I was interviewed by Denis G. Campbell of the UK Progressive for his internet news and affairs program, the WorldView Show, and the exchange has just been posted. We mainly talked about the ongoing violence in Syria and its regional implications, and about the plight of the Palestinians.0 Retweet 31 Share 13 Google +1 0 StumbleUpon 0 Printer Friendly Send via email
Posted on 01/11/2013 by Juan Cole
Posted on 12/25/2012 by Juan Cole
There are more Middle Eastern Christians than ever before, and they are poised between emergence as a new political force in a democratizing region and the dangers to them of fundamentalism and political repression. The arguments you see for Christian decline in the region are mostly wrong. If we count the Christians in the Arab world and along the northern Red Sea littoral (Egypt, the Levant, Iraq and the Horn of Africa to the borders of Ethiopia) they come to some 21 million, nearly the size of Australia and bigger than the Netherlands. (This figure does not count the large Christian expatriate populations in the Gulf emirates or Christians in Iran and Pakistan). They are important in their absolute numbers, which have grown dramatically in the past 60 years along with the populations of the countries in which they live. If the region moves to parliamentary forms of government, they may well be coveted swing voters, gaining a larger political role and louder voice than ever before.
In fact, despite all the hype about the rise of Islam in Europe, Muslims in that continent have on the whole much less potential influence than Christians in the Middle East. About 5% of the French electorate is Muslims, the largest proportion in Europe. But Christians are 10 percent of Egypt, Jordan and Syria, and 22 percent of Lebanon. Even in Israel, they are 2 percent of the population, a little less than the percentage of contemporary Italy that is Muslim.
Among the biggest dangers to Middle Eastern Christians in 2012 were these:
1. Israeli occupation has made life in East Jerusalem and the West Bank increasingly unbearable, spurring emigration abroad of Palestinian Christians, who once made up 10 to 20 percent of the Palestinian population. Because they are Christians, these Palestinians may find it easier to get visas to the West.
2. The Syrian civil war has displaced or endangered many Syrian Christians, who make up between 10 and 14 percent of the 22-million strong Syrian population. At the upper estimates, there are as many as three million Syrian Christians. There are allegations that Christians have been targeted by hard line fundamentalist militias, but most probably suffer from the same difficulties other Syrians are facing.
3. Iraqi Christian expatriates in Syria are also in trouble. Before George W. Bush invaded Iraq, there were about 800,000 Christians in a population of 25 million, or 3 percent of the population. Some 400,000 are said to have emigrated, mainly to Syria (and about 10,000 to Lebanon), as refugees. But now many of those who went to Syria are returning to Iraq. Inside Iraq itself, some Christians say the situation has improved for them to the point that they are committed to staying in the country rather than emigrating.
4. The newly enacted fundamentalist constitution in Egypt and the power of the Muslim Brotherhood president, Muhammad Morsi, poses dangers to Egyptian Christians. It is alleged that hard line Salafis attempted to intimidate them from voting against the constitution in this month’s referendum. On the other hand, Egyptian Christians have clearly been invigorated by the new press and political freedoms in post-Mubarak Egypt, and are gaining an important set of political voices.
5. In the new country of South Sudan, Christians form between 10% and 50% of the 8 million population (the Catholic Church and the Anglican Church each claim about 2 million believers in that country. Christians in the region may thus have gained a great deal of influence in a whole new state. Earlier estimates from the mid-20th century of only 10% Christian are probably out of date and do not take account of the large number of conversions since then). The challenges here are enormous, though. The partition of Sudan has not in fact led to social peace between the two, with continued confrontation over oil exports and saber rattling. (Sudan is inarguably in the Middle East, and I have hung around with South Sudanese and was surprised how many spoke Bedouin Arabic).
6. Christians are about 60% of the 6 million-strong population of Eritrea. They are Coptic Orthodox, the same as most Egyptian Christians. (Eritrea is not usually counted in as being part of the Middle East, but it was ruled by the Ottoman Empire and has substantial cultural and political relations with Yemen and Saudi Arabia, so it is as eligible as Sudan and Somalia). Eritreans suffer under authoritarian government and continued tensions with Ethiopia.
Christians in Iraq and Syria have faced challenges (as have the entire populations of those two countries) in the past year. Christians in Egypt are alarmed by the new political muscle of the Muslim Brotherhood. It would be easy to construct a ‘vale of tears’ kind of narrative of Middle Eastern Christianity in decline, since the communities face political turmoil. It is often alleged that the proportion of Christians in the region has declined, though it is not clear that this allegation is true on a regional basis.
This argument from a declining proportion of the population does not take account of the region’s amazing population growth. It also makes analogies from the small nations of Lebanon and Palestine, which actually have an unusual demographic profile.
It is controversial what proportion of Egypt is Christian, but it is probably around 10 percent. A lot of Christians live in rural areas where census takers may not have gotten a complete count. Egypt’s population is 83 million, so that would give 8.3 million Christians. There is no reason to think that their proportion in Egypt has declined (in fact they may be somewhat higher a proportion now than in the 19th century).
Egypt’s population in 1950 was about 20 million, at which time there were 2 million Christians. Because Egyptian Christians are substantially rural, they appear to have shared in the high population growth rates typical of global south farmers in the second half of the 20th century.
Today’s Christian population in Egypt, some 8.3 million, is roughly the size of the whole country of Austria! Allegations that 100,000 Egyptians have emigrated since the revolution in February 2012, and that most of these are Christians, are not to my knowledge substantiated, and they seem exaggerated. Even if there was something to the assertion, it isn’t a big dent in a population of 8.3 million.
If we went back to 1850, in absolute terms the number of Christians in Egypt and the Levant was tiny. 500,000 in Egypt, 150,000 in Lebanon and Syria together, 35,000 in Palestine, perhaps 45,000 in Iraq. That is 730,000. So in absolute terms, Egypt alone now has more than 11 times as many Christians as lived in the central lands of the Middle East 162 years ago. How is that a decline?
The argument for decline is usually made from Lebanon, where Christians were a bare majority in 1931, but are now something like 22%. But Lebanon’s population was about 800,000 in 1931, so Christians were 408,000. Lebanon’s population is now 5 million, and Christians inside the country are about 1.1 million. So with all the vast Christian Lebanese emigration abroad, to Brazil, Argentina, Chile, the United States, Mexico, etc. (with perhaps 6 million Lebanese-descended people in the New World), there are still twice as many Christians in Lebanon in absolute terms now as there were in 1931. And although it is consequential politically that Lebanese Christians are now less than a third of the adult electorate, they are hardly powerless. They dominate the presidency, the officer corps, and the business world, and they are split between allying with the Sunni Muslims and allying with the Shiites, which gives them influence as a swing vote.
Christian power in Lebanon comes in part from the country’s clan system and in part from its long history of parliamentary governance. For instance, it is important for the Shiite party, Hizbullah, to have Christian allies in the Biqaa valley. This principle holds true elsewhere. There is every prospect that as parties are formed and become important in contesting elections in Egypt, the 8 million Coptic Christian votes will be courted, and will make themselves felt in policy. Likewise, if Syria moves to a parliamentary system, the 3 million Christians there will be a force to be reckoned with in Syrian politics.
In Jordan, Christians are 10 percent of the 6 million strong population, or 600,000.
These are parlous times for Middle Eastern populations who are challenging older forms of government rooted in mid-20th century notions of nationalism, socialism and a leading role for the military. We don’t know how this story will turn out. The “Islamic winter” notion of the Neoconservatives (who were unhappy that the American public was identifying with rebellious Arab youth), however, is way too simplistic. The Muslim fundamentalists took a bath in the Libyan elections last July. The Nahda Party in Tunisia only got about 37% of seats in parliament and could only form a government in coalition with a secular party; they have renounced trying to put Islamic law or sharia in the constitution. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Muhammad Morsi, won the presidency in June with only 51% of the vote, and his proposed constitution lost in the megalopolis of Cairo and only got a third of registered voters to go to the polls. Egyptian Christian billionaire Naguib Sawiris has founded a political party, and I very much doubt he plans to emigrate.
The old Middle Eastern dictatorships often exploited Christians or subordinated them. The Christians were deprived of a voice and of the chance for autonomous political action just like everyone else. But now, they are potentially in a position to organize, speak out and vote as never before. And they are arguably more numerous in absolute terms than ever before. From the point of view of a social historian, these days could be the beginning of an unprecedented efflorescence of Christianity in the region– not Western-missionary, Christianity, not evangelicalism or fundamentalism, but Coptic Orthodoxy, Eastern Orthodoxy, and other indigenous and ancient strains. There are no guarantees in life, but let us give them a chance, on this day when their religion was born.4 Retweet 103 Share 101 Google +1 5 StumbleUpon 0 Printer Friendly Send via email
Posted on 12/21/2012 by Juan Cole
Ira Chernus writes at Tomdispatch.com
Are the U.S. and Israel Heading for a Showdown? No One Thinks So, But It Just Might Happen
Here’s the question no one is asking as 2012 ends, especially given the effusive public support the Obama administration offered Israel in its recent conflict with Hamas in Gaza: Will 2013 be a year of confrontation between Washington and Jerusalem? It’s on no one’s agenda for the New Year. But it could happen anyway.
It’s true that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process appears dead in the water. No matter how much Barack Obama might have wanted that prize, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rebuffed him at every turn. The president appears to have taken it on the chin, offering more than the usual support for Israel and in return getting kloom (as they say in Hebrew). Nothing at all.
However, the operative word here is “appears.” In foreign affairs what you see — a show carefully scripted for political purposes — often bears little relation to what you actually get.
While the Obama administration has acceded to the imagery of knee-jerk support for whatever Israel does, no matter how outrageous, behind the scenes its policies are beginning to look far less predictable. In fact, unlikely as it may seem, a showdown could be brewing between the two countries. If so, the outcome will depend on a complicated interplay between private diplomacy and public theater.
The latest well-masked U.S. intervention came in the brief November war between Israel and Gaza. It began when Israel assassinated a top Hamas leader deeply involved in secret truce talks between the supposedly non-communicating foes.
Destructive as it was, the war proved brief indeed for one reason: the American president quickly stepped in. Publicly, he couldn’t have sided more wholeheartedly with Israel. (It felt as if Mitt Romney had won, not lost, the election.) In private, though, as he pressured Egyptian President Morsi to force Hamas to a truce, he reportedly pushed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu just as hard.
The truce agreement even had an Obama-required twist. It forced Israel to continue negotiating seriously with Hamas about easing the blockade that, combined with repeated destructive Israeli strikes against the Palestinian infrastructure, has plunged Gaza so deep into poverty and misery. Talks on the blockade are reportedly proceeding, though wrapped in the deepest secrecy. It’s hard to imagine Israel upholding the truce and entering into a real dialogue to ease the blockade without significant pressure from Washington.
Washington is also deeply involved in the tensions between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) in the West Bank. When P.A. president Mahmoud Abbas asked the U.N. General Assembly to accord Palestine observer status, Israel publicly denounced any such U.N. resolution. The Obama administration wanted to offer a far softer resolution of its own with Israeli approval. The Israelis gave in and sent a top official to Washington to negotiate the language.
In the end, the U.S. had no success; the stronger resolution passed overwhelmingly. Israel promptly retaliated by announcing that it would build 3,000 additional housing units in various settlements on the West Bank. To make the response stronger, the Israeli government indicated that it would also make “preliminary zoning and planning preparations” for new Israeli settlements in the most contentious area of the West Bank, known as E1. Settlements there would virtually bisect the West Bank and complete a Jewish encirclement of Jerusalem, ending any hope for a two-state solution.
Washington Can Lay Down the Law
There is a history of the Israeli government publicly announcing settlement expansions for symbolic political effect, and then, under U.S. pressure, pursuing only limited construction or none at all. Some observers suspect Netanyahu is now playing the same game.
As the New York Times reported, “For years, American and European officials have told the Israelis that E1 is a red line. The leaked, somewhat vague, announcement… is a potent threat that may well, in the end, not be carried out because the Israeli government worries about its consequences.” Prominent Israeli columnist Shimon Shiffer was more certain. “Netanyahu,” he wrote, “does not plan to change the policies of his predecessors, who assured the Americans Israel would not build even one house in problematic areas” like E1.
Maybe that’s why Netanyahu sounded so tentative on the subject in an interview: “What we’ve advanced so far is only planning [in E1], and we will have to see. We shall act further based on what the Palestinians do.” Israeli officials admitted to the New York Times that the move on E1 was “symbolism against symbolism.”
But several European nations took the E1 threat seriously and responded with unusually sharp criticism. Some Israeli insiders claimed that Obama’s hidden hand was at work here, too. The American president, they speculated, gave the Europeans “the green light to respond with extreme measures… The European move is essentially an American move.” If so, it was all done in private, of course. (The White House publicly denied the claim.)
However Peter Beinart, editor of the Open Zion page at the Daily Beast and author of The Crisis of Zionism, claims administration officials have told him that such behind-the-scenes maneuvering is Obama’s new strategy. Publicly, Washington will “stand back and let the rest of the world do the confronting. Once the U.S. stops trying to save Israel from the consequences of its actions, the logic goes, and once Israel feels the full brunt of its mounting international isolation, its leaders will be scared into changing course.”
As Beinart suggests, international isolation is what worries Israelis most. A cut-off of U.S. military aid would be troubling indeed but in itself hardly fatal, since Israel already has the strongest military in the Middle East and a sizeable military-industrial-high-tech complex of its own.
What Israel needs, above all, from the U.S. is diplomatic support to protect it from international rejection,
UN Security Council Condemns Further Israeli Squatting on Palestinian Land, with Rogue State US Vetoing
Posted on 12/20/2012 by Juan Cole
The US acted again as the rogue state at the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday, with the other 14 members issuing statements condemning Israeli plans for vast further theft of Palestinian land in the West Bank and installing squatters on it, in a step designed to cut the West Bank in two and make forever impossible a two-state solution to the problem of Palestinian statelessness.
The European Bloc, the non-aligned bloc, Russia and China all did an end run around the ruling Likud Party’s enabler, the Obama administration, which made clear it would veto a UNSC condemnation of the illegal Israeli actions. The significance of the veto is that it prevents any sanctions from being applied to Israel, despite the latter’s clear violations of international law.
The US move to once again screw the Palestinians over and protect Israel from any sanctions for its aggressive annexation of other people’s property did not derive from a conviction that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was justified in the installation of thousands of new squatters on Palestinian territory. The US rejects the plan, too. It just makes sure that international law never has any teeth when it comes to Israel.
The bankruptcy of the US position on this matter is obvious if we consider that Washington has vigorously pressed the UNSC for sanctions on Iran, and has imposed its own draconian sanctions and financial blockade, even though it is not proved that Iran is actually in violation of international law. Iranian children are being deprived of medicine by the US vindictiveness and manipulation of the UN, but the Israeli officials all seem to be overweight from eating too well off the profits they make from exploiting the Palestinians’ resources, and Washington runs interference for their criminal activities.
UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman said of Netanyahu’s bank robbery: “If implemented, these plans would represent an almost fatal blow to remaining chances of securing a two-state solution. . . We strongly urge the Israeli government to heed the wide international calls to rescind these plans.”
The problem of Palestinian statelessness was created by the 1947-1948 Zionist ethnic cleansing campaign against Palestinian villagers, which resulted in 720,000 out of 1.2 million being kicked out of their homes, with the Jewish immigrants moving into them without paying any compensation. The League of Nations had recognized Palestine as a Class A Mandate scheduled for statehood at the Versailles peace conferences, and the British mandatory authorities repeated this pledge in their 1939 White Paper, but instead European Jewish immigrants displaced the locals and made them a homeless nation, a nation without rights of citizenship in a state. Now the far right wing nationalist parties, the Likud and Israel Beitenu, are trying to make sure yet another generation of Palestinians lives and dies without having a passport or a country that could so much as back their claim to own their own homes.0 Retweet 64 Share 74 Google +1 2 StumbleUpon 54 Printer Friendly Send via email
Posted on 12/12/2012 by Juan Cole
My essay on the aftermath of the Gaza conflict is out in Truthdig; it is entitled “Israel’s Apartheid Deepens, Along With Its Global Isolation”
“Building a new, large settlement in the E-1 area between west Jerusalem and the big settlement of Maale Adumim just nine miles from the Dead Sea border with Jordan would virtually slice the West Bank in two, making a contiguous Palestinian state impossible. The West Bank was already carved up by checkpoints and highways (some Jewish-only) into a set of tiny Bantustans. But now the whole territory is to be sundered, just as Solomon offered to cut the disputed newborn in two.
That Netanyahu and his partners intended to make a Palestinian state impossible was never in doubt, but their boldness in pressing forward to implement this plan has shocked the capitals of Europe. In response to the announcement about E-1, the British and French foreign ministries took the unusual step of summoning their Israeli ambassadors for a dressing-down, and there were rumors that they were considering withdrawing their own ambassadors from the country.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague was reportedly furious at Netanyahu, feeling betrayed because he had expended a great deal of political capital on behalf of Israel in opposing “observer state” status for Palestine. French President Francois Hollande warned Israel that this proposal was not the way forward to peace, but denied that he was considering sanctions against the nation. That anyone even asked such a question, however, is a sign of the incredible shift in world opinion against Israel’s policies.
The public pressure on European governments for some sort of sanctions in response to apartheid policies will only grow.”
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Posted on 11/17/2012 by Juan Cole
1. Israeli hawks represent themselves as engaged in a ‘peace process’ with the Palestinians in which Hamas refuses to join. In fact, Israel has refused to cease colonizing and stealing Palestinian land long enough to engage in fruitful negotiations with them. Tel Aviv routinely announces new, unilateral house-building on the Palestinian West Bank. There is no peace process. It is an Israeli and American sham. Talking about a peace process is giving cover to Israeli nationalists who are determined to grab everything the Palestinians have and reduce them to penniless refugees (again).
2. Actions such as the assault on Gaza can achieve no genuine long-term strategic purpose. They are being launched to ensure that Jewish-Israelis are the first to exploit key resources. Rattling sabers at the Palestinians creates a pretext for further land-grabs and colonies on Palestinian land. That is, the military action against the people of Gaza is a diversion tactic; the real goal is Greater Israel, an assertion of Israeli sovereignty over all the territory once held by the British Mandate of Palestine.
3. Israeli hawks represent their war of aggression as in ‘self-defense.’ But the UK
Israeli chief rabbi admitted on camera that that the Gaza attack actually ‘had something to do with Iran.’
4. Israeli hawks demonize the Palestinians of Gaza as “bad neighbors” who don’t accept Israel. But 40% of the people in Gaza are refugees, mostly living in refugee camps, from families in pre-1948 Palestine that had lived there for millennia.
They were expelled from what is now Israel in the 1948 Zionist ethnic cleansing campaign. Israelis are now living in their homes and farming their land, and they were never paid any reparations for the crimes done to them. [pdf] “Israel’s failure to provide reparations to Palestinian refugees over the past six decades is in blatant violation of international law.” Israel does not accept Palestine’s right to exist, even though it is constantly demanding that everyone, including the displaced and occupied Palestinians, recognize Israel’s right to exist.
5. Israeli hawks and their American clones depict Gaza as a foreign, hostile state with which Israel is at war. In fact, the Gaza strip is a small territory of 1.7 million people militarily occupied by Israel (something in which the UN and other international bodies concur). Israelis do not allow it to have a port or airport, nor to export most of what it produces. Palestinians cannot work about a third of its land, which is reserved by Israel as a security buffer. As an occupied territory, it is covered by the Hague Regulations of 1907 and the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 on the treatment of occupied populations by their military occupier. Indiscriminate bombing of occupied territories by the occupier is clearly illegal in international law.
6. Israeli hawks see themselves as innocent victims of bewildering Palestinian rage from Gaza. But Israel not only has kept Palestinians of Gaza in the world’s largest outdoor penitentiary, they have them under an illegal blockade that for some years aimed at limiting their nutrition without altogether starving them to death. I wrote earlier:
“The food blockade had real effects. About ten percent of Palestinian children in Gaza under 5 have had their growth stunted by malnutrition. A recent report [pdf] by Save the Children and Medical Aid for Palestinians found that, in addition, anemia is widespread, affecting over two-thirds of infants, 58.6 percent of schoolchildren, and over a third of pregnant mothers. “
If any foreign power surrounded Israel, destroyed Haifa port and Tel Aviv airport, and prevented Israeli exports from being exported, what do you think Israelis would do? Oh, that’s right, it is rude to see both Palestinians and Israelis as equal human beings.
7. Israeli hawks demonize the Palestinian residents of Gaza as followers of Hamas, a party-militia of the Muslim religious right. But half of Palestinians in Gaza are minors, who never voted for Hamas and cannot be held collectively responsible for that party.
8. Israeli hawks justify their aggression on the Palestinians on grounds of self-defense. But Israel is a country of 7.5 million people with tanks, armored vehicles, artillery, helicopter gunships and F-16s and F-18s, plus 400 nuclear warheads. Gaza is a small occupied territory of 1.7 million which has no heavy weaponry, just some old guns and some largely ineffectual rockets. (Israelis cite hundreds of rockets fired into Israel from Gaza in 2012; but until Israel’s recent attack they had killed not a single Israeli, though they did wound a few last March when fighting between Palestinians and Israelis escalated.) Gaza is a threat to Israel the way the Transkei Bantustan was a threat to Apartheid South Africa. As for genuine asymmetrical threats from Gaza to Israel, they could be dealt with by giving the Palestinians a state and ceasing the blockade imposed on them, or in the worst case scenario counter-terrorism targeted at terrorists rather than indiscriminate bombing campaigns.
9. Israeli hawks maintain that they were provoked into the attack. But actually Ahmad Jabari, the Hamas leader the Israelis assassinated earlier this week, had been engaged in talks with the Israelis about a truce. Assassinations achieved by the ruse of openness to peace talks are guarantees of no further peace talks.
10. Although most American media is a cheering section for the Likud Party, in fact the world is increasingly done out with Israel’s aggressiveness. Boycotts and sanctions will likely grow over time, leaving Israeli hawks with a deficit…73 Retweet 1350 Share 3634 Google +1 61 StumbleUpon 11 Printer Friendly Send via email
Posted on 11/16/2012 by Juan Cole
Democracy Now! report: “”Nowhere to Run”: Israel Fires Over 500 Strikes in Gaza, Civilian Toll Grows in Humanitarian Crisis
From the transcript:
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“MOHAMMED OMER: You’re welcome, Amy.
Well, let me start with the last—I’m right now in Khan Younis in the southern part of the Gaza Strip, where the Israeli F-16 missile just fired at least two missiles, killing one person, and the person was—just arrived to the hospital, Nasser Hospital, at the moment. And he was identified as Ismail Kandil, 24-year-old. That brings the number of the air strikes in the last three days to 502 air strikes. This means—this resulted in the killing of 23 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and over 230 people who are injured.
One thing that we ought to talk about here is the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip. This is—this is a situation of targeting a population of civilians, exactly like Israel is shooting in a fishbowl. And there is no bunker—or, there is no shelter, and there is nowhere to run for the general population. Gaza is living in a very dire situation. The U.N. has decided to shut all the schools tomorrow, as well as the Ministry of Education and Higher Education called all the university not to open tomorrow. Gaza hospitals announced the need for medical supplies and medical stocks. I was just speaking to a number of doctors at the Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, and they announced that they are in bad need for 192 types of medicines that are not available in the stocks of the Ministry of Health or the hospitals. There is also the need for 450 items of medical supplies, or what they call disposable medical items. If these needs are not met by the next day or two, there will be a big humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.
The situation is deteriorating in the Gaza Strip. The target is indeed civilians. The last one was Haneen Tafesh, a 10-month baby child who was killed by any Israeli missile. The missiles are falling at the moment, as I speak to you. And as breaking news coming out from the medical crew next to me, the F-16s are targeting the beach camp in the east of Gaza City at the moment. The Israeli army, or the Israeli F-16s, at the moment, they are targeting the beach camp in the west of Gaza City at the moment. That’s the breaking news, and it’s happening as we speak at the moment.”