrity of UN authorizations of military force both in relation to the UN Charter and with respect to confining the military undertaking to the strict limits of what was authorized. I will consider in a companion essay this issue of sustaining constitutionalism and the rule of law when the Security Council authorizes military action.
Richard Falk is an international law and international relations scholar who taught at Princeton University for forty years. Since 2002 he has lived in Santa Barbara, California, and taught at the local campus of the University of California in Global and International Studies and since 2005 chaired the Board of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. He initiated this blog partly in celebration of his 80th birthday.