Category: The Middle East

Reflections from Palestine

 Ed is the son of medical missionaries to Yemen and Gaza during the 50s, 60s, and 70s (I think).  He went to school in Alexandria, then back here in the USA, and finally at the American International School near Tel Aviv — I think you’ll find a familiar perspective borne of his years “over there.”  With his permission, here is a glimpse of life in Gaza and beyond that you may not find elsewhere.

—–Original Message—–
From: Ed
Sent: Tuesday, May 01, 2007 11:42 AM
Subject: Reflections from Palestine

Dear friends,

I have just returned from a great trip to Israel / Gaza.  It was fun to speak Arabic again, albeit poorly. The Gaza Baptist Church had a dinner for us on Saturday night and it was so good to experience their hospitality and to see people that we remember from our past when my parents were missionaries there.

The time in Gaza was quite thought-provoking.  The city is a jail and the residents feel it as such: Israeli walls surround Gaza and it is virtually impossible for Palestinians to get into Israel from Gaza.  Even for us, the process was long and tedious.  While we were there, the garbage collectors were on strike having not been paid for six months (consequences of the boycott of Palestine that occurred when Hamas was elected).  Garbage was collecting everywhere and the streets were filthy and smelly as a result.

Gaza felt very oppressive.  There was hardly a person that we spoke to that didn’t talk of the dire circumstances there and abuse by the Israeli’s. 

We spent one afternoon in Bethlehem.  Walls also surround that city and they are covered with graffiti such as “American Money, Israeli Apartheid” and “I am not a terrorist.  America is the terrorist”.  Bethlehem also felt quite oppressed but not as overcrowded and as miserable as Gaza.

 On the positive side, it was good to see the fervor of the church in Gaza, to hear Palestinian students sing their national anthem, and to see that Palestine is truly operating as an independent country, though limited and restricted by both Israel and the world at large.  The financial sanctions against the Palestinian people that have been imposed to punish them for electing Hamas have affected all of Palestine.  Unemployment in Gaza is around 80% and many that are employed are not being paid.  How can we be so two-faced as to push for democratic elections and then punish the Palestinians for not electing the party we wanted!

On our way out, our taxi driver drove us by the area where the sewage “lakes” had burst through their earthen dams and killed several about a month ago.  The lakes of sewage are still there and those who lost their homes are living in tents in the area.

By contrast, Israel as a whole was clean, uncrowded, had well marked and wide highways, and was beautiful with spring flowers strongly contrasting the miserable life faced by the Palestinians in Gaza, many of whom are refugees from the 1948 war when Israel occupied their lands and villages.

Despite US and Israeli military might, there can be no peace in the region until some justice is provided to the Palestinians.  One feels hopeless after seeing the misery of Gaza.  On the other hand, it was good to meet a number of peacemakers during our trip that were seeking both justice for the Palestinians and peace for the region.  It was motivational to me personally as I am working out details to pursue a graduate degree in Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University.

I was saddened to hear of the deaths of 9 Palestinians last weekend (a week ago) as a result of Israeli military action and then the response by Hamas’s military arm to cancel its ceasefire with Israel.  While this has not yet resulted in an escalation of violence, I fear that is on the horizon again, either provoked by Israel of the more radical elements of Hamas.  We may soon see an escalation of deaths on both sides and increasing misery especially for the Palestinians but also for the Israeli’s.  It does seem that Israel is intent on continuing to provoke the Palestinians with the objective of preventing any establishment of a real and independent state of Palestine.  They have isolated Gaza from the West Bank and, with the assistance of the western world (led by the US), effectively reduced the lives of the Palestinians to an impoverished and desperate existence.  This has been the lot of many of the Palestinians since 1948 but has intensified by an order of magnitude in the last year.

I wonder when we will recognize that military might cannot substitute for justice as the solution to such problems.  It is especially discouraging to see Christian groups support Israel blindly as a result of interpretation of Biblical prophecy.  This is so contradictory to Jesus’ teachings.

Justifying injustice in the name of religion has resulted in abuses throughout history and we seem to be too ready to continue that even today.

I hope that we can wake up and take seriously the deeper truth of our faith whose primary commandments can be summarized as love God and love one another.  Love must compel us to seek justice for the oppressed, hope for the hopeless, and relief for those in bondage.

Best wishes,
Ed Nicholas (Jr)

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Woolsey disgraces himself again

 Dear Friends:

Former CIA Director James Woolsey gave a talk at Princeton University last week.  I decided not to attend, fearing that I might be unable to restrain myself from causing an ugly scene.  But I am extremely pleased and proud to forward to you a letter written to the campus newspaper the next morning by a young Princeton sophmore (a girl, presumabnly 18 or 19 years old) protesting Mr. Woolsey’s speech in very strong and eloquent language.  I have written to her expressing my admiration and appreciation (  Perhaps others will be moved to do likewise.

The Daily Princetonian
Monday, April 30, 2007
Energy, security and the crusades?
By Emily Norris
Guest Columnist

On April 23, as most of the campus was basking in the sun, former CIA director James Woolsey spoke at a lecture titled “Energy, Security and the Long War of the 21st Century.” Within the first five minutes of the lecture, my casual summer mood turned into shock and disbelief. Woolsey’s lecture began and ended as a racist and misinformed diatribe against Muslims, which overshadowed his more reasonable insights into alternative energy development.

Woolsey’s expertise on the current global energy situation enlightened some at the lecture. But the strength of his argument about alternative energy was subsumed as his severe misperceptions about the Middle East surfaced. His racism undermined his credibility. I found myself apprehensive that the authority I perceived him to have on environmental issues would lead others to believe he had equal credibility in the issues of Middle Eastern politics.

While Woolsey did make a few valid criticisms of Middle Eastern regimes, for the most part, his offensive discussion overrode them. More importantly, and most shocking was his simplified, misinformed view of the realities in the Middle East today.

The basic premise of his speech posited that Muslim regimes and terrorist networks are a monolithic, “genocidal” and “maleficent” entity with whom we should not negotiate. Essentially, he said that the Muslim and Western worlds could not coexist without destroying each other. His policy prescriptions turned a blind eye to the distinctions between peoples, regimes and politics in favor of an oversimplified, emotion-infused polemic against those “others” of the not-too distant East.

His first mistake was to characterize Muslims as a homogenous mass with genocidal tendencies. Woolsey kept repeating that Muslims want to bring about the end of the world because “Allah will know his people” and that killing others is inconsequential.

Besides this unashamed bigotry, Woolsey’s conclusions had other fundamental flaws. Contrary to Woolsey’s characterization, Islamic theology unequivocally condemns genocide, no matter who the victims are. As for Middle Eastern governments, their primary concern is keeping their regimes intact. Exemplary of this was Iran’s response to Sept. 11, 2001, when it laid aside years of animosity to reach out to the United States for dialogue and cooperation in fighting the Taliban. If the Iranian government was truly motivated by some crazy anti-Western genocidal ideology as Woolsey suggested, the Iranians would not have done this.

Woolsey also made the false statement that all terrorist networks and Middle Eastern governments were working together to defeat “the West.” Testament to his misunderstanding of the region was his statement that Iran had helped al Qaeda plot to set off dirty bombs in London. To think that al Qaeda would ever work with Iran is ludicrous. A main tenet of Al-Qaeda’s ideology is the destruction of Shiite Islam, especially the Iranian regime. It is incredible that this high-profile official who had access to all the U.S. intelligence in the region, either did not know or failed to acknowledge this basic fact about al Qaeda’s ideology.

His main solution to this problem was to stop negotiating with these regimes. While a decent idea, America unfortunately has a history of negotiating with less than savory regimes such as China, Uzbekistan and Russia. Woolsey demonstrated a double standard in his opinions on the Middle East, especially when his suggested policy of sanctioning these regimes would do little to alleviate these human rights abuses.

The kicker came at the end, when Woolsey asked the audience, “What is the only nation in the Middle East where Arab Muslims have equal representation, full civil liberties and are treated as first-class citizens?” As he paused, I guessed … Jordan? Egypt? Qatar? His Answer? Israel. The current Israeli system may be a democracy to some, but it is one of apartheid according to John Dugard, former President Carter and numerous others. But he didn’t stop there, he went on to say the most inflammatory statement of the afternoon: “If the Arabs only treat the Jews with remotely the amount of respect that the Israelis give the Palestinians, then we wouldn’t have these problems.” If an Arab nation walled in its Jewish citizens, raided their homes and treated their mere existence as a crime, no country in the international community would stand for it. To say that Arabs should treat Israelis the way the Israelis treat the Palestinians is tantamount to saying they should act contrary to international law and accepted standards of human decency.

I have to say that, I was proud to call myself a Princeton student when I saw people react with shock and disgust to his words (some even getting up to leave in protest) and that students challenged the racist premises of the lecture in the question and answer session. Students challenged him on America’s unbiased support for Israel and his refusal to acknowledge the differences between countries and terrorist organizations.

After attending this lecture, I finally understand where our problems in the Middle East began. Woolsey demonstrated that American officials are sorely lacking in the cultural, historical and religious background necessary for the posts to which they are assigned. Imagine if our government officials didn’t create policy out of racist hatred. Perhaps then we could begin to solve the problems in the Middle East instead of agitatating them by propagating offensive stereotypes.

Emily Norris is a sophomore from Brookline, Mass. She can be reached at

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War games

 Fisk on the death of journalism: or or

And here’s one on how surgingly swell things are for the British in Basra: or or

 And, if you can find it, the farewell telegram from Sir Ivor Roberts as he left his job as Rome ambassador is quite interesting.  Sir Ivor got in trouble back in 2004 for calling Bush “al-Qaeda’s best recruiting sergeant.”  On September 24, The Observer’s Pendennis column reported that following his outspoken valedictory report (suggesting that British diplomacy is being subordinated to a management culture best typified by a Dilbertesque variant of Bingo in which the winner jumps up and yells “Bovine Excrement!”), the Foreign Office has abandoned the centuries-old tradition of allowing departing diplomats to speak their minds.

It’s a shame that no one tells the truth until they leave office.  After nearly 4,000 dead American soldiers, 3,000 dead American civilians, and who knows how many dead Iraqis, Lebanese, and Palestinians, former CIA director George Tenet is finally telling at least some of the truth about how the Bush administration “sexed up” the case for a war long before 9-11.  Wonder if Bush will ask Tenet to give back his Medal of Freedom?

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The real meaning of “surge”

 I have noted from several recent newspaper and TV accounts covering the “surge” in Iraq that a significant percentage of the “Iraqi Army” soldiers engaged in joint operations with the US Army are actually members of Kurdish units — presumably peshmerga militia forces assigned temporarily to Baghdad and the surrounding area as part of the surge campaign.

I believe we can reasonably assume that these Kurdish units are administratively and operationally separate from Arab units of the regular “Iraqi Army” — with their own officers and with command, control and supply systems that are under exclusively Kurdish leadership — (i.e. not under the direct linear authority of the Iraqi central government’s Ministries of Defense or Interior.)  To what extent, if any, they are under direct American command and control is harder to discern.

I have found it noteworthy that in several of the news stories I have seen, American journalists have shown that local Iraqi civilians, in most cases (but not exclusively) inhabitants of Shiite neighborhoods, have welcomed the intervention of Kurdish soldiers as protectors of their lives and property from hostile Arab militias, whether rogue Sunni terrorist gangs or semi-independent Shiite units acting ostensibly on behalf of one or another department of the Iraqi central government. Evidently the more disciplined and efficient Kurds, who are not Arabs and who in many cases do not even speak the Arabic language, are considered by many innocent Arab civilians to be less partisan and hence more trustworthy than either marauding  Arab Sunnis or Shiites have proven to be.  This only strengthens my impression that in practical effect the role being played by Kurdish units supporting  US Army operations in Iraq today is essentially analogous to the role played by Gurkha mercenaries (Nepali Buddhists) serving with British colonial forces in policing Hindu-Muslim sectarian violence during the British Raj. 

What conclusions should we draw, if these impressions of mine are accurate?  (Note:  Can anyone can tell us authoritatively the percentage of Kurdish forces as distinct from official Iraqi central government troops that are being employed in current operations?  I don’t question that there are some Iraqi Arab troops so engaged.  My impression, however,  is that they are in the minority, and that their role is a relatively minor one.  I invite correction on that point.)

Personally, I am tempted to conclude that every Kurdish unit employed in this critical offensive “surge” is in effect a substitute for a unit of the “real” Iraqi Army that has failed to meet the required standards of competency and disciplinary commitment that the combat situation demands.  I am asserting that in every instance where General Petraeus elects to substitute a (borrowed or rented) Kurdish unit in place of one of the Iraqi Arab units that are supposedly ready for full combat duty, he is tacitly acknowledging once again the inaccuracy (dare I say dishonesty?) of Administration  claims to have successfully trained and fielded large numbers of combat-ready Iraqi Arab officers and soldiers. In my view, the command decision to rely primarily on Kurdish substitutes demonstrates, as nothing else could, that the “surge” is an unrealistic and unworkable strategy. I am  also asserting  that General David Petraeus himself knows this better than anyone else. 

Everyone on all sides already understands perfectly well that Americans and Kurds will not remain in Baghdad (or in Diyala Province, or al-Anbar Province) indefinitely — wasting their lives in a futile effort to end senseless internecine fighting between between rival Sunni and Shiite Arabs. If NEITHER Sunni NOR Shiite Arab leaders in Iraq are yet ready to make common cause against a common threat to the security and stability of their society, then the Petraeus strategy has been built on false and unrealistic foundations.  A military campaign that depends so heavily on a temporary combination of Americans and Kurds will, in the end, have provided nothing but a momentary political diversion — of real and lasting significance only in the context of US domestic politics.

The bottom line:  Whatever reduction (if any) in the overall level of violence that General Petraeus and President Bush may claim as a successful result of the current “surge” will prove itself to have been nothing more than an illusion, and a very fleeting  illusion at that.  The present campaign is, in fact, intended not so much to create a “breathing space” during which the Maliki government can get its political act together (past performance does not warrant optimism on that score), but rather is intended simply to buy time. Coach Bush is “playing out the clock”, in sports terminology, so that he can pass on to his successor the problem of extricating America from the Iraqi quagmire — in “overtime”.

Against that background, the selfish and childish squabbling going on now between our partisan politicians in Washington over when and on what timetable to withdraw from Iraq is obviously being carried on with cynical disregard for the interests and welfare of the vast majority of the people of Iraq as well as the interests and welfare of our own service personnel and their loved ones —  all of them equally victims of cynical and morally corrupt political leadership. It’s enough to make a person sick.

Ray Close

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Lebanon (1890-1900)

Thanks Fadwa.  What a beautiful country!  Whenever I see pictures like these and read accounts from the same time period, I wish I could have walked the countryside paths and ridden on four-legged beasts instead of whizzing around in noisy cars and airplanes.  Imagine the time they had back then, to think, to see and hear, to talk, to think, to think, to think…

Ghazir – circa 1893 – Lebanon

Harajel – circa 1894 – Lebanon

Hasroun circa 1898 – Lebanon

Jebeil (Byblos) – circa 1893 – Lebanon

Maison a Beyrouth circa 1892 – Lebanon

Maison des Jesuites – Bikfaya circa 1894 – Lebanon

Nabi Younis circa 1898 – Lebanon

Nahr Al Kalb vu de Louaizeh – circa 1894 – Lebanon

Notre Dame des Champs – Dleptah – circa 1894 – Lebanon

Notre Dame des Fievreux Tripoli circa 1896 – Lebanon

Plage de Batroun – circa 1893 – Lebanon

Qannoubine circa 1898 – Lebanon

Qannoubine circa 1898 – Lebanon

Qozhaya circa 1896 – Lebanon

Qozhaya circa 1896 – Lebanon

Qozhaya circa 1896 – Lebanon

Ras Baalbeck – circa 1896 – Lebanon

Saydah vue du Sud – circa 1898 – Lebanon

Sour (Tyr) – circa 1898 – Lebanon

Sour (Tyr) – circa 1898 – Lebanon

Sour (Tyr) entree Nord – circa 1898 – Lebanon

Tripoli Lebanon circa 1896 – Lebanon

Universite St. Joseph – Beyrouth circa 1892 – Lebanon

Yammouni – circa 1891 – Lebanon

Zahle, Lebanon – circa 1891 – Lebanon

Zahleh, Lebanon – circa 1896 – Lebanon

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15 sailors

 …and whaddaya get?  Another day older and deeper in debt…  Bush and Blair have got to be the most inept diplomats in the world:

The whole thing is rather silly — the general area where the incident occurred has been disputed for a long time and isn’t exactly well-delineated…  In better times, both sides would have swapped cigarettes and posed for pictures and the whole thing would have blown over in a day or two.

But, never underestimate the ability of these two geniuses to prolong an awkward incident.  Anybody remember those early, halcyon days of the pre-911 reign of Prince George, when our spy plane was forced to land in China?  Remember how well that was handled?

And did you know we’re still holding low-level Iranians we kidnapped back in January when we attempted to grab some senior-level guys from a “diplomatic liaison office” in northern Iraq?  At least, I’m supposing we’re holding them: they’ve disappeared and have presumably been ushered into our five-star enemy combatant system.  Here’s the story:

Sure sounds like we’re trying to start something, doesn’t it?  Wonder if the Good Friday scenario (for an attack) will play out after all?  Finally, be sure to read Eugene Robinson’s “Orwell at Guantanamo” in today’s Washington Post.  It all makes me so very, very proud.

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Ides of March

 We’re about to finish out our 5th March in Iraq and according to, this is the deadliest one yet for our boys and girls in the military.  Thank goodness our wise commander-in-chief has outsourced the “ugliest” operations to Blackwater mercenaries (…

It hardly matters really, since they aren’t good Christian Americans (isn’t that a triple tautology?), but who knows how many Iraqis have been snuffed out by this foolishness; who knows what horrors are waiting for us and our children because of what we have wrought these last five years…

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