Friday, July 28, 2006

Fireworks and bombs

Just returned from the firework festival at Scheveningen.

To be honest the firework display was a little disappointing. A lot of the ‘high shooters’ were hidden behind dense fog and clouds that they were little more than flashes of light in a thunder storm. I guess that left something to the imagination.

Still, it was beautiful, all those sparks and explosions in the air, mirrored on the surface of the sea to give it that double effect... And it was that mirror effect that triggered a thought in my mind. Reflection, if you like.

The longer I watched and the more I heard the loud and shocking bangs that trembled and echoed everything in the surroundings, the more I was reminded of the events in the Middle East (or elsewhere for that matter). That ear-piercing shrill of shooting fireworks, the dense smoke escaping from the ends of each and every explosive as it soared into the heavens before disintegrating into a million little sparks, the heart shuddering detonations.

What difference is a firework display from exchange of fire between warring parties?
I cannot know because I’ve never been through war.
But many in the world have.
I could only imagine.

When I just closed my eyes while I sat on the beach, those explosions could have been Scuds, Katushyas, Patriots, Exocites, Tomahawks raining down on us. We didn't flee to air raid shelters, we didn't fear and feel buildings tumble and crumble around us. Instead we were drawn to the lights, the spectacles, the illusions and dazzles that played out before us in the skies. We watched in awe and silence as the miraculous display of lights and sounds took our breath away. We even raising our hands to clap when the show ended, silently hoping it never would end.

Elsewhere people dare not watch. People tremble, people pray, in a last ditch attempt for mercy and for dear life. People howl and weep as mindless killers take their beloved ones away. People raise their hands to the heavens and to the 'other' in a sign surrender, hoping the show-down would soon be over.

Where I was, people lost themselves temporarily in a daze and indulged in sensory pleasures in the company of family and friends.

Elsewhere, people are lost in a permenant nightmare, traumatised by the physical and emotional pains, not knowing how much longer they may have the fortune to enjoy the company of family and friends.

The irony...the contrast.

Writing from Beruit

Weblog of Abdelkader Benali (in Dutch)

An excellent and insightful personal account of events from this Moroccan-Dutch writer from within the war-zone. Really evocative writing, expressing the torments of a healthy mind trying to deal with the unhealthy chaos taking place.

14 July

“Children play on the streets, in this way they escape from the business of their parents and the violence above their heads, they release their energy and linger for a moment in a self-made world.”

15 July

“Peace is pointless, but war is even more pointless. War may have no name, it does not deserve one.”

16 July

“Time and space were changed by the situation. That sounds crazy, but come down here and you will understand it immediately. An example: toothbrush and razor, very simple things for a man. Now, that toothbrush has gotten a special meaning because he came to become part of my survival baggage. I brush my teeth, and am crazy about my toothbrush. My adoration for the toothbrush knows no limits.”

17 July

“More death, more infrastructure struck and [there is] the growing realisation that Israel is busy with a campaign of revenge lacking in any kind of logica, and that pays respects to nothing and no-one. Up till now, only Lebanese have bee hit, and no one of the Hebollah-faction yet. This is ‘shock and awe’.”

“Refugees are the dead who are still breathing.”

18 July

“The BBC, CNN, they hang onto the lips [words] of my friends here, if they are in the mood to speak. But they have become a little tired from the repeated stories that Hezbollah is a peculiar movement which does the country more bad than good. What they say about Israel is later cut out. The audience would find that [only too] confusing.”

“You see people [who are] excited and people who cannot take the tension and nerves and seize at every opportunity to leave. Then you have people who are dangling in between, back and forth, to and fro, like a star that makes the passage through space every night. I belong to that group.”

“Every time if I want to get myself laughing, I do something ridiculous: I say Hezbollah in the way that the Israelis say it: the Arabic s’s become sharp z’s and it shorts short, as if Hezbollah is one word instead of three: Party of Go. I break out laughing, thanks to the Israelis specialists. I am afraid, thanks to the Israeli army and the population, half of whom according to me do not know they are being deceived (but who am I to say that from here) by their leaders. Leaders who do not want to exchange soldiers for Lebanese prisoners, leaders who want to speak the language of war. They have found a partner in the conflict: Hassan Nasrallah [Hezbollah leader].”

22 July

“The Middle East stands in flame and the Dutch reader is sedulously searching for the hero and the bad guy. The bad guy, Hezbollah, would quickly be found if Israel did not cause so much destruction and death with so much men and force. Is Israel not also a bad guy in this insane story? In collective memory the [average] Netherlander [has been prepared] to see Israel as the possible bad guy—evens now [as] the Dutch media is carefully sketching a more critical image. Israel is the land of milk and honey, the land that proliferates itself as a western country and sometimes, if it suits her, as an exotic fruit in the perverted Middle East, a bastion of enlightenment and reason. That image is now being tainted, by it will revive itself, because the collective memory is more difficult to bombard than a residential district.”

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Conflicting consent

The failure to reach a concrete plan to stop the conflict at Rome is being interpreted by Israel as consent by the international community to continue its offensive!

"We received yesterday at the Rome conference permission from the world... to continue the operation," Justice Minister Haim Ramon said.

FROM: Joschka Fischer, ‘Van oorlog tot vrede’ [From war to peace], p80-81, 29 July 2006, Vrij Nederland

Meanwhile, former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer argues that the current crisis in the Middle East is an opportunity for peace. Behind the exchange of fire on two sides, neither is wholly guilty, but neither is wholly innocent either.

“The current war in Lebanon is not a war of Arabs against Israel, but much more a war of radicals which reject every reproach toward Israel. In fact, it is about Hamas and the Islamic Jihad on the Palestinian side, Hezbollah in Lebanon and further [about] Syria and Iran. This ‘rejection-front’ has sought escalation for three reasons. First of all, in order to go against the pressure from the Palestinian people on Hamas to recognise Israel. Second of all, to ground the democratisation process in Lebanon. And in the third instance, to force the continually escalating conflict about the Iranian nuclear programme to the background, and to show the West what they are capable of.”


“[the rejection-front] has proved the return to a status quo in Lebanon impossible. The rejecters have made their hegemonial claims to power, by Tehran especially, visible to the whole world.”

So more a desperate attempt for attention and to achieve selfish political ends (with all means necessary) than a self-justified end to struggle for the sake of the Palestinian people. Israel is not helping in its staunch (read murderous) retaliation campaigns:

Israel has a key function […]. The country has twice already pulled back to internationally recognised borders, namely from Lebanon and Gaza, and twice the answer from over the border was the answer. Land for war, and not land for peace was the anwer. Israel’s right to exist is being threatened after all those years of peace talks, which were conducted on the basis of the pricinple of the two state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Peace with its Arabic neighbours appears further away than ever. The country is falling back to a strategy of military superiority.”


“On the other side of the destruction and misery, has the recognition of a new strategic threat [against Israel] not led to renewed reflection?”

One side should bite their pride and stop this ‘eye for an eye’ skirmish before it descends into regional chaos. And Israel, being the militarily superior power, as well as the ‘odd one out’ should take that bold step.

“Israel, at the moment, has only engaged itself in massive [a] deterrence [campaign], but it would be good to use the political possibilities of this war as well, and take the initiative from the position of power [it possesses]: with a comprehensive peace offer to all parties who are prepared to recognise Israel, not only in words, but also in deed, and who is sincerely prepared to refrain from violence.”

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Summary of the World

Interesting and thought provoking summary of the world from Nationsonline
There's also tonnes of useful information about individual countries and the world in general! Site worth a visit

If we could shrink the Earth's population to a village of precisely 100 people, with all existing human ratios remaining the same, it would look like this:

81 would be from less developed countries with a gross income per capita and year of US$ 3,580, 19 would be from developed countries with a gross income per capita and year of US$ 22,060.

There would be 61 Asians, 12 Europeans, 13 Africans, 9 would be from South America and the Caribbean, and 5 from North America including Canada.

75 would be non-white, while 25 would be white.

60 would mistrust their own government.
No wonder, that the governments mistrust their people.

60 would live within 62 miles of a coastline.

50 would be female, and 50 would be male.

50 would rely in some manner on coastal and marine habitats for food, building sites, transportation, recreation, and waste disposal.

48 would live on less than US $2 a day.

48 would lack access to basic sanitation.

47 would be urban dwellers.
The world's urban areas are expected to surpass rural areas in population around the year 2005

29 would believe in witchcraft.

25 would live in substandard housing or have no home at all.

20 would live on less than US $1 a day.

17 would be under 18 years old.

16 would lack access to safe drinking water.

16 would be unable to read and write.

14 would suffer from malnutrition.

10 would live in least developed countries.

8 would have Internet access from home.

4.5 would be citizens of the United States

1 would be infected with HIV/AIDS.

1 would be near death, and 1 would be near birth.

Only 1 would have a college education.

Half of the entire village's wealth would be in the hands of only 6 people, and most of them would be citizens of the United States.

When one considers our world from such an incredibly compressed perspective, the need for cooperation, tolerance and understanding becomes glaringly apparent.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Culinary delights

Did some last-minute shopping at the supermarket on Sunday, and managed to pick out bits from here and there and cook up this for my visiting cousin and his wife...

Stampot [Dutch hodgepot: mashed potatoes with spinach, peper and salt seasoning] with rookworst [smoked sausage]

Grilled garlic-flavoured salmon with Italian mixed herbs

Steamed mussels with seafood seasoning, challotes, white wine

Stir-fried paksoi with shitake mushrooms and garlic

I CAN cook! : ) Posted by Picasa

Monday, July 24, 2006

Sorry excuse for war

Day 12 of the conflict.

Two members of your armed forces are kidnapped, and an entire country and its innocent civilians must pay for this radical move by a lonesome terrorist organisation. Talk about disproportionality!

But two soldiers to Israel, a state that’s a black sheep in the predominantly Islamic and Arabic Middle East, is a big deal:

“[the] abduction of the soldiers was particularly combustible. As it is, such acts strike deep into Israel's soul. It is practically a sacred notion in the Israeli military that nobody is left behind. And because the nation has a citizen's army and Israel's population is so small, hostage taking is felt intimately; if it's not your son or your neighbor's son, it could be.”

Lisa Beyer, ‘Hate Thy Neighbor’, p24-29, 24 July 2006, Time

Israel is bitter that Hamas has managed to make the transition from a military force to a political force in the Middle East. From the very beginning Israel has refused to cooperate with the newly democratically elected government, and still claims that it is a terrorist organisation, on par with other organisations like the Hezbollah—the one responsible for sparking the current conflict—or Al Qaeda for that matter.

“Hizballah is the wild card. There is always the possibility it could try to order up terrorist attacks against Israeli and Western targets around the world. If pushed to stop fighting, the group could lash out against its critics in Lebanon, unleashing the forces of civil war that ravaged the highly sectarian country for 15 years until 1990, and creating a new field of instability even as the U.S. struggles with crises in places like Iraq and Iran. Israel's strikes against Lebanon have provoked Shi'ite radicals in Iraq, who are threatening to attack U.S. troops in retaliation.


[…] Hizballah, which was created in 1982 to resist Israel's invasion of southern Lebanon, has internal political incentives to act against Israel. […] Hizballah counters that given the weakness of the Lebanese Army, a disciplined guerrilla force is needed to deter Israeli aggression. And what better way to remind the country of that aggression than to provoke some by capturing a soldier or two?”
Lisa Beyer, ‘Hate Thy Neighbor’, p24-29, 24 July 2006, Time

But Israeli stubbornness and refusal to engage in dialogue is dangerous, and the hardened reaction to invade Lebanon and bomb whatever it pleases has again robbed Israel the image of ‘victim’ in the Middle East, and exposed the aggressor for what it really is.

“Can the international community stand by while such callous retribution by the state of Israel is inflicted on us?”

Lebonese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, 20 July 2006

To be fair, Israel is simply seizing an opportunity to disarm, or at best if possible decapitate Hezbollah, which among with other extremist (Palestinian) militants often fire home-made rockets into Israeli territory

“Most Israelis know the offensive has come at a heavy price--to civilians on both sides, to Lebanon's infrastructure and to Israel's reputation abroad. But from the government's point of view, it is necessary and it is working.”

Lisa Beyer, ‘Hate Thy Neighbor’, p24-29, 24 July 2006, Time

It is true that Israel is no longer fighting for its existence as it did in 1967 and 1973, when Arab forces penetrated the country. Today's issue is the degree of pain the enemies of Israel's hardline policies can inflict. The state is secure but this crisis has heightened every Israeli's sense of individual insecurity.

Jonathan Steele, ‘How could both sides have blundered so badly?’, The Guardian, July 21, 2006

In war casualties are not restricted to only military personnel. You do not shell cities and claim it was done as ‘self-defence’. What nonsense! Such indiscriminate attacks on civilians amount to war crimes and blatant violations of international law. And when you start blockading ports, cutting off power supplies and water, erecting barriers and checkpoints to prevent the flow of much needed food and medicine into already destitute areas, do not be surprised that the word ‘fascist’ comes to mind. Fascist, justified and upheld by the belief that they alone are the true inheritors of the ‘holy land’, and that all others who reside there are only third-class citizens susceptible to the whims and mercy of an ultra-religious state, which seeks shelters and approval from an equally belligerent and self-interested superstate governed by Bible-clenching neo-cons.

“The post-9/11 era has marked a new high in Israeli-U.S. relations, with Washington abandoning its past practice of criticizing Israel when it acts severely toward the Palestinians or other Arab parties.”
Lisa Beyer, ‘Hate Thy Neighbor’, p24-29, 24 July 2006, Time

And the conflict on the borders is just the frontline, frontline masking the continuing atrocities and refugee crisis in Gaza.

Violence only begets violence. And we’ve seen this in the last few days, that every time Israel attacks Lebanon, rockets are sent flying over Israeli territory. And the world’s greatest military force does nothing; not a even condemnation, just a few words of urging ‘restraint’.

The most alarming aspect of the unfolding crisis in the Middle East isn't how many actors are jumping in. It's who is opting to stay out. Hamas, Hizballah and Israel are directly involved; Iran and Syria by proxy; Lebanon against its will. The U.N. is dispatching its mediators; the European Union is contemplating doing the same. But the U.S., despite colossal strategic stakes, threats to its own security, potential repercussions in Iraq, not to mention staggering loss of life, remains on the sidelines. The world's sole superpower is also its only no-show.
Robert Malley, ‘Time to Start Talking’, p30, 24 July 2006, Time

Underlying this non-intervention in a cause that obvisouly calls for the world’s one and only superpower to be involved—if not out of moral and peace concerns, then at least out of trying to prevent the escalating tensions from drawing members of the ‘axis of evil’ into the conflict—is the belief that:

“[…] engagement is a reward, misbehavior ought not be rewarded; ergo, misbehaving parties are not to be engaged. The thinking is that isolation, ostracism and, if need be, sanctions are more likely to get troublesome actors to change their ways. And so the list of diplomatic outcasts only grows. Today the U.S. does not talk to Iran, Syria, Hamas, the elected Palestinian government or Hizballah.”
Robert Malley, ‘Time to Start Talking’, p30, 24 July 2006, Time

Or perhaps the Americans simply have too much (mess) on their hands, given the situation in Iraq, and a defiant Iran. Or perhaps the US are sitting by and even tacitly supporting, or even rejoicing at, Israel’s bullying of its Arab neighbours.

The EU is at least trying to do something, if only debate up till now, but seems genuinely preoccupied with the escalating war.

[...] there are actually four wars, or species of war, going on in the Middle East just now: in Lebanon, in Gaza, in Iraq and in Afghanistan. That is in addition to the occupation of the West Bank, the tension arising from Iran's perceived nuclear ambitions and Syria's involvement with the Hezbollah militias.
Peter Sain ley Berry
, 'Anything is possible but the violence first has to stop', EUObserver, 21 July 2006

In the wise words of remarkable and eruditory statesman, King George W. : “Stop doing this shit!”

TV War—on the televisation of war in Iraq

Letter to Israelby a Lebanese blogger

Heart wrenching—a story from the other side of the conflict: the civilian side.

“The Lebanese Red Cross in Tyre said 10 cars carrying civilians and three or four motorcycles had been hit by Israeli missiles yesterday. Red Cross ambulances were no safer […]”

A refreshing analysis from the leftTariq Ali on the current crisis.

“[…] Israel's actions today we can detect many of the elements of hubris: an imperial arrogance, a distortion of reality, an awareness of its military superiority, the self-righteousness with which it wrecks the social infrastructure of weaker states, and a belief in its racial superiority. The loss of many civilian lives in Gaza and Lebanon matters less than the capture or death of a single Israeli soldier. In this, Israeli actions are validated by the US.”

Possible diplomatic solution in a real humanitarian crisis:

“[…]Jan Egeland, the UN's emergency relief coordinator, to denounce them as "a violation of humanitarian law".

"It is horrific," he said as he toured the ruined Haret Hreik district of Beirut yesterday. "I did not know it was block after block of houses. "It's bigger, it's more extensive than I even could imagine."

Israel’s indiscriminate attacks:

“In a powerful speech to foreign diplomats on Wednesday, the Lebanese prime minister, Fouad Siniora, pointed out that Israel was not only killing civilians and destroying huge chunks of the country's infrastructure, but had also hit army barracks. "Is this the price we pay for aspiring to build our democratic institutions? Is this the message to send to the country of diversity, freedom and tolerance?" he asked.”