Weekend edition — keeping you distracted whilst the news cycle resets (after the jump):
Why’d you have to go and be so complicated? McClatchy’s Sheera Frenkel and Amina Ismail on how Israel’s latest assault on Gaza has thus far been tempered by transformative regional events post-Cast Lead:
As violence escalated between Israel and Gaza on Friday, with many anticipating a weekend order to invade, a realization was growing across Israel’s political and military echelons that the Arab Spring had changed the equation in Israel’s dealings with Hamas-run Gaza: Unlike four years ago, the Hamas Authority is no longer an isolated entity, estranged from its Arab neighbors.
Four years ago, Hosni Mubarak, then Egypt’s president, quietly shut Egypt’s border crossing with Gaza at Rafah. Morsi has thrown it open 24 hours a day so that any wounded Gazan could seek treatment in Egypt.
In the wake of Kandil’s visit, Tunisia’s foreign minister announced that he, too, will visit the besieged enclave. Oil-rich states in the Persian Gulf announced that they will provide support and backing to the people of Gaza. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah Party has long battled with Hamas, expressed support. The largest anti-Israel demonstration in Egypt in decades drew tens of thousands into the streets of Cairo on Friday.
Israeli military officials said they would have to “wait and see” how a military operation into Gaza would be affected by what they called “the new realities on the ground.”
But one sign that Israel may have taken the new realities of the Middle East into account was the death toll: After three days, 23 Palestinians have died in the Israel air assaults; in the first two days of Operation Cast Lead, which also began as an aerial assault before Israeli troops invaded a week later, 290 Palestinians were killed.
More from Ahdaf Soueif:
Israel has always sold itself to the west as a democracy in a sea of fanaticism. The Arab spring has undermined that narrative, possibly fatally. So Israeli politicians have been pushing hard for a war against Iran and, in the interim, they’ve gone on a killing spree in Gaza. If they had wanted to instigate violence against themselves they could not have done better than to assassinate Ahmed al-Jaabari, the Hamas commander who’s prevented attacks on Israelis for the past five years. With his killing they’ve raised the probability of these attacks resuming, as is happening now. They can then try to hijack the narrative of the Arab spring and wind the clock back to “Islamist terrorists v civilised Israelis”. Meanwhile, they take the heat off Bashar al-Assad’s murderous activities in Syria – and, of course, score hawkish points for Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak before the coming elections.
But they have served to remind the world that Israel is a democracy where politicians may order the murder of children to score electoral points. Palestinian children, true. But the citizens of the world don’t make racist distinctions. On Thursday there were protests for Gaza across the world. They continued [Friday]. And there will be many more.
— Emily L. Hauser (@emilylhauser) November 17, 2012
Revolution(s) in miniature: Amal Ghandour looks at how, for many Arab women, “small victories create a different norm of empowerment — one that, paradoxically, draws strength from the very subtlety and everyday nature of the ‘dissident’ acts themselves”:
A 22-year-old Palestinian – I’ll call her Suad – works with me on a region-wide community development initiative. She has just set aside her veil in conservative surroundings. She describes her own and her female friends’ lives in Beirut as an incessant search for opportunity amid a heap of constraints. ‘You worry about the consequences, and then you take a step, and then another one after that, and another one after that… You make use of every opening.’
This particular step, her unveiling, has proven to be especially charged. Suad took up the veil, a blend of shapes and colours in her case, at the age of 17, the last in her class to do so. Although most of her school friends were veiled, her parents’ leftist inclinations helped check the growing calls for Suad to amass herself into the fold. It was her teacher’s warning that finally tipped the scales. ‘She brought me before the entire class and told me that my mother would go to hell if I did not wear it. I succumbed.’
Suad took off her hijab two months ago, inspired by the rousing theme of nonconformity threading through her English literature courses. She felt she was being true to her identity.
Yet reactions to her move in a milieu that actively discourages feminine unorthodoxies are mixed. Suad’s father is happy to see her let her hair down and so, she thinks, would have been her mother, had she lived to witness this pointed return to visibility. So far, however, the neighbourhood has been worryingly quiet; and the backlash at work, especially among the men, upsetting. In the midst of widespread opprobrium, only one friend has said: ‘If that’s what you want, then do it.’ Suad shrugs. ‘Better this than hypocrisy.’
Crisis? What Crisis? Greek 1%-ers still party like it’s 1999 24/7— and it’s the poor who have to pick up the slack:
[T]here are a number of lists circulating in Athens including names attached to unfathomable sums of money. These belong to politicians, actors and businesspeople, all of whom supposedly have accounts at the Geneva branch of the British bank HSBC. Experts estimate that Greeks have up to €170 billion in assets safely stored away in Switzerland.
“Greece is a poor country with very rich people,” Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras recently said. And philanthropy, though a Greek word, is not widespread in practice. Members of the country’s upper crust continue to exploit all the loopholes the government offers them. Indeed, the state makes it remarkably easy for them to do so: For a full year now, the government has been announcing that a treaty with Switzerland aiming to put an end to tax evasion is “just about to be concluded.” But it has yet to be signed.
The privileged don’t even bother to hide their wealth in public. In the rich neighborhoods — whether Kifissia in northern Athens or Glyfada to the south — people still speed about in their Porsche Cayennes and Hermès handbags can still be seen beneath café tables. Gucci, Balenciaga and Dior all maintain stores in the Greek capital. It’s the florists around the corner that go out of business.
The Greek government can no longer pay its bills and owes private-sector companies some €9 billion. But even now, three years into the crisis, it continues to exempt commercial shipping companies, which make up its most successful industrial sector, from all taxes. This relief for the rich just puts more of a burden on the poor.
“Our political class is distrustful of culture.” Lorna Scott Fox returns to Spain to measure the impact of austerity on the nation’s creative class:
There was a cynical awareness in the art world, when I lived in Seville around the turn of the millennium, that public administrations saw culture, especially its infrastructure, as a tool for influence-peddling and ostentation—though we were all eager to benefit from the largesse of grants and jobs. Now the philistinism of the boom years has been laid bare by the crisis. Both central and regional governments are slashing funding for education, research, and innovation by an average of 60 percent—100 percent, in the case of library funding. The famously unused airstrip at Castellón airport, and Galicia’s huge, stunning but idle Cidade da Cultura, are casualties of the same order.
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