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Alternet 01-01-06

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  • Robert Sterling
    Please send as far and wide as possible. Thanks, Robert Sterling Editor, The Konformist http://www.konformist.com The Morality of Munich By Jordan Elgrably,
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 1, 2006
      Please send as far and wide as possible.

      Robert Sterling
      Editor, The Konformist

      The Morality of 'Munich'
      By Jordan Elgrably, AlterNet
      Posted on December 24, 2005

      In 1972, Black September, a wing of Arafat's Al Fatah movement
      kidnapped and then killed 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team
      during the Munich games. This set in motion a series of reprisals by
      the Israelis, including targeted assassinations of Palestinians, and
      continuing acts of terrorism by militant groups against Israeli,
      European and American targets. Today we are no closer to an end to
      the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem,
      nor to a lasting peace agreement that addresses equally the needs of
      both Israeli and Palestinian peoples.

      Now comes "Munich," a Hollywood feature film, co-written by
      playwright Tony Kushner and screenwriter Eric Roth, and directed by
      Steven Spielberg. Even before the film's release, neo-conservative
      critics have attacked what they perceive as a liberal bias in the
      film's portrayal of Palestinian terrorists and their would-be
      Israeli assassins.

      Never having considered Spielberg a political filmmaker, I went to
      an early screening of "Munich" with low expectations, surprised that
      he would even tackle the subject. Yet the story that unfolded proved
      to be an incisive argument against the use of violence, under any
      circumstances, as a means to achieve political objectives. While the
      Munich attack brought the Palestinian struggle into millions of
      homes around the world and as such put the decades-old conflict on
      the map, it also embroiled Israeli intelligence services in black
      operations to assassinate its enemies wherever they might be found.
      Palestinian terrorism created an image problem for the Palestinian
      people, whose best interests I would argue were, and still are
      betrayed by savage acts of violence against Israeli civilians.

      And by engaging Black September and other terrorist groups on their
      own violent terms, Israel betrayed its declared values as a Western-
      style democracy that eschewed the death penalty in 1954 for ordinary
      crimes (and only exercised the death penalty once, for Adolf
      Eichmann's "extraordinary" crimes, in 1962).

      Like Hany Abu-Assad's recent film "Paradise Now," which humanizes
      two would-be Palestinian suicide bombers from Nablus, "Munich" is as
      much an argument about the futility of violence to resolve conflict
      as it is a cogent historical drama. It is shot in a gritty
      documentary style and may remind some filmgoers of the early work of
      European director Costas-Gavras, his political thriller "Z" in

      In fact, "Munich" is the work of a mature filmmaker -- one who does
      not appear beholden to popular American Jewish opinion that Israel
      is always the underdog. The film depicts Palestinian and other Arab
      characters as human beings, and it chronicles the change of heart
      that Israeli agents experience as they go about their clandestine
      mission to assassinate those the Israeli state identified as
      responsible for the Munich operation.

      At the start of the film, five undercover agents based in Europe,
      led by Avner Kauffman (Eric Bana), believe themselves on a mission
      for just vengeance. But it is not long before Bana and the others
      begin questioning the sanctity of their assignment. The bloody acts
      of revenge haunt Kauffman, and though he says that he is becoming
      numb to murder, the truth is that he gradually breaks down,
      succumbing to paranoia and fear. Meanwhile, for every act of
      vengeance wreaked by the Israelis, the Palestinians respond with
      further terrorist attacks. "Munich" makes it clear in the film's
      closing frame that this cycle of violence continues to the present

      And where are we? The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is no closer to a
      solution: The military occupation of Palestinian territories is in
      its 38th year; the settlement movement continues apace; and all the
      international peace initiatives have failed. The one dependable
      reality of the conflict -- Palestinian suicide bombings and Israeli
      targeted assassinations -- is utterly bankrupt. Nothing remains but
      for the Palestinians to seek justice with a nonviolent revolution
      for peace, in the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi, and for the Israeli
      people to follow new leaders who can devise political rather than
      military solutions. Perhaps the recently elected Amir Peretz, who
      now helms the Labor Party, can lead the way. "I see the occupation
      as an immoral act," Peretz has said. "I want to end the occupation
      not because of Palestinian pressure, but because I see it as an
      Israeli interest."

      The actors of "Munich" perform with the intensity of an ensemble
      cast. Chief among them are Australians Eric Bana, who convincingly
      does both an Israeli and a German accent, and Geoffrey Rush, who
      plays Kauffman's black ops boss. The other four assassins are
      performed by an international cast of British, Irish, French and
      German actors, including Daniel Craig, who has been tapped to be the
      next James Bond, and Mathieu Kassovitz, who appeared opposite Audrey
      Tautou in "Amelie" and directed the hit drama "La Haine" ("Hate").
      Omar Metwally, meanwhile, turns in a strong performance as Ali, a
      young Palestinian militant, and the other Arab character actors
      chosen for this film turn in subdued, thoughtful performances. There
      are also a number of Israeli actors who stand out, including Ayelet
      Zurer as Kauffman's pregnant young wife, Gila Almagor as his mother,
      and Ami Weinberg as General Zamir. In fact, there are few Americans
      in "Munich," and most of them are behind the camera.

      Unsurprisingly, "Munich" has already engendered a legion of
      detractors even before going into wide release. It matters not. Well
      into his career, after having been lionized by Hollywood, with a
      litany of awards too long to list, Steven Spielberg has finally made
      his masterpiece.

      Jordan Elgrably is artistic director of the Levantine Cultural
      Center in Los Angeles.


      'They' Destroyed New Orleans
      By Kenneth Cooper, AlterNet
      Posted on December 24, 2005

      My little cousin, Kenneth, sits across from me smoking a cigarette
      in the driver's seat of his car. Like everyone else in my family, he
      lost everything when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. Now he sits
      in my driveway on a Saturday night in LaPlace trying to understand

      "Them people blew them levees," he says, looking at me, puffing on
      his cigarette. "They wanted to save the white people Uptown, but
      they ain't know it was gonna be this bad."

      I just look at him when he says this. He's sincere, not a trace of
      doubt in his voice. Some people might call him crazy for believing a
      theory like that. But truth is, he's not alone, far from it. Last
      month I went to Arlington and visited some of my in-laws, who
      evacuated there. When the subject of Katrina and the levees came up,
      all of them went to talking the exact same way.

      "That's how they do us."

      "They ain't want us there in the first place."

      "So you know they don't want us back."

      "And they wonder why people down there runnin' up in stores."

      I sat on the couch that night and listened to them go at it for
      about an hour. None of them seemed unreasonable. None of them seemed
      crazy. Everybody just seemed pissed off. Their homes were gone,
      their jobs too. Somebody had to be responsible. But when it got down
      to figuring out who, the only one any of them could agree on
      was "they."

      "They" have existed in New Orleans for years, generations really,
      all the way back to 1965 when Hurricane Betsy hit the city and those
      same levees along the Industrial Canal collapsed. Back then, the
      lower Ninth Ward flooded just like it did during Katrina. Eight feet
      of water poured into the neighborhood and covered the eaves of most
      one-story houses. The people, most of them poor and black, climbed
      onto their rooftops and waited for help. And even though Betsy's
      storm surge wasn't as strong as Katrina's, and even though the water
      didn't sit as long, the horror stories afterwards were still about
      the same.

      "I remember seeing dead bodies tied to telephone poles, floating in
      the water," a co-worker of mine named Horace once told me. Horace
      was 16 when Betsy hit. He waited out the storm and the water in the
      lower Ninth Ward on the second floor of his uncle's house. He
      remembered having to beg his uncle not to try to swim across the
      street to save one of their neighbors who was trapped in her attic.
      His uncle didn't. The neighbor eventually drowned in that attic.

      When it was all over, Betsy killed at least 60 people in Louisiana,
      a small number compared to Katrina, but when the people of the lower
      Ninth Ward found out their neighborhood took the brunt of the hit
      because a levee collapsed, the controversy started. For them the
      levee failing wasn't an accident. It was a sacrifice, another
      example of white people looking out for themselves. It was in this
      environment that "they" first appeared and became a part of New
      Orleans folklore.

      "We could hear 'em that night," Horace said, "blowing the levees.
      They knew if they didn't, the water was gonna get to the French
      Quarter or to the white people uptown. And they didn't want that."

      Hearing my cousin echo those same words tonight, I can see that
      after Katrina, the folklore shows no signs of dying. Washington Post
      columnist Eugene Robinson would seem to agree.

      "I was stunned in New Orleans," he told NBC's Meet The Press, "at
      how many black New Orleanians would tell me with real conviction
      that somehow the levee breaks had been engineered. These are not
      wild-eyed people," he said. "These are reasonable, sober people who
      really believe that."

      Louis Farrakhan even claims he has proof. According to Newsmax.com,
      Farrakhan said that Mayor Ray Nagin told him about a 25-foot crater
      that exists under the Industrial Canal levee. Proof enough for
      Farrakhan that the levees were blown up to get black people out of
      New Orleans.

      "They know what they doing," my cousin looks over to me and
      says. "They trying to run us out the city to get our land."

      The land has always been a part of the folklore. For years the
      leaders of New Orleans have been approving plans to tear down the
      city's housing projects, which are mostly occupied by black people,
      and replace them with expensive condominiums. Uptown, the St. Thomas
      was the first to go. The Desire, in the Ninth Ward, soon followed.
      Now, on the Westbank, most of the Fisher has been demolished. And
      the other four seemed on their way out before Katrina even came. The
      result of all this is that a large part of the black community is
      being split up and shipped off to other areas. And as with the cases
      of the St. Thomas and Desire, when black people see white people
      moving in and taking over their part of town, conspiracy theories
      inevitably arise.

      "You ever think that they might have blown the levees to make sure
      we had a city to come back to?" I ask my cousin. "I mean, who's to
      say that the water wouldn't have gone up to the river and damaged
      those levees."

      "If that was the case," he says, "they woulda dropped us food and
      not starved us outside the Convention Center. They wouldn't a drew
      their guns on people trying to make it to the West Bank if it was
      about the city."

      "Well then who's they?" I turn and ask him.

      At first he doesn't say anything. He just stares.

      "Is it Nagin? Is it Blanco? Harry Lee? Who?"

      When he does respond the answer is straightforward and plain: "The
      government," he says.

      All across the city, the government, mainly because of FEMA, is
      developing an even worse reputation than it had before. One Sunday
      night I stayed up and listened to the Big 870, our local news and
      talk radio station. A caller called in complaining about New Orleans
      East, one of the hardest-hit areas in the city and another section
      where black people make up the majority. The caller wanted to know
      why other areas were getting more attention than his. He wanted to
      know where his blue roof was and why New Orleans East was one of the
      last places to have the water turned back on.

      "In Lakeview," he said, "you could trip over a construction worker.
      But out here you don't see a soul. All we got is police harassing

      After he hung up, a lady from Lakeview, the upscale neighborhood
      along the 17th Street Canal, called in. She wanted to know the same
      thing about where she lived. She wanted to know why the government
      was trying to run them out of their neighborhood. She cited the same
      lack of blue roofs as her main evidence of a governmental conspiracy
      to demolish their houses and take over Lakeview.

      "I tell you, Vince," she said, talking to Vince Marinello, the host
      of the show, "we got rain coming in and ruining the second floors of
      our property. There's no one around here doing anything for us. All
      of their attention is focused on the Ninth Ward. They have
      completely forgot about Lakeview."

      I sat there and listened for most of the night. The calls kept
      coming through from both blacks and whites -- frustration with FEMA,
      people claiming insurance companies were trying to rip them off, a
      lack of Red Cross presence, and even down to a Mexican takeover.
      Because of their large presence as construction workers, some people
      believe that after they finish gutting out our houses, the Mexicans
      will invest their money and take over the city.

      "They're just everywhere," one caller called in and said. "And they
      don't even bother to speak English."

      The message on the radio that night was clear. Confusion is growing
      all over the city. And with it, "they" seem to be expanding. "They"
      have even gained official names like FEMA, the Government, Mexicans.

      Maybe "they" are the cause of all the confusion, like my cousin and
      the callers believe. Or maybe there's so much confusion because
      people are looking for somebody to blame. Or maybe my neighbor Dan
      had it right when he said, "Everybody's life is just changing so
      fast. And people are just doing their best to understand it."

      Kenneth Cooper is a student at the University of New Orleans. This
      is his first published article.


      Spying and Lying
      By Katrina vanden Heuvel, The Nation
      Posted on December 21, 2005

      "This shocking revelation ought to send a chill down the spine of
      every American."
      -- Senator Russell Feingold, December 17, 2005

      As reported by the New York Times on Friday, "Months after the
      September 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the
      National Security Agency (NSA) to eavesdrop on Americans and others
      inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist
      activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for
      domestic spying."

      A senior intelligence officer says Bush personally and repeatedly
      gave the NSA permission for these taps -- more than three dozen
      times since October 2001. Each time, the White House counsel and the
      Attorney General -- whose job it is to guard and defend our civil
      liberties and freedoms -- certified the lawfulness of the program.
      (It is useful here to note "The Yoo Factor": The domestic spying
      program was justified by a "classified legal opinion" written by
      former Justice Department official John Yoo, the same official who
      wrote a memo arguing that interrogation techniques only constitute
      torture if they are "equivalent in intensity to...organ failure,
      impairment of bodily function or even death.")

      Illegally spying on Americans is chilling -- even for this
      Administration. Moreover, as Kate Martin, director of the Center for
      National Security Studies, told the Times, "the secret order may
      amount to the president authorizing criminal activity." Some
      officials at the NSA agree. According to the Times, "Some agency
      officials wanted nothing to do with the program, apparently fearful
      of participating in an illegal operation." Others were "worried that
      the program might come under scrutiny by Congressional or criminal
      investigators if Senator John Kerry, the Democratic nominee, was
      elected President."

      It's always a fight to find out what the government doesn't want us
      to know, and this Administration and its footsoldiers have used
      every means available to undermine journalists' ability to exercise
      their First Amendment function of holding power accountable. But
      compounding the Administration's double-dealing, the media has been
      largely complicit in the face of White House mendacity. David Sirota
      puts it more bluntly in a recent entry from his blog: "We are
      watching the media being used as a tool of state power in overriding
      the very laws that are supposed to confine state power and protect
      American citizens."

      Consider this: the New York Times says it "delayed publication" of
      the NSA spying story for a year. The paper says it acceded to White
      House arguments that publishing the article "could jeopardize
      continuing investigations and alert would-be-terrorists that they
      might be under scrutiny."

      Despite Administration demands though, it was reported in
      yesterday's Washington Post that the decision by Times editor Bill
      Keller to withhold the article caused friction within the Times'
      Washington bureau, according to people close to the paper. Some
      reporters and editors in New York and in the paper's DC bureau had
      apparently pushed for earlier publication.

      In an explanatory statement, Keller issued the excuse
      that, "Officials also assured senior editors of the Times that a
      variety of legal checks had been imposed that satisfied everyone
      involved that the program raised no legal questions."

      This from a paper, which as First Amendment lawyer Martin Garbus
      pointed out in a letter to the editor "rejected similar arguments
      when it courageously published the Pentagon Papers over the
      government's false objections that it would endanger our foreign
      policy as well as the lives of individuals." The Times, Garbus went
      on to argue, "owes its readers more. The Bush Administration's
      record for truthfulness is not such that one should rely on its
      often meaningless and vague assertions."

      Readers and citizens deserve to know why the New York Times
      capitulated to the White House's request. It is true that Friday's
      revelations of this previously unknown, illegal domestic spying
      program helped stop the Patriot Act reauthorization. But what if the
      Times had published its story before the election? And what other
      stories have been held up due to Administration cajoling, pressure,
      threats and intimidation?

      The question of how this Administration threatens the workings of a
      free press, a cornerstone of democracy, remains a central one. Every
      week brings new evidence of White House attempts to delegitimize the
      press's role as a watchdog of government abuse, an effective counter
      to virtually unchecked executive power.

      Last month, for example, the Washington Post published Dana Priest's
      extraordinary report about the CIA's network of prisons in Eastern
      Europe for suspected terrorists. Priest's reporting helped push
      passage of a ban on the metastasizing use of torture. But, as with
      the New York Times, the Post acknowledged that it had acceded to
      government requests to withhold the names of the countries in which
      the black site prisons exist.

      How many other cases are there of news outlets choosing to honor
      government requests for secrecy over the journalistic duty of
      informing the public about government abuse and wrongdoing?

      Never has the need for an independent press been greater. Never has
      the need to know what is being done in our name been greater. As
      Bill Moyers said in an important speech delivered on the 20th
      anniversary of the National Security Archive, a dedicated band of
      truth-tellers, "...There has been nothing in our time like the Bush
      Administration's obsession with secrecy." Moyers added. "It's an old
      story: the greater the secrecy, the deeper the corruption."

      Federation of American Scientists secrecy specialist Steven
      Aftergood bluntly says, "an even more aggressive form of government
      information control has gone unenumerated and often unrecognized in
      the Bush era, as government agencies have restricted access to
      unclassified information in libraries, archives, websites and
      official databases." This practice, Aftergood adds, "also accords
      neatly with the Bush Administration's preference for unchecked
      executive authority."

      "Information is the oxygen of democracy," Aftergood rightly insists.
      This Administration is trying to cut off the supply. Journalists and
      media organizations must find a way to restore their role as
      effective watchdogs, as checks on an executive run amok.

      Katrina vanden Heuvel is editor of The Nation.
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