Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Five Ayuyu Generals of Southern Guam

I am a video game geek. And you can tell this not just by how many times your wallet or bank account is drained because of the deep, craving need to own a certain video game or system, but also by how many time your schedule gets completely thrown out of whack because your mind got lost in playing a video game, or even though you knew you were running late, you convinced yourself that one more level or now in the case of games like Rock Star Band or Guitar Hero, one more song.

Since I returned to Guam to start working on my dissertation, there have been many moments where my schedule has gone awry because of the fact that video games are such a tempting distraction.

Another way in which you can identify if you are a video game geek is if you use video game metaphors or references to describe the world, sometimes even to non-video game adept audiences. There are some ways in which once arcane video game geek knowledge or fanservice has wormed its way into popular culture. I remember several years ago, when Donald Rumsfeld was waging wars all over the place, both literal wars and message wars, I saw several comics that satirized him as being Cats from the game Zerowing, with that all too funny message “All Your Base Are Belong to Us”

So this is an easy one, you can say it and your video game geek relish will no doubt be understood. But sometimes, I have a tendency to use references that normals may not understand at all, and even though I know this I can’t help myself. This is usually because video games were such a formative part of my life growing up. They taught me how to tell stories, and not just any stories, but considering most RPGs, although the graphics weren’t much to look at at times, the stories were still sprawling, full of characters. In my memory the perfect example of this was the game Dragon Warrior IV. The graphics were like most NES games, simple looking. But the story was GOF PAIRE. There were five chapters total, the first four introduced different characters on different quests. Ragnar, a knight searching for kidnapped children, Alina, who travels afar to participate in a tournament, Taloon, a merchant who wants to open his own shop and finally Nara and Mara who seek revenge for their father’s death. All of these characters end up reuniting over the course of the fifth chapter, where you, the Hero of the game find each them and lead them against the ultimate evil.

This variations and depth of this storyline had such a big impact on me, and me and my two brothers eagerly awaited Dragon Warrior V. Unfortunately it was never released for NES in the United States. Esta hokkok i lago'-hu put este.

The point of all this, is that when I recently live-blogged a JGPO meeting in the village of Agat, and when I was trying to describe how a certain phrase was regularly invoked in order to dispel or raze any potential questions or criticisms, the first thing that came to my mind was the ultimate spell “Ultima” from the game Final Fantasy III. For those of you unfamiliar with Ultima, it was the strongest spell in the entire game and once you got it and if your characters were all properly leveled up, nothing could stop you.

But this leads me to the last way in which you can recognize a video game geek, and that is if video games and the content or playing of video games operate as a path to a greater or deeper consciousness of the world. There have been moments where what I experience or see in video games has helped me appreciate or perceive a different texture to things, see the world in a different light.

For example, I am a longtime fan of the Koei franchise Dynasty Warriors, which features larger than life warriors from the Three Kingdoms Period of Chinese history, and actual battles from the wars, and allows you to play as them and wipe the battle field clean of your enemies. Battles can become so chaotic, that your character can literally rack up more than a 1000 kills by the time its finished.
Like most geeks, my affinity for the game creates very weird sorts of excited specialized knowledge. So I can mispronounce the names of several dozen warriors from this period, recount their exploits in different battles (which I also mispronounce) and even name which Kingdom (Wu, Wei or Shu) they belong to.

Although my knowledge of Chinese history and culture is very limited, I do know some tidbits from the game, and one character that has intrigued me is that of Liu Bei. He is meant to represent morality and justice in the triangle of Three Kingdom’s personas in contrast to Sun Quan and Cao Cao. He above all is a hero to the common people, because of many acts and gestures that place him beyond all the petty jealousy and ambition of his contemporaries. He allows his military to be crushed so that they can keep masses of peasants escaping his enemy from being slaughtered. He loses so many battles and fights so many hopeless fights, yet he above all has the most fearsome generals and warriors following him, The Five Tiger Generals of Shu (Guan Yu, Zhang Fei, Ma Chao, Huang Zhong, and Zhao Yun). He is berated by his enemies as being a lowly shoe-maker lord or emperor, since he grew up poor and made straw shoes and mats with his mother to survive. In one scene in the movie Red Cliff, he is asserted as the epitome of humility, uprightness and concern, as it is noted that he even weaves the shoes that his generals go into battle wearing (ya gof ma’ok i fina’tinas-ña)..

Today, there are temples built for Liu Bei in China, and even shoe making guilds and shoe producing cities which take him as their sort of patron saint. Liu Bei lived almost 2,000 years ago, yet for him and so many of the other figures from that era, they still live on within an incredible richness, which isn’t just creative, fictional, not just movies, comics and video games, but even treads into the religious and the political. When I look at Chamorro culture today, I see no similar sort of allegiance or remembrance or celebration. I see that Chamorros organize themselves through heroic figures from the United States, Presidents, frontier heroes, movies stars, fictional characters, but where is our Chamorro imagination? Where is the using of our own heroes, or own historical figures to build our own identities? To carve out our own space in this world?

One could argue, that Chamorro history was only written down until recently, whereas China has had a long rich archived history. This is of course, take’ karabao. Chamorros had a very rich oral tradition which captured everything in the same way. Long lengthy epic poems and stories which captured their long histories and the exploits of their ancestors. This is a result of Chamorros making choices, colonial choices, of giving up that history, replacing it with other things, and leaving their past, faded, sin kulot, taila’la’ and thus taisetbe. There is no government agency which dictates that which we remember or that which we value. We make choices, and usually we make the easiest choices, and so you’ll follow whatever is on TV, or whatever is taught in school, or whatever people around you seem to think. If we follow this logic, then of course we’d all act as if America is our past, present and future, that’s what everything around us seems to tell us.

This failure is all of ours. We do not give our history the place, the life in our own lives that it deserves. We know that Ancient Chamorros lived a certain way, or that Chamorros under the Spanish lived a certain way, but where are the stories? Where is our infamous storytelling ability when it comes to breathing life into these eras? We act as if we are a people of anthropologists and historians, when in reality what we need is to live, breath and remember our history as if we are believers, as if we are artists. Our history is not an abstract passage from a book to be memorized and then forgotten. It is a story, a painting, a poem, that is constantly being written and forgotten, and whether it gets longer and more textured, more nuanced and more full of life, or becomes stale, mafnas, empty and meaningless depends upon what we do in the writing or the painting of that work of art.

Where are the guilds on Guam or the villages on Guam that take on a particular Chamorro figure as their saint, as the epitome of their beliefs, as a guide in life? As a figure whose story a community can continue to write, and can continue to keep alive? We have come to the point where abstract figures, or faint echoes of our historical past can be found on tattoos and on t-shirts, in brochures on the walls of GovGuam offices. But that sort of memorialization accomplishes nothing. The past thus to us is an anonymous one, it belongs to random brown buff men, who lived radically different lives from us, and who we can actually never have a connection to other then these minute artifacts or forms of cultural consumption. These anonymous souls need no stories, and have no stories.

But it is up to us, all of us, as everyday artists with a history that needs to be revitalized to not just give these ghosts of our past, that we find haunting our closets, our car bumpers, tables at Chamorro village, or refrigerator doors during Chamorro month, names, but also monuments, spaces, memories and stories as well.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Ralph Nader to President Obama

Magof-hu na ma ilihi Si Obama giya Amerika. Para meggai na diferentes na rason, hu sappote gui’ yan ya-hu gui’. Lao yanggen mismo Guahu la’mon, ga’0-ku na Si Ralph Nader u Presidente Amerikånu. Mas maolek i hinasso-ña, ya mas umaya iyon-måmi na idea siha, kinu iyon-måmi yan Si Obama.

Fihu mama’liliberal Si Obama, lao puru ha’ liberal Si Nader.


Dear President Obama:

Underneath many of our country's economic problems is the thirty-year collapse of consumer protection-both of the regulatory kind and of the self-help kind known as proper access to justice.

Last month major consumer groups sent you a letter proposing action to rein in exploitation of consumers as debtors, as buyers of oil, gas and electricity, as patients needing health insurance and as eaters wanting safe goods.

Under the Bush regime, the words "consumer protection" were rarely uttered and the Bush administration almost never initiated any pro-consumer efforts, even with massive evidence before it, such as predatory lending and credit card abuses.

You need to recognize and elevate the GDP significance of fair consumer policies along with their moral and just attributes at a time of worsening recession.

I suggest you focus on the state of the poorest consumers in the urban and rural ghettos. As you know from your days with the New York Public Interest Group (NYPIRG) and as a community organizer in Chicago, the consumers in these areas are the most gouged and least protected. That the "poor pay more" has been extensively documented by civic, official and academic studies, and numerous local newspaper and television news reports.

Unfortunately, neither Congress nor the Executive branch have paid adequate attention to the tens of millions of people who lose at least 25 percent of their consumer dollars to multiple frauds and shoddy merchandise. You should establish special task forces in the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission on their plight and on the many proven but unused remedies to assure a fair marketplace with effective enforcement and grievance procedures.

Working with and galvanizing local and state agencies to enlarge their capacity and staff-with stimulus monies-can produce a triple-header-making the federal effort more effective, providing valuable jobs and freeing up billions of consumer dollars from the financial sink-hole of commercial crimes.

It requires the visibility and eloquence of your personal leadership to launch this long-overdue defense of poor people.

A second area of action is simply to update major areas of regulatory health and safety that have been frozen for thirty years. These include modernizing standards for auto and tire safety, food safety, aviation and railroad safety and occupational health and trauma protection.

New knowledge, new marketing forays, and new technologies have accumulated during this period without application. It is the obsolescence of so many safety standards hailing from the fifties, sixties and seventies that permits the tricky, corporate advertising claims that products "exceed federal safety standards."

Note for example that the SEC has never come close to regulating the recent explosion of myriad collateralized debt obligations (CDOs). The massive speculation in this area is destabilizing the national and world economies.

Third, you need to articulate and provide a high profile to what western Europeans have long called "social consumerism." Citizens are consumers of government services for which they pay as taxpayers. In return they are entitled to prompt, accurate and courteous responses to their inquiries and to their perceived needs as embraced by the authorizing statutes.

To begin with, Americans need to be able to get through to their government agencies and departments. Being put on hold interminably with automated messages to nowhere, not receiving replies of any kind to their letters, and generally getting the brush-off even with the deadlines explicated in the Freedom of Information Act have been a bi-partisan failure.

However, under the Bush regime, not answering serious letters from dedicated individuals and groups on time-sensitive matters of policy and action-as with the Iraq war and occupation-became standard operating procedure-starting with President Bush himself.

This stonewalling has turned people off so much that they do not even bother to "ask their government" for assistance and that includes an astonishingly unresponsive Congress (other than for ministerial requests such as locating lost VA or social security checks.)

As you shape the Obama White House, bear in mind that the "change you can believe in" is one of kind, not just degree.

Sincerely yours,

Ralph Nader

Saturday, January 24, 2009

My First Live Blog Ever!

Joint Guam Program Office Public Meeting
January 22, 2009
Agat, Guam


6:25 – Took pictures of a lovely sunset. The mayor’s office is right on the beach.

6:27 – Met a member of the JGPO who was there at the Critiquing the Military Buildup Forum I spoke at last November. He asks for my info so that we can meet up. Someone behind me whispers not to give him my real email address. I do though.

6:28 – The Agat Mayor Carol Tayama opens the meeting.

6:30 – John Jackson, executive director of JGPO starts his opening remarks. He invokes early the idea that this military buildup is not a transfer or a new move, but is in actuality a “return.”

6:32 – Jackson builds off his previous point, by admitting that the Marines are actually already here. There are four or five of them in the room right now. One of them in fact is marrying a local girl next month (this is not a joke, Jackson actually said this).

6:34 – A woman is introduced whose hair has more volume than a Metallica album and Madeleine Bordallo put together. Now that the obligatory "Madeleine Bordallo has large hair" joke is out of the way, I can continue.

6:35 – A “cultural affairs” rep is introduced. I ponder for a second what sort of representing or advising she does. Does she tell the JGPO people the sort of inane recommendations that we find in cross-cultural psychology texts or psych warfare reports? “When speaking to a Chamorro male, please refrain from looking him directly in the eye or making threatening arm motions. These will be interpreted as a threat to his manhood. Above all, do not make any disparaging remarks as to the state of the paint job on his truck. Also, do not throw your yori at him, it is considered an insult.”

6:36 – One of Jackson’s central themes emerges. For all who think that the military is not listening to the public’s comments, look at what they’ve done with the Marine’s firing range. First they were gonna have it at South Finegayan, but people complained that that would limit the use of Double Reef and other tourist and recreational sites nearby. So they looked at Orote Point and on Anderson and couldn’t find any space. The fact that they are now planning to put the firing range in Mangilao is a result of their listening to the public.

6: 37 – Jackson mentions the four endangered Chamorro birds that keep the Marines from putting their firing range at Anderson. He does not however, say their names in Chamorro.

6:38 – A point of clarification. The firing ranges that they are planning to build are for pistols, rifles and machine guns, not artillery or bombing.

6:40 – After listening to Jackson for more than 10 minutes, it occurs to me that the military only sees Chamorros as potential opposition, or as a population that needs to be massaged or placated. All of their rhetoric and cultural sensitivity is geared towards them. I wonder what sort of nightmare for them it would be, if suddenly there was a public perception that there were Filipino “activists” out there who were against this buildup.

6:41 – My desire to hear Jackson say the names of the Chamorro birds is vindicated after he pronounces a former Mayor of Agat’s name as “Ba-boot-a.”

6:43 – The Marine Corps is currently asking Congress for $50 million of its own budget to be used to improve Guam’s roads. Like most of the money figures passed around in the meeting its up in the air, with absolutely no certainty involved in its mentioning.

6:47 – Jackson on the cranes at the port. There’s three of them. One of them is good and that’s the one that is working right now. The other words about half the time. And the 3rd only works when it wants to.

6:48 – Delays in the buildup? No delays. The only thing that could throw off the buildup right now are Acts of God.

6:51 – A $750 million carrot is dangled in front of the audience, that could go to anything involving utilities, power, water, waste. But once again, there’s no certainty attached to this figure, its just thrown out there, and then qualified with a vague remark that Federal laws keep the military from giving it to Guam.

6:53 – According to Jackson, studies have been done that say that Guam has plenty of water for everyone, including the anticipated population increase. The problem is that 40-50% of all Guam’s water is lost to problems with the island’s pipes. Probably a good tactic, attack GovGuam for its incompetence and you’ll distract just about everyone on the island, to keep them from asking you for money.

6:55 – In April or May, the DEIS will be out. Mark your calendars and set aside a couple weeks to read it, since it could be as much as 4,000 pages.

6:59 – Full on construction is set to begin in less than a year and a half. The Environmental impact statement and public comment period won’t end for another five months. If the military is serious about this you would think that more would be certain at this point. In Jackson’s presentation the most used word is “looking.” Nothing has been decided, nothing is certain, they are always looking for money, looking for a place to put something…

7:01 – I notice that a woman in front of me has a hydrological and environmental report from Guam made in 1936. I wonder why.

7:02 – According to Jackson, the goal here is to build a new military base, with the least amount of negative impacts on the people of Guam. Someone mutters nearby, what if the least amount of negative impacts means no base at all?

7:04 – Senator Frank Aguon is introduced, as is the Mayor of Piti Ben Gumataotao. I gave Mayor Gumataotao an award last October for having the “mas kinute na tapblerun pulitikat” or “cutest political signs.”

7:05 – The first question is asked, its about roads. Are there still plans for that $1 billion road? What are you doing about the traffic? The questioner apparently works on base and travels from Central Guam to Anderson.

7:08 – The military is planning to make a gate off Route 3 which will be used for commercial traffic to ease up the congestion at the front gate to Anderson. As for roads off-base, again some very big tempting numbers, but nothing certain.

7:09 – The $1 billion road is not happening, although Camacho’s people and JGPO claim for different reasons. Each is claiming to have put a stop to that idea.

7:10 – After hearing Jackson talk about the $1 billion road, I wonder if they ever actually had any serious intention of building it. It is actually a very effective PR tool if its not built at all. As Jackson puts it, instead of the military throwing all this money into this one big project that only it will benefit from, we can spread the wealth around to a number of different cooperative projects. As someone points out later in the meeting, so where are your plans to share that $1 billion, becomes no one has heard any specifics about that.

7:11 – Next question. Is GovGuam being forced into making these improvements? An obvious question, but one sadly lost on most of Guam’s media.

7:12 – Tony Lamorena, head of the Governor’s Civilian Military Task Force is quick to chime in: The Governor has stated that the Feds will have to pay for everything that we do to meet their needs. Wow, this is a massive revelation for anyone who has ever heard the Governor speak about the military buildup. I wonder if the Federales know about this?

7:13 – According to Federal law, the Marines have to look at alternative energy solutions for the powering of its new base.

7:16 – Obama supports the buildup. Sorry to all the Chamorro progressives who were hoping for something else. You don’t get to be President of the United States, and the Commander and Chief of the world’s largest military industrial complex, unless you are ridiculously pro-military.

7:17 – The Government of Japan right now is mulling over the first payment it is supposed to make this year towards this Marine transfer: $333 million.

7:18 – Jackson points out to all, that Guam is just one cog in the larger picture of troop and force re-alignment in the region. Japan and the United States have 19 agreements, only one of which involves Guam.

7:19 – Apparently this whole Marine transfer is actually Bill and Hillary Clinton’s fault, as the talk about troop movement actually began under their watch. It was just later actualized by Rumsfeld and Company.

7:20 – There are a lot of people in uniform here. Do they do that on purpose?

7:22 – The third question is a unique one. First of all, its not a question, but rather a warning that the End of Times will take place before the Marines transfer is complete (I’m not making this up).

7:23 – Next question, is an actual question. “What will you do for the people of Guam?” You’re asking us to share our island and our resources. So why aren’t you reaching out and offering us something for this?

7:25 – Senator B.J. Cruz is here and so is Howard Hemsing. In 2007, B.J. Cruz, prior to becoming a Senator pushed for an election referendum on the military buildup. It was an interesting idea, but never got anywhere.

7:26 – A questioner reminds everyone that the military gets the largest piece of the Federal budget.

7:29 – A lot of red tape is involved before local farmers, fishermen and vendors can sell their stuff in the commissaries. UOG received a $300,000 + grant recently to start training locals on how to start the process.

7:31 – So much of the discussion so far from Chamorros is a curious mix of fear, anger, suspicion and patriotism. Questions begin as very direct, what are you doing about this, why aren’t you doing this? Do you know the way we’ve been screwed over before by you? But all the questions end with some expression of love and devotion to the United States and its military. Although you could call this a lot of things, for me its colonization at work. The angry Chamorro psyche in relation to the United States is only angry so long, and it can always be pacified through some often minute or silly form of recognition. It is always looking for any excuse to make peace and to love America and the military again. Although the questions start from a position of feeling angry, upset and disrespected, at the end its clear, my real issue here is that I need you to recognize me, I need you to give me a reason to forgive you and love you again. Given this position, its easy to see why Guam can continue to be colonized just by stamps and quarters.

7:39 – Someone asks if the military can please pay for the new landfill. He also asks if the military can re-integrate the civilian and military schools on island like it used to be. Jackson notes that even if you are stationed in North Dakota and live off base, you’re kids aren’t allowed to attend the on-base schools.

7:41 – To be in Jackon’s position, the key qualification is probably the ability to appear to know about every single dollar of Federal money Guam is getting or could be getting. The reason being that in this meeting and in most meetings of this type the term “federal money” operates like the ultimate spell in a Square Enix RPG. It has the ability to raze the entire field of battle of enemies and hopefully shut everyone up.

7:44 – A question on the port. Namely that so far for all the talk about the military and the need to improve the port, they haven’t done anything, put any money where their mouth is. The new crane that’s coming in was purchased by private companies, who have already raised their prices to pay for it.

7:47 – This is completely unexpected. The next question is “Will the military help stop the Dandan landfill, because it threatens to poison the water for everyone on island?” By the way, for those interested, there is an online petition circulating against the Dandan landfill. You can sign it by clicking here.

7:48 – In 1982, the United States Navy dumped nuclear waste in Apra Harbor. The next question is “Will the military promise not to dump any more nuclear waste in Guam?”

7:49 – Jackson says that there are now 1700 H2Bs on island. The military will need 5,000 – 10,000 more for the buildup.

7:52 – There is serious amount of buck passing on the Dandan issue. Everyone is deferring the question to someone else. I have literally never seen this much Federal and local government cooperation before, as they help pass the buck, until the question is finally not answered in any way shape or form.

7:53 – The buck eventually rests with Guam EPA. The eventual non-answer is that there is an “ongoing study” which is being studied on the issue. Please go to Guam EPA’s meetings to learn more about this study and to find where the buck was eventually lobbed to.

7:54 – Next question. Someone from Santa Rita says that the best looking girls on Guam come from the south. I am anticipating a question on possible sexual misconduct of Marines and the protection of local women.

7:56 – Apparently there was no question attached to the remark about the south’s hot daughters. The gist of the remarks is that we all need to remember how many Marines, Army and Navy men died to liberate Guam in 1944. A shiver goes up my spine, whether this man meant it or not, he just offered the daughters of Agat to the Marines as payment for liberating Guam.

7:57 – It took almost 90 minutes for someone from the audience to mention the eternal debt of Chamorros to the military. I’m glad I didn’t place a bet on this, I would have certainly lost.

7:58 – Chamorro Elvis Haircut sighting!

7:59 – Last question. The question is prefaced with the fact that it will “be forceful” and direct. I’m expected a very tough question, but it turns out that there’s no question at all. It turns out to be a very forceful “thank you,” with the questioner remarking that, no matter what happens to us the Federal dollars always come to save us.

8:02 – Okay, now, it’s the last question. Senator Cruz makes some very good comments, about how the Government of Guam is in financial crisis, but there is so much pressure to prioritize what the military needs and not what Guam needs. The attempted $1 million a week extortion from the Federal Receiver being a case in point. Cruz also asks the obvious. If you’re not building that $1 billion road, then why aren’t you giving us the money? Where is it?

8:03 – I know that people on Guam complain about the Legislature being useless, but I am inspired by their recent willingness to push on the military buildup. To ask the tough questions that the Camacho people aren’t.

8:06 – The meeting ends early so that people can meet individually with the JGPO people.

8:07 – Oh wait, it almost ends. Somebody complains that this is a public meeting and so during the advertised time, the discussion should be public. The Mayor and the JGPO relent.

8:09 – A blunt, all out scathing critique from a young Chamorro activist. Echoes some of Senator Cruz’s points, but focuses on the vagueness of the military’s promise and also brings in the issue of respect and self-determination for the Chamorro people.

8:13 – Jackson’s response is forcing me to relive part of the movie Frost/Nixon. When Richard Nixon wants to control the interview with David Frost, he rambles. And its not incoherent rambling, but very deliberate, foggy rambling, meant to make people forget what the hell was going on prior to this fog rolling in.

8:15 – Jackson accidentally refers to Madeleine Bordallo as “Madeleine Albright.”

8:17 – I am mystified at the way Jackson completely dodges the question. Firstly he reformulates the question on respect and self-determination and not being consulted on the buildup into this, “if I’m paraphrasing your question correctly, I believe you are asking, what’s in it for Guam?” Second, he says any other issues you go to your representative or President Obama.

8:20 – A question on whether or not GovGuam can get some money from the Obama stimulus package. Jackson says that Madeleine is trying, but who knows if it’ll survive. Ah, the life of a non-voting delegate.

8:23 – In response to a question on whether or not the comments at these meeting mean anything or have any impact, Jackson responds that 1. “yes they do, see the firing range issue” and 2. “JGPO has a sucky website, sorry.” The questioner creates the image of this military buildup being a train that is rushing past us all, and our comments and criticisms just bounce off of it as it roars by, unfazed.

8:24 – Earlier Jackson was saying “looking” a lot. Now he’s saying “talking” a lot. As JGPO is “talking” to everyone about this military buildup.

8:25 – Meeting is over. Don’t forget that the draft EIS comes out in April or May.

8:35 – As I’m walking out of the Mayor’s office, I see Howard Hemsing and a uinformed black Navy man talking intently. I wonder what they’re talking about?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Kao i Nuebu na Ma'gas, Parehu yan i Hagas?

In a few hours Barack Obama will be sworn in as President of the United States.

I closely followed the election while I was in the states, writing regularly about it on my blog, sometimes to the detriment of my other work. Watching MSNBC and reading liberal blogs, when I should have been reading about sovereignty or about colonialism. I was so caught up in the election, that when I was able to attend the Democratic National Convention in August, with a press pass and everything, it was not just exciting for me in some general sense, but more like the reward for all the hard work that I had been doing, following things in the election, writing about them and blogging about them.

As soon as I came to Guam however, things changed. It was hard to keep up with the campaigns as much, for a variety of reasons. My internet is slower and less reliable on Guam. My grandparent's didn't have MSNBC as part of their cable. But these reasons are minute, the main reason that I wasn't as passionate about the election or as engaged is an obvious one: colonialism.

I was in Guam, I was in a colony, and although there is this ridiculous patriotic veneer to the island, and life on Guam seems to revolve around whatever simple and easy ways it can become more American or feel more American, this does not extend to caring about politics in the United States or even following them closely. I found that most people knew an election was going on, but weren't following it in a way where they could actually talk about it or even fake any real interest in it.

The election operated as a sort of symbol for increasing Guam's Americaness, but naturally this symbolism was very empty. For instance, amongst my students at UOG last November. All of them were pretty much "Obama fans," although very few seemed to have any knowledge about him or his campaign other then that he's brown and sort of "Hawaiian." The election, and Guam's "place" or "non-place" in it, operated as a foil or a counter to my regular criticisms of the United States and my assertions that Guam is "not really American." So while these students didn't really know much about the election, they were very quick to point out that Guam got to participate in this election, and we know it mattered, because news media in the states reported on it!

This laziness or apathy is easier to understand when we consider that Guam's relationship to the Federal Government is not like other states. As a colony, it is a colonial relationship, which means you send just one non-voting delegate, and for the rest of the time, the Feds appear like a fat, wealthy organism that seems to overflow with cash, which occasionally send emissaries to the island to hassle the Government and tell them how corrupt or backwards they are. You don't even get the pretense of pretending like the Federal Government represents you, since you aren't really tied to it through voting like everyone else, or even the aura of powerful state representatives, Senators, Governors or Congresspeople.

So basically, the figure of the President for Guam is split into two ways. The first is that it can be a figure used to make Guam feel more American. So, as I noticed at UOG last semester, there were plenty of students there who were using Obama to feel like they were proud young brown Americans who had a bright future ahead of them too. When I had my political status forum in Guam History that same semester, two of my groups representing the political status option of statehood, mentioned that Guam's relationship to the United States will get better and improve because Obama is President, and either he'll help us, or he represents that America can change and everything can get better!
But on the other hand, whoever is President makes no difference to Guam. Both Republicans and Democrats tend to treat Guam the same way, with little interest or respect. A Democrat may be nicer about it, but Guam is still the "tip of the spear" to Republicans and Democrats alike.

Plus, even if people on Guam tend to treat America and its Government as their savior, that proves more than anything that they don't feel like they are part of it, but that it is something else, an other. So while, the President may be important to us in terms of making us feel more American, he's still not really our President, and no matter how much we celebrate being the bola' of the United States, the colonial status persists and we all deep down, even if we won't publicly admit to it, know it and feel it.

So why should we care? Its actually a very stupid question. The Government of the United States and the military have an incredible amount of formal and informal control over our lives and this island, we should care so much about what they do that it hurts. Our lack of control in this situation, our colonial status, or their lack of respect or knowledge, all of these things make clear that we should care even more about our relationship to the United States, not less.

I've definitely come down with some of this apathy since I've been on Guam. A shifting in my own consciousness from being a "full enfranchised" albeit racialized citizen in the United States, to a comfortably colonial citizen of the United States empire in Guam. I know I should care more, I know also that I should be more excited about Obama's inauguration, more engaged, but I still find it hard. I find it hard to be excited in the ways I was in the states, since when I'm on Guam my entire vision shifts and different ideas, fights, or contexts become prioritized.

The little that I can do, is to try and get people on Guam engaged at the level of Presidential politics or power in relation to Guam. So in the case of Barack Obama, does he exemplify the old saying "nuebu na ma'gas, parehu yan i hagas?" In relation to Guam, will Obama be just like Bush the Second, or Clinton the Husband, or Bush the First?

Overall, it is true, that all Presidents in relation to Guam will be pretty similar. There is not much to the territories of the United States, no real reason to do anything for them, and so whatever attention Guam does get is mainly because of its strategic military presence. But there are key issues on the horizon in an Obama administration that we on Guam should be excited or concerned about.


1. Universal Health Care: When I spoke to Congresswoman Bordallo and Congresswoman Christensen at the DNC last year, I asked both of them about their struggles to get increased health care funding for their respective territories, such as getting the Medicaid cap lifted on Guam. Obama in May had said that he felt that the spending caps on the territories are unfair and should be lifted. Congresswoman Bordallo seemed optimistic about this happening, but Congresswoman Christensen seemed much more guarded. She seemed to feel that the only way substaintial increases in medical funding to the territories was going to take place, was through universal health care. Which is why she said that the two were planning to work very hard in getting fair treatment for the territories in whatever universal health care program is created.
2. The Military Buildup: There are plenty of signs, in the United States and in Japan that the military buildup could be stalled. Local representatives of the military are claiming that everything is full speed ahead, but in the next year or so anything could happen. The proposed global realignment of American troops and force projection, which includes Marine transfer to Guam from Okinawa, was a brainchild of Donald Rumsfeld and President Bush. Although Obama has kept on Secretary Gates, there is always a possibility when administrations change that these sorts of policies will either be reversed or drawn down. Last year, Obama promised to ensure that Guam benefits from the military buildup, but depending on how Obama's foriegn policy vision unfolds and how Japan responds as well, the buildup could either be reduced or cancelled.
3. Pacific Islanders and Pacific Islands: Although when I lived on Guam prior to attending graduate school in the states, I never used the term "Pacific Islander" to describe myself, the terms is now very much a part of who I am and how I identify myself politically. 2007 was declared by Secretary of State Rice as "the year of the Pacific." Last year, with the election of Obama, it, in some peoples' minds, could have been referred to as the "year of the Pacific Islanders." Hawai'i as a state, ferociously claimed Obama as its "son," and Obama's knowledge of Hawai'i's landscape, lunch plates and ability to body surf all led to strange feelings of pride amongst Pacific Islander American peoples, as if Obama was one of their own. Is there anyway that this identity that Obama himself, obviously feels somewhat, will play a role in his governance? Or perhaps allow him to be more open than most Presidents in terms of helping with or being open to Pacific Islander specific projects?

4. Self-Determination: The Democratic Party Platform for 2008 had the following line in it: We support full self-government and self-determination for the people of Guam, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Virgin Islands, and their right to decide their future status. I'm sure that document contained several thousand local, regional, ethnic specific promises which party leaders or Obama people had little to no intent of ever coming through on. Time will tell whether or not this promise is worth the ink it was printed with. It would be good for local activists to try to push this issue, to see what sort of "self-determination" Obama's people had in mind. Its doubtful that its different than any other adminstration (which means its not much), but it still might be fruitful to pursue it, if only to once again reveal the face of American hypocrisy.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Petition to Protect Dandan

Please consider signing this petition titled "To Prevent the Construction of a Mounded Landfill on top of Inarajan Watershed at Layon, in Dandan, Municipality of Inarajan." I'm pasting the entire text of the petition below, and a link to its online form can be found here.

I would love to write more about this issue right now, there is so much going on and so much to be said. If you've ever wondered why some of the more conscious people on Guam refer to the Federal Government as "Federales" in a sneering or fearful way, one of the reasons is happening right now, over the landfill issue and the attempted exortion of the Government of Guam to the tune of almost $1 million dollars a week.
Unfortunately I can't spare the time right now as I'm rushing to finish up a book chapter so I can get back to work on my dissertation. (The pictures in this post are all from the tinanom yan halom tano' on either the land around my family's house in Mangilao or our land in Talo'fo'fo. They aren't meant to represent authentically the ecosystem of Dandan.)


To: Attorney General of the U.S. & Department of Justice



By affixing their signature to this petition, each of the undersigned petitioners agrees with and supports the following statements of fact relative to requesting a halt to any action relative to construction of a landfill above the Inarajan Watershed at Layon, in Dandan, Municipality of Inarajan, United States Territory of Guam:

The area in and around the selected landfill site has a number of rivers and tributaries flowing through it, all part of Inarajan Watershed. According to “Assessment of Viability of Ground Water and Surface Water Resources for the Guam Waterworks Authority Water Resources Master Plan” dated December, 2004, reservoirs placed at the Inarajan and Tinaga Rivers could produce a sustainable flow of nearly 8 million gallons of fresh water per day, enough to provide for 23% of Guam’s residents.

Chief Hydrogeologist Martin G. Steinpress of environmental engineers and consultants Brown and Caldwell (B&C) wrote the following to the General Manager of Guam Waterworks Authority.

(a) “Although GWA’s Fena surface water reservoir and Ugum diversion currently supply southern Guam, future needs may require groundwater development. Since groundwater beneath Layon falls within the G-1 Resource Zone category, it must be protected to drinking water quality standards.”

(b) “The SEIS acknowledges that the Inarajan River has been identified as potential site for a surface water dam and/or reservoir. SEIS Figure 3-1 also shows proposed reservoir and/or diversion sites on the Tinago River…both of these proposed sites would be downstream of the proposed landfill site.”

(c) “In spite of the SEIS claim that “no plans are currently in place to develop groundwater or surface water supplies in the Layon Area…GWA considers (the Inarajan and Tinago Rivers) as potentially viable and necessary for the future water supply needs. In fact, the pre-draft Guam Water Budget Report…recommends that consideration be given to investigating the feasibility of diversions at other rivers in addition to the Ugam…”

A landfill located in this area could potentially endanger a valuable source of fresh water for Guam’s future growth and development. Placing the landfill over this precious natural resource would be as foolish as placing the landfill over Guam’s northern aquifer.


(a) Public Law 23-95, enacted in 1996, and amended in 2008 by Public Law 29-116 clearly identifies the exact location for the sanitary landfill, Parcel B of Lot No. 439-R1, Guatali, Santa Rita, Guam. This law has not been amended or repealed to change the designated site for the landfill and the Legislature has reaffirmed, in P.L. 29-116, that the Guatali site is the only authorized site for a landfill in Guam. The Consent Decree (CV-02-00022) requires that all local laws be followed.

(b) Guam EPA and Public Works violated the site selection process required by the Consent Decree (CV-02-00022), by selecting only a single final site instead of three (3) final sites as required. The Sabanan Batea and Lomfit sites that were listed with Layon/Dandan by Guam EPA and Public Works were never eligible to be considered as landfill sites.

(c) The 2006 Solid Waste Management Plan (SWMP) designating the Layon/Dandan site is invalid. Only the Legislature is authorized to designate Guam’s landfill site. The Consent Decree requires that all local laws be followed.

(d) The 2006 SWMP which requires an Economic Impact Statement (EIS), for all costs to the public of over Five Hundred Thousand Dollars ($500,000) did not include an Economic Impact Statement, but did contain a certification by the Guam EPA administrator that it would not cost the general public in excess of $500,000. The estimated cost of the landfill alone is approximately $190 Million.

(e) Guam law requires the Administration to produce an EIS in the year following its submission if one does not accompany the SWMP. No EIS has been produced to date, in violation of local law. The Consent Decree requires that all local laws be followed.


(a) An email, dated November 29, 2007, from Pankaj Arora of U.S. EPA – Region 9, Superfund Division in San Francisco, CA, to the Administrator and staff of Guam EPA, who hold the responsibility of reviewing permit applications to build a privately owned landfill, is evidence of U.S. EPA’s determination to block free enterprise. These Federal entities have placed pressure on Guam EPA to keep a private company from starting a legitimate business so that the Federal government can force the Government of Guam to build a landfill in an inappropriate site. The subject line of the email is “Review of Guatali documents,” and the email states in part:
“I would like to re-emphasize one issue that has been on the table for a few weeks now. According to USEPA (U.S. Govt.) Dandan is the selected site for the new landfill. The Dandan site was proposed by GovGuam under the Consent Decree and accepted by the US as part of the Consent Decree. Therefore, there should not be any confusion about the Dandan site being the new landfill site.

“Last week, I was surprised to see that a permit application was submitted to Guam EPA for the Guatali site. The permit application ties the Guatali site to the Consent decree. This is unacceptable to the US. As stated earlier, Dandan is the site for the new landfill that was proposed by GovGuam and accepted by the US. Please ensure that Guam EPA is working under the guidelines and requirements of the Consent Decree.”

(b) Attached to Mr. Arora’s email was an email from Mikel W. Schwab, US Attorney, Civil chief, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Guam & the NMI, U.S. Department of Justice, to instruct Guam EPA. In part it reads as follows:
“It has to be understood that there is no more debate about where the site will be. To comply with the Consent Decree the site chosen, Dan Dan, must remain the focus of all efforts.”
“If the Government of Guam wants to pursue a ‘waste to energy’ scheme, they are free to do so. But, that has nothing to do with, and cannot distract from, their obligation under Federal Court Order to open the landfill at Dandan.”
“If anyone is attempting to go back to the debate and search phase about where the landfill should be placed, they are in defiance of the Consent Decree. They are also indulging in the malady that has led us to this problem. A correct and proper decision has been made and it will be enforced by the Federal Court.”
“Dandan is the location of the new landfill that the Government of Guam must build.”

Through these e-mails, and perhaps through other e-mails and by other means, the U.S. EPA and U.S. Attorney have instructed Guam EPA to deprive a private business of its right to pursue a landfill at Guatali, which violates Section 10(b) of the Consent Decree that states:
“…upon the opening of a properly licensed and permitted municipal solid waste
landfill…no further dumping of any kind will be permitted at the Ordot Dump.”
This does NOT state that it must be a Government of Guam municipal solid waste landfill. In fact, nothing in the Consent Decree states that the landfill CANNOT be privately owned.

These actions are also a violation of several Guam public laws, including P.L. 23-95 and P.L. 29-116. The Consent Decree (CV-02-00022) requires that all local laws be followed.

In addition to the extremely expensive landfill that is required to be constructed over an important source of fresh water, a landfill at Layon/Dandan will place an incredible strain on infrastructure designed for rural traffic on a tropical island, not heavy industrial traffic as a landfill will require. Less than 10% of Guam’s population travels on Inarajan’s scenic primary and secondary roadways on a daily basis, and the roads are woefully inadequate to support the increase in volume of traffic and weight of the vehicles that will need to have access to a landfill at Layon/Dandan on a daily basis. Virtually all roads are two lanes, one in each direction. Shoulders are often non-existent, and bridges are unsuitable for a constant flow of heavy trucks and equipment. The massive infrastructure upgrades necessary to replace bridges, install traffic signals, acquire easements to widen and improve roadways and turning lanes and to create new shoulders for highways from Agat south to Inarajan and Layon, and then north to Yona, including the Cross Island Road, in order to accommodate the massive increase in volume of traffic solid waste is transported from all over the island, and from the military bases, to the site, will cost Guam’s people many hundreds of millions of dollars.

Tourism is Guam’s most important industry. Southern Guam is one of our island’s greatest tourist attractions. The south is the most picturesque area of our island and the lifestyle in the south still portrays much of the traditional Chamorro culture, as compared to the very urbanized lifestyle in northern Guam. Much of what makes the south unique and attractive would be lost with the establishment of a landfill that is visited daily by dozens of heavy, foul-smelling garbage trucks on formerly scenic and charming roads and bridges that have been “modernized” into steel, concrete and asphalt monoliths to accommodate the landfill.


The Undersigned

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Let Gaza Live!

Just thought I'd share a discussion thread that went through recently on the listserv for my department. It started with a student sending out the announcement below regarding a protest in support of the people of Gaza and calling for an end to the invasion.

I should note that my department, Ethnic Studies at UCSD is currently in the process of coming up with an official statement regarding the crisis in Gaza.


The Massacre is Continuing and So Should Our Response!
The energy and scale of these recent protests have been fruitful
internationally. Please come and show you support again at this Emergency
Mobilization Event!

For 16 days Israel has been committing massacres and war crimes against
the Palestinian People in the Gaza Strip. The death toll so far exceeds
900 killed and more than 4300 injured, many very seriously. With many
bodies still buried under the rubble of schools, mosques, hospitals,
markets, police stations, apartments and other civilian buildings, the
death toll is expected to rise much higher.

Please Join the Demonstration tomorrow in another improtant day of
mobilization, action, and solidarity for Palestinians!

Tuesday 1/13/09 @ 4:30 PM

Federal Building in Downtown San Diego (Front and Broadway)



Sponsored By (list in formation): Al-Awda San Diego, The Free Palestine
Alliance (FPA), The National Council of Arab Americans (NCA), The Middle
East Cultural And Information Center (MECIC), ANSWER Coalition, San Diego
International Action Center, Activist San Diego, and Muslim
American Society (MAS) Freedom Foundation San Diego Chapter.


This notice was elicited a response by a student from another department (who is somehow on our email list), who chastised the initial student for the one-sidedness of the protest. His email is below:


While I have a great amount of respect for you and your opinions, I findthe one-sided nature of your focus upsetting. Israel did not start thiswar, it was in response to rockets being directed at civilians.

Additionally, the tactics being employed by Hamas directly contradictmilitary rules of engagement: Military troops are not wearing uniforms,civilians are purposefully being placed in harms way by Hamas, civiliansare being used as troop shields, civilians are being used to lure Israelitroops, booby traps are being placed in situations where humanitarian aidis warranted, troops are massing in civilian aid structures, and weaponsare being stored in schools, homes and hospitals; this list is notexhaustive.

Let Hamas (and the PLO and Hizbullah) recognize Israel's right to existand stop targeting civilians. Only then can both sides live in peace.


I read recently that the progressive movement in the United States is most divisive over this particular issue, the Israel/Palestine "problem." It is one of the most explosive things which can transform a room full of usually amicable and happly friendly liberals or progressives, into an angry, kung fu fighting room full of mortal enemies.

Being in Ethnic Studies, this issue is even more complex and irritating, as it becomes wrapped up in issues of whiteness, religion and empire. That much of America's support for Israel is due to its identity as a "white" nation, its identity as a sort of "Christian" nation and lastly its function as America's "Samson" in the den of America's oil rich evil Arab enemies.

This being said, there is always plenty to critique, but defenders of Israel tend to be so engulfed in dogma and emotion that they refuse to recognize any of it. This dogma and refusal to present even the appearance of a balanced perspective is so clear in American politics and in the American media.

The first student to respond mentioned this


To be fair, your position is thoroughly represented in all major news circuits. This email list is one of the few venues where an alternative view to Israel's brutal onslaught of the Palestinians may be voiced. The emails are only advocating what many countries and the UN have called for: an immediate ceasefire that, as we all know, is down played in the US media or ignored altogether. While you are entitled to your opinion, please do not send me your defense of Israel's brutal military attacks, as I already hear similar defenses (frustratingly so) constantly.


Later in the day another student, Jose who has a number of blogs, chimed in with a very elaborate response to the points that the student had made in defense of Israel. Jose's response was sprawling and very researched and in truth informed me on a number of things relating to the conflict.

I have to echo the above student in saying that it was very frustrating, finding in my inbox this morning, that student's almost clueless defense of Israel. At different crisis moments, I too have often thought of my department as a sort of safe haven, where my own ideas which the majority of America vehemently disagree with, can be discussed and shared. After Katrina in 2005 and during the 2007 fires in San Diego, the email list was an important place where we each send back ideas, critiques, suggestions and sometimes support, looking for a way to bring an "ethnic studies lens" to the world around us. Because at those sorts of crisis moments, that's when a critical eye is most important, because it is so easy when a crisis is invoked to forget everything, to go with the flow, to let the powers that be take care of everything. But as Naomi Klein covered in her text The Shock Doctrine, it is in truth when disasters take place that the powerful and the greedy move in to take over.

For more you can go to Jose's blogs are Marooning Thinking and The Gaza War. But in the meantime, I'll end with his response below.


Although I don’t’ know you (I’m sure you’re also worthy of respect), I felt compelled to interject since you chose to use this email list to respectfully attack one of my colleagues who clearly happens to know more about this conflict than you. So in the common interest of setting the record straight, here are some responses to your email:

Your words: “Israel did not start this war, it was in response to rockets being directed at civilians.”

Actually, Israel did start this war when they broke the ceasefire with Hamas in November. Israel bombed a tunnel and killed several Hamas militants in the process. The barrage of rocket attacks that Israel is responding to came after that. If you don’t believe me, check out the following article from Israel’s main newspaper, Haaretz:

Even if you disagree, at least we should agree on one basic thing: that the root cause of this conflict is the siege that Israel has imposed on Gaza and the territory’s occupation, which Israel refuses to end. The notion that this is all caused simply by angry, anti-semitic arabs is ridiculous and frankly extremely racist. I’m not saying you’re making this clam but I’m tired of hearing this gross simplification. For decades it has been the main pillar of Israel’s foundational narrative: that they came to Palestine to share the holy land in peace with arabs but the arabs were as anti anti-semitic as the Nazis and they decided to wipe out the jews from the middle east. If you actually believe this story, I have a bridge I want to sell you.

The fact is that in August 2005 (before Hamas came to power), Israel withdrew its army from Gaza yet maintained control over air and sea space as well as most of its borders. They also control the movement of goods into Gaza.

For more in what preceded the current conflict, go to:

Israel’s excuse for preserving these dracionian limitations on the sovereignty of Gaza is that they are defensive measures to stop militants from arming themselves. The problem is though that it has taken an enormous toll over the civilian population there. People in Gaza are economically destitute and it’s all because the occupation. This incidentally plays straight into the hands of Hamas. It legitimizes their militancy in the eyes of Palestinian voters. In terms of the occupation, it’s curious that Gaza’s population came mostly from the towns they are firing upon with rockets. I actually lived in Ashkelon for two summers. I used to excavate (in my previous life as a middle eastern archaeologist in-trainging). You wouldn’t know this but during the era of the great Islamic caliphates, Ashkelon (Ascalon) was basically the second most important Islamic city in that region (after Jerusalem-Al Quds). All that Arab population got “ethnically cleansed” and forced into what is now the Gaza strip in 1948.

For more on this, see:

Today, Ashkelon is a beautiful seaside city, pretty calm and full of jewish Israelis, especially recent immigrants from Russia, Ukraine, and even places like Ethiopia, Argentina, and Cuba. In 1999 or 2000, the only Palestinians you saw there were laborers that lived in the Gaza strip 10 kilometers down the road. You could tell they were Gazans not by their physical appearance but by their clothes and their nervous demeanor. You could also notice how everybody else treated them linke Pariahs. (Trust me, I’be been to many messed up places in the world. I have never seen so much outright, insane, blatant racism as the anti-arab prejudice that I witnessed in the many months I spent in Israel). You will not believe the contrast between Gaza and Ashkelon. Even though they are not that far apart, they are like heaven and purgatory. Today, Gazans can’t even travel into Israel to find work as they did then. The bottom line is that Gazans have been the victims of an enormous injustice. Although I disagree with Hamas’ tactics, they are never going to stop fighting until they perceive that the injustices that Israel has historically committed against them have been corrected. No justice, no peace. If Israel wants to have peace in Ashkelon and Beersheva, they need to lift the siege and get their act together in terms of negotiating for peace in good faith. Once that happens, the moderates in Hamas and the PLO will recognize Israel’s right to exist and find a settlement. Even though Hamas has forever vowed to destroy Israel, they are not stupid. They are willing to settle with Israel, just as Arafat was during Oslo. Remember in the 80s when Arafat and his Fatah party used to be Israel’s big bad wolf? What happened? Rabin’s good faith attempts to negotiate led them to recognize Israel’s self-proclaimed right to exist. In one year, he turned from terrorist extraordinaire to Nobel peace prize recipient).

Your words: “Additionally, the tactics being employed by Hamas directly contradict military rules of engagement: Military troops are not wearing uniforms, civilians are purposefully being placed in harms way by Hamas, civilians are being used as troop shields, civilians are being used to lure Israeli troops, booby traps are being placed in situations where humanitarian aid is warranted, troops are massing in civilian aid structures, and weapons are being stored in schools, homes and hospitals; this list is not exhaustive.”

There is no denying that Palestinian militants sometimes use civilian buildings to take cover. This does not mean that Israel’s disproportionate killing of civilians is due to that. The UN has manifested with 100% certainty that there were no militants firing from the school which Israel bombed killing 43 civilians. BTW, this school was clearly marked with the UN flag and painted blue. The IDF had its coordinates. This is how "precise" Israel's attacks are. The 30 people from the Samouni family that also got killed recently were inside a house into which they had been evacuated by Israel. Survirors say that no one was firing from that house. Do you know what killed them? It was tank shelling. Akrem al-Ghoul, the father of Palestinian journalist Fares Akram, was killed by a bomb that dropped on his farm house in a field outside the urban areas. He was a former PA judge who quit his position when Hamas came to power because he was in favor of appeasement and disagreed with them. His family denies there were any militants in or near the house (the house is right next to the Norther Gaza border, in plain sight of Israel's right of defense. The closest advance for rocket launchers is reportedly 6km south of the farm).

In their newly created youtube and twitter pages, the IDF keeps pretending that they are only striking at Gaza with precision guided wepons. There, you can see videos of these (even though the press has discovered that some of these are from two years ago). This is a distortion of the truth. Every day, the IDF is firing upon the Gaza strip with artillery fire and tank shells. Pictures of these tanks and guns firing can be found all over the web. There is no such thing as a “smart shell.” What do you think is going to happen when you point a cannon that sits five kilometers away at the most densely populated place in the world (approx. 1,500 inhabitants per square kilometer)? It’s a no brainer: civilians are going to be hit, in massive numbers, regardless of whether or not Hamas uses them as human shields. The argument you claim here utterly ridiculous. Imagine that in the US, a man decides to rob a bank full of hostages. He ties them up and is even standing behind one of them, using her/him as a human shield. The police then decides to respond by bombing the bank with an F-16. Aftweards, when the relatives of all the people who died in the bank express their outrage, the police claim that it was all the bank robber’s fault because he took refuge behind them.

Now think about this. Israel is firing thousands of tank and artillery shells into Gaza every day (probably much more than they are firing smart bombs). They are also using white phosphorous and cluster munitions which have been banned by miltiple countries? Why? Because of the enormous civilian casualties and injuries they cause.


Even when they use “smart bombs” they kill civilians. This happened this week when an Israeli airstrike killed a family of innocent civilan Palestinians who were loading oxygen tanks into a truck.

Even if you send leaflets, text messages, phone calls, etc., you are SHELLING and BOMBING the most densely populated place in the world.

What you claim here is straight out of the Israeli government’s talking points. The Israeli government is waging a media war, trying to sterilize what they are doing as civilized versus what Hamas does. The truth though is that this is not so. Look at what the UNRWA staff working inside Gaza say. Look at what B’Tselem (Israel’s main human rights watchdog says).

Israel’s generals know that the tactics they use will have a civilian casualty rate. They know that when they fire upon a house or a moving vehicle with an Apache helicopter to kill a Hamas militant, they will kill all the civilians around that person. That militant is not shielding himself with civilians. He is simply surrounded by them, whether they are his family, neighbors, or passerbys. Israel has been using this controversial tactic of “targeted assassinations” for years. In response to critics, they say that civilians who die in these are “collateral damage.” In every armed conflict that they get involved, there is always the same elevated civilian death ratio.

Knowingly using war tactics that will inflict heavy civilian casualties is no different than a suicide bombing or a quassam rocket. In my book, it’s equally condemnable. Israeli generals and coronels know they will kill civilians. The only difference is that Israel has a sophisticated PR apparatus that is able to whitewash their actions as either accidental “collateral damage” or somehow the doing of Hamas.

Your words: “Let Hamas (and the PLO and Hizbullah) recognize Israel's right to exist and stop targeting civilians. Only then can both sides live in peace.”

Israel will never live in peace until they change their war tactics in a way that truly minimizes civilian casualties and ends the occupation. Collectively punishing 1.5 million people does not lead to peace. Killing 100 Palestinians for every dead Israeli does not lead to peace. Displacing millions of people into ghettos, refugee camps, and villages surrounded by wealthy settlements and partition walls does not lead to peace. It leads to resistance. I would prefer that resistance to be peaceful but after a while, when peaceful resistance is met with state violence, it never does. History shows us this. Look at what happened in South Africa. At first, Mandela and the ANC were committed to nonviolent resistance yet the Apartheid State responded with violence, arrests, torture, and an attempt to disarticulate any resistance. Ultimately, they started bombing apartheid structures (albeit in a way that avoided civilian casualties, something Palestinian freedom fighters have never done). I wish Hamas were the ANC but I can’t blame them for not being so nice. Violence begets violence. The only thing is that you don’t have two states firing upon each other. You have a jailer and you have a jailed population, an occupier and an occupied. In that situation, the responsibility to stop the cycle of violence rests with the jailer. They have the means of causing more destruction. The have the ability of rectifying the root injustice that causes some to feel so depressed, so utterly dehumanized and hopeless that they would rather strap on a bomb belt and blowe themselves up in public than have to face life.

Unfortunately, I would be a naïve person if I though this were an easy thing. The game of Israeli politics is very complex. There are more than dozen political parties represented in the Israeli parliament, and dozens more who are campaigning to be part of it. They even have a “Mens Rights in the Family” party (I kid you not). Israel is a parliamentary republic meaning that any prime minister needs majority rule. Many of these parties are as devoted to the permanent displacement of Palestinians from their “ancestral” Israel as there are Hamas militants bent on removing all jews from their “ancestral” Palestine. They are the ones that sabotaged Ehud Barak’s genuine attempts at peace in Tabah. Take it from me. I was in Israel at the time. Ariel Sharon was one of the main opponents to peace. When he decided to walk onto the muslim controlled Temple Mount with 1,000 body guards to declare that Jerusalem would forever remain the undivided capital of the Jews (as the Taba talks were underway), we knew well that this would derail the peace process. As a matter of fact, it not only did, it was the media image that provoked the Second Intifada. This is coming from a man who was prosecuted in the Hague for anti-Palestinian war crimes. Ultimately, he beat Barak, became prime minister, and founded that party that is in power now: Kadima. Bibi Netanyahu (the likeliest candidate to be the next prime minister of Israel) was another one whose campaing was premised on a strong refusal to make any major concessions to the Palestinians. When this changes (or rather when the world’s powers force Israel to change this), there will be peace. In the meantime, making war and killing civilians will remain a means for Israeli politicians to seek votes during election time.

Let me also remind you that the Arab League, the Palestinian Authority, and even Hamas have publicly embraced the possibility of a two-state settlement on the June 1967 border. Israel has always refused to agree at least in theory to that.

Here’s a quick quote from historian Norman Finkelstein:

“Every year, the United Nations General Assembly votes on a resolution entitled “Peaceful Settlement of the Palestine Question.” And every year the vote is the same: it’s the whole world on one side; Israel, the United States and some South Sea atolls and Australia on the other side. The vote this past year was 164-to-7. Every year since 1989—in 1989, the vote was 151-to-3, the whole world on one side, the United States, Israel and the island state of Dominica on the other side. ….The record shows for the past twenty or more years, the entire international community has sought to settle the conflict in the June 1967 border with a just resolution of the refugee question. Are all 164 nations of the United Nations the rejectionists? And are the only people in favor of peace the United States, Israel, Nauru, Palau, Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Australia? Who are the rejectionists? Who’s opposing a peace?”

So __, the bottom line is this: you are an academic. Please show some intelligence about this issue. Don’t lecture people with rehashed talking points that are straight out of Israel’s propaganda machinery. Also, don’t make simple minded suggestions such as: “let Hamas (and the PLO and Hizbullah) recognize Israel's right to exist and stop targeting civilians. Only then can both sides live in peace.” Leave those to the simple minded people. The world is more complex than that. Let's have an intelligent, nuanced conversation about this and let's not find ridiculous excuses to legitimize the killing of an enormous amount of people (on either side).

Sorry for the length of this response but I really hate talking points so I avoid responding in them. More than 4,000 have been injured and are being treaded in hospitals that lack medial supplies, staff, and sometimes electricity.

BTW, as of today, Israel has killed 971 Palestinians, including more than 400 women and children. In the same period, 13 Israelis have been killed, including three civilians hit by rocket fire and ten soldiers. Four of those soldiers died in friendly fire incidents. Before the current "Operation Cast lead" started and after the ceasefire was nullified by both sides, although Hamas did fire a barrage of rockets into Israel, I believe only one Israeli died. The facts speak for themselves. Do you still want to defend this killing of human beings? Seriously?


Monday, January 12, 2009

Nihi Ta FanChat Gi Fino' Chamoru Put Kachidon Hindi #11

Rashne: Hafa Adai Miget!

Miget: Hafa Adai Rashne! Hafa bidadå-mu på’go?

Rashne: Para bei fanegga’ kachido. Kao malago hao na ta hita na dos?

Miget: Buente. Dipende nai. Hafa pon egga’?

Rashne: Slumdog Millionare.

Miget: Oh, bula hiningok-hu put enao. Gof maolek hun. Manggana gui’ meggai na premu.

Rashne: Hu’u. Masusedi i mubi giya Mumbai, pinat gi sengsong i manaiguma’ siha.

Miget: Ya taotao Mumbai hao no?

Rashne: Hunggan, dumongkalo’ yu’ guihi. Meggaggai na hinasso-ku ginnen i tiempo-ku guihi.

Miget: Pues siempre nina’lamahalang hao ni’ este na kachido.

Rashne: Siña. Ti sumåga’ yu’ gi ayu na klasin songsong (ti taiguma’ i familia-ku). Lao yanggen mana’mali’e i otro na lugat Mumbai siha, siempre bei tungo’ siha, ya bei hahasso iyo-ku “home.”

Miget: Teneki dinilok hao tuiguini put i hinatme giya Mumbai gi i ma’pos na såkkan.

Rashne: Hunggan. Gof mahalang yu’ para i ciudåd-hu yan i familia-ku ni’ mañasåga’ ha’ guihi.

Miget: Hu’u. Manggaisuette hit na tåya’ mandano’ annai ma hatme.

Rashne: På’go ha’ manhasso yu’.

Miget: Hafa?

Rashne: Todu tiempo kumuentos hao put i “trauma” i islå-mu. I sinisedin i Chamoru duranten i gera, ya taimånu muma’ma’ok ha’ esta ki på’go. Gaigaige ha’ i pinadesi gi halom i tahtaotao i manåmko’, yan guaha nai humalom gi i lina’la’ i ti manla’la’ tribiha gi ayu na tiempo. I famagu’on-ñiha yan grandchildren-ñiha.

Miget: Hunggan.

Rashne: Siña hu komprende hao ti gof different i lina’la’-hu, lao ti mismo gumera i familia-ku kulang Håmyo. Lao kada noskuåntos na såkkan giya Mumbai manmahatme ham taiguihi. Hu gof hasso este siha, pi’ot ginnen annai patgon yu’. Guaha nai mambomba, guaha nai manriot. Ya este na hinatme siha iyon-måmi “trauma.” Este siha i hiniyong i geran-måmi ni’ ti mismo gera. I inafa’sahnge India yan Pakistan.

Miget: Tåya’ nai hu konsedera enao. Lao magåhet yang of tahdong.

Rashne: Pues nahong este na kuentos. Nihi ta?

Miget: Hunggan! Lao Hågu umapåpasi. Ya i otro na kachido ta egga’ put Guahån, bai hu apåsi.

Rashne: Dugeru.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Israel yan Guahan

Another article on the Israel attack in Gaza. This time from Salon. Its a very good one. Its been getting so tough to find good pieces by liberals and progressives in the United States on this issue, especially since Democrats are deciding to show their bi-partisan spirit with Republicans over this issue, and argue that Israel can do whatever it wants to create a "durable" ceasefire. What the hell kind of rules of engagement are these?

You might find it weird that a blog which is pinat put Guam and Chamorro stuff, would be re-posting so many articles about the crisis in Gaza. Sometimes I think its a little strange to, that the behavior of Israel can enrage me so much. Different parts of the world, very different circumstances, histories, power relations.

But, at the same time, in this wealth of differences, there are always this small, tiny, gof dikike' na clues, that hint at some absent, yet nonetheless potent tie, a link, especially in the way both relate to the United States. For instance, did you know that both Guam and Israel are considered by analysts and military planners as "unsinkable aircraft carriers?" Both Guam and Israel, represent crucial power projection points, places which by virtue of their strength, or the secure control the United States has over them, and also by virtue of their being surrounded by "oceans" of American enemies, are considered to be indispensable to United States interests, and also supposedly something which "cannot" be sunk or lost.

Guam and Israel embody this term in different ways, hence the convoluted nature of the last sentence. Guam as an "unsinkable aircraft carrier" captures the longstanding American military and national relationship to the island, in that it is something which is first and foremost a military asset, a weapon, something owned and used by the United States for its security interests. And in this sense, Guam as something which sits on the edge of Asia, with a Air Force, Navy and soon to be built Marine bases, is truly an American aircraft carrier, perfectly primed for future threats from the region, which will be difficult to "sink."

Israel, floats atop an ocean of land based enemies. The more than 3 billion dollars in military resources that the United States pumps into Israel each year, ensure that it will continue to be America's Samson in the Middle East full of Philistines. Israel bristles at the teeth with all this weaponry and aid, and is far more militarily advanced than all its neighbors. This power however is not what makes Israel "unsinkable."

The unsinkability in both of these cases might appear on the surface to be related to the amount of firepower that can be crammed into these small locations, or the amount of force projection that can be squeezed out of them. In reality however, their unsinkable status has much more to do with their political/discursive relationships to the United States, then their military ones. (regardless their political ones determine their military ones). To put it another way, their unsinkability emerges from what strings or lack of strings we find to their status and their relationship to the United States.

For Guam, its unsinkable in the sense that it in the minds of the United States military and its government exists beyond contestation politically. It is not just a land mass that can survive potential bombs and still project American force, but it is a force projection point which exists as America's without any questions of America's legitimacy in holding Guam or militarizing it. The unsinkability is Guam is this status, this control over Guam without any strings attached, that it can be the tip of America's spear and there will be no local, national or international uproars or questions asked.

For Israel, it is the opposite. Its unsinkability is such because it has to be. The United States is so heavily invested in protecting this bastion of whiteness and "western civilization" in the region, that Israel has to be called unsinkable to produce it as such. Israel is the key deterrent in the Middle East, to keep the entire region from seeking more regional autonomy or becoming a counter hegemonic force to the United States or Europe. Israel has to be unsinkable, it has to be something with a "special" and unquestionable relationship to the United States, because if it does not, then American control or foreign policy in the region could fall apart.

I first wrote "publicly" about this possible link five years ago in a letter to the editor of the Pacific Daily News. The letter to the editor itself was about Guam's decolonization, and why its an important issue that Chamorros, and also responding to recent letters to the editor that I'd been reading which decried the possibility of Guam's decolonization as a horrific, anti-American, wasteful, taisetbe and racist thing.

One of the the things which has always frustrated me is that the United States government has long argued that a political status vote in which Chamorros get to pick their next political status is racist and violates the principles of American constitutionalism, and therefore cannot take place. To allow it to take place would be to support "race-based" democracy. Or say that America supports the formalization of one groups rights based on race or ethnicity over another.

The connection to Israel should be obvious, since although the country and its allies never fail to make known that Israel is the only "democracy" in the Middle East and the only one in which women are free to wear bikinis, it is one which is absolutely racial, and one which the United States whole-heartedly endorses. Here's an excerpt from my letter:

Or what about the Constitution? Answer me this: Where is the justice when you argue using a document which supposedly defends everyone’s right to vote, while not giving anyone on Guam the right to vote for president, a vote in Congress? Why does the US get to turn the constitution on and off when they make policy? Why is it wrong to deny non-Chamorros one vote, but it is right for the United States to deny everyone on Guam the right to any vote? Why is it just to discriminate based on geography, but unjust to discriminate based on ethnicity? People should really figure out their self-determination arguments before they start writing letters.

Besides America, doesn’t seem to have any problems supporting Israeli self-determination. American support for Israel is yet another incidence of conditional constitutionality. In Israel, millions of Palestinians are denied the right to vote, and sometimes the right to live. On a day to day basis America funds this regime based on race and racism, with diplomatic, military and monetary support, which far exceeds anything it has given Guam. Anyone who wants to argue against a plebiscite or a Chamorro only-vote, must first explain to me why the United States is willing to spend billions and billions of dollars each year to support Israeli self-determination, but can’t spare $150,000 for Chamorro self-determination?

As of today however, the links between Israel and Guam is taking a whole new dimension because of my dissertation. My dissertation, for those who don't read this blog regularly, is on American colonialism, Guam and the role that Guam (and its exceptional status) plays in producing America as a sovereign, full entity. When I look at Israel's settler activities that have intensified over the past few years, and also played a role in shifting the government itself towards some ridiculous rightist, embattled frontier mentality, I see a stark contrast between the different types of colonialism that these two sites represent.

Both Guam and Israel/Palestine are colonial worlds, but lie at different ends of the spectrum of American "exceptionalism."

One is banal, comfortable, hardly suffering, yet still a violent and constantly violated site nonetheless, although all in the name of American national interests, militarization or Guam/Chamorro dependency. Guam is shrouded in a lack of knowledge, a distant site, whose colonial credentials are always in doubt for a multitude of reasons. Whatever colonialism Guam is today, what its mired in, stuck in, stuck with, all escapes the imaginations of everyone around the world, including in Guam. When discussions of Guam as a colony today are started, one central point of resistance is that it is not suffering enough, it is not violent enough and shouldn't complain.

The continuing Israel settling and dominating of Palestine is clearly colonialism and clearly violent and very visceral. In the past 10 days close to 1000 Palestinians have died, and prior to this the Gaza strip was being clamped down on and life made completely miserable for those there. Israel's hopes from this war and their other acts of occupations and domination are all colonial. And while around the world people recognize this fact, in the United States calling this colonialism, even amongst liberal circles will elicit the most ridiculous resistance and responses. America's perspective on Israel is so incredibly skewed, that despite the wall to wall non-stop coverage of the war, and so many in-depth news pieces on the suffering of those Israelis who have to deal with the regular rocket attacks, Joe the Plumber is heading to Israel to get the "real side" to the plight of the Israeli people in this fight.

I'm sure as time passes I'll reflect more on this. But in the meantime, here's the article:


The Israel Rules
Gary Kamiya
Jan. 6, 2009

As Israel continues its Gaza assault, which has now resulted in more than 500 dead and 2,300 wounded Palestinians, with five Israelis killed, the following thought experiment is worth performing.

America's founding sin, its dispossession of its native inhabitants, has not taken place in the 19th century, but continuously during the last 60 years. America has not completed its ethnic cleansing, has walled off millions of exiles and must contend with an armed resistance movement. Washington, despite international demands and U.N. insistence that it do so, refuses to resolve the issue by returning a portion of the land it had taken. Approximately 1.5 million of those native Americans, most of them refugees from their ancestral homes who have never been allowed to return, are imprisoned in a tiny, squalid area whose exits, water, heat, fuel, medicine and food are controlled by Washington. In their despair and their disillusionment with their corrupt leadership, those people elect a radical, rejectionist movement (which Washington had helped to foster, to undercut the native's original leadership) that denies America's right to exist and has a history of viciously striking at U.S. citizens using any means it can, including suicide bombers and crude homemade rockets that have killed two dozen Americans in seven years.

To punish these people for choosing a government it considers a terrorist organization, Washington imposes a harsh blockade, with a top American official joking that the U.S. is going to put the natives "on a diet." The rejectionist government agrees to a cease-fire with the expectation that the blockade will be lifted. When the blockade is not lifted, and following a U.S. raid into their territory, the rejectionists begin firing the rockets again. Washington then launches a carefully planned aerial assault on the tiny, largely defenseless area, raining bombs down on one of the most densely populated places on earth, killing militants and civilians alike and bombing houses filled with women and children. It then launches a ground invasion of the area. Throughout, America paints itself as an innocent victim, which has been forced with a heavy heart to take surgical, conscientious military actions against terrorist fanatics who threaten its very existence.

to the current Gaza invasion is not, of course, exact. Israel is a tiny state, a fraction the size of the U.S. The Indians never posed a serious threat to American settlers, nor did they have neighboring allies who launched an all-out war on the U.S. in 1776. Nor were large tracts of American territory acquired by legally purchasing them from absentee native landlords. But the larger parallels remain. If such a scenario had taken place, how would the world and America react? At a minimum, there would be massive protests. Large numbers of American citizens would take to the streets, denouncing the slaughter and insisting that their government reach a political settlement with the natives.

Much of the rest of the world is outraged by Israel's assault on Gaza. But the United States -- the beacon of democracy, the champion of freedom, a nation founded on revolutionary anti-colonialism -- is applauding it.

The Bush administration has placed the onus for the Israeli assault entirely upon Hamas, and blocked a cease-fire proposal in the U.N. Security Council to give Israel more time to crush its foe. Congress -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- is almost unanimously behind Israel's war. This, despite the fact that polls show that American citizens are closely divided on whether Israel should have attacked Gaza. As my Salon colleague Glenn Greenwald has noted, there is no other issue in which "citizens split almost evenly in their views, yet the leaders of both parties adopt identical lockstep positions which leave half of the citizenry with no real voice."

Whatever President-elect Barack Obama may think about the attack, or the larger Israeli-Palestinian crisis, he has remained prudently silent. So far his only circulating statement is a fatuous comment made during the campaign -- and promptly trotted out by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak to justify the assault -- that if his house with his daughters in it were being subjected to rocket attacks, he would "do everything in my power to stop that." Obama may have a clear mandate to change America's direction in the Middle East, but even he has deemed it too politically dangerous to say anything critical of Israel.

After five years of George W. Bush's "war on terror," a war whose ideology and methods followed Israel's militarist approach to the letter, and which has failed in every conceivable way, America has still not learned that there are no military solutions in the Middle East.
America is backing Israel's assault despite the fact that it is seriously injurious to our national interests, and ultimately to Israel's as well. Israel's actions will not make it safer, and in the long run could endanger its very existence. But Israel, surrounded by a sea of enemies, has far more reason to cling to its belief in militarism than America does.

Why does America give Israel a blank check to do what it wants, even when its actions are so manifestly contrary to our self-interest? Because we hold Israel to a different standard than other states. We follow what we might call "the Israel rules."

In their groundbreaking 2006 book, historians John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt popularized the term "The Israel lobby." The term is useful as far as it goes, and applies accurately to powerful lobbies like AIPAC. But as one of the more perceptive commentators on Middle Eastern affairs, Time's Tony Karon, noted in his Rootless Cosmopolitan blog, the term is insufficiently dialectical -- that is, it fails to capture the way Americans have internalized received opinions about Israel. "The Israel rules," on the other hand, avoids imputing coercive power solely to an entity or group of entities, and highlights the fact that many of the constraints that govern discussions of Israel are self-generated.

"Pro-Israel" commentators -- I use the scare quotes because many of them are Likudnik hawks whose policies are, in fact, harmful to Israel -- argue that Americans have always felt an affinity for Israel because it is a plucky, embattled democracy, a national soul mate. While there is a lot of sentimental "land without a people" nonsense in this argument, it is not entirely devoid of truth. There is much to admire in the astonishing self-creation of the Jewish state. Had it not been for the inconvenient presence of an indigenous people, it would have been cause for unalloyed celebration. And this feeling of kinship is immeasurably strengthened and sanctified by the most potent historical fact behind the special status America has accorded Israel: the Holocaust.

Because Israel came into existence in the shadow of the Holocaust, and because it was immediately attacked by Arab states bent on destroying it, it has become an eternal victim in America's eyes. The historical truths of Israel's creation, above all the fact of Palestinian dispossession, simply cannot compete with the tragic, beautiful myth of an embattled people, the survivors of one of the worst genocides in human history, returning to live in their historic homeland. The enduring power of this myth is understandable. The idea that history's "ultimate victims," as the late Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said sympathetically called the Jews, created their own state by expelling its native inhabitants, is appalling. It seems almost cosmically wrong: A story this dark should not, cannot, close without a happy ending.

That is the emotional and psychological nut. Throw in geo-strategic reasons (the U.S. embraced Israel as a Cold War bulwark against Soviet expansion), a powerful domestic lobby, and the singular ineptitude of the Arab world in general and the Palestinians in particular, and you have the ingredients for an enduring myth. When other states refuse to make just compromises and insist on smashing their enemies into submission, we call them rogue states. When Israel does it, it is fighting off an eternal Holocaust, and that gives it carte blanche to do whatever it wants. Never mind the fact that the Palestinians do not pose an existential threat to Israel, and that over the last eight years between 200 and 300 Palestinians have been killed for every Israeli. As the occupation grinds into its seventh decade and Israel's enemies have become ever more fanatical, it becomes easier to fit them out with Hitler masks. The Palestinians have played the role of villains beautifully, making the myth seem increasingly plausible.

Not everyone believes the myth. In fact, only a minority of Americans do. But the Israel rules must be obeyed nonetheless, lest one be accused of anti-Semitism, radicalism, sympathy for terrorists, or, more subtly, lest one anger or offend one's friends and acquaintances. The Israel rules apply to Jews and non-Jews alike. Courageously outspoken American Jews like Joe Klein, Philip Weiss, Richard Silverstein and M.J. Rosenberg are routinely savaged for daring to deviate from the party line on Israel. Not many choose to subject themselves to this abuse, especially when much of it comes from your own friends, from your political cohort, from your people. Much easier to remain silent. Why has the New York Times run only one Op-Ed piece during the entire Gaza assault, while not a single one of its columnists weighed in until Bill Kristol's predictable defense of Israel on Monday? Because it's an unpleasant, no-win subject.

The subject of Israel splits the American left and the American intelligentsia, a fact that has had far-reaching consequences. As the historian Tony Judt has persuasively argued, divisions over Israel are a large part of the reason that the left's response to Bush's Iraq war was so feeble. Judt's piece, not surprisingly, was published by the London Review of Books, as was the Mearsheimer and Walt article that grew into their book. Ironically, there is a much more freewheeling debate about Israel's policies in Israel's superb newspaper Haaretz than there is any American paper. In a searing recent piece in the paper, "And there lie the bodies," Gideon Levy argued that Israel's indifference to Palestinian casualties is a sign of a collective moral collapse. "The moral voice of restraint, if it ever existed, has been left behind. Even if Israel wiped Gaza off the face of the earth, killing tens of thousands in the process, as a Chechnyan laborer working in Sderot proposed to me, one can assume that there would be no protest," Levy wrote. No such piece could ever appear in any mainstream American publication.
As any student of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis knows, the best work on it has been done by Israelis. From Amos Elon to David Grossman, from Benny Morris (notwithstanding his later incarnation as an unabashed exponent of ethnic cleansing) to Ilan Pappe, from Amira Hass to Tom Segev, Israeli writers and historians have done the painstaking and courageous work that has made it possible to begin dismantling their state's founding myths and see it for what it is -- neither a supervillain nor a superhero, but a state like any other, which should be judged by the same standards as any other.

One of the reasons many people of good will are reluctant to speak out is that in one sense, the Israel rules reflect values and beliefs that are wholly admirable. Siding with Israel is a way of announcing solidarity with the Jewish people and a rejection of anti-Semitism. It is, in a sense, an apparently benign form of ethnic affirmative action: Israel gets extra credit on its moral SAT test. But affirmative action for Israel is like affirmative action for blacks. It is a concept with a sunset provision, one that must eventually fade away.

After 60 years of lockstep U.S. support, the era of Israeli exceptionalism must end. It is no longer justifiable, if it ever was. America may continue to have a "special relationship" with Israel, but that special relationship must be strictly limited: It cannot be allowed to damage America's larger interests. Israel is not synonymous with some transcendental, sentimental idea of Jewishness. It is simply a state, neither perfect nor imperfect, and must be treated like any other state. We can no longer afford to follow the Israel rules.

We cannot afford to for three reasons. First, Israel's current war, which it snuck in at a "perfect time" during the holidays and in the last days of its greatest "friend" and "supporter," George W. Bush, is immoral and illegal. Yes, Israel has the right to defend itself, like any other state. But not all acts of self-defense are legally or morally equivalent.

Israel is "defending itself" against a people that it dispossessed and has occupied for decades, and specifically by bombing a densely populated territory that it has been collectively punishing for a year and a half. Collective punishment is illegal under the Geneva Conventions. By bombing universities, mosques, lines of graduating police recruits, farms and houses filled with women and children, Israel is violating the law of proportional response. It is the same strategy it pursued in its disastrous 2006 war against Lebanon, when it fired thousands of cluster bombs into civilian areas in the south so as to force a Shiite population transfer, and piling up heaps of corpses with the purpose of "bolstering its deterrence." Such actions, in which civilian casualties are accepted or even pursued in the interests of achieving strategic goals, are a textbook form of state terrorism, and under the circumstances of Israel's vise-grip on Palestinian lives, no more morally justifiable than Hamas' repellent attacks. America should not be supporting such actions, whether they are carried out by an ally or not.

Second, Israel's actions are harming America. In the eyes of the world, and in particular the Arab-Muslim world, whatever Israel does might as well have been done by America. We fund Israel to the tune of $3 billion a year, we provide its advanced weaponry and we carry diplomatic water for it. In effect, Israel is the U.S. Obviously, if its actions are harmful to our national interests, we should oppose them. And the Gaza assault is clearly inimical to our interests, unless one believes that making deadly enemies of most Arabs and Muslims in the world, and making the possibility of Israeli-Palestinian peace even more remote is in our national interests. One of the things that motivated Osama bin Laden to launch the 9/11 attacks was televised film of Israel bombing Beirut apartment buildings during its 1982 war. What burning hatred is being grown in Arab/Muslim hearts as Gaza explodes? And what bitter harvest will it produce?

Finally, Israel's actions are not in its own interest. As Talleyrand said of Napoleon's murder of the Duc d'Enghien, Israel's attack on Gaza is worse than a crime -- it is a blunder. Israel is attempting once again to ensure its security by killing its enemies, while refusing to acknowledge the reasons for their enmity or to pursue a just political settlement that would resolve the conflict. As Haaretz editor-at-large Aluf Benn, a perceptive analyst of the Israeli polity, pointed out in Salon, there are deep historical reasons for Israel's allegiance to a doctrine of overwhelming military superiority. It's a doctrine that goes back to the father of revisionist Zionism, Ze'ev Jabotinsky, who insisted that Israel must break its foes' will to resist with an "iron wall." But as the last 60 years have shown, that live-by-the-sword ethos not only does not work, it is self-defeating.

Israel deserves lasting security. But it cannot kill its way into it. It may succeed in temporarily reducing the number of homemade rockets that Hamas fires into southern Israel. It may kill some Hamas leaders and militants and set back Hamas. As Benn notes, the Israeli assault has extremely modest strategic aims, and is merely intended to buy time: It is just "another one of Israel's long list of cross-border operations."

In this light, the 2008 Gaza war is little different from the Gaza raid of 1955 led by Ariel Sharon, in which Israeli paratroopers destroyed the Egyptian army headquarters on the outskirts of Gaza City, killing 37 Egyptian soldiers. The parallels between that raid and Israel's current assault are striking. According to historian Avi Shlaim in his classic "The Iron Wall," the 1955 raid was ordered by Israeli Defense Minister David Ben-Gurion to assuage public anger over terrorist fedayeen attacks, prove that he was a strong leader and "cut [Egyptian president Gamal Abdul] Nasser down to size by exposing the military impotence of his regime." Substitute Ehud Barak for Ben-Gurion, rocket attacks for fedayeen raids and Hamas for Nasser, and nothing has changed in 53 years. Except one crucial thing: The entire Arab-Muslim world now instantly sees the bloody consequences of Israel's actions on television.

And just as the 1955 Gaza raid did not end fedayeen attacks or diminish Nasser, any short-term security Israel may gain from its Gaza assault will be outweighed by the long-term deterioration of its strategic position. The Israeli attack will not finish off Hamas; it will eventually make it stronger, just as Israel's 2006 war against Lebanon made Hezbollah stronger. It will not crush the Palestinian desire for justice, or, sadly, for vengeance. It will not dry up the hatred that has poisoned so many minds on both sides of this tragic conflict -- it will only make it worse. It will not "teach the Arabs a lesson," or change the regional dynamic in its favor. It will only weaken Mahmoud Abbas and the moderate Arab states, which are increasingly seen by their people as quisling regimes. If Israel continues along this course, it will isolate itself from the rest of the world, which will increasingly see it as a rogue state.

I hold no brief for Hamas. Its use of terror is morally repellent, and its charter is filled with anti-Semitism. But one does not get to choose one's enemies -- and they are the ones you must make peace with. And at least a temporary peace is still possible. As the veteran Mideast analyst Helena Cobban has noted, Hamas is not a monolithic group of fanatical terrorists. It is prepared to sign off on a long-term truce with Israel.

Contrary to the Holocaustology that sees all Israel's enemies as the second coming of Adolf Hitler, Hamas is not the problem; it is a symptom. Treating it as the problem only prolongs the crisis. The problem is political and historical: the dispossession of Palestinians and the ongoing Israeli occupation of their land. Until that fundamental problem is resolved -- and the hour when it can be resolved by a two-state solution may already have passed -- Israel and America's attempts to bludgeon Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims into submission will only generate more hatred, more violence and ever more extremism.

What the gung-ho war hawks in Israel and America do not realize is that if Israel continues down this road, it will jeopardize its very existence. The world has changed, and time is not on Israel's side. Israel has always been surrounded by neighbors who detest it. Some of those states are ruled by regimes that have been bought off by the U.S., such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Afraid of their own Islamist radicals, they have remained largely silent as Israel has pounded Hamas. But those regimes will not last forever, and there is no guarantee that their successors will embrace the same policies. The real danger to Israel is radical Islam. Jihadism is the X factor that could threaten Israel's survival. Popular rage at Israel across the Arab-Muslim world has been festering for decades, and outrages like the Lebanon war and the Gaza assault have brought it to a boil. With their fury deprived of an outlet by their corrupt and sclerotic regimes, more and more Muslims are turning to religious radicalism.

Israel knows this story only too well because it helped create it. Israel strengthened Hamas in the 1980s because it wanted to undercut the PLO. Now it is trying to undercut Hamas, and by doing so, is strengthening al-Qaida-like jihadists. It is as if Israel actually wants to turn its political enemies into religious ones, so that it can convince itself and the world that it has no choice but to exterminate or be exterminated. In an age of portable weapons of mass destruction and suicidal zealots, this is not a wise strategy.

If the U.S. was truly Israel's best friend, as it claims it is, it would tell it unequivocally that its Gaza war and its larger policy of trying to pound its foes into submission is not just immoral, but counterproductive and injurious both to Israel's interests and America's. It would insist on an immediate cease-fire, which includes the lifting of the Israeli siege of Gaza, and begin pressuring both sides to accept a long-term political settlement, along the lines of the Arab League peace plan, the Clinton parameters and the Geneva Accords. It would bolster Abbas by dismantling settlements in the West Bank, removing checkpoints and improving Palestinian lives. It would insist that the best and only way to undermine the radical rejectionists and the jihadists (who are not the same thing) is through a just peace.

In the end, this isn't about ideology but results. The region is in chaos, hard-liners are gaining power and peace is further away than ever. President-elect Obama claims to be a pragmatist. This is his chance to prove it. He has the opportunity to change course, to start pursuing Mideast policies that work. He must make it clear to Israel that the blank check is expired, the amen corner disbanded.

If Obama has the wisdom and courage to reject the Israel rules, he can begin to broker a lasting Mideast peace, weaken extremists, restore America's standing in the region and ensure Israel's long-term viability. If he doesn't, the wound will simply keep festering, and the infection will keep spreading.


Related Posts with Thumbnails