Jan 18, 2014

MEDIA MYTHS: The biased vilification of Ariel Sharon

Two days ago an article chronicling the “ruthless” legacy of former Israeli premier Ariel Sharon was published in one of the most prestigious newspapers in India. The author of the opinion piece is a renowned Marxist scholar currently based in Beirut. The author, while showing no mercy towards Sharon, turns a blind eye to the atrocities perpetrated by the Palestinians and also ignores Sharon’s efforts to create an atmosphere of harmony in the region.
The full story can be read here.
Ariel Sharon is a revered leader in Israel and he will go down in the annals of history as a great “warrior” who fought for the protection and survival of his country. While he was loved by millions around the world he was also hated by many and had to face several painful as well as gut-wrenching criticisms and accusations all throughout his military and political career.
It is only common for any illustrious leader to face disapproval or condemnation during his/her lifetime. Mahatma Gandhi was a victim of vitriolic attacks by the erstwhile British Empire. Winston Churchill once called the Mahatma a “half-naked ” and  ”seditious fakir” who was the “greatest enemy of Britain”. While this was a vicious attack on one of India’s greatest leaders, Churchill also acknowledged the fact that Gandhi was a guardian angel for India’s downtrodden classes. Gandhi may have been Britain’s arch foe but for Indians he was the man who gave them their freedom. Just as David Ben Gurion was revered as the “Father of Israel”, Gandhi’s appellation as the “Father of India” is entirely justified.
Coming back to Ariel Sharon, his condemnation in this particular article is unabashedly biased. The author expediently indicts Sharon as directly responsible for the Sabra and Shatila massacre. It is also rather unfortunate that not one word is mentioned about the Phalangist militiamen who were the ones that carried out the grotesque slaughtering of innocent Palestinian and Lebanese civilians in retaliation to the murder of their supremo Bachir Gemayel. The Time magazine had published a story in 1983 alleging that Sharon had encouraged the Gemayels to seek vengeance and murder thousands. For Sharon, this was crossing the limit and he sued the magazine for $50 million. The jury concluded that the article was false and defamatory.
The only stain on an otherwise perfect career was the Qibya incident. In 1953 troops from the elite Unit 101 under Sharon attacked the hamlet of Qibya killing almost 70 innocent villagers. The reckless raid was a tit for tat attack after a Jewish woman and her children were ripped apart by a grenade thrown into their house. While the author has shown an unfeigned lachrymose concern for the plight of the Palestinians he comfortably ignores the miseries that innocent Israeli civilians had to endure during years of conflict.
2002 and 2003 were miserable years for Israeli civilians. The PLFP and Hamas sponsored suicide bombings were a nightmare for Israelis. In the span of two years exactly 70 suicide blasts rocked the country. Two of the deadliest attacks were the Passover massacre and the Tel Aviv central bus station massacre. The former was carried out by a Hamas terrorist who, on the Jewish holiday of Passover, blew up himself killing 30 instantly and severely injuring another 140. The tragedy of this loss was compounded when the perpetrator was honoured and glorified in Palestine. The Tel Aviv bus station massacre was equally horrific. 23 killed and over 100 injured──this attack was one of the many bombings which were a ferocious game between Palestinian terrorist modules in which the one whose murder rate was highest would emerge victors. It was as if Yasser Arafat had given these murderous maniacs carte blanche to choose their next spot for ‘martyrdom’.
While scathingly criticizing the “Bulldozer” for his so-called land grab policy in the West Bank the writer ignores Sharon’s efforts in Gaza. In fact, he sardonically says that the Prime Minister’s “retreat from Gaza being a feint to distract from this more profitable annexation”. Sadly, this is not the truth. It was Sharon’s expeditious measures that finally relieved Gazans from Israeli occupation. He was the driving force during the withdrawal of IDF troops in 2005 and his unilateral disengagement plan was condemned by many settlers. Those settlers who did not comply with the disengagement plan were forcefully evicted. He had deliberately incurred the wrath of the settlers due to the overwhelming hope of achieving peace and also a desire for the cessation of rocket attacks. There was to be no peace and Hamas launched rockets at Israel with redoubled vigour.
In 2006 Sharon became the first Israeli premier to visit India. His visit transformed Indo-Israel ties and there was a renewed relationship between the two countries. But there is a strong objection towards India’s growing bond with Israel, particularly from the leftist coterie. A famous Indian leader with left leanings once said that it was impossible for India to establish a moral relationship with Israel, which according to him was born in sin. The author also quotes Sarah Leah Whitson; the Human Rights Watch cheer-leader of anything anti-Israel. She is acclaimed for her “fund-raiser” report to the Saudis, who are one of the worst human rights violators, condemning Israel for its “brutality” in Gaza. David Bernstein rightly comments that “there is something wrong when a human rights organization goes to one of the worst countries in the world for human rights to raise money to wage lawfare against Israel, and says not a word during the trip about the status of human rights in that country”.
In sum, such a biased vilification of Sharon is morally degrading. Sharon was a great leader who worked round the clock to protect Israel from its enemies. His patriotism was firmly established after his heroic efforts during the Six Day and Yom Kippur wars. He should also be commended for driving out Arafat, Habash and company from Lebanon. His role in the assassinations of Hamas founders Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi was vehemently condemned. But imagine the catastrophic damage Hamas would have caused if these leader were still alive to egg on the militia group. He was deeply worried by the incessant suicide bombings during the second Intifada and the only way he could stop the merciless killings of civilians was to kill the two. Rather than portraying him as a pugnacious villain, Ariel Sharon should be remembered as a dedicated leader whose overwhelming goal was to establish peace between Israel and Palestine.
First Published on 18 January in The Times of Israel

Jan 11, 2014

Soccer, boycotts, racism and Israel

The United Arab Emirates deems itself as the epitome of modernity among the largely conservative Islamic nations of the Gulf region. It brags about tolerating a cosmopolitan culture and society that is intolerant towards racism and boasts of a fresh industrial revolution which has resulted in an influx of skyscrapers; a ubiquitous sight in the cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. This roaring success is largely seen as a welcome change in an otherwise turbulent and chaotic region. But looks can be deceptive and the UAE has been successful in camouflaging its ugly, dark and radical face.

The good-boy image of the UAE was shred to bits last week when Dan Mori, an Israeli footballer playing for Dutch club Vitesse Arnhem, was denied entry to the Gulf state. In fact, the UAE has issued a ban on anyone carrying an Israeli passport. It is as a result of their strong support for a Palestinian state and a venomous hatred towards anything that has a touch of Israel in it. Boycotting a country for a good cause seems reasonable, it is absurd in the case of Israel, but persecuting innocents on the basis of their nationality is deplorable. Last year, Itay Shechter, also an Israeli footballer, was banned from the UAE. He was left out of the Swansea squad which was gearing up for a friendly in the country.

This feeling of animosity towards Israel is a common feature among many Arab and several other predominantly Islamic nations. While they maintain that they are actually boycotting Israel because of the ‘barbaric’ treatment of the Palestinians; the truth is that an air of antisemitism pervades the very fabric of these states. The worst part is that they tend to ignore the faults of the Palestinians and turn a Nelson’s eye to acts of violence and brutality being perpetrated around many corners of the globe.

The case of India and Pakistan is an interesting one. The two neighbouring countries began their hostilities ever since their independence in 1947. Both the countries claim Kashmir and India was hit by a wave of terrorism some two decades ago which is very much alive today. They have fought four brutal wars and skirmishes between the two neighbors are quite common. Tensions may exist at the diplomatic level but that does not mean that Indians are barred from entering Pakistan and vice-versa. Both the countries frequently battle it out in the cricket field, which evokes a chauvinistic fervor among both sides. Cricket matches are also used as a means of conflict resolution between India and Pakistan.

But even Pakistan harbors a deep-rooted abhorrence of Israel. There are, virtually, no diplomatic relations between Israel and Pakistan. Pakistan has also imposed strict restrictions on Israeli passports. The Pakistani attitude towards Israel underscores its great hypocrisy. The same applies to the case of the UAE and the rest of the racist bandwagon.

This blind hatred of Israel is simply nauseating. It becomes even more outrageous when the United Nations fail to condemn this growing display of antisemitism. The UN is quick to condemn Israel’s retaliatory strikes on terrorist hot-spots but why does the international organization which preaches peace fail to take action against this incessant racism. Serious questions need to be raised about the UN’s indifferent attitude towards Israel.

The ban imposed on Dan Mori is not the first instance of discrimination against Israeli citizens. In 2011, Yossi Benayoun, probably Israel’s greatest footballer, was racially abused in Malaysia. During the 2008 Beijing Olympics, an Iranian athlete withdrew from a Judo match because his opponent was from Israel.

Israel is the only country in the world which faces such widespread discrimination. The Palestinian cause is only an excuse used to justify this hatred but the truth is that this hatred of Jews existed even before Israel was born. Boycotts and racial taunts are only new found methods of expressing their hatred.

First Published, The Times of Israel on 11/01/2014

Jan 5, 2014

The Lebanese conundrum

"Who cares???? Its boring now", writes one Facebook user in a response to a BBC article about the bomb blast that ripped Beirut just three days ago. "Another day, another bombing, Middle east pffft, catch up and get out of the dark ages" and "what's wrong with this hell Arab people", are what a couple of other respondents have to say about the serial blasts which seems to have shaken Lebanon to its core. Even Israel is not spared, as one detractor remarks,"For ignorants & fools hezbullah may be a militant group..but for people who use common sense..its a Resistant movement..found to resist Zionist occupation..". People have the right to be cynical and give vent to their hatred, but the fact is that Lebanon is burning. It is burning this very moment and it seems that the country is reverting to a state of bloody violence that had marred the region about three to four decades ago.
The Lebanese civil war that lasted from 1975 to 1990 was one of the most brutal conflicts to have plagued the Middle-East. The social, cultural and economic fabric of the country was rent asunder by the war. What began as minor clashes between the Druze units and the Phalange militia later transformed into a full-fledged war between the two, particularly after the infamous 'Black Saturday' incident. The subsequent involvement of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) only exacerbated the conflict. The later arrival of other groups and both the Syrian and Israeli interventions tore apart Lebanon. Social order deteriorated, anarchy prevailed and massacres flourished.
Some of the worst massacres in world history were committed during the war. The Sabra and Shatila massacre in which thousands were mowed down by Phalangist militiamen was one of the most ghastly crimes against humanity. The bombings of the US embassy and Marine barracks also altered the tune of the war dramatically as it signified the rise of Islamist militants.
The latest outbursts of violence in Lebanon serves as a grim reminder of the depravities of the 15 year war. The intense conflict between Sunni and Shiite militants is spilling into the suburbs of Beirut. The bombing of the Iranian embassy in November, the assassination of Mohammad Chatah and last week's car bombing in downtown Beirut have asserted the fact that the previous two months have been nothing short of a roller-coaster ride.
A library was also, surprisingly, a victim of the ongoing strife. In an act of madness, Lebanon's second largest library was torched and more than 70,000 books were lost in the conflagration. Another worrying factor, is the steady rise of Al Qaeda in Lebanon. They have already claimed responsibility for last week's blasts. It seems that the terrorist organization is gaining a foothold in the region. Their presence has been significantly bolstered in Iraq and Syria.
Hezbollah, undoubtedly, is the numero uno militant organization in Lebanon. Recent reports claim that Hezbollah has added advanced guided missiles to their arsenal and this could spell disaster for Israel. Their conflict with Al Qaeda would make matters worse for Israel and the peace loving minority of the region.
Now that the Israel-Palestine peace talks are back on track and the upcoming Geneva II conference may bring about a halt to the Syrian conflict, the Middle-East is ready for a new renaissance. But any prospects of peace could be shattered if the violence amplifies in Lebanon. There seems to be an iota of hope for the moment. An end to all hostilities in Syria could save Lebanon from another civil war. Will the Lebanese people be able to see light at the end of the tunnel? Only time can answer this question and the maximum that we observers can do is pray that region is not dragged back to its darkest days.
First published at The Times of Israel on 6 January, 2014. 

Jan 1, 2014

The tough, murky English terrain or the clear, exotic Spanish landscape

David LuizCourtesy @Ben SutherlandDownloaded: http://www.everystockphoto.com

David Luiz is at a crossroads in his career with two perplexing choices. The Chelsea defender can either accept the status quo or move on to greener turf. Luiz's career looked bright and optimistic until the arrival of Jose Mourinho. His life at Chelsea took a dramatic twist after the ex-Los Blancos chieftain was anointed as the new Blues' manager in 2013. Luiz, who was viewed as a rising star among the ranks of the club, was reduced to a substitute under Mourinho's reign. Without the Brazilian the Blues probably would never have tasted European and Champions League glory. The shaggy haired Brazilian has and still remains a vital asset for Chelsea. But Ze Mario has rent asunder a career brimming with success. But our protagonist has one last chance, it seems, to rekindle his dwindling career.

 Barcelona had an almost perfect run in 2013 and they still remain at the helm in 2014. But looks can be deceptive. Both Real and Atletico Madrid are very much alive and are steadily zeroing in on the champs. The Catalan club is in a wobbly position at the top of the table. They are one of the best attacking forces in club football today but their defensive barricade looks weak and lacklustre. The club's propensity to keep the ball for lengthy spells of possession means that they are not always on the offensive. Thereby making it mandatory not to lose possession. An abrupt loss of possession would inevitably make way for a counterattack and the defence needs to remain bold, calm and sturdy during troubling times. Here lies Barcelona's one and only flaw and that is why they have been after David Luiz for almost a year.

Luiz's daredevilry on the field and his determination to perform better are what attracted Barcelona's attention. They tried to sign him last year but that episode had failed miserably. It looked like Barcelona was extremely content after signing Brazilian wonderkid Neymar. No doubt, Neymar has been brilliant so far but the fact remains that their defence needs a complete overhaul. With an out of form Carlos Puyol and an inconsistent Gerard Pique, Barcelona's central defence is already in jeopardy. Dani Alves looks pretty good but the tattooed Brazilian can underperform when his club needs him the most. Only Marc Bartra has had a spotless season. 

Our shaggy haired Brazilian defender, who looks somewhat similar to Puyol, is just what the Catalan club needs. His has a tall stocky figure that can be intimidating, his pace is blistering, he can perform some gravity-defying stunts, he can score from impressive lengths, his heading ability is unbelievable and guess what, he can score from free-kicks. All these facets make him the quintessential Barcelona defender. He just needs to sign that transfer paper. 

Jose Mourinho's distrust in him will make life hellishly impossible for Luiz to survive in Chelsea. And the funny part is that Mourinho prefers the clumsy Gary Cahill for Luiz! What a farce! Barcelona needs Luiz and Sandro Rosell should strive hard to sign the Brazilian. The transfer window has opened and there are no more excuses for not signing David Luiz. He might just provide the magic formula Barcelona are desperately seeking. And for a die hard cule like me, what better New Year gift than signing the majestic David Luiz.

Dec 31, 2013

A Recipe for Stalling Peace Talks

It has been only a year after Operation Pillar of Defense and war clouds have already started to gather over Israel and the West Bank. There is growing chatter of another upheaval - a potential third Intifada. The spine-tingling accounts of violence and bloodshed that were manifest in the previous two uprisings are scattered throughout the internet for all to read. No one in their right senses would want to see another disaster yet recent events in the region compel us to envisage otherwise.

Last November, Israel launched Operation Pillar of Defense in retaliation to the ceaseless rocket attacks from Gaza. Hamas and the notorious al-Qassam brigade were mainly held responsible for initiating the conflict. After over 100 rockets were launched at Israel the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) responded by killing Ahmed Jabari, chief of Gaza military wing of Hamas in a precision airstrike on his vehicle. The clashes continued for a month and there were civilian casualties on both sides. The Gazans took a heavy toll with more than a 100 civilian deaths. The damage incurred by Israel was not substantial but that was because of the IDF's stunning ability to thwart terror attacks and partly due to the Iron Dome air defense system that had a 90% success rate in stopping rockets.
But Israel cannot expect to escape lightly if there is to be an outpouring of violence. The US Secretary of State John Kerry has warned Israel of a third Intifada if the peace talks fail. There were rumblings of resentment in the West Bank, especially in the refugee camps of the Nablus, over Binyamin Netanyahu's announcement that Israel will continue to build new settlements. The refugee camps are extremely volatile regions and were the rallying points for the last two Intifadas. The rising ferment in the region is as a result of a widespread phobia that the peace talks are a US-Israeli conspiracy aimed at annihilating the Palestinians and protracting Israel's imperialist ambitions. Even though this a completely deranged notion the Palestinian people cannot be entirely blamed for this.
Their leaders play a huge role in instigating such fears. They give unwanted and unnecessary importance to Israeli settlement plans and perpetuate horrible lies about Israel's so called 'sinister designs'. During the late 1990s, Suha Arafat (wife of the late Yasser Arafat) made dubious claims that Israel was poisoning Palestinian wells and spreading cancer and AIDS by dumping truckloads of chemicals. It has been almost 15 years since she made those accusations and the world has still not heard of, god forbid, an AIDS or cancer pandemic that gripped the West Bank or Gaza.
While there is a lot of kerfuffle over Israeli settlements not one word of appreciation has been uttered, in the Palestinian territories, about Israel's intention of releasing a third and probably a fourth round of Palestinian convicts. Of course, the revered 'freedom fighters' will receive a grand welcome and many of them will look forward to reenact their violent pasts, but not one word of praise will be said about Israel. Neither will anything be said about the menacing rocket attacks or the recent deaths of two members of the IDF who were killed by Palestinian snipers or for that matter the horrific bombing of a bus in Tel Aviv. Rather, all these events were met with cheer. These events have already soured the prospects of achieving a major peace deal and yet it will be Israel that has to face the ire of the world if a peace deal is not reached.
The settlement plans are not an immediate necessity and they will surely hamper the peace process but the fact is that these plans are not the only obstacles to peace. To a large extent many outside forces are also responsible for initiating regional tensions. As seen last month, when the supreme leader of Iran viciously called Israel "the rabid dog of the region" and bullishly said that, "Israel was doomed to destruction". Such provocative statements from a person widely respected among the Palestinian people is bound to create trouble. Iranian leaders have also labelled the current peace dialogue as a "farce" and a ploy by the US and Israel to perpetuate their dominance of the region.
Israel is also under great pressure from the US to release the next round of prisoners and put a halt to their settlement plans. But where is the pressure on Mahmoud Abbas and company? The Palestinian Authority (PA) is on a rejecting spree. Almost everything the US and Israel put forward are spurned outright by the Palestinian leadership. There is a need for compromise on both sides. After all, we do not want the Camp David disaster of 2000 to be repeated.
The Americans are doing everything possible in order to achieve a lasting peace deal. John Kerry has made nine trips to the Middle East in 2013 and is all set to make a tenth one. He is determined to ink a deal between the two adversaries. He has also promised to free Jonathan Pollard if Israel agrees to release Israeli Arab prisoners. The Kerry plan includes a clause which provides for a US peace-force to monitor the region for specified number of years if a deal is reached.

But all the efforts could come to absolutely nothing if the PA and other regional actors continue with their blame game. This is a great opportunity for both sides to put aside all their differences and aim for a final deal. A Palestinian state is the need of the hour. All other differences could be sorted out after the Palestinians achieve statehood. This might be quite an obnoxious statement to make but there is no harm in giving it a try. Failure to achieve a deal will most certainly light the touchpaper and revert the region back to its darkest days. The region looks ripe for another bout of violence and one act of stupidity from either side will be enough to engulf the region in flames. A third Intifada would mean an end to any hopes of peace for a long time to come.

First published in The Times of Israel on 31 December, 2013.