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The Passion of Husam Zomlot

4 Aug

I gave this guy something of a hard time when he came to deliver a talk at MIT a few years back (watch around the 54:30 mark). To be perfectly honest, I hadn’t really paid him much attention since, even though he frequently appears on international TV and radio to discuss an issue I follow closely (Palestine).

But this morning I feel compelled to profess my respect for the moral and intellectual seriousness on display in this BBC interview clip, a longer version of which aired last Friday. US citizens especially would do well to listen.

Below is my transcription of the latter chunk of the clip, which features Dr. Zomlot delivering an impassioned contestation of the mainstream narrative surrounding Operation Protective Edge. I did my best to include supplementary links for his main points, particularly the putatively controversial ones.

Husam Zomlot: There are two wars happening, my friend. 

There is a war by the Israeli army, the most sophisticated in the region and maybe 4th in the world, against our people, against the Palestinian people. This war has seen entire neighborhoods obliterated. This war has seen the devastation and the mayhem. Wholesale murder, everywhere. 

BBC: But it’s not against Palestinians, is it? It’s against Hamas. It’s against the group that’s firing rockets into Israel.

Zomlot: I’m sorry. No. That is absolutely a lie and not true. And we should stop this because this is the second war.

The second war that is waged by Regev and his likes. The spinning and the PR and the game of deceit to blame the victim. 

I have not seen any Hamas fighter being targeted by Israel. What I have seen is families that I know–I am from Gaza, I lived with these families, I grew up with these families, I know them–I see entire families being wiped out.

I see hundreds of thousands of innocent people in the streets of Gaza as we speak.

I see a UN shelter being targeted and 16 killed.

I see the only power plant being targeted by Israel, to devastate.

I see the water supply being cut off so they devastate the entire nation.

I see the Israeli military doctrine.

BBC: So are Israeli forces just deliberately targeting civilians?

Zomlot: Yes

Because this is the founding military doctrine of Israel. Israel was founded on murdering as many civilians as possible to put pressure on the political and military leadership of the Palestinians…

Despite four mind-numbing weeks spent inundated with emotionally-laden Gaza coverage, I found these remarks from the mouth of a spokesman for Fatah–a party whose leadership actively collaborates with the occupation and carefully hedges its public image to retain the good graces of the very powers which oppress it–quite moving.

Let’s hope the UK was watching.

Update: Another brief, powerful excerpt:


Edit Note: Just after posting, I realized I needed to append the opening to mention for context that this interview was originally published by the BBC last Friday. This thought was almost immediately followed by the grim realization that the BBC’s headline (“Gaza crisis: ‘There was never a ceasefire’ – Fatah spokesman”) is just as accurate today, despite a new ceasefire that was supposed be in effect: 

A seven-hour unilateral “humanitarian window,” which was announced by Israel on Sunday evening and took effect in Gaza from 10 a.m. local time (3 a.m. EDT) Monday was almost immediately broken by an air strike on the al-Shati refugee camp in northwestern Gaza, Agence France-Presse reported.

A Gaza Health Ministry spokesperson told Al Jazeera that at least 30 people, including women and children, were injured in Israeli shelling on a residential building in the camp. And, according to other media reports, Israeli air strikes near Gaza City also killed Daniel Mansour, a commander of the Islamic Jihad group — a close ally of Hamas — just hours before the latest cease-fire was to begin. One child too was killed in the latest air strike on the refugee camp, AFP reported, citing doctors.

Israel had declared on Sunday that it would hold its fire in the Gaza Strip for seven hours following widespread international condemnation, including from the U.S. and the United Nations, over its attack on another U.N.-run school — the third one since the operation began on July 8 — on Sunday. The attack on the school in Rafah, which was reportedly sheltering thousands of displaced Palestinians, killed 10 people and injured 30 others.

Indeed, as increasingly outraged calls for an end to the violence echo from virtually the whole of the international community, basically everything in this exchange (aside from the specific strike times Zomlot rattles off at the beginning) is equally valid at the time of writing.

Here’s hoping that Israeli operations are stopped by the time you read this post.


Encouraging Signs of Polarization…

3 Nov

…as Israel Shahak liked to say. The subject of dispute is the set of shibboleths underlying prevailing macroeconomic theory, as reported in an ultimately disappointing read in the Guardian. Aditya Chakrabortty’s report makes a nice addition to any clipfile on shifting economic thinking in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, but its account of challenges being levied against macroeconomic orthodoxy is fairly superficial and trite.

The anecdotes he uses to frame the piece are interesting and encouraging to hear. And it’s hard to disagree with some of the general points about (macro)economics suffering from tunnel vision both in method (abstract quantitative modeling, reductively characterizing economic agents as uniformly self-interested rational market participants) and scope (uncritically addressing concerns of capitalist political economy: growth, development, efficiency, inflation, preventative and therapeutic treatments for recession and depression, etc.).

But calling out the twin elite orders of economic authority–ivory tower economists and finance sector alphas–for causing, or at least failing to predict/prevent, the financial crisis without losing so much as their credibility and privileged positions of influence among policy makers…it’s something we all heard vaguely informed 18 year olds (rightly) proclaiming back even before the advent of Occupy.

Which brings me to another of the article’s shortcomings–the conspicuous failure to so much as mention Occupy or its European sister movements (British street protests and Occupy London‘s occupation of government buildings, Spain’s Indignados, Greek Okupas and anarchist community organizing in resistance to austerity, Israel’s tent city “social protests” , etc.). Surely these movements are central to understanding post-crash skepticism toward the reigning economic authorities. One wonders whether this omission was deliberate. Maybe Chakrabortty (or his editor) was afraid that if he dredged up all that he’d remind his audience that the trends in question are hardly recent developments.

My strongest direct objection is to this bit:

In his new book, Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste, the US economist Philip Mirowski recounts how a colleague at his university was asked by students in spring 2009 to talk about the crisis. The world was apparently collapsing around them, and what better forum to discuss this in than a macroeconomics class. The response? “The students were curtly informed that it wasn’t on the syllabus, and there was nothing about it in the assigned textbook, and the instructor therefore did not wish to diverge from the set lesson plan. And he didn’t.”

I don’t think introductory macroeconomics classes have a responsibility to explain and analyze current affairs. It simply isn’t what the class is intended to do, right? There should be (and, at least in the US, often are) other classes offered in economics departments which address such pressing questions in a properly focused context; failing this, a department-sponsored reading group supervised and facilitated by one or more faculty members or whatever. The underlying problem, which Chakrabortty’s article touches on, is that the experts tasked with devising undergraduate economics training tend to deem such endeavors a distraction from imparting high level competence in the quantitative skill sets that employers are looking for.

And since it’s apparently Obvious Day on Camp Stupid, yes: all economics departments should teach Marx. Those that don’t should have their senior faculty publicly flogged with a hardcover copy of Das Kapital. Ideally the flogging should be doled out by the grad students and adjuncts. Their alienated labor under the supervision of blithe tenured mandarins really lends a bitter irony to the latter’s failure to make students read the guy who wrote the fucking book on workplace exploitation.

While we’re on the subject, here are Richard Wolff and David Harvey on Charlie Rose discussing the financial crisis as a crisis of capitalism (7/26/2012); they broach the problem of fatally parochial discursive boundaries in economics departments around the 14:14 mark:

And for anyone interested in exploring serious heterodox approaches to macroeconomic questions, the University of Manchester’s Post-Crash Economics Society’s reading list is a handy resource.

More Bitter News from Gaza

6 Apr
The New York Times is reporting that the UNRWA, the relief agency which serves the Levant’s sizeable Palestinian refugee population, has “indefinitely suspended food distribution in the Gaza Strip after protesters angry over the cancellation of a cash assistance program for the poor stormed the agency’s main compound in Gaza City on Thursday”. It’s difficult to know how to respond to such a miserable situation. Ostensibly the aid-dependent people of Gaza’s ossified refugee camps are quite literally gnashing at the hands that feed them.

But note also that these protests have been orchestrated by the PLO.

Once the indispensable political front of the Palestinian national liberation struggle and still its representation at the UN, the PLO’s significance within Palestine has faded since the advent of Oslo and the establishment of the administrative body it controls, the Palestinian Authority. The PA has increasingly hemorrhaged legitimacy as the intervening decades since Oslo have brought unprecedented rates of Israeli settlement expansion in the Occupied Territories, few elections, and a steady terminal dimming of hope among the Palestinian people that they will ever see the establishment of an independent state.

Ascendant Hamas which currently governs Gaza has long been deliberately excluded from the PLO and in 2007 crushed a US-backed coup mounted by the PLO’s dominant party, Fatah.  Fatah was subsequently expelled from the territory but Hamas was expelled from the PA: PLO chairman and PA president Mahmoud Abbas immediately moved to formally dissolve the Hamas-led unity government and appointed ex-PA finance minister Salam Fayyad, a US-trained economist and banker formerly of the World Bank and IMF, to assemble a new coalition.

The schism has ensconced Fatah in the West Bank, where Abbas’s PA continues to govern under the discretion of the Israeli authorities, leaving Hamas in control of Gaza and Palestine divided.  These rival factions which effectively constitute the two main blocs of Palestinian political leadership have yet to seriously reconcile.

Of even greater contextual significance here than internecine Palestinian political strife is the context of Israeli occupation and international sanctions. Indeed, the stubborn absence of any substantive discussion of Israel’s relationship with Gaza’s desolate economy is the most striking aspect of Jodi Rudoren’s article.

Since the election of the Hamas government through free and fair elections in 2006, Israel, with the collaboration of its fellow US clients in Cairo, has subjected the densely populated Palestinian enclave to a devastating blockade, intermittent military incursions, political assassinations, an elaborate matrix of surveillance, severely curtailed access to arable land and fishable coastal waters, and several large-scale assaults by Israel’s state-of-the-art military apparatus upon Gaza’s largely defenseless civilian population and infrastructure.

In short, there is a clear and ever-present proximate cause behind the blighting poverty which pervades the Gaza Strip and gives rise to this kind of fractious tension between desperately insecure refugees and the squeezed UN agency charged with preserving what precarious economic life doggedly obtains among them. That such 800 lbs. apes escape mention in a story like this is both telling and inexcusable, and sure to nourish the narrative of smugly exasperated victim blaming so entrenched in the American (mis)understanding of the Israel-Palestine conflict.


3 Jun

Standard aneurysm-inducingly warped American press coverage of Israeli brutality.  It’s heartening to hear recognition on a cable news channel that the people of Gaza are suffering severely under the Israeli blockade, but the framing narrative here is still crazy.

There’s a lot to object to in this clip, but allow me to comment on just one particularly galling moment, namely, Mitchell’s sly insinuation that the Goldstone Report was biased against Israel.  She suggests this matter-of-factly, in passing, as though it’s a given.

But Richard Goldstone is a Zionist and a world-renowned jurist. His daughter made aliyah to Israel. He documented Hamas crimes as well as Israeli ones. Yet still, even on supposedly liberal MSNBC, the logic goes,

1. if the report made Israel look bad,


2. it must be because of UN bias.

Good grief.