The International Crisis Group does not deserve to be taken seriously.
For a large part of its 15-year history, this Brussels-based “think tank” was led by Gareth Evans, previously Australia’s foreign minister. Evans is a promoter of the concept of “responsibility to protect” civilians from atrocities and was appointed by Kofi Annan to sit on a UN committee on genocide prevention in 2006. The same Evans was a staunch ally of the Indonesian military ruler Suharto. With his reign of terror in East Timor, Suharto conducted one of the twentieth century’s worst acts of genocide. About 200,000 – one third of the island’s population – were wiped out. In 1989, Evans signed an agreement enabling Australia and Indonesia to jointly exploit the oil resources in the Timor Gap. Not only did Evans turn a blind eye to the suffering of the Timorese people, he pilfered their resources.
Wearing his “responsibility to protect” (R2P) hat, Evans continues to speak about the need to avoid another Srebrenica. Yet, as John Pilger recalled recently, Evans whitewashed Indonesia’s massacre of more than 200 people at the Santa Cruz massacre in Dili, the Timorese capital. According to Evans, this act of mass slaughter in 1991 was no more than an “aberration.”
On Friday, The New York Times published an article from Nathan Thrall, the Crisis Group’s Middle East analyst. Arguing that a third intifada is inevitable, Thrall refers to “instability” in the occupied West Bank, citing the hunger strikes by Palestinian political prisoners as an example. The “root cause of this instability is that Palestinians have lost all hope that Israel will grant them a state,” he writes.
Thrall is wrong. The “root cause” of the problems in Palestine – of which the recent “instability” is a symptom – is Zionism. Most Palestinians I know are horrified by the notion that a sliver of historic Palestine will handed to them and labelled a state. For a solution to be just, it must challenge the racist nature of Zionist ideology and dismantle the apartheid system that Israel continues to build.
No mention of apartheid
The word “apartheid” did not appear in Thrall’s analysis. No surprise there: the International Crisis Group is financed by companies that helped prop up white minority rule in South Africa. Anglo American, the mining corporation, bragged that it provided a “stabilizing influence” by remaining active in South Africa while other firms withdrew from the country in the 1980s. Fellow Crisis Group donor BP also stayed put in South Africa as the global campaign to isolate its racist regime grew.
I’m not suggesting that executives of Anglo American or BP vetted Thrall’s piece. Rather, I’m contending that the Crisis Group should be recognized for what it patently is: a bunch of privileged Western “analysts” who crave appreciation from a blood-soaked elite. A potted history of the group on its website makes this clear: among those who praise the organization’s work are Madeleine Albright. As secretary of state in the Clinton administration, Albright contended that causing the deaths of 600,000 Iraqi children by depriving them of essential medicines was a price worth paying.
Reluctantly, I admit that Thrall made some valid points. His prediction of a third intifada could well turn out to be accurate; and he was correct to underscore, if subtly, that Salam Fayyad lacks any democratic mandate to act as prime minister in the Palestinian Authority.
Yet I learned more about reality in Palestine this weekend from attending a talk by Sheerin al-Araj from al-Walaja in the West Bank yesterday than I did from Thrall’s article.
Al-Araj showed us images of how Israel’s apartheid wall separates her village from Jewish-only settlements. “If you corner a nation with no options, you don’t know what they will do,” she said. “They are just being driven insane.”
A vivid illustration of the dispossession of Palestinians can be seen in the case of her neighbor, Omar. He already lives next to the apartheid wall but Israel’s “plan for Omar is to encircle him with his own private wall,” she explained. Omar owns 35 dunums of land (a dunum equals one quarter of an acre). Once Israel’s plans are put into effect, he will be left with half a dunum.
An avowed feminist, al-Araj is a leading member of a “popular committee” that organizes regular protests against the Israeli occupation. In his New York Times article, Thrall was dismissive of the “small weekly protests [in the West Bank] so beloved by foreign activists and the Western press.”
His insinuation that the demonstrations are futile was clearly not shared by al-Araj. On the contrary, she believes that when confronted by a heavily-armed force, it is strategically clever to resist by means of direct, unarmed action.
“What we have to do is neutralize the fourth largest army in the world,” she said. “The Israelis don’t know the concept of non-violence. They don’t know what to do.”
Around this time last year, I spent a few days with Mazin Qumsiyeh, the Palestinian scientist and writer, who works closely with al-Araj. More than once, he referred to how Buddhist teaching calls for “joyful participation in the sorrows of this world,” indicating that this philosophy is directly applicable to Palestine.
Listening to al-Araj, I understood what he meant. Here is someone who refuses to have her spirit or sense of humor crushed. The biggest laugh during her talk came when she told us how the people of al-Walaja have renamed a path in their village Wall Street. The best insight into her resilience came when she replied to a query from a European woman about the effectiveness of unarmed resistance. “Losing hope is a luxury you have,” al-Araj said. “I don’t.”
●First published by The Electronic Intifada, 24 June 2012.