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November 5, 2011


A poem by Richard Falk


To be human

            is to be


                                    before and after

                                                                                    the law


To be protected

            if ever

                        if at all

                                    only by

                                                the decency

                                                                                                of others


And when unprotected

            abused neglected

                        there are

                                    dark clouds

                                                in the sky

                                                                                    of the citizen


He who seems proud

            only when



            paying bills on time

                                                            this code of his:

                                                                                    ‘virtuous obedience’


My code

            is learned

                        (if ever learned)

                                    only by moonlight:

                                                                        ‘disobedience is love’



            the heart

                        in hard times

                                                even amid strangers

                                                                        even on crowded streets



            helps also

                        until the time

                                                finally comes

                                                            and when it does—

                                                                                                            it will




            to do to undo

                                    to act

                                                ready to kiss one another

                                                                                                            ready to die



Among Syrians : follow up on the AL move


Someone asked me if the regime can subdue Homs in the two weeks the AL have given it. First, the Qatari FM was very clear that prisoners had to be released and the army withdrawn “immediately”. He emphasized that strongly at the post meeting press conference. The two week part refers to starting a dialogue.

But, let’s assume the worst, and say that the AL have given Besho two weeks. He will not subdue Homs in two weeks, nor in two months, nor in two years. It took the army one week to take over Rastan, a town of just 70,000, and that was when it could commit all its manpower to it. Now, the FSA has spread far and wide in classic guerrilla warfare fashion.

Let me tell you about the pattern of the army attacks; they start with heavy bombardments in the morning, with incursions for a few hours. By afternoon the attack will have petered out due to heavy and highly coordinated resistance, not just from Baba Amr, but from other areas as well, and the army spends the late afternoon pulling back. At night, the army is limited to fending off counterattacks from the FSA. It’s a pattern we’ve seen for weeks now.

The army is a paper tiger. It is a mess. Rastan was the first real battle they had to fight, and they let the FSA sip away. One heavy hammer blow will knock out the few divisions loyal to junior, and the rest will melt away, just like what happened in Iraq. But the political atmosphere to justify such a blow needs to be prepared beforehand.

It is extremely painful to watch the increasing death toll, on either side. To the menhebaks, even their own Alawite foot soldiers are expendable resources, to be used up like ammunition or barrels of fuel. And don’t think that the Alawite rank and file don’t realize that. They are growing increasingly aware that they are pawns and cannon fodder to keep the Makhloufs and Assads in power.


Walls is the place!

I love the way Our Man In Damascus leaves the poignant coda to his report: How to prevent Syrian radicalization? By civil society and … more freedoms. Full stop.

The Walls man in Damascus and beyond tells us things most Syrians know. Not for nothing has the Baathi system used schools, workplaces, youth groups, membership societies, party-affiliates, public servants, students, guild members and security and media professionals. Not for nothing has forty plus years of education, indoctrination, information control and herding expertise been honed. Our man gives the brief, telling witness to the cattle-show nature of the Potemkin rallies …

I am a stranger to Syria no more, though I have never been to an Arabic speaking milieu. Over the months since the Tunisia military escorted Ben Ali and his squawking wife into retirement, my cynical eye has been on the events moving in ripples across North Africa and now reverberating inside Syria.

Any longstanding authoritarian system has the benefit of entropy. One can burn oneself alive in protest at petty, soul-destroying injustice. One year later the same petty and/or grotesque injustices endure, in Sidi Bouazid, in Cairo, in Homs …

… and now in Damascus the scramble to deceive the Arab League and crush opposition under cover of “agreement.”

Will there be more freedom to come into the streets at the end of two weeks? Will the committee for the committee of National Dialogue pick up the phone to Syrians abroad? Will expatriate Syrians be able to return to the land of their births? Will faux-amnesties emerge, in “batches,” will Tal be released, will the missing be accounted for, will the murderers of Dera’a be put in the dock? Will we hear Najati Tayara on al-Jazeera next week? Will convicted criminals like Louay Hussein, Michel Kilo and all the rest be able to publish, to form political parties, to vote (at the moment, the octopus of the Syrian Penal Code continues to deprive them of civil rights)?

Will the faux-media law and faux-demonstration laws and faux-parties law and faux-Dialogue be the only result of the two week killing binge? Will Burhan Ghalioun be escorted to his wounded home town near Homs under Arab League laissez-passer?

Will the regime crack open its walls barring media, will Syrians be free to assemble in groups of more than six persons, to shout, to cry out, to hold placards, to march in the streets, to witness the reign of terror since March, push aside the walls that pen them in, the walls of the Penal Code, the walls of Shabiha, the walls and gates and cells and silences of fifty years of palace rule?

More freedoms. Full stop.

And now the real maneuvering, what I think will be the Two Weeks That Were in Syria this year. My heart is in my throat, thinking that Bashar al-Assad, the hereditary successor, the kingpin of a monstrous machine, will survive in office, that all the walls in Syria stay intact.

The many walls preventing freedom are well-documented here. Kudos to all for passionate, incisive and wise reporting.

Walls is the place!

William Scott Scherk | November 4, 2011 at 6:23 pm

Walls’ link 

Jailed for Sailing to Gaza, Challenging the Blockade

by Medea Benjamin and Robert Naiman

Two boats full of courageous passengers were on their way to Gaza when they were intercepted on Friday, November 4, by the Israeli military in international waters. We call the passengers courageous because they sailed from Turkey on November 2 with the knowledge that at any moment they might be boarded by Israeli commandos intent on stopping them—perhaps violently, as the Israeli military did in 2010 when they killed nine humanitarian aid workers on the Turkish boat named Mavi Marmara.

The boats—one from Canada and one from Ireland—were carrying 27 passengers, including press and peace activists from Ireland, Canada, the United States, Australia and Palestine. They were unarmed, and the Israeli military knew that. They were simply peace activists wanting to connect with civilians in Gaza, and the Israeli military knew that. Yet naked aggression was used against them in international waters—something that is normally considered an act of piracy.

The passengers on the boats were sailing to Gaza to challenge the U.S. – supported Israeli blockade that is crippling the lives of 1.6 million Palestinian civilians in Gaza. They were sailing to stand up against unaccountable power—the power of the Israeli government—that has been violating the basic rights of the 5.5 million Palestinians that live inside Israel’s pre-1967 borders or in the Occupied Territories.  They were sailing for us, civil society, who believe in human rights and the rule of law.

The Arab Spring – which has now spread to cities across the United States in the form of the “#occupy” movement, and has been echoed in protests against economic injustice in Europe and Israel as well – has fundamentally been a challenge to unaccountable power. Some countries experiencing this protest wave are dictatorships under military rule or ruled by monarchies; others are generally considered “democracies.” But in all instances the majority feel that they have been shut out of decision-making and have been harmed by policies benefiting a narrow elite with disproportionate power.

The blockade of Gaza’s civilians is an extreme example of unaccountable power. Palestinians in Gaza aren’t allowed to vote for Israeli or American politicians. But due to political decisions taken in Israel and the United States, Palestinians in Gaza are prevented from exporting their goods, traveling freely, farming their land, fishing their waters or importing construction materials to build their homes and factories.

We have been to Gaza before, where we have seen the devastation firsthand.  We have also been to Israel and the West Bank, where we have seen how the Israeli government is detaining Palestinians at checkpoints, building walls that cut them off from their lands, demolishing their houses, arbitrarily imprisoning their relatives and imposing economic restrictions that prevent them from earning a living. We have seen how Palestinians, like people everywhere, are desperate to live normal and dignified lives.
A UN Report released in September found that “Israel’s oppressive policies [in Gaza] constitute a form of collective punishment of civilians”, that these policies violate both international humanitarian and human rights law, and that the illegal siege of Gaza should be lifted.  The International Committee of the Red Cross also called the blockade of Gaza a violation of international law because it constitutes “collective punishment” of a civilian population for actions for which the civilians are not responsible. The Red Cross is a neutral humanitarian organization. It doesn’t usually go around making pronouncements on matters of public policy. The fact that it has done so in this case should be a strong signal to the international community that the blockade of Gaza is extreme and must fall.

History has shown us again and again that when political leaders decide it’s in their interest, then peace, diplomacy, negotiations are possible. Recently, Israel and Hamas – with the help of the new Egyptian government – successfully negotiated a prisoner exchange that had eluded them for five years. In speeches, the Israeli government “opposes negotiations with Hamas,” and in speeches, Hamas “opposes negotiations with Israel.” But when they decided it was in their interest, they had no problem sitting down at the table and hammering out an agreement.

If Israel and Hamas can negotiate an agreement to release prisoners, then surely Israel and Hamas can negotiate an agreement to lift the blockade on Gaza’s civilians.

But the people of Gaza can’t wait for political leaders to decide it’s in their interest to negotiate, so it’s up to us—as civil society—to step up the pressure. That’s what these waves of boats are doing. That’s what the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement is doing.

More than a year ago, President Obama called the blockade unsustainable. “It seems to us that there should be ways of focusing narrowly on arms shipments, rather than focusing in a blanket way on stopping everything and then, in a piecemeal way, allowing things into Gaza,” he said. That hasn’t happened. Why not? Why shouldn’t it happen now? What does blocking Palestinian exports from Gaza to Europe or keeping people from getting medical treatment abroad have to do with arms shipments?
The Israeli military stopped these two small ships carrying peace activists to Gaza, but they won’t stop the Palestinians who are demanding freedom, and they won’t stop the solidarity movement. We won’t stop challenging the blockade on Gaza’s civilians—by land and by sea– until the blockade falls. And we won’t stop challenging the denial of Palestinian democratic aspirations until those aspirations are realized.

Medea Benjamin is the cofounder of CODEPINK and Global Exchange. Robert Naiman is the Director of Just Foreign Policy.


“Exploding Middle East Myths” written by Greg Felton-Epilogue-10-31-2011

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