AFP: Obama’s UN Ambassador Pick Says Administration Will Confront Mugabe

by matttbastard

Let’s hope Susan Rice is being forthright here:

At her Senate confirmation hearing, Rice pledged to confront the regime of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, urging China, Russia and southern African countries to join the Obama administration in isolating the veteran strongman.

“Their interests no longer, frankly, coincide” with Mugabe’s regime, the former diplomat told the Senate foreign relations committee, after its chairman John Kerry said she was an “outstanding choice” for the UN job.

Arguing it was “in our shared interest to support a peaceful transition in Zimbabwe to a democratic government,” Rice said China and Russia should support UN efforts to isolate a regime “that is clearly not long for this world.”

“I hope very much that under president-elect Obama’s leadership, we will work with southern Africa and bring their private condemnation in to the public sphere… so that the people of Zimabwe’s suffering can finally end,” she said.

Related: Chris Beyrer and Frank Donaghue: ZANU-PF government systematically denying citizens access to basic health and human services, says Mugabe regime “has destroyed the health-care system, as it has devastated virtually every other sector of public life, with its ruinous mix of corruption, mismanagement, violence and human rights violations.”

More from Frederick Clarkson of Religion Dispatches:

Dr. Chris Beyrer, Professor of Epidemiology and International Health at Johns Hopkins University told Religion Dispatches that the scale of human suffering and death may be worse than Pol Pot’s Cambodia in the 1970s, and that regional and international inaction is analogous to the international community’s failure to stop the genocide in Rwanda in the 1990s. He estimates that about half of the population of Zimbabwe is either dead or has fled to neighboring countries. “I have been at this for a long time,” he said, his world-weary voice seeking to convey the urgency of the accelerating Zimbabwean disaster. “I’ve never seen so total a collapse of a health system.”

Read the Physicians for Human Rights report Health in Ruins: A Man-Made Disaster in Zimbabwe. Also, follow Joe Trippi and ZimbabweFast on Twitter, and join Bishop Desmond Tutu in a once-a-week solidarity fast for Zimbabwe:

The 78-year-old Anglican archbishop said he had been fasting once a week in solidarity with the hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans facing food shortages and a cholera outbreak.

“If we would have more people saying ‘I will fast’ maybe one day a week, just to identify myself with my sisters and brothers in Zimbabwe,” the radio station quoted him as saying.

Must-read op-ed from Bob Herbert: “If you want to see hell on earth, go to Zimbabwe”.  Make sure to also check out this  Save the Children fact sheet on the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe.

ElsewhereThe Times (SA): “Zimbabwe Peace Project director Jestina Mukoko is being held in solitary confinement in Harare’s Chikurubi maximum security prison.” The Times also reports that Ms. Mukoko is currently detained “in a section reserved for hardcore criminals” and, according to a warder, despite the existence of a women’s section “has been placed in the tougher section that normally houses men.”  Earlier: CNN: “Zimbabwe’s main opposition party has asked organizations such as the United Nations to help find 11 supporters who were allegedly abducted by government agents, a party spokesman said.”

Background: Mahmood Mamdani: Lessons of Zimbabwe; Mary Ndlovu: Zimbabwe on the edge of the precipice.

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Gaza: The Bottom Line

by matttbastard

Contra collective punishment apologist Alan Dershowitz (who, with his post-9/11 embrace of “torture warrants”, has long forfeited any moral authority he may have once possessed), Chris Hedges starkly charts the ethical and practical landscape where Israel’s ongoing assault on Gaza ultimately resides:

Privilege and power, especially military power, is a dangerous narcotic. Violence destroys those who bear the brunt of its force, but also those who try to use it to become gods. Over 350 Palestinians have been killed, many of them civilians, and over 1,000 have been wounded since the air attacks began on Saturday. Ehud Barak, Israel’s defense minister, said Israel is engaged in a “war to the bitter end” against Hamas in Gaza. A war? Israel uses sophisticated attack jets and naval vessels to bomb densely crowded refugee camps and slums, to attack a population that has no air force, no air defense, no navy, no heavy weapons, no artillery units, no mechanized armor, no command and control, no army, and calls it a war. It is not a war. It is murder.

[…]

The Israelis in Gaza, like the American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, are foolishly breeding the next generation of militants and Islamic radicals. Jihadists, enraged by the injustices done by Israel and the United States, seek to carry out reciprocal acts of savagery, even at the cost of their own lives. The violence unleashed on Palestinian children will, one day, be the violence unleashed on Israeli children. This is the tragedy of Gaza. This is the tragedy of Israel.

Those who forget the past

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Fatten the Lambs UPDATE: Israeli Airstrikes Kill At Least 155 in Gaza

by matttbastard

Following up on this post from a couple weeks ago, Reuters reports that Israel has finally opened the border to Gaza, allowing vital humanitarian aid to enter the Hamas-controlled occupied territory:

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said he ordered Gaza crossings opened for essential humanitarian supplies in response to numerous requests from the international community.

The deliveries could ease tensions that might have led to military action to end rocket attacks, though in the past Israel has allowed Gaza to resupply with vital goods before launching assaults.

Which, according to Haaretz, once again appears to be the case:

On Sunday, the prime minister will hold a series of consultations ahead of a possible military action in the Strip. No major move will apparently be made until these discussions have concluded.

In statements Thursday, senior security officials were unwavering. “Anyone who harms Israeli citizens and soldiers will pay the price,” Defense Minister Ehud Barak said.

[…]

Israel is planning a relatively short operation that will cause maximum damage to Hamas “assets.” The defense establishment says the operation would not necessarily limit itself to stopping rocket launches and that during the operation, daily massive rocket launches can be expected. Hamas might fire rockets with a range beyond the 20 kilometers it has used so far.

[…]

The sources warned that an Israeli ground operation would result in many civilian casualties in Gaza, especially in the refugee camps.

So. Allow aid to flow, then (reluctantly) cash in a blood debt by liquidating civilians Hamas assets. A cynic might say that the lambs are being fattened before the slaughter.

Update 12.27: And so it begins:

At least 155 Palestinians have been killed in an Israeli aerial bombardment on Hamas security installations.

Israel launched air attacks across the besieged Gaza Strip on Saturday, threatening that further operations would be carried out later in the day.

Witnesses reported heavy damage as at least 30 missiles were fired on the targets.

Emergency services said that at least 200 people were also wounded.

[…]

The Israel army released a statement saying “terrorist installations” were hit and that all Israeli pilots returned unharmed.

The operation against the Hamas is “only just beginning,” Avi Benayahu, an Israeli military spokesman said.

h/t Sylvia/M

Update 2: Laura Rozen:

I asked former Israeli peace negotiator Daniel Levy, currently in Israel, why, while recognizing the pressure on the Israeli government to do something about the rockets from Gaza hitting southern Israel the past weeks, did Israeli officials choose to strike Hamas security facilities at midday when they were full of people, with high loss of life and almost certain dramatic escalation of the conflict? “I do not fully understand why they went for such a disproportionate escalation,” Levy writes. “My guess: a combination of electioneering and misplaced wishful thinking that this will push the Arabs/world to intervene and downsize Hamas on terms favorable to Israel ….[This] won’t happen – certainly not in a sustainable way. By the way, Hamas probably thinks this will cause intervention on terms favorable to themselves – also misguided (though less so; long term, this helps Hamas is my guess).

Also via Rozen, Haaretz: “Hamas chief vows third Intifada has come”:

Hamas Political Leader in Damascus Khaled Meshal threatened revenge attacks after a series of Israel Air Force attacks left at least 230 dead and hundreds more wounded in Gaza, saying “the time for the third Intifada has come.”

Meshal issued a call to Palestinians in the West Bank to carry out suicide attacks against Israeli targets and to attack Israel Defense Forces soldiers.

“This Intifada will be peaceful for the Palestinians but lethal for the Zionist enemy,” Meshal said, adding that this ‘new Intifada,’ will “rescue Gaza and protect the West Bank.”

[…]

A Hamas spokesman on Saturday vowed the group would not surrender in the face of IDF attacks in the Gaza Strip, and that Israel would not break its “resistance to the occupation.”

The spokesman added that Hamas would not “raise a white flag” of surrender and would respond with all means available at its disposal.

Well. That should suit certain hardline quarters in (what is likely to be) Israel’s next government just fine.

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Gaza Blockade Forces Citizens to Eat Grass for Survival

by matttbastard

The Sunday Times (of London) reports from Gaza, where, thanks to the recent tightening by Israel of its ongoing military blockade, purportedly in response to continued rocket attacks launched from the Strip by Palestinian fighters, humanitarian conditions have grown increasingly dire:

“We had one meal today – khobbeizeh,” said Abu Amra, 43, showing the leaves of a plant that grows along the streets of Gaza. “Every day, I wake up and start looking for wood and plastic to burn for fuel and I beg. When I find nothing, we eat this grass.”

Despite the increasingly desperate situation residents of the poverty-stricken territory now face, the diplomatic impasse at the heart of Gaza’s deterioration (summed up with tragicomic succinctness by the Times: “Israel says it will open the borders again when Hamas stops launching rockets at southern Israel. Hamas says it will crack down on the rocket launchers when Israel opens the borders.”) appears unlikely to be overcome anytime soon. Which pretty much guarantees continued strife for Gazans over the coming months:

Israel controls the borders and allows in humanitarian supplies only sporadically. Families had electricity for six hours a day last week. Cooking gas was available only through the illegal tunnels that run into Egypt, and by last week had jumped in price from 80 shekels per canister (£14) to 380 shekels (£66).

The UN, which has responsibility for 1m refugees in Gaza, is in despair. “The economy has been crushed and there are no imports or exports,” said John Ging, director of its relief and works agency.

“Two weeks ago, for the first time in 60 years, we ran out of food,” he said. “We used to get 70 to 80 trucks per day, now we are getting 15 trucks a day, and only when the border opens. We’re living hand to mouth.”

He has four days of food in stock for distribution to the most desperate – and no idea whether Israel will reopen the border. The Abu Amra family may have to eat wild grass for the foreseeable future.

A little bit of unsolicited diplomatic advice from yours truly: You know it’s beyond time for Hamas and Israel to hammer out their fundamental differences post haste when the citizens of Gaza are reduced to eating grass in order to survive. Let’s just hope the incoming leader of Israel’s most generous and supportive patron recognizes the importance of helping broker an agreement sooner rather than later, both for reasons of pragmatic national interest and– most importantly–because crafting a solution is, perhaps now more than ever, morally imperative.

h/t Sylvia/M via IM

Related: In a recent op-ed published by the San Jose Mercury News, Darlene Wallach, a member of the Free Gaza movement who was recently detained by Israeli forces while attempting to enter Gaza, points out the elephant in the room:

Israel’s military occupation of Gaza did not end with the withdrawal of its soldiers and settlers from Gaza in 2005. Israel still controls access of people and goods into and out of the Strip. It controls Gaza’s airspace, borders and, as my capture attests, territorial waters.

Last year, Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza, hoping to turn Gazans against Hamas. In early November, it tightened the blockade and is denying an entire population access to trucks laden with humanitarian provisions, food and gas.

[…]

This collective punishment is illegal under international law. Article 55 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, for example, states that “to the fullest extent of the means available to it, the Occupying Power has the duty of ensuring the food and medical supplies of the population; it should, in particular, bring in the necessary foodstuffs, medical stores and other articles if the resources of the occupied territory are inadequate.”

In other words (borrowed from Fred Clarke, who has been forced to repeat them far too often over the years):

You’re not allowed to kill civilians.

Killing civilians is against the law. Killing civilians makes you a criminal.

Yes, but …

No buts about it. You’re not allowed to kill civilians.

And, also: You’re not allowed to kill civilians.

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