A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Did Israel Underestimate Hamas?

Israeli analyst Shlomi Eldar has a sobering assessment a Al-Monitor's Israel Pulse: "Hamas: the first Palestinian army." While the title may underrate the operations of Fawzi al-Qawuqji and ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Husseini's forces in 1948, it does notice the increasing professionalism and fighting skills of Hamas, even if their tactics remain objectionable. For one, Israel's casualties among the IDF is already much greater than in Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, though Operation Protective Edge  has not lasted as long.

In fact the growing number of non-state actor and irregular forces showing professional skill is a subject of interest and, for state actors, perhaps a cause for concern. Hizbullah in Syria has reportedly borne the brunt of some of the heaviest fighting, surpassing their Syrian regime allies. ISIS (or the IS, or the Caliphate, or Da‘ish, or ISIL, or whatever they are today) managed to collapse several divisions of the Iraqi Army, capturing heavy weapons as it did so. The "asymmetric" part of Asymmetric Warfare may be disappearing.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Another July 23 in Egypt

Today marks the 62nd anniversary of the 1952 coup in Egypt that toppled King Farouq and brought Muhammad Naguib (and Nasser).

And once again, as in all but one year of those 62, the President is a military man.

Nina Paley's "This Land is Mine"

Yes, Part II of Hester Stanhope is coming. Meanwhile, back to the present century.

This is several years old, but I'm sorry to say it's not out of date. It dates from 2012 and is by Jewish-American cartoonist Nina Paley. I'm stunned I never ran this before.

For the non-historians, she has helpfully provided a guide to the various sides, such as the fact that the guy with the gigantic hammer is a Maccabee (which means hammer). (One quibble: the IDF doesn't use AK-47s.)

The song, which you mercifully rarely hear these days, was set to the theme music of he film Exodus, the 1960 Otto Preminger film in which blue-eyed Paul Newman, blonde Eva-Marie Saint, Italian Sal Mineo and others founded the State of Israel. The words were not used in the movie theme. And, I really am not making this up: the lyrics were written by Pat Boone and are sung here by Andy Williams.

Still Undecided on Your Summer Vacation? The Caliphate is Offering Tours

Twice-weekly bus tours from Raqqa into Anbar!

Let the neighbors top that one! (Tour price does not include jizya.)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Little Good News . . .

Bigger posts are coming, meanwhile, amid so much bad news, some good news from The Daily Star: "AUB joins NYU to digitize 100,000 Arabic volumes."

Monday, July 21, 2014

The End of Christianity in Mosul?

Part II of the Hester Stanhope post is coming later, or tomorrow, but I wanted to comment on recent developments in Mosul.

Christianity arrived in Mosul as early as the Second Century AD, from the early Christian center at Edessa, and is said to have been the third-ranking Metropolitanate in the Assyrian Church by about 300. It has remained a major center of both the Assyrian Church of the East and the Chaldean Catholic Church, with other denominations such as Syriac Orthodox also present. Confronted with a declaration by ISIS that Christians must either convert to Islam, pay a jizya tax, or face death (a very strict interpretation of Islamic law), most or all of Mosul's Christian population has reportedly fled to Erbil, Dohuk, or other cities under Kurdish control. The fate of Mosul's ancient churches and monasteries appears grim.

Earlier, external crosses were reportedly removed from churches, and he tomb of Yunus, equated wih the Biblical Jonah, was reportedly destroyed. Photos circulated over the weekend of an ancient church being burned, and today it's being reported that the Monastery of Mar Behnam near Mosul has been seized and its monks expelled. By one Kurdish account, only 200 Christians remain in Mosul.

This is not characteristic of Muslim treatment of Christians, as the survival of Iraqi Christianity after 14 centuries of Muslim rule indicates, as does a joint Muslim-Christian service at a Chaldean Church in Baghdad.

Iraqi Christians have been under fire since the fall of Saddam Hussein and the US occupation,but now the Chaldean Patriarch is saying the Islamic State is worse than the Mongols.

Shi‘ite shrines have also been attacked by the "Caliphate." Yazidis are also said to be fleeing Mosul, as are, reportedly, the Shabak and Turkmen minorities. Most are seeking refuge in the Kurdistan Regional Government's territory. I hope to address these minorities as I learn more details.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Plus ça change . . . Gaza 1956

The second part of the Hester Stanhope post is taking a while and probably won't go up until Monday. I thought I'd leave you for the weekend with a historical video (though it doesn't count as nostalgic: it's a grim reminder of the present). UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold visits Gaza in 1956 after  flare-up along the border, before the outbreak of the 1956 Suez war. Gaza was then administered by Egypt.

Pentagon Assessment of State of Iraqi Army is Said to Be Grim

This McClatchy article in Stars and Stripes leaks the assessment of the Iraqi Army reportedly sent to the Pentagon by the teams of US advisers sent to assess the situation. It isn't pretty:
Four Iraqi army divisions have simply disappeared and won’t be easily resurrected.
The 2nd Division was routed from Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, on June 9 at the beginning of the Islamic State’s advance, and its four brigades have dissolved.
The 1st Division also is basically gone, losing two brigades in Anbar province earlier in the year, then two more during last month’s Islamic State onslaught, including one brigade that in the words of the senior Iraqi politician was “decimated” in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad.
The same is true of Iraq’s 3rd Division. The division’s 6th and 9th Brigades fled the Islamic State’s advance in the north, and the status of its 11th Brigade is unknown. A small unit of its 10th Brigade is still in Tal Afar, but it is trapped by Islamic State forces.
The 4th Division also was routed. Half its members have disappeared — many suspect they were massacred when the Islamic State captured Tikrit — and only one small unit is known to still exist, surrounded by Islamists at a one-time U.S. military base near Tikrit known as Camp Speicher.

The Guns of July? Lessons Still Unlearned

Part II of the post on Hester Stanhope is coming later today or at the latest Monday. But first, this thought.

"History doesn't repeat itself, but sometimes it rhymes," is an aphorism often attributed to Mark Twain, though like many attributed to him, no one seems to be able to locate it in his writings. Reflecting on the range of conflicts in the region today, not just the tit-for-tat cycle of retribution we are witnessing in Gaza, a war provoked by individual murders, but the disintegration of Syria and Iraq, I find the timing ironic in this July of 2014.

For it was a century ago next week that Austria delivered its ultimatum to Serbia in response to the earlier assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand,setting in motion the cataclysm that would redraw the maps of Europe and the Middle East and begin the process of making the 20th Century the bloodiest in history. Austria-Hungary would be torn apart, its original quarrel with Serbia largely submerged in he four years that followed.

How little humanity seems to have learned since that earlier July.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Gaza: How Long Will it Last This Round?

The ground operations in Israel's Operation Protective Edge have begun. The casualty figures are likely to rise proportionately. But how long is the incursion likely to last? Israel isn't saying, but its previous operations in 2008-2009, with major round operations as compared to the conflict in 2012, where a ground incursion was forestalled by a ceasefire, may give some indications.

Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009 lasted a total of just over three weeks. Israel began air strikes December 27, 2008 and the ground incursion on January 3, 2009. It ended in a ceasefire on January 18, for a total operation of just over three weeks and a ground component of just over two weeks.

Operation Pillar of Cloud in November 2012 (so called in Hebrew though the IDF insisted on calling it "Pillar of Defense" in English) was an eight day campaign limited to Israeli air and artillery strikes and a sustained Hamas rocket attacks. A potential ground incursion was avoided when Egypt (then led by Muhammad Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, the parent organization and ally of Hamas) brokered a ceasefire.

Now that a ground incursion has begun, the operation already seems to resemble Cast Lead. Whether it lasts as long remains to be seen.

The Onion: "317,000,000 State Solution"

As usual, The Onion satirically hits a home run: "Everyone In Middle East Given Own Country In 317,000,000-State Solution."
According to U.N. officials, the newly demarcated Middle East now consists of 8,000,000 independent Jewish states, 4,000,000 independent Palestinian states, 112,000,000 Shi’ite Islamic republics, 156,000,000 Sunni Islamic republics, and 19,000,000 Kurdish nations, as well as approximately 18,000,000 territories that include various Christian, Bahá'í, Druze, Zoroastrian, and secular countries.

"The Mad Nun of Lebanon": the Strange Case of Lady Hester Stanhope, Part I

Lady Hester Stanhope
 "I think you are another of these desert-loving English: Doughty, Stanhope, Gordon of Khartoum. No Arab loves the desert. We love water and green trees, there is nothing in the desert. No man needs nothing."
— Prince Feisal (Alec Guinness) to T.E. Lawrence (Peter O'Toole) in David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia
These words are probably a scriptwriter's creation, but delivered by Alec Guinness in what would later be recognized as the authoritative voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi, they seem full of meaning. Probably most viewers of the movie, however, if they recognized any of those names, would know Gordon of Khartoum.  They certainly reflect a reality: the English adventurer who "goes native" and adopts not just the Middle East, but the most exotic or traditional aspects of it, and plunge themselves into the most bedouin or tribal aspects thereof. Lawrence was, of course, just such a "desert-loving English," at least in one stage of his self-creation. Sir Richard Francis Burton also comes to mind, and in later generations, Wilfred Thesiger and St.John Philby.

The other names above may be less familiar. Gordon, of course, is well remembered as the Governor of Sudan, killed by the Mahdi's forces before the relief expedition reached him. Charles M. Doughty was the author of Travels in Arabia Deserta, one of the great travel books of all time, but written in an antique, pseudo-Spencerian or Elizabethan style that puts off readers (though T.E. Lawrence wrote an introduction to later editions and claimed to try to emulate the style in Seven Pillars of Wisdom). There is a wonderful field for research here: all these "desert-loving English" were a bit eccentric. Doughty's eccentricities were mainly linguistic (plus the fact that he wrote a six-volume epic poem on The Birth of Britain which he hoped would be remembered when Arabia Deserta was forgotten: he was wrong).

Of the others, all can be described, at the very least, as eccentric. Few were well-adjusted in modern eyes. Gordon of Khartoum has been the subject of psychological speculation since Lytton Strachey's Eminent Victorians  in 1918, and T.E. Lawrence has fascinated biographers since even before his death, fueled and perhaps challenged by his own frequent self-reinventions. Burton is also a much-studied character, another man who invented an image of himself which may or may not be the real one, but which was aimed at shocking the Victorian age.

The name least likely to be recognized in the quote above is "Stanhope." Lady Hester Stanhope, the only woman in the group (though we should probably add Gertrude Bell as well) and the earliest of them in time (1776-1839) is also most likely the most eccentric of all, if not something rather more, earning her the soubriquet: "the mad nun of Lebanon." (Mad, perhaps. Of Lebanon, certainly. But "Nun" probably refers to the fact that Lady Hester never married and had extreme religious beliefs, and sequesered herself from the world in later years.  In fact, however, she was apparently an enthusiastically liberated woman both sexually and in social roles. She has become something of a proto-feminist heroine, a role marred slightly by the "Mad" part, such as her belief that she was destined to be the bride of the Islamic Mahdi. But more about that later.)

In an earlier era she was well-known. A blogger notes:
She inspired Picasso; Lytton Strachey was rude about her, W H Auden paid tribute to her courage, James Joyce saluted her in Ulysses, where she has a walk-on part as Molly Bloom's girlfriend.
A Romanticized Lady Hester
I haven't tracked those references down; I'm just reporting them, though both Picasso and Joyce apparently viewed her as  forerunner of sexual liberation. And remember, she was more a child of the Enlightenment than a Victorian; she was in her 40s when Victoria was born, and died only two years into her reign.  But she also dominates Chapter VIII of Alexander Kinglake's Eothen, once a famous travel work of a visit to the East. And Lord Byron is said to have called her, "that dangerous thing, a female wit."

Lady Hester came of a most distinguished background. Her father was Charles, 3rd Earl of Stanhope, while her mother was Hester Pitt, daughter of William Pitt the Elder, First Earl of Chatham, and sister of William Pitt the Younger. So in addition to being the daughter of an Earl, Hester Stanhope was granddaughter and niece of the two greatest Prime Ministers of the age. In 1803 she became the hostess of her uncle, the Younger Pitt, then Prime Minister and unmarried and in need of an official hostess. When Pitt died in 1806 he left her a moderately comfortable (for her class) annual income of £1200.

I's pretty clear that (see Byron above) she made an impression, positive or negative, on society, and on men.  Her portraits do not show her as unattractive, by any means, but despite her rank she was widely considered not a great beauty but an intelligent, independent, and freethinking woman when none of those attributes were praised at her level of society. But her succession of lovers apparently were attracted to precisely those qualities.

But that wouldn't get her remembered, or onto this blog.  Like he others mentioned, she was attracted to the East, though the "Queen of he Desert" title is ridiculous: we're talking about Palestine and Lebanon. Like Gordon of Khartoum, she had curious religious notions, usually including messianic fantasies. And like Burton, she appears to have had a certain enthusiasm about sex. But she was also a pioneering Biblical archaeologist.

Though she never married, she was apparently no aristocratic maiden but an early liberated woman, though as usual for the era it is hard to document those who merely fell in love with her and those who may have been physical lovers. When General Sir John Moore died at Corunna in the Peninsular War against Napoleon in Spain, his last words to  her brother Charles). were reportedly, "Remember me to your sister, Stanhope." She his said to have kept his bloodstained glove for the rest of her life. And he had not been her first romance.

In 1810 she decided to visit the exotic East to explore Biblical sites and whatever else might lie before her. And there began her nearly 30 years in the Middle East. Stay tuned.

Sources used in the above post and in future parts (some only partially consulted):

Wikipedia, Lady Hester Stanhope.

 [Charles Louis Meryon], Memoirs of the Lady Hester Stanhope as Related in Conversations with her Physician, online versions, Vol. I, Vol. II, Vol. III.

 [Charles Louis Meryon], Travels of the Lady Hester Stanhope, Forming the Completion of Her Memoirs, Vol. I, Vol. II, Vol. III.

The Life and Letters of Lady Hester Stanhope, by her Niece,the Duchess of Cleveland (online)

Frank Hamel, Lady Hester Lucy Stanhope: A New Light on Her Life and Love Affairs (PDF from microform)

Saudi Aramco World, September/October 2970, "'Queen of the Desert': Lady Hester Stanhope"


Mail Online, 22 August 2008, "Wild Life of a White Warrior Goddess." (Okay, the title alone would have told you it was The Daily Mail, but it's really a review of Kirsten Ellis' Star of the Morning: The Extraordinary Life of Lady Hester Stanhope, which I haven't used.)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Meanwhile in Tunis, They're Worried About Low Voter Registration

From the ongoing tragedies unfolding between Israel and Gaza, through the smoldering wreckage of the Syrian and Iraqi states, and on to Afghanistan where a possible resolution of the electoral dispute has been overshadowed by yesterday's market bombing that produced the highest death toll since 2001, the region seems to be aflame.True, the Iranian nuclear negotiations still offer some grounds for hope, but Egypt seems more authoritarian each day, and violence and kidnapping are continuing in Libya.

So it's nice to report a (somewhat) brighter scene in the only real (and still unfinished) success story of what was once called Arab Spring:  "Tunisians Divided Over Electoral Participation," and "Ask the Experts: Why Have So Few People Registered to Vote?" By comparison with its neighbors, that's almost a :First World Problem."

Other recent pieces at TunisiaLive include "Grabbing a Bite Out of Sight: Sidestepping Ramadan in Tunisia" (somewhere, Habib Bourguiba is smiling), and "Being Gay in Tunisia: Still in the Shadows." (I'm sure it's bad, but compared to, say, "Being Gay in the New Caliphate" . . .)

Now don't get me wrong: Tunisian democracy is still a work in progress. (Western democracy is still a work in progress, or maybe in  regress these days.) There are still threats to the emerging political order. But I thought noting the contrast might be worthwhile on anoher really awful day in Gaza and elsewhere.

Lessons the US Keeps Failing to Learn

Worth a read at Foreign Policy: Rosa Brooks on Six Lessons America Seems Thoroughly Incapable of Learning.

Marc Lynch Looks at Arab Twitter Trends on Gaza, Iraq, Syria

Marc Lynch, in "Arabs Do Care About Gaza," looks at Arabic Twitter trends to assess recent events in Syria, Iraq, and Gaza:
What did Palestine’s relatively declining place in Arab discourse really mean, though? For many analysts, especially in the West and Israel, it signaled a nail in the coffin of theories of linkage and the relevance of the Palestinian issue. For others, it was just a matter of the news cycle, since Palestine hadn’t had the mass demonstrations on the Tahrir Square model or the mass slaughter of Syria’s model . . .
Syria (in blue), which in 2012 and early 2013 consistently generated millions of tweets per month in Arabic, shows a relatively low level flat line. The shocking developments in Iraq (in green) galvanized attention in mid-June, and Iraq continues to attract more attention now than does Syria. But Gaza, after being virtually ignored for a long time, surges to dominate everything else once the conflict begins. Score one for the “latent relevance” hypothesis.
UPDATE: it's been pointed out that the table doesn't use the more frequent Arabic spelling of Syria as  سوريا, though a search with that spelling doesn't dramatically change the conclusion.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Cecil Rhodes, Please Call Your Office: Virginia Man Wants to be King of Bir Tawil (and I Explain Why No One Claims Bir Tawil)

You probably thought the colonial scramble for Africa was over, didn't you? Think again: "Abingdon Man Claims African Land to Make Good on Promise to Daughter." 

Abingdon is in extreme southwest Virginia. Apparently he has promised his daughter she'll be a princess some day, so he wants to be king of something, and has settled on Bir Tawil, on the Egypt-Sudan border. More on the location momentarily. Meanwhile, he has a flag and wants to name it "North Sudan." Sheila Carapico of the University of Richmond told the newspapers that it's unlikely he could get Egypt and Sudan to agree, which is an understatement. They've had some experience with foreign colonial rule. I'm sure Mr. Heaton loves his daughter, but the colonial era doesn't need reviving.

It does, however, provide me with an excuse to explain why neither Egypt nor Sudan claims Bir Tawil. And that requires me to discuss the dispute over the Hala'ib Triangle.

I was going to say it is the flip-side of the dispute over the Hala'ib Triangle, but then I realized that those too young to remember 45-RPM vinyl records won't know what a flip-side is, and then when I searched this blog in order to link to previous posts about Hala'ib, I discovered I've apparently never done a post about it. The fact that both Egypt and Sudan dispute control of the Hala'ib Triangle is the reason neither one of them claims Bir Tawil, which  I guess could be called the Bir Tawil trapezoid. So the rest of this post will deal with both enclaves.

Anyway, you will recall that after that thing with the Mahdi and Gordon of Khartoum, Sudan was made subject to an Anglo-Egyptian condominium known as the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. The 1899 agreement that set up the condominium drew the international boundary between Egypt and Sudan along the 22nd parallel of latitude. Since Britain was effectively running Egypt, the condominium had its limits.

In 1902, as an administrative convenience, Britain drew an "Administrative Boundary" separate from the international boundary. An area along the Red Sea coast north of 22°N was used as grazing land by the Beja of northeastern Sudan; a smaller enclave south of the line was used for grazing by the Ababda subtribe of Beja living on the Egyptian side. It made perfect sense, so long as the sun never set on the British Empire.

The area north of the line came to be known as the Hala'ib Triangle, after its most important town, or the "Sudan Government Administration Area"; the smaller enclave is Bir Tawil.

When Sudan became independent in 1956, it asserted the 1902 Administrative Boundary should be its northern boundary. Egypt claimed the international boundary, the 22nd parallel. The Wikipedia map at left illustrates the claims. The locations are clear in his Google Earth image:


The enclaves are not created equal. Hala'ib is 20,580 square kilometers; Bir Tawil only 2,060. Hala'ib has several towns and trading centers, road access to both Egypt and Sudan,, a coast on the Red Sea, and suspicions of possible offshore oil.

Bir Tawil has this:

Or, as shown in Google  Maps:




You may be thinking: but wait, countries have boundary disputes over lots of desert areas, mountaintops, glaciers and so on.

True, but the conflicting claims to Hala'ib mean that if Egypt is right and Hala'ib is Egyptian, then everything south of the international boundary is Sudanese, and Hala'ib is Egyptian. But if the Administrative boundary is used, Hala'ib is Sudnese and Bir Tawil is Egyptian. Neither side can claim Bir Tawil without losing its claim to the far more important Hala'ib Triangle.

Thus Bir Tawil is technically a terra nullius. a rare case of land territory no one claims. (But as Sheila Carapico notes in the newspaper article above, that doesn't mean it's Mr. Heaton's for the taking. The tribesmen who use it as grazing land have Egyptian or Sudanese citizenship, and have a stronger claim to it as their tribal property.)

Hala'ib remains a matter of dispute. Until the 1990s Egypt generally tolerated Sudan's continuing administration but never dropped its claim. When Sudan began negotiating offshore oil rights, Egypt sent troops to occupy the Triangle. There were tense moments in the 1990s when both countries had troops there. Sudan's withdrew in 2000; though Sudan continues to pursue its claim. Egypt administers the province as part of its Red Sea Governorate, from the Egyptian town of Shalateen on the Triangle's border. In both countries the issue continues to be an irritant in their relations.

UPDATE: And do check out Diana Buja's link about working in the Hala'ib Triangle.

Below, a more detailed map of Bir Tawil, Mr. Heaton's putative Kingdom:

Lameen Souag Analyzes a Ramadan Greeting

Algerian linguist Lameen Souag has a dialect post for Ramadan: "Grammatically analysing "Sahha Ramdankoum!," a standard Algerian Ramadan greeting.

Sahha is the Arabic word for health, and the meaning of the greeting isn't that obscure, but he's a linguist, remember, and he's speculating on whether it's functioning as a noun, a verb, or something else here. For those of you who always wanted to diagram sentences is Arabic dialects, this is he post you've been waiting for. It was also his way of passing Ramadan greetings to his readers, of course.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Coups of Summer: Why Were So Many Arab Coups in July?

For some reason this post has temporarily disappeared. I am attempting to retrieve it.

Did Netanyahu Just Rule Out a Two-State Solution?

Binyamin Netanyahu's press conference this weekend was predictably mostly about Gaza, but in the process he also was more open in discussing his vision of future negotiations. And as this Times of Israel article notes:
He made explicitly clear that he could never, ever, countenance a fully sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank. He indicated that he sees Israel standing almost alone on the frontlines against vicious Islamic radicalism, while the rest of the as-yet free world does its best not to notice the march of extremism. And he more than intimated that he considers the current American, John Kerry-led diplomatic team to be, let’s be polite, naive.
That would seem to torpedo a two-state solution. But the perils of a one-state solution are well-known: if democratic, demography will in time imperil Israel's Jewish identity; if non-democratic, another element if Israel's self image would be imperiled.

July 14, 1958: The Fall of the Iraqi Monarchy

King Faisal II
Today is Bastille Day, of course, but it is also the 56th anniversary of the coup tha toppled the Iraqi monarchy in 1958, killing most of the Royal Family and Prime Minister Nuri al-Sa‘id.

At the time, in the midst of the global Cold War and the so-called "Arab Cold War,"
Nuri al-Sa‘id
the coup set off alarms in the US and Britain, as the British installed Hashemites were ousted and killed, and a key member of the Baghdad Pact changed allegiances.

The coup, led by ‘Abd al-Karim Qasim and ‘Abd al-Salam ‘Arif, seemed to follow the Nasser model, but it soon became clear that Qasim was more an Iraqi nationalist than a Nasserist.Qasim cultivated the Iraqi Communist Party and other groups. ‘Arif, a pan-Arabist along Nasser lines, was sidelined.

‘Arif (left)  and Qasim
An encouraging new constitution raised hopes, but Qasim proved a typical authoritarian, and after five years in power was himself overthrown and shot in 1963 in a coup led by Arif. Qasim, of mixed Sunni-Shi‘ite background, was a rare exception to the long string of Sunni rulers in Iraq.

The monarchy, Sunni, foreign, and widely seen as too pro-British, never took deep roots in Iraq, but in the international context of 1958, its overthrow led to renewed concerns in the West about Soviet and Nasserist intentions, and British moved to shore up the Jordanian Hashemites while the US landed Marines in Lebanon.

Friday, July 11, 2014

From +972 Magazine: "Why Isn't the West Bank Rioting, Too?"

Larry Derfner at the dovish Israeli +972 mag asks and generally answers a question that hasn't gotten much attention: "Why Isn't the West Bank Rioting, Too?."

Gaza's firing rockets, East Jerusalem is seeing riots, but the West Bank is calm.

The Netanyahu government isn't likely to publicly credit Mahmoud ‘Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, which may be why we aren't seeing the question asked more frequently.

(As many of you will know, +972 takes its name from Israel's telephone country code.)

Guest Post: William R. Polk Offers a Grim Assessment of Prospects for Israel and Palestine

Introductory note by Michael Dunn: On several occasions I have linked to articles by William R.Polk, particularly on Iraq. His extensive experience in the region, as Harvard professor, senior State Department official, founder of the Middle East Studies Department at Chicago, and a author of dozens of books on a wide variety of subjects is always worth listening to. Bill Polk has kindly offered this guest post on the Israel-Palestine issue. It is a grimly pessimistic one. I personally still cling to hopes for a two-state solution,  though clearly, doors are closing. Though I am more optimistic than Professor Polk, his views are clearly expressed and deserve a hearing. As with everything that appears here, the views expressed are those of the author nd do not represent the policy of The Middle East Institute or The Middle East Journal.

Palestine Peace Illusions

by William R. Polk

With the killing of three Israeli teenagers and the apparent revenge murder of a Palestinian youth – possibly burned to death – the hatred between Israelis and Palestinian has reached a new level of obscenity, and it looks like it will get worse. Much worse.

 The major Israeli newspaper Haaretz wrote in an editorial:
There are no words to describe the horror allegedly done by six Jews to Mohammed Abu Khdeir of Shoafat. Although a gag order bars publication of details of the terrible murder and the identities of its alleged perpetrators, the account of Abu Khdeir’s family — according to which the boy was burned alive — would horrify any mortal. Anyone who is not satisfied with this description can view the horror movie in which members of Israel’s Border Police are seen brutally beating Tariq Abu Khdeir, the murder victim’s 15-year-old cousin.
Or, as Israeli columnist Gideon Levy wrote about the recent atrocities:
The youths of the Jewish state are attacking Palestinians in the streets of Jerusalem, just like gentile youths used to attack Jews in the streets of Europe. The Israelis of the Jewish state are rampaging on social networks, displaying hatred and a lust for revenge, unprecedented in its diabolic scope. These are the children of the nationalistic and racist generation – Netanyahu’s offspring.
 For five years now, they have been hearing nothing but incitement, scaremongering and supremacy over Arabs from this generation’s true instructor, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Not one humane word, no commiseration or equal treatment. They grew up with the provocative demand for recognition of Israel as a ‘Jewish state,’ and they drew the inevitable conclusions.
My own observations accord with these remarks. Over the years since my first visit to what was then the Palestine Mandate in 1946, I have watched the disappearance of the generation of civilized men of the 1930s. Such great Jewish figures as Judah Magnes and Martin Buber who flourished then are forgotten or, if remembered at all, are thought of (by Israelis) to have been naive do-gooders and (by Arabs) to have been just front men for the real Zionists, men like Vladimir Jabotinsky, the spiritual father of Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir and Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Palestinians now point out that what the most extreme of their spokesmen told the American investigators (in the King-Crane commission that Woodrow Wilson sent to the Levant in 1919), that they feared what has now happened.

In the words of the then senior British intelligence officer (Kinahan Cornwallis), the Palestinians hold "a deeply felt fear that the Jews not only intended to assume the reins of Government in Palestine but also to expropriate or buy up during the war large tracts of land owned by Moslems and others, and gradually to force them from the country."

The British cabinet already thought something like this was inevitable. It was a price the British were willing to have the Palestinians pay since in 1917-1918 they desperately wanted Jewish support in Germany (where they thought much of the Army was under Jewish officers), In Russia (where they thought Jews were the leaders of the Bolshevik movements for a separate peace that would release large German forces to fight on the Western front) and in America (where they thought Jews could provide financing for their war effort). So, they courted Jewish support in the Balfour Declaration.

In careful compromise they stuck in the Declaration two qualifications as I recount in two of my early books, Backdrop to Tragedy (with David Stamler and Edmund Asfour) and The United States and the Arab World. They specified their objective as being only "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people" and emphasized that this was not to denigrate the rights of the Arabs "it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine."

Qualifications aside, what has happened was precisely what everyone then knew was likely, the transformation of Palestine into a Jewish state.

In a remarkably candid statement on Aug. 11, 1919, Lord Balfour, the titular author of the Declaration, admitted that "so far as Palestine is concerned, the Powers [The Allies, Britain and France] have made no statement of fact which is not admittedly wrong, and no declaration of policy which at least in letter, they have not always intended to violate." (Quoted in my book The Elusive Peace: The Middle East in the Twentieth Century.)

The history of the past century of Palestine can be summed up in a few words: For their own interests, the British and then the Americans just closed their eyes to the developing tragedy; both were content to have a poor, defenseless Near East people pay the price for Western anti-Semitism.

Predictably, the Jewish community grew, appropriated most of the best land (largely by purchase from absentee owners), and benefited from massive infusions of foreign money (now totaling well over $100 billion, or more than all the aid programs for the rest of the world). Meanwhile, the Jewish fate in Europe moved toward the Holocaust.

What did that actually mean? If I were a Jew in Germany in the 1930s, I certainly would have gone to America and if I could not get in some could not to Palestine; if I were an Arab at almost any time from 1920 onward, I would have tried to stop the flood of immigrants. The real culprit is neither the Jew nor the Palestinian. It is us. Anti-Semitism is a Western disease.

What we see today is that the people who really agree with the Jewish terrorists are the Arab terrorists with the religious fanatics among both peoples increasingly taking the lead. Between them, there is little if any room for people of moderation, much less for decency. Tit-for-Tat is a game played with blood and steel in which no one is or will be immune. There is no end in sight.

So how have we viewed these events? I have listened for my whole professional life to a false dialogue. For years, policymakers and opinion leaders have argued over "solutions" that are unreal or at last tangential. We keep chanting the dirge one can almost put it to music one state or two states. Neither is realistic and even if feasible would not solve the fundamental problem. But we seem to believe that, if we can say one or the other often enough, one of them might become acceptable.

It is time to drop the nonsense and face the simple facts. They are these:

In the "one state," the Arabs will be the subjugated minority with few rights and little or any security they will be the "Jews" of an Israeli Germany or the "Jews" of an Israeli Imperial Russia, cooped up in ghettos, imprisoned, driven into exile or subjected to a final partition. They, their children and their grandchildren will sporadically resist. Their resistance will call forth more hatred and more reprisal. The cycle will continue.

In the "two states," those living in the truncated remnants of Palestine (the West Bank and Gaza) will be condemned to perpetual poverty and humiliation. They will have almost no usable agricultural land and virtually no water. They will be cut off from possible markets for what little they can produce. They can have no hope of manufacturing because their draw on electricity will be squeezed. Even the limited money they can earn will be closely controlled and often blocked by the Israeli Central Bank as it now is. They will have limited access to health facilities, educational institutions and even contact with one another, segregated as they are and will be by restricted zones, walls and standing security and military forces. They too would periodically resist or strike out in fury and so draw upon themselves reprisals. And so too the cycle of violence will continue or even escalate.

Even those who think of themselves as "Israeli Arabs" will remain, in the eyes of the real Israelis, just Arabs. They will have marginally better, but still limited, lives as they do today. As hatred grows ethnically they too will be drawn into the struggle. They are likely to lose what they have so far kept.

Is there an alternative? Yes, there are three. Which is worse depends upon who does the evaluation.

The one the Israelis want is for the Palestinians to just leave. To go where? To refugee camps or wherever, the Israelis don't care. A reading of all Israeli policies underlines the Israeli intention to make life as unattractive for the Palestinians as world opinion allows. The Israelis admit that the conditions they are creating are worse than South African apartheid was for the Bantu. And always the threat of ethnic cleansing hangs high.

The second alternative, which of course the Palestinians want, is for the Israelis "to go back where they came from." The Arabs day-dream of their relations with the Israelis in parallel to the Crusades. The Crusaders stayed a long time but finally left. The more recent parallel is to the "French" (many of whom were not French at all) pieds noirs in Algeria. It took a century but they too finally left.

The Palestinians keep track of the immigration statistics and observe that in some years more Israelis leave than immigrants come. They also note that a large part of the Israeli population keeps dual citizenship which gives them the option of leaving. New York is said to have a larger Israeli population than Jerusalem.

The third alternative is Armageddon. Israel has a huge store of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and at least once in the past came close to using nuclear weapons. The Arabs, of course, don't (now) have nuclear weapons, but at least two Arab states are thought to be capable of getting (producing or buying) them quickly. More immediate, the Palestinians, divided and relatively unarmed as they are, have the capacity to inflict pain on Israelis (and so to bring about retaliation). Sooner or later, that capacity will grow.

Here the analogy with the Crusades may make some sense. One can envisage a scenario in which acts by Arabs could either make life in Israel unattractive or, alternatively, cause the Israelis in frustration, fear or fury to destroy the Middle East and all its people. They have the means to do so.

Should we care? Forget the pious statements. If the past is any guide, we didn't much care about anti-Semitism when it affected the Jews in Europe and don't much care about it when today it makes life horrible for many Arabs in the Middle East. There is much cynical (but covert) anti-Zionist feeling even among politicians who rush to benefit from Jewish donations. Privately, many admit that much of what the Israelis are doing is illegal and even more is immoral, but it is the rare politician who says anything publicly. And those who have done so have usually paid a politically mortal price.

Meanwhile, as a nation, we Americans keep on doing what we know how to do giving money and arms. And, in a destructive and self-defeating gesture to "even-handedness" giving them to both sides. It is not so important that we don't incur favor by this policy neither side is smitten by affection for us and  the Israeli government almost daily goes out of its way to humiliate our government. But it could be, and in my judgment eventually will be, significant that we are moving toward Armageddon.

Even the most hardheaded and cynical among us should be concerned since there is a considerable danger of a spillover of any Middle Eastern war into our lives both abroad in other areas, particularly Islamic areas, and at home. At minimum it long-term and perhaps escalating hostilities in the Middle East would hurt our economy. Additionally, it they could further damage our already fragile ecology, possibly trigger a wider conflict and certainly damage the sense of law, morality and order by which we live.

Even short of actual war, the contagion of instability, hatred and violence is likely to spread and so affect us in other areas and on other issues about which we care.

Perhaps, if our leaders could even slightly raise their eyes above their immediate interests and pay a little attention to the river of events in which we float, we could grab a handhold and stop before we reach the waterfall.

Does anyone see any such leader anywhere? I confess I do not.

I am afraid, not for me, since I am now 85 years old, but for mine and yours and everyone's.

Telegraph: The Islamic State's Cabinet and Structure

The Telegraph has posted an analysis of ISIS' organizational structure and  useful graphic chart of the Cabinet and Governors. (The version at the Telegraph's site is interactive, unlike this one.)




Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Glimmer of Good News: Cairo Synagogue Hosts Ramadan Iftar

So much is depressing right now, here's something that isn't: Cairo's last synagogue has hosted  a Ramadan Iftar meal sponsored by the Egyptian Alliance for Minorities. This photo alone speaks volumes:
Gestures will not end war and intolerance, but they do show hope. It takes a long time for water to erode a Grand Canyon, but here is a promising drop.

Video below: among the speakers are Magda Haroun, head of Cairo's tiny Jewish community, a member of the Amazigh Movement in Egypt, and an Azhari sheikh from a group called Azharis for a Civil Society.  (The English report quotes Haroun as saying "We are all Egyptians," which she does, but note that in her Arabic clip she also mentions Shi‘ites and Baha'is along with other minorities.

Video: The Jihadi and "Hello Kitty"

This has gotten a lot of attention over the past couple of days, but in case you haven't seen it: Zahran Alloush, head of the Syrian Jaysh al-Islam, a non-ISIS jihadi group, is haranguing his troops and denouncing ISIS. What catches the eye rather quickly and made the video go viral, however, is the pink "Hello Kitty" notebook on the desk in front of him. (Still pic followed by video.)




Now, I always found "Hello Kitty" rather unsettling (the cat has no mouth!), but I never associated it with radical jihadism.

As Britain's The Independent commented in one of the many reports on this video:
Wearing combat uniform, with gun holsters strapped on, the commander seems unlikely to have chosen a pink Hello Kitty notebook to enhance his image.
The pink pad could have arrived in aid convoys sent to war-torn Syria or in charity packages, or maybe he is a genuine fan of the Japanese cartoon cat.

The Fanus Lanterns of Ramadan: Folklore and Tradition

Cairo Fawanis Sellers, Early 20th Century
The rapid descent of the region into the lower circles of hell makes it easy to neglect the  social and cultural and historical mission we claim for this blog. I'm particularly remiss this year in Ramadan posts, a third of the way into the holy month.

The Fanus, (also Fanous or Fanoos, Arabic plural fawanis 
فوانيس, فانوس رمضان ), while primarily Egyptian in its origins, has spread beyond the Valley of the Nile: it is a Ramadan lantern, usually lit by a candle, modeled loosely on a mosque lamp and used to light streets, mosques, balconies and homes during Ramadan.

The word itself is clearly from Greek phanos (φανός, a torch or lantern), perhaps directly or via Coptic which has many loan words from Greek.

Modern Fawanis
Inexpensive and cheaply-made fawanis are often made from scrap metal, and as a 2011 AP story noted, the traditional trade is dying in Egypt, replaced by an influx of Chinese copies:
As a symbol, the fanoos is somewhat similar to a Christmas tree or a menorah. It is hung on balconies during Ramadan and takes the center of dinner tables when families gather to break-fast together.
The history of the fanoos in Egypt stretches back to the Fatimid Empire, which ruled large swaths of the Muslim world from Cairo starting in the 10th century. But, after nearly a century, the future of the Egyptian fanoos is under threat.

Less than a dozen fanoos makers remain in Cairo, as cheap Chinese imports and decades of government corruption have made plying their trade nearly impossible.

“Our great-grandfathers did this work, but our kids won’t,” said Rida Ashour, who stopped making the fanoos about 10 years ago.
Also see this 2009 Al-Ahram Weekly  story, "Lights of Faith."

Mention of the fanus also gives me an excellent reason to refer to my own post from Ramadan 2012: "'Wahawi ya Wahawi Eyaha': Is it an Ancient Egyptian Chant?" This is a traditional chant sung while lighting the fanus lamps at sundown during Ramadan. As my post notes, traditions says this is an Ancient Egyptian chant, and it has no clear meaning in Arabic. In Ancient Egyptian snd Coptic it may mean something like "Welcome, Moon." "Eyaha" is suggestive: iah is "moon" in Coptic, which could be relevant to Ramadan, obviously, though older traditions associate it with the Pharaoh Ahmose ("born of the Moon").(And note the knowledgeable comment on the original post.)

It's interesting that the earlier quote on Fawanis attributes the modern tradition to the early Fatimids, though of course Ancient Egyptians had lanterns,while my link on Wahawi ya Wahawi also attributes the chant to the Fatimid era, despite suggesting Ancient Egyptian origin. Regular readers may recall that many folk etymologies of the ubiquitous Egyptian term أحا (aḥa, a7a), widely considered profane though no one knows why, also attribute its etymology (for various incompatible reasons) to the Fatimids. What is it about the Fatimids that attracts so much folkloric accreditation?

Yes, of course, they founded Cairo (the walled city with its current name), but Fustat and other town were already there. Why is Egypt's only Shi‘ite dynasty credited with so much folkloric tradition?

At times I wish The Middle East Journal wasn't devoted just to the post 1945 Middle East, but it is. Why are the Fatimids so popular as a folk origin for customs ranging from religious rites to profanity  (if أحا  is even profane)?  Comments and suggestions are welcome.

But if you haven't read my 2013 post you may have no idea what Wahawi ya Wahawi Eyaha sounds like. Here it is, from a modern song, embedded in Arabic: Wahawi is accented on the first syllable Unlikely in Arabic) .Eyaha tends to sound like Eyoha.:

 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

More Concerns About the Threat to Antiquities in Syria and Iraq

We've dealt many times with the threat to antiquities provoked by  the war in Syria, and more recently in Mosul. Others are ex-pressing those concerns as well, especially since the rapid rise of ISIS.

The Roman and Byzantine city of Apamea was one of the most prominent of the lost cities of northern Syria, and its ruins were a major archaeological site. As this National Geographic piece (free registration required) notes, satellite photography posted on this Trafficking Culture site shows the archaeological site, pristine in 2011, completely covered with looters' holes in 2012:
2011

2012





Amid fears that ISIS is looting and selling antiquities to finance its conquests, museums have already prepared an Emergency Red List of Syrian Cultural Objects at Risk (PDF) to alert border authorities for possible looted artifacts.

Now the concern is about northern Iraq. By taking Mosul, ISIS also took the ancient site of Nineveh, the Assyrian capital. As Christopher Dickey notes at The Huffington Post, some Iraqi officials are urging the US to use targeted drone strikes to hit ISIS without damaging archaeological sites.

That implies a lot more confidence in Predator accuracy than I'm comfortable with.

Given the scale of human lives lost, many may find the threat to heritage sites a minor one, a sort of "First World Problem." But if one adds to the destruction of sites in Syria and Iraq the looting of museums during the Egyptian Revolution and the Iraq War, the toll over the past decade or so is huge: the past is disappearing.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Just Saying: Previous Caliphs Named "Ibrahim" Did Not Leave Stellar Records

So Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi wants to be recognized as "Caliph Ibrahim." There seems no rush, even by fellow jihadis, to offer the bay‘a to him. It may be worth noting that previous Caliphs named Ibrahim have not been well-remembered; for the first, there is some dispute whether he was ever even accepted as Caliph; the second was the Ottoman Sultan known as Ibrahim the Mad. Not great precedents.

Ibrahim ibn al-Walid was named successor to his brother, the Umayyad Caliph Yazid III in AD 744, but was quickly opposed by his relative Marwan II and deposed. At most he ruled for a few weeks, and there's some dispute about whether he was ever fully recognized. Marwan deposed him but allowed him to live peaceably under his protection. Until the ‘Abbasid revolution of 750, when Ibrahim was killed with most members of the Umayyad house. Marwan II also was killed, after fleeing to Egypt.

Ottoman Sultan Ibrahim was Ottoman Sultan 1640-1648. He is known as Ibrahim I as Sultan, but if one accepts the Ottoman claim to the Caliphate, he would have been the second Caliph named Ibrahim. His reign was troubled to say the least, marked by family rivalries, executions, and provocations of neighboring powers. In 1648 the Janissaries revolted; Ibrahim's Grand Vizier was torn to shreds and Ibrahim deposed and executed. He is remembered as "Ibrahim the Mad."

Neither is a very inspiring role model.

For a Day With Bad News Everywhere, a Bit of Nostalgia


Gaza and Israel are escalating the violence; Syria and Iraq remain a mess. Time for some nostalgia. Cairo, Sh. Fuad (later 26th of July), 1930:
Photo: ‎شارع فؤاد الأول، القاهرة. الثلاثينات.

Avenue Fouad I - Cairo in 1930's‎

From the مصر الان وزمان site.

Mosul, 1950s from this site:
Gaza, 1930s, from palestineremembered.com:


Monday, July 7, 2014

More News from the "Caliphate"

Besides that alleged passport, here is a roundup of news, some more serious than others, from the "Caliphate."

Also note that "Caliph" Ibrahim's official biography now claims he has Qurayshi descent, one of the traditional requirements for the Caliphate.

You may have also heard how he has been criticized for wearing, in his first public sermon, what appeared to be a Rolex or other high-priced watch, though given the fact that the former ISIS is known to have captured a great deal of wealth in the course of its conquests, it may not be surprising.

Some serious readings:
And finally, something in a lighter vein, from Karl Sharro at Karl reMarks: "The Caliph and His Psychiatrist: Exclusive Interview."