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Selling a Vision of Hope: A Refreshing Alternative to Armageddon

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Up to 500 feared dead in Mediterranean shipwreck last week

Up to 500 feared dead in Mediterranean shipwreck last week
As many as 500 people are feared dead after a shipwreck last week in the Mediterranean Sea, two international groups said Wednesday, describing survivors? accounts of panicked passengers who desperately tried to stay afloat by jumping between vessels. The disaster happened in waters between Italy and Libya, based on accounts from 41 survivors who were rescued Saturday by a merchant ship, according to the U.N refugee agency and the International Organization for Migration. The tragedy ranks among the deadliest in recent years on the often-treacherous sea voyage along the central Mediterranean by refugees and migrants from Africa, the Middle East and beyond who have traveled in droves hoping to reach relatively peaceful and wealthy Europe.

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Archive >> June 2010
file under: the Middle EastIsrae the West 20 Jun 2010 12:28 PM
Is Israel The Canary In The Coal Mine? Posted by Nissim Dahan

This article, written by Jose Maria Asnar, the former prime minister of Spain, presents a view of Israel that is quite at odds with the view of many others around the world. Do you think he has a point, or is he way off base? Is it possible that the fate of Europe, and even the fate of the Middle East for that matter, is linked so directly to the fate of Israel? What do you think?


José María Aznar


Support Israel: if it goes down, we all go down


Last updated June 17 2010 12:01AM


Anger over Gaza is a distraction. We cannot forget that Israel is the West's best ally in a turbulent region


For far too long now it has been unfashionable in Europe to speak up for Israel. In the wake of the recent incident on board a ship full of anti-Israeli activists in the Mediterranean, it is hard to think of a more unpopular cause to champion.


In an ideal world, the assault by Israeli commandos on the Mavi Marmara would not have ended up with nine dead and a score wounded. In an ideal world, the soldiers would have been peacefully welcomed on to the ship. In an ideal world, no state, let alone a recent ally of Israel such as Turkey, would have sponsored and organised a flotilla whose sole purpose was to create an impossible situation for Israel: making it choose between giving up its security policy and the naval blockade, or risking the wrath of the world.


In our dealings with Israel, we must blow away the red mists of anger that too often cloud our judgment. A reasonable and balanced approach should encapsulate the following realities: first, the state of Israel was created by a decision of the UN. Its legitimacy, therefore, should not be in question. Israel is a nation with deeply rooted democratic institutions. It is a dynamic and open society that has repeatedly excelled in culture, science and technology.


Second, owing to its roots, history, and values, Israel is a fully fledged Western nation. Indeed, it is a normal Western nation, but one confronted by abnormal circumstances.


Uniquely in the West, it is the only democracy whose very existence has been questioned since its inception. In the first instance, it was attacked by its neighbours using the conventional weapons of war. Then it faced terrorism culminating in wave after wave of suicide attacks. Now, at the behest of radical Islamists and their sympathisers, it faces a campaign of delegitimisation through international law and diplomacy.


Sixty-two years after its creation, Israel is still fighting for its very survival. Punished with missiles raining from north and south, threatened with destruction by an Iran aiming to acquire nuclear weapons and pressed upon by friend and foe, Israel, it seems, is never to have a moment's peace.


For years, the focus of Western attention has understandably been on the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. But if Israel is in danger today and the whole region is slipping towards a worryingly problematic future, it is not due to the lack of understanding between the parties on how to solve this conflict. The parameters of any prospective peace agreement are clear, however difficult it may seem for the two sides to make the final push for a settlement.


The real threats to regional stability, however, are to be found in the rise of a radical Islamism which sees Israel's destruction as the fulfilment of its religious destiny and, simultaneously in the case of Iran, as an expression of its ambitions for regional hegemony. Both phenomena are threats that affect not only Israel, but also the wider West and the world at large.


The core of the problem lies in the ambiguous and often erroneous manner in which too many Western countries are now reacting to this situation. It is easy to blame Israel for all the evils in the Middle East. Some even act and talk as if a new understanding with the Muslim world could be achieved if only we were prepared to sacrifice the Jewish state on the altar. This would be folly.


Israel is our first line of defence in a turbulent region that is constantly at risk of descending into chaos; a region vital to our energy security owing to our overdependence on Middle Eastern oil; a region that forms the front line in the fight against extremism. If Israel goes down, we all go down. To defend Israel's right to exist in peace, within secure borders, requires a degree of moral and strategic clarity that too often seems to have disappeared in Europe. The United States shows worrying signs of heading in the same direction.


The West is going through a period of confusion over the shape of the world's future. To a great extent, this confusion is caused by a kind of masochistic self-doubt over our own identity; by the rule of political correctness; by a multiculturalism that forces us to our knees before others; and by a secularism which, irony of ironies, blinds us even when we are confronted by jihadis promoting the most fanatical incarnation of their faith. To abandon Israel to its fate, at this moment of all moments, would merely serve to illustrate how far we have sunk and how inexorable our decline now appears.


This cannot be allowed to happen. Motivated by the need to rebuild our own Western values, expressing deep concern about the wave of aggression against Israel, and mindful that Israel's strength is our strength and Israel's weakness is our weakness, I have decided to promote a new Friends of Israel initiative with the help of some prominent people, including David Trimble, Andrew Roberts, John Bolton, Alejandro Toledo (the former President of Peru), Marcello Pera (philosopher and former President of the Italian Senate), Fiamma Nirenstein (the Italian author and politician), the financier Robert Agostinelli and the Catholic intellectual George Weigel.


It is not our intention to defend any specific policy or any particular Israeli government. The sponsors of this initiative are certain to disagree at times with decisions taken by Jerusalem. We are democrats, and we believe in diversity.


What binds us, however, is our unyielding support for Israel's right to exist and to defend itself. For Western countries to side with those who question Israel's legitimacy, for them to play games in international bodies with Israel's vital security issues, for them to appease those who oppose Western values rather than robustly to stand up in defence of those values, is not only a grave moral mistake, but a strategic error of the first magnitude.


Israel is a fundamental part of the West. The West is what it is thanks to its Judeo-Christian roots. If the Jewish element of those roots is upturned and Israel is lost, then we are lost too. Whether we like it or not, our fate is inextricably intertwined.


José María Aznar was Prime Minister of Spain, 1996-2004



file under: PalestineMiddle East PeaceIsrael 4 Jun 2010 10:08 PM
What Do The Flotilla Activists Want? Posted by Nissim Dahan
I know what I want, but I'm not quite sure what the flotilla activists want, although I do have my suspicions.


I want a peace deal to be cut between Israel and Palestine, along the lines of the proposal made by President Clinton and Ehud Barak in the year 2000. I want to turbo-charge and sweeten that deal by having Israel agree to help consolidate Palestinian security, because they need that, and to help grow the Palestinian economy with good paying jobs, including green jobs. I want to end the occupation. I want to see two states living side by side in peace, and partnering together for the sake of a brighter future. And finally, I want this peace between Israel and Palestine, this model, this seed, to be the impetus that gives birth to a new and revitalized Middle East, a Middle East in which everyone has a place at the table, a stake in his or her future, and where every child bears witness to the realization of a Vision of Hope, a vision of Peace, Prosperity, and Freedom.


That's what I want. Is that what the flotilla activists want? With all due respect to the dead, I tend to doubt it.


Let's start with the assumption that the activists are peace loving people who simply want to deliver humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza. OK. But why not allow the ship to be inspected? The other ships were inspected and the humanitarian goods were sent directly to Gaza. Such is the case with the many ships and trucks that deliver aid to Gaza on a daily basis. Why did the activists on the Mavi Marmara not cooperate in this regard? Could it be that they were trying to deliver more than humanitarian supplies?


There are other troubling questions which come to mind. The activists, according to extensive video footage, seemed highly prepared for a violent confrontation. They wielded weapons such as knives, handguns, steel rods, and chains. And when the Israeli soldiers first came on board, albeit by helicopter, they were violently attacked by an angry mob, and in fact, one of them was thrown overboard. This happened before the soldiers started shooting, when they were armed with paint-ball guns. Do peace activists normally resort to violence so easily? Is that what peace is all about?


Other questions come to mind. Why was a prayer meeting held on the ship with the call for the downfall of the "Zionist Entity" and for Shuhad (suicide in the name of Allah)? Why did the Arab Media report that the flotilla activists were writing wills, preparing for martyrdom, and determined to reach Gaza or die? Why was Senanur Bengi, one of the activists, quoted as saying, "I love my father very much.  I miss him a lot. He asked me if I want something. I replied him that I hope he would become a martyr?"


Does this incident strike you as an example of peace loving activists who want to help by delivering humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza? What's all this martyrdom talk all about? Since when has martyrdom become a pre-requisite for humanitarian aid?


Is Israel without blame in all this? No. The violent confrontation could probably have been avoided with better planning on Israel's part. And some would criticize Israel for imposing the blockade in the first place. But a good case could be made that Israel's actions do comply with international law. Israel and Gaza have been, and are still, at war. Thousands of missiles and mortars were launched from Gaza into Israel's cities, putting some 250,000 Israelis in harm's way. Hamas has stated publicly, over and over again, its determination to liquidate the Jewish State. Hamas gets its funding and weapons from Iran, who has also expressed its desire to "wipe Israel off the map." Is it that unreasonable to inspect incoming ships for weapons, considering that weapons are being smuggled into Gaza on a daily basis? Would you expect any less of your government under similar circumstances?


Could Israel be doing more to advance the cause of peace? Yes. A lot more. But advancing the cause of peace should not, and cannot, come at the expense of security, especially when a nation is facing existential threats on a daily basis.


My hunch, although I could be wrong, is that the flotilla activists, or at least some of them, were determined to break the blockade, and in so doing, provoke a violent confrontation with Israel. In short, they were looking for a fight. At least some of the people, I hate to say it; do not want an end to the occupation. They do not want a peace treaty. They do not want two states living side by side in partnership and peace. They want; I'll call it as I see it, nothing less than to dismantle the Jewish State.


And what better way to begin the process of dismantling the Jewish State, than by first undertaking to delegitimize Israel in the eyes of the world? In this public relations war, a war which Israel has failed to win, what better way to delegitimize Israel than to provoke her into attacking a flotilla of humanitarian aid? It's perfect. Let Israel fall on her own sword, and she did. And such an effort at delgitimization is part and parcel of an international effort to demonize Israel, and to use that platform to call for boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS).


It is the ultimate irony, however, that Israel is not the problem in the Middle East. She is the solution. Eran Shayshon, who works for a think tank in Israel, wants to rebrand Israel as the fount of "creative energy." He emphasizes her high tech and science, burgeoning economy, entrepreneurial zeal, energetic lifestyle, and vibrant diversity of opinion and culture. I would add that Israel is a vibrant democracy that for the most part, protects the rights of minorities including her 20% Arab minority. As far as I'm concerned, it would not be an exaggeration to say that if you destroy Israel, you destroy the hope for the Middle East. Israel offers a lot of what the Middle East needs. Israel is one of the few examples in the Middle East that inspires a sense of hope. And for some, that's exactly the problem. Couldn't the Middle East benefit from some of what Israel has to offer? And couldn't Israel benefit from partnering with the Arab world? What keeps us from making that happen except an allegiance to wrong-headed thinking?


I may seem overly cynical to some. I'm not. Hope and peace resonate loudly in the very being of my soul. But I would like to believe that I see things as they are, at least some of the time. I understand that passions run high on both sides of this issue. In the final analysis, however, I cannot help but conclude that the flotilla was not simply an honest effort at humanitarian aid. It was designed and executed as a provocation, with violence and martyrdom as the intended outcome.


Such efforts may make some feel good about themselves, but they will not bring peace. For peace to come we will have to find the courage and the wisdom to let go of some of our closely held beliefs, in favor of ideas we can believe in even more, like Peace, Prosperity, and Freedom