Tag: Israel

GazaOn July 7, 2014, Israeli began a full scale assault on the Gaza Strip, a self-governing Palestinian territory.  the assault claimed the lives of more than 1,600 men, women and children.   The conflict was a culmination of long-simmering tensions between Israel and the Palestinians.  The Israeli government has made it clear that it wants Hamas to recognize its right to exist.  Hamas has called for a Palestinian state on the land it believes belongs to the Palestinian people.  Multiple foreign governments have made an attempt to mediate the dispute, most notably Egypt.  The role of the United States has generally been in support of its ally Israel.  The vicious assault  was captured and uploaded by Palestinians to such sites as Twitter and Facebook.   The images on social media only tell part of the story of the realities faced by the Palestinians who found themselves under siege and facing an opponent superior in both weapons and finances.  The full story of what was happening inside the Gaza Strip is a much darker and tragic story, revealed here as the Palestinians are given a platform to the break the silence surrounding their experiences under occupation.

Before reading this book, I do believe it is a good idea for readers to brush up on the conflict’s history.  One source that I can recommend is Ilan Pappe’s ‘A History of Modern Palestine ‘, which I have found to be an in-depth and thought provoking compendium on the Palestinian people, their home and the creation of the State of Israel.   A solid understanding of the conflict will undoubtedly highlight why this book is so important. It is a story that I am sure no reader will ever forget.

As a warning, the book contains graphic descriptions of bombings, shootings and other forms of military force.  The devastating results are tough to read at times and I found myself on more than one occasion wondering when the carnage would end.  Quite frankly, this book is not for the faint at heart. It is dark, gritty and without a happy ending. The damage to the Palestinian homeland and psyche is on full display and Israel flexes its military might.  The voices in the book are not soldiers or even leaders, but farmers, reporters, businessmen and others who find ways to survive in a system that resembles apartheid in South Africa and the ghettos of Poland in World War II.  Some of the deplorable conditions Palestinians live in, include a largely inoperative sewage system,  lack of water, restricted exports and woefully understaffed and under-equipped medical facilities.  Famine, disease and infection are the usual culprits aside from violence that have nearly broken the will of the Palestinian people.

I would like to point out that some of the tensions that do exist are not solely the cause of Israel. Hamas has been labeled a terrorist organization and its actions at times have not helped peace negotiations.  Whether its removal from Palestine will finally result in peace remains to be seen.  In December, 2016, the United Nations passed resolution 2334 condemning Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories.  The United States abstained from voting.  The reacting by Israel was swift and denounced by the Israeli government. For Palestinians and the international community, it was seen as a first step towards truly achieving a legitimate two-State existence.

To understand why life in Gaza exist the way it does, we must first ask why does Israel keep the Palestinians in such conditions?  There are many answers here and some of what is revealed might surprise some readers.   Money plays a role in nearly every major conflict and certainly does here, but the anti-Arab propaganda and horrific acts of discrimination against Arabs are some of the most shocking parts of the book.  The xenophobic thoughts are not just from random common folk, but also espoused by members of government, in effect providing a license to kill to those who believe in extremism.  Readers who are sensitive to this type of subject matter might want to use discretion.

In spite of the many dark lessons to be learned here, there is a bright side.  Voices for change can be heard on both sides of the conflict.  Older Israelis angered by the actions of their government and the younger generation have become more vocal in voicing opposition to the conditions in the Gaza Strip. The social media platforms that unmasked the devastation have also been used to gather support for a new approach by those who wish to see the conflict end.  And there are many who believe that attitudes on all sides are slowly changing and that peace is a real possibility.  But before that can happen, the truth about the Palestinian experience and life in Gaza has to be told.

ASIN: B019136FE6

Middle East

contra1I still remember the video footage taken during the live testimony of Lt. Col. Oliver North (Ret.), as Congress sought to unravel  interconnected covert operations that revolved around Iran, Israel and Nicaragua. North appeared on television in full military dress, earing the sympathy and admiration of a large segment of American citizens.  There were some who felt he should have been incarcerated and that his actions were a dishonor to the very uniform he had on.   Regrettably, his testimony did little to help fully understand what had really taken place.  And even my father who follows politics and news religiously did not fully understand what had taken place.  What was clear, is that the administration of President Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) had engaged in questionable and possibly illegal activities that sent shockwaves of panic through Reagan’s cabinet and raised alarm bells on Capitol Hill.  As more information came to light, the media began to call it the Iran-Contra scandal and even today, it is still known by that description.  It remains one of the darkest moments of Reagan’s time in office.  Author Malcolm Byrne revisits the Iran-Contra scandal to tell the full truth about how and why it developed, and the actions of a president abusing the powers of the Oval Office. 

If you have decided to read this book, I am sure that there is a good chance that you are already familiar with the Iran-Contra scandal. But even if you are not, the story will still be of interest and easy to follow. The story begins by revisiting the events of October 5, 1986, when a C-123 plane carrying arms for the contras fighting the Sandinista government is shot down while over Nicaraguan airspace.  Several days later, a revelation on Iranian television sent Washington in panic mode.  Nearly everyone began to question the actions of Reagan and his cabinet.  The full story was carefully hidden from the public through omissions and in some cases, deception.   Here we have the whole account and Byrne take us on quite a ride as he peels back the layers of obfuscation employed by key officials close to the President.

Although prior knowledge of the events that gave way to the scandal is not necessary, I do believe that it will help if the reader has some prior knowledge of the political climate of Central America and the Middle East during the time period in which the scandal took place.  In fact, the histories of Nicaragua, Honduras, Israel, El Salvador an Iran are all relevant to the information that Byrne is presenting to the reader.   The fear of a communist expansion under the thumb of the Soviet Union, continued to shape U.S. foreign policy following World War II.  The rise of left-leaning and popular figures across Latin America had caused Washington to pay close attention and subvert several governments through the Central Intelligence Agency.  Central America became the next battle ground and as Byrne shows, Reagan intended to pull out all of the stops.

There are many acronyms in the book due to the complexity of Washington’s design with regards to intelligence and foreign policy.  Several departments play a role in the story and Byrne keeps track of them all, keeping the story flowing smoothly.  Chapters one through twelve alternate between Iran and Nicaragua. It was a good decision by the author, for it allows the reader to focus one part of the story before going to the next and then back again.  The two tracks eventually merge but not before Byrne provides a ton of staggering and shocking information.  When the tracks do merge, the book takes another turn as Reagan’s cabinet goes into damage control and the full weight of Congress comes down on his administration.

The hearings and testimony are summarized here so readers should not expect full transcripts but only snippets of the most critical statements.   In fact, the section regarding the hearings and prosecutions by the Department of Justice do not make up a large portion of the book.  The majority is devoted to the developments in Central American and the Middle East.  But that in no way diminishes the importance of the later chapters and they are just as surprising as the rest of the book.

One section in the book that caught my attention was the discussion about Reagan’s health.  Putting aside the attempted assassination in 1981, there were other health issues that arose during his presidency that caused many to question whether he was fit for office.  His actions and later testimony provide evidence that the conditions he later suffered from, had began to manifest as early as the 1980s. Byrne does not give Reagan a pass because of this but is equally mystified at how he was able to function.  He also makes a compelling point regarding Reagan’s mental state and his interactions with subordinates. It is certainly food for thought about the 40th President of the United States.

America has always said that it does not negotiate with terrorist.   On the surface it sounds tough and gives off the impression that the United States can take as hardline of a stance as anyone else.  However,  the events described in this book, challenge that position and Byrne’s research shows that negotiation became as common as public denials.  For many Americans, the scandal is an afterthought.  Reagan died in 2004 and the suriving members from his cabinet who are still alive had faded out of the public light, well into their later years in age.  However, I do believe that the story is still important in light of the recent events regarding the administration of Donald J. Trump.  Impeachment and investigations are two words that give rise to fear and concern but the founding fathers knew early on that such a system of governing was needed if the United States would truly be a democracy.  Future presidents may also want to read this book so that they too are never accused of abuse of power.

This account of the Iran-Contra scandal lays it all out for the reader to digest. It is an incredible and unnerving story about the very dark side of United States foreign policy.  Highly recommended.

ISBN-10: 0700625909
ISBN-13: 978-0700625901

American History Latin America

FindlayThe title alone is enough to grab a person’s attention.  Because of the subject matter, it was bound to stir controversy for it touches a topic that remains taboo thirty-seven years after its publication.  And with the events this past week regarding the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, the contents of this book are as important now as they were then. Before you attempt to read this book, it is critical to understand the difference between Judaism and what is referred to as Zionism. There is a fundamental difference between the two that is often forgotten as charges of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel bias are leveled against those who dare to speak out.   However, what I have learned from this book, is critical to understanding how our world functions and why peace is seemingly an impossible objective to accomplish in the Middle East.

For those who are of the Jewish faith, before reading this book, you must understand that you will learn many things that are not pleasant.  And the temptation to feel or believe that the author is an anti-Semite might rise to the surface. But I caution you that any notion of Paul Findley (1921-) being anti-Semitic is far from the truth.  In fact, Findley was U.S. Representative from Illinois from 1960-1982 and supported Israel at many times during his career. I firmly believe it is underestimated by many Americans, how much power and influence the Israeli lobby holds over the U.S. Government. Foreign policy and aid is highly scrutinized by the lobby and anything deemed to detrimental to the existence of Israel is quickly condemned and crushed, even at the expense of possible peace with its Arab neighbors.

I can only imagine how much pressure Findley had to endure to see this book all the way through.  He discloses the difficulty in finding a publisher for a subject which many were reluctant to touch out of fear of severe backlash.  In staying the course and braving the opposition, he has compiled the book that should be read by every American concerned with the past and future of the United States.  You might ask yourself, is I agree with the material in the book, does it make me anti-Semitic? No it does not.  Personally, I have Jewish friends and even dated a woman of the Jewish faith.  I was never taught hate growing up and my parents invited everyone into their home regardless of creed, ethnicity and even sexual orientation.   However my parents did teach us to examine all sides of an issue and make a decision based off of what is known and not by what is assumed.  And it is for that reason that I believe this book is a critical read.

The book is not only an account of Findley’s difficulty in taking a strong stance on the Israeli lobby, but other politicians throughout history who have taken on the machine.  Some of the names will be familiar to readers such as Dwight Eisenhower (1890-1969) and William J. Fulbright (1905-1995). Other names will be known only by few but their stories are as important as the rest in understanding the costs associated with speaking the truth about U.S. foreign policy regarding Israel.  Careers were destroyed and lives ruined by those with a vested interest in maintaining a power hold over legislation and the media.  The stories are too high in number to reveal here but I can say is that you might be surprised at how many people have had their lives ruined by the Israeli lobby for even questioning U.S. foreign aid to Israel of the occupation of the Gaza strip.  Others have had their lives ruined for even meeting Arab officials from the PLO including Yassar Arafat (1929-2004) himself.

Findley has provided a staggering amount of information which is bound to confuse and in some cases anger the reader.  But it is imperative that the reader recognizes that difference between the Israeli lobby and ordinary Jews in America who do not support what Israel does but are obligated to remain in silence and show unwavering support.   As with any story, there are multiple sides and what sometimes seems to be black and white, will be revealed to have many shades of grey.  The truth is rarely pleasant and in some cases upsetting. But if that is what the reader seeks, then books such as this are a necessity.  The courage exemplified by Findley and others who have dared to speak out has give us the knowledge we need to make informed decisions before we lend our support to movements and causes.

As the book approached its end and I continued to digest everything that Findley had disclosed, I was haunted by the thought that there may never be true peace between Israel and Palestine.  But if that is the ultimate goal then the first step is re-examine U.S.  foreign policy.   And doing so does not make anyone anti-Israel or anti-Semitic but an advocate of genuine and long-lasting peace.  Furthermore, we are forced to remember that Judaism is one of the world’s oldest religions, observed by millions of great men and women and unrelated to many of things we learn through Findley’s words.

“The truth is rarely pure and never simple” – Oscar Wilde

ISBN-10: 155652482X
ISBN-13: 978-1556524820

Middle East

20181205_223638Ideology is sometimes as powerful of a tool as violence and in some cases has been the direct cause of violence. In the Middle East, ideology has maintain a stronghold as it finds itself on a crash course with modernity.   Those who live outside the Middle East are at times confused and mystified by the traditions and events that occur throughout the Arab nations.   In fact, many of us here in the United States do not know how the modern-day Middle East came into existence.  To them, I say that the key to understanding the Middle East is to retrace its history to see why and how it developed into what we know it to be today.  David Fromkin lends us a helping hand in this incredible historical investigative account of the fall of the legendary Ottoman Empire and the creation of a region that would never truly know peace.

I find it a bit ironic that the title is called A Peace to End All Peace because when the reader has finished the book, he or she will see that is far from what happened.  But the question is why not?  To find that answer, we revisit Constantinople, headquarters of the empire, prior to the outbreak of World War I.  Iraq and Jordan (formerly Transjordan) had yet to be created.   Iraq was then known as Mesopotamia and Jordan was still part of Palestine.  The Zionist cause was still in its early stages and it would be several years before the signing of the Balfour Declaration. Regardless, these nations were caught in the middle of a bitter conflict as Britain and Russia took on the German Republic for control of the Ottoman Empire.  But as casualties mounted and victories were won, what was really transpiring behind the scenes?  And who were the major players?  As we step back into time with Fromkin, we are re-introduced to long-lost figures such as the famous Winston Churchill (1874-1965),  former Prime Minister Lloyd George (1864-1945),  U.S. President Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) and Thomas Edward Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia)(1888-1935).   Lawrence has been transformed throughout the years into a larger than life character but Fromkin provides a good biographical sketch of him and investigates his true role in the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the British goal of conquering the Middle East.  However, as Fromkin shows us, the heart of the entire stories lies in the Sykes-Picot Agreement, the secret pledge between Britain, France and Russia to partition the Ottoman Empire after the defeat of Germany in World War I.  The agreement shaped relations between the nations for decades to come.

The story is an incredible from start to finish and after you have completed the book, you will better understand why the Middle East is the way it is today.  You will further understand how the Zionist cause for a homeland grew in strength due in part to the actions of the British Government.  The story of Palestine is especially important for the effects of the actions then are still being felt today.   Fromkin has done an excellent job of researching the topic and it is evident in his writing.  The book reads like a historical novel full of intrigue, mystery and ultimately tragedy.  Further, the relationship between Russia and the nations of the U.S.S.R. are examined highlighting the cultural diversity that once encompassed the Soviet Union.   The Bolshevik revolution is discussed but not at great length.   Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924) and Joseph Stalin (1878-1953) make appearances but their story is only discussed regarding its relevance to the current topic.  And throughout the book, developments in other nations are mentioned but the author never strays off topic.   Like a master professor, he keeps us on course throughout a critical time in the history of the world that was complicated to say the least.

The book ends before the rise of Adolf Hitler and the start of World War II.  And it would not be until 1948 that the nation of Israel was formally created.  Readers may be surprised to reach the end of the book only to find that the story does not continue in the next decade.  But the reality is that was never the intention and is irrelevant to the story at hand.  True, the events in this book would affect the future in many different ways but that is a topic for another discussion.  For those who wish to understand how an Empire came crashing down, the development of the modern-day Middle East and how several nations underestimated the power of the Islamic faith, this is a great place to start.  And for others who have an active interest in the Middle East, this book is a much welcomed addition to any library.

“To the victor belongs the spoils” – New York Senator William L. Marcy

ISBN-10: 0805068848
ISBN-13: 978-0805068849

Middle East

PappThe crisis that exists between Israel and the area that was once the nation of Palestine has evolved into one of the most tragic the world has seen.  Anger on both sides and the failure of mediation on more than one occasion has resulted in the continuation of the long feud.  Each side has its supporters and detractors refusing to abandon their beliefs and stance of the matter.  My interest in the conflict propelled me to acquire this high recommended book on the issue written by Israel historian and social activist, Ilan Pappe (1954-).  Pappe was born in Haifa and continues to educate millions about the true origins of the raging battle.   This phenomenal account of the history of Palestine and its current day status is a must read by anyone seeking to understand the origins of the matter.  To be fair, Pappe is not anti-Israel, but he does however, confront many facts about the history of Palestine that are often very uncomfortable.  But any good researcher should do just that and it is in this area that Pappe shines through.

The book begins in the early 1800s in Palestine before the appearance of large numbers of Europe’s Jews. This is a history that is often neglected and unknown by many.  The Palestine we see is far different from the one that exist today.   As a part of the Ottoman Empire, Palestine is protected by the ruling authorities in Istanbul intent on maintaining the empire’s domain at any costs.   Incredibly, even then, there existed smaller religious minorities freely allowed to practice their faiths.  But sadly at the 1900s approached,  the future of Palestine took a dark turn, one that is fully explored by Pappe and is sure to leave the reader speechless.  But his research and conclusions are critical to understanding the cause of the Palestinian people and the effects of Zionism on foreign territory and domestic policy.

The term Zionism and Judaism are sometimes believed to be the same thing. But as we learn throughout the book, they are in fact two different things and not necessarily operating in the same spectrum.   In the book, we are introduced to the founder of the Zionist cause, Theodor Herzl (1860-1904) and his successors that carried the Zionist cause setting their sights on a Jewish homeland. Palestine became their choice and their mission created a conflict that continues to this day.   Pappe does a meticulous job of exploring all of these polarizing figures and their role in the affair.  But what is often left out of the conflict is the role of the British government, heavily complicit in the developments in the area and subsequently in the deadly aftermath.  The relationship between the British Government, Palestinian rulers and the new Zionist immigrants proved to be a power keg determined to detonate at any minute. Two world wars and three agreements later paved the way for the creation of Israel in 1948 and the loss of land by the native Palestinians.  It was the beginning of a war that has claimed thousands of lives and brought shame to those involved and resulted in the meddling by several foreign nations allied to the Israeli or Palestinian cause.

On December 23, 2016, the UN passed a resolution ordering Israel to stop building settlement east of Jerusalem in Palestinian territory.  The order has been ignored by Israel which continues to build settlements.  The abstinence of the United States in voting on the resolution strained the relationship between Israel and its American ally.  The decision by the White House to abstain is in direct contrast to the policy of the US for several decades which actively supported the Israel government.  America’s complicity in the conflict, as well as that of Great Britain, France and other Arab nations seeking to exploit the situation,  created a power vacuum which has no clear ending in sight and helped plunged the Middle East into a cycle of revolution, mayhem and death.  Today it remains to be seen if a two-state solution will ever truly work between the two battle nations.

Throughout the book, many figures make an appearance and their roles in the conflict are explored in-depth.  Forgotten name such as Menachem Begin (1913-1992), David Ben-Gurion (1886-1973), Yitzhak Rabin (1922-1995), Gamal Abdel-Nasser (1918-1970), Chaim Weizmann (1874-1952), Yasser Arafat (1929-2004) and Fayṣal al-Awwal ibn al-Ḥusayn ibn (1883-1933)(Faisal I of Iraq) will jump out at some readers triggering an avalanche of dormant facts and others unknown.  But their names, actions and stories are beyond critical in understanding the evolution of the tragedy.  And like a jigsaw puzzle, the back door political deals, covert operations, overt discrimination, greed and betrayal help set the stage for the region as we know it today.   Right-wing and left-wing groups proliferate on each side of the conflict rendering a peaceful solution seemingly unattainable.  But regardless, the United States continues to condemn the Israeli occupation and has added allies from dozens of countries and even domestic groups in Israel in opposition to the government’s expansionist policies.  Pappe refers to it as the post-Zionist era in which literature and film seeks to tell the real story of the Zionist cause and its devastating effects on the people of Palestine. For them, their struggle continues but they too deal with domestic right-wing groups, the most famous of which are the PLO and Hamas.   Their objectives and those of the Likud, lead by Binyamin Netanyahu, serve as fuel to a towering inferno.

Perhaps in the next decade or two we will finally see peace between Israel and Palestine.  I certainly hope it occurs before more death and destruction of the land they both call home occurs.  Attempts to form a settlement have ultimately fell short time and time again but I and many in the world remain optimistic.  For those who are unsure of what really needs to be done or are unaware of the origins of the dispute, this book by Pappe, is the place to start.

ISBN-10: 0521683157
ISBN-13: 978-0521683159

Middle East