Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

In Defense of Pirates

Posted in Citizen Radio, media, politics, terrorism by allisonkilkenny on April 10, 2009
Hazardous waste on Somalian shore (scidev.net)

Hazardous waste on Somalian shore (scidev.net)

If I’m to believe the mainstream press and pundits (most disappointingly, Rachel Maddow,) there are bands of inexplicably evil men sailing around the Horn of Africa, pillaging ships and terrorizing sailors simply because they are pirates. And pirates are evil. End of story.

Except, that’s a rather shallow interpretation of what’s happening in the Somalian waters. Acts of piracy are acts of desperation, and not the acts of evil men. Of course, terrorizing civilians is never acceptable, though I would like to point out my own government is guilty of crimes against humanity that far exceed any acts of Somalian piracy.

In his excellent article, Johann Hari writes of a fascinating exchange between Alexander the Great and a pirate. The pirate was captured and brought before Alexander.

[Alexander] demanded to know “what he meant by keeping possession of the sea.” The pirate smiled, and responded: “What you mean by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, while you, who do it with a great fleet, are called emperor.” Once again, our great imperial fleets sail in today – but who is the robber?

Hari went into further detail about Somalian pirates when I interviewed him for my show Citizen Radio. During the interview, he explained that Somalian pirates are actually poor fishermen. It was only after Somalian waters were poisoned by western nations, and the livelihoods of Somalian fisherman were destroyed, that civilians turned to acts of piracy as means of survival.

What happened in Somalia is that in 1991, the Somalian government collapsed and the country imploded. Two processes began in different parts of Somalia; bearing in mind it has a 3000 km coastline. A European shipping fleet, mostly Spanish, Italian and some British came along and basically started industrially fishing Somalian fish, which is one of the main sources of food in a starving country. Suddenly these tiny little fishermen with nets were being out fished by these industrial trawlers and the fish started just disappearing, so there was a massive increase in hunger in Somalia.

In another part of Somalia, industrial waste from Europe begun to being dumped just off the coast, because it’s expensive to get rid of waste in Europe [whilst] it costs nothing to take it in a boat and dump it outside Somalia. The most incredible thing that was dumped was literally nuclear waste. So after the tsunami, barrels of all sorts of random shit started to wash up on the coast of Somalia, including nuclear waste that we now know [as a result] radiation sickness killed around 300 people but no ones bothering to count or check. That’s [what] the UN special envoys estimate to me was, 300 died, could be far more, no one’s looking, cleaning or doing anything.

Imagine if this happened in Florida, imagine if the government of Florida didn’t have any resources and suddenly Italians came, stole all the fish and everyone was going bust in Florida, and they started dumping nuclear waste. People of Florida would be calling for the nuking of Italy.

The Somalians with very limited resources sent what they called the ‘National Volunteer Coast Guard’ to try and stop these people, and the people we call pirates call themselves the coast guard. This is not that implausible when you bear in mind the context. It’s absolutely true that the some pirates have committed unacceptable acts, I don’t believe it’s ever right to take a hostage, [but] they haven’t killed anyone, harmed anyone, but they have taken hostages. That’s not right, they do it to get money but they then in some cases give it back to [their] communities, which have been desecrated in several instances. So it’s a good example of how something is presented as mindless insanity when actually it’s actually completely different.

Pundits (even our beloved Progressive pundits) adore simplicity, and the pirate coverage off the coast of Somalia presented to them an orgasmic, cartoonish stand-off between “noble seamen,” and “evil pirates.”

The truth is more complicated than that.

Somalians live in  a shockingly volatile environment complete with stark poverty and religious fundamentalism. Their environment has been poisoned by the west, their source of food and income destroyed, and now desperate men are resorting to desperate acts.

To stress again: it’s never acceptable to harm civilians, and hostage-taking is never a valid means of negotiation. Still, when considering the stress placed upon Somalia’s civilians, it’s actually pretty surprising that there hasn’t been more violence, and that most nautical conflicts with pirates have been resolved peacefully. (Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, even admitted that “in most of these cases to date, [the] crews have ultimately been released unharmed.”)

It’s important not to demonize Somalians, even the Somalian pirates. When we demonize our enemies, they become less than human, and it becomes easy to apply such blanket rhetoric as “terrorists.” Demonization (particularly by our media) allows hawkish figures an excuse to say that Somalia “must be invaded,” that poor fisherman AKA pirates “must be destroyed,” and that the “axis of evil” has a new peg.

Johann Hari’s official website: http://www.johannhari.com/

Allison Kilkenny’s official website is here: allisonkilkenny.com. Also available on Facebook and Twitter.

Israel’s Voice of Reason? An Exclusive Interview With Amos Oz

Posted in politics by allisonkilkenny on March 21, 2009

Johann Hari

amosoz

Amos Oz

He is, all at once, its most distinguished novelist, its most passionate defender, and its most notorious “traitor” 

The unlikely story of the state of Israel – 60, sullied, surviving – is intertwined with the unlikely story of Amos Oz. He is, all at once, its most distinguished novelist, its most passionate defender, and its most notorious “traitor” – a word he uses about himself. His friend David Grossman says “Amos is the offspring of all the contradictory urges and pains within the Israeli psyche.” To spend a day in his company – to follow his story from the birth of the state to the suicide of his mother, from Zionist idealism to a broken heart – is to tour the dizzying dissonances of the Jewish state as it staggers into the 21st century.
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Arr, Me Hearties!

Posted in politics by allisonkilkenny on March 4, 2009

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Click play: http://www.breakthruradio.com/index.php?show=6267
Part 2 of Drunken Politics interview with Johann Hari!

Glorious topics of conversation include:

** Mother “I Lied About Everything” Theresa
** Coca-Cola
** PIRATES
** Homophobia
** Super AIDS

Listen! You know you want to. And then join us on Breakthru Radio.

Drunken Politics with Journalist Johann Hari

Posted in media, politics by allisonkilkenny on February 25, 2009

Johann Hari

Part 1 can be heard here.

A big, warm welcome to Johann Hari, our very first guest with a fatwa on his head!

Allison and Jamie return from their trip to the UK!  First up is the Unfunny But Totally Real Headlines: learn about the world, while sitting on your ass, and feel like you’re actually doing something. It’s only two minutes, so hang in there, and you can sound smart to your apathetic, hipster, douche bag friends.  

Jamie barely represses his rage at the state of the American comedy industry, and Allison and Jamie discuss Obama’s sketchy policy decisions. 

Join Drunken Politics for part one of their interview with journalist Johann Hari, their very first guest with a fatwa on his head. Visit JohannHari.com to read Johann’s amazing articles.

Johann Hari is an award-winning journalist who writes twice-weekly for the Independent, one of Britain’s leading newspapers, and the Huffington Post.

Every Wednesday on BTR

Every Wednesday on BTR

In 2008, he became the youngest person ever to be awarded the George Orwell Prize, which the Observer newspaper calls “Britain’s pre-eminent award for political writing”. In 2007 he was named Newspaper Journalist of the Year by Amnesty International for his reporting on the war in Congo. The judges called his reports ‘outstanding’, ‘beautifully written’ and ‘brave’.   

‘Prince’ Turki Al-Faisal, the Saudi Ambassador to Britain, has accused Johann of “waging a private jihad against the House of Saud”. (He’s right). Johann has been called ‘Maoist’ by Nick Cohen, “Stalinist” by Noam Chomsky, ‘Horrible Hari’ by Niall Ferguson, “an uppity little queer” by Bruce Anderson, ‘a drug addict’ by George Galloway and “fat” by the Dalai Lama

Part two of the interview next Wednesday on BTR!

Listen to our interview with Johann Hari.

Despite the Riots and Threats, I Stand By What I Wrote

Posted in religion by allisonkilkenny on February 14, 2009
EPA)

Calcutta's troubled population is easily stirred up into protests (Photo: EPA)

Drunken Politics’ interview with Johann Hari will air next week.

Johann Hari

Last week, I wrote an article defending free speech for everyone — and in response there have been riots, death threats, and the arrest of an editor who published the article.

Here’s how it happened. My column reported on a startling development at the United Nations. The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights has always had the job of investigating governments that forcibly take the fundamental human right to free speech from their citizens with violence. But in the past year, a coalition of religious fundamentalist states have successfully fought to change her job description. Now, she has to report on “abuses of free expression” including “defamation of religions and prophets.” Instead of defending free speech, she must now oppose it.

I argued this was a symbol of how religious fundamentalists — of all stripes — have been progressively stripping away the right to freely discuss their faiths. They claim religious ideas are unique and cannot be discussed freely; instead, they must be “respected” — by which they mean unchallenged. So now, whenever anyone on the UN Human Rights Council tries to discuss the stoning of “adulterous” women, the hanging of gay people, or the marrying off of ten year old girls to grandfathers, they are silenced by the chair on the grounds these are “religious” issues, and it is “offensive” to talk about them.

This trend is not confined to the UN. It has spread deep into democratic countries. Whenever I have reported on immoral acts by religious fanatics — CatholicJewish, Hindu or Muslim — I am accused of “prejudice”, and I am not alone. But my only “prejudice” is in favor of individuals being able to choose to live their lives, their way, without intimidation. That means choosing religion, or rejecting it, as they wish, after hearing an honest, open argument.

A religious idea is just an idea somebody had a long time ago, and claimed to have received from God. It does not have a different status to other ideas; it is not surrounded by an electric fence through which none of us can pass.

That’s why I wrote: “All people deserve respect, but not all ideas do. I don’t respect the idea that a man was born of a virgin, walked on water and rose from the dead. I don’t respect the idea that we should follow a “Prophet” who at the age of 53 had sex with a nine-year old girl, and ordered the murder of whole villages of Jews because they wouldn’t follow him. I don’t respect the idea that the West Bank was handed to Jews by God and the Palestinians should be bombed or bullied into surrendering it. I don’t respect the idea that we may have lived before as goats, and could live again as woodlice…. When you demand “respect”, you are demanding we lie to you. I have too much real respect for you as a human being to engage in that charade.”

An Indian newspaper called The Statesman — one of the oldest and most venerable dailies in the country — thought this accorded with the rich Indian tradition of secularism, and reprinted the article. That night, four thousand Islamic fundamentalists began to riot outside their offices, calling for me, the editor, and the publisher to be arrested — or worse. They brought Central Calcutta to a standstill. A typical supporter of the riots, Abdus Subhan, said he was “prepared to lay down his life, if necessary, to protect the honour of the Prophet” and I should be sent “to hell if he chooses not to respect any religion or religious symbol… He has no liberty to vilify or blaspheme any religion or its icons on grounds of freedom of speech.”

Then, two days ago, the editor and publisher were indeed arrested. They have been charged — in the world’s largest democracy, with a constitution supposedly guaranteeing a right to free speech — with “deliberately acting with malicious intent to outrage religious feelings”. I am told I too will be arrested if I go to Calcutta.

What should an honest defender of free speech say in this position? Every word I wrote was true. I believe the right to openly discuss religion, and follow the facts wherever they lead us, is one of the most precious on earth — especially in a democracy of a billion people rivven with streaks of fanaticism from a minority of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs. So I cannot and will not apologize.

I did not write a sectarian attack on any particular religion of the kind that could lead to a rerun of India’s hellish anti-Muslim or anti-Sikh pogroms, but rather a principled critique of all religions who try to forcibly silence their critics. The right to free speech I am defending protects Muslims as much as everyone else. I passionately support their right to say anything they want — as long as I too have the right to respond.

It’s worth going through the arguments put forward by the rioting fundamentalists, because they will keep recurring in the twenty-first century as secularism is assaulted again and again. They said I had upset “the harmony” of India, and it could only be restored by my arrest. But this is a lop-sided vision of “harmony”. It would mean that religious fundamentalists are free to say whatever they want — and the rest of us have to shut up and agree.

The protesters said I deliberately set out to “offend” them, and I am supposed to say that, no, no offense was intended. But the honest truth is more complicated. Offending fundamentalists isn’t my goal — but if it is an inevitable side-effect of defending human rights, so be it. If fanatics who believe Muslim women should be imprisoned in their homes and gay people should be killed are insulted by my arguments, I don’t resile from it. Nothing worth saying is inoffensive to everyone.

You do not have a right to be ring-fenced from offense. Every day, I am offended — not least by ancient religious texts filled with hate-speech. But I am glad, because I know that the price of taking offense is that I can give it too, if that is where the facts lead me. But again, the protesters propose a lop-sided world. They do not propose to stop voicing their own heinously offensive views about women’s rights or homosexuality, but we have to shut up and take it — or we are the ones being “insulting.”

It’s also worth going through the arguments of the Western defenders of these protesters, because they too aren’t going away. Already I have had e-mails and bloggers saying I was “asking for it” by writing a “needlessly provocative” article. When there is a disagreement and one side uses violence, it is a reassuring rhetorical stance to claim both sides are in the wrong, and you take a happy position somewhere in the middle. But is this true? I wrote an article defending human rights, and stating simple facts. Fanatics want to arrest or kill me for it. Is there equivalence here?

The argument that I was “asking for it” seems a little like saying a woman wearing a short skirt is “asking” to be raped. Or, as Salman Rushdie wrote when he received far, far worse threats simply for writing a novel (and a masterpiece at that): “When Osip Mandelstam wrote his poem against Stalin, did he ‘know what he was doing’ and so deserve his death? When the students filled Tiananmen Square to ask for freedom, were they not also, and knowingly, asking for the murderous repression that resulted? When Terry Waite was taken hostage, hadn’t he been ‘asking for it’?” When fanatics threaten violence against people who simply use words, you should not blame the victim.

These events are also a reminder of why it is so important to try to let the oxygen of rationality into religious debates — and introduce doubt. Voltaire — one of the great anti-clericalists — said: “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” If you can be made to believe the absurd notion that an invisible deity dictated The Eternal Unchanging Truth to a specific person at a specific time in history and anyone who questions this is Evil, then you can easily be made to demand the death of journalists and free women and homosexuals who question that Truth. But if they have a moment of doubt — if there is a single nagging question at the back of their minds — then they are more likely to hesitate. That’s why these ideas must be challenged at their core, using words and reason.

But the fundamentalists are determined not to allow those rational ideas to be heard — because at some level they know they will persuade for many people, especially children and teenagers in the slow process of being indoctrinated.

If, after all the discussion and all the facts about how contradictory and periodically vile their ‘holy’ texts are, religious people still choose fanatical faith, I passionately defend their right to articulate it. Free speech is for the stupid and the wicked and the wrong — whether it is fanatics or the racist Geert Wilders — just as much as for the rational and the right. All I say is that they do not have the right to force it on other people or silence the other side. In this respect, Wilders resembles the Islamists he professes to despise: he wants to ban the Koran. Fine. Let him make his argument. He discredits himself by speaking such ugly nonsense.

The solution to the problems of free speech — that sometimes people will say terrible things — are always and irreducibly more free speech. If you don’t like what a person says, argue back. Make a better case. Persuade people. The best way to discredit a bad argument is to let people hear it. I recently interviewed the pseudo-historian David Irving, and simply quoting his crazy arguments did far more harm to him than any Austrian jail sentence for Holocaust Denial.

Please do not imagine that if you defend these rioters, you are defending ordinary Muslims. If we allow fanatics to silence all questioning voices, the primary victims today will be Muslim women,Muslim gay people, and the many good and honourable Muslim men who support them. Imagine what Europe would look like now if everybody who offered dissenting thoughts about Christianity in the seventeenth century and since was intimidated into silence by the mobs and tyrants who wanted to preserve the most literalist and fanatical readings of the Bible. Imagine how women and gay people would live.

You can see this if you compare my experience to that of journalists living under religious-Islamist regimes. Because generations of people sought to create a secular space, when I went to the police, they offered total protection. When they go to the police, they are handed over to the fanatics — or charged for their “crimes.” They are people like Sayed Pervez Kambaksh, the young Afghan journalism student who was sentenced to death for downloading a report on women’s rights. They are people like the staff of Zanan, one of Iran’s leading reform-minded women’s magazines, who have been told they will be jailed if they carry on publishing. They are people like the 27-year old Muslim blogger Abdel Rahman who has been seized, jailed and tortured in Egypt for arguing for a reformed Islam that does not enforce shariah law.

It would be a betrayal of them — and the tens of thousands of journalists like them – to apologize for what I wrote. Yes, if we speak out now, there will be turbulence and threats, and some people may get hurt. But if we fall silent — if we leave the basic human values of free speech, feminism and gay rights undefended in the face of violent religious mobs — then many, many more people will be hurt in the long term. Today, we have to use our right to criticise religion — or lose it.

If you are appalled by the erosion of secularism across the world and want to do something about it, there are a number of organizations you can join, volunteer for or donate to.

Some good places to start are the National Secular Society, the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Science and Reason, or – if you want the money to go specifically to work in India – theInternational Humanist and Ethical Union. (Mark your donation as for their India branch.)

Even donating a few hours or a few pounds can really make a difference to defending people subject to religious oppression – by providing them with legal help, education materials, and lobbying for changes in the law.

An essential source of news for secularists is the terrific website Butterflies and Wheels.

The Contradictions Facing a Black President of the American Empire

Posted in Barack Obama, politics, War on Drugs by allisonkilkenny on January 23, 2009

Johann Hari

evomoralesThe tears are finally drying – the tears of the Bush years, and the tears of awe at the sight of a black President of the United States. So what now? The cliché of the day is that Barack Obama will inevitably disappoint the hopes of a watching world, but the truth is more subtle than that. If we want to see how Obama will change the world – for good or bad – we need to trace the deep structural factors that underlie US foreign policy, and tease out what he will do about them. A useful case study of these pressures is about to flicker onto our news pages for a moment – from the top of the world.

Bolivia is the poorest country in Latin America, and its lofty slums 4000 meters above sea level seem a world away from the high theatre of the inauguration. But if we look at this country closely, we can explain one of the great paradoxes of the United States – that it has incubated a triumphant civil rights movement at home, yet thwarted civil rights movements abroad. Bolivia shows us in stark detail the contradictions facing a black President of the American empire.

The President of Bolivia, Evo Morales, has a story strikingly similar to Obama’s. In 2006 he became the first indigenous President of his country – and a symbol of the potential of democracy. When the Spanish arrived in Bolivia in the sixteenth century, they enslaved the indigenous majority and worked millions to death. As recently as the 1950s, an indigenous person wasn’t even allowed to walk through the centre of La Paz, where the presidential palace and city cathedral stand. They were (and are) routinely compared to monkeys and apes.

Morales was born to a poor potato-farmer in the mountains, and grew up scavenging for discarded orange peel or banana skins to eat. Of his seven siblings, four starved to death as babies. Throughout his adult life, it was taken for granted that the country would be ruled by the white mestizo minority; the “Indians” were too “child-like” to manage a country.

Given that the US is constitutionally a democracy and its Presidents say they are committed to spreading democracy across the world, you would expect them to welcome the democratic rise of Morales. But wait. Bolivia has massive reserves of natural gas – a geo-strategic asset, and one that rakes in billions for US corporations. Here is where the complications set in.

Before Morales, the white mestizo elite was happy to allow US companies to simply take the gas and leave the Bolivian people with short change: just 18 percent of the royalties. Indeed, they handed almost the entire country to US interests, while skimming a small percentage for themselves. In 1999, an American company, Bechtel, was handed the water supply – and water rates for the poor majority doubled.

Morales ran for election against this agenda. He said that Bolivia’s resources should be used for the benefit of millions of bitterly poor Bolivians, not a tiny number of super-rich Americans. He kept his promise. Now Bolivia keeps 82 percent of the vast gas royalties – and he has used the money to increase health spending by 300 percent, and to build the country’s first pension system. He is one of the most popular leaders in the democratic world. In slums across South America, I have seen this pink tide rising through the barrios and favelas, where millions of people are seeing doctors and schools for the first time in their lives.

I suspect that a majority of the American people – who are good and decent – would be pleased and support this process if they were told about it honestly. But how did the US government (and much of the media) react? George Bush fulminated that “democracy is being eroded in Bolivia”, and a recent US ambassador to the country compared Morales to Osama Bin Laden. Why? To them, you are a democrat if you give your resources to US corporations, and you are a dictator if you give them to your own people. The will of the Bolivian people is irrelevant.

There is another layer of disagreement between Morales and US power. Bolivians have a widespread millennia-long tradition chewing coca leaves, or brewing them in tea: it’s a good way of keeping your energy up when you are doing grinding work at such a high altitude. But in the 1980s, the Reagan administration announced that this was contrary to the demands of the “war on drugs”. They trained and paid for elite white military units to forcibly “eliminate coca.” They rampaged across the Bolivian countryside destroying the crops of desperately poor people. Evo Morales – a coca farmer himself – saw them burn a peasant farmer alive, an experience he says “changed me forever.” He wants to legalize coca for private use – and he is supported by 80 percent of Bolivians.

For these reasons, the US has been moving to trash Morales. Latin America still lives in the shadow of its own 9/11: on September 11th 1973, Henry Kissinger and the CIA backed the coup that led to the violent death of the freely elected President of Chile, Salvador Allende, to stop his programme of democratic socialism from proceeding

Over the past few years, the techniques have become a little less crude. By an odd quirk of fate, almost all of Bolivia’s gas supplies are in the east of the country – where the richest, whitest part of the population lives. So the US government has been funding and fueling the hard-right separatist movements that want these regions to break away. Then the mestizos would happily hand the gas to US companies like in the good ol’ days – and Morales would be left without resources. The interference became so severe that last September Morales had to expel the US Ambassador for “conspiring against democracy.” This weekend, Morales is holding a major referendum on a new constitution for the country which will entrench the rights of the indigenous people.

Enter Obama – and his paradoxes. He is obviously a person of good will and good sense, but he is operating in a system subject to many undemocratic pressures. Bolivia illustrates the tension. The rise of Morales reminds us of the America the world loves – its yes-we-can openness and civil rights movements. Yet the presence of gas and coca reminds us of the America the world hates – the desire to establish “full spectrum dominance” over the world’s resources and send troops barging into their countries, whatever the pesky natives think.

Which America will Obama embody? The answer is both – at first. Morales has welcomed him as “a brother”, and Obama has made it clear he wants a dialogue, rather than the abuse of the Bush years. Yet who is Obama’s Bolivia advisor? A lawyer called Greg Craig, who represents Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada – the hard-right former President of Bolivia who imposed some of the most extreme privatizations of the 1980s, and is now wanted on charges of genocide in Bolivia for the massacres of indigenous protesters. Craig’s legal team says Morales is (yes) leading “an offensive against democracy.”

The structural pressures within the US political system that drove hostility to a democratic civil rights leader like Morales up to now have not dissolved in the cold Washington air. The US is still dependent on foreign fossil fuels to keep its lights on, the drug war bureaucracy will continue its senseless crusade, and US corporations still buy Senators from both parties. Obama will still be swayed by those factors.

But while this is a reason to be frustrated, it isn’t a reason to be cynical. Why? Because while he will be swayed by those factors, he will also subtly erode them over time. Obama has made energy independence – a massive transition away from foreign oil and gas, and towards the wind, sun and waves – the centre of his governing programme. If the US is no longer addicted to Bolivian gas, then its governments will be much less inclined to topple anybody else who wants to control it. (If they’re off oil, they’ll be much less invested in the Saudi tyranny and petro-wars in the Middle East too.)

Obama also says he wants to peel back the distorting effect of corporate money on the US political system. He is already less slathered in corporate cash than any President since the 1920s. The further he pushes it back, the more breathing-space democratic movements like Morales’ get to control their own resources. He also seems to be a less fanatical drug warrior than his predecessors, offering praise in the past for those who believe the US should concentrate on treating addicts at home rather than trying to burn and fumigate their supply from every forest or mountain on earth.

But we will see. If you want to know if Obama is really altering the tectonic forces that drive American power, keep an eye on the rooftop of the world.

Johann Hari is a writer for the Independent. To read more of his articles, click here or here.

The True Story Behind This War is Not the One Israel is Telling

Posted in Uncategorized by allisonkilkenny on December 29, 2008

Johann Hari

gaza3The world isn’t just watching the Israeli government commit a crime in Gaza; we are watching it self-harm. This morning, and tomorrow morning, and every morning until this punishment-beating ends, the young people of the Gaza Strip are going to be more filled with hate, and more determined to fight back, with stones or suicide-vests or rockets. Israel’s leaders have convinced themselves the harder you beat the Palestinians, the softer they will become. But when this is over, the rage against Israelis will have hardened, and the same old compromises will still be waiting by the roadside of history, untended and unmade.

To understand how frightening it is to be a Gazan this morning, you need to have stood in that small slab of concrete by the Mediterranean and smelled the claustrophobia. The Gaza Strip is smaller than the Isle of Wight, but it is crammed with 1.5 million people who can never leave. They live out their lives on top of each other in vast sagging tower blocks, jobless and hungry. From the top floor, you can often see the borders of their world: the Mediterranean Sea, and the Israeli barbed wire. When bombs begin to fall – as are do now with more deadly force than on any day since 1967 – there is nowhere to hide.

There will now be a war over the story of this war. The Israeli government says: we withdrew from Gaza in 2005, and in return we got Hamas and Qassam rockets being rained on our cities. Some 16 civilians have been murdered. How many more are we supposed to sacrifice? It is a plausible narrative, and there are shards of truth in it – but it is also filled with holes. If we want to understand the reality and really stop the rockets, we need to rewind a few years, and view the runway to this war dispassionately.

The Israeli government did indeed withdraw from the Gaza Strip in 2005 – in order to be able to intensify control of the West Bank. Ariel Sharon’s senior advisor Dov Weisglass was unequivocal about this, explaining: “The disengagement [from Gaza] is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that’s necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians… Effectively, this whole package that is called the Palestinian state has been removed from our agenda indefinitely.”

Ordinary Palestinians were horrified by this, and by the fetid corruption of their own Fatah leaders – so they voted for Hamas. It certainly wouldn’t have been my choice – an Islamist party is antithetical to all my convictions – but we have to be honest. It was a free and democratic election, and it was not a rejection of a two-state solution. The most detailed polling of Palestinians, by the University of Maryland, found that 72 percent want a two-state solution on the 1967 borders, while fewer than 20 percent want to reclaim the whole of historic Palestine. So, partly in response to this pressure, Hamas offered Israel a long ceasefire and a de facto acceptance of two states, if only Israel would return to its legal borders.

Rather than seize this opportunity and test their sincerity, the Israeli government reacted by punishing the entire civilian population. They announced they were blockading the Gaza Strip in order to “pressure” its people to reverse the democratic process. They surrounded the Strip and refused to let anyone or anything out. They let in a small trickle of food, fuel and medicine – but not enough for survival.

Weisglass quipped the Gazans were being “put on a diet.” According to Oxfam, this November only 137 trucks of food were allowed into Gaza this November – to feed 1.5 million people. The UN says poverty has reached an “unprecedented level.” When I was last in besieged Gaza, I saw hospitals turning away the sick because their machinery and medicine was running out. I met hungry children stumbling around the streets, scavenging for food.

It was in this context – under collective punishment designed to topple a democracy – that some forces within Gaza did something immoral: they fired Qassam rockets indiscriminately at Israeli cities. These rockets have killed 16 ordinary Israeli citizens. This is abhorrent: targeting civilians is always murder. But it is hypocritical for the Israeli government to claim now to speak out for the safety of civilians when they have been terrorising civilians as a matter of state policy.

European and American governments are responding with a lop-sidedness that ignores these realities. They say that Israel cannot be expected to negotiate under rocket-fire, but they demand the Palestinians do so under siege in Gaza and violent military occupation in the West Bank.

Before it falls down the memory hole, we should remember that last week, Hamas offered a ceasefire in return for basic and achievable compromises. Don’t take my word for it. According to the Israeli press, Yuval Diskin, the current head of the Israeli security services Shin Bet, “told the Israeli cabinet [on the 23rd] that Hamas is interested in continuing the truce, but wants to improve its terms.” Diskin explained Hamas was requesting two things: an end to the blockade, and an Israeli ceasefire on the West Bank. The cabinet – high with election-fever, and eager to appear tough – rejected these terms.

The core of the situation has been starkly laid out by Ephraim Halevy, the former head of Mossad. He says that while Hamas – like much of the Israeli right – dreams of driving their opponents away, “they have recognized this ideological goal is not attainable, and will not be in the foreseeable future.” Instead, “they are ready and willing to see the establishment of a Palestinian state in the temporary borders of 1967.” They are aware this means they “will have to adopt a path that could lead them far from their original goals” – and towards a long-term peace based on compromise. The rejectionists on both sides – from Mahmoud Ahmadinejadh to Bibi Netanyahu – would then be marginalised. It is the only path that could yet end in peace – but it is the Israeli government who refused to choose it. Halevy explains: “Israel, for reasons of its own, did not want to turn the ceasefire into the start of a diplomatic process with Hamas.”

Why would Israel act this way? The Israeli government wants peace, but only one imposed on its own terms, based on the acceptance of defeat by the Palestinians. It means they can keep the slabs of the West Bank on ‘their’ side of the wall. It means they keep the largest settlements, and control of the water supply. And it means a divided Palestine, with responsibility for Gaza hived off to Egypt, and the broken-up West Bank standing alone. Negotiations threaten this vision: they would require Israel to give up more than it wants to. But an imposed peace will be no peace at all: it will not stop the rockets or the rage. For real safety, Israel will have to talk to the people it is blockading and bombing today – and compromise with them.

The sound of Gaza burning should be drowned out by the words of the Israeli writer Larry Derfner. He says: “Israel’s war with Gaza has to be the most one-sided on earth…. If the point is to end it, or at least begin to end it, the ball is not in Hamas’ court – it’s in ours.”
Johann Hari is a writer for the Independent newspaper. To read more of his articles, click here orhere.

You can read his article about why it is dangerous – and dishonest – to say all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic here. There’s a good blog debunking one of the most toxic smear-machines here.