May 11, 2012
This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.
May 11, 2012
This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.
May 11, 2012
The Six Day War spawned the special relationship between Israel and the United States of America. Elizabeth Stephens explores the cultural backdrop to this momentous development which resonates in the Middle East to this day.
The Six Day War that erupted on June 5th, 1967, was a profound event in Middle Eastern history that reshaped the political landscape of the region and redrew the boundaries of the state of Israel. But its consequences are far wider reaching. In its lightning victory against the Soviet-supported Arab states of Egypt and Syria, and the pro-Western kingdom of Jordan, Israel not only re-wrote the political and military geography of the Middle East, it accelerated the pace of cultural identification between Israel and America. The short conflict was of far greater significance in consolidating the ‘special relationship’ between Israel and the world’s greatest superpower than Truman’s recognition of the Jewish state in 1948. The events surrounding the war brought together the strains of a cultural identification that underpins one of the most enduring, potent and anomalous alliances of the twenty-first century.
The US was uniquely created from the desire of the Pilgrim Fathers to build a New World, free from the scourge of religious persecution and cultural decadence. The belief that God has blessed America has created the desire to shape the world in its image. It underlies Bill Clinton’s impulse to extend the sphere of democracies to the undemocratic world and George W. Bush’s description in his 2007 State of the Union address of the ‘war on terror’ as an ideological struggle. This desire is perpetuated by the country’s unrivalled military might that bestows the ability to shape international relations and to remove the leaders of states that are categorized as ‘rogue regimes’.
Israel’s sixty years of recent history, after a hiatus of nearly 2,000 years, makes it a relative newcomer to world affairs. Yet, despite its brief existence and small scale, Israel has reshaped the political and religious contours of the Middle East and extended its reach across the globe. It has established an international significance far beyond its geographical size and economic muscle. What other country with a population of 6.5 million can claim such importance in the eyes of world leaders?
Given the uniqueness of both countries it would be expected that the interaction between the two would take on a special character as well. All interactions between states are unique, but not all relationships are ‘special’, which implies bonds that go beyond utility to a deeper sense of affinity, one that transcends, and may on occasion even appear to be detrimental to, the national interests of one of the parties.
Contrary to popular perceptions, Israel was not created as a bastion of American democracy or an outpost of Western imperialism in the Middle East. In the years preceding the establishment of Israel, Jewish efforts were met with hostility by the British imperial power that sought to limit Jewish immigration to Palestine. The Truman administration opposed the tough stance Britain adopted to Jewish immigration and, as early as June 1945, President Truman recommended that 100,000 European Jewish refugees be immediately admitted to Palestine.
Ultimately, US support for the partition of Palestine and the recognition of Israel was considered crucial to the international legitimacy of the Jewish state, but US policy in the run-up to these events was quite ambivalent. Truman’s decision to recognize Israel was made at the last minute and was bitterly debated by his advisors in the Departments of State and Defense. In any event, the Jews acted unilaterally in declaring the existence of the state of Israel at 6pm on May 14th, 1948, with Truman extending de facto recognition to an accomplished fact. It was not until the convening of democratic elections in 1949 that the US granted de jure recognition, the arms embargo was lifted and an Israeli loans request was considered.
The United States may have been the first nation to bestow international legitimacy on the fledgling Jewish state by granting recognition but this did not translate into automatic or ongoing support. Economic and military aid from the US remained low throughout the 1950s and as late as 1967 Israel received only $13 million annually from the US. In the early years of Israel’s existence the relationship was conducted at arms length. In the aftermath of the Second World War Americans were focused on rebuilding their civilian lives and enjoying their country’s prosperity, while their government was focused on containing the newly perceived threat to ‘freedom’ emanating from the Soviet Union.
In 1948, Washington was preoccupied with establishing boundaries in the newly emerging Cold War world and shied away from becoming the protector of what was viewed as another weak, Third World, state. The desire to avoid such entanglements was reinforced by the uncertainty surrounding Israel’s political orientation, with the Soviet Union anticipating that as many of Israel’s Jewish inhabitants were leftwing refugees from Eastern Europe, Israel would embody the trappings of a socialist state. Immediately after its establishment, Israel looked to Moscow, not to Washington, for the arms it needed to defend itself.
Crises took place between Israel and the US in 1953 and 1956-57 over Suez, when the Eisenhower administration exerted great pressure on Israel to withdraw from the Sinai peninsula which its troops had captured from Egypt in the 1956 war. This was achieved through American recognition that the Straits of Tiran were an international waterway and no nation had the right to prevent free passage through them.
The potential association between Israel and Communism was reinforced in the late 1940s and early 1950s, by the relatively high number of Jews appearing in espionage prosecutions in the US. The ultimate public relations disasters for American Jewish organizations in the 1950s were the trials of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Morton Sobell, Harry Gold and David Greenglass, all of whom invoked the need to defeat Nazi Germany because of its perpetration of the Holocaust as justification for their association with the Soviet Union. As Holocaust rhetoric was a staple of Communist Party policy, American Jewish organizations were determined to distance themselves from it, and by implication, from the Holocaust itself.
While the disassociation of Jews and Communists in the public mind was a powerful imperative, it was only one of a number of factors that explain the reticence of American Jews to draw attention to the Holocaust during this time or to demand that Washington extend greater support to the Jewish homeland. Involvement in the Second World War had united Americans and the post-war years were a time of optimism. American Jews shared in this ebullient mood. The postwar decades and the ‘victory’ over Nazism drew many Americans, particularly the sons and daughters of recent immigrants, into a shared experience of the American dream. The 1950s and 1960s saw a sharp decline in anti-Semitism in the United States, in part because Jews were increasingly seen as less ‘foreign’ than in the past. Generally, they were no longer the new immigrants, but third-generation Americans: by the 1950s three-quarters of American Jews were native born. They were energetically engaged in becoming integrated into American society and seizing the opportunities available to them. It was not until this process of assimilation and acceptance was complete, when Jews felt comfortable in America as Americans, and when the lustre of America itself had dimmed, that American Jews were ready to acknowledge the full extent of the Holocaust, the corollary of which was to lobby for greater US support for Israel…
May 11, 2012
One night last September, a prisoner named Naji Najjar was brought, blindfolded and handcuffed, to an abandoned military base on the outskirts of Tripoli. A group of young men in camouflage pushed him into a dimly lit interrogation room and forced him to his knees. The commander of the militia, a big man with disheveled hair and sleepy eyes, stood behind Najjar. “What do you want?” the commander said, clutching a length of industrial pipe.
“What do you mean?” the prisoner said.
“What do you want?” the commander repeated. He paused. “Don’t you remember?”
Of course Najjar remembered. Until a few weeks earlier, he was a notorious guard at one of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s prisons. Then Tripoli fell, and the same men he’d beaten for so long tracked him down at his sister’s house and dragged him to their base. Now they were mimicking his own sadistic ritual. Every day, Najjar greeted the prisoners with the words What do you want? forcing them to beg for the pipe — known in the prison by its industrial term, PPR — or be beaten twice as badly. The militia commander now standing behind him, Jalal Ragai, had been one of his favorite victims.
“What do you want?” Jalal said for the last time. He held the very same pipe that had so often been used on him.
“PPR!” Najjar howled, and his former victim brought the rod down on his back.
I heard this story in early April from Naji Najjar himself. He was still being held captive by the militia, living with 11 other men who had killed and tortured for Qaddafi, in a large room with a single barred window and mattresses piled on the floor. The rebels had attached a white metal plate onto the door and a couple of big bolts, to make it look more like a prison. Najjar’s old PPR pipe and falga, a wooden stick used to raise prisoners’ legs in order to beat them on the soles of the feet, rested on a table upstairs. They had gotten some use in the first months of his confinement, when former victims and their relatives came to the base to deliver revenge beatings. One rebel laughed as he told me about a woman whose brother had his finger cut off in prison: when she found the man who did it, she beat him with a broom until it broke. Now, though, the instruments of torture were mostly museum pieces. After six months in captivity, Najjar — Naji to everyone here — had come to seem more clown than villain, and the militiamen had appointed him their cook. Slouching in an armchair among a group of rebels who smoked and chatted casually, Najjar recounted his strange journey from guard to prisoner. “One of the visitors once broke the PPR on me,” he told me.
“Naji, that wasn’t a PPR; it was plastic,” one rebel shot back. “You could beat a pig with a PPR all day, and it wouldn’t break.” Besides, he said, the visitor in question had a ruptured disc from one of Naji’s own beatings, so it was only fair. The men then got into a friendly argument about Naji’s favorite tactics for beating and whether he had used a pipe or a hose when he gashed Jalal’s forehead back in July.
The militia’s deputy commander strolled into the room and gave Najjar’s palm a friendly slap. “Hey, Sheik Naji,” he said. “You got a letter.” The commander opened it and began to read. “It’s from your brother,” he said, and his face lit up with a derisive smile. “It says: ‘Naji is being held by an illegal entity, being tortured on a daily basis, starved and forced to sign false statements.’ Oh, and look at this — the letter is copied to the army and the Higher Security Committee!” This last detail elicited a burst of laughter from the men in the room. Even Naji seemed to find it funny. “We always tell the relatives the same thing,” one man added, for my benefit: “There is no legal entity for us to hand the prisoners over to.”
Libya has no army. It has no government. These things exist on paper, but in practice, Libya has yet to recover from the long maelstrom of Qaddafi’s rule. The country’s oil is being pumped again, but there are still no lawmakers, no provincial governors, no unions and almost no police. Streetlights in Tripoli blink red and green and are universally ignored. Residents cart their garbage to Qaddafi’s ruined stronghold, Bab al-Aziziya, and dump it on piles that have grown mountainous, their stench overpowering. Even such basic issues as property ownership are in a state of profound confusion. Qaddafi nationalized much of the private property in Libya starting in 1978, and now the old owners, some of them returning after decades abroad, are clamoring for the apartments and villas and factories that belonged to their grandparents. I met Libyans brandishing faded documents in Turkish and Italian, threatening to take up arms if their ancestral tracts of land were not returned…
Sable Island National Park: How to reconcile the competing interests of wilderness protection and ecotourism. Can a national park really manage both?
May 11, 2012
THREE HUNDRED kilometres southeast of Halifax, and 170 kilometres from the nearest landfall, at Canso, Nova Scotia, one of the most remote pieces of Canada stands out against the Atlantic like a thin white rune. Sable Island is the exposed tip of a massive sandbar perched on the edge of the Eastern Scotian Shelf, a spare, desertlike landscape in the middle of the sea. Its sands have shifted into an unlikely shape: a crescent some forty-two kilometres long, tapered at the extremities into curled, narrow spits, calling to mind a smile of uncertain temper. A system of tall dunes runs down the middle of the island like a spine, two parallel ridges with fields of grass and heath, and in between a smattering of ponds fed by the freshwater lens that underlies the island and sustains its life. The dunes are fuzzed with windswept marram grass, its deep, fibrous roots holding them together as they are sculpted by the powerful marine elements: gales, waves, and the duelling currents of the warm Gulf Stream running eastward off the island’s southern shore, and the cold, westward-flowing Labrador Current to the north. The mixing of temperatures can cause fog as thick as chowder, which is partly why Sable is infamous for shipwrecks, some 350 of which lie buried in the shoals and sprawling sandbars that surround its coast. It’s also famous for the shaggy wild horses that live among the dunes — one of the world’s last free-roaming herds and, on days when the sun is shining, an almost irresistible symbol of innocence and freedom. In a country known for finding its history comparatively bland, Sable Island is an anomaly: a place that seems, with all its improbable beauty and folklore, to exist half in the realm of myth.
As such, it has a powerful allure for anyone with a passion for adventure travel. Yet even by Canadian standards, it isn’t easy to get to. Only one commercial charter flies there, and only when conditions are good enough that the plane, a twin-engine Britten-Norman Islander operated out of Halifax by Maritime Air, can be sure of making it there and back by day’s end. It’s also not for the thrifty. The charter alone costs about $5,500, and on top of that there are ground support fees to finance the preparation of the island’s “runway,” a makeshift landing strip on the beach marked out by tire tracks, which is often underwater or covered by a colony of sunbathing grey seals. Maritime Air isn’t licensed to sell individual seats, so you have to charter the whole plane; cost sharing is possible but difficult to coordinate. Those who manage to arrange a shared flight still risk paying for a trip to Halifax, only to discover on the morning of the scheduled charter that the weather isn’t co-operating; they’ll go home disappointed. The lucky few who make it will have spent at minimum a couple of thousand dollars for just a few hours on the island — not much time to try to understand the weird science and melancholy beauty of a place that is, on the surface, little more than an isolated strip of heaped sediment and buried debris. On top of that, the fragility of the local ecosystem raises ethical questions about whether tourists should be allowed there at all, making a trip to Sable Island an exercise in scrutinizing one’s beliefs about responsible travel and what it means to care for the natural environment.
This is not the kind of excursion most people have in mind when contemplating a day at the park. Yet that’s soon what it will be: on October 17, 2011, following lengthy negotiations by federal and provincial governments and various interest groups, Sable Island was designated as Canada’s newest national park reserve, the final step before officially making it the country’s forty-third national park.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN to call a place a park? A park is the playground we go to when we’re young, to play on the swing set and dig in the sandbox. A park is a large urban green space, like High Park in Toronto or Stanley Park in Vancouver, a multi-use public area where city dwellers can spend time outdoors. A ballpark is a place to play; so is a skate park, but in a different way. A national park is vast, monumental nature in all of its potency — but what is it for, exactly?
This question lies at the heart of the story of Canada’s national parks system. Parks Canada is the federal agency that oversees the country’s forty-two national parks, as well as 167 national historic sites and four national marine conservation areas. It was founded in 1911 as the Dominion Parks Branch, the first federally managed national parks service in the world. Its first commissioner, J. B. Harkin, sometimes called “the father of Canada’s national parks,” embodies the struggle to define what a national park should be. He is often discussed in connection with the so-called dual mandate of Parks Canada, which ostensibly aims to balance — or combine — conservation with recreation.
Harkin was engaged with parks as a nation builder, which required him to think as both a philosopher and a businessman. His annual report of 1912 included a statement that would reverberate through the agency’s history: “Of equal importance with construction and development work in the parks is the work of conservation.” He saw parks as opportunities to generate tourism, and his ideas have been criticized for paving the way for resort-style parks such as Banff, or Jasper, where just this year a new controversy erupted over the construction of a privately funded tourist walkway over the Columbia Icefield. But years before environmentalism had a cultural shape, his statement tied it forever to the official raison d’être of Canada’s national parks. His conundrum, how to balance protection with public access, remains very much at play in current thinking about park creation and management. Our collective, conscious desire to protect nature is stronger now than at any other time in history, but so is our ability to destroy it, and the struggle to balance protection and control in our relationship with nature is a big part of why these parks exist at all.
Canada’s newest national parks tend to be either in the Far North, or in equally remote destinations like Sable Island, which makes them a hard sell to the majority of Canadians who live in cities near the American border and are more likely to support publicly funded projects closer to home. In the case of Sable Island, the problem is made more complex by a historical narrative that goes back further than the earliest incarnations of the country itself — a set of stories that connects the island to dozens of different cultures, giving it value as a heritage property, but complicating decisions about how to integrate it into the official narrative of Canada’s national parks.
THE BEGINNING of human history on Sable Island has been lost in time. Mi’kmaq have long explored the waters around Nova Scotia in seafaring canoes, but their contemporary descendants are unaware of any early connection to the island. There is speculation that the Vikings may have landed there, or the Basques, or John Cabot, but none of these claims has been substantiated to the point of widespread acceptance. Most accounts name the Portuguese explorer João Alvares Fagundes as the island’s discoverer and the first to claim ownership. He presumably found Sable on a voyage taken before March 1521, when King Manuel I issued a document granting him rights to parts of the New World, including “the island Santa Cruz, which lies at the foot of the bank,” assumed to be a reference to Sable Island.
The island’s early history, however, is filled with names from all of the colonial powers. L’Isle de Sablon. Isola del Arena. Its would-be masters variously tried to populate the island, farm it, use it as a strategic base, or claim it as a kind of midocean food depot. The first recorded shipwreck occurred in 1583, when the English explorer Sir Humphrey Gilbert went looking for Sable and ran the flagship Delight aground on its sandbar. Fifteen years later, the island became home to one of the first continuous European settlements in what would later be Canada, when the Marquis de La Roche-Mesgouez, a French nobleman charged by Henry IV with bringing Catholicism to Natives in New France, sailed a group of convicts and soldiers to the island, which had been chosen as his first landing point and a good spot for a military outpost. Bad weather forced the marquis back to France, but the misfit colony he left behind endured from 1598 to 1603 before sliding into chaos.
Over time, an increasing number of wrecks won Sable Island its dark reputation as “the graveyard of the Atlantic,” and a selection of enduring ghost stories about the island became popular, increasing its folkloric reach. Among the most famous is the tale of the Pale Lady, the ghost of one Mrs. Copeland, who drowned in the wreck of the English ship Francis in 1799; she was said to wander the island in search of her missing wedding ring — and the finger that was stolen along with it. Although such fantasies made people wary of Sable Island, it was rarely uninhabited for long, and eventually the many nautical catastrophes forced Nova Scotia Lieutenant-Governor Sir John Wentworth to pursue a permanent presence…