Friedman’s latest piece, Bibi and Barack, opens with an obvious observation, the Middle East is going to hell in a hand basket and things could really blow at any minute. In this tumultuous setting, he asserts that there are things which are “unmanageable” and those which are “unavoidable”. What is unmanageable is another war between Israel and its neighboring Arab states; what is unavoidable is dealing with a more unstable Arab world. Given this, we must manage the unavoidable and avoid the unmanageable. Therefore, these realities must be faced with a “serious peace policy” and a “serious energy policy”.
For those who have not yet heard, there was a bombing this afternoon in Jerusalem. At present, the explosion was believed to have come from a device planted in a phone booth near a major bus stop. I am okay and as far as I know, everyone I know is okay. Unfortunately at least 25 innocent people are not. No one has yet died from their injuries, however at least one person is in critical condition.
The attack took place just outside the Binyanei Hauma, the Jerusalem International Convention Center, which is across the street from the Central Bus Station. Where the explosion occurred is a major bus stop which is crowded all day long with commuters. I imagine the site was particularly packed today as the convention center is now hosting a health and exercise expo for the Jerusalem Marathon. I was at the exact spot of the bombing yesterday at just about the same time picking up my race packet.
I am thankful to say that attacks such as these are no longer part of everyday life in Israel, in large part thanks to the diligent security efforts of the Israeli military, police, and intelligence services. Indeed, Jerusalemites have grown accustomed to the peace and quiet which has existed here since the end of the last intifada. No one wants to a return to the days when people were afraid to ride the buses and attacks were routine.
It is often said that the main goal of terrorism is not actually to cause mass casualties, but to cause mass panic; to make people think that nothing is safe even when very little has changed. I am sure that I speak for everyone here in saying that we all hope that quiet will quickly return and that the streets will still be safe. In the meantime, I intend to keep living my life here as I have before this tragic and cowardly act; doing my research and visiting my friends, while keeping a sharp eye open at all times. I can think of no better individual response to those who wanted to terrify Israel into submission today.
I recently returned from the International Studies Association’s 50th Annual Conference in New York City and am thrilled to report that the conference went very well. My paper was very positively received and I received excellent useful feedback from my discussant. I was also delighted to see a number of old friends and professors from my previous graduate institution, the University of British Columbia, and to make many many more new friends and contacts throughout the academic community.
Now that I’m back in Chicago, it is time to get back to work on my thesis prospectus which I hope to be defending in March. I will also be working on a few reviews of books I have recently finished reading including Nationalism and Territory: Constructing Group Identity in Southeastern Europe by George White and Where Nation-States Come From: Institutional Change in the Age of Nationalism by Philip Roeder.
I also won a book raffle from the University of Pennsylvania Press which means they’ll be sending me one free book from their collection that was on display at ISA. I picked out Anderson and Stansfield’s Crisis in Kirkuk: The Ethnopolitics of Conflict and Compromise (National and Ethnic Conflict in the 21st Century). From what little I know of the historical importance the Kurds ascribe to this city, it seems that ethnic attachments to this city could be very relevant to my research. Keep your eyes peeled for a review of this book in the coming months.
Back to work…
On Friday afternoon, I joined a group of about 150 people in downtown Chicago to show solidarity with the State of Israel in this time of crisis.
We faced a much larger, much angrier group of protesters waving Palestinian, Hamas, and Hezbollah flags, marching up and down the street with fake coffins, burning Israeli flags, and chanting incendiary slogans. Despite efforts by this group to initiate a confrontation, we remained calm, determined, rational, and level-headed. The difference in behavior between our two groups was night and day.
CBS News Chicago covered the event and has footage here. You may notice yours truly in the final moments of the report.
As the war in Gaza rages on, I have much to say but not nearly enough time to say it. Rather than add yet another opinion to the cacophony of reports, op-eds, and armchair generals already pontificating about what Israel should do next, I will limit myself to this brief comment about the conflict so far:
For too long Israel has been complacent as Hamas and other terrorist groups have launched qassam missile attack after missile attack at the homes, schools, workplaces, and public parks of the residents of Southern Israel. These “crude rockets” (and some in fact not so crude) are deadly, and they are meant to be.
Almost a month ago on August 7, 2008, Russia began its march on the former Soviet republic of Georgia in immediate response to a Georgian military strike on the country’s own secessionist province of South Ossetia. The Georgians, in turn, claim the initial strike was in response to violence committed by South Ossetian separatists against Georgian peacekeepers and ethnic Georgian civilians residing inside the territory.
What began as a relatively minor confrontation between local parties has quickly escalated into a small-scale interstate war between Russia and Georgia over South Ossetia and the western Georgian break-away province of Abkhazia. Both territories, most of whose residents are now nominally ethnic Russian, have claimed independence from Georgia since 1992 and enjoyed open Russian diplomatic and military support.
I am having considerable difficulty coherently putting into words my sadness, anger, and utter frustration with today’s news about the “prisoner exchange.” Dry Bones said it quite effectively in his most recent political cartoon, but I’ll also give it my best shot:
The two Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hezbollah two years ago, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, launching the most recent Lebanon War were returned in coffins as the cold-blooded unrepentant murderer and terrorist Samir Kuntar walked free to a hero’s welcome in Lebanon. I am far from surprised by the news, but it is undeniably clear that this reinforces a disturbing precedent: pardoning terrorists and murderers in exchange for body parts.
While such exchanges are nothing new (note Israel’s equally foolish swap in 2004 for three bodies and drug dealer Elchanan Tannenbaum resulting in the release of 435 terrorists), this one comes at a particularly sensitive time when soldier Gilad Schalit remains in Hamas‘ hands in Gaza. Lesson learned? Hamas can feel free to murder Schalit and still expect to be rewarded handsomely with more concessions and more releases of dangerous criminals and terrorists. We can now also be sure to expect much more of the same: more kidnappings, more killings, and more leverage for these despicable terrorist organizations. They’ve said as much.
Meanwhile Israel’s “partner in peace” Mahmoud Abbas congratulated Kuntar’s family and joined the families of the returned deceased Hezbollah operatives in mourning their loss. It’s nice to know his heart is in the right place. With friends like these, who needs enemies?
I recognize that Israel’s commitment to returning the bodies of its soldiers and citizens is an eminently moral one, but that does not always make it the right one. While I truly empathize with the Regev and Goldwasser families, I fear that the benefit of the momentary relief of knowing their loved ones’ fate is far outstripped by long term risks and costs. If one thing is certain, it is that the appeasing of tyrants and fanatics does little to dull their ambitions, it merely whets their appetite. The sooner Israel recognizes this, the better.
I do not often comment on the extracurricular activities of the professors in my department, but after coming across this Op-Ed today, I cannot help but speak out.
Democrats and Republicans alike paused last Thursday to remember the assassination of a great American politician, Robert F. Kennedy forty years ago, June 5, 1968. A powerful voice for democracy, liberty, civil rights, and responsible government, RFK was gunned down by disgruntled Palestinian émigré Sirhan Sirhan for his passionate support of the State of Israel.
One of our very own political science professors at Northwestern University, Stephen Kinzer, has taken this opportunity to very publicly draw an “eminently” wrong message from this tragedy in the pages of the UK’s Guardian newspaper. His thoughts?
Foreign interventions and entanglements often produce unpredictable, even unimaginable long-term consequences. The murder of Robert Kennedy is one example. If Israel had never come into existence, or if the United States had not supported it, or if Kennedy had not reaffirmed that support, Sirhan would probably never have pulled his trigger.
Ah, if only we had not stuck our neck out to support the only democracy and reliable ally we have in the Middle East, than we would still have a great man among us. Lesson learned: let’s draw this country into complete diplomatic and security isolation so that we never make the mistake of taking an unpopular position on anything.
How dare Robert Kennedy stand up for such an unpopular country! Clearly his insight gained from serving as a foreign correspondent for the Boston Globe on the eve of Israel’s independence in 1948 makes Kennedy the fool here. He deserved what he got, right Dr. Kinzer?
Yes, the Palestinian people have every reason to be angry, even furious, at the lot history has thrown them. But the answer to international terrorism is not to concede to its demands, curl up in a ball, and hope the mean and angry people slink away. American support for Israel is not to blame for the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, Sirhan Sirhan is.
The moment we relieve these killers of their responsibility for their own actions is the same moment we give them complete rhetorical license to do what they will whenever this country takes a policy stand with which they disagree. To me, Kinzer’s position is more concerning than all the “unpredictable” consequences of foreign intervention combined if only because the consequences of his position are all the more predictable.
Today an Arab resident of Jerusalem broke into the Merkaz HaRav yeshiva in the neighborhood of Kiryat Moshe and murdered eight students and injured at least ten others.
Armed with a Kalachnikov rifle, the terrorist fired over 500 bullets turning the house of study into a bloodbath. He was only stopped when one student armed with a handgun managed to shoot him down. You can read horrifying descriptions of the incident here, here, and here.
Meanwhile, residents of Gaza celebrated by handing out candy, praying for thanks in local mosques, firing their guns in the air, and praising the murder’s “heroic act.” A spokesman for Islamic Jihad was quoted saying, “Those who carried out the attack have brought great pride and raised the heads of the Palestinians” while Hamas “blesse[d] the (Jerusalem) operation,” saying “It will not be the last.”
In other ominous undertones, the group claiming responsibility for the attack is calling itself the Galilee Freedom Battalions – the Martyrs of Imad Mughniyeh. This name refers both to the recently assassinated number two of Hezbollah and the northern region of Israel with a sizeable Arab demographic. Coupled with the fact that the murderer was an Israeli Arab, this is both a reminder for the government of the largely underappreciated security concerns posed by some members of this community and yet another obstacle weakening prospects for their integration into Israeli society. I have no doubt that the terrorist had both these objectives in mind.
Please join me and many others across the world tomorrow, Friday, March 7th, in wearing blue to show solidarity with the victims of this awful event.
There has been so much to write in world events over the past few days, it’s a bit overwhelming. Elections in Pakistan have essentially thrown President Musharraf’s party out of power, Fidel Castro has handed over the reigns of Cuba to his brother Raul, Armenia is going to the polls to elect a new president with possible repercussions for Nagorno-Karabakh, and most importantly for my research, Kosovo has unilaterally declared independence from Serbia.
I have also recently finished reading Mark Mueller’s The Remnants of War, one prominent Quaker political scientist’s take on the decline of major warfare in the Twentieth Century. With sticky notes attached to just about every page, the book is definitely in need of a review if only for my own peace of mind.
Last but certainly not least, I am still working on my second year paper due in near final form at the end of March. As part of that exercise, I am trying to complete a concept mapping paper for my qualitative methods class taught by Jim Mahoney. My concept of choice: ethnohistorical territoriality. What does that mean? I’ll post some version of the paper with the answer soon.
So why the slow progress? I had my first real encounter with the Chicago winter last week Tuesday when walking to campus. Ice was everywhere and after several times stumbling, I finally took one big spill. A nice couple found me writhing in pain on the street and drove me over to the university. Long story short, it turns out I broke my left arm, more specifically a non-displaced fracture of the radial head.
It’s not a bad enough break to require a cast but it does mean that I’ve had to keep my arm in a sling almost full time until yesterday. Needless to say, my academic work has slowed to a crawl while I wait for the pain and swelling to go down. Clearly I’ve made some progress; I’m typing this with both hands but it hurts like hell. Hopefully things will be back to relative normalcy soon!