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Archive for July 8th, 2018

Syria: Destroyed for a second time?

Nizar Ghanem published on OpenDemocracy on March 25, 2013

Note: Remember this article was published in 2013, thus any numbers in casualties have to be at least quadrupled.

The Syrian social movement has to be conscious of the necessity of establishing a just economy.

Strong checks need to be built against the post-war government so that all Syrians understand the conditions of aid and consequences of reconstruction plans on their lives and the lives of their children.

The war in Syria has already resulted in the human, economic, and material destruction of the state and society. The numbers are staggering.

Seventy thousand people have been killed so far and more than two million refugees are dispersed across refugee camps in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

(For example, Lebanon alone witnessed the arrival of 2 million refugees, on a population barely 4.5 million. And the UN and colonial powers are pressuring Lebanon Not to repatriate the Syrian to the liberated regions)

In addition to the partial destruction of major cities such as Aleppo, Homs, and Daraa, their infrastructure, industries and individual households.

Any future government will be faced with the task of the reconstruction of Syria. Who gets to reconstruct Syria, and how, will be both a reflection of the triumphant forces on the ground, and another phase in the Syrian social struggle.

(Note: the colonial powers and the “Arabic” Gulf States and Saudi Kingdom are dragging their feet since then on contemplating infusing financial aid to Syria. Actually, the Syrian government has expressed that it will be picking and choosing those who decide to invest).

There is a risk of a neo-liberal approach to reconstruction, which puts markets and growth ahead of people and culture and promotes the ethics of profit seeking, rather than socialized systems of economic organization. This would be a second destruction of the soul, character and material organization of one of the oldest urban spaces on this planet. (The new Syrian society is Not about to let the multinationals set their conditions)

The Baath party was never a haven of economic equality. (At least in the few years before the outbreak of the war. Syria enjoys universal health care and education)

Syria was run as a private enterprise, where a broad coalition between the regime and a politically obedient business class in Aleppo, Damascus and other major cities was forged. The economy itself was reeking of corruption, crony capitalism and monopolies.

Emulating the Chinese model, where economic liberalization goes side by side with political authoritarianism, the Baath regime underwent a liberalization process after 2000. This process of privatization transferred state property to trusted individuals with close links to the regime.

The Makhlouf family was notorious for its corruption; it controlled transportation systems such as Tartous port and air transport, telecommunication companies, part of the oil industry, real-estate projects in addition to major business deals with the Syrian army.

This business empire, which came out of the liberalization policies of Bashar Assad, was one of the reasons cited for the Syrian uprising.

The reconstruction of Syria raises the main question posed by political economy – that is, the dilemma between economic growth and distribution.

Who gets what in the after-math of the Syrian uprising? Should the economic benefits of reconstruction go either to a bloated internal elite, or to foreign companies, the main conditions that brought about the uprising will remain intact.

There is an obvious need for attracting foreign capital to invest in infrastructure, rebuild households, cities, bridges, and factories. Also, an invigoration of economic growth is needed. But who shall be the prime beneficiaries from this process is an important question that will be asked by the same social forces that paid the real price for ousting the regime.

The example of Iraq is useful in this context.

The economic liberalization policies that invited international consultancy firms into a process of privatizing the oil industry and other government assets, led to an increased surge in violence, which destabilized Iraq for a considerable time.

The liberalization process is a fragmenting force that weakens the central state in relation to various agencies whether it be foreign, or local business networks, NGOs and other institutions.

In societies that already experience sectarian tension and weak governance structures, this process could lead to the creation of cantons and ultimately encourage war-lords and the fragmentation of state institutions. Iraq is evidence of that.

Another significant example is Lebanon.

After two decades of civil war, the reconstruction boom of the ‘90s left Lebanon with high internal and external debt approaching $50 bn. (It reached now $90 bn, or 130% of the GDP, and a third of the budget goes into repaying the interest)

(Lebanon didn’t need to borrow money: it was a political decision from the new elite and militia/mafia leaders to spoil the economy. The war in Lebanon didn’t end with a victor and the militia leaders remained in power)

Also, the privatization process was conducted in a way that benefited a tight business community in a patronage relationship with the political class. The development process favoured a marginal elite, while neglecting the peripheral regions.

The repercussions were enormous as Lebanon failed to develop a solid infrastructure, public transportation and more generally a clear economic plan to generate jobs.

Instead of a developmental state that took care of nurturing the productive forces of society, the reconstruction of Lebanon brought about the opening up of the Lebanese markets to international capital flows which resulted in a real-estate bubble that both destroyed the urban space of coastal cities in addition to creating a staggering inequality.

The destruction of Syrian infrastructure has already whetted the appetite of multi-national companies. Competing Qatari and Turkish firms are busy designing plans for the reconstruction of the main cities. (Actually, that was their plans until they failed miserably)

Russian, Iranian and Chinese firms are not far off either. (They will reap the profit of the reconstruction)

How the conflict gets settled will definitely include a divvying up of reconstruction contracts, in ways which would reflect the regional political balance of power.

What will make the liberalization process of Syria even more traumatic is that it is going to be done under extremely weak and broken state structures. It would indeed be an ironic outcome if Syria went back to the situation it found itself in postcolonial times.

Let us not forget that Syrians, like many other third world countries, supported the nationalization projects precisely in order to wrest the control of foreign capital from their country’s assets and resources.

Any reconstruction that fails to invest in the productive capacity of the Syrian economy, and in creating long-term added value and durable job opportunities for thousands of Syrians will weaken Syria, both state and society.

This obviously depends on the source of funding.

Capital flows coming from the Gulf region are most likely to invest in the market for real-estate, rather than productive sectors. Any Syrian transition plan would do wisely to diversify capital sources, while making sure that Syria’s market is not dominated by large monopolies or oligopolies.

At the same time, special attention should be given to investment in productive sectors and innovative growth such as in telecom, IT and manufacturing. The Syrian National Council has presented a generic plan for the reconstruction of Syria, which by no means responds to those challenges. A testament to what might come.

Syrian cities possessed an authenticity that it is hard to find in the current Middle East. The urban space reflected the history of an entrenched civilization that gave the world one of the first writing systems, theology, art and science. The Syrian revolution and its heroic escalation against the autocratic regime held onto the values of human dignity, equality and freedom.

It would be a tragedy if we were made to witness a second destruction, whereby the urban space is given to multinational companies who would engineer yet another Dubai at the expense of Syrian culture.

The Syrian social movement has to be conscious of the necessity of establishing democracy, and strong checks against the post-war government, to make sure that Syrians understand the conditions of aid and consequences of reconstruction plans on their lives and the lives of their children.

Do not destroy Syria twice.

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Tidbits and notes posted on FB and Twitter. Part 216

Note: I take notes of books I read and comment on events and edit sentences that fit my style. I pa attention to researched documentaries and serious links I receive. The page is long and growing like crazy, and the sections I post contains a month-old events that are worth refreshing your memory

By removing the promise to redeem the note in lawful money, the Federal Government in cooperation with the Federal Reserve, eliminated the monetary system of the United States as established by the Constitution and replaced it with something totally different.

If you are holding a one dollar Federal Reserve Note, the question is: “what is one dollar?” The answer is absolutely nothing. The number measures no substance. The only thing that give paper money value is the confidence people have in it is stated in chapter 30 of our textbook.

”I can promise you this, political leaders will never take risks if the people do not push them to take some risks. You must create the change that you want to see. Ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things.” Obama? And the “third world countries” are Not included and should be devastated and plundered?

Since a lion lives on average to be 10 year-old, while the lioness can outlive him by 7 years and manages to diffuse many progenitors of her owns, then the survival of these mammal carnivores is mainly due to the survival of the lionesses.  The lionesses chase and bring meat to the clan and care for the cubs. (So is the case of the Non-warrior nations)

Almost all the ancient civilizations in the Middle East, the Nile River of Egypt excluded, were established along the Fertile Crescent longing the main Rivers of Litany, Al Assi, Euphrates and the Tiger (for example, the people inhabiting Lebanon, Syria, the southern part of Turkey, the Western part of Iran and Iraq). The warrior Empires were Sumer, Akkad, Babylon, Assyria, Persia, Pharaonic Egypt, Hittite, Greek, Seleucid, Roman, and later Byzantium, Sassanian Farsi, Arab (Omayyad, Abbasid, Fatimid), Seljuk, Crusaders, Mameluke, and Ottomans.

The Near East people (Syria, Lebanon and Palestine) were bringing the food to the tables of the invaders, their artistic and cultural know-how and caring for the glamour and wants of the occupation forces, whose sole job was to making war and killing on their war paths.

The impressive horse track and humongous amphitheater in Tyr (500 by 200 meters) was built before 500 BC according to Herodotus. If this amphitheater was the work and style of the Romans, then why did the Roman wait another three centuries to build their Coliseum?

Euclid, Zeno, Plotin, Tales, Homer, Pythagoras and scores of great thinkers were born and lived in our coastal City-States stretching from Palestine to Turkey such as Akka, Tyr, Sidon (called the eldest son of Canaan in the Bible), Beirut, Byblos, Ugarit, Antakya, and so on and yet they were labeled as Greeks because they were under Greece dominion at one period.

Is it simply because we were under Greek dominion that our famous thinkers should be Greeks, simply because they learned the Greek language, even if they didn’t enjoy the privileges of Greek Athens citizens?  Scores of our famous people were labeled Romans simply because we were under Roman hegemony.

Building your backlist (and living with it forever?)

Authors and musicians have one, certainly.

This is the book you wrote seven years ago or the album from early in your career. The book keeps selling, spreading the ideas and making a difference. The album gets played on the radio, earning you new fans.

“Backlist” is what publishers call the stuff that got published a while ago, but that’s still out there, selling.

The Wizard of Oz, Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits and Starsky and Hutch all live on the backlist.

Without a backlist, all book publishers would go out of business in no time.

The backlist pays dividends long after the work is over.

Advertisers didn’t used to have a backlist. You paid for that magazine or newspaper or TV ad, and within just one cycle, it was gone, forever.

Today, of course, the work you put on the internet has a good chance of staying there for a very long time. The internet doesn’t easily forget.

That TED talk, then is going to be around for your grandchildren to see.

The review of your new restaurant, or the generous connection you made on a social network–they’re going to last.

I almost hired someone a few years ago–until I googled her and discovered that the first two matches were pictures of her drinking beer from a funnel, and her listed hobby was, “binge drinking.” Backlist!

Two things are going to change as you develop a backlist:

–You’re going to become a lot more aware of the posterity of the work you do. It’s all on tape, all left behind.

Just as you’re less likely to litter in your own backyard, the person aware of his backlist becomes more careful and civic minded.

–You’re going to want people to pay attention to your backlist… in my case, the free videos, various ebooks and printed things I’ve done over the years.

In your case, maybe it’s your blog, or the projects you’ve built or the reputation you’ve earned.

Your history of work is as important as the work you’ll do tomorrow.

Posted by Seth Godin on March 21, 2013

Sometimes, more is not what you want: just enough news is better

“Fitting in more than anyone else” doesn’t work, even in high school.

Seeking to be the most average, the most non-descript and the most inoffensive doesn’t lead to growth.

“More informed” wears out too.

If you get more news, faster, via Twitter, say, you’re not going to have a significant advantage over someone who has just enough news.

Understanding what every single person is saying about everything, all the time, leaves you little opportunity to actually make something.

Having more on your to-do list probably isn’t the best idea either.

“A Watershed Moment in Palestinian History”: Interview with Jamal Juma’

Israel/Palestine

 on 

For weeks now, (since the pronouncement of Trump on Jerusalem Capital of Israel) Palestinians everywhere have been galvanized by events taking place in the Gaza Strip, the site of weekly (since March 30) mass protests demanding the end of the siege and blockade of Gaza (in place now since 2007) and the right to return to the homes from which they or their elders had been transferred (kicked out) since Israel creation in 1948.

Dubbed the Great March of Return, Palestinians in Gaza have assembled as close as they can to the Israeli-designated buffer zone separating Gaza from Israel. (Going on for the 16th Fridays)

Israeli soldiers at a distance, crouched behind earth barriers that they created in the days preceding the march, and at absolutely no danger of attack from the unarmed protestors, pick off demonstrators at their leisure (with live bullets, assassinating over 160  and targeting the legs to handicap the marchers, over 1,600 badly injured)

By June 14, at least 129 Palestinians had been killed and 13,000 injured; the dead included medics like the 21-year-old Razan al-Najjar and journalists including Yaser Murtaja—typically seen as off-limits in conflict zones but transformed by Israel into prime targets.

Jamal Juma’ leads a nonviolent march against the Israeli Separation Wall in the West Bank town of Al Walaja.

On June 4, I spoke to Jamal Juma’, coordinator of the Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign, about the popular resistance in Gaza, the Trump administration’s policy toward the question of Palestine, and Palestinian options to chart a new course.

Ida AudehI interviewed you in August 2011 to learn more about the separation wall and its effect on communities in its path. Describe Israel’s current system of control over the occupied territories, of which the wall is a part.

Jamal Juma’: It is clear that the wall was designed to isolate and lay siege to Palestinians. The project to place Palestinians under siege by means of the wall has been completed.

On the popular level, we see serious activity in search of an alternative to the status quo, the largest and the most important of which is taking place now in Gaza with the Great March of Return.

These actions are important for a number of reasons. They changed the stereotypes about Gaza as a launchpad for rockets, a place of terrorism that has been hijacked by Hamas.

In fact, the marches in Gaza since March 30 represent a widespread popular movement, massive popular resistance. Just like the first intifada emerged from Jabaliya in the Gaza Strip, today we have the beginnings of a mass civil disobedience movement.

(Note: the First Intifada took place in 1935 against the British mandated power for refusing to organize democratic elections, even in municipality, on the ground that the Jews were minorities. It lasted 3 years. Britain had to dispatch 100,000 troop to quell this civil disobedience and exacted horror torture techniques)

Gaza has a population that is resisting, and Hamas does not control this resistance. The discourse we generally hear, that Hamas is leading people to their death, should be recognized as racist and dehumanizing.

For that reason, the marches in Gaza are very important in defining the trajectory of the Palestinian question and restoring the role of popular resistance to the forefront. They lay the popular foundation for the coming phase. They might also have prevented another massive disaster.

I think Israel was preparing to implement the Trump administration’s proposals; the scenario that the Israelis were planning for was to pull Gaza into a military confrontation, which would justify more intense bombing than it has done in the past.

(Actually, an Israeli pre-emptive re-occupation of Gaza would serve the Palestinian cause and foil the USA new idea of a resolution by re-transplanting the existing Palestinians)

The borders with Egypt would open, and people would flee into Egypt. But the mass participation in the march thwarted that plan.

IA: I find it hard to understand how Ramallah can be so tranquil considering the carnage in Gaza.

JJ:  It might seem that what is happening in the West Bank is not at all comparable to what is happening in Gaza. And that is true, it isn’t as massive. But actions are taking place in the West Bank, and they are also important.

On a weekly basis people are gathering to protest at the checkpoints.

Since 2011 there have been continuous outbursts (in Arabic, habbat); for example, in Jerusalem in the Bab al-Shams encampment and in the aftermath of the Abu Khdeir and Dawabshe killings (January 2013, July 2014, and July 2015, respectively).*

These outbursts were significant and exemplary, the way Gaza is today. They reminded us of what the Palestinian people are capable of doing.

I expect that these outbursts here and there will lead to widespread civil disobedience. Young people in Jerusalem and the West Bank have been going out to checkpoints in the hundreds, on a daily basis, and these conditions put one in the mindset of the first intifada.

We should take note of what Palestinians in Israel are doing as well.

There are youth movements that are taking action in ways that are very impressive and a source of pride.  They defy the occupation and they involve large numbers of people, in Haifa and elsewhere (The women marches).

IA: Let’s look at the relationship of Palestinians to formal political bodies. Recently the Palestinian National Council held its first meeting in 22 years. One might have thought that over the course of more than two decades, several issues and events warranted a meeting – regional events, the assassination of Yasir Arafat, and the status of the Oslo accords come to mind.

But the convening of the PNC doesn’t seem to have generated much popular interest.

JJ: People did not pay much attention to it, but in fact they should be talking about it because it poses a threat. Meeting for the first time in 22 years, it did not even discuss what it has done since the last meeting!

What it did do is effectively cancel itself, which means it is changing the structure of the PLO. There is an attempt to replace the Central Committee with a body consisting of the private sector, the political currents in the PA today, and elements of the security apparatus.

No representation of Palestinians from the 1948 areas, or the diaspora, or even the Palestinian street. This is a threat to the Palestinian project.

The PLO as it has been transformed by Mahmoud Abbas threatens the national cause. It has been hijacked; our task is to restore it as a representative and unifying entity that works to support the Palestinian cause. The reform should be led by Palestinian groups and movements.

People have no confidence in the leadership; they don’t think it is capable of leading in the coming phase.

In fact, the outbursts I referred to earlier had the potential of triggering a third intifada. People were waiting for a leadership to emerge, as happened during the first intifada; three months into the intifada, a unified leadership emerged and took charge.

But this time, the PA wasn’t interested in assuming that role; three months into these protests, the PA sent its people to disrupt actions and prevent young people from gathering at checkpoints. The national factions were unable to form a unified leadership for obvious reasons.

IA: What is the alternative?

JJ: People have to create a national movement that can lead the change. What will lead the movement for change will not be a single individual. It will be a widespread national movement that has a real relationship with people on the ground, a movement that will direct the street. This is the only way change will take place. People have been waiting fora long time, but who are we waiting for?

There is not going to be a great charismatic leader. We don’t talk about a heroic leader, we talk about a heroic people and a leadership of institutions.

We want a Palestinian state that represents all Palestinians. Within that broad outline, we say that right now, we have to protect the Palestinian project – the right to self-determination, and we all struggle for that right.

We don’t have to get into a discussion about the final outcome. The time for the two state solution is clearly over—and in fact, that proposal provided the basis for trying to destroy our cause. The other option is clear. But like I said, we don’t want that discussion to detract from our focus now or to place us in conflict with the position of the PLO.

(I do disagree: the 2-State option is very much ripe after Trump project fail, and it will fail)

How do we support the Palestinian project? We have to confront what is happening in Jerusalem, the settlements. There has to be a practical program, not just slogans on paper. Palestinians in the diaspora should support these activities, get involved in the boycott movement, because we are part of that boycott movement.

We are trying to keep the political work and the boycott movement separate to protect the boycott movement, because there is a Palestinian effort underway to weaken the BDS movement; through normalization, by invoking the PLO position.

We consider the boycott movement an essential component of our activism.

This is what people are discussing today, here and with our people in the 1948 areas, and in the diaspora. Many meetings have taken place, and they are being expanded. I expect that in the next few weeks there will be a meeting to put in writing some of the agreed upon principles underlying all of these actions.

There has to be a movement that preserves the unity of the Palestinian people and protects the national cause from liquidation. That’s what we are working on now.

Notes

* The 2013 encampment known as Bab al-Shams was an attempt by Palestinians to thwart Israeli plans to establish a settlement on land in the E1 zone, between East Jerusalem and the Jewish-only settlement Ma’ale Adumim; the Israeli plan was designed to permanently sever the West Bank from East Jerusalem. Another encampment, Bab al-Karama, was set up in Beit Iksa and stormed by Israeli soldiers two days later.

In July 2014, Israeli settlers in Jerusalem abducted 16-year-old Mohammad Abu Khdeir from Shufat and set him on fire; the ensuing demonstrations resulted in 160 Palestinians injured.

Israel’s assault on Gaza began five days later.

One year later, settlers set fire to the Dawabshe home in Duma. The soul survivor of the attack was a 4-year-old child; the child’s parents and infant brother were killed.

In 2015, a tent encampment, “Gate of Jerusalem,” was set up in Abu Dis to protest the Israeli government’s plans to displace Bedouin communities there.

Beginning in September 2015 and lasting until the end of the year, protests spread from the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem throughout the West Bank; 108 Palestinians were killed and 12,260 were injured.  Palestinians in Israel demonstrated in solidarity.

About Ida Audeh is a Palestinian from the West Bank who lives in Colorado. She is the editor of Birzeit University: The Story of a National Institution, published by Birzeit University in 2010. Other posts by .

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